The Roads We Travel

A few days in a life journey.

Archive for the ‘Race in America’ Category

Macroagressions

Today, I had a reminder that even when you try to shut out hate, it’s never far away. Many times, it’s actually lurking around the corner, just waiting for your happy ass to skip through.

My heart was full of joy to see my baby girl back from her field trip to the LA Zoo. One of the moms chaperoning already warned us that the kids were hot, tired, and too through by the end of their excursion. So, I waited for the bus with great anticipation. The driver rounded the corner, drove two feet passed where I stood and pulled in to park at the curbside next to the school. I chuckled as I recalled the days of elementary school field trips on a bus with no air conditioning… windows down. I shared that anecdote with some of the other moms standing nearby.

What I didn’t share, although it made me smirk even more, was the memory of a classmate leaning out of the window to spit just as our bus pulled off again. The snot/saliva mixture flew out of the window and into the one right behind him, landing in another classmate’s hair.

Ew! Gross!

Anyway, it was horrifying at the time (and forever changed my school bus game), but today, it was just a silly memory that made me smile.

So, we gathered our children and everyone disbursed back to their homes or vehicles. We have a five-minute ride home. We hopped in the minivan while my daughter was chattering away, talking about snow leopards, snakes, and gazelles.

She hadn’t buckled yet, so while I waited for her to get settled I grabbed my phone to check my messages. We were still parked and in between two other cars.

Then, a large black pickup pulled up to my rear driver side and honked the horn. I looked back to see a middle-aged man hand gesturing impatiently — seeming to ask if I’m leaving or staying, so I gestured that I am leaving. But, I looked back and my daughter still hadn’t buckled. She was fiddling with her window. So, I asked her to get buckled before I pull out. I stowed my phone and no sooner, he pulled up next to my window and yelled in a very angry tone, “Thank you, very much!” To which, I waived your welcome as he sped away.

Now, since I was parked across from the school. I can only imagine that he wanted my premium spot to make his after school pickup easier, but that means he’s also likely a parent with a child at the same school as mine. He should realize that as parents, we seldom hop into a car with little ones and pull right off. He should know this.

Also, having a blue lives matter sticker in the back window of his pickup, he should also be happy that I wasn’t driving while checking my messages. I was being safe.

He should NEVER feel the need to shout down a mom with her child in the back seat, over a parking spot. He should realize there’s plenty of parking on the streets nearby and try not to make an ass of himself. He should, but he didn’t.

His hateful attitude was trying to creep into my peaceful life, my happy existence.

That’s how miserable people are. They’re like the common cold or a stomach virus traveling through the air in a cough or sneeze. When you come into contact with these germs, you’ve got to wash your hands — cleanse your soul.

So, I prayed for him and continue to pray for our family and our community. God help us. Sometimes germs spread quickly.

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Written by Shara

May 1, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Perceptions of Racial Reality in Media

On the way to school this morning, I asked my son to name one of his favorite shows (which are mostly cartoons) that had a girl or woman of color as the lead.

“What do you mean? Like Sandy in SpongeBob?”

No… close, but no.

I explained, think of a show with human characters or human representations in the case of cartoons. Is there one you can think of where the main character isn’t what we call White. I also explained that for some reason I don’t like the words White and Black as descriptive terms for skin color, they don’t truly represent the different shades and hues in our beautifully diverse world, but they do help to get the point across quickly.

He thought some more and couldn’t come up with any.

Then, I asked what about supporting characters. He quickly named Maria from Sesame Street, who he mentioned had recently retired, and another character from Rugrats. There! He sat back with a smile and kinda proud of himself.

Good job, son, but the conversation wasn’t over. It was just beginning.

We talked about how media shapes our perceptions of beauty and how he uses terms he’s learned through media to define beauty. Terms like “hot girls” which he almost always tends to use for girls scantily clothed with blonde hair and blue eyes. So, I asked, if this is the standard of beauty set by most of the media we consume, then what message does it send to girls who don’t look like this?

He didn’t know.

He thought some more and then said. Well, it doesn’t matter to me because I don’t need to see people who look like me on television to know I look good.

Swag.

