I found the Black version of “West Side Story”

It is “Kicks”

I just watched an independent movie. For once I felt exactly what I heard so many people describe before. A deep connection to the movie. I felt like the movie described one of my potential life in a dimension not too distant. I felt that the characters were distant relatives. I felt that where the movie was filmed could have been a version of where I could have been brought up. I had so many different feelings over 90 minutes… I get why this movie got 84% on rotten tomatoes, with a probably a very low budget. I get why it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. That movie is “Kicks”. Here is some info from rotten tomatoes:

In Justin Tipping’s feature debut Kicks, nothing is as simple as it seems. Fifteen-year-old Brandon longs for a pair of the freshest sneakers that money can buy; assuming that merely having them on his feet will help him escape the reality of being poor, neglected by the opposite sex and picked on by everyone — even his best friends. Working hard to get them, he soon finds that the titular shoes have instead made him a target after they are promptly snatched by local hood, Flaco. Seemingly the embodiment of menace, Flaco harbors complexities of his own that will be revealed when Brandon goes on a mission to retrieve his stolen sneakers with his two best friends in tow. The film transcends a deceptively traditional hero’s journey to deliver an entertaining and sobering look at the realities of inner-city life, the concept of manhood and the fetishization of sneaker culture. Visually and thematically rich, with an amazing soundtrack of both hip-hop classics and Bay Area favorites, Kicks creates an authentic and original portrait of a young man drowning in the expectations of machismo.

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/kicks_2016

Why am I calling it the Black version of West Side Story? (Frankly, it could have been any other classic mainstream movie). How often I went to watch independent films, with very high scores on rotten tomatoes and felt like poking my eyes would have been less painful. And that is even when moves come highly recommended by great friends! I thought people were doing that to me by malice. Now I understand that they have a different worldview. What they see, feel, hear is based on their worldview, their experiences and to some extent their expectations. I need to “Kicks” on some of my non-initiated friends and study them very carefully. Well, I won’t do it, but instead, I am ready to bet a whole quarter that it would go as follow:

  • Is that his natural hair?
  • What are Air Jordan 1 BRED? and why are they so expensive?
  • Why are the shoes wrapped in cling film?
  • Why he does not want to play basketball with basketball shoes?
  • Where is the police? why are people being beaten up for no reasons?
  • Is that Flaco guy a thug or a caring father?
  • Why is there so much intimidation and bullying?
  • It does not make sense to risk your life for a pair of shoes?
  • Why are his friends following him, when they know they are risking their life, and it does not make sense?

Let me shed some light through my experience. Actually, I can not. The same way my friends cannot explain to me why some emotional scenes are having such an impact on them… I can not tell how likely and easy it is to do something stupid for your best friends. I get it that it is dumb… because it is! But your friends are everything in a particular environment. They are your life insurance, and you are theirs…

For parents, another way to express that feeling is through the love and dedication you have for your kids! There is probably no way to understand how much parents love their children, except if you have some.

Watch “Kicks” regardless of your background. You may or may not feel it. If you do, this is probably once of the first time! so enjoy. If you don’t, you will have experience how culture changes your worldview.

When to open your mouth…

… and when to shut it

Today I could not hold it anymore. I had to say what I thought to an ex-classmate. I had enough and was frustrated that no one else objected to the borderline sectarian opinions. But what does it achieve?

We are a group of 70 people in a WhatsApp group. The group exists for 6 years. We talk about everything. It has been a great source of knowledge and a fantastic way to look at situations from different lenses. The 70 people in the group are without exception bright. Moreover, they come from all other the world and probably represent all the different walks of life.  Ask a question about Greek philosophers or latest trends in Taiwan, someone will have informed insight.  

What went wrong? Other the past couple of months, just like the whole world, conversations started to be more and more about politics. Not just the “classics”, like Trump. The group discussed refugees & migrants in Europe, Brazil presidential elections. That was all good at first for me. We are so different that we have loads of different opinions. But as the conversations were progressing something did not sit right with me.  I could not put my finger on it though. I was not even sure if something was wrong with the conversation or if it was me being in a foul mood for any random reasons. After all, I believe in people having different perspectives, and I am used to respecting them (in my honest opinion), even the wild ones. So how come every time I saw the WhatsApp group notification I started to boil from inside even before reading any new messages.

