Not my Jesus: Faith and Police Brutality

After Eric Garner, I couldn’t.

The sound of him saying breathlessly, “I can’t breathe.” Over and over again. But the men, the police officers, that held him down didn’t care. They only saw him as a threat. Something to be taken down.

After that, I couldn’t watch another video. View another abridged clip of a black man being shot when it made absolutely NO sense for him to end up dead.

Alton Sterling broke me.

I watched the press conference of his young son sobbing at the death of his father. I saw in his tears a face that was so familiar to me. I saw my nephew. They flashed a picture of Alton Sterling and I saw my brother.

I wasn’t ready for the clip of his death. I didn’t have time to click away before I saw it.

Only a day later, the Black Lives Matter Austin organized a rally/candlelight vigil and I was determined to go. The flood of people was overwhelming. The knot in my chest since I saw the video had only gotten bigger. 

I circled the block. No parking. Each time I circled the block, the knot expanded until I was having a full blown panic attack in my car and hyperventilating.  I pulled over.  It took ten minutes to stop hyperventilating but and an additional ten minutes for the fog to clear from my brain so I could think straight.

I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to explain to my roommates why I was bawling (I never stopped crying, btw). I reached for my phone and called the only friend I could think of.

I called my Christian friend who is also white.

I arrived on her doorstep and she wrapped me up in a tight hug. She listened as I unpacked the tangle of emotions. By the end, emotionally, I felt like I was on the floor. I wanted to stay on the floor.

She didn’t know what to say. What do you say at a time like that?  Instead she suggested we pray. She clasped hands with me and prayed over me.

It was prayer. It was God that picked me up off that floor.

Each day, I live and breathe is revolutionary. An act of defiance in a society that seems to grow increasingly apathetic to the plight of the marginalized.

It is during these times that I turn to God.  For the past two months, I have been moving slowly through Isaiah. After an extensive reading of Paul’s letters to the churches, Isaiah was a breath of fresh air. To be able to understand a verse without having to read it at least four times.

What immediately jumped out at me was Isaiah 1:16-17. It reads:

16 – Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Put away the evil of your doings from

before My eyes.

Cease to do evil,

17 – Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Rebuke the oppressor;

Defend the fatherless,

Plead for the widow.

Long story short: Judah was no longer faithful to God. Rather, they turned to foreign powers for protection instead of trusting in God who always had their back. As a result, they readily accepted the ways and religious beliefs of these foreign powers.

In their disobedience, they distanced themselves from God. They grew apathetic.

Isaiah goes on to delve more into the Messiah and this shifted my focus to Jesus. A few weeks back I read Zealot and it altered my perception of Jesus.

Jesus was subversive to the established order. Jesus healed and helped the ceremonially unclean in Jewish society. He advocated for a break from the legalistic, pragmatic approach of the Pharisees. Adhering to laws and rituals would not save you.

Belief. Belief in him as the Messiah.

So why do I bring this up? Why did I start by relating my reaction to police brutality and the death of black men?

Because I ask as a Christian and a black woman: where are we? Why is the church silent?

And when Christians do speak it is:

a.)    Filled with empty platitudes that don’t really say anything

b.)    Encourages prayer and praying for your enemies

c.)    Filled with hate speech that condemns and judges those most oppressed or marginalized in society

I find myself growing increasingly frustrated, yes, even angry at the above responses.

I think of Jesus. Someone who did radical things that upended a society and birthed a new religion.

Jesus was in those streets. Yes, he did pray but let’s not get it twisted.

JESUS. WAS. IN. THOSE. STREETS.

The Jesus I meet. The Jesus promulgated in the church is one infected by the world. Infected by white supremacy that prides passivity, forgiveness, and being humble. That requires us to overlook the wrongs of this broken world and set our sights solely on the hereafter.

Where is the rebuke, where is the defense of the oppressed at the hands of the oppressor, where is seeking justice that Isaiah called Judah to do?

Where is the willingness to pick up your cross and die daily for God? Even if that requires you to lay down your life for others.

Jesus healed the leper. Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood. All of whom where the overlooked of that society.

Jesus flipped tables.

JESUS FLIPPED MOTHERF**KIN’ TABLES.

Rather, I have a new interpretation. The church sees (and abuses) this whole concept of submission and obedience. Where some see Jesus submitting to the corrupt Jewish authority to be crucified. I see Jesus submitting to the will of God. I see Jesus obeying what God called him to do.

The church infected by white supremacy calls us to be submissive and humble. But what that really means is submit and be humble to the institutions that uphold systemic racism. Because in their thinking, that’s what Jesus would do.

No, son. That’s not what Jesus did. Jesus submitted to the will of his Father. A Father that told him that he would come to this Earth and die for sins so all may be forgiven. He was called to help. He was called to do what others wouldn’t do.

Today, the church responds by calling people to pray. As if prayer is the only action. The only response in the face of wrong doing. 

