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James Baldwin

In the month of what would be James Baldwin’s 94th birthday, White Supremacists gathered in our Nation’s Capitol on the anniversary of the murder of a Civil Rights activist. Heather Heyer, a young white woman who worked for a black lawyer and thus saw racism even in the eyes, actions, and words of those clients in need of her employer’s expertise, died on the front lines of this long-fought war. In the month of his birth, James Baldwin’s words are incredibly poignant:

            Because on the American continent, they talk about the color problem, but the truth is, that no white American is sure he is white, and every American negro visibly is no longer in Africa. And we know what happened and we know who had the whip.

So it was not my grandmother who raped anybody.

            …Forget all the mountains of nonsense that has been written, and everything that has been said. Forget the negro problem- don’t write any voting acts, we had that, it’s called the 15th Amendment. We don’t need a Civil Rights Bill of 1964. What you have to look at is what is happening in this country. And what is really happening is that brother has murdered brother knowing that it was his brother. White men have lynched negroes knowing them to be their sons. White women have had negroes burned knowing them to be their lovers. It is not a racial problem. It is a problem whether or not you are willing to look at your life and be responsible for it, and then begin to change it. (“Baldwin’s Nigger” documentary, 1965)

In 1965 Horace Ové directed a rawly open documentary, “Baldwin’s Nigger,” in which James Baldwin and Dick Gregory spoke to a room of other people of color “presenting dialogue between black people as if no white people were present” (BFI Screen Online, “Baldwin’s Nigger,” 1965). The documentary is meant to be instructional for White people, to remove the White-washing of previous discussions and debates on race in White spaces; like that found in the debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley (1965). Still, Baldwin was the first to earn a standing ovation for debate at Cambridge.

The crux of the meaning of Baldwin’s words- “It is a problem whether or not you are willing to look at your life and be responsible for it,” places the “negro problem” directly in the laps of those who created it, who continue to invest in it. “We have invented the nigger,” he said in the documentary Take This Hammer in 1963, “I didn’t invent him. White people invented him. … If I am not the nigger, and if it’s true that your invention reveals you, then who is the nigger? … Well, he’s unnecessary to me, so he must be necessary to you. I’m going to give you your problem back: You’re the nigger, baby, it isn’t me.”

Baldwin examines the White problem of attempting to escape the responsibility of creating the “nigger” while at the same time perpetuating their stolen privilege by supporting systems of racism. To put it more straightforward and forthrightly: White people hate themselves. They hate the abject evil their families inflicted on countless other families, the descendants of which they live next to today. They are perpetually attempting to escape the consequences of their wretched past by perpetuating hate of the “nigger-“ but the “nigger” is their own invention. The “nigger” is their brother by rape. When White Americans see Black Americans they see generations of White crime, of White ignorance, of White evil. White Americans hate what they see in Black Americans- themselves; the crimes of their fathers, the crimes they continue to perpetrate and perpetuate in their callow, absurd attempt to outrun history and maintain their privilege.

In 2016 Raoul Peck directed I Am Not Your Negro, based on Baldwin’s unfinished book, This House. Peck, Haitian by descent, said, “It was incredible to see. It’s happening again, almost the same words and the same anger. And then you see that, my God, nothing has changed fundamentally,” which is why Baldwin’s sales are up 110% now, and why blood that is no longer White and no longer Black will continue to spill, until White America holds itself accountable. And it will take more than one Heather Heyer to do so.

 

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Malcolm X Shabazz

The story of Malcolm X Shabazz, as his daughter, Attallah Shabazz calls him, is- well, it is embarrassingly prescient- of what has transpired since X’s assassination, and the direction we are headed in- we’ve allowed White patriarchy (the “white devil”) to separate and conquer us. We were not able to rise above by rising together. Instead, we have fractured as each group has sought to use the tools of White patriarchy to attempt to gain privilege over the other. Whenever tools of White patriarchy- white supremacy- are used, it is only White patriarchy that benefits. From his days as a hustler, X could see a fixed game from a mile away- White patriarchy is about as fixed a game as you can find.

Elijah Muhammad, whom X always viewed as his savior, even after his rift with the Nation of Islam (NOI), had employed White patriarchy in his leadership of the NOI. As X rose in prominence, to maintain personal control, Muhammad hobbled his strongest leader, in order to keep the power of the patriarchal religion in his hands. It is clear, in The Ballot or The Bullet Speech, given to two thousand people before he left on his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, that X had already begun to consider the failures of requiring fealty to religion and religious leaders. At the same time, X stopped short of completely condemning Muhammad, the man whom he still saw as his savior even as he knew Muhammad had ordered his death by the NOI. Perhaps it was because X had sunk so low in his life, and had humbled himself in acknowledging how low he had become, that he was able to see his hero as human, as well; capable of even unthinkable (especially to X) grievous faults.

