Under the Gun

Posted August 28th, 2014
Nikki's friends

My friends come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. I am open to each one because I judge according to character, not color.

So the argument goes something like this: Policemen come into contact with any number of violent, criminal black men during the course of their careers, and so it is only reasonable that they should view all black men as potential threats, and should have their loaded guns at the ready, whenever, wherever, and ph_nikki_groupunder whatever circumstances they happen to encounter a black male, no matter his age, size, appearance, or demeanor.

To the above, I respond thus: As Negro, Colored, Black, African-American peoples, we individually, and collectively, carry in our hearts, minds, and souls, the memories of countless lashings, lynchings, cross-burnings, cattle prodding, water-hosing, hangings, bombings, whippings, rapes, mutilations, tarring, feathering, and police-baton beatings at the hands of people with white skin. In addition, we have in the past, and continue to suffer in the present, acts of discrimination at the hands of people clothed in white skin, some of whom hurt, harm, mistreat and misjudge us every day. (For those of you who think otherwise, racial discrimination is, sadly, very much alive in America. We wish it weren’t.)

Having said that, it’s important for you to know that I do not spend my days enraged or even angry. Life is too short to walk through the world with a permanent chip on one’s shoulder, no matter the rationale. The truth is, I’ve got better things to do. So have most of my friends. Besides, we prefer to interact with, and judge, each person we encounter based on the

content of their character, not the color of their skin. Most African Americans will tell you the same.

Now, re-read the earlier paragraph, and note that none of the aforementioned atrocities lead black people to leave our homes, armed to the teeth, and ready, without a moment’s hesitation, to mow down every white person we encounter, in whom we see the shadow of other whites who may have hurt or harmed us or threatened our very lives.

What, ultimately, is the key difference between a black person who refuses to see every white person he encounters as a threat, and a white person, policeman or otherwise, who refuses to see a black person, particularly a male, as anything but? Choice. It really boils down to choice.

Here's a novel that explores the complexities of the issue of race and gun violence in an even-handed way.

Here’s a novel that explores the complexities of the issue of race and gun violence in an even-handed way.

Shooting to kill is not an accident. It’s a choice. It’s a choice in Ferguson, in Florida, in Chicago, in New York, in Anywhere, USA.

The arguments put forward by police and private citizens, for shooting to kill any and every black man or boy they see in the street, day or night, does not pass muster. A refusal to holster hate, or unprovoked fear, is a choice. Not bothering to tell the difference between a burgundy car and a tan car is a choice. Not taking care to distinguish between a car full of school children, and one full of potential adult male suspects, is a choice. Failing to differentiate between a boy, or a man, on the attack, and a boy or a man with his hands in the air, is a choice. And, by the way, punching, or pummeling an unarmed, middle-aged woman on the side of a freeway is a choice.

A choice is a decision, not a cause for making excuses. Any mature, mentally healthy adult can tell the difference between the two.

What a Word is Worth

Posted January 27th, 2014

letter writingLetter writing has become a lost art. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. I wish it wasn’t true. Beyond simply languishing in a sea of despond over the matter, though, I do my best to hold the line. I write letters, at least randomly, if not routinely. No matter how much time I need to set aside for the task, I’m never sorry that I did.

In recent months, a dear friend of mine lost his partner of over 30 years. Her death was both sudden and grisly. As you might imagine, her passing left my friend spinning. I’ve buried enough loved-ones to more than empathize.

I was rocked by the news when it reached me, one time-zone and hundreds of miles away. Immediately, I wanted to cover the crack in my friend’s heart with my own two hands, but I couldn’t. I wanted to offer my shoulder for those unutterable moments when he could no longer hold back the tears, but I couldn’t. I wanted to hop on the next plane and, literally, fly to his side. But, for a host of reasons, I couldn’t. And yet, I was desperate to be present for my friend.

I sat down to write him a letter, one of the things I had it in my power to do. I’ve written several letters since, penned a poem just for him, and sent a collection of verse that might bring him a little healing, a little light. I sent each with the appropriate postage, and something more: I sent each with a prayer, and I hoped. I hoped that my meager attempts at being present, from a great distance, would, in some small way, matter.

The other day, I received a card from this friend, with a carefully worded, handwritten note. The first words made my heart leap:

“Dearest Nikki,

Thank you, thank you, thank you…”

In the body of the note, my friend let me know that my words on paper had spoken hope to his heart; that they had given him glimpses of a future in which he would, once again, be able to step into the light; that my simple words of encouragement and connection had mattered to him in this extraordinary time of need, and had mattered deeply.

When was the last time you wrote a letter? I’m not talking about a hastily dashed-off email, sent between sips of coffee, or bites of a hamburger during lunch. I’m talking about an old-fashioned, carefully considered, handwritten or typed letter. When?

I know you’re busy. Who isn’t? But when did we become so busy that we don’t make time for a friend who hungers for the words of encouragement, hope, advice—or even humor—that only we, as friends, can offer? Yes, finding the time to write a letter can be difficult. However, when those words matter as deeply as they do, isn’t it worth the l sacrifice?

Maybe one day, you trade the time you’d spend hanging out on Facebook, or checking your Twitter feed, to compose a letter instead. Or maybe you give up one episode of that half-hour sitcom to do the deed. The fact is, time can always be found for the things that matter. All I’m saying is, this is one of them.

That’s it. That’s all I have to say on the subject, except this: What are you waiting for? Somebody needs to hear from your heart, and a letter can be the perfect package in which to send it.