Dream /ˈdrēm/ word. – indulge in daydreams or fantasies about something greatly desired. See also. “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.
I once watched an episode of The Boondocks where Huey imagines what might have happened if Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t die on that April day in 1968. Instead, he fell into a 32-year coma and woke to see the world as it is now. King finds himself in a lost world and at the climax of the episode, he launches into a tirade about how we lost track of the Civil Rights dream. It’s at that moment the people remembered what our foremothers and forefathers stood for and they took action. At the end of the episode, Huey’s final comment was “It’s fun to dream,” reminding us that ones who came before us cannot save us now. At least, that’s how I interpreted that moment.
I’ve always wondered what it takes for a person to be willing to die for a cause… to realize you may not live to see your dream succeed. It must take a lot of hutzpah. When I first imagined this project, I thought about where we were as a society. How did we get here? How can we make it better? Oftentimes, our lives seem to be stuck in neutral. So, I decided to give you 31 choices… 31 ways to make progress… And if you at least just picked one opportunity, maybe we could move forward. Maybe the answer is as simple as choosing love over pride.
I guess what I’m trying to say… If you’re reading this, I was just dreamin’.
Interview by Diamond Dixon
My name is Chandler Johnson. I am originally from Kansas City, Missouri. I was born here, in the late ‘80s and I lived here for a few years. Then my mom ended up marrying my dad in the early ‘90s, and I moved from here to Lawrence, Kansas. My dad and my mom ended up having three other kids — Morgan, Ashley, Tyler — they are biracial, I’m not. We ended up moving down to Wichita and I spent most of my life in Wichita, Kansas. I went to high school in Wichita and then ended up going to college at Kansas State University. After that, I ended up getting my master’s at Illinois State University. And now I’m back here, living in Kansas City. I’ve got two other roommates and I am working at a nonprofit as a graphic designer…and pretty much my life is just trying to create beautiful things.
Pick Progress started as a vanity project. I’ve always loved picks — I like how they fit in my back pocket, I like how they wear in my hair, I love everything about it — and I’ve just always wanted to see picks that have more meaning to them, like having different phrases on them. I’ve always wanted to have picks that had that type of big significance. And so once I taught myself how to do 3D design, I got some printed and I looked at them and I said, This could be something more. This could be an opportunity to give back to the culture and my community, which is something that I haven’t normally done…I’ve just always been on the grind to kind of move up for myself.
So this was an opportunity to give back to the culture.I thought that it’d be really cool to have 30 different individuals, at least, to represent each of these picks. I think that there is a huge intersection between a pick and beauty and Black beauty and also just the identity of each Black individual…and to have that kind of be in one area and hear all these different voices talk about their experiences and where they’ve come from and what they see as a problem in society…I just thought that might be a beautiful thing and it would be like a historical archive for us to either look back on or start looking forward at what we can do better.
It just kind of happened intuitively. I didn’t really think too much into it. Part of it was just like a representation of looking at…First, ”afro pick” is the first part of Pick Progress. But the second part is just the idea of, Let’s look at how far we’ve come…from beauty standards…to actual history of Black culture and Black legacies…. to looking at how each individual is different…. Pick Progress is a representation of just looking at where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going as a community. And I extend that past just Black people, it’s more than just Black people. It’s about us, as a human race, working together and understanding the atrocities that have happened to Black people…and the joys that have happened to Black people. Looking at it holistically — what can we do to move people, minorities, in a way that helps progress them to the levels of equity and equality.
So there’s two parts to the project, right? There’s the outward facing part of the project where everyone else gets to experience it and then there’s this part where I live in kind of my own shell and get to experience it on a singular basis where I get to have interviews with each of these individuals. And so what I’ve got him to experience is hearing a variety of different stories that not only parallel mine, but also at the same time present something new that I’d never thought about. So what’s surprised me is just that sometimes I haven’t thought about the way that people talk about stuff.
So at K-State University I double majored in communication studies and then journalism and mass communication with an emphasis on electronic media and got my masters in communication. So communication is a big thing for me — the way that we talk, how we use our words. And so what surprises me is how people describe things.
