Category Archives: Thoughts raging in my head

Were There Inns in Ancient Africa?

Just hang in there with me.

I was watching a kung fu film set in ancient China called ‘Drink With Me’ earlier this week, and a wandering warrior named Golden Swallow was passing through town in search of her brother, who had been captured by bandits and was being held for ransom. Golden Swallow and her brother were the children of the local magistrate and the bandits wanted to do a prisoner swap for the return of their leader. Of course, Golden Swallow didn’t negotiate with terrorists, so she had to go in there and handle her bidness.

Anyway, her first encounter with the bandits was at an inn, which also served as the town’s only restaurant. After she single-handedly whopped up on 15 or so men and sent them off, licking their wounds, she informed the inn keeper that she needed a room and a hot meal. (Her first order of food never arrived in all the chaos.) He bowed obsequiously and showed her to her room for the night.

So of course, that got me to thinking: Were there inns, hotels, motels or traveler’s rest stops in ancient Africa? If so, what did they look like? Who manned them? How and where did they operate?

My interest stemmed from some reading I’ve been doing to try to make sense of how Africa got to the abysmal state she is now. With all this bootlicking prattle about how Africa is ‘rising’ or ‘on the move’, if you want to dress the same tired narrative in different attire, I believe the we Africans have allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security about the true state of affairs with the deceptive praise of the West.

“Oh! You guys figured out how to get pipe borne water to your village square, but are still using communal pit latrines to do your poopy business? Never you mind. Great job! Africa is on the move!”

There is a wealth of information and opinions available online, so I turned to social media for a reaction – any reaction – to my query. Africans have been trading and learning from each other for centuries. I recently read that kente, Ghana’s unofficial official national cloth, did not originate from Ghana. The Asantehene commissioned artisans and weavers to go to Ouagadougou to learn and perfect the art from other weavers in the region and return to the Ashanti Empire with their knowledge. One can justifiably deduce that there was some sort of relationship between the two empires, most likely rooted in trade. If there was trade, there were trade routes. If there were trade routes between the Ashanti Kingdom – and any other kingdom – people had to have somewhere to sleep and eat along the way. So were there inns?

tents tents2

I know that these two people were half-joking, but they wisecracking still betrayed a certain mindset about African life as it was lived and conducted prior to colonization. Neither of these people, or yourself included, could conceive of the idea of Africans running a hotel-style business for profit. It’s never been depicted in film or popular culture. There are no famous (or fictional) inns or taverns sporting romantic names like The King and Cross or The Red Dragon that excite the Ghanaian imagination as these names do the Anglicized fancy; so maybe there never were any to begin with. And let’s be honest: From Cape Town to Cairo, Ancient Africans wouldn’t be smart enough to dream up such an enterprise at all, since this was the Dark Continent, waiting to be civilized by the Europeans…right?

What if I told you you were on the right track? Indeed, there were no inns or temporary rooms for rent in either Ghana or possibly the rest of Africa. (An episode of Globe Trekker (PBS) told how the Venda people in South Africa keep a vacant kraal to host the occasional traveler in need of rest.) The reason is, real, uncorrupted Africans are civilized and kind. I asked my father for his input on my query.

image source: southafrica.net

image source: southafrica.net

“No. There was nothing like that in the old days,” he replied sleepily. “It was only until these Europeans came with their concept of hotels to charge hungry and tired people that we started doing these things. If you were a stranger or a traveler from out of town, the people in the area would put you up for the night. In fact, as long as there was no war, you could even go to the chief’s palace and he would host you for the night. The people would feed you and in the morning, see you off as you continued on your way.”

“Did you have to leave a gift or a token for the chief or whoever put you up for the night?”

“How? No! It was a kindness and a duty of the people in the area. The next day, all you had to do was thank your host and they were happy. That’s all they would expect. The thanks was like a blessing.”

He then went on to tell me how as a teen, my grandmother was traveling from Larteh to the coast and when they got to Adoagyiri, she spent the night in the chief’s palace. She was terrified the entire night, but she was well looked after and obviously lived to tell the tale.

I was incredulous. Kindness without expectation of something in return? Was this even possible in today’s modern Ghana? I have lived all of my youth and teen life in Accra, the country’s capital, and the attitude of the people is nothing like that. It’s even worse today. From the president to the street hawker, everyone is looking for a way to exact their pound of flesh from their neighbor. A friend recently told me that if you really wanted to experience Ghana, “leave Accra at once.”

