Inspiring Image #99: Transient Tallahassee

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*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.

Thanksgiving? 🦃🍁🍂

dinner-1060352_1280Did everyone have a great Thanksgiving? I did, but something’s been bothering me over the past few days. It began when I read Tareau’s commentary. You can find it here. His description of Indigenous People’s Sunrise Gathering elicited some ill feelings. I was just about to sit down and enjoy half a Cornish hen, mashed potatoes and green beans that I’d prepared.

I consider myself pretty conscious. So I thought I was doing pretty good not overindulging in turkey, dressing and other common staples. Certainly, Tareau wasn’t talking to me. Was he? I know the trials and tribulations of Native Americans. Surely, I can enjoy my food and be #woke. Right?

I finished my dinner and stumbled across Darryl’s post, explicitly titled, Thanksgiving and Black Friday: The Epitome of American Culture. Was the universe trying to tell me something? Darryl very succinctly explained the irony of the American football game for the day. Well, there’s nothing I could do about NFL scheduling, so I didn’t feel as bad, but I did begin to think that maybe baking hens isn’t enough of a rebellious stance.

My next stop was Facebook. Unfortunately, I didn’t screenshot my friend’s post, but here’s a loose paraphrase:

We all know where Thanksgiving came from so stop telling everybody about the Indians. Today is a day when most of us just get together to be with family and eat food, so enjoy it the best way you know how.

On the one hand, I used to be one of those didactic people sharing all kinds of information about Native Americans and how this wasn’t a holiday for them. On the other hand, I understood what he was saying. The holiday has changed. We’re not pilgrims celebrating the deaths of indigenous people. We’re people eating food with family.

Just when I’d begun feeling okay about how I’d celebrated this year, Dwight posted four things; two were about the Dakota Pipeline and the other two? Thanksgiving origins.

We talked about it during our Sunday walk.

“You got me thinking about planning a family trip to Plymouth Rock!”
“I was thinking the same thing,” he said.

By the end of our walk, I’d decided this. Whatever I do for any holiday is fine, as long as I’m doing it consciously. This year I was mindful about the amount of food the girls and I cooked, and I’m good with that. There’s no leftover anything and I don’t have to force someone to eat turkey for seven days. Conversely, Dwight and I could have a more in-depth conversation with the girls about why there’s a so-called Thanksgiving. If we add a road trip to Massachusetts, then I’ll let you all know. But for now, that’s as far as our activism will reach.

What about you? I know the holiday is over, but I’m wondering why, how and if you celebrate? Do you consider indigenous people on this day? How active do you have to be to be an activist?

Dear…🇺🇸✊🏾

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Dear America, we have spoken, and at the same time, we have set the bar low, real low.

Dear Obama Supporters, when our president ran on “hope and change” eight years ago, he was talking to us. We were supposed to have hope and enact change; we still can.

Dear African Americans, don’t be fearful of this shift in political power. Our ancestors in this country suffered much worse. Many pushed through by being active in their own communities. We can too.

Dear Women, our work in this country is historical. We’ve risen because of great women and we will continue do so. Complacency should not be in our vocabulary.

Dear Latinos and Hispanics, Asians and Arabs, don’t be afraid to raise your voices about concerns that impact you and your families. That’s what makes America different.

Dear Immigrants, don’t leave and don’t play small. Your presence in this country is required to “Make America Great Again!”

statue-of-liberty-359341_1280Dear White People who “Felt the Bern” and “Stood with Her,” remain passionate about your platform. Do work in your own way that continues the positive shift you’d envisioned.

Dear America, we have spoken, and now it’s time for us to continue to raise our voices through meaningful work. Let’s not wait for the next four years to get fired up.

 

A Small Freedom

Look at what the new world hath wrought ~from A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

Two years ago, I had dinner at a local place in Alexandria, Virginia. As is commonplace for me, I asked the waiter, a thin, olive-skinned, curly haired young man to repeat his name.

“It’s Mo,” he said.

I took note of each of his features. “You don’t look like a Mo.”

“Well, if you knew my real name, you’d say the same thing.”

Mo continued to answer our questions, this time about the menu and its oddities. As soon as he finished, I started back in.

“So, are you gonna share your real name with us?”

Mo then told us that his name was Mohammad. It was actually Mohammad, middle name: Arab, last name: Arab. Mo’s entire name is Arab. He joked about how difficult it was to fly and how it just minimized quite a bit of confusion for him to go by Mo.

