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Posts Tagged ‘feeling myself today’

I grew up quiet. I was docile, compliant, held my tongue when I should have spoken. This isn’t a thing to be proud of, and I’m not proud of it. I should have spoken the first time a man flashed me. I was eight. I should have spoken the first time a boy tried to pressure me into letting him touch me. I was nine. But I was a “good girl,” a seen-but-not-heard girl. So I stayed quiet.

Eventually—though not for many too many years—I realized that staying quiet is a form of self harm, that silence can equal death.

Writing ended my silence. When I started blogging ten years ago, I started posting things I didn’t say out loud, started telling stories I hadn’t told: the first time I was called a nigger, the night I was raped, the acceptance of my inability to have children. And when I wrote, people read. And I found I had more things to say. And more people read … and more and more, reading and reading and reading. Silence stopped being my default position. It became, instead, an occasional choice, a choice made to serve my needs, not anyone else’s.

In recent years, I have been anything but silent. My pain and rage have been loud and sustained. The steady drumbeat of devaluation and death that has been the storyline of Black and Brown communities calls up my voice again and again and again, has spilled across pages and pages, come to mic-ed spaces like this one to spill over audiences like you.

***

When I looked up “backslide,” I was surprised to have page after page of religious websites come up in the search results. At first I ignored them because nothing I think about when I think about backsliding has anything to do with religion.

I searched again. I was looking for something that might steer me away from the negative definition of the word that was dominating my writing. All my searches came up religious. Finally, I gave in and clicked the first site, “Ask a Minister” (seriously). And what to my wondering eyes should appear but definitions of backsliding that resonated more powerfully than the standard, “relapsing into bad ways or error.” Ask a Minister gave me:

Revolt
Refuse to harken
Pull away
Rebel

Suddenly backsliding looked like a badge of honor, something to which I could and should aspire. Biblically, of course, it’s all bad—backsliders were folks who “refused to harken” to religious rules, to the word of God. Okay, fine. But is that always necessarily a bad thing? Questioning authority—speaking up instead of keeping silent—can be exactly right, exactly the thing that saves your life.

And there it was—the memory of quiet, go-along-to-get-along me, and the memory of all the ways the stress and damage of my silence manifested in my health, in my bad relationships, in my fear of embracing my anger.

But no more. I have become a proud backslider. I have—to paraphrase my favorite of the “Ask a Minister” bits—refused to harken and turned a backsliding shoulder and made my ears heavy that they should not hear.

One. Hundred. Percent.

***

I was born on a Tuesday, and I used to like thinking about that old poem: Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace …  I liked thinking that I might ever be seen as even the least bit graceful. And somehow my silence was part of that.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she sent me the biblical definition of grace: the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. I do tend to think of myself as the recipient of the free (and generally unmerited) favor of God, so perhaps I’ve achieved gracefulness after all. This graceful backsliding is such a relief. Freedom, finally, to just be my own authentic, un-quiet, angry, rebellious, refusing-to-harken self.



This piece was written for the July 24th Big Words, Etc. reading, the theme for which was “Backslide.”

The plan for 2017 was to be on my #GriotGrind, to write an essay a week … except I’m MONTHS behind! I’m determined to, somehow, catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.

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(While it would be nice to think my Impostor Syndrome was cut down in the Senate chamber today, I’m pretty sure what I’m about to describe is but a temporary leave-taking. Hope your Ides of March passed smoothly!)

I realized in a conversation today that the other person was trying to impress me, was actually a little nervous talking to me. Me. And at first that made me want to laugh … because … well, you know, it’s me.

But then a thing happened.

I realized he was right: he should want to impress me. Because … well … it’s me. And I thought yes, he should be a bit nervous, too. There was no telling how I might respond to what he had to say after all.

That has certainly not happened before, that kind of all shall love me and despair moment. 😉

In truth, I think where I’m aiming is somewhere between the poster child for low self-esteem and the beautiful and terrible queen. But perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to walk around believing I’m stronger than the foundations of the earth. And all that.



