A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

The Immortality and Identity of Henrietta Lacks

 

You walk into an inviting room and approach the receptionist’s desk. Most times, they smile in your direction and inquire as to why you are there. You sign in on the clipboard and the thought may cross your mind, “What do they do with this?” Since it’s routine, it’s fleeting. You finish signing in by confirming your information.

And then you take your seat.

You wait. 10 minutes on a great day or close to an hour on a really bad day. Finally, you hear your name called. You walk through a door and you glimpse an official-looking sign that may read: NO ENTRY UNLESS ACCOMPANIED BY STAFF. This part of the office is less inviting. Your escort knows this and tries to lighten the mood by engaging you in small talk.

“How have you been since the last time we saw you?” You step on a scale. They take a note. “Oh right! I remember. Did you manage to get that job you were applying for?” You walk down a hall illuminated by fluorescent lighting. “I know that’s right. That’s all you can do.” You walk into a room with two chairs next to a very small desk which holds a computer used for notating in your electronic chart. “You can have a seat in one of those chairs.” You sit down and explain why you’re there. If it’s a good day, it’s just a check-up.

But if it’s a bad day? There is really no telling where it will go.

You answer those questions as best you can. Your escort finishes their notations and says the words that you either welcome with anticipation or meet with dread.

“The doctor will be in shortly.”

***

Most of us have this very sterile experience when visiting our doctor’s office. While there are many people who are there for routine visits, a great majority of us often go when we feel something is wrong in our bodies. In these cases, we trust that our doctors and their staff will do right by us and give us the type of treatment that allows us to live the long lives we hope for ourselves. The expectation here is that Mothers will walk out the door to spend time with their Children. Daughters will walk out the door to spend time with their Mothers. Wives with Husbands. The expectation here is that doctors not only heal, but that they heal our bodies with good intention. But a sad trend is that if you are (1) Black, (2) poor, (3) uneducated, or (4) any combination of the first three, the likelihood is that you won’t have that experience. You won’t have the experience of being seen as a whole person with a family outside of the walls of the hospital. You, and to some extent your body, can become a fascinating specimen where the need to make a significant contribution to society and science erase the empathy that allows medical professionals to see you as a person.

That was the case with Henrietta Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks. Shutterstock Image.

It took me a day and a half to read the tapestry Rebecca Skloot weaved in her writing of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The author does a stunning job of adding the depth of Personhood that is intentionally stripped by most scientists in their discussion of her. To many? She is a “thing”; a marvelous thing but a thing nonetheless. Skloot reminds you (the reader) that the woman behind the HeLa cell very much mattered to those she touched in life. In The Immortal Life, you learn of her impact on her children, husband, extended family, and community. Finally, you get the idea that what made her remarkable wasn’t that a damaging piece of her was immortal; but that she loved fully and completely – even in damaging circumstances. She was real. She was raw. But more than that? She had a name.

For that alone, I would recommend the book to any person who is interested in learning about the woman responsible for many of the leaps and bounds medicine has made in the last 60 years.

However, as I read this book, I felt a gathering of emotion that will easily consume anyone identifying as part of an underserved population. As a Black American woman from a low-income background who currently finds herself a part of the working poor? This book brought to surface the feeling of “Other” I was introduced to early in life by those possessing some form of societal privilege. In many instances, I was reminded of the extensive disenfranchisement and abuse Black Americans endured at the hands of those in power. This reminder left a constant knot of frustration in my throat while reading.

Other parts of me, trained social scientist, abuse survivor, and the patient living with a chronic health condition, read the book differently. “For once,” I thought, “here is a book that puts it plainly what it means to be Black and poor in the US and experience different institutions.”

As a social scientist, I appreciated the qualitative approach Ms. Skloot took in introducing those close to Henrietta Lacks. You were reminded she had a family because their voices and emotional burdens were loud, clear, and distinct on these pages. Their frustration in never receiving an answer to the ever-present question of “What happened to my Mother/Wife/Cousin/Friend?” was palpable. Their condemnation of those who would take advantage of people who trust someone because of their expertise was rightfully placed. More than that? The void of having missed a Mother/Wife/Cousin/Friend in their lives would never be filled and was only exacerbated by the assumptions they understood what was happening to their family. With the writing of this book, Ms. Skloot seemed to help fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. This left me somewhat relieved.

