On the Subject of When You Lose Your Power & Baited Arguments

Reading Time: 7 minutes

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression

Growing up, I never particularly enjoyed fishing. And, every other year my extended family would vacation at a friend’s cabin. There, fishing was a social event. My dad and uncles would loan out fishing rods to eager cousins waiting to rush into the marsh, battling waist-high cattails while they awaited a bite. And, while occasionally someone would catch something, more often than not empty lines would reel back in with a bit of algae and other aquatic greenery.

Disappointed, a cousin would walk back to the forest with a shovel, confident that the right worm would bait the fish. Confident that the desired input would create the desired output.

Right?

But fishing doesn’t always work like that.

Sometimes, we fish and we get a bite. Sometimes, we fish and we catch something. Sometimes, we fish and all we get is a bit of algae. And, sometimes we fish and we catch something completely unexpected. Like…who knew there was a tractor at the bottom of our lake?

I think that this analogy is often similar to how people approach conversations about race. Sometimes with a bit of trepidation, sometimes with a particularly juicy worm and sometimes confident that the desired input will create the desired output.

This past weekend, I went on a backpacking trip with my family, and I couldn’t help but notice my own rising anxiety as I prepared for the trip. In general, family dynamics are hard. And, intentional multicultural awareness and sensitivity can be particularly nuanced when these characteristics are also inherently bound to a familial framework and, perhaps, uninvestigated traditional worldviews.

As the youngest child in my family, my experience has often involved being discounted as a source of authority solely on the merit of my familial position.

And, perhaps you have experienced your own familial arguments riddled with the latent understanding that: you can have an opinion but other people are older and wiser.

This familial framework combined with the overwhelming temptation to revert back to old childhood frameworks and understandings can often hold deep political implications as well as intense emotional ones.

And, in order to function semi-sanely, I have found that part of my own multicultural double consciousness within my own familial system inherently relies on separation tactics.

When a sibling discounts my opinion on something regarding to my own experience with racism, I often find myself reasoning myself down with something like the following: in most situations with this particular sibling, my voice is often discounted because of my familial position compounded by our own complicated relationship; therefore, the over reactionary statements I’m hearing can’t be racist, because no matter the context I wouldn’t be right. Instead, this conversation is perhaps more of a direct output of pent-up rage, frustration and perhaps intentional meanness.

This is not to claim that my opinion about racism is infallible. Nor, is it to suggest that cross-racial dialogue regarding racism isn’t valuable. However, the mental somersaults, I was creating in order to explain away the ________was more than ridiculous. It was unhealthy.  

See, while I used to be disgusted but committed towards creating alternative explanations, I have found that as I focus on my own mental and emotional health, I can no longer create defenses for siblings, family members or community members whom spew intentionally untrue and racist ideologies.
Creating defenses isn’t helpful or healthy. 

And, while I used to think about how this decision would cost me, I realized that it was already costing me.

It has already cost me.

It has cost me my own ability to stand up for myself.

And, it has cost me my voice in exchange for white, although family, comfort.

It is not my job to make white people comfortable. And, I cannot limit this to only certain white people. It is not my job to make ANY white person comfortable. Whiteness is generally an institutional default. To name a few, in terms of objective opinion, idealized “truth tellers,” media narratives, the NFL, white supremacy, immigration policies…whiteness remains centralized. Whiteness remains protected. Whiteness remains a leg up despite my own interracial upbringing.   

Noticing and naming these dynamics are important steps towards regaining emotional health. I have often discounted confronting the politics of whiteness, racism and supremacy within my own family system because I have often been too scared of feeling abandoned again.

But noticing and naming my own fear of abandonment equips and empowers me to name and confront my fear when fear is holding me back.

I have often used this space to reflect and create dialogue on various racialized experiences I have had, or to write about pieces which I believe are contemporary and newsworthy. And, I strive to present personal, well thought-out, well-researched information in the hopes to create sustainable, intentional, committed, cross-racial relationships.

While, I think it is usually futile to argue with internet trolls or take the baited argument, I wanted to provide some reflections on something that happened to me this weekend because I have often been asked how to respond to racism or racially charged commentary within family systems. And, while I often caveat that I am not a counselor or a social worker, I believe that vulnerability is a critical tenant of relationship building and, vis-à-vis, dismantling racism.

