Are We Angry Yet?

February. The month of love and Black History Month. It seems that we would have so much to celebrate, especially Black History Month.

Black History month this year, was fraught with so much drama and crisis involving black folks, that I was apprehensive about logging on to even my facebook account. My concern was that I’d see yet another instance of violence or hate directed towards us. Even more painful, I’d bear witness to yet more of our collective apathy. Some things are just too painful to watch.

I saw a post today involving a black man and police harrassment and brutality. One of the comments posted 4 words that spoke volumes to me. Are you angry yet? Apparently not.

Two years ago, it was Trayvon Martin’s murder. This year, we had the murder trial of Michael Dunn – the killer of young Jordan Davis. Sprinkled in, we’ve had all measures of crime and disrespect; and no one of us is immune. From the average black man walking down the street -all the way up to the disrespectful treatment of our Commander In Chief – The President of the United States, Barack Obama – talked about and treated like no other president treated in history. It pisses me off that we aren’t angry yet.

I’m trying to figure out why our numbers are so lopsided. The percentage of African Americans there are in the population in the whole United States is 13%. Think about the same folks percentage currently in the prison population: 39% and the percentage of Black college students: 14% It makes me worry.

I don’t understand why we as a people have grown so complacent. We are losing the gains made by the generations before us that sacrificed so that we would have a better life. We are losing our grip by refusing to STAND OUR GROUND and fight for our rights. We didn’t lose “the fight” we just haven’t shown up for it – yet. While we are thinking about if we are angry yet, they are taking bits and pieces of important victories by default. Everytime a crazy vigilante or cop decides that the threat of black skin is sufficient reason to shoot someone’s child without provocation – and are exonerated, we lose a little bit of our confidence. Everytime an African American is unjustly arrested and convicted; Everytime a black convicted criminal is given a maximum sentence, compared to a white convicted criminal for an equal or greater offense; Everytime one of these things happens, we lose some of our respect for one another.

Sure, we stew in our anger, post on facebook and grumble under our collective breaths, almost acting as though someone might hear us and punish us. That is certainly what the powers that be are counting on. We’ll grumble a little, maybe tear up some of our own stuff but probably only for as long as it takes for us to scroll to another post, switch a channel – and then we lose our collective steam. The fight pretty much conditioned out of us. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!! If we don’t get angry, and do it in a collective, unified manner, we stand to lose so much. Our rights, the rights of our children; and even just for folks unable to advocate for themselves is cause enough to get angry. Apathy is costing us. We are forgetting how to fight. It’s costing us respect. It’s costing us our rights. In too many cases, it’s costing us our freedom, our drive and our ability to defend ourselves. Freedom, is much too costly and precious to give back without a fight.

Next time you scroll through facebook or some other media site, and you see yet another of those posts, ask yourself: Am I Angry Yet?

I AM

I Don’t Get It

Yesterday, I had an “awakening” of sorts. I watched a rather provacative video post of a young black woman initially asking why are we (black women) so argumentative? She said that we define ourselves by conflict. She goes on to compare black women to some “ultra violent gangster that is so mean he could find the insult in a bouquet of roses” That is how she views black women. Wow. I’ve NEVER had anyone perceive me in this manner and I was offended.

My friend, Muhjahid Woodson-Quahhar, posted the video and basically dared folks to comment. I’d seen the video clip earlier during the weekend, and so I started reading the comments posted. I was shocked. I actually went back and watched the video again – just to make sure I’d viewed the same clip. The majority of folks that posted a response, said that she’d basically “hit the nail on the head”.

After I’d watched the clip a second time, I had to comment. Basically, my comment went sort of like this: “While even a broken clock is correct twice a day, the generalization (to me) is insulting. It’s no more true than saying that all white women are docile or all white folks hate black people. Sure, I’ve met black women that would be considered angry (and probably justified for whatever reason in their pissitivity) – but that isn’t my experience with most. Generalizations are basically a means to perpetuate by (my guess is) well meaning folks like this and they are dangerous. They tend to feed into the characterizations that fuel animosity and divisive behavior – and for what? What is the purpose? SMDH.

