Archive for October 2018

“Keep Kicking”, a post about Pittsburgh.

You began writing today before 6am – it was the only way you felt you could react to what was happening. You couldn’t sleep, your guts were on fire with the news from Pittsburgh, the attack on the synagogue that left eleven people dead. This thing that is tearing at you is not new. It has been there since the day Trump was elected, an event swiftly following which your sleep promptly dropped from six hours a night down to four. For the first few months that you lost a third of your sleep you denied why it was happening, but then you accepted it – that your body was telling you to be ready. You have rested enough, it was telling you, and given what is coming you have so much work to do.

In the early months after the election of Trump you didn’t know best to do, nobody did – maybe not even Trump himself, delirious with the unexpected thrill of his dangerous new pulpit. All you knew was that you were reminded of that scene from Titanic, the awful pause after the ship, having struck the iceberg, had cracked in half and was perfectly poised above the ocean, prepared to plummet. You had to write, even if the quality of the words that emerged was terrible. You had to write, just as you are writing now. You do this because the very act of motion is resistance, that if you stop kicking you drown.

You bumped into two friends earlier this afternoon. You thanked one of them for his furious Facebook posts about Trump’s latest outrages, and he confessed that he felt they were futile. They weren’t, you told him. Everything matters. Your fury matters. Once you are numb to it, that’s the end. We need to keep feeling. It is not inevitable that the very worst is ahead.

You had a beautiful day, even though it is hard to remember that. You visited one dear friend to celebrate her wedding to a wonderful man, and then saw another on her brief return to the city. Both of them are flourishing, doing better than they have ever done. Yet when you woke this morning, you didn’t think of either of them, but of Pittsburgh, and of the hurricane of hatred that Trump continues to unleash.

Your sleep patterns have improved these days, because you have become better at ignoring Trump, of not allowing him to ruin your day, even though the horror of what he is doing often settles across the skies like nuclear winter. But Pittsburgh has happened and the lack of sleep is back. You remember people writing that talk of white supremacy was exaggerated, that the Democrats were crying wolf over the terrors to follow his election, you even remember one friend airily remarking that the Trump presidency, restrained by America’s formidable institutions, would be a quiet one. You remember reminding people, as had countless others, that the toxic levels of anti-Semitism being pumped into the atmosphere would one day thaw some long-frozen and rage-filled plains, allowing ancient viruses to arise from them anew. You and those countless others gain little comfort from having roared these warnings, because this was never a game, never a sixth-form debate where the winner takes home a silver trophy and is treated to a three-course dinner. Like climate change itself, the crisis of extremism, long denied, has always been existential.

Yet there is some comfort – not much, but some. There is comfort because you know that hatred of this nature is predictable, and that the success of this hatred is not guaranteed. You watched from New York with pride as, in your adopted city of Berlin, a quarter of a million people took to the streets to protest not only against the rise of the far Right but crucially in favour of progress and hope. You commiserated with friends from Brazil as they looked ahead in fear to the possible election of Bolsonaro, a man offering ominously simple solutions to complex social problems, but at the same time you marvelled at what fine people they were, and you gained even greater resolve to make the world better for them however you could. We have to celebrate the wins, you tell your friends whenever you bump into them in the street, and we have to celebrate the small things. Everything matters! Everything matters – the briefest act of kindness, the gentle eye contact with the homeless stranger, the channelling of pain into hopeful art, the warmth in the hug when you welcome or say farewell to anyone beloved. Everything matters, even the stream of consciousness I am typing now. Maybe the paths forward aren’t clear, maybe we are still forming a vision of the future where as many people as possible can enjoy health and happiness, and maybe dry land often seems nowhere in sight. But, in the meantime, we need to keep kicking.

“How To Play The Race Card, In 12 Simple Steps.”

Since it’s World Mental Health Day, I thought I would share “How To Play The Race Card, In 12 Simple Steps: it’s an extract from a longer piece I am working on, a kind of self-help guide to sex, race, dating, mental health, and city life. (If of interest, please share.)

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How To Play The Race Card, In 12 Simple Steps.

