Throughout my life, I’ve been trying to strike a balance between speaking up versus being condescending. This all dates back to my early childhood and being told not to “say anything because you will make others feel bad.” For example, my parents never taught me to believe in Santa Claus. They knew they couldn’t provide the toys that would confirm my belief, so why set me up for failure? When my kindergarten teacher started talking about Santa, I went up to her and told her that I knew it wasn’t true. She told me not to say anything because I would spoil it for the rest of the class. While this was a benign statement in and of itself, it wouldn’t be the last time I was told to “stuff it” for the sake of others. I was told several times by teachers that while I was smart and knew a lot, I needed to be quiet and let other people have chances, even if the other people didn’t want to take their chances. By the time I was in sixth grade, I had stopped raising my hand. I had stopped answering. I learned that it’s not nice to offend people by showing them what you know.
Interestingly enough, at the same time I was also developing a form of stereotype threat. I distinctly remember in sixth grade being on the Sixth Sense team (it was an academic competition), knowing the answers to the questions, and not saying anything. Even though I was usually 90% sure of my answer, I would psych myself out and the 10% part of me that doubted myself won out. I didn’t raise my hand and volunteer answers, because if I got the answer wrong, it would confirm to all the other teachers and students in the room (who were white) that I was the stereotypical dumb black girl. The interesting thing is that no one ever called me dumb, but the experience of being the only one coupled with the disparity between my neighborhood environment and school environment and all that entailed aided in the internalization of my inferiority. This has been an internal struggle throughout my entire life.
Fast forwarding to today, the battle continues. While I have learned to be a lot more comfortable with who I am, it isn’t always easy to figure out what to say and what not to say. I’m still very cautious about what I say and I think that sometimes that comes off as aloofness. I’m also still fairly shy and will forever be an introvert. At the same time, when I do speak up to shed light on some things, whether it’s in a discussion or a meeting, I am often thanked by people for being insightful and an asset to the discussion. However, it’s really hard to decide when to speak or when to shut up. The Ph.D. process confounds this. As one becomes so knowledgeable in certain topics, the person constantly has to make decisions whether he or she will speak up and debunk wrongheaded thinking (and risk offending people and being called a know-it-all) or smiling with a tilted head and nodding knowing that it’s not worth it to open Pandora’s box. Also the more you learn, the more you realize that you really know nothing and you are loathe to say things definitively because you cannot really say anything with absolute authority. (People mistake that for weakness, but it really is thoughtfulness–a virtue.)
All that to say, this is something I’m learning. Not necessarily sure whether I’ll ever master it. It’s my journey.
1. The president looked tired as hell.
2. He seemed completely off his game.
3. I’m pretty sure it was planned…but not to that extent. Remember John Kerry thrashed George W. Bush during the first debate in 2004. We know how that turned out.
4. If you come out weak in the first performance, the donors who abandoned you because you didn’t kiss their ass see that you need help and give you cash. (See Gail Collins-NY Times columns from about six weeks ago.)
5. Reality TV and corporate news screaming have taken over our political discourse. Instead of laying out an argument, counter argument, and solution, all you have to do is loudly ramble and act as if you’re above the rules and people will think you know what you’re doing.
6. No matter who wins, all our policies are being developed to benefit large corporations before families or small businesses. Average people are screwed and poor people are being shitted on no matter who is in power.
7. The choices has always been about the tax money’s first recipient. Do you want the money to go to the people first then the businesses or do you want the money to go straight to the businesses on behalf of the people? If you want the former you vote for the Democrats…if you want the latter you vote for the Republicans. I like the former. The people get the money directly and then they spend it all at the businesses. (Money burns a hole in their pockets.) When the businesses get the money, they don’t always spend it on the people.
8. We will always have taxes because we need services and there are interests (business and personal). If you cut them at the federal level, they will be raised at the state and local level. If you cut taxes, governments will raise fees because taxes and fees pay for contracts that businesses benefit from and services that people benefit from.
