When pride gets in the way and strength crumbles

“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” – Antigone

We admire strength and we romanticize strength in all its many forms, but rarely do we consider the plight of the strong. That beneath the surface of those strong beings we admire (whether deeply or superficially) is often someone who feels at odds with the persona they project whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The problem with strength is that it doesn’t allow for a gracious fall; it doesn’t allow the bearer to open up or to admit their weaknesses or missteps. So, you carry on until the weight of that strength threatens your very foundation and the pain in your soul lives in your body and you can sit back and watch it taking over your life. Sometimes solace can be found in the bottom of the bottle but even that is fleeting and the headache the next day is simply not worth the brief respite.

This is a personal post; the kind that I used to do more often before matters of race and larger world issues started to dominate my world. However, I am a writer and I write and when a writer is grappling with missteps and pain, sometimes the only true relief comes from watching the words tumble out and onto the paper or the screen. While this is a personal post written for myself perhaps the larger struggle of strength and the pitfalls of pain may resonate with some of you.

Strong Black woman. A misnomer if ever there were one. My strength and, I suspect, the strength of most “strong Black women”  is born out of a lack of options and places to lay these burdens down. Instead, the show called life must go on, yet sometimes the strong hit the wall. They get to that place where the hiding places that have borne their secrets and pain are simply too full to allow anything else to be stuffed in them. We keep stuffing but this time…nothing is going down. Instead we come face to face with our own fragility in a world that rarely allows for weakness.

I have spent the last month wearing my mask of strength, but the price of that strength is now more than I can afford. Authenticity, which I strive for and often fall short of, is about admitting that sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes the quest to be “right” and take the moral high ground isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Truthfully, there is very little in this journey we call life that is simply black or white. Life is often lived in the gray and even within the gray zone of life there are many shades. Yet that silly thing called pride which lives too prominently within the strong often creates an artificial barrier to admitting such things.

However, I am no longer interested in just being strong. While pride has sometimes served me well, at this juncture it isn’t working, so I lay myself bare and admit to feeling a little like one of many on the island of misfit toys.

Musings on power, privilege and last thoughts on the n-word ordeal

It’s been 10 days since that most unfortunate incident and while I am moving beyond my rage and even my shame and getting ready to rejoin the land of the living, it seems appropriate to share a few closing thoughts that I have on why a “mixed-race” family being called niggers in Maine’s most populous city was so shocking that it was worthy of being news outside of the state. After all, there are very few Black people alive who will escape this life without having that ugly word hurled at them as a weapon used to dehumanize them. It is a sad fact of what it means to be Black in America in 2015.

We aren’t post-racial and we never have been, despite what the media and pundits tried to tell us. A strange confluence of events created an environment that allowed Barack Obama to become president in 2008. It wasn’t about an America that was beyond a man’s skin color; more that he really was the best choice in both 2008 and 2012. Nothing more. The number of hate groups has increased since 2008, the rhetoric from the right over the years has been nothing but dog-whistle politics (which is racially coded language designed to appeal to whites without being overtly racist) and the state of life in America for Black folks continue to be rather depressing as a whole. On average, the net worth of whites is twenty times that of Blacks and eighteen times that of Hispanics. Conflicting studies show that for Black women on average, their net worth is somewhere between $5 and $300. Obviously, I am speaking in broad strokes but my point being, this idea of a level playing field sans racism is a creation of the white mind and not based in any type of reality.

Part of the reason that whites aren’t aware of what life is like for Black folks or other people of color is that far too many white people live, work and love in spaces that are all white. Too many white people don’t have real connections to Black folks or other non-white people and in a state like Maine, it is fairly easy to live your entire life never interacting with or knowing a non-white person. This creates a perfect setting for assuming that there is no racism. In the absence of real knowledge, it is easy to make assumptions. We all do it and it’s not specific to race.

For people of color in Maine or any white-dominated space, talking about our racialized experiences is a risk and one that many literally can’t afford to take. Because, truth be told, when non-white people speak openly about race, it makes white people terribly uncomfortable. And in this country, most non-white people are working for white people, renting from white people, doing business with white people. So, making them uncomfortable is often a bad idea. This is what is meant when racism is described as “power plus privilege.” Non-white people rarely hold the type of power and privilege over whites that whites hold over us. It is an uncomfortable reality that we prefer to put our heads in the sand about.

