Somewhere in the Middle (Part 2)

Years ago a college professor asked, “do other black women speak to you while walking on the street?” I’d never thought about it before; however, since then I’ve become aware that they actually don’t. Generally one can sense when a person is making eye contact. In my experience, regardless of wheather I’m smiling in an attempt to initiate contact or acknowledge someone to say hello, it is very rare that the greeting is recipitated. The attitudes and charecter of many of my people, from my perspective, continue to be the reasoning for me to question where I truly fit in.

My social network ranges from all backgrounds and social class. It is extremely troubling to witness such a lack in unity amongst the black community. I hear folks constantly talking about “support black business”. Yet when I have, there’s little to no customer service as well as no organization when it comes to events and such. How do you promote a book signing and have no pens, just saying. Then there are those who complain about certain stereotypes placed upon us, yet many continue to prove them to be true. For instance never being on time. As a customer trying to support the black business owner who advertises their business hours, but on more than one occasion has opened more than 30 minutes late (personally, I have a problem with that). We have also been classified as lazy and angry.

Now, while I would never classify an entire group for the actions of some, over the years as I reflect back on experiences with my people, they have not been as gratifying as the instances with those who don’t look like me. For example, recently I sought help with computer technology. I reached out to several african americans initially. Relatives, neighbors, friends as well as professionals, all of which assured me they could or would help (obviously offering compensation because I never expect anything for free). Sadly, over a week went by and after calling and not hearing back fron anyone, I could no longer wait. I reached out to a young white man I knew from school. Not only did he agree to help which was a surprise only due to being aware of his busy schedule over the years, but he also gave me a day and time. When that day came, he called 30 minutes prior to confirm and showed up on time. When the job was finished he barely charged a fraction of what the others quoted and being so thankful, I still paid him double because I may need him in the future.

Being the person I am, I appreciate those little attributes that seemingly don’t matter to most. Being “on time” which is actually being early, standing by my word, taking accountability and overall integrity. Sadly, even when it comes to many of my friends and family there’s no unity. No support for ventures or accomplishments unless they can find ways to benifit for themselves. As a child my mother never showed up for a spelling bee, softball game nor acknowledged any of my accomplishments. That taught me that I couldn’t count on or depend on people. As an adult, some who I believed to be “friends” seemingly had the plantation mindset of “house nigga” versus “field nigga”, allowing envy and selfishness to get in the way of the ultimate goal of freedom. When in actuality neither is better off than the other, but with the wrong attitude, that “friend” assumes you might have it better not stopping to realize that our struggle is the same. I don’t get mad or seek revenge on the those who have wronged me. I refuse to believe those who know me can be so malicious. Instead, I feel bad for them attempting to put myself in their shoes in hopes of understanding so I pray for them. I’m proud of my reflection when passing by a mirror (inside and out) knowing who I am and what I stand for. The world already throws so much at us that’s out of our control, I couldn’t bare to intentionally be the reason for yet another hardship in someones life, especially the ones I care about even if/when they may not care as much for me.

There are very rare occasions where my people have been the ones to encourage me or show support. In school growing up, it was my white teachers who took on those roles. Introducing me to new concepts, showing interest along with praise and reward for doing well. As I became an adult it’s been the white folks that have provided me oppertunities and given me a chance. No white folks ever robbed me at gun point, beat and abused me nor treat me as poorly as my own people have. I can’t help but paint the image as my stepfather who sexually abused me as my experience with whites and my mother who constantly beat me and endlessly vilified me in an attempt to break me down as my experience with blacks. It was her nature to communicate in a scurrilous manner in general. I wonder had it come down to it (which it almost did), as a child who would I have been better off with? A mother’s role is to nurture, love and protect no matter what, that is to be expected. On the other hand, a man who is not my biological father, in my mind has no major obligation to me other than obeying the law at the very least. I grew up thinking, If I can’t trust my parents, how could I trust a stranger? My conclusion is that over the years it is my mother who has caused the most severe trauma. Although I was also violated by my stepfather, he didn’t cause nearly as much long term damage as my mother did. I look for the good in everyone. I am blessed with kidness daily which can be a bit surprising considering the times we live in. I realize there are good and bad people in general. Unfortunately the results due to my personal experiences force me to question who can I actually trust; therefore, often finding myelf alone, somewhere in the middle.

Somewhere in the Middle (Part 1)

As a black woman nearing the age of fifty, I’ve found myself often reflecting on my past and realizing that I’ve never quite fit in-anywhere. Although I was born in the south, I’ve lived in California since I was a year old. As a child I remember our first drive back to Arkansas for the family reunion and Juneteenth celebration. Never had I seen such an abundance of black folks in one place. I was confused by the sight of blacks working in the local stores and gas stations. Everyone seemed friendly, honking their horns and waving. I also couldn’t help but notice that some of the white folks I encountered were distant and not as engaging as they were back in Cali. There was an insidious glare in their eyes that at the time, I didn’t understand.