What is the problem? There are more than one:

  1. Using smoking mirrors to hide your views: Having narrow views and opinions standing for them for what they are. I respect that. I even recognize if you debate and defend your beliefs.  What bothered me is when you pretend your views are not what they are using a series of smoking mirrors.  Especially when it seems that you are using that crafty language to confuse people about your views. The rest of the group and me is no longer debating; this is manipulating at best and lying through your teeth at worst. 
  2. People are jumping on the illiberal bandwagon:  As soon as it became clearer that we were on the edge of intolerant comments, I expected the whole group to jump in and expose the flaws. Wrong. People preferred to deflect, minimize the comments. 
  3. Some & I pretend to ignore the situation: You know when you stumble upon two people fighting in the street, and there are already people looking at them struggling. Nobody is doing anything and as a result, you are also doing nothing. Well, that was the rest of the group and me. I think I was mad at myself for being a bystander for too long. And the reasons why I was a bystander were even worse. How the group perceives you may in some situation have an impact on your future. By default, I, and others perhaps, could tend to wait for things to pass and not disturb the peace. 
  4. Crossing the line: Free speech and opinions have limits. When you start to casually talk about serious issues as if it is not a thing, it should raise a red flag.

I opened my mouth, what’s the point? I know and so should you too by now, that the best way to get someone to change their point of view is to first show empathy, build rapport and engage in a dialogue.  Flat out telling people they are wrong almost never make them change their opinion.

So I initially felt awful. Because I lost the opportunity to productively engage with someone whose achievements I value.  I also disturbed the peace in a well-oiled group. And eventually also burnt some business connections.

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”. I see this message from Kaepernick every day at the moment on my way to the office.  And it reminds me that I need to stand for what I believe. In this situation, it should not have been about me or my feelings. It should have been about what I believe and pushing that cause forward.

Black Pete in the Netherlands

What the F is going on?

I have been dreading this moment ever since we moved to the Netherlands earlier this year: The 6th of December, Saint Nicholas Day.  Putting it simply, Saint Nicholas Day in the Netherlands is the equivalent of Christmas.  On the eve of Saint Nicholas Day children receive presents.  So yes, this is a big deal for kids. They are looking forward to it every year. And although this is not part of our tradition to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, everybody is talking about it and you can see signs of the celebration everywhere in town.

Now you are probably wondering, why are you such a grinch Claude. Christmas and its equivalent cannot be bad. This is underestimating the power of racists. Why? Picture this:  Saint Nicholas (Father Christmas) is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful Moorish dresses commonly known as Black Pete.  Yeah, Black faces are either considered racist around the world. But not in the Netherlands. 

A court ruling was issued today, 16th of November: TV broadcasters will not be stopped from showing the character’s “racist characteristics” on TV.  One broadcaster even justified airing images of Black Pete because “some Petes go down the chimney a lot, therefore they turn properly black.” Look once again at the cover photo. How many times do you have to go up and down a chimney for your skin to be so black, for your hair to curl, and your lips to triple in size and get bright red?  This is beyond stupid, yet a lot of Dutch people see nothing wrong with Black Piet.  Let’s say that the chimney can curl your hair, mask your whole face with the blackest soot and inflate your lips… let’s say that this is even remotely possible… Why do you have to be so realistic with a fictional character that can be at the same time everywhere in the Netherlands and give presents or kidnap naughty kids – for real this is part of the story.  Santa Claus goes up and down chimney with a huge belly and is sparkly clean, and that does not bother any kids in the world!

This is so messed up that even the United Nations have decided to speak out: The UN has called on the Netherlands to change a character that it said had been “experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”

So what to do? We initially planned to leave the country and avoid seeing any Black Petes, but this craziness lasts a long time. It started on the 14th of November and will go until at least the 6th of December.  First, we had hope. Especially when my son’s school announced that there will be no Black Petes, only soot Pete

Soot Pete example

If you tell me that this guy went down the chimney, I’ll trust you. His hair is messy but not curly, and his face just has soot. I would still ask how come his white neck fan is so clean… but you know…

But, it would be too easy if everyone had half a brain.  There are still Black Petes dolls in a few stores in town. My wife saw them first on her way to the library. Let me present evidence 1

Black Petes in our city

What did she decide to do? She went in and talked to the shop owner and asked “what can your customers do for you to remove Black Petes from the window”.  This sentence and approach in itself is a good case to review for negotiations:

  • Be the change you want to see: Don’t complain about it, do something against it.  It only takes a few seconds. And like in all negotiations, if you do not ask, you will never get.
  • Say the unexpected: The owners probably expected her to complain, be mad about it and repeat what they have heard already 100 times.  Instead, catch them by surprise. Make them feel awkward.
  • Be solution focused: Double whammy. Not only you surprised them, now they are really confused when you are only focusing on potential solutions (next year we are planning to carry appropriate soot Pete dolls to give away to shop owners – yes, leaving them no excuses)

The great surprise my wife got? on her way back from the library, one of the 3 stores she stopped at removed the dolls. This gives me hope, even though the best school in town, which is right at the end of our street allegedly had a primary school teacher say “we are not only white on the outside, but also on the inside” in reference to the school having only white pupils. But that is for a different blogpost.

