Category Archives: Social Issues

Re-dressing Room: Repatriating into Racism

DallasLogoAll week, we’ve been tirelessly researching and riding through Dallas to determine if it is where we’ll plant roots and begin the process of helping to build a community. It was such an overwhelmingly exhausting and frustrating week as everything we found continuously missed the mark; the details of which I’ll share at another time. Yet, I’m led to share one of a few moments that resonated with me and illustrate exactly what it means to re-dress in the weighted armor of being black in America after being released from its burden for a time.

As we were traveling from house to house in the unforgiving summer inferno that is Dallas with our two young children, we were often driving slowly or parked in the wings of the road to look for our next destination. In one such instance, all of us were preoccupied in the legally parked car and suddenly come upon by two towering horses within hand’s reach of my husband’s window. The silent and steady stroll of the enormous and statuesque figures startled us all as we watched them saunter ahead of us mounted by two men dressed in full police officer regalia. Neither of them looked like the residents of the neighborhood in which we were looking.

Dallas Cowboys

My husband jumped into a protective posture and shouted some expletive. I clutched the knot I was trying hard to swallow in my throat, while my daughter excitedly asked if she could ride them as they kept gliding and canvassing the neighborhood. We had no interaction with them, and didn’t want one. Though we had stopped several other passersby all week to ask one question or another about a particular area, we had no interest in the insight or directions from the Officers Friendly.

My mind became haunted with an imagined altercation between them and my husband that left me breathless for a moment; so much so that I feared sharing it with him then or even describing the scene now. That’s when it struck me.

For almost two years, when living in Singapore, I was completely free to operate in my daily tasks without any fear of being snuffed out like a candle in a cabin in a blustery storm. I don’t mean the type of black woman warrior hear me roar conquering hero type of fearlessness that we must possess in America. I’m speaking of the type of freedom from fear that comes when there is absolutely nothing to fear. I had not one terrifying thought of interacting with international police officers and not living to tell the story because my skin offended them and caused a murderous frenzy. I never feared entering a sacred space and not emerging from it because some wanderer riddled with hatred decided my life had no value. I was, in every instance that my white counterparts are, free from the terminal tumor of racism for just a moment as an expatriate. (I’ll definitely be discussing that in more detail. You know, when I have time and all.)

The freedom from racism is fleeting for it has been completely shed now that I’ve steeped in its bondage all summer. Every week, it seems, there’s another occurrence, a reminder,  where a vibrant black person becomes a lifeless black body at the hands of someone in a position of authority, whether self-imposed or government sanctioned. Just yesterday, as we were leaving Texas, the state that offered the gruesome attack on an unarmed adolescent in McKinney and the brutal silence of our sister in advocacy, Sandra Bland, as warnings of its nature just in this past year, news of the death of nineteen-year-old Christian Taylor surfaced.  And, as is custom, the process of assassinating his character and lauding that of the officer [trainee] involved is happening almost effortlessly; a campaign in which I won’t participate. Christian Taylor, Unarmed, Black, and Deceased

To state that it is burdensome and distressing to re-dress in the constant awareness and fear thacartoon3613t at any moment, any white American can take your life and that of those you hold most dear and there will be no redress, only absolution; that in fact, their actions will be justified, and you posthumously vilified is a grave understatement. We have scoured the states the entire summer aiming for a place to be free again, and unlike the target on Black America, it’s been missed every time.

Repatriation Week One: The Reflection

The road back to the states was an eventful and challenging one, but we’re back! It’s only been five days, and I’ve already gained so much insight. You know I like sharing, so….

Repatriation Realizations Week One:

1. Family, whoever you love and consider that to be, will always make you feel greater than any circumstance and challenge. They’ll always simultaneously keep you humble and elevated.

2. The long distance has irreparably damaged my relationship with Chick-Fil-A and fast food in general. It’s just not the same. That’s a very good thing.

3. We are wasting time discussing anything other than rebuilding our communities. There is so much wealth in investing in ourselves. I cringed when I heard someone suggest a new chain restaurant that is three doors down from its  black-owned competitor that’s been there for years. Guess where I’m going. And, I definitely dropped my tea when someone warned me about the area we chose to temporarily stay because it’s deemed “the hood,” but most of our neighbours are white investors who recognize its value. We’ve got to stop being afraid of ourselves.