Yet if you look at my blog prior to the latter part of 2013 (which is when I accepted my position at Community Change Inc.), I wrote about race but not with the level of openness that I now do. Why? I no longer have to worry about offending an all-white board of directors or white foundations as a Black woman living in a predominantly white state. In the past 10 days, I have heard from so many people in Maine as well as people outside of Maine. Many people of color who have suffered indignities greater than mine yet they rarely mention these indignities because they can’t afford to ruffle feathers, so they stuff it down. Even when you do bring it up, you are often told that racism doesn’t happen here, you must be mistaken, etc. In other words, what you lived isn’t seen as valid. Which frankly is a mental and emotional assault.

Many white people have written me asking what can they do, well as I always tell people, read Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White if you haven’t already, but also look in your communities. Are you talking about race? When Black people are killed every 28 hours in this country by law enforcement officers, does that register on your radar or do you assume that the dead Black person clearly should have done XYZ? Do you need to see grainy cell phone videos of Black children being killed by cops to think that maybe there is a problem? Do the words “Black Lives Matter” make you automatically squirm and rephrase it as “All Lives Matter?” Do my words make you uncomfortable? These questions are the first steps in tearing down the silos of whiteness that thrive at the expense of Black humanity. To move to that place where all lives really do matter requires being uncomfortable and messy in a world where waiting in the grocery store line is so uncomfortable that we’d rather check our Facebook feed rather stand in space with others. We are all the recipients of a world 400 years ago that denied Black humanity yet we do have a choice now.

What choices will you make?

My raw humanity as you wish or the aftermath of going viral

0408151359~2“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”- John Lennon

Last Friday, I woke up with one goal: To have the best day possible, because by the end of the day, our lives would be forever changed. There would be no going back to the people we once were. But before we reached that unfortunate crossroads, we would have one last perfect moment.

If only…

That last perfect moment was shattered by the ugliness of an unknown young white man, who in choosing to call my family niggers not only stole the last shreds of joy that my family desperately needed but over the course of a few short days would turn my family into a viral story being shared and dissected across the world.

We’ve all read about people becoming a viral story but nothing can prepare you to wake up and see details and photos about your life and your family being laid bare for all to see. To see bits and pieces of your words cobbled together without your permission and curated into a “story” without anyone speaking to you for an interview. To see judgement rendered on your reactions in a highly tenderized moment laid bare for others to judge. To see your discomfort judged as a hoax based off your occupation. To be told that you are not entitled to your feelings or even your words.

Nothing can prepare you for just how raw and vulnerable this will make you feel. That for every kind message, it’s the ones that threaten you and dehumanize you and your children that will linger in your mind and make you pour that third glass of wine and ultimately keep you from sleeping. That even for a well-seasoned veteran of ugly, the sheer scope of this ugly would make you finally grasp how easy it is in a moment of desperation to simply give up.

To say that the last few days have been a clusterfuck would be an understatement. I had no idea that in choosing to speak up which, as a typical hard headed person who sometimes struggles with shutting up…that this time, I may have been better served by not writing that last blog post, by not popping off on Twitter and blowing steam. I had no idea that in choosing to write my blog post in response to Jackie Ward’s well-intended post on her Facebook page that I was essentially unleashing a world of hurt upon myself and my family at a time when to be frank, my personal reserves are lacking.

Despite my day job, it was not my intention to spark a discussion on race when I wrote that post. It was the frustration of a middle-aged woman who can no longer stuff herself down, who is fueled by the hormones of that uncomfortable journey we call middle age or perimenopause.  Yet this is one time where I am kicking myself for my decision to speak up. I do hope that a larger conversation on race happens especially as we grieve the loss of yet another dead Black man at hands of law enforcement. We need deeper conversations on race, because even without my professional background, it is clear that far too many Whites don’t see the world through the lens of many non whites. That as much as we may want race to not matter, it does matter, that we are simply not at the place where we can divorce ourselves from the color of our skin. We do need those hard and uncomfortable conversations. However, having it come on the back of my personal pain is a hard pill to swallow.

