A World Of Difference

I am cleaning out email boxes and I discover some notes from a writing class I took at a National conference that addresses multicultural education

I discover a piece I wrote in the class about an experience I had as an assistant librarian in an independent school.

When you’re the multi in a culture not so used to difference:

She is in the second grade
She stands in the library,
surrounded by books, a determined seeker
of that which only she knows.
There is no smile on her face but she does not frown either.
Deep in thought, surrounded by her classmates
she does not see anything but what she seeks.
The found book is brought proudly to the circulation desk
where I stand. I do not frown but I do know this is not the book
she can have right now. I do not remember why it is not right.
I just remember it is not right for her right now.
She balks and pouts and keeps asking “Why,” as if to hear me
say the same thing over and over again. I sense that she is not used to
the color of my voice,
this child with permission to resist an adult.
It is a battle of the wills, her determination vs. my authority
which I do not think about in that tug of war moment.
I want what’s best for her seven-year-old mind.
She wants what she wants. I do not see the steel in her eyes
when she turns to leave the library with her class.
She leaves sans coveted book, but wrapped tightly in her determination
she tells a different story of intimidation
when she gets home to Mama.
who writes to the teacher who writes to me
though knowing me does not defend me
but succors the mother.
I am a black woman who manages her voice at school,
tempers it to match the sensibility of my little patrons.
This time.
I lose.

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THE OTHER THAT IS ME!

The Other
The Other is an individual who is perceived by the group as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way. Any stranger becomes the Other. The group sees itself as the norm and judges those who do not meet that norm (that is, who are different in any way) as the Other. Perceived as lacking essential characteristics possessed by the group, the Other is almost always seen as a lesser or inferior being and is treated accordingly. The Other in a society may have few or no legal rights, may be characterized as less intelligent or as immoral, and may even be regarded as sub-human.” http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/other.html

I have worked with summer programs for 20+ years. In the early years, the programs were cocooned, separate from the majority culture. Though the population of children was somewhat diverse, the teachers and staff all looked like me, all African American.

The summer program to which I am now attached is of a different “color, “simply meaning, while some diversity is still in place in the student population, the teachers are mostly white. There is nothing wrong with this mix because the teachers (who are in the final stage of a credentials program) bring to the students all they need to continue to grow and stretch academically. However, we are housed on a campus with a separate program that is not used to such diversity, so the field is ripe for misunderstandings, assumptions and micro-aggressions … on their part, not mine.

Yes, this issue of the “Other that is Me” lies not with the students or the teachers but with the opinions of those around me who do not look like me, individuals whose only information about the “Other Who Is Me” may come through the media and/or opinions of people who also look just like them.

When the “Other That Is Me” comes into view, certain assumotions come into play about the capability and ability of the “Other Who Is Me” to function well, if even at all.

It is assumed that when a situation appears untenable or unmanageable, I will, of course, need assistance, without bothering to check with me to see if, indeed, I need any help at all.

It is assumed, when the children wander into spaces where they should not be (which children have been known to do), that I should be informed as to how such scenarios should be handled without even once just Informng me about the situation and trusting me to handle it because, after all, I do have some experience with this population and the program.

It is assumed that if a playground is left messy that it had to be our kids because, you know, that is how the “Others” roll. And yes, trash was left on the playground, but, having worked at the site during school years, I am well aware of messes left behind in the cafeteria and on those same playgrounds. When I do check out the “mess,” I discover trash along the perimeter of the playground that appears to have been there for a while. I leave it in place for their maintenance people to do their job.

I have been the “Other That Is Me” all my life though the burden of “Otherness” is not as much of a concern for me as it was when I was younger. I am more vocal these days about those things that need to be addressed in the moment. I see every such moment as an opportunity for someone to learn and to grow and to stretch, namely those individuals who can only see me, and the children, as the “Other.”

What I do need, as well, is the grace to speak the truth in love, to understand the micro-aggression as ignorance, the stereotype as uninformed and the assumption as asinine misinformation.

