Giving.

Selfie

That’s me. Sans makeup. Sans Photoshop. Sans eyebrow waxing. Sans extensions. Sans a decent night’s sleep. I take selfies once or twice a year. I’m not at all photogenic, but I like to mark the biannual pressing and cutting of my hair with a commemorative photo. When I was younger I’d proudly make my way to my grandmother’s house and she’d tug at my hair and measure where the ends would fall. “Oh, sha! Look how long your hair grew!”

I miss her terribly. There are times when her loss hits me and I have to stop whatever I’m doing to sit with the pain of it. And when it passes, I pick up and start again.

I marked all of my milestones by her, good and bad. And I’d know if I was headed down the right path by how she greeted me. But she’s not here anymore. Were she here, I’d tell her that I’d finally got the house. That I’d stopped writing. That I’d started running. That I’d lost a little bit of weight. That, no, I’m not teaching any more. I haven’t for a very long time, remember? And no, I’m not seeing anyone right now, but that’s okay. I’d tell her that I finally had a closet full of dresses. How I’d made the decision to take a trip to Bequia. That I was terrified I’d chosen the wrong career—again. That Georgia had nice weather, and New York had a nicer everything else, and California was perhaps even nicer than that. I’d tell her that things were getting better for us—the collective us—because sometimes a white lie is more palatable than a black truth. I’d tell her the last thing I ever told her, that I loved her. And that I was loved, the last thing she ever told me.


Southern comfort.

My grandmother was a landlord, my mother is a landlord, and I will be a landlord as well. This depresses me considerably, not because I have a problem with the profession in question, but because I am afraid the Southeastern United States is the only region where the career change I’ve embarked upon is viable.

I am in Georgia and I am miserable. I have been to Alabama; I was miserable. I have been to Florida; I was miserable. The oppressive heat, the conservative culture, the massive insects, the insufferably long commutes to access any commercial or industrial district—I cannot stand it. Of course, were I a Republican Christian man who loved to drive and adored the great outdoors, this would be the best place on earth. The South isn’t a bad place in general; it’s just bad for me.

The plus side? Houses here are cheap. How cheap? A well-crafted, modest home in a safe area can be purchased and paid for in full for roughly half the US median household income.

Actually, I just had an epiphany while typing the previous sentence. I am not going to stay here! It’s as simple as that. I’d rather own a couple of trailers in California than settle for brick ranches in Georgia.

Oh, man! I can’t even imagine what my grandmother’s Brooklyn brownstone would go for now.

ETA: I just looked it up—roughly $800,000. Yeah, unless I win the Powerball tomorrow, I won’t be moving back to the old neighborhood! Actually, if I won the Powerball, I wouldn’t bother buying a home at all. I’d be too busy traveling and setting up meetings with geek moguls and culture mavens.


One blood.

“You’ve never heard about West Indians being cheap?”

The question had been leveled at me by my mother’s longtime friend, who was clearly amused and surprised by my ignorance. Her tone, teasing and with a musical lilt, was devoid of an iota of maliciousness.

“No! I’ve never heard that before!” I was now fascinated, as if I had come across an old family secret that I’d now been deemed mature enough to handle.

My mother’s friend called out to her, eager to acquire an additional testimonial. “You ever hear about West Indians being cheap?”

My mother didn’t even bother to look up from the laundry she sorted to field such a simple question. “Oh, yeah! The cheapest, honey!”

The matter was settled. “You know your husband is of West Indian descent, right?” I pointed to my father, whose family had come from St. Vincent and Haiti to find a better life here in America. I feigned disdain, but my motives were clear. My father is notoriously and hilariously cheap.

“Well…” My mother’s voice trailed off. A pregnant pause held in the air for a brief moment, and then, like rainfall after a snap of lightning, the jokes flowed like water—torrential, ceaseless.

For so many who see black people as a monolith, who cannot even comprehend the possibility of multiple black cultures, the above anecdote likely comes as a surprise. Yet in my mother’s house that day, filled solely with black people, there was a wealth of diversity borne from countless unique cultures, and a gentle familiar ribbing that is allowed due to shared racial experiences. I am American; African and Caribbean blacks are my cousins—sometimes literally. I tease my family and my family teases me, but I will love and stand with them. Always.

Had a non-black person been in my mother’s house that day and dared comment on West Indian penny-pinching, or African arrogance, or American idleness, he would have been verbally eviscerated for not knowing his place as an outsider who has happened to be made privy to “family” in-jokes—jokes that none of us truly believe or take seriously. I have been in the midst of a group of Filipino, Korean, and Chinese individuals teasing each other regarding which Asian ethnicity is the most racist and possesses the worst accent. I have been made privy to intentionally silly conversations regarding whether Puerto Rican or Dominican men are better lovers. And I’m sure somewhere an Irishman, an Englishman, and a Scot are jovially arguing about some trait that—as a black person and an American—is not for me to comment upon, no matter how many Europeans I call friends. I may be a beloved visitor, but I am not family. Oh, you want my opinion? Nah, I’m good. I’m simply honored that you feel relaxed enough in my company to speak freely and will enjoy the camaraderie. I have enough common sense and respect for those present to refrain from commenting, no matter who is willing to “cosign” for me.

