Hurt

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I struggle this morning. I struggle to reconcile the wealth of diversity among my beautiful friends and family members with my black identity in the context of a country with a complex history with race.

Those who know me relatively well realize that I love people and their differences with perhaps a naive severity. Many of my dearest friends are nothing like me on paper. We differ in race, religion, class, education, sexual orientation, profession, physical ability, political affiliation, and many other ways. We may disagree, but we agree that love overrides our disagreements.

It is these rich relationships that make weeks like this all the more difficult. At the end of the day, I am a straight, cis-gendered, black woman in America. My experience here is different from that of my white friends. Or my Indian friends. Or my Latinx friends. Or my male friends. Or my LBGTQ friends…

We all experience this country differently. Sometimes tragic events occur that affect one community or group of communities in a more personal way than others. Immediate members of the affected communities may express their grief in anger or sorrow and in that moment, stand in solidarity with those who share in that unifying identity. Those outside of that community may experience feelings of alienation and persecution, confusion and frustration.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive and diplomatic. A pacifist and love-monger to a fault. I suppose I figured that as I expressed my fear, anger, and frustration with the current climate of race relations in America, those of my friends and acquaintances who do not share my social and racial identity would view my outcry with empathy, if not understanding.

Unfortunately, there is pushback. Resistance from those who are offended by my personal account of my own experiences and reactions to attacks on my community. And although I’ve been called an “activist” and like to think of myself as a voice for society’s marginalized people, I question whether or not my skin is thick enough to withstand the barrage of social media verbal attacks. I wonder if my exercise of free speech is worth the harsh and fruitless criticism that contributed to my sleepless night.

How does someone whose contact list truly represents a cross-section of the diversity of the United States, stand in her truth and still maintain friendships with those who think so differently from her? How can she continue to use her voice to affect change, unafraid of alienating her unintended audience of friends’ parents and former colleagues, without diluting the severity of her truth?

Is it possible for me to have best friends who are black, brown, white, straight, queer, disabled, republican, socialist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, and overall nonconforming, while still acknowledging my own plight as a young black woman in America who simply wants to love and be loved?

Well?

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My America

Diverse Friends
My family and I have been stateside since late November. We did not anticipate being here this long, but unforeseen circumstances have made it so.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather here in Georgia, I definitely miss the balmy Caribbean breeze. I miss the people I was just beginning to get to know. I miss the place I started to call home.

But life happens, right? When life throws you a curve ball, you hit a home run! So, rather than lamenting what should be, I am looking for the positives. And you know what? They are everywhere!

I’ve eaten farm-to-table meals with college friends. I blew bubbles with my little cousin on Christmas. I worshiped sweetly with my parents at our home church. I braved mall on Christmas Eve.

As lovely as all of this has been, one of the most rewarding sights has been the beautiful tapestry of people. While at the mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, I browsed alongside Muslim girls wearing beautiful hijabs; played peek-a-boo with a precious, chunky little South American girl; my ears danced to the sounds of the tongues of many nations.

A visit to a local park in Northern Gwinnett County, Georgia warmed my soul as I watched little black, white, Asian, and Hispanic children play with each other and a yellow Labrador puppy.


If you watch enough cable news television or spend too much time on social media, you can be easily discouraged by the state of our Union. Mass shootings, racial inequality, and everykindaphobia. It is a depressing reality.

Some people may feel it is selfish to be joyful during such trying times. Others choose to live very shallow existence, void of any information that may spoil the perfect slice of Americana they built for themselves.

But it is important that we find the balance between understanding a scary reality and searching for the silver linings. I think it is entirely possible to enjoy the moments of peace, joy, and kindness — be they small and rare, or grand and often — and draw from those things as inspiration for our part in improving our corner of the world.

One of my favorite quotes is by George Bernard Shaw, as popularized by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

I encourage all of us to acknowledge and enjoy each and every blessing and then fight with everything we have to make sure everyone is able to acknowledge and enjoy their own blessings. When you see how your neighbor’s life is, envision how it could be, and then vow to do your unique part to bring it to fruition.

After all, this is America. All types of people from all types of places, all fighting for one another’s happiness. At least, that is my America.

Have a blessed and hopeful 2016!

