Eyes Wide Open

This summer was difficult for me. Painful, in fact. For the first time in 38 years, some dramatic life events happened which caused me to face the fact that I had created a reality for myself, which was neither realistic nor sustainable. A harsh truth to come to terms with, but deep, thoughtful introspection made me realize that I had created a fictionalized world filled with unrealistic expectations to make up for the disappointment that had long characterized my childhood and adulthood. I was aspiring for the perfect marriage, perfect friendships and perfect career; largely because I felt so imperfect inside. But the fantasy was slowly caving in on itself until I had no choice but to face it head on- eyes wide open.

I think I had this realization in late August. Sometime after the bottom dropped out. My relationships were suffering. Things were rough at home. A good friend that I’d known for over twenty years and a close relative that I relied heavily on for moral support both suddenly stopped talking to me. I began to feel restless at work. I started questioning the meaning of life and realized that I was experiencing more than just a midlife crisis come early.

The signs were everywhere. My head throbbed and my inner voice shouted loudly but I had trouble deciphering the message. But there was no clearer sign then when I was at my weekly healing circle and randomly chose three cards from a soul coaching deck. The first card I pulled was “Awakening.” The card said: “I am joyously awake and aware… and ready for anything.”

The second card read, “Joy.” The third card read, “Adventure.”  

The message suddenly became crystal clear. Opening my eyes fully and seeing what was in front of me would lead me to find joy, which in turn would bring wonderful new experiences.

I promised the universe and, more importantly myself, in that moment that I would no longer go through life with the blinders that had protected me for so long. The blinders gave me the illusion of safety and were my default modus operandi but they were really preventing me from seeing not just reality but the humanity and imperfection in myself and the people around me.

As painful as reality is, it can also be a catalyst for growth and change.

It was time to wake up. Like Laurence Fishburne’s character, Dap, at the end of the movie School Daze, every fiber of my being was yelling at me to “WAKE UP!”

My memory flashed back to years ago when I had my cowrie shells read and the reader told me that my eyes weren’t open and that I refused to see the truth about what was in front of me.

Suddenly, I detected a theme in my life. One that I was apparently blissfully unaware of or chose to ignore. One that may have temporarily felt safe but was also no longer serving me.

I began with small changes. I was overwhelmed with the idea of changing my life dramatically but I knew that I could do a few things here and there to find joy and adventure.

I found my way back to dancing tango after almost a decade away. It has been pure bliss. And unlike my first time around, this time the classes have other Black women in them. Of all shapes and sizes. I feel like I’ve finally found a dance home.

A good friend sent me a meditation app for my phone and I began a daily meditation practice. The meditation serves as reminder to keep breathing and stay calm. For the first time in my adult life, I have been able to deal with certain conflicts that deeply trigger me without flying into a rage and becoming unhinged.

I got brave enough to commit more fully to my desire to give up eating meat and have started experimenting with cooking vegetarian options through Green Chef. I still hope someday to become a full vegetarian. Aside from the good I think it will do in the world, it also feels better for my body. And, at this point in my life, it feels important for me to make choices that honor my physical and emotional well-being.

Most importantly, I have begun to see the world as it really is. I have finally begun to acknowledge the pain I feel from disappointing interactions and relationships with intimate partners, friends, family members and colleagues without trying to transform it or creating a fantasy to wish it away or make myself feel better. I sit with the pain now and don’t judge it or myself for feeling it. I make an effort to feel it like I feel joy. I practice giving voice to it. I also practice letting it go.

Last week, I randomly happened across a horoscope for myself and have been repeating the words ever since. They are exactly what I need to anchor my awakening in this moment.

In part, it read: “With this new moon, I cast spells of psychological well-being by refusing to reject any part of myself, no matter how fearsome, powerful or intense. I do not turn away from myself. I cast spells that help me to create healthy boundaries in all the relationships that I share my energy in. I cast spells that help me to hear my own needs more clearly and to tend to them more carefully.”

After 38 years, I have finally abandoned the fantasy in my head for reality- in all its messy complication. I am proceeding through life eyes wide open. I am ready to be awake and even more ready for the joy and adventure that await me.