If this was the attitude adopted by our ancestors, that you have a duty to look after the alien once they arrived within your vicinity, it certainly explains how easy it was for the Europeans to trade with us and then eventually trade us. We were (and still are) too trusting, too hospitable and too eager to see the humanity in our fellow man. The first thing a white person does when they visit alien shores is to build walls and forts to keep danger out. They are suspicious. This behavior has been exhibited from the time they landed on America’s east coast, all up and down the West coast of Africa, and any other place Europeans have “discovered” and resettled.

So what do you think? Is it possible that in all the thousands of years of the African’s existence, there were never any pay-to-stay dwellings on the continent? As always, I welcome any comments that will lead to further enlightenment! ↓

The History of Black Hair from Chime (HairCrush)

This is not what I intended to write about today, but once again, this is one of those videos I couldn’t help but share. I love history and I love hair, so when the two collide it gets shared!

Hey…I made a rhyme thing.

This video by Chime absolutely struck a chord in me. It was not a week ago that I was reminiscing online about hairstyling techniques and monikers with a few friends. My children (and yours) will never know what it’s like to go to a hair braider and request a cornrowed, threaded or plaited style by name. I vividly remember asking my trusted coiffeuse for intricate styles such as  “basket”, “bridge” or “starfish”. I was fortunate because I had a mother who was very Afrocentric and went to a school where I had the “privilege” of keeping my own hair. Almost every girl in the Ghanaian school system is required to shave off all her hair, a throwback to slavery and the propagation of neo-colonial mindsets and Black self-hatred.

Black hair has always been a source of pride and fascination. It is capable of defying gravity or submitting to it. It has its own story and serves as a herald for the wearer before he/she utters a word. Its versatility and beauty make it a heavy crown for the wearer. And of course, our hair is what has served as a binding agent for all Africans the world over. Any sister or brother from the Virgin Island can commiserate with the native North Carolinian about hair struggles and/or triumphs – about being forced to sit (nervously) still while Momma pressed the back of your head or the uncomfotable drip of a Jehri Curl.  Our hair connects us as family.

Anyway, enjoy the video and PLEASE leave a comment either here or on the HairCrush website. I hope you find it as educative as I did – or at least served as a reminder for those of us who are more ‘conscious’.

I think this is where I am supposed to say Hotep

 

To Live Free For a Day

parakeet-love-wallpapers-1

“Hey, Charity! What you doin’?”

“Girl… my momma is moving in with me next week. She’ll be down here from Detroit. Just tryin’ to get the house ready.”

“What’s with the cage?”

“Oh, these? These are my birds. Momma hates birds. She says they stank.”

“Hahaha! Well, let me leave you to it then. Catch ya later.”

“See ya!”

 

My neighbor’s mother moved in 4 days later and our neighborhood was never the same after that. In North Fulton, you get accustomed to certain noises. Woodpeckers, crows, finches…the occasional cat in heat, even. Nothing prepared me for the continuous chirping of the two parakeets that now called Charity’s carport their home. It’s not that their song was unpleasant – it’s just that it never ended. They chirped all day, late into the night and early in the morning. I didn’t notice it until my husband pointed it out one day this winter, and I haven’t been able to un-hear them since.

My kids adored Charity’s parakeets. Since I mistook their beta fish for a dying cockroach and beat it to death with a broom, they have had no pets of their own. That was not my fault. It was late and the frikkin’ fish startled me. If it wanted to live, it should have stayed in its bowl.

“Can we go over to Ms. Charity’s house and look at her birds?” they often requested.

“Sure. If she’ll let you.”

Moments later they would scramble across the cul-de-sac where the parakeets chirps were mingled with Liya’s own shrill cries of delight.

Hi birdies! Hiiii biirrrrdieeeees!!!!    

Every once in a while, Charity would let the kids sprinkle some bird seen in the cage. You would think she had given my tribe the password to the Matrix, they were so excited.

