Men We Reaped and Why It Should Make People Uncomfortable

I finished this book a month ago.  Usually, I try to write up my responses to the stuff I read in a more immediate manner.  You know, while it’s still raw and right there in my focus.  But not with this piece of art.  Why?  Because I don’t think I would have been coherent if I wrote this right after I finished the book.   This memoir left me an absolute mess.  The words you see now, if written then, would have been without composure.  It would have just been an emotional outpouring that would have lost you on the majesty of the work at hand.

Young black men are dying.  If I had to sum up the memoir in one sentence that would be it because it is the sobering reality we are left with.  Ward lays out the truth of her life on the page as she tries to navigate the why and the how of them dying.  She explores not only her life, but the lives of five young black men dear to her who all were torn from this world in unfair circumstances.  I read these words and couldn’t help but to feel them pulling me through my own thoughts and my own existence.  Because like Ward, my family roots are also in the Deep South.  And while black men are dying all across this country, it is in the Deep South where it feels like this cancer runs completely unchecked.

You know what’s funny?  As I’m writing this, I realized I was trying to keep the potential white reader in mind.  I wasn’t thinking about them in order to not offend them, but I was thinking about them in terms of how to keep them from immediately going to their normal assumptions.  For I’m sure when I speak of young black men dying, the typical thoughts turn to glorified gangster violence and misogynistic hip-hop.  It’s easier to think of us and our tragedy in that manner because it dehumanizes us.  After I finished reading this book, I wished I could find the money to shove a copy into the hands of every white person who ever shouted the bullshit of “All Lives Matter” or uttered the phrase “I’m not racist but…”.  And forced them to sit there and read it.

That’s the power in this book.  It gives us humanity.  That’s why this memoir is dangerous because it makes us human.  And Ward shows that the reasons “they” think we’re dying are far from the truth.  Yes, there are drugs but not merely because it’s recreational fun and out of an abundance of choices we choose drugs.  No, drugs are the medicine trying to mask the disease.  The disease that is poverty and joblessness.  The despair that comes from young men who want to be able to stand on their own two feet and get knocked down at every opportunity.  Drugs and drug dealing aren’t glamorized in this book, but instead are dealt with the harsh lens of reality.

Ward digs into the insidious nature of racism and how it sits below the surface.  It’s the racism that the majority of white people would like to pretend doesn’t exist.  The only racism they acknowledge is the kind that’s hot, visible and in someone’s face.  The kind that requires harsh words and spittle flying.  They don’t want to deal with the racism that allows the black side of town to not get necessary infrastructure repairs.  Repairs that might have saved the life of a young black man killed by a train for which he had no warning.  They don’t want to hear about how that man died in agony as flames consumed him.

They don’t want to hear about the racism that leaves a young black man doing the right thing on the hook.   This young black man helped police catch a bad guy and forever had to look over his shoulder because of it.  They don’t want to hear about the protection a white witness would get versus a poor, black one and how that lack of protection ultimately got him killed.  They don’t want to listen to the story of why the philosophy of “no snitching” arose from the fact that police want you to help them and ultimately leave you hanging out to dry for doing so.

Hearing about that kind of racism is inconvenient for your average white person because it makes them have to deal with their part in continuing the system.  They don’t want to hear about how a white drunk driver killing a young black man gets a slap on the wrist.  Those things don’t happen because of racism they’ll be sure to tell you.   They need that bubble of ignorance because it is in that bubble which they thrive.

Ward confronts that bubble head on without trying to point fingers.  She doesn’t have to do that because her words are more powerful than mine.  She’s able to speak to the tragedy of a generation and the continued system which is reaping our young people like wheat in a bloody cornfield.

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God Help The Child: Your Guide for Low Down People

This novel purports itself as being Toni Morrison’s first novel set in our present moment.  Well, then I think it’s safe to say based on the work that she doesn’t think too much of the present.  There’s a damning feeling that runs throughout this entire novel where it feels like every single character is pretty much just prescribed to awful lives.  Even the few (and I mean few) moments where there is some moment of light to be found it’s run down by the barrel of negativity that I think Morrison regards the present with.  Let that be my first warning.  This is good reading, but it’s not the book you want to pick up if you want some affirmation of how life is worth dealing with.

I say that because there is not a single character in this novel who isn’t lowdown and shameful.  All of these people (with the exception of one) seem to be awful people.   Morrison shines in explaining what has driven each of these people to their flaws and how it makes them conflict with the world around them.  In fact, she does it beautifully and even with a bit of fantasy thrown in the mix to send the message home.  But make no mistake, these aren’t the kind of people you would want to form any lasting relationships with.

This novel is full of deeper themes and context.  But other reviewers have probably done that better analyzations of that than I could months ago.  So I’m not going to go that route because there’s no need to embarrass myself.  I’m going to zoom in on these characters and how each of them are people I just can’t have in my life in 2015.

Bride is the girl that’s good for the party.  You take her around because she’s pretty, makes you look better by osmosis and can probably get you into all the best parties.   You don’t get close to a person like Bride.  Why?  Because she doesn’t love herself and people that don’t love themselves will always find a way to spread that into your life.  It’s a sad thing because Bride, like so many other young black women out there, is dealing with the effects of a lifetime of colorism.  She’s dark-skinned and only found some marginal acceptance of that when it made her exotic in an industry hell bent on normally labeling women like her as ugly.  The fact she refuses to wear anything but white is nothing but the brutal effects of colorism at work.

