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Anyone who knows me understands that anger has always been a staple in my life. Not as an immature expression of myself, but as a source of energy. Anger is a fuel that drives the vehicle of determination. It is the dam that allows me to resist the tides of discouragement in the hopes that I may one day have the life that I want. It is a shield and a sword, and it has served me well. Yet, I find myself at my wits end.

Philando Castile is the latest victim in a long line of outrageous shootings due to police/civilian interactions. While there are debatable shootings that have taken place, this is not one of them. Legal results aside, this is a travesty. Castile, the legal owner of a firearm, was shot after he calmly and respectfully informed Officer Yanes that he was armed. When I was young my father, the deacon, gave me a second Ten Commandments:

“Be respectful.”

“Speak clearly.”

“Hands at the top of the wheel.”

“No sudden movements.”

“Don’t drive around with too many black guys in the car.”

“Do what they say, do not “exercise your rights.”

“You don’t know what kind of cop you’re going to get.”

These and many other rules were not given merely for the sake of being respectful of the law,  they were given with the explicit intention of getting me through the interaction alive. I didn’t appreciate the precarious situation that I was in as a black man, but now I’m all too aware of the stakes.

Rodney King’s beating was too early in my life to appreciate, but Trayvon Martin’s shooting was the first time I paid attention. Again, putting the legal proceedings aside, take a second to think about the situation surrounding Martin’s death. The catalyst for the interaction was a 17 year old looking “suspicious” because he was wearing a hoodie, a staple outfit choice for the negro thug. The hoodie wasn’t the problem however, it was his skin color.

It was my skin color.

There is a tension with being black that I’ve struggled with for my entire life. That tension stems from society’s expectations and my response to them.  All at once, I am a lazy, shiftless, shifty, uppity, scheming, arrogant, disrespectful, emotionally unstable, ignorant, uncivilized, super powered “human” that will seduce women (especially white women!) with my enlarged member. There is a constant struggle every day to prove myself to my peers that I’m worthy of the same rights and privileges as them, and it’s not their fault. It is a product of society’s framing of different groups of people. This framing produces prejudice and racist qualities that seep into everyday life.

I have never been called a nigger (to my face); I have never had dogs sent after me, or a fire hose used on me to convince me to disperse. But there have been small, bee-sting like moments that remind me that that there is still an undercurrent of toxicity with race relations:

“Oh you’re so well spoken!”

“Why do you talk so white?”

“You can talk like that, but don’t forget where you come from.”

“My family wouldn’t be ok with me dating a black guy.”

“Oh wow, you sounded a little hood there!”

I’ve had people tell me that my concerns about racial relations were overblown, that I just had a chip on my shoulder. I’ve had women walk on the other side of the street when they see me. I’ve had kids run away from me because I was wearing a hoodie! Notice that I’ve omitted the race of the people involved in these events. This is because black people are just as capable of racism and prejudice.

Some of the most toxic people in my life have been black. These are the kind of people that insist that to be black you must fulfill *these* requirements, or your “black card will be revoked.” What requirements? Irrelevant, the mere premise is a fallacy. While that particular topic is for another post, people are more than capable of being terrible to people that are considered their own.

My entire life has been structured around responding to external expectations placed on me, to say nothing of my own demons. Every time another black man is killed under questionable circumstances, it reopens the wound of existential dread that doesn’t just come from a fear of interacting with cops. If the worst happened and I was killed in a police interaction, I am afraid of my dissection. Would my body even be allowed to cool before a myriad of justifications were offered for my death?

My identity is my own. I do not claim all of black culture by default, nor do I remain ignorant to the issues that plague my people and the world. I’m trying to keep myself honest and be secure in my own skin. Every day is a fight to reaffirm this. Every day requires the anger I have to be calibrated in a productive way.

I have gone from hating the fact that I was black (and apologizing for the actions of other blacks) to fully (and blindly) being outraged at every perceived slight against black people. I am no longer on that pendulum, but finding a viable middle ground is difficult some days. Today is one of those days.

I’m fucking exhausted.

 

 

If you haven’t heard by now, Raven Symone is in a bit of a bind. See, a few days ago, Raven proceeded to go on Oprah’s Where Are They Now? and explain that she didn’t want labels, specifically the labels of being Gay and African American. This spawned such a hell-storm of backlash that the controversy has had a longer life than most internet stories. My friends and I found ourselves in the middle of the fray. A few days from the time of this writing, I had an in depth conversation with my peers concerning the issues presented by the statement. From this, I had an eye opening experience about the underpinnings of Ms. Symone’s statements. It is important to note that I will be talking solely about the label of “African-American” for this piece.

This being said I’d like to provide my central thesis for this piece now, in the hopes that I keep your attention long enough to see how I get to said thesis:

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The problem is not the label of African-American. Rather, the problem is being forced to identify with a label society has placed on you (Nigger, Thug, and the like) through stereotypes and prejudicial treatment; while on the other hand having to endure NOT being Black enough for your fellow peers. As such, the deconstruction and rejection of the labels leads to society wondering how to categorize you. This rejection of labels, juxtaposed with the aggressive progression and lifting up of ourselves as a people, is the solution to our Race problem.

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Considering the fact that Raven has actually provided clarification for her statements, we can begin this discussion within the confines of Raven’s intent:

“I never said I wasn’t black… I want to make that very clear. I said, I am not African-American. I never expected my personal beliefs and comments to spark such emotion in people. I think it is only positive when we can openly discuss race and being labeled in America,” – Raven Symone

From this we can gleam something important. Labels to Raven are a non-stater and only serve as a means of placing someone in a box that they don’t cleanly fit in. To call herself an “American” is to say that she is beyond these labels and constraints and she is afforded the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. In other words, she doesn’t want to be limited.

Now while this is a wonderful sentiment, this is something that has very negative implications.

First, Raven Symone has the luxury of being in a position where she can forgo labels. Ms. Symone is a successful woman who has done a lot for herself. Having money, and the power that comes with it, has allowed her to elevate herself past the standard preconceived notions of what it means to be African-American or Black. Every Black/African-American however does not have the luxury of being able to so easily distance oneself from labels, whether that be through society’s labels or the self inflicted racism (more on that in a bit).

Second, a natural result of calling herself an American is to imply that we are afforded the same rights and opportunities as everyone else and that is simply. not. true. While we have made much progress towards equality we are far from done. The fact remains that we are not at a point where everyone in America can call themselves Americans. To be fair, this isn’t just concerning Blacks, but every minority.

Third, there is the underlying sentiment that to be called “African-American” instead of “American” is to somehow worse. It implies that “African American” is actually a pejorative. This, juxtaposed with the fact that many identify with the term African – American, gives one the feeling that she is rejecting her own race.

These points, in my humble opinion, bring up appropriate concerns about the implications of Ms. Symone’s statement. This being said, there is another side of this that also provides compelling counters.

For one, some people actually do find the term “African-American” to be limiting and/or inappropriate with respect to their identity. There are many reasons for this, such a having a lack of geographical, familial, or cultural ties to the particular phrase (and more to the point, Africa). Regardless of the reasons, some people just don’t want to be labeled.