So one guy, David, talked about how people perceive the problems in Black neighborhoods and don’t fully understand that it’s a systemic problem. And he used the comparison of fishes — that if you walk to a pond and you see one fish belly up, you say, Oh, there’s something wrong with the fish. But if you see 50 fishes belly up, then there’s something wrong with the pond and it’s not the fish — and I’ve never thought about it like that, in that type of linguistic sense. And I think that’s what’s really interesting about interacting with different individuals…that even though we use the same words in the dictionary, we use them differently. And we have to kind of have these narratives and these conversations to better understand how we all work. I think sometimes we assume that everybody works the same way that we work. And then when you get to have that conversation, you start getting in your head, Oh wow, that person puts two-and-two together to make four, differently than I make four, like I do one-and-three. So those different types of things play a different role in how I perceive things and I think that’s been really surprising for me.
So for most of my life I’ve just been determined to try and “make it”, you know, do the things that I need to do to get to a level of success –if you asked me how to describe what that level of success is, I wouldn’t be able to describe it — but I was always trying to get to that level. So I’m scrapping, I’m digging, I’m going after this goal…. And then at a certain point in grad school, Trayvon Martin dies. And didn’t really pay close attention to it, I didn’t watch it as intently as maybe other people did, but I just remember thinking to myself, This young kid died and it was based on how he looked and that no matter how smart I got, how much money I had in my pocket, or anything like that…it wasn’t going to change the fact that there’s people that could hate me equally and do harm to me.
And I think when you are in a vacuum and all you do, you have the blinders on and all you do is focus on success and going to school, because that’s what your parents have told you…You gotta go to school, you got to do something, you got to make something of your life and you do that, all you do is focus on that. And to run into the wall, so to speak, and get hit with the reality that it’s bigger than that…your blinders and the things that you’re trying to go after can’t erase the idea of the -isms of sexism, of racism, of discrimination, of classism… all those different types of things still play a role into it. And I got hit with that reality. And that started getting the brain thinking.
And the second part was that I kind of listened to this podcast that I really, really love called Revisionist History and there’s an episode that talks about tokenism and feeling a part of two different worlds. I was trying to navigate how I understood myself and I think that was another place that opened the door for me. So trying to understand all that led me to say the best way I can do that is by trying to have conversations. The best way I can do that is try to go out of my way to figure out how to give back to my culture and dive into these conversations in a way that fits with the things that I love to do, which is being creative, designing, doing things that kind of push the boundaries. And so that’s what led it to here.
How many different perspectives there are. It’s all about perspective. It’s inward and outward. It’s looking at people and seeing them as an individual, as a unique and beautiful and talented individual, and being able to understand that dynamic ability that they have within themselves and then trying to figure out, How does that play to me as an individual?
So I spent a lot of stuff of my time like dealing with philosophical thoughts, trying to understand why the world is the way it is, why we are the way that we are… And so I think part of this project is that I want people to understand what we mean to each other.
You know…my grandpa dealing with racism back in the 60s and the 70s… and you know that you have family members that have a history, or that legacy, that’s been connected to you…trying to understand that and come to terms with that is a huge thing. Trying to come to terms with how you perceive things based on biases or stereotypes when you’re looking at minorities instead of asking those questions, that’s a huge thing if we’re looking towards trying to make progress or just be a good human being.
I don’t know if we can define being a “good human being” while walking around the world and throwing out biases and stereotypes and racism and discrimination.You can’t be a good person and also be full of hatred towards other individuals. And I’m not saying that means that you need to be weak. I’m just saying that that means that you’ve got to find a space to understand who you are as an individual and be okay when you make really harsh, mean decisions…that you can be a mean person. It’s not that you can just walk around and justify it as, it doesn’t matter because that’s just some person that I don’t know and I don’t care. If you want to be a good person, then be a good person. And I think that’s why in this project I wanted to highlight these narratives and these stories for us to understand that perspective.
I think sometimes it’s the lack of responses that is the most blaring. Sometimes it’s when that conversation happens that is the most blaring. You know, I refer back to the podcast that I listened to — I’ve mentioned it twice now because it is one of the most fundamental pieces of content that I came across that changed my perspective — but in that podcast, it talks about Sammy Davis Jr. and him working his butt off to become accepted by the White community…And I don’t want to ruin it all, but there’s a part at the end that is heartbreaking and you kind of come to realize that as much as he wanted to be a part of it, he was never going to be a part of it.
