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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An Ode to my fall 2017 Sexual Violence on Campus Class

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I came into our Sexual Violence Campus class expecting to learn tools in how to help students when they experience sexual violence. As always, I did not get what I thought that I wanted. I got what I needed.

What I learned from the class is that when we discuss lived experiences of individuals who have been affected by sexual violence, we collectively began experiencing the heavy burden in how we all have been complicit in rape culture. I believe that more than ever we should continue to have courses like the ones you teach, Chris. When we process what violence means together, it leaves a stronger impact, and I felt that by the end of our class. Yes, it left all of us exhausted in the end…but the mini tears we experience, once we understand why we had those tears, they will mend, and we will be stronger in dealing with engaging in sexual violence discourse. Yet, what helped for me is coming to a space where everyone began to understand how sexual violence affects different people in different ways because of their identities. Some people are surprised when I tell them I am a loner by nature. I was raised that way. I was raised in my family in having to process my experiences and understanding their experiences alone. Yet, our class this semester, and all the classes that I have taken since working at UGA, has made me realize that we need each more than ever to understand what is going on in our environment. We all need a support system to process together. We may not always agree on how we look at matters and/or how we should fix certain situations that affect our environment, but the beginnings of trust and mutual respect in admitting that we have to do something different because what we have been doing is not working empowers me. Being in a great community is about admitting your complicity in a system or systems where it oppresses other people and owning your responsibility in it by being accountable for what you have done. Accountability is not only about owning how you contribute, but it is about how you are going to strive each day in attempting to put effort in doing something about it. That matters so much. That’s what I’ve learned. That talk begins to become cheap when we do not allow ourselves the possibility of dreaming big and taking steps in making those dreams a reality.

A huge part of being power consciousness is questioning yourself, the individuals around you, and the systems that you operate in. Yes, I grew up on soap operas, romance and horror novels and movies. However, in order for me to truly take accountability, I have to examine the good, bad, and ugly with these genres and entertainments. This means looking at the sexual violence that is in these genres and entertainments. It is hard to admit that what you grew up with and love actually contributes more to sexual violence and trauma for victims. Yet, we must have conversations around what contributes to rape culture. Many romance novels and films reinforce for many cisgender White women that inspiring to save cisgender White men who are bad boys is normal. As many of us begin and continue to dig in and peel back layers in history, we start seeing that the folks with dominant identities have had control over their master narratives since this country broke away from England (a.k.a. American Revolutionary War). What many of us do not understand is that we are complicit in practicing ahistoricism by not questioning enough…is this really it? When we are children in the education system and we question what is fundamentally wrong with what we have been told by posing questions that are not harmful, our instructors have been trained to silence us. A huge part of power is exercising discipline and that is what maintain authority. Being power consciousness and looking through a power consciousness lens is unraveling all the educational brainwashing throughout our school years and begin questioning like we did when we were kids…is this really true? If we do not think it is true, we must put in work to find out what is true.

This course must continue even though for all of us in the class, it was taxing. However, what makes this course great, Chris, is the literature/readings that you assign and how you provoke us to think and challenge our belief systems about what we have been taught all throughout our lives. I believe what would make this course better is incorporating “self-care” group-care activities. You did this near the end of the course when you read us your favorite book. For me, that was the most empowering moment in the course. For me, it is sparked what I try to hold on to: my imagination, my wonder, and my hope. A part of being brainwashed by White supremacist heteronormative capitalist patriarchy is that inquisitive nature about us is continually minimized by authority figures who teach us that silence is better than asking questions. If you ask questions, you are punished for it; if you are an individual with intersecting identities, you are silenced further because interlocking oppressions are caused by the very individuals who want to maintain, sustain, and retain the power that they have—even if it means that many of them are not actually benefitting for all the power from this system (i.e. White women).

