Category Archives: Race

I Need to Talk about the US Open…

I grew up watching tennis in the hometown of the late, great Arthur Ashe (#RVArepresent!). I love tennis.

ASHE

Via Google

I loved Billy Jean, Chris Everett, Martina, Monica and so many others. I remember John McEnroe showing his entire arse every time he stepped onto the court. Calling refs and opponents out, tossing and smashing racquets, and just being *free* to be an complete arsehole with little to no consequence. I thought he was crazy, but I loved it.

When the Williams sisters came on the scene it was like one of the ultimate #BlackfacesinWhiteSpaces chapters of all time. And to that end, they were reminded that this wasn’t their space all of the damn time. They were ostracized on so many fronts–being from the ‘hood,’ being coached by their dad who gave zero effs about White folks, wearing braids with beads that swung and made noise when they played, ‘crip walking’ on the courts and clothing choices and so on. They were characterized as the antithesis of White girl tennis gentility.

As Serena went onto straight DOMINATE (this is not debatable, she’s #GOAT) we also saw how the officials and the media treated her. Extra drug testing and ridiculous media questions. Tomfoolery abounds when it comes to how she’s treated. Just last month, folks were asking if she felt some kinda way about Sharapova’s “beauty” and banned from wearing a body suit because it wasn’t respectful to the “space” (again, a presumably White space). Chile…

Kimmy2

Via Giphy

So, here we go during the final of the US Open. Yeah, she was losing anyway; we could all see where things were likely heading. Yeah, she went in on that referee after she was cited for receiving coaching (that she apparently didn’t even see). And now, here we are watching the world be purposefully obtuse about her overall treatment and seeing what it looks like when she got *sick and tired* of that ref’s shyt. Oh, sure, as an elite athlete she should keep her cool (#didMcEnroeevertho, and as much as I loved Ashe he was about some respectability shyt too), but that was a bogus initial call, one that has not even KINDA been applied equitably for other players, male or female. That call straight questioned her integrity, which frankly has been questioned her entire career. #thisaintnew And in her own words on the court, she knew she was losing, but she wanted to lose fairly. The referee’s calls regarding her “tantrum” were precipitated by the accusatory call concerning her integrity. #poisonoustreefruit

But all of that is beside the point, right? She lost to a lovely young upstart, Naomi Osaka, who has her own narrative of battling some media bull-shyt. How many times has she had to remind the media that she is in fact, biracial: both Japanese and black Haitian? #BecauseAsianisWhiteAdjacent

Peep this clip where she gets this reporter together right quick! I love her.

Oh and how does institutional “rules are rules” messiness (euphemism for misogynoir) work? Naomi Osaka’s legit win over Serena will forever be tainted, and that’s soooo not fair to her; she’s a badass in her own right.

And if you needed a bullcrap image that characterizes the whole mess, it’s this one.

Rage

Via Google

Eff you Mark Knight.

Let’s take a quickie inventory, shall we?

  • Serena portrayed with exaggerated Black features.
  • Serena portrayed as ‘heavy,’ or you know “thick, big boned” as we Black women are presumed to be.
  • The tightly pulled back hair that has ALL curl patterns (otherwise and often characterized as nappy), but appears literally snatched on her head giving the appearance of being nearly bald, cause you know “bald-headed b’s” are a thing we get called.
  • Nod to the tutu that she deliberately sported as a poke in the eye of the recently banned French Open “disrespectful to the White space” Wakandan cat suit.
  • The random pacifier rounds out this angry Black woman tableau.
  • Meanwhile, the ref is shown asking Naomi to throw the game to end the presumably unwarranted “tantrum.”
  • Naomi is absurdly shown as a diminutive, lithe, blonde, White woman, #damsel, which she is most certainly not.

Again, this is the lovely, US Open champ, Naomi Osaka:

Rage.jpg

Via Google

Now I could continue on with the venting but I want to talk about what this kinda stuff means for parents of Black and Brown children, and specifically Black and Brown girls.

I posted on my personal social media streams this weekend that women, and women of color in particular, are long accustomed to having our very existence policed. (Wanna debate this? Fight me).

We can’t be too emotional, but we can’t be stoic either. Are we right for this kind of work? Where is your husband and how does he feel about your education/work/housekeeping/sexual activity/reproductive and medical choices/parenting approach/religious observations? We need to have our bathrooms monitored and legislated. Our hair has to be socially acceptable. Our skin has to be socially desirable, but really primarily for sexual proclivities because, we are loose and wanton by nature. Our clothing and shoe choices may make us responsible for male dominance behaviors. Staying out late gives us a bad reputation. Having personal and professional goals may make us men haters and *that* is really damaging to egos. Infertility is almost always our fault, but you know there’s limited access to adequate and appropriate health care has to be pre-approved by men because…see wantonness above. We don’t get to be sexually liberated unless we’re ok with being called sluts or whores. We are blamed for our singleness, but men’s desire is wholly based on our behaviors and presentation. Do we really have the temperament to be in positions of decision and power? Our outrage always has to be muted, especially if it’s emanating from Black and Brown bodies, because it’s often too detrimental and dangerous for it to be fully on display. We are downright disrespectful and scary.

For my Black daughter…my Black daughter with a trauma background who has trouble navigating this life socially, all of this is a crushing reality. I’m teaching her to be strong, to speak her mind, to be free. But for her safety, I also have to teach her how to display that strength in non-threatening ways, how to bite her tongue damn near off because she might be characterized as too sassy and how to choose her places to demonstrate her freedom, which is to say, not be free at all. In fact, I’m teaching her to put her authentic self in packaging that is palatable for folks who don’t look like us and that really does make me simmer all the time. #itsnotright

She already sees that while she can be at the top of her game, she will still just be seen as an uppity, angry Black woman, throwing a tantrum if she deigns to be a vocal self-advocate. And she will be punished for it. And other women of color close by would do well to learn the lesson to not display similar behaviors. As a reward, they will be awarded White proximity, even if it means erasing visual characteristics that otherwise differentiate them. Their Browness and their Blackness will be erased, and we’ll all walk around acting like that’s a good thing! #effthat

