A Message For the Movement

To say that May 25, 2020, is a date that has astronomically shaken the world would be understating the intensity of what we are experiencing in our communities. At this very moment, protests are happening across the country and for good reason. George Floyd was murdered in cold blood, in broad daylight by Minnesota policeman, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin held his knee to the left side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. In a video that has been widely circulated on social media, you can hear him repeating “Please”, “I can’t breathe”, and “Don’t kill me”. It’s a scene that I can barely watch without my heart sinking.

The four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd have all been terminated. One of them has been charged with murder in the third degree. With the evidence being crystal clear, why is it taking so long to get justice? The number of Black men and women that have lost their lives due to police brutality continues to climb at an alarming rate. People of all colors are taking to the streets to declare, once again, that BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Tony L. Clark holds a photo of George Floyd outside the Cup Food convenience store on May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis.Jerry Holt / Star Tribune via AP

Since the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, we have been demanding justice. I still feel angry when I think about George Zimmerman still walking freely as if he didn’t senselessly murder an innocent teenager. The movement continues to live on despite other murders of Black men and women. Momentum has been building and tensions have been rising over the last eight years. Protesting and rioting is a result of decades-long abuse, violence, and inequality.

We are an uprooted race that this country had to be “creative” with eradicating. How do you dispose of people who have no home to return to? Think systemic racism affecting employment, mass incarceration, Black women being 2 to 6 times more likely to die in childbirth, gentrification, the list goes on. The dehumanization of Black people has reached its apex and WE. ARE. TIRED.

Speaking of tired, the “All Lives Matter” rebuttal is WRONG and also very annoying. All lives matter, but the lives we are focusing on at the moment are BLACK. If you or someone you know is saying this or putting it on a sign, t-shirt, button, etc. please stop them immediately. It’s possible to stand up for a specific cause/race of people without harming or not caring for another. Because we declare “Black lives matter”, it doesn’t imply that other lives don’t.

Police officers walk enveloped by tear gas in Portland, Ore., on Friday. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian/AP)

We are aware that white lives matter. It’s been obvious for decades. Blue lives matter because they can kill you with impunity. If you’re arguing against the Black Lives Matter movement, you are ignorant to these obvious facts or intentionally arguing in bad faith. People are angry because their voices are not being heard. Some of the stories of these victims have been shrouded in silence. The system being protested has yet to deliver justice.

If you are not Black and have Black friends, check on them. Listen to them and be present. Arm yourselves with the knowledge of our issues to fight against your peers and their ignorance. We need it right now more than you know.

Everyone, PLEASE be safe. We are still going through a pandemic. I don’t want to see more of us die for the cause. Mask up, make sure you practice social distancing, and wash/sanitize your hands regularly. I hope we can all find some peace in these times. 2020 has been exhausting and draining on so many levels so let’s look out for each other as best as we can!

#MeToo

Every morning I wake up to the news. It’s difficult not to begin my day without Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Michael Strahan and the rest of the “Good Morning America” family. I wouldn’t describe myself as a “news junkie” yet I still find it important to stay abreast on current events. Between our local news stations in Oklahoma City and the reports coming in from around the world, there are certain stories that stick with you. Amidst the deadly hurricanes and intractable wildfires (my thoughts and prayers are with the victims), the exposing of Hollywood film producer and movie magnate, Harvey Weinstein, and his history of sexual abuse have me reeling.

Some of Hollywood’s most revered actresses have gone public accusing Weinstein of sexual assault. Social media has erupted with think-pieces and emotional confessions from sexual assault victims using the tending topic “#MeToo”, a campaign started by Youth activist Tarana Burke in 2007. America Ferrara, Gabrielle Union, Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie and a host of other A-List actresses have broken their silence on sexual abuse and the effect it has on women and children. These revelations are so powerful and inspiring that I’m seeing stories shared from friends and family on Facebook.

img_1653-1
Actress and author, Gabrielle Union, has been transparent about surviing sexaul abuse. She shares this and more in her book “We’re Going To Need More Wine“.

The stories being revealed by sexual assault survivors about their abusers are harrowing. Ever since the scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein came to light, the floor for this conversation has been opened. Many women, and men, have been shamed or threatened into keeping a secret that they don’t want to keep. Sexual abuse, assault and exploitation happen every day to people of all ages, races, and gender. According to Twitter, the #MeToo hashtag has been used over 825,000 times since Sunday.

Sunday, Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted:

a4s_milano101717a_20187749_8col

She couldn’t have been more right. The confessions haven’t ceased since. When I’m listening to the radio, it’s the first topic of conversation. Have we looked over sexual abuse for so long that we’ve turned a blind eye and ear to it?

Sexual violence is an epidemic we must take more earnestly as a society. Acknowledging and understanding sexual assault is the first step toward working to end it. The list of effects of sexual violence has on a survivor are endless. We can advance towards a future where this reality ceases to be. Our community’s ethical/moral principles should be evolving toward paying growing attention to the emotional aftereffects of all sexual encounters.

Mental Health and the Black Community

The topic of mental health as it pertains to Black people is one that is rarely discussed. I needed to conduct some research prior to writing this to further educate myself on the matter. Over the years, I have had family and friends suffering from a mental illness that they weren’t aware of. It wasn’t always discussed openly amongst family. After perusing multiple articles, my eyes were opened to a bevy of information.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Service, African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic Whites. Life-altering events like the death of a loved one, illness; and “psycho-social” issues such as unemployment, crime in our communities, and racism just to name a few, contribute to psychological distress. With everything going on in our world today, just imagine how many of us are suffering mentally. A lot of us are suffering in silence because of how we were raised. In some cases, we don’t feel comfortable disclosing how we’re feeling because we don’t want to hear “just pray about it” or “you just need to man up”.