I know, son and that’s great, but much of that is because our society doesn’t use beauty as a standard of value or success for men. Not so for women. Can you see that?

Yeah, I guess you’re right, he agreed.

So, what do you think we should do about it?

I guess just like the saying goes, “we should be happy with what we have.”

Maybe, I said, but what about the saying, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

I told him that the world needs his stories and that little boys and girls who have brown skin, like him, deserve to see main characters who look like them in their media. If we don’t see them, we shouldn’t sit complacently, we should ask for them and more importantly, we should create them.

Teenage Boy Sitting On Sofa At Home Watching Television

I’m having more conversations about race with my children, in a very intentional way.

Sewing seeds.

I need my children to understand the country we live in wasn’t necessarily designed for them, but it needs them. They have an important role to play now and in the future. If they don’t understand that perceptions are both created for and skewed by a dominant culture, then they might mistake this perception for their reality. But it’s not the whole truth, far from it.

Do you have conversations about race with your children? Are you scared to talk about it? I’d love to hear more.

Written by Shara

December 5, 2016 at 8:39 pm

How to Appease Anger and Frustration

It was the same routine. This morning, my lovely darling didn’t agree with the clothes that I picked out for her to wear to school. This always happens when we don’t jointly prepare the week’s wardrobe in advance. “Okay, but we don’t have a lot of time and if you aren’t helping me out, then I’m going to lose my patience,” I warned.

I gave her a few minutes to come up with a reasonable alternative given the drop in temperature this week. She couldn’t find the right leggings to go with the dress she wanted to wear. In a rush and in my haste, I lost my patience.

“Just put the clothes on that I picked out so we’re not late!” I snapped.

I have a late gene and I’m afraid that I’m passing it down. It was passed down to me from my mother and her mother passed it along to her. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to fix it. We even got a note from her school about my affliction and I’m trying, really trying, to do better.

“Mommy, it hurts my feelings when you yell at me,” she said — after she was dressed and her hair was done. “When my feelings are hurt, my face looks like this,” she sulked. The alarm on my phone went off and I hit “Snooze” because I’m gonna need another reminder in five minutes. It’s time to leave so we can get to school with a few minutes to spare.

“I know. I’m sorry, but I did warn you that I was losing my patience. Did you brush your teeth? Let’s get that done and head out.”

I usually try to acknowledge when I’m in the wrong, even when I’m feeling under pressure. I want to have endless patience and I want to get her to school on time.

My son’s morning prep game is tight. He’s dressed, hair brushed, teeth brushed, sitting on the couch, earbuds in, head bobbing. Boys!! SMH.

As she slowly walked to the bathroom to brush her teeth, I added that I didn’t want her face to be sad and that I didn’t want anyone to have that control over how she was feeling — including me. “I don’t want you to be sad. I just want you to hurry up and get ready,” I reasoned … with a seven-year-old.

Ten minutes later, we’re in the car and I’m waiting to turn onto the road in front of her school. One final argument about what she’s wearing and how I don’t understand the kids at her school and what they will say about a jacket with thumbholes. I suggest we can donate all of her clothes that don’t match her schoolmate’s requirements including this new Justice jacket and that I’m sure there’s some kid somewhere who would be thrilled to have it. “I’ll place a call to your friend’s mom before I buy you any more clothes to make sure she has the same thing,” I added to make my point clear. “No, no, no!!” she exclaims. Then, her brother initiates a discussion about yelling at mom. The game of “I’m not/You are” proceeds.

She now has two minutes to run inside before the bell rings. I open the van door, “Okay, I love you. Have a great day!” I smiled, genuinely. I really want her to have a great day. I want the last words she hears before heading into school to be words of love and support.

As I pull away and watch her run into the school building, my son sits trying to understand why she yells when she’s frustrated, but then tells me it hurts her feelings when I yell. The apple/tree thing hasn’t quite dawned on him. He wonders if he could have said something different to get his point across to her.

At which point, I explain that when someone is angry and frustrated, they usually are not listening. Nothing you say will matter and in most cases, it doesn’t even matter how you say it. Their response will come from that place of anger and frustration. The best thing you can do is to say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you’re feeling better soon.” Once things have calmed down, you can try to revisit the topic if it’s important, but trying to reason with someone who is angry and frustrated is a fool’s errand.

