Tag Archives: Race

Maaaan..if I hadn’t read Zora Neale Hurston in HS, I woulda been even more of an asshole.

I was editing a fantastic blog entry for CREADnyc last week about the importance of Black female authors in Highs School. Please get your life, go there now and read it but remember to come back! LOL!

Among the 3 Black women authors Khalya wrote about, she mentioned reading Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” for the first time in college.

The crazy thins is I had been thinking about that book a lot lately, not necessarily because it was among my favorite works of fiction, but because it was assigned reading in my high school humanities class and because it was the first ever book I had ever read in dialect. And I can remember like it was yesterday how quick I was to look down my uppity nose at that writing until it was made clear to be my my teachers that this book was not only worthy of cannon like status, but that it was, and is, a brilliantly written piece of literature, meant to be studied, deconstructed, theorized and revered.

As Khalya mentions in her piece, we all know what it’s like to struggle with Shakespeare, but love iambic pentameter or hate it, we see Shakespeare held in the highest esteem absolutely everywhere. And as Khalya also points out, no one has ever spoken like that. Where as dialetic is a phonetically written expression of the way real ass people talk. We hear it all the time. But we rarely ever read it. The only other example of a book written in dialect I can think of is, Trainspotting by Irvine Walsh which the film by the same name is based on. I love that movie and I totally respect that it was written in Welsh dialect but ain’t nobody got time for that! LOL! I had to watch the film with subtitles!

But back to Zora. See, when I was a teenager, I was already walking around thinking I was better than other Black students because I thought I acted and spoke the way I was taught was acceptable and appropriate. And although I hated reading dead White people classics, I never said a word in protest about it. By 9th grade I had already started reading Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis’ collections of Short stories and Terry McMillan and I was very proud and feeling myself about that. But that just meant I was a snobby Black chick. I couldn’t stand Donald Goines and a lot of the work that came from what was at the time,  just developing “Black lit” genre from publications such as Triple Crown. I never read Zane or Push by Sapphire because I didn’t think these writers were worthy of being considered “literature.” Even in an alternative, progressive public charter school that was very subversive in it’s approach to education, I had still developed an idea about what I considered to be good writing that was of course informed by oppressive White supremacist media. I knew what kind of writing flooded the mainstream and occupied the majority of my YA bookshelf and none of them were written by in dialect by Black women.

In America, a young Black person’s learns very early that the only rewards worth anything are the ones we get for aspiring to Whiteness and hating ourselves and one another. Racism never sleeps. Slavery was never really abolished.

Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God

The introduction of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in high school impacted me in ways I wasn’t even aware of until now because it was placed on the same level by my teachers with Shakespeare, Salinger and Harper Lee. In addition to Romeo and Juliet, we also read and did a class production of scenes from “A Raisin in the Sun.” We read “Down These Mean Streets” by Piri Thomas who grew up in the same neighborhood in Spanish Harlem where I attended high school. This was a rough book for me to get through as well, more because of the content than anything else but when I look back on it, I remember appreciating some it’s rawest moments the most.

As a huge fan of reading, if I hadn’t been exposed to these books as a teenager I might have tied myself to the notion that great fiction and literature could only look and sound one way or only be produced by a certain class of Black people. The fact that most of us are not exposed to these writers until college is no coincidence. Self hatred in Black people is a seed planted by institutional and systemic racism that historically has always been bent in one way or another on creating slaves.

Thanks to resources like CREADnyc.com, which I am continually proud to be a part of and the brilliant educators and writers there as well as Decolonizing Education Publishing which was created to empower Black children with sociopolitical consciousness and yes, thanks to the Cheeto in Chief, those who have dedicated themselves to Black revolution are providing integral entry points to the dismantling, diminishing and dencentering  of White supremacy.

Much like Janie, in “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Black people are the world and the heavens boiled into one drop. We don’t need to conform, convert or assimilate in order to be worthy of love, equity and humanity. We never have.

