Disclosure: I received compensation for this post. All opinions are my own since I have too many lofty standards for integrity to write about something I don’t believe in. Plus, this is a legit post in and of itself.
Since moving to New York not too long ago, I’ve stayed in six different homes in three different boroughs. All but two of those places I booked through Airbnb, a peer-to-peer service similar to Uber and Tinder, but not for ride-sharing or getting your freak on. It’s like matchmaking for people with short-term rental property and people looking to rent. I’ve got stories for days about my experiences as an Airbnb renter, but I want to touch on one in particular.
You may be familiar with #AirbnbWhileBlack, the hashtagthat quickly gained traction on Twitter, and attracted coverage from several media outlets. NPR even hosted a Twitter chat on the subject. Tweet after tweet, Airbinb users contributed personal accounts of rental requests being rejected due to discrimination by the host.
Back in 2014, a Harvard study found that: “…requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.”
This data doesn’t surprise me as someone named “Keisha,” born and raised in these United States, where the current presumptive Presidential nominee from the Republican party wants to ban Muslims from immigrating, export undocumented residents – zeroing in on people of Mexican-descent, and refers to Black people as “the Blacks.”
I’ve encountered some roadblocks with hosts – specifically three different White men – whose listings showed their rentals as available on the dates I wanted, but they denied my requests when I inquired. Each claimed their rentals were already booked. I didn’t think too much of it, other than feeling frustrated that they wasted my time. However, when I read that other Black people had experiences very similar to mine, I couldn’t dismiss the issue.
In one particularly glaring example of #AirbnbWhileBlack, a young black man, Rohan, shared his jaw-dropping exchange with a White host who denied his booking, again claiming unavailability. Amazingly though, when Rohan’s White friend inquired about reserving the place for the same dates, miraculously the rental became available! Divine intervention or good old-fashioned racism?
When Black people point out racial bias (of the conscious and unconscious types) and outright racism, we sometimes hear a common lazy retort from the callous and unsympathetic: “Well, why don’t you start your own thing then?”
That’s exactly what Rohan did.
Along with his co-founder Zakiyyah, the two developed a new vacation, and short-term rentals service: Innclusive (formerly known as Noirebnb). This new platform aims to provide a space where people from all backgrounds will feel welcome regardless of what you look like, how you identify yourself, what you believe in, or what name you were given.
The discrimination issues extend beyond Black people, as folks from other marginalized groups (including non-Black Muslims, and a transgender woman) have reported similar issues. They inquire about booking an available rental, only to have the host deny their requests, again responding that the listing is already booked. How curious.
Clearly, something needs to change and short of ending all forms of bigotry overnight, a platform like Innclusive stands to expand access to the home-sharing economy to people who might otherwise be shut out or disadvantaged.
I believe in the concept of home-sharing – despite a few bizarre experiences, including a near poisoning by carbon monoxide! – especially in a society where we’ve become increasingly isolated from each other. When you meet the right host, you have the chance to connect with someone you may not have otherwise met. Other benefits are the comfort of a more personal experience, as well the opportunity to live somewhat like a local – factors which differentiate home-sharing from hotel stays.
As someone who faces potential discrimination by hosts on Airbnb, I look forward to trying out Innclusive. Who needs a side helping of racism when they’re searching for that perfect spot for their next vacation?
Visit Innclusive hereand sign up for an email notification when the site officially launches! You can also follow Innclusive on Facebook and Twitter.
Have you experienced discrimination online? Do you think there’s a need for spaces like Innclusive?
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a percentage of the sales which will support running this blog. Be not afraid.
When I considered writing an end of the year retrospective, my face scrunched up in disgust as I reflected on 2015. Not my favorite year by a longshot. So much of it felt like a continuous struggle – like I’m in the middle of a significant lesson which I’ve tired of learning. Part of that may be the depression talking. It’s been one of the roughest years for me in a long while on that front and I know how much it can cloud and distort a person’s view of situations. A year is a fairly arbitrary measure of time and in the space of those bookends much transpired – good, bad and adjectives in between. There are layers to this life thing.
Instead of dwelling on the year’s lows and looking at the year simplistically, I opted to capture the essence of each month – a reflection of what was going during that period in time – including the books I read, TV shows I binged, trips I took and posts I wrote that resonated with people. It turns out that 2015 wasn’t as “garbage” as I initially thought.
2015: Year in Review
Highs: Woke up in Prague after a fun New Years Eve. • Designed and ordered my first box of business cards as a writer and blogger. • Was excited to be followed by Taye Diggs on Twitter until I found out he follows practically everyone.
Highs: Beinginvited as a guest on a radio show. I thought my nerves were going to get the best of me, but I did it and I didn’t make myself look like a fool! • Caught up with a good friend from L.A. who was passing through San Francisco for a blip. We laughed so hard; it was just what I needed. Lows: The Uprising in Baltimore, Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray – specifically the way many mainstream media outlets distorted events, as well as how excessive policing goaded and further traumatized people already in emotional distress. Binge-watched:Marvel’s Daredevil •Bones (s5-9) Wrote: 5 Myths About Black Americans That Need to Disappear(4th most popular post of the year)
Highs: Watched two friends who seem made for each other get married • Saw an excellent and poignant one-woman show at The Marsh called Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters • Danced to tracks spun by Ryan Hemsworth at 1015 Folsom • Saw Kim Kardashian talk about the sexual objectification of women in the media (yes, really) at The Commonwealth Club (While I’ve never been her biggest fan, I have to admit she gives a charming interview and is likely smarter than she’s given credit for). My friend J and I are now technically in an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians since the cameras were there with Kim and panned over the audience.
A friend sent me an email out of the blue saying “write a book please” – it meant a lot. • Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole and took down the anachronistic Confederate Flag waving in front of South Carolina’s capitol building! Lows: A delusional white supremacist befriended and then murdered 9 black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Being in the office – where I was one of very few black employees – feeling alone in mourning the lives lost, because no one else seemed care about what had happened – at least not to the degree I did. Binge-watched: Orange is the New Black (s2-3) Read: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ☆☆☆☆☆ Wrote: Don’t Call Me “Girl”
Highs: First BlogHer conference • Spent time with my (New York) mom and my grandparents • Took in another one woman show, this time by Anna Deavere Smith called Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education at Berkeley Rep – disquieting commentary on the US educational system and the “school-to-prison” pipeline. • BlogHer.com picked up my post What Emotions Am I Allowed to Have as a Black Woman for syndication!
BlogHer 2015 is hands down the best conference I’ve ever attended. Among many highlights: I learned more than I probably am even aware; shared an inspiring moment of solidarity led by the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement; met one of the bloggers I admire, Awesomely Luvvie (and acted like a fool incapable of forming proper sentences); listened with great interest as the talented film director Ava DuVernay imparted words of wisdom; and engaged in refreshingly honest discussion on sexual harassment, intersectional feminism, and domestic violence helmed by three formidable women behind a few of the most powerful “hashtag activism” movements on Twitter in recent years.
I also met some wonderful new people, and to wrap it all up we celebrated with a party where Boyz II Men performed, Nick Cannon DJed, we “whip and nae nae”d, and dined on all the McDonald’s we could eat!
Lows: My friend died from cancer • In a case of police abuse that hit frighteningly close to home, a 28-year old black woman named Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell under extremely suspicious circumstances – after a questionable arrest. This just weeks after the murders in Charleston. Again, working in the office – trying to get through the day coherently and without breaking into tears – seemed like a form of self-flagellation. Binge-watched:Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt • Veep Read: The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman ☆☆☆☆☆ Traveled: New York Wrote: What Emotions Am I Allowed to Have as a Black Woman?(3rd most popular post of the year)
Highs: Reunited with my friends/favorite ex-coworkers to celebrate the life of our friend E- who died in July • Caught up other good friends in Los Angeles for Mexican food • Went to a San Francisco Giants game with a friend in town from L.A. • Surprised and honored to be included in Quirky, Brown Love’s200 Amazing Black Bloggers (among great company). Lows: The reason for the reunion • Took an unscheduled break from blogging to recharge
Highs: Visited my Vegas grandmother, got her signed up for seniors’ internet classes at her local library, helped her secure her membership at the ‘Y’ where she now enjoys taking chair yoga, and took her shopping because as I told her, just because you’re working out doesn’t mean you should dress any ol’ way and she was going to be a “fly granny.” 79 and still going strong. Get it granny! • Second youngest sister visited from Texas! • Danced my butt off at the Oakland Music Festival with said sister. • Invited ontoThe Unconventional Woman Podcast as a guest. Lows: Had a mammogram to check out a lump (everything’s fine). • Second youngest sister returned home. Binge-watched:Sliders (re-watched series) • Power Traveled: Las Vegas Wrote: San Francisco, I Think I’m Over You
Highs: With my second youngest sister, I spent my first Thanksgiving in over 20 years with my (New York) mom and her side of the family. Met a bunch of new-to-me and new-to-this-earth cousins. • Saw a live taping of The View and softened toward Raven; DJ Tanner was there!; left with a $100 gift card to Lulu’s and an Alessia Cara CD (the musical guest on the show). Lows: A job I wanted that would have allowed me to work remotely didn’t pan out Binge-watchedChicago Fire (whole series) • The Fosters (s3) • Being Mary Jane (whole series) Read:We Should All Be Feministsby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ☆☆☆☆☆ • Syrup: A Novel by Max Barry ☆☆☆☆☆ Traveled: New York Wrote: Quit Talking about the Lack of Diversity and Do Something
Once I put it all down, it’s clear that I have a lot to be grateful for this year. It’s far too easy to focus on what you don’t have, haven’t accomplished, who’s not with you, or how much money you didn’t make. It’s important not to let the year’s lows overshadow its’ memorable highlights.
