Daddy told me I was a revolutionary w/no cause. I don’t know what I was doing at that very moment he made that comment. Maybe I was reciting a poem I wrote about crackers makin it on black folks’ bended backs. Or maybe I was organizing a showcase for Black History Month. I probably was just sittin at the dining room table wearing a dashiki–most likely his blue & black dashiki whose neck & chest plate were embroidered w/gold thread mimicking the intricate beaded necklaces that members of the Maasai Tribe wear. Whatever I was doing, my behaviors seemed, to him, unwarrantedly rebellious.
I grew up feeling like I was born into the wrong era, so maybe my behaviors reflected that feeling: I wrote poetry about civil rights movements I only read about. In them, I called white people “cracker,” spelled America w/a “k,” & discussed civil injustices I had never experienced. I was an active member of the NAACP’s Youth Council, where I met Kweisi Mfume, Myrlie Evers, & Rosa Parks; president of the Afro-American Heritage Club in both middle & high school, where I took tours of Martin Luther King Jr.’s home & competed in African American Brain Bowls; & I wore wooden necklaces & leather African medallions I bought from the Muslim man who stood on the corner of 27th Avenue & 183rd Street selling them, along w/bean pies & The Final Call. I was a revolutionary.
I was “as-salaam-alaikum“-ing folks after watching Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. I wrote letters to Ruchell Cinque MaGee, my prison pen pal, whose address I discovered after reading Herb Boyd’s Black Panthers for Beginners. & after those white cops were acquitted of beating Rodney King, I, too, asked, “Can we all just get along?” & remembered his question when O.J. Simpson was acquitted, secretly believing Simpson’s liberation was reparations for Rodney King, Martin Luther King, & all the other kings made to be our martyrs. Daddy clearly saw the revolutionary in me; yet, he claimed my movements had no purpose.
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I grew up in the 80s & 90s when The 2LiveCrew was being banned in the USA, Maya Angelou was reciting “On the Pulse of Morning,” & Hillman College depicted the HBCU experience all my Black friends & I wanted to encounter. The “Star Spangled Banner” signaled television’s cut-off, mainstream radio was void of profane language, & reality television was limited to MTV’s Road Rules. The era, as I experienced it, was quite innocuous. & although the Gulf War was happening, besides watching the Spaceship Challenger explode during take off, witnessing Baby Jessica’s rescue, & being amongst Hurricane Andrew’s destruction, my lived experiences were just as–if not more–innocuous than the late 20th century. Daddy was right. I was a revolutionary w/no cause.
I spent all of my middle & high school years embodying a Black persona that was foreign to me, wishing to have a Black experience–a narrative–that was interesting enuf to hang on museum walls, to publish in Norton anthologies, & to revise into rap lyrics. I was no different than Alice Walker’s Dee (or Wangero)–believing that consuming everything Black outside of me & my own experiences made me Blacker, like Malcolm X, pro-nationalist Black. & while I learned so much about my ancestors, I wasn’t as intentional about knowing myself, not just in relationship to my Black history, but to the stories & to the people that were unfolding in the era & area in which I was actively living. I was so busy being Black that I neglected being me. I reckon that‘s what Daddy meant when he claimed me a useless revolutionary: to be the change I want to see in the world, I must first have a clear vision of myself. I am still looking.