Jon Stewart is My Bae. Jesse Williams Too.

As always, Jon Stewart’s brilliance breaks it down for those who just aren’t getting it. I’ve loved him for so long, but after this, he’s officially my bae.

So is Jesse Williams.

A Matter of Race (Jesse on CNN talking about Mike Brown)

Now What?

Not guilty.

Now what? What do we do now? Where do we turn? Who do we turn to, except each other to grieve and travail as despair and fear grip our souls mamas?

What do we do women of color? Jim Crow’s ghost is laughing at us, reminding us yet again that it is a crime for our men to even exist, reminding us yet again that ever since they were first chained to ships bound for these shores, our men are not worthy of life and freedom.

Black & brown manhood has once again been demonized, criminalized, and deemed a threat to humanity, and allowed to be stalked and hunted like prey by predators blinded by fear, insecurity and delusion.

Profiled in broad daylight.

Hunted in the dark.

Statistics.

Killed by them and by each other. Every. Day. By the hundreds.

What do we do now? What do we tell our babies? How do we raise our sons? How do we dress them? Where can we send them to keep them safe from urban violence and from the suburban neighborhood watchman with a gun?

What is enough? Education? Income? Manners? No…seems like it was for awhile but that got ripped from us tonight. Again.

How do we change the system if we can’t become it because they’re closing our schools and putting our men in prison? How do we fight systemic legal and cultural oppression?

When will our voice be heard? How much longer do we have to go on killing ourselves everyday? How many more of our futures must be killed and destroyed by violence? By systemic and cultural oppression?

When will our anger be deemed righteous and worthy enough to receive and initiate effective change for ourselves and our men? Our baby boys?

Not guilty. What do we DO now? Except hold our sons and feel the crushing weight of guilt for bringing them into a world & society that doesn’t value their personhood shatter our hearts?

I am a wailing woman tonight. A woman travailing in despair for the lives of brown boys and brown men in this country. For my sons. For my husband. For my brother. For your men, your sons.

What do we do? What do we tell them to encourage them to be who they are when who they are is on trial every day? Misunderstood, demonized, criticized, devalued, and dehumanized on a daily basis?

What do we do besides hold our babies tonight and feel hopeless and terrified to send them out into the world and see pain and maybe death too soon in their future?

How do we fight? Where do we fight? WHO do we fight? When will our fight for them and their fight for themselves matter?

When will brown men and brown people matter in this country? We haven’t since Columbus set foot on this continent. We have been fighting genocide and for our existence for that long. When will the fight for survival end?

A brown man can be sent to jail for fighting and killing dogs. But if he fights for his life after he’s stalked and confronted? He goes on trial for his own death and his killer is handed the gun that ended his life as he goes home. Free.

Not guilty.

What do we do?

America’s Not Here for Us

“Mom-are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African-Americans?”

Brennan asked me this last week while driving home. A few days before while shopping in HEB, he asked me questions about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the Civil War, why “brown” people were slaves…the same questions he’s been asking me since he learned about all of this and Martin Luther King Jr in kindergarten this year. In the store, I answered them as best I could, bearing in mind to keep it age appropriate, yet honest. I don’t believe in glossing over or hiding history from my kids or relying on the public education system to tell one version of it.

However when he asked me in the car if we were still slaves, if people still hated us, I faltered. The only immediate response I had for him was “let’s talk about this later with Bertski, ok? I think we should talk about it together, alright?” He agreed and went back to watching Fantastic Four, going back to being the innocent 6-year-old boy I wish he could always be but know he’ll grow out of.

I faltered at answering his questions because they caught me between two parts of myself that both bear a particular responsibility. As his mother, I carry the responsibility of trying to keep him as innocent, carefree, and sheltered as possible while encouraging him to grow into who he is, be inclusive with others, and have some responsibility for how he carries himself and interacts with the world around him. I want him to enjoy the freedom that comes with being a child…yet teach him what he needs to know about the world around him in stages of understanding that aren’t marred by the ugliness that can come with increased knowledge about the world he lives in and life in general.

But as a woman of color raising an African-American son who has a Puerto-Rican stepfather and half-Puerto-Rican brother, I (and my husband) also bear the responsibility of teaching him about things like racism, white privilege, equality, how black and other brown men have been and still are perceived in American society, and really just about being a person of color PERIOD in the United States of America. I have to explain to him why “peach” people think he looks suspicious even though he might be doing the same exact thing they are-walking through a neighborhood, shopping in a store, hanging out with a group of his friends, wearing his favorite hoodie.