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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I write a lot about racism. And by “a lot” I mean A LOT. And I’ve been doing it for years. Anyone who knows my work knows this, or should know it, would know it if they’d been paying the least little bit of attention.

Since November 8th, much of my writing has had the same message, a message that has made some folks accuse me of being a racist: namely, that you, white people: you are responsible for THOTUS¹. You sided with the Klan, took up the cause of the neo Nazis, voted in a hateful, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, islamophobic, isolationist, elitist government. The who-voted-how numbers tell the tale quite plainly. White men went for THOTUS in droves. And more than half of white women followed.

I kept posting from the heart of my anger, telling white folks to take responsibility for the apocalypse-world they ushered in, telling them to come get their people and start doing the work of eradicating the deeply ingrained racism that is the poisoned lifeblood of this country, work they should have been doing all along.

Surprise! Some people didn’t like what I had to say. Some people felt saddened or angered or attacked by my posts. And I got a lot of pushback saying their feelings were hurt by my “come get your people” demand.

I was caught off guard – not so much by the fact that anyone was hurt, but by the fact that a lot of anyones were hurt. If only a few people had contacted me, I might have seen them as anomalies. But I had more than a dozen emails, a handful of private messages, and a bunch of responses to FB posts – they ranged from sad to offended to passionately self-defensive to curt. Clearly there was something I should take a closer look at.

So I looked. But you know what? I’m not wrong. White people decided this election. Full stop.

Yes, I know. Not all white people. Ob.vi.ous.ly. I never said all-a y’all voted for him. No. What I said was that all-a y’all are responsible. What I said was that white people need to come get their people, need to start doing the hard work. And that’s what I meant.

I get it, the offense. I’ve written plenty about racism, but those other times were easier for my white friends and readers. They could see themselves as separate from the “bad” white people I chastised in those posts, remain comfortable in the knowledge that they were “good” white people. But in my writing since the election, there hasn’t been any room for white folks to hold themselves above the fray. The things I’ve written are the first time I’ve come for white people as a group, a monolith. And being seen as a whole group rather than as individuals makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Fine. by. me. I’m not interested in anyone’s comfort, or at least not yours. It’s your comfort that made it possible for the election to turn out the way it did. It’s your comfort that enabled you to talk only to friends and family who agreed with you about the issues, who never said anything that rippled the quiet, happy waters of agreement that kept you buoyed and confident. It’s your comfort that kept you from giving credence to the number and socioeconomic diversity of people clearly enamored of THOTUS. Y’all been too damn comfortable for too damn long.

I know. On November 8th you cried. On November 9th you cried. How could the world have betrayed you like this? How could it be possible for that man to win the election?

Yes, you cried. But you know what? I’ve been crying, too … for years. Where’ve you been? You never noticed, never bothered to look, never bothered to care.

And I don’t mean the old-timey crying – when you kidnapped me and forced me into enslavement on your plantations and in your homes, when you sold my children away from me, when you raped and beat and killed me, when you lynched me for sport, when you refused to educate me, when you kept me from moving into better neighborhoods and better jobs … or any of the other ways this list could go on and on.

No, I mean in my own life. I mean the little ways you’ve cut and slapped me, made sure I knew I was “other.” I mean 8th grade when you took hold of my arm and rubbed hard enough to break the skin and then looked at me, puzzled, asking why none of the dirt would come off. I mean that time after college when you fixed me up with a guy from your job who you thought would be perfect for me – he was Black, after all – but you didn’t bother to tell him anything about me, not even the simple fact that I, too, am Black. If you had, he could’ve said to you instead of me that he didn’t date Black women because he found us uncontrollable and disrespectful. I mean every time I tried to tell you about some large-scale manifestation of discrimination, and instead of hearing me, you told me to calm down, to not be so angry. Instead of hearing me, you told me about some time when you, as a white person, had been a victim of reverse racism.