He saw his heroes as human- those men (and women, though it was tough for him to admit) whom he looked up to or leaned on- he exalted what he saw as their gifts and strengths, while at the same time recognizing their humanity- their own struggle to reach (or fail to reach) what they could become. A struggle X was intimately knowledgeable of; one he never gave up. A philosopher continues to question what others take for granted; even after they have studied exhaustively, they continue to question, always knowing there is more to know. X was a philosopher- he continued to question what he knew, and he continued to change what he knew to be true as he sought and learned new information. Who knows, in the end, he may have even become a feminist, as well as a Civil Rights leader! It was his intelligent flexibility and drive to find and accept new information and adjust direction, to accept the flaws of others as he valued their strengths, that made Malcolm X Shabazz the uniquely deliberate, graceful, and powerful force he was, that still reverberates through our communities today.

Removed from the NOI, and immersed in the practice of Islam on his journey to Mecca, X gained deeper perspective on the religion he thought he had known through Elijah Muhammad; and a wider perspective on how people of different races may live peacefully together. X began to “reappraise” the “white man,” clarifying, “the ‘white man’ as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions. In America, ‘white man’ meant specific attitudes and actions toward the black man, and toward all other non-white men. But in the Muslim world, I had seen that men with white complexions were more genuinely brotherly than anyone else had ever been” (The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley). In America, the white man had destroyed his family: murdering his father (a Civil Rights fighter as well), driving his mother to a breakdown then sending her to a mental hospital for over 25 years, and separating the children; the white man called him a n**ger and told him a n**ger couldn’t be a lawyer, jailed him for sleeping with a white woman (and robbery, though the length of the sentence was clearly a message), and consistently treated him as a threat. The “white man” had no idea just what kind of threat Malcolm X was. Elijah Muhammad knew, and had him assassinated for it.

Helen Handler, wife of M. S. Handler, an international reporter and one of few white men whom X trusted and respected, said of Malcolm after meeting him for the first time in the Handler’s home, “You know, it was like having tea with a black panther.” (This was before the Black Panther Party or the super hero existed.) M. S. Handler explained, “The black panther is an aristocrat in the animal kingdom. He is beautiful. He is dangerous. As a man, Malcolm X had the physical bearing and the inner self confidence of a born aristocrat. And he was potentially dangerous. No man in our time aroused fear and hatred in the white man as did Malcolm, because in him the white man sensed an implacable foe who could not be had for any price.”  Ruby Dee, as well, was awed by X’s graceful power, one of her regrets in life was muffling that power when she asked him to store his iconic rifle away during a meeting and press event in her home. Ossie Davis, her husband, who eulogized Malcolm X Shabazz, perhaps summarizes who X was to us, who he continues to be, most succinctly when he wrote: “…Malcolm kept snatching our lies away. He kept shouting the painful truth we whites and blacks did not want to hear from all the housetops. And he wouldn’t stop for love nor money” (Negro Digest, February 1966). X was good at snatching our lies away because he was constantly snatching his own lies away. No one knew better than X that he was a flawed human living among other flawed humans, that he was not always right, that knowledge is a constant and arduous task- with awesome rewards.

Our Shining Black Prince,” our black panther, our Muslim brother, our Malcolm X Shabazz left us his human story, a legacy and a battle cry (Eulogy, Ossie Davis). “All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient. … I am spending many hours,” he wrote, “because the full story is the best way that I know to have it seen and understood, that I had sunk to the very bottom of the American white man’s society…” and then he rose (Malcolm X).

 

“It’s not you”

There’s a double meaning to this beloved break-up go to that I don’t think is given enough attention.

We all know the generally accepted meaning, especially as it’s almost always accompanied by “I can’t get over this ex,” or “I’m damaged,” or “I’m not in the right place…” The “it’s not you” part is meant to focus on what you have no control over- the other person. You can’t solve this problem. Over. Done. No chance. But, you know, don’t feel badly about it, you can’t do anything about it, so you should be cool, right?

But, it’s also “not you” in another way. It’s not YOU- you’re not the one they’re willing to work for, to try to be with. You’re not the one worth their time and effort to get over their shit. And, let’s be real. We all have shit, baggage, something. “It’s not you” is a lie concealing the truth out in the open: It’s not you – it will be someone else.

Some of you are shaking your heads right now. “No, no, no, It’s TRUE sometimes! It happens. Someone could REALLY like the other person, but it’s bad timing.” But, those of us who know better, who are intimately familiar with “it’s not you-” we know it’s bullshit, trite, and in just a short while, there will be someone else whom “it is.” Could be a week or a month later- how’s that for timing? you were just a week away- but, now it’s someone else. It’s wasn’t you, no, it was them. You see? We’re just not buying this, “it’s not you” line.

