Promised Land Revisited

I've been searching for a long time. Feeling as if I've been wandering in the wilderness (thankfully not 40 years). And yet, recently, I've hit upon an important decision about my life and everything has clicked into place. What was now restlessness is replaced with hopeful anticipation. You can say this is part two of my Promised Land post.

Is that what if felt like for the Israelites standing on the precipice of immense change. It is for this reason I decided to read Deuteronomy. It's a snapshot of my life right now.

Now let's hit pause:

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Moses is not my favorite of the men in the bible. He comes off very blame-shifty. "But God it isn't my fault." Thankfully, there isn't a ton of that in Deuteronomy. While we're at it, the patriarchy and genocide is rampant. There were times I stopped reading to say WTF, God? That's a separate post for another time.

Deuteronomy hits on a central theme of stepping into your promise as God has declared it over your life. Some of us are still seeking it. Others know what it is but, like me, find yourself running from it. But in both instances, you're left feeling restless. It's the undercurrent in your life. Sure, things, people, and circumstances will distract you for a time - days, weeks, even years - but it's like a mosquito buzzing in your ear.

This book of the bible is all about preparing you for stepping into that promised land. It's a reflection of where you are and where you've been. It's a corrective calling your attention to where you've messed up and it reflects promise. It pivots around a basic and yet profound statement:

Trust and obey God

Trust that he's got you like he has before.

Obey what he tells you to do and when to do it.

Trust when it doesn't make sense.

Obey when you don't want to.

Trust when you're scared.

Obey even when it's hard.

And friends, it is hard. It's hard to recognize when there are limits to your power. That ultimately, it's in God's hands. It is hard when you want to do and God clearly says "no" or "wait."

But he doesn't leave you twisting in the wind. He validates his promise. It can come from any direction, any person, or circumstance. A reminder that he is here. My validations have come from people I know and strangers. To have a stranger speak to you exactly what God spoke to you and then that person float out of your life leaves you SHOOK.

To be clear, the promised land does not mean you won't have to do the work. God, through Moses, told them what lay ahead of them. The people they would encounter and overcome in order to gain what God promised.

My journey into the promised land, the fullness of God's promise, won't be easy but neither will yours. He makes no such promise. He does let you know that if you trust and obey him, he'll prepare your way. That nothing and no one will stand long against you. 

But you've got to show up and do the work.

Decolonize Your Mind

I love bell hooks. I love the way she thinks and writes ever since reading her book Teaching To Transgress. My reading of the book coincided with my reading of Teaching with Primary Sources from the Society of American Archivists, in which I wrote a blog post. From that auspicious beginning, I read Killing Rage: Ending Racism and Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. A recurrent theme of hooks’ is “decolonize your mind.” Her work, in many ways, validated my experience as a black woman but it also cast a critical lens on this life I live. White supremacy is a helluva drug and I’m realizing that it’s a drug I have steadily consumed for 33 years.

Point of clarification, before proceeding further, I am writing from a black, cis-het, female perspective. I’m writing for minority audiences, specifically black people. Decolonizing our minds is a concept we must begin to grapple with as a community. For white readers, since this is public, I challenge you to read thoughtfully and thoroughly as I hope you too will learn something from this writing. But know this isn't a space to hear how you feel or what you think.

Let’s take it back (for those who know this, indulge me)

Scientific racism (aka race biology) was pseudoscience promulgated as scientific fact by Europeans (read: white) to study biological differences. Not so coincidental is that this type of “scientific study” popped up as soon as Europeans expanded beyond their borders to conquer and colonize the world. They encountered people different than them. So they treated the people they encountered as specimens to be studied, put on display, and bodies to be dissected. They defined progress and culture on their terms and any civilization or peoples not up to that level were regarded as inferior. Heathens. They studied the skulls of Africans, Asians, etc and developed theories to back up these racist ideas of their superiority and the inferiority of “the other.” Some of the top (white) thinkers of the day believed this bullshit such as Thomas Jefferson.

In turn, these beliefs laid the foundation for justifying slavery in the United States, apartheid in South Africa, and even the Eugenics movement which advocated selective breeding and compulsory sterilization. This movement in particular was popular in the 20th century and can be seen in the Nazi Germany regime.

