In discovering this whole “hidden messages” Facebook situation, I found 37 messages in the wake of OK Kappa SAE scandal last year. Some from people I knew at SAE, in just generally from college, journalists, old jobs, law professors. Many from people I’ve never met before. Most were simply kind words reflecting a common sadness and disappointment. I didn’t see any of them until today so if I didn’t respond to you, that’s why. I do thank you for your thoughts in those moments though. You had other things you could have done with your time, so I appreciate it.
Some messages were filled with frustration with the situation, I appreciated those too.
However, just one in particular was fairly derogatory in nature:
That’s the one that stuck out.
Not because I was offended, cause I mean at this point, you can’t tell me something I haven’t heard. No, it stuck out because after pulling away the disdain this person was shooting my direction, I assumed that this person has been harmed in ways I haven’t. This person, who is similarly hued, found me to be a disgrace and a liar. They even in a veiled way alluded to me needing to die for the betterment of our race (assuming they actually know what “the year of the geechie is over” really means and where it comes from, though I think it’s spelled Geechee) but I don’t take it personally.
I don’t fault this person for their opinion either. I don’t know what they’ve been through in life. Maybe they have dealt with more instances of senseless hatred or ignorance than I have. Or maybe they’ve just had fewer positive interactions with other races and cultures, I don’t know. But something about their experience made what I was saying about my experience seem manufactured. It seemed to them that I was at least lying to myself if not blatantly lying to everyone else. I’m sure they were not alone in these thoughts. I’ll admit that I’ll afford anyone more trust than they’ve earned, and yes that gets your burned sometimes. But always being cynical just doesn’t afford me enough joy. Not enough freedom.
Yet, I know where this person was coming from. We, if I may speak generally for a moment, are tired. We are tired of being stepped on and being expected to smile about it anyway, or to pretend like these are all isolated incidents by random ignorant people but in no way a sign of a societal problem as a whole. It’s so much more than that. And I know that.
So to have what happened happen and then see me on TV trying to find silver linings or mourning the loss of something that was clearly already gone by 3/9/15, infuriated this person. My saying that what I had joined looked nothing like the images on that video created cognitive dissonance in this person. But this, in my humble opinion, says less about what happened at 730 College and more about what has happened to this critic. Undoubtedly, the things they’ve endured are inexcusable. Things that made my statements uncomfortable, foreign even. I became synonymous with the perpetrator of whatever they’ve experienced. Synonymous with whatever they hate. Not because I WAS wrong but because their path to that day would suggest I HAD to be wrong… or at the very least dumb.
I get it. I knew this reaction would happen. I expected it. And in a sense, I understand why someone would consider me naive in my view of SAE when I joined it. And while I may be dumb, and hindsight somewhat suggests it, I was not naive. I knew what could happen and I knew how I’d conduct myself if anything did happen.
I could have snapped off. I could have done a lot of other things. I could have thrown the whole organization down in a heap of burning fury. Believe me, I had all the facts, your attention, and a way with words. But if I’d done that, if I’d gone scorched earth on 300,000 members memories, would that be any better and more high minded than singing the song was? Why should anyone be painting with such broad brush strokes when the true full picture has so much nuance and detail?
What I chose to do was be honest. I wrote a personal note to a small group of people who needed to read it. Instead, millions of people read and saw that honesty and though I only heard a fraction of their opinions, it pretty clearly made some people this critic would likely think couldn’t change, take steps toward that change. It made them think. It gave them a perspective they did not expect and likely didn’t know existed.
So let me do it one more time:
I decided a long time ago that to only identify as my race was to not allow myself a full existence. That won’t cut it. I’m here for the whole full throttled experience. If I want to receive that experience, I have to give it too. I won’t avoid anyone based on their color, creed, religion, gender, or what have you and I won’t define them on those bases either. I’ve seen how that works out because people do it to me all the time. It’s wrong and I won’t contribute.
I also won’t allow myself to be confined by an idea of what I am supposed to be or what I am supposed to do based on the color of my skin. Regardless of which direction those rules come from, they can only be limitations. Limited, predetermnined ways of thinking and behaving in order to guarantee acceptance.
I don’t want guaranteed acceptance from anyone. I don’t want to be rejected for my skin only and I also don’t want to be accepted for my skin only.
I am who I am. All of me. You can get with it, or you can step the hell off.
I will go where I want. Befriend who I want. I’ll eat, listen to, read and enjoy whatever I want. And whether those activities fit in any one else’s idea of what a Black Man should do or not is really not my concern.
This is what I know: I was born Black, I’ll die Black, and everything I do between those dates will be Black as hell, whether you accept this or not. Not because what I do is “what Black people do” but because I’ll be Black when I’m doing them. See, I happen to be a proud Black man, but I’m also more than just that. Too many people have died to allow me the opportunity to be more than one thing, and I don’t take that for granted. I’m defnitely a Black man, but I’m also a husband, a father, a nerd, a writer, a musician, a lawyer, a confidant, a friend. Some say I also have negative attributes .
My point is that, in addition to being Black, I’m a bunch of other great things and a bunch of bad things rolled into this 175 pound bag of legit awesomeness, even if I’m the only one that thinks it. And while there are many people who look like me and have very common experiences as me, a commonality which I cherish deeply, I am also uniquely Will James.
So, while there are certainly boxes that do apply to me, I do not attempt to fit squarely in one. I’m good out here.
And for anyone else that feels limited to certain decisions or personal expressions by your (or others’ perceptions of your) race, gender, sexual preference, GPA, salary, age, socioeconomic class etc. as to where you can go, what you can do, who you can talk to, what food to eat, clothes to wear, music to listen to, how to vote, how to live, who or what can and will love you, or whatever else, just know that those limitations are the real lies.
There are no rule books, no guidelines to being what or who you are.
So what’s my point? From someone who’s attempting authenticity and has taken heat from every side for it, honestly, it’s really not that bad. I give you permission to be you, all the time, and if and when that backfires along the way, learn something, teach something, and keep it moving.