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Personal reflection on minor absurdities of MLK Day

It was his first riot. My room-mate Esse sat on the couch playing State of Emergency, a Playstation video game where a mob smashes windows, steals and shoot. His quick smiling brother came in from Philly the night before, sat on a chair while Michael, a sleek nosed model with a zig zag cut into his beard, thumbed the Play Station controller. The character on the TV ran from bullets, stopped, punched and kicked through a pack of cops as J.B squatted by the wall, his lap-top flipped open, oohing and ahhing as Esse tumbled through fists and kicks.
"You’re taking a beating," I squint, "Your character is black?"
"No I think he's Italian."
"Looks black."
"Can't be, he's a decorated officer," Esse said. "They're not going to have a black decorated officer. He's a confused Italian." We laugh. That's how it is. Five black men in a room doing what men do, taunting and teasing each other. Esse brother starts it up. He points at me, "You're the half-white one!" I lean against the wall. "No", I joked. "I'm more like Michael Jackson, my light-complexion is all make-up. I put it on when I need to get a job or a cab." He laughed, slapped his knees, "You funny." It was a small jab in the invisible boxing between men, when we gather its either contest or confession, either we try to top each other or talk of how tired we are of trying to top each other. We're careful when confessing our weariness because it exposes our weakness. So we say that there is no reason to be on top of a world not worth winning. We confine our contests to small meaningless things like video games.
At night or early morning, I'll look at Esse, "Battlefront?" In minutes we're blasting storm-troopers and spaceships, eyes glazed by easy victory. Later we begin our critical rants against the world. We have the bond of confession, which for men turns to global accusation, we accuse our jobs, our families, our current and hoped for lovers, our dreams and our people for demanding too much and giving too little. It's a truth that ceases to be true the more we repeat it and in moments of anxiety we worry if the world we refuse to fight for will take us back. Esse's brother is more ambitious, his smile is his crow-bar to open doors and wallets, to put people at ease so he can get ahead. He flashed the smile at me to but saw my long dreads and light skin and stacks of books and sensed privilege, the contest was on. "Tell us how you saw Brokeback Mountain!"
"Yo isn't that the gay movie," Michael muttered. A question flared quietly about my sexuality, what could be said around me and what couldn't.
"Yeah man, saw it twice."
"Twice, nigger I wouldn't see that once."
"I had to see it to understand how we became niggers." He shook his head and looked at me. J.B. eyed me from his lap-top.
"We must be gay, why else do we allow ourselves to be fucked over for four hundred years? Maybe we like that white dick." I spit on my hand and motioned like I was lubricating my shaft. "Our movie will be How Brothers Got Their Groove Back, with Kevin Costner as our romantic lead."
"You sick."
I wondered for a second, if it was worth fighting this minor homophobia if it was worth returning to the contest. "I am sick, but gay men aren't, at least gay men like to fuck each other, we get psychologically raped and call it Hip Hop. How many people you know make money by celebrating how they kill each other."
J.B. raised his eyebrows and smirked. Michael pressed the buttons faster. They heard me but did the retreat thing brothers do when we see how much needs done. I went to my room and turned on WBAI, the local Leftist station and heard police sirens and yells. It was a report from a march Martin Luther King Jr. led that exploded into a riot. I stood in the doorway, hearing the news reports of real riots and the video game blend into one. I could hear Esse getting frustrated. Shots were fired, whether from the WBAI news report or the video game I couldn't tell as he complained, "They keep killing me but they don't tell me what I'm supposed to be doing."

Originally posted to Nicholas Powers on Tue Apr 01, 2008 at 07:03 AM PDT.

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