Out of Place: Whether in Segregation or Integration

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Flickr: Bushwick, Brooklyn
Flickr: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Education, Liberation – I LOVE YOU!

Just got off the phone with my mom. She and I graduated–spent our last years of adolescent black girlhoodat the same predominately white public school, Richard Montgomery High. It’s located in Rockville, Maryland just outside the beltway in Washington, D.C. Mama was in the 2nd class after Segregation ended (pun not intended, but … take it as it comes). I believe she attended 1958 – 1961. I attended 20 years later from 1977-79. I graduated at the age of 16. With my birthday in September this sounds amazing but it was not. That’s an altogether different story for another time. It sure looked good in the eyes of others to graduate at 16 but the real circumstances were not cute. I might write about it in another postif folks are interested.

It’s early Saturday morning and I’m sharing about my upcoming TEDx talk I’m givingMarch 20th at my alma mater, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The talk will be about race, value and black girls’ self-worth so I can really talk about racialization, sexualization and structural racism on YouTube. I am planning on starting my talk with a story about stage fright at my first audition at UofM.

Somehow we got to talking about our different experiences with Integration across our life courses. I was recording it in case I said something good for my talk. I transcribed the exchange because it rich with meaning and relevance esp. as I finish up an article highlighting the re-segregation of black girls on YouTube. Wanted to find a way to talk about segregated spaces on and off line, the blurring of public/privacy, the meaning of publicity in what are essentially segregated bedrooms broadcast online, and the inherent racialization of adolescent black female body and image while valorizing their white female counterparts. Even though big butts are valued they are stigmatized on black bodies.  Kim Khardasian can “Break the Internet” but when black girls try in twerking videos…as Nicki Minaj put it when talking about black girls doing a black thing, “it ain’t that poppin’!”

My new friend and one of the newest TED Fellows (Rock the TED Stage girl!!), choreographer Camille A. Brown articulated the dilemma we black girls face today, young and old,

Your body has value, but not on you!

Un-gawa, Black Powa

My conversation with my Mama is always like a roller-coaster. We cover lots of emotional terrain — sometimes it’s not easy but this was one of the more precious moments I want to remember forever.

She mentions the store Zaire’s which was a local department store in Wheaton, MD that my mom went to most of my childhood. She paid for new school clothes put on law-a-way often working 2 jobs a day. I got my first brown cordoroy bell-bottoms at Zaire’s when they were the “in” thing. Wish I had a copy of my 7th grade picture sportin those pants as the cheerleading squad assistant. Ungawa, Black Power was one of the cheers we black girls brought to the white junior high squad.

TRANSCRIPT

23:47″

Me: Ye-ah!
I was an integration baby. So you were supposed to fit in. I was always– the only black student in classical music until I got to Michigan. [That’s a little exaggerated. Tony Scales and his friend Virgil were in the music department with me to Montgomery College but no one else for 10 years of my classical training from 1979 until Michigan in 1988].

What made Michigan great for me was that there were THIRTY OTHER BLACK STUDENTS there. It was AWESOME! But…we didn’t see each other, ya know.  Even when I was [back] at Julius West [Junior High I thought] all of the black students, I thought we were in different classes, because I never saw them at school [in the spaces of learning, in the classroom; I saw them everyday at lunch. We played Spades on the regular]. [I later learned]  They were [all] in another class [tracking them vocational ed and not college prep].

24:19″
Mama:  The bad part of that was, in order for you to get a half-way decent chance to go to higher learning [college], I had to be on [them]… making sure you were in the right courses. Because there was some courses where the kids just played in the class all day [ME: a function of curriculum design not student laziness]. And that mighta been fun but in the long run. I mean…

24:59″  I never thought that Integration was the best thing.
I wanted to have the experience of being… [of] graduating from Carver High School. George Washington Carver high school!!   I wanted to graduate from there!!

25:09″  But..but  they– said–[parents and school authorities brokering the transtion], I was a student that who would be successful in going to the white schools.
I didn’t like it!!
And when I started to have problems with the teachers, my father said “you oughta be glad you’re going to school with whites.” That’s what he said.

Me: Ye-ah! Our…our experiences are like mirrors ..

25:35″
Mama:  We all had things we had to go through, ya know?  and I had a few teachers at Richard Montgomery — my U.S. history teacher — probably if it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t had — her and maybe Mr. Preston — I would have had just a TERRIBLE time at Rich’rd Montgomery all together. I mean 9…well…I had…well, less than 50% good experience there most of my time there, and I was just glad to get outta there! (she laughs at the irony)

26: 19″  And I had to work at Zaire’s behind the food counter! [It was] my first job after I got outta high school.

Me: Wow, I didn’t know that. [She’d never told me this before. And we continued shopping there for years.]

Mama: YE-AH!!! So what was the… ya know..
                                                               Me: ..the benefit…
Mama: Ye-ah!

Me: You got to go to a white school with white people but you didn’t get any better of a job.                                                                                                              Mama: Right!!!

Mama: … an’ COULDN’T SIT AT THE COUN’ER!

Me: WOW!!!!!! <pause>  Really??!?

Mama: YE-AH!!

     ————-

The Flawed System of Race

Notice how even as black woman’s own daughter, I respond in disbelief at racism. That my moms went to a predominately white school–we have arrived–to still deal with segregation in the rest of society, in her first workplace, after getting her degree.  This ish is a trip! And this trip around the sun for black folks has come with way too much ish.  Situations matter. There is not global solution to the racial ideology that still fools far too many of us into thinking what we do online or off is ok if I own my own body. No man, woman and child is an island.

