The Worst Moments of 2013

Da Hype 1

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

There were a number of really rough moments for me in 2013, but the absolute worst moment has to be the announcement of the Trayvon Martin verdict. (See 2DS posts on “Keep Calm” and “From Don Imus to George Zimmerman”) It was really difficult for me to grapple with the reality that George Zimmerman had not been convicted of murdering this young boy, who was guilty of “walking while black.” It felt as if a heap of new injustices had fallen on black people. I felt suffocated and was depressed. It didn’t help that the verdict was followed by a number of deaths of young black women and men who were shot and killed while knocking on white people’s doors, seeking help (e.g. Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell).

The Martin verdict was announced while I was celebrating 100 years of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Angie Stone, India Irie, and Patti Labelle each took the stage, and all three felt compelled to recognize his life. As news of the verdict spread throughout the crowd, the crowd shuttered in utter surprise. We were hurt.

That night, I was delighted to see my favorite singers, ecstatic to celebrate with my sorority sisters, but in pain for the Martin family in particular, and for black people in general. So, I cried in the middle of a concert.

Da Realist 1

The Trayvon Martin case–the lead-up to the trial, the trial itself, and the reaction to it–was difficult for me as well. I wrote about it at least three times last year. No matter how many times I hear awful stories like his–and it happens far too often–I am always deeply affected by how much black life is devalued.

Da Realist1, Jesse, and me in front of W.E.B. DuBois statue on Fisk University's campus

Da Hype 1, Jesse, and Da Realist 1 in front of the W.E.B. DuBois statue at Fisk University

However, my worst moment was when I found out that Jesse, one of my best friends, had died. Both Da Hype 1 and I wrote about our friendship with Jesse last year. (See 2DS posts I Had Such a Friend, For Jesse, & Foto Friday: Someone You Love).

On May 20, 2013, Da Hype 1 called me crying and screaming  unintelligibly. I had to get her to calm down so that I could understand her. She was so upset because she had just received a message that Jesse had passed away. For some reason I thought she had misunderstood the message. Jesse was in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant. He’d had a surgery (for some other issue), but he was not dead. He was getting better, stronger, right? I don’t remember whether she read me her message or if I looked on my phone and saw the same message, but I felt like someone had knocked the air out of me. After that, we continued to talk. I attempted to console Hype the best I could. She was in her car, and she still had to drive home.

Somehow we managed to pull ourselves together. Hype drove home safely, and I just sat on the couch staring into space for a long time thinking about my friend. I will never forget Hype’s heart-piercing scream that day. It broke my heart.

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“Black Is Black”: Thoughts on “Dark Girls”

DarkGirlsPeople think they diss my person/By stating I’m darkly packed/ I know this, so I point at Q-Tip/ And he states ‘black is black’ ~ “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul

I was unable to see the documentary “Dark Girls” when it appeared on the OWN Network in June, but I immediately put it on my Netflix list in anticipation of the DVD release. Last night I was able to watch it on Amazon Instant Video, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it dealt with a difficult issue.

“Dark Girls” explores the issue of colorism, primarily as it relates to dark-skinned African-American women, using history, personal narratives, educators, and psychologists. Not surprisingly, the media images in American culture often emphasize beauty as “white,” or at least as “light.” In addition, however, the intra-racial messages that dark-skinned women receive are also damaging. Historically and in contemporary society, some African Americans have internalized negative images about blackness and projected them onto other black people.

Much of what “Dark Girls” shows is what astute observers of social history and culture already know through study and the lived experience of being black in America. As recent events have illustrated, disparaging practices, policies and remarks regarding African American women’s beauty, hair, and skin color come from whites as well as blacks. “Dark Girls” asserts that these experiences have resulted in trauma. And the first step toward dealing with this trauma is to acknowledge it, so that we can start a dialogue to overcome it.

As I listened to stories from the girls and women in the documentary, I began to think about my own experiences with colorism. I, too, have been told that I was “awful pretty for a colored girl” by a young white man when I was in college. (I didn’t know whether to be offended because he called me “a colored girl” or because he said I was “awful pretty” for one.) But I can’t imagine the impact of hearing statements like that all the time.

