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Column: The version of me who entered 2020 no longer exists

A pair of cuff links in their case, one with the letter L, the other with the letter Z
LZ Granderson viewed his cuff links differently after the events of 2020.
(LZ Granderson / Los Angeles Times)

You remember the purchase you made as a young professional to tell the world you had made it?

Not your dream purchase, like a second home on the water, but the kind of purchase that felt expensive yet accessible at the time. The kind you put on your credit card because you can afford the monthly minimum payments, and you’re not thinking about how much the purchase will ultimately cost with all that interest added over the years.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

For me that purchase was a pair of Burberry cuff links. I got them from a Nordstrom Rack in Atlanta. I had not been that excited for a discount store find since I stumbled across a brand-new pair of red Levi’s at a Goodwill on the east side of Detroit back in 1986. When I was growing up, if your family could afford a pair of colored Levi’s, it meant you weren’t broke. Even if you were.

I don’t know how or why those jeans ended up in that bin that day, but “happy” can’t begin to describe how I felt when I found them. For one day a week in ninth grade, I felt like a king.

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And I got a similar rush when I found those cuff links.

Materialism lures us into the most toxic of relationships by first whispering the sweetest of promises. My “made it” purchase happened while I was working in Manhattan, attending the right events, accompanied by the right people, who were all wearing the right clothes. Those Burberry cuff links were the right accoutrements. In my mind’s eye, I saw us together, gaining access to a part of society that is normally hidden from poor kids who rummage through overstuffed bins at the Goodwill in search of self-worth.

But there’s always another door, isn’t there? An event that’s just a bit more right, attended by people who are just a cut above. Their cuff links shine brighter than the ones on your sleeves, and it’s in that moment that your toxic lover Materialism makes its way across the room, kisses you softly on the cheek and whispers “more” into your ear.

You have to have more.

I was emptying my closet recently, separating clothes to keep from those to donate, when I came across those Burberry cuff links. My husband and I had sold our home and were moving. The theme of the day was downsizing. I had not seen those cuff links in years, thanks largely to the pandemic that made formal gatherings rare. I will admit, I initially smiled when I saw them and even thought about keeping them. But … why? I realized it wasn’t just COVID that made those cuff links obsolete. The man I was at the beginning of 2020 is not who I am today.

How could I be after George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight? The duration of the viral video made it near impossible for even the coldest of cynics to defend the officers’ actions. Then Ahmaud Arbery is hunted … chased … lynched. Breonna Taylor, asleep. The country will be processing the impact of those deaths for a long time. The Great Resignation and the rebirth of identity politics are just the beginnings. None of us are really the same after 2020. And those fancy cuff links won’t help me, because respectability politics was never designed to help Black people in the first place, just placate. Then one day, you buy the “right” house in the “right” neighborhood and realize you still don’t feel safe walking around at night.

It was all just an illusion.

Ice-T touched on this very topic during his recent appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” The host asked the Grammy winner what surprised him about the music scene, and his response was surgical in its analysis.

“The biggest thing that surprised me about music was you could lie,” he said. “I was watching music videos, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s their house, that’s their car, that’s their girl,’ and then when I got in there, they’re like, ‘Oh, you can rent a car.’

“I’m like, ‘This is all fake, and I didn’t know that.’”

The kind of flex I thought those Burberry cuff links represented was all fake. They weren’t keys, they were chains. Which is why I placed them with the items to be donated. I needed to let that version of myself go. I know others are doing the same.

I still enjoy fashion and events and all of that. I am just learning how to accept that I am enough without them. It has taken me a long time to get this far. My hope is that in sharing this story, I can save someone else a little bit of time.

As I was finishing packing up our items, I had decided the last song I would hear in the home would be George Michael’s “Through.” It is the final song from his final studio album, and, as the title suggests, he has reached a period in his life in which he’s tired of chasing. It felt like the perfect way to summarize the paradigm shift I was feeling.

It’s so clear to me now
I’ve enough of these chains
Life is there for the taking
What kind of fool would remain in this, in this cheap, gilded cage?

I know exactly what kind of fool would remain in such a prison. Only the kind who has yet to figure out they are in one.

@LZGranderson


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