Hostel Conversations with Peter about Racism

Peter and I sat near what the Theater International Hostel of Guatemala City copywriters describe as an indoor pool and a magical garden discussing why he, a white man from Amsterdam, born to British parents, could not reciprocate the racist jokes his Black family members in Martinique threw at him. And in one breath and one long sentence he shares both his empathy for “Blacks in America,” and a joke about Black behavior around American police, based solely on what he’s picked up from the news stations around Europe and Central America on his pilgrimage away from Medical School.

I blamed him, his parents, their parents, and their cousins. We talked about how my mom’s dad’s side of the family has gotten as far as 1812 in the quest for putting together our family tree and can go no further because of erasures. I also needed to nail to his brain the thought that every anomalous act by a Black man or Black woman in the world, and specifically in America because I can speak on America confidently, must not be looked at and analyzed and judged and those doers must not be labeled until we look at everything that happened between the sale of the first Black person on white property, to 1812 when my family magically appeared, to today; Black babies in sacks were cut from stomachs, hanging from umbilical cords while their mothers hang from trees, husbands were forced to stand and watch their wives bend over for oppressors, and any babies she birthed, whether from her husband or the oppressor, were sold to men far away. “Before you talk about the behavior of Blacks folks anywhere,” I told him, “I need you to admit guilt on behalf of your people, and the people you created who created America.”


Open Letter To Nate Parker. Or Some Smart-Sounding Title.

Today, a former Black basketball or football player said white girls on college campuses can’t be raped by Black college athletes in popular sports. Another guy called you brother, though you feel he’s done a piss poor job at preserving Black men.

You raped that girl. You found her drunk. You undressed her. You let your roommate fill in the gaps. You blamed her. You lied.

She’s dead now, and the only two people (The third person only knows seconds of what probably seemed like an eternity to the woman) who can tell us what really happened don’t have clear definitions of rape. Hell, I don’t know what anymore. I believed I did once, but that’s since gone to shit. I do know I’ve never raped. You raped that girl.

And now she’s dead because an apology was too much to give when it was needed most. [Maybe].

Teach your daughters to set themselves on fire when men like you approach.

I Hate That I Have To Tell You

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I Hate That I Have To Tell You is a Children’s Book about the constant conversation Black parents must have with their children about how to handle encounters with police, but knowing in the end, it may not matter.

Is this children’s book controversial? Absolutely! But pretending this isn’t a reality has done more harm than good, and if change truly begins with the children, this book, and the parents ready to read it and talk about it honestly with their children, will be another step toward a more just future.

“One thing we don’t think about when planning for children is how to teach them how not to be killed,” Darnell Lamont Walker, the book’s author says. “At 11 years old, my son came to me, matter-of-factly telling me about the dream he had that morning in which a cop attacked and tried to kill him. Undoubtedly it was the news of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling that I refused to hide from him that put these thoughts in his head. ‘Why do they keep killing us,’ he asked. ‘I don’t have an answer for that right now,’ I told him.”

“These talks are too often between him and I. Our first conversation around and through the issue was after Detroit Police murdered 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones. My son was 5 at the time. ‘I hate that I have to tell you these things,’ I said, ‘but I have to hope they will keep you alive for as long as you can be, okay?’ He didn’t understand then, and probably forgot as soon as he ran back into the yard, but I made sure to constantly remind him.”

With colorful, watercolor illustrations, and flowing, easily comprehended wording, Darnell Lamont Walker hopes to capture the attention of children, and with a quick worksheet and tips in the back, hopes to help parents hold these conversations, and even have new ones, with their child.

Darnell Lamont Walker is a father, writer, and filmmaker, currently working on a documentary series about Black Americans escaping American Tyranny. He resides in Los Angeles.


A Martyr In Her Bed Tonight

It was a swipe right, a short convo, a debate over the best Old Fashions and Black Russians, and a meeting downtown with every intention to be out of our minds then her polka dot panties and my Superman boxer briefs long before the bars closed. This town is small and made for bowlers and girls who wear side ponytails and Reebok Classics. Neither of us fit and found comfort in our sheepy behavior, however black it got.

Drunk, though I could argue we were tipsy, we stumbled down the cobblestone sidewalks, looking for pieces of Earth to hold tight to in case gravity wasn’t enough. “Just keep me where the light is,” I yelled out, and she went into a rant about John Mayer’s white supremacist dick. Drunk. Not one star in sight, just beams from our cell phone flashlights lighting our feet and attracting gnats and mosquitoes.

We replenished in each other everything drained from us over the past few days. I wasn’t sure how else to say “thank you,” except with a kiss while waiting on the Uber. She kissed me back pretending my hand on her back was the reason she came closer.

We left our shoes at the door, our phones on the coffee table, my shirt on the back of a dining room chair, and her shorts were kicked to the top of the fridge. All else made it to the bedroom floor.

We examined the markings strangers left on our bodies; the art and the writings. Between us were novels and galleries. I was The Met and her, the Gagosian. She’s a wanderer and a lover. I shiver next to her.

“Breathe. Remember to breathe.” Reminders when we were able to speak. “Breathe. Say something.” I read the poems on her back out loud.

Then there were no words. Just heavy breathing, a wind coming through the window, over our legs, and beneath the door, and laughing in the parking lot five stories below. They were probably lovers, I thought.

The silence wasn’t awkward, scary, or unsure. It was just there, like I was, feeling a peace, a serenity, a vibe. And she asked, “have you cried for Philando Castile or Alton Sterling yet?” Then I did.

A Martyr of sorts.