 

 

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Letting Mary Jane be Mary Jane

MJ

Most Tuesday nights I slip into the bedroom with a glass of wine or grape juice and watch “Being Mary Jane.” I don’t update my Facebook status and I rarely tweet about it. I just sit back and watch.

I’ve had this conversation several times with soulsistah4real, that I sometimes find Mary Jane hard to take. I wish that she was happier and that the show was less depressing. She tells me that while she sees where I’m coming from, she still appreciates the show because it depicts a reality she understands.  I’ve let that sink in for a while and continue to watch the show because I realize that just because it’s not a reality I understand, that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly relevant. In addition to that I always try to be critical of where the standards I measure television shows come from, particularly shows featuring women of color. So I ask myself questions like:

-Why do I need Mary Jane to be happy?

-Where does my definition of happiness for female characters on television and particularly women of color on television come from?

-I happen to claim “dark” and challenging dramas and films in general among my favorites and they are usually dominated by white actors and actresses. Why do I need one of the few hit dramas on a Black television network to be more of a delightful romp?

-What is my definition of happiness anyway? (That’s a subject for a whole other blog entry)

Through my study of film in undergrad, and research I did for term papers on early Black film, it became obvious to me that because of the pervasive monopoly White America has long held over film and television studios, the visual and verbal dialogue of racial prejudice and stereotypes have become the things which Black filmmakers have either dedicated themselves to reacting to and disproving or swallowing the lies and profiting from.  As people of color begin to create more films and television programming that address our own interpersonal, social issues and struggles,  the reality that is unearthed is often tied inextricably to the daily and long term effects racism has on multiple parts of our lives in ways that predominantly white dramas do not.

“Sex in the City” the hit HBO series about the relationship challenges of white women in their 30’s and 40’s employs a large percentage of fantasy and artifice while selectively addressing issues of gender equality, sexual politics and oh, maybe there was like one episode where Samantha dates a black guy and we’re reminded that racial politics exist in this white world of fashion, sex, shopping and female bonding. Oh yeah, there are Black people in New York City ladies. Interesting. Now let’s get back to Manolos and Mr. Big.

In Mary Jane, a show about a highly accomplished Black reporter who takes care of her family, faces numerous relationship challenges, desperately wants to be a mother, and like all of us makes bad decisions that have worse consequences (like real life) why do I struggle with wanting there to be more “lightness.”

The last few episodes of Mary Jane find her making some tough and ballsy decisions for herself despite the ways in which they may be received by men who think she’s crazy, friends who think she’s gone off the deep end, family who find her exacting, snobby and know-it-all and employees who probably think she’s a bossy Black bitch with some nerve because she wants full control her own show which would cover Black issues only.

Mary Jane doesn’t have gay accessory friends like SATC’s “Stanford” who disappear with no explanation after a few seasons. She has one good friend and co-worker who is gay and going through the heartbreaking experience of seeing a relationship end because he was unable to be open about who he was to anyone but Mary Jane.  She has brothers, one of whom gets racially profiled by cops just for sitting in a parked car near a school. She has an overweight and unemployed niece with children who refuses to let her Auntie meddle in her life and yet relies on her for financial and moral support

Why should I expect these things to happen to Mary Jane and then end with her buying bags of shoes and then meeting “the girls” for cosmos.

This is not that show.

This is “Being Mary Jane.”

And I have to say, I really look forward to it, because I don’t always get what I think I want but I always get something that makes me question what I think I know about what it means to be a Black woman in America.

soulsistahseries

Racebook

Oh I love the way Stacey Patton goes in with this article about Black women not being here to wipe the tears of White Women or White anybody for that matter over hurt feelings as the daily onslaught of Facebook posts and revelations about race and the damage done by White Privilege come pouring in. For me Facebook has actually become one of the most meaningful places to be for reasons other than Pet Society and Farmville! LOL!

