A Supposedly Straight Woman’s Process for Grieving after Orlando

My name is Jessica. I recently graduate with my doctoral degree so, in some spaces it is also likely that I am referred to as Doctor Williams. I am 5’9″ with an undercut and kinky, curly natural Black hair atop my head. I weigh somewhere between 250-350 lbs at any given time depending on what is going on in my life but I always identify as fat. Today my shirt is a “Large” and my skirt is a size 18. My preferred gender pronouns are she/her and I consider myself heterosexual, though my affect and affinity for the Queer community has made me curious about how much of my sexual identity as heterosexual is socially constructed. I am a feminist who believes that people have the right to define themselves for themselves. I identify as Christian, though feel my union with God to be unable to be contained within one religion. I see religion as sociocultural and not necessarily indicative of one’s faith beliefs. I grew up in a middle class, though some argue upper middle class home in Atlanta, Georgia a majority minority city and later Douglasville, GA a middle class suburb of the city. I have minimal physical ability barriers, but am currently managing PTSD and an anxiety disorder stemming from sexual assault. I would describe myself as a beautiful mess.

Fresh off the high of learning my dissertation had been published the mass shooting at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, FL happened. It knocked the wind out of me. First because my younger cousin who identifies as lesbian had snap videos in the club in Orlando the night of the shooting. I reached out to her immediately after finding out about the tragic incident yet once I learned of her physical safety, the sense of comfort did not come. Days later I would find myself in a lesbian bar celebrating a friend’s birthday. A place I’d frequented for various reasons over the past few years in San Diego now had a coldness to it that had nothing to do with the temperature. The mood of the space–set by the additional security  and rainbow flags at half mast–had shifted.

“I’m sorry I haven’t said anything about Orlando to you,” I found myself texting to a dear friend of mine who both identifies as Queer and manages an LGBT resource center at a university, “I honestly did not have the words.” My research conducted on fat women and identity highlighted the kinship between the Fat and Queer communities. In my dissertation I wrote:

Borrowing on the popular “We’re here, we’re queer!” mantra of the gay rights
movement, Fat activist Katie LeBesco (2004) recalls chants of ‘We’re here, we’re
sphere!’ from the fat community. LeBesco details Pam Hinden’s “fat coming out story” noting that “coming out” as fat was akin to “coming out” as queer in that it meant that one was going to intentionally and unapologetically forego traditional social norms; “coming out meant mustering outrage to engage in activities usually thought proper only for thin people (Lebesco, 2004, pg. 95)…”Queer language such as
“outing” or being “in the closet” further illustrated the bond between these two
marginalized communities. Says Margaret Wann (1999) on her last day “in the closet”, “living in the closet [was] not working…[I] decided to come out as a fat person and tried to do it really publicly and really loudly because [I] wasn’t going to put up with exclusion” (pg.95). In this instance “coming out” was strategic to indicate one’s acceptance of self be it our sexuality or our bodies. While it may seem paradoxical as a person is conspicuously fat where queer may be harder to visually assume, the idea of “coming out” refers to an individual proclaiming an internal truth to an external audience. Being “here and queer” or “here and sphere” was less about queer or sphere but in fact, it was about “here” and the acknowledgement of one’s self which in turn calls for acknowledgement by others.

marsha-p-johnson1If it were not for the research I had quite literally just completed, I am not sure I would have felt like this tragedy was mine to own and ache for, like this was a hurt that I had the right to publicly express. However, my connection to this community, my community was undeniable. I look at a leader like Marsha P. Johnson who just went out to dance and ended up making history at the Stonewall Inn. PULSE nightclub could have been any night club in any city at any time and that is what chills me to my core. As a woman, going out requires careful calculation. My heels must be high enough to make my legs look good but not too high that I could not run at the end of the night. My dress should be short enough to move in but long enough to make it clear that I am not public property or for public consumption. The flowers in my hair invite conversation, even adoration but not objectification. The love made between me and the music is our own and sometimes it is a threesome with a man of my desire, but sometimes it is not.  Nearly every woman, and every single fat woman I know frequents “gay bars” because it is a space where we, too, feel free.  The space was not created for us, the space is not ours, but yet we are welcomed and accepted in this space.

For someone to violate such a sacred space…it’s the chill. It’s the kind of cold you feel after trauma that requires swaddling and circles rubbed across the entirety of your back. It is the hurt that you cannot put words to and you cannot describe to anyone who has not also felt this sort of violation. I shared with a Lesbian friend of mine that it felt like rape all over again in some ways. The feelings of confusion, helplessness, loss of safety, loss of comfort, need for closeness with your community and also a fear and hesitancy to put yourself out there again for fear of repeat violation. You try to make sense of the hurt, try to understand why and not one single explanation makes sense.  All you know is that it happened and now having lived through it, you are different and everything you knew before you know now in a different way. You become more attuned to shadows. You grow more suspicious, more cautious, more timid, more “safe” and you try your best not to close off from the whole world. Only that does not help either. It only leaves you alone with your pain to fester and rot. God damn this curse of survival, I do not want the memories, I do not want the pain, I do not want the scars, the tears, the flashbacks, the loss, the confusion, the sadness, the worry.

