Taking Advantage of Teachable Moments, Or What I Learned From My Parents’ Marriage Re-commitment Ceremony

Yesterday, my parents celebrated 35 years of marriage with an intimate, beautiful re-commitment ceremony. And as amazing as that may sound in itself, and the concept of two people surviving 35 years of marriage may seem, it is even more so because of who my parents are.

My mother and father are two incredibly complex people. They are both black. They are both bright. They are both ambitious. They were both brought up with the same bootstrap mentality and unapologetic middle class aspirations.

They are both fully formed individuals. They are lovers and fighters. They are deeply emotional. Passionate. Strong. Creative.

They are two incredible forces that have clashed just as spectacularly over the years as they have come together to make a way for our family.

They are formidable, each on their own, and even more so as a married couple.

I was overjoyed to be able to pay tribute to them, and I can only hope to one day have with my husband something like what they have with each other.

It was an unqualified pleasure to be a part of their re-commitment ceremony, to have the opportunity to tell them how proud I am to be a product of their union, and watch them revel in the joy of their accomplishment.

Because staying together through all the myriad changes of an adult life – with all the complications of gender, convolutions of heteromance, and crises of blackness – is not something people do accidentally. It is something they can only do through the strenuous exercise of will, character, commitment, and then love.

Love is first, but it’s also last, when it comes to making marriage work.

And that’s just one of the reflections I had during last night’s festivities.

Here are a few more . . .

Joy is a practice.

One of my best friends, Melissa, is a master at it. Even though she just caught a rough, completely undeserved break in her personal life, she still came out to support my people and brought all the love in her heart and appreciation for friendship and family that she could muster. I’m sure she had her troubles lurking somewhere in the back of her head, but she got out on that dance floor once the DJ got his set going, and she danced anyway.

You have to fucking dance anyway.

Thankfulness is medicine.

I had my own relationship drama going on in the hours leading up to the ceremony. I was really upset and wondering whether my husband and I might make it to this morning, let alone through 35 years of marriage. Yet, once I got up to the front of the room to speak to my parents, and I started telling them how grateful I am for their marriage, their love, their support, their example, I couldn’t feel anything except that gratitude I was expressing. I couldn’t do anything except open up to the truth of how blessed I am.

I am so blessed.

Love is the best thing to have in abundance.

This has been a rough summer for me financially. I didn’t get any adjunct work, and I didn’t run into any more luck finding a full-time gig than I’ve had over the last three years since I lost my last one. I taught for Upward Bound through the whole month of June, and then I had nothing to do. No income coming in, as my mom always jokes. But my shit has been decidedly unfunny. And unpretty.

Still, last night, again, I wasn’t worried about it. I didn’t have that skinless feeling of lack that’s been dogging me since the start of July. I felt so loved, talking, laughing, dancing with, breathing in my family and friends. I felt so lucky.

What they reminded me is – if I didn’t have their love, all the steady paychecks in the world wouldn’t do shit.

Vulnerability is worth the risk.

I am the softie in my nuclear family. My mother is the general. My father is the jokester. My sister is the thug.

I spoke first during the ceremony and spilled out all of my emotions in my typical fashion. It wasn’t intimidating for me in the least. All my years of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD have taught me that acting on impulse can be immensely satisfying. If situationally costly. Still, this was an instance in which I had nothing to lose. I wanted to make sure my parents knew everything I felt for them, and so I told them. No one in the room was surprised by it. They weren’t surprised by it. That’s my 1-2, to quote my sister.

What did surprise us – what surprised me – was how open my father and sister were with their feelings. My father generally hides behind humor in his best moments and sarcasm in his worst. And my sister is just a tough, yet entirely lovable, nut to crack. Yet, she got open and spilled her guts for Mom and Dad on their anniversary. My father said all the romantic things you hear movie or TV fathers say about their wives – that make you wonder why your parents never talk to or about each other that way. And I was moved near to tears.

And my mother – who is as pragmatic as they come – was giddy as a girl, standing there, wrapped in the spell of my father’s words.

She didn’t roll her eyes or suck her teeth, as she almost certainly would’ve if he’d made one of his classic jokes.

She beamed all of the love he was giving her right back at him.

Watching, I wanted to tiptoe over, tap him, and ask if her reaction had reformed the smartass in him for good.

Maybe. We’ll see.

Either way, I was thrilled to be there for that glimpse at that big ol’ heart my father is always trying to hide.

I was fully in the present, and it was a glorious space to inhabit for the few hours I was able.

Then, the clock struck on the event. I had to become Michelle again (with my family, I am Mikki). I had to become Mom again.

I went around and kissed everyone and bid them good-bye.

I told them thank you for coming. For being here for my family and me.

And I meant it.

As I get older, I try to take advantage of all the teachable moments in my life. Especially the ones like this. That instruct my spirit.

 

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I Wrote This Back in June; I Guess I’ve Had the Babies on My Brain All Summer

Yesterday & Today: Just Some Monday Afternoon Thoughts on the Myriad Complications of Michelle-ing 

I am participating in an interactive art installation titled “Fallout” at a museum in my home city.*

The installation is an interrogation of the concept of protection as it relates to public life in America.

The creators of the installation are posing these questions with the work: In this country, who’s protected and who isn’t? How are decisions about how lives are and aren’t valued made, every day, by both policy-makers and everyday Americans? What’s the difference between false protections and real ones?

These women – that happen to be white – are building a fallout shelter like those utilized during the Cold War inside of a local museum and staging therein conversations between diverse artists, activists, and others about “systemic violence, the manufacturing and manipulation of fear for political gain, and what real protection could actually mean” in this age of hacked elections and hack politicians.

At the same time that I’m preparing for my part in this installation, I am also readying a syllabus for my Upward Bound Summer Academy classes. The director has asked me to teach the YA novel, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas – a story of a 16-year-old black girl named Starr whose best friend, Khalil, is killed by a white police officer right in front of her one tragic night after they leave a house party together.

This is my life. I have a day job and what I consider a calling, and, often, they intersect. And then my “real” life – of adulting and mothering – forms a third junction – and I am traveling down three different paths to the answer to whatever “big” question is looming in my mind, or pressing on my chest, at the moment.

And I always have these “big” questions because I am a teacher and writer and mother and woman and black person and American, so the world is nothing for me except unending flux.

Yesterday, my little girl had a soccer game, but she didn’t want to go. She didn’t want to go to practice on Friday, either. She says the girls on the team are “mean” to her. They don’t hit her or call her names, but they don’t seek to partner with her during drills. Only a couple of them will even chat with her between drills or on the sidelines of games, and there are a couple others that regularly point out to her how they can execute certain foot skills better than she can.

She is the only black girl on the team. She plays soccer because her father played soccer as a kid. He coaches soccer. He loves soccer. He passed that love onto her. She’s been playing since she was four. She’s nine now. She’s made the jump from recreational to the all-city team, and it’s been hard for her.

The girls on her half of the all-city team are in the third grade together; they see each other during the day in school and on the playground at recess. They have connections outside of soccer. Some even live in the same cul-de-sac.

But my baby entered kindergarten early. She’s a year ahead of them at school, so she’s in a different building. We don’t carpool with them. She’s not in any of their Girl Scout troops. She doesn’t play softball or any other sport with any of them. Her only “in” with them is soccer, but they have their cliques, and she’s not in any of them.

Then, there are the mitigating factors outside of the logistics.

My girl is gifted and precocious. She doesn’t like to do things that don’t come easily to her. She gets easily distracted when she’s not doing something all-consuming like playing video games or reading, and she gets easily discouraged when she makes mistakes. She’s extremely hard on herself. She is guarded with people that don’t seem open to her. She cannot take criticism very well, and she only wants to talk about the topics that interest her – and soccer isn’t actually one of them.

Still, when she’s “on,” she exhibits a real talent for the sport, and she takes immense pride when she is able to do something “good” or “right” on the soccer field. She just isn’t a total “soccer girl,” which many of the girls on her team are. She’s a video gamer.

I honestly think only half of her incentive to play soccer is her love of the sport; the other half is her desire to please her father and me. We think soccer is a good idea because we want her to learn to be a productive part of a team, get some regular exercise, and develop the will and ability to push herself when she feels challenged.

Yet, yesterday, when she said she didn’t want to play in her game because the girls on the team are “mean,” I felt this undeniable urge to tell her that she didn’t have to play. Ever again. I wanted to protect her from the complications of her situation. I wanted to make it easy for her.

It’s difficult, when you’re the parent of a black child in a predominantly white environment, to navigate the microsociology. You have to think really hard to determine if and when your child is being treated a certain way because of her race. You cannot help but question whether race is a factor in any social problem your child experiences.

There is a part of me that thinks my daughter is having a hard time fitting into her soccer team because she is the only black girl, and she’s not being wholly welcomed. Yes, there are Chinese girls on the team, but they are the adopted children of white parents. It’s easy to think of them as white because they are white identified. There is an Indian girl on the team, but Indians are “model minorities” in a sense (as are Chinese people); they’re not stigmatized in the way that black people are. There is another girl on the team whose ethnicity is either Hispanic or Latina – I’m not sure – but she doesn’t fare much better socially than my daughter.

And, no, my baby isn’t being bullied. I would never allow that. She is just being . . . overlooked? Yes, that is probably the best word. A few girls that were on her old recreational teams talk to her. The Indian girl talks to her. One of the Asian girls talks to her. The coaches give her individual attention and the same number of turns as all of the other girls to play offense, defense, and goalie. She plays in every quarter of every game. The parents cheer for her when she does well, and the coaches congratulate her for having “good” games. Yet, the majority of the girls on her team treat her like she’s invisible. They’re not “mean,” but they hurt her nonetheless.