Jesus prayed but then he got up and did.

Where is our get up and do as Christians? This is an indictment on all who call themselves Christians (myself included).

It’s time to get off our knees and go flip some muthafucking tables.

In the name of the Father,

In the name of the Son,

In the name of the Holy Spirit,

In defense of the oppressed.

Amen.

The Platinum Rule

At my job, it was announced my unit would take a team building training session. My first thought and immediate reaction:

I was pleasantly surprised to say it was pretty good. Really great in fact. I learned new things about my colleagues as well as participate in a pretty sweet team-building exercise. What stuck with me, however, is what the instructor. Instead of following the golden rule (treat others how you want to be treated) we should instead adopt the platinum rule

Treat others how they want to be treated

It didn’t occur to me later the brilliance of the platinum rule. In order to break it down, let’s reexamine the golden rule:

Treat others how you want to be treated.

The golden rule centers “You” as the standard. The frame of reference. How You want to be treated is more important. Now let’s look at the platinum rule:

Treat others how they want to be treated.

It shifts the focus of “you” and to “they” aka other people. How do they want to be treated and then treat them accordingly.

The problem with the golden rule is that everyone is different. We come from different walks of life. I may be a black woman but not all black women have the same experience as me even if we have gender and race in common. There are a load of things that make us who we are.

Just because you like being called “baby” doesn’t mean everyone else does. Or perhaps, some people strongly prefer to be called “Mr. So-and-So” instead of by their first name. The point is let’s listen to each other. If someone tells you they prefer to be treated, called, or addressed a certain way, out of respect, you do just that.  The reverse is true.

The platinum rule is way better than the golden rule.

 

 

Excerpts from my memoir: Hair, part 1

A three part series where I share excerpts from my memoir titled Unicorns are pretty but they also bite. This series will cover my relationship with my hair because black hair is often talked about and criticized.

My Hair

You’re probably thinking, ‘why is this beautiful, magical unicorn of a woman devoting an entire chapter about hair?’ To that I say, why thank you kind sir and/or madam.  There really is a reason.  My hair has been and continues to be one of my crowning achievements (I mean, look at it!), bane of my existence, and an interesting cross-section of my gender/race.  Whoa, didn’t see that last one coming did you?

I'm about 4 or 5 years old in this photo. This was before I entered kindergarten.

I'm about 4 or 5 years old in this photo. This was before I entered kindergarten.

Since I was a babe, my hair was considered ‘good hair.’  That mythical, illusory definition within the black community of grade-A quality hair.  What is good hair?  I don’t really know.  All I do know is what my hair is.  On the dry-to-moisturized spectrum, it tended toward pretty well-hydrated.  Also, I could grow it fairly long.  

My hair could grow as long as bra-strap level.  And, before you ask, no I did not take a picture of it because a.) this pre-dated the selfie craze and b.) I’m not big on having my pictures taken.  Shocking I know because have you seen me?! In general I rocked my (relaxed) hair about midway between the shoulder and arm-pit length.

My relaxed hair. This was taken in San Francisco around 2009 or 2010. At this point, I embraced a shorter hair cut.

My relaxed hair. This was taken in San Francisco around 2009 or 2010. At this point, I embraced a shorter hair cut.

So, from the womb, I was imbued with this idea that I had ‘good hair.’ It was a source of envy.  A source of pride (especially in the case of my mother) that I had it.  It was like opening day at the zoo and I was the chief animal on display.  To be cooed over.  To be petted.

Although my lovely tresses rested on my head, I got the strong sense (and still do) that my hair is not my own, to do whatever I want to do with it.

No one ever stopped to consider the girl attached to the hair.  But plenty of people were quick to tell me what I should (and shouldn’t) do with my hair.

My Complicated Space Love: Why Representation matters and Supporting dreams is important, Part 2

This is part two of my two part series on space. Check out part one, “My Trip to the Space Center (Houston, TX), Part 1

Star Trek originally inspired my love of space, specifically Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek: The Original Series and Commander-then-Captain Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I was introduced to the latter first and then the former. Both characters resonated with me but Uhura because she was a black woman. I won’t get into my love of Uhura here but I will direct you to a post I wrote on my old site.

I even got a chance to meet Nichelle Nichols! She is amazing and an overall beautiful human being.

I even got a chance to meet Nichelle Nichols! She is amazing and an overall beautiful human being.

Prior to my Space Center visit, I started rewatching DS9 as part of a bi-monthly series I’m doing on Black Girl Nerds. As a result, my mind kept going back to my first love and that is space.

Seeing Sisko and Uhura was a transformative moment for me in my young life. I was only 8 years old when DS9 premiered and later on I would catch reruns of TOS on SpikeTV. The network would show a marathon or two during a major holiday weekend.

Once I saw Star Trek, I wanted to learn everything there was about space. More importantly, I wanted to go to space and I wanted to know everything I could about how to make that happen. My mom use to take me to the library every weekend and I would spend that time learning what I could.

