Tag Archives: African Americans

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?

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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.

 

 

 

 

 


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.


Lessons Learned-Week 46 of 2016

I did things differently this week and learned some things.

After an early week conversation about getting frozen and just letting things go, I manage to keep my pie hole shut about school work…even when I got Hope’s report card and her grades from the last week.

I managed not to go mad with both Hope and Elihu were late to Hope’s band banquet.

I am capable of going to the gym 5 days out of 7 for a 30-minute workout.

I am capable of hitting my Fitbit goals consistently.

I am capable of meal planning and not eating out all week, and I’m capable of finding recipes that Hope says are the “greatest.” She went so far as to say that she remembered at one foster home where she ate the same thing every week and that she was happy she now had such good food to eat.

I am capable of separating my own issues with food in order to try and create meals that we both love with no guilt.

Those cake in a cup recipes are friggin’ awesome and now knowing that I can have something decadent and yummy in 5 minutes or less reduces my need to have something frequently. #nodeprivation

Turning off screens an hour before bed does really help your quality of sleep.

Listening to a short, guided sleep meditation before going to bed also helps you fall asleep more quickly.

The electronic pressure cooker is the best modern invention ever. I knew this before this week, but seriously, it bears repeating.

Maybe I’m turning a corner just in time for the holidays.


Black Exceptions

I am emotionally exhaustipated.

Hope has returned home from band camp, and we I am trying to get us back on our normal routine.  At about hour 38 this morning—not even 2 full days back home—I lost my ish dealing with Hope’s morning lag time that seriously makes me late for work every MORNING! I was an episode of Snapped and it wasn’t pretty.

I’m pretty keyed up and I’m not proud of it. Just lost in the throes of mourning, sadness, grief, and anger over recent events. I returned to work this morning and set about catching up and reaching out to colleagues in locations affected by death and protests. There is just a dark cloud of messy emotions.

Over the weekend I spent a fair amount of time on social media and ended up pruning my lists of friends and acquaintances. I typically keep the security settings fairly high on my personal FB page, only those close to me really get to see me unedited and uncensored. Amazingly, a lot of people don’t seem to bother self-censoring, editing or using security settings to do it for them.

I tend not to accept friend requests from colleagues or students, and if I do, most go on a special list of folks who get to see very little of what I post. #boundaries

So, if you follow social media you know that these spaces are still rather frenzied over the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the five fallen officers in Dallas. There is an enormous amount of noise.

Some of that noise included “friends” and colleagues posting all kinds of tom-foolery about the shootings. There were racist memes, pro-murder/lynching memes, articles from less than reputable “news” (I use the term so loosely here) sites about how awful those black men were. There was absence of civility for a diverse group of folks, unless of course you think you are exclusively among like-minded “friends.”

Then there were the “friends of friends” who posted all kinds of utter non-sense on their “friends’” walls, which because of their lack of privacy settings, turns up in my newsfeed too.

The trauma don’t stop, won’t stop. Ugh!

It’s ok to disagree on many things, really it is. But the willingness to spew venom and nastiness into the world is just beyond me. How angry and discontented with your life do you have to be to do that? Is that really what you want to spend time doing with your life? You’d rather post a racist meme than share a silly sloth video? #Iloveslothvideos

Hate is such a hot and bothered emotion. Meh.

As I scrolled and scrolled through newsfeeds and timelines looking at the mess, I thought to myself, “Self, what would happen if I “liked” any of these posts?”

What would their reaction be?

Would they feel any shame?

Would they think I was really that self-loathing?

Would they realize that I got a peek behind their personal curtain to see who they really were?

And what would their reaction be when we saw each other at an event or meeting?

Would they expect that we would still be cool? Did they expect me to just let it slide as a momentary lapse into episodic racism?

Or would they think that somehow I would understand that they weren’t talking about ME, because well, I’m different. I’m the exception to the rules that governed their racism.

I started slashing and burning through friend lists on Facebook and announced that I was doing so. I don’t mind divergent opinions, but I have limits on acceptable levels of foolery.

This idea that I might be different is troubling.

Do I defy their stereotypes? Do I exceed their low expectations? Is it because, well, I’m one of like 3 black folks that they know personally and so that makes me different? Is it because I can code switch? Is it because I don’t scare them? Is it because I don’t make them uncomfortable? Is it because I don’t make a big deal about their whiteness and often maleness and don’t indict them on what I see as deeply rooted, systemic racism, sexism and ageism in the community I work in? Or is it because I’m just not really black, or what they perceive as black so they can just recategorize me into the reserved space for special, super cool black folk who will take you to, and keep you safe at, the soul food restaurant when you come to town so that you can say you lived a little while you were on that business trip? #seriousprivilegeatwork

I’d like to think I’m a bad ass, that I’m exceptional. I think I’m good at what I do. I work hard; I always have. I think that I’ve benefitted from good mentoring, from good counseling, from occasionally affirmative action to just give me a much needed chance to show my work and from extensive hard work.

But the problem with being “exceptional” in this case is that it allows people to justify having a poor view of folks who look just like me. It gives folks an out when they really need to squirm on the hook.

It also puts an enormous amount of pressure on me to live up to the Magic Standard—be everything, do everything and make everyone exceptionally comfortable while doing it.

It’s impossible to do that. Black exceptionalism is not the move. #blackexcellenceistho

So no one who thought we were close enough to post something off the wall and allow it to permeate my newsfeed got a pass this weekend. Nope, not today folks, not today.

eyeroll#weaintrockingnomo

As Jesse Williams said, “The thing is though, that just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

jesse-williams


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