America Wants Us To Let It Go And That’s Exactly Why We Can’t

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Philando Castile’s murderer was acquitted yesterday. When a disappointing, yet predictable ruling like this happens, the Black community goes through the same pattern of emotions: Shocked (but not surprised), saddened, outraged, tired.

Then we go to work. We physically and metaphorically come together as a community and respond to another blow of injustice. We gather in prayer, we gather on the streets, we gather on Facebook and Twitter. Because we must do something. We can’t let injustice slide. We must stand up for our right to exist.

But year after year, shooting after shooting, hashtag after hashtag, I’m starting to think no matter what we do or how often we do it, there’s nothing we actually can do to make that will make Black lives matter. I’m sometimes tempted to just give up this exhausting fight, accept the way things are and let it go.

And that’s just what they want us to do: Let it go. Continue reading

I Laugh At This Administration And I Don’t Feel Bad About It.

In case you didn’t know or couldn’t guess, the nation’s capital is a pretty depressing place to be these days. Everyday, I commute to Washington DC for work. I sit on the train and navigate sidewalks crowded with dejected Washingtonians wearing faces that seem to be in mourning for our country. And I get it. Personally, I’d rather be anywhere else than DC but daily I dutifully make my way to my office which has the real estate misfortune to share a block with the home of President Trump, arguably to source of this nationwide melancholy.18740303_10155382544587460_7645837971625410423_n

However, Trump happened to be the source of some much needed comedy yesterday. He took to Twitter to complain about something or the other but his would-be ridiculous rant was marred by a more ridiculous typo that sent the Internet into a whirlwind of memes, gifs and retweets at the president’s expense. By midday, I’d seen so many #Covfefe tags I could hardly breath for laughing.

Unfortunately, #covfefe wasn’t all that went down in the world yesterday. That day also brought with it a tragic car bombing in Kabul that killed at least 80 people. And once again, we found ourselves submerged in a sea of sadness for the state of the world. And #covfefe didn’t seem to matter too much in the grand scheme of government problems. After all, it became obvious that there were more important things happening on our planet that deserve to go as viral as Trump’s typo. Right? Continue reading

8 Literary Heroines Of Color Little Jolie Needed In Her Life

I used to pretend I was a white girl. Not on purpose! And definitely not in public. Just in my imagination, when I channeled the most relatable, bad-ass and inspirational characters from my favorite books.

I’d walk through the halls of school as Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter, duh). I’d solve problems and create solutions like Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’d love and care for my family and even twist my hair like Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie.

These characters are awesome, complex and important but damnit, I’m Black! I can never be like exactly like these girls. There have to be some equally awesome, complex and important characters of color out there, right?

After combing through my memory and my bookshelf, I rediscovered eight heroines of color that Little Jolie should’ve known more about but who Grown ass Jolie can still channel as I navigate the world as a bookish Black Girl. Continue reading

I Shouldn’t Have To Say This But It’s Okay To Be Sad, Okay?

Let’s talk about depression and anxiety. 

When my nephew was a itty bitty baby, he cried a lot. Almost always. Mostly for no reason at all except that he wanted attention which I guess, as a baby, he’s entitled to. In my attempt to be a Cool Auntie and a responsible older person, when he had his crying episodes I’d try to make him laugh. I’d dance, sing, make weird voices and silly faces, pick him up and spin him around… I’d do anything I could think to do to turn his little frown upside down. Because that’s what a caring person does when they see a sad baby: They try to make that baby happy.

This simplistic logic may have worked for an infant yet I still find myself applying the same strategies to my sad, anxious and depressed peers: If I can just get you to smile, I’ll have fixed all of your problems and have proven myself to be the caring-est person you know. But it’s not that easy nor should it be. As we transition into our adulthood, our triggers are going to become more complex and our solutions need to go deeper than just forcing smiles on our faces. Continue reading

7 Lessons In Activism From Angela Davis

I felt really lost in the days leading up to and in the days following Trump’s inauguration. Between confirmation hearings, Make America Great Again hats, protests and Twitter trolls, I was overwhelmed with rage, sadness and profound disappointment so much so that I didn’t want to march or protest or even talk about the election. All I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and watch cartoons.

