August 23, 2020

Corona Diaries: Hoping in the Dark

School starts this week.

I'm anxious, and at the same, relieved because my daughter's chosen to do a many of her classes virtually. Still, my mind chatters that all it takes is one hour, one moment, one exposure to start a potentially deadly domino fall.

There's so much, mom. Like, I don't understand why we need to be face-to-face. Like, why are they forcing this to happen?

I went off on a well-informed, frustrated my head. She didn't need to hear that, and frankly I didn't need to hear myself say it. So I dug deep into what I believed and what I knew and what I felt.

You know what? I'm not gonna lie: I am anxious. Thing is, I honestly believe that God is gonna do something big this school year. Like, beyond what you can even imagine. Seriously.

She looked at me like I had grown a third head.

No seriously. This school year, this whole situation -- everything is like we're walking into pitch black darkness. We don't know what's in front of us or what's going to change or if it's gonna change or when it'll change. It's dark. DARK dark.

She nodded blankly.

You ever notice that God always does His best work in the dark? Think about it: the earth was without form or void, and darkness covered the land. Then it says something about God having to separate light from dark, water from land.' It was utter chaos.

She leaned in.

Isn't chaos what is now? But then God did something as simple as SPEAK an ordered earth into existence. Remember when you were juggling friends and school stress and feeling overwhelmed last year? 

She nodded.

It felt dark, didn't it? But remember what happened? Out of the blue, you got called to facilitate a workshop in Austin.

She was listening.

All while the friend thing and school stuff was swirling, you were doing the work in what felt like the dark. In chaos. But I believe God was working on that opportunity for you even though all you wanted was a flashlight. 

He was working in the pitch black darkness of your chaos and gifted you with something that wasn't even on the radar. And that's what I believe is going on right now, kiddo.

The unknown and the darkness sucks. We're gonna bump into things, but I know that God does His best work in the darkness. So I'm going to expectantly wait to see what big thing He's going to reveal.

And I'll do it while wearing a mask and social distancing while having my hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes at the ready.

Lunar Eclipse...just another spectacular thing revealed by darkness.

August 19, 2020

Corona Diaries: It's A Lot and Evergreen

When I came back from our family trip to Pierce City, Missouri a few years ago, my dear friend wanted to know all the details. We met for lunch and I told her that, yes, my daughter, my husband and I stood at the graveside of my third-great grandmother who was born in 1795.

That we even took pictures of the expansive greenspace where my second great-grandfather’s house once stood before he and his step-son had a firefight with an angry mob who torched the place with them in it. It’s quiet, pastoral and unassuming.

That we stood on the land my ancestors used to own before they were driven from it.

And that, yes, we held vigil with a small group from the community on the very ground where an ancestor was lynched that night in 1901.

You should really write a book about this, she nudged. Maybe if I can sort it all out in my head. It’s just a lot. 

I mean, I wished I had a picture taken of my daughter and I by our maternal ancestor’s grave. I can still feel the rugged rock and rough engraving of the inscription as I traced it with my finger, but I wish I had would've had that picture taken, instead of a lonely ancient grave without any living offspring

I wished I could’ve sorted my feelings out in my head and eloquently put them in words, but they seem tangled in my struggle with the indignity of dying an innocent death all those years ago.

That the description of my ancestor’s demeanor who was lynched reminds me of my brother in an acute way. Like, how my mind's eye can see that man as my brother dying a silent, righteously indignant death at the hands of a frothing, willfully ignorant mob.

And how if I talk about any of that piece of the story, I find myself swallowing back a crying lump.

It's a lot.

How I felt privileged that this reporter, who captured the story of my family, continues speaking their names and telling their stories in word and in person. That he was the link to a story about my own family that my family either never talked about or knew about.

It’s a lot.

Here we are two years later, shut up, but maybe not shut up. Wearing masks or not wearing masks. Cell phones recording the Barbecue Bettys who've got law enforcement on speed dial, anti-maskers who believe grocery store staff are the enemy; citizens turned protestors, and a global awakening of sorts to...

