The other day I was looking at a photo of my 8 year old daughter and I noticed how much lighter her skin was in the photo, so I turned to her and said that she was getting browner from playing tennis. Her response: she didn't mind because she liked getting browner. I was struck so deeply by her words because it marked a significant difference from my experiences with brownness and blackness as a child.
When I put box braids in her hair for the first time this summer (to give me and her hair a break from styling) I told her not to get used to wearing weave. Her response: she wouldn't because she loves her hair. I keep thinking about that statement too. I'm raising a child who thinks consciously about race and embraces both her skin and her natural hair. She loves to draw and her characters are quite often a deep walnut brown that represents her place in the world. She creates a space for people of color in her favorite shows because she believes that the characters would be beautiful as black people.
I keep hoping that this child, who is growing up confident in the skin that she will wear for life, is growing up that way because of the choices that I'm making.
When I was growing up, too many of us still fetishized light skin. That dichotomy of light vs. dark-skinned was one that helped to shape my childhood and deeply affected how I saw myself. I craved longer and straighter hair because even Barbie dolls indicated that there was something wrong with the way that I looked. My parents would buy me Black Barbie dolls and I both loved and hated those things. I wanted so badly to comb the dolls' hair but the matted, twisted mess perched on top of the doll's head was not meant for combing. The white dolls were better suited for hairstyling.
But I think I loved and hated those dolls too. I would comb their hair for hours and then I'd chop their hair off, or I would add grease to their blonde locks. I'm not sure why I knowingly ruined these dolls but I did. I wanted to be like them at the same time that I would never be like them. Then, when I was in junior high school, my mother put a Jheri curl in my hair. I thought I was really something then. I suddenly had this curly hair that proved that my hair wasn't as short as I had previously thought nor as "nappy."
I happily applied my Jheri curl juice and strutted around like I was too cute. Then it happened. At my nearly all-white private school, I was the only black cheerleader on the squad and what was known as a base. I was always assigned to hold and lift the slimmer, blonder white girls into the air. But then my cheerleading coach pulled me to the side on day and said that my hair was staining the girls' clothes. I was...humiliated. I already felt different attending this white Baptist private school in the late 70's and early 80's, but little moments like this reminded me of just how different I was.
My mother sent us to this school so that we could receive an excellent educational foundation, but there were these little reminders that showed how we would never truly belong. I was counseled about my hair so I stopped using the Jheri curl juice, which caused my hair to break. I often found out about parties after the fact. In eighth grade, a white male student offered me the brown M&M because it looked like me (his words). When my sister and I came back to school after Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America, we had to hear about how blacks should stick with their own pageant. My 9th grade year my best friend (white, of course since everyone was white except me) called me a nigger in the midst of an argument.
The wrongness of being black was evident in these small but significant events that marked my time in a school that didn't get me or my siblings. The experience was uncomfortable and devastating to my construction of identity. I had attended that school since I was two years old and by the age of thirteen, I realized that I would never fit in.
But worse than that, I didn't have a clear understanding of what it meant to be black.
My private school excluded the black presence from our curriculum in a way that was truly negligent. I remember learning about Crispus Attucks and that black people were slaves. I remember my 8th grade teacher pulling me out of gym to view a video that she was showing to her 10th grade English class. Every time the black teacher in the video would coach the five-year-old black students to say that they were better than whites, the white students in class would sneak a look at me. That was the only lesson I had ever known her to teach that included black people.
When my mother decided to send us to public school my 10th grade year, I was more than ready to leave the private school setting behind. I was tired of being the minority. But changing to a public school was awkward for me. I had never gone to school with so many students of color before, and I found it difficult to navigate the public school system. I was awkward in every way. I attended school with students who had gone to junior high together and already formed cliques. I was drawn toward the black students, having felt rejected by the white students that I attended private school with, but I didn't quite fit with them either. I tried to find my way, but I don't think I ever did. I just wasn't savvy enough. I didn't have the social capital to do public high school.
