I want to tell you a very personal story about privilege.
I was raised very comfortably in a middle class home. The only child of two older parents, I attended private schools, enjoyed vacations each summer, had private lessons and endless cultural experiences, and enjoyed a life of plenty. I can't speak to whether or not my parents ever had financial difficulties; if they did, I was unaware of them. My friends came from similar households-- married parents, private schools-- and I saw life from a very middle class perspective. My parents raised me to believe that life was a reflection of our choices, and that if I made the correct choices, I could enjoy the better aspects of life. College wasn't ever presented to me as an option, but, rather, a requirement. I attended the Hampton University, a school with a reputation of being a little on the uppity side, and became a teacher upon graduation. Over the years, I purchased a home, I dated and was engaged, I travelled, and I enjoyed a very comfortable middle class life with middle class friends and middle class experiences.
In 2011, everything changed for me.
My grandmother passed away, and her death sent my life into a tailspin-- I've blogged about it before here, if you'd like to read it. One result of Nana's death was that I left my teaching job and set out on my own to explore entrepreneurship. That was the best and worst decision I'd ever made. There is nothing easy about being an entrepreneur. Starting a business and trying to stay afloat financially are difficult for the most experienced, most prepared businesspeople. I was neither experienced nor prepared. I knew I hated my job, that it was making me physically ill, and I knew there was more to life than what I was doing. I set out on my own, and, much to my naive surprise, my life imploded.
I have had several experiences that have been incredibly transformative for me, and I will write about them in later articles. The one I want to focus on today is called the Department of Social Services.
I was once an incredibly private person, and, in a lot of ways, I still am, but this blog has allowed me to share details of my life that I never thought I would discuss publicly. *takes deep breath* Well. Here we go.
When I discovered that my fancy HU degree and charisma were not enough to keep me from completely drowning financially, and after I foreclosed on my condo and surrendered my prized Camaro to the finance company, I decided that the only options I had for feeding myself and my son and keeping us insured was to go to DSS and file for state assistance. Some time later, after I was unable to keep up with my Pepco bill, I had to go to DSS again to request energy assistance. So here I am, a woman with a comfortable middle-class background, sitting in the Department of Social Services, waiting for hours to meet with my case worker, requesting food stamps and energy assistance. What I discovered as I sat and was serviced started the ball rolling that would eventually change my life.
People don't care about the financially disadvantaged.
I sat across the table from the women interviewing me that were responsible for deciding whether or not I was eligible for services and was appalled at the way they spoke to me. They were incredibly rude, dismissive, very flippant, and extremely elitist, as if they knew beyond all doubt that they were better than I was. In fact, I watched most of the workers at DSS treat people that way. The services that I so desperately needed were delayed by the non-responsiveness of my case worker, who would not return my phone calls and did very little to rectify my situation. I guess it didn't much matter to her; she wasn't the one without electricity. They spoke and acted as if I had something they needed, and regardless of how they treated me, I had to sit and endure whatever they dished out if I wanted the services for which I had applied.
And it wasn't just at the Department of Social Services that I noticed the glaring discrepancies between the middle and lower classes and how they are treated and perceived. Having state insurance, I experienced receptionists who very curtly spat, "Oh, we don't accept that insurance here" and hung up in my ear-- more than once. More than several times. Here I am, a middle class woman having a lower class experience, and I am baffled and completely appalled by the way I was being treated. What I realized is that this is the way that poor people are treated every single day. There were several other experiences that I will speak about later that contributed to my awakening, but slowly, my eyes became opened to a world that I never paid attention to, that I never really knew existed.
I've always had what I've needed. Transportation has never been an issue for me. I've always had access to quality healthcare, to the best education, and to generally kind treatment. It wasn't until I didn't have these things that I began to see how differently the world looked when access to those things became limited for me. Earlier this year, I formed a relationship with someone who is now one of my closest friends, a young woman who experienced a completely different upbringing from mine. She's taught me a great many things this year, but one of the most pivotal lessons she taught came after Pepco disconnected my electricity. I lay in bed, in complete and utter shambles. I cried. And I mourned. And I whined. And I lamented. And I sang every "woe is me" song I knew. She got up from where she was sitting on the bed, lit some candles, and pulled up a chair next to my bed.
"You know how many people get their electricity disconnected every day?" she asked me.
"I don't," I said, "but how would I? This isn't my life," I whined.
She laughed at me. "Well, today it is," she said, "and you need to stop the crying and damn near hyperventilating, wipe the tears, get up, and keep it moving."
She went on to tell me stories of her childhood, how utilities weren't always connected, how sometimes there wasn't enough money for food, but how she learned to make the best of what she had and kept it moving. And, despite the discomfort of being without, life moved forward for her.
"Why isn't it that easy for me?" I cried.
"That's simple. It's called privilege," she responded matter-of-factly.
Now, I'm offended. Privilege? What do you mean? I'm not privileged. But I lay there as she talked to me, and explained in detail how my middle class perspective has never allowed me to see life from a lower class perspective-- until I was forced to live it. And as much as I argued with her and wanted to prove her wrong, I had to admit eventually that she was absolutely right.
We spend so much time talking about and dissecting white privilege that we totally ignore the existence of middle class privilege that exists within the black community. This privilege is toxic, because it creates a deep chasm in the black community. The black experience looks totally and completely different for poor people than it does for the middle and upper classes. I was blessed with the unique opportunity to have a lower class experience, and now that my eyes are opened, I am so sad at what I see.
