GROWING UP: I am originally from the south side of Chicago. I came to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California. I received my theatre degree there and then lived in New York for years and performed as an actor for a long time. I eventually came back to become a writer, which is what I do now. At that time, I also went back to USC and now have a Masters and a PhD in American studies. I did that while also writing for TV shows.
CURRENT GIG: I write for television drama shows and I also teach. I am a professor and a scholar. I raise my family here and that is pretty much what I do. I write, teach, feed my kids and do what my wife tells me to do.
EXPERIENCES WITH RACE: I have memories when I was younger of the first time I was called a nigger. I do remember that I lived in the far south side of Chicago in a neighborhood called Morgan Park, which is still there. It was not too far from, during the late seventies and early eighties, neighborhoods that were mostly white. I knew growing up knowing that there was a certain street that we were not supposed to cross. I never really did cross it. I remember I used to play on our street. And our street was on a corner, close to a main street that ran into an entrance for a freeway. I remember people would drive by and it was literally drive by racism. So, I remember being five, and seeing a car drive up and slow down and yell out “Nigger”! I was sort of like, “What’s going on? I guess you’re talking to me.”
There was another moment I remember which, I think in many ways, has played itself out in other parts of my life. As I got older, around age 11, I was taking tests to attend a gifted school. I remember coming from the test room at this school and a kid came up to me, probably the same age as I was, and just for whatever reason felt it was important to say something along the lines of “You don’t belong in our school, nigger.” Basically, questioning my presence. The reason that one is more interesting than the drive by moment is because it was an example of what I’ve seen played out in my life. It was in much more subtle terms, as I’ve gone into different spheres in my life where I’ve been very fortunate to pursue higher education and get the highest degree I can get. I work in the entertainment industry where there are a lot of people who would describe themselves as liberals and progressives but yet there is often times an unspoken bias that somehow seems to always sort of find a way to express itself. Which always seems to come back to my presence being noticed in a way that is certainly not positive but not even neutral.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Sometimes there is a sense that I feel in certain spaces, that I am always operating out of a deficit framework. Where ordinary human behavior, where you make a mistake, or you’ve messed up and it takes on greater and greater significance. And so, I end up feeling punished or being questioned about things that I see would just sort of be a human trait in other people. I guess, to me, one of the insidious ways racism operates today is what I call the pressure to be super human or the super negro. This means that you have to be so accomplished, so perfect that at times it is out of the realm of being human. Even though I can do that sometimes, I can’t possibly do that 24 hours a day seven days a week. And so there’s a fear that comes and manifests itself the moment I even make a slight mis-step with the stakes being my job, my promotion or living my life out to the fullest. Those sorts of very human traits become fallible. And to me, if I have to be super human, that’s not being human.
I am a ‘heart on my sleeve’ kind of guy. I’m pretty open so a lot of people know a lot of stuff about me. When I’m home alone, I dance in the mirror a lot. I throw dance parties with my kids. They literally ask for them.
Photographed by Renee McMahon