As an abuse survivor, I readily recognized the cyclical and long-term damage of being harmed at the hands of close relatives. To see it take place generationally reminded me of the “Keep family business in the family!” stance many Black families take. I thought about how differently life might have been for a few of the women in the book had they received the kind of help that would let them lead a life free from worry. I wondered what would have happened if they had been advocated for. More than that? I recognized their bodies being harmed as a byproduct of having to protect the Black Family and the Black Man above protecting their own Black bodies. The intellectual toll, emotional scars, and lack of skills to cope with physical abuse was also illustrated. This left me mostly sad.

As a patient living with chronic health issues, I felt conflicted reading about a woman whose death directly contributed to my personal management of my health crises. As a Black woman living with chronic health issues? I felt anger at the thought that my cells could be used (and probably are being used) in such a fashion. I thought about the lack of accountability in meeting people where they are when explaining confusing ideas and field-specific terms. I thought about the lack of foresight many of the medical professionals seemed to possess when it came to deciding between furthering their ambitions or receiving a “No.” from a patient fully aware of the risks involved. This left me mostly angry.

As a person from a low-income background, I felt a deep connection to the environments many of the voices introduced in the book found themselves in. At any moment? I can take a trip to a neighborhood not too far away and see the implications of what happens when people are tossed to the side only to be remembered when they need to clear space for other people. In many of these instances, the faces there will look like mine – Black or Brown but noticeably absent of white faces. Understanding this, the distrust of Ms. Skloot was warranted. After all, who put people like us in those neighborhoods to begin with? Who benefitted most from programs allowing upward mobility and a chance at a life better than the one their parents experienced? The blight and subsequent effect on the welfare and well-being of the remaining Lackses spoke to the determination to make it by any means necessary. All too often, this is a story many Black Americans still find themselves tied to. This “fact of life” left me reminded with what it means to be burdened while Black.

Overall, this book was a really good (almost great) read. It was written well and comes across as thoughtfully intentioned. The biggest thing is that it finally gives the everyday person an idea of the woman being called Immortal in the medical and scientific community.

We are finally told of the woman Henrietta Lacks.

The Journey to Self-Healing

When you embark upon a path of self-healing, you can become transfixed on it having to look a certain way based on the teachers you initially meet. What makes self-healing a difficult experience is that we often find ourselves at a fork in the road. 

The decision before us becomes: “Do I continue to follow this teacher? Or do I strike out in search of another teacher?”

Having been in some form of counseling since I was 9 years old, I’ve come to this place many times. To put it more bluntly, at 30 years old, I realize I’m at the point in my journey where more is required of me. 

The thought came to me in the quiet stillness of the morning – “Teachers can only teach you what they know. They can only teach you what they’ve experienced. They can only teach you what they are ready to be honest about.”

It felt jarring. It felt harsh. The statement felt like an indication of where I fell short. Often? The most important lessons come wrapped in a demeanor of frustration and a tone of exasperation. 

To that, I hear you God.

As a Black Woman, that’s what makes self-healing scary. I don’t have the luxury of no longer acknowledging vague needs and must now explicitly state what it is that opens these personal wounds. And it’s a lot to burden yourself with when you seek answers from those who offered their help, yet remain committed to not touching the same kind of hurt within themselves. 

All heartbreak is not the same. All betrayal is not the same. All disappointment is not the same. ‬It’s why I’ve realized  you can’t look for specific wisdom in a person that’s never experienced the same type of wound. ‬

Knowing this, it’s important to remind ourselves our task remains the same – heal yourself fully and help others do the same. ‬So get to it. 

With love,

Ms. C. Jayné

Isolation & Growth

Here’s a thought: “Isolation is necessary for growth.”

Isolate. Verb. Cause a person or a place to be or remain alone or apart from others. 

Isolation is a feeling that none of us like. It’s the part of growth where we start to question, “What is all of this shit for?” It makes being in the emotional tunnel that requires living more intentionally or with a higher code of values almost unbearable. 

Almost. I said almost.

The thing about isolation is that we notice it the most when we feel like we’re in a dark place. I use dark here because I’m reminded of the church hymn, “This little light of mine.” As the case with any light that shines in darkness, it is a beacon for those who are finding their way to look to. The assumption that a lot of us make is letting our light shines means we know what our light is shining for. Often, we do not and we are not comfortable with the not knowing. At least, I know I’m not. 

There’s good news though. Isolation doesn’t mean that all is lost and we shouldn’t feel that it does.

When you ARE being isolated? It’s imperative that you understand it’s like your Spirit is trying on a new size of clothing. You aren’t necessarily alone BUT it is necessary for you to be separated from people, places, or things that could hinder your growth. 

