Now it is Time to Heal: A Mombbatical Mindset

“So, even though Black folks just want to take a nap, we also really need white people to get this right.”

It goes without saying that 2020 has put us through the wringer. I can remember how mundane and uneventful my New Year’s Eve was back in December. I had just flown back to Paris from visiting my family in the States. Jet-lagged and exhausted, I turned in before midnight, muting my phone to spare myself the repetitive dings from well-meaning family and friends. I made no resolutions. I cast no hopeful prophesies into the future. January 1st would emerge just like any other day on the calendar.

Then, less than a month later the world lost Kobe Bryant. The news came to me and my son, Emmanuel, while we were having a video chat about his summer plans. He decided to apply to a program for high school students at Harvard to get the college experience. We were both pretty excited by the prospect of him strolling around campus for seven weeks and then with a jolt, a somber silence consumed the energy between us as we processed the reality of Kobe’s death. After our loving goodbyes, we each retreated to our screens to wrap our brains around what was happening in the world. This symbol of celebrity and Black success had literally fallen out of the sky.

By contrast, the coronavirus was a slow moving threat– one that most of us had ignored during the late winter months. I recall reaching out to an Italian friend inquiring about his family and friends, hoping that they were healthy and safe as that nation’s elderly were the unsuspecting target of a disease we knew so little about. But as the spread in the United States began to accelerate, it lay bare the woefully inadequate safety net that existed in the country while also exposing the institutional intention of inequity on racial, cultural, and economic lines.

“While our egos might be aching for life to return us to our escapists pleasures, it is evident that each of us must face this reckoning in our own strength and with a yearning to heal.”

Murder hornets, floods, earthquakes, May snow showers, and epic civil unrest against the front line pawns in a centuries old system of oppression and violence, I was beginning to think that the book of Revelations was finally coming to pass. Nothing screams anti-Christ more than Trump standing in front of a church holding a Bible upside down and backwards with billows of smoke and teargas left in his wake.

On a serious note, we have been in a collective state of trauma since the ball dropped, facing the false idols and corrupt social contracts that have governed our society for too long. While our egos might be aching for life to return us to our escapists pleasures, it is evident that each of us must face this reckoning in our own strength and with a yearning to heal.

*****

Image courtesy of Leslie Dwight

This poem articulates with such simplicity the call for our collective healing. When I saw it for the first time, I put aside my own apocalyptic musings and thought about my year on mombbatical. There was a weird mutual voyeurism to my first year living kid-free in Paris. My friends near and far romanticized my experience, living vicariously through me as I made the most of each moment. In return, I could not keep my gaze off of the United States, pondering day by day if living so far away from my family and closest friends really made any sense at all.

It is true that I had many glorious days filled with wonder and beauty. Paris, in and of itself, is a sight to behold–the energy, the food, the architecture. But between Instagram posts, I endured several days of solitude, slowly trying to piece together a life and a future. The endless string of cloudy grey winter days often closed in on me while I was searching for my purpose and a greater understanding of the next phase in my life’s journey.

In a sense, I had a reckoning of my own as I came to realize that I was being called to have a much bigger vision for my life than I could conceive. My mombbatical was not meant to be a carefree frolic in the “city of lights.” It was a journey towards new horizons–a journey I had to make on my own without the distractions of a nine-to-five or Emmanuel’s comforting presence. And along the way, I picked up some wonderful insights and lessons about life itself. Lessons that may have been lost had my mind been cluttered with the trappings of modern life.

“And action in this moment is complicated because it must be bold and nuanced. It must take place in the context of authentic relationships while extending beyond apologies and platitudes.”

Watching the United States in the throes of two crises–a pandemic and social unrest over racial injustice–I have been moved by the collective and individual struggles that I see in images featured in every news story. Expressions of rage, hope, despair, and grief eerily cast behind colorful protective masks. White people, in particular, are reeling in this moment, grappling with a reality that they did not want to see because to see it would require having to do something about it. And action in this moment is complicated because it must be bold and nuanced. It must take place in the context of authentic relationships while extending beyond apologies and platitudes.

Most Black people will tell you that they are exhausted. We were already tired from the repetitive trauma of seeing Black people killed violently on video. The daily microaggressions and disheartening data about the state of our community relative to our other racial counterparts also take their toll. But, we know that white folks need us in this moment. We really want you all to figure it out on your own and we’ve been flagging all the books and movies to nudge you in the right direction. Yet despite all our efforts, The Help managed to be the highest trending movie on Netflix and we had to shake our heads. Then, a handful of white actors released a nonsensical black and white public service announcement about how they are taking responsibility and we’re like, “Nope. Y’all can’t handle this task on your own. You’re simply not equipped for it.”

So, even though Black folks just want to take a nap, we also really need white people to get this right.

George Floyd’s last words as he left this Earth were a call out to his deceased mother–a call that convicted the hearts of many mothers as we thought about our own children’s state of mind in their most vulnerable moments. To that end, I have decided to use my mombbatical platform as a way to facilitate healing in my own respective communities in the hope that the lessons and conversations will be paid forward to others in this collective effort.

