Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Color Conscious…

November 7, 2011

“Brownings, Please” So exclaimed the headline of the Jamaica Gleaner, one Sunday, September last. Even before reading the article, and fully aware that I am still learning to fully comprehend variegate Jamaican vernacular, I felt quite secure in my determination that this was not about cooking. I was reminded of a TV programme I watched last year while flying back to Portland, Oregon from Montego Bay.

That show was CNN’s “Kids On Race: The Doll Study Revisited.” In a recreation of a 1947 experiment, a group of children were asked to choose the good, bad, ugly, pretty or “one that looks like me” doll from drawings ranging in hue from pale pink to dark chocolate, or, white to black. Almost across the board when asked to select the “doll” with positive traits the children chose the “white” one. When picking the negatives, yep you guessed it, they picked the darkest dolly, the “black” one.

Though not my first time observing this type of experiment and sadly, not surprised, my heart still ached as I questioned, again, how it was that, Anno Domini 2011, sixty plus years on, with the leader of the “free” world a milk-coffee-colored cousin, that the “barely out of diapers” future leaders of our world (and as current headlines imply, suit clad corporate leaders) continue to learn, and believe to the detriment of hue-manity, these putrid but persistent lessons? What are we adults teaching our children? And why are we adults perpetuating the madness? Obviously something is a miss. (Incredulous, I ask myself, and anyone who can hear, “Why are we still having this conversation?”) Something is not working, or then again, maybe that was the plan all along. But I digress.

It has shocked and saddened me during my journeys to the land of my parents, my ancestors; the home of my own vagabond, or wandering, soul, that the same self-hatred and disdain for one’s darkness, blackness, abundance of melanin, visibly evident African heritage, that reigns and rages, in the United States of America (and beyond) permeates this – rich, bounteous of spirit, heart and life – little island of Jamaica.

My mother had told stories of when as a child, being darker of hue and shackled with the twin shame of poverty, her “place” was in the back of the classroom at the “good” school she attended, and even that only because her mother washed its floors. Still, I say to myself that was then…

Will we, and I mean all of hue—manity, learn the truth of whom we truly are and what skin shade simply is at its core? Can we purge ourselves of the poisons we have been fed, disguised as lessons and learning; the blatantly illogical yet pernicious lies that corrupt us, our colors, our consciences, our compassion? Can we reclaim our power, take back our hearts, reaquaint with ourselves? Can we become the conquistadores of our own personal Freedom?

What if one knew that melanin is what colors us, what paints us uniquely in shades from milk to midnight; that technically, it is due either to abundance or deficiency, that we humans become black or white.

What if it was common knowledge that melanin is what darkens our skin, our hair, our eyes? Melanin helps us hear, colors our hearts, our blood, liver, the marrow in our bones, and gave “birth” to the stars.

What if you knew that melanin is protector, reflector, diviner, deflector, healer, highway-to-the-Divine; the almighty alchemist; the chemical of life? One-drop being sanctifier not stain – the key to life’s door?

What if you knew that billions of dollars of global government monies have been spent, and are continuing to be spent, studying melanin…and its magic?

Melanin is the most absorbent material known to man. It is melanin in a synthetic form that provided the insulation protecting the electrical wires of the now retired NASA Space Shuttle.

What if these truths were known to all human kind?
Imagine with me for a moment…

A rending of the cloak of inferiority, victim-hood, self-hatred, worn by the melanin-infused among us; this cloak woven and gifted “in the name of love, and God.”

The silencing, once and for all, of the perpetually repeated lies of white supremacy. The diminishing of the potency and power of color prejudice, and its big daddy racism.

We all, each one of us of every hue, have (are) melanin. What if we all knew and understood this?

What if commonsense/the universe/Sophia/wisdom/Goddess/God, whispered and we listened, really listened to her, “If you need a touch of melanin just to function, might that suggest the more you have, the greater thou can be?

Could humankind walk hand in hand, freed, no longer needing to run, hinder, hide, detach, crush, control, squelch, the “other;” able finally, to let go, relax and open to the unique foibles and fortes of each individual, no matter their skin tone?

Imagine knowing, deep in your heart, in the marrow of your bones, in your soul, in your melanin, that, like chlorophyll to plants, melanin to man, is the alpha and the omega?