Said another way, when you ARE being isolated, your Spirit is adjusting itself to the new amount of space it needs for you to live more fully in your purpose. It’s why civilizations have always separated neophytes and initiates from the rest of the tribe during coming of age and initiation rites. It’s why newlyweds separate from what they’ve known as their family in the “get to know you differently” phase with their new spouse. It’s why new hires go through training and are slowly introduced to new coworkers. 

In each instance, you’re shedding an old way of being and know. Isolation, or separation, is what allows you to come into a new understanding of who you are and how you must perform in your new role. Isolation is imperative for the person you strive to become. 

And when you’re waving around blindly in darkness trying to reach for anything or anyone to let you know you aren’t alone? Don’t worry. Once you’ve become accustomed to the way your new Spirit fits, the people, places, and things which support who you have become more fully will show up.

Isolation isn’t ever really fun but it is necessary for growth.
Love,

Ms. C. Jayné 

Truths Revealed

January 1st is always a day that feels like it comes with a built in reset button for life. It is the only reason that I look forward to it with so much anticipation. This last year though? I wondered if it would hold the same promise that other “new year” days held.

With 2015 being as bad as it was, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t see thirty if life continued to feel as hopeless. What changed for me was a response to a message I sent to a friend that was really close to me. In it, she told me that she wanted to work on our friendship.

And that has been the theme of many of my conversations lately. People are just as afraid of being vulnerable as I am. Their fear of the truth crippled them as much as my fear crippled me.

The thing I learned though was to face the fear and find something, anything, to pull me to a place of courage. We’re all afraid because we’re human but the fear should never stop us from living a vibrant life.

That’s one truth revealed.

Thank you January 1st for this.

5 Things to Know By 30

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I bet the title grabbed your attention right?

This isn’t one of those posts that you get a list of the things you need to do before your 30th birthday. It isn’t a list of lessons you needed to have learned. It isn’t a list of places you needed to have visited.

Rather, it’s a reflection of where I am in life based on those things.

Essentially, I’m in a place of Reflective Struggle. It sounds nice when I write it that way but my truth is that I’m in some shit, I’ve been in some shit, and it doesn’t look like I’m getting out any time soon. Basically, I have started to wave my white flag in surrender to life. I’ve been busy facing my personal inadequacies as markers of real-to-me success.

By some measures, I’m a success and there are people (who know me personally) who will be absolutely confused by this post. They’ll say, “But she has these things.” And it isn’t about things. This post is about the frustration I felt with not being supported in a way that made me feel like they valued my spirit. It’s about the sorrow I have from feeling like I wasted my time doing things that weren’t for me. I spent years in spaces that didn’t make me happy because that’s what made sense to people on the outside. I accepted jobs that made me absolutely miserable and chipped at my self-esteem on a daily basis to pay bills that a dent hasn’t been made.

I’m the most successful failure I know because I accomplished all of those things and failed at faking happiness.

Since my 25th birthday, I’ve dealt with a constant nagging that I wasn’t living; I wasn’t even existing. I was lost. And it was then that I started to look at the lists. I wanted to see all of the lists and compare them and study them and use them to set my intentions.

My existence became an exhaustive list of To-Do items, many of them out of my reach. It’s important that I share since graduating with a Master’s degree in 2010, I’ve always been poor. I’ve been less than working poor. I’ve been “I’m so poor I’ll never own my name.” I’ve been “check to check” and “I have more month than money” exhausted. I’ve been “What the hell did I go to school for?” weary. Yet I was determined to live by these lists. The result? I’ve lived a pretty embarrassing life since following these “rules”.

And the other day, I sat down in a fit of exhausted rage when I cried tears of frustration because I’m tired of trying.

At 29 years old, I now base my accomplishments on what I’m able to get through during the day. Did I wake up and sing a song that made me happy? Did I talk to someone on the phone? Did I brush my teeth and comb my hair? I feel like I’ve lived if I did those things. I’m so weary I can’t even look at the lists anymore.

What’s the lesson?

Life is the one thing you don’t really get an instruction manual for. If there isn’t anything else you get from this post, take that nugget. There are no “How-To” manuals for this shit and no list will make up for a void of purpose.

You get up. You move. You fuck up. You try again. You don’t fuck up. You keep doing that. That’s life. That’s what you need to get by 30. And 25. And 21. And 18. And don’t forget to dream. The last thing you want to do is what I did – get caught up in the rat race of getting by in life.

