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Tales from Your One Black Friend

Perspectives on race, gender, politics and parenting in America

Everything I ever needed to know about being a BWW (Black Woman @ Work) I learned from Game of Thrones

Let me first state for the record that I love Game of Thrones.

I am literally the woman who throws birthday parties in its name, buys all the t-shirts, goes to the concerts, speaks a little Dothraki, dresses up in GoT garb and bears a rather glorious direwolf and dragon tattoo on my shoulder. In short, Game of Thrones got me shook like a fat kid loves cake. I am the only human on the planet I know that starts to sweat when the theme song is played. And why yes, it is my ringtone!

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And apparently, I’m not alone in my fandom. There’s a whole 16 million of us that glue ourselves in front of the television set every Sunday night, every season, sometimes with the books in hands and pewter goblet in the other, ready to digest all that Dan and Dave have to offer. And boy do we feast on the violence, the political backstabbing and intrigue that one can take of a world filled with dragons and Night Kings. And can I just say, unlike most fandoms like Doctor Who, Star Trek or even The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones has one of the most diverse followings, even if the casting is not. (Sigh, a blog post for another time…)

To me, Game of Thrones is not just a television show adapted from one of modern literature’s best fantasy series: Game of Thrones is a way of life, which if one watches with as much commitment as one can muster, you can learn a lot. And after 20 solid years of climbing my own personal ladder of chaos (sorry, Petyr Baelish for me will always be Bae), shaping and designing my career path I would say Game of Thrones has taught me much about work and people.

“A lion doesn’t concern itself with the opinion of sheep.” 
― George R.R. MartinA Game of Thrones

“Angry Black Woman”: Angry? No. Black Woman and Ambitious? Hell yeah, I am. #SorryNotSorry


Avoiding the title of “Angry Black Woman©” is a troupe I always thought was possible, until it happened to me. For those in the know, the definition of “ABWs” are:

“Sassy, ill-mannered, and tempered by nature…The Angry Black Woman myth assumes that black women are aggressive.”

I learned pretty quickly that “ambitious” was not a word often associated with women of color when, say, we asked for a promotion or stood our ground on an argument.  But “aggressive” passed easily in conversations. I often watched colleagues of the “Caucasian Persuasion”, particularly men walk into meetings late, yell or talk over colleagues, and do some variation of “Whitesplain” or “Mansplain” when in conversations where race and gender collided with work, all while moving ahead with promotions and praise.

Instead, words I’ve often heard in my work career:

“Aggressive.” “Brash.” “Argumentative.”  “Threatening.” ” Loud.”

Translation: Don’t question. Don’t raise your voice. Let people talk over and above you and negate your arguments or decisions just because of who they are, not because they are valid.

“Over-determined”:

For the seven-Gods, what the hell is “over-determined”? I didn’t even know if that was a word or something someone could be.

“Sassy”:

Yes. Heard and noted from a male colleague once. I think he thought he was being “cute.” [Translation: totally, chauvinistic and he should be happy that I was naive in my youth…]

“Never forget what you are. For surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Amour yourself in it, and will never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion, A Game of Thrones

To be or not to be me. That’s [no longer] the question.


It’s taken me nearly 40 years to learn how to stop apologizing.

When I was over 300 lbs, I apologized when I felt like I took up too much space in a chair on the subway.  When I was a little Black girl, I apologized or bite my tongue when someone was offensively racist or prejudiced in front of me because I so desperately wanted to avoid being “one of those” type of Black people and my heart ached to be liked. So many times in my life as a woman I have apologized to men for their aggression, for their taunts, unwanted touches or behaviors. I was a woman. I was fat. I was black. In my mind (and perhaps society subtlety wanted to be sure I understood) I wasn’t beautiful. I didn’t deserve to be respected. I should just learn to be appreciative of what I had and not seek for more. I should enjoy and know “my place.”

Well, guess what? I “bow to no one.” [Sorry. There HAD to be a Lord of the Rings reference made, and it was gonna be here.]  I’ve finally found my voice in the workplace. If I think something is amiss, if I feel my work or my experience slighted, I let it be known that I feel that way (constructively, oh course, and with evidence, because everything should come with receipts).

My identity is and has never been a weakness. It has and continues to be the sword in the darkness…and in the workplace, aligned with my experience and ability to work with others, it it perhaps not just a differentiator but my greatest strength (and perhaps its slowly becoming a commodity…)

I have lost count of the many times I have saved a colleague or an organization from making some pretty grand cultural gaffes, oversights, and blunders, just like those made by Dove, Nivea or Pepsi.

Contrary to the very mislead president of Apple’s Diversity VP, who is literally the walking definition for “skinfolk don’t make kinfolk,” it is problematic for industries to be so mono-cultured and homogenized , in particular marketing teams. Yes, 12 White males will have varying levels of life experience, based on age, where they’ve lived, schooling, and class, but if you think they can tell you what it’s like to be a woman of color, well, I got a few things I’d like to sell you because apparently you’d believe and fall for anything.

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Mischief Managed, Lessons Learned. 


I think we’ve all been there: The sword of friendship is double-edged and carves both ways. And I would say work relationships have sometimes shown me that friendship in the workplace sometimes is best left for the cubicle jungle.

I’ve learned that just because you help people get a job, finish a project, recommend them for promotion, defend their losses and praise their successes, that doesn’t mean people will necessarily want to do the same for you. And that’s OK. Because the best advocate in ensuring your success is always going to be 100% YOU. Lower your expectations that others are equally looking to see you succeed, and transfer all that energy to yourself.