No person, rule, wrong, “Doll Study” or “Brownings, Please” could ever take that away.

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Wake up! There are three snakes in your bed

June 11, 2010

Imagine yourself awaking, stretching as you leisurely unfurl yourself, eyes closed, into a regal recline. You are the mother of two rambunctious, loveable rascals whom have not as yet arisen.

You are luxuriating in the resonance of an audible inner exhale that thrills your every cell as it breathes from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, when, surrendering to the “Ahh,” your Zen is shattered by a helium-high pitched “One. Two. Three.” In stereo!

Welcome to one morning in my world. The boys were up. I opened my eyes to witness them cocksuredly laying out on the other pillow in my bed, their catch of the day, three lithe, not so little, garden snakes. Do you have any idea what freshly captured garden snakes smell like?

There they stood, Moses and Malik, wide-eyed, breathless, proud as peacocks, grinning Cheshire cats; the cats that got the cream. I could conjure another cliché, but you get the picture I am sure.

My gut reaction, the girly-girl in me. Yes, I know this is non politically correct language, but this is the truest way I can describe that particular bit of the many bits that make up the whole of me. Do you want to know what the woman/hag/crone/angel/witch/goddess/mother in me, wanted to do to my darlings?

Anyway, as I was saying, the girly-girl in me wanted to wretch, scream, hurl – all over Moses and Malik, not the serpents – but then I remembered Gwendoline. Gwendoline, heroine, star, of my little picture book, “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs!”

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what Gwendoline is made of, but, Gwendoline loves all things squiggly, wiggly, creepy and crawly. Yes! Gwendoline loves bugs! Forgive me but, cheek-to-cheek, in full pillow-patter pose with three ticked off ophidians, there is no distinction between a worm and a snake.

As I thought of Gwendoline, my stomach settled and I found my breath. Did you know you can breathe through your skin? I sat reclining, admittedly at this point more rigid than regal, smiling wanly, somewhat stupefied, and questioned how my life had come to this. No prince charming on my pillow. No knight in shining armor, only three Thamnophis Sirtalis serpents on my bolster, and Moses and Malik, fruit of my womb, standing to attention, positively glowing in exaltation. Had my offspring presented me at that time, with the Hope diamond, or a hundred-million-dollar winning lottery ticket, they could not have been more certain of their worth and entitlement to my deepest gratitude and undying love. I marveled at how I had never, in my wildest dreams (and I am she of the wild reverie,) imagined that this would be my life.

Do you know what? Looking back I am so glad I had never imagined so many of things that have been my life, for had I, I would have run hard and fast the other way (whichever direction that might have been.) Boy would I have missed out on so many weird and wonderful experiences.

I mean, one has not lived unless one can truthfully say, “I have reclined in bed with three snakes simultaneously – the reptile kind!”

This column originally appeared in the May, 2010 edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper.

The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville

May 12, 2010

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, I organized, directed and performed in (alongside twelve other “Vagina Warriors”) Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues.” The show, a “The Ladies Who Dare!” production took place at Bloomfield Great House, Restaurant and Bar. A benefit production for the V-Day movement and the Montego Bay Home For Girls (Melody House,) it was the first-ever performance in Mandeville.

The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville, Cast

Vagina Warriors Are We!

Vagina Warrior, Dr. Glenda Simms

Doing The Vagina Monologues in Jamaica was for me a personal quest. They say life is a journey and I concur. As I travel this life journey, raising my two sons in a country that is their country but not my country, and liberating myself from an oppressive marriage, I am surprised to find myself discovering my Jamaican roots. Crazy as it may sound, I am being directed, by my ancestors, to my spiritual home. The grandmothers are attempting to remind me as I trundle along in this my turbulent life, of the often forgotten yet most crucial, rest stop on the road to wholeness and home.

My parents are Jamaican. They immigrated to England before Jamaica’s independence, to partake of their “piece of the pie,” and help themselves to some of those golden ingots that paved the streets of London. Leaving behind their secrets, shames, and unresolved grief, to create a new life in a better place and then, as quick as one can say “Abracadabra,” become better people.

Unfortunately, shames, secrets and unresolved grief, all wrapped up as they are, with your spirit and soul, cannot help but follow you wherever you go, wherever you are and if left unattended to, wreak havoc on your life.