We are all accomplices, co-creators — past and present — the shaping black girls’ social identity and their self-worth.  That’s it for now. But our conversation reminded me of a poem set to music in an African American art song by David Nathaniel Baker.  Thought the poem was by Langston Hughes. Delighted to learn and remember it was written by Mari Evans, whom I spoke to when writing my first book. She wrote a fabulous poem about black women and the poem “status symbol” [note the lower case spelling] is from her book I am a Black Woman (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1970).

 

status symbol

By Mari Evans

i

Have Arrived

I

am the

New Negro

I

      am the result of

           President Lincoln

  World War I

and Paris

the

          Red Ball Express

                   white drinking fountains

    sitdowns and

sit-ins

       Federal Troops

                     Marches on Washington

  And

       prayer meetings

today

   They hired me

  it

is a status

job . . .

along

      with my papers

They

    gave me my

       Status Symbol

the

key

to the

                 White . . . Locked . . .

John.

Publicity Means No More Locked Doors, Right?.

“Democracy, Imagination & Peeps of Color”

 

 

After spending all of my adult life on what I will generously call the Left, I have become suspicious and uninterested in any Art tied to an ism. I agree with Adrienne Rich’s call for an art that “goes to the edge of meaning” as well as Art that discovers new resonance in the familiar. But, if ever we need an avant- garde (for lack of a better term), it is now. 

From THINKING OUT LOUDDEMOCRACY, IMAGINATION AND PEEPS OF COLOR

http://www.augustwilsoncenter.org/aacc_pdfs/DiversityRevisited.pDf

This essay/talk was given by poet by Sekou Sundiata. Must read. This doc was discussed and dissected at HarlemStage Friday night. It challenges people of color and “people of whiteness” to rethink not diversity but our democracy and this State. A poet, Sekou speaks also to the power of words, imagination and art to facilitate the 51st state of our union.

My work has always existed at the intersection of art and democracy with girls, learning and ethnography at the center of it. Socialization of self, group and how we represent ourselves in seemingly sovereign ways to others and how we seek to maintain our cultural values and ways in this democracy.

Invite you to read and share.

What Black Men Think

My friend Atiba turned me on to this clip from the DVD What Black Men Think that sets the record straight on the stereotypes generated by erroneous statistics about them.

The video talks about misconceptions about black men and AIDS transmission to women and stats about black men in prison vs. college. This is a must see.

I am getting so present to we think we know things but we never check our sources. I’ve be learning more about the world from YouTube videos like this that beg me to question what I think I know about black people, black women, black men and the world.

Check this out if you haven’t already:
Shift Happens http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U
A Shift Happens Remix http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhnWKg9B2-8&feature=related

Oh…and one more message from a brother…

Statistics on Marriage, Divorce, and Living Arrangements

I often quote the statistics on black families and marriage and we had a brief conversation about the myths about black men and women around social demographics. The fact that we often say “there are not enough men” or “not enough of the right men” leads to certain behavior or lack of behavior on the part of women who may be resigned and cynical from such talk. There are plenty of men cause you only need one and there’s definitely more than one out there to choose from. In any case, it is good to know the state of the black world demographically. To make choices not from what we think is going on but what the numbers, which are always changing, are at any given time. I think these numbers support the need for Success with the Opposite Sex: Get Related not Dated (TM).

On the whole, Blacks or African Americans (hereafter called Blacks) have lower rates of marriage and marital stability than all other ethnic groups. They also have higher rates of single-headed families than other groups.

  • Black males and females are more likely to be unmarried than Whites, Hispanics, or American Indian/Alaskan Natives (AIAN) (42.2% for males, 40.8% for females, compared to 27.5% and 21.2% respectively for Whites, 38.2% and 30.3% for Hispanics, and 35.7% ad 29.9% for AIAN ).(ACS 2002)
  • Black individuals are far more likely than Whites and Hispanics to be divorced (in 2002, 9.4% of Black males were divorced, and 13.3% of Black females versus 9.1 % and 11.3% respectively for Whites and 5.9% and 9.3% for Hispanics). (ACS 2002)
  • Among married Black individuals, a greater percentage is living apart from their spouses than among married White and AIAN individuals (15.7% for Black males, 24.1% for Black females, versus 5.3% and 6.3% respectively for Whites and 11.1% and 12.8% for AIAN). Only Hispanics have a higher rate of living apart from their spouse than do Blacks – 16.2% for males and 16.9% for females (in many cases this may be due to immigration complications). (ACS 2002)
  • Black families are less likely to contain a married couple than all other groups (46.0% versus 81.0%). White families have an 81% chance of containing a married couple, AIAN families have a 67% chance, and Hispanics have a 67.4% chance. (Census 2000)
  • Single male-headed families are slightly more likely in Black homes than in White family homes (about 8.5% versus 5.3% for whites.). Hispanics and AIANs have a higher rate of single male headed families (10.3% and 10.4% respectively). (Census 2000)
  • Single female-headed families are far more likely in Black homes than in all other groups’ homes (45.4% versus 13.7%). By contrast, Whites have a 13.7% rate, AIANs have a 28.8% rate, and Hispanics have a 22.3% rate of single female headed families. (Census 2000)
  • Only 44.9% of Black householders in family households live with a spouse. This compares with 80.6% for Whites, 60.1% for AIAN, and 70.2% for Hispanics. (Census 2000)

Statistics on Childbearing

Unmarried Black women constitute a majority of childbearing Black women and the rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing is increasing. Furthermore, teenage childbearing among Black women is high, although the rate is declining faster than in any other group.

STATE OF BLACK AMERICA – TAVIS SMILEY PRESENTS
Though one may or may not agree with all that Julia Hare says at the State of Black America CNN special in honor of Jamestown’s anniversary but what you can take from this video is the need, the dire need for a transformation of what we’ve been through as black men and women.