Case in point:

I’ve worked in predominately female orientated workplaces, and while I would say most have been supportive environments, what I have found is often the greatest level of misogyny I’ve experienced has come from women. Perhaps it’s like the myth of crabs in a wheel barrel, all of us just trying to crawl over each other just to be the lucky one to make it out and above the rest, but it has broken my heart to see backstabbing, back whispering, conspiring and clique formation the likes of which even “Mean Girls” has never seen occur to tear each other down for scraps.  I’m sure part of the reason I don’t label myself a feminist has been I’ve been caught too unawares by women trying to do me harm.

The nitty gritty, really, is no one should never do anything for others unless you are doing it from a place of your own want — your inclination to do good and to be helpful.  Don’t expect for coworkers or bosses to provide you the steps or keys to your achievement.  However, when they happen, praise the Seven Gods and be thankful for the dragons in your life… 

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Giving Thanks to All the Dragons Who Made Me a Dragon, So I Can Raise A Few Dragons, Too


One of the best things about my career thus far, besides working with some of the most talented and passionate people, has been receiving direction and support from some my colleagues and directors. I’ve had some of the best, Tyrion. Queen Oleanna and Varys approved leaders and colleagues that I’ve learned so much from and have given me sage advice that I still follow years later.

We need to lean in on those folks. Find the people, whoever they are, who see your strengths, help you identify and surpass your weaknesses, and literally are your cheerleaders and role models. I haven’t had a lot of people of color to lean on in most of your job experiences (the life of marketer of color is usually to be the “only” and maybe, if you’re lucky, one of 2-3 others.) However, I’ve been graced when some women and men who have helped me to rise to the very best of my abilities and have in their own career modeling shown me the path to success. It’s their advice I go to when making a job change or learn what next step to take. I am of the mind that you do not get far in the world without someone bending a knee for you, and so you should always reach back and bend a knee for someone else.

Because if it’s true that behind every successful woman is a tribe of women and men helping her succeed, I’m literally supported by a small legion of people and I am eternally grateful that that list continues to grow with every organization I’ve been a part of.

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Glass ceilings that are placed before us in our careers are not something we have to learn to accept.  We can and must break them. We should let our drive, our talents our ambition and determination not be turned into dirty words but set them to spark like Wildfyre, ready to burn down systematic racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other “isms” that could hold us back from our own greatness.

To those who would seek to stand in the way of my goals, I say:

 

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Why I talk about race and why I no longer give a [fill in your favorite expletive here] if you don’t want to listen

Accountability and owning your words and your actions is something I think I learned early in life from my father. It’s hard to go through life never offending or hurting someone; frankly, it’s impossible. The key is to mediate on your words, before you write that Facebook post, Tweet or blog post, before you do something to purposely or unintentionally hurt someone. And then, when you do (because, hey, we are human), to own that. Commit yourself to that.

Everyone wants to be liked. (Yes, even the introverted seek the solace of others from time to time.) So when someone puts themselves out there, in a place of true discomfort for themselves and those around them, you best believe it’s probably for something pretty important. Thus, today’s post. (Note: This is a blog post that has been in the making for sometime, one that I’ve ruminated on for a very long time. I feel like until I set it forth and unleash it, I can’t move this blog — and my thoughts — forward.) 

Since November 9th, I have to say I’ve been feeling very much like Hamlet, trapped in the dream of a hellish reality.  The election of 2016 was not like Gore vs. Bush, where when the dust finally settled, post recount, we all felt like we could get on with the business of raising our families, even in a Republican held presidency. No, since that morning I have watched a man who I will NEVER use the word “president” before his name usher in Steve Bannon in to his cabinet, who up until this election was called a neo-nazi, White supremacist but has now been cleaned-up, or perhaps as he would prefer “white-washed” as an Alt-Right leader. Honey, you can put lipstick on a pig, dress it up in high heels, and call it your girlfriend, but it’s still pork. From the Muslim ban to the assault on healthcare, reproductive rights, journalism, science, and facts themselves, it is as if “Groundhog Day” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” made a sequel together.

11425975a4f514dac3f972fed3cb4a12-rock-quotes-chris-rockSo some of you have mentioned in passing or via Facebook your “concern” about my prevalence for talking about race and politics these days. I thank you sincerely for your concern but please… Allow me to explain why the need to communicate and discuss these topics “trumps” (pun fully intended) your comfort about it and/or me:

#1: I’m Black. Yes, I know for some of you this is actually news of a sort. Up until perhaps my days at the University of New Hampshire, race was something I never really felt the need to confront openly, except for talking about it at an after school group or every Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. (Seriously, was it just me or were kids of color like the most popular people in our classroom in January?).

Race has always been there, like a shadow, ever present and ever constant. I didn’t feel the need to always raise attention to it, even when it blinded me from someone’s intentionally or unintentional prejudice or bigotry. But now, I feel like the “turning of the cheek” and letting a casual slur or act go by has ramifications, if not for me, than for someone else. There’s a lot to be said for the unsaid. Silence can be deafening, and it can also be defining. I don’t want to ever again let silence define me. There’s a saying, “Speak truth to power.” And that’s a motto and a creed I live by.

#2. I’m raising a child who is biracial/half-black/of color and most definitely female. The moment my child was placed in my hands, wet and warm from bathing in my own blood, I felt the weight of the responsibility of being her mother. And then (with no surprise) I realized she was brown. Lighter than me, but brown. I never thought she wouldn’t look like me (a part of me always worried she might take more after her father than me), but I’ll say it I was both reassured, happy and anxious all at the same time when I saw her.

