No Air

Living as a Black woman in America means rarely breathing freely.

My struggle to breathe has nothing to do with COVID-19. This lack of air is a result of a different illness, one that has lingered in the air since the beginning of America. This illness ruined families, ruined health, ruined lives. This illness has changed forms through the years, but is just as prevalent and deadly today as it it was when it started.

My breath catches when I see a police officer, even if I’m doing nothing wrong.

Air leaves my lungs in a sick rush at the sight of a confederate flag.

At each microaggression, dog whistle, and ignorant comment I heave a hefty sigh of exasperation.

Racism is a disease infecting every area of this country. Sadly, too many among us don’t recognize how sick this country is. We need to open the windows and release the stale, sour air of this country’s racist past and present if we ever want to eliminate the disease in the future.

Acknowledge the original sin of slavery and its negative impact on Black Americans, then and now.

Apologize through words and actions. Try to right the egregious wrongs. Nothing can ever truly pay what is owed to those who worked this land for nothing, those who were seen and treated as nothing.

But we can try.

As I wait to see the results of this presidential election, I hold my breath. With each passing day I pray we are closing in on the final days of this disease. I hope I live long enough to see racism draw its final breath so we can all breathe freely.

Dear Future Husband

You’ve got your work cut out for you, my darling.

I promise I will not try to make your life difficult. In fact, I’ll do whatever I can to help you, to ease your spirit and give you comfort. But I’d be lying if I acted like I didn’t know I’m a bit of a handful, and I think you deserve to know why.

Men have abandoned me my entire life.

The first was my father. When it was time to choose between alcohol or me, his addiction made the choice for him. He left our family. He died a few years later.

The second was my first love. He took all he could from me, then threw me aside. He decided I was good enough to cook and clean and coddle him, but not good enough to be his girlfriend.

The third was the boyfriend who assaulted me. He didn’t ask for my consent. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to. Or maybe he felt like I wasn’t worth asking.

The fourth was the fiancé who tokenized me. He wanted all I had to offer, but not me as a person. His true feelings showed when I ended our engagement; he told me just how terrible he thought I was.

The fifth was the fiancé who abused me. He hurt me mentally, emotionally, and physically. He gaslit me. He expected me to do all the housework, pay all the bills, and raise all of his children. He spent all of my money. He tried to strangle me.

That cruel man was the last to break my heart before I met you.

In spite of all the negative, I still believe in love. And when I love, I love HARD. It may take time for me to give you my heart, but if and when I do, you get all of it.

I’ve decided to give my heart to you, future husband. I expect few things in return.

I expect you will treat me gently and with kindness.

I expect you will defend me and protect me from anyone or anything that attempts to do me harm.

I expect you will listen to me. Pay attention to my words and actions. I say what I mean and mean what I say—all you have to do is listen.

I expect you will be there for me when I need you.

All of these expectations are ones I have for myself also. I will be kind. I will defend you. I will listen to you. I will be there for you whenever or whatever the circumstance.

I will treat you how I want to be treated.

Because even though men have abandoned me and broken my heart, the strong women in my life taught me to always treat others with the respect and dignity I want to receive. And I will. You will have my full, never-ending adoration, respect, and love until you treat me like you no longer deserve it.

Marriage is something I plan to do once and only once. Choosing a husband is not a choice I make lightly. It means a lot to me.

It means I’ve found the man who will treat me the way all the other men didn’t…

…like someone worthy of love.

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!