Take a deep breath, the hard work of talking race in the US

I think it’s safe to say that tensions are running high across the United States this week. Between the relentless heat pounding parts of the country and the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, we are all feeling the tension and with that tension it brings hair trigger tempers. Can I suggest that we all step back and take a collective breath, breathe it out slowly and repeat at least two more times.

It used to be that the social code in our society demanded that there were a few subjects that we never discussed publicly namely, sex, religion, and politics. For some of the more sensitive or volatile among you, may I suggest that we add race to that list as well since we rarely discuss it in an open and honest fashion thus when cases such as Trayvon Martin make it to the mainstream media and our collective minds, many of us are all caught with our metaphorical pants down by our ankles and our private bits blowing in the wind.

At the not really ripe age of 40, I can recall one other specific time when race was on everyone’s mind yet true discussions were not really had…remember our ole pal O.J. Simpson? I remember the day that verdict was announced, I was eating lunch in a downtown Chicago steakhouse and was one of only a handful of Black patrons in the restaurant. It was a moment, I won’t ever forget. It was chilling.

Yet all these years later, despite so many surface changes when it comes to race in this country, nothing has really changed. For the most part, Americans live racially segregated lives either by choice or chance.  Unlike just a few decades ago where racism was the law of the land and outright bigotry was accepted, that is no longer the case. But while laws change, that doesn’t mean attitudes change, instead for many of us our bigotry is simply stuffed down and out of sight. We as a collective body have not unlearned racism; instead we painted over the ugly and unsightly wallpaper of our racial houses with cheap paint. Every few years we paint over it some more, telling ourselves that racism is gone and that all is well; our walls are in good shape. However as anyone who has ever dealt with painted over wallpaper can attest to, what you really do when you paint over the wallpaper rather than painstakingly removing the wallpaper and fixing the walls is to create a mess that eventually someone has to deal with.

In essence that is what this Trayvon Martin case has revealed to our nation, our racial walls are not in good shape, they are raggedy. Raggedy though is not always a bad thing, sometimes raggedy is what we need to get to the root and actually make true systemic change. In order though to be raggedy and make change we have to want it. As I learned in a diversity class many years ago in graduate school, we must be willing to open ourselves up and lay bare things about ourselves that are scary. We need to be willing to question our assumptions and if need be throw them in the garbage and start over from scratch.

This week, I have seen so many people of color namely Black people lay prostrate in order to be seen as fully human, I have also seen many white people get angry or ignore the pain of others. This unwillingness to engage even if there are missteps are part of why America finds itself in what I am calling a continual Do the Right Thing loop every decade or so.

Talking about race is hard, even in families such as mine that are multicultural; race talks are painful and at times polarizing. I am well aware that my use of social media to discuss race and specifically this case has been alienating to both my white friends and family members.  Last night my ex-husband called me to discuss this and while we do not see eye to eye about the case, as I told him he is entitled to his beliefs on the matter. Truthfully we are about 180 degrees apart on this case but I needed to hear him out and ask that he hear me out. Respectful discussions that respect the individual are the beginning of the process of change; not the tit for tat comparisons that often seem to substitute for real discourse in this ramped up digital age.

There also times when silence is not golden, and with a non-stop talker in my house, I enjoy silence but there are times when silence sends the signal that the pain of others is not worthy of your consideration. It is okay to admit to being helpless and not knowing what to do, but if one wants to create change when it comes to our collective racial walls, tell me that. Really, I want to hear it and as other mothers of color are expressing this week, they want to hear that too. This is a time where we can learn and help one another out, hell, I have a big mouth and plenty of thoughts I would be happy to give you some suggestions on what to do.

Note: As this blog grows it is clear that while it will never be a commercial space, it is a safe space where many feel they can come and read something meaningful. My inbox has far more emails in it than it used to have and it is clear that running this blog is more than just throwing a post up. After much though I have decided that I am going to bring the tip jar back, as always while a tip is a lovely gesture it is not expected but much appreciated. This space is a personal labor of love that I do because it gives me pleasure, so no pressure at all.



No humanity for Black boys, musings on the Trayvon Martin case

Kimani Gray, 16

Kendrec McDade, 19

Timothy Russell, 43

Ervin Johnson, 18

Amadou Diallo, 23

Patrick Dorsmond, 26

Ousmane Zongo, 43

Timothy Stansbury Jr., 23

Sean Bell, 23

Orlando Barlow, 28

Aaron Campbell, 25

Victor Steen, 17

Steven Eugene Washington, 27

Alonzo Ashley, 29

Wendell Allen, 20

Ronald Madison, 40

James Brisette, 17

Travares McGill, 16

Ramarley Graham, 18

Oscar Grant, 22

These are just some of the Black men and boys in recent years who have been killed, all unarmed and all part of a pattern  that any reasonable person might deduce suggests that America has a problem with the mere existence of Black men and boys.

I wish I could say that the verdict this weekend in the trial of George Zimmerman was truly a surprise and that I was shocked. I am many things but shocked is not one of them. Instead I am sad, sad that in the end, a grown man was entitled to his fear and a right to protect himself but that a teenager was not entitled to his fear of the unknown.

Clearly much has been written about the Trayvon Martin case, and I have read so many amazing pieces that I almost wonder, what else is there to say? Yet in the end I am struck as the mother and sister of young Black men, how common it is to deny Black men their own humanity. Frankly Black women are not exactly allowed the whole spectrum of emotions either, since typically we are reduced to simply being either angry or strong.