Self-care activities are important when doing this work, and as a classroom community, we need more activities like this. Have more centering activities where individuals share how they have called out or called to attention sexual violence and rape culture in society (like Laurel did with her police officer friend). Challenge the class in finding a great community news story or challenge them to do more activities like writing a letter to Chief Jimmy—even though they may not publish or send it. Or have a drawing session where everyone draws or colors for thirty minutes in class (if it is a one day a week class) and ask them to share, and if they do not, they can hold up their artwork in silence while the others look at it…we may not understand it, but for them, it may be a release—at least someone saw—at least someone paid attention to me.

So, what did I really learn? I learned more about myself and about my new peeps that I got to know for an entire semester and more about my instructor. What I come to find is that…people are starting to surprise me again. That there is more hope out there than people try to “brainwash” you to think it is not. Spiderman says…”With great power, comes great responsibility.” I like to interpret that as power is not about dominating folks. Power is about inner connectedness. It is about sharing our resources whether it is our time, money, and/or love. Real power is about the practice of loving ourselves and making sure that our fellow individuals are not being hurt. It is about us existing together, so we all have the freedom to design our lives in spaces where we do not feel continual hostility. This means being brave to imagine again. To imagine that we can have a better world, and we must. Again, words are magical. Yet, real magic is actually putting those words to good use by committing good acts. Those good acts are to eradicate sexual violence and rape culture.

Jonathan Franzen & Whiteness

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Hey, B!

What a treat from S! You deserve it. You’ve been working hard.

I’ve seen the Jonathan Franzen article on another author’s Facebook page I follow! I didn’t get a chance to read it, but I skimmed through his interview. Franzen is a fascinating author to me. He would say something as such about him not writing about race, but he does. His race is Whiteness and tends to be Western whiteness.

I stand corrected: it’s mid-Western Whiteness.

Could he really write about Black people or other people of color? I don’t think if he could and do it in an accurate portrayal. I mean in some ways, I can’t help that he is honest but in his ignorance as well. It is White male privilege to say that I don’t have Black friends which means that I don’t go out of my way to make or have Black friends or Black people in my life. Since I don’t go out of my way to make those connections or friends, I cannot possibly write about them. Lena Dunham, the creator of GIRLS, said something similarly, but she actually did make an attempt to write a Black male character…although though she created a Black male character, you can see that if she wants to, she can write Black characters from her perspective as a White woman.

I find it all fascinating as Black writer.

I mean I enjoy watching Sex and the City and GIRLS because I recognize what those shows mean…maybe a part of it is that they are women…

And I can relate to certain situations because I’ve been in similar situations because those characters are female characters.

But I can also relate to Franzen in a way, too, because we are both writers even though he may not be able to completely relate to me. He and I would have to have a conversation about that though.

Hey, B! I hope that your week went well, and you have gotten some time to breathe!!!

I went ahead and read the Jonathan Franzen interview before I wanted to respond to some of the points you’ve made more in depth.

My impressions of Jonathan Franzen is that he does understand his White privilege a lot more than folks think, but I get a hint that maybe he knows that he is egotistical as well. There are some moments in his responses in the interview that I am like…he knows that he is afforded a platform because he is a White male. I am sort of impressed that he actually can admit that he is privileged, and he doesn’t want to do much about it. Maybe some folks would put up a huge argument with me particularly Black folk and people of color about my opinions on this, but I think from his stance as a White male that this is as good as you are going to get it with someone who is not interested in being a social justice activist.

Basically, he knows that he lives in a White male privileged world, and I think in a lot of ways, he doesn’t t want to touch race because he knows that he would do a shitty job of writing about it and mangle it. Basically, in a nevertheless about way, he is saying that he doesn’t seek out Black friends because of the spaces he occupies which means that he is interested in other matters, and they happen to fit into his spaces that he occupies, and this is because of his Whitness.

Does this anger me or make me like…what a prick? No, not really. I think it is because he does admit it from the get go of what he is and what he is interested in. Some folks aren’t going to fight battles that they don’t want to be a part of, and I think that he is more honest than other White males that I have encountered or known. Throughout the interview, he even talks about what he isn’t interested in.

