Just Die Already

“… Yo that nigger was mad tight… The nigga seriously wanted to hurt somebody…No, but the nigga didn’t say that…Yo, my nigga really?… Nigga don’t go there…”

This was the piece of a conversation I overheard between two train stops as I rode home from work last night. I’m guessing my distaste for what I, and a good portion of the subway car overheard because he was not even trying to moderate his voice, must have shone on my face as he turned his back to me and continued with a string of words further enhanced with the slur. All of that from one person, all within the span of a standard television commercial break.

And here we go again, the love/hate relationship of the use of the N-word.

I remember growing up saying any version of the word was as much an epithet as dropping the f-bomb in front of my mother as it was as a phrase of solidarity among her male peers. There was/is somehow this unspoken agreement “my nigger” just did not apply to women. Even when I hear females say it now, 90% of the time they refer to someone male, sorry guys.

When trying to explain why I feel the use of the word offensive, regardless of who utters it, I’m often made to feel like I’m overreacting when I’m around some of my peers. Or the offending person feels the need to defend him or herself, because the only thing worse than being ignorant is being called ignorant.

And the thing that is hardest to explain is that the relatively unfettered use of this word is coming from a position of privilege most of today’s young blacks don’t even realize they have. This social advantage is so ingrained in our culture that most either aren’t aware or simply don’t care their comments are coming off the backs of centuries worth of hardship and oppression. They did not live personally through when word was nothing other than a vile degradation.

As with all young children, I knew nothing of the world beyond the boundaries of my neighborhood. Thus in grade school learning of the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was simply another lesson learned in history with no more or less import on my life as the lessons about Abe Lincoln and Harriet Tubman to my child’s eyes. Being all of four years of age when he died, the import was lost on me. I was a teen before I realized that I was alive when King was assassinated, and just how close segregated times were a reality for myself.

By the time I became aware of the world I was able to sit in the back of the bus because I wanted to, not because I had to. Thus, I could not understand  why my mother refused to do so even when seats were available. It was ingrained in her reality as a person who came of age through segregation to refuse to sit in the back of the bus, but not mine as I child who had not grown up in such. It was a thisclose reality, but still not my reality.

Knowing the word nigger existed to hurt is one thing, living an existence in it’s hurt is another.  Sympathy is not empathy. I can only surmise the ones who use it freely now really do not understand its power to hurt because it was never really used to hurt them. In a world where it the slur nigger holds as much impact as the curse fuck – it’s not their reality.

Now let’s consider other racial slurs that have come, and for the most part gone, in the immediate tome stream such as spic and kike, and for that matter coon and jigaboo. Words that you rarely hear spoken aloud any more. Because those affected by such slurs asserted their respect for themselves and refused to allow anyone to disrespect them with its use. And made damned sure the world knew to accept that respect.

So what the hell happened with the word nigger that it still survives and thrives to continue in its controversial life?  Why can’t it die off as some of those other slurs?

Because of men like the young man on the cell phone who dropped the word several times without a thought in the less than three minutes it took to get from one train station stop to another, it keeps being used.

How can it die if we keep letting it live?

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An introspective slice from the Raivenne today, let’s see how others are slicing it up…

Slice of Life Challenge | Two Writing Teachers

sol

Battle Lines

I am sure most of the nation has heard/read about Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos of NYPD who were murdered over the weekend. And while I sincerely wish that I can say that I am surprised that this has happened, I am not. As word of the officers’ deaths hit the news Facebook and Twitter went berserk as the immediate bastions of gut reaction opinions flew. What I am surprised at is how quickly battle lines have emerged because of this.

While few argue that the killing of the NYPD officers was wrong, posts/comments/private messages along the lines of “I guess you’re happy now” that popped up over the weekend gives a definite sense that some who are against the protests in Ferguson and NYC seemed to think those who protest and/or support the protestors are somehow engaged in Schadenfreude over this weekend’s killings. Are you fucking kidding me? I was so aghast that anyone would ever think such a thing  of any protestor, let alone me personally. I unfriended them without even bothering to engage in debate.  From what I’ve since gathered from the handful of mutual acquaintances among us it’s just as well, but as the kids say “I can’t…”

This is not an either or situation. The support of #BlackLivesMatter does not negate support of #NYPDLivesMatter.

  1. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner et al, at the hands of their respective local police is a tragedy.
  2. The assignations of Officers Liu and Ramos at the hands of Ismaaiyl Brinsley is also a tragedy.

