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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You Not ‘Bout No Life: The Logical Fallacy of the Anti-Abortion Conservative & The Reason Trump and His Cronies Can Go Choke on a Communion Wafer

Anyone that has been following me for longer than one post knows I am a stickler when it comes to using words. Or maybe you don’t. So let me tell you. It can take me five or six hours to write a post sometimes because I keep trying to capture my ideas perfectly.

I never write unless I can compose on a computer, so I can open up Edge if I’m using Word, or a second tab in Edge if I’m blogging, and have up the Merriam-Webster website in case I need to look up a word.

I even have a whole collection of axioms I use when I’m teaching to stress the importance of being exacting when it comes to using words. I tell my students there is an entire lexicon of words to capture their ideas, so stop using the same 20 or 30. Do not rely on context clues to define a new word – I tell them – look it up. Do not use a word whose meaning you do not know, no matter how “sophisticated” you think it sounds.

I tell them there are no two less descriptive adjectives in the English language than “good” and “bad” – these words can mean anything to anyone. Adverbs are often just crutches for writers that don’t know a wide enough variety of action verbs. Very few words are truly interchangeable, and that is particularly true of the two words I’m going to break down in this post.

One of the defining characteristics of American political conservatives – who are mostly Republicans – is that they are “pro-life.” This term, as it is customarily used, refers to people purported to believe abortion is immoral and should be illegal.

John Hawkins, in an article differentiating conservatives and liberals, writes, “Conservatives believe that abortion ends the life of an innocent child and since we believe that infanticide is wrong, we oppose abortion.” To me – a liberal black Democrat feminist – this explanation captures perfectly the inaccuracy of the term “pro-life.” Conservatives are not really pro-life; they’re just anti-abortion.

They propagate the idea that human life begins at conception, and supposedly root their beliefs about abortion in that idea, but, when it comes to their other political beliefs, they expose an undeniable callousness about the preciousness of human life that ultimately undermines them.

Their “pro-life” language and optics can be pretty compelling, but I still say they are not convincing, and the majority of conservatives that oppose abortion politically and publically are not actually concerned with the immorality of the act of killing but rather the ramifications of a paradigm shift in America’s racial demography.

They don’t care about the poor lost babies; they care about the fact that white women obtained 39% of abortions in America in 2014 while black women obtained 28%, Latinx women obtained 25%, and other races and ethnicities only obtained 9%.

They care about the fact that 75% of women that obtained abortions in America in 2014 were low income or poor, and these abortions placed them in better positions to attend school, work, build, and retain some wealth.

According to Gallup, the majority of Republicans in America are white (89%),  and we know the majority of political conservatives are Republican.

The majority of conservatives in government are also Republican, white, and supposedly “pro-life,” and this now includes Trump – He Who I Shall Not Call President.

I think Trump’s pro-life views are just another guise for his all-consuming opportunism. I won’t say the thing I want to say about how likely it is that as a philandering billionaire, Trump has paid for more than a few hasty secret abortions in his time, but I will say that up until his Presidential campaign last year, he appeared to be – and he was quoted in 1999 referring to himself as – “very pro-choice.”

I think he flip-flopped to help win over the conservative electorate, and that would be fine with me if it didn’t translate into him making efforts at the federal level to strip American women of their abortion rights.

In regards to staunch “pro-lifers” like Vice President Michael Pence, I won’t say that they are lying about being Christians or believing abortion is wrong because there’s no way I can know that.

But I can and do conjecture that their religious beliefs are not the true basis of their official stance against abortion. They oppose abortion for political reasons and lie about it so they don’t seem like ruthless monsters or machines.

I say this because the prevailing sentiment throughout the New Testament is that disciples of Jesus should go out and try to win and save souls, but disciples are characterized as trained teachers and preachers in the Bible, and not laymen, and no Christian’s salvation is hinged by the Word on his or her ability to keep another Christian or another person from committing sins.

In other words, Christianity doesn’t mandate that believers actively block the sinful decisions and actions of others. It doesn’t encourage believers to interfere with other people’s lives that aggressively. The Bible says tell people about the Trinity, pray for people, model Christian behavior for them, but do not judge or seek to punish them because that is God’s job alone.

And anyway, even if these highly vocal conservatives in government do care about the souls of their constituents, their myopic focus on abortion as the main political conduit for conveying morality to the American people – if such a thing can even be done – says that isn’t the only thing they are trying to accomplish with their anti-abortion antics.

Because drug use, alcohol consumption, pornography, and prostitution are all still booming in America today, but you don’t see conservatives pushing for any legislation to more efficiently block Americans’ access to any of them.

And rape, divorce, defrauding people, gambling, persecuting others, and acting against the poor are all sins, according to the Bible, but American laws actually enable all of these things, and conservatives do very little, if anything, to change, improve, or strengthen these laws.

Unborn babies aren’t the only ones dying because of the wide berth our current laws give Americans to exercise their free will. Conservatives could take political umbrage with the way a dozen different issues are legislated at the moment, or make a dozen different strategic moves in this session of Congress, if saving lives is really what they wanted to do, but, as we should all see from the endless fucking stream of government articles on the Internet, they don’t.