Forget Comfort

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Starbucks’ Holiday Spice Flat White

My family and I have been Stateside only a couple of weeks and already I miss my new home. Sure, it’s nice to breathe in the crispness of late autumn air. With the holiday season in full swing, I love to see the tree-lined streets illuminated with thousands of little lights. I enjoyed my tall Holiday Spice Flat White from Starbucks this afternoon. Visiting with friends I had not seen in awhile is good for the soul.

I suppose I thought that when I got here, I would fall madly in love with the place I called home for 16 years and find it difficult to leave. To my surprise, my feelings have run neutral on the matter.

In fact, the longer I remain on U.S. soil, the more I realize just how conducive island life is to the person I hope to be. The weather is warm, the sights are breathtaking, the food is refreshing, the people are… interesting. A warm countenance. A breathtaking compassion. A refreshing attitude. An interesting story. These are all characteristics I hope to possess as I mature into the woman God made me to be and I believe the Caribbean is an ideal place to cultivate these fruits.

Of course, a lifelong walk on the beach is not my sole motivation for returning to the island. I also see the evident progress my mother has experienced in the picturesque settings of Barbados. There is a constant stream of pure, uncut Vitamin D which shines through our glass patio doors. Every drive along the coasts offers stunning views of the Caribbean Sea to our west or the Atlantic Ocean to our east. Trips to markets provide access to the freshest fish and the most perfect produce, aiding in beneficial dietary changes. Every weekend, there are tantalizing cultural exhibitions that stimulate the pathways and neurotransmitters of a weary yet determined brain. The peace and contentment that washes over my mother as she watches the waves wash ashore beneath the setting sun is worth more than all the supposed comfort that familiar faces and fast food restaurants could provide.

I breathe a sigh of relief as my father relaxes in the peacefulness of a country where his ebony complexion is neither disdained nor revered, and different cultures are shared and celebrated. Invaluable is the ability to breathe and be as a man without the whispers of dissension and separation playing on 24-hour news channels as a broken record in the recesses of his mind. Comforting is the idea that his wife and daughter do not have to worry about him as much when he makes a late night ice-cream run. Reassuring is the limited access to guns and appreciation for a slower pace of life. Simpler is the new life his family leads. Exciting is the prospect of sharing his sunset years beneath a vibrant painted sky, conversing with diverse peoples from diverse lands, holding the hand of his beloved.

So with all due respect to the friends and the family that I love, I must confess that I am not torn between two lands or confused about what I want for my future. My heart is not divided by land and sea. Barbados is my home for the foreseeable future. It is where I live. It is where I thrive. It is where I belong.

Home for the Holidays

Christmas has definitely come early for me this year. I just found out I will be spending Thanksgiving, and possibly Christmas, in Atlanta!

This surprise certainly comes with mixed emotions as I realize that this will mean missing out on some of the awesome events Barbados has to offer this time of year, which also means possibly missing out on opportunities to meet new people.

That being said, I am pretty excited about heading back to the States to get some things taken care of that were hanging in the air when we left with 30 days notice. Just a few of my “hope-tos” for my trip include:

  • Visit our family practitioner to show off my 50+ pound weight-loss
  • Cuddle with my little cousins
  • Spend some time with our church family
  • Hit up H&M, Old Navy, Target, K&G, Ann Taylor Loft, Versona, Cato, and other inexpensive retailers to replenish my wardrobe for my new size on the cheap (I still have 15ish pounds to go)
  • Hit up COSTCO to purchase toiletries and non-perishables in bulk
  • Go for coffee at Land of 1000 Hills
  • …music at Java Monkey or Eddie’s Attic
  • Ormsby’s for libations and games
  • Avalon for festive fun
  • …and anything else my crazy friends cook up.

Initially, I had very mixed emotions about this return visit. I wasn’t sure how I felt about revisiting some difficult situations. My family relocated under very stressful circumstances and I realize that I allowed that stress to adversely affect some of my dearest relationships. I cannot regret the way I left things because so much was beyond my control; regret would lead to guilt and I refuse to live my life that way. But I certain wondered if I was ready to reopen old wounds and considered how I might cope with the change.

