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?

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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!

 

 

 

GORDON PARKS’ SOUL IMAGES

As a Black History Month slides quietly into the end of its short month (hey, we did get an extra day), just a few thoughts:
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Though the above  picture illustrates the oxymoron that was the Jim Crow south, I still love it, for it reminds me of home. It reminds me of my mother and her friends in those times when they weren’t restricted by work clothes, times when they would dress to the nines.

I remember those hot summer Sunday mornings when my mother would wrestle herself into that obligatory long line girdle as sweat streamed down her face.

I remember the fancy suits she wore, the strappy high heeled shoes and the oh so necessary church hats. Oh, those church hats! We cannot forget those church hats, those regal crowns worn proudly with alacrity, attitude and panache.

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Before pants were de rigueur, shirtwaist dresses were always appropriate when a lady went shopping. The woman in the first photo appears to be wearing a shirtwaist dress. I loved them when I was a teen-ager; I love them now, except my waist will no longer accommodate those tightly cinched belts. . . but I digress.

A few months ago, someone posted a Facebook status about the beauty of the picture and the ugliness of the sign. I got that, but all I could see was the classic beauty of the woman as well as her best dressed child, neither of whom appear to be burdened by the weight of the times (at least not in this moment). That was the irony of those times; you could see beauty and ugliness in the same moment.

Another Gordon Parks picture popped up in another Facebook status and this time I added my own two cents to the thread.

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The women appear to be seated in a waiting room, perhaps a bus station or a train station. Their expressions do not tell us much. Each woman is somewhat stoic in her position, giving no clue to any internal musing. We can assume, I suppose, that the only reason the black woman is in that waiting room is because she is the “nanny” to the child (I thought about using “mammy,” but that would send me off on another tangent and I am really trying to stick to a point).

The status was not that of a Facebook friend but it popped up on my page, I presume, because of a mutual Facebook friend. Their comments, of course, dealt with the incongruity reflected in the picture juxtaposed against the schizophrenic background of the times.

But I did not fall in step with the their chain of thought in that particular thread. Instead, I recalled another memory of those days, days when I lived with my grandparents in rural backroads Texas.

“What can never be understood unless you witnessed it first hand are the friendships that were forged between employer and employee as the years passed by. No, social lines were never crossed in those Jim Crow days, but the so-called nanny became sounding board and confidante for the often frustrated employer. Yes, they trusted their right to superiority but they also intuitively connected with the humanity in the employed. I saw it with my grandmother and mother, both of whom worked as maids for white women, in whose presence I could observe and learn the wisdom of grace.

The movie, “Places Of The Heart” was on last night. Though set in a time long before my birth, it takes me back home without bitterness or rancor because my sense of self was fine tuned in that crucible that formed the souls of my grandmother and mother.

My soul looks back in wonder……”

I was simply stating a truth from my past. The following is one of the responses to my truth:

“Not necessarily, Donnanotdiva. As a child, I watched one grandmother treat her maid as a non human and the other, treat hers as a friend. If we hadn’t had our Elizabeth taking care of us during WW2 while my father was a POW and mother had to work, I don’t know how we would have survived.”

My response to that response:

“I have no doubt but that there were those “employers” who treated the help as the inferiors they believed them to be. I am saying that my personal experience as a child growing up in the Jim Crow South was that I  witnessed first hand the bonding as women between the two groups. I was privy to the conversations of the women in my community as they spoke of those relationships. As time moved on, I watched those work relationships turn into friendships that outlasted their pasts but were forged in those pasts. The issue is we so often point out the evil without acknowledging that there were those relationships that transcended the times or even the upbringing of both sides. I am a realist who sees things as they are but who also knows there are many back stories unspoken and unheralded, stories that go beyond the too often superficiality of liberal speak.”

Then, someone else decided to chime in (perhaps with a soupçon of sarcasm?):

“[E]veryone[,] I’d say most[,] don’t think the way you do. Most were treated less than human. You make it sound like a beautiful place.”

Sighhhhh. . .

“I would be the last person to tell you it was always beautiful place. But, what I will say is that I was allowed to see a little of the humanity possible in those relationships. I know the inequities firsthand, the brilliant grandfather who caught the truck every weekday morning to go to the cotton field, the father from Mississippi whose prior occupation listed on his enlistment papers is farm laborer, a euphemism for sharecropper, a community marginalized and stigmatized as “boy” and “girl” rather than ma’am” and “sir.” Yes, I lived through it all, the first generation to step into integration and still had to prove myself by working twice as hard as they continued to doubt. No, it was not all roses and sunshine but it refined and fine tuned me to not color every experience with a broad brush of bitterness. I still see the inequality and inequity and I am very proactive about telling my story, both sides, but I am also grateful for those glimpses into possibility.”

There you have it, my “ah ha” revelation. My Jim Crow past not only developed in me a strong sense of self-awareness as well as a heart for the village. It also imbued me with grace, mercy and compassion. If there is any residual bitterness, it reveals itself in those moments when I am once again reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING!