I thought I was a sensitive and understanding man, only to learn I was just able to be a little more quiet and attentive, while also being 98% clueless to most of what was going on around me in every moment. Until I started addressing this side of my personality I had no idea how toxic masculinity colored EVERYTHING for me. It fucked up how I listened to music. What movies I watched. Books I read or didn’t read. It negatively impacted my ability to work and progress in my career. I still have a shit ton of work to do when it comes to unpacking my white male views of the world, but I’ve managed to crack things open in the last decade to the point where I feel like I’m through the most uncomfortable parts of this journey, and I look forward to future lessons.
Further adding to the nutrient deficiency part of my narrative, there is an actual food deficiency which led to me being such as sad sack of shit in the 1990s, and I am convinced is one of the main reasons why so many white people are turning to hard drugs and overdosing. I am not exaggerating the least bit here. It is the difference between thinking PF Changs is good Chinese food then actually having Szechuan Chinese food. It is the difference between thinking fried chicken under the heat lamp at your local grocery store is acceptable then having real fried chicken made by a person of color who knows their shit. It is thinking that a Marie Calendar’s pot pie is actually food and then eating authentic Ethiopian food. The lack of actual food to eat where I grew up, combined with the assault of processed food in the store, and chain restaurants along each street, all contributed to me losing hope for humanity and for myself. The only ray of hope I had was the idea of growing my own food and living off the land, but once you realize how wrapped up this all is in white supremacy and white flight narratives, and you realize this world is just being subsidized by COSTCO and Taco Bell as you drive through town, you really begin to give up. That is until you eat some real Korean food, experience Jamaican food made with skill and love, eat Ethiopian with your fingers, and begin to consume a diverse range of foods–then you begin to realize there is hope. I can do this. I don’t have to die. Goddammit, I want to live just so I can eat some more of that really fucking good Jamaican grub.
Because of the rugged individualism I was raised in, and the white supremacy scaffolding that props me up, I learned only trust myself. With no vision of the future it is difficult to trust in universities, city, state, or federal government. You don’t trust doctors. You don’t trust politicians. Inversely, bcause of the influences of capitalism you blindly trust business leaders. Putting your faith into an imaginary “markets”, while allowing your trust in the foundational institutions of our society to be perpetually eroded—-even if it further erosion means a lower quality of life for yourself. Cops are out to get you. All government workers are lazy. Professors are all socialists. Media are liars. I had given away all of my trust in institutions, despite the vast evidence of their positive impact on my life all around me. I am sick and won’t go to the doctor. I distrust the government and choose not to vote. I am willfully ignorant of what is going on, while also continually allowing my chain to be yanked when it comes to hot button issues. It’s no wonder we turn inward and look towards drugs and alcohol to sooth the pain. It is lonely and cold out there. Institutions aren’t insulating us from the cold anymore. We allowed the well of every institution we know to be poisoned. It gets real scary when you feel the government is out to get you, the doctor is just going to kill you, and you are not smart enough or can’t afford to go to a university. We have bought hook line and sinker into the concept of being an individual, while all the institutions we depend on are being looted. It becomes easier to check out in this environment than it is to get stay engaged. Overdosing becomes the affordable and convenient way out of the prison we have created for ourselves.
As my awareness of the world around me has grown and evolved over the last decade I have become more painfully aware of the destruction around us caused by the ever quickening pace of capitalism. I am waking up to the damaging effects of idolizing the markets, and worshipping those who preach from the top of this capitalist world, whether it is Dow Jones or the Billboard charts. My naive belief around what capitalism is and the chokehold it has on my reality has kept me from seeing that I had gave all of my dreams to the machines. My desire to be around music influencers, become relevant in the music industry either through drugs or other means was all wrapped up in the delusions of late stage capitalism. I didn’t have any dreams that didn’t involve making money. Even smoking pot and listening to music had become a business affair. I was always paying to be present. Vending of food, alcohol, and drugs. There was no part of my definition of success that didn’t have to do with making money. Music had become about making money. Drugs was just about making money. I dabbled in art, but only because I could afford to. It is no wonder it all came crashing down on me, and that I didn’t have a lot of hope for the future while it was all going on. It had NO roots. There wasn’t anything meaningful grounding me to earth. There was no future in being a regular business man, and there was no future in the ever changing music industry. Then, as I began to wake up to the toll of our impact on the environment in our world, it all became painfully clear that there literally wouldn’t be a future that would support us. Why the fuck even bother. Just party until you burn out. Nothing matters anymore.