As a mother I have to worry about my child’s quality of life, his education, his growth as an individual, how he treats others, help him shape a worldview that is hopefully inclusive, healthy, well-rounded, educated, rooted in morality…I have to help him navigate the nuances of engaging with the world around him and the people in it, the ups and downs of life, and everything that comes with being a man. But as the mother of a brown boy in the United States of America in 2013, I also have to worry about how to keep him out of prison, where a disproportionate amount of black and brown males are sent to and reside these days, more so than their white counterparts. I have to worry about him walking down the street or driving in his car and being profiled simply because he is a black male. I have to teach him how to carry himself, talk and express who he is in a certain way so that he’s not viewed as “threatening,” “a thug” “a criminal”….”an animal” even.

I have to teach him how to work that much harder than his peers just so he can *maybe* stand a chance at having the same benefits they do. I have to teach him that he can be more than an athlete, a rapper, or some other occupation white people have deemed “ok” for brown people to succeed in. I have to teach him that even if he became the President of our United States, he’d still have to prove himself worthy, articulate, capable, and not some terrorist hell-bent on destroying the country. I have to basically teach him that when he’s done his very best, to dig deeper and push harder to do even better because our society (unfairly) demands he be more than just a human being like his white friends. I have to make him aware of how our society views him, but still encourage him to not let this societal perspective define him and who he wants to be as a man and a citizen of this country.

I have to teach him that because he is not “peach” others will deem him unworthy and dismiss him just by looking upon his face; that they will still feel they have the right to call him a nigger because “that’s how they were raised,” they “don’t mean any harm by it,” their black friend says “nigga” and Jay Z & Kanye have a song called “Niggas in Paris.”

I have to teach him that people will often not see him at first-they will see a preconceived, stereotyped version of him that has been engraved upon their consciousness by their culture, the media, and sadly, even those who “look like” him. I will have to encourage him to remember that although white folks have always been taught on some level that black & brown people are inherently, at their core, evil, bad, incapable of being good, lack value, and lack intelligence that he is NONE of those things. I will have to constantly remind him that no matter what is said, what laws are enacted, no matter how many jobs or promotions he’s denied, he DOES indeed have rights, he IS more than a stereotype and is not less than his boss, his friend, his classmate…

***********

I thought about all of this as I sat in the shower this morning, hot water mixing in with the tears streaming down my face, my heart heavy. I thought about his questions to me last week, and whispered, “Yes-yes we ARE still slaves and yes, people do still hate us, my son…even our own people are still oppressed with the self-hate fostered in us when we were just property.” In 2013, 40+ years after desegregation and Martin Luther King Jr’s speech on Washington’s monument, we. are. still. slaves. We are free, yes, and slavery is illegal…an amendment in the Constitution says so. But systematically? In people’s minds? In our OWN minds as people of color? No….we are far from free. No we are not free, and since Obama started his run for office back in 2007, the hate for the color of our skin and our culture has been getting louder, bolder, and more vile than I can remember hearing and experiencing growing up. Yes. We ARE still hated, still thought of as less than human.

As my heart weighed heavy with this answer, the thought that came next was “I’m brown. I am a woman. America’s not here for me. I have brown sons, a brown husband. America’s not here for them either.”

Somehow, in 2013, America is still not here for people of color. For men of color. And for women of color? Well…“For some folks being black and being a woman makes us less of both.” –A Letter to Rachel Jeanteal (Note: You WANT to read this….and this.)

**********

America isn’t here for me and my family because our skin is brown and we are a mixed multi-cultural family. Response to Cheerios latest commercial is just ONE of the recent events to reinforce this belief for me. Add SCOTUS’ gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the defense of Paula Deen’s use of racist language, her blind eye to discrimination and harassment in her own establishments, and the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial to the equation and that’s what it all adds up to, doesn’t it?

So my question is this: Who IS America here for?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not you, citizen. Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, AND male, the 2013 America is not for you and is barely better than what it was in the past.

If you are poor….

If you are gay….

If you have a mental illness…

If you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or any faith other than “The Bible is the innerant and literal Word of God” Christian…

AMERICA. IS. NOT. FOR. YOU.

