• Elijah J. Graham

Colors of Good

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

I spent much of last summer wasting time. Relationships with people had taken new form. Friendships were either menial and short lived or lifelong and significant; I felt like I had none of the latter. I was born different in front of a white suburb, privileged enough to be one of the black kids that made it out of the ghetto before elementary school.

Most lessons taught by my parents have been tested against a white community that may believe in different core values than that of my ethnically sound family. I did not realize until a couple years out of high school how different I was from all of my white friends. How they made me feel guilty for being so chaotic and turbulent while still enthusiastically confident in every one of my decisions.

It’s not likely for white people of the suburban demographic to understand the complexities of a budding black man. I was being raised differently than them, and at times, I could see it scared us both.

When I was younger, I saw fear in the faces of older people looking down on me when I spoke with a tier 2 and above vocabulary. In the worst of my interactions, at 11 years old I was fortunate enough to hear the word “nigger” from a passing truck window in the company of my fellow 11 year old friends. What they said to me afterwards was “sorry, some white people suck.”

In time, I could come to understand the truth of that statement. While police killing black men was on television, a kind officer of the law drove me home on the last day of my first year of high school. He gave me his phone number and told me to call if I’m ever in trouble.

In the present, I don’t see much discrimination from strangers at all. I get genuine smiles from cashiers. I get kind greetings from passerby’s on the sidewalk. I still don’t get greeted when I walk through the automatic doors at the grocery store but at least they press their lips in and nod at me just about every time. For that much, I'm grateful.

I assume I look less threatening when dressing in bright colors or expensive clothes. They assume my abundance of money clearly takes from the desperation that causes negroes to steal. That’s probably a thing with every race, though. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I'm trying to tell a story, not make a point.

I sweat profusely when the sun is out, so I take my shirt off before playing basketball, as to not soil the shirt. I sweat so much, it pools in my belly button if I don't move enough. My favorite local basketball court is in a park with a tennis court and play set on either sides of it. Once I finished hooping on this particular day, I looked over to the play set to see a pair of men (possibly homosexual, possibly homies) flying a drone with a little boy no more than 5 years old.

For some reason, they flew the drone directly under the trees. They spoke in some middle eastern language, as expected and welcomed by the great diversity of Michigan suburbia. Out of intrigue, I listened to their speak and watched their play.

You ever see something happen and wonder if you did that shit with your mind? That’s exactly how I felt when their drone got stuck in a tree. I had to cover up my laugh a bit, looking away to watch somebody's auntie play tennis.

The first attempt they made to get it out of the tree was yelling at the drone and spinning its propellers in both directions. The second attempt was the fatter of the two men throwing the controller at the drone, well above his head by roughly twenty feet. When it landed on a concrete path far from the men's catching range, the batteries came out and it shattered into pieces. I laughed again. I was watching a real life cartoon with two real life idiots.

Before they drafted up their third attempt, I shouted (not loudly because its a suburb and generally quiet) over to them: “You need this?” I held my pretty orange basketball up in front of my shoulder and offered it to help the team effort.

I wondered if they would refuse. The strange shirtless black man offering his help in a language different than they one they spoke. I had assumed that they had already formulated their opinions of me, as prejudice generally goes. I'd been there all day and was sweaty enough to fit into some barbaric, black box that people fear more than the boogeyman.

The less fat of the two stepped forward and said with a light accent “Yeah, that would be great!” He scratched his head and had ceded his power to me, as the hero that saves the day.

I didn’t think he wanted the hero to look like me. Everyone refuses a black Superman or black James Bond whenever the topic comes along, so I’ve grown to apply that rule to just everything. Black is the opposite of heroic, most would not allow any act of heroism in the black community to go without copious investigation.

The rape, gang affiliation, and murder allegations (along with assassination) have derailed so many black heroes before me. It’s impossible for a black hero to exist in America. All we have are the heroes that the whites give us: Black Panther, Django, Obama— $20 if you can name 2 more that aren’t rappers, athletes, and/or dead.

Maybe I’m tripping. There’s a lot of black heroes. Besides, we’re just talking about getting a drone out of a tree, right?

The drone fell out of the tree on the second throw of my flawlessly orange basketball when it hit the branch, lightly dropping the drone down into the open arms of the fatter middle eastern man. The skinnier man said “Thank you so much!” The fatter one said “Thanks a lot!” And the kid said “Thank you, sir!” I'm rarely called 'sir.'

“Oh, you’re very welcome” as I caught the ball from the skinnier man’s throw. I smiled at them and walked to my car with my bag on my back and my ball in my hands, wondering if the kid thought of me as he thought of a hero in the slightest.

I felt like one. Maybe when the boy is older and all of the racially charged slurs and privileges have become readily available to him, he'll remember the colored 'sir' that helped him get his drone out of a tree. Maybe he'll protest and fight for the equal rights of all people, no matter the color, and vote for the most inclusive and least degrading policies that define every election. Maybe he'll consider black to be heroic.