• Mad Gleam Press

Brian Sheffield Interviews Chris Siders on His Experience as a Poet and Activist in the Monterey Bay

The following is Brian's full interview with the poet, Chris Siders, in conjunction with the Monterey Poetry Festival 2021. For a condensed version of the interview, visit oldcapitolbooks.com.

 

Brian: Starting off, how long have you been writing and reciting poetry?


Chris: I’ve been writing poetry since 2009. December 2009 to be specific. My mentor at my old high school -- he’s a Los Angeles historian and poet, goes by Mike thePoet -- he was teaching poetry and journalism at my school at View Park Prep and gave me a huge bag of underground rap CDs. Atmosphere and MURS. From there, I just fell in love with writing and poetry. And I just took it from there.


Chris Siders


Was this here in Monterey or was that -- where are you originally from by the way?


I’m from Los Angeles.


And this was back in Los Angeles?


Yeah, at View Park High School, off the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson.


And what brought you up here in Monterey?


Honestly, I applied for CSU Long Beach, and I didn’t get in. I was interested in their creative writing program. And my second school was Monterey Bay, CSU Monterey Bay. Also, far away from home, and just a brand new experience being away from LA in general. My parents always told me about people that never leave the block in South Central. And it’s just interesting. They don’t know anything beyond Los Angeles. Not even Hollywood. Not even Downtown. Then just, different parts of the whole county. Just their block. So just kinda felt it was very important to gain lessons from going to different places, and experiences.


Okay, and how did you feel about the education that you were getting over at CSUMB, while you attended there.


It was really interesting. When... my freshman year, I was undeclared. I wasn’t entirely too sure what I wanted to do. I just know that I’m a creative. And I gave my old friend at the time a poetry book I kept, and I was writing in it every day. He read some poems and was like, “Yo this is dope, you should go to an open mic and perform.” I wasn’t too sure about it because I got rejected by Brave New Voices from HBO, I got rejected from Get Lit Words all in the same year. These are like huge, major groups in Los Angeles, so it kinda felt like my dreams were shot down before I even got started. However, I went to an open mic, the rest was history. Folks really loved what I had to say. Granted, it was a love poem, I wasn’t talking about anything serious. But, everybody just kept motivating me.


But I mean, love poems are some of the most impactful poetry. That’s really coming from the heart about another person.


Definitely. It’s just a little interesting, I guess.


Do you feel like love poems have a cliché about them that make them really silly?


I think in my experience, -- because I submitted some love pieces to publications, and they were like, “oh this is like too cliché or too lovey-dovey.” So I guess that kinda skewed my view of love poems. I haven’t written a love poem in years. Last one I wrote was two years ago. I used to write a lot of love poems actually. I’ve been focused on other topics and whatnot. But, going back to the education at CSUMB, having great professors like Deb Busman, Maria Villasenor, all encouraged me to really branch out and the community itself, just talking to folks from different identities and different intersectionalities. I didn’t get that in Los Angeles. My middle and high school was 99.8% black. So, I was only around black folks. So coming up here, it was a whole culture shock. An entirely new world. It was definitely an interesting experience here.


You know, so we could, if you want to later on, we can take some of my comments out of the interview if you think they’re irrelevant. It’s interesting how you say that. I did some teaching in Los Angeles for a little while. I was really really young and I didn’t know a damn thing. I taught at this school called Tobinworld in Glendale. It’s a Special ED school. I taught there from 2009 to 2010. It’s a school for kids with autism, but also kids who are labeled as “emotionally disturbed.” I learned really quickly that emotionally disturbed is a really fascinating term, that a lot of schools will use to say “We don’t know what to do with this kid, this child is really difficult to deal with, and unless we get a handle on them ‘quote end quote”, they’ll just wind up in an institution on the street. It’s amazing how you have a lot of kids in the classroom yelling things like “Grape Street Watts,” which to them was a thing that had some importance, but was also at the same time a show of sorts. I found that really fascinating and that was a big learning experience. And from what you’re saying, I think I can connect it back to that. It was mostly kids of color, except for the kids with autism. Autism doesn’t really choose a color. But it’s really interesting how, when you really start getting into the social structures that delay a student’s ability to learn and to exist in a world that’s built around them. That’s really difficult.


