Identity

 

thesearchThe most painful part of being a Black American is the fact that our history stops at slavery. Many African-Americans know nothing beyond that their people were once slaves. We don’t know our African tribal languages or rituals. Our ancestors were so terrorized by slavery that survival was the only imperative. Documenting their past wasn’t high on the agenda of a black American slave. So the past went undocumented and soon unspoken of and then completely lost.
Because of this stoppage, this unknown component, it is so easy for us to develop low self-esteem. Jewish people can hold on to a time before and after Hitler. They have a lineage to reach back to and know that they functioned with pride prior to being dehumanized by the Nazi regime.
Black American’s have tried to reach over the sea to the African continent and use African traditions as a foundation for a declaration that even before slavery we proudly existed and thrived.
I am Black American female and my ancestors, no doubt, were taken from somewhere from the shores of the African Continent. Where, exactly? I have no idea.

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SWB: shopping while black

Justice clothing store is apparently THE place where every eight to twelve year old must shop. My daughters bugged me for a month about this cool interesting store so I finally gave in and we visited this tween sparkled heaven.

 

Marketing executives did a superb job making all the products shiny in come hither gold and optimistic yellow.  Every tee shirt is a blindingly happy shade of neon green or smurf popping blue.  What the marketers hadn’t counted on was haughty racist counter staff who, with faux politeness, told me to step aside so she could help the woman behind me who looked more financially secure with her Burberry scarf, crisp brown trench coat and arms filled with long pants, shirts, a jacket, a bath robe, and so many other pieces that her credit card was either about to take a major hit, or she travels with a suitcase packed with cash; oh, and she was white.

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I am evil retail fairy. I keep social customs from advancing.

 

I only had three measly tiny toy thingies for my daughters, all braided and twisted and ethnic we stood in the line waiting for a little piece of glittery joy just like everyone else.

“This lane is closed and I think that woman was in front of you.”  Blondie said looking at me and my brood.

 

That’s when I turned to see Burberry lady who was miles away, her eyes glazed over with retail inebriation, arms overflowing with product yet she was hunched over looking at a key chain display not paying any attention to the line in which the sales woman insists that she is in.

“Okay?”  I said calmly as I watched the saleslady walk away pretending to tend to a stray dress someone left behind the counter, refusing to wait on me.

Burberry lady had walked away.  She was perusing the display of flipflops on a far off wall.

I stood there lips pressed, conscience of what was happening but keeping my back stiff and reminding myself to breathe.  My daughters were with me and getting mad at sales people isn’t something I want to demonstrate.  There are far better, worthier skills young black girls need to learn and emulate.

I stood there composedly and talked to my daughters about the fuzzy patterned diary with a lock that they wanted.  Maybe we’d come back another time and get those.

Finally, an African American sales lady called to me from a far off counter.

“I can take you over here.”

I went and got checked out by the nice young black girl.  I looked over and miraculously the unpleasant counter lady’s line was back open.  A customer to her liking had wondered over.

Undercover situations like these happen daily.  It is important that we not give them merit by attending to them but sometimes stupidity seeps into your pores and activates an unforgivable venom that must be purged.

 

With that we move onto better things and pray for God to open the eyes of the ignorant.

 

 

esse

My skin is black upon me; my bones are burned with heat…

Job 30:30

When you are a black and female and over twenty nine you sort of know where you stand in American society.  You understand you’re that your grace and beauty and femininity are well hidden behind the guise of youth and fashion and the lightness lie.

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You hate to always bring things back to tedious race relations as if you only see yourself from the counterpoint of others. You must learn, and you will, to view yourself from your own perspective.  

You learn not only the paradoxical nature of your social position, but the contradictory nature of life itself.  Humanity is darkness and light, in and out, up and down.  Life is made up of the two’s and we must all find a way to honor our darkness while embracing our light.

I am dark and succulent and soft and feminine.  Many slave girls have endured the evil eyes, the downward looks, and the fake indifference.   I have succeeded them and have been thought of as exotic and foreign, forbidden, untapped.  Too many like me have suffered sneaky hands in the dark touching, feeling the thrill of our foreignness, groping our flesh feeling its free, its open, its secret, its available for use.  The “otherness” of the black female makes it erotic, and weird, and odd.  The black female is a museum and they all touch the treasures inside because no one has put up a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign.

blackfe

The black female screams, and fights, and yelps, and rolls her neck for her own protection because there are no signs, no warnings, no armies standing in to fight her battles.

We live in “post-racial” America where black women are more fiercely ignored; still in the shadows, some on platforms dancing around poles still being secretly groped, they think willingly yet they remain enslaved by their perceived circumstance.

We soon find our humanity.  We caress thick hardback books and learn about astronomy and psychology and politics.  We learn that none of that race/stereotype/categorical stuff matters when we are in the troves of solving a linear equation.

What does my gender and skin matter when I am constructing archetechtial blueprint?  My work means both everything and nothing.

Oppressors accuse of “playing the race card” as if it is a game. It is not a game.  We must not shame the decedents for exploring the past hurt that has trickled into new generations.  Let them grieve.

We must face the fear to truly vanquish it.

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We must also remember that we can promote love by showing love.  We must demand humanity by showing it.

budding bohemian

The first time I felt terribly alone in the world I was about eleven years old and I was standing in The Children’s Place clothing store surrounded by orange, pink, and yellow chunky bracelets, black and white polka dot skirts, shiny black patent leather shoes, colorful striped socks, and plastic ruby red necklaces.

I was shopping with my cousins, my mother’s sister’s daughters. We had a sleepover the night before and they’d decided to go the mall and shop the next day.  I was excited to sleep over with my female cousins because being the only girl in my nuclear family I didn’t have any sister’s to hang out with at home.

As I stood under the recessed lighting in the sparkly mall store I felt the urge to shop.  My cousins were buying them back-to-school clothes.  I looked over and my cousin Michelle was trying on a brown chunky necklace and a cinnamon top. “Does this look good together?” She asked me.

I shook my head and smiled.  “Yes…it looks great.”

I was smiling but inside there was a prickly gloom under my skin.  I wanted to be girly and try things on too. Though I was with my cousins and my Aunt, I wasn’t “in” the way I wanted to be. I couldn’t buy anything. And since I couldn’t buy, I didn’t want to act delusional and browse.  My Aunt, who was known back then as being scrupulous with her finances, was on a strict budget and would not veer from that path just placate her tag along niece.

It wasn’t that I expected anything; it was just then, in that moment, I realized that I was different.  I felt separated from my cousins, my family, and from being a normal girl.

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If I didn’t fit in with my cousins, then who could I fit in with?  Most economically disadvantaged youth joined some type of social segment to keep them afloat.  As a kid I searched for a group to validate my existence and make me forget about poverty. There was the weed heads that skipped school and spent their days searching for money to buy more weed.  There were the open girls who were desperately trying to find a father so they slept with boys looking for love and attention.  There were the fighter girls who thrived on overly dramatic displays of anger and wild fist fights. There were the klepto-girls who loved to steal high priced items and then brag about conquests.  There was a smart crowd at my school, you know, the Honor Roll kids who took their education seriously. But I wasn’t on Honor Roll and unfortunately I didn’t feel like I was smart enough to hang with them.  None of those groups fit my personality.  And none of those groups appealed to a deeper truth hidden inside of me.  So there I sat, left out in the cold alone.  No group to call my own. There under the bright lighting of the mall store I felt like I belonged nowhere.

I followed my cousins out of the store that day with my head hanging low.  I sulked behind them as we waded through the mall.  They clenched their bright bags and talked excitedly about their new outfits meanwhile I felt like an empty handed alien along for the ride.  Walking through the mall with them was the walk of shame.  I felt like people were looking at me and wondering where my bags were. Why didn’t I shop like the other young girls?  Why wasn’t I smiling?  Why was I different?

 

I have contemplated many ways to fit in.  I didn’t know it then but back in my youth I behaved somewhat like an anthropology student.  I hung out with my different groups auditing their behaviors and testing the waters. I guess it’s just part of growing up and experimenting with different things.  I knew what the weed heads did because I was around them when they did it. The open girls loved to talk about sex and love and thought that both had equal meaning.  The fighter girls were plotting their next brawl while the Honor Roll girls were busy being ogled by adults.

