Author Archive

Several weeks ago, I was on a local panel discussing selfies and the self portrait when one of the panelists stated that they thought social media and online time in general seemed one dimensional. After all, how could connecting with people online possibly compare to the “real” life experience of spending time with people? It isn’t the first time that I have heard such sentiments but it seems that as social media use has become a staple in modern day life, not a month goes by without an article or think piece lamenting the demise of our society and the concerns that people should spend less time online and more time connecting with their “real” life.  In fact, it was this piece a few days ago, that pushed me over the edge!

As someone who fully admits to being a heavy user of social media, I admit that over the years, I have had the occasional moments when I wonder am I online too much? Of course there were the years before social media became ubiquitous where I often had the darndest time explaining my online activities to my non social media using pals in my real life. I even made a joke of it, explaining my online world as my imaginary life complete with my imaginary pals!

Yet the reality is that whether I am online or offline, it’s all part of my very real life. In recent years, my online life and the connections made in online spaces helped fuel not one but two books that I contributed to; had it not been for this very space, it’s highly doubtful I would have ended up as a guest on the Melissa Harris-Perry show some years ago. My online presence and my ability to amplify messages played a factor albeit a small factor in landing my current job.  It is doubtful that considering how small the state of Maine is that I could have shifted my career without social media.

Outside of the professional, there is the personal side of social media as well. I live in a small, insular town where making connections beyond the surface has proven damn near impossible for me. At this point I have accepted the fact that I will always be an outsider here but it is the rich and deep conversations that I have online that keep me going when the very “real” people near me treat me with disdain or keep me at arms length.

My plight is not that unusual, many people are unable to connect in their so-called real lives and yet they can find community online that sustains them. For today’s LGBTQ teens and young adults the internet is shaping their generation and letting them know early on that they are not alone. For many marginalized and disenfranchised folks the internet is a tool of empowerment, especially when mainstream gatekeepers keep certain voices from ever being heard. For all the complaints that so called hashtag activism is empty, there are many activists and organizers who use the internet as yet another tool in their arsenal to work towards change. Hell, sites like Twitter can now break news faster than most mainstream news channels. By the time a story shows up on CNN and MSNBC, chances are that it broke on Twitter first!

It’s only speculation but my unofficial guess is that the vast majority of folks extolling the need to unplug and plug back into our real lives are not marginalized or disenfranchised individuals, in other words they are coming from a place of privilege. It’s a bit easier to unplug when you have a robust network that you didn’t have to build from scratch relying on people who never met you yet trust you and your work. When one lives near family and friends and the relationships are warm and supportive, taking the summer off is a lot easier to do than if a big chunk of your support system can be found on a discussion board, Twitter, Tumblr or some other online community. There are numerous reasons why people look for support online and they are all valid!

Change has always been a part of our world and social media is not the big bad wolf destroying our society that some would have us to believe. Instead we would do better to look at growing economic inequality and a world of work that keeps so many of us plugged into jobs that don’t meet our needs or give us enough time off to renew our spirits. Too many are dependent on jobs where schedules are not set in stone and change weekly never allowing us enough time to get off and connect in our so called real lives.

As for me, whether I am online or offline, I am the same person no matter where you find me. My only rule around my use of social media is to allow myself some time every day to be fully present and alone with myself, that generally takes the form of taking 10-12 hours a day where I am unplugged. Otherwise catch me online!!

 

“A focus on racial disparities alone,” Powell continues, also “presumes that the baseline position of the dominant group is the appropriate goal for reducing or eliminating disparities.” That is, it risks naturalizing or presuming a “white norm” that should be the standard policy goal to measure racial justice (for examples white rates of wealth, income, graduation, home ownership, etc.) rather than rethinking the ways such systems must be fundamentally transformed.”- Daniel Martinez HoSang

Another news cycle and another Black mother’s visage paraded before us as an example of “bad” parenting. This time it’s Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina woman who found herself  having to choose between her job at McDonald’s and her 9-year-old daughter. Harrell originally was bringing her daughter to work with her but after their apartment was burglarized and their laptop stolen, thus leaving her daughter with nothing to do while sitting at McDonald’s, Harrell made the decision to let her daughter play at the park down the way from her job while armed with a cell phone. This decision cost Harrell her job, her child and very possibly her freedom as she is facing a charge of unlawful neglect of a child which carries a 10 year sentence if she is found guilty.

A few months earlier it was Shanesha Taylor, an unemployed Arizona single mom who had a job interview and no childcare. Taylor went to the interview and left her children in the car which led to felony child abuse charges.

Poor, single mom faces 8 years for leaving kids in car during job interview

Each times these stories catch the attention of the national media, we are bombarded with a stream of factual and think pieces lamenting the lack of affordable childcare, well paying jobs and overall support for parents and kids. Without a doubt here in the US, we talk a good game about supporting families but the reality is we fall short. Very short. Until this year, most of my professional career was spent in social services both in Maine and Chicago and I know that all too often, families in need cannot find the support they need to not only survive but to thrive. In many ways this is old news.

