The lies we live but do all lives really matter? Or no childhood for some…

In a perfect world, the color of someone’s skin wouldn’t matter but we live in an imperfect world where it very much does, despite the number of people who insist that it doesn’t. That stubborn insistence by many that race doesn’t matter is naive at best and dangerous at worst because it keeps us from working to create a system that for once wouldn’t condemn certain bodies from the very moment they arrive earth side.

Last fall, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down in a public park in Cleveland, Ohio, because a bystander saw what he perceived to be a Black man with a gun and called the police. Despite saying that Rice might have been a juvenile, the dispatcher didn’t quite convey that part of the message to the responding officers and a young child with a toy pellet gun was murdered by the people who are sworn to protect the public.

This weekend a statement was issued by Cleveland officials in response to a wrongful death suit by  Rice’s family that claims that Tamir in essence caused his own death. “were directly and proximately caused by their own acts. . .,” and added that Tamir caused his own death “by the failure. . . to exercise due care to avoid injury.”

It would almost be laughable if there wasn’t a slew of dead Black and Brown bodies in recent years. Too many times the deceased victim is at fault for their own death, no matter what their age or circumstance. However we live in a time where there is a blatant double standard when it comes to race: a young Black child is perceived to be a menacing scary adult. Yet when a white young adult commits a heinous crime, they are painted with the fuzzy brush of humanity that almost excuses their acts of destruction. How else can we explain Boston Marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ending up on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine with an accompanying article that tried it’s best to humanize him? By the same logic didn’t Michael Brown deserve a cover too? After all Brown and Tsarnaev were close in age; actually Brown was younger and he didn’t kill anyone, yet far too many see Brown as a reckless thug who didn’t do what he was told.

Or let us talk about the young white child who on a family vacation in Arizona in the summer of 2014 accidentally shot and killed her shooting instructor with an Uzi. The accident was a tragedy but last time I heard, no charges were filed and the family was allowed to grieve privately. A few voices labeled the family reckless but overall the family which one might say exercised galactically poor judgment in allowing a 9-year-old girl to handle an Uzi was allowed to be imperfect in their humanity…just a mistake.

Having raised one child to adulthood, I am intimately aware of how Black and Brown children are denied their humanity, their innocence and their childhood. Too many of us feign surprise at these simple truths but this is a country that was founded on the stripping of Black and Brown humanity, where Black and Brown children were often separated from their families and made to serve and work. My own father was the child of sharecroppers in rural Arkansas in the 1950s and 1960s and the stories he has shared about the cotton patch and what the landowners expected of families (the whole family) aren’t tales based in the 19th century but recent history that is now lived as nightmares in the psyches of many older Blacks who are still upright.

When will enough be enough? How many tragedies must happen, how many think pieces and blog posts must be written for all lives to matter? Not as an empty slogan or the predictable “Ugh” or “Disgusting” that is the norm in social media spaces when these tragedies come to light but when will you be moved to take action? How will you do it or do you really care? These are the things we must ask ourselves if we believe that childhood and humanity is for more than just white bodies. Anything less is a form of mental masturbation and if that’s all we are going to do, we should just own that too.

The inhumanity train ride or where are the good white people?

For those of us in the northeast corner of the United States, the past month has just been one non-stop snow storm. Poor little Boston, the city I actually work in, looks like the snowpocalypse. The amount of snow in Massachusetts actually makes the snow we have in Maine (the state I legally reside in) look like child’s play and we have a lot of snow.

As one can imagine, the past month has been nothing short of a clusterfuck when it comes to travel and schedules…schedule, what’s that? The snow dates need snow dates at this point. Which is how I found myself on a train back to Maine on a Friday afternoon, the one day that I strive to be home in Maine. Yet when you are behind in work due to snow and the bookkeeper has retired and your 2014 financial records need to be closed out, you work when the snow allows.

The Friday afternoon train back to Maine is one of my least favorite trains of the week, a caustic mix of commuters, vacationers/daytrippers and others with the tension of high expectations in the air. This Friday’s train ride, sadly, did not disappoint. Considering that earlier in the week, I spent three-plus hours on a train that never even managed to get out of the state of Maine due to a broken-down freight train on the tracks (and ultimately ended up backing up all the way to where I live), the ride home was looking pretty uneventful and at only 30 minutes behind; pretty timely, and making me fairly happy…until it was time to exit the train at my stop.