...deaths occurring during/or as a result of police intervention.

Covid’s changed a lot of things, but not that.

This year's Democratic Convention scheduled in Milwaukee has gone virtual. So I watched tonight with the windows open, while enjoying a respite from week-long humidity.

I listened to the drumbeat of calls for and promises of equity and racial justice. It is a platform that might’ve spared my ancestors’ lives and set my entire family on a different trajectory way back when.

Then came the virtual roll call vote for nomination. Maybe my penchant for the political comes from my second great-grandfather who was President of the Colored Voters organization. He too was a lynching victim that night.

Anyway, someplace in between Rhode Island’s nomination (including calamari), I thought I heard horns beeping outside. Like, incessantly beeping. And also chanting. A quick check on our neighborhood page confirmed that there was a demonstration happening two blocks away.

They were chanting BLACK LIVES MATTER on this, the one hundred-nineteenth anniversary of a triple lynching in my family and banishment from land that could've been passed down to my generation.

It’s an evergreen chant. A comforting echo through my neighborhood and my heart. And a tragedy that it still has to be said.

It’s a lot.

July 31, 2020

Corona Diaries: Lost and Evergreen

Sometimes, you think you've lost something and it turns up.

Such was the case with a post I wrote for another site way back in 2015 around the Michael Brown verdict. I remember the night I wrote it: the split screen of President Obama addressing the nation on one side, while the other side recorded a town on fire.

I felt sick in my soul, while my husband didn't feel or understand what I was feeling, and why I was feeling. I sat there on the couch confounded, sad, demoralized, weary and angry. I poured it all out on a national platform, not caring whether my words were measured or light enough to be palatable to the white folks in my life.

Months later the post was recognized with an award. We went to New York and everything to receive an award along with a lot of other amazing writers.

I thought the post was lost in the takeover of that site, but 2015 me must've been thinking ahead to this day and saved it on a thumb drive way back when. Yesterday, I stumbled upon these words which I thought were lost in the interwebs.

The evergreen nature of the post shook me, and I wished it wasn't still "fresh" but it sadly is:

What's Behind My Tears Over Ferguson


No indictment against the man who caused the death of Michael Brown. No need to investigate further, it just happened. A crying lump in my throat threatened to push its way into tears. I swallowed it back and sat glued to the coverage.

I'm still ferreting out from where the threatening tears were coming. 

Maybe they were about my brothers. I heard "The Talk" delivered regularly to them from my mom; it was her warning as they'd leave for classes at the college they attended in one of Milwaukee's posh bedroom communities.

 "The Talk" was a simple goodbye package back then: Watch your speed. Don't give a reason to be pulled over. Call me when you get there and call before you leave.

It's taken four-plus decades to understand that warning,my mom's nervousness, and four-plus decades to realize that my brothers could've been Michael Brown. The thought carves a cold hollow in the pit of my stomach if I linger on it too long.

Maybe the tears were about people who say they're tired of talking about race. Truth is, race bubbles up to America's broad consciousness in waves, but all the while it's not in nationwide consciousness, I'm living it.

I'm thinking about it in big and small ways, from explaining to my daughter why shampoo commercials default to straight, European hair unlike hers, to conversing with business contacts over the phone only to have them give a " didn't say you were black" look when we meet in person, to reflexively teetering around issues of race when I'm the only brown face in a white space so people won't be uncomfortable with my reality, yet.

I. Live. This.

Maybe the tears were about the whole "colorblind" thing. I like my color. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Please go ahead and notice it. Noticing is different from judging my character based upon it. Acknowledging is a compliment. Sweeping characterizations on an entire race based upon knowing me, or questions asked as if I'm the designated spokesperson for black people everywhere are another.

Notice and acknowledge color. Notice and acknowledge that our experiences, our outlook on life might be different because of it.

