I grew up angry. I was a smart little kid. My parents were very deliberate in that my mother stayed home with all of us until my youngest brother was five years old. The development that happens during that time is so phenomenal when you have your mother present and available. Me and my four siblings all thrived because of this, and we launched into kindergarten with a real love of learning. My mother fought hard to get me into private school and because i got in, so did my siblings. Of course it was predominantly white and we were one of three or four families that were scattered throughout the K-12 school. As i grew older, i began to see the realities of the world invading into my childhood dreamscape and as a result my bitterness and anger began to grow. We lived in a predominantly black neighborhood, but didn't go to school with any of the kids in our neighborhood, so we were ostracized at home and at school. I was a decent athlete, so i was able to navigate somewhat because of this. I made a few sports buddies and even travelled sometimes with their families.
Still, I will never forget the seemingly simple innocence of an exercise in fourth grade where our teacher decided that we were going to have a mock election. We were following the ’88 presidential election of the first Bush against Michael Dukakis. I will never forget this as long as I live, because my family was very political. Dad had, in fact, majored in Political Science in college and our family was in the NAACP and we helped go door to door on voter registration drives. So at home, he and ma and their friends were always talking about the election. In Indiana, as in other places in the country, black people vote Democrat like Jesus would beat they ass if they didn’t. A black Republican is an Uncle Tom and was definitely looked down on in our hood. Depending on who you were. For some reason i always identified with the broke people that tried to look like they weren't because that was us! Anyway, my parents were staunch democrats and would have no mention of reagan or reaganomics in the house save for a curse word or two despite their god-fearing beliefs. The talk of what the president “would do for black folks” was a common occurrence in our house and at church and from what i heard, George Bush certainly wasn't bout to do a damn thing for black folks. At the same time, i had started to hang with at least a couple of people that i deemed friends in this ultra white school i went to. So imagine my surprise when Nathaniel Howard, my best white sports buddy in the whole wide world, was leading the campaign for George Bush. I will never forget how crushed i was on that day. This was a guy I hung out with a lot. His parents invited me over to their house for sleepovers and stuff. And here he was, standing with a blue and red sign that said Bush across it. I felt so hurt and betrayed because he MUST’ve known that George Bush was a racist. His parents were smart people. They had to know that he was racist. But here he was in front of the class explaining why he and his family supported george bush. Incidentally, we got into a fight later that semester over the mike tyson with no arms joke. (Q: what do you call mike tyson with no arms? A: Nigger, nigger, nigger)
So i was molded by these experiences. Another time found me and another kid in a fight on the playground and i was the one who was suspended. But my experiences weren't all bad. I was an avid learner and was really genuinely excited about school. But i struggled to find anyone that looked like me in the school books. Whenever we had to do book reports or anything like that, i didnt always choose black protagonists. I began my educational and social life as a real idealist. I really did treat people as if we were all the same, even though i could tell that they had way more something than i did. Maybe it was money. But i didnt equate it with that entirely at the time. Theri parents were doctors. Lawyers. The professors over at the University. The teachers in the school. There parents and my parents were worlds apart though my parents worked hard everyday too. When they went home, they had mom, or nannys to take care of them. When we went home, we had the four of us to take care of each other until someone got off work. Not worse. Just different. By the time i was in sixth grade, i was hungry to find me in books. I saw how i was singled out in class. I saw how everyone turned and looked at me, the only black student, when we began speaking of the civil war. I saw all of this and yet i knew i couldn’t just stop trying
Still, at the end of the day my life has been extremely blessed. At the same time, though i have been blessed so much, i have been unable to escape the reach of racism and the sickness that stem from it. I still face every day as an impending battle that i will lose if unprepared. My youth is littered with experiences that illustrate what happens when one enters the day thinking it is just another day. These thoughts compiled here are part Rastafari philosophy, part pragmatic realism and all are part of the toolkit i have developed to make it through this world. From Slave to Soldier became such a pressing thing because i was finding it difficult to maintain my own sanity within a world wehre we are supposed to trade in our cultured selves for a more assimilated version deemed acceptable by the share it with you humbly and damn near reluctantly. This is the only explanation for taking so long to write. I welcome your criticisms and insights.
I am a man who has had to develop his own style, his own way, at every turn in this life. Turns out i just don't like being forced to do something. Being left handed has always presented its challenges. And i don't like being forced to do something a certain way. So whenever i am presented with a challenge, i am naturally drawn to thinking about it in ways that others might not see. But this is not entirely because of my own genius, though at times i would like to think so. It is mostly a result of what DuBois called the “double consciousness” that has to be developed within people of color in order for them to simply survive.
There is a certain hyper-awareness we have to move with when in the world. My parents were like other parents in that they sat us down and had the talk with us as often as they could, reminding us that we had worth. Reminding us that there were others around us who didn't see us with that same value. We were to be ourselves, but around white people we were to be a different, more together self. My parents weren't wrong in this. This instruction has proven to be very instrumental in my life path. It is not necessarily meant for you to dance in front of white people, but to make sure you didn't say anything ignorant that would misrepresent the upbringing and “home training” you had been given.
This was not reserved for white people alone. It was for everyone to be sure. But, there was an awful lot of talk about how to act when around white people. Especially the police. There were all these social cues. We didn't want to have tears in our pants even though we had plenty of pants with little tears in them. There were all these things that could be a source of embarrassment. That is why everyone in my family, to this day, is constantly grooming. The barbershops and hairdressers appear in triplicate on every corner because we make sure that we take care of our physical appearance. If for nothing else than to prove to each other the amount of money we pretend we have. That is why it is such a difficult task to start coming down completely on “the negativity” in the music and “destructive messaging” that we like to address from our soapboxes. Some of these things are weaved into the fabric of being black in America. And as a young man, these messages were received loud though they were not always clear.
I grew up watching the faces of white men and women very closely. I knew their every emotional expression. I knew when they were happy, excited, drunk, belligerent and indifferent. I could psychoanalyze a white man after a brief time of knowing him. But I recognized their inability to overstand why i had this talent or even to recognize me at all beyond the preconceived notions they had of me. And i also recognized that this way of being, this hyperawareness was something that was universal to the black experience and others relegated to the margins. I am not alone. But it is a skill set that is hardly ever brought up or talked about. And that is the reason for this song.