Conservatives don’t want increased gun control in a country where there were 372 mass shootings that killed 475 people in 2015; there were 13,286 people killed by firearms (excluding suicides); and 60% of murders were committed with guns.

Conservatives want to repeal Obamacare before creating and implementing a workable replacement when research shows that 45,000 Americans died each year due to lack of health insurance before Obamacare.

Conservatives want to end government programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program a/k/a food stamps), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance, yet, again, research shows that 162,000 Americans die annually due to low social support; 133,000 die due to individual-level poverty; and 119,000 die due to income inequality.

Conservatives give blanket support to law enforcement though American police killed an estimated 928 people every year for the last eight years, and there is no way of knowing – because of inefficient tracking procedures – which of these killings were justified and which were avoidable.

And while we’re at it – conservatives believe in a strong military, yet “approximately 165,000 [Iraqi] civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the [US] invasion through April 2015 . . . through aerial bombing, shelling, gunshots, suicide attacks, and fires started by bombing.”

According to their propaganda, human life begins at the moment of conception, but it also seems to end at the instant of birth – the point at which they stop trying to pantomime concern and exploit their preciousness for the sake of political expediency.

Conservatives want to outlaw the 1.2 million abortions that American women have each year, regardless of their reasons, but seem to have no problem with directly or indirectly facilitating the deaths of roughly half that number of full people through the exercise of a malignant passel their other political beliefs.

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Where does their supposed Christian concern for life and will to save innocent souls go when they are tussling back-and-forth with Democrats that want to save Obamacare or toughen up gun control or stop the use of military torture on our so-called enemies? I mean, hey, Christians are supposed to love their enemies.

And if anti-abortion laws are really only about getting women to have their babies, then why don’t conservatives focus on getting women to have their babies willingly?

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “The reasons patients gave for having an abortion underscored their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life [emphasis added]. The three most common reasons—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents. Half said they did not want to be a single parent or were having problems with their husband or partner.”

So where are the conservatives pushing for the laws that increase and equalize women’s wages, mandate paid maternity leave and maternal job retention, subsidize childcare costs, or grant free family health insurance or childcare to enrolled college students?

You don’t see or hear from these conservatives because conservatives’ issue with abortion isn’t really moral, and their campaign against it isn’t borne out of compassion; it’s borne out of their bottomless cunning.

I think when conservatives insist that infant lives matter, they are prevaricating. They are couching shrewd political strategy in seeming ethicality. They’re not talking about saving souls. They’re trying to shore up political and economic power to comfortably sustain them into the country’s uncertain future.

Conservatives are, again, mostly Republican, and Republicans are mostly white. Whites have hegemonic power over America as a result of being the framers of the republic and authors and economic beneficiaries of slavery and the Industrial Revolution in North America.

A primary factor in their hegemony is their numbers; they are the majority, so, when they vote together, as witnessed in the last Presidential race, they can dictate the leadership of the country and choose such that the leadership acts primarily in their favor.

When conservatives fight to take away women’s right to abortion, they are not fighting the wages of sin. They are fighting to stave off the arrival of the mythological majority-minority tipping point date, on which they will no longer be the majority and so easily able to secure their hegemony. They are fighting, behind that, to saddle poor minorities with children they can’t afford, so they have a harder time educating themselves, working, and building wealth or rather encroaching on the money white people want to horde for themselves, and, behind that, they are fighting to keep a perennial underclass in American society that is made of mostly of minorities – a segment of the population that is persistently poor and mired in pathologies of poverty that keep its members from rising to the working or middle classes, where they could become competition for less affluent whites.

Conservatives understand that unplanned, unaffordable pregnancies are often “part of the vicious cycle of poverty,” in which “kids born into poverty are likely to remain there for their whole lives, despite the promise of the American Dream.”

They also know that “compared with having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with greater risk of initially experiencing adverse psychological outcomes,” and “[p]sychological well-being improved over time so that both groups of women eventually converged.” Women that are denied abortions do not end up “happier” than women that are allowed to have them.

I think this is important for women to realize because we are – across communities – conditioned to care deeply about how we appear under the male gaze – to be “good” girls (see – that projective-ass word)  and – when the men with the loudest voices and weightiest opinions censure our options for our lives – it is difficult for many of us to bear up under that and fight for the resources and choices we need to be autonomous.

Conservatives make a lot of moralistic and misogynistic arguments against abortion (not the least is the sub-textual argument that women’s overall wellbeing in politically expendable), but the truth is the majority of women don’t use abortions as a means of birth control, and they don’t relish having to make the decision or go through with having an abortion. They do it because it’s what they feel they have to do.

The majority of women have abortions out of financial, psychological, and/or physical necessity, and they do not choose adoption because to do so they would still have to take on the financial, psychological, and physical of pregnancy, and those are not incidental in the least – no matter what conservative white male members of Congress that know everything they know about pregnancy and childbirth from watching their affluent wives and side chicks go through it might say.

And, despite the misleading way conservatives talk about cutting funding for institutions like Planned Parenthood, federal money does not pay for abortions in any institutional setting, even if abortions are given in that setting.

Sadly, anti-abortion laws don’t ensure either – in conjunction with blocking abortions – that every American child that is allowed to be born is adequately fed, clothed, housed, educated, or loved.