Then you remember something. For me it was Marsha and it was Audre my two heroines who, in my mind, could just as easily beat a face, speak in couplets, as they could fuck up systematic oppression. I remember them and I said to myself, No one is going to ask you if you’re gay in a nightclub if they are coming to shoot. You cannot escape the pains of the queer community through semantics and uncertainties, this is your fight because otherwise you are turning your back on an entire population that has opened their arms to you, loved you when you did not know how to love yourself, shown you the importance of self acceptance and self expression, given you the freedom to express your impulses and explore your inklings and held you in a way that only someone who has been there can hold you. I not only gave myself permission to fully grieve Orlando, but I made myself accountable to action to respond to the needs of those affected by Orlando–not just now, but always.

This year, San Diego Pride will mean something much different to me. Being in attendance will not be just dancing and drinking in lavish and colorful outfits. It will not be just a celebration of love and acceptance, I imagine it will also be very emotional. Cathartic. It will terrify me to be in a crowd knowing that at any moment someone could inflict pain on myself or others around me for reasons that will never make sense. However, there really is not an option to not go, to not participate and to slip quietly into the “safety” of supposedly “straight” clubs. The first pride was a riot; says Michael Fader,

Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back [after the Stonewall riots]. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.

And we won’t.

Black in Academia

Before I begin, let me make clear that the experience I write about is my own. It is not meant to be an exhaustive op-ed of most, some or even a few Blacks in academia. My story is my own. And, only a person of color would have to begin such an article in such a manner.


Twice as hard, Half as much

Being from Atlanta, I am not sure I ever understood, clearly, the limitations that blackness had in this country. While it is true we have our fair share of black crime, and black poverty, we also had black success and black wealth. Black did not mean any one thing to me, it did not paint a specific picture in my mind of any one person or any type of lifestyle. As a result of both my environment and upbringing, the domains of “acceptable” black behavior were lost on me. I was not taught the twice as hard, half as much proverb which rings true to the core of most upwardly mobile black people. I was somewhat unaware that some people would not even be rooting for me to fail, but that it would never even occur to them that I could or would succeed because of the color of my skin. What a gift that ignorance has been.

Raisin in Rice
My dad would say that I came into my black identity in college. Taking part in organizations like the Black Cultural Programming Committee, or NAACP on campus, or that one semester of NABJ when I still believed I would be a journalist, or wanting to pledge a historically black greek letter organization.  However, I would argue that my blackness became truly salient in conjunction with the birth of my identity as an academic; when I began working on my PhD. The stress between the two identities has lead to a reorganization of many beliefs I held about both white people and black people and the realities of racism in our nation at present.

First, my noticing came at my fear of ever being angry in class. I began to question whether my deference to passivity or apathy was due to my lack of opinion or passion around a topic or an unwillingness to share my opinion or passion because of my environment. The more I asked that question, the more I realized I was silencing myself. So afraid of being trapped in the role of the angry black woman, I was “shucking and jiving” to assuage white feelings at the expense of my own.  My internal struggle: the paradox of white feelings versus black lives would be one that would take the center stage for the nation four years later. However, as a nation, similarly to my own processing, it would be impossible to have a productive discussion about the conflict due to overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, hurt, and fear. They would hold us captive in our positions unwilling to make any forward motion on the matter.

but you’re not really Black
I’d first heard the “compliment” in high school. Stripped of my racial identity because I did not fit the media contrived portrayal of a black girl and later a black woman. While the words never set well with me, it was not until being in a blindingly white academic setting in a pervasively white city that I would become outraged at the insinuation that because I was black I could not be whatever other (usually) positive thing I was, in fact, being. After getting into several arguments with white friends about blackness and the richness of black identity that they truly could not comprehend I realized that the conversations were going nowhere. I was trapped in anger, fury, over being forced to exist in a space where I felt largely misunderstood and the people around me inherently expressing that my blackness did not matter. They were taking the colorblind approach; I saw it as total blindness. If you cannot or will not see my blackness, then you cannot possibly see me.
tumblr_ntoo3zDyRG1tp1sv8o1_500So for the second year of my studies, I avoided conversations of race and racism with anyone other than black people. That year was important and I do not regret it. My own immersion/emersion, though it was practically impossible to avoid symbols of whiteness, I did try to soak in as much blackness as I could find. I did research for and with black students, administration and faculty. I organized programming which helped strengthen the black community on campus with that of the black alumni network. I volunteered to mentor with a BGLO’s leadership development academy. I attended community events and poetry slams, open houses, even the “ratchet” spots all in search for as much blackness as I could find because I felt like I was starving for it. It was something I almost couldn’t make sense of because I had been aware of blackness my entire life. I knew black history and where I sat in it. I knew both how fortunate I was and also how far my generation had to go, and yet here I was FEELING black for the first time. Feeling the blackness that I’d only really know theoretically or in passing, never anything sustainable. People rarely believe me but I have encountered more racism in southern California than I ever did at home in the south. Sometimes well-meaning, nevertheless, racist.