And I hate it. I hate it because it plants the seed in her mind that there may be something wrong with her. They talk so freely and incessantly with each other, albeit in two or three separate “pockets,” it’s hard to make the argument that she is not being ostracized in some sense.

So there I was yesterday. Stuck. Trying to think of the right thing to say to my daughter. Trying to push back the thought of pulling her from the team. Telling myself it was silly because she’s also the only black girl in her gifted class at school, and she might be the only black girl in her major in college – like I was – and what am I going to do? Pull her out of her very well-funded, excellently rated public school? Force her to go to an HBCU if she doesn’t want to or choose a major that is more, well, “black” than computer science (what she insists she wants to study)?

Am I going to send her the message that the only thing she can do when being black gets hard for her is to cut herself off? Sequester herself? Or stick to segregated social situations that may not allow her to explore her true interests or follow her true aspirations?

This is what it’s like for black parents, on a micro scale. You don’t know whether protecting your child means pushing them to deal in a world that is often hostile toward their blackness or shielding them from that world.

This is what the parents in the novel, The Hate U Give, agonize over in their quest to successfully raise their children.

They – the fictional Lisa and Maverick – are products of a poor black neighborhood that want to give their children the experience of growing up in their “own” world, but also provide them the privileges of being educated in the “white” one.

They make their children go to an all-white prep school, where the protagonist, Starr, struggles with the ethics of code-switching and interracial dating and the constant fear of being stigmatized as “ghetto” or stereotyped as the “angry black girl.”

The gap between the two worlds makes her feel almost entirely liminal – like she belongs nowhere and no one can understand her.

My husband and I live in an outer ring suburb of one of the most segregated cities in the US. The suburb itself is racially diverse, but the culture of the suburb is segregated.

The children go to school together. They play sports and they are scouts together. They take swim lessons and go to summer camps together. They make friends across racial lines when they are younger, but it appears to me — as I watch the high school kids walk to and from the bus stops and congregate in the local fast food spots — that they start “grouping off” by color as they get older.

Even though I’m relatively sure my daughter will end up in a social group of black kids that will like and appreciate her — and not stuck in an isolated margin like Starr — I also know that this “grouping off” — when it happens to her class  — is going to hurt her deeply.

Right now, her closest friends are a white girl and boy that adore Pokémon and book series about anthropomorphic cats and owls just as much as she does. She has really good black girls friends, but they’re not in her class, so she doesn’t see them everyday. She sees this girl in class, and this boy on the bus after school, and being able to talk to them about the things she loves — with unadulterated enthusiasm and complete understanding — makes her really happy. I hate the thought that she might lose that.

And I can’t protect her from it.

I can’t make these kids stay friends with her if they don’t want to. Just like I can’t make the girls on the soccer team befriend her if they don’t want to. Just like I can’t make it so that predominantly black schools in our city provide the same level of education as her suburban school so I could send her to one. Just like I can’t guarantee that going to a predominantly black school — after five years of attending her “multicultural” suburban school — would guarantee her a bunch of social acceptance and friends.

The creators of the installation I wrote about in the opening paragraphs of this post are posing the question: What can real protection mean? This is a question that I know every parent actively involved in raising his or her child asks himself or herself every day, but it is a particularly thorny one for black parents.

Because this soccer “thing” is just the tip of the iceberg for my girl and me.

She is only nine, but I’ve already been compelled to discuss with her how to act if she’s approached by the cops.

I’ve had to tell her that the typical teenage “hijinks” that her white friends and classmates may get up to when they are older — pranking each other or arguing with teachers or getting into it with each other — are not acceptable for her because police and school administrators tend to come down harder on black kids. The discipline gap is real. She can’t ruin her permanent school record or gain an arrest record and expect to get into a “good” college.

Not to mention, she might get shot and killed by a cop — if the cops are called — over what will surely be termed a “misunderstanding” or “unfortunate incident.” Just like poor, sweet, but misguided Khalil in The Hate U Give.

The only real protection I can give her — as I see it — is the truth. Things like playing soccer on an interracial team are always going to be harder for you because you’re black. You can tough it out – I will be there to support and love you when your teammates won’t. Or you can quit and possibly miss out on a valuable growth opportunity.

I asked my girl, yesterday, to try my approach to situations like hers. When I am the only black person in a space, I block out my insecurities and any unwelcome vibes or feelings I get from anyone else, and I make up my mind to kill whatever I am in the space to do. To prove to myself that I have just as much right to be there as anyone else. To make myself proud.

I told her that love comes from home.

The most she can expect from her teammates or classmates or colleagues – when she’s older and working – is respect.

Earn it, I told her. By being the best you can be.

Or better yet. Just play the game. Love it like you do. Focus on the joy of being out there and getting to run and kick, breathe the fresh air and feel your self be vital and mobile.

Do what our ancestors have always done. Make a shelter for yourself in personal greatness, self-love, and self-acceptance.

Yeah.

We’ll see what the fallout of all my “motivation” is in Little One’s life.

We’ll see how all of this influences the art I make as part of the installation and on my own.

We’ll see whether my students, when we discuss their reading, will accept my concept of protecting oneself as a black person as readily as my baby did.

  • For personal reasons, I’ve decided not to participate in the workshops centered around “Fallout,” although I encourage anyone that can attend to attend. I know and trust the facilitators, and I believe in their values and wisdom. As far as I can tell, the workshops should be amazing.

Love Is a Battlefield: Why I Am Reflecting on the State of America Rather Than My Baby Girl on the Eve of Her 10th Birthday

What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? 
From the Book of Micah

Ten years ago today, I gave birth to a 6 lb. 15 oz. baby girl that her father and I rather casually named Micaiah. This is the whole name of the Jewish prophet Micah. Her father and I didn’t choose it for cultural or religious purposes; I wanted to name her “Kai,” but Dad said that was a nickname, not a first name, so we compromised.

Today, though, with Charlottesville and Trump’s pathetic response to it, the name has become uncannily coincidental.

Micah, in his time (737 — 696 BCE), predicted the downfall of Jerusalem because its leaders had used dishonest business practices to build up and beautify the city and impoverished its citizens in the process. Micah told the leaders of Jerusalem that if they didn’t abandon their corrupt ways, the city would be destroyed. It took 150 years, apparently, but his prophecy came true in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.

Trump got elected by pandering to poor whites that held a grudge against the political establishment for failing to rescue them from the hardships created by the 2008 Recession and the growth of globalization and the green economy; One Percenters that wanted to reapportion any wealth they lost during Obama’s administration back to their pockets; political conservatives that wanted to topple anyone whose social ascension during the Obama administration threatened their hegemony; and white supremacists that wanted to see Obama’s legacy desecrated and the infinitesimal social gains made by people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community during his time in office snatched back from us like we are thieves.

He lied about building a wall to block Mexican immigration. He lied about instituting a ban to block Muslim immigration. He lied about establishing a federal healthcare program that would work more effectively than Obamacare. He lied about providing “safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism” for all Americans.

Yes, these are actual words he uttered during his Republican Convention speech last summer.

He built a new, re-energized America over the one left by Obama, but he used lies as his figurative bricks and hatred (the conjoined twin of fear) as his figurative mortar. And now it looks as if America is about to be destroyed. From the inside out.

I say this because a mob of alt-right identifiers, white nationalists, and Neo-Nazis — and I am using this term correctly in this case, unlike racist reporters that use it when they want to vilify peaceful protestors of color — converged for a series of “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, VA on Friday (August 11) to be carried out in broad fucking daylight.

Ostensibly, the protests were aimed at the Democratic-voting city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee and change the name of the park where the statue is located from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. But, when you consider the amplifying effect Trump’s election has had on racist violence among American civilians, and the increasing number of news reports that the public is growing dissatisfied with Trump’s ineptitude, I think the protestors were really making an emboldened preemptive strike at Trump dissenters.

I think they were trying to quash the birth of a solidified movement against his re-election in 2020 before it can start.

The New York Times even reported that “[David] Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told reporters on Saturday that the protesters were ‘going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back.'”

Dr. Cornel West has said that the “crypto-fascists, the neo[-]fascists, the neo-Nazis . . . feel . . . empowered, not just by Trump but by the whole shift in the nation towards scapegoats,” which makes it even easier to read the “Unite the Right” gathering as more of a rally than a protest — rally as in “recover or cause to recover in health, spirits, or poise.”

Trump has been taking hits in the press for allegedly colluding with Putin to influence the outcome of last year’s election; continuing to play political “footsie” with Putin under the proverbial political table, even though the intelligence community has confirmed that Russia did interfere in the election, whether with or without Trump’s aiding and/or abetting; and making serious yet heedless threats at North Korea and Venezuela, of all fucking places.

His supporters may be myopic, but they’re not blind, and they can see that he’s losing ground in the so-called “battle” against the political establishment and the Democrats, liberals, progressives, and social justice activists they scornfully refer to as “snowflakes.”

That is why they went so hard in what is realistically a small battle on a relatively inconsequential ground. They used Charlottesville to make a splashy statement about their unwillingness to crawl back into the metaphoric hole that is American white supremacist subculture now that Trump has made it acceptable for them to be out and slithering about.