Beginning Sunday, June 28th, I will be launching a 10-week series of Zoom conversations, Healing through a Mombbatical Mindset, at which I will engage seven women with myself in a dialogue focused on a specific theme based on lessons from my mombbatical and centered around how we can bring about healing in this moment. Some of the themes will be intention, rest, discomfort, urgency, and love.

Each week, I will put a call out to those who would like to participate in the discussion and the first seven people to sign up, with an eye towards diversity, will join me at 2pm EST/11am PST/8pm CET for a 90 minute discourse. Reflection questions will be sent in advance for our introverted friends who may need a bit more time to process. 🙂 Each call will also be recorded and posted on the My Year on Mombbatical blog site for those who were unable to participate.

More details can be found here.

The continued support that I have received as a blogger and writer has been the wind at my back. I am excited about this new opportunity to engage and make a difference as we’re all being called in this moment.

Still on the Plantation?

We put the burden on Black people to fix the damaged and poisonous roots of this nation. Upon force, we built it, we maintained it, we have kept its feeble, greedy heart beating, knowing all along that it was hobbled from the start and whiteness stakes its claim to it all with mealy-mouthed apologies and little gratitude.

This blog post started buffering in my brain after Joe Biden gave us yet another peek into his unexamined mind and identity. I hesitated to write too abruptly in observation of the fervent debate, particularly among Black folks, about how big of a deal we should make of it given the horror that is Donald Trump. The fact that we believe holding Joe Biden accountable for his undisciplined consideration of his whiteness is mutually exclusive to opposing the vile monster that is Donald Trump is poignant evidence of how close we still are to the plantation.

Black people do not owe Joe Biden a damn thing.  We are not responsible for his electability, period and his being a “wise guy” was a reminder of how little work he has done on unpacking his whiteness as the pathology that it is. Joe did not just bring the nasty potato salad to the cookout. “Massa” was not just making a joke that we should lightheartedly dismiss.  In his American white man skin suit, he assessed who was Black and who was not with the audacity that only comes with a false, yet well internalized sense of superiority. The same audacity that allows Joe Biden to criticize Black parenting on a national platform but continue to claim and take credit for the Crime Bill of 1994 as an effective piece of legislation.  A piece of legislation he likely championed as a feather in his cap to moderate white people as he paved the way for his eventual presidential runs, two of which he never broke the top three.

Yet now, we are supposed to cling to and defend him like he is our aging uncle who has not done any real harm. Served up to us from a pool of the most talented and diverse lawmakers and politicians that we have seen in generations, by another elder statesman playing the old rules written by the white men in charge. Jim Clyburn was our Stephen in Django, narrating the establishment’s plans under the guise of kingmaker and telling us to just deal with it, no matter what wounds might come. Alas, Biden gets to repeatedly reference baseless stereotypes about Black people without ever making the same assessments of our white counterparts as a collective because God forbid he offends working-class white voters.

But, we are told that Massa Trump is so much worse, so we ought to keep our mouths shut. Meanwhile, no one is telling the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump that they should reconsider their vote given his misogyny and admitted history of sexual assault. No, we leave those women alone, allowing them to firmly grip their religion and pro-life positions as their justification. We do not send memes around highlighting the percentage of white people who did not vote. We put the burden on Black people to fix the damaged and poisonous roots of this nation. Upon force, we built it, we maintained it, we have kept its feeble, greedy heart beating, knowing all along that it was hobbled from the start and whiteness stakes its claim to it all with mealy-mouthed apologies and little gratitude.

*****

Dealing with whiteness in America as a Black person is like getting one million little cuts every day. You never know from which way they will come, but you know that they will land, stinging and unrelenting in the way they take your breath away.  It is a daily trauma from which you find yourself gasping for air, like a drowning man reaching for a sustained moment of relief that never comes.

“Have our racial privileges, our entitlements, our social/racial narcissism, our racial psychosis, and delusions really benefited us?”

Dixon D. White

I watched the video of the histrionics of the woman in Central Park with my mouth hanging open, catapulted to a place in time of hoop skirts, powdered bosoms, and manufactured cries for help. I could feel the ache of Emmitt Till’s mother as the echoes of white women weaponizing law enforcement reverberated through the decades. Watching Amy Cooper’s behavior triggered my own memories of how a white woman used lies and manipulation to activate her own power against me instead of taking responsibility for her misconduct. She wanted to be seen as a leader—those were her words– so instead of humbly acting within the boundaries of her role, she let her hunger for attention and control consume her to the detriment of an entire organization.

She and Amy took their maneuvers from the same playbook. We’ve seen it before. 1. Believing the rules do not apply, engage in entitled and inappropriate behavior. 2. When confronted on said behavior, become defensive, insisting that one is doing nothing wrong. 3. Project negativity on the person of color confronting behavior, suggest they are either angry or threatening. (Yes, the woman in my case did call me angry.) 4. Commence the waterworks and pity stories, building the narrative of victim. 5. Go nuclear by lying and manipulating, all with the aim of staying in power and control. All other things are expendable—money, livelihoods, laws, lives. To operationalize this way of being is to make that person completely soulless.