For the past couple of weeks, I have wondered (publicly and privately), ‘Who is running Mitt Romney’s campaign?!’ While I do have a favorite in the race (and he isn’t Mitt), I often look forward to debate. Since I was a teenager, I’ve enjoyed listening to varying sides of a debate. As a ninth grader, I regularly tuned in to CNN, C-Span, and even Rush Limbaugh’s TV show. (I know, right.) I’m really disappointed this time around. Anyway, it seems that Mitt is making EPIC mistakes. For someone who has been running for office for at least 20 years now, I’ve been trying to figure out, ‘What is he doing?! Why does he try so hard and end up insulting a large group of people in the process? Hasn’t he learned how to be a good candidate yet?’
So, that got me to thinking. ‘Who is he? When was the last time he worked?’ Not having time to read extensive biographies of Mitt Romney, I consulted the quicksource of everyone…Wikipedia. Yeah, I know. It’s not the truth bible, but it’ll give you a general idea about something and give you some things to think about.
So, you can read the entry for yourself, but it kinda helped me understand some things. First of all, Mitt is the baby of the family. He was never a great student, and he promised to marry Ann when he was in high school. Mitt went to Stanford for a year. After he came back from his 2.5 year missionary stint in Europe, he transferred to BYU at Ann’s request. Mitt didn’t want to go to grad school, but his dad said he needed to go, so he went. After school, he joined Bain and had success. He was never politically active until about 20 years ago. I mean, really, he was a registered independent. #TeamSwitzerland He entered politics at Ann’s urging and to follow in his father’s footsteps. And the rest is history…
Something resonated with me about all of this. Most major life decisions that he made, he made at the request of someone else. He went on a missionary trip, because that’s what Mormons do at that age. He went to BYU, because his fiance asked him to transfer. Went to Harvard, because Dad said so. I think (and this is my speculative intuition) that the reason he keeps fumbling is because he rarely made an introspective decision for himself. That is to say, he doesn’t know who he is. That’s possibly why his positions are inconsistent over time. That may be why he doesn’t really know what to say when he’s in places foreign to him. That may be why he is now playing to the base so unapologetically. He doesn’t have a mind of his own. Baby of the family. People pleaser. ‘What do they want me to do? What do I need to say to get them to like me?’ External locus of control. For someone who doesn’t have a defined center, it can be reckless. ‘I don’t guide my own decisions, but because I look to whomever I’m in front of for approval.’ I actually feel kind of sorry for the guy. He seems so desperate. Maybe in early 2013, Iyanla can have him on an episode of “Fix My Life”, because he needs to get it together. You can’t live off other people’s dreams for you…you got to live for yourself.
1. That stupid Mitt Romney welfare ad
Why is it that when I’m in the middle of listening to the Outkast, India Arie, or Jay-Z channel on Pandora or on Youtube looking at natural hair videos that crazy race-baiting welfare ad keeps showing up?! I clearly am not the target demographic in this ad. He knows the ad is a lie. All the reforms do is add higher education as a qualifying work activity to get public assistance…which actually would have been helpful when I was trying to finish college as a single parent. (I was working 20 hours a week and going to school full time and was told that I didn’t qualify because I was a parent in school looking to improve my entire life as opposed to working some dead end job that would keep me in poverty for the rest of my life. The supervisor I complained to basically told me that public assistance wasn’t designed to help anyone have a real shot at life…but I digress.) No, I don’t really digress. That’s why the ad pisses me off, the waivers actually are designed to help people transcend poverty by not requiring them to be exploited in a $7/hr job for the rest of their lives and actually be able to seek higher education. But instead, the ad employs nasty, race-baiting southern strategy saying that BO wants people to sit at home collecting government checks. It also irritates me that it attacks poor people and attempts to decide who is deserving of help. Considering that this is the party that portrays itself as the party of faith, I find it ironic that Jesus never did this. I don’t recall reading that he split the multitude into deserving and undeserving and only fed the deserving. When you actually read the words attributed to him, he says that the people who run around saying his name all the time instead of helping the poor and sick are the ones who he will cast out, but what do I know?
