Weaves, Pain, Desire, Prayer and Love

I’m going to attempt to put a week’s worth of thoughts into 1500 words or less. Bear with me. Oh yes, and before we begin #NotAllMen and #NotAllWomen. Some of you people are Cinderella’s step sister, forcing your foot into the proverbial slipper of my observations that was not intended for you…

I hate a weak man – but in particular I loathe a weak Black man.

The most exquisite pain I have ever had to endure was bestowed upon me by a weak Black man who was so dedicated in his devotion to causing me harm it was like a religion to him. This is the man you know as Douche Bag. Conversely, some of the greatest moments of joy and peace I have experienced are the direct result of the intentional words from and actions of my husband. Douche Bag and Marshall could not be more different from each other. Douche Bag is big, muscular and boorish. That boorishness and callousness disregard for the feelings and needs of others is what many mistake for ‘strength’. My husband on the other hand is a gentle man…and that doesn’t make him ‘weak’. He is like the steady, soft dripping of water, which over time hollows out or reshapes the hardest stone.

Consistency

Steadfastness

Honor

That to me, is strength.

I have been watching commentary on various social media platforms and have been beside myself with grief for the past 36 hours. It’s as though the weight of our collective failure as a race came crashing on my consciousness. In particularly, I have been daunted and dispirited by the weakness of many – just too many! – Black men. This feebleness has manifested itself in their verbosely expressed vision of what the genesis of a possible relationship with a woman would look like if only she would “comport herself”. Here’s an example I culled from online:

Ladies: If a guy chases you for 6 months and you don’t give in, he will eventually get tired and go somewhere else. But when he does, you will tell him you didn’t try hard enough! Just remember it doesn’t mean he never loved you.

Drivel like this masquerading as “depth” gets retweeted and shared on social media dozens of times a day. Why? Because too many men are weak….and wack…and resonate with this level of foolishness. These brothers don’t value women and the trickledown effect is that women begin to see less value in themselves. Here’s an example from my own life in the opposite.

I don’t remember what we were doing – maybe watching Star Trek or cleaning the house; I don’t know – but Marshall paused and said to me “You know, the day I knew I had to marry you is when I sat down and thought about my life without you in it. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see my life without you in it.”

That’s what a woman looking for a relationship wants. If you only have 6 months to focus on securing a relationship with someone you supposedly “loved”, then you’re not serious. It’s just that simple. Men will work their entire lives to buy the car of their dreams, but give up on winning the affections of a woman if she doesn’t reciprocate quickly and on his timeline. And what is this whole business of chasing? Is she a gazelle and you a hyena? Is a woman you “love” something you are going to gobble up and discard when you are done? That’s what your language suggests…and that’s why after 6 short months you were dogged. You as a boy/man never took the time to examine and improve yourself.

Selah.

They say hurting people hurt other people. Are you hurt, Black Men? Is that why you are hell bent on hurting the closest thing to you – which is Black Women? If so, let us know so we can help you ease the pain. That’s what we’ve been doing for centuries, isn’t it? Right when we were chained up on the same boats, or chopping tobacco in the fields right alongside you, or fighting in the same wars, or mourning your lifeless bodies in the middle of the street… WE’VE been there for you, right? So what’s with all this hatred in return for our devotedness? Is it because we are too tough and expect strength out of you? Surely, you’ve witnessed what life is like globally for people of color – not to mention the rigors of being a woman of color! Hint: it’s freaking hard…and still we don’t break. But now you’ve joined the feeding frenzy against we who are your truest allies. Why do you now seek to join those who want to break us?

I came across this article that quotes Common referring to Erykah Badu as the ‘bossiest’ Black woman he’s ever dated. Gazi Kodzo has dismissed Common as a man whose only true claim to fame as the ‘ex-boyfriend of Black female elite stars’. Common has dated Serena Williams. Taraji Henson and Miss Badu. It is rumored he is dating Lupita Nyong’o. These are all strong and gifted Black women, yet the moderator could only come up with a question framed in negativity because these are the shenanigans of the New Black. He didn’t ask who was the kindest, or most nurturing or had the most depth in conversation…just who was “bossiest”, which we all know is code for emasculating and/or domineering. I posted the link and my expressed my disdain for Common’s reflections. Along the way, I made mention that I would rather see Lupita stay in a relationship with Jared Leto (the whitest of white men) than to date Common who has proven he would use their past to get ratings/cheers/laughs.

You should have seen this brother go to WAR because I dared to make this suggestion. Why should a Black woman want to be desired by a white man? How quickly you’ve forgotten the lustful eyes of the slave master! The same white man who you would have date Lupita is the same white man who will gun your sons down in the street! What short memories you have, Malaka!

Oh, saa? And who do you think is responsible for the majority of sexual abuse meted out against Black children? Whose cruel words play repeatedly in the head of the Black girl who doesn’t believe she’s good enough. And wasn’t it Chris Brown who turned Rihanna into the face of young domestic violence? Today Riri is the face of Dior…and that’s not because Breezy connected his knuckles to her temples.