Another thing that interested me greatly is how he sees writing and his writing process which he and I have opposite philosophies on. I like a more involved story in my head which means researching a lot of information to make sure that I have it at more disposal when I write. For me and from my perspective, my fiction is only good when I know a lot of about what I want to know about at my disposal. But his philosophy is write what you know. That’s what William Faulkner did and Ernest Hemingway did. One could argue that this maybe a fundamental trend of principles of White male writers. It is to write what you know because the precedent is already set for you by writes like Hemingway and Faulkner to do that.

So, the two questions are…can Franzen write about other races? More specifically, can Franzen write about other races in a realistic portrayal from his perspective? My answer is that he can only write about them from what he knows from his (limited) perspective of what he knows about Black people. Because maybe he doesn’t like reading criticism and taking it well, and he doesn’t want to get slammed for writing something he may not know very well or can’t represent well.

The other question is…does Franzen write about race? Yes, he writes about his race, the White race. I believe I am interested in his writing and his characters because, like I am with Hemingway, there is truth to his fiction about how humans behave from his perspective. In Freedom, certainly, the characters in that novel are pathetic. There are White folks who are wounded, and they go about hurting one another because they have wound each other in their circle continuously. What I do admire about that novel and how Franzen creates and structures it is that many of us get involved in soap opera dramas in real life, and they play out because we are seeking something that we didn’t have when  we were growing up. We construct our identities, and we really find out that a lot of what we’ve constructed is really shitty about ourselves. I am thinking about myself while we were in our ECHD 8000 course…I thought about how I’ve been complicit in a system where I am getting gains. It is the same thing concerning the characters in Freedom…they are complicit in their Whiteness that results them in getting gains (financial gains, artistic gains, narcissistic gains, etc.). These gains actually drive them to become despicable people.

Anyway, I am going to post the contents of what I’ve written you (my part) on my blog. This is a noteworthy discussion to have for me because I don’t think about Franzen in these ways as Black female writer, myself.

What are your thoughts?

S

I am a Jonathan Franzen reader. You are thinking…Sophia, oh hell no, not you, Friend.

The conversation that my friend, B, and I have up above are my thoughts about Jonathan Franzen. Today, I sat in the Barnes and Noble café after I bought a huge lot of James Baldwin books, and I saw a new one published, The Fire Next Time that is edited by Jemayn Ward. As I sat down and read the entire conversation while eating a tiramisu cup and drinking dark roasted coffee, another layer of Jonathan Franzen was peeled in front of my eyes as to who he is. A huge part of that is explained in my comments above. Franzen admitted in an interview done by Issac Chotiner “A Conversation with Jonathan Franzen” (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/interrogation/2016/07/a_conversation_with_novelist_jonathan_franzen.html)  that he is a White male who has benefited from White privilege. He also admits that he doesn’t write about Black people because he doesn’t know Black people or hasn’t been in love with a Black woman. He expresses that in order to write his characters he has to love his characters. I’ve seen responses from some folks from social media that this a cop out from Franzen. That he is writing about race—his race—the White race.

He admits this in the interview to Chotiner that he writes about Whiteness when Chotiner asks him about it, and he doesn’t deny it:

You must know that a lot of the response to you is surely that you are this white guy writing about white guy things.

And yet some people like it, so you can’t please everybody. You should worry if you are pleasing everybody. I write for the people who like the kind of books I like.”

Again, Franzen admits that he writes books about Whiteness even though he doesn’t explicitly admit it in his response. I believe what I am most impressed by with Franzen is his ability as a White male to admit that he does have White privilege. That he does write for a White audience, and that he has been afforded opportunities that others haven’t been afforded such as him.

I guess I am confused about what people are asking for now since I’ve read his interview, and I’ve seen responses about what he said in his interview. What are folks asking for? Are folks asking him to be a revolutionist? Because he ain’t going to do it. He says in the interview that he is lazy and doesn’t believe in much, and he isn’t going to be prompt to action unless it affects him. Hand in hand, this interview demonstrates Franzen’s White privilege—the very same White privilege that he admits to.