My mother welcomed everyone into our home. Color was of no concern to her, for she only had two rules as she would say. “Don’t lie to me ’bout nothin’ and don’t steal from me and we’ll be alright.” Although it took a few decades, eventually I learned and began noticing certain behaviors of people that I questioned which slowly began to alter my perspective. I’d reflect back on instances when during school age, I was constantly asked “why do you talk white?” That question always confused me. What did they mean? That was the beginning of basically being isolated by the so-called peers who looked like me.

It makes sense to me that our behaviors are learned from our enviornment. These are my experiences which have ultimately caused me to wonder, if and where do I actually fit in. Because I’ve always felt a disconnect with blacks and unable to relate on certain levels (music for example), and while at the same time my experiences with some whites have showed me that when it comes down to it, regardless of my skills, integrity or professionalism, they most likely will choose their own. Therefore, leaving me to be stuck somewhere in the middle.

First off, being named after the lengendary country singer (a story for later) didn’t help me to score any “cool points” in the black community. Aside from that, my parents had lots of white friends, especially after moving to Sacramento from Oakland when I was eight. I don’t know exactly how conscious they were when it came to black society. My stepdad worked every extra shift available while my mother didn’t have much education nor work experience, yet did the best she could. They never talked to me or taught us much about anything relevant concerning black culture. Our television stayed tuned in to shows like Knight Rider, Dukes of Hazzard or my mother’s favorite’s Dallas and Knotts Landing. Ocassionally, Shaft and George Jefferson would find their way into our living room. We lived in prodominately white middle class neighborhoods which also meant prodominantely white schools. My brother’s and I listened to artists like Duran Duran, Phill Collins, Boy George and so on. I’d never even had a black teacher that I can recall until my junior year of high school while living in Michigan temporarily. I have however, experienced that awkward feeling of being the only black in the office when the media announces the death of Michael Jackson or that Obama has won the election. All eyes on me, waiting for my reaction.

Due to the abuse from both of my parents, I had already become an introvert and have always been socially awkward, even around relatives. Often in my own household of step-siblings, I felt like an outsider which meant I was usually in a corner somewhere, alone simply observing. Not much has changed today although some people would disagree. My work ethics have often resulted in the advancement of a leadership position allowing for a bit more ease. Even in work enviornments socializing was not always easy for me. I was extremely timid. My thought process was to stay focused, be thorough and utilize my time wisely. The only sport I knew was softball, but people only seemed to discuss football or basketball so there were rare opportunities to inject myself into the conversation. I was baically clueless to many issues of the world and simply didn’t have any input to offer. The thing is, for me, there’s a difference between my private life and my life as a professional. The only situations in which they compare is when it comes to running a tight ship so-to-speak and doing my best to obey the rules.

5th Generation Girl

From my mother
To my mother's father
From his mother and father
and their parents, my Great-Greats
Lydia and Derry
During a time when couples stayed married
To Big Mamma
4ft 2, 104lbs, still the strongest woman I've known
Bore 12 to help work the fields
From slavery to pickin' cotton
Boys plowin' da fields, butcherin' hogs
Girls out back wringin' chicken necks for suppa
And milkin' da cows in the pasture

As I stare at their photos on my wall
Of those that i see, came the production of me!
5th Generation Girl
Breaking down barriers, standing tall-
Eighty-six, my grandfather got that name the day
a white man spit on him
"Get on your side of the road, ya damn Nigger!"
From him came Effie who at 19, bore Tammy
Oh, where would I be without my
ancestors who paved the way for me!
Through sweat, pain, tears, tornado's, southern storms

Twelve mouths to feed for at least eighteen years
From segregated schools, protest and hard times
I'll tell you where I wouldn't be....
Because of the doors you've opened
nearly dying and sometimes dying for me!
Without your struggles
I, as a black girl would not have this opportunity
to spread my wings and thrive
Oh glory...God bless your souls!
I thank you and love you dearly!
Because of you 5th generation girl can now and forever fly freely!
My Big Momma Age 100 ( born 1900)

Psychology of the Mask

Unfortunately during the last year, the world has been forced to literally wear a mask as a safety precaution during the pandemic. However when it comes to the history of my ancestors, the concept of wearing a mask meant something much different. Paul Laurence Dunbar is known for being one of the most influential African American literary scholars of his time. His passion for language and music, along with personal life tragedies have been the motivation behind much of his work. With regards to his poem “We Wear the Mask” (revised here by Maya Angelou), the style as well as the content provides a vivid reflection of the hardships people of color endured as well as how they dealt with restrictions that were placed upon them. The basis of the poem is the immense suffering of blacks and the necessity of painting on a happy face as a survival tactic.

Dunbar “challenges the plantation tradition”. These were slave states that heavily focused on the antebellum times, like Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas. Whenever African Americans began to rebel, others became afraid and would resort to using psychological methods of power (such as seperating a slave woman from her children). There is reason to believe that the wearing of the mask is a sign of both physical and mental strength. The reality is that psychic strength is a key factor in what blacks; especially woman, developed years before to survive slavery.

