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Posts Tagged ‘Adventures in Racism’

So yesterday there was some unnecessary-but-unsurprising ugliness in the world. There was April Ryan getting scolded and bullied by the White House press secretary. There Representative Maxine Waters being insulted by Bill O’Reilly. It was a bonanza day for Black women. Bo.nan.za. If you missed it, you can get a recap, complete with lame, insincere apologies over at The Mary Sue.

I was feeling that #BlackWomanAtWork hashtag, for sure. This nonsense had me remembering a lot of things that have happened to me during the long course of my work life. I posted some of those thanks-for-the-memories moments on FB:

“Don’t get excited.” Said by coworker when I leaned forward in a meeting as I spoke.

“Okay, stay calm,” said by coworker every time I express displeasure at something.

“Calm down, don’t get so upset,” said by a friend any time I expressed anger, displeasure, concern. Went on a long time until I finally called her out. Hasn’t happened since.

Boss looking at my natural hair and asking if I think it might be “too street.” (Whatever the fuck that is when it’s home.)

HR manager after I interviewed with him (many years ago): “You’re very intimidating, you know. You should work on that if you want to find something.”

“No, you cannot be the director. I need to speak to the director.” Man trying to bully his way into the program I used to direct.

Presenter looking directly at me for the only time during his presentation: “We have programs for single parents and people who didn’t finish college.”

“Hello … again!” Member of another team who thinks he’s seen me already even though he hasn’t … even though there is not a single other Black woman on our floor who looks anything at all like me.

“You’re listening to rock? Black people don’t like rock!” Coworker in ed program where I used to teach.

This crap is ridiculous. And it’s all the time. It’s everywhere. It’s when you expect it, and — best of all — when you least expect it. There’s a reason both April Ryan and Maxine Waters dealt so well with the awful treatment they received. They have had years of these experiences, and they have learned how to brush off their shoulders and move on.

I have to wonder at O’Reilly, though. Coming for Mother Maxine is just foolish, plain and simple. Ms. Waters is not here to play with you and your racism. She is not going to take her ball and go home because you chose to show yourself to be a hateful bag of wind (again). No. Ms. Maxine will take that O’Reilly, raise you a Spicer, lay you and your misogynoir out with a royal flush of proud Black clapback, and walk away with the pot every damn time. (Yes, note the Oxford comma. Just like Ms. Maxine, it is not here to play.)

But I’m not really expecting sense from O’Reilly. Or Spicer. I know better.

And I don’t need to defend Mother Maxine. She can take care of her fine self by herself. And, too, she has R. Eric Thomas in her corner, writing his love for her practically every day. If you haven’t caught up with him yet, you can click over and check out what he wrote about this foolishness. Because of course he wrote about this nonsense.

Here is a scrummy little taste:

Because Bill O’Reilly (whoever that is) can’t come for her. He wasn’t sent for. His hairline doesn’t have the range. She has 40 years of political receipts. He has tired, racist dog whistles about hair. These are not equivalent. If he thinks he was reading her, he needs Hooked on Phonics.

Giving me life. 100%.

As you can see, Ms. Maxine is fine out here without me. Me, on the other hand? Mostly I’m just tired. All the ways we are always and always being pushed down, pushed back, silenced, shamed, erased. Can’t folks just give it a rest already? Can’t we just live? I know this answers to these questions is going to stay “No,” maybe for a good, long while. Knowing the truth of that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, doesn’t make me feel any better about any of it. As a friend said in response to my FB post: “We call them microaggressions, but what about a constant onslaught on your very being and existing is micro?”

Yes. What she said.

But then I remember Representative Waters. And I remember one of my coworkers telling me that I gave total Maxine Waters in a meeting on Monday. And I feel a little energized. Feel a little more like I can keep standing up, keep clapping back.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

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On New Year’s Eve I learned that a couple I was close to for years, parents of a friend I had from college until my early 40s, had voted for the Hate Monger. I knew they’d had a souring experience that had nudged them to the right, but I wouldn’t have guessed how far adrift they’d gone. They are a white couple and have many children, two of whom are married to POC. Yet they voted for a man who would happily deport one of those in-laws and would see the other as representing a country he accuses of cheating and mistreating the US. They have daughters. Yet they voted for a man who actively harms women and can’t be trusted to respect or strengthen women’s rights. One of their sons is a small business owner whose insurance likely comes from the ACA. Yet they voted for a man who vowed to get rid of that legislation on his first day in office.

