a bad day to be awake
I feel sick. Today, something I’ve been waiting for finally came to me. And something I wasn’t waiting for at all came right behind it.
Y’all know about my tattoo, right? On my neck? The one symbolizing Erzulie, a Voodoun love goddess who I know absolutely nothing about (unless you count what I’ve read online)? Yeah…
Sometimes people recognize the symbol, but up until today it has always been other white folks, who seem excited to see it, and who I (blindly) assume learned about Erzulie in some African or religious studies class they took in college. I’ve been feeling pretty uncomfortable with my tattoo for a while now, due to my ignorance about the cultural and spiritual tradition it comes out of. I’ve been anticipating, with a dull spark of dread, the moment when I encounter someone who actually is connected to that culture and tradition in a meaningful way.
Today was that day. At Herbivore, right after I sat down for brunch, a man at an adjoining table turned around to ask what possessed me to get a tattoo of Erzulie on my neck. He was not unkind at all, but he was clearly struck in a powerful and strange way by the sight of me. I briefly explained to him how I found the symbol in a book and then researched Erzulie further. All throughout my meal I was very uncomfortable. A woman sitting with him kept looking at me, and I could just tell she thought I was a fool – and rightly so. Finally, as we were getting ready to leave, my friend L went to the restroom and the man turned to me again. He started telling me that, although I probably chose this symbol because it is connected with love, it is also connected with a lot of violence. People’s heads getting chopped off. Specifically, white people’s heads getting chopped off during the slave rebellion in Haiti. Which is why he felt so powerfully struck by seeing me, a white person, waltz in with this symbol tattooed on my neck. His ancestors are from Haiti, he said – there is all this ancestral energy coming at me through this symbol and I have no idea what it’s about. He suggested I meditate on what it was that drew me to such a powerful symbol, and figure out what is in me that made me want all this powerful, possibly violent ancestral energy coming at me. He said I was bold, that he wouldn’t even put the symbol on his body. I assured him that it was not boldness, but ignorance, that allowed me to do such a thing. I left feeling shaken, ready to go home and think and maybe cry a little to calm myself down. What was I thinking when I got this tattoo? “Peace be with you,” the man had said as I left.
And then. Then L and I went to 25th and MLK to check out this show “Hoodstock” that was supposed to be happening there (illegally) all weekend. Apparently, the organizers were not worried about the cops showing up because it was being held in the parking lot of a purported crack building. L had gone on Saturday but left before it was over. Her friend called while we were eating and told her the cops had shown up around 2 in the morning and cleared everybody out. So we roll up and there’s nobody there. A woman sweeping the street out in front of the gate tells us they moved the party to somewhere on Telegraph. She lives in the supposed crack building. Says that when people at the party started breaking bottles in the middle of the street at 2 in the morning, someone finally called the cops. She points out a car in the parking lot that’s been trashed, pounded and spray-painted on. Says it belongs to a woman in the building, and that both this woman’s cars were messed up by people at the show the night before. The woman doesn’t want to call the cops about her cars, but “someone has got to pay for them,” explains the woman speaking as she looks away. She points to the overflowing dumpster, says she and her neighbors filled the dumpster with the trash people left behind after the show. A man standing nearby glares at us. I can hardly breathe. I drop L off and go home, feeling incredibly angry and helpless. What can I do? I have no desire to go to the show now, but I think about going to take up a collection for the woman’s cars. L tells me she’ll talk to the organizer and see if he will take care of it.
But… REALLY?! Really, Oakland punk/anarchist/hipster kids? Really, people I probably hang out with? This is where we’re at – busting into a neighborhood that isn’t ours, to party, using the residents as a shield against the cops, trashing their property and then leaving them with our garbage? If I could make this screen you’re reading scream, I would. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! WHAT THE FUCK???