“Your numbers look great”: non-human solutions to very human problems

working-lifeWhen the twins were in kindergarten they were separated between two classes across the hallway from each other. Victoria’s teacher was a soft spoken, cardigan wearing woman with great patience and tenderness. Vanessa’s teacher was a loud, hostile, bitter old lady with no patience for little kids or the learning process. As the school year wore on, Victoria would come home happy, holding up a finger painting she’d done and talking about how she couldn’t wait for school again tomorrow. Vanessa would come home with her head bowed, somber and clingy asking if she can stay home and never return to that mean place again.

I thought Vanessa was simply having trouble adjusting; after all, some kids don’t take to socialization as well as others. But then the phone calls from Mrs. Bitter started to come in. Daily, I would get a call from a gruff, inpatient voice telling me how my daughter was hiding under her desk and refusing to come out or crying in a corner and cannot be swayed to move. Another time she called and said that Vanessa just wouldn’t stop crying, so Vanessa was separated from the group until she stopped being disruptive.

I finally had a meeting with the school and here is what they told me: “Mrs. Bitter can be a disciplinarian, but her numbers are through the roof; she forces her students to do the work by any means necessary, yes, she can seem a little harsh but she gets the job done.”

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The school cared not that my daughter was frightened out of her wits by this overbearing, unnecessarily harsh woman. Mrs. Bitter yelled at the children without cause and humiliated them by calling them names and getting the other children to join in. I knew this from witnessing it myself when I came into the class to monitor Vanessa’s behavior. Mrs. Bitter was horribly impatient and totally unqualified to be a kindergarten teacher – she had no patience for the job. But out of fear and harsh punishment, her students had the highest academic performance rate in the entire school.

After months of being a confused first time parents, my husband and I finally told the school that we wanted our daughter taken out of that class immediately. Yes, Mrs. Bitter squeezed out high tests scores but she also crunched the spirits of tiny kindergarteners and that was not okay. The school loved this lady because her numbers were great, never mind that she abused the students.

 

I find this mindset prevalent in America. The most successful are the most abusive. This mindset has to stop. Abuse is not okay, even if it gets the job done. The job can be done with compassion, levelheadedness, grace with respect for humanity. The twin with the nice patient teacher did just as well as the twin with the mean impatient one, so why are we rewarding destructive pathways to success?

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Our web-based lives further perpetuate this idea that cruelty as a strategy to produce perfection is okay. Increasingly our lives are maintained by algorithms, these complex applications choose our meals, mates, books, toys, fashion, schedules, careers, doctors, diagnoses, and prescriptions.

Technology is helpful and does create the feeling of ease and efficiency, hence my ability to post to this very blog right now. But computerized technology sends the message to its users that they can be as mechanically efficient both on line and off line. Educational systems are built entirely around the idea that pupils perform at the same scientifically established level. Exams transform human students into data elements that either successfully or unsuccessfully navigate algorithms.

We utilize computerized tools to demonstrate performance but the data is only half of the story. At work my performance is based on how well I navigate complex algorithms, not giving any thought to my humanity. If my report was done with accuracy, I’m good; no one cares that my grandma died, a colleague stole my idea, and I just found out that I have a serious medical condition. Human emotion is in play forever and always, yet our technological world turns a blind eye to the things that truly matter offline.

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Social media is thought to produce a layer of humanity for us but it is really insufficient. Our social media profiles are heavily curated advertisements of ourselves. There is really no humanity in our social media. There is really nothing authentically social about it. We post our stances, arguments, and position on issues but we are not really socializing. We are gathering data and arranging pseudo committees to further digitize our lives. I hear that some authentic friendships are made through social media and this is encouraging. Some people really do get married as a result of meeting online. However, speak to these people and they will likely tell you that their relationship was “set up” or “initialized” online but it blossomed offline. Therefore, our online activity serve as a tool to be used to live our lives not to be lived through

 

Bottom line: your numbers, on paper, on social media, on spreadsheets, on data reports, can look awesome, but you as a human being can be doing horribly. It is everyone job to continually remind each other that our “numbers” don’t represent us fully. It is fine to use data as guide but data will never replace humanity.

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.

Black in America

If you are born black, are you born troubled?

Perhaps no.

But the American Education System teaches otherwise. They teach us that we are remnants of slavery. They tell us that things are different now but somehow that isn’t enough. The bloody lines of a leather whip somehow appear on our brown backs. We can feel the burn and squeeze of a tight rope around our necks. We experience the anguish, the fear, and the knots in our stomachs. We see it in the glazed over eyes of the former oppressors descendants.Flying birds

This is now.

