*Mothering Violence

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.

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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.

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Indie Shine – Dr. KE Garland

Thanks again to Lisa W Tetting over at rebirthoflisa for supporting Indie authors and their work 😉 This interview might give you a little more insight into who I am and how I function.

Lisa W. Tetting

indie-shine

In this edition of Indie Shine, a place for rebirthoflisa to “Shine” the spotlight on indie artists, we welcome award winning author Dr. Katherin Garland.

garlandk2 ©Dr. Katherin Garland used with permission

Bio:

Dr. Katherin Garland is an award winning writer, whose work has been featured in the South Florida Times, Talking Soup, and For Harriet.

Q & A

What do you do and Why do you do it? 
I write creative nonfiction in order to inspire social change.
Tell us about your most recent work. 
TUWcover2My most recent book is titled, The Unhappy Wife. It is a collection of short stories based on real women’s marriages. Though the stories are inspired by real events, I’ve fictionalized parts of the women’s stories in order to protect their anonymity.
Who inspires you? 
I’m very self-motivated. I’m not inspired by a person, but more so an idea, a concept…

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Encouraging Activism: A Conversation with Rodney L. Hurst Sr.

Rodney L. Hurst Sr. has worked as a civil right activist for sixty-one years. His initial involvement with NAACP’s youth council led him to organize sit-ins at several downtown Jacksonville, Florida lunch counters during the 60s and 70s. The fight for equality and the subsequent and infamous Ax Handle Saturday are detailed in his memoir, It Was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke®!

On May 26th Mr. Hurst and I discussed civil rights and advocacy. Unfortunately, his words are still timely.

KG:     Your book describes racial oppression and police brutality from decades ago. Has anything changed?

RH:     No.

KG:     Nothing at all?

RH:     I mean based on what we’re seeing today, we had instances of police brutality years ago, back in the 50s and 60s. We did not have pictures and videos. So, it was your word against ours. And they were agents of the courts, and after all they were white. So, all of those complaints were dismissed. It didn’t make a difference what you said. This did not happen. As you see what’s happening in the news today, very little has changed from years ago. All of that is the same. But now, because of video cameras, pictures and telephones, people are beginning to capture some of those images.

KG:     What do you think people can do today other than take pictures and videos?

RH:     First of all, the civil rights movement does not change. It is a marathon in the ongoing journey. You have to do whatever you can, organized or not.

KG:     Do you think people believed the civil rights movement was over?

RH:     Sure. Because when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed and the Civil Rights Act of ’68 passed. Aha! You know? We can sit back and rest. And then here comes Nixon and the Southern Strategy after Goldwater.

KG:     So what do we do?

RH:     That’s always a question. What do we do to fight?

KG:     Right. Especially, when it seems nothing’s going to happen.

RH:     If you feel like nothing is going to happen, and to get real philosophical, it’s just like living life…

KG:     Then you’re already defeated?

RH:     Yeah. If everything’s so ordinary, nothing’s going to happen to me, then why live? The struggle and the fight are so simple. Basically, you’re saying I want the same thing you promised in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Why is it that I have to deal with all of these things based on the hue of my skin?

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One of the first things I’m in favor of doing is called telling the history right and the inclusion of black people in history. When you pick up a history textbook and you cannot read about any of the contributions any of your ancestors made, the playing field is not even. Yet, I can pick up a history book and read about the contributions of white Americans and Europeans.

KG:     That’s a good point, but today, teachers have set textbooks and they’re dealing with almost zero autonomy. They have to be careful about what they teach, what they say, and how they say it. What would you say to them?

RH:     The question then is, if you don’t teach American history and include the contributions I made, then why should I be interested in American history?

KG:     Do you think it’s a matter of being more courageous?

RH:     It was then. Today, it’s just a matter of teaching the truth.

KG:     Do you think educators have to be courageous to teach the truth?

RH:     Maybe, if teaching the truth requires courage. If you feel inhibited and afraid to teach the truth, then yeah it takes courage. But when you don’t teach the truth, then how can you teach an honest American history? So if teaching dishonest American history is okay, and you can teach it with no pushback, then what happens to your integrity as a teacher when you know what you’re teaching is dishonest and incomplete?

KG:     What about non-teachers? What can they do?

black_powerRH:     Sometimes you have to find out what works for you. A lot of my friends joined the youth council because everyone knew membership lists were not public. Many of them wanted to sit in, but their parents wouldn’t allow it. They did other things. They did not shop downtown.