And I mean this moment in my own life. In the bigger ways you’ve let me down and broken my heart. Civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie says it so powerfully in her poem, “Where were you?

Where were you when the media called us “thugs” for protesting?

When I stood outside on those hot summer days, and needed ice water? 

Or a back rub?

Or someone to talk to?

Why weren’t you standing with me?

Where the hell were you?

Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?

When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?

When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?

When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee

Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten? 

Where were you?

If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?

Exactly right. Do you see it now? You have been making me cry since the day we met. And you’ve never noticed.

But you want me to pay attention to your tears, need me to understand how my statement of facts is painful to you, how it makes you uncomfortable. You want me to apologize.

Nope. No more. I’m over coddling you. Over biting my tongue when I need to call you out. Over swallowing my anger and hurt when you slap me down with your unconscious bias. Done.

Instead, I’ll be pulling on a brightly colored bathing suit, goggles, a nose plug. I’ll be doing that weird, arm-flailing body-slap Phelps does before a race. And I’ll be diving into an Olympic-sized pool filled to overflow with your tears.

A friend sent me Leah Roberts Peterson’s Facebook note. She wrote it after Saturday’s march, wrote it to her white sisters who had just stepped up in their pink pussy hats of solidarity but who were feeling attacked by questions and comments from women of color. She wrote:

The best thing you can do is take in all those feelings coming from our sisters who are hurting and angry and OWN IT. Remind yourself that yes, you’re trying because THIS is how they feel. You’re doing what you’re doing because it’s RIGHT and it’s how humans with empathy and sympathy and a working heart should live their lives once they figure it out. Not because all the Black women are going to magically start appreciating you. They owe you NOTHING. Mark the date on your calendar when you’ve got as many days under your belt being awake as you did being asleep, and then, maybe, start being a tiny bit impatient when others don’t recognize your efforts. My own date is June 17, 2061. I will be 91.

I tell you this with sincere love in my heart because I KNOW you’re trying. Sit in the discomfort of these moments. It’s ok to not feel comfortable. That’s how lots of people around the world live their lives every single day. Comfort is not our goal. Equality is. ❤

Oh, I am so here for this. When I talk about white fragility and you respond by dm-ing me how that term is divisive and hurtful … know that you’re flat out exhibiting A-grade fragility right there. When I talk about how the safety pins make me feel so much “Meh,” and you tell me I should be happy people are making an effort … just … no. Don’t do that.

When you say these tone-policing, silencing things, I respond as kindly as I can because I’m interested in keeping dialogue going, keeping lines of communication open, because I know and care about you. But I need you to take a moment, think about how microaggressive some of your comments are, think about how much your comments are really asking me to shut up and be grateful, to give you a cookie in appreciation for all your hard work on my behalf.

Yeah. What Imma need is for you to think about what’s making you uncomfortable and examine your discomfort before you come for me. Thank you.

griotgrind_logo

In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States


original-slicer-girlgriot

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Some clarification after yesterday’s half-angry, half-tired post. I do appreciate the compliment that arrived in my comments and the spirit in which it was given. But let me speak plainly: I know I’m beautiful. Yes, it’s taken some years for me to see / acknowledge / accept that truth. But I have. The foolish man who needed to tell me how unacceptable I am probably can’t imagine that such comfort with myself is possible, but that’s about him, not me.

And maybe it sounds vain for me to take my friend’s compliment and just say, “I know.” That’s because it is vain. I don’t have any problem with some healthy, based-in-reality vanity. I am vain about my looks, my hair, my voice. I am extremely vain. Let’s not get me started on all the other ways I’m vain, all the other things I love about myself.

But for the most part, that man on the street and his comment had nothing to do with what I look like and whether I am attractive. People who say things to me on the street — whether they know it or not — are always talking about themselves and just using me as a convenient outlet for whatever pain or frustration they are feeling. In the case of men, there is also the fact that many men believe that every woman only exists in public for a) his viewing pleasure, b) his assessment and comment, c) his control.