The souring experience? Their youngest son missed out on an opportunity years ago … and they decided that what should rightfully have been his had been denied him because of Affirmative Action.

Yes.

Their youngest son is smart and capable. I’m sure he’d have taken complete and successful advantage of that opportunity. Do I automatically assume he was more deserving of that opportunity than any of the people who actually received it? No, but he’s not my son. Still, it’s a significant leap of faith.

Anger over Affirmative Action doesn’t puzzle me. It’s coming from a very clear and basic place. What should suprise me about that anger is how blatantly racist it is. Think about it: One hundred people are accepted into a program, and maybe five of them are POC. How are you — the angry, left-out soul — certain it’s one of those five POC who “stole” your spot? Why aren’t you assuming it’s one of the 95 white folks?

What was that?

I couldn’t hear you.

You aren’t looking at the white folks because … why?

Oh. You assume they deserve the same gifts and accolades you think you deserve?

Yeah. Thought so.

It’s the thing that always gets caught in my teeth with Affirmative Action haters — that instant assumption that they’d be riding high if it weren’t for some POC bogarting their position. And you know, maybe those five POC did take a white person’s place. But who said it was your place? Can we just acknowledge that there could have been dozens — nay, hundreds — of more qualified white folks ahead of you in line? Don’t forget the glistening, high-court-confirmed mediocrity of Abigail Fisher.

And while that youngest son moved on — is still moving on — his parents set their hair on fire and have let it burn to this day. Hearing about the end result of their anger and resentment made me wonder. Their bitterness drove them to embrace the same presidential candidate as the Ku Klux Klan, as the Neo Nazis. Could this loss for their child really have turned them from staunch Democrats to hardline Republicans? They’ve been on this path a while, voted for both McCain and Romney. Could their son’s disappointment really have been the initial push?

Were they sliding to the right all those years when they smiled in my face and welcomed me into their home? Did they question whether I had earned any of my successes? Did they see those as gifts, handed to me because I was Black?

I was close to their daughter for more than 20 years. She and I went to college together, studied abroad together. We moved to New York at about the same time, went to grad school around the same time. She stayed in academia, and I became a teacher, but we were still in each other’s lives. I was in her wedding and attended her sister’s.

When I think now about my interactions with her parents, they all become suspect. If their daughter hadn’t gotten into the college where we met, I would be exactly the kind of person they would have blamed for her failure, the kind of person they would have accused of stealing her seat. If I had gone to Paris junior year and she hadn’t been accepted into the program, would their anger have bubbled up then? Would they have assumed I’d taken her place?

Fortunately for their ability to maintain a relationship with me all those years, they always found me lacking. I am a collection of things they wouldn’t want to see in their kids. I’m not their style of clever. I’m fat. I’m not ambitious. I didn’t get a Ph.D. I didn’t get married. I’m childless. Did they treat me well because I posed no kind of competitive threat to any of their children? How quickly would they have turned on me had any of the facts of our lives put me ahead of my friend on the path to their idea of success?

I guess what I want to know is: how long? For how long was this belief in the inferiority of POC finding a warm, safe home in their hearts? How long was racial prejudice alive and well in these people I thought of as second parents?

Prejudice doesn’t just appear from nowhere. One of the scripts I’m working on for Adventures in Racism is about how children learn prejudice and how — or if — they can unlearn it. It’s been a challenging script for me because I keep waiting for the light-bulb moment, the bright flash of realization that will show me how to “unteach” those kids … but it doesn’t come because there’s no handy movie magic to solve this problem.