4. Do not take your children to Target, especially when one is your husband. It will end badly.

 5. I didn’t miss American TV much, and certainly not its commercials. Every one of them tells me to eat a super-large, super-greasy, slab of fried saucy meat with a side of lard-laden starch;  that I need to diet, have straight blonde hair, and ivory skin to be beautiful; that I need drugs to stay alive, and they all serve as a reminder of the disproportionate distribution of wealth and resources. We own nothing.

6. I completely understand how one group of people can see themselves as superior to another, and how that manifests itself in daily courses of action.

7. I completely understand how one group of people can see themselves as inferior to another, and how that manifests itself in daily courses of action.

8. I left a country listed as number one in structured education, but lacked innovation. I met a seven-year-old neighbour that couldn’t spell his four-letter name, but asked me for Now’N Laters so he could make something. We have work to do.

9. The racial line and the poverty line intersect and merge, but there are some overlaps. Poverty is genocide, and sometimes the death is slow and pervasive, but overall, it’s quick and methodical. We have work to do.

10. I miss my surreal expat life already, but I’m happy to be home. We have work to do.

Why All Black Collegiate Athletes Should Transfer and Choose HBCUs by J. Anyabwelé

This post was written by guest blogger, J. Anyabwelé

StoryOU’s antebellum loving fraternity reminded me of one of the greatest epiphanies or lessons I ever received.  Nearly 30 days before I graduated b-school, my Guyanese supply chain professor and I were discussing where and/or what job offer I was planning to take.  During that conversation I mentioned to him I was leaning towards the most unattractive offer (on paper) because of the support system I perceived to be there.  My one-over-one manager was an alumnus of the same business school and had already told me that if I came, he would take me under his wing; my HR manager was black, my direct line manager was black, and the department VP was also black.   My professor, Dr. Benjamin, began to get extremely excited for me and mentioned to me, “Javonte that is a great outlook on this situation because you have no idea how amazing a feeling it will be to go to a workplace where race is not an issue.  It is the most amazing feeling to know that if you are horrible at your job, it is only because you suck and no other reason!”

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Dr. Benjamin was a gregariously proud, tall, and commanding presence of a black man who grew up in Guyana, a small country that was obviously his biggest source of pride.  Throughout my time under his tutelage I learned that Guyana (a black country where the first president was a proud black man as well, a fact I also learned from him) sported the world’s greatest literacy rate and other cool tidbits of black excellence that I would have not been readily privy to in a place where race would be an issue.  Dr. Benjamin lived a full life on three continents prior to his untimely passing.  He knew South America, Europe, and North America very well.  He knew the dichotomy in feelings of being in a country or corporation or classroom where race was and was not an issue.  He valued the latter more.  He was happy that I could continue to experience the type of cultivation I received at my HBCU in my corporate career as well.

That cultural cultivation is the greatest single reason for my success in all aspects of my life.  It is also why I implore all involved in deciding if an HBCU is the answer for their college experience, to GO!!! Don’t even think about it, just simply go!!! Specifically to the ball players, I beseech you!! Take up your own bucket and cast it down where you ought to be, as Booker Taliaferro Washington once proselytized.  After all, do you really have a better college experience if you deal with the constant cloud of unconsciousness around race and social constructs that are so prevalent at white universities?  Do you face the same oft-times felonious accusations that can range from rape to theft to race baiting at HBCUs as you do at PWIs?  How about feeling inadequate? Or feeling that you aren’t from the majority population yet left to feel down right wrong and bad and almost villainous for choosing to be a part of your black student union?  These things just don’t happen at HBCUs. band-FAMU What does happen at HBCUs is an extreme source of pride that is taught through text and trials in cultural participation and, well, partying!  Yes, the parties are worth noting.  One of the mandatory stops on the African American Cultural Express will most undoubtedly include an HBCU homecoming!

