Bon Voyage For Now, or Forever? Travel the and Temperate Escape

I journeyed to New Orleans as a college freshman in Spring of 2007. Like millions throughout the world, I  heard of the damage caused by Katrina and seen the images on television of blacks planted on top of their homes with the water rising just below their feet. These images were frightening, not because of content, but because these images revealed an unsettling reality—a reality that did not quite settle in until I cast my eyes on the actual damage.

After a twenty-four hour ride bus ride with a group of HBCU students like myself—I saw something I had never seen before. The image that has stayed with me over the years are  plots of land where houses were lifted from the ground and the source of this damage–the levees. I remember seeing how low the levees were for those in the lower ninth ward, and how high and strong they were for a region that went largely unscathed in this natural disaster, The French Quarter. The images seen on television were horrible, but they merely scratched the surface of this national tragedy.

Then an eighteen-year-old girl, I knew racism existed, but this Alternative Spring Break proved an opportunity for me to “see” racism. These low levees illustrates the systemic disenfranchisement afforded to black bodies. A disenfranchisement that predisposed black bodies to genocide , a reality that accompanies the black body in various physiological, physical, and emotional manifestations throughout their navigation throughout the not so united states. Our contribution as university students was small but resonant—not only in action but in ideology. Namely, this experience illustrated that it is not enough to see the world beyond your window. Seeing must prove a gateway to change in order to foment advancement.

Traveling, or “seeing” various places has remains a priority in a global setting. Traveling or “Seeing” the world has always aligned with status, pseudo culture and a worldliness. With the rise of social media, seeing the world through travel now encompasses a visibility that has become a means to validate a false reality. Thus, seeing the world encompasses a shallow function existing to evoke envy from onlookers, or an escape. Seeing the world has very rarely existed as a gateway for change, for change does not accompany those who covet visibility emptily. To desire visibility without change is to operate emptily.

I initially mistook these sentiments for envy, in my previous acquiescence to conventional standards of life. I previously mistook sight and travel as singular experiences that elevated consciousness, a common though essential to breeding emptiness rather than enlightenment. I encountered this emptiness recently in an unassuming setting. This weekend, I attended a meeting for a black mayoral candidate and my punctuality placed me in the course of critical discourse. The other “early-to-arrive” individuals were elderly women who passed the time by exchanging stories about their travels. My company had journeyed to India, Africa, Australia and South America and they traded stories of food, vanity and scenery with great esteem. This preoccupation with visibility occurred without pictures but functioned without one remark of changOne woman remarked that traveling revealed just how “fortunate” we are. The “we” she referenced conceptualized the black bodies that bore her company as Americans, which made her comment sting with a dual insult. e. Seeing oppression should not afford the oppressed mind peace, but disrupt the tranquility to which they’ve lived their lives.

Oppression is a global epidemic. While the oppressed may occupy different shades, the hue of the oppressor remains constant. Oppression may not be as obvious to those who do not live in a third world country, but the invisible enemy is much more dangerous. To feel sympathy for those who do not have food or have to walk miles for water is not an appropriate emotion for those othered by western culture. We may not have to walk miles for food and clean water, but most blacks in North America rely on their oppressors for food, employment and education. Therefore, blacks throughout the diaspora mirror this same dynamic. Thus, the othered body in America is merely seconds away from the reality seen in third world countries. This mental distance nurtured between blacks in the western world and others like them throughout the diaspora is an essential component of systemic oppression.

What happens to your brother and sister happens to you. Failure to adopt this mentality  prompts members of the oppressed black collective to treat issues of disenfranchisement as isolated incidents and not a shared reality.

A friend of mine recently visited New Orleans and gloated of his travel yet failed and to visit the lower ninth ward. In actuality, he seemed to not even recall the devastation Katrina caused in the black community a little over a decade ago. In fact, he dismissed the racist catastrophe that devastated many within the black collective with the phrase “things must be so much better now.” He made this conclusion without even have visited, a sad pattern mirrored by countless optimistic persons in the African diaspora. The western world nurtures the black mind to find solstice in patience, or trusting that things “get better” over time. This mentality mirrors those who “can take vacations to see the world, without any desire to change it.

Vacations function as a collective effort of leisure, a privilege no member of the black collective truly has due to their status as other. This leisure allows members of the black collective to find enjoyment where our brethren continue to suffer. This leisure allows us to trust that our oppression is an awkward phase to which we will grow out of eventually. This foments the varied manifestations to which we are oppressed. Visibility proves the contemporary world a platform for traditional problems, because most aim to see but few aim to change.

What a different world this would be if our journeys to other places operated with collective purpose. If the black collective aimed to create a life in which they did not seek a vacation from–  If visibility proved a means to change, not to brag and decorate timelines with elaborate pictures—freedom would becomes a reality and a not a facet of optimism.

Vacations are temporary, and oppression could be too if we as collective sought to say “bon voyage” not to our over- burdened realities, but the layers of oppression that nurture a pseudo escape from its wrath.

 

 

 

 

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Why I Won’t Date a White Man

When I first started dating my boyfriend, he took me to a wharf alongside the Belt Parkway of New York City. It was the middle of the night and the city wore an unfamiliar silence as we walked alongside one another under the night sky. Our bubble of new love was abruptly popped when our eyes strayed from one another onto a dead animal frozen in it’s last position. It was not the animal or its death that ended our bliss but the symbolism it bore. Namely, what seemed a formidable place to spend time, proved a potential deathbed to those as dark as the sky above– our potential fate mirrored in the slain animal forgotten in city’s silence.

I share this anecdote to illustrate that choosing to date or marry black is sign on to a lifetime of these moments. If I decided to do as many women my age have done and date a white man, I would alleviate a general concern regarding his well being due to the laws that work consistently in his favor. In America, the white man is not only allowed the height of masculinity but nurtured to do so. On this same soil, the black male may be killed for anything that seems excessively masculine, or a threat to European masculinity.

