Levi Pettit

I’m Not Accepting Any Apologies: For Levi Pettit

Levi Pettit

Three chai tea latte refills, a cheese danish, and an adderall later, she and I sat alone in the KoreaTown coffee shop talking about Winnie-the-Pooh tattoos, The Wilhelm Scream live on KEXP, and forgiving black folk who aren’t yet tired of taking the high road. “The best way to describe the high road,” I told her after asking for the third time what the high road resembles, “looks like Atlanta on King’s birthday; far too many black folks there for the wrong reasons, and just a few other folk who came to see how it felt.”

The only other thing I remember about the R. Kelly sex tape aside from the look on the poor girl’s face when his Hennessy piss splashed on her lip, is a guest on BET saying, “R. Kelly will be okay. Black folks are a forgiving people. We seem mad now, but we’ll get over it like we always do.” I thought back to every time we hooped and hollered and broke things, then quickly forgave those whose face our faces were just inches from, thinking it would change who they were at their core. It never did. I was 18 or 20 when R. Kelly raped had sex with that poor girl, and for the past 15 or 13 years, I’ve been taking note of every time we forgave someone who deserved our backs, not our hands.

The high road isn’t pretty, the view, unlike most hills and mountains, is awful, and you have to walk barefoot. Here come the busses, smelling of day old, cold wings, Suave lotion, and baby powder, full of those ready to remove their shoes and run down, arms open, smiling. Well, I’m not walking it. I’m not going to stand at a podium with Levi Pettit while he apologizes for being caught on tape saying I’m good enough to decorate his family’s plantation, but not good enough to learn the same histories and traditions he’s learned (although I have absolutely no interest in doing so). I won’t shuffle my feet like the Black man I met in Beaufort, South Carolina when my car broke down for those who are racist by definition.

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Perfected oppression. They’ve been practicing racism so long, it’s perfect. Hell, we’ve been providing cleanup services for racist white folks for centuries now. Double entendre intended (shoutout to ABC on Thursdays at 9pm/8CST). We should stand behind the young woman who sat on the bus and was brave enough to release the footage of Levi and friends saying he’d rather see a black man hang from a tree than eat with him in his fraternity house’s dining hall.

And here we are, with Oklahoma State Senator, Anastasia Pittman, a Black woman, cleaning up after the man who just a few weeks ago told the world men like her daddy have absolutely no value; Black men like Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for Washington Post, who now also stands beside Levi Pettit, calling his apology “extraordinary.” Aren’t your feet tired and broken? Aren’t your hands, the same ones Common suggested you extend, in pain? You’re not tired of fixing plates, placing them on their table, then walking off to eat in the back with the dogs?

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Perfected oppression. Pastor J.A. Reed, Jr. said, “We accept the apology of Levi, and we forgive him for the mistake he made.” What mistake is he speaking of? When Levi Pettit said “There will never be a nigger in SAE?” That can’t be it, because the words seemed to make their way from his brain to our ears with ease, and not immediately retracted. There were no mistakes. Only deeply rooted intentions. “Oh, there will be cameras at the church and we can get on national news,” is what I imagined Pastor J.A. Reed said shortly before his forgiving comments. The price of one’s integrity, manhood, dignity, soul.

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“I’m grateful for him, his parents and for the courage they showed in being here today,” said Pastor Arnelious Crenshaw Jr. of Northeast Church of Christ. Well, I’m grateful for men like Pastor Arnelious Crenshaw, Jr. for showing some of us that perhaps the oppressors are still oppressing because all it takes to be forgiven after crushing the necks of hundreds of black folks is to ask three of them to forgive you, and they’ll talk to the rest. Hell, even Justin Bieber called us “Nigger,” and we saw how fast Usher shuffled and tapped to the mic to tell everyone his friend wasn’t racist.

The coffee shop closed at 3am and we finished the conversation in my car with, “I’m not accepting any apologies.”