Maybe the tears were about the misplaced assumption that white people should feel guilty. White people shouldn't be expected to rend their clothes and dress in sackcloth and ash. It’s just simply acknowledging what the historical facts are, from myths of the intimidating, verile black man, to the fetishizing of black women's bodies, to the inferiority of black folks in general and that it's all based out of the slavery system upon which America was founded.

Acknowledge that it's a generational thing whose effects still reverberate today. Acknowledging makes no one party to it. It is what it is.

Maybe the tears were about the fact that we've got a long way to go when it comes to race, but we don't want to talk about it. I've sat in meetings when diversity was brought up and a smothering blanket of fear and defensiveness covered the room. I've seen every spectrum of red-facedness when someone other than black refers to black people "Um...(cough, cough) African Ah (cough, cough) ahh-merican..." 

Terms aren't offensive. Silence and avoidance are.

The tears are about not being heard. They are about the explaining away, rationalizing and justifying. Much like what happened tonight in Ferguson. 

It feels like the racial part of who we are as a country, its convoluted history and present impacts are being steamrolled and planted over with daisies. Or maybe it's like we're all in a boat and someone on shore keeps telling us that the boat's sprung a leak, but we keep rowing anyway...and then fight with each other about whose fault it is for the boat sinking as it goes under.

Race is an issue. We can't afford to pretend the next Michael Brown won't be our dad, brother, son or friend. There's no room here anymore for colorblindness or playing the deaf mute. We have to do better and be better.

We can't afford not to.

An update: too many names could be swapped out with Michael Brown's all these years later. Philando Castille, Terrence Crutcher, Sandra Bland, Amaud Aubrey, Elijah McClain, George Floyd.

And Breonna Taylor, whose killers are still walking around as free men.

Some posts just shouldn't be evergreen.

June 16, 2020

Corona Diaries: Multiple Things Can Be True...and Addressed

My husband posted a pic collage on social media a few days back to commemorate Loving Day. Admittedly, I was less than enthusiastic considering, uh I don’t know…EVERYTHING.

Yay. Loving Day.

That’s when Aunt Mag and Uncle John popped up in my memory. 

I grew up seeing their portrait on the family’s upright Mason & Hamlin piano; and, in passing at least once, my mom explained:

Who Woulda Thought?

That's your Aunt Mag and Uncle John. People said he was an old white man, but no one ever really talked about it.

I was young enough to remember that and young enough to be puzzled.

IT? What was IT, and why was IT a secret?

I moved on from my confusion and, I guess innocence, until about FIVE YEARS AGO when I was introduced to Loving Day, and out of nowhere, the light broke like a two-by-four splintering on my head:

OMG, nobody talked about Uncle John being white because his marriage to Aunt Mag was ILLEGAL.

Aunt Mag was my grandmother’s aunt.

Her family – my family – survived a triple lynching, subsequent banishment from the Missouri town in which they lived, then hung around in a neighboring county for another ten or fifteen years before moving north to Milwaukee.

This family who survived state-sanctioned murder and land stolen that could’ve produced generational wealth, kept that particular tragedy a secret that was so secure it took me years to question the gaps and unearth the facts.

In the shadow of Loving Day, I realized Mag and John’s marriage -- the one thing worth celebrating in their generation besides the fact that THEY SURVIVED -- had to be kept secret if the marriage was to remain intact and result in descendants like me.

On Loving Day, I quietly celebrated Mildred and Richard Loving and their legal team. I also remembered Aunt Mag and the unspoken Uncle John for sojourning on even as their fellow citizens overwhelmingly decided to criminalize marriages like theirs.

Two things can be true at the same time, right?

Honor the people who overturn legislation; and, meditate -- just for a moment -- that our systems actually condoned and enforced such legislature.

...and acknowledge, articulate (like with words) the cruelty of those systems, the silence of citizens (who hopefully knew better) and vow to make our systems better so the next generation won't be confused about their own stories when they're in the mid-forties.