My sense of who I was was fractured in so many ways, and I had to build by racial identity one book at a time. When I enrolled in University of Florida, I found Frederick Douglass the week before classes began. That was when I began to construct a stronger racial identity. I had a moment like Sarny does in Nightjohn when reading finally clicks and she realizes that the white preacher had been lying to the slaves. I had that moment in UF's library almost thirty years ago. I realized that my white Baptist school and my public high school had robbed me of the opportunity to see myself in my educational experience.
Even University of Florida would add to this absence of blackness with the overwhelmingly Euro-American syllabi that dominated the English department. My immersion in African American history was one that I had to forge with very little outside help. And when I sank my feet into the history of African peoples, oh how my soul woke up and sang. I learned that I existed: I was there when Africans resisted slavery, when black artists started a Renaissance, when black people poured out of the South, when a human rights movement spread from Alabama. I was there, in history. More than Crispus Attucks and more than slavery. And that was when I realized that I had spent my childhood and teenage years trying to stand tall and sprout branches when I had no roots. I had to find and water my roots.
In my daughter, I've tried to instill the beauty and greatness that fills her legacy. I steered her toward Doc McStuffins, bought her black and brown dolls, encouraged her to read biographies of various black leaders. I've tried to put her in diverse schools, which aren't always easy to find. If a school system lacks diversity then I find a successful predominantly black school. I've made all of these conscious decisions so that when my daughter enters into a world that will ask her to doubt her abilities, the pride in her blackness will be at her core.
When I watch her draw pictures and unconsciously color her characters a deep brown. Or when she tells me that she actually likes getting darker skin, I am so grateful that she has already learned to love herself. And while blackness for me was an epiphany, a movement, a consciousness (ode to Biko)--she can live in a world where blackness is just an everyday, natural, part of her life.
So this week, I watched in stunned horror as Karen Handel garnered more votes than Joe Ossoff in Georgia's special election. I am absolutely sure that this is the same horror that was on my face when the downfall of America began on November 9th. I feel as if I have been plunged into a nightmare that keeps playing over and over again every time I watch the news or read the latest "covfefe" by our non-presidential President. How did we let this happen?
Even though I was born and raised in Florida and understand the South in ways that only true Southerners can, I still wanted to believe that Georgia was about to wake up. Georgia which enthusiastically embraced slavery and segregation, which has been deep white supremacy since its founding. I foolishly thought that that Georgia was prepared to rebuke the insanity that has taken over American politics. Needless to say, I was absolutely wrong.
I've never been one to follow politics, but I sure have been following since Donald Trump became president. I feel like I'm rubbernecking an absolute trainwreck. The problem is that the trainwrecks happen so often that I have the worse case of whiplash. How does one person screw up so many aspects of American society in just six months?! And meanwhile, he's still being cheered on by people who think that any destruction of America won't affect them.
It's hard for me to believe that there are so many people wanting to return to the 1950's. But I guess those are people who definitely don't look like me. It's scary when you think about it. I keep walking into Georgia Walmarts and grocery stores wondering if the person walking toward me was a Trump voter. Articles keep telling me not to see all Trump voters as the same but didn't you have to, on some level. excuse his racism and sexism in order to vote for him? And doesn't that make you a little (or a lot) racist and sexist too. If I say, voted for and supported Adolf Hitler, wouldn't that mean I support his belief system and his politics. How could I possibly be pro-Hitler and pro-Jews? Bottom line is that a vote for Trump was a vote against a diverse America. Continuing to support Trump is like those seniors who want to keep seeing good in the conman who takes their retirement fund.
I'm trying so hard to shut my eyes in the hope that this embarrassment, this nightmare will come to an end. I just don't have faith that enough Americans have learned their lessons and will come out to vote in the next elections. We know now that a healthy percentage of white Americans have determined that America belongs to them and them alone. I just hope that young people and America's minority will come to realize that America will never belong to us too unless we take our seat at the table.