You dream. You get up. You move. You fuck up. You try again. You don’t fuck up. You keep doing that. And in the meantime, you smile and make music and dance and love and laugh and cry. But you keep going. You keep doing that.

I wish someone had told me that before now.

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This!

Hey Ladies!

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Let’s have a chat, shall we? The other day, I started to think about what I want my life to look like in 2016. This year, I’m taking a whole new approach to resolutions (or something, I haven’t decided). As I looked at the calendar and compared it to the list of my goals, I wondered, “How in the hell am I supposed to get all of this shit done?”

I also wondered if I even wanted to get it done but that’s what December is for. November is for getting all of my dreams out on paper; December is the reality check (lol). After I got over the initial “ugh” feeling, I started to think about the best way TO do these things. That’s right! I got practical. I asked:

When is the best time to get this shit done?

And then I realized something – I should use my natural inclination to “wanting to do shit” to, you know, do stuff. Now, by this time, you’re probably wondering, “What is she talking about?” I’m talking about our cycles – the ENTIRE cycle (and not just Hell/Shark/JESUS IS IT ARMAGEDDON AGAIN?! Week). This is basically what I’ve come to learn about being a woman that wasn’t in those little books they give you in your middle school health class.

The point?

WE, women*, ARE NATURALLY INCLINED TO DO SHIT BASED ON OUR ENTIRE CYCLE. The whole thing. All 21-30 days. So here are some things to remember about them.

Week 1: I LOVE EVERYONE!

Principle: Do NOT Make Important Decisions. The rule here is that you do not, under any circumstances, make any major decision. Do not agree to shit.

Do NOT agree to a damn thing.

Why? You are ovulating (I know the cycle doesn’t start here BUT I refused to start my post detailing the horrors of Shark Week). You love everyone so much that your helpful ass won’t actually do any work because you’ll overwhelm yourself with “Of course!” and “Yes!” These are the couple of days that you’re happy you’ve once again survived the Rogue Midget in Cleats running through you womb like it was the 6 (shouts to Drake and/or Q. Miller).

Remember that everything only looks appealing. That event with those people you can’t stand because their energy is wrong? You’ll say yes to that because everyone deserves a second, third, twenty-seventh chance. The really bad ideas you hear that the Sharks on Shark Tank wouldn’t even entertain? You’ll say yes to that because everything looks appealing.

So do not make any important decisions. Have the conversations, take notes, but don’t commit. Besides, you’ll be so pleasant that people won’t be offended by your “No.”

Week 2: I’M JUST BEING HONEST!

Principle: Find A Different Way To Say/Do/Think That. Sure! They need to hear whatever it is you want to tell them, just not from you. The thing to remember here is that you’re suddenly more shrewd. Ovulation happened and everything became stupid. Your egg dropped, went unfertilized, and everyone, except you, became the dumbest person alive.

But you won’t say that.

You’ll just give off the vibe that you are too cool for school. YOU ARE TOO COOL FOR ANYTHING! Because you’re (pre)PMSing. Now while this isn’t a great time to start anything, it is a wonderful time to THINK about what you want/need to see happen in your life. This is the perfect time to write it ALL down (don’t delete anything) and get it ALL out. This is also a great time to start sorting through your things and purging them, especially within the first three days of this particular hormonal phase. This is basically when you prepare for the bullshit that is to come in the next week.

Week 3: JESUS FIX IT!

Principle: Love Yourself Because You’ll Think No One Else Does. This is the week that everyone in life holds their breathe about, whether or not they have a period. This is also the week that you have everything, and I mean, everything about yourself. And it is not your fault. And your boy/girlfriend are not insensitive bastards who wish to crush your feelings because they were raised by unloving people who left them alone in dark rooms. I hate to say this because it violates all of the Girl Code but…

It is NOT them; it is You.

And blame whoever you need to. Do whatever you need to do to get through this week since Self-Care is the name of the game (it’s the only game). Love yourself a lot because the mirror won’t. This is the time of the month (see what I did there?) you don’t want to be alive. These are the days that you’ll wonder why everyone hates you, why they dump all of their shit on you, and why you, yes You, can’t get it together. Your hair is dry. Your skin is splotchy. Your clothes don’t fit. And you want to eat everything in life that ensures they will never fit again. It’s okay, Dear.

As I said, your only goal here is to love yourself. Because this love makes the next week of eating crow and getting shit done a lot easier.

Week 4: LIVE YOUR LIFE!