KG:     Okay. So they still protested in a way?

RH:     Yes. Another example is a good friend of mine who’s a Quaker. To this day she does not eat table grapes because of Cesar Chavez and does not drink Coke products because Coke used to support the apartheid regime of South Africa. And that’s what she did, small things.

KG:     Even to this day, she does those things?

RH:     To this day…

KG:     I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RH:     You know I hear a lot of people say, “Where are the Martin Luther Kings?” You are the Martin Luther King. You know? Don’t wait for someone to pick up and lead you.

*Natural Responses (The beginning)

In 2010, I decided to wear my hair natural. In 2011, I wrote about it. In March 2014, I decided to send it to a well-known blog, For Harriet. They “loved it.” 1200 likes reminded of what I was supposed to be doing here on this earth. Being myself and writing. While I’d definitely revise it if I were to submit it today, I recognize it as a nudge towards my path. Here’s that submission.

There have been many responses about my natural hair. The most common of which I have become accustomed to is the African-American cashier’s response.

“Twenty-two fifty two,” says the cashier.

Eyes gaze up towards my hair.

“Here ya go,” I reply as I remind her that we’re conducting business here.

Eyes dart back to our hands.

“Out of twenty-five?” she asks.

Our eyes briefly meet, then a quick glance to my hair.

“Yep,” I say.

She counts the change, and presses it into my hand, “Two dollars and forty-eight cents.”

She takes one last look, and says, “Your hair is cute.”

I’ve practiced what comes next. Big smile and then, “Thank you so much. That means a lot.”

I have grown used to these types of responses. The ones that end in “Your hair is cute” are always easy to receive. What I have not become used to are the reactions of individuals with whom the relationship is more intimate. The colleague, the friend or the in-law’s response is much more cherished, and subsequently when perceived as negative, much more hurtful.

The first uncomfortable conversation I had about my hair was at the university where I work. At the time, I was one of three African Americans in the College of Education. My two closest colleagues were white, middle-aged women who were self-proclaimed, progressive educators who had researched and taught complex concepts, such as white privilege and critical race theory. My co-workers had only seen my long, brown hair in a relaxed state; therefore, I felt it necessary to prepare them for the upcoming change. It went something like this:

Me:                 I decided to go natural.

Colleague 1:     YAY! I can’t wait to see what your hair is going to look like.

Colleague 2:     What’s that mean?

Colleague 1:     It means she’s going to wear her hair the way it grows, like um, Halle Berry. I bet it’s going to be pretty. This is going to be fun.

Colleague 1:     Oh, does that mean you’re going to have an afro?

Me:                 I don’t know. Cause I don’t know what it really looks like.

That wasn’t as bad as I thought. The conversation seemed supportive, inquisitive and possibly uplifting. However, that was the discussion that ensued when my hair was still relaxed.

It wasn’t until I wore my transition hairstyle of flexirods that Colleague 2 shared what seemed to be a concern:

Colleague 2:     Your hair looks nice, but I hope that it doesn’t get like Esparanza Spalding. Her hair is just obnoxious. I really don’t remember how I replied because quite honestly, I had no idea who Esparanza Spalding was; you see my musical taste only include rap and R&B. I had to Google this Esparanza Spalding person. To my surprise, Esparanza Spalding had the biggest and most gorgeous afro I had ever seen. What was obnoxious about this? In fact, how could hair be obnoxious? Unfortunately, the conversation had passed, and there was no reason to re-visit the topic.

Then, something strange happened.

Eight months later, when I was fully natural and sporting my teenie weenie afro (affectionately referred to as a TWA in the natural community), Colleague 2 and I had another hair conversation. I was describing how my youngest daughter likes to feel my hair and sometimes jokingly hides items in there. During this conversation, she asked me if she could feel my hair as well. I’m pretty open about this, so I agreed. Lo and behold, she said it again, almost verbatim, It feels…it feels, kinky. But I hope that it doesn’t get like Esparanza Spalding.

Her hair is just obnoxious.

I know. I know. This time I knew who Esperanza Spalding was. This time I knew exactly how much was implied in this singular comment. I had an opportunity most people would kill for. I had a “do-over.” You know the kind where you’re re-telling the story, and this time you say what you were really thinking?

I also know that an educator like my colleague, who is well-versed in and even teaches others about white privilege should be able to understand how her comments are situated in a history of racial oppression and expectation of beauty espoused by people who look like her. And given all of these factors, I, of all people should have been able to have an honest dialogue with Colleague 2 about this very subject.