Another important memory in my life was when I finally worked up the never to tell someone what I wanted to do. I remember I was in 4th or 5th grade and I told the teacher’s aide that I wanted to be a scientist. Anything thing I could do to get to space. I still remember what she said to me. She told me that I should consider an alternative career because being a scientist requires being really good at math. And, she commented, math wasn’t my strongest subject.

That hurt. That hurt a lot. There was a part of me that carried that knowledge and yet the part of me that was determined to prove her wrong.

The very next Christmas I asked my parents for a telescope and a microscope. My parents were surprised by my request but on Christmas morning what did I have: a telescope and a microscope. It’s this gesture that, as an adult, I think back fondly. My parents were supporting their smart, inquisitive, but ridiculously quiet daughter.

At that point, I progressed from wanting to be a scientist to wanting to be an aerospace engineer.

Unfortunately, the words of that teacher’s aide would haunt me. The sad thing is I started to believe her. I did struggle in math and it frustrated me. And it frustrated my parents to see me struggle. My dad suggested I get a tutor but I rejected that. He even borrowed some videotapes that had helped a coworker’s kid do better at math. I took the tapes but didn’t watch them. I didn’t ask for or accept the help being offered to me.

I accepted that math wasn’t my thing and I let go of the dream. It didn’t, however, dampen my enthusiasm for space. I would still look up at the night sky or check out any local astronomy clubs or read an article that announced some new space news.

Cut to freshman year college and I’m taking a College Algebra class and an Introduction to Astronomy class. I had a phenomenal teacher for Algebra. For the first time, math actually made sense and I didn’t struggle in that class. I breezed right through it with an A by the end of the semester. My astronomy class was similar. My professor was new and sometimes he would talk about the math behind the theories. I found myself more intrigued than most students. The way he explained it, I could follow it. He even commented on the fact that I understood concepts that most of his intro students didn’t. I patted myself on the back but ultimately I did nothing with it.

So I moved along my career path and ultimately become an archivist. But, I can’t deny that a dream position for me would be to work for NASA or even SpaceX as an archivist. After all, that information that they are generating has to go somewhere.

That brings me back to the title of this piece.

Representation does matter. When there are characters that look like you, it opens a world of possibilities. Suddenly, it does feel like you can do and be anything you want to be.

That brings me to my next point. Be mindful of what you say to others about their dreams. There’s a thin line between being supportive with a touch of realism vs. crushing someone’s dream. Words do stick with people.

I don’t regret any of my life choices or my career path but I would be lying if I said I don’t wonder what could have been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I'm Glad Underground on WGN was Cancelled

When the show premiered in 2016, I was apprehensive. Did we really need to delve into slavery? (That’s debatable to some) More importantly, would the show do slavery and those were enslaved justice? Two minutes into the pilot episode where Noah was on the run to the sound of Kanye West’s Black Skinhead, I was hooked. I became a ride-or-die Underground fan telling anyone and everyone about the show. I even went so far as to consider developing community discussions around the show.

This write up isn’t why I love the show BUT I’m glad WGN pulled the plug on it. To read up why I originally liked the show, check out my 2016 post on my old site.

1. Who? What? When? Where?

For most of Season 2’s run, I spent that time confused as hell. Where were we? The show spent a lot of time jumping around that it became difficult to keep track of characters and where they were. First, Cato was in Philadelphia and then Ohio? Or was he in Ohio all along? Not only that, the show compressed time for the sake of moving the plot along. It took the Macon 7 most of Season 1 to get to from Georgia to freedom, wherever that was. And yet, I am suppose to believe that Rosalee and Noah got from wherever they were to Georgia. Travel, even by train, wasn’t fast back in the late 1850s. Also, the show missed a golden opportunity to explain how two former slaves managed to make it there without any trouble. By compressing time, the show lost its realism.

2. Harriet Tubman

I love me some Aisha Hinds. The woman did the damn thing as Harriet Tubman. I’d love to see a biopic of Tubman with either Hinds or Violet Davis in the role. I mean, a girl can hope. Unlike the others, Tubman was a real person so having her interact with fictional people became a problem. I recently read Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton. It painted an interesting look at this woman called Moses. For one thing, Tubman was acquainted with Frederick Douglas and William Still. Still resided and spent most of his abolitionist career in Philadelphia which had a substantial black population (and still does). Yet, in Season 1, we encounter Still in Ohio where he meets John Hawkes. Season 2 corrects this by placing him back in Philadelphia at Cato’s McMansion.

But, back to Tubman, when Harriet was not traveling she was in Canada with her family who she helped escape to freedom. She spent the spring and summer months, when days were longer and not conducive to running away at night, taking domestic jobs or speaking engagements to raise money for her next venture south. She liberated slaves in the fall and winter when the days got shorter. Not only that, she mostly traversed into Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Going into the Deep South did happen but not as frequently. I say all this to say: how then could she link up with and spend so much time with the Sewing Circle which was based in Ohio?  