My daughter struggles with confrontation. She has a strong sense of integrity (as long as it doesn’t pertain to keeping the laptop too long or eating candy in the middle of the night). Hope simmers for a long time but trust when she blows, she blows! I’ve had to go down to the school many times after she has finally blown a gasket. I’ve had to explain what happens behind the scenes and bring copies of previous emails regarding situations that were never addressed that led to this very moment. I’ve had to reasonably discuss, cajole, sweet talk and finally legally threaten folks to both meet her where she is *and* provide appropriate consequences for behavior. I also know that if it weren’t for the DR that I insist on using in front of my name and the resources available at my fingertips, that my efforts to be her advocate and protector would not be as successful as they have been as a woman of color without the DR juice. I tell people often that I thought I went to get a doctorate to be an educational researcher; now I know that the true reason is to have enough gravitas to roll into the school making demands I otherwise would not have been even allowed to make on behalf of a daughter whose special needs demand that I do just that on the regular.

We talk about girl power. We talk about #BlackGirlMagic. We talk about feminism. We talk about womanism. We talk about equality, equity, fairness. We talk about the future for girls and women. We talk about what we want for them.

And then we see this shyt and get the clear reminder that our behavior and our identities (especially those in relation to Whiteness) continue to be policed in a manner as to remind us of our place.

Be genteel.

Be polite.

Be nice.

Be happy you’re here.

Be not whatever else it is you are.

I’m so over this ish. My heart breaks for both Serena and Naomi. Parents, especially White parents of children of color, check this shyt. This is why that colorblind stuff is some bullshyt. This is what we mean about persistent misogynoir. This what we mean when it’s so institutionalized that shyt is casually at play in front of our faces.

Not doing comments on this post…it’s just…nah, I just can’t. If you’re not feeling it, go not feel it somewhere else. I can’t today.

 

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Black in Europe

In 2001, my mom and I visited Europe for the first time. We went to Amsterdam, and it was awesome. We went on to visit numerous countries in Europe over the next decade. We met cool people, saw amazing things, ate great food and had a good time.

One thing that we noted whenever we traveled was our blackness. I mean, Europe is pretty white, like really white. In all of our years of traveling, we only had one bad experience. It was in Dublin; some dude rolled up to us speaking Gaelic. He said “Something, something, something ‘nigger’ something, something.” Oh we heard it. You don’t mishear that. It was a record scratch moment. We side stepped him and headed into a pub. An hour or so later, walking back to our hotel another Irishman strolled up to us to apologize on behalf of Dublin for his countryman’s behavior. He witnessed the verbal attack and was disgusted. Frankly his apology was more stunning than the original attack. Back home, apologies just don’t happen. #realtalk

Wait, there’s a place where white folks actually apologize for racist behavior? #wheretheydothatat? #shocked #howifellinlovewithIreland

Up until last year, we hadn’t traveled for a long while. I went back to graduate school. Then Hope came along, and there just wasn’t time or opportunity. About two years ago a colleague helped me put together an abstract for an international meeting and the next thing you know, I was giving a short talk at a meeting in Helsinki. I took my mom.

Of all of our travels, Finland was the WHITEST place I’d ever been. It was so white that folks openly stared at us; a child actually walked into a closed door staring at us. We went for a day or so without seeing any other people of color. I remember posting on Facebook about seeing two African immigrants on the public tram and they nodded at us. #universalblackacknowledgement We were nearly giddy to see skinfolk!

Despite being black in an uber-white space, I never felt hated. Oh, I felt kinda weird, like a curiosity, but I never felt like I was psychically or physically in danger. I never felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, and I feel that at least a couple of times a week in America, my homeland. It didn’t feel bad. Odd, yes; bad, no. Socializing with folks from other countries naturally turned to the current state of political affairs and 45’s presence in the White House. Feelings around that ran from rampant curiosity to downright pity at the state of affairs.

Traveling as an American was different…it elicited different responses, sad responses. We simply aren’t the beacon of light on the hill anymore.

So, a year later, I got the idea to take both mom and Hope to Europe when I attended this year’s meeting. I arranged for us to spend some time in Paris before heading to Switzerland. I’ve already blogged about our vacation drama, but I want to share a few observations from my time abroad.

Paris feels radically different than it did when we first visited in the mid-2000s. The Champs Élysées feels a lot more lowbrow than it did years ago—I mean there’s a Five Guys burger place on the Champs! #ButWHY The city feels more crowded now, not necessarily in a bad way, just more populated. It’s a LOT more brown, like a lot. Like a lot a lot. The impact of immigration is very visible. It’s a different city, and it’s still beautiful.

One of the things I’ve always taken special note of when I was abroad is how easily recognizable black Americans are. My French is shaky, but thanks to many years of studying Latin, my reading and auditory comprehension is passable. People in shops and restaurants would murmur about us being Americans. We are easily distinguishable from African immigrants, our diasporic skinfolk. This identity put us in a special category—one that wasn’t necessarily good or bad, just different, certainly curious because most Americans in general don’t travel and frankly African Americans really don’t travel—if we do it’s often to the Caribbean. And yet, I still felt, safe, not unwelcome in Europe where folks find us curious.

And I kept thinking about how 45 (I really try not to utter his name) says don’t let happen to the US what happened to France. France, or least Paris, is a lot more brown. Things are really, really different there and the brown part seems to have a lot to do with the change. I’m guessing that 45 also sees that, and that’s what he’s signaling despite his love for fast food and no doubt delight at being able to go to Five Guys.

It’s not hard to make the leap in this language that brown equals bad. It’s certainly not hard to make the leap that our biggest immigration concerns in the US are centered around brown people, either to the south or east of us, but not the north or northeast of us. It’s not hard to see how other countries have adapted to increased brownness, no doubt with growing pains, but somehow grafting in these new dimensions of the country’s identity.

We also saw it in Switzerland. Certainly much more homogeneous than Paris, but still way more diverse than Finland. #lowbartho And you know what? It was fine. Folks of different hues going on about their daily lives.