Close To Home: Two Charlottesvilles

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I grew up all over Charlottesville, Va. My first memory is of me in a stroller on 5th St. SW and Dice St. and someone with a blurry face getting into a cab. On Ridge St. I peed on a bookshelf when I was five-years-old because my teacher made me stand and face it for talking too much during nap time. I built club houses on Hardy Drive’s 812 section, busted my lip in Forest Hill Park, and stayed over my best friend’s house playing video games so long that when I was finally riding my bike back home to Rock Creek Road, my mom was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill in her robe, slippers, and curlers in her hair.

I led forgotten revolutions at a High School on Melbourne Rd. and talked about the lyrics to All About The Benjamins in a treehouse on Amherst St. before turning a riding lawnmower into a go-kart that would never run. If my once-deepest fear of losing my sight ever came true, I’d go home to Charlottesville, and buy a car. I can navigate the city that well. Even as a blind man, I’d point to the exact place in The Projects where the police ran to stop me as a 10-year-old with their hands on their guns to ask why I was running from them, when I was really running toward my little cousin in a game of tag. I can take you to my old barber who was accused of rape because, as history and science shows, all Black men look and sound the same. He was released when they found he was telling the truth. Downtown is where our big library is, and in the basement is the machine that will pull up all the old copies of our local paper, The Daily Progress, and if we do a search, we’ll see how almost every incident of racism and racial injustice in the town never made it to the paper. If necessary, I’ll explain how things like that get justified so often, even the victims thought what the cops were doing was right and just part of the job.

There are two Charlottesvilles and I’ve learned them both.

Before computers were in every home and because Kappa League existed, I spent my free time at the University of Virginia, talking to strangers in chat rooms, collecting age, sex, and locations, and being the “cute little brother” of some of the coolest guys on the planet. at 12-years-old, being with these cool kids on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Academic Village, I felt a million miles away from my folks’ place on Henry Ave., or my grandmother’s spot in The Projects; both only two miles away. Here, Black boys aren’t being chased down by cops without reason, I thought. Hell, the cops didn’t make me nervous when they tapped me on the shoulder. All they wanted was to tell me to watch out for the biker. This was a different world. On these grounds, I learned to talk to women, build websites, and become the Black exception.

Sharing stories over the last few days with family who’ve been around the town much longer than me, and friends like Nikuyah Walker, you hear about how often the Virginia ABC Police, and of course the local police, have been throwing black men and women to the ground for decades at Foodmaster on Ridge St. and in front of Estes on Cherry Ave. If I behave like the cool kids in that part of town covered by the magical bubble, I’d be exempt from having my head bashed in, I thought.

Martese Johnson is my brother from another mother. We have the same ten men in our lives, motivating us to achieve in every field of human endeavor. As a young man, I’ve helped shape some if his thoughts, and he’s inspired me in countless was in return. We’ve laughed, chanted, partied, and discussed relevant issues. I love that man. We’re brothers. I want to tell him how important this moment is before it slips by and the world, especially Charlottesville, is no longer looking.

The world is now watching as Charlottesville officials pretend this is new. They pretend Martese isn’t the umpteenth Black man this has happened to since 2015 has begun, and they hope the other men don’t come forward. These other Black men won’t come forward because no one recorded their mistreatment, and they’re convinced that because they loudly protested their arrest, what the cops did to them was somehow proper. In Martese’s statement, he mentioned a “community of trust we’ve worked so hard to build.” I need him to push that. I need him to ask about the other men who look like him who were also bloodied and stitched; those Black men who don’t sit on Honor Committees, but are just as honorable. We’re still afraid to show our lives out of fear that these lives somehow justify mistreatment. They don’t. Understanding this is understanding why Rosa Parks made the news and Claudette Colvin didn’t. Rosa didn’t even mention her. All I want is for the question to be raised to start the conversation.

