The truth is uncomfortable…personal journeys and racial tensions

“When grounded in truthfulness, action and its fruition depend on him.”Yoga Sutra 2:36

The truth. It sounds so simple. Yet to be truthful with ourselves and the world around us requires a level of intestinal fortitude that, frankly, most of us (including yours truly) struggle with. After all, the truth can be uncomfortable and even scary at times.

As I grapple with an ever-changing personal life mired in the midst of early mid-life changes, I find at times (with increasingly frequency) that certain truths have become more fluid for me. It is often easier to play moral gymnastics than to sit in a stew of discomfort. Yet our culture as a whole struggles with truth, even when those truths are loudly proclaimed and factually accurate.

One of the reasons that racial tensions remain problematic in the United States is because far too many White Americans are averse to hearing people of color, especially Black Americans, talk about the realities of race as it is lived for non-white people. Dr. Robin Di Angelo, who is an associate professor of multicultural and social justice education, refers to this phenomenon as “white fragility.” That is most certainly one way to refer to it.  Yet on a deeper level, we all have a level of fragility that keeps the truth from seeping in because to allow certain truths to penetrate our being means that we must face life as it is and not as we wish it to be. Our culture thrives on the “how it should be” and not the “how it really is.”

Yet depending on the nature of the truth that we are hiding from, the cost of our denial can be harmful. Personal and private denial of truth may only harm us, whereas mass denial of truth can rip at the very fabric of a society. This past weekend, Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States, gave a commencement speech at Tuskegee University where she spoke honestly about her struggles as a Black woman and as the First Black Lady in the country.  Of course, a certain segment of the population found fault with her words, but for the majority of Black women in the country, she spoke the truths that we live with daily. However, most of us don’t have a platform to share the realities we face and even when we do…well, our reality is often questioned or denied.

The collective truth for the majority of Black Americans is that America is not the bright and shining place that it is for our White counterparts. Yet that harsh truth is simply indigestible to many. No matter how many think pieces are written, studies are conducted and personal stories are shared, White America struggles with truth and would rather attack the messenger as in the case of incoming Boston University professor Saida Grundy who is under fire for a series of tweets on white supremacy and structural inequity.

However to live without truth, whether it is the acceptance of larger truths or our own personal truth, is a denial of humanity. When we deny the humanity of ourselves or others, we cause harm. At some point, we have to decide: Do we want to cause harm?  Once we know that we are causing harm, we are faced with choices that only we can make. As for me, the truth is not fun, yet it is necessary to my own personal growth. I suspect in the larger sphere, the sooner the truth is accepted, we will move toward collective growth and maturity as a nation. Until then, we live a half-life where some beings are valued over beings and others will continue to struggle for inclusion at the table of humanity.

Double standard…uppity, brave or truth

Every now and then a public story will touch a nerve deep within me and I can’t let it go because it is too close to home. I realized that last night when I found myself up later than I had intended to stay up after hearing the story about the current First Lady of the United States and the run in she had with a heckler at a private event.

For those not interested in reading the story, the basic gist is that Michelle Obama was speaking at a private fundraiser held in a private home. Mrs. Obama was apparently in the middle of her prepared speech when a gay rights activist who has been identified as Ellen Sturtz started yelling for “President Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” It seems that Mrs. Obama wasn’t in the mood for that and replied by saying “One of the things I don’t do well is this,” “listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving.”  Various reports mention that Mrs. Obama looked Sturtz in the eye and that’s where the story gets a bit strange. Sturtz claims she was taken aback by Mrs. Obama’s response to being heckled in the middle of her speech and to say the media is having a field day is an understatement.

Some members of the media have stated that Mrs. Obama was out of line, really? Someone yells something at me that I can’t personally do anything about and I am required to be a big sweetheart about it? There was nothing offensive about Mrs. Obama’s response because as a society, our track record of respect given to women of color is sketchy at best. Mrs. Obama was firm and polite; there is also the fact that a private event was probably not the place for Ellen Sturtz to take direct action, no matter how effective such tactics can be.

Of course what is most fascinating is that reaction to Mrs. Obama falls almost neatly along racial and class lines. Many white commenters online have alluded to Mrs. Obama being uppity, being rude, thinking she is something special. Um…this woman is accomplished in her own right, a double Ivy League grad, successful professional and the backbone of the president of the United States. That guy who was and still is the first non-white President of the United States. I think it’s safe to say she is not an average Jane.

However for those of us who fall outside of society’s favored class, we are hearing something else in this so called event. We are hearing the same old chorus that attempts to stifle us when we speak our truth, the chorus that says we must do XYZ lest we appear to be scary and fall into that tired and overused trope of the Angry Black Woman who is a 1st cousin to Sapphire. The Angry Black Woman is any and every Black woman who dares to show emotion, to reveal our truth. To be a Black woman is to know that you must wear your mask 99% of the time because this culture will not validate our feelings, our feelings will be turned against us, used as a sign of our defaults.

Michelle Obama did what many a professional Black woman has either had to do or wanted to do at some point in her life. She didn’t stuff herself down; she stood strong in her truth. Period. How that truth is received depends on people being willing to examine themselves and why when certain people speak their truth, it is uppity, yet when others speak their truth, it is brave, it is accepted.

Truth in America is all about the double standard and until we are ready to tear that standard down we will never progress far no matter how we dress things up.

PS: Yeah, yeah…typos. This post was written on the fly wedged between meetings.