See, like all parents, I have and continue to look forward to all the “firsts” she will experience: the first words, the first steps, the first time she asks for the car keys, the first heartbreak (which will be promptly followed-up with romantic comedies and bonding over hot chocolate.) But there are some firsts, that I’m sure my parents would say they too never wanted me to experience but knew probably would come to pass (and did.) These “firsts” I feel like I will never truly be ready for either: the first time she experiences blatant racism (the casual hurl of the n-word from someone who was suppose to be a friend, the laying of hands on your hair and body because someone sees you not as a person with rights and agency to your OWN body, to the “you can’t [play or date] my child” because… and either they tell you outright or find every other word in the book to excuse themselves from what they really want to say.)

She is just a child exploring and learning about the world, but sadly, as I have already seen since her birth, the world has already set preconceived notions about who she is and will be. My goal, as it has been for my own identity, is to raise a child knowledgeable about herself, her heritage, and can think for herself and set her own perimeters for what that ultimately means to her, in a realistic way, without the “illusion” that the world is “color-blind” and won’t ever consider her race.

#3. Because I (and those around me) don’t get a “day” or “month” off (let alone an hour) to not think about these things: I’ve heard it said, “if racism was seasonal, I’d move to the desert or the Arctic. Just let me know which one has the never-ending days of “no racism” and that’s where I’ll be.” We live in a world where words, facts, and videotape mean nothing. Where we continue to espouse how “great” we are or “were” while people of color in this country can not even be afforded the basic tenets of citizenry and expect that they will not be subjected to  law, judge, jury and executioner when they are involved with police.

#4. Because I’m no longer interested in engaging “friends” who really need to be “unfriended.” 

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“Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him once…”

Life is too short for bullshit. And that includes people who show themselves to be lacking the character and values that I deem important in relationships.

So perhaps you are one of those “friends” who recently got “de-friended” (online and off, as I don’t see the difference) by me. Sure, some of those are just relationships that were artificial, superficial, and detrimental to me and just needed to end, but some of those were from other considerations:

A. You showed your true colors, and I learned you were a racist, a bigot, a homophone, a misogynist. And perhaps most importantly, you showed you PREFERRED to stay ignorant, even when confronted with truth. To that, I so wholeheartedly say,
boy/girl, ‘bye.

B. You forgot what being a FRIEND means. One of the hardest things I did this election was let go of some very close relationships that were once dear to me.  Some, because of reason #1. But one, in particular, because the golden rule of being a friend, or just being a friend to ME, was lost upon them..

You see, when a friend is in pain, you provide compassion and empathy. When a friend confides in you about something, ANYTHING,  you don’t dismiss, deny or invalidate what they say at the outset (if you do at all). I had such a friend dismiss me quickly by saying something that had happened to me wasn’t racist, without EVEN ASKING ME why I would deem it so. This “friend” who had known me almost for a decade, did not know me enough to know that I don’t throw “race” or “racism” around the way a teenager uses the word “like” or “c’mon”. There is no “race card” and when I use the word, I actually DO know the definition and I can accurately point to the reason I use it. (I live and breathe “communications” and words “matter” a great deal to me so I use them rightfully and truthfully, always.)

This person, who up to then had been what I had hoped to be a true friend, did what people do to people of color every time they experience racism (even when they have videotape and documentation): they quickly work to find ways to invalidate your experience. It’s suddenly everything BUT racism.

Listen, if I tell you the sky is blue, you don’t go outside and look at the sky or check Weather.com, you believe me. You take my word for it. Why can’t you afford me the same benefit of the doubt, here? I will never forget when one of my “friends” asked me to “prove” someone has been racist to me online. When I showed him a screenshot, all he could say was, “oh, sorry.” I actually have to say, the online taunt didn’t hurt half as bad as having to sit there and prove it happened to someone who supposedly cared for me.

To rub more salt in the wounds, the day after the election, another “friend” commenced with the idea that many of us were being “hysterical”, that we were not going to enter into some Nazi state. I wonder if that “friend” has been watching the news for the past few months, I wonder if that former “friend” cares about the fact that his friends of color are being called every dirty name in the book, that I’ve had my Facebook inbox hacked by Stormfront, that a profile pic with my child in it made someone on Facebook call her a “half-breed” and me and my husband “race-traitors”. Yes, all of this happened. Not to that random Black person down the street. Me. You know…your “friend?”

I think many will read this blog post and think that I’ve gone too far and said too much. Here’s my thought to that: If me “talking” about racism is painful for you to hear, via this blog post or in person, how do you think I feel about living in it?

Unlike Justin Bieber, I won’t be providing a mea culpa here.

Sorry not sorry. EVER.

Amen.

“Where ARE the keys, Rose?”” – “Get Out” Movie Disrupts Genre, Race and How We All [Should] View Movies

Along with being science fiction’s #1 fan, I have been a horror movie junkie since my first jump-scare at 8 years old watching “Alien” on the carpet of my childhood home. (Don’t blame my parents — cable late at night, plus remote made it accessible). I am the girl who watches first from behind a blanket, then through her fingers, then with mouth agape at the screen. I love the feel of adrenaline that courses through my veins, how my hair stands on end, how sight and sound become more acute as I find myself fearing for my life along with whatever hero or heroine is trying to stay alive on screen (at least until the credits.)

So, when I first heard about “Get Out” coming to theaters, a movie that would match both the glory of classic horror films with issues of race, all I could think was:

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I was a little apprehensive though as I knew I would be taking my  husband to see it. Would he actually want to see a film, cloaked in horror, but actually a pretty subversive AND direct call out to racial politics in America? To my delight, he was more than intrigued and signed us up for luxury seating and dinner at the Super Lux this weekend!