Prior to The Vagina Monologues in Mandeville, I had been lucky enough to visit Jamaica a few times over the eighteen or so months prior to the production, however, there were certain things “culturally” that bothered me. I experienced many a moment that had me wondering, both cerebrally and increasingly vociferously, how I could get The Vagina Monologues to Jamaica; how I felt Jamaica needed “The Vagina Monologues.”

More often than not, people would giggle and then rapidly recoil from me. I swear I could hear ladies’ brains questioning “… but, she seemed like such a nice girl?” followed fretfully by, “Where the hell is my husband?” He of “the little brush” on the other hand, had a tendency, once he recovered from the shock of such a word tumbling so nonchalantly from the lips of one who had one (a vagina that is,) would move in closer, pressing, ever-emboldened now, on my personal boundary barrier.

Nevertheless, at times shaken, but ultimately, undeterred, I kept coming back to Jamaica, and, because that is who I am, I continued voicing my opinions with regard to The Vagina Monologues. (What I now realize is that along the way, I was finally fully discovering, exposing and embracing, “the Lady Who Dares” in me, myself and I.)

Abuse, in its myriad forms, has been an uninvited guest on this life journey. My father beat my mother. My mother beat her children. My oldest brother beat me up because, being first-born, con willy, he had license you see, obtained free and clear from mummy dearest, who relegated to third power-position behind my dad and her eldest son, considered me someone who needed to be brought down a peg or two. Then chiseled and chipped a little, and still believing in fairytales, I met and married my very own white knight in shining armor – sparkling, solid, stainless steel, commanding and wholly impervious to emotion it was.  (In truth, I think there was a mix up at the bookstore and I somehow ended up with a white, bearded smiting dude.)

Still, such is life, you live and learn, as the saying goes. And I choose to seek and accept, my lessons, and laugh, and dance, and sing, and love (beginning with myself – warts and all,) and heal.

Abuse, particularly against women and girls, is subtly sanctioned by the mores of society, innocuously mixed in with the adhesive that adheres the, acceptable labels (and accompanying characteristics and expectations) assigned to she; woman, mother, daughter, sister, wife, girlfriend, grandmother and friend.

I am attempting to end the cycle that inflicts my family (me, myself and I, and my two sons.) I am calling it what it is. I am exposing it, and I shall not be claiming it as my shame, something to be hidden, covered up and endured in silence.

Contrary to popular belief, mandates, dogma and doctrine, abuse is not woman’s burden to carry. It is not my burden to carry and pass down to my children packaged in with the bone china and family heirlooms. As I continue to learn about my Jamaican heritage and history, I am beginning to understand more and more the cycle of abuse as it relates to me.

As I commit to the struggle of becoming aware and wholly conscious, of me, who I am, naked of all labels, and step away from those same civilized mores, discarding the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” of life and, as I like to say, “reclaim my vagina,” what I have discovered is that the universe gifts us with opportunities to aid in our quest for enlightenment; for our own truth. The Vagina Monologues was, for me, one of those gifts.

I have performed in The Vagina Monologues in the US several times. In fact my first ever rehearsal was on my 40th birthday. (Dr. Glenda Simms said that women don’t begin to come into their own until their forties… I will admit that I am a late bloomer, although in many respects I was born old.) The effect it has had on my life has been profound, or destructive, dependent upon your perspective. It has empowered me. It clarified abuse in my own personal world and the world at large, and its disguises, as it tore me open, and shamelessly exposed how entwined, how encumbered humanity is in its madness. Especially women.

It showed me how it is all the same thing, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, societal; whether we wear bruises the world can see, or we carry the pain, internally and constipated, its aim is to diminish us, to negate us, to crush our inherent, life-giving, life-bringing, life-bearing, omnipotent power and have us fighting and fearing ourselves and each other.

Quite simply the aim of abuse against women and girls is, at its core, an effort to contain and control our life force, our creativity – our sexuality. It shouted out to me that abuse of any kind, whether directed toward woman, man, flora or beast, is never about love. It is always about control, and the two sides of the same anger coin, insecurity and fear.

