Our Mental Health is on the Reservation

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As I was waking up, my Facebook newsfeed showed a CNN story that shook me to my core: Anthony Bourdain was dead at 61 from suicide.

I was emotionally sunken. I am huge Anthony Bourdain fan. I was introduced to Bourdain by Jonathan and his mom when they told me about Kitchen Confidential. When Bourdain started appearing on Top Chef, I fell in love. His gritty honesty with his way with words was amazing. What I also find amazing about him was that he was a former drug addict that turned his struggles around.

This was over ten years ago. As a thirty-six-year-old Black woman turning thirty-seven in September, with a little more experience under my belt, no matter who you are, when you are struggling with mental illness, many of us are in the fight of our lives. I should know. I struggled with severe depression since I was a teenager and anxiety later.

Combing through online news about Kate Spade, and, now Anthony Bourdain, brings up my challenges with mental illness. It is not a trigger for me to fall into a depression; yet, what it does is to make me reflect on how much our mental health is vital to our growth as developing adults. That’s right. Developing adults. Despite what science may say that your brain fully develops at whatever age, I believe that our emotional state connected with our mental state is still developing. For many of us, we have deep traumas that we have to deal with that started with our childhoods. I haven’t delved deep into Kate Spade’s or Anthony Bourdain’s life, but what I do know is that there are experiences that happen to us in younger years that shape how we live our lives going forward. It can be very difficult to live your life when you have a difficult time dealing with your trauma and not getting help with your mental illness at the same time.

I grew up a poor Black girl from Cochran, Georgia in a welfare family. When you are a kid, you don’t understand structural racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. You do not understand how it affects you because no one identifies it and explains it to you. Of course, if you grow up in a certain era and in a certain part of the country, the accessibility of knowledge can be limited. All I knew was that I was racially discriminated against by White people. All I knew was that I was catcalled by men. All I knew was other Black kids didn’t like me because they thought that I was behaving as I was White. Yet, I did not have language to describe what I was experiencing. It was until I attended college that I began learning the type of lingual discourse to use to describe my experiences. Yes, I had a lot of epiphanies while receiving a college education.

We Black folks called it lived experiences. You live your experiences. You do not theorize them because when you examine history, Black folks did not have the opportunities during the 18th and part of the 19th century to have access to education. Remember, Black slaves in the United States could not read and write; if they were caught doing it before the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction, they were beaten and/or killed. We, Black folks, have a legacy of making nothing out of something…and continue to fight to be absolutely free over our own selves. We want self-power to control our own destinies without fearing harm.

What I am saying is that when bad experiences happen to you as a child, you have no language to vocalize them even if you are telling your secrets in your journal/diary. As Black children who have been abused in many ways (sexually, physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.), we are taught in our own communities to remain silent—“forever hold your peace.” That’s right. You snitch, and you are out. Isn’t it enough that White folks keep us down? You snitch on one of your own, you are just exposing and ruining the race. If you are a Black girl/woman who snitches, you aren’t worthy of anyone’s love anymore especially when you snitch on a Black male who has caused you harm.

What I am saying is that in my world growing up, the Black code was to uphold the race. Upholding the race means never talking about or getting help for any issues that you may have. So, you are Black and you are being oppressed for that. You are female, and you are being oppressed for that. You are poor, and you are being oppressed for that. Then, you have mental illness in your family, and you can’t get help for that because A) it is taboo to say you have a mental illness or possibly saying that something is wrong with your mentally and B) there are not many resources in your small country town that can aid you in helping to diagnosis you and receive treatment for you mental illness.

So, on top of you being Black, female, poor, living in a small town, having limited resources, having mental illness, you also have to worry about being an adolescent, a teenager, and a young adult. As you navigate throughout adulthood as a Black woman, the experiences you have always trail behind you. You can try to put your traumas in a closet, but like your mental illness, it is all tied together and will manifest itself and reveal itself in a time in your life where it catches you completely off guard.

Pretty much, I thought, when I began college after graduating in May 2000, I was free from my trauma. I enjoyed my college experience, especially my first two years at MGC. It was the best time ever. I was FREE, I thought. Yet, looking back on it, I felt free. What was coming years later…I would not have even guess.

Depression and anxiety do not go away; it especially does not go away when it hasn’t been identified and treated. The first time it was identified to me was by my aunts. I knew that I had it, but like many Black folks, you deal with it internally because you have been taught to fry bigger fish. I mean if you are a Black woman…whew wee, you are worried about being Black and woman. But later, I learned that it is all tied together when it comes to identity and how structural –isms play into getting the help you need and how others look at you.

