Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
A piece of unfortunate history happened twenty four years ago........
Things had settled down that evening. The fires engulfed the swap meets nearby. Gunshots were heard in the distance. My mother returned home from bible study, covering her head with a newspaper trying to make sense of the insensible. Hours before, a jury in Simi Valley, California acquitted four officers accused of beating down motorist Rodney King. A video captured the ‘evidence’. The President saw it, the entire world saw it, one rap group wanted to buy this valuable piece of history to add in a video. At this time twenty four years ago before social media meant walking and actually speaking to each other in person, South Central and a few parts of Los Angeles burned, literally.
April 29. What does it mean to you?
Personally, it meant the mask was removed, the band-aid pulled off, the naked truth revealed for everyone to see and quite frankly the issue of race which will never be solved for as long as we deny or profit from it, became the main topic front and center during the Unrest most would call a riot. An unjust term for a group of disenfranchised people who saw no recourse, no other path that would give them the justice they need. In fact, a slogan, not a hashtag was born.
No Justice, No Peace.
For all the limited justice that continues to this day, we have seen some peace, have we not? It hasn’t been reflected to the Black lives that matter but to other races, ethnic groups. Rebuild L.A.? How can you say it has not when you do have L.A. Live which sits in the heart of downtown? How can you say L.A. has not been rebuilt when you can plainly see the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, other developments pouring into the city which means…..Rebuild L.A. never meant rebuilding South Los Angeles. If you want proof, take a look at this photo taken just this week and then take a look at the video following that.
Rebuild L.A., sure! Rebuilding the Southside? It has been twenty four years since the Unrest and rest assured, it may take twenty four more.
What does April 29 mean to you?
Does it mean a brief moment of revolutionary justice? The deeply cultured brothers and sisters who ‘chased away’ enemies from the community? A race of people who never bothered to contribute or help build the rest of the areas they invaded? A representative of a culture who blatantly shot a young black girl because she ‘feared for her life’ but in the end had enough change to pay for a bottle of orange juice? Did the fires and charred remains make us pump our fists? Did the flood of calls over the airwaves to KJLH and KGFJ from callers seeking ‘answers and solutions’ from celebrities, community activists, pastors and more ‘celebrities’ understand our plight help change things for the better? How about when the National Guard was called in by the governor to help restore 'order', standing on corners, armed with M16's ready to act if need be?
April 29. What does this date mean to you? What does it stand for?
Rodney King is dead. His final destination is unknown and will be determined by the great and just God. The four officers acquitted of the charge of beating down Mr. King still walk this earth presently. Simi Valley continues to flourish while South Los Angeles has not yet recovered from the events of this date. Next year should we be fortunate to see a 2017, there will be interest from media such as CNN, Fox and our local TV affiliates. They will venture this neighborhood, recount all of the heartbreak, tragedies and display them to us the public for ratings (since the Unrest was a boon for them anyway) and will come up with the headline we’ve all waited to see:
The L.A. Riots, 25 Years Later
What idiot would be satisfied with seeing limited progress, even more limited justice languish for one third of a century? Unfortunately in these Divided States of America, it is the status quo and it’s just the way we all like it! Social Justice Warriors, the kind that kill for attention to have their faces posted on magazines and newspapers, let me remind you this is where it all started. This is South Central Los Angeles and believe it or not, this day, April 29 has much to do with your ongoing legacy as it relates to justice and equal protection under the law because when the killer of Latasha Harlins was set free by a judge, and a jury in a place called Simi Valley without hesitation absolved four officers of a crime the whole world plainly witnessed, these examples are as much a part of what you’re fighting for than the young men and women who have always faced wrongdoing from our ‘peace officers’. This date, April 29 belongs to you. Own it.
April 29, 1992. The day we who remember will own this date for the rest of our lives.
What I am about to say is the truth. We live in a time and place where truth is hated, depised, turned away and scoffed at. Yet, the words you’re about to read are important, if not controversial. They’re important because I have observed what is the true problem with our young people, outside of autism or any other health or mental related issue affecting our children today. Allow me to say what I’m feeling in my heart at this hour.
