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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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.

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.

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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.

life vs write

Okay.

I have been unable to write for pleasure.  It has been about four weeks now since I’ve written a coherent word that was personal or creative and served my own purposes.  I’ve written a hundred work emails detailing an injured employees medical status and return to work strategies, but I haven’t written one sentence that caresses my imagination and drives me to smile.

life goes on...

life goes on…

I have reviewed my finances, planned the twins back to school wardrobe, written grocery shopping lists, called in prescription refills, attended parent-teacher meetings, helped my husband arrange for a out of town trip, swept the floors, moped the floors, washed dishes, prepared meals, washed hair, combed hair, dropped kids off at appointments, retrieved kids from appointments, and watched horrible television, yet I haven’t squeezed out a teardrop of imaginative writing.

This bout of writers block is further exacerbated with the obligations of young family life.  Some days I wish for old age.  I wish I was sixty years old and all the children are well adjusted grownups that still came by to visit but didn’t need me to prepare their meals anymore.  I would be retired and free to sit in my home library reading and working on a project that I’ve promised my agent I’d have done by an impossible deadline.

Dreams.

That’s my little pipe dream; to be mature, creative, and published.  I love my family life and I love my creative life.  The reality is that family does come first. Shared human experiences help pad my creativity, feed my soul, and keep me healthy.  We are here on earth to connect with one another and then write about it.

Dear Writing

Dear Writing,
vanessa1
Why do you insist on torturing me? I’m vacuuming the floor, doing laundry, and ordering a child to clean up spilled juice. And in even in the midst of all this chaos you’re whispering in my ear. You should be writing….

Writing what, exactly? I have five incomplete novels, a memoir, and countless essays. Which one of those should I devote my attention to? And even if I do plunge into literary dedication, where will that leave the laundry? Who will answer the seven year old who’s asking endless questions? What type of birds can’t fly? Why do they even have wings? Is the monster in that movie real? Is Santa real? A girl in my class said he wasn’t.

Trust me. The little girl wants her questions answered. She’s standing over me daring me to type a word before she gets her answers. I’m tempted to hand the laptop to her and let her go crazy on Google conducting her personal development research. So, writing, even though you’ve called I have to stop and be a mother. I must speak with my daughter and tell her that Santa should be real to her for at least the next two years. I will research why some birds have wings but don’t fly, and no, that monster in the movie is not real.
Now back to the laundry…or, the writing…um, which one? I think it was Anne Lamott who said that at the end of our lives no one ever says, “man, I regret not doing more laundry.” Something like that anyway.

Wow, this struggle is real. But I sigh, and sign off…

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.

dear diary

Why do we even have a word for perfect in the English language?  It is not something that can be achieved. Tell me that something is perfect and I will be very suspicious.

But it is possible to see beauty in something that was done graciously and without fear.  Love and admiration helps us see past the flaws.  This is why we can admire a painting and be an awe of elegant writing.Image

I am feeling truly uninspired by the life of a devoted writer.  Why does it seem that I am supremely judged whereas others are not?  It truly feels this way in work life, home life, and the writing life.  My husband will pick apart a particular way that I chose to complete a task.  Why, he asks, must I do loads of laundry so slowly?  Why can’t I just stand at the washing machine until the cycle beeps so that I can transfer the wet clothes into the dryer?  Heaven forbid that I work on another project while the wash cycle runs.

I needn’t get so caught up in doing something else that I let the wet clothes sit for an extra thirty minutes.  Why, my supervisor will ask, is there a typo in my notes?  Never mind that I am a human being and did make every effort to proofread the document but didn’t have enough time to perfect before the deadline loomed so I had to get the darn thing out the door.

I spend so much time trying not to make mistakes that I end up making them anyway. This is an unfortunate fact of life; a life that I can’t help but continue to live.

Not all writers are the same.  I write for meaning.  I write for purpose.  I write for myself and I write to inspire.  The mainstream frightens me.  I don’t know if I can deal with the comments, the grinding criticism, the looks of pity, or the snips of jealousy.

Maybe I should just keep this thing I love to myself.  Maybe my writing is only for me…words to be cherished by a lonely soul.  Mainstream writers have both critics and fans and I know that if I keep my work hidden I will have neither.  My desire to reach others will be lost and packed away in a box under my bed.

The more I think about it, the more I want to share my work with others. I have to learn that not everybody will get it.  Not everybody will be touched or excited by my writing. I know this is true because I sometimes find that I am turned off, disappointed, and even outraged at some of the books, references, articles that I read.  Sometimes I wonder about authors and how skewed their thinking must be in order for them to write such preposterous narratives.

For example, I read through a book titled The Science of Sin by Simon M. Laham, in which Mr. Laham asserts that anger is a positive emotion and necrophilia and incest should not be viewed as morally reprehensible.  He backs up many of his claims with scholarly studies that show “…from gluttony to greed, to envy and lust can make you smart, successful, and happy (p.7).”

I do not agree with Mr. Laham’s narrative although he is convincing as he intellectualizes the positive outcomes that trickle down after the explosion of negative emotion.  He explores things like how being envious of another’s success, will make one work extra hard to surpass their rival, and how money can indeed provide a sense of happiness because rich people engage in leisure more frequently.

Writings such as these beg to be read and debated.  It is not for everyone.  And so goes my own writing.  I must understand that it won’t be of good quality for every reader. Some readers will love, other will like, while others still will hate it.

This notion is sinking into my brain and allowing me to push pass the criticism and just write what’s in my heart.