I saw the film Saturday and there’s SO MUCH to unpack I kind of feel like I came back from a two week vacation, and planned to throw everything in that luggage in the closet until I was ready for the next one. But, as “Get Out” so nicely puts in, our demons hate the darkness and they beg us to confront them or unleash them. So, here goes, boys and ghouls. By the way, if it wasn’t clear at the beginning of this review, this might apply:

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So for the uninitiated, here’s the premise of “Get Out”: Young, Black man, Chris is dating his girlfriend, Rose, who is White, and must face the first “real” horror of the film together: the always dreaded first meeting of your significant other’s parents.

Now, for those of us people of color who have dated inter-racially, I can tell you I’ve experienced everything from the humorous [“Oh, [White boyfriend’s mother at the time], I didn’t know your girlfriend was black, she’s lovely”] to the not so subtle and not so nice, “Parents like you enough, but I don’t think they are comfortable with me dating someone like you.” *which is really code for I’m not comfortable dating someone “like you.” But I digress… Chris and Rose make the pilgrimage to an unnamed, rural [no one around] affluent suburbia for a weekend with Rose’s family and well, all hell breaks loose:

I’m not going to give away too much here because I really want to encourage people to see the film, but I wanted to share a few insights about the film and the watching of films like this in general:

  1. Watching films about racism with a multiracial audience: As many people know, I love movies, and I particularly love the experience of watching blockbuster films with audiences as I think it helps heighten the experience. One thing I noticed right away as we entered the sold out theater for this film was that it was filled with both millennials and the over-50 crowd. It was also filled with more interracial couples than I’ve seen walking the streets of Boston in a single day. It’s intriguing to think about all the car rides home that night — what kind of conversations about race would these couples now have with “Get Out” as their common language? I can say for myself that the car ride home with the husband, vibrant, eye-opening and perhaps making me love him more, hopeful. And speaking of varied perspectives…
  2. W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass (you know, the guys that neither Betty DeVos, the Department of Education, or Trump could either spell their name correctly or attribute accurately to any of their MANY accomplishments), often wrote of the “double consciousness” of African American people and of the way we often will write and speak to “two” audiences at the same time: White and Black America. This film does this without even trying to hide it. From the first scene, as I told my husband on the car ride home, Peele speaks to the common occurrence of being the only person of color in a situation and knowing immediately that if your “Spidey Senses” start tingling, trust those instincts and get the heck out of Dodge. I won’t ruin the scene, but as I glanced around the darkness of the theater, I noticed White people laughing *as they should (scene was comic gold), and black people like me clutching their armrests a little too tightly. From Chris’ friend the TSA agent whose performance offers much-needed comic relief, to Chris’ attempts to connect with the house staff , to trying to explain his feelings about the house to his girlfriend, Rose, there were so many times I think the writer AND director, Jordan Peele, wanted people of color to see themselves realistically reflected back on the screen and he succeeds — often. To be able to make a film that speaks eloquently and in full fluency to two audiences — at the exact same time –is a sign of true directorial talent.
  3. Movies are meant to be forums of self-reflection. And this movie is going to hypnotize you and take you to the “sunken place” whether you want to go there or not. Exposed and on display are not only the direct, in your face racism that we all know of, but the lurking, ever-present, silently hostile “subtlety” of racism, which many of us experience but swallow it down whole, trying not to choke on it. You may have either participated in it, dealt it or been on the sharp end of it — either way, you will see yourself reflected on the screen and no matter where you sit it’s going to feel mighty uncomfortable. Which may be why the  “horror” genre is married so well to this film — you’re already prepared to be frightened and made to feel exposed and frightened. Why not throw in a little nuanced perspective on race while you’re at?
  4. 4. Trust no one. Not even yourself. I think the main character, Chris, was saying this to himself all throughout the film. There’s a lot going around on the Internet about the writer/director’s feelings about interracial couples, racism or White people. I’m not going to write about that now…I think more people need to see the film themselves and then we can dig deeper on those themes (if you really want to discuss email me or IM me on Facebook ). I think what I will say is go in trusting no one (not the lead character, or anyone else for that matter) and make an effort, if you can, not to trust yourself. What I mean to say is if you can, for   2+ hours, don’t trust the short-hand, stereotypes and assumptions you may have about race when you think about it. It’s impossible to go into anything “clean slate” but I would say I’m asking you to make yourself as vulnerable as possible to seeing the world through a lens you’ve never considered before. If you do, I promise this film with not only NOT disappoint you but could — and I’m not punning here — save a life or two.

I have more to “unpack” but have you seen “Get Out?” Leave me a comment and let’s discuss!

Tipping the scales: A letter to my outer/inner fat girl, two decades of love lost and most definitely found – Part One

Hey Girl:

What do these numbers mean to you?

164. 280. 360. 188. 383.

chandra-pic4To me, to us, it’s meant the difference of being the girl rarely picked at the dance, but the same girl who showed no shame and grabbed the hand of the cutest boy in class and made him dance with me. It’s meant taking the torment of bullies, from elementary through even grad school, but also having both the physical and emotional “girth” to make most bullies too afraid to try me a second time. It’s meant being the “fat friend” and the “side kick” to the really attractive (thin) friends when at my highest, but also being the one guys easily approached, the one whom often went from “friend” to “girlfriend”, the one whom guys would say often, “there’s something special there, I just needed the time to see the woman behind the weight.”

Because let’s be honest. Did the weight really hold me back from life? No. Not really. I fell in love (and got loved back) often, I traveled and lived abroad, I made my mark in my career and made more friendships than I knew what to do with. If it held me back, it was most often when I thought I somehow deserved less (like from romantic partners or employers), or when I physically could feel the weight of my body preventing me from enjoying the physical things I loved to do.