In America, American means white. Everyone else has to hyphenate
In my skepticism of white culture I began to see racism woven into the fabric of everything–to be fair, that and patriarchy. The idea of professionalism; who decided that? Why is the hair that grows out of my head, as it grows out of my head, subject for discussion or debate? In handbook outlines, rarely are traditional cultural garments named as acceptable traditional attire. Bold and bright colors, prints and fabrics represented not who we were but where we had traveled. Been spectators, voyeurs to a culture that was fine…there…but not here. Though no one would outwardly express it. I remember a colleague talking to me about job interviews for a student worker position in which she described a black male candidate a bit too loud and aggressive. I cringed. I couldn’t help but wonder if his skin color amplified his being or if he really was a loud and aggressive person. I began to feel hopeless. Black people don’t stick together enough to successful have a thriving subculture, yet we are being exterminated and oppressed within the larger culture. The single greatest victory of slavery was the idea that white was superior. There was a wave of time in the sixties when we challenged that, but I think there’s such a loss…there is no “home” to go back to, no mother tongue, no one place we know to turn to feel connected to who we are. So whiteness it is…we will call it American; the American dream, never questioning whose america because we know exactly whose it is.

If the youth are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth
Trayvon Marton. Michael Brown. Ferguson. Eric Garner. Oakland. Baltimore. Sandra Bland. The list goes on and on and all while I go to class and learn about the importance of effective leadership and the dynamics of systems. Part of me resentful because no one dare talk about the current leadership or dynamics of a system black people are dying in. Part of me desperate to take in as much as I can so that I can understand what they think is true. Given an assignment to write about ethics and leadership I took the opportunity to write about being black in white spaces. I knew it wasn’t my approved topic. I knew we hadn’t spent one day discussing race in america in class. Still I wrote:

In isolation, it appears as if the combination of the events of Ferguson, the existence of multiple parts of my self, including those identities of Black, Scholar and higher education professional, and a pending meeting with a university AVP would be an easily solvable “ethical dilemma.” However, this is a decision that will replicate itself over and over again given my chosen career trajectory.  I will always have to discern and decide just how Black to be in my spaces, especially White spaces. When the global context holds racial tension, I will always have to decide if it is appropriate to respond with my “Black self”, especially in White spaces.  When I hold a position of authority, as I often do when I teach, I will have to ask myself continually and infinitely essentially how “Black” can I be right now, in this White space?

I was angry. I am still angry. I find solace in the words of James Baldwin,“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” I am enraged. I feel like Bruce Banner and at any given moment I can give in to the anger and become the Hulk. I am not sure that I will ever not be angry because I don’t know if my lifetime will include the shift of consciousness needed to heal this nation and come to terms with racism (institutional racism feels redundant), oppression and injustice. tumblr_ntyrrmTaeY1ucerf6o1_500

I am the hope and the dream of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.
Despite my anger, I have begun to speak. Largely because of my education I have been able to make strides in my own understanding and conceptualization of race and racism. I’ve become less angry at white people and more frustrated with whiteNESS. This way of being that “we” see as normative and therefore right, specifically, more right than any other way of being without question. I’ve become less skeptical of individuals and increasingly more infuriated with oppressive systems choosing to believe that if people understood the hurt and pain that was caused by their own individual actions, they would certainly choose another course. I am not so naive to think that is true for all.

I have accepted the responsibility of what it means to be both black and [formally] educated. Whether or not I asked for it, I do come as 1 and 10,000. I am the result of my grandmother’s prayers, and her grandmother’s prayers. I owe it to them to be better. I owe it to them to hold stead through my frustrations and have the difficult conversations to help shed light on a dark topic of black pain. I owe it to myself not to have to hold it in all the time. I was given this gift of writing and I do a disservice if I do not write about it. If I worry so much about who might read it, what job(s) it might disqualify me for, or what colleagues may be upset by my words. Being born black in america, I was given enough to hold I don’t have any space in my pack for your guilt or discomfort.

tumblr_nrgyp15Gkk1stueg7o1_400Finally, I have come to terms with being extremely proud of myself; who I am literally and figuratively. I am months away from having PhD behind my name and joining a very exclusive sector of society. And when I do become Dr. Williams, I will do so as my black self. My Harriet Tubman self. My Paul Lawrence Dunbar self. My Booker T. Washington self. My Mary McCleud Bathoon self. My Toni Morrison self. My Barack and Michelle Obama self. My James Baldwin self. My Della Wilcox and Ollie Fambrough self. I am rooted in the black american community. No matter how much success I acquire, or accolades I receive, one’s roots are immobile. For that I am proud. It is not at all a burden, I am happy to carry my people with me.

