Friday, January 30, 2015

Does Caring Cost Too Much?

I had an interesting interaction the other day with someone in the movement who was expressing some thoughts about how the movement was being perceived by others. The conversation evaluated the intersection of race and class, race and gender politics, race and respectability politics, race and religion, and race and everything else.  We examined our place in the movement as well as perceptions we had of ourselves and others who stopped everything for 176 days to elevate voice to a real-time issue.

Over the course of several weeks, something struck me. We are uncomfortable.

Many people are included in that “we” because discussing the system of American education, housing, employment, health care, and policing all coalesce around topics that are not easy to talk about. It made me think about those small talk classes in grad school where we were admonished to talk about the weather or sports – safe topics, never to talk about race, religion, income, or gender politics. In thinking about it, I thought about my late father who made it his life’s work to make it better for others. Would he want me to be quiet?

There were many years of my life where I was just that – silent. I was on the receiving end of microaggressions at work from when I decided to wear my hair natural in 1988 to why I wouldn’t go out for drinks with my counterparts in 2001. It is something that many others have faced in their quest to fulfill their life mission, to excel in their workplace or educational venue, and frankly, just to live. We, I have experienced it when I am out-to-lunch or simply driving through another state and being pulled over just because. We swallow it or as the late poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar said, we wear the mask.

It is when we pull the mask off, to find our voice, or our pen, and start speaking truth to power that we are faced with oppositions that we never expected to encounter. More people are fine with the status quo and for things to just go back to “normal.” These same good hearted people often fail to realize that there can be no normal again when an unarmed eighteen year old’s body is left to bake in the hot August St. Louis sun. The conversation shifted in a big way.

Since 2008, a lot of my  focus has been on social justice, race, education, and gender equality. These are not comfortable topics when one starts to examine them, read and share articles, engage in dialogue, and try to find a space around the horrible things that happen to so many people just because they are not the dominant culture, they are not the dominant gender, or they are not the dominant class. 

There was a time when I just ignored the world. Raising children, going to graduate school, moving, marrying again, life often interjected itself in a way that made my concern for others almost mute.  Well, partially mute.  I was sipping my latte this morning wondering exactly when the rose faded from my glasses and when I started paying attention.

I think it was just after 911 and the hyper-patriotism gripped our country. Then it was the almost strip-searching I and my young daughter endured so to fly across the country. Then it was the national lie that sent us to war. Then it was watching black and brown bodies drown from government neglect. Then it was a mass shooting, and another, and another. Then it was the election. Then it seemed as if I wondered about my place as a work-at-home mom with a keen sense of history, sociology, and culture. I became involved.

Involvement fueled a dormant passion, my eyes were open. I could no longer just focus on me and mine will do just fine.

There is a price to pay when one decided to think about others. When one decided to work in non-profit, to give of time and not be compensated, to sit in late meetings, to mentor kids from a different background, to care, frankly, there is a price to pay. In my Biblical upbringing, there was the thing about counting up the cost and deciding if we can pay it before we undertake something.

The costs have been great. To so many, many have lost lives and income in the quest for social justice for all. Justice must come before peace, too often, the reconciliation flag was waved without addressing the social construct that caused the ills in the first place. Sometimes the costs have include being ostracized from family and friends who are not on the same page, loss of income, loss of everything.

Why do it? Why are there so many activists in St.Louis, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Philadelphia, Palestine, the world, all awake now? Why are they all elevating voice, pulling back the covers, opening eyes, and having real conversations about what has lulled everyone to sleep since 1980. Why now? Why care?

Should we go back to sleep and hope that justice will come if we just say the right thing? Wear the right brand of clothes? Live in the right neighborhood? Eat the right foods? Go to the right high school?

Is the price too much to pay? Is it worth it? Does caring cost too much?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jamar's Song

The universe smile upon me. Unexpectedly.

Wishing my oldest living son a very happy 28th birthday.

I told him it was absolutely meant that he would interrupt what I thought was my life path and plan. He became the only son of his father, a third generation look-alike. He is a renaissance man, a man that writes, draws, raps, and thinks, thinks, thinks  He is a self-made man, an unconventional man who decided that while the producers came knocking at his door, he didn't want to pay their price to open it.  Instead, he produced and marketed his CD himself, the old fashioned way.

