Archive for the ‘ Current Events ’ Category

“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.

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!

Another dead black teen, humanity denied yet again

Another dead black child, another childless mother and another scared white man who feared for his life at the hands of an underage and unarmed black teenager. The only difference this time is that unlike the last case involving a dead black child and a scared white man who took a life, the latest scared white man who felt he had no choice but to fire a gun into a carload of teenagers will most likely die in a cold prison cell. Yet even that knowledge is no comfort or victory to the parents of Jordan Davis as their son’s killer is going to prison not for killing their son but for attempting to kill their son’s friends who were in the car with Jordan. The jury in the Michael Dunn trial was deadlocked on whether Dunn committed murder in a case that was sensationalized by media outlets as the “Loud Music Murder Trial” instead of the white supremacy trial which would have been far more fitting. Whiteness as rightness and its many manifestations is what allows a 40 something year old white man to see an underage kid and perceive him as a threat worthy enough of immediate and violent death.

Last night as I mulled the verdict over in my head, I found myself thinking of run-ins I have had in recent years with local white teens. Run-in’s that serve as a regular reminder that no matter what we say and attempt to believe when it comes to race in America things are neither equal nor fair. Behaviors that are normalized in white youth are criminalized in Black youth.

A decade ago when our family bought our house, there were few kids/teens on the block, over the years the demographics have changed with the yard space between my house and my neighbor’s becoming a de facto hangout space for the preteens and teens who live in the area. This situation was worsened last year when our neighbors across the way, a pair of twenty something brothers put up a collapsible basketball hoop on the side of their house which faces the front of my house. It meant for weeks and months enduring white teenagers treating the area like a public park, complete with loud, braggadocios behavior, sometimes late into the night. It meant sometimes pulling into my driveway watching said white teens sitting on my porch, noshing while watching a ball game and side eyeing me as if I were an unwanted guest on my own property. The situation eventually came to a head after one long afternoon when I couldn’t take it anymore and was ready to just smash their heads into the backboard of that damn basketball hoop.

Yet a funny thing happened as I marched down the stairs and crossed the street and peered into the faces of the young men who all stood at least six feet tall. I looked into their faces and saw the faces of kids, teenagers on the cusp, straddling the line of almost adults and not quite kids anymore. A space where mistakes can easily be made, a place where forgiveness and understanding is required if we acknowledge the humanity of others; a place where boundaries of youthful pride and arrogance are pushed to the full limits and adults help to guide them to respectfully test the limits. In the end, it seems the kids never realized that they had been annoying me and my family and I recognized that ours is a culture that provides few safe public spaces for teens.

To see others as fully human requires putting aside all preconceived notions. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, as a 40 year old Black woman walking into a circle of white teens, I can say that as pissed off as I was, I was also scared. What if they hurt me and/or my house for daring to speak up? But when we deny the humanity of others, we end up taking the lives of others and for what?

Every time a verdict is read in one of these stories, we are saddened and stunned. Tears flows, words are written, words are spoken yet the injustices keep on happening because for the vast majority of people we don’t see people who aren’t like us in the same light that we see people who are like us. I often wonder what would happen if the data showed that young white men were being profiled. What if every year going back 20+ years there were well known cases of young white men being killed for reaching for their wallets, going out to get a snack, etc.? What if every white mother knew of someone who had buried a son before the age of 25?

The sad and tragically short life of Jordan Davis is another chapter in America’s sordid racial history, the chapter that we now pretend doesn’t exist. There will be more Jordan’s and Trayvon’s as long as the only people fired up and affected hail from black/brown communities. While none of us alive today created the institution of racism, the fact remains that whites are her beneficiaries and that black and brown bodies are disproportionally affected by racism. It means that whites who had nothing to do with creating systemic racism will need to actively work to dismantle it but that requires a willingness to be raw, vulnerable and messy. It means seeing and truly believing that my son is as good as your son. Until then all the faux crocodile tears won’t stop the next George or Michael from taking a precious life.

 

Several years ago, I shared in this space how terribly difficult it is for me to have honest and real friendships with the vast majority of white women that I know; the only exception being white women who hail from working class backgrounds similar to my own where we can meet at the intersection of class.  To admit such a thing is not comfortable but as my own knowledge of systemic and structural racism grows from both a personal and professional perspective, I now understand the awkward dance that exists between myself and most white women.  It is the same awkward dance that exists between many white and Black woman in a nation founded on the backs of enslaved Africans.