I am healthy, I have a safe place to live, I don’t have to search for food, my family is safe and generally healthy, I have friends and people who love me. So take that depression!
With all that said, 2016 I hope you are planning to bring it.
How did you feel about 2015? What were your highs and lows? What did you watch/listen to/read/create? Travel anywhere interesting?
Over the weekend I had the displeasure of reading some of the most insulting, patronizing collection of words penned by a man of supposed higher education.
In an LA Times op-ed Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at NYU, and judging by his photos, decidedly not Black, deemed it necessary to take to a national newspaper to tell Black students how to behave and advise university faculty and administration on how to treat them. Not only did he step out of his lane to admonish America’s least favorite ethnic minority, he had the nerve to use the name and highly regarded words of Black writer Ralph Ellisonto do so.
Here we go again.
It’s almost inevitable that after each Black Lives Matter protest (or any protest where the majority of the faces are Black), particularly those which the news reports as “violent,” sanctimonious White people will finger wag at Black people, twisting the legacy of Reverend Dr. King to fit their narrative with some variation of: “Dr. King would be appalled by this behavior.”
In fact, there is such a history of white people talking down to their Black peers the same way one speaks to a child, that there’s a term for it: white paternalism. What Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in his needless piece – without irony – smacks of this, no matter how academically he couches it.
Ellison would be appalled by our current moment on American campuses, where the damage thesis has returned with a vengeance.
The arrogance to presume one could know how Ralph Ellison – born only two generations after slavery was abolished – would view today’s Black student rights’ movement. A growing movement with a should-be simple request – to be treated with the same respect, and afforded the same opportunities, as their white classmates.
Zimmerman goes on to say:
I don’t doubt that African American students — and other minorities at our colleges — experience routine prejudice and discrimination.
[But, now I am going to undermine what I just said by dismissing the students’ grievances as simply a matter of hurt “feelings.”]
If we let ourselves be governed by feelings, we’ll go down a rabbit hole of competing grievances and recriminations.
It’s about the same thing it’s always been about: Black people having to fight white systems tooth and nail to get access to the same opportunities and see equitable treatment.
If there’s a competition, Black people have always been at the back of the pack, and the US has a long history of doing everything it can to keep us there.
This isn’t just about “hurt feelings.” This isn’t a game. This is about survival.
This is about people having to demand they be treated as human beings.
It’s about having to prove to people whom – subconsciously or not – think less of you, that you deserve to be where you are.
It’s about having to repeatedly to explain your experiences to those in the dominant racial group whom are all too willing to dismiss them because it makes them uncomfortable to consider.
It’s about having to shout “Hey! Stop talking over us and telling us how to live. WE ARE EXPLICITLY TELLING YOU WHAT LIFE IS LIKE FOR US IN THIS RIGGED SYSTEM.”
To reduce these students’ harmful experiences on college campuses to nothing more than “hurt feelings” greatly underestimates the impact repeated racial macro- and microaggressions have on the mental and physical health of Black Americans.
We are not fragile people, that is true. We have survived centuries of oppression and inhumane treatment. So, if students are “complaining” about the atmosphere at Predominately White Institutions – and so.very.many are speaking out, including alumni – perhaps there’s something to it? Perhaps folks should listen to them.
Why does Mr. Zimmerman weigh his words above those of the students who are telling their own stories?
It concerns me that this professor, someone whose words are consumed by the most malleable minds, seems to have such little interest in listening to (and absorbing) the lived experiences of university students. He is not someone who I would trust as a professsor.
Like Ellison, I “am compelled to reject all condescending, narrowly paternalistic interpretations of Negro American life” from someone who has no idea what it’s like to be Black.
I will never have the honor of meeting Ralph Ellison, so I cannot presume to know how he’d feel about Mr. Zimmerman’s opinions. However, when I consider The Invisible Man, in which Ellison heartachingly details the hard-to-describe, yet nonetheless wholly isolating experience of being a Black American living in world not built for us – I somehow can’t see Mr. Ellison appreciating a white professor using his very personal work to belittle the experience of Black college and graduate students.
Is this the competition Zimmerman means?
What do you think about the recent Black student protests and their demands?
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Since Sandra Bland died (was murdered?) I’ve shed tears nearly every day. I haven’t watched the video of her encounter with the police officer who pulled her over. The police officer who stopped her for failing to signal when changing laneswhich somehow led to her death. It’s too painful to view. I cannot consume more images of Black death by the hands of white supremacy. It’s traumatizing.
Yesterday on my way to drop off my rental car before heading to the airport, I accidentally made a wrong turn and came upon a police blockade. A handful of uniformed officers milled about, weapons encircling their waists, their Black and white Ford sedans forming a passageway wide enough for one car.
Great. Fucking cops. My pulse sped up and my hands dampened with sweat as I quickly considered my options.
The officers were busy inspecting a car in front of me, so while they busied themselves with that driver, I backed up, planning to make a u-turn to get the hell away. I hadn’t done anything wrong – except having a terrible sense of direction – and I had a flight to catch.
The street was too narrow to make a u-turn without at least 15 points. I decided not to draw anymore attention to myself. When I pulled up to the sizable waiting officer, he peered into my rental – my heart threatened to explode – and said with a half-smile, “I saw you tried to turn around there. Where are you headed?”
I quietly told him, my voice wavering, blood pumping loudly in my ears, “I am headed to the airport. Returning my rental car first.”
“There’s no rental agencies this way,” he informed me like I’m an idiot.
He gave me instructions to find the rental car depot and then, speaking to me the way you’d approach a child:
“Don’t just dump the car on the side of the road,” he nodded his head toward the direction of the airport. “The rental company will charge you extra and you’ll get a ticket.”
It never would have occurred to me to dump the car. The rental agency has my credit card on file and my driver’s license information. More importantly, I am not irresponsible. I didn’t need his condescension.
I thought about Sandra Bland and how the police officer who pulled her over had the nerve to act surprised she wasn’t thrilled to get stopped. NO ONE IS HAPPY TO BE PULLED OVER. I wish I had Sandra’s composure when talking to the police officer, but I’ve never been good at hiding my fear.
I drove away, careful not to speed, even though I wanted to get away from them as fast as fucking possible, my hands still shaking.
When my eyes aren’t wet with tears, I’m filled with rage.
When I’m not crying or seething with anger, I fall into hopelessness.
I’ve begun to question what my goal is in writing about racism. What do I hope to achieve? Black people (and others) have been writing about the United States’ problem with racism and white supremacy for centuries.
I told someone recently that fighting racism is like trying to kill roaches. You kill a few and then 50 million of their disgusting relatives appear. It’s not about killing individual roaches. The problem is larger.
Let’s say I open one person’s eyes. I help them wake up to the reality of our country. Then what?
I’m exhausted by the gravity of the problem.
I’m sick of it all. I’m sick of being racially gaslighted by people who can’t see the world beyond the prism of whiteness, including some of my own friends. Or being trolled on Twitter by angry, racist white men who insist they’re Christian and love their country. These men usually have a bald eagle or American flag avatar – rarely do they show their real face, as they type the bigoted, ignorant drivel they harass Black tweeters with. Even on this blog, I am not safe from the racial harassment of “well-meaning” people.