Authors note: Upon finishing this piece I was struck with the realization that I had not given any due credit to the conscious, supportive white people who have been present on my journey, and I decided that you know what? that’s okay. This piece was not about them. I gritted my teeth even at the decision to include this post script once again paying special attention to white feelings, preemptively. It’s so ingrained…

The Scarlett Johanssoning of Grace Jones

Halloween is coming.
And rather than that eliciting excitement and child-like joy at promise of publicly acceptable cosplay and free sugary treats, I’m holding my breath waiting for some celebrity PR statement claiming they didn’t know Blackface (or other forms of cultural appropriation/insensitivity) was still unacceptable in this here post-Racial America.

IMG_7153.JPGLast night, innocently enough I was scrolling Tumblr. Tumblr has become my favorite (secret) form of social media because of the high anonymity, yet ever-present cultural relevance factor. I can find out everything going on in the world just by scrolling my dashboard and because of carefully crafted follows I’m not inundated with neither too much seriousness not too much foolery. I digress, so I’m scrolling tumblr and I see an advertisement for a “Vegan leather doo-rag”. My knee-jerk reaction was to exclaim “These pumpkin spice loving mother ——- have gone TOO far!” Hey, I’m not perfect.

IMG_7152.JPGBut it really did feel like the straw that broke the camels back. I refuse to believe that white people are that oblivious. That “blackface” feels innocent. That wearing a sombrero holding “roadside fruit” signs is naive. That they’ve really been so oblivious to other cultures WITHIN THIS COUNTRY that they feel things like baby hair, Timberland boots, doo-rags, full lips big hips and tan skin were standards of beauty of their own making. Is Columbusing genetic?

Now, I want to be clear that not all white people are “sleep” to these issues. However, it seems that they live in entirely different time zones than the repeat offenders. I’m looking at you Katy Perry and Juliane Hugh. Is there no one around them (of any race) to say, “hey you know…maybe that’s not such a good idea?”

The thing that bothers me most is the sense of entitlement to other people’s cultures. Pop culture imperialism. Armed with the knowledge that America is fast becoming mediocre in all measures of greatness among our global community, when I leave the country it doesn’t dawn on me that being American means much. However, because of media and pop culture we are WINNING. In organizational change, company culture is oft known as the slowest and last thing to change. Culture can outlast leadership, in the positional sense. So when Scarlett Johansson is a standard of beauty in nations that don’t naturally produce women who look like Scarlett Johansson it becomes very clear to me that the U.S. is still very much relevant.

When I was in Bali I had someone point out to me which lotions and sunscreen to buy because they had skin bleach. And while I was keenly aware of skin bleaching practices it was not until I was faced with consciously choosing products that DID NOT have bleach (which were far fewer in number) that I realized how real an issue it is.

As a woman of color, it is incredibly frustrating a) to be a woman in a society which feels entitled to my body. You feel you can manipulate control and have part ownership over my hair my skin color my garments and undergarments my size my sex and my womb. B) you take your shares of me and dip them in bleach, slathering white paint over brown skin and calling it beautiful. Colorful hair in a young black girl is ghetto yet on a young white girl is fashion forward. Gelled baby hair on a Latina girl warrants a side eye, yet vogue puts it on a wispy white model and it’s the head-turning look of the season. We have made entire industries whose sole purpose is dedicated to the Scarlett Johanssoning of Grace Jones.

I’ve had it up to here with the dumbstruck faces of ignorance plastered all over white media especially in October. I am no longer accepting apologies. Don’t be sorry, be better. I am no longer willing to have the long conversation about why it’s wrong or inappropriate. Do your own research. I, sadly, am growing increasingly more intolerant of these instances of intolerance. How the hell am I supposed to help when I’m exhausted because YOU don’t want to help yourself?

Kerry Washington gives perspective, ” I don’t want to live in a post-race world because being black is really exciting. I mean, it’s who I am. I’m a woman, black, from New York, an Aquarius – these are things that create who I am. I’m interested in living in a post-racist world, where being African American doesn’t dictate limitations on what I can do – but I don’t want to live post-race. Our differences are so fascinating and wonderful. We don’t want to all be the same. Who wants that? Hitler did, but who else?”

