Sometimes all I can think about is our son. He is amazing, our happiness and shining star. 4 months 1 week now, and he is so loving and kind and happy, healthy and smart and talented–he plays the piano and sings and sees and dreams and talks! Oh wow. I feel so lucky, so blessed.
What is a parent?
Whether he chooses to serve his own egos and desires…or the best interests of the child.
The necessity to teach, raise, love, support, nurture, and defend that child. Always.
How, if you do not take care of her…what are you teaching her? How will she know to take care of herself?
How will she know she needs to take care of herself–that this is something right and positive to aspire to?
How will she know what it means to take care of herself? How will she know the steps to do so?
How will she know to see when someone is truly wishing to take care of her? To value her?
How will she know to see through, know when these words are just hypocritical doublespeak and lying?
How will she know to expect to be respected, valued…To be taken care of. How will she know to demand this…to not accept anything less–if this is not the message that you are giving her at all…you, the one who is supposed to value, love, and take care of her, always…
How will she relate to and fare in the world…where everyone else is only looking out for their best interests–never hers’?
How this is even so much more important for girls because the world is so much more dangerous for us than for boys…all the watching male eyes and hands wanting our bodies, minds, our energies–anything at all that they can use for their own pleasure and take for their desiring without reciprocity, without taking care of…
If she does not know this.
Especially when it comes to this shifting into womanhood, the sexual awakening…
How this is complicated even further through culture and identity…how in this, the world of American white men and dating in this country women are not truly valued…there is only the expendible nature of using and losing each woman in line with another and the next, her value and energy drained as he jumps to the next younger, more attractive model. How throughout my life these American white men have pursued me only wanting sex, thinking it is their right…As I became more accomplished in my career, how this has translated into thinking they can use me for my mind the same way and I will accept being used, not valued, or respected. That I will take their disrepect and abuse and, like little Oliver, sweetly say “Yes, please, thank you. Can I have some more?” How they become so angry and feel cheated when I stand up for myself, when I do not let anyone use or abuse me. When I look after my best interests. When I take care of myself.
How I still struggle, still fall, sometimes, under the press of their rapacious, toxic actions because I am not strong enough to always be aware and defend myself, alone; to always be on edged guard here. Too much to do, alone. While trying to grow, be present; be open and live.
The necessity of parents, of family. To protect. To defend. To love, support, value. To take care of themselves. So they can take care of you. So they can teach you how to take care of yourself.
How this becomes so important if you are a woman of color. How, to these American white men, to America in general I have learned, because of the still-pregnant presence of the legacy of slavery, the color of our skin means we not have to be valued or taken care of at all…how, when I think about the future sons and daughters I will have I become overwhelmingly scared, overwhelmingly determined to position my life and take care of them so they do not have to engage with these energies, so they know how to protect and defend themselves, just in case…
How this does not exist in my culture, or any other culture, really, where a child does not have to worry about fear of strangers; if lost, she just asks anyone, in line with another and the next, unafraid of harm, knowing only love, only family in the tribal community…how beginning to understand these concepts in fictional form became the subject of my last book, Girls Raised by Men. How, living in this country, there is something here at which I must look closer still, apparently. To live love, unafraid…unaffected by all this ugliness of others…
The necessity of family, of parents. To advise and protect. Defend and value. Respect and support. Love and nurture. The necessity of parents to be parents, to live, to grow, to take responsibility and take care of their family. Your most precious treasure. No matter what.
Otherwise, who will?
What is in and outside of your control.
How today, when leaving my doctor’s office I called a taxi as I usually do to drive me home. Only, when I get to the cab—Independent Taxi #294—the driver locks the door and rolls up the windows. He says he does not want to give me a ride becuase I am Black. And when I refuse, when I stood up for my rights to defend myself, the driver gets out of the front seat and comes around the back. He is an inch away from my face, yelling and screaming that he is going to pull me out of the car, asshole, stupid black bitch and run me over. At this point, he actually touches me. I call 911, terrified. This is assault.
And here is where it gets interesting….
Two middle-aged white male officers show up, Officers Batty and Officers Castaldo of the BHPD. They talk to the white male cab driver first. They nod and smile. Then they come over to me and tell me that, and I quote, “The driver has every right to refuse service to me based upon how I look.”
And then, when I protest, Officer Castaldo says he will go ahead and arrest me for being upset and refusing to let the taxi driver be racist towards me.
What, then, I ask, have the past fifty years been for?
For what was the point of the Civil Rights Movement, and Ms. Parks…and Dr. King dying and all those tiny little afro-puffed girls and boys drowned full force under the press of other uncaring white policemen’s fire hoses and truncheons?
They have every right to deny service to you because you are Black.
I have never felt so small and worthless in my life.
They have every right to discriminate against you based upon how you looked; he was perfectly within his rights.
It isn’t about the fact that I am a “certain kind of Black”–an educated college professor with two degrees who exhibited nothing more frightening in her appearence than a pair of rather thick nerdy glasses. It’s about the fact that no one should be made to be treated this way.