I find myself seriously reconsidering my personal views on having children. They’ll be born into the same twisted system. I’ll spend a significant chunk of my parenting time not just protecting my Black children from the usual elements of society and the human experience, but also protecting their sense of self-worth, their humanity; working hard to transcend the damage white supremacy inflicts upon black American’s self-esteem and lives.
I’m angry that a world exists where for centuries we’ve lived in a system based on a tremendous lie created and promulgated by greedy white men – that of white superiority. The avarice of these men that’s led to the genocide, murder and oppression of millions of people of color – ALL OVER THE WORLD for centuries.
I’m sick of trying to remain positive and buy into the idea that things will get better one day or “when the old racists die off.” In an interview with Vulture last year, on the topic of racial progress, comedian Chris Rock had this to say:
When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that Black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
(Some) people, more specifically, (some) angry white people, decried his comments as racist(!). Because that’s what sometimes happens when you call out racism. Instead of acknowledging that there is problem, some white people remain on the defense or mired in their own feelings of guilt.
They’re not racist, no. It’s the Black man who says “white people” who is racist. How dare he bring up race? Meanwhile, Donald Trump is running around saying all manner of racist shit about Latinos and Black people and he’s a leading Presidential candidate for the Republican party.
Chris Rock is right though and anyone who’s being honest with themselves knows it.
Just this past weekend, several hundred angry white men (and a smattering of women) gathered in Stone Mountain, Georgia – former KKK headquarters, to rally to defend their right to fly the Confederate Flag. They maintain that it represents pride in their heritage, not racism. Even though the heritage of which they are so proud, of which the Confederate Flag represents, depended on the free labor of enslaved Black people. The Confederate Flag which in several states saw a resurgence in popularity in response to the ban on school segregation – long after The Civil War ended. But, no. They’re not racist. They’re just “proud.”
20 years from now, those will likely be the same folks, who with the benefit of hindsight, will be ashamed of their actions. Apologizing and contrite like the damage hasn’t already been done. Just like those angry white people who greeted Black students trying to integrate white schools, with hostility, threats and indignant rage.
“Girls! Girls!” a large, middle-aged man in a bright yellow safety vest hollered at me and my new friend from across the parking lot as we walked away from my rental car.
I turned slowly around, cocked an eyebrow and didn’t begin moving in his direction until my companion did.
“Yes?” I asked with a touch of attitude as we neared him. He’d yelled out to us like we’d done something wrong.
“Where are you girls going?”
So far I liked nothing about this encounter.
I’d arrived early to the day-long Bloggy Boot Camp conference in Temecula and befriended and picked up another early blogger in my hunt for coffee.
I stared at him for a beat wondering what the hell business it was of his where we were headed. I’m not inclined to give information about my destination to people I don’t know. Why don’t you just beckon us over to a creepy windowless white van with promises of candy?
“We’re not girls, we’re women.”
I am damn near 40 years old and my fellow blogger is a mother of two. She’s raising two little human beings. Neither of us are girls.
“We’re getting breakfast,” my new friend supplied.
The man paused, mouth agape as he gave me a curious look, “Wha….girls….uh…?”
“You can call us ladies,” I answered thinly. Ladies isn’t necessarily my favorite either, but at least it implies more respect than girls.
“Ok. This café is open. They have good food,” he gestured behind him to a store front in the strip mall.
“Ah, thank you.”
We headed toward the café. I felt kind of bad for my response toward him since it seemed like he wanted to help. But, I didn’t appreciate his tone nor how he approached us; it was disrespectful. It didn’t help that the day before, on a business call, the man I was speaking with called me “sweetheart.”
Sometimes when I find myself in situations where I feel disrespected, I turn over different scenarios in my mind imagining how circumstances might change if I were someone different.
What if I were walking with a man instead of an equally diminutive Filipina woman?
What if said man were black? And larger than Mr. Bright Vest? Would he yell at us? Would he call me “girl”?
What if we were two white men? What if we were two white men, the same age as me and my friend and wearing suits? Would he have called out to them? Would he have shouted, “Boys, boys!”
I posed these questions to my new friend as way of explaining my defensive behavior. She’d appeared a bit thrown by my caginess, probably wondering: what the hell happened to the kind, smiling stranger I just met 10 minutes ago?
“I think you’re right, I don’t think he would talk to men that way,” she acknowledged.
I may be small and I may look younger than my years, but neither of these characteristics justify yelling at me like you’re my father. I am glad I spoke up because had I not, I knew I would stew over it until I found a way to make it right with myself. Situations like this happen too much and I am not here for it.
A half hour later as we exited the parking lot to return to the conference, Mr. Bright Vest hailed us:
“Hi Ladies…I want to apologize for shouting at you earlier. That wasn’t right. It was rude and I shouldn’t have done that.”
Holy __! Did that just happen?
I smiled. “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”
“Have a nice day. Again, I’m sorry.”
I thanked him again and waved goodbye as I drove off.
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Nearly 200 million people in the world identify as African or African-descended. Like Europeans, Asians and other “racial” groups, our culture, languages and experiences are extremely varied, despite the fact that – especially in the United States – we’re often seen as one large, indistinguishable group.
For my first guest post, I’ve asked Mary from Verily Merrily Mary to share her experiences growing up as a Nigerian-born black woman in North America. I met Mary through a bloggers group and enjoy her thoughtful and absorbing writing. I hope you enjoy it too!
She confided in me about her cross-cultural dilemma. Her trust in my perspective came to light when she explained,
“Cuz, you know, you’re not black.”
Yet I look like this:
Dear readers, I am here to officially announce that my whole life is a lie.
Melodrama aside, I know what she meant; I’m not Black American. Since I originally came from a non-Black American background, she knew that I would empathize with her. She, like me, was a non-Black American who was deeply supportive of her Black American friends and their culture. But to her dismay, they didn’t support her Hispanic culture, refusing to go out to events and dances that celebrated it. It was too different for them, too far from their comfort zone.
I visualized them talking, picturing the look of disappointment on her face when the same gesture of support wasn’t extended to her. If you saw them, you would see that they looked different; she was a lightly-tanned Hispanic girl with long, subtly wavy hair and her Black American friends had kinky, coily curls, one of them light-skinned and the other one dark-skinned.
Say she left and I entered the room to be in the company of the two. Say you had no knowledge my background. Unless you’re one of the select few who are able to pick up on my African features or the Canadianness in my accent, you’d probably think I’m nothing but a Black American.
And then my life story would laugh in your face with one big, “Well on the contrary…”
The abridged version is that I am Nigerian-born, Nigerian-, Canadian-, and American-raised. Prior to my move to the U.S., I lived in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I did my first three years of elementary there and in almost every setting, I was the only black person among my peers.
Victoria was most definitely one of the whitest cities in Canada and it showed in my school as my dark skin and my Minnie Mouse ear-shaped pigtails stuck up in their poofy, gravity defying glory. But I was comfortable in childhood innocence, aware of the difference in skin hues and that I was outnumbered, but oblivious to the idea that someone could treat me badly because of it. In Canada, the only identifier I used to mark me as different was “Nigerian.”
Then I moved to America and found out I was also black this whole time.
In South Central Kentucky, I saw more people who looked like me, so much more than I saw in Canada. I was happy and intrigued by this and made an effort to play with the black kids in school. I was in third grade at the time and from then even up till high school in Southern California, I tried my best to fit in.
I made a few black friends; however, most black kids (and a few white kids) whom I interacted with, were suspect to the legitimacy of my black identity. It was as if all knowledge of my Nigerian and Canadian background was erased in their memory after I told them about it. All they could see was a black girl with an American-sounding accent in the context of an American city and they expected me to play the role of the Black American without blinking.
They didn’t realize that Black American culture was something I was brand new to; that the jargon, the music, the mannerisms that I observed to be ways in which fellow Black Americans would greet and bond with one another, were things that I didn’t know off the bat. I had to learn them. As long as I remained unaware and/or did not practice those things (as I did sometimes during my childhood to prevent any uncomfortable scrutiny toward to my identity), I was “white” according to many of those Black American kids (and a few white kids).
Interestingly enough, it was often the white kids who befriended me more than my black peers. While the white kids were mostly inviting, many of my black peers never failed to verbally bully and laugh at me nearly daily. Phrases like “Go back to Africa,” noises mocking my African identity, and putting me on the spot only to publicly harass and humiliate me weren’t exactly heartwarming gestures.