As I am making my way to the door (mind you this is an Amtrak train) with my bags, I end up standing by a family that includes a young boy of 10 or so, a woman who appears to be the grandmother and on the other side of the aisle perhaps the boy’s mom and a sibling. Standing there, I noticed the grandmother and boy looking at me which honestly is nothing new. I am Black in Maine; looky-loos come with the territory. Depending on my mood, I ignore, smile or give the look of disapproval. Last night, my mind was a blank slate as it registered that the boy had just said something about Black people while giving me what we in my house call the look of stank. The grandmother leans over to the boy who then proceeds to say very loudly and clearly “Black people kill White people” his grandmother gave me a sympathetic look, the boy stared at me, behind me white people were queuing up to get off the train, the young white man in front of me looked away and adjusted his ear buds. In that moment, I felt my own humanity disappear. To be Black, to be othered has too often meant a white person, even a child, can snatch your humanity away just because of the color of your skin.

Yet I am a woman on a life journey, a journey to find my voice and demand my place at the table of humanity. So with little hesitation, I found myself leaning over with tears in my eyes, telling that boy that “Bad people kill people. Period.” I also told him that not all white people are good nor are all Black people bad. I asked him where he lived and he told me Winslow, Maine. I told him that the world is larger than Winslow and hopefully he would grow up and see that this world is filled with all kinds of people. The kid stared back at me in shock, the grandmother just looked at me and the man behind me said “Good for you for speaking up.” Excuse me…good for me? This is the world we inhabit now, where action is considered extraordinary because too often we choose no action.  We fear discomfort, we don’t want to lose our place or get messy so instead we bear witness to the dehumanization of others and offer tentative head pats. By the way, the man behind me was another Maine to Boston commuter whom I regularly see on the train.

When the train finally stopped and I got off, it hit me that I was more pissed off about the fact that a gaggle of white people had heard this kid and not one had the courage to speak up. Something that I have seen far too many times in recent years. As for the boy, clearly what he is exposed to in his life is setting him up for hateful and fear-based beliefs.

In the end, we all have choice: how are we living and what actions are we modeling for others in our lives. Words without direct actions have little meaning. We can claim all sorts of things but if our actions don’t support the words, we are lying to ourselves. To live fully and completely means we lean into a life where we don’t run from the messy or uncomfortable; where we put on our muck boots and brace for the mess. We stand in truth for truth and if justice is on our sides, we give no fucks. So I muse aloud, “Where are the good white people?” The ones who are willing to break the barriers of discomfort for truth and justice. I know there are some, but it seems at times that there are so few I can’t help but have moments in which I believe they are about as real as the superheroes in comic books and movies.

Self truth…the journey

We live in a world where advice is like air; it’s everywhere, you can’t avoid it. Careers and fortunes have been made based off advice-givers telling others how to live, yet rarely does anyone ever really talk about the very real costs of creating change and getting the life that you want. Instead, like the average New Year’s resolution, we start off with high hopes and a few weeks or months in when we hit the wall of reality and discomfort starts to rise, we slowly slide back into the pit of just existing. The truth is that when we start to get real about our own self-care (another pithy little saying that is often devoid of the concrete) it leads us down the road to self-truth, and that’s when shit gets real. This is often the point that what we see in the mirror amazes us but it scares us. It scares us so bad that we flee the room, shut the door and run back to that which is familiar. Sometimes our joy can be found in the comfortable and if we can make peace with it, then it’s not a problem.

But sometimes, we can’t make peace with the comfortable or familiar. Sometimes the comfortable is not enough. Sometimes we bear the curse of the restless spirit that can’t stop seeking. And sometimes that seeking into our own truth will exact a toll higher than anything we could ever imagine.

My own journey to self-care and later self-truth started a number of years ago and was precipitated by mother’s untimely and premature death over a decade ago. Losing both my mother and grandmother in a short period of time required that I learn to not only mother myself but to nurture myself as well. In many ways, I have felt like Odysseus in search of Ithaca. The thing about a journey is that you think you know your destination but often you will veer off course and sometimes you don’t ever get back on track.

Self-care is a deceptive concept. We often think that it means taking a few hours for ourselves, a glass of wine, or making time to sleep in but sometimes those aren’t the answers. Sometimes to truly take care of ourselves is to sit in the mirror of life and figure out who we are at this moment, and contemplate the possibility of who we may become. What we see when we look straight into the mirror of our soul and don’t turn away or get scared is something with the potential to quell our restless spirit. But it can also destroy that which we hold dear. In that moment we face our inner Rhett Butler, do we give a damn or not?