I was in kindergarten the first time I met people who disliked me because of my color. We were five, but my classmates had already learned their lessons well. I have since had the same experience with children even younger. Kids learn early. So, did my friend’s parents have seeds planted in childhood?

But prejudice isn’t only learned in childhood. It’s just as easy to internalize, over time, the steady drumbeat of inferiority that is the narrative surrounding Black people, particularly in this country.

Still. Something existed in both of these people before The Great Disappointment. Something strong. Something that made blaming people of color their first response to misfortune, something that instinctively spat up the assumption that an undeserving Black or brown person was being lifted up in their son’s stead.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen or learned of someone I know fully blossoming into their racial hatred. But in those other instances, those people showed early signs — I can’t really be surprised to find a friend from high school posting racist memes about Mr. My President when, in 8th grade, she explained that she found Mick Jagger so sexy … except for his “nasty nigger lips.” Those early warning signs were helpful. I knew exactly who I was dealing with, how far to trust them, just how much not to let down my guard. This change in my friend’s parents — despite taking effect over many years — feels like an ambush.

I don’t know if I’ll see anyone from that family again. It’s been 12 or 13 years now since those friendships ended. I have a hard enough time thinking of what I’d say to my former friend, to her siblings — people with whom I still, presumably, have things in common. I can’t imagine having anything to say to her parents.

Maya Angelou’s quote keeps running through my head: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” But these people never showed me who they really were. And that’s the thing that’s poking me. That “how long?” really has its foot on my neck.

In the end, it can’t matter. People I felt deep affection for harbored ugly, racist beliefs. Maybe the whole time I knew them, maybe only toward the end of that time. It can’t matter … still, I feel cheated. I feel as if they’ve stolen something from me, my memories of them, all the ways they made me smile — their jokes, their chaotic family meals, their insistence on having large pets in a house full of expensive artwork and delicate antiques — all of that is made grimy by the truth of who they are.

I see them now. And no repetition is required. I believe them this first time.


Two essays down in this 52-essay challenge!

And don’t forget to head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what other folks are posting for Slice of Life Tuesday!

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Today, we have the reality of Black people accused of all kinds of nonsense simply for pointing their fingers.  Here’s a snippet from the HuffPo piece:

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High School Students Jordan And Juwaun Jackson

In early 2014, the Sheboygan Press did a feature on Jordan, Juwaun and Jamal Jackson, three African-American brothers who had recently moved to the local Wisconsin school district and played on the basketball team. The photo that accompanied the story eventually led to the suspension of Jordan and Juwaun after one police liaison officer contacted Sheboygan Falls’ liaison officer to express concern that the brothers might have been flashing gang signs. Police said that the hand sign being used by Jordan — who is on the far left — is associated with the Bloods. In fact, it’s a hand gesture used by many NBA players to note a three-point shot. Juwaun said “he was simply gesturing at himself and the camera in a playful manner.” The brothers’ suspension was eventually lifted, and the editor of the paper said he was dumbfounded at the “ugly turn” taken by the community over what was meant to be a “positive story.”

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This isn’t new news, of course. Black people having the audacity to use their hands expressively is often frightening. I’ve used my own big hands in ways that have upset others. Walking in my old neighborhood a few weeks ago, I waved at a woman who used to be my upstairs neighbor. She was about a quarter of a block away from me. I waved. I waved again. When I got near enough to speak, I greeted her by name. We had never been close friends, but we spoke — beyond saying a casual “hello” in the hall — at least four times a week for several years. When I called her name, she did a curious jolt and rearranged her distressed face into one showing recognition. I said, “I guess you didn’t see me waving.” Even though she’d been looking right at me, I can imagine her being so in her thoughts that she didn’t see me. Here’s where I have to commend her honesty. Her response? “I saw you. I didn’t know how to read that hand gesture.”

Um, what? Has no one ever waved at you? How sad. How lackluster your days must be with no one approaching you with a common, possibly-universal sign of greeting. But she didn’t know how to read my hand gesture. Right. I had forgotten about that ridiculous moment until my friend Pamela sent me the link to this article this morning.