Because, if it WAS you- if you were the person they wanted to be with, they considered worth it- you’d be having a completely different conversation, wouldn’t you?

Have the balls, the consideration, to just be real. Say something with actual tones of respect. “Sorry, I just don’t see this long-term,”You’re not the one for me,” “You don’t even watch Breaking Bad.” Whatever, just something less trite and insincere than “it’s not you.”

Taylor Swift, or why women are our own worst enemies

I sat down to write a completely different blog tonight. But when I logged onto WordPress there was a comment waiting for me. Not from one of my amazing loyal readers, but from a troll. Not just any troll, but the woman who stalked me and threatened me after my then boyfriend broke up with me to be with her, whom he was cheating on me with. She stalked and threatened to have me raped after she successfully broke us up. Why?

And why would she, after a year has passed, still be trolling me? Still be reading my blog, following my Instagram and Facebook- and taking the time to write nasty things to me- why?

Which brings us to Taylor Swift, and the completely ridiculous backlash she has received because she has accumulated a posse of some seriously badass women. Women, who like herself, have risen to the top of their game. We should be celebrating this awesome group of friends. Women everywhere should be high-fiving each other, acknowledging what a fucking cool example Swift is, welcoming women into this circle of friends with truly endless potential. Doing what we all can do, what we all should do. Women are the greatest resource of untapped potential in the world. Instead she is met with ridicule and trolls doing what they do best, tearing others down so they don’t feel as diminished as they have made themselves.

I was at a Christmas Eve dinner tonight with one of my best friends. A woman who has been so much to me over the years: a mentor, a boss, a confidant, an older sister, an example, a kindred spirit. And I met yet another of her amazing posse of badass Baltimore women. I left that dinner buoyed by the love of my best friend and her family and friends; men and women who, while they do not agree on all things, respect and acknowledge each others’ worth. The way most Baltimore women behave towards each other is amazing. It is noteworthy. It is a page out of Taylor Swift’s book.

You can’t film a “Housewives of Baltimore” because not one of the women in Baltimore would sell out their friends. For one, we all have too much dirt on each other, but more importantly, we are a breed of woman who believes in climbing together rather than climbing over each other. We know that we reach higher heights when we build each other up instead of wasting time and energy tearing each other down. If you don’t know this about Baltimore women, you’re not one of us. But you can be.

The greatest women in Baltimore are people like Gina Geppi, Sloane Brown, and Jeanine Turner. Women who are never intimidated by other powerful women, but who are encouraged by the power they see in others. They don’t keep the next generation of powerful women out of their circles for fear they will be replaced, they mentor their replacements proudly, ensuring their mark on their city through the next generation of women.

If none of this sounds familiar to you, if you scoff at Taylor Swift and her growing universe of Amazons, if you’re thinking of snarky things to say about this sentence; you’re as hopeless as the woman who, a full year after she broke up my relationship is still so unhappy with herself that she continues to troll me (which just increases my views, of course) and wastes her time and exhausts herself coming up with mean shit to say. Why do that to yourself? Why waste yourself creating misery when you could be so much more, to yourself, to those around you, to the world?

Don’t be your own worst enemy. Be badass Taylor Swift.

Little musings: The slash-professional culture

The first time I heard the term “slash-professional” I was working with my sister on the design of a personal logo and business card. I was debating with a friend on whether I should use a couple different card designs or one, and list the various roles I had. Growing up in a culture where having multiple jobs was looked down upon as proof you were not successful enough in your main occupation to afford the luxury of not needing additional work, copping to my various roles so blatantly seemed perhaps a mistake. Not so, my fiend argued, because the Millennials are making the slash-professional a popular personae.

Given this permission to embrace the slash-professional I didn’t even know I was, I took ownership of this newly-recognized culture and my sister created a logo design illustrating my penchant for multiple creative and productive outlets.  My logo is three commingling shapes of three different colors combining into one shape, with new blended colors. The representation, without initially intending to, seems to embody the slash-professional culture, but also the X Generation.

XGens really created the slash-professional, even while the Millennials make the trend fashionable. The first generation since the depression who will not succeed farther than their parents generation, at least via common modalities, XGens are challenged with chasing a new American Dream. Because A does not lead to B which no longer leads to C- A college education no longer guarantees a successful career path, and the family no longer automatically follows; there is a new American Dream. A dream focused on the individual’s journey to reach the fulfillment of a chosen personal identity. A job is no longer just a job, it is now very much an extension of who you are, how you see yourself, and how others see you. Because a secure career path with one organization is no longer a reality for most people, our values and ideas of a successful work life have changed.

