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Black History Month Chronicles: Why I Code Switch

Dictionary definition of code switching: the alternate use of two or more languages or varieties of language, especially within the same discourse.

My definition of code switching: the necessary act of speaking to individuals of one’s culture where they can truly grasp the content and intent of my words.

Urban definition of code switching: communicating with your old neighborhood friends and proving that you can still talk “black” even after all these years of living in the suburbs has got you talking “white.”

A startling thing happened to me four years ago. Something that I did not know had bled into the 21st century. Something that I had only heard of being said or done to others. My husband and I had traveled up for his graduation from a very well known Christian college in Chicago. At one of their meet and greets that weekend, I decided to set aside my natural introversion and actually talk to people.

An older white male was clearly enamored with me. I thought it might have been a piece of food in my braces or something. He asked about my background and where I was from (that should have been the clue right there). When it came time to respond, all he could come up with was that I spoke very well and where did I say I was from again? I honestly don’t remember my response but I do recall how I felt on the inside. Like a turtle who regretted coming out of her shell. Like the 5th grade Haitian girl at an urban school who was always being teased for talking “white.” Like a black professional woman who is still regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The convo usually goes like this: Yes I’m Haitian-American. No I wasn’t born here. No I wasn’t born in Haiti either. Yes, St. Maarten has a lot of Haitians living there. And yes, I speak Creole.

In the worlds that I travel through (Black, Caribbean islander, Haitian, Latin, White) I have come to realize that I just can’t be me ’round some folks. The need to code switch is a necessary evil in order to keep others at ease and unthreatened by my natural propensity to just be and speak me. Now granted, a night out with friends will not be about a discourse on molecular biology. When you are among friends you act a different way. It’s a casual environment with less restrictions and expectations. That’s not the code switching I’m talking about.

I am referring to what one has to do to keep everybody happy. The type of code switching that solicits more information with honey than making verbs and nouns agree. The one that throws in euphemisms and idioms at will, to bridge the generational gap. The one that proves to the listener that they are still relevant to you. It is an exhaustive thing this code switching. This appeasing every person you meet just so they won’t feel threatened or intimidated is hard work. I guess the clinician in me will always meet the “client” where they are, in hopes that one day they meet me where I’m at.

In telling my husband about one of my more interesting days, his response was “You better tell ’em where you from!” I’m like. Where am I from? Nine years on a Caribbean island learning Dutch, four years living in a Miami Vice era crime-infested neighborhood where I quickly dropped my accent, another four living in a white suburban turned black neighborhood where I had no friends, and now living in a middle class Black community with smattering of older white neighbors, hasn’t yielded me the “you don’t know where I come from “street creds” that everybody else claim they got. See I just code switched in that sentence, lol!

I’m just a plain ol “brown paper bag” Black woman who will continue to be who I am in the face of a society of people, be they black or white, that can’t quite figure me out.

My inspiration for this blog came from the video below. She spoke to my soul on this one. Memories of taking African History in night school because it was not important enough for the day. Learning that Queen Mary of Scots wasn’t the only queen I should learn about. That Queen Nzingha, Queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms (photo attached), an astute diplomat and military leader, should have made it into my daytime history books too. After all she kept the Portugal army at bay for more than four decades. So here’s to code switching and to those who have not lost their minds in the minefields of society.

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Current Events

The Empire Strikes Back

Blog warning label! If you are looking for a spiritually uplifting blog or a leadership inspiring post, this ain’t it. I’m code switching for a hot minute to catch my breath and talk about the “ratchetosity” that is Fox’s new show, The Empire. This self-confessing binge TV watching chick (one who watches 12 episodes of a show in two days) really doesn’t have the time to sit and watch a tv series on a weekly basis. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I just happened to trip and stay seated on the last five minutes of The Empire, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson.

