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?

On Dreads & Why You Can’t Send a Girl Who Knows Who She is Home

Exhibit A: Nine year old Imani with a fresh perm and JC Penney dress.
Exhibit A: Nine year old Imani with a fresh perm and JC Penney dress.

“They didn’t like my dreads,” Tiana Parker, a 7-year-old black girl said. “They” are her former school, Deborah Brown Community School. Officials told Parker’s dad, Terrence, that she wasn’t presentable because of her hair.

According to the community school, “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” And chastising little girls to the point of tears about their immutable characteristics is?

I don’t know a 7-year-old white girl experience. But, I remember being a 7-year-old black one and confronting people’s ignorance and distaste for anything that rendered me blacker or highlighted my parents’ conscious choice to let people know who I am. But, they taught me first.

What do I mean? If Imani Jackson shows up as a resume or application, you might not know exactly who I am, but you have a pretty good idea of who I’m not. First, it’s dope that Tiana is brave and bold enough to wear her natural hair at seven. That her father, a barber, champions his princess’ natural mane? Doper. People want their loved ones to love themselves and to present in ways that cause them the least amount of resistance.

But, it’s bigger than individuals, y’all. When I was seven, my mom finally acquiesced. The relaxer I begged, prayed and hoped for finally morphed my midnight mass into long, straight hair. I wore it relaxed for about four years until it broke, fried and drowned in a pool of split ends and spritz.

I experimented with natural styles, and unfortunately blonde hair dye, for a while until at age 17 I saw a picture of Goapele, thought about Lauryn Hill, and decided to quit playing. I began locks at 10 years old than Tiana. It taught me patience, persistence and self-love. Some days I had to go on with life, when my head looked like Coolio and a Chia pet’s Bill Nye experiment.

Gradually, the nappy, curly and coiled collision locked, grew, and became something I’m proud of. But, it was painful to get there. At Tiana’s age, I attended a multicultural magnet elementary school, as in mostly white, with kids of color and military families sprinkled in.

The teachers were generally competent, although some needed to venture beyond their backyards if they wanted to connect with more students. My hair, which my mother braided, pressed and styled in awe-inspiring black-girl styles, reminded everyone that I was different. I was tired of being different.

Always in the back of the class photos, taller than most of the boys, and having a “foreign” first name in a city that just missed being in South Georgia, my differences felt burdensome.

Why hadn’t my mom named me Brenda? That is her name. It was my late grandmother’s name. Teachers wouldn’t mispronounce Brenda. I wouldn’t be forced into awkward conversations with adults who didn’t know Kwanzaa existed, Swahili isn’t a place, and while Iman was hot stuff, her name is Spanish and I was not named after her.

Teachers barreled through Brittanys, Ashleys and Brandons with reckless abandon. That weird I-word lodged in the middle of the roll was an impediment from quickly assessing which students came to school that day. I learned to raise my hand when anything remotely “Ih”-sounding preceded Jackson.

The long and short of it is that I evolved with family support and love. The kind of love that Tiana has, as her dad, Terrence, went to bat in the media and against that school for her. That’s the same love my father showed when he reprimanded a high school boy who sought to impress his high school friends at the expense of middle school me by shoving a dirty, discarded pick in my Afro at the bus stop.

In many settings I was the only non-mixed black girl who were wore her natural hair. I was nappy and trying to be happy before curling puddings, big time bloggers and a bourgeoning beauty industry would explode into follicular fiestas for women who sat on the sidelines because they didn’t want drama regarding the hair from their mamas.

Today my hair is a big part of my identity. It’s proof that I survived. I was bullied, ostracized, thought suspect and ridiculed for being me in a world that mistreats the other. My hair gets checked by TSA. I force them to discuss the additional searches. I am stereotyped about how I spend my recreational time.

I’m automatically West Indian, even though I’m not. My mom, who has a big, curly fro, is apparently black Latina. Why our ethnicities don’t match is beyond me. I become de facto hair teacher for people of all backgrounds who don’t know how follicular diversity works.

White people tell me about their friends with sketchy showering habits and dreads. Sometimes they share the (BIG!) secret that all of their hair isn’t naturally straight. Rasta men greet me in ways I don’t fully understand. Older blacks tell me that I beat the odds and look nice with “those dreads.” Somehow my dreads inspire conversations about how black men with dreads must disprove ideas that they’re thugs.

Mostly now, I’m embraced. My hair is healthy. It’s strong. It’s long. It’s a lot like me. It’s accepted and acceptable because I accept it, love it, treat it well, and remove myself from situations where I won’t be valued because of what it represents. Life is too short to hang out in hate spaces.

Embrace summertime, not pervasive personal questions

As the sun beams, wind blows, tan lines surface and memories accumulate, remember caution, especially when addressing recent graduates and upwardly mobile peeps.