White, male dominated America doesn’t care about you as a human being if you’re brown or gay, and doesn’t care about your rights and freedoms to make your own choices about your body and reproductive health if you’re a woman-even a white woman.

America only stands for life…ONE kind of life. One that is privileged, entitled, elitist, and democratic only in theory.

FUCK THAT.

You want to stand for life, America? You want to stand for life American Church?

Stand and fight for the millions of children living outside of the womb who are hungry, homeless, abused, in foster care, neglected, and living below the poverty line.

You want to stand for life? Stand for the kids in Chicago, Philly, D.C. and even in rural areas where our public schools are failing and having funding ripped from them.

You want to stand for life? Then fund schools. Fund innovation and technology. Fund the arts. Supply food deserts. Fund your local food bank. Stop taking money from schools in the inner cities to build $400 million prisons. (I’m looking at you Philadelphia)

You want to stand for life? Get real about who can purchase a gun, what kind, how many, and how much ammunition they can have. Get real about gun safety and gun control. Care about violence in urban areas just as much as you do in the suburbs where you live comfortably encased in your “hard-earned” privilege.

You want to stand for life? Volunteer at a Veteran’s home, clinic, hospital or service organization. Spend some time giving back to those who sacrificed their time and lives so you can make your “stand” for life.

Want to stand for life? Man a suicide hotline.

Want to stand for life? Stop enforcing your way of life on others and allow them the same benefits and rights you enjoy. Church? We aren’t a theocratic nation-people can marry, love, and believe who and what they want.

Want to stand for life? Support SNAP benefits and your local food bank. Feed and clothe the homeless, whether you think they deserve it or not.

So you stand for life? Do you stand & vote for deep cuts to food and other welfare programs?

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Stop demanding hungry people sit through your tired ass, patronizing sermons to get the bags of food you offer every week. (I’m looking at you Black Church)

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be just as mission-minded here in our country as you are in others.

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be inclusive. Extend your outreach and support to those with mental illness. Stop the sexual and emotional abuse happening in your congregations and institutions.

Hear me: if you stand for the unborn who you claim are more worthy than the women impregnated with them and than those who are already living? If you’re an apologist for racist behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and ideals? If you aren’t here for my rights as a woman and mother of color? If you aren’t here for my mixed family who works just as hard as your privileged ass despite the systematic racism we encounter in various ways every fucking day?

Well then, I’m not here for you. Or your God, or your so-called God-blessed America.

I’m here for a much different country. Maybe I believe in a different God and perhaps I AM living in the wrong “democratic” nation. Guess I should take my black ass back to where I came from, huh?

Nivea, You Can Go Play in Traffic

WHAT were they thinking

I jumped on the computer just now to finish up a guest post for a friend. Logged into Facebook for a quick peek and saw this posted on my cousin’s wall. I’ll spare you the expletives she attached to the photo, but I’m sure you can guess what they were.

SERIOUSLY?! SERIOUSLY?! Now, this isn’t an offense to white people, I love ya’ll but I just can’t imagine any minority was sitting around the conference table when this was pitched and voted on. I just can’t. And if there were, then they should have had the balls to raise their hand, and awareness as to the bigger message being sent out here. From a branding perspective, is this the type of message you want to be sending out to your consumers? Especially your minority ones? That our “nappy, uncivilized” hair needs to be changed, altered, “tamed”, gotten rid of, “controlled” or that what God gave us is somehow undignified? Excuse me?! And what kind of message does this send to your white consumers, Nivea? I’ll tell you what it does-it keeps perpetuating the stereotypes already out there, especially in corporate America. Natural hair is unruly and unfit for the business or professional world.

Now I’m not even going to get into how this goes back to slave days when lights were preferred over darker-skinned Africans and how that began the viscious stereotypes and cycles that exist today. The stereotypes that have so many black celebrities and regular women spending thousands on hair from India in order to look “civilized.” And I won’t mention how having Rihanna look about as light and pale as your lotion in your ads promoting her song and her as your new spokesperson. I won’t get into that, I’m sure the internet is ablaze with other folks chatting about it.

