grieving ferguson

I have a nasty confession to make: I can’t read many of the articles related to Ferguson. I was at the gym, standing with other black men when the grand jury verdict came in. We all respectfully dropped our weights and stood around the television broadcasting CNN. It was silent, and there were no subtitles, but we stood there anyway. We watched jarring red and white headlines, and grim stills of other protesters standing in darkness, while the grand jury room was all blond wood and light. I, frantically scrolling through my phone, told them the verdict as it came in.

I already knew what would happen. I can’t confess surprise. I was, however, shocked at my own emotional response. I wanted to hurl weights far too heavy for me at the mirrors on the walls of my bright, month old gym. I wanted to throw my iPhone across the room. I wanted to cry. I was, and still am heartbroken. Even though I feel lucky to be alive. Even though I feel blessed to have my family with me. Even though I just received my stiffly starched diploma, a symbol of 8 years of dedication and sacrifice, in the mail.

I’ve been silent because I retreat when I am sad. Right now we have guests over, and I am in my apartment alone, with a glass of wine, writing, because I cannot deal with the fact that black children all over this country are being murdered, often by people who are meant to protect them. I am alone, crying, because I cannot deal with the fact that the lives of myself and my family members are deemed less worthy of protection by the U.S. government. I am alone, praying, because I do not know what to do. I didn’t bother getting a pedicure I desperately need because I want to stand with others who abstain from giving hard earned money to institutions who do not believe in the sanctity of human lives. I sat reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, clutching it because it offers me a reprieve from the emotional hardship of being alive in a world that refuses to see black boys and girls as children.

I’m sitting in stillness, as I have for family members who have passed on, because it is the only way I know to honor their lives. I’m sitting in prayer, because I still believe that God Almighty is just. I’m sitting in silence because I do not have the energy to contribute to really wonderful and necessary conversations about race, history and justice in America.

The articles come in like a flood. My Facebook feed has become a war zone. Every day, there are more stories of more deaths. I’m operating from a space of grief. I’m desperate for healing. And I struggle to understand how my life can be a banner for justice, peace and love.

I came home from the gym that night angry, sweaty, and defeated. I gave one of my brothers a hug. Love and respect to my family members and to those around me are the only things I, in a grief stricken state, could offer. A kind word, a hug, carefully constructed criticisms of a racist, patriarchal structure–those are the only things I can offer at this time. I will have to be okay with that.

Dr. RJD

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to the man who ruined my birthday celebration:

To the man who ruined my birthday celebration,

I felt euphoric after leaving the tacky midtown bar with one of my new and close friends in tow. We were looking for a cab that would take us to a rooftop bar. The air was tinged with cigarette smoke and promise, and my feet didn’t hurt yet. It was about to be an amazing night.

Tell me about your work, you asked.

I took the time to explain my dissertation.

But when we started talking about race, the conversation shifted.

In 2 minutes, you attempted to dismantle the theories I developed over the course of 8 years about race and black popular culture–ideas rooted in an understanding of black history, critical race theory, and feminist theories.  You repeatedly interrupted me, littering your sentences with unfounded ideas which demonstrated your inability to reason.

“I’m human. You’re human,” you pointed out. “This race stuff doesn’t really matter,” you said.

In my mind’s eye, I saw black mothers weeping over their dead sons. I saw disenfranchised voters. I saw the whole history of people who invented race to oppress people, then quite conveniently forgot how race is a social construction that is intimately tied to everyone’s daily experiences.  I saw, quite clearly, how systematic racism is problematic and contributed to your flawed perspective. I saw you, using whatever racial and gendered privilege you had to attempt to silence me.

“Your people have bad representation,” you said. “Al Sharpton is a bad guy.”

If I am just human, and not a black woman, then how could you lump me and Al Sharpton in the same category?

You weren’t even drunk.

I was annoyed. The slight and pleasant buzz I had dissipated at your first illogical statement. I was annoyed because I didn’t try to tell you about how to do your job, but you thought you had a right to tell me about mine. I was annoyed because no one should have to do unpaid work on a Friday night during a birthday celebration. I was annoyed because the only black person you could think to compare me to is Al Sharpton. I was annoyed because you were using the colorblind discourse that plagued the 1990s.

