Amazing Grace. How Sweet Thou Art.

This morning as I exited one train a woman tapped me on my shoulder. I removed my earbuds. “I wanted to tell you you have amazing style” she said. I blushed (yes, we have already coved this… black people DO blush!) and said, “Thank you.” She continued, “You remind me of Grace Jones. Do you remember her?” “Wow!” I said. “Yes, I do. That is quite the compliment. Thank you.” We parted ways. But, as I continued on, I kept going over the encounter. Something in it deserved my mulling. So, let’s address this.

I was/am absolutely touched by both her compliment and her taking the time to express it. That was sweet. I was/am floored to be likened to such an icon and a personal idol (if I were prone to them) of mine. But the more I think about it, I realize this is the part that keeps tumbling around my head. I am wondering whether I truly do remind her of Ms. Jones; or whether to a white woman (yes, she was), that was the closest to a likeness she could have mustered. Do you see what I mean? No? Okay, here it is… “Was I just racially fashionably profiled?”

Listen, there was nothing in the encounter that was off; this woman was lovely and I do not for any minute question her well-intent. What I am addressing is whether consciously or not, we all at times default to places that can be perceived as stereotypical. One can argue that there are not that many options in trying to liken me to someone. I mean, no argument can be made that I remind anyone of, let’s say, Charlize Theron. But, there are those in my life that may say on any given day that my style can be reminiscent of, let’s say, Gaga’s. Right? You see what I’m getting at? Look. As a black woman, it is possible for me to resemble or remind. Yes. So, do I resemble Grace Jones? Or does my style remind her of Grace Jones? And, is it Grace Jones because I, like she, is dark black? Tall? And partially bald? Can I never remind someone of, Angela Bassett? Or will I, to white people always only evoke thoughts of the Graces and Lupitas of the world?

See it now?

Now, pay attention to the fact I said, “to white people” because what I am questioning and addressing is whether that exact compliment from someone black would have resonated with me differently. Do you think it would carry more punch if it came from someone of color? Would I have not even questioned its validity (hence this post would not have happened), because well, they would know what they are talking about? Does this fall under the same category of, a woman complimenting another woman versus a man complimenting that same woman? Do we, or is it just me, place more stock in the words of someone we have sized up to owning the authority of what they speak?

And, do we need to analyze her choice of wording, “Do you remember her?” Is there something in her assumption that I should know her because we are both black? Or is her assumption simply, sweetly based on the fact that she assumes I must have known who she is, given we are both black and I must have been told that before? To her, if my style clearly indicates I appreciate fashion, is there any possible way I could have missed Ms. Jones?

Listen. I love me some Grace Jones. I am honored to have been likened to her. I am touched that that stranger paused her steps to have our worlds intersect for a few brief moments. I could say I will leave the analytics alone; but I won’t. You see, I have found that the amount of attention I pay and the importance I place in the people and encounters around me lend themselves to a ‘me’ that is better able to access those places inside that matter most. They allow me to feel and articulate. They insulate me from a life of limitation and fear. Experiences like these touch my soul, make my skin tingle, take a seat on my shoulder, lean over to my ear and whisper, “Let’s address this…”

The Environment. For Dummies.

I was honored to have been asked to perform at an event yesterday. The theme was, Environmental Justice. This is what I wrote (and performed):

_________________________

Some of us, at one point in life or the other may have heard scathing derogatory remarks levelled at us. Remarks such as, “You’re nothing” “You’ll never amount to anything!” “You’re just like your damn father” “I wish I never had you!” Damaging remarks from the lips and soul of those we first looked to, to love us. To protect us. To nurture us. Remarks that shaped us and brought us to the places inside we visit often. Those places where some of us live.

That’s in our homes.

To get to our schools – those of us that did get to go – we were sometimes forced to navigate hallways, alleyways and streets that were littered with the evidence of hopelessness, despair, anger and waste. From our formative years, we are given the proof that reinforced the words passed down to us from a long line of those that may or may not look like us; but who most certainly ensured we were given the language that mirrored generations of hope and helplessness. Our schools bore noticeable differences from those other schools; so those of us with televisions got to see the differences between them and us – the faces that only bore resemblance to ours in years; but with lives and opportunities that were years apart and ahead.

That’s in our communities.