In the past few days, I have never felt so utterly alone in my life, so utterly scared after receiving messages from someone signing off as Concerned Citizens of Maine, so utterly fucking dejected at this mess in the middle of an even larger mess in my life.  I am also struck that during this time words like self-care and support, while often thrown around when in crisis, truly have little meaning. Yesterday, a friend called me to ask me how I was holding up and after I hung up, I broke down crying with the sad realization that in the midst of this unholy mess, he had been the only person to call me up. (Note: I have received countless texts and messages which I am extremely grateful for, so thank you)

As I sit and reflect on clearing up the rubble from my life and attempting to build a new foundation, I am struck by the words that were used to refer to me in the immediate aftermath after that ugly word was said to us: “calm and stern.” I wear that mask well and perhaps I wear it so well that it is easy to not see that it is not real at all. That in the days since that fateful and Crash-like moment, I have been anything but calm, that when the person who knows me best at this time in my life told me to be strong, it felt like the ultimate slap in the face. That sometimes I don’t want to be strong; sometimes I can’t be strong. Sometimes, I need help with my burdens…and this would be one of those times. Yet in a 24/7 hour world that never sleeps and takes a series of unfortunate events and spins them out of control, maybe we all need to step back and hold fast to our collective humanity.

Note: In the past several days, it seems I have picked up a few new readers. While I do write on race often, I also write on the struggles of growing older and raising kids as well as occasional musings on our culture at large. I hope you stick around. Blessings. 

 

When gelato gets racial or a little girl hears the N-word for the first time

As the wheels continue to fly off my personal life, moments of simple joy and normalcy are increasingly hard to come by. My son’s unexpected visit home this week promised to be an opportunity to simply be present with family and savor the simple joys of togetherness. To share in the love that makes us a family, without the heady labels that often weigh us down.

Yet, as a mixed-raced family in a white space, the reality is that anytime we leave our house as a family, we risk incurring the wrath of the ignorant and hateful. To partake in the joys of the first treats of spring can turn ugly without notice and, sadly, a visit to Maine’s most populous city yesterday was the day when the ugly became personal and my nine-year-old daughter learned that there are people who will never know her essence but instead will reduce her to nothing more than a nigger.

I had no intentions of blogging about what happened to my family yesterday in Portland, though in a fit of anger, I did tweet about it in vague terms. However our degradation was witnessed by many, including a local news anchor who shared what she witnessed on her Facebook page and when a news anchor shares such a tale in a state the size of Maine…well, it seems I should just write about it myself.

My husband, son, daughter and I were walking in downtown Portland in an area known as the Old Port. The Old Port is a cute little area with cobblestone streets and an assortment of boutiques and eateries that draw crowds. We had already shopped at several local shops and were off to grab gelato before heading back to our little hamlet when suddenly and without warning as we were waiting to cross the street, a carload of young white men approached and without warning, the young man in the passenger seat yelled out very clearly and very loudly “Hey, niggers!” In that moment, I was frozen, I was scared…I was hurt. Yet before I had time to process what I was feeling, my son dropped the bags he had been carrying and ran off after the car.  As I snapped to and realized that my son might be doing something foolish, the sounds of my daughter wailing for her brother to not run pierced my soul. I called out to him, too, in the hopes he would stop but he said he had to run and never paused for a second.

We stood there unsure what to do next, a sense of shame seeping into our souls. To be othered so publicly in such a vile manner is not a comfortable feeling. In that moment, the three of us stood, not sure if we should run after my son. My husband walked across the street to see if he could see our boy, he couldn’t. My husband asked if I felt he should go after him, I said no. We needed to be here when he returned. In those excruciating moments, nothing was said to us, though what seemed like minutes later, a white man crossed the street and asked if we were okay. I explained what happened and he asked if I could recall what the car looked like and that he would go look for my son once his own ride arrived to pick him up.

Eventually, the standing became too much and the weight of worry caused me to start walking and look for my son, while I had my husband and daughter stay put. I walked a few blocks down the street and came upon my son who was walking back our way. He wasn’t harmed but his anger was apparent. As we walked, I held his arm just as I had done when he was a small boy which, considering he is now a full head-plus taller than me, is laughable. I asked him why he ran, he told me he ran for every time growing up in Maine that a grown man had called him a nigger and he was too little to do anything but hang his head. He ran because he is tired of hanging his head and feeling nothing but shame. He ran because having his baby sister hear those vile words was simply not acceptable to him. He ran because a pack of white men calling his mama a nigger was not okay. He knew the risk inherent in running but he also knew that at 23, he is tired of stuffing down the weight of racism and being asked to be the “better person” by silently taking the abuse and waiting for society to change when it clearly has little impetus to do so. He realized that sometimes, a man has to be willing to risk everything, including an ass kicking or a jail cell, to right some of the wrongs in this world. It may seem…or maybe even be…foolish, but there comes a time when one is simply tired of dealing with injustice.