It touched me so deeply; it changed my life – opened the door on a little chaos some might say – yet here was a medium for healing, empowerment, enlightenment, education, entertainment, lots of laughter, lots of tears, and liberation. My being a part of it accelerated me into awakening and pushed me gently back to breathing on my own. I was a genie in a bottle (a blue one) I rubbed, I am out and I am never going back. Performing in the Vagina Monologues helped me find my stroke.

I believe that every human – man and woman – needs to see it; needs to be touched by the power of it, so they too can know where and how abuse touches them, where and how they abuse, and begin to work to stop it. “To help us all remember the inherent, life-bearing, omnipotent power of woman; that without She, there cannot be, You, He, She, nor We.” I too believe that every woman, (every Jamaican woman,) needs to be afforded the opportunity to perform in The Vagina Monologues, however small a part, for the participating is, in itself, empowering, imbuing a sense of pride and accomplishment, unlocking the long-buried memory of her inherent, awesome, inner strength.

To see it, or to be in it, can and will assist in opening up much needed dialogue, for oneself and for others, about abuse and its suffocating side-kicks, pain, shame, secrets, rage and fear. I absolutely believe that dialogue, daring to say, to tell, to speak out loud, is the first step toward healing. Putting it out there allows other women to know they are not the only one.

By organizing, directing and performing in The Vagina Monologues on the island of Jamaica, and, serendipitously, in the parish of my parents and my ancestors, as I continue on my personal journey of healing and liberation, I find that I need to be the universe’s messenger and share this power-filled gift with the Jamaican woman.

I am grateful to have been able to meet ladies brave enough to dare to make it happen with me, to share themselves and their voices in order to give voice to the unseen and unheard among us (and those of us who truly don’t know it is abuse, for it is our norm, it is all we know,) whom though invisible and silent are out there, all over our world, ever increasing in numbers, being swept up in the hurricane of abuse against women and girls, then discarded on the outside, disheveled, disorientated feeling powerless and in pain, struggling just to survive and, inevitably in their shame-filled silence, becoming the fuel that keeps the cycle flowing and repeating itself.

The madness of abuse emotionally and physically cripples, not only women and girls, but men and boys too, and humanity is dying spiritually because of it.

I am deeply honored, and humbled, to have played a small part in helping to shine a light to expose this truth, so we can all work individually, yet collectively, to end the madness and begin the process of healing.

See photos from “The Vagina Monologues, Mandeville, 2009” here:
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100009
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100038
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100024

Oreos?

May 10, 2010

Aren’t they a type of cookie comprised of chocolate-colored cookies on either side of a sweet, cream, white-colored filling? Flour, high fructose corn syrup and food coloring in pretty packaging. There is no nutritional value in this item that I can ascertain. Yet, academics have been known to pontificate profusely about this “cookie.” People of color spit this “food” at each other, intending to wound, belittle, and ostracize.

Living here in this land of the free and home of the brave, I learned that being deemed an Oreo implies that a person of color, specifically of African descent, who attempts to ascend the ladder of “success” by becoming “educated,” speaking “proper” English, enjoying Classical music, or anything outside of Hip Hop, is “trying to be white.” Apparently, said traits are synonymous with whiteness.

Now, I will concede I am a foreigner, an alien, according to the US government, albeit a legal one, but from where I sit, and I confess, sipping tea, it makes no sense to me. I have to ask, “Who animated this biscuit and allowed it to escape the cookie jar?” Does anyone realize this pseudo-confection has neither legs, nor power, unless one believes in the lie of white supremacy?

When did we (I include myself here, for I am black, although in reality I am, like you, ultimately iridescently human, inside and out,) as a people so thoroughly lose our way? Yes, one could argue that slavery misdirected us all.  But if we dare to dig we will discover that our ancestors, yes the illiterate slave ones, did not sell their souls for a cookie, or even a whole jar. How is it we have allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated so?

The Latin root of the word “educate” is “educare” which means to draw forth from within. What is within us is an indomitable, inviolate, inner strength, our spirit. We, blinded by learning, manmade material lack, and ingested inferiority, have allowed this spirit to be educated out of us.

What if we could remember ourselves, rediscover our spirit and the strength of our ancestors and reacquaint ourselves with our truth?

What if you believed that the roots of humanity live in you, in your black African indigenous roots? That Africans, blacks, have been in the Americas, since long before Columbus and that there are ancient monuments 20,000 years old, and older, proving this?

