Navigating, Narrating and Negotiating Spaces for the Average Black Life!


What can I say… I’m average and not very proud of it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I used to be, proud, that is, as hell.  Then something, someone; not even sure how it happened, woke me up.  Maybe it’s an evolutionary process that I wasn’t aware of because I’ve always been semi-conscious, just never fully awake, but awareness always hovered in the background without fully resonating.  It probably happened with my daughter. That would be a good guess.  I won’t pretend to actually remember the exact point and time I “woke up;” it just happened, over time.  And now, I just am.  Problem is – can’t doze off.  Can’t shut it down and go back to sleep although at times, I want to – bad!  Now I’m tuned into shit that angers me, worries me, inspires me but I often feel a sense of hopelessness because I feel compelled to act but never swing into full on action.  My activism of choice seems to be venting, involvement, 21st century type shit. I’ll tweet or Facebook the hell out of some shit.  I’ll comment and discuss.  I’ll write also, which is my way of putting it out there, but it stops there.  Moments are rare when I feel the need to move from behind the screen to the front of the scene.  I’ve been there.  On the front line.  It’s exhausting so I take my hat off to those who remain there waiting for something to jump off.  Take the Reverend Al Sharpton, for example.  He appears to always be in ready mode. People talk, but I admire him because I don’t see no one else out there bringing attention or keeping the focus on injustices that plaque our communities. I participated in community for some time but it’s easy to get frustrated at talking to the same people and never really reaching the seemingly unreachable.  At some point along with conflated issues, I decided that my work would have to be done behind the scenes, which is were I am currently active.  Learning. Writing. And Researching. And Writing.  I’m trying hard to figure out how to make all this work in concrete ways.  I’m looking and listening to what gets heard and who’s listening.  I see folks getting their 15 minutes on and off screen.  I see ordinary people doing extraordinary things that mainstream hardly knows much about.  It seems now that you have to choose the circles you want to rise up in.  But me, I’m a community person at heart.  Just haven’t found a way to bridge the divide between knowing what I know and having that make a difference where I truly believe it counts.  I want accolades, recognition and prestige if I’m being honest; however, I don’t want it at the expense of my community, my values, my thirst for answers to the questions that plaque my mind on a daily basis.  Why poverty?  Why inequality? Why racism and discrimination? Explanations abound for why poverty exists in the world and how “some inequality is essential to create incentives,” but at the root of it all the answer for me is that we need unity and discipline.

First we need to unify; organize on a global scale around the issue of poverty.  We don’t need to coalesce around a few charitable organizations that vow to end poverty by a specified time.  We need to weave our minds to the fabric of change. This shit ain’t rocket science, and contrary to popular opinions, the power lies within us to make that happen.  The poor are dying because of decisions made by governments.  The poor are hungry and homeless because governments are so busy chasing and protecting resources and cheap labor, that their countrymen have become simply a means to accumulate mass amounts of wealth for 1% of its people.  In America, we have the resources for every citizen to live a comfortable life, but instead, greed has won out.

Americans were taught to chase a dream that was not inclusive of all her citizens.  My dream is that I could actually live in the neighborhood of my choosing. My dream is that we realize minds cannot be legislated and until the federal government rights the wrongs it created, blacks, as a people, will never get a fair shake.  We are still kept out of certain neighborhoods and gentrified out of our own.  That’s not part of my dream.  We still have substandard schools in our neighborhoods. That’s not part of my dream.  We still have mass incarceration of our youth.  That’s not part of my dream.  We still have higher unemployment rates than whites …ummmm.  That’s not part of my dream.  America’s dream is not my dream!  My dream consists of equality and dignity and respect for ALL the citizens of this country.

An Inside Look at US vs THEM: within the black community


There has a been an on-going fight within the black community between the Blacks and the N****rs.  It is no secret that there are African-Americans who embrace the N-word on a variety of different levels for a dizzying array of reasons.  I am no scholar on the topic of N****rs, but I’ve lived around two distinct sets of black people all my life!  There are those who are decent, hard-working, concerned and engaged citizens and there are those who, for reasons that are obvious and anyone’s guess, do not exhibit any amount of dignity or pride for themselves or their surrounding.  There have been debates on this topic from Congress members to activists, black and white.  When we hear it coming from the white community, there is often outrage, but some of our own have bravely talked tackled the issue and have not backed down from the backlash about “airing our laundry” in public.  The truth of the matter is, there is work do be done from within. Any black person who either resides in, works near, or has left such a community will probably admit, either openly or privately, that there is a difference between us and them.  I am not inferring that we are a monolithic people who should remain united on all fronts; rather I declare the exact opposite.  Within our culture our dreams and goals as well as our values, ethics and morals are often vastly different.  Nonetheless, there is a bond that we share around the issue of race and discrimination; that unique shared experience that only Americans of African descent share that is coded in our language and actions where without saying many words, we know that we know what we know – and that knowledge will forever bind us as a people.