I write this for context. In a video, anti-racism activist Jane Elliott (known for her Blue/Brown eye experiment) put it succinctly, “we started out as one human race but then we were divided into categories.” From that European-created division, they demarcated who was superior and who was inferior. Guess who was at the top? Their shitty “science” was a mask to cover up their sins of racism and colonization. These beliefs accepted as fact.

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In the case of American black people, we supposedly felt less pain, are predisposed to hard labor, and intellectually inferior. Slap on the yoke of slavery, the white conversation shifted to slavery being good for us. In fact, the best thing to happen to us as a people because it got us out of “dirty, filthy Africa.” Because we were regarded as lesser, families could be broken up and black women raped because we were lower life forms. The desire for freedom, kinship, and education were regarded and treated by white enslavers as a mental disorder. Something was wrong with us because we wanted to be free. The powerful yearning for freedom led to uprisings and revolts which tacked on a fear among whites. This led to policing black bodies and an unease of too many black people gathered together, especially black men. With the American Civil War and Reconstruction, black people were free….but not really. Now, because we expected more and didn’t want to work for free, we were called lazy (actually enslaved people were called lazy throughout slavery). U.S. Freedmen Bureau records, a short-lived government agency established during Reconstruction, are replete with letters and other documents of white people complaining about the laziness of black people, their former slaves. Or, black people, men in particular being arrested for “loitering.” Now prisons became the new plantation.

Do you see the pervasiveness of white supremacy? Do you see how its seeped in? Do you see in the history how those words and actions are parroted now?

White supremacy is codified in the DNA of white people and accepted as fact, even among white people who profess to be liberal. They have breathed it in from birth. (Side note: for white readers here is a great Twitter thread on white fragility and white supremacy)

It’s easy to point the finger at white people but now let’s shift to the heart of this essay. Black people, we have not escaped unscathed. White supremacy is the poison and we have drunk from the same water.

White supremacy is most apparent in the stanning and policing of each other based on white supremacist standards and defense mechanisms.

It is embedded in the ongoing conversation of colorism where lighter skin is regarded as beautiful and aspirational. Darker skin regarded as ugly. This has led to generations of infighting amongst us and self-hatred. I see it on social media as dark-skinned black people, more often black women, are fighting to be heard and included (see pretty much any tweet by @IWriteAllDay_). It is present in the favoritism parents, family, and society give to the lighter-toned among us. It is in the family members that tell you not to play in the sun too much or, as they warn, you’ll get “too dark.” It is to be asked, as a black woman, if you are mixed or biracial because the only accounting for your beauty is if your blackness is diluted. (I shit you not, I had a 30ish black man ask me this because he couldn’t believe that my curly hair came from having two fully black parents.)

It is in the black police officers who participate or turn a blind eye in the “extreme policing” of black lives. The most recent example is the image of black police officers violently dispersing protests after Chicago barber Harith Augustus was killed. They are steeped in white supremacy where black (and brown) lives are suspect and must be policed.

It is present in violence that we, as black people, perpetuate on other people of color. We accept the white supremacist view of difference and spread its toxic out. See this story.

It is commenting and policing each other’s hair and then claiming it was a joke.

It is weaponizing Chicago and other economically-depressed areas as an example of crab mentality without educating ourselves on the systemic issues in that area and the work of folks on the ground.

It is the easy acceptance of white allies who show an elementary grasp of basic human decency. (You don’t deserve a cookie or an invite to the cookout because you recognize that black people are people.)

It is tearing each other down by holding each other to this (invisible) white supremacist standard.

And when this behavior is called out, it is met with scorn, dismissal, and a refusal to see an alternative point of view. Sound familiar?

The thing is white supremacy and those who uphold it will always try to move the goal post of acceptance. Keep it just outside of black reach.

To decolonize our minds, means to be cognizant of and examine our responses to things internal and external to us. Is the thought or action rooted in policing black behavior and and bodies? For example, I had to confront my unease regarding groups of black men. One Saturday morning, I glanced out my 2nd story window to see on the street corner three men, ranging in age from 20-40ish. I stopped and watched them. An unease creeping in me. They chatted, laughed, and went their separate ways. It was then I realized they were just a group of guys talking but why did I feel so uneasy at the sight of them. I sat with that feeling for days. I realized that because of white supremacist culture, I had viewed them with suspicious, with fear.  I assumed them guilty of something or up to no good based on NO evidence.

