The lines blur
And I wait
For things to come into focus
The lines blur
And I wait
For things to come into focus
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.
The “Black-ish” episode of a few weeks ago, “Lemons,” was thought provoking. The premise of the episode was the diverse responses to Donald Trump’s election as President.
The musical intro to the episode is Marvin Gaye’s iconic “What’s Going On?” still a valid question, especially in today’s chaotic and confusing climate.
Dre’s voiceover reminds us that “Upsets are as American as apple pie; someone wins, someone loses. But what happens when the winners and losers are supposed to be on the same team?”
Everyone is dealing, in their own way, with the after-effects of the election.
Rainbow is dressed in every piece of activist apparel she could buy on sale at “Barneys” (a bit of irony there).
“You look like a NPR [National Public Radio] commercial,” is Dre’s response to his wife’s gear.
Zoe and Junior are not in school this day because it has been designated a day of reflection after a student declares to a teacher that she, Ms. Gomez, will soon be shipped back to her country and leads his classmates in the chant, “Ship her back! Ship her back!’
Junior prepares to share the MLK “I Have A Dream” speech at the day of healing while Zoe concentrates on a very special lemonade recipe, a drink she plans to share that day.
Rainbow is concerned about Zoe’s seemingly disassociation from all that is going on in the country after the election and her apparent obsession with the making of this lemonade.
When her mother tries to ascribe some symbolism to the lemonade,, Zoe responds that is just a “non-carbonated refreshment” which her friends will like.
The tension is high in the company conference room as everyone voices their angst and despair and even satisfication about the election outcome. Fingers are pointed and voices are raised. Charlie admits that he voted for Obama because he was black. Lucy admits that she voted for Trump as opposed to voting for a woman and in rebuttal to the accusation that her vote marks her as a racist, she declares, “I am not a racist. I have black friends.”
A word to the wise right here: This statement of Lucy’s does not endear you to the hearer who is black. This is not a pass for anyone white who makes this declaration.
“No one knows how we got here, but everyone has their own ideas.”
Their ideas are all over the place with no resolution in sight.
Dre’s father, when he learns that Junior is going to make the “I Have A Dream” speech on the day of healing at his school, tells him that this is not the entire speech and recites it for Junior.
“There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” `~excerpt, MLK, “I Have A Dream” Speech
“Why didn’t I know this?” Junior decries his ignorance.
“Because they don’t want you to know. … Yeah, Martin had a lot more Malcolmin him than a lot of people give him credit for.”
Junior, astonished by the tone of the text, becomes the black clad radical brandishing a baseball bat in his bedroom.
His grandfather takes away the bat as he tells Junior “Heyy, what’s going on here. I did not tell you this for you to become another angry black man.”
He then explains to Junior that Dr. King added the “I have a dream” section to the speech after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had heard that portion before, yelled out to Dr. King, “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream!”
The inhabitants of the conference room begin to wonder about Dre’s solemnity in the passionatate discussions and someone asks, “Why don’t you care?
As Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” plays in the background and pictures of African Americans flit across the screen, Dre speaks:
“I love this country even though at times it doesn’t love me back. For my whole life my parents, my grandparents, me, for most black people, this system has never worked for us. But we still play ball, tried to do our best to live by the rules even though we knew they would never work out in our favor, had to live in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t drive through, send our kids to schools with books so beat up you couldn’t read them, work jobs that you wouldn’t consider in your nightmares.
Black people wake up everyday believing our lives are gonna change even though everything around us says it’s not. Truth be told, you ask most black people and they tell you no matter who won the election, they don’t expect the hood to get better. But they still voted because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains. I love this country as much — if not more — than you do. And don’t you ever forget that.
Junior makes his speech. Zoe shares her lemonade as she asserts it is not liberal lemonade, not conservative lemonade, just lemonade made with love.
There is no resolution in sight but everyone arrives to the point where each realizes that all voices are needed in the conversation, courageous conversations is what I call them.
I have not added much commentary to this post because I just want us all to think about where we are headed, where this country is headed, and how we can add our voices to the healing of the obvious rifts in this land.
I leave you with words from the movie “Red Tails,” words spoken by Andre Braugher’s character, Benjamin O. Davis:
“How do I feel about my country and how does my country feel about me?”
