The weather in Michigan this winter is stubbornly cold. March has arrived, but spring seems distant. Used to be on days of obstinate gray, I would curl up on my sofa and read a great novel, but lately I can only read a few pages before the author’s beautiful prose charges my insecurities about my own writing. Instead of relaxing I’m analyzing every sentence, thinking again of that scene I need to fix, and then I’m worrying that I’ll never finish and I will be a failure. So instead after I’ve finished writing for the day, I wrap myself in a fleece blanket, and I watch a movie, often a romantic comedy.
So far 2014’s Black History Month has elicited the familiar feelings of dread and anticipation I often experience during this time of year. An all-girls school in Northern California created a Black History Month menu of fried chicken, cornbread and watermelon. Nick Cannon protested a Harriet Tubman Google Doodle all by himself. George Zimmerman, a murderer who refuses to cower away into obscurity, claims that he fears for his life yet agreed to participate in a celebrity boxing match, goading on the only famous black men he could think of, rappers Kayne West and DMX. American cultural values are deeply confused when women become famous for making sex tapes (Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, etc.) and white men become famous for murdering black teenagers. Something is insidiously wrong if I’m expecting the worst during a time that’s supposed to be celebratory and contemplative.
Early November last year Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old African American woman, was shot outside the home of a 54-year-old white man in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Several hours earlier, she had crashed her car into a parked vehicle. She couldn’t find her cellphone. She was drunk, high and possibly concussed. She was a young black woman looking for help in a society that routinely asserts black bodies are volatile, more likely to perpetuate violence than seek assistance. The Internet barely yawned at the news. The case was similar to Jonathan Ferrell’s yet its dissimilar treatment in the media seemed one more disappointing example of how America values the lives of African-American women in the year 2013.
I’ve come to expect offensive portrayals of blackness during Halloween, but this past year’s trend of impersonating Trayvon Martin seemed unusually cruel. I’ve never understood why certain white people love black face. I can only imagine those who love blackface or find the use of “blackface” funny enjoy dehumanizing blackness. Blackface has been used for racial parody since the early 1800s, and slowly over the years Halloween has become a season for racial parody within a larger social framework that thrives on dehumanizing blackness for its own survival. Blackness as monstrous. I’ve been thinking about this as a concept more and more, especially this Halloween as I perused photos of people who could not have possibly seen and understood Trayvon Martin as a human being.
Despite knowing how horrible my bad habits are I have the most difficulty breaking them. Why don’t I unplug my Internet and concentrate? Why don’t I just stop watching Scandal? I DON’T KNOW. In writing this blog post, I asked my friends—writers and non-writers alike—about their bad habits, and, not surprisingly, many of them face the same problems as I do. No matter what the bad habit—leavings tasks until the last possible minute, smoking when nervous, over-checking Facebook—each person I spoke to was aware of the bad habit, felt miserably guilty about it, but seemed hopelessly unable to stop. “Phew. I’m not the only one,” I said to myself. I’m not the only suffering from this throat-clogging guilt—guilt for not being better, for not being more dedicated, for not writing this blog post earlier, etc. Every day I feel weighed down by this guilt, and I don’t know what to do with it. In writing this post, I tried to identify what it is about my bad habits I find so flummoxing. How can I be so self-aware yet so unable to stop? Am I self-destructive? Self-combusting? If I hate feeling guilty why don’t I just stop doing the things that make me feel guilty? These are the kind of questions I ask myself at 4 am after wasting the entire day watching Project Runway episodes back-to-back. I don’t feel particularly self-destructive, but what do I know?