Yeah, and in Los Angeles, I had a lot of experiences with that. A lot of the kids that I went to school with, they felt the need to claim a gang, like “Rollin 60 Crips, or Grape Street Watts,” it’s more of a sense of belonging. A majority of the students I went to school with, they didn’t have both parents in the household. Let alone, even one. Some cases they had a grandmother, or a grandfather, or were adopted. And I was very privileged and fortunate enough to have both parents in my household. It’s just searching for that peace and that love that’s just not there in Los Angeles. Everything is, like, so harsh. The conditions are so fucked up. I remember almost literally every other week in high school our school was on lockdown because the bank down the street was getting robbed, or there was a fight where someone was getting jumped on the corner. We had security guards at our school. If you were to see an image of how the school looked -- and still looks like this to this day -- it literally looks like a prison yard. We don’t have a cafeteria, it’s just two buildings, a parking lot, and some lunch tables on the outside. And like, two basketball courts. That’s it. Even how the students were treated, we wasn’t allowed to listen to music on campus, before, during, or after school. We couldn’t walk off campus to get food at the Louisiana Fried Chicken on the corner, and there were several incidents where the police had suspicions that students was carrying drugs and then they’d bring in the K-9 unit and everybody would have to stand outside in the hallway, facing the lockers, and then we were standing outside for the majority of the period, not getting our education in. The conditions are just baffling. There was an incident where the school’s CEO Michael Piscal, a white man who talked a lot about uplifting black communities and children ran off with the school’s funding. He gambled it away in Las Vegas and was never found again. Last I heard he just got out of prison. He put everyone in danger. We already cut art and music programs at school. The students and Mike The Poet created a community. We held a poetry lounge every day at lunch time. I brought my boombox and we held rap cyphers. We held it in a classroom under Mike’s supervision so we won’t get in trouble for playing music. We needed platforms for us to express because we didn’t have shit on campus that would support us. As for myself, I did get caught up in it, being a dark skinned individual, experiencing colorism. Here’s an interesting story. There was a white student that attended my school. We never had a white student, ever. Me and her was cool. We built a connection. Until one day, after school, she was on the bus and she called me. And she said, “Chris, I’m scared.” I said, “What you scared about?” And she said, “There’s a black man on the bus. I’m scared.” I’m like, “There’s a black man on the bus? This is a predominantly black neighborhood.” Basically, she had this image in her head that all black men are monsters and hyper masculine. We’re not hyper masculine by choice. It’s just the conditions.


From her perspective, how do you think she was able to get past that with you, but not with a stranger? Do you feel like there becomes this separation in the view of blackness when it comes to a stranger versus someone you know pretty intimately?


I think the thing was, I was hanging out with another young woman, and she was Latina. She didn’t fit in. And I was just the type of person to hang out with anyone. I personally didn’t have a lot of friends. I struggled being part of the “It” crowd, you know the typical high school shit. So, yeah, I was just really cool with her friend, and then by association that’s how I became closer with that girl, the white girl. And I guess, through that, we just shared common interests, like, I love anime, I love video games. During that time, for a young black man in South Central Los Angeles to be interested in those kinds of things it’s like, “Why are you interested in that?” And, like, yo we’re not all the same. And I guess that kinda threw her off in just thinking that this man that’s on the bus, he can possibly just be him and not the stereotypical view that she holds of black men. I think that’s just what it is.


So you come over here to Monterey, you go to CSUMB, I also attended CSUMB -- CSUMB has this way of really trying to have this aspect of, I think I can try to call it “radical liberalism.” (laughs)


I know exactly what you mean!


There really is this sense of trying to claim this aspect of left liberalism more for the sake of a show than any real act that actually does something for the community around it. This is a very vague statement. But with that, how do you feel your experience in CSUMB has changed your experience not only in the Monterey area, but also your writing and your activism?