Culture is not supplemental, it’s elemental.  It guides our value systems and ethos; it allows us to reach up to heights unseen for those of us who couldn’t see.  It provides us with the refreshing water that Booker T. anecdotally described in his famed aforementioned speech.  Kellen Winslow, Sr. was well aware of this and decided to ensure his son, Kellen Winslow Jr., was aware of this too.  In 2001, Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel ran a segment oklahoma-fraternity-racist-videoon Sr.’s involvement with what his highly recruited, blue chip, Southern California bred son’s school choice would be.  “I told him to take a look around,” Kellen Sr. said. “Thumb through the media guides and see how far you have to turn before you get to a person of color. And if you don’t see people  that look like you, there’s a problem. There has to be some reason behind it.”  The problem can often morph into pent up frustration, anger, and resentment because one can feel out of place, and sometimes, as in the case at OU, not welcomed.

Throughout the year’s this HOF TE’s assessment stuck with me.  While steering his teenage black son’s choice in which university to play football, HBCU football programs were not at all a part of the conversation.  In the third year of my matriculation through my beloved HBCU, I couldn’t understand why there was no push for this.  If you wanted to fix the problem of representation in the coaching staff, the faculty, the students, hell even the beautiful women (which was by far the most important thing to me outside of the academics as a college junior), all HBCUs could solve that problem.  If the problem was potentially feeling inept, inadequate, in a minority, unwelcome, distraught, frustrated, angry, resentful, or in any way less than during your coming-of-age years, there is a cure for all of these ailments.

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One day we will wake up and realize that our own is not only good enough for us, but most times, downloadthe best for us.  It was the best for all of those who had to go prior to integration.  The list of names is long and ranges from heads of state to hall of famers.  The idea that you cannot have an environment that will truly love the athlete and get them exposure is just not true.  The entire point of me writing this is to strongly suggest to the athlete and parent of these athletes, that a HBCU is also right and best for you!  Wouldn’t it be great to thrive in an environment where you know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that race is not an issue, where your cultural growth and understanding is not supplemented but an important part of your natural environment, where you will be embraced with a pride much greater than in how well you jump or shoot or pitch or dribble??? It’s time to come home.


-Javonté Anyabwelé

The Signs, The Symptoms, The Sinking Ship

The Signs, The Symptoms, The Sinking Ship

sinking_ship_by_q80designer-d5h56d9My aunt had recently commemorated her fiftieth birthday by getting a tattoo, something contrary to her prudish and inhibited nature. It was to symbolize her belated rebellion against what was deemed normal and appropriate. She called me, excited to share the news, and I thought for a moment I was speaking with one of my adolescent students. Her voice was full of vigor and exuberance. She was ready, she said, to really begin living and to release herself from the bondage of fear and restrictions. I was elated to hear this zeal and life in her voice. Our conversations usually consisted of her expressing feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and disgust with herself and me trying to share the beautiful image of her that I saw, that I’ve always seen.  It often felt awkward and uncomfortable to be the cheerleader and encourager for someone who’d had much more experience in living. But, the further I stretched into adulthood and its archetypal matriculations, the more I played this role of niece, confidante, and counselor.

Some time later, after a few missed calls, failed attempts to reach her, and random exchanges of text messages, she called me to tell me she was on the way to Tampa, and wanted to see me and meet her first and only (at the time) great-niece.  It was a sporadic trip with some of our distant cousins to go to an amusement park. She was simply tagging along for the sole purpose of seeing my father, her older brother, and her nieces and nephew. They would only be there for the day apparently and would be driving back to Atlanta very early the following morning.

In this same conversation, she reminded me that she was engaged again (this would be her third marriage), and that she wanted to talk to me about the wedding when we met. These type of offhand plans were common, so I was neither surprised or expectant. Something usually happened to deter the scheduled program. I informed her that I was attending an event, and even invited her to come along, and that I would call her as soon as it was over to meet if she chose not to attend.

She never came or answered my call, and I had missed several of hers during the event.Hall_Grad_Pics 017 I kept calling that evening and well into the morning, but there was never a response. Months went by without an exchange until news of my brother’s graduation from Morehouse became all the buzz. Despite any inconsistencies, she was extremely supportive of my siblings and I, and had traveled near and far to attend most of our major life events, excluding my wedding. I know now that her absence there was an indication of far greater problems than financial. I fully expected her to join us as we watched my brother cross the stage and join the ranks as “Morehouse Man.” We’d connect as though a day hadn’t passed between conversations as usual I thought.