However, that does not stop us from being so divided on a range of other topics. The notion that black people should bear some responsibility for their lives is not new.  The Moynihan Report talked rather extensively about the breakdown of the black family and how it led to the “tangle of pathology” that “will continue without any assistance from white people.” (I disagree.)  There was also the (in)famous speech by Bill Cosby at the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education where he chided blacks about taking personal responsibility for their lives and community. Some disagreed with the good doctor, but I believe that there was a lot of truth in Cosby’s speech.  I actually am an eye witness to these conditions on a daily basis as are my children.  I consider myself among the relative poor in my community, so I am obviously not talking about ALL low- to moderate-income black people; it’s just that there are enough who do not exhibit a sense of pride for our culture and community where the rest of us are made to suffer the consequences of their ignorance.

This fight has been going on for a long time.  It is dog-whistled in our conversations with one another as well as in our music, comedy and often local politics.  This “long-simmering generational and class schisms among blacks” about our values will continue until we decide and realize that we must at least to some degree help us help ourselves.  The government has proven through lack luster housing, education, and crime policies that we are not a priority despite the small victories along the way.  We need a tide to rise as high as the housing developments that we were shuffled into to lift this intergeneration boat of folks from the basement floor to the penthouse where we can enjoy the same quality of living as those who fought tirelessly to keep us down.


I’m not wearing this for attention!


This post is hard because it will reveal a thought process that probably goes against the grain and will more than likely characterize me in a way that I will more than likely not deserve!  I will try very hard not to overstate the characteristics or stereotypes of the mostly low-income women of color I am focusing on for this post.  If at all possible, I will try to be fair to both sides of this debate that I am having with myself and inviting this audience to be a part of.

First I would like to offer my opinion and observation.  In my opinion, women dress in the manner that makes them feel most comfortable.  I believe that, in order of importance, women first and foremost want to look and feel beautiful. Sometimes that look is purely for comfort and sometimes it’s a fantastic look that is not comfortable at all.  Some women also dress to be admired. Others are so into their own being that all that matters is their own opinion.  I try hard not to judge because I would not want to be judged either, for any reason – fashion, beliefs or politics.  That said, I feel that this post is mainly for therapeutic purposes; used as a  space to put these thoughts out into the universe.  I listen to the opinion of many others on the topic and most have valid points, but part of me always feels that there are obvious, more societally general points to be made on the subject.

I am going to be honest about the fact that women who have very shapely figures often times look good in their outdoor shape-wear clothing, which I assume may be their reason for wearing it.  Nonetheless, the new phenomenon for predominately shape-wear clothing has gone overboard.  I find it disturbing on many levels.  For one, the little girls are watching, learning and mimicking – earlier and earlier.  This is especially prevalent in low-income communities where it is becoming the uniform for casual dressing.  Some women even dress up their yoga pants with shoes and sheer blouses.  To use the analogy of R&B music,  that sensual songs with explicit lyrics have been around for probably half a century, if not more, however, the argument has been made that there was a balance.  There was just as much good music as there was distasteful.  The current R&B radio rotation is, in my opinion, often lyrics about the same type of “girl I want you bad so I can do things to you” music.  I feel this is because the good meaningful songs do not get the same amount of time and attention.  We music lovers have to find our music on alternative sources.  Back to the point, there have always been women who have dressed in a “sexy” manner, but it wasn’t everywhere.  There was a balance.  Mostly this fashion was reserved for women who worked at night. I’d be hard pressed now to see women of color in poor neighborhoods dress any other way.  I could attribute this to the fact that stretch pants (aka yoga pants) are cheaper to buy or that “skinny jeans” are all that you can find in the clothing stores in urban neighborhoods, but I don’t actually buy that excuse, not that there actually has to be one.  Besides the skinny jeans, there is also the spandex dress and the cropped or shape-wear tops.  I have done a small amount of research on the topic to see if there were any scholarly articles or other op-ed pieces, but there were not many I could find. One day, I saw a post from Michael Baisden Live’s Facebook page on the subject.  It was called “Sexy is Not Enough” and it spoke about how black women were sexy but that they need to bring more to the table than visual appeal.  The post also touched on the competition between them.  I believe that we will never have (and I’m fairly confident about this) an honest discussion about the hyper-sexualization of the black female body because speaking truth to the power of our vulnerability is too much for sisters to bear.  I think that there’s plenty of baggage there and a need for healing within ourselves and our families that would make it too hard to know where to even begin.  Consequently, things are just continuing to get worse in this highly sexualized culture that we live in.  Our bodies have been exploited and on display for hundreds of years.  And back then, we didn’t have a choice.  The fact that we now choose to exploit ourselves in this way is disturbing to me.