Principle: Do Everything You Really Want To Accomplish. Depending on how bad Hormonal Armageddon was will dictate how apologetic you need to be on the first day of this week. It’s okay. We’ve all been there and your hair actually looks okay enough to make people want to stick around to go through it again. In three weeks. Because hormones. So start with the apologies and then get started on that list of things to do!

This is when you implement the new ideas and commit to the contracts. You are the most levelheaded you’ll be and as this week goes on, you’ll only become more pleasant. You see clearly here because you have 20/20 vision. You feel great here because your energy is back. This is where your personal “I Am the Shit” playlist comes in handy. You are unstoppable so go out and conquer the world.

You’ll only have five days to do so.

.

*Men are hormonal too but that required several drinks and a bulletproof vest to write about (I’ll put it on the list for next year).

Ten Things About Me

Interesting.

To arouse curiosity and interest or to hold and catch the attention of someone.

I hear the word interesting and think “quirky” or “unique.” Other words that come to mind are “special” (to stand out). As someone who spent the majority of her life trying to blend in for fear of being deemed too much of the wrong something, this post, something that should be a simple list, was almost hard to write.

What do I find interesting about myself? Absolutely nothing. I don’t think I’m remarkably talented and can do anything particularly special. As a matter of fact, one of the things that people like about me is that I can teach you to do things in much the same way I do them (at least that’s why my last job loved me so much).

Quiet. Meek. Silent. Invisible.

Those are words that others could use to describe me. Those are the words that I would use to describe me…because those are the things that keep me safe. What’s not safe? Sharing what makes you interesting because that opens you up to judgment. However, in the vein of growth and authenticity and whatever-the-hell-else, I’m throwing caution to the wind and sharing 10 things I find interesting about myself.

Here goes nothing.

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Number 1: I’m left-handed.

Okay, sure. One in seven people are left-handed (or something like that) so that wouldn’t be particularly interesting…except I was the only one in my house growing up that was left-handed. That means, my Mom couldn’t hold my hand while I traced my letters to write so she’d make me practice my letters until she “could read them” (which is also why my handwriting is so great today). Which brings me to number two…

Number 2: Most of the time when I write (or take notes on something), my paper is almost upside down.

Again, people marvel at the life skills I’ve developed because I am left-handed. One such time happened in the 10th grade while taking a test (that I almost failed). My teacher was passing through the aisles to check and make sure we were all being honest and stopped at my test. I was so wrapped up in the questions in front of me that I didn’t notice him there until his shadow made me look up (I thought the light blew out). I just stared for a moment before saying, “Ummm, what?” His reply? “Wow. You’re writing upside down. I thought you were cheating but I see you’re not.” This man thought I was giving the answers to a classmate to my left…who would have to turn around and copy my paper. No dice, sir. Just trying not to smear my ink.

Number 3: I almost failed Art in the 9th grade because all of my perspective drawings had accidental shadows.

That darn left hand of mine would rub against the page and make my drawings less sharp. As a result, I regularly received feedback to the effect, “Why are there shadows everywhere?” The answer – because chorus was full when I went to register for my electives. That’s why.

Number 4: I used to define myself by numbers.

7-5-1986. My birthday. 3. My favorite number. 14. The number of schools I’ve attended. 8. The number of states I’ve lived in. 2. The number of countries I’ve lived in. Gotta love the military.

Number 5: Speaking of the military, where are my fellow Military Brats at?

BOTH of my parents were in the Army and I come from a tradition of military people. This is something to laugh at because everyone who has ever gone to the military hates answering to authority. As I said, my parents were in the Army, my Paternal Grandfather was in the Air Force, my Maternal Grandfather served in somebody’s war, my oldest Brother served in the Air Force. And I almost went to the Air Force except…

Number 6: I failed the physical and couldn’t go to the Air Force.

Looking back, that might have been a small blessing in disguise. Small, as in miniscule, but as I remind myself that I’m trying to think more positively, I say that it was a HUGE thing. I might not have met the people I have developed friendships with and I might not have been pushed to write (seriously) when I was. Then again, I wouldn’t have the student loan debt that I have (over $100k if you’re feeling generous enough to donate) but again…we’re thinking positively here. 😛

Number 7: I attended Brown University for graduate school…because I’m stubborn.