As mentioned earlier, this past weekend I went backpacking (for the first time!), with my family. And, if my family is anything like yours, perhaps you know that intentional family time can be kinda like a kudzo vine that, if left unsupervised, can grow into all sorts of unknown and terrifying shit.

I want to caveat the included vignette, by admitting that I’m still hurt, frustrated, disappointed and disturbed by this particular incident. And, for better or for worse, I usually try to take an intentional break before writing in order to combat my own propensity of instantaneous reaction. However, the reason I wanted to share this in, perhaps, a timelier fashion, was because I believe that these stories are not specifically unique. More and more often, I have heard friends and community members dreading the holidays because, undoubtedly, someone will bring up politics.

And, I used to empathize, nod my head, and give a few suggestions like: lean in. In a nod (yet again to Dr. Amanda Kemp) notice if you are acting from your own specific vision of racial justice or from fear. Ask clarifying questions. Notice if you are in the right head space to be able to lean in or if you need to walk away. Notice and validate the way in which your body is reacting. Your body will give you clues regarding your true emotional state! If you can, stay committed to listening to your body throughout the conversation as well.

But, sometimes, a conversation will come up where no matter the strategies I have in my toolkit, I still hit that one conversation where you know you’re just gonna have a moment.  

And, I hit that conversation this weekend.

Perhaps, it was because we were backpacking and rolling out of bed to a conversation of steaming hot, scrambled Donald Trump breakfast before 9 isn’t the way I want to start off my day. EVER. Or, maybe it was because my relationship with this particular person hasn’t ever been what I would consider good. Or, maybe it was because after sleeping on roots, and getting rained on I was not even close to being in the headspace to talk about race. But, whatever it was, I found myself having the conversation.

I remember, at one point near the beginning, caveating the conversation with something like: I’m not sure if our relationship can handle this conversation, but I want to at least try. This is a good strategy because it is intentionally honest and allows room for the other person to be honest about the relationship.

While, the conversation remained civil, I found myself reeling from these particular soundbites:

Me: Why don’t you believe me about racism? This question, while I felt like was a good question at the time – and was really kind of a desperate grab for visibility like, hey! Remember that I’m a credible person -, isn’t actually a strategy I would recommend because it inherently relies on a sum-zero game of truth-teller vs. liar. Additionally, it sets up the conversation to re-center on personal grievances rather than one which relies on shared empathy and relational commitment.

 It maybe goes without saying that, in multicultural families, this framework is particularly nuanced in black (POC)/white frameworks and additionally nuanced when buoyed by familial contexts.

Sibling: “You really want to know?! Because you sensationalize EVERYTHING. I know I’ve skimmed some of your posts, and you go looking for racism in everything and you perceive racism everywhere and everything you say is related to race…” “…god just wants us to live positively, and I don’t read the news much…but here you are pissed off all the time at the world because you look for racism, and I hope the world isn’t as racist as you perceive that it is”

And, I didn’t know what to say.

I mean, I did.

But…it wasn’t worth it.

I could tell you that I managed to end the conversation without—

Punching. Throwing up. Screaming. Swearing or yelling.

I could tell you that I managed to walk back past my tent and sit on a log and cry for about ten minutes.

I could tell you that I tried to avoid conversations with this particular sibling for the rest of the weekend because I knew that if I didn’t, I might revert back to say oh

Punch, screaming, throwing up, swearing or yelling.

But, while these situations happen, what I found myself needing was a time to not only debrief but also a time to re-strategize.

And, I found myself repeating these words over and over to myself:

If I am committed towards building cross-racial, sustainable, committed, relationships than that includes my family.

If I am committed towards building cross-racial, sustainable, committed, relationships than that includes my family.

If I am committed towards building cross-racial, sustainable, committed, relationships than that includes my family.

As someone whom one day hopes to be a diversity and justice consultant, I have found that a version of this conversation, while – generally perhaps not so direct – crops up in my personal life from time to time. And, I wonder, if I had stuck to some of my tools in my toolkit- how the conversation would have turned out.

