Tupac had a song called “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” I remember when I first heard it. I was alone in my dorm room.
It starts like this:
I hear Brenda’s got a baby
But Brenda’s barely got a brain
A damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name.
I don’t know if it was the soulful harmony that preceded these words or the actual rap, but I was captivated.
The song goes on to describe how she didn’t know her parents. One of them was a drug addict. But here’s the kicker. Her cousin became her boyfriend and she ended up pregnant! And guess what? Brenda was twelve.
I remember being glued to the black and white video. Tears streamed down my face and I hadn’t even gotten to the worse part. Brenda had her baby, threw it in the trash, and then became a prostitute.
What in the entire…
Anywho, it was too much. And I remember it all. I sat on the edge of my bed and cried as if I knew Brenda personally. Even though I didn’t know anyone remotely close to a “Brenda,” I remember feeling the pain of being a twelve-year-old, who was pregnant with her cousin’s baby. And then I felt the pain of being a baby thrown away in the trash.
That’s how I’ve been my whole life.
Some may say I’m an empath. I’ve never claimed it. But I do admit to being empathetic. It comes naturally.
It doesn’t matter if I know your backstory or not, I have the ability to listen to what you’ve told me, recognize, understand and share your thoughts and feelings.
My problem, until recently, has been realizing that not everyone has this ability, which coupled with my (sometimes) judgmental nature, caused problems.
For example, when my father died, my cousins wanted my stepmother to pick them up from the train station. It was remarkable to me that they would ask a recent widow to do something more equipped for a Lyft driver. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why they couldn’t put themselves in a grieving woman’s place and sense she may be a bit too sad to function normally.
I recognized it again when my goddaughter brought her godson, Mark to our house a couple years ago. We were decorating Christmas trees.
Mark bounced around helping each person with their ornaments. He danced when we turned on some music, and when we watched Frozen, he belted out a song as if he was Anna herself.
But when it was time to go, he shriveled up like a roly-poly pill bug and sulked around the house until it was time to go.
And I felt his sullenness.
Without my goddaughter telling me parts of his homelife, I sensed that wherever he was going, there was no joy. For some reason, he was crying on the inside. He was more than just disappointed because he’d had a good time at our home. His sadness held an untold story.
“I feel sorry for him,” I said out loud.
“You always feeling sorry for someone,” a friend of mine replied.
I couldn’t understand how she or any other adult who witnessed the same Mark I just did, didn’t feel similar. Aside from my goddaughter, why didn’t anyone else feel his sorrow?
But now I get it…kind of.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this information, though. On the one hand, I understand we can’t all go around crying over music videos and lyrics. On the other hand, I do wish people were more empathetic. It seems more empathy might create better families and communities…somehow.
So, I’ll end with the above thought and let you decide. Will empathy weaken or strengthen us?
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was around eight in the morning. My groggy eyes were glued to my cell phone. I was watching the weight-loss journey of a tan golden retriever. The background music was sad. Although I knew the ending, I had to see how he did it. How did this fat golden retriever lose weight? Turns out it was through diet and exercise. Hmmmph. It was a heartwarming story, but I couldn’t get those five minutes back. I knew then I needed to leave Facebook for good, but here are a few other reasons why:
It seems like a never-ending reunion. Have you ever been to a family reunion? You show up. You introduce your family to long, lost cousins and great aunts. You find your favorite family member and hang out with them the whole day, vow to keep in touch, and go about your business. From what I understand, class reunions seem to be similar. You catch up, share about your mate, kids, and occupation. Facebook seems to be that but on steroids. It’s cool to catch up, but I’m pretty sure you are not supposed to be connected to all of these people for a lifetime. But because they are now your “forever friends,” you find out a lot more about them than you may have bargained for, like who your boss voted for, if your brother believes COVID is a hoax or not, and if your best friend thinks all lives matter or Black lives matter. It can be #teamtoomuch We were never meant to know all of the things about everyone we’ve ever encountered.