People were always coming in and out of Charity’s house: Cousins, aunts, nieces, nephews who had managed to escape the long arm of the law and on their way to community college. One day, a woman who possessed a girth so large that it could have been acquired by a lifetime of Southern cooking and a refusal to indulge in minimal exercise came by to visit Charity. I do not know her relation to the family. All I know is that her enormous buttocks knocked the cage over and set the two parakeets free. They seemed stunned for a moment and then they hopped away. Charity screeched. She loved her little birds so.

My husband saw the whole thing unfold and went over to assist. He crept (as well as a man of his stature can “creep”) up behind one of the birds that had perched on the trunk of her car. Sensing his approach, the parakeet flew away. Its cage mate followed suit. They were never seen or heard again.

Marshall and I have surmised that there is no way that either bird lived beyond that day. They were domesticated and used to eating birdseed. They had never had to build a nest or find shelter in the wild. Never mind that we have our own Crazy Cat Lady just down the road who has accumulated a host of feral felines. And then there are the hawks.

“This ain’t Rio with no happy ending where the two of them find a new home and start a new family. Them birds is dead.”

“Mmm hmm. Dead.”

All the same, I couldn’t help but think the final moments the winged creatures might have experienced. What was it like to see a human approach you, and then suddenly for the first time in your life, be able to spread your wings and fly away? Fly anywhere you wanted to go, even if you didn’t know where exactly you were going. How frightening and exhilarating that must have been for them.

But was it worth it? Was freedom worth losing the predictable comfort and security of their cage? What about you? Would you return to your cage, or would you choose to live free – even if it was only for a day? I think these are the options we are faced with every day: in business; in love; in any thing that requires a risk. What kind of bird have your instincts made the person you are today?

 

And I’ll beat the first person who replies with “Ah. But I am not a bird.” Beat you, I say! ;)

Christian Chauvinists: You HAVE to Stop Doing This

Chauvinism

: an attitude that the members of your own sex are always better than those of the opposite sex

: the belief that your country, race, etc., is better than any other

Siiiiggghhhh…

Fresh off of the Sabbath, there are people out here on the interwebs and at a Golden Corral near you showing their collective behinds over their church membership and its supposed significance. These are not followers of Christ, and I refuse to honor them with the label “Christian”. These are people who were born into a home where they saw a cross hanging in the living room and were forced to memorize a few scriptures in order to validate the religious moniker their parents bestowed upon them, but do not have Christ in their hearts.

And there are droves of them.

And they are loud and verbose with their obnoxious behavior and minuscule intelligence and displays of a deficiency of self-awareness.

And in the majority, they are men. Close behind these men are women who think that they are inferior to men and must therefore (exclusively) advance the agenda of men because this makes them “godly women”.

And I am TIRED.

I have a number of atheist acquaintances that I interact with online, and for the most part, our interactions are civil. They don’t believe in God or Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, and I am okay with that. What I am never okay with is when an atheist gets on his/her own religious soap box and begins to slight my faith. However, I have even less tolerance for church goers who in turn attack atheists in the vilest ways. I wish it were as simple as “You’re gonna go to hell if you don’t accept Christ!”

That would be nice. Instead, I’m seeing men tell women that they are sluts, cunts, stupid whores and witches because these same women refuse to kowtow to the patriarchal woman-hating god that these men worship Sunday after Sunday. These are the heralds of modern Christianity, and this is what folks think “Christianity” is… a bunch of douche bags sitting around demeaning women because God says so.

I promise you, I’m SO tired.

The people I love the most in this world – my brother and sister – are agnostic. They believe in a supreme being floating somewhere out in the Universe because they understand that as vast as the galaxy is, we cannot be the only thing that exists in it. That is the essence of hubris: to assume that your bipedal, mammalian existence is the most important vector in the expanse of space. They don’t share my faith, and that’s not their fault. It’s mine. It’s the fault of every douche bag church goer they’ve ever seen on television or met in person. If Christians were truly walking in Christ’s power – to heal, to console, to argue with reason and intelligence, and to love – there would be far less angst and debate and far more souls about trivial issues, far more evidence of God’s great love and more souls being won into the kingdom of Heaven. But douche bag church-goers STAY sending folks to hell, and your bible says you will have to give an account on the Great Day for every person you robbed of the opportunity to have a relationship with the true and living God.