I may be labeled as the angry black woman after writing this, but that’s untrue. Anger is a symptom, a surface emotion for a deeper feeling. I am, in reality, the disappointed black woman. Disappointed that people still shield themselves behind the colorblind cloak as if that’s acceptable or makes them immune to prejudice; automatically equitable. Guess what? Raven Symone, it doesn’t. Disappointed that there are people who still live in places where it is perfectly true that everyone is the same and that there’s no one to question why. Disappointed that we don’t employ empathy more in our daily actions, considering the lasting effects on what we do or say. Disappointed that someone will inevitably read this, claim I have attacked all white people and will have missed my point entirely.

Thoughts on Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Typically I would wait until I’d collected myself. Typically I would try and find the perfect words and the most eloquent metaphor to speak to it but to be honest…it just had to come now.
I held my breath through the fire hoses. As they sat at the lunch counter being called Coons, Niggers, kicked, spit on, beaten, tortured…I held my breath and I hurt so badly I could barely take it. I tried to go to the place they went to. I looked at them and imagined they, in those moments, were out of body. I tried to go there with them because it hurt too badly to stay.

Watching history through the eyes of The Butler was immaculate, and emotional. Beginning at cotton fields, daddy shot dead with no regard for his humanness, his manhood or his being. Mother driven mad…perhaps from going to her own other place one time too many after the habitual rapes, its hard to live all full of poison. From this beginning to Yes We Can. It was a journey that I watched in two hours but my grandmother lived, this piece of history was hers and…I couldn’t help but think of her as President Obama’s voice filled the theater.

I had to walk quickly to the car, and the entire walk I was aware of how safe I felt. There was no threat of lynch mobs or KKK. I did not have to hold my breath as white people passed me, praying to just disappear and be left alone. In fact, I realized, the fight I find myself in most often is one to be seen. My mind raced with these thoughts as I neared panting trying just to get to the car before the dam broke.

As I locked myself in, I lost it. I cried for so many reasons saying nothing more than Thank You to God. I felt…I feel gratitude that I am in the position I am in. I recognize where I come from and the shoulda of whom I stand. I felt all of it. If I had to describe it, it was as if my being gained another dimension. I was plugged into my ancestry on a level previously much more flat in affect.

I have always been proud to be Black, and actually to be Southern as well. I know the past of both and I know what I represent and how contextually a “me” is the answered prayer sewn in the soil of Georgia red clay by slaves. And I know how it feels to stand in a plantation house as a guest and have a woman who looks like me serve me a meal. I know how it literally makes you want to wish for any other moment. To be in any other place and time. That feeling at the State Dinner? I’ve felt that. Do I feel like an imposter? Being who I am, where I am? No. Even the fact that I feel at home in a system that’s been historically oppressive, and arguable is still so, speaks volumes.

But this….new recognition it is one of deep deep awareness, and humility, and responsibility. When I look over the course of my own life, I want to feel I stood for something. That I served a purpose and yes, advanced the lives of Black people. I owe them that much.

Yes owe. I absolutely feel indebted to those that came before me and as I sobbed in my car I thought of the position I have been put in and the opportunities I’ve been afforded. I guess there are some Black people who do not feel this pull. Who feel as though we are all just human and want race to be more neutral. But the truth of the matter is, ever since the inception of this nation race has mattered. Race and, yes, racism is a thread woven in the tapestry of america and why should we ignore it? Why pretend that it does not exist or that it has no meaning? The last sixty years, the last two hundred and fifty years happened. They happened, and we as a nation are still healing from it.

So while I do not necessarily share the feelings of those raceless humans among us, I understand. It’s hard and it hurts and taking it all in, becoming one with the scars and the open flesh wounds its a heavy burden to bear. But I will hold your piece until you’re ready. And when you are, I will embrace you and welcome you warmly. I am holding it. I will hold it, and even if it brings me to my knees like it did tonight, I will surrender to it and say thank you. Thank you. Still I rise.

The Morning After

Though admittedly I was not as emotional watching this election, nor was I as nervous about the outcome should my preferred candidate lose, it was still wonderful to see President Barack Obama be re-elected. As I watched the election results, however, I had the words of two other Black men on my mind. One of a professor, Dr. N who pointed out the partisanship is really urban versus rural. And the other of my advisors husband who said many things and among them, “relax into it, you don’t do the work.”

