In May 2008, I was in the North Lawndale community on my way home from work when I was attacked. I was attacked by 8-12 black children ranging from ages 10 – 12. They were throwing rocks, bricks and etc , because I had refused to give the youngest one money. I didn’t fight back. I just got out of there and went to the police station to file a compliant. I learned that there was a neighborhood search for the leader (aka superman) of this group that had been attacking the elderly and other folks. This was my second time being attacked on the west-side of Chicago. I remember sharing my story with a friend of mine. I was furious every time I thought of the little marauding group of delinquents. I told her how I wanted them to be put in a juvenile detention center. She was appalled. She told me that I was exercising my privilege and not being compassionate to young black children and their struggle. She talked about trying to understand how their community created them to be violent. I asked her if that applied to older “rogues and marauders” and she said “yes.” At this point, we had a conversation about self-determination and human agency vs. environment and other external forces that lead to poor decision-making, piss-poor morals, and a lack of humanity.
Over the next couple weeks I will be exploring a gay man’s struggle. Organizing my own experiences and what I have observed in other close friends, I will try to give an inside look to what it is like to grow up as a gay man in the inner city. There are obviously many aspects to this subject and many in my neighborhood (emphasis on the HOOD part) would rather pretend that being gay is something that is just a “phase” or “non-existent.” Starting from when I was a confused child in elementary school to the point where my brother told me that he “hopes I get aids” this topic has being weighing heavily on my heart for a while now. So over the next couple weeks, here are the titles of the different subjects I will be writing about. A Gay Man’s Struggle: “Coming Out”…”Why DL?”…”Leviticus Said Man Shall Not Lie With Man”…and finally “Liberation?”
When I was a young student at Shaw High School in East Cleveland I watched a movie about a 1988 civil rights drama “Mississippi Burning,” a film based on the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers. It’s an amazing, troubling and heart-breaking film. The fact that it is based on a true story only heightens its terrifying impact. When I reflect on the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the past century one theme always returns to me, and always strikes my heart: Would I have been brave enough to be one of them? Would I have had the courage to risk life and limb to defend the rights I know and believe should be guaranteed to all Americans?
In my heart I always want to say “yes.” I want to think that I would have been marching on the streets of Montgomery, or taking a bus from Chicago to Birmingham as a Freedom Rider. But, in my head I know — or at least fear — that I would instead be the meek passerby, adamantly opposing segregation and hate as I sat idly on the sidelines, living an easy and comfortable life. This, almost as much as any other part of the Civil Rights Movement, breaks my heart. This fear of my own hypothetical ineffectuality is based, more than anything, in what I perceive to be my own failing in a more current fight for civil rights. In place of brave and courageous outspokenness I have consistently, with fleeting exceptions, substituted the ease and comfort of the closet;
A closet that runs nearly 8 years deep and that, as often as it has protected me from the potential hate and intolerance of others, has encouraged both self-loathing and depression. Knowing now that it was just one step to my liberation is a beautiful sadness.
What I mean to say in all this is that, as well as I know myself after my first nineteen years, I am a homosexual. This is, I suppose, my coming out. I don’t mean this to be a huge revelation, many who I interact with already know, and the way I will live my life tomorrow will be the same as I did today. I simply feel that it’s time for me (and everyone who struggles with me) to start presenting ourselves more honestly, and to take a firmer stand in the fight against homophobia and discrimination.
I still retain this hope now, that ideally those who hated me will still hate me, those who loved me will still love me, and the vast majority that really didn’t care one way or another, will not have a change of heart. “Gay” is who I am, not who I do, and in a perfect world no one would treat me differently once they knew.
However, I know that the world is far from perfect and many may have trouble understanding and accepting this part of me. I can empathize immensely with those of you who fit this description. It has taken me many years to understand what my sexuality means and even more to integrate it into the personal identity I had already accepted (part of which is greatly defined by my Christianity.) I like to believe that most intolerance is rooted not in factually informed hate, but actually in ignorance; and I’ve discovered for myself that ignorance is best defeated by knowledge, not further intolerance.