On Friday, a group of 100 of these white nationalists marched across the campus of the University of Virginia — over a mile from Lee Park — leveling tiki torches, giving the Nazi salute, and yelling “blood and soil,” “white lives matter,” and “you will not replace us” at students and activists gathered in opposition to “Unite the Right.”

Dara Lind of Vox writes that “a brawl broke out when [the nationalists] — nearly all white men — surrounded a small group of counter[-]protesters [that] were peacefully surrounding a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the center of campus.”

“Counter-protesters reported being hit with pepper spray by marchers,” she claims.

Local activist Emily Gorcenski told the Guardian that the nationalist marchers blocked the counter-protesters from leaving the site where the nationalists were harassing them, but the police did not intervene in the situation until “long after the [nationalists] had struck out” at the counter-protestors.

“I am safe. I am not fine,” she tweeted after the confrontation. “What I just witnessed was the end of America.”

UVA student Ian Ware provided an even more harrowing narration of the events on Friday to MTV News:

Those were all of my friends that were gathered around the statue. I was filming them. It was supposed to be a secret protest; the information was leaked to organizers yesterday morning. There was a pretty quick scramble to try to do something, to counter-protest. What it ended up being was a group of UVA students, groups from around the community, and anti-fascist leaders just literally trying to blockade the Jefferson statue in front of the rotunda, which is of course the most iconic image of Charlottesville and UVA. We were all standing there, waiting, and we heard them, and they just started pouring over the steps of the rotunda, just hundreds of literal Nazis. They were doing the Nazi salute. They were calling everyone slurs. They were pushing people off the stairs of the rotunda. They came down and surrounded our crew of people who were all just trying to keep their faces down and stay safe. A fight broke out, and I could see what was happening, but not who started it; at one point, Nazis were waving their torches at our people and swinging them at us. They threw torches on the ground. There was fire everywhere. Someone had either tear gas or some mace [substance] that a bunch of people got on their faces. Afterwards, they finally started dispersing, but it was really, really terrifying, especially seeing Nazis come over the crest of the most important place at our university, the place you go when you first get into UVA, the place you see every day when you go to class. The pictures of them walking around the grounds were just stunning in the worst way.

The Washington Post reported that a counter-protester used some chemical agent on quite a few nationalist marchers as well.

Though it might seem impossible, things got worse in Charlottesville on Saturday. Protestors that supported the decision to remove the statue — mind, with the same right to assemble and free speech that the white nationalists have — faced off with the mob, and violence unfortunately — and maybe even inevitably — ensued.

According to The New York Times, there was “shoving and outright brawling,” though the reporter doesn’t specify whether it was instigated by the white nationalist or anti-Confederate protestors. Either way, the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in the city, he called in the National Guard, and, as the white nationalists were dispersing, and some anti-Confederate protestors were rejoicing, a 20-year-old white man (not boy) named James Alex Fields, Jr. from Maumee, (it fucking had to be) Ohio (didn’t it?) allegedly ran his car into a throng of anti-Confederate protestors gathered in a downtown mall area.

Fields — or the undiscovered assailant if Fields is proven to be innocent of the crime — killed one 32-year-old woman and injured 19 other people, according to reports by CNN, The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post.

To cap off this recount, I’ll just paraphrase Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones: Hate came to Virginia in a way most Americans had hoped we would never see again, but knew could be easily stirred up by granting someone like Trump presidential power.

If you haven’t already connected the dots, this Charlottesville tragedy reads to me like the second stage of the destruction of the American republic. The first stage was Trump’s election. I fear the next stage will be our entrance into a war with North Korea that will be a horrifying repeat of Vietnam.

It reads to me like the fulfillment of a prophecy made collectively by Trump’s dissenters in the days and weeks after he took office. They saw, like Micah saw with Jerusalem, that Trump had won the election by corrupt means, he would govern the country by corrupt means, and America would pay for allowing him to gain power that it was obvious he would misuse and abuse.

I have tied Micah in with Charlottesville here, or Charlottesville in with Micah, because, as I said at the opening of this post, ten years ago today, I gave birth to my first and only child, Micaiah. Today is her day. Her first “double digit” birthday. I should be all about her today.

And I was at first.

Her celebratory weekend actually started out very sweetly and sentimentally for me.

As I tucked her into bed on Friday, I kissed her and began crying when I saw how far her legs stretched out over her mattress beneath her butterfly comforter. I realized that she is nearly five-feet tall – just five inches shorter than me — she is not a baby anymore.

I rejoiced that she is still here with me. That she is healthy and seems to be happy.

I always wanted to be a mother, and I always wanted a daughter. I thought, when I got pregnant, that Micaiah would be a boy because her father has a lot of boys in his family, but there they were – those three tell-tale lines on the sonogram that told us the Eatman-Valentine family was ushering a sixth generation of women.

(My maternal great-grandmother had one girl; that girl (my grandmother) had three girls; the oldest of those girls (my mother) had two girls (her sisters had no children); and I have Micaiah, who will not have a sibling by me, but may get a cat or dog in the next couple of years if she proves to be responsible enough to handle it.)

I was ecstatic to be having a girl child. Yes, I wanted to dress her in the cute little dresses and tie bows in her hair, but I also wanted to teach her everything I know about being a black woman in America. I wanted to learn all of the things that motherhood, and she, would undoubtedly teach me, and I wanted to watch her manifest the dreams of my great-grandmother and grandmother even more splendidly than my mother, aunts, sister, and me.

I wanted to love her. I wanted to experience the sort of divine giving and sharing and communing that parents do. I wanted to grow in the way that parenting – and in particular mothering – grows you. I wanted to be a part of a miracle. I wanted those nine months to witness the wonder of my body doing what it was reproductively designed to do. I wanted to go through labor and finally understand — at perhaps the deepest level — the work my mother did to bring me into this world. I wanted to be able to connect with my mother as a fellow mother and have our friendship deepen. I wanted to connect with my then-boyfriend, now-husband as a co-parent and have our partnership deepen as well.

But, mostly, I wanted to meet my daughter. I wanted to know her. I had a feeling she would be someone whose existence would completely alter mine. And I was righter than I’ve ever been about anything. I am a different person because I had her, and she is in my life. I can barely remember who I was before, and I only miss her in rare instances when I feel especially challenged to do the right thing as Micaiah’s Mama (I’m Mama, not Mommy).

Micaiah is so many wonderful things. She is bright. She is goofy. She is funny. She is affectionate. She is compassionate. She is mischievous. She is moody. She has a very stable sense of identity. She is content with who she is. She is independent and single-minded. She can be vain, but she can also be generous in giving respect and admiration to others. She speaks and takes up for herself. She has a fiery temper and smart mouth, but she also has a tender heart and humble spirit.

Micaiah can admit she is wrong and say she is sorry — something I consider to be a major signifier of decent character. She says “thank you” to me for doing the most mundane things for her, like packing her lunch, and she asks for dozens of kisses from me everyday. She has her own taste, and she isn’t shaken when she realizes that what she is thinking, feeling, or doing is different than the status quo. She takes pleasure and pride in being her own person.

Micaiah follows me around the house all day, talking incessantly about Pokémon, boring me half to death, but, God, I miss her when she’s not there. She is everything to me, and even when I am furious with her, I can still find something in what she’s done to make me proud.

So tell me why — as we shopped for her new Nintendo Switch at Target, picked out a dress for her birthday dinner at Longhorn, had a cake decorated for her gift-opening after dinner — as we sat at dinner and talked about her entering fifth grade and teased her about being able to devour a 10-ounce ribeye all on her own — I should have had to have what was happening in Charlottesville hunkering in the back of my mind?

Toni Morrison — one of my favorite writers and creative role models — attempts to illustrate in her novels not just how institutional racism shapes and thwarts the lives of black people in America, but how its emotional and psychological effects can poison our most intimate experiences and dealings with each other.

In Beloved, she tells a fictionalized version of actual fugitive slave Margaret Garner’s life story.

In 1856, Garner, a probable product of the rape of her mother by her mother’s master, just twenty-one-years-old, pregnant, along with her husband and four children, escaped the Maplewood Plantation in Boone County, Kentucky, where Garner had been used as a “sexual stand-in” by her white owner during his wife’s pregnancies and borne three children — Samuel, Mary, and Priscilla — from his serial raping.

Garner and her family, with 11 others, crossed a frozen section of the Ohio River near Covington, Kentucky and fled to Mill Creek, near Cincinnati, Ohio, where Garner and her family joined with her uncle, Joe Kite.

Kite hid Garner and her family while he met with abolitionist Levi Coffin to discuss the best options for settlement for the Garners, and Coffin agreed to help the Garners travel to Canada, where they would not be subject to the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law.

Before Coffin could help Garner and her family escape further North, however, a group of slave catchers and US marshals found them barricaded in Kite’s home. These men surrounded then stormed the house, so, in order that they wouldn’t be returned to slavery, Garner stabbed her two-year-old daughter to death with a butcher knife and attempted to kill her other children.

Thankfully, she was subdued by members of the posse that had invaded her uncle’s home before she could do more than injure any of her other three children.

Garner was put in jail then she was put on trial, during which the presiding judge ruled that the Fugitive Slave Law had supervening authority over state murder laws, nullifying the prosecutors’ criminal charges against Garner. And rather than being convicted of murder, Garner was returned to enslavement in Kentucky. She toiled as a slave in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee for another two years before dying of typhoid fever in 1858.

