culture, Epiphanies, Joy, Self-help

What the Yardstick Does Not Measure

love
“Don’t let this social media stuff go to your head,” my college classmate Kiare tweeted. Of course, newsfeeds and home pages are awesome. Electronic birthday, anniversary and event reminders are clutch.

But, social media pressures and vanity metrics (like likes, favorites and comments) can keep the online world more aspirational than candid.  My social media snapshots a life stream that does not have an indestructible dam to plug the flow of pain. I spotlight certain aspects of my life and sequester others.

Be clear: Everybody with a Wi-Fi connection is not owed our innermost thoughts or concerns. Our pain is not Girl Scout cookies, seasonally consumable in return for cash and orders. The street committee does not need a primer of our insecurities. However, shaping the narrative certain ways (even through pictures on Instagram) can create a perception that nobody struggles anymore.

Everybody is ecstatic to live lives devoid of worry. Everybody loves like never before. Everybody is always on honor roll. Everybody graduates early and contributes the most esoteric point to in-class discussions. No one worked that unpaid internship compensated in connections and experience. Baby weight evaporates. Cars immediately upgrade. Promotions come early. We are all the most socially conscious (i.e. “woke”), quirky and connected to public figures and celebrities. We all travel more than we work and never juggle a bill to do so. We know literary canons and obscure political facts without Googling. We are post-modern. We are yogis.

I push myself to be honest. I try to propel a positive mindset and slay my personal dragons. Yet to be fair, a few ways I have managed my online image include:

  • Not posting full-body selfies when period bloat puffs my figure.
  • Not posting photos, videos or otherwise capturing in real-time the day my face slid across the dinner table, sobbing over a guy (who I would later delete and block and awkwardly listen to as he begged in-person for a pathway to inclusion back in my life because God is the ultimate headlining comic in this show called life).
  • Untagging, erasing or suppressing pre-braces photos that captured the lone snaggle-tooth that kept my smile from being as Crest-y as I wanted in early adolescence.
  • Generally, locking my struggles in a safe until I am ready to share.

Some people call the comparisons “yardsticking.” Others say knowing what everybody has going on (in actuality or through cyber make-believe) creates F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out). Some say we never actually break up with the past because cyber-creeping (online lurking the social media pages of people, organizations, entities and more) prevents clean slates for new experiences.

I do not advocate telling all of our business to anyone who will listen, read, tweet or subscribe. And still, we can wrestle with a culture that reinforces existential curating over collaboration. We can resist the urge to use another person’s most public accomplishment as the rubric for our most painful one. We can decide if or when a social media reprieve will rejuvenate our spirits.

We can determine the line between honestly portraying challenges and letting hellions invade our quiet space. We can disempower the trolls, emboldened by egg avatars, pseudonyms and hatred. We can support those who support us.

We know that social media is amazing.  Informative. Stressful. Transformational. Dangerous. Global. Unifying.

We should also know to live as fully as possible, share with care and honor universal auntie advice:  “Do you, boo-boo.”

politics

On Becoming a Short-Term Republican

IMG_7782I hope people, whose opinions matter to me, don’t think  I’m an Uncle Tom. That I am the Boodocks character Uncle Ruckus in Millennial female form. That I subscribe to Stacey Dash’s anti-black  notions. That I fancy myself a Shad Moss, a self-designated multi-racial person whose race proclamations should beget a diminished expectation of furthering the civil rights struggle.

Not quite a week ago, my family and I changed our political affiliation from Democrat to Republican. My mother wrote an excellent op-ed  about why. We were one of a handful of people in the Supervisor of Elections office in Downtown Jacksonville doing so at the time. We were the only black people, in that moment, doing so. We have been registered Democrats since registering to vote.

Florida, my home state, has closed primaries. Per the Fair Vote website, “in a closed primary, only voters registered with a given party can vote in that party’s primary.” Florida’s closed primaries reportedly date back to 1913. Similarly, some steps taken in connection with the state attorney’s race elicited critique.

As a family, we positioned ourselves to help elect a quality public defender. Yes, this means we cannot vote for certain Democrats in the primaries. It also means that we are not disenfranchised in a race that substantially affects black and brown people.

Personally, the temporary change conveys a willingness to survive. It reminds me that life, and progress, is deeper than labels. That some of the worst panderers can share party affiliation.

Overall, the experience  reminded me of some other things:

  • Democracy is bolstered by robust discussion and organized political action.
  • It’s important to have people one trusts and with whom one can ideologically volley  and seek counsel. (Spoiler alert: I’m always trying to soak up gems from elders.)
  • It’s okay to not know every political manuever or repercussion immediately. This is where research comes into play.
  • Politics can be engaged by diverse people and in diverse ways.
  • Informed economic boycotts are an option. Example:  My family loves to point out Hobby Lobby signs whenever we pass the craft store because I refuse to give the chain a penny. I read the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which  covered a lot of ground, but essentially decided that a contraceptive mandate violated the company owners’ religious freedom. In other words, Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga a cabinet making company) does not have to pay for comprehensive  health care for female employees. I view women’s health care as encompassing services including check-ups,  mammograms, contraception and procedures for women who (for whatever reason) decide they do not want to carry offspring to term.

Anyway, the political change stirred a lot within me. My family and I will change our affiliation from Republican before the general elections. And despite one confused Donald Trump fan-boy sliding into my private messages, it is still very much #NeverTrump.

 

Abuse, Ancestry, Color, Intersectionality, Prejudice

When People Are Saltier About Messages Than Burial Soil

Fresh from Fourth of July BBQs, family reunions, road trips, beach days and the like, many black people in the U.S. grieve another person, another black man, another father and partner gone too soon after a deadly encounter with police. The facts, opinions, anecdotes, and reports trickle in, including the announcement that the DeBLMpartment of Justice will conduct an investigation. As a culture we know how this tends to play out.

This experience of reeling from situations we would not know about but for the reels of cellular devices, and citizen journalists and good neighbors who use them, has become commonplace.

By now, most people have heard the name Alton Sterling. They know Baton Rouge police killed him in front of a convenience store, a store where he and the owner had cultivated a relationship in which Sterling had permission to sell CDs outside the establishment.

Many have seen continual video loops chronicling Sterling’s demise. Others decided to read the stories, but not watch the video because the collective trauma of state-sanctioned violence against black people has become too much to bear.

Police have killed 558 people this year in the U.S, according the Counted, a database hosted by the Guardian. The Washington Post reported that American police have killed 122 black people in the U.S. this year.

Late last week a Change.org petition was started against activist and actor Jesse Williams. Cyber signees called for Williams’ termination from Grey’s Anatomy after Williams used his humanitarian award speech at the BET Awards to lambast institutional racism. As I type this, more than 19,000 people have signed.

Williams’ speech was an opportunity to, as folks say, make it plain. He said that the award he received was not for him, but was for “the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”

He continued. “It’s kind of basic mathematics – the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.” Williams decried disparate treatment of black people and eerily-yet-predictably foreshadowed Sterling’s death.

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day,” Williams said. “So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”

It is frightening to think, and sobering to know, many people so resented Williams’ speech that they wanted his lucrative and prominent position taken. They were more disturbed that he had a safe space to speak at a BET show, a receptive audience, and that he struck a chord with millions than they were invested in uprooting the realities that motivated his speech. They were salty about the message, hating on the messenger and choose to rationalize the personhood politics and policies that keep America facing mounting black bodies.

One must ask whether the immutability of race will continue muting people in power. What of the capacity for justice? Or is it really just us?

Academia, Ancestry, culture

I Spent Spring Break in Pre-Embargo Lift Cuba

DSC00172

Cuba has interested me since fourth grade. I’m a Floridian. My first boyfriend was half-Cuban. He never wanted to talk about Cuba or the individualized and collective circumstances that led to his mother fleeing to Florida. And with the American economic embargo spanning several decades, Cuba has often seemed closest to and farthest from the United States.

Back to fourth grade. My teacher was terrified of anything Cuba. During a geography discussion, a classmate asked a question about the island. She stumbled through some response. She also apologized to the air, raised her hands and said she hoped the classroom wasn’t bugged. It was weird and above my nine year old brain.

As a law student, now closer to the finish line than to the beginning, Cuba is of interest for other reasons. The country’s constitution is beautifully written. The outright acknowledgment of being a diversified people—and celebrating that fact in its law—resonated with my “cotton black” self and global aspirations.

There’s also the fact that Cuba has routinely honored political asylum by keeping freedom fighters free, and allowing them to live in Cuba. The nation has disregarded pressures from westerners who would better serve their constituents with education funding and summer job programs than expired calls for extradition. (We love you, Assata. We also love you, Cubanos who transport her throughout the island and protect her.)

Anyway, insert Mississippi College School of Law. Their law school has had a spring break Cuba study abroad program for two years. For street cred’s sake, I Googled spring study abroad programs and applied well before President Obama announced, last December, the American and Cuban goal of normalizing relations between the nations.

This spring break, I was blessed to visit Cuba with MC Law and study comparative constitutional law with students from The Sip (Mississippi), Washington state, New York and Arizona. Our professor, a J.D./Ph.D, kept substantive and philosophical queries on deck. My classmates represented different walks of life. The academic portion was squared away.