But now that I see it, I have a responsibility to speak about it. I have a responsibility to speak for the people who sit in DSS for services, only to be stripped of their dignity by those commissioned to help them. I have a responsibility to speak for people who don't have access to healthy foods because there are no grocery stores in their neighborhoods, only liquor stores and carry-outs. I have a responsibility to speak out for the residents in Wards 7 and 8 and in PG County who will possibly be affected by Metro's proposed budget cut that would stop off-peak bus service to communities that are overwhelmingly Black and low-income.
Awareness is a burden. And it's a load I am committed to carry.
I can't tell you how many times I've silently judged people's circumstances without knowing anything about them. "Look at her with all those babies, just living off the state, I bet" and "He's on the corner selling drugs; why can't he just get a real job?" I'd even shake my heads at homeless people, assuming that they'd mismanaged their money or chose drugs over housing. Remember, I was raised to believe that our lives are the sum total of our choices. If people made different choices, I surmised, they'd live different lives. What I did not realize was that statistically, most people born in poverty die in poverty. People are not always victims of bad choices. Sometimes, they are doing the best they can with the lives they inherit, with what they are born into. When I realized this, I was ashamed and completely embarrassed. I'd sat from my comfortable middle class pedestal and judged their circumstances through my privilege.
The lower class, in many cases, are just trying to survive. They are really doing the best they can to stay afloat. They've endured unfair treatment, subpar education, rude workers, limited services, and they've attributed it to the fact that this is what it means to be poor in America. I don't care how little a person has, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They deserve access to healthy foods and quality education. They deserve safe schools and dedicated teachers. They deserve the basic human respect that people with money take for granted.
As I sat in DSS, I wanted to say, "Honey listen. I have way more education that you will ever dream of having. I promise you that my net worth (check me out) runs circles around yours. I speak better than you. Do you know who my parents are? Do you know where my son goes to school?" But I couldn't, because I needed food stamps. And I sat there, and was disrespected. And spoken to harshly. And dismissed. And I thought, this is what it's like for them every day? How do you treat people like this just because you assume they're poor? Why would people who work for the Department of Social Services NOT be compassionate and have a heart for the people they come into contact with?
Awareness is a burden because now I can't unsee it.
I am dedicated to making life better in some way for lower class people. I have the education and the resources. I have a voice. I can make things happen for them that they don't have the access to make happen themselves. This article is for my middle class friends. The Black community is in peril, but White America is not the problem. The problem is that we have divided ourselves by class. The lower class is used to being mistreated and disregarded. The middle and upper classes are enjoying the luxuries of a life that they worked hard for (and assume that anyone can have if they they work hard, too.) But one thing I've learned is, "Just because we were all given the same 24 hours does not mean that we were all given the same 'start position' in life. Truly understand a person's 'start position' before you judge them." (This girl is brilliant.)
Privilege affects the way you see the world around you, undoubtedly. And it's okay. The thing about privilege is that most people don't know they have it until something happens that reveals it to them. Some people ever have that revelation. I did. Privilege causes blindness. Blindness, in and of itself, is not a crime.
Let me repeat that. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the finer things in life. Don't ever apologize for what you have. Your privilege is a result of your station in life, and that's fine. Blindness isn't a sin. But once a person's eyes have been opened somehow, and they are given an opportunity to see the world for what it really is, and they do nothing about what they see? That's where the problem is. That's where the crime happens. The world looks so differently when you're looking down than it does when you're looking up. I've been blessed to be in both positions.
The burden of my awareness is what forces me to share these experiences with you.
I would never ask you to feel bad about how you were raised or the life with which you have been afforded. My parents worked really hard to give me the life and the experiences I had, and I am so thankful that they were so dedicated to parenting me and instilling me with morals. Just understand that your worldview-- the perspective from which you see the world around you-- is based solely on who you are and what you've experienced. I learned through my own experiences that it is more than possible to miss huge parts of the human experience simply because you're viewing life through your own lens-- the lens of your privilege-- and you're unable to see things how they truly are for so many people who aren't like you.
The funny thing about privilege: You don't know it exists until someone (or some life experience) reveals it to you. God decided I needed to widen my perspective, so He allowed me to experience life in a way that changed my lens. He very delicately used people and experiences to reveal my privilege to me, and now that I am aware, I am burdened with the responsibility to do all I can to speak for people who don't have the voice, the education, the resources, or, hell, even the faith to speak for themselves. I could list all the things I've been through this year-- Food stamps. Utility cut-offs. Gallbladder surgery. Celiac disease. Anxiety attacks and depression. I've lost friends-- really GOOD friends. Spiritual burdens. But each one of these things is a gift, because each of them have lent to my eyes being opened a little bit more. Through every trial and tribulation, I have grown more and more aware.
Sometimes, I can't believe I'm still standing. But I know it's only because I'm supposed to be a mouthpiece, a speaker, an advocate for people I never EVER paid attention to before.
And this article is my way of passing that burden of awareness to you. I'm not telling you to quit your job, drain your resources, and completely dedicate your life to public service. (I've already done enough of that for all of us.) I'm just inviting you to open your eyes a little wider, to see the world around you from perspectives other than your own, and to be aware that the Black experience looks a whole lot different depending on where your starting point in life is.
