Sunday, December 4, 2016

Burying our black bodies in the age of Obama

Edit: This was a post written Dec. 2015 and never published
I recently went home to celebrate my father's 70th birthday. My son and daughter delighted in seeing their grandfather light up with excitement as they ran around him in circles. I felt a sense of nostalgia going home. It was the first time that I had brought my children to the city I used to call home, it was the first time that they were in my childhood home and it was the first time they were able to see various generations of my family in one spot.  I grew up in Rockford, Il. and extended family lived nearby in Chicago where the indictment of officer Jason Van Dyke took place for the shooting of LaQuan McDonald. I kept thinking about these various generations of family that were gathered together for my father's birthday, there celebrating a joyous event, but over half of us could probably share stories of police misconduct, false arrests, mishandled cases and other similar stories. I'm sure half of us could point to a time where we were stopped and arrested by police arbitrarily. I'm sure we could all have our "police stories" to share. But we didn't.
We were celebrating the fact that a black person lived more than 12 years like Tamir Rice, more than 16  years like Trayvon Martin, more than 18 years like Jordan Davis, more than 22 years like Sandra Bland.
We were celebrating the fact that we are more than our tragedies.
I have heard countless times what it means to raise black children. How hard it is to teach them how not to die in the presence of police officers. How to not look menacing or suspicious. I just have a hard time understanding how you can not look suspicious if the color of your skin is the very reason to draw suspicion in the first place.
As a mother, I can teach my children everything about life that I know and understand. I can show them a quality of life that can make them understand and appreciate life. But how do I teach them how to be defensive against police at the same time that I'm teaching them to trust them?
My heart hurts regarding the gun violence against black people at the hands of police officers.  As a mother, I truly fear the racial climate I'm raising my children in.  I understand as an educated black person where my privilege ends and begins.  I also understand how far my hands reach at protecting my children from harm.  And that makes me fearful.
Make no mistake, this is not a new phenomenon. The stereotype of black people being mistrustful of officers is not a new trend just like kale and collard greens are not a "new trend"
To look for solutions would mean you would have to look at the origins. I am a person who like to look at the root and its health before I venture to see if the problem is the stalk, the branch or the leaf. If the root is unhealthy, the outer tree remains unhealthy too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When Abusers Kill: How The Justice System Has Failed Women

The late Elaine Coleman
Reprinted with permission from Adell Coleman.  Original article on  Black Star News
A few days ago my father, my two year old daughter and I visited my 75 year old grandmother and aunt.
I sat quietly while the elders exchanged their stories from their week, and my daughter played quietly.
I glanced at the television screen; the news was on. Admittedly, I haven’t watched the local news for a few days. I needed a break from the barrage of negative stories.
One of the stories that immediately caught my attention started when the female anchor stated: “Did the Justice System fail Stephanie Goodloe?”
Stephanie Goodloe was a 40 year old woman who filed three police reports, received an emergency protective order and repeatedly told the police she feared for her life, all as a result of her controlling ex-boyfriend.
Her ex --who I will not name, because I don’t respect monsters-- banged on her windows and doors, slashed her tires and harassed her at work. He was angry at the break up and that Goodloe did not want him to keep a relationship with her 11 year old daughter.
The day after she filed for a restraining order, she was found dead in her home as a result of a gunshot wound. Her 11 year old daughter called 911 after hearing gun shots.
This really upset me on multiple levels. I think about Stephanie Goodloe trying to do the right thing to protect her family. I think about the ridiculousness that this monster felt he was some sort of God to make the decision who lives and who dies. I hurt for her 11 year old child who had to call 911 as a result of her mom’s death.
I am reminded of my 24 year old self; I too had to make that same call as I came upon a similar scene. My mother, Elaine Coleman, was also murdered by her boy friend. My parents were divorced.
I know how Goodloe now has to continue her life without her mother to teach and guide her. I know she will feel trapped by the memories of this horrible situation.
To grow up a motherless daughter. To uncomfortably explain to people who ask: how did your mother die? And see the shock when replying: She was murdered.
The answer to the question whether the justice system failed Stephanie posed by reporters (every-single-time something like this occurs) is provided by the question itself.
Yes! Of course it did.
She made multiple claims to the police; the monster was not investigated nor arrested. She filed for and got a restraining order. Yet, without meaning to sound malicious, in the grand scheme of things what is a piece of paper meant to protect? That stay away order on multiple occasions does nothing to keep people away. It does not create an invisible force field that makes one untouchable. It is just that; a piece of paper. For Stephanie --and many other women-- it did not keep the abuser away, it did not keep him from going into her house, and it did not keep him from killing her.
There is need for a better system that actually protects.
I understand that things can get tricky when trying to prove that someone is genuinely fearful for their life. Yet, consider that
6,410 women were murdered in this country by an intimate partner using a gun
from 2001 to 2012; more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined according to a Center for American Progress Study.
That is a huge problem.
I acknowledge that this isn’t something that just happens to women. However, women are much more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence; 85 percent of domestic abuse victims are women and 15 percent men.
We live in a jaded society where we would rather blame the victim, such as in the Brock Turner rape case; or the Oklahoma court ruling that forced oral sex is not rape. Though these cases did not result in the death of these women, it still raised the point that even when you go through the justice system it still fails victims.
We have to create better legislation to protect the victim. It is a growing problem. One in four women will experience domestic violence and 3 million children have witnessed domestic violence in their homes every year.
According to the ACLU, nearly 60% of people in women’s prisons nation-wide and as many as 94% of some women’s prisons populations, have a history of physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated.
This is why women don’t speak up. This is why women stay in abusive situations. The abuser is either excused or punished when it is too late. Or the victim is imprisoned as a result of standing up against violence such as was the case with Marissa Alexander.
It seems though society continually tells it’s victims they are supported. Society’s actions suggest that victims are better off if they just stay quiet.
The justice system did not just fail Stephanie Goodloe; we all did.
As I sat I with my aunt, my daughter and my grandmother I look around at these generations of women, and I wonder, who will the justice system fail next?
It already did my mother.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Ode to Aqmeri: On Being Black and Being Beautiful