2. People who won’t let Bill Nye teach science.
So yesterday I was informed that Bill Nye died. Then I found out that he didn’t die, but the Christian Right (whom my OB/GYN and I joke are neither Christian or Right) are mad at him because he wants people to stop teaching their kids creationism. Folks, Bill Nye is a scientist. Therefore, he teaches science. He is not your Sunday School teacher. I don’t see what’s so surprising about this. Science has shown us that the world is not 6,000 years old. Whether you rationalize this by thinking that a day is like a 1,000 years to the Lord or you reject science in favor of a Biblical world view, that’s your business. But stop trying to force everyone else to believe what you believe and figuratively kill a scientist off on the Internet because he doesn’t support your world view. It reminds me of a student who showed up to college and when the professor gave out a worksheet having students detail what is education, the student wrote “The fear of God is the beginning of all knowledge”, and then dropped the course. Please don’t get mad because the rest of the world is inquisitive and trying to seek knowledge. The world is not your Sunday School…that’s why Sunday School exists. Go there.
3. My people and their unholy alliances
I posted this on an article a couple of weeks ago about black people running around supporting conservative causes because they call themselves standing up for Jesus. It speaks for itself.
Do black people realize that the people who were marching in hoods at night burning crosses were “good Christian folks” during the day? Do black people realize that these “private Christian academies” that were created in the 1950s and 1960s and that are still around today were created by these same Christian folks so that white children wouldn’t be forced to go to school with our parents? Do you realize that the people who are speaking out against gay marriage and standing with the Chick-Fil-A are the children and grandchildren of those people?! You can say it’s about Jesus and we’re all Christians all you want to, but when the rubber meets the road, those same people you are standing with will put the preservation of their power over you and hang you out to dry. The same people supporting the opposition of gay marriage also oppose social programs that help poor people, oppose funding public schools, and are working to make sure your vote doesn’t count in November because while they think it’s cute that you love Jesus, they also think you’re too stupid to vote. So keep loving Jesus and buying chicken, but don’t be surprised in 10 years when your children are uneducated, you have no voting rights, and you’re starving because there are no jobs in your community.
It has been a LONG two weeks on the current events front. Hopefully we are done with this ChickFilA thing. But probably not. The vitriol on both sides is driving me crazy and I keep wondering if the world has been this crazy all along or if it’s magnified because of social media and the 24 hour news cycle. Many people would say it’s the magnification, but I don’t know. People have been mean and hateful since the beginning of time…otherwise, there would be no war, rape, or murder in the history of the world. On the other hand, in previous years, you thought you had an idea of what people thought, but you just didn’t know what everyone else really thought. Mark Zuckerberg totally changed the face of that game. Whoa Mark…what did you do?
So, back to the lecture at hand…both sides went crazy with ChickenGate. On one hand, anybody who is familiar with ChickFilA knows they are run by conservative Christians. So the idea that they believe that gay marriage is wrong (a conservative Christian stance) and that they would actively campaign against it (again they are conservative, and by most research, conservatives tend to be more politically engaged), it’s not rocket science that the leadership has the position they have. Really. On the other hand, according to the most recent Pew poll, 47% of Americans are supportive of gay marriage while 43% are opposed. So if any business is going to publically speak out in opposition to the beliefs of 47% of Americans, it is not crazy to expect the backlash of 47% of Americans. Don’t act surprised when that happens. Really.
My personal belief, if you care , is this. I don’t think the government should be recognizing ANYBODY’S marriage. If marriage is a religious institution, and governing documents (Constitution, etc.) do not state anything about the recognition of religious institutions, then why are we recognizing them? I think any adult should be able to have a civil union. I don’t care if you are men, women, men and women, or frickin’ Sister Wives! If your license says “grown”, do what you want to do. It’s not my business to validate anyone’s home situation or religious tradition. Government recognizing marriage is like government recognizing your baptism at your church. What would happen? The government recognizes you being born again and gives you two birth certificates and a second Social Security number?! Geez. The funny thing is that this actually has been my position for over ten years…I just don’t say much about it because I’m not a person that likes to cause a ruckus. On the other hand, the extremes are really taking over the discourse and they aren’t shy about sharing their opinions, so I’m gonna share mine.