As always, I invite your comments and thoughts. Thank you so much for allowing me this space to be vulnerable and to share my life-- my burdens-- with you.
I woke up this morning with this on my mind. And yep, just like everything else I write, this will probably make some of you uncomfortable. But has that ever stopped me before?
I have to give you a little background information before I jump into this topic.
Last December, I attended a Christian book club meeting (all Christian women, I'm the youngest by about 20 years) to discuss the book Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith. Without giving you too many details about the book (because it's definitely a worthwhile read), the discussion spiraled somehow into the current state of our Black communities, particularly where the police are concerned, and the disproportionate number of Black people being killed at the hands of police. I sat and listened to most of the women in the room talking about how much our young people needed prayer. One woman said, "Every time my son goes out, I lay hands on him and pray. That's really all we can do. All we can do is pray that the Lord will cover them and guide them should they get into a situation with law enforcement."
*insert record scratch here* Whet?
So I looked up from my plate of delicious h'ors d'oeuvres, and I said, "Umm... That's incredibly inaccurate." At this point, all their old, Christian, judgy eyes were on me. "There is so much more that we can do as a people than just pray. Prayer is great. I grew up in the church. I know prayer works. But it's absurd to think that God makes resources available to us, that he gives us the ability to organize and mobilize, that he gives us voices and the intelligence to formulate arguments, that he allows us access to community leaders and gives us the intelligence to form solutions but all He wants us to do in the face of wrongdoing and blatant brutality and racism is pray. It is completely and absolutely ridiculous to think that prayer is the only solution to ANY problem. I can't accept that."
I've never been snubbed so badly in my life. Those ladies jumped down my throat like I had committed blasphemy. How dare I suggest that prayer isn't the solution? What was wrong with me? They were rude and nasty to me... and these are prominent women in a large church in PG County. Officers. People who hold positions. Needless to say, I fixed my plate of food to go (because I don't leave food, regardless of how mad I may be) and I left that meeting early.
Fast-forward to today...
I'm watching hundreds of people being forced to move from their homes in the Lynnhill Condominium community in Temple Hills, Maryland because instead of the management company paying the utilities like they were supposed to, they have been stealing from the residents. As a result, Pepco and Washington Gas are owed more than a million dollars, and they've cut electricity and gas to the buildings, giving the residents 72 hours to vacate their homes and find someplace else to live. This is a community with shared utilities, so even though most of them were making their payments on time, they are suffering the consequences of someone else's negligence, and because the million dollars could not be raised, these people are, for all intents and purposes, homeless, through no fault of their own. Heartbreaking, right?
Then I scroll my Facebook timeline and see a statement from a prominent megachurch right here in PG County. "Our prayers are with the people in the Temple Hills community that have to vacate their homes. May God wrap His arms around you in your time of need, and comfort you as you endure this difficult time."
This megachurch, by the way, boasts millions of dollars in resources. I know for a fact that the pastor wears a Rolex and drives a Rolls Royce. This isn't hearsay. I've seen them both with my own eyeballs. So instead of them writing a check, or challenging other large churches to match a donation that could save these peoples' homes, they opt instead to offer their prayers.
I immediately took to my computer. Because what the hell.
God is a merciful God. I believe wholeheartedly that He loves us and is faithful to answer us when we pray to Him. But if a person or a community is desperately in need of resources, while you are praying for them, HELP THEM. Try to get them the resources they need. Mobilize. Organize. Put your heads together. Contact county officials. Figure it out. But if you have the resources needed to help them, but all you offer is prayer? Keep you prayers.
If I need food, don't just pray for me. Feed me. If I need clothes, don't just pray for me. Clothe me. If I need resources, don't just pray for me. Help me access the resources I need. Prayer has become a crutch for the Black community. "Well, I prayed for you." That's nice, but it's just not enough, especially if you can do more. I'm not telling you to reach into your own pocket for people, because I understand that sometimes, that's just not an option. But point me in the direction of someone who can help me. Give me the information I need to improve my situation. Educate me. Your prayers mean absolutely nothing when my community is under attack, when I can't feed my children, when I have no electricity. We as a people have to stop leaning on prayer as the end-all-be-all. It's not, and it wasn't ever meant to be. The Bible says that faith without works is dead. You know what that means? It means that it's useless to have faith that God will fix a situation that you aren't diligently working to correct yourself as best you can. I believe God matches effort. Lying in your bed praying that God will bless you with a job you haven't searched or applied for is asinine. Believing that God will send you a spouse that you haven't prepared your life for is ridiculous. Asking God to bless a community of people who are being forced from their homes because their utilities are shut off but you've done NOTHING to help them financially (and I'm speaking about this beautiful shiny megachurch on the hill with a million tithing members) is insulting.
If all you have for me is prayer when I desperately need help, keep your prayers.
Prayer is not the solution to everything.
Prayer is not all we can offer.
Prayer is not all God has called us to do for each other.
People need resources. They need help. They need education. They need programs. They need empowerment. They need advocacy. They need mobilization. They need community. They need prayer, but they need so much more. If you are in a position to help me, or point me in the direction of someone who can, and all you do is pray for me? I'm good. You can keep that prayer. Don't even waste your time. We have got to stop thinking that prayer is the only answer. God tells us to pray without ceasing... but he also tells us to work. To be watchful. To be smart. And to help one another.