Some stuff is not your business. This is a mighty revelation for some because nosy people feel entitled to everyone’s business. Because other people’s business underscores universal issues, right?

Your finances, proclivities and politics belong to all. It’s social commentary, not nosiness, right?

Child boo.

Add prevailing notions of a woeful romantic climate for women (especially of color), abysmal job market for all, and the prevalence of Facebook notifications, that yes, even they are engaged now, and the stage is set for pervasive post-grad personal questions.

I graduated in December, but recurring interrogatives often confront me. Spring graduates, prepare. You will develop nosiness spidey-senses.

You know the type. They occur as visions, when one knows that an individual who may not have taken as keen an interest in your professional and academic pursuits, is about to hit a recent graduate with the flex.

Who cares about community service? Let’s discuss carnality. Internships? So, what’s your boyfriend’s name?

It’s the pressure that causes women to hide their relationship statuses on Facebook, hashtag #him on Twitter or take to blogsites of anonymity to express the desires of their hearts without rampant judgment and assumptions.

Breezily dropping questions in speech does not change the fact that some questions are not necessary.

Too many people are team Mind Everyone Else’s Business (MEEB). And what many MEEBs fail to realize is that technological advances and instant gratification do not trump manners.

We live in an era of hyper-connectivity with key words and paparazzi creating facades of access when most people do not owe us anything.

If a celebrity, or heck, even friend of a friend, decides to put something out in the public domain, there is a strong correlation between its existence in that space and the likelihood of people commenting on and noticing it.

Fair enough.

But, even when people make something known, a notion prevails that MEEBs can ask whatever, whenever in whichever capacity the almighty collective schnoz deems appropriate.

No.

There are real opportunities to help and frequently in less invasive ways. We must remember time and place. As we embrace summer we must acknowledge that this is a transition period for scores of people, especially young women.

And transition points are tough. They are marked by reflection, trial, triumph and reassessment. All of that is not breaking news nor should it be.

Transitions do not have to occur under a microscope by obsessive observers who ought to channel their investigative gifts into self-actualization more than dirt digging.

Obviously I’m not addressing everyone. Some people have relationships of trust, love and expertise, which make their interactions meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. Every inquisitive soul is not a MEEB.

But, sometimes sexism is a little too blatant as some situations expose how little unfortunate minds think of women on their own, independent of their romantic relationships or decision to express certain personal choices on a plethora of platforms.

As recent graduates collect photos, funds and memories, many begin planning and working toward the next phase of their lives. Support them. Sponsor something. Connect them with viable professionals. Love them. Help if you can.

But, a bargain for exchange should not be access to the whos, whats, and whens of their bedrooms, date nights and black books, especially if you’re not dating, pursuing or remotely close to them.

As the temperatures rise, don’t catch MEEBer fever.

Vaginal bleaching? Why, world?

I’m bronze, and I have a vagina. If I lived in India, I might be taught to bleach it.

Indian women face advertisements suggesting that they, in much of their brown-skinned beauty and glory, do just that to be more attractive and supposedly cleaner.

Most of us know the associations made between lightness and darkness with the former representing worthiness, cleanliness, and godliness. Maybe we will discuss white Jesus in another post.

Many communities of color deal with internalized racism and colorism’s residue. An African American friend told me that her cousin bought skin lightening cream, and although the (risky) process took months, she was able to bring her cocoa complexion to a more café au lait locale.

I dated an East Asian guy who told me I was beautiful, but admitted that he wished his honey complexion was “a wee bit lighter.”

It is amazing that as the globe browns the media employs multiculturalism, multiracialism and multiple hues in advertisement. But, it is also apparent that with progress made regarding inclusivity, whiteness is still property in the world.

Apparently reverence for recessive traits including light hair, eyes, limbs and faces is not stifling enough. The intimate bleaching market is now making headlines.

I learned about Clean And Dry Intimate Wash late last week on Jezebel. If you want your skin to crawl, read this: http://jezebel.com/5900928/your-vagina-isnt-just-too-big-too-floppy-and-too-hairyits-also-too-brown?tag=vaginas

One could use the euphemistically termed language of executives pushing these products or call this foolishness out for what it is:  an oppressive and inflammatory attack on women, and especially women of color.

Bollywood films put undue pressure on Indian women to conform to a Eurocentric aesthetic. Many of the women selected for roles in these films are not light skinned Indians. They are white British actresses who could not find work in their hometowns, and benefit from the skewed perceptions of some Indian audiences.

Telenovelas are not known to cast Afro-Latinas and darker skinned indigenous Latinas as objects of affection.