So, I kept pushing on and riding the tide, but the tide grew bigger without me really paying attention until the tide threw me off.

When I entered my relationship, that was the breaking point. The happiest time in my life became one of the most challenging times in my life. I told my partner that something was wrong. At first, he did not believe me. He just said that I was going through a rough patch. Yet, I kept telling him that something was wrong. I knew it. I needed to seek help.

Yes, I did. At the time, I was in graduate school, and I was able to seek counseling services. I had seen a family therapist when I was a kid; she had visited my family and me; it really helped. This time, I was fortunate. I saw two therapists that really helped me with my concerns. I was very fortunate that they were good therapists.

I was diagnosis that I suffered from depression and anxiety. When big life changes come, I handle my business, but I suffer internally for it. You have no idea had relieved I felt. I got confirmation that I wasn’t a freak, but I suffered from mental illnesses that runs in my family. There is hope. You can receive help.

Since then, I know how to take care of myself when big life changes come. When racism and sexism rear its ugly head and/or life changes come, I go seek therapy now. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t make me a freak. What it does is empowers me. It makes me realize that all of us who are talented, bright, glowing, effervescent stars…we have to continually seeking help even if we are in recovery or are recovered. There are times in our life where big moments happen to us, and many times, we are able to deal with them. Yet, sometimes, there are moments in our lives where we aren’t able to handle well, and we have to seek help for it.

No, it doesn’t excuse what other people have done to me. I’ve had, in the past, folks do some awful mess to me; for several months, I have suffered racism and sexism at the hands of people who were supposed to help me grow. That wasn’t my fault that they inflicted that type of pain on me. Now, I have to deal with what they done to me to make sure that I continue on a positive course in my life.

We keep saying…our mental health system is broken. Yes, we do not have even a good mental health system. We still have stigmas, and we still have people taking their lives. I know what darkness feels like. You are surrounded by it until you feel comfortable enough to take your life so you can end it. Yes, you hurt the people you left behind so much, but you are not thinking when you plan on doing it. I mean you are not really thinking about it, I believe. What I imagine is that when a person commits suicide, they are in such much pain…that they think that their loved ones are better off without them.

Although my one of my best childhood friends did not commit suicide, several years ago, he was murdered, and it left all the people that are left behind devastated. We are still recovering from it. Some of us doing better than others. I cannot imagine how family and friends deal with someone who has taken their lives because the question pops up for them…what could I have done more?

All I can say is that we have to make our mental health system better. We have to continue to keep fighting; we have to make an effort and ask about one another. I know it is hard for some of us with hermit type behavior. But we need to check on each other. We need to support each other. We need to learn about mental illness. It is a part of people’s lives. What the true stigma is…when we leave folks suffering in silence and do not provide enough resources from them to receive help, we are letting them down. A huge part of being a good neighbor, a good citizen is that we empathize with each other and take action in helping each other.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain changed the world…and so many other folks; they had success, and they took their lives. What about those of us who don’t have that, we are on the verge of taking our lives? I worry especially about my Black and Brown siblings in the world who feel so hopeless and despaired…having to deal with stereotypes about their identities like I did. I worry about Black and Brown folks who are successful like Spade and Bourdain, and they have the added on pressure of their race, gender, sexuality, etc. So much pressure in the mix of one having to deal with their mental illness can lead to fatal results as taking one’s life.

Don’t get it twisted when I say that I am very fortunate when I have received good mental health care over the years when I have sought it. Fortunate equals grace. There is a higher power that looks after me and makes sure that I am taken care of. Yet, my gut has also told me when I need help. In order for people to receive help, we have to destigmatize how we see mental illness.

Much love,
Sophia

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What Does It Mean When You Leave Your People Behind

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from Inter-American Dialogue 

 

I never really understood when Black folks said that other Black folks who left communities…never came back to where they came from to help. Now, I am understanding the gravity of this critique as it is fact backed up by narratives of what happens when folks do not return to their communities with the knowledge that they have learned to help make their communities better.

I am guilty of this crime. I grew up in Cochran, Georgia, which is in located in middle South Georgia. I disliked Cochran with a fierce determination. I was discriminated against by White people because I was not White in the community. I was ostracized by Black people because I was not Black enough in the community. Because my family was like the Breedloves in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, we were not looked upon favorably from many White and Black people. There were some Black people and White people in the community who liked us, and they helped us out when they could. Yet, my mom was very insular and did not want anyone in the town to know her business even though they saw us around town. Basically, from my younger perspective, we were treated like circus celebrities. We were the freaks of the town because we were poor and Black. Black people shunned us because they believe that we were stuck up and did not want anything to do with them.

