Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What a Plantation Visit Reminded Me about Motherhood

I'm slowly reading the memoirs that I picked up visiting Laura, a creole plantation back in Louisiana  a few moths ago.  What I loved about this tour is there is no sugarcoating the ugliness of plantation life. Our guide stopped to emphasize how human beings were sized up for sale and bred like bulls, 30 to 1. Some other plantation tours are Disney-esque, showcasing southern gentility fantasy but leaving the horror of reality as an optional afterthought for visitors. The more you learn about history, the more links you can draw to so many of society's problems today.  Even Iyanla mentioned how this gets into our DNA when she admonished the men on her show to stop behaving like plantation studs.  For the non OWN fans here's a clip of the show.

One part of the book that has stuck with me for a few days is the story about a slave who beat his son mercilessly because the owner accused him of stealing a gun. The gun was later found, left in New Orleans by the forgetful master. Damage was already done, so to rectify it he offered the young boy $5 to make up for the vicious beating he suffered by his own fathers hand.

I thought about Toya Graham, who was paraded around as 'mom of the year' for hitting her protesting son in Baltimore. Do we really think she'd get that title if she publicly assaulted her son for anything other than rebelling against the power structure?  No, she's celebrated publicly because we're still
inundated with messages that our role as Black mothers is to keep our children in line and subservient.  We're still not even allowed to love our babies unconditionally today. We're operating under the assumption that we must break them before the world does. If we don't discipline them the jail will.  Over and over this is repeated without question. Last time I checked people of color make up a disproportionate number of the prison population so it's really time to stop spreading these dumb memes.

In another story in The Atlantic about the origins of the watermelon stereotype we see another example of a parent enforcing the will of white supremacy,  (It's  fascinating article worth reading, but here's the pertinent excerpt.)
"But Southern whites saw their slaves’ enjoyment of watermelon as a sign of their own supposed benevolence. Slaves were usually careful to enjoy watermelon according to the code of behavior established by whites. When an Alabama overseer cut open watermelons for the slaves under his watch, he expected the children to run to get their slice. One boy, Henry Barnes, refused to run, and once he did get his piece he would run off to the slave quarters to eat out of the white people’s sight. His mother would then whip him, he remembered, “fo’ being so stubborn.” The whites wanted Barnes to play the part of the watermelon-craving, juice-dribbling pickaninny. His refusal undermined the tenuous relationship between master and slave."
Ugh, sickening but sadly familiar still.  Today, we turn our backs and criticize our young people for standing up against injustice with #BlackLivesMatter. Political leaders beg for understanding of confederate flag enthusiasts but quickly call young black males thugs.  What the kids see is, my elders will not protect me.  
Can there be any other general reaction besides rebellion?  We don't live in an isolated world anymore that hardly exists beyond our neighborhood.  They see that the other kids aren't treated this way.
Most women instinctively protect their children from harm, but we've been made to ignore those instincts for centuries in order to save their lives in other ways.  It's time to shed that twisted logic. Yes, it made sense to survive the best way you could, but we've moved beyond those times.  Some of the protective behavior is hurting us more than ever.  Maybe feeling like the one person who should have your back injures it to save face is irreparably damaging. Kids are able to pick out injustice early and are quicker to call it out than adults. The problems of race and social justice are so multi layered there's not one magic bullet to fix it.  I propose that one fully within our control is to teach our babies their worth with our actions. Show them what it's like to be treated with respect and demand it from anyone gifted with their presence. Maybe he won't need to seek it in shoes and cars. Maybe she won't find it in the attention from men. Black women are celebrated for being strong over any other trait. Let's have the strength to love our babies out loud, without condition, no matter who is watching.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Subtracting From The Sum of All Fears

