Monday, December 19, 2016

Best of 2016: GUEST POST (Are We Now or Have We Ever Been?)

For my first ever guest post, I'd like to introduce you to my wise friend Genesia. 

At Beyonce...who doesn't love Beyonce?
This amazing lady just turned 30, and let me tell you - she has some things to share. I've been trying to get her to do a guest post for me for a while, and when I read this it really resonated as a look back on the year and a good way to think moving forward. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did! 

I’m turning 30. Which I’m told comes with an existential crisis. Either I’ve been managing it’s flair ups deftly, or I’m in denial about how deep the rabbit hole of uncertainty actually is *shrug.* Either way, its abundantly clear to me that I’m smack in the middle of a transitional phase. It was not brought to me by Xerox in 4 parts without commercial interruption, it’s live.

The complicated-feels-turn-up is extra real.

Mostly, I’m comfortable with this change, and am excited to see what’s beyond the horizon of this milestone. Sure, I have angst aplenty, but not necessarily about this. I mean it’s weird don’t get me wrong, but also, turning 30 is kind of cool. One of the main gains with this shift into a new section of adulthood, is learning to be more unapologetic about the things that are (currently) important to me.
For example:
  • I make no apologies for being child free and not wanting to have children.
  • I make no apologies for going from attending church multiple times a week to joining Pillow Baptist AME Church for Happy Brunchers and Hustlers.
  • I have always been proudly black, so no issues there (even though, I did go natural a few years ago which is a change or whatever).
  • I make no apologies for being plus-sized.
  • I make no apologies for not wanting to get married anytime soon, if at all.
  • I make no apologies for choosing to eat out-in-the-street rather than make daily lunches.
  • In all these areas there is room for adjustment, but, I make no apologies for being where I am (currently) on this journey, for who I am or who I am becoming. Some things will change, some, will not.
I feel now, as I never have, like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides that I am a force in this world. But even with the growing surety of my womanness there is something trailing, biting, that I have not been able to shake loose from my soul. Alas, try though I might, I cannot evade the reality of a world where open and deeply entrenched racism has intensified so much. To say nothing (right now) of patriarchy, rape culture, queerphobia, fatphobia, xenophobia, misogynoir.
Like teak credenzas, vintage white supremacy has returned.

And it’s nasty.
Biting. 
Vicious. 
Unyielding. 
Loud. 
Defiant. 
Demanding.

Children of the 90's were afforded a certain amount of space to grow. Even with disgusting displays of systemic injustice still seething through all sections of society and media (Rodney King being a poignant early childhood reminder that we were not, and had never been safe); Racism, though systemically ferocious in it’s destruction of our communities as it had been for our grandparents, felt (on occasion) hypothetical, diasporic, distant, coded. As (technical) 80's babies born a tad too late for big hair and shoulder pads, but just in time for the Tootsie Roll, just in time to be Naughty By Nature while hip-rolling to Aaliyah in our Jodeci Boots, we were in the lull between two battles.
Crack and the subsequent war on drugs, de-industrialization and the loss of access to normal economic means of survival, mass incarceration increases, furthering of historical housing and lending discrimination practices and the depression caused by the aforementioned had already destroyed the infrastructure around us. The rising action in the story arc of “Gentrification: The Musical” obliterated much of the world our parents grew up in. Where I grew up, vacant lots were the norm.

Neighbors were losing grip of neighborhoods that had been in the family for decades. Slow and deliberate, this decay sets the stage for everything we see now. It was here, formed on these previously vibrant slabs, we learned how to play the game. It was here, we were supposed to aspire to more. Which almost makes no sense. But we did hope, we did dream –even if those dreams were sometimes halted in the street, or cut short by circumstances. We believed we could achieve. In essence, as told by oh-so-many assemblies and graduation ceremonies, we believed we could fly.

Our parents, raised with a (relative) sense of security were smacked by the realities of coming of age during Reaganomics and under Bush the Elder. Though their world was crumbling, proving promises of progress to be false, they did their best to equip us with the lessons of their parents. If they had gained nothing from being the fruit of the civil rights movement and the babies of black pride they were conscious of their beauty, and of their rights. They owned that. Even if they couldn’t get loans from the bank to own something substantive to leverage any more than their grandparents could.

They started us young. Many of us cut our teeth on the demand for divestment from South Africa’s system of Apartheid. We had never set foot in, nor laid eyes on Africa, we even believed the lie that scratching your booty and being African was a great insult to be lobbed at kids who was black as us on the playground. Still we began to understand that we were a part of something bigger. We grew strong. We were given a foundation of variety, of options, of representation. We, though this system still hated us, were on TV, in so many shades and types. We were on radio. We were in sports. We were undeniable. Even when there were issues on the home front, we were visible, for one small moment, and if only to each other.
We grew strong.

I was recently asked, if I thought the collective ‘we’ is / if I am better off in America now or in 1960. This question was born of a genuine curiosity from the person who asked me, not, thank goodness, an attempt to throw micro-aggressive shade. I said I didn’t know. I tried in that moment, as I am trying now, to come up with a definitive position on this.

I just don’t know.

Here’s why: When I was 27 or so, Ferguson happened. Among various angering segments of media coverage, I watched, in horror, a clip one morning with an unhooded Grandwizard of the Klan, in plain view on MSNBC. He was discussing their local chapter’s campaign for ‘order’ while the community waited to find out if the officer responsible would be charged for murdering 17 year-old Mike Brown. The Klan had been distributing flyers in St. Louis, threatening lethal force for those who chose not to “behave.” Private citizens, were openly threatening black residents with violence, if these folks dared to have a response to systemic racism that was deemed unacceptable to them.

It was 2014.

51 years after the March On Washington.

