Theo Blue Details His African American Experience in ‘The Same’ Music Video
Theo Blue released his music video for “The Same” on Martin Luther King Day. He had A LOT to say about his experiences as an African American in the societal divide and class system of the U.S. Read Below:
“Then don’t give them a reason to escalate,” the thought in my head as I listened to a colleague complain about yet another encounter with the authorities. I didn’t say anything in response to him. I simply let the conversation end. As I left, I turned to my wife and recalled a time when two cops stopped me for half of my tail light being out. They came to the window, looked through the car, and saw my backpack in the backseat. One officer asked if he could search the backpack saying ‘you got weed in there?”
I answered, “No, sir, just my Bible.” “Mind if I take a look then?” he responded. “Sure!” I said. And to his surprise….bum…bum… bum…there was a Bible. I told my wife, “See…we can just calmly prove them wrong and we’ll have no problems. I mean where does confrontation get us in these situations anyway?”
That was eight years ago. Yes. I was that guy. The Martin Luther King meets Rodney King peace marching, “Why can’t we all just get along” guy.
Why? Maybe because I valued my life over whatever negative possibilities that could transpire with authorities. Or maybe because I grew up as the docile black child, finding it easier to be agreeable than to assert my thinking. In my honors classes, I was usually quiet. I was known for being “respectful,” “so articulate” and “such a nice kid.” Maybe somehow I found pride in “earning” or producing a peaceful encounter with authorities (white ones in particular). Maybe I took pleasure in proving them wrong. Pleasure in their silent praise of me not being like them. “Yes, white person. Yes, Mr. Officer. Yes, professor. We are not all like them” or at least I am not. I subconsciously took pride in differentiating myself from the negative stereotypes associated with my people.
Maybe I was an embryo sized uncle Tom. A coon in disguise. Maybe. But if I was, the worst part was that I didn’t even know it.
That was until my senior year in college.
My wife and I had applied to this program called Harvard DivEx (short for Diversity and Exploration). We made it into the program. We were flown out to Boston. Ate the best food. Slept in top-notch hotels. All on Harvard’s dime. I heard about the program because a friend of mine had gone the year before.
Well, as we approached the end of the program, one of the speakers shared, “If you are here then you have pretty much already been accepted to Harvard.” Those weren’t his exact words but it was something of that degree. I was shocked. Not because I wanted to go there but because this meant I could possibly make it into Princeton (that was my top school).
*As I write this, I am struck with the fact that I still have some unprocessed parts of me that seek validation from these places*
All that said, I get back to my school in Texas and I let one of my professors (who was also a mentor for me at this time) know about my time in the program. He responded with encouragement and said, if I wanted him to, he would write a letter of recommendation for me to go to Princeton.
All was well…until he started saying things like, “Well…Princeton is great. BUT…if you stay here then you will be able to have more one on one encounters with professors. You can’t get that at most places” and “well…Princeton is great. BUT…our language programs here compete with the best of them” and finally, “Well…you know – if you stay here – you and I can teach a joint class in the honors college. We can set it all up around something you are passionate about and that way you will leave here with teaching experience under your belt.”
The last one got me. Did I plan to go on to be a college professor so leaving my graduate program with strong training AND teaching experience? I felt like this was a strong offer. Not to mention they would give me a full-ride scholarship (my friend had told me about his expenses up at Harvard).
With this avalanche of opportunity before me, I stayed.
I applied. I told my wife’s family we weren’t coming home that year (they lived in Jersey) and we stayed.
After we got situated, a few weeks into school I hit up my professor and asked: “What do we need to do to move forward with joint teaching the course?” His response, “Oh…I don’t know. You will have to figure that out on your own. Try reaching out to someone in the honors department.”
I feel like I do not need to mention that he is white (sure, y’all knew that).
But I also failed to mention that part of the reason I saw him as a mentor was because I had a deeply honest conversation with him about not feeling like I was supposed to be in the college. I felt like my colleagues were “more intelligent,” like they were “built for this,” and like I was purely a token for the program. He assured me that I was not a token and that if I came to grad school it would not be to fulfill a quota but because I was bright, skilled, and the academy needed my insights. He made me feel welcome. He made me feel supported and confident (again, what is it about a white man telling me ‘You are smart enough’? Why did it seem to hold more weight than my parents or grandparents’ words or my black mentors?).
And then, when the rubber met the road, he backed away. When I chose this small Texas school with little to no stock behind its name, he backed away. When the school got its black students for the program (my wife and I), he backed away.
And like with the cops, I smiled. I said, “Okay, well thanks.” I did not address it. “I mean where does confrontation get us in these situations anyway?”
And that moment began a LONG painful unraveling for me in grad school. My eyes were increasingly opened as I read, “The Miseducation of the Negro,” “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and did much research on Dr. King. As my knowledge increased, memories started coming back and my sensitivity to racial encounters increased.
For instance, I became deeply aware that my school was only training me to work for white middle-class families. Little to none of their teaching styles, approaches, or advice was valuable to the communities I came from (and worked with in grad school). The pain got so deep that one summer I had a near emotional breakdown as a result of these realizations and nearly failed a class (an internship course with the most simple homework requirements of my degree). Purely because I did not want to do any of the assignments anymore. For a whole summer, I kept saying to my wife, “These people, this school, and this system do not care about us.”
Eventually, with the help of Dr. Jerry Taylor, I was able to come out of that hole.
But what became clear to me then and is still clear now is that I am – along with all my black, yellow, brown, and poor white brothers and sisters – surrounded by a system that demands that we assimilate. And it uses a myriad of mediums to bring us to our knees. If we confront it directly, it will use violence. If we are obedient then it will invite us in and win our hearts and allegiance over with its promises of prestige and money. But at the end of the day, the system we face – we being: black, brown, yellow, and poor white people – that system has no interest in us asserting and manifesting our own dignity.
As I continue on my journey out of the white-elite culture towards becoming myself. Videos like the one below remind me that we are always offered two paths: death or assimilation. Deportation or integration. Be ostracized or be absorbed. The nightmare or the American dream. Poverty or white-defined success.
But today I choose neither. Today I say “I Am Not Yours.” And when I look back on who I was eight years ago I can’t help but say, #IAmNotTheSame.
*I must add at the end of this that I did address this with my professor years later. He apologized deeply and our relationship is still intact. While my feelings and experiences are real, I do not believe that makes him an evil person – just merely someone, like myself, used by the system. I honestly do not believe he was malicious or intending to leave me abandoned but I do believe the system that we both subscribed to did intend to either crush me or use me.