I had a friend’s mom ask me if I was voting for President Obama because he was black. I told her yes, confidently. Among other reasons, but I would be lying if I discounted this truth. And why should I? I even love the unease that comes to some at having a Black man, in specific, as the leader of our nation. As I looked at the city of Chicago and the diversity in the crowd of POTUS supporters I thought, this is why I have to move back to a city. I love the culture that dwells within metropolitan areas. I love my own city and how distinct each neighborhood is but they blend together so effortlessly to make one delicious Atlanta. I have never considered myself a Democrat, but I have to say the ugliness of intolerance curdling to the top of the GOP within the last 5 years has been disgusting.  I figure in cities its a constant mix, a stirring of the pot as transplants move in, out, and throughout. And to some extent, for me, its about education and professional opportunity.  On the other hand its about urban youth and the chance to make a difference. To say, look at me–in to me, see–I look like you we are each fighting our own battles but do not fight them alone anymore. I am here for you, there are no excuses, let’s move.

When I think about my own purpose and my own aspirations I get overwhelmed. For a class assignment  I am having to consider where I’ll be in 2, 5, and 10 years and I have been supremely uncomfortable with verbalizing it. When Henry offered that I don’t do the work, I felt about a million lbs lift off my chest. Of course I don’t. I get out of the way and the divine does the work. That’s it. The anxiety of paralyzing fear over choosing the right path…I just have to walk confidently in the direction that my heart choses. Right now, more than ever, that is teaching.

I had what I would call “a moment” with my class on Monday and we took a time out from lecture and addressed some frustrations and other elephants in the room.  After class I received messages from them claiming how pleased they were and how close they felt to their classmates. I was honest with them, and in turn they were honest with me. And we can only grow from that. Mondays class is why I have to do this work.

Lastly, I thought about my Pakistani classmate who pointed out the humanity in out political system yesterday. At the end of last night Mitt Romney may not be the president but he got to go home to his wife and family. He is not in exile, President Obama wished him well, and he is still in every sense of the words, one of us. We see ugly campaigning but we do not see a dictator nor military coups, nor violence. What we see is bad, but the perspective she offered reminded me of how wonderful it truly is to be in a country that supports civic disagreement and the freedom of speech.

I suppose having held all this, the morning after has been one where I smiled, said thank you to my source and set an intention to get out of the way. Its not President Obama, its something he represents to each of his voters. Its a promise we need upkept. Its work we ultimately have to do ourselves before we can see it.  And that’s the great irony of it all.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson


As I watched our First Lady, Michelle Obama, deliver what is arguably one of the most heartfelt, endearing, and riveting speeches in recent history I started to cry for three reasons.

1…as I attended our SOLES welcome back reception for new and returning students and I mixed and mingled, Dr. Green approached me gently reminding me that we need to meet. I felt that tug in my stomach, the one you got when you were younger and an elder started telling you about life. As true as it all may be, you’re not sure you want their wisdom just yet. I have such anxiety about opening up more.

My head spun as I held conversations with faculty, new and returning students about classes, summer break, and other such small talk. I heard our librarian Dr. Byrd’s voice…she tells me I know everybody and am involved with everything, and I need to be in politics. Again that stomach churn. I have no desire to be in politics, but the though of somehow being able to effect change at such a large (and very public) level makes me panic. I keep hearing Zachary ask “where are you?” I hate attention but I just feel like I am being prepared to handle it. I think know I will be faced with this sooner rather than later.

When I saw Michelle not only command, but engage her attention I was so inspired. This was about her, in all her many roles, being able to connect to us on the most basic human level. More than that, she did so with grace. It was not boastful, nor (and perhaps for me, most importantly) was she in any way apologetic in her strength.

2…Michelle Obama looks like me. Read: I imagine she uses some mixture of oils and lotion to fight dry, ashy skin. She likely wraps her hair at night and ties it in a satin scarf. But its not just the aesthetics…she grew up with parents who worked extremely hard to see that she succeeded. She is an ivy league graduate with a terminal degree who had/has an incredible job. What does it mean to me to be able to see a black woman be accomplished at something other than having an attitude? What does it mean to see a black woman command a room without cursing, yelling, or exposing her body? What does it mean to see a black woman openly love her black husband, and praise her black father for defining himself by the success of his children? What does it mean to see this highly accomplished black woman prioritize her family above all other professional or personal accomplishments?

Which segues into 3…Michelle and Barack are equally yolked. To use a biblical allusion…but can you think of one better? I love than she is an articulate, intelligent, compassionate, and beautiful woman who standing alone is amazing, but her ability to be all that and part of a greater unit is amazing to me. It suggests to me that its possible to be both passionate career woman and nurturing wife and mother. Hard nosed intellectual and compassionate humanitarian, and all the other dichotomies. It tells me that we are not the either ors people suggest we are (stay at home mom type or working mom type) and that some women do it beautifully. It shows me the kind of woman I hope to be.
It also shows me that the kind of man I deserve exists and is seeking a-Me. It is that assurance that I can be my whole self. My true self and still be loved, accepted, sought after and cherished. And I suppose some people will say its an act. Or its media fabrication or that its easy because of the many luxuries afforded to them. I choose to believe the opposite.

