Sunday, November 15, 2020

Who Decides Who is Black?: Kamala Harris and the Black Enough Debate

“You talk white.” one of my fellow classmates said in disgust, prompting others around to snicker and giggle. I was in the 2nd grade, it was just after lunch and we hand made it to the concrete covered field our elementary school dared to call a play yard.

I had never in my 8 short years only planet earth given much thought to how I spoke, until that day.

Honestly, I was always commended on my speech from church leaders, my teachers, most of all from my own parents who were the guiding reason I spoke the way I did, all of whom were Black people. It wasn’t until middle school that I was even exposed to White culture and White people.

I didn’t know all of the ins and outs of that statement, or how ridiculous it was to assign ethnicity to a certain way of speaking, or that it could have been my classmates own insecurities that prompted the comment. All I knew, at 8 years old was how it made me feel; like an outsider, like I didn’t belong, like I wasn’t Black enough.

This type of commentary would continue through my whole life starting with that moment. My speech, from my inflection to my pronunciation, my skin tone, how I dressed, the music I liked, that I liked to read, that I smile a lot, all were attacked, not by those outside of my ethnic makeup, but from those within. In fact, I probably experienced more colorism and exclusion from my own people in those formative years than I experienced racism (that came later).

What I grew to learn was that these conversations were happening not just to me but to the majority of other Black people I would encounter. Most Black people, at one point or another, would have their “Blackness” questioned. It’s so prolific, we even now have a game about it called Black Card Revoked (not a plug but the game is quite fun.)

What makes someone Black? And who really gets to decide who else is Black?

Is it those with straight hair or weaves or naturals or locs? Do they have slicked edges or kinky coils?

What skin tone do they have to have, and are light skinned people just tossed out for good measure?

What food do they have to like? Are they the keepers of the sweet potato pie recipe or the loved potato salad bearers? Are they the savory or sweet grits folk (if they like grits at all)? Do they twerk or do they salsa?

Is English their first language or maybe they speak French, Swahili, Patois, or one of the American dialects?

Are they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Atheist?

Are they urban, rural, suburban, island, desert, mountain people? Where do they (or their parents and ancestors) have to be born for them to qualify as Black people?

Better question: Why is this a question that only comes up for certain folks but not others? Why does the challenge of identity only come to certain individuals but not others?

In our culture, there emerges weird need to gate keep who is Black and who’s not.

I get it. In the days of Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug and when every Instagram Influencer seems to be doing some form of Blackfishing or performing their perception of what they believe Blackness is because Black seems to be the trend nowadays. We in the culture have to guard authentic Black experiences from those who are merely present to siphon and benefit from without being a part of or contributing to these communities.

But when it comes down to a person who literally finds her heritage with us, the sudden exclusion that emerges from certain individuals is disgusting and disheartening.

I am speaking of Kamala Harris, who shattered glass ceilings this election by becoming the 1st Woman, the 1st South Asian, the 1st Black Vice President Elect of the United States. What has emerged with all of those historic firsts has not been VP Elect Harris record, her qualifications, her preparedness, all things that should be focused upon in greater detail than currently (By the way, this writer believes she is MORE than capable and prepared to do the job.)

What has emerged in these discussions is Vp Elect Harris’ identity, and not in a positive way. To be clear, VP Elect Harris has identified as a Black Woman. That is where the conversation should end. Unfortunately, it has not.

My question is this: Why are people who are NOT Kamala Harris, trying to identify Kamala Harris when Kamala Harris is perfectly capable of identifying Kamala Harris? Does she not have a Black father? Has she not experienced the world, navigating its complexities, as a Black Woman? What hoops must she navigate in order to be seen as Black enough? Why is this even a conversation?

The conversations stops where she identifies. At least, it should.

The fact that there is even debate over her own identity is absurd. The fact that its rising from her own people is disheartening.

So what makes a person Black? Is it not based on lineage or personal history? Is it not common experience? Is it based on only external qualifiers or internal approval?

There was a conversation of who is Black enough a few years back that is very relevant to this conversation we are having now. It started with this tweet:

Are we done with @Luvvie , @amandaseales , and others who claim Black American DOS culture but don’t really like us?

— ツ (@WomenInTheZone) August 21, 2018

For those unfamiliar with the term, DOS is short for Descendent of Slaves. This Twitter user even continued her tirade against these women, saying:

These are just facts. Black DOS can’t be bothered with culture vultures. It’s not just a history lesson that you appropriate because you have Black skin. Yes, we done.

— ツ (@WomenInTheZone) August 21, 2018

My question is this: WHY IS THIS EVEN A THING?

Do DOS Blacks have an exclusivity on the market of Blackness?

Are we the only ones with the rights to be called Black, omitting those from the Carribean (who most likely are also DOS) and those from the continent?

