Ode to the New Year – 2015

For better or for worse, it’s another year full of new promises to make and old ones to break. You know the ones…starting a new gym membership at Equinox instead of Planet Fitness, hoping it was the fellow members, not your lack of self-motivation, that kept you away; ditching the significant other that didn’t get you, knowing the next one wont either; finding that new job to justify your TriBeCa address instead of Queens where your colleagues live; so, it begins with me…another new list of books to read – 36; blogs to post – 24; women to meet – 6; and on and on…but at year’s end, I would have read less than 20 novels, penned barely a dozen blogs but will exceed the women meet-up total, no thanks to Tinder and Happn (not a typo) for making it too easy for us hopeless singles. (topic for another post, readers – so stay tuned)

The beginning of the New Year also witnessed the extreme exercise of cautiousness in governing when New York City was shut down for a non-historic blizzard. Friends, only a few inches stopped the most fabulous metropolis in the world from functioning because spineless politicians decided to ban cars on the streets, and more critically, stop all train service; something that has not happened in New York City for over a century. New Yorkers could not parade their badge of resiliency that cold winter night and we have our elected officials to thank (and my only saving grace is that I didn’t cast a vote for one of them).  Just a week prior, us Democrats were beaming brightly despite our legislative defeat in the last election because President Obama stood tall at the State of the Union address and ditched out a political agenda of progressive social programs and tax reforms.  He was vintage Barack, reminding the others who won the last two presidential elections; that the economy is growing again and unemployment is down. Here we have it, the first month of the year in political terms maybe a sign of what is to come in the days ahead, many moments of ineffective governing together with fleeting moments of exaltation.

Like a tea kettle boiling water, my 2015 is building up without a whistle as all I have done is rebuilt a walk-in closet (thank you, Container Store for your free design); nor was there a whistle for a lady I met from another continent which didn’t feel right and now dating someone further away (again, material for a future post).  On the international front, I was torn inside by the tragic loss of French journalists and other victims who were gunned down by terrorist with their false cause; and closer to home, it angered me that a troubled thug executed two NYPD patrol cops in the name of social justice for victims of police abuse. It’s disturbing that these two tragedies occurred early in the New Year and even more troubling that the use of arms is the weapon of choice to seek justice.  Unfortunately, passions are too inflamed for intelligent conversations on this issue; many are blaming others instead of themselves for not taking a stand to voice outrage for crimes against humanity.  For now, I am NYPD as well as Je suis Charlie.

So on this last day of the first month of the New Year, I have a strong sense where I want to go and what I want to be.  It may not be the year for that million dollar bank account but there will be some achievable, more significant, events. I’m not referring to resolutions, to-do lists, new exercise fads, a wardrobe makeover or even a new attitude change.  No, I am referring to events like a recovery from a midlife crisis and understanding why it happened and taking steps not to repeat it…(social translation to you younger readers: it’s something like reaching the legal drinking age and handling it with maturity; and for those experiencing puberty, maybe it’s the age you first had sex and doing it responsibly)…In my many years, I have been shaped by numerous significant events from a failed marriage to my young brother’s death to attaining professional credentials…and will continue to evolve which may include another attempt at marriage, embrace causes to preserve life and inspire greatness within – by acting more wisely – thinking deeply – and searching with clearer purpose.  This shall be the ode to me and 2015.

The Uncle Tom in My Family

Uncle Tomas was the youngest, the attention seeker, of the three brothers but also the least attractive, resembling J.J. of Good Times, with false teeth, losing his real ones when he jumped out of a third-floor apartment window to escape a burning building; the new set of teeth did not keep him from laughing and being the talker, the boaster, in the family; he would argue about everything from who’s the best athlete (Bird over Magic) to presidential elections, usually siding with the Republicans; he was secure in his abilities and believed that hard work would get him places and it did. It took a while, tho. Not gaining admission to a U.S. medical school, he drove a yellow cab for a year or two to finance his medical education in Colombia, a place where he also met his future wife, a woman with looks, in his own words, that would not attract adulterous men. Only a man with deep rooted insecurities would give such thoughts on marriage. Despite his ambitions and book smarts, Tomas contextualized important life decisions through a racial lens, undervaluing his self worth along the way. It took him about six years to achieve the American dream and he was no longer Uncle Tomas, he was now Doctor Tomas. 

“Oh, I see one. And here’s another! Ooooooh this is great!!” said Uncle Tomas in glee referring to the white folks strolling through this gentrified tree-lined block in Bedford Stuyvesant. He was surveying a brownstone in the Stuyvesant Heights section of this neighborhood with historical landmark designation. As Blacks crossed his path during our walk, he became less enthused and scanned them up and down to see if they were the right kind of blacks that would not scare away the whites that were moving in droves to the area. “You see, Jay” Tomas whispered to avoid others from hearing his racially charged views. “The only way to preserve this investment is to make sure more of them keep coming here.” He continues. “So we must give them what they want in this brownstone; give them exposed bricks, fireplace, stainless steel appliances, new hardwood floors. We’ll give them everything. We need them. Our property will be safe with them. They will pay more rent. So let’s do this deal.”

With his medical license in hand, Dr. Tomas was in a rush to leave Brooklyn. “I am not gonna live with these people who want to rob me and take my hard earned dollar.” He said, referring to his neighbors in East Flatbush, a crime-infested Brooklyn neighborhood where many honest working-class Caribbean and American Blacks reside. “I’m gonna buy my house on Long Island.” He added, some sort of affirmation that he has arrived, that he’s earned a one-way ticket out of the black and brown hood, a move that would validate his newfound status; he wanted to live among whites, regardless of their economic or professional status.

He viewed white skin in a multiracial country as a status in itself; this is not a view limited to my Uncle Tomas; it is a recurring immigrant theme that I have seen firsthand, overheard in back office chatter and read in journals and news articles. Koreans don’t want to live with blacks but they will dry clean their dirty clothes in black neighborhoods. Same with the Dominicans, they will operate their bodegas shielded with bullet proof plexiglass with a portal to receive black people’s money; sell them overpriced milk and food which exceeds the expiration date; but will not want us as neighbors. Arabs don’t want blacks in their leased yellow cabs to avoid driving them to nicer and pricier homes than the driver’s own residence. I have seen these slights and have experienced them, myself; these rejections reveal the falsehood that we live in a harmonious global community, the opposite of the TV images of large crowds we recently witnessed chanting USA, USA when Howard (yes, a black man) made record-making saves to keep the team from being slaughtered by Belgium. This love fest exists only for the cameras, my friends.

And so, my Non-American Black uncle takes his chances with the Bedford Stuyvesant investment but would not dare live there even with the sprinkling number of white folks who call the area home; he choose to live on Long Island with white neighbors who will not likely rob him as the crime stats are lower there than in East Flatbush; he gambles that the community will embrace him because he is different from the blacks that he left behind; that his professional credentials and well groomed children will be viewed as the good black in his neighbors’ eyes. However, Uncle Tomas fails to see that the community that he so much wants to be a part of may limit their sight to his skin color alone and that their collective soccer love fest was only a temporary bliss that won’t blind them from imagining perceived differences that don’t exist. My uncle will also be competing with the Asians, Latinos and Arabs who, too, dream to live with these same white neighbors instead of neighborhoods with black and brown people. It seems this race for community acceptance and inclusion will be measured by the degree of lightness of our skin instead of the intangible qualities that make us the exceptional people that we strive to be.