I don’t know many fifty something year old White men who will admit that they have White privilege. There is an acquaintance/friend who I no longer have a relationship with who could not handle her White fragility. I didn’t even bring anything up with her, and she unfriended me from Facebook because she could not handle an article that I posted about White fragility that was written by a White female writer. We had a discussion, and she made up so many excuses and was so condescending to me that I blocked her. At least with Franzen, he admits on some levels that he is afforded the opportunities and experiences that he has because of his Whiteness.

I am not trying to make Jonathan Franzen some kind of hero. What I am saying is that folks should not expect him to be an anti-racist social justice activist. Again, he at least admitted that he is White privilege. Even for him, that says a lot to me about him.
S

The World Through My Eyes

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Dear Tamara, Kwane, Angel, and Harmony:

It hurts me to know that you will be already judged because of your skin color. I know. It is sad, and it is unfair, but I want you to know despite of what other people think you already are, I want to part to you what I know to be true. That you will always matter. I will always see you.

Blackness Is Who We Are

Tamara, Angela and Harmony, little black girls enter into this world already knowing that Blackness is not beautiful. That your worth is measured against Whiteness. That you should be a White standard of beauty. It killed Pecola’s spirit in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It wore her down where she didn’t stand a chance to have blue eyes, white  and fair skin, and blonde hair like Shirley Temple. The world of Whiteness weighed her down and smothered her until her soul was a shell of nothing. That frightens me because I don’t want you girls to experience that. I want you to know that you are beautiful. Chocolate skin is beautiful. All colors of brown are beautiful. Whiteness is beautiful as well, but it becomes ugly when it becomes the dominant standard in everything of our lives. It strips away in what makes us special. Blackness is special, too, and there is room for us because we want the same things that all American citizens want. Love, laughter, and lucky charms. Yet, we should not have to sacrifice parts of who we are to achieve it or receive it.

Kwane, being a little black boy is just as tough in this country. You are told that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, and brave enough. Our country teaches you to be afraid of your own shadow. There are hardly any of Black men in the Sciences, Mathematics, Humanities, and other disciplines and spaces all over our country. It pains me to tell you that most of you are in the prison system. Most Black boys become Black men, and by the time you become a man, you are most likely have to visited a juvenile system over five times, and sadly, you may have graduated in visiting a jail cell or a prison cell. I want to tell you that being violent isn’t the way to go. It doesn’t solve issues because those issues are over 240 years old, and we are still counting how those issues continue to exist. I want you to know that you are smart enough to love knowledge because I know. Knowledge will help set you free. I am not talking about just acquiring information. I am talking about analyzing and synthesizing information. It is called critical thinking skills.

I believe that you and your sisters have the ability to think outside the box. I want you to grow up and occupy the spaces that we need Black folks in. We need more Black scientists, teachers, doctors, scholars, professors, lawyers, psychologists, writers, etc. Even if you don’t pick that, I want you to know that you matter because I see you. I see what you are able to do. I can see it because I am you.

 

Flemings/Flemmings Are Who We Are

Many Flemings/Flemmings don’t fair-well in our family. Your Grandma Janice Mae was hardly satisfied. She always called herself dumb and did not have the support of her school and our family to attend college. Instead, she got pregnant with me and went on welfare. For twenty years, she was on welfare, and she thought that it was her best that she could do. The folks in our family, especially the women…we keep moving, but we pay a hefty price. We become estranged from each other. We turn on each other. The only comparison I have to this is in Sula (also by the great Toni Morrison) when Hannah, Eva’s daughter, asks her did Eva ever love them (Hannah, Plum, and Pearl). Hannah says, “I didn’t mean that, Mamma. I know you fed us and all. I was talkin’ ‘bout something else. Like. Like. Playin’ with us. Did you ever, you know, play with us?” And Eva’s response is: “Play? Wasn’t nobody playin’ in 1895. Just ‘cause you got it good now you think it was always this good? 1895 was a killer, girl. Things was bad. Niggers was dying like flies. Stepping tall, ain’t you? Uncle Paul gone bring me two bushels. Yeh. And they’s a melon downstairs, ain’t they? And I bake every Saturday, and Shad brings fish on Friday, and they’s a pork barrel full of meal, and we float eggs in a rock of vinegar….”

