August 15, 2014

Monsters Are Real

The more I think about it, the more I think we’re all on that plane with William Shatner flying through the Twilight Zone, seeing a monster on the wing that no one else does.

It’s one of the creepiest Twilight Zone episodes, not because the special effects were extraordinary, but because the episode tapped into our most primal fear and our most basic need: to be heard -- or at the very least acknowledged -- and the fear we won’t.

Shatner’s character sees a creature on the plane's wing. At first he tries to convince himself it’s only a manifestation of nerves, and his fellow passenger and flight attendant assure him that’s the case. And he desperately wants it to be the case.

Because he’d rather think he’s crazy then deal with the reality of the monster on the wing.

The events playing out in Ferguson, Missouri on the heels of an unarmed black teen’s killing by a police officer convince me that in some way, all of us are riding along with Shatner on his Twilight Zone bound flight.

All of us see monsters we think are real. Some of us try to convince our fellow passengers those monsters are anything but.

As a black person, I can tell you about the monsters I see from my window seat: a family history dating not only back to slavery, but lynchings on my maternal and paternal sides. I found out about the maternal side's tragedies through some jarring research only a few years back. On my paternal side, it was only in my thirties that my dad told me quite matter-of-factly, that
They killed your uncle. Shot him. Said he was a crazy nigger.

The menacing figure tapping on my window reminds me of a friend who really and truly believed someone on the job was committing acts of racial microaggression, only to have it fanned off by the higher-ups who said my friend just wasn't being a team player. Like Shatner’s character, my friend felt crazy and second-guessed what they saw, heard and felt.

 I suppose my friend’s higher-ups had a different window seat, or at least a different view.

Photo Credit: SciFi Channel

The other monster on my wing is even more sinister. It’s simply the understanding of what my mom meant when she'd warn my brother who’s big enough to blot out the sun that “You have a target on your back. You are BLACK and you are BIG.”

And I got it: the world thinks black men are scary. BIG black men are even scarier. They should be careful, watchful. They could end up that Missouri teen.

All while I’m seeing my wing-flying monster and hearing what it’s saying, I’m married to a white guy. He’s my protector, our daughter’s knight in shining armor, the guy who makes me crazy and who would fight for me. He’s the guy who spirits me away to Taco Bell to lift my sagging spirits and then tells me I still look good when my spirits have sagged too long after it’s been one too many trips to Taco Bell.

But yet, I know he sees something different from his window seat.

The gremlin he can see is one where news of the day seems to crucify white men for being white men.

The monster he sees hisses that people are judged only by what they do, and that color isn’t a factor when it comes to scuffles -- even those resulting in death -- with the police.

The same menacing figure reminds him that people don’t get stopped for driving in certain parts of the city. Like Shatner’s co-passenger, I tell him he’s seeing things wrong; there’s no monster on the wing: I get stopped all the time.

But from where my husband sits, it’s crazy-making. Because it is crazy.

While he believes me, it’s hard for him to believe me because he knows what he sees -- what he’s lived, from his window seat.

Until the day we’re riding in one of those places. He driving. I’m riding. A squad sidles up to my side of the car and the driver sees me. I say: We’re gonna get pulled over. My husband listens to the monster, and he waves me off…
...until the squad’s lights flash and the sirens sound.

He gets off with a warning, and he never doubts Driving While Black Syndrome again. And, of course, we talked about it.

And that’s the bottom line: we see different monsters, and we feel like crazy people telling the other person about the monsters we see. But we talk about them, and understand each of us is seeing something instead of telling the other person they don’t see anything at all.

And to me, that's the first step in getting anywhere in this racial thing we’re juggling in America right now -- in Ferguson, in Milwaukee, and in its posh suburbs: realizing that the monster a white/black person sees may be a different monster than a black/white person sees.

But if we stay on the route of arguing to the extreme, blaming, name calling, sullen silence, or denying that monsters exist at all, we’re all gonna go spinning off-axis and off-kilter into the Twilight Zone...each of our spirits killed by our own personal monsters.

Photo Credit:


  1. What a perfect analogy. Terrible, and perfect.

    1. Let's go back to the beginning of this. Let's go back to the boy Michael who roughed up a store clerk, who wouldn't obey the commands of a police officer, who was raised, evidently, not to have a respect for authority figures of any kind -- the convenience store clerk, the police, anyone. I want to hear ANYTHING from the Brown family that sounds like remorse over the way they raised their child, because THAT'S what started this. This isn't an issue of color, its a situation where a young adult resisted arrest, tried to grab an officer's gun while wrestling with him in the back seat of the squad car because he outweighed the officer by quite a bit. I currently have a child at home from college who has depression issues, and yes, I do have to confront him over my authority in the house --- and it isn't a race issue. His problems may stem from the loss of his Mother 8 years ago, it may go back further than that, it may be a chemical issue inside of him, but at NO POINT do I make how he is or what he does society's fault. At what point does the Brown family take responsibility for their son's behavior???? --- or why do they feel that they shouldn't have to ? The looters last night: Do the parents of those young adults know where their children are and what their doing, and do THEY condone their child's behavior???? I don't dig back into my lineage and blame them for how I turned out. I fully understand how the personality of what my Dad was like comes out in me, and some of that I still wrestle with, he could've been a better Father, he was a workaholic --- but that doesn't make who I am HIS fault. This isn't about race, and I'm tired of hearing that it is. Allowing your children to break the law, and failing to teach them respect for authority falls on the parents AND the child for failing to meet social expectations. To quote Michael Jackson:" If you want to make a change, start with the man in the mirror."

    2. Thank you sharing your perspective, Larry. And to me, that's where everything starts -- having the freedom to share perspectives without fault or blame or contradiction. Thanks for doing that so bravely.

  2. This is the perfect analogy and I hate that it has to be this way.
    I read this to my husband through tears and said, " oh my God, I have never felt like that when a cop pulls me over".
    And dammit I hate that YOU do.
    I hate that ANYBODY has to.
    I want to make that monster go away.
    I will do whatever it takes, so help me God.
    Thank you for sharing this and I will share this piece with my daughters to show your perspective to them.
    Big hugs, friend.
    Big, fat, loving, hugs.

    1. Big, fat, loving hugs right back at you.
      I think the monster's dying...but it's putting up a heckuva fight because it knows it's on its last legs.
      You and a whole lotta folks like you are killin' it. Literally.