According to Children’s Rights, there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the US right now. Nearly six percent of children in foster care stay in for five or more years. More than half of the children entering foster care are racial minorities. Fourteen percent of children in foster care are not in family settings; they are in institutions or group homes.

In 2015, over 62,000 American children whose parents’ parental rights had been terminated were waiting to be adopted, and more than 20,000 young adults aged out of foster care without permanent families.

Research has shown that those who leave care without being linked to forever families have a higher likelihood than youth in the general population to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration as adults.”

Too, 686,000 US children in foster care in 2012 were victims of abuse – 78.3% of these babies were neglected, 18.3% were battered, 9.3% were physically abused, 8.5% were “psychologically maltreated,” and 1,640 died from abuse and neglect.

If conservative Republicans were really ’bout that life – as they say in the streets – where so many unwanted American children end up after everything is said and done on Capitol Hill – they’d be brainstorming ways to keep these young ones out of foster care, not shove more of them in.

If they were about life at all, and not just money and power, they’d focus on making America livable for everyone and stop using poor women’s wombs as metaphoric or spiritual suicide bombs.

 

Privilege & Privation

She is a pretty little girl, but that is probably part of the problem.

I’m not one that swoons over blond hair and blue eyes; I’m woke. I appreciate the attractiveness of African diasporic features just as much as I appreciate the attractiveness of European diasporic features.

Still, I recognize that this little girl is most people’s aesthetic wet dream, whether they’re white or black.

She has the blond, natural curls tumbling over her shoulders–the sort that literally bounce when she walks–and eyes that are a bright, not a watery, blue, like a crayon or square of bathroom tile.

She has cheeks that flush baby doll pink, a small, pink mouth, and just enough sun in her skin so that she doesn’t look sickly, but she doesn’t look burnt.

She is her mother’s only daughter–a cherished child–born and raised in this affluent suburb–cosseted like a flower in a hothouse.

Her mother and father are married; they live in the same house; they’re both gainfully employed. They take her to church every Sunday; they attend as a family. She has been horseback riding, and she takes paid swimming lessons. People compliment her on her confidence and singing–in that order–and she struts around like the little second-coming of Christina Aguilera.

She is in my daughter’s Brownie troop, and, at their last meeting, she stopped suddenly while playing with three other white girls, another black girl, and my little girl, and called a secret meeting.

She called two of the three other white girls by name to join her, stepped away from the lawn with them, wrapped her arms around their necks, and brought their faces down, close to hers so she could whisper to them.

Then, they took off–the three of them–across the parking lot to the woods out back of the church where the meetings are held.

The black girls watched as they met and ran off, then they followed, thinking that whatever business their “friends” needed to handle was done, and they could all start playing together again.

The last little white girl hung back. Intuitively, she knew what had just happened. She knew that a decision had been made to ostracize her.

She is an overweight little girl and already indoctrinated by society to believe that her body makes her ugly and unworthy; you can see it in the way she quietly, fearfully holds herself when she is sitting with the other girls.

She almost always wanders away, to the table of mothers at the back of the meeting room, when the other Brownies start playing, as if she’s doing their dirty work for them–kicking herself out of the game before someone else does.

Anyhow, back to the woods–

As the overweight white girl hangs back, and starts trying to figure out how to amuse herself, my daughter and her black friend run after the secret conspirators like silly little pups.

“Hey, you guys. We’re coming,” they call.

Before they can even arrive at the mouth of the woods, though, Curly–little Christina Aguilera–whips around and gives them this disgusted look.

“You’re not allowed in the woods,” she tells them. “I’m a member of this church, and you’re not members of this church. I can go into the woods, but you can’t.”

The girls are stunned. This is, of course, when I intervene.

“Let’s go,” I call to my daughter. “You, too,” I say to the other black girl.

I send the other girl back inside, where her mother is finishing up some field trip business with the leader, and I put my daughter into my car.

“Why did we have to leave?” she whines.

“Because I don’t like what was happening,” I tell her. “I don’t like what __________ was doing to you.”

I had been standing with another mother, watching the girls play–the mother of one of the conspirators–a quiet, brunette girl that is much more delicate and shy than Curly and so goes along with whatever she says–probably so Curly won’t hurt her feelings.

When this mother sees that I am gathering up my daughter, when she hears me explaining to my daughter, through the open windows of my car, that she should never beg for anyone’s acceptance because good people wouldn’t put her in the position to beg, this mother calls her daughter to the car, too. She puts her in the backseat and helps her with her seatbelt.

I don’t know what she tells her little girl, if she tells her anything. I only see them speed off. I see the dots of Curly and her other friend’s blonde heads against the blackish background of the trees in my rearview mirror

My daughter, asks, as we pull off of the parking lot, if Curly called those other girls over and took them into the woods with her because she’s white, and they’re white.

I reason it out with her. I ask if the other girls are members of the church; she says no. I ask whether the other black girl or she had been mean to Curly and her conspirators; she says no.

I ask whether she or any of the other black girls in the troop get to be a part of Curly’s “secret meetings” whenever she calls them (I make a guess this isn’t the first time she’s called a meeting, just the first time I’ve seen her), and she says no again, confirming that this behavior is a pattern–one that I wish I’d detected much earlier.

