Tag Archives: expatriate

The Long Roads, Flights, & Tracks Home

Michael BrownA year ago, my husband and I watched the streets of Ferguson erupt in horror. We watched pictures and videos of the lifeless body of one of our young brothers fester in the street for hours and heard about the culprit’s, an officer of the law, flee from the scene.  We learned that Mike Brown, a recent high school graduate,  was struck six times with bullets, at least once with his hands raised in surrender, and later heard the trigger-puller’s legally justifiable defense was that he looked like a “demon.” (How can one be executed for looking like a mythical creature?) Our eyes widened and spirits were awakened and angered as we witnessed the unfolding of a war zone in Ferguson. Gas masks, full artillery, violent and silent protests, arson, police antagonists, and antagonizing police officers, all painted a vivid and horrific picture that resembled that of which we’d seen in visuals after the King riots, both Rodney and Rev. Dr.

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We waited like the rest of Black America for some semblance of justice in the name of the fallen. We waited, though we had still not recovered from the verdict in the trial of Trayvon Martin, who was posthumously convicted of his own death. We waited, though we’d be told of the imbalance of Ferguson’s demographics in terms of police vs. residents, and its sordid history because of it. We waited though the media had already begun assassinating the character of the victim before his body had even been removed from the scene of the crime. We waited like viewers wait for the moment in a scary movie for the running, screaming, female character to get caught. We hoped for the best, but we all knew she would fall and fail. And, so did justice in this instance. I watched Mike Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden wail and weep and scream out of agony. Then, I watched her transform and become swathed with a supernatural strength. She reminded me of Sybrina Fulton. She reminded me of Wanda Johnson. She reminded me of Mamie Till Mobley. She reminded me of too many black mothers that have buried their children due to senseless violence that’s sanctioned by the government that should protect them.

We sat in silent reverence, imbued with fury, and watched images of our home country burning from the comforts of our _79245004_024867989-1foreign home in Singapore. We watched, just as we had watched the marches, protests, and riots after Trayvon Martin’s injustice unfold while being surrounded by the opulence and newfound freedom of self-expatriation.  We felt, for the first time in our lives, disconnected from our people as though we’d absconded from the plight and constant terror that it means to be black in America. We decided, with much reluctance on my part, that we needed to move back to the states; that despite the intoxicating and unfamiliar feelings of privilege, entitlement, and freedom, true uninhibited freedom to live and be who we culturally are without judgment or persecution, we needed to commit to our life’s work of helping to restore and rebuild black communities for the sake of our children and our people.  We needed to sacrifice the contentment of our bubble in Asia where we had helped to establish a vibrant black community to begin the Back to Black List that my husband authored where it was needed most. We had to do more than use words to empower. We had to be examples and SPEAK with our actions. The decision was less noble than necessary.

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A year later, our feet are on the ground. We’re back now. We’ve used this entire summer to live as nomads in different states as we researched our selection of cities to live. We gave ourselves the freedom to choose exactly where we wanted to live instead of being mandated by a professional position. (See another post that I’ll find the time to write one day.) Our original list of five plus one had been narrowed to two and a possible by the time we landed on U.S. soil for the first time in two years, but we kept all options open for discussion and consideration.  New Orleans and Oakland were both individual choices vetoed by the other for various reasons. [Insert sigh.] The wonderful city of Chicago which offers all of the culture, food, arts, and opportunities to build and restore is just too cold for too many months out of the year for this Southern girl and this adapted N. Minneapolis snowbird. My flashbacks from living in upstate NY for one year kept haunting me.  That left Dallas, Atlanta, & S. Florida as possible contenders.

map1_dallasOur first choice of Dallas was a practical one. The primary reason for moving back more urgently was because of my mother-in-law’s crippling illness and my sister-in-law’s need for assistance in her care. Living in Singapore made any necessary trips to visit very difficult and even scheduling phone calls could be a nuisance with the time difference. We needed to be in the same country to be able to reach them when needed. They both reside in Dallas. Dallas also boasted of thriving predominantly black suburbs [read communities], a once thriving black community in South Dallas that could be restored, and many fellow FAMU graduates that we knew would be willing counterparts in the process of rebuilding.  Though I’d never been, I encouraged the decision to have all of our items from Singapore shipped to Dallas as a gesture of my commitment to both the Back to Black List and to my mother-in-law and husband.