Where once you could be assured a college degree would land you a job with a decent salary and assured growth, XGens (and now Millennials as well) are constantly plagued by the fear of the next layoff, restructuring, or even salary or bonus cut. Promotions, if you can get one without the help of cronyism, do not always come with the salary bumps once assumed. Often, XGens learn they have to leave a company to advance their careers. Hiring managers are fond of blaming young professionals for the lack of company loyalty today, but increasingly, it is the company to blame. The company has a habit now of relying on the moronic excuse of “the economy” to explain why even a cost of living increase is out of the question, let alone significant raises for exemplary performance. “You’re over-qualified” is the popular translation for “We think we can find someone younger who will do the job for less, even if they will not perform as well.” Companies are blatantly capitalizing on maintaining the shrunken salaries of the recession in gross. “We can’t afford to offer more” is bullshit for “Our executives and investors are used to, and happy with increasing their own salaries and bottom lines on the backs of employees.” We are witnessing American Capitalism on steroids, Ayn Rand’s wet dream.

The revolution is the slash-professional. A refusal to struggle against a sucking whirl-pool of corporate bullshit. The slash-professional pools resources from their various ventures to fulfill their needs and wants. A secure job making enough for essentials is combined with passion projects and experimental ventures to create a life worth working for. Passions are exquisitely leveraged into productive forms. Advances in personal business tools create avenues of invention. The options for the slash-professionals are limited only by their drive.

The modern unicorn (or, let’s get narcissistic for a moment)

I often refer to myself as a unicorn. I often refer to certain friends of mine as unicorns. My spirit animal is totally the unicorn. But we are not talking about a My Little Pony version of the unicorn. We are talking about the badass warrior unicorn. A majestic, awesome animal, proud because it stands out.

Unicorns are not easy to come by. They are those people in your life who identify themselves as being different, and are completely comfortable in being apart from everyone else, and when needed, in their loneliness. Being a unicorn is not easy. Our magic comes from knowing ourselves and often being outspoken in being true to our convictions. This is not always popular. We will not demur to societal niceties, we just don’t have time for that. We are interested in moving forward, growth and making change in our worlds.

We have some awesome allies, if not fellow unicorns, in our lives. Our herds are small. We don’t need an audience, though sometimes we sure do appreciate one. We know that if we just reach the right people, we are good. Sometimes our friends just tolerate us. We are not always easy. When you know early on, as unicorns do, that you are different from others, you tend to go about life a little differently. And by “different” that is not to say necessarily better; in fact for a long time you probably feel like a complete freak- which, let’s face it, horn growing out of your forehead, you totally are. But you know you are who you are, and who you are is not like the others. And as a unicorn, you don’t have time to apologize for that. (You would spend your lifetime apologizing for being different if you did.)

So, it is not always easy being a unicorn’s friend. Which is why we are fiercely loyal to our friends. It also takes a long time for a unicorn to know they have found a friend, because so many people will grow tired of us, or envious or decide we are just too weird. We absolutely appreciate those of you who stick it out with us for the long haul. We know we owe you one. A big one.

Each unicorn is spectacular in their own ways. (And they know it.) They might be called arrogant or prideful. But it’s not that, it’s just the refusal to concede modesty gets us anywhere. Don’t be modest about your accomplishments and abilities. If you are modest, no one will know your strength, and it will go to waste. Unicorns want to share what they are with the world. They want to give what they can to make things better. We won’t pretend to be less than we are, because that means we are less effective at reaching our goals.

I’m going to assume some people read this and thought, Wow, she thinks a lot of herself. And others maybe, Hey, I think I’m a unicorn, too, or at least, I want to be one! And perhaps, Damn, I know a unicorn! (That Bob, he’s quite the sleeper unicorn.) Whatever it is you got out of this short musing, I hope there is one thing you will take away with you: Unicorns exist.

The fresh fashion of Flash Tattoos

You may have heard about the new trend for beach fashion this summer: Flash Tattoos. These temporary tattoos are metallic, in silver, gold, and black. Depending on your skin care regime, they will last for one to two weeks. And they are the perfect answer to those of us who want to maintain our glamour while sunbathing, without the possibility of damaging or losing our jewels. Or pair them with a sundress or chic evening ensemble for just the right summer shimmer.

Kiss N Makeup in Hampden (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kiss-N-Make-Up/73730544517) was the first place to carry Flash Tattoos in Baltimore last year. Now you can find them at Cloud 9 locations (http://www.cloud9clothing.us/) and South Moon Under in Harbor East. Or go straight to the source: http://www.flashtat.com/.

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Wear your Flash in the traditional style of jewelry…

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Go boho with it…

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Be a hot stepper…

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Mix it with your 3-D jewelry…

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Or embrace the tat.

Don’t let the sun be the shiniest thing on the beach this year!