It’s only after this final “no” that I say to my daughter, yes, I think Curly did that because those girls are white like her, and you’re not.

I explain to her that they are heading into intermediate school and adolescence. Everyone is going to start feeling weird about themselves and their bodies. Some people are going to displace those feelings onto others; they’re going to make other people feel bad so they can feel better about themselves. So they can feel like they have more control over their lives than they really do at their age.

One of the ways that they will do this is by separating themselves. They’ll do it by color, income level, level of academic ability, level of athletic ability, all sorts of superficial things like that. A lot of people will start hanging in groups of people that look like them exclusively so they can pump each other up. Some might even start picking on people that don’t look like them so they can makes themselves look “better.”

Curly has discovered the worst kept secret of white America’s “success”–I tell my baby–that they can always use black people like pawns whenever they need to fake a win.

My daughter, the pragmatist, sighs and says, “Well, then, I’m glad my best friend is black.”

It’s sad, but I silently agree with her. I’d hate to see her get her heart broken by some girl she actually loves, treating her like Curly.

I’m still not sure it won’t happen at some point in the next few years.

I titled this post “Privilege & Privation” because I think this story is an interesting example of both.

Curly, to me, is nothing but a miniature of a certain type of white American. One that feels entitled to a high level of self-worth and resents the threat that people of color pose to that high level of self-worth.

She was raised privileged, and she wants to hang on to that privilege for the duration. It feels vitally necessary to her in order to function.

So much so that even as part of a Brownie troop in which six out of the 11 members are black (and two are Indian), she is determined that the tone of the interactions will be such that she gets to feel like the troop’s worthiest member.

Curly has clearly made up her mind to force her standards for worthiness–with her secret meetings and convoluted “codes”–onto everyone else before she is forced to measure herself according to the black girls’ standards and experience privation–a  lack of validation–for what would be the first time in her life.

Curly is no different than older white people that assert “All Lives Matter” when they hear people say “Black Lives Matter.” They are operating from the same impulse to preserve their privilege.

They are terrified that a movement that highlights the moral and ethical depravity of so many white police officers and lawmakers will really start to undermine the cultural myth of whites as superior and make it impossible for white people to position themselves as arbiters, i.e. the people that set the standards.

These white people understand that white privilege hinges on the hypothesis that white people are more worthy human beings than people of color.

They understand that in order for America to keep operating from the theory that whites deserve their privilege, they cannot allow this hypothesis to be proven incorrect.

So they say things like “He should’ve complied” when it comes to injustices like the murders of Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. Or they say “He was doing something illegal” when it comes to injustices like the murders of Mike Brown and Alton Sterling. Or they say “The cop feared for his life” when it comes to injustices like the murders of Alton Sterling and Tamir Rice.

They keep trying to make it seem as if these murders are justified, and legal, and they aren’t products of racism and bigotry.

They talk about black-on-black crime as if one atrocity somehow justifies another. They talk about the outrageous number of blacks in jail, ignoring the fact that the majority are in jail for nonviolent drug offenses and as a result of racist mandatory sentencing laws that target crimes to which blacks tend to gravitate (thank you, President Bill Clinton).

They say and do everything they can to discredit arguments that the victims of these murders are in fact victims, and they were murdered as much by bigoted perceptions of them as black men and women as by guns, so they can remain steeped in their privilege.

They are terrified of privation–the profound lack of respect, regard, rights, and refuge that blacks suffer across the board in American society.

They are doing just what Curly is attempting to do in my daughter’s Brownie troop– to make sure that the culture never becomes such that rewards and punishments–inclusion and acceptance–are doled out by non-white people on bases determined by non-white people.

I don’t know what it’s like to have an entire society slanted toward my survival or happiness. I don’t know what it’s like to be privileged. I am a black woman in America.

I have two degrees, but I am still underemployed. I have 10 years of experience in my field, but I am still underpaid. I have a blog that has received 31,000 views since January 8 (!), but I can’t even put this accomplishment on my resume because I know that the content of the blog, though extremely relevant to my life and life in America on the whole, can be construed as “anti-white.”

I live in a perpetual and edgeless state of black middle class privation.

Still, I am intelligent enough to understand why white people grasp so desperately at their privilege and honest enough to say that it makes perfect sense.

Which makes me overwhelmed when I try to think about what black people might do to get ourselves out of our institutionalized state of privation.

I am inclined to think that as long as such a large swath of the majority is acting like Curly–scared to exist in a space in which their exclusive survival is not the absolute and official priority–things will never get truly or substantially better for black people in America.

And I am angry that these adults that act like Curly get to go around pretending to be so supremely able to function in that sort of meritocracy when they clearly are not (privilege).

I am angry that Curly is how she is, and my daughter will have to deal with girls like her, doing the same sort of cruel things to her, for the rest of her life, just because my daughter is black.

She will have to fight so that her sense of herself isn’t chipped away, petty, hostile, unjustifiable interaction by petty, hostile, unjustifiable interaction.

And God forbid she run into a Curly that’s a cop. Someone that can take her desire to make my daughter feel puny and powerless and fire a gun with it. Legally.

