blackgirlinmaine Archive

Winds of change and a new home for one

As a public-ish person, I have grappled (especially in the aftermath of having a personal situation go viral) with just how much of myself to share. Yet there comes a point where we cannot divorce the personal from the public because for most of us, we bring our whole selves with us, no matter where we go. As I leap into this brave new world of change, it’s clear that the time for fuzzy language and dancing around the topic has come to an end.
We live in a culture where far too many girls are raised on fuzzy-lensed dreams of landing “The One.” A perfect-for-her, mythical being whom she will live with happily ever after in a world of nonstop joy and abundance. These dreams are so prevalent that they follow us through the years, where too often we measure our worth as humans based on whether or not we share this journey called life with another human. Often, this leaves those without partners feeling deficient because we wonder how can we truly be happy if we are alone? This dream is so popular that we have industries that support women in having their perfect day.

The problem with perfect is that there is no perfect; there are rarely (if ever) truly perfect days, so far less likely is the existence of any person who is perfect for us day in and day out. Most days, even the good ones, are comprised of near-perfect moments mingled with moments that make us want to pull our hair out.  For all the energy our society expends in leading us on the quest to seek perfection through others, we spend little time on talking about navigating lives with others in the day-to-day minutia—in the raw moments that show us what we are really made of and those around us.

More importantly, in the quest to seek that other who will complete us, rarely do we give equal space to learning  to complete ourselves. Yet in the end, all we have is ourselves. For those raising kids, the babies that demand so much of us in the early years eventually start to grow up and in the blink of an eye, yesterday’s toddler becomes today’s young adult off charting their own course. Parents grow old and eventually shed their bodies. Ideally, friends and partners will stay by our sides, but the reality is that such things are not a given because relationships come and go. Sometimes our shared journey becomes one where the path diverges and the next leg of the journey becomes solo.

After spending the last 20 years walking my path with a damn good man by my side, my next steps are to be solo. A little over a week ago, I signed a lease on a tiny 400-square-foot apartment on one of Maine’s barrier islands that I will share with my daughter when she is not with her dad. I knew that change was in the air this year but even I wasn’t quite sure exactly what that would look like. Now I do. It looks like a hidden garden and a tiny unit with sea breezes and plenty of windows. It’s literally starting over a few months shy of 43 and feeling scared, foolish and excited. It’s wondering if this is a midlife crisis. It’s wondering if you will ever be held again but knowing that you can hold yourself. It’s knowing  that time is finite and that regrets are the one thing you never want to have. It’s knowing that the man who has been your partner for so many years is shifting into a new type of partnership with you. It’s knowing as my father told me: “In the end there is only one person who must be happy here,” and recognizing that everything ends at some point.

Change is learning that the dreams we are sold in our youth may not always be the dreams of midlife. Sometimes what we need is the thing society says we don’t want: to be alone, to hear ourselves and to focus the same energy we give to others to ourselves. To complete ourselves and in some cases to rebirth a new self. One that has put away childish fantasies but still retains some of that youthful wonder and isn’t afraid to meet life on life’s terms and not operate from a place of fear.

So that’s me and my personal happenings: marital separation after 20 years. It’s not a sad moment because we recognize that change is part of life and we are proud of the years we have had together and the fact that there is still love and friendship between us. We also recognize that in this moment the rest of our story still hasn’t been written but in this moment, a break is where we are. While I am not big on sharing personal details of my life in this space, increasingly it was clear that there really was no way to undergo such a huge shift without eventually talking about it directly.  If you are inclined, I would ask that you keep our family in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate this pretty big shift. 
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Black on Black death, systemic racism and humanity lost

With the rise of Black Lives Matter as both a phrase and a movement, a common retort by BLM detractors has been “Why don’t Black lives matter when Black people kill each other?”

We can’t ask that question without asking: How did we get to the place where life is cheap and fleeting? Where a simple act of disrespect and a misunderstanding can lead to death. In the end, it’s systemic and the current inhabitants of high-crime Black communities, while they may be participants in the system, they didn’t create the system. No, the foundation was laid long before many of today’s participants were even born and in some cases before their parents were even born.

In the 1960s, my maternal grandparents bought their first and what would be their only home in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the city’s South Side. They were one of the first Black families to buy on their block and in less than five years the block would go from being racially mixed to the lone white woman, who apparently didn’t get the white flight memo. As a kid visiting my grandparents in the 1970s, I always wondered about that one white lady and why she didn’t leave.

As a kid born in the early 1970s, my weekends were often spent with my grandparents. I was the only grandchild at that time and my grandparents were solidly middle class thanks to good-paying factory jobs with plenty of overtime and regular raises.  Their what-would-prove-to-be-precarious place in the middle class provided some buffer from my parents’ bohemian (broke-ass) lifestyle. My grandparents were more than happy to take me overnight to ensure that I was “properly” dressed with Buster Brown shoes and sensible clothes from Wieboldt’s and Carson’s. Weekends at their house meant treats and fun followed up by Sunday dinners with the entire family; these are some of my fondest memories from my childhood.  My grandparents’ solidly middle class life gave me a regular visits into the middle class especially when juxtaposed against my parents’ less-well-paying working-class existence.