At some point, both my husband and I who have a few white friends, some mutual, exchanged our reluctance to be blatant in our FB statuses about or feelings on White oppression in regard to the recent injustices in the case of Brown and Garner and many more. Always on the fence about hurting my white friends feelings, I finally got fed up a few weeks ago and said my piece about it, still worried that there would be some awful comment waiting for me in a long thread when I checked it hours later. There was none. In fact nothing I have shared about race or racism from For Harriet or Junot Diaz or any site has gotten a significant comment from the White people on my FB network. Oh wait I did get one “Wow” from a quote I posted from Chris Rock about the ridiculous lack people of color in Hollywood films. And I appreciated that wow more than the silence.

At first I was relieved that the Whites on my FB page made no noise, because I didn’t have to feel so anxious but the lack of comments actually started to worry me more. I have this reoccurring mental image of them crouched in a corner somewhere waiting for all this “Race talk” to die down so they can go back to the coziness of their privilege and come peeping out again to complain about inane, first world problems. But what I’ve come to realize in all this and what Stacey Patton has helped me to realize is that I don’t have the time, energy, nor the obligation to both point out the subtle and overt violence of White privilege and racism and make White feel not so bad about it. Awww poor baby, you’re a latent racist. Your attitude contributes to the senseless murder of thousands of innocent Black men, poor thing. These two sentiments cannot exist in the same space.

This afternoon, one of my White male co-workers, a guy I haven’t known very long but like a lot, came in and asked me if I wanted to see something funny.

Sure.

He’s someone who has been participating vigilantly in protests and anti-police brutality demonstrations for weeks now. As it turns out someone took a photo of him at one of these demonstrations with his hands up and head down and posted it on slate.com with the words of an article posted underneath.

“What White Privilege Really Means: It’s not about what Whites get. It’s about what Blacks don’t.”

…yeah.

Well….

He took it well.

It’s a damn good image and he’s on the right side of history. He’s a white male so he fits the profile. What can you say? I asked him how he felt about it and he really had no significant argument against it. But what I now realize is that I asked the wrong question. If I had to ask anything at all, it should have been whether or not he would have agreed to have this image posted with that headline if someone had given him the choice he did not get.

But I’m not asking questions like that anymore. It’s not my problem. I have enough problems.

I Wish Race wasn’t An Issue…but I Didn’t Make it One

“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”

-Chimimanda Adichie “Americanah”

Sooo…my last serious relationship before I met the man who is now my husband was with a White guy who worked on the same campus as I did at the time. Until I read this passage in “Americanah” I told myself that the reasons we broke up, both times, had nothing to do with race But when I read this, it was like someone was speaking my internal experience back at me and I realized that I was holding all these feelings inside. I was reading one of my 2002-2003 journals over the Thanksgiving weekend and it turns out that while I never talked about these issues with anyone during the time I was in a relationship with, I’ll call him, “Average White guy” I wrote very clearly about my discomfort with his place in my life.

He hated his family and didn’t ever want to have kids, but other than that, was perfectly lovely, nurturing, kind, generous and sweet. The family hatred and not wanting to have kids turned out to be huge for me. I never even realized how much I wanted kids until he made this statement. Neither did I realize how much I loved the whole idea of family, as much as an introvert as I am. Those things I was always willing to admit and discuss out loud. But race?

This was not my first interracial relationship. It was just the first serious one in which I was not seeing anyone else and at an age where I was no longer willing to deal with anything short of serious commitment. This wasn’t just dating or exploration. I also wrote a lot during our time together about needing to be with someone with a spiritual core, because apparently he did not have one and i am not suggesting that this was because he was White. It was just one of many things about him I could not tolerate. He never said he was an atheist or anything but some things a person doesn’t have to say.

At some point though, in 2002 (I didn’t date it) I actually wrote, “I hate that I can’t sleep with my boyfriend while my hair is natural without feeling painfully self conscious about it.”

