Twelve years ago I enrolled in ‘Introduction to the Modern World’ and ‘American Science Fiction’ at Millikin University in Decatur, IL. I can easily say this was the day that I started my journey to freedom. My intent isn’t to trivialize slavery by comparing my story to those who were stolen from homes and sold into forced servitude, made to labor in insufferable conditions day and night for the benefit of their masters. I make allusion to my journey to freedom as a path from the unknown unknowing of the unknown to an understanding of things not seen and a desire for some understanding of the unknowns that are and are not. I remember writing, that year, “They say that ignorance is bliss, and power corrupts,/ time is money; what happens when your hour is up?” My question: If not knowing that you don’t know that you don’t know is bliss, and knowledge, as they say, is power, and that power translates into money [or riches, in the traditional sense], then how much time does one need to be[come] empowered? Even more, is being empowered any better than “bliss”? The mere asking of the question takes the questioner out of the realm of possibly knowing the answer. The truly ignorant never bother to wonder.
From that point forward I have been left to answer the remaining query: What happens when [my] hour is up? At some point between twelve years ago and now I read and memorized the poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling, and have kept the last stanza close to heart.
“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”
The final quatrain, particularly, is resonant, regarding my question of time. To “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run” is about the best that I could come up with in response to a question of my own mortality on the quest to empowerment, my quest toward freedom. I would waste no more time blustering with bliss.
Twelve years after the pivotal moment I enrolled in those two courses I found myself moving from Illinois to South Carolina in pursuit of more. This move is what inspires this collection. As I left the Land of Lincoln I had no clue I was moving to within a half mile of John Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation. In tow, I had my bookmarked copy of “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”, and within a week I’d receive Amir “Questlove” Thompson’s “Mo’ Meta Blues” as a birthday gift. These were as much a part of my introduction to The South as Bojangles’ Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Cheerwine, “Football Jesus” and roadside billboards advertising moonshine. At the time I was settling in to my new environment the country was awaiting a verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, which seemed to be presented as a posthumous trial of Trayvon Martin as much as it was of the defendant. He was found not guilty, and I started writing notes for what’s collected here. Additionally, I found myself in the audiences at two remarkable movies in those early months: “Fruitvale Station” and “12 Years a Slave”. Both have remained with me, and have undoubtedly been a great influence on my perspective while navigating this new terrain, but “12 Years a Slave” has been particularly resonant because of Solomon Northup’s personal journey, leaving his home, presumably to join a band of entertainers [he was a musician. “Curious,” some would say his talent was.]. Under the auspices of fellowship and financial gain, his hosts drugged him, and when he woke he found himself sold into slavery. His is a startling tale, to say the very least, of the brutality and inhumanity endured by him, his brethren and his sisteren. I have been responding to my thoughts on both films all semester.
As RCID 8010 ["Histories of Rhetorics"] began, and I experienced this place, my personal readings and films I watched along with the required readings for the course, I continued responding to the world and the words. Those responses are contained here.
Stream or Download “Term One: A Mixtape”