I also cannot help but acknowledge the current state of affairs in the United States and the global community. African-Americans and allies of all races are in a continuous state of protest against police brutality and inequality. Though not physically present in the country, the tragedy is not lost on my conscious. Perhaps more now than ever before, I make it my mission to “stay woke,” constantly educating myself and adding my voice to the discussion on race relations in America. The reality is that where two or more races exist, there is racism. Even on a predominately black island in the Caribbean, discrimination is very real. But, as I explained in a previous post, the fear of being shot because someone feels threatened by my blackness simply is not there. Soon, we will return to a land where this is a very real possibility.

In addition to the unsettling realities of home, there is so much pain globally. The Thanksgiving season is always a hectic time for travelers, even more so when dealing with tragedies like the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Paris and Nigeria within the last week, not to mention continuing unrest and persecution in the Middle East and other tribulations worldwide. I, for one, am not afraid to fly. None of us knows what tomorrow may hold and it is foolhardy to believe any of us is exempt from terrible things that take place in life. The reason I am unafraid is because I know that no matter what happens, I know how the story ends. I know that at the end of the day, my soul is saved in Christ Jesus. He died on a cross so that when I die, as we all eventually will, I do not have to worry about what will happen to me or where I will go. It is through God’s grace that I get to escape the terror and the pain of this world and trade it all in for eternal peace and everlasting joy. I praise God that I can take comfort in this fact and travel with peace in my heart.

May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. – Psalm 119:76-77

I wish everyone reading this a very Happy Thanksgiving and pray that you and your loved ones are wrapped in peace, comfort, and joy.

Thanks a Lot, Mr. Cosby: The Huxtable Legacy and the Black American Identity Crisis

From a very young age, my father always told me “Just because they’re grown, it don’t make ’em right. Just because they’re big, it don’t make ’em bright.” At the time, my dad’s primary subjects for this quote were faculty and staff at my elementary school. My parents were not teaching me to disregard or disrespect authority, but they wanted me to understand that adults do not have everything right all the time. Grown ups make mistakes too, and I should not be afraid to challenge them if I see them behaving unfairly or inappropriately.

My super suburban community outside of Seattle, Washington was (and still is) very homogeneous. Overwhelmingly white and upper-middle class. While these demographics made for a very strong academic environment (let’s face it – higher tax base equals higher quality education), I certainly suffered socially. In a culture of sameness and conformity I stood out, whether I wanted to or not.

In a space where I could have felt very lonely and wrong, my parents were dedicate to ensuring me that I felt a sense that I belonged and knew that I was right. Buying black dolls, belonging to a predominantly black church… watching television programming depicting images of black families similar to my own, like “The Cosby Show.”

Cosby Show Ebony Cover

Since the disturbing news broke last year that famed comedian Bill Cosby had allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted several women over the course of his career, I have remained silent. However, once Ebony Magazine released a heartbreaking image of the Huxtable Family with shattered glass splintering from the Cliff’s face, I felt it was time to add my two cents to the conversation, whatever that may be worth.

Due to my father’s advice about adults being imperfect, I cannot say that I was shocked or in any sort of denial but I was, and still am, sorely disappointed. The idea that an iconic institution like “The Cosby Show,” so deeply ingrained in my identity as a black girl growing up in middle class America, is now contaminated in such a tragic way is very upsetting. Certainly when people we admire make poor and damaging choices, we become filled with a wide range of emotions. Personally, I am hurt by Mr. Cosby’s alleged despicable behavior. As someone who has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of sexual abuse in the lives of close friends and loved ones, I am distraught. Could it be that a clean comic with timeless humor and a manipulative predator with desperate ways are one in the same? Can I separate the two? Will I ever be able to enjoy the comfort-food sitcom of my youth again? Should I enjoy it?

Despite my personal feelings of abandonment and deceit, the impact on society and black culture in particular is clear. The standby example of a positive portrayal of a segment of the black population in America will forever be marred by an asterisk connected to a footnote, explaining that this type of family simply does not exist. The list of comedians able to make people laugh without being vulgar or insulting has just become shorter. Future generations of all races will no longer be exposed to a lesser-seen side of African-American culture. Quality family viewing, free of profanity, innuendo, and double entendre will be forever hidden in the depths of the archives, the tainted memory too painful for many to bear.

