All that We Have Isn’t All that We Have

A few weeks ago as I geared up emotionally for the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville and the ensuing hate rally White Nationalist rally in Washington DC, my husband surprised me with a day trip to Philadelphia to tour Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

I was grateful for the distraction. And, of course, I couldn’t overlook the juxtaposition of visiting the Liberty Bell on the exact day that Nazi’s White Nationalists were marching in Washington DC.

After all, the Liberty Bell has never been a definitive symbol of intersectional liberty. When the Liberty Bell was originally constructed, it did not include liberty for women, POC, persons in indigenous tribes or persons whom identify within the LGBTQIA community.

Today, the pursuit of liberty is still a pursuit for many people across the world and in the nation.

Today, the pursuit of justice is still a pursuit for many people across the world and in the nation.

Today, independence is still limited to a few rather than the many. And, that liberty is still at the expense of black and brown communities.  

These past two weeks, as I invested in some self-care practices and worked my way through the week, I couldn’t help but notice a deep compassion begin to well up inside of me for those whom choose hate as a life practice. As a strong advocate for racial and social justice, intersectional feminism and as a follower of Christ, I began to ask specific questions and lean into observations that helped me to lean in rather than lean out. And, I wanted to share some of these questions and observations.

                It must feel really lonely to make hate an identity

                I wonder what has happened that makes hate feel like the easiest option

                I can relate to feeling lonely and isolated.

                I can relate to feeling like people wish me harm

                I can relate to feeling afraid and scared because of the color of my skin

While these questions do not shift my attitude towards hate or acts of hate, these questions do shift my focus from the hateful action to the person whom is hurting. When I allow myself to humanize those whom wish me and others harm, I find that I have the capacity to choose a different response. Finding and choosing to not hate another person is probably one of the most powerful and important acts we can do as humans.

As a Christ follower, I have wrestled with the concept of loving my neighbor, particularly in terms of race, injustice and oppression.  

·         What does it mean to love someone whom fundamentally wishes me harm and, sometimes, even death?

·         What does it mean to follow a Christ that would expect that?

·         What does it look like to forgive someone for something in which they are not even sorry for?

·         What does it mean to build relationships with others whom fundamentally do not value or respect your body or life?

When considering the Unite the Right rally and the events leading up to it and those in its wake, it is easy for me to think in terms of extremes. My inclination is to characterize all those people into otheringtraits. Because, for me, there has never been a middle ground when considering toleration for injustice. Maybe that is my personality.

And, to be honest, I still don’t think that there is one.

However, I do think that in the midst of trouble and injustice and terror and fear, love can still win. Let me be clear, (because I am really over all that hype about the substitute life coach named Dr. Phil Pinterest with his filtered life advice quotes).

o   Choosing love isn’t choosing a life without boundaries

o   Choosing love isn’t choosing a life without truth telling

o   Choosing love isn’t denying racial or social justice

o   Choosing love doesn’t center from a source of whiteness and white innocence

o   Choosing love means staying committed, speaking truth, and choosing relationship, anyways

o   Choosing love is unselfish

o   Choosing love means staying intentionally un-colorblind

o   Choosing love means staying committed to intentional anti-racism

o   Choosing love is the hardest thing because it is totally and always undeserved

I think that part of my journey into Love has required reconciling my experiences that were supposed to be love with my newfound understanding of love.

Sometimes, even loving people will give unloving care.

Jesus consistently points us in the direction of Love, and yet I felt as if my religious background and ideology, particularly in regard to love, had always been limited to a love centered in and normalized by whiteness. In this context, blackness has remained a subordinated gender identity and became constructed not just in relation to white people but also in relation to how I understood White Jesus and religion.

Sometimes, loving people will cause harm.

This isn’t to condemn my upbringing. Instead, I wanted to articulate that my journey into Love has required committing to paying attention to the journey and recognizing the many layers which have shaped and continue to shape my ideology thus far.

We are revealed by the way in which we love.

Yesterday, I visited one of my local churches. I went rather begrudgingly. For as much as I enjoy traveling, I don’t really like visiting new churches, and I don’t like going to new churches alone (my husband is in his hometown this weekend), but I felt like God was quietly nudging me to visit this particular church.

And, of course He knew what He was doing.

So, I couldn’t help but giggle when I saw the new sermon series the pastors were beginning was entitled: Actors, Allies and Accomplices, in regard to anti-bigotry and the Bible.

In Acts 10, Peter is radically reminded of the revolutionary, upside-down, wild kind of love in which God invites all to participate in. Remember the story? It’s the one where God sends down a sheet filled with all the kinds of food in which Jews were forbidden to eat. And yet, God tells Peter that what He calls clean is no longer unclean. And, of course, God does this three times, because, well, it’s Peter, and Peter is that one friend that always needs the extra reminders. Every time.

And, I couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit convicted.

Especially with everything that has happened.

