All Things Considered

All Things Considered

Oh, hey there…thanks for stopping by!

I realize it’s been seven months since my last post. But honestly, I’ve just been trying to keep my shit together; navigating life during a pandemic while the country was reaching extinction under the rule of a wanna-be autocrat and his equally vile sycophants in Congress.

Which means occasionally battling bouts of cabin fever and crippling depression, while finding pockets of joy-inducing moments like zoom meditations, and phone calls with my family and friends and celebrating milestones like being in my apartment for two years and being happily single and celibate for three. And when I wasn’t taking the capabilities of my eyesight and body for granted by spending hours looking at spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks and Word docs on decreasing hours of sleep — powered by granola bars, trail mix and green tea — to keep the aforementioned apartment, I was rage-posting relatable missives on social media and reminding everyone I know about voting in every election happening in 2020. And then Clubhouse happened.

So, for what it’s worth…I’m fucking tired.

Somewhere around December — either just after my birthday or just before Christmas — I crashed like a laptop during mercury retrograde. I’d wrapped all my work projects for the year, and all I wanted, and desperately needed, was a vacation. I wanted to spend Christmas in Philly with my family, and fly someplace warm and ring in the New Year by an ocean or in New Orleans or ANYWHERE.

But the way my bank account and this pandemic is set up, the most exotic place I was going was Trader Joe’s.

So I spent Christmas day doing laundry and wiping down the blinds in my bedroom until a video of my cousin in Philly getting engaged arrived in my phone and prompted me to burst into tears. (Yes, of course I finished the blinds. I just needed a moment!) Days later, I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to stand in line — in the freezing rain — at CityMD for an hour to get my nose swabbed so I could adhere to the stringent-yet-practical guidelines my friend had for a small group of us to finally put 2020 to rest, nail the casket shut and shoot it with fire arrows, before welcoming the year 2021 with cautious optimism.

You could imagine the shock and awe that it failed to come in as peacefully as we’d hoped…

On the 6th day of this new year, I watched with bloodshot eyes (the side-effect of constantly refreshing the results of the Georgia runoffs until the wee hours) as a bunch of unhinged, mostly white, mostly bigoted, all grossly misinformed and badly-intentioned people stormed the United States Capitol. Just typing that sentence is surreal to me. And what I saw in those terrifying hours was more punctuated by what I didn’t see.

I didn’t see aggressive cops ramming through crowds with theirs shields or their vehicles. I didn’t see heavy usage of tear gas, rubber bullets, or excessive force with batons. I didn’t see military-grade weapons on the side protecting the elected officials. I saw them on the “rioters,” who also had zip-ties, maps of the building and carried flags bearing allegiance to the confederacy and the man who ostensibly should’ve been removed from the presidency many crimes ago who egged them on.

Then I saw most of them go home…safely. Then I watched over the course of the days and weeks that followed as politicians and pundits who perpetuated the lies that fueled the insurrection played duck-and-cover all over the news cycle and social media and then double-down on their deadly and divisive stances. Then I watched them blame Black Lives Matter and incredulously attempt to equate people protesting the death, brutality and biased treatment of people of color, to people who want to continue that behavior without consequences and profit in the process.

Now, I’m a New Yorker in my mid-forties, so I’ve seen and lived through a lot of shit. But this was next level insane. And I wish that that’s where the crazy ended.

And yet…here we are…three weeks later…and not only did that psychopath get to serve out the remainder of his term, he still has the unwavering support of millions of people — including many members of congress who have no intentions of holding him or themselves accountable for nearly killing their colleagues. EVEN AFTER A YEAR OF LETTING A DEADLY VIRUS RUN AMOK TO THE DETRIMENT OF LOSING NEARLY HALF A MILLION AMERICAN LIVES AND COUNTLESS JOBS, LIVELIHOODS AND A SOLID ECONOMIC STANDING.

More sentences I can’t believe I’m writing.

And while last week’s inauguration and the actions that have followed from the new administration has given me a hope that has sorely been removed these past four years, I’m armed with the trauma of knowing history, and having had personal experience with entitled and abusive narcissists. As long as they have enablers and continue to go without punishment or accountability…history is doomed to repeat itself.

