Tag Archives: Living While Black

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.

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Current State

So this happened today.

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It really is just too much.

I’ll just mail in my fine. I’ll do that not just because I really was speeding, but the last place I want to be is in a courthouse swarming with ‘blue lives’ who may not understand or respect my fear.

My current state is scared.


Bus Ride Protocol

I entertained doing a political disclaimer on this post but decided not to. I think it’s important for folks to understand the real life implications of language that incites hate, language that makes bigots and racists feel free to avoid any kind of self-censorship, and language that makes my daughter send me text messages about what she’s observing while taking the bus to her tutoring center during our morning commute.

Trump’s antics are making my world more dangerous.

I know we brown and black folks have noticed the remarkable increase in nasty rhetoric. Folks seem emboldened to be outwardly racist, sexist and homophobic. Like just on the street, it feels different. You hear little snippets of language that seems intended to let you know that they don’t like you.

My parents, both in their mid-to-late 60s, remark that it echoes things they heard years ago, during the 50s and 60s.

I’m not a stranger to hearing nasty things, but since Trump came on the scene and has been legitimized as a candidate for president, folks seem really comfortable saying any old thing. If you’re not paying attention or you or your peeps aren’t the “topic of discussion” do you hear it? Do you notice it?

Hope texted me during her bus ride this morning. Here’s our confab.

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So there we were during our commutes, and this is going down.

Now, Hope might talk back to me, but she does NOT like to see other kids talk back to parents or people being mean to other people. She hates this behavior, I mean really hates it, and I see it as such a testament to her inherently kind soul. She also is one who swoops in to defend those who are attacked. She has, on more than one occasion, checked a kid who was too salty to a parent in her presence. I know my daughter and this exchange bothered her; I know she wanted to intervene on behalf of this bus driver. I know she wanted to show care and concern.

Me?

I just wanted her to get to the tutoring clinic safe and sound without using the S on her chest or the cape on her back as the anti-racist superhero, hence my initial response.

As I was illegally texting while driving, I thought to myself, “Dammit, you’ve to be kidding me? I’ve now got to teach Hope a protocol for riding the bus with racists.”

This is some bull-ihitsay, I tell you.

The current climate has emboldened folks who would typically be shamed into darkness by this behavior, but when you have a Twitter/trigger finger presidential candidate who says it’s ok to come out into the light, who retweets things from handles like “whitegenocide,” folks who should be shamed no longer are ashamed.

They feel perfectly entitled (<<<keyword here) to sit on a bus with my daughter, spout foolishness and harass the bus driver. And folks can miss me with that “free speech” mess; all speech isn’t protected.

And if the GOP nominee can claim that words hurt him all over Twitter, then certainly people of color can articulate how disturbing it is to have a candidate who spouts hate, racism, and misogyny in ways that embolden his followers to do the same.

I am trying to teach my daughter to live her values in a peaceful way. I hope that her kindness to the bus driver was noted. I hope it pricked someone’s heart as a bus of people during rush hour said nothing.

I am concerned for my daughter’s safety, but I’m so proud of her for wanting to do/say *something* in the face of foolishness. I hope that making a point to thank the bus driver gave Hope a sense of power to show how to “go high,” when they “go low” (Thank you Michelle Obama!).

I fret about the next few months, and possibly the next 4 years. I worry that there will be more protocols I will have to think through and teach my daughter as she navigates daily life in her skin. She, like all of us, should be able to go through life without all the extra things that require so much cognitive energy.

Can she just live?


What Would They Say about Us?

I am overwhelmed with grief and anger. My mini getaway was marred by Black and blue death. My heart actually aches.

Hope is away at band camp; she hasn’t been online in a couple of days now. I was bothered because I hadn’t heard from her, though I took it as a good sign that she was having fun and making friends. Now I’m relieved that she is cloistered away from the internet and news. I hope it stays that way until I pick her up.

It gives me a couple of days to figure out what to say to her about two more black men dying at the hands of police.

I’ve written a lot on my fears about being Black and raising a Black child in an age where the incidence of police brutality seems to be increasing.