Is Blackness only defined by a heritage of slavery, oppression, violation, and pain? Is Blackness only seen in its comparison to Whiteness?

Those of us who are American born Descendants of Slaves may be a different expression of Blackness from those born on the Continent, or have different experiences than our Afro-Carribean or Afro-Latinx community. But at the end of the day, we are all Black people.

Of course, both women addressed the foolishness. While Amanda Seales tweeted;

Do you understand the INSANITY of a Black woman telling me that I am a culture vulture of black culture? πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ I’ve literally heard it all!

— Amanda Seales πŸ‡¬πŸ‡© (@amandaseales) August 21, 2018

LOL. I was born here. My father is Black American. I hv literally dedicated my life 2 the upliftment of my ppl & culture. I don’t kno WHO u THINK ur talking 2 but u r uniformed, mislead & I am simply unmoved by the fool’s hill upon which u & ur cohorts have planted their flag.

— Amanda Seales πŸ‡¬πŸ‡© (@amandaseales) August 23, 2018

So just like I tell these white folks who attempt to use discrimination to silence what I’ve got to say, i invite all of you to GO FUCK URSELVES. My work, advocacy, and activism will continue as BLACK AS IT CAN BE and without any approval from any of you.

— Amanda Seales πŸ‡¬πŸ‡© (@amandaseales) August 23, 2018

Luvvie Ajayi wrote;

“Some people believe that those of us who aren’t borne from a legacy of slavery have no place in the conversation because we aren’t directly tied to that particular type of struggle. So is Blackness earned through some sort of pain? Do I need to suffer in a specific way before laying claim to it?

If you were always middle class or upper, are you less Black?

If you are light-skinned and haven’t had issues related to dark-skinned discrimination, are you less Black?

If you are Afro-Latinx, are you less Black?

If you do not have ancestors who were ever enslaved, are you less Black?

We often say that Black is not a monolith and then at the same time we dare question Blackness that doesn’t look like ours. We cannot have it both ways. We wonder if the person who grew up differently than us really loves Black people. Everyone isn’t Omarosa or Stacey Dash just because they have been privileged.”

So what is the point of all of this?

The point is that none of these asinine points matter. Not one of them. Especially in the current climate and times we live in where it does not matter what experience of Blackness you have, you can still be a victim of racism, white supremacy, and unjustified police brutality, and not one of those experiences will you be asked “Are you from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, Asia, or the US?”

Blackness is not a monolith, it spans a wide and vibrant breadth of color and culture and creativity. There is no one way to be Black. No one has exclusive rights to claim ownership over Black.

Just like I was told in various ways and in various arenas that I was not “Black enough” despite being a DOS, being born here, and raised here, Blackness is not one experience, but many.

While this conversation is worth having on the many expressions of Blackness, is it really worth attacking one another, like this, on soial media, right now, in this time where it feels like “open season” on Black people in general?

Quite frankly, I appreciate the voices that are speaking up for Black people, whether they be Luvvie Ajayi or Amanda Seales, Bernice King, Symone Sanders, Angela Rye, Maxine Waters, or VP Elect Kamala Harris or any other sister bringing her own voice to the fight and ultimately putting herself on the line.

Maybe, instead of trying to quantify and qualify who is able to speak for Black people, the Black people involved should take their own voices and themselves on the line for a greater and more beneficial fight for Black people worldwide.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Dear 36 Weeks (One Day at a Time)

Dear 36 Weeks;

Back in March, when the world was closing down due to an unknown pandemic, I found out I was pregnant. This is not my 1st pregnancy, but as you can see, previous journeys led to different destinations. 

So when I read that test, an old familiar fear rose up in me, one I have tried my best to suppress, but it lingered in the back of my mind. Looking at the scope of a maximum of 40 weeks with the daunting task of doing something my body was not able to previously do terrifies me. 

So I stopped thinking 40 weeks and started thinking the same thought when I was walking through some of my other dark days: “One day at a time.” I took one day, each day at a time, through this journey. 

With every sick day and well day, up and down day, high energy and super sleepy day, from doctor's appointments to gender reveals to baby showers, one day at a time. 

36 weeks felt so far away once. 

I woke up this week at 36 weeks. The gratitude outweighs the fear, although fear is still there. God has been very good to me, walking with me through this journey with an amazing support system and husband. Soon we will be holding our baby in our arms, until then, I’m waiting, joyfully, one day at a time. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Next time you want to grieve, make sure you run it by Jason Whitlock

Chrissy Teigan shared a few moments of grief on her Instagram. She recently suffered the loss of her unborn son, who she and her husband, singer John Legend, had been calling Jack.