Another thing that is also old news is that too many times stories such as Harrell’s and Taylor’s are retold to the larger world through a white lens. In the era of the mom blogger/writer as social activist, we hear these stories filtered through a white lens that lacks nuance and too many times in sharing the stories of others they also remind us of how “fortunate” they are because while their hearts go out for these women, they also know nothing of this world.

Stacia Brown, an African-American writer wrote a phenomenal piece on Black latchkey families that made me realize why stories that affect Black women and kids must be written by people of color. While African-Americans are not a monolith, many of us see life with a shared lens of understanding and a narrative that is largely absent from the white lens of life. Many of us were raised in families where choices were made that at times appear dysfunctional under a white, middle-class lens yet we know the lens that people like us live with and we can share the tales without the unspoken judgement that too often lurks in the background when whites, even so-called white allies, tell our stories.

For many of us, even if we have escaped bone-grinding poverty and need, we are not so are far removed that we can’t relate. Even in my own family, I have relatives who struggle. I have relatives who struggle with involvement in the criminal justice system. When I write, I write not only dispassionate facts and figures but I write from a place of lived experience. But too many times experiences such as mine never make it into the larger awareness or conscience.

Black women and men need to tell their own stories, because too many times only our tragedies make the news. Yet often there are untold stories of joy and overcoming that never make the headlines. We need to tell our own stories because our lives are more than think pieces that lead to click bait but our stories are the stories of human resilience in the face of obstacles and barriers yet when filtered through the white lens we are often nothing more than the poster children of “bad” when juxtaposed against the face of “good” which all too often wears a white face.

We live in a time when the goal is a white-washed form of colorblindness where we are measured against a standard that very few people of color can ever meet. We are not colorblind and the quest to pretend so is harmful because for too many of us it strips us of our humanity.

In the journey for racial and ethnic wholeness, we can all work together; in fact, we must work together.  But for white allies it is not to tell other people’s stories but to examine how the white narrative that is the norm is not only harmful to people of color but to whites as well because there re far too many whites who fall short of the white norm that is positioned as the “right way.”

Many will say such thoughts are “racist” without understanding that racism is a system yet our instinctual instinct to label “racist” what we don’t understand is just another reason why people need to tell their own stories thus revealing their own humanity. It’s when we connect on that very human level without judgement that true change is possible.

Systematic Destruction and Chicago….my hometown

This past weekend in Chicago, 82 people were shot and in a 24/7 news cycle kind of world where our attention flits from one tragedy  to another, rarely are we given an opportunity to go deep.  Instead we hear the grim stats, we feel bad and if we are given to empathy we may wonder why the people in “those” communities live like that. But rarely do we allow ourselves to go beyond the usual stock answer that involves a need for better gun control. Without a doubt, gun control is something that this country needs to get serious about but the gun lobby isn’t too fond of that idea and the chances of it happening anytime soon are slim to none in my opinion.

Chicago’s violence problem is less about guns and violence and more about what happens when people lose hope and communities are systematically stripped of the resources that allow people to live fully and completely. It’s also about how underneath the surface, racist policies set in motion decades before impact future generations when the bill comes due. This recent piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic pretty much breaks it down and explains how racism is still very real and impacts Blacks in ways that are often hidden from the average white person.

This post today, though, is personal; in reading about the shootings that occurred over the July 4th holiday weekend, I realized that several occurred in an area that I’ve long considered home, an area that for many years was the only home I knew.

In the mid-60s, my grandparents settled into a neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, they were one of the first Black families to move in and by the time I was born in the early 70s and was old enough to be aware, all the white families except for one had long since moved out of the area.

As a kid, my grandparents’ house was like the promised land; my grandparents were firmly in the Black middle class. Unionized factory jobs allowed them to own a 3 bedroom brick bungalow with a yard and access to the American dream which back when I was a kid included an annual vacation to Jamaica and Texas to visit family! My parents on the other hand had fully embraced a lifestyle that was counter to my grandparents’ “uptight” middle class life, having proclaimed themselves Black hippies. Looking back, I admire my parents for the choices they made but as a kid, I wanted the lifestyle that my grandparents had, which included Saturday morning trips to the grocery store where my Granny allowed me to put whatever I wanted in the cart! Overnight weekend visits to my grandparents was one of the highlights of my childhood: Saturday mornings involved a visit to bank, the barber, the grocery store and maybe even a special treat after all the errands were ran. Late afternoons involved playing with the other kids and grandkids on the block, the only rule being that when it started getting dark, it was time to come in. This was a tight knit community, so tight that at 14 when I started smoking and had snuck out for smoke while running to the store for my mom, a neighbor spotted me and had called my folks before I made it back home! In other words, it was a community, people knew each other and cared for one another and looked out for each other. It was a community with the things in a community that you expect to have to function; things like a grocery store.