In a previous posted I asked “Or Does It Explode?” The fuse, already lit in the aftermath of the Ferguson and New York City grand jury decisions, has the general vibe between police and minorities at a high level of tense. Both sides were walking on proverbial eggshells. Things have yet returned to anything near normal levels of tense – whatever the hell that is; the killings of Officers Liu and Ramos this past weekend have not helped at all.

Just as at our cores we know that it is #NotAllPolice are out to get us, we hope they equally know #NotAllBlacks are out to assassinate them.  The LAST thing we need is for a black man to be accidentally taken out while jogging on the street or while walking a dog because he got too close to a police car because the officers inside perhaps felt threatened.

I am praying and praying hard that the actions of Ismaaiyl Brinsley have furthered that ignition along the fuse.

#AllLivesMatter

It’s All Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating…

I haven wanted to write commentary on the racial unrest that happening in this country (again). I feel like I should be writing something. I just find it so hard to do without getting angry. So I ask for a little tolerance as I just spill it out as I think it.

I know there are millions of out there in this country where we never will know each other, billions who will never have a direct impact on my life. Yet there are so many who do and will impact my life in a positive way and I do not want wash all white people and cops with that oh so broad, us versus them, paint brush. Because yes, I do have friends who are officers and I know them to be the good guys we were taught to believe in as tykes watching Sesame Street and that they do exist now that I am well into my adulthood. And yes, I really do have friends who are white, who have jumped to offer succor when I was going through a rough patch in my life, as I have in theirs. I know they are not the bad guys because I have gotten to know them. They know I am not they bad guy, because they in turn have come to know me.

Regrettably, it is of little balm when at the beginning of this summer I am on the street attempting to hail a taxi and the driver slows in my direction only to blatantly pass me by to pick up the white couple maybe 30 feet further down from me. When that same couple who knew I was there before them looked at me, shrugged, opened the door to the cab and got in anyway. It is of no balm when I have to force myself to stay positive when I learn a month ago my son, who walks dogs part time, was detained by an officer because “some random citizen called the cops” while he was walking a client’s dog. Never mind that he had a key to the building to have access to the dog. Never mind that the dog clearly knew my son, he is accused of stealing said dog. Why? In the predominantly white neighborhood of his client, my son did not look like any of the tenants. Because clearly my child, yes he’s a thirty year old adult male, but as all mamas understand he will always be my child, as a black man could not possibly live in that neighborhood and own such a dog in his own right, right? Riiiight. My son is stuck explaining himself to the unbelieving officers until a neighbor of the dog’s owner happened by and vouched for him. It was something very simple that ended well, no harm perhaps, but very foul. Still as a mother, I could not help but be cognizant, yet very grateful, that this confrontation did not go in a very different direction. I am also very cognizant and very pissed that this event came to fruition solely because he was literally walking a dog while black. It is of little balm to the litany of racial acts subtle, such as the taxi and dog incidents mentioned above, or more overt as so recently demonstrated in the news, that is a constant part of my existence as a person of color in this country.

A few years ago I was once told by an erstwhile friend that I see race in nearly everything and that’s just not the way it is. I in turn accused him of blatantly choosing to see race in nothing and that’s just not the way it is. How does the saying go? Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Names like Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Stewart, Yusef Hawkins, Anthony Baez, Rodney King, Patrick Dorismond, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo and James Byrd Jr., come far too easily to my mind’s history. Yet each new flare-up – Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Marlene Pinnock, Eric Garner and now Michael Brown, proves even knowing the history does little stop it from repeating. It is as though there has become this unspoken understanding that murdering blacks and calling it self-defense, or justifiable/in the line of duty is supposed to somehow dissolve the racial hierarchy in this country. So who has the right of it?

Is any of this anything new in history, the realities of living black specifically? Honestly, no. As a culture, the majority of us have lived with this as a sub routine of sorts in our consciousness on the daily for a couple of centuries now. When it was one person’s word versus another, most of such news was quickly buried under the burden of no real proof. Until it was something so bad, that it made national headlines. Can you say Emmitt Till? The advent of so many with smart phones now, able to immediately capture and then upload images/videos has helped. And social media, for all its foibles makes each occurrence captured readily available to the general public and national headlines sooner. Yet for all that we hear about, we all know that there are so many others whose names will never be listed.

I hope that this is that stage in history repeating itself, that this is the worst that it will get, and things are soonish going change for the better. I want to have hope, I really do. Because not to hope means that more names will be added to that ever growing list. So even as I hope, please understand as I pray in the interim that the names of my loved ones and I are not to be among them.