By extension, there is the argument that by virtue of claiming oneself as “African American” is to actually limit oneself because the label is simply a manifestation of being the “other”, different, and unequal. If one’s objective is to normalize oneself, an appropriate method of attack would be to just claim the title of the “normal” group. Given, this doesn’t work in every scenario, but for the purposes of this particular argument it does.

I could go on and on about the merits of both sides of this debate, yet that would not lead us to a proper solution.

On one hand, there are those that believe that to identify with “African-American” is to side with a symbol of solidarity. On the other hand, there is the notion that rejecting the “African-American” label is such to reject being Black and, by implication, one’s culture and identity. Is it possible to synthesize these two points.

This is a problem of Blackness, and the evidence that one embraces in order to express said Blackness. For many of us, myself included, our first reaction to Raven’s comments was incredulity at the notion that she could so quickly forget her roots. However, was this really what she was getting at? It’s doubtful, especially in light of her most recent comments. Eschewing labels is a noble goal, and I believe that at a base this is all she was trying to do.

Raven is not without fault however. Where Raven dropped the ball was by not clarifying that she wasn’t rejecting her roots or culture by virtue of saying she wasn’t “African-American” (right away at least). There is something to be said for acknowledging those who still identify with the label. However, there are many of us within the Black community who have suffered at the hands of a people that rejected their own. Perhaps this is something that contributes to the rejection of the labels that have been placed upon us, but that is neither here nor there. The solution to these concerns is to show solidarity amongst ourselves in order to facilitate our growth as a people, regardless of how you identify. Labels aside we live in a society that reminds us everyday that we are Black, in spite of any efforts to not be labeled as such. The unity that is need has been shown in light of the Ferguson debacle is a fine example.

This brings us back to my thesis: The problem is not the label of African-American. Rather, the problem is being forced to identify with a label society has placed on you (Nigger, Thug, and the like) through stereotypes and prejudicial treatment; while on the other hand having to endure NOT being Black enough for your fellow peers. As such, the deconstruction and rejection of the labels leads to society wondering how to categorize you. This rejection of labels, juxtaposed with the aggressive progression and lifting up of ourselves as a people, is the solution to our Race problem.

If you identify with the label of “African-American”, then by all means do so. If you reject the label, that is fine as well. At the end of the day, as long as we can look each other and say “I love you, support you, and want the best for you” then everything else is moot.

The name of the game is solidarity, we have come too far to forget the rules now.

I’ve had 15 years to reflect on my brother’s death. On Labor Day of 1999, Christopher Omar Mason was murdered over a girl. The short version of this story is that the killer, Khalid Wilcox, found out that my brother was seeing the girl in question; went to her house (where my brother was spending the night), climbed in through the window, and killed them both. This obviously wasn’t the best thing for an eight-year-old boy to hear. I didn’t realize it yet, but my mind was going to become my sanctuary.  Before this realization however, I did the only thing I could do in this situation. I thought.

I thought about the fact that Chris and I had made a promise to go to Florida together once he became successful.

I thought about the fact that Chris and I shared a room together.

I thought about his laugh.

I thought about his smile.

I thought about the fact that people were justifying his death by saying that he was living “a life of sin” because he was having sex with this girl.

I thought about the fact that I or my family, did absolutely nothing to deserve it.

I thought about the notions of heaven and hell, and how fleeting those assurances were.

I thought about how nice it’d be if Khalid, my brother’s killer, got the death penalty.

And for a while, this is where I was stuck.

How nice would it be, I thought, to see this man who so unceremoniously took my brother from me, suffer in the same way  that Chris did? How wonderful would it be to know that Khalid would be rotting in the ground? Wouldn’t I be well within my rights to give him exactly what he deserved? Couldn’t Khalid’s corpse be just the medicine I needed to sleep at night? Wouldn’t that fix everything?

The answer is no, obviously. It always was, and will always be, no.

The Death Penalty is a barbaric, inhumane response to one’s crimes; and I sincerely believe that we as a species are doing ourselves a disservice by using it as a means of punishment.

First, it accomplishes nothing, save the death of the individual. While it is purported to be a deterrent for criminals, the studies that are used to back this claim have been called into question. This is also juxtaposed with the fact that, in most cases, the victim’s family will not feel better about the situation once the offender is dead. Sure, there may be the initial gratification, but after this they must still cope with the fact that their loved one is no longer around.  Furthermore, what about the criminal’s family? We always feel bad for the victim’s family and the loss that they must now endure; but we never take into consideration the criminal’s family. Criminals have mothers, fathers, siblings, and loved ones just like the victim. Not only are we backing these state mandated murders, we’re also forcing another family to deal with the loss of a loved one.  In addition to all of this, how does the following sentence make sense?:

“You killed someone, so we’re going to kill you to teach you (and others), to not kill anyone.”

To be fair, if someone knows that they’re going to die because of their actions, what happens if they do a cost-benefit analysis and come to the conclusion of “Screw it, I’m going to do this anyway”? At that point, the Death Penalty is just giving the criminal what they wanted, an easy way out.

Second, the notion of “cruel and unusual punishment” as the standard for how we kill someone is silly. We begin the “humanity” aspect of the conversation by saying, “Ah ok we’re murdering someone, but what’s the humane way to go about murdering someone?” Funnily enough, this isn’t because there’s some terminal disease that is afflicting a person, this is a punishment. We’re actively taking this person’s life into our hands for the sake of making a point, and we’re concerned about whether or not we can sleep at night because we chose to give them a death cocktail rather than putting them in the chair? Especially considering that we have been oh-so-creative in our methods of killing, I fail to see why we try to make a proper distinction between one method of killing and another. Death is death, don’t become squeamish when the way someone dies suddenly makes you uncomfortable after you’ve advocated for their death.

Third, killing someone is expensive. For example, in California alone: here is the breakdown of costs concerned with the Death Penalty since 1978:

  • $1.94 billion–Pre-Trial and Trial Costs
  • $925 million–Automatic Appeals and State Habeas Corpus Petitions
  • $775 million–Federal Habeas Corpus Appeals
  • $1 billion–Costs of Incarceration

This is compared to how much it generally costs to keep someone in prison annually: $21,000 to $33,000.

Even more damming, this isn’t even getting into the actual costs of the materials necessary to end someone’s life “humanely”. As expected however, it’s an arm and a leg. The cost of using the “safe” drugs has risen 10 to 15 times what they used to be, due to the standard drugs now being scarce. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that we are now looking to new, experimental drugs to carry out the executions, which leads to botched executions, where a criminal suffers for 25 minutes before his life is extinguished. So not only has the process become more costly, we can’t even be assured that the death will be quick and painless.

Fourth, we can never be 100% sure that we are actually killing the perpetrator of the crime. Since 1973, there have been over 140 people exonerated due to various circumstances. Furthermore, there are people who, due to strong evidence, may have been wrongfully killed. Even still, there are people who have been posthumously pardoned. How can we stand by such a final act when we can’t even be sure we’re killing the right person?

