Category Archives: Race

“Hey God, it’s me, ________.”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

“Hey God, It’s Me, Margaret” was a coming-of-age book written by author Judy Blume. It chronicled the life of a young girl who moved from New York to New Jersey (I think) and was being raised by areligious parents; her mother was raised Catholic and her father was raised Jewish. She had a wonderful relationship with her grandmother on her father’s side, but her mother’s parents had all but disowned their daughter after she decided to marry a Jew.

Margaret doesn’t tell anyone about her fervent prayers to the heavens- her parents want her to wait until she’s older to decide which religion she wants to follow (if any at all). Her prayers are of the typical self-absorbed teenager variety- she prays to “get her period” and for boys to like her and to do well with assignments in school. At one point in the novel she gets upset with God when He doesn’t seem to answer her prayers and refuses to talk with Him anymore.

Well right now, whenever I try to pray, I feel like I’m behaving exactly like little self-absorbed tweenage Margaret- my requests for more strength when I feel overwhelmed seem so pathetic. There are moments when I’m confronted with just how privileged I am and I wish that I could just slap myself.

I know, I know- it’s true that just because I haven’t suffered as much as someone else, it doesn’t make my suffering any less valid. That’s not the point. The point is that if I were to go around preaching the power of a positive attitude to make everything okay- which I don’t, by the way- I would definitely be giving out false platitudes.

Let’s backtrack a little and I’ll talk about what brought this on (besides my feeling pathetic already).

Last night, at around midnight, I couldn’t sleep (due to drinking copious amounts of Coke Zero) and so I fixed myself a bowl of cereal and turned on the radio. BBC World News was on and they were talking about a practice in southern Malawi concerning girls who reach puberty. These girls are given a few sex education courses, then turned over to a “hyena”- a man who is literally paid to have sex with these children- for three days for their “initiation” and “cleansing.” This cleansing is supposed to educate the girls in sex so that they can please their future husbands, and also protect their families and villages from bad fortune.

If you thought that was bad, it gets worst- during this ritual it is required that no protection be used. The “hyena” that BBC interviewed was actually HIV positive and deliberately hid that fact from the parents of the girls he “serviced”. So not only are these girls subjected to rape and possible unwanted pregnancy, they are also exposed to any of the diseases that the “hyena” may be carrying.

I think about things like this a lot when I think about our Westernized “health and wealth” gospel.  Here I am praying to get through the work day (and “claiming blessings” for myself), and a 13-year old somewhere across the world is probably praying to make it through 3 days of sex with a man she doesn’t even know. If she refuses, she is said to be endangering her village- think about that kind of pressure.

I also think about things like that- and the religious/cultural beliefs that are behind them. It’s been proven time and time again that people will do amazingly horrific and harmful things in defense of a tradition. For us here in the Western world, these practices- and others, like female genital mutilation, child marriage, and child slavery- are unthinkable, but for people in these cultures it is simply “the way we do things”.

So now I wonder how many things that are acceptable in Western nations today may be equally as barbaric? (Think conversion therapy, forced sex reassignment of intersex infants, male circumcision, and other unnecessary/ineffective medical procedures by greedy doctors).

I cannot believe that a God who is all-powerful and yet does nothing to help the people who are going through these atrocities. Yet I cannot accept a God who is helpless, either- and that’s where my responsibility comes in.

I am not helpless.

I can use my position of privilege and influence to actually make a difference for someone somewhere in the world. If I am able-bodied and able-minded, then it’s for a purpose. No one should have to go through what these children in Malawi are going through but the stubborn tribal leaders insist on telling the people that these unhealthy practices are actually for the good of all the parties involved. If we by word of mouth raise our voices in dissent of these practices maybe we can put pressure on the people to change. The leadership has to be forced to change their stance on these issues.

So now I think it’s time for me to change the way I pray. I need to expand my vision beyond just the limited perimeter of my neighborhood. I need to get out of the mindset of “barely getting by”. I need to stop hiding.

Here’s a quote.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves; Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. -Marianne Williamson

I want to be that light that shines in the world. No more prayers just to make it through the day, or fix that relationship, or what should I do if X invites me to a party and I don’t want to go. That’s small stuff. No more being apologetic just for being, so embarrassed by my own existence that I practically beg to be rescued from it. I won’t be Margaret, and turn my back on God when I don’t appear to get my way- and I also won’t ask God to do for me what he/she/it has already empowered me to do for myself.

It’s time for change.

“All Lives Matter”? Yes, we know.

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

The one time I saw #alllivesmatter used offline was on the back window of a pick-up truck as I was preparing to join the highway. Notably enough, there was also a Confederate Flag sticker almost directly next to it. I really don’t think this should come as a suprise to anyone, and I’m going to tell you why. It’s because saying “all lives matter” as innocuous as it seems to be when taken at face value, has a hideous context when its used as a blanket statement to silence people of the #blacklivesmatter movement- or just anyone who speaks up for black lives in general.