It’s an unnatural interaction. I’m the type of person who’s okay with having a party with all the people I know. As my goddaughter says she never knows who will show up to my events. It could be someone’s 85-year-old grandmother or someone’s 6-year-old son, because that’s the kind of life I live. I’m free and open to all relationships. But Facebook puts all of these people in the same place at the same time…all the time. Like other FB users, my friends’ list included a hodgepodge of people: a former and current director, my current provost, a former program coordinator, a couple principals, friends from undergrad, all types of family members, former high school students, people I went to elementary, high school, and grad school with, and on and on and on. Because we’ve been taught to interact a certain way with each of these people, Facebook creates a weird, alternate reality. Although I’m always me, I found myself functioning as a middle-of-the-road me, because what I might say to my sister may not be the same as what I’d say to the provost of a college. In short, it was too much self-censorship for me.
Everyone’s social media is curated. My FB was comprised of people I actually knew in some way. So, when I saw someone’s close-up shot, I knew she was actually hiding a hoarding problem because I was just over her house. I knew when my friend posted some wonderful quote about relationships that he was on the struggle bus with his own marriage because we’d just hung up the phone. I knew that someone’s perfect selfie was shrouded in depression and anxiety because we’d talked that morning about how it may be a good idea for her to take a shower that day. And this bothered me. FB, in particular seems to be like the Disneyland of socials. Everyone’s happy. Everyone’s excited. Everyone’s passionate. Even when they’re not. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve pushed weeks of mail out of view for my perfectly angled hot cocoa shot. I took a family photo at breakfast the morning after Dwight and I had discussed getting a divorce. But I’ve also posted about not wanting to return to work after the holidays, feeling angry when I realized my bike’s brakes didn’t work, and being disappointed after getting a PhD. I don’t think this is odd. It’s called balance and authenticity. Scrolling through curation after curation is exhausting. I mean even a museum shows the true human condition, which includes pain and sadness sometimes.
Although these are the main reasons I permanently deactivated, I have to mention a few more reasons: I hate that people think they really know you because they read the highlights of your life. I dislike the pettiness and self-centered nature of the platform. The fact that people don’t read the whole article that they post or reply to is quite annoying. Thirst trapping for likes and its evil twin, lurking with no interaction feel a bit creepy. And this idea we’ve created that we can’t live without FB is a bit strange.
If you’re still on FB, I hope you don’t take this as a personal dig. It’s not. I just woke up one day knowing that Facebook is not aligned with how I want to interact with people.
Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26, 2012. Over a year later, Jamie Foxx appeared at the BET Awards in a red t-shirt with the slain teenager’s hooded face. I thought his silent statement was brilliant, so I ordered one and wore it around Jacksonville, hoping to raise awareness and concern about the case. Two weeks later, his murderer was found not guilty of any charges. I tucked my folded t-shirt away and deemed wearing it ineffectual.
Then, Mike Brown was killed by a police officer and left to rot in the street on August 9, 2014. #BlackLivesMatter was active and I’d begun using it, in addition to #MichaelBrown. But the grand jury decided not to indict the officer.
A little over a year passed and Tamir Rice was gunned down by a police officer in a Cleveland park. I created a social media posts and included #BlackLivesMatter and #TamirRice. Later, I found out that Laquan McDonald was killed by a Chicago police officer around the same time, but the video wasn’t released. More posts. More hashtags.
The murders and associated hashtags rolled out quicker than I could grieve: #SayHerName, #JusticeForSandraBland, #BaltimoreUprising, #FreddieGray, #JamarClark, #PhilandoCastile occurred faster than I could post. And I began to wonder if hashtagging was enough. I mean, unarmed black people continued to be murdered whether I tweeted my anger or not.
So, I stopped.
Last month, a video of two white Georgia men seemingly hunting down a black, male jogger surfaced three months after the incident. #AhmaudArbery became popular, and because his birthday was May 8th, supporters ran 2.23 miles and posted #IRunWithAhmaudArbery.
