Tag Archives: African American Life

Radical Self Care

I just returned from Puerto Rico, and I’m realizing I don’t do this kind of radical self-care often enough.

Every morning, I got up to walk. I love my daily walks with Yappy. It’s usually dark, and I’ve got to stop a half million times to allow him to sniff, try to reach the errant, tossed away chicken bone or pop a squat. I often go back out for a quick walk without him. These last few days I’ve walked close to 5 miles every morning, coming back to the hotel drenched in sweat, feeling alive and a little more tan.

I picked up some yogurt from the market, got cleaned up and headed to the beach. I enjoyed the sounds of the ocean, lulling me into a morning nap facilitated by early drinking and an edible or two. I read a trashy book, hit the ice cream shop for lunch and relocated to the pool in the afternoon.

beach2

I discovered a little carry out shop across the street from the hotel; they make the best calzone crust I’ve ever had. I also purchased a bottle of rum and have practically had Cuba Libres on tap the last several days.

beach

I lounged in my king sized bed, channel surfing in the evenings, briefly considering going out, or at least going down to the cigar bar to smoke and drink in the luxe lobby.

Lounging stayed winning during this brief reprieve.

I’ve experienced so few moments of irritation over the last few days that they seem almost a distant memory. Oh, I remember them though and Holy Homeboy, white folks are at the heart of each moment. Now, just remember that part of what precipitated my quick vacation scheduling is having been pushed to the brink by white folks during a meeting on diversity and inclusion, so this is a sensitive thing right now.

Practically empty beach, no please come stand in front my chair to take your selfies for 15 minutes.

Whiny group of 10 traveling together who asked if I would move chairs so they could also sit together at the pool. This chair? The one I’ve been sitting in for 90 minutes? No. I’m good. Cue their melodrama of moving to another row to sit together. #theaudacity

I had time to do a lot of thinking and reflecting on this trip, but honestly…I didn’t. I thought I might take some time to think about my next career moves, maybe spend some time thinking about some of the volunteering I’ve been doing. I thought I might think about finding my way around this dating thing. I thought I might think about a lot of things.

Instead, I gave my brain a much needed rest. I thought about very little. I rested.

beach

Why is it that I had to hit a wall to embrace just doing nothing for a few days? I mean, I know that the daily routine isn’t designed for just being without expectation, but wow, not doing anything for 3 days should not feel so radical or costly. And yet it does.

I’m glad to be home, waiting for the boarder to bring Yappy home. I’m looking forward to getting back into my routine for a few weeks. I’ve got a trip to Hawaii in a few weeks for work. I’m looking forward to freshening my tan and enjoying time with colleagues.

In the meantime, I’m going to find a few minutes every day to just be, to just breathe and to just rest.

Challenging all of you to do the same.

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When Magic Ain’t Enough

First things first: Hope is doing marvelously. She has friends; she is social. She is trying to stay on top of her schoolwork. She joined a club last week. She’s doing great. She’s also still open to questions for her column, so…Ask Hope by sending an email to adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com.

Me?

I’m not doing so hot.

It’s not an empty nest thing, though some of it is probably a change thing. No, it’s really about work and personal life. I hit an emotional wall a week ago that was just incredibly damaging, and while I grinned and bore it; I’m not ok. And this week I feel like it shows across every aspect of my life.

I recently celebrated 15 years in my job as a diversity and inclusion professional. I love my work; I know I’m making a difference. There is so much work to do, but I can look at several generations of students and see the impact that my work along with the work of so many others.

I’ve got research projects and consultations and student organizations. I give lectures, conduct workshops and create assessment tools. I’ve written policies, standards, papers and books.

I’m not bragging. I’ve just worked hard.

Along the way I went back to school, did a couple of degrees and half raised an amazing daughter.

I feel like if I totally checked out right this moment, I will have left a mark, and that’s immensely satisfying even when I see so much more that can and should be done.

But it has all has come at a cost.