This is why I love that I was such a hard-core journaler (journaler should just be a word) since 1989. Because I would never have recalled thinking or writing this otherwise! I think I wanted so badly to believe that I was above or beyond race as an issue in my relationship with AWG that I just buried any idea that it had anything to do with my breaking up with him. I always told people, friends, peers, that it was other stuff. I think I was ashamed to admit that yes, when it came to thinking about a long-term commitment, even with the very first white guy, my whole “we are the world” “can’t we all just get along?” “I am human first” front came crashing down.

7-30-2002

I don’t want to get lazy and get used to this. To settle for something which essentially was not what I was shooting for if I had been shooting for anything. Things he doesn’t want, doesn’t believe in, I have no problem with but I have to find someone who does. I won’t try to change him. I adore him! But even the racial consciousness is a problem and kicks in sporadically for me as a problem where it never does for him. Pisses me off.

And there it is. I didn’t want race to be an issue because I wished that it wasn’t. So I wrote about it but I never raised the issue with AWG.

OH!!!

This memory just in! LOL!

He said he hated his parents because they were racist. AHHHHHHH!!!!

Yeah, I guess he must have slipped that one in after almost a month? At least that’s what I’d like to believe. I’m not saying that either of us were at fault. As Adichie mentions above, when we were together alone anywhere, it was like being in a different world, that same world of isolated and precious intimacy you would experience with any human being you love. But in the street, in social situations, at my family’s home! Oh God! I couldn’t deal. And we never talked about it. I never talked to him about how I really felt because I didn’t want it to exist.

It has taken me years to really see myself, not as I have always wanted to, but the way in which America sees me, and it’s hard because it is so unrelentingly ugly. And while I understand that what they say is not who I really am, I have to struggle not to unconsciously project the same negative qualities and stereotypes on my own Black and Brown brothers and sisters as a way of distinguishing my self. As aware as I always struggle to be, I still struggle not to fall into a place where I think, race doesn’t matter here, I can relax. I can care for a White person and not ever have to deal with the Race elephant in the room trampling over all we may have built together. The truth is that I don’t want it to matter. No person of color does. But I don’t have that luxury. I never have. And any African American in a committed relationship with a White person in America who tells you different is just not at place where they feel like they can discuss it.

 

 

Where the Black People Are

Is that a Black person following me on Flickr? No? Oh. Okay. Hey is that a Black woman in a feature on a Mind Body Green article? Oh. no. Hey, is that a Black person following me on IG? Oh cool! I look them up, check out their profile, look at their images, etc.

When I got married in June of this year, a trusted adviser (A woman of color if you haven’t gotten the gist) recommended the magazine New York Weddings to me. When I finally found a copy at Barnes & Noble  I noticed that, like New York Weddings, every single wedding magazine had a white woman on the cover. Flipping through one or two of these magazines didn’t reveal much diversity in ads or feature articles. Wedding dresses are white enough! I needed to see some color and variety in shapes in these dresses. I never bought one single wedding magazine during the months of planning leading up to my wedding.  I just couldn’t. This was too important. And with things that are this important in my life, marriage, art, health and more, I get excited when I see Black and Brown faces representing. And as a Black woman I am always aware of the fact that I have to go looking.

We have to go looking.

With dolls, we have to looking, with hair products we have to go looking, with children’s books we have to go looking, with photography we have to go looking. Quick! Name a famous living Black Photographer! No, not Gordon Parks! I said living. I said famous. Not too easy is it? Is it because they don’t exist?

Carrie Mae Weems exists. I don’t mean to be condescending. I know you all knew that.

Right?

Getting back to my point. When I was getting married I found a site and Web Magazine called Munaluchi Bridal Magazine, the only one I’ve found so far which featured Brides of color in all phases of nuptial and post nuptial planning from engagement photos to wedding ceremonies to mommy to be images. And that was one of my most primary references for ideas about my own wedding. I was so happy too see Brides of color in my IG feed every week and not just the standard stick thin models but actual real women of color with real bodies getting married all over the country and sometimes the world! There is where I stayed.

