23 years later why Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Paradise still bugs the fuck out of me

According to the episode synopsis, Paradise (S2E15) of Deep Space Nine is as follows:

While surveying nearby star systems for M-Class planets, Sisko and O’Brien locate a planet that already supports a colony of humans.

I originally started my rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as part of a bi-weekly blog for Black Girl Nerds. That project has fallen by the wayside but I continued watching old episodes out of nostalgia. DS9 was my first foray into the Star Trek universe. I remember seeing syndicated episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series but they didn’t stick in my mind. They captured my attention for the length of an episode but then I quickly forgot about it afterward.

Deep Space Nine captured my imagination.

The show premiered in 1993 when I was 9 years old. I vaguely remember my mother being excited to see it. It wasn’t until I saw Commander Benjamin Sisko, a black man, on screen that I actually sat down and watched the show. DS9 became a weekly bonding experience with my mother. We would watch it and then during commercial breaks discuss what happened. Then, after the episode was over, we would talk about it at length. I attribute by scifi nerdom and love of Star Trek to my mother. Sometimes when I hear of a new science fiction show or movie, I wonder if my mom would like it and, admittedly, I miss her because I want to talk to her about it. But, I digress.

During my rewatch, one image, one episode kept coming to mind. It was the sight of Sisko crawling into this sweatbox on this planet as punishment. I couldn’t remember the details surrounding it only that the image in my head stirred such strong emotions in me. Emotions that still existed some 23 years later.

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I remember being angry. Angry at the circumstances surrounding the punishment. Proud of Sisko for standing his ground. Lastly, I felt pity because of the physical toll the punishment took on this character I had grown to care about. That is what I remember.

Then, this past Friday, I reached that episode which originally aired on February 14, 1994. It was surreal watching an episode that I first saw at 9 years old versus being a 33 year old woman now. Unlike when I was younger where I waited a week in between, I am binge-watching so I’m easily watching 2-3 episodes in one sitting.

Seeing this episode as a child is a wholly different experience than watching it as an adult, especially now in 2017.

The first themes to grab me was the racial dynamic at play. While the colony was composed of people of different racial backgrounds, the main person in charge, dispensing the rules, was a white person, specifically a white woman. Her name was Alixus. Not only that, her antagonist to this status quo was a black man, Commander Benjamin Sisko.

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What struck me was how dehumanizing the whole experience was for Sisko.

Her treatment of him was an exercise in stripping him of his Starfleet prestige and breaking him down into a contributing member to “her colony.” For example, she initially called him Commander but quickly settled into call him Ben. This may be a trivial, but I strongly believe it was intentional. Her way of saying who you are doesn’t matter to who I want you to become. She often broke the touch barrier. Reaching out to invade Sisko’s personal space without asking. She demanded that he adhere to her rules partly knowing that as a Starfleet officer that aspects of the Prime Directive were at play. Non-interference is ideal but if there is an interaction and potential impact to keep it minimal. She couched her rebuttals in this language.

Her tone of voice was more abrasive with Sisko than O’Brien, especially when Sisko showed his defiance to her rules and rejecting that this way of life should become his. For example, he chose to stay in uniform than to put on the clothes of the other community members in spite of Alixus demands.

It is telling to me that Alixus never takes the time to understand Sisko. To get to know him. She spent more time dominating the conversation and pontificating her ideas. I bring this up because, at this point in the series, Sisko has been established as a strong but fair leader, a widower, and devoted father to his son Jake. Nowhere in this episode is Jake mentioned. It’s all part of the dehumanizing process. Alixus does not take the time to learn about Sisko. I wonder if that would have changed her behavior toward Sisko to know that he has a son. I firmly believed it wouldn’t have impacted her actions toward him.

Much of the above could have been dismissed as a warped sense of leadership until we get to “the box.” A person who committed a crime that negatively impacted the community was punished. That punishment was to be placed in “the box” for however long without food or water. The box was, from what I could tell, situated directly in the noonday sun.

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This is where the racial dynamic, the white supremacy of it all, pushes Alixus and her fixation on Sisko to another level. O’Brien, in his own way, tries to help cure a woman in the community using technology. Alixus deemed this a crime because that was time he could have spent contributing to the community. (So, saving a woman’s life isn’t helping the community? Um, ok.)

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At this point in the story, Sisko has been a little too “uppity” and non-conformist. So, she defers O’Brien’s punishment onto Sisko. The one prominent black person is being placed in a box as punishment by a white person. This 24th century punishment parallels 19th century punishment of enslaved peoples.

Add to this the statements of Alixus to Sisko to work in the fields, I was close to done y’all. That anger I experienced as a child all clicked into place. As much as I loved science as a kid I was also a big fan of history. So even if I didn’t have words for it, I understood on some level what was happening. The underlying racial tension. As a 33 year old black woman in 2017, I seethed with anger. This time I had the words.

All I could see was the trope of Alixus as the slave master and Sisko cast as the obstinate enslaved person. She was trying to break him into submission. Alixus even wielded her power to get another member of the community to seduce Sisko. She thought (incorrectly, of course) that by appealing to Sisko’s sexual desires would help him to conform but he saw through that. I was even more appalled that she sent the only visible woman of color to do it. That power dynamic with heavy racial overtones.

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Ultimately, Sisko didn’t break and I felt vindicated but I left deeply unsatisfied by the ending.

It turns out that Alixus engineered the group being stranded on the planet in order to live out her philosophies. She impacted the lives of a group of people, lied to them, and derived power from it. In the ten years they were stranded, people died y’all so this woman could get what she wanted. The show undermined this idea by saying that they had better lives because of her. The group accepts that premise and decides to stay. The whole thing was wrong and terribly unfair. In that sense, Alixus (and the show) had stripped these people of their own individual humanity.