Despite the lies that we tells ourselves and the truths that we are not comfortable uttering and the false belief that some of us cling to that race is irrelevant, the fact is that even in 2014, race matters. It matters because ours is a culture very much rooted in white supremacy and whiteness is the default setting for acceptability in the eyes of many. White supremacy is not just people in hoods burning crosses on the lawns of non-white people, but it’s also a system that privileges whiteness and white ways of being over all others regardless of the presence or absence of racial hatred. In other words whether or not you like or dislike non-white people, ours is a culture that values whiteness. Whiteness and white ways of being set the tone for how our culture operates. The inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that uncomfortable truth creates a myriad of problems for all of us. We cannot and will not move forward and dismantle systems of unfairness when we cannot even name said systems.

This past week, several stories came across my mobile device that left me shaking my head and made me realize that any forward momentum as a whole will be halted until we (and to be frank, when I say we, I mean white people) start to move beyond talk of just acknowledging white privilege but start to become intentional in dismantling the systems that work in their favor. 

XO Jane, an online publication published a piece “It Happened to me: There are No Black People in my Yoga Class and I’m Suddenly Uncomfortable with it”, this piece was horrible and on a personal note as a yogi, I felt that the writer needs to spend less time on asana (poses) and more time learning the eight limbs of yoga.  However the writer in sharing her personal feelings and observations on seeing what she describes as a heavyset Black woman struggling with the poses juxtaposed against her own skinny white girl body and her imagined feelings revealed not only a sense of personal ignorance but the insidious nature of how white supremacy operates: “Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body. I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times. My skinny white girl body. Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.”

The question is how did she know any of this to be true? She didn’t; but in a culture that promotes the idea that whiteness and thinness is the desired way of being, the writer assumed that the not thin, not white woman must clearly be upset to not be the writer.  This piece is an extreme exaggeration of what white supremacy can look like and chances are that if you are reading this piece, you are thinking what a stretch?

Later in the week, The Nation  published a piece “ Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars” where the writer talks about the changes in the feminist movement as more nonwhite women enter the movement and utilize tools such as twitter to create change, give voice to our struggles and to connect. However the tone of the piece is less than complimentary towards women of color. As the face of feminism changes and more marginalized women come forward, the rules of acceptability in the feminist world are being changed as the marginalized create and make spaces that address our needs. This change is unsettling as change often is and more so when the old ways of being suddenly end.   In theory as women, we should all just be able to get along but the reality is that we are coming from vastly different places. Middle class white women want women of color and other marginalized women to play by their rules lest they be seen as bullies but to quote Audre Lorde “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” To ask women of color to bend in order to be accepted is just another subtle way that white supremacy lives on in our culture. We use language that describes social norms but who created the social norms that dictate how we are to engage? The norms come from a white perspective and in our culture we either adapt to those norms and as people of color are seen as “safe” or we don’t and we wear labels that “others” us. In my case as a Black woman, that often means being seen as an Angry Black Woman.

In the end though, we can move beyond this but as I stated earlier it takes intentionality and a turning inward to examine ourselves and the ways in which we are held hostage by systems we didn’t create but that we still live with and in some cases benefit from through no effort of our own other than being born a certain color.  Of course the flip side is that some of us are held back by these same systems through no fault of our own, other than being born a certain color.

I am reading a book, Waking Up White that I would highly recommend to any white person interested in moving beyond this matrix of race that we all live with in this culture.

 

Back in the dark ages of 1998, I jumped on the internet as part of a research class I took in my undergraduate years and I guess you could say that I have never looked back. The internet of old barely resembles today’s internet. While we didn’t have a thing called social media, we most certainly were social and connecting but for many of us there was always a sense of weariness and mindfulness when connecting with virtual strangers. Somewhere along the way that sense that used to be a part of the internet experience has gone the way of the rotary phone for many of us and as a result, we are just wide open for the players who want to play with our emotions.

In the past week, I have seen two stories go viral that frankly should have made someone stop and think. Instead in this brave new world, we forget that anyone can put anything on the internet and just like we wouldn’t just trust a physical stranger who tells us a fantastic tale, maybe we shouldn’t trust virtual strangers as freely either.

