Mark.ed By Blackness.

Today was my last day of classes for this semester. I have one semester left before I graduate next Spring. Wow! This academic journey has exceeded what I thought academia could provide. What it could do to and for a person. Especially this person. I am awed, humbled, scared, proud, giddy and amazed. I am intimidated by the woman it has made me. My expectations of myself have quadrupled. My expectations for myself have quadrupled. Wow!

Okay, more about that later…

This semester I had a class, Surveying the Black Experience in Literature, the best class of my academic career. What made it earn that title? Well, it was provocative, stimulating, educational, enlightening, questioning, answering, on and on. The novels we read had titles like: Things Fall Apart, King Leopold’s Ghost, Kaffir Boy, Nervous Condition, God’s Bits of Wood, The Farming of Bones and Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. Do you see a theme? We spoke at length about Fanon.

For the class, we were also required to do a group presentation. Because we had the coolest professor I have ever had, her definition of “group” allowed for us to individually prepare our presentation. “Group” meant we stood together to present (I mean… who the hell has time to meet with their peers to work on a collaborative anything?!?). When it came time for our group to present, of the two choices of novel we had, I chose to present on Kaffir Boy. This novel, like no other I have read, provoked all my emotions. I felt outraged, heartbroken, disgusted, embarrassed, disillusioned, duped… I was deeply affected.

If you have not read the book, do. Black or white, you should know this reality in your soul.

Immediately below, I have copied and pasted Wikipedia’s brief synopsis of the author and the novel. Immediately following that, I have posted the poem I wrote as my contribution for our presentation. Warning: it is graphic and uses strong language. Let me know what you think (I can take it).

P.S. Kaffir means, nigger.

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Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa is Mark Mathabane’s 1986 autobiography about life under the South African apartheid regime. It focuses on the brutality of the apartheid system and how he escaped from it, and from the township Alexandra, to become a well-known tennis player. He also depicted how the young black children dealt with racism and stereotypes. By embracing education, he is able to rise out of despair and destitution.

At his mother’s insistence, Mathabane starts school and learns to love it, rising to the top of his class in spite of frequent punishments due to his family’s late payments for school fees and inability to afford school supplies. He graduates from primary school with a scholarship that will pay for his secondary education.
Mathabane’s grandmother becomes a gardener for a kind family, the Smiths, who introduce Mathabane to books and tennis by sending books and even a tennis racket home with his grandmother for him. He learns English from these books, and begins to play tennis frequently, eventually befriending a coloured tennis player who trains him.
Mathabane joins the high school tennis team and begins to play in tournaments, unofficially sponsored by Wilfred Horn, owner of the Tennis Ranch. It is technically illegal for Mark to play there, but the law is ignored and he becomes comfortable with whites. Eventually renowned tennis player Stan Smith takes Mathabane under his wing when the two meet at a tournament. Stan pays for Mathabane to compete in tournaments and talks to his coach at the University of Southern California about Mathabane attending college in the states. The coach writes to colleges on his behalf and Mathabane earns a tennis scholarship to Limestone College and leaves for the U.S. in 1978.

**Mark Mathabane was born, Johannes Mathabane. Make what you like of his name change… I did**
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Leaving His Mark

I sat down to write a tale or two
I thought it important to explain to you
My thoughts, my memories, my truths, my fears
Hoping for your sympathy. Counting on your tears.
You see, some may feel shame, some may not care
Some may disbelieve, some may even dare
To challenge my words, thinking it a ploy
That I could remember when I was a Kaffir boy.

I know not many remember when they were three
But I dare you to tell me these things did not happen to me:
The raids, the poverty, the filth, the starvation
The hopelessness for black people in my home and my nation.
A father who drank and gambled too
A mother left wondering what the fuck to do!
Because you see, their passbooks were useless, they were incomplete
So no jobs, no clothes and nothing to eat.

Digging through trash, finding a dead black baby
Eating what we found there, thinking that maybe
The white man’s trash will truly be our treasures
You see desperate times do call for desperate measures.
Mothers with their babies strapped to their back
Scrounging for plates, knives, spoons, food, to satisfy a lack.
Rummaging like animals, swatting away flies
Children with fevers, chills and sores… praying no one else dies.

Tribal ways losing to the white man’s laws
Caving under the pressure, desperation exposing its flaws.
You see, you can’t take heritage or customs to the market
Money is the only currency you can actually pay with.
Christianity winning some people over, even converting a few
Just so Mummy start to listen, right out of the blue!
I guess when your belly is always big, but your stomach always empty
White religion may be the only way to feed your pickaninny.