They had families. They had friends. What of the anguish of their families not knowing that their loved ones were alive?

Alixus goes to face her punishment as the white savior/tragic hero that the show unintentionally (or intentionally) painted her. The people stay.

The last shot is of the two children born on the planet looking sadly, regretfully at the box. I pitied them. Where was their choice? Out of a group of 30 some odd adults they were the only children. What would happen to them when the adults died? Likely, it would be the two of them left stranded on a planet that they didn’t need to be stranded on in the first place.

#thatmanagerlife: Lessons Learned (thus far) from a new Manager

In a previous post, I referenced that I’m now a manager at my newest job. On Twitter, I created the hashtag #thatmanagerlife to share insights on the things I am learning as a manager. It’s one thing, as an employee in a non-managerial role, to be critical of management. It is quite another to be the manager.

Let me tell you: that ish ain’t easy.

Can you die from meetings?

The biggest adjustment from employee to manager is all the meetings and committees you are obligated to attend. And, unfortunately, you can’t opt out of them or send a proxy. (I really wish I could send a proxy) For example, I had a day devoted to meetings. I had one at 9 am that lasted 2 hours, another one at 2 pm that lasted 1 ½ hours, and a final one at 4 pm that lasted about 45 mins.  When you do the math, I spent 4 hrs and 15 minutes in meetings. Add that one hour lunch break and I was left with 2 hours and 45 minutes of actual work. Work that involved checking and answering emails, touching bases with my staff and getting project updates (we’ll call those mini-meetings).

Meeting burnout is real. I find that I look forward to those days when I have either no meetings OR two meetings at most during the day. I may be a manager but I’m also an archivist so I have processing work that needs to get done. I’m really having to step up my game in terms of time management but also setting “meetings” for getting my own work done.

For example, I actually set up a 4 hour meeting titled Institutional Records Meeting for the sole purpose of carving out that time to inventory and process collections. Makes it much easier to decline suggested meeting days and times when you say, “sorry, I have a meeting on that day and time.”

You gotta do what you gotta do. (Don’t take that tidbit and abuse it. Don’t be that person)

Keep the long game in mind and be strategic

I liken this aspect of being a manager to adopting the strategic mind of Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones, FTW!). The hard part of being a manager is sometimes, you have to make the short-term sacrifice for the long-term reward. These decisions may seem like managers take them lightly (and let’s be honest some managers do) but for the most part it’s hard.

It can be a decision you make for your department OR it can be a directive that comes down from on high. It is the latter I found that was hardest when I was an employee. I’m not privy to those conversations and found it difficult to swallow. Managers are the middle man. There really isn’t much they can do because they're the messenger.

There is no clear way to deal with it. I have seen managers not explain the reason behind a decision and be crucified for it by staff. I have seen managers explain exactly what happened but employees still direct their frustration on the manager. Hell, I have even been that employee myself.

To be a manager means to learn to be okay with not being liked

Let’s look at Tyrion for example. We all know how the Battle of Blackwater went down. Joffery punked out and was ready to flee. Tyrion stepped up and led the people. Tywin Lannister swooped in and won the battle but he was the one that got the credit. Tyrion was in the thick of it as a person in charge but got shortchanged when it came to the recognition.

Despite his impressive handling of the situation, he was still seen by Tywin as not a “real Lannister” and he was hated by the people. At his trial, he finally accepted the mantle of being hated by the people despite the fact he kept them relatively safe.

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Sometimes, as a manager, you can’t win AND please everyone. It comes with the territory. Taking another Game of Thrones example. Look at Jon Snow. He tried to do the right thing and made a decision to partner with the wildlings. This flew in the face of decades, nay centuries, of animosity between everyone and the freefolk but he saw the bigger threat. How did he get rewarded for it? Homeboy got ambushed AND shanked composed of people who mostly hated him but people who also liked him.

Learning that I can't please everyone was and be liked was the hardest lesson for me to learn in the last three years. Although I wasn’t a manager at the time, I hadn’t realized how much of my identity, professionally and personally, was wrapped up in being liked. A people pleaser. Being liked by people I admired and, yes, even liked by people I didn’t like nor respect. On some level, I wanted their approval.

It took getting knocked down and thrown under the bus a little too much for me to begin to do the work and untangle my identity from people’s approval. On some level, I will always care what people think but it won’t be the thing that guides me or my decision making.

Saying NO is the most powerful statement

I firmly believe if you can accept that people will not always like you as a manager saying no to things that are a waste of time, money, and resources is easier. This ties into being strategic as well.

Saying ‘no’ applies to the people below you and the people above you. Real talk: You can’t let these people run you and dictate your life. Admittedly, you have to learn when saying no is best, having a case to support that, but willing to drop it when those above you still decide to press forward with the course of action you are not 100% committed to do.

Also, I say this because some people are not accustomed to hearing no because they have been surrounded by yes people most of their professional and personal life.

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Being a manager requires you to be more than you are. To learn new skills while fine tuning the skills and qualities that make you an amazing individual. I foresee a lot of falling down but I also see getting back up as a stronger person in my future.

 

 

The Arrogance (and Humiliation) of Dr. Julian Bashir, a DS9 Review

In The Passenger (S1E09), the first five minutes of the episode puts Dr. Bashir's arrogance front and center. Growing up, I don't remember Bashir being so arrogant but I too rolled my eyes along with Major Kira as she listened to him. Up to this point, the show depicts Bashir as arrogant, persistent (when attempting to woo Jadzia Dax), smart, and someone who knows how to spit game. Weren't ready for that last bit were you? There are at least two moments in past episodes where you see see how Bashir is a smooth operator. Spittin' some lines and getting the ladies.