So no, you don’t form any deep bond with a woman like Bride.  Maybe you can if you’re coming at it from the perspective of trying to teach her something.  But when you love yourself it can be a draining experience to have to constantly deal with someone like Bride.  She’s the person you try and help from a distance.  This young woman is the definition of the Bag Lady that Erkyah Badu was trying to tell us all about.  Hang around her too long and you’ll start tripping on her luggage.

Booker is that man you want to take home and probably bang the hell out of on a consistent basis.  He’s tall, muscular, smart and can put it down.  I mean shit at first glance why wouldn’t you want to snag this guy up?  On the surface, he seems like he’s got it all, but once he spends a few days listlessly at your apartment you realize he ain’t shit.  But you keep making excuses for the fact he ain’t shit.  Because you remember the sex.  And you remember how long it’s been since the last time you encountered a guy as real as him because even though he ain’t shit there’s something genuine about it.  He’ll say things that are so insightful and he’s willing to challenge you in a way no else does.  That kind of word play bores its way into you and it’s hard to break that connection once made.

But ultimately those brains are an excuse.  They’re a reason for him not to achieve and do better for himself because he looks at the bigger picture and doesn’t possibly see how his living changes anything.  Those brains give him a reason to run.  Make no mistake, a man like Booker will always run because even when they find something good, they’re going to look for their reason to run like Republicans look for a reason to hate the President.  Yes, it’s that serious and that relentless.  He just runs.  This is not the man you decide to have a relationship with.  Guys lie Booker keep their lovers from having a good relationship after them for a very long time.

Brooklyn is that triflin ass friend we all have had in our lives and for the longest time you believed they had your back.  All the best advice and support seemed to come from them.  You felt like you could talk to them honestly and just be open about anything.  But like the snake they are, they were just waiting until you took that one misstep that let them sink their fangs in.  And in this moment of weakness, you’re dealing with so many other things you don’t even realize you’ve been bitten.  That’s the kind of person Brooklyn is.

I can’t help but to wonder to if this is somewhat of a statement from Morrison about the precarious nature of interracial friendships.  There has always existed a bit of wisdom from older black people warning that getting too comfortable around white people (even friends) is something that can put you in danger.  Sadly, there are elements of that wisdom which still have some application in today’s society.  But I think Morrison, being older, might be coming at it from a more archaic viewpoint.  Or that could just be my optimism making excuses…

Sweetness is that sorry ass old person you can’t stand, but you know you have to respect anyway because they’re old.  There’s one person in particular I can think of.  I know that so much of their life has been spent being hateful and mean-spirited.  Breaking up the marriages of their sons and trying just as hard to break up the remaining ones.  Always finding a way to demean and create conflict.  Someone who should be operating as a matriarch, but instead is the cause of all her families’ strife.  Ok so I just had a going in moment.  Sweetness isn’t that bad, but she’s still pretty awful for rejecting her child for being too dark skinned.  Its lucky Bride isn’t more unstable with a parent like Sweetness.

This novel is pretty much a guide on people you need to stay away from.  Take note of the symptoms of each character as you read the book.  Keep those notes close and if people in your life seem to fit into these molds then you might need to do some reevaluating.  Take the road of Booker and run!

Too Many Hands (Episode 001)

Tyson sat down in the cold, steel chair and stared at the picture of his dead wife.  His fingers inched towards the cell phone holding the last image it had taken of her, but they pulled back at the last moment.  They couldn’t bring themselves to touch something that had been hers.  He fidgeted in his seat, eyes bordering on red.  He felt some mix of embarrassment and anger as the police officer watched him fight off his emotions.

“Mr. Rayne, I can assure you we’ll find whoever did this to her.”  The officer frowned at what he saw on the cell phone.  Mrs. Rayne was sprawled out in some awful alley, her legs bloodied and spit.  A thick rope had rubbed the flesh of her ebony neck raw.  Gashes ran along her wrists and her Afro had been mostly wet and flattened.  “Did she have any enemies?  Anyone that she was scared of?”

Tyson clamped his hand over his mouth and took a deep breath.  He looked up at the officer.  The dark brown man looked like he spent more time in Popeye’s than the gym and his was holding on to a few dregs of curly hair.  He had a stupid goatee that didn’t fit his Krispy Kreme inspired face.  Tyson, being a short powder keg of muscle, didn’t see much to respect in the man investigating his wife’s murder.

“No she didn’t have enemies.  The woman sat at home all day!  She knitted fucking sweaters!  Who the hell would want to kill her?” Tyson slammed a hand down on the metal table and it echoed throughout the small interrogation room.  When the police first came for him, he knew that he was the prime suspect.  Thankfully, his alibi quickly checked out and they dropped the angle of him being involved.  At least for now.

The officer pushed his lips to one of side of his face and looked down at the cellphone, the picture having went away.  “By my estimate, this was personal.  The way she was attacked and the way she was left behind feels like someone who didn’t like her…or you too much.”

Tyson raised an eyebrow at the man.  “So you think someone was trying to get at me?”

The officer shrugged and reached into his pocket for a box of cigarettes.  He tapped them against the bottom of his palm.  “Do you have any people who would want to hurt you?  Mind if I smoke?”

Tyson waved a dismissive hand at the second question and pondered a moment on the first.  Just as he was about to open his mouth to speak, a loud knock came on the door of the room.  The officer grimaced because he was in the motion of lighting his cigarette.  Putting away his lighter, the officer tucked his cigarette away and answered the door.  Tyson slumped in his chair when he saw who it was.  He turned his gaze to one of the corners of the room.

“What do you want?”