Black Girls’ Hearts Break Too

“. . .how can we be expected to strive for excellence when we are merely trying to get our basic humanity acknowledged?”

Have you seen it? It’s appalling. The video titled Dina and the Prince Story. It’s making the rounds on social media. It’s a children’s cartoon about a beautiful angel who falls in love with a prince, however, she is forbidden to speak to him. If she does speak to him, Dina is warned that she would lose her beauty. And of course, as any narrative arc would dictate, she speaks to him and alas, loses her beauty. In the cartoon, losing her beauty–becoming ugly–is indicated by her skin being turned from white to Black and her hair going from straight to textured. Yes, you read that right.

A couple of years ago, I sarcastically and jokingly responded to a blatant act of cultural appropriation that a friend called out on his Facebook feed. Several of his friends all chimed in with humorous, yet frustrated comments about how fed up we were with the pillage and commodification of other cultures by white people. A “friend” of mine saw my comment and proceeded to tell me that I was acting like a victim.

I am fairly confident that there is sufficient evidence to confirm that I have never lived my life as a victim. But, why is it so hard to acknowledge Black women’s hurts? The bruises on our hearts from the persistent indignities that come at times when we least expect it, like that f****ng cartoon? I can give you example after example of the typical Black women archetypes that feed our daily image intake–the Jezebel, the Mammy, the Strong Black Woman who endures the typical “urban” tragedy, the Resilient Badass, the Fat Sassy Sidekick, the Angry Black Woman–shall I go on?

When and where do we really examine the Black woman with the broken heart? We sympathize and broadcast the pain for those we force into the public eye as they are smacked by the ever-present hand of injustice–Trayvon’s mother, Sabrina; Michael’s mother, Lesley; Eric Garner’s daughter, Erica. . who died at the age of 27 from a heart attack. We expect them to conjure up the strength of mountains to lead us in a movement, but do we tend to their hearts?

I recently had a lively discussion with a small group of Black women about the concept of Black excellence. We debated over the fact that we have to set the bar high. We have so much to contribute, right? One point that was raised, however, was how can we be expected to strive for excellence when we are merely trying to get our basic humanity acknowledged? It was the most poignant statement of the evening.

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I’ve been pretty transparent about the fact that my pregnancy was not planned so when I decided to go through with having Emmanuel, I wasn’t expecting some magical fairy tale commitment from his father. He wasn’t ready for that. I thought at the very least, he would be a friend. This was a man with whom I had a familial connection since I was six years old. We had been romantically involved off and on for over nine years at the time. We were grown adults. I was thirty-two, he was thirty-nine.

Instead, he walked away. During my pregnancy, he started a relationship with another woman. . .a white woman. . .with dread locked hair like me, but not. . .and he went all the way across the country to be with her. He did it with complete indifference to me, like he was possessed by a spirit other than the man I thought I had known all of those years. I was devastated. It was traumatizing and left me haunted on so many levels.

Whatever joy and strength I could manufacture in my heart and mind, I directed it towards the baby I was carrying. I read loving chapter books to my belly. My favorite was Guess How Much I Love You. I was obsessive about eating right and exercising. Loving the life growing inside of me was the only way I could manage and mask the heartbreak I was experiencing every day.

Then one day, I was sitting in my car listening to an NPR broadcast about the horrors that were occurring in the Sudan. It was 2004 and the Arab Janjaweed were killing and raping African women in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the region. Something exploded inside of me and I fell apart in my car, sobbing over what felt like a collective hatred of Black women. I felt it in my own life from the father of my unborn child and I felt it for all of those women.

When the world observes these phenomena, whether it’s the Black father that abandons or the severe brutality inflicted on Black women across the globe, we deem it as a “pathology” of a people, of a race–and perhaps in some way it is–one of the many produced by the white supremacist air we breathe. However, beneath the surface of this sterile analysis lay the brokenhearted.