If poverty, hopelessness, violence and despair didn’t get us, we grew up. Listen… according to God’s law, we are all entitled to be raised; but the truth is, some of us just grew up. We learned to survive. But we are here. We work; or not. We prosper; or not. We love; or not. We identify; or not. We thrive. Okay… maybe sometimes not. But, we are here. So, we learn behaviors that create cycles that can defy our breaking. We learn to emulate that which we hate because we know no better. We become those that have battered us – with their words, their ignorance, their limitations, with their fists. We begin to look in our mirrors, but see them reflected there. We learn to validate their truth as our own.

That’s in our hearts.

We wade through water shortages, pollutions and contaminations… only in our communities however. They shame us by highlighting our obesity; yet they put the healthy options outside both our price and geographic ranges. We are mocked for celebrating our culture; yet they perpetuate in us a culture of crime, despair and fatherlessness. We become our own worst enemy, even as they validate the propaganda that we are their enemy.

That’s in our souls.

We only need to turn on the news, read a newspaper or listen to a political campaign to read or hear about what’s happening to our environment. Global warming dominates everyone’s agendas. The water shortage is projected to impact us severely enough for water to be treated just as oil and gold have been. The planet is being over populated and is running out of space for us all. All true. And, very important. But closer to home… in our homes, that’s the environment that’s at the top of my list. I find myself more concerned by what’s happening IN our environment, as opposed to what’s happening TO our environment. The day-to-day happenings that shape us then fault us as we are unleashed on an unsuspecting, ill-prepared world. The words, actions and inaction that set us up for lives that offer us less than we are entitled to. The opportunities that are not presented to us because of our skin colors, sex, sexual identification or orientation. Those opportunities we cannot even recognize as our right. The environment that sets us up… for less than, for inadequacy… for legacies that continue for too many generations.

That’s in our world.

You see, “I don’t want to protect the environment. I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting…”

Ivy (Be)League(red)

You may have heard that Harvard University has taken the unprecedented and controversial step of rescinding its acceptance letters to (at least) ten students after reading their offensive comments and memes on Facebook. If you haven’t heard about this, Google it. In the meantime, let’s address this.

This decision should neither be ignored nor taken lightly. Its impact should resonate with all of us (almost) as much as it will for those students, for a very long time. Recognizing and appreciating how adversely not our presence, but how we choose to show up on social media should be at the forefront every single time we caress a key. Understanding that what we may consider to be our right to self-express (true) can trigger someone or some entity’s right to their subsequent expression, is paramount. Without one doubt those students, their loved ones and supporters will cite “freedom of speech”. They will be correct. But what we tend to ignore in that equation is that everyone has the right to freedoms… including Harvard.

I have a niece that I adore and am immensely proud of! But every so often I am compelled to pick up my phone, call her and tell her (not ask her) to remove a post; either verbal or pictorial in nature. To her credit, she listens. I remember having shared this with a few of my friends who subsequently questioned my right to tell an adult (yes… she is way over twenty-one) what to do. Not that I do not care about their opinion. But I do not care about their opinion in this! My reason for watching her, for protecting her is that I understand a few things:

  • Someone is always watching/reading
  • She is not yet so established in her life or career that she can afford to move through it telling others to kiss her ass
  • As a (young) lady, one should always present as a lady
  • And… someone is always watching/reading!

At times in my capacity of staffing, I may log onto a candidate’s FB page to better glean what I may be signing up for if I were to hire them. To me that is not invasive or intrusive, but prudent. If I see something that makes me tilt my head too far to the left, raise either or both eyebrows, I move on to the next candidate; no sense in knowingly inviting trouble to my house. Sometimes, it is not even what one posts, but how much one posts that will give pause. A serial poster may/can/will tend to be quite unproductive.

Listen, we invite people into our lives when we engage in an online social presence. Once we have signed on for that we can no longer, with any validity or position of strength, hide behind either anonymity or the right to privacy. Understand that when we open the barn door, not only do we run the risk of the horses getting out, but we are allowing entry for the flies. If we would like our horses protected, keep their stalls sanitized, the hay fresh and clean, throw a blanket over them, lock the gates to their stalls and secure the barn door after leaving. Don’t leave a trail of muck and manure, then complain that the flies followed.

We’re back to a conversation I had previously about accepting responsibility for one’s actions. Some of us tend to behave as if we are the only ones entitled to the right to express ourselves; getting offended when others react to our expressions. Most go so far as to only tolerate expression in their favor. Thankfully the world is more evolved than that! Yes, we all have the right and freedom to do as we please, physically and verbally. But your right to express does not negate mine.

Those (almost) Harvard students shouldn’t be too upset. After all, they can truthfully say they were Harvard-educated!

 

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