Nothing To Fear? Want To Bet?

Please – read this first —-> Unseen, Unheard, Unvalued, Unimportant …

Now hear (read?) me out…

The fear of such an encounter is in nearly every woman’s subconscious, whether we want to admit to ourselves, let alone openly, or not.

Maybe it is not to such extremes in smaller towns, but in cities big and small, each day we as women who deign to step out past our front doors is consciously unconscious prepared for battle. We walk the streets constantly scanning faces and spaces, making as little eye-contact as possible, to keep from bumping into people and people from bumping into us. We walk the streets wondering was that brush against our backsides just the happenstance of crowded streets/bus/train/bar or was it something else? We walk the streets knowing that to hold eye-contact with a stranger too long can garner anything from a “were you looking at me?” stare with them quickly looking away, to a “what the f*** you looking at?” glare that makes you quickly shift your eyes. For extended eye-contact can turn into a simple one head nod of acknowledgement one human to another that is forgotten faster than the air refills the vacancy formed in passing each other  or it can escalate into what happened to GirlGriot. Or for the wrong woman caught by the wrong man on the wrong day with no knights, white/black or otherwise, to come to the rescue – something worse.

And all of this for no other reason for some than our having a vagina.

This daily battle is amplified pound for pound exponentially for us bigger gals. Where a look can also be one mere disapproval for taking up more space than some other person or outright disdain for our mere existence on this planet. Where a woman can strut down the street in haute couture, but can be brought down and made to feel a hot mess by the  hateful words and/or actions  of an (im)perfect stranger, because she appears to be over XYZ  pounds over some presumed benchmark of beauty.  If a cell phone is held up in our general direction, is the person just trying to read their texts in a better light or are we about to be photographed without our permission only to someday find ourselves subjected to the likes of Tosh 2.0 or “People of WalMart” type of vile and viral?

Now add being  a woman of color to the daily strategy, because unless we are already acquainted with them in other some way, the ones who could become a danger to us do not see the individual. The questions then become – is the guy looking at me seeing a Sapphire (the Angry Black Woman stereotype to challenge) or a Jezebel (the Promiscuous Black Woman stereotype to fuck)? While no one is ever mistaking me for the third stereotype a Mammy – the maid/mother/church woman/crone, I know for certain that the potential predator/s may look at me through any one or all three stereotypes and only see one thing – prey. This battle crosses every class, social and economic lines from roun’-the-way girls through to the upper echelons grande dames. The daily battle of our self-pride that says “Keep your head up,” against our self-preservation that says “but, keep your eyes lowered” because any day could turn into that day.  Just as no mother of black sons wants her child’s name to follow behind the comma of the latest victim of senseless violence, we have no desire for it to be our name behind that comma either.

We women are well aware that millions of women will go through their lives and never encounter anything that may challenge her safety. Still, if we have not lived it ourselves, we all know someone, or of someone, who has. Thus we all go through our lives knowing that on any given day it could. We either live in the grips of this fear, or in spite of this fear, or some combination thereof, but this fear is a subconscious part of our day, every single day.

I know most of you can’t, won’t or refuse to comprehend this, so I’ll repeat it.

Every. Single. Day.

And we do it in relative silence. Why? Because what’s the point in complaining? No ones listening anyway, as the saying goes.  It’s one thing to surmise that our well beings can mean so little to some. It’s a bitter pill to swallow down in our cores in the face of the truth of it. Had she been a white woman accosted by a black man in such a manner, someone would have quickly intervened. Someone else likely would have been taking cell phone pictures/videos for the police.  She would not be deliberately unseen by passers-by. She would not be unheard by those she called out to.  If silence equals consent, then the silence of each person that ignored GG’s plight in effect gave the man consent to harm.  I do not dare to ask what would it have taken for them to acknowledge her potentially dire situation and intervene. I am just grateful for the young heroes who did come to her aid, that we won’t ever have to find out.

But what of the next woman who encounters a man like that?

I read GirlGriot’s post. And re-read it. And read it yet again. I want to focus on the positive of the young men that came to her rescue, but I can’t get past the boulder sized lump in my throat that rescuing was needed in the first place.

I keep coming back to this: I shouldn’t have to fear men messing with me in the street. And I shouldn’t have to fear the people who are supposed to protect me from men messing with me in the street.
— GirlGriot Unseen, Unheard, Unvalued, Unimportant …

Nor should we have to have fear for the good Samaritan/s who do reach out to protect us, that their actions to help could put them in a different kind of harm on our behalf.