Let's talk about the black female body. Now, let's talk about the gaze.

Like all women, black women's body types are vast and varied, short and tall, big and small, voluptuous and stick thin.  So when I say I wasn't impressed last year with the Vogue feature on big butts being aesthetically pleasing now that white women have adopted and accepted the extra posterior weight, or the #kyliejennerchallenge this year, i'm not lying.  This has sparked a major outcry amongst black women.  Something so trite as the objectification of body parts has garnered major reactions. I thought about the song Unpretty by TLC that talks about how what others do and say affect how a person feels about themselves and it got me to thinking about my own daughter and her own beauty.  I wanted to give perspective so that later in life when I teach my daughter about true beauty, I could come with some context of how society deems her versus how she deems herself.

Because history always gives me the framework by which I try to base my  knowledge.

Everyone will want to point to Sarah Baartmann, a Khoikhoi woman who was exhibited as freak show attractions in 19th-century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus.  

**According to popular history, Saartjie Baartman (more commonly known as Sarah or Sara Baartman) was born in 1789 in the Gamtoos Valley of South Africa. When she was barely in her 20s, she was sold to London by an enterprising Scottish doctor named Alexander Dunlop, accompanied by a showman named Hendrik Cesars. She spent four years in Britain being exhibited for her large buttocks (steatopygia). Her treatment caught the attention of British abolitionists, who tried to rescue her, but she claimed that she had come to London on her own accord. In 1814, after Dunlop's death, she traveled to Paris. With two consecutive showmen, Henry Taylor and S. Reaux, she amused onlookers who frequented the Palais-Royal. She was subjected to examination by Georges Cuvier, a professor of comparative anatomy at the Museum of Natural History. In post-NapoleonicFrance, sideshows like the Hottentot Venus lost their appeal. Baartman lived on in poverty, and died in Paris of an undetermined inflammatory disease in December 1815. After her death, Cuvier dissected her body, then displayed her remains. For more than a century and a half, visitors to the Museum of Man in Paris could view her brain, skeleton and genitalia until she was buried.

Beyonce. Nicki Minage. Janet Jackson.  Aren't they all a version of the modern-day Sarah?

For the past year, I have struggled with writing a piece about beauty, because on the one hand, I think that society focuses too much on the surface and not the grit.  But I also know that as a society, black women and their features are seldomly looked at as beautiful unless it is in the context of a wanton and sexual manner, or unless fair skinned women are praised for it.