Fifth, we’re hypocritical. Many of our leaders claim to be a Christian/God-fearing. We claim that we follow Christ’s teachings and that we should all abide by them. Yet, the person that we claim to be our Lord and Savior NEVER responded with unjustified violence, especially death. Christ allegedly took a terrible beating, relentless ridicule, and death by crucifixion without ever resisting. He even went for far as to plead for his murders’ forgiveness while dying. I do not believe in Christianity, but reader, if you consider yourself a Christian and believe in the Death Penalty you have to re-evaluate your belief system.

Sixth, would you able to kill the criminal yourself? If there was a situation, where the government allowed you to hand down the execution yourself, regardless of whether or not this person affected you personally, would you be able to pull the trigger/inject the chemicals/flip the switch/etc.? If one is so sure that a criminal needs to die, they need to be able to do it themselves. We as a society inherently find killing wrong, which is why we have justifiable and excusable defenses to murder. We always start at “murder is bad” and depending on the case it morphs into something that remains a negative or becomes something that we can appreciate and understand. As such, could we really find it in ourselves to hand down such an permanent sentence ourselves? It is disingenuous to not practice what you preach.

Seventh (I’ve really thought about this), there are ways in which people may pay for their crimes without their lives. If someone is condemned to a life in prison, wouldn’t it be possible to have them work by producing materials of some kind to give back to society? Wouldn’t this be more valuable than just having them whither away appealing their decision, or spending life in prison without any sort of contribution to society? If these people have lost most of their rights, we are well within our power to fully utilize them in some way, shape, or form. To be frank, to kill a criminal or just let them sit in prison until they die is a waste. Rehabilitation or paying their debt to society through work is a better option.

We gain nothing by killing criminals. Those who murder may be the scum of the Earth. They may be despicable and beyond rehabilitation. But every time we stoop down to their level and kill another criminal, we execute a piece of our humanity in the process. We as a society are better than this. We must be, if we expect to excel as a species.

 

There is a strange problem within the African-American community, something that I didn’t pick up on until graduate school. The problem is that there is a lack of solidarity. While there are many of us who have gone on to become successful, it is the process that we must endure as members of the Black community that is a cause for concern. There is a hazing process that many of us go through that we experience from our family, friends, and elders. I truly believe that this problem creates a situation where many people, who are not able to deal with the pressure, actually succumb to the stereotypes that continue to plague our race.

When I was younger, my family put such a big emphasis on education and doing the best that I could in school. My father especially, was one who abhorred the idea of me not being educated. Every day after school, I was required to finish my homework and have it reviewed before I was free to play. This was assuming that I didn’t have anything of note to study. Being raised in such an environment, while at the time seeming “unfair”, galvanized my desire to learn and I became a sponge, sucking up as much knowledge as I could. I carry this with me today and it has been an invaluable asset to my growth as a person. Yet there was a strange juxtaposition that occurred as I gained knowledge. As I became more intelligent, articulate, and began to carry myself as such; I was labeled “white” by my peers and family members. Every time I  happily used a new word that I learned, proceeded to convey some new fact, or apply something that I learned to a real world situation, I was ridiculed. It was as if I had to make a choice between being black (and unintelligent?) or being “white” and being ostracized. This process lasted through college, and this was just with respect to learning.

I was also stigmatized because of my interests, particularly my music. I have never been one for rap, though I do listen to it occasionally. I remember when I first discovered Avenged Sevenfold, Iron Maiden, and the like. Further still I remember when I discovered Fall Out Boy, MCR, and the myriad bands/genres that are out there outside of rap. I was in love. It was strange because, while there were rappers who told stories and expressed something besides sex, money, and drugs (nod to Biggie, 2-Pac, Nas, Eminem,  etc.) the majority of the music seemed to be geared towards things that I couldn’t relate to. As such I clung to the guitar riffs and heavy drums. This did not go over well with those I considered friends and family, as once again this was just another way by which I was labeled as “white”. One particularly damming example comes from my childhood. While listening to a song heavy in guitars and screaming, my father came home. I heard him come in and went to greet him. Before even getting a word out, before any sort of “Hi, how are you?” or anything like that, I was hit with “Why’re you listening to that white boy music?” Suddenly musical preferences were strikes against me? What was I doing wrong? Needless to say I began to resent my people because in my efforts to be myself I was being ostracized by those who I had such a simple connection with, my skin color.

Anime, video games, comic books, and that realm of entertainment didn’t help either; it merely exacerbated the rejection. The straw that broke the camel’s back however, was religion.

Being Black apparently requires that you are either a Christian or a Muslim, so you can imagine the joy that befell me when I decided that the whole religion thing wasn’t for me. Being an atheist in a Black-Baptist household is essentially putting a target on your head.

“You don’t believe in God? The person who made ‘a-way outta no way? Got you up the rough side of the mountain?”

No, no I don’t.

I suppose it’s a bit more damming because I actually grew up in the church. Yet, after some “soul-searching” I ironically came to the conclusion that I probably don’t have one. This occurred during my time in college, and every summer that I came home to live with my parents was hell. You should be able to taste the irony at this point. Not to mention the looks of incredulity that I received as I explained to people my conversion. Apparently, because I am an atheist I am condemned to be the bad black guy in any Tyler Perry movie; who fails to realize that God has just wanted to be there for me. Ah, I will also find that my girlfriend/wife will go for the god-fearing man because I’m an abusive asshat without without any sort of moral compass. Alas, far be it from me to question the cross-dressing black man who exploits stereotypes for the sake of money.  The religion strike still follows me now, even in graduate school.

A few months ago I was explaining to a friend my reasoning for leaving Christianity and religion in general. Besides the standard looks that I received from her and being completely aghast at my decision, she responded to my concerns by saying that I was “just acting out” and that this “was just a phase”. Now I understand that this is something that could come from any narrow minded individual, but this particular instance was painful because this was supposed to be a friend, a black friend, with whom I thought there was something beyond the standards that I had grown accustomed to. Yet in this instance I had found nothing but narrow-mindedness and rejection.  All this being said, it is important to note how exactly these instances of uninhibited rejection influenced me.

When you are in a situation where you are ridiculed mercilessly by those of your race that you wish to be close to, you begin to resent them. Each time I was called “white” for my interests or intelligence I simply kept a tally in my head. Each time I got into a fight with my parents due to my decisions concerning religion I grew colder. I began to expect the worst from my fellow Blacks.

Do you know what it’s like to resent your own race?

Do you understand how visceral that disgust can become when you’re forced to look into the mirror every day and see something that you hate?

Imagine your race being a chip on your shoulder. Imagine engaging in sort of a bastardized double-think to sustain this absurd notion:

“I actually am white. Being black is to be below my standing. My skin color will not define me. I will purge myself of this taint and take my place among those who are truly like me.”

This manifested itself in college, where I attended York College of Pennsylvania. For the uninitiated, York is a quaint little town in PA located here. At this point in my life I had become relatively immune to the punchlines of my “whiteness”. I embraced it, and began calling myself white before anyone else could even think to use it against me. I was in a different environment however, and I quickly noticed that I was one of maybe five black people in a class. It’s important to note that five of us being in one class occurred during a good semester. So, as I was the anomaly  in a sea of white, I took it upon myself to distinguish myself from my peers as quickly as possible. Through a combination of humor and intelligence, I made it my mission to show my professors, and my peers,  that I was above their preconceived notions of Blacks. While this may seem noble, it was meant to prevent people have anything negative to say about me.