If you don’t see race, you cannot see how people use it to justify treating people differently. If you don’t see race, you render me invisible. If you don’t see race, you say that the routine things I and others like me are subject to are random occurrences, when they are in fact, quite normal. If you don’t see race, you cannot call yourself my friend. You cannot partner with me in fighting the injustices that plague communities of color.

So I couldn’t accept your offer to buy me a drink. And no, you could not call me Rachel; that is a privilege reserved for family, friends, and colleagues.

I offered you a free education. To you, my name will always be Dr. Daniel.

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You reminded me that I will always be an advocate for equality. You reminded me that not everyone is capable of reason. You reminded me that I am one of the 1% of people in the world privileged enough to have a PhD. You reminded me that I have a responsibility to share the education I’ve received with others. You reminded me that I should do all of that with dignity, patience and grace.

The night never really recovered, even though I met a very cute Serbian soccer player when we finally got to that rooftop bar. You ruined my birthday celebration. But you handed me the gift I didn’t know I needed: a reminder of my purpose and place in this world.

For that, I thank you.

Dr. RJD

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dangerous artists

A few weeks ago, I briefly considered not writing.

After years of graduate school, I longed for the normalcy of a 9-5. Giving up my writing seemed to be a good, adult decision. I could just pack away my talent, get a ‘real’ job, get married, have some babies, call it a life.

In the midst of this decision, I received an assignment to do a profile of an accomplished poet. Spending the day with a poet means a lot of laughter, contemplative moments, wisdom wrapped in prettily arranged words. We sat in her sunlit home and talked about the sensation of writing with a dull pencil, and how to operate in the world without a cell phone. We traded the names of black women writers whose work we cut our teeth on. I spent the whole day thinking about Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor and Zora Neale Hurston. I dreamt in stanzas. I stayed silent in a room full of important poets and learned about how to live my life.

Zora Neale Hurston

In the quietness of that day, I realized that i would always be a writer. I saw myself in the older women who insisted upon writing with pen and paper, who teach others through their words, whose lives are, in themselves, forms of art. I thought about the oddity of being offered paid writing assignments without pitches. I thought about how I stood next to influential poets at a time when I was ready to stop writing altogether. I thought about how I became a shell of myself when i wasn’t creating new essays.

The Last Poets

I encountered a reflection of myself in Lindy Walker, a fictional character in Bebe Moore Campbell’s Singing in the Comeback Choir. She’s an elderly, talented jazz singer who stopped singing. When we meet her, she’s drinking and smoking too much. She stopped dyeing her hair. She almost accidentally burns down her home. Lindy is a reflection of her street, which has fallen into disrepair.

When Lindy starts singing again, she and the community begin to blossom.

Her niece tells her:

“I’ve missed [you]. It wasn’t just your singing. It was the way you had of being in this world when you were singing…I remember when you’d walk around the house riffing and scatting, pulling things out of the air and making music out of them. Music wasn’t just your job, it was who you were, what you had to give” (260-1).

The most dangerous artist is the one who abandons her gift. When we stop painting, writing, or making music, we deny ourselves joy. We deny the world our gifts. Our art is a necessary luxury. Our art is a conversation between ourselves and God about the world we see.

The only thing I know for sure is that God put me on this earth to write. It is all I have to offer to Him, to myself, to the world. And when I’m not writing, reading or thinking, I’m not fulfilling my purpose–I’m just taking up space. When I’m not writing, I become a burden to those around me because my friends and family members have to spend extra energy showing me that my art is important.

I want to create dangerous art that transforms the world. But I don’t want to be a danger to myself and others by not writing.

For better or worse, I’m married to the pen.