View this post on Instagram

We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before. We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn’t enough. . . We never decide on our babies’ names until the last possible moment after they’re born, just before we leave the hospital. But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever. . . To our Jack - I’m so sorry that the first few moments of your life were met with so many complications, that we couldn’t give you the home you needed to survive. We will always love you. . . Thank you to everyone who has been sending us positive energy, thoughts and prayers. We feel all of your love and truly appreciate you. . . We are so grateful for the life we have, for our wonderful babies Luna and Miles, for all the amazing things we’ve been able to experience. But everyday can’t be full of sunshine. On this darkest of days, we will grieve, we will cry our eyes out. But we will hug and love each other harder and get through it.

A post shared by chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) on

She chose to share that loss on her Instagram. Her post opened up a flood of responses; words of kindness, words of condolences, words of empathy. Natural feelings human beings express when they see or feel others in sorrow.

Unfortunately, her post also opened her up to criticism.

Jason Whitlock, former football player, and current commentator took to Twitter to make commentary on Chrissy’s expression of grief, tweeting the following: Jason’s words reverberated across social media, not reflecting the natural kindness, compassion, and empathy that human beings express in sorrowful moments like this. His words only offer a barb of critique, in essence, examining Chrissy’s very raw expression of grief and writing it of as performative. Imagine telling a grieving mother, experiencing one of the worst losses of her life, “I don’t like the way you grieve.” How hypocritical is it to criticize a woman’s grief she chooses to express on social media by heading to social media? How cruel. How cold. How calloused.

He tweets “Help me understand.”, but then processed to argue across his platforms, even with people who have lived the nightmare where Chrissy and John currently find themselves. He doesn’t want to understand. He wants to argue, and that can be seen in his combative and flippant reactions to the responses he receives: His criticism lies solely on the “content”, or what normal people call photos Chrissy posted. Does Jason Whitlock not realize that photos from these very painful moments are actually extremely popular as some of the only tangible pieces of these memories families will have?

Just this year, The Atlantic published an entire piece on Stillbirth Photography. The author of the piece, Sarah Zhang, writes;
“For parents, these photographs document one of the worst days of their life. But they also represent the few cherished memories they will ever have of their child. Hospitals used to whisk stillborn babies away from their parents, but they now recognize the importance of memories in grieving.”

Zhang chronicles the heartbreaking work of Todd Hochberg, who has “photographed 500 to 600 families, including those whose infant died shortly after birth as well as those who lost an older child. He presents each family with an album with dozens of photos, sometimes as many as 130.”

1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage, when an embryo or fetus dies before the 20th week of pregnancy, in her life. Stillbirth, however, is delivery, after the 20th week of pregnancy, of a baby who has died. 1 in 100 pregnancies ends in stillbirth.

With as common as these losses are, very few people ever talk about them. It is almost a silent shame for women who have experienced them carry, with no community. Many of these people actually take to social media to find a community where they cannot in their own reach, and there they find similar stories and experiences. Communities such as the Silent Women’s Club, with its bi-weekly podcast, led by author Kim Paris Upshaw, create active communities around this topic that so many others stray away from. Her work centers around mothers who have lost children, whether through infertility, during pregnancy, in infancy, childhood, or adulthood. Upshaw offers her site and podcast as a “judgement free zone” something those who have experienced such loss rarely receive. It is a place where she and her community highlight their own stories, connect with one another, and share local programs to help families to cope with loss. Upshaw says,
“Here, we offer empathy, prayer, and love to our sister, out of our shared experience of loss so that other Mums will know they are not alone and their story is not odd or anything to be embarrassed about. SWC is a judgment-free community. No matter how you lost your child, SWC welcomes you.

We do not condemn you. We do not judge you. We exist in order to lovingly walk along with you on this journey of the rest of your life.

We invite you to come in, read our stories, browse our archives, and share them with other mothers who need to know that women of every generation, culture, and faith have lost children and after shared their stores to comfort us.”
Invitations like this are rare. In a world that should embrace those who grieve, encouraging them, when they are ready, to share their story, people like Jason Whitlock would scare them into doing otherwise.

Many have raised their voices in active criticism of Whitlock’s cold and heartless reaction to Chrissy and John’s expression of grief:

Imagine if Chrissy had listened to the likes of Jason Whitlock, taking her pain and suppressing it, or deleting her post from her own Instagram. How many other stories of loss would not have been shared? How many other conversations around grief would not have started. After she shared her post, one after another, more and more stories of infant and child loss emerged, one after another, people listened to one another, connected with one another, embraced one another in a shared empathy.

Chrissy, by sharing her own story of loss and grief, opened the door to dialogue for others to share their own stories. Women who have been forced into carrying grief in silence were given a voice through her act and community through their shared grief. May those voices continue to be louder than those of the Jason Whitlocks of the world.


Friday, September 4, 2020

Jessica Krug Stole Black Years

If we thought that Rachel Dolezal was an enigma, we were all corrected by today’s revelation courtesy of Jessica Krug.