I digress.

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What best way to undercut Bashir's arrogance and, hopefully, lead to a meaningful transformation as a character? Have this man's consciousness hijacked by an even more intelligent (and dastardly) individual named Rao Vantika who is willing to kill to stay alive. How well does the episode execute this? Not effectively I'm afraid. How can a man be transformed if he is unaware that he is a pawn in another player's game? There are no moments where we see Bashir puzzle out/explain away certain atypical behavior. Does he wake up and wonder how did he get somewhere while Vantika used his body to attack Quark? This is a route left unexplored.

Ultimately, the big reveal is underwhelming. I figured it was Bashir-turned-Vantika the minute he attacked Quark. Although we don't see him, there is no mistaking Bashir's whispered voice. Bashir has a distinct way of speaking that really can't be masked even if whispered. Perhaps it would have been more effective if Vantika spoke in his native Kobliad language. That would have given the reveal a lot more pop.

The episode attempts to conjure up some secondary conflict between Chief of Station Security Odo and the new Starfleet Security Chief Commander Pimmin. The tension exists all of five minutes before its resolved and Odo and Pimmin are okay. Why even bring this up then?

The episode is neatly tied up in 43 minutes and ends how it began about Bashir. He articulates humiliation but I couldn't help but wonder how are you really humiliated? This person did evil things unbeknownst to you. Or is it possible your arrogance to help a man that you were warned was extremely dangerous is what you bothers you. The emotional work wasn't there to lead to a substantive character transformation.

 

 

One Month In: A Retrospective on an Archives Career

Today, October 11th, marks my one-month anniversary in my new job in Michigan. This anniversary made me think back on my career thus far.

Six years. That is how long I have been in this archives game. In six years, I have held 4 jobs and all but one of them (this current one) in government. If you do the math, that averages about to 1.5 years at each job. Actually, my track record is more close to two years.

My first job was a one year processing gig out in a remote part of California. It was a culture shock. I hated it…for about the first 3-5 months I was there. I didn’t hate the job. I hated being so isolated. So far away. Most of my family was on the East Coast. To visit them was a costly, time sucker of a journey. I saw beautiful natural wonders and met some great folks but I resolved that I would never live on the west coast.

27 year old me working on archives stuff at my processing job at Death Valley National Park.

27 year old me working on archives stuff at my processing job at Death Valley National Park.

My second job came about, I think, because of the first job. I used my time wisely and got my resume critiqued. I left that one year processing job with a well-written, tailored resume for federal government service. From 2012-2015, I worked for the National Archives at Philadelphia. For the bulk of that time, I loved that job. It was everything I had been working toward.

Why hello? I didn't see you standing there. Pose for a picture? Sure! This is from my time as an archivist (technically archives tech) at NARA.

Why hello? I didn't see you standing there. Pose for a picture? Sure! This is from my time as an archivist (technically archives tech) at NARA.

I declared in graduate school that I would work for the National Archives and I did. From the west coast to the Northeast, I fell in love with Philadelphia. I made great friends there. I came into my own there. My archives career was firing on all cylinders. I attribute my current professional network (on Twitter and LinkedIn) to my time there.

2014 was when things started to change. A series of bureaucratic decisions removed the rose-colored glasses from my eyes and I was no longer in love with NARA. That’s what happens when you idealize something. It is earth-shattering when it reveals itself to be less than what you imagined.

I took stock of my life professionally and decided I needed a change. Leaving Philadelphia and the life I had developed was…painful. More painful than I cared to admit.

That was when I started to hate saying goodbye.

I like to think that I’m not done with Philadelphia, that we are taking a break for a few years. Who knows what the future holds?

I did an about face and embraced archival outreach. That led me to my third job. It’s funny. When you think you want something, get it, and then realize it’s not what you wanted. It’s demanding in a different kind of way.

Oh that's just me hanging out in the Texas Senate floor showing senators a handwritten copy of the Texas Declaration of Independence as one does. 

Oh that's just me hanging out in the Texas Senate floor showing senators a handwritten copy of the Texas Declaration of Independence as one does. 

I’m a people-liking introvert but being “on” all the time was exhausting. Physically and emotionally exhausting. To be that outgoing person more than 50% of the time can grate even on the most social of introverts (or even ambiverts for that matter). I traded outreach for archives and I found I didn’t like the exchange.

I was at my best when I married the two: archives and outreach. To conduct outreach without the deep, cultivated, intuitive understanding of the archival collections felt odd. I felt like an imposter.

I changed courses.

That’s something that people don’t really talk about. We talk about career changes. Going from one career to an entirely different one. But there is something to be had about being in a career, exploring one facet of it only to realize, nope, that’s not for me. Then you have to shift gears.

After all, these are still people, institutions, etc that you will still interact with but you just changed your mind.

I’m fortunate to be in the profession that I’m in where I can do that. I can change courses and not burn bridges, especially if the course change is handled properly.

My course change led me to my fourth (and current) job. For the first time, I’m in a non-government job. I’m also back in the archives as an archivist but this time I’m a manager.

Say what now?

Six years ago, hell three years ago, I loathed the idea of being a manager. A supervisor. Getting pulled into the administrative pit that comes with being a manager. However, one thing my career has shown me is that, in order to change institutions, you have to be willing to adapt.

You have to be willing to lead instead of follow.