We should not have to fear…period.

But we do… Every. Single. Day.

Verbal Diarrhea Diaries: More Monday Morning Madness

I am on the subway, on my way to work, minding my own business when this happens:

I am reading my graphic novel when a masculine hand suddenly hovers into my view forcing me to look up. I know my resting bitch face was on in full force as I was at an interesting plot twist in the story and was not happy about the interruption.

Him: I just wanted to say “you’re beautiful” to my future ex-wife.

My exact initial thought: No, really?  Not that there’s ever a good time for such bullshit, but really dude? First thing on a Monday morning? Get the fuck outta here!

I was considering whether I should pull a Luis Suarez (the biting soccer player from Uruguay), on the hand still hovering over my novel or only verbally chew out the idiot when I’m pretty sure my resting bitch face quickly morphed into my resting I’ll cut a bitch face as our eyes made contact and he just as quickly withdrew his hand and grinned. And just when I thought my already low opinion of him could not decrease more – it did. He had on grillz. Seriously, he was wearing grillz.

What. The. And. Bleeeeeep?

The amount of jewelry  in his mouth could have fed a starving child in a third world country for a couple of months. Besides I thought that nonsense was finally out of style, having it was only adding to rapidly declining thoughts of him. Not knowing what I was dealing I opted for a third choice. – and please note the following exchange is happening on a crowded subway during morning rush hour.

Me (sounding official): Would you, whoever your are, take me, whoever I am, for your wife?

Him (confused, but playing along): I would.

Me:  I now pronounce us, whatever and whatever.  You may not kiss the whatever. I want a divorce!

Him (turns and walks toward the doors): Good, I’m out of here!

Me (snorts, neck rolls and snaps fingers): Poof baby! Don’t let the sliding doors hit ya where the good Lord split ya!

He exits the train at the next stop and I open my graphic novel.

Woman sitting next to me (chuckling): Damn! And I thought the Kim Kardashian marriage to that basketball player was short!

Me (deadpan): It was a good run while it lasted, but in the end it was like we didn’t even know each other any more.

It’s only Monday morning folks.

Not The Same As…

Someone recently wrote:

Saying “I don’t date fat people” is the thing same as saying “I don’t date black people”.

No. No. No. And just no.

First let me state the following is how it looks from MY experiences, others may be similar, but mileage will vary. Every person has a right to date, or not date, within her/his own racial preferences. This is not about that. This is about the apple/oranges comparing/pitting one set of struggles against another. This is about how as a fat woman of color deep in the midst of both struggles, being able to say how and why they are not the same and how it affects me.

For most of history, if you dated/married fat, it was mostly just a descriptive. Yes, being fat has always had its own stereotypes, but until semi-recent times these were based more on the physical aspects of being fat, than on the intellectual or psychological state of the fat person. A simpleminded person was deemed so because of his or her behavior, regardless of size. Nowadays some will determine a person’s intelligence, or presumed lack thereof, solely based on the person being corpulent. It is as insidious as incorrect as the presumption that all overweight people are unhealthy based solely on their appearance. And all of this is regardless of race.

So let’s not ignore the elephant in the room from where a lot of this black/white nonsense springs. Regardless of corpulence, historically here in America, it was not droves of fat white people shipped over to pick cotton, tobacco etc. With our history, white dating color, but black in particular has always been fraught with issues. Some of these issues still persist, on both sides, to this day.

A few years ago, a white guy expressed his understanding of why blacks would want to date/marry white because it is “stepping up”. Conversely implying that we [blacks]-were somehow *lesser than* and should be grateful. He was not grateful for my response.

  • Is saying “I don’t date fat people” the thing same as saying “I don’t date blondes”? No, because a fat person can become blonde.
  • Is saying “I don’t date fat people” the thing same as saying “I don’t date people who wear glasses”? No, because a fat person can get contacts.
  • Is saying “I don’t date fat people” the thing same as saying “I don’t date (insert religion) or people with piercings”? No, because again these are things that can be (granted, not easily) changed, should a person so choose to make that change.

Let’s try saying “I’ll drink Cherry Kool Aid” but “I won’t drink water”. One maybe be somewhat malleable to change, the other is not. As a fat black woman I can, to a certain extent, change my flavor (my weight, my hair color, my hair, and as a person of a certain level of melanin, to some degree my complexion – my l Kool-Aid if you will). However, whether I am a glass or a pitcher, none of that changes the fact that no matter what flavors I choose, at the core I am still Black (water).