What if, I had said something like: Wow. It sounds like you have a lot of strong emotions. I wonder what feels scary or particularly hard about this conversation? This is a great question because it invites the other person to get right to the core of their emotions. And, by way of invitation, it validates the other person’s experience and equally allows them space to take a breath and realize that you are committed to seeing them despite the outward reaction.

Ask a clarifying question and lean in. I wonder what would have happened if I had said something like, “wow, it seems like you are really frustrated. Can you tell me more about your frustration?”  

 “Can I share what it is like for me?” This is another great strategy because it allows a chance for dialogue. In this situation, I wish I would have said something like, “wow, when you accuse me of ______, I feel hurt. I wish that I felt like this relationship was a safer place in order to have this conversation. I care about you and I want to know what is hard for you. You’re important to me.”  I often find that in conversations like these, I do one of two things: distance myself by only asking questions or distance myself by deflecting.

While this conversation included dialogue in which I did share examples of my own experience, I realized that I left the conversation feeling powerless. And, I had to rely on some of my own mental health strategies to feel re-stabilized. For example, I talked with a trusted friend. When I got back, I took a long hot shower. I wrote down my feelings and I meditated.

When I allow myself to notice my own feelings and my own body, I allow myself to heal.

To borrow, (again), from Dr. Amanda Kemp, here’s my challenge to you: “Notice when you feel as if your power has been stripped away from you.  What triggered you?  What do you do to protect and strengthen yourself?  Any poisons?

Shalom always,

When Protecting Yourself isn’t Magical Unicorn Shit or When Setting Boundaries is Fundamentally Life Saving

Reading Time: 8 minutes


Alright, so I already know that you clicked on this one simply because the title had “shit” in it.


So, I better deliver right?

Hah.

Sorrynotsorry.

Have you ever read an article and realized it felt like the author had stolen your diary? Okay, super melodramatic, I know, and maybe even super reminiscent of that Lauryn Hill & The Fugee’s song:

I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd,
I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud.

I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on…

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,


But, that moment happened to me this week. Sometimes when I do self-care it looks like chocolate or crazy-stress cleaning or a mound of books or a hike. And, other times it just looks like mindless stumbling on the internet finding articles from other black women on self-care.

Can you guess what this week held?

5 gold stars if you said something to the effect of: all of the above.

So, because some of my best writing is response writing, this is my response/truth to Taylnn Kel’s piece, “When Protecting Yourself from Racism is The Selfish Choice”  which can be found on the website: The Establishment. 

I’vebeen slowly cutting people out of my life for a while now. (yeah, I know that you’re over there holding your breath wondering if I’m going to cut you out. But this isn’t about you. Or maybe it is. I”m not telling). 

At first I thought I was being super slick. You know, like utilizing that “unfriend” button or even that “delete” button on the phone contacts. But then it progressed, and I thought that maybe it would go unnoticed if I didn’t acknowledge that I was doing this out loud. So, I just…stopped going to certain things: parties, weddings, holiday celebrations. As if I could lie to myself about it (but honestly, I didn’t need to do that, because I was okay with it.)

It kind of started with an extended family’s holiday gathering…which then led to missing other gatherings and celebrations. And, when people asked me why, or let’s be honest – when people asked other people why, no one could really give a good answer. Or at least, not an honest answer. Because that would mean intentionally acknowledging and naming that racism, misogyny and sexual abuse are inherent structures in my family system.

So, usually these “other people” give some glib response or, when they are feeling particularly noble say something like: “well, why don’t you ask her?”

Nobody has asked me to my face yet.
And, this has caused substantial crises within the larger and smaller family units.
Someone will ask me if I’m going to an upcoming extended family event. I will smile and say no. And, usually the conversation dies. Or, someone will ask me when I think I will be “up for it,” and I say something along the lines of:

  
Recently, a family member reached out to me and wondered why they never see me anymore. And, I took a deep breath. The last family event I went to was a wedding. I had been anxious and stressing  in the days leading up to the event because…everything. So, when it came time for the wedding, I  worked hard to make sure that what I was wearing would be inconspicuous and that I could mentally and emotionally handle all the stupid, silly, ridiculous, offensive shit family members and strangers would say:

“You and your husband will make the most beautiful babies,”

“Is your hair real,” *insert hair grab*

“Can black people really get sunburnt?”