Of course we continued to wage a war of words until I challenged him to find and speak to 3 complete strangers and ask them if they believe Black women are loved by Black men. Not desired, lusted after or fulfill a booty fetish…I mean loved. As in supported, nurtured, respected and valued. We await the results.

I don’t think Black men know how much their words and deeds affect Black women. It’s one thing to worship at the Altar of White Vagina, but it’s another thing entirely to make the only person who made your existence possible to feel as though her womb….and her whole body….are unworthy. Take a quick look at this:

bleach

Hundreds of people jumped on this girl to tell her how “sick” and “brainwashed” and “stupid” she is. It is a stretch for them to imagine how she ended up this way…but how can it be? How can people not understand that when Black women and girls see messages like the following every day, several times a day:

race1 race2 race3 race4(This dude can’t even add…smh)

This is psychological warfare! And if we don’t overcome it, it’s because we’re not “strong Black women”. What is the strength of a women worth when her sons, brothers and fathers see her as something dirty or something to exploit? That leaves a wound in you…sometimes it’s a sore so deep it becomes more a part of you than the ‘normal’ skin itself. Your wound becomes your identity, and the pain associated with it becomes your constant, faithful and reliable friend. Janette McGhee Watson expressed this so eloquently in her vows to her husband in this clip.

 

It’s 10 minutes long. How many brother have 10 minutes to spare to hear the heart cry of a Black woman? Not enough. Far too few. And you know why? Because Y’ALL don’t love US. You don’t value you us…and if/when you do, it’s only when we’re conforming to your perceptions of what womanhood should be. I know 5 women – Black women – who have told me that they used to pray every night as little girls to wake up white. I ain’t never heard of a white woman praying to wake up with the skin and burden of a Black woman.

Now, some of you can (and will) deflect and cast blame and say it’s all the white man’s fault, or you can man up like Matthew and restore some broken hearts and rebuild the crumbling edifices of our unions.

 

Mo’Ne Davis’ Accepting Casselberry’s Apology is ‘Mature’, but it Ain’t ‘Right’

It’s pretty hard not to be in the know where Mo’Ne Davis is concerned. Even if you were previously unfamiliar with her name, you certainly heard of her story. She is that (now) 13 year old girl who played in the 2014 Little League World Series and is the first girl to earn a win and to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. That means she can throw a ball really, really fast.

Her face has become ubiquitous in the sports world, with skill so phenomenal that she made the cover of Sports Illustrated and a back-story so inspiring that Disney has approved a movie to be made about her life. This did not sit well with some people, and one person in particular – Joey Casselberry, a junior first baseman at Bloomsburg University – took to twitter to make one of the most disgusting comments about a girl barely older than my first born by saying the following:

joey

Selah

A grown man, who has never had any sort of interpersonal contact with this 13 year old CHILD, called her a slut.

Everyone has agreed that this is pretty offensive and definitely unacceptable, and Mr. Casselberry has been dismissed from his team. As far as I and 98% of the world are concerned, this was absolutely the right move for the university to take. However, his remarks left young Ms. Davis in an awkward position as people were clamoring for a response from her. Her response was one typical of any girl her age – which was to forgive. She even went as far as to plead on his behalf and ask the university to give him a “second chance”.

Every mother to a Black daughter I know experienced cognitive dissonance when news of Joey Casselberry’s sorry apology and Mo’Ne’s crusade to spare him discomfort came to light. Many have gone as far as to term her actions as “mature”…and that is problematic for me. Sure, her actions are righteous, but they are not right. A grown, crusty man should not be putting a girl this young in the position to act righteously in response to his boorishness.

Let me just get to the point: The fact is, Joey Casselberry’s remarks are a direct reflection of a culture that sexualizes young Black girls and their bodies, then moves on to demonize and punish them for labels not of their own choosing and ultimately marginalizes them. Girls of African descent are built differently from any other girl on the planet. By the age of 5, our hip to waist ratio often mirrors those of our mothers. I have had trouble fitting at least 2 of my girls for trousers and pants because the items are cut for (white) girls who are built straight up and down. (This is a battle Black women have to fight our entire lives.) It is not the responsibility of the 5 year old to cloister herself so as not to have these labels ascribed to her; it is the responsibility of grown men to check their privilege so that she can thrive.

This is not the first time a Black girl has been sexually degraded in the media at large by those who occupy positions of power and privilege. In 2013, 9 year old Quvenzhané Wallis was called a “cunt” by The Onion on twitter during that year’s Oscars.

Qcunt

As I recall, this was in response to Ms. Wallis refusing to let a journalist refer to her as ‘Annie’ because she was too lazy to figure out how to pronounce the child’s name. She made a “mature” decision to check that chick, and in return a representative from an organization dominated by white males labelled her a moniker that is so disgusting, it makes bikers shift in their seats. But it’s free speech, right? It’s satire, ain’t it? Making jokes about Black girls’ bodies is funny, isn’t it? Remember how Black male comedians jumped to Don Imus’ defense when he called an entire basketball team “nappy headed hoes”?

Slut

Cunt

Whore

All ascribed to girls who are barely old enough to knock on Womanhood’s door – and suspiciously – all at the top of their game in specific fields.

