Title: The Beast Side
Author: D. Watkins
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Hot Books; Reprint edition (September 27, 2016)
“D. Watkins is a very sharp young talent who transformed himself from a dealer on the streets to an adjunct professor, and most important, to a leading voice of his generation who is determined to see justice for the black community. The Beast Side is raw, intelligent, and at times humorous—and a necessary narrative in these challenging times!” —Michael Eric Dyson, author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
The jarring, sometimes depressing, often enlightening narrative that encompasses the 208 pages of “The Beast Side” is one of a troubled America (through the eyes of Baltimore), left to grapple with unresolved and newly developed issues. We are touched by the narrative; all of us, whether Black, White, Native American, Latino, Asian, or a combination thereof. We are this narrative; the outline that provided a perfect landscape for D. Watkins to masterfully and horrifically connect the dots.
More than I can personally recall, we have become wholly desensitized to the cruel and barbaric nature of our burgeoning society. We have learned to turn a blind eye to a reality that is continually festering and rearing an ugliness many are simply hoping would, one day, fade away, perhaps into the same abyss as Beowulf’s monster, Grendel; and return reborn, renewed, hopeful. We have become an ensemble of wishers and waiters, certain that if we wait and wish long enough a brighter day is just over the horizon, while we wallow in the muck of a suffocating darkness. We are the old man and the depth of his misery:
It was like the misery felt by an old man
who has lived to see his son’s body
swing on the gallows. He begins to keen
and weep for his boy, watching the raven
gloat where he hangs: he can be of no help.
The wisdom of age is worthless to him
Morning after morning, he wakes to remember
that his child has gone; he has no interest
in living on until another heir
is born in the hall… –Beowulf
D. Watkins delivers this message, effortlessly. Revealing that the hell that strikes consternation in the hearts of many is pulchritudinous to others and that we are now living in a poorly composed polyphony. The truly brutal truth that we, of every race, do not want to admit exists. He invites us to peer through a peephole that reveals an almost unconscionable reality: that people do live in the imperfections of a world that they did not create but were relegated to reside inside of until madness or death took them to the edge of and over that horizon. He reminds us that the levels of unfeelingness is not only alive but is procreating and regenerating into unidentifiable high-tolerance formations that eat at our flesh and gnaw, ad infinitum, on our skeletal remains.
In the opening passages, Watkins writes:
“… I participated in a peaceful protest near downtown Baltimore. My fellow protesters and I were standing in solidarity with the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, over the murder of Mike Brown — an innocent African-American teen, who was on his way to college when he was cut down by a policeman’s bullets. It felt good to unite with so many different people for the same cause — a diverse group with handmade signs and a shared sense of outrage. But even as we shouted for justice, I knew it wasn’t enough from my experiences in rallying for the Jena Six and Trayvon Martin. I do have an immense amount of respect for protestors, marchers, and organizers — but in the end, after all that chanting, marching, and lying down in traffic, Darren Wilson, the cop, who murdered Brown, still went free, and cops in America still feel comfortable killing innocent black people.”
Watkins writes from where his bucket was cast; delivering unapologetic prose that undeniably was intended (at least, I hope) to make as many people as uncomfortable as possible. If this was not his purpose, it perhaps should have been; he does it magnificently. He is a Baltimorean, a Native, from the (B)Eastside of this apoplectic metropolis, wearing the city like a pair of comfortable shoes. Watkins’ voice is the voice of the many children and residents I have heard speaking their complex language during the 23 years that I have resided in Baltimore. It is a voice that roars without echo. Throughout the book, Watkins takes us on a journey through the gritty, and often dismal straits of a beautiful wonderland. It is easy to become enveloped by the stories and easier to embrace the cast of characters that invisibly occupy seventy percent of the crowded Charm City streets. His childhood friends, money making comrades, food providing saints and blood-thirsty enemies, give color and illumination to what could easily become defined as a symphony of urban sorrow.
The Beast Side is a reminder, a wake-up call, a prosaic tour of a world we know so well, and others view in awe. It awakens the selectively blind to the countless injustices that have become our miserable expectation. It explains why we cannot lay aside our warrior selves; preparing our sword, our words, our hearts, and our souls for what our 400 years of intuitive DNA reveal to us.The battle continues. The war of race, face and inequality rages on. The emergence of another enemy, lurking in waiting, in the shadows for their opportunity to leap, is absolute. The difference is that the 18th-century mentalities are not yet aware that they are fighting against a 21ST CENTURY ARMY.
D. Watkins has composed a thinkers book in The Beast Side. There is the desire to pause, in contemplation and reflection after each chapter. And like the calm after a Tsunami, or the annihilation of Grendel by a chirping bird’s song, Watkins ends with:
Yes, it was the image of a Black man in the White House that maybe has made it a little easier for us to make our way through the day, or at least to get a ride. But Uber has probably changed the racial dynamic in the cab industry more than Obama has. Because of Uber, cabs can’t afford to discriminate against me any longer. The cab industry had no choice but to change.
America needs a game-changing Uber shift in the political arena–a massive influx of minority activists, politicians, educators, and history makers. One Black man cannot bring about that change, but an army of people committed to making opportunity available for everybody can and will.
Yeah… it’s that simple.