Fast forward to my early 20s, after the breakup of my first marriage. I was 22 or so, divorced with a young child with no nickels to rub together and I desperately needed to get myself together. By this time, my grandfather had long since passed away, my grandmother had fallen out of the firmly middle class category and was teetering on the edge financially but she still had the house. My grandmother offered my son and I the chance to live with her so that I could get myself together but it didn’t take long to realize that this neighborhood was not the same one from my childhood. This was around 1994-95 and gone was the grocery store and many of the things from my childhood. The area had changed and not for the better; walking to the local library was a no-no because of gang activity. Several times I tried to order food delivery, only to have it not show up because the area was deemed not safe by the drivers. On more than one occasion, I had to beg cab drivers to drive me home. Our time there was brief but life-changing because when I left, I did indeed change my life around and my times there as an adult will forever be a part of me. But looking back, it was clear this was a community in decline. Yet none of the people on the block had changed. In fact, many of the families who had bought when my grandparents bought were still on the block and in the area.

Pressing the fast forward button once again to about 10 years ago, which is the last time I stepped foot in the old neighborhood and, well, I didn’t really know it anymore. Two days after my mom died, I was in Chicago and after making arrangements for my mom, my dad and I drove to see my grandmother. We were almost at her house when in my bleary eyed state, I realized that I needed some coffee, now for most of us the idea of grabbing a cup of coffee in the afternoon is something that just happens. Yet there was no coffee to be found in my grandmother’s immediate area, we had to drive a few miles over to the predominantly white neighborhood to procure a cup of coffee. A community in the third largest city in the US, one of the largest cities in the world, yet a cup of coffee cannot be obtained without going to another neighborhood…this is not good.

My grandmother passed away 18 months after my mom did and a few months before she passed away, she was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight on her way to the store. A neighborhood she helped to create, a neighborhood that had risen and fallen in less than 40 years!!

I shared this personal tale because despite my current residence in Maine, Chicago is my home. I know it. It is in my blood. I also know that when Blacks moved in and whites moved out there was a brief golden period and then these same communities slowly devolved into something that no one could even imagine. Communities without grocery stores, doctors, banks, or any of the things that most readers of this piece assume to be the norm.

A dear friend of mine, after a decade away from Chicago, recently moved back home and told me there are parts of my hometown that look like literal war zones. I have relatives who tell me that places that I grew up going to are no longer safe areas, where going to grab a bite to eat might very well mean the end of your life.

At the same time in the 12 years since I have moved away, millions upon millions of dollars have been poured into beautifying Chicago and turning the parts of Chicago that are seen by tourists and white folks into showpieces. Millenium Park was completed after I left and while it is gorgeous, why couldn’t some of the money that helped create this showcase of a park be put into the communities that actual Chicagoans live in? In recent years, schools and public health clinics in almost all minority areas have been shuttered while resources have flowed abundantly into areas that have few minorities.  This is no accident; this is how systemic racism works. The systems are not equal yet it becomes easy to blame “those people” rather than to acknowledge the structural inequity that is very real in large swatches of brown and and black communities.

We all make choices but sometimes the choices are made for us and we are victims of chance. If one is hopeless, longevity of life and aspiring to something greater than ourselves is hard to fathom if we have no role models or means to make such things happen. The lure of the streets and quick money suddenly makes sense when the systems that should work to help us to be a part of something larger than our base selves are simply absent from our reality.

Excuse the typos, this was written after a very long day.

The culture of good and why good is often toxic

My daughter wraps up the third grade this week and with it, what I hope is her incessant need to be “good” and “nice.” For many parents, a child intent on always being good and never hurting anyone’s feelings may be seen as a plus, an outward sign to the world that you are excelling at parenthood. Heaven knows that the Judgy McJudgerson’s of proper parenting are all around us, waiting to issue a disapproving eye and worse, words we didn’t ask for. If it’s real bad, our uncomfortable moments of parenting are captured by a fellow parent and shared across the land of social media where untold numbers weigh in and pat themselves on the back for being “good” parents.

Well, I don’t care about being that kind of “good” parent and I don’t want that kind of “good” child because our culture’s need to turn kids into good kids often strips them of their ability to be themselves and stand in their truth. I was a good kid, who grew up to become an anxious adult breathing into paper bags when the weight of good became too much. Good is a great way to lose your voice or worse yet, never find it.

A year end visit to my daughter’s classroom today revealed that her experience this school year was heavy on learning manners; manners that include not ever saying anything negative because you might hurt someone’s feelings. Admittedly I am blowing off some steam here but my annoyance is far greater than just my daughter’s classroom experience.

Good is often the prison that keeps people locked in a cell where change is hard to come by because to step outside the line of what is deemed acceptable is seen as bad or at the very least problematic. Living in New England for the past dozen years, I have struggled to understand the people and the culture, many times feeling like a visitor from the planet troublemaker.