I'm not attacking faith. I'm attacking the idea that faith is enough. It's not. Not ever.
Here I go again, taking on something controversial.
Oh, well. As always, I invite your perspectives and opinions on this, as I am sure a great many of you will disagree with me.
Last weekend, my mom, best friend and I went to see The Birth of a Nation.
I felt compelled to support the film, even amidst the negativity surrounding it, simply because of what the movie was about. I can't speak on Nate Parker's rape allegations, or the supposed remorselessness Parker displayed in interviews when asked about the incident that had taken place so many years ago, because I'm just not interested in talking about those things. They've already been discussed more than enough. MORE than enough. I simply wanted to see the movie for myself. Before I went, I heard it was astounding and thought-provoking. I heard it was disappointingly average. I heard it was awful. I didn't really know what to expect from it.
One thing I did hear before I saw the movie, however, was disappointment in the way the female characters- particularly Nat's mother, grandmother, and wife- were portrayed. "The movie made them appear weak," my friend told me. "Those women were not weak. Why would Nate choose to portray them that way?" For this reason, I paid particular attention to the women in this film. And I was kinda blown away by what I saw in them.
My friend and I talked for hours about the film after it ended, especially the comments that the women were weak. We tried to figure out what about their behavior could possibly make anybody look at them as weak. We eventually figured it out.
The stereotypical image of the strong black woman is one who is unafraid to speak her mind and fight for what she believes in, regardless of the consequences. She's bold and brazen, outspoken and unintimidated. One article I found classified the strong black woman as the following: "We are the fighters. We are the women who don’t take shit from no man. We are the women with the sharp tongues and hands firmly on hips. We are the ride-or-die women...We are the sassy chicks. We are the mothers who make a way out of no way." (quoted from this article)
Of course. Since the stereotype of the strong black woman is the one who doesn't back down or take shit, naturally, black women who did not speak out, even if they were slaves, are seen as weak. First of all, they were slaves, and limited in what they could and could not do and say. Even though they were not argumentative, there was tremendous strength in both their silence and their sacrifice. They didn't try to talk Nat out of doing what he felt he needed to do. They never wielded weapons, but they were supportive. They put their own wants and needs aside for the greater cause. They see the bigger picture.
Let's talk about how strong the women in this movie actually were. If you haven't seen the movie yet, I apologize, but for the sake of this article, there are spoilers:
When Nat's father tells his family that he has killed a White man and he must escape, Nat's mother and grandmother don't cry or beg him to reconsider. They understand that he was stealing food so they could eat, and knew that if he didn't leave, he'd be killed. Nat's mother watched her husband walk out the door, knowing that she would probably never see him again, without shedding a single tear. She understood the sacrifice he'd made for his family.
When Nat's grandmother fell at the master's feet in the opening scene, it took strength for such a proud woman to assume such a meek, low posture at her master's feet so that her family would not be punished for having stolen food. Nat's mistress (the master's wife) decides that she wants to teach Nat to read. She very matter-of-factly tells Nat's mother that he will be living in the big house for awhile, so she can give him lessons. Nat's mother is obviously saddened by the fact that her baby will no longer be living with her, but she does not protest. "Yes, missus," she says quietly. When Nat's mother "allowed" (and I say that loosely because slaves didn't get to voice opinions) Nat to live in the master's house, it took strength for her to accept that though her child would be away from her and raised by a white woman, he would be given the gift of education, which was unheard of for most slaves.
When Cherry was on the auction block, despite the fact that she was shackled and for sale, she refused to allow the white auctioneer to remove her clothes. Even as a slave up for sale, she protected her dignity as a woman and would not allow her bare breasts to be exposed to the ravenous White men interested in purchasing her.
While Nat is being beaten, his mother and grandmother stand silent, watching his whipping. They wince and grimace, visibly uncomfortable with what they are witnessing, but they remain quiet. It is clear that, if they could, they would bear every single lash in his place. They were absorbing each blow he took as if they were being beaten, too. All night, they had to leave him chained. They watched his punishment, knowing they could do nothing to stop it. They tend to his wounds, expressing their condolence for his treatment and his strength for enduring it.
As his grandmother is stitching the wounds left by the whip, she talks about the strength of his grandfather, and how much it hurt her to watch the white men attempt to break him in the same way they tried to break Nat. She affirmed that strength was in Nat's DNA, and she perceived Nat's as admirably as she saw the actions of her own husband. She gave Nat her support without ever mentioning anything about his plans or thoughts.
Esther, a slave woman, is raped by her master's white guest. Though the rape isn't shown, Esther is seen leaving the house after the incident in tears, collapsing only when she is safely in the arms of her husband, who waits outside for her. No woman, slave or not, wants to bear the indignity of being raped. Esther walks out of that house with her head held high, despite the actions just taken against her that she had no choice but to endure.
When Cherry is viciously beaten and gang-raped, she relies on her faith in God and tells Nat that vengeance belongs to the lord. Even as she lay broken and unrecognizable, she begs her husband not to seek revenge on the men who brutally attacked her. Before Nat began his rebellion, he sought permission from the two women who meant the most to him (by then, his grandmother had passed away). Their support and consent meant something to him. The strength and fortitude with which Nat Turner led that rebellion came in part, no doubt, from the support and strength of his mother, his grandmother, and his wife. His rebellion eded up being one of the most prominent and respected acts of bravery and courage in Black history.