Similar to when I wore my red t-shirt to raise awareness about Trayvon Martin eight years ago, I scrolled and wondered if this was enough to effect change. *Wouldn’t it be just a matter of time before another defenseless black person was killed?
But, what more could I do?
Smith is an advocate of social media activism, but she agreed to provide additional ways that we can all be more active in our communities.
Vote, especially in local elections. Smith says voting is important. I mean we all saw what happened when African Americans rallied around one candidate for the 2008 and 2012 presidential election but voting for president isn’t the only office that’s imperative for our livelihood. Every aspect of American life is, in some way, shaped and governed by who represents us senatorially, congressionally, statewide, and locally. Who becomes sheriff and who is elected judge is important, especially when they are racist, anti-black, or represent racist ideals and can dictate how black citizens are policed.
Unify. Organize with likeminded individuals. Smith says, “Our greatest strength is our unity.” Organizations can be international, like Black Lives Matter, national, like the Players Coalition, or locally affiliated, such as the Color of Change in your city. Check the organization’s About page to see if it is aligned with your own core values. Organizations such as the ones listed are constantly and consistently supporting issues important for communities of black people. If this is where your interests lie, then there’s a place for you to help.
Support local activists. “You don’t have to be on the front line,” says Smith. “That ain’t everybody’s mission.” If you’re aware of an activist group in your area, then reach out to them online. Many times, their website lists ways that you can help. For example, Color of Change in my city is hosting an event to help “women returning to society from incarceration.” They are soliciting people who’d like to be a part of the host committee and all I have to do is complete a form. Perhaps, you don’t have time to devote in person. Smith says we should consider donating money or supplies or watching activists’ children. Connect with them and see what the activist needs.
While social media activism has its merits, such as garnering widespread awareness in a short amount of time, it is also important to be active in the in-between spaces. Voting, unifying, and supporting local activists are three ways to be involved before there’s an issue.
*I wrote this and planned to submit it to another platform a week before George Floyd was killed but held off and wrote Fire, instead. These days, I literally cannot write fast enough to inspire change.
In 1963, Bồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire (self-immolated) to protest religious oppression in Vietnam. Although the country was at least 70% Buddhist, landowners were Roman Catholic, and so was the president at the time. Subsequently, the president and others had created an environment biased in favor of Catholics, resulting in the oppression of Buddhists. So, Quảng Đức self-immolated (source).
Though, I’d seen photos, I could never imagine the image or smell. I could never imagine wanting justice so bad, that I’d set myself on fire to raise awareness and fight for a cause, yet he and other Buddhists did just that.
I read up on it recently. Apparently, Buddhist weren’t allowed to fly their flag for a religious holiday, while Roman Catholics had donned theirs just days prior. Catholics were being advanced in government and military positions, while Buddhist were not. Roman Catholics were forcing Buddhists to convert to their religion as a requirement for living in Vietnam and as a way to reap equitable benefits (source).
I now understand. Conditions were so deplorable and demeaning for Vietnam Buddhists that they resorted to extreme measures. To make a statement. To announce they weren’t taking the Roman Catholics’ shit anymore. They were over it.
Sounds familiar to me.
Though I would never set fire to anything, I understand. Constantly seeing police, representatives of the American government, murder Black people in the street, in broad daylight, on video, while simultaneously telling Black people when, where, and how to protest or not to protest evokes a sense of helplessness.
We’re told we’re American citizens, yet we don’t receive the benefits of a so-called just system. When cops kill Black people, we watch grand jury after grand jury after grand jury return with a decision to not indict. What’s left to do? To what and whom will the government listen?
Destruction of the system American capitalists hold so dear is what’s left. Burning buildings down, even if they’re in our own community and allegedly for own benefit is what’s left to do. It’s a clear manifestation of the suppressed anger and sadness we’re told to get over and stop harboring. It’s a demonstration of how we feel about being shown that our lives are dispensable.
I hear it clearly. Businesses are expendable. Buildings can be rebuilt. Police cars can be replaced. Similar to Quảng Đức’s self-immolation, protestors want to make a point.