If you must insist on being a dark-skinned black male in a major continental European city – let’s say, Berlin – then here – assuming that you intend to make your life a little easier – is how you go about it. Here, in a short, simple twelve-step programme, is How To Play The Race Card:

 

  1. Make sure there aren’t too many of you living in your apartment block. Any more than two is officially an infestation. Make sure there are not too many exotic emissions from your flat. Ethnic smells are fine – ethnic sounds and ethnic people are not. Outside, when approaching a local, make sure you greet them in their own language as soon as you are within earshot. Integration!
  2. When going through Customs, don’t look too cocky. You’ll get stop-searched if you look too free, if you’re too gleefully crossing borders. So what if you’re going on holiday? Suck it up – quell that smile. Halt that swagger.  The recommended facial expression, when you encounter immigration officials, is that of a dog taking its final walk – you must look utterly world-weary, careworn, whilst taking care not to avoid eye contact, lest you appear shifty. Remember: visibly broken souls do not smuggle drugs.
  3. Promptly follow every public criticism of the country where you now live with a phrase containing gratitude. For example: “That Nazi march was terrifying but the schnitzel here is nice.”
  4. If you are sitting on a crowded train yet everyone refuses to sit next to you, take advantage of the resultant space. Make a show of it. Manspread. Take a photo of the space and post it on social media, as an example of the Black Gap, the mystical force-field that often seems to appear around post-puberty black men in public. Save the photo on your phone and joke to yourself that you’ll save it for your grandchildren, you’ll enhance it with a sepia filter and you’ll all laugh at how toxic the times were back then. “Granddad, they must have thought you were an animal!” Reflect on whether you smell – look, it is possible. It could be that fellow passengers are utterly repelled by your smell. Later that evening, when you get to your partner’s flat for dinner, don’t tell them that a Black Gap appeared on the train next to you for that second time that week. Not until dessert is served, at least. You don’t want to ruin the mood.
  5. Each morning, before you leave the house, remind yourself that you aren’t ugly. Stare in the mirror and try to feel handsome before you head out of the door. Having a shave often helps – smooth skin feels more attractive. Stubble is for drunken men who have abandoned hope. For the smoothest skin, apply baby oil to your face immediately after a shower, then pat it dry. Don’t leave the flat before you feel handsome. There will be days when you don’t leave the flat.
  6. Don’t leave the flat. Remember that time you saw the bus driver wearing the neo-Nazi dress code. Remember the time you were racially abused by two white women at the top of your road. Remember when they put their hands on you – they actually touched you. Don’t leave the flat.
  7. Get on a plane to another country as if to escape but then come back because you understand that all you ever get wherever you travel is merely different flavours of racism, that the seasoning may be different but ultimately the meal remains the same.
  8. Don’t laugh it off. Don’t make a quick quip when the Turkish kids in the local park ask if they can see your huge cock. Don’t joke about your big dick. If you must, then when someone teases you about it, ask whether they would like you to fuck them with it. Don’t laugh it off.
  9. If you laugh it off that tells people it is fine, and it is not fine – you are not fine. Remember that you have seen other black people arrive in and then leave this country, exhausted at being treated so poorly. Ask yourself the simple question – do you have unfinished business here. If the answer is yes, then stay. If the answer is no, then run, my God, run. You are not a martyr.
  10. For the sake of sheer survival, focus upon the positive. There are people here who love you. People here who love you. Many, many white German people. They love you. Despite your struggles, you have found greater personal and professional support here than you have found anywhere else. Look how Look at the joy with which you are greeted at the local supermarket, at your favourite local restaurant. Brother, they call you. The Lebanese, the Vietnamese, the Sudanese embrace you.
  11. Remember that no matter how much you might feel despised or stereotyped, you are only ever one new conversation or great first date away from changing your life. Cherish your many friendships. Send text messages out of the blue to those who are dearest to you, telling them you love them. When they ask “whatever prompted that?”, then tell them “I am grateful for you, and whenever I feel grateful for someone, I tell them.”
  12. And finally, step number 12. Start wearing brighter colours. Pink, green, red, yellow, orange, even gold. Shine so that you are undeniable. Your skin is a spectacular canvas. Each time you are smiling and vibrant in a place that would rather see you dull and invisible, you will grow in hope. Keep loving, keep pushing. Keep loving, keep pushing. Keep loving. Keep pushing.