So, once I got my ticket out of Cochran, at the age of twenty, I left the town and thought that I was free. Yet, little did I know, I wasn’t free. When you are young, you don’t see the entire picture. You only see pieces of the puzzle…and you see some of the areas of the puzzle completed. I saw one area completed where people did not like us because they thought that we acted White (my peers did). The other area that I saw was that folks were jealous of us because we were good looking people. Another area I saw was that people took advantage of us whenever they could.

What I didn’t see is the large picture. The large picture was…Cochran was like The Bottom in Sula where Black people dwell in this place that White folks look down on them on. My family was also like the Peaces. We did our own thing, but we were punished for it in some ways. Yet, in other ways, the Black community also didn’t completely disown us, either. Really looking at it, mostly, my mothers’ peers and my peers shunned us…and because of that, my mothers’ peers taught their kids to shun us as well. Again, not all of them were like this.

So, I went away, thinking that I could escape the pain Black folks caused me in Cochran. From my disdain, I thought that they hated me so bad that they left me behind because I was too different from them. Later on, when I took a Whiteness and White Privilege in America’s Education, I found out that Black folks had disdain and dislike for me because I showed White characteristics. These white characteristics, especially from my Black peers’ eyes, were to be despised because it “threw in their faces” that I didn’t want to be Black. I was shunning our Blackness because I showed White characteristics. For me to emulate White characteristics possibly made my peers felt like they were not good enough to be Black. And/Or it could have been that I was throwing Whiteness in their faces…and their thoughts were…how dare one of us take the side of those White folks who cause us oppression? Who limit our education opportunities? Who don’t see us as being competitiv? How dare that family act like they are better than us when they are poor as dirt—on welfare, nonetheless?

There is a huge miscommunication in the Black community because of this. The huge miscommunication is that we don’t get to know each other in intimate ways to understand why we act the way we do. How can Black folks do that when we still operate under a legacy of dividing and conquering our group under the system of White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy? Even reflecting on my life in Cochran, Black folks were divided because of our own branded standard of how all Black folks should act. Instead of being united in deconstructing the system of White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy…we are taught to create our own system of oppression to survey and police our own selves. We shut out Black members from our Black community because they don’t meet the qualifications of class, sexuality, and gender. In two pieces I read, “America’s Hidden H.I.V. Epidemic,” and “Dr. David Malebranche’s Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey,” these writings show how Black folks continue the divide and conquer within Black communities concerning sexuality. I believe the Black community uses standardized sexuality and gender to maintain the little power that the race group has. Yet, what this continues to do is to destroy our race and help White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy continue to be the supreme system that dominates all Americans. When we Black people play into Black people not following a standardized sexuality, we ultimately play into the system of Whiteness. We perpetuate White dominance by believing that the system of Whiteness will award us if we pledge allegiance to it. Yet, by becoming a member, we don’t benefit from the system because we are not allowed access to the full membership package.

What I am saying is that a lot of young Black males and females are contracting H.I.V., and they are contracting it in outstanding rates in poor rural areas. Yes, Linda Villarosa and Dr. Malebranche are showing us that young Black gay males, bisexuals, and transsexuals are the ones who are affected by it. Villarosa is showing us that many young Black males in the rural South are affected by lack of health care and education concerning H.I.V. and AIDS to where they are contracting and dying from the illness at fast rates. Malebranche is telling Oprah…the dialogue needs to be more balance in showing more of a diverse range of narration concerning Black male sexuality—to show a more complete narrative.

As for Black folks like me who leave home, I had to face what I did. Yes, I needed to get out of Cochran and see different spaces and places that are unlike Cochran…and to see more experiences to align with the stories that I read as a kid. However, I have come to realize that Cochran is my home, and the very Black people in Cochran…who ostracize me are still my people. They still need for me to love them. A huge part of love is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a part of unconditional love for myself and for you, too. Black folks can’t do better if we don’t know better. Once we know better, I pray that we find the strength to continue the process of becoming better people under a system that don’t want us to. Every day I am challenge to not judge. It’s hard, and I get it right on some days. I get it wrong on others days. Some days it is neutral…but all that matters is having the drive to do right by folks the best I know how and can. I hope that for you, too.
S

Let’s Not Attack the Mothers for Expressing their Authentic Experiences

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Dear Naomi Schaefer Riley (http://nypost.com/2017/02/18/having-a-baby-isnt-a-miracle-and-doesnt-make-you-a-goddess/)

For some women, yes, having their babies are miracles, and they are goddesses for doing it. Even I, a childless woman by circumstances and choice, know this. And why do I know this?

