Disorientation to Awe

When I found out that Nelson Mandela didn’t write the, “Our deepest fear…” quote, my mind was blown. I pecked at my keyboard, clicked my mouse, going site to site trying to find evidence that Mandela indeed said these wise words. Like a seven year old watching the mall Santa take off his white wig and beard, I gaped at my computer with wide eyes and a frozen heart. I just found out that Santa Claus is not real.deepest_fear_marianne_willi

I feel foolish. Bamboozled.

How did I not know the real author of my favorite quote? I am a writer, a seeker, a wonderer, an intellectual, a critical thinker, a checker of words…how can this be?

I’ve read this quote in books printed by traditional commercial publishers, and attributed to Nelson Mandela. A more daunting question is what other popular quotes are erroneously attributed?

I have been using this quote for fifteen years. This quote has been posted in my work space for a decade. I’ve given birth to three children and repeated these words to them. I loved when the movies like Akeela and the Bee and Coach Carter used the quote on screen. The quote was supposed to have been written by a world famous South African sage and yet it was written by a middle-aged white female spiritualist. I respect Marianne Williamson’s work. I enjoyed her newest release Tears to Triumph, a useful guide for people who need to do inner work or understand emotional tolls.

mandela_

But knowing the truth about the quote is forcing me to re-orientate myself to the words and their true meaning. They still mean the same thing yet they have a different essence now. They are not words from a world weary, historically oppressed and well-known South African activist.

They are words formed in the mind of a privileged white female with remarkable spiritual insight. My dream of having understood the depth of a great man has been fractured. Even though Mandela did not say it, I am glad someone did; even if that someone is his polar opposite, writer Marianne Williamson.

Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Marianne Williamson and Lynn Woolsey

Unearthing this truth is leading me toward a better understanding of humanity. Things are messy with us. Although some muddy the water for sport, most humans just simply misunderstand, misjudge, overhear, and just take a guess. The reason society’s fist is so tight around the ideas of ‘proof’ and ‘science’ is because of our tendency to believe inconsistencies, false motives and outright lies. Science and Proof seem to guard us from the horrors of mistakes and deception. But as much as science demystifies, it also generates more questions than it can ever answer. Science knows it’s in over its head. Snafus will happen. So I can be assured that many more will come into my life but I hope that they will all be attributed to the correct source.

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“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.”

the-flourishing-classroom

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?

girls-in-demanding-class

 

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.

Bad Magic

Critical thinkers are actively looking for redeeming qualities in our campy, Twitter troll President. I am among those fair minded individuals who like to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, as a black person in America, my vantage point is slanted toward the feeling of alienation that falls around “building a wall”. This calls up feelings of racism.

Donald Trump is like a really lousy magician. We all see the shiny silver coin sticking out between his fore finger and pinky. He then, with a troubling sense of confidence and annoying persistence, tells us he’s just pulled the coin from behind our ears. Many of us just blink at him, wordlessly, afraid to say that we totally saw the coin. The audience members who call out, “sir, we saw the coin”, he tells them to shut up, calls them a derogatory name, and then turns back to the silent ones, throws up his chin and declares without any irony or self-awareness, “I pulled this coin straight from your ear.” His team placates him and pretends to be delighted by this sloppiness.

So he deals in blatant lies. Is this okay? We all know that this is how you become successful in business. This is not a virtue. This is not a complement. Why would white Christians vote for a man who deals in blatant lies? Do they have an agenda of their own? Is it for the best? Do they enjoy faking enthusiasm? It is a vast mystery to me.

price

We are well aware that Mr. Trump is not a paragon of virtue. It is frustrating that white Christians have given him a pass but it is not surprising to me. I am a black Christian and I’ve sat through eight years of hearing “liberation from Obama” ads run incessantly on evangelical radio stations and podcasts. It was incredibly uncomfortable to be listening to the message of Jesus Christ, which is acceptance, love, and forgiveness, and then suddenly be interrupted with an angry ad about how Obama is taking white privilege down a peg and how whites should show their displeasure about this. These groups have been courting white Christians since day one. I thought that educated, thinking white Christians would see through this divisive talk and reject the impulse to “save their economic status” at the expense of appearing racist, but boy was I wrong. I’ve learned that many unintentional racists have been unveiled. If they had to choose between their money and human dignity for their dark skinned neighbor, they would choose their money. They just want affordable healthcare and job stability. We all want this. But having to go through a morally corrupt, carefree, rich white man should not have been an option; and yet it is.

The question we all need to ask ourselves, if we have to choose between money and discrimination, which would we choose?

 

 

Good Article

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-live-under-an-unqualified-president

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.

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.

carts

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.