Current Events

Who gets the nuggets of humanity’s drippings?

This is one of those times when words mostly just fail me, yet I feel the need to say something. We are living in the midst of some ugly times but truthfully it’s always been an ugly time somewhere on this dusty rock. It’s just that technology now allows us to know with frightening speed just how ugly things are, or does it?

A day after a double suicide attack in Beirut, the world was shook to its core at the horrifying attack in Paris. Immediately there was a call for prayers, condolences, warmth and humanity towards those affected by this heinous act in Paris. Even social media got in on the humanity train with a safety check feature being activated for those in Paris along with a multicolored avatar in the colors of the French flag to let everyone know you are “standing” with Paris. This is all wonderful in the aftermath of this attack on humanity but what about the people in Beirut? Or any of the countless other massacres in the Second World and Third World that leave untold numbers of nonwhite bodies dead or maimed?

In Beirut, at least 41 people are reported to have lost their lives in the suicide attack; reports are that a father named Adel Termos, who had his young daughter in tow, threw his body on one of the attackers and his quick-thinking actions probably saved the lives of many, though this actions resulted in his death and…according to many media reports, the death of his young girl (though subsequent reports and photos seem to suggest she survived). Why didn’t we hear that story until after people pointed out that the attacks in Paris seem to be part of a larger strategy by the Islamic State? My goodness: A man literally saved untold numbers of people in a suicide attack and it wasn’t newsworthy? Considering what passes for news these days, one need not be a media scholar to start connecting the dots.

The media we see and don’t see in this part of the world (the United States and Europe, notably) is tailored to fit a certain audience: white and Western. The standards of all that we consider normal are white and Western. Whiteness has centered itself and well that standard determines if the horrors in Arabic countries are newsworthy or not. The problem is that these divides don’t serve us well; in fact, these divides keep us ignorant, as we learned in the aftermath of the Paris attacks when Conservative right-wing Americans took to the television, radio and Twitter to say the most hateful and asinine things that could make one think that critical thinking went the way of the telegraph in the United States.

Most of us live siloed lives, whether it’s a silo of all whites or all Americans yet the world is larger than our respective silos and as sojourners in this place, we owe it to ourselves to step out of our falsely secure and comfortable cocoons and not allow ourselves to be spoon-fed a diet that discounts millions of people on this rock.

One of the common retorts to the Black Lives Matter movement is that “all lives matter,” yet too many times, the messages we take in says otherwise. If we are going to offer warmth, prayers and nuggets of humanity to those impacted in Paris, let us offer humanity to all who are affected by this senseless war or terror (from far more than just radical Islamists…right-wing white terrorism, for example, is a bigger killer in the United States) that has twisted the words of a tradition and turned it into a ugly caricature.
Black Girl in Maine runs on passion, a need to write, and reader support. If you enjoy the musings, I would be honored if you would please consider making a one-time contribution or becoming a monthly patron. Thank you.

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Racism 101…alive and well on every college campus

“Colleges have become cesspools of political correctness run amok and perpetual victimhood…Mizzou’s first “demand” was for the now former president to acknowledge his “white male privilege”?! WTH is that?!?! Yale just had a big deal in regards to Halloween costumes offending others? The list is never-ending…

This “racist” nation has a black president, a black man is the leading candidate to succeed him (my guy, btw), there are countless programs like Affirmative Action and groups like the NAACP that exist to benefit minorities and we have kids protesting what? The fact that a white man DARE to be in charge at their university? I dunno if that’s why but they certainly didn’t make clear WHY they were upset.

My point in all of this is this…They, as in ALL of the brainwashed students everywhere will continue to feel they are “victims”…it’s a never ending cycle”

– Steve Plympton Jr. A poster on on the BGIM Facebook page

For the past several days I have been watching the events unfold at the University of Missouri and realizing that the situation was starting to feel a little too close for comfort as a mother who once sent a child off to college only to have that child  realize in quick fashion that racism never went anywhere.

My eldest child graduated from high school in the spring of 2010 and his future seemed bright; he had started high school in New England and his first year in high school proved to be rather lackluster. Yet the decision to have him move back to the Midwest with his father in his sophomore year would be the turning point in many ways. Going to a racially mixed school, where he would have teachers of color as well as being surrounded by students of color, took a kid who had spent elementary, middle and the first year of high school muddling by and seemed to ignite the long-needed spark that he needed to find himself. He got involved in theater, music, his grades shot up, he was selected for Boys State and he even ended up being a governor for Boys State.  By the time graduation arrived in the spring of 2010, he was offered a four-year scholarship to a private college in Northern Wisconsin.