I’ve been one of few people of color broadly and very few black people and even fewer black women, in countless spaces over the last 15 years. I’m used to it. I can hold my own in such spaces, but these spaces aren’t always inclusive or hospitable. I’ve been called names. I’ve heard racist jokes. I’ve been harassed. When I went natural and chopped my hair off the first time, a white male colleague said I looked exotic. I have given lectures that were rated poorly because I didn’t have any effs to give about white fragility.

I’ve coached, coddled, chastised and championed.

I love this work, but it is emotionally exhausting creating content to reach, teach, and move people in ways that keeps them engaged and not triggered by their own fragility. It comes at a high cost that I’m willing to pay if it means that I can make this profession better. My commitment to this work is also why I continue writing about my life and parenting experience in this space, why Mimi and I hosted Add Water and Stir and why I’m now trying to move into doing some consulting with adoption agencies interested in exploring these issues.

I recently participated in a work-related meeting that demonstrated clearly to me that there is still so much more work to be done. It was in a space that positioned me as an outsider, that felt very silencing and was wholly oblivious to how problematic it all felt for those of us who were outsiders—either by professional discipline or race.

No one was mean. No one said anything inappropriate. No one was overtly racist. But it was very superficial and wildly damaging to me emotionally.

It’s been a week, and I haven’t recovered. I’m still working, still producing, still rolling, but feeling like the walking wounded. That space wrung what little Black Girl Magic I had left. It’s gone. It’s like the experience just zapped it. I am broken.

Couple that with a continued barrage of trash on the dating scene and I’m on the ropes. I’m just done. Last week, I pulled my profile down and shuttered myself like I was preparing for a hurricane. It was like a one-two punch and the ref is just hovering over me counting….1. 2. 3. 4. 5…..

I can’t get up.

I’m emotionally empty.

depressed

People can see it. People can feel the icky energy rolling off of me. My therapist knew as soon as I walked into her office yesterday that I was not ok. She remarked that my energy was similar to when I started going to her shortly after Hope’s arrival when I was deep in the depths of post-adoption depression.

And she’s right. I sobbed in her office. I finally said how unseen I felt at the meeting; how so much of my work seems in vain, how the dating scene is trash, but I would love to have a life companion and that I’m hella glad Hope is away at school while I’m seriously falling apart.

My empty nest fall was *not* supposed to be like this. The work I love is not supposed to make me so miserable. Dating should not make me wonder if the next dude is going to be awful to me too.

I’m not going to stay in this dark place though. I’ve booked a 5 star get-a-way for two weeks from now on a whim. I thought as the bill was rising higher and higher as I as I was upgrading this and that, this is getting pricey. Then I asked what would I be like in two weeks if I don’t do this or something like it? What if I didn’t invest in myself? And what would Hope do/say/feel if she saw me like this?  I might be ok, but the people around me will surely suffer—actually I will suffer most of all.

So, I booked exactly what I wanted and needed for 5 days away in a location that’s warm, sunny, beachy, with lots of rum, good food and lots of brown people—majority brown people. I need to be in a space where black and brown folks are the dominant culture for a few days. I need to feel emotionally safe; I need to not be directly under the searing gaze of white folks for a few days. #yeahIsaidit #lovebutyallareexhausting

And tomorrow, I’ll be calling up the doc and getting some new meds. A vacation time-out will help a lot, but I know it is not a panacea for what ails me. I know that it will not bring my magic back. Chemistry will help bring my magic back. So will eating right and continuing to make plans that focus on my restoration

Parents weekend is next week, so I will get to see my beautiful Hope then. I’m so excited about seeing her and getting a glimpse into the life she is creating for herself. I’m so proud of her. With my restoration plan coming into focus; I feel better about the ABM she will see next weekend. The vacation will jump start a new chapter for me; I’m committed to that.

I do not like the dark space. I do not like feeling like I’m wandering or wondering. I want to come back from this. I want to keep going; I want to be strong and magical. I also want to be better at preventing this kind of emotional spiral.