And I think to a certain extent, my biggest thing is that I hope that they see this project and actually listen. I hope even if not talking directly to me about it, they’re actually listening. Instead of just thinking that, Oh, this is Chandler on some type of, you know, dream project. This is more than that. It’s more than just, How cool would it be to represent Black people? It’s about the idea of what we mean to each other. It’s about the idea that sometimes in these spaces, as a Black person interacting where there are way more White individuals than me, I feel so isolated. I feel like there is this not an understanding of who I am. And they want to be in group-think where they want to interact with only people of their own skin color or they want to have conversations about things that only relate to their social dynamic…and that creates such a wall between how I interact with them and how they interact with me. And it takes listening to these stories to open up the door to, How can we be better to each other?
And I ain’t saying that I’m perfect, but I also will say that like it’s hard to be in a space where you’re the only Black individual. It’s hard to be in a space when there’s only a handful of Black individuals. When I’m in a space where there’s way more White individuals versus just me, I’m trying to navigate, How are they gonna perceive me? So I know that’s a roundabout way to kind of answer your question, but I think the biggest thing is the loudness of some of the non-responses from people that say that they’re allies. Because I think that sometimes it’s easy to say that your ally, but it’s hard to actively be an ally.
So again, I have a lot of philosophical thoughts of thinking about how the world works and what we mean to each other. And I think my dream for society overall, it’s to find peace. And what I mean by that…it’s not this souped up idea of what peace means…where we all walk around and hugging each other and holding hands and just different things like that…It’s the idea that all of us have these ripple effects in our lives, these curses in our lives so to speak. Whether it is on a large scale or a small scale, it’s trying to figure out how to reverse those curses.
I just think that a lot of times we can be cruel to each other and we don’t realize it and we justify it. I think sometimes we’re so in that game of going through life and trying to get ours and trying to make money and raise kids and protect our family and all these different types of things… and we don’t look at the history of what got us here. We can blame the system, I think that the systemic stuff is deserving of it, but those things don’t change unless we actually like have an internal look. Saying, How do we play a role into that system? How do we figure out how to find peace?
You know, I’m a cursed individual equally. I have a lot of things that prevent me from having the simplest interactions with different individuals. Coming from a background where I was growing up in a single parent home for awhile and navigating through a life of being the only Black individual, you develop this like “Lone Wolf” mentality where all you think about is, I got to accomplish this and I don’t care what anyone else is going to do. I’m just going to go and do it. Well, as much as I can look at the pros of being very independent, very driven, hardworking…all that type of stuff can be equally lonely. And trying to figure out how to have interactions and conversations and open myself up to showing and being revealing of who I am as an individual, those are the things that I am working towards reversing the curse within myself.
So I think, as a society, my dream is that we understand the curses individually, in a group, as a nation and how we can reverse those things because I think those are really, really important. And we’ll never get anywhere unless we realize that every action that we have has an equal and opposite reaction. It has a ripple effect in society and in our lives and we have to come to terms with those.
So,I had to find some spaces for things that I love about Black culture. And so some of my favorite picks are the Stay Woke pick, the Do the Right Thing pick — partially because I had a vision in my head. Like, Do the Right Thing, I knew that I wanted it to be red…I just thought about the passion that Spike Lee had in that. When I thought about Stay Woke, I thought about Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love” album and wanted it to be blue. We Gonna be Alright, I’m a huge Kendrick Lamar fan — he’s one of my favorite individuals to just dissect and understand where his mind is as an artist and as an individual — and so, We Gonna Be Alright was paying respect to him. So those are the kind of the origin points of where I decided to make these picks.
So, I tried to do my due diligence to not only create, as best as I possibly could, a look at Black culture. All the way from very well known mainstream media Black culture objects like, “Do the Right Thing” to something that needs to be recognized like ballroom culture and LGBTQ culture, Like, you know, “Yas Queen” and “Slay All Day”. So, I wanted it to be thoughtful about that. But in addition to that, I knew that my background in Black culture is completely different from other people’s background in Black culture. You know, I was on the right on the line of Black culture growing up, as opposed to some people that I went to high school with who would, you know, talk about Martin on a regular basis or talk about something that happened on BET on a regular basis. Like, I wasn’t necessarily watching that.