Today marks a new chapter in our lives. After two decades of seeing the scales dip as low as 160 lbs and rise as high  as 383, after losing weight through every modern method imaginable, from excessive exercising, to finally gastric bypass in 2007, we are going to give this body one more “alteration”.

 

In a few hours, I will lose a piece of myself that while I felt I had made peace with, I realize I haven’t. My belly and butt. Oh, yes. I’ll be the first on the dance floor when “Baby’s Got Back” comes on or have “Brick House” as my ringtone, but while I’ve equally loved my womanly curves, I’ve hated the pain of the hanging girdle of skin as I work out on my elliptical machine, or never seeing the results from constant weight lifting and exercising in my legs and stomach that I admire now in the results of my shoulders and arms. (I got guns, ya’ll!)  If you don’t know, I’m a gym rat to the tee, and I look forward to going to the gym the way 21 years olds look forward to hitting the bar on Friday nights. And frankly, that’s how I treat the gym: Dancing on the elliptical to the latest Drake or doing 50 squats while dancing to Rhianna is my personal church and I worship as often as I can.

chandra-pic3I debated with myself whether I would be honest with people that I was planning on having “plastic surgery” or a tummy tuck. There’s something about those words that cause people to automatically think of your vanity, think “you don’t need it”, or that you don’t love yourself. Someone actually said to me the other day, “doesn’t that go against your body positive philosophy? How can you do that to yourself and really say all bodies are beautiful if you’re doing this to alter yours?”

For me, the answer is simple. Yes, I really do believe every body is beautiful, and my body has been beautiful at 280 lbs when I carried my daughter, it’s been beautiful at 160 lbs when I graduated from college,  and it’s beautiful now. To me, the most important part of that statement is it really is “my body”. It’s mine to treat like a temple, to feed well, to maintain its health, to make happy and to define what makes it beautiful, and that is always revolving. Tummy tuck or not, complete with its pain and its scaring, doesn’t mean either that I’m taking some easy way out. Like gastric bypass, there are more downsides and more work involved than most people know and the reality is I see a lifetime of working out hard and often to maintain results ahead of me.

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As women, we need to learn that we are our best gauge for what makes us healthy and what makes us beautiful. And perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned, having been so many different shapes and sizes over my lifetime, is your truest self, what defines your soul, what someone falls in love with, what YOU should be falling in love with daily and often, your essence is truly a work of art. Nothing you could do to yourself on the outside can truly affect or change that. 

So as the hours tic by and I prepare myself for a day of surgery ahead, I can’t help but rub my belly and hips and smile. I thank my hips for being able to sway and wiggle when salsa dancing with my husband, I thank my belly for the way it feels when I laugh, for being able to watch it expand and house my daughter for nine months.

This is a body that has a good story to tell, and it looks forward to sharing more tales…

 

What your friends of color won’t tell you, but I will – Part 2: America, the beautiful? All the time?

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It’s the start of a new school year which always gets me thinking back to my years at Edward Devotion in Brookline, Mass.

Perhaps one of the most powerful moments of my life happened during a history course in the fourth grade.

I remember our teacher asking us to pull out our textbook to Chapter 4. Chapter Titled:  Slavery.

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I remember at that exact second as I turned to the page, seeing men and women who looked like me, naked, with chains around their necks and feet, lashes on their backs, babies crying in their mother’s arms as white, genial men pointed and gawked, something shifted, something “broke: within me: the moment I ceased being just a happy, 4th grader to someone who felt like God had pulled the rug from under me and leaned down to my ear to say, “you, and people like you are/were nothing. Animals. Cattel. On this soil. On this land.”

See, slaves aren’t just these people that occurred in history to me. They aren’t abstract  – they are our family. They are  our great great grandmother’s whose recipes we pass down generation after generation. Our great great great grandfather, son of his master, whose songs we still sing. They are just as much real as the immigrants whom we idolize and treasure, who passed Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on their way from Europe.

download28I have to think, for many children of color in this country, this is a recurring milestone. Like your first kiss, the first time behind the wheel, first missed curfew, so many of us remember this moment as clear as yesterday.

Perhaps this happens as well to my Japanese friends when they learn about the US internment camps of the 1940s or my Jewish loved ones when they first heard about the Holocaust  (or how the United States was aware of the perpetuation of evil by the Third Reich). Your world at that moment becomes colored (no pun intended) in truths that make everything around you slightly tainted, slightly false.

Which is why I understand why Colin Kapernick and so many athletes are taking a knee, opting not to sing along or stand for the flag. After so many men and women have been gunned down by police over the past few years, after listening to the stories my father told me of his time in the military during the Korean War and the level of bigotry and discrimination he faced not from combatants but his own platoon, his own government, after seeing how cops in Boston went on a rampage, arresting every man of color they could find during the days of the Stewart murder, only to find the husband did it, and so many other moments in this country I have no space to write, I have to say I truly get it.

So, how do I then stand for a flag, or sing a song written by a slave owner, and be “proud” of my Americaness? For me, I stand for a flag and sing an anthem about an America that has not yet come to pass – one who lives up to its creed of equality for all men and women, an America at its ideal self, a future state. Trust me, every time I am confronted by the anthem, I have to reexamine exactly how I feel about it, about America, at that exact moment in time…and it is constantly fluctuating.

I live in a world now where I told my White husband as we traveled down South on vacation to Virginia not to stop until we got to the Chesapeake Bridge and to make sure he drove the speed limit. Not because of traffic safety, but because I worried with a black wife, mother in law and biracial child in tow, we might not make it home on a “routine stop” by an officer, or if we had to break down next to one of the many homes proudly displaying a confederate flag AND Trump poster on their front lawn.