So this is to my daughter Aqmeri, who's beauty is that of an inquisitive young girl.  who's thirst for knowledge surpasses any conventional beauty standard.

Everyone can have body issues.  Heck Janet Jackson talks about her struggles with her image and seeing herself as beautiful. I remember back in the day, people would constantly tell my sister she was pretty and then go on to talk about how "nice" I was.

People always say my children are "absolutely gorgeous" and I always smile and say thank you, but there's a part of me that wonders what that's like to constantly hear as a young child.  Growing up, I didn't have that feeling.  Don't get me wrong, I never felt like I was ugly, but I didn't necessarily feel "gorgeous".  I never had complete strangers come up to me and tell me how good I looked.  I never had relatives or friends of my parents remark on my looks before they said hi to my parents.  I just never had that feeling.  So I always wonder is that a good or bad thing to hear as a child.

Lupita N'Yongo talked about a being black and being looked at as being beautiful and I listened to her speech knowing what that feels like and feeling the exact emotions that she felt about being young and being beautiful.

As a black woman, I think it's important to have a good sense of confidence in your personal appearance.  As I have gotten older, I can say that I have developed that confidence, but it wasn't always there.  I went to a very small, mostly white school my entire life.  It certainly had it's ups and downs regarding socialization for the african-american students.  There is a film on being black and going to a prep school that details this extensively, and it mirrors some of my experiences.  But being a black woman sometimes exacerbates this.  I never dated anyone in school.  I never had a boy who liked me and I always attributed that to my black skin and my features not being pretty enough to be liked.  I remember having a huge crush on a guy for years who I would have considered a friend in school.  But once he found out that I liked him, he stopped talking to me.  I was crushed.

I didn't start feeling pretty until I entered college.   With it's diversity of students, black men on campus started to notice me and would remark on my looks.  At first I thought it was just men talking and would treat it as such.  In the back of my mind, I could hear my mother's warning about men in college, but I slowly started to accept that maybe I wasn't unatttractive.  Now in my thirties, I can say that I am more comfortable in my skin.  It's still hard to hear sometimes when people tell me that I am attractive, but I at least accept it.  I silently attribute it to me being nice and having an overall pleasant disposition, but I don't shy away from the compliment like I used to.

I think beauty can exude through you no matter what your external attributes look like.  I've heard of plenty of people talk about how ugly or beautiful someone was based off of their personality.  I would gather to say that internal beauty will last a hell of a lot longer than external physically pleasing qualities.  Because who can engage with a beautiful trophy?

I believe that women should not rely on just looks to try to sustain themselves in life.  I believe that women should not rely solely on their looks to try to attract men.  But I also know that we live in a society where the images of black women do not grace the covers of magazines like our white counterparts. I do believe that we should let black women know that the features that they were born naturally with, fuller lips, darker skin, curly hair, are attractive too, and not just because the greater masses now view them as acceptable.  Black women do not grow up with images of themselves that other people want to be like.  Beyonce and Tyra and Janet are but a mere few to the many images of white women who I can name who grace the covers of magazines regularly that are admired for their beauty.  

So to Aqmeri, love all of yourself, and love others.  Trust me, your beauty willl ooze through your actions and deeds.  Your looks will be a mere bonus.

**From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why Harassment Is Never A Compliment

Photo Credit:
I was driving home listening to the radio and the topic of the recent Hollaback! video of the woman being catcalled was brought up.  The male DJ/host was truly wondering what was so bad about men complementing women on the street.  He wanted to know why the woman in the video was so rude by not acknowledging the men speaking to her and wanted callers to voice their opinions on how men  "can't speak to women" anymore because it's now considered harassment.

I swear I wasn't going to talk about this.

Not because it didn't need an extra voice, but because so any people have written about it better than I could, or would. I've seen breakdowns on how women feel being catcalled, i've seen personal stories people have shared about their experiences, the experiences of loved ones, i've seen heated debates on twitter, i've looked at heated debates in the news and to me, it all boils down to this.

Men don't really care about you women.

Let's just face it because how else can you explain it? Any time someone (this someone meaning a large body of women) can repeatedly tell you that they don't appreciate something and it gets rebutted with what amounts to "Well I don't care, i'm going to say it anyway because I like it" says to me...I don't care.  Men, do you realize the need for you to get a positive response back from women is not about making women feel good about themselves?  It's for you.  The compliment sent from you, is really about you feeling good about yourself.  It has nothing to do with the woman the comment was for.