So, I was in a sociology class and one of the things that Mr. Button wanted to teach us was how images play a role in our lives…and it was a PlayStation2 ad…I don’t know if it was in America, I think it was in a different country, but they had a White woman on the left — and they had stylized her where she was like ice princess White. It was just so White… her hair was White and everything was White — If you were in the back of the room, all you saw was this White woman on the left. And then he said, If you are in the back, why don’t you come closer? And on the right side, what you thought was a Black background, was a Black woman..her hair was Black and you didn’t realize that it was a Black woman. And he talked about the way that these presentations of Black images play a role in our lives in how we present them. And that stuck with me — how to show the beauty and the joy of Black individuals and showing a variety of shades and colors within the Black race. I like things to be vibrant and to have a lot of energy when you see them as an image. And so I want people to look at these photos with a lot of the love and energy that’s equally inside of each of the individuals. I want to show people as clear as I possibly can, how beautiful Brown skin can be in a variety of different ways. And so I set about trying to do that in the way that I take photos.
And I guess part of it is…I think beauty in general is just an idea of the intangibles that you feel. You know — the heart racing, the excitement that you get when you’re attracted to something, you really can’t control, you start sweating…Like, for me, when I was in elementary school and I liked a girl and “cooties” were me actually liking somebody. That’s beauty. It’s the intangibles inside of yourself that you feel about a different individual or different thing.
And Black beauty has had a long history of being disrespected and that’s extremely unfair and it’s way past time that it gets the respect that it deserves. When you look at somebody like Angela Bassett, like every time I watch like Black Panther I’m like, My God, that’s something that you can’t replicate. That is a swagger and a sass and a personality and a presence…and then you can get into the visual aesthetics of who she is as a person that is amazing…When I’m watching a movie and she pops up on screen, the palms started sweating and the heart starts racing and you started feeling like, Hey, she’s awesome. And I feel that with a lot of different individuals. I love the swagger that people present and push out there that are Black individuals. That’s where my mindset went when it came to taking these photos and trying to represent Black beauty in the best way possible.
It’s not one thing…all of them are connected together and they all play a role in how we perceive things. So whether you have somebody like Dr. Carpenter that’s talking about more equity in society…I believe Lauren did education…. and Jessica did the respect that we have towards little Black boys — All of those are equally favorable, hopefully to everyone. But I think more specifically for me, and I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, it’s money.
This morning when I was in the car and I was listening to another podcast that’s called “Spectacular Failures”, and it talked about how there’s these businesses that go belly up and they don’t make it. And there’s a clip that they played from Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and he says, “greed is good, money is good.” And I think the biggest problem is where the money is connected to our systemic problems.
So I’m a pessimist as much as I want to believe that we’ll always figure it out — like, I will die on a hill trying to figure out how can we solve these problems — until we figure out how the money is connected to all these problems, I don’t know if we’ll be able to solve it. We can go the route of being lovey-dovey and believing that all of us need to hold hands and sing…But we’ve created a structure nationally, internationally, where it’s based on profit and it’s based on gain and it’s based on money. Until we as a culture realize how these play a role and connect to each other, we’ll never be able to kind of get out of those thresholds that we are finding ourselves in to this day.
Again, all the -isms — sexism, racism, classism — are all based on some type of foundation built on money. You think about slavery and how it wasn’t just like, Well we want to be mean to Black people. It was, We’re going to use them for profit, and that became a thing. The fear of Black people thriving and undercutting the financial profits that White individuals had played a role in how people were treated. You look at, sometimes, these private prisons and how they interact and they work is based on a profit model. And it’s not trying to say that all money’s bad. It’s the idea that like we use it as a crutch to not change stuff. We use money as, Well, the engine is still running, it’s hot, it’s good, so why should we change anything?
My birthday’s on earth day so at some point I fell in love with this idea that I have this direct correlation to the earth — even though like it’s way older than me and I’m assuming that it’s birthday is not on the same day I was born — but the idea that we have a climate issue and that we don’t sit there and think to ourselves, How can we do this better like that? What is it going to take that we can do this better? That it’s easier for businesses to shell out a bunch of ads and marketing schemes to say let’s keep it as is…If you like your life and you like your job, let’s keep it as is. When we could actually equally change the system for those same people to have the same jobs in renewable energy.