See what I’m saying? Privation.

As a black American mother, I don’t have the privilege of pushing scenarios like this out of my head.

That they might actually happen is just too possible for people like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Are We So Worried About What the Next Woman Is Doing?

Like Britney, I did another “oops.”

I watched Parts I and II of the “Love & Hip Hop” Reunion Show for this past season.

So I was right there–chin on the floor–with hundreds of thousands of other viewers–wondering what the hell Amina Buddafly was doing, showing off a baby bump with Peter Gunz’s other baby-mama, Tara, sitting on an adjacent couch, nine months pregnant her damn self.

And I had so much to say, too–about how disturbing it was that these two women, who are clearly of age, and ostensibly intelligent, would continue to not only have sex but have children with this man that clearly has issues with fidelity, honesty, and sensibility (but certainly not fertility).

But I thought about it.

I stopped judging and making mental comparisons between their decisions and my decisions (“I mean–I would never . . .), and I really thought about why I was so invested in these women’s lives. These women that I have never met. These women that are not kin to me. These women that are grown and entitled to make their own decisions.

These women that have never asked me–not one time–to help them pay a bill or care for any of their children or give them any sort of help living their lives.

I realized then that this is what we do, some of us. We use social comparison to enhance our self esteem. We make decisions that we think are sound–that we think are “good”–and expect to be rewarded for these decisions in some way.

We build our confidence and concepts of ourselves on our ability to make these “good” decisions–on the foundation of all the “good” decisions we’ve made.

We get into this mental feedback loop of thinking “I make good decisions, so that makes me a good person.”

Then, when we see someone make a different choice–or an opposite choice–from one of ours–we secretly start to question the content of that “good” decision. Especially if that person seems to be enjoying a life that is as “good” as ours.

We may even get shaken by that–the fact that their “bad” decision hasn’t resulted in totally negative consequences. We may think “I did all of that [whatever ‘that’ is], and for what?”

We may even resent the person whose life we’re watching from a distance because he or she seems to be getting away with “murder” in a sense. Because even having made a “bad” decision, he or she seems to be doing all right.

And to process these emotions, we get self-righteous. We draw bold circles around them and slashes over them–make them into the “bad” group–so we can feel good again.

All of this to gratify ourselves. To cultivate some level of acceptance or appreciation of the amount of self-control, self-denial, work, and, yes, pain it took for us to carry through on our own decisions. To make these things feel like they were “worth it.” Particularly if we feel unsure that they were, in fact.

Let me give you a more specific example. I hate when people talk in generalizations, but I’m talking in generalizations right now.

So let’s take, say, women that shame other women for having abortions–something that happens all the time–especially on social media–in America.

Now, I understand men trying to force women to have children. And that’s not an overstatement. Approximately 282 new legal restrictions have been placed on abortion in the US since 2010, and the majority were proposed and passed by male political leaders and legislators. The rationale for this is arithmetic, not calculus: White men don’t want minorities to outnumber white people, minority men want their manhood reified in a society that perennially emasculates them, and powerful men want women in the traditional roles of mother and/or caretaker because it justifies the glass ceiling (mothers miss more work so they deserve lower pay and less power).

What I couldn’t understand–for the longest time–was women–people that understood how hard motherhood can be–begrudging other women when they exercise their legal right to opt out.

Notice, though, I used the past tense in that last sentence; I said “couldn’t understand. But I get it now.

Mothers are supposed to be paragons of love. They are not only supposed to love their children more than anything else, but they are also supposed to love motherhood more than anything else. That’s the ideal.

Our culture judges women that do not claim to adore motherhood, or do not seem or seek to excel at motherhood, as the absolute worst kind of women. They are even worse than whores.

Because we stupidly believe that having the anatomical capacity to mother means you should automatically have the emotional or psychological equipment, too.

We also pretend that a lack of money or support shouldn’t make a difference in how difficult motherhood is.

We know better–many of us from firsthand experience–but we still judge ourselves and other mothers by impossible standards because of what we’ve been taught (by religion, tradition, media, and other women).

All women are supposed to want to be mothers. So if a woman gets pregnant accidentally, she is supposed to see this as fate and go through with having the baby, willingly, happily.

Fuck what stage of life she’s in. Fuck how much money she has. Fuck the nature or quality of her relationship to the father. Fuck her mental or emotional readiness. Fuck her true desire to be with child or remain childless. Fuck her essentially. She is not important in this so-called “equation.”

It becomes about the baby as soon as the baby comes into existence. Never mind that the baby can’t even exist outside of the mother’s body before five or six months of pregnancy. Never mind that the baby can’t survive outside of the mother’s body for another two or three years without total dependence on the mother or different adult caretaker.

All women are supposed to want to be mothers. This is what a lot of women tell themselves.

And so, if they get pregnant accidentally, and in unfavorable or unfortunate circumstances, they go through with the pregnancy.

They fight through the myriad struggles of unplanned pregnancy or single pregnancy or high-risk pregnancy or teenage pregnancy or drug-addicted pregnancy or pregnancy in poverty or pregnancy by rape or reproductive abuse. And then they fight through the myriad struggles of unplanned, unprepared, or perhaps even unwanted motherhood. And then, either subconsciously or in absolute earnest, they want that effort to be rewarded. Perhaps they even need to feel rewarded.