3. The lines of racism and prejudice got blurred as f**k

What made Season 1 so great is that it showed more shades of gray in terms of racism and slavery (see my original post). While there were abolitionists, there were some who harbored anti-black attitudes. That anti-blackness was pervasive. There were all sorts of justification ranging from religious to the physicality of black people which led most white people of that time to regard slavery as necessary and to the benefit of the black race. As such, they were regarded as “The Other.” That was my biggest problem with the Sewing Circle. They painted this kumbaya moment of racial harmony between all of the members, white, black, and mixed. I saw that as a golden opportunity the show missed to again delve into the mess that is racism and anti-blackness.

It was possible for a person to be an abolitionist and be anti-black. Hell we see that with some white allies of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Yeah, I said it!)

4. Cato. What the hell was Cato’s deal?

I wanted to say that to the writers. Cato’s storyline made no kind of sense. It took a friend to point out that Season 1 ended with Cato and that carriage full of money. Okay, so he had money. In the five month leap, he went to Britain and lived a lavish lifestyle.

How was this fool making money?

He bought art. Came back to the states. Set up a nice living in Philadelphia (I think? See #1). He serves as a benefactor to a play that makes fun of white people. He has bodyguards.

How. Was. This. Fool. Making. Money?

Then he loses it all on the same night as his abolitionist event in which Frederick Douglas and William Still were in attendance. No one heard the crazy loud shoot out at his house. No one. Not one person, fam?

Other odds and ends

  • Patty Cannon – A slave catcher in Underground. However, no one did a Google Search of that name. There was a real-life Patty Cannon who ran a gang and kidnapped black people and sold them into slavery. Thing is she died in 1829. Underground is set in 1857-1858.
  • Samuel – Why was I suppose to care about this man? I don’t even know you and all I see you doing is taking up valuable air time.

The Real MVP of Season 2

Ernestine. That was the only story line that I felt was still grounded in the history of the time and explored the psychological impacts of slavery on a black woman. Not only that, a black woman who used her gender to score favors and protect her children at any costs.

Ernestine.jpg

 

 

 

My Trip to the Space Center (Houston, TX), Part 1

This is part one of a two part series. The first will review my recent trip to the Space Center in Houston. The second part will be an examination of the feelings, good and bad, this inspired in me.

I am a space nerd from way back when. I can pinpoint the exact moment too. The year was 1993 and my mom sat me down to watch Start Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9). This opened up a whole new world.

Such a great Star Trek series featuring an African-American lead.

Such a great Star Trek series featuring an African-American lead.

On a whim, I decided to take a short vacation to Houston to check out the Space Center before the Memorial Day weekend. It would be a chance to check out the center, test out my new car on a road trip, and enjoy the deliciously varied cuisine of Houston.

Although technically listed as Space Center Houston, the museum isn’t actually located in Houston. It’s located about 25-30 miles south of Houston. There’s quite a commercial area that’s popped up around it with lots of shops and restaurants.

The Space Center is an impressive display when you turn in. Parking is pretty easy and relatively cheap at $5. The first thing that’s hits you is the giant replica of Independence. That is when it becomes real that you’re going to see all the space things. All. The. Space. Things.

I splurged and bought this really cool coffee mug. I have a thing for collecting unique coffee mugs.

I splurged and bought this really cool coffee mug. I have a thing for collecting unique coffee mugs.

Ticketing is located outside which can be problematic especially given it was a hot day and there wasn’t much shade so you stand in the sun while you wait. I don’t even want to think about if it rains. I chatted with some lovely folks behind me before purchasing my general admission ticket + Astronaut Audio tour at $36.95.  Now, you should know that any time there is an audio tour offered at a museum, I always do it. I tend to breeze through museums without reading. Audio tours help me to slow down and reflect. Often, I find out pretty cool tidbits that aren’t included on the text panels.

When you walk in, there is so much to take in. Giant replicas of a Mars land rover, rockets, and lunar land modules. My inner space nerd squealed. Unlike most people, I didn’t immediately make beeline to the information desk to inquire about the tram tours. Big mistake but I’ll explain in a moment.

I loathe having to wait in a line so instead I picked up my audio tour equipment and headed to the first exhibit on the International Space Station. The audio tour was easy to navigate as you punched in the number to the iPod Touch. The audio/videos were only 1-2 minutes long which, I think, is the perfect length.

The two things that stuck out for me during that exhibit were the space toilet and the crew quarters. Now, I think we’ve ALL wondered what its like to use a space toilet in zero gravity and acutely aware that everything floats in space. Everything. Think about that for a second. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Waste is recycled back into this self-sustaining system. To do that, when you use the toilet you have to have a vacuum seal so nothing, ahem, floats away….. Each astronaut has a funnel that attaches to a hose that’s in the toilet. I think you know where this is going. To keep you from floating away, the toilet is equipped with these straps that go over your thighs.  And then, you know.