For any young black gay man, coming out is the biggest and most difficult struggle of their life. Getting to the place where they stop caring what society thinks and start to accept them-selves is a mountain to climb. For now I want to give tribute to those that live out and proud. And If anyone wants to also pay tribute to anyone they know that has climbed the mountain and came out of the oppressive closet (males or females) please pay tribute to them by writing their names in the comment box.
Joe Hovey, Siaara Freeman, Calvin Walker, Jessica wright, James Davis, Rayshawn Birch, Akeem Rollins, Erika Williams, Brianna Mcguire, Taylor Johnson, CJ Reed
But let us also understand why many have chosen not to “come out” and give a moment of silence because they are forced to be silent. Next week I will discuss, A Gay Man’s Stuggle: “Why DL?”
A few years ago, when I was still taking graduate school course work, I got into a “disagreement” with a colleague about race and class. We had just left our course on mid-20th century black literature, and were hanging out in the department lounge for some strange reason–something I’d never do now. I think we had just finished discussing Native Son in class that day, and afterwards the issue of race and class came up. I think I started talking about how unsatisfying the last third of the novel, Fate, is. Or maybe I didn’t. The memory is hazy, as it was a traumatic time in my life, and I’m kind of old now; I don’t much remember my wide-eyed days. Anyway, I think I was making some poorly worded (and perhaps ill-informed) statement about Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison and being black and disillusioned with communism. At some point, and this is clear to me, my cohort emphatically said to me with authority, “I’m sorry. It is all about class.” I was pretty much like, no. I might have said something snarky. I might have not.
Yesterday I received an all too normal phone call from my father telling me that someone in the community had been shot. So like I always do, I held my breath and prayed that it wasn’t somebody that I knew. Luckily in the case it wasn’t. Nonetheless, another young life from community was gone because of senseless violence. My first peer to die from a violent act was in 11th grade. He broke into someone’s house in a botched robbery that ultimately led to his death. It seems after that day the number of my peers that killed someone or were slain increased exponentially. Just this morning when I opened the newspaper I saw another young man that I knew had been shot after getting into an altercation with his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend. I use to ask myself why anyone would resort to what I consider to be barbarism- taking a person’s life for your own gratification. But now I’ve become so numb to violence and death that it worries me.
As I was perusing twitter the other day, I came across the following link that was posted by @afrobella. The video is of Lauryn Hill performing at the Apollo in 1987, getting boo’d off stage (yes back in the day you could boo at kids).
As a person who has chosen writing as her lifelong profession, I spend a lot of time encountering, healing and bouncing back from rejection. Its just the nature of this business.
However, when I watched this video, I couldn’t help but be struck by the way in which Lauryn kept pushing on. Through the song at the Apollo, through her career with the Fugee’s and Miseducation, and even today as she fights for autonomy to sing what she wants, however she wants.
It seems that Lauryn has an invaluable lesson for us all. Often, genius isn’t something that you are inherently born with, genius is created, persisted after and fought for.
We are only moments away from the confirmation of the first Latina Supreme Court Justice and months into the first tenure of America’s first black President and I’ve become a bit inundated by Facebook fan pages, tweets, yahoo groups, swelling crowds, celebrating feminists, hardcore nationalists, just groups in general. Hell, I’m exhausted.
This isn’t to say I don’t understand the excitement over well-behaved minority public officials. One needs only to look to Marion Barry, Ray Nagin, Cynthia McKinney, and Kwame Kilpatrick to understand that there is a drought in reliable leadership. However, it is this very list of elected officials that leads me to believe public excitement and desire for visual diversity has severely crippled people’s ability to critique public officials. Just how many of us actually take the time to do what we as minorities ask of others—look beyond race and gender.
Just moments after Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination was announced, calls for public support and adoration overflowed. But just who is Sonia Sotomayor? According to various news media and disgruntled politicians, she’s a radical, an activist, and someone so rooted in her heritage it would be a struggle for her to be impartial. In short, she is a woman of color from the projects in the South Bronx, a neighborhood famous as the birthplace of hip hop, the home of the Yankees, and notorious for its poverty. Let’s just say, she’s from a radical place. She, on the other hand is less so, but as popular narrative would dictate, we should all be proud and maybe a little stunned when a poor person of color does something significant enough to land them in the company of white people.