I’ve gone back and forth on what I wanted to use this platform to say about the deaths of Alton Spalding and Philando Castile and now the officers slain in Dallas.

I don’t know what to say or even where to begin.

I can say that this is the terrorism that I am most afraid of.

I am grateful for friends of a many races and backgrounds who reached out, who commiserated, who were experiencing the same anguish I feel.

I am also acutely aware of crickets chirping in areas of my life, where nothing was said, nothing was acknowledged, or where Black humanity was seemingly ignored. #iseeandhearyou

I unplugged for a while because the anger and sorrow was just too much.

I am actively pondering what would people say about me if a traffic stop ended in my death or that of my daughter.

Would people look for a mug shot of me to use in the media?

Would people recast my diversity and social justice educational work as militant?

Would people dig into my background to find mistakes that would cast me as worthy of death by police execution?

Would people gaslight my family by saying, “Well, we don’t really know what happened; let’s wait for all the details?”

Would the body cameras mysteriously fall off or fail to record what happened to me?

Would there be anyone around using a cell phone camera that showed what happened to either of us?

Who around me would be silent about my death?

Would I be cast as the exception rather than the rule because I’m middle class, educated with no record?

What would they say about me?

What would they say about Hope?

Would the failings of her first family be used to crush her and explain why she was wothy of police execution?

Would my parental failings be broadcast widely in order to justify her execution?

How would the privacy of her story be violated, because we already know it would be?

Would they say she was troubled?

Would they say that she was angry and disobedient?

Who would stand with me as I grieved my child?

Would our deaths help the deniers get a clue about state sanctioned murder?

Would there be indictments?

Would anyone even really expect indictments?

If there was a trial how would our executions be portrayed in order to justify our deaths?

Would anyone give either of us the benefit of any doubt? Any reasonable doubt?

If there was a trial does anyone really think there would be a conviction?

Would our lives matter beyond a hashtag, some good speeches and a protest or two?

Would our deaths change anything?

Would our living have been in vain?

Have you ever had to ask yourself these questions? Have you ever needed to? Have they ever even crossed your mind?

I’m just pained, from the inside out.


Living While Black

I have rarely shied away from giving voice to what it’s like to be a Black parent concerned for the health and safety of her Black child.

No reason to stop speaking up now.

I love the skin I’m in. I hope everyone does. Saying that shouldn’t imply that I think my skin or experience is better than anyone else’s; it’s just, I like the skin I’m in.  I love Hope and her skin too.

Being Black is a critical part of my identity. I live and breathe this skin. I walk around in it. I see out of it. It shapes how people perceive me, probably more than most folks would care to admit.

It hasn’t been, nor is it always pleasant to wear this skin. It has a tough legacy, especially in the US, that I end up dragging around with me. It shapes my world view.

Sometimes people haven’t treated me very well because of this skin.

Class and education haven’t completely protected me from ill treatment in this skin.

Folks make assumptions about me in this skin.

If I exceed the expectations of my skin, I’m characterized as “so articulate,” “such a surprise” and “so different than other Black folk.”

Yeah, people have actually said that ish to me and expected to me to take it as a compliment.

In spite of other people’s stupidity, I’ve never hated my skin.

I love who I am, my history, my browness.

This all has come in handy, this sense of self, when figuring out ways to help Hope learn to love herself.  Seriously, if I didn’t have a good sense of self and love myself, this adoption journey was *not* have been the move.

But now, not only am I saddled with teaching Hope self-love, I shoulder the burden of keeping her safe. Sure there’s the safe that’s just from self-harm, there’s the safe from strangers, there’s the safe from kitchen appliances and all that, but honestly, folks would not believe how much I generally fear for her safety when it comes to law enforcement and well, just generally…folks who don’t look like us.

That’s hard to admit. It doesn’t sound very nice, does it? Some folks would say it’s racist. Prejudiced maybe, but not racist (there’s no power/superiority element, thus an inability to be racist by definition).

It’s not that I don’t like folks who don’t look like us, but I actually worry that folks who don’t look like us—a really sad euphemism for White folks I admit—might perceive her behavior in ways that could easily become dangerous for her.

