Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cheating on Garmin

            I fell in love a few years ago, and I thought I couldn’t be happier. And for a while I was very happy. Before I met him, I was truly a lost soul. But thanks to him, I can say, I have found my way. I had a feeling when we first met, that he was the right one for me, but I hesitated. After the first date, I knew he was the one. We met for the first time on Christmas Day. At my niece’s insistence--she’s the one who formally introduced us--I decided to go on a date with him, and I was smitten. 

His name was Garmin Nuvi 200, but my pet name for him was My GPS. He was the envy of all my directionally challenged friends, and they wanted to kick me out of the Can’t Find My Way Club. He was perfect for me—easy to talk to, pointed me in the right direction when I was going the wrong way, and came preloaded with U.S. maps. I stopped sulking around the house because I didn’t know how to get anywhere without getting lost. I could get up and go anywhere, and it was a wonderful feeling! Garmin allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and be adventurous. We were always on the road together, and then we hit a snag. He kept telling me I needed an upgrade, and I ignore him. Then he disappeared for awhile because I invited a thief into my life.

He came back and we picked up where we left off—or we tried to, but I started having a hard time following his directions. Sometimes he would just stop talking to me altogether, and then I was really lost. This was around the same time I met Siri, and I found out that she was good at getting around. Sometimes she was easier to talk to than Garmin. When Garmin started being non communicative, another niece urged to me just forget about him. She said you have Siri now. I still relied on Garmin most of the time, but I was sneaking around with Siri. I felt bad, but I got over it. A girl has to get where a girl has to get. I have places to go, and I don’t have time to get lost. So, I've decided that I need both Garmin and Siri in my life. What can I say, a girl has needs, and if one can't handle it, two will have to do!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

When the Fun House Stops Being Fun

As a child I loved amusement parks that had fun house of mirrors. Looking at unreal images of myself was fun; it was part of the creative play of childhood. I laughed as I looked at myself stretched out, then I could look at myself stunted and compacted. Those mirrors made fantasy fun!  I started thinking about those mirror again recently, but from a grown woman’s perspective. I thought about the many conversations that women have—some I’ve been privy to, some I’ve participated in, and some I’ve ease dropped on.  And all of these conversation converged into the idea of fun house mirrors and their roles in relationships.  I wonder how many of us are looking through a distorted view of our relationship reality? I think it’s time for us t to get real about our relationships. So, I’ve composed a list of you ten reasons your relationship might not be real. You know you’re in the fun house when. . .  

  • 1.       You only get to see him on the designated Other Woman (the day before of the day after) holidays with the exception being New Year’s Eve which is a couples holiday right up there with Valentine’s and Sweetest Day.
  • 2.       He’s too busy. Men make time for what they want to make time for. So, if he’s busy all time, spending time with you is not a priority. He should only be as important to you as you are to him.
  • 3.       You’re checking his phone, following him around, hacking into is voice mail and email accounts trolling on Social Media looking for trouble or boldly confronting other women. If you have to expend that much energy keeping him in check, is it worth it? Promise rings, marriage licenses, children and time spent are not bills of sale. You don't own him or control him; you control you.
  • 4.       You’re still his fiancee three or more years after the engagement. How long do you need to stay engaged? If you don't know each other after three years, you'll never know each other. You are a long-term girl friend, nothing more, nothing less. If you can’t nail down a date, maybe it’s time to close up shop and go elsewhere.
  • 5.       When you want to be married, but you’re not, but you tell people you like things the way they are or you use his last name as if it were really yours.  Do you really want to “play house” for the rest of your life?
  • 6.       When you think that having a baby will make him stay. Have you looked at the stats on single mothers? The divorce rates? If he has other children by other women, what makes you think he’ll commit to you?
  • 7.       When he’s honest with you, but lying to her. Stop lying to yourself that you’re anything other than the side piece. It’s not that complicated. Something is making him stay.
  • 8.       When the only one still in the relationship is you. How hard are you willing to hold on to what has already slipped from your grip?
  • 9.       When you find out he has magician like qualities; now you see him, now you don’t. The next time he reappears, you should try a little magic and make him disappear.
  • 10.  .When the only time you’re enjoying yourself  you’re horizontal. At some point, you have to be vertical. Can what you have hold up?