What if we discerned that throughout modern history, obstacles camouflaged as Laws, Parliamentary Acts, mandated multiculturalism and prejudices, have been constructed to hinder the prosperity and progress of the dark ones among us and keep the truth far, far, away from our consciousness?

What if you knew that many Africans who were brought here were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people?

What if we understood that the ability to communicate fluently in Standard English is a tool for all humans of all hues, nothing more nothing less?

What if you knew that in United States Army Intelligence tests during World War I, blacks led the whites in several states, north and south?

Prior to desegregation, black people enjoyed academic competence, even with substandard resources. When they dared to demand better buildings, books, etc, desegregation was enacted. While children were bussed to more resource-rich schools, self-esteem, or spirit, was intentionally shuttled elsewhere. The Institution of Education pulled off one of the greatest bait and switches in history.

What if we knew that the first slaves brought to the Americas, were not black but white, mostly British Europeans. Transportation of convicts was a regular pursuit through the 17th and 18th centuries. Between 1737 and 1767 approximately 20,000 of these felons were deposited in Maryland alone. America was considered the “graveyard of the white race.” These “carcasses” are the forefathers, and mothers, of today’s dominant culture.

What if you knew that far from being the inept, inherently naughty, criminal cretins depicted in the media, Africans, nubians, blacks, melanistic peoples, provided western civilization with the fundamentals of music, mathematics, medicine, spirituality and yoga? There were no jails, locks, or bolts in the villages from whence the African’s came. Such controls were not needed.

The “Father of medicine” was not Hippocrates, a Greek, but Imhotep a Nubian, a black African. What if we were cognizant of this?

Famous missionary, Dr. Livingstone, stated, “Syphilis dies out in the African interior. It seems incapable of permanence of any form in persons of pure African blood.” What if you knew that the Africans brought to the “New World” had neither, tuberculosis, syphilis, nor any other venereal disease? Makes one wonder, why then the Tuskegee Airmen syphilis experiments that continued for 28 years (yes 28,) after World War II ended.

What if you knew that the Greek historian, Herodotus who visited Egypt around 450 BC, described the Kamitian people (ancient Egyptians) as having black skin and woolly hair? Somewhat different from the tan, eurocentric depictions in our textbooks. The original name of ancient Egypt, “Khemet” means black and is the root of “chemistry?”

What if you knew that both Beethoven, the world’s greatest musician (“short, stocky, broad shoulders, short neck, round nose, blackish-brown complexion”) and Joseph Haydn, were black?

Could chewing on, the foregoing, instead of a sugary snack, allow you to see yourself, and your black brethren as equally, yet individually, uniquely, capable? Might it liberate us, like wildflower seeds scattered upon fertile soil, to blossom and bloom however we may, with no need to feign, claim, or foist whiteness or anything else, and own our right to all possibility in human form?

I do not know, nor do I purport to know your truth. However, I do know that I am committed to neither ingesting nor lobbing Oreos. There are only home-baked, home-styled biscuits in my biscuit tin.

What is in your cookie jar?

A version of this article appeared in the January/February/March, 2010, Edition of The Beloved Community Journal

Communal storytelling fosters a sense of human connection

April 16, 2010

Reminiscing one day with my sister, she reminded me of how I used to keep her awake — snotty with laughter, at bedtime — regaling her with stories about naughty Nabeel, a little boy who had a penchant for riding “bare-back” upon the cat’s ear. She had me chortling, and snorting, as I remembered those times, now well over three decades ago. I was instantly transported to a time in my life of belonging, when I truly felt loved.

Humans since the beginning of time have beguiled each other with stories, personal and communal, fables and sagas. Some of these tales have been, in our sophisticated civilization, pooh-poohed as mere myths, fabrications of the mind and imagination. Yet these stories, like the figments of my own fantasticality, have a tendency to stay with us — to root us, and remind us, of where and what we have come from. And that is the beauty of a story, no matter how odd, fanciful, incredulous it may be, it is still a story, someone’s or, many people’s story. It still has power and meaning and place. Even history, that amalgam of facts and many a fanciful folk tale, at its core, is simply collections of “his” “story” and, of course, “her” “story,” “our story.”