While there were a few women that agreed, I was upset that the majority of men that commented, in agreement with this woman. After giving what she said some thought, I BECAME an angry black woman. I was angry for a couple of reasons. One of the things she did was show a clip of a basketball game, where LeBron James goes off on another player and then later, is caught by the cameras apologizing to that player. A big deal is made of that clip, not just by the commentator, but also by our girl making the post. The analogy (in my opinion) was a poor one. Basically, she tells us that we need to learn to sit down and apologize and then shut up. That if we just STHU (Shut The Hell Up) and listen to black men, and defer to them, our lives will be worth living, because these men will want to be with us. WTH?!!!! She goes on to say that we don’t do that with white men? Oh, and my personal favorites, Fifty percent of all black women have herpes (who the hell gave it to them???), we (black women) wander through life aimlessly and we have no point, no direction and no decent maternal guidance to give us direction. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Here’s my problem in a nutshell with her post. It’s divisive, it’s wrong and it does NOTHING to foster a possible peaceable and meaningful conversation. It seems (to me) the purpose of her post, is not to really start a supportive dialogue; but to embarrass and tear down. And do it in a way that will actually produce the very result that she supposedly takes issue with. While it does propagate certain conversations, it doesn’t do it without belittling the thread that has kept many families intact, in the face of adversity throughout history: The Black Woman.

More importantly? It’s wrong – most of the black women that I’ve come in contact with are not side-eyeing me, and waiting to pounce on my facebook, twitter or physically get in my face so that we can argue. Am I saying that she’s 100 % wrong? Absolutely not. Nope, what I’m saying is that it’s unfortunate if that is what she’s come across in her daily dealings with black women. It’s also unfortunate for those that agreed with her, if that is what their daily conversations with black women are like. My experience has been different. She may not agree with the decisions that all black women make when considering starting a family, but it’s their choice to make. Does that mean that they aren’t good mothers, that they don’t have the capacity to nurture? Not at all. But last I checked, it takes 2 to produce a child. The responsibility therefore, lies equally with the parties in play.

I guess if I had a face to face with this young woman, I’d ask her, “besides shutting up and basically becoming mute in a relationship, just so that you can have one, where’s your “equal” time for the black men? Where exactly lies their culpability in the grand scheme of things? Where is your outrage concerning things that would make black women mad and argumentative, like what law enforcement is doing to our sons? How are they affected by the judicial system in this country? Did they lose their homes when they lost their jobs in this horrific economy? There are so many things that could be responsible for someone being in a bad mood. Where is your concern and compassion for your fellow sistahs and brothers? How can we help these women, cause if they’re angry, no doubt there’s a reason. If the future of our race lies within these women’s abilities to produce our future, HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS BETTER?

February, Melancholy Pride…

February is a month of pride for me and I imagine most African Americans. Most of us acknowledge it proudly as the month that was officially recognized in 1976 by the government during the U.S. Bicentennial, when “Negro History Week” was expanded to “Black History Month”. As a personal observance, I, like many (I hope) spend quite a bit of time listening to, reading or watching videos of our former leaders – primarily my favorites, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. This past week, I’ve concentrated on reading and listening to Martin Luther King’s response Letter to the Clergymen, the letter from which his speech Letter from a Birmingham Jail was based. His letter mesmerized me. As concise as his words were, I got caught up in the way that he chose to illustrate his responses to each point of criticism; and he articulated it in ways that left no room for debate as to why lawful or not, the stance and actions he took were the only logical and effective responses amid the circumstances. His letter was brilliant. Another brilliant mind of the time was Malcolm X. I watched and listened to a few of the videos of Malcolm X as he sat in one “hot seat” after another, on panels with aloof and in some cases exasperated Caucasian male panelists, trying to trip up and or discredit him. He never lost his cool, he simply countered with an explanation to their questions with the same patience one would use with a small child.

Though there were more than just these two, these particular men stand out for me because both knew with a certainty that they wouldn’t live into old age – and they were (seemingly) at peace with that. They weren’t just brave, they were leaders because they were unflinchingly focused; they lead by example and expected their flock to acknowledge and follow in kind. Many did, thankfully – and we have those every man and woman heroes to thank for their faith and bravery during a time when information wasn’t instantaneous – and gratification was a long-suffering collective effort.

I belong to a few book clubs on social media that are primarily populated with African Americans that have posted snippets of Black history facts: posts celebrating our historically amazing resilience, ingenuity, bravery, talent and intelligence. Other posts that are simply commentary – reflections about how we as a people are faring since the majority of these contributions occurred decades ago. I read and digest these tidbits, and there seems to be a frequent general consensus: weve made some gains since, but we are losing our footing and collectively, our focus. We don’t seem to know how to fight anymore. We are becoming impotent because we no longer have the leadership to guide us. We are surrounded by a growing segment of our population that has no appreciation for the struggle that has allowed them the instant gratification and freedom that not that long ago, were only dreamt of by their grandmothers, or great grandmothers.