I’m just here to add my gasoline laced digital voice to the online fiery backlash. Because social media gives me the power to.  I’m just here to sit in bafflement and disgust over how ignorant the group of individuals who pitched & approved this are. I’m just here to sit and watch the PR nightmare you’re in. I hope when you wake up from it, your company has learned a thing or two and reevaluates your core values & beliefs.

And Rihanna-not that I dug your music that much anyway since you decided to start oversexualizing yourself and only spoke out against domestic violence when it benefitted your album release-but now? You definitely won’t catch me buying any magazines, products or watching any media you do as long as you’re their spokesperson. Because if Nivea stands for this, and you’re okay with that….that just goes to show short you’ve really sold yourself-and your fans.

Now that my appetite has been destroyed, I think I’ll just go back to trying  to enjoy my morning with my kids….and my “uncivilized” au-natural AFRO.

Rant over.

Skin Color, Nappy Hair, & Other Black Girl Hangups

Stop.

I’m serious. Whatever it is you’re doing, STOP IT RIGHT NOW and watch the video below. DON’T skip it, glance over it, say to yourself, ‘I’ll watch this later,’ or jump past it to read the rest of this post.

Just.

STOP.

WATCH:

Now….take a couple of minutes or however long you need to and just ABSORB what you just watched…

Digest what your eyes just witnessed.

Let the pain, shame, & other emotions you just heard travel from your ears to your heart.

And if you are feeling your eyes sting & burn from the tears threatening to spill down your cheeks-

LET THEM.

I did. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stop it. The tears are flowing, and my hands are trembling as I force myself to type these words. Tears flowing for the woman who said she asked her mother to put bleach in the water, for the girl who used to scrub her face because she thought it was “dirty”, flowing in anguish for the woman who sat, with tears streaming down HER face, the betrayal & shame she feels burning in her eyes as she recalled the comment her friend made about thanking God her baby “wasn’t dark!”.

My hands are trembling in anger at the man, well, he sounds more like a boy to me, who said he would NEVER date a dark skinned girl because she “doesn’t look right next to him.” Trembling in anger at the young woman who described natural hair as “nappy” & “disgusting”, but feeling empathy for her ignorance, because, I really can’t blame her. No…I don’t blame her…

I DO blame our society & culture for her ignorance though…I blame a media and an advertising industry who has sold us their institutionalized ideals on beauty and our culture for buying them at an ever increasing rate….I place blame on celebrities who give in to the pressures & demands made by these industries and actually allow themselves to have their skin lightened (I’m looking at YOU Beyonce/Sasha Fierce/whatever you’re calling yourself these days), & have their own “nappy” hair glued/sewn down, hidden under hair from women who are paid to give it away.YUP I blame them. Why? Because they would rather give in than stand out. They would rather “play the game” to make some money than use their gifts/talents/art form to encourage young black girls to embrace who they NATURALLY are. Because looking like something you’re not, because “blending in” is trendy-yes, this is why I blame them for her ignorance.

But more importantly, I blame us. And by “us” I mean African Americans, you know, “black folk”. I blame us because celebrities wouldn’t do any of those things if we didn’t tolerate it. Better yet, MAYBE if we weren’t so hateful against ourselves our daughters wouldn’t be spending THOUSANDS of dollars on things like “Remy”, and eyelashes, and lace fronts….Maybe if we didn’t hate ourselves, the people who sell these products wouldn’t be able to capitalize off of our self-hatred & shame. Maybe all the money we spend on trying to NOT be who we are would be used instead on growing businesses in our neighborhoods, putting HEALTHY food options on the table for our kids so OBESITY wouldn’t be an epidemic, and funding the arts & other education initiatives so we could THRIVE…

But who am I to think such things? I’m just a big lipped, big nosed, black girl with “nappy” hair. My heart ACHES for the women in the above video, my face burns with the shame they feel, my eyes sting with tears over their hurt. Watching it brought an unexpected flood of memories & pain from experiences & hang ups I had growing up and sometimes still struggle with as an adult.