The main reason that Davis’ acceptance for Casselberry’s apology sickens and saddens me so much is that it is yet another spoke in the wheel of accepted public violence against Black women and girls. The part that Mo’Ne plays in this cycle is by shielding her abuser in the name of turning the other cheek and maturity. How many Black women refuse to call the police on abusive husbands and boyfriends because they have been conditioned to believe it is their job to protect them, or their responsibility to be strong enough to endure the abuse for the sake of peace? THIS is exactly where it starts…and that is not Mo’Ne Davis’ fault – it’s ours. While I applaud Mo’Ne for her poise and level headedness in this situation, it is not okay that she should have an innate sense that this particular reaction is expected of her in a situation like this. These are not the lessons we should be teaching our young girls of color, especially in a world that views them as provocative minxes before they’ve had a first date, first kiss or first menstrual cycle.

 

My Daughter Wants to Go to College to Learn How to Sew, Knit and Cook

Happy International Women’s Month! I have been struggling to decide how I should celebrate the month on the blog in a meaningful way and as they often do, my children provided me the answer without intending to do so.

This morning, my daughter informed me that she wants to go to college to “learn how to sew, knit and cook” …and I am perfectly fine with that. I can see the tips of your ears turning red right now. I can almost see the steam rising off of your heads. What! Spend all that money to go to college to become some stay at home cook who darns socks? Heaven forbid! Just wait, my friend. It’s not as bad as that.

MaryMcLeodBethune0“Maya and Kennedy said that they will go to Mary McLeod’s school when they go to college,” Aya chirped in her pleasant voice.

“You mean Bethune-Cookman University?” I asked.

“Yes! Bethune-Cookman,” she grinned. Then she settled back in her seat and watched the rain softly beat the windows of our car. “They teach you how to sew, cook and knit. Isn’t that cool?”

I’m the antithesis of crafty. Nothing about sewing or knitting sounds “cool” to me. But my baby is into that stuff, which means I have to put on a mask for her sake, just like I have to pretend I love trains for Stone or My Little Pony for Nadjah. I happen to like mermaids, so Liya and I have a grand time talking about them. The rest of the crew is missing out.

“Yes: that’s pretty cool. Would you like to visit the university one day?”

Aya’s face broke into a wide, toothy grin. “I’d love to!”

As I watched her from my rearview mirror, I could see the wheels in her head turning. Soon, she’d be in class telling all her little friends about how her mom and she would be going on a road trip – probably this summer – so she could see the school Mrs. Mary McCleod built. None of this has been discussed with me, of course.

I won’t lie: A small part of me is disappointed that she doesn’t want to get into science or computer aided drafting or any sort of 21st tech pursuit that will net her an easy six figure salary. But the honest truth is that we are always going to need people to sew, cook and knit. Obviously, Bethune-Cookman University most likely doesn’t over these as courses anymore. These were the foundations the school Mary McLeod began her Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1905 on. Although the school’s beginnings were humble, McLeod Bethune had high standards for her students:

“The rigorous curriculum had the girls rise at 5:30 a.m. for Bible Study. The classes in home economics and industrial skills such as dressmaking, millinery, cooking, and other crafts emphasized a life of self-sufficiency for them as women.”

mmc schholIn the early days, students made their own ink from elderberry juice and pencils from burned wood. The students seats and desks were made from converted crates housed in a rented home that served as the school. She began with 6 students and within a year, that number swelled to 30. The success of Black church was instrumental in her early success, and in time, Mary McLeod Bethune would go on to form alliances with some of America’s most influential businessmen and women, including J.D. Rockefeller, James Gamble and the Roosevelts. Through their financial support and fundraising efforts, she was able to expand her school. Soon Bethune added science and business courses, then high school-level courses of math, English, and foreign languages.

Mary McLeod Bethune was the daughter of former slaves. She herself began working in the fields at age 5 until education radically changed her life. Her passion for learning took her to heights that few Black women at that time could dream of. She was one of the few women (Black, white or otherwise) to be the president of a college in the 1920’s and beyond. She would later be appointed as an advisor to President Roosevelt. She was on the boards of numerous women’s rights and education organizations. She fought tirelessly for the rights of all children to have a quality education, and was an advocate for Black to take pride in and share their accomplishments. It was essential if they were to be seen as equal not only in the eyes of the American (white) majority, but in their own view as well.

“If our people are to fight their way up out of bondage we must arm them with the sword and the shield and buckler of pride – belief in themselves and their possibilities, based upon a sure knowledge of the achievements of the past.”

“Not only the Negro child but children of all races should read and know of the achievements, accomplishments and deeds of the Negro. World peace and brotherhood are based on a common understanding of the contributions and cultures of all races and creeds.”