But really, none of this is new. Surely we haven’t forgotten one of the more famous “I didn’t know how to read that hand gesture” moments in recent history, E.D. Hill and the so-called “terrorist fist jab” of 2008:

But clearly, if Black people use their hands for anything other than participating in team sports collecting welfare checks, being handcuffed … we’re trouble.

Feh.

This level of knee-jerk fear may not be surprising, but it still troubles me. It’s one more step in the unceasing march of criminalizing all Black behavior. If I dance, it’s dangerous. If I show that I’m happy about something, it’s dangerous. If I vote, it’s dangerous. If I use slang, it’s dangerous. If I drive an expensive car, it’s dangerous. If I try to run a country, change healthcare law, keep an economy from dying a rapid death … it’s dangerous.

The fact is, there are few things Black people can do without scaring the crap out of people. When I write posts that fall into this category, I often wind down with some version of, “I’m tired.” I am tired. When does this get so old it dies? How do we push it over the edge and out of our national consciousness? I don’t have answers. I do have, however, a terrorist fist jab I’d love to land in the face of these foolish people:

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Folks who want to tell me Hill’s comment — or any of the nonsense detailed in the HuffPo piece — isn’t about race, isn’t about FoaBP, please watch this montage first:

And the Daily Kos piece.

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Okay, I think that really has to be it.  That title might just be as lame as I’m willing to be for the sake of squeezing out an “air” pun.  Yeah.  Believe that when I actually stop, right?

So last week I gave you Episode 3, and now, rushing it in only five days later so I can post it before Black History Month ends … it’s Episode 4!

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I’m still WAY too wordy, and that’s definitely something I will work on as I move forward and when I go back to revise these early episodes … but hey, I’m nothing if not wordy.  It might just be something I have to accept.  We’ll see.  I’d love to know what you think of the comic — this particular episode and of the work so far.  I appreciate all feedback!

(If you’ve missed any of the other episodes, I’m keeping them on their own page for easy catching up.)

And don’t forget: Saturday is the start of the 2014 Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Start posting on Saturday, and post throughout March … for the sheer satisfaction of posting, and for the chance to win some lovely prizes.  Best bonus of all, you get to read fabulous writing from other slicers.  You’re sure to find some new voices you’ll love.  This is the seventh year of the challenge and it’s grown like crazy.  I think in the first year we were maybe a dozen slicers? Last year, we were somewhere near 200.  Who knows how many there will be this year?  Add your unique voice to the group!

Check out today’s slices!

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Yes, yes, still can’t resist making foolish, pun-laden titles.

I’ve had the 3rd and 4th episodes of my comic completed for ages, but just haven’t gotten my act together to get them properly scanned and uploaded.  And now it’s Black History Month, and Episode 4 is all about black history … but I haven’t posted Episode 3 yet!  Aaack!

Well, now I will.

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Is anyone surprised that the thing bringing me back to my blog is my comic?  Episode 2 is here, folks!  If you’ve read this blog for more than a minute, you’ll recognize the content from my post, Early Learning. But now with funny drawings!

I’m very happy with one particular thing about this episode: my drawing is getting better, which is fun to see.  I worked pretty hard on this one, and I’ve started reading the excellent comics text books I have on “permanent borrow” from the library (no, I haven’t stolen them, I just keep renewing them … as no one else seems to want them, I have no guilt about this at all).*  I’ve mapped out a much more complete set of episodes, enough that I think this will be some kind of graphic memoir when I’m done a hundred years from now.  That’s kind of fun.

There are some things that I don’t like about this episode: I’ve fallen back into my too text-y habits.  Really, this episode is more like a picture book than a comic.  So much text!  I have to work on that.  Also, there’s a page that’s full-on digression, a page I really should have deleted but just couldn’t.  And I can see it happening with one of the episodes I’m working on right now.  A much bigger digression that I think I’m going to have to part with.  We’ll see.

