Tuesday, February 9, 2016

So Unapologetic. ☁

(Sister Souljah, Circa 1994)
(I do not own rights to this image)

As of late, I have been very interested in the literary work and activism of Sister Souljah. I love being able to take information from my class work as a student and synthesize it with other information I find on my own. That's how I learn best; it makes the information relevant. And in dedication of Black History Month, what could be more relevant than the emotional/psychological/political state of America's young Black people?

For those who don't know, Sister Souljah is a prolific author, speaker, activist, and hip-hop artist that became well-known in the early 1990s. Most remember her by a controversial statement that she supposedly made in 1992 during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. Sister was being interviewed by TIME Magazine and one of her responses was misconstrued in the media, causing some backlash from Clinton. If you would like more information on that, just click here. Nonetheless, she was not a force to be reckoned with. Sister was a product of the welfare system of the Bronx, New York but she was intelligent enough to know that her socioeconomic background could not and would not define who she was. She graduated from Rutgers University, studied at Cornell, and traveled abroad several times. Her passion was in awakening the minds of African people all across the globe and creating a universal community that strengthens the population as a whole. She practiced what she preached. In her local communities, she developed programs for Black youth that facilitated productive learning environments. We're all aware that little Black girls and boys deserve a learning experience catered to their condition as African descendants and well, Sister Souljah provided just that. 

What I admire about the quote above is that it validates young Black individuals' feelings of frustration and anger with the state of politics in America. Very clearly Sister Souljah explains how white political powers strategically guilt us into feeling bad for the discrimination and injustice that they subject us to. It's like pinching an innocent baby that cannot defend itself and then scolding the child for crying. What kind of sense does that make?

It's frustrating to me when reverse racism is used as a clapback to racism against POC (people of color). It makes my back itch. I break out in hives. Because it's a bullshit excuse that's easy to draw from. In order for a specific group to be racist, that group must possess the economic and political power to subjugate those they feel superior to. They have to possess power that allows them to systematically discriminate against other people. Simply put, Black people do not have that economic power. Thus, we cannot be racist. Prejudice against other races, yes. That doesn't require economic power. Anyone can hold prejudices. But being racist is something that we cannot be. And because of this reason, it infuriates me when that's used as a retort to systematic racism against POC. 

They want us to feel bad. They want us to believe that we aren't being mistreated, abused, or ignored. They want us to believe we're all equal as the Declaration of Independence states. And when we feed into these lies we are accommodating their system of injustice. 

We are in every way aiding in our own subjugation. 

I believe the #unapologeticallyBlack movement that has emerged is a result of realizing that we can take charge of what we will and will not believe. African-Americans are no longer choosing to apologize for shit they just can't control, like being Black! Our very existence is radical and rebellious. We may as well make use of it, be proud of our heritage and history. And do so with an attitude that holds no guilt, no apprehensions. Boldly step into white spaces and declare who we are, what we desire, and how we plan to bring those things to fruition. 

Stop apologizing and start appreciating. 

P.S. -Here is a YouTube video of one of Sister Souljah's speeches entitled "We Are At War" from 1994. Excuse the cheesy intro and low quality; it's an old clip. Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Realness. ღ

(I own no rights to this image.)

I can vividly remember many of the bus rides from school that I had as a child. I was the only little Black girl amongst 10-15 white children on the bus--five of which who may have been girls. We all lived in the countryside, rural neighborhoods at least thirty minutes from the closest grocery stores or movie theaters. It was simple living out in that area but we didn't know that until adolescence of course, when we were exposed to more. We only knew what we were told and shown. 

During these long, tedious bus rides I always attempted to grab a window seat. Doing so seemed to provide me with a secret corner. A place I could slip into and no one would see me. Oftentimes, they acted that way anyhow. Being an introverted child, I didn't mind at all. I preferred it that way. Instead of socializing, I wanted to observe. Listen. Examine. For a young child, much of his/her personal development is impacted by what is seen at home with family members and what is seen at school with teachers and peers. Because I was one of the few Blacks in the school, I wanted to discover a way to blend in. Become a part of the majority. And what better way to learn than to observe those who are already a part of that majority. 