The black woman is under attack, but she has always been under attack. In the last three years I have seen an influx of black female/white male relationships and even witnessed older white men aggressively pursuing black female bodies who are a fraction of their age. In this same pattern, traditionally black areas have been invaded by white bodies in a similar aggression. Thus, it is not just our neighborhoods who are under attack, but our bodies as well. It is not a coincidence that this invasion occurs at the same time that black men murdered by police surges in record numbers. This mirrors the plantation dynamic where white man sexually violated the black woman as a means to produce more slaves and capitalize on the black familial environment damaged by their systemic advantage.

By systemically crippling the black man, predisposing him to trivial arrests, un or underemployment, limiting his educational opportunities, the white man paints himself as desirable in contrast. The systemic disadvantage incurred by the black male body predisposes the black man to stereotypes, stereotypes that often frustrate the black female and complicate black love. Some of these most common stereotypes are:

  • Black men have multiple babies and baby mothers
  • Black men do not have a job
  • Black men lack a high-paying job
  • Black men lack  a college education

It is only through failing to understand racism that prompts any black woman to cite any of the previously listed attributes as deal-breakers. While these attributes may not be ideal, the systemic deprivation of power from the black male body predisposes him to gauche and trivial actions that function to grant him what the western world has denied him for centuries. No black woman should desire a black man who has acquired the white man’s education and has a pocket full of the white man’s money. Now, I’m not suggesting starvation or homelessness, but I do think glamour and even comfort should come second to a black man who understands racism and has a high opinion of his collective self. Dr. King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton and Huey Newton were not monetarily wealthy, but they bore the wealth of black pride, an attribute that has lived on years after their deaths. All black queens should want a black man like that and not a man who happens to have black skin but no understanding of the black experience or the unabridged version of our American tragedy.

The black female who does not understand racism, and has grown tired of her blackness is perhaps most susceptible to the attack the white man has launched onto the black female body. The black woman weakened by systemic pressures, and seduced by the bliss of veiled escapism. Furthermore, this black female body overlooks predatory white male pursuits deeming them complimentary and ultimately surrendering as his prey. This black female body typically settles for an unattractive white male racist, who veils his racist stature in his proposed interest in the black female body. She finds pride in the illusion that she has found an exception to white racism and he finds someone who will overlook his deficiencies magnified in the eyes of the majority. Simultaneously, this correspondence depicts the white man as capitalizing on the fruits of systemic misfortune that consumes the black male body.

While some may feel that the black female intellectual and academic is not susceptible to the white male attack as her less educated counterparts, this black female body is also a common victim. This article separates the black female intellectual from the black female professional because the two are necessarily intertwined. The black female professional is typically trained but may not posses the elevated consciousness attributed to the black female intellectual.

The black female intellectual, unlike professional or working class black females typically understands racism. This understanding has acquainted her with the travesty of the black female experience and may have subconsciously developed a fear. A fear that makes them inclined to see Claude Neal’s mutilated body in every black man. A fear that makes them see Emmit Till in every black child, and seduces them to take action to avoid these fates. This avoidance is also an illusion, as blackness is irreversible.

The western world hands the black body cowardice at various angles. Whether informed of racism or ignorant, the black female body is nurtured to abandon the black male body in hopes of advancing or avoiding the perilous journey of blackness.

So when I say that I refuse to date a white man, or any non-black man for that matter, what I am saying is that I refuse to acquiesce to cowardice. This is not to say that there is not ignorance in those who opt to date black. We all know black people who date other blacks only if they pass the paper bag test or make six figures. We are collectively acquainted or have even been that member of the diaspora who evaluates blacks by western standards and deem them failures if they deviate from master’s plan. These people may have black skin, but do not possess true blackness, or a deep understanding of our experience and systemic disadvantage. It is one thing to have black skin, this is not a choice. But to have a black soul and black mind is an elevated state only nurtured through acknowledging and studying our ancestors. It is this state that places the melanated body on the path to blackness, where cowardice is not an option.

The white man has penetrated the black collective’s finances, our businesses and even our blood line. Dusky skin tones,  2c or 3a curl patterns reflect the white man’s coerced entry into our bloodline. Thus, my firm choice to deny white male penetration is a personal and political decision. Simply, put my collective self bears the crippled state induced by white male political penetration. Thus, in order for us to overcome we must literally and figuratively deflate his white male ego. As a collective, we deflate this ego by choosing courage over cowardice, because as indigenous Africans we were not born to be cowards

Furthermore, it is not enough to embrace your natural hair, to own your own business, or to even know your history, if all it takes is white male interest or compliment to derail collective dedication. We must not only reject western standards, education and material, we must also reject their pseudo love—a  virus that solely inhabits hearts hollowed by lack of self love.

Moreover my refusal to not date white men is more so a commitment to the black collective. A commitment that prompts me to find a worthy mate to ensure that blackness survives perhaps the most veiled and lethal form of erasure.  I never got an opportunity to meet my paternal grandmother and barely remember my paternal grandfather. However, by maintaining the integrity of our bloodline, I know that their passing is not in vain and that every child and grand-child in my future grants an opportunity to see their faces again.

The opportunity to see their faces makes nights at the wharf merely oversights in a larger portrait of black love.  Black women who marry and mate with black men reject cowardice. Therefore, they are queens. The only appropriate mate for a queen is a king, thus the only relevant mate for a black woman is a black man.

I may not ever make it to the mountaintop. But irregardless, there is no one I’d rather be beside than a black man.

Celebrations and Contributing to a Conscious Kingdom

I turned twenty-nine this week, and it was different yet somehow similar to all the other “birthdays” I had since turning 18. If you’re lucky, as a child a parent, sibling, teacher or caretaker will assume the burden of making your day conventionally special. As an adult, it becomes entirely your duty to make the anniversary of your birth anything other than just another day in the year. Nevertheless, this birthday was similar to pretty much all the birthdays I had an adult yet somehow this similarity proved a gateway to an altered perspective.

