My first book is still months away from release as the editors and marketing team do whatever mix of magic and alchemy necessary to make it come to Life. In the meantime, I’ve been writing everything from op-eds for newspapers to blogs to notes of love and encouragement to those who need it most.
Writing has brought legit mental health to my existence – I have found literary peace of mind as we navigate living in the Upside Down. Recently though writing brought me immense discomfort. Actually - not the writing, but the lack of what to write about on this most important topic – Black History. Who should I profile? What would I say about them? With everything this country continues to face and dodge in relation to racial injustice and the boiling point of George Floyd’s murder last year, this Black History Month I wanted desperately to get it right. Or more to the point – I didn’t wanna fuck it up.
I thought and thought… and thought some more – listened to rarely heard speeches of MLK talking to black students about the importance of knowing their self-worth. Thought about my ex-wife’s father – one of the hardest working humans I know. A black man who built a kingdom on aluminum cans. As one of Texas’ most important Scrap Metal dealers he gave me one piece of advice – just one. “Keep wakin’ up.” And I’ll be damned if it hasn’t worked out. For her part, his daughter has taken the business to the next level. I even considered profiling my own father – an Air Force vet who happens to also be affiliated with the original Black Panther party. But when it came down to it, it seemed not important, but necessary that I explore my own history – me. And if I fuck it up, I will definitely let me know.
I am a Gemini in the truest since. I feel I’ve lived as twins my whole life. Two sides of this earthly existence made manifest on the daily. Before I turned 13, I had already paid for meals with food stamps, but also eaten dinner with George Bush (41) and the first lady. By age 19, I was on my way to becoming an NCAA All-Conference football player, but also had lost my biggest fan, my mother. Fuck cancer… especially breast cancer. And by 25, some of my closest friends were drug dealers, but also some were ordained ministers.
Fast forward to 2019. Before COVID I relished lavish meals at high end restaurants in Beverly Hills with friends, who are some the best athletes in the world and opted to take their talents to the NFL. But I feel truly satiated when I’m volunteering at the food bank in DTLA. No apologies for the shameless promotion of food banks – they need us now more than ever. A Gemini in everything from thought to action, form to function.
I’m tellin ya – twin lives. And they started nearly two centuries before I was even born.
My heritage is as French as it is black. I say black to make the distinction from African American. You could be 2nd generation Nigerian and be African American. But my people built this country. Many Africans have (and IMHO should) come here for a better future, if so compelled. But not all have shed blood, tears and sweat equity to make this country what it is today. I am a black man in America. And every family line that was stolen, sold or coerced into coming to the US via the Middle Passage is distinct from all others who live in this country and share our melanin-rich skin. No more important to the fabric of this great nation and no less – just different.
In case the last name didn’t give it away, France runs deep in my blood too. My paternal family – Frenchmen who came over around the time the States bought Louisiana for a paltry $15 million dollars – raised sugar cane. On their… our plantation. And used black slaves as free labor. The story goes that my great-great-great grandfather Julien came to the US and settled in the former French territory now known as the Bayou State or The Pelican State. Our relationship with the Choctaw and Coushatta are as mixed as the gumbo we eat – colonization a bitter and prominent ingredient in this family recipe. Julien’s son, Velor (Bull as he was called) fell in love with a slave and freed her so that they could marry. Marrying an ex-slave is a risky proposition under any circumstance. I do mean mean any. For context – a judge refused to marry an interracial couple in Tangipahoa Parish as recently as 2009. But I’ve yet to meet a Harleaux that fears anything other than the Most High. Ya heard?
And so, at the risk of unequivocal peril that could spell death; black blood, slave blood was now part of the Harleaux double helix. My father, easily passe blanc (can pass for white) too married a dark skinned woman. No sense in denying the appeal that comes with women of color. Thing is – though my story is unique to me, it is not exclusive in this country’s multifaceted history. Even white presidents fathered black children.
Louisiana though is its own thing. Distinct from the rest of the country in so many ways – one particular distinction in The Boot is that of the blended races and ethnicities that brought about people like me. Today, we’re largely called creole – a sexy and exotic designation. But my ancestors were called much worse. Niggers. Nigger lovers. Mutts. Mulatto. And those are the mild descriptors. Everyone loves to talk about the food and the culture down in New Orleans, but some of us are the culture. I am only one, but my whole life I have found it strange to be celebrated and reviled and marketed. Half of the “creole” restaurants around the country are a joke. Your etouffee is laughable. Your beignets are better left for state fairs than Louisiana style kitchens. And there is only one Café du Monde. Only. One. And by the same token, it’s said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. So, keep working those recipes til you get it… close. You won’t ever get it right. You don’t know how to make the roux like Gramma – one of many family secrets. But I’ve settled into the understanding that introducing people to the culture is better than not.
Twin lives. Rooted in LA – Louisiana. And living is L.A. – the city of Angels. From Houma to Hollywood, I’ve come to accept and appreciate all that this country offers. It bothers me when SoCal shuns the simple ways of living and it pains me when folks from the bayou think that everything west of the Mississippi is tainted by Hollywood elitism. If only you could spend a Life in each other’s shoes, you’d know that good people is good people. Dottie, forgive me for the bad grammar.
As a Gemini of the highest order, I offer this understanding:
My Life has been filled with the undeniable notion that good ideas come from the left and the right. Kindness isn’t owned by one region or another. Love has zero limitations – but for humanity’s limited capacity to understand it. And most importantly, more still unites us than divides us. Trust me on this: I’ve got at least three continents of humanity running through my brains and veins.
Let me be clear – all humans get on my nerves. I get on my nerves. But that’s just humans being human. Zydeco dancers get on my nerves. Tree huggers get on my nerves. And God’s got jokes – he made me a lotta both. See, the Gemini in me compels me to see these widely contrasting ways of being as special, unique and wholly American.
As Black History month nears its end, I share my history with you as beacon of what all history is made of – winners, losers, rights, wrongs and above all – history. Behind us. I continue learn from what was. But I live for what will be. And regardless of how things look in terms of health, politics or social justice, both sides of this Gemini are optimistic about what can be. It’s just that I’ve seen too much inner beauty, too much outward love and too much American “want-to” to believe that we can’t be great – again or for the first time. I’ll let y’all figure that part out. If I could offer just one piece of advice – always start with love.
Et fais attention a toi,