In college we had a particular stance for walking from campus to the nearest metro station.  Eyes down or straight ahead, walk fast, look busy.  Bonus if you had a friend because you could both act like you don't notice the people catcalling you on the street.  You could not take a leisure stroll through the 7 or 8 blocks needed to walk to the metro, you had to look like you were determined to make that train from two blocks away because you could see the blinking foot lights within the station from the street.  Several times I remember hearing variations of  "Hey sexy" "Come here ma" "You gotta man?" "You need a friend?" "Can I get your number?"

 If I walked fast enough, I could pretend that I didn't hear them and they could wonder if I actually heard what they said and refrain from doing or saying anything more to me.  If I didn't, sometimes I would get touched or grabbed by the arm, sometimes I would get cursed at, sometimes I would get followed.  Luckily, none of my instances turned into this or this or this or this.

I recently told a male colleague that from the time I hit puberty I've been harassed by men. Sometimes several times a day depending on where my daily travels led me.  By the time I became a legal adult, I had been so inundated by men harassing me that I became an "Expert". An expert at being rude in return, an expert at turning men down, an expert at diverting the conversation, an expert at ignoring it, an expert at giving the bitchy resting face look or an expert at accepting the unwanted comment hoping that said person wouldn't continue.

Full disclosure: Nowadays, I personally don't care if men make comments towards my appearance.  I don't like to give people that much power over my personal feelings.  Now, I consider myself an "expert" at handling unstable men who harass women.  If it's a stranger I have found a way to not ignore them while simultaneously ignoring them.  It's a Jedi move I have crafted over the years.  If it's an acquaintance/friend i'll usually direct the conversation away from my personal looks.  If it's a good friend, I simply accept the compliment. See that?  I called the latter a compliment.  It's not harassment if the person accepting it is welcoming of the comment. This doesn't mean I don't think it's worth talking about or fighting against.  

We all know This conversation was never about paying women compliments. This is about power and entitlement.  This is about the need for men to exert that power in the belief that women should enjoy whatever they do and say even if we repeatedly tell you we don't like it.  Damon Young said it best, "If you honestly don't know how and when to approach women without making her feel unsafe, you shouldn't approach any women until you figure that out."

If this doesn't apply to you, then you are not the "men" i'm talking about.  But that means you need to join the chorus with Damon. Thank you Damon, because this just might be what we need.  Hopefully adding men's voices to the conversation will resonate with other men.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What really matters in life: A life lesson from Jessie Spano and Claire Huxtable

Lately I have been feeling a little down. Not in the “woe is me” sort of way, but in a “how did I get myself into this” sort of way. I haven't been feeling like my self and as a result, a lot of things I have wanted to write about just aren’t finished because I haven’t given them the deep thought that they need.
Which brings me to Jessie Spano.
I don’t know if you all will remember that Saved By the Bell episode, but it is etched in my head like an inserted microchip. Elizabeth Berkeley captured a moment I have been feeling for the past few months.

In trying to show my dedication to my work life, I have felt like my home life has suffered. No, I haven’t felt. I KNOW my home life has suffered. Missed Dr.’s appointments, kids being late to school or being picked up late, arriving home late, leaving no time for my husband and overall spending zero time with my kids.  All these things have happened over these last few months. Like Jessie in that Saved by the Bell episode, I keep feeling like “There isn’t enough time”. I never have enough time for the things that interest me outside of work. I’m not talking about selfishly gallivanting around town (although that would do wonders for my inner soul right now) I’m talking about spending quality time with the people I love most. I like what I do professionally, but to me, family and friends are what make your life, not what you do. This is what makes me sad.  I know I can’t get these moments with family and friends back. If I don’t keep in touch with friends with some base of regularity, they go on with their lives and close friends become distant, no matter how many drunk nights, close secrets and clothes you have shared. As we get older, those relationships need to be fed, not forgotten about.
My time with family definitely can’t be recreated. Did you ever see the movie Click?

