On Hope, Escapism and Attrition as Discussed between Black Men

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My Father doesn’t like Game of Thrones. Of course, I knew he wouldn’t when he stood in my home and asked to borrow the first season, but I handed him Ned Stark’s yet to be severed head in Bluray form anyway. As alike as my father as I am, I know his tolerance for violence, gore, and all out debauchery is a lot lower than mine. And yet, he too had heard about the phenomenon that was Thrones and thought he should at least see what the hype was. My father is an Omega-level nerd, so maybe there was some street cred to be lost if he didn’t at least try to watch it. By the time season four of Thrones had ended, coming off of arguably its best season, my father came back to me with season one in hand.

[quote_simple]Me: You want season two?

My Pops: Nope, I’m good.[/quote_simple]

I don’t know if I’m going to win any nerd offs with Benioff and Weiss, but I’m probably approaching some minor expert status in Game of Thrones lore and history. And that means my overall knowledge base of Thrones compares to about 30% of what my Father knows about the Lord of the Rings history. To be fair, the man has been reading, ingesting, reciting, rinse and repeating the books, lore, and movies for about the same amount of time I’ve been alive, so you shouldn’t feel sorry for my nerd inferiority here. But for people my age, Lord of the Rings and Thrones share “a” universe, if not “the same” universe. The fantasy and lore, the humans trying to overcome old evil, it’s all familiar. But one of the big thematic differences is where Tolkein created a world very independent and unattached to a world we could familiarize with, Martin built his world off of one of the most brutal and barbaric time periods within the last 1500 years.

My father was born in the early 50s, which means he was a teenager during the most explosive time to be Black in America. My father never entered the military, even though his older brother went to Viet Nam, but that doesn’t mean that my father doesn’t have some war stories to share. But he doesn’t enjoy sharing those. He would rather talk about the Silmarillion. [quote_right]”if you think you’re special out here with all these white people, then you’re special enough to get yourself killed”[/quote_right]

When I was 17, I was hanging out with a group of friends from high school. We ended up at a house party with a lot of music, sweat, and liquor. I don’t drink alcohol. Never did. Not much moral high ground to it, probably just too much of a control freak to give over that dominion to something else. Well, the party gets busted up, maybe 10 out of the 40 people there were legally allowed to drink and a lot of us spent the next hour sitting on the curb while the cops decided what to do with us. I noticed two things while in the grass contemplating how the hell I got into this: How the hell did I end up being the only Black person at this party? Why in the hell did I allow myself to go to a party where I was the only Black person? I didn’t even give much thought to the fact that I was the only person that had spent any time handcuffed that night or that all the cops didn’t believe I hadn’t drank anything and wouldn’t let me drive my mother’s car home while many of my white counterparts did.

My father though, considered all of this. And he was livid. Ultimately, his lecture to me included responsibility and awareness, but it ended with “if you think you’re special out here with all these white people, then you’re special enough to get yourself killed.” At the time, I didn’t get it and took it as some insult. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand back then.

Another way that LOTR is different from GOT is in how one of them really is about escapism with seemingly insurmountable evil being overcome and the other is fascinating in looking at an alternative to our world with even more brutal mysticism. If you are man that watched his uncles get beat in the streets even as they came home from war, your heroes assassinated and your spot on the bus pre-ordained by your skin color, a more brutal version of that world probably isn’t how you like to spend your leisure time.


[quote_left]“Wasn’t supposed to be your war.”[/quote_left] My father grew more and more silent after the string of deaths of Black men at the hands of police stretching on throughout the last year and I had a hard time understanding why. My father is outspoken and also brilliant, which makes him simultaneously a great conversationalist and annoying if you aren’t close to his level on things. But he was saying less as yet another cop was excused in yet another Black person’s death and I began to notice. After Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland, I called my father and we had some very sparse conversation before we began theorizing on the role of fiction in our non-fiction lives. Every once in a while, I get these notions that I can outwit my father into pulling some emotional tether to him. I asked him if we love fantasy and fiction as a means to escape everyday life, but I think I mean, does he use fiction in this way. He answers, “It’s not an escape. It’s hope. The good guys win and life has value in a fantasy story. It’s not about getting away from something. It’s about inserting hope into what you can’t outrun.” See, my father knows when I’m trying trick him into answering a question about myself, his answer shows me that I’ve actually tricked myself into believe it’s not about me. This is also, as direct as he gets these days.

When my father says that he enjoys how they showed Thorin’s descent into madness during The Battle of the Five Armies, what he means is, “I can’t believe that Charleston cop shot that man in the back.” [quote_right]I don’t dare ask my father if he thinks there’s a turn coming in the reality we walk through now.[/quote_right] When we argue which of the movies had the best big battle scenes, we’re really talking about how he didn’t expect me to watch Black folks killed indiscriminately the way he did over 30 years ago.

The night of the verdict where George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges, I was a mess. I needed to get out of the house, away from everything safe and comfortable because all of a sudden, it didn’t feel that way. It was near midnight, but I called my dad. I didn’t expect him to be up, but he answered like he hadn’t been asleep yet. He listened to me rant for 20 minutes or so without saying much, just letting me rant about my anger. My anger. As if he didn’t have close to three decades of anger like this ahead of me. He just kept sighing and saying, “Wasn’t supposed to be your war. Wasn’t supposed to be your war.”

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It sounds like something an elder character in a fantasy novel would say to the young protagonist who is thrust into service ahead of schedule. The difference isn’t that whether either of those worlds have dragons or not. It’s that one of them definitely has a point when things will turn around and work out. I don’t dare ask my father if he thinks there’s a turn coming in the reality we walk through now.

We haven’t had our normal “fantasy fiction” chat this week yet. Which means, we haven’t addressed how a man could kill 9 people in a church and feel righteous about it. But we will. Which means I might have to study up on my Tolkein first. There are only so many analogies for such a familiar theme.

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  • William is the Editor-In-Chief, leader of the Black Knights and father of the Avatar. With Korra's attitude, not the other one.

  • Show Comments

  • crossedstars

    Thank you for writing this.

  • John R Gordon

    I found this very moving: thank you for sharing it.

  • James Adam Robson

    Thank you for simply being. 🙂

  • usedtobeavegetarian

    Thanks for all your writing on this blog. I love your recaps, and now I love your personal writing too!

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