by Thomas Washington, Jr.
At a glance, it appears that he is Better.
Which means that I have to look closely. I have to see what’s actually in front of me. To hear what is actually said.
His pseudonym—“Flash Knows Best”—is an overt declaration. I’m bringing a paradigm shift for Them Streets, his stage name declares. I’ve seen it all, and I came out smarter than pretty much everyone else. Peep game.
I push the triangle, and the video starts playing.
I peep game.
It takes two minutes and thirty-two seconds to realize that this guy has accidentally called himself gay… which is the last thing he (apparently) wants to do.
I exercise Digital Due Diligence—I watch it several times, and I listen carefully. “Lem’me tell y’all somethin’,” Flash begins. “The only person that have a problem wit’ gay people… are undercover gay people.”
By his logic, right around 1:35… he inadvertently declares himself a homosexual. “I might not go out wit’chu. I might not be seen wit’chu. But I fucks wit’chu.”
Flash has a problem with gay people: doesn’t want to be observed with them, it seems. Therefore, by his reckoning… Flash is gay. He said so.
He didn’t mean to call himself gay; I know that. It’s just one of those hilarious moments—he hadn’t “done the math”, as one of my best friends likes to say.
Flash isn’t gay. Pretty sure of it.
Because I recognize him.
A few things about my best friend:
- he’s a manager
- who will hire a gay guy and
- have drinks in a clique which includes (YET IS NOT LIMITED TO) homosexuals, but
- he’s haunted by this one down-low brother—the guy slipped under my friend’s “gaydar”, chilling with the crew repeatedly whilst all of them were unawares.
My best friend is, essentially… Flash.
This is the part where I trot out all of my gay comrades—where I note how I don’t mind being seen with them, and so-forth.
According to some unwritten code, that’s what I’m supposed to do next—I am now meant to segue; I am now to list a series of positive actions I have taken, and continue to take—to expose my “Better”. I am cleared, of course, to speak on Facebook pic filters; to talk about flags. Rainbow flags, in this case. Flags, and marches.
I refuse. Out of hand.
Okay; fine. I’ll touch on one of those. Just the one.
Let’s talk about flags for a second.
I was in front of the South Carolina State House quite a bit last year.
After Dylann Roof shot nine of us in a Charleston church, quite a few Americans decided that his favorite flag needed to be removed from the state capitol’s grounds… and some decided that the one flag wasn’t enough. Some of us started snatching flags from the private sector—off of vehicle antennae; off of lawns; from porch banisters; from pale and trembling hands.
Often, these captured Confederate flags were burned.
Sometimes, people got hurt. Arrested.
There are levels to the activism which Dylann Storm Roof’s murders catalyzed. For a lot of the people I’ve met, the “Charleston Massacre” caused a lot of ideas (and ideals) to shine sharp and bright. Some have, subsequently, been partially blinded by the specific mission statements of up-and-running, firmly established organizations.
I know a few blacktivists, for instance, who think that Humanity’s only enemy is what Roof pledged fealty to: White Supremacy. You can’t convince them otherwise,
either—if you try for too long, you will eventually be considered a COINTELPRO-style agent.
For others, the enemy is the ever-nebulous Racism.
The most Orwellian moments in my adult life: watching the online definitions of that word change. This was in the days and nights following Ferguson; after young Mike Brown was gunned down by a cop; after he was left in the streets for four hours like a buck made roadkill. Quite a few of us weighed in on the troubling event—on the merits of the shooting, on the merits of Mike, on the merits of The Race Card.
To argue well, we used search engines. We hyperlinked in threads to make our points; we were moved to use the definitions of “racist” and “racism” quite a bit. I’m the guy who won’t go with one dictionary, though; I’ll check the ponderous tome that’s sitting at my three-o’clock, even as I type, and I’ll fuse that with everything from Wikipedia entry(-ies) to crowd-sourced compendia rife with Trade Language. (For a while, online edits for “race” and “racism” occurred multiple times in a given afternoon. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken multitudinous screenshots as these meanings evolved; perhaps they will end up being the examples, in my lifetime, of truly vigorous linguistic debate. I think it’s safe to assert that the internet can be touched by the poisonous as well as the virtuous, and dictionaries are a drop in the digital pond: one minute, a site’s contributor could turn me into a Racist. In the sixty seconds, an OP’s assuring me I am merely Prejudiced again.) It was eery to bear witness to that tug-of war, and perhaps it was most unsettling because Loaded Terms need to have an agreed-upon definition. More than most words, maybe.