That’s a loaded question. Where do I begin? When I first got into activism, I literally fell into it. I started as an actor in the “Mending Monologues” show. It was their first year there. “Vagina Monologues” was already huge on campus. Through my performances through Mending and doing the open mics, I kinda got this label of like, “Oh, there’s this black feminist guy.” And then it was like, for me, how this process was, “Oh shit, there isn’t anyone who looks like me who’s doing this work, I feel like this maybe important to do.” And the topic again, like I said earlier, about hyper masculinity, and the need to feel like the biggest person in the room -- that’s ultimately what got a lot of people killed in South Central, LA in the gang shit. So I feel like I could take these lessons and bring them back to the hood, and talk to my homies about these things and end the violence. I even have a whole plan of changing the culture in Los Angeles, and it’s still in the works right now. However, I digress. When I got in that whole label and I was asked to direct the Mending Monologues the following year, I kinda noticed there was a lot of folks that was like, “Hey I can’t wait to direct the Mending and the Vagina Monologues,” and it became this thing of “Oh yeah, I want this position of power.” I know folks are gonna be mad at me, but it is what it is. It’s just something I noticed. We literally taken an oath to stand against sexual violence and gender violence. And I’ve taken that very seriously. So that’s why, outside of these shows, I made sure to do what I can, have these conversations, be in these rooms, and, even along with that, I will admit I didn’t really have the proper education because of the label and the pressure and whatnot. I didn’t understand what the Patriarchy was until probably like, my 4th year of school. Yeah, I didn’t understand what it was until that point, and rape culture, and other things like that. There really wasn’t anyone that sat me down and said, “this is what this is, this is what male privilege is, this is what that is.” With my writing at the time and still every now and then, I included how I changed or challenged my toxic masculinity. I call myself out so folks around me can understand. For example, my toxic masculinity back in middle and high school, was getting into fights literally every other week or month. The principal didn't even really ask me what’s going on. They just said if you get into another fight you are getting expelled and sent to juvie. I had no choice but to change. My life was on the line. I know several others that’s going through the same thing where once again the conditions just steals your innocence away.


Not even in a classroom? You didn’t have a teacher to teach you that?


Except Dr. Lee Ritscher. She was the one, that’s when I took the feminist course.


That was in your fourth year?


That was in my fourth year, yeah. So, and then with that, along came with the tokenizing. Because now, people look at me as this role model, and a figure, and are putting me on this pedestal. And now folks want me to do things for the community that I’m just like, “I’m not entirely too sure.” For example, Title IX at the time wanted me to jump on the news and talk about sexual assault awareness, and this was early in my 4th year. So, again, I don’t have a firm grasp on these concepts.


If you don’t mind my asking, what’s Title IX?


Title IX is, they spread awareness on sexual assault and gender violence, they put on different events around campus, and they enforce policies to ensure the safety of students, and, that’s like, a very vague, in summation kinda. But, however, I got a bit of a problem with Title IX. Bare with me, this is kinda heavy, but um. At the time, I was falsely accused of sexual harassment. And Title IX brought me into the office while I was working for them on several events like One Billion Rising and whatnot. And when they brought me in, they said, “ Hey I’m sure you know what this is about, here’s the list of charges, you got 24 hours to sign this document. If you don’t sign this document, we’re gonna take you to court. If you sign this document then we’re just gonna place a restraining order on you and put this on your record.” There was no, “Oh what was your side of the story,” or different things to that extent. And I already know good and well, being a black man, I’m not going to win in court. There’s no way. So, I went home, and I said, “Fuck it,” I signed it and brought it back. And they said, “Oh, you’re free to go. They dropped the charges.” So this person literally just fucked with me just to fuck with me. And this was a white woman.


And the people at school didn’t even question it.