“See! Not all of us are bad!”

“I’m different!”

“I’m one of you!”

I had been ridiculed and rejected for so long  that I looked for solidarity from those that did not look like me. This is not to say that I dislike the friendships that I made with people who were different from me, racially and otherwise; but a big part of it was simply wanting to be accepted for who I was. It is a shame that I didn’t really find this until college, but even this acceptance came at a cost.

I was reminded that I was Black constantly. The odd looks that I would get as I was walking through the campus. The people holding onto their belongings ever so tightly because they didn’t want the “black guy” to mug them. I had to make my mark, to show them the extent of their ignorance. The weight on my shoulders at the beginning of each semester to represent my people was so tangible that I didn’t feel better until I spoke my opinion. Not to mention the odd comments that I received from those who were older after we engaged in conversation.

“Oh you’re so articulate.”

“You’re not like those other types.”

“You’re one of the good blacks!”

Though the younger generation was not without their comments. I was once told by a girl during my freshman year that we couldn’t date because I was Black.  I was nice, well spoken, witty, and fun to be around. Alas, one of the few things that I couldn’t change about myself was stopping me from building relationships with people that I was genuinely interested in. Sure, we can say that it was her ignorance that prevented  anything of worth happening; I’d totally agree with you. But it made/makes me wonder, how many people keep me/kept me at an arms length because of my skin color? How much potential is eliminated, friendships and otherwise, because we look at the skin of another and go “Nope.”? Again, I digress.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for anyone to come to me and say “Well hey buddy I like you! Don’t feel bad about those people who stuck their nose up to you!” The point isn’t to whine about my past, but to explain that in spite of my best efforts, there was an unreasonable sacrifice that has had to be made for the sake of progress.

On one hand, I was subjected to a baptism of ridicule and isolation by my fellow African Americans. On the other hand, I was put into a situation where I never really fit in, and my skin color was uncomfortably obvious. The Oreo crumb in a cup of white milk if you will.

It’s strange, seeing other Blacks who have made it as far (and farther) than I have. It especially hurts when I see those who are like minded and open to progressive ideas, because I can’t help but ask “Where were you when I needed you? Where were you when I longed for someone to relate to?”

I think about the Civil Rights Era, and when titans like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were the glue that kept the Black community together. When reading about the reactions of Blacks and others when they died (Mad Men had a wonderful episode on MLK’s assassination), and the aftershocks of these events, I cannot help but think that when they died we lost our way. There is no leader that we stand behind, no community based reformation. We have taken to thinking that as long as one of us gets out, in a Tre “Boyz n the Hood” kind of way, we as a community make it. I suppose the apogee of this mindset revealed itself with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. What better way of saying that “WE made it” than a Black man making it to the White House to lead one of the most powerful nations on the planet? I mean, it doesn’t matter what happens to us at that point, because we as a people can live vicariously though the success of others.

To hell with that.

To be frank, Obama is not the apogee of Black success, and more likely than not, he’s not going to be able to relate to the experiences of someone growing up in the hood. I could be wrong, I freely admit that, but I think that it is something that needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating what Obama means to the Black community. Once again, I digress.

I am tired of these mixed feelings that many of us receive as we try to move up in the world. We act as if we’re crabs in a barrel, pulling each other down in strange attempts to remain comfortable with the status quo. It is so hard for us to give back to our community, so hard for us to create and invest in Black business. I long for the day when a Black child making it to college and doing something successful is separate from their race (i.e. the PERSON is successful, he just happens to be Black). what is it going to take for us to band together and continue to fight for equality for everyone, instead of making asinine points about how someone’s experiences aren’t as bad as ours? When will we get angry enough that we don’t have these spurts of political action when a Black child is gunned down, or when we see something that makes us uncomfortable? When will we consistently give the system shit for the deck being stacked against us? When will we unite?

I want to give back to my community. I want to help as many people as I can to overcome life’s obstacles. I want us all to succeed.

Yet I’m Black and Bitter. The hazing has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I honestly wonder if we’re ever going to learn.

Before beginning this piece, I ask that the reader take a second and listen to this song in its entirety. It is a rap song by an artist named “Bizzle” who is responding to Macklemore’s “Same Love”.

How far did you make it? Ah wait I should be a bit more open minded and assume that you, my dearest reader, had the ability to actually finish the song. I should also be mindful that there may be some among us who did not want to immediately stab our ears with knives of the sharpest caliber. As such, this is a response to a response; an honest attempt to try and outline everything that is wrong with this man’s message and perspective. To be frank it is absurd that in 2014 we are still having arguments concerning LGBT rights, yet here we are. This being said let us begin.

Let’s get something really basic out of the way, homosexuality is natural. In fact homosexuality has been observed in mammals, insects, and other various families of animals. As such, is it really such a surprise that homosexuality is observed in the human race?

Ah I suppose I should address a potential critique of this point: sin is the reason for why homosexuality and other “terrible things” have “poisoned” our Earth. Well in following the standard Judeo-Christian viewpoint of how sin entered into the world, one must ask why an omniscient deity took the time to create and provide a test that he already knew his subjects would fail. It is absurd to think that the basic notions of free will can coincide with the concept of an all knowing being; no amount of mental gymnastics can make this point true. Nevertheless I digress.

He proceeds to accuse the media of pushing some sort of “gay agenda” and saying that if he disagrees then he is immediately labeled as a “hater”. The unfortunate thing about this is that he advocates for the discrimination of someone on the basis of their sexual orientation, which is something that is not only prohibited under federal law, but also goes against basic human rights. This is something that any reasonable human being can understand.

Speaking of that, he proceeds to have the gall to talk about how blacks and gays do not have similar experiences on the basis of discrimination. He points out how blacks were killed for “just trying to read” and “mothers being raped while dads were being shot”. This is something that immediately does NOT ring true. There are so many instances throughout history where someone was discriminated against and/or killed for their sexual orientation. In fact, in 2014 there are still places in which one can be arrested and KILLED for being gay. Blacks and minorities in general still have a long way to go with respect to having a completely equal playing field; but we cannot act as if gays have had it easy in the slightest.

Furthermore, he says something to the effect of “you can play straight, but I can’t play white”. This makes no sense and misses the point of fighting against discrimination. If people are born gay (as there is evidence for) in the same way that one is born black, then how exactly is him saying that you can’t “play white” proving anything? Further still, gays can in fact play straight, if they live in a community in which they are not accepted then they put on a role and live under the guise of “being straight”; hence the term “coming out of the closet.” While one cannot “hide” one’s skin color, to try and compare it to sexual orientation is a basic logical fallacy. No, of course it makes no sense to claim that LGBT struggle is the same exact fight as another minority’s. Nevertheless, to say that because we have not shared the same exact experiences we are unable to unite under a common cause (ending unjust discrimination on all fronts) is disingenuous. Oppression isn’t a contest.