I have spent the last 11 years writing about race and racism. I head one of the few organizations in the United States dedicated to anti-racism work. While I can go into an academic head space about racism, the fact is it is very different when it is your family and your children living with the reality and weight of being different and being seen as less than fully human. It hurts and if you think about it too much, it will crush your spirit. Yesterday’s events were a psychic gut punch in a week that had already doled out a more than a few psychic kicks.

When I tweeted about the exchange, I was literally blowing off steam on the ride back home and had no intention to really talk about it again. But waking up to numerous messages and to see my painful exchange shared publicly and in detail, well…I am grateful for the anchor’s observations but I am also saddened. Saddened that she was not comfortable enough after seeing the entire exchange to come over and ask “Are you okay?” In my professional work, I work with white people on race and the white American culture is a, all-too-polite space where too many times white people don’t speak up and unfortunately silence can be harmful. Racism is a system, and that silence upholds that system even when we don’t believe we are actively creating harm.

In having the story go public, it created many questions and one being: What happened afterwards? Well we had a sober ride home, the mood of the day being utterly destroyed on a day that we honestly needed to be good. We needed a perfect spring day to savor as we grapple with the uncertainty and fragility of life. Instead, we were reminded that the world can be an utterly ugly place, my daughter asking on the way home if we could move away from this place. I reminded her that ugly can live anywhere. If I felt there was a place that was safe and where we could be assured that we would never hear that word again, I would move heaven and earth to get us there. However, there is no such space in a world that is not comfortable with Black and Brown bodies, instead all I can do is prepare her for what she faces and pray that her gentle soul is not destroyed in the process. Prepare her to wear the mask and stuff down her self just enough to stay strong but not too much otherwise the weight of the mask that Black and Brown people wear in spaces becomes too much and will eat you alive.

So, that’s what happens when you go out on a gorgeous spring day and you’re Black. Your humanity, security and even dignity can get snatched away in a second. You feel the pain, you try not to let it utterly consume you, and then you take it and stick in the jar and keep it moving.

I will keep moving. As will my family. Sometimes, if you try to tear us down, we will run. Not away from you but after you, and you will see us in your rearview mirror or over your shoulder. Even if you outpace us, we will ensure you do not forget us or take us lightly ever again.

Killing a child’s spirit or growing up Black in Maine

Living in Maine as a non-white person has at times meant swallowing bits and pieces of my own humanity in order to survive and keep the peace with the inhabitants of this place. In the real world, there is no transporter or magical pot of money to whisk me away from this place that often feels like a jail cell and a life sentence. Yet one day, I will leave this place and as hard as my experiences have been here, I moved here as a fully grown person whose existence was not shaped by growing up in a space where I was always “other.” Instead, I came here as a fully formed person and eventually I will leave here as a fully formed person who has learned a great deal and discovered a level of resilience I would have never imagined.

However, for children of color being raised in places like Maine, to find oneself in a place where you are labeled early on as “other” can make that journey to self and adulthood difficult. Especially  when you rarely see yourself mirrored in others, particularly the adults near you.

My adult son, who spent a large portion of his time in Maine as a child, is home visiting and resting with us. There is a 13-year age difference between my two kids but despite the age gap, my two kids love each other and my daughter looks up to her big brother. Which is why a few days ago, my son decided to go pick my daughter up from school. But an interaction that he witnessed is a reminder of how easy it is to destroy the self worth of a child with careless words. Even more so when a white adult decides to put a label on a child of color.