Mind you, I did not do this consciously. I was a child. My mind had yet to evolve to even understand what was happening around me nor why it was happening. I had premises for my desire to blend in but as a young girl, I could not necessarily explain to you exactly why.

One of the key things I envied most about my white, female peers was their hair. It had bounce. Shine. Was silky. And from what I could see, very versatile. It was the epitome of beauty and femininity, I believed. And because of this belief, I grew to dislike my own hair. I was ashamed. It had no bounce. It had no shine. It sure as hell wasn't silky. So I marveled at the sight of my friends' hair when they ran, jumped, and skipped across the playground and the classrooms. The sun's rays would beam onto their manes as if God Himself was kissing their heads in admiration. And I would watch from afar, awaiting the day for Him to kiss me too. 

My hair was not the only boundary that I believed separated me from my White counterparts. It was also my skin. And I'm sure you're thinking, "Of course! You're Black!" But I didn't see it that way as a child. It was not simply the fact that I was Black. But the fact that I was a Black that was dark-skinned. To this very day, I am not sure of where the inclination birth from. I don't know how I even conceived such a thought at such an early age. But I did. I felt that maybe... Just maybe if I were 2-3 shades brighter, things would be different. That "different" meant that I would be more popular in school. That different meant that my teachers would believe I was a little smarter than I let on. That different meant that I would have the confidence to be more outspoken and command the attention of others. That different meant that I would love myself more. 

It was not until my late teens that I realized I could accomplish all of those things while still being me--the dark-skinned, chocolate me that I've always been.

Although I could not control the texture nor length of my hair and the hue of my skin as a child, I quickly learned that which I could control: my speech. My vernacular. I could become more purposeful about the words that I spoke and the manner in which I spoke them. In order to associate and connect with my white friends I needed to speak their language, just as they spoke it, I believed. In many ways, I believe that I began doing this subconsciously. I simply mirrored the image I admired in an attempt to join the culture, become a part of the group. And it worked. They accepted me despite my nappy hair, wide nose, and bony black knees. I was the darkest thing in the room but when I spoke, the entire place lit up. Others wanted to hear what I needed to say. I believe that my introverted personality played a part in this as well. As reserved as I was, of course it was a moment to embrace if and when I dared to open my mouth in front of others. It made me proud. But it also made me shameful. I was lauded in the hallways yet laughed at at home. My family members couldn't understand why I needed to enunciate my -er's and use frivolous words when I could just say "gonna, 'bout," and "iight." I recall very vividly some saying that I "talked white." It sounds ignorant but the underlying message is everything but. To state that I "talked white" implied that proper grammar and enunciation was a mannerism Black people couldn't have. It confused me. It frustrated me. And so at a very young age, I learned the in's and out's of what we now call code switching. I was in elementary and middle school back then. I didn't know what that was all about. But what I did know was that it was "refrigerator" from 8:00AM to 3:30 in the afternoon and once my feet hit that dirt road back home, we ain't know nothing 'bout no "refrigerator."

In retrospect, I am grateful for my childhood experiences because they've taught me a great deal. Through reflection, I have learned more about myself, my heritage, and the world around me. Now as an adult, I realize that I am nowhere close to being the only Black (female) who has ever felt this way. As youngsters, we are indoctrinated into whatever culture around us. It's not our fault if we don't necessarily align with the standards of that culture because our race is something beyond our control. Trying to battle with it is much like a fight with nature; you'll never win. As a result of this insight, I've learned to embrace with open arms the person that I am, the person that I was born. It would serve an injustice to the men and women before me--who have risked and lost their lives so that I can be proud of who I am--to reject my identity. How dare I spit in the face of those who sacrificed for my livelihood? I owe it back, I believe. And so I dare to pay my respects by first acknowledging the self-rejection and dislike I harbored for myself, learning to accept that which I am, and then helping those who are quietly harboring resentment as well. We are often afraid to admit that we have these feelings because to do so is to admit that there are parts of ourselves we just don't like. But I believe it's okay to claim those feelings because none of us are alone and most importantly, we were not born with those feelings. They are the results of an indoctrination into a society in which whiteness remains supreme.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why We Compete

(Edit: I began this post with one purpose in mind, but over time I began to ramble into another. My apologies...)