Anti-black racists might say about this tragedy that Garner merely demonstrated the moral depravity and savagery that is intrinsic in black people’s nature when she killed her daughter, and I would never say that what she did was sane or “right,” but I will say that PTSD is a significant predictor of psychotic disorder, and it is not a stretch in the least to assume that after being repeatedly raped over months-long stretches, and giving birth to three children that were products of that rape, Garner was suffering from PTSD and very probably psychosis when she attacked her children.

She may even have been experiencing dissociation in the form of hallucinations, paranoia, flashbacks, extreme detachment, or thought disorder since researchers have not convincingly ruled out the possibility that chronic stress and repeated trauma may cause disorders that are not unlike schizophrenia in their sufferers.

The science of her situation, however, is not the point.

The point is the effects of the abuse she suffered as a slave — while at the extreme of the continuum of racist violence — bled — literally and figuratively — all over her parenting dynamic.

Even at the time of Garner’s trial, white abolitionist Lucy Stone was able to recognize the horrific logic in what Garner had done.

“The faded faces of the Negro children tell too plainly to what degradation the female slaves submit,” she reportedly said when called to the stand during Garner’s trial.

“Rather than give her daughter to that life, she killed [her],” Stone argued.

“If in her deep maternal love she felt the impulse to send her child back to God, to save [her] from coming woe, who shall say she had no right not to do so.”

The point is that Garner was pushed to the brink of sanity by the realization that she couldn’t create a physical or ontological (metaphysical) safe space in which she could mother her children with emotional or psychological purity or clarity.

And Charlottesville happening on my baby’s tenth birthday has reminded me that neither can I.

Even in 2017, as a mother, I still have the threat of harm coming to my child, her father, or me just because we are black in America — lumped on to — mind you — the universal fear of every human being that something bad will happen to someone they love that runs courses through our brains as naturally as serotonin, dopamine, or GABA — dogging my every fucking second of interaction. Shit, my every fucking second of existence.

It’s a heavier load than white mothers have to bear — flat-out. And it feels even more oppressive because it is baseless — it is bottomless — it is edgeless — it is seemingly endless. It is so extremely unfair that thinking about it too intently for too long can make me cry from frustration and helplessness.

I did nothing to make my skin black or myself American. Yet, I have inherited a birthright that denies me not just an astounding array of basic human rights but the unencumbered experience of a gut-wrenching range of basic human emotions and experiences as well.

My love is a battlefield because I have to fight through the skein of my blackness — in my head and my heart — to give it.

My literal home may be the only place where I can peel back the coiled threads of racial consciousness that bind my being for even just a minute and mentally and emotionally breathe, but, even there, hatred creeps in — through the soundtrack of a news report playing on my television, reading of a post on social media, residual impact of some nasty interaction in the street, or lingering depression over occurrences like the one in Charlottesville.

My love is a battlefield, too, because I will never stop fighting to love — to be loving — to be loved — despite all of the hateful things that happen in America and to me because racism and bigotry are allowed to thrive, and liberty and justice are seemingly dying of something akin to sociopolitical cancer.

I fought to give my baby a happy birthday. I fight to make sure my baby has a happy childhood. I will keep fighting to do everything possible to help her grow up to have happy life.

The Right won’t stop me with all their egregious wrongs.

Micaiah doesn’t read my blog — even though she tells me all the time that she is proud that I am a writer — but I will put this message here anyway.

It’s for her, but it’s also for me. Proof that in the fight to retain all the dimensions of my humanity, I am still winning.

Happy Birthday, Micaiah, my Little Moo. I cannot think of any privilege greater than being able to aid in and witness your growth and development into a woman.

You are the sun to my moon. The source of so much of my pride and joy. One of the best reasons I get out of bed in the morning. My proof of God’s grace. 

I have a lot of words, Heaven knows, but none that can truly express how much I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back Like Cooked Crack

I tried really hard to do the “right” thing. To put blogging on the back burner so I could devote myself more fully to searching for a full-time job.

I locked up this blog, started another anonymous one, and began combing the employment sites. I reworked then re-reworked my resume. I reached out to the few contacts I have. I applied to every job that sounded even halfway workable. I mean – I really did try to be good.

But I couldn’t stop missing this space. I couldn’t stop longing to write here again. I couldn’t stop feeling as if I had abandoned something that I shouldn’t have abandoned or stopped doing something I should be doing.

So, I’m back. The blog is public again, and I am re-committed to posting on a regular basis. And extremely excited about the prospect of writing more, reconnecting with “old” readers, and possibly gaining some new ones.

In the meantime, I am still pretty excited about the fact that I published my first book – a volume of poetry called Ariel in Black.

You can buy it here: https://blackgirlpoet.wixsite.com/michellesmith/publications.

All purchases go to my broke-ass pockets because I didn’t get any of those full-time jobs for which I applied, if that isn’t already apparent.

About that…

I think it might be a combination of my patchy work history, age, degree area, and/or advanced vocabulary, which probably runs the gamut from making it difficult for your standard HR officer to fully comprehend my cover letters to making him or her think I am an insufferable intellectual snob.

Whatever.

I like my words, and I like to use them.

It’s funny.

Over these last few months, in which I have been doing more agonizing than either job searching or writing, I found myself fixing on my book – on its introduction – on what I wrote about my inspiration, Sylvia Plath, and my process as an artist, which I am, even though I shrink from owning the title because I am still too strung up in wanting and seeking middle class “stability” to summarily fuck the rat race and try to write professionally.

In that intro, I wrote – and I still cannot believe these words came from me –

Blackness is a really complicated thing for a hetero woman in America.

It has enough rules to put the US Code to shame.

You are not allowed to sad because so many that came before you suffered so much more than you, and they were never sad; they were strong.

You are not allowed to be crazy because so many that came before you suffered so much more than you, and they never escaped into madness; they were strong.

You are not allowed to be ambivalent because there are only two acceptable things to do as a black woman – you can stand or you can fight.

You are not allowed to have any problems that weren’t doled out by your history or anatomy.

You cannot cry except at death, and it is the only sort of loss that you can linger on.

You cannot despair, no matter how desperate you are.

You cannot lament your blackness, no matter how it blinds you to your beauty or blocks the sun from you.

You have to love black men when they spurn you.

You have to love black women when they spurn you.

You have to love every black person you meet, whether their greeting is happy or hateful. Whether they want to join your parade or piss on it.

You have to keep secrets that claw at the insides of your guts and throat to be told.

You have to swallow complaints that going down can rip your insides like a rusty nail or screw.

You are not allowed to be honest at the cost of being dignified.

You can only tell your story as a myth or legend, fable or fairy tale.

There are not rules, for the record. They are The Rules. Spelled out for me by my respectable mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother that came before me.

I grew up with the demands for strength, goodness, decency, and solidity hanging over my crib like a mobile.

I understood by six that I had very few acceptable choices for my future beyond getting an education and forging a successful career.

I could marry if I wanted to, and have children if I wanted to, but being a certain type of woman wasn’t an option.

I was a talky, antsy, moody, sassy, nasty girl that was expected to grow into a stoic, stable, suitable woman.

I felt suffocated by that expectation, too. Like it would kill all the joy, wonder, curiosity, humor, and needful angst inside of me.

Until I found Sylvia.

She showed me what to do.

Write it out.

Write it all out.

And fuck what anybody has to say about it . . .

I write to free myself, I know. And when it doesn’t work . . . I write more. I write harder. I write bloodier.

I am too much of a black woman to surrender such a hard-fought thing as my life to something as common as pain.*

But then I am too much of a thin-skinned girl to pretend that pain doesn’t act like a slow poison on my heart and mind.*

It was painful for me to shut up this blog. It shut down my heart and mind, to an extent. I was following The Rules when I made the decision, and following The Rules doesn’t suit me any more now than it did when I was younger or back in 2015, when I wrote that intro.

So I’ve decided to stop, once and for all.

So I’ve opened this blog up again. I’ve opened myself up again.

Michelle is back, bluer, and i-er than ever – on a first name basis with the truth that I am a writer, that is all I’ve ever wanted to be, and that’s exactly what I should be.

I have to say, too.

It feels fucking good to be back.

* I substituted “sadness” in the original text with “pain” in this iteration.

 

Connecting Thots: Linking Carolyn Bryant to Kellyanne Conway on that Goddamn Couch to the Need for Black People to Be More Woke in Three Arduous Steps

I’m going to cast my web wide and then pull it in slowly, so bear with me, please.

I want to touch on a lot of things in this post, like Donald Trump in a dressing room full of beauty pageant contestants.

I’ll wend my way to Kellyanne Conway and what my sister would refer to as her “dry-faced ass” eventually.

(Excuse that anti-feminist lapse right there. And the use of the term “thot” in the title. Racist capers make me even more angry when they come from women.)

I.

I grew up with a mother that taught literature. So we had a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology on our bookcase. I never understood why we had it, though, until I went to college and declared my English major. Then, I learned: the classical Greek and Roman mythologies are western literary cornucopias (a symbol derived from Greek and Roman mythology, in fact).

So many of the plotlines and motifs (the hero’s journey, the concept of redemptive suffering, the inescapability of fate, the ideas that human goodness is rewarded and human evil is punished by divine forces) in Western literature derive from classical European mythology that if you played a drinking game in which you took a shot for every modern book you know with a mythological allusion, your ass would go into an alcohol-induced coma inside of fifteen minutes.

So, as a student of Western literature, I am understandably fascinated by the tenacity of classical mythology.