This Dina and the Prince Story cartoon called to mind the 2007 Rutgers University women’s basketball team. They had just lost the championship to Tennessee despite a valiant effort and radio talk show host, Don Imus, threw salt in their wounds by calling them “nappy-headed hoes” during his live broadcast. He was duly fired and rightfully so. When confronted by the ladies in a meeting, their most compelling and urgent question was simply “why?” They couldn’t understand why he would make such a statement without even knowing who they were and while they were nobly reaching for a dream.

That’s the thing. There is no why.

So, the brokenhearted begin the long journey toward healing, forgiving our offenders and daring to open our hearts once more. I used to joke with my friends long after Raliegh and I had made amends as co-parents that if you cut me open, my heart would probably be this mangled piece of meat held together by duct tape and string. We make our own repairs and carry on.

The Black Lives Matter movement was launched as a plea to the world to stop killing our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and cousins. Here we are begging for the bare minimum–please, at the very least, don’t kill us. Perhaps it’s time to raise the bar and start asking for not just our lives, but the love to mend our broken hearts.

THEY Were Babies

“If we can dare to see the potential of a living breathing baby in a fuzzy image on a monitor, can’t we also see that same baby in the eyes of a 14-year old Black boy?”

First,  I must applaud Ava DuVernay for her brilliant direction of the docuseries, When They See Us, a gripping and emotional film about the Exonerated Five.  Korey, Kevin, Raymond, Antron and Yusef are their names and they were falsely accused, manipulated and abused by law enforcement and the media in the wake of the brutal rape of the Central Park jogger. You know the story. They were called animals, essentially tortured while in police custody and were the subject of a death penalty campaign by the current occupant of the White House.

   “Whose babies really matter? Whose babies are we really committed to protecting as a society?”

I found it interesting that the film debuted against the backdrop of the ever-present debate about the beginning of a baby’s life amidst the recent abortion bans passed in Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri and Alabama. As we engage in these debates, those of us who often exist on the margins in the United States due to our racial, economic or gender identities beg to ask the questions, “Whose babies really matter? Whose babies are we really committed to protecting as a society?”

Korey, Kevin, Raymond, Antron and Yusef were babies. Only ages fourteen to sixteen, they endured their interrogation with naivete and innocence, believing what they were told; if they cooperated, they would go home. One of the most heart wrenching images in the film was when the camera zoomed in on the face of the youngest boy, Antron, as he was hearing graphic details of “his” crime. Imagine 14-year-old Antron, who had never had sex, trying to process being accused of sticking his penis in a woman he had neither seen nor known.

He was just a baby.

I was recently reunited with my own 14-year old son and I was taken aback by his new girth and ginormous feet. I know he is on the slow steady course to manhood. But then I spied him playing Minecraft on his computer, something I haven’t seen since he was about nine years old. He told me that he just felt like playing it again and while he was collecting llamas and building worlds, I was reminded that his heart and soul are still so young and childlike.

In the grand scheme of things, he’s still just a baby. My baby.

If we can dare to see the potential of a living breathing baby in a fuzzy image on a monitor, can’t we also see that same baby in the eyes of a 14-year old Black boy? Why is that so hard to imagine? Korey, Kevin, Raymond, Antron and Yusef were all just babies.

And so were Trayvon and Tamir and Antwon and Ramarley and Michael and Laquan and Quintonio and Jordan.

We Know Jesus Too

“And if Jesus were to land on the shores of the United States today, where might his first stop be, if he was even welcome to enter?”

I had no intention of wading into the furor over the draconian abortion laws that have recently passed in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri. There is a reason why I left the United States. I’m am well over the toxicity of the White supremacist poison that taints the air that floats over the country. The government’s failed response after the slaughter of twenty six-year old babies in their classroom sealed the deal for me.

But then a post showed up on my Facebook feed that warranted some reflection. Framed in color, the post stated that “A fetus was the first to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.” This is a paraphrase, but this is the general idea. The fetus in reference is the baby, John the Baptist, that Elizabeth was carrying at the time that Mary was chosen to bear Jesus. The specific verse can be found in Luke 1:41. Those who read it interpret that the baby’s movement in Elizabeth’s womb is inspired by the news that Mary will give birth to the Son of God. Upon closer examination of the verses surrounding number 41, this interpretation is pretty loose. No where does the Scripture say that the baby was filled with the Holy Spirit and that is the reason it leaps. This is Elizabeth’s assumption as she herself is filled with joy over Mary’s salutation and the news of her pregnancy.

