Me, MomSelf and I

Life's journey is full of twists and turns and sometimes we get lost. This is my journey to rediscover myself.


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Heavy

This is not a happy post. This is not a Susie Sunshine post. This is a heavy post. Heavy with despair about the state of America. Heavy with the grief of so many black lives that didn’t matter to the point of their murder. Heavy with the accepted racism that is rearing its ugly head instead of staying hidden just beneath the surface. (Was that any better?)

I’m supposed to be working right now, but I can’t. I’m just too heavy. I’m supposed to be happy right now, its a “New Year, New You!” But I can’t. My year is just too heavy. My safety and security have been shook. I have seen myself reflected in too many who have lost their lives over a bag of skittles, a toy air soft gun, a loose cigarette, a pack of cigarillos, words. Words. I’m a writer, so I cherish words. So when I see a woman, not unlike myself, questioning a police officer about why she was stopped, using her words, and then see this woman murdered because of her words, I’m heavy. But then when I hear things like “well, if she had just kept her mouth shut…” or “just like a black woman, talking too much…” or “all you have to do is listen to the officer and respond to his questions and nothing will happen to you” type of words, this heaviness becomes too much to bear.

I have been asleep, dreaming that I was like everyone else. Dreaming that because I grew up in the suburbs and went to college that I had assimilated. Dreaming that because I grew up with a father and a stay at home mother, I was acceptable. Dreaming that because I spoke well, and had a diverse pool of friends that I was alright. Dreaming that because I was married, with a house and 3 kids and a dog, and working a full-time job I had achieved the American Dream. Dreaming that because I’m registered to vote and recycle and work in social justice, that I was honoring all those that gave their lives in the Civil Rights Movement. But then Trayvon Martin happened. And then Eric Garner happened. And then John Crawford happened. And then Mike Brown happened.  And then Freddie Gray happened. And then Sandra Bland happened. And then Tamir Rice happened. And countless others happened. And then #blacklivesmatter happened. And then #alllivesmattered happened. And then I woke up.

I woke up to a nightmare. We talk about progress to appease ourselves so that we feel accomplished. We tell ourselves, Martin Luther King Jr. dreampt of equality and now that we have a black President, we’ve achieved it. And that is a lie. I’m heavy with the lies. The level of disrespect he’s been subjected to as the President of the United States is unprecedented. And the disrespect is accepted, because he’s black. Right now today, there is an American City that is poisoning its residents. The poisoned water in Flint, Michigan has been acceptable because it’s mostly being given to poor black people. That water is heavy. Heavy with lead. #FlintWaterCrisis. It’s been 76 years since Hattie McDaniel became the first (of only 12 African Americans) to win an Academy Award yet, here we are in 2016 with no black nominees because #OscarsSoWhite. Some will say, “maybe blacks just haven’t been good enough to deserve a win.” More lies. The justifications for racism always fall back on “blacks aren’t good enough.” No matter what we do, or how we speak, or how we walk, or how we perform, or how we drive, or how we shop, or how we play, we simply are never good enough to deserve equal treatment. The racists say we want special treatment. Perhaps that is because they realize how special they are treated. #WhitePrivilege.

Being awake is not quite as comfortable as being asleep and dreaming. And now I fear I have insomnia. I’m irritable, uncomfortable, angry, sad, discombobulated. I’m heavy. I can’t go back to sleep.

 


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Where are they hiding the black people?

Warning: Awkward Blog post below!

Attention Black People: Come out come out wherever you are!

I am a people person. I love meeting new people and I place friendships high on my important life pyramid, directly below myself (not selfishly, but in the healthy way) and my family. But I’ve come to the realization that my group of friends is pretty homogeneous. In other words, they are predominantly white. That in and of itself does not bother me. I grew up in an integrated community and learned early on to judge individuals by their character and behavior and not by their color. I’ve had friends of various races and ethnicities. What bothers me is the seemingly few black friends I do have.

I went to college with my best friend who happened to be African American. And she was, (and still is) everything to me, so I didn’t feel a need to collect other friends (until much later when she moved away.) I also had many males friendships in college. But somehow as people joined with their significant others, opposite sex friendships became taboo and tended to dissolve. (In my experience, it seemed to bother the women that their boyfriends/husbands were friends with me.) Also, the college I went to was more of a commuter school. A lot of us came downtown to go to class, then went back to our lives elsewhere, so I think I missed some of the camaraderie that usually accompanies college life. I wanted to join a sorority ever since I saw Spike Lee’s School Daze, but their presence at said college was minimal. And even when I did discover the few there, my parents were not into fronting me the money for pledge fees. Towards the end of college, I started doing internships. It was almost culture shock. That was the first time I really realized I was living in a white world. At each different internship, which later turned into jobs, I was struck with the question over and over again of: Where are they hiding the black people? Just about every job I’ve had, I’ve been either the lone black person, or one of a very few.

