In case you missed it earlier - Four years after the wave of optimism, has Barack Obama’s presidency really changed anything for black people?
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I am the nigger.
Singer of songs,
Softer than fluff of cotton…
Harder than dark earth
Roads beaten in the sun
By the bare feet of slaves…
Foam of teeth … breaking crash of laughter…
Red love of the blood of woman,
White love of the tumbling pickaninnies…
Lazy love of the banjo thrum…
Sweated and driven for the harvest-wage,
Loud laugher with hands like hams,
Fists toughened on the handles,
Smiling the slumber dreams of old jungles,
Crazy as the sun and dew and dripping, heaving life of the jungle,
Brooding and muttering with memories of shackles:
I am the nigger.
Look at me.
I am the nigger.
By Carl Sandburg
Sometimes it’s the little things people do to you that bring about moments of pure clarity: moments where you feel that intense rush of a sudden realisation as thoughts gather in your mind like chain smokers in an office car park. I experienced such a moment this week. For me, the journey to work is like appearing on an episode of Stars In Their Eyes. As I get on the bus in Peckham, I leave behind the “real” me and, by the time i arrive in Reading, i transition into what i now describe as the “work” me.
The difference is quite obvious to those who know me. “Real” Ashley is reclusive. Would rather sit in his boxers playing football manager than be caught in a nightclub. “Work” Ashley however is moderately outgoing. He can be found in a pub or bar, pretending to enjoy himself whilst secretly yearning for the delicate embrace of his bed. “Real” Ashley is sat here on a Saturday night writing a blog. “Work” Ashley would probably be out. That is the price we all pay to fit into society. We concede elements of our personalities to integrate ourselves into a social structure.
But, whilst journeying to work last week, that social structure that I have slowly sacrificed “real” Ashley for displayed its truth; no matter how hard we try, society has dark corners full of skin-headed thugs waiting to ambush you. Worse, those skin headed thugs are not in fact all skin headed. Some are well dressed. They sip their cappuccino or latte like the entitled troglodytes they are whilst pompusly snaring at you. They hold their bags closer to their chests when you walk past. They stand when the only free seat on the train is the one beside you.
As i boarded the train that morning last week, i felt like i always feel. A hypnotic mixture of tiredness, confusion, loneliness and hunger. I could not wait to sit and close my eyes, allow the journey to pass whilst listening to my music, detaching my mind from the constraints of this world and allowing it to float into another. My gentle hibernation was interrupted however by the sharp stares of a man sitting adjacent to me. At first i barely noticed him. Nothing about him was noticeable. He was average height with an average haircut, average clothes, everything about him was average. But his constant “stares” were like pins being pieced repeatedly through my skin.
At first i decided to ignore it. “Stares” are something i have experienced so often it has started to not bother me. It happens too often. I walk into a restaurant and I get “stares”. I walk into a bar and I get “stares”. I get so many “stares” a day I often wonder if I should branch into property development. But something about what he was doing felt different. Or maybe something about me that day was different. Either way, unlike the other days were i would ignore it, i decided to engage the man. I stared back. We locked eyes for what felt like the briefest of moments before his eyes stumbled to find another place to affix themselves. But like the dumb thief in that horrible movie we have all seen, he had to look back. He had to see if i was still looking. And yes, i was. So again, we locked eyes.
This uncomfortable locking of eyes then escalated as the journey proceeded. I decided that i would throw away some rubbish i had in my bag as i needed a reason to stand and walk (sitting down for an hour becomes awfully constricting) to the bin. As I passed the man, he attempted to leap out of the window of the carriage. At least that is what it looked like. His sudden jolt was so noticeable, other people on the carriage looked up. I simply shook my head and completed my task.
Sitting back down, he avoided any more eye contact with me. Perhaps he was now being persecuted by his own thoughts? Perhaps he simply felt stupid that others noticed his actions? Whatever the case, he left the train at Wokingham and scuttled away down the platform.
To some that will all seem very insignificant. What is a “stare”? Why care? But, like everything in life, you need to experience it to understand how it can slowly chip away at you before you become unable to withstand it any more. I find myself teetering on that edge. I willingly sacrifice elements of my personality to fit into society. But now i constantly question myself why i bother? Why attempt to fit into something that is littered with vermin such as that man? Maybe once i answer this question i will be able to move on and let the anger that has festered inside me since that took place, go.