In this moment, I ponder my own journey and leave you with a poem by C.P. Cavafy and your own journey.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

On Measles and whiteness or the freedom to choose

When I gave birth to my first child in 1992, I pretty much listened to and followed the advice of elders and healthcare professionals. It didn’t even dawn on me in the first act of my parenting career, that I had a choice when it came to things like getting my kid vaccinated. I had been vaccinated and turned out okay and by golly…my kid was getting his shots too!

Fast forward to the winter of 2004 when I found myself pregnant with the girl child while still grieving the loss of my beloved mother months earlier and craving, no, needing a community to ride with me on my parenting journey. Thanks to the interwebz and a knowledgeable midwife; I found myself diving into the natural parenting community, courtesy of the now defunct publication, Mothering.

So many ideas, so many suggestions when it came to parenting, many that had never crossed my mind in the first act of my parenting career. I was hooked. I wanted an all natural birth, cloth diapers, co-sleeping and yes, no vaccines. There was no way I was going to put those suspect ingredients into my precious new baby…fuck that shit! My bewildered husband chalked up much of my enthusiasm for natural parenting as a mix of pregnancy hormones mixing with my grief emotions.

In the end, I did end up using cloth diapers, I co-slept with my daughter for four years, I nursed for three and a half years and for many years our daughter was not fully vaccinated (we did vaccinate, but on a delayed and staggered basis, in part because of a harmless but significant reaction to one of her earliest shots).

In the early years of her life, not fully vaccinating was a non-issue; after all, she was with us all the time, she was fed the freshest and most organic food our shekels could buy, she was nursed for years…her life was good, so why did we eventually vaccinate her?

For starters, not vaccinating as non-white person is to invite extra scrutiny into your life, especially when homeschooling is not an option. While we were and are fortunate to have a healthcare provider who is well known in Maine for his acceptance of the non-vaccinated, even admitting that his own children are not fully vaccinated, we still needed to interact with a larger world.

Over the years, it became clear to me that my choice to not vaccinate could have reverberations further than our family. See, we don’t live in silos when it comes to public health and that point was illustrated to me when my daughter came down with the flu at the same time my father was knocking on death’s door. I lived in fear that week she was sick that I was going to need to fly back to Chicago and would be denied entry to see my dad in possibly his last moment due to having been exposed to the flu in my house. It was what I would later call a small aha moment…we are all connected.

Yet it was when I started to notice that the movement of choice when it came to parenting decisions could get a Black parent’s child taken away by Child Protective whereas a white parent hardly lived with such fears. Each year when we submitted a personal exemption at my daughter’s school, I tensed knowing that I could expect the call from the nurse. It became too much and over time we decided that she needed to be fully vaccinated even with the seemingly silly varicella vaccine. However, I probably shouldn’t say silly in our case; with a child who has some sensory issues, the idea of chicken pox (which both my son and I had weathered) started to seem like something akin to hell on earth for us potentially.

Perhaps it is because many non-white cultures are far less into the rugged individualism that is almost a defining trait of whiteness in Western white cultures but in my village; we care about all the children, not just the ones who belong to us. Maybe it’s because I know that as a non-white person and specifically a Black woman in America my decisions don’t exist in a vacuum and that I am not nearly as free as my white counterpart. In the end my decision to vaccinate was less about the medical implications and more about the unspoken social implications. All it would take is one “professional” deciding to challenge my uppity, Black ass and it would be on.

I have been sitting and watching the current measles outbreak and noticing that the anti-vax movement has a diversity problem and one that few will ever publicly discuss though I am not the only one to notice it. Too many times we would rather replace class for race but race and class are intertwined and to not acknowledge that painful reality is intellectually lazy at best. The current outbreak is primarily due to the increase in non-vaccinated children from financially comfortable, families who in most cases are white. Can you imagine if a measles outbreak was started in low-income communities of color? First off, the current way that race is lived in America, public health officials would not allow this to happen. The pushback from officials would be swift and people would be turned into examples. Families would be torn apart.

This is a hard post because as someone who didn’t vaccinate my youngest child for many years, I have many connections with people who still don’t vaccinate their kids and who are passionate in their beliefs about the dangers of vaccinations. I respect their right to be passionate but I can’t deny that their whiteness affords them the ability to be passionate about something that in many ways is larger than just their family. Right now the numbers may be small but we are talking about a disease that had been declared eradicated in 2000 that has now made a resurgence and whose implications are huge. In a comfortably middle class family, a child down with the measles might be a pesky inconvenience but to the single parent doing shift work, it is more than an inconvenience, it has the ability to derail that family’s very existence. Let’s not even talk about those with compromised immune systems or the most medically fragile in our midst.