I couldn’t see it at the time, but most of the people around me didn’t have any hope either. Even though the conversations were all about the end of society, the world, and perpetual imminent doom, I was under the influence the people I was round were all “good people”. I didn’t see how birds of a feather flock together, and misery enjoys company. In a world devoid of diversity and essential nutrients it is easy to think that that this is all there is. Everyone in your world says the world is going to end, so of course the world is going to end! There couldn’t possibly be any other way of doing this than what we are doing, otherwise we’d be doing it. We’ve always done it this way! Gloom and doom, a belief that the world is going to end at any moment becomes comforting. Society collapsing becomes a sexy fantasy. Throw some drugs and good music into the mix. Talk about aliens. Pull from the 20 points in history you’ve managed to learn along the way. You have the makings for a pretty hopeless environment where drugs and alcohol are your only outlets, and an overdose becomes a lot less scary than the reality you operate in on a daily basis. It becomes more meaningful to just give up than it does to actually hold out any hope for a future. Once people around you begin dying and disappearing, you find comfort knowing that you might be next. That you are all just soldiers dying in a war for a worthy cause, and that somehow you have camaraderie, when in reality you don’t. You are just all dying off alone, leaving a mess for someone else to clean up. People from these legacy circles now see me as an asshole. That I sold out. I’m too good for them. When in reality I just couldn’t tolerate not having hope for the future anymore. I needed something more meaningful to fight for. I am too thankful for this life I have been given and I am going to make the most of it. I refuse to give up.
Operating within an information and nutrient deficient environment for enough time and you will begin to lose touch with reality. An environment where myths, fairy tales, and disinformation become pretty attractive ways to explain what the fuck is going on out there in the world. Christianity may be your jam, but as someone who never stepped foot in a church until I was an adult, Bigfoot, aliens, and conspiracy theories would do just fine when it comes to a substitute. You wouldn’t want to seem like a religious nut job so believing in aliens is much easier to maintain your street cred in a rural or even suburban setting. With your education cut short, and your library operating just a couple days a week, and very little to no book reading going on at home, fictional storytelling often assumes the place of facts and actual history in your world. It is much easier to belief in half-baked conspiracy theories than it is to read an actual work of fiction. It is easier to connect the dots on conspiracies than it is to actually make your way through what the authoritative works or authors might be within any particular discipline. It is easier to talk authoritatively about a topic in a nutrient deficient community while being the only big fish in a small pond. This isn’t limited to rural areas, and is something that exists in the suburbs, and the city. Nutrient deficiency can occur anywhere there is isolation in my experience, something I have seen play out over and over across the country. Storytelling and myth-making flourished in my music and drug filled world of the 80s and 90s. I thought it was unique to the moment, and to my people, but with a little time and education I realize that this is just one of many endless cycles of how things work in smalls towns and the uneducated backwaters of this country.
I was under the influence in the 80s and 90s that I rolled through this world with very little concern, when in reality I’ve since learned that I was riddled with fear, guilt, and insecurity–I just couldn’t see it. It was why guns were always so attractive to me back then. Guns immediately put control within your reach—-except that it didn’t. Looking back guns only made my world more terrifying. They never de-escalated anything, or eliminated the fear of the world around me. They just sat in the corner, in the drawer, by my side, reminding me to be afraid. Guns just validated the danger of the world around you while you are watching the news. You believe the guns would protect you from the institutions you distrusted, and make you look like the “man” you so desperately believe you were supposed to be. Guns and drugs made you feel like a gangster. In my nutrient starved reality I didn’t realize I could escape this fear by reading good fiction, or listening to the voices of women and people of color. I didn’t realize that the second-hand news stories I heard were designed to control me and keep me in this perpetual state fear. Most importantly, I didn’t realize how fear reigned in my world because of white supremacy. The very thing that propped me up also kept me living in fear, and that the drugs I was selling and doing, the garden I was growing, were all part of a wider fear of brown and black people that I was blind to, and being used to manipulate me, and keep me in a perpetual state of fear of institutions and the people around me. Which leads me to what I think is the foundation of why us white men are so fragile, giving up hope so easily, while also still succumbing to the delusions of white supremacy–we don’t value black and brown lives.