So with all this, came this really heavy trauma with physical intimacy. Because, now I’m scared to initiate sex, or even the simplest things of holding hands, the world just stops. And I just don’t know how to process that. And…. yeah…. CSUMB is just a very interesting place. And this particular person was really gung ho on, like, spreading awareness of sexual assault. I love their work. Their work as an activist is fucking phenomenal. However, I kinda felt that I was being viewed as someone to be conquered, as opposed to someone to bring on as an ally. And it made me be a bit resentful.


It sounds to me like the school was trying to set you up as some kind of leader in the community, but they wouldn’t think twice about vilifying you in a moment where some other student felt some kind of need to falsify something.


Mhmm. And the interesting thing, when I was gaining notoriety as an artist, as a spoken word artist, and doing the community work, several people were like, “Hey Chris, I got your back, I love you, this, that, and the third.” But when shit hit the fan, everybody turned their back. There was no, “Hey, how do you feel, this, that, and the third.” It was very lonely. It was very lonely, and I’m kinda sad that I didn’t understand it at the time. There was a time I was dealing with suicidal ideation and people were approaching my brothers. They are not my biological brothers, but we went to middle school, high school and college together. People asked what’s going on with me through them instead of reaching out. It’s like yo I want you to approach me. I want you to ask me how I’m feeling. That’s when I needed the support the most. I took midnight walks frequently and called the suicide hotline a few times. I was going to do it. Later on, after graduating, I stayed in the Monterey County area for 2 more years, and I ended up becoming homeless, putting the community needs before my own. And, it was still that same thing of like, “hey we love you, we love you,” but when I was homeless and shit, not very many people were there. I could literally count on both hands who was there for me. Versus, like, a community of thousands. And it’s just disheartening.


Yeah. Following your education at CSUMB, what other kind of work were you doing in the community, in the interim of all of this happening.


I was mainly doing creative writing workshops. I taught at the Chinatown Learning Center in Salinas a few times, mainly trying to also get artists more, I guess in tune with their work, and for them to believe in themselves, and that everybody has a unique story to tell. Everybody brings something different to the table, everybody doesn’t think the same. So, I tried to bring them up whenever I performed at different places, or if I featured and whatnot. Also, I did workshops with individuals in the prison system at Soledad Correctional Facility for a couple years, with this program called Success Stories, and was led by Richie Reseda. He actually had a documentary on CNN called The Feminist in Cell Block Y, and we were just kinda breaking down the harmful effects of patriarchy and domestic violence. I directed a play called “A Race Through Time” created by another CSUMB Alumni Antoinette Anderson. She asked me to join on as a director to present conversations surrounding the treatment of black people in America through the years. She even let me write a few scenes for the show. Me and a few community members created a campus proclamation, to combat the rise in hate crimes on campus during the 2016 presidential election. I was honestly just really doing whatever I can with the tools that I have and the gifts that were given to me by the most high. So, yeah, also on the CSUMB campus, I actually tried to make sure that I purposely didn’t get too involved with groups. I made sure to do my projects by myself because they have their own set of rules on how they do things and I don’t wanna get caught up in their rules and their drama. So, if there was an event I wanted to do, I’d just try to find a way to put it on myself.


Did you ever get paid for any of this work you did in the community, whether it was teaching creative writing in Chinatown, or working at Soledad Prison, or doing any work at CSUMB with anybody at all whatsoever.


Nope.


Do you feel like the community still expected you to do this work anyways? Or do you feel like the community expected you to put in this work, or do you feel like you expected yourself to put in this work for the community you were around, even if only, through your own learning in this process, to bring it back in LA? Or was it a more complicated mix of these two, plus other factors?