To live in America is to live in a state where things are racialized and compartmentalized based off of who we are. Our freedoms are rarely free and rarely are they available to all. Yet the choices we make with our freedoms have the ability to affect all of us and our passion and inconvenience might be someone else’s crisis and tragedy. When making decisions, we often must decide if the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.

Note: At this moment, the matter of vaccinations is highly charged, so keep all comments respectful. 

A glimpse of midlife and setting fire to my life…musings at 42

Even a dedicated racial justice professional needs a break from a steady diet of racial injustice. My recent birthday has provided me with the opportunity to step back and reflect on my life. This post is a result of some of my reflections, so if you prefer the race talks, you may want to skip this post. Sadly, the world remains a cruel and unjust place so almost certainly, I will have something to weigh in on soon.

When you run off at 18 and get married, have your first kid at 19 and are on the road to divorce court before you can legally even buy a cold brew, it’s easy to slip down a rabbit hole where you feel you are always playing catch up in life. It becomes far too easy to lose contact with one’s inner guide and instead plug into the world’s vision of who you should be. Sure, you occasionally visit your real self but for the most part your real self becomes a visitor who drops in for special occasions. Even for those who don’t start the adulthood journey with appendages known as kids and spouses, getting to one’s real self can be difficult. In part, we spend 18 years being fed someone else’s view of the world and those views shape us no matter how much we fight against it and then we spend the next 18 years uncovering what’s real for us.

The only thing is that, for most of us, the first decade or so of our adult lives are spent fitting into society’s pre-designed boxes (college, careers, love, family) so even if we are actively rebelling against what we learned in the first 18 years of life, we are often still part of the system we are struggling with. We literally at times have two halves of our lives but the second half of life doesn’t reveal itself until we have a few decades on this dusty rock. In my case, the late 30s signaled an internal shift but one that didn’t ramp up until the past year, when it started to become clear that change was underfoot.

I have openly joked about the physical shifts…those damn hot flashes are no joke and let’s not even talk about that nasty Flo broad and her changes. If I ever meet Aunt Flo face to face, why I’m gonna….

No, the soul searching, the painful picking up and putting down of what works and what doesn’t work. That’s what I’m talking about right now. Digging around in my psychic closet and exploring myself in my 40s now; asking the questions that in my 20s and even my 30s I could not find the courage to even utter except in the occasional moment of clarity. But that clarity would disappear as suddenly as it appeared. The moments of wondering “Is this it?” Ours is a culture where to admit these moments is looked at as a problem to be solved, but not all “problems” require a medical professional, treatment plan or a drug. Sometimes our problems just require the moment that pushes us to our edge and when we gather the bones, heed the whispering of those who have journeyed before us and run to embrace that all knowing wild being who is healthy, free and unencumbered, we find peace.

Yet the quest to the true self that often starts at midlife is not without risk; in fact, the risks are proportional to the potential of joy and peace that is possible. The larger the piece of the joy, the greater potential that you may just end up blowing up your life, just setting it on fire and saying “Fuck it all!” In many ways, it is fitting that I recently celebrated my 42nd birthday by gathering the materials to make the biggest blaze to blow up all that held me back. I am a creature of habit. I am often methodical and rarely do I make decisions without calculating the odds of success in any venture that I undertake. However, my gift to myself in this new year of life is to truly live joyously and take risks. It’s too soon to say and the odds for failure are high but my joy at the moment cannot be contained. I am not afraid to fail anymore and that alone is a gift; I look forward to the other gifts that this journey will unwrap as I go further along.

So welcome to 42, where the woo got stronger and I remembered to laugh again.

Racialized healthcare or adventures in the emergency room

This month marks 7 years for this little space and its been an evolving process for me both as a writer and as a person. As a result over the years, particularly in recent years I have intentionally become a bit less personal in what I share here. Yet the nature of this type of writing is personal and people often come back because of the feeling of personal connection. Which is why despite my intentionally sharing less of myself, I suspect that more long time readers especially  those who follow me in social media spaces have been astute in noticing that I have grappled with personal issues. The past year has been a year of physical challenges for me, a year where to be honest I have seen far too many damn healthcare providers in a search for answers. A year where I have seen the inside of the ER a few too many times but thankfully I am on the road to answers and feeling quite optimistic that the worst of it may be behind me barring a biopsy and some other treatments.