In reality, her record is very moderate. She has voted against funding abortion by upholding a 2002 ruling which disallowed funding of pro-choice organizations in Mexico City. Besides saving baseball, she is perhaps most famous for her ruling in Pappas v. Guiliani where she ruled in favor of an NYPD employee who was fired for sending hate mail. Her ruling was based largely on the protection of first amendment rights. From what I can see, she isn’t some woman bending the rules to push minority cases through nor is she using her position to highlight injustice in the world. She is simply doing her job and upholding the constitution. She actually believes in and upholds the constitution. (My belief in the constitution is an entirely different blog, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say it’s iight.)
For many, Sotomayor warrants respect not simply because of where she is from, but because of how she has gotten where she is. She has come from many worlds; poor and rich, colored and non, Republican and Democrat. She is radical, but not because she’s Latina. She is radical because she’s played the game and won.
One of the interesting things about graduate school is that it becomes a crash course in how to take care of yourself. With the constant pressure of deadlines, work, classes and glimpses of a social life, self-care becomes the lynch pin of daily survival.
While many may note the ways in which graduate school becomes unhealthy in this way. I tend to think that it is a challenge that can promote education in critical life skills, particularly for women of color. Instead of burning out later in life from the pressures of work, family and love, graduate school provides the perfect opportunity to educate folks in healthy self-care skills that they can carry for the rest of their lives.
So as I enter my third year of graduate school, I thought I’d share some of my self-care skills that I have learned along the way.
1. Always Get Eight Hours of Sleep
Sleep is probably one of the most critical aspects of my day, without it I can barely focus, let alone articulate an intelligent thought. To often, sleep is viewed as the most “optional” part of our days, so we cut out a couple of hours in hopes of getting that “one last thing done.” The problem is, is that skipping sleep not only tends to make one less focused, it can also compound problems like stress, anxiety and weight gain. My suggestion? Make 6-8hrs of sleep a priority everyday.
2. Make a Schedule/To-Do List and Stick to It
In order to make sure I get enough sleep everyday, its important that I schedule my day in such a way that I am able to get everything else done. Every night, I assess what it is I have to get done, and make realistic and manageable choices about what I will include on my to-do list/schedule for the next day.
By going to bed with a plan of attack of the next day, I wake up in the morning, calm, refreshed, and ready to work because I already know what is in front of me. Cut down on your anxiety by making a plan and then working that plan.
3. Eat Right and Exercise
Healthy eating and exercise have a number of benefits. Primary for me is that both decrease anxiety.
Cutting down on your sugar and caffeine intake in particular decrease anxiety. Increasing protein and cutting out unnecessary carbs will also increase your daily energy and productivity. By taking the time to go grocery shopping and exercise, I cut down on stress, as well as bills. Hospital bills from an unhealthy lifestyle and eating out every night starts to add up!
4. Spiritual Balance
Critical for me is taking some time everyday to acknowledge a Higher Power (whoever that maybe for you). By taking a time out to simply breathe, sit in peace and acknowledge how much I actually have to be grateful for (a job I’m passionate about, a home, family, friends, food, health), I’m able to put everything else I’m stressing out about in perspective.
5. Having a Life
Whatever point you are at in your life, its easy to just get caught up in that moment, whether it be your marriage, your career, or even friendships. One of the most critical things I’ve learned is the importance of carving out and defining your own individual life.
Figure out what brings you joy. Remember to take time out to just play. Find your true passions in life. Be grateful for the person that you are. Prioritize taking time out to meet new people and make friends. Building a support system and an awareness of self will allow you to have joy in your life no matter what other ups and downs may be going on in your life.
The bottom line? My key to dealing with stress is maintaining constant joy and gratitude in my life everyday.