The jury is still out on my love of budgets and strategic planning but what is nice is having a seat at the table. To speak and have others listen. To make decisions, fight for them, and (sometimes) actually win them.

I don’t know what the future holds for me at this job, in Detroit, or wherever the wind takes me. All I do know is that I’m gearing up for greatness and I’m embracing it.

After all, I did say I wanted to be Archivist of the United States. ;)

David Ferriero, current Archivist of the United States, and I at a NAGARA conference in Austin, Texas. You feel pretty cool (and humbled) when the AOTUS knows who you are before you can introduce yourself.

David Ferriero, current Archivist of the United States, and I at a NAGARA conference in Austin, Texas. You feel pretty cool (and humbled) when the AOTUS knows who you are before you can introduce yourself.

 

 

Deep Space Nine Review: Dax (S1E08)

Original Air date: February 14, 1993

This is the first Dax-centric episode so far and, I gotta say, Dax is one of the more interesting characters on Deep Space Nine, outside of Sisko. As I rewatched this episode as well as work on the write up, I realized that this is a very female-driven episode that incidientially aired on Valentine's Day. Not only that, there was the undercurrent of love throughout this episode.

Jadzia Dax is a Trill and host to the Dax symbiont. She is an intelligent, hardworking 27 year old woman. Unfortunately, she is being charged with a 30 year old murder. Correction, the previous host Curzon Dax is being charged but he is dead. The Dax symbiont is alive and well in Jadzia. So, that begs the question, is she morally and legally culpable of a crime she did not commit but a previous host did? That's the question being explored. 

Jadzia is one of three female figures the show pivots around. Let's discuss them further.

Jadzia Dax

The frustrating aspect of this entire episode is that Jadzia is passive. She doesn't say much to defend herself either publicly during the trial or in private with Sisko. I feel Sisko's frustration but for different reasons. He sees his old friend Curzon and not the woman before him. I see, instead, a woman who holds the answers to her own defense but not saying anything. Ultimately, I get her reasons for doing so (love - after all, it is Valentine's Day) but I'm upset that we don't get to learn from Jadzia what it means to be a host or Trill. Everything we learn, we learn from others and during the course of the trial. This is the one time, thus far in season 1, where Jadzia could express her intellect but her character is cut off at the knees.

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Enina Tandro

She is a widow to a "hero" and carrying the burden of two big secrets: her affair and her husband's betrayal. Unlike Jadzia, her silence is born out of societal expectation. This is her status: to carry on the memory of her dead husband in a country obsessed with glorifying him.  I can't help but think of the weight of that on her shoulders. How it must gnaw on her. Where Jadzia does not assert her power, Enina does. At the end of the episode, she decides to reveal the truth. Curzon did not murder her husband because he was in bed with her. *shocking* She reclaims to an extent who she is. Her story. She was in love with a man that was not her husband and she will no longer carry that secret. I found it interesting that she only revealed one of her bigger secrets. She is a tragic hero. She is falling on the proverbial sword and having her reputation sullied. Is it because in some way she wants to still protect her husband's memory OR, much more realistically, she knows her people don't want to hear it. To believe that the man they worshiped as a hero actually betrayed his people? I like to believe its the latter but I can't help but shake my head at what life will be like for her now that the secret is out.

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Judge Renora

Although a minor character, Judge Renora, the Bajoran arbitrator holds a lot of power. She is the lone voice that will decide if Jadzia is culpable for murder and can be extradited back to Klaestron IV. Unlike Jadzia and Enina, Renora is a different sort of woman. First, she is much older than those two characters and that gives her a kind of "I don't give a fuck" attitude when it comes to the pontificating and grandstanding during the trial. Present her with the basic facts, your defense, your rebuttal and let's keep it moving. Even with Enina sweeping in to reveal the truth, its up to Renora to still cast a judgement. 

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Overall, I thought this was a good episode. It is the first one out of the season I distinctly remember from my childhood.. When I saw it was next up, I settled in for a good show.

 

 

The Future is Black: Musings on the origin of my SciFi/Fantasy love

My first introduction to science fiction & fantasy came from the library and Star Wars. During my childhood, whole Saturdays were spent at the library. One day, I ventured over to the adult section (seriously, they had their own room) and peeped their VHS collection. I flipped through and saw Star Wars. I wasn't familiar with it so I rented all three movies. I consumed them in one day. In one sitting.

My love of scifi would have ended right there. 

Then my mom introduced me to Star Trek universe, Commander-then-Captain Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Seeing a black person in space and in charge was mind-boggling. Someone who has the same skin tone as me in space. From there, my mom introduced me to The Original Series and the lovely Lieutenant Uhura. My world was shaken. These were my people. To this day, I ride for Star Trek all day. Every day.

2014 will forever be known as the year I met Nichelle Nichols. Beautiful spirit who I was absolutely speechless to meet. 

2014 will forever be known as the year I met Nichelle Nichols. Beautiful spirit who I was absolutely speechless to meet. 

Rather than pontificate, I want to provide a list of the black characters that got me hooked on shows that, frankly, I wouldn't have watched otherwise. It was seeing black faces, black women especially, that gave me a glimpse of black people in science fiction & fantasy.

Storm from X-Men

Storm could fly. She was wise. She could control the motherfucking weather! I got hooked on to her because of the cartoon show but then quickly branched out into the comic books. I even had the four limited edition Storm comic books (before my dad threw them away). She was the reason I even got into comic books. At least twice a month, I would hit up the comic book store in the mall to buy whatever X-Men comic book I could get. 