It is simple because I have experienced what it is like to find out that even though my decision was not to have children, the choice was sealed when I found out in summer 2016 that I had huge fibroids on my uterus. Yes, I was given two other options before I had my total hysterectomy. My gynecologist told me that I could choose from having: a uterine artery embolization, uterine myomectomy, or a total hysterectomy. A uterine artery embolization would shrink my fibroids; however, I could never get pregnant but still have my uterus intact. Even if I had a slipped and got pregnant, I would have a miscarriage. A uterine myomectomy would remove the fibroids, but my uterus would be sewn back up if I wanted to try and have children. Then, there was the total hysterectomy that would remove my fibroids, my uterus, and my fallopian tubes. My ovaries would be kept if they showed that they were healthy, and I made sure that the gynecologist promised, as she told me, to leave them in if I took that option. The reason why I did not seriously consider the first two options because the possibility of the fibroids coming back was a high risk. I didn’t want to have surgery again. Even though my uterus would be removed…which had been with me for thirty-five years of age, I decided to remove it because by instinct and education, I knew that the possibility of the fibroids returning was high. I also had the gut feeling that the fibroids were so big that doing the uterine myomectomy would not be worth the risk. The surgery would be more complicated because it would be longer, and my life would be in further jeopardy of something going wrong.

I opt for option three and how does this story relate to Beyoncé? The story relates because I relate to her. No, I didn’t want children, however, when Black women have been told by our culture that we are baby producing machines, and we think that we are healthy because we have a period every month…that doesn’t mean jack shit.

For most of my reproductive life, I had a period. There were a few instances where, when I attend graduate school the first time, I did not have a period for months. I contributed this to being overweight, stressed, and having anxiety issues. However, little did I know that all of this would be connected, and at thirty-five, I would find out that I had a fibroid so large that my gynecologist said that it was an equivalent to a twenty-four-week pregnancy.

How does this relate to Beyonce and her celebration of birthing babies and mothers being goddesses? Well, for a woman to even have a baby, her reproductive capabilities have to be highly functional in order for her to produce her child. For a woman who has had a miscarriage before and she is a Black woman, her chances of conceiving a healthy baby, that baby gestating for nine months, and that baby arriving in the world without any type of deficiencies is a miracle. If one looks back on slavery (look at Deborah Gray White’s A’r’nt I a Woman), the fact of Black female slaves reproducing regularly and abundantly is a myth. White male slave owners raped Black women expecting them to reproduce many children that would become automatic slaves to continue the Slavocracy. However, many Black female slaves had miscarriage after miscarriage. Many Black female slaves died from attempting to have fifteen, sixteen…even some, twenty slave children. Out of all of those slave children, some Black female slaves did not produce one live child. It was miraculous for Black female slaves, out of that many births, to have two or three children that survive and were functional individuals.

My point is this. You shame Beyoncé by trying to use Katherine Heigel’s story about pregnancy. Then, you try to use Adele and even shame her for mentioning that motherhood is difficult.

I have had MANY women tell me that they have LOST themselves after having children. Having to put their children before themselves…they lost a part of themselves. For you to have the audacity to talk about how woman have been having babies for thousands and thousands of years and using that as a sound logic to your argument about Beyoncé and Adele whining about conceiving, birthing, and taking care of children is a lack of empathy on your part.

I, as a childless woman, want to be treated with respect for the decision that I made. The same respect I treat with women who decide to have children. I do look at them as goddesses and their children as miracles. It is okay for Beyoncé to celebrate her pregnancy and her children as it is the same for Adele to tell us that she struggles with raising her son. It doesn’t make these women lesser, but it makes these women HONEST in an era where individuals like you write opinioned pieces to continue the cycle of hierarchal sexism.

That’s right. Hierarchal sexism. You believe that your opinion is valuable because you are appealing to individuals who you believe will applaud you for “calling out” how the celebration of how motherhood is being overdone by being mentioned in the media and other communicative forms.

However, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t work with me or other audience members because there are a lot more like me who do their homework. The lesson is this: the lesson is that Beyoncé and Adele took control over the speeches and express honestly how they really feel about being moms. Both of their narratives are perfectly acceptable like my narrative is. There is nothing wrong with women celebrating their motherhood. There is nothing wrong with women talking about their struggles of motherhood. There is nothing wrong with women who choose not to have biological or adoptive children or both. It is nothing wrong with those of us who can’t physically do it or have to make choices where they aren’t able to do it and decide it is okay. I will embrace the blessings that I do have. It is nothing wrong with those of us who long for it and cannot naturally reproduce, but say, hey, I will adopt and/or foster children…and even animals.