I missed ma girl Taraji when she up and died off of CBS’ “Person of Interest.” That first and last kiss with Jim Caviezel (the best Jesus I have ever seen in a movie) was everything. Taraji then decided to exist stage left. The show hasn’t meant the same for me as this only sistah brought the spice to Jim’s cold character. So when I heard that Ms. Henson and Mr. Howard would take on roles similar to their Hustle and Flow characters, I gotta admit, I just thought the “hard out here for a pimp” mentality just wouldn’t wash with Fox viewers. After all, this is the home of 24! I envision Jack Bauer sitting on an island with his television somewhere wondering how he can get like Lucious. And the names! Lucious and Cookie. Gasp! Hood names for the ratchet characters that they embody.

Catching the last five minutes of last night’s episode (without any internet research) has got me this:
-Cookie is one tough cookie. All pun intended. Slurping wine out a glass?! Clutch ma purse and ma pearls! She’s not about to fake the funk and doesn’t take anything lying down. Them dead animals she insists on wearing to keep her warm make sense to nobody but her. But I dare you to tell her otherwise. She don’t play about hers and will cut a … Well you get the point.

-Lucious, Lucious. I never did trust light skinned brothers with pretty eyes (don’t judge me) and he is the very reason why. Behind them “hazel one minute and green another minute” eyes just ooh! Lucious oozes all things evil and for every step he takes, I can just see him leaving behind the snake skin he sheds as he recreates himself into an even deadlier adversary. He’s worked hard for his. He was never handed anything and he’s not about to have it taken.

-Both individuals are the hood version of the Obamas. As this now divorced couple (I think they are divorced) sit and commiserate on the next move for the company, Lucious pauses and says “You and I made a good team.” Cookie cleans that up by saying, “But I made you better.” Mic drop, walk away in that tacky dress, and flip that weave. Deader than dead.

So will this be the new show that will have folks at the altar come Sunday morning? Heard tell that season two is already on lock. Does Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating need to worry? Can an attorney and professor survive Hurricane Cookie?

There is room at the table for all three I’m guessing. After all what would family dinner be without that sistah who just won’t act right. Gon’ head Cookie. Let’s give these good folks a hella show.

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Faith, Grief And Loss, Random Thoughts

We All Got Bruises

American rock band, The Train, has this country-rock song called “Bruises” that I like to listen to. The chorus starts with, “These bruises, make for better conversation…”

Whoever thought that having emotional scars could actually be about something good? While we are in the midst of our personal muck, no one can convince us that there will be light at the end of the tunnel or that this is even worth talking about. But it will be. Someday.

Revelations 12:11 reminds us “And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony…” Our words, our stories, our testimonies are powerful milestones that sets aright all that has plagued us in the past. I remember a mentor that shared of her failing marriage and how God managed to see her through a divorce and a remarriage to her husband! It’s one of those, damn! God did that! She instantly became more than a well put together sister. She was now real, and human to me. Her willingness to impart her wisdom to me then and even now has kept us connected over five years after we are no longer working together.

We go through so much in our lives: miscarriages, failed marriages, death and loss, abuse, unemployment, loss of friendships, and overall disappointments. TD Jakes once said that the enemy uses isolation to keep us down. Imagine the time and opportunity, if given, to feel safe enough to reveal our battle scars and know that these scars could possibly save someone else’s life.

Transparency breaks down walls and reveals our humanity. It connects souls who would otherwise never have intersected paths. Your story is not your own to keep.

These bruises
Make for better conversation,
Loses the vibe that separates,
It’s gonna let you in again,
You’re not alone in how you’ve been,
Everybody loses,
We all got bruises

http://youtu.be/LmXaaEvnnOQ

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Current Events

Haiti Remembered

I was alone at our church office cranking out some late evening office work when my girlfriend texted me to say Haiti had just experienced an earthquake. It didn’t register in my mind. I thought maybe that some mild shift in the earth had taken place and that it wasn’t anything serious. The second and third and ensuing texts proved otherwise. My parent’s homeland was in peril.

The images that flew across television screens for days and weeks afterward spoke of death, disaster, and despair. Never in a million years would we expect this island shared by two countries would reap such a disaster endured by mainly one. I vacationed as a child there. My memories were of an island not different from the island where I was born, not much different from any other island. With many years between visits, I encountered a country much changed from ongoing political strife but still the same at its core. A beautiful nation with beautiful people who were doing what humanity does best—trying to survive.