This movie made me cry at the end. AN ADAM SANDLER MOVIE MADE ME CRY. Let’s just think about that for a moment. The point being, I love my kids. I don’t want to fast forward through their existence only to find children I don’t recognize anymore and children that don’t know me. That’s not how I grew up and it’s not how I envisioned my life as a parent to be.
So why am I referencing Saved By the Bell and The Cosby Show in the same blog post? Because they were my existence growing up, that’s why.  I don’t really need a reason other than they were two of the best shows on air as a kid.  That I would reference both in the same blog post is like a dream come true. Sorry, I digress.
The enviable and unattainable Claire Huxtable, that’s why.
She is the supermom we all aim to be.  Claire was and still is regarded by many as the epitome of womanhood.  A strong feminist, a lovely and doting wife, a supportive and caring but firm mother, She was everything. But trying to be her will kill us.

Just look at Michelle Obama.  She IS the real life, public version of Claire Huxtable.  However, if you look behind the wall, unlike Claire, Michelle has some help.  Mamma Robinson LIVES in the White House to help with raising Sasha and Malia.  There are a bevy of chefs and cleaning crews that take care of the everyday tasks of cooking and cleaning.  Unlike Claire, Michelle essentially "took one for the team".  She gave up her high powered job in Chicago because of her family responsibilities. If you read Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama touches on Michelle's reaction to him running for office and her changing responsibilities.  It wasn't the happy, doting wife reaction that I am sure Claire would have provided.
In my idealistic recollection of my own childhood, I remember my mother as the doting parent.  She was the person who dropped us off and picked us up from school. The person who attended all of our school theatrical performances, attended all of our athletic games, was part of the PTA, and even accompanied us on numerous field trips.  She was the person who helped us out with homework, talked about bullies and did our hair.
But guess what?  She was also the person who fed us TV dinners for months on end, who took us to her university classes at night so she could get her degree, and gave us Jheri curls because it made it easier to do our hair.  Those pictures are in a guarded safe and will NEVER come out.
But real moments like those that showed Claire as not being picture perfect were never aired on the Cosby show.  The kids showed up and showed out from time to time, but never Claire. Why?  Because Claire ALWAYS had time. If she didn’t, Cliff was right there to pick up the pieces.  What happens when your Cliff or Claire fails to pick up those pieces?
I’ll tell you what happens.  Resentment. Disappointment. Feeling like a Failure.
She was a black woman who was a partner at a New York law firm back in the 80’s.  I’m sorry, but if anyone knows of any black women lawyers who were partners and worked in NY back in the 80’s who had ample time to raise and impart knowledge on their 5 well adjusted children, then I will erase this blog post and everything I said in it.  But if you don’t, that would make this read by Mychal Denzel Smith at least interesting.  I don’t believe we need to kill her as Brittney Cooper suggests, but we need to give the real life Claire’s some REAL slack at work and at home.  Parents aren’t perfect, they are far from it. But dammit if we aren’t doing the best we can.  When work life and home life both demand you give your everything, something will inevitably fail.  Which is why Claire as a character made for great TV, but in real life, she can never be attained.
Let me set the record straight.  I’m not trying to set low expectations for how people see themselves or how people want to be seen.  I’m saying, in the real world, the expectations you have of your career woman who has children and ample time to devote to raising, caring, spending time and nurturing those children will quickly shatter because it’s not humanly possible to excel at both at all times.  Something will fall.  There have been ample publications that suggest this.  Trying to live up to what Claire embodied sometimes makes me want to have a Jessie Spano freak out from time to time.  Do you want your wife to have a Jessie Spano freak out because she’s trying to be Claire and “Do it all”? No. So it might be a worthy read to ingest differing opinions on how we view this mythical Cosby Show goddess, and adjust our own beliefs as partners and parents about what we can and cannot do in life.
Family is very important to me.  So if that means I might have to re-adjust my own inner Claire to tame down the Jessie. So be it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

#Iftheygunnedmedown: What the conversation needs to turn into and Why Diversity and Inclusion need to be taught in Pre-K

I remember I was 18.  It was dark, and I was with my sister when I got pulled over by the police.  We were visiting relatives in Mississippi and had just left our cousins house and were heading back to another Aunts house where my parents were visiting.  My mother had let us drive her car around,  a Red Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Explorer and there was a certain level of freedom and prestige in driving her car.  So, being the teenagers that we were, music blasting, rehashing the good time and the nights events with each other, my sister and I headed back to the house.