The downside of having had my son as 19 was that there was never any opportunity to stash away money for college. Like many parents, we meant to but it never happened. Which meant that in the spring of 2010, my son was facing some hard realities and we his parents and stepparents were facing some hard numbers which meant that while St Norbert’s College had never been on my son’s wish list of schools, it was where he had to go because it was the only place that we could afford with the scholarship.

We should have known better but in 2010, we as a nation were still basking in the afterglow of a so-called (but illusory) post-racial America. There was no reason to assume that my son was going off to a racialized zone but that’s just what he was doing. More importantly, like sending a young person off to a war, my son would emerge from college a very different person who would learn that his biracial background meant that he was just a light-skinned nigger to the average white person. Having a white father and a family name that traces its roots backs hundreds of years in Maine is meaningless to him and to the world. The same young man who used to chide me for talking about race suddenly understood why I made him read the books that I had made him as a youngster and why I insisted that we talk about race and how the world would see him.

My son’s early months at St. Norbert’s seemed promising. He settled into a major that suited him well. He joined the crew team and turned out to have quite the aptitude for rowing. He was even able to room with a white friend from high school. Yet he would soon learn all about microaggressions, those so-called “small” slings and slights that start to take a toll on you by gnawing your dignity and psyche to death by small, incessant degrees. By the end of his freshman year, music and philosophy would be his salve yet the “good” times were just starting.

We as a family would learn that on many predominantly white college campuses, diversity is nothing more than empty words and photo ops for the school propaganda to make the school look good. That when racialized events happen, too often administrators do nothing; in fact when a student of color speaks up, often it comes back to hurt them.  During my son’s time at St. Norbert, he encountered white students in blackface and yet when my son went to complain and admittedly he did take pictures of the offending students and post them on Facebook, the students in blackface (who happened to be white girls) told the powers to be that they felt threatened by my son’s actions.  By the end of my son’s freshman year, almost every non-white kid who had started the year with him was transferring out.

Too many times during my son’s college career, I sat on my hands knowing that he wanted to make us proud and earn his degree and several times he explicitly asked me to not share what he was facing publicly.  In other words “Mom don’t write about it.” However, my son’s junior year was the tipping point; it was the year that to be honest, I thought we might lost my son. You can only be called out of your name so many times before it affects you on a molecular level. There is a point where racial microaggressions becomes death by a thousand pin pricks and you bleed out slowly. It was around this time that my ex-husband and I became a unified force to support our son and that rap music the hobby became rap music the possible real career.  

My son would spend the summer between his junior and senior year as a touring musician and would eventually decide not to return to college despite being less than 20 credits away from his bachelor’s degree. At the time, the respectable Black mama would wince that he chose not to return to college yet Mama the realist understood that a piece of paper wouldn’t mean a thing if my son were pushed too far and ended up in a cell or a body bag.

Far too many people want to lay the recent spate of racialized events on college campuses at the feet of the Black Lives Matter movement and other organized actions. Yet the truth is Black youth have been facing racism on college campuses forever, it’s just that no one really talks about it. Yet the Obama years in many ways have emboldened those who harbor racial prejudice towards Black and Brown people to let their inner hatred run amok. Too many white people think that because they voted for Obama or because they aren’t actively wearing white robes and hoods, they couldn’t possibly be racist.

More importantly, because white culture is so very polite and often steers clear of uncomfortable topics such as racism, white people often don’t realize that when you are not actively engaging in an anti-racist lifestyle, you are centering whiteness. If you live, work and love in all-white spaces and your kids never see you engage with non-white people, what message are you sending to your kids? Sure, you “like” all people but is that evident in how you are living? Our media centers whiteness and pretty much sends the unconscious message that we all feed on: that whiteness is superior unless you are an ass-shaking Black entertainer or ball-handling sports player.

So the only antidote to society’s prerecorded program that whiteness is best is to actively dismantle that notion and live your life as someone who truly is inclusive of racial differences and truly accepting of and substantively interacting with non-white people regularly. Period.

Otherwise your “non-racist” kids show up on college campuses with my kids and other kids of color with 17 to 19 years of programmed messages that you never took the time to dismantle. Finally, when in proximity to real people of color, these white kids who have never really shared space with real, live people of color basically interact like a pan of piping hot oil and chilly ice water. It’s not pretty and the result is often racialized microaggressions.