Pain and discomfort have become regulars in my life, throw in a predisposition towards anxiety and you have the makings for a stew of of physical hell. I have been fortunate that my daily yoga and meditation practice keep me from allowing the discomfort to feel like a nonstop threat to my very being. Yet there are days when the discomfort becomes too much; throw in regular garden-variety anxiety with a dash of perimenopausal heart palpitations and discomfort and it’s the death spiral of Oh, no

Which is why when in the middle of a conference call several days ago in my office—when I felt a thump in my neck, excruciating pain in my upper body and the world started spinning the same time that I felt my body temperature rise—I realized that when one is 105 miles away from home, the ER might sometimes be the best place to go to make sure that all was well.

However. not living in Boston and not having my road dawg—better known as my husband—with me, I got off the conference call as fast as I could and asked the program assistant at my office to help me get to the nearest ER. Little did I know that I was about to embark upon an adventure from hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy at one of America’s top-rated medical centers.

My office is located in downtown Boston, right in the Beacon Hill area, and the hospital closest to my office is Tufts Medical Center. Which, while it may be one of the best in the country is…well… lacking greatly in people skills. I have seen friendlier medical personnel at the old Cook County Hospital in Chicago, which is saying a lot since County specialized in trauma and the indigent.

From the moment my assistant and I stepped into the Tufts ER, I started to wonder if  I had made a terrible mistake. When one walks into an emergency room waiting space and is greeted by a woman in a wheelchair puking into her hospital-provided barf bag and wailing loudly that she needs help, you start to wonder.

My initial contact with the check-in staff was interesting as I explained my plight. Look, I understand, it gets busy, you are overwhelmed but a minimum wait of two hours?  Ok, it is what it is. Nevermind that the check-in guy seemed surprised that I had health insurance but after waiting patiently for two hours to be seen and listening to puking lady barf every 7 minutes (I counted) it became clear that most of us in the ER had one similarity: non-white skin…and that all the staff that I encountered had something in common as well: white skin. Most  of what my program assistant and I witnessed during my two-hour wait was downright chilling especially as we witnessed a white social worker speak in a chilling and condescending manner to a young Black man who was clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis. If I hadn’t been in grave discomfort and pain, I would have walked out the door.

The real fun though began when I was finally called and settled into a space—to call it a room would be a bit too much. Nurse number 1…”you look real nice”…um, what the hell does that have to do with why I am here? Enter the PA, a bored, disaffected looking white woman who treated me as if I were a junky looking for a fix. Gulp.

Nope, the real fun began when nurse number two came to give me an EKG, since I had complained of upper-body pain. Never mind that if I had been having a cardiac event that having me sit for two plus hours was probably a bad idea. No, helpful man nurse number two was there to assist and that is when the weirdness became so clear that even Stevie Wonder could have seen it.

So the nurse wheels in the EKG machine and offers to help me take off my boots since I was sitting up as laying down was uncomfortable. Great, thanks dude…Upon helping me take off my boot, he holds up my boots and comments on the brand and states that these are expensive boots, then proceeds to ask my opinion of them.  A bit strange but whatever. However, as he was placing the tape on me and hooking me up to the EKG machine, in a strange attempt at bonding, he leans over me while my body is exposed and proceeds to tell me that I smell good and ask me what am I wearing.

I can’t speak for anyone else but when a man who I don’t know has access to my body when it is most vulnerable, I really am not interested in conversations about my scent of choice or where I shop. As an online nurse friend mentioned, nurses can sometimes be quirky. I get it. Yet when you work at one of America’s top hospitals, I expect a certain level of professionalism. The only person I had contact with wasn’t creepy or completely disaffected was the actual physician, who came in with the “oh” face but softened considerably when I mentioned that I lived in Maine and we started bantering about Maine.

In the end, I was released and while I was “fine” the fact is that racial health disparities are no joke. By and large Black people do not receive the same level of treatment or quality of care when they encounter healthcare providers—the data from many studies supports and acknowledges this. My early academic background is in racial health disparities but it is also personal to me as my beloved mother might have had a chance at life had her doctor actually listened to her. Instead she met an early death.