As my daughter was saying good-bye after school to some friends, my son observed a young boy of color who was somewhere between 3rd and 5th grade (the only grades at my daughter’s school) walking with two “friends” who happened to be white. The white boys were walking towards a man who was standing near to my son, when my son overheard the man say “What are you? A rapper or a gangbanger?” My son, whose back was to the kids, initially assumed the man was speaking to him; after all my son at 6’4 and brown-skinned might have fit whatever perceptions the man may have held about both rappers and gangbangers. As my son turned to respond to the man, he realized that the man was not speaking to him but to the Black child walking with the two white boys. My son looked on in horror as the child stumbled to find the words to reply but instead hung his head down. What can a child say in that moment? My son, aware of his own presence as a Black man, wanted to speak up on behalf of the child and ask the man what had possessed him to say such a thing to a child. Yet aware that as the lone Black adult on school property, his words of concern could be seen as threatening in a white space, he said nothing but stared the man directly in his eyes until the man became visibly uncomfortable and hurried away to his car.

However, the damage was done, as my son saw the young boy continue slumping where only minutes earlier he had simply been a child walking with friends getting ready to meet the father of his friends. In that moment, his two friends started to ask about his dreadlocked hair, specifically asking the young Black boy how he washed his hair with that stuff on? Sigh…

My son eventually walked away and gathered up his sister but not before noticing the young boy visibly fidgeting with his hair. As my son recounted the story to me, he said that he was reminded of his own childhood in Maine where careless comments on Blackness were a near-daily occurrence, often equating his Blackness with animals.  For many years he questioned his own self-worth and value, and it took leaving Maine halfway through high school and landing in place where he was no longer an “other” but simply a person before he could see the worth and value that I, along with my family, had worked so hard to instill in him.

I worry about my daughter and what scars this state will leave on her soul, but in truth I worry about all non-white youth being raised in this place, especially when they have no parents of color in a place where there are few (if any, depending on where you live) teachers of color, doctors of color or pretty much anyone of color some days. I am reminded of an old friend of mine who raised her two Black sons in Maine. Both left the state for college. While one son did eventually come back to the general area after college, he settled down in the slightly more diverse state of New Hampshire. The other son left and refuses to ever come back to the state. As he told his mother, he loves her, he doesn’t fault her or his father for choosing to raise them in Maine, but all the so-called “goodness” of Maine that people often tout when talking about why they choose to raise kids here meant giving up his very self worth as a human being. Much like my son, it was only when my friend’s son left the area did he find his own humanity as a person and not an “other.”

Maine is a beautiful place with a host of wonderful attributes but for children of color, the good is often an illusion masking a place that is only good for those who can blend in and not stand out.

A little ego, a little internet and a season of change

“We all need a break from people who ‘follow’ us online to ensure the appreciation of our full humanity.” – Dr. Crystal Fleming

“It was a metamorphosis. We all change. But we also have some control over the path. We choose our surroundings; we choose where we put our energy.” – Tony Sanchez


There is nothing like a good old-fashioned personal crisis to make one take stock of one’s life and ask, “How the hell did I get here?  Where were my people to tell me I was fucking up? Where were the people who love and care about me to help me navigate this maze of human misery and pain? How come in books and movies, 40-something-year-old women always have a gaggle of close friends who come together to support one another in good and bad times?”

So many questions, so few answers and the ones that did become clear made me ashamed of myself.

I am going through some major life shifts and I have been for quite some time. I have occasionally alluded to such shifts in this space but because this is a public space, it isn’t the place for sharing the details of one’s personal life. Especially after I learned recently that older blog posts have found their way into an upcoming book: New Media in Black Women’s Autobiography: Intrepid Embodiment and Narrative by Tracy Curtis. The older posts that landed in this book are about my family and initially upon discovering that my personal posts served as analysis for another, I admit to feeling a bit pissed off and even violated. Yet the reality of putting oneself out for public consumption is that people will do just that…consume you.

For those who follow me on Twitter, last week I tweeted a bit about what I was facing and while I appreciate all who took the time to reach out to offer support, it was also my “come to Jesus” moment about the state of my life and my people. The sad reality is that increasingly over the years, there are few people in my offline life who are not the result of my online life. Blog readers who I end up meeting with and fellow Twitter users whom I meet. While almost all of these meetings have been fruitful, it rarely allows for an authentic connection. How can we connect authentically when I exist in one dimension for most people? How can we ever become “friends” when it seems that for most I am their go-to person on racism; an expert on otherness? How can I let myself be vulnerable and real when most people whom I meet are eager to show me how un-racist they are?

The reality is that I can’t be real with most people when I have, in essence, become something other than the deeply flawed and raggedy human that I really am. The ego is a strange bedfellow, living inside jockeying for position…and the very nature of today’s world via social media, which increasingly is our world, allows for fertile soil for the ego to play and replicate itself.