Since the completion of my last post, I have been thinking about the experience I had from a broader perspective. Taking me and my feelings out of the picture and addressing the overarching issue that I believe exists. And in doing so, I've come to some conclusions. 

Last semester, I had the opportunity to take a class titled Foundations of Human Dignity. Initially the name of the course may frighten you. It sounds too broad, too boring. But it turned out to be everything but. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that this class shifted my perspective on life and myself in SO many ways. My professor was an excellent instructor (and still is) and I believe that's why I came to enjoy the class so much. I'm an introvert with a hint of social anxiety so I never spoke up. Like, ever. But no doubt were the wheels turning in my head every second I was there. 

The purpose of the course was to explore the concept of human dignity, or value--to define what that means exactly and what that means to different people. We explored the philosophy of several different Western philosophers (Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, etc.) but we also took a look at some African traditions as well. We dissected how we as African-Americans have come to believe the things that we do and what caused that to happen. (Research the "two-cradle theory" if you're interested in it a little more.)

My professor introduced to us this idea of an epic memory. For African-Americans, it's a subconscious, spiritual connection to our ancestors and the experiences that they had both before and after the institution of slavery. Think of it as an invisible link. We may not be able to directly sense that it's there but no doubt does it exist. You just have to be willing to look out for it and accept it. 

With this epic memory, we have strong ties to the psychological bondage and brutality that our forefathers and foremothers experience. It would be foolish to believe that we live our lives in isolation of the oppression and degradation that they were to forced to live under every day of their lives. We are free but we are still connected, I believe. Because of the institution of slavery, African-Americans developed a culture of survival. Being able to simply make it to the end of the day without the threat of being sold or having one's loved ones sold became a sole concern. This same spirit of survival still lives and breathes within our culture today. It exists in different manners but no doubt does it exist. 

Because survival has been a staple of the Black experience in America for so long, some of us have begun to compete with one another. It's much like the "survival of the fittest" theory proposed by Charles Darwin that I'm sure you've learned about in middle or high school. Those who are best able to adapt to their environment are more likely to survive and pass on their genetic material. In many cases, this theory is used in reference to animals or bacteria, but we are very much the same way. When survival is the end goal, everyone else (excluding our family and loved ones) becomes competition, an obstacle in our path. And that significantly impacts how we view and treat others, even if they look just like us. 

I have witnessed this a great deal between African-American women, since I am one. Sometimes it's obvious, direct, in your face. And sometimes it's sly, underhanded. The latter is actually the most hurtful in my opinion. In some cases I don't believe that we mean to compete with one another; it's subconscious. In others, it's very well intentional. Survival equates to success, recognition, and popularity in our minds. Those are the things we're striving to achieve because we have been socialized to believe that those things give us value. We only have value if we subscribe to the Western ideology of success. We only have value if a certain number of people know our names. We only have value if we exist within certain social circles. It's all bullshit honestly. That's not what survival is about. We all know that. But we have been socialized to believe this way so the competition continues. And it is mighty ugly, as exemplified in my experience in the last post. 

I believe a great number of the reality T.V. shows produced today perpetuate this need to compete. There is this glorification of Black women bickering and fighting, gossiping about one another, and competing for the silliest things. Many view it as entertainment but I believe it's entertainment that reflects something we should not be proud of. I don't want to be entertained by seeing 30-40 year old women fight. Particularly, African-American women. I would much rather see them embrace one another in a spirit of sisterhood and empower one another. Those images are much more powerful and productive. To glorify the negativity is to perpetuate the competitive nature that we need to do away with. 

Although we are no longer physically enslaved, many in the African-American community are still mentally in bondage. You may have heard it referred to as the "slave mentality." I believe it to be true. In order to shift our perspectives, we need to examine where these perspectives came from in the first place. Critique them, dissect them, and determine if we want to accept them as our Truth. If not, it is not too late to change them and make change for the better.