It grieves me to think that when my brother and sister die, and we all must die, I would make it into Heaven and they would not. I know I could not be happy if we lived eternally separated from each other. Nevertheless, I recognize that their decision not to follow Christ is just that: a decision. They have observed a sample of the population, received the Biblical data (at least in part), analyzed it, and concluded it’s not for them. I have to (and do) respect that. Me kraaa, who’s to say God even wants my potty mouth in His presence?

Christian chauvinists! You have to stop your disgusting attacks on people who do not share your beliefs, and deluding yourselves into thinking that you can insult someone into the Kingdom of God. It just doesn’t work that way.

I understand why you do it though: It’s because you are afraid. You’re afraid that someone who is an atheist and functions in a respected sphere such as law, medicine or politics and does not share your belief somehow invalidates your belief. You think that if these “smart people” do not believe in the perfect God you think you serve then it means that you somehow must not be quite as smart. You think unbelief is contagious, and because you are not equipped with the mental dexterity to converse in an enlightened manner with someone who is not a douche bag church goer like yourself, your reflex is to insult their intelligence – or their sexuality, sexual history and/or gender –  rather than the substance of their view(s). You really must sit down and query your motives and your own faith. Ask yourself how someone blatantly stating that they would rather worship “burnt toast” than return to church affects you? How is that a menace to your personal faith?

Christians believe that the human being exists in three parts: spirit, soul and body. The spirit of God was made manifest in the flesh through Christ as an example of what is possible through your faith. But even in His day, when he walked and sweated and bled like any other man, folks still did not believe in Him. Even when He raised Lazarus from the dead, or made the blind see, or debated the Torah in the temple with new insight or performed the multitude of miracles we’ve heard about our entire lives, people still did not believe! Nevertheless, Christ’s ministry was about consistently showing individuals their singular importance to the Almighty, despite their sinful ways. That is why He did not condemn the woman at the well. That is why he told the adulterous woman that He did not judge her after sending her accusers away in their shame. That is why He vehemently forbade His disciples from sending away a throng of children who wanted to get closer to Him. Because ALL life has value to God.

So do you really think that by demeaning women (because Christian chauvinists are rarely brave enough to engage or combat men about their “sin”) you can win a soul to God? That’s your strategy? Spoiler alert: it’s going to fail.

In Desperate Search of Black Leather Luxury

My friend Toyah dropped by the house the other night while I was hiding from my children in my room. We struck up a conversation about life – Black life in particular – in America. This is important to tell you, because the discourse Toyah and I typically engage can be described as anything but “deep”. In fact, it’s usually pretty juvenile, which is just the way I like it. But last Friday was different, and it signaled a turning point in my shopping habits as an adult African/African-American consumer.

“Did you know that the Black dollar only circulates once in the Black community?” she mulled.

“Yeah. I know.”

It was a statistic I had grown up hearing: how the Jewish dollar circulates 83 times within its own community and juxtaposing that with the rate at which the Black dollar flees the community. Here’s another way of looking at it from the NAACP:

“Currently, a dollar circulates in Asian communities for a month, in Jewish communities approximately 20 days and white communities 17 days. How long does a dollar circulate in the black community? 6 hours!!! African American buying power is at 1.1 Trillion; and yet only 2 cents of every dollar an African American spends in this country goes to black owned businesses.”

We talked about how the dollars we earn are immediately spent on enterprises we don’t own in part or en masse: utilities, housing/rent, clothing, food, public transportation. If it weren’t for Black barbers and hairdressers, the African American dollar might spend even less time in the cycle than it does now! I thought about my spending habits when I cast my eyes towards my closet where I house dozens (my husband would say hundreds) of shoes and a brand new Michael Kors purse I had been craving and coveting for nearly a year. When I had saved up $300 in disposable income (something that’s hard to do when you have this many people outgrowing shoes and clothes weekly), I went online and gleefully gave Mr. Kors the expendable fruit of my labor. As Toyah and I talked, the less I began to like my red saffiano tote.

“I’m going to return it,” I declared.

She laughed, but I was dead serious.

“No, really. It’s way too big and at $300, I need to LOVE it…not be looking for ways to make it work.”

I sat on my decision for another 24 hours and early Saturday morning, I returned my MK bag to Macy’s. I was further encouraged to return the item when I stumbled across a rather provocative article that intimated that luxury brands like Michael Kors and Coach were losing their value as price points for particular items fell to where they were accessible to middle income and minority shoppers . If you recall, this is the same phenomenon that struck other “iconic” American designers, and we were the segment of society that was blamed for the demise of labels such as Tommy Hilfiger. Humph!