In times of intense emotional exhaustion, it’s helpful to look to my activist ancestors who have fought similar battles for guidance. Thankfully, I got to meet one of the baddest and boldest of the OG activists in person. Angela Davis, freedom fighter and boss Black Woman, graced DC with her presence during inauguration weekend. She stopped by our local hotspot, Busboys and Poets, for an intimate conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry about what we’re all feeling and what we all need to do. I was lucky and blessed enough to be in that crowded room to pick up all of the gems she was dropping. Here are 7 of my favorite quotes, the ones that shook me up and woke me up to take my place in the march toward a better future.

“We must place our bodies in front of the death chamber and render it impassable.”

Davis mentioned that the moment in her life when she felt the most fear was when she was facing a death sentence during one of her numerous times in jail. Her friend and comrade James Baldwin wrote to her and said “If they come for you in the morning, they’ll be coming for us that night.” Davis was comforted knowing her potential death would not be in vain. She was supported by numerous other activists. She was not and would not be alone. With this in mind, Davis was willing to face death to be on the right side of history.

The lesson here: Change cannot happen without risk. What are you willing to risk for equality and justice for all? Your job? Your home? Your life? Bravery is required for this movement but as Angela said: “Be afraid but don’t let that fear immobilize you.”

“What are you anyway? Are you Black or are you a woman? As if that is even a question that had any kind of logical answer!”

Davis looked back on a moment before the Women’s march when she was asked the questions above. Like her, I believe my Blackness defines my experience as a woman, my womanhood informs my experiences as a person of color. I cannot separate these parts of me and why should I? I represent the intersections that have yet to be prioritized in this feminism movement. But with the help of more Latina, more Native, more Queer, more Asian women standing firmly in their truth and their identities, maybe we can pave a way for a more inclusive fight for women in the future.

The lesson: Be you, the whole you. Asserting your humanity is not divisive. It’s necessary.

“The feminism that was evoked by the other candidate was an elite feminism. It was a white woman’s feminism. It was a feminism of those who have already reached the top and want to reach a little higher.”

Davis talked at length about the last presidential election and was critical of both candidates. After Hillary “clenched” her historic nomination, there was a lot of talk about shattering the glass ceiling. But I didn’t feel like I had broken through anything. There was nothing special to me about a white woman who’s had privilege and access most people could only dream of climbing the ladder and getting a promotion. While there are still Black, Latina and queer women who have yet to reach half of the heights that Hillary has scaled, we must understand that for most of us, the glass ceiling is still intact.

The lesson: Progress ain’t progress unless I’m bringing others with me.

“To be white doesn’t mean that you have to identify with white supremacy. It’s a choice.”

Davis said these words to inform white Americans that they don’t have to relate their skin color to racism. They can choose to fight against it and they have to work hard to do so. But it was also a reminder to me that I have allow them join that fight. I have a hard time trusting white allies and activists. While their intentions may be pure, in my imaginings, they always have an exit strategy. If things get too hard, dangerous, frustrating or hurtful, they can easily take their skin out of the game and return to a life of comfortable indifference in a way that I cannot. But I know it’s not the responsibility of the oppressed to end their own oppression. People of privilege must relinquish it willingly.

The lesson: I can’t control when people change. They have to change and grow on their own. Let people do what they can from where they are.

“It is really exciting to feel uncomfortable because that lets us know that regardless of the world we inhabit in this moment, there may be something totally different in the future.”