 

Mary McLeod Bethune was an extraordinary and resourceful woman – truly remarkable. It was her great faith that buoyed her in the most trying of times. And if my daughter wants to go to her school to learn how to sew, cook and knit, I can’t find fault with that, because I know she will come out with knowledge, skills and an experience that reaches far beyond that. If the school still holds to McLeod Bethune’s original standards, Aya will emerge from their halls as a true entrepreneur and inventive woman. I doubt she will end up merely mending anyone’s socks for a pittance.

mary bethune

Perpetuating Half Truths and Whole Lies: My History of Black History Failure

As Black History Month draws to a close in a few hours, I find myself reflecting over the past 28 days – as I do annually – to determine what grade I would give myself for how the month was celebrated. I fret over whether my family attended enough events, whether the information my children was exposed to was impactful or useful, and most importantly if they remember any of it. This year I would give myself a C.

As any parent will tell you, there is so much other stuff out there competing for ones’ kid’s attention, and I often doubt how much they can retain with their little brains struggling to recall anecdotes from Martin when Monster High demands so much of their grey matter. Nevertheless, kids have a strange way of surprising you with their powers of recall. Last night, I tested Nadjah with an easy question, just to see if anything she had learned since kindergarten had stuck.

“Who was the first Black woman to be arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus,” I quizzed. This was an easy one. Ask any third grader this same question, and they will invariably answer with an excited ‘Rosa Parks’!

But Nadjah is in fourth grade.

“Rosa Parks,” she said confidently.

“Wrong,” I replied.

“Wait…what? No! It’s Rosa Parks, Mommy!”

I nodded. “Yes. That’s what they told you in school, because that’s what certain people want us to believe and accept…but it’s not true.”

maxresdefault1I went on the tell her that the first Black woman to be arrested for sitting at the front of the bus/not giving up her seat was a 15 year old girl named Claudette Colvin. Though both women were summarily arrested for their “crimes”, it was a full 9 months after Ms. Colvin had been arrested first that Mrs. Parks would commit the same crime. Nadjah wanted to know why she didn’t learn about Claudette Colvin instead, and I was more than happy to tell her. It was the first step in erasing my shame for my part in erasing key elements of Black history.

“The SCLC – Martin Luther King’s organization – did not think Claudette Colvin would be a “good symbol of defiance” for the unjust bus laws in the South,” I told her. “They thought she was too dark, and she was also a soon to be unwed mother. (I left out the bit about her being impregnated by a married man. I’m not ready for conversations about statutory rape just yet.) Rosa Parks was married, lighter … and therefore prettier… and had the prestige of working for the NAACP. They felt she would be a better face for the cause.”

“Well that’s just stupid. Wasn’t the point of the Civil Rights Movement to protect people who had darker skin in the first place?” she seethed. This was a good segue into the issue of colorism in the Black community. I made a few statements on the issue that made her lip curl.

“I wish I could just go back in time and slap a lot of people,” Nadjah lamented. I told her I’d often wished the same. She then went on to declare this: “Just because someone made a mistake, doesn’t mean that they can’t help make a difference. It shouldn’t have mattered that she was a pregnant teen…even if it was awkward.”

Yes. Yes! I cheered inwardly and sent her on her way, reminding her to remember Claudette Colvin’s name.

The history we have been and are being fed in this country – and the world over, really – is a sham. It is a bleached down, candy coated version of events, made digestible for species that now has the same capacity for remembering as a gold fish. Time and again, we have found African history (and African American history, by extension) white washed to fit the 21st Century imagination. The horrid story put out by Jezebel a few months ago describing Saartjie Baartman’s captivity and sexual exploitation as a girl “looking to travel and monetize her body in the process” is only the latest in a trend to downplay the true horrors that came hand in glove with colonialism and slavery. What’s worse is when Black people perpetuate these outright lies because it makes us feel a little better and a lot less ashamed. I no longer want to belong to that camp.

bronzeI realized in early February that I had failed my children by not giving them a complete picture of their Black experience in America and in the world at large. We were at our local library and the Griot Society was hosting an Are you Smarter Than a Griot session. People of all ages were encouraged to participate, so even my 4 year old got a chance to come up to the podium to answer a number of questions. When one very pretty 5th grader took her turn at the podium, she was asked this question:

“Ancient Africans were astronomers, architects and mathematicians. True or false.”

She crinkled her nose, looked up at the sky and thought for a minute.

“False?”

“No…that’s actually true,” said the moderator.

She raised her eyebrows in surprise and took her seat. She shared the same look of surprise that clouded my children’s countenance. This is how I know I have failed.

My children think that Europeans came to Africa and took away slaves. Nothing could be further from the truth. European slave traders and their African allies took away hairdressers, soldiers, princes and princesses, fiancés and nursing mothers. They took away little boys who loved to practice their aim with catapults and 16 year old girls who were to celebrate their rights of passage into womanhood. They stole the lives of people like me and you and turned them into slaves. This is what I must impress upon my children.

I am now trying to do better with presenting history – not just Black history – to my kids so that when folks say things like “Thomas Jefferson had a love affair with Sally Hemmings”, they can respond with reasons, and confidently so, as to why that was highly implausible as Sally Hemmings had no agency over her body as a Black female slave. What was she supposed to tell the old goat that was married to her half-sister in the face of his advances? No? Denying a white man his “rights” was a recipe for death and/or dismemberment. But doesn’t the idea that Thomas Jefferson really loved her make you feel better about her repeated rapes? This is part of that white washing we discussed earlier.