Fashion at the intersections of the exploitation, reproductive injustice, crime and domestic abuse are just a few of the reasons why we need to have this discussion in order to try and save the young women and girls coming of age in this environment.  Cheap clothing of a very specific type floods our neighborhoods, black women in video, pornography, music videos and billboards all point to the growing phenomenon of the objectification of our bodies as women, broadly, but in particularly, black women because we have a very different history and we need to begin to put into context the true nature of how we have become more of a shape than a person. The danger of “sex sells” illuminates a deeper issue about how the body is portrayed as a product for sale.

In my search I found a few sites touching on the topic and I’m hoping for more. I am posting links mostly to validate my concerns and to know that I am not alone in my thinking. Happy reading!

This article, written by a white woman, points out how comfortable the pants are and talks about how to choose the right one to “show off your shapeliness.” Another post, written from a Christian perspective, goes quite a bit further than I would, but still makes a few good points, if taken in at the macro level (although most people only look at things on the micro level so that they can pick apart every detail), another discusses body image in advertising.

There are others, but for now I will continue to research to better speak intelligently on both sides of this argument.  A woman’s right to wear what she wants as well as how what women wear impact and or play into the hyper-sexualization of the black female body.

We Have Homework Overdue!


I was on my way to the gym this morning and was stopped along the way by images of trash everywhere – literally!  All over the grass and it angered me for a number of reasons.  Primary reason being, all folks want to do is complain about the problem.  Mostly it’s because WE feel that there is very little we can do about it.  Or, more to the point, what difference will it make.  We can complain until the cows come home, no one is going to listen.  I saw a few neighbors as I pulled out my cellphone to take a few photos, and they made comments that let me know they were on my side and were equally disgusted.  This is becoming a regular occurrence in my housing development; trash scattered all about our “lawn.”  There has always been a trash problem, but for some reason, it’s getting worse – considerably!  Despite awareness of the problem, it persists, but is starting to get attention.  I feel that now is the time to find ways to bring this issue into a larger discussion among tenants, management, and staff of NYCHA while there is a bit of focus on the problem.

It is time to get tenants involved. I do not believe that because we are housing residents, we should be subjected to these kinds of living conditions.  I find myself eager for the weekend so that I can escape the neighborhood and find a more clean and green space in which to relax.  My partner and I walk a lot and often comment on how the landscape changes, for example, from downtown Manhattan at let’s say Pier 45 or Central Park to upper Manhattan.  You can begin to see the litter scattered on the streets or garbage piled up on sidewalks.  Why? Is it demographics, cultural?  Is it that low-income community residents don’t care about their neighborhoods or are there less resources available or allocated to keep the streets clean?  I am truly perplexed by the plethora of articles on the topic of poor neighborhoods, especially black and latino, being dirtier than others. Is there a legislative fix to this issue?  I don’t believe that we can legislate clean neighborhood, as there are already rules in place that are simply not followed.  The answer, for now, is a mystery!



What’s going on in our black communities


I’m currently searching for the positive elements of black communities because, truthfully, I’m beginning to get discouraged!  I am not saying that there aren’t good people doing good things that live in black communities, but rather looking at the aggregate and wondering, what do we stand for as a community.  It is very sad to see our young men hanging around with their pants hanging off of them and our young women dressing to expose as much of themselves as they can get away with legally.  It’s even sadder to see the lack of pride, the sheer despair and hopelessness that is very visual in our communities.  No sparkle in the eyes of the weary headed off to work for another day or the ever present “bench groupies” that appear day in and day out, like clockwork – but not orange.  It actually has an air of oppression.  It wasn’t like that for me, I don’t believe and maybe for most of these younger folks, they feel the same.  Maybe one day they will come back to their neighborhoods and describe it in ways that will romanticize what actually went on.  We forget that there was a generation before us that were less “free” and saw some of the things we did as wasteful and selfish; not really respectful or giving a damn.  I am searching hard for the common bond as teenagers, but I sense that things are very different now for this group and I want so much to do something about it before they end up wasting their youth.  It’s already too late for some!

Pondering…… what’s next?