I mean, the full story is that I was a McNair scholar as an undergraduate student and when I had to share the list of schools I was applying to for graduate school, I was encouraged to not set my reach schools so high. Since I took it as the person telling me I wasn’t Brown University/Ivy League material, I decided to prove them wrong because what the fuck did they know? They probably knew how expensive it was (lol). Nonetheless, I had a great time when I was not in class or studying because it meant that I was spending time with my classmates shooting the breeze. The high point of my Year in Ivy League Hell? I graduated with my eyebrows and edges. #WontHeDoIt

Number 8: The thing I’m most proud of was helping a woman who had breast cancer.

Many moons ago when I was young, newly graduated, and broke as shit, I worked at a Victoria’s Secret. I was hired as part of the holiday team (seriously the best time to get a retail job if you don’t mind not spending time with your family during the holidays) and it proved to be an interesting time. One of the things we are known for is sizing women for their bras. My second day working alone (I was done with training and they threw me to the wolves), I noticed a woman in my section. Unfortunately for me, my Manager also noticed her which means I had to “upsell” our merchandise. As I was talking to her, I noticed she had two different sizes of the same kinds of bra and asked if she’d like to be measured. “Sure but not here.” I gladly radioed on the headset to ask someone to watch my section because I didn’t like being in the front anyway. After walking her back to the dressing room, I went through the customary questions and when it got how she wanted to be measured, she hesitated. At this point, her silence scared me and I KNEW I was going to be fired (I used to go right to catastrophic when I think). She told me that she was nervous because she’d had a mastectomy. She was there because her Husband’s birthday was coming up and she wanted to buy something to look nice. At this point, I said, “Well…not to sound crass or anything but cotton doesn’t scream sexy. So we’ll get you sized and I’ll take you to the nice section.” That made her laugh which was great because it meant I wouldn’t be fired.  Two days later, I was congratulated on the headset because the woman came back to buy more sexy stuff and told my Manager about the great job that I did. I ultimately was fired just not on that day (lol).

Number 9: I eat pineapple on my pizza.

Sue me. I like it. It’s delicious. If God didn’t want me to have this, he wouldn’t have made it an option at pizza places.

Number 10: Since we’re on the topic of pizza, I once did something really stupid for Dominos.

I walked in a snowstorm to get my pizza because they refused to deliver it after realizing the snow was coming down faster than they thought. This was during graduate school. That should tell you everything about why I thought walking in the snow for food was a good idea (hint: I was poor as shit and the grocery store was already closed). BONUS: I also walked to the ONLY store that didn’t close at all during that particular snowstorm – the liquor store. Again, I was in graduate school. Wine was it’s own food group at that point.

So there it is! A list of ten interesting things from a woman who would rather blend into the background. What would you say is the most interesting thing about you?

“She’s Black!”

Ballerina Art

Every dancer remembers her first BIG performance! You’ve put in weeks and weeks and weeks (okay…maybe just a few weeks) of rehearsal of your bumblebee routine. You’ve forced your family to “Look! Watch!” the under two-minute choreography you’d perform with friends and they know it better than you do! It’s supposed to be a moment that you’re gushed over and it makes your Mom smile. And your Dad. And your Brothers. And the other Moms cuz you’re the cutest dancer baby there.

I mean, my first big performance was that (except the cutest dancer baby part). The ending was good but the beginning? EVEN BETTER!

I was three years old. And a ballerina with a penchant for turning the wrong way and dancing enthusiastically with the wrong choreography. My limbs would do what they wanted to do during lessons so watching me provided endless entertainment. The ONLY thing I had to do that night was to turn the right way.

Seriously, that was all my teacher asked of me because I’d giggle uncontrollably if I didn’t.

So the big day arrives and my Mom drove me to the theater. I hopped out the car (without hitting a nae-nae) and started to fidget. I remember seeing a girl in my dance class pass by and I wanted to run into the building with her. My Mom said no to that. So we walked into the building like “we had good sense” and I ran into the area where we changed clothes. Another dance mom walked over to my Mom and handed her a pair of tights. I heard my Mom ask, “What are these?” and I knew from her tone that she was not pleased.

Perplexed and almost pissed.

Because I was as in tune with my Mom as the waves are with the phases of the moon, I stood to the side to watch what was sure to be a show. AND I WAS NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT DISAPPOINTED!

In a very weird way, the other mom said, “These are flesh colored tights.” Weird because at three I didn’t know what condescension was.

I looked to my Mom with an expression that said, “Don’t let me down!” and she didn’t. She did NOT.

My Mom told her that of course those were flesh toned tights. And followed with, “I’m confused as to whose flesh they are supposed to go on?” She did this without the Angry Black Woman neck roll. The woman, seeing what the issue finally was, replied to my Mom that everyone had to look the same. So she kindly (her word) picked up an extra pair “in case she needed one.”