That is still the question.
Watch the episode here:
There is a spiritual that contains the words, “There is trouble all over this world.”
Trouble broke out at airports all over the country today because of the President’s executive order that effectively bans the entry of individuals from seven Muslim countries. Purportedly, people were either detained at airports, or were denied entry and sent back home.
As I read through the thread of a Facebook friend, I saw a comment about how people, in their frustration, were destroying their own cities.
The words of a Gary Byrd song came to me: “Every brother ain’t a brother…” In other words, those who appear to be in step with me sometimes have their own agenda.
Then this came to me:
a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.
Make sure you know all the players on your team. Not all perceived “chaos” is spontaneous. Sometimes it’s opportunity waiting for the right moment.
From my perspective, the movie “Fences” is staged like a play, which is fine with me though it was a little offputting to others.
“Fences” is an ensemble of characters but the spotlight is on Troy Maxson, the teller of tall tales and the holder of unrequited dreams.
Everyone is fenced in by something, but there also fences that separate them from some things and some people. In the character Bono’s words, “Some people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to keep people in.”
Troy wonders why his wife Rose wants a fence, ‘What is she keeping out?” Bono speculates that perhaps she is trying to hold on to him, to keep him in.
Bono later wonders out loud to Troy why he chose hardwood to build that fence when softwood would have been so much easier to handle. Troy has only known the hardwood of life. Even his favorite game, baseball, is about hardball. We learn throughout the movie that Troy’s life has never been soft.
Movies often require the viewer to suspend disbelief. This movie presents a reality to which many African Americans, a few generations back, can relate. No need for them to suspend disbelief because the movie grabs you by the cultural throat right out the gate and it won’t let go.
The movie opens with two men hanging on the back of a garbage truck. They are garbage men (whom we later learn are Troy and Bono), men who spend their days picking up and dumping the refuse of others of which some residue surely settles on them. Life has not been a bed of roses for them. Life has dumped its garbage of hate and denial and exclusion on them and they have learned how to ignore the stench.
‘Fences” is more than the movie title; it is the thematic thread that slowly unravels in the movie.
This is Troy’s story. The influence of the wife is sensed more that stated. Still, her interjected comments as he tells his tall tales remind us that she does have a voice, a part in their story. She, Rose, appears to be periperal but near the end of the movie we see that she has been the linchpin that held everything together inside the fence of their marriage.
Everyone is in survivor mode.
Troy is fenced in by his marriage to Rose, yet there is a fence that separates Troy and Rose in the marriage. It is the fence of loss, the loss of a father who should have loved him; the loss of a dream of playing baseball in a time that “never should have been too early;” it is the loss of the innocence of youth at fourteen when he became responsbile for the rest of his life.
He loves his wife. He brings his paycheck home to her every payday. He laughs and flirts with her in front of his friend. He loves his wife, supports his family, but loss keeps that fence in place between what he has and what he wants and what Rose thinks is in place.
Troy feels burdened by the responsibilities of the marriage while Rose believes she has given up all that she is for the marriage.
It all comes to a head when Troy confesses his infidelity to Rose and tries to explain why he has found freedom in another woman’s arms: “It’s just [Alberta] gives me a different idea, a different understanding about myself. I can step out of this house [this fence]. I can be a part of myself I ain’t never been. I can sit up in her house and laugh; I can laugh out loud. I can forget about myself!”
Troy states, in his own frustrating way, that the other woman allows him to be a different man. He sees himself in a holding pattern, responsible for his family but along the way he forgot about imself: “I done locked myself into a pattern trying to take care of you all that I forgot about myself.”.
Rose realizes in this agonizing gut punched moment of Troy’s revelation of not only infidelity but also an impending birth, she realizes that she has placed all her feelings, all her wants and needs inside of Troy. While he has wrestled with the realization that he has been standing in the same spot for eighteen years, she also has stood in that same spot with him. He repays her giving up of herself with his unfaithfulness. Rose does her best to explain her own hopes and dreams, how she buried all her feelings in him and held on to him even through her darkest times. She lets Troy know that, yes, he gives to them, but he has also taken from them as well.