The cultural component that remained was satisfied and exceeded expectations. Cubanos could not have made me feel more welcome. We had substantive and random conversations. Shoutout to the men whose response to my Floridian origin was a conversation about rappers Flo Rida, Wiz Khalifa and Tyga.

Cuban artists sold handcrafted pieces, spoke passionately and told jokes. One vendor, a soft-spoken woman with blond hair, lured me into her booth with decidedly African art. She reminded me that March 8 was International Women’s Day. We took a picture together.

The natives patiently listened when I fumbled through Spanglish 2.5, apologized and grasped for cognates. They seemed to appreciate sincere effort and cultural humility. When I wasn’t talking, or too close to loud westerners, they thought I was a native. Nope. Just cappuccino skinned with an affinity for colorful clothes and people.

Of course, our trip was not free of the Obnoxious Gringo American stereotype, as such arose in the form of a loud man who said things like “Book. You know, boo-kuh?” True story, cross my heart.

Some natives seemed as excited to try their English on me as I was to try my Spanish on them. Others saw my struggle and threw lifelines. One vendor, whose cadence sounded more Houston than Havana, laughingly said, “I speak English,” and negotiated a fair price with me for a knitted shirt.

Our study abroad group ate frijoles soaked in goddess tears, rice simmered in utopia and drank mojitos that never seemed to run out. We heard people say they love America. Some shouted “liberty” when we were around.

One night, we walked for an hour through areas our bus carefully avoided and saw inside tiny, tidy homes with colorful decorations, rousing discussions, barbershops and family and friends.

Cuba reminded me of the diversity of people of color. Some looked undeniably white. Others looked black. Others’ traits skimmed from many people, like the copper skinned boy with brown eyes and bright red, straight hair who skateboarded past us.

I did notice an unspoken colorism. Whiter looking, mixed or brown skinned people with long hair or light eyes often greeted tourists, handled money and held prominent positions. The people with the dark cocoa skin, dark eyes, broad features and coarse hair often worked service jobs. Many live in other parts of the island.

In critical race circles, the light-is-right ideology in Latin America is called pigmentocracy. It’s an iteration of colonialism seen across the globe.

The trip, however, was still amazing. We visited the home of Jose Fuster, an artist widely regarded as the Caribbean Picasso. His relative and I shared a moment, and fist bump, because we both have tailbone length dreadlocks that represent our eight years with matted hair.

Our group visited a beach. We saw musicians. We met an American diplomat. We met a Cuban international lawyer. Both were women, just saying. We learned that wifi was expensive and not always dependable, so we ate meals where everyone made eye contact and listened instead of scanning phones for updates.

Our tour guide bridged the gap between the natives and us. We saw lots of pretty things, and areas with infrastructures reflecting a need for progress into contemporary times. We saw the old school vehicles that baffle international scholars, as Cuba has patents and secrets that keep classic things as good as new.

Hopefully, as relations improve the US will respect what Cuba brings to the table and their willingness to be autonomous and unbothered. The nation that expects everybody else to bow down, whether American exceptionalism ideas are warranted or not (hello, #blacklivesmatter), should learn to kiss their ring.

Ultimately, I am not a Cuba expert. Or a legal expert. Yet. But, I opened myself up to Cuban and Cuban American people who shared more with me than I could ever record.

I chopped it up with a Canadian Millennial who shared that many Canadians and Europeans say Cuba will remain wonderful as long as lazy Americans who don’t eat real food or appreciate real culture can’t get universal access. As it stands now, Americans can only visit Cuba if they satisfy at least one of the enumerated reasons to visit. (Reasons include having family members there, cultural exchanges or academic purposes.)

This Cuba trip felt like an appetizer,  one that reminded me of my family’s time spent in Mexico and Costa Rica. But, it was also distinct.

Thankfully, global good faith is afoot. As seen through President Barack Obama’s handshake with Cuban president Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, global politics are becoming more inclusive. We need others. And others need us. America can also remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list amirite?, but that is for another day.

For what it’s worth, a study abroad classmate told paladar employees, “Here’s to the end of the embargo!” The Cuban restaurant, he said, erupted into cheers.

Ancestry

Here’s What Happened When I Had My Ancestry Traced

People are pregnant, married, moving up the corporate ladder, doing crossfit, getting tatted, and I’m over here finding out about ancestors.

It wouldn’t be summertime if I didn’t put myself on a mission. Sometimes it’s cardio. Sometimes it’s cooking. Often, it’s reading enough to be able to jump into most conversations, survive, and contribute.

