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.

 

 

black despair

thesearch

the search

The black American has a lineage that was washed away in the ocean.  A history that died on boats and in fields, on plantations, and in streets that brought despair.

We work during our lives to move past this historical hiccup.  We are damaged and aimless but we sober up and began a path to living.  Except some of us get stuck in the despair and cannot live a life of brightness so we scrounge and dig deeper into the underbelly of true life.  Addictions, illicit sex, a cloud of smoke follows the downtrodden wherever they go.  Some of us are cool and we wrap our bravado up in weed papers not knowing all the while our blunt is laced with despair.

The astute writer, Bell Hooks says, “It has been easier for everyone to focus on issues of material survival and see material deprivation as the reason for our (black america’s) continued collective subordinated status then to place the issue of trauma and recovery on our agendas” (p. 28).

There is overwhelming despair, grief, and trauma that has been poorly addressed with equal opportunity laws and governmental initiatives.  You cannot heal a heart with a law.  We cannot soothe the broken souls of black America by providing welfare checks or open door employment.

Money and riches doesn’t make you forget, cash doesn’t heal and it will not fulfill your soul.  Billionaire blacks still have to live with the reality of black despair. 

We should all do our work to move towards healing from our ancestral past that severed us from our heritage and left us scraping for a good life in a foreign land that we’ve now made our own.  

its possible to be happy

its possible to be happy

It is not about victimhood.  We are not victims. We have proved this. 

We are smiling and dancing and working and laboring and decorating and writing and living our lives.  We are human beings that have a complex history and deserve real freedom, which is in the mind.

Our bodies are free; we must now go about freeing our minds.

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

hooks, bell, 1952-. (c2003.). Rock my soul : Black people and self-esteem. New York : Atria Books.

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.

the floating feather

Terrors are turned upon me; they pursue my soul as the wind; my welfare passeth away as a cloud.

~Job 30:15

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Once I took a creative writing course.

One of our assignments was write a short but comprehensive story about a character of our choosing. I wrote about a girl from the hood that married well and ended up pampered housewife.  At the end we had to share our assignments with other classmates and give each other feedback.

“How is it that your character grew up in the most ghetto neighborhood and none of that rubbed off ?” One student typed to me.

Her question surprised me because the girl in my story was a lot like me. I was writing what I knew and all I knew was that perspective. My character didn’t identify with the overzealous bravado of the hood. She read books and watched movies about elegant places. Like me, my character wanted to be surrounded by gleaming white walls, crystals, brunch, and fancy centerpieces.

I realized early that I was a lonely girl.  Part of my loneliness was my desire to disconnect from the lifestyle of being stuck in the ghetto. Being black is hard enough but being poor exacerbates your blackness. I felt ashamed for pulling away. Am I one of those monitories with self-hatred?  But the thing is that I don’t mind being black. I just hate what it means to the world. I hate the history. I hate the politics of it.  Every culture and color has their own brand of stigma to live with. Black people aren’t the only folk trotting around the beaten path. But still, there is so much to consider. My womanhood and my skin are too of the most complex concepts to swim through.

I reach out for peace but can’t quite grasp it. It is the core of my loneliness and it makes me feel a sense of loss as if I was born with a sacred human connection but lost it somewhere in my childhood. I remember playing and being happy as kid then vastly confused and hormonal as a teenager and finally resolved and lonely as an adult.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot going for me: Husband, kids, mortgage, SUV, and all media crap packaged as the American dream. Except of course my dream is a bit more complex because I am African American so it is not a standardized euro-American dream.  Being both in and out of the world is confusing and it makes me feel so disconnected. Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit anywhere. Then I realized that this can be a good thing. By not conforming I’m being true to myself and perhaps even true to the universe. But this inner bond that I’ve made with myself does keep me away from others and this is where the problem lies.

When my mother died in 1998, the sense of loss spread in me like an overlay of butter. I tried to block it out with work, church, and dating but eventually the sense of loss turned into feelings of abandonment. Whatever I lost in my childhood was compounded with the loss of the only arms that I felt safe in.

Elegence

Blackness and femininity is an oxymoron.  Blackness is attributed to civil rights, maltreatment, death, confusion, power, pain, night, evil, darkness, slaves, prejudice, and a whole slew of other negative concepts. But blackness and femininity together in the same sentence feels revolutionary.

 

Whenever I sit down to write, I find myself scribbling compulsively about the black female condition.  The urge just comes to me like a rush of hypnosis.  I just have to say something about my place in society.  My position in America sometimes feels like no position at all.

What I know of me is that I feel pressure to be hard and laced with bravado.  Because I am black, female, and middle-class, I must have lived a childhood full of brutality and sexual atrociousness.    People look at me assume that my life somehow resembles that of Celie from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Reading Bell Hooks Remembered Rapture: the writer at work,I learn that I am not alone in my thinking about assumptions of the black female childhood, she writes, “…many stories of black girlhood are filled with lurid tales of sexual abuse, incest, rape by strangers, and unrelenting violence that this has come to almost to represent in the popular imagination what black girlhood is (p. 93).”  This assumed mistreatment produces a flagrant toughness that decreases feelings of elegance and femininity for the black female.

In order to have some feminine visibility many black females resort to sexual prowess.  Stripping and other acts of exhibitionism are desperate attempts to prove that we are women. Still there are some black women who reject full-fledged exhibitionism but turn to promiscuity as a way to confirm their femininity.

Black women who denounce all forms of blatant sexual exhibition are invisible or seen as charming maternal figures – basically modern day mammies.  Mammy is a black female caretaker.  Many white authors adore this black female caricature feeling compelled to write about mammy in their fictional tales and languishing memoirs that evoke feelings of nostalgia.  Mammy’s roots come from caring for white people but she will willingly foster anyone with her nurturing spirit and bosom. Although mammy is feisty, loyal, and accommodating she is also asexual.  While she has some admirable traits, mammy does nothing for black femininity and elegance.