58 years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 59 years after Mamie Till buried her baby boy. 1 year into the 2nd term of the first black president. We were supposed to be past this. As I typed that last sentence, I know it’s not true. I knew it wasn’t true then. But seeing that man on screen, unhooded and unashamed was a clarion call to what was, what is, and what was to come. I was shaken. And I remember sobbing into the phone on a call to my mother that day (I just needed to hear her voice). She and my dad and my village had built me to weather this. I wasn’t oblivious to the ways of the world. I was equally weary as I was aware. This should have rolled off me. And it just didn’t. I didn’t know why.

The fatigue I felt that day overwhelmed me. In that first conversation, hearing my mother’s words of comfort through her own bewilderment is when I first identified a responsibility that had been weighing on me.

Movements are created by the community. They are manned by all types of folks (though not all of us are regarded equally –especially when counting intersectional gender/social identities -specifically women and queer folks –who have oft been excluded from the historical record, despite mountains we move). Movements are energized by ‘young people.’ At every stretch they/we are the ones who will go out on the front lines, and stand for justice, for equity. It is then, in my opinion, the responsibility of those who came before (even if only just before) to pass on knowledge, to support, to help guide, to listen, and to toil with. As the eldest child, and as the 2nd oldest of my extended/blended siblings, this is work I am well-suited for. I want those who come after to have some measure of sustaining hope in these trying times. Seeing that man naked and unashamed, riding for his most racist of causes, stole my hope.

I feel like I’ve been living a long time. And miles to go before I dream.
I didn’t know until that moment, that this theft was possible. I didn’t know that I could feel as powerless as I did in that moment. His brazenness, or rather, his comfortability with being in the open, proved that things had reverted to something we were supposed to be conquering.

Decimation. Bewilderment. Indignation. I felt utterly unprepared to combat this devilment, for a few terrifying moments. How could I protect, or guide anyone, if someone like him shook me so? How can we be tasked with doing the saving of the children in our communal charge, if we are still children ourselves?

Diamond’s little girl was not saved from the carnage. We were forced to watch it happen, but we could do little. The little girl who spoke so bravely at the city council meeting in North Carolina in the wake of yet another murder-by-cop. Nothing could rescue her from having her pain, our pain, mocked. Sandra Bland, who’s mother undoubtedly had access to the same videos we did, is gone. Not protected. Tamir Rice. Within 13 seconds someone’s child was erased, and no one will pay. Alton Sterling’s son was not saved from his sobs, wailing, gnashing. Some of these children are old enough to be mine, are old enough to have come from me. Freddie Gray’s back didn’t break itself –despite what the state says. Rekia Boyd didn’t fire the bullet that killer her. Korryn Gaines’ little boy is the only one who stood witness to his mother’s execution. He is forever changed. He is 5.

How can I tell them they will be okay? This is the responsibility I feel. This is what I heard in my mother’s voice through the receiver (and in my father’s voice when I spoke to him later that same day). This is where I found myself that day. This is where I found myself this summer, x amount of years later, on the eve of teaching/facilitating a social justice summer camp I’d developed, the week after Philando. My staff and I wondered what we would say to the children about their power. We wondered if we would be unwittingly feeding them a lie.

The conflict, though immense, is not all dark. As much as I feel responsible to those walking with me, those who I can help guide and aid as they process this thing we’re fighting, I know those who came before are with us. I hear this when my grandmother is fired up, and is willing to continue the fight despite having endured what she has for decades. For example: I am reminded to call up the words of the negro national anthem — they understood these dark days. They spoke prophecy and a timely word at the time about continued hope.

…Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered…
I know that I’ll keep going. It’s what we do.

I wrote this in sections. While reflecting on my identity, as I often do (let there be angst), it has become partially clear to me that much of the subject of my reflections is related to the feeling of being alone, or walled off. As an intersectional woman (I’m black, a black woman, just coming out of poverty *fingers crossed*), who spends a great deal of time looking for and observing connections that occur in life, history, business, relationships, faith, etc it can be lonely. As an individual, I’m a loner. Its just the way I’m made. I have wonderful interpersonal relationships and family for days. I am loved. And though I spend copious amounts of time alone, it doesn’t produce any loneliness in me. Realizing however, that the world has never seen me as a full human, does. White supremacy, like other systems makes people feel disconnected from others, and feel that they are alone and/or invisible in their struggle. In their toil. And in the case of privilege that they are alone in their success.

I see me though. And I see us.

I recently told my niece, who is 4 and deeply concerned about monsters, that there were no monsters in my house. In the world there are monsters, of this we can be sure, but I had them cleared out of my home. Express order. We then had a conversation about god, and how god was bigger than any monster. I believe this. Once she’d exhausted her questions (and me) about the nature of god, as if coming to a revelation she pointed out that we can kill the monsters, too. Each of us can kill the monsters. We have that power.

In a year like 2016, I think often of the sweet-by-and-by. Not that I’m in a hurry to get there, but I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s speaking of the inevitable Rise. I am reminded by Nikki Giovanni that we sip nectar from on high. I am reminded that there is a fire in us. That there is strength. That they too felt this thing, this nagging, persistent thing, and they wrote their way through. They sang their way through. They prayed their way through. They fought. They wailed. But they didn’t let this thing stop them. They learned to own their self. To master themselves — even though the world could often claim that right on paper. But never in spirit. They resisted. They resist.

We collectively and individually resist.

We are connected to the things in this world, in this life. But we are not only bound to the things we can see. Or the things that would overtake us. We are infused with power from on high, and/or from within. We are linked with those who came before and with those who are to come after, those who walk alongside. We are in a dance that propels us all forward. I do not always carry hope. But in the end I know that I’ve decided to persist. For as long as I can.

This is where I am right now.

Thank you for allowing to me to make note of this transition.