I commend the alleged victims for coming forward with their stories, for standing up to an American treasure. Opening up about being raped or sexually abused in any way – by anyone – takes tremendous courage. I cannot imagine sharing with the world such a personal story about such a larger-than-life man. My heart aches for these women.

So why am I still so torn? Why do I desperately want, or need to reserve a place for “The Cosby Show” in my heart?

The desire to continue to appreciate a television show that is now marred by such controversy is one that causes me to question my goodness and empathy. I worry that my wish for the show to return to air is selfish and unfeeling. My hope is that these concerns are not true manifestations of my character. I hope that I still work toward goodness and practice empathy.

These developments cause me to be faced with a new challenge. As a young black American woman, I must succeed. I must do my part to provide a real-life example of dignity and decency for future generations to be able to point to and say “she seems like a good person, doing good things for other people.”

Thankfully, I am not alone in this challenge. There are parents and principals, construction workers and counselors, doctors and ditch-diggers who are all trying to be good people, doing good things for other people. The overwhelming majority of black, American boys are not on their way to prison or in the street hustling. The overwhelming majority of black men do not seek to do women harm. In fact, I chance it to say that all black boys and men love their families and want to succeed in providing for them and to be a part of their lives. All black boys and men want to make lasting impacts and positive influences on their communities. All black men want to change the world for good.

It is my greatest hope for the black American community and the world as a whole, that all black leaders continue to rise to the occasion. May we exceed all expectations in life and leave a lasting legacy in death. May no fault of any one man tarnish or stain the positive differences we can and do make in this world. It is up to the global community to do everything we can to be examples and create opportunities for black children to realize their greatest potential in life.

Snakes in the Field, Bullets in the Sky

As a child I had a complicated relationship with snakes. I lived indoors, snakes lived outdoors. I loved being outdoors, but I did not love snakes. As is life, one cannot survive indoors alone. As I often frolicked in the fields of green dewy grasses in the super suburbs of Seattle, I occasionally encountered a snake or two. They were usually harmless and nonvenomous; despite this fact, their very presence struck a fear deep within me and caused me to run as fast as my child-sized little legs could carry me.

Over time, each unexpected encounter with these snakes rendered me home-bound for a day or so, for fear of running into them again. I do not know if it was the fear of having the life constricted out of me by a boa or if I simply did not like the way they look, but the phobia of snakes had an unfortunate mental hold over me and stole many opportunities for me to bask in the sun that beams on the dewy fields of the super suburbs of Seattle.

Threadsnake
Barbados Threadsnake

Imagine my delight when I found out that Barbados has only one species of snake – the Threadsnake , its size diminutive enough to coil upon a quarter. I am free to once again stroll our yard shoeless, unafraid of what serpent may be lurking under a bush or behind a tree. I never knew how much I missed such a simple liberty until relocating to this tropical island just two short months ago.


Just one month and one day before my family and I left for Barbados, a white man entered the historic black church, Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Parishioners were engaged in weekly Wednesday night bible study and welcomed the presence of this stranger in the sanctuary. Despite the outpouring of Christian love given this individual, he opened fire, killing nine people, injuring one. Forever changing countless lives.

This mass murder was just the latest occurrence of race-related violence against African Americans. Though the initial narrative began centuries ago, the story remains the same as black lives in America hang in the balance as the result of both cultural and systemic racism. More recent displays of racially motivated aggression pit some members of law enforcement or rogue racists against black males as police brutality is highlighted daily on the evening news.

College graduates pulled over for minor traffic violations and pastors attempting to deliver messages of peace and forgiveness have all fallen victim to the ills of the American racial climate. In particular, black boys and men are targeted every day as a result of the centuries old prejudices and preconceived ideas of the implications of blackness. Inasmuch as America views blacks as talented and entertaining, messages from relatives and the media alike teach many non-blacks that dark skin and coarse hair envelope a character that is to be both feared and guarded against. These brown hued beings are not to be trusted in your communities or your workplaces, with your women or your children. It is your duty, white male, to shield this fair land of yours. By any means necessary.

