A Letter to Michael Brown (We’re all too late)

Photo Credit: http://www.NBCNews.com

Dear Michael Brown,

I’m too late; every black man who understands is too late—90 seconds too late, a day too late, months and years too late. We didn’t get there in time and you died in the middle of a street.

I don’t know if we were very different at that age. I imagine in many ways we weren’t. Some of the media pundits say you were a thug and others claim martyr. They march now, in your name, because of what you represent. You’re a placeholder, a meme, a tool, a t-shirt, an agenda for so many. And we’ll never know the real you, will we? To say the boy who shook down the convenient store owner for a box of cigars was the real you is easy, but that’s only one image in a giant tapestry. You were too young to be labeled as more than what you were—an 18-year-old black boy living in Ferguson.

I apologize to you Michael, and to the many who have come before you. Like you, I grew up with both of my parents. My father never did a day in jail. He was a marine, Vietnam vet, and later a therapist. My mother a college educated social worker. We went to church. I always felt loved, but as I grew up I also felt angry. It was a kind of anger I could never fully understand—it was in my bones. Looking back, I realize it was an anger rooted in a search for my identity. To be young and black is hard. The media says we’re dangerous and to be feared. It’s a long-standing narrative that hasn’t gone away and likely never will, and you and I inherited it. Meanwhile, our peers tell us it’s not cool to be smart. To excel at anything except sports is social suicide. We have to be hard; we have to let our pants hang low to say, “F*ck you to society”—and it’s passive aggressive. I’ve felt it. I know you did too. So we dive head first into the only place that seems to celebrate us no matter what—rap culture. I don’t call it hip hop or urban, because it’s not. Rap is a celebration of the proliferation of guns, drugs, violence, misogyny, and every stereotype we’ve been forced to swallow. The thing is most of us get the chance to grow out of it. We go to college; we get jobs and raise families—we join the military, even become police officers ourselves. Your life was cut short and we can only ponder what you would have become. In our culture, this is a rebellious phase, and it can get the better of us and we can end up dead. Teens in other cultures go through this too. It may be replaced with rock music and instead of blunts its joints, paint huffing, and Adderall. Truth is Michael, we can’t afford the phase anymore, we can’t afford to rebel like this. We have to find another way.

It’s the responsibility of every black man that survived this phase to look out for each other. We failed you—we failed all of you. No one is going to look out for us, except us. It’s a harsh truth but it’s not going come from the president, civil rights leaders, NAACP, or any other organization. It’s going to come from that brother who graduated from your high school, who went to college and got a good job, and swears he’ll never return to a place like Ferguson. That’s the problem Michael; we have to return to educate, to encourage and to save. It’s a community issue. We have to start taking care of each other. I wish, so desperately, I had crossed paths with you that day—that I had been in that convenient store—a moment could have changed everything.

We have to understand that not all police are rotten—for each questionable officer, there are ten outstanding. I don’t know what type you encountered that day in Darren Wilson, but my heart breaks wondering what lead to your demise. As a community, we have to do better. We need to find a way to save each other because we do need saving—and it’s a shame you had to die to remind us of that.

I’ll continue to pray for you and your family.

With love,

Aaron

You Scare Me To Death (Working through “Gone Girl”) (Spoiler Alert)

I recently saw David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” which resonated on a few levels. It’s a slick film based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, with an underlying metaphor about the futility of marriage. The female protagonist is Amy, a scorned woman who is also a psychopath. She constructs a revenge scenario of biblical proportions and sets out to make her husband suffer in unimaginable ways.

The film treats marriage as some type of shared psychosis. It’s emotional but also very mental. What exactly happens to a person’s brain when they get married, or better yet, fall deeply in love? Things change upstairs–chemicals and neurons, an altered psychosis.

Amy’s mission is to make her husband feel as bad as she did–worse. She recognizes that at some point, early on, she did love her husband but that love turns to hate upon discovering his infidelity. I understand that Amy is a murderous psychopath, but how she sees marriage may not be that far-fetched. Her philosophy is that when we meet someone and begin to build a relationship, we enter into a social contract. Who you say you are or pretend to be, is who we accept as the truth. It’s like both parties are agreeing to this lie or revision of who they both are–sure, things will come out later but they shouldn’t be earth-shaking shockers.

Where the overall theme becomes apparent, is within the last 15 minutes that leads to the climax and resolution. Amy attempts to restore the contract she had with her husband and in the process she kills. She reclaims her marriage and renegotiates the terms of their agreement. This time with a trump card–pregnancy. The fear of Amy having a child and raising it is what propels her husband to stay. And their marriage becomes an even bigger production. Most marriages are just that–a production. There’s the public version, the private version, and then the version that exists in silence. It’s what isn’t said in the moments at the dinner table. There are people who have been married for years and quietly resent each other, but they don’t divorce. It’s that shared psychosis–a mental illness. Yes, Amy is insane but marriage isn’t for the sane. And they aren’t always about happiness for some. There are those who take comfort in knowing the devil they sleep with. Once you understand the nature of a thing, you know what it’s capable of. It can be much more frightening starting something new and having to get to know the ends and outs of that person. What if they’re worse than the person you left? What if they hurt you again and you can’t recover? These are frightening thoughts for most. 

In marriages people hurt each other–some hurt big, some small. Some go out of their way to hurt, and some just make horrible mistakes. Meeting someone sets unknown events into motion. It’s the unknown that we crave and that’s healthy. However, when venturing into the unknown, always be sure you can see a light at the end of the tunnel or at least a good exit route.