More importantly for me though is for my children to understand that our history as Africans/African Americans does not begin with slavery and end with Barack Obama becoming president. They should know that we are connected by blood with the Haitian, the Bajan , the Brazilian as well as the Georgia native. They are our cousins. There should never be a doubt that their ancient ancestors were medical practitioners or healers, skilled craftsmen and women, and architects who built tremendous palaces…because this was all true. The average person believes that there were no buildings over the height of one storey constructed in Africa outside of Egypt until the Europeans came along. This is another lie that I have perpetuated by not taking the initiative to introduce it into conversation.

I want us to know the truth, in all its beauty and blemishes. I think we must begin to speak the truth about ourselves, our past and our future, whether it is bitter or sweet.

Respectability Politics and Black Motherhood in America

Yesterday was Presidents’ Day, and like many stay-at-home moms across this country, I stayed at home with my kid. School was out and the older girls had come up with the wonderful idea to hold a mock election at home to see who would assume the position of “President for the Week”. As they busied themselves with poster making and decorating their ballot boxes, I realized that we were out of a few materials at home. We needed glue, cereal, shoes for Nadjah, a coat for Liya and Chick-Fil-a. The thought of driving around Roswell/Alpharetta and darting in and out of several stores with all my kids made my temples throb, nevertheless, I had put off purchasing these items for a week at least and decided it had to be done. Today.

I told the kids to put their coats and shoes on so we could head out, and locked the house door to a chorus of “YAY!!!” and “Where are we going Maawwmie?!?!” As I locked the door, I took a look down at my left hand, which was devoid of my wedding ring. I cringed and found myself confronted with another decision: Do I go back into the house and retrieve my ring and jam it onto my finger, or do I save time and energy and just leave without it?

I left home without it, but not before posting a quick status on Facebook about my decision.

Noring

You see M.O.M. Squad, I’m on this new diet, and one of the side effects for me has been puddling. I can literally feel the water puddling in my joints, and my fingers are no exception. I haven’t worn my ring in almost a week because it’s just that intolerable. Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: This can be a decision that comes with certain severe repercussions for Black women. Much like the young Black male who is “willfully courting danger” by leaving his home dressed in a hoodie and sagging jeans, the Black mother risks a particular set of repercussions for leaving her home in the company of her children sans proof of her betrothal, that evidence being the presence of a ring.

I’ve seen it happen on more occasions that I can count. The cashier or the passerby’s glance down at her left hand, the eyes roaming over the attire of the mother and/or her child(ren), the flash behind the eyes to quickly determine what level of respect this probable Welfare Queen should be accorded. I knew all of this when I left the house yesterday afternoon, but I simply could not bring myself to force the titanium and gold ornament my husband had given me a decade ago over my joints just to make other people comfortable. So out I went.

The first two stores I went into presented no problems. I shopped at Carter’s and Payless in search of clothing for the kids and struck out at both locations. Payless had tights on sale, so I snapped those up. The girls go through tights like Liberians go through rice. My next stop was Old Navy, and that was where the elements of respectability politics reared their ugly heads. As I walked into the store, my family was summarily ignored by the manager and the associate who were discussing a display at its entrance. I didn’t take offense, because I don’t always greet every customer that walks into the retail establishment I work at. No big deal. An associate way in the back was kind enough to point me to the clearance rack where I found a coat for Liya at a great price. The children were wandering the aisles – and not quietly – so I rounded them up and headed for the checkout lane. A woman with stringy brown hair and glasses sternly waved me over.

She looked at my face, looked at my children ooh’ing and aah’ing over the knickknacks at the counter, looked and my left hand, and wordlessly rang me up. I pointed out that jacket she had rung up was $24.00.

“Yes? So?”

“So it’s on sale for $15.99.”

She continued to stare at me blankly.

“Ma’am,” I repeated, “it’s on sale. You rang it up for $24.”

She flipped the tag over and giggled sheepishly, repeating “oh, oh, oh” in mock embarrassment. I smiled as if to pardon her error.

As my children continued to play, she glanced over at them regularly. Again, I did not care. When you’re a Black person living in America, you become accustomed to a certain level of scrutiny and suspicion. This is why I enjoy visiting other countries so much. It was at that point that she called another customer to her counter – before finishing my transaction – as though to hurry me along. I saw the cashier look back at the customer standing behind me. The customer was wearing a khaki jacket and a burgundy infinity scarf. I saw her look at my left hand and smile and strange little smile. She and the customer exchanged knowing looks, at which point I began to stare them both in the face with my eyebrows raised expectantly. Was there a joke I was missing? Could I get in? For 15 seconds I did not break my gaze until the cashier asked for my email address.

“You guys already have it, but I’ll give it to you anyway.”

I finished up my transaction and left.

