black maybe Archives - The Jose Vilson

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Martin Luther King Jr. by Marvin Koner

Martin Luther King Jr. by Marvin Koner

Moments like this make me want to ask, “Who ASKED you?!”

Some of my frustration lately stems from the perception that making something look easy equates to the task actually being easy.

Especially as it pertains to the site and everything surrounding it. The design, the content, the schedule, the photos, and the accompanying branding come together as pieces to a greater vision, one that hopefully pushes others to also seek success by any means necessary (with the people I represent in mind, of course).

In this plan, however, I always have to anticipate the negative feedback, the hostilities of working in environments where social media is seen as a venue for negative exposure or as a potential threat. As many opportunities as I’ve been afforded in this space, I get that other people prefer I not succeed, that I stay within my space as a teacher, as if teachers, like the children they taught, should be seen and not heard.

Then I have to wonder if it’s a side effect of my race, and people’s own perceptions of what I bring to the table with it.

Here are three things you don’t say to a male educator of color (or any man of color, really):

  • “You don’t always come to school early.”
  • “You already have a leg up because you’re a man of color.”
  • “You look like you need something else to do.”

Let’s forget for a second that I get to school at around 7:15am on average when the school bell rings at 8am. The perception that, as a Black man, I get to work late already tells me more about you than it does about me. You already perceive us as a problem to fix, a glob to mold, or a stereotype to break. As far as I can tell, we’re none of those.

Anytime we get to work early, it’s usually to finish planning lessons, grade student work, or simply get our minds and hearts ready for the day. If we look like we’re not working, chances are that we’re actually working, and you’ve already perceived us as lazy or incompetent. When passionate teachers have a prep, they usually use it to prepare for the next class, to tweak a lesson, or dot all the i’s before they talk to their next period class. That’s how it works.

Furthermore, let us let everyone in on a secret: some of us have learned to distrust anyone who want someone else to communicate more often, especially in non-family situations. The term “snitches get stitches” didn’t come from nowhere, so to speak. Honesty has a price far too high to bear in financial times like these. Also, when people of color jump into the workforce, we have to read a few extra articles about trusting others, using a certain voice, or truncating names for us to fit in or stand out less.

Whether people realize it or not, their perceptions of us keep us from doing the best job possible, like a 21st century glass ceiling.

You’re right, though. Maybe a man of color has a slight advantage in terms of relating to children who identify with us or look like us in the classroom, but that’s never (EVER) a given. Some men of color might deserve the ire of others, especially those who hop on national news espousing views of those who seek to hurt our communities. The men I associate with have to work twice as hard just to stay on top of things.

For, while our jobs with our “customers” remains the same as the next person, the perception against us means we have to do that work twice: once to do it right, twice to disprove the doubters. Assuming responsibility only works when both parties reflect on their own biases.

Hope that helps.

Jose, who realizes this could also apply to women of color, but I prefer a woman of color speak to this …

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On this day in the year 1995, OJ Simpson was acquitted of all charges related to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

And it’s not my fault.

I swear. My hands would have fit in those gloves for sure. I still don’t have enough money to hire the late Johnny Cochran. I didn’t even really know who OJ was besides the guy in the commercials and the NFL highlight reels. I don’t remember whether I even thought he was guilty or not, just that it interrupted my watching the New York Knicks flunk against the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. I mean, how are you gonna interrupt the first basketball NBA Finals series without Michael Jordan in it in four years? OJ was at least guilty of infringing on the success of his own brethren. By brethren, I mean professional athletes of course. What did I care that he just murdered two people I never heard of?

Plenty, I suppose.

Because, fast forward to Troy Davis, people assume that I’d support every person in the midst of a court trial based on the color of their skin. It’s bad enough I can’t catch a cab in NYC whether I’m wearing a Syracuse University tie or a New York Yankees jersey. It’s ominous still when I’m walking with my blonde nephew-to-be around IKEA and people cock their necks back in shock (“I swear I’m Swedish!”). I can barely exercise my 15th amendment rights without people already guessing who I’ll vote for (The 2008 version of Barack Obama was an easy choice, but the rest of my column would surprise anyone who hasn’t read the blog).

Then there’s this:


First, the writer makes a huge assumption that just because Samuel L. Jackson’s characters always speak in all caps that that’s the way in which to communicate to anyone of darker hue. Secondly, all we asked for is a fair trial based on the evidence presented, nothing more, nothing less. If there’s that much doubt, then why take his life unnecessarily? I don’t get it. I don’t get the death penalty period. I didn’t read the same Bible that allowed me to kill people all willy-nilly. Am I even supposed to use “willy-nilly” or should I end that with a “‘na mean son?”

I thought this was America, people.

Alas, the themes repeat themselves. Those of us with these peculiar experiences are asked to explain it to those who don’t understand. Those of us who sit in progressive settings still wondering where diversity played into the planning of these spaces. Those of us whose pieces get categorized as “other” because it’s assumed that we don’t have classical training. Those of us who’ve ever walked down Harlem with a partner whose facial features didn’t match ours.