Now the news displayed churches, offices, schools, historical landmarks as no more. The nation’s White House, built during the Eisenhower era, looked like white Lego blocks strewn aside in child’s play. Souls buried in mass graves, nameless without a proper burial. My heritage, in one fell swoop, brought to its knees.

I have never looked at our world the same. It was in that moment that some part of me ceased to think of Haiti as just some place I went to for missions trip. Or a nice pied-a-terre when I thought of traveling. It was now more than my parent’s homeland. My diaspora heart was now finally connected to this Pearl of the Caribbean.

It’s been five years since the earthquake. No celebrities will be on CNN asking for money or putting on benefit concerts. No co-workers will be patiently listening to stories of your homeland you once held in your heart. The passage of time has dimmed the memories of many. Yet I am encouraged to see how far we have come as a diaspora.

Conversations with Haitian friends about Haiti are no longer of a mysterious country cloaked in darkness. We talk of vacationing there, honeymooning there, opening businesses there. There is more communication between the diaspora and the “natif natales”. Google translate has done miracles in helping text messages be understandable between the two. Cassette tapes have been replaced by Facebook and What’s App. Phone calls are no longer in a phone booth because voice messages flow freely back and forth via cell phones and apps. That gap that once threatened to close because of aging parents has now drawn closer because of technology. Because of the earthquake.

I have always loved my homeland. Yet frankly, it took years of dedicated individuals doing what no textbook was prepared to tell me as a child to make me realize so much about this country, about my heritage, and about myself. That I was not the person who brought AIDS to the U.S. I was not the dirty person who never took a bath. I was not the person who ate cats. I was the co-founder of the the NAACP. I was the soldier that helped this nation fight the Revolutionary War. I am the land whose gold, silver, sugar, and yes even oil is still being siphoned out while the world stays distracted.

Haiti is by no means where it needs to be. Elections need to take place. Education needs to be free for all. The laundry lists of things somehow seems daunting. But a close friend reminded me that although most of his siblings now live here in the States, he has no desire to try and move here. He is happy to raise his growing family and continue to live a meaningful life there. “I serve the same God that you serve. He is here in Haiti too.” And that is enough for me.

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Love & Marriage

Seventeen Years Later

I can scarce believe I’ve been married to my best friend for 17 years now! We married young. God blessed it anyway, lol! We grew together, God saw us through that too. I don’t know if there is a formula for what we have going on here but I have to say that faith in God plays a huge role. Once I realized that God didn’t promise all good days, but rather the grace to see us through, I just knew it was going to be okay.

I spy out marriages around me. Some i want to create a patent for. Some I want to throw into the sea of forgetfulness! Here are some lessons we have learned from both.

Make each other laugh! Yep, me the proverbial prude enjoys my husband’s corny jokes. And he enjoys my bitingly sarcastic ones. We get each other on the funny level. I text him funny memes that I know he would get a good laugh from. Nothing like coming home with a funny story to share with your boo.

Don’t make comparisons. I once had an acquaintance start off her comment to me with “Whenever I see you guys on Sunday, you always look happy…” Stop the madness! We sell ourselves short when we look at another’s relationships and think it’s all kosher. Sure, we can learn from each other but at day’s end, there are no two marriages alike. Besides, my husband is a pastor. Sunday is the guaranteed day that we don’t get on each other’s nerves, lol!

Do what works for you. We both are from Caribbean backgrounds. We have taken what best serves our marriage and left behind what doesn’t. I work a job with a heads or tails type of schedule. There’s no standing over the stove every day like my mother used to do. His hours are more flexible than mine. So if he can shop for the groceries and I come home to prep and throw it in the crockpot, that’s just how we roll. I know of wives who mow the lawn and husbands who stay at home with the kids. Don’t let some unhappy hag make you feel like you are coming up short! #ANBGT4Dat

Fight fair. I heard a Christian counselor once say, the fighting shouldn’t be an issue as long as you fight fair. Hear each out. No demeaning one another. No using profanity. No bringing up things that were already forgiven for. You have two warring personalities that will not necessarily see eye to eye on the matter of child-rearing, finances, the future. It’s okay to hash it out. Make time for those tough conversations. Take the gloves off and duke it out fair and square. Walk away with solutions and a plan to meet at the same time and same place to talk again.

