THUG Life

THUG Life

As a young black millennial, I have been making efforts to consciously read more books based on the black experience. I read a lot of books, but most of the time I’m reading about people and places I can’t wholly connect with. I have only read a handful of books in my lifetime that I could relate to. I have been searching for more opportunities to read black authors and books that contain black characters.

I have been a little out of the loop in terms of new releases and I stumbled upon an advanced reader’s copy of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give by chance. A co-worker told me she found an ARC I would like that was based on the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was intrigued. I took it home and attempted to read it. At first, I couldn’t get into it. Not because the writing was bad, or the subject didn’t peak my interest, though. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to read a lot of the same types of books for a while. It just so happened that at the time I tried to read this–back in Jan/Feb–I was waist deep into a pile of thrillers. I couldn’t focus. Eventually, I got off the thrill ride and was able to pick up The Hate U Give.

Starr Carter is a sixteen- year -old girl who finds herself navigating between the world’s the Hood she lives in and the suburban Prep School she attends. Starr’s world comes crashing down when her childhood friend, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer. Starr is the only witness and everyone wants answers as to why an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by the police. Khalil’s case makes national headlines and the black community is furious. They want justice. Starr finds herself blurring the lines between who she is at her school and who she is at home. Is she betraying black men by having a white boyfriend? Is she betraying her Hood by wanting to get out?

I can only describe the experience I had reading this book through the perspective of a young black woman. I found that I had to read this slowly and deliberately. I had to put it down several times. Either I was too enraged, to hype (slapping my knee and hollering in agreement), or just grieving for not only the characters, but the black community as a whole.

In my opinion, this book gives a daringly accurate account of the black experience. Although I didn’t grow up in the Hood personally, I experienced many of the things Starr, her family, and her friends experienced.

“Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang–if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is non -confrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto. I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.”

Starr is remarkably intelligent and insightful. She is aware of the power of presentation when it comes to “fitting in” and not wanting to be stereotyped. I still struggle with maintaining both sides of myself. As a kid, I was taught how to speak so that white people could feel comfortable–but it’s never been comfortable for me, just like it isn’t comfortable for Starr.

Starr’s family is one example of what a family looks like growing up in a poor community. I enjoyed the fact that Angie Thomas incorporated gangs, alcoholism, and blended families into the story. It made it that much richer in substance. These are issues that aren’t necessarily exclusive to the black community BUT for the purpose of this story, it worked. I loved the dynamic between Starr and her parents. Her father, Maverick, is an ex-con/former gangbanger and has educated himself and his kids about how to deal with the police. I can recall having the same talk with my Grandfather as a kid.

As for Starr’s relationships with the kids at Williamson  Prep–it’s what I would expect from a teenager. It’s difficult as it is, trying to navigate friendships in high school. But when you had the media and the pressure of social injustice–something is bound to happen. I, for one, was ecstatic when Starr molly-whopped Hailey. She deserved it.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

This book is a must read. For educational or motivational purposes, you choose. But you must read it. I mean REALLY read it. Marinate with it and let it sit. Let it be uncomfortable. Let it scare you. Allow this book to make you angry, let it make you cry. If the only thing you take from this book is that having a voice and an understanding of how to use it appropriately, then Angie Thomas has done her job. It’s up to US to make the changes happen.

The question you are asking yourself shouldn’t be “Am I racist?” It should be: “what am I doing to stop the spread of hate?” In ALL forms.
Thank you, Angie Thomas, for writing OUR story. I REALLY hope the message isn’t lost when this is made into a movie. Five Stars!

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The War on Black History

The War on Black History

Times are hard right now. Donald Trump is President. He is inexperienced in politics, yet he is fluent in bigotry and ignorance . His chosen Cabinet members are no different. We are at war. Again. And I don’t mean the overseas, bombs, and tanks kind of war. No. This war is taking place right here in what is supposed to be the greatest country in the world. These United States of America. This war is taking place in our streets, in our schools, in our businesses, and our places of employment. This war is inescapable. It is on every news station, in every magazine, reposted and re-shared over and over again on blogs and social media.

Trump would have us believing that the refugees and displaced people he is attempting to restrict from entering the U.S. are terrorists. Yet, the real terrorists wear badges and sit on congressional committees. The real terrorists have money and power–a dangerous potion of influence and media domination. In my opinion, the greatest threat to America right now, is Donald Trump and all his minions. “Make America Great Again.” When did it stop being great?