I’m not judging here, either. I think all mothers want their parenting effort to be rewarded. And understandably so.

If you’re doing the job even halfway decently, it has to rank in the Top Five of the hardest shit you’ve ever done. It’s beautiful, but it’s brutal.

Women that are trying their hardest to be healthy mothers want that effort to count for something; they want to be recognized for doing what so many other women won’t do. They want some sort of light shone on them for embracing such a dire, endless, and so often thankless task.

Again, I get it. I’m a mother. And I’m one of those mothers. That wants to feel like I did a very important thing by having my baby. That I am doing something important and maybe even divine by raising her.

But I’m also a mother that pledged not to be disingenuous about motherhood–how hard it is and how encompassing it is and how–I’m taking a deep breath of apprehension as I admit this–troublesome it can sometimes be.

I used to have a blog on which I wrote strictly about motherhood, and, in a post from 2010, I said this:

Even though I am completely gratified that M is already showing signs of that she will be as bookish, inquisitive, and assertive as Mama Bear, the fact that she isn’t your typical two-year-old in terms of intelligence or force of personality is presenting challenges on two fronts.

One-discipline. Even though I can “talk” to her about what I’d like her to do (get into the tub, pick up her room, eat her veggies), and she nods and even repeats my ideas back to me, doesn’t always mean she does what I’ve asked. Because she is so keyed into her wants, so accustomed to having them met, and so fearless when it comes to pushing back against anything that makes her angry or uncomfortable, M is just as likely to not do what I’ve said as to do it. And sometimes her refusal just isn’t an option. And I have to act.

I am really ambivalent about it, but I do have to admit that I have begun spanking her when she flatly refuses to do what she needs to do. When there is room for choices or alternatives, I allow them, but when her safety (“Hold mama’s hand while we walk through this parking lot”) or well-being (“It’s almost 10pm. Time for bed”) are at issue, I make the call and require her to fall in with it. If she can’t be convinced, then I give her some good ol’ fashioned coercion. But I’m conflicted. I am.

One of the things I said to myself when I found out I was having a daughter was I would help her to discover, appreciate, and use her power at as early an age as possible. My early childhood was idyllic, but my preteen years and adolescence were marked by bullying and boy craziness. I was run by everyone and everything except my own wishes for myself and my life. I don’t want that for her.

I don’t spank often or for every offense, but each time that I do, I wonder whether I am inadvertently teaching her that her wishes will not or need not be respected. I worry that I am actually showing her how easily her power can be taken, and making it seem pointless for her to assert it. This fear, of course, is counterbalanced by the knowledge that she is a toddler and completely incapable of knowing all that she needs to do to remain healthy and even happy at this point in her development.

So even as the pendulum swings left then right, I can’t seem to move forward with any sort of certainty about how I should discipline my strong-willed girl. I continue trying to reason with her as much as possible, persuade her in the instances when I can, and nudge her in the right direction when she refuses to go on her own. But the fact that I am not convinced that spanking is the best way–her sweet little face crumpling in the aftermath–does make it difficult.

The second issue is linked to this one: toilet training. Even though I have been asking and urging and even sitting her down on her beloved Elmo potty off and on for the last six months, she has absolutely no interest. Even though she finds the mess and awkwardness of diapering “too yucky,” she still says “no, thank you” every time I invite her to skip it for a nice, sanitary sit-down on the throne. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when she so adamantly and politely refuses. Although, I must say, giggling is probably not the best response. I know.

All of the literature that I have read on the topic say don’t force it. Her doctor says don’t force it. But this voices of being drowned out by all of the old school black mamas in our lives that say a baby should be toilet trained by two at the latest. M will be three in August. We’re already getting eyes rolled and tongues clucked at us. She is oblivious, but I am feeling the pressure. And the expense of diapers, the inconvenience of changing someone as active and assertive as she has become, doesn’t make it easy to ignore the admonitions.

Also, I would like to put her in day care within the next few months. She needs the socialization. But I am afraid to make a stranger responsible for her toilet. I worry about everything from the person’s slovenliness to his or her pedophilia. Still, I think that going to school in diapers and seeing kids her age go potty might be just the encouragement she needs. Again, I’m stuck as to what’s the right move to make.

This last year has been the most challenging of our time together. My little baby has become a little person, and she is a strong one. I have had to learn to step back, shut up, and let her be who she is. Yes, this early. And I have also had to learn that even though she is bigger and more capable, she probably needs my guidance more now than before. These are the years in which the foundation for who she will be for the rest of her life will be lain. I want it to be sturdy and able to serve her well. I don’t want to smother her spirit with rules and rigid expectations, but I don’t want to give her the freedom to grow into a person that cannot function effectively in the various systems that make up our society. I want her to enter into these systems and change them, improve them, not become grist for the mill.

So I weigh these heavy decisions. I try to be wise and think forward. I try to prioritize her health and happiness rather than my own ease. I pray that I am doing the right things and that they are having the desired effect on her mind, heart, and spirit.