My mom loved Ashley, your mom, and me. However, she didn’t show it with kisses and hugs. She showed it with in teaching us how to survive. There are no hugs and kisses when you are moving because a Mama has to put food on the table. She has to make those decisions that we will exist in the world because she sees us even though I didn’t think that she did. She did the best that she could, and I cannot hold it against her for not giving me hugs and kisses because I understand now. I understand because I am a Black woman now. Even though I operate in different spaces than your Grandmother Janice, I understand what it is to fight because it is in our DNA to survive. Survive first and ask questions later. However, those of us who go beyond survival, like I have, have to reconcile that survival is a coping mechanism—and I have used it to hide behind the racial trauma that I have experienced. We have to figure out that level of…how okay are we? And that it is okay to admit that we have suffered from trauma and find ways to provide self-care for ourselves. I know. It is hard because W.E.B. DuBois describes it as double consciousness. A part of double consciousness is to worry about our survival in our home (our country) where we feel like we do not belong. I have found ways to go beyond survival, and I am here to help you as well because it is important the next generation of Flemings/Flemmings survive and seek within ourselves to become better than what we are.

Black Bodies are Black Souls
My heart is filled with sorrow because our Black Bodies aren’t viewed as Black souls because Whiteness makes us appear invisible. What White supremacy continues to do is to create double consciousness for Black folks who come into this world. All four of you will feel, at times, that you are pull into two worlds. You will feel that your Blackness is pain. Your Blackness is inopportune. You will naturally fight against accepting your Blackness because it is the opposite of Whiteness, and America values Whiteness. What is Whiteness? Whiteness is a system where everything is pristine, perfect, and perky. Whiteness is positive. Speaking and writing perfect English is Whiteness. Making straight As is Whiteness. Bleaching your skin is Whiteness. Having a lot of wealth is Whiteness. Being White is a part of “The Dream” that Ta’Nehisi Coates discusses in his autoethnographic work, Between the World and Me. I believed in The Dream, too. The Dream is when you work very hard and defy all obstacles that come in your way in achieving your own wealth. What comes with that wealth is getting married, having children, and living in a house on Main Street with a white picket fence, animals of your choosing, a very nice sedan, and great neighbors like you. However, The Dream excludes any of your Blackness because Blackness isn’t included in The Dream. Black folks are told…if you work hard, you will become Oprah Winfrey. From most White folks, Oprah Winfrey represents all of what “successful Black folks” should be.

But The Dream, as a wise classmate shouted, is bullshit. It is bull because I don’t want you to spend all your life thinking that all of you have achieved a standard of living that isn’t everyone’s reality. Yes, you will see others on television, in films, in books, and even in real life living The Dream. Yet, let me lift the veil for you. A dream in this sense is a mirage. It is something that we had been conditioned to believe we all have the opportunity to achieve. It is not true. Black folks have gotten far within over 240 years, but it hasn’t been that far for many of us. Those of us who occupy spaces in academia and industry and domesticity struggle still because we still look at ourselves through a lens of Whiteness. We still use Whiteness as a measuring stick in what we are not. We are NOT WHITE. We are born under a system that gives all Black folks a disadvantage. We never got our reparations, so that set us back. When we created our Harlem Renaissance, it fell hard, and all we have is remnants of it, and thank the Universe for that. Thank Zora, Langston, Alaine, Claude, and the rest of the Harlem Renaissance crew for creating that because we wouldn’t know that we ruled a part of America for a little while at least. Even then, Zora’s Black body fluttered away without no one knowing until Mama Alice Walker erected and resurrected her by creating a monumental marker and letting us Black folks now…she DID EXIST, and she was more than just a Black body. She was a Black soul.

