Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tale of Two Runs

I recently joined a running group to give a much needed boost to a sluggish exercise program. I’m not really a runner; I jog/trot my way to my desired destination. The group meets at a running store on 102nd and Western and they run through Beverly. This was something I manage twice a week because it was on the way home from work. I could get some things, meet for a run and head home. Perfect.

The first day out I cheated myself and ended up walking. In my rush to leave that morning I forgot to pack a required essential—my sports bra. I knew I couldn’t run without my attention-seeking companions acting out and trying to get some attention. They needed to be tied down, and I had left the harness at home. So, I resigned myself to walking. But it was a wonderful walking experience.

Although I ride through the Beverly/Morgan park neighborhood and admire the scenery, it was not something I had done on foot. The perfectly manicured, rich deep-green lawns surrounding the home create a sense of serenity. As I walked and enjoyed the view, I could feel the stress that had been nipping at me fall away. I passed a boutique and peeked in the window, and then ducked in the jerk chicken restaurant to grab a menu. It was a wonderful prelude to what I hoped would be a peaceful evening.

On Saturday, I decided that I wanted to run outside again, but I didn’t want to drive to Beverly. Since there’s a park near my house that I have used as part of my exercise regiment in the past without incident, I decided to go to the park. The area around Palmer Park is definitely not as scenic as Beverly, but I could be outside and be one with nature—or so I thought.

The early morning peace was pierced by the sounds of sirens speeding west on 111th St. unfortunately, living in an area plagued by violence, the sounds of sirens are commonplace. I started my run and noticed CTA workers in the park along with a bus. “That’s odd, I thought.” As I rounded the corner I saw the news crews. I saw people gathered. I saw a building across the street with the windows broken out, and the yellow tape stretched across the fence in front. I slowed, but I didn’t stop.

The next time around, I became a voyeur and whipped out my phone. Snap, snap. I took pictures to document the difficulty of even something as simple as a run in certain neighborhoods.  Two days earlier being one with nature melted the tension of a long day, but on Saturday, the songs on my from iPod were fighting with my stream of consciousness thinking of-what-had-happened-and-whose-life-was-forever-altered-by-the-early-morning events. 

I couldn’t help but wonder how could anyone find peace in the midst of unrest?

Monday, September 16, 2013

After the Rain

            I am in that place—again—a place of uncertainty as I ponder what to do next. The change of season from summer to fall cause to me pause and reflect. Some seasons stand out more than others; this feels like one to rremember just like the one a few years ago when I decided to return to school, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to. And yet when I started school, I began to second guess myself. I remember my first night of class. . . 

            Thoughts of What am I doing? are interrupted by the carpeted footsteps of my classmates. Their nervous laughter tells me we are joined in thought. We crowd into an elevator heading for our evening destination, then branching out when we reach the first floor. The revolving door moans as I push my way outside. 

            Everything is damp from an earlier rain. The wind greets me, caressing my naked toes and legs before sliding up the sleeve of my denim jacket. The sky is an electric bluish-gray—a Jimi Hendrix song waiting to burst through. It smells like rain, really —not the bottled up kind we find in rain fresh house-hold products. I love the rain, but I like it much better when I’m inside watching it. I’m usually not prepared for rain, and today is no exception. I didn’t check the weather forecast—I never do. But this time I’m not totally caught off-guard because I had a cap and jacket in my car.  

            I thought back to when I got caught in life’s torrential rain. Politics forced me to change jobs, my relationship ended, and I moved back into the home of my child hood. Unprepared for the constant drizzle after the storm, I’d wake up every morning with the rain beating against my soul. This season is difficult for me because I lost my father and my sister during the fall. So I know the source of some my angst is seasonal, but some of it is also the anxiety that comes with embarking onto something new.

            Melancholy musings aside, I need to get started because I don’t have long. I turn on my cell phone and set my alarm for 7:20 because we have to be back in class by 7:25. As I lean against Bennigan’s picture-perfect planter of yellow, red and lavender flowers I feel the buzz of my phone against my hip indicating a text message. It’s my friend—she’s stalking me. The 411 will have to wait until I see her at work tomorrow. I know it’s about the kids. After all these years she is still amazingly passionate about her students. I wish I could say the same. The perfectly placed Hunts bottles on the left side of the Bennigans giant navy blue and white umbrellas adorning the outdoor cafĂ© tables are a direct contrast to the day-to-day chaos of interacting with children.

            The night and I share the same subdued mood. People are alone in their private worlds on their way somewhere else. Conversation is minimal, and barely audible except for the guy who walks by talking on his cell phone. “Well, you know what, screw it. Don’t even worry about it.” The light changes from green to red and the screeching sound of a green and yellow checker cab in need of a brake job pierces the semi silence.

The sign on the side of a stopped CTA bus reads, “More Me, Less We”--an advertisement for Loyola University. I snicker and shake my head at the irony of it. Our growing sense of entitlement is why we’re in the predicament that we’re in, in the world today.