The point is that Beyoncé and Adele, as famous women, use their platforms to show us their HUMANITY as women. Black women have been demonized as being sexual deviants and sexually promiscuous throughout history that we are supposed to reproduce children at the drop of the hat. White women are shown that they are supposed to reproduce children and be so happy about it that even one thought about how hard it is being a mother makes the guilty. These dominant narratives do not ring true for the entire woman race, women of color race, and even White woman race. It is writers like you who need to take a long hard second look at…I am really giving these women a fair shake? Even if you didn’t express your view well, how can you go about expressing your opinion in a constructive way without ATTACKING OTHER WOMEN who are expressing their TRUTHS to being a mother.

Thanks,
from a childless mother woman who supports other mothers who have children
Sophia

Dear Sandra Bland,

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Dear Sandra Bland,

Now, I understand you like I did not before. Now, I know what you were up against.

Shamefully, I have been fighting the same system as you have, and I was colorblinded by Whiteness to believe that I could overcome racism. That if I showed White people how good and how smart that I was, I would break the barriers and gain the same opportunities as them. In my experience of proving myself, I lost touch with my Blackness and began forgetting that Whiteness was affecting me in ways that I fully realized has never went away.

At 10:15 p.m. after having fun at a hockey game with my boyfriend, I was stopped by the local police. We saw flashing blue lights behind us, and we realized that it was my car that he wanted to stop. I slowed down and decided to pull into a KFC parking lot. At the time, I did not know that it would be a safe point. Or maybe a point where there could be witnesses. I never thought of it that way, but it chills me to the bone to think about it now.

I rolled down my window. The police officer asks me…”Do you know why I stopped you?” I responded back in curious shock, “No, officer, I do not know why.” Reason being: I wasn’t speeding through town. If anything, I was going the exact speed limit and being very careful because it was a busy section in this part of town, and it is at night. There are a lot of folks who walk and bike in our town, and I don’t want to be the one responsible for an accident and it on my conscience. I’ve been living in this town for three years consecutively, and I know what the walking and biking population are like. Drivers aren’t usually fond with them sometimes, and I know that it is not always drivers’ fault. Yet, I have started remembering my roots about walking and biking because I was a poor Black kid from a rural country town, and it is hard to track and ride when there are more cars than you in the same area you occupy.

Anyway, the officer continues asking me, “Who car is this?” I said, “Mines.” He asked, “What is your name?” I said in a pleasant voice, “Sophia Flemming.” “When did you get this car registered?” I answered him that I bought the car two months ago, and I had my tag put on there then. And then he asked me for my driver’s license. When he looked, he said, “Your birthday passed. You were supposed to renew your license on your birthday.” I told him that I thought that my registration was good for next year. For those who know me, I don’t play with the law. I file my taxes on time and pay my taxes. I make sure that my registration is renewed on time. In our country, this is what is expected for us to inhabit it.

But what last night taught me is that…it doesn’t matter, does it, to a certain extent when it comes to police authority, and I finally understood Sandra Bland and how her death came about. You see, there are some ways, as a Black woman, I am fortunate. Somehow, that poor Welfare Black girl from a small rural racist and segregated town fought her way to go to college and obtained her BA degree. Somehow that poor Welfare Black girl entered into graduate school and started taking graduate courses. Somehow that poor Welfare Black girl got a job at a well-known university and got a full time job with benefits and is taking doctoral courses now to help her finish her graduate work with her MA degree and to start a PhD program.

However, last night, it didn’t matter. Why? It didn’t matter because as a Black woman I viewed my life at risk. A White police officer stops me. He stops me because he is able to RUN license plate numbers. Police officers even have technology where they can scan people’s tags and get an alert when registration expires (http://www.clatl.com/news/article/13071731/what-is-your-license-plate-telling-police). And what is my point of this?

My point is that there are parts of me that are you, Sandy Bland. You can see our stories are similar in many ways. We both attended college. We both graduated from college. We both are similar in age. We both believed in justice for all people.

Yet, the huge difference is. I am starting to see it. Being fortunate. I am more fortunate than you as a Black woman. I don’t have a record of misdemeanors. I am able to pay for my citation, so I can stay out of jail. Somehow, I have navigated my life in a way that I’ve been fortunate not to be jailed, to be label as a pariah by White people, and to be able to still breathe.