When I read someone does not want to date black people, it is a dismissal not just of the outer layer of our physical being; it also dismisses the core of who we are as a culture and as individuals. I don’t mean just the blacks the follow the Hip-Hop/Urban/R&B culture. I know blacks born and raised here in New York City who would recognize the music of Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser of the “Two Cellos”, but if shown pictures would have to guess the difference between T-Pain and Li’l Wayne. Neither of which would matter; to those who would not date them, simply because they are black and therefore will be immediately dismissed. Regardless of where we as blacks are on the socio/ economic/class line, it diminishes our individual experiences, our hearts, our souls, our humanity on top of what makes us black, what makes us – us.

So yes saying “I don’t date fat people” is the thing same as saying “I don’t date black people” is flippant, dismissive and frankly out right insulting.

“I may date a different race or color, it doesn’t mean I don’t like my strong black brother”
“Before you can read me, you have to learn how to see me”
/En Vogue – Free Your Mind

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Slice of Life - Two Writing Teachers

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge – Two Writing Teachers

300 Mothers

People are all up in arms over the “alleged” words of Donald Sterling.  Here in New York City a mini race-riot nearly broke on a Brooklyn bus by a 60 something year old white man who single-handedly attempted to turn back the hands of time when he told a black woman she needed to move to the back of the bus and let him have her seat.  A man who, in the midst of the argument that ensued, out right says Sterling should run for president. When it comes to black and white relations, even now there are times when it all feels as though we are just one lit match from the racial powder keg. These are the things that occupy our news and social media cycles.

But what has garnered my attention the most these past three weeks are nearly three hundred mothers.  The nearly three hundred Nigerian mothers of the girls kidnapped from their school last month and the eleven more stolen from their own homes in the middle of the night in recent days.

Did you know there were more kidnappings?  Here we are three weeks after the initial kidnapping and the U.S., is only now stepping forth with “doing the best we can”. It feels all Okay, fine I’ll do it, as though our involvement now is akin to the petulant child forced to apologize to a sibling for some wrong.  It’s better than doing nothing. It is certainly better than the incompetence that has been the Nigerian Police; the same police who initially did not even want to acknowledge that more kidnappings occurred.

Is it the sense of helplessness, the “what can we do about it?” Is because it’s over there, on another continent and not in our backyards?  Is it because it is happening to Africans by Africans,  a black-on-black crime if you will?  What is at the root of this overall sense of apathetic whatever regarding it? Let’s be honest, if this were nearly 300 little white girls in South Africa, or in any other country been kidnapped as such, the immediate public outcry would be swift and deafening. Why is the world so relatively quiet for Nigeria’s little girls?  It has taken nearly three weeks of a slow building public international pressure for any course of assistance to be offered, action to be put into play. Are nearly 300  little black girls not worthy?

  • Tell that to the mothers who do not know if their girls are already dead.
  • Tell that to the mothers who do not know if their girls are alive, but already parsed out to the human trafficking / sex trade markets as threatened by the leader of the group who masterminded the school kidnapping.
  • And as more time that passes without any of the girls being rescued, tell that to the mothers who do not know if perhaps death is the better option.

This Sunday for those of you who will celebrate Mother’s Day, unless a miracle happens between now and Saturday, take a moment to remember  the nearly 300 mothers across the ocean missing their daughters and acknowledge them. Let’s continue to put pressure on our governments until each and every girl is accounted for.

300

The “A” Word

Friday night/Saturday morning, I am on my way home on from hanging out with friends. I hear the train I need pulling into the station as I’m paying my fare at the upper level. Normally, I do not run for trains, but it is 3:30 in the morning and I am well aware that  if I miss this one, there will not be another train for at least twenty minutes. A woman racing down an adjacent set of stairs and I curse simultaneously as the train we want pulls out of the station without us on board. We give each other the “Oh you too, huh?” empathic smile that all mass transit users know so well and strike up a conversation. I am a born and bred New York City; she is a transplant from upstate, living here for less than two years.  We touch on BBC television and learn that we are both Cumberbitches, not Cumberbabes – either you know or you don’t, I am not explaining the phenomenon that is Benedict Cumberbatch, just know it is very real.  We a good few minutes on classic books version Hollywood interpretations and that’s when it happened…

She shakes her head knowingly, “That explains it.”
“What explains what?” I ask.
“You read a lot. Good books, not just trash novels, it’s why you’re so artic…”

I am going to gather she stopped short at that point, less because her brain kicked in and more because I’m sure my expression went from amicable to apoplectic by the second syllable of the classic “A” word used with well-spoken blacks: Articulate.