The blood of the forefathers still circulates today and we sense it. We sense it because our first grade teachers stood in front of the class and read gruesome tales of torture and mutilation. We looked around the class and realized that we are one of those people she is speaking of. Our skin matches the skin of that downtrodden person in ripped dirty clothes who is standing in front of a shack made of rotting wood and crooked nails. The white kid, sitting in the desk next to ours, looks over with recognition in their eyes. They know what we once were. The teacher has ensured that they’ve learned our history. The white kid turns away secure and relieved that they were born with the right color skin.
And so we are left to contend with what we have learned. We try to exercise those ghosts of our distant past. We try to shake off the feeling of feeling of degradation. We distract ourselves with music, art, money pursuits, and dance parties. And with each developmental stage, the malicious, nefarious, evil, and demonic past digs deeper in our ribs. During some years, we don’t consider it. It is buried inside. We carry on. “We keeps it moving”.

And then…

And then we’re reminded one day during black history month, or when the white woman in line clenches her purse as you stand behind her, or when a professor encourages a class, in which you sit in, to admire a political leader who clearly upheld slave laws, or when the media is obsessively, frantically, interrupting regular broadcasts talking of a blond haired, pale-skinned girl who disappeared two days ago, and we think, wow, I know a young black girl who disappeared years ago. Little things begin to remind you.

And then…

You start to wonder, again the way you did in first grade. Am I vital? Am I inferior? Does my skin really make me less than a person? Inheritance means something. When people are born into rich families they inherit something. Science has noted that addiction propensities may run in bloodlines. Does the propensity towards inferiority run in my bloodline? What am I?
Black Americans are disconnected from the African tribal order and we never really fit into the Euro-American mold. We are islands of people surrounded yet alone.

And then…

And then there is resiliency. We laugh. We cry. We have been attacked in our lineage but we are stronger now. Solid. Some of us are angry; with good reason. Do you know where that anger comes from? It’s that malicious, nefarious, evil, and demonic thing that offends us now. We see it and we hate it; because it first hated us.

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.

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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.

Attitude: the shield of protection

How did black women get their attitude?

 

blackgrlsThe origins of snappiness come from slave life in America.   Black women were brought and sold right beside the male slaves.  Many slaves were naked as they were auctioned; their body parts appraised and audited shamming them in front of crowds.

 

 

 

 

 

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The black female body was a commodity.  The white female body was considered pure and feminine and worthy of protection.  Black female slaves had no right to claim femininity, thus they warranted no protection.  Black women were property and did not own their bodies which meant that anyone could do anything they wanted to a black female and not face any punishment at all.

 

 

 

 

 

foxbank-plantation-houseIf the slave master wanted to have sexual relations with a black female slave he did it without question or protest from anyone.  And as historical legacies go, a subculture that included the sexually ferocious black female was born.

 

Black women were considered uncivilized workers with vagina’s.  Anyone who wanted to quell their human urge for sexual pleasure could take up a slave girl who didn’t have a say in her own life.

 

 

As time passed the Constitution was updated, slaves were freed, civil rights were heard, and progress towards equality in America started to take shape. All the while black women were still being objectified.  Black feminist issues were not dropped in the American bucket of issues.  Our stories did not change much from slavery.  Black female issues still take back seat to racial profiling and other issues that deal with black males.  Even in modern times, black women and children are still being raped, touched, groped and fondled secretly in their homes and at their gathering facilities.

No one is paying attention.

Many black females will tell stories of their childhoods where they were repeatedly molested and taken advantage of by both strangers and family members.  Not to suggest that every black girlhood includes sexual exploitation and degradation.

Many black females have healthy molestation free childhoods. But many people will look at these women and assume that they have lived a horrid life comparable to Sapphire’s “Precious” character.  But one thing most black woman can identify with is being tied to a stereotype of having an “attitude”.

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This attitude was formed out of necessity to protect oneself.

 

Linking our ancestry back to slavery times we see that we had no recourse. No one shielded black woman from the force of brutality and labor. Black woman worked hard and maybe even harder than the male slaves in the cotton fields.

Since no one took us in, we took ourselves in.  We internalized our struggles and use the pain to fuel our verbal and physical attacks.

 

 

slaveladyBlack women slaves were brutalized and abandoned. Today I can say that we feel the same.  At least I do.

 

We still think that no one loves us and we have to “look out for our own”.

Today black woman are still viciously combating their attackers with tough language that makes even a manly man fall back.    We’ve learned that a “don’t mess with me” attitude aids in deterring unwanted people from our presence.  But there is a down side.

This use of power has expanded to any and every one.   We’ve turned on each other.  Girl fights in clubs and jealous rages have become the norm in black girl world.

 

I’ve spoken with many black women who said “I don’t let nobody disrespect me.”  I truly understand this.

 

 

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But we must be careful to remember that  Respect is earned.

 

The horror of slavery has shaped our ancestors thinking and behavior, thus shaping our grandmothers, and then our mothers. Now us…

I can see and feel the change in the American air.  Some say we are in a post-racial society, with the black President, black first lady, black kids in the white house, and self-actualized black women all around the country. I’m not sure if we are in a post-racial society or not but what I do know is that the fragile black female is a beautiful relevant member of American society and she can be herself without an attitude.

I am not against sass. I am against unresolved anger.  We should extinguish our anger and move forward.