aaron overfield

You A F—ing Lie

Some folks just can’t leave well enough alone or let comatose dogs stay comatose. Some folks must work really hard to remain so willfully ignorant. They must go out of their way to miss all the points in such a painfully obstinate manner. Worst of all, some folks must believe the lies so deeply that they’re just begging to be told point blank:

Zoe Saldana, you a f—ing lie.

If there ever were a case of completely, utterly, totally missing all the points, Zoe is the case. If someone Googles “missing the point” it should just take them straight to Zoe’s IMDB page.

Her word craft in Allure was such a display of masterfully, intentionally performed deflection that there’s almost nothing anyone can say to get through to her. Almost.

The way to (hopefully) get through to her is by not sitting idly by and letting her deflection slide. The way to (hopefully) get through to her is to call her out on her convoluted bullshit.

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“There’s no one way to be black,” she says quietly and slowly, clearly choosing her words carefully. “I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”

Correct. There is no one way to be Black. It’s unfortunate that so many people attacked Zoe’s Blackness; however, there were just as many people pointing out that this isn’t about Zoe’s Blackness, it’s about Nina Simone’s Blackness. It’s always been about Nina’s Blackness. This is about Nina Simone.

Nina was unrelenting in her Blackness at a time when it was dangerous to be so. She was so radically Black that it was detrimental to her career and her marriage. Nina was MISSISSIPPI GODDAM Black; TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED, AND BLACK Black; STRANGE FRUIT Black; FOUR WOMEN Black.

Nina wasn’t just Black though. Even in her own words she reveals a reality where she was a certain type of Black. A Blacker shade of Black:

“I’m the kind of colored girl who looks like everything white people despise or have been taught to despise.”

So while Zoe is Black in the way she knows how to be, Nina was Black in the only way she was allowed to be. Trust Nina’s own testimony: It wasn’t a fun way. It wasn’t a kind way. It wasn’t an easy way.

It’s Nina’s Blackness that matters. Because this is about NINA SIMONE.

Nina’s Blackness matters. It mattered to her because it mattered to the world that oppressed her. It directly and adversely affected her life. She wrote about it; she spoke about it; she sang about it.

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Nina’s skin matters. Her hair matters. Her nose matters.

By not acknowledging Nina’s Blackness, everyone involved in Cynthia Mort’s film — not the vocal critics of the film — are the ones that tried to make this about Zoe’s Blackness. They tried to do so through every single choice they made that led to Zoe being cast to play Nina. Their ineptitude and insensitivity tried to make this about Zoe’s Blackness and then they deflected and blamed their faults on the critics.

Of course Zoe is free to define her own Blackness however she sees fit. She’s not free to make Nina’s Blackness about her, thereby marginalizing and minimizing Nina in the same way Nina was marginalized and minimized her entire life. And perhaps because — as she herself has stated in the past — Zoe chooses to be colorblind and to run away from discussions of race and ethnicity, Zoe is unable to distinguish the difference between some people claiming that she’s not “Black enough” from others of us that are saying: NINA’S BLACKNESS MATTERS.

There is such a world of difference between those two perspectives that it might make one wonder why someone incapable of differentiating the two would be involved in making a Nina Simone biopic.

Make it a mantra if you must: NINA’S BLACKNESS MATTERS.

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I Don’t Care Where Men In Dresses Pee (as long as they wear sensible shoes so they can help us hunt down and kill all the child molesters)

How did you learn about sex? This is how I learned about sex:

When I was around seven or eight years old my mother asked her ex-husband to teach me about the birds and bees. Unbeknownst to her at the time, that man had been sexually abusing my older sister Amy for years, starting well before he and my mother separated. (Just for the record and just in case Google is paying attention, the man’s name is Michael William Lundy.)

To teach me about sex, this poor excuse for a man used himself and my sister as real life anatomy dolls. He forced me to touch her; he forced me to touch him; he forced her to touch me; he forced her to touch him; he forced me to watch him touch her. I’m not sure what all transpired because after a certain point my mind stopped functioning. I believe that point was when the sick motherless piece of shit forced me to smell and taste my sister’s vagina. I think at that point my mind shattered into a million pieces and I floated away.

There’s an old, semi-autobiographical book titled “When Rabbit Howls” about a woman that suffered unimaginable abuse as a little girl and subsequently developed a dissociative disorder (back then referred to as “multiple personalities”). I only read the book once and it was a very long time ago, but I remember one part where the author describes the moment her mind shattered into the pieces that became those disparate personalities. “Rabbit” was one of those personalities and all Rabbit did was howl. Rabbit howled from the all pain.