Was it because I did not interject “like” and/or “you know” every fifth word or so? Perhaps it was my lack of “neck roll”? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I popped a capillary in my efforts to restrain my disbelief at hearing this.

Worse, I am hearing it from someone less than 30 years of age who damn sure should know better considering this nation has been led by a black president these past five years.  Political party differences aside, our nation is not in the habit of electing those who cannot properly conjugate a verb. Clearly, Barack Obama is an ethic fluke, as this is not the same English spoken by the majority of educated people in this country.

“I mean, I mean….” She starts the familiar back-peddle seen often when people are caught hoisted on their own petard.

“Oh, I know what it is you meant.” I stop the peddling in its tracks. “I don’t know what you were exposed to in (name of city redacted to not paint all of its denizens with the broad brush of cultural ignorance), that gave you such preconceived notions, but for the record, it is not a compliment to be somewhat surprised that a person of color can speak well as though it is such a foreign concept. And, it is incredibly condescending  and patronizing for you to think we should feel complimented that it’s noticed and meets your unasked for approval. This conversation is over.”

It is amazing that this still requires clarification, but here it is: we (black people) get a little pissed-off when white people call us “articulate.”

It perpetrates the stereotypes that blacks speak mostly in slang, in Ebonics, in anything other than standardized English. It is divisive, separating us into an “us” and “them”.  It is the stereotype is perpetrated within less affluent black communities every time a well-spoken black person is accused of “talking white”.  The stereotype that equates articulate styles of speech as belonging to “white” rather than belonging to “intelligence”, as though one was still the exclusive dominion of the other.  Blacks do not assume every white person has a major in English, why is it still a thing of note to some when encountering those of us who have proper command of diction and enunciation?

Here we were in 2014 Anno Domini and yes, this is still a conversation that needs to be had.

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Check out more of today’s slices of conversation at Two Writing Teachers.
I’m starting three days of days late, so you’re not too late to join in yourself. Come on in, the slicing’s fine!

Slice of Life - Two Writing Teachers

Two Black Suns

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In light of the weekend’s Micheal Dunn verdict in Florida, I feel the need to bring this post to the forefront again.

NY Daily News: NYPD Allegedly Assault Staten Island Family – Killed Parakeet

I am the mother of two suns.
Two black suns.
Two black suns in this country, this United States of America.

My late-husband and I together did our best to navigate them through the minefields.

In their Sesame Street days, they are taught – this is the land of opportunity. They learn, that the color of your skin shouldn’t matter. And we said shouldn’t matter because even at that young age of theirs, neither of us as black parents could get past the ugly truth lodged in our throats and say that it ‘doesn’t matter’.

In their grade school days, they are taught – this land of the free. They learn that some of us have to work twice as hard most times to afford it. When in stores, they learn do not touch anything unless you have the money to buy it. We do not yet teach them that they are not being watched because someone might think they will break it, but because someone might think they will steal it, but they learn.

In middle and high school – they are taught this home of the brave. They learn as long as they are brave within the accepted boundaries, and those boundaries are fluid. They learn that the police officer who was their friend in day care and grade school, may not be so now that their voices have dropped and their awareness of the world at large has risen. They learn this even when sometimes that officer is an officer of color.

I am the mother of two suns.
Two black suns.
Two black suns in this country, this United States of America.

Our parents and my generation learn for the all the Martin Luther Kings and Malcom X’s there were the Emmitt Tills. That for the Rosa Parks there were the Eleanor Bumpers, for the Jesse Jacksons there were the Michael Stewarts, Yusef Hawkins and right around the corner from where my parents used to live when my sons were still children, Anthony Baez.

And as my sons made their way to manhood they learn that there are too many Rodney Kings, Amadou Diallos, Patrick Dorismonds, Abner Louimas, James Byrds, Sean Bells and now Jordan Davis.

In between what they are taught in school they are taught manners and respect and pride and faith, yes because it is the right thing to do. But they learn it may also keep them alive.

Yes, we were strict. Yes, we had rules. They learn to think of others as well as of and for themselves. They are taught responsibility and, like all children/teens/young adults, begrudgingly learn it.

