Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Grieve or Fight

For many of my friends and peers, the Trayvon Martin tragedy still feels like an open wound. We see the face of this handsome young man, frozen in time, and wonder what could he have been had it not been for...and then we look over at our own children (or nieces, nephews, godchildren, students, etc).

You see, for so many of my peers, Trayvon could have been our son. We are all of a certain age, so when we see him and recognize the look of 17 year old immaturity and youthful defiance and of eternal naivete that tomorrows are inevitable, we see the face of a child. We remember what it was like to live on the precipice between childhood and young adulthood--when we challenged our parents' patience, dressed like our hip hop heroes and basketball idols, cursed with our friends, got into trouble at school, and did other dumb teenage shit that somehow didn't get us killed.

And then, if there is a child of 17 (or almost 17, or just past 17) in our lives, we exhale a world-heavy prayerful sigh that nothing that tragic and senseless befalls them. Then we wonder why this child's death still haunts and polarizes us six years later.

We know that tragedy happens. Some children perish in accidents and we mourn and cry with those parents. Some young people are casualties of conflicts that they volunteered to fight on our behalf, and we celebrate their sacrifice. Some children die of illnesses, and we dutifully donate and commemorate in their memories. And yes, some children are killed by senseless acts of violence, and we indict the pathology and despair that we just can't manage to escape, despite all of our efforts. We grieve for these children. And in most circumstances, we don't politicize our tears...

This morning, I caught a few minutes of a talk show segment that featured two mothers, Nicole Hughes and Morgan Miller, who were in mourning over the recent tragic drowning deaths of their toddlers. I nearly cried as I thought about my own rambunctious and fearless daughter who doesn't always listen. Then I applauded the courage of these two mothers who have joined to advocate for more pool safety awareness.

Admittedly, I don't go out of my way to find stories about the military, but whenever I hear a story like this, I think about the parents and other family left behind. We honor our soldiers with much pomp and circumstance, which is appropriate particularly in death. So I believe that those families deserve whatever designations and honorarium we bestow upon them.

In the last few weeks, friends of mine have had to mark the saddest of anniversaries. So I posted hearts to their pictures and memorial tributes. I offered virtual hugs and actual prayers. If asked to contribute to some memorial fund or charitable effort, I would eagerly find my wallet. I marvel at the resilience of these mothers to celebrate life in the face of unimaginable heartbreak.

Unfortunately, urban communities lose far too many children to random and intentional acts of violence. Just last week, this child was lost to random violence while this teenager was possibly stalked and targeted. Words are inadequate for the pain that either family must be experiencing right now, so let me declare that in both cases, we will stand, march, cry, and pray for justice. That demand is non-negotiable, irrespective of the specific circumstances.

So it pains my spirit to see the polarization that occurs whenever demands for justice are met with indifference or hostility. As if a grieving parent's impulse to channel the sadness into something other than just tears is only worthy of empathy if their dead child is deemed to be a sympathetic victim.

If we can refrain from mom-shaming a grief-stricken mother for being momentarily distracted or inattentive. If Gold Star families only cared about superfluous displays of patriotism at sporting events. If the advocacy is for a charitable cause that has minimal ideological or political associations. If the violence occurred in a safe neighborhood, or at a suburban school, and then if the shooter can't be labeled as mentally ill. If the dead child wasn't playing his music too loud or wearing a hoodie or a hijab or transgender. If the media cannot find a picture of your child that gives the wrong impression of your parenting. If the shooter was not a police officer or a wannabe vigilante.

If the world would rather see you grieve than fight.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bitter Peas

Do you remember the story about the girl who was discovered to be a princess after she spent the night on a pea? I thought of it after another agitated, anxious, and somewhat restless night. It provided me with a metaphor to describe what has been causing me such discomfort lately (and I'll tell you up front that it isn't all about a mattress, nor am I a lovelorn girl).

I suggested to the Hub that the current climate of racial agitation, gender violence, and social unrest all must have been 'normal' to our parents and grandparents in the not so distant past. Back when my grandfather was a soldier in Uncle Sam's segregated army. Back when my grandmothers were young women who migrated north to DC to escape southern racism. Back when my in-laws left their island to come further north to New York City to escape poverty. Back before the schools in DC were desegregated by a court decision. Back when redlining and restrictive residential covenants rendered currently hip parts of New York as the only neighborhoods where people could raise their families.

