All that We Have Isn’t All that We Have

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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.

Why I’m here for the #blackgirlmagic movement

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Self-love. Self-affirmation. Self-awareness. These are just some of the reasons that I celebrate the #blackgirlmagic movement. And, while I wasn’t sold on the name of the movement at first, I am all herefor celebrating and elevating black women and black girls.

Existing at the intersections of race and gender, black women are rarely told that they are intellectual, pretty, enough or educated. Instead, black women are often relegated to carefully constructed stereotypes: Jezebel, Mammy or Sapphire -these traits were discussed in an earlier blog post which you can access, here and  here for my research paper. In a world buoyed by patriarchy and white supremacy, rarely does the media promote positive and loving images of black women and so the #blackgirlmagic is a necessary and apt proclamation. And, it’s crazy that this self-love is often deemed as problematic and unpatriotic (ie: anti-white).

Oh wait. 

It’s not that crazy.

Oops. #taylorswiftshrug

But, westernized black women stereotypes have real world, real life effects, particularly because of the fundamental connection between domination and representation. (hint: 99.9999999 percent of the time those that remain dominant control representation and historical narratives…) And, obviously, the ways in which these stereotypes undermine the credibility and inherent value of black women. 

I am most often painfully aware of the struggle for black representation and the tension of internalized racism in, perhaps ironically, black hair salons and black hair stores.

It is not uncommon for black hair stores to include a shelf row (or sometimes entire shelves) to these small, magic bottles which, when applied, will bleach dark skin into lighter skin.

As if your sista black girl needed another reason to hate herself and her dark skin…. add some bleach.

Indeed, lye, which is a common ingredient for many straightening creams, when applied to the hair can cause permanent damage to the scalp and to the hair resulting in severe burns and hair loss.
And yet, these are just acceptable risks when aiming to achieve “white perfection.” 

I will never forget when my own hair started to fall out as a result of a home straightening kit. Or, when a friend was left with patchy bald spots on her own head due to a similar kit.

As a child, I was fundamentally convinced that if I could have lighter skin and straighter hair not only would I be prettier, but I would also be more intellectual. But, as a child, I could not articulate these views. I could not, as bell hooks so aptly states, say:

“Mommy, I am upset that after all these years from babyhood on, I thought I was a marvelous, beautiful, gifted girl, only to discover that the world does not see me this way.”

I had no means of articulating my own internalized white supremacist views and indeed, this internalization often led to a deep, unsettled, visceral rage.  

And, because you know me, you already know I am going to add some academia into this. Just in case you need to add some additional black female scholars to your list. (HINT: You probably do). 

Lorde, in her critical essay, “Eye to Eye” says this about the rage regarding internalized racism and sexism:

We [black women] do not love ourselves, therefore we cannot love each other. Because we see in each other’s face our own face, the face we never stopped wanting. Because we survived and survival breeds desire for more self. A face we never stopped wanting at the same time as we try to obliterate it. Why don’t we meet each other’s eyes? Do we expect betrayal in each other’s gaze, or recognition?

But, this story is not a new story. Indeed, I could say the same for many black children in the States.
But, it is an important one to investigate.

Photo retrieved from Google Photos

In the 1960s, Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clarke designed the doll test, a test designed to study the psychological effects of racial segregation on African American children.

“Drs. Clark used four dolls, identical except for color, to test children’s racial perceptions. Their subjects, children between the ages of three to seven, were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which color doll they prefer. A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.”

This test has been replicated over the past few decades, and the results remain disturbingly similar. Black children continue to believe that the “white doll” is better, smarter and prettier than the black doll.
But it’s not black children that believe this. It’s black adults. It’s white adults. And, it’s societal. One of the categories for my yearly work performance reviews is “Appearance.” While I have often chosen to wear my hair natural either braided or in a simple afro puff, I could not help but notice the additional compliments I received this past year when I wore a straight weave. Everyone from my boss to fellow colleagues to my clients to family members gave me a version of, and some exactly the following:

“You look so professional,”

“you look so smart,”

“you look so pretty”

“you look like you could be a model”  

Each one of the “compliments” followed a prescribed ideological model: Straight is better. White is best. 