            “You look just like Lupito” 

            “I bet you can teach us some fun dance moves”

“Oh, so you were the one they adopted…we were wondering”

So, I went to the wedding. And, I grabbed my purse with the lipstick Mace…and prayed for restraint or alcohol.

See, growing up, when something happened – you know, those incidents (ie: Grandma says something racist), it was always about prioritizing the event:

“well, this is Christmas, we don’t want to ruin Christmas…”

or the other person:

“well, they didn’t know that it meant that…”

“well, they didn’t mean it…”

and I was always supposed to remember that.

And, while it was never really said out loud, my family would hint that certain family members weren’t “particularly bright or socially adept” or, for some… “well, they are just old…” As if this cleared up or explained the situation.

 But see, the comments were always about how I was different and how my difference was a problem. And it was never the right time to address my experience or how these comments, when left alone and unattended, resulted in feeling profoundly isolated and traumatized. 

Being in an interracial relationship and growing up as an interracial adoptee in a Mennonite family also propounds these events because Mennonites are so ingrained with that passive-aggressive type shit.

Heads up: I hate passive aggressive shit.

Family members limit contacts with certain other family members, and while I know that many posture with the false “I love you,” nobody really likes or even knows one another. When I explain this to my parents, I’m caught up in the realization that they often do not understand how offensive the comments are because the particulars are usually so lost on them. And, to borrow from Kel’s piece:

“…in the interest of getting in and out of whatever social obligation pulled me into their orbit, I needed to understand they were limited and let this ignorant shit go because the situation at hand was always more important, and I shouldn’t make things about me. Except this was about me – how this family talks to me – and only I seemed to care about it.”

It was after that wedding and after a whole slew of choice comments made from party-goers and extended family members alike that I decided to just let shit go…meaning, people, go. I should clarify here that I understand and believe that it is important to have friends in your life whom can hold you accountable and can disagree with you on things. But, having friends whom are invested in your life and want the best for you is fundamentally different than continuing to engage in relationship with those whom do not hold your best interests at heart. 

So, I started cutting people out. Specifically, I decided that I could not and would not eff up my self-worth anymore by interacting with others whom fundamentally could not and would not respect my body or my existence. And, that included letting shit go…on both sides of my family.

My choice to let people go has been difficult. Not only because I believe deeply in relationships but I also recognize my own propensity to stay in shitty relationships and do all the work even when that means sacrificing my own body for people whom are not invested in my own intrinsic and inherent self-worth. Kell expresses it this way:  

“Our culture is inundated with images of Black women sacrificing themselves in every way imaginable for whatever greater good is in vogue. And when we collapse from the strain and die from the stress, people look around for the next martyr for the cause. But I’m not a martyr. I’m a Black woman trying to live her life under ridiculous circumstances, in a society that tells me I’m not enough. I deserve better than sacrificing my physical and emotional safety to support anyone.”

For me, these expectations of the sacrificial black-woman-lamb-for-slaughter is not just relevant in familial circles, but also in religious and business community’s ones as well. This idea has institutional backing and creates very real, physical, emotional and psychological damage. As I’ve begun talking about the microaggressions and racism that I’ve experienced within family systems, I have often run into the following, but ubiquitous type of all kinds of shitty phrase:
Remember that dreaded middle-school phrase?

 As if sensitivity is somehow a reasonable dismissive tactic for expecting reasonable, respectful, responsible relationship.

In my commitment to self-worth and self-care, I’ve been accused of:
  • Having an “agenda”
  • Playing the “race card,”
  • Intentionally and maliciouslly creating divisive relationships 
  • Being too militantly black (whatever that means?!) 

And, being in an interracial relationship, I have often been told to slow down, or “not bring up” race-related topics, because it was always about saving his feelings.

**News flash: if your relationship relies on tiptoeing on eggshells in order to save one another’s feelings, that is not a relationship. (To clarify, this should not be mistaken as a flippant response meant to usurp the idea of committed, loving relationships. However, my commitment to my husband relies on our commitment to be honest with one another. For me, this does not mean avoiding race related conversations).**

For most of my life, whenever I have confronted people about something that I have experienced as racist, my experience is reduced to something emotional, irrational or hormonal. You know, those fun little trite sayings:

            “Someone’s on her period.”