We spoke a few weeks before I traveled to Atlanta and once again, she was rhapsodic. But, as the date neared, she became less and less so and infrequently accessible. Conversations had always been full of highs and lows.  This was a season of lows. She had lost her job, her car had been repossessed, her mother (my Big Mama) had fallen ill and she had no way of visiting her regularly. All she had was this fiancé that I hadn’t met. I thought that by seeing us, she would feel and be better, like every other time.

She didn’t make it to graduation. I constantly looked over my shoulder and called and sent text messages to no avail.  I was worried, but I put the absence in the file of inconsistencies, as did everyone else. We chose to be happily distracted by the occasion. depression

It was about a month later when I got the call. She had been rushed to the hospital and placed on a respirator, where she stayed for about a week, while my father pleaded with God and physicians to prevent the eminent.  The next time I saw her, her face had been colored with cosmetics, which she never wore. After a vicious battle with depression that used alcohol as a weapon, she succumbed. Her fiancé, whom I finally met at her funeral, admitted to supplying her with a full bottle of whatever she requested every single day for months. “I couldn’t tell her ‘no’,” he mumbled, “I loved her.”

i-cant-keep-calm-cause-i-love-my-auntie-I stared idly at her bloated, lifeless body that failed to look like the woman I knew and loved, and more like a mannequin used in crime dramas. I looked for a semblance of the woman, who’d equally been my confidante as I’d been hers, in her face but was only greeted with a placid smile that had been forced and sculpted by a stranger’s hands.

I kept trying to remember the last time I saw her. A question still left unanswered. I can only remember the last time I should have, when I chose a meaningless activity over making my way to her. I didn’t fully understand depression then or when I first experienced the devastation of it myself. I can’t say I fully understand it now. But I do know, it’s not a demon to face alone; even though it tries to convince you otherwise. We are all carriers of light and darkness and can be overtaken by either one at any time. Our obligation is to care for our spirits and each other’s.  We are to bask in that light as often as possible, share it with others whether we think they need it or not, and find the courage to SPEAK when our light becomes dim.

Ticking Clock

calendar-numbers-dateThe end is near, and I’m not ready. April 30th marks my husband’s last day working for the company. We have one month afterwards to leave before the police come knocking. Singapore does not allow foreigners to just live here without a commercial purpose that benefits the country in some way. Basically, it’s count down time, but I’m far from prepared.

This should be the time of deciding and finalizing, planning and organizing. Months before our move to Singapore, we had checklists by the week to complete. We were excited about our transition and became mission oriented and strategic as soon as the move was confirmed. Now, we’re <<I’m>> ambivalent and procrastinating the inevitable. Without a mandated location, the plethora of options has become a weight rather than a relief.

imageIf it were just my husband and I….if all of our family members were well and secure….if “ifs” were worth entertaining, we’d probably move to Ghana, or SouthAfrican-schoolroom Africa, or hop from country to country or state to state three months at a time to avoid frigid winters. We’d buy rental properties in each place and use the passive income to build a network of African-centered schools to eradicate the educational inequities that plague the disenfranchised across the globe, especially in the pockets of urban America.

We’d be frivolous and hire a personal nutritionist, chef, and trainer that traveled with us to ensure our longevity and make love in every country code. You know, just to stay in shape. I’d write novels, short stories, and plays while sunning in the sand and stick WritingBeside-theBeach-960x565my toes in the waters of every beach, while he’d find every hut, shack, or family-owned restaurant that served the cultural delectables of the city that hosted whichever jazz, hip hop or soul concert he was attending at the time. We’d perform in backwoods churches and overflowing theaters three or four times a week just to spread the message of hope, resilience, and Coming-to-Americarevolution. We’d truly take our freedom papers, multiply them, and spread the spirit of freedom all over the world. We would get it in!!! IF…..

But alas, it is not just he and I. It’s he, she, he, and me.  We both have aging parents and in the books of failing health, we have one and a possible. We’re already at the stage of caring for our children and our elders simultaneously. Truth is, we only had two years when we didn’t have both. Heeding to the twin bellows of obligation and responsibility, we’ve decided it’s time to go back to the U.S.; a decision I’m torn about daily…..