I'm no body's relationship expert. These are just my life observations. I'm neither the judge nor the jury on what people choose to do. I’m simply suggesting that we look at the distorted images for what they are--fantasy. When we are honest, we don't accept Fantasy as Truth. Because when when we allow ourselves to be disillusioned, the fun house stops being fun. It becomes a scary, lonely or even dangerous place.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Collision of Race and Gender at the Intersection of Sexual Assault

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Sexual assault is a crime against humanity. But not all victims of sexual abuse elicit the same level of compassion and support from the media and society. Some victims’ stories are little more than whispers on the voice of public consciousness while other stories scream for our attention; we take notice. We are horrified and disgusted, but our horror and disgust has limitations because even in a crime as horrific as rape we still discriminate. 

Since the beginning of the year the media have saturated us with rape stories. We learned of a woman who was gang raped on a bus in New Delhi, India and died from her injuries. Numerous other rapes in India put the spotlight on sexual assault in India, but India was not alone as we learned of rape cases in the United States and Canada. There were the members of the U. S. Armed Forces who worked in sexual prevention and were charged with sexual misconduct. 

A string of stories involving rape and social media in America and Canada in which the acts of violation were recorded and posted online seemed to happen one after another. Two of the victims committed suicide, and the rape conviction of two football players divided the small town of Steubenville in Ohio. New stories kept coming. I was wondering if there actually more rapes, or were we just paying more attention? I was hopeful that the constant attention would force us to address these crimes against women and girls. 

 Then in May, we learned of the Cleveland, Ohio kidnapping case that continues to dominate the headlines as the captives speak out. Ariel Castro lured three young women into his home and held them hostage for 10 years. He recently pleaded guilty to 937 felony accounts including, rape, assault and kidnapping. The repeated rapes resulted in pregnancy for one of the victims. Castro was sentenced to life without parole plus 1000 years. This story has been everywhere, as it should have been, but there was another sordid story of rape and torture unfolding in another courtroom, and if it had not popped up in a news feed on my Face book page, I would have missed it. As I read the details, I couldn’t help but wonder where was the coverage? And where was the outrage? 

Aswad Ayinde whose real name is Charles McGill was sentenced to 50 years in prison for raping and impregnating his daughters. This was the second of five such trials. He received a 40-year sentence in the first trial totaling 90 years in prison. Ayinde raped five of his daughters, and fathered six children with three of them. He was said to have a God-complex and was trying to create a “pure” bloodline. Ayinde was the director for the Fugees “Killing Me Softly” video.

This story reeks of sadness and anger. The rapes were happening with the mother’s knowledge, and on the child welfare agency’s watch. It was reported that the rapes took place in various homes and even in a funeral home. It has all the makings of a titillating tale to entice public attention, but it was a widely under reported story. A Google search yielded 34,000,000 hits including such notable sites as Fox, CNN, and the Huffington Post for the Cleveland kidnapping case, but a Google search yielded a mere 208,000 hits on less prominent news sites and blogs for Ayinde. Why wasn’t this story just as newsworthy as the others? Why was there such a huge disparity in the coverage?

I’m in this place again. and  it’s hard to stomach the silence around stories of sexual assault and Black women and girls. Unless it involves a big-time celebrity (R. Kelly and Mike Tyson) or the story has some lurid angle (the rape and murder of Ryan Harris in which two young boys were brought in for questioning), we don’t give too much time or attention to these stories. Why? I remember feeling the same sense of rage and despair when I read about the woman in Dunbar Village back in 2007.  She was raped, sodomized and forced to perform oral sex on her own son!  I felt the same way when I read that James Bevel, a former top adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was convicted of incest. Neither of these stories was widely reported, and if I had not been surfing the internet, I would have missed them.