Lately the movie 'The Sum of All Fears' has been running through my head.  Not that it's such a profound movie, but it makes a good point on what happens when people are afraid to look weak and have the wrong interests pushing an agenda. (If you haven't seen it...basically the U.S. and Russia are pushed to the brink of war by private interests strategically blowing up things to make each country look like an aggressor. The two presidents won't concede they had nothing to do with it just in case the other one did it on purpose.)
In so many arenas brinkmanship and fear are ruining chances for people to make meaningful change. I'm talking about police misconduct, education reform, race relations and so many other things that polarizing people these days.  The government is afraid to be sympathetic to victims because the police will feel slighted.  Activists are afraid to work with cops because they might look like sellouts.   White people are afraid to talk about race because it might make us ask for something or blame them for slavery. We're afraid not to push our kids to excel because they might be left behind. We're afraid to set goals and standards because they might stifle creativity. Afraid to give because we may be taken advantage of.  We're afraid to look soft, because someone might hurt us. We're afraid to listen to others because they may mistake empathy for agreement.
Argh!  Seriously it's enough to make me scream every single day.  Perhaps because I'm binging on Brene Brown too, I'm ready to just put the fear away.What if we just put down all the walls and truly listened to what our hearts told us to do? Pushed back from the table and walked through the door with faith prepared to handle what happens.  It can't be worse than what he have now.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kick, push, stop...there's a cop car

I was out eating with my family today and had a grim reminder of why it's so important to continue to fight for justice.  As we got in our car, I saw a teenager ride by on his skateboard after leaving the gas station next door. It was a beautiful day outside, so I smiled that he's out getting some sunshine and exercise as a Cobb County police car drove by. The boy, probably about 13, turned as the car went in the opposite direction and stood stock still until that car was out of sight.  When he got back on his board to continue on I saw the look on his face. fear. I turned to my husband to see if he noticed the exchange and he shook his head. My first thought was, 'I wouldn't let my teenager out alone right now.' I went from full and happy to sad in an instant. Do we really want ourBabies  growing up in a world where they fear the police? Have I really accepted that our lives matter so little that Im willing to deny my kid a basic mark of adolescent independence because I fear for his life?  I looked at what was in the boys hand and it was a small paper bag that couldn't have been anything more than a 12oz can of soda or container of snacks. I saw a clean cut boy leave the gas station in an upscale neighborhood doing nothing wrong, but still knew deep down none of that mattered for too many of our brothers and sisters. I hated that the innocence of his childhood was apparently gone judging by this 30 second snapshot of his life. Atlanta is a strange place to me, everything good and bad about Black America in a microcosm.  Full of folks who think their jobs, degrees, cars and fame make them immune to the struggles left behind in the 'hood'. Home to poverty and income disparity that's shameful in the birthplace of Dr. King. If the last year has shown nothing's else, it's that each of us has a duty to do something.  Because no matter how 'safe' your new neighborhood is, no matter how well spoken you are, injustice is something you cannot outrun. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Who is actually surprised about this SAE frat thing? Maybe less than will actually talk about why.

When the Oklahoma fraternity chant story broke I was loving this story. "The Side of the Oklahoma Racist Frat Story That Nobody Is Talking About"
Well now more people are talking about it, but the conversation is going way off the rails into talk about music.  Damn, they are good at deflection.  Now Trinidad James is responsible for racism?  No disrespect, but when I read he had a traumatic brain injury as a child I wasn't surprised.  I know smart people don't really believe rap is the cause of racism.  They do know it's a good way to get out of addressing your own responsibility.
This is where that colorblind BS gets you. 'Let's ignore historical atrocities and pretend these symptoms are the problem' delusions.  Now I guess we're supposed to sympathize that there's a backlash against them? SAE brothers at OU facing death threats, assaults, lawyer says
To me it's just about time people like this face the consequences of their actions.  It's not cool these days to be overtly white sheet wearing racist, but the dog whistle prejudice these days is just as bad.
No Black person I've come across has been surprised about this behavior.  We all know it goes on, but just tuck our heads, quietly march on through life until one of these incidents stops you cold and you absolutely have to face it.
The faux outrage is what's interesting.  I used to think the good folk just didn't know what went on.  Now I'm more inclined to believe the unconsciousness is self serving.  We're so conditioned (or maybe it's human nature) not to own your shit.  Of course we all do embarrassing things we don't want public, but once it's out there why not just apologize and do better?  We all know this isn't the first time this chant sporadically broke out on the bus...notice the girl in the video doesn't recoil in horror at this?  If I'm on a bus full of my sorors and a chant starts about hanging people, I think I'd at least look a little surprised.  Probably mouth a 'what the hell?!' to a friend.
I remember the warnings about not walking past certain frats when I went to college.  It's the extra layer we have to bear in addition to the watch your drink admonishment for  us girls. Somebody is going to be raped, do your best to make sure it's not you. Greek life is like church, one of our last accepted segregated institutions. We all know, it just IS.
If we want it to change, we have to acknowledge the problem.  Or the lack of one if that's how you feel, just stop pretending.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Patricia Arquette and the ongoing exclusion from feminism