The Auburn Gresham of my childhood was an area where there were thriving businesses, where Saturday morning rounds with my grandmother included visits to the full-service grocery store, the bank and the barber shop. It was a place where neighborhood kids ran up and down the street playing until the streetlights came on, neighbors sat on the stoop and everyone knew each other. As I have shared before, those same neighbors narced on me when at the tender age of 14, I took up smoking. I didn’t even make it back from the store before some nosy neighbor called my grandma and mom.  It was place where Ms. Peaches across the street regularly took trips to the Caribbean and brought treats back for all the neighborhood kids. It was place where my own beloved Granny made her annual trip to Jamaica and my grandfather went back to the family homestead in Galveston, Texas.

Today’s Auburn Gresham is a different story, it is one of those neighborhoods. In a city comprised of 77 different neighborhoods, Auburn Gresham ranks 12 for violent crime. You can almost bet money that when Chicago has an especially violent weekend, some of it happened in the Auburn Gresham area.

The last time I stepped foot in the old neighborhood was in 2004 when my mother died. I flew home from Maine and made arrangements with my father and afterwards we took a drive for me to sit with my grandmother. On the way to my grandmother’s house, I wanted a cup of coffee after being up for hours and weary with grief. There was no coffee to be found in the neighborhood other than McDonald’s. A stop at the local corner store was an adventure in urban experiences as my father and I were sized up by all the local hoods as fresh meat.  It was a chilling experience. Granted, in our raw state neither my father nor I had any fucks to give.  A year later my almost 80-year-grandmother would be robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight in the neighborhood she had settled some 40 years earlier.

Neighborhoods don’t go from the place of hopes and dreams that my grandparents bought into in the 1960s to a place where elderly women become afraid to venture outside on a whim. No, it is systemic and at the root of it race matters.

In the 1980s, I remember when the neighborhood shifted as drugs started to play a role…crack cocaine anyone? I remember when the good factory jobs that my grandparents worked at moved from the city center to outlying suburbs, creating hellaciously long commutes and thus making it harder for neighbors to know one another or creating voids as long-term residents relocated closer to their jobs if they were able to.

By 1991, I was out of the house but my parents who had hit one of their bad patches were staying with my grandmother and within a year they would leave because my brother who was about 9 or 10 at the time was being pressured to join the local gangs. A little kid being pressured to join a gang; think about that. Around 1993-94, my first marriage had imploded and alone with a young child, I needed to get my life together. My grandmother offered my son and I free housing which I was in no position to refuse.

As thankful as I was for that free housing, the year I spent getting myself together at my grandmother’s has been permanently seared into my memory bank because it was clear to me as a young adult that the neighborhood was not the one of my childhood. The full-service grocery store of my childhood was long gone. Buying anything other than third-tier meats in a corner store that smelled to high heavens but rich in cheap booze, chips, and snacks required a bus ride or two. I have never forgotten the one night when I offered to treat us to pizza, we placed our order and after two hours of waiting, I called the pizza parlor back and they said they were sorry but due to gang violence that night, they couldn’t deliver to our address. Turns out we lived in what is now called a “food desert” though I didn’t know it at the time. During my time there, I would never go to the local branch of the library because that required walking down a street well known for gang activity.

In the 1990s, the area didn’t have too much hope left for the inhabitants and if it was hopeless then, I can only imagine what it must feel like now. Especially under the leadership of mayors  who systematically dismantle the resources from communities of color and reallocate to tourist areas, and areas where white people live.

Increasingly, conversations about race are starting to acknowledge the role of housing. Where you live and what is available where you live plays a huge role in one’s success. Going to school and getting a job is a lot easier said than done if a walk to school requires dodging gangbangers who want to make you a gangbanger and the schools don’t have the same resources as the middle class white school on the other side of town. As for the jobs, if the only jobs that are accessible to you don’t pay living wages and don’t offer reliable shifts or a shot at advancement, then work ceases to look attractive when the dope boys are looking far more prosperous than the few working stiffs you do know, who still can’t make their ends meet. We know this yet we pretend it doesn’t matter. How people are policed where they live also matters. Black communities that were hard hit with drug use in the 1980s and 1990s were criminalized yet now in white communities across the country including the state where I currently live, the same drug behavior that fractured Black communities is now being seen as a public health crisis with cries for treatment not jail. Even back in the days of cocaine’s peak, prison sentences for white coke users were very rare compared to prison sentences for Black crack cocaine users.