However, there’s this part to consider. Vietnam Buddhists had a five-point plan they wanted enacted. After demonstrating, Buddhists were immediately prepared to ask for change from their government. Six days later, The Joint Communiqué was signed.
So, that’s my suggestion.
Black Americans, including born citizens, naturalized citizens, immigrants, Muslims, Christians, non-Christians, Israelites, and everyone in between need to have one unified voice of a multipoint plan, with oversight…for the entire nation, regardless of location.
Number one on the list should be STOP MURDERING US.
*24 hours after I wrote this, it was alleged that white nationalists infiltrated peaceful demonstrations, with looting and fires (source). Whether this is true or not, I maintain that radical action plus a unified plan has to occur to stop police from killing people who look like me; history has proven these two acts to be effective.
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.
This thought came to me about a month ago after my favorite artist, Kanye West had a rant. If you know Ye, then you know this is nothing new. What was different is that on November 21st, he was hospitalized. Those who cared speculated. Mental illness? Exhaustion? Depression? Scam? No one really knew.
But there was a lot of commentary, including my FB post.
For the most part, people responded in kind and added some food for thought on if they really felt compassion for the other entertainers I’d listed. But there were a couple of people who disagreed with offering Kanye empathy at all. Instead, they said this:
I don’t know that I agree that arrogant pricks need compassion. I think they need what they lack the most- a reality check and self-reflection.
Wait. I thought he was just an asshole. Did I miss some news?
To which I replied: Even an asshole needs compassion. But do they? That’s my question. How do you determine to whom you provide or deny compassion?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting high and judging. I get it. For a long time, my father didn’t receive words wrapped in understanding from me because I didn’t think he deserved it. The level of care and concern I offered was in direct proportion to what he’d given me the past 25 years. That doesn’t mean he didn’t need it though. It also doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve it.
Maybe you dole out sympathy based on how much you can relate to the person. For example, when I see myself in others, then I have a ready urge to support. There’s common ground with my younger female friends who harbor daddy issues, like I did. I listen more. I advise when needed. I rarely judge them. Compassion flows because they reflect a former me. But if I’m not vibing with someone? I have to dig a little deeper to understand who they are and what they’re feeling. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t need compassion.
These are my last questions for the year. Do jerks need compassion? Or is the compassion we show to others based on our perception of their behavior and who we think they are? Is it possible to offer compassion to people simply because they are human beings? Cause we all know what a human being feels like. Right?
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.
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.
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?
Whenever I wear this shirt, you should see the looks that I get. People gaze in amazement as if my name is George Zimmerman and I stood my ground against Trayvon Martin. They stare, eyes fixated on the word.
My dad saw me in this shirt and he just laughed. He understood.
“They probably look at you and say Justice, What?” He was right. That’s exactly what my father-in-law asked.
“Justice?” He questioned with his hands outstretched and face bewildered.
It’s justice for anyone. Justice for everyone. But no one else has asked. Instead, people glance and do double-takes, as if my name is Michael Dunn and I just murdered Jordan Davis, an unarmed Black boy who wouldn’t turn his music down.
People peer at the shirt as if the letters will change before their eyes. Maybe it reads Just ice, I imagine they’re thinking. But they never ask. Mostly, they gawk, like I was the cop who gunned down 12 year-old Tamir Rice on that cold Cleveland day. They whisper to their significant others as if I was the officer who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in the middle of a Chicago street. Their glances speak volumes, as if it was me who kneeled on Eric Garner’s back and choked him to death on a New York city sidewalk. They glare at me as if I know what happened to Freddie Gray or Sandra Bland, two citizens found dead in police custody in Baltimore and Texas, respectively.
Accusatory eyes wonder if I assassinated John Crawford in the middle of WalMart as he shopped. Maybe they believe I know why Michael Brown was not only executed, but also left to rot in the sweltering Ferguson heat.
And I want to say, don’t look at me. I’m just wearing a T-shirt that shows what we all want. A T-shirt that reminds everyone what every American citizen is supposed to have.
Justice for Jamar Clark.