If we don't learn that the people make the democracy, then I am afraid that we will suffer the same fate as every great kingdom from Songhay to Rome, from Mongols to Greece. And when our nation, our democracy falls, all of us--whether white or black, Hispanic or Asian, Muslim or Christian--will be buried in the debris.
And that is me, politicking.
I guess you can see that it took me a year to figure out what to write next? (Note the question mark). I've been a little confused because I didn't want this to become one of those parent blogs that details every aspect of their child's life ad nauseam. I mean, can you imagine being the teenage kid whose childhood unfolded before a bunch of strangers? So while I will blog about my child (I can't resist). I can't make this all about her.
So then I started thinking that my next post would be in response to the election from hell, but it seems that just as I get ready to write about one train wreck, another one happens. How can any writer keep up with all the things that the new president seeks to destroy? Do we chat about the environment, education, foreign policy, LGBTQ rights, justice department memorandums, healthcare, taxpayer-funded golfing trips, immigration, abortion rights, the Russia scandal, obstruction of justice? The sheer incompetence of the 45th president would take years to unpack. In just six months, he has created constitutional, domestic, and international crises while his Cult continues to support him. I wouldn't even know where to begin.
This is probably why I have started to consider life outside of America. What would it be like to live in another country for the next four, possibly eight, years? Now, I believe, is the time to go. Before other countries shut their borders to those crazy Americans. But the question would be, where should I relocate? Where do I want to live? At first I started thinking about teaching overseas in the Middle East. Talk about an excellent benefit package. What?! They will pay for me and my family to get there, put us up, and give me money to teach. Okay. I am there!! Wait! What do you mean everybody is mad at Qatar. Syria is at war with, well, Syrians. The US is dropping bombs on civilians and sending more troops into Afghanistan to restart a war. And Trump is still fighting to get his Muslim, non-Muslim, Muslim ban passed. Well, that should certainly gain us greater allies in the Middle East. It should come as no surprise that, for safety reasons, I decided to shelve the whole teaching overseas for ADEC plan.
So then I started thinking about the possibility of moving to the U.K. but some folks over there seem pretty pissed off, bombing stuff and running over folks. Plus, they have that whole Brexit (immigrant-free Britain) thing going on there. Isn't it absolutely amazing that the U.K. and the US, leaders in immigrating cultural treasures from other nations, are hell-bent on keeping immigrating people out? Perhaps, if we were being imported as slaves, our outlook would fare better. All I know is that I just don't think it is safe for non-white people to venture outside of their neighborhoods. But I guess the world has never really been safe for us, has it?
I could always move to France or Germany, I guess. I still don't trust Germany though after the whole Hitler and concentration camps massacre. What seeds must have been present in that nation for so many people to sanction a rise in hatred and silently condone genocide? When I think of Germany, I think of Hitler. I can't help it. In fact, lest I forget, European nations are to blame for African slavery. Did they not import African slaves? And they didn't stop there. No, they decided to divvy up Africa, destroy tribal boundaries, and rape her for her wealth. Why in the hell would I want to trade one destructive, conquering nation for another? Besides that whole Russia-Ukraine-Crimea thing proves that white-on-white wars are not exactly a thing of the past.
So then that brings me to the Caribbean (not quite sure why I haven't considered South and Central America but I am flirting with Costa Rica). I guess because you rarely hear about wars coming out of the Islands. When was the last time Bahamas or Turks & Caicos talked about a terrorist attack? And last time I checked, Europe and the US started losing their hold on the Caribbean back when Haiti embarrassed France. People like to talk about the violence in the i\Islands but the United States has more mass shootings than any other nation. Besides that, the police are murdering black men in the streets and homegrown white American terrorists are attacking Muslims. I'm just saying, don't be surprised if you read a post from me one day and I start blogging about my new island life.