From what I have been taught, ancient Greeks and Romans regarded these stories that read like children’s fiction to most modern people like they were religious doctrine. They believed these stories told the truth about the supernatural beings that created and ruled the Earth and humanity, certain natural phenomena (like comets), the differences in the ancient cultures, and the roots of the alliances and anima between those ancient cultures. In fact, until the rise of philosophy (which encompassed empirical science until the 1800s), historiography, and rationalism in the 5th century, mythology was regarded as fact.

That mythology played this role in ancient Greek or Roman culture isn’t what fascinates me, though (it makes sense that these civilizations would’ve clung to mythology until another way of understanding the universe evolved to a point where they felt they could trust it).

It’s the human attachment to ancient mythology I find so interesting, stretching as it has from antiquity to post-postmodernity.

I tend to think those individuals that continue to study and creatively mine the mythologies of ancient cultures today do so because they recognize and appreciate the way myths reflect certain truths about human nature and interactions in relatively simple stories and not overly technical science and microsociology.

On the other hand, there is a certain type of attachment to a certain type of mythology – a sociological “twin” to this literary tradition – that has the opposite effect on me. It doesn’t fascinate – it infuriates me.

You see it in white supremacists and black-white supremacists that remain invested in certain antebellum myths about black people.

The problem, as I see it, with racists clinging to these myths is that these myths do not contain or signify any actual truth. In fact, these myths displace factual narratives that would reveal, if we looked back at them, the falsity of American racial formations – the fact that they are instruments of social, economic, and political advantageousness, not products of science or authentic American history.

Take the myth that the black man is a born rapist, for example.

The myth that the black man is a born rapist was envisaged by the racist quarter of the white male ruling class during slavery to expunge – at least ideologically – black men’s sexual attractiveness and white women’s sexual attraction to black men.

It is one of a collection of pseudo-scientific fabrications the members of that class mobilized to disguise their own racist phobias and violent behaviors.

The myth allowed antebellum white men to subvert their own proclivities to rape white and black women, pretend all sexual relations between white women and black men were rape, and “punish” any black man that had sex with a white woman by torturing and/or killing him, if they wanted.

To this day, racists continue to propagate this myth to justify certain acts of violence they perpetrate against black men, and adherents of these racists – black and white – excuse away this violence in what is essentially a Pavlovian response – even though the hypotheses that all black men are born with a violent sexual psychopathology – or they all have an uncontrollable uniform sexual response to white women – or they will all enact their vengeful feelings against the white power structure by raping a white women any time they are given the opportunity – are patently untrue.

That’s right. The “math” of this myth has never added up, not back then, and not now. Despite what David Duke has claimed in the media.

The infamous Table 42 from the 2008 National Crime Victimization Survey, compiled and published by the Bureau of Justice Statistic,  and said to “prove” the myth is true, doesn’t validate the claims of white supremacists about black rapists.

Philip Cohen explains in his post, “Here’s How Bad Government Math Spawned a Racist Lie About Sexual Assault,” that

Like many surveys, the NCVS is weighted to produce estimates that are supposed to reflect the general population. In a nutshell, that means, for example, that they treat each of the 158,000 people (over age 12) covered in 2014 as about 1,700 people. So if one person said, “I was raped,” they would say, “1700 people in the US say they were raped.” This is how sampling works. In fact, they tweak it much more than that, to make the numbers add up according to population distributions of variables like age, sex, race, and region – and non-response, so that if a certain group (say Black women) has a low response rate, their responses get goosed even more . . .

According to Cohen

[The] BJS extrapolates an estimate of 117,640 White women who say they were sexually assaulted, or threatened with sexual assault, in 2008 . . . Of those, 16.4% described their assailant as Black . . . That works out to 19,293 White women sexually assaulted or threatened by Black men in one year . . . [however] . . . [i]f each respondent in the survey counts for about 1,700 people, then . . . [the statisticians that compiled the results] . . . in 2008 [actually counted]  . . . 69 White women who were sexually assaulted or threatened, 11 of whom said their assailant was Black [emphasis added].

He even illustrates for his readers how to do the math on the survey’s faulty numbers: (19293/1,700 = 11.34).

Despite the fact that it is a lie, the myth that the black man is a born rapist still exercises a powerful influence over the American imagination (versus its intellect and morality) and thus our social interactions, political discourse, and patterns of interracial violence.

It not only freezes the black man in the deplorable image of the uncontrollable sex offender; it also freezes the white woman in the image of his needful victim.

II.

A few years back, there were this novel and movie adaptation titled No Country for Old Men. This referred, of course, to America.

That title made me think of a line from the Tony Kushner play about the American identity, “Angels in America.”

In the play, the character Roy Kohn, based on the real life Roy Kohn, is dying of AIDS, and reflects that “Americans have no use for sick.”

Kushner/Kohn is right. Americans do have a certain affinity for the useful. Because Americans have an affinity for getting shit done, and you need tools to do the things you want to do more efficiently.

Technological systems are currently our favorite types of tools. We have an affinity for them, too. Computer systems, global positioning systems, telecommunications systems – you name it.

Correlatively, Guardian writer Steven W. Thrasher explains that race “[is] a technology, “utilized for specific reasons.”

That’s probably why we love it so much, too.

Thrash filters down – from the upper reaches of the black artistic community – the concept from writer Ytasha Womack that “[t]he deployment of this technology has created [emphasis added] racism.”

He says that since “[biological] race is a fiction . . . [that] has only existed as we presently conceive it over the past few hundred years,” the technology of race is used to  “peddle” race itself to the masses.

That is – to keep us believing not only that race is real, but that people of different races pose a real threat to us simply because they are a different race.

Womack’s concept of race as technology helps to explain why Americans continue to exploit racist myths even though they have been scientifically debunked.

If we think about racial mythology as a form of technology, we can understand how racists use it – to create a reality in which the “fiction” of biological race has actual effects.

II.

Back in January, upon the release of Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till, the media had the dubious honor of running one of the most tragic if anticlimactic news stories in American history, at least in this black woman’s opinion.

Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman that testified in court that 14-year-old Emmett Till grabbed her by her waist and told her, “You needn’t be afraid of me, baby I’ve (done something) with white women before,” confessed that she perjured herself on the stand. She lied outright about her encounter with Till, who she said never spoke directly to her at all.

In fact, Donham reportedly told Tyson that all these years later she can’t remember whether Till even whistled at her that fateful August evening back in Mississippi.

An article in Vanity Fair about Tyson and his dealings with Donham paints a distastefully sympathetic portrait of the elderly woman, even seeming to suggest that her testimony did not play as vital a role in gaining acquittals for Till’s killers as has been historically assumed since their trial in 1955.

(I’m calling subtextual bullshit on that, though, because even though the jury was not present in the courtroom for Donham’s testimony, I have no doubt her allegations crept into the defense of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, feeding the rabidity of those 12 white men to deliver an exoneration. This was Mississippi in fucking 1955.)

The reason I say this story about Donham’s “confession” is anticlimactic is simple, and I also think it should be obvious.

Dahleen Glanton of The Chicago Tribune spells it out in one elegant sentence, for those that may not get it on their own: “We [Black America] already knew her story was a lie.”

“So did the judge who presided over the murder trial of her husband and another man in 1955,” Glanton insists, “and so did most of the people who lived in the tiny town of Money in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.”

So, too, I say, do most of the white people that live in America today.

Yet, I have never read or heard a recount of Till’s murder – from what one would term a “white” source – whether it was in the news, academic, or entertainment genre – that did not include some intimation that Till “either whistled at, flirted with, or touched the hand” of Carolyn Bryant.

And innocuous as that detail may seem, we know that it’s not. It is a lie spread to diminish the horror of Emmett Till’s murder. To blur the line between his innocence and his murderers’ culpability.

It’s also a signifier that the rapist myth is still alive and seething in the American imagination.

If not in its original form, then in a transposed form – a form that elides the old concept of the black men as an automatic sexual deviant – and carries on with its correlative – the lie that cishetero white women epitomize cishetero feminity and so are sexually irresistible to black men.

Under this guise, which the myth gained post Civil Rights, the myth has regained a modicum of acceptability because it’s less objectionable to believe the widely accepted “truth” that white women are the “most beautiful” than the (also widely accepted) lie that black men are animals.

So, this is what post-Civil Rights white supremacists and eugenicists of the highest order – the Steve Bannons of the world – pretend to do – believe that white women are sexually irresistible to black men – so they aren’t written-off as crackpots or backward, hillbilly “trash” – the common caricature of the American white racist.

In pedestalizing the Tomi Lahrens, Sarah Palins, and Kellyann Conways of this country, they’re not just legitimizing these women’s gimmick(kk)y politics; they’re also valorizing “conservative” white womanhood.

They’re emphasizing to white America that there are still “respectable” (cishetero, non-feminist) women within their ranks that need and deserve “protecting” from predators like Trump’s fictitious Mexican rapists and Dylann Roof’s fictitious black rapists.

These new age supremacists capitalize on the mobility of the “face-lifted” rapist myth to tap into the multifarious race-based fears that motivate whites to uphold structural racism, as they do by executing or going along with things like gerrymandering, gentrification, school choice, standardized testing, mandatory sentencing, opposition to policies like Affirmative Action, opposition to institutions like HBCUs, the propagation of symbolic racism, and the election of a failed real estate mogul and reality game show host to the Oval Office.