I didn’t expect to feel as much satisfaction as I did when I returned the bag, but that still left me money to spend and a desire to spend it; so I began an online search for Black owned businesses that carried luxury leather items. I would wear them with as much pride as I would any other mainstream label. Have you heard of any Black owned luxury labels? Neither have I – and I didn’t expect it would be so difficult to find one!

After 3 days of fruitless Google searches and inquiries on Twitter, I finally happened on three websites which I held on to for dear life! I felt like a Backyardigan on an imaginary chase. Did these items actually exist, or were they a figment of my imagination? They are real, guys! And I’m pleased to be able to share them with you:

Deondra Jeree – USA

dejereeBorn in a small town just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, designer Deondra Jeree Morris fuses her southern roots with her big city savvy to create effortlessly stylish handbags.  Already Featured in fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines such as Lucky and Ebony, 22 year old Deondra Morris is the designer and creative director of the Deondra Jeree collection.  At age 19, Deondra worked for the Independent Handbag Awards located in New York City, where she was inspired to launch her own handbag collection in late 2013.

I love Deondra’s simplistic approach to design. The frames and shapes she’s chosen are timeless and translate easily from one function to another. I would never use a $700 bag as a sleek “Mommy purse” to carry around juice boxes and graham crackers…but it’s a nice idea to think that I COULD.

Price range: $100 – $700

www.deondrajeree.com

Minku – Lagos

Minku-Autumn-Winter-Minku is a Nigerian maker of quality goods established in 2011 and specializing in leather bags for men and women. The brand defines a fresh sub-Saharan aesthetic through its subtle use of cultural elements and artisan approach to contemporary bag-making.

What I love about this brand is the distressed look of the leather and the details the designer incorporates. Those details include the cross-knot stitch that runs along the seams of several of the duffel bags and hobos.

Price range: $60 – $1,000

www.minku.com

Gregory Sylvia – USA

gregCo-founded by husband and wife Gregory Pope and Terri “Sylvia” Pope, Gregory Sylvia is a fast growing luxury leather goods and lifestyle brand.

I got a chance to speak with Gregory, the husband half of this duo and explained what brought me to his website. He was surprised it took me three days to find them. I chalked it up poor search terms and asked him about his business.

“We saw the same thing in the marketplace that you described,” he confirmed. “African Americans with disposable income and a desire for quality, luxury brands, but there were no owners of those brands who looked like us.”

Gregory and his wife, Sylvia, sought out to create a brand that African Americans – and anyone eventually else – could wear. The company was started with the Greek Collection, which offers classic crossbodies and totes in the colors of four African American sororities.

This is where it gets sad for me: red is my favorite color, and the only bag that have in red is under the Delta Sigma Theta collection. These bags are only available to members of those particular sororities, not to rabble such as myself. It took everything in me not to weep! Nevertheless, there is a very elegant bag called the “Ellington” that I have my sights on. I think I will be okay without the Crimson Crave…eventually.

Price range: $110 – $370

www. gregorysylvia.com

 

Are there other Black/minority owned luxury brands that you are aware of? If so, I think you should share in the comments section below! And when you do comment, make sure to leave out the words “Made in China”, “unnecessary obsession” and “first world problems”. We only want positive contributions here. :)

Colorism: Eku Edewor’s ‘Heritage’ Photo Shoot Conundrum

edewo

Glance at this photo. What are your immediate thoughts? Does it offend you? Why, or why not? Think about it for a second. Why are you or why aren’t you offended by this picture? Sure, it looks innocuous, but this harmlessly snapped image has had the Nigerian Twirraverse in an uproar for almost two days now, and the reasons aren’t so simple.

Eku Edewor is a British-Nigerian actress, model and television presenter. It is her façade that is front and center of two controversial images that have rocked African social media this week. Her photo shoot for the cover of ThisDay Style magazine and an accompanying spread depict her leading a procession to meet her betrothed on a beach somewhere in what we presume is Nigeria. For some, these images are painful reminders of the class and color issues that Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora – not just Nigeria – grapple with even today. Elnathan John, Nigerian satirist and author took to twitter to explain the psychology of the uproar from his experience and perspective. The diatribe in its entirety is worth a read. Elnathan is very fair (no pun intended) to those who feel that they have to resort to skin bleaching. He rejects the notion that self-hate leads 77% of Nigerian women to bleach/lighten their skin, and rather pins the trend on a need for survival.

