I spent this Thanksgiving in Korea. It was my first abroad, but not my first not in LA. I spend several college Thanksgivings in Atlanta be my Morehouse brethren, and many of those proved to be the most memorable. There was the Turkducken year. Also, the year my sister visited me and our brother as, again, Ben and I teamed up to deep fry a Turkey. So, missing out on Thanksgiving festivities in Compton is nothing new, however it is different this year. I AM IN KOREA. And my family simply communicated with me via Kakao, and it reminded me of last year.
Last year, as usual the Cowboys were losing and I watched hoping they could somehow mount a comeback, however unlikely it seemed. I sat in my grandmother’s house, in the lovely chair that usually asks as an Ambien, watching her busy between the kitchen and her couch. My father arrived after me and my sister, and we for some reason we started talking about Mike Brown. For my sister and I, it was obvious. Mike Brown should not have been killed. He should have able to spend Thanksgiving with his family as I was. He should have been able to watch my Cowboys lose like the rest of America was able to. It was just that simple. My father, on the other hand, did not think it was so simple. Rather, he thought is even simpler. He talked about how if Mike Brown had not been high that dreadful day, he would not have been killed. “What?!??!” is all I could muster. Did my father, the most progressive person in my family not me, just echo a Fox News talking point? Did he really just blame Mike Brown for his own death? My sister and I immediately went in. We pestered him with every variation of “what the fuck are you talking about?!?!” followed by “do you know what you are saying?” All we received back were snarky and hurtful responses re-iterating how that entire interaction started because Mike Brown was high. This is not true, as I pointed out. The officer did not know Mike Brown was high, if he were actually high. Finding weed in one’s system does not mean that person is actually experiencing a high. Furthermore, the officer did not know Mike Brown was a suspect in strong arm robbery, so my father’s responses rang hollow.
He then proceeded to talk about many of the issues Black folks face would be alleviated if we would stop using drugs. Again, I preceded to highlight the fact that black folk do not do drugs at a great rate than whites. These facts fell upon deaf ears. His response was “we are not white,” and he is right, however expecting black folks to be superhuman is wrong and setups an impossible goal: to be superhuman and not suffer from sins of the flesh like, well, humans. The idea that black folks are more or should be more human than whites is stained in racists expectation as thinking we are less than humans.
By this point of the evening, the Cowboys were – no longer in the game, and my patience was gone. My sister was able to handle this better than I was. She articulated her frustrated with our father fairly exactly. “I’m surprised by you…” she repeated. She was surprised because she too saw our father as the much more liberal counterpart to our mother. I mean much more liberal. As awful as it sounds, we used to jokingly call our mother “baby Hitler” because she spent time as a youth in Germany, but mostly because of her draconian perspective on moral matters (which was steeped in Christianity). On this one, our mother abstained. She tried to play peace keeper, and I tried to oblige with my not so convincing “I’m done. I’m going to ignore to you” statements, but I was not done, and I could not ignore him. I could not ignore him because he seemed to to take delight his perspective. Often, he chuckle as and laugh at his asinine comments. I could not ignore him because he was and is wrong. I could not ignore him because he was supposed to be on my side and understand how systemic racism works. This was the same man who turned my first grade report on Christopher Columbus into a father/son dissertation about how Columbus slaughtered a race of people. This is the man who, upon witnessing me call my brother a “nigger” in elementary school had me look the word up only to find it was not in the dictionary we owned. That weekend we went to the bookstore and bought another dictionary that did have the proper definition for the word. And this was the same man, so wrote an entire book on how police reform should look in the City of Compton. Yet last Thanksgiving, he was someone else. He was the person I least wanted to share a room with. I could not sit there, watch the Cowboys get manhandled by the Eagles (of all teams) and listen to my father’s silly justification of Mike Brown’s death. I could not. I could not because I have had police pull guns on my and friends after following us for more than half a mile, though we committed no violation. I could not because I sat in the kitchen of the apartment I shared with three others listening to Ferguson DA blame Mike Brown for his own death while disparaging protestors who fought for answers. I sat in my kitchen, delaying what should have been a delightful night of playing basketball with friends to listen to nothing happen. Eventually I would play basketball, but not before weeping alone in my parked truck, just out of the orange light shone from the street lamp next to the park I would play a very distracted night of basketball. Mike Brown was dead, and this officer is saying he would have not changed a thing. This is what was on my mind as my father blames Mike Brown for his death. This time, I was not in my apartment. I was in my grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving. One of the few safe havens I felt I had in LA, but today was not the day.
To my grandmother’s grave disappointed, I decided to leave before the food was served and go to my aunt’s house where my mother’s mother and family were. I apologized to my angered grandmother who surely thought my actions were silly and childish, but I had to protect my self.
So much has been made in recent months about microagressions by those who do not understand how difficult and exhausting it is to be black. Any safe space I can have, I take it. Korea has afforded me another layer of protection. I cannot image what is it like to be colored, a women, queer, and lower-class (if only I could imagine).
In the time since last Thanksgiving, I’ve grown to understand my father’s comments were those from a man who lived through two Watts riots. A man who, while in his youth, had issues with drug abuse. I still recall he and my uncle talking about how they would never see American Gangster because they lived through the heroin epidemic of the 70s and saw what it did to their community and people they knew. My father is opposed to drug use, recreational or not, and he wishes for black folk to not use drugs because he sees it as doing nothing but harm. I do not feel that way. I voted for California to decriminalize marijuana, and I’d do it again. He voted against, and he’ll do so again, even after I pointed out how these drugs laws have effected black lives.
I do not fault my father for last Thanksgiving nor his views. We are all a product of our experiences. I do wish he had never shared his perspective, I cannot lie. I could have reacted differently, perhaps.
Later that night when my father arrived at my aunt’s house, I was still very angry, and he knew this enough to provide space. Eventually, it became water under the bridge. I only recalled last year because I am in Korea; though, I’m sure had I watched the Cowboys get thrashed by the Panthers at my grandmothers house this year, I would have been reminded of last year.