Black Parade

I’ve been trying to think of just the right words to summarize my experience at the Commitment March in Washington. D.C.

(That’s why it’s been so long since my last post.)

And I do apologize, for all my delay has been for nothing. I still haven’t found the precise wording for what I saw…what I felt.

“Inspired” is truly an understatement for the fire that was lit within me.

Waiting in line next to a white woman and her tween daughter, listening to stories from a man who marched with Dr. King the first time, I felt the spark.

“Look at this,” I thought.

“We all know this is a historic moment, when we draw the line in the sand.”

Listening to speaker after another, each from different walks of life, stoked the flame.

A young lady who survived one of the most tragic events in recent history.

An older man who reminded us that the gay rights movement began with a brick and a Black woman.

Finally, and most tragically, the family members and friends of so many of our martyrs.

Ahmaud Arbery.

Breonna Taylor.

Jacob Blake.

I was on fire. Flames roared across the crowd.

We all burned.

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

We marched and chanted to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, a fireball.

I haven’t felt the same sense. I feel…alive.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, reborn.

Bad Guy

Whenever I make a choice for myself, I always feel like the bad guy.

Don’t want to go to an event and say so? Bad guy.

Don’t want to be touched and move away? Bad guy.

Don’t want to do something for someone else and mention it? Reallyyyyy bad guy.

Black women in America have been seen as community property for so long that people take offense when we say no. For hundreds of years, we were expected to do everything for everyone. Unfortunately things haven’t changed much. Black women are expected to solve the world’s problems, all while little is being done to solve the problems Black women face.

I’ve known my whole life that “No,” is a complete sentence. (I got a perfect score on the English section of the ACT. #humblebrag) However, I’ve only recently started living it. Some people may be surprised or even offended by the change.

Do I care?

…No. 😉

Speak Now

One of the things I’m trying to work on is speaking up.

Now, if you’ve ever met me you know I’m not afraid to talk. According to my mama, I’ve been talking since I figured out how to string two words together. My elementary school teachers tried to keep me quiet by moving my seat—that did NOT work. Long story short, I’ll talk to anybody.

But talking and speaking up are two different things.

Speaking up means voicing your opinions. Speaking up means sharing your feelings. Speaking up means calling out people or behaviors that are wrong.

I haven’t always done that.

As a kid, I was expected to stay in a child’s place and not question the adults in my life. In middle school, I told a boy that I liked him and he humiliated me in from of my entire class. In high school, after an emotionally abusive boyfriend hurt himself right in front of me, I was told not to say anything about it. Instances like these occurred in college and my adult life too. Honestly, there were many times I silenced myself because I was worried people wouldn’t like me.

But no more.

We only have one life to live, and I’m tired of not speaking my truth. This newfound desire to speak out has made me uncomfortable—especially at work. But these are just growing pains.

My opinions and feelings are valid. My voice is important. It’s time to speak.

Now.

Under Pressure

Next week, my company will start bringing people back into the office. I’m part of “phase 1,” meaning that I’m expected to return to my office on campus on Monday.

I am terrified.

Coronavirus is still very real. The number of cases is increasing, (particularly in the county I live in). I do my best to wash my hands frequently, observe social distancing, and wear a mask in public. I’ve barely left the house in the past few months.

There is immense pressure to return to the office, but I’m torn. I could leave this company, or take a leave of absence and come back when things are safer. But then I’d be leaving a job I truly love and scrambling to find a way to keep the bills paid. Or I can return to the office (as I plan to on Monday) and put my health and the health of the people I love at risk. It’s a rock and a hard place indeed.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m being thrown to the wolves. My company is requiring masks in community areas, and we are getting a solo office if we want one. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about the HVAC system we used—the company is improving the air filtration system and shared details about it with us. All of these things are great for sure.

But what about the elevators?

The break rooms?

The copy areas?

All it takes is one person.

One person being careless or showing up to work sick and all hell breaks loose. I understand that people want things to get back to “normal.” But unfortunately things probably won’t be “normal” for quite some time.

Honestly, things may never go back to the way they were.

When I return to work, I won’t be going to in-person meetings. I’ll be calling into meetings from my office, with the door closed and the window open.