A friend of a friend left this compelling plea to his white brethren on his Facebook page. “Have our racial privileges, our entitlements, our social/racial narcissism, our racial psychosis, and delusions really benefited us?” Such a powerful question. I know one thing for sure. There is no more joyless human being right now than Amy Cooper.

*****

Almost two years ago, I penned my own plea, But what will become of (y)our souls?. . . , reflecting on how debilitating the blind evil manifested from white supremacy is. The pressure with which that Minneapolis police officer’s knee leaned on George Floyd’s neck, deaf to his gasps for breath and life, came from a man either possessed by a devil or broken by a mental and emotional psychosis—a racial psychosis. To wade in the waters of such heartless cruelty, to stake a claim on such an identity, is to be dead inside.

The twisted irony is that American whiteness, this racial psychosis, is in part, defined by its own need to make sense of the identity of the Black man who he himself captured for his own means. In reality, white “superiority” is no badge of honor, no tangible claim to intellectual, cultural, or moral dominance. It decays to nothing more than an embodiment of the worst in humanity as it imposes its torment on the Black body and psyche.

In Baldwin’s essay, Stranger in the Village from Notes of a Native Son, he distills this point with his reliable elegance and fearlessness. These words are 65 years old.

At the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American white man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to live with himself. And the history of this problem can be reduced to the means used by Americans—lynch law and law, segregation and legal acceptance, terrorization and concession—either to come to terms with this necessity, or to find a way around it, or (most usually) to find a way of doing both these things at once. The resulting spectacle, at once foolish and dreadful, led someone to make the quite accurate observation that “the Negro-in-America is a form of insanity which overtakes white men.”

James Baldwin, Stranger in the Village, 1955

Nothing seems more psychotic and insane than trying to claim superiority through a consistently sanctioned reign of terror. IT.MAKES.NO.SENSE. The police officer maintaining his knee on George’s neck while he was handcuffed and begging for life MADE NO SENSE.

In But what will become of (y)our souls?. . .I also state that “It is only through the persistent dismantling of white supremacist thinking and being and doing that we can recover our souls. . .individually and collectively. It has to be a moment to moment discipline of examining one’s thinking and being and doing. . .led by the white people in this country.”  It might be time to get a bit more specific, to rewrite the playbook, so to speak.

1.Admit when you are wrong. 2. Accept that your worldview or value system may not be appropriate in a situation. 3. Understand that you do not always need to have power, especially in the face of your brethren of color. 4. Internalize that your humanity and every aspect of it is not more valuable than anyone else’s. 5. Embrace the notion that diversity is not the opposite of quality (That one is for Stephen King). 6.  Please do not insist on white mediocrity over excellence of color to satisfy your own comfort. 7. Read Baldwin. 8. Read Baldwin to your kids. 9. Prosecute the ugly head of white supremacy every chance you get. 10. Remember that appropriation, affiliation, and admiration are not identity.

*****

We are watching the empire that is the United States unraveling and at every turn, there is a reckoning over whiteness—What it believes, how it behaves, what it means.

Baldwin makes another gripping statement that offered me some comfort as I ponder how far we have really come from the plantation.  He writes, “And despite the terrorization which the Negro in America endured and endures sporadically until today, despite the cruel and totally inescapable ambivalence of his status in his country, the battle for his identity has long ago been won.”

We are watching the empire that is the United States unraveling and at every turn, there is a reckoning over whiteness—What it believes, how it behaves, what it means. For all the ways in which the Black community has had to evolve, survive, mourn, and fight for our very existence, there is such beauty in Baldwin’s words when he says that the battle for our identity has long ago been won. We are by no means a monolith, but there is a healing balm to Blackness, to the fullness that we are, that endures and carries on. . .

It is in the corkscrew tendrils of my hair, the memory of my father calling his Harlem buddies “jive turkey” on the phone, my grandmother’s raspy New York accent and fried plantains. It’s in Jordan’s ability to fly and Harriet’s whisper in the night. I find it in Emmanuel’s nerdy love for Lord of the Rings and my brother’s obsessive loyalty to the Dallas Cowboys. It is in the tears of those protesting yet another Black life lost and the wonder in the eyes of the little girl looking at Michele Obama’s portrait. It’s in jazz notes, gold medals and gripping journalism. I see it in my mother’s ability to fashion anything out of a scrap of fabric and the smooth texture of a church hymnal. Alice Walker’s eloquence, Quincy’s genius, the hole in Obama’s shoe.

Shall I go on?

June Cleaver Doesn’t Live Here

. . as the teacher was fending off her child’s tantrum while in downward dog, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where the hell is this woman’s husband. . .”

