Gonna Celebrate with Broke(n)ness: A Prayer of Empathy from Detroit

I work with and for persons who share a commonality among themselves, and with me as well. I have in common with them a diagnosis of sorts – identified by clinicians as a disease. It is my professional obligation, and an integral part of my vocation and identity as an individual and person of faithfulness, to display empathy toward each of them. 

I work with racists, thugs of every stripe, third husbands of fourth wives, pimps and drug dealers, doctors and social workers. I cry with sex industry workers and men who have been HIV positive for most of their lives. I work with suspects, runaways, gun-smugglers and petty criminals too cowardly to prey one those who might defend themselves. It is indeed a broken world, and I am a broken person. And I have broken others; other people and other things. Most all of us are capable of empathy. Those who are not do not seek out healing, let alone relationships.

Human dignity is stolen as easily from those we hate as was stolen from the victims of those who have committed unthinkable acts. We live in a culture of such theft, and the more that Americans feel they have no voice in the system or socio-political and economic outcomes, they will use their voices, no matter how shrill or hateful the sound may be, to silence those who they feel should have no voice; those deemed undeserving of being heard. 

Madness occurs when one has a silence forced on them in such a way that to speak is to invite castration, and to remain silent invites indictment prior to castration. Madness is the death of one’s ability to manage their own silence. 

This is the Black American experience. This is often the Jewish experience. This is the experience of the feminine, the genderless, and the multi and quasi-gendered. As long as we silence those who represent the worst of what humans are capable of, the less we see such behaviors as products of our own failure to let the words be said, said without editorial incarceration. We hate the poor, the different, the other. Above all, they must be silenced, and when they speak, those who would must steal and make the words of the others their own.

When the editors of this ‘zine asked me to write a culturally relevant essay about the personae known as Eminem, a fellow white Detroiter who has become internationally known as a hip hop artist, I wondered how I could connect with him in the least bit. It can only be by taking the moment to speak according to the spirit and generate alterity by choosing to maintain otherness. I have nothing in common but an old Detroit address, some potential mental health issues and a history of addiction problems. And, we share that unique sort of white-boy-from-the Murder-City-way-about-us that forces others to turn their faces away unless we make career moves that manage to provide others with a safe sense of our potential whiteness or profitability.

No one has words stolen from them like persons of color, poor whites, women throughout the world, refugees, immigrants, sexual suspects and others who fail to meet the criteria of whiteness and eurostandardization. In fact, when I was an adolescent and young adult in Detroit that lived on the margins of both privilege and poverty, I was rejected due to my lack of tenable whiteness. I was what the nation refers to as White Trash. Wigger. Wannabe. Crack head. 

In what follows, I insist on having both voices. I insist on being me, being, and in the moment, I will produce what the spirit sends forth. And from my minimal shared experiences with Eminem, I produced the following essay in vernacular vision. It describes my Detroit. It describes how I am able to empathize with the other, whether they are likeable or not. I empathize because we are human, we are beings, and we all share the moment and alterity; whether we accept that fact or not. Diversity is not a goal or a means to an end. Diversity is a fact of existence. If you silence alterity, you reject the spirit, and respiration ceases. Your theft will be the death of you.
i’m gonna celebrate some broke’ness caus’ there’s a time its all i had. i know Em’ had some broke times bein’ white trash in that city. that fuckin’ city’s broke, the whole damn thing. an’ i remember sayin’ shit about ‘Em ‘cause i was better ‘n him. he was busy bein’ phony gangsta and hatin’ on queers ‘n shit an’ even I knew better’n that. i had a hustle, an’ it was bigger ‘n’ better ‘n’ Em’s ‘cause i was on the side of a justice for peoples on the Fringe. an’ i was white in the corridor too so I was real’r th‘n ‘Em cause he’s playin’ gangsta’ an’ i’m hustlin’ justice doe. i was’n play’n’ a hustle to gets out of that damn city cause i was on the side a that muhfuckin’ town. Detroit muhfuckers ‘till we die right.

but the fax was my hustle wa’n no more than a patronizin’ gig getting’ me props on the backs a tha po’ doe. like i’ma gonna call a dog racist n’ shit ‘cause they is - an i’m superior to that - i’m a real muhfucker who knowed truf. i won that argument e’ry time doe. i’m a real cityCITY anarchis’ an ain’t got no video rap’n time on my han’s to be a pop star. But thafax is i ain’t gots no talent doe, but i did - an’ hit the rock instead. i hit da brown licker too doe. Em’ did that shit widda dis ‘n’ dat’ for a shot‘n a pill ‘n’ such, an when his shit got hit doe we all laffed like that muhfuckers all done doe. all ‘n all we ain’t nothin’ but white trash stuck in this fuckin’ town. this city. this ghetto. crack den deserted murder’n - ass-whippin’ city where a muhfucker will beat us ‘till we die. i gets shot and goes to the hospital ‘n i hear this woman scream’n an’ crying a brother beat and raped her with a table leg so her moms couldna recognizeded her when she saw her yo. i fell right the fuck apart at the seam right then. i was all done.