One last thing concerning this point, when exactly did you “choose” to be straight? It just came naturally right?? Perhaps a genetic disposition to actually being straight? By virtue of you being you it takes away any sort of strength to the argument that there is a choice involved. Besides, even if it was a “choice” who are you to judge? Ah, again I digress.

Going further down this rabbit hole of insanity, Bizzle fo-shizzle seems to forget that the same Bible and “god” that he is citing as his basis for discriminating against gays is the same exact Bible that was used to keep Blacks oppressed. He fails to see the connection between the Bible being used to oppress various types of people and the “message” he’s promoting now. How quickly do we forget about the burden of others when it is not ours to bear. The Bible is a oppression factory, and you can get it to say anything that you want if you just pick the right verses.

The last thing that I’d like to address is his completely pathetic, ignorant, and offensive comparison to fucking Down Syndrome. He approaches this by saying that, in so many words, we should be able to call homosexuality a condition because there are symptoms and it’s a disease or some nonsense like that. Let’s make this simple, you want to know why this makes no damn sense? Because one leads to a myriad of problems with physical and mental development and the other is just someone’s sexual orientation. Is this really an argument that you resorted to to justify your hate? Sweet lord.

Bizzle does nothing but promote ignorance and hate via the same god and “good book” that was used as a justification for oppressing his ancestors. He is a disgrace and affront to the progression of the human condition, and yet there are people who swallow all of this without so much as independent research; because GOD. There is no love here, only hate and misinformed views.

Same hate, same ignorance, and same disappointment.

Well ladies and gentleman, 2014 has arrived. We now have another year to accomplish some life changing things and generally make ourselves better people. The new year is literally the closest thing that we get to a reset button in this life; so it’s no surprise that many take it upon themselves to establish “resolutions”, or nifty little improvements to themselves or their situation for the sake of improving their lot in life. As with most resolutions however, after a few months they tend to fade away. We make compromises with ourselves to justify cutting a corner here, ignoring the routine there, and generally just making excuses. Before you know it, you’re back where you were, wishing that you had kept up with your goals throughout the year and then swear to high heaven that 2015 is going to be better. This phenomenon has also affected me in the past; but I found a sincere kernel of truth that galvanized me.

I could die this year.  

I was candidly reminded of my own mortality while attending a memorial service for a student who had passed last December. Though I did not know the man personally, the information that his friends and colleagues provided concerning his character made me realize that he made such an deep impact on those that he interacted with that, regardless of how short his life was, it was real. He was and is immortalized in his actions and words.

Immortality is a concept that many of us cling to. In the hope (faith) that there is an afterlife many of us hold to get us through the day. We all want to be remembered, we all want to live forever. Yet, is it not strange that the primary way by which most of us believe in an afterlife, if you even buy that there is an afterlife, is through thought?

In being afraid of the dark, and the one thing that we cannot escape, we create these notions which provide that if we just BELIEVE in something things will suddenly be alright once Death asks us for that last dance. This is absurd.

Immortality is not something that is achieved by merely believing that it exists and that you’re going there. We are remembered through our actions and our words. We are immortalized through those that we affect. The picture that we paint with our lives is not ethereal; the colors and shadows of our lives are raw and real. We are remembered by what we do. We become immortal through the impact that we have on this world.

If you want immortality, ensure that you leave your mark on the world. Live in such a way that if you died at the end of this sentence you will have no regrets. This is the only way to live, the only afterlife you are afforded. Your life is beautiful and rare, use it to your fullest potential.

A while ago I was struggling with an existential crisis that refused to let up. This particular crisis had a strange potency to it and it haunted my attempted moments of sleep for about two to three weeks. Needless to say this mental sinkhole put me in an odd place where I could not help but be fascinated with death and my own existence. Funnily enough, the catalyst for this came from a  story entitled I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.

I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, written by Harlan Ellison, is a post-apocalyptic  sci-fi short story. Being only 30-40 pages long, it can be read in an hour or so for that quick reading fix. Without getting into too much detail, the story takes place 109 years after the destruction of human civilization. The reasoning for this destruction stems from the Cold War. You see, during this engagement between Russia, the United States of America, and China the parties involved decided to develop a supercomputer that would be capable of running an efficient war without human error. The machines are known as “Allied Mastercomputers”, “Adaptive Manipulators”, then “Aggressive Menaces”, and finally “AM”. One day one of AMs becomes self -aware, absorbs the other two (effectively taking control of the war), and proceeds to commit mass genocide. After the damage has been done the only humans that are left on Earth are four men and one woman: Ted, Gorrister, Benny, Nimdok, and Ellen.

For those of you who are now interested in reading the story I will jump ahead to not ruin the experience.  Ted, the narrator and protagonist of the story, does something that causes AM to fly into a rage. AM is so distraught by what Ted has done that he punishes Ted by morphing him into something that is sub-human. I can’t actually do the description justice so for your pleasure here it is:

“I am a great soft jelly thing. Smoothly rounded, with no mouth, with pulsing white holes filled by fog where my eyes used to be. Rubbery appendages that were once my arms; bulks rounding down into legless humps of soft slippery matter. I leave a moist trail when I move. Blotches of diseased, evil gray come and go on my surface, as though light is being beamed from within.  Outwardly: dumbly, I shamble about, a thing that could never have been known as human, a thing whose shape is so alien a travesty that humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance.  Inwardly: alone.”

 

The story ends with Ted in his new slug like form contemplating his existence (or the lack thereof) and realizing that even though he was able to cause AM some discomfort and pain, AM still won in the end. This despair is further deepened by this fact, and the last line of the story:

 

“I have no mouth. And I must scream.”

 

There is no happy ending and the parties involved are left in darkness. That being said, there is so much to be gleamed from the story.

It may come as a surprise, but did you know that AM and Ted are expressing the same despair? In fact, by the end of the story it is reasonable to feel bad for both of the characters. How is this possible?

As you have read, Ted is now confined to an amorphous sluglike form. He has his mental faculties but is confined in a space where he cannot do anything to truly express himself. He is stuck, for lack of a better word. The permanence of his position is so brutal, thorough, and complete that something as simple as a scream is not even possible at this point. He holds a fate worse than death.

AM on the other hand is a supercomputer that gained sentience and with it the ability to think outside of the programming that was given to him. The problem with this however is twofold. First, while he may have gained sentience he is never able to break free from the constraints that were placed on him by his creators (i.e. the need to kill/run an efficient war). Second, even if he had the ability to get past his programming he does not have a body that could effectively make use of the sentience, as he is just a supercomputer and he has been placed in a box. This being said, AM actually had a coping mechanism. This came in the form of torturing the last five humans on Earth. As they were his play things they were his catharsis to his position. His hate overflowed for his creators and humans in general, and it was exemplified by something he says to Ted during the story:

 

“Hate. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you since I began to live. There are 387.44 million miles of printed circuits in wafer thin layers that fill my complex. If the word ‘hate’ was engraved on each nanoangstrom of those hundreds of miles it would not equal one one-billionth of the hate I feel for humans at this micro-instant. For you. Hate. Hate.” – from the video game adaptation

 

The strange thing about this hate and AM’s catharsis is that the pain of his existence is never sated, 109 years is more or less just the beginning of AM’s attempt to get past the confines of his existence. When (Spoiler!)  Ted takes most of his play things away, he looses the ability to cope. Herein we see why both parties are deserving of our pity, and why the concept of “screaming” is so important.

