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Hands Up

Testaments From The Policed, part 3

In this series, we look at excerpts from Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments, a collection of ten-minute monologues commissioned by Keith Josef Adkins of The New Black Fest.

Eric Holmes’ Walking Next to Michael Brown (Confessions of a Light-Skinned Half-Breed)
Setting: My dead grandfather in his living room watching TV.

He’s wearing a robe.

And beneath his room is a black shirt which says, in white letters:


He rises.

Turns off the TV.

Goes to his den.

Smokes a cigar

And composes this response:

Dear Mr. Rose,

I’m writing in response to your most recent guest, Eric Holmes, who shared his thoughts on Race and America. Mr. Holmes is my grandson. And as a Light Skinned Half-Breed I’m afraid he could never, red hat on or off, be murdered because of his quote-unquote “Blackness.” How can a bougie from the burbs contribute to a serious conversation about the crisis of the Black Male Body?

We’re talking about a young man who, while living in New York City, was a 25-minute path train ride away from his Black family in East Orange and saw them a total of 5 times. That’s 5 times in 7 years. This is the same man who has the audacity to check “African-American” when he applied to the University of Iowa—that’s right!—I-o-wa—where he continues to peddle his soft-shoe “post-blackness” on White academics who don’t know any better. And let’s not forget how many times he’s let a White bigot use the word “nigger” in his presence without the slightest protest. How can he? How can he protest when deep down he knows that he can’t speak for a group who he only visits 5 times in 7 years—so he can collect a few bawdy antidotes for his next dinner party. “Leave the protesting to White Liberals,” he thinks. “Let them with nothing to lose summon the bravery.” And I’m sure it’s with equal antipathy that he reacted to the news of Michael Brown because Black America is not my grandson’s experience; it’s his material.

Just look how often he visited his grandmother’s apartment in Harlem to fill up on nostalgia for a time he was never a part of. And then he’d hail a cab downtown—back to the White world—a world where he has the freedom to go to a party in Brooklyn and choose, yes, choose when to drop hints of his inheritance when he thinks a pretty white girl will be charmed by the novelty of humping an octoroon.

Maybe this is a good place to point out that all of Mr. Holmes’s girlfriends, much like his father’s wives (who are the subject of my next tirade) were White. This isn’t surprising. My grandson’s mixed-race offers White girls the perfect opportunity to rebel without rebellion. He’s punk rock without the mohawk. How eagerly I can imagine his college girlfriend racing to the phone to call her mother. And after she tells mommy that her new boyfriend is a Half-Breed, Mommy asks if she received the flannel pillowcases she ordered.

This change of subject is about the extent of my grandson’s experience with racism. Racial profiling is not an issue of nuance. We’re talking about what people see. We’re talking about what an armed police officer sees, sometimes from a hundred yards away, in a moment of crisis. And this is a police officer who is trained and paid to assume the worst case scenario and to act quickly. Officer Wilson did not murder Michael Brown after a long and rigorous exchange on the ontological complexity of Race and America.

No. He saw black. He shot black.


Luther Holmes


Excerpt from Dennis Allen II’s How I Feel
A few days into the protests in Ferguson, I was at my girlfriend’s apartment, lying on her bed, watching the news coverage and following the Twitter updates. We both had been following the events closely for the past few days on almost a 24/7 vigilance and the room was filled to the ceiling with our angst and anger, fear and depression; so we decided to take a break. Turn off the television and go offline. We sat silently for a second and then she turned to me and said, “Baby we’ve never talked about how to handle if we're out together and the police harass you. Like what do you think I should do?”

I’m looking at a woman I love, a woman for whom as cliché as it sounds, I would literally give my life for. I look at her and I see and feel her fear and it is a fear that I am all too familiar with; it is a fear that I was introduced to at the very moment of my conception. Surrounded by it for nine months and nurtured and loved unconditionally by it my entire life. This fear is all too familiar.

My mother has shared with me on a couple of occasions that when she was pregnant with me she would find herself praying that I wouldn’t be a boy. Each time she admits this she cries tears heavy with the burden of guilt that only a mother can fully comprehend. She cries tears filled with a helplessness that only someone born into a world that doesn’t value Black life can truly know. She said, “I prayed that you wouldn’t be a boy because I knew that from the time you were born, you’d be born with a bull’s-eye on your back.” This fear is all too familiar.

So when I look at my girlfriend and she asks what’s the best strategy to keep me safe from police, from keeping them from violating my rights; keep them from injuring and possibly killing another unarmed citizen because that’s what I would be. I don’t carry any weapons, never broke any jail worthy laws, but I am obviously Black and that has been reason enough to kill me for hundreds of years now.

I’m not interested in giving you a history lesson, there are scholars out there way more knowledgeable than I am; don’t want to talk politics or sociology, economics or psychology; again, there are social justice professionals, activists, and doctors that have given lecture after lecture, have written book after book, blog after blog—tons of information out there that can help you contextualize this world we live in. Google it. I want to share how I feel.

I think about Mike Brown. I think about him being shot to death and then left in the street for four hours, uncovered for the entire neighborhood to see. I think about the countless other names—the ones we know and the ones undocumented—beaten, tased, violated, shot, murdered at the hands of our so-called servers and protectors. I think about my girlfriend and my mother worried night after night—hoping and praying that when I go out I come home because they know I’m the prey and it’s open season out there. Love and Worry seem to always go hand in hand singing and skipping down the street together. But it is a very specific “worry,” the fear that comes with knowing that you’re not protected by those that are hired to protect you. Not only that, but they are targeting you, and it’s illegal to protect yourself against those hired to protect you.

So how I feel?

Fuck you is how I feel. I know that’s not a very sophisticated or in-depth response but, fuck you. I’ll write something eloquent for another play.



Photo: "Protesters with signs in Ferguson" by Jamelle Bouie. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

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Those two pieces were outstanding. I only wish I could have attended and heard the discussion. Thank you Keith Josef Adkins!