Some of you reading this who live in other parts of the world may not see the big deal in this encounter. If I was coming straight out of Ghana, I’d tell my present self to “get over it”. After all, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, is it? Well no, Ms. Immigrant. In the grand scheme of things, it is actually quite damaging. These microaggressions – acts of unintended discrimination motivated by racism – are problematic and can be injurious to the recipient. After I posted my status, a friend of mine responded with this:

TeBlack

I was thunderstruck by her disclosure, though I should not have been. As someone who has had to be on WIC for a short while, I am very familiar with the looks of disdain that the seller flings at the customer when payment in WIC is processed. Women who are on government assistance these days are “lucky”. In my time, you had to separate your food items on the conveyor belt by those approved by WIC, present a voucher and THEN hand it over to the cashier. These days, it’s all done very inconspicuously on a government issued debit card so that it normalizes the transaction and gives dignity to the impoverished/unfortunate woman. Still, as my friend’s case reveals, that doesn’t stop people from assuming a Black woman with three or more kids must be on government assistance, does it?

The impact of microaggressions can be deadly. As I was contemplating my own brush with the phenomenon, I came across this post on the Humans of New York Facebook page:

hony

In this mother’s desperation not to be seen as a parasite on American society’s benevolence and peculiar standards (which is what single Black motherhood is in this country isn’t it? A scourge.) she kept herself in a potentially deadly scenario for the sake of fulfilling the norms of respectability politics. The messaging women of color, but Black women in particular, receive is “Well, at least you got a man to marry you! That should be good enough. Don’t be ungrateful. ” Meanwhile, a series of microaggressions and the accompanying messaging almost cost this woman her life.

Now, juxtapose my shopping the white woman’s experience. If she walks into Old Navy, it is assumed she has a nice house, a husband with a good job and is a frugal shopper who is doing her bit to save her family some money. No one questions a white woman walking into Old Navy with her kids and without her wedding ring. She may have taken it off while she was doing yoga or gardening. Maybe she’s even divorced and just trying to clothe her kids as fashionably and affordably as she can. Either way, bravo for her! We make assumptions about white woman/motherhood too.

I was humbled – and further troubled – when a friend of mine made this observation about my observation:

nimi

And isn’t that true? The average ‘real American’ would take one look at me while on an excursion with my children and make several assumptions about me, none of which would include a private school education, a bachelors obtained with high honors, or three books published.

Be honest. What do you see when you see a Black woman in public with her kids. What assumptions do you make about her? Do you have your thoughts formed? Okay, now consider your thoughts carefully.

 

I Had to Pull My Son Out of Kindergarten…and I’m Thunderstruck

Out of respect for the institution that my other children have attended over the past 3-4 years, I will not mention its name or put it on blast…but Gawd A’mighty knows I want to!

 

When we took Stone to kindergarten I was ecstatic. Finally, my son was entering the world of elementary education. He could ride the bus. He could wear the same uniform that his older siblings had donned for years and he had so admired. He was ready, and so were we. I was especially ready not to have to deal with the dash of picking Stone up from Pre-K by 2:45 pm and then sitting in carpool until 3:30 pm with a weary toddler in the back seat. Yes, sir! With Stone in KG, it was all a downhill coast from the day he hopped onto the school bus and waved goodbye.

The kids get quarterly report cards, and while I was very critical about the girls’ scores (they are in 3rd and 4th grade), I looked at Stone’s report card with a certain nonchalance. Kindergarteners in our charter are graded on the SNU scale:

S= satisfactory

N = needs improvement

U = Unknown, Underperforming, (U)dunno

None of my kids have ever gotten a ‘U’ in KG. I mean, it’s kindergarten. You play, you count, you learn your vowels and how to sound words out and sing songs, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Kindergarten for the 21st Century child has turned into some reinterpretation of the plantation experience. I imagine the trepidation that the very first slaves experienced when they finally stretched their limbs after that 3-6 month cruise and were confronted with the sight of a vast forest. The overseer hands them a toothpick and says “Use this to go fell and clear this land. Oh, and when you’re done, plant me some cotton.”

This, my friends, is what kindergarten has become; a bastardization of reality. I don’t know who the dunces are who created these expectations are, but I imagine it’s the same sort of vapid bunch who thought it was a good idea to take music and recess out of public schools. If I sound more incensed than normal, it’s because I am. Perhaps you might empathize with me if I let you into the details of our daily routine. This is what sending my 5 year old kindergartener to school looks like.

  • First, he gets up at 6:10 am (and that’s sleeping in) so that he can groggily submit to my husband dressing him as his sisters help pack his lunch.
  • Second, he wolfs down a waffle and takes a sip of his almond milk so that he can get on the bus by 7:00 am.
  • Next, he sits in assembly before transitioning on to class where he is expected to sit quietly and still until designated bathroom times or snack time. He is expected to sit still and quiet until 3:00pm when he gets out of school.
  • I meet him at the bus stop between 3:45 -3:50pm and at 4:05pm we walk into door. I offer him a snack and let him play until his father gets home around 5:30pm to help him with homework and to study for that week’s sight word test. Marshall wanted to take personal responsibility for his literary acumen and I was happy to let him manage that project. Besides, education is such a female dominated industry (and it is an industry) that it would do the boy good to get some male instruction.
  • From 5:30 until 7:30, the pair of them are working on homework. Part of this is because Stone has to complete assignments he didn’t do in class, and the other reason is because he has – and this is no joke – sixteen pages of homework a week he has to turn in. Oh, and the reading log. He’s expected to find 20 minutes to “enjoy a good book” while he’s at it.