When it came to white people, while there were some who genuinely liked me and my family for who we were, they generally liked my family because of three things:
I wasn’t “like those black people”
We were African
We shared the same Christian faith
As a young child, bitter towards the black kids who treated me horribly, I took my distinction from “those black people” as a compliment. They said I was articulate, that I had class, and I was well behaved. I had white approval and I was content with that though I didn’t realize that white approval is what that was. Finally, people who see my value! Or did they?
The fact of the matter is I had ingested internalized racism and it became one hell of a drug. As many of my black peers bullied me, I mocked them behind their backs, sometimes even in the presence of other white people who laughed along with me. It also happened with a few other black kids who also received the seal of white approval. It was a tragic scene of black people from different lands pitted against each other. The kind of thing that white colonial people would have applauded, except now it was white people in the 21st century.
They say that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Though my Black American peers and I made blackness our abode in beautifully different ways, us black people – often hailed as the originators of civilization – were divided among ourselves to the point where we could not stand together.
The other thing that attracted white people to me and my family was our Africanness. Part of it was intrigue. Another part of it was condescension: their assumed idea that we were lowly Africans far removed from anything Western, when the very existence of Nigeria’s borders and the fact that English is Nigeria’s official language are all thanks to Britain. Western culture was forcibly ingrained in our culture thanks to their colonization. Interestingly enough, white people would vocally support me when I would be equally as vocal about my irritation with people’s ignorance with Africans and the African continent. Not so much when racism was the topic at hand, however.
As I got older, that intrigue, – specifically from white men – became lust. A number of them (and a few men of color) were taken not only by my black womanhood but my African one. To them, I was exotic, a possible contender to fulfill their “African Queen” fantasy. Somehow, that was supposed to be consistent with the claim that they “don’t see race.”
When it came to race, I was well aware of white sensitivity to it. As such, I was always tiptoeing when discussing race around white people, making their comfort a priority over confidently speaking my truth. However, I stopped caring about their comfort, as I became more aware of my cross-cultural dilemma, realized there was a name for it, became more self-confident, forced myself to walk into my university’s Black Student Association meeting wanting to no longer be bound by fear due to my horrific experiences in school, and made awesome, substantial friendships with black peers.
I realized that many of the white people I was surrounded by also prioritized their comfort over me effectively speaking my truth. As you would expect, many of my white friendships aren’t as strong as they used to be. I realized afterward that it is probably because many of the ones I was surrounded by were mostly right-leaning in their political stances. Nowadays, those close to me tend to have cross-cultural experiences and/or are people of color.
The bottom line is no matter whom I interact with, no matter how I may come off to them, my blackness is enough. The experiences that shape my black identity – though they stretch beyond the United States – are just as valid. I have been shaped by hip hop culture, by the taste Egusi soup that always brings Nigeria to mind as I eat it here in The States, by the African American Vernacular English that pops out naturally one minute and into Nigerian pidgin the next, by the company of my Black African and Black American friends, as well as by my love of nature and swimming that made for a carefree black girl in Canada. All of this and more has shaped me into the black woman I am today.
As I think of my black brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, in Latin America, in Europe, in other African and Asian countries, as well as in Australia, I am reminded that blackness is everywhere; that “black” does not automatically mean “Black American.” I am only fortunate to have experienced just a little taste of black diversity, so if my blackness is nuanced in any way from how you are accustomed to seeing it, let it be a reminder to you that blackness is not a monolith. My blackness, in all it’s complicated, nuanced glory, is enough.
Mary is a Nigerian-Canadian-American third culture kid and immigrant with an overactive mind and an obsession with words. Music, scientific research, dancing, and discussing culture are some of her favorite pastimes. She likes Saturdays.
Stone Mountain, Georgia is where I lived when I first realized I was “black.”
By that I mean, I realized that people would see my skin color, make up all kinds of prejudgements and adjust their behavior accordingly.
It is the place where I first felt the weighty isolation of being the only black kid in a class full of white kids. It’s the place I lived when I was first teased for my hair type, my nose size, my round, protruding butt that’s now considered trendy, and of course my skin color.
It’s where my white teacher told me that in the “old days” some white people thought our skin color would rub off on them. That by touching us they’d become black. The horror! This sounds as ridiculous to me now as it did as as a 10-year old.
It’s the location of the former headquarters of the KKK, that bastion of white supremacy that’s terrorized black Americans for decades.
Stone Mountain, GA is also where high school principal Nancy Gordeuk singled out black audience members during a recent high school graduation. Gordeuk made the mistake of ending the ceremony before the Valedictorian’s speech. When audience members filed out thinking it was over, Gordeuk – who is white – said, “Look who’s leaving—all the black people.”
After first apologizing for her “racist comment’ in an email to parents, Nancy later backtracked saying: “I didn’t know ‘black people’ was a racist term. I didn’t say the N-word or anything like that ’cause that isn’t in my vocabulary.”
She continued sticking her foot all the way in her mouthwith: “People always think the worst, you know. You say the word ‘black,’ you know. Was I supposed to say African-American? Were they all born in Africa? No, they’re Americans.”
Just because “the n-word” is not in your vocabulary, doesn’t mean you’re not racist, hold racist beliefs or that you didn’t make a racist comment.
Just because you don’t say “nigger” or use other racial epithets doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
Just because you’re a “good” person, doesn’t mean you can’t be racist.
Just because you have a Black friend or friends, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
Just because you “don’t see color” doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
Just because you listen to rap or hip-hop, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
Just because you are nice to the Black person at work, the grocery store or in school, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
Just because you say “African-American” instead of “colored,” or “negro” doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
Just because you voted for President Obama, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
People sometimes refer to the regressive racism of their grandparents and sometimes their parents, while at the same time, dissociating themselves from such inane views. I wonder: what did their grandparents think of their grandparents beliefs?
What makes some people think they’re the magic generation that’s suddenly stopped racism in its’ tracks?
What will your grandkids say about your beliefs?
Can you think of other examples of present day racism? Have you experienced covert or subtle racism?
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Despite significant and continued economic, educational and social progress among black Americans, inaccurate and offensive stereotypes persist. In part these myths are aided by the mainstream media (MSM). In reports about the state of “Black America” MSM tends to focus on reporting negative news or framing reports around the pessimistic view.
The MSM holds a lot of power to sway the minds of the American public. Not only does biased reporting reinforce negative characterizations of black Americans, it can also damage our sense of self worth as these images seep into our unconscious. Imagery and terminology that lead some to hear the word “black” and automatically think “bad.”
Black Americans are also routinely compared to white Americans when it comes to presenting measures of progress. These comparisons almost always inherently favor white Americans considering the history and current state of our country. If one group holds economic, political and cultural power over another for centuries – at times actively working to keep the other behind – should it really be surprising that the dominated group struggles to make gains?
This continued differentiation does more harm than good and serves for some to uphold white supremacy – the idea that white is better, black is inferior. It needs to stop. So, here are 5 myths about black people debunked.
1. Fatherless Homes/Broken Families
Just this week 2016 Presidential candidate Rand Paul invoked this stereotype as a reason for the unrest in Baltimore (instead of attributing it to a corrupt police system and systemic racism). Meanwhile, his 22-year old white son just got a DUI after crashing his car while driving drunk, among other dalliances with the law. Glasses houses, Mr. Paul.
According to a study published by the CDC in 2013, across most measures of parental involvement, black fathers are actually more involved with their children than white and hispanic fathers.
Not only that, according to a Pew Research Center report, both black mothers and fathers are more likely to rank providing income as a parental priority than their white counterparts.
In general, across racial groups, the report also highlights that fewer men live with their children than in the past, so it’s not a “black thing.”
Does this sound like people who don’t care about taking care of their children?
Don’t get me wrong, there are a significant number of black fathers absent from their children’s lives due in large part to institutional racism that seems to embody a new form every few decades.
In the early 1960s, about 20% of blacks over 25 obtained a high school diploma. By 2012, that number climbed to over 85%!
When slavery was abolished in 1865 (which doesn’t mean everyone was “free”), approximately 40 black Americans had graduated from a college or university. Nearly 150 years later, over 3 million blacks have a 4-year graduate degree.
A common retort of racists when they have no valid argument, is to carry on about black “welfare queens.” Not only does this serve to demonize the poor and struggling – which is a topic for another post – it conveniently ignores the fact that white people (and other racial groups) also benefit from government assistance programs such as SNAP (food stamps). In fact, whites receive the greatest percentage of SNAP benefits.
In terms of economic gains, the median income of black Americans has steadily increased since the Civil Rights era.