Yet, you and I are still similar in the same. I, too, when I finished my BA degree and attended graduate school, I had a rough time finding a full time job. I struggled, and I was depressed. It was difficult to navigate the waters. If you examine my resume, I have consistently worked since 2000—part time. Some Black folk even haven’t had the consistency as I have. I’ve also had a significant other to help out, but it has come with many prices. Those prices were losing a lot of my self-worth as a proud Flemming. What it really was as a proud Black woman, I discovered that I am not invincible. I am not a Black wonder super woman. I am vulnerable and not immune to the cruelties of Whiteness. Those same White characteristics I’ve adapted: the way I carry myself, the way I talk, the way I walk, and the way I act…doesn’t matter when a White male police officer pulls me over for a traffic violation. I want people to know this is not about me COMPLAINING ABOUT a traffic violation. I get it. I violated the law unintentionally by not seeing in time that I need to renew my registration. Yes, I will pay my fine because it is the law, and Monday morning, I will get my registration and pay for it.

What this is about is bigger than me and is about me. What this is about is that I finally understand that none of us people of color are immune to the dangerous of Whiteness when it comes to its authority. White people have more authority than us. They matter MORE THAN US. They have mattered in this country and even other countries for centuries. Aryan races have nearly decimated cultures (Hitler and the Holocaust) because they know that they have a superiority card. Superiority in human beings is an evil practice because it causes people to commit harmful and even horrendous acts.

The very laws that are supposed to protect all of us only protect and benefit some of us. I was in your place last night. What if I was a little sassy with that cop? What if I began questioning why he was pulling me over? What if I didn’t say good evening office, how you doing?” What if I didn’t comply the way that was expected to not cause harm? I got a little taste of the bigger bitterness you experience on a consistent basis.

I don’t want to keep having this fear…and this stress of being afraid of officers, but I know that if I don’t compile as much as possible, I may be put in a jail cell. Or my life a threat to where I may get a bullet in me. That’s is horrifying. I can’t imagine what you final moments were in that jail cell. I am sure that you were scared, and you felt so alone. Tears are pouring down my face because it hurts. It hurts to know that you died with all kinds of thoughts circling your head. Maybe feeling like no one loved you. In my pain, I understand your struggles because there are parts of me that am you. All Black women are you. We struggle every day to continue to prove over and over again that we exist. That we matter. We have always mattered. Your life didn’t mattered that day, and it was taken. It is sad that you are gone, and I can see you now.

I want to live over a hundred years old and look back at these times as being an agent of change. And I will get there. I claim it, and I will make it. But, I struggle with what happened to me yesterday. A routine stop to give me a ticket so the system can keep making money off my Black body. You were continually stopped and continually had fines on your Black head that you could not pay because you did not have steady income. You struggled with your Black self-esteem because our system continues to take and take until…what…we are tired. Folks are trying to claim us one way or the other: get our bodies and/or destroy our souls. The psychological warfare is deadlier than physical violent one.

Lesson learned: I will keep breathing because it is a part of the destiny that I have determined for myself. Other lesson learned: I have to keep breathing for you, Sandy. You and other thousands of Black women and their lives…I have to be accounted for while I am still breathing. The veil has been lifted from my eyes. I have to do my part and not hide. I have to show that our lives matter. Our stories matter so we can live in a country where we don’t need to hold our breath. That we can inhale and exhale for ourselves, our children, and our country. That Black women are not a threat. We have been exploited for so long, but we belong in this country as well. We are valuable to this country. Our contributions of valuable. I am a storyteller first and foremost. Our stories are important. My story is important and yours is. Our peace is important as well. We want to co-exist with everyone peacefully and live our lives to the fullest. A part of that is recognizing that system of Whiteness harms all of us. Not just Black women. White folks. Black folks. All people of color. How are supposed to become a stronger nation when we continued to be racially divided and certain folks are looked upon as their lives not being as valuable as theirs?

The one that will continue to keep breathing and make it to over a hundred,
Sophia

A Biological Fatherless Black Girl

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Little black girls who never met their biological black fathers is a sludge puddle to always step in when you are a thirty four year old black woman who has never met her biological father.

As I see all the pictures of black women who know their fathers, it is bittersweet. I am happy for black women who know their fathers—especially the black daughters who have great relationships with their fathers. However, I am one of those black women that story goes into I never met my father. I am one of those black women whose mother despised my father and took her pain out on me because he wasn’t there to bear it. I am one of those black women who is reminded with the question: Father, why didn’t you try harder to meet me?