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The Unfriendables

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I know, I know—we all live in the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!” era. I know.

Ain’t nobody got time for someone who’s full of bigotry, hate, and misdirected (in our opinion) rage. Ain’t nobody going to blame you for kicking that kind of negativity to the curb. Ain’t nobody going to say you have to keep enemies (and/or frenemies) around to consume your life or that you must continue to give them access to yourself.

You get to decide for yourself who is unfriendable.

It’s easy to dismiss an act of unfriending because it’s cool to minimize the significance of social networking. We don’t want social networking to mean as much as it does. On the surface it’s superficial; it’s impersonal; it’s too often a façade. On top of all that, it binds the most intimate aspect of human nature—our relationships—to technology in a way that instinctually seems unnatural. We can feel it in our gut. Social networking is a bunch of technobullshit.

Except it’s not. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It is, but it’s also not.

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If This Were Your Revolution

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Much of the language criticizing the tide of revolution in Ferguson indicates a curious misunderstanding of revolt, if not a double standard applied to its participants.

Revolution isn’t convenient or clean. There are no revolution business hours. Revolution isn’t akin to a parade, meant to follow a specific path and schedule. There are no revolution zones.

That’s kind of the whole point of revolution.

Revolution is limitless and boundless. Revolution stays disruptive and destructive. Revolution means fighting and persisting.

Those in disagreement with the revolt in Ferguson can and should still ask themselves this question: What if this were your revolution?

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The Land Where Racism Doesn’t Exist So Black People Need To Stop Being Such Victims

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There are rumors of some mystical realm out there where racism doesn’t exist so black people need to stop being such victims. (Apparently, in this realm there is also a war on religion but Christians aren’t being victims by constantly crying about it.) I keep hearing about this strange, foreign, magical realm, but I’ve never been able to find it. Seriously, they must have that shit more locked down than Narnia.

I cannot find the land where racism doesn’t exist so black people need to stop being such victims. I have genuinely, honestly tried. My mind has done more somersaults than it was worth just trying to find a grain of sand from this new wonderful world. I guess I need a map, unless I can GPS it. Can I GPS it?

Nothing I’m going to say here is radical, new, and hasn’t already been said better. I’ll probably end up offending some—and by some I mean the ones I don’t mean to offend, not the ones I absolutely mean to offend. Some of the hypotheticals I’m going to present may end up sounding racist. Alas, they are only hypotheticals, and they are my heartfelt attempts to find the mysterious land where racism doesn’t exist so black people need to stop being such victims.

As many of you know, I’m the content manager for the estate of Nina Simone. Working for the memory and legacy of Nina Simone is one of the most—if not the most—gratifying jobs I’ve had. It’s something I could do all day every day and it never feels like work.

Part of that job includes occasionally posting via social networking. Seeing as how it’s the legacy of Nina Simone we’re talking about here, it should come as no surprise that many of the posts deal with issues of race. The “it should come as no surprise” bit is important here because for some people it is surprising and upsetting.

There are people who believe pointing out instances of racism or even discussing issues involving race somehow perpetuates racism. Some of these people apparently follow the Nina Simone social networking accounts. I say apparently because they make sure to comment on how race shouldn’t matter, how we shouldn’t be talking about race and/or differentiating between the different races, and how focusing on race instigates more racism.

I’m not joking.
I’m not joking about the fact that they say these things or that they are following the NINA SIMONE social networking accounts. I know, I know…I must be joking. No one who has even cursory knowledge about Nina Simone—about what Nina Simone stood for, about what Nina Simone sang about—would ever say such things. Sadly, I’m really not joking. I promise.

It’s worth pointing out that these are mostly well-intentioned folks. They are optimistic and so badly want the world to be colorblind that they believe pretending race doesn’t exist is the only way to achieve total equality. We cannot fault them for wanting to achieve equality. They are good people. Misguided and misinformed, but good and decent.

There is this other faction of society though that believes similar things, but they are not well-intentioned and they really don’t give a goddam about equality.

According to them, racism doesn’t exist so black people should stop being such victims. If black people would simply stop being such victims, work hard, be accountable, act responsibly, and behave — poof — equality. It’s not the system that’s broken or needs to change, it’s black people. If they stop acting so….so black….problem solved.

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WWWPD? (What Would White People Do?)

(photo by Sid Hastings)

(photo by Sid Hastings)

It’s disorienting (but not unwelcome) to see tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people hashtagging Ferguson. It’s disorienting because I was raised in St. Louis; as a teen I worked at Zisser Tire and Auto, one of the first establishments looted; I was in the St. Louis City Public School system; as a social worker, I worked throughout St. Louis in neighborhoods just like Ferguson. St. Louis always has been and will always be home to me, no matter how far away I move or how long I stay away.