Those are the things that I think about. I think about food deserts…I watched Parasite — Parasite is my favorite movie of this past year — and it talks about classism…And you think about food deserts and areas that don’t have anything — in the inner cities, in the ghettos, in the projects, and different things like that –and from a capitalist perspective, why would you put money into those areas? If everyone’s saying that they’re poor, why would you put money into there? But the ripple effect of that is that they stay poor and they don’t get the opportunities that they deserve and they don’t get the opportunities to expand themselves. So you’ve literally created a habitat for this chaos. And I just think that it’s frustrating that we use money as a crutch to not solve these problems. Because, again, if I die tomorrow I hope that I tried my best to be good. Again, I can’t define it fully, but I tried my best to negotiate these situations of choosing my selfish side versus choosing a side that might be better for the whole. And sometimes those things don’t work out where I might not get everything that I deserve or I think that I deserve. But in the long run, everybody else is going to benefit from that. And when you look at people who have tons and tons of money and there’s factory workers are like trying to scrape by and put their kids through school….It’s like, what’s happening here? Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to me.
We’ve lived in a life where our goal was just to pursue the things that we wanted to pursue, as a family. We love sports, so we played sports. We went to school because our parents wanted us to be successful. We did all these things… and it was only until we got older where we confronted the idea of like…nothing that you can do is gonna make you be able to run away from being Black or biracial.
But I think that it’s an interesting dynamic when your kids start getting older and start becoming woke themselves — and I say woke in the sense of understanding that the world is way more complex and way more gray than the way that my parents wanted to shelter us and make sure that it was kind of more of a Black and White situation.
So when you get older, you start having these conflicts where the interactions of understanding the historical dynamic of different families…whether it’s having my grandparents on one side being fully Black and my grandparents on the other side being fully White…it’s sometimes interesting because the conversations are completely different,the way that we talk about it is completely different, and the way that we understand how race works is completely different. You know, when you look grandparents at who grew up in the ‘60s and one lived in the middle of like Kansas and the other one grew up in the middle of Arkansas, they’re going to have dynamically different perspectives about the world. And so I think growing up it was only until we got older that it’s like coming to terms with that.
The thing that I will say is that I’m blessed and fortunate to have siblings like I do. Because Morgan, Ashley and Tyler are equally brilliant and smart and thoughtful in their own right. As the oldest you get the responsibility to like, lead the way and share your thoughts and make sure they’re going on the right path. And, if I die tomorrow I ain’t really worried about it. They are their own pillars and they are going to equally do amazing stuff — and it’s not because of me or anything that I did, I was just fortunate to watch it happen.
And so, we do have conversations about race now. And for some strange reason all of us are in some type of humanities background…My sister being in psychology and getting her master’s in psychology.. my little brother getting his master’s in communication…. and then Morgan being a youth pastor and having his master’s in theology… like we all come from a background of like, How can we help people? And so when we’re having texting conversations, it has been really interesting because we all come from that different perspectives and we are able to talk about and understand it. And, so yeah, it’s been cool.
If I died today and people still came to the site. What I want them to say is that it was a stepping stone for them to work harder in their own pursuits and their own dreams. It was a stepping stone for them to understand Black culture and be more aware of the appropriation of Black culture and the beautiful dynamic of Black culture. I hope that it is a stepping stone to…maybe 50 years down the road go back and say, Have we changed as a culture and as a community? And it is a stepping stone for people to actually be proactive and do something and make change.
And understand again what we mean to each other. I can’t express that enough. We’ve got to understand who we are and this interaction between two people or three people or multiple people. Because again, we can be really, really cruel. But when you get down to actually listening to answers from a person, you realize that we’re all just trying to figure out how to make it. This world is harsh. It can be really, really harsh. And I think once we get down to that basic level, I think then it opens the doors up to more things.
The societal pressures that I felt based on my race is, I have felt like an outsider in many of the spaces throughout my life. And as I was growing up, I don’t know if I really thought too much about how my skin color impacted the room or the atmosphere or the relationships that I was going to have with other individuals in those spaces. You know, growing up as a kid, you learn about the impact of your skin color. Growing up on the playground with my best friend Matt, who is White, and hanging out with all the other kids, most of them were White, you don’t really think too much about it. I was just so focused on playing or having fun or doing sports or getting good grades or just making it through elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college…I didn’t really think too much about how my skin color was being impacted by the world.