When I go home now, I’m in the same places. I sleep in Garrett Square, stop by Amherst when Whitmore’s home, go to Fellini’s and drink with Kim, and hit the streets with Nikuyah to discuss local Black politicians with their hands in the pockets of white politicians, and the state of education and welfare. The lines are blurred for me now. I haven’t stayed home long enough to know if I am the Black exception with unknown, unlimited resources that will show their face when I find myself in trouble like I once believed I could become, or if I’m just another Black man from Charlottesville who’ll get beat, harassed, followed, and have his character assassinated quietly, while media ignores my calls.

If there was a goal in place to keep the two Charlottesvilles apart, Martese was the wrong Black man to bloody. To build this community of trust, a community that’s made its way into town-gown conversations but not into reality, the exception must speak up for the rules. All it takes is the question.

Perfected Oppression

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The thing about oppression is this: when you hold someone down, you, too, have to be there to make sure they don’t move.

Here’s the twist: a few years ago, my fraternity brother and I were called “Nigger” by a truck full of white boys in Charlottesville, Va. who fit the Jeff Foxworthy “redneck” stereotype. Quickly, we reminded them they weren’t part of the “Great White Plan” either. Their status in society wasn’t that high either, but definitely higher. See, they get to wake up with at least a bit of privilege, whereas, we’re screwed.

But I’m sitting here now realizing these rednecks’ roles in society. The System, while oppressing US, doesn’t have to stay down with us. They they their minions to do it, making them believe they’re a part of The System too.

THEY HAVE PERFECTED OPPRESSION!

“There Will Never Be A Ni**er In SAE?” Good!

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Some 104 years ago, a group of fellas got together in a small house in Bloomington, Indiana to discuss the beginning of what would become the greatest fraternity. This very thing happened years before that, and for women, in another part of the country, all because it was decided there would “never be a nigger in” any of the fraternities and sororities already making their mark on these college campuses.

I feel safe enough to say I speak for all members of Black Greek-lettered Organizations when I say, “Good,” to those guys on that bus who were so adamant about denying anyone who looks like me membership into their precious bond. As a black man, seeking membership into an organization with a 159 year history of racism, an organization founded by confederate soldiers in old, antebellum Alabama, has not made my bucket list.

A colonized mind is a terrible thing. Last night I watched the clip of William Bruce James II, the second and last Black member of the University of Oklahoma’s Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon come to the defense of racism. “I can’t say that there was never a moment of insensitivity or a showing of ignorance, but it was never from a mean-spirited place,” James said when asked, “did you ever experience racism?” I will assume this means when the white brothers of SAE decided to play klansmen for the annual Halloween party, William Bruce James II laughed along with them when they suggested he play “porch monkey.” Afterall, they were laughing when they suggested it.

Having worked in higher education on a campus built by one of the most revered and celebrated slave owners, Thomas Jefferson, I know Williams James Bruce II isn’t that one needle in a haystack. Too often I’d see the same shuck and jive routine by many Black members of predominantly and historically White fraternities; laughing at racist jokes to fit in when the correct response would have been to shut down the conversation, educate the ignorant, and if need be, lay them flat. I have no solutions for the William Bruce James II’s of the world. All Black men and women don’t culturally identify as Black, and while that disappoints me, I sometimes understand, looking at their upbringing. I do, however, get upset at that parents who have failed them.

(Side note: Not the proudest moment, but it once took ten men to pull my fraternity brother off a member of a white fraternity who insisted on telling a racist joke that required he use “nigger,” even after my brother suggested he stop the joke as soon as he saw where it was heading. Again, not the proudest, but it did feel good)

I joined my fraternity because I wanted the women, the parties, the social life. I wanted to be able to charter busses to Philadelphia to hold up free Mumia signs, to get the unlikely voters of Volusia County to the polls, to show up places where change and evolution were necessary with a Kappa shirt on and work just as hard as the people who were there before I arrived, and just as hard as the AKAs, Deltas, Alphas, Omegas, Sigmas, Iotas, Zetas, and SGRhos, because that’s what we were and are supposed to do.