Put God in the middle of it. I started off marrying a man I was equally yoked to. One who didn’t think twice about praying over me before he left the house, or seeking God for the next phase in our marriage. I couldn’t imagine being with someone with whom I would eventually have nothing in common with. How would you raise your children? What would your priorities look like? If that significant other isn’t on par with your spiritual priorities and faith, then the battle is lost before it’s begun.

There is no fountain of marital youth. Just couples around the world on their daily grind: making ends meet, raising children, saving up for homes, paying for fertility treatments, caring for elderly parents, raising younger siblings, starting businesses together, and so on and so forth. All the while making it look good by the grace of God.

Grief And Loss

New Year Musings: Simplify

The latter part of this year ended up being like screeching brakes on a runaway train. I literally dropped most commitments in midstream. I went from being at a meeting, conference, event or gathering every other week to living under a rock from May 30th until now. Work and home life were my only commitments. I didn’t want to go anywhere, didn’t want to do anything. I’m the one who would plan to “party like a rock star” for a weekend, and end up just wanting to stay in my room. I felt guilty for each time I went out with friends and thought I was dishonoring my mother’s memory. I was a Debbie Downer and I liked being in that mode.

Heading into 2015, I know I can’t necessarily stay under the rock. I’ve got to come out and make nice with humanity. But there are some things I will cling to even as I opt to get back on this train called life.

1. Make no excuses. No means no. That’s it!

2. Treat your time like bars of gold. This life is temporal. Don’t allow others to waste it.

3. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Life is truly too short to beat around the bush and hem and haw.

4. See through people. There are a lot of hurting folks (who sometimes mask as fools) out there. Once you get that, you are more apt to forgive, confront, overlook (and my personal favorite) IGNORE.

5. Make beautiful memories. The loss of a loved one leaves you holding a bag of memories. Let’s keep making them with friends, loved ones, and total strangers.

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Current Events

New Year Musings: Your Online Presence

Over dinner with some friends, the subject of one’s privacy on social media came up. Apparently when you opt to not reveal every twist and turn of your personal life you are the one being “extra.” We now live in a society where one’s need for privacy is demeaned and ridiculed. How dare you not show the world your “arse” and #breaktheinternet!

There really is no throwing back the fish once it’s caught but you can certainly stave off any further bloodletting when it comes to your social media presence. I’m a prude by nature and as a blogger, I walk a tight rope of sharing just enough without sharing too much. With one press of the button my blog is sent to three social media outlets and is out there for posterity. I keep telling myself that public office isn’t in my future anyway. Well, after four years of blogging and being an online pundit, it isn’t now, lol!

Our image, our reputation, our character is put to the test each time we share out on the internet. Here are some things to keep in mind for the new year to keep the cops from your door and you gainfully employed.

1. No revealing photos. Kim K gets to go back to her mansion at the end of her photo shoot. You get to go back to your 9-5 where folks know where that paw tattoo is located in your nether regions. #TMI

2. Your personal values will always be on trial. People have lost recommendation letters and didn’t even know it! All because you opted to put some off the wall comment about your boss or how much you don’t like coming into work early. #File13

3. Don’t ask dumb questions. Yes folks. There is such a thing as asking dumb questions. Don’t tell my middle schoolers though. Social media should not be where you get your counseling from. As a licensed clinician, it reads to me as a pattern of attention seeking behavior and unfulfilled relationships. Call or text your real friends for all that. #CallTyrone

4. If you don’t want it mentioned during a job interview, in counseling with your therapist (on second thought, maybe you should) or in front of your pastor, keep it off the airwaves. Facebook is going to pull your photos whether you like it or not and make a “hella” slideshow of your life for all to see. #KeepItKosher

We all enjoy sharing pieces of our lives with our social media “friends.” It’s how we now connect with each other. It’s how some feel they can remain relevant. Let’s just not sacrifice huge chunks of ourselves on the internet altar for 300 likes and side eye glances the next day. #FixTheInternet