Now the crew quarters are barely bigger than a refrigerator. You have to strap yourself in to your bed, essentially a sleeping bag mounted to the wall. According to the audio tour, despite looking uncomfortable, some of the astronauts say that it’s the best night’s sleep they ever got in their life.

I was about 40 minutes into my visit when I started to notice the downsides of the museum. First, outside of the International Space Station exhibit, the audio tour was pointless. So I spent $7 additional dollars above the regular $29.95 general admission cost. Next, a big section of the museum was roped off because they were installing a new exhibit. It took up prime real estate in the space. Also, some of the really cool things to do, like the space ship simulators, cost money. My advice to you is save money on the audio tour and do one of the simulators instead.

Two positives is that they had two theaters: one with a 15-20 minute video on loop about the space program. The second theater was timed as there was a speaker. I saw the speaker that talked about Mars. Unfortunately, this wasn’t so much a Q&A but a let me tell you about Mars. There wasn’t a chance to ask questions.

Now the tram tour. Up to this point, you can easily spend a solid hour here and get some enjoyment. Where the Space Center really hooks people is the tram tours. You have two options: Independence Plaza (blue) and Astronaut Facility (red). Each tour is a one hour long. People pile on these carts and head out to explore the rest of the Space Center proper. If you factor in doing both tours + the floor exhibits you can spend about three hours at the Space Center.

I ended up not going on the Blue tour. Why? That line was hella long and getting longer by the second as it was the more popular of the two. I ended up on the Red tour because the line had died down and I literally walked past the 50+ people to grab a last minute spot on the red tour.

For a tour, you have two options. The timed tour guarantees you a spot on the cart and you can manage your time around it. I believe you are given priority over those who just show up and get in line.

Now the Red tour. You hit up two locations: the Astronaut Facility and Rocket Park. Now, something that I didn’t realize is that, although space crafts no longer take off from Houston, it is a training and research facility. So people are actively working on the space program. At the Astronaut Facility, you get to see (behind a glass of course) where astronauts train for going into space. There is all this equipment, life size modules, and people busily working. It was immensely fascinating. Admittedly, I opted out of Rocket Park which consisted of, you guessed it, rockets. At this point, I was hungry and ready to go.

L-R (clockwise) - Freeze dried Cookie and Cream Ice Cream Sandwich (delicious but hard af), inside the Astronaut Facility as part of the Tram tour, replica of a lunar module in the museum area.

L-R (clockwise) - Freeze dried Cookie and Cream Ice Cream Sandwich (delicious but hard af), inside the Astronaut Facility as part of the Tram tour, replica of a lunar module in the museum area.

Overall, the trip was pretty fun. Save your money and just get the general admission ticket. Be willing to spend a little extra cash and check out the simulators. And, if you have time, do the one or both tram tours. Even if you don’t have the time, it’s still a great place to visit.

 

 

 

God Speaks to Me

God speaks to me.

He speaks me in a variety of ways.

  • Through the voice inside you that says “don’t do it” or “do that” whether it means something or seemingly means nothing to you

  • Through a concerned friend or family member or stranger

  • Through the continual reminders - email, social media, tv - something that you see or hear that seems as if it's speaking directly to you and your circumstances. Yes, you.

  • Through your dreams

For most of my life, my response has varied. Sometimes I hear Him and do it His way. Other times, I hear Him and keep going my way. He is patient with me in those times. Allows me to stumble and fall only to realize the He knows what to do.

Two years ago, God, quite clearly and only for the second time in my 32 years, spoke to me in my dreams. It was unlike any dream I ever had. It startled me out of my sleep and its message stuck with me for days, weeks, and months.

I heard but I did not listen. 

He told me simply, “People will not like you. But, take it to the altar. Give it to me.”

My response was a what does that mean? A skeptical uh, okay. Then I kept it moving. All of it, I see now, was preparation for what was to come.

I have been tried in more ways than one before, during, and after that dream. I found myself in a leadership position at work, something wholly new to me. I did my best and sometimes still came up short. I was treading water to keep from drowning.  But the hardest part was I had thoughts, opinions, ideas I wanted to express and yet I fell silent time and time again.

I could see right through the bullshit to the heart of the problem but I didn’t speak on it. I kept tap-dancing around it. Making other people aware of what was going on while avoiding it. My anger and frustration grew and started to consume me. I carried it with me every where. Like a virus, it infected me and sickened my relationships.

I prayed to God to change them, the people that plagued me, change the circumstances, change me. Anything. But the problems kept getting worse. Why weren’t YOU listening to ME?! I demanded on more than one occasion.

I didn’t say what I should have said or do what I should have done because I wanted to remain in their good graces. For them to like me. But that’s not what my Father told me.

