America, A Problem to Puzzle Through

On second thought, I do have something more to say. Because there is a need for a record, a kind of accounting of all these becomings, unfolding into newer versions of Maria, reconciling parts of old me with new me. I have captured numerous of my changes in private journals and notes for future publications. But as I pace this writer’s progress, I am also mindful of the need to capture some of it publicly, here on the blog.

The writing of this book— a book about the current tempo in black women’s friendships, some collected perspectives on how we see each other, and how we feel about each other— has changed so much about me, I am scarcely able to explain the wide breadth of the changes. For the past seventeen months I have been inhaling a steady diet of air, rippling with an energy I had been sorely lacking in, an energy which had been deliberately diluted by way of mixed messages and frenetic distractions for my entire life. 

This air— filled with black rage, black love, black intelligence, black stupefaction, black hurt, and black joy— knocked me back repeatedly as I have reviewed my notes, re-listened to recordings, read and re-read books, watched documentaries, and prepared to exhale particles of my morphing Self. Exhaling. A shadow of the newer Self has been shaking old me into a life with clearer vision, not emotionally, but matter-of-factly, almost routinely. Exhaling. 

In this way, the words have been finding their way onto the pages. I am but a channel for a portion of life’s truths.

A few years ago I when I still cared about Facebook, when I actually believed in it as a vehicle which made sense in my life, I wrote a few posts about our society’s shared racial tension. At the time, the majority of my Facebook friends were white. At first, many of my “friends” cheered, saying amen with “likes,” and offering encouraging comments. Because all I said in the initial post was something like, I’m getting ready to shake things up, as much as we all love each other here, we need to start talking about Race. 

But by the second post— the one where I offered more details about our society’s racial tension, the things we have not been saying about race, our biases, our ignorance, our deliberate avoidance of race discussions in mixed company— silence, birds were chirping, breaths were held. 

I imagined a collective movement of fingers going to lips, members of my “friends” exchanging surreptitious glances and saying Ssssshhhhhhhh!!! 

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For numerous decades, like so many Americans, black, white and all colors in between, I used to think Racism was our problem. THE problem. Versions of that kind of thinking had me believing that our problem was also bigotry and fear and discrimination and inequality and every other wrong-minded, unfair word one of us could come up with. On and on with all the lesser derivatives of the big R, my mind went, spinning like dirty water circling a toilet flush, tiny balls of poop all broken off from Racism. 

But then I quit my job and was afforded the luxury of solitude, the ability to insulate myself from the world outside my home. And I began researching and collecting data for a book about women who looked like me, black women, women who I had been wondering about, wondering if they might sometimes feel as I do, if they felt the same hurt and lostness I had often felt in a world which seemed, at times, to be crushing me underfoot.

And I was right to wonder. Numerous black women strangers breathed their love into me; they breathed their rage and their hurt and their truth and their joys into me. 

I had cut the television cable in our home. And I would eventually realize, as much as I loved so many of the  white people who, for decades, had been the source of blessings and damnation in my life, I needed an intentional break from their ubiquitous ways and their insistent messages. I needed a moment, in an extended way. I needed all white people to stop talking and let me think. I saw an opportunity to take my mind back. 

And now I get to exhale. And breathe. And die. And live again. Now I can stand in my own truth in such a way as I never could before. Because who was I before I quit the job two years ago? I used to be apologetic (I was sorry I to be so dark and I was sorry to be so light. I was sorry for the skin I had been born in. I was sorry I fell prey to being raped. I was sorry for my broken family, sending me into the world as damaged goods. I was sorry for being an alcoholic). I was someone who had been shaped and molded by the patriarchy for fifty years. My mind had memorized teachings I didn’t invite, teachings from a curriculum devoid of the black perspective, devoid of the feminine touch, masculine-centric teachings, teachings which dated back to the 1960s and 1970s, teachings which informed the views I held about myself as a little black girl growing up in America.

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A long time ago, I had a supervisor, a black man on the executive level, who said this to me: if you’re not a part of the solution, Maria, then you are a part of the problem. I never forgot that moment of truth. I was barely 30 years old. In that moment my supervisor helped open my eyes to view the world in a new way. 

Either you are on this planet merely taking up space, only worrying about yourself and your own interest, who you love and what you possess, or you are making contributions to human kind, helping to make this world into a better place than it was before you found it. 

Racism is NOT our problem. America is our problem. Yes. Truth. Spoken in his typical eloquent, deadpan flare, this message was delivered by James Baldwin in the documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. 

Really, Maria? America? How so? I thought things were better. Okay, yes, there’s Donald. But before Donald we had Obama. Besides, a lot of us are just as dismayed about the current presidency as people of color are. 

There’s also this though.

I am fifty-two years old and I have only just come to understand something particularly American about our society. If it was ever taught to me, I was not paying attention and the gravity of its undeniable factualness was lost on me. It is this: Where class distinctions are concerned, in order for the rich and powerful to hold their positions, large numbers of the less fortunate MUST suffer. Let me say that in another way in case the point gets lost on someones else. There can be no group who is well off and/or materially comfortable in our society (middle-class included), unless there is also selected groups, whose members are deliberately underfed, abused, and occasionally murdered.

So it’s weird to move and socialize amongst so many people, a human family sharing soil, who hold such sharply differing perspectives on how we are all experiencing our unfolding lives, the kind of divergent views which tend to inspire insulted feelings between us. Shit, it sucks actually. And some days it’s fuckin exhausting to pretend we don’t feel this. 

I hope you make it a priority to not only see the documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, but also to ruminate on its messages. If you don’t see this production, then find something else like it. Google, black men hanging from trees or police beating black people (with batons). There is so much free material available through Youtube, Netflix, Amazon and other media engines developed to educate us, especially we who are Americans. If you think you already know, then know what you know further, and watch again. I watched I Am Not Your Negro on Amazon Prime. 

We have already sat through millions of hours of television watching simply for entertainment. Meanwhile, members of the population are dying in different ways all around us due to the collective and individual apathy we have each languished in at various seasons of our lives. Not-me, -not-my-problem is strangling us like weeds in an otherwise beautiful garden.

I have walked among some of the populous, asked strangers a number of basic questions and listened as they opened their lives to me, even if only for moments. It turns out, I am not crazy after all. The racial hatred of this country did in fact kick black women in their teeth, repeatedly. I don’t care if we are all now mostly living politely and often kindly with each other despite our differences. If we care to look along the underbelly of this American whale, the barnacles of white hate and black pain are there for all who wish to see.

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Finally, this is not about good people versus bad people. We have all been both. This is about a system under which we choose to live as if there is nothing more to be done about it for the lazy, uninspired and uncreative rationale, that it is too big and has always been this way. Fuck that. There is always something to be done, even something as small as starting a difficult conversation with people you care about. Even if it’s as simple as asking yourself and/or someone else the question: what more can I do? Even if it’s as simple as: resisting the urge to finger-point, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and do something to improve life for someone else, outside your love-people. 

We have all been poisoned by the effects of racism and until we address it directly, repeatedly, trying on exchanged perspectives, it will continue to devour our flesh from the inside, out. 

In the video James Baldwin said this, to an interviewer: I am a man, I am not a nigger. He goes on to say that America created the nigger and Americans should ask themselves why they felt the need to  establish a nigger at the center of their lives. I think that is a very good question. And it really doesn’t matter if you weren’t the one who created it. We belong to each other here, we are connected by virtue of the blood running through our collective veins and the blood which soaked the soil we all live on. As Americans, we are family (9-11 rightfully reminded us of this fact). We can’t disabuse ourselves of notions we pretend to not have. America is most certainly our problem. THE problem.