So when I cried, it was because here in front of me was a woman who I so admire, telling me through her life that my dream is not only legitimate but attainable. Because here she stood telling a story I connect with of sacrifice, fortitude, and love. I cried because of the embodiment of true grace. Eloquent in delivery, empathic in ethos, it was just everything. That, to me, is worth getting to know myself more. If somewhere in me lies the ability to awaken potential then I want to get to know that part of me.

The fourth reason, then, is because as I watched Michelle I saw my self, and it was a part of me I found so hard to believe in. A part of me that was invalidated and undervalued. A part of me desperately needing voice and affirmation, who is sure of herself and her abilities and who is not ashamed of her vulnerabilities. I was able to see that, me…and I cried at never having seen her beauty and strength before.

Racism in California

Last night in a bar over bourbons, I got what Terri would call “hooked.” I was talking with two friends of mine about the difference in racism as it is in the south versus here in southern California. I explained that in my experience, racism in the south was a lot more open and overt whereas here in California it is quiet and secretive.
One of my friends argued that because it is not said, that perhaps I am jumping to conclusions about the stares/looks/whispers being because of my race. I retorted back with, “as we haven’t had a conversation, what else would it be?”

Since I have lived in California I have been stared at, belittled (though this, I feel comes from being black and Southern more than anything), and subject to more “colored” and “gal” speech than I ever was at home. I explained to them that even walking into places you can feel eyes on you. And because there are so few Black people in San Diego, it can feel lonely and cold. My friend asked if I had been to Southeast SD and I said yes, but it pissed me clean off.

As I could feel myself getting angrier I knew I had to back off and walk away from this argument. Even our bartender commented that we got too serious. For me, it felt like my points were not being validated and intead were subject to reinterpretation; as if somehow I was unable to discern racism from any other type of discrimination.

What hooked me was not feeling heard, and having to defend a point I know exists. On the way home CR asked me why conversations about race are so hard, and I responded that its because they go nowhere. I say this even as an educator who teaches the importance of having “the race conversation.” It feels as though often when you try to explain the lived experience of a minority there is so much defense in the rebuttal that it turns ugly quickly.

And I get it, no one wants to be called a racist. Especially white people. Especially especially white people who think they are liberal. But the truth is, we’re all a little bit racist. Sadly. But we don’t have to let that stop us from learning about and from one another, we can work towards unconditional acceptance and love of others. When I say, I was treated this way because I am black and someone says, are you sure? I take it personally, and I shouldn’t. That’s my bad. I feel as though I am a person who does not play “the race card” often if ever and so I really feel some kind of way about being interrogated over my decision to use it.

There’s two things at play there, someone who needs validation of yes! Racism exists and yes! You experienced it. But there is also a person who casts doubt first, empathy later if at all. Work to be done on both sides.

I came home and called My Person because I was angry and needed to vent. Even in her whitness I feel she got it, and maybe that’s all I needed, to be heard and feel understood.

I am sure that people in California and people in the south will never agree on the issue of racism being bad in both places…but that’s okay. Just know this from me, give me the deep South any day of the week over being followed in the grocery store or called a pretty colored girl. At least at home I know exactly where not to go to avoid being called anything crazy.

BL(ind)ACK in America

Guest post I did a while back…forgot to post it here:

“What does it mean to be Black in 2010?”

Strabismus.  When eyes are not aligned with each other. Greek in origin meaning “to squint”. As the eye muscles lack strength and coordination to focus on the same points simultaneously a person suffering from strabismus often lacks depth perception, adequate peripheral vision, inability to establish or sustain power of motion or direction, and a blurred frontal focus. Directions of the deviation include exotropic meaning outward and esotropic meaning inward, there are also rarer, vertical deviations hypertropia (upward) and hypotropia (downward). To be Black in America is to be afflicted with Strabismus.

It often seems that we as a people lack the ability to see what’s in front of us, and that which we do see is distorted. Who’s holding knowledge captive? I wish I could see the key in my hand, unfortunately, my vision’s fucked.  Three hundred years mentally bound; soul still humming hymns yearning for freedom, back still stinging with scars of woeful submission.

Why won’t you let me be great?

Who are we talking to?  Exotropic…everyone who burdens me. Esotropic…I who have bent my back for the ease. Hypertropic…God. Hypotropic…Satan.  Despite the audience we are crying out. Lost as a people. We. Can’t. See.
We can’t see ourselves. We can’t see each other.  There’s a Swedish proverb that says “eyes that do not cry, cannot see,” and as I stand, Black in 2010 I just wish my people would weep.