 

Freedom Papers

The Beginning of the End 

js-watch-co-reykjavik-via-hodinkeeJanuary marked nine years that my husband has worked for the same company.  I think he got a watch or something. Nine is his favorite number; his number of completion. He called it a sign, a confirmation.

For the past few years, he’s contemplated walking away from Corporate America to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. He’s started companies, (www.madalihair.com), invested, researched franchising. He even quit his job months after our first child was born citing his discontent with the monotony and lack of growth; a faithful <<insert terrifying>> move that proved to be rewarding.  The company brought him back in a global role thirty days later, which eventually led us to our wonderful life here in Singapore.

Luck of the Irish 

clifden-castle-irelandLike clockwork, when our son was born last October, he once again expressed the same discontent and desire to leave. Something about having another mouth to feed and  greater expenses ironically makes him want to quit his job. This time, the company offered him a new, but vague position in Europe.  Once our stint in Singapore is over in early summer, we could pack up and move to Ireland so that he could start an undefined role.

Let’s just say that doesn’t sit well with either of us. It isn’t the prospect of moving from the never-ending tropical weather of SE Asia to the bleak and wintry days of Dublin. (Well, it’s partly that for this Southern girl.) It isn’t just that we’d be leaving the firstDublin Marked on Map community we’ve felt a part of since we’ve been married, or the idea of not having anyone to help us with our daily tasks. Though, those are huge factors. But, it’s more the idea of being asked to blindly trust the company to create a position that will be equally challenging and fulfilling for a man whose ambition has always been greater than any fear or even logic at times.

P.S., I’m Out! 

It’s hard to work for someone else when you have your own dreams and you’re not afraid to pursue them.  Both of us have felt this way, but his desire to learn alfunny_worlds_greatest_wife_gifts_sticker-rc7f4cc7d02fc4f599597947f9aa38a0c_v9waf_8byvr_324l he could from his corporate experience and to be in a stable position to provide for his family has kept the man I love punching the proverbial clock for nearly a decade. Through every transition, from Rochester, to Clearwater, to Tampa, to Singapore, I’ve encouraged his commitment and made some sacrifices. Yet, I couldn’t hold my “World’s Greatest Wife” Award and watch him agree to take on a role they couldn’t even define for him in a country we’ve only seen in movies.

Though the lush green rolling hills of Ireland made me weep for romance in P.S., I Love You, they aren’t enough to uproot our family knowing that he’ll be discontent with the company as soon as we land. The plan to work towards a way out was implemented last quarter. He tried to be mediocre, a feat he couldn’t master. Dean Mobley just didn’t train us that way. He tried to hint at the idea of saving the company money by leaving and they dismissed everyone else on his team.  The lone ranger was offered new projects and positions instead of means to leave. The company was just not speaking exit strategy… at first.

“The bird has left the nest!” The text was as cryptic as it was unexpected. He sent the message while at dinner with his regional president. With a baby nursing on one side and a toddler pulling on the other, I had no idea what he meant…at first.

As of the end of Spring, my husband will no longer work for the company!  For the first time since he graduated, he is free to completely chart his own course and decide whether he’ll answer to anyone other than himself (and me). We have had the desire to just go anywhere we want in this world and see what happens. And, now we have the freedom to do it. spin-the-globe-wherever-it-lands-thats-where-well-go 

Something’s Gotta Give

This is why….

“We know this place…,”
This scene is all too familiar;
All too freshly sketched on the canvas of our memory.
We can no longer boast of progression
When we’ve only suffered from the repression of our history,
the continual oppression of our people,
and witness the protection of our enemies.
Amerikkka,
the land of the free and the home of the slave….

For the past few months, I’ve been feeling equally homesick and sick of home with all of the horrendous acts of terrorism against people who reflect me. It makes me feel homeless more than anything. Watching the reports of the events unfolding in Ferguson, New York, Los Angeles and all over the U.S. from abroad makes me feel like I escaped a war zone, but it also beckons me to go back and report for duty.

