Social Justice

#MillenialWomanism: Excerpt of a Collaboration of Thinking Women of Faith, Healing, & Activism

An excerpt from the #MillenialWomanism forum, curated by Liz Alexander & Melanie Jones

“The current iteration of my work as a “millennial womanist” started as an approximately six person online book club, a website domain name purchase, and a post about “inheriting mysticism from my Christian other-mothers”. Up until that point, my M. Ed journey in Higher Education / Student and subsequent years spent working in university contexts had me informally considering the many ways in which students of color learn and / or unlearn toxic theological lenses that might impede upon their identity development. Additionally, my own “biomythography” [i] writing allowed me some space to unpack how I was unlearning toxic theological lenses. I didn’t go into any of this work considering that I would be contributing to the emerging millennial womanist framework and I didn’t understand how quickly the work would expand. However, I realized that if I needed more formal space to question how the Christian faith intersected with the lived experiences of Black women, queer people of color, persons with chronic illnesses & disabilities, etc., others might need it too.

Thus, the online book club grew to a closed group platform whose formal outcome is to support “those who are seeking solidarity, community, and intersectionality as they navigate feelings, experiences, and questions that come with theological shifts”. It is a fully affirming, recommendation only space, with a community library, and dialogue series on a range of topics. The domain name purchase, jadetperry.com, became a way for me to do autoethnography work around matters of inherited spirituality, womanism, and more. Perhaps most surprisingly, the post on inheriting mysticism from Christian other-mothers grew into co-founding a non-profit called Mystic Soul, which seeks to center the voices and indigenous spiritual practices of people of color “from the Christian tradition and beyond”.

Currently, I am working with other millennial womanist scholars to consider theory on sexuality for Black churched women, curating a specialized list of resources for holistic wellness, and more informally, supporting the spiritual processes of faith & community leaders by offering intuitive tarot readings & pursuing reiki certification. The “sacred platforms” on which I stand most often often bring me into “hybrid” (interspiritual & interdisciplinary) spaces to work with visual artists, storytellers, scholars, preachers & ministers, reiki healers and acupuncturists – all working towards the collective healing & wellness of Black women. It has been a work of healing justice and decolonizing spiritual practices. It remains difficult to find a singular definition for this type of work, because it is continuously revealing itself…”

“So, I approached my spiritual activism work with an ethos similar to that of interdisciplinary millennial womanist & popular R&B singer, Solange Knowles: “We aren’t thanking anyone for ‘allowing us’ into these spaces… until we are truly given the access to tear the got damn walls down” [ii]. I don’t believe that the assertion here is that gratitude is inappropriate or that access to additional opportunities are unnecessary. I believe it channels an ethos connected to the millennial womanist framework of “moving beyond respectability politics with an intentional call for recognition and reciprocity”. Moreover, I believe millennial womanism envisions our work by moving through walls, when necessary, and at times, disregards the niceties that keep walls intact…”

For the FULL piece, click here!

Because I’m Not Solely Writing About DT for the Next 4 Years

I. I had so many disclaimers when this topic wouldn’t leave me alone (and if you’re a writer, you know exactly how it feels to be gently pursued by – or completely annoyed by – a topic or idea):

What would I write about if our dreams of justice were realized and I didn’t need to write specifically about (insert social justice issue here)? Why would that thing be important to say?

My first disclaimers served as comfort blankies… faux “brand protections” for a landscape that’s already so shaped by the think-piece culture.
Here’s how that story goes: a) See instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully), c) Be ‘yaaaas-ed’, d) Likes and shares, and e) More work comes until… a) Next instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully).

Endlessly responding.

To be clear, it is important to write specifically about social justice – now more than ever. It is important for us to respond to the ways that this capitalist state, this militarized and increasingly militarizing state, impacts the lives of those who are marginalized. It is important for us to respond when patriarchy threatens to crush our dreams, regulate our reproduction, mansplain us away, and stalk us into silence. It is important for us to call out the system of racism for what it is – White supremacy. Now, more than ever, with the threatening rhetoric AND action (let’s be clear) of 45 – we’ve got to resist.