We stopped at a stop sign and proceeded to go forward when police sirens from across the street sped up toward us.  Not thinking that it was me, I slowed down to let the cops pass me.  When he turned on his horn and shot his light toward our car, I immediately froze.  We were in the deep south, two teenagers in my mothers car and there were no other cars on the street.  Actually, there was no one else around.  Heart racing a mile a minute, and over my best judgement, I pulled over.

One by one police cars showed up.  All of a sudden, police surrounded us.    By the time the initial officer had gotten to my car, there were at least 5 other cars surrounding my mother's Explorer.  All for two teenage girls driving back to her aunts house after seeing their cousins.

A million thoughts raced through my head.  "What did we do wrong?" Why did he pull us over?" "Is he going to make some thing up so we go to jail?" "Are they going to beat us?" "Are we going to die?"

The officer came up to the window and told us he pulled us over because we "rolled though the stop sign".  I said "no we didn't, I made a complete stop."  Angry that he was being challenged, he asked for my license and registration and when I produced my mother's information, he incredulously asked me who's car was I driving.  I told him it was my mother's.  He came back to his car as other officer's got out of their car and headed toward my mother's.  Several officer's surrounded the car flashing their flashlight's through our window's hoping to find something.  My sister started crying.  I started to tear up.  I didn't know what was going to happen to us.  We had done nothing wrong.  The only thing that was wrong was the color of our skin.

After holding us for about an hour, he let us go that night and I was relieved.  You might think that my earlier questions were irrational.  So let me tell you another story.

I was driving to work one evening in Washington, DC.  I had graduated from college, but still retained my license plates from the state where I grew up in which is not an unusual occurrence in DC.  I stopped at a stop sign and proceeded to turn down the street where my job was, when I got pulled over by police.  Not realizing that my registration had expired, the cops pulled me over because I had "rolled through a stop sign"  I may be wrong, but I have come to understand the term "rolled through a stop sign" as code for "just being black".  When they checked my tags, they immediately handcuffed me, put me in the police car and I headed off to jail.  Yes, I was arrested and taken to jail because I had expired tags.  Now before you say, "But it's illegal to drive with expired tags"  Had I known and been given the opportunity right there, I would have paid the appropriate fees.   What sense does it make to take someone with NO history or record of any kind to jail?  This is a minor offense.  Usually you receive a ticket, are told to abandon your car and get it towed and go about your way.  I was a block away from my job, heading into work.  Embarrassed, I had to call my boss to tell him I was being arrested and taken to jail.  This punishment was excessive.  I posed no threat to society.  I did not have a criminal record.  The color of my skin gave me a criminal record.

People wonder why African American's distrust police officers.  Every run in that I have had with police has never been a good one.  And I have lived a relatively privileged life.  I went to private schools from the time I was in Pre-k to Graduate school.  I know how to defuse my persona to be non-threatening.  I comply when asked.  My general demeanor is very friendly.  And the harsh reality is that I know that still won't be able to save me if I happen upon the wrong policeman or highway patrol or mall cop, or vigilante citizen, or "homeowner".  The color of my skin apparently blocks me from being saved.

Trayvon Martin. Renisha McBride. Michael Brown. Marlene Pinnock. Eric Garner. Jordan Davis. Randolph Evans. Ezell Ford. John Crawford. Emmitt Till.

I could go on.

This is a serious issue that needs addressing.  An issue that needs refocusing.  An issue that needs to look at the root and not the leaf.  Before men and women become police officers.  Before they become judges, or jurors or executioners.  We need to combat the inherent fear that white people have of minorities.

I'm not going to rehash why black lives matter.  I have done that over and over and over again.  What I will do is talk about what needs to be done in the future for our children, and our children's children so that when they grow up and want to be police officers and law enforcement authorities or children heading off to higher education, or just children walking down the street, we will prepare them and equip them with the tools necessary to combat this fear and these stereotypes so that innocent children stop getting killed just because they are breathing.

I can remember entering Kindergarten and I knew instantly that I was different from everyone else, but I didn't know why.  What I did know is that my difference was not a quirky neat character trait, my difference was something to be repelled.  I can remember being called nigger, blackie and told I have cooties, so I should be avoided.  And this was all before the 3rd grade.