When I return to work, I won’t be in a classroom teaching groups of 20-40 people. I’ll be in my office, training those exact same people virtually. I won’t be able to see their faces, but I can still educate them and support them.

When I return to work, I won’t drop by someone else’s office to troubleshoot an issue, or ask a question, or just say “hi.” I’ll be calling people, or using video conferencing—all with a sign on my office door telling people to call me instead of stopping by.

When I return to work, there will be no lunchtime gatherings with coworkers as we enjoy delicious food from the cafeteria buffet lines. I’m bringing my lunch every single day, and my own silverware too. I’m currently trying to figure out how I can bring enough water for the day so I don’t have to go to the water fountain or the break room for a drink.

When I return to work, it won’t be “normal” in many ways. As I think about it, there is one way in particular that will make going to work completely abnormal for me.

I’ll be scared to do it.

Poetry Girl

Today I was doing my normal COVID pre-work routine (coffee, stretch, cardio) and this random rhyme popped into my head. Not all at once though; it came in a few words at a time until I ended up with a little poem.

I kept saying this poem in my head, over and over—it wouldn’t leave me alone. It was so persistent I had to stop and write it down! The only thing I could find in the moment was my planner, so now there are a few lines of a poem randomly next to my to-do list for today. 🙂

Never in my life have I considered myself a poet, but that made me wonder: Is that what poets do all the time?

Are songwriters consumed by a melody?

Do colors blur the vision of the artist?

Will a dancer’s feet twitch with the steps?

Honestly, ya girl is NOT an innovator. Give me a list of tasks, I’ll do ‘em—well and ahead of schedule too! Ask me to come up with what tasks *should* be done…thanks, but no thanks.

That’s what fascinates me about humans and our brains! We all have different thought processes and desires and talents. I love learning about how people think. So I’ve got a call to action for y’all:

If you’re a creator, I’d love to hear more about your creative process. Please share in the comments!

Disappear

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I made our weekly sojourn to the grocery store. (Even Pre-COVID, we shopped weekly to save time, energy, and money.) We slowly wound our way through the store we simultaneously loved and hated—large selection and great prices, narrow aisles and never enough cashiers.

A woman’s cart stood between us and the almond milk, one of the last items on our list. Eager to get this trip over with, my boyfriend moved her cart a few inches so I could push ours past. The movement must have caught her eye, and she turned to look at me.

“You’re so beautiful!” she exclaimed.

I thanked her, secretly wondering how she could think such a thing given the cloth mask covering half my face. Without missing a beat, she continued.

“Where are you from?”

That was the first of many microaggressions to come.

I quickly replied, “Kentucky,” and pushed my cart closer to the dairy case in an effort to end the conversation. But she inched closer, maskless (!) and babbling.

“Your hair is lovely. What do you do to your hair to get it like that?”

The answer? Literally nothing. (The few sprays of water I applied before the trip didn’t count—I didn’t even put any product in it!) I shrugged and responded, “It just grows this way,” struggling mightily to keep myself from rolling my eyes. I was brought up to respect my elders, and even though the gray-haired woman in front of me was trying my patience, my mama raised me to be polite.

I tried to leave but the woman continued, following one awful comment with a string of several more.

“African women are so elegant, very regal and classy. You know, I could tell you weren’t from around here. You don’t act like the Black people in Wisconsin. I work with them and they have such an attitude. They wear their hair in the braids and it just comes out. I’m from India and I help them, boil the coconut oil and castor oil to make something to help it grow back. Your hair is beautiful and healthy, and you wear it just as it is! They should be more like you.”

Racism, wrapped in compliments. From another woman of color, at that! I wanted to disappear.

As she turned and walked away, she noticed the large ginger root in our cart.

“Healthy too! You are so good. May God bless you.”

My boyfriend, having ventured to get the almond milk himself, returned to find me standing next to our cart. Seething, I recounted the interaction. We headed toward the checkout line, watching carefully to avoid seeing her again.

Usually, I leave that grocery store anxious and frustrated because of the crowded aisles and lengthy checkout lines. Today, anxiety and frustration were replaced with anger and sadness.

You cannot uplift one Black woman and simultaneously put others down.

