My friend’s middle son was shot in the head in a McDonald’s parking lot here in Jacksonville, Florida six weeks ago.
His mother and I became friends years ago because she was my hairstylist. When we met, she had two sons. He was the youngest at the time.
I remember picking him up and taking him with the girls and me to wherever we were hanging out that summer’s day, his lanky body shifting in the backseat, his dull eyes peering out of the window. I wonder if he saw his future. Because his mother worked twelve-hour shifts, standing on her feet, making other people beautiful, I thought I’d help by keeping him with me.
I remember how quiet he was. Sometimes he’d speak up and say, “Ms. Kathy, can I have some more” whatever it was we ate. But most times, he was silent.
Years do more than age us; they change us. And he was no different. His mother lamented about the crowd he’d been hanging with. She’d told me recent stories about him being in and out of jail for this or that. He was twenty-one. His life had become less than either of them expected. When the plain-clothes policemen came to her home, at four in the morning, showing a picture, and asking if this was her son, she never expected them to say we found him…dead.
We found him drunk in the back of a building.
We found him sleep outside of a convenience store.
We found him belligerent behind a restaurant.
That’s what she thought they were going to report.
She didn’t expect for someone to post a picture of her son’s freshly murdered body in the middle of the McDonald’s parking lot, blood spilling out of his head on social media. But since they did, she thought it would be evidence of an apparent crime, from a crime scene, from someone who knew what happened.
She thought they’d be able to find something from the restaurant’s surveillance camera. But the car was too dark, with Florida tinted windows beyond traditional codes. This too is evidence but not enough to convict anyone for the murder of her child.
Instead, she’s waiting. Waiting by her blinds because she’s paranoid. Waiting for sleep because his recent memory haunts her. Waiting with stapled flyers posted to lamppost where he used to loiter. Waiting for her youngest son, who is barely six to grow up and become a different version of his older brother, proving that she wasn’t bad at single parenting.
This, my friends, is how we mother violence in America.
*Written for my friend, but shared for National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
If you ever plan to submit your work for publication or a contest, then you should also plan to submit a cover letter. My journalists friends initially suggested a cover letter only include two quick sentences with the title of the work, word count, and brief summary. I’ve found a letter like that was fine, until I began submitting for longer projects, like book chapters. Sometimes, those editors and publishers want in-depth descriptions, and they usually provide guidelines if that’s the case.
That’s what happened when I recently submitted to win a grant for Black women writers. Although I didn’t win, I was one of the Top 10 Finalists. Consequently, two of my manuscripts will be published with their journal as soon as this Friday.
I’ll share that publication once it’s published. In the meantime, here’s the cover letter I wrote.
Life as a Black Woman
I learned the importance of my blackness when I moved from Detroit, Michigan to Jacksonville, Florida. It seemed the Duval County school board hadn’t fully integrated. Consequently, the job fair I’d attended in 1997 held a surprise. On one table, there sat a white paper with the words: Vacancy Black English Teacher. After an awkward conversation about my recent graduation from a teacher education program, the white, male principal offered me a position.
That was the first time my blackness preceded my qualifications.
I learned the intricate nature of being a woman during my six-year, doctoral program. Single, childless professors rarely took me seriously once they found out I was married with two young daughters. Similar to microagressions based on race, I could never put my finger on one discreet moment. It was more intuitive. More subtle. But somehow proving I could mother, wife, teach, and learn seemed to become an integral part of attaining the prestigious degree.
That was the first time my intellect was challenged based on the social construction of gender.
I learned what it meant to be a Black woman in academia when I applied for a permanent, tenure-track position at a research university. I submitted my application two separate times. I didn’t receive an interview. The third application was for a one-year, clinical position, teaching only. The institution hired me with a simple Skype conversation.
My new colleague was the person they’d hired in the English Education position I’d sought. He was a white man. His terminal degree was not in English Education; mine is. At the time of hire, he had one scholarly publication; I had three. He had five years of K-12 experience; I had ten. He had no years in higher education; I had two.
That was the first time race and gender intersected to create a sense of dual oppression.
To say that being a Black woman is a double-edged sword is cliché. But it must be said. It’s getting a job because I’m Black and not getting a job because I’m not white and male. It’s reading and teaching about white privilege and male privilege, nodding in agreement with textbook theories, but then having both thrown in your face by the very institutions that preach those concepts.