Birthdays accompany the pressure to do, wear, go, or have something out of the ordinary. As I contemplated ways to make this day special, I thought about Saartje Baartman, a beautiful young black woman who died shortly after her twenty fifth birthday. I thought about the four little girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, peeled apart from one another following a blaze that prematurely took their lives. They would never see twenty-nine. They hadn’t even lived to celebrate their sweet sixteens.

I thought about Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland amongst others who would never see this age. It then became clear. Birthdays function to encourage individualism, an ideology that proves particularly harmful to those of the black diaspora. In acquiescing to nurtured  elaborate behavior and spending, an individual becomes prompted to indulge in selfish behavior that does nothing for the collective.

As a collective that is and had always been under attack, this ideology suggests that an individual is far more significant than the totality of their people, an ideology that promotes western capitalism and further disenfranchises black socioeconomics and the black psyche.

A birthday is simply a new year or a formal means to commemorate time. But time is only as valuable as what you do with it.

A birthday should not be about you, just as any life well spent is not about an individual. Focusing on self is a lethal deflection for the black collective that seduces us to sacrifice our time. Our abduction from the shores of Africa cost us our names, our language and centuries of time. Time that we cannot get back.

Since abduction, the black body has encountered various means to resume this pattern of lost time. Be it reality television, working a job for profit and not purpose, or the seduction to waste time and money on birthdays, the black collective remains stagnant in its state of disenfranchisement as a result of systemic techniques designed to keep us celebrating in defeat rather than contemplating our rise.

If we as individuals do not strive to account for lost time, we are destined to wallow in the myth that wasted time amounts to anything but what famed poet Langston Hughes regarded as a “dream deferred.”

What will you do to commemorate your time? What extrinsic force will deem your life worth living? What will you do with the time allotted to you but stolen from someone else? What will you say with the voice afforded to you in contrast to the silence handed to someone else?

It is only through restoring the collective that we as indigenous Africans can rise to the height in which we were born to occupy.

Furthermore, a birthday is only happy if your individual birth functions to elevate our conscious kingdom.

What will be your contribution?

Assessing the Howard Experience on its 150th Anniversary

The HBCU discussion has become a frequent component in many of my current conversations. This is partially in lieu of BET’s new series “The Quad” which issues multiple perspectives regarding the HBCU experience. My HBCU experience is scrutinized for one of two reasons. One, from those who believe that black means inferior, thus are convinced that my skill set reflects said inferiority. The second, and possibly more prevalent, is the scrutiny that accompanies those who attended an HBCU but did not pledge.

I want to begin by saying that attending an HBCU is perhaps the greatest decision I made as an adult. Attending an HBCU was also the very first decision I made as an adult. But I would be remiss if I did not state that I arrived at Howard an outgoing, outspoken, eighteen-year-old who was completely confident in where she wanted to be. I planned on majoring in Political Science, and ultimately attending law school. I planned to join a sorority and meet my husband. The common gaze would say that Howard broke me down, but Howard broke me out of western ideologies and showed me that while the world pressures you to fit in—there is beauty in standing out.

One of the most common criticisms of HBCU’s is that they do not prepare you for the real world. I suppose this comment operates on the premise that white people encompass the real world, and blacks will not get far if they do not know how to interact with whites. This statement also operates in the problematic ideology that school is about finding work, and not about creating work. If the HBCU dynamic succeeds at anything, it proves the black collective as able to render their own education and employment. The HBCU is also inundated with factions and presents immense pressure to find yourself in one of the factions. Perhaps the greatest component of the HBCU is its duality— a social scene that seduces you to belong and a classroom that focuses on those who did not belong. As an English major, my courses acquainted me with those who colored outside the lines of 9-5 employment and other attributes of western convention. If the backdrop of an HBCU proves successful, you’ll value yourself in a way that others deem low self esteem in their acquiesce to conventionality.

On my road to adulthood I attended a few “interest” meetings, none of which encompassed the totality of who I was at the time or who I’ve become. Interestingly, all factions required that I become less of myself to prove worthy of the faction’s membership. I remember attending an event put on by one group and being confronted with sheer condescension until they realized that I had an item of interest. Any query posed received a vague answer that was typically another query that encouraged interested parties to chase them. The exchange was degrading and it not only changed the way I saw the group but the participants. The participants did not appear remarkable any longer. Suddenly they appeared weak  and willing to do anything to belong. I recall seeing friends chase down members of factions they wished to join. It was hard for me to see, and even harder for me to accept that their lack of membership was not due to a moment of enlightenment but due to eventual rejection.

I also find it very interesting that the Divine 9—which inconspicuously attaches itself to HBCUs is all in greek letters. At institutions supposedly designed to celebrate blackness, why are these coveted letters Greek and not representative of our indigenous land? Thus, it becomes hard, if not impossible to see acquiring such letters as anything but a journey to acquire whiteness veiled by its presence at a black institution.

The factions function to break individuals down and build you up in their image. An image that although birthed from an HBCU campus, reflects the slave breaking process once inflicted by white slave masters. I have friends who have branding seared into their beautiful black skin, a symbol to their belonging to an “esteemed” group. I have others who cling on to these factions seven years after our departure from the Mecca, factions they hold in higher regard that the lessons of our story rendered by some of the most brilliant minds in North America.

Some may read this post and deem my words as “sour grapes.” This is course in accordance with the contemporary label of “hater” that accompanies anyone who deviates from what most deem “normal.” I assure you, as I have in the past, that while I speak from the limitations of my individualistic self, I reference a collective issue. If all blacks seek to become part of organizations that celebrate ancient white organizations, yet pass it off as black pride— we perform the collective amnesia that keeps us enslaved. If blacks continue to believe that they are better if broken down and built up in someone else’s image, we remain a contemporary manifestation of ideal slave nurtured by traditional America.