Melancholy is the feeling I get when during the same month, no matter what “mode” of transport I use, whether physical or virtual, I’m hit with a very uncomfortable realization: in our post-racial era, there don’t seem to be any worthy predecessors. That in itself is probably not as scary as what has me even more disturbed: Our community hasn’t had a true leader in decades. As a result, we are faltering and often times appear to be standing still when we should be advancing or at the very least holding up a shield to protect the gains made thus far.

I did receive a glimmer of hopefulness while watching a speech given by Michelle Alexander as she talked about the “New Jim Crow” – not because that’s something to be happy about – but she is young and gifted, intent on disseminating information that needs to be widely dispersed, especially in our communities. She’s passionate about distributing information that more than likely, we wouldn’t be getting if we were waiting for today’s “leaders”.
I’m hoping that glimmer will soon expand to something bigger and increasingly more visible with each passing day. We can’t allow all of the hard work, harder times and the unselfishness of those before us to wither and become forgotten history.

Grateful

I’d been in a serious quandry about the topic I’d chosen for this blog piece. Truth be told, the initial subject matter disturbed me so much, that I found myself unable to sit long enough to compile my thoughts in a way that would compel me to continue beyond the first paragraph. Have you ever been distressed to the point of immobility? It’s extremely uncomfortable and frustrating. Why? I have to say it was a combination of things: I’d been reading The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and if that wasn’t enough, I’d discovered the Malcolm X and James Baldwin debate on You Tube, along with a few other recordings from that era. Add to that, various news reports and fb shares of stories about things I have no control over, but were increasingly successful in wearing down my personal faith in my fellow man.

In the midst of obsessing over our collective impending doom, in my unproductive restlessness; I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that this coming week, millions of households all over America will open their hearts and doors to welcome friends, family and in some cases, strangers in a mass celebration of thankfulness. I can’t even begin to express my relief when I came to the conclusion that I actually had something to share that allowed me to move my mind out of that dark, scary place.

I gave serious thought to what I am most grateful for. I realized that while I’m thankful for the things most people are: family, good health, shelter, work, etc. what really tops my list is this: Memories. Specifically, memories that are an evocation of joy and laughter. Not to say all of my memories are good, or funny; but the ones that are, never fail to transport me to a specific moment in my personal history and instantly I feel a spark of giddiness that will either bring a smile to my lips or on occasion, full blown hysterical laughter! I am SO very grateful for that one intangible gift. While many are collectively responsible, I am most grateful to my mother for her understanding while we were growing up, our thoughts would ultimately lead us back and she did her best to make those times, well….memorable.

So, while you are all sitting down with your family and friends on thursday, even if it’s with those you ONLY sit down with once a year; be it your crazy sister, brother, klepto Uncle, tipsy Aunt or what have you, make good memories. It may be the “bank” that you have to visit for a withdrawal in the future. It might be what saves you from emotional bankruptcy.

I’m wishing you all a Happy, Safe, Joyous and Memorable Thanksgiving.

READING IN COLOR

READING IN COLOR

I recently had a discussion with one of my best friends. She is one of the most avid readers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Her appetite for reading, exceeds my own – that’s saying something. I (like other readers that know her) seek her opinion when they are looking for a specific type of book. They know that her knowledge about fiction – and specifically romantic fiction is trustworthy and her reviews are honest. Indie writers seek her out to beta-read because her opinion is valuable. Recently, my friend suggested a book to me and for the first time, I was hesitant to accept her recommendation.

My friend, my sistah found my resistance silly and not based on any specifics about the story. It frustrated her that I wouldn’t read it. It was afterall a love story. My objection was that neither the author nor the characters were “of color” and more to the point: This book was written by a caucasian man, and there were NO people of color mentioned in this story at all. I eventually read the book and I have to admit, it was a decent love story. BUT – I READ IN COLOR!

Those that know my background would probably scratch their heads and wonder why I was resistant to reading a book written by a “white man”. I am a mulatto. My mother is white and my father is black. “Is she denying her heritage?” NO! I’m not. I love my mother and her background is a part of my background. I’m as much my mother’s child as I am my father’s. Have I never read a book by someone other than an African-American or some other minority author? I’ve read many, I’ve been reading for over 45 years! Up until I was introduced to AA Romance, and IR Romance, I read pretty much whatever looked interesting – and I’ve always been an avid reader. But I’ve ALWAYS had my personal list of favorite authors and I admit that most at the top of my list are African American and they wrote African American fiction. I’d never read romance before I was introduced to AA Romance because I couldn’t identify with the heroine or the hero. Not my cup of tea.