To our young people,
Every time you decide to act up in class, disrupt a teacher or adult, decide you are the only one that matters, damn anyone else. You have made the conscious choice to let the dominant society mark you as a potential prisoner in their ever expanding prison industrial complex. Oh yes, you imitate our comedians, but you forget every one laughs at comedians so when you act up in the classroom by your loud and disruptive behavior, you may get the laughs but no one takes you seriously, and your peers around you will never take you seriously. You think everything is funny and that life is full of jokes, but when you step out of your house, you’ll find a hostile police force that is looking for an excuse to eliminate you. They have jokes too, and a badge. Remember the Christopher Dorner manhunt? They have shown to go all out if they want you dead and they will assure their ‘homeboys’ they will take you out without your begging, your cries for help, your tears. They can care less about your pathetic tears and take joy in laughing at you when you cry. Even cracking a few jokes at your expense, just like the jokes you cracked on an adult and thought there would be no consequence for that action.
You think every damn thing is funny, like it’s a joke. You don’t even suspect that your attitude, your meanness, your damn mouth proves you’re not the one to be messed with. You have the nerve to say to an adult, “do you know who the hell I am?” as if your Instagram or Snapchat account matters, along with your ‘followers’. No one gives a damn about you, nor they ever will for as long as you’re one of the warm bodies filling up a prison cell in a place far away from your mother, father, guardian, anyone who mattered in your life. You will continue the legacy of our race stuffing up these isolated,cold, death camps designed to limit our numbers. This ‘new’ America, one where gender identity and choice of preferences is much like the old America except they are speeding up the process where your black or brown face is no longer required to remain with the populace through gentrification or higher rents in your neighborhood.
You continue to laugh and think it’s funny? Your life is but a vapor, and you’re wasting it by not taking these issues seriously.
Earlier, it was written that the Westside Kids Are Winning, and they are because of what our descendants and elders used to do; studying and aiming to do our best via education. Now we’ve become so distracted that you’re looking at YouTube videos reciting ‘Deez Nuts’ or singing another pop song that you listen to or using your phones in class just to take a picture, yet refuse to work on a lesson or learn anything going on in the world around you. Granted by the next generation, the Westside Kids and their allies will not only surpass you but they will not remember you. This entire society in 2016 has proven through their ignorance they don’t care about you. They can do without the reminders of Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford and Oscar Grant. They will not mourn for you, they will not devote one thought of using hashtags for you. If they choose to, they will use a hateful hashtag with a word designed to anger or humiliate you. One we use as a term of 'endearment'.
So you continue to laugh, continue to disrespect adults who don’t know ‘who the hell you are’, repeat the same lines from the internet, celebrity, comedian. In fact, this is all your enemies will speak about your race and your heritage. They will not brand you as a ‘slave’ although it may or may not come back to that. They will brand you with the most respectful moniker of all.
Again, once the dominant society has done this, what right should they be moved to take you seriously as a race of culture of people?
Think about it. This present generation is already making that decision for you.
As of past Thursday, you all know of the death of one Prince Rogers Nelson. He was a man, a towering giant in the music industry despite his true physical stature. With all of the tributes and platitudes of the past weekend, I hope you’re ready for one more. I had the pleasure of listening to his music, watching his movies and his interviews, following this true artist through most of his career. Yes, he was definitely deserving of the moniker of ‘true artist’ as he often told the truth about an industry that no doubt owes him so much for what he produced and shared with us.
Whenever a pop cultural icon dies, there is certainly the chance stories will be told, brief encounters will be described of a ‘chance meeting’ or otherwise, tales of our experience with the icon that we remember and had an impact on our lives. Therefore, allow me to offer one such ‘adventure’ involving Mr. Nelson although he and I never met face to face.
Allow me to share the moment I was kicked out of my table by Prince.
It was around the year 1990 and I, along with cousins from the Bay Area, were invited to attend one of the nightclubs near Hollywood. Friends of my cousins knew someone who ran the club who let us stay for the evening. I had a girlfriend at the time and we sat in the balcony overseeing the dance floor, observing famous musicians enter and say hello to everyone. These were musicians who you may have heard of before. The ones we met are still performing, keeping their name in the public eye. Perhaps in the present time you may see them on an episode of the TV One series ‘Unsung’, but that night at the club, everyone knew the musicians, rappers and groups greeting us. The positive, upbeat mood all changed when a huge bearded gentleman approached our table and politely said to us these unforgettable words: (Paraphrasing)
“Prince needs this table.” Prince. One of his bodyguards is asking us to ‘leave’ our table.