I’m not what black folk would consider “dark-skinned”. Despite the deeply hued melanin burned into my arms from spending hours in the sun, I’m what most black folk would consider “high yella (yellow)”. I’ve been told my skin is “so pretty because it has a nice ‘golden’ look to it, not dark like other black girls.” I’ve born witness to men breaking their necks & falling all over themselves to talk to one of my black friends-who’s skin was even lighter than mine and hair was longer than mine too. I’ve heard black men have conversations about “red bone girls” they wanted to “get it in” with and heard jokes about the ones who “look dirty” or “look like roaches” because of their pigment. But even being considered “light skinned” didn’t keep me from wishing I had long, flowing hair like the white girls in my class, or worrying that if I stayed out in the sun too long I’d “get too dark”….and it wasn’t enough to save me from developing hang ups about my complexion, hair, eyes, or anything else when it came to black folk.

My father put a relaxer in my hair before I was 5 and I vividly remember clumps of my hair washing down the bathtub’s drain…and crying because I didn’t think there’d be any left once we were done. I didn’t even know what my own hair really looked like up until about 3 1/2 years ago when I made my first attempt at going natural. I spent YEARS straightening my hair, applying the creamy crack to it the instant I saw a wave forming. I could never let my hair be “nappy”. No way! Having “beedeebees” in your “kitchen” wasn’t cute and guys (especially) black guys wouldn’t want to be with you. Straight….and LOOOONNNNNGGGG. That’s how a black girl’s hair should be-that’s what I was taught. I remember being made fun of by the boys at recess because my hair was “greasy”, fielding questions from white girls about how I “got my hair to do THAT”, and debating with black kids, especially girls,about who must have Indian in their family or be mixed because they had “good” hair. I was brought face to face and challenged with the hair ideals I had grown up with and everything I believed hair should be when I decided to do THE BIG CHOP and go natural. The first time I lasted 6 months. I started working in Corporate America and caved to the subliminal pressure to conform-hair included. Afterall, natural hair didn’t look “professional”. However in July 2009, I gave up the creamy crack, and ditched those tangled, hairy, beliefs about my hair for good. It hasn’t been easy. Seeing myself, seeing my hair in it’s unruly, wild, tightly coiled, Ima-do-what-I-want splendor took some serious getting used to, but I forced myself to embrace it this time around and the process has taught me alot about myself.

Having natural hair has taught me ALOT about people too. Especially black people. The looks I got when I first cut all my hair off are just as numerous as the ones I get now that it’s an all out ‘fro almost 2 years later. I’ve had several (black) people ask me why I don’t “do” my hair. I’ve had women say to me, “but it’s so much WORK letting your hair go like that…don’t you get tired of it being so nappy?”. I’ve even had the pleasure of numerous black men look at me and my coif disdainfully. I even had a guy in one my classes ask me “Why did you do that {to your hair} ? You used to look so pretty. Now you just look….I dunno.” My favorite reactions and the ones that anger me come from how people treat me when my hair is straight versus when it’s curly or ‘fro’d out. The minute I walk into a class, pass by a neighbor, or walk around a store with my locks straightjacketed with a flatiron, the compliments flow like the tide! I’m virtually ignored however, the minute I let it coil up….It’s amazing that my beauty is tied up in how I wear my hair….REALLY?!

To this day I can’t watch The Little Mermaid without squirming in discomfort once this guy pops up on screen:

When I was in elementary school I had a solo part in our Christmas concert, my first ever. I LOVED to sing as a kid, so I was super excited and couldn’t wait to hear how proud my dad was of me afterward. Instead of receiving praise, I was told I look like that crab pictured above. I was told that I looked like I was singing “Under the Sea” because my lips, especially my bottom lip, was so huge. I was like 17 before he stopped calling me Sebastian….or “soup coolers”. (And for the record, the only black woman my father was ever married to was my mother-he’s remarried 5 times since….so yea…imagine what THAT would do to your perception of black women) Not only did I stop singing, I began to truly hate the way I looked…

I may not be “dark” but I definitely grew up with hang ups about my complexion, my hair, my eyes…about BEING BLACK period, and it just breaks my heart to see that this is still an issue in 2011. And it angers me when I look at black, “light skinned-long haired” celebrities who reinforce the belief in our own culture that lighter & straighter is better, prettier, & more desirable. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is because we believed the “house nigga vs. field nigga” hype White folks sold us back during slavery. We bought into the idea that if you look like ’em you can “pass” and have a better life. In the generations & time that have passed since slavery, we’ve allowed shame to dictate how we feel about each other & what we teach our children about beauty.

My question is: When will it end? What will make it change? Why are we so afraid of who we are?

Watching this video really helped me see that we haven’t come as far as we thought….