It has been said that what once was old becomes new again, and again. Will Fuller, Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc, Schools Committee Chair has dreamed up a way to bring back the way of our ancestors, for one night, (to start), to the Multnomah Arts Center. On Friday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m., “Sharing Our Family Stories,” sponsored by The Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., Small Grant Program, will debut.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an evening of personal history and storytelling to celebrate the varied lives and experiences of all people in Southwest Portland. Inspired by Robert Gray Middle School’s Project R.E.A.C.H. and Jackson Middle School’s “Peopling The Nation” Family History Project, where eighth-grade students conduct in-depth research into the background (ethnicity, religion, immigration routes and life highlights) of one family relative, or ancestor, and relate their individual stories, orally and visually, to members of their school community. The original intention of these family history projects was, in my opinion, to afford the children opportunities to learn about and from each other, to dispel or at least begin to diminish the power of the myths and stereotypes of “the other.” A way, I like to think, to help them “know,” particularly in this era of multiculturalism, that we are all, no matter color or culture, inherently human, with rich, different, yet equally important stories.

The aim of “Sharing Our Family Stories” is to foster human connection, healing and community in Southwest Portland. Robert Gray and Jackson Middle School eighth-grade students will facilitate the cross-cultural, cross-generational roundtable dialogues with community members. The students will first recount their personal chronicles. All who listen will be invited to share their own tales.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an invitation to all to break bread together (light snacks will be provided), to meet, human to human, heart to heart, at the table of unity and take turns at being storyteller. So each person may, like the ancient storytellers, griots, and fabulists of lore — whose role it was to educate, nurture, entertain, and ultimately unite their people in love, play their small but mighty part in uniting, in humanity and love — our neighborhoods, our community. The ancients knew that the need to be heard is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved.

Everyone has a story to tell. What is your story? Your epos or memoir might star, instead of a mischievous munchkin wildly riding the cat’s ear, an unctuous uncle who sailed in on the big ship Newgate; a chief whose ancestors came with the territory, or a mother Goddess who flew Boeing over the sea. It is your story to tell. Please do.

For additional information and to reserve your place at the community story table e-mail schools@swni.org, or telephone 503-764-5501.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 Edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Where I am from

January 22, 2010

I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from sorrow and sadness and survival and shame
I am from whippings and welts and wounds and weeping
I am from broken promises and pride and palpable pain
I am from struggle and survival and assimilation and success
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from unresolved grief and joy and untruths and blind rage
I am from maligned myths and mutilated memories and hunger and hurt
I am from detachment and deception and disappointment and dreams
I am from learned malaproprism and miseducation and petrified hearts
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from imposed schizophrenia and divinity denied
I am from beatings and bashings and banishment and betrayal
I am from coughed up colonialism and regurgitated rhetoric
I am from misappropriated majesty and ingested iniquity
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from laughter and distrust and religious oppression
I am from the fable of good versus evil and heaven and hell
I am from serpents and mermaids and magic and melanin
I am from stolen stories and language and lineage and lore
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from fear and forgotten and humanity hindered
I am from rehabilitated human relics reassembled all wrong
I am from beauty and darkness and inviolate inner strength
I am from currency corruption and conquest and con
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing

I am from ancestors restless and whispering wisdom
I am from ancestors uprising and possessing and guiding
I am from singing and dancing and sunshine and healing
I am from love

Little one’s jaw-dropping question reveals similarities, friendship

November 19, 2009

Different. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the word “different” means: not alike, dissimilar, not the same, distinct, unlike most others, unusual, various. All perfectly benign definitions, wouldn’t you say? I mean a daisy is indeed not the same as a daffodil, and it is definitely distinct from a dahlia.

Who among us would be perturbed should one of our offspring, or a child in our charge, question out loud as to why a daisy is so much shorter than a daffodil? Few, I suspect. Why then do we adults have a tendency to become conversationally impotent, embarrassed and even angry when similar enquiry is made about dissimilar characteristics in human beings?

Strolling along Waikiki Beach with my sons Moses and Malik (who at that time were ages 3 and 1, respectively), a little person with a parrot on his shoulder walked toward us. I immediately began to panic – and it was not because of the parrot. I silently prayed that Moses would not notice the little man, (the parrot would have, of course, been fine, but dear Lord, not the man) and surreptitiously quickened my pace.