Practice makes perfect right?


When Racism Consumes Everything

I don’t overtly talk politics in this space. There are numerous reasons for that, but ultimately, my very existence is a political act. There are countless adoptive parents who author blogs; I follow and read a fair number. But there aren’t that many who are authored by people of color. I’ve seen blogs come and go since I started my blog years ago.

I wanted to focus on the day to day experiences of a Black woman who adopted a tween. There have certainly been times when I tackled politics head on in this space, and if you follow me on Twitter (@adoptiveblkmom) you already know where I stand.

Since the president’s offensive tweet last week, I’ve been ducking and dodging a lot of the news. I tend to watch the news as I get ready for work and for a short time on the weekend. I listen to an absurd number of podcasts, several politically oriented. This week the podcasts largely focused on 1) whether the tweets were racist, 2) should we use the term “racist” and 3) what does it all mean.

I avoided a lot of it. I avoided it because it was stupid and exhausting. It’s like living in that movie Groundhog Day; it just happens over and over and over…it just never ends.

This president is a racist, full stop, without any equivocation.

This is not debatable; he has a lengthy history of racist behavior…he’s a racist. #fact #theend

This president has followers who are also racist and/or have a high tolerance and comfort level with being racist adjacent.

This president has colleagues are also racist and/or have a high tolerance and comfort level with being racist adjacent.

These things are objectively true. #allofthem #facts #nodebate

And what does that mean for folks like me and Hope? I’m glad you asked.

It means that sometimes we worry if spaces we enter are going to be safe…are we the only ones? Is someone going to yell at us? Will we get decent service? Will the cops be called because we didn’t get into line quickly enough at Starbucks because Hope is notoriously slow at ordering the SAME DAMN THING EVERYTIME we go so I slip into the loo while waiting for her to once again conclude that she wants a grande caramel macchiato?

It means that I’ve had meetings with school administrators that start out assuming that I have no effing idea what’s going on, because really how could I, talking down to me despite my having a doctorate in education. It makes for a contentious meeting from the jump when I have to gather them right on up within the first 5 minutes of the meeting.

It means that some of Hope’s odd trauma-based behaviors are often attributed to my piss poor parenting because I’m a single Black mother. That’s got to be the reason, right? This also requires me to get folks together.

It means as I help prepare to send Hope to this predominantly White college in a small city in Virginia where the largest evangelical Christian university with a president that openly cosigns on the president’s foolishness coexists, I have to have conversations with her about what might happen when she leaves campus to go into town, what to do in worst case scenarios and how to just stay safe. I spend more time coaching around racial safety than I do sexual safety, as she heads off to college.

It means that we have a dashcam in the car.

It means that I as a single woman who used to “taste the rainbow” when it comes to dating have committed to swiping left on just about all White guys and every dude whose profile indicates they are conservative. I don’t have a problem with the politics (I might vehemently disagree but we can be cool), but I can’t risk that their version of conservatism includes White nationalism.

It means that Hope’s political identity is being shaped by all of this; she will vote in her first presidential election next year. I see the jaded cynicism already seeping in. Despite my deep love of politics and my lessons in civics that I’ve put her through these last 5 years, she’s the type of kiddo who is at great risk of just sitting out of the political system all together. If you don’t think the system is fair or you believe that you are marginalized in it, where’s the justification to participate?

It means when I point out what bullshyte this president is, people actually ask me “Why are you so angry?” Really? Why aren’t you angry? Gee why the eff would anyone be angry? #sarcasm

It means that Hope’s grandparents are talking about how they feel like they did in the 50s and 60s; it’s not good. I worry that that emotional toil of reliving the racial animus they grew up with is literally shaving days, months and even years from their lives. That’s less time with me and my sisters, but it’s less time with their grandchildren, the youngest being just a month old.