Conversations with my kids are very enlightening.

I’m still angry and frustrated about the presidential election. I have every right to feel that way. You can appease me by using calming words. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you’re feeling better soon.” But, I’ll still be angry and frustrated. I’m not listening. I’m just reacting from a place of anger and frustration.

Don’t call me a victim. Don’t call me an out of touch liberal. Don’t tell me it will all work out, just wait and see. I’m still angry.

Don’t tell me we’re all in this together because clearly some of us don’t even recognize the humanity of others.

If you can’t commiserate with me, then just limit your response to, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you’re feeling better soon.” And be sure that IF you’re saying it, you mean it, genuinely. Otherwise, best not to say anything at all.

Written by Shara

November 29, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Sadness, Anger, and PB&J

My sister reminded me that I feel better when I write.

The last week has been unreal. I really thought Hillary would win. Now I’m sad, then angry, then sad again, then sad and angry all at the same damn time!

Peanut butter and jelly is my best friend. I’m eating PB&J like a five-year-old. #ComfortFood

I come from the generation of Coca-Cola teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony. You know the “We are the World” generation. I grew up watching shows on television that spoke to Black families and people like me for the first time: Good Times, The Jeffersons, and The Cosby Show. We were breaking barriers and creating new, safe spaces for people who look like me. I will never forget A Different World, which was exactly what I experienced heading off to college in the early 90s.

Everything was hope and promise, but you had to work hard and show up. I learned that I had an obligation to let my voice be heard whenever I’m in the room. I learned that sometimes my voice has to represent an entire race and culture. It’s mind-blowing and humbling at the same time.

And certainly, I’ve experienced my share of discrimination and ugliness — reminding me that though we’ve come far, we still have a long way to go. I learned about “otherization” and “hate speech” firsthand from the moment in high school when a friend said, “Hey, look at me, I’m walking like a nigger!” to the time when my college roommate had a guy friend over who called me a nigger in my own dorm room. That was painful. But even more painful, when I shared the experience with the people I trusted most, nobody did anything about it, including and especially the Black men on my campus who I thought would stand up for me (more on that later).

In college, I learned that some of the issues I experienced weren’t necessarily because of my dark hue. I learned to understand the impact that my presence had on the world as a woman. I remember a college administrator saying to me the process is like getting a new pair of glasses, once you put them on, you’ll see the world as it is and you can never unsee it. She was right.

In grad school, I told a professor that I thought women could do anything and be anything. “Why not?” I asked. My mom raised two girls all on her own without the help of my dad, who was largely absent from my life until after college. I saw my mom do everything, be everything, and never did she say “I can’t because I’m a woman.” She would just figure that shit out. I remember that same professor asking me if I was a feminist. I answered almost immediately, “No.” I didn’t want to be categorized, labeled, or regarded as some sort of troublemaker. Always the good Christian girl that I was raised to be. But she encouraged me to think deeper on it and I decided later that year that I was indeed a feminist. I didn’t want to start any trouble or burn my bra, but I was definitely a feminist.

I voted for Bill Clinton in ’92. It was the year that I turned 18 and the first election that I could vote in. I was so happy when he won. I felt like my vote helped. I remember when Hillary took on a more policy-focused position in his administration. I remember admiring her for breaking out of the traditional First Lady role. I’ve been a fan and supporter of Hillary’s for a long time. I realize that some of her issues in this election were of her own doing, but I also know that many of the problems she faced were because she is a woman trying to make a huge difference in a man’s world. Glasses on.

Remember when I said the Black men on my college campus let me down. Remember when I said my father (another Black man) was absent growing up. Yeah, he let me down too. Now fast forward to this election year and take a look at how Black men voted.

blackwomenvote

I know there’s plenty of blame to go around regarding why we didn’t see higher numbers from everyone for Hillary, but in particular, Black men have been impacted by 90s policies that led to them being targeted by police and jailed in unprecedented numbers. Even with that in mind, I’m still disappointed that they didn’t contribute a larger percentage of votes for Hillary.