A few days ago the thought popped into my mind that if Lake Wobegon met up and had an affair with Pleasantville, the offspring would be Maine. A place so pleasant, so nice with many good people yet so filled with expectations that rarely allows for deeper truths and exploration. A place where good is put on the pedestal and harsh words or unpleasant truths are rarely openly discussed. Yet my reality of Maine is not limited to Maine, it exists all over and is an interesting byproduct of white American values. Where according to my friend and author Debby Irving “A “good” attitude was highly valued and rewarded.”

In my years of writing about my journey as a Black woman in Maine, people often are surprised at the depth of my honesty and at times it is problematic for me. I was raised to be nice and good but as woman of color, I learned long ago that the privileges of niceness  and goodness are not automatically awarded to people like me. Instead it was only when I found my voice and decided that “good” was detrimental to me personally that my life unfolded in ways that I valued.

How many people have lost their lives at the hands of goodness? Many of the very people we now revere were not initially seen as good, last I checked many of those involved in the civil rights movement were initially seen as rabble rousers and troublemakers. Imagine if they had not stopped outside their socially prescribed box of goodness? Good is not always bad but a culture that starts our young focused on being good is a culture that often is not willing to rip the bandaid of injustice and intolerance off, instead using good as a convenient cover. Teachers and parents plant seeds that often grow deep within our youth and the seed of good while worthy is never enough if we are not planting truth, honest and justice as well.

Good is not inherently bad but good should never be the end goal.

Change is good and social media isn’t the devil

Despite the fact that social media has become a part of the fabric of our daily lives, I am always amazed at how many people continue to believe that online communications are not quite “real”. Instead they chide people to plug into their “real” lives or assume that online connections diminish “real” life. There was a point in time when even I questioned whether or not my online activities were healthy and would occasionally attempt to unplug so that I could plug into my “real” life. However I have had a change of heart, I am now convinced that online spaces while different than offline spaces are just as valid as online spaces. In fact I wonder why so many of us feel the need to choose between online or offline spaces, both can add value to our lives and both can be problematic and neither one is inherently better than the other, rather they are just continuum’s on the journey called life.

For the past dozen years, social media has been the lifeline that has allowed me to navigate living in a white space as a non white person. In my daily real life where there are few people who I can relate to on a deeper level, connections made over the years via discussion groups in the early 2000’s have given me a safe space where I can be myself.  My online village literally has seen me through my 30’s and now through my 40’s; many of the connections formed online have become trusted friends. I won’t even go into the number of professional connections made through my online village which would be impossible to replicate in a small rural state.

No, after fighting it for years, I recently had to admit that my online world was as important to me as my offline world, equally real and equally valid.

Yet just like in the “real” world, the online world can be problematic if not managed well. If we put in too much time at our jobs and don’t take care of ourselves, things start to feel unbalanced and we get out of sorts. Frankly if we give too much of ourselves to any one area, project, or person without balancing things out, it starts to not be a good look. Thinking back on when the almost 9 year old was a baby, I was out of balance…she was my day and my night, for almost four years, I never slept longer than three hours at a stretch…this is parenthood. I wouldn’t have dared to call her not real but as someone who has also seen another child to adulthood, I know that eventually it all balances out with kids and one day you start to reclaim the balance by making time for yourself. Hell, one day you are eagerly asking them to hang out with you.

Sure,it is possible to spend too much time plugged in but I like to believe that we humans are smarter than the machines, we eventually find our balance. But in a world where think pieces abound on how we are ignoring our kids based off some looky-loo’s 5 minute snapshot into our lives, it’s hard not to constantly question whether we are too dependent on our gadgets. As someone whose schedule allows for a great level of flexibility there are times when I am with my kid, looking into my screen juggling emails but the alternative is that she could be in after school care while I am trapped in my office until quitting time. Instead  I can run an organization and be there for my kid.

This past weekend, I had several exchanges with a few different people in my real life who are not regular users of social media, they admitted that they were amazed at the frequency at which I use social media. It’s always an awkward moment when someone comments on how often I use social media, one that I used to feel embarrassed about but that I now embrace. Yep, I do use XYZ network regularly, as someone who straddles the introverted/extroverted line, social media is the greatest thing since bacon or red velvet cake! I can talk to people when I  feel the need to yap and when I am tired, I can power down without the awkwardness of hoping you get the hint that I am tired without feeling like I am hurting your feelings. My only rule these days around social media use is to allow myself 10-12 hours every day where I am unplugged which is how I balance both sides of my life, similar to how I rarely drink caffeinated coffee after noon time.

Speaking of social media, why all the hate for the selfie? I admit, I was late to the party and since I will be participating on a local panel next month where we will be discussing selfies I won’t say much but let me just say that I love selfies. I never saw a picture of myself that I liked until I started taking pictures of myself. I was reminded of this after looking at a few pictures that were taken of me over the weekend and cringing. Despite what many think, selfies can be very much a tool in the empowerment tool case and not just the visual evidence of a world gone narcissistic.

Change is hard and in a Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter world it can seem that the world has lost its center but without change we don’t grow. So I am embracing the change and even learning to see the beauty within myself at the same time.