Of course, who was I to say no? The man is a music legend while I was just an ‘up-and-coming’ poet who just begun to stretch his wings and fly. Without any fuss, my girlfriend and I left the table, found other seats with my cousins and their friends and continued to enjoy the evening. Without any fuss or arguments, my girlfriend and I agreed to move although these days it would have been quite the social media rant, complete with pictures. I should add that before we all left, my eyes spotted another icon, this one from the world of sports, walk down a flight of steps. He would later in the year win a championship with a team based in the Midwest. That enough clues for you?
Looking back on this now, it would be easy for me to write down feelings of hurt, anger and disappointment having been ‘kicked out’ of my seat by a musical genius such as Prince. It was an eye opener as for the first time I was exposed to the music industry in terms of where popular stars meet, gather and hang out. In my time as a published author and in running the book expo, I’ve only gotten a taste of what it’s like to be in the public eye doing interviews, going to other events to speak and holding workshops. It will never compare to the world Prince lived in, never. The fact our removal from our seat didn’t result in a ‘never meet your heroes’ situation, I happy to say during the course of my life, I will never forget that night. All I had to do was keep a seat warm for a musical icon. How many of us can say that?
Thanks to Prince for giving us so much great music and the memories to go along with them.
My time in Northern California taught me quite a lot, although what I experienced is something I didn’t prepare for. For example, what I learned is that not every progressive is tolerant, not every conservative is ignorant, well the sane ones anyway. While I set up shop at the farmers market in the city where I lived, I ran into all sorts of interesting folks who had a lot on their minds – and shared them with me. Most Saturdays they would come and liven up the corner when movement was slow, other times their presence wasn’t needed but I wasn’t the one to tell them that. Still, it was a learning experience.
What I’ve also discovered which continues to sting me personally, were the ‘activists’ who felt it was their duty to become the vanguards of the city yet found no possible way to interact with me on a personal level. For example, one of the activists who operated a website based on the political and social news and notes of this city stopped by my table (become it evolved into the mobile bookstore) made a few suggestions on how the bookstore if I should find a space, could be run. He signed my mailing list and then I didn’t hear from him again. That’s okay and not an offense. What was offensive is the fact another activist who was a favorite of the website would do his best not to even look at me or the books. He turned his head as he started to pass by my canopy (which I thought was really childish). There were others who either didn’t acknowledge my presence or failed to realize that a man, yes, a black man sold books inside the farmers market when the city didn’t have a bookstore. You would have thought this would have been an idea they would have loved, instead it was loathed and for whatever reason besides the obvious (?), I do not know.
It’s one thing to say you’re fighting for gender equality, same-sex marriage, and against the greed of the One Percent, that the city should have a financial engine that treats its citizens with respect and dignity. It’s quite another to metaphorically turn a blind eye or even a head to someone who for no reason at all, decided to sell books to a city without a store at the time. Of course, if you happen to venture to the website where these activists hang out, you’ll find the racial equation has not yet been solved. Vile, despicable and mean online comments reveal more about the character of these activists than what they espouse.
If you look on social media, you undoubtedly have been exposed to this sort of ‘group think’ online, the comments and instantaneous posts of a political mindset focused on one issue, one point of view that must be addressed. Dissenting opinions be damned. The individuals who champion a cause or agenda cannot and will not allow themselves to see race. “Love is all you need”, doncha know? In the past twenty five years or so, my response is simply “What's love got to do with it?”
From my vantage point, young men are facing assault by rogue cops, and each other. Love is not found from either party. What needs to be found is a view of understanding. I’m of a different ethnicity, the pigmentation is darker but it doesn’t mean I’m any less of a man for being so. Whether or not I don’t fit the right ‘color’ or support your political causes should not be a sign I am not empathic with your cause. If you come from a point of view where love should win, then demonstrate that by treating me as a man, not as a stereotype. Until this has been put into practice by these activists – the same ones still living in that city – their words of equality will and shall always remain a hollow cry for justice.