The activism is disorienting because St. Louisians are fully aware of the state of race relations in our area. It’s nothing new to any of us. What is transpiring is of no surprise to most residents. The current situation is an extreme manifestation of daily St. Louis life.

I’ve lived other places in the US, even on opposite ends—from the District of Columbia to Florida to Washington. Anyone who has lived in St. Louis and relocated to another area will more often than not attest to the same thing: race relations in St. Louis are distinct in their acrimony. Distinct is an understatement.

In many neighborhoods, segregation and racial tension in St. Louis is palpable. While it is understandable for many to argue that this is the case across the board, again I have to argue that St. Louisians understand the degree to which this is doubly, triply, quadruply true in St. Louis. Race relations in St. Louis are perpetually bursting at the seams in volatility. While we may have become desensitized to it, we can’t deny it.

It is no accident or coincidence that Ferguson, Missouri is the epicenter of the most racially-charged civil unrest our country has witnessed in over a decade—or longer. It is not random or unexpected. It is not mysterious or unpredictable.

However, based on the media coverage the situation is receiving (a.k.a. not receiving), one would be surprised it is even taking place. Not only would one be surprised it is taking place, but also one would be shocked by the proportion of civil unrest that has been occurring for days.

(photo by Koda Cohen - @kodacohen)

(photo by Koda Cohen – @kodacohen)

One of the obvious reasons mainstream media is failing to cover the level of civil unrest currently taking place in Ferguson is because of the population in question. Let’s ignore the impetus for the unrest for a moment and ask ourselves a simple question: If this level of civil unrest were occurring in a neighborhood with a different population, would the media be ignoring it or accept being blocked from reporting on it?

For St. Louisians, let’s be more specific in this rhetorical: If this level of civil unrest were occurring in Chesterfield, would the reaction of the media (local and national) be the same?

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Unpacking My Suicidal Ideation

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When I worked in suicide intervention more than one person asked me how in the world we talked people out of committing suicide.

We didn’t talk anyone out of committing suicide. That wasn’t our job. Our job was to keep people engaged and talking long enough to get them help; to get another person on-scene and in the room with them; to get someone physically with them who could ensure their safety and monitor their wellbeing.

There’s no such thing as talking people out of killing themselves.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I know there are folks out there who are pretty harsh when it comes to suicide. Many think it’s cowardly, selfish, misguided, wrong, a sign of failure, and/or a sin. No one is going to argue anyone out of those opinions. I imagine it’s a gut reaction borne of innate self-preservation.

I would be lying if I said I don’t understand suicide on a deeply personal level and not only because I worked with the mentally ill population for over a decade. I understand it because I don’t remember a time after the age of twelve when I haven’t had suicidal thoughts — from intense to fleeting. In my experience, being suicidal is a lot like addiction: while one might overcome their addiction and stop using, they will always be an addict. Similarly, while one might overcome suicidal ideation and stop wanting to die, they will always have a suicidal predisposition.

There are myriad reasons for every act people commit, including suicide. It’s pointless to talk as if we can ever know for certain why a person took their own life. The decision is as complex and particular as we are all individual.

I can say this from personal experience: sometimes we get exhausted. 

For many of us, life is a constant mental and emotional struggle. (Maybe it’s a constant mental and emotional struggle for us all.) Life is a fight that has us battling daily. For some of us, the fight takes its toll. We get exhausted. We get tired. We don’t have any fight left in us. We no longer feel the fight is worth fighting.

This isn’t to say suicide is acceptable, normal, or right. It’s to say suicide is understandable, human, and personal. There may be nothing more personal than suicide.

Stigma has us all clamoring to paint suicide with the convenient “mental illness” brush. The depression brush. Sadly, it’s not that simple. Some take their own life because they are in unbearable pain from a terminal disease. Some take their own life because they can’t face consequences. Some take their own life because they can’t cope. Some take their own life because they want control.

The mental illness brush—the depression brush—isn’t always applicable. Convenient maybe but not always applicable. That brush also ignores one glaring reality: there are people who commit suicide because their mental health is improving or because they have become sober. Increased stability can lead to increased insight which can lead to increased self-criticism. Sobriety can alleviate self-medication which can unbury overwhelming symptoms.

If the suicide of Robin Williams shows us anything it’s that even someone who seemingly has it all can suffer and suffer immensely. The human condition is inescapable. Wealth, fame, and high regard don’t shield anyone from being human. No one is immune, not even the man that provides the most laughs.

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