Byzantine Blues/I’m Feeling Lucky

Last night I was stopped in Arlington, Virginia for being an “unlicensed driver in the state of Virginia” (apparently having a Georgia license and a Virginia registration is not acceptable) and was issued a ticket for not having a Virginia driver’s license. The officer told me that I can avoid the court summons and a fine by getting a Virginia license and going to the courthouse before my court date to prove that I am newly compliant with Virginia driving laws. Maybe I’m being reductive, but paying for an unnecessary new license (my Georgia license expires in 2017) and visiting a courthouse sounds incredibly similar to appearing in court and paying a fine.

I wasn’t too excited about being forced to waste time and take off work for something so slight and inane. But I soon realized that because I’m moving to DC proper at the end of the month, I will now have to get a VA license just to own it for 2 weeks, then exchange that license for a DC license within 30 days of moving in.

Hoping to avoid this ridiculously annoying sequence of events, today I called the courthouse and asked if there were other options. They very dryly told me that I have a “perfect grasp” of the situation and that my only other option is to appear in court and explain my situation.

I hadn’t considered this, but it really is an option. I could wait 3 months, then appear before the judge and explain, “I am here before you today because instead of navigating the Byzantine system that has been elaborately and weirdly designed to coerce me into paying nominal licensing fees at the expense of my time and money, I have decided to expend my time and money in order to explain this Byzantine system to you in hopes that you, someone who is comfortably ensconced within this system, will suddenly recognize the horror of this nightmarish machine of parasitic pettiness and solve my silly problems in a heroic swoop of Reason and compassion.”

Because I really doubt that I could speak so eloquently for so long, I’m going to go with the first option of getting a license, going to the courthouse, then getting another license. Even if I got a DC license, then appeared in court, I would probably still end up being fined because on that day I was driving without a VA license.


I know that this annoying episode will come and go as quickly as it came, but I can’t help but dwell on it because there’s something scary about how normal this situation is. There is nothing unusual about a police officer scanning vehicle license plates while driving (generously assuming that’s even the real reason I was stopped…), stopping drivers, sidling up to their car windows, and enforcing municipal licensing rules that people have never heard of until the moment they were enforced. This happens every day, multiple times a day, everywhere.

This was my first time ever being pulled over, so perhaps that, plus the fact that I’ve actively kept up with the nationwide epidemic of police violence against folks of color, just have me on high alert. But even if that is true, that I’m being paranoid over what was a rather uneventful encounter, why shouldn’t I be? It is precisely the very uneventfulness of this entire experience that alarms me. All it takes is one unlucky and unnecessary police scan to send someone spiraling down a bureaucratic rabbit hole that can only be escaped via time, money or an unlikely rejection of the bureaucracy by someone who holds power within it. For some people, like the residents of Ferguson, the spiral never ends .

But that’s not a surprise. I’ve always known that I live in a world where a black male who gets stopped by a cop feels “lucky” to “only” receive a ticket and “only” have to do some pesky bureaucratic maneuvering. The surprise is just how exhausting this so-called luck feels. I haven’t even started my bureaucratic relay race yet, but I already feel winded, defeated.

After I got home, I undressed, brushed my teeth, then told my girlfriend what had happened.  “I’m just glad you’re okay,” she responded. I told her that I was glad too, and to my horror, I really meant it.

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Homeboy Sandman Is Not My Homeboy

Though his choruses are mediocre at best, Homeboy Sandman is one of the most-talented rappers in hip-hop. I’ve never heard a verse of his that didn’t impress me technically, stylistically or conceptually. Even his videos are generally impressive. That being said, Homeboy Sandman is not my homeboy.

In an op-ed published by Gawker, Homeboy Sandman declared and then defended the notion that black people are cowards. It’s a nonsense argument in principle and even worse in action. Sandman uses his dissatisfaction with the LA Clippers’ response to Donald Sterling’s racism to then accuse an entire populace of cowardice. His accusation does nothing more than reignite old, frustrating, condescending, dehumanizing, ahistorical and unempirical debates about whether black people’s collective condition is attributable to black people ourselves. I’m not sure how anyone who knows anything about American history could make such disgusting claims. I’m especially not sure how any black person who is living through the very consequences of American history could make those claims. But I’m not here to speculate.

I’m here to debate. But I don’t want to debate on Sandman’s terms; they just plain aren’t tenable. “Black people are cowards” is a statement that isn’t even worth laughing at. It’s pure bullshit, like homeopathy or justified rape. I don’t even want to debate with Sandman because his argument has no connection to the real world.

I want to debate with the people who are telling me that Sandman’s op-ed is a “must-read.” Why should I read an article where a black person gives legitimacy to the idea that black people should not be welcome at certain places? Why should I read an article where a black person uses “coon” as a way of addressing me? Why should I read an article that says, “Our enemy isn’t white people” as if that’s breaking news? Why should I read an article where a musician presents an entire genre as corrupted and inferior just because it doesn’t always uphold his particular values?

The only answer I can come up with for all these questions is that I should read this article if I want to be homeboys with someone who is unable to think complexly about the issues facing black America. I agree that the LA Clippers’ protest was kind of lame, but calling all black people cowards is even lamer. Anyone can blame rap music, basketball players, TV shows, movies and black people. Hell, those 5 targets of blame might as well be the starting lineup for people who want to play the game  “Let’s Fix Black America’s Problems.”

It takes someone with a creative mind to tackle the realities of black America with actual nuance, not Gawker-style, reductive talking points. Before today, I would have thought that Homeboy Sandman was in possession of such a creative mind, but it turns out that I was wrong.

But I don’t care about Homeboy Sandman. I care about black people telling other black people that our destinies are in our own hands as if there aren’t other hands tightly gripped around our throats. I understand the inclination to ask if black people are self-oppressing – it’s always a question worth asking for any group. But answering that question involves confronting the complexity of oppression and resistance to it, and thinking deeply about history and possibility, not responding to that complexity with prepackaged solutions that have never worked.

I’m so tired of black people comparing the present moment to the era of the Civil Rights Movement. Unless you live in Mississippi, those eras are absolutely incommensurate. Boycotts don’t solve problems in 2014. They barely solved them in 1956. This cannot be emphasized enough. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a unique historical event that was enabled by demographic concentration, community autonomy , social infrastructure in the form of robust churches (and tithing members!) and support from communities outside of Montgomery. The fact that it succeeded is a true marvel and one that I am immensely grateful for, but it wasn’t just a matter of everyone holding hands and being strong. Black people have always been strong, but strength has never been enough. That boycott succeeded because strength was coupled with power and imagination. Circulating an article that actively drains black people of all three is absolutely a step in the wrong direction.