Jessica Krug, a white professor who teaches “politics, ideas, and cultural practices in Africa and the African Diaspora” at George Washington University, outed herself on Medium, outed herself after pretending to be a Black Woman for the entirety of her professional career.

She starts, saying “To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.”

“I have not only claimed these identities as my own when I had absolutely no right to do so — when doing so is the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation, of the myriad ways in which non-Black people continue to use and abuse Black identities and cultures — but I have formed intimate relationships with loving, compassionate people who have trusted and cared for me when I have deserved neither trust nor caring. People have fought together with me and have fought for me, and my continued appropriation of a Black Caribbean identity is not only, in the starkest terms, wrong — unethical, immoral, anti-Black, colonial — but it means that every step I’ve taken has gaslighted those whom I love.”
Jessica Krug's biography

While Krug does out herself as masquerading as an Afro-Latina, calling herself a coward, what she does not do is outright apologize. Rather she seems to blame this masquerade as a mental health issue, saying “Mental health issues likely explain why I assumed a false identity initially, as a youth, and why I continued and developed it for so long.” She later says “But mental health issues can never, will never, neither explain nor justify, neither condone nor excuse, that, in spite of knowing and regularly critiquing any and every non-Black person who appropriates from Black people, my false identity was crafted entirely from the fabric of Black lives.”

The truth is that Krug immensely benefitted from her foray as an Afro Latina. Whether it was the accolades, financial backing from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for her book Fugitive Modernities, or that very book becoming a 2019 finalist for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, says The Daily Beast.

But deeper than all of that, Jessica Krug has done harm to the communities that she pretended to belong to. Nowhere in her piece is there any genuine remorse. Sure, she says “There are no words in any language to express the depth of my remorse, but then again: there shouldn’t be. Words are never the point.” However, Krug’s Medium piece reads more like an admission before the news broke, a way to get ahead of the story that may have already been forthcoming.

A way for her to save face.

Imagine, having a wealth of knowledge of imperialism and colonialism and their effects, only to, as a White Woman, be living them as she’s teaching them. Imagine teaching in a time of Black Lives Matter, only to be living a stolen Black Life.

But what about all of those she influenced. Through her book, her classes, her lectures, her influence? What about the harm done to the communities that she pretended to be a part of? What opportunities did she take away from an actual person of color by pretending to be one? What positions, grants, scholarships, support did she snatch from actual Black people through this farce? What about her students, many of whom knew something was amiss, but did not know the full extent?

And how do we, to her recommendation, “cancel her”? After all, the act of canceling is an element of accountability that is usually reserved for the unrepentant, and here she is, supposedly repenting. And accountability involves community. What community will lead this accountability? What community does she even belong to?
The questions need to be asked of Krug that were asked of Dolezal (former president of the NAACP’s Spokane, Washington chapter outed by her parents in 2015 for pretending to be a Black woman): why do white people, often scholars and activists, find it so difficult to engage with matters of importance to Black people without a masquerade? Why are you unable to Why can’t you care passionately for the people of the Black Community without being one of them? Why can’t you be white and actively combat anti-blackness?

While the University has yet to respond, many are calling on George Washington University to take action. An admission of guilt does not absolve of the actions Krug has done. No amount of false humility or calls of self-canceling will erase the damage done. At the very least, the educational institution which 1st affirmed her can make a step in the right direction by removing her as a professor.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Moving Day

Personal post: 

Today is the 1st of September. 

As I type this, I am sitting on our couch in our new home. Our living room is have set up, half-filled with boxes, typical for people who moved in mere days ago.

It's bright, big, and airy. We have way more space for us and our growing family. It's way newer than our other place, with wide windows, updated appliances, way more storage, an additional bathroom, even a balcony.

It's a place I would have loved to live in previously, but never thought I could. 

Sure, it's JUST an apartment. But, to me, from where I have come from, it's stepping into a new chapter of my life.

When I moved into my last place, I was in the worst season of my life. 

I got divorced. I lost my job. I lost 2 homes. I was desperate to make this one a home, despite the drafts, the leaky roof, the completely unattentive and often rude landlord. I wanted a home. I just didn't want to lose another thing. 

I really grew up over these last 10 years. 

Then. I got a new job. I found myself. I grew in God. I started a blog, a career, a business, a podcast. 

I got remarried. 

We got pregnant. 

I survived. I’m in a new season. 

So moving only made sense. Sure, we needed more space, and there was no way I would raise my baby under that leaky roof. 

But we also needed a change. 

I needed a change. 

This is the last step. 

This is the last piece before heading head first into a new chapter. 

If you need a testimonial for the phrase “keep on living”, May I offer my short, unfinished, but my own story. 

I put this sticker on the mirror when I moved in and as I was cleaning the mirror, it became a reminder: “He made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecc 3:11NIV. 

It’s true. It really is. Keep on living, y’all. 

Keep going.