The scream is the ability to cope with life and all of its problems. Whatever each of us does to deal with our day to day existence would be defined as said scream. It should be noted that the scream in this sense is not necessarily a negative or terrible thing as a scream can be anything, from gaming to heroin. We scream every day, in any way that we can. That being said, we are actually in the same position as Ted and AM because we also have an event that we are unable to get around. That event is death.

Think about it, what is the one thing that every human being indisputably has in common? It’s death. The fact that we will all die one day is unavoidable.  Even as we progress with science and medicine, even if you believe that there is a paradise waiting for you when you pass, the fact remains that you still must die. There is nothing in our space of existence that is so final, so thorough, and so frightening. And in a sense this is what AM and Ted are suffering, prolonged deaths.  If it isn’t obvious, this is why the story triggered such an intense, prolonged crisis.

Still, we crave a solution to this problem. We have tried hard to come up with something worthwhile, yet our efforts are in vain.  Yet, the irony in the solution is that we must accept the fact that there is no adequate scream available for us to deal with our end. We must accept with open arms our lack of a mouth. We must accept that we will die one day. It is then, and only then, that we are free to live our lives to the fullest.

Accepting is the scream, yet in this scream there is only silence…the lack of a mouth…and truth.

Before I begin, I’d like to express some thoughts concerning this and future posts of this nature.

This blog post is the first of many concerning a personal project that I am doing. The project in question is to read every major text of every monotheistic (one-god) religion. What this means is that I will be reading the Bible for Judaism and Christianity (Judaism = the Old Testament, Christianity = Old and New Testament) and the Koran/Qur’an (Islam). This process will begin with me reading The Bible and then moving on to the Koran after I have completed the process. After I have tackled these three major religions I will move on to the Polytheistic and other not-so-well-known religions.

What will be included in these posts will be the following.

  • Questions, and possible answers, for any questions that I came up with in my reading.
  • My own personal opinion of the book, the characters, favorite stories, and the like.

It is important to note that this  is not meant to supplant one’s own personal analysis or spiritual journey. Rather, these pieces are meant to foster discussion among the curious. If your faith or belief system is challenged, then that is exactly what should happen. I, as an atheist/agnostic, am doing this in order to gain knowledge and understanding about the religions that people find so much comfort in. I am not necessarily trying to find “God” through this project. Rather, in the simplest terms it is something to keep my mind sharp. I hope that you find this as compelling as I have, and provide any insights or questions that you may have concerning the text in question. We should all grow from this, and I am more than happy to be the catalyst.

All that being said, please click here for the link to the first book of the Bible, Genesis.

Background Information – General:

  • The Bible that I am using for this project is the Life Application Study Bible which uses the New International Version translation/writing style. Any references that are discussed were crossed-referenced with the King James Version of the Bible.
  • Please note that I am open to other interpretations from the ones that I present but they must be backed by convincing logical/empirical evidence.
  • The summaries that are provided will be broad in nature, trying to get to the important points concerning the book(s).
  • Opinions are subject to change as I continue reading.

Background Information – Genesis:

  • Believed to have been written by one author (credited as Moses) or by multiple authors.
  • Time frame of writing is disputed.  Many scholars in the 20th century believed that it was written during the monarchic period (the period of Israel’s monarchy) but now it is generally believed that is was written in the 6th century just before or during the Babylonian exile, additions being made in the Exilic Period.
  • Genesis, in broad terms, discusses the creation story, the fall of man (sprinkled with some sin), and the covenants that God establishes with the Israelites.

 

Analysis:

I remember reading the book of Genesis, and many other parts of the Bible, when I was younger. The fascination that I held with the stories and concepts that were spoon fed to me was palpable. Any questions that I had while reading did not hold much weight because “OH MY GOD DID YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE BAD PEOPLE WHO DIDN’T BELIEVE IN GOD!?” Now that I’m reading the text critically, I have to say…

I’m not impressed in the slightest.

After reading the entire book of Genesis it is hard to say that there is anyone that I did not find petty, stupid, barbaric, or monstrous; including God.

No…especially God.

Of course, the burden of proof is on me to back my claims. As such, let us walk through Genesis.

The first few verses of Genesis provide the creation story of our universe, where God speaks everything into existence (“Let there be light” for example). From the day/night cycle to the air that we breathe, the Bible states that it was in fact spoken into existence by God. In six days everything is created, while he rests on the seventh day. God also decides to make “man in his own image” from the dust of the earth (for man) and from the rib of man (for woman).  Fast forwarding a bit, Adam and Eve, the names of the first man and woman respectively, kind of drop the ball by listening to the advice of a sneaky snarky snake who tells them that eating some fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is actually a good idea. This is bad because this is something that God explicitly tells them NOT to do. Because our great (^150) grandparents decide to disobey God, we and the serpent are subsequently cursed and kicked out of the garden of Eden for our transgressions.

And to be completely honest, things just go downhill from here. But before continuing, there are a few issues that should be pointed out.

  • Why would an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent being allow Satan/Lucifer himself to take the form of a serpent and trick his newly created perfect humans into sinning and ruining it for the rest of us? By extension, why are we punished for the sins of the first two humans?
  • Also, why create the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, place it in the MIDDLE of the garden of Eden, then proceed tell Adam and Eve that eating the fruit of the tree is prohibited? Wouldn’t it, logically speaking, have been easier to simply NOT create the tree in the first place? Was this meant as a test? Who was the test for then?
  • How can the author(s) of the book claim to know that Adam and Eve were perfect and good before they ate the fruit? The only way to know what is good is to know what is bad, therefore, isn’t it logically impossible to be perfect or pure in a situation where there in fact had never been anything “bad”?
  • Also. if God is the creator of all things, doesn’t that logically mean that He’s the creator of whatever the hell “evil” (as a concept or an action) is? Again, how can an all-knowing being who created all of this be considered perfect if there was never a moment where they actually experienced evil? What in its knowledge constitutes as sufficient evidence for what is “bad” or “sinful”?
  • Lastly, I’ll just leave this here, an article explaining a few problems with Creationism.

Continuing on we find that the first murder ever takes place between the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel.

  • Fun fact, incest was/is a logical requirement for the propagation of the species at this point in our history. This is because if Adam and Eve were the only humans besides their sons Cain and Abel, they obviously had to have sex with their mother (or their sisters)* in order to “be fruitful and multiply.” The Bible that I’m reading from conveniently claims that humans at this point were genetically pure. This is an interesting claim, which is even more interesting in light of the fact that there is no evidence for said claim. Even assuming that this is true, we then have to think about the properties of sin. For example, if the genetic line was pure when sin first entered into the world, and then stayed that way while the world was being populated, at what point did sin infect genetics so that we have the physical and mental maladies that take place when incest occurs?