I’ll say it again, when did America stop being great? Or really, when was it ever great? What makes America so great? This is a nation bred on stolen land and free labor. This is the very nation that the Founding Fathers stole from black, brown, and native people to build upon–to flourish and prosper with the price of my ancestors blood, sweat, and tears. This is the same nation that does not even belong to whites–but has been dominated and built to benefit whites–that is denying people who might look like me entry into the U.S.

But I digress, that’s another story for another post. We are at war. I am no vigilante, but I am an activist. I am a black woman in America. And this war directly affects every part of my ancestry, my DNA. Every time I turn on the news or see anything Trump has said, I am internally cringing. My people–all brown people, really–are in danger. We are being hunted like Trayvon Martin. and captured like Sandra Bland. Can you believe that it’s been over 4 years since the Black Lives Matter movement erupted? This is my generation’s Civil Rights Movement. This is our time to build on what our Grandparents marched for with Dr. King and countless others.

But we have to be smarter, faster, stronger. We are 8 days into Black History Month and I haven’t heard a single white person make any mention of it. Not at work, not at the library, not in the streets. Why? Well, this isn’t new. Everything I have ever learned about black history, I had to research it for myself. America was never meant for us to flourish in. The “Justice System” never took into account black or brown people. America was never meant for us to grow and become some of the most influential men and women in history. That’s why so many of our people are locked up in the prison system, uneducated, and displaced. It is how America has trained us to be. Now is not the time for silence. We can’t be afraid to speak our mind, say what is or is not right.

We can no longer be pacified by people telling us that “it’s not as bad as it seems.” Would you tell a sexual assault victim that? Would you tell a war veteran that? Because that is what we are. This is real life for us. It seems so ridiculous that in 2017 I still have to walk out my front door and be so concerned with being assaulted because I am black or because I am a woman. And if something were to happen and I took matters into my hands and the Police get involved, I would be the one in cuffs. Because I “should have sought help.” In a country where the “help” does not apply to me.

This is the kind of war that came to rise when Hitler attempted to eradicate Jews. This is no different. Yet, America was quick to the rescue then. What about now? Because this war takes place on our soil, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our hospitals. Who is coming to OUR rescue?

I’m terrified for the kids I haven’t conceived or given birth to yet. I’m afraid for the family I haven’t been blessed with yet. But I’m gonna keep fighting.

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The Color Purple: I’m HERE.

The Color Purple: I’m HERE.

If you grew up around black women then you already know how we connect with films and plays that we can feel and understand–stories that we can empathize with. Movies like Waiting To Exhale and The Color Purple are great examples. These are the types of films that we can shout in agreement to. Every black woman knows that if he cheated and wasted your time, “it’s trash.” Period.

I grew up in a household where we didn’t have cable tv until I was maybe nine years old. My Grandfather had full reign on the tv in the kitchen but for some reason, whenever The Color Purple came on,he let it play. And I remember watching this movie A LOT as a kid. I can recall that one of my Grandmother’s favorite scenes is when Shug returns to the church and says “See Daddy? Sinners have soul too.”

As a kid, I could only pick up on surface issues that TCP touched on. I couldn’t understand what the bigger picture. When I got to high school, we read the book in my senior AP English class (shout out to Mrs. D). I was the only black person in class. Most of the kids in my class were middle-class suburban types. I felt uncomfortable but also empowered because I had been watching TCP on repeat for the last 10 years. I had a head start. I knew the story like it was mine. I was the only kid in class who had ever seen the movie.

I loved the book. I loved it because I could hear the voices from the movie as a read it. I loved it because Celie wrote to a God she wasn’t sure existed. I loved it because Nettie kept the faith and kept writing to Celie for so many years knowing that Mr. was hiding her letters from Celie. I loved that we could see both of their evolutions in the letters and diary entries. I finished the book before the rest of the class.

TCP is a story about the plight of the black woman. Of mothers, sisters, friends, and lovers. It shows how black women are broken down by our male counterparts and objectified. It does an epic job of explaining the many forms of imprisonment black woman face. Abusive relationships, being labeled a harlot, being considered less than human as a whole. Even though this particular story begins in 1908, things like this are still happening today all over the world to brown girls.

After we finished the book, we watched the movie in Mrs. D’s English class. She asked us why we think this story is call The Color Purple. I sat silent. I watched my classmates seemingly struggle. I remember feeling angry that they couldn’t come up with answers. Did we read the same book? Were we watching the same movie? We weren’t. I was seeing it through generations of black women that came before. The Color Purple is OUR story. It wasn’t a handful of white suburban kids’ story. It was mine.