And my Mom, being the troublemaker that she is, loudly said, “WHY WOULD MY BLACK DAUGHTER NEED PALE PINK DANCE TIGHTS? They aren’t exactly flesh toned.”

In my head, this was better than when my Mom had to explain why someone had to give me Black Barbies as a gift. The woman got so upset that she wanted my Mom removed from the area (Present Day Me would have responded with “look at this white ass privilege”). Instead, little me laughed almost maniacally that an adult was mad I wasn’t going to wear the wrong tights. Her request was met with laughter (rude from the belly laughter) from my dance teacher. After the woman asked what was so funny, my teacher (who is also white) explained that she’d have to get over it.

“You’re mad because she pointed out her daughter is black. She’s black.” At that, the woman stormed out of the room.

Annnnnnnnnnnnd theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen…….

We were on stage where I had the time of my three year old life even though I still turned the wrong way.

When Closure Sounds Like Grief (A Response to Adele’s Hello)

The internet has completely lost its mind after hearing Adele’s newest song, “Hello.” Remaining true to her style, Adele released a song that had everyone saying, “OOOOOOOOOH MY GAWD!!!!” for a host of reasons. When I listened, I felt happiness so I thought I everyone else did too.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I was on Twitter yesterday when I realized that most felt a bit sorrowful. After seeing people’s reactions, I realized exactly why the lady in Walgreens looked at me like I was a complete nutcase. On the aisle right in front of the cereal marked two for $5, a woman said, “Excuse me? Who are you listening to?” I said Adele and she replied, “I thought so. It’s a good song. You must really like it.” This lady was worried because I happily sang/hum along to the beautiful music coming through my earbuds.

Who happily sings along to an Adele song outside of people who are plotting payback for the ex that broke their heart?

People who recognize that sometimes closure sounds and feels like grief.

So back to last night!

I shared that this song wasn’t really sad. Adele just has a voice that holds depth…like deeeeeeep depth. You hear Adele sing ANYTHING and whatever you thought you got over shows up like “NAH! YOU DIDN’T!” At this point, you’re left with only one choice – you have to ride with it. While cowering in the corner of your shower. And sobbing (like a G, of course).

That is…until yesterday. Hello is the song that everyone wishes to sing to their old self. It’s the conversation we wish would desperately get a response. This is when you want to say, “I’m sorry!” but you feel like you can’t. It’s when you live with willingly live with a regret that you don’t have to because you think approaching that pain would be too much to bear.

The thing Hello reminds us is there is just one person that can give you the response you NEED when it comes to moving forward from deep pain – You. So I wrote myself a letter (by changing the lyrics).

***

Hello.

It’s me. I’m surprised that after all this time you feel grief. There’s no need to go over anything. It’s true that Time Will Heal All Wounds and you’ve done much healing.

Hello.

I hope you hear me. I know that you spend time dreaming about who we’d used to be. When we were younger and wished for peace. I still remember how we felt when our world crumbled at our feet.

But I see the difference between us…and I’m glad you smile now.

Hello from the Other Side. I must have called a thousand times to tell you I forgive you for everything that you’ve done. But when I called you never answered at all. Hello from the Inside! I know that you tried. I know you wished you never broke my heart but it doesn’t matter. It clearly doesn’t tear me apart anymore.

Hello.

How are you? It’s so typical of you to dwell on the past when there’s no need. I see that you’re well and I know you made it out of that hell and now look what has happened! It’s no reason to ever feel like we’re running out of time.

Hello from the Other Side. I must have called a thousand times to tell you I love you for everything that you’ve done. But when I call you never want to pick up. Hello from the Inside! I really see how hard you’ve tried. No need for sorry for what you think you’ve done. I love you. Please don’t let it tear you apart anymore.

***

What’s the one thing you wish you had the courage to say to yourself?

Click here to hear Adele’s new song Hello if you’ve managed to make your home under a rock and haven’t heard it yet.

The Benefit of Humanity

Last night, I tossed and turned hoping that sleep would welcome me into its embrace. No such thing happened and I decided to write.

It’s hard to rest when your heart and spirit are weary. It is hard to breathe when it feels as though your chest has filled with water. I came to understand that my weariness was the realization that I could awake tomorrow to news of another “tragedy” and the feeling of it being hard to breathe was grief complicated beyond measure.