Those of us whose heroes mostly don’t appear on no stamp.

I shouldn’t have to let anyone determine that the negativity behind people who share my experience be the only determinant of my experience. People can assume I’m angry all they want when I’m speaking with conviction. Sure, I don’t smile in pictures, I like orange soda, and I have specific dances for certain urban rhymes from the late 70s and upwards. I can’t help these things. I was born into them, and it’s how I’ve learned to negotiate the world around me since I was born.

Plus, OJ was guilty as sin. It’s not racist for me to say that much the way it’s not for you to say that. But to deny that “difference” didn’t play a role in the events that came before, during, or after any observance, trial, or anything that happens in this country where entities of two different cultures interact?

I guess that’s how I see it. It’s ‘cuz I’m Black right?

Mr. Vilson, who satirizes himself when necessary … like now …


Mario Morales, AfroLatino

When we talk about black maybe
We talk about situations
Of people of color and because you are that color
You endure obstacles and opposition
And not all the time from … from other nationalities
Sometimes it comes from your own kind
Or maybe even your own mind
You get judged … you get laughed at…you get looked at wrong
You get sighted for not being strong
The struggle of just being you
The struggle of just being us…black maybe

- Common, “U Black, Maybe”

There’s something about being AfroLatino that people don’t quite understand. There’s an understanding of seeing race and culture as these malleable things that far too many people can’t always comprehend. Self-identity as a process complicates relationships, because whenever you think you have yourself figured out, others’ perceptions of you interfere with the mold you’ve already decided for yourself. They probe, poke, talk, whisper, yell, ask too many damn questions, and you’re asked to answer them as if you’re the representative of everyone in this self-identifying category. In general, people compromise on the intersection of race as a perception of self and a perception of someone else.

That’s why AfroLatinos get aggravated the most. People who consider themselves of one definite race never understand the emphasis of such a title. Many White people think it’s an intimidating title assuring the dominant culture that they won’t conform to their simplistic racial structures. Whether the reason they’re intimidated is because of the Afro or Latino remains to be seen. Many Black people, on the other hand, see the term AfroLatino as a way for people from Latin America to ostracize if not banish their African roots in favor of the Spaniard colonizers’ blood. Of course, I question whether people never noticed that the title “AfroLatino” puts Black first, and “Latino” isn’t the same as Spanish.

But it seems that, for many, speaking Spanish and being Spanish are exactly the same thing.

As we speak, people question whether such a title dilutes or disbands people of color in certain struggles for equity. To that end, I have four things to say. First, AfroLatino for almost everyone I know almost always means an inclusion and understanding of all the parts they represent and the histories that come with our origins. Secondly, we usually do this against the wishes and nudges of our last generation’s countries of origin (i.e. Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil), accentuating our Blackness as we grow. Third, we as a whole have to do better in finding characteristics of our race and culture without highlighting the negatives exclusively, because we’re allowed to smile against those odds and should continue to do so.

Fourth, one of the greatest African-American cultural researchers and scholars happened to be an AfroLatino: Arturo Schomburg. Not ironically, the public library and museum named after him are a few blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and on Malcolm X Boulevard right in the middle of USA’s original Black Mecca: Harlem. During his time on this Earth, people of his own kind belittled the contributions he made to the cultural movement, but now people recognize what he’s done not just for people of color in this country, for an entire nation.

Afro-Latino is a term of unity, an umbrella under which we invite people to contribute the best of their culture and progress past the titles set for us under rules we didn’t create but perpetuate. I can be Latino and Black at the same time, because my contributions to both cultures may not be enumerated or listed.

It’s tough enough just being ourselves when people want us to conform to their order. While people may point to outside factors for their own identification, I assure you my revolution is much more personal.

Mr. Vilson, who will have more to say by mañana …

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Me Sube La Bilirrubina (It Raises My Bilirubin)

July 25, 2008 Jose

I’m honestly not that arrogant. I just like to call madness out for what it is. Eddie Griffin might be right: I’m insane, and that’s something to be congratulated. Watching Black in America over the last 2 days, at the encouragement ad nauseum of practically everyone in my Facebook, Twitter, etc., I’ve been somewhat reintroduced […]

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La Medicina

February 22, 2008 Jose

Big props to everyone who visited my site yesterday. A link in the New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer and Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, for a good 300 hits, (best day total) ever didn’t hurt either. Anyways, I’m in Miami, FL, now, and so far it’s been interesting. I partied a little bit last night with my family […]

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U, Black Maybe

August 2, 2007 Jose

“I guess in his mind, though, there’s no doubt as to what I am. Suffice it to say, people immediately peg me as “Black.” That’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s unfortunate, though, is how limiting these labels become. What does it mean to be Black in this country? And does it allow for people who don’t necessarily fit right in that slot?”

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