I mainly ventured into the ancestry rabbit hole because of history. Whenever I asked my parents where Ancestor So-and-So was from, it was always some southern state in the U.S. I’ve seen pictures of ancestors whose phenotypes prominently display Africa. I’ve seen some that made me my cock my head to the side.

But Massa ‘Nem is not an ethnicity. And the USA is relatively new. I wanted a deeper tie to an original region. I am usually elated to be a black American, but I also periodically feel displaced here. This feeling has arisen when people speak a native tongue, as slavery stripped my ancestors of ours.

Ancestry tracing is gaining popularity. It is beneficial for people who were adopted. Some do it to find out about possible illnesses. Some do it to boast their multi-racialism. Some trace to prove their lineage is uninterrupted. Dude, do you. Technology supplements aspects of our identity that institutions can erase.

This experience was deep. While I identify with the cultural and political power of blackness and see Africa as the motherland, I was pretty open to whatever appeared on the report.

Then there’s the social aspect of identity in contemporary America. In our post-everything society, where we are actually post-very little, there’s often a schism between foreign (a.k.a. “exotic”) and typical identity.

Personally, this results in folks expecting and wanting me to be spicy black. They want some performative drum circle/humanities 201/geography 301/passport-y black lady display because of my Swahili and Arabic first name, hip-length dreadlocks, rudimentary reggae knowledge and interests beyond my backyard.

People stay asking where I’m “from-from.” For those who don’t know, saying it twice helps people know it’s real. We all know the difference between liking a dude and like-liking him, right?

Apparently, I’m Jamaican. St. Lucian. Dominican. From St. Croix. Bahamian. I’ve also been Eritrean, Egyptian and Somali, although never at the same time. A Colombian guy seemed underwhelmed by the fact that I was born in a city where people wear more camo than ethnic garb.

All I can be is who I am. I am cotton black. Yet, I try to have a sense of humor because everything has degrees. A common Imani inquiry for the from-from set is, “What? Cotton don’t excite y’all?”

In all seriousness, family is exciting. Making connections. Globalism.
Feeling included by a place and its people.

That’s where 23andme.com comes into play. I researched ancestry-tracing services and decided this was the one for me. Plus, if it’s good enough for Henry Louis Gates Jr., I’m just saying.

It cost $99, not including shipping. I registered a profile, paid, spit in the kit, mailed off my specimen and waited for results, which came pretty timely.

My immediate family and I discussed everything. They had no objections. Additionally, they know I blog. They consented to me sharing the story about our ancestry. They agreed it would be neat to leave the option open for 23andMe users who share our genetic info to connect.

Then 23andMe emailed me, saying relatives were online. Y’all. We have all the cousins. Most of them are black. Some are mixed. Some are white. I started introducing myself, wondering if they would be welcoming. I don’t want anything from them, other than to get to know them as people and see where our ancestors intersected. So far, everything’s going well.

If you’re only here for the breakdown, it is in the photo below.
MyAncestry
Note: We are also .8% Neanderthal. Should I beat my chest for cave-dwelling foremothers or nah?

Ultimately, the results make sense. A long time ago, my ancestors were involved in the trafficking of people. Most were the trafficked. Some were the trafficking.

Despite these layers, my cousins still want to connect. For that, this mission is accomplished.

 

Edited to add: 23andMe says that as their algorithm improves, it’s possible for ancestral reports to change. Mine did, a little, so I posted the most recent one too.

Ancestry

Beauty ideals, Epiphanies, Joy

Too Grown & Sexy For Compulsory Insecurity

“I wouldn’t wear the Victoria’s Secret bra that adds two cup sizes,” I say. “False advertisement.”

I laughingly add there’s no sense in making A minuses seem like Cs. We won’t even get started on Booty Pop panties.

She chuckles and says she wants to lose weight. We joke about our appearances more. I feel closer to her. It seems she feels the same. Cool. New friend?

In hyper-contemplative weirdo fashion, I later begin unpacking the need to bond with people based on collective feelings of void. That doesn’t seem right.

I share a lot; however, I’m cautious and selective about what I share. (Don’t feel bad for me.) I have told a lot of people a lot about being small-busted. It seems funny. It makes people feel better. Maybe they identify with it. Maybe their sister or mom does.

Maybe they’ll tell me big boobs are heavy, and they’d give me an entire one to split between both of mine if I’d make their legs longer. Maybe strangers talk to these women’s cleavage, whereas my clavicles don’t inspire dialogue beyond necklace compliments. Maybe I’ll quote “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Maybe we keep going.

