I’d wager that what I’m going to share today isn’t a grand revelation to most. I value it, though, because of the discovery it has created for me. Make no mistake, this discovery comes at a high cost, but it doesn’t come at the price, expense, belittling, or attack of anyone else. I find it necessary to disclose it as such early on.
Quite a few months ago, my wife and I were watching Hidden Figures, which is a feature-length film that portrays the experience of (mainly) three African-American women who were working for NASA in the 1960s.
Sometime before that, we’d watched The Help, which also portrays the story of multiple African-American women who worked as maids in the 1960’s.
On top of this, lately, I’ve enjoyed a resurgence in watching Dave Chappelle’s stand-up routines and listening to his stories and perspectives on being an African-American in modern America.
So, for a timeline’s sake, I watched The Help first, then Hidden Figures, and the most recent a spattering of Dave Chappelle. It was in the weeks following my viewing of Hidden Figures that I began having these upcoming thoughts and questions.
The most significant idea revolves around the fact that I have never experienced such extreme push-back in any pursuit in my life as our brothers and sisters of other races have. I am a Caucasian man in my early thirties. And while nothing has ever been handed to me on any sort of platter, and even now I’m in the darkest segment of my life, I recognize without hesitation that I am nowhere near the atmosphere that surrounds so many others.
Following this acceptance, I then began to wonder what it would take for me to have the grit, perseverance, patience, humility, courage, and energy to forge on as they have. Again, as I’m experiencing an upheaval in just about every possible avenue of my life, I feel I’ve reached my breaking point.
Now, this isn’t to lessen the severity of my trials or compare them to another’s, because that doesn’t help anything. I don’t get to remove any experience from my own life, let alone somebody else’s, nor would I want to. I would hope I’m there to help bear another’s burdens if they allow it, or to provide an opportunity for something better, but I don’t get to decide another’s life.
I’d hope that anyone reading this can understand this difference. The value of my life is the same as anyone else’s life, regardless of any category we can think of to place them in. I don’t care about the groups (unless you’re a rapist, pedophile, murderer, or eternal politician). I care about what people do with their lives.
I realized that I whine, bitch, moan, and gripe about so much when I’ve been furnished with examples of those who took the higher road and became someone extraordinary.
Another disclaimer: I know that movies embellish truths all the time. I used to make movies. I used to create them. But I still love movies and storytelling for the essence of emotion, experience, education, and representations they have the power to show. I can’t say how accurate these movies and comedians I’ve watched are to the source material, but I know the power that all the storytellers utilized in portraying them.
All those women actors who gave us the characters in these movies had to believe in some part of the script and project enough to join it, and provide as much as they did. I believe in that.
So my wake up call is I need to adopt so much of what others have learned to show for pure survival. This is a weakness of my life that I find complicated and shady to contemplate: the weakness of not having had it hard enough to know how to climb out of it. I don’t wish such a circumstance on others, but I’m not naive to the brutal existence of it.
This is where I find Dave Chappelle’s words so intriguing because he talks about stuff like this at length and so articulately.
A few examples have to do with the French, Gay, African-American actor Jussie Smollett, and then his story about Emmitt Till, the fourteen-year-old African-American boy from Chicago who was killed in Louisiana.
In the first, Dave spends time setting the stage on how Smollett claimed to be attacked by two white men at night, basing the attack on race and sexual orientation. He continues by saying the gay community got on the African-American community’s case for lack of support and silence afterward and calling all African-Americans homophobic.
Dave explains, “What they (the gay community) didn’t understand is that we were supporting him. With our silence. Because we understood that this ****** was clearly lying. None of these details added up at all!”
Then in Dave’s charming and unmatchable fashion, he took the elements of the alleged attack, challenged them, and showcased the absurdity of one man’s manipulative use of existence at the expense of everyone else. Especially the communities to which he already was a part of.
Talk about a bold approach. When it did become national news that Smollett had lied, gratuitously, about the attack, it made sense that everyone and their dogs were furious. I hate it when people abuse the lives of others for their personal gain. And to do so on a platform that continues to berate and belittle those who fight so hard just for the simple recognition due as a human being drives me insane.
It sickens me.
But, as comedy is a fundamental principle and lifestyle to me, I witnessed a man using it to make a stand in a multi-faceted way. By doing so, he didn’t look down on anyone, while playing solely on the facts and the material.
In the second bit, Dave shares the horrible story of a young boy who went from Chicago to Mississippi to meet his family and was killed by the direct lying of a woman while down south.
