“There are no start ups here--
only dead ends for black boys with the audacity to live past puberty.”
Tucker Bryant on coffee, candy, and other salient issues.
Tucker Bryant is in the business of discussing powerful things.
Stanford is a feeding ground for the movers and shakers: those interested in being powerful, others in helping the powerful get more powerful, and those interested in finding other powerful people to be powerful with.
But Tucker Bryant is a member of the Stanford community that does something even more powerful than venture capital firms and Business Insider-featured start ups-- they talk about things that matter.
“The first time somebody called me an Oreo, nothing about this skin felt sweet,” Bryant declared in (perhaps his most popular piece) “Oreo.”
While social and racial inequality are not the only issues Bryant tangles with in his poetry, they are strong contenders for the most salient ones.
“...as if their bigotry is the closest thing your hands will come to ever touching white privilege…” Bryant said of being told he’s ‘not really black.’ “You’d be a fool to be offended because this is a pat on the head; this is how they thank you for not forcing them to swallow the parts of you that don’t sit right in their stomach.”
Bryant knows how to pack a punch in a small bundle of words. But as natural as he makes it seem, creative writing is not something he has practiced for long.
“Poetry has become a big part of my life since finding my home in the Spoken Word Collective,” Bryant reminisced. “It’s given me a great source to explore myself and the world I live in. It’s been a fruitful challenge.”
But it has been a necessary fruitful challenge. As an elite campus so driven by the prospect of progress, we must depend on the audacity of a select few to remind us that humanity exists outside the Silicon Valley realm.
“I think it’s important when you’re a political writer to make sure your audience is a group of people that isn’t likely to be exposed to the same kind of conversation regularly,” Bryant explained.
And with such compelling issues like the recent Ferguson shooting, people like Bryant become an even more vital lifeline between our student body and the collective soul of the world, where palm trees don’t grow.
Bryant related, “It’s an important time for me to be personally acknowledging my complicity in an issue like [Ferguson] as a black male who is... liable to have the same kind of profiling and marginalization as a lot of people in Ferguson are experiencing right now…”
However, Bryant also acknowledges that the hurt he feels for victims of racial discrimination is coupled with a detachment, knowing that he enjoys a different kind of privilege and security inherent in being a student at Stanford University.
In spite of the sense of helplessness that Bryant feels without being able to “be on the ground,” he is still a potent warrior with a full arsenal of fighting words, and the stage as his battlefield.
“In this town, kids inject research grants into their veins to get high on their own success, forgetting that there was a town next door where prison visits are rights of passage for young men…” Bryant recited in his piece “Open Letter to Stanford.”
“Meanwhile, Stanford, you have convinced your students that “service learning” means playing savior for an hour a week, translating someone else’s struggle into stars on their resumés, and then kneeling at the feet of commencement speakers for figuring out how to profit on the same people’s imprisonment.”
In short, Bryant understands that just because the bushes are trimmed neatly and the sun kisses our noses even in the winter, does not mean that the dead don’t rot and moral resolve doesn’t decay.
In particular, Bryant bears several lessons regarding race and identity in “Oreo” that merit reinforcement to our audience, so they are broken down as follows:
“Whitewashing is adding creamer to your coffee because you’ve become dependent on artificial sweetener to make it easier to swallow-- because you love the caffeine, but can’t stand how bitterly the blackness binds to your tongue.”
“I refuse to shake hands with somebody who thinks that mine belong in cuffs…. Blackness is not something we abandon the moment we grow too large to fit your television screen.”
“Acceptance means more than looking for a mirror inside somebody else. What makes you think the best we can be is a reflection of you?”
“Fuck you and your Oreo, Klondike, York Bars, and Peppermint Patties. Stop calling us candy. You’re feeding us empty calories.”
And if all you’ve learned from these are to never drink sweetened coffee or mention black and white candy in front of Tucker Bryant, then your admission may have been wasted on you.
Some see living in the Stanford Bubble conducive for academic and athletic performance. Others realize that if they spend too long in a bubble, the oxygen will run out.
It is those people, like Bryant, whom we have to thank for seeing the red apple in a black-and-white world and remembering the individual in a dystopia of blind collective interest.
We need to thank people like Bryant who address us so frankly, “To the ‘future innovators of our world’: I know you mean well. But there is no iPhone app that can super glue the shards of a shattered city. You cannot computer program a police officer to wield compassion as confidently as his handcuffs.”
And when our gazes are too far drawn into p-sets and lecture slides to see the struggle just beyond the Bayshore Freeway, we need people like Bryant addressing our university:
“This is a game of Monopoly.... where you have kept all the “Get Out of Jail Free” cards for yourself…. In your insatiable, relentless crusade for progress, I only hope that you do not grow too tall to stop seeing the famine you leave at your feet.”
Because when it comes to the business of things that matter, people like Tucker Bryant know there is no time to pour a glass of water for pills that are hard to swallow.
By: Katlyn Alapati
Photography: Ameeqa Ali