We did hear about the waves of white nationalism that are moving across Europe, but interestingly the media doesn’t seem to feed the story. White nationalists are painted as fringe, illegitimate, a pall on society; they aren’t shown in “balanced” context that the US media has come to favor, offering hatred a platform for open promotion and even inviting social justice advocates the opportunity to debate purveyors of white supremacy. Of course, Europe, while still wildly imperfect and wrestling with many of its own demons, knows intimately the cost of legitimizing hatred.

I wish America did. I’m praying that we don’t stay on the path of learning the hard way.

Every trip I’m reminded just how privileged I am as an individual, but also as a black woman.  I know that the desire and the ability to travel is special. I’m trying to teach Hope that as well. It’s hard though since she hasn’t situated how these experiences really reconcile with life before our family existed. Layer on issues around race and privilege and it’s just a lot. It’s a lot for me and given how my mom was one of 4 kids to integrate her school in the 60s, well over a decade after the Brown v. Board integration decision, it’s a lot for her too. For all of us, despite the new technicolor Europe we discovered on this trip, Europe is still hella white, and we still are hyper aware of it. And it still makes you feel…some kinda way.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this year; here we are in the fourth quarter already. I realized that one of the things I’ve been unconsciously doing has been turning into the skids, the skids being those things that make me uncomfortable. Given how incredibly unsafe white spaces have felt in the US in recent years, I’ve found myself figuring out ways of leveraging the discomfort or the space to my benefit. I was a little more conscious of it this time, but after pondering our time in Paris and especially at the Louvre, I realized just how hard I worked to create a specific Black Faces in White Spaces experience for me, Hope and Grammy.

I made Hope and Grammy watch Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s Apesh*t video, and then we deliberately went to see all the things in the video. We marveled at the beauty, but we also marveled at how crowded the exhibits were, how much access the Carter’s actually had in filming the video and how blackity-black that video is in such a crazy white pace. Then we thought about being there ourselves and how blackity black that felt in those spaces. That was some awesomely wild ish. I’m not a Beyhive member, but I am a fan and that video dropped at the right time for me and mine. Pulling that artistic thread gave us a little bit of an anchor during our trip. I don’t know if we needed it, but upon reflection it was really nice to have. It’s really nice to ruminate on it now as well.

Despite all the other drama around our trip, this part, the part about being both back and Black in Europe gave me a lot to ponder about politics, about identity (they are wrestling with what it means to be European all over the continent), race and color, and about privilege. Now that I’ve got some distance from the family drama and the fall of out the bug phobia, I can really appreciate the experience. I’m grateful  and I’m grateful that I got to share it with my family.


The Deal with Me & School

How do I explain this so the masses understand my fixation on school…ok here goes.

I love school; even when it was hard I loved school. I like learning. I’m curious. I watch historical shows, google subtopics and gobble up Wikipedia pages right down to the footnotes. I appreciated the challenge that school brought. When it came to my doctoral work, I actually liked the rhythm and pace of things even though it was grueling. The writing and rewriting…I was creating something, and it was and remains awesome.

I love school.

I’ve benefited greatly from my academic pursuits. Good job, buying a house, got a car, planning for retirement. Definitely enjoying the material trappings of hard work and earned accolades. I’m proud of my accomplishments. I had big aspirations when I was a little girl. I thought I would be an attorney someday. I realized early in college that I didn’t want to do that, but I also believed that I would earn a doctorate in something. I would one day be Dr. ABM. I have always been ambitious as hell. #heymomImadeit

Walking across that stage being hooded was an amazing feeling.

Graduation

Best Day Ever!

And then there’s there the reality of what it means to me to be educated.

One of the things I value most about all this schooling is that I feel like it gives me a little social privilege which can counterbalance the reality of living in black skin. I’m a little more welcome in white spaces. The education does not make me better than anyone, but it makes a lot of white people see me differently. And if white folks think I’m safe because I’m educated, well then, I might actually be a little safer while walking around in this skin. I move in circles that are sometimes uncomfortable, but I have the right letters, the right credentials, I “belong,” and so I’m safe.

It’s true what we tell our kids about working two or three times as hard to get half as far. I busted my ass, and loved it, to get *here* and one of the fruits of my labor is moving a little easier in white spaces.

Hope came along right as I was finishing my doctorate, and as helpful as being Dr. ABM at work has been these last few years, the real benefit of having $70K in educational debt comes when I step across the threshold off Hope’s school.  Hope’s first summer here, she got into trouble at her summer camp and they were planning to kick her out. I met with the camp director who immediately started berating me. I held my hand up, insisted that we start over with proper introductions because I’m not going out like that—“Let’s start over. Hi, I’m Dr. ABM and you are?” By the time it was over he was apologizing profusely, Hope was allowed to stay in camp and got a promotion to junior camp counselor and I didn’t have to pay for the rest of the summer. Maybe it was the Dr, maybe not, but I know everything changed when I introduced myself as Dr. ABM. That was a moment when my privilege was extended to Hope.

I’ve found that my educational privilege has played out in numerous ways shielding Hope and I from a lot of drama. It was a lot easier for me to be *that* parent with the Dr in front of my name. The conversations always change when meeting participants who initially see me as some kind of stereotype black mother progress to seeing me as an educated professional mom. It’s always clear when some kind of back story for me and Hope is challenged and somehow the acceptable version of us is welcomed …my education somehow makes us safe, different and sadly, respectable.

This is the reality of racism, and it’s so utterly apparent to me since I finished my degree. It’s nearly stunning. In my 45 years, 8 with a president who looks like me, I’ve never been as afraid for myself or my kid’s future. I dreamed of what having kids would be like. I worried a lot about countless things, but these last few years, my fear of racially motivated harm has escalated sharply. I feel like there’s a part of me that’s always unsettled and looking to avoid the inevitable hurt that racism brings.

So, when I wrestle with my emotions around Hope’s academic experiences it’s largely motivated by fear, not by any expectations of Hope in particular.  I am terrified that she won’t have this little buffer of safety that I feel like education can provide (even when it doesn’t, really). What happens when Hope isn’t covered by what little privilege I have amassed to buffer us from some of racism’s ugliness? I already worry about her various vulnerabilities. It’s not just that I want her to do well for the sake of doing well, I just worry myself sick that someone will read her wrong and she will end up in trouble or worse…dead. I don’t know if doing well on her SAT will protect her from being harmed, but my sense is that not trying will certainly not offer any protection.