There is more to strength than putting your hands on your hips and rolling your neck. Strength is sometimes quiet acquiescence. It's understanding that everything doesn't need a response. It's the knowledge that winning a small battle isn't worth sacrificing the entire war. Having a sharp tongue doesn't classify a woman as strong. Neither does her ability to win an argument with her hands on her hips. Black women should understand that their mere presence is strength. They are regal, especially considering all they have endured and sacrificed historically to get to where they are.
I was so disappointed that naysayers categorized these women as weak. When I looked at them, I saw a strength that I can only hope I have one day when I'm mature and stop arguing with people. I, personally, don't know that I would be strong enough to hug my son and tell him I'm proud of him when I know in my heart that he is leaving me to fight a battle he will probably not win. Let me rephrase that-- I know that I will NEVER be strong enough to do that, no matter how mature I become. Strength is simply being strong. It's not being loud. It's not arguing. It's not fighting, or cussing people out. It's simply being strong, which can take on so many forms depending on the circumstance.
Sometimes, it is appropriate to fight, to rage, to go to war. I'm not suggesting that fighting shows weakness. Sometimes, fighting is absolutely appropriate and completely necessary. But the idea that silence is somehow synonymous with weakness is crazy to me. There have been tremendously strong Black women throughout the course of history. Harriet Tubman was strong. Sojourner Truth was strong. Shirley Chisholm. Maya Angelou. Angela Davis. Assata Shakur. All vocal, intelligent, incredibly strong Black women.
My nana, Mary Barnwell, was quiet. She didn't talk much, and preferred to be a silent spectator of most discussions, laughing quietly and enjoying being in the company of others. But Nana was a loan shark in order to put my mother through college. She left her only child with her parents and moved to New York City to provide for her daughter the best way she possibly could. She sacrificed so that my mother could get the college education she wasn't able to get herself. Nana never once raised her voice, as long as I knew her. She was quiet, and small in stature, but she was one of the strongest women I have ever known. I never saw her hands on her hips or her neck roll, but after she died, I found a pearl-handled pistol and bullets for it in the small table next her bed.
According to the New York Times, The Birth of a Nation silences women. I couldn't disagree more. I think the movie gives us another perspective of what strength looks like, not just for black women, but in general. Silence, believe it or not, is loud. It's louder than 10,000 speakers, especially when it serves a powerful purpose. Why do you think most people hate the silent treatment so much? It can be torturous, to want someone to say something, anything, and instead, they opt to be silent. Being ignored gets under my skin unlike anything else in the history of annoying things. Silence screams. It speaks volumes. It makes statements that words are insufficient to make.
The Black woman, from the time she arrived here on American soil, has been the very embodiment of strength. We've watched our husbands and sons beaten time and time again, first by slave masters, then by fighting in wars that weren't theirs, then by bogus laws and government programs meant only to further incapacitate them, then by falling prey to mass incarceration, and even now, by being killed at the hands of the police. It astounds me that Black women are at the bottom of society's totem pole, when we are the very source of life on this planet. A black woman, whether silent or loud, whether fighting or not, is the definition of strength. It's the magic in our melanin.
I did not see the women in The Birth of a Nation as weak. I saw them as survivors. And surviving, regardless of the era in which you live, requires strength. Period.
Thank you so much, Mel, for allowing me to share your thoughts in this article. I wouldn't have been able to write this without your help and input. Your brilliance continues to render me speechless.
This is another one of those “Am I really about to write this?” posts.
Yeah. I’m really about to write it. Because I believe it needs to be said.
(Before I start, look up the lyrics to 'Cranes in the Sky' by Solange if you don't understand the title. I think it would give you some context. Basically, when there's something in your life you need to deal with, no amount of distracting yourself to avoid it will make it go away. This is the story of how I stopped feeling my metal clouds all the time.)
Kid Cudi released a letter to his fans yesterday, explaining that he made the decision to check himself into rehab for his depression and suicidal urges. He went on in the letter to explain that he was not at peace, that he’s been tormented by these feelings as long as he can remember and they’ve rendered him unable to live a regular life. He talks about how he doesn’t want to leave home or interact with people, and he believes he deserves to be happy, so he’s stepping away from his music to focus on self-care and healing.
The one thing that REALLY got me about his letter, though, is the final paragraph:
“Love and light to everyone who has love for me and I am sorry if I let anyone down. I really am sorry. I’ll be back, stronger, better. Reborn. I feel like shit, I feel so ashamed. I’m sorry.
And, as I read the final paragraph of what was probably the most difficult thing Kid Cudi has ever written, I started crying... and realized in that moment that I have a story to share that someone may need to hear.
I have no idea who I’m writing this for. I just know that I won’t have peace until it’s written.
My grandmother’s death in 2011 threw my life into a tailspin that I am still trying to recover from. I had no idea that something as natural as the death of an elderly grandparent would have such a huge affect on my life. In retrospect, how could it not? I’m an only child, and I was my grandmother’s absolute favorite. Without sharing too many family details, Nana’s death forced us (my parents and I) to make some financial adjustments that included me sacrificing a few things that were quite important to me. I walked away from my career as a teacher. (I can’t say Nana’s death was the reason I stopped teaching, but it was definitely a catalyst.) I developed irritable bowel syndrome, a really weird gut dysfunction that is often caused and exacerbated by stress, and ended up losing a bunch of weight as I adjusted to this new way of eating and living in an attempt to avoid spending my entire life with my head in a toilet.
