Forgiveness: So Help Me

Forgiveness: So Help Me

Unilateral forgivenessthe release of an offense when the offender does not ask for forgiveness, even with the possibility of the offense continuing.

In this case the offender is my government, my country, white culture. At times the offenders individually are white people; at times the offenders are people of color who have falsely deluded themselves into the “white” check-off box and thus exhibit similar discriminatory behaviors based upon…assimilation, perhaps?

Insidious in nature, researchers say racism is committed covertly more than overtly. As such, people who are accused of being racist often are unaware their actions are considered to be discriminatory or biased. To complicate matters, the offense is committed based not only upon the perceived offense, but upon the perceived “race” (a nonsense word and a pathological construct—but that’s another post) as dictated by the offender.

A case in point would be where a man or woman may have the skin tone or hair color/texture of what the observer perceives is characteristic of someone from the Arab culture. Thus, the semantics of what it means to be Muslim, Middle Eastern and the like could cause the observed to be discriminated against simply on that point. Then, the observed speaks and the observer discovers—surprise!—the object of discrimination is actually Latino, or African-American, or Indian, or bi-racial, or white. What then? Realistically, the bias adjustment will occur and subsequent interactions will be predicated upon this new information.

Perception and reality are often two VERY different entities. But when perception becomes reality, one is hovering over dangerous turf. When perception influences another’s reality, the result can be deadly as evidenced by the number of police who have killed “suspects” based upon the perceived threat of danger and what Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor labeled as, the reaching for “empty waistbands.”

[In a California case, Salazar-Limon sued the Los Angeles Police Department, stating his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force was violated. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued against the too often used scenario in which police officers are granted immunity from being sued. Granting this protection, Sotomayor argues, “warps the law,” citing a study showing where “nearly half of the individuals shot by Los Angeles police after allegedly reaching for their waistbands turned out to be unarmed.”]

An instance where people are treated differently based upon their skin complexion, religion or perceived cultural group can be found as easily as going to the nearest (legitimate) news website. When you notice that many of these occurrences are directed towards people who look like you, it can be difficult to not take these affronts personally. “There but for the Grace of God, go I or my son, brother, sister, daughter, nephew, niece, etc.” Some might argue those African-Americans who have been killed by police are not my relatives sadly miss the point.  I have a son who is of a statistical age, who looks imposing at 6’2 and 250 lbs. His appearance, alone, may be perceived as threatening by anyone who calls it such. Both history and current events tell me that, although my gentle giant of a son was taught how to handle himself with dignity and respect, this could mean NOTHING if a police officer with a loaded gun declares he or she “felt threatened.” Does a police officer have a tough job? Absolutely. Do the rotten apples taint the entire barrel? Too often.  With that stated, the ones who do the right thing should call out the ones who don’t.

As a person who walks in faith, who tries to live a life of integrity and who wants to follow (my belief in what are) God’s commandments, I am working on unilateral forgiveness. It is a challenge. Attempting to treat everyone like a person worthy of dignity and respect, even when by the world’s standard they all do not deserve it, is pushing my character to a new level.

Logic tells me there is no such thing as all good white people or all bad white people: there are good people who do bad things and vice versa. Contrary to America’s biggest mindf**k, the world is not black and white. There is a vast gray area in between the two extremes of black and white, with those two words lurking on the periphery of all issues American, prepared to claw into any attempt to move this county into a unified direction.

I once believed the hype of this country, believing the kumbaya of can’t-we-all-just-get-along. Living in America didn’t change my mind. Living outside of America did. When I ventured into territory that was majority populated by non-Europeans—India, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Morocco, The Seychelles, Kenya, and China—it became pretty obvious that I was not just a “black,” a term the media and many Americans are still very comfortable using when it comes to describing or defining people of color with “perceived” African roots. Outside of the USA, I am considered, and referred to as, an American. It was a guess on their part. A simple question based upon my speech, mannerisms and dress would confirm it. All interactions thereafter were predicated upon this confirmed knowledge.