No Country for Black Women

I started writing this last month when I realized that I’d become obsessed with OJ Simpson. Of course, it feels like great irony that a show centered on a Black man would make me start thinking about Black women. Perhaps its because I felt the absence of the presence of Black women so strongly in his story. Or maybe it’s that, more often than not, we have so very few spaces and places where our lives and experiences get centered.

If Black women aren’t actively advocating for Black women, no one is. While we labor with all our heart, spirit and soul and give our bodies and children to the movement for racial justice, our community seems to have forgotten us. We are forced to choose being race women over being black and women often allowing the pain of our sons, brothers, husbands and uncles to be centered before our own.

And while we take feminism to new heights, coining terms like womanism and embodying a politic that is about freeing the collective (not just the individual), it also appears that women’s rights advocates often leave us to fend for ourselves.

So it was in that spirit that while I binged watched the TV and documentary series, it occurred to me how incredibly selfish OJ is for looking out for himself and only himself at all times.

As I voraciously consumed the story of his life, I kept thinking about one singular theme that stood out to me. It didn’t really have to do with OJ but very much mirrored my lived experience as a Black woman.

“There is no place anywhere on Earth that a Black woman gets to transcend her blackness or be anything other than Black.”

This one thought captivated my attention.  And while it may be an obvious one to a number of women much wiser than I, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I talked about it at length with my husband. I talked about it with my girlfriends. I talked about it with anyone who watched the series. I talked about it with my therapist.

Interestingly, before I could even finish this essay, it was reaffirmed this week as I heard the news about Leslie Jones and her experience with racist trolls on Twitter.

A talented Black woman, making strides in her profession and coming off the heels of a successful opening of a high grossing feature film does not get to transcend blackness or be anything other than Black.

To give some context to this permeating thought, I confess that I was fascinated (and slightly repulsed) by the idea that OJ could somehow manage to remove race as a factor in his life so that he could thrive in a world full of white people. While I felt myself judging him more after each episode, I also had to admit that I immediately understood his motivations. As I routinely experience the physical, emotional and mental manifestations of racism and white supremacy, at various times and with increasing frequency, my thoughts have pondered what the world would be like for me if I were not a Black woman. Of course, I have always known that erasing my blackness was never actually an option. So I watched the shows with a morbid curiosity about how OJ was able to do it himself.

“For us, OJ was colorless… OJ portrayed success.”—Zoey Tur in O.J.: Made in America

Both the series and the documentary took different approaches to what is essentially the same thing. As an athlete at a predominately (if not nearly all) white institution in the mid to late 1960s, OJ seemed to know that his success on the football field would only get him but so far. He was aware that his social capital and success off the field would come from his relationships with whites. This was long before the days that Black boys/men actually learned to navigate their blackness around whites in a way that made them “the cool black kid with swag” that white men would strive to emulate or at the very least, befriend. OJ strategically chose to make himself seem as close to white as possible; something that led to his overwhelming popularity, corporate business success, a lavish lifestyle and access to several white women for decades.

“I’m not Black… I’m O.J.”—O.J. Simpson

As someone who has spent much of her life navigating being black in predominately white spaces, being seen as colorless has never been an option that was afforded to me, and one that I suspect never will be.  And to be clear- it’s not something that I’ve ever aspired to. But in my youth and naiveté, I had a very simplistic view of the world. Even though I clearly knew what racism was and I’d often experienced it, the love in my heart and the desire to live as an independent person judged by her thoughts and deeds, prevented me from fully comprehending how damaging racism was to my well being. I strove to excel so as to compensate for how I knew people were judging me based on my skin color. I was the gregarious, good-natured friend of color in a group full of white friends. I was polite to teachers and smiled when they remarked how articulate and smart I was. I impressed my friend’s parents with my knowledge of history and a curiosity about their Italian/Polish/Irish heritage. I got good grades and was college bound. But no matter how many white friends I had, no matter who I dated, no matter which elite schools I was accepted into, I was always seen as black. I was never racially transcendent. I was always “othered.” I was always reminded of my blackness.