It pretty much goes without saying that “all lives matter”- but #blacklivesmatter was created because it was- and is- a lot less obvious that the lives of people of color are of any value at all. Sure, white people are stilled killed by police more than black people- but percentage-wise, black people are killed by police two and a half times more often than their white counterparts.

It wouldn’t be necessary to make a big fuss about the full moon being in the sky on the expected night- but have that moon turn to blood and people are going to start talking. As it is right now, blood is being shed- particularly that of African American men- and people are not coming up with sufficient answers as to why. Why would a police officer find it justifiable to shoot a man four times, when the man plainly stated that he was reaching for his wallet? Did the color of his skin indicate that he could not be trusted or believed, even with his girlfriend and four year-old daughter looking on? How could police justify restraining an unarmed man and then shooting him- while he was still restrained?

So yes, all lives matter- everyone knows that. We’re just not so sure if you know that black lives are a part of all lives. We don’t criticize your assertion that all lives matter- we criticize your use of #alllivesmatter as a way of undermining the validity of #blacklivesmatter and other related movements.

A parallel for this is feminism as it is defined by its adherents. It is often defined as a movement for equality across the sexes. So some could argue, “Why emphasize females in the title, then?” The reason is quite clear- it’s because it is females overall that are suffering the most from the inequality. It’s called feminism to bring attention to the fact that females are struggling the most with gaining visibility and acceptance, even though the struggle extends to some men as well.

In the same way, saying “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that only black lives matter, it’s only trying to emphasize what seems to be lost to many people in this country- black lives matter, too. It’s interesting to note that #alllivesmatter only popped up after #blacklivesmatter had gained momentum, providing further evidence of the divisive and undermining nature of it.

A female police officer was upset because some people took offense at a picture of her with her daughter, with the caption “her life matters”. Again, it’s important to note that nobody was upset at her message- that she loved her daughter and that her life was valuable- but rather at her choice of words. Affixing “her life matters” to the picture- especially since she was a police officer- was yet another subtle attempt at erasure of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Saying “her life matters” made it seem like saying “black lives matter” was just trite and redundant- of course black lives matter, just like the life of a daughter of a police officer. As I’ve pointed out, however, people in a privileged position like that of the officer’s daughter cannot be fairly compared to people of color who are being jailed in mass quantities and being shot unarmed in the streets. The government system- and in some ways the general public as well- are clearly valuing some lives over others, and that needs to be acknowledged- not just tossed aside by the banal, empty assurances like those given who support #alllivesmatter.

So yes, we know; all lives matter. The only problem is that not everyone seems to know or believe that, and movements like #blacklivesmatter are going to continue to be necessary until we have fully erased inequality and injustice.

“Ma’am, I thought you were a white woman”

A few months ago I was pulling up to Wendy’s to order my usual order; it was a number one which is a Dave’s Single w/ Cheese. A lot of the times I just get the sandwich, but I think this time I ordered the combo. When I pulled up to the window, the young black guy at the front told me.

“Ma’am, I thought you were a white woman.”

It was funny that he used the polite term “ma’am” right before what could’ve been termed an impolite statement. I think I just laughed awkwardly, paid him, got my food and then drove away. This wouldn’t be the first time that someone thought I “sounded white” and it wouldn’t be the last.

My dad is from Nigeria, and my mom is an African American- with some Native American ancestry- and was born in South Carolina.

I spent part of my childhood in a northern state where very few black people lived. People would smile at me and tell me that I sounded like my dad. I guess when I was smaller I took on some of his accent (I’ve only had one person tell me that I sounded Nigerian now that I’m an adult). They would ask if I spoke the language, and I would always have to tell them that I didn’t because my dad didn’t teach it to us.

To be honest my dad taught us very little about Nigeria. He would talk about the negative things, like the poverty, corruption, and the lack of reliable electricity. He talked about having to walk miles just to get water, and bathing with water from a bucket. He said the country was better off when it was under British occupation. So I always got the sense that he wasn’t very proud about having come from Nigeria- and so I didn’t get any sense of African pride either.

When I tell people that I have Nigerian ancestry, they say a number of things, including but not limited to:

“It’s no wonder you have that ‘Africa’ in your hair”

“At least you know where you came from”

“What tribe was your dad from?”

“Have you ever been to Africa?” and if I say no “You should go”

“Are you going to have an arranged marriage?”