You cannot talk badly about Black people in Wisconsin while ignoring the fact that it is one of the worst states in America for Black people.

You cannot celebrate Black hair in its natural state while trashing the protective styles many of us (including myself) wear regularly.

You can, though, be racist and a person of color at the same damn time.

Sabotage

Yesterday before work, my inner saboteur paid me a visit.

After my daily cup of coffee and a quick 10 minute yoga video, I journeyed to my “home gym” (a.k.a. a spare bedroom with a smart TV). I turned on a video from one of my favorite fitness YouTubers and got to work.

Or at least I tried to.

About 10 minutes into the workout, I was struggling. My balance was off. My speed was slower than the instructor. My arms and legs were shaking. At one point, we were doing a core exercise on the floor and I just couldn’t get it right—I kept moving my arms and legs at the wrong times, to the wrong spots.

“Wow, you’re really terrible at this.”

“Do you even know your right from your left? How embarassing.”

“Honestly, I don’t even see why you bother with this. You’re never going to look as good as you in college.

“You’re fat. Ugly too. Just give up!”

I didn’t give up…but I did cry in the shower after I finished the video. “Cruel” is an understatement when it comes to my inner saboteur. Clearly, I am my own worst enemy.

As a Black woman in America, I work very hard to prove to myself and everyone else that I am capable—I deserve to be in the room. When I’m anxious, or sad, or overwhelmed, my inner saboteur shows up to make me feel even worse.

Everyone has these voices in their heads. What I’m working on is changing what it says to me. For every negative comment, I need to train my brain to come up with something positive.

So today, I’m heading back to my “home gym” to try again. If my inner saboteur shows up, I’m telling her to kick rocks. Nobody’s gonna stop me from accomplishing what I want in life—not even me!

Starving

It’s been over two weeks since my last post, and hopefully this one will explain why that is.

These past few weeks have been…a lot. America is a country built on stolen land by stolen people. The racial injustices experienced by Black people since we got here were put on full display in a viral video of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer.

Now, this video was shocking to a lot of people. But Black folks have seen this show before—multiple times. This ain’t nothin’ new to us. What really surprised me, though, is how many people lack empathy for others.

Real talk, I’ve always been the “sensitive” one. An empath, I guess? My own emotions hit me hard, and I tend to feel others’ emotions strongly too. Considering others’ feelings, perspectives, and experiences is something I was taught at a very young age.

Apparently some people’s parents skipped this life lesson, because I’ve seen wayyyyyyyy too many people lacking empathy here lately!

I wish I had the privilege to be that person who gives 0 fucks. That person who says and does whatever they please, other people’s feelings be damned! I wish “If it doesn’t impact me personally I don’t care,” could be my life’s motto.

But that just seems…wrong.

It might be easier to live life that way, but that doesn’t make it right.

Throughout life, I was taught to not be selfish. “Share! Listen! Give! Always!” (I grew up as an only child, so I feel like I got this lesson more than most people.)

But there is a difference between self-advocacy and selfishness.

When is it okay to ask for something back, or keep something for yourself, or require people to treat you a certain way? When does advocating for yourself become caring ONLY about yourself? Where’s the line?

I wish I knew. I feel like that line is in a different spot for Black people than it is for anyone else. We’ve had to spend our whole lives worrying about what other people think, how they see us. Maybe that isn’t “empathy” in the traditional sense, but that heightened awareness is necessary. Honestly, our survival depends on it.

Which is better–to be full of empathy, or starved of it?

Personally, I’d rather be caring than careless. But no lie, it’s EXHAUSTING. I’m so tired, y’all. That’s why this post took so long—all my energy has gone toward surviving lately.

Y’all have no idea how much effort it takes to be professional at work when your employer is doing the bare minimum regarding diversity. It’s so hard to take care of my home when all I can think about is how I’ve only ever seen one other Black person in my neighborhood. It’s tough to be a loving partner when my partner has a lot of the privilege I lack.

But sometimes the hard thing to do is the right thing to do.

Rest In Peace to George Floyd and all my Black sisters and brothers dead at the hands of racism. We will never forget you. We will avenge you, by any means necessary. Black Lives Matter.

