Martin Luther the Kang would have been 85 today — his Chad Johnson year, if you will. For some people (apparently a whole grip of some people) this turns their thoughts to listening to Future and drinking Ciroc.
Martin Luther the Kang would have been 85 today — his Chad Johnson year, if you will. For some people (apparently a whole grip of some people) this turns their thoughts to listening to Future and drinking Ciroc.
When I was on maternity leave one of my favorite things to do was take Xavi for walks around 5 pm. We’d wander the neighborhood and then meet up with Sean on his walk home from the train station.
I’d text him: I’m the one walking the stroller.
When we encountered each other on the sidewalk, he’d smile and say “Hi family.”
Once I returned to work, I stopped taking those short walks since it was often feeding time when I got home. Plus, by the time I got Xavi ready to go out, it’d be dark and cool. I missed it.
The week before Christmas was different. I got home a little earlier and it was hardly even cold out. On that Tuesday, I put Xavi in a sweater and texted Sean about his expected arrival at the train station. Since he would be 20 minutes later than usual, I decided to meander through the neighborhood checking out Christmas lights.
With Xavi in the Baby Bjorn, we walked up and down the block and surrounding streets. I pointed out lawn decorations like inflatable Santas, reindeer and snowmen. I tried to get Xavi interested in the lights, but he didn’t seem impressed probably because he couldn’t touch them or put them in his mouth. Two streets over, we stood on the sidewalk in front of one of the more elaborately decorated homes on the block. I showed Xavi the mini Christmas trees lighting the walkway and the other decorations.
Behind us, an older man and his granddaughter parked on the street and got out of their car.
“Look, sweetie, they’re admiring our Christmas lights.”
“They’re nice! I wanted to show him the lights in the neighborhood.” I responded.
The little girl just looked at us, but the man came closer and began asking about Xavi.
“Oh, he’s so small. How old?”
“Four and half months.”
He talked to Xavi and made him giggle.
“Is he yours?”
“Yes,” I replied feeling uneasy and wondering all sorts of things. “I gotta get going. Merry Christmas!”
I walked away and toward the usual meeting-up place with Sean thinking about the comment and what I had read from other women who have mixed race kids.
A week later, I got the same question. This time, Xavi was asleep in the stroller and we were out for a late morning walk. Two elderly women stepped to the side to let me through over a busted up section of the sidewalk.
“What do we have here?” the first one said in that high-pitched ‘it’s a baby!!!’ voice.
I stopped so she could look at Xavi. They started asking questions and commenting on his appearance. How old? His name? Oh, he’s sleeping. Oh my, so much hair! He’s adorable. As they spoke, Xavi stirred and opened up his eyes.
Oh no, they’re gonna wake him up, I thought.
“Is he yours?”
“Yes,” I said while my face screamed “of course he’s mine, you nosy dimwit!” I imagine my face gave away my feelings.
“Oh, he does look like mom,” she said to her friend.
“Have a good day,” I said ready to keep moving.
I walked the rest of the way trying to figure out why I’d been asked the question twice. There were two obvious reasons:
1. They think I’m the nanny because I’m Chicana and there are lot of families in the area who employ Latina caretakers for their kids — self included. If you go to the local park, most of the adults there on a late weekday morning will be Latinas in their 30s and 40s looking after mainly white toddlers and babies. Plus, the neighborhood I was walking through is wealthy and predominantly white. The Latinos I see there are often working in construction, landscaping and childcare. (I live a 10 minute walk away, but am used to running/walking through the area because I get in some hill work. Definitely not rich.)
2. They don’t think Xavi looks like me because he’s mixed-race and thus has browner skin and curly hair.
The second explanation seems more plausible in both instances. In the first, I was carrying Xavi in the Baby Bjorn and in my limited experience baby carrying seems like the domain of a mother or father. It was also evening. Second, one woman even brought up the resemblance seemingly to put me at ease and address the faux pas of asking the question in the first place.
I know mothers and fathers of mixed race children get this question. I’ve heard of moms making t-shirts saying “I’m not the nanny” and stories from parents who get scolded by judgmental strangers for speaking Spanish or another native language with kids at the playground in a “I don’t think the child’s parents would appreciate that” sense. I even thought I’d hear the questions or get the looks at one point, but didn’t think it would happen just five months in to motherhood.
I love that Xavi is a mix of our racial and ethnic backgrounds. He’ll grow up knowing he has roots in Mexico and Jamaica, southern California and New York. He’ll know rancheras and reggae, curry goat and birria de chivo, the beaches of Montego Bay and Mazatlán. He’ll cheer for Jamaican sprinters in the summer Olympics and el Tricolor in the World Cup. He’ll hear the lilting Jamaican accent of his grandparents Kenton and Eula and Spanish and Spanglish from his abuelitos Luz and Carlos. He may even roll his eyes when I say that he is Jamexican finding it corny and preferring Blaxican.