These groups also nurture a form of elitism that is not only pseudo but dangerous to the black collective. So many of my peers were deemed largely unremarkable by the general HBCU collective until obtaining greek letters. These letters became their claim to relevancy, their beauty, their intelligence, their popularity. A campus that once deemed them an unremarkable face in a crowd, now gave them a spotlight that would prove prevalent at every homecoming moving forward. I am not saying that heightened self-esteem is a bad thing, but be it Frat or Sorority letters, Jesus, Beyonce, Lebron James or Drake, blacks are continually handed everything and everyone to believe in but themselves. This truth is a means of control and inevitably detrimental.

In I am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin speaks to his inability to find himself in the factions that dominated the black experience in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. This statement spoke to me as the journey of an individual is a lonely one. My inability to fit in spilled into my employment and graduate studies. While it did afford me years of loneliness, I discovered that these feelings only encompassed what I though I was supposed to feel. My inability to fit in enabled me to love myself in a way that I could not if I was too focused on loving other people and things. Furthermore, my experience as an HBCU student showed me that I do not fit in, but I was born to stand out.

I write this post not to be self-congratulatory but to inform those who have a hard time finding a space to belong that there is nothing wrong for you. There is something very wrong with a world in which nurtures individuals to seek conformity. The space to which you belong is any space in which you stand. Some of us fit it and cast greatness onto faction in tune with our gifts. Others simply can not shine in an already established lane and must endure the burden of embodying the new, the original, and creative fold of our formative world.

Furthermore, to commemorate Howard’s 150th Anniversary I wish to express my gratitude. Thank you, Howard for fomenting my journey to self-acceptance. I thank you for not telling me I was special but showing me in what I once saw as rejection.

The Brother on the Bridge: The Miseducation of Black Suicide

“The calm, Cool face of the river, Asked me for a kiss” Langston Hughes

The moonlight betrays the body of a black male at the foot of the bridge. His stillness conceals his face and disposition to the casual onlooker. His head is slightly lifted and pointed towards the moon in a frozen like stance as if it holds the answers to all his unasked questions. Childhood questions that grew into adult confusion. A confusion that yielded to the strategy of white supremacy, leaving him despondent and yearning for an acceptance the white world never be willing to provide. A despondency nurtured by the oppressive forces that rendered his twenty-six-year-old black male body “overstaying its welcome” on this stolen soil.

His gaze shifts to the water. Tired of the world’s obscurity, the water’s transparency seduces him. Its quiet whisper serenades him with promises of a peace and freedom. Ultimately the black man on the bridge is the black man in the water, floating downstream to his new home in the sky.
……
Disenfranchisement is an inevitable burden displaced onto the black collective. This disenfranchisement commonly manifests as destruction. This destruction historically manifested as drug addiction, alcholism, gambling, thievery, consuming deadly foods or a recent abundant occurence. However, the contemporary world depicts a growing trend in black destruction in  induced transitiond, or what is commonly regarded as suicide.

Overt destruction cast onto black male bodies like lynching, torching, beatings, shootings and castrations in traditional and contemporary settings garners continued attention and study. What receives consistently less attention are the subtleties, the mental bludgeonings that figuratively acts as a noose against the black male neck, slowly draining the life from his body. These subtleties deem the black male experience comparable to wading the deep tides of an ocean whose sole predictable feature is unpredictability.

These complexities become apparent in institutions like jail, education, and employment—all designed to profit from black male conventional failure. These complexities manifest in the fatherless boys left to bear the wound seemingly cast by their father, veiling white supremacy as the true assailant. The fatherless child is a victim of a black male emasculated by the western world. The western world designates strength and the ability to provide as key masculine attributes, attributes that when aligned with black masculinity issues one of three fates: exile, death or incarceration. These complexities manifest in the feelings that suggest that talent and ability are simply “not good enough” to achieve conventional success, that an inability to enjoy all that this country “has to offer” reflects his own personal shortcomings, not a systemic disadvantage. In support, consider the following:

Deliberately preventing a people from developing life-sustaining options and promoting conditions of self-destruction are acts of genocide. Therefore, Black suicide is a method of genocide promoted and controlled worldwide by the White race.  (Wright 17)

The western world hands opportunity to whites in the same breath that it hands oppression to blacks. This same society prompts whites to walk over bridges erected by abducted labor or to use blacks–those fictively construed as inferior–as bridges to cross.  Alternatively, the western world prompts blacks to erect or become figurative bridges that complicate their plight to the other side. These bridges exist as a means of destruction. Namely, these same bridges exists for black action to reflect  what westernized police, teachers, and other figures of authority do to the black body. As Dr. Bobby Wright declares in essay “Black Suicide: Lynching by Any Other Name is Still Lynching,”

“For political reasons, Blacks are being programmed for self-destruction and ‘Black suicide’ is one of the results. Lynching by any other name is still lynching.” ( Wright 17)

The destruction of the black mind is not only a casualty of white supremacy—it is a necessity. The mind acts as a gateway to the body—deeming seemingly black-induced transitions a direct product of a deteriorated psyche. Thus, the black man is not the fatal being of American society despite what the western world seduces many to believe. In actuality, the opposite is true. The black man is a fatality of America.

This post focuses on black male disenfranchisement, not to discount the extent or existence of black female suffering, but to acknowledge that the black female body often acts a tool to disenfranchise the black man. Specifically, the western world often allows black female “success” more readily and more frequently than it affords these same attributes to black men. Similarly, black female strength, while discouraged is generally regarded as significantly less dangerous due to her dual oppression in a racist and patriarchial western world. The western word does not doubt that the black man is a powerful and a superior being due to their intense investment into the masculine narrative. This prompts a lifetime of castrating experiences to ensure that the black male is both unaware and doubtful of his full potential.

I also chose to focus on black men due to the untimely passing of my cousin–a young black male whose passing became a factual after his body washed ashore last week. His passing casts a page in a collective tragedy that unveils the contemporary world as demanding the same destruction as our not so distant past. This collective tragedy exposes talk of improvement and the phrase “things are so much better now” as a farce labeled  contemporary optimism.