Perhaps we are getting a taste of what they endured. Not in the same measure, but it is obvious that we are experiencing tumultuous and reactionary times. Despite all of the socio-economic and cultural advances that we've made in the last 50 years, here we are living through an onslaught of public hostility that makes it seem as if all of that progress has been undone in a matter of months.

I did a little research on the Broadway play Once Upon a Mattress that was inspired by the classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Of course there was a little more added to the traditional story (which is way too complicated to explain here, especially since I haven't seen it), but suffice it to say that I recognize a few of the characters from the play as well as some of the drama in real time. The short version: a kingdom is under the oppressive rule of a dictator; a princess sets out on a mission that could improve conditions in the land if she is determined to be authentic. She has to prove herself and is subjected to a test that a few of the members of court have manipulated to guarantee that she passes. Even after their plot is revealed and the oppressor is dethroned, it is discovered that the princess still would have passed the original test because she was indeed the real deal.

I am not a preacher, but a lot of my friends are, so I imagine that this could be a much better sermon one day. And honestly, I don't have any theological interpretations for why we are catching hell right now. I don't understand how everything went so awry in just a few months--why our mattresses aren't cushioning/protecting us from these hard and bitter peas. I'm not a princess either, but:
I am a restless black woman.
I am a Muslim with a visa that is no longer good for me to join my family in America.
I am a desperate mother who crossed the Rio Grande to seek asylum.
I am the scared child who has been sleeping in a cage.
I am a waitress who had a customer put his hands on me.
I am the young man who was tased on the sidewalk.
I am the mother who watched her man get gunned down for defending me.
I am the child who was shot at random on a hot summer night.
I am the small business owner who had to prove that I was not robbing my own store.
I am the student who was just trying to relax by the pool in my apartment complex.
I am the little girl who was selling water on the street.
I am the father who works in the kitchen at two restaurants.
I am the soldier whose promise of citizenship was revoked.
I am an NFL player.
I am a transgendered woman who can't get her prescription filled at the CVS.
I am the father of a child who died in a school shooting.
I am the ten year old boy who was restrained by the police.
I am Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Nia Wilson.
I am the Swedish woman who refused to be seated on that airplane.
I am the man whose life she saved with her defiance.
I am an African immigrant in France who doesn't play soccer.
I am a woman who has been harassed for wearing a hijab.

I am tired, despite having enough blankets and a mattress that should cushion me from being so ultra-senstitive. So it must be a lot more than just one pea...

Do you feel it too? We talk loud about being woke, but aren't you tired of counting sheep yet? Instead of trying to add more pillows and sheets, at what point do we collectively strip this bed down to get rid of these peas?

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Hitchhiker's Guide

Last week a friend posted a scenario about honesty in relationships. I responded to it based on my personal experience, which apparently was not the point of the exercise (which I learned as our exchange continued). But because he often posts gender-based relationship hypotheticals, I should not have been too surprised when it took him a few days to come back with THE question. You know, the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything:

Why are there so many highly-educated, yet single black women?

The answer is not 42. The answer, if you will allow me to speak on behalf of every highly-educated, single black woman is...MIND YOUR OWN DANG BUSINESS!!!

That probably isn't the right answer either. And there may be a few of my sistren who will resent my insinuation, but trust that there is nothing wrong. 

First of all, why must it be assumed that there is something wrong with a woman being unmarried? Then, why is it assumed that a woman's marital status is connected to her level of education? And finally, if you aren't looking to marry one of these women, why is this a concern of yours at all? But since you asked, let me offer a multiple choice answer/opinion:
  1. She hasn't found the One.
  2. She thought she found the one, but it didn't work out.
  3. She had other priorities.
  4. She's not looking to get married.
There. Notice that my answer did not include any analysis about high standards, unwillingness to compromise, too much independence, lack of an appropriate father figure, secret lesbianism, or any other theories that somehow only apply to black women.

Now, I might not seem like the best spokesperson given that I have been married for almost 18 years...but I assure you, I am not peddling unsubstantiated theories based on beauty parlor psychology or choir loft gossip. I have anecdotal and concrete evidence based on the actual experiences of my friends for the past 20+ years. Some of my friends have done a lot of serial dating with no luck. A couple of friends were married, but are now divorced. A few thought the guy they seriously dated for several years was the one, but then found out that it wasn't meant to be. I have friends who prioritized finishing school, who were caregivers for family members, or who had demanding jobs--all of which pose serious challenges to maintaining a relationship. And yes, there are even few women I know who just aren't interested in getting married.

This ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is very patronizing when it is posed by men who are also single and unmarried and of a certain age. Like dude, what is your magic mirror telling you every morning? When the question comes from a "concerned" married man, I'm convinced his aim is to brag about himself as some kind of prize marlin that the rest of us missed out on catching. Perhaps the most damaging interrogator is that older woman who really is a Trojan Horse--she lures you in with kindness and compassion that quickly turns into an attack (mind you, she ain't married...anymore).

It really is none of your business. It is none of my business. The world is actually better because there are a lot of highly educated single black women who are committed to making it better. These women are starting businesses, leading nonprofits, teaching our children, researching cures for chronic diseases, running for public office, and serving as mentors. These women are taxpayers and homeowners and voters. These women are active in church. These women are card-carrying life members of organizations that are dedicated to public and community service. These women attend community meetings and candidates' forums, write blogs and opinion pieces, lobby public officials, and organize advocacy campaigns. These women raise money for public health initiatives. These women are studying, traveling the world, competing in marathons and triathlons, and taking up hobbies. These women read books, drink wine, play golf, and have fabulous shoes. These women might be single mothers or childless aunties, but they have enough faith to believe that there is love out there for them.

So wait, what's the question again?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Such a Joker

In less than a week, the current President of the United States has managed to disrupt NATO, insult German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May, and I'm betting that by the evening news, he will have found a way to disparage Queen Elizabeth II. Are there any more powerful women in Europe left for him to offend?

Well, while you think about that, consider this: My initial intention was to post a mini rant to the Facebook page to juxtapose photos of him with world leaders to renderings of him in balloon form:

I thought it would be a funny joke to end with a reference to the iconic Jack Nicholson's Joker where he complains about Batman stealing his balloons (by the way, I was mildly obsessed with this movie, so of course I recall random stuff like this):

Then something a bit ironic dawned on me--this is also the scene where the Joker has commandeered the Gotham City Centennial Celebration (which had been cancelled because of his terrorism) and promises to give away a million dollars to the crowd prior to staging a public duel with Batman.

He then gives a rousing speech where he calls everyone a schmuck right before he unleashes poison gas on the crowd via parade balloons.
I am not the first person to compare this President to the Joker. Apparently, Trevor Noah has already done so and Mark Hamill, who voiced the cartoon version throughout the 90s, has revived that character while reading the President's tweets. We were barely two weeks into his Administration when this characterization emerged, and just now another opinion writer invoked Heath Ledger's Joker as an avatar for our times. So it isn't just me, although I might be unique in seeing some eerie parallels between the Tim Burton movie and the present day.
Just this week: he sabotages an important occasion (check, his remarks at the NATO meeting); crowds have taken to the streets (check, in the form of London protestors); he's unleashing poison into the air (check, in the form of regularly gas-lighting the media); and at his side is a beautiful, speechless, barely functioning travel companion (check, because if Melania Antoinette isn't Alicia...)

The Hub swears that these references are lost on anyone but die-hard Batman fans of a certain age. And if that's true, then I urge you to watch the movie (which is better than the darker Chris Nolan film, IMHO).

I also end with my initial rant, which was to lament how American women aren't the only ones to be accosted by this President's special brand of patronizing sexism. So far it looks like he minded his manners with the Queen, but it's still early...

Friday, July 6, 2018

You Talking to Me?

This is a general purpose announcement for anyone who wants to troll, diss, or otherwise insult me on my blog, Facebook page, Twitter timeline, Instagram, or any other Busy Black Woman platform...don't.

Not unless the purpose of your outreach is to engage in genuine conversation. Because in that case, I am happy to oblige. However, if you just want to hurl invective or attack me with petty name-calling, you can keep it.

In this age of social media, folks have opinions and feel the need to express them. That certainly is the case for me, so even when I vehemently disagree with what others have to say, I believe in their inherent right to share that knowledge/stupidity with the world. What I don't agree with is someone using that right to be intentionally incendiary and provocative, and then retreating into victimhood or going ghost when challenged to provide a defense.

A few months ago I offered what I felt was a rational counter-point to a statement made by a well-known conservative commentator. Because this person is a public figure, I had no expectation of a reply; yet, one of his followers felt the need to offer her rebuttal. Which was fine initially, as she suggested that I needed some education to support my statement. I responded with facts to demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about, to which she responded by calling me a libtard and stupid. But because I refuse to argue with folks like that, I dropped a parting piece of knowledge on her and then wished her a nice life.