It’s ironic, really.
I’ve learned what it means to be a Black woman by attempting to participate in one of America’s most hopeful institutions. By attaining the highest degree possible and asking for a seat at the education table, I’ve learned that racism and sexism still exist, both as independent forms of discrimination and as collaborative acts of subjugation.
However, I have chosen to be a Black woman who uses her voice as an act of change. Neither my pen, nor my opinion can be taken from me, no matter my race or gender.
Have you ever had to contemplate your race or gender and their impact on your place in society? What’s your experience writing a cover letter?
Q1: Is Dwight Desi’s father?
No one has ever asked me this question. I suspect because it’s rude. However, people have asked Desi. She’s a few shades darker than Dwight, Kesi, or me. And I guess this causes confusion. They’ve asked this her entire life. She’s 15. If it was just her peers, then I probably wouldn’t be upset. But it’s not. The people who typically inquire are…adults. Yes. Adults ask her all the time.
“You two must have different fathers?” a hairstylist once asked.
“You must be Dr. Garland’s daughter?” a colleague once asked Kesi.
To which Desi replied, “We’re both her daughter.”
Her friend’s mom asked, “He’s not your dad, right?”
Desi said that it doesn’t bother her. I halfway believe her. She is her father’s child; they both let things roll off their backs. But I do not. Sometimes my ego still drives the bus, and this is one topic that gets me going. If anyone ever asks, I have ready answers.
Have you ever heard of recessive genes?
You do know African Americans come in all shades, right? Sometimes those colors are reflected in the same family.
Your question doesn’t even make sense. You do realize this is my youngest daughter, right?
Q2: How do you get your hair like that?
This happens all the time. The most recent being a month or so ago. It’s usually a black woman, who follows up with, “I can’t get my hair to do that.” But this time a black, male cashier asked.
“How do you get your hair like that?”
“It grows like this.”
(snickers) “That’s what they all say!”
“Yes, but this time, it’s true.”
I went on to explain that I use products to hold my curl pattern, but when I wash my hair, it looks like this. Curly. When I wake up in the morning, it looks like this. Spiraled.
I’m not sure why people don’t always believe me. Is it because so many women wear weaves? Did you know they sell natural looking weaves and wigs? I had no idea. I digress. Here’s my point. If you have the wherewithal to ask someone how they get their hair to look like it does, then be accepting of the answer you’re given. Implying that a woman is lying is just offensive.
Q3: Are you mixed?
I identify as black. I was adopted and raised by a black family. Culturally, I’m black. It is common knowledge that in America one drop of blood means you’re black, still.
So, I usually answer, “Yes. But I’m black.”
That’s my reply because it’s too long to offer the following transparency.
My biological grandparents are both half Cherokee. I know what you’re thinking. We all are. But, according to my grandfather, his and his wife’s mother were full-blood Native American. That part is evident in my cheekbones.
As far as my parents, I suppose it hurts too much to say, “I don’t know,” because I don’t.
When I met my biological aunt, she told me that my mother pointed out my father. He was indeed a “lanky, white man.” However, I haven’t gotten around to finding him and proving it. Until I do, I’d prefer that people just don’t ask.
It’s a great time to be African American. Just check your television listings. It’s like this:
I mean really. We have a well-rounded array of representation:
How to Get Away with Murder
The Get Down
A friend of mine called it a “renaissance of black culture.” I agreed. It sounds nice. Poetic. Artsy. A “renaissance of black culture” makes me feel good, until the next unarmed black man is gunned down by police. I can laugh at the upper-middle class woes of the Johnsons, until the next #BlackLivesMatter call to action. I’m considering buying a bullet-hole hoodie like the Luke Cage characters. The satire hasn’t escaped me. I watch Annalise, her students and her clients get away with murder, just like the police in my country. I admire how Duvernay wove BMike’s art and his message about police brutality in the last Queen Sugar episode. And even though I loathe Empire, I’m glad there are actors who look like us on television to serve as entertainment, until someone chokes, shoots or hangs another person who looks like me in real life.
Yep. It’s a great time to be African American, as long as you’re on television.