It was definitely a Catch-22. Kinda felt both sides, feeling the pressure from the community, and also having that internal pressure. Because it’s more so a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. If you’re uneducated, you become ignorant to what’s around you, and you could possibly hurt somebody, and you can continue to go down a really dark path. However, being educated, I kinda feel that we have the responsibility to educate others and bring these lessons to light. I personally felt that I really needed to, yeah, I had to step up, I had to step up, and even though I had to step up, the community pressure was very intense. And I do kinda feel to a certain extent that there is an expectation to perform at a certain level. Especially with this incident that I did in 2016 during my black graduation. I ended up calling out the President’s entire cabinet and saying people by name, because they asked me to perform. Well, not the cabinet, but the group that was putting on the black graduation asked me to perform a spoken word piece. And I said, “You know, this is gonna be my last day here, so fuck it, you’re all gonna hear what I have to say.” I said it. And, it’s not like they don’t know who I am. I’m a very intense person when it comes to these things. It’s not a secret that I’m gonna talk. However, when I did that, there was a huge divide in the community, in the black community. Some folks were for it, some folks were like, “What the hell were you doing?” I even lost social justice mentors because of it. One of them doesn't even talk to me to this very day and that was like, five years ago? I don’t know, it’s just a lot. I’m still trying to process it all.


So, how do you feel like this has affected the work you’re doing in LA now?


It’s kinda more so, do I even want to do this work anymore? I’m not gonna lie, I sometimes felt that I was losing my drive for it because of how I was treated up here. When I was homeless, like, again, trigger warning, I had two jobs, I lost one of them. There were only a handful of people around me that cared about my wellbeing. I was sexually assaulted twice by a man and a woman. Almost got jumped at 3 in the morning. CSUMB police department racially profiled me. And all this for what? For a community that refuses to change. At that point I was here for what, 7 to 8 years, and not a damn thing changed. That’s what made me go back home to Los Angeles and say, “I’m not doing activism, I’m done with this shit.” It wasn’t until Fall 2019 I was asked to come up and speak to some kids about depression and suicide. And, through talking to those students and those kids and hearing rumblings in the community about folks committing suicide and seeing people put in ambulance trucks, it’s more so like, maybe my work here isn’t done, there’s way too much going on. And I tried to come back and give my all to the community, but, the following performance at the 2020 Black Gala at CSUMB I got in that paranoia feeling again that someone is kinda out to get me, the community doesn’t have my best interests at heart, and, yeah. It’s just so much. That’s what ultimately led to this decision of possibly making this poetry festival kinda like my last performance in Monterey County. At least a part of the decision.


Even speaking from the perspective of what you do and who you are in LA versus what you did and who you were in Monterey, do you still write and compose pieces?


Oh yeah, of course, I still write, I still compose, I still do everything I was doing up here except for activism. I kinda like, go back and forth. Like I said earlier, I do have this plan to change Los Angeles. It’s just, getting that drive back, because once you go out there and take a stand for something, there’s no going back. At that point, you’re putting your life on the line, you may be putting people you love on the line. That’s just the reality of taking a stand as a marginalized person in America. I remember my parents during my freshman year was like, don’t get into any bullshit in Monterey. Telling me not to get arrested and stay out of it. If you look at Ferguson Riots, and Black Lives Matter, the prominent leaders, a lot of them were gunned down and killed. To bring forth such a topic as sexual violence, gender violence, hyper masculinity, to go against the cultural norm of gang violence in Los Angeles, you’ll put a huge target on your back, because the homophobia from where I’m at, is intense. It’s even to the point to where, like, how I’m dressed right now with my fingernails and my ear hoops, I will get pressed so hard. I don’t even wear this at home. I feel more comfortable out here, so…


Yeah, that’s funny how that works. Do you still perform out in Los Angeles?


Yeah.


Do you feel your performance by itself is a form of activism, or do you feel like you need to separate your poetry and performance from that space of activism?


How I kinda view it is that by activism, you get your hands dirty. You’re really out there in the community, you’re really talking to people, you’re seeing their needs instead of making an assumption and having good intentions. It’s kinda like that article, “To Hell With Good Intentions.” So, ever since reading that in college, in class, I never make assumptions of what a community may need. With that in mind, yeah, I kinda do separate everything. But there are hints of activism in what I do of course with the art. It really just all depends on how you look at it. From my point of view, being an activist is just actually about being out there in the street and in the trenches, so to speak.