Alas, ’twas not to be. Sharp-eyed and precocious Moses clocked the man and promptly bellowed: “Mummy, why is that man so short?” As I struggled for composure and tried to convince myself that nobody else had heard his “whisper,” he barreled on: “Does he talk?”

Had the sands, at that moment, parted and Mother Earth swallowed me whole, leaving my children waifs and strays in unfamiliar and potentially hostile territory, I would have thanked her profusely. Unfortunately, salvation via terra was not to be mine. The atmosphere inhaled, the tide froze in ebb, and a million eyeballs assaulted me, boing-ing maniacally in my peripheral vision. There was nowhere to run to, if I could have managed movement. Trapped and struck dumb, peering down I met Moses’ expectant “curiosity colored in innocence” expression. My mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, I ineffectively sucked at the air. Finally, mercifully, the incognito wise woman within me responded: “I don’t know Moses, why don’t you ask him?” All at once a gentle breeze blew, the tide flowed, and eyeballs retreated to sockets. Or maybe, it was simply that, delivered from fear, I was breathing again.

Moses spoke to the little man, discovering that he did indeed talk, even though he remained short, and for the rest of our holiday they were beach buddies on first-name terms. The man (I must confess, I have forgotten his name, but not the lesson learned) thanked me for seeing the human in him, and ultimately giving my child permission to do the same.

Somewhere along the line in our civilization we have learned that “different” when applied to human beings – whether it be difference in skin color, physical ability, attributes, sexual orientation, gender or stature – can be something not nice, something abnormal, something less than, something not to be discussed (or acknowledged for that matter) in polite conversation, and certainly not with the children.

But different is a fact of life. Different is, as the sky is, as the wind is, simple, natural, nature’s gift, and oh so necessary. Variety, as that trite (but true) expression states, is the spice of life.

A dahlia is different from a daisy. I am different from you, as you are different from Moses, as he is different from that little man in Hawaii. It is nothing to be ashamed of – no need for shrouding in secrecy and silence. Ultimately, you and I, and he, and we, are all, magnificently human.

So, let us each commit to honoring our differences, but celebrating our sameness, our oneness in humanity. And the next time a child in your life lustily expresses their curiosity about a fellow human being, don’t shush, or shame (or wish for the ground to eat you). Dare to dialogue out loud and proud. You will learn something potent and, who knows, you might make a new friend.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Black Oregon

September 25, 2009

“When times are tough for everyone in Oregon, it is exponentially so for black folks.” This according to Marcus Munday, President of the Urban league of Portland. The Sunday Oregonian newspaper’s July 26th , 2009, headlline screamed: “State of black Oregon: precarious.” The column continued “Unemployment and other miseries troubling the state are multiplied for African Americans and went on to list the litany of ills and misfortunes that continuously befall the black populations in Oregon.

For example, sixty percent of black children in Oregon live in households with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This compared to thirty-three percent of white children in Oregon. The percentage of Oregon students meeting the state’s 10th-grade reading benchmark in 2006-2007, was only thirty-eight for blacks as opposed to sixty-eight percent for whites. Also, the Oregon incarceration rate per 100,000 of the black and white populations is thirty-four percent for black compared to sixty-eight percent for whites.

We are constantly bombarded with negative stories in the media of the failings and shortcomings of the black population of Oregon (and America at large.) On Friday, July 24, 2009, the Metro section headline was “Schools confront racial gap.” Occasionally, of course we do hear success stories, but these tales are oftentimes, tempered by the “exception to the rule” insinuation. There is a latent, and insidious, belief within the general population, of the inferiority of black people. I concede that it would be hard not to believe with negativity channeled, unrelentingly, when it’s black people propaganda, whether current, or historical.

What if there is an ulterior motive with this negative press? Extreme? Paranoid? Perhaps, that is your call, but consider this: They say the winners; the conquerors; the dominant ones, get to write history. I understand that. What if that history contained more truths about the losers; the conquered?