And that gives me a feeling directly in conflict with hope. It gives me the kind of rage that would put me on a watch list just for having these thoughts while Black.

And it makes me think of my ancestors before me, who were forced to accept the terms of terrorists or meet violent fates. And then I think of the people who live in countries ruled by actual dictators in real time, and try to tell myself that we got off easy, for now, and should breathe a sigh of relief that it could’ve been worse.

But none of that thinking sits right.

I think, no, I know, from experience that this all just feels like one day you’ll show up to a family gathering and be urged to “be nice” to the cousin who raped you when you were four. Or your friend’s party, where the ex who nearly strangled the life out of you wants to chat about your dead father and the whereabouts of the military jacket he was hoping to get from him. Or the other ex who also raped you, ignored your needs and called you names insisting on being friends. (Obviously, “you” is me, and all of these things actually happened in real life, so I’m absolutely projecting because there is literally no fucking difference between these scenarios and what’s being asked of us right now by the folks calling for “unity.”)

And I get it: It’s not easy unlearning beliefs you’ve been ingrained with since birth. It must feel like something is being stripped away from your identity, your legacy and your personal capital when people you don’t identify with insist they are entitled to the same benefits you’ve enjoyed for centuries. It must be confusing when those same people ask to be treated with respect, but other actors from their group berate your culture, assume you’re lacking in various skill-sets and emotional intelligence based on the color of your skin and/or because of how and where you were raised, instead of getting to know you and take an opportunity to learn that you have shared values. It must be even more frustrating when those same cultures are so brazenly proud of their own history and achievements to the point where you feel threatened their traditions and accomplishments will outshine yours and push them to the brink of obscurity. It’s scary stuff.

See what I did there?

As much as I’d love for Joe and Kamala and their beautiful rainbow administration to save us, I’m all too painfully aware that it ain’t gonna happen until we’re ready to save ourselves. That we’re all firmly ensconced in both physical and metaphorical bubbles makes the task just a skosh more difficult to take on. We can’t even agree to collectively wear masks and keep each other out of harm’s way for the sake of our loved ones. Asking us to give up our way of life and step — no, leap — out of our comfort zones to establish collective understanding, compassion and healthy, mutually beneficial outcomes is a bridge too far.

…Or is it?

All I know right now is I miss hugs, my family, live music, losing my breath and myself in beautiful art and moments, dancing with friends and strangers and getting plastered after drinking fruity cocktails all day at all-inclusive resorts in the caribbean and chatting up folks from all over the globe. Perhaps it’s selfish of me to think like this in the grand scheme of things, but I really have lost all the fucks and a number of family members along the way to this cruel and unnecessary plague.

So forgive me if I don’t harp on the gratitude I have for the time I’ve had to dabble in recipes, introspection, self-employment and horticulture.

I’ve been doing that for 10 months.

Let me have this.

Please.

The Year of Magical Negro Thinking

The Year of Magical Negro Thinking

My first cognizant brush with racism happened when I was fifteen years old.

And it was traumatic AF.

I was visiting my father in Pennsylvania that summer, where he’d been living the past few years after taking a job at the federal prison in Wayne County.

We’d driven to a local supermarket to pick up groceries and supplies. Dad had already entered the store, and began darting through the aisles on his mission by the time I’d left the car and walked inside. It was at that moment that a hush suddenly fell over the checkout area, all activity at all of the counters had ceased, and everyone on the lines along with the cashiers were now staring in my direction. Because this was a new sensation, it took some seconds to register what was happening. Once it did, I ran to find my father, begged him to give me the keys to the car so I could sit in it while he shopped, and urged him to hurry out of the store.

Having grown up in the segregated south, dad’s first instinct was to brush off my nervous pleas and continue on his business as if nothing was amiss. But I knew differently. I’d felt it in those tense few seconds of cold stares that things wouldn’t be okay.

In the weeks and months that followed, my father, a man who was thought to be hispanic by his white colleagues and neighbors because of his fair skin and dark, curly, slicked-back hair, began to have his house vandalized. He’d casually reveal this during our phone calls, and without missing a beat would assure me everything was alright to ease my panic.

Eventually, graffiti on his house and debris on his land escalated to shots fired through his windows, and he finally relented and transferred to the prison at Fort Dix in New Jersey, once it became clear that he couldn’t ignore the very real fact that he was in danger.