There’s a part of me that understands that the Cleveland case is one of hope for families with missing children. I recognize how rare it is that after such a traumatic event that there could possibly be a happy ending. The young women are united with their families and moving forward with their lives. That’s wonderful. They deserve that. But all girls and women who survive sexual assault deserve our sympathy. How can we pick and choose?

Ayinde’s story bothers me on so many levels. This man raped and tortured his daughters. He delivered the babies at home, and when two of the babies died, he buried them. He home-schooled his children and threw up his middle finger at authorities, and he got away with it for 30 years. I am standing in the gap of race and gender, and the two have collided wrecking the lives of five young women and their children. The daughters of Ayinde and Bevel, the woman in Dunbar Village represent the lifeless, human carnage at the intersection of race, gender and sexual assault.  When will we recognize that sexual assault really is a crime against all of humanity—and not just those of a lighter hue?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Enough of the Monkey Business Already!

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Last week, I was sitting in a room full of white people, and I pulled out my banana and ate it. I wasn’t the only brown face in a sea of whiteness. There was another woman of color in the two-day workshop, but there’s something markedly different about being the only Black person in a room full of white folk.
On Day 2, it was my intention to arrive early so that I could eat my on-the-go banana and yogurt breakfast of choice before the workshop began. I left home with time to spare, but traffic was heavier than I anticipated. My trip was supposed to take 42 minutes. I gave myself a 90-minute window to account for traffic and my penchant for getting lost, but to no avail.

I was hungry and knew that the lions in my stomach would start to roar before the noon lunch hour. I thought the yogurt was too cumbersome to try and eat while following along in the binder that took up the entire desk space. The banana was the better choice to tide me over. So, I went for it.

The weird thing is that I was consciously aware that I was eating a banana in the presence of white people. It didn’t freak me out; I laughed as I fed the beasts in my belly. But I couldn’t help but think about the whole white people still think Black people are apes scenario. And that’s the problem with stereotypes. They are broad, sweeping statements that are grounded in myth--good or bad. All Black people eat fried chicken, all Mexicans eat tacos, all Asian eat rice, right? So, I was sitting there thinking, “Am I feeding a stereotype by eating this banana?”

 It’s not as if I was given any special attention, I was just there.  And judging from the conversations around me during the breaks on Day 1, I knew this was a conservative Christian crowd—God help me! Not exactly the place I wanted to be considering the heightened level of racial tension in society. It was too soon after the Zimmerman verdict, so it wasn’t quite warm and fuzzy. Being the only fly in the buttermilk, I stood out even if it was only in my mind. Two tapes played back in my head which fed my angst.

The first incident involved Cecile Kyenge, the Black woman who was appointed Integration Minister in Italy in April who has been met with quite a bit of resistance since taking office. Those on the far-right do not agree with her stance on immigration. Twice in the month of July she was likened to some species of ape first by a senior parliamentarian in the anti-immigration movement who compared her to an orangutan. Then on July 27, bananas were thrown at her during a speech. My workshop was July 30 and 31.

The second incident happened in Paris, and was shared with me by a friend.  She was visiting her daughter and granddaughters who live there. The girls are 10 and 6. Their father is a Black Frenchman, and their mother is a Black American. The girls are bilingual—speaking both French and English fluently. My friend, her daughter, and granddaughters were on a bus, and the oldest accidentally bumped a white woman’s bag. The child apologized, and the woman nodded as if she accepted the apology. She then turned to her teen-age daughter and said in French, “See, they are monkeys, and that is how monkeys act.” Understanding what the woman said, the little girl turned to her mother and whispered that the woman had called them monkeys. Her mother was livid and admonished her daughter for whispering. She told her daughter in a voice loud enough to be heard by all that when someone insults her; she is to speak out even if they are adults. 