Atlanta is Atlanta. Those who get that just do. I love just about everything about my native city and I’ve converted a man who once denounced the very thought of visiting to possibly considering it as a place to settle.  We knew it’d be easy to a certain degree to just plug into the well established black network we have there. There are many like-minded people of all races that live in the city and many upper middle-class and affluent black families that haven’t forgotten that they are and the responsibility that comes with that. But, it’s still in Georgia; red state, redneck, red clay, historically black lynching Georgia. So, there’s that.

South Florida is all things tropical and beautiful. Who wouldn’t want year-round summers, mango and avocado trees in your backyard, free daily lessons in a foreign language, and access to the beach whenever? The king’s company, logowww.madalihair.com, also has its main large clients and distributors in Miami. But aside from the aesthetics and his professional benefit, it proved not to offer much for black families in general and didn’t feel as though our vision would be well-received.

Surprisingly, Tampa, my maternal families’ home base made an addition to the list after we arrived. We used it as our home for the summer, renting an airbnb home from a wonderful couple who lived just two doors down from us in the newly gentrified West Tampa. We caught wind of some exciting and new opportunities in the area and were reminded of how wonderful it is to be near family and a familial support system, especially when raising children. There were definitely pros and cons as with each location. We had all the offerings of tropical life and there are many avenues for rebuilding, but the black community is built around elite organizations, historic churches, or childhood allegiances that are all difficult to penetrate for transplants. I went to high school in Tampa and I’m a member of one of the elite organizations and a former member of one of the historic churches, and I still feel like an outsider at times. We needed a city that would welcome newcomers as people migrated to help implement the Back to Black List and one that offered varying commercial industries for those who’d seek employment rather than create it. Tampa became possible, but not likely.

224We spent time in each of the cities searching for homes to either rent or buy, looking for black schools, black banks, and black neighborhoods that could be the foundation for black communities.  We were repeatedly disappointed in them all, but especially Dallas initially because that’s where we put the most effort. Our first visit there in June proved to be surprisingly underwhelming. The article we’d read about one of Dallas’s suburbs becoming the new Black Wall Street was a bit misleading, or perhaps we misinterpreted. Black Wall Street was replete with black businesses that were supported and employed by black people in a community built around strong black schools. I think we are collectively and mistakenly interchanging community and neighborhood. Black Wall Street was a community. The black suburbs of Dallas appear to be black neighborhoods. Communities have their own economies and a sense of collectivism. Neighborhoods are just people who share the same zip code or grocery store. We didn’t find the former there.  [Please let us know if we overlooked something Dallastons.] More importantly to me, the school that we fell in love with proved not to be the best fit for our daughter.

Very long story short, or written in another post, that’s not going to happen. While in Dallas on our last visit, a sister friend reminded me that we have the power to manifest the desires of our heart when in the will of God. She challenged me to write

540x293_20140102_8b7da98709a1ab48d447479d93832c18_jpg down exactly what I wanted, not my husband or children, and to be as specific as possible. All summer, we were leaning on the kindness of others or spending far more than we should to ensure that we, our children especially, were comfortable as we scoured the internet, traveled the highways, and rested in airports in search of our next home. I knew I wanted an African-focused accelerated educational venue for my daughter where I too could contribute my educational experience and knowledge. I knew I wanted a community that spawned from that school, neighboring schools like it, and like-minded people and families. I knew I wanted to finally find a church that espoused the beliefs and understanding that Africans throughout the Diaspora are disenfranchised and that we can be liberated through our faith and collective actions. But, those things weren’t specific enough. So, I made it plain.

I want:

-to live in my native city this year.

-to have my daughter enrolled at the African-focused school of my choice there in Kindergarten or based on her aptitude and social development instead of age.

-to have a support system of like-minded people.

-to live in a house in the actual city limits, within 20 minutes of the school.

-to have at least three bedrooms in said house.

-to have a church home within the community.

-to begin working together with others to implement the Back to Black List as soon as possible.

-peace.

In one day, after many days of tirelessly searching and being disappointed repeatedly in multiple cities, we have finally found a place to call home and truly begin to work towards the liberation and advancement of the disenfranchised. That’s putting a lot on it as my husband would say, but we’ve already put a lot on the whole decision to move back to the U.S. As soon as I decided to envision and ask for exactly what I wanted, the path became clear and easy. I found a house in the exact area we wanted to live. It was available, move-in ready, and we were able to negotiate all of the terms we wanted in less than a week. I’m able to enroll my daughter in her proper placement in the African-focused school of my choice, and I’ll be surrounded by people of all backgrounds and ethnicities who understand the importance of elevating those who’ve been oppressed. And, we both have family there, so that’s built-in babysitters!!