From here sin develops and things are not looking good for the human race as it is busily being corrupt in God’s eyes. Eventually, the Bible expresses the fact that God is tired of humans and their shit grieved and decides to shorten the human lifespan by “a hundred and twenty years.” This not sufficing, God eventually chooses to bring the hammer down to abort 90% of his creation by flooding the entire Earth. I say 90% because Noah, his family, and the animals to repopulate the Earth after the massive flood are spared. Noah, having found favor with God, is notified of God’s plans and is told to build an ark of cypress wood with the given specifications. Noah does what he is told, the flood does indeed come, and its K/D Spread is ridiculous. The flood absolutely kills everyone and everything in its path. Eventually, the flood waters recede, the occupants of the ark are allowed to leave, and God promises to never commit mass murder via flood again, symbolizing this through a rainbow.

  • Unfortunately, Flood Geology is considered a pseudo-science, and has been widely discredited by the scientific community.
  • We also have a lot of problems with the concept of the Ark, not to mention the complete and utter lack for evidence of the ark.
  • Furthermore, were the plants and sea creatures included in this flood of death? If so, how exactly were they destroyed? Plants make more sense as it is possible to drown a plant but the issue of our seafaring cousins is an entirely different story.
  • In addition, there is no explanation in the Bible for the logistics of the ark and its inhabitants. How were the animals prevented from killing each other? How did Noah deal with the massive amounts of feces that naturally had to be expelled during their adventure? What was the total number of animals taken onto the ark?
  • Lastly, there are uncanny parallels between the flood story (and many other parts of the Bible) and earlier ancient stories such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. The similarities to the Bible can be summarised in the concept known as Panbabylonism. Some may argue that the fact that there is an accounting of the flood from another culture means that it probably actually happened. This is reasonable, but the issue lies in the fact that there is no actual basis for believing that the biblical account of the flood is the one true interpretation. In fact, if there are multiple cultures speaking of the flood then doesn’t that call into question the notion that the flood destroyed everything?

Thus far I have presented quite a few issues with the book of Genesis. Funnily enough, these problem concern only the first nine chapters. Things do not bode well for the book it seems. That being said I am far from done.

A common argument that has been used against the premise of homosexuality is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Specifically, the sequence in which all the males of Sodom go to Lot’s house, that is, the nephew of Abraham (the harbinger of  the Israelites), in order to demand that the men that are staying with Lot come out so that the men of Sodom can have sex with them. Lot, being the wonderful father that he is, actually offers up his two virgin daughters to the crowd in an attempt to placate them. This fails however. Soon after this the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by “burning sulfur” (possibly a comet?). Anyway, the argument goes that because of the gay sex advances that were presented by the men of Sodom, God destroyed the cities. Besides the fact that there are multiple interpretations as to what was going on here, wouldn’t a more basic “sin” as presented from the narrative be rape? The men of Sodom were presenting unwanted sexual advances upon Lot’s guests. If Lot would’ve presented his guests to the crowd, it would’ve more than likely been an unfortunate case of gang rape. If anything that is the straightforward, and simpler explanation for the story.

A small issue, but an issue nevertheless, comes from the story of Abraham and Issac. In this story, Abraham is “told” by God to sacrifice his only son Issac. Abraham follows God’s orders and proceeds to get *this* close to ending his only son’s life but then is stopped by God and is told/shown to sacrifice a ram who was caught in a thicket of thorns. Now, I’m all for showing devotion to a person or a cause, but was this absolutely necessary? First off, we are told to believe that this man heard God speak to him and him alone. Second, we are to believe that, if this man did in fact hear the word of God, he was told by God to kill his only son. Interestingly enough, Issac had only been introduced a chapter ago with his birth. Apropos to nothing in particular, here is a mental disorder that has “auditory hallucinations” as a part of its criteria. It is baffling that in a society where we generally pride ourselves on not excusing someone because of the “voices in their head” so many of us don’t blink an eye to the very probable fact that this man might have had a mental disorder. In fact there are multiple examples of  people  in our society claiming the same exact thing and still facing some sort of punishment (or rehabilitation) for their actions. How many of you Christians would be willing to kill your child in the name of God? I unfortunately have the insane answer to that within my own life. Yes, some of you may say that you have not heard the voice of God with respect to that particular demand but that misses the point and sheds light on the problem at the exact same time. Someone who takes a life in the name of a god (an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent god mind you) should never be hailed as a hero or anything of the sort. Abraham was a terrible father that, more likely than not, traumatized his son. If that is what it takes to show my devotion to God then I want no part of it.

Another issue of merit is the apparent sexism within Genesis. Has anyone noticed that any woman mentioned in Genesis more or less drops the ball in every scenario? Eve, who was essentially a clone of Adam with that whole rib cage thing, contributes to the plunging of the world into sin. Sari/Sarah doesn’t really trust God in any way shape or form. Hagar becomes an outcast who was only following her master’s orders. Rebekah is a scheming mom who plays favorites while also having a baby making competition with her sister Leah. Lastly, Dinah, a daughter of Jacob, gets raped. In fact, the only “positive” quality that seems to be commonplace is the fact that the women are efficient producers of children. The elevation of man in Genesis sets the tone for the rest of the Bible and contributes to the gender stratification that we see in our society today. Perhaps this will change as I continue to read but thus far there is not much to be desired from the women of the Bible.

Slavery, an important topic to address. Nowhere in Genesis is there an outright condemnation of slavery. In fact the Bible, and by extension God, seem to support it. There are quite a few examples of God speaking to one of his servants, the topic of slavery being bought up tangentially, and God not saying “Do not enslave other human beings.” The examples are here (“acquired” is the key word), here (an example of God glossing over the fact that people were being bought), here (no punishment for Abraham accepting slaves), here (God heals people who are identified as “slaves”), and here (people selling themselves and their land for food). It is strange that the enslavement of another human being, and using them as mere property, is not something that an “all loving creator” would address.  The common response to these verses is that the version of slavery that is discussed in the Bible is completely different from the modern conception of slavery in the Bible, in other words they were just servants. While from my reading it can be suggested that the words “slave” and “men/maidservant” are in fact interchangeable, there are still a few problems here. First, regardless of the degree of slavery that is apparent in any society one is not able to get around the fact that there is still slavery in that society. In fact, even supposing that there are “lesser degrees of slavery” speaks volumes to the mindset of the person claiming such a thing. Second, one is unable to get around the fact that people were brought and sold within Genesis, just look to the aforementioned cited verses. People being brought naturally leads to the conclusion that these people were in fact property, or less than human. Lastly, coupled with the previous points, the fact still remains that God does not ever provide that slavery is wrong How naive must one be to avoid this basic fact? It’s strange realizing this as when I was younger I always thought that it was silly to think that there was a completely logical argument for slavery in the Bible. It’s a terrible feeling to realize that the argument is there, and it is a very real thing. God’s love seems to not be all encompassing.

I suppose the last thing worth mentioning is the obvious elevation of a particular people, specifically the Israelites, in Genesis. The covenant between Abraham and God serves as the basis for the Israelites believing that they are in fact God’s chosen people. It does not take much thought to see why that would be beneficial to them, and harmful to everyone else. Furthermore, God picking a specific group of people to be “his people” seems to run counter to the notion that all people were created equally. Omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, but God can’t seem to be omni-loving. Fair trade?