Consequently, when I had the opportunity to travel, Europe was the last place I wanted to go. This decision was based upon my United States’ experiences. After going to colleges and universities, working at jobs, living in towns, etc., where I was the minority (and frequently reminded of such), why in the world would I vacation in a place where I would pay to be subject to the racism, prejudices and other tomfoolery that I could experience for free in the good old USA?

And just so I wouldn’t deny myself the experience of possibly being wrong on the above count, I ventured to Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands. In Spain, our hired-for-the-day cab driver was kind; the fact that I spoke Spanish I believe established some commonality between us. The fact that he was unemployed and drove a taxi out of desperation I am sure played a role. In Portugal the worker (not owner) of the shoe store into which my daughter and I ventured, brazenly told me that the shoes in the store were for Portuguese women with small feet. In the Canary Islands, the shop owners were extremely polite, as was our tour guide.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

I leave out the frequent brushing past me (different cultures have different views of personal space—I get it) without an “excuse me” and the holding of the door for the one, two, three white people and letting it go once I get to it. I’ll also not bore you with the fellow tourists (all white with two “perceived” Asians) who gawked and stared at me and my daughter whenever we opened our mouths. Our alighting was enough to silence an entire pre-chatty bus. One lady got up the gumption to ask me where I lived. I told her the United Arab Emirates. She told me my English was excellent. Really. No, Really?

Did I have negative experiences in the other places I’ve lived and traveled? Yes. Were any of them related to someone’s ignorant comments or negative behaviors towards me based upon my skin color? If so, not in a way that was obvious and/or offensive.

Some might argue that perhaps people were treating me differently based upon my skin color in India, Morocco, Kenya, the Seychelles, China, Oman and the United Arab Emirates and that I just wasn’t aware. My response is, if they were, and my super-sensitivity to prejudice and discrimination was none the wiser, then good for them since the whole problem with prejudice and racism is that the receiver’s perception of the offense, just like in bullying and sexual harassment, is what counts. So if I perceive someone is NOT GOING OUT OF THE WAY TO BE RUDE OR INTENTIONALLY MISTREAT ME BASED UPON MY COMPLEXION, then he or she gets a gold star in my book.

It is sad, but true.

Many days I feel like a block of cheese and the racism, prejudicial statements, actions, and (let’s not forget) micro-aggressions rub against my protective layer of love and forgiveness. And I hold onto the creed of a country that told me from kindergarten through grade 12 and beyond that we were “One Nation under God Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All.”

Considering how fractured and split we are as a nation, several decades after a Civil Rights movement some people forget or don’t know existed, our country needs God’s blessings now more than ever.

So every time I feel racism testing my Love-Meter a little too much, I think of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which says—

                       “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Pray for me.

To Whose Voice Are You Listening?

To Whose Voice Are You Listening?

There is something to be said about Obedience. The reference here is to the obedience of following what God whispers in our ear, what He places in our spirit—if we are open to listening to the still voice of a God Who does not need to shout. When you have the power and authority to give, to provide, to create, forcing yourself on anyone is unnecessary; in fact, a wise person would be standing in the midst, prepared to receive whatever it is you have to offer.

Just like a natural father, God desires to bless His children. However, our need to act fully on our own accord, with little or no spiritual input, keeps us in our own way.

Increased privileges are a demonstration of a new level of confidence parents have in their children. Parents give children cell phones, keys to the house, and permission to drive cars, when they believe their offspring are mature enough to handle the responsibilities.

The same principle applies to our relationship to the Ultimate Provider. We make think we “are grown,” but God knows His children best. Some blessings must be held back until we are spiritually mature enough, and thus prepared, to receive them. This is not a reference to food and water, or even health, rather to blessings, such as being able to have a home of your own, being able to drive rather than take the bus, being able to leave a job, or have your own business (if that’s what you want).

So, how do we prepare for a new level of blessings, privileges in our lives?

Because each person is a unique creation, our preparation will be just as distinct. However, there are some general ways that would apply to every person in terms of preparing to receive God’s best for our lives.