Dave shares a sentiment from the mother after the deed was done, and the boy’s body was found days later in a river, saying, “…in the very midst of a mothers’ worst nightmare, this woman had the foresight to think about everybody. She said, ‘Leave my son’s casket open.’ She said, ‘The world needs to see what they did to my baby.'”
Dave said that all the magazines had this boy’s picture on the cover, following that with, “…and if our Civil Right’s movement was a car, this boy’s dead body was premium gas. This was a very definitive moment in American history where every thinking and feeling person was like, ‘Eww, we got to do better than this.'”
But the part that surprised me the most was when Dave said this.
“Less than a year ago, the woman that he (Emmett Till) allegedly whistled at, admitted on her death bed that she lied in her court testimony. And you can imagine when we read that **** we was like, ‘Ooooh, you lyin’ *** *****.’ [I] was furious, but that was my initial reaction. And initial reactions that we all learned as we go, that are often wrong, or more often incomplete.
“On stepping back and thinking about it for a few moments, I realized that it must have been very difficult for this woman to tell a truth that heinous about herself at any point in her life. Even in the very end. And I was grateful, that she had the courage to tell it before she left this world, because it’s an important truth, and we needed to know. And I said to myself, ‘Well, thank you, for telling the truth, you lyin’ *** *****.’
“And then time goes on, and then after time, you can kinda see the whole elephant. And it’s humbling. Cause you realize that this woman lied, and that lie caused a murder. But, that murder set in motion a sequence of events that made my wonderful life possible. That made this very night possible. How could this be, that this lie, could make the world a better place? It’s maddening.”
I did not see that train of thought coming. And as I didn’t see it coming, I was able to take it in as pure and unadulterated as something can be.
Showing appreciation for the atrocious act that created an opportunity for others to live far beyond the same outcome brought a healthy dose of reality to me. It makes me wonder if such catalysts, facilitated to such a degree, are indeed the only way for certain futures to come to pass. This I don’t know.
I have such little faith in humanity due to situations like this.
But I’m amazed at the fortitude and courage of Dave to say such words as, “I’m humbled,” and, “…this lie could make the world a better place,” due to the irrefutable facts of what this boy’s death spurred into motion.
I’ve always been grateful for the hard moments in my life, and I look forward to the challenges that have been placed in my path so I can learn more about myself. I get to see how I’ll behave, react, interact with others, and ultimately move forward to the next phase. But I’ve never had to live with a history like those of so many around me.
For someone like Dave to express gratitude at the horrific elements of his story that night, I stand in awe. How many times have I been slighted, or my friends been mocked, or my ancestors “had it rough” that I hold these things against them without hope of forgiveness or redemption? How often do I do this with myself?
I don’t know. It might not be possible to know until we reach the end and stand before our Maker.
Some hypotheticals are easy to configure, while others are so far out of our grasp that reaching does more damage than good.
Thinking about these things, from the films to the stand-up comedy, I realize that I’ve been a disappointment to myself and those closest to me in a lot of ways. Ways that I need to address, set right, and then reinforce in productive, positive, and beneficial ways. On the flip side, there are some new attitudes, outlooks, and behaviors that need to stay. I need to replace old tendencies with new ones to see actual change.
I’m a little scared because I don’t know what that change will look like, but it feels pretty heavy to me. I see some hard decisions and consequences coming my way soon.
I feel blessed to have examples like the women from Hidden Figures and The Help. I see a lot of my mom in them, and I recognize a lot of the similar trials and ridiculous run-around she had to go through just to be recognized and valued. Between her and my sisters, I admire them so much for how hard they work and how much they’ve accomplished. I can’t comprehend the depths of their struggles, but I am privileged to have watched them and had the opportunities to learn from them.
And Dave has shown me what it’s like to look at a situation, no matter the content, without fear or trepidation, and approach it from so many avenues. Not the least of which an honest, objective one, that inspires truth, comedy, and hope. Those three things aren’t easy to find, especially not together.
I need to change, and I need to acknowledge what is important and let go of what is not. I realize those things aren’t all material.
To all those who have suffered so I may live as I do, thank you.
To all those who suffer due to unfair and racist perspectives and actions, I am working hard to not contribute to that. I wish to help, not hurt.
To all those who sacrifice, whether you know it or not, thank you. Life is underrated in our day and age. I’d like to see this change. I believe that starts with people because, at the end of it all, people are what sticks around.
People started it, and people will end it. That’s the long and short of it.