We live in a world where I am being told by some of “you” who call yourselves “friends” that I “take these issues too close to heart” and that these things would never happen to “me” or my daughter. Seriously, what makes ME so special? And what protects those whom I love? Like my brothers, nephews, friends who are men of color? What about my sister-in-law, my aunts, my girlfriends? I can’t afford not to think of these themes if I want to protect them.

We also live in a world now where I am hearing, “don’t be so mean to those racists.” Yes, I have actually heard this from friends and family. “Have sympathy. Think of Dr. King” and turn the cheek. I am all for loving every human being, flawed and all, but you’re asking me to be “OK” and to not engage and not to inform and fight against bigotry or racism. There are two things here that bother me: 1. You apparently, like Jon Snow, know nothing about me. 2. When did being a bigot start getting a pass? When did we start patting racists, anti-Semites and homophobes on their heads and say, “there, there…one day you’ll learn…?” That is not how you educate. That is now how change happens or has happened in the past. You don’t condone poor behavior. You acknowledge it, you educate, you redirect, and you correct it.

If you think kneeling at a football game is “inappropriate” protest, or marching in the streets against violence is “inappropriate” protest, then you probably think this is too:

 

In short, if seeing people of color take a knee at a game, not place their hands on their hearts or sing along with you to the national anthem makes you uncomfortable, you’re not paying any attention to the message, you’re paying too much attention to the messenger.

langstonhuges_newbioimageLangston Hughes, one of the most prolific African-American poets of the 20th century, wrote everything I feel about America of yesterday, today and our future:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)...
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again...

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be...

Please read the entire poem here sometime and think of it often. Perhaps consider it as your friends of color stay seated or silent during the next raising of the flag or singing of the anthem.

 

 

 

What your friends of color won’t tell you to your face – but I will (Part 1)

Perhaps it would be good here to start with where the name of this blog, “Tales From Your One Black Friend” originated from:

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College experiences 101: Experience your “first kegger” right before your “first sit-in.”

For the majority of my life, I have spent most of my time in predominately white communities. Whether it was growing up as a METCO student in Brookline, Mass.; getting my bachelor’s at the University of New Hampshire, or working at some of the most important health and academic institutions in Massachusetts, I’ve often been either been one of few or the only Black person or person of color, period.

I know for many of my friends, I was the first and sometimes the only Black person they were more than acquaintances with. For many I was the first (and only) woman of color they ever kissed or dated. I was and continue to be the only Black person at the Doobie Brothers concert, or the only person of color at the pool party, your wedding, your child’s birthday party, etc. It’s a world I’m inhabited so long, I feel like I’ve been gifted a special view into a world so few have visited.

This makes me also want to “give back” and help those who have not lived a life in diverse communities or around people of color (black, Asian, Latino, etc.) and provide some insight that might be helpful. So there are two things that are currently on my mind that I feel I must be vocal on, one that means a lot to me (personally) this summer…the other, that means a lot to the world.

I know it’s pretty…but PLEASE, for the love all things holy…don’t touch my  hair without asking.

Let me bring you back to May 1999. I’m excited to be graduating the University of New Hampshire (as one of 12 black females on a campus of 12,000 students for four years) and I’m selling my last textbook back at the college bookstore. Ready to accept $10 back on my Computer Science textbook that originally cost $95, I feel this very strong pull on my single braids.

For those who don’t know what single braids are, see below:

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I immediately turned around, thinking I had caught them again on something when I turned to a random woman, two handedly rubbing up and down one of my braids, still attached to my head (thankfully). Now, anyone who remembers me during these four years knows the kind of stuff I dealt with as a person of color at UNH (another day, a different blog entry) but will know by the end of my four years, I was ready to #GTFO out Durham, NH.

Without a breathe, I quickly pulled my braid back from her and said, “Slavery ended in 1865. This hair and me are not on display. Please don’t touch me, I don’t know you.” auction21

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And you want to touch MY hair? ‘Bye, Felicia…

Now, I admit that this may come off a little rough, but remember: I don’t know this person and she is touching my body. Yes, it’s an extension (e.g. fake hair) and didn’t grow directly from my body, but I wouldn’t want some stranger coming up and grabbing my jeans, shirt, or bra either. Where have those hands been??

I remember she started to tear up, obviously ashamed of what she did, and I of course explained to her, that I “didn’t mean to be harsh” as much as she “didn’t mean” to put her hands on a stranger’s body (although, I’m pretty sure it’s been part of early childhood learning, since FOREVER that one shouldn’t invade someone’s personal space by putting their hands on anyone, without asking. )

Listen, the summer is upon us again, and my hair will again go through many transitions and styles, as is my way to #slayintheheat. Keep in mind: My husband got to second base before he touched my hair. If we don’t have that level of intimacy, just keep your (unclean) hands to yourself, please. Or at least ASK me first.

