New Harlem

New Harlem

“Niggas got PTSD,” my best friend says to me through my earbuds in a tone that is somewhat facetious but still pretty blunt. She has just finished recounting a fight she’d witnessed at the gym earlier in the day between two personal trainers that ended with one whipping out a machete. 

“Can you believe that shit?” she asks, her voice inflecting as if she, herself, is having a hard time believing that shit. I assume her question is rhetorical, but I respond anyway, “Abso- fucking- lutely.” 

In my experience a simple difference of opinion between two members of the lesser sex almost always manifested into a dick-measuring contest where someone inevitably got hurt. That said, I am not so much surprised by the outcome of the altercation as I am intrigued by my friend’s analysis of it. 

“Niggas got PTSD.” 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a pathology often applied to victims of some physical or psychological trauma: former military service members, survivors of violent crimes, etcetera, etcetera. Very rarely is the term used to describe the reality of being alive and aware in pre-apocalyptic America. Granted, the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency has left even the bravest of Americans scared shitless and, as we all know, fear often provokes irrational and unpredictable behavior. The natural human response to fear is to fight or to flee and, in this instance, with no escape from their inflated male egos, these men decide to fight to the death. Still, I tell myself, perhaps my friend is being a little dramatic.
Continue reading “New Harlem”

Coming of Age as a Black Girl

Coming of Age as a Black Girl

I waited so long for her. Well before my sister told me she was pregnant, I prayed for a new companion. My adult relationships were becoming far too fickle; I needed to experience that infinite love only a child could give. And while I don’t know what kind of mother I’d make, I’ve always wanted to be a crazy aunt.

I imagined our future play dates at random city landmarks that I’m far too old to patron alone at my age. I imagined the way she’d smile after a greedy scoop of Dippin’ Dots at Coney Island. I imagined the way her eyes would question the “native” artifacts on display at the American Museum of Natural History. When I finally found out she was coming, my first assumption was that we’d have the same taste in music, so I created a playlist of love songs that I sang to my unborn niece very often and very much off-key.

She arrived in the early morning of Christmas Eve, weighing six pounds and three ounces. We called her Amaya. When I finally built up the courage to hold her for the first time, she studied my face with one eye open and the other in a tight squint. My eyes met her tiny little pupils for a brief instant, and in that moment it felt as if I’d reunited with an old friend. She looked as if she recognized me too.

As the nurse whisked Amaya away to the nursery, my sister awkwardly lamented about childbirth disrupting her annual her Christmas shopping.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ll buy your gift next week.”

 Born nearly 9 years apart, we have developed more of a mother-daughter relationship over the years. With our own mother often working long hours overnight to feed two mouths my father had left hungry and vacant years before, my big sister stepped in to fulfill many of her maternal duties. I can recall her making me breakfast and taming my stubborn kinks in the morning. I can recall her teaching me to read and write well before I was old enough to tie my shoes. She taught me that too and she would read me poems and stories in exaggerated accents before tucking me into bed at night. 

Still, it was hard to believe that even after pushing something the size of a football out her vagina, my big sister was worried about me. We were all grown up now. We had both survived the backbreaking journey of coming of age as a black girl in America. We had found a way from no way and now it was time to light the way for my niece.

“Don’t worry about getting me a gift,” I replied. “We got Amaya.” 

Continue reading “Coming of Age as a Black Girl”

The Ink of a Scholar

The Ink of a Scholar

While on a ritual Netflix binge, I stumble across my favorite documentary, “The Black Power Mixtape,” for what seems like the millionth time. Each time I watch it, I inevitably discover a scene I’d previously overlooked and find new meaning in that moment based on the progression(or lack thereof) my life has taken thus far.

This time, the scene takes place in Harlem circa the late ‘60s inside of a black-owned bookstore filled with towering stacks of what I like to call “vintage” African-American Literature: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and most infamously Langston Hughes. Lewis H. Michaux, a middle-aged black man with a spunky afro, stands in the center of the organized chaos as groups of little black boys and girls scurry in and out the storefront. The shop owner shares with the Swedish filmmakers that when he hears his young patrons shout,”black power,” he promptly corrects them.

“Black is beautiful, but black isn’t power. Knowledge is power,” Michaux clarifies. “For you can be black as a crow, you can be white as snow and if you don’t know and ain’t got no dough, you can’t go and that’s fo’ sho’.”

Continue reading “The Ink of a Scholar”