  • We have to communicate with God through prayer. We can speak to God using the words that we normally would use for someone for whom we have great respect. The Lord’s Prayer (Mathew 6:9-13) is a good starting point while developing what will become your unique way of praying.
  • Learning about God comes through studying and reading the Bible, no matter how we feel about its contents and the ways it was used to oppress and victimize people around the world. (Medicine was also used inappropriately, but we still take it when we are ill or in pain.) Most people learned what pleased or displeased our parents through observation and listening from childhood to adulthood and beyond. Observing and listening to those who are mature in their Christian experience is extremely helpful because these people are full of wisdom and insight; however, they are likely to be found as members of a house of worship, which leads to the next point.
  • Worship, individually and corporately, is crucial. Thanking God through our words and actions simply shows appreciation for the life we have been given. Worship can be done individually—24-7—with a hand raised in the air, with the singing of a song of praise, and especially by walking in obedience to what God asks us to do in terms of His commandments. Corporate worship entails being part of a church body, where people whose objective is to live a life pleasing to God. This church body should be led by a knowledgeable man/woman who walks responsibly as a Christian and effectively leads and teaches his/her congregation in applying God’s word in today’s world.

The media has done a good job deceiving people into thinking that organized religion is a negative thing. A pastor who commits a heinous act becomes the excuse to excuse one’s self from a house of worship.  Just like there are bad apples in all organizations, religious institutions are no different. How many colleges have had scandals of rape, fund swindling and even deadly shooting, but no one says, “That’s why I stopped going to get my education.” The same effort one puts forth into exploring business opportunities, buying a home and/or attending a university before making a move, should be expended in finding a house of worship where the leader and his or her congregation fit your religious/spiritual needs.

A Pew Research Center study* shows that Americans with higher education levels pray less regularly and consider religion to be less important in their lives, with 11% describing  themselves as atheist or agnostic. For Christians, however, higher education levels show more religious observance, such as prayer and attendance in a house of worship, as well as agreement that religion is very important in their lives.

No matter what pride, earthly knowledge or the media brings, God is and always will be mankind’s life source. Maintaining this connection is in our best interest. To negate it or to deny its significance out of ignorance, pride, etc., is like cutting off our nose to spite our face, walking around in a world filled with beauty we can see but not fully experience.

 

*http://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/26/in-america-does-more-education-equal-less-religion/

 

 

Problem or Solution? Your Choice.

Problem or Solution? Your Choice.

                “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

How many times has this truism been uttered throughout one’s lifetime? Events over the last few days have caused me to cast aside the associated banality and give this saying a more introspective look. Doing so forces me to acknowledge, I have contributed to laxity in various ways, but chopping the head off the figurative Indian will not dismantle the chief.

This self-reflection began with a few minor repairs being made in my apartment. One of those being a set of replacement blinds which did not fully cover a window.  Instead of getting the correct length window blinds, the youthful maintenance fellow proceeded to remove the old set, bring it down an inch or so, leaving several gaping holes where the blinds previously held.

“Are you going to leave those holes like that?” I asked, peering over my glasses for effect.

“I can fill them if you want,” he said cheerfully, like grandma’s baked cookies awaited him if I was pleased.  Or maybe his look was because he thought I reminded him of his…no, that couldn’t be (that’d better not be). Anyhoo.

So if I don’t mind looking at the holes, they will stay? (I think this, but don’t say.) In my mind, you leave things the way you found them, in better condition, if possible. Lest I forget, this is the same maintenance man who hung said blinds too high in the first place.

“Yes. I. Want…very much for you to fill the holes.” It was the most I could muster during a moment crying for sarcasm.

“Okay, I’ll be right back.” With that he left with a bounce to get some tools, came back to work on the other two tasks of maintenance/repair, and when I finally I left him alone to do his job…I discovered he did not repair the holes. Aarrgh.

Then there was the car. Oh, the car.

A slight fender-bender would land Betsy into the auto body shop. As I write this, Betsy is back at the shop because her first “operation” was not done to my satisfaction. Among other things, like a misaligned bumper and new scratches, the paint colors were dissimilar between the bumper and the body.

Instead of simply apologizing for inconveniencing me with a second trip to the repair shop, two people (employee, then owner) attempted to waste more of my time explaining how “all cars have a bumper which is a different color from the car’s body,” and how “the painting process is such that the bumper will never be the original color again.”

Say what now?