I’ve started to see school as an avenue for self-protection.

So, when well-meaning, kind of shared experience having white parents urge me to let it go, to not worry about school, to let Hope handle it all and fail on her own…it’s not that I disagree, but I feel like there’s a huge part of the story of my worry that is completely unheard or not even considered.

Their stories are considered universal—everyone can and should relate because well, I’ll be frank, white is normative. Their kids fail and it’s heartbreaking. It is, but it’s not failing in a system that already doesn’t give two shits about you.

My worries about school are very different; this is about Hope’s survival in a racist world. This is about amassing elements of protection that can provide small buffers of the worst of a life routinely disrupted by racism. This is about being considered safe enough to be granted entrée into white spaces where more opportunities and resources await. This is about liberation and freedom.

The stakes feel so much higher and not just because I’m an absurd high achiever, but because I’m scared shitless. So, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely let the school thing go.

And Hope is starting to understand this. It isn’t really just about her performance; it’s about the long game. I know she struggles with her interpretation of my academic push; I also know that somewhere in there she wants to do well. I’m also keenly aware that there’s an additional layer of pressure on her because of what I’ve achieved. People see me and wonder why Hope isn’t doing better; they often assume she’s rebelling.

My desires for Hope are expansive, but honestly I just want to keep her safe. Education is one avenue to help do that. I don’t know how it will all work out. I have no idea.

I do know that being educated and working in academia doesn’t always offer the protection I wish it did. Even in my job, I feel it. I had hate mail too; I’ve had students say nasty things about me and to me. I’ve had professors say I was a “troublemaker.”

And yet, I still think it’s one of the best options we’ve got.

So, this is why I fixate on Hope and school. This is why it’s so important to me. This is why I can’t just let it go.


Gazes

Greetings from Finland! What an awesome trip it’s been so far. Finland is really quite lovely. My mother and I’ve have figured out the public transit system, ventured to Tallinn, Estonia, and tried very hard to learn a few Finnish words.  I gotta say the language is different than anything I’ve ever heard, and I thought I’d really heard a lot. I’m not a neophyte traveler, but I have been this far north east in Europe. It’s definitely worth the trip, but the language is not an easy one to pick up. That said, the people have been very nice and generally a accommodating.

But then there is the gaze. 

I mean, in the US, we talk about the White Gaze a lot in terms of race. I’m not going to go into a full on explanation about White Gaze here. In a nutshell, the white gaze is white privilege and supremacy on full on display in such a manner that everything not white is wholly defined as and by its non-whiteness. Everything and everyone else is other.

As a black woman in America, I often feel subjected to this gaze, sometimes at work, sometimes when shopping, at church—where it’s diverse almost more so because Hope and I show up sometimes—at the condo board meeting…you know; it can just happen anywhere. But that particular form of white gaze, the American tradition of white gaze, I’m used to, if not annoyed by. 

My usual experience of traveling abroad involves white gaze, but usually a kinder, gentler gaze. In some countries, my experience with the gaze has been more exocticized—the affluent black American who likes to travel. I get hit on a lot, and bevies have been known to be sent from the other end of the bar with a raised glass, a wink and compliment.

But Finland. Oh Finland. This white gaze is so damn strong. 

My very being is other here. 

So Finland is super homogenous—Finnish folk, Swedish folk, Russian folk, Roma folk (who are admittedly a little more tan than the others, but still…white) and a really small smattering of Asian and north African immigrant folk. So, it’s like whiter than your average white. It’s seriously Clorox white here. Now Helsinki is a very cosmopolitan city with lots of tourists and a huge convention center, so there are lots of folks coming through here. That said, I’m guessing that your average Fin can go a long damn time without seeing someone like me anywhere around other than on a tv or movie screen. So, to see me on the street? Well that’s just an anomaly of huge proportions. 

Apparently, I’m like a leprechaun, but I’m not sure that I bring good luck. In fact the overt clutching and moving of some purses suggest that mayhaps I do not bring luck at all. 

I saw a child walk into a door while staring at me. Ok, I’ll give the kid a break, but the grown women and men who openly gape. Ugh. 

Immigration control acted like someone like me shouldn’t  or maybe couldn’t possibly be attending an international education meeting. The limo driver acted as though he were mute the 20 minute drive to my hotel, prompting my mother to tell me to give him a big tip to prove that we black folks know how to act. (It was he who needed a lesson in how to act.)The least he deserved was a tip, and it annoyed the hell out of me to give him that cash after he ignored us. But that’s what we do—people of color are always trying to prove belong in a world that was not intended for us. 

Things have eased up in the last couple of days. Our trip to Estonia was lovely, with low levels of gaze. Either the gaze was so low key it wasn’t bothersome or the engagement felt so genuine that it was easy to answer questions and to share how we ended up shopping in the town square. During our ferry ride, I decided to meet white gaze with black gaze for the rest of the trip. Open air, direct eye contact lessens the gaze. It makes folks aware that they are staring. It reverses the issues of comfort. It triggers the acknowledgement that being defined and subjected to another’s gaze doesn’t feel all that great. 

For me it allows me to take some of my comfort and my power back. It allows me to resist being a curiosity, no matter how innocently. 

No, I don’t think any of this behavior is intrinsically malicious, and the Finns are, apparently, known for being reserved. But the behavior does inherently reinforce a system of white supremacy that I openly resist. 

With every person of color, especially black folks, we exchange a small smile and the universal nod of acknowledgement. There is no gaze, but there is acknowledgement. It feels nice. 

I am not sure how Hope would cope with this experience. I know she doesn’t like to be gazed upon. I know she sometimes struggles with finding her own beauty in her brown skin. Because she lives with me, understands what I do and is exposed to things designed to embrace her blackness, I think like me, she might be hyper aware of her being a novelty in this setting. In some ways, I am sad about that for both of us—It’s like James Baldwin suggested that to be black and to be conscious of your blackness is to be aware and reactive all the time. 

