Being Black in America is…

All posts in the Being Black in America is… category

This skin I’m in…

Published March 24, 2015 by hrhdana

Lately this skin I’m in is heavy.

I love it,

this skin,

caramel candied perfection

a little lighter now from winter’s lingering presence.

I love the history

attached to my genealogy.

Love my family.

Love being me.

But lately…

Lately this skin is a barrier.

Has me speaking to people who can’t understand my words

even though we speak the same tongue.

Lately my truth about this skin

is uncomfortable

for lifelong friendships.

They implore me to

just

stop

talking.

Stop sharing.

Stop making them

uncomfortable.

And it hurts.

Hurts to know that

my love

given freely

and honestly

is only palatable

if encased in silence,

lies,

hidden cries

late at night.

Unwelcome in the daylight.

That if I stand in public

wear my tears like my tiara,

unashamed

they look away.

Accuse me of playing card games

laugh privately

and amongst each other call me names.

These friends

wound me

deeply.

Lately this skin I’m in is heavy.

A wet blanket

dousing conversations

like fires.

And I’m so tired.

The silence

It chokes me.

I can’t breathe.

They can’t see.

And the optimist in me

is languishing

slowly extinguishing

a flame I thought would burn eternally.

If love isn’t all the gas we need

to push past racism and misogyny

then what will propel us towards healing?

Someone tell me.

Please.

I’m asking.

I’m dropping friends at an alarming rate

I want to say I’m okay

and I am

but I’m not.

Racism isn’t just wearing hoods anymore.

It’s more subtle

But it hurts just the same.

It’s people whom I considered family

“disgusted” with me

because I fear for my child

and I say so publicly.

They want me to take a seat.

Sit quietly.

Eat the scraps thrown to me

contentedly.

 But THIS skin I’m in ain’t paper thin.

And although goodbyes are hurtful

I have work to do.

They do too.

I can’t force you.

But if you run from the discomfort of a conversation

If my truth “nauseates” you

you are part of the problem too.

If you can forget the ties that bound our friendship for years

the shared tears

the love held dear

because it’s too hard to just hear

then you only reinforce that my fear

is real and clear.

See,  I am them.

I am not different.

That’s the problem.

This skin I’m in is beautiful.

I’ll gladly carry its weight

on its heaviest days.

I have no desire to be your tolkien

Black friend

divorced from a “them”

that you can’t comprehend

my family and friends.

And the thing is

You knew me.

You loved me.

You saw me.

Until I shared with you

the reality of this skin I’m in.

And that is your shame and your sin.

Goodbye “friend.”

1

Sisterlove

Published September 12, 2014 by hrhdana

In the arms of my sisters

I find

love and comfort

healing and understanding

honesty and freedom.

In the arms of my sisters

the literal and metaphorical

arms and sisters

I heal.

Brothers

I love you for many reasons

but my sisters

whew!

My sisters

they understand.

We fight on two fronts

gender and race

and in the face

of the hurts unique to this intersection

I need my sister’s attention

and affection.

Hold me sisters

lean in to my arms reaching out to you

together we always make it through.

A sister will always see

won’t ask

just walk over and take the baby from me

talking about, “go get you something to eat.”

My sisters see.

They relieve me.

No asking.

They know I would refuse

wearing my strong woman suit.

So they step in,

stand in,

lean in

to the gap.

They fill in where I lack.

They have my back.

In the arms of my sisters

I heal

I rest up

to fight another day.

We laugh

We smile

We refuel.

We live.

We love.

We lean in.

In the arms of my sisters

I find

love and comfort

healing and understanding

honesty and freedom.

In the arms of my sisters

the literal and metaphorical

arms and sisters

I heal.