Dr. RJD

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7 lessons from ny

1. Find a job you like. Make sure it pays enough for you to enjoy your life.

2. Find a person you like, and date them. Be super watchful.

3. Find a family who loves you–whether they are blood related, old friends, new friends–and stick close to them.

4. Be slow in a fast city from time to time.

5. Talk to strangers, because almost everybody is friendly. 

6. But don’t get hustled in the process.

7. Spend time alone, doing something that makes you happy.

 

RJD

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black women, resilience, and joy

On Facebook, I have seen a few black women friends starting/continuing a ‘gratitude challenge’, where they post three things that they are thankful for. At a time when we see the situation in Ferguson escalating, it makes sense that my friends would do a small challenge to keep their spirits high. Here is my contribution–a series of things that made me happy, and a way I can honor all the black women who have gone before me. 

*

1. I wandered around my house in a pretty dress and no makeup, read a book set in the Reconstruction Era, and pretended to be living in the 19th century. No one in my family thought this was odd.

2. I read Langston Hughes’ Tambourines to Glory (1958) and loved every moment of it. It’s about two women who start a church to hustle people out of money–only one actually begins to follow Jesus.

When Laura talks about her mother, I perk up like I can learn some lessons about how to deal with men. She said this: 

“Essie, I got it from my mama. My mother could jive a man back, make him run and butt his head against the wall, lay down his month’s salary at her feet, then beg her for a nickle.” (86)

I thought: #YASSSSSS

3. For at least 15 minutes, I wondered what MSNBC would look like if Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Anna Julia Cooper, and Pauline Hopkins were still alive. They could tell someone to have ALL the seats. They wrote eloquently about Christian theology, Greek mythology, world history, and literature without blinking an eye. They transformed Christian womanhood. But when is the last time I heard a popular pastor reference them in a sermon? 

<side eye>

4. We had fried chicken for dinner. I took a walk with my brothers–my sister was still at work–and I thanked God every single second that they are still alive, safe, and running me ragged with their teasing.

5. Poetry is a necessary luxury. 

In the words of Laura:

“They made women in them days–and I take somewhat after her myself. But the rest of Mama’s children turned out to be nothing–all fell by the wayside–except me, Sister Laura Reed. I’m a strong branch of b—h myself.”

“…Laura poured another drink, lifted her glass, and made a toast to herself in the mirror. 

To Miss B—h!”

– (Hughes 88)

RJD

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the time a man punched a woman and nobody cared

When he punched her, the air around the crowd held an electric charge of fear and anticipation.

*

When M. and I got off the subway in the West Village, there was a long line to get french fries from a truck, people standing around chatting amiably, and a general excitement about a night that is on the cusp of becoming a good time. 

Three young Latinas stood in a circle. One was crying, and two were comforting her. I shook my head, because it seemed that they were having the kind of drama that would not matter 5 years from now. Haven’t we all comforted a friend who was devastated by the consequences of a night out? 

An older black man (perhaps in his late 40s or early 50s) walked up to the crying girl and said, “your friends are leaving.” He kept interrupting their conversation. Two of the other girls were angry with him, and I almost stepped in to separate, but then decided the best thing to do would be protect M. and myself. 

A minute later, the man made a wide, preparatory arc with his arm. He punched this woman in the face, and I am telling you the air stood still and our corner of the world was completely silent. A small crowd stood around in shock. A police car was right across the street. The men–bouncers, party-goers, and french-fry eaters alike–stood back in silence. The woman had not touched this man; she argued with him, and yelled, but she held back. 

After he punched her, no police officer came rushing over. In fact, I looked at the police car. It was unoccupied, and there, I suppose, to prevent violence. The men shook their heads and said, “that was uncalled for,” but avoided eye contact with M., who yelled about how chivalry is dead. The women and man seemed to disappear entirely. In the uproar, we did not know where they went. 

*

I disagree with M.–chivalry is not dead. It is a privilege that men grant to women they deem worthy. The Latinas were working class women in jeans and sneakers, women unafraid to jump in a man’s face and tell him all about himself. So the men didn’t bother helping them. No one did. 

unfortunately, some men think like this, regardless of race or class. i do not stand in agreement with this meme, but am posting to show a terrible, terrible way of thinking.