About  a year ago, Life as I Know It told me about a nail shop in my neighborhood in Harlem called Bed of Nails. B.O.N. is owned and run by a young Black woman who hires Black nail technicians. I had my own reservations about going there for the first time, the kind anyone would have about a brand new place of business. Would they know what they were doing? What would the ambiance be like? Would they be nice? I made my appointment, showed up one afternoon and the minute I walked in I was greeted by a sister who took my coat and offered me a choice of tea or a mimosa.

HUH? YES PLEASE!

Exposed Brick on one side and a wall of designer nail polish from Christian Louboutin to Deborah Lippmann on the other. Six velvety Black high back chairs set up in the back for pedicures have a very inviting and royal  to them. A large purple sofa in the waiting area with natural light streaming in from the window behind you. It’s a very warm atmosphere, not just because of the layout and design of the place but the treatment, professionalism and yet laid back casualness of it all. No one is rushing you in and out. They want to be there and they want you to be there as well. Plus they play the best mix of hip-hop/R&B up at the front desk while you’re getting your nails or feet done. It’s so relaxing. And there I stay. I never go anywhere else to get my nails done. This is the experience I want. If there was a Black owned, Black run Bed of Nails chain in Midtown Manhattan I would go there.

The reason I bring this whole subject up is that there are certain white people who like to pull the Racist card whenever Black people manage to organize or build anything of their own or patronize Black owned businesses exclusively that cater to the people in their community. Listen. If I didn’t have to go looking so hard for representation of Blacks in the areas of life that are most important for me in the first place, this wouldn’t even be an issue. It’s not my fault that dominant culture has tipped the scales in it’s favor for so long that any logical attempt towards filling the needs which are not met by this culture will be interpreted as “Reverse Racism,” a term whose definition I will not even dignify with a discussion because it is a fiction.

The idea that you get to fuck with descendants of African people for this long, tell them to get over it so that you can absorb them in a culture that is defined and built on a foundation of theft, genocide, appropriation, assimilation, and gentrification of native and indigenous spaces is what’s really sick and racist.

If I decide I want to go away to an island where only Black and Brown people exist (and sometimes I really do), I damn well have every right to. After all, White people do this all the time.

It’s called a vacation.

Here’s My Point

The weekend before last, my husband and I spent the evening upstate with our parents. My mom made Roti, a traditional West Indian dish for my husbands mom, my dad, my husband and me. My mom is from Trinidad, my dad from Savanah, Georgia and my husband parents are both from Haiti.

At the dinner table just listening to then talk, I discovered that both my mom and mom in law came to America in the June in the late 1960s. My dad made his first ever train trip to New York around the same time. He told me that his mom packed him a shoebox lunch because Blacks were not allowed to go the dining car. My father would not have been welcome in the dinner car of the train he paid the fare to travel on. But he said he was fine. His dinner was great. Chicken, pound cake, classic homemade Southern cooking. I may not be able to imagine a time when I could have been killed for drinking from the same fountain as a white person but my parents came up during the end of segregation and they all agreed that segregation was not the problem.

Life as I Know it says it best.

“When the subordinate culture integrates with the dominant culture the subordinate culture ALWAYS conforms to the dominant cultures ideals and values.”

In fact, in her post, she highlights my point, unpopular though it may be, perfectly.

Is race a quality?

I’m still not sure how to answer that question although I told Abbey I thought it was. I think I was trying to draw a definite line in the sand to ensure she would never cross it to try and occupy a space in my life she could never even begin to understand.

If race is a quality than it is systematic racism as implemented by the White race, which has made it so because it ascribes the worst of qualities to anyone with Black or Brown skin and the best to those who identify as White. But since all of those ascriptions are obviously lies, the truth keeps bringing White people back around to the same tactics. Slavery, Segregation, genocide profiling, incarceration.