I did a lot of research involving the history of race, inequality and stuff like that in the Monterey Bay Area. I was trying to look for stuff over at CSUMB, but not too much came up. Some student pieces came up, but they were mainly aspects of demographics as opposed to anything specific.


So Seaside, before it became incorporated as an actual city, was originally a pretty significant black settlement. I know CSUMB is technically located in Seaside and Fort Ord at the same time. There’s actually this really wonderful article on blackpast.org -- “Race and Color in a California Coastal Community: the Seaside Story.” And it talks a lot about how in Post World War II, out here in Seaside, you had a lot of soldiers out in Fort Ord, which was a little bit of an experiment. You had white and black soldiers being trained out there, and then you had their wives and mothers building a large political presence in Seaside, getting particularly black, latino, and asian people elected in office, building equal homes and stuff like that. Do you feel like CSUMB is aware of this history? Do you feel like they make any attempt to try to incorporate that aspect of that complicated racial history of Seaside in their education, considering they’re located in Seaside?


I do believe that they know the history of Seaside. However, I feel like they refuse to acknowledge it. There were a lot of talks during my last year of school about changing the name of CSU Monterey Bay to CSU Seaside. I heard rumblings here and there. The culture of CSUMB has always been just “sweep it under the rug.” There’ve been so many racial discrimination lawsuits, million dollar racial discrimination lawsuits, swept under the rug. Incidents of teachers in the classrooms spewing disgusting microaggressions at students. There was even an incident where a teacher called on a student and called them “Africa,” a black student… yeah, fucking bizarre. It’s not only CSUMB; It’s this whole damn county. I kinda feel that, and it circles right back to virtue signaling, this whole performative thing of like, “Hey look at me, I’m doing the work.” Because a lot of the activists out here that I know are white. And I kinda feel that they do the work to satisfy that white guilt. And I’ve seen it so many times. People would go on stage and say, “Yes, I have white privilege, I do this and that,” Yeah, we know you’re white. We know you have privilege. There’s no need to make this proclamation or declaration that you’re this. We see it. However, they’re just not being upfront about where the intentions lie.


So um, about uh, in 2015, I was writing a lot and doing a lot of performance, well even before that, I’d say from around 2013 to 2015 I was doing a lot of this work in terms of poetry, then I started getting really frustrated with this area because I felt like people would do a lot of work in terms of trying to become a decent artist. They’d put a lot of effort in, then eventually they’d either just stop, buckle down, get a job, and just live their life. Or they’d leave the area, and they’d go somewhere else where they actively could do the work they wanted to and get recognized by other people within a larger community of people who were doing work. They’d go to San Francisco, or they’d go to Chicago, or they’d go to New York or now New Mexico, Seattle, or Portland. So I did that in 2015. I went to New York. I lived in Brooklyn and I didn’t know a goddamn thing about what I was doing. At first I lived in a Hasidic Neighborhood. Then I moved deeper into Brooklyn a little bit later. There’s this really interesting weird relationship between, hyper specifically, the white and black communities in Brooklyn. Almost all the black communities are people who lived there after the White Flight. Originally it was a bunch of white people who lived in Brooklyn who settled it. A bunch of Dutch and Jewish and other folks, and their descendants lived there. After some time, they all started leaving when a lot of black people started moving in . Then black people took over the area and it became known as a black city. And now, effectively what I did without knowing a goddamn thing, a bunch of white people started moving in because it’s affordable and there’s a lot of art going on. And that’s raising up the rents. There’s a huge amount of tension. So much so that you could sit in the subway and there’d be a black gentleman sitting down and yelling about all the white people in town when there didn’t used to be a lot of white people in town. It’s this really fascinating thing that wakes you up and makes you realize okay, there’s a lot of stuff I don't know anything about. I feel like Monterey has maybe a small ounce of that tension that can happen. Not as extreme. It’s really wild. I don't feel that tension as much because of my whiteness. And that's no apology, it’s just a matter of fact. It’s really fucking interesting.