I hope he never feels the pit in his stomach when someone questions if I’m his mom or Sean’s his dad because we’re a lighter or darker shade of brown.
And if he does, I hope that he brings his grade A side-eye and WTF face along with a polite, “Yes, she’s my mom…” followed by an under the breath, “y que te importa?”
On the second episode of the “Bless Your Heart” podcast, Nichole and Tracy discuss what Northerners don’t get about Southerners — like the Confederate flag. Plus: observations on how cute Jake from ‘Scandal’ is, The Best Man Holiday and whether to disclose to your partner your number. (Some salty language.)
Tracy went on NPR to discuss Yeezy’s supposed reappropriation of the Confederate Flag.
Over at The Awl, Rahawa Haile considers The Best Man Holiday:
That’s not all. Everyone has a career but there’s really no interest in making the particulars of their careers plausible or sensible — an almost laughably old star NFL running back and a writer who somehow thinks his flailing career will be salvaged by penning a boring biography about said old-ass running back. One character’s death is telegraphed from the moment they step onscreen. Nia Long’s Jordan, a hard-charging, successful career woman, has to learn that she “needs” the new man in her life. A devoted wife and and a trampy ex-girlfriend get into a reality-show-style brawl in front of the big Christmas tree. The movie has at least three different climaxes: The Big Game; The Funeral; The Baby. One character tells another that he should ask God for guidance. So yeah. You’d be excused for mistaking this film for Tyler Perry’s The Best Man Holiday.1
It’s a Friday in June. My homeboy told me about this one shop in the basement of an apartment building in Alexandria VA that’s supposed to be pretty good. It’s assumed that the only reason a woman, a black woman at that, cuts her hair is because of sickness or sorrow. I am squarely in the “Waiting To Exhale” category. The sides of my head were already shaved but there were still remnants of post-break-up hair taking up residence on top of my head, oppressing me, screaming to be deleted from the frame of my face.
This has to happen. Today.
It’s nothing to write home about, the shop, about the size of a living room. It’s also not busy which is surprising for a Friday because that’s usually when guys are getting fresh for the weekend. It will do. I hop in the chair, sure of my decision, and fall into a lull under the hum of the clippers.
The barbershop is a space that is both sacred and profane, especially if you’re a woman entering a particularly male space. It’s kind of awkward because you *know* the barbers and other male patrons are talking shit before and after you arrive, but they keep conversation purposely polite while you’re there.
This post is by Jada Smith, and originally ran on her blog Casual Tuesdays. X-posted with permission.
It had been a shit week — I was even avoiding my mom’s phone calls. I never want to tell her the bad stuff. What was I gonna say if she asked about that guy I mentioned a few weeks ago? I’d have to tell her that he was more interested in my friend than he was in me, that he was taking her on real dates, and that I’d seen it with my own two watery eyes. I’d have to tell her that I hadn’t been published this week or the last, and that I cracked the screen on yet another iPhone that she and my dad are still paying the bill for.
I just wanted to be on the next train to Petworth. I pressed play on the crackphone and stared angrily at the flashing red hand that seemed like the cherry on top of a runny, dollar menu sundae.
Carry on, ghetto woman. When you doubt if you’re a star just know we still believe.
The melody floated into my earbuds, kneading my discontent like one of those spa chairs at the nail shop. The voice in my ear wanted me to feel powerful again, or maybe even for the first time. The grip I’d had on each bicep loosened. My shoulders un-hunched.
When you cry, don’t you know we are right there crying with you?
I hadn’t even noticed that someone else had been standing beside me the whole time. I’m terrible at guessing ages, but she looked like she could have been an usher at my Big Mama’s church, passing out programs and side-eyeing my hemline. I started to smile. She had on sensible shoes and thick glasses, lugging two overstuffed bags on either shoulder. There was patience in her face, as though she knew this was just one crosswalk of many standing in the way of her destination. I don’t know why, but looking at her made me feel powerful too.
Carry on, ghetto woman. I see you working night to morning light yet no one cares.
Two other ladies had joined us — one looked to be around the same age as me but with twice the responsibility, the other was having her tiny hand held by the former. She had the cutest pink and purple hat pulled down over her beaded cornrows. Had the woman stayed up braiding the girl’s hair all night like my mom used to do when I was little? Was she already worrying about how she would pull off Christmas this year? Did she remember to take the chicken out of the freezer this morning? Would she tell the little one that it’s alright when she grows up and has some “bad stuff” to tell her?
Who said the ghetto’s just a place where queens dance naked on the moon?
I looked down at the Electric Lady cover art saw all four of us.They didn’t know it, but they had been my heroes just then. Their weeks could have been 10 times as shitty as mine, but look at them, carrying on. They made me want to too. The light changed and I crossed the sidewalk feeling renewed. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom about it.