Not once did I receive those same compliments when my hair was not in a weave. As an educator, I have made it part of my job to intentionally notice and affirm each black girls hair whether it is worn naturally or not. 

Representation matters. 

And, it’s why I push for multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic representation in education. 

It’s why I work in the educational field. 

In her series of essays in “Black Looks,” bell hooks offers the following:

“…and it struck me that for black people, the pain of learning that we cannot control our images, how we see ourselves (if our vision is not decolonized), or how we are seen is so intense that it rends us. It rips and tears at the seams of our efforts to construct self and identity. Often it leaves us ravaged by repressed rage, feeling weary, dispirited, and sometimes just plain old brokenhearted. These are the gaps in our psyche that are the spaces where mindless complicity, self-destructive rage, hatred, and paralyzing despair enter (9).”

Challenging the ways in which black people and blackness have been historically represented must become a critical, intentional part of the liberation movement. We must consider the ways in which we write and talk about the images we produce andthose of which are produced about us. And, we must offer into academia new critiques which have not been spoken. Too often, our main stream racial critiques have been regulated to reactions against representations created by white people that are blatantly stereotypical. And, yet, we often do not discuss the ways in which we, as black people, also market ourselves in similar stereotypical styles.

Little progress is made if we continue to push for change without challenging and shifting paradigms.

This argument should not be mistaken for a total disregard of the way things are. I submit, that the black economy has historically functioned in tandem, though not equitably or even consciously, with the white market economy. And, there is an odd sense of justification in that it makes sense to comply with those whom make the rules.  And yet, I also submit that black representation requires radical intervention and revolutionary attitudes. To do this, we must think critically and take risks and ask hard questions.
To do this, we can no longer remain complicit with old, harmful traditions. 

So, I am all here for the #blackgirlmagic movement because I also think that we have a platform to disrupt old ways of representation. And, I’m all here for the #blackgirlmagic movement because I hope that it morphs into something that challenges contemporary ideologies regarding self-love and black bodies.
For me, #blackgirlmagic celebrates the beauty and richness of black womanhood and black girlhood. For me, #blackgirlmagic is a conversation starter that I hope will one day include real, sustainable discussions about black female mental health. For me, #blackgirlmagic is hope. 

As a black woman, loving one’s own blackness is such an important and fundamental affirmation and practice, but it also fraught with political connotations. As bell hooks so aptly states in “Black Looks:”

“[m]ost folks in this society do not want to openly admit that “blackness” as sign primarily evokes in the public imagination of whites (and all the other groups who learn that one of the quickest ways to demonstrate one’s kinship within a white supremacist order is by sharing racist assumptions) hatred and fear…when present it is deemed suspect, dangerous and threatening (10).”

But, loving one’s self and blackness is important life-giving and life-saving work. I am often reminded how important it is for black women and black girls to be affirmed and given equitable opportunities. I recently began reading the book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris, and became even more convinced how vital it is to affirm black womanhood.  

Blackgirlmagic is, in itself, the practice of resistance. 

So, blackgirlmagic…for how short or long this moment is, will remain for a positive moment in which I too am reconnected with self-love. And, I am hoping that this is also true for so many other black women and girls all over the world. 

Shalom always,

All the Light Within Part II: Jasmine

Reading Time: 4 minutes

All the Light Within Part II: Jasmine

In the past few years, it has become increasingly important for me to connect with other transracial adoptees. In the wake of reconnecting with my biological mother two years ago, I have found comfort and solace in the shared connection of the transracial adoption experience, and a renewed commitment to amplifying the adoptee voice utilizing my blog platform.

I have dedicated the month of July towards telling transracial adoptee stories through a series entitled: All the Light Within, by featuring 4 different transracial adoptees. If you missed Part I, please click here to access.