That’s my plan, anyway.

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“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

 

BLACK LIVES MATTER?

I am African American

I also identify as Black

But I don’t have to tell anyone this fact

As soon as you see me you know

I am African American

I am Black

Raised in an era where I was commanded to stay in my place

i have never been unaware of the inderground racism of America

Unfounded presumptions about me and my community

I have been the “only one” many times

From my first real job in 1969 to my last real job in 2014

I have done private sector, government and education

In each place I worked harder to prove the doubters wrong even as they questioned my right to be in their presence

Today’s climate of unfettered racism, though a disappointment, is no real revelation to me

Which is why I feel compelled to address this hot spot of “Black Lives Matter”

Responses are appreciated, but reflection (rather than reaction) is encouraged first

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A View From Monday

Why should Black Lives Matter?

Because for too long they have not mattered enough. Seen as a monolith rather than individuals, the lynching/murder of one equals the lynching/murder of all in our collective hearts. In the minds of the silent majority, not so much. Such horrors viewed in silence is tantamount to assent, pretty much like those viewing parties/picnics held back in the day at the foot of a tree upon which hung strange fruit harvested in southern soil.

Yes, Black Lives do Matter to us; it is our assertion of the right to our humanity, to live without fear of of being accosted and harmed without reason or logic while the society that surrounds us can blithely devalue our loss, condemn our anger, reject our pain and question our frustration by demanding that we relinquish our sovereignty to their command that All Lives Matter.

All Lives do Matter, but when you reject my right to point out that the value of my life is too often subjective, allow you to defame character in death as though execution was warranted and long overdue, that we must be the first to forgive when our hearts are broken, then we have a problem. Until this changes, our assertion must continue to be because All Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, in fact, Black Lives Must Matter.

 

 

GRACE UNDER FIRE

The old man sits silently on the steps of his front porch.

These are his thinking steps.

“Always thinking,” his wife used to mutter to herself, “Always thinking!”

Miz Mae never really understood her husband’s quiet ways, his continuous reflections on the curiosities of life.

“Always thinking!”

The old man sits on the steps and stares down the street to the corner where some young boys stand discussing whatever it is young boys discuss these days.

“Hey, old man!”

Rufus, a longtime friend, shuffles up to sit beside his old friend.

It is a daily routine for these two, old friends sitting side by side on the stoop talking and listening to one another.

The old man clears his throat, a sure sign he is about to speak on something he has been thinking about for quite some time

“You know, Rufus, we as a people personify grace under fire.”

He rubs his gray grizzled chin as he speaks.

“Whut you mean by “puhSAHnuhfie?” The old man’s friend often wonders where his friend learned all those big words.

“It’s like we look like grace under fire, like if grace under fire was human, it would look like us.”

“Uh Hmmm.”

Rufus tries to make himself sound like he really understands the old man when he “speech-a-fies” but the truth is that he almost always has a hard time following his friend whenever he uses those big words.

“Yep, grace under fire, that’s us.”

Whenever the old man speaks of “us,” he means African Americans

“Grace under fire is the real story of us, you know, Rufus?”

Rufus grunts assent and waits for the old man to expand on his thought.

“Yes sir, they ripped us from our native land. The smells, the sounds, the taste of home was our only luggage on the middle passage. They dragged us onto foreign soil, alien tongues assaulted our native ears. Our language was whipped out of us and we were forced to speak a foreign tongue they did not teach us but when we finally learned to speak what we thought we heard, they laughed and called us ignorant. They did not recognize our genius, did not see the majesty of our being!”

“They barely named us, treated us worse than that stubborn old mule that refused to pull the plow. They beat us and expected us to love them unconditionally, bowing and scraping whenever they were around, had us mammy their babies and bear children forced upon our women by the master’s rough hands.”

“The sounds and the smells and the tastes of our native land were forced out of us. We swallowed our sorrow, mingled tears with sweat and endured the angry bite of cotton bolls picked in the scorching heat of every day.”