I call these images Eku’s Ink Blots. People see different things in these picture based on their own lived experiences or witnessing colorism as it is experienced by others. If you are one of those people who say that this picture is absolutely offensive and smacks of intra-racism: you’re right. It does. And if you’re one of those folks who see nothing wrong with this image or the arrangement of the cast of characters here: you’re right as well. These pictures are a real (and in some cases, painful) reality of the world we exist in today as Black people.

Part of the reason we are so mad at these pictures, is because we are mad at ourselves. We are angry that we are still mentally chained to the color/caste system that was thrust upon us by our European enslavers. Once upon a time, there were 245 delineations to assign or describe Blackness in America based on a matrix of hair grade, skin tone, bone structure and racial mixture. South Africa implemented something similar during Apartheid, assigning citizens their races based on similar patterns. The result was the fracturing of a people group, with “coloreds” and “blacks” existing in one nuclear family unit – for example – but with each of those individuals afforded certain rights and privileges based on their racial designation – and usually with lighter skinned folks being easily accepted and favored by the oppressor. Fairer skinned blacks were given better clothes, better jobs and treated with a modicum more respect. This system has been replicated all over Africa and the Diaspora, and we still have yet to heal from it. So when we see pictures of a light-skinned woman being ushered to her prince by a bevy a dark skinned boys with her Luis Vuitton luggage balanced precariously on their heads, it causes a visceral, ancestral reaction within us.

For her part, Ms. Edewor has had to defend the images and explain them as best she can. She says the purpose was to celebrate her Nigerian heritage and that the children in the picture were there as family members to greet and help her through her procession. Okay, fair enough…but as anyone from a mixed race family will tell you, it’s impossible that eeeeeveryone in your family is going to be blue berry black while you turn out lily white. Don’t spit in our eyes and call it rain, Ms. Edewor! A more ‘realistic’ representation of the bride’s “family” would have been to have some diversity in skin tone amongst her helpers. Unfortunately, a part of our collective Nigerian/African heritage is that this picture smacks of classism and racism. It is eerily colonial mistress-esque.

For me, what has been most unfortunate is that Eku Edewor has been denied her Nigerianess because of her complexion. I don’t know how hard Eku rides or reps for Nigeria, but as a hybrid myself, I can identify with whatever internal crisis she may have experienced in the past/present by being rejected by a culture and people you call your own. This denial has only been compounded by her foray into the entertainment industry, where many assume she has only gotten to the heights she’s achieved by virtue of her skin tone. While I don’t know her and have never seen any of her work, but I doubt this is true. I’m sure that her skin color likely opened some doors for her, but it is her performance that keeps her in the game. That her skin color that she was born with affords her privilege is not her fault; it’s a system wide disease that plagues us all. It is the same illness of colorstrickeness that keeps darker skinned women from gracing the covers of magazines (unless they are high fashion editorials and exotic in nature) or in music videos. It is the colorstricken gatekeepers at the helm of banking, fashion, advertising and entertain that promote these attitudes and trends…and they largely affect women. As Elnathan John noted, you adapt to survive – even if that adaptation means risking skin cancer and liver failure. Once you are born in dark black skin in this world, society is quick to offer you a prescription for that existence.

Speak ‘whiter’.

Dress in muted colors.

Straighten your hair.

Bleach your skin.

Marry outside your race so your kids won’t be so ****ing black.

Anyway, in a week we will have forgotten all about Eku and her Ink Blot and moved on to something else for which to be outraged. I have a suggestion: Why don’t we talk about child labor? Why were pre-pubescent boys responsible for carrying her luggage? What, there were no big men around? Mmmm, see? Nobody ever thinks about the kids!

Eku-Edewor-Lynxxx-for-This-day-Style-BellaNaija-March2015002

Day 2: What it’s like to watch your child witness racism for the first time

I watched the movie ‘Selma’ when it opened up nationwide last week and determined that my two eldest children should watch it too. At ages 10 and 8, I deemed them old enough to see the PG 13 movie. The girls were fortunate in their choice of mother, for what better boon could there be in having a mom SO well-versed in Black history and culture, and could therefore answer any technical questions about racism or the times that they may have?