I studied the Bible for many years with great devotion. I was often enchanted by Luke’s master storytelling and I appreciate the beautiful interpretations accounted by the disciples and theologians of Jesus’ walk on Earth. What I take issue with is when the Word of God is used to shame and judge. That was never Jesus’ message and when Christians invoke Christ while provoking guilt and shame in others, they are wading into the worst hypocrisy of man made religion. The very hypocrisy that Jesus despised.

I try to stay clear of engaging in the “life” argument as my personal experience is neither black or white. I chose my son’s life because I was able to do so even though I knew I would be on my own. I felt a connection to the possibility of his existence and for me that mattered. I could never judge another woman for making a different choice. At the same time, a zygote is simply not viable outside the womb. That is an undeniable fact. Using a biblical story about a fetus to lend support behind unreasonable laws that deny a woman’s authority over her own body and life is a bit cruel. That is not Jesus.

“. . .when Christians invoke Christ while provoking guilt and shame in others, they are wading into the worst hypocrisy of man made religion. The very hypocrisy that Jesus despised.”

What I know for sure about Jesus Christ is if he were walking the Earth today, he would ask what are we doing about the living, breathing children who have been permanently traumatized at our borders? Where is the love and concern for their well-being? Children are DYING in the custody of the United States. Dying while separated from the mothers that love and cherish them. We want to force motherhood on women who may not be ready for it in the name of religious righteousness, but dishonor mothers who chose to endure danger for the safety and futures of their children?

I could write a whole other post about how religion has been one of the most effective tools used to sustain white supremacy. The white man’s religion in America was used to justify the slaughter of a race of people and the enslavement of another. Jesus would never have stood for such things either.

And if Jesus were to land on the shores of the United States today, where might his first stop be, if he were even welcome to enter? Likely at the cages detaining innocent children in desperate need of love, not at an abortion clinic condemning women for making difficult choices. But, if he happened to be there, he would likely be giving hugs not words of judgment and guilt.

Parenting from the Negative Space

“What better time to learn how to parent more effectively than when you are, in fact, not really parenting at all.”

My last two blog posts have given me much food for thought about parenting. It’s an interesting juxtaposition given the fact that I’m on a “mom”bbatical. What better time to learn how to parent more effectively than when you are, in fact, not really parenting at all.

In my reflection, I thought about this long held idea that our children are extensions of ourselves. It is an intoxicating notion, especially for those of us mothers who spent nine months carrying this human being inside of our own bodies. The memories of our labor and the shared traits that emerge on their person just validate the symbiotic nature of our connection to our kids.

Then, when we hit struggles in relationships, at work or with family, we look to our kids to fill in the emotional gaps, to make us feel loved and accepted when the rest of the world may be coming up short. They owe us that, don’t they?

Nope.

I recently found myself inspired by the concept of negative space in art. In Negative space: 22 Brilliant Examples, “Negative space is, quite simply, the space that surrounds an object in an image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition.” It is such a beautiful concept and mirrors the art of parenting.

Image courtesy of Know Negative Space as a Powerful Element in Design with Examples

It is our job to define the boundaries in our relationships with our children. We do surround them with our love, our protection and our resources. When any of those things bleed over across their boundary, we distort their self-image. When our love becomes control, our protection becomes smothering or our resources become overindulgence, we make it difficult for our children to define themselves in a healthy way.

My favorite idea behind the concept of negative space is that it “brings balance to the composition.” Balance. Justice. Equanimity. Who wouldn’t want those things in parenting?