“They force freed us then designed a new bondage named after a minstrel song that foisted violent servitude upon us, brutal acceptance of their inhumanity. They hung us from trees while they picnicked and took trophy pictures like hunters on a safari.”

“We endured it all, wept through it all, buried our dead too young, muted our anger, wrapped ourselves in our frustration and waited and waited and waited for real freedom  ”

“Well, freedom finally caught up with us, we thought, but it came with conditions attached. Stay in your place, accept what we say is right for you, be grateful for the crumbs we half-heartedly throw to you, walk through that open door then work twice as hard to prove your worth.”

“We worked hard, we assimilated, we embraced our natural roots, we expected more but each day we received less and they wonder why we are not satisfied.”

“But, dagnabit, look at us Rufus, we are still here, still climbing Mr. Hughes’ torn, worn stairs. We are still striving, still pressing, and Rufus, we ain’t rioted full scale across the country, yet, not even when they  killed Martin or when Malcolm died, not even when they killed our boys, our girls, our men, our women. Our souls have been tried. Our spirits have been bruised. Our hearts have been burdened. Our tears have been bitter. Our losses have been huge. But, even so, we held on to hope, we still hold on to hope. They still killing us but we still get up in the morning. We still laugh. We still dance. We still sing. We still love. We still marry. We still have children. Shoot, we still like sex when we have the energy!”

Rufus chuckles then looks around to see if anyone heard that last comment his friend made.

“We have not yet reached the end of our rope but I’m mighty a-feared that the rope of our hope is getting shorter, that the fuse of our anger might be about to be lit for a great explosion of retribution. I pray that peace prevails and that equality, one day, will one hundred percent win. That is my prayer. It’s my prayer for our land, Rufus. Its my prayer for us, too.”

Rufus blinks a few times as he chews on the old man’s words. He is both proud and afraid at the same time but he sits up a just a little straighter, squares his shoulders and says,

“Yessuh, we sho have puhSAHnuhfied  grace undah fiyah, yessuh, we sho have. ”

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IMITATION, SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY?

Sunny Hostin and Whoopi Goldberg Clash Over Whether Black Women Wearing Weaves is Cultural Appropriation

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My definition of Cultural Appropriation: A group “takes” what is my legacy, something my ancestors created, that which has been passed from one generation to another as a honored and often sacred tradition but you laughed at it, devalued it, called it hood and ghetto until you begin to see it as trendy, a thing to do or have so you now consider it, evaluate its worth for your brand, your market, your sense of style and you “take” it, rename it and claim it as a new thing/creation and you choose (intentional or not) not to acknowledge or even admit the true source of its elegant majesty.

How an individual chooses to dress or how they style their hair is of little consequence to me but when it becomes an issue of cultural pride and relevance what I need from the “new” user is that they acknowledge and value the origin of their “new thing.”

You see, my community is so used to being ignored, devalued and overlooked that when our legacy, our ancestral tradition/legacy is assimilated, subsumed, absorbed, consumed and renamed by those who have no clue to the why of our pride or they are not even interested in its origin or sanctity within a community, we call it as we see it, OFFENSIVE!

I love the maxi skirts made of African cloth and recently was gifted with three. I have worn one and I love how I feel when I wear it, how it looks on me. But, recently, I read an article/blog by an individual from Africa who called us out on making their heritage, the cloth, into a fashion statement. This concern certainly has made me more conscious of how my choices, innocent though they may be, may appear frivolous and offensive to the group of origin. I will wear my skirts but I will also do my research on the cloth and its “history” so that I may consciously honor the group and their ancestral legacy through my acknowledgement of its cultural roots and pride of heritage when I am complimented.

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We must all become just a little more sensitive to how our choices appear or impact others especially when it comes to those “products” of culture.

“THE NEGRO SPEAKS OF RIVERS” ~Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers  

 

 

 

SICK AND TIRED OF BEING SICK AND TIRED

Fannie Lou Hamer was an African American Civil Rights activist of the 60s/70s.