It’s not my fault that Abbey and I would never be close friends but the fault of those who, like her, identify as White and never question the reason for their privilege, yet want to play hopscotch around the boundaries of race like it’s an amusement park.

Integration should create beneficial change, uplift and opportunity for all involved, not only the dominant culture. Integration was never integration. It is assimilation, homogenization, appropriation by the dominant culture.

Lies.

My favorite definition of integration in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary referes to organisms:

b : the process by which the different parts of an organism are made a functional and structural whole.

I believe that human beings can be classified as very complex organisms with boundless untapped potential. But as long as I’ve been alive I’ve have rarely ever experienced the kind of integration described above in the ways in which is was allegedly meant to function. Would we even be able to recognize the true definition of integration among the races in action if we saw it?

Sometimes I worry we’ve become too comfortable with the lies or worse, that those who suffer predominantly at the hands of these lies don’t even understand that they are lies.

And I didn’t come here to lie to you.

When we Think of Segregation Part 2

So at some point I was hanging out in the Stevenson Library at Bard College with my White Jewish friend, I’ll call her Abbey, who loved the way I used Ebonic vernacular and was very excited about playing RUN-DMC for me in her car. She convinced me to ask the vice president of the BBSO if she could join and in my ignorant, “We are the World”, “Hands Across America” glow I floated off to another floor where he was sitting at his Senior desk doing important Senior work.  I consider myself very lucky that he didn’t curse me out because he would have had every right to. When I look back on it now, I realize that he was very patient with me when he said in so many words and in no uncertain terms that there was no way he would accept my friend into BBSO.  He was very unwavering in his ideas about race relations, at least with regards to racism on the Bard College Campus. He was always butting heads with white Dorm monitors and seeking out all the events that supported people of color on campus. He was a proactive organizer when it came to supporting these events and I really admired him for it.

Me. I had other things on my mind and couldn’t see that I was a Black girl in a microcosmic, hippified utopia. I would not have even understood what that meant. I did know that sought to connect with any Black or Brown face I saw not that I was in the “minority.” I had fled what I felt was oppression from my own people in High School  for not being “Black” enough and ran right into a situation where I was often the first Black person that many white students had ever met. It was culture shock for sure. But nothing was more unsettling than the conversation I had with Abbey one day, also at the Stevenson Library where she asked me to compare my friendship with her to the close friendship I had with my Black High School BFF, Janet.

I talked about Janet a lot as was normal for many of us to do about close friends at home, particularly when feeling homesick and longing for something or someone familiar to relate to. Janet and I share a very tight bond to this day and until this talk with Abbey, I had never thought of the part race might play in it. I mean I knew we were both Black but I I never thought of myself as someone who formed relationships based on race. Oh I was in a bubble.

“Do you think that you and I could ever be as close as you and Janet?” Abbey asked.

First of all, I was very wary of the fact that she was even asking the question. I registered this as a sign of very low confidence on her end and I found it unattractive. I told her that that she and Janet were two different people and that there was no way I could be close to both of them in the same ways. This is when Abbey started to get emotional. She started crying. UGH! What was happening?

“Do you think of being Black as a quality?” She asked

What? Who asks a question like that? I was stumped. I had never thought about it. And whenever I think back to that conversation, I realize what an important question it is despite the fact that she was baiting me indirectly. Is race a quality?

In that moment of pause I was aware of a couple of things. I would never be as close to Abbey as she wanted me to be because although I wasn’t sure if I thought Blackness was a quality, it was quite obvious that she did. And I couldn’t be close to anyone who tokenized my race unconsciously or otherwise. She also engaged with her body (She was a plus size girl who was not happy about it) in a negative way and was uncomfortably envious of my stick thin physique at the time so nothing about this relationship was promising to me as having potential for deeper bonding. It all turned me off.

“Yes,” I said. “I think race is a quality.

Tears. Audible sobbing, gushing tears. In the library,

UGH! What the hell man?