Life happened really fast for awhile. Nana died, I moved, I developed the IBS, I had to learn to live on an entrepreneur's salary (which is SUCH AN ADJUSTMENT OMG), I lost a few really good friends, and I left my childhood church, the only church I had ever known. My entire life was a series of recoveries, one disappointment, one loss, one huge adjustment after the other. This, by the way, is still going on. I'm still adjusting.
I also developed an anxiety disorder.
I’ve always been a bit of an overthinker. I’m a dreamer. A writer. Being constantly bombarded by one thought after the other wasn’t anything new to me, but when Nana died, those thoughts became unmanageable. I wasn’t hearing voices or anything, but the constant barrage of thoughts began to affect my ability to live normally. Eventually, the anxiety attacks started. I did my best to hide them from my family and friends. I’d crawl into my walk-in closet and sit up against the wall behind the clothes, and cry, and struggle to breathe, and pray, and squeeze my eyes shut until the attack passed, which could’ve taken a few minutes or several hours.
The thing about anxiety... It comes from your thoughts. Your brain. It’s always with you, you know? Even when you’re having fun with friends, or doing something you enjoy, or, hell, even SLEEPING, the thoughts are always there. You can’t turn them off or separate yourself from them. You live with them all the time. Creative people (writers, artists, musicians, ect.) are no strangers to this constant anxiety. It fuels your work, but destroys your life. Kid Cudi is an excellent example of that.
Anyway. So I was very quietly living with this anxiety disorder that I was afraid to share with anyone, because the idea was that I was handling this life thing flawlessly. That’s what I wanted everyone to think. I owned a business. My son was doing well. I was in control. All was well. I worked hard to keep that façade from crumbling. In fact, the act consumed my life, and eventually, I got lost in the charade. I stopped being able to tell the difference between who I really was and who I wanted everybody else to think I was. I didn’t have the time or the energy to sort any of it out, though. I was working full-time on my master’s degree, raising my son, running a business, active in church, and trying to make everybody think I was fine. Who had time for self-care in the midst of all that?
2015 changed everything for me. Everything fell apart around me.
The crumble was a very subtle one, actually. Two people I really trusted betrayed me. I could go into detail, but I’ll leave it at that. The first happened in August. The second was in November. After the second time, I lost control over my ability to keep making everybody think I was okay. These two incidents were the straw that broke the camel's back.
I literally fell apart.
I cried every single day. The weight of the grief I felt sat in the middle of my chest and it was so heavy that I literally could not breathe. I couldn’t find the words to explain what I was feeling, but I knew it was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I gave up on everything. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to talk or function. I didn’t want to be a mother.
I didn’t want to be alive.
I wasn’t feeling suicidal, but I’d lie in bed at night thinking that I’d be cool if I fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It was in the middle of the night one night right around Christmas that I knew that my anxiety had become depression, and I needed help.
I reached out to two people who were extremely close to me and told them what I was feeling. One of them told me I needed to figure out a way to “get happy again” because my being unhappy was making everybody around me unhappy. The other just sort of abandoned me. She stopped talking to me. It was like she just couldn’t handle my sadness, which I understand, but I needed her. When I confided in her that I didn’t wanna live, she lectured me about how selfish I was for thinking that way. “What about Michael? What about your parents? Think about them and stop focusing on yourself.”
That was all I could take. I didn’t know what else to do.
(In their defense, these are people who would never say anything to hurt me on purpose, but depression isn’t something we’re taught to properly deal with. It’s so much bigger than “just being sad.” Most people don’t understand that, and it’s not their fault.)
While I was on vacation during Christmas break, I found a therapist in the area and started seeing her. Going to her and talking to her helped. It definitely made me feel less sad to be able to be totally honest with someone who wasn’t judging me and didn’t expect me to have it all together, but the anxiety was still there, and it was still absolutely crippling. I couldn’t stop the thoughts. I couldn’t control the rate at which they came. I couldn’t keep them from snowballing. I was relying on sleep aids to get through the night. I was seeing the therapist once a week, and still hiding in my closet to get through the anxiety attacks.
Ten months into 2016, I can admit that I am in a totally different place in my life emotionally. Here’s the work—WORK—I did:
First-- I trusted my network. I taught my mother how to deal with my depression and anxiety so that she could be a source of support for me. I learned how to tell my friends that I was having an episode, and they’d always be okay with me coming to them and sitting with them until it passed. I learned to open my mouth and share what I felt, so that I could get the support I needed.
Next, I learned myself again. I put aside all the bullshit about wanting to look like I had it all together and figured out who I really was, even if the real me was a hot ass mess. When I tell you this process is hard work, I’m severely understating. I had to allow myself to be broken completely in so many different areas in order to decipher the real from the façade. I had to admit that my logic was flawed, that I had been brainwashed in a lot of ways, that I was building my life on the thoughts and ideas of others instead of on my own thoughts and ideas. I had to literally break my entire life apart to figure out who I was, and then love the woman I found in the rubble. It continues to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
Then, I had to let go. There’s one person that I don’t know what I’d do without. I am completely honest with her. I give her all I have... all my fears and anxieties and dreams and hopes and goals. And, in return, she’s completely honest with me. She has never shied away from a conversation with me, not even conversations that she knows will break my heart. She’s been such a huge part of my deconstruction/ reconstruction process because she’s not afraid to call me out on my shit, but she breaks me down to build me up. She’s patient. She’s kind. And her love for me has helped me to love myself again.