Our love is real.

sisterhood-women-of-soul--d-glenn-daniels

Artwork “Sisterhood”  by Glenn Daniels

Weary

Published September 6, 2014 by hrhdana

This weekend I spent some time talking with a fellow artist/activist at a show. He shared with me that recent events have him depressed and that he doesn’t know what to do about it. In my set I had done pieces for Eric Garner and Mike Brown, then I finished with a piece I wrote for Sean Bell. He lamented that all of those pieces were relevant today. “I feel like I’ve been working so hard. We’ve been marching so long and we just aren’t getting anywhere. The work feels so pointless.” His words broke my heart in to a million little pieces because of their truth. It does feel pointless. I purposely chose to present my pieces in the order that I presented them so that people would FEEL what I am feeling.

I am weary. I am frightened. I feel impotent. I feel powerless to effect change.  I have engaged in every avenue of protest available to me over the years. I have called prosecutors. I have marched. I have sat in. I have written to senators and chiefs of police. I have called elected officials. I have boycotted. I have spoken until I am hoarse. I have written enough poetry to fill volumes. I have reached across the racial aisle. I have sought to teach and to explain and to be relate-able.  I have tried so hard. I have watched my friends try so hard.

And still…Mike Brown laid dead in the street for over FOUR hours.

And, as if that outrage wasn’t enough when the people raged they sent in tanks. They trained machine guns on civilians. They tear gassed peaceful protesters. They provoked people who were hurting and angry and just fed the fuck up. Then they hid their hands and laughed when those people rioted. “Look at those animals,” they snickered. People I know. People I respected. People who are the same color as me as well as people who aren’t said, “Those people make us look bad.” I ask you if the murder of an innocent isn’t a rage worthy occasion please tell me what is?

I watched the media pack up their bags and leave. I watched them and I knew the world would turn the channel as soon as CNN left. But I knew Ferguson wasn’t giving up. Leaving Mike Mike’s body in the street, shooting him down like a dog was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I watch Mike’s mother and father on T.V. and I literally FEEL their pain. His Mom can barely stand straight because the pain is so heavy on her. His father’s grief captured graveside is an image that will stay with me until I close my eyes for the very last time.

Something has to give. Something has to change.

We are hurting. Justice minded people are hurting so badly. My very talented friend is hurting so badly. His words have been stolen from him because the pain is so deep.

I recently had a conversation with someone I know. She asked me if the relationship between police and my community was really as bad as they were saying on TV or if it was only like that in bad neighborhoods? I respected her for asking. I tried to explain. I gave her examples. I told of friends who attended Ivy League schools and were still stopped by cops. I said, “I had a friend who used to keep his Princeton I.d. in front of his license so that when he was stopped by the police he could show he was a good nigger and maybe get out of the interaction alive.” She visibly recoiled at my use of the word Nigger. “Why would you say that word? Why would you use that word? I have never used that word.” I laughed. Because as much as she really did want to understand the word had more impact on her than Mike Brown’s dead body in the street. I used the word on purpose in the conversation. Why hide behind polite words when discussing the ugliness of our society? Why? It is EXACTLY what my friend thought when he slid that ivy league identification card over his license. It is exactly what those cops thought each time they pulled him over. It is exactly what I feel when I’m followed in a store or asked to prove that I can afford something. It is exactly the message sent when my entire community is hurting and the white world around me doesn’t even seem to register that pain. Nigger. Less than. Unimportant. Nigger.

It seems to me that some people think they aren’t racist if they have never used the word. I would rather they use it every moment of every day if it would foster HONEST conversation and change. These conversations should shock.

There is a HUGE segment of our population hurting and living in absolute fear. Why would nigger be more shocking than that?

1

Why I am NOT here for Iyanla in Ferguson

Published August 27, 2014 by hrhdana

Last night I watched Iyanla Vanzant in Ferguson. I honestly didn’t want to. I knew it was going to be a train wreck. I loved Iyanla before her reinvention. I healed and learned a lot from her books. I honestly feel her strength was speaking to women about the things she lived, the mistakes she made and the lessons she learned. Since her re-emergence I have been disappointed time and time again with her and her show. She is claiming to be an expert in waters way too deep for her. In her attempts to “heal” or “fix” people she has exploited hurting people in their most vulnerable moments. I’m not here for it.