            “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed”

In past family situations, I was often expected to roll over and accept the abuse in order to maintain the peace…to maintain the holiday gathering.

No.  
“I’ve lost count of the myriad of ways people will tell me to put my well-being and emotional and personal safety behind the needs of others, be they the men in my life, the white people in my life, the good of the family, the good of the company…the reasons are limitless.”

While, society has conditioned us to believe that prioritizing my body and black women bodies and my well-being (and black women’s well-being) equates with selfishness, I am convinced that instead this makes me responsible. When I say ‘no’ to situations in which I know that I will not be respected, I allow myself to acknowledge the reality that some communities cannot and will not give a damn and, as a result, I am no longer putting energy into persons whom are not invested in my inherent value.  

It is important and responsible to choose yourself. 

Go ahead – call me selfish, if you want.

As I have begun to opt out of emotionally tiring and traumatizing situations, I have begun to notice an interesting pattern emerge involving my husband. Instead of asking me about why I have opted out of specific events, persons whom are curious about my life decisions now ask my husband.

Remember how I mentioned that I hate passive aggressive shit?

Already, my husband has been fielding emotional attacks from both his family and mine. And, while he has become an expert on flippant comebacks, I am often reminded how easily my body has become weaponized. And now my very being is a black threat “[some]feel the need to manage and can’t.”

I’m reminded how easy it would be to just let shit go. You know, the side comments about “the illegals,” or the comments about “black-on-black-violence” or police brutality.

There almost seems like there is this unspoken expectation that if only I could let that shit go and accept it, everything would “go back to the way it was.”  

No.  

It is reasonable and acceptable for me to demand and expect respect. 

It is reasonable and acceptable to expect civil disagreements in loving relationships with others.

It is reasonable and acceptable to set boundaries that protect your ability to function holistically.

It is reasonable and acceptable to realize that the word “friend” has been tossed around like free candy, and that even within family systems there will be some people whom are not your friends. And, this is okay. 


Additionally, there are things on which I cannot compromise because:

  • There are people that are dangerous for me.
  • There are people who intentionally and maliciously mean me harm.
  • There are people who expect me to roll over and keep the peace.
  •  There are people who expect me to keep my angry black woman rage to myself while simultaneously sharing the #blackgirlmagic
  • There are people who expect my back to be the bridge for racial reconciliation
  • There are people who expect me to be expendable and to accept this reality
No.

As a follower of Jesus, I have often struggled to follow Jesus and value my body because the rhetoric peddled by many Jesus followers is often one in which follows a colorblind script or a racist one.

No.

That is not Jesus.

So, I’m cutting shit out and choosing me. 

Things They Never Tell You: 25 Truths

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Reflections from childhood

One

This blackness. This caramel body, gray ash knees, 4C wonder, too sun-fried skin and wide hip, thick lips blackness. This blackness, she gave me. This blackness, he gave me before he wound up dead and she, wail deep and mourn in cocaine. This blackness, born too early: just a coffee bean, a caramel kiss, a bastard baby some blackness gave away.

Two

She follows me around the store with her camera while I work. She, scrawny adolescent. I bet she is eleven. Me: 16 at the time. She hides behind her IPhone but I can hear her click-click-clicking. “I have never seen another black person before,” she breathes. As if this is okay. As if her laugh excuses her. As if taking pictures of me as a novelty is normal.

Three

I have learned how to use whiteness to shield me. Trailing behind momma, I pick up a shirt. I can smell the saleslady behind me; hear her breathing hitch as I fumble for chapstick. I know how to lose her though. I know how to make this end.

“Momma.” A white, middle-aged woman turns, her smile half irritated. But she turns, and I know she is wondering what I want now. “What.” Her voice is tired, but I smile. Because just like that, I watch the saleslady behind me disappear. Just like magic.

Four

Historically, I am told that white people used to sell us on a block. I am told that white people used to rip our families apart that white people and black people are too different to ever be together. That white people cannot be trusted. I am told that black people and blackness and this hair and this body are too dirty and too different to be in this white space.