Now, I see a psychiatrist in addition to my therapist. I’m taking meds now to control the anxiety and it helps so much. For the first time in my life, my mind doesn’t race out of control. I’m so much calmer, more in control of my thoughts and ideas. I’m able to start and finish a task without being distracted. And I’m more in control of my emotional responses to things, which means far less yelling and lashing out.What I know is that mental health continues to be an issue in the black community. There are so many people living with mental health issues that they are afraid to share with other people, because they are afraid of how they will be perceived or judged. There are people hiding in their closets, afraid and alone, crying and anxious, with no idea how to fix things. I am blessed because I had people to literally come into that closet with me, who sat there with me until I was ready to come out and then held my hand until I was able to stand on my own.
I’m coming into your closet after you, whoever you may be reading this.
I know this is long, and I’ve been writing forever, but understand me.
There’s help for you and your anxiety, your depression. There are people who can direct you to solutions that will totally and completely change your life. Don’t worry about what folks will think of you. You deserve to live the best life you possibly can. You deserve to be free, to be happy.
And damn it, don’t apologize for it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I’m still working on this, by the way... but mental health issues aren’t anything to hide. Or hide from. You can’t pray sadness away. Stop letting these pastors tell you that if you’re depressed, you’re outside the will of God. THAT IS A LIE. Prayer helps, I promise it does, but God has given us resources in addition to praying that help. There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have to be in that space by yourself. I promise there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is life after depression. You can learn to live with anxiety if you’re given the proper tools to navigate it.
I am a living example.
Changing my hairstyle didn't fix it. Eating it away, dancing it away, sexing it away, reading it away, working it away... None of that did anything for me. I tried to drink it away. I hid in closets. Spent unnecessary money thinking new things would make it better. Tried keeping myself busy. Slept a lot. Nothing changed until I admitted that I needed help and focused my entire life on getting the help I needed. Only then, when I admitted that I didn't wanna feel the metal clouds anymore did they dissipate for me. (Look up the lyrics to the song. Trust me.)
I’m an author. An editor. An entrepreneur. A mother. A daughter. A sister. A friend. Every day, I make a choice to keep moving forward. I rely on my support system. I take my meds. I listen to music I love. I say things instead of holding them inside. I live out loud, walking in who I know myself now to be, and not in who I thought other people wanted me to be. Braided, tattooed, pierced, unashamed, vocal, and free.
No, I am not happy every day.
Yes, it bothers me sometimes that I have to take meds to function.
Yes, every day requires work on my part.
But oh my goodness, YES, it’s all worth it.
So. This is my story. I hope it helped someone. It sure helped me to tell it, to finally get it off my chest.
What seems like an entire lifetime ago, I was a high school English teacher. For nine years, I taught high school students how to write, how to speak, and how to correctly manipulate the English language. It was work that I was proud of. I felt like giving them control of the language they spoke placed them at an advantage, because when you can effectively express yourself, you can navigate life on an entirely different level.
But when the politics and bullshit of public education became more than I could handle, I resigned from teaching to
start my own business as an editor and a freelance writer.
What completely surprised me was just how many adults have no concept of proper grammar. Editing manuscripts and Ph.D dissertations and other official documents and seeing the unbelievably high number of glaring, ridiculous grammatical errors helped me to realize that adults know even less than my high school students did. Adults—professional, college educated adults—needed grammar lessons just as desperately as did my high school students.
Thus, #grammarlessonsforthepeople was born.
I’m a naturally sarcastic person. I get my points across with humor, and I can be quite crass from time to time, but I compose these lessons in ways that adults can not only understand and appreciate them but also apply them to their everyday lives.
Why are words so important to me?
Slaves weren’t allowed to read. Have you ever thought about why? We think in words. Not knowing words takes away our ability to make complete thoughts. Not knowing words took our power away. How could we dream freedom and formulate exactly what it was or how to achieve it if we didn’t have the vocabulary to do so?
Words are powerful. Understanding how to properly use them gives us the power of words. Presenting correct grammar is so important because it shows that we have the knowledge to manipulate language. Knowing how to manipulate language allows us into conversations that matter, conversations that earn money and change our communities, our world, and our lives.
#Grammarlessonsforthepeople isn’t just funny. It’s power. The pen will always be mightier than the sword. Thus, it’s so important, vital even, to know how to wield the pen in ways that produce your desired results.
And I promise you that the people who have the power to really change your life aren’t gonna be checking for you if you can’t spell, aren’t using words in the correct context, and are making one careless grammatical error after the other.
I invite and encourage you all to get into my #grammarlessonsforthepeople, and even my #grammarquestionsforthepeople, where you can ask all the questions pertaining to grammar that you may have.