Last night she was a prime example of how racism can effect Black people. She showed her entire viewing audience (of 5 people) exactly what it looks like when Black people internalize all of the negative scripts pushed to the public about us. She asked the chief of police what he wanted. He asked for 2 weeks to complete the investigation. Iyanla was quick to comply and encourage each person she interacted with to comply as well. The rest of the show she touted this 2 week deadline, emphasizing that there should be peace during this time period while the police work. *Record scratches* Is this the same chief of police who released a video of Mike Brown in a convenience store to tarnish his reputation? Is this the same man who released this video on his own volition after being advised not to by his superiors in law enforcement? Is this the same man who allowed the officer who shot Mike to get away with NOT filling out an incident report? Is this the same man who sicced a militarized police force on citizens who protested peacefully? With all sincerity, I have to say, “Girl bye!”

She sat down with a group of young men whom she, “picked up off of the street,” (her words, not mine).  She repeatedly said she was there to listen and then talked over, interrupted and corrected each person she interviewed. She asked them over and over if they thought they were responsible for their own murders at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve since they, “kill each other.” Come on son. Seriously??? Iyanla has so completely brought in to the manufactured term Black on Black violence that even in the midst of the palpable pain these people are experiencing she blames them. I’m going to say it once again for those of you who are new to reality. Black on Black violence is a manufactured term.  Crime is about proximity and opportunity. EVERY race of people kills their own because we still live such segregated lives. And Black crime in America is actually on a faster decline than White on White crime.

Crime is a problem. Peace loving, law abiding citizens everywhere are bothered by crime. Crime is not specific to Black people. We are not inherently more violent or criminal than any other race. Some of you are itching to disagree with me right now. What about gangs? What about what I see on the media? There is a purposefulness to the narrative we are being fed by the media. I don’t purport to know with certainty their motivation but I have some theories.  I am not saying that Black America is innocent. My heart breaks when I see the headlines about children shot and young men murdered. But I am aware that the story is more complex than the media is willing to address. Our children are criminalized from a young age. Suspension and expulsion rates for Black children soar above those of White children. Arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of Black people is disproportionate to that of their White peers. Studies have shown time and time again that White people walk for things that Black people are locked up for.  Systemic racism has consequences and casualties.

Blaming Black people for their own murders by the people sworn to protect and serve is a blatant display of Iyanla’s sickness. It is a clear that she has swallowed the false narrative written about us. I wanted to scream at her time and time again as she interrupted these  young men to ask them leading questions, “How many of you have been arrested?” Really Iyanla? Really?  “How many of you know your fathers?” Bitch please sit down. All communities have issues. Black America has many. Yes, we need people to come together and work towards filling in the gaps but I sincerely believe that was not the time nor the place. She missed the forest for the trees. It hurt to watch.  She exploited those people and their pain to reinforce a false narrative that has made it okay for cops to murder us with impunity.

The ONLY ray of light in her hour and a half long show was her 4 ps.  Pause, Plan, Prepare, Participate. This movement was born from pure emotion. There is value in organization. There is value is affirming the goals and how we are going to accomplish them.  I’m glad she asked them THOSE questions. That was helpful.

I honestly wish I hadn’t watched. Iyanla pimped her people’s pain last night. She danced for the system and encouraged them to dance along. I’m not here for it.

Questions

Published August 20, 2014 by hrhdana

My daughter will be 3 next month.

I have a litany of affirmations that I whisper in her ear daily. I tell her, “You are smart. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are brave. You are the best daughter ever and I love you forever.”  Sometimes she will run up to me and demand (in all of her toddler exuberance) “tell me a secret Mama.” I know exactly what she is asking for and I always comply. I’m never too busy to build my little girl up. A few months ago she started whispering the same affirmations back in my ear. She has an amazing ability to know just when I need them. “You are the best Mama ever! You are beautiful. You are smart. You are strong. You are brave.”