After eight years of blogging and years in social media spaces, I have seen far too many people become caricatures of themselves because the need to stay relevant and feed the machine starts to take hold, and I fear that I am on that cusp myself. A place where the near-constant validation of people who really don’t know me allows me to bask in the goodness of a false self. Those are the moments in which you need your people—the people who don’t hesitate to check you with love and gentleness and offer correction and support to keep you from falling into that abyss of the ego machine. People who without hesitation will tell you to mind the gap. I need those people; I need to find them because I don’t want to lose the essence of myself in a quest to become some false version of myself.

To paraphrase Dr. Fleming, better known on Twitter as Alwaystheself, sometimes you really do need a break from the folks who follow you and “like” you to find your humanity alongside the folks who actually know you. We live in strange times, a place where the actions of people we may never break bread with can make us, aid us, break us and even destroy us. Strange times indeed. As for me, I give thanks to my teachers and spiritual guides and the memory of lessons learned that are helping me heal and also allowing me to acknowledge my own limitations. That in this season of my life, it is time to sit in my physical space and lessen my time in digital spaces. My road ahead is rocky as I embark upon a journey with no clear destination and in order to navigate these choppy seas, I need to be fully present in my own life. I have to be intentional about where I put my energy in this season of change.

Venti triple-shot mocha and a side of race talk please…or not

As I sit and reflect on my time at the White Privilege Conference that I recently attended, I am reminded of just how difficult honest discussions about race and racism are in the United States. Even in dedicated spaces with people who are working for racial justice, missteps and microaggressions can and do occur. Which is why when I heard of Starbucks newest social initiative to talk race, I had to laugh and wonder: Why on earth would a coffee chain think that a lighthearted approach toward a serious problem could happen and have a significant impact in a few-minute-or-less encounter?

On the surface, the Starbucks initiative might seem like a start in the right direction of addressing our nation’s race problem, but a serious problem requires a serious response. If one is in need of surgery, they generally want a skilled surgeon and ideally the best one that their money or insurance plan will allow; certainly not any random physician of any given specialty. Yet when it comes to race in America, everyone thinks they have the answer or that anyone who labels themselves an expert on the subject of race and racism is qualified to speak on the matter. This is why there is a certain segment of the population that thinks that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson speak for Black people when the average Black person will tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

We cannot address racism by simply focusing on the current events of the day. For those of us whose work and research is race-based, we understand that racism is larger than the stories of racial injustice that come across our paths on an almost daily basis. Racism is about power and privilege; who has the power and privilege and who doesn’t. We also understand that in the United States the very formation of our nation was founded on the backs of disenfranchising certain bodies and creating a class called white that was given access to power and privilege and hundreds of years later we all live with the legacy of race that was created by men long dead.

To be white in our society is to have access; whether or not one actually utilizes that access is a matter of personal situations. Yet while occasionally we hear tales of whites who have been abused and mistreated on the basis of their skin largely it is something that happens to Black and Brown bodies. This is why discrepancies exist in every major system in our society, starting most prominently with our criminal justice system. This week alone a white man who may or may not have had ties to white supremacy groups went on a shooting spree and yet managed to be captured alive (when so many unarmed Blacks have been shot dead by police recently) in the same week when a Black college student at the University of Virginia was beaten bloody by cops on St. Patrick’s Day for engaging in the same type of behavior that is often part of the white college experience (there are conflicting reports of whether or not Martese Johnson was using a fake ID or engaging in public intoxication, neither which are worthy of the bloody beating he sustained at the hands of law enforcement).

These discrepancies exist across the board in every major system and while it is easier to name the intersection of class as the issue, data exists that supports the notion that even college-educated, professional, middle-class Blacks face challenges that their white peers do not. The data that details racial discrepancies is staggering, yet to the average white person and even some people of color, knowledge of this data and the research is missing and a larger analysis of race is absent. Which in order to talk critically and sincerely about race is highly problematic. If you think I am kidding, look in the comment section of any major publication, even highly esteemed ones such as the New York Times.