Living in Maine, I have encountered my share of clueless providers who aren’t knowledgeable about non-white bodies, but rarely have I encountered the lazy disregard for Black bodies that I both witnessed and experienced at Tufts Medical Center. It did not escape my notice that had I been a white woman with the same presentation and symptoms that I would almost certainly would have been treated with a modicum of respect. Though, as a local white pal shared with me, he had his own adventure at Tufts Medical Center ER that left him shook as a reasonably upstanding white man. In any event, implicit bias training and compassion need to be a part of the staff training at Tufts. The vast bulk of people who go to the emergency room don’t want to be there. We would rather be well. We certainly don’t want to leave feeling worse in a whole new way.

Authenticity in a Facebook kind of world…some days aren’t our best

Back in 1997-98, I decided to go back to school and in one of my first classes we were informed that we would need access to the internet as part of the class. I had only the vaguest notion of the internet at that time. In my mind it was a mysterious thing, a thing that my ex-husband would stay up all night dabbling with, a thing that made strange noises and had codes that were undecipherable to my non-tech mind. Needless to say, the idea that my grade hinged on getting access to this strange thing…place, was a bit unnerving. However I bought my first desktop computer, signed up for AOL and the rest is as they say is history.

In my early days online, social media as a concept was not part of the larger culture. Early on, I had tapped into a community of Black women who like me were interested in wearing our hair in its natural state. The early conversations were about hair but over time, conversations grew and broadened, and a real community formed. Back then to casually mention that you spent time online “talking” to people who you didn’t always know in the “real” world was to subject oneself to raised eyebrows in some circles. I rarely shared my online happenings with offline friends, though over time many of the women who I had met online became actual friends. In the winter of 2003 as my mother’s life was winding down, unbeknownst to any of us at that time, I ended up documenting my mother’s last months with my online friends in a way that I rarely did with my so called “real” friends. As the first in my peer group to lose a parent in my early 30’s, people rarely knew how to relate to me but the format of the old discussion boards allowed me to grieve in a way where being vulnerable was okay. Six months after my mother’s death, I found myself pregnant at the same time that several of my online friends were pregnant. We all gave birth within an 8 week period to what we now call the 2005 babies. It was a strange time, to receive so much love and support from people some whom I had never laid eyes on but things change.

To live is to accept that change is inevitable; online chats with people we may not “know” is no longer viewed as strange. Millionaires have been created based off of people connecting with people who they may or may not know face-to-face. Gone are the days of exchanging numbers with people we hardly know in hopes of getting to know them better. Instead we look each other up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Ello and whatever forms of social media are out there. We “like” each other, we “follow” each other but more and more I find myself wondering do we know each other?

In a world where busy is boss, it’s increasingly harder to actually spend time with people that doesn’t involve a complicated dance of schedules. Despite the fact that the majority of us are walking around with mobile devices in our bags and pockets, we dare not call each other up because as we all know, phone calls are annoying. Instead we commit to texting because we can control how and when we connect with others. Send me a text today, I will text you back at a time that works for me. For most of us, our lives are filtered through the lens of social media where we play the roles that Mark Zuckerberg has created for us and we show our best selves. After all, it’s tacky to put our private business out for all to see, or at least that’s the line we tell ourselves.

The problem is that sometimes no one knows who we really are. I found myself confronting this issue recently when I admitted honestly to a friend that my marriage is still floundering and she questioned me on the photos that I show online, the casual upbeat banter that people see between my husband and I online…was it all a lie? No, it’s not a lie but…

I paused and thought about my other married pals, almost all my pals who have been married as long as the man and I are in that same strange place of what happens when you have been with the same person for almost 20 years. A place where the flame still burns but it sputters and comes close to dying out, a place where the dreams and hopes of years earlier have given away to the realities of midlife and living. It’s not a hopeless place but it is a place that is rarely depicted anywhere in popular culture. It most certainly isn’t depicted in social media, where couples show off their tasteful homes, fun getaways and adorable kids.

Lately I have found myself thinking a lot about the ways in which authenticity and honesty in digital spaces can be tricky. What we share and say online no longer exists in a void; jobs have been lost, relationships destroyed. This past year, I have personally felt a lot more vulnerable knowing that my employees, board members and donors occasionally browse in this space. As the boundaries break down in our society and we connect both online and offline and our ways of connecting shift the pressure to always be on and presenting our best self grows. The problem though is that people are complex and in having our best self, we also have a less than best self yet is there support for those less than best moments? In a culture where we are being branded and commodified to show our best selves, the truth is that too many of us have little in the way of authentic support and as I have personally learned, it’s not healthy. I can’t speak for anyone else but I need people to do more than like my happy moments and send emoticons. I need hugs, I need words, I need a smile, sometimes I need support. So in 2015, I am striving to be more authentic in every moment of my life even if it looks and feels a little messy and uncomfortable.