Whispers surrounding his premature passing say he jumped, but I say he was pushed. Pushed by a society that solely guarantees his murder, castration or self-destruction. Furthermore, the western world murdered my cousin in the same manner that the western world murdered Kalief Browder, Lee Thompson Young and the countless other black bodies suffocated by the unrelenting chokehold of white supremacy.

Some will read this piece and deem my analysis the result of grief. Others will deem my cousin’s actions as reflective of his own personal shortcomings. Conversely, I regard such criticisms as a cowardice. Such criticisms cast blame onto the victim with lowered eyes to avoid casting a deserving gaze diectly onto the true villain.  Others will assert that my cousin, like Browder and Young induced his transition due to “free will.” Commonly, these criticism illustrate a dangerous ignorance to racism. For blacks, to misunderstand racism can be compared to bearing a terminal illness that you hope to recover from despite bearing no understanding of the disease. Dr. Amos Wilson delineates the extent of black suffering in the following excerpt from The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness:

“For oppression begins as a psychological facet and is in good part a psychological state. If oppression is to operate with maximum efficiency, it must become and remain a psychological condition achieving self-perpetuating motion by its own internal dynamics and by its own inertial momentum” (Wilson 3).

To be oppressed is to possess a state of psychological captivity. To conceptualize oppression as anything different is to dangerously misinterpret the complexities that accompany blacks upon birth.

For these reasons,  it is not surprising that psychologists Dr. Bobby Wright and Dr. Amos Wilson similarly discount applying white ideology to not only diagnosing black behavior or thought but in labeling black action and thought. Dr. Amos Wilson states:

“…its explanatory systems and its treatment approaches ultimately must be exposed as political ideology and oppressive political governance parading as empirically validated principles of psychological and medical science, and as “objective” psychotherapeutic and psychiatric practices” (3).

Thus, western diseases and labels function as oppressive tools to hinder black advancement and understanding.

Similarly,  “free” will as a source of black induced transition  ignores black oppression by suggesting a pseudo-freedom. Dr. Wright addresses the concept of “free” will in the following:“…Black acceptance of the concept of ‘free will’ absolves Whites of any responsibility for their victims’ condition” (Wright 18). To render the acts of black victims as their own “free will” overlooks that freedom does not encompass the will of black people, oppression does.Consequently, there is no such phenomena as ‘Black suicide.’ when suicide is defined as the willful and deliberate act of taking one’s own life (Wright 17).

Much like Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, John Crawford III, Kalief Browder, and Tamir Rice, my cousin remains frozen in time — an unhealed wound in the hearts of everyone who knew and loved him.

We did not talk every day. We did not see each other often. But my cousin was the most gentle soul I have ever known. He grew to be six feet and seven inches tall but despite the height his stature afforded him, his feet never left the ground. I’ll never forget texting him while we both away at school, or that sweet smile he gave me every time I saw him: from childhood to adulthood. But most of all, I won’t forget that he suffered in silence. I won’t forget that his physical absence also warrants an absence of pain stealthily concealed in a strong, positive, kind exterior.

It is for these reasons that despite the finality of my cousin’s transition, a part of me finds repose in knowing that his transition affords him a peace that life as a black man would not. Thus, I regard the passing of my cousin in the same ambivalence that esteemed scholar W.E.B. Dubois showed following the transition of his first born son:

“Not dead, not dead, but escaped; not bond, but free.”

I love you cousin, you were one in two million. Until we meet again…<3

What Teaching Taught Me

I still remember writing my cover letter for my first college teaching job. I wrote that I wished to be the example for other minority women who wish to go far with their education. While my ambitions have proved fruitful at times, as an instructor I have too often become a canvass for a persistent anxiety surrounding the blacks who dare to exist outside of western conception.

I stood in front of my first class at the ripe age of twenty-five. I observed a college course as part of my graduate practicum and my mentor, a young black man, agreed to aid me in teaching my own course. I approached teaching with reservation. As an English major everyone said I’d be a teacher, but their foresight placed me in front of children. Teaching college seemed simply unreal. Flash forward to three and a half years later, I now design my own curriculum and teach part time at a University.

At this point I can predict my first day with little to no effort. I will walk in, greet the class to no response. Heads will lift in disbelief as I take my place at the podium.  Once I begin the class, one student will stand up or raise their hand to “double check” that I— a twenty-something black female— is actually the listed lecturer. When conveying this dynamic to others, I am commonly told that it is my youthful face that prompts said reaction. Sometimes I smile at this, wishing that I too could believe that it is my youth and not my blackness that prompts this reaction from my students. To issue perhaps the largest understatement of my life– teaching  proved quite didactic. However,  I do not think anything could have prepared me for the ways in which my pedagogy would teach me the ways of racism.

Interestingly, much of feedback as an instructor reverts back to elementary comments such as “she thinks she’s all that.” As an instructor is seems that some of my pupils confuse their own perception of me to reflect how I feel about myself. To intertwine this with race-gender intersectionality, black women who bear the attractiveness of self-confidence proves an insult to a world that demands her inferiority. Teaching has acquainted me to the silent demand to be less of who I am to appease the low regard to which the western world holds me.

Although an instructor, I am a black woman first and foremost. This means that the stance in which others are comfortable with me is with my head hung to represent a fractured self-esteem. I am expected to appear grateful, even groveling, seeking approval in everyone but myself. Holding my students to high standards proves just as insulting as holding my head high.  I am to exist solely to prove the “diversity” of twenty-first century America, not to challenge it. I am to fulfill at least one stereotype attached to black femininity, be it in lack of intellect, overtly dysfunctional, fatally unattractive, a young single mother, hyper sexual harlot, or a fatherless child. These stereotypes produce a discordance in their absence as the world seems unwilling to accept the black female body that refuses to be caricatured.