Words are life. They are literally life. Use them wisely. Use them correctly.
takes deep breath
Articles like this one are often difficult to write. As a writer, I tend to second-guess myself a lot when it comes to saying things that are unpopular. But, as a writer, I’ve discovered that saying unpopular shit is just my cross to bear. I’m like... the Frodo of unpopular shit. So I’ma say what I need to say... and invite you to share your opinions and criticisms of what I say.
Either way, I’ma say it.
Over the weekend, there emerged a social media frenzy, #ForeverDuncans, that took social networks (and, seemingly, the minds of unmarried Black women) by absolute storm.
A quick recap for those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about: Over the weekend, a young man proposed to his longtime girlfriend. She said yes. This was at noon. Six hours later, he surprised her with a wedding, and they were married. Dating to engaged to married, all in less time than it takes to binge watch season 1 of Luke Cage.
(Side note: Watch Luke Cage. You’re welcome.)
Just real quick to get this out the way before you read any further:
No. I am not bitter. It is absolutely possible to disagree with something without being some miserable, bitter hater. “Anybody who finds anything negative about this situation is just an unhappy person,” one woman wrote. I am not an unhappy person. And although I am unmarried, I am quite content in matters of the heart at this point in my life. I’m not anti-romance, or anti-love, or anti-let’s film shit and put it online and become instantly famous. All that is fine with me.
And yes, I am genuinely happy for them. They seemed overjoyed. If you like it, I love it. I’m all for what makes people feel good, as long as it doesn’t involve hurting children or small furry creatures. Do you. Life live.
What I think took me my surprise so much about the whole situation were the reactions I saw on my Facebook timeline about it.
Be ever so careful that the documented and posted online love stories of other people aren’t setting you up for failure in your own life.
Unmarried women were saying that a man who would not be willing to do for them what this young man did for his
girlfriend aren’t worth their time. “Don’t even talk to me if you’re not coming #ForeverDuncans correct,” one woman posted. She had well over a hundred likes on that status. “God’s best for me looks exactly like #ForeverDuncans. I’m patiently waiting, Lord.”
Listen, ladies. What God has for you... is yours. Maybe God’s best for you is Tyrone, who can’t even afford a ring for you but is everything that God knows you need in life. Maybe God’s best for you isn’t a man who comes riding in like a knight on a gleaming white horse (yeah, I spent way too much time this weekend watching Lord of the Rings). Maybe God’s best for you is on the bus. Hell, maybe he’s a billionaire. Either way, you can’t compare what is right for your life by looking at what is right in someone else’s. And you certainly can’t expect that just because someone else looks at the video and comments, “This is nice for them but way too much for me,” that they are some bitter, unhappy, chronically single, cat having, ice cream in bed eating, miserable lonely troll, either.
It’s no secret that I am very... careful... when it comes to marriage. I’ve been engaged before. Matters to the heart are dicey to me. I don’t do anything in haste, especially when it comes to making a decision that is, in theory, supposed to be for life. I do believe I would’ve had an entire panic attack were I the young lady in the video.
For me, it would’ve felt like I didn’t have a choice in anything. Regardless of how in love I was, or how ready I was to be married to this person.
Every detail of the day, from the proposal to the wedding, was his plan. His design. Yes, it was a dope surprise for her, but I would’ve felt... pressured. What if I wanted to say no? Or not right now? Or let’s think about this a bit more? Imagine being taken to your own wedding in a blindfold, and opening your eyes to a room full of people, every camera phone in the room trained on you and your response? What if I really wanted to invite someone who wasn’t there? What if I wanted to get married on a Thursday?
Yes, a man who made a move this gutsy probably knew every detail of what she wanted already. I get that.
But did she have a bachelorette party? What if she bought small penis-shaped bachelorette party favors months ago that she’d been dying to use? What if she’d been looking forward to planning her own wedding since she was a kid?
To me, it just seemed selfish. It’s my day, too. It’s my experience, too.
And the reason my fingers got all itchy to type this article is because, when I said that, I felt genuinely attacked. Why is it such a scary thing to see something and not have the same response as the masses? Why are we a society of people who immediately shuns opinions that are different from their own? Why isn’t it okay to say, “It’s nice, but way too much for me” and have that just be enough? Because if I would’ve said OMG IT WAS SO GREAT I CRIED THROUGH THE WHOLE THING I LOVE BLACK LOVE OMG, nobody would’ve asked for an explanation of that.
Well, this is my explanation.
Everything that’s good... isn’t good for everybody. I wasn’t moved to tears when I watched the video. I felt anxiety for her in the pit of my stomach, because that’s what I would’ve felt were it me. I watched the joy on her face and knew that she was happy with the choices that were made for her. I am always happy to see genuine joy on any person’s face, as we live in a time where those small moments of complete elation are few and far between.
All I am saying is this: It’s so easy to be disappointed with your own situation when you are comparing it to a small, well-documented snapshot of somebody else’s life. I was almost really sad for some of the women who posted statuses about this, because watching and praying for what somebody else has could distract you from the real blessings that are just for you, that are right in front of you.
And please, can we stop attacking people simply because they share different opinions? Can we trust that it’s okay to form an opinion based on one’s own thoughts and experiences and not the general sentiment of the majority? Can we stop suggesting that people are unhappy or bitter just because they don’t jump on the bandwagon with you?
My two cents. Happy Monday.
I write because a lot of what I have to say is too crass and inappropriate for me to say out loud.