Aisha from The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers

Aisha was my girl. She was a badass and rocked those braids like the queen that she was. Admittedly, I was in to the Yellow Ranger with Trini (RIP __) but I kept up with the show when they introduced Aisha. I even went and saw the movie when it came out. And real talk, can't NOBODY tell me that Aisha and Zack (the Black Ranger) didn't have a thing going on. 

Vanessa from Space Above and Beyond

Vanessa was smart with a little dash of shyness. I could relate to her because I was her minus the degree in nuclear physics and petite frame. I was known as the smart kid in class but also the one that was occasionally overlooked. I would have loved to see a romantic relationship develop for Vanessa during the show but alas that didn't happen.

Gina Torres in pretty much everything (Firefly, Hercules: The Legendary Adventures, Cleopatra 2525)

I mean, have you seen Gina Torres? Have you seen her act? What is not to love. She stays playing the badass. What made her such a stand out for me, in Firefly and Hercules, is that she was a woman in love. She was cherished. She was coveted by one man. Just seeing a black woman in a relationship nourished my spirit.

Kendra Young from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I watched Buffy but I didn't really sit up and pay attention until Kendra was introduced as a slayer. It still bugs the hell out of me that she got taken out so quickly on the show. She really could have been something. *shakes fist at Joss Whedon*

Martha Jones from Doctor Who

*sigh* I'm happy and not happy about Martha Jones. First, she exposed me to the wonderful universe of Doctor Who which, to be honest, was barely a blip on my radar. Second, she was the rebound for the Doctor after he lost Rose. Rather than be the brilliant M.D. that she was her love for the Doctor was a one-sided affair. If I saw that open mouthed lip quiver one more time, I was ready to go off. 

Bill Potts from Doctor Who

Bill reinvigorated my love of the Whoverse after the Clara years. I'm not #TeamClara so there was a significant wane in my Doctor Who interest. When I found out that Bill would be queer and black, I was there for it. Bill was quirky and loved her deceased mom dearly. These were things I could relate to.

Raquel from Crazyheads

First, how can you not love Susan Wokomoa? Seriously. I was browsing on Netflix for something to watch and came across this show. I ended up watching it one sitting. I literally stopped everything I was doing that Saturday to watch all the episodes. Raquel was vulnerable, powerful, offbeat, and sarcastic.

Naomi from The Expanse

I started watching for Naomi and stayed Krisjen (my girl), the amazing story, and production value. My love of Naomi ebbed and flowed but its due in part because she is presented as a flawed individual. I may not always agree with her decisions but she is 100% the reason I even gave this show a chance.

I'm sure I'm leaving others off the list but as you can see my love of science fiction is rooted in blackness, specifically black women. 

MECCAcon & Doris, a space western comic book

After two plus years of writer's block, the fog was lifted and I was ready to right again. My next foray into the writing world: an untitled space western staring an all-black, all-female cast. If we go by buzzwords: afrofuturistic feminist space western. Imagine my surprise to learn about an upcoming comic book convention hosted at the Detroit Public Library.

On Saturday, September 16, I checked out the Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and the Arts (aka MECCAcon). It was great to see so many black creatives in one space. One person in particular I was glad to meet was Matt Thornton. 

Like me, Thornton was working on a space western comic book titled Doris. With the little cash I had (he wasn't set up for credit card, yet), I purchased it for $5.

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The quality of the comic book feels top notch. I remember when comic books were flimsier but Thornton's has a slight weight to it. It's printed on better quality paper. A slight gloss to the pages really makes the colors pop on the page.

From the showdown in the saloon to the gunslinger-esque character that is Chief Inspector Stonewall, Thornton's comic book felt like I was reading a western. The titular character Doris is a combination bad ass and caring individual. Y'know the beginnings of a three-dimensional person which tends to be lacking for black characters, especially black women in mainstream pop culture and the arts.

My only gripe is that Doris is too short. Thornton piqued my interest and now I want to know more. This world that Thornton sketches out is fascinating. Animals that we take for granted are walking, talking people.

  • How are ducks and bears walking around?
  • What exactly did Stonewall see in the underground bunker?
  • How will Doris and Pau get out alive?
  • Will Doris ever finish her story? The one she was so keen on sharing at the beginning.

The questions are there now I just have to wait for Thornton to deliver on them. 

(As of September 25, Thornton's website emskriptarts.com is currently down but he can be reached via email at emskriptarts@gmail.com if you'd like your own copy of Doris.)

 

Deep Space Nine Review: Q-Less (S1E06)

Original Air Date: February 7, 1993

In this sixth installment, we are settling into life on Deep Space Nine. However, we are quickly reminded that this series is set within a larger Star Trek universe. It coexists in the same timeline as Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is exemplified in the presence of Vash, an archeologist and profiteer, and Q, an omnipotent and godlike being. It is Chief Miles O’Brien that connects the dots for viewers that may not be familiar these TNG characters.

Vash and Q.jpg

During the episode, Vash is interested in selling some Gamma Quadrant artifacts and ending her relationship/travels with Q. She is in a unique position as she is one of the first known explorer of the Gamma Quadrant. She spent significant time there because of her travels with Q. It’s never explicitly stated but we can surmise that they had a semi-romantic relationship. At the same time, mysterious power drains threaten the station. It is easy to point the blame at Q as the mastermind behind the drains, even Captain Sisko jumps to the conclusion. As life support systems are being compromised, it is discovered that a seemingly benign artifact is instead a sentient being from the Gamma Quadrant.