My Father told me people would not like me. Nowhere in that statement did He specify what I had done wrong or what was wrong with them. Only that people will not like me. Following that, He gave me explicit instructions:

Take it to the altar. Give it to me.

He did not say carry it with me. He did not say tell it to other people. He said 1.) take it to the altar (aka pray) and 2.) give it to me (tell ME about it). All this time of frustration and anger made clear.

I spent so much time doing everything but that.

I don’t see those prayers over the past few months and years as in vain. In fact, some ways, I cultivated a richer, more honest prayer life with God. (I mean, we all pray and hold back a little like God doesn’t see into our hearts, amirite?)

All this time I should have been praying, “how?” How do I give it to you and not pick up this problem/this situation again? How do I let go of the anger? Help me to give that to you. Help me to desire to give that to you first and foremost. Above all things.

When I had that quiet realization, I cried. I cried tears I didn’t know I had. I cried tears of release like a secret knot had loosened.

I hear you, Lord. I really do.

Creative Pursuit - Getting in Formation

Inspiration can come from anywhere. My mind conjures up stories and characters anywhere and anytime. Immediately, I propelled into a world with twists and turns that excites me and, sometimes, frightens me. All of this can happen because I see a person doing something or heard an interesting sound or phrase.

Over the course of several days, my mind will go over the story. Flesh it out. The people. The characters.

Imagine my surprise when a story idea came to me because I saw a gif. This gif to be exact.

Now, I had already seen the Formation video and loved it. I watched it a couple of times. On this particular day, I scrolled through my Twitter feed, saw this gif and my mind was like,

That’s it!

Instantaneously, I envisioned bounty hunters sporting that hat. I saw a scene straight out of a movie coming down a flight of stairs. Slowly. Guns ready.

Not only that they would be female black bounty hunters.

I’m branching out of my comfort zone by exploring graphic novels. My reason is two fold: I was becoming more familiar with scifi graphic novels (seriously check out Saga) and I knew there was no way I could adequately describe in writing the visuals.

My mind took another turn when I heard a song. It was Nina Simone’s Blackbird.

Like opening a book or a graphic novel in this case, the story unfolded for me while listening to a song.  Each day brings a new discovery. What song will inspire me? What story will unfold?

I’ve determined that the overarching story I want to tell will be in five volumes. And, you guessed it. I have songs to correspond to each volume. Actually,  as of this writing, I only have four of the five. Once I have that song for the second volume, I will put pen to paper and begin to write.

I look forward to sharing this story with you.

Teaching to Transgress with Primary Sources

A Comparative Analysis of Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks and Teaching with Primary Sources edited by Christopher J. Prom and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Archival instruction, at its core, is a radical pursuit. When students interact with primary sources, it creates a unique opportunity for engagement. Assumptions are challenged. Perspectives are questioned. Archives inform the study of history and even a document can transform our understanding of a person or event.

It is this relationship between archives and history that I find most provocative. I spend a great deal of time thinking about archival outreach and engagement. Recently, a colleague recommended I read Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks as it relates to understanding the broader pedagogy at play in archival instruction and engagement. At the same time, the Society of American Archivists started to promote its One Book, One Profession series which spotlighted Teaching with Primary Sources edited by Christopher J. Prom and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe.

I found the books complemented each other. hooks explored the educator and student dynamic and sought to turn the traditional pedagogy on its head. In the age of multiculturalism, inclusivity, and diversity, the educator is not always the expert on a given topic. Focused primarily on college students, hooks noted that students enter the classroom expecting to absorb information from the educator rather than engage with the information, critique it, question it. It is up to the educator to take a more engaged pedagogical approach to foster discussion and analysis thereby enriching the educational experience.

Conversely, TPS presented three modules that provided historical context, a guide for information professionals about teaching with primary sources, and case studies of connecting students to primary sources. TPS erred on the side of applicability. For me, as an archivist-turned-outreach professional, this was a helpful how-to guide on getting started. This information would be beneficial to professionals seeking to embark on archival instruction or, perhaps, gain ideas about how to improve their current offerings. Throughout the reading, I could not help but be cognizant of hooks’ book. The archivist is, after all, stepping into a new role.  For better or worse, the archivist is becoming the instructor. 

Archivists Be Aware (or Beware)

Archival instruction calls for mindfulness on the part of the archivist and the selection of documents and photographs to present to a class. Expanding on hooks’ multiculturalism, society is increasingly setting its gaze on social justice issues. This is asking all of us, not just archivists, to examine and be cognizant of our internal biases and prejudices we bring to any given situation. As instructors, archivists bring these into the classroom much like students bring their experiences.  In stepping into the role of instructor, the archivists must be mindful that these biases can come into conflict. hooks described her personal frustration as well as the frustration of her students when they reached an impasse. She did not provide answers as to how to solve this but to bring an awareness that this could happen. Rather than let it dissuade instructors, she encouraged them to continue to engage and know when to listen especially when topics lie outside of an archivist’s experience.