I remember one time I went to Walgreen’s very late at night to pick up a prescription. The pharmacist on duty noticed my last name and asked if I was a Nigerian. When I told him my dad was from Nigeria he said that he too was from Nigeria and asked what tribe I was from. He said it was possible that I was from a particular tribe, and if I was from that tribe then I might have a tribal name that was unique to me. I told him that my dad had selected my first name from a verse in the Bible (but that I didn’t think I had a tribal name).

To make a long story short he actually had me there talking to him for like twenty minutes. He said that I shouldn’t be afraid to go to Africa, because that was where my roots were and it was up to me to find out about it. It was an interesting conversation but I felt a little like I was being lectured. Really, this man was a stranger, but he felt like he needed to give me personal advice.

See, that’s the thing about being black. Black people sometimes get overly familiar with you just because you’re black too, feeling like they have a right to give advice about your hair, appearance, or cultural expression. If you’re one of the only black people in the room, they might say something like “I’m so glad I found you, because I was thinking that I/we was/were the only black person/people here!”

Also, I can’t count how many times a black person in this city has looked at me a little suspiciously and said something like, “You’re not from around here, are you?” or “Where are you from?” or “You talk so proper”.

To be fair I’m sure that people of other cultures experience this as well. Maybe if you’re Hispanic someone will look at you and start speaking Spanish to you, and you may be embarrassed if you don’t know it. It’s like that with us, too. Sometimes I have to smile awkwardly when someone of the same race as me makes assumptions about me just because I’m black.

I watched the entire series of Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl and read the book as well. In the book, Issa Rae writes that being “Awkward and Black” is among one of the absolute worst things that you can be, and I can 100% relate. I feel like I don’t fit into “black culture”, even though when you ask someone what black culture really is they don’t even seem to know what it is themselves. It’s kind of like there are some secret rules and I’m totally out of the loop.

It isn’t just in person that my apparent blackness has surprised people. My closest friends that I originally met online were all shocked when I sent pictures and they found out that I was black. It’s like there’s this unspoken assumption that if you are into anime, pop music, reading, and writing that you can’t possibly be black, but the rise of “black nerdom” and other black “classes” has led to the creation of lists of “categories” of blacks like the one found in Issa Rae’s book.

The list is as follows;

The 10% Black

The Ambitious Black

The Awkward Black

The Basic Black

The Hustling Black

The Insecure Black

The Know-it-all About Blacks Black

The LGBT Black

The Militant Black

The Nerdy Black

The Not-Black Black

The Position-of-Power Black

The Ratchet Black

The Strong Black

The Woe-is-Me Black

You’ll have to actually purchase and read Issa’s book if you want to see how she really broke it down for you. I think her point- and it’s dealt with with lots of cheeky humor- that there are so many different ways to “be black”, even though we are all aware that black is just a skin tone and it says nothing about a person’s inward character. Also, I don’t want to just turn this into a huge “woe is me, I’m black and misunderstood” type of thing.

I think some of my problems fitting in have as much to do with being a person of color as with being a child of an immigrant. If you were raised American and go home to your foreign relatives, it’s pretty obvious that they’re going to be comparing and contrasting between you and them (it’s another thing that makes me nervous about going). So you really don’t fit in with your immigrant parent’s family, and then you don’t fully fit in with American culture because you were still raised differently, even in cases where your parent kept the culture from you. I was homeschooled and raised in a strict, isolated, religious environment.

In some ways I feel like I’m almost doubly marginalized. I’m a minority, I’m bisexual, and I’m the child of an immigrant. I behave and speak different than a lot of my peers. I’ve never experienced blatant racism, but I have experienced some colorism- a thing that was totally foreign to me growing up. I’ve been called a “yellow bone” which I think is a compliment, but I had never even heard that term before I moved to where I live now.

For a lot of my black friends who went to public school and grew up in the South race is like a huge issue for them, whereas I’ve spent most of my life ambivalent about it. My parents have seemed to support the notion that modern blacks have brought a lot of their own problems on themselves. We didn’t have any “black pride” we were just raised to believe that all people were equal and that if you served God and did the right thing you could succeed in life. After all, my dad is a foreigner of all things and managed to rise up in his work field to making around six figures. He never blamed white people for hindering his success.

Even though I can see how this upbringing was good, it did leave me feeling like something was missing. When I recently gave up my religion- which was the main way in which I was taught to identify myself as a person- I felt like I didn’t have any culture left. I didn’t fit in with blacks, but here I was black. So right when I needed to I found my Moorish friends, and they began to educate me on the fact that racism was very much alive in America and that Islam was actually a big part of black history. Without blaming their hardships on anyone, they pointed out how unfair things really were, and they welcomed me, an awkward black Christian girl, into their fold. They never made fun of the way I talked- maybe because a lot of them spoke the same way.

So, have I, the awkward, bisexual, formerly-Christian black girl found my tribe? Not yet, but I’m starting to be more open and expanding my little circle.