 

How a book gave me hope…thank you Dr. Angelou

Legend in my family has it that as a baby I was slow to crawl and I took my sweet time learning to walk. When I did learn to walk, I took my first steps in reverse. I walked backwards before I walked forward. I have never known how accurate this tale is but my dad swears it is the truth and in many ways walking in reverse would be the story of my early life.

When my peers were thinking of prom and college, I, having made the ill-fated decision to drop out of high school in my senior year was married and with child by the time my class graduated. When my peers were legally kicking back their first legal drink, I had an estranged husband and was juggling multiple jobs to take care of me and my son.

In my late teens and early adult years, my life was in reverse and truthfully it was a lonely time since by the early 1990’s, early marriages were definitely not the norm. It was in those lonely years where I struggled and frankly felt trapped by the decisions that I had made,  convinced that my life was over before it had even started. It was during that I came across the work of Maya Angelou. I can’t remember how it was that I came across her but I devoured her autobiographies.  Her personal story gave me the hope that despite the choices I had made, I could become any damn thing I wanted. That my journey might be rocky but it was not hopeless.

I could indeed sing, swing, and get merry like Christmas!

Hearing about the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou felt like hearing about the loss of a beloved family member and I did feel momentarily embarrassed to shed tears over the passing of someone who I had never even met. Until I realized that for many of us, she was that beloved aunt, granny, friend…she was beloved community who inspired many of us.

In a world where Black womanhood is rarely celebrated, Dr. Angelou was that woman who inspired so many of us, yet she was honest, she was messy, she was real. Listening to various recordings of her over the years, I was reminded of how much her voice reminded me of my own Granny’s. Strong, warm and buttery. Voices that endured so much, yet always found the sweet spot even in the midst of shit. A woman who came from a tradition of black womanhood where we understood that sometimes all we had was one another and we lifted each other up but we also kept it real.

Dr. Angelou’s passing has reminded me why we need to tell our stories because in telling them, we free ourselves and offer a bit of hope to someone else.

Thank you Dr. Angelou! I hope the party with the ancestors is a blast and that the macaroni and cobbler is right!

I’ve been off work for a few days, visiting with my son who is getting ready to move to LA. As a result, I am in off mode and I decided to share a few of my random thoughts here…this post is probably not for everyone but that’s cool. 

Getting older is a funny thing, back when I was a wee lass, I used to wonder why older people always talked about their bodies. Now that I am hovering in the gray zone of not really old or really young, I know why…you feel every damn thing! Suddenly walking around in cute shoes that aren’t comfortable is a big deal especially when you take them off and wake up the next morning feeling like Kathy Bates tried to hobble you.

Like many women, I like pretty toes. In fact I have a thing about pretty toes or maybe I should say that I did. I am a die hard pedicure girl, like every two weeks at the local nail shop having my toes done.

For the past several weeks (month or more), I have been walking around with what I assumed was a callus on the bottom of my foot. In my rather naive thinking, I figured now that I walk quite a bit when I am at work in the city, maybe my feet were adjusting to their new environment. No biggie. Except that somewhere along the way, in addition to the callus on the bottom of my foot, I picked up some uglies on the side of the same foot that had me feeling like someone had torched my feet…can you say ouch?

After buying stock in Dr. Scholl’s foot pads and still not getting any relief, it dawned on me that maybe I needed to visit a foot doctor. Especially since I don’t have a side career as a runner or dancer so why my feet were falling apart on me was a mystery. Fast forward to my visit to the podiatrist (score one for the people of color in Maine…a non white healthcare provider) who took one long look at my feet and informed me that my “callus” was in fact a wart and that the uglies on the side of my foot were the result of my unconsciously changing my gait to compensate for said wart and basically creating friction on the side of my foot. The cure? Comfortable fitting shoes with a wide toe box to lessen the pressure on my foot and arch support and oh…skip the nail shop! See, the chances were pretty good that I picked up this nasty wart at the local nail shop that despite looking clean probably was not sanitizing as well as they could have and probably handling warty feet when really they shouldn’t have. Say what?

Yep, pretty looking feet if not done well (trust me, I do notice things in the shop and the place I was going to looked very clean) can cause feet that feel anything but pretty. Looking back on my last pedicure visit, it’s obvious that the nail technician should have known my “callus” wasn’t a callus,instead they serviced me and now I am spending a lot of money to heal my foot. By the way, size 9.5 shoes with a wide toe box are a lot harder to find than you can imagine. Turns out that many of the known “good” brands like Keen, Merrill and Clark’s have few styles that meet my requirements. Oh dear!