Then they continue with what has been previously decided: to take the car back (having several times acknowledged the color between bumper and body doesn’t match) with a promise to re-do it to my satisfaction. 

I’m no Einstein, but logic tells me, if you will do the repair (again), re-paint, and offer a rental car at your expense, that kind of says, you goofed—which is okay—we all goof. I goofed several times while writing this post and I will probably goof again, then edit three extra times before I publish. I may even edit one more time, depending on how many of my FB people care to point out my errors.

What I will not do is say, I never goofed in the first place, then explain why I meant to write where, when I should’ve written were, or wear, giving some double-talk about creative license or some other Baloney Sandwich I expect the average person to read, chew and swallow.

Herein lies the problem. If you mess up, ‘fess up. You get to keep my respect and my business. And when you don’t, well…the respect you can probably live without. The business you can live without too, I reckon, unless I have to use my written word skills to influence a major insurance company it is problematic for them to continue using your shop as part of their regional repair network. I digress.

When we continue to accept and/or work for (or under) shoddiness, we are guilty by association. There is no way to justify why one would knowingly comply with his or her superiors’ incompetence, carelessness or basic ineptness. However, it happens. And it will continue for as long as we agree to go along with the program, starring in our own commercial while the jingle replays, “I have no other choice.”

Just remember, when reality sets in and your level of discomfort overtakes you: There is always another choice, even if the choice is to be part of the problem.

Hold On, But Not So Tight

Hold On, But Not So Tight

The above picture doubles as my laptop screensaver. Weekday mornings I write, impatiently leering at this image waiting for Microsoft Word to feed me a new blank document. Fingers hovering over a hungry keyboard, my mind-state directing my focus, vacillating among the steps’ steepness, the questioning face of the woman directly below me or the memories associated with climbing the Great Wall of China.

Although it appears I am the subject of the picture, I intentionally avoid looking at my face, at my failed attempt of a smile (Translation: my constipated expression). When I do pause to consider my grimace, acknowledgement of the discomfort I felt during most of that climb harshly stares back.

My expression reminds that this fearless soul is afraid of heights. It reminds that some places render parachutes ineffective, and what should have been an awesome adventure walking on a significant piece of world history was riddled with anxiety. 

Each time I let go of the safety railing, sometimes stepping in the middle of the stairs as people came up or down in either direction, my heart leapt and I thought about the gargantuan wait time that would ensue should I need medical personnel. I could have selfishly held on the entire 19, 399-step climb, but it was only fair that a few of the elderly gray-haired men and women be allowed to hold on for safety. The ones with canes already had support, I reasoned.

My fearless husband ran a few steps ahead of me, took pictures and came back down several times, grabbing my hand to assist as we made it to countless landings coupled with countless pictures. In each one I am holding onto or leaning against someone or something. I cringe even as I type this.

Where my expression changes, the difference is slight, a reminder of how that climb is a metaphor for how I operate in life. Presumed to be brave and fearless, the invisible posts and supports are secured before I make a physical, financial or social move. My ABC plan. Always going for Plan A, Plans B and C have to be in place before I will move forward with “A”.

My father instilled this habit in me.

Whether he and I discussed educational goals, my marriage(s) or finances, he would frequently state, “Bring your own cards to the table because you never know which hand you will be dealt.”

What my father didn’t say is, sometimes there is no Plan B or Plan C, his being a man who didn’t take many risks outside of what it is to live as an African-American male in the USA. Some decisions I made evoked an expression of wide eyes, coupled with an indecipherable smile. Whether it was admiration or incredulity, to this day I don’t know, but I’d like to think that since he never had to bail me out of jail, he was all right—even if it came after the fact.

In life sometimes you just have to put yourself out there the way you do when you take your seat in an airplane with the promise of a floatation device underneath (does that thing even exist?). You trust the pilot is experienced, alert and that he or she wants to reach the destination alive as much as (if not more than) you.

