I found myself on the ‘right side of things.ʼ By way of my big move to Los Angeles and career amongst a widely diverse artistic community and subsequent friend group, I found a home within the “good bubble.” An echo chamber, sure, but at least it was the sweet sounds of indie-R&B- grind-core-post-romantic-but-mostly-salacious music AND egalitarian musings that lulled me to sleep at night in my makeshift commune.
Then came 2020.
The center has not only NOT held, it has fucking caved into unforeseeable depths. Much like the sinkholes that remind me of my home state of Florida – that it too is a hotbed of the apocalypse. And well, with the retreat of any semblance of center went my comfortable grasp on social equality. Not understanding was the easy part. The uncomfortable task has been reckoning with my own contribution to the injustice.
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didnʼt exist.”
Remember how this Baudelaire quote was used in The Usual Suspects? A movie bespoke to dorm-room bros with an alacrity to ingest Ramen noodles and revelatory plot twists (how the smell of spilled bong water ambushes the senses).
Looking back, Benicio Del Toroʼs idiosyncratic acrobatics left more of an impression on me than the sentiment of the rub. But In the last month, that silly phrase has been poking at me through the bubble. Through much learning and reflection, Iʼve come to understand one of my gravest mistakes as ‘an empathetic white dude on the good side… who definitely isnʼt racist.ʼ
I had come to believe that because I did not feel some inextricable separation between myself and people of color… be it acquaintances, friends, lovers, business partners or strangers, I did not acknowledge a difference. I saw the word difference as some propagator of inequality.
Well, sadly, harshly, there is a difference, and I came to realize it exists in the experience of a person of color. An experience that, no matter how close Iʼve been to Black friends, how many times Iʼve fallen in love with a Black girl, how many times Iʼve emulated Jordan, danced like Jackson, watched Friday, or how much I feel like 90ʼs hip-hop shaped my sonic proclivities…I will never fully understand.
Like most friends Iʼve spoken to, Iʼve felt the full gamut of emotions. A cycle that repeats with every piece I read, every movie or documentary I watch and every clip I see on the infinitely scrolling feed. The worst of the feelings is futility. In those moments I try to remind myself that feeling hopeless is a privilege I will choose not to accept. Because as a white man, the feeling of futility is at worst something to wallow in, whereas for a person of color it is something that must be overcome daily.
My hope in writing this is not to come off more enlightened than anyone. Frankly, I am not here for the “Woke Wars” and I do urge white folx to keep their appropriated anger in check if only to harness the passion for positivity. I only hope that talking about my mistakes will make it seem less faux pas to publicly self examine. I feel that learning about the difference, or for the sake of this piece, ʼacknowledging the devil,ʼ does not somehow negate equality as a notion but rather engenders a more realistic approach to dismantling a system designed to keep equality some moribund star in a distant galaxy.
Today Iʼm offering up a piece that was instrumental in me taking a deeper look at myself. Written by Elyse Cizek, an LA-based musician, actor, and writer, who has of late proved herself a poignant and unyielding voice in the chamber of social justice. This particular essay of hers is called “Iʼm a White Supremacist and So Are You (A Mixed Girlʼs Story of Recovering from Self-Hate and Unchecked Prejudice.”
Elyse grew up in a primarily white town in the midwest as the daughter of a black mother and white father. She’s since relocated to Los Angeles and in the last few years, she’s come to terms with how unnatural her upbringing felt.
“Wisconsin is not an acceptable place of origin for a very tall, heavily tattooed light-skinned Black woman.”
I was lucky enough to see Elyse perform this essay last year at the ‘Sunday’s Poetry Night’ and was overwhelmed with gratitude for the courage in sharing her experience facing her own conditioned prejudices. With every read, her words peel back layers of misguided thought and racism that I was ignorant to, especially in myself.
I know Iʼll make more mistakes, especially in trying to offer anything publicly, so feel free to point them out and Iʼll do my best to keep progressing. Thanks for listening.
-Cookie (aka Chris Hess)
THIS IS PART OF OUR NEW PERSONAL ESSAY SERIES
email submissions to email@example.com
story / Chris Hess