It means that even as I do my best to avoid all of this stuff, I’m hyper conscious that the rise and pervasiveness of racism, sexism, misogyny, homo/transphobia shapes my day, every day, all day. It influences what I choose to watch on TV, what I choose to listen to in the car, what books and magazines I choose to pick up, what people I share things with, what people I consciously avoid, how I view safety for myself and my daughter, how I plan my future, where I bank and invest my resources, how I use what privilege I have, what routes through certain neighborhoods I choose to take, how I use Yappy as a friendly opening, why I insist on being called ‘Dr.” in certain situations, where I choose to go to church and what I look for in those environments, why I choose to go to the grocery store in that neighborhood because the one in mine doesn’t have as nice product offerings, what concerns I have when visiting a new health care provider, will that person believe my complaints about ailments and offer appropriate treatment, how I’m expected to conform to certain beauty standards, that my skin color means I need to buy certain beauty products that aren’t always widely available, that natural or nudes in any product are not made for me and Hope, how our hair isn’t universally considered “professional” growing in its natural state from our scalp. And it goes on and on and on.

All of these things and so much more fly through my mind at least once a day on top of just daily living stuff like, should I cook those chicken thighs I took out this morning and I wonder if I Hope is willing to chop the veggies without a lot of pushback.

Every breath I take, every move I make, I am usually reminded that I am different and that my ability to be present in that space is viewed as a privilege and not as a right.

Even in adoption, I was and am aware that for some I’m viewed as unique. Every “best of list” I make, I’m conscious of the fact that there’s rarely more than one person of color who made the list. I am proud to be recognized, grateful even, but I also wonder why the few others out there aren’t also being recognized. Is there space for just one and am I non-threatening enough to make the list? Am I being tokenized? Yeah, pervasive racism will make you down your own achievements and recognitions.

And we’re seeing greater discourse around Black and brown children being separated from their parents. Separation is being used as a threat to reduce asylum seekers. We hear things about how “those” parents don’t deserve their children. We hear about the youngest of those children being placed in foster homes, and we’ll likely see these brown children adopted without consideration for reunification. All of this while the older children languish in cages or group homes. We see schools actually threatening child welfare agency engagement over unpaid school lunches. We see more Black and brown kids moving to White families prompting me to question whether this is a genocidal effort to kill our cultures, to “whiten up” our children, to just destroy our families. It is painful, extraordinarily painful and there are folks out there who actually believe that me putting this out there is radical, not helpful, not collaborative. And then in the end, the gaslighting will resume: “Why are you so angry?”

It is effing exhausting y’all. I’m tired. And this week I’m not angry, I’m enraged.

The thing about all this is whether all these emotions are sustainable? At what point does Stockholm Syndrome kick in, making many folks just give up and give in to the awful rhetoric that is permeating our lives? Do I have the present strength of my ancestors who toiled as enslaved laborers, to withstand this?

We’ve got at least another year of this, and quite possibly 4 more years beyond this, in the event there is a reelection. This racism isn’t new; none of it is. It’s just cool to be open with it now. The environment allows emboldened, overt racism now. It doesn’t feel good or even safe. It is taking an emotional toll.

It’s important that folks who call themselves allies to take up the mantle. I don’t care how you came to allyhood; be a good ally. Being a good ally means being an anti-racist. Being “not” racist ain’t good enough. We need to you go hard into anti-racism.

If you are a TRAP, whether you acknowledge that your kid will feel these things, know that they will. Accept that. This is learned, survivalist knowledge. It is the awful knowledge that we learn and accumulate in order to survive. Your privilege only extends so far over your children. Know that because it is the truth. You need to put your life on the line for them—not just them but for everyone who looks like them. If you’re down with colorblind ideology bs, you are a part of the problem. If you aren’t interested in learning the language of antiracism and the confrontations that are necessary to be actively anti-racist, your silent unwillingness is complicity. Full stop, no excuses, the end.