People have to work to make an income. Lazy people don’t usually work.
4. Affirmative Action
Some people hold the false belief that among other “handouts” black Americans receive, we also get preferred access to the best jobs and schools.
Is not a thing. To believe in the myth of black on black crime is to buy into the idea of innate black pathology. That somehow black people are predisposed to be more violent and destructive than people of other ethnic groups. It disregards the truth, which is that most murders are intra-racial in part due to proximity. Many cities the United States are still largely segregated by race, such that white people tend live around other white people, black people tend to live near other black people, and so on. You could say it’s murder influenced by convenience.
As you can see, the plight of black Americans is not as dire as some would have us believe. We have and continue to make tremendous strides and I for one am proud and other Americans should be, as well. Black people continue to survive despite having dogs sicked on us, being whipped like animals, strung from trees like dolls, raped like land to pillage, forbidden from attending the same educational institutions as whites and then mocked for being uneducated, tossed in prison with disproportionately longer sentences for burning rock instead of snorting powder, blamed for our own oppression and WE ARE STILL HERE. Look how far we’ve come!
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To think, I almost didn’t write that post. However, as part of pushing through my writer’s block, I’ve realized I’ve got to stop self-censoring so much. It’s damaging to the story and to my contentedness.
I didn’t say yes immediately. I needed to confirm the legitimacy of the show and find out more about what I’d be getting into. In my research, I discovered that one of the show’s previous guests is a writer and activist I follow on Twitter, Feminista Jones, whom I respect. I figured if she did it, it was credible. I listened to a podcast of her stint on the show and got a good idea for what I might be in for with Jesse.
The producer explained that the host, Jesse, would ask me a bit about my background and then delve into questions about the thoughts expressed in my post.
I scheduled my radio début for 8:05am, April 2nd.
The morning of the show, I felt like my heart wouldn’t shut up. Boom, booom, boom at a thousand beats per minute. I forced oatmeal down my throat. It’s good for your brain, they say. I wanted all the brain boosting I could get. Family and friends sent texts of well wishes and affirmations which comforted me. Conducting the interview from the comfort of my couch helped too.
Jesse Lee Patterson is a pastor, baby boomer, and black Republican. He’s known for making controversial statements like:
“Thank God for slavery, because if not, the blacks who are here would have been stuck in Africa”1
“When black liberals say they want to have a ‘conversation’ about race, what they really mean is they want to continue blaming whitey for past racism and perceived ‘white privilege”2
“Barack Obama hates white people — especially white men. Sorry folks, but the truth will set you free!”3
So, I had my work cut out for me.
I remember only snapshots of the experience. I enjoyed the debate. I get a kick out of genuine volleying back-and-forth that doesn’t devolve into name-calling or other foolishness. Jesse did his best to contort some of my statements and paint me into corners, but I think I successfully manage to keep the conversation focused. I agreed with none of his opinions.
Halfway through the show, one of my sisters texted:
“I hate this guy.”
That was around the time Jesse asked me, “What else can white people do for black people, so that black people will finally say: ‘ok you’re not racist, you love me, you’ve given us allllll that we’ve wanted, and we appreciate it, so now we’re going to take control of our own lives’? Is there anything else that white people can do to satisfy black people?”
The discussion lasted for almost the entire hour, broken up by a few commercials. I even got to speak to some callers. One caller tried to trap me by quizzing me on the date of some vague historical event.
My mom texted: “Excuse yourself. You don’t need to be ambushed.”
Of my name, another called commented, “Huh, that’s a good one.” I’m fairly certain that wasn’t meant as a compliment. I could hear him smirking.
As the show neared its end, Jesse thanked me and asked if I would come back. We’ll see. My mom and sister are both adamant that this be a one and done.
Jesse’s approach didn’t faze me. I’ve seen enough talking head interviews and debates to have picked up a few things. Your opponent will always try to distract you with non sequiters. They will attempt to take your words and twist them into a statement so ludicrous you wonder whether your brain sent the right words to your mouth. No distractions. You just gotta stay focused on your mission!
“He’s gonna make me lose my way to Heaven; I’m so angry I’m almost cursing!” My mother didn’t like Jesse Lee Peterson one bit.
You can listen to the show below. Leave your thoughts in the comments!
I’ve written before how I get sick of talking about racism. I just want to live my life. Wake up, do what I do and keep it moving like many other people have the privilege of doing each day. I do not have such privilege, however. Just going to the corner drugstore some days ends with me wondering when the day will come when I won’t have a clerk unsubtly follow me around the store as I shop.
Over the course of my 35+ years I’ve engaged in so many discussions about race, whether I’ve wanted to or not, I should get life experience credits toward a PhD in the subject. I voluntarily attend seminars and talks and I choose to read books on the subject. On my blog I discuss it in hopes of making continued progress, opening minds and presenting a different perspective.
Involuntarily, I’ve been dragged into race discussions with some of my fellow Americans who happen to have paler skin. I’ve fielded questions from those friends along the lines of “Why do black people ___?” as though I am a black American ambassador. I’ll never forget the time a white classmate in high school asked me, “Why do black people have the same color palms and feet bottoms as white people? Why aren’t they brown?” From her question, I extracted the subtext, “My body is normal, yours is different.” Am I responsible for the design of the human body? My birth certificate didn’t come with a guide to “understanding your black body.” How the hell should I know? I hope she attends discussions about race.
So what caused the downturn in my mood on Friday? I read a blog post on race and segregation, called Al Sharpton I Hope You See This, written by a white man, that sent my heart racing, got my hands shaking and my mind reeling with various responses to the elementary logic. This excerpt particularly troubled me:
“Segregation is real. We see it every day without realizing it.
Like a “Miss Black America” that excludes white people. Or a college fund for blacks only. Or a blacks only television channel. Or blacks only magazine. Oh wait…uh oh. I thought we did away with segregation back in the 1960’s? That’s odd, seems segregation and racism are very much alive and thriving. Only difference is, if white people mention it they’re racists. Interesting turn of events. So what if we had a White Entertainment Television? Let’s face it, WET sounds like a fun name for television. “
I decided to respond to the post because I noticed a few people praised the author for his observations and I couldn’t just let that mess of thinking sit there unchallenged.
Below is the exchange. It’s unedited, so please forgive my grammar imperfections, incomplete thoughts, and lack of citations.
Please share your (civil) thoughts below, I’m curious what others think.
Oh, the Talib talk was incredible, insightful and engaging. I’m glad I went and happy with the diversity of the crowd. I hope minds were opened.
“Like a “Miss Black America” that excludes white people. Or a college fund for blacks only. Or a blacks only television channel. Or blacks only magazine. Oh wait…uh oh. I thought we did away with segregation back in the 1960’s? ”
These institutions exist largely because black Americans were expressly excluded from these predominately (or exclusively) white institutions, not from a desire to self-segregate. In other words, segregation of black people prompted the formation of this things.
It wasn’t until the late 60s/70s that some universities even “let” black people enroll. The first black model didn’t land the cover of a fashion magazine until the mid 1960s. That was less than 60 years ago. If I pick up an Elle or a Glamour magazine for beauty and hair tips, I’d look like a clown because usually the tips given work for pale skin and straight hair that hangs down. It has to be pointed out to the editors of these magazines that part of their readership has darker skin tones and different hair textures. Even the PGA is notorious for excluded black golfers.
People like to bring up the example of “WET” or white history month a lot, but they are false comparisons. When it’s no longer a big deal that there’s a black director, a black lead in a TV show (or Asian or Latino), or a first black President, then channels like BET (which is watched also by non-black Americans), HBCUs, and history books that highlight non-white contributions to the development of America would not need to exist. It’s 2015, we have a diverse America, yet Congress is made up of mostly white males, who are incredibly over-represented.
I could spend most of the day listing all the shows, magazines, movies, books or economic realms where white Americans are represented, but for non-white Americans, the list is quite short.
None of the “black versions” of these institutions exclude anyone by race. What they do provide is an opportunity for black Americans to have a space to see themselves recognized and accepted. You’ll see non-blacks on BET, magazines marketed to black audiences that include white and Latin (and black Latin) people and white student at HBCUs. (One young white student actually wrote a great essay about how welcoming she found her fellow classmates at the HBCU she attends). Meanwhile, just last week the young white men of the SAE fraternity at OU delighted in singing about how they would never welcome a “n—.” Doesn’t exactly make a black person feel welcome.