Melissa Harris-Perry examined some of the controversy surrounding Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech and nailed it with humor as usual.  Someone definitely  needs to hear "ain't I a woman?". Sojourner Truth spoke these words  over 150 years ago and apparently we are still dealing with the notion that womanhood is an exclusively white thing.
I missed the Oscars because I was watching the Walking Dead, Atlanta housewives or some other brain numbing show, but thank to social media I've caught up on the highlights.
I totally agree with Arquette's stand on equal pay for women. Where she goes off the rails is the assertion that since they have fought for everyone else, it's time for people of color, the LGBT community and men in other countries to fight for them. Whoa! MHP nails it in her segment by saying she doesn't get the intersectionality of these labels. 
The burden of multiple labels is figuratively back breaking sometimes. It feels like there are very few places where you're accepted wholly for who you are. It brought me back to when I wanted to work for the campus feminist magazine in college, but quit going to the meetings because the other girls completely ignored me or only wanted me to do the menial computer work. Not because it's the grunt work newbies do, the patronizing tone gave away the real reason. And these were supposed to be the liberals! I quit going to the meetings and no one ever called or asked why. I guess it took too long for me to realize my presence made their self righteous ranting uncomfortable. Waxing on about women's rights and patriarchy must be hard when you're sitting across from a group of people you've happily oppressed. I get it now. It's that story I keep referring to from Rita Starr's book. In a nutshell she says, acknowledging white privilege is like telling a kid his mom robs banks while he's at school. Would you want to believe that? Do they want to believe they've enjoyed a position of privilege above others as they chastise men for doing the same? Do you want to acknowledge that your childhood nanny didn't enjoy your company more than that of her children? Or that the woman at home with your kids now while you make your speeches doesn't enjoy being asked to teach your family Spanish? 
I could forgive Patricia Arquette if she thought about her heat of the moment comment and realized later it could use some tweaking.  (I'm all for a fiery speech. People that don't stand or have passion for anything are so boring.) But no, she has to go full-ignorant and take to Twitter saying don't talk to me about privilege, I grew up poor.  Waaaaa, poor you. Experiencing poverty doesn't give you license to ignore the plight of others. Ex-Poor people make mistakes too. I will talk about privilege as all I want. It's privilege that makes you think you can tell people what to do on Twitter. It's privilege that makes you think black women owe you their fight, knowing the victory won't trickle down to them for a while. It's privilege not feeling your face burn when people talk about affirmative action or welfare, even though you're the one who has benefited the most. It's privilege when you're the executive who doesn't have to worry if her hairstyle intimidates people. 
Women of color deal with gender inequality. How do you think it feels to try to contribute to a conversation on civil rights and be told by a man to 'make him a sammich'? Not only do we have to feel marginalized around some white people, we feel it with black men. Still I understand I enjoy a position of relative privilege to most people in the world. I have a college education, a safe place to live, food and the right to speak my mind. I wouldn't dare go to some charity and say, since I did for you it's my turn! A rising tide lifts all boats.
I'm not trying to get into a pity war, just pointing out that everyone has a struggle. Trying to shame a group of people doesn't win support from them. Although I fervently believe equal pay and rights for women is a noble global goal, I won't be following her hashtags....ya know since I ain't the 'right' kind of woman.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Black Families, Fear and Homeschooling