They eventually learn curfews are not because I did not trust them to go out into the world, but because I did not trust the world to give them back to us. With one son sometimes too nice for his own good and the other sometimes too hot-tempered for his, if they are in the house, I am not worrying at 1am, at 2am, at 3am. I am not worrying if this will be the night, the night that the nightmare comes true and we get the call. The call that is the nightmare of every parent that must raise black boys to black men.

The nightmare that became the unfortunate reality for Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin – because like Stewart, Hawkins, Baez, King, Diallo, Louima, Dorismond, Byrd, Bell and Davis we know there are far, far, far too many Trayvon Martins out there never heard about in the news.

I am the mother of two suns.
Two black suns.
Two black suns in this country, this United States of America.

They were taught that red of our flag is for the valor in fighting for the right to live free; the white for the purity and innocence of our thought and purpose and the blue for the justice to protect those rights. Though as black men those inalienable rights wouldn’t be put to paper for them for another 100 years, and to some form of actuality for another 100 years hence. They learn it can also be the red of their blood on a baton, the bullet from a gun, the edge of a blade or a fist from the white-hot rage of someone having his or her worst day that encountered them having one of the worst of theirs and the blue of their body growing cold in the morgue from the result of that confrontation long before I get the call.

They learn that their All American names will get the door to open. Then they learn that their not so all American looks will sometimes have those same doors close in their faces.

They are taught that though it is certainly better than it has ever been, they learn that there is still quite some ways to go.

My suns are now adults, living their lives as men. My late-husband and I did the best we could with what we had. We got them through the minefield to black adulthood relatively unscathed. I no longer have nightmares of the call. I go to sleep at night trusting we will all safely see the morning unharmed. However, I am guessing, so did did Evelyn Lugo when chaos crashed through her door.

Things like this happen and a mother’s worry does crop up again on such occasions – after all…

I am the mother of two suns.
Two black suns.
Two black suns living their lives as black men in this country, this United States of America.

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Reader

There is (or was depending on when you read this) a Facebook meme asking users to list 10 books that have stayed with them in some way. The books did not have to mean anything to anyone but the user.

Here is my list in the order of which they popped into my head:

1. The Kushiel Legacy (Series) – Jacqueline Carey
2. Harry Potter (Series) – J.K. Rowling
3. Spenser (Series) – Robert B. Parker
4. X-Men (The Phoenix Saga) – Chris Claremont
5. The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso) – Dante Alighieri
6. Othello / Romeo & Juliet / Macbeth / Hamlet – William Shakespeare
7. Teacup Full of Roses – Sharon Bell Mathis
8. If Beale Street Could Talk / The Fire Next Time / Go Tell It On The Mountain – James Baldwin
9. Incarnations of Immortality (Series) – Piers Anthony
10. Holy Bible (King James Version)

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#1 (The Kushiel Legacy (Series) – Jacqueline Carey) and #9 (Incarnations of Immortality (Series) – Piers Anthony) on this list I have written about in an earlier blog post and you can read why I love them here. Below I give little summaries not of the books themselves (I trust that you know how to Google or Wiki it if interested 😉 ), but why they remain with me.

Harry Potter (Series) – J.K. Rowling

As a reader of the books and watcher of the movies I adore this in its entirety. Not having children of the target age initially designed for I didn’t come into the Potter world until I saw the first movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. As a sucker for things magic, warlock, wizard, witches et cetera, I had to read the book that created such a delightful movie. Only then did I learn a) it was a children’s book and b) it was series. Still, by the time I finished reading the books published to that point Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I was hooked. Author J. K. Rowlings has invented such an amazing in-depth world that is and yet is not part of our own, while never forgetting that at its core it is still a young adult book. In most children/young adult literature series the characters stay relatively the same age for years.  J. K. Rowling penned theses character in as true sense of a bildungsroman possible given the fantasy. Reading/watching the characters develop over the years, I really did have a sense of watching the characters grow and come into their own. The entire series was phenomenal storytelling that captivated me and opened up a genre of books (young adult) I never would have considered reading otherwise.

The following quote has been attributed to actor Alan Rickman who portrayed the Severus Snape character in the film version of the books:

When I’m 80 years old and sitting in my rocking chair, I’ll be reading Harry Potter. And my family will say to me, “After all this time?” And I will say, “Always”

That sums up my love for the books and their movies in its entirety.