“So you’re planning to vote in Trump as President of the United States of America…”

When you like Trump, here’s a list of things that go through my head:

  • When and how did WE become friends?
    Do I only know you through my husband or a friend of a friend, or have we actually spent time in one another’s company on multiple occasions? There’s a significant difference in Facebook friendship vs. real life friendship. I’m like Chris Rock on this:
    “There’s a new app that tells you which ones of your friends are racist. . .its called Facebook.”
  • Are you a racist? Are you a bigot? How the hell did I miss the signs?
    See, I take those quotes about “Be careful of the company you keep” or “If you lie with dogs, you get fleas” to heart. If you surround yourself with bigots, homophobes and misogynists, if you quote or re-tweet from White supremacists groups, if you vote for someone who blatantly says the following: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Or can’t “disavow” strongly, truly and without wavering the support of the Klan or David Duke, if you think our current president, Barack Hussein Obama, is not an American citizen, even after you’ve seen his short and long form birth certificate, there’s a great chance I think you’re racist, or at least a little bit bigoted or a lil’ bit prejudice and yes, I’m making the following face when I think about you:
  • Why are you so closeted about your presidential choice?
    Isn’t it weird to feel so strongly about someone and not feel comfortable saying so or defending their words and ideas? I’m only saying if you are a true believer or supporter, you should speak freely. So, go ahead: Wear the t-shirt, post the bumper sticker, put the sign in the yard and wear that red hat.Otherwise, I’m wondering what about your candidate makes you, in short, feel too ashamed to proclaim him.
  • Lastly, what do you REALLY think about me, my family, or my child?
    Since having my daughter, I have to say my vision of the world has become even clearer. Everything I do, from my career to who I choose to spend my time with or call “friend” is determined by how I think it will ultimately affect my child. If I think you hold ANY bigoted, racist, ignorant thoughts about ANY group you should just assume you won’t be spending a lot of time with me or my family. I hear you… you like the fact Trump “speaks his mind” and “isn’t politically correct.” That’s cool, but does that mean you’ve been holding back your true feelings, thoughts and opinions from me? Baring the fact that the man speaks only opinion and rarely ever fact, what kind of friend then are you to me if you’re not honest? And more importantly, what are you really thinking or saying behind my back when I leave the room?

While I am optimistic that this election, this year and more importantly, this wonderful country will see positive change, there is a fear in my gut that many friendships will be tested and perhaps ended when November comes to pass. I guess when I pull that level in November, I will be revisiting my friends list, both on and offline.

— CC —

 

 

 

 

 

I’m “colorblind” and other stories we tell ourselves

Once upon a time….

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Ah, fairy tales. I was once a sucker for fairy tales. Growing up, you could always catch me head down and enveloped in a book. Before “Lord of the Rings,” there was Sleeping Beauty, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears and Snow White. Like my daughter, I wasn’t going to bed until I begged for Just. One. More. Story.

ab1dbb12f5d3dfa3fd10df64bb14572cI noticed it pretty early in my childhood that none of these stories had anyone that looked remotely like me. Remember, this is the early ’80s and we still only had “Fat Albert” and that solitary one black character on every Saturday morning cartoon who seemed to get about 2 minutes worth of screen time. Unlike today where I can find every ethnicity and hue of skin Barbie Doll at the toy store, I was lucky if there was one Barbie or Cabbage Patch Doll at my local toy store that my parents didn’t have to drive to several stores to find (also pre-Internet and Amazon). As a black child who went to a predominately white suburban elementary, I was lucky there were a few teachers and students of color to help me feel less “other.” And where books hadn’t quite caught up to the fact that our school and world was diversifying, I thanked God for “The Cosby Show”, “A Different World”, and eventually, “Living Single.”

This also makes me think of growing up and all the ways I’ve heard people talk about race, or rather didn’t. There’s a lot of storytelling going on, and frankly, none of it is good or apparently working for any of us.

See if any of these phrases have ever passed your lips or been heard in recent discussion:

“There is but one race — the human race.”

racism-there20is20only20one20race20the20human20race

Where does one begin with this?

From a biological understanding, without question, race is a construct. Less than .01 percent of your DNA is responsible for the phenotype that reflect your outer appearance and what “racial demographic” you most closely resemble (hair, skin color, body and facial type).

This is a great quote to use when I’m talking to a bigot via social media who thinks I’m inferior because of my race; but when I’m talking about the ills of institutionalized racism (you know, that place where race intersects with inequality) it doesn’t render me silent or end the conversation, which I often think it’s meant to do. If nothing else, it makes me say “great, good starting place…now, let’s talk about the world, country, society we actually live with today.”

“Race is a social construct.”

You will rarely ever hear a person of color refer to race as “just a social construct.”

Yeah, we get it: Race is a made up concept for the historical oppression and control of groups of people, but to simply wish away any thing related to race or racism just mocks the truth of our experience. As I like to say, it sure would be great to say “just a social construct” when I’m followed in stores where I make more money than the security guards, or when old, White ladies grab their purses (not, Coach, like mine) thinking I’m going to steal from them. Certainly not just a construct when we are harassed or killed by police, denied housing, face inequality of healthcare, etc.. It’s a phrase, like above, that means to end a conversation but in fact, it just begs for more.

“Talking about race/racism breeds more racism. “

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“Hey girl…”

If talking about something often would mean it would help proliferate more of it, why has this not been the case for speaking about love or honesty or more peace? Given how often I speak about Game of Thrones, I should be married to Jon Snow and have a dire-wolf named Ghost, based on this [very] illogical thinking.

Truly, the problem is we DON’T talk about race or racism enough. Think about it: Other than MLK Jr.’s birthday, a few days in February, or some national racial incident, the collective “we”, meaning people of color and White Americans rarely have conversations about race together, in a way that is constructive, healing, and educational. We don’t know how, and we’re frankly too scared to do it.

“I don’t see your color.”/”I’m color-blind”/”I don’t see race”

A few years ago, a work friend brought his adorable young children in to visit the office. One of them, adorably came over to my desk and introduced herself to me. She drew a picture of herself, her siblings, and a big, brown head stick figure representing me. She proceeded to tell her father and I, “See, you are the brown one?” I nodded, pleased and happy to have been included in her painting, while I saw her father/my friend look a little red from what seemed like embarrassment.

©1998  EyeWire, Inc.