Who I Am

Right now, I have realized that this born Augusta County, living in Bleckley Country college graduate of Baldwin County and forging her way to a doctoral program in Clarke County Flemming is someone visible. That being Black is power, pride, and persistent. I have to work on it every day loving the parts of myself that I didn’t know exist. Being BLACK is our birthright. It chooses us, and I am grateful. I am grateful that I come from people who are innovators. Who are creators. Who are groundshakers and groundbreakers. People who have endured Slavery and Jim Crow. Most of all, I am proud that I come from a group of people who still fight beyond the good fight.

I don’t want all four of you to just keep moving because it is for survival. I want you to dance after you learn how to move. I just don’t want you to survive. I want you to exist. And then, I want you to do more than existing. I want you to fly. Then, I want you to learn how to soar. It is never easy being Black in this country. I don’t know if racism, Whiteness, White privilege, and White supremacy will disappear all one day. Yet, we have to continue to combat it. I want all four of you to know that your Blackness is GOOD. It does matter. You matter. I see YOU. I will always see you.

Love,
Your Aunt Sophia

Why Black Folks Still Talking about Cultural Appropriation

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This morning, news broke that parts of Melania Trump’s speech mirrored Michelle Obama’s speech that she gave at the 2008 convention.

This is cultural appropriation at its best—and it is also straight up plagiarism. This is nothing new because it has been going on for a long time. Several weeks ago, I discussed how Ernest Owens called out Justin Timberlake for culturally appropriating Black culture on Twitter (https://wordpress.com/stats/insights/theflemministwave.wordpress.com). Owens’s asked Timberlake when he was going to stop appropriating Black culture (this is a call to when Timberlake was inspired by Jesse Williams’s  BET speech), and then, he also asked Timberlake was he going to apologize to Janet Jackson. Owens’s discussed in a great interview on (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMgkCoADG8M) the skorpionshow why the interviewers and Owens discuss cultural appropriation. Owens breaks it down and explains he was calling attention to two issues that Williams’s spoke of in his speech when calling of Timberlake: one, the cultural appropriation of Timberlake using our style of music and culture, and two, calling out how Timberlake didn’t come to Janet Jackson’s defense when he was the one who ripped her costume where it exposed her breast. Fans, the media, and viewers slut-shamed Jackson, and Timberlake didn’t stand up for her as another artist.

Cultural appropriation is happening on the political level. Melania Trump is being praised for the speech that she did at the 2016 Republican Convention. However, again, parts of that speech is plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s speech. When Michelle Obama gave that speech, she hardly got any praise when she gave it.

And this is at the heart of cultural appropriation. The heart of cultural appropriation is when another person from another race takes or uses someone else’s intellectual property, ideas, and/or creativity, and the perpetrator benefits from the usage of the originator’s property. The race perpetrator gets credit, and they stole it while the inventor doesn’t get credit. When cultural appropriation happens to Black people, it is another repeated slap in the face.

Listen, I am all for people discussing other people’s intellectual property. However, you need to do two things: One, you need to cite where you got said property from. Two, you need to have read the entire context when you use said property. I believe Melania didn’t quote Michelle’s speech because she knew that it would look unfavorably on her because her husband, Donald Trump, is running on the Republican ticket. To quote the first lady who is a Democrat looks bad. However, since it has been reported that Melania didn’t write her speech, and she had speechwriters, she should fire her speechwriter for plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech. She needs to be more proactive about who is writing her speeches and not entirely trust who does it. Or maybe even trying to write her own speech. She may not be the greatest writer, but it is better than being discovered that she read a plagiarized speech, But hey, that’s a part of White privilege, right? Your husband is the epitome of White privilege, White supremacy, and White wealth…so you don’t have to think for yourself but can hire someone to think for you.
S

J. Williams & J. Timberlake Situation

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I’ve been following comments all day concerning Jessie William’s speech and Justin Timberlake’s response to Black Twitter on his comments to a black tweet.

