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.

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.

soul junk

I am subscribed to my local library’s great reads newsletter.  The library service emails patrons listings of new book releases in different categories. For the past two years I’ve been getting the African American New Releases. And for two years I have exclusively seen books that are about neurotically religious freaks that sleep with preachers, pimps, kinky sex pots, gold diggers and drug dealers.  Here is a sample of the listing I received today:

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African American December 2012

New and Recently Released

 By the Grace of God – by Keshia Dawn

Gracie looks to God for strength when her fiancé, Dillian, leaves her one day without so much as a warning, and when she finds out the reason for his abrupt departure, it causes her world to flip upside down.

Outcast – by Lewis Ericson

A gritty, page-turning Urban Renaissance debut introduces a troubled young man who gets mixed-up in a dangerous drug trade that threatens to destroy his life.

Gift of Faith – by Robert Fleming

Fleming reminds readers that even a man of God can sometimes falter in his faith.

The Other Side of Dare – by Vanessa Davis Griggs

Griggs weaves the compelling story of a family threatened by a shocking secret.

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt – by Trice Hickman

After her mother dies, sweet-natured Emily Eloise Snow joins her best friend Samantha in Washington, D.C. where she comes face-to-face with a man from her past and must make a choice that could destroy not just her life as she knows it, but the woman and friend everyone believes her to be.

Rise of an American Gangstress – by Kim K.

Born with a platinum spoon in her mouth thanks to her drug dealing parents, Fancy is a young, spoiled princess. But when havoc enters the picture and the Feds seize her family’s ill-gotten gains, Fancy’s lavish Caribbean trips are traded in for cold winter nights in the heart of the hood.

P$$y Power – by Tya Love

Precious, Baby Doll and Sassy, three call girls from the Diamond Palace, are on their grind, living the street life and chasing the all mighty dollar. Beauty, brains and a feisty attitude are a deadly combination when running game.  Will this combination work for them or against them?

Reverend Feelgood – by Lutishia Lovely

“Lovely once again expertly illuminates the wacky world of the devout and devoutly devilish.” (Publishers Weekly)

Make Me Yours – by Sophia Shaw

A free-spirited woman. A man with a plan. Filled with fascinating characters and steamy romance, this sizzling romance contains plenty of heat that will keep readers hooked.

Contact your Librarian for More Great Books!

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Really?  Trust me when I say that EVERY list is similar to this one. I am let down and insulted by this list.  Not one book about deep spirituality experienced by an adult who’s not obsessed with money, delusional about religion, caught up in appearances, or heavy in drugs? Not one book that appears hopeful in a non-sensational way?  Not one imaginative story about a black person who transcends the stereotypical lifestyles of the bravado laced hood society?  I suppose it is these popular ideas that sell books.  But the black experience is so much more than this.  I understand that publishers want to sell books but some inventive, positive, and bohemian perspectives are desperately needed in the market.

The first title by Keshia Dawn (By the Grace of God) is the only one that I would even attempt to read.  The rest of them come off as soul junk.

a soul weighed down

a soul weighed down

Soul Junk – literature, images, movies, people, attitudes, lifestyles, drug use, violence, wickedness, or any substance, place, person, or thing that causes, induces, teaches self destructive behavior