And then I finally listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, and there’s this episode about Sammy Davis Jr and that’s when I first realized the idea of being an outsider. In the episode, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how Sammy Davis contorted himself to fit in with the people in the golden era of Hollywood, which was predominantly White and still is predominantly White. And the idea that he had to contort himself to fit in and in the end still never was able to be accepted because he was a Black man. That was something that was really compelling to me. And I had to ask myself those same questions. Did I contort myself to fit in with the group? Did I have to dim my Blackness and my skin color to fit in with everyone else? And I was just worried that I was doing it subconsciously, not, you know, actively doing it, because I had grown up in these spaces and not really thought about who I was as a person.
And so it was a really internal battle, internal conversation that I had with myself after I listened to that podcast….And I think about these spaces now and think about how the group dictates personalities. So in the episode, Malcolm Gladwell uses an example of women,, especially women in the workplace. For example, let’s say that you have one woman and all men and she’s in the workplace trying to do her job, trying to get things done and she has to negotiate how people are going to perceive her in the workplace. So there’s some options that she can choose, which means she’s going to have to contort herself and become a caricature of herself to fit in or be the ultimate outsider. So she can be one of the guys — she can be the stereotype where she talks about sports, smoke cigars, and do different things that all the guys like to do to fit in…Or she could be the “cutthroat bitch” and not give a care about who they are, what they do, and be the ultimate outsider. Of course, both roads are very, very hard. You know, joining into a group and realizing that you’ve lost a piece of who you actually are is one thing that you have to do if you’re wanting to be part of the guys or you decide to take the lonely road and be by yourself. And I wish that groups would avoid the group think and figure out spaces to be inclusive to everyone. Because it can be really, really hard for that person, that token, that minority to make a decision based on should I join the crowd or should I be by myself? And I have conflicts with it on a regular basis.
I love who I am. I am not one dimensional. I love to cook. I love to design. I love chicken. I love basketball and football. I love movies. I love things that are stereotypically Black and I love things that are not stereotypically Black. So the idea that I am perceived as one dimensional…Or the idea that I need to fit in with everybody else instead of them respecting me and trying to seek to understand my dynamic personality, that is a really frustrating thing. And that’s the pressure that I feel, and that I felt growing up — how do I navigate being a token in these spaces?
I don’t know if I can say that I’ve ever experienced overt racism or discrimination. I think there’s two ways that I can answer this question. I think first is the idea that I have been in spaces where I don’t think even my closest allies understand the pressures that I’m feeling in those spaces. Whether it’s between friends or people that I’ve dated or being in the workplace or anything — sometimes I respond differently. I like to believe that I’m an extrovert, but there are times where I feel the social and class pressure of who I am and what space I’m in and how do I present myself in a way that, again, is acceptable to the “in crowd”. Especially if, let’s say, I’m invited by somebody else that’s my friend, it’s not just a reflection of me, it’s a reflection of them as well. So not only am I carrying the burden of myself and how I want to be perceived and taken seriously, I’m also carrying the burden, that I perceive, of how they feel about me and what their expectations of me are. And I guess sometimes it’s frustrating to see some of the “wokest” people let you down in not understanding those pressures. I think that it hurts when they look at you and say, Well, why are you being awkward? Or they don’t help bring you into the conversation. They don’t bring you into the group, when you may feel like an outsider.
I think the second part that I’ve felt like I’ve experienced is that I have talked to some powerful individuals, some people that hold a lot of power in the title that they have, and the lack of respect that I have received in the way of subtext and non-verbals is really, really heartbreaking and frustrating. All I’ve wanted to do is just be better and try to make a name for myself. And sometimes I have these conversations with individuals and….from trying to show somebody a project that I’ve been working on and they take their coffee cup and set it right on top of the brochure that I made, which feels like a slap in the face…to having conversations where they’re taking for granted my go get ’em attitude and talking to me in a way of saying, Well, you need this, this and this to be better. And not giving me any space to be better can be frustrating.