About a year ago, I wrote a piece called A Requiem for June Cleaver, a reflection on the generational clash between me and my mother. What I had long thought were personality differences appeared to be the sensibilities of Baby Boomer and Generation X women coming to a head. It’s ironic, actually. Baby Boomer women gave us the Women’s Liberation movement and it has proven to benefit their daughters, us Gen Xers. But, Boomers were also raised on the trappings of June Cleaver and Donna Reed, the dutiful housewives who defer to the providing husband. A role that defies their actual strength, intellect, and capabilities.

Even when our Boomer mommies were liberated to enter the workforce and “bring home the bacon“, they were charged with “frying it up in a pan, ” while their spouses sat by in anticipation. We Gen X girls observed admiringly at our mothers as they tried to do and be it all with the wind of expectation at our backs as we pursued the highest levels of education, not to find a husband, but to chart our course for great personal and professional success in all fields.

In my days at Carnegie Mellon, I used to marvel at all the women engineers that I knew, taking on complex problems, bantering about their Chem-E and Mech-E course loads. They weren’t nerdy anti-social girls feeling like they needed to act like boys. These were adorable, fun-loving young women who were killing it in the classroom and supporting each other as they navigated the largely male terrain of the College of Engineering.

They weren’t alone. Math majors, architects and industrial designers alike bucked the notion that women only belonged in certain spaces. As a policy major, I, too, often found myself flanked by an abundance of men as we learned the inter-workings of how those in power make the decisions that affect our most important institutions. We were trailblazers as we were both daunted and enchanted by the 70-30 percent ratio of men to women on campus at that time.

We led the way for our Millennial baby sisters who came up more than a decade behind us. The balance started to settle in and now Carnegie Mellon boasts one of the better gender diversity averages in the nation at 54% males, 46% female. At the risk of dating myself, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”

*****

“There is little space for other values systems to lead, for other approaches to be welcomed at the table. And well, here we are—over 90,000 dead and no end in sight to the impact of this pandemic.”

The force and power of women is undeniable. In the face of this global pandemic, it is the women leaders in countries like New Zealand, Taiwan, Iceland, and Germany who have managed to minimize the death toll and take pragmatic, humble steps in service to their people. No one is suggesting that women are simply better leaders than men. We do not have enough historical data to make such an analysis. But, the current thinking offered by Champoux-Paille and Croteau in a recent Guardian article, Why women leaders are excelling during the coronavirus pandemic? states that perhaps the presence of these women as leaders is a reflection of a greater demand for equality in their respective societies; therefore, more women at the decision making tables broadens the perspective on how to handle issues facing their countries.

I’ll take it. The United States has been singularly led from the perspective of wealthy white men. Our institutions, including our families, are infused with the model of their values, and their motivations. There is little space for other values systems to lead, for other approaches to be welcomed at the table. And well, here we are—over 90,000 dead and no end in sight to the impact of this pandemic. Equality and diversity matter. It does not just look good on a brochure. Nor is it just some cheap gimmick to sell more shit. It can save lives.

As we lament the cluster f**k that is the handling of this crisis, we are becoming woefully aware of another issue of gender parity that is bubbling to the surface. I opened this piece reflecting on the awe of the women I have come up with as they killed it at our universities and have gone on to have a tremendous impact on their industries. They win awards, manage massive departments in critical health centers in our biggest cities. One friend ensures the removal of conflict minerals in the supply chain for Intel. These women are writing books and delivering TED Talks, teaching students from around the globe and on the frontlines of planning the distribution of a potential vaccine. They are badasses without question.

And I cannot say enough about my most cherished friend. My bestie, Alexis, has been my road dog since we were eight years old. I try not to brag on her too often as we go back to cheerleading tryouts, watermelon jolly ranchers and putting on talent shows in her basement to an audience of one, her little sister Kai. I have watched her star rise over the years with a sense of protective admiration, not wanting anyone to mess with her. She is soaring now as the acting president of the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America, fighting for women’s reproductive rights. Yet, even as she continues to broaden her influence in the hallways of Washington, DC and around the country, she always treats me to my own decaf coffee pods when I come to visit.

In spite of these women’s accomplishments and professional power, this pandemic and subsequent lock down seems to have thrust so many women I know back in time. While Alexis is fielding calls from the most important political actors in this moment, she is cooking three square meals a day and managing the distance learning for her beautiful daughters. Another friend of mine said that she suddenly feels like she is a Fifties housewife doing laundry, cooking, and her dealing with her own professional workload. I just took a virtual yoga class and as the teacher was fending off her child’s tantrum while in downward dog, I couldn’t help but wonder, Where the hell is this woman’s husband and he couldn’t spare an hour of supervision on a Sunday for her to teach this class?

Now, I know that not all the men are MIA when it comes to managing the household demands during this lock down. My friend, Vincent, posts a chef’s log every day of the incredible meals that he is procuring for his wife and children which made me wonder why none of us Carnegie Mellon girls snatched him up when we had the chance. My friend, Richard, seems to have completely taken ownership of his children’s well-being by running daily physical activities for them to help stimulate their minds while home learning.