I remember telling my friend, “Don’t tell her different. She has eyes and her vision. If she sees me as brown or chocolate, she’s not wrong.” I then proceeded to tell him that I think we raise more conscious children when we don’t negate truths. People with brown skin exist. People who are shorter, or fatter than you exist — it’s how you value that difference that matters.

Do you make fun of, do you point, glare, or say disparaging things about people who look a certain way? Check yourself: Are you showing rather than “telling” your children that differences are to be feared, mocked, or thought of as “less-than?” This is what bothers me when someone uses the word  “colorblind”: You’re on the right path of seeing people as individuals, but saying “I don’t see your race”sounds more like I see you as an individual “despite of your race,” as if my race, ethnicity or culture aren’t just irrelevant, they are negatives. By ignoring race completely, you deny me a part of my story, part of the DNA that makes me who I am, part of my “truth”and experience, both culturally and historically. And see how I said “part” not entirety of what makes me, “me?”

Recently my bi-racial daughter has taken to saying my husband’s blue eyes are “blueberry” color and mine and hers are “chocolate.” She likes chocolate and blueberries, equally.I couldn’t think of a better combination and a great way to explain difference.

Anybody else suddenly thinking of pancakes?

 

 

 

Time Traveling While Black #TTWB

So, truth be told, I’m a geek.

I have not one, but two Dr. Who Tardis banks and three Game of Thrones bobble-head characters on my work desk. I’ve read Lord of the Rings, Outlander, all of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter books and I truly believe that Stephen King is my soulmate in another life. Aliens, alternate universes and time-travel: all possibilities in my sci-fi book.

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tumblr_nc8wcb2lk31tm4sm4o2_r1_250So the other day, while talking to one of my many friends on Facebook, the idea of time travel came up and I was so ready to jump in with my, “let’s go back to the 1700s so I can become the wife of Jamie Fraser and have lots of Scottish babies,” when I realized I needed to rethink this: Am I going back in this body? Would I really want to go back ANYWHERE in the 1700s as a Black person?

Make America Great Again.”

I keep hearing this refrain and keep asking the same question: If you’re African American, and your family traces back to the first group of slaves brought to the Carolinian and Virginian shores (in the 1600s), what era in American history are you looking back to as “great?” Livable, surely. But “full of hope, opportunity, and personal freedom” great?

Let’s review, shall we?

1629 – The first enslaved Africans arrive in what is now Connecticut.  [Nope, don’t want to be one of the firsts, thank you very much.]

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This ain’t “The Love Boat” or Ellis Island:                                                                                           Illustration of the slave holds during Middle Passage. 

1629 – 1863 – Hmmm…over 200 years of lawful (Constitution-approved and sanctioned) slavery. [Nah…I’m gonna pass.]

1866 – 1875 – For a short period, we’re allowed a little bit of representation in government, but…”Birth of Nation” Klu Klux Klan is born. [Nah, will pass on the lynching and government sanctioned raping and pillaging, no access to jobs or due process, thanks!]

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1876 – 1965 – Jim Crow lives and breathes. “Separate but equal” in education, politics, employment, healthcare…you name it, if you’re Black you’re not doing it. Oh, but you might have fought in WW2 (you’ll be denied the pleasures of the GI Bill when you get home) or the Korean War, like my father (where you’ll come home to Jim Crow). Maybe the last decade I’d consider, so I could be a part of the Civil Rights Movement…but to face water cannons, dogs, Bull Connor, loss jobs, not able to marry my husband (damn those miscegenation laws)..Pass on this one too…

1965 – 1968 – Possible, until April 4, 1968 (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated). The world burns…[Not my cup of tea — #Pass]

1968 – 1990 – “Affordable Housing Units” means the rise of slums, crack cocaine, and gang violence. Not to mention we watch Rodney King brutalized on LA’s streets, followed by riots, and OJ Simpson…well, at least the music was good. #Pass

1990- Present: No need to time travel…we’re already HERE. We get Beyonce, a Black storm trooper in Star Wars, #Richonne, and all the Shonda Rhimes we can get, plus Oprah. #Staying_Put.

I ask the question again, “which era was America great…for ALL of us?” Seems like if it’s not about ALL of us, then it’s just for some. Which is not too American, and certainly not “great.”

 

Trigger Warning: Some of this you won’t want to hear, but you need to

Dear friends,

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up the [electronic] pen and put thoughts on “paper.” but I’ve felt pretty compelled as of late.

I’ve tried numerous times to write these thoughts on Facebook, but either my brief posts get delayed and lost in the din of cat photos and birth announcements, or they are frankly ignored. So today, I’m kicking off a blog to speak on the issues that plague my thoughts.

So fair warning. We are going to talk about race. No. We’re going to talk about racism and race politics and history. You are going to read opinions that are strictly my own (unless there’s a guest commentator here or there) and some of it, depending on where you sit, will make you squirm, question, dislike, hate, appreciate or abhor. Some of it may surprise you and question your relationship with me and I understand that. I hope my words are clear and my points clearer so that you at least understand in full my point of view.

Whatever your reaction, if you’re reading this blog, you either (1) want to hear MY perspective or (2) are interested in the subject matter. I hope you take everything with a “grain of salt” and find yourself in a place of discomfort from time to time. That, my friends, is what happens when a real conversation on race occurs. No one comes out unsullied, unprovoked, or unchallenged. Perhaps you’ll have a new perspective or perhaps you’ll feel even more secure in your beliefs, but you will THINK.

So, pony up, boys and girls. Can’t promise a “fun” ride but enlightenment and thought-provoking is the aim.

Namaste. Let’s get to work!

– CC

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