These are strange exhausting times. We all gotta do better at fighting back. You can believe in some conservative ideologies, but really, draw some lines, practice decency and acknowledge the dignity and human rights of others. I’m calling on folks to do effing better.

Your neighbor’s lives depend on it—whether in terms of the day to day or in terms of total life expectancy.

Let’s all do better, continue to fight and fight harder.


Thoughts on Ralph & Blackface

Earlier this week I posted a story about a guest speaker at a private school who dressed in blackface to teach about a white missionary.

Capture

Chile…

I am sick to death of revisiting conversations about blackface, but here we are in an endless news cycle discussing this image from the Virginia governor’s med school yearbook, circa 1984.

yearbook

via Google Images

Lawd heyzeus. Really?

Yes, really, in 1984.

Now, I grew up in Richmond, VA, and most of my extended family still live there. The Klan was, and no doubt low key probably still is, a big thing there; I remember seeing them march on occasion down Monument Avenue—or the Avenue of Losers as I like to call the tribute street to the Confederate leaders. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson shared a holiday in January; which eventually became Lee-Jackson-King Day—yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. shares a holiday with confederate leaders, because #virginaisforhatersandlovers

I don’t recall seeing a lot of blackface, but I certainly knew what it was and that it was a no-no. Folks who wore blackface, well, they were to be avoided because they probably wore or knew people who wore hoods.

So, Ralph Northam, Virginia’s beleaguered governor, included a picture of two dudes on his personalized med school yearbook page. One dude is dressed in blackface, and the other is dressed in a Klan ensemble.

He apologized this past Friday for the picture.

On Saturday he said (paraphrased), “I’ve been really looking at it and I don’t think it was me. I called some old classmates to see if they thought it was me, and I’m pretty sure that’s not me.”

Notinmyhouse

Bruh.

But he continued, “I’m pretty sure because there was this other time I did blackface as Michael Jackson and I used shoe polish to ‘darken’ my face and the shoe polish was hard to get off.”

giphy-downsized

Say what now?

Da faq?

To be clear, he denied being in the Klan robe, but says he’s not the one in blackface either because he did blackface some *other* time, and the time in the picture wasn’t it, despite the fact that its on his personalized yearbook page.

The page he now says he doesn’t know how it came to be.

When I tell y’all that this foolishness is exhausting, it is an understatement.

exhausted

It’s convenient that he cops to the blackface because clearly of the two absurdly racist folks in the picture copping to blackface is infinitely still better than admitting to being the one in the Klan robe.

This is where we are folks—the choice between a robe and shoe polish, and shoe polish is the lesser of evils.

Just ugh.

And he has not resigned and doesn’t seem to intend to. And that is really the demonstration of privilege here. When you have ascended to the highest position, your day of reckoning comes and you think it doesn’t apply to you because it just doesn’t.

Here’s the thing, Ralph, the MJ blackface wearer, may really be a new creature. He may have genuinely eschewed being the racist prick that this image suggests. He may genuinely believe in social justice. He may be genuine in his friendships and relationships with people of color—incidentally during the explanatory presser this weekend he shouted out having African American friends and I laughed heartily. He may even come up with the story of his parents marching with King because, why not?

It could all be true, and he still has to go, because when you do dirt and it comes to light then a day of reckoning follows. How is anyone supposed to take him seriously after this? I know I can’t.

And to the MAGA folks and their whataboutisms…have all the seats. All of them. In the back. In fact, turn your chairs to face the wall! Your political house is infested from the top down, go handle that and then we can talk. Dems are in surgery right now excising this problem.

So, Hope and I were chatting about this last night; she’s away on a school trip but called to wish her mama a happy birthday (because she’s awesome!). She’d heard a bit of what was happening, and I was filling her in. She was bewildered about how this yearbook photo came back to bite Ralph in the arse.

It was a teachable moment about how a picture in a book went viral and how easily it could happen, so just think how easy a picture already on the internet could go viral.