Image courtesy of Happy as a Mother

This graphic popped up in my feed the other day and it poignantly reminded me that it is not just about sharing the day-to-day responsibilities that matter. Mothers are carrying the emotional weight of this moment as well. Even as I am nestled over 5,000 miles away from my Emmanuel, during our check in calls, I feel like I must be his emotional touchstone as his father succumbs to the financial and professional stress of the lock down. I am the voice of compassion as Emmanuel tires of online learning and the distance from friends. I’m happy to do it, but haven’t we ladies come way too far to bear all this weight alone?

“Now is not the time to resume our places in our typical gender corners as we ride out the storm.”

As gender identity has become more fluid, I was under the impression that gender roles had followed suit. Perhaps in times of crisis, we feel compelled to do what we know. Men go off to their caves, grumpy about the work they have to do under these crazy circumstances and masking the potential fears that may reside deep within them. Meanwhile the women do it all simultaneously, pushing through until the late hours when everyone is finally asleep, and they can breathe. A friend of mine had to lobby her husband for one day off a week from tending to their two-year old twin sons. It was probably a debate she should not have had to have, but in the end, he saw that she was right and that he needed to step up.

I do not want to serve up some cliched platitudes about what we need to do for moms or any empty suggestions for self-care. I want to call our attention to the gravity of this moment. We are in an energetic soup of grief, fear, uncertainty, fatigue, despair, and hope. Now is not the time to resume our places in our typical gender corners as we ride out the storm. I believe that we are all being called to an awakened vulnerability that could potentially bring us closer as partners, friends, and human beings. Will both men and women answer the call? Is there room for conversations together about what this time is doing to us, our relationships and our homes?

Living a life under lock down untethered to a partner or my son, I observe those of you in the throes of too much togetherness with a touch of envy. It is easy to see this moment as burdensome or inconvenient. It is easy to drink one’s way out of the company of those around you when their persistent presence brings forth the deeper questions you may have been avoiding. But, trust me when I say this is a moment of gratitude and an opportunity for enrichment. The old rules need not apply if there is the courage to have the conversation.

Yes and. . .Maybe, but Not Likely

When we look at lines of fellow Americans waiting for food, thousands of body bags filling morgues and trucks, families desperately trying to manage without a paycheck and health insurance, the soul of America should be screaming, “Enough is enough.”

These are extraordinary times. Every generation witnesses a pivotal moment in their era. The greatest generation lived through the Depression and World War II. Boomers had the Vietnam War and the turbulence of the Sixties. Generation X grew up under the shadow of the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Millennials had 9/11. Now all of us and the generational babies, Gen Z, are experiencing the Coronavirus pandemic.

The one major difference between this moment and those prior hallmarks in history is that thanks to the internet and social media, we are being inundated with content and commentaries about this event. My own personal appetite for information and editorials seems quite insatiable, whether it is the medical, political, financial, or cultural. And I have a tremendous amount of admiration for those who can distill this moment into a particular focus that gives us a new lens at which to view the world. As an emerging writer, I long for such clarity as my mind is all over the place trying to process the daily unfolding of events.

Yes, most shared tragic events reveal who are most vulnerable in a society. Time and again, we see in clear view the ugly underbelly of our economic, educational, and social institutions nourished by systemic racism, oppression, greed, and the illusion of white male supremacy. The nation was founded on these tenets. Creating and maintaining a vulnerable segment of the population governed by an elite class hoarding resources and power was the intended design.

And yes, this means that low income people of color typically define the most vulnerable. Is anyone surprised that African-Americans and Latinos have been most impacted by this pandemic and this illness? Is it a surprise that white men with guns can threaten a female head of state with zero consequence in protest of a health safety order, but a 12-year old Black boy can be shot dead for playing with a toy gun? Or that a young Black man can be hunted and killed by two white men in a pickup truck while jogging? An incident suppressed by local law enforcement and justified by the age old adage, “He looked like a suspect.” The institutions set in place in this country by those in power were never meant to protect or serve people of color. NEVER.

What is our investment in our own survival?

Yes, this pandemic reveals that we must continue to cite inequitable access to healthcare, implicit bias within the medical community, and other barriers that have made it more difficult for our communities to survive this illness. We must never stop demanding the transformation of the institutions that fail us. And, we must also take an honest look at how we perpetuate our own oppression by fulfilling the wishes of the powers that be through our own choices.

Yes, we should not be judged or blamed for our choices. Black and brown people are as intoxicated by the trappings of the American Dream as anyone. For me, this is not about judgement. It is about understanding that the institutions in the United States were fundamentally designed to oppress us and deny us equality. We know this and we are quick to declare these facts and protest them, but then we spend our dollars on things that enrich others instead of on those that will nourish and sustain us, particularly in times of crisis. What is our investment in our own survival?

Research has shown that obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are dangerous comorbidities associated with the increased death rate of COVID-19. Yes, Black and Latino communities are often food deserts that lack access to healthy food options. And, we also have power in our choices. To the churches that we fund through loyal tithing, use your power to create local farmers market partnerships, bringing healthy food to your congregations after services. Let us get the barber shops and beauty salons in on it. Let us continue to create local opportunities for fitness and well-being, like Girl Trek, a national non-profit focused on Black women’s health through community walking. The more we broaden our perspective and the narrative of what is possible, the best we will be able to sustain ourselves.