Moving on further up the body, can we talk bras? Many women hate em, but the older I get, I love my bras…like I could sleep in them. Considering that I am neither a member of  the itty bitty or the big one’s club, I just don’t have beef with bras. In fact I find that a well fitting bra actually makes my tops fit better. I used to think when I heard that line, it was crap until I spent an hour trying on a slew of bras, then putting my top back on…oh my! Lift baby, lift! Never mind the fact that while I admire my free boobin sisters, at my age, when the girls are free, they no longer smile, they just have sad, uncomfortable frowns. No, we can’t have that! They must smile, a smiling body makes for a smiling BGIM. Of course, the downside of these supportive bras is they sure as hell aren’t cheap. Nothing like looking at the tags realizing that the support is going to cost a cool $50 or more and is rather ugly. Wait? What happened to the days of Victoria Secret’s semi annual sale and the $15 bras? Nothing. You get older and care more about support and comfort than rocking a sexy, matching bra and panties in a cute print or divine color…no magenta striped bras for you!

Funny thing of course is that thus far this getting older thing has me feeling far sexier than I did back when I had the cutest undies ever. I am actually wondering why all this too sexy for my body stuff didn’t happen back in my 20’s. I mean here I am looking like every other 40 something year old woman schlepping about in my sensible shoes and practical clothes (yoga pants)  and yet underneath the surface I am the sexiest woman in my world. My goodness I am Beyonce and all the sexy ladies wrapped into one….well, my granny always told me that taking care of my feet and wearing good undergarments were two things I needed to do as I got older, guess she missed the lesson on settling into one’s body and discovering one’s inner goddess.

Since starting my job in Boston, many have asked why I continue to live in Maine…money! Moving is not cheap and sometimes despite not liking a space, we have to live within our financial means. In my case that means saving to move and making good financial decisions.  A few readers have asked if I would start a crowd funding campaign to free BGIM and while I appreciate the idea, it’s just not something I can see myself doing. However if you enjoy the space both here and the postings on the BGIM Facebook page or twitter feed, I do keep a tip jar, feel free to support the move via the tip jar. Or send good thoughts for a winning lotto ticket. 




According to a recently released Gallup poll, Maine made the list of having residents who are least likely to leave their state. The local social media community here in Maine has been abuzz with all the wonderful reasons why people tend to stay in Maine or leave and come back—the unique beauty of the state being a large part of why many choose to call Maine home, along with Maine’s unique hardiness. Other reasons as reported in the local paper were less specific to Maine and more general qualities that many people enjoy: “low crime, no traffic congestion to speak of, open spaces and good schools.”

On the surface, this is a feel-good piece and for most of my fellow Mainers it’s a chance to take pride in their state. However, as I read the list of other states where residents are also least likely to leave, I was immediately struck by the fact that several of these states also appear on a list the U.S. Census Bureau keeps: the least diverse states in the US. While Hawaii seems to be a place where folks likes to stay put and it has the smallest percentage of whites, the majority of these states where people stay put would not make the average person of color’s list of states to live in. Look, I live in Maine. I know that people of color are found in every state in the country. But let’s be honest, certain states don’t exactly say “Welcome, non-white person!”

In my current job, I look at systems of racism that go beyond the personal; while personal racism hurts, it’s systems of racism that privilege whites or at least shut the doors to people of color that interest me most. It is these systems where we have made the least amount of progress and rarely go beyond trite conversations of whites acknowledging white privilege and pulling out Peggy McIntosh’s well-known piece on “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

Yet few of us understand that the largest systems that continue to work to disenfranchise people of color and lower-income people start with the seemingly innocent personal choices we make about where we live. Redlining in effect laid the foundation that we all currently live with to some degree (If you are not familiar with redlining, I strongly suggest taking a minute to Google it). When the middle class was being built in this country, it allowed all the good white people who wanted “low crime, no traffic congestion to speak of, open spaces and good schools” to live in the same areas. It also pushed people of color into often (not always) inferior areas. The result being over the years that the areas with these good schools, low traffic, etc. often have built-in infrastructures (or lack thereof) that even in 2014 don’t support people of color or lower-income people from moving in.

Rarely does anyone now say person A can’t move in. Hell, when we bought our home, we were welcomed and have been tolerated. It has not escaped me, though, that most people of color in Maine are concentrated in the more densely packed areas that often have public transportation. Due to the continuing economic disparities that affect Blacks and Whites (Blacks households earn just 59% as much as their white neighbors and Black unemployment has been in the double digits for years—as of April 2014 it was 11.4%) it means not everyone has equal access to choices and in many cases due to the simple economics people of color have a higher dependency on things like public transit. The reason I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30 was because when I was in high school, my folks didn’t have the cash to pay for the behind-the-wheel portion of driver’s ed nor a car for me to drive. As a result to this day, I have a higher comfort level with public transit than most of my peers.

For most people reading this, I am sure there will be a bit of head shaking and confusion but the reality is when people live in the communities much like the ones they were raised in that don’t make it easy for newcomers to come in, due to the literal infrastructure, you are unconsciously making a choice.