A desire to be included as part of the fabric of America, recognized for your contributions, not devalued, not immediately thought of as suspicious or less than, in a society where you’ve been excluded and treated like the scum of America for hundreds of years, is not segregation.
No black American wakes up and says “Gee, I think I’ll start labeling myself, hyphenating my identity.” We get labeled first, treated as minorities rather than equals and then we adapt. Then we get called racist for it.
Lastly, we hold no meeting of American blacks. So no one elected Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson as king of the black people. I wish the media would stop running to them every time they want a black spokespiece. Most of us don’t care. It’s so 1985.”
I do agree that there was a movement to incorporate black people into these institutions. It was called desegregation.
However, the very act of having institutions such as these that excluded individuals based on color was the very point in desegregation. Integrating society was the reason for it. And society has since integrated. Yet we still have forced segregation.
There were schools and other institutions in which blacks weren’t permitted. A movement was led to end that. So why do we still enforce segregation if it was made illegal? So in the 60’s it was wrong but now that “color exclusive” things exist in the favor of blacks it’s ok?
There is no forced segregation. Comparing the legal, government condoned exclusion of an entire “race” of people from opportunities to forge a livelihood to the creation of a school to educate those segregated people is a not valid comparison.
If a white person isn’t on BET (which is not the case), a white person can check one of at least 30 other channels to find a variety of white people to watch. That’s not exclusion.
Perhaps it’s not that white people are excluded from these forums, but rather that they choose not to include themselves. White students are welcome to attend largely black colleges. They choose not to. It’s like the term “white flight.” Black people do not necessarily choose to live in all black neighborhoods. The term “white flight” exists because once black people moved in, the white people left.
No one has banned white people from anywhere. No white person is in danger of facing meaningful, systematic discrimination from a black american.
Desegregation is a long term process. Surely you’re not saying the day a law passed that everything became okay? Not in a country where it took some states decades acknowledge that slavery was illegal. In a country where people enacted laws via loopholes to ban black people from living, working and exiting in certain areas? Some of those states didn’t remove those laws from the books until decades after the Jim Crow era. These things didn’t occur hundreds of years ago. People alive today are still living with the affect effects.
Everyday, I exist in a world that is largely white. I’m surrounded by white people. It’s unavoidable. Once, I invited a white friend to a largely black church (mind you, white people were welcome, just chose to attend the largely white church instead), my white friend said to me with no irony, “It’s so weird to be the only white person in the room.” “Welcome to my everyday,” I told her.
She said it made her uncomfortable. Had never thought about what it might feel like to live that way everyday.
I think instead of placing the blame on black people for creating opportunity in the absence of inclusion, ask why people feel these institutions still have a place in the world. I’d ask why polls show that white Americans think we talk about race in this country too much, but black Americans think the complete opposite. And it seems that white people expect that to be the end of the conversation. Are we once again being told by white people what we should and should not be doing?
Ok. So, by your reasoning there, segregation is ok so long as it’s condoned by the government. I’m not saying that’s double standard but, well, yeah it is. Which is the point. We passed laws to prevent segregation. Now it’s ok so long as it’s “condoned”. A fight was made for “equal treatment” so long as it means “preferential treatment” as well. I live in a predominantly black neighborhood. I’m literally the only white family within several square miles. I don’t feel out of place. I deliberately bought that house. As such, however, I’m a “minority” in my neighborhood. I don’t expect special reliefs or organizations as a result. Nor do I get offended if someone uses a word around me that’s only “ok” for other white people to use. I honored the laws regarding equality. So what’s equal about “color exclusive” organizations?
“So, by your reasoning there, segregation is ok so long as it’s condoned by the government. I’m not saying that’s double standard but, well, yeah it is. ”
Never did I say this. If that’s what you’ve extrapolated, then you’ve misunderstood what I’ve stated several different ways and provided examples for which did not get addressed in your reply.
I’ve stated multiple times that I don’t believe what you’re pointing to is segregation. Segregation does not exist when people aren’t excluded. You keep saying “color exclusive” as I provide examples that no white people are being excluded. No white people are banned from BET. No white people are banned from being spoken about during Black History Month. No white people are banned from enrolling at historically black colleges. No white people are banned from being in magazines that target black audiences. Where is this exclusion you’re insistent exists for white people?
If white people choose to exclude themselves from environments that aren’t predominately white, that is a separate situation. YOU may live in a majority black neighborhood, but you are in the minority of white Americans, who largely CHOOSE to live in the same enclaves.
Most white Americans only have white friends. Few question this. However, when a group of black people get together, it’s assumed they’re segregating themselves, DESPITE the fact that black Americans are have more white friends than whites have black friends (or friends of any other ethnicity for that matter).
If white people want to say the “n-word’ they can. They invented it for use against black people. That’s kind of why it’s offensive to begin with. No one is banning any white person from saying it. There are now just greater social consequences when one chooses to do so.
The additional points that you’ve added, I never stated. Please don’t make the mistake of assuming all black people are looking for handouts. We fall all across the economic strata. We just want the road to opportunity to not be paved with bombs, traps and ditches.
Have a blessed day!
I believe he replied, but I didn’t read it because I decided it was bad for my health.
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On Sunday, after the Academy Awards, Giuliana Rancic, co-host of E!’s Fashion Police, made a few contentious comments in reference to the locs worn at the ceremony by 18-year old actress/singer Zendaya.
In a previous post, I touched on the complicated relationship many black women have with their hair. I shared that in the present day black women have faced reprimands and job dismissals for daring to wear their hair in natural styles. Giuliana’s language touched a sensitive nerve in many, including Zendaya who responded in an eloquently worded message posted on Instagram.
This whole Zendaya/ @GiulianaRancic drama is bull. If you don’t have thick enough skin to take some badmouthing, don’t try and be different. — Lizz Hartman (@lizzhartman) February 24, 2015
These are the fiery retorts that almost inevitably materialize when someone objects to language steeped in ignorance, bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism or many other -isms.
A quick scan of user photos when I searched Twitter for “Zendaya, sensitive” showed that many of the people instructing Zendaya to “stop crying” aren’t the ones likely to be impacted by negative hair stereotypes. Yet, they think they’re qualified to tell Zendaya how to feel and respond. They haven’t lived her life, but they have all kinds of opinions about it.
Who is anyone else to decide how another person should feel and react to their environment? Who are any of us to tell someone else they are being too sensitive? Why is it often that the folks not directly affected have the most to say about others’ sensitivities?
Giuliana issued a sincere and adult public apology to Zendaya, the type of which we rarely see when a celebrity atones for a public snafu. She accepted responsibility for her words. She referenced listening and learning why her comment offended instead of focusing on her intent and defending herself.
Instead of deriding other people for being too sensitive, we should ask ourselves whether we’re being sensitive enough.
As someone who’s had a lifetime of people telling me that my own feelings and experiences are invalid because they don’t match the narrative of the dominant culture or viewpoint, my skin is pretty damn thick. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t last very long in this America where I am at a disadvantage from the jump just by being in the body of a black woman. A society that tells me that my gender is weaker, too emotional; my hair too nappy, my skin too dark, nose too wide, intelligence limited. To withstand years upon years of ignorance directed my way or anyone else who shares the designation “female” or “black.” A society that tells me I have to act, speak or dress a certain manner just to be respected. If I’m offended by someone coming at me with ignorant nonsense, it’s not because I’m weak. The “strong black woman” stereotype didn’t come from nowhere.
We have to get better at practicing empathy. We have to become comfortable with the idea that we may not always be qualified to speak intelligently on a subject. It’s okay sometimes to stop talking and typing and just listen. To dig deeper and THINK about why someone might be offended. We shouldn’t dismiss other people’s emotions and thoughts as less valid than our own. None of us is better than the other, even those born into royalty, wealth or the dominant ethnic group or gender.
Just because you’re not offended, doesn’t mean another person isn’t and doesn’t have the right to be. Not a one of us is the center of the universe.
Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
This post brought to you by MassMutual. The content and opinions expressed below are that of The Girl Next Door is Black.
Lately, my dad is prone to falling into reflective reveries during which he shares stories from the past with a forthrightness that is surprising given how miserly he’s been with details previously. He’ll affect what my sisters and I call his “Professor [Our last name]” voice and begin his oration: “You know, Keisha, our family…”
Just last April I learned about the six brothers – including my grandfather several generations removed – who together escaped from the plantation where they were enslaved. Had they not made a run for freedom, an entire family line may never have existed! It awed me to think of the strength and fortitude these men possessed. I’m related to people like that!