I am told that black people left me. That black people didn’t want me and that is why I am here with these white people.

I am told too many confusing things. I cannot comprehend why white people who don’t want black people wanted black people that black people did not want. I cannot comprehend why white people who love black people are still…white people. I cannot comprehend why black people who love white people…are nothing.

Five

Your child should not be your first multicultural friend

Six

It’s nighttime and I’m wearing a dark hoodie in my car when I hear the sirens. The police officer that pulls us over goes to my side of the car: the passenger side. He says “Good evening gentleman”, and asks me for my license. It’s only then that I realize what he sees. Me, with my newly cut hair shrouded in shadows in an oversized hoodie and my white husband.

He asks to see my white husband’s driver’s license and registration. I start counting backwards:

5

4

I am thinking of gutters. There is one close to the car and I wonder what would happen if I am found there…later. I toss the thought away. I am thinking of the wine bottle spilling beneath my seat. We had brought it for family night. It is open. Is carrying a bottle illegal? When the sirens blared, I accidentally kicked it. It spilled. I sprayed perfume to cover the scent. Can he smell it? Does he know? I didn’t drink but will that sound like a lie? My husband didn’t drink and he is driving. Will that sound like a lie? I test out the words “But I wasn’t drinking.” My voice is shaky and small. I am not shaky and I am not small. And, I’m not a man. I’m a woman. Cops don’t shoot women…right?

I am thinking of gutters again. Of how easy it would be to make me disappear. I am already “disappeared” underneath this hoodie and in this body. I am already disappeared when my husband pats my leg and tells me that everything will be fine.

This isn’t fine.

I breathe. And breathe. And breathe. Is he scared too? Does he know what he will do?

Nobody taught me to fear the police. We didn’t have those conversations. We didn’t talk about Sean or Michael or Philando or Freddie or Walter or Eric or Tamir of Terrence. We didn’t talk about the black girls missing in DC. We didn’t talk about the deaths of Charleena or Natasha or Rekia or Shereese or Kendra. But, somehow my body is already tense. I sit still. I say “sir,” and my voice sounds small.

We are okay. We are safe. We are okay. We are safe.

I repeat the words. I say the names of all of the police officers that I know. That I have worked hard to build relationships with. I say their names like a prayer, their whiteness will protect me.

I remember the police training I participated in for emergency situations. I try to forget how many times, in the training, the police accidentally shot victims because they were so confused. Because their adrenaline was so shot. Because some of them had been police officers for over thirty years and their had never been the money to fund such training.

But I’m fine now. Right?

My hands sweat on my pants. I resist the nervous urge to tap my fingers on my lap. I resist the urge to scream. I resist the urge to cry. I resist the urge…to be a, wrongly assumed, black “man” in a car with a white man. 

I force myself to not think about our location. To not think about the fact that when you cross the township line in which my parents live, the first sign says “Welcome to________this is not a gun free zone.” I try not to think about the houses decorated with confederate flags. I try not to think about the fact that when we moved to this township, my sister and I moved the percentage of black residents from 0.01% to 0.26%. I try not to think about this.

3

2

His feet crunch on the grass as he walks back to my side. The passenger side. 

               1

He hands my license back and won’t meet my eyes when he faintly corrects himself, “ma’am.”

He gives us a warning. Our tail light is out. We should get that fixed. He asks my husband where he is from. Tells him to get a PA drivers license.

We are driving again. We are still in the car.

Everything was fine. 

Now, wasn’t that magic?

Seven

If I name drop all the right white names from my white community, you like me better. If I don’t, and I hide all the photos of my white family, and I forget to speak cultured English, you pass me with the same look I see when you look at any Black person. What does it mean when I hate the part of me that wants to tell you, but I can sound white too.

Eight

They like to think we can vacation anywhere. So we go rural. Backwoods Missouri and Delaware. Maine. Colorado. Kansas. We go West and South and East. Small towns where there are only trees and skyline and woods so dense you can piss naked. Confederate flags and bonfires and me, this black tumbleweed. I wonder if they don’t notice that maybe this is uncomfortable. That maybe I have an opinion about where I want to be and where we are. They never ask because maybe they never thought to notice. But then again, if you can afford not to notice it is easy to forget what is at stake.