In article “Witness us in our battles,” Toni C. King, articulates findings from her study on experiences encountered by black female instructors of higher education. Her studies note a pattern in administrative action taken against black female instructors.  This part of the article resonated with me given an experience encountered early in my teaching career. About two and a half years ago, shortly after meeting one of my classes, the department chair called to inform me that a group of students prepared a petition to  relieve me of my duties. The grounds for their argument? I was “talking down to them.” Mind you, we had only had one session where I merely went over course objectives and polices.

The department chair, an elderly man of the majority, initially sought to resolve the proposed conflict by scheduling an in-class hearing. During said hearing the students were given the floor to state a series of comments that had no place in a college classroom. I was belittled, embarrassed and attacked by both my students and my department chair. I would go on to endure these feelings countless times throughout my career. Each experience seemingly occurring to punish me for bearing my blackness unapolegtically. Taken together, these experiences unveil both the students and highly-ranked faculty as holding the black female instructor in the same low regard.

This low regard often manifests in the disposition accompanying many of my students. Namely, many of my encounters involve students acting defensively. King comments on this dynamic in the following:

Often students unconsciously feel that being student to a black female professor is an indicator of their own failure and inaquedacy. This might apply be expressed as “If someone black and female is able me, when what does that say about me?” Black women describe their experiences as feeling “degraded,” “put down,” “demeaned” and “disrespected in the role of authority. (20)

Angered students often treat me as if I “beat them out” for a position. Thus, our engagements often possess a one-sided competitiveness that is both baffling and bizarre. King’s analysis supplements my own. Namely, the inability to conceptualize “deserving” a black instructor prompts students invent their own dynamic as a means to cope. History consistently places black bodies in the background as sources of labor, entertainment, sex, or comedy. The black body is seldom placed in a position to be taken seriously. Thus, student reactions often reflect the anger and confusion surrounding being prompted to take seriously what western world has up to this point deemed forgettable.

In reflecting on my experiences, it is a battle not to become upset when thinking about the manner in which many of students have addressed me. I should clarify, the words spoken is not nearly as troubling as the tone many students bear in our interactions. Namely, many students speak to me with a chip on their shoulder, or talk to me as if I am beneath them. This past semester I encountered overt passive-aggressive behavior from a predominately white class. These students would talk about me in front of my face as if I were not there, aggressively using the pronoun “she” in place of my title. I even had one student who seemingly waited for me to arrive (early to set up) to continuously gloat about this professor that “actually did something” and “was such an intellectual.”

Oddly enough, many of my students who possess this overt chip on their shoulders, take on class projects that speak to social issues in the black community such as racial profiling or just simply racism. King speaks to this in her article with the following: “Some students become hyperactive in wanting to prove their acceptance of her “ (20). In taking on said projects and social causes, these students appear to oppose the racist and prejudice their behavior brings to surface. Then, it seems the issue is with the individual teacher and not a bias the individual holds towards all blacks. This dynamic occurs countless times outside of the classroom when a prejudice or racist act is met with phrases “ but my best friend is black,” “my girlfriend is black,” or veiled because an individual adopted a black child or donated to a charity.

I have also been targeted by colleagues. Upon first encountering many of my colleagues, I am dismissed as another “diversity admit” prone to decrease the retention rate. Once my faculty status is uncovered, I am typically spoken to with condescension. Most of my colleagues only listen for the negative or look for me to make a mistake that proves what they thought when they first saw me– “she does not belong here.”  In face of the conflict my presence has incurred, my colleagues have insisted that I am the conflict. They’ve reprimanded my “overconfidence” and suggested that my experiences do not reflected a collective issue but my own faults. Many take it upon themselves to suggest my inferior credentials or stare at my curves to shame me for the imposition my black body poses to this traditionally white space. I remember an elderly colleague violently interrupting my conference with a student after the department assigned me to a desk that previously belonged to her.  Another college remarked that the department was “changing complexion” after noticing a black face amongst a sea of whites.

The pressure to be and remain inferior is a prominent component of blackness, and earns a troubling duality in race-gender intersectionality. In “A Letter to my Nephew” James Baldwin manages to capture the essence of required inferiority in the following:

You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.

Black instructors face criticism because their ambition is an insult to a world that thrives on their inferiority. Yet, if we listen to those around us we begin to see ourselves as the problem. This mentality of course reflects what the western world has ingrained into the minds of Americans for centuries—blacks do not suffer from inferiority, they are inferior. As a result, blacks often place doubt where our self-confidence once dwelled, and queries where we used to have assertions, transforming us into the very inferior beings portrayed in “his” story.

Furthermore,  teaching proved instructive to ways of racism.  With my new perception of racism, it is also a struggle not to let my experiences make me hateful. At times it is even a struggle to get out bed and rise above all the low that awaits my endeavors as a black female instructor. I approach teaching with almost a neutrality these days, as it seems suicide to invest emotionally in what has been established to defeat you. This neutral stance does not prevent me from placing my best foot forward, but allows me to implement method rather than madness.

I may not have the physical whip on my back like my ancestors did in the 17th century or the dogs biting on my arms as my elders did in the 1950s, but I do have the cold, hard burden of white supremacy demanding the same inferiority required of my elders. Teaching bludgeoned my naive bones with necessary awakening so that I may properly weather the storm of systemic racism.

In front of the college classroom I’ve been protested, disheartened and belittled, —but I’ve also been resilient, confident, and black. I’ve seen the ugliness of white supremacy, yet I’ve never been more sure of my beauty and purpose as a black body on western soil.

The beauty and purpose of the indigenous African is not only the ability to withstand abatement, but to remain standing. I  am therefore not a victim, but the inevitable victor due to my ability to perform in the image of my ancestors.

If the saying “Those who try to bring you down are already beneath you,” is true, then may black excellence summon all adversaries to our ankles.

To all my sisters  (and brothers) in front of the classroom, keep teaching and be proud.