Maybe I never developed any issues of colorism because my family, like many black families, has every color–from the so-called “light, bright, and damn near white” to “jet black.” (No kidding. When my mother was young, children called her “Jet Black.”)  Just because I thought to myself “black is black,” that doesn’t mean that everyone in my family was unaffected. I discovered this when I overheard my little cousin, who was about five at the time, and one of her playmates arguing a few years ago. My cousin who is kinda light brown called her friend “black and ugly.” I snatched cuz up (not physically) right away and asked who was she calling “black and ugly.” I said, “Your Aunt J is dark-skinned; she’s black. Is she ugly?” “No,” she replied, and I hope she meant that. Anger probably wasn’t quite the way to handle the issue, but I needed her to know that we were all black. And that if she thought her friend was ugly, she was also saying my mother, her Aunt J–who raised her, incidentally–was also ugly. I had to make a point that was far beyond my usual admonishment, “That’s not the proper way for young ladies to behave.”

So, “Dark Girls” made me think, and that’s a good thing. It’s a compelling and interesting documentary. It’s a film that could help start a conversation about discrimination based on skin color.

I See Black People: Thoughts on Children and Colorblindness

BNYHands

Not quite the contrast from that day, but you get my meaning.

Have you ever heard someone say that “children don’t see color” or “children are colorblind”? I don’t think those people give children enough credit because they are quite observant. Perhaps what they mean is that children are innocent, and racism is not inherent; it has to be taught. Children do notice differences. And sometimes when this happens, it’s quite funny.

Several years ago, my husband and “Zachary” and I were in Cincinnati when we had an experience that we found absolutely hilarious. We had visited the aquarium and were on our way back to the car when we met up with a little white girl and her mother. We were all waiting for the elevator.

Right away I could see the little girl staring at Zachary. She was cute, with a head full of long, red, curly hair and a smattering of freckles. She was about four of five years old and very fair-skinned, about as light as my husband is dark. When the elevator came, we all got in. I pushed the button for our floor and looked around. The girl was still fixated on Zachary, who was standing in the back of the elevator with one hand on the railing. She put her hand on the railing and inched closer. When her little hand was almost touching his, she said, “Your hand is black,” as if she were telling Zachary something he didn’t know. Just then, her mother turned around looking horrified. She grabbed her daughter’s arm, pulled her closer and admonished her, “Stop it! It’s supposed to be like that! It’s supposed to be black!” When the elevator door opened, the duo made a hasty getaway. Meanwhile, I was doubled over with laughter, but Zachary was oblivious to the whole thing. (Maybe he was thinking about the drive home.) When I explained it, he had a good chuckle too.

We weren’t angry that the little girl noticed that Zachary’s hand (as well as the rest of him) was black. It seemed to us that she probably had not seen many black people in her lifetime. The girl did in fact notice race and difference, much to her mother’s embarrassment. People can’t help but see differences because we’re not all the same. Pretending that we are is disingenuous. The problem is not that we notice differences, but in ascribing value based on those differences and using those value judgments as a basis for discrimination.

As for the little girl, I hope she wasn’t traumatized by that event because we sure weren’t. She provided us with an inside joke for life.

“Black Is Black”: Thoughts on “Dark Girls”

DarkGirlsPeople think they diss my person/By stating I’m darkly packed/ I know this, so I point at Q-Tip/ And he states ‘black is black’ ~ “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul

I was unable to see the documentary “Dark Girls” when it appeared on the OWN Network in June, but I immediately put it on my Netflix list in anticipation of the DVD release. Last night I was able to watch it on Amazon Instant Video, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it dealt with a difficult issue.

“Dark Girls” explores the issue of colorism, primarily as it relates to dark-skinned African-American women, using history, personal narratives, educators, and psychologists. Not surprisingly, the media images in American culture often emphasize beauty as “white,” or at least as “light.” In addition, however, the intra-racial messages that dark-skinned women receive are also damaging. Historically and in contemporary society, some African Americans have internalized negative images about blackness and projected them onto other black people.