The Atlantic article 'The Rise of Homeschooling Among Black Families' took a cursory look into what I've experienced over the last 4 years.  What I'd like to see even more, is a look into why so many of us are not comfortable questioning the entire structure and wind up bringing a strict school at home philosophy into homeschool.  I did it too, so I'm not just finger pointing.
Following the Freedom to Grow Unschool for a while along with some African American unschoolers inspired me to feel more confident doing what I already knew in my gut was right.  What's interesting is the crazy imbalance of how many Black people are complaining about the state of schools, but refusing to try something different.
Too often we're running FROM something instead of TOWARDS our vision.  I din't leave the school system simply because of racism.  That's something we're not free from just because education doesn't happen in a brick & mortar school.  Have you looked at homeschool groups?  They can be just as segregated as the rest of our country.  We are able to insulate a tiny bit more, but it's still that dark cloud hanging over every time someone asks 'what do you/your husband do or where you live in that 'how can you afford it?' tone.
Instead I recognized that my son's unique gifts don't fit neatly into a box at most schools.  I thought about what I want him to know and feel as an adult.  The answer was confident, competent and curious.  (weird that really did just come into my head without thinking.  I've clearly had an addiction to alliteration for some time =) )
We're caught up in shoving as much knowledge down our children's throats as early as possible, then testing the hell out of it to make us feel good.  It's all coming from a place of fear rather than hope or presence in the now.  No one ever says I want little Johnny to be able to sit at his cubicle like a good employee and stifle every inspiration he has as long as he can recite some random facts.  That is precisely what we're training them to be though.  Tiny, stressed out little cubicle dwellers in training.
Success for me will be my kid being able to support himself, not feeling he has to recover from his childhood.  Learning doesn't stop once school ends.  If we teach children how to explore, think and analyze without tearing down their self-esteem I believe we would get much farther.
I want to raise a man who doesn't feel he is inferior to anyone.  How can I do that if the only thing he learns about our culture is slavery and civil rights struggle?  How can he know the world is his oyster if he only sees us pursuing a narrow set of interests based on what's acceptable for 'us' to like?
The next 'rise' I want to see among Black families is one of awareness and joy in being. Childhood isn't just a constant state of preparation and fear.  I'll do everything I can to prevent my son being the next one shot in the street, but in the meantime I'll let him just enjoy being a kid.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Internalized Racism and Shenehneh's Ass Crack

I had a couple of incidents lately that had me thinking about how I react to other people's behavior.  Specifically, why I was embarrassed by the lady that walked into a quiet salon talking loudly about waxing ass cracks, or the guy walking down the street with no shirt or pants too low.  The more I thought about it, I realized what I should really be upset about is what made me feel responsible for the behavior of all African-Americans. Ding ding, light bulb moment!  Respectability politics is really internalized racism.
The Akonadi Foundation Poster
 People come in all kinds.  I haven't heard George Clooney or Mike Huckabee admonishing Honey Boo Boo or the Duck Dynasty folks for embarrassing white people. Why do we allow ourselves to become the spokesperson for all people of color to folks to ignorant folks? If someone is willing to base their opinion of an entire group of people on what they see on a TV show or the behavior of one waitress, is it really going to change if I'm hyper vigilant about doing the 'right thing' all the time?  Nope, they'll just say you're different and not like 'those people'. 
We've got that realllll bad!  I get that it's years of being the only one in class, work, social situations that conditions us to think we have to represent an entire group with our behavior.  (Like when your mom tells you don't embarrass your family in public or at a friends house)  That's too much of a burden to bear.  And frankly, counter to our goals of really judging someone by the content of the character instead of their color. 
We've got middle class black people mad at reality shows, the rude fast food worker and how the next person wears their hair instead of their company's hiring practices.  We should be fighting for the right of people to be themselves regardless of their skin color or culture.  There are poor, ratchet, ignorant, stupid, petty, vain people in every group('race'). It's not up to us to fit a certain mold in order to prove we deserve to be treated equally.  We deserve it because we're HUMAN.  You can do everything 'right' and to those people it still won't matter.  So when I catch myself thinking 'Ugh, now why do they have to do that in public'  I'll give myself a little kick till I let go that thinking. 

PS.  10 points if you get the Martin reference in the title.  I know I'm getting old!