It is exhausting. I kind of wish we were sometimes ignorant about what it is to wear this skin and to be this person. But that’s not even a realistic desire. 

My mother, having grown up in a different era also is hyper aware of the gaze we have experienced on this trip. She seems to experience a wider range of emotions: disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration and fear. She chastised me about meeting the white gaze with a black one. She worried that it might trigger “them.” She doesn’t like it when they are triggered. She was raised in an era where knowing your place and choosing forms of resistance were the difference between literal life and death. I don’t pretend to know what that kind of emotional confinement feels like. But I see it in her; I hear her when she talks about how things are returning to how that period felt for her so many years ago. 

I don’t mean to make this trip sound miserable. It is far from it. It has been a grand experience and experiment. Most of the people we have met are kind. We have shopped. We’ve ventured to places that weren’t even on our bucket list. We are wiser from our time here. 

We have a day left in Helsinki before we head back to the states. After a week under the glare of this gaze, I will be happy to return to the gaze I know. It still sucks, but I know it. I’ve studied it. I get it. I know how to push back on it. 

I know this because…it’s home. 


Thoughts on Charlottesville

When I was a young woman in undergrad, the animals men who nearly beat Rodney King to death were acquitted of using excessive force in that arrest and beating. A week of riots followed.

I could take a detour and talk about how little things have changed in the 25 years sinc except that these days kill shots have replaced physical beatings, but I won’t. I want to talk about what it was like those days and what it was like to go to a predominantly white institution as a young black woman.

The transition from high school to college is an important one. It’s exciting, and it’s scary. There are so many decisions to make, not just about school, but big life decisions. I now refer to the undergrad period as baby adulting. It was a crazy time.

I grew up in a place where white supremacy was visible. I could drive down a grand avenue with monuments to civil war losers. I remember the occasional detour on the way to church because the klan was marching in full regalia on Sunday morning. I remember going to see visit more plantations than I ever cared to, leading to a self-imposed moratorium on plantation visits since the early 90s.

As I started my applications to go to college, I knew that my family had limited resources. Scholarships were going to be essential to my success and to ensuring future college access for my younger sisters.

University of Virginia was near the top of my list as a Virginia resident. It’s a beautiful campus, steeped in history and tradition—even if that tradition purposefully excluded me. My grades were very good, but even back then UVA was very competitive. I worried about whether I would even get in.

I was floored during the application season when I received a handwritten note from the admissions dean about my essay. She asked to set up a time to talk, during which she strongly encouraged me to attend UVA.

I wrote about an event in pre-school that I still remember vividly. On a summer day on a playground, I became aware that being black was going to be problematic. I learned this at a incredibly young age, from another kid, who learned that being white was definitely better. She had learned that lesson at home from her parents. That story was the backbone for all of my college essays. To this day, the original essay written for a Black History Month contest, remains one of the most compelling things I’ve ever written. Occasionally, I’ll pull it out and it still breaks my heart.

For numerous reasons, not the least of which is that Charlottesville is gorgeous but racist #AF and that I got a full ride elsewhere, I chose to go further north to George Mason University. #patriot4life But the challenges of being one of about 1,000 black students of a campus of roughly 25,000 at the time were real.

There was the classmate whom I competed for the scholarship against who insinuated I bested her only because of the whole black thing.

There were the professors who talked down to me in from of my white classmates as I fought back anger and occasional mad, hot tears.

There was the dean of students who was visibly uncomfortable with black students in his office.

There was the isolation of being the only lonely in most classes over the course of four years.

And because I have a problem with perfectionism and self-pressure there was the challenge of being a model minority student always trying to prove that I belonged to be there.

That was layered on top of roommate squabbles, college boyfriend drama, daddy pop ups (he would visit unannounced—a major style cramp), a ravaging eating disorder and course work.

I loved and hated college.

When the LA riots broke out after the acquittal, I remember falling into an overwhelming sadness. It was consuming and distracting as it hit just before semester finals. I sometimes think back to what it was like for some of my classmates who weren’t plugged in. I was a student scholar and had access to the best of everything and everyone on campus—wonderful professors, additional resources, amazing mentors, 9 other black scholar classmates in my cohort. I actually had support systems during my undergrad years.

And it was still hard.

And exhausting.

And sometimes scary.

After the 1992 riots I found myself reaching out to acquaintances I barely knew at Howard University. Howard, an HBCU, was in DC proper, a fairly lengthy train ride into the city from cloistered Fairfax. It seemed to take forever to get there, but I was grateful it was accessible. I would go to hang out there some weekends. Eat a Happy Meal at the Black Mac—the McDonald’s near campus, post up at the library, just watch critical masses of other black folk roll by. It was…safe. I didn’t have to do anything there. I didn’t have to do anything but just be…just be black and be around other black folk. It was emotionally warm and fuzzy even if I didn’t really know that many people there.

It was safe. So safe that I entertained ideas of giving up my generous scholarship and transferring, just so I didn’t have to do the black thing at GMU anymore. Some days it was just too hard.  My parents got me together right quick on that. I graduated from GMU and ended up going there for grad school as well.

Tonight, though, as I watch the continuing drama unfold in Charlottesville, I’m wondering whether and hoping that the students of color at UVA have a safe place to go just be like I did. I’m so proud to see so many standing up for justice, but I know the toll it takes just wearing this skin and going to school. This burden is heavy. I hope they have one another to lean on, that they have a place to refill and recharge as they start their semester. I hope that UVA is prepared to support them properly and to make sure they are safe. I hope their professors offer mentoring and support. I hope professors choose to be bold and discuss these events and weave the lessons into their syllabi. As a mom, I just worry that these baby adults are in danger. If it’s one thing I’ve learned these last few years, it’s that parenting fears are the worst—you just want your kid to be ok in situations where you have zero ability to protect them.

That. Kind. Of. Fear. Is. The. Worst.

It’s not just that these lazy, ironic AF white supremacists are walking around carrying end-of-summer-sale torches named for a Polynesian creation story (Seriously, they can’t even make their own damn torches? Or did they just want a two-fer in repelling mosquitos AND intimidating people?). It’s that they are intentional and strategic in their intimidation efforts; that they are mowing down people with cars and that so many are sporting MAGA hats without a single word of chastisement from the dude in the White House who’s cool with cozying up to them.