Maybe their culture glamorizes a thigh gap. Maybe they should be 5’5″ with thick thighs. Maybe they want to know the sweetest taboo that keeps Sade looking better than non-Sade life forms. Maybe I just projected that onto them because Sade is forever fine.

Maybe I’ll share that I wished on dandelions and fallen eyelashes for boobs and blew out birthday candles for boobs. Maybe all of this is a first world problem.

While being of modest bosom is no big deal, I’ve used the tidbit in problematic ways. Tidbits like this have value in a gendered social bartering system, where women bond over stuff we don’t like and are not in the position to immediately change about ourselves.

We are often socialized to give compliments, downplay favorable comments our way, apologize for successes, and make our tiny issues main characters IMAX style before 3D glasses wearing voyeurs.

So, what kind of existential crisis is Imani having? I turn 25, a.k.a. good and grown, next Saturday. And despite having written New Year’s resolutions, some of which I’m rocking and some of which need work, I am using this moment to continue self-work. Writing helps me manifest and keep myself in check.

No more compulsory insecurity. I gotta ease up on—although maybe not abandon—self-deprecation as a humor device or connection builder.

Conversations might become awkward. Things might seem flat (pun unintended), at first. But, chats that come from scarcity suck. Focusing on less preferred traits and speaking those preferences into the world tells people we don’t have enough and, therefore, we aren’t enough. I’m enough. You’re enough.

Admittedly, I want to bond with people. That can mean delving into innermost feelings and uncertainties. The truth isn’t always pretty, hashtag awesome, sepia-toned or newsfeed worthy. Luckily I have an answer, Sway.

I’m too grown and sexy to rely on the awkward girl shtick.

I’ve read too much, seen too many multi-dimensional women win, and come from too many revolutionaries to not tell flaw-focused discourses, “Go home, Roger.”

This doesn’t mean I’m gonna false advertise. It does mean if what’s on display and ultimately discovered about me isn’t a proper fit, in true itty bitty [term redacted] fashion, I’m not gonna fill in the gap.

The South

The Southern Ritual of Speaking

You mean there's pressure to uplift other folks and show my family's values just by speaking to people?
You mean there’s implicit pressure to uplift other folks and show my family’s values just by speaking to people?

People who spend significant amounts of time below the Mason-Dixon line know that “speaking,” engaging others in basic conversation, is a must.

As a child, speaking seemed like an interruption. A social chore. Can’t I just get more helpings or come play with the kid I actually came here to see? I vividly recall speaking to people, out of duty or to disarm them of preconceptions, when I would rather not have.

As an adult, I see people need and seek validation. Conversation is by no means a cure-all. However, speaking is a fundamental acknowledgment of another person, and his or her validity, in a moment. Conversations mark our connections with each other. They can foster a sense of community and demonstrate where our interests converge.

People matter. And people need to feel like they matter.

Further, speaking does not have to be exhausting. Walking into a space, making eye contact with the people there and offering a generalized greeting suffices. If elders are involved, due deference is warranted.

Doing so shows that your formative years were spent under somebody worthwhile. Speaking shows that you’re not “too good” engage people in conversations, which often prove mutually beneficial. People internalize hierarchies and often resent folks who, as collective wisdom describes it, read their own headlines. Speaking can show you’re level-headed.

Speaking opens doors. “Good morning, y’all” can segue to family values, personal goals, professional aspirations and more. The person you’re speaking to might be able to help. You might be able to help. Either or both of you could know somebody. The more speaking we do, the smaller the world becomes.

I make it my business to speak to people when I see them. Yet, seeing people can prove tricky. In typical westernized Millennial fashion, I plug in constantly and scroll devices until my wrists hurt.

Headphones mute external conversations. I customize Spotify playlists to match moods, promote a conducive reading environment or to let artists sing, rap or play their way through notions I identify with, but am not ready to discuss. I know some of my cyber friends’ proclivities better than people I see in the real life. Social media should augment, not replace, in-person connections.

This post is not to say every person is owed conversation. Speaking and street harassment intersect. Harassers often know that people, especially southern women, participate in a communicative culture.

Patriarchy tells them whatever their age, race, weight, height, tooth count or station in life a woman owes them a chat, and answers about why if she is not into it. Some aren’t above implicit and explicit pressure for women to engage them. Men have physically presented themselves in ways where my instinct is twofold:

1. Acquiesce and 2. Hightail it away from Sirs Creeperton.  Force is contrary to speaking’s spirit.

Through speech we orally affirm others. Their speech back creates a conversation, reciprocates the affirmation, and conveys the message both participants matter. While speaking is a nice touch, we should also focus on becoming the kind of people with whom we’d want to connect.