“So, how come white people can’t say nigger and black people say it all the time?”

All the time? All of them? I won’t even address that part. But the answer is for the reasons stated above. The phrase often removed from the query is “without being considered a racist.” Please note that if you have typed some version of this question your disrespect and ignorance is completely exhausting and you are a blight upon every message board in existence. You cannot be jailed for saying nigger. You cannot be killed for saying itnot without rightfully severe legal repercussions for your murderer. You may lose a friend, a job, or a romantic partner—but you don’t have a right to those things. It’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” buddy. You can’t complain simply because you don’t have the common sense to pursue it efficiently. Perhaps next time you should try not being a bigot.

I don’t use the word nigger. I find it distasteful. But should I have a change of heart tomorrow and make the slur every fourth word I utter, I would not be considered a racist. I am black. My status is not one of an outsider. Due to shared racial experiences, I am “family.”

The problem is that many non-blacks, including all who have asked the question in question, refuse to accept an outsider status. The idea of being an outsider, even in a role that is respected and cherished (for example, Eminem or Teena Marie), makes them irate. How dare black people—these lesser people—deny us anything? How dare they have something to which we are not provided access? These people feel that not one shred of respect or privacy should be afforded to black people. Non-blacks who demand use of the word nigger sans negative social consequence feel that black Americans should be stripped of all elements of their culture for the consumption of others. For them, to be black is to be a constant performer—a jester for amusement. Black cultures are merely products to try on. Twerk team! S’up, nigga? Shade! Every ounce of every black culture should be splayed open to sample. They demand black people acquiesce dominion over any portion of any black culture should a person who is not black desire it.

And therein lies the issue. For in this age of globalization, it is a wonderful thing to share one’s culture with others. How fabulous is it that I can hear hip-hop from Romania, eat pad thai, and wear chancletas? S’great. But I know that when I immerse myself in a culture that is not my own, I act as a visitor or an ambassador. I do not get to assume ownership of that culture, and if the denizens of that region feel there are cultural rites I should not have access to? That’s fine. Would I love to dance in an Indian headdress? Omigaaawd, who wouldn’t? But this would offend many Native people. And so it is not appropriate for me to do so. I accept that. And for the record, I have Native ancestors and I still know there are lines I should not cross. Though I am “blood,” I am not “family.”

In other words, your black friends are not a valid excuse for your use of the word nigger. You are making them look corny, spineless, and anxious for approval. Stop embarrassing them. Stahp.

Unlike a weeaboo or an anglophile, who comes across as desperate yet deferential, non-blacks who use the word nigger (or nigga) assume a disrespectful and dismissive position of dominance over black American culture. It is akin to walking unannounced into a stranger’s living room and putting your muddy feet upon their coffee table. “Well, they have their feet on the coffee table,” you cry. “Why can’t I do the same?” The answer is simple.

You aren’t family and it’s not your house.


Maps.

It has been a decidedly long time since my last post. Since then, my life has changed dramatically. This certainly isn’t an excuse for the absence of posts. I’ve been active on Twitter, discussing topics such as Remender’s comments regarding his work on Uncanny Avengers, the role of the “strong black woman” in American fiction, Rick Ross’ departure from Reebok, and how African American Vernacular English has changed dramatically depending on region and proximity to other racial and ethnic groups. So, I’ve been talkative—just not publicly.

My grandmother, my family’s matriarch, passed recently, devastating everyone who was lucky enough to be blessed by her presence. I took two very important lessons from her death: share one’s creations with the world; do not be afraid to accept what the world offers in return.

Live life.

I’ve chosen to do so, but it is extremely difficult not to retreat and indulge in overly cautious behavior. I like lists, detailed strategies, patterns, carefully reasoned hypotheticals—but it is dangerous to simply plan and never act. One steals one’s life away preparing for it.

I’ve prepared enough. I’ve given notice at my current place of employment and plan to pursue a career—one that allows for greater diversity and creativity—in the field of publishing or advertising. I am moving at the end of the month and will to use my nest egg to purchase a home in an area where said career can flourish. Plane tickets have been purchased. Possessions have been sold. Contingency plans have been made.

Kelly Sue DeConnick (an amazing woman—if you don’t know her, get familiar) posted about the importance of having a biannual review to assess one’s accomplishments, goals, and strategies to achieve said goals. At the close of my first quarter, the first day of April, I went back and looked at the goals I had set for myself the first day of 2013. Three months later, I had met every single financial goal, one of my fitness goals, and none of my career goals.