From BGIM to you…Wishing you a warm holiday season!

‘Tis the season of joy for many as the winter holidays go into full swing. I can’t say that I find this to be a particularly joyous time of year. My relationship to this season has always either been rather torrid (in the not-fun way) or tepid and that was before the illness that would eventually take my mother’s life decided to resurface on Christmas Day 2003.  Over the years, I have struggled to make peace with the season and jump in wholeheartedly; in other words…fake it until you make it. However, with my youngest child’s discovery that there is no magical white man wiggling his ass down our chimney and leaving gifts, I have been freed to take this time of year as it comes with no pretense and expectations.

Ours will be a somber holiday as my eldest child is unable to join us this year. Yet another reminder of the nature of change: kids growing into adults who have their own lives and plans, and sometimes those plans don’t line up with parent’s plans. We have been blessed to spend a good deal of time with my son this year before his move to LA, so while he is missed this holiday season, he is with us in spirit.

As unholiday-like as this season is for me this year, I have much to express gratitude for this year. A year of change which brought its share of ups and downs. A year that brought a career shift and new challenges including a 210-mile round-trip commute across two states. A year where I saw a marked increase in readers of this space, readers whose kind words (sometimes unkind words too!) and generous support has buoyed my spirits and made me realize that perhaps there is a need for a space like this.  So, I thank you! Thank you for being a part of my journey. As this year draws to a close and we draw near to our loved ones (or not so loved ones), I wish you and yours a warm and peaceful holiday season! That whatever your faith tradition, you can find a moment of clarity and peace in a world that grows increasingly unsettled.

 

When strength turns deadly…why the strong Black woman must die

This post is for my beautiful sistas of the African diaspora, and for the littlest sista who at 9 is already becoming far more skilled in wearing her mask than a little girl should be. But, like her mother, she already knows the spoken and unspoken rules required for us to take up space in these brown bodies.

I woke up to the news of the passing of Titi Branch; Titi was the co-founder of Miss Jessie’s Natural Hair Line. To be a Black woman in America with natural-textured hair is to have almost certainly at some point come across Miss Jessie’s products. Titi was still a young woman, just a few years older than myself, but what struck most people upon hearing this sad news was the news that Titi’s death may have been a suicide.

Whenever someone dies too young, it is always seen as tragedy, when someone dies by their own hand, we often don’t know how to process it. I think in the Black community where the cultural norm is to pray away the bad, we rarely acknowledge the unspoken depression and angst that lives in the closets of many strong Black women. With so much attention on the plight of Black Americans and the biased criminal justice system, too often the focus is on Black men and boys when the truth is Black women and girls are in a state of crisis too.

We know that Black women go missing and rarely do the stories of missing Black women and girls ever even make the evening news. We know that Black women are killed and assaulted by law enforcement. But rarely do we talk openly about the Black women who struggle under the weight of being asked to be strong. I am talking about the Black women who from the outside look together—the women who “beat the odds” and have all the markers of success by the standard of this society. Women who often feel too guilty to even talk about the deep pain of being asked to be everything to everyone while still living in this deeply racist and sexist culture that puts Black women on a third-rate stand at best. Women who can’t tell their relatives how that “good” corporate job feels more and more like a noose around the neck when those same relatives are still struggling to keep their lights on.  Women who often endure the subtle racism and microaggressions that eat away at your spirit piece by piece and thrown you in a downward spiral of malaise and depression.

The strength of the Black woman is a popular trope that rarely allows a Black woman to be honest with many people—or even herself—if she ever feels anything but strong. I know this struggle all too well myself—times when I have tried to reach out for help only to feel worse. When people expect you to be strong, the very act of revealing your vulnerability and humanity  feels like you are letting others down and creates a hamster wheel that is damn near impossible to get off of.

Yet it seems some of us are choosing to get off of the hamster wheel of being a strong Black woman by choosing to take our own lives. Black suicide has been researched by folks like Alvin Poussaint, whose book Lay My Burden Down discusses the mental health crisis in the African-American community. It’s a good read and it gives us real insight and ideas to curb this crisis, but how do we take it from the head to the heart? How do we do more than pay lip service to the idea of supporting one another? Even in Maine, our numbers are small, yet often the Black women here (I am guilty of this myself) are too busy to make time to just be with one another. If we can’t even take the time to create meaningful connections among ourselves, how can we have a support system when we are in crisis?