These images of unarmed civilians being executed in the streets by people who’ve used authority to seek complete control and exercise their expression of hatred solidify my thoughts about what Black America’s next step should be. Make no mistake, there are multiple Americas in our “United States.”  We can no longer afford to pretend that we live in a peaceful, post-racial and fully integrated society in America. We really never could afford the thought. It has cost us greatly.

Tragically, the tremendous efforts and results of the Civil Rights Movement were thought of as a completion of the task to secure our inalienable human rights in American society, instead of as the launching pad to keep pursuing them as they were. Now, most of us uneducated about the plight and goals of our predecessors, look at some of their tactics and recycle them without aim. We march now without a collective and concrete purpose other than unity. We hold rallies and sit-ins without understanding its intended impact and with no strategy to implement once the sit-in is complete. And, those of us with the greatest assets still pursue “The American Dream,” as though we were ever intended to be a part of that script.  

We so desperately want the diverse, peaceful, harmonious democracy America advertises, but we have not completed our healing process and we have yet to fully reconnect within our own community first. We also fail to see that the America we idealize does not exist. We talk about segregation like it’s a malediction and we mistakenly believe that the America we’re seeing is the one of which our forefathers dreamed. This was not the intended result of integration.  And, Martin Luther King, Jr. had an ominous feeling about that.  

“We’ve fought long for integration. It looks like we’re gonna get it. I think we’ll get the laws. But I’m afraid that I’ve come upon something that I don’t know quite what to do with. I’m afraid that we’re integrating into a burning house.”

The primary thing integration did was integrate black people out of power and extract the most educated and affluent of us from those with less means and opportunities. It resulted in the separation and division of those of us with the most in terms of education, resources, & affluence from those of us with the least. It taught the two divided groups to detach themselves from the other and be ashamed of that which has been separated. It taught us to assimilate and embrace majority culture so much so that we despise and forget our own. It allowed us to become walking targets and victims of systemic oppression and racist policies. 

Until we pour back into our people by building and supporting black businesses, schools, and communities that uplift us, then we will see this cycle again and again. Anybody can support this mission, but we can let no one thwart it. We’ve had too many casualites in a war we haven’t been strategically fighting. 

We just want the freedom to live in viable and healthy environments and conditions for our families. We want our own {land, resources, authority figures, etc.}  in our own communities because we can’t even knock on a “neighbor’s” door when we need assistance without being murdered (Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride.) We have never experienced “separate but equal,” so we fought for desegregation unaware of the fact that it would only extract us from power and further diminish our humanity in our own eyes. Now, we fear ourselves. We blame ourselves for our own lynchings because we’ve been taught we deserve it. We believe it because we hate ourselves; a direct lesson that is taught with little subtlety in the curriculum of American education. This self-loathing leads to our annihilation.

When we teach our children about sex, we can tell them with certainty that abstinence is a 100% guarantee that you will not contract an STD or get pregnant prematurely. We can teach them how to avoid the pitfalls of drug addiction completely by avoiding drug use altogether.  We can teach them to refuse the candy and advances of strangers and to look both ways before crossing the street.  We can offer them advice to protect them in most circumstances.  But, there is nothing we can say to our children that will offer the same guarantee that they will come back home after an interaction with the police or anyone who places themselves in such authority. Nothing.

We were given this harsh lesson as a nation publicly with the heinous torture and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and his murderers’ unjust acquittal.  The lesson has repeated itself over and over again in recent years with lifeless black bodies standing trial for their own murders while their killers walk free.  If you are black in America, your very existence poses a threat, incites violence, and is used to justify another person’s “self-defense” claim against the criminality that is your skin.

Black people, males especially, have no right to just be themselves. They are not afforded the right of “freedom of expression,” and certainly have no claim to
stand their ground as self-defense.  Where was Trayvon Martin’s right to defend himself against a stalking over-zealous, self-appointed neighborhood watchman?  Where was Michael Brown’s right to humanity when he was gunned down unarmed in the streets and left to rot for hours?  Where was Aiyana Jones’ right to be safe from police in her own home? Where are the rights of all the victims to face their accusers when they are  tried in the court of public opinion posthumously for being the cause of their own murder?

We cannot be dormant and await a rescue. The time for action, true mobilizing, is now. Join us in The Back to Black List Movement!

#TheBacktoBlackList #BackToBlackList #BlackList #BacktoBlack