The foundation of why white men, young and old, are doing drugs and dying by the thousands is rooted in white supremacy. You can’t smoke pot, do heroin, or meth without also consuming a legacy of race. Heroin has always been about destroying black people, us dumb ass white dues are just collateral damage in our own war. Meth is very much about war on the brown people, but again us white men line up at the trough for that shit. Looking at the kid, myself, and Shannon Hoon, and realizing our desire to get high was all wrapped up in the illness that is America—-white supremacy. We may feel in our heart that we value black and brown bodies, but if our country doesn’t, our family members don’t, then we are still broken. We are in pain. We cannot be whole in this country until we deal with this crack in the foundation of our nation. Drugs are all wrapped up in race-—think about the difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Think about drug sentencing laws, and prisons as a replacement for slavery. Drugs and racism in this country go hand in hand, and white people aren’t immune to its effect. Drugs are a great way to numb the pain we feel because our brothers and sisters of color are not valued in our country, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We will never be whole until we fix what is broken with us. This isn’t about legalizing drugs, it about examining why policing exists in the first place, and what prisons are used for when it comes to locking up black and brown people. Why Shannon, the kid, and numerous other white people die from overdosing in this country is directly linked to black bodies dying on the streets everyday for just simply living.
This moment in time all comes down to being able to give the youth some hope, and we have to begin with racial justice. It is the oldest and most systemic illness we suffer from as a nation. Then we need to get to work on the environment, mental health, and the myriad of other issues that plague us. I know this was a long and winding post to get to this point, but watching this trailer about Shannon opened up a closet door for me that was packed with a whole lot of luggage I had forgotten about from the early 1990s. His death shines a light on my life at a time where I am being painfully reminded that I am still alive after the passing of my wife’s child in the same way that Shannon and other friend’s of mine have died over the years-—drug overdose. The damage drugs are doing to us is just a reflection of the systemic racism that exists in this country, the desperation many people face as part of late stage capitalism, and the denial of our collective right to matter as human beings. Overdosing on drugs is the result of losing hope, or never having any hope first place. Religion or faith in fantasies and conspiracies will never be enough to nourish and save you physically, mentally, or spiritually. We have to give our young people a reason to live. No, this doesn’t just mean a good job. It means purpose. It means mattering as a human being. It means being able to live a life free of knowing that you are privileged because of the exploitation and suffering of others. I work my ass off to maintain hope in these times. Trump, COVID-19, and the kid passing have all put a heavy weight on my ability manifest the future. I am able to maintain the amount of hope I do because I have cut ties with many of the folks in my life who believe in gloom and doom, and are actively shorting the rest of humanity. I believe in us. I believe we can do this. I believe this is our moment. I’m done worrying about the folks I can’t convince, and those who will get left behind. Don’t get me wrong. I think EVERYONE should be able to have a home and feed themselves, while also having access to healthcare and education. However, not everyone is going to go into the future willingly. Many are too traumatized from the past, and have been conditioned to think there is no future. We have to take care of these people, but we have to contain their exposure to the rest of the world. We have to think more critically about how they get their information via television and the Internet. We have to think more deeply about how we ensure these folks get the physical and mental healthcare they so desperately need. Then we have to get to work cutting out all the rot that exists in the system beginning with policing, prisons, and our social safety net. We have to get to work fixing our broken foundation, and making sure future generation won’t have to deal with all of our baggage around race, gender, and the environment. Allowing musicians like Shannon to make music without slowly killing themselves, and providing opportunities around fashion or cooking for people like the kid, giving our children the opportunity find themselves while centering their lives around something they love to do.
I haven’t even seen the full “All I Can Say” movie yet, and I’m overwhelmed with thoughts and emotion. What a time for this to be dropped in my lap. I have so much work to do. I am grateful to be alive in this moment.