My backstory is that my father did come around to visit everyone else in Cochran. I found this out from a custodian working at MGC when I was in my second year. She told me that she knew who I was and knew who my dad was. She encouraged me to go and see him. Yet, I didn’t have any interest because I didn’t know what I would say to my father. All I know is that he is the imaginary father. What is ironic is that he was physically absent in my life but was presently there through the negative stories my mother told about him. When my mom would get angry, upset, or frustrated at me, she would always project her feelings of hatred on me because I look like my father. Now, you ask, “Wow, Sophia, I am surprised that you function as well as you.”

I function as well as I do because I have come to some understandings about myself. Yes, if my dad wanted it, a relationship with my father would have been phenomenal in the fact that it would have helped me with some of the life challenges that I had to face as a youngster. However, that Catch-22 is always there, right? If I had a relationship with my father, it might not have been a positive one and could have caused further damage to me. There are men out there who have made children, but they are not father material. They aren’t parent material. I am not saying that my father is incapable of being a good father. However, my mother had hostile feelings towards him. When he did return and ask her to marry him, she turned him down. To be fair to my mom, it might not have been solely the hurt he caused her (She approached his car to tell him she was pregnant with me, and he rolled up the window in her face before she spotted him with another woman in his car). She could have turn him down so he wouldn’t hurt her farther. Whatever her reasons where, her decisions transpired and had to grow up with my father being the bad guy. If he was the bad guy, then, there was a part of me that was bad, right, because he gave me 23 of his chromosomes, correct?

However, there are historical implications to this. A lot of us black women who have never met our black fathers feel a deep lost because American slavery broke a part black families. Black family members would be sold off for profit, or some American white slaver owners would sell off slave family members as punishment if that slave member went against the order of the slave owners’ rules. How can black men in the later generations be fathers—and be presently there for their daughters, when they come from black family lineages where their families were broken up during that time in history? Then, this matter is more complicated as well when white male slave owners raped black female slaves, and they birth children of color that was enslaved. Usually, your mother did not tell you who your father was because of the shame and guilt that resulted from the slave owner being able to rape you whenever he wanted, and you bore his children resulting from that trauma. Many black children did not have a chance to have relationships with their biological fathers. If their fathers were white, they were white slave owners who raped their mothers. If their fathers were black, their black fathers were sold off to another plantation. Or their black fathers died from being killed white masters when they escaped. Of course, when slaves were free, if you had a black father during Jim Crow and he died, he was lynched. If you had a black father during the Civil Rights Movement, he was slaughtered. If you had a father during the 1990s, you lost him because he murdered your mother.

Of course, there are many black fathers who abandoned their daughters or who were forced to not see their daughters for whatever reasons…and those daughter went through all kinds of hell. The hell of not knowing what does twenty-three chromosomes are like. Not knowing the other side of your family. Not knowing which characteristics you have inherited. I am a mystery, you all. I’ve discovered some pieces of the puzzles, and I have been able to fit them into the appropriate places in the puzzle. Yet, there are other pieces I am missing. The pieces that I have are good. I mean because I know how the overall puzzle looks. However, the puzzle would look much more rich…much more detailed…and most of all, I could completely analyze my entire identity and say…hey, that’s is where I get that quality from.

For little black girls like me when we were younger, it was hell because you are searching from who you look like in the mirror. Who you are starts off with your people. I’ve always been amazed by white friends and family who have taken advantage of their family lineage. They can trace back their family history and understand why they are who they are. However, many I’ve known…shrug their shoulders and don’t think it is a big deal. Why shouldn’t it? It is a privilege that they have. It is always there at their disposable when they question why they are who they are…they don’t even go to the answers that are right under their noses. Everything they possibly need to know is in that family lineage.

You know why Black folks make a HUGE FUCKING DEAL about their roots? We make a huge deal about our roots because there are pieces of us that are missing that we would like to know to have a much richer identity. Our family lines have been broken by white supremacist, white privilege, and Whiteness. Some of us are scrambling like I am. I am scrambling and scraping to find out MORE ABOUT WHO I AM. Don’t get it twisted. I am proud of who I am. What I do know about myself and the experiences I’ve been through have made me who I am today. Yet, black folks who find those pieces of their family history that makes them identify with their characteristics that drive them to make choices to strengthen who they are…they are appreciative of it because it was never a luxury for us. It is a birth right that has been STOLEN from us. Your family history is not a privilege it is a right. It is a right to know who you are and where you come from. That was taken from us. My people and I…some of us try so hard to find those pieces.

I can’t say Happy Father’s Day to my father because I don’t know him. I am one of those black girls who have never met him.

