Questlove On Trayvon Martin + The Psychology Of "You Ain't Shit"

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

We originally included Questlove's soul-searching attempt to grapple with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin in our Monday round-up of reactions to the unbelievable news. But Questo's spontaneous rumination on the psychology of "you ain't shit" has resonated so widely (including reposts on Huffington Post and NY and sparked so much discussion about the way this event is being internalized by those of us who've been watching--that we decided it needed it's own url. Read on:

well....most of you read the book so that means you're familiar with Rich by now. i just landed in the states and he was my first call. i was listening to msnbc on the radio, so this is the first time im getting real time reaction/news from an american source about the Martin case. im trying not to internalize this *feeling* and make it about *me*---but hey it is what it is, maybe i'm mellow dramatic---but all i'm consumed with is my positioning in life.

all the time i tell these cute self deprecating celeb run ins when i get a pie in the face moment. but rarely do i share stories of a more serious nature pie in the face moments.----all i could keep saying was "thank god for my good fortune"---i can't tell you how many times a year im in a serious situation only to hear the magic words "oh....wait...Questlove?----hey guys its Questlove---we're so sorry you can go"---mostly because in the age of social media most people are quick to dismiss my tales as #‎FirstWorldProblems---so unless its super major (did i ever FB the story of how the Buffalo DEA held me cause they thought i was a drug lord back in 2006?---multiply that scenario by a realistic 40---like 5-7 times a year a night ending in the words "thank god for that afro, we'd never have recognized you" happens to me.)

so a friend of mine sent me this apology letter. all the time i'm in scenarios in which primitive exotic looking me (6'2, 300 lbs, uncivilized afro for starters) finds himself in places that people that look like me aren't normally found. i mean what can i do? i have to be somewhere on earth correct? in the beginning (let's say 2002 when the gates of "hey ahmir would you like to come to.....(name swanky elitist place)?" opened. initially i'd say "no"---mostly because its been hammered in my DNA to not "rock the boat"---which since i wanna keep it real means not make "certain people" feel uncomfortable.

---i mean that is a crazy way to live.

seriously imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first before your own. you're kinda programmed and taught that from the gate. its like the opposite of entitlement.

problem is i DO have desires to go to certain places and do certain things. and enjoy the perks and benefits of a person who works his arse off as much as i do. so i got over my hangups of not wanting to be the odd guy in the room sometime around 2007.

mixed results at best. some of it is "oh that wasn't that bad", some of it was "well...that was awkward...." (this is the prime reason i hate vacations. those that know me well and always ask why i never take them---main reason? i don't feel like being the "odd guy out" at vacation spots----hence that hobo journey of 2009 train trip i took was the best one i ever took. no scaring people on a train ride.

---anywho imma share a portion of the letter. i was explaining to a friend something i found troubling but managed to find humor in. my friends know that i HATE parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur but its a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a danger element. i wait and wait in cars until i feel its safe for me to make people feel safe.---i know most of yall are eye rolling, but if you spent a good 3 months in these size 14s you'd understand why i take that position.

so here is setup.

i live in a "nice building". i work hard. you know i work hard.---my logic is (naive alert in 5...4....3...2..) "well, there cant be any fear of any type in this building, you first of all gotta go through hell and high water just to get accepted to live here like its Dartmouth or U Penn. secondly there's like 5-8 guards on duty 24/7 so this spot is BEYOND safe. like oscar winners and kids of royalty and sports guys and mafia goomahs live here. so one night i get in elevator and just as the door closes this beautiful woman gets on. because of a pain in the arse FOB card device you have to use to get to your floor it just makes it an easier protocol for whoever is pressing floors to take everyone's request like you are at the window of a drive thru (what floor? "54.....82.......43......76......") ---so i press my floor number and i ask her "what floor ma'am?" (yes i say ma'am because....*sigh* anyway---) she says nothing....stands in the corner.---mind you i just discovered the candy crush ap so if anything im the rude one cause im more obsessed on winning this particular board than anything else. plus in my head "no way i can be a threat to a woman this fine if im buried deep in this game---so surely she feels safe"

so the humor comes in that i thought she was on my floor cause she never acknowledged my floor request. she was also bangin' so inside i was like ("dayuuuuuuuuuuum she lives on MY floor? *bow chicka wowowowowwoooowwww!!!")---like i was kinda happy cause as far as i knew---only 6 people occupied the 9 spots on my floor. so instantly i was on some "what dessert am i welcoming committee'ing her with?!"---anywho, the door opens and i waited to let her off first cause i am a gentleman (old me woulda rushed first thus not putting me in the position to have to follow her god forbid if she too makes a left as well (always in this position in dark hotel hallways---sandra bernhard will deny this til the cows come home but she was scared out of her mind the first night we accidentally met in a hotel in which i had the misfortune to be on same floor and having to follow her all the way down the worlds darkest art deco hallway to our rooms---we joked about it years later but it was tense)---so door opens and i flirt "ladies first"---she says "this is not my floor". so then i assume she is FOBless (food delivery people often get wrong floors and we press them to right floors) so i pulled card out assuming she didn't live in building to press her floor yet again....she offers "that's okay"....

then it hit me...