Linda Tirado, who goes by the handle of Killer Martinis wrote a piece several weeks ago that slowly went viral. It was an awesome piece on poverty, as someone who both professionally and personally is fairly knowledgeable about poverty I thought it was a well written piece. It most certainly was a piece that made the scourge of poverty more digestible to those who are not familiar with it. Linda gave us a tale of a life so miserable and so grinding that by the end in this season of giving, you just wanted to help make her life a little better. Next thing you know, the Go Fund Me campaign is in full swing and Linda receives over $60,000 in donations. This would be an amazing example of the human spirit if only it were true. See, Linda is not poor, back in the day Linda would be called a grifter. Linda is now claiming that her fabulous tale was not meant to be viewed as a present day reality, just a piece of good writing. Nevertheless, Linda collected a whole lot of cash from people who thought she worked a shitload of jobs, lived in a motel and had a mouth full of teeth in need of dire repair. Linda, you played the game player and caught a payday. Simple as that. Never mind that by presenting as a well-spoken white woman, you knew you had the magic card to getting this unexpected payday.

Next up on players who played, we have Elan Gale; a no name producer for “The Bachelor” who spun a tale on twitter about a fellow passenger on a plane caught misbehaving; all because she wanted to get home on Thanksgiving Day. Elan regaled the masses with an imaginary woman named Diane who apparently had a personality so hard, that Ebenezer Scrooge would have been shook up. In the process of telling a fantastic tale of dumpy middle-aged Diane, Elan managed to fall back on sexist and misogynistic behavior that involved telling imaginary Diane to eat his dick. What’s interesting is that millions applauded Elan for his compassion but few questioned his behavior. Is telling a stranger to become intimate with your intimate parts how we behave in 2013? Anyway like Linda of the killer martinis, Elan’s tale turned out to be a product of his imagination. He claims he gave a few people a few laughs on Thanksgiving Day, no harm.

Increasingly we live in a world, where we act first and think later and frankly there is a huge danger in doing so, it leaves us open to people who prey on our vulnerabilities and who have no compunctions about exploiting them for their own purposes. We also live in a world where truth is fungible and everything goes, call me a grumpy ole woman but I do not like this brave new world. We may no longer live anonymous lives online but it seems clear that people are not who they claim to be either despite no longer hiding behind a fake name and photo. As they used to say in the old days, if it sounds too good to be true…you know the rest.

 

 

 

 

The cultural mandate to stand in our own personal truth has reached the point where it is almost meaningless, after all who defines truth? What does it even mean to stand in our own truth? What if my truth is different than your truth? Clearly “truth” is in the eye of the beholder; yet sometimes you hear someone sharing their truth and it resonates so deeply that you realize that it is a truth that is larger than any one of us at any given time. In fact it is a cultural and societal truth that we all strive to ignore because there are times when to speak truth is to speak pain.

Such was the case when I read about two reality stars engaging in a conversation that for many would be easy to write off; after all the speaker of this truth is known as one of the most villainous reality stars ever to exist. Omarosa Manigault is best known for her appearance on the first season of The Apprentice, where her tactics earned her the label “the woman America loved to hate.” Omarosa is an aggressive, no holds barred Black woman in a world where womanly aggression is already hard to swallow but even doubly hard to swallow for a Black woman. Omarosa recently appeared on the daytime talk show Bethenny, named for reality star and talk show host Bethenny Frankel and the conversation while made for daytime ratings and buzz (after all I am writing about this) offered a snapshot into how race still matters even when we try to deny that race is a factor.

“It’s different for you and I,” she told the talk show host. “I am an African-American woman. You get to walk around and be mediocre and you still get rewarded with things. We have to be exceptional to get anything in this business.”

In choosing to make this statement, Omarosa shared with the world some commonly shared thoughts within the Black community and I suspect thoughts that are never even considered within the white community.

Recently I have been struck by the fact that almost all my Black friends hold advanced degrees, it is the entry price we pay just to be allowed just to play on the field of opportunity. Yet within my white circle of friends, advanced degrees are still the exception and not the rule.

Opportunity in the land of the free and home of the brave is not equally distributed to all. Despite the myth that affirmative action opens doors for all people of color, there are many of us who never had a single door opened by virtue of our skin color. In fact doors were closed and we worked twice as hard just to get the door to budge and we still work hard every day just to keep that door cracked just a bit.