SAE just so happened to be the fraternity caught on tape. There aren’t always cameras, and there aren’t always those on busses willing to share and speak up.

Somewhere I may have steered off the path I was on when I began this post, but I finish with this: we were created to fight everything that happened on that Oklahoma bus, not join it.

“There will never be a nigger in SAE?” Good.

The Politicians. Selma. Blood Sunday.

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Today, political figures stood at the mic and spoke out about the injustices still plaguing Selma, and much of the American South and its diaspora. They demanded a change in the judicial and economic systems because they understand just how much suffering is happening under them both. On the 50th anniversary of Blood Sunday, politicians proved their selflessness, and demanded change for the folks many thought were forgotten. And all those who watched, those who were able to reach out and touch those political figures, and those who sat in front of their TV, smiles, clapped, and celebrated the amazing moment in history.

Except those politicians didn’t do that. They used the microphone, and those people staring, tweeting, updating, and snapping, to plaster their brand and add inches to the legs of their political seats. And the people were excited, not knowing what happened.

Unapologetically: Christian, Vernon, Me.

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Why are we sorry for what we want from one another?

I want to do nothing more than hold the door open for you at Bagatelle, pull out your chair, pull myself up to the table, speak the few French words I know, impress you a bit, cuff my hand on my favorite part of your thigh while I lean in and tell you I want nothing more than to watch you slyly slide your phone from your purse to tell your friends this may be the best date of your life while I walk away to the bathroom to wash my hands before breaking bread. But I don’t want this all the time. I don’t want to you think I’m dependable and reliable, and I don’t want to pretend we’re not fucking around your father. I want to tell you this is more about me wanting to ruin you in the most beautiful way possible, than getting to know you. I want to tell you this if this is how I feel. If this is what I want.

My brother, Vernon, and I play a game where we exchange compliments often because ours lives are amazing, and if we combined powers, we’d be the perfect man. I tell him his Beamer is dope, and he compliments my new Hublot. It’s my turn to return that compliment. His unapologetic approach to situationships is outstanding, and while years ago I didn’t think it’d be for me to adopt because I didn’t need to confirm the rumors that my heart is seemingly black, I am more than ready to adopt that approach now.

Perhaps Christian Grey has known such Thursdays. I sat in the far back and concentrated on his moves, demeanor, strategies as I imagined Elle watched Pai Mei, or Miguel Watched Prince. I watched his unapologetic approach, and saw nothing that even remotely resembled a cold or black heart. I saw a man who knew what he wanted, and before anything was invested, saw it important to place it on the table next to the T-bone steak, cheese eggs, and Welch’s grape.

Sitting in the back of theater, I looked in that mirror of a screen and saw my past relationships, fuck-ups, mistakes, successes. Perhaps the movie isn’t as great as I think it is. Perhaps it was me sitting in a classroom again, in my major courses, learning from the curriculum I chose, with that one teacher who’d give me an A simply because I’m cool as fuck. I felt sorry for Christian, knowing what was coming for him because Anastasia is no different from those women who cried waiting on me to run after them, realizing I wouldn’t after hours of standing in the rain.

(or perhaps the movie was fucking amazing, and those who dislike it are upset the sex was minimal, and now that Anastasia has a face, they can no longer place themselves in the shoes of the girl like they could with the book. even those who thought it was bad found themselves at the sex shop buying whips and chains and cuffs)

“That’s me. That’s how I am” will have to do, but I am willing to sit on that comfortable, light blue couch in my favorite coffee shop on Western Ave. and negotiate as long as you bring the fruit roll-ups and grapefruit juice and buy me an iced sweet potato latte.

Whatever it is we want, we need to ask for. Before the 1961 Chateau Palmer Margaux is poured, and before the check comes I need you to tell me exactly what you need from me without the “um’s” and “uh’s.” Just say it and smile. What’s the craziest thing that could happen? Hell, you may have a friend who fits the bill I’m trying to pay.

Unapologetically, I want to run into these mazes.