So, protest by either eating your “#1s with lemonade, light ice” (that’s my order) if you want to. Just realize that it’s all superficial support by consumerism, and it makes the economy go ’round. Eating chicken doesn’t stop people from getting married in states that allow it or stop people from being gay just as buying a red shirt from the Gap doesn’t stop the spread of AIDS in Africa. However, it does keep many teenagers and young adults employed, some of whom happen to be gay, and keep the franchise operators in the black…which I’m sure they appreciate. Truth is, we all buy things from companies with whom we disagree. It’s impossible not to do so. In reality, we do an internal cost benefit analysis to determine if the cost of doing business outweighs the benefit to us. For some people that bar is very low, for others it isn’t.
In short, to me it’s really a fake controversy on all sides…and nobody would really care if it was football season.
For a while now, I’ve been struggling with this concept of balance. How can I become an academician, finish a dissertation, raise a child with autism, and be a good mom and wife? How can I compartmentalize and do it all? It’s no secret that many believe that ‘children are the enemy of scholarship.’ I’ve read accounts of women leaving academe to raise their children, women hiding their children from their colleagues, and all other sorts of foolishness. While, yes, it is hard to raise children and be a scholar. However, I refuse to accept this idea that we need to deny pieces of ourselves in order to be all that we should be. Neither should we try to throw our kids in one area of our lives and throw our work into another and never the twain shall meet. It seems that this would be the beginnings of the crazy mind.
While I may never be the utmost scholar and sometimes I fail at being the utmost mother, I wonder ‘whose perfection are we chasing?’ Who said we had to be perfect at all things? Isn’t life a series of stages of continual development? Why would I leave a series of dead relationships in order to be the most esteemed scholar? And why would I not give voice to my ideas and voice truth to power through my scholarship because I decided to be a mother? To me it seems as if it’s a false choice. I have had two professors in recent years that are great mothers and each of them has FOUR kids. 1-2-3-4. Yes. Four. And they are esteemed full professors. No, they’re lives weren’t perfect along the way. I’m sure they had problems to deal with in their family and academic lives. But really…who doesn’t? I can tell you what they weren’t doing. Sitting around writing long essays about why it’s so hard to be a parent and an academic. They just did the damn thing. And that’s what I’m gonna do. So let’s see how that works out for me. Wish me well.
So this morning I posted a Gawker article on Black Atheism and this idea of monolithic black thinking. I’ve been thinking about this actually for the past 15-20 years, more seriously for the past two or three years when I stopped regularly attending church. My church attendance was greatly minimized for a culmination of reasons: having a child with autism who can’t sit through a church service (especially a lengthy church service), getting more serious about my Ph.D. program and seeing Sunday mornings as an opportune time to work, and just plain cognitive dissonance from what was coming from the pulpit. The last three times I had gone to church, there was a sermon or presentation on the evils of homosexuality. Now, this is a fairly large church in a low income community that neighbors an “F” school, regularly dedicates babies with nary a father around, and has pews full of obese people with major health problems, and the focus is on how gay people are ruining society?! Really?! I couldn’t sit through another Sunday of that. I could not allow my daughter to sit through another Sunday of that. If I did so, I would be complicit in this narrative that says, ‘we ignore family dysfunction and school failure in order to show hate to the one gay guy in the church.’ I couldn’t do it anymore. Even if I told her that I didn’t believe that at home, what message was I sending in taking her to a place that espouses that belief?
So that’s when I stopped regularly attending. I got to the point where it did not make any logical sense whatsoever. I asked myself, ‘would God want me to spend four to five hours every Sunday corralling my family to this place or would it be a more honorable form of service to spend time with the family God gave to me or enhance my mind so I could use it to make the world a better place?’ So now, we stay home, have breakfast, and watch This Week, Sunday Morning, Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and now the awesome role model for black women everywhere, Melissa Harris-Perry. I believe that this does more to nourish my family’s citizenship in the world than spending an hour yelling at them to put on clothes that make them itch and cost too much money (and making JCPenney rich), forcing them into the car, nudging them to sit up straight and not talk for two hours, threatening them if they don’t, and going to the local after church buffet. Now, we sit, watch, read, and sometimes talk about issues pertaining to our world.
