The following is a Flintside opinion piece by contributor Xzavier Simon. Have an idea for an essay or opinion piece you'd like to write for Flintside about life in Flint? Email [email protected].
I think this letter is more for my healing than anything else, and that’s fine, I hope. It’s 2021, and in 5 months, I’ll be 31—an age I never thought I’d be—living a life I rarely, if ever, dreamed. You whom I’ve taught, listened to, laughed with, learned from, hugged, and held, I wonder how you all are feeling. I assume you all are wiser, stronger, sensitive, and in-tune with spirit in ways that many wish they could experience. With so many things happening globally, I wonder if it all seems confusing or maybe not. Chaos has always ushered in a new beginning, so perhaps we’re on the verge of a gigantic conscious shift. If we are, and we probably are, then it is to you all we should look to lead the charge for change. But, for the moment, I wish to share a story with you because it’s what the writers have done for generations.
The truth is someone I admired, respected, and felt a kinship with was the victim of gay-bashing. I was lying in bed questioning my life—because that happens sometimes—when I read the news. Somebody beat him for being who he was and existing in a world that views him as “other.” I cried, “Not him!” as tears fell from my eyes. Because he is Black and Gay, some people wished to do him harm and succeeded. They saw his being, his light, as a threat to their own and sought to diminish and snuff it out entirely. At this moment, honestly, I am angry.
My queerness was subject to degradation by my family throughout my adolescence—the ones who are supposed to love, protect, and uplift you. I was on the receiving end of my uncle’s verbal abuse whenever he was displeased by the fact that I did not act “manly enough.” There were times we physically fought and argued, whether at my grandmother’s, in public, or over the phone, because I did not fit into his definition of Black male heteronormativity. At school, I was publicly outed. In light of my perceived phantom Blackness, queer identity, and lack of traditional masculinity, my life was put on display akin to a freak show. Nonetheless, I am here, wiser, braver, freer, and so are you.
I mentioned that I’ll be 31, and it surprises me. I didn’t expect to be alive. I figured God, because of my grandfather, someone at school, because of being bullied, a stranger on the street, because of where I grew up, or myself, because I tried to kill myself, would do me in. I believed all of this between the ages of 11 and 13. You see, we’ve accepted stories about who we are, how we should live, and whom we should love. We’ve drunk the kool-aid called white ideology. We believe that our differences hold greater weight than our humanity—our spirit, our divine essence. His differences, my differences, our differences are a double-edged sword. They make us unique, complex, compelling. They become the stories we tell and the inspiration that creates change. But it also makes us a target. I don’t mean to sound negative, but I mean to be blunt. This is the world we’ve inherited.
Black people have been on the receiving end of bullets, sticks, dogs, water hoses, policies, laws, and so much more living in this country called the United States of America. Women, men, children, and everybody in between have endured the endless barrage of assaults against our bodies—our spirits—some of which have left us scarred for generations. I am, too, because of this. Your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and lovers have been and will be. Although we do not reflect on this enough, it has cost the country an even more tremendous toll—it’s humanity.
This country, our country—because it is our country—has created multiple ways to separate people from each other but mainly from ourselves. It has done this through inventions of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, hobbies and interests, neighborhoods, political agendas, and so forth. It has done this deliberately, and it has cost lives, time, perhaps even this beautiful organism we call planet Earth. And yet, these are stories inherited from the previous generation inundated with the idea that the next will possess a better solution. Maybe that idea holds a bit of weight. Perhaps you all will not get caught in America’s most incredible show: Black vs. White.
Here, in my life, my Blackness and Queerness has cost family, friends, jobs, and relationships. Because of my race, I am looked at as inferior while simultaneously feared. I am kept in the ghettos and forced to contend with poverty, drugs, death, and several other inhuman situations and circumstances. Because I love men, I am degraded and demoralized, made into a joke, and beaten and murdered even by my kin. Because I am a man, I must disregard my emotional well-being and abide by a belief system that dictates how I should act and what I should do. These and more have provided me a look into our country’s psyche—into ourselves—and has given me purpose, love, happiness, and many stories to tell. Still, these are the justifications to the killings of unarmed Black and brown people. It is the roots buried within America’s soil.
But you all, because I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes and know it within my spirit, push us further into understanding ourselves and dealing with our trauma. You radiate the bright light of unconditional love and a knowing far beyond what most believe possible. You have challenged me and have given me hope. I’ve seen it in Flint’s ghettos and on the streets of Manhattan. I’ve played football with it in Dallas and drove past it in Arlington. I’ve laughed with it in Chicago and taught it on the steps of Georgetown. I maintain that sense of hope and optimism. For now, though, I’ll do my best to clear the way for you to do the work. I’ll grow and evolve and love harder than I’ve ever done. We all will. We have to.
And so I leave you with this. Blackness holds weight—holds value. It’s history spans time immemorial, across every continent, country, and culture. Queerness has survived, transmuted, transformed, and transcended. Both have created life and delivered. To accept being Black, being Queer, means accepting and taking on the narrative of the past—the spirit, the vast knowledge, the culture, and practices. To accept the present—the chained journey across vast oceans, settlement into unfamiliarity, the social stigmata and activism, the creative reformation of America and the world. To accept the future is a ceremony to usher into existence ideas that have never been seen or done. All this, because the bill is due and somebody has to pay it.