Sunday, March 29, 2015

They Raped Mike


Bobbie L. Washington

In life, time moves forward. We meet people along the way, like floating stars passing through the galaxy. On occasion, we get reminders of those time in some of the most unusual ways. Such was the case of an event long since dormant but had a profound impact on those who have not spoken of it ever since. What made me think about that time was a Spanish language film that came out in 2003 titled Dependencia Sexual or Sexual Dependency. It chronicle the sexual exploration of a cross section of young adults, a 15 year old reluctantly losing her virginity, a young man sexual encounter with a prostitute, a bunch of campus jocks who are decidedly homophobic and a black girl who graphically describes a rape but here is the twist, she is describing it in a play. But there is a rape that does occurs exactly how she describes it, at night, in a parking lot, by at least four young men but the victim is a male foreign exchange student who was victimized by the homophobic campus jocks.
And when I saw this, the memory of Mike came rushing back. When this happened to Mike, it was the mid 70's. We were in college at the time, some of us were freshmen. Mike was a returning student. At the time, we lived on campus in dormitories that could best be described as modified jail cells. The rooms measured eight feet by fifteen feet and we were four to a room. The walls were concrete block and painted an off lime green. It was a three story walk up and we lived on the third floor.
On the night of Mike’s assault, he wanted some chicken. Down from the campus of Texas Southern University was a chicken eatery known as Frenchy’s. For those who liked chicken, it was the place to go and get three pieces on a college student’s budget. Frenchy’s was about three blocks down from the campus. I don’t know if Mike ever made the trip before but many had made that trek before without any type of incident. But it wasn’t the case for Mike. While making his way down there, he was confronted by two men. A weapon was displayed in the assault. He was raped. This was just the cold hard fact of the matter.
There was no type of counseling for men in the mid 70's for this type of crime. No one knew what had happened to Mike. There was no reporting of this crime to police and the stigma that may have prevailed in that era of a young black man being sexually assaulted more than likely would not have been thoroughly investigated. Mike lived with this in secret until one day he jumped from the third floor of our dormitory. He didn’t kill himself, luckily, he had a nervous breakdown and ran screaming across the campus. It was only later did we find out what had happened to him and we were shocked by it. I don’t believe any one of us could fathom what we would have done if the situation had been reversed. Mike subsequently dropped out of school and presumably went back home somewhere in Texas.
Fast forward a year and I’m living off campus with my homeboy. We got an apartment over the summer with all of the struggles that go along with independent living while still going to school. Money was more than tight. And as the summer slowly spiraled down and as everybody returned to campus life, some of our friends temporarily move in with us. At it’s headiest, we had 19 people living with us. And as the months moved on, the number was reduced to a few. Mike had returned. Mike was a jazz musician and we were musicians as well of different degrees but Mike was a very good jazz musician. He was playing gigs on a regular basis while trying to find a place to stay. With Mike, we had three additional guests remaining. It was the college life and this is what we did. But there was an episode that involved Mike and my roommate. Considering the times in which we live in, my roommate handled it well.
When Mike was alone with my roommate, he had another breakdown. He had made the statement that he didn’t know who he was anymore and he wanted my roommate to fuck him in the ass. Yeah.
My roommate told me what had happened and there was sorrow for Mike. For us, it was out of our area of knowledge on how to deal with someone with a sexual identity crisis brought on by his sexual assault. Mike moved out and we never heard from him again. For a while, we always wondered where Mike was, did he go back home, was he okay or what? It’s been years now, life does a number on you, good, bad and indifferent. You look up and look back on the life that you had, some with fondness, some not so much. What happened to Mike at that point in his life more than likely altered his path. The only thing we did know was that the rape of Mike changed more than his life. Where ever you are, Mike, Good luck.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Mystery of Everett Ruess

The Mystery of Everett Ruess


Bobbie L. Washington

A poet, a writer, a painter, a thinker was he
Born to become a wanderer to a short and diminished life
Not by his choosing and not by his hands
Did Everett Ruess subscribe to his fate

Somewhere in the Chinle Wash
Sixty miles from the last place he was seen
Began the tale of this lost legend
Whipped by the whispering winds of the canyon walls

Of a ghost who treks through the Sequoia lands and Yosemite Park
“As to when I revisit civilization, it will not be soon”, he once said
I have not tired of the wilderness
It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty 

But the Navajo medicine Man would say otherwise
For cursing Aneth Nez, caretaker of the bones
For remaining silent for thirty-seven years
He would tell his tale of the wandering stranger

And the three Ute warriors of the Four Corners
As he sat in witness on top of the desolate Comb Ridge
Did he see the final end to the wandering man
Felled by a glancing blow in a single move

Had he trespassed on sacred grounds or
Was it just the warrior’s path that was crossed
The man with two burros would disappear for a while
To find a resting place in a canyon crevasse

Under a watchful hand of the Navajo Nez
Burden with the guilt and stricken ill
His third generation he would tale his tale
And find him they did, this man of two burros