Overheard in a Conversation with Myself

The one guy said something about killing police officers. He said something about the way they make him feel when he’s just walking down the street and one walks by or pulls up beside him. “This one time on I-95,” he sighed, “a cop pulled up beside me and my heart was beating like I had a trunk full of dope.” Then he went on to talk about a teacher he had once called that a “conditioning.”

He said his mom was once touched inappropriately by a cop and one called his father a nigger and made the trigger pulling motion with his fingers; the one kids make when playing cowboys and indigenous folks with no real weapons.

He said something about badly wanting to kill a cop to see if it would stop them from killing us. He thinks about it so much, he wonders why he hasn’t sought help. What would he tell the therapist, he wondered. “Ain’t shit a therapist can tell you that’ll make you feel safe around police officers,” he said. He’s probably right.

He said it’s best he leaves, to which the other man replied, “just teach the people to police their own neighborhoods. Teach them to govern, to lead, to build and collaborate. Then teach them to kill anyone who threatens that. Paul refuses to leave and let go of hope. He told me,” and the man finished.

It was something about killing police officers that ended the conversation.


Notes On A Charlottesville City Council Meeting

A funny thing happened while sitting in a City Council meeting listening to Charlottesville, Virginia residents tell City Council why a neighborhood should not be rezoned to make space for a small piece of systemic racism that’s currently sitting on the land; I found too many things that just wouldn’t quite fit.

If we skip right on by the two racists who believe only unattached, displaced Muslim men are capable of rape, robbery, and assault, but not go as far as the Mayor sharing his belief that once upon a time in the Jim Crow South, Black folks and white folks lived side-by-side happily and neighborly, sharing sugar and beans, we’ll find ourselves at discourse about how Charlottesville’s history of rezoning has proven to be nothing positive for the voiceless (also see: working class) citizens. Rezoning is what happened to Vinegar Hill, after all.

“I Am White Excellence,” his shirt read. Charlottesville’s new slogan?

Richard Spurzem, the owner of the property, prior to his threatening City Council with never spending another dollar in the city if they denied his rezoning efforts, tried hard to convince the people that what he was doing was for the greater good. History shows that Black folks aren’t included in the “greater good,” and since we’re still in July, I should also mention Black folks aren’t included in “all people,” either.

Dear Richard Spurzem:

What is this vague green space you mentioned? What were you hoping to achieve by exposing its existence? Your biggest problem isn’t that you own the property. After all, it was kind of passed down, kind of purchased after the wrongdoing. Your biggest problem is you think you were doing something good for a community you were too afraid to speak to, and perhaps even noticeably enter. Oh, the money you would have saved. Presumably, however, that money means little to you.

In your future developments, if you find yourself attempting to sell an idea to the working class citizens you’re about to heavily disservice, don’t mention the amenities or the massive amount of money you’ll make when it’s over. We are smart people, and we know your benefits have nothing to do with us.

Dear City Council:

Way to go on shutting down the foolishness. However, did you, like me, find it ironic that it was unanimously decided by you that what Spurzem was attempting to do was improper because it wasn’t for the good of the people, but what Spurzem would have achieved with this rezoning, you’ve already done?

Tonight we temporarily saved Booker Street and all of Rose Hill Drive Neighborhood, but walk a few minutes up the road and take a look at Washington Park. Take a look at 7th St., Dice St., Belmont, 10th & Page. Some things just won’t quite fit. Why did you vote against rezoning? I know why you should have, and I’m glad you did, but why did you really do it?

“Who on City Council can be trusted,” I asked one woman in the room. Several chimed in with a chorus of “none of them, but some are better than others.” Then came a “hmph, I’m surprised that one even showed up. Damn shame how we voted him in, and he’s voting for everything that ain’t us.”

I applauded Steve Ivory for mentioning gentrification. Let’s break down in three steps exactly how it works:

1. Demographic Shift: Fewer families and more couples and singles move in, the median income rises, and ethnic minorities decline.

2. Real Estate: Low-income renters are evicted while rent prices soar, and while old homes and apartments are being upgraded to condos.

3. Cultural & Social Change: With the newcomers comes shops, cafes, and other commercial places suitable for the new crowd.

And it usually all begins with something as small as a house and a vote in City Council. This is what we were fighting. We were fighting being hidden from cameras and reporters each time you fought your way to the front of the line to yell out “Charlottesville is one of the greatest places to live.” I grew up on stories about my family living in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood, but they were only stories. The Vinegar Hill I was familiar with showed no signs of folks who look like me. No, the folks who look like me were pushed out of Vinegar Hill and into Hardy Drive. What were they told? What was the dream sold to them? Whatever was said was pure genius. Or perhaps, because we all fully understand how systemic racism works, they were strong-armed and forcibly moved. I know the answer to this. And it all began with something as small as a house and a vote in City Council.

It’s the irony. I just find it hard to believe that the folks who drove the children of the town’s working class away from the pools are the same people who sat before me arguing for the good of the people.

Do better.

And please understand that I’m not completely convinced that July 5th’s decision wasn’t a well orchestrated performance directed by Richard Spurzem himself.

Dear Charlottesville Residents (Mostly Black, but some working class white folks too):

Racism and classism have a permanent home in zoning. Booker Street was a battle. Stock up on all things that keep you moving because this war will be tiring. Keep fighting though. Police your own neighborhoods and use City Council only when absolutely necessary. If you are unsatisfied, do not be afraid to loudly hold them accountable. Make them uncomfortable.


Darnell Lamont Walker

Ideally, I’d love to live in that magical, unicorn-filled place Mayor Signer described. That place where there was nothing but peace amongst the people of different race, creed, and ideals. The place were sugar borrowing was plentiful and Jim Crow was taught but now felt. But this is America, and this is Charlottesville, and this just isn’t possible.