I didn’t like any of it but what else did I have? That’s when I looked to books for comfort.  I started reading to escape the world that didn’t include girls like me.  I didn’t steal, or fight, or think that a boy loved me because I could give him an orgasm.

I was poor.

Check.

I was black.

Check.

I was female.

Check.

But what else was I?  I know at age eleven one is not supposed to know who they are but at least one is supposed to have some sense of fun, community and connectivity to a group. And forget about playing a sport, an instrument, or enrolling in a dance class.  I didn’t even know what an extracurricular activity was when I was a youth.

I don’t need a gun to protect me

Oh, America and guns. What a pity. I feel for those who cling to the 2nd amendment thinking that it would be a betrayal of America’s legacy if we alter this erroneous right.  All legacies don’t need to be upheld.  This country is built on murder and betrayal. Why are we proud of that? Just as we are expanding our thinking of racial tolerance so should we deepen our scope and liberate ourselves from our country’s sadistic past.

The definition of an amendment is to alter or update. Our country updated in the right direction with the 5th Amendment giving voting rights to all and the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. It would not be so atrocious to “update” the 2nd amendment as well.

I am not against guns. I am against Gun Violence.

gun

Protect Yourself

When I think about the Protection Argument in gun control it makes me roll my eyes. Really?  So if some dude breaks into my house in attempt to rob my family I should go to my lockbox take out my pistol and pursue this man. If he is armed and returns fire, I’m suddenly in a war zone having a shootout with a criminal.   Pass.  I’m not killing no one.  This is stuff of the movies.

I want to live. But I do not want to kill people to save my own life. I do not want to live in a war zone. If I wanted to go into battle I would have joined the army.  If it is my time to go…then, guess what? It is my time to go. I’m not going to create a warzone in my home trying to fight off some mad man.

My unwillingness to tote around a firearm doesn’t make me a cowardice it makes me brave. Some might say that it makes me stupid….well, I’ll be that…but hear this:  I do not need a firearm to provide me with a convoluted sense of power. You have a gun that will most likely be used in suicide, theft, or crime of passion…not “protection”.

Think of it like this…would you really want a person who thinks like me to possess a gun? Really? I hope your answer is no, because I certainly wish that you didn’t have one.

I don’t need a gun to protect me

Oh, America and guns. What a pity. I feel for those who cling to the 2nd amendment thinking that it would be a betrayal of America’s legacy if we alter this erroneous right.  All legacies don’t need to be upheld.  This country is built on murder and betrayal. Why are we proud of that? Just as we are expanding our thinking of racial tolerance so should we deepen our scope and liberate ourselves from our country’s sadistic past.

The definition of an amendment is to alter or update. Our country updated in the right direction with the 5th Amendment giving voting rights to all and the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. It would not be so atrocious to “update” the 2nd amendment as well.

I am not against guns. I am against Gun Violence.

gun

Protect Yourself

When I think about the Protection Argument in gun control it makes me roll my eyes. Really?  So if some dude breaks into my house in attempt to rob my family I should go to my lockbox take out my pistol and pursue this man. If he is armed and returns fire, I’m suddenly in a war zone having a shootout with a criminal.   Pass.  I’m not killing no one.  This is stuff of the movies.

I want to live. But I do not want to kill people to save my own life. I do not want to live in a war zone. If I wanted to go into battle I would have joined the army.  If it is my time to go…then, guess what? It is my time to go. I’m not going to create a warzone in my home trying to fight off some mad man.

My unwillingness to tote around a firearm doesn’t make me a cowardice it makes me brave. Some might say that it makes me stupid….well, I’ll be that…but hear this:  I do not need a firearm to provide me with a convoluted sense of power. You have a gun that will most likely be used in suicide, theft, or crime of passion…not “protection”.

Think of it like this…would you really want a person who thinks like me to possess a gun? Really? I hope your answer is no, because I certainly wish that you didn’t have one.

crazy ohio

Some days the world seems to be full of freaks.

weirdos

I wake up drink a cup of coffee, get ready for the day and things seem so normal and peaceful inside the comfort of my private living space.