Much of what “Dark Girls” shows is what astute observers of social history and culture already know through study and the lived experience of being black in America. As recent events have illustrated, disparaging practices, policies and remarks regarding African American women’s beauty, hair, and skin color come from whites as well as blacks. “Dark Girls” asserts that these experiences have resulted in trauma. And the first step toward dealing with this trauma is to acknowledge it, so that we can start a dialogue to overcome it.

As I listened to stories from the girls and women in the documentary, I began to think about my own experiences with colorism. I, too, have been told that I was “awful pretty for a colored girl” by a young white man when I was in college. (I didn’t know whether to be offended because he called me “a colored girl” or because he said I was “awful pretty” for one.) But I can’t imagine the impact of hearing statements like that all the time.

Maybe I never developed any issues of colorism because my family, like many black families, has every color–from the so-called “light, bright, and damn near white” to “jet black.” (No kidding. When my mother was young, children called her “Jet Black.”)  Just because I thought to myself “black is black,” that doesn’t mean that everyone in my family was unaffected. I discovered this when I overheard my little cousin, who was about five at the time, and one of her playmates arguing a few years ago. My cousin who is kinda light brown called her friend “black and ugly.” I snatched cuz up (not physically) right away and asked who was she calling “black and ugly.” I said, “Your Aunt J is dark-skinned; she’s black. Is she ugly?” “No,” she replied, and I hope she meant that. Anger probably wasn’t quite the way to handle the issue, but I needed her to know that we were all black. And that if she thought her friend was ugly, she was also saying my mother, her Aunt J–who raised her, incidentally–was also ugly. I had to make a point that was far beyond my usual admonishment, “That’s not the proper way for young ladies to behave.”

So, “Dark Girls” made me think, and that’s a good thing. It’s a compelling and interesting documentary. It’s a film that could help start a conversation about discrimination based on skin color.

I See Black People: Thoughts on Children and Colorblindness

BNYHands

Not quite the contrast from that day, but you get my meaning.

Have you ever heard someone say that “children don’t see color” or “children are colorblind”? I don’t think those people give children enough credit because they are quite observant. Perhaps what they mean is that children are innocent, and racism is not inherent; it has to be taught. Children do notice differences. And sometimes when this happens, it’s quite funny.

Several years ago, my husband “Zachary” and I were in Cincinnati when we had an experience that we found absolutely hilarious. We had visited the aquarium and were on our way back to the car when we met up with a little white girl and her mother. We were all waiting for the elevator.

Right away I could see the little girl staring at Zachary. She was cute, with a head full of long, red, curly hair and a smattering of freckles. She was about four of five years old and very fair-skinned, about as light as my husband is dark. When the elevator came, we all got in. I pushed the button for our floor and looked around. The girl was still fixated on Zachary, who was standing in the back of the elevator with one hand on the railing. She put her hand on the railing and inched closer. When her little hand was almost touching his, she said, “Your hand is black,” as if she were telling Zachary something he didn’t know. Just then, her mother turned around looking horrified. She grabbed her daughter’s arm, pulled her closer and admonished her, “Stop it! It’s supposed to be like that! It’s supposed to be black!” When the elevator door opened, the duo made a hasty getaway. Meanwhile, I was doubled over with laughter, but Zachary was oblivious to the whole thing. (Maybe he was thinking about the drive home.) When I explained it, he had a good chuckle too.

We weren’t angry that the little girl noticed that Zachary’s hand (as well as the rest of him) was black. It seemed to us that she probably had not seen many black people in her lifetime. The girl did in fact notice race and difference, much to her mother’s embarrassment. People can’t help but see differences because we’re not all the same. Pretending that we are is disingenuous. The problem is not that we notice differences, but in ascribing value based on those differences and using those value judgments as a basis for discrimination.

As for the little girl, I hope she wasn’t traumatized by that event because we sure weren’t. She provided us with an inside joke for life.