What has transpired between these two interrelated events is in how white folks have responded to William’s speech by calling him racist while white folks have responded to Justin Timberlake’s Twitter response.

Background: Jessie Williams made an astounding and breathtaking speech about how our lives, BLACK LIVES MATTER. Justin Timberlake viewed the speech and tweeted:

@iJesseWilliams tho… #Inspired #BET2016

 

However, Ernest Owens responded to Justin’s tweet:

So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too. #BETAwards
This is Justin’s reply to Ernest:

Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.
First, I want to respond to Justin’s response, and then, the comments that many have been making all day about both situations.

What I found problematic in what Justin said is how he responded to Ernest. Justin exercised his white privilege, pulling a “white power play” on Ernest. Ernest asked him a question, “So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture?” What is appropriation? Appropriation means to take ownership of someone else’s work without giving them due credit for it. Yes, Justin has cited his musical influences: Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. However, Blacks have a right to question Whites who are very successful when they make music that is black influenced music…are you giving a right amount of credit to black musicians? Ernest is calling out to Justin Timberlake for a response. Owens also directly calls to Timberlake in apologizing to Janet as well. This is directly at the Super Bowl 2004 Halftime show where Timberlake ripped Jackson’s bra, and her breast was shown on national television. Instead of sticking up for her and standing by her side, he took the road that was expected and didn’t agree with what happened during the time it was happening, but he did not take more action to further stick up for Jackson, either. Jackson was blamed and victimized while Timberlake didn’t nearly get harassed and villainized as Jackson.

Instead of addressing Owens head on with what he’s questioned and stated, Timberlake uses his white privilege to patronize and over power what Owens says in a colorblind racist statement:

“Oh, you sweet soul. The more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation. Bye.”

When I read this, I was infuriated. Maybe, just maybe Timberlake didn’t mean to come off as patronizing, but his statement did come off as patronizing. He avoids addressing black culture, cultural appropriation done to blacks, and not addressing how he used his white privilege card to not take the heat for what he did Janet Jackson in 2004. Instead of having a real, genuine conversation about race, Timberlake dismisses Owens by directly lumping in Owens as being the same as Timberlake…and Timberlake issuing silence because Timberlake cannot have a conversation with Owens until they realize that they are the same.

This is why we have colorblind racism. What Timberlake exposes is that I cannot talk to you if we aren’t on the same level. I will not talk to you until you, as black person, can identify with we have in common. This is a huge contradiction two-folded: The first folded contradiction is that if Timberlake was truly inspired by Jessie Williams speech, he would have taken a social justice action in having a conversation with Owens about the question he asked. The second folded contradiction is that Timberlake didn’t take anything from Williams’s speech to resonate with what Owens was asking. Owens is Black. Timberlake is White. From Owens’s perspective, Timberlake has made money off Black folks’ music. If Timberlake didn’t see it that way, he would have engaged in a conversation with Owens about why his music is heavily black influenced. Instead, Timberlake addressed Owens by being arrogant in exerting that Owens should understand where Timberlake is coming from by identifying that Owens is similar than Timberlake. This is Justin Timberlake’s biggest mistake. His biggest mistake is asking a person of color to get down to his level. In racial terms, for us, people of color, especially black folks in this country, many of us are and have gotten down on Timberlake’s level. Many of us have taken on white characteristics to get beyond the ghetto or the projects. I used Whiteness to pave a way as passing to “better myself from my Black welfare family.” However, while doing that, I silenced my blackness from emerging because I self-loathe myself thinking that Whiteness was my ticket to getting a better life.

Financially speaking, I do have it better than my mom and “stepfather,” but historically, I sacrificed my existing and emerging Blackness because I was told by my country, my community, my society, and Black and White culture that Whiteness was superior, and if you want to have anything, you must adopt White characteristics. I understand what Owens is doing, and I understand what Timberlake is doing. Owens is offended that Timberlake has made money off our music. Timberlake is offended that Owens questioned him.