They let me down. Again.

It may be an irrational thought to have, but I figure maybe if I put a voice to it, then I can begin to resolve it.

WHY didn’t Black men vote in larger numbers for Hillary? 7% voted for a third party, which everyone warned would be a throwaway vote unless your plan was to see Trump elected and in that case, just vote for Trump. If they didn’t feel they wanted to vote for themselves, then why didn’t they at least show up for us, Black women. Clearly, my history says that it’s just too much to expect. Sad, angry, sad again, then sad and angry! More PB&J.

Now, I’m trying to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move forward. What do I tell my children about why the bully won? How do I prepare them for the mean, ugly things that they will likely see and hear in the not too distant future?

I blame myself, too, for believing that we’ve come farther than we actually have. Blind hope. I blame myself for choosing not to have those conversations with my children on a regular basis, early on. I just wanted to guard their innocence for as long as I could, build a healthy self-esteem and a natural love for their differences. Now, I have to include conversations about how their differences will (not might) make them targets of hate speech and discrimination. I also need to provide them with the tools to deal with it. It’s exhausting enough just parenting and managing normal child development stages.

That said, I think the tenor of this election and the ugly words that I’ve heard from people on the right and left (including myself at times I’m not happy to say) suggests that it’s time we all have these conversations with our children on a regular basis and starting early on. We should all be teaching our kids about the concept of “otherization” and not stick our heads in the sand as if we don’t teach them what it is and how to confront it, then they will never see it or have to deal with it. We can never have blind hope again. I can’t and you can’t. Hope still has to wear the glasses.

If we want the next generation to do better than we have for humanity, for our country, for our planet, then we have to teach them.

facebook-cover-photo

This is all of the nonsense running through my head at the moment. I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you’re dealing with the election results.

Written by Shara

November 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm

I’m With Her… Shhh! Not So Loud. Not Here.

imwithher

We recently joined a tennis club in our community. I know, I know! It sounds like some high-end shit… at least it did to this girl who grew up in a tough Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. But, 13 years of motherhood have worn away my tough facade and all I could think about was what I would do with my kids all summer.

The tennis club offers tennis camp, swim lessons, fitness facilities, social activities, babysitting and more. Yes, please!

It didn’t occur to me that people like me (a Democrat) might not usually join a tennis club in this community. I mean, I’m usually one of a handful of African-Americans in most of the places I go, but I’m used to that. It is 2016 after all, right? Most people are kind and polite. At times I almost forget that my skin color is different. I said, almost.

So last night at the tennis club, while the kids were busy playing in the kids club area, I made my way to the cafe for a drink and to catch a bit of the Democratic National Convention. After all, just last week the Republican National Convention was playing on the big screens there. Surely, they would have the DNC on?

As I walked in, the two televisions around the bar were set to ESPN. I thought, well it is a tennis club. Duh!

So, I asked the bartender if he could put on one of the other televisions (away from the bar) for me. Sure thing. He was happy to do so until he found out that I wanted to watch the DNC. You would have thought that I just cussed him out, and then forced him to drink a jug of salt water. Ooo, he was salty!

He didn’t even turn up the volume when he finally found the right channel, but it was fine because I had closed caption and wanted to work until Hillary came on. Then, when Chelsea took the stage, I went to the bar and asked him to turn up the volume for me. He walked over, turned up the volume and snarked, “Did she ever find out who her real dad is yet?” He snickered and walked back to the bar. Really?

My husband joined me shortly after his tennis lesson. I told him how I was recently informed by a “friendly” that I’m surrounded by sharks (Republicans). He laughed.

Then, Hillary came on. I think the volume in the room around me increased by 50 decibels. I’m thinking this is the time everyone decides to be loud and boisterous. Okay, they are around the bar, but last week when the RNC was on television you could hear a pin drop.

A woman walked in the cafe and up to the television, she looked at Hillary and said, “Wow, how many face lifts has she had?” Then, she looked over at our table, expecting a response. I was mute. My husband said, “As many as it takes?” and they both laughed as she walked off.

My husband is good at diffusing tense situations. Me, not so much.

