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.

 

 

soul soup: a poem

writing

When I am not writing
I am not thinking
Not breathing
Not pushing out
Invisibility
That thrives within
That corrodes my insides
That eats
away
At my lungs
My brain
My heart
When I am not writing
I am not me.

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.

mind changing is allowed; hypocrisy is not.

Many people don’t use hypocrisy in the proper context.  They’ve muddled the meaning.  A hypocrite isn’t merely someone who says one thing but does another.  I am very slow to assign the label of hypocrite to others because human thought expands and shifts frequently.

hypocriteyes

hypocrite eyes

 

Some of the things I believed as a teenager, I no longer believe as an adult.  I allow wiggle room for beliefs updates, converts, and maturity.  Mind changing is allowed; hypocrisy is not.

 

True hypocrisy always involves a blatant lie.  It denotes known deceit.

When my uncle would puff his cigarettes then blow the smoke in my face and say, “don’t you ever start these things…they’ll ruin your life.”  He wasn’t being a hypocrite, he was being honest.  He didn’t hide his use of cigarettes while bad mouthing the habit in public. He used openly and bad mouthed openly. He was not a hypocrite.

Sometimes we can slowly drift into the hypocritical realm without being aware like accidentally giving donations to a slaughter house because you didn’t read the form right and you are a known animal rights advocate with a website and everything and recently updated your site condemning meat eaters.

It is very rare that one is unaware that they are being hypocrite.  Most of us know, rather acutely, when we have veered past the beliefs that we’ve pretended to live by.

The girl who preached to me about the wickedness of premarital sex whilst having it herself yesterday is a hypocrite.

If you scold someone for a sin and then find yourself in that same sin a year later, I do not consider you a hypocrite.  You are simply a misguided individual who spoke too soon.  If you however, continue to scold people for the very sins that you regularly indulge in, then you, my friend are a fabricated, fictitious, master of the stage, worthy of an Oscar, bona fide hypocrite.

 

Flying birds

Hypocrites are typically the double-lifer’s; you know, those people who live in two opposing worlds. People like the president of a rape prevention organization, who rapes women in his spare time, and the upstanding preacher who casts out homosexual demons yet maintains a homosexual relationship in private are the paradigm of hypocrisy.

The thing to remember about hypocrisy is that it is based on contradiction.  It is not based upon changing your mind (truthfully), learning, growing, or changing perspective.  I guess this is why it is not a good idea to be judgmental, preachy, or disparaging towards others.

You may find that you feel differently later and people will mistake you for a hypocrite.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

price

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”.

nene

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.

 

 

attitude1

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.

 

 

 

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.