Davis said history is not about the past, it’s about our future. Over 50 years ago, the thought of a Black president was only a dream of a distant future. In order to make that dream come true, Black people had to secure their right to vote, their access to education and their right to mobility. This wasn’t easy and these social changes probably made many people–white and Black alike–feel very uncomfortable. But out of that discomfort grew a more equal nation with more freedoms and opportunities for all.

We’re on the horizon of another dream future but it requires this generation getting up and out of our comfort zones, interacting with different people, challenging our beliefs, expanding our networks and speaking freely. The lesson: Change happens outside of our comfort zones. Build a diverse community. We need each other.

“Building a movement is about creating a new consciousness.”

Davis mentioned to loud applause that we’re still living in the immediate aftermath of slavery. The end of slavery didn’t mean the end of struggle for Black Americans. The laws changed, but the racist thoughts and fears of most Americans stayed the same. Our culture only began to slowly change when we all changed our opinions about each other.

Now, we face a President who’s about to undo all of the progress we’ve made by feeding off of the archaic opinions of a few Americans. But we can fight against it the same way we fought against laws of the past: by moving forward in spite of them.

The lesson: Changing presidents, changing policies and changing laws won’t change anything until we change our minds.

“I try my best to be as radical as I can be.”

This weekend, my best friend listened to me explaining why I was so exhausted by the events of this inauguration weekend. She said to me, “You spend a lot of your time thinking about people and race issues. I don’t want it to overwhelm or consume you.” But after thinking listening to Angela speak I realize I am still overwhelmed. But not with sadness or anger. I’m overwhelmed with empowerment and encouragement. I have picked up the baton from the great freedom fighters like Angela Davis and John Lewis and more.

The lesson: I have to get up and try my best. Thankfully I have lessons from these greats to encourage me along the way.

Jolie and Angela Davis at her book signing.

Jolie and Angela Davis at her book signing.

I Shouldn’t Have To Learn Black History From A Movie

 

Build Presents Janelle Monae

This weekend, I had the opportunity to see Hidden Figures, a new biographical film following the lives of three Black women who helped John Glenn become the first man to orbit the earth. The film, which will be released nationwide on January 6, is as inspiring and fun to watch as everyone told me it would be. Friends and family strongly encouraged me to see the movie because it takes place in Hampton, Virginia, my hometown, a fact people thought I would appreciate. But it’s precisely because it takes place in Hampton that some parts of the movie were deeply unsettling for me. Spoilers inbound. Continue reading

How To Look Better In 2017

For me, the holiday season means a lot of trips to my mother’s house. And going to her house means getting all of the “crap” from my childhood bedroom out of her garage and putting it in my own damn house. Geeze, mom

After my latest dive through the garage of memories, I emerged with several boxes of photographs of myself, my family and my friends from my middle school and high school years.

As I pored over the photographic evidence of the most awkward years of my adolescence, I found one pic of myself that I could not stop staring at. It was a photo of me in a red dress. I immediately recognized the moment. It was junior year. I was 15. I was going to prom with my boyfriend at the time. I looked at myself and remembered everything I felt about that day. I remember feeling bloated, feeling my breasts were too big and saggy, like my dress showed off how weirdly my butt was shaped, like my hair wasn’t smooth and shiny enough and my skin was just…not pretty. Continue reading

Don’t Make America Scary Again

Campaign Signs by Getty ImagesSouthern Virginia is the country. Cotton fields, pork and chicken processing plants, wide open spaces with grazing cows and horses and one-lane dirt roads make up most of the scenery. This is where I spent a lot of my time growing up. This is where I spent my weekend, driving through Smithfield and Waverly on dirt paths lined with dead leaves, dead cotton and Trump-Pence campaign posters. It was honestly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Continue reading

My Ancestors Require That I Rebel

justJolie at 'The Birth of a Nation' red carpet screening

justJolie at ‘The Birth of a Nation’ red carpet screening

Last week, three people touched my hair without my permission. Two of them were complete strangers. One of them I knew. All three were not Black and my reaction to each incident was exactly the same.