However for our boys and men, they are not even deemed worthy of anger or strength, instead they are simply beings in the eyes of many who must be annihilated before they harm someone.  Much was made during the trial of some of Trayvon’s habits, all in an attempt to reduce him to less than in the eyes of the law.  Children, especially teenagers, are known for doing things that sometimes are right and sometimes wrong, this growth stage is a given for White youth but for Black youth, it means that even if you are killed, you will be judged and judged harshly for doing things that for White youth may even be seen as a rite of passage.

Today I participated in a roundtable discussion with other mothers, many Black and the one commonality among the Black mothers that we shared was fear, fear that this society built on the backs of a stolen people and stolen land will eventually steal our sons.  As Black mothers we must steal parts of our son’s youth and innocence in an attempt to keep them alive but at what cost? To keep ours son’s alive means that we too must take their humanity, yet what is the cost for stolen humanity? My son answered that indirectly when we texted one another after the verdict was announced, anger and to be young, gifted and black.

I am not a weeper, weeping isn’t my thing, but this Saturday night I wept. I wept as I watched a press conference where getting a client off in the wake of a child’s death should not be a reason for smiles of joy. I wept for a young life cut down before it even had a chance to really start. I wept for parents who had to bury a beloved child and yet must be strong and endure. Their son was denied his humanity for simply daring to walk down the street and the parents even in grief are denied their humanity because they must appear respectable and thus palatable to the general public even while grieving the unimaginable. I wept for the mothers who sat and listened to this story with the somber realization that what happened to Trayvon could happen to our boys. I wept for a nation that has stuck a giant gauze pad on its oozing and festering racial sores but won’t dare to truly pull it off so that we can become a healthy nation.

List of names courtesy of The Root


The Wild, Wild West of Race Relations

I have to confess that whenever I write about race in this space, I feel a pang of momentary discomfort…why, you ask? Because inevitably a reader will tell me either via email or a comment that I am being sensitive, that they don’t see race, all people are equal or some variation of that sentiment. The subtle implication is that as a Black woman, I am creating mountains out of molehills.  

The news cycle of the past week was the reminder that 92% of the time if my intuition says that race is an issue, I am most likely right. This past week was one for the books as far as happenings here in the US, to quote humor blogger Luvvie “This week has given me outrage fatigue syndrome.” The United States Supreme Court also known in certain circles as the SCOTUS (by the way, is it me, or does SCOTUS sound like a nasty infection?) handed out some real life changing decisions. For the most part though the SCOTUS let it be known that in their minds racism is dead. Alrighty, now!  

If race and racism were dead, we would not be witnessing the explosion of the high priestess of butter and sugar’s empire. Paula Deen, a marginal cooking personality with dubious Southern recipes (pretty sure her red cake recipe was my grandma’s, but it is all good) learned that not bothering to change and become more accepting and or tolerant of diversity is no longer simply PC, feel good shit. The inability to be tolerant and or accepting of difference will come back and tear a hole in your ass. You cannot admit that you have referred to Black people as niggers, dream of slave themed weddings and create work conditions that are hostile to people of color and not expect to suffer for it. Paula may not have known that before but she does now.

This past week the trial started for George Zimmerman; the self-appointed neighborhood watchman who thought a Black teenager, Trayvon Martin armed with iced tea and skittles was soooo threatening that he had to shoot and kill him.  However as the trial kicked off this week, everyone’s attention has been on Rachel Jeantel, the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon before he was killed. Turns out many people including fellow Black people don’t find Rachel Jeantel to be the best representation of all that is Black. She is large, she is dark, she does not speak the King’s English in a manner that is pleasing to many white and Black people, and therefore she is a problem.

I have read countless articles and blog posts on Rachel Jeantel and watched a few of the video clips of her testimony and all I could think is what is the problem? For starters, she lost a friend, not only did she lose a friend; she was on the phone with him when his life was senselessly snuffed out by a vigilante, wanna be John Wayne type. Add in the fact that she was just 18 when this happened, my goodness, how traumatic.

America has never been particularly kind to Black folks, we are never allowed to slowly grow up and become fully formed and actualized beings. If we, did Trayvon would still be alive because Zimmerman would have acknowledged Trayvon’s youth and humanity rather than putting him the dangerous box. In Rachel Jeantel, we see the youthful air of pride and defiance that is accepted in young whites but in young Blacks, it will always be seen as a negative.

Rachel Jeantel is a young, multilingual woman from a working class background, for that she is branded as “ghetto” because she does not measure up to certain standards of what is truly acceptable and respectable. By the way, who decides what is acceptable? Is there a department of acceptable and respectable?   Of course those of us who have been on this rock long enough, see signs that the media wants to put Rachel in her box. When a person of color can’t be figured out or does not assimilate well, you the person of color becomes the problem. It is easier to brand someone else more problematic than it is to check our own assumptions. To check our own assumptions require heavy emotional and mental lifting, it means that we open ourselves to the possibility of having our world view not only shattered but learning that the very foundation that we sit on may be nothing more than hay.  

In the end, to quote an online pal, “we are living in the wild, wild, west of race relations in America.”  We may have a Black man and his family living in the White House, but that does not mean racism died in November 2008, in many ways we opened up a new chapter in our nation’s racial history, one that intersects with class and requires that we eventually acknowledge this intersectionality.