Long thought drowned in the Colorado River
He rested quietly in spirit along the High Sierra
Enjoying its beauty and the vagrant life 
Preferring the saddle to the streetcar 

And a star-sprinkled sky to a roof 
The obscure and difficult trail 
Leading into the unknown to any paved highway 
And to the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities 

In his final words

Photographs Forgotten & Remembered

Photographs Forgotten & Remembered


Bobbie L. Washington

Up in the attic inside an old dusty shoebox
Forgotten memories from too many years
The faded colors of a kodachrome hue
The crinkled image of a little boy in blue

Black and white images still holding true
Of a ’67 Chevy and a pretty girl too
A Roadmaster bicycle is remembered in red
Being chased by Jericho, the collie, long since dead

And there you were, the mother of three
Dark flaxen shoulder length hair 
And vibrant as can be
I really do wish

That you could still remember me
Why can’t I hold on to this time
When I see that your memory is gone
Born from you that I was

As I look into your eyes of faded glory
Gray is the hair that frames a wrinkled face
And draped across the speckled skin
And you sit quietly staring out in the yard

As if you were watching the sunset of your life
Resting on your lap is a shoebox of memories
Untouched by your hands for far too long
An unrecognized box of familiar strangers

And untouched again as you make your journey home
The box top is returned to the uncovered box
Never to be digitized, never to be scanned
Of photographs forgotten and remembered

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I’m Not From Africa, I’m From Illinois


Bobbie L. Washington

I am an American. I want to make that declaration pure and simple because I don’t like to be referred to as an African American.  I don’t know why this is an accepted practice that has been adopted by the media but the practice has been going on for far too long and it must cease.  I know who I am for a long time and I  don’t need some pseudo leader wanting American blacks to be called that term because it’s wrong and  archaic.  Unfortunately, the history of American blacks has been fraught with descriptive names to describe American blacks.

The history of slavery remains the most ugliest of stains to confront America.  It is still spoken in hush tone so as to not rehash this original American Holocaust on the horrific treatment of so many men, women and children.  Hollywood has sanitized much of the tragedies in small doses for fear that the true horrors should  remain within the community itself as these oral histories slowly die off with the living memories from the  older descendants who have passed these stories down.  There have always been a tale of how American  blacks were referred to by their then slave masters and by the southern white community.

For anthropological terms, blacks were classified as Negroid that was shorten to Negro by those learned  men of the time and Nigra by those slave masters who didn’t feel like using Negro.  Over the course of time, negro evolved into “niggur” in that spelling which would lead to the word spelled with an “e” instead of the  “u”.  And as time marched on, the word became part of literature found in the works of Mark Twain and  Charles Dickens. I have never cared for the word at all and find it to be a word used to dehumanize,  humiliate and subjugate blacks for far too long as well.   I never understood why rappers would continue to use the word with the claim that “they are taking the word back” by using it so much.  Well, it wasn’t your word to begin with but that of the southern racist white men who still takes enjoyment that your ignorance  has kept the word alive.  If another race is held in contempt for using it, then it it not a word that can be said at all.  Back in the early 90’s a Vidor, Texas black man sued a white lady for calling him that word.  He won a judgment of over $600,000 but never saw a penny of it because he was killed by another black man.   And as the 19th century ended, American blacks understood that the ugliness of that word was a turning point and the word “colored” was adopted as a more acceptable reference in describing American blacks as the civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) became into power.

The actress, Whoopi Goldberg, once proclaimed that we, American blacks, have been called many things.  Being called “colored” during the 50’s and leading up to the radical 60’s apparently was still a throw back to the Jim Crow era of the south.  It was still said with disdain and as a put down by the southern whites who found by combining the word with “boy” tends to make American blacks contribution to this great society insignificant.  So the radical 60’s come up and civil rights is in the forefront following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  President Lyndon Johnson pushes the legislation on through as it was his predecessor who started the process.  But following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the black power movement was fully realized.  Being described as “colored” was too timid following years of oppression and being overlooked.  Black power was the thing and the radical elements led by the Black Panther Party changed “colored” to “black”, the latest description.  The artist, James Brown, solidified that with his song, Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud, a song that brought fear to the suburban set.

So we were black for a while.  The times of that era made the describing of American blacks more resolute and affirming.  The music made it so, the fashion statement made it so, the hairstyles made it so and the politics made it so.  It was the rule of the day so why change it?

Johnny Duncan, a poet, has been attributed in coming up with the term African-American.  The Rev. Jesse Jackson saw the poem and used the description during a political rally since Jackson made himself the defacto spokesperson for all black people.  Somewhere in the elite media circles, some executive turned to another executive as said, “Golly gee, Hank, let’s start calling them that.”

So here is the thing, nobody voted on that, in fact nobody voted on any of the names to describe American blacks.  But for some reason, a pseudo leader holds a rally and now declares that we will be called African-American and from now on, this will be the rule.  Whoa there, Lone Ranger.