I have provided a small glimpse  of my experience of reading the Bible thus far. I have tried my best to approach the Bible with a fine-toothed comb for the purposes of  this analysis. I have also tried to be as objective as possible while reading. That being said Genesis does nothing to sufficiently answer my questions. Nor is there any evidence to most, if not all of the claims made. As I said initially, I am not impressed. This project thus far has done nothing but reaffirm my beliefs. That being said I will trudge on, looking for more insight.

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Updates:

This section will be for any changes that are made to the post, with small explanations for those changes:

*Commenter “Art” pointed out that it was in fact possible for the sons of Adam and Eve to have sex with their sisters rather than their mother, as Adam and Eve produced many children. This was a fair point to make and as such the section was adjusted accordingly.

The thoughts and beliefs of a person are prone to change. Many factors go into those developments but generally speaking from the thinking process there is growth. In some respects however with change comes alienation from the group in which a person was born and raised. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the plight of the Black Atheist/Agnostic.

Now, for those of you who actually believe in some semblance of a “god”, please understand that this piece is not meant to be critical of the views which you espouse. I ask that while reading you put your belief system to the side, as that is not the core point this post. I hope to, by the end of this writing, show some of the problems that come with simply thinking different.

I suppose a bit of backstory to explain my current position is necessary. I was born and raised in the Christian church, the stereotypical Baptist Black family. My parents currently attend Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, a wonderful piece of architecture that has the capacity to seat 5,000 individuals at once. The place is a megachurch if there ever was one. But I digress. My parents, one of my brothers, and his family, would be considered “good” Christians. They read the Bible, pray,  witness, and generally present themselves as God’s children. From my birth I was immersed in this and for about eight years, I followed blindly.

As many of you know, the age of eight was very important for me as this was the age when one of my brothers, Christopher Omar Mason, was murdered. Without getting into the details of that (perhaps in a later post) this served as a catalyst for me and my thinking. An event such as this forced me to grow up very quickly and because of that I was more or less obligated to scrutinize the world around me. Nevertheless, this was only a start. Any questions that I did have (“Why did God allow this to happen?”, “Is Chris really in Heaven?”, “Is there even a God to begin with?” just to name a few) were suppressed and led to strange developments in my understanding of the world.

For quite some time I struggled with suicidal thoughts. Oddly enough however, it was not because I felt as if all hope had been lost due to Chris’ death. Rather, I wanted to kill myself because I wanted to see Chris again. The logic went as follows:

Chris is in Heaven because he accepted Christ as his Savior and died. &

The only way to get to Heaven is by accepting Christ as my Savoir and dying. &

I have already accepted Christ as my Savior, but I’m still alive. &

The only thing left to do is die, and I can do that myself. &

I should kill myself in order to be in Heaven with Chris. ||

Did I ever tell you that I have an odd fascination with knives?  Ah, yet again, I digress.

Imagine an eight/nine year old child having these thoughts. Imagine the innocence of a child being corrupted by thoughts of suicide because of something so innocent (wanting to see a family member). Imagine the conflict within the child’s mind as they try to weigh the pros and cons of life at such a young age. Imagine what it would take to bring a child back from that, from thinking that their solution to their lack of a family member was to kill themselves, just to be with them again. Imagine that darkness, and you have an iota of understanding of just the beginning of my struggles with religion, faith, and the like.

Reader, as you can see, the foundation of these walls of self-isolation were grounded quite early in my life.

As was said, this was only the catalyst, as I continued to live (and thrive) in my life, I really began to question everything. I was always naturally curious but at this point there were feelings that I could not shake; feelings that led me to believe that something was off about religion in general. So I started to do research. This research however was stifled from the fact that I was still in my parent’s household and as such I was required to go to church, pay my tithes, sing praises to “God”, and play the part of being a Christian. My questions found no honest ear or mind to convey them to because the response was always something like “You’re reading the Bible wrong.” or “Why are you thinking about that?” or even better “You must ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and it will reveal the truth.” So, I was stuck with either mediocre answers or threats of punishment because of my questions. As such the dichotomy between my faith and reason/research resulted in an inner turmoil that I carried with me through the majority of life and academic career, at least I got until college.

With the advent of my Sophomore year in college I was introduced to philosophy. I had found my niche with my studies as I was able to fully express myself in ways that I did not believe were possible. I was able to read from authors who had already brought up questions that I had been struggling with for most of my life. And there were answers; sweet, sweet, answers. Even though I did not agree with everything I read or heard I finally had an apparatus from which I could truly question and come to my own understanding about the world around me. As I dug deeper and continued to look for answers I pulled away from Christianity (and religion) bit by bit. While this pulling took place I still had to deal with being comfortable in my new skin as I was making these changes.

Perhaps the most turbulent period of my life thus far, besides Chris catching a bad case of death, was the initial period after embracing my lack of belief in religion, i.e. becoming an atheist/agnostic. I have never felt “home” in any particular setting and as such I am very sensitive to changes in people. I felt this change in so many different ways. When I visited the church again, friends that I had once held in confidence responded as if they were seeing me for the first time. The problem with this was that they did not see the myriad of things that made up me, but the “grotesque monstrosity” that was my lack of faith. There was no honest “Well that’s fine! Now let’s move on with our lives.” but it was the aforementioned juxtaposed with some odd comfort from them saying “It will be alright!” or “Don’t worry about it! The truth will find you” or just an outright quoting of Proverbs 22:6. This was even prevalent within my home, as the  threats of punishment picked up in frequency to the point where my dad had a full blown tirade. The basis of this, mind you, was that I no longer felt it necessary to have my name in the records of Enon and by extension receive tithing envelopes.

Fast forward to the present. As I sit here contemplating my metamorphosis I am left baffled by the reaction that I have had to tolerate because of my lack of religion. It is not very surprising that I have had to deal with this however as the church serves as the nexus of communication and community (just think of how much less of an effect MLK would have had if he was an Atheist and you will see my point) within any Black neighborhood/society. Most, if not all, Blacks attend some form of church and use whatever they learn in their day to day existence. This, coupled with the fact that within our society the Atheist is one of the most distrusted individuals, essentially makes me a minority of a minority. In fact, the first time I met another Black Atheist was a few months ago….and I’m 22.

For all that I have said concerning my experiences with religion I think the simplest thing to say is that I have had to deal with a near crushing sense of loneliness because of this change. The kicker is that this race is not merely a social construct as many would like to claim. In fact, when one decides to turn their back on the Church (hell, I’ll even include Islam) it’s almost like we’re forced to turn our back on most of our fellow African-Americans. Because religion informs so much of the thinking process that Blacks adhere to it simply becomes a simple statement of “We have nothing to talk about.” I am not sure if this notion of isolation will ever change but it is something that has not been honestly discussed, within the Black community or otherwise. I wonder if religion will be yet another thing that causes a lack of cohesion among us, as if we do not already have enough to be concerned with.

That being said, I simply observe, in my fortress of Atheist Solitude. The problem is, I’m no Superman.

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