Everyday we’re losing people due to suicide because they don’t know what else to do. By not investing in our mental health and the mental health of those closest to us, we do ourselves a great disservice.  The topic of mental health in regards to Black people is so taboo and the stigma is damaging.

A piece in Ebony magazineA piece in Ebony magazine featured Simone Sneed, Director of Development and External Affairs for Inwood House. Sneed has also suffered from bipolar disorder. She considers herself “episode free, med-free and hospital free for over three years”. In the piece she credited her mother with investing in her mental health. What stood out to me was what she said about why the Black community approaches mental health the way we do:

“Historically, African Americans have normalized our own suffering. During slavery, mental illness often resulted in a more inhumane lifestyle including frequent beatings and abuse, which forced many slaves to hide their issues. Over time, strength became equated with survival and weakness (including mental illness) meant you might not survive.”

I have heard this before and it still makes me shiver when I think about it. What our ancestors endured all of those years ago has evolved into a self-harming way of thinking. As a strong and resilient people, we have to learn how to lean on each other more. Having a mental illness is not a weakness. If you or someone you know feels like they need to seek professional help, don’t take it lightly or be embarrassed. This is not a “White person’s disease”, it affects us all.  We are entitled to our feelings, good and bad. No one’s feelings are invalid. We must address this issue head on and end the stigma of mental illness.

Back To School Encouragement

I remember my first days of school like yesterday. The most vivid is the year I went to sixth grade. Everything had to be prefect; my haircut had to be fresh, my school uniform needed to be clean and crispy, I was so serious, I even needed my school supplies to be top notch. Although none of this kept me from being bullied for the gaps in my teeth and not having facial hair, I still managed to be one of the coolest kids in school.

Sixth grade was a turning point for me socially. Here I was, this eleven year old kid who didn’t feel like a kid anymore. This was my first step into adulthood (or so I thought.) I remember feeling like one of the “big kids”. I wasn’t in elementary school anymore. Middle school was a Rite of Passage for kids at my school. Most of us had been there since Pre-K. Since I was a third grade import, I was always a target for bullying. By sixth grade, I had made my mark. No more bullying, no more confusion as to what my place was in the grade school food chain, I had finally made it.

My only trouble was, I was so busy keeping up with my peers that I failed to keep up with my studies. I was an extremely smart kid. I had some trouble in math but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. When I was in 1st grade I was reading at an eighth grade level. But being a smart kid didn’t make me cool.

Everyone else was goofing off so, of course, I went along with it. I skipped class and tormented substitute teachers, pulled girls by their ponytails and bullied the weaker species of children. I was a riot. My friends loved it, my teachers hated it, and my mom was stressed out. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I started taking my education seriously (that lasted until sophomore year of college, but that’s another story for another time.)

There are a lot of children going back to school today and I’m sharing this story to let them know that it’s okay to be smart. Don’t be ashamed of your desire to learn. Let the talents and skill that you possess grow without hindrance. Think of yourself as a seed. The more water you consume, the more you’ll flourish. Allow yourself to grow and don’t let the other seeds in the garden block your sunlight. That incredible genius inside of you is ready to thrive. The athlete that you want to be is restless and ready to get out there and impress everyone.

There will be some distractions but the more you focus on the positive things, the better off you will be in the future. The same people who bullied me for being a “dork” are the same people who want to work with me now because I’m great at what I do. I didn’t make all of the right decisions to get here, but I made it. You can do the same, but you have people like me who learned the hard way so you don’t have to. Be smart, be fearless, and always be amazing; because that’s exactly what you are.

Cultural Appropriation Crash Course

I’m not someone who takes offense easily, but when I do, I get pretty pissed off about it. I watched a video posted by sixteen-year old Amandla Stenberg about culture appropriation. “Culture Approriation” is defined as the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture. Basically, it’s when White people put dreads in their hair without understanding the cultural representation of them.

Watch this video that Amandla posted. She can explain it better than I can:

The question at the end of this video has haunted me since I first heard it.

“What would America be like, if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”

Amandla has faced some backlash. (Mostly from people missing the point altogether.) This girl is not stirring up the pot, but rather pointing out black culture. I am also thrown off when I see people who aren’t Black exhibiting Black culture as a fashion statement, but dismiss the social ills coming from that culture. Don’t get me wrong: I love LEARNING from other cultures. But you won’t catch me wearing a bindi, commercial use of Kente cloth or using Chinese characters without respecting the history behind it. It’s cultural appropriation when the culture is watered down, commercialized, and used in a comical manner. Period.

Now before you all start flooding my comments, let me make this clear; This cultural appropriation is not just about Black hair, style, music, etc. It’s about understanding and respecting the culture behind it. I have seen so many people miss the point entirely because their ignorance won’t allow them to see the bigger picture.  It’s not simply about culture, it’s also about the race of the people behind the culture. We’re not just talking about Black people, but people of all races.

Respect the culture, respect the race of people it comes from and treat them like human beings. We have much to learn from each other if we could stop the hate and ignorance we constantly display against on another.