So um, about uh, in 2015, I was writing a lot and doing a lot of performance, well even before that, I’d say from around 2013 to 2015 I was doing a lot of this work in terms of poetry, then I started getting really frustrated with this area because I felt like people would do a lot of work in terms of trying to become a decent artist. They’d put a lot of effort in, then eventually they’d either just stop, buckle down, get a job, and just live their life. Or they’d leave the area, and they’d go somewhere else where they actively could do the work they wanted to and get recognized by other people within a larger community of people who were doing work. They’d go to San Francisco, or they’d go to Chicago, or they’d go to New York or now New Mexico, Seattle, or Portland. So I did that in 2015. I went to New York. I lived in Brooklyn and I didn’t know a goddamn thing about what I was doing. At first I lived in a Hasidic Neighborhood. Then I moved deeper into Brooklyn a little bit later. There’s this really interesting weird relationship between, hyper specifically, the white and black communities in Brooklyn. Almost all the black communities are people who lived there after the White Flight. Originally it was a bunch of white people who lived in Brooklyn who settled it. A bunch of Dutch and Jewish and other folks, and their descendants lived there. After some time, they all started leaving when a lot of black people started moving in . Then black people took over the area and it became known as a black city. And now, effectively what I did without knowing a goddamn thing, a bunch of white people started moving in because it’s affordable and there’s a lot of art going on. And that’s raising up the rents. There’s a huge amount of tension. So much so that you could sit in the subway and there’d be a black gentleman sitting down and yelling about all the white people in town when there didn’t used to be a lot of white people in town. It’s this really fascinating thing that wakes you up and makes you realize okay, there’s a lot of stuff I don't know anything about. I feel like Monterey has maybe a small ounce of that tension that can happen. Not as extreme. It’s really wild. I don't feel that tension as much because of my whiteness. And that's no apology, it’s just a matter of fact. It’s really fucking interesting.


In Monterey, I definitely see the tension. I see the tension a lot. Being a student activist talking to my black friends, we'd always talk about white privilege and like the frustrations as to like, “dang why can’t they just see this, like this is so frustrating.” Even when the Donald Trump election popped off, I had a friend who ended up becoming a Trump supporter. He didn’t tell anybody until he got elected. So then I wasn’t his only black friend. The majority of the circle was black except his girlfriend who’s white. And a lot of my friends were like, “I tried talking to him but he’s just not getting it.” He’s from Fresno, he grew up on a farm. His point of view from when I tried to talk to him, it was like talking to a brick wall. But his perspective was, “I got it out the mud, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, I did x, y, and z. And like, I don’t understand why certain people, different groups, can’t do the same thing.” The thing he fails to understand is the odds have always been stacked against us since day one. Like, I could literally walk down the street right now and possibly get pulled over by a cop, or a white woman could look at me and just say, ”Oh you’re harassing me, I’m gonna call the police,” and my life can be in danger at any given moment. And that’s my reality. That’s not his reality, he’s a white man. I kinda feel like a lot of folks in this county just don’t fucking get it.


Do you have any final thoughts about all of this?


I kinda feel that, yeah, as a black activist, I kinda feel that there’s a lot of beauty and joy in the world. For many black activists out there, I really feel that we just tend to forget joy is the biggest revolution that you can possibly have and create. It’s not our fault some of us can’t see beauty. It’s hard to see. The thing of being alive in a country where everything is meant to kill you and you’re still here. And I’m pretty sure, in like, for example, in these rap songs and these hip hop songs, we talk about making it to 18, 21, 30, is a big accomplishment because it is. You mean to tell me surviving gang violence, surviving racism, homophobia, fucking MAGA people, blue lives matter people, protesting against our lives on a daily basis and deteriorating our mental and emotional well being, even the classism and our financial stability just always being in danger -- as a kid, before I even moved up to college, my house got foreclosed by the bank because our landlord gambled away our money. Our rent money was gambled away. By the grace of god, we found another place, luckily. If we didn’t find another place, we would’ve been on the street. And so, again, we’re still here when everything is meant to kill us, and that’s a blessing!



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