I, unlike the taxi driver and the police officers, had the whole rest of my work day destroyed. I could focus. I could not stop shaking six hours later. Deadlines were missed, clients were angered. Because I—as a young 100 pound woman, was terrified at this sweaty, cursing, odoriferous man threatening to “drag you out of my cab asshole!” Because I, as a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda still am reeling from horrors of police brutality and violence. And, just like then, the law chose to protect the aggressor, not the victim. No mention of the fear I am experiencing because of the PST triggered by being assaulted and attacked by men before. And the fact that the reason I was seeing the doctor in the first place was because of being dragged, half in, half out of a cab for two city blocks in New York City by another taxi driver who took off as soon as I got in because he didn’t want to drive a Black in his car.
My first memory of race in Los Angeles is being with my father, in a store, in Beverly Hills. He was buying me a dress for my junior high graduation. He was proud because I had finished junior high in one year. We went into a store. They told us to leave. They did not want Blacks there.
I had missed my father’s experience because my focus was on the fifty year old white man who was attempting to grope my 12 year old post-puberty Black ass while my father was being detained by security. Then, I was more scared for myself and my sisters—with me, as with all Black women, there was an element of fundamental attraction to our bodies in rhe desiring of white men that makes the racism we experience a different kind of ugliness—there is a sense of sexual entitlement to our bodies based on white privilege and the legacy of slavery…the eroticization of us on a physical level, for the animalistic raw thrill of sex—the darker the berry the sweeter the juice, once you go black you don’t go back, etc… expendability. The use, for sex and pleasure, but never commitment.
But as I grew up, my thoughts were less on the continued exploitation of the black female body and more about what my father’s experience must have been like. What my brother’s experience must have been like. I realized I was more scared for them because racism would always try to jail and kill and destroy them that way.
And now, again in Los Angeles, echoing so loudly is this message…Imagine, on an hourly, daily, basis every year traumatic painful experiences with people who have no reason to hate you find a way to treat you with the utmost derision, contempt, condescension, violence, and hate.
To be told you do not matter.
To have to fight to be seen as a person.
To have to fight to be treated like a person.
The unendurable pressure. The psychological weight. The physical exhaustion. The destruction of the spirit, to wither and die.
How difficult this was when a child, here, to withstand this pressure when I did not yet know to see what was actually going on. That I did not need to believe the authority figures and these voices to internalize self-hate and lack of self-worth. That I could believe myself. Believe in myself.
That is the freedom and space that living in NYC gave me as an African American woman. I did not have to fight to defend my existence every second of every day that I was outside of my house. People did not see Black first. They saw a woman, a writer, a professor, a student, a friend. Sometimes simply Hope. I could breathe. I could live. I could truly find myself, outside preconceived notions of who I should be/act like and how awfully I was treated. I could create.
I could simply be, a human being. Nothing more. Nothing less.
*** READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT www.drivingwhenblack.com ****
“Open your eyes,” she says to me, all through class today. “Open your eyes.”
I like this teacher’s energy because she is strong. There are two older female teachers–one flowing soft in female femininity, one confident in female strength. I alternate, depending upon which energy I feel the need to be apprehending, which one I feel the need to draw around me or draw into my life at that moment.
These teachers are both a generation or a generation and a half ahead of me, which I appreciate. There is a different energy from women my age–still peers, concerned with competition and striving of the 20 and 30 something life that women double my age do not have; there is a settledness, a knowing, a wisdom. I feel comfortable that I can trust in these older women, in what they have learned….they are past any point where ego or self-interest of competitition in similar worlds seem to matter. But not having had a mother, it took me several years of after yoga practice to discern this, feel the understanding echo outwards, into my life.
This teacher, alive in female confidence and strength, is saying to me again: “Open your eyes. Open your eyes.”
And I realize that I have spent the first seven years of my yoga practice doing yoga with my eyes closed.
I have been looking inward, needing to get to know and understand myself, say hello. You are okay. I love you just the way you are. I understand why now, becuase of how I was raised–in a very strict repressed African culture where communication, like Asian cultures, is non-verbal and very indirect…raised by genocide survivors fleeing Idi Amin’s holocaust, refugees wrapped so deep in fear and Post Traumatic Shock that feeling was frozen to survive….feeling which further shut down as this legacy and the pressure of survival in an alien land broke my parent’s marriage into abuse and violence until, in the wake of their divorce, my aunt–my true mother figure–was forced to leave…feeling which shut down still further after unknowingly allowing the dynamics of abuse within my parent’s house to be recreated in the relationship with my first boyfriend–so terrifying he was, that was…feeling which shut down as I was unable to break up with him, unable to end the cycle of violence and abuse.
I was numb. I was ice. I could not feel.
Only each day, instinct, intuition, as I did my yoga practice, eyes closed to see deep inside to feel and understand…marking afterwards on paper did I begin to understand life, love; myself. And be.
I had to do this then. But do I have to do this now?
This is what I am thinking as she says to me: “Open your eyes.”
And when I do open my eyes, I realize that the alignment of my eyes change, my mouth. I see clearly, eyes wide and undistorted in squinting. My mouth opens to want to speak, to say. And my arm and shoulder, compressed since being dragged down the street by a taxi exactly a year ago to this day, begin to open slightly. I feel a tingling down my shoulder, through my right arm and fingers, a desire to write.
I find myself thinking about where am I going.
I must be open, to seeing it. To know. To see what is in front of my face….the outside world, in its truth…able to see through the illusions becuase of this long time of looking inward, to know self and discern. The neccesity to be unafraid.
Open your eyes. And see.