Nine

The first black baby doll I ever got I named Awikinaba. Just some made-up gargle. But she looked like me, and she was perfect. I could hold her in my hands and for a moment, my black body and her black body were just beautiful and normal.

Ten

I met my first non-trans-racially-adopted black person of a similar age in High School. This must’ve been the first time my white classmates had met another black person too because from the very first day, I was reminded by seemingly everyone, that finally there was a boy I could “be with.”

Eleven

I do not want to go to the salon, but I do – nails biting into my palms, I open the door and prepare myself for the questions about my hair. Growing up, no one went to the salon. Mom was the salon, but that isn’t an acceptable answer. She appraises me from across the shop, and I abruptly move my hands to my pockets, willing myself to keep my head straight and to meet her eyes. I cry anyway, two tears sliding down my face that I hastily wipe away.

She wants to know why. Why my hair is this way. What happened?! I am 24, she says. Split ends. 4C hair that hasn’t been straightened. Doesn’t my husband like long hair? Why do I want to cut it off? Why do I look like a boy? Why? I try to tell her. I try to explain. I tell her that I went natural. That I have been taking care of my hair. That I like the short look. That I feel empowered fully natural. That I feel beautiful.

But, she side-eyes me so hard I want to run out of my chair. Her words cut:

“Didn’t your momma teach you how to take care of your hair?”

I swallow. I remember braids and hours and hours of sitting on chairs, feeling mom’s hands pull and comb and part and braid until my hair looked like every other black child’s. I remember those warm, sunny days spent practicing cornrows and beads and extensions and twists and puffs. I always remembered those times wrapped in that everlasting floral and coconut oil scent of African hair-care products.

I don’t want to tell her that my mother is white. It’s as if this sudden need to protect her enshrouds my voice, so I whisper it. “I was adopted by white people,” I say. Her eyes soften. “Oh honey.” She says. “We can help you out.”

Twelve

A black girl and Mennonite walk into a bar

Thirteen

When my husband asks me to take out my weave so he can see my natural hair, I cry.

“I love your 4C natural hair,” he whispers. Who knew that the world could be made right in a single sentence? Who knew that a white man would learn with such dexterity how to tie bantu knots with ease? Or to make his fingers curl and smooth back hair without feeling the need to tame its wild beauty?

Fourteen

Be honest. Do you want to hire me because I am black or because I am educated or because I have a white background?

Fifteen

Because he is older and a patriarch, they told me I had to listen. He has a story he wants to tell you, they’d coax. I’d go and listen, my face a telling-7-yr.old disdain. His favorite “black-person story,” was the one he’d tell me at least once every couple of years. It’s the one where he called them greasy men.

Sixteen

All these years and the only apologies she gives me are the ones given in afterthought. The whispered excuse for why her friend complimented me on my English. Or, why she is sorry about the “white savior” comment.

Except. I am not a fresh air kid. Just this transracial adoptee. Do people really count equally if they have an abbreviation first?

Seventeen

When he tells me he doesn’t see color, I wonder why he even says that. Not seeing color only benefits one of us. Not seeing color only gives him an excuse for staying silent.

Eighteen

This blackness. This double shot espresso, freshly turned soil, this roll of thunder rainstorm and wildfire mane. This blackness, I found. This blackness, I revel. This blackness, I claim.

So, why…this blackness…must I also survive?

Nineteen

Someone told me that the best thing I can do as a black woman is to marry a white man.

Twenty

How can you be my friend if you never want to talk about this blackwhiteblackwhite world?

Twenty-One

She calls me to tell me about all the new black people she meets. Probably unconsciously, I surmise. Probably not doing it on purpose, I reason. I want to tell you that I am a black person.

Does she hear me calling her to tell her about all the white people I meet?

Twenty-Two

I want your skin to protect my child. But then again. I don’t. I want your voice to.

Twenty-Three

A middle-aged white man stops us in the middle of the mall. He points at me, and says to my husband “that’s a good decision for a white man.”

Twenty-Four

She says something mean about black people. Then she sees me and says, “well, you’re not like them,” and laughs.

Twenty-Five

I’ve wished everysingleday to be white. Except today.