S

Flemming is an Awkward Black Girl, Too

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I am an awkward black girl as well. And on top of that, a black feminist nerd. But recently, I feel like there are others out there like me or similar to me.

Issa Rae is one of them. While reading an article from The Root about Issa Rae’s experiences in Hollywood wanting to “lighten” the main character (which Issa Rae plays) (http://www.theroot.com/blogs/the_grapevine/2015/08/issa_rae_described_how_hollywood_wanted_to_lighten_awkward_black_girl_and.html), I discovered Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl series, and let me say…

I watched Seasons 2 and 1 yesterday and today. Umm…well, in that order.

I told you that I was an awkward black girl. A part of being an awkward black girl is not sometimes reading closely what you are reading or what you are watching.

I thought that since I saw season 2 that season 1 would be disappointing, but oh no, both seasons are equally amazing.

The premise: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is about J who works at Gutbusters. Gutbusters is a business where tele-operators sale diet pills that promote bulimia. J despises her job, her work environment and co-workers. What few enjoyables at her job is CeCe who works in Human Resources and becomes her best friend and a new crush, Fred, that she has a hard time getting up the courage to ask on a date.

As for J’s personal life, she was in a long term college relationship where her boyfriend cheated on her…and currently, she had a drunken one night stand with one of her co-workers, A, who is extremely awkward and creepy. Oh, I did not get to express…annoying as her. Trust me, I would want to date Steve Urkiel and not this dude.

What Rae gets so right about The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is how people interact with one another and how we should not put nerds in a box or stereotype them.

From many, nerds have always been white young males with glasses who geek out about computers and/or comics. Or nerds are creeps and losers that no one wants to be friends with.

However, that is not true about nerds. Nerds are all types of people. Nerds are people who you think aren’t nerds (like me). While viewing Awkward Black Girl, I identified with J a lot. She is someone who, on the outside, looks normal but once other characters who are similar to her relate to her, I realized that she is a nerd. Through viewing, she makes me feel like I am not alone…and that is comforting when watching Awkward Black Girl. That black female nerds do exist. We are here, and we should be seen…

Although J is passive aggressive, a bit needy, and indecisive sometimes, she is actually a positive character. Viewers see her insecurities, but the way that Rae and Co. have portrayed J, those insecurities are acceptable for I see that everything isn’t about J—and J starts seeing that as well. That she needs to grow and learn from her experiences and mistakes. This makes her human, but it doesn’t exploit or compromise that she is a normal person—normal as meaning being herself and putting in effort to become a better self.

Also, Awkward Black Girl shows positive and negative relationships. We see J engage in four type of intimate relationships. The first type as being a dependent girlfriend on her ex-boyfriend D. She tells CeCe that she knew that D was cheating on her, but she kept being in denial because she wanted to be with him more than wanting to actually being alone. The next type of relationship we see is J thinking that A, through her drunkenness, is a fine hookup. Of course, that was a superficial encounter influenced by being drunk. The other type of relationship is J’s crush on Fred. Instead of J expressing that she likes Fred, she remains silent by misinterpreting his signals…or correctly interpreting his signals but not doing anything about it. This is where White J comes in. White J is the fourth relationship encounter we see J engaged in. J meets White J while at Fred’s birthday party. Immediately, like CeCe, J finds that White J is awkward as well. She feels the same connection that she does with CeCe without knowing it yet. White J is instantly attracted to J and can’t stop thinking about her. He asks her out on a date.

Although his failed attempts at making the date wonderful (He takes J to a soul food place because she is black…and he takes to her a spoken word event which turns out hellish), he and J both agreed they both made choices based off trying to be someone that they weren’t.

Later on season 1, J dates White J and Fred. She feels more comfortable with White J because she can be more honest herself. She and White J complement each other because they have the same interest but challenge each other. With Fred, she feels more comfortable with him as being friends…the expectation of being someone else, she realizes, is not easy which means it is not easy being with Fred than it is with White J.

What Awkward Black Girl also shows is that as adults we continue to deal with adult bullies like Nina who are aggressive. We also deal with hypocrites like Sister Mary who preaches God and Jesus, but turns right around and visits the sex shop , and she still has sex.

Overall, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl gets right is that we need to surround ourselves with people who support us. We need to be around people who help us to continue to see that we can be better version of ourselves. It breaks down stereotypes about black folks. There are ALL kinds of BLACK people as there are all kinds of PEOPLE. Don’t judge someone because you heard all these century rumors about them. Judge them by getting to know them.

Cheers,
S