Selection and much of archiving is not a passive endeavor. In TPS, Module 9 provides an example of an archivist who chose multiple documents to explore stereotypes of enslaved African Americans in the mid-19th century. The problem was that she chose too many documents and the students were overwhelmed. The takeaway in the example was to reduce the number of documents. Again, calling to mind hooks I thought more deeply. What was the reasoning behind choosing one document over the other? There is the shock and awe aspect of selection. Are the items that are selected contain more overt expressions of racism? What about subtler forms?  Archivists, if possible, should include a discussion that the examples provided are but one point of view and that opinions on the matter range from the outrageous to the passive (think: microagression-level). Often, students are not learning the shades of grey present in historical issues.

Areas of Further Study

  • TPS predominately focused its attention on academic faculty and students. This speaks to the overwhelming number of academic archives and libraries within SAA. The next area for further examination should be on K-12 educators and students.  There are significant challenges to overcome such as highly structured time, focused content, and communication lags. Unlike academic audiences, K-12 archival instruction is geared toward the educator instead of the student. Why is this? There are a myriad of answers to this question. Let’s explore it. Let’s find out what has been successful and what has failed.
  • What role can the Society of American Archivists play? One suggestion is the development of professional development opportunities for archivists to acquire instruction skills. Much of the professional development currently available is geared toward the technical, practical skills of archiving and description. There is room to grow reference, outreach, and instructional skills. SAA could seek out a partnership with the American Library Association. Our librarian colleagues are light-years ahead of equipping emerging librarians with skills that archivists are (still) lacking. The days of the archivist spending 100% of their time processing and describing collections are quickly shrinking. Archivists are expected by users not only to know more but do more. The next frontier lies in reference, outreach, advocacy, and instruction. SAA can and should position itself to fill the gap.

#ashleyisms

Recent experiences have either taught me the following or been reinforced. I will explain more in an upcoming post.

Love yourself more than the toxic relationships you end up in.

Do not do the work of others.

Speak up more.

Never forget the ones who hold you down, in good times and in bad times.

Do not back down.

Your feelings mislead you but God will set you right.

Do not let others accept praise for your work. (Screw looking petty af)

Failure can be the driving force of change. Embrace it.

Seriously, if people’s actions don’t line up with their words, do not trust them.

You are worthy.

The birth of #getmylife

Gaining a new perspective is all about distance. You need to get distance from the problem in order to understand it. To see it for what it is.

It took me 1,673 miles.

On a whim, I decided to vacation in Montréal, Quebec. The decision based on where I could find the cheapest place to stay: New Orleans or Montréal. Montréal won by a mile. Barely fazed me that I was planning said trip for mid-December when temperatures would be in the single digits. I still have my winter stuff from Philly. I would need to buy some good snow boots, I thought.

I like to be reasonably prepared for most trips I take. Montréal was a different story all together. Work became my life (as it always is) and I found myself still scrambling up to the day I would leave for my trip. Since graduate school, my life has been an endless series of trips. Packing. Dashing through airports. Sleeping uncomfortably on planes. Staring at the clouds whizzing by. Going on yet another trip barely registered.

It didn’t fully hit me what I had done until I found myself navigating the Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, seeing signs in French and English, and only 2G service on my phone.

Suffice to say, the panic set in. What had I done?

My written directions (thank God for those) were of little comfort as I wandered around in downtown Montréal trying to figure out how to get to my AirBnb. I circled the block. Reading street signs. The cold seeping through my double layer of gloves. When my hands get cold, it becomes hard to concentrate. I eventually asked for directions and, 15 minutes later, I was warm in a studio apartment talking with the owner of said apartment.

Again, upon reflection, it occurred to me how crazy it was to appear at the home of a man I did not know in a, technically, foreign country. He turned out to be a nice guy and we chatted for the better part of an hour before he said au revoir and left.

I did what any American would do. I bought food and doubled up on the wine. After all, I was going to need it.

I spent the next few days roaming the city. From taking a bumbling hike to the top of Mont Royal to venturing to the heart of downtown to meet a friend of a friend over dim sum.

View from Mont Royal. Nothing like a hike up a small mountain in 0 degree weather.

View from Mont Royal. Nothing like a hike up a small mountain in 0 degree weather.

But each evening, I sat, wine in hand, alone in an apartment with my thoughts. The same thoughts that circled around in my head for two years. The thoughts that I didn’t want to think. Let alone feel.

Disappointment.

Loneliness.

I had taken another career leap only to find what I leapt toward was not, in fact, what I thought or hoped it would be. It was something entirely different. And, try as I might to overcome it, make the situation bearable, do my best, I was being emotionally, physically, and spiritually crushed under the disappointment. I quickly learned that my voice didn't matter. I stopped thriving. 

Disappointment eventually breeds frustration.