It’s 2013, and as Black people, we cannot get away from the association to apes. And the fact that we have an African-American president seems to provide even more ammunition to people who are afraid of true evolution. The incidents involving apes and the First Family are too numerous to name. The one thing about the many references to people of African ancestry is that it does not discriminate by nationality or gender. Let the fools who fear change tell it, we all swing from trees.
So, while I was amused that I was actually thinking about the ridiculous notion of being identified as monkey, I was also disturbed that my mind even went that way. When I got home that evening, I thought about Melissa Harris-Perry’s book, Sister Citizen—Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America in which she describes our plight as that of trying to stand up right in a crooked room. 

 Harris-Perry uses the analogy of the crooked room to describe how Black women must navigate space in a world that is hostile to their presence because of race and gender. Harris-Perry says, “When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up.” Perry says that the perception of Black women is shaped by common stereotypes that have relentlessly followed us over time—Mammy, Sapphire, Jezebel and others. “Bombarded with images of their humanity, some Black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion.” Was I in a crooked room, or had I tilted it myself?

Kyenge was in a crooked room. My friend, her daughter, and granddaughters were in a crooked room. If I had decided not to eat my banana, I would have confined myself to a crooked room. Too often we bend and bow down in an effort to make others comfortable. We stoop, slouch and squeeze into these pre-conceived spaces. We stop breathing. Stop living. 

Crooked rooms poke and prod us with sharp and jarring edges of blame and shame. We stare at ancient angles of stereotypes steeped in race, class and gender.  And if we stare at them long enough, we begin to believe that they are real. We see flat, one dimensional representations of ourselves and we cannot stand up straight.

It requires energy and effort to stand up right in a room designed to stunt our growth. But we must. We have to straighten our backs, square our shoulders push our chests out and hold our heads up high. We have to push and stretch beyond the confines of the Crooked Space. We do it for ourselves; we do it to pay homage to those who navigated the crooked spaces before us; we do it for the next generation of Black girls and women trying to find to reclaim their authentic selves.

Banana anyone?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Church and Me

 “Stephanie, why is it that you don’t go to church?”  A friend of mine recently caught me off-guard with this question.  So, I tried explaining to her what really wasn’t clear in my mind at the time. I gave her the usual spiel about not liking mega preachers, not feeling a sense of fellowship yada, yada, yada. But rolling this question around in my mind later, I had more questions than answers: Why don’t I go to church? I used to go to church, what happened? Am I going back to church?

Though most of my friends are regular church-goers (as is this one), no one ever point-blank asked me why I didn’t go to church. I never explained why I didn’t go anymore than they had to explain why they went. My standing joke whenever people talked about church was that I had back slid so far that I was standing still. And it’s not that I’m anti-church; I go when I want, but I don’t go regularly even though my name is on the membership role of a local church. My spotty church attendance dates back to my childhood. 

Unlike many African-American families, mine was not a church-going family, but we were neither atheist nor agnostic; we believed in God. But God showed up in our house in different ways. I grew up in an eclectic Christian-based household.  On Sundays we listened to church on the radio, and watched Jubilee Showcase on TV. We only went to church on Easter, and for me it was more about the fashion than the faith because I always got a new outfit. 

I am from a house where we had to be quiet during thunderstorms because God was doing His work; I carry a protective Saint in my car to avoid accidents. Then there was the round Buddha- like figure that sat and still sits on my mother’s dresser. For some it smacks of blasphemy, but for me it was about finding God in various places and spaces. 

Even though I started attended church semi-regularly as a teenager and then as an adult, my thoughts constantly returned to the spirituality of my childhood. My upbringing allowed God to be bigger than a name or a place to me. It allowed to me to accept that there is more than one path to God. One of those paths is church, and I do venture down that path from time to time, not just every Sunday.