I’m not exactly sure where this is going to go. I just want to put that out there before we get any further, just so that if there’s a case where one of you gets to the end of this and says, “What exactly was that?” you can’t say you that weren’t warned. I consider myself to be a forthright type of brother, or at least someone who aspires to be as forthright as he can in an intimate moment. I’d consider this, our first communication on DO/LOVE/LIVE, as such a moment. So yeah, this is more of a freestyle from the mind and heart than a manipulated verse, which means that I’m trusting that what I’m about to say will register with you on some level because it’s real and it’s true.
But having said that, if you want to know what this is, or what it’s meant to be, or at the very least what we here at DO/LOVE/LIVE are calling this, then let me simply say that you’ve landed on Do Love Live Your Truth. I know what you’re thinking: Great name but so was the Big Mac until you found out that what you thought was prime beef between those two Styrofoam buns might have once made a run at Preakness. So let me elaborate a bit. My father once told me that the most courageous and selfless thing a man can do is tell another man how he got over, how he made it through some tough shit in life. Well this is the place where we’re going to talk that talk. This is the place where our contributors are going to share their stories, under two conditions: 1) The story they share must begin with the three words “The truth is,” 2) Ensure that the story told adheres to a truth to the core of the writer. And so given that I ascribe to the philosophy of leading from the front, it’s only fair that the next thing that you hear from me is…
The truth is that I recently spent two days in a room full of strangers of every color possible, trying to learn how to dismantle racism in our nation’s institutions. I don’t know how I ended up there but—wait. That’s not the truth. The truth is that I ended up there because I’ve become exhausted with my own inability to discuss racism with people, primarily white people, who believe that since slavery has ended, Obama held shit down for eight years and Beyonce had the opportunity to toss up a black power fist at a Super Bowl, I should chill the fuck out.
That’s the truth as to why I was there, but knowing why I was there doesn’t account for the fact that this was some shit I just normally wouldn’t do, but when my options are to either sit in a room full of strangers learning new ways to talk about racism in a productive way or slapping the shit out of former friends and colleagues, I figured that it’s best not to fall victim to the new Jim Crow, to at least try to be civil.
The experience was a worthwhile one, the details of which I don’t intend to disclose. But what I do want to tell you is that while sitting there, feeling a bit exposed and vulnerable, I found myself moving through various periods in my life, rehashing moments when I personally witnessed institutional racism doing what it does best to any person of color: fucking up our day. I found myself searching for that moment when I first felt devalued, humiliated because of the color of my skin and somehow through all of that digging I found myself standing in the middle on the hallway on the fifth floor of my barracks at West Point. It’s my sophomore year, also known as my Yuk Year. And it’s early evening. I’ve just come back from a mandatory dinner, which usually occurs on Thursday evenings at the academy. I could see myself about to go into my room where I would more than likely spend the rest of the evening behind my desktop computer screen playing Quake or Doom, whichever one has a sniper with a grappling hook—I can’t remember. But before I can open my door one of my classmates approaches me with a questionable grin on his face and says to me, “Hey, Wolfe, you aren’t going to go sleep over at the Fifth Regiment tonight?” It was obvious to me that his comment was in jest because there are only four regiments at West Point, each of which is made up of three battalions which are made up of three companies per battalion. If I had to guess I’d say that each of the four regiments has approximately one thousand cadets in them.
I asked this guy, this friend, what he was speaking of, to which he replied, “You know. The Fifth Regiment. Where they put all of the black cadets.” His smile seemed to grow a bit more wide than it was before and I can only imagine now how my face must have looked to him. But the truth is I don’t remember how I responded. I don’t recall if I tried to fake a smile to get through the awkward moment because like I said, I had considered the person a friend. I can’t say for sure if my face carried a sense of pain or outrage, or if it showed the degree of shock that still lingers in me today. But what I can say is the truth, which is that in this hallway I was reminded that even at West Point there were those who believed and even found humor in the idea that the color of my skin meant that I didn’t belong in this place, a message made clear to me by the smile on this friend’s face.
This wouldn’t be the last time that I’d hear about the Fifth Regiment. It wouldn’t be the last time a white person tried to use humor to mask and perpetuate subtle or overt racist behavior. And honestly, it wouldn’t be the last time that I found myself not knowing how to respond. But again, that’s why I was in this workshop, trying to learn how to take my pain and rage and sorrow and disappointment and package it into something powerful that I could share: My Truth.
photo by ELIZA