Barriers to Love

Barriers To Love
Personal project, January 2015

Only when the world is accepted, with all the darkness and possibility of darkness, do we get a true taste of the highest possibilities of what it is to be human.

Andrew Garfield, OUT Magazine March 2018

In 2015, I was reinventing myself as a graphic designer to compete with students in my classes, but really I was trying to find myself as an artist. My style, my content, the narrative – I was trying to discover my place in the art world as a digital artist that desperately wanted to be more. It’s still an ongoing process, and I can’t say that I’m any better today than I was 5-years-ago.

But, interestingly enough I find that many pieces developed in that period are incredibly relevant to today and will continue to be into the future because they deal with the identity of oneself against the identity prescribed by society.

The quote above from Andrew Garfield I have waited two years to use, and I think today is the day. In the age of #blacklivesmatter and in the face of the ongoing adversity created by a system of racial bias and discrimination – what IF I told you that something good, maybe even beautiful could come out of it? Fear, anger, frustration, heartache, the feeling of loss, grief, hopelessness, and every other negative emotion you can possibly conjure or name – those feelings are probably inspired by the idea, right? How can we let the pain, anger and resentment go to give way to something beautiful? How can anything good be revealed by something evil?

Let me tell you a short, personal story to shed light on my meaning and the truth behind Barriers to Love.

I was born in the 80’s in a small town called Fort Pierce. Fort Pierce was and still to some degree is a poverty stricken town between Vero Beach and Stuart – both of which are quite weathly in comparison. Though I live here, I don’t know enough of the history of the town to tell you how this came to be, but what I do know is that the town barely ever integrated. Blacks and whites stayed on two separate ends of town, Blacks in the north part of Fort Pierce, AKA ABC Village or Black Town, and Whites in the south part of Fort Pierce, AKA White City (a standing name to this day).

My mother grew up on the south side of town, and my father on the north; A real Romeo and Juliette story. Both grew up with their own individual struggles and issues, some unique to their cultures, some not so unique like drug addiction and alcoholism. In either case, they found each other and I was born – among the first generation of mulatto kids in Fort Pierce.

I was not well received.

Though my parents were excited about my birth, neither were in a place to sufficiently take care of a child. My mom was 16-years old and my dad was 20. Both experienced intolerance from their respective families, whom rejected the idea of a mixed child being brought into the world. Yet, on a cool morning in October, there I was. Though both sides initially rejected me, changes were occuring in their hearts. The toughest among them, my great-grandfather, John William Black, Jr. was the last to reform his position.

I’ve been told the story many times by many people, but the best telling of what happened that first lead to my acceptance on the white-side was a family-friend from next door that was a teenager when it happened. “Mr. Black was hellbent against you coming to this house. You have to understand, he was a county man. I mean, when Martin Luther King came through here, it was him and his people that flipped the man’s car. He wasn’t about to have a black kid in his house. But, I remember one night he was sitting outside under his gazebo, drinking beer, and talking to me about whatever. Mrs. Black came out in a furry and told him, ‘Dump,’ that’s what she called him, ‘we need to talk about this.’ I thought I should leave so I started off and Mr. Black stopped me and told me, ‘Ricky, stay right there.’ Well, you don’t argue with Mr. Black so I stayed. Mrs. Black, ya know – she’s not the type of person to ever demand anything and basically just went along with whatever Mr. Black said, she looked at him with a fire in her eyes and she said, ‘That baby is coming here. That’s it.’ Mr. Black didn’t say a word. Not a fuckin’ word. He just sat there, lookin’ out across the pond.”

My mom eventually brought me to the house and as I understand it, my great-grandfather reluctantly held me and after doing so did not want to give me back. The man that had told my mother she could never set foot upon his property again, suddenly did not want her to leave with no where to go and her mixed baby in hand.

Things only grew more complicated from there for me and my family. Three years later, my mom and dad committed a felony and were both taken to prison. The families that once rejected my existence now fought for custody, the winner being my great-grandfather whom pressured my black grandparents to not press the matter. Under my great-grandparents’ care I recieved love and attention that most children never could. They were both retired, home all the time, and very, very old school. Like 1930’s old school. They made me their son, which they lacked having three daughters.

Growing up with two white great-grandparents proved to be very difficult for all of us. They didn’t like the idea of me having black friends, they had a hard time introducing me to people, and some of their family disowned them much like how they disowned my mother for a time – only these family members never had a change of heart and they lost their inheretance. They lost friends, they lost social positions, they sacrificed their familiar, white empowered lives to host a mulatto son.

I faired no differently though. Black kids at school did not associate with me because I was too culturally white. White kids didn’t like me because I was technically black. Adults didn’t know what to think of my familial situation, often asking me if I was adopted, leading me to question if I was for many years. I was made fun of for having old parents, and well – I just didn’t really fit in anywhere. Since I was raised by a traditional generation I did not relate to people my age. My interests were camping, fishing, ATVs, Yeehaw, CMT – things that people classified at the time as redneck, while kids my age were into video games, MTV, and all sorts of other popular, modern entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I found some people with some interests like me – but they often came at a price like we could only be friends one-on-one because the others didn’t want to play with a black kid.

All of those experiences, and most especially the emotional evolution of my great-grandfather whom died when I was 13-years-old, inspired me. It seemed to me that the greater the evil we were capable of, the greater the love we could inversely give – IF. The trigger to make that happen, to change our hearts – thats the IF. What does it take to make a man go from tormenting a man based on the color of his skin to embracing another and sacrificing everything he worked for to keep him close.

We should be ever vigilent – on the look out – for the IF, because IF there is ever a scenerio is our hearts that we could learn to love that which we have built up barriers against, then there is a reason that exists for us to embrace the other side.

Different though we may look, different though we may act; we laugh, we cry, we make concious efforts to be better and stumble occaisionally with poor decisions all the same.

Our differences are ultimately paper thin. Scratch the surface and you’ll see – just like John saw – we’re solid gold and capable of love and sacrifice just the same. Find your IF and move past the superficial.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed my post and would like to support me, please visit my Society6 store. For every Barriers to Love product I sell, I will donate $1 toward creating a scholarship for any person of color to afford materials and supplies at Indian River State College, a 4-year institute located on the Treasure Coast serving Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee Counties.

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