Stupid, stupid me.

There is nothing ‘technical’ about heartbreak, and I of all people should have known that. The 128 minutes devoted to watching this film did not elicit the “who” and “what” questions from their young lips as I had expected; only repeated queries of “Why, Mommy? Why?” As anyone who has had their heartbroken can tell you, “why” is often the hardest question to answer.

MX5’s eldest daughter joined our trio at the theater. Our seating arrangement had me at the very end, with Aya sitting next to me. It was too dark to see/hear what the two other girls’ reaction to the film was, so it was Aya’s heart I watched crumble with each passing minute in the film. The scene with the four girls being blown to bits set off an avalanche of tears. She let out a sharp, shocked gasp as the sound of the explosion rocked the theater. Then she did something I haven’t seen anyone do since I was a child myself. She circled her arms around her shoulders, stuck her fingers in her ears, and hummed loudly throughout the entire scene. I tapped her to let her know it was over.

“Mommy! Did those girls really die?” she whispered harshly.

I confirmed that they had, saying, “Yes. This is based on true events.”

She was silent for a moment before she asked what was really burning on her heart. “But the girls acting in the movie didn’t die…did they?”

“No.”

Her reaction to the police raid during the night march on the streets of Selma was no less visceral. Again she closed her eyes and tried to bury her face into the flesh of my arm, as if trying to disappear. Bloody Sunday, which marked the Civil Rights marcher’s first (and failed) attempt to trudge from Selma to Montgomery was more than she could take. She dissolved in a puddle of her own tears. I pulled her close and felt the wild thumping of her little 8 year old heart as police and vigilantes unloaded tear gas, beat American citizens with clubs wrapped in barb wire, and one officer thundered down the highway on horseback, flogging protestors with a bullwhip.

“Why is this only happening to brown people?” she asked tearfully.

I hadn’t expected that. The only answer I could give was “it shouldn’t be happening to anyone.” To that end, watching the white priest from Boston be beaten to death under a hurl of insults, including the repeated use of the words “nigger” and “white nigger” drove the point home, I think. It shouldn’t have happened to anyone, but white supremacy finds declares itself an enemy to anyone on the side of equality…even if that person happens to be white him/herself. I think we often forget that though not as frequently, the KKK and other fringe groups killed white people as well as Blacks. Abolitionists, desegregationalists, and friends of the Civil Rights movement were seen as “race traitors”, and these factions had no qualms with shedding their blood as well.

There are no words to adequately describe what it’s like to see your child come face-to-face with the monster that is racism. It did confirm what sort of child(ren) I’m raising. Whereas Aya shrank away and fretted in the face of this level of hatred and brutality, Nadjah declared that she would have gone to war with the supremacist powers that be, had she lived in that day. While I admired her boldness, it needed to be tempered with reality. I informed her that they killed Black children with as much frequency in those days as they did adults. I spared her the details of the gravity of that statement, however. What good would it do to heap on the bad news in that hour, for them to discover that the America they feel so safe in is ONLY so because of the bubble I keep them trapped in? There’s time enough in the future for that.

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America has a long history of failing children – children of color and those who live in poverty in particular – for the benefit of commerce and greed. The list is gruesome and extensive. From white men who used Black infants as alligator bait, to hiring out slave children to be nurses or caregivers to (wealthy) white children, to using them to crawl into narrow, dangerous spaces (as Harriet Tubman narrates), to adults spitting at them as they integrated schools, to sending them to the harrowing halls of juvenile dentition where there is neither hope nor help, to child sex trafficking in major cities like the one we find ourselves residents of today. There is a whole world of monsters, driven by lusts and greed in America, feasting on the tender flesh of our children. Every day, powerful men and women LOOK at our babies, but don’t SEE our babies. They see an opportunity or a problem, either to be exploited or eliminated. Slavery is still very much alive and well in America. It never changed its nature. It merely switched costumes.

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What is it like watching your child witness racism for the first time? It’s like reliving that moment yourself – and it’s no less devastating, despite the supposed benefit of age and foreknowledge.

 

* This post is the second in the 7 day #YourTurnChallenge series