What if it was general knowledge that during the formation of Oregon, blacks were not allowed to be here? They were not allowed to own property here. It was the Law. In 1844, Oregon residents passed laws banning slavery and excluding African Americans. An act passed by the Oregon territorial legislature in 1849, provided that negroes that “it shall not be lawful for any negroe or mulattoe to come into or reside within the limits of this territory.” This was precipitated by a fear among the settlers that  the Indians and free negroes would become allies against them. “Whereas, situated as the people of Oregon are, in the midst of an Indian population, it would be highly dangerous to allow free negroes and mulattoes to reside in the territory or to intermix with the Indians, instilling into their minds feelings of hostility against the white race.”

In 1859 Oregon became a state. Its original constitution included an article banning African Americans from residence, employment, owning property or voting. Some might say, that was then, this is now, but could that not have created instability in the foundation upon which a person might ultimately build their “home?

Wealth in America is through home ownership (the acquiring of property) and education. Sixty-eight percent of white Oregonians own their own homes. Only thirty-four percent of black Oregonians own their own homes. Twenty-eight percent of all Oregonians hold bachelor’s degrees, only nineteen percent of blacks hold bachelors degrees.

What if the true story was told to all, of how blacks, after World War II, were denied access to the GI Bill and Federal Housing Authority loans, while whites used this privilege to gain, and maintain, their head start to the American dream in all areas?

Predominantly black schools are constantly failing. The disparities in test scores between African American and white students is ever increasing. We read and hear about it all the time in the news media.

Comparing data on Lincoln High, Portlands most white school, and Jefferson High, Portland’s predominantly black high school, these disparaties are glaringly apparent. Statistics from the Portland Public Schools document, “Source 2008-2009, School Profiles and Enrollment Data,” state that Lincoln’s Talented and Gift students number 26.9%, while Jefferson’s numbers 7.4%. Special Education at Jefferson is 21.4%, and Lincoln’s is only 4%. Tenth Grade students meeting or exceeding State standards in reading (2007-2008) are 16.8% at Jefferson against 85.2% at Lincoln. Average graduation rates and drop-out rates for 2007-2008 at Jefferson and Lincoln are 68.7%, 7.52%, and 94.63% and 1.35% respectively.

What if the history we are taught, told, in no uncertain terms, that the “colored” schools, and resources therein, in the former “separate but equal” public education system, were intentionally inferior?
In 1867 in Oregon, though the Black population totaled 128, Portland assigned black and mulatto children to segregated schools.

In the landmark case, “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,” the key phrase in the ruling delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren illuminates:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. … We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

I highlight the sentence “A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.” What if this knowledge was weapon? Would it not make sense that this “sense of inferiority” could be fueled by the bussing of the colored children to intentionally superior white schools, and the ostracizing melees that resulted? Why didn’t the Government, instead of spending all that money on buses and security, simply improve the tools and resources within the inferior colored public schools? Maybe this is a simplistic question. Maybe everyone’s lives needed to be affected for change to truly be effected. As my father used to say, “If you cannot hear, you must feel.”

Could it be that yesterday, and today, that “sense of inferiority” is the self-loading magic bullet; ammunition that, like the EverReady bunny, keeps going and going and going, and which fills the barrels of the guns that are the various institutions in our society, not least of all the media?

What if it were mandated that everyone know the story of the Code Noir Laws, the Jim Crow Laws, and all the other nameless “Laws” enacted and hiding out within the auspices of “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” and “Tolerance,” programs?

What if, instead of the same old slave stories, the story was told of how the Africans that were brought here, and from whom many black Oregonians (and black Americans) are descended, were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people? A shaking loose of the inflicted “sense of inferiority” and the gifted “sense of superiority?”

What if the story that the first slaves held in the United States were not black, but white, (and let us not forget the enslavement of the Native American populations) was told. These first slaves were Europeans, mostly British, who died like flies on the slave-ships across, 1,100 out of 1,500 perishing on one voyage and 350 out of 400 on another. Could that suggest at least a superiority of the constitution of the black people?

What if, as an alternative to the stories of the disproportionate incarceration of those criminal blacks, the tale of how there were no prisons in the villages from whence the noble African’s came, the Africans having no need for same? Could that imply that the “statistically proven” criminality of the black population is taint, as opposed to trait?

The state of Black Oregon might still be precarious, but public perceptions might be changed? And what if public perception changes, might that lead to real, physical, spiritual, emotional change? Could it lead to an end to system dependency, claiming your “place” as opposed to learning one’s “place?”

I don’t know, but might it be something to consider?