As the internet redefines how we receive information, I often think of the number of white writers who I am familiar with; who are able to take spaces such mine, in other words a blog and turn such spaces in to a full on income generating career. I can’t even begin to count the number of white writers for who this has happened. On the flip side, I only know of a few writers of color who have been able to do the same as their white peers. Many writers of color who write online are much like me, our spaces are labors of love that we do to feed our souls but if we depended on them to feed our bellies and the bellies of our loved ones, we would be hungry. However when one of us does land that book deal or get picked up by a mainstream publication, you best believe we were doing the work of several people in many cases.

In the end, it is not sour grapes to call out this truth, but a weary acknowledgement of just how much further we have to go. It wears on a soul to know that day in and day out, you are always being asked to prove yourself and your worth and that being just good enough is in fact not good enough at all. When you start to realize that others around you are allowed the luxury of being just good enough, instead your 200% effort must often compete with good enough. It feels like a race, you can never win.

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Why Blackface just won’t go away

It seems this weekend while I was busy learning the fine art of how to become a yoga teacher, the social media world was ablaze with a viral Blackface problem. I wish I could say that I am shocked but I am not. Last year when my now grown up kiddo was slugging away in Northern Wisconsin playing the role of studious college student, I learned that many young, white adults are utterly clueless about how hurtful and dangerous their decision to don blackface could be.

Last fall, my son called home clearly shaken up as he shared with me how he had come across several photos of classmates in various states of blackface, one young lady was even dressed as the Black gymnast Gabby Douglas. To say that my head was spinning was an absolute understatement. My son decided that the matter was egregious enough that the school should be forced to actually address the issue, after all this was happening in 2012. The school failed to see what the big deal was and in the end it was just another case of kids being kids and the pesky person of color being too sensitive. Needless to say, when the kiddo informed me this past summer that he really couldn’t deal with going back to that college to finish his senior year; as much as I wanted him to wrap up his degree, his emotional well-being was more important.

When certain white folks decide that imitation is a twisted form of flattery, it negates the fact that Blackface in the US is rooted in white supremacy and the belief that Blacks are inferior. Blackface is painful and while time moves extra fast these days, we are nowhere near far enough away from America’s legacy of racism to ever don Blackface.

In recent years every Halloween season now seems to bring out hoards of white folks who think Blackface is no big deal but the ugly racist intent lurks beneath the surface, after all, what is funny about dressing up as a murdered Black teenager? Sorry, I fail to see the humor but I do see the bigotry and ignorance.

Well-meaning and well intentioned white folks often express shock and outrage at these horrible incidents. But we need to move beyond shock and outrage and in order to do that, it means that white folks need to start picking up the racial load too. Somewhere along the line it seems the belief sprung up that only people of color (POC) should do the heavy work of eradicating racism; when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. To quote the mission statement of my soon to be new employer “white people have had the power to create and control the institutions that govern the lives of all who live here. This has produced a system of advantage for white people who benefit from unearned privilege at the expense of people of color and damages our collective humanity.”

Living in Maine, I have spent the past 11 years in predominantly white spaces and I know that for many whites, there are few topics more uncomfortable than race. Yet if you think that individual acts of racism are abhorrent, you need to intentionally work to dismantle the system that allows these acts to continue. Many years ago one of first events I attended in graduate school in New Hampshire involved a Halloween party where a white colleague came dressed as a Rastafarian complete dreadlocks. It was uncomfortable and awkward yet no one other than me spoke up, instead my colleagues just nervously chuckled at our dreadlock wig wearing colleague.  I will never forget how powerless and utterly alone I felt and the fact that people later came up and said our classmate was wrong for his choice of costume, never took away from the fact that no one had the courage to publicly speak up and call him out. Racism wears many faces and in the end if affects us all.

I leave you with this clip from a Birth of a Nation, if there is any confusion on why Blackface is wrong.

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A belt is not a belt…structural racism 2013

Shopping while Black, the ultimate in personal humiliation whether your goal is recreational retail therapy or securing much needed items. The shopping while black experience strips you of your retail goals and your humanity as store clerks in retail establishments decide that based on the color of your skin you are a threat to the merchandise they are charged with selling.