I’ve had many a moment where I had to grapple with my reaction and thoughts to things. To find myself ready to police another black person’s behavior or words when they were merely pointing out the problem. It means learning and educating myself about black history, black intellectual thought and black feminism, to understand how much of white supremacy I have consumed.

Know that to walk this path of decolonization will open you up to a world that you cannot unknown. To see how problematic you are, your family is, or your friends.

If we want to create a world beyond white supremacy, we have to grapple as a people, as a community, with the damage it has wrought on each other and our psyche. If we don’t, we risk replicating this world, these systems, in the next iteration.

To be truly free, we must decolonize our minds. It is imperative.


 

A History Lover's Lament: TV Show fuckups

TV writers from NBC to ABC to AMC to Netflix gather in a small conference room awash in shades of calming blue. Some are seated. Most are standing shifting from one foot to another. Silence settles over the group as I stand up. A wry chuckle escapes my lips. My gaze shifts to the pack of Newport 100s in my hand. Ripping the plastic off, I open the pack and slide out one cigarette while looking at them. My unblinking, piercing stare unnerves them. The corners of my mouth flick upward. I like it. I drink in their nervousness.

I take a long drag from my cigarette reflexively closing my eyes. I gently push out the nicotine air. My eyes open once most of the smoke starts to dissipate. Now is the time I open my mouth to say why I gathered them. Why they are standing here?

If you’re not going to study fucking history, don’t write it.

After finishing Season 2 of Anne With an E, I felt annoyed. I took to Twitter and wrote the following tweet:

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My main grievance was the modernization of a historical show. I acknowledge that the show is a work of fiction. However, it draws from history and a very real place: Prince Edward Island, specifically in the 1900s. The first season was solid. The writers utilized our expansive knowledge of the effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder to flesh out Anne Shirley. While her fortunes may have changed, at the heart, she was a 13 year old orphan who had a traumatic childhood. That does not simply go away. A moment conjures up painful memories of abuse in the orphanage at the hands of the other children and foster parents.

Anne is not the only character explored with greater depth. Over the course of Season 1 and Season 2, the show spends considerable time fleshing out brother-sister duo Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Theirs is a story of familial grief, resilience, and hopes deferred. Who could they have been had their older brother Michael not died? His death was a tremendous impact that obliterated their family.

It is through Anne’s experience that the lens expands to touch on the social mores of 1900s rural Canada. Avonlea, for all its homespun, lighthearted glory, is a close-minded, deeply conservative town. Despite being a child, Anne is regarded as defective, troublesome, and broken. From Marilla’s childhood friend Rachel Lynde to the good minister, they are all too eager to believe the worst of her and to shun her. Much of the show consists of Anne having to prove herself worthy, in some way, to this town.

Taking all of the Season 1 groundwork into consideration, the show (and its writers) blow all of that up in Season 2. On the pillars of race and sexuality, the show makes a bungled foray into historical territory that exists on the margins. This is tackled through the introduction of Sebastian (aka Bash), a Trinidadian man, Cole, an artistic Avonlea farm boy, and Josephine Barry, a wealthy relative of the Barry family.

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In the case of Bash, the show relied on obvious racial discomfort and shock of seeing a black man and overt racism. It is then we learn, interestingly, that black people do live in an area called "The Bog." The Bog is referred derisively by white characters as a place for “criminals and the wretches of society.” Yet, that is not what Bash experiences. In this space, Bash finds rest from the white gaze and enjoys kinship. Season 1 demonstrated that Anne, a white female orphan had to prove herself over and over to these judgmental townies that, despite what they thought, she was good. Bash does not follow a similar trajectory. He is, more or less, accepted.

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Then there is Cole who is relentlessly bullied by an asshole kid Billy and often scolded by his teacher, Mr. Phillips, who struggles with being gay as well. On the show, being gay is demonstrated as being artistic and a preference for hanging with the girls instead of the boys. When he reveals his sexuality to Anne, he finds acceptance. When his world comes crashing down and everything ripped away from him, he finds a solution. He gets his happy ending no matter how implausible.

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Josephine Barry, given what little we know of her financial background other than “well off,” likely lives a life slightly truer to history. With money, she can go to Paris and have extravagant parties. Essentially, live her life out loud. Yet, it circles back to whether or not she would have been ostracized by her family, specifically her relatives in provincial Avonlea.