Problem.

I am at the start of my second quarter and the problem has since been rectified. I was able to meet all of my financial goals because I wrote detailed plans as to what tasks I needed to complete to reach them and when I needed to complete those tasks. I relied on habit to achieve my fitness goals; the result was minimal success. I was at a loss in regards to attaining career goals; I felt achievement of one’s goals were dependent upon the whims of others. Working harder afforded me no career movement. I have decided to establish clear-cut career-oriented tasks to be accomplished and place myself in an arena where those accomplishments will be rewarded. Will it work? Ask me the last day of June.

This post is a turning of the key. The engine will start next—emails will be sent, questions will be answered, stories will be written—and I will embark upon that long, winding path to the destination waiting for all of us.

The trip should be fun though. Feel free to come along for the ride.


Labels.

“Cheryl Lynn, you will have your first and last dollar.” My mother says it with blend of mirth, surprise, and exasperation—as if she cannot believe she produced a child who behaves in such a practical manner, a child who would dare complain that she had to spend twenty-four dollars on a purse due to the old one falling apart at the seams. My mother possesses a walk-in closet full of purses. Not one could be purchased for twenty-four dollars. The glint of a gold circle surrounding a bold M and K—the lack of one separating my leather satchel from her assortment—costs a great deal more.

Yet, my mother is a child of poverty; I am a child of the working-class struggle. She needs her talismans, her high-end upmarket logos, to make her feel as if she is of worth. I was taught to fear them, to believe that obtaining them would bring about financial ruin. I’ve jokingly told many friends that I’m glad I grew up working class instead of rich, middle class, or poor because it has made me so paranoid about money that I’ll never purchase designer labels. Black working-class kids are raised to believe that one wrong move will have you back in the ghetto where your parents came from. Working-class kids are raised on fear.

I have friends who grew up (and are still) wealthy. Michael Kors bag? “Oh, I’ll take this.” They do not even remain engaged during commercial transactions. Their attention drifts elsewhere as items are rung up. They do not look at price tags. In contrast, those who are middle class always look at the tag, but yet price does not seem to be a deterrent. There is an initial flinch, but the purchase is still made. “It’s a lot, but we’ll find a way.” Middle-class kids are taught to hope for the best. Rich kids are taught to expect it.

For poor kids there is no hope. Yet, purchases are still made. What’s the point of saving? You can’t fall any further and you’ll never have that deluxe apartment in the sky, so might as well cop those sneakers, right? And so children of the ghetto will stand in line for an exclusive—and expensive—pair of Nikes. Women will gather every last dime for a pair of Louboutins—and yet may not even possess enough knowledge to properly pronounce Christian’s last name. I have had to correct my mother multiple times on the correct pronunciation of Movado. She owns one of their signature watches; I do not. For those marked by poverty, logos and labels are masks. They are an attempt to pass as a member of the “elite,” to appear “respectable.” But for those who are black and brown, the respect, though deserved, does not come. Red bottoms are not glass slippers.

“I like nice things. And I’ve worked hard!” My mother has indeed worked hard. And everyone likes nice things. But when I asked my mother if she would still purchase luxury items if no one else knew she owned them, she appeared shocked for a moment and then laughed. “No! What’s the point in that?”

There is no point in either the purchase or the announcement of it. Her purchases are tickets to an arena where she will never be accepted because of her race. We are told time and time again how blackness “devalues” a brand, of executives who blanched when informed that their product had become popular amongst racial and ethnic minorities. We are to be felt (i.e., provide money and labor), but not seen. Black and brown children of poverty are told that they are nothing without a proper label. Once they have sacrificed everything to obtain said label? They are told the label is worthless due to too many of them having it. To add insult to injury, what black and brown children of poverty do produce for themselves on a massively limited budget is then co-opted by the artistic elite to provide to rich whites seeking something novel. Flesh is co-opted. A Native headdress for a music video; blackamoor earrings for an art gallery opening—brown bodies become white accessories.

There is a need—for all of us—to closely examine the purchases we make and why we make them, to examine what—or who—is allowed to become a commodity, and to reflect on how the logos we wear intersect with the culture that labels us. Not one of us is immune. Even as I boast about my practicality, I can still admit to feeling subpar when shopping with friends. Just last weekend, a date to go shopping for vintage items went horribly wrong when I discovered that rich people go boutiques, not thrift stores. And as I looked at used designer bags that were beyond my budget, I felt less than those around me—not enough to give up my dream of home ownership for a collection of Birkin bags, but small nonetheless. And I have no solution as to how to stop it. But perhaps in coming together to discuss the intersection of fashion, class, and race we can—literally—loosen the ties that bind us through the recognition of them.