When I hear the outlandish, hurtful things that Trump is saying, I used to think, Who is he talking to? Who thinks this is okay? Now, I know.

Written by Shara

July 29, 2016 at 11:35 pm

PR in Politics

It’s election season and that means my hiatus from the news is officially over.

So, I started my venture back to “newsie-land” by watching the Republican debate the other night on Fox News. Well, I started listening in my car on the ride home, then watched the rest from my computer at home — we’ve decided to opt out of cable TV, but that’s for another post.

I’m not going to rehash the comedy of that night, but I just wanted to share some observations.

Donald Trump, the front-runner. I probably don’t need to say more than that and you know where I’m going, but my observation from a PR standpoint is very different than from my personal views. Personally, I think, what an a$$hole. See, this is why decent, honest, hard-working women in business can’t get ahead because the system is stacked in favor of the slimy-back-office, golf-course-wheeling-and-dealing, buying-political-favors, misogynistic businessmen like him.

Professionally though, we can all learn something from The Donald. He’s found his voice, I’m sure all of his money helped, but in finding his voice, he’s found his tribe. The people who follow him are willing to support his business ventures, his entertainment brands, and vote his crazy ass into the White House. His special brand of crazy resonates with so many people because it’s authentic and consistent.

When I’m working with clients, I try to capture their authenticity and build that consistently into their communications and marketing campaigns. Your authentic voice and message won’t resonate with everyone, but those who get it will become a part of your tribe — the folks who will follow you to the ends of the earth because they believe in what you’re saying and doing.

There is a caution here though… Not everyone can go full-tilt crazy because you just want to “keep it real.” Understand that you might not have the Benjamins, the right connections, the dominant racial identity, or the gender influence to back you up. Donald Trump can afford to lose a few friends, customers and sponsors on his journey to the Oval, but not all of us can, so yes be authentic, but also be sensible.

Another observation that I wanted to share has to do with Ben Carson. I remember going to see a play about his life at a dinner theater in my old town, Columbia, Maryland. I was fascinated by his story and very inspired. He’s an impressive man, obviously a brilliant surgeon and very charming as well.

That said, is anyone else scratching their head about why he’s running for the highest elected office in the land. I mean I’m all for aiming high, but shouldn’t he serve first in his community, county council or even in the state senate? If you are really serious about running the executive branch of government for the United States of America, then shouldn’t you at least hold an elected position on your HOA? I mean something.

The only professional experience he highlighted in his closing speech was his surgical experience, and again, while it was impressive — and humorously put together — I was baffled. His press team needs to come up with something better and more compelling.

Look, I love telling my children and others that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. I don’t want to put limitations on what they might achieve, but there are very real obstacles that you can and should prepare for (see my itemized list above as an example).

Well, I’m excited. News is back in my life, I’m writing for me again and other than that, I’m looking forward to the next sideshow in September.

Written by Shara

August 10, 2015 at 11:59 am

Stereotypes Keep Life Simple and Small

Some people are so sure that they have this life figured out. I’m still working on it, but I do have some navigation advice for those who want to head in a more enlightened direction:

Negative thoughts may cross your mind, but don’t give words life by uttering them. Maybe you aren’t even aware that some thoughts are negative. Try to get in touch with what you’re feeling as things come to mind throughout your day. Deeply examine those thoughts that cause you to feel fear, anxiety, hate or discord. Get to the bottom of your fears, so you don’t speak from a place of ignorance or pain.

Sweeping generalizations about a group or segment of society are often wrong, off base and out of touch. Statements like, “they always…” or “[said group] never …” have no place outside of valid research studies where segments of the population and their actions are clearly defined. Even then, most research results indicate correlation, not causation.

I think some people generalize, stereotype and discriminate to keep their world simple and small. Big and complex can be scary and overwhelming. It’s like organizing… when everything has a place, things run smoothly. So, I think that subconsciously some people find it easier to categorize people like things. And, just like things, they assign a level of importance and value.

I like Oprah’s approach (shocker) to thinking about each person as an individual with a story to tell. Everyone just wants to be heard. Just because my story has similarities to other women, minorities, moms or others doesn’t make it the same story.

My journey is unique. So is yours.

Written by Shara

May 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm