Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Parceling Pieces

I have a confession: I don't always know my worth. I want to believe that I love myself wholly, fully and unconditionally, and I believe I love myself more times than not, but there are times when my love for self falls short. So, I’ve decided to be intentional about loving myself.

  I love myself. I love myself. I love myself. This is my mantra. My goal is to say it until I believe it, until I live it, until I am it, so that when I say I love myself, I really mean I love me some me! And it’s not a conceited or selfish love but an authentic love that says I’m ok as I am flaws and all, and that I am a work in progress. This self love is a necessary love so that I am able to love others in the same way.

 Loving self is easier said than done because I allow outside factors to get in the way of loving who I am. I seek approval from family, friends, colleagues and the men I date.  And sometimes approval comes with a price. I have cut off pieces of myself shrinking into confined spaces to make others comfortable when what I needed to do was expand so that I busted out of anyone’s preconceived notions of who I should be. 

I've been trying to figure out when it how all begin—this parceling off pieces of myself to keep peace. I grew up in a house of strong, proud people. We were raised to believe that we were as good as anyone else. We didn't look down our noses at others and in no way did we take to others looking down on us. The youngest of seven, I was doted on. I got all that I needed and much of what I wanted. But that didn’t stop me from being a people pleaser. 

Who I’ve most wanted to please were men. Most people think I'm a smart, confident woman. And I have deluded myself into thinking the same. I prided myself on not allowing men I've dated to disrespect me, but I can't count the times I've disrespected myself in pursuit of a relationship. I wasn’t being verbally or physically abused, so what was I doing wrong? Settling for less than I deserved: giving second and third chances when he didn't deserve the first; trying to prove to him that I'm a good catch; staying when I should have left. 

For the last decade I've been single longer than I've been coupled. And I’m using this time to reflect on lessons learned and to love myself in the ways I want to be loved. For me, that has meant figuring out what does it mean to me to show love. How can I expect a man to love me better than I love myself? He won't. Loving myself in a world that doesn't always love me back isn't easy. Some days I nail it. Other days, I don’t. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't keep trying until I get it right. It's never too late to start anew.    

So, during this single season in my life, I’m learning to fall in love with myself.  To help me, I ask myself:  What did you do to show love today?  I cannot expect anyone to love me more than I love myself. Here are seven ways that I show love to myself so, I’ll be ready for love when it comes around again.
  1. I focus on eating healthy more times than not. I don’t worry about what I can’t eat. I focus on what’s good for me. So, every day I aim for fruits and vegetables.
  2. I spend time alone. If I don’t enjoying my own company, I’ll be lonely with a mate.  While spending time with me I write, listen to music or read.
  3. I spend time with people whose company I enjoy; I love a good stimulating conversation.
  4. I find pleasure in simple things like coloring, blowing bubbles or bubble baths.
  5. I take myself out—to eat, see a movie, go to the theater.
  6. I dance!
  7. I sit down at the dining room table and eat out of the good dishes.
Feel free to borrow, and share how you show love in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

My Lived Racial Experiences Part 2: Standing on the Hot Coals of Truth

This is a series of posts in which I share my racial experiences as a Black woman  in America. I am an activist and a humanitarian. If I want to make the world a better place, I must begin with me and examine how race shows up in my life. These are my epiphanies.

photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Self reflection is an important part of my personal growth. I look at Self and my reactions to the world around me, and I adjust. But I admit seeing is difficult when I don’t want to face my truths. Because of all the racial turmoil and unabashed hatred going on in the world, I feel the need to check for biases and prejudices in how I’m processing what’s happening. How am I moving through the world? 

As much as I advocate for what I believe is right, I’m not so naive or so full of myself that I believe that I live bias free. I’m not afraid to admit that sometimes I am blinded by my own perceptions and misconceptions. A few weeks ago, I went up north to see a sold-out play. Issues of race and color intrigue me, and this play (that I have since forgotten the name) was a story of both. It was about free women of color who lived openly with their White lovers in Louisiana. And even though they could not marry, the women and their offspring could inherit his fortune prior to the Louisiana Purchase.

I put my name on the list and went across the street to grab a bite to eat. The restaurant had indoor and outdoor seating. It was nice out, so I opted to sit outside. Next to me was an interracial couple. He was Black, she was Other. My mind immediately went to judgment about why this dark skinned Black man was with this non Black woman. The stories of dark men hooking up with light women to increase their chances of having light brown or tan babies was not foreign to me. I had seen it, heard it, and tried in vain to explain to dark boys in my classes over the years that being with light girls would not guarantee the birth of light babies.