That is why all of these calls for civility are disingenuous. If your best response to facts is to denigrate the person who offered them, then you're just trying to start some shit. And in the words of the late poet Michael Jackson:

Mama say, mama saw, ma ma coo saw
Mama say, mama saw, ma ma ca saw

I ain't scared of a good fight, but you won't come into my space and try to set the rules. My politics are not a secret, and I accept that reasonable people can disagree. But when you come on my page, expect a challenge. And if you can't rise to the occasion, then stay home.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Freedom Ain't Free

Perhaps it is appropriate that on this Independence Day, my soul is not at ease. In the past week, so much has happened to put me in a space of turmoil--such that I haven't felt since 2am on the morning of November 9, 2016.

At that precise moment, I woke up from a restless sleep. My daughter and I had spent most of Election Day with my parents, then we went to hang out with a friend where we had hoped to celebrate the election returns. Of course, by 9pm when it was well past the kid's bedtime, we were staring in disbelief as states were being declared too close to call or worse. Even when the Hub called with obvious worry and concern in his voice, I was still guardedly optimistic. The kid went to sleep, and maybe it was exhaustion that allowed my mind to quiet down just enough to fall asleep for a few hours until I heard the announcement over the radio.

At 2am on the morning of November 9, the ground shifted. I hugged my child and somehow went back to sleep for a few more hours, but by the next day I felt defiant enough to write this. And then a few days later I felt introspective so I wrote this, but then in another few days I was angry and distraught and wrote this. Y'all, I never intended to write much political commentary on this blog, but ever since November 9...

By the time it was Independence Day last year, folks had marched in the streets by the millions all over the world and there was still hope that we could weather this storm if we just kept up our momentum to resist. There was already a revolving door of high profile firings and departures from this Reality Show Titanic. We were encouraged and woke and quoting Frederick Douglass. But then there was Charlottesville and Puerto Rico and the NFL and...

A year later, I'm tired. My contempt for this Administration intensifies with every new disaster, every new policy announcement, every new depravity. In two years this man has been the human equivalent of an aggressive cancer.

I am trying to maintain my sanity and my health in a toxic environment where stronger people have already been taken out. I am trying to remember what we are supposed to be celebrating today while children are sleeping in cages. I am trying to be optimistic about the future as we await the announcement on Monday that will determine how much harder we will have to fight for justice over the next 30 years. Last week I was chastising folks to stop lamenting the end of the world. Today I am in my bed with the covers over my head. I should be getting dressed for a barbecue somewhere...sharing laughs about who is violating the BBQ Commandments or who brought the raisins. Instead, I don't want to leave the house. I just want to eat bacon and shop on Amazon.

I know that the goal of this relentless assault on everything is to kill us. Not merely punish or tame or demoralize, but to kill us dead. That isn't hyperbole. That's what ego-maniacal despots do--Hitler killed 6 million Jews, Stalin killed millions, as did Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Francisco Franco, and now Bashar al-Assad. How many people have already died in mass shootings, in hurricanes, of broken hearts and destroyed dreams since November 2016?

Of course, as I write this and think about real loss and destruction and catastrophe, I am reminded that this is the price of the values we espouse. People died so that others might live. People have gone through much worse and survived. Freedom requires sacrifice and constant struggle. Reflecting back on how painful it was to face a new normal on November 9, I knew it could get this bad. I knew that a whole lot of us found out that checkers and chess can be played on the same board, but they are not the same game. But we can still mount a challenge to the king, even as a ragtag army of pawns. We did it once before, 242 years ago (and several times after that).

I can waste today feeling sad and despondent over how much ground we've lost, or I can plant some seeds in the ground that we still have (no matter how small the plot). 


Monday, July 2, 2018

What Will It Take?

A few weeks ago, comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted an interesting thread in which she outlined the seriousness of the backlash she faced after she took that infamous photo of a ketchup-covered Trump rubber mask. The thread was published around the same time that comedian Samantha Bee was facing backlash for calling Ivanka Trump feckless, which was in the immediate aftermath of Roseanne Barr's high-profile fall from grace for attacking former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. And that was a few weeks removed from comedian Michelle Wolf's controversial roast at the White House Correspondent's Dinner.