My Life

The first time, I was young.

I don’t remember my exact age, but I was a kid–probably around 5 or 6. I was at a friend’s house, playing with girl about the same age as me. We were acting out our favorite TV show, Saved by the Bell.

She was having a hard time choosing who to be: Kelly Kapowski (the beautiful cheerleader) or Jessie Spano (the super smart class president).

My choice was already made for me. I’d be Lisa Turtle, the rich fashionista.

Not because I was rich. Not because I enjoyed fashion.

I would be Lisa because I was Black, and Lisa was Black. Plain and simple.

Honestly, I identified more with Jessie–I loved to learn and I admired her passion for issues like saving the environment. I liked how she always said what she thought and worked hard to be the best. But I couldn’t be Jessie because we weren’t the same color.

I didn’t really think of it as racism at the time because, as a said before, I was a kid. But looking back I see how I was put in a box because of my skin color.

The second time hit a little harder.

Once again, I don’t remember my exact age. But I was still a kid. I was riding the bus to school, and an older boy kept trying to get my attention. He kept calling me a racial slur (one that I will not type here).

Yes, I told the bus driver. No, she didn’t do anything.

I got called this slur EVERY DAY until the boy got his driver’s license and stopped taking the bus.

The first day I got on the bus and he wasn’t there, I felt a trickle of relief. By the end of the week, I realized he wasn’t coming back. The trickle turned to a flood. Finally, I could ride the bus in peace and quiet.

What’s that saying? “Third time’s a charm…”

This one I remember in great detail. I was in sixth grade, in Ms. White’s classroom. It was almost time for school to be dismissed, and we had to be sitting at our desks when the bell rang before Ms. White would let us leave her classroom.

I was kneeling on the floor beside my desk, picking up all my papers and books. I wasn’t dawdling–I was putting stuff in my bag as fast as I could. But there was so much stuff.

The bell rang and I wasn’t in my seat. No one could leave until I sat down. I stood, then moved to sit down at my desk. That was when I heard it.

“Hurry up, BLACKIE!”

It came from a white boy I only knew in passing–his name was Jesse. I don’t remember ever speaking to this boy–before or after this incident–but I can see his face in my mind’s eye as clear as day.

I froze where I stood. All hopes of sitting down were gone–I couldn’t move. I just stared at him.

Ms. White made Jesse apologize to me–a quick “sorry” that was clearly more about getting to the bus line than giving an authentic apology. Ms. White released the class, and I shot out of that classroom with tears running down my face.

I was practically running to get to the bus, crying. Someone–I can’t remember who–asked what was wrong as I flew past.

“Nothing.”

I can’t even remember if I told my mom what happened.

It happened over and over again, and got more humiliating each time.

In high school, it poured rain on the day of a band competition. I was in the colorguard, wearing a hairstyle that required a lot of hold. Pump It Up spritz was the go-to product to keep my hair in place. (If you’re a Black woman reading this, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now. Pump It Up is an old school Black hair staple, right there next to Luster’s Pink Oil Lotion and my aunt’s favorite, Blue Magic scalp conditioner.)

“Ewwwwwww, what is that smell?!?

Apparently, Pump It Up + rain water = a slightly unpleasant aroma. And another guard member was LOUDLY letting everyone know about it. I just tried to stay as far away from everyone as I could. Not only was the hairstyle that took an ENTIRE DAY ruined, my day was too. I felt like such a freak, even though the white girls back then would use so much gel and hairspray they reeked of aerosol.

It presented itself so often, in so many different ways.

My worst experience with racism to date didn’t even happen in America. That’s why it’s the worst time–I didn’t see it coming.

I was in Denmark for a work trip, staying for two weeks. It was January, so the days were short and dark and cold there, but I was so excited. I’d never been to Europe before, and here I was–traveling abroad for business! I felt so fancy.

The first week passed without incident. There were a few snags with my work project, but I powered through them. Then the weekend came and everything changed.

I went out to dinner with a co-worker. We went to a fancy place and ate a meal with, like, seven different courses. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the delicious food and generally had a fantastic time. We took a car back to our hotel, and I headed to my room after a quick goodbye near the hotel lobby. Shortly after I got back to my room, I got a text from my co-worker. The man working the front desk said I couldn’t stay at the hotel.