Then I walk outside to run errands and everyone I come across either has a severe mental illness or some overt quirky personality.  I encounter the homeless man standing in front of Walmart wearing a black leather jacket despite the fact that it is August and the hottest day of the year.  The homeless man isn’t asking anyone for money; he’s just standing there staring people down with his beady eyes.

Since the confused man isn’t panhandling, I wonder if he is waiting for someone to come out of the store.  Whose family member is he? Why didn’t his people advise him to dress appropriately for the weather?

Careening down the aisle I pass a heavily bearded man wearing a ripped stained white tee shirt and strong body odor.  Smelly man also has a skin disease I observe as I look down at his legs.  His cut-offs clash with the redness of his legs.  Why are his legs the only part sunburned? The rest of his skin was apricot and normal but his legs were red and peeling like the skin of an onion.

In the meat section I always encounter a black woman yacking loudly into a cell phone while shifting through the cold packages of raw chicken.

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It is inevitable that I hear:

“…and when Jason came walking in at two a.m.  I asked him where was all night and you know what he said to me, girl?”

Over hearing her loud conversation, now I what to know what Jason’s excuse was.

“…he said he was hanging with friends.” She would finish and I would move on thanking God that I didn’t have to deal with a cheater like Jason.

Carting through the rest of the store, I realize that every other black woman in the store is wearing a headscarf.  Some are silk and tied awkwardly in the front of the head making the woman look like a unicorn.  The ambitious ones will warp the scraf around their heads like a head piece that goes to traditional African outfit.  As I look around I begin to feel left out. Should I have come to the store with my nighttime head scarf on?

Most black women wear head scarfs to bed and I am no exception.  Every night I put on a scarf so my hair doesn’t turn into an afro in the middle of the night. But it never occurs to me to just keep my scarf on when I run my errands.  So naturally when I see my sisters running errands in their head scarf’s I assume that they’ve just rolled out of bed, even if it is four o’clock in the afternoon.  Either that or they just got finished cleaning a white woman’s house and now they are stopping at the market to buy groceries for the white family whom they work for.

With a cart full of plastic bags of groceries I try to make my way to the parking lot but get stuck behind a woman with wildly awkward gait.  She limbers from side to side looking as if she will fall over on her next step.  Does she have a wooden leg under her beige leggings?  I am behind her in the exit way with a cart full of groceries but she is walking out empty handed.  Why doesn’t she have any purchases?  Did she come in just to ambulate around in a retial environment?  Perhaps she is just strengthening her legs under physical therapists orders.  Okay…she probably just dropped a prescription to the pharmacy.

In the parking lot, it never fails.  I always see an androgynous person loading groceries in the trunk of an SUV.  There is frequently a person who is clearly a woman along with the ambiguous person and they tend to participating in an ambiguous conversation.  The androgynous person usually has a low haircut, but not too low as to liken itself to a men’s haircut yet the style isn’t like a woman’s either.  The person is wearing men’s tee-shirt and unisex khakis.  The diamond earrings can’t confirm the sex because men and woman wear earrings these days.

I try to listen in on their conversation.

Androgynous person:   “What do you think Paul will say?”

Woman:  “I don’t know…screw Paul.”

Is the woman cheating on Paul?  Are they on their way to tell Paul the truth about their relationship?  Or is the androgynous person just a supportive friend helping her lady friend through a breakup?  I look for signs of public displays of affection.  No hand holding, no playful tapping or seductive staring.  They just get in the car and leave and I’m left wondering if that was a lesbian relationship or a dude and his girlfriend talking about military recruiter named Paul.

Now off to the public library where I will be surrounded by colorful books in an inner sanctum of peace. But realistically, walking into a large public library is like walking into a booming men’s shelter.  Every dysfunctional, homeless male schizophrenic has wandered into the public library and are mysteriously sulking around bookshelves and giving the enormous prestigious building an air of creepiness.

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

What is encouraging is the fact that you will see some of these scruffy men actually reading a book or taking advantage of the free internet services. Sometimes I wonder, which book the guy who has four plastic bags on the floor, wearing punctured sneakers you can see his toes through, a dirty white toboggan, and a stained and shredded Izod shirt, is reading.  Where does his interest lie? Is he reading a sci-fi thriller? A romance?  A book about homelessness?