And as soon as I was conscious of my thoughts, I chided myself for jumping to conclusions. I was able to get in to see the play. The man and his wife from the eatery were seated in the audience. During the Q&A after the show, he talked about how he had come to learn to love himself as a Black man. He gushed about the strength and the beauty of Black women, and how the play spoke to him that we need to love Black women. The Latina with him was his wife. He said that she was beautiful, too. This reminded me of how quickly and absented mindedly we succumb to stereotype. He wasn’t a Black man stepping over sisters to get to mixed race women like Kanye who said he and most of his friends like “mutts” or Lil Wayne who does not hide his lover for red bones (light skinned Black women).  But I digress. I made unfair assumptions about the man in the audience. His appreciation of Black women did not supersede his love for his wife and vice versa. 

During the month of July, I worked with a summer program teaching social justice. I worked with a great bunch of ladies. The day following the tragic fatal police shootings in Dallas, a White woman at work remarked at how horrible it was. The three black women sitting at the table remained silent. The shootings had come on the tail of two police shootings of unarmed Black men. We changed topics. I made some assumptions: as Black women we were in solidarity in our thoughts. But it wasn’t that simple. I had only been working with these women for a few weeks, so we were still learning about each other. It turns out that the White woman’s son is a police officer, so it stands to reason that she would be upset by police shootings. Both of the Black women have Black sons, and one of them is married to a police officer. Imagine her anguish. She has to worry about her husband and her sons coming homely safely every night. 

These situations serve to remind me that even in my fight for civil rights, I still have my own work to do. Nothing is rarely as simple as it seems. The world draws a stark line of black and white, but so often the line is blurred. There are so many shades of grey in our existence. I recognize that I jumped to my own conclusions without having all the facts in both situations. How often do we do that? I’m not afraid to admit that I fall short. I’m standing in my truth even if it feels like hot coals under my feet. I have to stand in it, own it, and work on it. But every day I have a chance to learn and do better than I did the day before. That’s My Truth and I’m standing on it.
What’s your truth? Be sure to let me know in the comments section.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Lived Racial Experiences Part 1: Should I Hate White People?

This is a series of posts in which I share my racial experiences as a Black woman  in America. I am an activist and a humanitarian. If I want to make the world a better place, I must begin with me and examine how race shows up in my life. These are my epiphanies.

 In these times of increasing racial tension and social unrest, I've been thinking about my lived racial experiences to see if they warrant me hating White people. I think it's a fair question considering the loathing and terror that people of color, particular African Americans have been subjected to in this country at the hands of White people. We have suffered horrific atrocities from the day we first arrived to the current day. 

I think about the racist rhetoric aimed at the Black Lives Matter Movement in that they have the audacity to demand justice. Equality will not been given without a fight. We’ve seen this movie before. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Without struggle, there is no progress. As much as people love Dr. King today, he wasn’t always well liked. The struggle for civil rights was met with great resistance because much of America thought that protesters and activists were asking for too much too soon. Not much has changed.

During the peak of the Black Power Movement in the 70s, I was a child. And images of whiteness were replaced by images of blackness, and I responded. Instead of drawing peach colored people with long yellow hair. I drew brown people with gigantic black Afros. My new found cultural awareness must have frightened my older, White second grade teacher because she prohibited me from drawing people with afros anymore. This troubled me, so, I went home and told my mother who sent my sister to school to talk with my teacher. I watched as my teacher folded one of my drawings in half to demonstrate that the afro was as big as the body. She offered a compromise: I could draw brown people with afros if I made the afros smaller. Funny thing is I never remember her telling me that my golden Rapunzel-like hair was too long. 

Fast forward to the following summer when my oldest sister had the bright idea to send her daughter and me to Day Camp. I don't know why. I was perfectly fine running up and down the block with my niece and my friends. But off to camp we went. The two-year age gap between us meant that we were assigned to different groups which were separated by age and gender. My neighborhood was segregated. My school was segregated. The only White people I knew were the old couple who lived next door and the staff at my school. I had never had any interactions with White children. And my first interaction proved to be memorable--and not in a good way.

Living in a Black World, color never mattered until I went to camp. My otherness surfaced feelings of alienation and isolation. In Duck, Duck Goose no matter how many times the girls went around the circle, I was never the goose. In Red Rover, I never heard, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Stephanie on over.” My counselor was no help. Not only were these 9 year-old girls bigots, they were also bullies. I swear, it seemed like they made the spineless counselor cry every day. I had two saving graces. I could braid hair, so my counselor liked for me to pull her long black hair into a braid while the other girls watched in fascination. They still wouldn’t play with me though. And the last part of the day, we were free to go with the other groups, and I defected to the familiarity of my niece’s group. She was there and her counselor was Black. It was home until I could get home.