(Symbolic racism is an anti-black post-Civil Rights belief system based on the four themes that racial discrimination is no longer a serious obstacle for black people; black people’s failure to progress is due to their own unwillingness to work hard; black people’s insistence that the government should take further measures to equalize our social status has no legitimate basis; and the measures that the government has already taken to equalize our social status, such as Affirmative Action, are unjustified).

Too, like the old slave owners, the Steve Bannons, David Dukes, and Richard Spencers of today – they use the rapist myth to galvanize poor whites into terrorizing blacks (see again: Dylann Roof) so they can keep their proverbial hands “clean,” so that journalists and politicians can still appear to be reliable while deigning to deal with them, and so their “alt-right” rhetoric can gain even more acceptability outside of their insular cultural sphere.

And their female counterparts? The Kellyann Conways? They do what Carolyn Bryant did back in 1955.

They buy willingly into the lie that they are sexually irresistible – and they do not want black male attention but cannot help but garner it – to enhance their self- esteem, which still takes seasonal, politically expedient beatings from the white hetero patriarchy.

This entire dynamic is just what Thrasher described in his article. It is how the use of race technology in America has morphed with the times so it can continue to do its work.

III.

Finally, I have arrived at my thoughts about Kellyanne Conway’s posture on that couch in the Oval Office – and the semiotics of that image are the crux of this text (even though I will not post it here – yuck) – because I believe they convey a really pivotal point about the continued use of racism in this country.

Kellyanne Conway is a 50-year-old, married mother of four and Counselor to Donald Trump, but you know why she propped herself up on the couch in the Oval Office like a college co-ed “studying” in the dorm room of a classmate on which she’s been secretly harboring a crush since Orientation back in August?

Because she has internalized the myth.

Because she is a laissez-faire racist. She believed that those black men – automatically and universally – found her sexually attractive. They were not evolved enough to have any other response to her. They were wolves in men’s clothing.

Look at the photo again. Look at her tossed-back hair. Look at her uncrossed legs and arched back. Shoulders back and breasts lifted. All of these are nonverbal cues that she is keying into the situation sexually. She is offering herself up to be objectified.

Think about her choice to perch on a couch – on her knees – rather than stand up – a much more logical choice of positioning to take a photo of a group that size – her willingness to pose for the room despite the nature of the event and her participation in it – both ostensibly professional. Its illogic tells on her.

I don’t care what she claimed in the press after the pictures were released. I don’t care about any journalists’ attempts to make the controversy about her disrespect of the Oval Office in order to trivialize it. The Office wasn’t the issue. Her posture was.

By climbing her ass up on that couch in that room full of black men – and posing like a buttered-up biscuit on the side of a three piece chicken dinner – Kellyanne Conway created some good old-fashioned phobic imagery for Trump’s America.

She gave all the kinds of racists in our current landscape – overt, ambivalent, aversive – a “reminder” of why they “need” to stick to their “unpopular” beliefs.

She invoked the myth, though I will concede that she might have done it unconsciously.

Still, she invoked the myth.

She came off as a mythical white vixen/victim – an echo of Carolyn Bryant – a “could” whose possibility fit right into the cookie cutter shape of Bigger Thomas that I swear every American has in their mind, even if they’ve never read a page of Native Son.

And that’s what made me so mad about that picture, personally.

Her lack of culpability in the face of dire consequences for Outgroup America.

The way I see it, the white male racists in power are triggered enough.

They don’t need any more encouragement to think of blacks as a danger that needs to be extinguished, infestation that needs to be exterminated, or disease that needs to be cured.

I mean . . . damn.

We don’t need shit like Kellyanne Conway whipping her boss and his boys up into a righteous frenzy by pulling a – I don’t know – it might even have been a “Basic Instinct” power move – to boost her embattled confidence – on some unwitting college presidents just trying to secure their federal funding.

Because that’s how easy it appears to be to get Trump all upset. He has the emotional temperament of a toddler.

Luckily, he didn’t go off about that incident. But what about next time, if there is a next time?

We can’t have Kellyanne out here willy-nilly, blinded by the wealth of her ridiculous white privileges, tapping heedlessly into the deep-seated fears that dwell in the chambers of the heart of the rapist myth.

None of which is the fear of the actual psychopathology of men of color, ironically enough.

No – white male racists in power don’t fear black men or Latinx men’s insatiability or animalism because they know the lengths to which they have historically gone to psychologically neuter men of color in this country.

No – what really has them shook is the very real ability of men of color to culturally overtake them, as demonstrated at least partly by black men’s preeminence in professional athletics. Footnote Latinx men in professional baseball.

Jon Entine in his book, Taboo: Why Black Athlete Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It, writes

To the degree that it is a purely scientific debate, the evidence of black superiority in athletics is persuasive and decisively confirmed on the playing field. Elite athletes who trace most or all of their ancestry to Africa are by and large better than the competition. The performance gap is widest when little expensive equipment or facilities are required, such as running, the only true intentional sport, and in widely played team sports such as basketball and football. Blacks not only outnumber their nonwhite competitors but, by and large, are the superstars.

Entine’s quote does read a bit reductively, so let me say: Black men are extraordinarily capable beyond their physicality. Yet, I don’t believe the critical mass of white male racists in power are able to conceive that black men can outthink them. Even in 2017.

What they can imagine, though, and have imagined, since the explosion of the plantation system in the late 1600s, is black men rising up in arms, banding together, and overturning the white power structure in our society.

Concurrently, white male racists in power fear getting pushed from their place at the top of the sexual attractiveness totem pole by an overgrowing white female demand for seemingly superior, “exotic” black and brown male bodies.

And they fear that black-white and Latinx-white sexual relationships – as they exponentially increase – will swallow up whites’ recessive trait genotypes.

At the very beginning of this post, I wrote that myths reflect certain truths about human nature, but then I wrote that racial myths are lies. And they are lies, but their persistence exposes some really important truths about the microsociology of this current version of America.

Blackness still functions largely as the electrical current powering the social machinery of this country, not whiteness. The technology of race has this horrifying way of staying on the cutting edge.

Still, this “newest” iteration of whiteness is a response to blackness. As American whiteness is. By its needful nature.

It wouldn’t exist if blackness didn’t. That symbiosis hasn’t changed since slavery.

So, since black and white are symbiotic, black people can steer the direction in which the white male racists in power take this country, if that is, in fact, what we want to do.

We have money and votes they need to remain in power. And we can use them as the leverage they are. We can be strategic in the way we use them. We can demand political ransom for them.

We can perch our asses on the proverbial couch of the US Capitol and let Trump ‘nem know – a lot of what they think about us is bullshit, but our political power is not mythical. It’s real.

We can deploy the technology of race to achieve our own ends. It is at least half our intellectual property, according to our history. The white male racists in power don’t have exclusive design rights.

We can change the configuration any time and way we want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Out of the Mouths of Babes Series

submit-your-work

The Out of the Mouths of Babes series of posts is intended to serve as a place where real women of color can talk truth about female life with passion, wisdom, honesty, and insight.

Submissions of articles, think pieces, interviews, essays, poems, stories, and even videos to this series are more than welcome.

They just need to center on issues or themes that relate to women of color in the US or anywhere (everywhere) else.

Also, submissions should avoid the use of homophobic, transphobic, ableist, ageist, classist, xenophobic, ethnocentric, patriarchal, misogynistic, misandrist, and/or heterosexist language.

Contributors whose submissions are published will retain all copyrights to their material, and they will be compensated with free publicity on The Bluest i for any legitimate personal, political, or artistic projects or commercial products they wish to promote, as long as these projects are ethical, and these products are safe.

Readers that do not wish to contribute to the series, but have specific desires to see certain content (concerning WOC and intersectional feminism), should also feel free to send in suggestions.

Bloggers that wish to write a guest post or syndicate a post are also encouraged to contribute.

The more, the airier.

Please send submissions, suggestions, or any other communications meant for OTMB, along with your name, email address, website/blog URLs, and any social media IDs (Facebook, Twitter) you wish to share, to writermichellereneesmith@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Babe Alert: Eris Eady

I first met this amazing young woman when she was in high school. She might’ve been a junior. She was already busting people’s heads in poetry slams all over the city of Cleveland, though. Her poetry was so breathtakingly real, I was either laughing, crying, or hallowing whenever I heard her.

Eris’s gift was – and still is – her genuineness. She is herself to a capital-T. She is unflinchingly honest. She boldly calls out her various communities for their willful faults, and she confesses her own flaws and fears with formidable – yes, at her young age – bravery, vulnerability, intelligence, and wit. She is witty as fuck.

In the years since high school, Eris has made herself into an all-around presence in our city. It wouldn’t shock me if – in the next few years – she ended up in a government office. She has so many of the qualities of a true leader.

Eris is under 35 and already a storyteller, organizer, event planner, promoter, logistical coordinator, trainer, public speaker, coach, curriculum developer, activist, advocate, media, integrator, graduate student, marathon runner, and jewelry designer.

Though she is considerably younger than me, I admire her greatly. I look up to her ambition, commitment, confidence, and authenticity. I adore her writing, and I have a deep affection for her spirit. I respect her candor and refusal to be silenced or shamed.

In a recent blog post, Eris wrote, “The climate of today’s world would lead you to believe that love should not be a priority. I’ve felt pressure as a queer black woman to let my activism and advocacy take priority over love, intimacy, and joy. In doing that, I’ve done myself a huge disservice.”

See what I’m saying?

This woman gets it. She knows what she needs to know.