The most maladjusted man always gets into the elevator with me. I’m usually holding a book I’ve picked from the lower level.  The weird guy always stares at me the entire elevator ride.  It seems like he is trying to get a glimpse of my reading selection and but his stare is still inappropriately long.

“Nice day out.”  He’ll say.  Except his speech is slurred and disorganized so it sounds like, “Ny day…(grunt).”

I smile politely at him hoping that he isn’t the violent kind of vagabond. He takes my friendly smile as an invitation to open up a conversation.

“Day took my coat…do ya know day took my coat?”  At this point I’m squinting at him and wondering why it’s taking the elevator so long to get up to level two.

“Day know, right?”  He says.

“Yeah.” I reply nervously still trying to smile politely. But now I’m wondering who “Day” is.  A family member? Caseworker?

When the elevator beeps my new friend follows me out to the foyer on the second floor.  Suddenly, my new friend decides that he is now at a football game and his team just scored a point. He screams “yeah” at the top of his lungs making every patron in the library look over toward us.

The librarian, who isn’t without quirks herself, wearing a XXL sweatshirt on her extra small frame and hair that is in a messy ponytail like she just got out of a rowdy sexual encounter, looks over at us and I can tell that she assumes that I am with the schizophrenic screaming man. I see her walk out from behind her desk and start walking toward me. Her mouth is fixed to inform me that I needed to keep my patient quiet so not to disturb the library patrons.

I move quickly away from the man and bolt towards the back by the cookbooks. I don’t really cook. I know a lot of women find cooking relaxing or they take pride in being able to feed their families gourmet dishes, but I am not one of those women.  Although I will admit that I am proud of myself for keeping my daughters alive by routinely giving them the required doses of editable items.  So I don’t really want to look at cookbooks but I feel trapped because the dowdy librarian and the crazy man are still standing in the common area confused.

I break down and look through a couple of cookbooks figuring that I would at least try to make something fried or baked or pouched this weekend.  By the time I’m done choosing, the coast is clear and I make my way up to the third level so that I can look at some serious books about parapsychology and psychoanalytic theories.

On the third floor there is a big space littered with long work tables for tutoring and studying.  I always see the most drastic social combinations at these tables. There is always a very pale dainty white woman tutoring an enormous dark black guy, a black woman tutoring an Asian kid, and a Rastafarian dude with dreads to his waist sitting across from a corporate looking white man. I can never tell who’s tutoring whom in that combo.

I trot past the United Nations feeling good that we all can come together in the name of education.  Once I get back in the shelves holding literary novels, there is always…and I mean always, some older black woman schooling her daughter or niece in the aisles. I can always hear her voice from three aisles away.

“That’s how Shelia got raped.  I keep tellin’ her to stop wearing those low cut tops. I don’t want to see you end up like her.”

The older woman will caution her young charge, but then almost in the same breath, she’ll start giving unsolicited sex advice. “…and then you roll it around your tongue a little bit…if you do that your man will go wild…”

I’m usually standing in the aisle holding a paperback with my mouth hanging open.  By this time I am shocked and confused, so I know that poor little Keisha is perplexed about how she should approach sex and relationships.

I have my selections and finally check out and head to the parking garage.  Things go smoothing in the concrete structure until a young couple who just pulled in get out of the car and start yelling at each other.

“Screw you….screw you.”  The woman yells at her boyfriend.  As they’re fighting they are making their way toward the library entrance.  The boyfriend tries to lock the car doors with some device but ends up setting off the car alarm instead.

So the car alarm is blaring, the girlfriend is now screaming, “you’re so stupid” and pushing her boyfriend’s shoulder. I quickly get in my car before he hauls off and hits her. I certainly wouldn’t want to be subpoenaed as a witness.  I’m about to start my engine when I realize that I forgot to validate my parking ticket.

Now I have to walk back inside right behind Ike and Tina.

it’s okay to have quirks

I let out a low sigh feeling glad that I’m not the only weirdo in town.