So this brings me to the piece and the topic. I grew up with a single mother who was a member of the working poor who attended church faithfully every Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday night. She never cursed in front of me, smoked or drank, and was an all around good mother. She faithfully tithed from her $175 per week paycheck to the church, but she never left the ranks of poverty. While her dedication to God was evident and she taught her children to be dedicated, her belief in God did not remove any of the risk factors from her life and she ended up having a massive stroke while I was still a child. Fast forward to my college years, I had been to several churches and part of a religious student group associated with a large predominately White domination. I had the opportunity to be a summer missionary for that group for two summers. I ended about ten different churches in that domination during that time, and I noticed something very different about the churches. It wasn’t just the worship style or the casual dress. It was the language in which they spoke about God. They spoke about God as a being that made them worthy to be everything they were. They spoke about God as an empowerer for this life and the next. The church was centered around the needs of the families that it served. There always tended to be children’s activities, child care, cheap or free meals so that the parents could take their children to Wednesday night bible study for an hour and not have to worry about feeding them or having them out to late so they wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep. On top of that, even the babies had a curriculum that they followed where the nursery workers would whisper to the babies as they were rocking them, “God made you special!” This was new to me because the theology I had heard throughout my life was based on how we were sinners who needed God’s mercy from eternal damnation. That God will make a way out of no way. That Jesus will fix it. That Jesus is all you need. That Jesus is a rock in a weary land. Now I recognize that this understanding of God is tied up in historical issues of power. Throughout slavery, Jim Crow, massive suffering, Jesus was all the community could depend on because all odds were stacked against it. There was no fairness, there was no equity, but there was Jesus. It also sounds eerily like slave theology. I can imagine a slavemaster saying, “you better believe in Jesus because he’s the only one who can save you from this life. Believe in Him in this world, Kizzy, and you might make it to heaven one day.” Sadly, this theology reigns supreme in the black church today. While I am making generalizations (of course you can find black churches who preach agency and white churches who preach damnation), typically this racial chasm in the way church doctrine is approached is very much evident in today’s world. (It also sets a premise for understanding conservative evangelicals political and economic narratives of God’s endorsement of free markets and how those endorsements have historical underpinnings of racial/social totem pole, but that’s another blog post. Just saying, if you’ve always been taught that God loves you, wants you, and made you special, it’s not a far flung belief to think that he will reward all your endeavors and that the people who get in the way of your endeavors (government) or whose endeavors are not rewarded (the poor) as yours are must not be on God’s side and is probably an evil socialist Muslim who wants to take away your God given freedom, but I digress.)
So when I look back on my childhood and on the current situation in the black church, while I enjoyed the singing and the fellowship and actually miss it, I would rather the church focus on helping people to live in this world instead of preparing for the next. What if instead of preaching about homosexuality on 11:00 on Sunday morning, the nurses in the church weighed and took the blood pressure of the members and came up with an eating plan for them and their children? What if the teachers in the church looked at all the children’s report cards and tutored them in the areas that they need help? What if the married people who have raised successful children discussed a) how to look for a good man with a resume or some potential and b) how to parent a child to be a success? I know some will say we have those programs but nobody comes to them. Well bring the programs to the most attended time! If instead of doing the same service every Sunday, my mother was involved with a community of believers who helped her lose some weight (which would have reduced her blood pressure and eliminated her diabetes), go back to school to be an oral surgeon like she wanted to, and find a good marital partner to help raise her children, and not be resigned to being an underpaid, exploited single mother who needed Jesus to help her live from day to day, maybe she would still be here today. Instead there are millions of women like her all over the country who go to church looking for “a touch of the Master’s hand” to get through their pain, when they could be learning from the beginning that God made them special and gave them hands to use to make this life abundant.
(…Drops the virtual mic.)