If you are an interracial adoptee and would like to be considered for an interview, I would welcome your private message via FB or comments on my blog.

I think one of the best things about telling adoption stories is that ultimately adoption stories are relationship stories. Relationships often include struggle and disappointment, sometimes loneliness and abandonment, but relationships are also miraculous because of how they connect people with other people. I think that transracial adoptions can sometimes provide a particularly important lens when seeking to investigate systems of attachment, childhood development and transracial relationships, and I hope that you feel privileged and encouraged by Jasmine’s openness.  

I still remember the first time I met Jasmine during a college theater activity. Because both of us attended the same small Mennonite college in the middle of rural, tumbleweed Kansas, you can imagine that it wasn’t very racially diverse. I will never forget how her vivacious personality, beautiful smile and infectious belly laugh immediately caught my attention, and I remain grateful for her vulnerability and genuine spirit.

Jasmine is a 25-year-old black woman and currently resides in the Southwest. Because she was unable to Skype, this interview features Jasmine’s written responses to specific questions regarding her adoption.

Born in 1993, Jasmine begins her adoptive story with this memory:

The day I was born, I was placed in a home because my birth mother was incarcerated. I have been with that wonderful family ever since. Barb and Dick Jones then became my legal guardians when I was 5 years old.

According to Bureau of Justice Statisticians, Lauren Glaze and Laura Maruschak, in their study, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children, the number of children with a mother in prison increased 131 percent between 1991 and midyear 2007..and, children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system have an above average likelihood of entering foster care.

These statistics are particularly staggering when you begin to consider the demographics which were most affected in the wake of the Crack Epidemic. But it is even more important to remember that these are not just statistics, but people. And, that real people were effected and continue to be effected.

 I invite you to read Jasmine’s story with care and I remain grateful to Jasmine for her vulnerability and openness.

How do you identify racially?

I honestly identify myself as biracial. My birth mother’s mother was white, but my mom had more black on her.

Did you recognize early on that you were different from your adoptive family?

I truly never really felt different from my adoptive family. I consider myself very lucky to have been placed in such a loving and understanding home. The community that I grew up was mostly white and they never treated me any differently.

Did your parents/family discuss your differences with you?

 Yes, very much so, and it helps me love who I am even more.

What values did your parents instill in you?

How to be a hard worker.

What has been the best thing about your adoption?

For me, it would be growing up in a loving, safe home with people who actually cared for me. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted

What, if anything, would you want to tell someone about your adoption journey?

I would tell them if they are thinking about adoption to not hesitate…to just do it…. that they are saving the precious baby.

Did you feel isolated or lonely growing up?

No. I had a pretty good set of friends we are still pretty close today and I truly value their friendships.

Was race an issue for you/your family?


Did you live in a racially dominant area?

Not at all. My younger sister (who was also adopted, but is not my biological sister) and I were pretty much the only black people in our town. There are maybe, maybe 7 total. But our town is also very small.

In your neighborhood, was race an issue?

 If it was, I never once experienced it. But also, we never had a neighborhood.

When did you, if at all, first begin to identify with the black community? (ie: some have said when Trayvon Martin was killed, some have said when they began to make more black friends, etc.,):

Hesston College actually was the first time. And, I am happy I got to experience Hesston. I made a lot of good friends.

Do you feel like race impacts you?

Yes, now that I am grown up and looking for work it is very hard….it seems like no one wants to hire the black woman.

What was your first negative racialized moment?

I honestly cannot remember and maybe that is for the best. I haven’t really had any bad experiences with being black.

When was your first positive racialized moment? (ie: For example, maybe you always loved being biracial, or maybe you did when you began to love your hair…etc.,):

 I think it was when I realized how awesome bright colors looked against my skin.

I love that positive racialized moment statement. And, I love Jasmine’s continued optimism. She faces the world with a sunny disposition, and she continues to inspire me. And, maybe, she also inspired you.

Keep on the lookout for part III of All the Light Within. 

Shalom always,