Comment below what you think should be done about Black Pete.

Why I continue to write this blog…

It has to do with Charlamagne Tha God

Charlamagne Tha God  he is a successful radio presenter. He has the #1 hip-hop radio show on the planet, the “Breakfast Club”. He is also the author of 2 best sellers: Black Privileges and Shook One.  I read both books in no time! They both are probably the most influential self-development books I have read. Up there with the books from the great Tony Robbins.  Scrap that, better than Tony in my eyes. Why? Because I can more easily relate to Charlamagne. Because he is Black, true, but also because we both seem to have experienced similar experiences. Well, you know… kinda… because he is a multi-millionaire and I am nowhere close.  The other thing is that he keeps it 100.  He talks about something that people do not talk much about in the Black community: Anxiety and how therapy helps.

If you grew up in a Black environment, you probably heard things like: “Why would I go to a shrink, I am not crazy” “Praise God and everything will be fine” “shrinks are only there to steal your money”.  Ask yourself, do you know a Black person who has seen a therapist (or talked about it)?  I did not until Charlamagne.  His stories were so vivid, that I decided to look into options to take care of my mind, the same way I take care of my body.

I train hard at the gym. 3 to 4 times a week. Not 3 reps of bench pressing and spending the rest of the hour chatting to my friends.  A good training is when I feel on the edge of passing out. I have a trainer, I am surrounded by people who are just as motivated and hold me accountable. This is how I give my best.

Now compare this, to what I do for my mental health. True I meditate. At best 3 times a week for 15 min.  True, I belong to a Mastermind group where we talk about deep topics every month. True, I have the most supportive spouse who helps me to express myself and supports me. True, I have wonderful friends I can talk to.  Yet, if I compare it to my ultra-strict training and eating habits, I am nowhere close.

Why does it matter and how does it relates to negotiation. By now, you understand that this blog is more than simple bargaining.  This is about how can you be your best self, have a clear mind and make the right moves every day!  So here is how therapy can help:

  1. We all suffer in some ways from PTSD. If you are like me, you probably thought that PTSD was for war veterans.  No it is not.  Many things can cause trauma.  Like seeing people beaten up real bad for no apparent reasons, or people shot with a bb gun again for no reason, or a gang setting fire to a bus so that the rival gang is stuck and beaten up.  These are things I have seen. And I thought it was no big deal. In hindsight, the way I scan rooms I enter, the extra awareness I have in many situations to this day probably come from these experiences.
  2. Talking to a therapist sounds healthy.  Better to prevent a problem than to cure it.  If everything is great today, excellent.  Still, you probably have some crap from the past that you never dealt with. That you compartmentalized somewhere. Again, around me, people who could just move on where considered tough. I am now convinced that tough people pay the price sooner or later.  And what does it mean anyway to be tough? To be heartless like some of the old school heroes in movies? Rather, I believe in what Charlamagne quoted “to share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable, to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength”.

I am looking for a therapist now. Preferably through an app and that would not cost a crazy amount.  Ideally, I would like to match what I spend on my body on my mind. Not that easy… It seems we are a long way to have a therapist at each street corner, like we do for gyms.  Still, I will try and invest in myself, my whole self. You should too.

 

PRIVILEGES

The good, the bad and the ugly

I’ve been thinking more about privileges since I got my first child, 4 years ago.  It has been a real journey:

  • THE GOOD: I want my kids to benefit from what I have worked so hard to build.  This is giving him a head start.
  • THE BAD: My kids having a head start means some others will be at a disadvantage compared to them.
  • THE UGLY: I am quick to argue that some people with privileges should let them go, while I am working hard to create privileges for my family.  It feels like I do not walk the talk. Not a nice feeling for something who strive to be authentic, 100%.

Let’s rewind this.  First the definition of privilege.  The best way is this video that went viral: 

It is all about the head start you get based on your life situation.  On top, consider this comment that someone wrote on the video.  That is the sharp point for me:

Okay now do the race with blindfolds! Let’s tell all the black kids that there are obstacles in front of them, at every step of the race encourage them to go slow or that it is too hard and dangerous to proceed. Now tell all the white kids that the way is clear and you can go as fast as you like, encourage them the whole way and tell them to run as fast as they can and reach their full potential.” 

Other people having some form of a head start is part of life – unfortunately – and it won’t go away.  What should not be a fact of life, is the people starting already behind being held back by school counsellors telling them to aim low, or by the world showing them that it is not worth trying.

This is how I am planning to avoid the ugly part of my kids having privileges.  Through this blog, and organizations I am involved in, I want to have a positive impact on my community. I want to encourage everybody to reach their full potential. I want to show that does not matter how many 1000’s of people are expecting you to fail, it only takes a handful for you to be successful.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

What is the first thing people would ask if you tell them you got a better job?

Check out what my auntie told me

Now I am back in Europe I see my family more.  During my first trip back home, about 10 family members visited. Among them, was my closest aunt.  I am very close to her in many ways. We lived together for probably 10 years, she looked after me and we are also connected in the sense that we are the 2 most educated people in the family.  This is an important point in this story. We both were lucky to have the opportunity to study.  When I met her face to face, I was thrilled to tell her about my new job! It was opening a world of new opportunities to me.  But to my surprise, when I told her “my new job is much better than my previous one” her response was “Is it more relaxed?”. I was stunned.  It took me a sec to process.

My worldview is “better” = learning+new opportunities. It seemed that in her mind “better” = work less+less stress.  I can explain why. She is actually working a lot, she is stressed and probably making more money than her humble religious lifestyle requires.  She is also closer to retirement age.  All that combined, I can understand her worldview.  The part that bothered me was the impact it can have on people around and in the community.  I have a basic issue with “something” being enough. In my mind there is only one way, and it is up.  Not because I am greedy or because I want to be the richest person in the cemetery.  Rather because this is what I believe it takes for my kids and their kids to be well-off.  I also believe it contributes to giving Blacks a voice. Let me put it simply. If Blacks, as a whole, was the wealthiest community in the US, the killing of Blacks would stop, or would not even have started in the first place.  Maybe it is pure utopia to imagine that Blacks could go from the poorest to the wealthiest community.  Maybe it will take 500 years for it to happen.  Still, it is 10x more energizing to me than thinking of spending 5 stacks on bottle service in Miami every week…

I got carried away here.  My main message is we should all aspire to build wealth.  Using a Chris Rock quote to explain the difference between being rich and wealthy: “Shaquille O’Neal is rich, the guy who is writing Shaq’s paycheck (when he was still playing basketball) is wealthy.

Having the mindset of building wealth, even without being wealthy, is a major step to building the community’s influence and levelling the playing field.  So when you see someone excited about his/her life prospects, encourage them, even if you do not understand it.  You need to fuel the wealth mindset.  Even if that person that person does not become wealthy, that person will be fulfilled and may fuel the mindset of someone else.

Why I do, what I do

Simple question, simple answer

I created this blog a few years ago. I post weekly. I spend 3 hours per week on the blog. I would love to spend a lot more time. I would love to write my book “Negotiating While Black” I would love to impact the lives of so many more people and have my life impacted as well in the process.  But I can not. I have my day job, which I love – in case my colleagues are reading this blog :).  I write about topics relevant to young urban black kids living in major cities and aspiring to better themselves. Everything is based on my personal and professional experiences. It is all about my point of view. No claims are made to be right. I am often wrong. Most importantly, when I write and I am wrong, people call me out on it. It allows me to reflect and maybe still not be right, but at least less wrong.

So why? Why am I dedicating that time? I love seeing happy people. All people. Regardless of sex, age, culture or anything else. Pretty sure I would enjoy seeing happy aliens.  No need to overthink why. Try to be around happy and unhappy people. What do you enjoy most? Mike drop.

Again, why am I writing for Blacks? I feel this is the group I can impact the most through my writing. Because my blog will feel authentic to most other Blacks.  If I talk about not standing next to a store entrance while wearing a black suit, my peeps know why, as it is usually not long before someone mistake you for a security guard. If I talk about crossing the road late at night because a white woman is walking by herself on the pavement I was walking on, again my people will understand that I did that as a preventive move. It hurts less for me to cross than seeing that woman cross or switch her handbag to the side opposite me.  Let’s be super clear! I will support everyone being happy. I will listen and ask questions when I do not understand their situations, or what could be done, just like I did not understand the situation of black women in a previous post.  Because I know how it feels to have other people not understanding you. I just can’t tell that authentic story, the way I can for Blacks.  Still don’t get it twisted.  The more people appreciate diversity the more Blacks or any other minority.  If someone supports gay marriage or women, he is more likely to respect Blacks.  It is as simple as that.