Em’ stayd strong doe through all that kinda shit. i dunno the man - whether he had them resources ‘n’ money ‘n’ shit or he was just a strong muhfucker. he got goin’ for chrysler ‘n; shit sling’n that ad copy doe an’ made his benjamins’ an that muhfucker turns roun’ ta adultin an’ he a strength talkin’ Detroit mug talkin’ shit to trump ‘n awla that. callin that muhfcker outta the darkness. i knows that muhfucker Em’ only haf-made it on ‘is own doin’ black shit but he stayed true to his peoples, an’ Em’s peoples that matter ta him ain’t white doe what i heard. they his people ‘cause he sticks wit them who stuck.

an’ theys my peoples too. But I hadda go to the group home ‘cause a that batshit crazy beatin’ an’ dyin’ i seen so much. frozen muhfuckers in cars in fronna my house, and 11 years old girls bein’ hustled ta men wit ties and suits ‘n’ shit comin’ down here an’ usin’ a muhfucker like a slave child. i seen brains ‘n shit an’ i know Em’ did too ‘cause that muhfucker had a life doe. brains jus’ spill outta mufucker and the ambulancers ‘ll beat a man too if he say somethin’ to ‘em. So Em’ he made it through an’ speak the truf about white privilege and justice an’ he sling truf at the expense a his dolla. He turned out to be faithful to his people doe. He drew a line in da san’. ritchie ritchie from the suburbs chose tha wrong side a that line. You is 8 Mile peoples or you ain’t.

Em’ a money- makin’ mug. they put me in Highland Park in a home where I’d smoke the rock an’ hear people get’n beat and a woman shot at night. A muhfucker kilted a buncha prostitutes right down Monterey Avenue ‘n’ stackeded they bodies in a burned-out motel. Monterey Motel killer. they throwed me outta that house ‘cause i hit the rock ‘n stole food ‘n shit to sell the store for Wild Irish Rose. I bounceded aroun’ till the police tol’ me leave town. mental ill don’ go ta prison if they white, but we make you disappear white trash. A social worker got me to a group home in Taylor. i was the guy passin’ the meds an’ a brother says “you can’t drink here man.” I says “Why not?” Dog says “I turn you in!” an he takes me ta NA to get me clean. itsa long-assed road from there, but like Ems’ faithful to the brothers on his side, the’s a God that was faithful to me through all that. an’ I got saveded from my sins and from the sins of other folks too.

outta darkness like that comes life. darkness an’ dank be needed to produce life ‘cause it be down there germinatin’. 

broken’ness be needed for unnerstandin’ shit too. this shit is real like…

institutionalized racism, and sexist patriarchy, and beatin’ people down ‘cause a hatin’ who they is. ‘n all that vilence ‘n’shit make it real. but i see Em’ dis trump like he did on BET – a white trash trailer hoe like Em makin’ it on BET ‘n’ he seem real ta me now. like God be real to me now. that white trash pow’r and truf i see in Em’ i felt’d through Christ who baptiz’ded me wit’ fire an more fire than before. my life is changed doe ‘n i got to respond to faithfulness ‘n grace ‘cause that shit as real as Em on BET and a’ uppity mug foun’ swinging on a tree. Jesus and a brother or two be put on a tree, an if one is my peoples the others is too. an’ if that is the truf than i gotta preach that shit like Em’ in a parkin’ garage in the D saying truf about that trumpet of Armageddon in the white house builted by slaves.

If there’s one thing I know about Ems’ rhymes an’ his truth is that it is true a lotta times. I’ve seen it and lived it and know its reality. The hatred, the racism, the violence and self-loathing it causes, and the way it fuels a fiery Gehenna in my city. Stop the racist violence against black and brown brothers and sisters. There is no fear in hip hop and there is no fear in the Holy Christ of YHWH El Shaddai. Long live the Body of Christ – the racist church and its crony capitalists must die. And to my neighbors of European ancestry – repent, for the kingdom of hip hop truths is near, and Jesus be bussin’ the rhyme. —r scot miller