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

photo by mpozi

"oh god...she purposely held that information back"

---the door closed but it was a "pie in the face" moment.

i laughed at it. ---


well.....inside i cried, but its like if i cried at every insensitive act that goes on in the name of safety as far as im have to be committed to a psych ward. so i just taught myself throughout the years to just accept it and maybe even see it funny. each second that went by it kept eating at me ("well i guess she never watched the show..."....."my english was super clear...i called her "ma'am like i was webster"...."well those that know you know that you're cool, but you definitely know that you are a walking rape nightmare right ahmir? of course she was justified on not saying her floor that was her prerogative! are kinda scary looking i guess?) i mean its a bajillion thoughts....all of them self depreciating voices slowly eating my soul away.---

so i told the friend the story about how i think i scared the lady in my above secure building elevator so much that she wanted to wait til i LEFT before she felt it safe enough to press her floor number.....

(this is the response/email apology i got today)

"I am wrong about many things, but I want to apologize for taking a particular story you told me too lightly. told me that a few days prior a woman had joined you in an elevator and on the way up to your floor you asked her what floor she was going to. she said nothing, so you just assumed she was going to your floor. When you arrived at your floor, she didn't get off.

I told you I didn't care much about race anymore and I meant it....."

that was jist of the letter (i edited stuff out)

in short she gave me the dismissive/"cry me a river" response most people default to which of course just translates and filters to " feelings DON'T count" feelings don't....count.

i dont know why its that way. mostly i came to the conclusion that people over 6 feet and over weight regulation or as dark as me (or in my tax bracket) simply don't have feelings.

or its assumed we don't have feelings.

i mean its partially right. i literally figured the only way for me to not go insane in a career that creates junkies (or at best Kanye) is to desensitize myself from feelings.

thing is though, im a halfway crook.

an awesome poker player. so yeah, i hurt....

but i'll be damned if i let YOU know that.

so call me a 75% robot/25% human being. (this should also explain to you why im able to work mammoth hours with 0 complaints)

so when i got off the plane this morning and i was waiting in customs i read that apology note...

and it kinda touched me. like that "vindication moment when the misunderstood character on tv finally proves they are not crazy and people see it their way FINALLY"---she related to me and it was a gut punch i wasn't expecting in an already emotional day---so...i guess i started to almost....cry?

so then Rich hits me on the phone seconds later



i know its sad to say, but we in the Roots circle love each other like family.....but not enough to trust each other in vulnerable moments. i mean this is a man who waited til he was ON the operating table minutes away from surgery to finally reveal to me he was going through a life or death cancer procedure simply because he didn't wanna distract me or create excuses as to why i didn't finish my book (majority of the back and forth banter talk from Mo Meta was done with him in a hospital without my knowledge---that's how deep "feelings" are buried in this circle)

so i'm doing my best "straighten up, stop sobbing" shtick and he says "what's wrong?"---4 seconds flat i bury it and im back to normal.

im not proud of that.

i spent 11 of the last 20 years in therapy trying to deal with that.

so i decided to abandon operation "bury"---and i said "well....."

rich: what's wrong?

i mean how do i answer that? this does NOT feel like an average day: remember how nice everyone was post 911? eerie. almost surreal.

like everyone is acting "too nice" and i dunno how to process that. then there are people that are acting like nothing happened ("hey quest, where is dave chappelle at?!!??!")---its just one of those days that doesn't feel normal to me.

---so rich keeps picking at the question like a 3 month old scab from camping


and im like "need i say it?!?!"

but its like i cant tell if he's provoking me or not.....---half the time im thinking he's waiting for me to complain about last nights show in amsterdam.---then im like "am i embarrassed to tell rich i feel horrible in general?"---i dont know how to not internalize the overall message this whole trayvon case has taught me:

you aint shit.

that's the lesson i take from this case.

you aint shit.

those words are deep cause these are words i heard my whole life:

i heard from adults in my childhood that i need to be "about something" other than all that banging and clanging and music i play all the time"....and as i got older i heard i wasn't as good as "so and so and so and so" is at music. ---i mean the "you a'int shit" stories i got---jesus its a wonder i made it. asks "'re not surprised are you?"

i wasn't surprised at all, but that doesn't mean it doesn't sting any less.

i mean i SHOULD be angry right?---i remember when Sean Bell's outcome came out and i just knew "oh god new york is gonna go up in flames"---and like....noone was was like " surprises here....that's life"

so rich asks: "like are you surprised....that you aint shit"

i meant it hurts to hear it and i said "im not surprised at the disposition but who wants to be reminded?....what fat person wants to hear they aren't pleasing to the eye. or what addict wants to hear they are a constant effup?---who wants to be reminded that *shrug* its just the way it is?

so i guess im struggling to get at least 1% of this feeling back from all this protective numbness ive built around me to keep me from feeling because at the end of the still human....