In short: My father lived for years hiding his true ethnicity so he could live and work in peace to advance his career as a federal employee. Until one day, his brown-skinned child walked into a store and nearly got him killed for existing.

I thought about that yesterday, as I listened in on a conversation with black executives who spoke about the pressure of having to “be on” at a time when black people as a collective are hurting. And it struck a nerve.

For the past two weeks, I have been contacted by a number of non-black friends and former colleagues, who’ve either expressed concern for my state of mind, regret for their lack of awareness pertaining to racism in America, or sought my counsel on ways they could help while unpacking their own guilt for not doing more sooner. While I appreciated their sentiments and gestures, it wasn’t until that talk that I finally was able to feel truly heard, ironically, by people who weren’t even aware I was in the (digital) room.

Throughout my life, I’ve been seated at tables that didn’t get served water as I watched every other one get service. I’ve been at receptions in country clubs where I was the only person of color NOT serving the guests. A man once told me my afro reminded him of his poodle. I’ve gone on dates with men who fetishized me. I’ve been called an “angry black woman” (admittedly, it hurt more when it came from a black man).

And in my professional life, I’ve been the person who got paid four dollars an hour less than my white counterpart while I had significantly more experience and responsibility. I’ve had my hair touched by total strangers in my place of business without consent multiple times. When my mom passed away, my team contacted me during my bereavement time to inquire about calling my clients for an event, and weeks later took up a collection to send food and a card signed by the department to another member of the team when her mother died. Another time, it was suggested that for the company Grimm’s Fairytale-themed Halloween party, I should dress up as “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

Fun times. Certainly not the kind anyone who isn’t black has experienced on the regular.

In all of those times, I did as I was expected to do and likely what my father did before me: I sucked it up and continued to be professional. I made my sales goals. I helped fellow members of my team get what they needed in whatever form that took. I sacrificed nights, weekends and holidays with my family to be of service to my company and clients. I was the silent contributor whose work was claimed by others in the spirit of collective wins. I was the go-to cheerleader, promoting the successes and putting positive spins on the losses. I went to the happy hours and feigned amusement at the inappropriate jokes.

Now…something has snapped.

In all my efforts to practice self care in so-called “stressful” times, I missed the mark completely when it came to times like this; when I instinctively want to heal the world and tell everyone it’s going to be okay, when truthfully I’m only hanging on by a thread. I’m trying to put a smile on my face and “breathe through it,” while simultaneously suppressing the urge to cry, scream and break shit. And it’s only slightly comforting to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

The world has suddenly come to the disappointing realization that black people don’t want to be magical negroes; the soothing, sensible voices of reason who keep things in order and come to the rescue when things go awry. (That’s not to say we won’t be because we don’t want the world going to shit on our watch because we live here too.) We just want to be human beings allowed to exist, thrive and feel and process our feelings without judgement, denigration or expectations. Hell, right now we need to be rescued, and we’re just hoping the current wave of compassion isn’t just a trend that seems fitting because everything else has been cancelled by the quarantine!

I’m tired of brands using “Black Lives Matter” to score cool points. I’m tired of predominantly white media narratives putting our stories in fishbowls to attract more eyeballs. I’m tired of black bodies and talent being used to make others look good while being relegated to perfunctory roles and dismissed as afterthoughts. I’m tired of being considered a threat instead of an asset when I shine. I’m tired of our pain being ignored, mocked and glorified by monsters. And I’m tired of being the source of “strength” when I barely have any left to lift my head off my occasionally tear-soaked pillow.

There are things that I am oddly grateful for at this moment: The first being that my father wasn’t murdered by racists in Pennsylvania or his home state of Georgia, and lived long enough to forget the horrors he’d seen in his seventy-four years. The second is that the world stopped just long enough to make everyone take notice of a sickness that has killed far more innocent black people than the coronavirus. And lastly, that fourteen of some of the most powerful black people in business collectively gathered on a zoom call to pray, choke back tears, and tell the world they have no intention of going back to the way things were.

This may not have been our 2020 vision, but things sure as hell look pretty clear from this point on. Hopefully, this clarity allows us to see the path leading to the end of this current nightmare.