To solve racism requires more than awareness of the problem. I head up one of the nation’s longest  and continuously operating anti-racism groups; these discussions have been happening for decades. Solving racism is about actively dismantling systems that favor whiteness and at Starbucks, an organization led by a white man, the solution should start at the top, not the bottom. Why is so much of the executive leadership team at Starbucks white while so many of the employees are not? Perhaps that should be addressed first. Are there not any highly qualified non-whites to fill these upper-level roles?

Asking hourly wage front-line workers with little power to broach one of the most pressing issues of our time is the type of tone-deaf change that goes nowhere.These workers have little influence and the bulk of people who go to Starbucks do have some power and privilege. Even using the assertion that with 40% of the staff is non-white, that puts an unfair burden on people of color. In racial justice we subscribe to the notion of “do no harm.” This means that asking people of color to do the heavy lifting is exploitative and nothing more than a gimmick…not the potential for change.

Last night on Twitter, I had an exchange with the Starbucks social media person around working with actual trained folks who work in anti-racism work and I sincerely hope that they reach out if not to my group, then one of the many in the field of anti-racism who could work with them to do a power analysis and move forth from there with a real plan of change. Not a newsworthy gimmick.  So yeah, just give me my decaf, soy,  flat white and skip the race talk for now, I am not interested.

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A blog is a public offering yet as this blog continues to grow and people reach out to ask for assistance, appearances, or as I discovered recently my pieces are used in classes. I am confronted with the reality that writing this blog is far more than slapping up a piece and being done. I have decided moving forth that much like my beloved NPR, that from time to time I will ask readers that if the musings here move them, consider supporting the musings. In our culture, money is the currency we use to show support. If you want more details about how or why you should support this space, read here. 

A glimpse into the silo of whiteness

Despite the fact that I work in the anti-racism field, I actually do little in the way of direct work with individuals or groups outside of the occasional talk and my writing in this space. I am not an anti-racism trainer or a facilitator. I am a non-profit administrator who is passionate and knowledgeable about racism and anti-racism work, and the key to maintaining my own peace of mind is knowing how to stay in my own lane. Which is why this past weekend has turned into a personal clusterfuck of sorts as I unpack my knapsack and I am reminded that as a general rule, we don’t ask victims of crimes to solve their own crime. Yet we are far too comfortable as a society with asking oppressed people to solve injustices that affect them yet they did not create.

This past weekend I participated in two local events, one in Portsmouth, NH, where I had the honor of speaking about my own personal journey as a Black woman in Northern New England. In many ways, it was a full-circle event for me as the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail was one of the first groups I reached out to when I was researching my move to the area. Learning of their presence gave me hope that I was not walking into a complete racial void. The second event was in my town, an open discussion on race that several of us had been discussing for months in light of Michael Brown’s death and the resulting incidents.

Both events were good; I think those in attendance received food for thought, increased awareness and in some instances a moment of needed connection. But increasingly the more I speak in public, the more that I find myself drained mentally, emotionally and sometimes even physically. The more that my own awareness increases, it becomes even clearer to me that Horace Seldon, the 90+ year old founder of Community Change Inc. was a visionary in 1968 when he started the organization with the goal that white people need to deal with racism and dismantling the systems that they benefit from. Yet despite our work for over 40 years now, too many white people still seem to require the personal flagellation of Black and non-white people in order to grasp the lived impact of racism and in order to “get it.” This is tiring; this is not healthy.

Over the years, I have described my own observations of whiteness—especially in white spaces—as a silo, much to the annoyance of some. Yet a silo is exactly how whiteness as a whole operates. It is is able to self isolate itself from the larger world because it owns and dominates every system that is required to live and yet doesn’t require interacting with others unless it chooses to.

In places like Northern New England, where the physical presence of non-white people is scarce, one can live their entire life never seeing people of color outside of the occasional tourist or what is projected via the media. One never questions why there are no people of color holding positions of power. One can live their entire existence never being concerned with the brutality that is ravaging communities within their own country because those people are “other” and there are no others in their personal world. Personally, as someone who understands the interconnected nature of all living creatures, this isolation perplexes me and scares me. It scares me that people can’t see beyond their own walls to see the shared humanity. It scares me that people have only come to care because they read this space or get to know me as a person—thus, what matters to me then matters to them.