I know I’m blessed that these were the only problems I was dealing with at the time, but I think the sentiment is consistent and similar for all mothers.

We mothers–most of us–are breathing, sleeping, and eating worry about our children and striving to do the best for them.

The work we do as parents varies in its degree of difficulty depending on the unique challenges that our children face, but what doesn’t vary is the fact that it is difficult. It is work. And some of us really do struggle to do it.

And since that’s true, how can we begrudge those women that say “Not me” or “Now now”?

How can we say–in truth–that they are wrong to want to choose this work–or do it on their own terms–when it’s such crucial work?

I don’t think that there’s anything that women need more than the support of other women in this man’s world. This world that perpetually misunderstands and misconstrues what it is to be a woman.

I don’t think that there’s anything that women need more than the space to be themselves in this world that wants to dictate their bodies from hairstyle to toe nail color.

I don’t know why we need our decisions to be validated by other women’s decisions so desperately, but since we do, I suggest that we get what we need this way.

Trust the women in your life to know what’s right for them, and let them pursue that without censuring them.

Your religious salvation or whatever it is you hope to secure by making “good” decisions cannot be jeopardized by the actions that another woman takes for or against herself.

Feel, think, or believe what you want about abortion or polyamory or same sex marriage or interracial marriage or breastfeeding or birth control or spanking or cohabitating or whatever and live that truth out in your life.

Don’t inflict your emotions, thoughts, or beliefs on other women in such a way that it makes them feel bad about their choices.

You know how that feels–how hateful it is–how it sucks the joy out of you.

Don’t be that woman to another woman.

Be better than that.

And if you can’t feel good about your choices without belittling or deriding another woman’s choices, then re-examine your choices, because most likely they came from outside of you.

Maybe you did what you did because it was expected or you were pressured or scared to do what you really wanted or needed to do.

If that turns out to be true, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t get down on yourself. It won’t help.

Understand that some choices can be altered. Those that can’t be altered can be endured, especially with help. Help can be found if you’re honest about needing it and open up to accept it.

You know what I’m saying?

Be yourself, but let the next woman be herself, too. For the sake of sisterhood.

It cannot take anything away from you except needless anxiety over something that you cannot–and shouldn’t even want to–control.

It cannot stop you from doing anything except maybe staying stuck in circumstances that you can–and probably should–change.

 

 

 

Truth in Parenting

My aunt just called a few minutes ago to check in on my daughter and me. I told her I was getting M ready for her weekly soccer game and shared an anecdote about how a few seasons ago, when her team was experiencing a pretty disappointing losing streak, M copped the biggest attitude and told me she was sick of losing and didn’t want to play with “those girls” anymore.

“She said that in front of her team?!” my aunt wanted to know.

“No, of course not,” I said.

“You should’ve let her,” she said. “That would’ve woken them up.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but more than likely it would’ve brought the wrath of their parents down on us. Those white dads especially. They get intense about their kids and sports.”

My aunt then backed down. She said she didn’t realize that M had white kids on her team. She asked if M was the only black kid, and I told her, yes, a lot of the time.

Soccer isn’t the “blackest” sport. But M’s father played when he was younger, and coaches now, so it’s our sport. They bond over it–she and Daddy–and she loves it. She has an aptitude for it.

“You should get her in some activities where she can be around more black people,” my aunt concluded. “She needs that.”

“No,” I said. “She has enough of every kind of person around her. She’s fine. Her school is pretty integrated.”

My aunt disagreed.

“No, she needs exposure to her people,” she said.

And I–reflecting on my childhood in an all-black neighborhood, going to all-black schools, said, “A lot of the time, the more black people there are, the more messiness there is. She’s good.”

I have some baggage. I won’t lie. It was hard as hell being a poetry-writing, grunge-loving nerd in a black high school in 1991. Forgive me.

“Don’t say that,” my aunt chastised me. “Don’t talk negatively about black people in front of her.”

Well, M wasn’t downstairs with me. But that didn’t stop me from telling my aunt that I won’t be disparaging, but I will talk truthfully in front of M.

“If black people are fucking up, I’ll say that. If they’re doing good, I’ll say that. I’m not going to lie.”

My aunt didn’t like that, but I didn’t care. I told her we weren’t going to argue about it; I’m the mother; it’s my decision what to say or not to my daughter; then I told her I’d talk to her later.

The conversation reminded me again of how controversial the concept of telling your child the truth really is in our culture.

My daughter and I have had some conversations over our eight years that I’m sure would make some people’s ears ring if they’d overheard them. We’ve talked about global warming, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, genetically modified food, vaginas, Donald Trump, Caitlin Jenner, my past, her father’s past–we’ve even talked about the plurality of religions in the world, AIDS, heroin, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

My policy is to answer her questions as truthfully as I can in terms that fit her age and level of comprehension.

I tell the truth about everything, even my own past.

My goal is to make her intelligent, incisive, and wise since I can’t always make her–nor will the world always conspire to make her–happy.

Once, when we were at Target, looking at the Disney princess collection, she wanted to know why there was only one black princess–Tiana.

I told her that’s what often happens in movies or TV shows: Black people get a token character–one black face to pacify their desire to see themselves represented on the screen.