Oh, and then there’s God, the only fully reliable source in the equation. And just like I extrapolated needlessly before mentioning the most important reason for this post, I am guilty of doing the same thing in life. Waiting until all of my own means have been exhausted, back against the wall and then when I cannot do anything else in my (ha-ha) power, I acquiesce, surrender, throw hands up and say, “I give.” And then…miraculously, things begin to (seemingly) work out on their own. So many years of needless stress and anxiety experienced, when all I had to do was concern myself with my business and leave the ‘what-if-it-doesn’t-work-out’ to My Creator. If my plans don’t work out, perhaps it’s because it wasn’t meant to be? Hmm…now there’s a thought.

This is the mind-state where I need to be, not only when I literally fly, but each time I figuratively fly toward my pursuits and goals. Planning is great, and one should, but sometimes excessive planning takes the form of the need to control every aspect of our lives, even though life teaches us that that omniscient power and subsequent ability do not belong to us.

My children are independent young adults. I no longer have to live a life of planning for their future. So slowly but surely, I am removing the safety nets. I am taking risks; I have plan A. And all the energy I would have placed in backup plans has been mobilized into it. What if Plan A doesn’t work out, is a thought I cease to entertain. I am determined to live the life that I can share with my future generations, encouraging them to live their dreams absent the coulda- woulda-shoulda’s. And who knows, maybe I will build up my courage enough to conquer the fear of heights to the point where I may even jump out of an airplane, on purpose of course. The parachute simply being an extension of Plan A. 😉

Angry Black Daughters

Angry Black Daughters

There is a lot of anger exuding from my daughters. My physical daughters and my figurative daughters. Young African-American women are catching it from all sides and their blood is boiling.

Is it that they are experiencing a greater hardship than their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, etc.? Or is it just that they are a generation much more educated, assertive and self-aware than their older counterparts? The former is a matter of opinion and subject to great debate, while the latter is fact-based and can hence be proven; thus, we will focus on this point.

My daughters were brought up in an era where social welfare was demonized and the Cosby Show epitomized what the African-American family should be. Many of us, myself included, struggled to go against typical “Black” stereotypes: Welfare queen, lazy, thief, violent, alcoholic, drug-using, Baby Mama, having a Baby Daddy, and so on and so on… And in doing so, our children were affected. We were strict, we were harsh, and we did not bend in many cases, because we were NOT going to raise a stereotype. Our children were NOT going to shame or embarrass us and for those people of the African-American community who were not pulling their weight and holding us back, a distance was created. WE are not THEM, and WE are going to spend the rest of our lives letting America know this truth.

The problem is America never got the memo. Therein lies the problem.

We are every stereotype that ever existed and then some, because as far as America is concerned, “Black” people are one and the same. America is not interested in differentiating or categorizing African-Americans because we are easy to spot and the English language has dictated that the word “black” is an adjective and as such one must know with whom (or “what” for those dangerous soulless individuals whose mindsets have dehumanized POC’s) he or she is dealing—without delay—before  further movement can occur.

And now that we have a president in the White House who seems hell bent on taking America back to the 1950’s, I Love Lucy and all things Black and White, those lovely people whose parents, grandparents, etc. came here after the laying of the groundwork—post-Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights Acts—are shocked (clutch pearls here) that they are being treated like second class citizens in a country wherein many of them have spent most or all of their lives.

And our daughters are still angry, but they probably have NO sympathy for people who are sad, and frightened, and wear safety pins as a show of solidarity for people who they deem as oppressed. WTF—What The Fudge (release pearls), these daughters ask, where were you for the past decades, when you thought we were getting special treatment? When doctors were glossing over us in providing medical care, when the police were ignoring our orders of protection, when we were being mishandled and manhandled in schools and elsewhere, when our mothers marched for your, correction, ALL causes, where were Y-O-U?

You were enjoying the perks that Affirmative Action wrought, which for many (white) Americans meant, “I am absolved of all guilt that came with slavery and I can enjoy my white privilege in peace.”

And for POC who are not Americans of African descent, well I cannot prove this, but lean in and I’ll whisper it to you, I think they thought they were part of the WHITE category until Trump and his supporters clarified that point…but shush, keep this to yourself. Many of them are still in shock and very sensitive on this topic.

And our daughters are also very angry at our men: Fathers, husbands, brothers, etc., all of the  African-American men who they stand up for because we have told them how difficult America has made it for their brothers, yet some of their brothers find it difficult to stand with them and stand up  for them.