It scares me that wounded people carrying the still-unhealed scars of oppression must give so much of themselves in order to be seen as human. Yet those who bear the rewards of oppression have the freedom of choice—to choose to care or not to care; to choose to go that extra mile while the bloody and wounded never get a choice. In my professional work, we are always intentional about making sure that people of color are never asked to carry the heavy part of the load because we recognize that the scales of justice are far from fair.

Yet outside of intentional anti-racism circles, rarely does this play out and I wish it weren’t like that…this weekend, I glimpsed into that silo of whiteness and man, it was hard. Yet I found myself wishing that I could have those choices. Alas, it is not to be. Until then, I hope these heavy-duty gauze pads keep absorbing so that I can keep carrying on. Hoping that one day perhaps for my great-grand-kiddos, the scales of justice will be balanced and they will not bear these scars from a world they didn’t create and that they will allowed to be whole, free and human. That the silo of whiteness will be no more and that there will be a silo of humanity where all will reside.

I am off to Louisville, KY for the White Privilege Conference and when I return my plate will be full. However feel free to like me on Facebook where I often share timely articles and pieces. 

 

 

My extreme commute or a taste of freedom

Since taking over as Executive Director of Community Change Inc. in January 2014, one of the questions that I am constantly asked is how do I manage living in Maine while heading up at organization based in Boston? Such a commute might seem abnormal to many but based off the number of fellow commuters who ride the Amtrak Downeaster along with me, I am hardly alone.

There is actually a term for us: “extreme commuters”—folks whose daily commute is longer than 90 minutes each day. When the stars align and there are no delays, my commute is about 2 hours and 25 minutes each way. The stars rarely align and, as you can imagine, this winter my commute has been extremely interesting. However, I rarely commute daily at this point; instead, I go down and stay over for two to three nights depending on the week. Seeing as how I head up a small non-profit, my overnight accommodations are hardly plush. I generally alternate between the local youth hostel and an inexpensive “boutique” hotel.

Many may wonder, why ever would one subject themselves to such logistical challenges all for a job? Well, the work that we do at Community Change is not easily replicable—our focus is anti-racism specifically working with white people. The opportunity to head up such an organization in many ways was a dream come true despite the challenges of location. Yet I do work that matters deeply to me and while I most certainly could head up an organization closer to home as I did for many years, it would hardly be the same.

On a personal note though, this job and the extreme commute have been my pathway back to myself. Living and working in Maine had started to take a toll on me and. to be honest, I didn’t realize how much so until I took this job. I hadn’t realized that the cost of being the Black person in almost-always-white spaces had caused me to stuff myself down to the point that my true self was almost unrecognizable. To live in a space where one is always the “other” is hard because rarely can you be comfortable in your own skin. You are always in a flight-or-fight mode once you walk outside your house. Even doing “fun” things have the potential to spiral into something less than fun when you are the other.

Over the past 14 months as I have navigated learning not only my job and organization but the actual city of Boston, I have become very aware of how much lighter my spirit feels when I am out of Maine. Even in a city such as Boston that has its own complicated racial history that is not always favorable, to be able to navigate in spaces where I am not “The Other” is a breath of fresh hair. To go into meetings and see myself mirrored matters; to have other Black and brown-skinned directors to connect with has meant a level of support that I needed but could never obtain in Maine. To walk into my board meetings knowing that I don’t have to measure every word because to make a mistake will be an indictment on all Black bodies and “proof” that I don’t deserve my position is a huge weight off my shoulders. I could go on.

All this of course leads to the next question: Why are you still in Maine? Life is complicated and when you have kids and a house, as much as we might want to just up and leave, it can’t always happen at that time. If I had my way, I would have left Maine 14 months ago, yet at this stage in life, it’s a bad look to jump without planning ahead. So eventually I do hope to leave Maine and after 14 months of shuttling my stuff back and forth, I am taking the baby steps of laying down roots in Boston by looking to rent a room so that I can have a semi-permanent place to lay my head on the days that I am down there. (Hey, Boston folks, if you have a lead on a room on the T line, let me know…I am serious) Ideally, I can make the full leap by fall 2016 but that depends on pesky back-end and boring adult details like money, home repairs, money…you get the point.

So yes, I do have an abnormal commute and sometimes it can be tiring, but living and working in a place that feels like a prison cell is far worse. At least a few days a week, I get to feel fully alive and free before I have to go back to my cell called Maine where I wear my mask and feel my soul slowly oozing out.

 

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.