I think I have to change the title, however, and that makes me sad.  I really like the title.  But after putting out the first episode, I found a blog with the same name.  It doesn’t seem so active, but it’s out there.  And, while I know there’s no copyright on title, it still feels weird knowing she’s out there and that she thought of it first.  Yes, I thought of it organically — hadn’t heard of her blog first — and I’ve been saying it for years when I’ve told these stories, but still.  So I have to think about that some more.

In the mean time, here’s Episode 2!!

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I so welcome your comments and feedback.  This is still a very new process/medium for me, so anything you have to offer is entirely welcome!

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* Well, okay, clearly I have a little guilt or I wouldn’t need to say that, right?  Hmm …

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I’ve been carving out bits and pieces of time to work on my comic.  One of the things that has interested and surprised me about this learning process has been discovering just how many steps are involved in making even a “simple,” 4-page comic.  Not that I assumed it would be easy, but I had no sense of the pieces that would have to be pulled together, or the way making a comic would challenge so many things I know as a storyteller.

I’m learning to be a visual storyteller … and it’s a steep learning curve. Case in point: my teacher said we should layout the panels and think of pictures before text. Even as he was saying it, I was disregarding it. After all, I’m a storyteller, I know how to tell my story, and I know exactly what I want to say. Um … yeah. That’s how my first draft wound up being three and a half pages of text and no drawings at all! So I scrapped that and started the way Dane told us to. This post alone tells you I had a lot of editing to do. Way too attached to words, I am. My finished comic is still super-wordy, even after eliminating nearly all of the original text. Full disclosure: in the end I cheated. I went back to the xtranormal cartoon I made, stole that dialogue and added in some new bits.

When I started Episode 2, I ran into the same wordiness issue, even though I did picture/panel layout first. I’ve got that episode drawn now and am working on the final pencil drawings and have moved on to rough sketches for Episode 3. I’m a little better with the wordiness, but I think that’s more this particular story than my improvement, and I can see some rough water ahead with several of the other stories.

I just borrowed an amazing-looking book from the library, Mastering Comics by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (hurray for libraries pretty much always having exactly what I need!).  There is so. much. to. learn!

Beyond the technical, the skill-building, the work feels familiar: how do I want to present the story, what story do I want to tell? Familiar, and with familiar hiccups.  I knew when I started working on Episode 1 that I wouldn’t stop with one comic (yes, they’re like Lays’ chips), that I would make a series.  I immediately had lots of ideas for episodes and started a list:

Oh, I need to do the story about kindergarten.

And don’t I want to include Michael and Mrs. Workman?

Oh, and what about …

I had a lot of ideas.  Maybe too many.  I went back over my list, looking for stories that could be grouped — episodes that didn’t need to be whole episodes but could be one or two panels in a larger comic because they were making the same point.  I edited.  I streamlined.  I re-ordered the ideas and drafted titles.  I had a neat group, a dirty dozen.

And then I remembered a bunch of stories I’d forgotten to include that I couldn’t see my way to not include.  So the list got longer.*

It still seems manageable at its current number (although it will take me just about forever to complete all of those comics!), and will make a nice thick book when all is drawn and done.

But …

But then I ran into a new problem.  Yes, the drawing of all the things on the list was a serious problem challenge.  Serious, not insurmountable.  My problem was humor.  “Me Talk Pretty” is serious, but I also find it very funny.  Just to be clear: I don’t find it funny when I’m in those conversations, but I find my comic rendering of the conversation funny.  Some of the stories on my list?  Really, really-and-truly, emphatically not funny.  They are ugly.  They are awkward and unkempt.  I picked up my pencil and started thinking about which ones I should maybe delete.

But …

I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of them.

Which was when I had an epiphany the divine equivalent of a dope slap: racism isn’t funny.  Okay, yes, I know that.  Of course I know that.  But I needed to tell it to myself, to remind myself that I’ve had the same struggle with writing I’ve chosen to post here, that my goal with Adventures in Racism is precisely to show the ugly, awkward and unkempt. Racism isn’t funny, but it can be a comic.

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See the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers

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* And as I typed this post, I thought of another episode that needs to be included!

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