            The homeless man shuffles down the street like a Hurricane Katrina victim: his eyes downcast, his black wooly mass of hair matted and dreadlocked, his gold outfit shiny with dirt, the remnants of gym shoes covering his feet. 

It looks like he didn’t check the forecast either. But unlike him, I have shelter from the storm. I pray that it will always be that way.

A feeling of satisfaction feels me as I enter the building. I do know what I’m doing. Taking life to the next level, and when life drizzles on my dream, I know between umbrella of support and my raincoat of faith the sun will shine again.

While the sun has temporarily faded behind the clouds, and the rain of change drips into my life slow and constant like the leaky faucet in my bathroom, I know that it will not be ignored for much longer.  I'm stalling, but I will have to face it. And just like before, I know that after the rain, the sun will shine again.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tubman, Twerking and Self-Respect

"I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." Harriet Tubman

Recent events have been marinating in my mind causing me to—once again—mull over what it means to be a Black woman in this society. Don’t get me wrong; I love being Black and I love being a woman. Why wouldn’t I as they are both integral parts of me. But there are days when it feels like I’m wrapped in layers on a 100 degree day in the summertime.  Hot. Muggy. Stifling and suffocating in this skin I’m in.  I tried to ignore the, itchy fabric of racism and sexism roughly rubbing against my skin. But I couldn’t. So, I scratched until I bled. 

It started when I heard about the Harriet Tubman Sex Tape. It seems that Hip-Hop Mogul turned activist, Russell Simmons has a You Tube Channel called All Def Digital.  And a team of people thought it would be fun to create a parody of Harriet Tubman seducing her slave master while another slave video taped the sex act for Tubman to use as leverage to blackmail the slave master into building the Underground Railroad. I admit, I have a twisted sense of humor and can find humor in some of the unlikeliest places. But what I do among family and friends is different from that which plays out on a stage for the world. In a country steeped in racism and sexism, humor around these issues can be a slippery slope if not handled incorrectly. You squirm.  You laugh. But did you get the lesson?

In this case, it wasn’t funny, It was distasteful. And the lesson learned: All your skin folk ain’t your kinfolk. The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape reduced the historical significance of a fearless woman who once had a $40,000 bounty on her head to that of a hooker turning a trick.  Not only did it degrade and devalue the legacy of Harriet Tubman, it also fed the popularly held myths about the insatiable sexual appetite and cunningness of Black women. 

Simmons who describes himself as “a very liberal person with thick skin” claims that the intent of the video was to show that there is still a great deal of  injustice, but Tubman outwits the slave master in the end and wins. “I thought it was politically correct. Silly me.”  The fact that Russell didn’t recognize the error of his ways until his “buddies” at the NAACP advised him to take it down irritated me. But the fast and furious backlash against the parody soothed by soul like calamine cream. 

But before I could fully feel the relief, I started scratching again. This time the source of my itch: Miley Cyrus.  In trying to reinvent herself, Cyrus has opted for something more edgy. She was quoted as saying, “I want something urban. I want something that feels black.” Translation: ghetto, hood, ratchet or whatever other terminology that is used to describe urban areas-especially those populated by African Americans. The song “Can’t Stop” passed over by Rihanna, but claimed by Cyrus,is her attempt to “blacken” her sound.

Cyrus’ poorly executed appropriation of urban subculture brought so much attention to “twerking” that it has now been added to the dictionary. Thank you Miley. Not only did Cyrus’ performance exploit Black women, it was just bizarre and weird. It made “twerking” look bad. I know girls and young women who twerk, and there is a level of skill required for them to execute the booty-popping, booty- shaking antics that they do. Cyrus’ fake twerking wasn’t even close.
There are those who look at twerking as disgraceful and uncultured. I’m not one of them. There is a time and a place for everything. And posted up on Social Media is not the place for it. Twerking should be done for fun; it should be done in private. I’m always reminded of the words of my elders growing up, “What goes on in this house, stays in this house.” Too many of us have forgotten that lesson. Your public self and your private self should not be one in the same.

The infuriating thing about Simmons and Cyrus is that they both got what they wanted—attention which translates into hits which ultimately translate into money. And they did it on the backs of Black women. And we gave them permission. This makes me itch even more because we choose to participate in our own objectification. Simmons and the actors in The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape were Black. Cyrus’ dancers were Black. Where is our sense of value?

It reminds of the story of Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman a South African Khoikhoi woman who was put display in Europe for her "exotic” body parts.  This exploitation was continued even in death when her genitals were preserved and put in jars for public viewing. During the time Baartman was being exhibited as part of a freak show, an abolitionist benevolent society called the African Association campaigned for her release, and the case ended up in court. But the case was dismissed after Baartman testified that she was not under restraint.
Not under restraint. Simmons doesn’t know that Black women are still under restraint. Cyrus doesn’t know that Black women are still under restrain. And the Black women who signed on for this foolishness do not know that they are still under restraint. What’s next? A video of Harriet Tubman twerking? Where do we draw the line?

I’m hot. And I’m tired of suffering under the weight of isms and stupidity. I'm waiting for the day I'll  be free in the nakedness of my humanity.