In each instance, the President of the United States saw fit to weigh in via Twitter. He called Kathy Griffin sick. He questioned why Samantha Bee hadn't been fired. He claimed that Michelle Wolf bombed and was filthy. Instead of saying anything about Roseanne directly, he questioned why he had never been offered an apology by ABC for things said about him.

In addition to taking aim at female comedians who've heckled him, he has also enthusiastically attacked political opponents such as Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, Rep. Frederica Wilson, and Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand. He has chided a fellow world leader and a Supreme Court justice. He took time to attack actress Meryl Streep and media mogul Oprah Winfrey after they gave awards show speeches that were critical of him. He issued a counter-attack on journalist Mika Brzezinski by deriding her intellect and then mocking her for allegedly getting cosmetic surgery. He even took aim at small business owner Stephanie Wilkerson (of the Red Hen restaurant), presumably to avenge the hurt feelings of his press secretary.

To those who see nothing wrong with the President of the United States taking the time to personally respond to negative statements made about him, each of these recipients deserved those clap backs. After all, why should the Leader of the Free World tolerate being criticized for his lack of empathy, for his overtly racist/sexist dog whistles, for his policies, for his lies? Who do these bitches think he is?

He certainly isn't Ronald Reagan, who granted amnesty to nearly 3 million immigrants in 1986. And he isn't George H.W. Bush, who signed an executive order to reunite families separated at the border dubbed as Family Fairness in 1990. He isn't Bill Clinton, who protected 40,000 Haitians here illegally from deportation in 1997. He isn't George W. Bush, who promoted a balanced approach to immigration that would provide border enforcement and a path to citizenship. And he damn sure isn't Barack Obama, whose Administration issued the executive order that deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA). No, despite the fact that he lives in the same house as those men, and has the same title as those men, he is nothing like them.

The 45th President believes that compassion and empathy and diplomacy and grace and respect and honor and statesmanship and every other quality of leadership that was exhibited by his predecessors are signs of weakness. He said as much last week when he reversed the policy on separating families at the border.

I began this effort by highlighting the incidents involving presidential ire directed at women who dared to call out his behavior because of my theory that his overt sexism is becoming socially tolerable. We know that this President is no respecter of person when it comes to hurling insults and taunts, as plenty of men have been targeted by his Twitter fingers; however, he picked those fights: the eight years he spent obsessed with Barack Obama; the taunts he unleashed on the NFL owners; the needling he gave his opponents during the GOP primaries; the jabs he has taken against John McCain and other members of his party; and the outright disrespect he has shown to his own Cabinet.

In classic bully fashion, this President attacks foes whom he believes he can humiliate, disgrace, vilify, and vanquish in 280 characters. He chooses targets who either have no inclination to take him on or those whom he regards as weak. He spent years trying to torment Barack Obama because he knew it was not in Obama's nature to respond, but also because he knew that if Obama were to take the bait, it would backfire. And then he's been able to claim victory after every non-confrontation because he's demonized virtuous restraint as weakness. But merely calling Trump a bully is an insufficient barb.

If we look specifically at his treatment of women, including those in his inner circle, we might see that he is the classic narcissist abuser. He clearly has an affinity for abusive behavior towards women--he endorsed an accused pedophile in the Alabama special election and offered sympathy for the aide who was accused of spousal abuse by two ex-wives. While we don't know the intricacies of his personal relationship with Melania Antoinette, we could identify many of these behaviors in his savage responses to the women who've stood up to him. He demeans their intelligence, their appearance, and doesn't stop at mere insults. Against Hillary Clinton, he waged a campaign of character annihilation that continues two years after the 2016 election...and they were once friends. His spats with Kathy Griffin and Maxine Waters have earned them death threats.

Has the irony set in that it has been the so-called weaker members of our society--people of color, religious minorities, young people, and yes, women who have been the most vocal and visible in standing up to this President? That despite his claims about the crowd sizes of his campaign rallies, his inauguration, and his official White House events, it has been the millions of us protesting in the streets since January 22, 2017. That it has been our brown bodies (Puerto Ricans without electricity and children separated from their parents), our Muslim bodies (stranded at the airports), our children's bodies (Parkland, FL and Santa Fe, NM), and Heather Heyer's body on the line.

What will it take? Does he have to physically hurt someone personally or is it true that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue with no repercussions? While the pundits and historians debate his impact on our democracy, has anyone acknowledged the real-life havoc his presidency has wrought on the lives of actual people? How close are we to the point where his rhetoric and verbal abuse have gone too far?