And we have to go seek medical attention when we don’t feel right. No more pride. No more fear. Bring an army of friends or family with you to keep doctors in check, but don’t not go. I witnessed an extraordinary chat between Nikki Giovanni and Angela Davis the other night and Nikki broke it down, making it clear that we can’t fight the fight if we’re not here on this Earth to do it. It is just that simple.

In my mind, I have often characterized Black folks’ relationship with the US as a codependent one. It is unfortunate that we are forced to live with our oppressor, just as a victim of abuse might be in  a home. Every little thing we do has to be directed towards securing our freedom and safety, even if we are not able to leave. My Black and brown brothers and sisters must start thinking about the changes we can make in our lives to reduce our vulnerability to a system that simply does not care about us. It is a harsh reality, but it is no different than the talk we have to have with our Black boys about police and the conduct that is necessary to stay alive. We need to be having these same conversations with ourselves about our health, our choices and to whom we give our resources.

*****

Meanwhile, much has been said about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s competent and consistent management of this crisis. Against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s idiocy and narcissism, Cuomo’s approach and demeanor are a welcome relief in a time of great uncertainty. One admirable thing to note is that Governor Cuomo is determined to understand and unpack the reasons for the greater impact of COVID-19 on African-American and Latino populations. Unlike many others, he refuses to let the conversation end at comorbidities or over-representation in jobs that are on the frontlines. Even as he is still grinding to keep the virus contained in the state, Cuomo has committed to doing the research into this issue and making the changes that will have an impact into the future.

“Maybe we will reconsider the absurdity of paying professional athletes millions of dollars for their entertainment while barely giving teachers a livable wage.”

This kind of action gives me hope that maybe the United States will have the political and collective courage to examine the institutions and ways of life that threaten our lives. Maybe we will finally move towards a health care system that provides access to everyone, instead of the privileged few.  Maybe we will reconsider the absurdity of paying professional athletes millions of dollars for their entertainment while barely giving teachers a livable wage. Maybe the airlines will stop taking their travelers for granted with outrageous fees, overcrowding, and overbooking to turn a profit at any cost.

In the face of this crisis, Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has proposed the program, Futures for Frontliners, a program that offers free college tuition to the essential workers that are leading the way for all Americans while many work comfortably from home. This bold move speaks to the elephant in the room. Those who are the essential workers, predominantly people of color, come from communities who have historically been iced out of higher education opportunities which lead to more lucrative careers and positions of power. Maybe a move like this will open the doors for greater diversity in the halls of power so that in the long run, decisions will be made in deference to the beautiful multicultural community that is the United States. Decisions that will not leave whole demographic segments of the population vulnerable and forgotten. Decisions that value the contribution of all, instead of the select few under the false premise of their superiority.

Maybe, considering the data on disease and obesity, we will put health at the forefront of the nation’s food supply, instead of profits. Maybe we will prioritize the fair and affordable distribution of quality food while also cutting down on waste and overproduction. There is definitely something wrong with a food industry and system that warrants farmers throwing out tons of food while people are hungry in food lines a mile long. This should not be happening in the most developed nation in the world.

And as we see stores and malls shutter, maybe we will lean back from our obsessive consumerism. Our insatiable acquisition of things that keeps us competing with one another instead of building quality relationships. Maybe with less things to distract us, we will become more intellectually curious about each other and the world around us, valuing the indispensable like art, music, culture, and science. Creative destruction is one of the building blocks of capitalism. It is the idea that has given birth to the endless series of iPhones and big screen TVs. Yet, it has also led to overflowing landfills, diminished natural resources, and mountains of personal debt. Maybe we will learn to temper our demand for the next thing and find contentment in having all that we need.

Maybe.

*****

Yet, when lines of white men donned in camouflage and sporting assault weapons stormed the state capital in Michigan and screamed in the face of law enforcement, I can assure you that every Black person in America said the same thing to themselves. Imagine if they were Black men. There would be a blood bath.

We watch and listen as Trump lies and makes crass, grossly ignorant statements on every topic imaginable and wonder what would happen if it were Barack Obama behaving in such a way.  If he had made the p***y comment, his candidacy would have been a non-starter. Now, during this shared global crisis, when the opportunity to learn and be better is upon us, we see business as usual. The folly and destructive force of white supremacy has taken yet another toll.

With hours of time and space to fill during this lockdown or confinement as we call it in French, I decided to binge watch The Looming Tower on Hulu. It is the recounting of the years leading up to 9/11 and the power struggles between the FBI and CIA that ultimately led to the United States government dropping the ball on monitoring those who would eventually carry out the attacks on that day. Yet, another tale of how pissing contests and power plays result in the sacrifice of lives.