Some will write off these experiences as kids being kids, but if we were to look closely at the situation and parallel that of boys and the lessons they still need to learn from respecting women later in life, It would do us a world of good if we started early.

What many people don't know is that kids form their opinions about different races of people at a very early age through their parents teachings and through their school interactions.  Although i'm not a teacher its seems like teaching about diversity should be a main component of developing the overall intelligence of a young mind.

My son will enter Pre-K in the fall.  We've spent months trying to find a school that would meet our criteria.  A school that fostered his sense of independence, a school that had a good curriculum to enhance a child's natural ability to learn and most importantly, a school that was truly diverse.  But what good is going to a diverse school if the children themselves don't know how to interact with one another?

If a core curriculum centered around diversity and inclusion were implemented nationwide for the early formative years (Pre-K-3rd grade) then maybe we could start to truly enter a post-racial era.  These principles need to be taught early, not when we are entering, have been in or are about to retire from the workforce.

After what happened  to Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.  there has been a  concentration on teaching diversity training to police officers. That may solve the public's perception, but that wont solve the police's profiling.  You all have been to them. These mandatory training's at work that are suppose to "challenge your belief system"  and "explore looking at a co-worker differently" It's all a bunch of crap. If we were really trying to do something about diversity and inclusion why wouldn't you start young?  Why not include diversity as a core part of the early learning curriculum?  Because working on diversity as an adult works on the leaf, not the root.

Teaching these principles to children while they are young might counteract negative beliefs.  If children are given the space in school to properly navigate diversity within the peers that they interact with, imagine growing up with the notion that the color of your skin really doesn't matter.  We try earnestly to believe now that it doesn't, but these recent reports of police brutality show that we have yet to gain that gold star.  Truly living in a post-racial society.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Men, Rape and the disbelievers

Recently, I had the privilege to interview White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on the task force to protect students from sexual assault in colleges. With the recent mass shooting in California, this brings sexual assault on campuses across the country in plain view.  So it personally irks me when men still don't believe that rape occurs at the rate that it does or what defines a rape.  Case in point:

The other day, a colleague of mine wanted to show me a video.  Now, politically, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Total opposites.  But professionally and personally I consider him a friend.  Looking at the relationships in Congress and the Senate, we are an anomaly, but, nevertheless it works.  The other day, he ushered me over to see this video of Glenn Beck's producer trying to debunk the notion, and say that the White House is ridiculous in stating that 1 out of every 5 girls in college is sexually assaulted.  I would have linked you to the full video, but you have to pay, and I don't want to put you through that.  I cringed as I stood in shock and awe as he laughed through this clip.  He thought it was a hilarious and ridiculous statistic.  

I was of course disheartened.  Not that he thought sexual assault was okay, (because he didn't) but that he thought the statistic is flawed.  He didn't believe the White House's assertion that 1 in 5 women were sexually assaulted in college. These numbers come from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  The White House didn't make them up.  If you don't believe an organization who's 
 main goal is to protect public health and safety  then I don't know what to tell you.  But something happened to me while I sat there, wanting to curse at the computer.  While watching this clip, while taking note of my colleagues sheer ignorance, I remembered my own sexual assault and rape.  Parts of my life that I had chosen to completely block out, as if they never happened.  I suspect this might be true for a lot of women.  I don't know if it was just a repressed memory or dissociative amnesia.  I would rather not relive traumatic events in my life over and over again.  But at that moment, it all came back to me in full color.  So let me tell you my story.  

Right now, in Washington, DC women wear dresses when they go out all the time.  But there was a time when that wasn't the case. 

In 1999, I was a junior in college.  I remember the sayings back when I was a student "Don't wear a dress when you go out, you might get raped" and I used to think, "come on, no one can rape you in an open club that's ridiculous, people are all around you someone would notice".  But I also remember back then, everyone heeded that anonymous advice and no girls would ever wear dresses out.  

I went to a party off campus one time, pants on, and as the party became packed mid-way through the night, a guy who I couldn't see or identify, grabbed my crotch and started fondling it.  It was too packed for me to move.  I tried to fight whoever was nearest to me, but I couldn't identify a specific person.  I never reported it.  The incident happened off campus and who could I have reported it to with no suspect?  Does that mean that because I didn't report it, it didn't happen?

