Shades of Black

It was the blackest of times; it was the blackest of times, it was the age of power, it was the age of powerlessness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the resurrection of the light, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of change, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going to be better off, and we were all going to be worse off.

In 2008 Fontel’s family had been ecstatic that The One had been elected president of the United States. A friend’s friend was even seen on TV crying in ecstasy about how she would no longer have to worry about paying her mortgage. Back in the living room, the family danced and frantically waved their arms, like the Ambezi tribesmen of the Serengeti. The old black times would give way to new Black times, a new shade of Black that would define America and pull Blackness out of historical darkness.

Yet then those times turned back to black. Or at least that’s how Fontel looked at it. By the second term of the anointed one Fontel had lost more than he’d won. Hope and Change was birthed in depression and despair, promising a new light, but after four years, there was nothing left but vague references to moving “Forward,” “Dreaming,” and “Progressing.” Fontel had been on unemployment longer than he could remember. Some of his friends had found their way on the doles of disability, despite the fact that they also manned the dominating team at the local park basketball courts and were always first in line days in advance at the Nike store.

In happier times he had worked in construction, building homes. Not so bad for not going to college. But with economic collapse had come job loss, and with job loss, the loss of economic security, with the loss of economic security, social positioning. And this led to that one real loss that really mattered. He had lost his woman, after so many great times. And he would think back.

Ah, it was 2009. To him Kaleila was the ideal Black girl. Black, when she put the polyester in her hair the way the East-side girls used, or when she wore conflicting bright colors; Black, and how he grinded her as the club closed and he thought well as well her as another and then she asked him with an over-emphasized hand gesture to ask again; Black, and then he asked her would she Black to be Black and come back to his crib and he put his arms around her and drew them down her so he could feel her high hips Black and his body was going like mad and Black he thought Black we will be Black – a new Black out of the past’s darkness in this era of the greatest president ever elected. This savvy girl, this smart girl, this Black girl he knew – she could one day be a mother and a companion, as if she really had stored in her blood thousands of years of culture stemming from the domestication of plants and animals and subsequent urban societies. Perfect manure for his seed. She was not the gold digger over whom the bard Kanye West had sung. In happier times, as The One was running for election and shortly thereafter, he and Kaleila shared in the spirit of the age. But it was fleeting.

She was a Black girl. She was favored by Pell grants and institutions that wanted her so they could maintain a politically friendly status with oppressive authorities who demanded their own ideal of a multicultural student body. As the economy imploded Fontel and Kaleila were torn apart. He was sent to the unemployment and food stamp lines while she went back school on other people’s dime. There she dwelt in the victimological ideas of socialists and pseudo-intellectuals. She quickly lost the need for him when there were blazer-wearing statists with the wild schemes for how the government could do their bidding and enrich them personally.

As Fontel saw it, she was smart and they could have had a family, and rise above the urban decay blighting American cities ever more. More importantly, they could have risen above the Black mental prison of perceiving perpetual victimhood and hatred behind every failure or misunderstanding. He wanted to rise above, but she wanted to get hers – never mind right and wrong. And she did. She wasn’t smart enough to really succeed in school. But she was savvy enough to network and seek out the best way to butter her bread – ethical or not.

After school, she worked at an 8(a) company, a women and minority owned enterprise. It was an angry socialist professor she had in college who had taught her about these things in school. She had said they were there to assist disadvantaged business, and a lot of people thought that was true, but Kaleila knew that was really just code-word for “protect from competition,” or “be a favorite.” She had read enough between the lines about what was going on in political correctness. According to arbitrary criteria like skin color, certain people could start certain business, and these businesses could be shielded from competition and given privileged status to seek contracts from government agencies. Indeed, the standard method was for the 8(a) company to be a middleman. A real business would come and do business with the government, and all the 8(a) would do was collect 51% of what the real company earned. It beautiful and satisfying to her as “social justice.” She would watch the laboring business men sacrificing even their health to grow the business; she’d watch younger white business men – the up-and-comers in the firm, whose parents had to pay for their college tuition – guys who at 30 were still only earning a salary that allowed them to get up the next day and repeat the process – certainly not enough to save, marry, and have white babies. She thought of these people as her little peasants the way a French bureaucrat might look down on people who actually pay their taxes. The life force of these people, indeed their very ability to reproduce themselves, went to her. She was an African queen – and earning 51% of the labors of these worker bees. So, she had her Bentley, gaudy jewelry, and always the newest iphone.

Decades ago her uncle had gotten into medical school because of affirmative action. Still, he used to complain about how tough it was – despite all the studying and all the special tutoring and exemptions the school offered him he barely scraped by. He graduated near the bottom of his class and was ashamed that as much as he tried he couldn’t hack the competition. Eventually, he realized that he just wasn’t good enough to be there and he thought about the people who had been rejected because their skin color – he having been accepted for his. He knew something was wrong. “But, fuck’em,” he used to say, “Ahm the docta nah.” The man had had a reasonably lucrative career, despite a few questionable malpractice circumstances, but eventually it was uncovered that for nearly a quarter of a century he had been secretly filming and taking pictures of his female patients. His whole operation was quietly shut down.

Nothing like this would befall her. She had no stress from having had to actually compete. There was nothing she could do wrong. All she had to do was be the middleman.

For Fontel it was otherwise. He wasn’t the recipient of higher-order bureaucratic favoritism. Ya, he collected his unemployment check, played clickity-clack, assaulted random people in knockout games and did his best to arbitrage new Nikes, but their was no righteous hand guiding him to a spot in the ivory tower where he got to pretend he was an equal of the hard working people around him. Time is money, and as the state debased money – stealing its purchasing power – it also stole his time – years of stagnation, meaninglessness, and the loss of agency in his life.

It was all a big scam. It didn’t matter that the president was Black or that people high in the government or that people preferentially accepted to top business schools were Black. It didn’t even matter that he got a free phone. The government intervention-inspired boom had lured him into a job that was not in the least fundamentally economically viable, and then this new flavor of central planning under Him made sure that he was shut out of a good job forever and permanently denied opportunity to realize his full potential. Sitting on unemployment and drinking with his friends, those weeks turned to months and those to years. He had developed no meaningful skills to serve his fellow man, and those few he did have were certainly valued less per hour than the massive minimum wage increases heralded by the Leader and his minions.

How starkly the fates of Fontel and Kaleila diverged. As with all the colors of the rainbow gang, black has only two shades. There are those individuals who really do benefit from the of the leviathan state, and there are those don’t.