That guy Monday couldn’t see me, didn’t even try. He saw a female body and decided he had power over it. He isn’t attracted to big-legged women (after all, everyone knows we ain’t got no souls). His lack of attraction didnt keep him from looking, mind you. It did, however, give him license to say whatever nonsense seemed “right” in the moment.

Maybe he was having a crap day, someone making him feel as if he was getting too big for his britches, taking up too much space. So telling me that I am too big, that no one wants to see me was how he felt about himself just then.

But see, all that mess? That’s him. That’s all about him. I may have been the one to be splashed with the garbage juice as his truck rolled by, but he’s the one full up with the stuff.

So I appreciate the reassurance that I am fabulous, but in this instance I don’t so much need it. There are plenty of other areas in which I am the poster child for low self esteem, and in those areas I welcome all the ego-boosting I can get. What I need right now is continued strength to not dole out dope slaps on the regular.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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(Yes, I know, it’s really many more than 24 hours later, but I’m taking full poetic license.)

A second night’s sleep has retuned me to just-about-normal (thank goodness) and, though still pretty tired, I’m finally ready to talk a little more about my experience.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, my friend Sonia said it might be better to have the 24 hours run from noon the noon. That way, I could have gotten a full night’s sleep before starting out. As much as the idea of a full night’s sleep appeals, I think noon to noon would mean more people dropping out before the end of the 24 hours.

Because midnight to six is the hardest part of the day, it’s good to get it over with first. If I had gone out at noon and shot for 10, 11, 12 hours … and then been faced with the long day’s journey into night of midnight to six … well, it’s pretty unlikely that I’d have made it through. Starting with the roughest patch makes the remaining hours look easier.

I did work myself up into feeling more nervous than I’d have liked about the midnight run. Not enough to keep me from starting out, but definitely nervous. On the safety side, I didn’t see a lot I could do. I’d be fine, or I wouldn’t be. Yes, I would avoid particularly dark, empty, dangerous-seeming places, but what else is there? I don’t have weapons, don’t carry pepper spray. So really my being safe is more in the hands of other people on the street. I hate the truth of that, but isn’t that what’s always true?

As for making myself look safe to other people … similar quandary. People would either see my harmlessness or they wouldn’t. There were a few things I could do, though. I know that making eye contact and giving a tiny bit of a smile can help, so I figured it could do that. Wearing a dress could help, too. A dress can fool people into thinking you’re soft. We had a snow storm on Friday, and it was sleeting as I got ready to go out, but I decided to wear a dress all the same (with leggings and boots and under my down coat). So yes, in order to look less dangerous to some people, I made myself look more vulnerable to other, less savory people. Feh.

There were tricky moments, out on the street alone. Around 3am I was in the West Village, heading downtown, and a man approaching me changed his direction to walk with me and then to follow me when I wouldn’t talk to him. That was when I found the diner I was sitting in when I took the photo of the police officers. When I came up from the A train at Port Authority so that I could walk over to Times Square and meet my friend and his friends — it was maybe 4:45am — there was an angry, not-at-all-well man at the top of the stairs as I left the station, and I didn’t immediately notice how “off” he was and almost walked right into the middle of the scene he was making. Just as he took notice of me — the kind of notice that meant he turned and began to come at me — I realized my error and took a sharp left and crossed 42nd Street so that I could be away from him. He could have followed, but chose not to.

There were also excellent moments. I got on a bus at about 2:30 hoping to get some pics of the other riders … only to find that I was the only rider. The driver smiled and asked where I was going. “No one here,” he said. “I’ll take you wherever you’re going!” There was meeting the guys in the, “Peace, baby!” photo, who were very nice and just made me laugh.

Hmm … fading fast. There were many more moments, both tricky and lovely, but once again, I need to sleep. It’s time to put my tired self to bed so I can close the distance between myself and my rested, no longer sore self. I’m hoping tomorrow I feel entirely like myself. So I leave you with my slide show of the night. I would love to hear what you think of the pictures, of the stories, of how well or not they two fit together.

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It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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