Yesterday, I asked my grandmother, who is her late 70s, (she doesn’t look a day over 60 and I told her she could score herself a hot 60-year old boyfriend) about her grandmother, my great-great grandmother. I wanted to know if she could read and write.
A tweet I read a couple of weeks ago reminded me that for some black Americans, they are only the second or third generation of readers in their family! That’s incredible when you think about it. If the idea is that each generation surpasses the one before, boosted by the foundation laid by past generations, not having the basic ability to read and write puts one at an extreme disadvantage.
As it turns out, my great-great-grandmother had basic schooling and could read and write on that level. My great-grandmother also knew how to read and write and my grandmother is a retired longtime educator, so reading and writing was her bread and butter.
I’m pleased to join MassMutual in celebrating Black History Month with their #JourneyofYou campaign. Thanks to the family who came before me, my journey is that much less arduous. I strive to live my life in a way that honors their legacy.
How has your family helped pave the way for you? How do you honor the legacy of your ancestors? Share the #JourneyofYou in the comments. You can also visit MassMutual on Twitter or MassMutual on Facebook and share your story there using #JourneyofYou.
It was a girls night out: sisters and groups of friends; an adorable Girl Scout troop of mostly pre-tween and tween black girls and quite a few mother/daughter pairings attended. One little girl dressed like a little lady wearing pearls and donning an updo, accompanied by her very chic and sophisticated mother who wore an enviable black cape, melted my heart. I attend a lot of plays and as I snarked to my sister, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many black people at a play in my life” [Chitlin’ circuit excluded]. I’m so used to being one of few. Even when I saw Porgy and Bess recently, whose cast is majority black, my friend and I were two of a countable number of black people in attendance. I found the audience diversity refreshing.
Keke Palmer delighted as Cinderella. To think that she’s only 21 and has already accomplished so much in her life. Her talent seems boundless.
Sherri Shepherd starred as Cinderella’s mean stepmother. I have had mixed feelings for Sherri in the past. I attended the same acting school she did, years after she moved on, and as one of the school’s success stories, Sherri was often a topic of conversation. It was her stint on The View that soured me though (“I don’t know if the earth is flat” anyone?). I wasn’t sure what to expect from her performance. I’m happy to share that she played the hell out of her character – a hilariously wicked stepmother. I enjoyed ever minute she spent onstage.
The show itself was wonderfully produced, surprisingly funny, and even magical at times. They pulled off the fastest, most seamless costume changes I’ve ever witnessed. After the show, I hustled my sister to the side stage door to wait for the cast to come out and sign autographs.
Both Keke and Sherri braved the chill to take photos with and sign autographs for each and every fan waiting. Impressively, Sherri listened patiently as one fan tried to promote her singing talent to Sherri. Even though the woman had no demo, no videos of her performing or even business cards, Sherri gave her helpful tips for building a foundation for a singing career – even though as she said, “I can’t really do anything for you. I don’t have those connections.” That really endeared her to me.
After our successful celebrity encounters, we headed to Junior’s for a late post-show dinnerand to relive our fantastic evening over cheesecake.
While waiting for the stars to emerge, we had nothing much to do. I opted to ogle the cute security guard.
Playbill with autographs from Sherri Shepherd, Keke Palmer and a few other cast members.
Prince Charming also signed autographs. Yes, in this version Cinderella is about the swirl.
Does anyone meet anyone in real life these days? Offline? For dating purposes, that is. You know like:
Guy sees cute girl at bus stop.
Guy makes joke about the horrid stench wafting from a black trash bag near the bus shelter.
“Ah, the sweet smell of street funk and human waste,” he cracks.
Girl giggles. She relaxes her street defenses.
They discover they share a preference for puffy Cheetos over crunchy. “This is awesome,” they both think.
They chat animatedly as they wait for the bus, trading witticisms back and forth. He uses a word infrequently woven in conversation these days and it further endears him to her. She finds it sexy when a man has a big vocabulary and knows how to use it well.
He likes her laugh and the way she thinks.
He asks if he can take her out.
She says “Yes,” with a bashfulness he finds charming.
The bus arrives.
Only in my (safe for sharing on the internet) dreams!
In real life: men on the street say things to me so inappropriate that, if said on TV, would make the Parent’s Television Council triple their angry email writing output; or at the bus stop I’ll smile at a cute guy and he’ll look the other way, jeez; or worse I inadvertently pique the unwanted interest of a creepy co-worker who I’d often catch staring at me when I was at my desk.
When people ask me, “How’s your love life?” I’m taken aback as though they’ve asked me why I haven’t eaten vegetables in a while. Like, “Oh. Right. That’s something people do, date and stuff. That’s part of life too.” I mean, I know it happens. I kinda remember there being a time when I did things like that. I hear other people talk having love lives, but I don’t think I know what that is anymore.
This love life thing keeps coming up lately.
I went on a weekend trip with a group of a friends for one of their birthday’s this summer. I roomed with V__ (a dude) and K ___ (a dudette), fellow single thirty-somethings. We returned to our room at 3am one night and both V__ and K__ pulled out their phones to Tinder. [If you’re unfamiliar with Tinder, it’s a dating app for meeting people in your area. It uses your Facebook profile (’cause Facebook isn’t over-involved in your life enough) and I’ve gleaned from friends’ experiences that a lot of people on there aren’t exactly looking for “a relationship.” It seems like more of a shallow way to meet people given you decide “yes” or “no” on a person based on a few photos and whatever information they’ve bothered to share with Facebook.]
My friends happily Tinder’d while I interrupted them with questions about why they found it so fascinating, who and what were they texting, and who else was up at 3am?
I tried Tinder once when I was at a Starbucks and freaked out when a guy sent me a chat. “Can he see me? Is he nearby?!” Like a grandma who doesn’t understand how this newfangled technology works.
Another time, two of my friends, both of whom were in relationships at the time, stole my phone to Tinder for me, despite my weak protestations. I don’t know why I hadn’t deleted the damned app by then. Anyway, I know that really, they just wanted to see what it was like; to get a taste of the single life again for one sweet moment. I see you.
I am not one for idle texting back and forth and it seems like Tinder involves a lot of this. I can’t even figure out how to work normal text messaging, how the hell am I going to seduce someone on Tinder? Oh who am I kidding? All I’d have to do is show a little cleavage in my photos and use lots of emoticons and coy responses when I chat.
I feel the same way about online dating. I don’t want to go through this back and forth, tell me your life story, what’s your favorite color, do you like to cuddle, let’s have a pre-date phone call business. If I like what you’ve got to say in your profile and if in your communication with me you use adult-level grammar and don’t make gross sexual comments to / about me, let’s meet and see if we click. There’s no need to drag this process out. This is why I don’t understand the show Catfish. How are you “in a relationship” for seven months or a year, or five, with someone you’ve NEVER MET, and then shocked when they turn out to be a Shrek masquerading as an Efron?
I’ve given online dating plenty of shots. You might even call me an online dating early adopter. In 2003, I went out with a guy I met through Yahoo Personals. (Yahoo Personals people! Old school internet!) It was disastrous. The date went downhill the minute I told him I moved to L.A. to try to make it as an actress. He treated me like I was an airhead. Nobody likes actors in L.A. except other actors, the people they pay to like them and their fans.
I know people who’ve met and married or at least dated successfully through online dating. Personally, I’ve found it to be like a tedious a second job, as well as disappointing experience. I’m nowhere near the most popular female demographic in the e-dating pool. It gets old seeing guy after guy indicate interest in every ethnicity except “Black/African-American.”
Every boyfriend I’ve had I met through a friend, doing things I normally do, being myself and not feeling like I’m being auditioned for a starring role in someone’s life. Not only does meeting someone through your social network make it easier to blend your social lives, if there’s any of the “bad” kind of crazy in your prospective boo, your friend can give you the lowdown.
One time, ONE TIME, I agreed to a date with a guy who I met at a bar. I was young and dumb (and drunk, holy beer goggles!). The night of our date, he drove us around Hollywood for nearly half an hour looking for street parking, missing the beginning of the show at The Knitting Factory. At each light, he’d stop, look into my eyes and say something utterly fromage-y like, “Your eyes shine like stars. I could get lost in them.”
WHO SAYS STUFF LIKE THAT FOR REAL?!