He has repeated this absurd schedule every day since September of last year. At 5, he is already burnt out. He’s antsy and irritable and he dislikes going to school. Stone is my only son, but I have noticed a marked difference in boy energy as it relates to girl energy. Boys, for the most part, need to burn that ish off. They need some sort of outlet for all the guffawing and rough housing that is innate within them. I wouldn’t expect a 5 year old boy to sit quietly for 9 hours any more than I would expect the Man in the Moon to come down and offer me a slice of cheese.

Ahhh…but this is what his teacher wants; and if she doesn’t get it, we hear about it. Day, after day, after bleeding day.

“Stone was talking during transitions.”

“Stone was looking at his friends work instead of doing his own.”

“Stone really needs to get control of his emotions.”

Stone, Stone, Stone! Every day Stone!

The narrative my husband and I were receiving is that our son was/is an unruly illiterate who was incapable of learning. His only task as far as the teacher was concerned was to be silent if he could not refrain from disruption.

I tiya sef. I bore. But that’s not the worst of the matter. What is worse is that my son may not graduate from kindergarten.

Yes! You heard that right. You have to graduate from kindergarten now. You must pass a final, state approved EXAM. If you don’t pass, you will repeat. Who repeats kindergarten?!?! This is how we are making American kids “competitive”? By draining their life force and robbing them of any potential memory of carefree KG days? Kai! I reject it! This coupled with his teacher’s inability to grade his tests or assess him effectively finally broke the camel’s back. She would subtract 15 points from a test and give him a 65%. Multiply that by the number of exams/tests he’s taken, and now we understand why he is a ‘D’ student. Warrenthus? This is nonsense, I say! All this from a woman who demands perfect sentence structure and will deduct marks if she doesn’t get it, but has the audacity to send parents emails thanking them for their “patients”. Do I look like I completed medical school? Patients from the where? Tseewww.

That’s why I pulled Stone out of Kindergarten this week. Thursday was his last day at his charter school. He was tired, my husband was exhausted/exasperated and irritable and I was tired of everyone looking at my face as if I had some sort of solution. My only solution is to go into First Born Mode and fix it myself. I WILL TEACH my child. I graduated bleeding Summa Cum Laude. I can tell someone how to count to 100. It’s not a big deal.

I was dumbstruck when I realized what Stone’s primary goal (and I know my thoughts are disjointed. I apologize) in going to school was…or what he thinks his goal is. I kept him home today and conducted a sight word test. I asked him if he was ready to learn, and he answered with an enthusiastic “Yes, Mommy!” I handed him a pencil and a notebook and told him we were going to spell his words.

“But what about my clip, Mommy?”

“Eh? What clip? We don’t need a clip to spell.”

He shook his head emphatically and said we needed a clip to “show if he has been good or bad.” He needed a clip in case he needed to be on ‘parent contact’ before the day could start.

Aba.

But suddenly, all those afternoons when he hopped off the bus and announced where he was on his behavior chart made sense. Not once has Stone told me what he learned in class for the day. His first announcement is and has always been about his demeanor and what his teacher thought of it.

“Stone. I’m your parent,” I said simply. “If there is a problem, I will address it. It’s just me and you buddy.”

He looked at me skeptically and we sat down to work. However, he was SO obsessed with this bleeding clip that we went to Wal-Mart, picked out some poster paper and some clothes pins and created a makeshift “behavior chart”. I told him our chart was different. I am not monitoring his behavior, but his effort, rather. He helped me do some laundry and in one hour of instruction, I corrected the legibility issues his teacher had been bitching about all year.

All this suffering… for what?

So this is where we are. I have to go through some formal process to take him out of the school and I’m waiting to hear back on what that is. We will spend 3-4 hours every day focused on doing work, and no more than that. We will go on field studies to local establishments. He will be a successful student, and that’s the sum of it.

This morning, Stone climbed into our bed asked me why I was homeschooling him.

“Are you happy at school?” I asked.

He quietly shook his head ‘no’.

“Then that’s why, son. It’s that simple.”

There is enough time in life for sorrow and grief. Kindergarten is supposed to be the one time every student looks back on with fondness. We should all be pining for paper mâche dragons, and songs sung with our KG teacher and graham crackers gone soggy in milk. Kindergarten is not supposed to be child bondage.

 

NB: I have disabled comments on this post because there are really weird people out there who say cruel things about folks who decide to homeschool their kids, and I don’t feel like cussing no one out this week. My friends know where and how to reach me.

My Funny Valentine

Not every couple celebrates Valentine’s Day. In fact, some go to extreme measures NOT to make a fuss over the Hallmark Holiday for personal – and very intense and passionate – reasons: those reasons being a passionate disdain for the commercialization of love.

I used to hate Val’s Day in high school. I went to GIS (Ghana International School) which at the time was Accra’s micro version of Beverly Hills 90210. We had the nerds, the alternative kids, the rich kids, the jocks, the kids who paid their school fees in cedis instead of dollars, each with their own standard of cool. I was kind of a social misfit, so I didn’t belong to a particular clique that was covered by any of these genres. My 4 best friends did, however. They were either rich or brainy (or in Mamissa’s case, both) but they accepted me and saved me from self-destruction for the 3 years I endured GIS.