I’m a GenXer; I grew up in an analog world and transitioned to digital as I emerged into adulthood. I’m grateful that a lot of dumb stuff wasn’t documented in film or on jump drives. My daughter has never known a world where snapping a picture didn’t involve a swipe or tap. We had a nice chat about what that meant for her, and her friends and how she controls her image because yeah, actions and images have consequences, even if those consequences don’t pop off for 35 years. Parents, remind your kids that sometimes pictures have big consequences so gauge yourselves accordingly.

So here’s my shout out to Gov. Northam:

Ralph, I voted for you. I was rooting for you, and you’ve said some dumb ish this week, but this is ridiculous.

I quit you.

Here’s the thing…it’s not just about this picture; it’s the larger story that it tells.

Best case scenario, it wasn’t you (that time because it wasn’t the Michael Jackson blackface time…smh). You still rolled with a crew who included folks who thought it was cool. You were ok with it. You thought it was hilarious; you probably thought it was just jokes and who was going to have a problem with any of it anyway because it was just a group of like minded folks doing like minded things. So this is also about the character of those with whom you surround yourself.

I don’t buy that you didn’t know that picture was in the yearbook. In my yearbooks, I carefully thought about my quotes and the pictures I was asked to approve to include. You included that photo because it was funny and characterized you and the funny guy folks knew you to be. Just jokes, right? There’s no hipster irony on the page; irony doesn’t seem like it was a thing for you. Those pictures encapsulated who you were and who folks knew you to be. This page is how you chose to be remembered during med school. This is what you wanted your friends and would-be colleagues to see and remember you as the funny, authentic guy you were in med school. And we see it Ralph.

And it was all so casual that it was utterly forgettable, which is what makes it just so shocking in context 35 years later. The casual racism was so insidious that you didn’t even remember it; that looking back you marvel at how the page could have possibly been approved because it was sooooo racist to include the picture that you couldn’t have possibly done that! No Ralph, it was so casual and occurred in an environment that was so casually, persistently racist that of course the image was approved for inclusion.

Tell us Ralph, as you flip through your yearbook, did you have any POC classmates? Gosh, I wonder what it felt like for them just learning and being in an environment that would think nothing of approving such images for inclusion in what would also be *their* med school yearbook. But of course, it’s clear that no one, including you, really thought about that much, huh?

If fact, it was so just regular for you and those who surrounded you that when your campaign managers over the years no doubt asked you before each campaign, “Is there anything out there that could be a problem?” you replied, No.

No?

Of course no, because even if you had left all of that behind, it was so casual, so reflective of you in that moment, that you had forgotten about it. I mean, it was just a picture of two fun loving dudes yucking it up at a party in blackface and a Klansman hood. It’s forgettable when it happens so often and it doesn’t impact you because you’re white. It was just this thing you had done in your “youth” at 25 (an age by which apparently POC are socially believed to be middle aged by comparison; y’all stay accusing our children of adult behavior while white kids get to be kids until they’re like 45, but I digress).

And so even if you are the real deal now, a believer in social justice, your drawers have skid marks. We don’t expect perfection and demanding that you be held accountable for being and/or wanting to be remembered as a racist prick in your mid-20s isn’t a high bar as far as accountability goes.

And even if this story was planted by opposition as payback for some other political stuff, the fact remains that it was there for the plucking. It was there because you created it, because again, it was your memory page that was a snapshot of who you were and how you wanted your friends and colleagues to remember you. You can downplay it, but it is what it is.

And now, here we are, watching you at a press conference say that that isn’t you in the picture because that wasn’t the time you actually did blackface for a contest. Of COURSE it’s not you in the Klan robe. I mean, really…Ralph. #sarcasm

Your wife had to say it was “inappropriate circumstances” when you looked around to see if there was enough room to actually show you could still moonwalk. #unreal #eagerfordistraction

You topped it off with the cherry—but I have African American friends. #thegotomoveofreformedracists

Sigh, we know, Ralph, we know, and we still need you to step down and gracefully exit stage left.