The casual disregard for Black lives lies at the foot of white supremacy that created a two-tiered system of survival that affects every aspect of Black life by creating hurdles and barriers to survival that simply are not as high for white bodies. When one is constantly leaping hurdles to survive, it is easy to forget your own humanity as well as the humanity of those near you. Running on empty from the day of consciousness can make life cheap and fleeting. To unwrap an entire system of oppression will take some time so perhaps we should focus on what we can grasp in the immediate which is dealing with the criminal justice system, police overreach and brutality and mass incarceration. It took hundreds of years to get here, it’s going to take a while to move the needle. 
This space is a commercial-free zone that is reader-supported. If the musings here are meaningful to you, I’d be honored if you would consider making a one-time gift or becoming a monthly patron. (If the “gift” link here doesn’t work, click on the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar of this page)

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Black womanhood and Black Girl Magic

“And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You can not win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”– Viola Davis

History was made last night with Viola Davis becoming the first Black woman to win the Outstanding Drama Emmy. The fact that it only took 67 years to happen speaks volumes to the realities of just how far we still have to go with regard to race relations and racial representation. But more importantly, Davis’s win along with the wins of Regina King and Uzo Aduba was a moment for Black women everywhere. It was, in fact, a kind of magical moment for Black women and girls. The wins of Davis, King and Aduba are personal to Black women, especially those of us who have never fit the very narrow aesthetic of what is deemed attractive for Black women.  Which is even more limiting than the aesthetic that is deemed desirable for white women.

Black womanhood is a complicated dance. You are a woman and you are Black, you live at an intersection that at times is harrowing. It’s that six-way intersection which at times feels like a crash waiting to happen. Black womanhood is to exist in a space where your womanhood doesn’t exist on the pedestal that white women are put on. It’s not even in the same room as white womanhood, more like in the low-ceiling basement with dirt floors at times. It’s a place where white women tell you: We are all just women but rarely do you feel like you are a part of the womanhood club. Instead you feel like the Mammy to a white woman’s Scarlett. Always being asked to serve and support with little in the way of reciprocity and support. You are the “Giving Tree.”

Sometimes, Black womanhood demands supporting Blackness, which often translates into supporting Black men and boys with very little in the way of reciprocity. It means being front-line soldiers when Black men and boys are brutalized and killed yet needing to create awareness that Black women and girls too suffer at the hands of law enforcement. It sometimes means to give and give while being held to impossible standards of womanhood based off an impossible standard that few of us can meet.

To be a Black woman of a certain hue means to be effectively invisible to many (sometimes most) people around you; it means hearing what I heard growing up “You are cute…for a Black girl.” It means knowing you are fetishized and rarely seen as feminine. You are a barely wanted playmate rarely deemed worthy of love and respect. You are a work horse and mule.  It means there are few places that affirm you as a human. It is a lonely place, where often the much-touted Black woman “strength” is often the result of few options for humanity but to be strong and muster through this existence, stealing your joys where you can.

Black womanhood has also historically been  that place where you rarely see your likeness. Growing up in the 1980s, I remember seeing few women who looked like me or my mother. I remember when our first Black Miss America was crowned and I also remember thinking that her Blackness was pretty close to whiteness and that it didn’t look anything like the darker cocoa-brown complexion that I wear with the kinky/curly hair.

I remember being a little girl  who at seven told her daddy that she wanted to be either an actor or a lawyer. I remember my father telling me that I could be anything that I wanted and not long after that despite my parents barely having two nickels to rub together, they got me into a theater program. From 4th grade until I dropped out of high school in my senior year, I was involved in drama and theater programs. I went to a high school that had a performing arts program and despite the fact that I cut up horribly in high school, drama classes were the ones that I never missed.  Though by that time, I started to notice that I never got more than bit parts in the plays and when I went to auditions, they were few roles for brown girls, though I did a lot of extra work in my teen years.

Once I got back on my feet in my 20s, I took up improv lessons but in some ways it was too late for me. To work professionally as an actor is hard, but to work professionally as a Black actor? A level of hard that I just couldn’t afford to dabble in as a mother and wife. So when I moved to Maine in 2002, my theater dreams went in the cabinet of unfulfilled moments of life.

Yet last night, as I soaked up the wins, it dawned on me that for some little Black girl who isn’t light brown with silky hair (like I wasn’t either), she could look at Viola Davis with her rich skin and beautiful coily hair and see unlimited potential. Representation matters. It matters even more in a world with a narrow view of womanhood and an even narrower view of Black womanhood.
You know the drill by now, probably but as I navigate literal new terrain in my life (separation and moving to a new pad soon), I would be honored if you would consider making a one time gift (If the “gift” link here doesn’t work, click on the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar of this page) or make the leap to becoming a monthly patron of this commercial free space. I hate pop-up ads, and you probably do too; trying to hawk you merchandise while writing honestly just isn’t my thing and gets in the way of the words.

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