Really who wants to go try to learn in the midst of that? And yet, that’s exactly what we’ve been expected to do for generations (even if Betsy DeVos likes to talk about our being leaders in school choice because of #racistsegregation #idiot).

This is all so exhausting. And sad. And Scary.

It’s undergrad all over again.

It seriously doesn’t feel like it’s ever going to end, which just brings the dark depression back.

It’s just hard.

So, tonight I’m offering my couch and floor to POC UVA students who just want to leave and go somewhere safe. I’m farther than a metro ride, but I’m happy to help you transfer and get settled somewhere else. Know that I and many others like me, feel your pain and stand with you. But I also want you to be as safe as you are strong. Reach out and Ill reach back.

I get it; I really get it.


Silence in Adoptionland

When you are a part of a marginalized group, you learn early on that the norm is white unless otherwise stated. You learn a language that includes sign posts that hip you that the space is not white owned or dominated.

Take for instance the American Medical Association and the National Medical Association. The AMA is race-neutral, which is a super kind way of saying white, while the NMA is a group that represents docs of African descent. The latter is going to include conversations very specifically about people like me—both professionally and medically. Those conversations will happen in the AMA, but not at the level of detail they will within the safe confines of NMA.

“National” is often a sign post for those of us who are not white, and we need those spaces. You want to know why?

Well, because sometimes being in spaces where white is the default norm is hazardous to our mental and emotional wellbeing. The micro and macro-agressions. The casual racism. The casual over-familiarity. The defensiveness. The “not all white people…” statements. The folks who take our information, repackage it and profit from it as though it was original content. The “why is it always about race with you people” or “I’m just a part of the human race” or my personal favorite, “I don’t see race at all.” #Iaintclear

And if I or people like me try to engage, the resulting triggered fragility can simply spin out of control, leaving those of us who are “other” to feel abandoned, hurt, lonely, and demonized as the mean, angry person who attacked some nice well-meaning white person. Oh, we mad, we are mad.

When I started my journey, silly and naïve, I sought support in various places, both on-ground and online. I often found that in both places I was the lonely,only or one of very few.

I am constantly self-assessing and checking my need for self-care with respect to race because I work in the diversity and inclusion space professionally. I thought I would do that and handle whatever came my way in the adoption space.

What I found was one of the least diverse spaces I have ever voluntarily joined. I felt like there were so many ways I didn’t fit—I was black, single, increasingly non-religious, adopting an older kid and living in a super urban area. I know I’m not alone, but boy there are times when I click into or walk into a space looking for support and the first thing I have to do emotionally is put my shield up.

How am I supposed to get support when I feel like I have to arm myself against the supporters? It often just doesn’t work and is an exercise in wasted time and emotional energy.

Yesterday, I wrote about being invisible in Adoptionland, but other times, my presence is seen but only as a source of information, not as an equal in receiving support. I’ve found myself just withdrawing at times because I felt I was being asked to contribute to well-meaning folks who want to be good parents, but who didn’t see me as someone struggling with similar issues in adoption.

Marginalization is so pervasive in our lives.

So, I lurk. I go to support groups and don’t say much as much as I used to.  I try to hit the like button sometimes in online spaces. I get really picky about where I want to use my voice and how to use it strategically. I’m not just posting or commenting all willy-nilly. I have to tailor my response so that it’s palatable, non-threatening, and/or not too angry. I make sure I put the word “some” in front of “white folks” so that I don’t trigger someone into going into an “All Lives” rant.  I have to brace myself for the comment that challenges the factual recounting of my lived experience. I have to go take a short walk before responding so that I can keep people at the keyboards and tables when I do respond. I have to keep my wits about me because one wrong comment and my view point is just discarded like this morning’s gum that was chewed for over two hours.

Speaking in white spaces is exhausting. It’s just requires physical and emotional capital that is sometimes too much, and it doesn’t always payoff.

I often read things online or hear things in person and wonder, is it worth the cost to respond? Nah, I could be teaching Hope to improve her checkers game instead. Or just picking my toenails, you know, Hey, I could get in my car and drive around hoping not to get pulled over by cops!

I could just be doing something else productive.

There are so few signposts in Adoptionland to let me know I am welcome and that my voice is valued. I watch the reactions to the comments made by other people of color,  and I try to support them, but I also really, really monitor the reactions to their posts.

I wonder if things will get heated because feelings get hurt. Will someone get chastised or worse, banned?

I wonder would I have more fun and get more out of watching dumb pet videos. #probably

So, I silently lurk in the back of the room or behind my avatar, no doubt with others. I’ve already got enough on my plate as a single mom to an older adoptee struggling to live beyond her history of trauma.

I don’t need the drama of being shouted down in spaces when I’m seeking support.

So often, this space is my only safe space in Adoptionland, and I had to create it for myself. That’s saying something.

So, it’s just too much and it’s so much easier to stay silent.


Thoughts on Being Invisible in Adoptionland

Hope shared an interesting tidbit with me today. We were recently asked to participate in a video for our adoption agency recruiting other potential adoptive parents for older foster kids. We haven’t decided to do it yet, I’m leaving the decision up to Hope. She was telling me about the reaction she gets when she shares that she is adopted.

Hope said most of her peers are like, oh wow, that’s interesting. But, invariably, there is always at least one person who says they don’t believe her because her mom is black.

#recordscratch

Say what now?

Yeah, Hope says, kids think only white people adopt kids, especially black kids. They think we’re rare. That’s messed up, right?

Uh, yeah, that’s messed up. I am so done!

Of course, there are folks of color who adopt, but we’re largely invisible. Unless it’s a transracial adoption (POCs adopting white children) we just sort of blend in. Our voices in the adoption sphere tend to be muted and the few of us who are vocal and visible are just not enough of a critical mass for folks to take a shine to us. I just made the wonderful list by Healthline of the best adoptive mom blog (Second year! Woot, woot), but I’m the only person of color.

The only one.

This invisibility means that folks think we aren’t here. It leads grown folks and kids to think my daughter is just joshing them by saying she’s adopted because if it was true her parents would surely be white.