Once I started having kids, my social circle prominently featured “parent friends”. Most of these friendships developed as a result of school functions, parent committees and the kids sporting activities. I have been very deliberate in making sure my kids attend integrated schools like I did, because I value that experience. But continually, I find myself asking, where are they hiding the black parents? Now, I don’t believe the black parents are absent from parent committees because they don’t care, or not at the sporting events because my kids play “white sports” i.e. soccer, swim team. I believe that they are absent for the same reason my husband is, they are working really hard, sometimes 2 and 3 jobs to allow their kids to have these experiences. They just can’t necessarily be there.

There is something beautiful about having children that forces you to take a closer look at your life and your decisions. I do not want my kids to look at my friendship circle and see this imbalance as a slight to people who look like them. So I realized I have to take action. Which seems kinda crazy to me. I never thought I’d be in this position. But here it is: I am a black person looking for more black friends. And some of my white friends have expressed a sincere interest in expanding their black friends circle beyond me.

Friends ratios

Ironically, I currently live in the 7th most segregated metropolitan city in the country. In my professional life, I educate people on the effects of housing discrimination on our society. Studies show that people benefit more from diverse communities than segregated ones. Because where we live affects who we know, and who we become comfortable with. For many, growing up in a segregated community limits your exposure with dissimilar people. And this goes both ways. If you are black and grow up in a black community, you might be less comfortable around white people because you’re not used to interacting with them. Similarly, if you are white growing up in a white neighborhood, attending a white school, and your only experience with people of color is what you see on TV, then there may be some awkwardness when you encounter them in real life.

All that to say, growing up in an integrated community, I’ve always felt that I could interact with and befriend anyone. So it surprises me to have this particular challenge. (By the way, none of this is meant to discount other races, because I also have those friends, as well as some black friends.) And don’t get me wrong, I have been accused of “acting white” about as often as I’m accused of being “ghetto.” (None of which bothers me. As someone who strives for balance, I consider myself a success!) But what I’m most concerned about is being a great role model to my children. And for them to appreciate all races and cultures including their own, they need to see me not just talk about it, but be about it. So I’m taking suggestions on where to find black people because I’m making a conscious effort to make my friendship circle more diverse. I’m not trying to start a black friends thermometer, (only 14 more black friends to go to reach our goal!) but I do want my kids to see equality in my inner circle.


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What If I Died That Night?

When I was 16, I got my first speeding ticket about half a mile from my house. The police approached my car, asked for my license and asked me to step out of the car to place me in the police car. Maybe because I’m always running late, that was not the last time I got a speeding ticket, nor was it the last time I was placed in the police car as the ticket was written. I thought that’s just what happened. But when I told that story to any of my white friends, to which I had many, they said it was crazy. None of them had ever heard of someone being placed in the squad car as a ticket was being written. They also said as a female, it was crazy that I would get a ticket. I was told if I ever got pulled over again, I should do a number of things to avoid getting a ticket: cry, tell the officer I was on my period, be really apologetic, play dumb, beg. Each subsequent stop, I followed the advice of my friends. Surprisingly, none of it worked, for me.
Sensing a real disparity, with the police and more general situations, I became angry and frustrated. Especially when I watched the Rodney King beating on TV during the LA Riots in ’92. Those feelings are probably why I gravitated toward gangsta rap. My run – ins with the law were very minor in comparison to the experience of NWA, GETTO Boyz and Ice T, but I certainly understood the sentiment in Fuck Da Police!
See, growing up in a racially diverse middle class suburb like Cleveland Heights, I grew up thinking me and my white counterparts were virtually the same, save for our skin color. But the police taught me I was different and should be treated as such. As a threat to be contained.
Once when I was sitting in a police car as the white officer ran my license, and when I was old enough to know better, I ran my mouth. I said, “don’t you have anything better to do, like catch some rapists or murderers, than write me up for not making a complete stop before making a right turn? I guess this makes you feel like a real man to have a young woman handcuffed in your cruiser late at night huh?” I went on and on. And then he took me to jail.
I could have easily died that night. I could’ve been #SandraBland. She was me. At 26 years old, I had seen and experienced enough to justify my anger at the police. I was bold and educated and spoke up for myself. And had I died in jail that night waiting for my parents to bail me out I would never know the pain of a broken heart. I would never know the meaning of soulmate. I would never feel the indescribable bond with a first, second or third child. I would never have met some of the most wonderful people I get to call friends today. I would never understand my place in the world and in my body as a strong black woman. These things came after 26. And it sickens me that Sandra Bland was denied the opportunity to know these things.
The Plain Dealer’s headline back in July of 1999 could have read Darlene Norwood found dead in her jail cell from an ‘apparent suicide.’
I grew up thinking the Civil Rights Movement was so pivotal, so spectacular that most of the fighting for equal rights had been done. That it was smooth sailing for mine and future generations. It wasn’t until my 30s and now 40s that I understand there are all kinds of movements that have to happen before full maturity is reached. We’re in the midst of a growth spurt with the first African American President of the United States and the right for ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation, to marry. But growth doesn’t come without pain and it doesn’t come with out struggles and stumbles. We have to push through the uncomfortableness to become fully realized. There is so much more work to be done, movements, fights, conversations, growth. And since I didn’t die that night I went to jail, it’s my obligation to do what those who did, can’t. Fight.Against.Injustice.