Education comes next, must learn to read
Venda, Shangaan and English. Yes, indeed!
Top of my class, father so proud
Singing my praises; even singing them out loud!
No books, no fees, I take another beating
While mother telling me this will be fleeting.
“Hang on”, she says, “this too shall pass
Show up, stay present, please son, go to class.”

Granny brings me books, comics and sometimes a toy
She gets them from the white woman’s little boy.
She takes me there, I say: Yes, madam, Yes, baas, Yes, Master
But a black man in a white world could only spell disaster.
I step on the wrong bus, “Oh fuck, what did I do?!”
Granny cleaned up the filth caused by my shoe.
You see, that bus was for whites, for the people filled with joy
Not for the woes and worries of an ignorant Kaffir boy!

But the white lady likes me and takes pity on me
Gives me a racket… hey, tennis must be the key
To get out of poverty, hunger and shame
So, you bet your sweet ass I learned the white man’s game!
I studied, I read, I mastered the sport
You must think I’m a sell-out, but I’m nothing of the sort.
I guess I played the game… a little too well it seems
But all I wanted was a shot at my dreams.

My ancestors call me Johannes. I call myself Mark
I married a white woman, but it didn’t make me less dark.
I’m a father now, my children are coloured
Your opinion of that? I truly can’t be bothered.
You see, now I can eat, I have books, clothes and money
Does it really matter to you where I get my honey?
African woman, white woman, short woman, tall, slim or bigger
Because at the end of the day, am I anything but a nigger?

She’s Not Here. But It’s Still Her Birthday.

I truly hate the process of grieving. Shit! I hate the fact that there are reasons to grieve! And, knowing there are “steps” in the process does not help. In fact, the whole world can fuck off with the seven-step business! Those of us who grieve can tell you about the multitude of second-by-second steps necessary to remind our hearts to beat and the encouragement it takes to induce our lungs to expand with air.

Yes, we have reasons to continue living on. There are those still with us in the flesh who also own parts of our hearts and for whom we know our putting one foot in front of the other is important. People we love so much that just the thought of losing them too, our hearts, well, our hearts…

But the cycle of life mandates we come, we live and then, we go. And, it is gangster enough to not allow us a say in how long we stay; perhaps because it knows some of us will never leave. So, it decides for us. And for some reason, it takes some of us way too early (at least for those left behind who still love them) and in other instances, it seems to take the good ones, leaving some of the ugly and wicked behind. No rhyme or reason to its order. But, we all must leave, I hear.

My friend, I miss you. I miss you today, your birthday and I missed you every yesterday since you left a little over one year ago. I take the elevators and walk the halls of our school and still look for and wish I see you. I saw your (full) name as a character in the book, Crick Crack, Monkey the other day and almost lost my breath. Yes, there you were, Gloria Foster, page fifty-one. Thank you for saying “hello.” I continue to challenge the administration at Hunter to include you in the Commencement program at our graduation next Spring; I will not give up. I love you.

Sending you all sorts of birthday wishes in every corner of the universe you now occupy. And know, even as you see my tears and every struggle I have to catch my breath, I am glad and proud of them. Because, my friend, my grief signifies how beautiful you are to be this missed. Thank you for having happened to us all.

Happy Birthday, my friend.

(This was the last picture we took together at a birthday celebration; mine. I now use it to celebrate yours. I love you BIG).

Excuse Me As I Indulge In Some Baby-Talk.

Today, my son was to have been born. It seems however, the Universe decided it better he wasn’t. I miscarried. Six years later, I find myself still missing a presence that was all-too-brief and still wondering at just whom he would have been. With the fullest of awareness that life would have been infinitely different had he been here, all I now have are the speculations as to just what those differences would have looked like. I find myself mourning the beautiful chaos he would have caused. I find myself marveling at the changes he inspired… without being here.

My son showed up at a time when not even I thought he could. He showed up and showed me miracles still happen. He showed up and showed me that dreams, even the ones we did not know we were dreaming, can come true. He showed up and showed me that with love, life can be breathed into any situation. Into every reality. He showed up. Then he left. And what that showed me, is the value of life. The value of his, my daughter’s, yours. And, the value of mine.

I have changed. In many ways I am softer. In most ways I am stronger. My tolerance for the ways in which we tend to waste time, to waste our lives, is miniscule. I am both reckless and thoughtful. I am brave, determined and absolute in my decisions. I am committed to squeezing every ounce of goodness this life can offer and giving back the best of me. I am determined to show up being and looking my best always. That’s how I honor life.

Today I honor all the women, all the parents, who have had their souls touched by this loss. I encourage you to be kind to yourselves. I encourage you to live. Live in spite of. Live because of. Live in honor of.