On the surface, the shopping while black experience seems petty and bothersome but hardly a civil rights violation worthy of press coverage and discussion. After all, even Oprah is stopped when she is shopping while Black. If a lesser and well known Black person experiences this phenomena, sure it is annoying but is it really a big deal?

It is a big deal. Shopping while Black and all of its ugly cousins are rooted in a system that cannot see the individuality of Blacks as worthy and equal.  The lingering notion that somehow Blacks are just a little different is part of the continuing legacy of white supremacy that has been bred into most white Americans through centuries of structural racism and inequality that have not vanished. Sadly most are unaware of how deep the roots are of their supremacy because for most, how can you even be aware of that which you cannot even name?

Yesterday the story broke of a 19 year old Black college student Trayvon Christian, who earlier this year after working and saving his money went to Barney’s in New York City and purchased a $350 designer belt. During the transaction he was asked to show his identification to verify that he belonged to the credit card that he was using to purchase the belt. Despite producing valid identification, Christian was stopped by undercover cops who had been called by the clerk, who was concerned that the transaction was fraudulent. Even the cops were reportedly concerned after all, “how a young black man such as himself could afford to purchase such an expensive belt? The kid found himself handcuffed and hauled down to the police station where it was later determined that no crime had been committed; he indeed was the rightful owner of the credit card used to purchase the belt.

For many who read the story, the takeaway was why was he buying a $350 belt? Wrong question. Why does society continue to see people of color specifically Black people in a one dimensional lens where even when we play by the rules and do all the right things, our actions are still seen as suspect. Frankly the desire to own a $350 designer belt is no different than the desire to own a $700 iGadget or the purchase of a daily $5 latte, the difference comes when our one dimensional thinking about race decides who can legitimately participate in such endeavors.

Racism in 2013 is largely a structural affair that picks and chooses who is worthy and who is not, yet in the end we all lose. Trayvon Christian learned that his relative youth and skin color made him unworthy in the eyes of those who hold the power but if we can get beyond the surface maybe one day, we can dismantle this system piece by piece. So that one day when a young man of color who saves his money up to buy something special can go home and simply wear his designer belt without middle aged ladies like me needing to write about it.

The United States of Me

The world that I currently live in is very different than the one that I grew up in and for once it has nothing to do with race.  It wasn’t that long ago that relatively small acts of kindness were the norm and not the exception. When a financially vulnerable person returning a bag filled with cash would not be met with amazement but with the expectation that the vast majority of us are wired to do the right thing and that includes returning items to their rightful owner. A time when helping a stranger in a strange city find the taxi stand is not seen as some honorable act, but simply something that you do.

In this 24/7 world we are living in, we can do amazing things. The very fact that I am sitting in my office in a sparsely populated state writing this piece and the fact that you are reading it and I am just some middle-aged nobody speaks to how wonderful this brave new world can be.  Our ability to connect with others and stay connected is awesome but the downside I believe is that too much connection makes us disconnect. The quiet spaces that used to naturally occur are no longer there; it’s one of the reasons that I believe yoga is so popular, it makes us plug back into ourselves and in connecting with ourselves, we start to see the inherent worth and dignity of others too.

We have become a culture of me, where me and my needs outweigh the greater good. If you think I am kidding, how many drivers have you spotted today driving with heads bowed and looking at what appears to be a screen? Despite the fact that we now know for certain that texting and driving isn’t far removed from drinking and driving, we still do it.   In our minds, our individual need to send that text or take a quick peek into our social media space of choice often outweighs the greater need to ensure that we focus on the task ahead…driving.

To live a life where we place the needs of others above ourselves (and our loved ones) is almost an outdated notion. Not even our elected officials care to look out for the needs of others anymore. Today the United States government essentially shut down because the grown-ups who were elected are so focused on their personal agendas that everyone else can be damned. The problem with a me focused agenda is that the fallout affects millions.  Individually and collectively a society works best when most of us care about something greater than our own needs. When we recognize that very few of us truly make it on our own. Even when we think are making it on our own, we are either exceedingly lucky or we get a little help along the way.

The United States is a relatively young nation that is slowly dissolving into a puddle of teenage angst as it battles to find its place in the world.  Are we becoming a nation where our historic legacy of “rugged individualism” slowly turns us into the greatest nation of me? Where the needs of the few can hold the many hostage and destroy a nation or will we create a place where we all have skin in the game and as such think beyond our own individual needs?