You can even moonwalk if you like.

moonwalk

via Giphy

I hope that you live out the rest of your life truly devoted to social justice issues and teaching kids and young adults to be mindful of the company they keep and how they portray their images online and in print. You can be a great spokesperson for the repercussions of bad decisions and what reform can do for you.

I know it will take some time for you to get to that place, but for now, please, just go.

Beat it.

beat it.gif

via Giphy

Post Script: The irony of doing blackface to mimic a person whose skin was lightening by the month…just sigh…smh.


Black Beauty

Hope was home for the recent holiday, and while she was here, she decided to cut her hair. Hope had decided some time ago that she regretted relaxing her hair and wanted to “go natural” again. After about 7 months of growing it out, we snipped off the relaxed ends and basked in the glory that is now her little Afro.

Ok, so maybe I basked; Hope seemed beside herself with shock, anxiety and the ever present teen worries about how others would see her.

When Hope came to home nearly 5 years ago, she had a lot of hair that I lovingly nurtured right on down to her shoulders. It was not chemically treated. I twisted it, coiled it, braided it, did all kinds of things with it. Hope was really proud of her hair; she got a lot of compliments. She learned to really embrace how her naturally curly, coily hair looked.

Hope has thick hair. It’s not just that each strand is thick; there are also a lot of strands. I swear when I first started doing her hair, I thought I was wrestling a carpet!

As she got older, and I shifted more of the burden of doing her hair to her, things got…difficult. My daughter’s care-taking abilities didn’t produce the same results, and eventually she decided that she wanted to relax it.

I hated the idea. I wanted her to love her hair and to learn to properly care for it. It had been years since I’d given up relaxing my own hair, and there was a part of me that took it really personally that my daughter wanted to relax her hair.

I had failed to promote the beauty of our hair.

I had failed to foster a sense of pride in our hair in its natural state.

I had failed to cultivate a sense of beauty that didn’t adhere to Euro-centric beauty norms.

I had failed to get her to love herself.

In spite of these failures, I also support one’s ability to wear their hair however they please. So, I asked her hair dresser to relax her hair.

Oh there was lots of hair swinging. There were smiles. There was hair flipping. Hope’s hair grew and then…all the things that happened before the relaxer happened. Poor maintenance; lazy care, heat damage, split ends and breakage. There were a couple of heavy “trims” that took inches off.

And I was spending a small fortune getting her hair done.

We ended up in the same place as before, which made me feel as though my prior failures had been confirmed in this hair relaxing exercise.

Then one night I was watching hair videos on YouTube when Hope said she regretted relaxing her hair. She thought it would be easier, but it wasn’t.

I still have teeth marks on my tongue from where I nearly bit it off so as not to say, “I told you so!”

So she begin the journey to grow her hair out with the first major development happening during her fall break.

I’m delighted that she grew her hair out and that she wants to embrace the fullness and textures of her natural hair. That said, I know that rocking a teeny weeny Afro (TWA) is a shock at first. You see all your other features and you can feel weird about them.

Is my forehead really that big?

Were my ears so noticeable when my hair was longer?

I swear my acne was not this noticeable with bangs.

My nose is big.

My skin is so dark.

My teeth are big.

I need earrings to distract from this.

I don’t like the way I look.

People will make fun of me.

I’m never going to look like Becky (No, you’re right and you’re not supposed to.)

It’s all so loaded. Helping her reframe her thoughts about beauty is hard. Helping her think about the fact that six months from now she will have a lot more hair is hard. Helping her believe that she doesn’t need to “fix” anything is hard.

Self-acceptance is hard at almost any age; it’s especially hard at 17.

I think she’s stunning. Her chocolate skin is dark and creamy. Her almond shaped eyes sparkle. With the hair away from her face, her acne quickly faded. I finally was able to coax a pair of small, classy earrings on her. With her militaristic posture and figure I’d kill for, I think she’s an 18 out of 10.

