Current Events, Uncategorized

Black On Black Racism

My psyche has been slammed in every direction these past two weeks by reminders that I am Black, I am Haitian and I am irrelevant. 

A recent trip to Negril, Jamaica brought me back to my island roots. A group of us took our trip off the “all-inclusive resort” beaten path in search of some adventure. I was reminded of being in the “yard” or “lakou”, buying drinks from a shanty-looking building held up by a few pieces of wood. Eating curry crab from a woman on the side of the street. Getting fresh lemon grass to make tea with back home. A heat so palpable that only an ancient, bat-ridden cave with cool spring water can be the remedy.  To feel welcomed not because I’m a tourist but because I look like them makes all the difference in the world. A country that has strived to live in its motto of “out of many, one people.”

Now to hear that not one but two island nations, Dominican Republic and now Turks and Caicos, have basically told me that I am not wanted makes me feel just that–unwanted. A recent reflection activity laid bare the memories of the Center for Disease Control accusing Haitians of being the bearer of AIDS. I didn’t give blood until I was 31 years old. And then it was only for my preemie niece. Years and years of being told directly or subtly that “you are Haitian, so your life doesn’t matter.” 

I am curious to see how the DR can determine whose a person of Dominican ancestry. Their complexions are like mine and when I hear my dad speak of his Dominican grandmother, I understand why he and my brother share the same curl pattern on their wavy close cropped head. I understand my dad’s fluency with Spanish. I understand the history of a people who co-mingled and made a life sharing an island for centuries. 

Turks and Caicos has jumped on the idiocy band of racism and prejudice. I am not even sure if you call it racism between people of the same race. But to call it prejudice, to call it bigotry just isn’t enough. An example of yet another one of humanity’s methods of degrading each other just because. 

I’m searching for age-old answers to the why’s and the how’s behind what DR and Turks Caicos has now laid bare for me to see. I’m searching for ways to cope with these feelings of inadequacy. Why my people? Are we not clean enough for you? Is our hair not straight enough for you? Are we not light enough for you? Are we not smart enough for you?

We set the trend and wrote the book on how to unseat your slave masters. We, the Pearl of the Caribbean, now tarnished and set aside. 



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.


Current Events

Head In The Sand

I drove home from work today thinking how buried my head is in the sand; not to be keeping tabs on the Michael Brown riots. I couldn’t even get the city and state right where it happened in right! I blamed it on this hot weather, blamed it on opening of schools stress, hell I even blamed it on the price of gas! And then I knew–I was really blaming it on my fear.

Fear of allowing my heart and mind to go to recesses of my psyche and have yet again have this one-sided conversation about race, police, violence, culture, education, our black boys. I’m just tired!

Tired of having the old discussion with my BLACK husband about raising our future BLACK sons with the knowledge that this world does not have a BLACK boy’s best interest in mind. Tired of feeling fearful for my friends who birthed and are raising beautiful BLACK boys. Tired of yet again having to confront our society’s flaws. Tired of acknowledging an educational system that sets our beautiful BLACK boys up for failure, of broken homes that eventually break them, of a penal system that harkens back to days slavery.

Once my heart rate returns back to normal, I’m back to my reality. I can’t be anywhere else trying to protest or get arrested! I got sixty children that along with me and my colleagues, we are welcoming this coming week. Sixty middle school boys and girls we are planning to nurture, teach, and help grow holistically. Sixty children whose parents are entrusting us with their care.

My heart bleeds for the Trayvons, Michaels, Abners, Amadous, of our society. For the weddings and graduations that will never take place. For a mother’s loss of her child. It’s incomprehensible.

Come Monday, my head won’t be in no sand. It will be up and out ready to face another school year. Praying, interceding on behalf of our children. Trusting God to impart in me what I need to impart in them. Believing that at age 17 and 18, their names will NOT be on an obituary but on a graduation program.

Current Events

Love Them Privately: Modern Day Jim Crow

Came home to some disturbing news last night about a certain basketball executive putting half of his body parts in his mouth. I have to admit, I don’t want to hear his voice as he says the words that stab corners of my heart. I don’t want to hear the phrases that scale back my own skin and reveal the immediate response of revolt I still have towards ignorance and bigotry.

As my husband rattled off the transcript that’s been read around the world by now, this particular one stood out: “I want you to love them (Blacks) privately. My heart missed a beat and I honestly wanted to cry. I still want to cry now even as I lay here typing away. I want to cry because the pessimist in me was quietly retreating, hoping, praying that people like THIS man, who works, mingles, and hell even manages people of other races were receding into the darkness. That their sting would not reach yet another generation and that the only wall left to bring down were the ones we built ourself.

Well I guess not. Racism as they say, is alive and well in America. Jim Crow may go by another name but he’s still funneling black boys from third grade to prison at a fast clip. He’s allowed perversions of all kinds to come through our tv screens opening doors to STI’s, HIV/AIDS, debasing Black women and criminalizing Black men. He’s even having us think that a dark skinned woman named “beautiful” in 2014 means we have arrived as a nation. As if to say this should cancel out the “mammy” image and you should take this and be happy.

I cry because my bi-racial niece and nephew will always get the strange looks as their dark skinned father and white mother walk behind them. I cry because my handsome 22 year old brother-in-law who was raised with all the privileges we didn’t, will still draw attention from the purse clasping women who won’t take the time to find out that he’s a double major graduating college this Spring. I cry because my mother doesn’t like my waist length natural locks because she was programmed to think that “Black” hair isn’t meant to grow that long and beautiful. I cry because I will still have to talk to my students about skin color and race and discrimination.

There are many out there like this gentleman who as he says is part of a “culture”. They work alongside us, we bump shopping carts in the grocery store, they hire us to work for them. Get the image of the Aryan blonde out of your head. Racism was never about color, but about a state of mind. The only color it is is UGLY.

My tears have dried up now. I will
not be picketing or sitting at lunch counters today. Fighting racism means using tactics that measure stealth, wisdom, and purpose. Stealth to dodge the attacks, wisdom to recognize this is truly a fallen society, and purpose to continue living out the example that bigotry will not be the beginning and end of our lives.