Things My Mother Taught Me

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it is perhaps seems the perfect time to celebrate the contributions of my mother. As a young black woman, I’ve been force fed the influence of countless black superstars ranging from pop superstars to reality stars. However, it was my mother who bore this original slot of influence. Her almond eyes are reminiscent of the timeless Phylicia Rashad, her smile enchanting enough to make Janet Jackson scream.

But beyond her beauty, my mother gifted me the fundaments of being a black woman in America. So I proudly bring you “lessons from my mother.”       

Take pride in your appearance

As a child I recall waking up to the scent of my mother’s perfume. Her dresser could give the counter at Macy’s a run for their money with the assortment of perfume at her manicured fingertips. Each day was an opportunity to glide through the world with style and leave a trail of perfume behind. In addition to her scent, my mother was and is primped to perfection from her eyebrows down to her toenails. Now, my mother was never vain. Rather, she demonstrated courage to love her beauty in a society that conditions her shame.

This bring me to the next lesson learned from my mother: Courage.

Have Courage

Whether it was of merely issuing an opinion, my mom was never shy to speak her mind. While this seemed like second nature to her, her actions taught me that I was worth standing up for and worthy of having my voice heard.

The topic of worthiness is the perfect Segway to my next lesson. In my mother’s determination to teach me my worth, she made sure I would not be the means of my own destruction. One of the most resounding attempts, was in lessons my mom gave me on the importance of taking care of my hair.

Take care of your hair

Consistently praised for my academic endeavors, I was not confident in my appearance as a child. So while I see the beauty in my hair today, as a child it was a source of pain.

Though I begged for the perm that would transform my locks from curly to straight, my hair went from wavy to braided. From corn rolls to box braids, I must have adorned at least fifty different braided styles throughout my youth.

proudtobemeIt took me years, but I was grateful for my mom’s treatment of my hair. Perms offered temporary fulfillment to those who welcomed them into their scalp early, as it significantly compromised their locks as a result.

So I appreciate my mother not only because she maintained the integrity of my hair, but for teaching me that my hair is a source of envy, not a source of shame.

Being weird is a good thing

The word “weird” is one that’s followed me throughout my adult life. The conversations with my mother that followed my labeling as “weird” resulted in an enlightenment that I’ve carried with me ever since. In response to my frustrations she responded with the following: “To me being weird is a compliment. I mean who wants to be just like everyone else?”

The simplicity of her response washed over me like a cool rain amidst the summer heat. It was in that moment that I felt the joy of my difference. I wasn’t like everyone else, and that was a good thing.

Husbands only, No baby’s fathers

The older I get, the more I am able to see that we lead best in what we do, not what we say. With that said, my mother’s performance within the bounds of matrimony were a great lesson to me. She only bore the children of men who asked for her hand in marriage, and taught me that I too am worthy of such commitment.

Education is not an option

From sitting on the wooden floor in our apartment doing Hooked on Phonics, to practicing my penmanship before beginning nursery school, my mother made the value of education the foundation of my childhood. This value for education nurtured my love for reading and writing and made me excited to begin my collegiate career.

I credit my mother for my academic pursuits and my lifetime commitment to education as a means of mental liberation.

In Closing…

Mothers are instantly their child’s first teachers, holding their hand as they learn to walk and eventually as they learn to cross the street.

While it has been over two decades since I learned to walk, the lessons of my mother continue to guide me as her hands once did. Her voice- whispers in my mind as I stroll through life and even as I articulate my ideas on this blog. Furthermore, I am forever indebted to my mother as my mom, but also as a remarkable woman. Performing in the majesty of her legacy as a black woman, my mom’s influence is as big as the continent that hovers over the black diaspora like a halo.

I love you mom, but more so I appreciate you-not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

Thank you.

Damsel of Double Consciousness; How I learned to see myself in color

Racism. This word, amongst others, is a word you are more than acquainted with as a black woman. However, to experience it firsthand, these politics of race become personal. When I consider the depth of this statement, my mind journeys back to my freshman year of college.

Would you believe me if I told you that I met Mr. Right when I was eighteen years old? Well, to be fair I am not speaking of romantic terms. However, in terms of enlightenment, my Mr. Right came in form of a professor. For it was he who prompted the question that would later shape my racial encounters.

“When did you know you were black?”

This question echoed throughout my first semester pan Africanism class. Prior to this query my blackness, my color and ethnicity had never been a cause for query. Being born to culturally conscious parents, I was informed and reminded of my culture more than I cared to be. Every conversation contained a reminder of my legacy, and the reality of the world around me. I sought refuge in my innocence, my young brown skin not yet penetrated with the harsh sting of truth.

It wasn’t a summer night, but the humid air fooled us into thinking it was. We had just sent my younger cousin off to prom, and had decided to go for a bite to eat. My aunt had spoken about a restaurant called Elizabeths on the upper west side. I was initially charmed by the southern feel of the ambiance. The little white awning hung over our heads like an umbrella, shelling our skin from the rays not the rain. Upon sitting down, we awaited our menus, and I went to the rest room. When I returned my grabdmothet’s face told a story of surprise and disgust and my aunt’s hysterical laughter was accompanied by the tears falling from her eyes. My grandmother then tells me that the waitress came over seconds after seating us, to inform us that the restaurant had run out of fried chicken.

Mind you- this was not a soul food or fried chicken restaurant. Despite the ambiance being of a South Carolinian charm, the menu was pure American. Thus, the comment by the seating hostess was warranted by the blackness that our presence cast upon her. Our black bodies didn’t suggest varied generations enjoying dinner together, but four black women who couldn’t possibly have any other intentions of coming out but to dine on some fried chicken.

Race and assumption played a huge role in a party that I was invited to by a former boss. Upon beginning graduate school, I got an internship at a publishing company in Berkeley. The boss was a beautiful woman who we will call belle. Belle was talented, touching but assertive and I was enchanted to make her acquaintance. Being new to the west coast, I had no plans for Labor Day and she invited me to a friends house. I was nervous and excited at the opportunity to mingle with my new boss and her friends at the most esteemed area in Oakland, Piedmont. After getting off the bus at the wrong stop I walked nearly twenty blocks, but eventually found myself at the residence. Upon knocking on the gate, a cute woman with a pretty bob answered the door took a glance at me and said “sorry no donations today.”