We giggle and hug and kiss and return to what we were doing.

Every single day when I am about to walk out of the door to head to work she has something important to tell me. I lean down for my kiss and my hug.  I whisper her affirmations in her ear and I head towards the door. She’s usually playing or getting ready to eat breakfast but as soon as I reach the door her little legs bring her barreling to the hallway to impart some words on me before I leave. Sometimes it’s toddler babble. A collection of words that make sense to  her. “Watch out for snakes Mama. Don’t forget to jump high.” Sometimes it’s a story from a previous day that she has already told me. Sometimes it’s a promise to, “be a good listener.” Sometimes it’s a teary, “I’ll miss you mama. Have a good day.” But it’s always something.

I have to remind myself not to rush her. I have to remind myself that being late for work is not important in the great scheme of things. I have to remind myself that I can’t just tell her that she is the most important thing in my life. I have to SHOW her. So I stop. I listen. I smile. I respond. I give more kisses and more hugs. I always walk out of the door smiling. Sometimes I’m smiling AS I run down the stairs and pray that I’ll make my bus but I am always smiling.

She is the most important person in my life. I want her to KNOW that. I want to SHOW her that. My love for her colors every single decision that I make in my life. My love for her has changed the way I see the world. My love for her has infused me with a DESPERATION to make this world a safer place for her. My love for her makes me a better person every minute of every single day.

I believe in the power of love. I have seen love perform miracles. I was raised that to believe that if I followed all of the rules and if I was pleasant and palatable to people life would be good. I would be safe. I would succeed. I was raised to believe that I have a responsibility to my community to represent the best of us. I was raised to believe that if I performed well I would be accepted and thereby earn further acceptance for all of my people. I have tried for a long time to make my people proud.  I have tried in my work and school life to be a good ambassador. I have swallowed my anger when confronted with outright racism and the micro-aggressions that Black people encounter regularly. I have attempted to explain, educate, justify. I have agreed to disagree with people who were DEAD wrong. I have arrived early and over-tipped and not eaten fried chicken in mixed company. I have tried.

I resigned from my self imposed role as ambassador when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was set free. I realized that the people whom I interact with daily were not learning any lessons about my people from me. They had cast me in the role of “other.” They saw me as, “different from other Black people.” They were comfortable enough in this assessment of me to speak ill of a murdered young man and to praise his murderer in front of me. I quit. I realized that trying to be non-threatening was not helping. I realized that packing up the pieces of me that make me me gave them a false sense of who I am. So I quit.

Now I have this little girl. This innocent and beautiful little girl who looks to me for everything. I don’t know what to teach her. I keep praying about it and writing in my journal about it. How do I prepare her for a world where her chocolate skin frightens and offends some before she even gets a chance to open her mouth? How do I empower her to shine her light in a world where people who look like us are murdered with impunity? How do I keep her safe in a world where she can’t get in an accident and knock on a door for help without being shot dead? How do I keep her alive? I’m struggling.

I believe in the power of love. I know people who are all shades of the rainbow who embody love. But how do I protect her from those who present themselves as friends only to later reveal that they don’t see us as American citizens worthy of all of the rights and protections as White citizens? How do I protect her from that hurt or at least build her strong enough to over come it? How do I lead her when I feel so very lost myself?

People who don’t know better will call this blog race baiting. They may accuse me of playing a mythical race card. Their denial of my reality doesn’t make it untrue. Their denial just allows them to dismiss me. But I’m still here. I’m still struggling with these questions. I’m still trying desperately to raise a beautiful, smart, brave and strong little Black girl.

Slow leak

Published August 18, 2014 by hrhdana

I’m tired.