Sometimes it feels like the only reason we’re invited into adoption spaces is to help white people raise children of color with free advice and well wishes. This phenomenon makes it hard for people like me to construct our support systems, our villages. There may not be folks comfortable talking to us, building relationships with us, not having one-sided transactional relationships involving our kids. It makes for a lonely journey unless you hunt down and/or fall into your safe space that includes folks who are willing to share their lives with you.

Adoption journeys require intimacy.  As parents we open our homes and our lives to children; children who need homes have to find a way to learn to live with and hopefully trust these parents. The people around us don’t simply play voyeur; they often are parts of our extended family and close friends. Even if they don’t see everything; they see a lot. Parents and kids need specific support systems, and those systems must be safe enough to share some our darkest secrets about our wins and our challenges.

We are invisible, we aren’t able to even build the scaffolding necessary to create what we need.

It is so hard sometimes.

And on top of everything else, our absence from the adoption narrative makes kids doubt my daughter’s adoption story.

That’s effed up.


In What World

In my 44 years of circling the sun, I have always been subjected to some sort of bias. It hasn’t always been racism, sometimes it’s sexism and misogyny. Sometimes it’s been ageism.

I’ve been hurt. I’ve been angered. I’ve risen up, fallen down and risen again to fight my own oppression. Somehow, along the way, I tripped into a career devoted largely to advancing social justice in graduate education.

I just returned from a conference devoted to social justice in education. I met lots of people, shared lots of things, commiserated, learned, talked and pondered. I consider this meeting my annual professional development meeting, and I always come back with some new ideas and contacts.

For the last few years, I have felt a ratcheting up of racist (and other “ism” oriented) language in the atmosphere. I look forward to this conference in late May to hear the latest, to verify and validate that what I’m hearing, seeing and feeling is in fact what I’m hearing, seeing and feeling.

On the real…it’s getting hot in here.

For me the ominous foreshadowing has been brewing almost since Obama was first elected and birtherism emerged. During this last 18 months, and the last 6 in particular, the season has opened to say all the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, horrible things that are on one’s mind under the guise of free speech and with little expectation of consequences.

We already saw that it was increasingly dangerous for black folk to, well, breathe, and now it’s just getting progressively worse. Just days after the 2016, election I allowed Hope to come home early because she had been subjected to horribly racist language by some of her classmates. She just crumbled.

Grammy, my mom, integrated her high school many years ago. It pains me to hear her say that the current national discourse is increasingly reminiscent of her youth in rural central Virginia.

And if she’s having flashbacks; I’m having flash-forwards.

I believe I can take care of myself, but Hope…

My daughter is on the precipice of adulthood. In a few short years, she will finish high school. She will likely go to college locally as she continues to take time to emotionally and academically catch up. She is among a cohort of kids who know a different kind of world than the one even I grew up in.

Born after 9/11, she may have recognized Bush II, but really, more than half of her life, Obama was president, and while that did not prevent “isms” from touching her…it gave her a different outlook.

And now…I can say that it’s radically different.

It’s hard to teach a child to show respect when there are major demonstrations that respect is a passé construct. The conflated notions of “tell it like it is” and free speech make it difficult to help her navigate how to engage socially. It’s also hard to teach her to turn the other cheek when she comes from a background that has already taught her that such grace just means she’ll get that one hurt too.

Hope desperately wants to be a “good” girl—her words not mine—but she already struggles with impulsiveness and many present public models are just fresh examples that impulsiveness rules the day.

Parenting is extraordinarily difficult. In what world are the current circumstances supposed to make us great (again) or even just a little easier?  And are these the circumstances that are supposed to create an environment and culture that helps me and my daughter feel safer, provide a good education, not feel pushed out due to our cocoa colored skin? Is this behavior supposed to make us, me and Hope, great or even just feel great??

Does this make you feel great??

pope

BLEND IN WITH WHITE PEOPLE?

Or this?

whitenational

Recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA

How about this?

Portand

Because speech shouldn’t have consequences.

Yeah, me neither. I could really, really go hard into the political, but really, I’m more worried about the crass culture war and what its long-term prognosis will be.  How long will it be before we’re all great? How long before some leadership says hey, this is not how we should treat each other? How long before we acknowledge our individual and collective humanities? Is it in my lifetime? Is it in Hope’s?

In what world can I believe that my daughter and her brown and black friends and families will be consistently treated as though they are great? In what world will I be assured that their humanity will be seen and acknowledged?

In what world?


When Racism, Douchery and Adoption Collide

So this weekend known d-bag Iowa Congressman Steve King said this:

This dude. Usually he’s vomiting some sort of racist foolishness, but then he said this:

“It’s the culture, not the blood. If you could go anywhere in the world and adopt these little babies and put them into households that were already assimilated into America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby.”

Sigh. Ok, let’s break this all the way down: Rep. King actually advocated international adoption for the purposes of advancing American culture against “somebody else’s babies.” Based on his frequent commentary those “somebody” folks are people of color primarily from Africa and the Middle East who are not Christian.

I got to say, that while I find 99.9999999998% of what comes out of this man’s mouth and typing fingers abhorrent; I appreciate his honesty. Lots of racists hide. They used to hide behind hoods. Today they hide behind systemically crushing policies and keyboards. With Rep. King, we can watch him plant his flag over and over again. We can see that thing and name that thing. And as someone who fights oppression for a living, I prefer tangling with devils I can see.

There is so much to unpack from his commentary, but let me focus on these facts:

  • Rep. King clearly doesn’t understand that adoption is supposed to be child-focused not civilization building.
  • He believes that we should burden our adopted children with *saving* American culture rather than focusing on ensuring they have access to safe, loving homes.
  • King doesn’t have any care for the first parents of the children he thinks should save American civilization.
  • King also doesn’t get that many of those “somebody” families are refugees in Western Europe who would rather not have to flee their countries of origin with nothing but the clothes on their back or to be treated like crap in the places where they seek asylum. They’d also like to raise their own children.
  • There is no appreciation that international adoption is rife with ethical challenges, not the least of which is that the actual number of orphans that need families internationally is far lower than what is often reported.
  • There is an unspoken, yet clearly inferred, charge that brown and black children need to be adopted by white folks so that they can be properly raised assimilated into “western civilization.”
  • Rep. King doesn’t see the value of black and brown lives here or globally; our melanin is blamed for the threatened failure of civilizations.