Weep and wake up to realize these eyes we have don’t work. Take a cue from Jacosta and become blind, maybe then we could see by faith, and learn to trust. As it stands we fall prey to wanting. Something. Everything. Make it better. Somebody? Self? God?
We don’t trust. To be black in 2010 is to give in to the safe mediocrity, or to strive for better battered and wounded at having to claw out of the pack. Why are you leaving? Are you better than I am? Do you see clearer than me? What do you see that I don’t?
Envious of the vision the forerunners. Realizing not, we long ago closed our eyes.

Lessons from geese

Every year I watch the MLK Commemorative Service, and get so inspired and filled with hope from the messages.  This time it came right after I saw an episode of the X-Files where the government was covering up some experiments and claiming it was for the collective good of our citizens that the failed subjects be killed and all records be erased.  It made me angry that politics are often justified as such…working for some greater good, being pillars of the citizens that we elect to protect and project our interests.  Wish  it were true…so from the Dr. King service a Baptist preacher said to the congregation of geese:

“My individual location is not as important as our collective destination…we have to fly together.”

I feel like I’ve been screaming this.  Through my “Being American is Killing Americans” series I often speak of this perpetuated individualization that has just CONSUMED Americans is destroying us and nobody wants to speak up and say THIS ISN’T WORKING…Nothing gets me fired up more and also defeats me quicker than thinking about the possibility of my nation. My people. My peers, and those coming up under me, my sisters and their friends.  My children.  Why do we find the need to separate ourselves from others? We judge others and say that I have more _______ than them or they have less __________ than me so that somehow makes us separate. NO! Bishop Eddie Long (prior to that whole scandal) once said, why are so many black women single and so many black men in the gutter?  HELP THAT MAN UP OUT THE GUTTER?  Why are we so unwilling to serve? Why are we not flying together?

For what was probably one of the more moving speeches of yesterday given by the Hispanic Rev. Samuel Rodriguez click HERE.  He really could have dropped the mic after this speech.  I have a dream too Dr. King, its that one day we will really sacrifice the I for the We?  Citizenship is like a marriage after all, is it not?  I suppose in America our patriotism is not so much a requirement, however as a participant in this nation I take some pride and also some responsibility in it.  I cannot, therefore, ever give up on my nation; the greatest nation in the world.  I can “be the change” by dedicating my life to service.  Mentorship…Modeling…showing others how to make a difference by being the difference.  I wish with all my heart I had President Obama’s 2004 DNC Keynote on video…I really feel that hearing him made all the difference in my life.  I wish it shook more people in our nation…but that’s ok, they’ll wake when they’re supposed to according to His will.  I do believe it.

Being American is Killing Americans pt.5 (Industry of Slavery)

Industry always seeks to be a master; if industry is the master then guess who the slaves are? Ok so consider this of our food industry, with corn being the top grain we have begun to mass produce it as integral to many other different foods. Why? Biochemically speaking, if people eat foods that cause pathway inflammation or blockage then they accelerate their death…moving out of the therapeutic window (the space between living illness and death).  Keeping in mind that “we” work to maintain a stasis within that window, having corn-based products and undertreating the American citizen health wise is FAR more beneficial economically than producing healthy foods and supporting homeopathic or even preventative health care methods.
So then, consider the natural/organic food industry. The foods are more rare, and costly AND the guidelines for producing “organic” food are far more questionable than that of corn-based junk foods. The tedium makes it nearly impossible to escape the industry plantation.  You may seek to eat organic or vegan foods, but the FDA being the regulating body over our food taxonomy brings pause.  It should be cut and dry, if a food is produced with preservatives, or by unnatural means of production then it should not be classified as organic, however we all know this is not the case.  As a result, the food industry can benefit from both corn-based junk foods AND seemingly organic healthy foods while you, the consumer are none the healthier.
At what point, if ever, will society decide that the subpar living standards outlined in the therapeutic window are not good enough? Will it ever be profitable to be well? And how does a capitalistic society sell wellness to its people?  Wellness is of course immeasurable and intangible.  It is holistic in nature meaning it encompasses mind body and spirit, there is virtually no way to mass produce general well-being for the mind and for the spirit.  And if there is then I’m sure some pharmaceutical company is working on the marketing campaign as we speak.
The truth is, obesity is more profitable than being thin…ironic since junk food cost less. But if fat people exist and the dream of thinness is sold then there will ALWAYS be a demand for ways to get thin. This alone stimulates health care, nutritionists, exercise facilities and professionals, food industry, clothing, etc. If America’s chief export is expertise then we’re masters of reverse psychology. We haven’t moved one day past slavery.  Always sell the lack, if you make people want what only a few can obtain then you will create infinite demand and drive industry…and such is life with a master.