Happy Birthday, Baby Wiltshire-Alabi.

Someone Needs To Go Digging For Treasure!

Yesterday, I was carelessly flipping through channels, trying to find something, anything, that would allow me to empty my mind for a few minutes, before refocusing on the multitude of readings and papers due for any/all of the four English classes I thought it a great idea to take this semester. I needed a break… before I broke. So while flipping, I stumbled upon a Dr. Phil episode and tuned in just in time to hear a young black girl say, “I know I am Caucasian.” I was as hooked as I was stupefied. Her name is Treasure. She is sixteen. The following is the part of her story we were exposed to… because you must know there is so much more we are not privy to.

I had only missed approximately ten minutes, so unfortunately, I spent the next forty minutes or so (gotta have that commercial time) listening to one of the saddest realities I have heard. Treasure, who is as dark-skinned as I, informed all of the world who was unfortunate enough to be listening in, that she does not believe she is white, she knows she is white. She knows it in part, because every morning she wakes up, she wakes up with an amazing life and if she were black, that would not be the case. Additionally, she knows it (aside from knowing it in her blood and bones), because her ears are not black people’s big ears, her lips are “not too big or too small, but perfect,” her hair is “naturally straight” (I smelled the chemical all the way in my home; but who am I?) and, her body is very much like Kim K’s, who has the perfect body (it is not and she does not). Another tell-tale sign for Treasure that she is in fact not as afflicted with blackness as we, is that she speaks very well (she does) and she does not behave like us. She called black people “hood rats, fat, ugly, niggers, losers and hoodlums.” She said Hallie Berry and Lupita were “hood rats, disgusting and ugly” and the only reason they were ever name “Most Beautiful” was because black people needed a “token.” She said all of us were criminals and all end up incarcerated. She has contacted the KKK, says she would be honored to attend their meetings and look forward to the day they send her a hood. She says Trump is the best president ever.

She is sixteen. And, she is in such a crisis (although, according to her, we are the delusional ones and the ones who should seek help).

As I listened to this young lady, I vacillated between wanting to hug the stupid out of her and wanting to fuck her up! But, I quickly realized… she is already quite fucked up! I, like all of the audience, watched and listened with my mouth hanging open and my skin crawling. I spent the entire show wondering just what went wrong and who was responsible for the brokenness and crisis this young woman was in. Because I, like most who would experience her, find it necessary to ‘blame’ someone or something. The alternative, that this is just who she is, invites the thought that, without a cause, she is beyond repair. If we cannot blame the go-to, parents, her social circle, some kind of physical or emotional abuse committed on her by a black person, colonization, something we can identify, address and fix, then we are left with a severely damaged young lady, unleashed onto an as-yet unsuspecting world. And here’s the thing, this world, our world does not need one more person, especially a black person and one young enough to have many years left, spewing more hatred at us. We are already struggling under the weight of a hate that has spanned generations and one that buckles our backs and dents our souls. We do not need those vessels of hate to consume what should be one of our own and unleash her back onto us. We need her voiced raised in solidarity with ours. Not against ours.

Something happened to this young lady. And sadly, something will continue to happen to her as long as her damage is not reversed. I am sickened by what I heard. I am devastated with what I am left to feel. I realize it is so easy to hate her. But, why bother? She so clearly already hates herself.

Mr. & Mrs. Tears & Kisses.

I am fascinated by the ‘encouragement’ some people give in the face of momentous life events. And, some even go so far as to attempt to ridicule or shame into a behavior they find more appropriate, or that makes them more comfortable. I and my family, have just experienced one such momentous life events. Let’s address this…

On July 28th my daughter got married. The day… that day is one I still struggle to find the words to properly articulate my emotions. I will say this. Everything was perfect. Everything was terrible. The perfection of the moment arose from a parent’s comfort in knowing her daughter was happy. Her heart was home. Her soul was cherished. And yet, every terrible moment arose from that same knowledge. Listen, every wish I had ever had for my child started with her soul-safety and sprouted roots from there. That wish has been actualized. What I never did however, was envision what the moments after that moment would look like… for a parent. What the reality of handing your child off to a life-partner can manifest… in you. I now know. There is a duality that is soul-wrenching. I know, I know my child is safe. Her heart belongs to a man who cherishes it. A man who is dedicated to cradling her soul and helping her to give it wings. A man whom she adores. I have experienced peace. But, there is such a fullness in what they have between them, I mourn the possible shrinking of the space I once inhabited… in her.