Shortly after I graduated from college, I started talking to a guy who I'd met at a conference.  He eventually persuaded me to meet-up with him and I obliged.  I thought he was nice and we had been talking for a few weeks and established a connection, so I was fine with meeting up with him at a neutral location.  Plus I didn't want him to know where I lived.  So we met up, and he asked if I wanted to take a ride with him.   I said sure, even though I thought the meet-up was suppose to be the date.  The spontaneous spirit I was at the time said, "Go with it Andrea, just have fun."  His "ride" ended up being a ride back to his house.  He cooked dinner so I thought "what a sweet person" even though it was a cheap first date.  After we talked for awhile, I tell him that I'm glad that we finally connected and couldn't wait to do it again and if he could take me back to my car, I would greatly appreciate it.  He refuses.  I then realize the situation I am in.   Now, let me just set the stage.  This is before the age of wide cell-phone use, so at the time I had no cell phone.  I was a broke, fresh out of college student who had all of 3 dollars in her bank account.   I didn't know where I was,  I am alone and none of my immediate family knows where I am.  Every thought about girls going missing, women getting killed, raped was now going through my mind.  Panicked, I try to coerce him to take me back to my car.  That doesn't work.  He "suggests" that we just go to sleep.  I am 5,4 120 pounds on a good day.  With no way to get out of the situation, I oblige, but insist that I will sleep on the couch.  He refuses that too.  We talk ad nauseum about the sleeping arrangements until the early morning.  I finally relent to sleeping in the bed, because i'm tired, because I have to get up in the morning and go to work, and because underneath it all, I thought Andrea you still have a little bit of control in this situation,  you may not be able to leave, but you know you aren't going to have sex with him, so it's okay if you just lay down in the same bed, you'll still have all your clothes on.  

But I wasn't in control.  I said no several times that night.  I'm not going to replay them for you all, but suffice to say, did he rip my clothes and beat me? No.  But was it consensual sex? No.  I did not physically fight him, but I clearly said no several times.   I made it very clear that I did not want to have sex with him at any point in the evening.  

From Republican Rep. Todd Akin's legitimate rape comments to GOP Rep. Richard Mourdock saying "
even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen"  People think that you have to be a certain "type" of girl to get assaulted or raped.  Or that it often involves alcohol or some type of drug.  I was completely sober both times that I was assaulted.    I've had very few relationships.  I've often heard men discuss women getting raped in terms of "well what was she doing?" I can tell you right now, she didn't have to be doing anything.

The next morning, getting what he wanted, he thought we were starting a relationship.  I never wanted to see his face again.  I remember the next day, my sister, who was my roommate at the time, yelling at me for not telling her where I had gone.  I didn't know how I could have gotten myself in the situation I was in the night before.

I never reported any of these incidents of assault.  I never wanted to.  Like I said earlier, I had really blocked them out of my mind.  I remember tackling this subject on the radio program that I produce, and a colleague of mine asked me had I ever been raped.  I said no.  Selective amnesia I guess.

Wikipedia would classify my incidence as acquaintance rape.  I say rape is rape, no matter if the instance is forceful or not, no matter if it includes drugs, alcohol, or none at all.  Forced, date, acquaintance, or non-consensual rape. They are all the same.  In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease control In a nationally representative survey of adults, 37.4% of female rape victims were first raped between ages 18-24. In a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted  or completed sexual assault since entering college.   1 in 5. 

This isn't about the victims.  Let me repeat.  THIS ISN'T ABOUT THE VICTIMS.  This is about a person exerting their power and control over another.  It's not right and we need to change the mindset behind it in order to change the behavior.   I will admit I never knew what it was until it happened to me.  I, like my co-worker, didn't believe that women could get assaulted by going on a date with a guy that you liked, especially if you liked the person.  In my mind, how could it really be classified as assault if you had feelings for the person?

So to my co-worker who thinks that the statistic for sexual assault and rape is ridiculous, I implore him to challenge his ignorance.  No one walks around saying, i've been raped, I've been sexually assaulted.  Women don't carry a badge on their clothing that says "victim".  But believe me, it happens at more alarming rates than men want to believe. 

I am glad the White House is tackling sexual assault in colleges, and yes, the statistic is correct.  1 in 5 females will get sexually assaulted in college.  Is that alarming? I hope so.  Because we need to eradicate the mindset of dominance and control over women's bodies.