Now, let’s talk about Q. He represents the brazen arrogance that is toxic white male privilege. The way he talks to and treats people drips with condescension and disdain. People exist to entertain him and keep him company as long as he requires it. Vash bears the brunt of this toxic white male privilege as he goes to such lengths as inflicting her momentarily with a debilitating disease to persuade her to stay with him. It may be downplayed a bit but this is a toxic, abusive relationship with an all-powerful being. Think about it, he entices her with the promises of visiting wonderful, exotic worlds. But, woe to her if she decides to leave him! How is that not abusive? To her credit, Vash insists, demands, and ignores Q’s antics to the best of her ability. To that I say, you go girl! Stay away from your abuser.

Sisko and Q.jpg

If we add the race dynamic, I cannot help but draw parallels with Sisko’s encounter with Q versus Picard’s in The Next Generation. Picard is ever the statesman. He tries through negotiations, communication, and understanding to get Q to be better than he is. If Q represents toxic white male privilege, Picard represents the more paternalistic, benevolent form. It does not mean that Q does not aggravate him rather Picard takes a more diplomatic approach whenever possible. Sisko, as a black man, is having none of it. None of it. His irritation with Q is immediate. When the opportunity presents itself, when Q manipulates reality on the promenade, Sisko seizes the moment and socks Q right in the jaw. That right jab will get ‘em every time. The first words Q utters is “Picard never hit me.” Right there, the line is drawn in the sand: Sisko is not Picard. He ain’t even trying to be. Whereas Picard as the benevolent white male that he is tries to find common ground with Q, Sisko, as that punch indicated, is not the one. He punched Q as if to say:

Not today Satan.jpg

I couldn’t help but be satisfied. That moment sealed for me why I’ve always liked and admired Captain Benjamin Sisko. He is not a man to be trifled with or manipulated. He is most sincerely not Jean-Luc Picard. That moment, out of any thus far, sealed for me that Sisko is a different kind of captain. He is the type of captain you don’t want to push around because he will push back.

The Promised Land?

The Promised Land?

The books of Isaiah and Joshua pivot around this idea of the promised land. This future time when things will be different. Both are filled with hope. Hope in God that He’s got the children of Israel even when they mess up.

Their reality, on the other hand, is different. In Isaiah’s case, Israel is doing everything but honoring God. They rely on other nations to protect them. Eventually, they will experience Babylonian captivity in which they will be taken far from their homeland, enslaved, and scattered. In Joshua, the children of Israel come out of 40 years in the wilderness. God sets before them the task to reclaim the land. The occupied land.

It’s interesting I read these books (finished Isaiah and five chapters into Joshua) at this point in my life. I have the hope of a brighter day. The future time in which the things God has placed in my heart will come to pass. But, my reality is far different. I don’t feel any closer to the things I’ve long desired and prayed for.

And yet, God tells me they are mine to have if only I believe.

Belief is hard, y’all. Real hard. Any Christian that tells you otherwise is full of shit.

What ends up happen is that I allow the obstacles, the challenges, the future hope to become bigger than God. The underlying thread in all of this: my life, Isaiah, and Joshua is faith in God. God can and will do the impossible for your sake but, most importantly, for his glory.

In all that I encounter, do I call on him when things are going bad?

Or, when things are going well?

Am I remembering him in the middle of my struggles and triumphs?

That’s the question that all who profess to believe should be asking ourselves. Can I trust in God when my circumstances, while not terrible, say otherwise? Are contrary to what I think they should be or God declared they would be?

Would Moses and the Israelites left Egypt if they had known beforehand that they would travel in the wilderness for 40 years or that the majority of them would not experience it? That’s the rub. I think if we are really honest with ourselves if God told me exactly what was ahead of me, the troubles I would face, the people I would love and leave, I know I wouldn’t have the strength to walk his path.

But, when I’ve trusted in him and did the scary thing, I have known such peace and joy. Joy when I experience the sweetness of God. That feeling of total and complete satisfaction even if momentarily (that human doubt creeps up with a quickness).

You will reach the promised land, my friend.

Only believe.

 

Intentional Unemployment: Deciding to leave and face the unknown

It wasn't one thing.

One central cause that led to me deciding to leave my job, leave Austin, and come back to Georgia. One thing was clear: I wasn't happy. And, I hadn't been happy for quite some time.

This writing isn't where I'm going to unpack why I left but rather document when I knew it was time, what this choice looked like, and what it means now about one month out.

When I knew

Before I dive in, I'll offer this post as some explanation of the general mood I was in. When I knew came in late May. A Sunday. I hopped on Twitter shortly after waking up to catch up on what I had missed. I came across a Twitter thread from Jarrett Drake (@jmddrake). Now, Jarrett and I have never met. We only know of each other through Twitter. However, he quickly became one of the archivists I admired.

He tweeted two things that resonated with me. First:

"All this to say: sometimes what hold us back is an item (or a person, or job) that we've convinced ourselves we need."

My heart pounded in my chest. I remember sitting up. Feeling like someone had exposed the essential struggle within myself. Did I really need the things I needed?

Then he tweeted later on in the thread:

"Ditch that car. Ditch that person. Ditch that job. Get ya freedom papers. Get ya Legsus. Get ya SEPTA bus tokens. Get ya walking shoes."

Freedom, Freedom from these prevailing feelings. This ennui. This angst. I was scared.

I sent a text to my friend. My best friend. My mirror. The one person I can trust to keep it 100, 100% of the time. I told her the one thing I buried deep within myself.

I texted simply: I want to quit my job and leave Austin.

Now to text Stephanie means you might wait days for a response. She leads a busy life. I had accepted this fact. However, on this day, on this Sunday morning, she responded within five minutes.

"It makes sense to me."

What happened next was a flurry of text messages and a cold dose of reality from Stephanie. Failing and struggling is a possibility if I do this but she reminded me of something.