No, really. You’re talking about a girl who belted a nightgown and strutted around in it after school because the article of clothing came from America. I had long forgotten what a night gown looked like!

As any GIS graduate or current student, I suspect, will tell you, Valentine’s Day is a galactic deal on campus. If you were a girl, the fate and weight of your integrity depended on how many valentines you received on the assigned distribution day. Your boyfriend’s love for you was measured in helium balloons, roses framed with baby’s breaths and cards from this one shop in Osu whose name has long escaped me. Every year, the usual suspects received colossal arrangements. The Baetas, the Olypios, the Ampals…those were the girls who received the best gifts, which included cakes and at one time (gasp!) a bottle of wine, which was duly confiscated. The next tier down was the Kumahors and the Mensa-Bonsus and their ilk. They got cards and/or a rose. Then there was me. In the course of 3 years I had dated 2 guys who went to different schools, and unlike the Baeta girls who had a string of would be paramours off campus and had no qualms about making their affections known, they simply couldn’t be bothered to send anything. So for 3 years, I got nothing on Valentine’s Day.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. While I was kvetching about how much I loathed the day with my boy Percy, I unexpectedly got my period. Bled all over the wooden seat and had to wait for the class to empty out before I could leave. W. Cofie may have forgotten me on Valentine’s Day, but Auntie Flo hadn’t! I can always count on my period for a warm surprise.

I carried a deep dislike for Val’s Day in my chest for a decade more, until I met and married Marshall, who has gone out of his way to make each one special. Now that we have a family, I have gotten over my distrust of the “holiday” and have formed an expanded vision of love as well. There are several types of love, and we’ve discussed them on M.O.M. and in other circles before. There’s brotherly love, romantic love, the love between a parent and their child and love for friends. I have discovered a 5th type of love; that being the love of one’s teacher…or in this case, my daughter’s third grade teacher.

Let me tell you, I love me some Ms. McNeil. I call her K-Mac(!). The woman is just phenomenal. Aya looks up to her with such reverence that it warms my heart. I can tell she genuinely appreciates her teacher, which makes me appreciate her all the more. In the two years that K-Mac has been teaching my daughter, there has never been a day that she has woken up in a bad mood or reluctant to go to school. K-Mac keeps her engaged, encouraged and excited to learn. That is why she is my funny valentine this year.

teacherI have already picked and wrapped Marshall’s gift, but I am fretting over what to get Ms. McNeil. I have gone to extreme lengths to make sure her gift is just so. Yesterday morning, I jumped out of bed and braved the morning frost so that I could rummage through my recycling and retrieve a forgotten coupon for a local gift shop for her. Yes, I dumpster dived for this teacher I love so dearly! Put my dignity on the ground and everything for this woman!

I spent 15 minutes picking out the perfect bag that would serve as the temporary housing space for said gift. I spent half the morning agonizing over what my note in the card I’d picked out for her should say.

I really dig you, Ms. McNeil… Nah. I couldn’t say that. That sounded so creepy; almost grave digger-ish.

You’re the best thing that ever happened to us, Ms McNeil!…. Jeesh! Desperate much, Malaka? Erase that!

Finally I settled on “You are beloved” and sealed the card before I could damage the parchment further.

lopezNow that we have had so many other bad teachers (or teachers who have been bad for my kids, to be fair to these hardworking ladies), I cannot state enough what the value of an educator who keeps your kid inspired and focused is. There is no currency conversion for this. It’s priceless. One has only to look at what has become known as “the Lopez Effect” for proof of this. Passion, dedication and genuine concern for the outcomes of your students is not something they can teach in a course. It’s something that’s either innate in the fiber of an educator, or it’s not; and K-Mac is chockfull of all of those things and this is why I love her.

But what if she doesn’t like my gift? What if she thinks I’m this super weird Black chick with inordinate feelings for her instructional gifts? Gosh, I feel like a hormonal 15 year old boy trying to gather the courage to ask the girl in the cat sweater to the school dance. It’s so unsettling. This sucks! Nevertheless, I will not chicken out, and I will give her my carefully selected gifts. Do you see the difference between true love and obligation to love? True love cares if it gets it right! If the giver of your gift isn’t a bit shaken when they are handing over their gift, they ain’t really care.

Are you giving an unconventional Valentine’s Day gift this year? Why don’t you give a li’l something to the janitor or your bank teller? Valentine’s Day is not just for boyfriend and girlfriends. It’s a day for love of all kinds! Try expanding your scope too. It helps with the nyashing. ;)

Oh, hey! Are you in Accra and still looking for a great last minute gift for Val’s Day? Treat yourself or the one the love to some hot MAKSI fashion and fiction! You can find copies of The Justice (Boakyewaa Glover) and The Daughters of Swallows (Malaka.)

Get some hot “prints” for your body and your eyes! ;)

Maksi

MAKSI is located at Palm Street, East Legon (opposite NVTI)

Tel: 050 4529393