The first hair touching occurred in Baltimore on a Monday. I was waiting for a bus to New York in a gross-ass Greyhound station, looking at the TV monitors trying to distract myself from the sneezing, coughing, piss smells and various other scents and sounds typical of a gross ass Greyhound station. All of the TVs were showing  news reports of the then developing story of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was shot by a white police officer in the middle of the street. Continue reading

The Woman In Headphones And The Man Who Won’t Leave Her The F*@& Alone: A Fantasy Story.

It’s 7pm and you’re riding the subway home from work and it happens: You notice a girl sitting down looking at her mobile device wearing headphones… And a creepy guy standing 1.5 meters in front of her waving his ashy hand in her fucking face!

For a minute, you give the pair the benefit of the doubt. Maybe headphones girl knows this complete bag of douche.

But odds are she doesn’t and that is precisely why she’s wearing those obnoxious lime green headphones: To keep Creep McDouchebag from talking to her.

But like the Creep McDouchebag he is, he is selfishly ignoring her non-verbal requests for solitude and is now demanding that she remove her headphones using crude sign language.

He introduces himself as Dan and she replies that her name is Jessica. Odds are, Jessica isn’t her real name. But does Dan really give a fuck about Jessica’s* real name? He’s only known of Jessica’s* existence for 7 seconds and has already decided that he’s gotta harass her by any means necessary.

Jessica* tries to replace her lime green headphones snuggly back on her ears. There’s likely no music playing in them and probably never was. Unbeknownst to the Dans of the world, headphones of any shade of green are the perfect tools to shield women from unsolicited male conversations.

But Dan can’t be stopped that easily. Lacking the cognitive development to pick up on social cues, Dan proceeds to berate a clearly uncomfortable Jessica* with questions about where she’s headed this evening looking so sexy with that short skirt on. He might even throw in a “I bet you’re not used to being complemented by an attractive, confident, nice guy like me” when he sees blood rushing to her face and mistakes it as an embarrassed blush, and not the sheer panic that it actually is.

Jessica* responds as vaguely as she can and then turns her attention to her phone. She is likely texting her friend furiously to meet her outside her stop and walk her home. Ha! Foolish Jessica*. Doesn’t she know Dans aren’t deterred by women, their headphones, their friends or their basic sense of humanity?!

Pushy ass Dan then asks Jessica* if she’s texting her boyfriend. Jessica* briefly considers her answer. She could tell him she has a boyfriend, knowing Dan would immediately back off as he likely values the boundaries of an unseen, unknown man more than he values the wishes of the human woman right in front of him. But in a rush of courage, Jessica* decides she doesn’t have to lie or explain a goddamn thing to Dan. She tells him she just wants to listen to her music and enjoy her ride home.

At this simple request, Dan’s Mansplain Mode has been activated. God forbid he lets a woman gain too much confidence and control the direction of the conversation. Now he has to tell her why she should be flattered that he’s even showing interest in her. He has to explain how he couldn’t just let her get off the subway and go about her life without at least asking for her number first. He ask to ask why Jessica* is not interested in talking to him. Is it because some other man had hurt in the past? Does she actually have a boyfriend? Or is she just a stuck up bitch?

Jessica* is now faced with a choice. She summon the courage of our feminst/womanist ancestors and read Dan within an inch of his life and remind him that she was never interested in starting a conversation with his ashy, overly aggressive ass anyway. Or she could remember all the women who have been killed for asserting their humanity to street harassers and decide that getting home safely is more important than taking this opportunity to tell Dan about his life.

Jessica* chooses the latter. She stands as the train slows to a stop, moves near the train doors and jumps off immediately as the doors begin to close, leaving a poor, dumbfounded, lonely, douchey Dan looking after her through the glass as the train speeds ahead. Jessica* is Dan-free but she is still several blocks from home. She firmly places her lime green headphones on her head and walks confidently into a world of Creep McDouchebag Dans.