Surrounded by white men in suits. Cameras flickering then flashing. Hands laid flat upon table. Nodding pensively. Swinging pendulum of opinions “we are happy” to “we have many reservations.” Judge Sonia Sotomayor listens as senator after senator summarize their thoughts about her appointment to the highest court in the land . . . a court that is in desperate need of cultural diversity. Judge Sotomayor is a woman of color who worked her way through various obstacles to become a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She now stands upon the precipice of being the first Latino and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Given her speeches and public record, she seems to be committed to a more radical agenda for marginalized communities then most sitting Supreme Court Justices. Can you feel my excitement?
However, as the constitutional sanctioned witch hunt her senate appointment hearings commenced on Tuesday, Republican after Republican sought to second guess her judicial decisions, paint her as a racist, talk to her as if she was a simple child just learning about the Bill of Rights, and make her “cry” or as Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican) put it, “have a meltdown.” I find myself asking questions: What would happen if Judge Sotomayor cried? What would happen if she wept for all the lies Republican Senators spewed as they talked about the founding “fundamental” freedom to carry guns even though they used them to kill indigenous people, the quality of life even though they don’t fund policies that enrich the lives of children once they are here, the colorblind justice of judicial process which always favors white men, and the essential ethic of hard work even though it does not guarantee success for all? What if she like newly appointed Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, shed a tear or two on national television? How would we respond to a woman of color leader weeping in a public arena?
Would we respond as so many responded to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tears during the Democratic Primary races? Would we question her strength, her ability to lead? Would we say she’s being manipulative trying to garner sympathy? And the answer to the previous questions is yes, but with an added level of scrutiny because she is a woman of color. Given the intersectionality of racism and sexism, we often expect if not down right demand women of color—African-American or Latina—to be strong. Of course, this characterization is simplistic at best. However, there is much evidence to say that this idea of strength serves cultural, racist, sexist, and capitalistic agendas from using the image of the strong black woman to empower black women while denying them “help” to painting Chicanas as women who can endure harsh and exploitative work without US citizenship.
Growing up I was taught not to cry because my mother says, “There ain’t no point in crying over spilled milk chile . . . you got to do what you got to do and plus black women don’t cry we ain’t weak white women.” This idea of “you will always have” responsibility coupled with not being Miss Ann greatly shaped how I saw Judge Sotomayor confirmation hearings. I found myself yelling at the TV, “Please do not cry . . . Don’t let them see you sweat . . . You can do this keep it together . . . you’re strong, baby, you’re strong . . . if you got to cry do it in the bathroom on break.” Yes, even I would have a problem with her crying publicly which shows how pervasive sexist thoughts are about women in male public space. Of course, Judge Sotomayor did not cry even though her face showed a wee bit of discomfort as Republicans gave their opening remarks.
In general, it’s unfair that she cannot weep and not be considered a capable judge. It’s unfair that she cannot show any emotion for fear of being seen as “a feisty Latina.” In order to pass the racist and sexist litmus test she must be as Senator Tom Coburn (Republican) said, “very well-controlled.” However, what type of damage does this do? I think it reinforces the rules of a very unfair game where women, LGBTQ, and people of color constantly have to ignore, overlook, and sanction white male hetero-supremacy. This is not to say that crying is the ultimate evidence of feeling because it is not. However, what I am trying to say is that weeping should be taken as a sign of strength and not as a womanly sign of weakness. So, how radical would it be if she did cry . . . cried for the injustices of the appointment process . . . cried for her self as an act of self-care . . . cried because she really would like to call Senator Lindsey Graham every expletive under the sun (which I did as I watched him speak) . . . and cried because tears can only convey the totality of this experience in her life. And what if her “melt-down” became the basis for redefining strength and leadership in male public political spaces . . . . oh how exciting and down right revolutionary crying can be!
What I find hard to process about the previous post about not wanting to be a Disney Princess is that the author belittles “traditional fairytales.” She [the author] claims that “they are limited and untrue for poor working class black girls like [herself].” She asserts that “Prince Charming does not come,” and “that happy endings are not promised especially when there is an intersection of various devalued social identities [i.e., when you area a poor, black, woman and etc you get no happy ending].” What she fails to see is that all of these endeavors particularly for the Little Mermaid happened inside of Ariel taking action and living with a purpose.