COVID-19 is no different. Trump was told in multiple briefings that the spread of the virus was imminent. He blustered as he shut down our borders to China with the racist undertone that was the perfect wink to his supporters. Meanwhile, coronavirus arrived on our shores by way of Europe. Now, he is pushing to reopen the US economy without regard for our citizens’ health because we must get that capitalist engine running again. There has been little mention of the over 70,000 lives lost. There has been no curiosity about the disparities of the impact of the illness. And his cronies have no appetite for supporting the healthcare workers, police, teachers, transit workers and others on the frontlines with much needed state and local funding. Like the crew in Alien or the beachgoers in Jaws, people are expendable in worship of the mighty dollar and retention of power.

When Mitch McConnell and other red state politicians proclaim that they will not give any blue state bailouts, it is a dog whistle. Blue states have big cities with Black and brown people who are takers. Meanwhile, we know the data tells a different story of course, and as these narratives are perpetuated, institutions will not work on our behalf. Alas, Black and brown small businesses were more often than not, left out of the Payroll Protection fund.  People who file and PAY United States taxes using an individual identification number instead of a SSN, likely undocumented workers, did not receive any COVID recovery money. Really think on that. Our government insists that workers pay taxes into the system, but during the greatest disruption to our economic and financial security, refuses to include these same individuals in obtaining any relief.

Yet, we are reminded daily that the United States was founded, not on some great unified fight for independence, but on genocide, enslavement, and the perpetual oppression of the vulnerable for economic and political gain.

The state of Georgia opened this past week and some of the first images queued up were of people in line to buy the latest athletic shoe. I just shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. Our folks are dying from an illness that attacks us partly because of the cumulative effects of limited access to healthy foods, quality healthcare, and our greater representation in essential jobs, and here we are risking our lives to purchase shoes from a company that doesn’t give a damn about our survival. Nike ain’t thinking about Black people’s health.

Relative to several other countries, the United States is quite young as a sovereign state. At 244 years old, we are at best a toddler with the leader to match. As we continue to grow and age as a nation, one wants to have hope that we will make the necessary changes to bring forth a more just and peaceful society. Yet, we are reminded daily that the United States was founded, not on some great unified fight for independence, but on genocide, enslavement, and the perpetual oppression of the vulnerable for economic and political gain.

This pandemic should facilitate a seismic shift in our values as a country, to a new normal some say. When we look at lines of fellow Americans waiting for food, thousands of body bags filling morgues and trucks, families desperately trying to manage without a paycheck and health insurance, the soul of America should be screaming, “Enough is enough.” We should be demanding radical changes to our antiquated electoral system that disenfranchises the popular will to preserve the political power of a minority. We should be insisting on limiting terms for lifetime politicians who are so intoxicated by power and privilege, they are utterly soulless. We should be investing our dollars in our schools, libraries, local non-profits, and artists.

Instead, we are fighting for our right to buy Michael Jordan’s sneakers and a Wendy’s hamburger as the US Department of Justice and Supreme Court politicize the laws of the land at our expense. All the while, the Democratic party managed to nominate the weakest and most entrenched presidential candidate from the most diverse and talented field ever seen in political history.

Is there a new normal in sight?

Not likely.

Struggling to Write, Struggling to Focus

“I was interrogating my own son about his e-learning, examining the schedule, asking him about the potential homework, etc. Then, I took a breath, backed off and chatted about the zombie apocalypse instead.”

The other night I had a video chat with my son, Emmanuel. It wasn’t unlike our other chats. We usually discuss random things while tending to our tasks. He’s typically making something to eat. claiming that I just happen to always call when he’s hungry. Our topics have ranged from school and his work to whether or not bugs have souls. One time, he actually cleaned the bathroom while I was on the line. On this night, we contemplated what he would do during the zombie apocalypse-become a zombie, fight the zombies or hide.

When the eight o’clock hour hit, I brought the phone out to the balcony so he could hear the Parisians cheering and clapping for the workers taking care of us right now. And then we winded down with me bringing the phone to Ruby, our cat, so he could see her, marvel in her fat squishiness and say goodbye. She honored him with a gentle nose tap to the screen. It was a tender moment.

After I ended our call, the tension that I had been holding in my body for the week had evaporated. The simple joy of connecting with my son during these trying times uplifted me in a way that I desperately needed. It was a true blessing.

*****

“I’ve now heaped a ton of guilt onto my existing fear and loneliness because I don’t think I’ve actually done anything productive since locking down.”

I don’t typically blog unless I have inspiration. I find it impossible to write from an inauthentic place so sometimes there are long stretches between my posts as I try to stay open to what life and the world are presenting to me. Recently, however, I was finding that in spite of all that was going on in the world, I could not focus or settle down enough to write. Fixated on my YouTube channels and my Facebook feed, all I could manage was to consume more and more information about this pandemic.

Then, I downloaded games to my phone, appeased by the mindlessly challenging task of connecting colorful dots into squares. Back and forth to my 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, this pandemic has given me an amplified form of ADD and I’ve been desperately trying to get a handle on it. I’ve now heaped a ton of guilt onto my existing fear and loneliness because I don’t think I’ve done anything productive since locking down.

I decided to lean into my lack of focus, to just own it and see where it would take me emotionally and spiritually. This blog post is where I’ve landed.