People hit me up all weekend to ask me what I thought of recent developments in Ferguson. Unfortunately it was all white people. White people whom I care about…deeply. It’s like they were salivating, waiting for me to denounce my people. Celebrating the release of the video of Mike in the store and dying for me to eat my anger and my angst. “Those savages in Ferguson needed police in riot gear to keep them calm.” That is a real quote from someone I considered a close friend.

I don’t have the emotional fortitude to “fight” those who ARE loved ones. I’m devastated.

I don’t know how to swallow this. Not the developments in Ferguson…this removal of hoods from people I love. I’m not a violent person. I’m not an anarchist. I have never shot or even held a gun. But I don’t deny people their rage when we are being murdered by those sworn to protect and serve at a rate of 2 every week. 2.every.fucking.week.

Cops are not executioners. Petty theft (IF it occurred) is not punishable by the death penalty.

This whole situation is changing me and I don’t know that it is for the better. I desperately need some healing in my life and in this country. I trust no one right now and it hurts so badly.

I keep finding myself in tears….the kind that slowly trickle down your face. The kind you don’t even know are there until vision is obscured or one drips from the tip of your nose. I keep looking at Nia and wondering what the fuck I am supposed to teach her? How am I supposed to guide HER when I feel so very fucking lost myself? I have so many questions and so many hurts.

The store owner said today that he never called the cops. Should I throw that down like a joker in a spades game? Maybe? But I don’t have the energy because THESE people…these are the people I thought were the exceptions. The people whom I believed saw me…in my entirety. The people who I would have sworn were better than this. So now what? Am I just a horrible judge of character? Or is racism so insidious that it lies in the heart and mind of every single person in the world? I have NO answers.

I don’t want to even be RIGHT anymore. I just want to be FELT. I just want the people whom I love to be my motherfucking allies and not more people for me to fight, explain and justify my fucking existence to. God this shit hurts so much.

And you know I don’t expect lock step agreement from the people in my life but damn must I agree to disagree about my very humanity?!?!?! 

Click here for Melissa Harris-Perry

I’m hurting

Published August 14, 2014 by hrhdana

I’m hurting.

I’m hurting so badly.

People are going to roll their eyes at me but I love this country. This is my HOME! This is the place that I am raising my baby girl. I always knew America wasn’t perfect. I rage against her imperfections all the time but she is mine. I belong here. This is my HOME!

I live an integrated life. I love people of all ideologies, sizes, shapes and colors. As much as I rage against racism and inequality I know that peaceful coexistence is possible because I have it in my life. There are also cops in my life whom I love very much, family and friends. They hip me to shit to keep me safe. They tell me safe ways to rage against the machine even if they aren’t raging themselves.

Watching Ferguson on T.V. last night did something to my soul. It broke my heart in to a million little pieces.  Seeing an American city turned in to a militarized zone while main stream media and other Americans ignored it truly broke something inside of me that hasn’t quite healed since Trayvon’s murderer was set free. My Dad and I sat in my living room with our mouths hanging open. My Daddy and I had tears in our eyes.

Tanks rolling through an American city. Machine guns trained on peaceful protesters. Reporters locked up. Media trucks pushed back and threatened. Tear gas shot in to people’s yards. Rubber bullets shot at retreating crowds. Is this America? Why aren’t we raging with one collective voice? Is it really because the people being fired on are almost 100% Black and poor? Is it that simple? Is it that hard for others to see our humanity?  

Safety is an illusion. Freedom is an illusion. It can all be snatched away in an instant. These are the truths I learned last night.

I don’t know what to do with them.

I hurt so badly and I am done begging anyone to care. I’m done fighting to prove my humanity and that of those who look like me. All of America is equally culpable in the me that was broken last night. 

My friends who have always known better will shake their heads at me but none will say I told you so.  They never REALLY tried to break my rose colored glasses. My hope made them smile. They grieve with me and for me.

What do I teach my almost 3 year old about this country, her home? How do I prepare her for the truths, so new to me? How do I separate those who are part of the problem from those whom I know would stand with me? 

I hurt. I hurt so much.