Carry on, ghetto woman. You’re the 7th wonder reigning over us at night.
This post is by our play-cousin, the amazing Joshunda Saunders, and originally appeared on her blog.
I do not want to write about leaving Austin.
I don’t want to write about it because it feels like generalizing. Because, as someone noted, African Americans are the most vocal minority in Austin to be such a tiny group — 8 percent in a city with an estimated 843,000 folks. Because writing about it suggests ambivalence or ambiguity and I feel neither.
But I’m writing because I think there might be other black women living in Austin or considering living in Austin who might find some recognition in my observations after living here for 8 years – both in Austin and in Texas. These sentiments can probably be extrapolated to other groups and ethnicities but the black woman component is unique and to me, uniquely significant.
Austin is the best part of Texas. But it is still Texas. We say this to one another in real life. For however people fashion Texan identity in their mental landscape, the state is an adventure of its own. Texas is a vast, conservative empire of space, perfect for a journey. It is a gigantic canvas with silos and fortresses of comfort, discomfort, colorful and mountainous dreams. It feels like the precipice, the cliff looking out over something potentially majestic. You know the narratives here, the history. You can feel it in the earth, cowboy boots or no, and you imagine everything your heart wants to project on that great giant sky. The blooming skylines in Austin and Texas, like the wide-open horizons, offer unspecified creative promises where you can write your future.
The patriot in me loves a great narrative, particularly if a space embodies the narrative. Austin’s narrative is that it is the cool, hip, laid-back kid who might dress like it’s Monday for a paycheck but has a heart for year-round Spring Break. All this beauty and fun and queso and breakfast tacos, all these festivals and all this live music and all that football and burnt orange everything and our shared contempt for Interstate 35. What only a few people say is that what keeps Austin from leaping from the precipice toward greatness is its aversion to constructive criticism, a kind of collective defensive denial about what it really means to be liberal, progressive and great. (For more, read Michael Corcoran’s great piece,Welcome to Mediocre, Texas.)
I loved that narrative, the one about the tacos and the creative class, so hard, almost 20 years ago, the first time I came here, back when Tower Records was a thing, and more recently when I became one of the dreaded legions of People Moving Here from California. But I am a sentimental woman. You give me something, and I will keep it forever until it breaks or dies or falls all the way apart. I keep cards and pictures and old perfume boxes filled with letters, ticket stubs, old printed-out emails from the days of AOL domination, certificates and birthday cards.
Some say hoarder, I say aspiring amateur archivist.
For someone so sentimental, I’m unsettled and surprised by my lack of sentimentality about Austin, about moving back to the East Coast. The people I love here who have shaped the experiences that made this feel so close to home for me all know about the non-narrative Austin, the pseudo-nirvana blind to its hidden luxuries and congratulatory, smug stubbornness. Like San Francisco, bless its heart, Austin prefers topical niceties over excavation, and redefines progressive intention, sentiment and fantasies as akin to thought and action.
This is part of what makes Austin and Texas exhausting locations for black people, especially black women. As in its liberal cousin hubs, like Berkeley and San Francisco, I feel a hypervisible invisibility in Austin. Like people are happy to see me because it means that they are not racist, because, look, there is a real, live black woman here, too, and it’s so great that she didn’t have to come in the back or that she’s enjoying a fine meal, too. More often than not, my presence provokes a stare from non-black people pregnant with class and gender assumptions and limitations. Put another way, even though I’m a homeowner, people frequently assume that I must be visiting from where all the black people live. Polite racism is still racism, and because black people with brown skin in particular are unable to pass as anything but, I would argue that people hear most often from us about bias in Austin and Texas because there is no way to blend in or avoid the subject.
This is no different from America. But at least in more racist pockets of Texas, I know where I stand. I mean, I know to stay the hell out of Vidor. But knowing your role in Austin is much trickier. There is no resting place. A tense smile in a liberal hub is a maddening, dangerous thing. It is to be placed in a category upon first meeting that requires black women to spend their social time and experiences treading lightly while we assert and affirm our individuality, knowing that we are often educating our well-meaning friends and while they appreciate it, it is repetitive, never-ending, tiring work. If they are not awkward (and it is a naturally awkward topic, race) or defensive, responses about racial stratification here prompt a white flag: hopelessness, a kind of dreaded silence, an acknowledgment of the awkward position of black women here, a change of subject.
Austin is growing but part of its story is that it is a small town. In this small town, the foundation of the city, the thing that makes it work, is an intricate and tricky political network of relationships. Maybe there isn’t any place that has a true meritocracy any more and that’s another of America’s fantastical narratives, but the word alone is not one you hear in Austin very much. If people like you, if you make them laugh, if you don’t make them uncomfortable, you have a shot at being One of Them. If not, well, you just don’t know what to do with all this Austin goodness.