The end result of such widespread, if at times subtle, paranoia is that black women and children pray daily for the safe return of their black husbands and fathers for a hard day’s work. The coming-of-age of young black boys is not marked by celebration but by fear, as daddies equip their sons with all the skills they need to avoid arrest and/or death in the likely event that they are pulled over for speeding (as many teenage boys are) or an illegal lane change (as many new drivers are). Parents hold their breath for four years as their children venture off to pursue higher education in a small college town in the deep south, wondering when they will receive a call late one night that their baby was beaten to death because they were walking home alone at night while black. Black families across America arise on Sunday mornings and prepare to worship a loving God who promises to care for and protect them, praying throughout the service that they will not meet their Maker on this day.


Confederate Battle Flag
Confederate Battle Flag

When I was about 10 years old, my mother and I were walking home from an afternoon of biking riding. As I coasted down a slight incline, the wind in my face and the sun on my back, my mother just a few yards behind me on foot, my perfect afternoon turned into a dark day I will not soon forget. A red pickup truck baring the Confederate battle flag sped past us in our middle/upper-middle class neighborhood in the super suburbs of Seattle. Two white men sat leisurely in the bed of the truck, an unknown number of passengers in the cab.

NIGGER!

Stunned, I dismounted my bicycle and began to walk along side it, my hands shaking on the handle bars. My mother gently, yet urgently told me to stop. I dropped the bike and ran desperately into my mother’s warm embrace. As hot tears flowed thickly from my innocent eyes, I could only think to repeatedly ask my mother why?

This word was not foreign to me. Classmates had even called me the N-word in kindergarten. But this time was different. This was more real, more raw. Perhaps it is because my father was not at home at the time so we felt more vulnerable. Maybe it was because this particular imagery was only supposed to exist in the black and white footage of the PBS documentaries featured during the month of February. Whatever the reason, I was pained to my core and still have flashbacks to that incident, over twenty years later.

The verbal assault I encountered on that blustery spring day, in the super suburbs of Seattle, was not my first experience with racism, nor would it be my last. Whether a direct victim of racial injustice or a witness to its devastating effects on my family and my cultural community, race and racism has always played an integral part in my existence. Denial or avoidance are a futile non-options. Pickup trucks yielding the Confederate flag still render in me a reaction of fear and a feeling of vulnerability. When I am either followed or ignored by store clerks at a local retailer, my heart is heavy under the unwarranted spotlight of suspicion or irrelevance. When my father returns home for literally the 40th time to report that the had been pulled over by a police officer — without receiving a ticket — I exhale in a deep sigh of relief, knowing that my daddy survived a potentially deadly ordeal.

So imagine my delight when we arrive in the Caribbean to discover that its black citizens walk the streets with an admirable freedom from care. Children walk to the bus stop at dawn, couples walk along the beach at sunset, and young men walk to the homes of their friends on Friday nights. All are unafraid that the melanin in their skin might cause them not to return to their homes and loved ones. I now have the mental liberty to walk to the local coffeehouse with less fear of who lurks inside utility vehicles or beneath white, hooded robes.


The absence of large, venomous snakes caused me to realize the freedom I was missing in the United States, where snakes are far more prevalent and potentially harmful. I know enjoy enjoy the fairly snake-free life I now leading in Barbados. Having resided in Barbados for only a short while, but the absence of the ever-present fear of danger following me and my loved ones is also enlightening. Only now when I watch local coverage of United States news, do I fully realize that the state of race relations in America is truly unfathomable. There is nothing normal about living in a constant state of fear and uncertainty as the result of a handful of people’s tragic ideas about your God-given features.

Does racism exist in Barbados? Certainly. Does this racism have a daily effect on the lives of black people in Barbados? Undoubtedly. Does one’s race in and of itself serve as a catalyst for unsolicited violent encounters? No, it does not.

I do not know how long I will remain in the Caribbean, but it is my hope that if I do not to a freer, safer United States, that I would at least be able to positively contribute to the continual discussion on race in America. I want my presence in a country whose freedoms I certainly enjoy and value to be an impactful one. I wish to use my own personal, diverse relationships as an example of racial harmony and progress. I want to reach out to those who are victims of the cycle of racial inequality and encourage them never to give up. I want to appeal to whites and other allies in law enforcement, legislation, and education, to be vocal about the injustices all marginalized persons experience. I want to take the rebellious spirit of pride and renewal of the Barbadian people along for the cultural Revolution.