Prior to embarking on my twenties I had falsely been gliding through the world thinking that I was just Saaraa. Perhaps more realistically , I was hoping that all my parents and race theorists said about the conceptualizing of blackness was wrong. Or, I was hoping that I would be an exception.

My encounters mirror Dubois’ encounter with the white student who said she didn’t share with Negroes. It is through my adult encounters that have enabled me to see myself as a raced woman. Seeing myself through the eyes of others, has issued a certain degree of hurt but a much needed dose of reality.

Being black in America is something that you feel every day. Every encounter, every place you go serves as a reminder of how you’re seen by others. Perhaps the biggest challenge that results from said encounters, is to maintain your perception. The seduction of inferiority is easily and instantly applicable to the black individual who wallows too long in the perceptions of others. Both a gift and a curse, this second sight (as Dubois called it), must not serve as a distraction from the most significant of sights: our own.

Color Cryptonite: A Brown Girl’s Beauty Testimony

Perhaps the biggest burden of the black woman is to endure the shame cast upon her body. While there are countless sources of shame thrust upon the black female body during a lifetime, perhaps this first stone is cast by color. tumblr_lxy5tlFeHk1qf8mfdo1_400 Color is typically seen as the key signifier to blackness. While unique, diverse and beautiful this signifier is often used to disqualify black women from beauty. “Dark” is hurled around like a beauty repellant, making black women invisible and irrelevant in discussions and depictions of beauty. Aside from commentary regarding my mother’s “lighter” hue, color never came up in my childhood. Growing up in a predominately black middle class neighborhood, my schools were diverse as minorities were the majority throughout most of my schooling. My high school was largely Latino, so this brought some racial tension, but my surrounding of blacks that were beautiful and proud spoke more loudly than the occasional ignorant comment or question. I do recall being in a high school gym class where a friend of mine called me pretty in front of a male classmate. He then replied “ there we have it a pretty light girl (referring to my latina friend), and a pretty dark girl.” This division of beauty by color implies an anxiety around beauty being placed in the black diaspora without proper labeling. Beauty isn’t beauty in the black diaspora, its black beauty. The use of black as an adjective to beauty as a noun, implies an exclusion of black female bodies from the unmodified noun.   As an adult, my color has randomly made its way into countless scenarios. As I’ve grown older, I know that discussions of my color were anything but random. I recall being at work when a coworker comes up to me out of nowhere and pulls out his pale arm and places it next to mine and remarked that he was “ trying to get as dark as me.” I can’t count the amount of times, I have just been talking about day to day things when I’ve heard the comment, “Yes, and they’re almost as dark as you,” or an unwarranted suggestion about my skin tone matching a clearly more sun kissed counterpart. I can vividly recall my former roommate’s labeling of my color as “black, black.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this encounter was my roommate’s disappointment in my response of “Thank you.”

It was at that moment that I realized that the intent of all previous commentary about my color where not random at all but rendered to counter my beauty.Thus, discussions or actions taken to intensify my blackness, were to make me feel less beautiful- color being the cryptonite to my beauty. However, my taking an intended insult as a compliment was the cryptonite to an act intended to make me hate the skin I was in. I showed a picture of my cousin to a male friend, who’s response was “ she looks a little light to be your cousin.” Being the son of an African father and a white mother, this individual had clutched to his skin color as a form of privilege that distanced himself from his African peers, who did not possess his fairer skin. As someone who had clutched onto their “lighter” skin as a form of privilege, his comment was an attempt to knock me down into my blackness, making himself feel superior enough to veil is self esteem issues.

While lighter skin is largely attributed to superior aesthetics, this belief is hardly all-encompassing. There are many cases like the one just described, where an individual clutches their light skin when they feel they have nothing else going for them. The case of my roommate, who is also a black woman was a little different. Unlike the male individual I described, my roommate was a very deeply sun kissed young woman. While her attempt, like the young man was to exile me into blackness, she wished to make me feel as badly about my blackness and she does about her own. To be honest, there have been moments in my past, where the actions and comments of others have caused me to question my own beauty. There have been moments where I would hopelessly search the sea of the brown skin that covers my face and body, for a trace of beauty. While lighter skin may result in more people aligning my looks with beauty, it would not make me more beautiful. The beauty of a black woman is the best kept secret of the western world, because it is the antithesis of western beauty, not because it is not beautiful.

Beautiful-black-women-everywhere While the perception of my own beauty could have been dismantled by comments of my color, I have used said comments as an aide in how I have come to conceptualize my beauty. As I have gotten older, I see that the need to minimize my beauty wouldn’t be necessary if I wasn’t beautiful. So while I, like countless other millennials across the United States and beyond , may play with Instagram filters – I know that I need no enhancement for the golden brown skin I was given. The personal and political components of my body are a token of the beautiful spirits that compile my incomparable legacy as a black woman in America, making me brown, proud, beautiful and perhaps most importantly, resilient. Feeling beautiful and feeling ugly are so much bigger than the individual. The perception of beauty is a reflection of politics placed into the black body, where those who mirror western attributes are praised, and those who don’t, are rendered aesthetically inferior.

These hurtful scenarios that a brown girl encounters, while they seem personal, aren’t, they are political. The necessity to differentiate and rank blackness and whiteness is essential to maintain the binary opposition of which this country functions and was founded on. Imagine a world where every black women knew her beauty. Imagine a black woman who sees through through every belittling remark and is unapologetic in the assertion of her beauty. This Black woman would refuse to be the back on which westernized culture stands on, and would use her back as the pillar that connects the beauty of her face and body. This unapologetic assertion of said black woman, issues the cryptonite to a color complex through her confidence.