I cried. I cried in uncontained elation and I cried in sorrow. I cried because on that day, I watched my daughter cross the threshold from my child to his wife. I saw it happen. It scared me. It made me smile. My tears were a forgone conclusion to this momentous event, however. Those who knew me expected the tears. My daughter expected the tears. I expected the tears. What I did not expect and reject outright however, are those who (not my daughter) encouraged me to “don’t cry” and those others who label expressions of emotions “drama.” I could have a question here. I could ask “what is wrong with [my] tears?” but instead I will state, there is indeed something wrong with you for finding the show of emotion in the face of such an emotional life-changing moment either dramatic or should be handled stoically.

Listen, in no way am I disparaging those who internalize their emotions; I respect we all get through in the ways that work best for us. What I am fascinated by, is the naiveté and utter foolishness that allows for one to cry at the ending of a relationship to a stranger (and, I could care less how long you have been together and how many times you “got down”… you are literal strangers!) and yet reject the expression of emotion when attached to a child. Ahm… related. Shared DNA. Gave birth to. Ridiculous! We are more comfortable and think justified with the outpouring of emotion – regardless of the emotion – when applied to celebrating a success, loss of something or someone, the purchase of a damned house. We cry and celebrate at the birth of a stranger’s/celebrity’s baby, yet dare to tell a mother to “don’t cry” when her child takes those life-changing steps?!? Don’t be stupid!

I will cry, laugh, celebrate and do it all outwardly at every single momentous step my child takes! I will write, tweet and blog about it! I will bring the “drama.” I will make her feel as important and more so even, as you all did when Michael Jackson died and yall wailed and carried on! I know her. I talk to her. We laugh and cry together. She knows my name and I know hers. I gave birth to her. Why would showing the world just what she means to me ever be something I need to hold in? Why are we so more willing to express to our lovers and not our children? Why would I ever leave her to wonder how I felt about her? Or ever let anyone in the world think she was unloved? Un-cared-for? Unprotected? Why would I never allow her to see yet another manifestation of what loving her does to me? My tears in those moments, mean as much as any of the words I have ever spoken. As much as any of the disciplines I have ever doled out. As much as any of the clothing I have bought or food I have provided. They mean as much as any of the hugs and kisses I have given. As much as any of her tears I have wiped away. My tears in those moments are my acknowledgment that love is a verb, not the noun some think.

Yesterday my daughter relocated to the other side of the world to start a new life with her husband. They are embarking on an adventure I know will be spectacular. I awoke this morning to messages from them both; she’s arrived safely. I am proud of her. I am excited for her. I am in tears. And that makes me proud of me.

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body…” Elizabeth Stone.

See-Saw.

At times some marvel at the transparency I choose to allow in my life. They graciously use words like “brave” and “badass” when describing…. me. Many times, when I hear it I shrug it off, not because I am disrespecting their opinion, but because I am overwhelmed by the sentiment. You see, I do not consider myself “brave” I consider myself a product of all I have been through and, because of those experiences, I have dedicated to no longer living in the shadows… of fear, rejection, secrecy, survival, abuse or other people’s limitations or hang-ups. The former years of my life I tacitly gave away to others’ agendas and now? Well now I reclaim it. You see, humans have a way of keeping you close as long as you are useful and summarily discarding you once their agendas have been fulfilled. I get that. What I reject outright however, is my participation in this scenario; and what I have realized once I introduced myself to me, is that I had been participatory in their subjugation and silencing… of me. Let’s address this.

History, and certainly our more recent history, should teach us that there is very little I, or you, have experienced or could experience that another, or many anothers haven’t or will not. Now, don’t get all pouty… you are still quite unique; I promise. And some of what makes you most unique are your responses to those experiences. How you process any experience you may have, actualizes from the remnants of other experiences you have had. The layers of past emotions are what we all draw from when embroiled in our current situations.

Yes, I am transparent. I am so because experience has taught me that baring my soul – my joys, pains, insecurities, hopes… my scars – gives me strength. Strength, because I step from the shadows and show up understanding my imperfections are not unlike yours and, I am entitled to them. As you are. We need to stop allowing others’ agendas to confuse our fates and purposes here. We need to disallow others from stealing our goodness for their own purposes, leaving us to navigate the barren carcasses left in their wake. We need to stop allowing the emotional and physical vultures from feeding from us and fattening their own coffers. We need to stop believing the lies people tell that are meant to cripple us just because they recognize and are threatened by our strength and joy. We absolutely must stop others from dimming our lights, plunging us into darkness, leaving us to navigate from the shadows.

So, I speak. I share. I listen. I am not “brave.” I simply cleared up the delinquency and got the lights turned back on.

I can see.

Nothing Hospitable About This Hospital.