In Charleston, in a place of worship and refuge, nine Black American citizens gathered to safely study and learn of the grace and gift of God. They welcomed a stranger, as Jesus commanded many to do before them. They offered this stranger a place to sit and share and breathe and live. For an hour, this stranger did just that. And in an instant, the stranger became a terrorist.

Nine of those gathered within a holy space were murdered for merely existing.

As news of this tragedy spread along with the description of all victims and the sole perpetrator, I could see this to be a calculated measure spurred by the deeply entrenched notion of Black people as something to be feared.

Something. Not someone.

Like clockwork, media began to ask questions that I am sure are considered hard-hitting and cutting-edge to someone. Questions such as “What could these Black people have done to prevent this?” and “Should white people now be afraid of black people?” Absurd questions when you think of it because who would think that you would ever need to protect yourself in a place of worship that sits in a land built on freedom of worship?

Unfortunately, we then heard the questions, comments, and suggestions made about the man who murdered these innocent people. Things like “What would possess him to do this?” and “Maybe there is a mental illness that we don’t know about.” Most ludicrous of all were the statements “Allow him due process under the law.” and “Let’s not judge him in the court of public opinion.

This adult male, aged 21-years old at the time he coldly executed people in a calculated fashion, was given the benefit of his humanity.

Black Americans watched as many defended this many and simultaneously deflected the notion that it was a terrorist attack with racial motivations EVEN AFTER he admitted this to be the reason he murdered these people. Black Americans learned that there were people who knew about this plot for months but dismissed it as just “talk.”

Most offensively, Black Americans watched as the police apprehended him peacefully.

You see? Because of the benefit of his humanity, this man will see his day in court. And when he does, they will uphold it as evidence that the justice system is fair.

And so I write this as a reflection of what it means to be Black and a Woman and American and operate daily within a system that was built on the backs of my ancestors.

People do not care that I must grapple with my Black identity as I walk on streets named after Confederate generals who fought wholeheartedly to keep the institution of slavery as we learn about it in school in place (the North will have a day of reckoning behind their involvement in slavery).

No one bats an eye at the thought that we frequent financial institutions that descendants of slaveholders were allowed to open with wealth amassed while Black bodies were treated as chattel.

We are given weak apologies from some of the finest educational institutions in the world for their involvement in the dehumanization of Black people.

Be quiet, Slave.

We are told to move on and act peacefully in our grief as we point out that this is always about the fear of Blackness.

Be quiet, Slave.

We are told these instances of terrorism that make the news are isolated incidents when in actuality they support the system of disenfranchisement upholding the status quo.

Be quiet, Slave.

We are told to erase our culture and identities as that is what makes us animals while being expected to swallow the offensive performance of Blackness executed by those who benefit from White Privilege.

Be quiet, Slave.

We are expected to go along with the “program” of acceptable outrage that demonstrates that you can be upset someone would wear fur but not that police will murder your children in the streets and let their blood run into the gutter.

Be quiet, Slave.

In the many institutions that make up the complex fabric of the United States of America, Black Bodies are seen as expendable, yet necessary, to move the wheel of systemic and systematic oppression forward. And we know the reality is we are not even viewed as human enough, worthy enough, to warrant outrage behind being slaughtered like animals. We are not seen as human enough to warrant the removal of offensive reminders of the past.

We are not seen as human.

The sad reality is that many who benefit from White Privilege view our mere existence as trivial. They do not see us as we walk down the street. They do not place money in our hands when we serve them in our jobs. They do not acknowledge the idea of personal space belonging to a Black person. And while there are a few brave allies willing to put their good names on the line for what it right, many of them unknowingly uphold the system that invaded our countries, the bodies of our mothers and fathers, and our psyches.

I sit with this heavy on my heart as I count down to another birthday, something the nine victims of an attack spurred by racism can no longer do. I have come to understand that my Blackness, as amazing and divinely inspired as it is, serves as an iron veil that would never allow me the benefit of humanity.

And so, I write their names below with the idea that it is just another reminder that they did matter. More than melanin and blood and bone, they were spirits who touched the lives of others. They were mothers who gave birth to children. They were fathers who molded the minds of those under them. They were neighbors. They worked. They loved. They hurt. They laughed. They cried. They welcomed strangers.

They prayed.

They were human. They were people. They will be remembered.

Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, 41.

Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 54.

Myra Thompson, 59.

Tywanza Sanders, 26.

Ethel Lee Lance, 70.

Cynthia Hurd, 54.

Daniel L. Simmons, 74.

Suzy Jackson, 87.

Rev. DePayne Doctor, 49.