First, let me say that while I have processed the larger existential implications of watching people fight over and hoard toilet paper, that behavior didn’t surprise me. Lamenting the consumerism and excess of our society, in the United States in particular, is not a new exercise for my psyche. And the nation’s lack of preparedness and blatant arrogance and denial about the ramifications of this pandemic are par for the course. Remember in Jaws when they refused to believe there was a killer shark in the water?

What has me all over the place is the way everything has just been flipped on its head. This past year of my “mom”bbatical, I had embraced the uncertainty of a professional transition, financial insecurity, an international move and a transfer of custody of my beloved son to his father. I have had moments of frustration as things were slow to develop, but I continued to trust that I would land.

And the fog was starting to clear. Our consulting company had secured our first project and we were on the precipice of locking down the next. Thanks to the consulting gig, I was able to spend some quality time with my son in California, finally getting a closer look at his home life with his father, his father’s girlfriend and her mother. With that moment came a tremendous amount of healing energy between me and his dad. My Crossfit game was on point and I had found an international theatre group/choir in Paris to add to my growing community. Life was coming together.

I saw the corornavirus looming while I was traveling in late February. As I was nestling in at my gate at Charles de Gaulle airport, I was asked if I had recently traveled to China. That was an easy “No” and I kept it moving. Baggage handlers at JFK airport were wearing masks and gloves, but I remained blissfully ignorant. Life and energy were surging back in me as I was taking care of business. Sitting in our potential project interview discussing the scope of our consulting work, I had purpose again.

Now, all that momentum has ground to a halt. Upon my arrival back to Paris, I nursed my jetlag with a little extra sleep and woke up to the clear and present danger of this virus. Like millions around the world, I am now holed up in isolation uncertain of what is to come. No Crossfit community. No choir. No apertif with friends.

It’s a miracle that I am not sick. I flew to San Francisco, back to Paris through Zurich then flew to New York City from Paris via Brussels. I hopped a train to Providence, Rhode Island, returned to Brooklyn and made my way back to Paris. All of this in a matter of two weeks. I am grateful to be healthy.


“Every time I go to the grocery store, does the countdown to potential symptoms reset? Will this finally be the thing that rids us of Donald Trump? Is my Crossfit body going to go to mush? Is Andrew Cuomo single?”

There is food in my refrigerator. My bed is warm and I have enough space to get my workouts in at home under the curious eye of my sweet kitty, Ruby. The sun is pouring into my windows and I have all the technology that I need to keep myself entertained. I’m receiving texts and having video chats with my lovely friends from all around the world. I have never felt more loved.

But, shit, I can’t concentrate and I’m not getting anything of value done.

Every question that could possibly run through my mind has surfaced. When will our consulting projects resume? Will Emmanuel get to do the summer program that we set our sights on? When will I get to fly back to the United States? Is my 73-year old Boomer mother going to be okay? Am I really going to spend springtime in Paris indoors? Every time I go to the grocery store, does the countdown to potential symptoms reset? Will this finally be the thing that rids us of Donald Trump? Is my Crossfit body going to turn to mush? Is Andrew Cuomo single?

*****

I don’t doubt that Mother Earth sent this virus to get us all to sit the eff down and think about the damage that we have done to her. She needs to heal and if it takes an infectious virus to give her respite from our constant pollution-inducing activity, then I’m not mad at her.

This feels like so much more than that, though. All of the institutions that have exploited our labor, our differences and our resources are crumbling in this moment. The servants in our world–teachers, nurses, doctors, shelf stockers–and others are our most valuable human resources right now and had always been. While the President is continuing to foment racist sentiments to mask his own ignorance and incompetence, our artists are using social media as a way to bring us all together. DJ DNice has saved the world by spinning for everyone from little ole me to Bradley Cooper.

I know there are parents at home trying to support their kids distance learning and pulling their hair out in the process. There are some hilarious videos out there by parents who finally understand what their kid’s teachers deal with every day. Even thousands of miles away, I was interrogating my own son about his e-learning, examining the schedule, asking him about the potential homework, etc. Then, I took a breath, backed off and chatted about the zombie apocalypse instead.

Now is not the time to ride our kids about their academic achievement. This is an unprecedented opportunity for reflection, for appreciating who they are free of the daily routines we force on them. We spend so much time defining our kids by their GPAs, test scores, athletic achievements or future potential. How about we just let them “be”? What might they discover about themselves during this moment? What might they discover about you?

So, ironically, once I released the pressure from myself of having to do or accomplish something, I was able to write again. The “mom”bbatical in the context of a worldwide pandemic has brought me into completely new territory. As frightening as this all may be, I believe we have to stay hopeful that this correction from the Universe will serve us in the end.

Most importantly, let this moment bring us together in a spirit of love and compassion for those whose lives have been lost, those who are actively fighting against this illness and those whose livelihood has been deeply impacted. We will only get through this through collective action, empathy and love.

Now do yourself a favor and join DNice’s Club Quarantine on Instagram. It is fire!!!

%%footer%%