I think what I appreciate the most about my son is his ability to define his own boundaries with me. Sometimes he occupies the negative space and reminds me that we are separate, even at the most mundane times. For example, I walk at a pretty fast pace. I’m a New Yorker, I can’t help it. Emmanuel, on the other hand, likes to take his time. When he was little and we used to go on hikes in the hills of the Bay Area, he would stop to spot the tiniest bug on a leaf by the side of the trail while I was paces ahead just trying to get to the top.

It never bothered him that I kept my pace. He never felt compelled to catch up and he didn’t take it personally when I bounded ahead. Years later, as we walked the Parisian streets, he maintained his position in the rear despite the frequent glances over my shoulder. His face always telling me that he’s good.

My favorite idea behind the concept of negative space is that it “brings balance to the composition.” Balance. Justice. Equanimity. Who wouldn’t want those things in parenting?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Yoda when it comes to parenting. My son is an old soul who thankfully keeps me in check. However, observing how broken so many souls are in this world and the big institutions that continue to fail us, I embrace the beauty and potential for growth between me and my boy. It is a blessed art indeed.

Featured image at top courtesy of Negative Spaces in Logos: A How-To Guide (for Dummies, by a Dummy)

Coda to a Requiem

In music, a coda is defined as “the concluding passage of a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the basic structure.” My last entry, https://myyearonmombbatical.blog/2019/04/25/a-requiem-for-june-cleaver/ was a candid reflection on the generational tensions between mothers and daughters. I was moved by the resonance with my Gen X contemporaries. It felt good to know that I was not alone.

Of course, the posting came with the requisite backlash from my brother. It is his job to rewrite history and cast me as the family villain. In his mind, I am nothing more than an extension of the worst parts of my now deceased father without whom none of us would have a pot to piss in, but my brother always seems to forget that fact. Gotta love family dynamics.

I had a good cry, shook off my brother’s seething condemnation and took a step back to reflect on this necessary bump in the road in the context of my “mom”bbatical, hence this coda. The real benefit of my “mom”bbatical has been the intentionality with which I interact with my own son. Free from the daily back and forth of parent to child, Emmanuel and I choose to interact as people and it is refreshing. I am truly able to experience him as an emerging human being separate from me and I’ve relished in the fact that I really like him a lot.

But, all too often, I think as parents we see our children as extensions of ourselves. We put tremendous pressure on them to validate our emotional needs and when they don’t, we hold that against them. In the worst cases, parents are cruel, vengeful, even envious. It seems oddly natural and crazy at the same time. We expect our children to validate our existence, our worth.

During the conversation that I had with my mother, she spoke about our relationship as if we existed on a level playing field. Yet, I shared with her my perspective that I was the child. It didn’t matter that I was an adult now. The power dynamics at the foundation of our relationship were never equal. They never will be. And that there is the rub. How can we love and be loved and be separate at the same time when one person CHOSE to create the other’s existence? For the parent, the emotional stakes are so much higher and yet, it is the child who ultimately bears the burden, isn’t it?

The gift of having had an unexpected pregnancy is that it forced me to surrender control. Yes, I did have a choice and in full disclosure, I did find myself standing at the door of an abortion clinic before choosing Emmanuel’s life. Or better said, before accepting that I had been chosen for Emmanuel. Yet, it was profoundly humbling to have this unplanned event happen and it forced me to be mindful in my interactions with him, to remember that I was chosen to be the parent. It is not his job to emotionally validate me. I am not entitled to that and if I can’t emotionally validate myself, I’m no good to him anyway.

For as much as the “mom”bbatical has served me, I believe it will do wonders for my kid. He gets to be his own person and I couldn’t be happier about that. Will I still guide him and set high expectations for him? Of course. But, he is free of feeling as though he has an obligation to validate who I am. So, when he tells me he loves me or pulls me in for one of his hugs, it is coming from him, from his soul and from the person that he is becoming.

The journey of parenting is so beautiful, full of challenges and surprises. If we can dare to keep ourselves whole, yet separate from our children, we give them a chance to be who they are and who they are meant to be. More importantly, if we are always mindful of their emotional well-being and our duty to protect it, or at least, to not do it any harm, then we are doing the job for which we have been chosen.

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