She was well acquainted with the poverty and violence in the Jim Crow South.

A phrase she coined, in all of her activism, was “I am sick and tired of bring sick and tired.”

I feel you, Fannie, because I am tired, tired of being watched in unexpected places.

What do I mean when I say I am tired of being watched in unexpected places?

Well, i have lived most of my life being watched in unexpected places.

Huh?

reeseandcoco

 

Here’s the deal…

I am tired of being watched in places where it is assumed I will not be or presumed I should not be.

Watched by startled eyes that mark my every move to make sure I live up to their lowered expectations.

Expectations gleaned from a family book of prejudices or a media that reports its own brand of digital apartheid or stereotypes paraded behind closed doors of private clubs or redlines rigidly drafted onto stark white paper strewn across dark walnut tables in a good old boys boardroom.

I am weary of others deeming denial as my birthright while privilege continues to labor to keep me in a place as defined by them.

I am sick and tired of my concerns being dismissed as yesterday’s old news while microaggressions nip at my heels day after day  after day.

Yep, I, too, am sick and tired of being sick and tired, so dear people, please be forewarned from this day forward.

Before you bring me any of your foolishness, fine tuned in the errancy of your self-entitled pride, take a deep breath, step back and re-think how you think before you speak.

Because if you don’t, I most definitely will “clap back.”.

Be very, very sure, and rest assured, that the next time you dismiss my truth, I will call you on it and just so you are not uninformed, here is my truth: I, too, am sick and tired of being sick and tired!

 

reeseandcoco

Where’s my mic?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE DAY WHEN THE GLORY COMES

I love the sitcom “black-ish.” Usually, the thirty minute episodes are filled with laugh generating moments.

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The episode of 2/24, not so much.

The summary for that episode is as follows:

HOPE“A highly publicized court case involving police brutality and an African American teenager leads the kids to ask tough questions, but Dre and Bow have conflicted views.  Dre and his parents think the children need to know the harsh reality while Bow would prefer to give them a more optimistic view of life “

Usually the setting of the sitcom  is split between the upscale home of the Johnson’s and the PR office where the father, Dre, holds a high level position. Oh, by the way, Dre’s wife, Rainbow, is a doctor. Yes, this black family is an affluent black family raising black children who have never known the hardness of poverty, the mis- education of public schools, or the mean toughness of urban streets.

But, this time, the conversation is contained inside the four walls of the Johnson home against the backdrop of a wall mounted flatscreen TV through which a talking head keeps the Johnson’s apprised of the turmoil in the community.

Life has indeed been good to the Johnson family, but in this episode, they try to come to grips with the police brutality and harassment that too often targets the black community.

Dre was raised in the hood by a tough no-nonsense father and a doting black Jesus loving mother (who really needs to stop ragging on Rainbow) while his wife was raised by interracial bohemian type hippies. This difference in background is bound to result in how each sees the criminal justice system and black people in America.

Rainbow holds on to hope while Dre “knows” there is no hope!

The struggle comes when the adults engage in the often circuitous conversation about what will happen, what has happened, what should not happen and how to cope with the potentials of possibilities and eventualities.

Needless to say, there is no hard resolution to an issue so complex.

“I don’t need some book to tell me how I feel. I know how I feel and it’s lost.”   ~Zoe, teenage daughter, ” black-ish”

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All that remains is the determination to hold on to hope, a concept that is more often than not too nebulous for the African American community. The Johnson’s make the decision to take a proactive stand for the right to have access to a justice that is always just, to be part of a movement even when the future is murky.

This will be a thought provoking episode for some viewers. For others, it will be a revisit to conversations they have already had in their own living rooms. For too many it will be uncomfortable and downright troubling. Others will label it black paranoia and African Americans need to get over it!

My hope us that this episode will generate conversations across those hard drawn lines of them and us, that though we may not come to an agreement, we will at least take the time to listen to one another.

One can only hope!