In 1996, a Black teenager, Cynthia Wiggins in Buffalo, N.Y., was killed in what appeared to be simply a horrible traffic accident. But the truth was revealed that racist policies unintentionally lead to her death. Cynthia lived in a blighted area of Buffalo as a single parent and needed a job, but there were no jobs in her area. So she went outside her area and landed a job in an upscale area that required her to take a public bus (she had no car). However, the residents of that well-heeled area and the developers of the shiny new mall there didn’t want the riff-raff (Black folks) from the blighted area coming to their space. So, they made sure that the public bus from that Buffalo neighborhood would not be able to stop at that mall itself, even though its route could have easily stopped there (and should have). That didn’t keep people like Cynthia away; instead of staying away, people had to brave crossing a very busy 7-lane highway (yes, highway) with no crosswalks after they went as far as the bus would take them to get to this mall.

The mall had a plethora of entry-level jobs that could make a difference for those wanting to better their lot in life, but a simple policy on the bus route that was all about people wanting to ensure a low-crime, nice area pretty much was designed to keep “those” people away, even though no one ever said it quite that. If you aren’t familiar with this story, it’s worth ordering it on Amazon. This is how systemic racism works. It’s often not intentionally designed to do great harm to people of color, but to those who live with the impact and the aftermath, good or innocent intentions don’t matter.

I am often asked why Maine is so white. Well, overall there is little in terms of infrastructure that supports people of color here. The schools are white and finding a non-white teacher outside of our largest school system in Portland is pretty damn impossible. It means teachers and others having little sensitivity to people who are unlike them which, as a parent, is no fun. It means hearing people tell you how wonderful a place is when you explain its shortcomings yet they are too blinded by their own whiteness to really hear you. It’s a place where getting a haircut if you don’t have white textured hair mean waiting weeks (I am waiting yet another week, after making an appointment 2 weeks ago for one of the only Black stylists in the state!) or trekking across state lines. Maine is also an incredibly insular state where being accepted as outsider is hard and when you are a person of color it’s damn near impossible. It was also a hard place to navigate as someone who didn’t learn to drive as a kid and had to learn to drive in a state where I could feel the eyes on me behind the wheel and where the process of getting a learner’s permit and later a road test isn’t conducive to adults or people with day jobs. It’s a place where I was met with incredulous eyes by the driving instructor I hired who couldn’t believe I had never learned to drive.

We are free to live wherever we want in this country, at least in theory, but the ways of being that were accepted by our parents and grandparents laid a foundation and we live with that legacy today. If we choose to carry on traditions because they are traditions we cherish yet they exclude others no matter what our intentions, then we need to name it and own it. In this case, Maine is a beautiful state but the continuing lack of diversity at time when America as a whole is browning is not a fluke. The infrastructure of Maine does not support there ever being a plethora of people of color in this state. The rural nature of this state creates a natural barrier that is not welcoming enough except for the hardiest of souls…and even then the mental and emotional weight often pushes people out.

Is that a bad thing? I suspect it depends on who you are but the reality is our micro choices have a macro effect of the world around us. There is body of research that the unintentional ways that we choose to live create silos that privilege some people but not all people. When we seek “low crime, no traffic congestion to speak of, open spaces and good schools” are we sure we are not using the coded language of the past that meant we don’t want to be around people of difference?

 

Like many Americans, I have been following the story of Cliven Bundy, the squatter rancher who refuses to get off federally owned land or to pay the his fees for using federal land. Instead, when the government decided enough was enough after 20 years, Bundy kicked it up a notch by bringing in his pals and going for an armed standoff with the government. The story, while compelling, didn’t reach the level of feeling like something I should write about, despite the clear example of Bundy’s white supremacist beliefs reflected in his views about the government.

No, it was Bundy’s comments about “The Negroes” a few days ago as reported in the New York Times that really started to make me sit up a bit straighter: “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Hold up! Did this man just say “The Negro?” Cliven, it is 2014, not 1964, and the last time I checked Black folks/African Americans have not been called Negroes since before I walked the earth and that was over 40 years ago! By the way, despite the struggles and challenges that African Americans have faced since the 1960s in the fight for equality,  I hardly think we were better off picking cotton. I am haunted by my father’s account of being the age of my daughter (now nearly 9) picking cotton in the 1950s while living in a shack with no running water. As a son of sharecroppers, life was not easy; I can only imagine what life was like for my great-grandparents who were born into slavery in Arkansas. No, Cliven, have a seat. In fact, have all the seats and stop talking.

In many ways, it would be easy to look at Cliven and see him as a product of his environment and write him off as an old racist. However, here in Maine, one of our state’s largest papers is the Bangor Daily News, which allows bloggers to write under their banner. And recently, it allowed a young man who was one of those bloggers to post an offensive piece in defense of Cliven’s bold and unchecked racism.

Frankly, this is not the first time that the Bangor Daily News has allowed writers to spew racist thoughts unchecked and clearly unedited. And I am guessing they do so under the guise of stimulating conversation and generating page clicks. Long-time readers may remember the now-former-pal incident and the fact that she, too, writes for the Bangor Daily News.