I’m not sure if Mo realized how uncomfortable he looked explaining his identity to me, a stranger. And I totally understand that his uncomfortableness could have been due to an unknown patron engaging him about his “real” name, an unexpected topic for a server. Whatever the reason, it was clear that Mo was a bit squirmy.

But that’s when I felt compassion for him.

I go by Kathy, but when someone asks me my “real” name, I  simply (and proudly) state that it is Katherin…no “e” at the end, Elizabeth, Garland. No hesitation. My name doesn’t accompany jokes about societal judgments, cast just because I want to do something that people do everyday…fly. I can speak my name with pride. It is a small privilege with big benefits for my so-called American life. I can speak my name without assumptions. No one (as far as I know) has made prejudiced jokes and committed microagressions towards me because of my name. I’ve never been ashamed to tell someone my name. In fact, there have been several occasions where I meet another Cathy/Kathy/Kathie/Cathie/Katie and we marvel over the unique spellings of not just our full names, but also others.

And then I felt a bit of sadness for Mo. I felt sad because your name, no matter if you love it or hate it, is a part of your identity. Your name, aside from your actual presence is one of the first things that people learn about you and who you are in the world. To not be able to speak your name, with pride, is in essence a form of shame.

That is what saddened me.

It is my hope that Mo and everyone in our country will one day have the strength to shed societal shame and speak our names with pride, no matter what we believe the name conveys. How free are we really if we can’t do something as simple as announce our names for fear of being judged? I’d say that we’re not really that free at all. What do you think?

The Yin and Yang of it All

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Here’s my second favorite wrap-up post from our 2015 Japan trip. Once I returned, friends and family asked a few questions. The first made me think about my authenticity as a blogger. The other two questions have helped me to further think about my own country.

Did I love Japan?
No. It’s a lovely country. I’ve shown the beautiful hydrangeas in a prior post. And I’ve talked about the food and its freshness. But the country, even when I was in major cities, like Kyoto or Tokyo, were a little too quiet and rule driven for my free-spirited soul. Usually when I land in a city, I feel the energy. Cities, especially over-populated ones, generally have a pulse of their own. There’s a busy-ness that grabs and encapsulates you. But not Tokyo. Sure there were a lot of people and a five story H&M. But it didn’t feel like a big city. Additionally, there was a Stepford Wife feel. It was as if  each person knew his or her place and dare not cross that boundary. Even the Harajuku girls were seemingly confined to one area: Harajuku.

Were the people nice?
Overly-so. I’ve written about the blatant respect and consideration I noticed while there. But after a conversation with my best friend, I quickly learned that the country is just as racist as any society that wishes to remain “pure.” It’s just not always overt. My friend recounted the story of a biracial Miss Japan who represented the country in the Miss Universe pageant. This was a big deal. It was important because she is what they call a hafu. Yep. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Kinda like calling someone a half-breed in America or as my friend pointed out, a nigger. Say it ain’t so! Apparently, the Japanese are pretty serious about keeping their culture, bloodlines, and subsequently, representation, pure.

Have you had culture shock upon return?
Yep. It didn’t take long either. Ironically, the very thing that fueled my dislike, the quiet, is also what I’d grown used to. Our flight to Japan was virtually silent. Even the flight attendants barely spoke above a whisper. Eleven (seemingly Japanese) children were in our immediate area. I didn’t hear one of them. Not one. The flight attendants back home were different. They were louder. WATER? COFFEE? TEA? They seemed to shout as if we were at a baseball game. The screaming children, with parents who refused to say anything also somehow seemed different. Once we made it to LA, we watched a little boy jump up on the tram’s bar and swing from it like a monkey bar. Then in Atlanta, we  witnessed a little girl pour a sugar packet down her throat and announce, “The sugar is all gone, mama!” I’ve been out of the country five times and this is the first time I came back feeling as if America has some work to do. I hate feeling like this. And I almost didn’t write about it because I feared the common response when one suggests America isn’t great. I figured someone would invite me to leave the country.

So, there it is. The unadulterated truth about my visit. I loved traveling to Japan cause it’s helped me view my own country and myself a little differently. I’ve been able to equally weigh the positives and the negatives. Would I visit again? Probably not, unless someone I loved lived there.