As a young teenage girl first starting to date, I particularly felt the sting of being othered when I went out with Brian and then later, Chris, two white males from a local Catholic all boys high school that was the brother school to my Catholic all girls high school. When it was discovered that I had gone out with each of them (a year or so apart), both of their parents actually grounded them and forbade them to go out with me. Punishment was preferable to risking the confusion, shame and embarrassment that came with a white son in an interracial relationship.

I am and have always been seen as Black. A Black woman at that. The lowest possible position one can hold on the social totem pole.

No matter the good grades. No matter the degrees. No matter the jobs and prestige that I would go on to get. No matter the good person I am inside. No matter the shitty person I am inside. 

But watching OJ’s story made me realize that white folks can and do bestow the title of "colorless" onto Black men; specifically when it suits them.

Michael Jackson, Barack Obama, OJ, Muhammad Ali, Prince. All of them have been regarded as racially transcendent at some point. Which usually means that white people were willing to grant “safe passage” to them in their world when they have some exceptional talent or ability that white people enjoy or benefit from. Transcending race is largely based in performativity. It requires blacks to perform a task or feat (like music, sports, art etc.) that is pleasing to whites and, in OJ’s case, also requires the performance of whiteness- a willingness to construct an identity that appears racially neutral or white like.

But like I’ve proclaimed earlier, there is no place anywhere on Earth that a Black woman gets to transcend her blackness or be anything other than Black.

So all of this has been on mind for several weeks now and came to head this week when I learned that Leslie Jones actually quit Twitter for a few days because of all the racial harassment she received after the premier of Ghostbusters.

Seriously. She makes a hit movie and spends the days after its premiere fending off racist assholes who had nothing better to do then send her pictures of apes and pictures of herself with semen on her face. 

Can a sister get a damn break?

I’m not even really a huge fan of Leslie or her comedy. For me, its always felt too much like performance; specifically, the performance of blackness mostly for the white gaze. She often plays boisterous, loud and stereotypical characters and while it used to really annoy me, I now feel differently about it. I actually feel sad. I think about the little Black girl inside of Leslie, with dreams similar to mine, with a naiveté and desire to be an independent person who is judged by her talent and deeds and not by her color. Trying to make it in a business that, even when people are not supposed to judged on their looks, is harsh to Black women. And when I read the pain in Leslie’s tweets to her vicious, violent harassers, I have more appreciation for her journey and her lived experience navigating the world as a tall, fuller figured, darker skinned black woman. I want to hug her and tell her that I understand.

Leslie wouldn’t be the first comic who built a brand around how society viewed them in stereotypes. Remember Chris Farley? He consistently made reference to his being overweight and often did skits on SNL where is he showing his stomach and being laughed at. Roseanne Barr built an entire series on her brand in the 90s, which featured her as the wife in a working class, blue-collar family that made light of redneck jokes. Margaret Cho also had a series (which notably did not last long) that played on first generation Asian children assimilating to American culture to the horror of their parents. I’m guessing that comedy, much like writing, is about telling the story that you know. So I see Leslie as channeling the pain of being a dark-skinned, Black woman in society into something tenable for a laugh. It isn’t new. And in fact, it’s what Black people and other people of color have been doing for generations for our resilience. If we laugh hard, we forget to cry. I always think of Dave Chappelle as a master comedian who did this incredibly well. At the end of one of the skits, “The Niggar Family” in his (way too short lived) show, he looks directly into the camera, laughs hysterically and says “Oh Lord, this racism is killing me inside!”

This racism is killing me inside.

 So as I think about this week and the madness of the RNC convention and the blatant racism permeating every part of the event, the indefensible defense of Melania Trump for a speech we know she plagiarized (or at the very least “borrowed liberally”) from, and the silence in the mainstream media about Leslie's harassment; I am reminded that she faces the real life consequences of being a black woman, trying to forge ahead and be successful in a very racist society. Even with a hit movie, black women don’t get the benefit of pulling an OJ and becoming colorless or post racial, we can never hide from racism or white supremacy; no matter how successful, smart or awesome we are.

And I keep coming back to the singular thought that captivated me during the OJ series.

There is no place anywhere on Earth that a Black woman gets to transcend her blackness or be anything other than Black.

 There is literally no country for Black women.

Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live

Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live