She nodded and took it in. And I thought that was that. Until a couple of weeks later, at her dance recital, when she looked at the group of four girls dancing with her in her vignette, all white, and said, “Mama–I’m the token.”

I cracked up. Her father didn’t think it was funny, but I thought, hey, it’s life. She wasn’t devastated by it; she was just showing off her new knowledge and stating a fact.

She went on from there to dance her little heart out without a seeming thought of who on stage was black or white.

I’m an adjunct professor, 39-years-old, teaching in a fairly large city in Ohio, in 2016, and I’m still a token–the only black part-time instructor in my department, office, and building. So, for me, tokenism is a reality of black life.

It sucks, but I’m sure there will be future situations when M will be the “only” again. She’ll have to deal with the inconveniences of being the “only” with grace and confidence.

Knowing that the “only” is often in a spotlight where she must confront people’s expectations and preconceptions will be helpful for her, I think.

Knowing that black people are often excluded–and included–for political reasons–but understanding that you don’t have to be delimited by those politics–will be reassuring and help her to stay sane.

Bridging off of that first conversation, whenever M makes the observation that she’s the only black girl or person in a situation, I can tell her not to worry about it.

“If you’re being included, it’s because you’re good enough to be there,” I tell her.

“Just be you. The people that like you will like you, and the people that won’t are not your concern.”

When Tamir Rice was shot, and M’s father and I were lamenting his murder, M was there. We had another one of our conversations.

She heard us talking and asked to know the particulars. So we told her: He was a 12-year-old boy playing with a BB gun on the playground. Someone called the police and told them. The police came and, without questioning him or attempting to take the gun from him, shot him on sight. He died. It was wrong.

M’s response to all of this reaffirmed for me the importance of being truthful with her.

“Maybe he shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun,” she said. “That made it easy for the police to make a mistake.”

“Why couldn’t the police tell he was a little boy?” she asked. “Little boys don’t look like grown men. They’re smaller. They’re faces are different. They should’ve seen.”

She was able to engage critically with what we told her–at seven-years-old. 

I honestly think that if I hid every difficult or important conversation I have with other adults from her (I don’t), sugar-coated my explanations of the ugly things that happen in life (I don’t), or gave her fairy tales as answers to questions that are scientific (I don’t), she wouldn’t be able to interrogate situations like this. I don’t think she’d be able to assimilate to changes and certain inconvenient or unfortunate circumstances as well as she does.

I also don’t think she’d trust me as ardently as she does or be as truthful as she is. I like to think I’ve led her by example to speak her mind and to dig through rhetoric and propaganda rather than passively accepting and doing what she’s told.

And since I don’t want her to be dumb or a doormat, it’s gratifying to me when I tell her the truth, and she pushes back against it. Or when I see her acting out, in a positive way, of something I may have told her when I had misgivings about it on the front end.

One of the hardest conversations we ever had was when my aunt–her great-aunt–passed away in October of 2013.They were extremely close, as were my aunt and I, and her death was sudden, and so it came as the nastiest shock.

After sitting with her and the rest of the family at the hospital, going over to her house and helping to gather her paperwork, with the reality of what was happening still sinking in, I had to go home and tell M that her beloved TiTi was gone. I was terrified of how she would take it.

But I still told her the truth. TiTi had a heart attack. The doctors couldn’t get her heart to start beating properly again. They tried for the better part of an hour. She died. I’m so sorry. She still loves you. She’s still proud of you. You can still talk to her. You can talk about her all you want to. I’ll always talk with you about her. We can look at pictures. But we won’t be able to see her anymore. She’s not at her house anymore. She’s not “here” anymore. She’s gone.

M cried more bitterly than she ever had in her life behind this news. I held her and let her cry. I let her body and spirit absorb the truth in their own way and time.

I told her I was so sorry to be the bearer of such hard news. I told her I loved her, and I was still here. That even though it felt terrible now, to grieve her TiTi, eventually it would hurt less. Eventually, the pain would become livable.

I told her that death is a part of life, and nothing to fear. That nothing in this world disappears; it just changes form.

“Like liquid to gas to plasma?” she wanted to know.

“Just like that,” I told her.

My little metaphysicist.

She moved through the stages of her grief in a very healthy manner, and I can’t help thinking the fact that I told her the truth rather than a more comforting but ultimately false version of events helped her to do so.

I have definitely had some moments when I’ve wondered, Is this too much? Can she handle this? Should she? But I’ve also had some vivid memories of running into hard truths about life that I simply wasn’t prepared for because the adults around me–in an effort to shield me–never told me just how hard certain aspects of life can be.

I honestly think that being black, a woman, and poor (because if you’re not making a million dollars a year in this country, that’s what you are) in this craziness that we call a country is hard enough; I don’t want to give M the extra work of having to pick apart my lies to get to the truths she needs to survive.

That’s not my job. My job is to help her. To equip her. And I think the truth is one of the most crucial tools we use to get ahead.

So I tell M all the time, “Life is hard–so hard–but it’s definitely worth the struggle.”

I tell her that other people may not love her, but I love her, and she should love herself.

I tell her she’s amazing. Miraculous. Beautiful and capable of anything.

And since I don’t lie to her, and she knows that, I really do think she believes me.