And I guess the biggest thing about racism or societal pressures, kind of going back to the other question, is that a person can drive themselves crazy trying to decipher if what they’ve experienced is discrimination or racism. I think the most torturous thing that people can do to another person is not the idea of overt racism, it’s the idea that you can’t tell if somebody was having malice towards you, if they had ill intent towards you, if it’s about the color of your skin, if it’s about your age, if it’s about your experience…and you can go crazy, and I have gone crazy, trying to understand what is the reason that some of it occurred and doing my own CSI version of deciphering all the elements that played a role into where I am now.
And that is a really, really cruel thing. I think it’s the double consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois talked about — that you straddle this world where you think that you’re accepted but you’re not accepted in some spaces…you think that you’re part of the crowd but you’re not part of the crowd…u think that you are just who you are….But when you’re straddling different worlds where you might be too White for Black individuals and too Black for White individuals, that can get really, really frustrating.
I think I could say that I’m a little bit nontraditional, in the sense of what has inspired me. I like to go against the grain and grab stuff that is unconventional. A quick example is like, as a designer, sometimes I don’t like watching other designers do their thing because I don’t want it necessarily imitate them. So, since I love cooking so much, I like watching a show like Chef’s Table to get inspiration from them and implement certain methods into the things that I do as a graphic designer. And when it comes to things that have shaped my life, I think for me it’s the bigger questions of what we mean to each other.
So I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Good Place — it just ended — and I think that the philosophical conversations that they talked about throughout their run was amazing because it was this idea of what it means to be a good person. And one of the biggest questions they asked is, What do we owe to each other? And I know that I ask, What do we mean to each other? I think you could say that they are the same thing, but I think understanding what it means to be a good person is one of those questions that I have. I lose a ton of sleep on a regular basis over that I’m not perfect as an individual and I just wanna figure out how I can impact the world in a better way. And coming to grips with the reality of your life and death and family and people in history…I think is a huge thing. And so The Good Place is a show, that for all of its comedy, I think at the core it has a lot of heart.
I think 13th by Ava DuVernay is an amazing documentary. I watched it with my grandpa and I think it was amazing to watch history with a person who has experienced that history as well. For example, when they showed the scene of Emmett Till…I didn’t think about how my grandpa was like in his twenties or late teens when Emmett Till died. You don’t think about how close history is. You know, we’re one or two generations away from segregation and those experiences like Jim Crow laws. So I think 13th is an amazing documentary.
I’m a big Kendrick Lamar fan. The way that he tells a story…To Pimp a Butterfly is probably my favorite album of all time, and more specifically, it’s my favorite Kendrick album. I think the idea of trying to negotiate how do you transcend the world and have these philosophical thoughts about bringing back ideas to help save your people is should be a conversation that we’re all having. So I think that’s a great piece of content to listen to.
Revisionist History is amazing. Malcolm Gladwell does an amazing job. Something as simple as Fahrenheit 451, which is my favorite book, to understand the importance of information and trying to understand how the world works and not just buying into information that works for you…I think, really, really important. So those are some of the things, books and movies, that have shaped my life.
And I think my grandpa and my dad and my mom are people that have really shaped my life. So my grandpa maybe the hardest working man in show business and in my life. He spends hours after hours just working. And he still works to this day even though he’s retired. And I think that’s an amazing thing to just witness. I think my dad is equally as hardworking. I think that he tried to set me on a path of creating some structure and order, for as wild and reckless as I was. I think my mom has a huge heart and she is the glue that sticks our family together. And to witness her do good in the world and even use her voice to just be kind was an amazing thing and amazing upbringing. And then my grandmother is the person that has taught me to be real. She doesn’t play any games and I’ve always respected her for that. And having all of those traits and being able to witness it in my grandparents and my parents has helped shape who I am as an individual.
I’m really hard on myself. I don’t really enjoy the moments of accomplishing something. I think I find joy in the journey and in the work. But I have been really, really blessed to walk out of college with three degrees. I’m fortunate to go after my passion and love of designing. I am fortunate to have two brothers and a sister that are as amazing as they are. It is something else to witness people who have grown up in the same house with you become so independent and so powerful and so funny and so smart. And the joy that I get from interacting with them and knowing that they’re my family is something that I don’t want to take for granted. And so even though that’s not an accomplishment in my life, I’m just fortunate to be 1/4 of an amazing group of individuals that I like to call my siblings. But overall I’ve been able to do things like…run a podcast or start a website or help a business out or win some awards when I competed in speech… and all of those things are great. But I don’t necessarily like to reflect on those things. I think I’m always trying to figure out how to move forward and just move to the next thing. And so it’s hard for me to answer what I feel like I’ve accomplished in my life.