Rose has allowed herself to be subsumed by Troy in order that together they might survive. Now she hears from him, after she has given up her freedom for his survival, that he had to step outside her fence to find respite with another woman. This a brutal slap in Rose’s face, made even more brutal by the fact that Troy now expects her to give him room to breathe that fine air of freedom because he has no intention of giving up Alberta.
In the final scenes of the movie, Rose defines her place in that fence of marriage to their son, Corey: “I wanted a house that I could sing in, and that’s what your daddy gave me. I didn’t know to keep up his strength I had to give up little pieces of me. … It was my choice. It was my life and I didn’t have to live it like that.but that’s what life offered me in the way of being a woman and I took it.”
Over the kitchen sink in the Maxson house hangs a picture of an European Jesus. The gospel song, “Jesus, Be A Fence All Around Me,” plays in one scene. Rose is almost always in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning. She offers food to every person who comes to the house. She is the nurturer, the sustainer of life within the fence of their marriage, giving of her own strength in order that her family might continue to survive.
Life continues to throw hardballs at Troy. Alberta dies in childbirth. Rose agrees to raise the innocent baby but Troy is now, in her own words, “womanless.” Gabe, his brother (for another blog) is now in an institution. Bono, his friend, plays dominoes with new friends. Rose has stepped into a new fence, the Church. Troy drinks alone in a bar.
The physical fence is complete but it is the only thing still intact. Nothing else is the same. Not Troy, not Rose, not the fence that once surrounded their marriage.
Most of us have felt it
That “Oh, no!” feeling in the pit of our stomach
We are running late
Dash out to the car
Keys in one hand
Everything else in the other
We hit the remote to open the car door
Shove key into the ignition
We get nothing
Except that sickening little “click, click, click”
Which screams at us
Still it is your lucky day
You have roadside service
They ask, “Are you in a safe place?”
You respond, “Yes”
But sometimes the fates are not so nice
Sometimes your car quits on you
Gives up the ghost in the most unfriendly places
Like in the middle of an intersection
Or a city street
Are you safe?
You sure hope so
Hope that other drivers see you are stuck
In the middle of the road
And drive around you
Then they arrive
You breathe a sigh of relief
Hopeful for help
But you also hold your breath
They are the police
Called to protect and serve
But they are also white
You are black
You are male
You raise your hands
And you pray
Just before that first shot
Just before the searing impact of bullet against flesh
Just before that last heartbeat
That you are safe
You were not
You bled out in that unfriendly place
And the morning after
The media blows smoke and screams
“Angelina Jolie Files For Divorce From Brad Pitt”
As the rest of us
Who are left behind
Who continue to hope and hold our breath
Whenever we see black and white
Human and inanimate
We are left behind
Contemplate strange fruit
That no longer hang from trees
It is a quiet invasion
Something akin to “The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”
The movie classic about aliens who come to earth and duplicate humans
Plant pods that replicate the human when the human falls asleep
The duplicates look like the original but they can’t quite capture the persona or personality of the human whose body they have snatched
Yeah, exactly like that
The quiet invasion of which I speak
Begins one root at a time
Black strands no longer connect to the scalp
Instead insidious gray roots
Nothing like the original
Stubborn and wiry
Refuse to be tamed
Refuse to hide
The goal, conquer all
Lulled into a false sense of security by Lady Clairol
You drop your guard
But one day
You look into the mirror
Just an innocent glance
Then a double take
In the reflection you spy the second wave
Your chin under Gray attack
Hair grows where it never grew before
The first wave of that second wave is black
Irritating but not easily spotted by outsiders
Don’t drop your guard
The Grays are on the way
You will lose the Battle of the Chin
A never ending battle
Long gray hairs sprout
Grow from an unwilling chin
Tweezers are your weapon of choice for a counter attack
But you must remain vigilant
For the enemy does not rest
Until it has conquered all
Gray in unmentionable places
Clothes that cover the saving grace
You will eventually realize
The Grays are always victorious
The moment you begin to pluck at them in your eyebrows
Until you realize all that is left
Are remains of what once was
Forlorn patches of hair
That will never return to glory days
Hover over surprised eyes
No need for a white flag
The Grays have already raised it
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
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.
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.
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.”
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. ”
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.
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
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