BABE ALERT Q&A WITH ERIS EADY

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Eris Venia Eady

WHAT ARE YOUR ORIGINS?

My Grandma Alabama, my Granddad Louisiana . . . you mix that Negro with that extra Negro makes a . . . Cleveland girl.

HOW DO IDENTIFY YOURSELF RACIALLY/ETHNICALLY/NATIONALLY? HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF IN TERMS OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY?

A. I consider myself African American. I feel as though it is important to make the distinction that I did not immigrate here. We were snatched and rooted here.

B. I am a Cisgender Bisexual/Queer Woman.

ARE YOU A FEMINIST? IF NO, THEN WHAT TERM DO YOU USE TO DESCRIBE YOUR COMMITMENT TO WOMEN’S ISSUES?

Ehhhh . . . not so much. I do consider myself a Womanist. Feminism is dredged in privilege and founded in academia; it perpetually leaves out black, brown, poor, and, most importantly, trans women.

I also think it is important to note that I don’t like the word “female.” It is often used as an abrasive term that is essentially one “step” up from “bitch.” It’s a dog whistle word that resonates the same way as when white folk say “thug” when they really want to say “nigga.”

WHEN DID “BEING A WOMAN” BECOME POLITICAL FOR YOU? HOW WERE YOU POLITICIZED AS A FEMALE CITIZEN OF THE US?

I was born this way. In fourth grade, a white boy called me “Grease” the entire school year. Also, that year, my teacher threw my spelling book at me. For as long as I can remember, who I am and how I exist in this world has been a problem for the powers that be.

When I was about 26, I was pulled over and arrested, then held for hours while I menstruated on myself. I didn’t fight back. I will always remember that I survived this interaction with the police, and Sandra Bland did not.

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THAT AFFECT WOMEN THAT ARE CLOSEST TO YOUR HEART?

Self-love. Reproductive justice, including sexual assault, domestic violence, intra-racial violence, access to abortion, infant mortality (Ohio is literally the worst state in the country for African American infant mortality), and women that are shackled during birth. Economic stability. The life expectancy of trans women of color (it is 33-years-old).

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DO TO MAKE YOUR LIFE AND THE LIVES OF OTHER WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY BETTER? DO YOU HAVE A “PASSION PROJECT” THAT RELATES TO BEING A WOMAN? WHAT IS IT?

I’ve chosen to love myself. Especially when it’s hard. Especially when I’m feeling most unlovable. I am kind to myself. I love my body at every phase and stage. I’m working on a project called “Black Girls Be . . .” It’s a space where black womanhood can exist without borders. Stay turned . . .

WHO ARE SOME OF THE WOMEN THAT HAVE BEEN MOST INFLUENTIAL TO YOU? WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON EVER TAUGHT TO YOU BY A WOMAN?

My mother and grandmothers.

Grandmother taught me to always have a safety pin in my bra.

Big Ma taught me that “you might not have what you want to eat, but you have something to eat.”

Mother taught me to “do what [I] know is right” and “fuck ’em and feed ’em Froot Loops.”

Zora Neale Hurston: “You heard me. You ain’t blind.”

Amy Rosenbluth. Amy taught me the two things that have remained constant in my life: poetry and community service. Without these two things, I’m uncertain who I’d be in this world.

My Golden Girls: my three best friends – Kisha/Rose – a poet’s poet, Jessica/Dorothy – my perfect complement, and Danielle/Sophia – my ram in a bush. She saved me when my high school years were scary and lonely. (I’m Blanche for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.)

My niece Nijah and sister Eriane. Nijah taught me patience, gifted me joy and laughter, and showed me how to explain the vastness of the world in a way that is accessible to tiny humans. Eriane gave me Nijah, which allowed me to truly put into action my love for her.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF ABOUT SURVIVING THE PROCESS OF BECOMING A WOMAN, IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND TALK TO HER?

As my best friend Jessica always says, “It doesn’t get easier, but it will get better.” [I would tell my 13-year-old self] love yourself unconditionally and without apology.

NOTE FROM EDITOR:

Thank you so much, Eris, for taking the time away from your busy schedule to do this Q&A. Thank you for being one of the beautiful, badass black women that I get to know and from whom I get to draw inspiration and encouragement. Thank you for your art, and thank you for your light.

READERS–You can learn more about Eris and all the amazing work she does at http://www.eriseady.com/about.

You can pre-order Eris’s book Journey to Whole: Excerpts, Essays, and Exhales by clicking on this link.

You can watch Eris read her poem “Dear Tamir” (dedicated to Tamir Rice) by clicking on this link.

Babe Alert: Deep Roots Jessica

Last year, I wrote a post in which I debated whether I should call myself a “feminist” or come up with a different name for the woman-centered views that I hold and work I aspire to do (to help to internally build up black women and other women of color).

It probably seemed random to the followers that had been reading my blog since it began in January and seen me refer to myself as a feminist dozens of times in my various posts, but the post—or rather the question at the heart of it—didn’t actually come out of nowhere.

It came out of a conversation I got into with Deep Roots Jessica on Facebook about what it “truly” means to be a feminist.

Our conversation started over another post I wrote back in March called “On Black Privilege.” In it, I wrote:

White people have so much. It’s not necessarily the fault of every white person in America that white people as a demographic fare so much better than every other demographic, but it’s undeniable that they do. They are the inarguable “haves” in [American] culture. And black people are largely “have-nots.” We are fewer in number, poorer, less visible, less free, less protected, and less respected. For many of us, the only things that we have that we feel proud of are our color, our lineage, our history, our belonging to a race and ethnicity that is known (if not credited) for its genius, resilience, and tenacity . . . We—Americans—talk about white privilege. But there is such a thing as black privilege, and it’s one of the only conciliations that we have for being so brutally oppressed. Black privilege is being able to talk about other black people in a tone that we don’t allow white people to use, the way that family members do. Black privilege is being able to use the word “nigger” when we want, how we want, because it’s a word that’s been used to designate us after all, and being able to use that word when white’s “can’t” is one of the only exclusive freedoms we have. Black privilege is having hair that white people don’t have. Color that white people don’t have. Lips and asses that white people don’t have. It’s talking in a way that doesn’t come organically to white people, having music that speaks to us in the way we speak, and customs that are a product of our history. These things may seem superficial, but they become extremely important when they are just about all that you have to bolster the way you feel about yourself—when you don’t have a lot of money or material comfort or social status or political power or acceptance or even just tolerance outside of your own community.

Jessica found my post through a link, read it, and then found me on Facebook. She very respectfully took issue with my use of the term “privilege,” we began to converse back and forth about that and then feminism and activism and FLOTUS Michelle Obama, and I could go on, but the point is these conversations got me thinking really intently, really deeply about my political views, what I consider to be my political work, and the most meaningful way for me to move forward as a black feminist.

I don’t know that I would be writing the posts I am writing now, about the BLM Movement and what the black community must really do to fight the proverbial power, if Deep Roots Jessica hadn’t gotten me to start thinking about things like imperialism, capitalism, and the true meaning of liberation.

Jessica really inspired me, and I thought she would be a perfect first profile for “Babe Alert.” Her conviction, commitment, knowledge, and vision make her a very powerful force and fascinating iteration of blackness, womanhood, and feminism.

The main thing I am aiming to do with Out of The Mouths of Babes and “Babe Alert” is inspire black women and other women of color to do the same thing Jessica inspired me to do: To think about who they really are, what they really want, and what they really want to do with their lives and gifts as women, people of color, citizens of this country, and feminists, if that’s what they consider themselves to be, or whatever other type of political person or entity they consider themselves to be.

I find that I come out of conversations with women that I like, love, and respect feeling so much more liked, loved, respected, supported, and—I’ll say it one more time—inspired than I do at just about any other time.

Conversations with other women give me life, and life is what I want to give to other women through my writing and especially the writing on this site.

I hope you enjoy getting to know her through this Q&A as much as I have enjoyed getting to know her through Facebook over the last few months.

Our connection is one of those things that make you grateful for the reach that social media gives you into other people’s lives and vice versa.

BABE ALERT Q&A WITH DEEP ROOTS JESSICA:

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Deep Roots Jessica.

WHAT ARE YOUR ORIGINS?

I was raised from infancy on up in a city in Iowa. My mother is white with English and German background and grew up in small town Iowa. My mom’s side of the family over the generations were poor farmers.

My father is black Guyanese. He immigrated here to the United States when he was 12-years-old. My parents divorced when I was two-years-old, and I have been raised primarily by my mother. I would visit my father during holidays and summers when I was growing up.

My family was very loving and supportive to me growing up. Things were not perfect (as they never are), but I wanted for nothing. I had support from my family in all the activities I was involved in. From choir, debate, to theater, they were at all of my events and performances.

HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF RACIALLY/ETHNICALLY/NATIONALLY? HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF IN TERMS OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY?

I am mixed, but I am black. Black for me is the word used to describe the racial caste system I was put into, but it is also a political identity. When I walk down the street, people do not see a half-black and never a half-white woman. That is how race in the United Snakkkes works.

I am a woman. If the average person were to ask my sexuality, I would say bisexual, but, in reality, pansexual is probably more of an appropriate description of my sexuality. I am attracted to a spectrum of people of various physical body types and gender expressions.

ARE YOU A FEMINIST? IF NO, THEN WHAT TERM DO YOU USE TO DESCRIBE YOUR COMMITMENT TO WOMEN’S ISSUES?

I have gone back and forth on this issue as I have developed politically, but, for now, I have resolved to call myself a feminist. To be specific about my politics in regards to women’s liberation, I would call myself an anarcha feminist. The simplest definition I can give for that is that I am for the abolition of capitalism and the apparatus of the state. I do not believe we can truly liberate ourselves as black women while these oppressive hierarchies exist.

The ambivalence I have had in the past about the word “feminism” is due to the fact that the word says only a little bit about one’s politics at this point in time. People who identify as feminists have a whole range of political views that also at times conflict with one another. There is now a backlash against what is called “white feminism” from many WOC, which has been a long time coming. Our contributions to the women’s liberation struggle have not only been overlooked, but, also, the issues that impact poor WOC and poor women in general were not centered in the work of white, liberal, middle class feminists. The issues most pertinent to poor WOC [have been historically] overlooked by middle class white women and still are today.

However, I would argue some of the same problems I see with what is called “white feminism” can be pointed out in some of the politics of black feminists as well. Why would we cheer on [President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama] if we had a strong understanding of how capitalism and white supremacy are intertwined? How could we cheer on figureheads for US Empire that bomb black and brown people and shill for the capitalist class? How could the effect of ongoing US colonialism in Caribbean and African countries be absent from our politics?

The answer is we wouldn’t [cheer them on, if we understood that] representation within oppressive institutions is not a victory. [Representation] is only the system adapting to the pressure of our social movements by giving us the veneer of progress [in our fight] against white supremacy and patriarchy. This is done by choosing [members of] the middle and upper class within oppressed groups to represent the interests of the ruling class. So, the fundamental problem with many circles of feminism today, be they white or black, is liberalism and reformism. The fundamental problem is that our movements do not truly [address] the nature of power and how it operates. For black women to be free, it’s imperative that we understand [who is truly oppressing us and how they are oppressing us]. It is imperative that our feminism is rooted in class politics—that it is revolutionary, not reformist.

WHEN DID “BEING A WOMAN” BECOME POLITICAL FOR YOU? HOW WERE YOU POLITICIZED AS A FEMALE CITIZEN OF THE US?

In high school, I was active in work to address homophobia and interpersonal violence against LGBT people and the violence against women predominantly perpetrated by men. The desires to subordinate women and police people’s gender and sexuality through violence are ubiquitous in our culture, and I saw this, from movies and advertisements, the church, and the ever-lingering threat of violence when simply going about [my] day. My place in society was abundantly clear to me, and, from high school onward, I worked to deprogram feelings of subordination within myself through both political education and involvement in work to stop violence against women and LGBT people.

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THAT AFFECT WOMEN THAT ARE CLOSEST TO YOUR HEART?

The more I have grown politically, the more that I see how every social injustice is interconnected and how they are a result of and exacerbated by class society. [For example], I am employed as a victim advocate where I live, for women, most of the time, but really anyone experiencing inter-partner violence, domestic violence, stalking, harassment, and sexual assault. Part of my job is connecting women to safe housing and the resources [my organization] has available to help women transition out of abusive domestic situations. Resources such as women’s shelters were gains made by the women’s movement, along with the change in perception when it comes to domestic violence. With that said, [though], we never have enough resources. Shelters are always full.

There is no place within the United States where a person working [for] minimum wage can afford a one bedroom apartment by herself. Trying to do that while having to care for children without affordable healthcare is nearly impossible for many [women]. A study [conducted] in Massachusetts found that 92% of homeless women had experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives; 63% had been victims of violence by an intimate partner; and 32% had been assaulted by their current or most recent partner (National Alliance to End Homelessness). So, when a woman has [to choose] between living out in the streets and staying with an abusive partner, what kind of “choice’ is that? There are ten empty homes for every homeless person in this country, so [homelessness] is not a question of a lack of physical resources. The problem is capitalism. So, when I am of the clock, work that involves building up the support systems and movements necessary to get to the roots of the problems that oppress women interpersonally and systematically is my utmost priority.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DO TO MAKE YOUR LIFE AND THE LIVES OF OTHER WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY BETTER? DO YOU HAVE A “PASSION PROJECT” THAT RELATES TO YOUR BEING A WOMAN? WHAT IS IT?

For my job, I assist women in getting emergency housing, safety planning, [and] group counseling sessions. [I answer] the crisis hotline, [write] restraining orders and orders of protection, and guide them the best I can through the options they have when in an abusive relationship and/or when making steps to leave. I consider this work important crises management work.

Under capitalism, these problems will continue to emerge. A violent system creates violent people. The divide-and-conquer of communities is necessary for [the system’s] functioning. [My work] on community self-defense and land defense [connects] to women’s oppression because safety in terms of clean food, air, and water, as well as community safety, [should] not [be] reliant on police that disproportionately kill black people and that have the function of protecting property relations for the rich. [The police] are not [who] we should be relying on long term to protect ourselves, families, and communities. So, building real solutions for women and the children they raise—solutions that rely on strong communities of resistance to Empire—is one of the issues I am most passionate about.

WHO ARE SOME OF THE WOMEN THAT HAVE BEEN MOST INFLUENTIAL TO YOU? WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON EVER TAUGHT TO YOU BY A WOMAN?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of women who have influenced and inspired me, however, for this blog’s purposes, I will limit it to three women: my mother and the performers Lucille Ball and Josephine Baker.

My mother raised me most of the time, and she always instilled in me that I was worthy, talented, and intelligent. She came to all of my performances and was one of my biggest cheerleaders. I learned from her at a young age the importance of treating people with respect and kindness, and the right ways you should treat people are lessons I take with me and that influence how I interact with people and my political work. I also learned when I was older the importance of people that support and believe in you and provide a safe environment [for you]. People who grow up without [these things] have problems that last lifetimes. We humans are not so different than plants. The degree to which we access the essentials we need determines how much or little we will flourish. A plant deprived of sun and water will wither just like human deprived of love and security are impaired [and thwarted] from reaching their fullest potential. It is this understanding that influences my political work and organizing. We are in a system that makes accessing the safety and love we need at our most vulnerable impossible. And, left with no options, people in one way or another cannibalize each other and the most vulnerable [among us]. The conditions of our lives shape the people we become. And I owe the person I am in large part to my mother.

Lucille Ball: I fell in love with her as a kid. As a performer, she is a great inspiration, and I remember how I adored her so because she was a woman that was funny. I would watch all the reruns of “I Love Lucy” when [I was] at home from daycare or school. I remember bringing one of my favorite episodes to Show & Tell in first grade and laughing boisterously but being surprised to see none of my classmates getting the jokes. For me, I think it was that fact that she wasn’t just arm candy for her husband, and she didn’t just fall into all the stereotypical housewife tropes. She got into trouble and was rebellious (admittedly against the authority of her husband, which, yes, is pretty weird and patriarchal). Seven-year-old Jessica could relate a lot to her.

Josephine Baker also captured my imagination as a teenager after reading a book about major figures during the Harlem Renaissance. I then went to YouTube to check out who she was. She had a charisma and talent that were undeniable. You see this from her first videos to the ones in her older years. She was the world’s first black superstar. She, too, was funny. Josephine also spent much of her life fighting racism, renouncing her US citizenship, and becoming a French citizen. [She returned] to the US [after leaving for France] to fight segregation in nightclubs and concert venues and participated in the March on Washington [as one of the speakers]. As both an excellent black female performer and someone that didn’t take racism silently, she is an inspiration to me.

I don’t know what it is I love about a woman that can make people laugh. There’s a self-confidence and social intelligence that shines through in great performers. And, as someone that has performed, [I know] it’s a powerful feeling to capture with your performance and hold the audience in the palm of your hand. When performing, you learn self-confidence and assuredness—traits that shine through in the great performers like the ones [I] mentioned.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF ABOUT SURVIVING THE PROCESS OF BECOMING A WOMAN, IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND TALK TO HER?

You are worth more than your fuckability.

Boys are not nearly as interesting as you think they are now. That’s O.K. You will learn.

Reading books is awesome. Keep doing that.

You already accepted not being straight within yourself to some extent, but do it all the way. You should not have to hide who you are, and, one day, you will have the courage and support system of friends [so that you don’t have to].

Bulimia will not make you feel better about yourself—neither will losing weight—because you are tying your self esteem to how you look. It has nothing to do with how you look and everything to do with unlearning the messages that you are not enough that society has taught you.

Your inability to “behave right” is not an indication of your moral failing, but you know that already in some ways, deep down. You will learn to adapt to some of the rules to “succeed” because you know you don’t have a choice.

You don’t need to straighten your hair; it looks better natural. You will figure that out in a few years, playing around with and mixing different gels left around the house.

Your parents are not perfect—no parents are—but most things [that] they said and did came from a place of love. To have the parents and [general] family support you have is something countless people would consider themselves blessed or amazingly fortunate to receive.

Those white boys are not more intelligent than you. Not even close.

Once you stop caring, you will be surprised how easy it is to make friends.

Debate, theater, and choir are exactly the things you should be doing. They will help you develop skills and build confidence in ways that you will carry with you the rest of your life.

Don’t be afraid people will hate you. You are amazing and more powerful than you know!

NOTE FROM EDITOR:

Thank you so much, Jessica, for giving me such open, thoughtful and thorough answers to these questions and sharing your experiences and ideas with my readers.

Readers—if you want to contact Deep Roots Jessica and speak with her about her work, email her at deep-rootsjess@riseup.net. Also, check her out her blog: https://deeprootsjess.wordpress.com/.