As Black women at times it feels we battle the world, each other and ourselves—and it’s killing us. Whether we consciously take our own lives or we go the unconscious route of shortening our lives which often is the result of not physically taking care of ourselves, something must give. I am tired of burying our men and sons but I am also tired of seeing too many of my sistas leaving the world far too early. Just as we are fighting now to make it known that Black lives matter we must create space for ourselves for our own Black lives—spaces and places that honor our humanity and support us in not just our high and strong points but at the low points when we need someone to know we are hurting enough that they come in to help hold us up, give us comfort and lend a caring and attentive ear.

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Fighting the fight for racial justice in Maine…I salute these brave young people

I never imagined when I moved to Maine in 2002 that talking about race, racism and race relations would be something that I would do with regularity. In many ways, coming from Chicago, I had spent years in my own silo, one that was rich with diversity and where my presence was not alarming, different or “othered.” Choosing to talk openly about race in a state where non-white people make up less than 10 percent of the population is a risky proposition. It makes you a very unpopular person who is alarming, different and often perceived as a troublemaker…and it most certainly doesn’t make you many friends. Needless to say, my social calendar stays pretty empty. I have few regrets, despite the occasional moments of sadness when I see the impact upon my family and the utter isolation in which we live, but occasionally something happens that reminds me that there is value in raising our voices for the collective good.

In recent years and months, I have seen more of my fellow Mainers speaking out about racial injustice. Too many times, there is an assumption that because the number of non-whites in this state are so few that racial bias has no place in our lives. The reality is that racial bias in Maine is real and it takes many forms. My friend, blues man Samuel James has been raising his own voice as a Black man raised in Maine to talk about the racism he has faced and continues to face. As more of us raise our voices, it gives us the strength to stand tall even when we face opposition.

However, it is the actions of a group of high school students in Lewiston, Maine, who have me convinced that change is coming…even in a state like Maine. With demonstrations taking place across the nation, few would expect them in a state like Maine but demonstrate we did. Last weekend, we had two demonstrations, one at which I had the honor of speaking at and meeting some of the courageous young people of all races who are working for racial justice across this state. Which is why, when a few days later when one of them reached out to me about a situation at Lewiston High, I was alarmed.

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Several students put up a poster in the high school to raise awareness about the racial injustices that disproportionately affect Black people using the slogan that has emerged in this struggle based off the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The students were told that using “Black Lives Matter” is divisive and ordered them to take the poster down. Of course, the complaints are that all lives should matter and when we only focus on the plight of Black Americans, we are creating racial divisions. In theory, all lives should matter but in reality all lives don’t matter equally. Much like George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, some of us are perceived to have more value than others. In a year that has seen record numbers of Black lives shot down before their prime, Black women sexually assaulted by law enforcement and Black children marked for failure before they can even spell their own names, calling the slogan Black Lives Matter divisive ignores the reality that Black lives seem to have little value in our current day. Many white Americans have already divided Black people out to label them as troublemakers or criminals because of the color of their skin alone, divided them out as being less deserving of rights and safety when police are involved, and dividing them out by trying to silence them when they even try to discuss race. Black people and their non-Black allies want discussion to bring people together for once across racial lines.

How talking about an issue can be divisive is beyond me. To acknowledge and discuss inequity does not create inequity any more than discussing cancer leads to the creation of more cancer. Such thinking is faulty at best and downright insensitive and insulting, and it often reveals the racial bias held by the person who dares to utter such things.

In the day of the viral story, the plight of the students in Lewiston was picked up and went national; not long after, the school reversed its decision and are now allowing the students to put the poster back up. The community is planning a forum on the matter sometime in January. Based off comments in the local paper, I imagine it will be a lively forum since many feel this sort of “thing” has no place in our public schools. Yet I can’t think of a better place for such action.

These brave young students are our future, they are connecting across racial lines and having the types of discussions among themselves that many of us who are much older won’t even dare to have with our family, friends or even ourselves. Social change is often guided by the young; as I went to two marches in five days and realized that my marching and chanting days are almost behind me, if for no other reason than how tiring they are physically. I am heartened to know that even in a state like Maine, there are young people daring to break out of the silo that society has created for them and work across racial lines to speak truth even in the face of pressure to be quiet. I salute these young people and I pledge to assist in any way that this old-head can.