More than them ignoring me, the thing I most remember about Day Camp is something that still bothers me to this day—not that it happened as much as my reaction to it. One of the girls had some Skittles. We didn’t have Skittles in my neighborhood. We had Starbursts and I liked Starbursts, so I thought I might also enjoy a taste of the rainbow. The blond-haired girl saw me eyeing her candy, smiled and offered me some. I nodded and held out my hand. The smile disappeared just as she smashed up what was left in the package before handing it to me. I can feel the queasiness in my stomach as I write this. I wanted that candy; I wanted to belong, and so I ate it. That is my shame. But from pain come lessons. When those White girls became women, and I met them in grad school, I knew what was behind the manipulative White tears. I watched them say and do mean shit on the down low, and then cry when confronted. I learned not to fall for the okey-doke.

I was supposed to grow up in an integrated world where I was judged by the content of my character, not the color of my skin. I’m a post-civil rights baby much like we are supposed to be living in a post racial America today. Things were supposed to be different then. Things are supposed to be different now. They’re not. 

 I have been discriminated against and stereotyped for none other than the color of my skin. I reflect on the many times I’ve had to face down racial prejudice. When my family left the segregated west side for the integrated south side, my mother was told where my niece and I could not go. A mile east of us past the viaduct was off limits. In high school, I was at Evergreen Plaza Mall when I was accused of shop lifting. My niece and I were taken to a back room and all of our bags were dumped out. We didn’t have any stolen merchandise. There was no apology for the error on their part. 
I remember taking the bus to Ford City and being in the parking lot when a group of White boys zoomed past and nearly hit me. I jumped out of the way, heart racing, legs weak only to see them whiz by me laughing. I remember being the only Black person working for a real estate magazine on Kedzie. It was a small, family owned business a few miles west of my segregated neighborhood. It was a good work experience, but because of their limited interactions with people of my hue, I became the curator of Black culture. I had to answer questions about my hair, food, clothes—you name it. 

The one time I was super irritated was when one of the women corrected my English. She said I said “ax” instead of “ask”. I tried to explain to her that, that was not what I said.  My sister was the Grammar Police and “ask” was at the top of her list of grammatical offenses. I knew how to say “ask” with the “k” sound. This was confirmed when on a previous job, a White woman proclaimed loudly in the cafeteria that I was the only Black person she ever heard say “ask” (hard K.) But I digress.
This 2nd Ax/Ask woman came back to me asked me to be more “pacific” about the notes I made. So, I asKed her, “Do you want me to be more Pacific or Atlantic? Those are the names of oceans. I think the word you’re looking for is ‘specific.’” OMG! She was so pissed; she threw her hands up, said “Whatever!” and walked away—her face blood red. It was okay for her to correct me, but not for me to correct her? I simply laughed and shook my head. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I enjoyed my time there even though the Black police officer stopped me when I was out to lunch to ask me what I was doing in the area. Racism is systemic folks. It's as natural as the air we breathe.

I can go on and on, but there is no need to replay every negative racial encounter I’ve had. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, Oh, I’m Black. Let’s see what kind of prejudice I’m going to face today. The reality is it has happened and continues to happen. I accept that I’m going to have to navigate an often times rugged and bumpy terrain as a Black woman because I understand the history of racism in this country.

 I also know that just as I’ve had encounters with prejudice and bigotry that, that is not the sum total of my experience. I liked my second grade teacher despite the incident with the drawings, and my third grade teacher was amazing! I don’t think I even noticed that she was White until I got older and would reflect on the fond memories of my third grade classroom. It was evident that she loved students and teaching. I l adored my high school English teacher, and it was an honor to see her years later as a colleague.

 I'm not going to fall back on the cliché that some of my best friends are White. They’re not. But I did date a White guy and we had a good relationship, but race was a factor in us breaking up.  I do know some cool White people, and we hang out together and have a great time. I have also met some wonderful people online who are comrades in the struggle for equity in this country, and not just for Black people but for all marginalized people. I enjoy conversing with them and learning from them. Just recently I participated in a conversation about race between Black and White women. We didn’t see eye to eye on everything, and that’s ok. We’re still looking for what binds us as opposed to what separates us. We’re going to meet again in September. 

So, to answer the question that I raised: Should I hate White people? No. I don’t want to hate anyone anymore than I want them to hate me. I want to get to know people as people and celebrate our differences as well as find comfort in our similiarites. I believe it takes all kind of people to make the world turn.