Spenser (Series) – Robert B. Parker

I admit it, were it not for television, I likely still would have never heard of Robert B. Parker. Luckily for me, the television series “Spenser for Hire” happened.  I fell in love with the characters; none of whom were perfect (though the leads were perfectly cast in the show).  I found out in the third (and final) season that they were based on books and after reading “Ceremony” it was a done deal.  Robert B. Parker’s writing is witty, intense, mellow and detailed with nuance as he slides you into his Boston.   Both the requisite tough and tender, Spenser (with an “S” like the poet), a former boxer, former Boston cop, now private investigator is a well-read, often quoting classic poetry, yet one smartass S.O.B. and an excellent cook. He has his own very strong sense of morals and what happens when doing what’s right clashes with doing what’s right– as  it often happened. It is both the strength and the albatross of what makes his friendships and relationships work.

X-Men (The Phoenix Saga) – Chris Claremont

Yes, X-Men as in the Marvel comics and movies, The Uncanny X-Men comic books to be specific. Yes, Storm – a character who was strong, female, and stop the presses, Black – opened the door introducing me to X-Men and the Marvelverse, however, it was Chris Claremont’s writing that kept me in the building. From the Phoenix’s fiery ascension (ironically from the waters of New York City’s Jamaica Bay), to its death, The Phoenix Saga took a little over three years to tell in its entirety and I was there for every step of it. The very human dynamics of the mutant x-men working with their powers, and in the case of Phoenix powers that eventually prove to be far beyond her ability to control with dire consequences, was not something I expected in a comic. The world at large was just coming into the concept of a graphic novel, so this level of storytelling for a comic book was unheard of.  Yes, they were humans with extraordinary powers, but they were human first and that is what called out to me.

The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso) – Dante Alighieri

Finally reading this as an adult away from school, I needed two detailed abridged versions along with the original to fully appreciate the scope of this masterpiece.  Yes, on the literal surface, The Divine Comedy portrays Dante’s adventures in his imaginative realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, which is intriguing enough. However, these adventures or so much more than what is on the surface. Other than the Holy Bible, it was the first book I read that dealt with the demands Christianity makes on invariably fallible human souls. Though told through the character’s view this is not just one man’s struggle, but the struggle of all who strive for morality and find unity with God as we try to travel the right road.

Othello / Romeo & Juliet / Macbeth / Hamlet – William Shakespeare

Who is better at delving into what makes man, and woman, tick and then deliver it to us in finer verbiage than Willie Shakes? No one.  While his comedies show display our foibles with rapier sharp wit, it is his tragedies that really cut to the human heart of us. These four in particular being the prime examples of his craft.

Teacup Full of Roses – Sharon Bell Mathis

Though technically a young adult novel, I was ten when I read “Teacup Full of Roses” at the suggestion of my teacher.  I fell in love with the book because it was the first book I read clearly where the characters were contemporary (1970s), from the city and above all the characters were Black.  I could easily relate to the hopes, dreams, nightmares and failures of these people because they lived in my world. There is much conversation on how the media does not provide an accurate portrayal/accounting of people of color compared to real life, and this is at the adult level. Imagine how much more this is so at the child level.  Until then the only black character I knew in books was Jim in Huckleberry Finn.   Some will never understand how amazing and important this is to a child of color, but it is.

If Beale Street Could Talk / The Fire Next Time / Go Tell It On The Mountain – James Baldwin

Ah Baldwin, in turns made me yearn, made me made angry, made me resolute. Not yet fully aware of the world at large, I did not know the importance of his writing at the time. I just knew this was our lives being told true as I knew them to be. I was exposed to passion in black love, anger and Christianity in a way that was not toned down and pretty. Teacup impressed the ten-year old me, but Baldwin blew the teenaged me out of the water.

Holy Bible (King James Version)

Ah the Bible. I worried as Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go. I understood the father’s joy when his prodigal son returned home; Abraham’s torment as he led Isaac up the mount, as he resolutely obeyed God’s word and Mary’s pain as she cried for her child on the cross.  And Song of Solomon / Song of Songs – well, that’s its own love.  For me The Word was never about  my potential destination to heaven or hell. It never really about His word per se, the analogies/parables between man and deity took second place to the stories of the people themselves and how we relate to and with Him.

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Dissecting this list I realize the connection between all of them is that, it is always about the people in them and their stories. Whether fictional/biographical/auto-biographical – it is how the protagonists / antagonists relate to themselves, to the immediate people who are a part of their daily lives and how they relate to the world the world at large. Good or ill, it’s all about what makes them tick.  And how deeply can they pull me into it their world and make feel me it in mine.