Dear dominant, visible society,
This missive comes with a concern and a warning to you. For quite some time, given a space of fifty years or so, you have been curious about us ever since we’ve demonstrated, protested, and won victories in this so-called ‘United States’. You allowed our kind to assert ourselves, display cultural pride, all the better for you to strategize plans to eventually bring us to our knees, never relenting from your attack. All it took was the simple introduction of narcotics and other drugs into our communities to tear down generations of men whom you deemed invisible. Then as it behooved you, moved in a culture different than the invisible citizens who lived in their communities. Almost instantly, the storefronts left vacant by you were available to those not born in this land, while we who are invisible remained that in that unfortunate status. It also took an ‘uprising’ based on a Not Guilty verdict and pieces of evidence on videotapes; one showing a man beaten down by those sworn to ‘protect and serve’, the other? A tragic recording of a young girl falsely accused of stealing orange juice, shot down in cold blood by the store owner who later was acquitted of her crime by a judge who felt it was within her tainted mind to rule that invisible people have no rights, that ‘something’ must have happened to cause the fatal gunshot although later reports refute the store owners’ claim of the young woman who happened to have the money required to pay for her item.
How long has this been? Your plan of secretly, quietly exterminating our kind has worked flawlessly to perfection, granting you enough time to insert whatever agenda suited your fancy for the populace that remains. One such plan involves the word ‘diversity’. Here is what our original Invisible Man wrote about your so-called buzzword:
Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway? – diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you’ll have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business they’ll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive toward colorlessness? But seriously, and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain. It’s “winner take nothing” that is the great truth of our country or any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one and yet many – This is not prophecy, but description. Thus one of the greatest jokes in the world is the spectacle of the whites busy escaping blackness and becoming blacker every day, and the blacks striving toward whiteness, becoming quite dull and gray. None of us seems to know who he is or where he’s going.
You do realize that your conformity cloaked in the guise of ‘diversity’ means should I relent, I would have to surrender the one thing that sets me apart: my blackness. Your ‘diversity’ would mean that I have to subscribe to your thoughts, your feelings, your issues while you forget the struggles I and so many others had to experience growing up in an urban neighborhood – and lived to tell the tale. It means that I would have to give up my manhood, questioned, analyzed and denounced for your benefit. I would no longer walk this earth as a man, but something less threatening, more….cool in your eyes. It would mean that I would have to relinquish what the Creator has granted me through birth to suddenly ‘fit in’ your new antiseptic society. Of course, you would tempt me by insisting you know my struggles; recounting our past and painful history in America bound by chains, a ‘separate but equal’ policy that caused my elders to be shut out of society and focus on the issues of the day: police brutality and/or the killings of young black men as a result which I may remind you, did not just happen in a town called Ferguson, Missouri but has continued a dangerous pattern ever since our ‘freedom’ from legalized bondage.
Your conformity is a threat to the very culture I was raised and nurtured in. When at a time a group of men and women sought to protect their neighborhoods using their minds to uplift and inspire the communities such as Oakland and Harlem. Yet, as one city witnessed endless deaths and murder before the hammer of Gentrification removed that chapter many residents lived under for years. Lest we forget, when you move into our neighborhoods, your attitudes towards the long-time residents insist that your culture, vastly different from the people you’re moving out, is a conformity not based on mutual understanding and love, but of force. How can you convince someone who has lived on a city address for years who now has to move out to peacefully accept you? How can you endear yourselves to your new community when you insist on taking over the same parks and recreational spaces you barely noticed?
The Invisible Man died in his hole. His hibernation seemed permanent and ironically, because he refused to relent, refused to conform to your ‘diversity’, he died a slow, tragic death. You even blame his memoirs as poisoning the next generations so you seek to have his words banned. Perhaps his words reveal the lack of diversity yourselves uphold. No matter. Suddenly, those of us who have lived as Invisible Men are now seeing the fruits of your labor – and they are taken under consideration as suspicious. We do not trust you, then, now or ever. We will continue to watch you with careful eyes. We will hear with attentive ears for any slogans, catchphrases or persuasive speech that may sound peaceful when first uttered, but belie a sinister falsehood. As Invisible Men, we will watch, we will listen and we will be ready to confront you each and every day of our existence. For now, this is all we can do because you simply, adamantly refuse to accept us as we are and desire to be.
From an Invisible Man in 2016