All of these questions swirl around these characters and yet none tackled to any sufficient degree. This show did not shy away from showing the harsher aspects of life in regards to Anne. However, when they introduce characters of color and queer people, suddenly, their experience is different, better. Warm and inviting. A modern corrective on a likely abysmal but historical experience. Frankly, these characters are written as white, male characters where bad things happen to them but they still win out in the end. Historically, when you exist on the margins, a true happy ending was the exception not the rule.

Yet, when I pull back the curtain, the treatment of history among TV shows is wanting. As a student of history, I cannot suspend my disbelief and gloss over historical experiences. From the practically nonexistent sexism and racism toward Betsy, a black female sex worker in Damnation to the problematic, sloppy Season 2 of Underground, television writers have demonstrated they take too much creative license and paint history with a modern lens. Try as I might I still give them a chance.

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Only one show succeeded in creating a nuanced take on history and that’s AMC’s Hell on Wheels. It is a masterful study of an interesting time in America’s history beginning soon after the Civil War. This show depicted the realities of life not only in that time but in general. A perfect happy ending is rare but you can still find a good ending. I did not watch the show much after its second season. I tuned out when the protagonist made a choice that was far afield of his character. I could not believe everything that resulted from that decision. That colossal mistake aside, the show kept me captivated. Underground started out on that trajectory and then bungled the play in the second season. I stuck with it but left underwhelmed.


 

A Statement

Upset by the state of this country, I took to Facebook to post the following statement:

"As a student of history, these unfolding events are eerily similar to post-Reconstruction era and the rise of fascism in the 1920s. I do not rattle easily friends and I am rattled.

[Speaking to the silent Trump supporters on my friends list]

If you voted for this man, feel no remorse for what havoc he is causing (separating families, lying, possibly colluding with Russia) nor protesting or resisting in some form or fashion, simply, we cannot be friends. Remove me from your friends list.

Your actions and continued support of this man means your compassion ends at your own humanity at the expense of others. Nothing I say will change that because I, in your eyes, deep down, am not deemed worthy of compassion.

If you proclaim to be a believer, then I give you over to God because I cannot.

I don’t have the time nor the inclination to teach (or show) you the error of your ways not when others and myself are fighting for our right to live and thrive in this country. My efforts are best spent elsewhere. To lift each other up. To console one another. To live to see another day."

 

 

 

These Podcasts give Me Life

#1

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Amanda Seales is that friend who is knowledgeable and spits straight fire with her “gem droppin’” and “clapbacks.” Some of you may know her as bougie Tiffany on HBO’s Insecure or the woman who clapped back at a clueless (and privileged) Caitlyn Jenner (I’m not hostile. I’m passionate). In reality, she has been in the showbiz game for a hot minute all the way back to those Nickelodeon days on “My Brother and Me.”

Favorite episode to-date is Side Effects of Fuckboys. You know an episode is fire when you have to stop, rewind, listen to it again, stop, then call your best friend like “giiiiiiirrrrrl.”

#2

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Prepare to blush and *ahem* feel some things. This podcast is for those who thirst (aka the latest term for crush) on the cuties. What I love about hosts, Nichole Perkins and Bim Adewunmi, is that take a holistic view of their thirst objects aka male celebrities. They examine not only their physical attributes but their body of work and their humanitarian efforts. This is a cis-het gendered show from the perspective of two black cishet women.

You must stay for the drabbles, 100 word write up where Nichole and Bim flex their creative writing talents. An incredible drabble will illicit a combination of a clap and a whispered hiss ‘bitch.’ My favorite drabble read thus far is “Old Baes of Hollywood” featuring the delectable Paul Newman, my first celebrity thirst.

Honorable Mentions (aka I dip in and out)

 Somewhat inconsistent episode schedule + deep look into current affairs (I need a break from our current political dumpster fire). I did enjoy their episode on Jordan Peele's Get Out.

Somewhat inconsistent episode schedule + deep look into current affairs (I need a break from our current political dumpster fire). I did enjoy their episode on Jordan Peele's Get Out.

 On hiatus as the hosts contend with major life issues. I hope it comes back but I understand if it doesn't. Much love to them both.

On hiatus as the hosts contend with major life issues. I hope it comes back but I understand if it doesn't. Much love to them both.

 Pulls heavily from current affairs. Favorite episode was their discussion of Black Panther.

Pulls heavily from current affairs. Favorite episode was their discussion of Black Panther.