What if loving my neighbor means humanizing them, and that is enough? What if tiny acts that move toward love, are just enough?

This idea has challenged me to consider people that wish me harm in a different way. Because, what if the fact that I am still here and speaking my truth is exactly enough?

I think it is.

So, it’s been just over a year since the Unite the Right rally happened in Charlottesville and, I’m still here.

Okay, so maybe that is a bit dramatic (but, that is your sista girl).

Or, maybe that isn’t dramatic enough. 

The reality is that as a POC and as a woman, I am reminded every day about my status as a lesser citizen. It happens in the little things. The microaggressions and the overt aggressions.

·         It happens when the driver that cuts me off doesn’t just give me the middle finger but also yells the N word.

·         It’s the boss who asks when I’m going to have the “pretty hair” back

·          It’s the white coworker who says she doesn’t want any more “diversity” in her classroom

·         It’s the white male coworker who asks me when I am going to get my hair ready for school

·         It’s the family member who offers words like well, you’re the real racist when discussing issues of police brutality on brown and black communities.

·         It’s the deafening white silence white silence white silence.

·         It’s the sibling that will consistently shame you in front of other (white people) about your hair with offhand comments like, “nice wig,” “nice fake hair,”

Or, my personal favorites,

·         “I bet I could just pull that off of you right now.”

·         “Are you really going to keep wearing that on your head?”

As, I spent this past year reflecting on Charlottesville, I started to make deeper discoveries about myself, Love, God, and the importance of my own mental health. The effects of living with racism holds a very real and a very damaging toll on the mental health of POC, but are often overlooked within communities of color because everyone has PTSD and we are tired. I like the way the Combahee River Collective Statement puts it:

…The psychological toll of being a Black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon Back women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. As an early group member once said, “we are all damaged people merely by virtue of being Black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change the condition of all Black women. In “A Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood,” Michelle Wallace arrives at this conclusion:

We exist as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle – because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.  

And, this statement from Monica Morris’ critical book, Pushout:

Through stories we find that Black girls are greatly affected by the stigma of having to participate in identity politics that marginalize them or place them into polarizing categories: they are either “good” girls or “ghetto” girls who behave in ways that exacerbate stereotypes about Black femininity, particularly those relating to socioeconomic status, crime, and punishment. When Black girls do engage in acts that are deemed “ghetto” –often a euphemism for actions that deviate from social norms tied to a narrow, White middle-class definition of femininity – they are frequently labeled as nonconforming and thereby subjected to criminalizing responses. It has been speculated that Black girls’ nonconformity to traditional gender expectations may prompt educators to respond more harshly to the negative behaviors of Black girls. For example, a 2007 study found that teachers often perceived Black girls as being “loud, defiant, and precocious.” And that Black girls were more likely than their White or Latina peers to be reprimanded for being “unladylike”

I would advocate that the same is true for black women in the workforce. This past week, a white male colleague, around my age, stopped me to ask me when I was going to get my hair ready for school. He is often a jokester and has a habit of saying ignorant things that I push back against.

He likes to be that guy.

But, I have been rocking my natural hair for the past few years. Sometimes, I wear a weave, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I put it in braids, but I had finally taken out the braids and had decided to pull it back in a neat, tidy, afro puff.

I didn’t have a response to his comments. And, ya know that this girl usually has a plethora of words and comebacks.

But, I realized that I was afraid.

I was afraid of how I might come off.

I was afraid of using Ebonics that may label me as “sounding ghetto.”

I was afraid…. of him and being told to calm down…to not play the race card…to relax because it was just a joke.

But, words have power. And, as educators, our words have a unique sort of power.

As a black educator, I remain increasingly aware of the importance of racial representation in the workforce, particularly in the education system. I know that it has been over 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education but in a 2017 reportby Education Week, 80-82% of the nation’s teachers are white females.

As a black educator with natural hair, I also remain increasingly aware of the importance for natural hair representation.

When I wear my hair in a natural puff, my black kindergarten students often greet me with a, “hey friend! Your hair is just like mine and mommies.” When, my 5th grade girls see my hair in a natural puff they ask me if it people are cool with me wearing my hair like that because they have already begun to recognize and internalize what is deemed as “professional” hair and what is not.

I tell my fifth graders that I love my natural hair and that I am proud of it.

The last month of school, some of them started wearing their hair out in its natural glory. And, when we would see each other in the hallway, we would compliment one another.

Representation matters.

Advocates matter.

But, I didn’t know what to say.

So, I walked away. And, that was enough. Sometimes, there are situations that we have to walk away from. And, that is okay and valid and enough. I think as activists, we are often pulled into the idea that we always have to be battling.

What if I told you that some days just standing or sitting or laying in bed and crying, is enough?

This week, as I begin to unwind and also gear up for the beginning of another school year, I am holding myself lightly. I am speaking to myself gently. And, I am loving myself and my natural hair.

And, I am saying that I am enough.

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