My surgery was performed at East Orange General Hospital. This was no personal choice on my part, nor was I consulted on my opinion… this was the hospital attached to the office where I visited my GYN. Prior to the surgery, in fact as far back as the time of the biopsy that led to the determination this surgery was mandatory, I had been given advice to not go to this hospital (by someone I trust without question who happens to be a medical professional; but again…), and, her reasons for advising such quickly became evident. They were terrible! Let’s address this…

There are few instances in one’s life that highlight vulnerability like illness or the need for medical attention or intervention. Worry, anxiety and fear cuddle up to physical incapacities, limitations or pain. They become intimate and regard you as the interloper. They gather strength and conspire to manifest every. single. one. of the worst case scenarios the doctors may have shared, and you and Google may have concocted. Hope and Faith become names of girls you know (and quite frankly, hate) and not anything you possess. It is bad. Shit! It is in those moments, in an effort to stall the anesthesiologist, you wished you had paid better attention in Math class, so you could show off your ability to count backward from one hundred, not just ten!

But, you survive; and God allows you to forgive yourself for all you said about those heifers [hope/faith] and you restore them to their rightful place… alongside, trust. They wheel you to your room and truly, this is where your convalescence truly begins. I will not go through every infraction or disregard of their (the nurses’) oath to care for and heal, because truly, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” But I will speak of those that particularly stood out.

Approximately twenty-four hours after my surgery (I had spent the entire Monday after my 10:00am surgery in bed, on an IV drip and heavily medicated), the catheter was removed. After it was removed, I indicated to the nurse I needed to go to the bathroom. Her response, “It’s right there. Go.” Ahm… I was incredulous! I had not moved in twenty hours or so. I did not know how to roll over in bed, much less get up and out. And, I certainly did not know how to walk. All I knew was pain! I asked her to help me. She got me sitting up on the side of the bed, again told me the bathroom was “right there” and left the room. I sat there for half an hour, stuck and crying. Which did not help because every breath I took felt like I was being stretched and tortured. No one came back. I was finally able to contort myself, risking popping stitches, grabbed onto the end of my earbuds, drag my phone to me and called Peggie at work. She came; finding me still sitting there where the ‘nurse’ left me almost an hour before.

After midnight on the first night, two nurses got into a screaming-match with each other at the nurse’s station. I shit you not! Full on, so that in a drug-induced haze, with my door closed, I was roused from sleep. This went on for approximately twenty minutes or so… complete with f-words. The next night while she was offering up an apology for the “disturbance” I made the mistake of politely saying to one of the nurses, “I hope all is well now” to which she then launched into how it most certainly is as she is positive the other nurse will never make the mistake of stepping to her again as she now should know her boundaries, because sometimes you just have to “put people in their place.” Sigh.

My IV was unclipped to allow me to go to the bathroom. It was never restarted. My leg compressors were unclipped to allow me to go the bathroom. The ‘nurse’ says “let me show you how to do it so you can reattach it yourself.” Ahm… My sister is a doctor. Thankfully, whenever any of us are unclear, uncertain or afraid her bedside manner is impeccable. Throughout this experience she stayed in constant contact. She explained to me why I had to pee and poop before I left the hospital. I trust her, so if she says it needs to be done, I will stay and get it done. When it finally happened on day two, I informed the ‘nurse’ on duty so he could inform my doctor… so I could get the fuck out of there! His response, ‘Good; I will tell her. But I have to eat first, I am hungry, so will tell her after.” Ahm… I asked two ‘nurses’ why no one has checked my incision, for anything – bleeding, signs of infection, anything. One responded, “You didn’t look at it yourself?” Ahm… I was given 800mg of Motrin every six hours. I asked, “Shouldn’t I eat something first?” They responded, “Oh… you want something to eat?” Ahm…

I have subsequently looked at where East Orange General Hospital ranks, and it gets a one [1]. As you should figure, that is not a Yay! Number one! That is a one [1] as in the lowest on the totem pole! Here’s the thing… I am very well supported by medical professionals around me, to whom I can turn for advice and comfort when things aren’t right; what about the millions who do not? How does one survive, both physically and emotionally, a place like that? How do people, charged with caring for the vulnerable, allow themselves that level of disregard? How do they reconcile the innumerable times they put my health and well-being in jeopardy?

So yes, I shit and I got out. Thanking God for that truly took on an entirely different connotation. They were negligent. Unprofessional. Impulsive. Untrained. Jaded. Lazy. They were dangerous. They should not be allowed around the sick, frail, elderly, vulnerable and afraid. I am strong. But I was found at the side of a bed, exposed, in excruciating pain, heavily drugged and in tears. Vulnerable.

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