For Timberlake to truly understand Jessie Williams’s speech would have been for Timberlake to open up a dialogue and ask Owens why he thinks that he is appropriating black music and culture…and to talk about his experience with what he did to Janet Jackson twelve years ago. By Timberlake using his white privilege, he also contributes to white supremacy by taking the heat off himself and placing it on…but we all are the same…and I won’t have a conversation with you until you bend will.

And this is what I see with most of the white folks’ comments on Facebook concerning Jessie Williams. All who are offended have similar responses like Timberlake expect that Timberlake wasn’t more explicit to Owens about being offended by Owens’s comments about race.

I’ve seen throughout the day some white folks responding to Jessie Williams’s speech as being racist against Whites. I’ve read some whites folks write that if white folks were in the same place as Williams and said that about black folks, they would be called racists. What these white folks in their comments don’t realize is that their comments are racistTheir comments are racist because they simply don’t get that black folks continue to experience racial oppression on so many levels in this country that it hinders them from actually being free. People of color suffer from having to be put on a watch list—all of us. If you aren’t “acting White,” you are a ghetto ass nigger, and you deserve to be abused in so many ways because you don’t follow the laws of the land. Well, those very laws are WHITE LAWS. That’s right. If you read Cheryl Harris’s Whiteness in Property, many of our existing laws are “white laws” that were made up from many white men who were wealthy and had slaves to increase their wealth. These laws have terrorize black people, and the enforcers of these laws are usually many white folks who exercise white supremacy.

To say that Williams is racist is using white privilege to not hear his message. Williams’s message was about how black people are in a racist systematic country where we are unable to truly be free in regards to how we contribute to American society. We cannot be free to be ourselves. We have always been second class citizens to Whiteness. Many of us have used Whiteness to have a better life, but many of us (including me) have silenced our Blackness and not embracing how different that we are.

Because now I understand it. We aren’t the same. We shouldn’t be the same. Being different is beyond acceptable. It is supposed to be our greatest quality in our American society. We are a melting pot, but we don’t act like it. Some white folks on Facebook said that Blacks continued to harp on race. They keep living in the past. We keep living in the past because the past has never resolved itself. We have never treated those wounds. So, we just keep ignoring them…we keep putting cream on them…thinking it is treating the infection, but the infection is only at bay, and it rages when we ignore it, thinking that it is healing, but the reality is that we are keeping it at bay.

I like Justin Timberlake, and I am a fan of his music. I believe he is quite talented, and he has done a lot for folks being a musician. However, I hope that the inspiration that he felt for Williams’s speech prompts aspiration in that it results in to action in learning more about Black history and black people. To learn more about Whiteness and how his white privilege hurts people. If he takes that action on being educated, then, I hope this inspiration from Williams’s speech takes on new meaning for him, and he actually uses his white privilege as social justice action to help educate other white people and have them realize that their white privilege and white supremacy harms people of color.

As for the racist comments on Facebook, yes, commenters are entitled to their opinions, but realize that other commenters are entitled to their opinions as well. As I told someone I love who is white, I am not trying to make you feel guilty about being White. You can’t change your skin color like I can’t change mines. You should be proud of being who you are. However, don’t exercise your race as means to hide behind what is really there. What is really there is this:

You are benefiting off the system of Whiteness that was set up for you over three hundred years ago. One way you are benefiting from it is not trying to empathize with Williams’s speech or with black folks’ stories. We aren’t complaining and whining. We are the oppressed group, and we have to deal with being mistreated due to you having your white privilege which contributes to white supremacy. The reason why you are saying that we are whining or bitching because you have never had to worry about whether your hands are on the steering wheel. You have never had to worry about running around your neighborhood while your white neighbor stares at you like you don’t belong in the same neighborhood. You never had to worry about being called a nigger. You certainly didn’t have to worry about if you were passed over a promotion because of your skin colored when you’ve worked your ass off every weekday.

Williams’s speech was inspirational because he was telling his people…we will make it through stronger and better. We always have.
S