But I didn’t.

Perhaps it was because I could not believe that Colleague 2 had said this not once, but twice, symbolizing a true thought of hers; a big afro is obnoxious. Perhaps twelve years at predominantly white institutions had taught me to hide initial responses to similar comments because I’ve learned the price for speaking candidly is sometimes not worth the lesson. Whatever the reason, I managed a quiet, “Hmmm.”

Another missed opportunity occurred with a family member. Last December, my family and I traveled to my husband, Dwight’s hometown of Detroit for his cousin’s wedding. This visit was special not only because of the occasion, but also because we had not seen some of these family members for over five years. All of his family would be there.

We pulled up to my in-laws’ house at the same time as his aunts and cousins. We exchanged the usual pleasantries. You know the, oh, have you lost weight? And the, so tell me what do you do at your job? And, the girls are getting soooo big! comments. So far so good, I guess. No comments about my afro. Until, an aunt stopped me in the middle of the kitchen. She and her two sisters had worn very short, natural curly styles for at least ten years, so I didn’t really expect what came next. It went something like this:

Auntie:                        So, you went colored, huh?

Me:                                (chuckles nervously) Yeah, I guess so. You are a mess.

Auntie:                        Well, I went colored a long time ago, but you went aaallll the way.

This is one of those situations that your girlfriend re-tells, and you proceed to describe how you would have given Aunt So-and-So an African-American history lesson on how comments like these destroy our people’s self esteem. You would have also referred her to rent and view Chris Rock’s Good Hair (2009) or at least re-visit Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988) scene “Good and Bad Hair.” And if she’s not into popular culture films, perhaps she could read up on the issue through a couple of blogs because you love your natural hair.

But this is not what I said.

What I did was continue the conversation. Maybe it was because I was not as confident as I had thought when we first arrived. Maybe it was because of the intricate and delicate relationship that had developed between my in-laws and me. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the language to respectfully engage in the conversation. Whatever the reason, we continued with the pleasantries.

Auntie asked me what I was doing with my hair. I told her. She asked me if I performed this routine every night. I answered her. She told me it was “nice.” I thanked her. We went back to discussing what I do at my job.

*Originally published on For Harriet.

 

 

 

What If?

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Royalty Free

What if I told you that you’re enslaved and it has nothing to do with picking cotton? Would you believe me? Every time you seek education that has nothing to do with your passion or purpose, or whenever you pay for things that you really cannot afford, then you’ve created your own 21st century slave experience. Cause that thing that you don’t want to do and can’t afford? It owns you.

What if I told you that American schools are still segregated? Would you believe me? Or would you make me open an education textbook, cite facts and statistics and validate my statement? Maybe I could invite you to visit a school that is dissimilar to your own child’s. Trust me, there’s one right in your city. Then, you might notice that de-segregation is just a concept, an illusion.

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What if I told you that historically black colleges and universities were initially created as means for African Americans to attain post-baccalaureate degrees that were otherwise denied by predominantly white institutions? Would you respect them as a part of black history? Would you include them as a US history lesson focused on racial progression?

What if I told you that the American housing industry was designed to keep African Americans in one concentrated area? Would you believe me? Could we discuss “white flight” as a thing? And then move on to urban sprawl and gentrification, and all the other ways that space is used to mark and re-mark racial territory. Could we discuss the concept of building circles around one another, instead of working hand-in-hand with our neighbors?

What if I told you that we could praise Madame CJ Walker’s creativity and business savvy while simultaneously criticizing how she used tools to perpetuate unnatural standards of beauty? Or would you tell me I’ve gone too far? She was a product of her environment kg. Yeah, I know. We all are.

What if I told you that you don’t have to work twice as hard to be seen as just as good as your white counterpart? Would you believe me or would you fall back on passed-down, generational myths? I promise you it’s not true. And if you find it to be so, then you might be in the wrong pocket of American society.

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What if I told you that when President Obama ran on “hope” and “change” eight years ago, he was also implying that we all do our parts in our own communities? Would you argue with me? Would you describe how many jobs past presidents have so-called created and how they made our American lives better? Or would you admit that it’s easier to place blame than to vote, legislate, or organize?

What if I told you that we have overcome a lot but there’s still much more to do? Would you take a day off work to figure it out? Or would you use your job as an excuse for not protesting on your capitol’s steps for better schools, stand your ground, police brutality, clean drinking water, or anything for that matter?

Would you?