As for the young people across this nation fighting for basic humanity at Mizzou, Yale and other schools, keep ya heads up high and fight the good fight. Technology means your message travels fast and we can dismantle this racist system a lot faster than we could just a few decades ago.
Black Girl in Maine runs on passion, a need to write, and reader support. If you enjoy the musings, I would be honored if you would please consider making a one-time contribution or becoming a monthly patron. Thank you.


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Realities of Scarcity and the Rush Card

Growing up working class in a good year and flat-out poor in a bad year shaped me as a person, and it continues to shape me even in middle age. I have never shied away from talking about my working class roots in this space and even now when I know that this space is well-read, I refuse to shy away from uncomfortable discussions because money is a source of shame for many of us when the reality is that it doesn’t need to be. For many years, my family’s humble roots were a source of both shame and the anxiety that nearly destroyed me. It takes a lot of work to manufacture a reality that is not yours or to live a life of half-truths because you are afraid of being judged.

Growing up, my parents rarely had two nickels to rub together much less any spare nickels to salt away for a rainy day. My parents weren’t financially savvy folks, in part because they didn’t have enough to be savvy with. My mother did grow up middle class but in marrying my father, she effectively turned her back on that life which meant that my brother and I rarely saw any of the fruits of her middle class upbringing. Instead we saw the legacy of my father’s upbringing under Jim Crow which meant my parents, loved and lived for 33 years with little in the way of any safety nets. When times got rough there was food from the food pantry and in one particularly bad period there was time at a homeless shelter.

I entered adulthood with little in the way of understanding how money operated; I was in my early 20s before I stopped cashing paychecks at the currency exchange and actually got a checking account. Even with a checking account, I still made a few mistakes and underestimated a few times and ended up being overdrawn. The cost of not knowing was pretty damn expensive and thanks to a few good mentors and a partner who was patient with me, I learned how to manage my basic money and steer clear of predatory schemes designed to part me with my money.

Yet I have never forgotten just how hard it is to be broke and nowadays, it’s a whole different world for those struggling with financial scarcity. Many of today’s low-end jobs no longer pay with a paper check that can be taken to the bank that the check is drawn. Or, for that matter, brought to the currency exchange where, for a fee, the paper check can be turned into actual cash which one can use to pay bills.

No, we are living in a world that is increasingly paperless which means for the truly vulnerable who are living paycheck to paycheck, they are forced to use pre-paid debit cards which their paychecks are loaded onto. Ideally, folks would use traditional banks and credit unions but in the US, there are millions who are unbanked for a variety of reasons: fear of banks, past fees owed to a bank, low credit scores, etc. It’s not nice, it might not even be the wisest decision, but it’s the reality for millions.

Which is why today when I heard that the Rush Card prepaid card has been locking people out of their accounts, I must admit, it took me back to my own years of extreme scarcity. The Rush Card prepaid debit card is a card marketed by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons as an alternative financial product.  It also seems to be laden with fees and as of right now is experiencing technological issues that are in essence preventing people from accessing their own money.

While this situation may be a joking matter to some or a way to bray about how much smarter they are because they had a helping hand in life or a better start, it’s no laughing matter when you work, are paid for that work yet can’t pay your bills because you can’t access your money. It goes without saying that the typical consumer of a prepaid card probably doesn’t have access to an emergency stash of cash for the unexpected like being locked out of their prepaid account.

America is a place of excess and scarcity where we spend far too much time lecturing the poor for their “excess” without ever questioning the systems that keep people locked into scarcity. The poor and working class often pay a higher price for their money than Jane and John Middle Class will ever pay. Comfortably middle class people often pay little to nothing to use their own cash but the truly struggling are virtually locked into a maze of scarcity with few solid pathways out. It’s always been hard for folks from humble beginnings to get ahead and frankly in 2015, we have pretty much blocked off all the pathways for all except the most exceptional. Jobs with unreliable schedules and no guaranteed number of hours, stagnant wages with the ever increasing cost of living. Underfunded schools that don’t prepare kids for the future, higher education that is increasingly out of reach and the list goes on.

So instead of tsk-tsking and blaming people for their plight perhaps a moment of gratitude and empathy is what we all need along with a commitment to level the financial playing field.
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