“We wear the mask that grins and lies”, is a statement that can be depicted as: why not give those who are different what they want for the sake of keeping the peace. When examining the word “mask” some may view it in the sense of a horse that is blinded; wandering aimlessly as did slaves while working on the plantations. However; in refference to the spirit of African American’s, it seems more reasonable that the intent leans more towards being in disguise, hiding their true character. Although it is not advertised, people of all backgrounds only reveal about themselves what they choose and have various reason for doing so.

Another line from the poem; “the debt we pay with human guile” can be perceived as insidious cunning, deceit or treachery. An alternative perspective is that to be cunning, does not necessarily mean that one is being deceitful. Cunning intellect can be a skill for survival, staying mindful that the goal of slave owners was to break the psyches of their slaves. The language in Dunbar’s poem reflects the bestial way of how blacks were seperated from the common run of humanity. “A mouth with myriad subtleties”, an unfamiliar usage of the word “mouth” is how it relates to facial expression while speaking. Without sound much can still be implied by expression alone. The statement also clearly implies a large amount such as military or Greek soldiers, but more specifically the scenario is based on the tens of thousands of slaves or race as a whole. This behavoir became a way of life. To not show any sign of emotion was for the sake of culture and love for family, which ultimately for many became a form of Black Fictive Kinship.

“We sing, but oh the clay is vile!” Music throughtout the generations in black culture has been a key element psychologically in lifting our spirits. During the days of slavery they would sing in faith as a way of providing hope. “Clay” refers to a stiff vicious earth found in other deposits near the surface of the ground at various depths below, forming a tenacious paste. In turn, through the singing people of color were aslo determined to firmly stand their ground, mainly in faith because that was all they had to cling to. One can also argue that to atleast some extent this may have had a psychological impact on slave masters as well. Imagine doing everything in your power to break someones spirit and tear them down, yet with all the odds against them, they still refused to loose hope or give up. The relevance of the “mask” concept is not limited solely to African Americans, especially in this day and age. People from around the globe at some point, have or will experience wearing the mask. Some because they choose to and others may feel as if they are forced to do so. Be it with-in our work enviorments, social meeting places like church or common peers such as family for one reason or another, we all are simply trying to survive and that experience in itself varies for everyone.

Goals, Purpose & Passion

Welcome, and thank you for visiting. My hope is that as you join me on my journey, you become inspired, realizing how powerful your VOICE is. Also to learn as well as take away useful information to help motivate and guide you during your personal journey. Ultimately what I plan to accomplish by starting this blog is first gain exposure of my name as an author and poet by establishing my brand, eventually leading to an opportunity for a book contract. Secondly, to raise awareness by sharing personal, intimate stories of life’s obstacles and challenges I’ve overcome. I would also love to become a success by earning income as a blogger.

I remember back in my day the elders were stern about children staying in their place and not necessarily having a say regarding any matters, not even what was for dinner. You simply ate what you were fed! However, for me it was different. I depended on input from my children and now grandchildren, especially living in the era of technology, which I’ve basically been forced to utilize, not only due to the pandemic, but simply to keep up with the pace of the world in accomplishing various tasks. Because of the abuse I endured as a child, it lead me to not be very trusting of others. It is my children who taught me a different perspective when it comes to my faith with socializing in certain scenarios and how I react to disappointment and/or fear. For the greater part of my life until I was about fourty years old, I’d always felt that God was punishing me, not realizing that everyone has similar experiences in life and in fact, I wasn’t alone. It is for that reason and during that time that I finally found my own VOICE. This is also why I’m extremely passionate about this work. Developing epilepsy in 2012 (cause still unknown) then recieving a mental health diagnosis a few years later inspired me to encourage others to share their stories and let them know that they are not alone.

I’ve been able to trace my ancestors back 5 generations. 5thGenerationgirl, one of my published works was a way of honoring my ancestors after learning their history from a time when families (especially from the deep south) stayed quiet keeping their secrets with the idea of it being a means for survival as well as an attempt in sparing their children from stigma and fear. This behavoir reminds me of a famous poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar ” We Wear the Mask” (which we’ll visit more in the near future). It helps to heal when we can open by telling our truths while at the same time not feeling vulnerable. I’m excited about the possibility of creating a bond, no longer feeling alone and at the very least, learning that someone else truly understands.

My background ranges from a short time in the medical field as a medical assistant (urology & family medicine) and phlebtomist. An instructor in art and science, supervisory positions for major companies, small business owner, lumbermill work and even farming. Some of my lows include protective custody as a witness to a murder investigation, putting a child up for adoption, four years of homelessness as a well two felony convictions over a twenty year spand. Although I never realized it during those times, God was and has been with me the entire way. I’ve learned many valuable lessons now looking back. The “light bulb” finally clicked with the lessons my ancestors were trying to teach me. I have no regrets because my experiences, good and bad have led me to discover my purpose in life which is to write, speak and share with hopes of encouraging others to find their way.

NOTE: The concept of “Sankofa” is a term from Ghana, loosly meaning “go back and get it” also the symbolism for the icon next to the logo on my home page. A bird w/ it’s head facing backwards, but feet forward. This concept is in part what’s promoted my growth by going back to my roots, learning from ancestors and history in general and using that information to continue pushing forward in life.