Black women know this story well. We try to climb closer to terra firma in these social dynamics, delicately, lest we be interpreted/read as so different, so difficult and alienated that we are beyond being cultured enough to really understand how things work. To be a black woman is to live constantly in a house at the intersection of Mansplaining and Universal Condescension. If we are not One of Them, it is because we have not done enough work, because we just haven’t looked in the right places. In a life replete with all kinds of paid and unpaid work, the tense smile, the awkward silence says what the general culture always says to black women which is, If only you weren’t so Black Womanish, you could find a place to be happy. *shrug*
So while Austin is a comfortable place, it is not at all relaxing for black women. For those with containers — romantic relationships, school, office jobs, family; all of the above, one of the four — the search for kindred spirits and community is not quite as difficult if you work actively to build a silo of sanity for yourself.
But the emotional cost outside of those containers is a kind of subliminal, aggressive hostility that should be considered, and not just for the sensitive or sentimental among us. The hostility is not directly specifically at black women, but as the presence of black women in this space as avatars of change. Our hypervisible invisibility in spaces like Austin portend a demographic shift that a country that will tell our president to go back to Africa is obviously not equipped to process. To be the sole black person in any space brings its own challenges. But to find yourself as the sole honest black friend to numerous white people is more than a full-time job. It becomes a second identity, a shadow.
It is work for a number of reasons, but mainly because the discernment, concentration, the sporadic silence require deep and serious compassion, strategy and thought. Regularly. Like, every time you are outside of your home.
Black women are always confronted with the lessons of detachment versus engagement. We are aware of double standards, which are stitched into our emotional DNA. Austin, like Texas, likes petite cheerleaders in its women, and if we cannot be that, if we insist on bringing all of ourselves everywhere, we should be black women who smile easily, who are of good cheer and countenance. We should not talk overmuch about race, gender, class, gentrification and the like. Shorter: Stick to the good script, girl.
Honesty in conversation with my friends, 90 percent of whom are not black, require that in order to have a nice, neutral time out, I should couch my observations in niceties and caveats and disclaimers before I can get to my truth. I have been told some of this is my fault because I’m too nice, but that’s not true. It’s not because I’m nice. I would love to be nice, I love all of my nice friends. I love humanity but it’s harder for me to love humans.
It’s because I am probably overly self-protective of my emotions and energy after a long while of not even thinking about what it meant to keep some space for myself in conversations where I heard people asking for the truth and didn’t understand that they would have preferred a version of the truth instead of the actual truth.
Privilege is the unspoken luxury of whiteness, regardless of class. To acknowledge its power is not to disavow oneself of the privilege, and proclaiming weirdness doesn’t negate how privilege alienates us from one another. The privilege, for example, of not having to translate microagressions, intraracial racism, benign racism, everyday racism, and why or how they looms larger than any kindnesses because of their wide and large silence hanging like a curtain over every interaction, must be so relaxing and nice. As a part-time introvert, I can only imagine what it will be like, what it *is* like to direct the energy that goes to thinking about these things totally devoted to writing or being with my family and friends.
I once thought that the combination of a virtual and in real life community of good friends in Austin, combined with my characters, would sustain me. The sentimental girl in me believed I could build a fortress of love and support between virtual and flesh and blood lifelines, but time and prayer showed me that making a makeshift world is only a third of the battle for black women here. Nor is it the life I want.
As much affection as people have for strong black women, the strongest among us need places where we can take down the full armor of God, where we can be seen without being ogled, mistaken for famous black women we look nothing like (I am not Tracy Chapman!) where we can laugh and build community inside a context that doesn’t demand — with snark, with a smile — our silence on the things that make us weary, weak and vulnerable.
The bias, once internalized, is enough to make you feel paralyzed, depressed, suicidal. I felt melodramatic to even suggest that, and certainly didn’t want to admit it considering my family history. But watching bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry in conversation after talking to my wise sisters and friends validated for me what Austin and Texas will never be able to.
What black women know is that there are no cities or spaces in the world that roll out red carpets or throw parades for us. Whatever brings us joy, from how we talk to one another to how we dress to whom we choose to love, is caricatured, berated, held up as evidence of our ignorance or inability to be as fully complex as white women, then appropriated by hipster culture and sold back to us as brilliant wit. To paraphrase Paul Mooney, everyone wants to be black, but nobody wants to be black.
After more than a year of sorting through those emotions and feelings, I decided that to live in a place deeply attached to that kind of practice is to be complicit. Even if you can articulate why it makes you feel lonely, vulnerable, exposed, afraid, you cannot change the culture or the city. For me, it has been the equivalent of climbing a cultural Stairmaster for 8 years looking for ease and comfort I always felt was located somewhere else – or maybe no place on earth.
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