Loneliness because, despite my best efforts, I felt spiritually alone. That God had literally peace’d out and I was now alone. Alone to drown in this sea of disappointment. I tried to surround myself with other spiritual people but I couldn’t connect. How could I articulate to them what I couldn’t fully articulate to myself? So doing what any self-reliant person does I pushed them away.

Loneliness became hurt. Hurt turned to anger.

I joked on my IG about the presence of a certain Kardashian book at my AirBnb. But, out of boredom, I skimmed it. It resonated with me because it made me realize how I had developed unhealthy habits to cope with my disappointment and loneliness. The things I loved to do I stopped doing. Right then, I put the book down and drafted a list. A manageable list of goals.

I felt a little better. Like some piece of myself came back from the ether. I slept deeply that night.

Every time I left the apartment, I had to venture down this steep, snow covered hill to catch the bus. When I did that, I passed by this church. Every. Single. Time. I looked at the announcement board and saw they had service at 11 am on Sunday. Despite the fact I hadn’t set foot in a church in several months, I decided to go.

Cut to Sunday, my last full day in Montréal, I sat a couple of pews from the front. There was a lot of ritual and ceremony (first time at an Episcopal church). The priest got up to speak. I wish I could say that I remembered everything he said. I really don’t. But I do remember how it made me feel.

Something deep inside of me cracked open. A feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time washed over me. I sobbed. Long after the service was over I sobbed.

The general gist is this: God, through this priest, let me know he NEVER left me. He heard every prayer from the “going through the motions” prayer to the “I’m mad at you so go fuck off” prayer. Not only that, He made it quite clear that this season. This phase of life isn’t the end of my story. It wasn’t the end of His plan for me. That there is so much more coming. Just hold on.

I got back to the apartment. Laid in the fetal position on the bed and cried.

I left Montréal a much different person then I arrived. My struggles are still the same. My problems didn’t magically go away. Rather, my thought processes toward them changed. I had to be willing to be transformed. I had to be willing to let go of the anger.

Is the anger, hurt, disappointment gone? Hell no. But the sting isn’t quite there because I realize that while I may feel lonely, I am never alone.

That is how #getmylife came to be. I’m refocusing my energy on reclaiming my life. The bits of myself that I gave away to toxic people and situations. It’s me reminding myself to love myself again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The N-Word and White Complicity

 Me: What Are you doing later?

Him: Grabbing drinks with friends.

Me: Who?

(He rattles off some names and all I hear are guys’ names.)

Me: That sounds like a guy’s night.

Him: Yeah,…you probably shouldn’t come anyway.

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I hear the slight hesitation and what he says has me curious. I prod as I normally would. My friend, 20-something year old white male, tells me that I would not be comfortable around one of the guys. To that I reply, why? He confesses that said friend, after a few drinks, drops the n-word. A lot.

I’m shocked but not for the reason he thinks. My first exposure to the word “nigger” came when I was 8-10 years old. An elderly white man referred to my older sister and I as niggers when this white teenage boy tripped in McDonalds. Despite the fact we were nowhere near him, that man pointed his arthritic finger at us and said “it was those niggers over there.” No one said anything to us. Everyone cast embarrassed glances at us. The manager tried to quiet the old man down. My sister and I wrapped up our half-eaten food and left. We told our parents. My mom shook with anger.

To say that the n-word upsets me is an overstatement. I have been on the receiving end of it on multiple occasions. Friends have endured humiliation from racists. As a person of color, it’s like you grow a thick callous to it. A shield of protection. Admittedly, if I’m caught at the wrong moment, when the shield is down, it hurts. It hurts like hell.

What do you do? I asked my friend. He explained that he tries to calm his friend down and tell him to be quiet.

But you don’t use it as an opportunity to tell him why it’s wrong to use that language, I said.

He acted as if my words were an insult. A wound that I had inflicted on him. He feigned a response and prattled on about how he doesn’t like to get political. I didn’t say anything. I listened but my silence made him uneasy. That, dear readers, is why I was shocked. I naively thought that my friend, a seemingly “with it” kind of guy would be the first to strike down that behavior not passively accept it.

It reminded me of that McDonalds experience. Not the old man but the reaction of those present. None of them stepped up to defend two little black girls from the offensive speak of a significantly older white man. Rather, they looked away or, in the case of the manager, tried to calm him down. Where was the outrage? The sympathy. The consoling of two little girls.

But that’s the thing about being black. We don’t get to be kids. We don’t get to be protected from the horrors of the world. Rather we are thrust right into it before we’re ready and, in some cases like mine, without our parents to walk beside us in it.

Him: I feel like you’re judging me.

Me: Oh, I am. I’m not going to lie I’m judging you right now.

I explained to him that attitudes like that will never change unless they are exposed and challenged. More importantly, it takes more people (read: white people) to call out friends, family, and others who refer to any group in a derogatory, racist way.

White silence is white complicity in racism.

Welcome to my site.

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