Interestingly enough, the blogger says the issue is that Cliven is simply a poor communicator who may be ignorant about racism. No, Cliven is not ignorant about racism, he knew that his words would create a shitstorm and I suspect that after what Cliven sees as a success in getting the federal government to back down after he pulled out his armed goons, he is riding the wave of white supremacy which emboldened him to push even further. America has never faced her painful past when it comes to slavery and to suggest in any context that Black folks may have been better off when they were truly seen as inhuman pieces of merchandise whose only purpose was to serve whites is telling. What human is better off being devalued? Not allowed to raise their own kids? To exist only to serve another with no humanity of their own. To still be burdened with the scars of generations of those long denied their own humanity?

This blogger, in choosing to write this, revealed his own lack of compassion and his willingness to reduce these issues down to the political. That is an insult to the many men and women of color in this country and, yes, the few of us in this state. As a Black woman who makes her home in Maine, this piece is a public example of the unintentional racism that is the norm for people of color in this state. No one is ever a racist, we are always told that we need to understand…no, this Black woman is tired of understanding why my humanity continues to be chopped into bite-sized pieces when people deny my past and choose to rewrite history and distill it down to nothing. The fact that a large publication clearly allows such views to be shared speaks volumes about how people of color are viewed in this state. We are seen as nonexistent. I guess it’s a good thing that my exit Maine plan is in full effect; spring 2016 can’t come soon enough. Maybe a winning lotto ticket will speed it up.

 

Several nights ago I had a funny epiphany of sorts as I realized that I have slowly become the type of person that I once laughed at. As someone who once proudly labeled herself a hedonist of sorts, in recent months it has become clear that pleasure and self gratification are no longer the drivers in my life. Many of the habits that once brought pleasure in my life, are no longer pleasurable to this container I inhabit called a body.

It seems that my forty something self can no longer eat whatever, whenever, I can no longer drink more than a glass or two of my beloved vino without feeling it the next morning and anything less than a full night of sleep, just hurts. As someone who has always hated the idea of a gym membership, I am contemplating joining one and I actually manage despite a hellacious commute to hit the yoga studio no less than three times a week preferably four. Why? My back likes yoga and my spirits stay balanced when I make time for the mat regularly if not daily. It seems even my core digs yoga which is pretty cool now that I am friends with my core.

Last year was the worst year ever for my environmental allergies and after hearing more than a few people make suggestions about dietary changes, I bit the bullet and took baby steps and I’ll be damned, it seems that there is some truth in reducing and eliminating dairy products. I haven’t quite broken up with ice cream but we only see each other on special occasions!

In recent months, I have made many shifts in my physical body with the occasional slip up that immediately takes me back to that uncomfortable feeling and it strengthens my resolve to try again. Deepening my meditation practice has meant sitting cross legged and breathing into the spaces where I once reached for a glass of wine. When I do reach for that glass, I now ask myself why? I still enjoy the pleasurable treats but they are no longer staples in my life as I seek to balance food and drink for fuel and well being with food being delightful to the senses. As we joke around the house, I am now hooked on beet juice concoctions that don’t necessarily taste good but make me feel good.

As I settle into this place in life that some see as being “old” and some see as still being “young”, I am aware of shifts happening on a deeper level. I am no longer interested in the shoulds and the woulds of life, I am interested in facing life as it is in that moment. That means making peace with that which cannot change or that takes time to change but without holding onto the baggage that often surrounds the less than stellar moments that we all face. This article from OM Magazine sums it up “ And we must accept life on life’s terms, allow things to be as they are, and see the greater value in whatever we’re resisting.”

I feel like my 40’s are teaching me to surrender and accept life on life’s terms, something I didn’t get in my earlier years when I was still beholden to things such as my 5 and 10 year plans.  Reflecting back on my younger years, I am struck with how much of my life was about getting to the next place, and assuming that happiness was guaranteed if I stuck with my plan. I suppose that way of thinking was useful at a certain point in life but at this stage it no longer serves me. At a certain point, the rat wheel of always seeking more and better gets tiring and when the people who die start to become your peers, suddenly just living life without vexation starts to feel pretty good.

Recently my daughter shared with me how she desperately wants to be 10 so that she can be a tween, I asked her why she wants to be a tween and her only answer was that “getting older is better.” I laughed to myself as I remembered wanting to be 16, 21, then 25 and 30, for some reason all those ages were seen as milestones and now I have no idea why.  I do know though that my 30’s weren’t terribly fun at all when I realized one can and does lose loved ones and can end up being the matriarch of their family before 35! While I was excited to turn 40 last year it was  because I was pretty tired of the 30’s, and wanted a decade of life not tinged with life altering events.  I no longer had the youthful joy that often comes with getting older when you are young.

I am still pretty early in this journey of the 40’s and while my recovering type A self wonders what the coming years may bring, I am working to just be okay with this moment as it and I wonder why we call the 40’s the new 30’s when the 40’s are simply what they are…the 40’s.