 “I will praise Thee, O Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Thy works and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalm 139:14 KJV)

So if you see our daughters and they seem like all is well in their world, hunky dory business as usual, please know, for them it is business as usual. Trump’s foolishness is America’s foolishness with a broader brush. So if our daughters are not friendly and seem aloof or incommunicado, it’s not about you.

And I am sorry to be the one to tell you that the world actually revolves around the sun.

 

 

 

A Leap of Faith

A Leap of Faith

I procrastinate.

“Woo-hoo,” said all the readers, “tell us something different.” Well, the difference is that I am deliberate and methodical with the idea that, if I plan out EVERYTHING, mistakes will be minimized and thus, life will go smoothly. While many procrastinators may not categorize their behavior this way (as procrastination is generally seen as inaction), I am fully aware that my attempt to control everything every step of the way is a form of procrastination. It is also a form of faithlessness. It is also a way of avoiding taking courageous action at times, because there are just some things I C A N N O T  C O N T R O L. Whew. Deep breaths. Relax.  Just the thought of taking a gigantic leap of faith at 50 plus years makes me want to sweat. After my hot flash. I digress.

The younger version of myself was seen as taking risks so often—when I went back to college as a wife and mother, when I became a divorcee in my traditional family, when I left New York and moved to Virginia, when I moved overseas to live—what people did not see was the behind-the-scenes research and questions, questions, questions of God, myself and others, as I wondered constantly: Am I doing the right thing?

Now that my children are adults and they do not depend on me for food, shelter and clothing, I should be more of a risk-taker, right? Wrong. Because now my concern is old age and retirement, and if I do not plan right, who is going to take care of me?

The answer? The same One who has been taking care of me all these years. God. My Heavenly Father. After all, one of the many names of God is Jehovah Jireh which means “God is our provider.” When I think about all that has transpired in my life thus far, it is no secret or surprise that all that I have done or have been able to do–from the birth of four healthy children to the ability to get up and get dressed by myself this morning–is all because God has provided me life, health, and strength; and with that, yes, I do go out and earn a living, but not entirely on my own. It is God’s Grace and Mercy that gets me to work safely, protects me while I am there, and He has given me a mind to make good decisions as I perform my job with efficacy. So if He can do this E V E R Y  S I N G L E day, then I should not have a need to try to control everything, and really when I think about it, all it is, is a try, and it is a feeble attempt that God probably looks at with a smile and an “smh” expression as He says to Himself, “When will My daughter realize that I have ALL control, and if she would just surrender, oh, how much better (and less stressful) her life would be?” Well, I am ready to listen.

Why today, of all days, you may ask? Well, if you have been paying attention, Dear Reader, then you have noted that extreme deliberation is my form of procrastination. Thus, this idea of surrender did not plant its seed this morning. Rather, it has built up like a crescendo and I am ready to slam procrastination to the ground by taking a leap of faith. Surrendering what I know (teaching)–but no longer love–and letting God do what He does best.

It is no accident that as I prepared to publish this blog post a dear friend called to bounce off some ideas regarding an important decision she must make in her life. She said she thought of me because she sees me as “fearless.” Imagine that, I chuckled. Throughout our conversation, I felt as if God was reminding me to take my own advice as I prompted this beautiful soul to make decisions as if she had six months left to live. I asked her, if she (Heaven forbid) was given this death sentence by her doctor, what choice(s) would she make? That inevitably should be the answer: for her, for me, for anyone who wants to live life fully. And after naming a few of our nearest and dearest who are no longer alive, we concluded by concurring that ultimately life is short. Too short.

So I have concluded by declaring, Fearless or not, I cannot afford to kill anymore time.

Don’t Dwell on It or Not My Problem

I read Caucasia by Danzy Senna, back in the 1990’s due to my curiosity of how biracial children within the same family could be treated so vastly different. The novel compelling explores the familial, as well as social responses towards two bi-racial sisters—one who passes for white, while the other is more obviously “ethnic.” Fast forward to December 2016 and all those childhood issues I thought I had resolved through therapy and anti-depressants hit like the arctic breeze me and my fellow Marylanders felt over the past several days.