My son was my rock when I was a divorced mom in Chicago with him and his little brother trying to make it in the early 90s.  When I close my mind's eye and remember how mature and grown up he was at five, I shed a tear and want to give him back his childhood. He was so protective of his mama and his little brother. They were my world, I closed out the chance to date, focused on them, finishing school, and working full-time in the Loop. He was strong for a short little guy, carried the box of Tide up the bus steps like a champ while I held his little brother and the duffle bag of laundry. We made it work.

Remembering his love of reading, his advanced conversations, his love of God, his view of the universe, his endurance, his pain, his choices, his bubbly dancing eyes, remembering him coming back from death to life. He did not choose the path I wanted for him, but he chose the path meant for him. He is my heart.

Life has a funny way of giving you chances to adjust and decide how you will navigate. You journey one step at a time.

Today, I'm  honoring the steps of my much loved son.

Happy Birthday Jamar!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Selma in Ferguson

Last evening my daughters and I went to see the movie, Selma.

They chose to sit in the very front of the theatre so the opening scene sent my youngest ducking under cover of our coats. The comfy sofas of The Moolah Theatre could not let her sink as far away as she wanted, the impact felt so real to her.

She and her sister were enraptured throughout the movie and kept asking me, "Was that real, did he really say that? Did that really happen like that? Why are they still doing this to people?"

I purposed it in my life to raise socially conscious children as well as children who are aware of the truth of their history. I love our West Indian and West African ancestry. It is that backdrop that centers my children with a sense of self and pride in being able to point on a map where their family originated. It is in that sense of self that I also do not sugarcoat the horrific things that have happened to black people in these United States. How can I? We live in a west St. Louis suburb, twenty miles south of ground zero of this new movement for freedom.

When the movie ended, the girls were full of questions, they knew that their mother's namesake was not rendered in the film (The Sisters of Selma) and that the speeches given by the likeness of Dr. King were not his actual speeches since the King children sold those rights some time ago.  They began to see clearly the brutality of the police in Selma that I never allowed their young eyes to see in Ferguson.  They winced at the wielding of the billy clubs and cried over the police murder of unarmed black men.

My youngest, sitting in the backseat of the car on the way home, declared she was going to do some research on Selma to find out what really happened. Both wanted me to schedule some coffee time with my living namesake, Sr. Antona Ebo, so they can just be with the ninety-year-old tiny activist who has been a lifelong fighter for freedom.

We were on our way home form the movie during the same time the Hollywood Prom, the Golden Globe, was handing out awards. I understand they purposely overlooked the brilliance of the directress and instead did what mainstream American tends to do - reward black people for our musical abilities. I like the acceptance speech of John Legend and Common, they connected back to the many chants of this current movement, the urging of the young, and the quest that continues.

I woke up this morning realizing that there is nothing new under the sun. The same tactics employed back then were in place today. There was a bit of respectability politics, the bit of non-violent protest groups aligning with "militant" and student groups, the jockeying for voice and vision in the midst of a landscape that hates all of them. It reminded me of the need and importance for unity and strategy, connection and tactics. There was a brief moment that I thought perhaps now would be different.

Then I realized that there were 12 murdered in Paris by a terrorists bullet and the mainstream world forgot to even mention the bombing of the NAACP office just days earlier. The 2000 souls slaughtered by the same type of terrorists were completely ignored by the mainstream media because Nigeria is just so black and African. This same realization hit me as white activists keep trying to turn the movement to them - communists, environmentalists, disabled, gay and lesbian groups - without accepting the fact that this movement started by elevating black lives, by focusing on police brutality of black lives. Yes, those groups and issues - abortion, women, fair pay, medicaid expansion - are all worthy, but forget that black people need to stay focused on staying alive in a system determined to end our lives.

Selma, the movie, did a good job of showing the white supporters and clergy doing what they can best do -  lend resources and assistance, but stay out of the limelight, it is about black lives. It also showed that the power of the press, when it is right, can make a difference in elevating the suffering, the way the citizen journalists, streamers, and twitters did in bringing Ferguson to the world.

The final thought on the movie and the current impact is that it is a must-see. The young activists will see that they are not the only ones who have faced down fear and stood toe-to-toe to racist law enforcement to demand their rights as humans. They will see the value in a both and approach to the movement and maybe this time, led by their courage, we will win.

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