I have studied feminist theories about domestic violence and male privilege. I have read and admired the poignant ways in which black women write about black men who are abusive. Only Hurston could make me fall in love with Tea Cake, who beat Janie in the classic Their Eyes Were Watching God. And Naylor made me want to marry a man like George in Mama Day, who slapped Cocoa. In those narratives, Tea Cake and George both died. It was a sort of literary justice for admirable men who have made terrible mistakes. 

  

This is not one of those stories. 

No, this was real life, right in front of my eyes.

And I knew why a black man could punch a Latina in the face without repercussion. In this country, there are values placed on people based on their race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality. Women of color are not valued in the way they ought to be. The intersection of identities means they occupy a space of oppression. Yes, women of color can fight against this. We all have agency. But on that street corner on Friday night, with no one there to rescue these women, and no one there to argue for them to have justice, it was clear to me that the system of oppression was still very much in place. It’s the reason why we mobilize against the violence done to black men, but forget the names of black women who have been killed. We should march for all of it, but somehow, the deaths of black women, or wrongful imprisonment, don’t quite attract  the same headlines or amount of attention. 

*

Ultimately, all of my academic theories could not have held that man back. I was just a medium sized brown girl in a pretty Guess dress who doesn’t know how to protect myself. Men have always fought for me, and God has always protected me. 

For the rest of the evening, M. and I tried and failed to have a good time. There were too many questions left unanswered. When is it good to step in to protect someone else, and when should you step back and protect yourself? What risks should we take to protect others? If Jesus says, love your neighbor as yourself, and protection is a form of love, how can we love and protect others in a country with an increasing culture of violence? 

I still don’t know.

  

RJD

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dating in ny (where have all the christian men gone?)

I anticipated the difficulty of dating in NY, where it is easy to believe that better is always around the corner. Everyone is looking for a better position, a better person, a better life. I decided not to even bother competing with women here–I don’t have money for mink fur lashes–and to get on my grind. I’m so happy being single that I started to wonder if God wanted to make my single status permanent. I mean, did God really want to put a ring on it? 

I decided to worship God and carve a living for myself that would make me happy. Of course, there is nothing sexier than a woman at peace with herself and her circumstances. I chart the amount of interest I have received not to my looks, but to the joy I have in Christ. 

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The only problem? I keep meeting men who don’t love Jesus. And those are the ones who propose.

It’s not as if I go looking for them. I’m not on any dating websites. I don’t go out in the evenings very often. I dress in a way that pleases God and makes me happy–not really to appease the male gaze.

They find me. On the street, when I’m roaming absentmindedly into a coffeeshop to write, wearing a purple book bag, or when I’m talking on a janky phone to a friend, or when I’m out at a restaurant. They pursue me. But when I ask about their faith (I always do, regardless of my romantic interest), they never say they are Christians. They might be ‘spiritual’. They might ‘believe in God’. They may even say they were ‘raised in the church’. But they do not claim Christ.

“He that finds a wife finds a good thing” is often bandied about in discussions about Christian women and singleness. “Be not unequally yoked” is the other verse used. But lets be real: church benches are increasingly empty, or chock full of women, and a few married men. There is a lack of a courtship culture amongst Christians. Some relationship counselors–even Christian ones–are encouraging women to marry men who aren’t Christians to strangle the sensation of loneliness they feel on Saturday nights. And some of the Christian men one meets in church (or a place that is deemed ‘respectable’) do terrible things to women: play them, abuse them, confuse them.

Bishop Noel Jones is THEE worst! Stringing along this woman for 16 years?!?!?!

It is absolutely important to marry someone who shares your faith. I just wish I saw more Christian men pursue my awesome, pretty, fun single friends. I wish there was a culture that held Christian men accountable in their relationships, and in their dealings with women. I wish that Christian men would pursue and treat me with the respect I receive on a regular basis from men who don’t know Christ.

I’m happy being single, but some man out there is missing out on a ‘good thing.’ 

have a good weekend and be blessed y’all!

RJD

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