It began as a conversation with my sister over how to empathize with her son’s difficulties growing up as an African-American adolescent in this country that still does not know how to properly treat, address or respect all of its citizens. It continued as a discussion with my brother who expressed that knowing about all the issues, news, and media which highlights all the “negativity” and mistreatment against people of color was “no good”. Instead, he suggested we (people of color?) should just work on ourselves and do good things in our communities. Wth? I told him he sounded like the white people whom I encounter, blaming the “victim” while spouting their goodness because they feed homeless people, sponsor children in Africa and, even “The other day I held the door for a bla—I mean, African-American. Heh-heh,” said one of my white colleagues with burning red cheeks.

“Heh-heh hell,” as my aunt used to say.

Then I had to explain. Yes, I had to explain ALL OVER AGAIN to the sibling with whom I grew in the same house, in the same neighborhood, with the same parents, how that shit does not fly. How working on oneself did not work for Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown Jr., Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, just to name a few, all  from a list of numerous unarmed African-American men gone too soon, shot by trigger happy police officers who have justified killing these fathers, sons and brothers because they felt threatened, endangered, etc. by some growing nightmare within their lives and discussed as dinner table conversations that materialized in the form of an African-American male. Sadly the list goes on…

Just so you can get a picture of why this is even a polemic, my mother is bi-ethnic—Bangladeshi and Barbadian. My father was American with African roots, a descendent of slaves, although he was proud of being able to trace his paternal roots to the Caribbean before he died. My parents’ three children look like an assortment of adoptees: my sister looks like an Asian with African roots, my brother has been mistaken for being an Arab or Latino, and moi—I am unmistakably of African descent, with my hair texture, skin tone, New York accent and cultural mannerisms which culminate into the expressing of what is “me”—an African-American (woman) in word, deed and appearance.

Thus, my experience has been different from theirs when it comes to how people of the “other” culture relate to us. And while I believe that, if you have never been a person of color, you have no right to tell me how to live out that experience, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have to express this to another person of color, much less a family member.

Over the years, I was accused of being harsh, abrasive, always “having my dukes up.” I never attributed it to my ethnic background or appearance. I downplayed it as being a middle child or an August baby. What slowly but surely (like a slow-motion sucker punch in an action movie) hit me was that my appearance ensured that people would automatically believe that I would be (as a child), or I was (as an adult) a STRONG BLACK WOMAN who could take on all burdens, the mule of the world as Zora Neale Hurston once stated. So I had a choice: live up to the expectation or get sucker punched by every racist, stereotypical comment, action or slight, however sleight, seen and unseen, because racism does not always announce itself.

By the time I explained to my brother why his reasoning was flawed, sharing what some of my experiences have been, I was in tears and cursing (on a Sunday, no less!) about how every time I hear a news report about how another “black man has been gunned down by a white officer,” I pray God, please God, do not let that be my son. Then I curse every racist police officer who exists on this planet and wish his (or her) brand of justice returned upon them manifold.

And I continue to watch the news, and read statistics, and do my research and write my poetry and I pray and I pray and I pray…

But what I will not do is act like these injustices against African-Americans are just experiences other people are having while I tend to my garden and wait for the next one-day sale at Macy’s. “Injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere,” Martin Luther King wrote from his cell in the Birmingham Jail. And if these are the issues keeping me up at night, I will continue to stay informed, share what I know with my community, my students, my friends, family, anyone and everyone who will listen until there is more equity and justice for people, starting with those who look like me.

Silence is never appropriate when a group of people are being mistreated. Ask the Tutsis of Rwanda, ask the indigenous people of South Africa, Australia and the Americas, ask the Syrians, ask the Rohingyas, ask the Yazidi, ask the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust…and I ask that we not be silent. Have the uncomfortable conversations that will not go away, as if these injustices were happening at your doorstep and not just one of the open windows of your iPhone, iPad, Android, tablet, Mac Book, or laptop. While it does not have to consume us, particularly in a season so festive and bright, a quote from Mamie Till Mobley comes to mind:

           “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.”