The problem with that term is that it describes a person who was never born in this country and is a naturalized citizen.  The other problem with that is the overriding need to be included in the American idealism and the want to be recognized.  Our white contemporaries have always used their heritage in describing themselves, my Italian, Greek, Russian, Irish, etc. Heritage but it was never a hyphenated situation and at that time, nobody described themselves as a country hyphenated American.  I don’t know Jesse Jackson’s motives were, to remain relevant in a changing society, to keep his name above the fold in the newspaper, to still try to become the defacto civil rights leader when nobody wanted him to be, you just don’t know?

With this new generation of DNA testing and genealogy, we have come to discover that we are not who we think we are.  I had my DNA tested for genealogy purposes and discovered something that I never knew.
 Even though our white contemporaries can go back in time through record keeping to see their ancestral lineage from across the seas, American blacks stop at the United States shoreline and usually stops with slavery. If you don’t know anything about yourself, you always ask the questions, “Who am I?” Where did I come from?” “Why do I think like I do?”  Thanks to DNA, at least some of those questions can be asked but also might open doors for other questions.

I knew I was the by-product of at least one other class of people, Native American, from my maternal side of the family, the paternal side I know absolutely nothing.  However, when my profile came back, I discovered that there was a European in the cake batter on the paternal side.  Still, I could only go back so far on my maternal side to find the appropriate names to fill out the genealogy tree because Native Americans fall into the same dilemma when it comes to genealogy but the paternal side was left blank.  The DNA map showed Brazil, the coast of Africa and the European continent.  I discovered that I have a white genealogy cousin, with some degrees of separation who showed up in my contact when the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and Gene Tree were handling it at the time before being acquired by His last name was Meeks and I missed that window of opportunity to seek him out but I’m still on the lookout.

So what does that say about many American blacks who know they have more than just one ethnic group floating around in their DNA?  This new generation of children from those 60’s hippies and radicals don’t carry the same burdens of racial sensitivity like their parents.  Interracial marriages and civil unions are up and so are the number of births from these unions.  How would you describe someone born who has a lineage of black, white, Native American and Hispanic?  There are other combinations as well and our government wants you to fit in a box because it’s easier to categorize you and file you away for demographic purposes.  They have admitted that to have a category for so many combinations would make it impossible to collate the data and use it in a way that politicians can use to support their district.  While the Republican party may not want to accept the reality that the United States demographics have shifted with more Hispanic/Latin coming into the power, it seems like the color of America is becoming more of an ethnic blend, a term I like better than interracial when describing the children of those unions that can’t be lumped into a single category.  Interracial should left for the porn industry.  And if we are to accept the anthropological assessment that every living souls origin stems from the continent of Africa, then all Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, etc. should have “African” in front of their origin name.  I have never known any blacks in foreign countries adding “African” to their moniker, African-British, African-Jamaican, African-French, you get the point.  It is only in America that this is put up with because Jesse Jackson said so?

It’s all about the parades and the festivals and wanting to be inclusive.  The Irish have St. Patrick’s Day, the Italians have Columbus Day, the Germans have Oktoberfest.  Blacks have February for black history month that came about in the latter part of the 20th century but we seem to want more. For a long time, I felt like the NAACP had dropped the ball on issues dealing with American blacks while they dealt with superficial petty nonsense issues while unemployment, poverty, crime, drugs, etc. just went on unabated without redress.  The celebrity culture emerged, the issues weren’t important, hanging out with celebrities were.  Soon we had defacto celebrity leaders of all stripes telling America what we should do and the black celebrity telling us how to live and what to wear.  Kanye West anyone?  But American blacks began to open up more and became increasingly inclusive through osmosis maybe in part because the new generation of technology was changing.

Social media was formed. YouTube was created where you could post anything.  It was a platform and outlet for new ideas that not only reached all 50 states but any country that didn’t set up a firewall to prevent you from seeing it. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms became household icons and a black president was elected twice.  Jesse Jackson had his problems and was benched.  New ideas have emerged, anyone with a salient thought is given the chance to express that and be judged by millions upon millions.

As things keep changing, these archaic monikers have become the weighted shackles around your ankles that once held those who were held prisoner on those slave ships.  When I was in college, there were many foreign students from across the globe.  I held a conversation with some students who were from Nigeria.  I asked them how they viewed American blacks.  They responded in a matter of fact fashion that they viewed blacks as Americans and if they visit their country, they view blacks as tourist.  So, wearing those dashikis and other African garb that American blacks wear is nothing more than playing dress up to them.

I was born in America.  I am an American.  If you feel the need to hyphenate my Americanism, hyphenate the state in which I am from.  Former Houston Rocket basketball player Hakeem Olajuwon is African-American after he became a naturalized citizen.   I’m not from Africa, I’m from Illinois.  I guess that makes me an Illinois-American.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013