He turned out to be one of those short guys with a Napoleon Complex and the associated serious anger management issues. By mid-date, it was so bad, I contemplated excusing myself to go to the bathroom and crawling out the window to freedom. I decided not to, mostly because he was my ride home and in those financially-leaner days, I really couldn’t afford the $50 cab ride from Hollywood to my place in the Valley. When I didn’t go out with him again, he became increasingly irate and left vile messages on my voice mail. I had to change my number.
I have never dated a guy I met in a bar again.
I suppose online dating hasn’t been all badfor me. Last year, I dated a guy for a few months who I met on Match. He’s a great person and I learned a lot when I was with him, but ultimately I felt we’d be better off as friends.
During a recent lunch with one of my college roommates who met her husband of three years on eHarmony, she talked about why she’d decided to give eHarmony a try. She said:
“I knew I was ready to meet my husband and I made it a priority. You have to make it a priority.” I realized then that it wasn’t and hadn’t been a priority to me for quite some time. Somehow, I’d forgotten about having a love life. I guess I’d been busy with other life things, like figuring out what to do after I got laid off and realized that once and for all that I need to make a career change.
The subject of my love life arose once again in the form of an email. A friend of mine is currently off in Europe on a sabbatical of sorts and recently started up a hot romance with a strapping Nordic man. She’s happily enamored with him and inquired, “Have you met anyone interesting?” I stared at my screen, puzzled, “Met anyone? Interesting? Men? How would I even do that? How do people meet people offline to date?” Some of the ideas I shared for making new friends are applicable to meeting people to date. And I have tried them. But, you can’t force these things.
It’s been almost a week and I haven’t responded to her email. I don’t know what to say. I would love to meet someone interesting, but I’d like for that to happen offline. Is that too much to ask?
“If you having a good time, I want you to say, ‘Hell yeah, niggaaaaaaaaaa!”
“Hell yeah, niggaaaaaaaaaa!” the crowd screamed back at Lil Wayne.
I scanned the stadium of concert goers: a sea of young, white and light faces surrounded me, bopping their heads to the beat, hip-hop hands swaying in the air, phone cameras recording and repeating at Lil Wayne’s command,
Helllllll yeah, niggaaaaaaaaa!!
I looked over at my friend, who, like me, hadn’t joined the crowd.
“What the hell?” I mouthed at her, as my face contorted itself into surprise and disapproval.
This was the situation at a concert I attended in Orange County, California (“OC”) a few years ago. Orange County’s black population is similar to Utah’s in number. That is to say: nearly non-existent. Still, I didn’t expect to be such an obvious minority at a hip-hop concert headlined by black artists. I know white suburban teenagers are now the largest consumers of hip-hop, and Orange County is like one giant suburb, so really I shouldn’t have surprised me. But, there’s what you know and what you actually see for yourself.
Last year while in San Francisco’s Mission district with a friend, we overheard three teenagers shouting in conversation:
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Daaaamn, fool!’ “Yeah, that nigga’s cray.”
They all laughed.
My friend and I turned to each other, the same “Did you just hear that?!” looks on our faces. None of the teens were black.
“Huh,” I exhaled. “So, that’s what’s going on now?”
It’s time like these when I feel my age. I resisted the urge to use my budding “kids these days” voice or wag my disapproving finger while giving them an impromptu history lesson on the “n-word.” They weren’t using the word in a hurtful manner. The way the kid said it, the word carried the same weight as someone saying “snow is white.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a teenager cavalierly use the word “nigga.” I’ve heard it from the mouths of black, white, Asian and Latino people. People who no doubt count themselves among a large and diverse group of hip-hop fans.
I’m not sure how to feel about this.
No matter how many times I hear people attempt to explain that using the derivative “nigga” is a way of reclaiming the word, stripping it of its power, I can’t buy into that argument. It is a word based in hate. As long as there are people hatefully hurling the word at black people with intent to wound and stake their superiority, that word is still mighty powerful. Even seeing it written stirs up emotion. If other black people choose to use it, that’s their prerogative. It’s not for me. Honestly, I don’t know that I will ever feel comfortable hearing any form of the word escape the lips of someone not black, outside of an academic discussion, and even then I may involuntarily wince.
It was less than 10 years ago when my youngest sister’s white classmate mean-girled her and nastily declared,
“No one wants to sit next to her because she’s a nigger.”
It hurt me to hear of the incident because I’d hoped, naïvely, that by the time my youngest sister reached the cruelest years of school, that kind of prejudiced language would lose favor with her generation. Just thinking of the experience still angers my sister. The girl made her life “a living hell.” I had hoped she could avoid some of the race-related pain her older sisters and parents endured growing up. Unfortunately, the power of the word persists.
The incident at the Lil Wayne concert forced me, once again, to face the cognitive dissonance of my hip-hop fandom.
I recognize that by listening to certain hip-hop artists, attending their concerts or streaming their music, I’m part of the problem. Just as I wish that magazines would quit covering Kim Kardashian’s every move and cleavage-baring ensemble, yet I’ll still click on a link to see her latest fashion atrocity, thereby reinforcing her (perceived) popularity.
I listen to hip-hop despite the liberal use of “nigga” in many songs and the fact that I have issues with the themes (violence, misogyny, celebration of drug slinging) and language (bitch, ho, THOT) in some songs and videos. Last year, popular rapper Rick Ross came under fire for the lyrics in his song “U.O.E.N.O”:
Put molly all in her champagne / She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that / She ain’t even know it.
– Rick Ross, U.O.E.N.O
His lyrics seem to describe drugging a woman by secretly slipping molly in her drink and then having sex with her. Many felt his lyrics diminished the seriousness of date rape and even glorified it. He claimed his lyrics were “misinterpreted.” The lyrics disgusted, but did not surprise me. This isn’t the first time he’s penned sickening verses. I’m not the biggest Rick Ross fan, or a fan at all really, but I can’t pretend his “Blowin’ Money Fast” doesn’t get me pushing out my lips and nodding my head.
How do you reconcile liking music that at times is regressive, offensive and sexist with your personal values and morals?
It’s easy to take the simplistic view: “Why not just stop listening to it?’
The problem is, I grew up on this stuff. It’s part of my history, it’s part of my culture. Rap and hip-hop evolvedfrom the forms of music my parents exposed me to. Those same soul, funk and R&B songs from the ’60s, 70s’ and 80s’ that P Diddy – and later other hip-hop producers, following his lead – made a career out of samplin, laying rap verses atop and producing hit after danceable hit. Songs released during my formative high school and college years.
Of course, Diddy’s lyrics are practically granny-safe compared to some of today’s artists like Eminem, Juicy J or Schoolboy Q. Jay-Z and Kanye West had to go and release a song titled, “Niggas in Paris,” causing panic and confusionamong many when singing it aloud in mixed company.
I can’t help but grin thinking of the self-aggrandizing lyrics rampant in many a verse of today’s rap, that give me a brief feeling of extra bravado. You know what I mean. It’s that extra swag some dudes seem to think they have as they blare T.I. from their cars.
I also appreciate the talent of true lyricists who can write and spit an impressive collection of words strung together in clever ways. If you’ve ever tried rapping, even just karaoke, you know it’s not easy, especially freestyle. It requires talent, confidence and showmanship.
At the core, I listen to hip-hop for its high energy. I just plain enjoy listening to music I can dance to. I’ve had many a solo dance party in my apartment, turning my living room into a club floor, free of groping hands and spilled beer.
There’s also a bit of, “If I have to take a stance against everything in the world that’s morally tainted, what will be left to enjoy?”
Not all hip-hop artists use misogynistic language or praise illegal activity. There’s a long list of “conscious” rappers making music, some of whom struggle to sustain careers if they don’t break into the mainstream – where the real money is. I listen to a handful of these rappers and it’s always a pleasant surprise to discover a hip-hop artist who really has something to say. Even Lil Wayne – for all his rapping about smoking weed, sipping sizzurp and his affinity for lady parts – is actually quite witty.
Every so often we come across art laden with poignancy that moves us. I think that’s a beautiful, but uncommon experience. Just as there are “popcorn flicks”, Oscar-winning films and myriad film categories in between, the same goes for hip-hop. I don’t need profundity from everything I listen to.
Last month I went to a Wiz Khalifa concert with my middle sister. When Wiz shouted to his fans, “Say ‘Dat’s my niggaaaaa.'” My sister glanced at me with a questioning look and a smile. She knows how I feel about this. I rolled my eyes and shook my head.
I asked my sister after the concert, “Is this one of those things where this is just how it’s gonna be? And I can either choose to adapt and accept it or be that annoying grumpy old person?” She shrugged.
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.