"What I'm saying is you'll live and you will thrive."

She pointed to all the times I've struggled. Struggle, especially financial, was not a foreign concept to me. If anything, that struggle shaped me into the strong, ambitious person she knows and loves.

After our exchange, I was feeling everything: angsty, fearful, and also relief. I had finally admitted out loud the thing I spent some time emotionally burying.

I prayed at that moment. I laid my heart completely bare. I told Him that I wanted to go.

"So go," He replied back.

What this choice looked like

Just because I was resolved to this course of action, doesn't mean it was without fear. Stephanie gave me a simple directive: don't tell others. Why you might ask? Because well-meaning people can undermine, intentionally or unintentionally, the things you resolve to do. 

For a time, I did. What happened, however, is that anxiousness walked with me. It felt as if there was a giant sign over my head that flashed:

ASHLEY HAS A SECRET. ASHLEY IS QUITTING HER JOB!

It led to a fitful night sleep. Jumpiness around the people I cared about. Being guarded. I talked myself out of it. I talked myself back into it. But then, I would remember that moment of peace when I had initially decided. I held on to that. It wasn't an aberration. It was freedom.

I broke down and told a friend. And then I told another. 

All of them. Every last one of them responded positively. Confirmation, as I saw it, from the God that this was the right decision.

But when? When would I actually do it? When would I put in my notice? The time, conveniently, presented itself. The anxiety ratcheted up. I prayed like I haven't prayed in a long time. Give me the words to say. Don't let me chicken out.

Then the day arrived.

It was the calmest I've ever been up to this point in my life. No jitters. No pounding heart. No flop sweat. No dry mouth. My boss correctly guessed before I said the words. What followed was one of the best, most honest conversations I've had with a boss. I really couldn't have asked for a better moment.

That is when it became real. I was doing this. This was a path I had chosen.

What it means now

That is still being determined. It's weird to be a lady of leisure again, which ironically is happening almost five years when I first was a lady of leisure on the job hunt

I'm back in Georgia spending time with my family, occupying my time with reading and nephew duty.

One thing I know for sure is that there is more on the horizon. New places to explore. New people to meet. Georgia may be home but its not where I'll say. 

God didn't bring me this far just to peace out on me now.

Trust and believe.

 

 

On My Shelf: Racism

I’d like to thank #Slatespeak for making me realize the problem in the church. I expressed my feelings/frustrations on this topic on this post. I put out the call for some literature delving into this topic when an archivist friend at a religious archive recommended this book. (see below).

The first chapter alone had me feeling all sorts of things. All. The. Things. I look forward to sharing my thoughts further once I finish reading it.

I’m exploring the idea of doing seasonal reading. By that I mean, dedicating a season to reading a certain genre, author, or topic. For fall, I want to read bell hooks. I read Teaching to Transgress a couple of months ago and I remember thinking “I love this woman.” I want to read as much of her writing as possible.

A friend gifted me with a Barnes & Nobles gift card that led to this purchase. I was originally looking for a different book by bell hooks but I decided to read the Introduction to get a sense of the content. True to form, hooks sucked me right in. I guess you could say I decided to read it hook (😉) , line, and sinker.

Excerpts from my memoir: Hair, part 3

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.

The slow path to reclaiming my hair: Haircuts

Fast forwarding about six years, I’m 17, overweight, nerdy, and still very quiet.  Also, I still didn’t know what to do with my hair.  What I did know is that I couldn’t cut it.  That was unspeakable.  Instead, I wore my hair in a pony tail.  All day. Every day.  I’m a ridiculously observant person so it didn’t take too long for me to notice that my hair was damaged, badly.  My hair was breaking at the point where I put my scrunchie.  After talking to my friends and various people, I realized I needed to get a haircut.  Insert dun-Dun-DUN clip (Oh this is a book and I can’t do that? Oops)

My mom wasn’t exactly distraught but she wasn’t happy either at the idea of me cutting my beautiful hair.  I opted to go to a local barbershop because a.) I was paying for it myself and b.) I didn’t want to spend hours to get it done.  So my mom took me to Sam’s Barbershop.  

All those ideas you have about an old-school barbershop run by a wise, endearing older black man were rolled up into Sam’s.  Sam was tall (not taller than Benny), light skin with caramel colored skin, a small salt-n-pepper frow.  Sam was funny but in a straight man kind of way.  He could through a clever one-liner with the best of them.  He was the only barber in a two-sitter salon.  He had snack machine and he sold soft drinks out of a cooler.  But, the piece de resistance was he owned a table top Pac Man.  This was heads and shoulders better than anything Benny offered!

The most important thing about Sam was that he had no great love or admiration of hair.  He wasn’t a stylist.  He was a barber.  He didn’t bat an eye when I sat down in his chair.  I look my hair out of my pony tell and told him exactly where I wanted him to cut.  

“Even it out?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Even it out.” Fifteen minutes later, my hair was 4 inches shoulder and barely tickled my chin.  

Everyone’s reaction to my drastic hair cut was varying shades of disapproval.  What had I done? My hair was so long and pretty?  Admittedly, it took me a couple of days to grapple with the fact I had done it.  For the first time, in my entire life, my hair was short and I made the decision to do it.  After all, I was starting to realize.  It’s just hair.

 

Excerpts from my memoir: Hair, part 2

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.

Is it stinging?: My first relaxer (and the ones after that)

To be honest, I remember bits and pieces of my first relaxer experience.  What I do remember is being dropped off by my mom at Ms. Angie’s house.  She was boisterous, petite, rocked a gold front tooth, had three kids, and ran a daycare out of her house.  She lived up the street from us but my mom dropped me off to get my hair done while she ran errands.    

