White People

for Amiri Baraka

White people don’t wanna hear about struggle.
White people don’t want you to think. White people
don’t want you to think about struggle.
White people don’t want you to struggle.
White people don’t wanna hear about depression.
White people don’t wanna hear about revolution
unless it happened, mythically, in 1776,
unless it happened in a galaxy far far away.
White people wanna watch Star Wars.
White people wanna listen to Imagine Dragons.
White people wanna vote, don’t wanna hear about
Black people dying to vote, Black people
getting killed trying to exercise their right
to vote. White people wanna listen
to the blues, to jazz, to hip hop, to gangsta rap.
White people don’t wanna listen to Black people.
White people don’t wanna hear about Black people,
about history, about slavery, about white supremacy.
White people don’t wanna hear about it.
White people wanna watch CNN, MSNBC, Fox News.
White people wanna watch TV. White people don’t hafta
sing the blues. But they do, they might. To get paid.
White people want the money. They don’t wanna hear about
money, about inequality, about the lack of money.
White people don’t wanna hear about it.

White people don’t wanna think about the bombs we drop.
White people don’t wanna think about the wars we make.
White people don’t wanna think about the wars we make
to keep up business as usual, the status quo,
to keep the oil flowing, the fat pig greased.
White people wanna eat that barbeque.
White people wanna pay for that barbeque
with the money they make working 9-5 capitalism
in the capital of the War on Terror. White people
don’t wanna see the terror inherent in capitalism.
White people don’t wanna read these words.
White people don’t wanna see that shit.
White people wanna look the other way.
White people wanna turn on that TV.
White people don’t wanna hear about poverty.

No one wants to be in poverty.
No one should be impoverished.
Could we change that? White people been exporting poverty
and death for five hundred years.
Can’t change that. Can we change the future?

White people gotta turn it around.
White people need more than a heart.
White people get your head out of your ass.
White people look me in the eye.
White people see the world tremble in your terror,
see the blood, the bombs, the tears, the terror,
White people see the resolution, the spine, the humanity
unflinching in the face of 500 years of terror.
White people, don’t pass the buck.
White people, the buck stops with you.
White people, read some books written by Black people.
Read some books. Read some books written by some people
who are not cushioned by the system that you aspire to,
that keeps you comfortable, that pats you on the head
and tells you you are white, you are ok, the world is just.
White people, wake your asses up. Stay woke.
White people, white people, white people you are shameful.
White people, come out of the American Dream.
It is a dream.
White people,
Reality can be much more beautiful
than that damned dream.


Here’s the Thing, Mainstream America: Toward Understanding Depression, Situated in Context

I have suffered from depression for over 20 years, since I was a teenager. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to recall a time when my perceptions were not colored by depression. Medication and a successful marriage have helped; meditation has helped, although I currently view it as a sort of opiate. I feel the need to situate my depression in the context of the larger culture. I feel that its roots are not simply personal and biological–although my brain predisposes me to depression, it seems reasonable to me that social factors are responsible as well.

We live in a society that puts a premium on activity and minimizes rest and reflection. My constitution is such that I need more rest and reflection than the average person. I am highly introspective, highly creative, highly intuitive, and highly receptive to sense impressions. These are all positive qualities, but in a society that puts a premium on activity and business, they become liabilities. Situated in the context of culture, my assets become liabilities.

Without silence, I wither. Media stimulation such as television, music, radio, even reading, consumes me. I need silence in order to concentrate on reading. Television commands my attention. Music is similar. While I can process conversation and media stimulation at the same time, it takes a concentrated effort.

I know that I am not alone in these qualities. They are the qualities of introverts, and research suggests that anywhere from a third to almost half of the American population is introverted. As an introvert, I spend more time thinking and analyzing than an extrovert. I am a critical thinker, and when I look deeply at American society, I am disturbed. I see an economics of exploitation, I see systemic racism, I see ignorance that fuels war. And I tend to ruminate on these issues, and ruminative thinking has been linked to depression.

I need to look at these issues; they are close to my heart. But they are deep and seemingly intractable, and there is little that an individual can do about them; yet to throw up my hands and turn away seems a betrayal of morals and of my heart. To analyze these issues can fuel a sense of injustice and begin a cycle of rumination; I need to act, but how? Writing is the best answer I have.

But here’s the thing, Mainstream America: you brag about justice and freedom while prosecuting wars and criminalizing poverty. You drive and consume and play the stock market and hypnotize yourself with the vanity of TV. You hold up your Constitution and Declaration of Independence while violating human rights and demanding dependence. I see that. Seeing that, I feel angry. Living within that collective poverty of soul, I ruminate. Navigating an economics of consumption for survival, I become depressed.

So it’s not me, Mainstream America. It’s you. It’s hypocrisy and usury. It’s your parasitic obesity that I see in the mirror, and that, yes, is very fucking depressing. I cannot escape your image, as I was created in it. I was born into this culture of high rhetoric and low practices regarding freedom. And I don’t feel free. I feel emotionally constrained within the walls of your mass media. I feel physically restrained by your profit-seeking. I feel ill, force-fed your consumer economy. I feel intellectually stunted by your non-participatory version of democracy. And I don’t know what to do, which is how you like me. I don’t know what to do, but I’m learning.

I, too, am working on getting free. I’m a middle-aged white man, and I, too, have been cheated of my freedom. It’s not obvious to you, Mainstream America. It’s not obvious to you, Extroverted Ideal Male. It’s not obvious, but my alienation is real.

I don’t know what to do, but I do know that love and anger can exist together, because they are both within me. I love many things: the sky on a clear night with all the stars showing me the infinite nature that is within each of us; the innocence of children, the wonder of youth; the wellspring of goodness that resides within the human heart and compels us toward justice. And it is because of love, because of a need for justice, because I believe we are all entitled to human rights, that we deserve to live and thrive as individuals and as a collective–because of love, I feel anger. When I see injustice, I feel anger. When I see selfishness, greed, I feel anger. When I watch my country do the exact opposite of what it professes that it does, when I see it suppress freedom and advocate profit over people, when I’ve watched it deliver death to foreign populations in the name of freedom and liberty since I was a teenager, I feel angry.

I don’t want to be depressed. I shouldn’t; I have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In order to heal this depression, I need to face this anger. I need to use it to construct something better than what I’ve been offered. This anger is a face of love; I know that now, and knowing that, I can move forward.

Head Against Wall: Notes on Loneliness, Immorality, and Despair

The loneliness comes from despair and not having anyone share that despair. It is in the despair–over the cruelty of a communal life lived without justice, without morals, without substance; all of which strips life of meaning–that I feel so alone.

It’s incredibly difficult to share depression with anyone. People don’t want to hear it. It’s too burdensome; there is no acceptable way to express that despair. People do not want to be honest with each other, except in the most exceptional of relationships. Our social structure is based on superficiality and ignorance of self and others. This is a terrible environment in which to be human.

And I guess this is why people write, why I write–because it is a form of communication free from the conventional rules of social etiquette. Writing allows me to escape the bonds of social conformity, to bypass the borders that keep me from communicating what I need to communicate–anguish.

It is anguish to live daily in a society that is based on economic expediency, where economic relationships supersede all others. This is a profoundly inhuman way to live, with the necessities of human beings subordinated to economics. The immorality of such a system is self-evident, which makes existing inside of it so agonizing. The system is sacrosanct. It cannot be deconstructed, because to dismantle the system means the disintegration of the environment–not the natural environment, but the economic and social environment that supports all the biological functions of the human animal, but none of the intellectual and spiritual functions. The environment is a base materialism, an ethic of consumption.