All is not final. We will still be living out of suitcases and boxes for a while, but we’ll be in our own space soon enough ready to do more than watch the plight of those we love. After much indecision, insight, trials, and prayer, we are moving to……….A-T-L-A-N-T-A!!!

Our New Home

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.

The Break

The Break

Sunday December 1, 2013 and Thursday January 9, 2014

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It felt like water breaking.

<Hi, my name is Talitha, and I can be dramatic.>

Though premature, they say it happens around three months, then again at six, this labor was intensive and the birth was full weight. I cried, wept until I was weak and my face and hands were drenched. Only silenced by my daughter’s gentle embrace, as though to say, “It’s ok. It’s all over now.”  I can only remember a few other occasions where this has happened; when I was so overcome with a range of emotions that they just broke through and tears violently flushed me.

I had the breakdown; the question everything, troubles seem to last always, pain comes through the mourning, ‘What the hell am I doing here (with oatmeal in my hair)’ breakdown! And, it paralyzed me. I couldn’t write about it. Hence, no blog posts. I couldn’t talk about it in depth to anyone, and I (still) couldn’t move around it.  I’ve just been moving through it; trying not to let it overshadow the incredible blessing and opportunities of being here with the uncertainty of the same.

For almost a year and half prior to that moment, we were assessing the notion of an international relocation, the shifting of my business, and the impact of uprooting and leaving our support system for a world unknown.  We were in “go” mode for about six months of that time, just moving, selling, packing, making lists, checking them off, & creating more. I was phasing out Black Girl Speaks in the U.S., preparing our daughter, and handling all of the remaining tedious tasks while living in a hotel after my husband moved a month before us. I believed in my husband and supported his ambitions wholeheartedly. I was excited about all this shift would bring. I was ecstatic about creating something new and greater in Asia. I wanted this as much for myself, as I did for him and our family. I was glossy-eyed and in love with the idea of being an expatriate.  And, the first two months proved to be an extended honeymoon of exotic new foods, amusing people, & cultural infusion.

                                                          Then,Image

I woke up one regular Thursday morning with the day’s agenda cycling through my mind as usual. My two-year-old was especially “busy” that morning: running, playing, hiding, throwing and hiding essential household objects. You know, being a toddler. I had just finished cleaning the kitchen to a spotless shine after serving breakfast to my family, while forgetting to eat myself, only to find a mix of oatmeal and Play Doh streaked throughout the house and all over the kibibi’s already-dressed-for-the day body.

 The Day’s Condensed To Do List:

  • -Throw 3 loads in the mini-machine
  • -{Insert: Give her a bath…again.}
  • -Get her dressed…again
  • -Keep her entertained, while I: Prepare snacks, books, toys for the day
  • -Dust every room & all the ceiling fans (face fear of heights)
  • -Vacuum
  • -Mop the floor
  • -Get a shower and get dressed
  •  -Then, teach. (Homeschooling)
  • -Get ready to travel for an hour to Chinese class (question necessity)
  •  -Prepare grocery list in transit
  • -Feed her in transit
  •  -Go grocery shopping
  • -Prepare dinner
  • -Play-date
  • Give her a bath and wash hair

Not one task on the list was directly for me, though my husband would argue that cleaning is a chore of choice because he’s far less concerned about the dust balls that would form a small army otherwise.  This picture was drastically different from the one I painted in my mind. And, certainly not the upgrade in lifestyle I was anticipating and as advertised by the mister. Image

I had idealized being a stay-at-home mom when I was in the states. I realized shortly after moving to Singapore, that I’m that other type of mom. There’s the primarily SAHM that can seemingly juggle it all and finds the majority of her joy and fulfillment in solely serving her family. Even if she works outside of the home, she is completely tied to her family, and only does so to benefit them in some way. That was my mother, and she was/is phenomenal in this role. It used to rattle me to recognize that I’m the type of mom that needs something external to fulfill me….everyday.  (See The Help(er) Part III). 

So, as mentioned, we decided to get the highly recommended help (which has been a necessity in maintaining sanity), but the breakdown was right before (the catalyst for) this decision.  The stress of actually finding assistance did not help my disposition either. My process was not ideal in the least. I’ll have to post separately about that.

In the midst of this emotional typhoon, I’ve met some wonderful people, traveled to some amazing countries, celebrated birthdays of loved ones and wedding anniversaries, started a business, and had more assistant (helper) drama than my share.  It’s been an eventful few months, and I’m finally ready to SPEAK about it. Stay tuned.