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.

The Weight

I pulled in to Nazareth, I was feelin’ ’bout a half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey mister, can you tell me where a girl might find a bed (can you tell me)
He just grinned and shook my hand, no was all he said

-Aretha Franklin, ‘The Weight’

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted lately, it’s because I’ve been feeling the weight.

An unarmed Black man was murdered by a police officer in his own apartment.

Brett Kavanaugh will likely become part of the Supreme Court.

Wisconsin, where I live, is slowly recovering from historic flooding that destroyed many structures and even killed someone.

The White House is in chaos.

As a Black woman in America, getting through each day lately has been utterly exhausting.  Watching the news makes me so anxious, but I can’t not watch–I need to know how close to oblivion we are getting.  Unfortunately, we are inching closer and closer every day.

The weight is bearing down on me.  It’s bearing down on a lot of us.

But I can’t let it take me out.  We can’t let it bring us down.

We have to continue to help and love each other, regardless of what we look like or how much money we have or where we’re from.

We have to fight back against those trying to tear apart our country with racism and discrimination.

We have to keep moving forward.

Yes, I’m still feeling the weight.  The struggle to make it through each day is still very real.  But I like to think that my muscles are getting stronger.  I’m trying to find something positive in each day to keep me moving forward.

I hope you are too.

 

 

Mistaken Identity

A few weeks ago, some of my neighbors stopped by my house to return some mail that had been mistakenly delivered to them instead of me.  I rarely get unannounced visitors, so I curiously approached the door–perhaps it was a teenager doing a fund raiser or a friend who happened to be in the neighborhood.

I opened the door, said hello.  A white man and woman stood on my stoop.  Their faces quickly went from placid to surprised.

“Are YOU…?”

“Yes, sir; this is my home.  How can I help you?”

A quick explanation of the mail mishap and they were gone, leaving me with a Women’s Health magazine and feelings of resignation.

This interaction was, unfortunately, not a first for me.  People have been surprised at my Blackness more times than I can count.  Perhaps it’s the unassuming first name.  Or maybe the lack of accent–my extensive public speaking background nipped that in the bud real quick.

But multiple times in my life, I’ve spoken to someone on the phone and heard a shocked, pleased, or even disappointed exclamation of “I didn’t know you were Black!” during our first in-person meeting.  Or gotten a look of confusion in a doctor’s waiting room when I stand after my name is called.  Each time, I roll my eyes and add the interaction to the list of acts of subtle racism thrown my way.

Why do people live with stereotypes–usually negative–of what Blackness is?  Why, after meeting me in person, do people feel the need to remark on how “articulate” I am?  Or how I’m “not what they expected?”  Most people probably don’t even realize what they’re doing–and they definitely wouldn’t call it being racist.  However, stereotypes about Black people are so deeply ingrained that most of the population doesn’t even recognize them unless they are explicitly pointed out.

Sometimes, the stereotypes have terrifying–even deadly–repercussions.  A Black woman was held at gunpoint because a white neighbor thought she was breaking into her own apartment. Luckily, this woman wasn’t injured or killed.

…However, this Black man wasn’t so lucky.

Neither was this Black woman.

For those who continue to mistakenly believe that we live in a post-racial society, look around you.  Look at your own actions.  Scrutinize your reactions to and interactions with people of color.  You don’t have to wear a white hood, rep the Confederate flag, or say the n-word to be a racist.  You don’t have to be a billionaire raised with the finest of things to have privilege.  Remember this each time you open your front door and the person on the other side acts like you belong there.

Beyond the Moment

Last night, my boyfriend and I went to see 12 Years a Slave. If you haven’t heard about based on a true story film, please navigate to the Google immediately and commence searching.

Chiwetel Ejiofor shows us the pain and anguish of Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Based on a true story, the film displays the race-divided South with brilliant clarity. It reminds us of what was.

And here we are. Things thought absolutely impossible aren’t even an afterthought. Of course we should vote, and own property, and go to school together. Of course we are human.

But still exists the stereotyping, profiling. Suspicion. Blackface. We are better, but not best. 12 Years a Slave serves as a great reminder to keep the past in the past and always look beyond what works in the moment.