I have made the acquaintance of people whose post-Roof epiphanies can be summed up in this wise: Classism. We’re at war with the wealthy elite; the poor folks are being butted against one another by malign puppeteers of means. Always.
I suppose there are elements of truth in all of these things. Those who have awakened into activism… are awakened by the nearest ideologue. Or the loudest. Or the most eloquent.
For me, the enemy is Inhumanity.
My thoughts turn to the Dalit of India—the so-called “untouchables”, who suffer more oppression at the hands of upper-caste monsters than I could write about in this scant space. Hazing; immolation; rape; segregation.
Our constant, the world over, is this: The _______ people are not good enough to be _______.
Fill in those blanks with 1) whomever you like and 2) whatever they aren’t good enough for… but we don’t have to guess at what Flash would scrawl. As he revealed over the course of two minutes (and some change), Flash’s version of the statement would end up reading, The gay people are not good enough to be goin’ out wit’ or seen wit’.
And that’s supposed to be some form of progressive thought.
I mentioned it before, but I’ll mention it again: I recognized Flash. In my best friend, certainly… but also in the activists to my left and my right.
The Black Supremacists? To the last, the ones I’ve come to know personally grew up in the Christianized Western Hemisphere, so the archetype of Homosexual Sinner has transferred rather neatly; has been repackaged as the Atrazine Effect—it is now part of White Supremacy’s attempt to Feminize And Weaken Our Men.
Black Lives Matter? Merely look to their critics, within and without, to discover the narrative that The Gay Agenda has somehow coopted the civil rights movement in toto.
There are exceptions, of course… but I have to confess that my empirical evidence paints a bleak picture.
Because sometimes, a given Flash Knows Worse.
As far as he’s concerned, a gay individual is definitely “not cool”. No matter what he’d have us believe in his PSA, it’s as if… well, it’s akin to India’s treatment of their “untouchables”, isn’t it? He’s a human, behaving in a distinctly inhumane manner. With other humans.
Yeah: his brand of Inhumanity is different from Dylann Storm Roof’s. Those differences are important to acknowledge–it could easily be said that his disdain is not an identical (or even fraternal) twin to the infamous murderer’s.
Perhaps they could be cousins, though.
A kinship of blood.
In a way, the double standard is mind-boggling to behold. Among civil rights advocates, especially; for, among our number, intolerance and/or inhumanity is outright antithetical. Paradoxical, even—a contradiction so deep, in fact, that it beggars description.
And honestly, the implications are terrifying.
Think about it: we are the warriors. We stay the course. I would argue that the most important metric of all (for revolutionaries) is Perseverance. When measured for said, I’m talking about humans who rate as the best. We may be knocked down, occasionally, but we’ll defy gravity: before hitting the ground, we rise anew.
Yeah. Not a lot of quit in these parts. And, unless we identify (and annihilate) them, our demons are coming with us.
“When and if you win,” I want to murmur, leaning toward these fellow freedom fighters, “I wonder who will save the world from you.”
Thomas Washington has been writing and drawing since he could hold a Bic pen. According to his little brother, he started telling stories even earlier.
Curated by Phillip B. Williams.
Phillip B. Williams is a Chicago, Illinois native. He is the author of the book of poems Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016). He’s also co-authored a book of poems and conversations called Prime (Sibling Rivalry Press). He is a Cave Canem graduate and received scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference and a 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Anti-, Callaloo, Kenyon Review Online, Poetry, The Southern Review, West Branch and others. Phillip received his MFA in Writing from the Washington University in St. Louis. He is the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry and the 2015-2017 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University.
His book of poetry Thief In The Interior is currently available for order.