There were kids everywhere.  Running in the house, out the house.  I remember the torture of having to sit still while Ms. Angie combed my hair and piled white goop on top of it. After that, the waiting began.  Ms. Angie told me in her quick, untraceable accent that I should, and I quote, ‘Let her know when my hair starts stinging.’  I remember thinking, what does that mean? My hair is going to sting.  What will that feel like?

It felt like an eternity in kid time.  Everyone else got to play but I couldn’t.  I had to wait.  Wait for what, I didn’t know.

Ms. Angie would yell at the kids and every now and then she punctuated her yelling with a ‘Is it stringin’?” in my direction.  I would shake my head and continue to wait.  This faint itching feeling started to grow.  I didn’t think anything of it so I didn’t say anything.

After some time, perhaps 20 minutes later, Ms. Angie started to get worried.  

‘Is it stingin’’ she asked again.  I shook my head.

‘It’s not stingin’ but my head itches,’ I quietly told her.  

She grabbed my arm so fast and it was off to the kitchen sink to get the white goop washed out.  The whole time she chastised me for not telling her sooner.  I remember at the time thinking, “my head wasn’t stinging. It was itchy.”

For whatever reason, I’m not really sure why, I walked home.  This was the era of responsible, lack of parental supervision.  Your parents gave you general rules like, telling them which friend’s house are you going to or coming home before the streetlights come on.  Any kid will tell you though, things happen.  You may start at so-and-so’s house but you didn’t always stay there.  Like the time I briefly “went missing” because I made a new friend, a little blonde, white girl who’s parents had a trampoline.  I mean, YES PLEASE!  I was only 4 houses down from my house but my mom didn’t know that.  She had some words for me when she found me.    

I digress.

I still remember the kids, young and old, and the adults reactions to seeing my freshly relaxed hair.  I could be wrong but my hair at the time was dangerously hovering in the mid-back range

My life as I knew it changed.

Sophomore year of college, about 2004-2005. At this point, I fully embraced relaxers. Note by best friend peeking out from behind me. :) 

Sophomore year of college, about 2004-2005. At this point, I fully embraced relaxers. Note by best friend peeking out from behind me. :) 

Every couple of weeks, usually before some big event like Easter or Christmas, I had to spend my Saturday mornings in the beauty shop.  I had graduated from Ms. Angie’s box relaxer that you could buy for $8-12 dollars to a professional styling.  Not only that, I had to get up at an ungodly time of 8 a.m. to get to Benny’s hair salon.  Why? My mom wanted to avoid the rush.  

Sometimes she sat with me but most times she left me to wait.  Now, before you go and shake your head at my mom’s parental skills, in her defense, Benny’s salon was a short gravel parking lot away from her job at a daycare.  The daycare would occasionally be open on Saturdays and my mom would use those opportunities to schlep me along to get my hair relaxed.

At this point in my life, I must have been about 10-11 years old.  I would flip through outdated hair magazines showing black hair models with fingerwaves, curls, dye jobs, you name it.  I watched with ridiculous fascination as Benny chain-smoked, debated some soap opera tidbit, and flat-ironed a woman’s hair at. the same. time.  Benny was a tall, choclolatey brown, black man with a medium build.  He wore his hair in a small fro while he relaxed, washed, and dyed countless black women’s hair.  His salon was in a shopping plaza, if that’s what you called it.  In reality, it looked like any other non-descript, gray, cinderblock building with a painted red, white and blue sign above the door, easily seen from the street.

The one thing I didn’t like about Benny is that he loved to talk.  And sometime, heaven forbid, he would try to coax me into conversation.   I mean, I’m a kid.  He’s an adult.  In my quiet kid mind, I’m thinking what do we have to talk about and please, please, please don’t talk to me.  I would breathe a silence sigh of relief when someone else would come into the salon.

When Benny moved his salon to a single-family house, our business went with him.  I dreaded when my mom would say it was time for a relaxer.  That meant I would spend 8 a.m. to noon (sometimes until 1 p.m.) at the hair salon.  

Now you’re probably thinking, what the devil? Four to five hours in the salon?! If Benny had done my hair from start to finish the whole thing would probably have taken an hour and a half.  But, that’s not how it went.  Things I learned: my hair takes forever to dry, Benny likes to take a lot of smoke breaks, he loses track of time, but, to my extreme annoyance, he would work on other people’s hair.  

The only downside, you know besides the whole four hour hair session, was that his clientele were older women.  I’m talking 65+ easily.  You know how I know? Because he would always style my hair as if I were an octogenarian.  And, most of those ladies, liked their hair styled like the women you see in 1930s and 1940s.  To some of you, you’re probably thinking that sounds lovely because that type of hairstyle is sooo in right now.  Trust me.  In the mid-1990s, southern Georgia, and a black girl to that, trust me.  That was not cute.

Whether I liked to admit it or not, Benny was a big part of my childhood and my understanding of my hair.  I still remember how women pointed when they saw my ‘good hair.’  It seemed like Benny got the proximity fame.  He got to talk about my hair to other people.  How good it was.  How thick and healthy.  It was something to be admired.

I’m not entirely sure of what happened to Benny.  I don’t exactly go home anymore.  I heard that business wasn’t going so well so he started working at Wal-Mart part-time.  He still ran his hair salon on the side.  Then, he either hit his head or had a stroke but he had to have emergency brain surgery.  He recovered but I’m not sure to what extent.  That’s the last I heard of him.  On the off chance you read this, I love you Benny!

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.