Let me try to explain my reasoning: Over the years I’ve read many, many books. Most of the books up until about 4 or 5 years ago were written by a myriad of authors, admittedly mostly caucasian. I’ve read some great books. Wonderful stories. Here’s the deal though: The books I love most are the characters I can identify with. No, I’m not every woman and there have been more than a few AA female protaganist that I didn’t like or didn’t feel I had much in common with; lived a lifestyle that I couldn’t identify with, whether that was a super rich diva or a straight outta the hood hoochie. That isn’t what this is about. It’s about seeing folks that look something like me, have a commonality in their life experiences (yes I am the child of a white woman – but I am an African American) and more importantly, this is about SUPPORT. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that it is my responsibility as a reader and lover of African American fiction to support “our” authors. If we don’t who will? I have a special affinity for Indie writers. If you pop over to Amazon and read the reviews for the book that I finally “gave in” and read, you’ll see that book had more than 2000 reviews. Two thousand!!! Most of the authors I’ve read – even the most popular ones have at most 200 – and that’s a SUPER popular book to have garnered that many reviews. Some of the writers I love the most have the least reviews and yet, I’d read their books over that guy with the 2000 reviews in a New York minute! I look at my Kindle content and I have over a thousand books. I’ve read most of them – and more importantly, I’ve paid for most of them. I love my people and more importantly I love it when I can lose myself in a story when I identify with a history that I too share and I can do that AND support their creative endeavors.

People may take issue with my stance regarding my reading preference because it is their argument and belief that it doesn’t matter who wrote a book, as long as it’s a good book. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an AA story and a “mainstream” story – that the characters in the stories should be interchangeable and you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That may be true to some extent as well, but personally, I like stories that involve “markers” that distinguish them specifically as having folks of color. We are the same and yet, we are different. I don’t say or mean that in a polarizing way, but in a loving way and in acknowledgement. I READ IN COLOR.

Sick and Disturbed

I saw a story on the news earlier today about a thwarted school massacre in Georgia. I was at work and not really able glean all of the details because they were sketchy at the time. I’d only heard that the gunman was in custody and that no children were harmed. I said a prayer for those folks that were fortunate enough to not have to endure losing a child to violence.

A little later, I got to listen to the woman that pretty much single-handed got this 20 year old man that came into the school office and demanded this secretary call the local news station so that they could “film him killing” children. He came in with an assault rifle and the woman got this kid to listen to her and eventually, put his weapon down and give himself up to the authorities. She said she’d talked to him and commiserated with his feelings about being angry. She also shared a recent personal tragedy with him. After watching this story on the news, I cried. I saw the interviews of some of the parents that had gone to the school to pick up their children; the worry, the distress and the fear. I can only imagine the anguish they felt on the ride to the school.

I watched another story from North Carolina of 3 young “men” – teenagers, that were “bored” and randomly chose a jogger to shoot to relieve that boredom. The young man they killed was a student – a visitor to our country from Australia. I’m horrifed and disturbed by their act and the callousness of it. I’m sure these teens parents are facing the realization that the parents of the Australian student are facing: Their lives are over. His very promising career and life was snuffed out by 3 people that apparently had no appreciation for human life.

How does this mindset happen? Is this mental illness? What kind of disconnect with the world do you have to have in order for you feel justified in taking a strangers life? I can’t say that I’ve never been mad enough at someone to think about killing them. Believe me, I’ve been beyond pissed at a couple of folks that I would have been just fine with never seeing again. I thought about it and realized that relying on karma to dole out just punishment would have to do. I don’t look good in orange jumpsuits and I knew my mother would be heartbroken. Makes me wonder who’s teaching this kids? What are they teaching them about their fellow man? I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact that there are people – young people that want to kill someone that hasn’t done anything to them – because they have nothing better to do? Or, thinks that they are best able to prove a point by killing innocent children? Both acts are sick, callous and disturbing. These are only two stories that were on the news today. Without a doubt, there were countless more that we didn’t hear about. This has got to be a sickness.

I know that there are times that as children, we sometimes see and are victims of things that we do not speak about. Things that we don’t tell anyone about for various reasons. No doubt, there are children that you’ve either grown up with, known since childhood, perhaps have children of your own that have experienced things that shape how they see the world and how the world sees them. I’m praying that people will look at their children and teenagers with a more critical eye. That they start talking to their kids to find out how they see the world, fellow man and their own place in it. The young men from these two stories obviously didn’t see a place for themselves and had no compassion for their fellow man. We need to wake up. These may not be our children today, but the thing about sickness is it spreads – and it spreads quickly, especially when it’s allowed to run unchecked among children.