Foot in mouth…my thoughts on fat acceptance movement

This is one of those posts where I suspect I won’t be able to do the subject justice and will come across all wrong and inevitably piss someone off though that is not my intent.It was brought to my attention that I may have conflated the Fat Acceptance Movement with the Health at Every Size movement, I will admit that despite the fact that the Fat Acceptance Movement has existed for many years, it’s only in the past year did I become familiar with it. So I am stating upfront that if I misspoke something, please understand it is not intentional.

Since my late 20’s after what was a lifetime of never worrying about my weight, I entered a phase that is still with me where my weight and I have a love-hate relationship, though I am working hard to love it. After a year hiatus from Weight Watchers I recently went back since the 16.1 extra pounds I am carrying around just won’t go away…damn pesky pounds and I realized that despite my ambivalence, Weight Watchers works for me, I need that extra bit of accountability though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Bodies and weight are a sensitive topic. In a world obsessed with thin bodies when you don’t have a thin body it’s easy to feel invisible or judged, trust me I know. Almost a year after my daughter’s birth, a picture my husband took of me,  that photo had me asking who is the fat chick? Turns out I was the fat chick! I was caught up in the glow of a new baby and frankly didn’t have time to nurture my body and ended up heavier than I had been during my pregnancy…damn breast-feeding advocates lied to me! They said if I breastfed, I would lose weight; I suspect they didn’t mean I could have that Dorito and coke habit I had at the time. I have shared on this blog before, how I ended up joining Weight Watchers and over a several year period shed damn near 50 pounds. I did a great job of keeping it off until a pesky abdominal surgery had me laid up for weeks and I fell back into some old habits, once again involving carbonated beverages and chips. I admit, chips are my weakness, fuck that, they are my kryptonite.

Last year after some hemming and hawing, I decided to get serious about taking the weight off and a month later, said fuck it, I just didn’t want to deal with it. So I have spent the past year living in the 160’s which I suspect is my body’s natural weight range if left alone. As I recently told a friend for the most part, with my walking and yoga, I can eat what I want and neither gain nor lose weight. All in all, not a bad place, yes I am overweight, but I am active however a recent conversation with one of my oldest friends made me take another look at the situation.

My friend B who recently turned 44 and has always carried an extra 20-40 lbs. was diagnosed with some serious health issues that are directly tied to years of carrying extra weight. He’s a big man, always has been but as he told me, taking a shitload of drugs is not his idea of fun and so he is actively trying to get the weight off and bring his body back to where it needs to be so he can live sans the drugs.

Reason I am sharing this, is because in the past year the Fat Acceptance Movement has grown thanks to the internet. I have seen more than one blog post advocating that all bodies are beautiful and that fat judgment, bias and shaming need to go. I agree, the standards of beauty are indeed limited, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes just as wellness can come in all shapes and sizes. However I think some who claim to be part of the Fat Acceptance Movement have it all wrong when they say campaigns such as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign are nothing more than a bullying campaign.

There are real consequences to carrying too much extra weight on our bodies, trust me I can feel the difference. While I like to say it was the less than flattering picture that made me lose weight, the real wake-up call was that walks started leaving me winded, that truly got my attention. Barring respiratory issues, there was no reason for me, a thirty something year old woman to get winded while walking my kid and I knew I needed to change it.

In thinking of writing this piece, I did some poking around and there are clearly some in the Fat Acceptance Movement such as Kate Harding who make sense, Harding gave up the up and down life of diets and now is a healthy size 16. The problem is there are some in the Fat Acceptance Movement who confuse the message of beauty and wellness at all sizes to mean do nothing. I have had the pleasure of knowing in my offline life a few folks who are huge advocates of the Fat Acceptance Movement who state they are happy being overweight yet admit they have limitations due to their weight. If your weight limits you in a negative way, it seems to me that acceptance of that weight and doing nothing to at least shed a few pounds is not a healthy choice. Accepting who we are is always good; don’t run from reality but at the same time, we do have choices.

Dieting sucks because frankly it’s a short term fix, instead a lifestyle overhaul is far more effective. Look, I like chips and while I know I can’t eat them every day, I know that by adding movement daily and really ramping up my intake of fruits and veggies will allow me to enjoy a bag at least once a week.

In many ways unhealthy weight in the US is a health crisis, Americans on average are a lot heavier than we used to be, there are a lot of ideas about why this is the case. Excess weight over the years can take a toll on the body and that is a sad fact. I think the reason we are seeing people like Michelle Obama talking about this is because much like smoking years ago, we are dealing with a public health crisis. For every one overweight person who isn’t facing diabetes, hypertension, joint issues, etc., my guess is there are two or more who are. No amount of downplaying it makes it any less true. This is where the Fat Acceptance Movement in my opinion needs to do a better job of explaining that what they are really about is wellness, health and beauty regardless of size.

Bodies are not all the same, some of us no matter what we do are always going to be thick, but there is a fine line between acknowledging beauty at any size and saying it’s okay to be heavy enough that you face the chances of your life being shortened. Right now the movement seems to lack a unified message; instead some are using Fat Acceptance as a way to skirt personal responsibility. No one deserves to be shamed or mistreated because of their body size but let’s not kid ourselves, in some cases that extra weight can truly be harmful as my friend B learned the hard way.

Personally while I make light of the reasons why I am trying to lose weight the fact is at 39, I am already pass the age my mother was when she was diagnosed with hypertension. Mind you my mother never weighed more than 130 lbs. in her 50 years on this planet, but my family history on both side’s is one that the older I get, I know the extra weight is not a good thing. Most people in my family don’t live past 60 and frankly I want to break that streak, so for me, it’s about wanting to do a little better than other family members.