Last week, Hope and I were in a car accident. We were sitting at a stop light and a woman rammed into us from behind…twice.  Yeah, she hit us twice.

As I gathered my wits about me, Hope lost her ish. It was her first car accident.  She was scared, very scared.  She reverted back to her 5 year old self, and Hope’s 5 year old self is…the worst. Seriously, I loathe these emotional outbursts because you can’t reason with an upset too big, school aged toddler.

I motioned for the lady to pull over and began to navigate my car off the main road.  The other driver cut me off.  Yep, she’d just hit us twice and then cut me off while trying to pull over.  I really became worried about what would happen next.

I rolled down my window and the driver, a White woman, rolled down hers and she screeched that she had hit me because she had fallen asleep.

Hope screeched and yelled and cried and screeched some more at the lady, calling her dumb, scary, a bad, bad person for hitting our car and hurting us. She was inconsolable.  (Secretly I was calling this woman everything but a child of God inside my head, so there was a part of me who enjoyed Hope dressing her down.)

But, the look on the woman’s face changed everything. I can’t even describe it. Suddenly, I felt like we were the ones under the microscope, we were the ones somehow making her uncomfortable, never mind that my back and shoulder were already beginning to hurt from where the seatbelt kept me from hitting my steering wheel.

I said nothing. I only reached out and put my hand over Hope’s mouth.

I motioned for the lady to pull into the nearby parking lot.

When we were stable, I told Hope not to say another word. I implored her to stay in the car and just  be quiet.

I didn’t do this because she wouldn’t add anything to the conversation. I said it because the non-verbal reaction of the other driver let me know that anymore from Hope and she might feel…uncomfortable, threatened.

Discomfort for people who don’t look like us, has repeatedly been shown to be hazardous to the health of people who do look like us.

I could not risk it.  Hope’s safety was paramount.

When the driver stepped out of her car, still proclaiming she had fallen asleep along with a litany of other excuses, her eyes were glassy, her breath…well, let’s say that it didn’t smell sleepy.

I’m pretty sure she’d been drinking.

But I chose not to call the police.

Yes, I know she would’ve been ticketed for hitting us from behind.

Yes, I suspected that she was impaired and that, at a minimum, she should’ve been subjected to field sobriety test.

Yes, she could’ve harmed someone else by getting back on the road.

Yes, there was no legal record.

Yes, I have mixed feelings about possibly letting an impaired driver back on the road with nothing to stop her and no real, lasting consequences.

Yeah, maybe I contributed to another set of social ills.

But, my daughter is safe. I’m safe.  We didn’t make the local or national news. There doesn’t need to be a march with calls for a proper investigation into what happened to us. There are no rubber bracelets with our names on them. Our names did not become hashtags.

Yeah, it’s come to that.

I don’t expect people to make the leap like I did that living under the threat that my kid’s emotionally immature reaction to a car accident could lead to our untimely demise, but that’s where my head went in those moments.

In that moment none of the areas of my life where I have privilege trumped my or my daughter’s skin color. It is hard for me, even, to wrap my head around the fact that I would think that the word of an impaired White lady would be taken over my or my daughter’s word, but I did.

I was afraid. I was frightened by her facial expression in response to Hope’s outburst. I didn’t trust law enforcement to treat us with fairness and dignity.  And it’s just that simple. I didn’t trust them. I didn’t realize how badly that trust had been broken until that moment.

It’s crazy, right?

But it’s real.

Hope and I can pop some Motrin and the soreness will go away. But we’re here and we’re safe.

I bear some shame in my reaction, my lack of trust. I don’t dislike police; they have tough jobs, but living while Black seems like our engagements exist on a slippery slope. I’d prefer that they be flat and linear.

So, these are my fears these days. I have become so fearful that I might’ve let an impaired driver who rear-ended us twice (causing about $2K in damages), then cut us off while trying to pull over, go with just an insurance information exchange all because I saw her reaction to my child’s emotional reaction to us getting hit and that scared me worse than actually getting hit.

You follow that?

That’s living while Black.


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