My answer: purple is the color of bruises on brown skin which represents pain and struggling. Purple is the color of the flowers in the fields where Celie spends a portion of her time. Purple is rare in nature. Shug told Celie that she thinks it pisses God off if we see the color purple and don’t acknowledge it. Purple is the color of royalty. Alice Walker is trying to tell us that many times the most rare flower beckons our attention, appreciation, and affection. Things black women are fighting for–in so many different ways–everyday. The class was silent.

When I found out that The Color Purple was on Broadway again–and that Jennifer Holliday was playing Shug–I knew I had to see it. For me. For my Grandmother. For all the brown girls. So I trekked to NYC in the wind and snow. I was fortunate to be able to see it on my birthday during its closing weekend. I sat front in center, second row from the stage. It was glorious.

There was something special about the audience that night. We seemed to be affecting the actors the same way they were affecting us. Tears were shed. It felt like I hadn’t been to church in several years and I just happened upon a Revival. I felt like I was sitting next to my Grandmother again watching The Color Purple for the last time. I felt…words can’t properly explain the emotions I felt when watching TCPM on stage. I haven’t talked to God since my Grandmother died over 2 years ago but he was talking to me onstage. I felt every word. I was so moved by these men and women on stage. And they were visibly moved by the audience’s receptions. It was hard to discern what was acting and what was pure, raw emotion.

The music was EVERYTHING. Cynthia Erivo’s voice seemed to flow out of her vocal cords so effortlessly as she sang Celie’s parts. Her sass and wit were wonderful to watch onstage. Jennifer Holliday as Shug Avery….just YES! My friend was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Danielle Brooks (Taystee from OITB) perform as Sofia but I LOVED Carrie Compere. She embodied the spunk and strength that Sofia’s character represents. Let’s not forget the three church ladies with their sassy gossip–their facial expressions were PRICELESS.

When I say I felt more at home in that theater than I had in such a long time, I mean that. I felt like I was holding my breath throughout the entire show and when Celie finally exclaims “I’m Here!” I just about lost it. I saw myself if Celie’s character more than I ever have before. Feeling trapped and wanting to go somewhere but can’t have been revolving doors in my life. For most of my life I have been bullied by my peers. I’ve been called ugly, fat, and all other sorts of names. But I’m HERE. We–black women–are HERE.
And we are beautiful.

 

“You Sound Like a White Girl”

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. Which also meant that I didn’t grow up in the stereotypical hood that America thinks all black people come from. I was the only black person in class for most of my elementary education. I grew up in city-suburbia and not the inner-city. I have been reading on my own since the tender age of 2. I inhale books like competitive eaters devour food. I wrote my first book in the first grade. I may not be the most eloquent person, but I know my way around a dictionary. My Grandmother kept 2 enormous dictionaries in the house just so I could look up words she used that I didn’t understand. I knew what lackadaisical meant by the time I was 7.

Keep in mind that I grew up in New England. When my Grandparents moved us out to the midwest while I was in middle school, I was surrounded by black/brown people. More than what I had experienced back home. I got bullied for how I wore my hair, what I wore, and most of all, how I spoke.

“Why do you talk so proper? You sound like a white girl.” I cannot even count how many times I heard this in middle school and even into my high school days. The fact that black people associate a good education and literacy as a solely white attribute is just another example of systematic oppression. The fact that other black people told me that by using my words and having articulate control was me emulating a ‘white girl’ is proof that the black community has been brainwashed to think that we are less than our white counterparts.

For some reason, we have it in our heads that education can only be obtained if your skin is white. For one reason or another, the is a double standard within our own community. We are pressed to seek education as our salvation from societal slavery but then we are stereotyped into the category of “trying to be white.”

This is insulting to the entire black community.

I am a black woman. I am fluent in English and African-American Vernacular (AAV). Because of where I come from and how I grew up, I know that there is a time and a place for AAV (more commonly known as Ebonics). I learned from a young age the importance of making other people feel comfortable. It was important for my survival. And still is.

My Grandmother raised me to speak my mind–she did not raise a fool. At the same time, she taught me that there is a certain way one can express themselves with dignity. We don’t have to show our behind every time we want to get our point across.

It is infuriating to be told that I sound like a white woman. What does that even mean? What is sounding white, exactly? What is sounding black, for that matter? We are all speaking English.

I have begun wondering if the way I speak is seen as a threat or betrayal to my peers. The way I look at it, Massa didn’t want us to read because they knew that black people built this country and if they had the tools, they could take back what was theirs. The same is true about today’s America. Black and Brown people built this country. America was built on stolen land with free labor.

If we appropriately equip and educate ourselves, we can take back the Throne. Our ancestors blood is in this soil and I’ll be damned if I let it be in vain.

Moral of the story: Eff your stereotype. I speak like a well-read black woman.