Oh, I could spend some time breaking Rep. King’s foolery all the way down, but I’m loathe to give this racist more airtime. It’s tough enough to dig through this guy’s public statements about race, poverty, and civics and not walk away wanting to douse yourself in Purell. Now he’s added this idea that Americans should be internationally adopting black and brown children from cultures different than ours in order to indoctrinate them. Sigh.

Just imagine for a minute how he views those of us who are not white and born here in the states.


ABM & DAI – The Sequel

ETA: Apparently the link to this piece on the DAI site is no more. I’ve decided to post the original here! Enjoy!

Hope and I are alike but we are also very different.

We are both black. We both have families from the Southeast of the U.S. We both love music but completely different genres. We both are talented but in very different ways. We both wear our hair naturally —  in its kinky, coily state. And that’s about it.

Most folks who come into contact with us assume that I birthed her; after all, we are a same-race adoptive family. Folks assume that because I’m educated, then Hope must love school and do well in school. She hates it. Folks assume that Hope is a young, social justice militant like her mom. She’s not. Folks assume that Hope is and always has been comfortable with being in a middle-class home. She’s not but she’s trying to be.

It’s these differences that spark a bit of conflict in our lives. To sort of quote the late author Bebe Moore Campbell, Hope’s black ain’t like mine. When Hope was placed with me at the age of 12 (she’s now 15), we struggled with many things in the early months. After the difficult adjustment episodes passed, we began to realize that our concept of what it meant to be “black” was vastly different.

I grew up in a stable home with both parents who valued education. My mom stayed home with my siblings and I until we were all in school. We took road trip vacations. My father worked overtime to make it all work. Things were tight but never unstable.

Hope never knew that kind of stability, and she didn’t know many if any, black folks who did. For her, blackness was associated with class — poverty, some homelessness and just getting back economically. She did take a few trips to visit grandparents and extended family in her early years but that was about it. She attached those experiences with being black rather than being poor so her concept of blackness was much narrower than mine. She was happy to be parented by someone who shared her skin color but our experiences were so vastly different that shared color was undermined by class difference. During our first year, she told me it was like I wasn’t even black.

Yeah, she snatched my black card.

Shortly after our adoption was finalized, Hope’s extended birth family found us. We embarked on a relationship with them. Hope began to tell me stories of her early childhood visiting her family and the things they used to do. It was something real and tangible, and it wasn’t just a familiar family lens that Hope viewed these memories through. These were her people and they were a version of black she could relate to.

Only it was different now. Hope had traveled a little. She had a passport. She was seeing a bigger broader world. Hope was solidly middle class and she was learning to lean into her economic privilege.

By the time we went to visit Hope’s family, awkwardness settled in. The rush of emotions was overwhelming — grief, joy, happy memories, sad memories, and anger.  It was a lot to process so the conflict between race and class wasn’t initially clear.

But on the long drive home, it certainly became a point of discussion. Hope shared her observations. Our families were very different but also very similar — supportive, loving and encouraging with mutual core values. But we lived differently. Hope was proud of the things we’re able to do but she questioned if her birth family could do those things too. She questioned her grandmother’s living situation. She wondered what life would have been like if she had experienced a kinship adoption.

She tried to reconcile this race/class thing. It was hard for her; it still is several years later. I kept saying that black folks come from all walks of life; there are still some shared experiences, but yeah, this class thing can make race look and maybe feel different.

Our relationship with Hope’s birth family is awkward. Some of our early “grown folks” conversations about Hope explored fighting the finalized adoption and who would have access. I was sympathetic but I was also clear. I welcomed a relationship, but given Hope’s history with her family of origin, I would bury them in court. I’m somewhat shamed by that threat now. Privilege allowed me to make it. Looking back, I now feel like a snobby jerk.

Transracial families aren’t the only ones who may have to struggle with issues of race. Because class issues can overlap race and racial identity so much, those of us in same-race adoptions may also struggle with healthy racial identity development when our children move from one social class to another.

Hope is at an age where she’s trying to create her own identity. She also chooses to align herself and her friendships with all non-black peers. Certainly, there may be a lot of reasons for that, but the class conflict and how that shapes the way Hope sees herself plays a big role in her relationships, including and especially those with her birth family.

Class and privilege shape as much of Hope and my relationship with her birth family as any of the biological connections. We are all a work in progress. As an adoptive parent, I realize how important it is for Hope to have a relationship with her birth family. It’s important for me too. It’s my goal to make it all accessible for this big family of mine. This means teaching my daughter to learn to be aware of her privilege, how to prevent it from negatively affecting her relationships, and finally, how to use her economic privilege for good. It’s another set of lessons and values on a mess of healing, course corrections and personal and family growth, but important, so like with all the other stuff, we’ll do it.

____________________________________________________

I am so excited to share the second part of my series with The Donaldson Adoption Institute! In this post I discuss how same race adoptive families of color can also struggle with racial identity issues.  Sometimes class and race issues are socially tightly knit together.

For our children coming from hard places, becoming a part of a new family is a paradigm shift.  They may be struggling with big emotions like grief and fear; they are learning to be a part of a family that is likely a lot more functional that what they understand…there are new people, new schools, new everything. Often times there are also more resources.

My daughter Hope had a very different understanding of what it meant to be black before meeting me. It’s been a challenge for her to reconcile that black folk are not a monolith. Whether she or I want to admit it or not, the truth is that Hope is a solidly middle-class kid now. Most of the time she seems comfortable with that, but in this Dondalson post I talk about when it’s not quick so easy for her.

Again, I’m delighted that the organization thought my voice was important and valuable. I’m totally jazzed that the good folks there have decided to feature my story as in honor of Black History Month.

Here is the link to the second of my two-part series over on the Donaldson Adoption Institute blog.  Be sure to stop by their Facebook page and hit them up on Twitter too!

dai

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