He thought I was a prostitute.

I went back to that front desk, room key in hand. I explained that I’d been in the hotel for an entire week and hadn’t had any problems until today. I asked that man if he would have made the same assumption if I was a white lady.

He said NO. Had I been a different color, he wouldn’t have given me a second thought.

It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

I wish I could say those were the only times.

But there are so many moments I’ve left out.

The “You’re so pretty for a Black girl,” moments.

The time a classmate said it wasn’t fair I got a full scholarship to college because I was Black (even thought I was in honors classes and my grades were higher than hers).

The “You’re not like other those Black people–you’re one of the good ones,” moments.

The time a former coworker “complimented” me by putting both of her hands wrist deep in my fresh kinky twists–without my permission, of course.

The “I’m sorry, we don’t have makeup in your shade,” moments.

The time a boy I had a crush on in high school told me he couldn’t be racist because he’d kissed me once. (This was years after the kiss, on a Facebook post about police brutality.)

The “You’re so articulate,” moments.

The time a judge at a speech tournament wrote me a ballot explaining that I shouldn’t just do pieces on Blackness–that I was “better than that.

The “I don’t even think of you as Black,” moments.

The time I competed in a local beauty pageant and won Miss Congeniality, but I wasn’t included in the photograph that ran in the paper.

The time I drove past the fairgrounds in my hometown and saw signs stating “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and learned just whose lives clearly didn’t matter.

The time I had dinner at my high school boyfriend’s house and his father refused to speak to me. Seriously–the man didn’t say a single word to me the entire time I was there. He spoke to everyone else, but not to me.

The time I got pulled over late at night in my new car. Terror isn’t the word–it was worse than that. Thank God I hadn’t been drinking, had all of my paperwork, and had the wherewithal to put on my most “articulate” voice for the officer.

Every single time I change my hair and people at work say they can’t recognize me–even if it’s just a switch from curly to straight. (And it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.)

It’s exhausting. It’s infuriating. And, unfortunately, it’s a regular part of my life.

If you read this and realized that someone you know has said or done something like this in the past, I hope you’re horrified. If you read this and realized YOU’VE said or done something similar in the past, I hope you are filled with shame. I hope you look back over your life and recognize every single racist thing you’ve been part of. I hope you cry.

And after all that, I hope you make a promise to do better.

I hope you realize you aren’t a bad person, but that you have some learning (and maybe more importantly, un-learning) to do. I hope you read up on how America has disenfranchised Black people since we were stolen and brought here. I hope you advocate for Black people with your time, energy, money, resources, and especially YOUR VOTES.

I hope you check your racist family members and friends–don’t let those jokes or comments slide. I hope you support reparations for descendants of slavery. I hope you protest for us and with us. I hope you stop saying you’re “colorblind” and start saying “I see your color, but I don’t devalue you because of it.”

I hope you take a look at your life, now that you’ve seen some of the uglier parts of mine.

Turn the Beat Around

Almost had a homeowner crisis, y’all! The other day, I went to close the garage door after returning from walking the dog.

But…the door wouldn’t close. My garage door opener was malfunctioning.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I instantly went into panic mode.

How much will this cost me? Do I have to replace the whole thing? Do I want some stranger coming over here and possibly bringing in the ‘Rona???

I. Was. STRESSED.

But I decided to look at it from the positive side, as opposed to the negative.

Even if it is expensive to replace, I’ve got the funds to cover it. I’ve been wanting to get a new garage door opener for a while, so replacing it might not be so bad. I’ll make sure to stand far away from the technician and sanitize everything after they leave.

Sometimes, a change in perspective is all you need!

I’m happy to say that the cost was wayyyy less than what I thought it would be (under $500 for the whole thing).

I’m happy to say that while I did have to replace the whole garage door opener, now I’ve got a new fancy one that I can control with my phone.

I’m happy to say that the technician was super nice, made sure to socially distance, and wore gloves while he was working.

I’m happy. Not panicked or stressed. Happy.

How has changing your perspective helped you in tough times? Share your thoughts in the comments!