Criticisms of rap music videos have been similar. Although the video model industry is readily deemed déclassé after popular video models admitted that their jobs were oftentimes the result of their looks and for-hire sexual proclivities, in the early 2000s the video girl was the standard of beauty for many black women.

With the intimate bleaching market being relatively new, one can only imagine the adverse effects supporters of these products might experience.

The colonized mind that could give one the ok to strive for a more Aryan vagina needs affirmation and validation. What the user might get is a lighter genital region from products that contain sodium hydroxide, which is used in septic tank cleansers and drain declogging. Nothing like treating private areas like a sewage treatment system.

As if there isn’t enough shame perpetuated in communities seeking to control the autonomy and self-actualization of women, women and girls are socialized to believe that how they were born is not good enough for their partners, who undoubtedly are a reflection of their worthiness as individuals.

Maybe if your lady bits aren’t brown, your man will stick around.

Putting the BIG in bigotry

A routine sufferer of insomnia and social media addiction, I perused my laptop and phone before stumbling across several online references to an op-ed from Louisiana Tech University’s newspaper, The Tech Talk.

Allow me to first say that I am unopposed to this publication. I do not harbor ill will toward Lousiana Tech as an institution or the multifaceted demographic it serves.

But, as a Grambling State University trained journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite, the city and university newspaper, my spirit was profoundly disturbed by the piece “Putting the Hood in Hoodie”, written by Tech’s editor-in-chief, Rebecca Spence.

In the piece, Spence aligned Trayvon Martin’s choice of attire on a rainy Florida night with ownership of his untimely demise at the hands of self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman.

Spence made no mention of supremacy, persistent stereotypes or white privilege, a structure that survives on the oppression of the other, in this case, the black body occupied by Martin.

How else could a slim teenager, returning from a cornerstore be blamed for being observed, called a “f*cking coon” in a police call, shot and killed? What’s in a hooded sweatshirt?

A brown face.

She failed to acknowledge that anyone is entitled to shield him or herself from precipitation and walk freely, however the individual chooses to be dressed, and experience a safe trip.

Instead of addressing the shoot-first nature of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, a victim blaming and particularly troubling narrative that was too reminiscent of journalist Geraldo Rivera’s recent comments, was the premise of her article.

Rivera has since expressed remorse after his son told him that he went viral for the wrong reasons.

“Graffiti artists, rappers like 50 Cent, actors from the hood in movies and various gas station robbery videos have proven that hoodies are often associated with people who are up to no good,” Spence wrote.

Blondes are also presented as licentious and dim-witted. Should we assume that every flaxen haired maiden lacks cognition and plays hopscotch from bed to bed?

Should we assume that everyone in overalls who has a Southern drawl and sunburn is underexposed and incestuous? Do they live in trailers?

Southerners are familiar with race and subjugation in blatant ways that our counterparts from other regions often do not know.

As such, I was not surprised by the editorial decision to manipulate facts of this case and make the deceased victim the aggressor.

I was called the n-word by a white girl in the South. A white woman told her significant other to watch her purse when I was in a department store in the South. I have been pulled over for driving a big-body, old Cadillac in the South by white officers whose voices ratcheted up several octaves upon discovering that the brotha they hoped to pull over was, in fact, a sista.

While northern Louisiana, home to Louisiana Tech University and my alma mater, attracts minds from all over the world and different points on the ideological spectrum, the area is not noted as the apex of culture or a bastion of enlightenment.

As a result, Spence’s comments are troublesome, inflammatory and naive. But, again, hardly surprising.

As a journalist one must acknowledge not only the premise of an article, the very notion it supports, but also its headline, accompanying photos, and factual basis, or in this case lack thereof, in addition to the author’s voice.

Using the word “hood” as a pejorative term for marginalized communities and people is indicative of a lack of cultural competence and sensitivity.

This article is also erroneous. Trayvon Martin was unarmed, underage, 100-pounds slimmer–THE VICTIM. He was approached by Zimmerman, who ultimately shot and killed him.

Zimmerman vacated his vehicle to approach Martin, a pedestrian, after a law enforcement official asked Zimmerman not to do so.

Martin deserved to live regardless of what he wore, and the fact that he was murdered cannot be negated by recent allegations of marijuana possession or suspension from school.

To draw such conclusions is in poor taste.

Spence presented an alternate ending for the slain teen.

“If Martin was not wearing a hoodie with the hood on, his life could have been spared. Hoodies with the hood on have a bad connotation, like it or not.”

If writers, who shape much of society’s dialogue and countless archetypes, do not widen their lenses, they will remain myopic, like it or not.

Note: This post was shared several hundred times on Twitter & Facebook, and garnered thousands of views. When I changed my url to iamfaithspeaks.com the likes/shares were lost in translation. WordPress = hater. Also, after this piece went indie-viral, Louisiana Tech pulled the editorial from its website.