But to hear her tell it, I’m mom so none that counts.

Understanding how oppression shapes even the way we see our beauty is exhausting; really, it is. Teaching that…it’s not only exhausting but also infuriating. I silently rage thinking about the fact that my daughter questions her beauty because kinky coily hair isn’t universally seen as gorgeous. I cut my eyes at the folks at her school who looked perplexed like they weren’t sure to compliment Hope when she returned rocking her afro. I nearly cried when she cast her eyes down when she saw folks see her hair for the first time.

Hope is gloriously gorgeous. She already doesn’t know how lovely she is; the short hair is a radical change that makes her glow. She doesn’t believe that though.

That’s not my fault even though I feel like I failed in instilling that.

It’s all of our faults. That nearly exclusive white standard of beauty is so embedded in our psyche that our brown and black kids hardly know and appreciate African diasporic beauty when they see it. And that makes me sad and mad, really mad.

I look forward to the day when my daughter looks in the mirror, smiles at her reflection and turns on her heels to go knowingly, purposefully slay us all.


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.


Self-Care Saturday

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that this week was just plain raggedy. I was in the office 5 days instead of 3 (I usually telecommute 2 days a week). Hope was riddled with anxiety about school and social issues. During a diversity related conference call I was called a guerilla, but of course on the call it sounded like gorilla and in either case it was so absurdly inappropriate that I felt like I was going to come unhinged. (He legit had me thinking I was crazy.) I have more projects than I can barely manage at the moment, and the small staff with whom I have the pleasure of working are experiencing multiple crises. These folks aren’t just my co-workers, they are my friends.

I left work early to go have adult beverages with an old friend and people watch all of the peeps in town for the Congressional Black Caucus. Then I headed to Hope’s evening band performance at her high school’s football game.

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This morning I staggered to the dog park with Yappy, stopped off to pick up cookies for the marching band, threw a couple of cornrows into Hope’s hair and dropped her off at school for today’s band competition.

I spent the next 4 hours running errands for the household.

I finally came home, showered, fixed myself some lunch and sat down on my beloved couch with Yappy.

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My fatigue is so damn serious.

FATIGUE1

My mom tried to funny shame me for not signing up to chaperone Hope’s band competition today. I laughed and told her that chaperoning was not my ministry this week.

The rest of the day is about napping, watching movies, dog cuddling and maybe painting my nails…maybe. I need to vegetate. I feel like I’m just barely hanging on to functionality. I’m tapping out.

None of this is particularly special (except maybe the guerilla/gorilla thing<<<definitely special). It’s just been a really challenging week. All parents have them.

Hope is wrestling with something I can’t quite understand aright now. I’m supportive and encouraging, but I’m really just along for the ride. I fret about it, but seriously, there’s only so much I can do about it.

So, for today, I rest.

Tomorrow, I’ll try again.


Thoughts on Baldwin

American writer, James Baldwin would have been 93 years old today. He is one of my favorite writers, and especially so in this season in my life and in the current political climate.

Baldwin was unapologetically black, gay, not conventionally handsome and critical of his country. He was the embodiment of resistance. I remember when i first read him; I thought I had found a part of myself that was missing. I also felt permission to criticize the systemically oppressive country that is  my home. Baldwin was a genius, and so much of what I do has threads of inspiration that lead back to him.

How I teach Hope about politics, social engagement and critique is strongly rooted in this black man’s work. I see him quoted often during the last 18 months or so; as his writings and critique of America’s treatment of people of color remains painfully current.

If you’ve never read any of James Baldwin’s work–you should. You should watch his interviews on YouTube and you should enjoy his snippets of sage, wondrous quips from his observations.

The quotes below are some of my favorites and that I come back to repeatedly. I challenge my readers to read them and push them through an adoption lens as well as the lenses of race and sexuality. I promise you, they still ring true.

Thank you, Mr. Baldwin.

 

 

 

 

 


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