I just want to tell you that you are powerful beyond measure. You are strong. I know that you experience a lot — It doesn’t matter what specifically it is, but regardless of what you’re going through –I just want you to know that you are loved and that you can do many great things.
But I also want to tell you that whatever anger, whatever frustration, whatever curses that you feel are on you, that the only way things are going to get better is figuring out how to get rid of those curses. And I want us to be better than the people that oppress us. I want us to be better than our forefathers and mothers. I want us to be better than any individual before us. And that takes us realizing that we are equally imperfect as other individuals. So my advice is to reflect on these curses, reflect on this history, reflect on all these things. And figure out not only to get yours, but also lift people up and make the world better.
So I think my advice is twofold. First, if you want to understand the Black experience, then go out and seek to understand the Black experience. It’s as simple as that. It just takes action. And I understand the struggle is real for everybody that we’re all trying to get ours, we’re all trying to make it. But again, I go back to trying to understand, what do we mean to each other? That’s the question that I want to ask you, I ask myself, What do we mean to each other? And if you think that we mean something, then, be active in trying to understand us. Have conversations, do your research, read, listened, and think about how all of this plays together, how all of it links up and impacts each individual.
I think the second thing that I would say is that again, all of us are imperfect. And so to even my “woke” friends, there is still a lot of work to be done. I think understanding the intersectionality of the problems that we face — So, if you believe that you are woke and that you see problems that women are experiencing, but you fail to see the similarities to Black individuals or Black women or the LGBTQ community or the Hispanic community or Asian community or homeless veterans, these individuals that are living on the fringe that and I guess more specifically homeless veterans, these individuals that are living on the fringe — if you fail to see the intersectionality of these problems, then you equally have just as much work to go as people who aren’t woke. And I would say that being woke or being aware of these problems is a never ending journey. It doesn’t stop. There is not enough information that you can obtain in your lifetime that will ever hit the level of, Well, I think I got it. I think I’m good and as long as I just keep living my life, I don’t need to learn anything else. That is a false statement. So, always seek to understand more. Always seek to be an ally and be part of the team and bring people in and look at every situation that you’re in and wonder and ask yourself the question, Is this a problem?
I think a lot of times as individuals we get comfortable with the norm. We get comfortable with the way things are and we can’t imagine a world that is different because we’re so used to that world and we benefit off of that world. So again, in workplaces, if you look in a meeting and you realize that there are not enough minorities having the conversation and you justify it with saying, Well, at least we have women in here…or at least we have LGBT in here… or at least we have…Hispanics in here… regardless of what group to say we’ve covered or checked off our minority group, then you’re not thinking about the intersectionality of it. You’re not thinking about How can we be better? And I think that every system, every policy, every program, every place, every space could be better. And it can always be better. And I just want us to be consciously thinking, How can we always make it better?
I think that if you say, I have one Black friend or I have two Black friends, then think about how you can get to three or four or five or a whole group of Black friends. I bet you could write off a list of your hundred favorite movies and then do a checkoff of how many movies are Oscar nominated movies….Then write a list of a hundred people that you consider friends and do a checkoff of how many of those individual are Black….I sometimes worry that the list of Oscar films would be more than how many Black people you know. And I think that if it comes to that scary realization that you like way more Oscar films than you know Black people, then there’s something wrong. And if you know way more Oscar movies than you know of a certain minority group, then there’s something wrong. So I just hope, or I seek to advise you to do better, to be better every day. I know you can and I hope you do. And that’s the advice that I have.
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The colors were inspired by Kente cloth, a type of interwoven cloth strips made by the Akan ethnic group of Ghana. The color of Kente cloth holds a special significance. White: Purity and healing.
Photos of Chandler taken by Beth Stratbucker Photography: www.bstratbuckerphoto.com
Interview Date: February 25, 2020
Day 31 — Story posted on March 1, 2020