But it is also important for us to continue telling our stories… to our audiences. It is important for us to take respites from the White gaze that pursues us upon each waking moment – especially in the realm of our writing & dreaming spaces.

II. I think about Toni Morrison whenever I’m hopelessly stuck with writer’s block. I have no shortage of things to write about. There is no shortage of things to say. It’s just that there’s so much noise:  links subtly dropped into my inbox with the not-so-subtle hints to do more, work harder, “Say both your words AND mine-for-me. Give me digestible works that I can quickly share with my (racist, ableist, homo-antagonistic) facebook friends”. Chile…

This has only increased with the rise of DT aka 45 aka Trumplethinskin”.

But I know that balance is important – especially if we’re going to find sustainable ways forward. I know there’s another way to exist in my creative & dreaming space – largely because Toni Morrison already said there was:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”– Toni Morrison, “Black Studies Center public dialogue,” Portland State University, May 30, 1975

You can literally google the words Toni Morrison and ‘white gaze’. It won’t be long until you realize that she’s not here for it. She’s not here to write under it. She’s not here for it to hang over her head, endlessly bossing her into writing. If we could have coffee, I think she would tell me that I could do better than chaining my writing to such a rickety carriage – heading down such a dead-end road.

And so…

I want to advocate here, kinfolk, for us to continue sharing our stories and realities. This doesn’t mean that the landscape of those stories won’t include the social justice issues of our time – but it is important to also resist being denied the space to tell the fullness of our stories – imagining, as Toni Morrison did, our creative works without speaking directly to an all-consuming gaze. It’s a petrifying and exhilarating exercise… but if I did it…

III. If I did it…

I wouldn’t worry about standard grammar. Seriously. I wouldn’t. I try not to police my writing on this platform, as it is. But after this point, I would give negative fuxx.

Because the speech that comes from my bones, while socioculturally informed, sounds just like music, has different rules altogether, and sits somewhere between the verbal and the nonverbal. It’s the side-eye that tells us what the deal is. It’s the spot between text and
tumblr_inline_n3kadmaeei1r1vge3

I would talk with Toni Morrison, August Wilson, and Zora Neale Hurston about writing in dialect, studying how to write Philadelphian AAVE dialect with both precision and beauty. I would diagram North Philly dialects, using Philly rappers like “It’s a cold winter, ya’ll ***** bettah bundoo up” . Then, I would do an analysis of how my speech morphed from:

LAWUHN (Philadelphia) to
[lawn?!?!] (living in the Southeast. I was sociolinguistically all over the place) to
LOHN (Midwest)

I would tell more of my stories. I come from a long line of Black American storytellers. My aunts, uncles, and father can roll their trip to the grocery store into 45 minutes of entertainment with a life lesson at the end. For example…

My family was fighting at the 2008-2009ish reunion. I don’t remember why. I do remember that my cousin processed this issue by telling a story about friends who enjoyed waffles, friends who enjoyed pancakes, and how both of those breakfast dishes needed syrup. Therefore, it’s wise to share your syrup if both parties want to stay away from dry ass breakfast dishes. It’s also wise to choose your fights when it comes to family, if you can help it.

I would tell ya’ll the stories – in my own tongue – about how I’m always doing the most. This is not self-deprecation. I’ve taken a poll and most of my friends… and coworkers… agree. Doing the most… is what I do. You want a report? Chile, you’re getting report, graphics, and a sequined outfit when I present the report to you. I could literally have a series of “Doing the Most” Chronicles. I would always have something to write about and we would both be cackling.

I would talk about how my students are always teaching me. Last week, I learned that references to the popular 90’s / early 2000s group 112 don’t go over well with younger millenials. Last quarter, I learned about a student’s analysis on the process of gentrification to the ethos of Manifest Destiny. (Chile, my students come the f*** through with an analysis).

I would take one week to do an ethnography of nail fashion trends in all the places that I’ve lived. Because, this is how I do. Also, my nail tech and I are tired of ya’ll asking for French manicures and boxy ass filed nails (nells– as we call them in Philadelphia).

nells

Nails done by @luxurinails, Jewelry by @mashallah_us

And outside of the gaze, and if my Momma slash employers didn’t also read this blog (I think?? Chile, idk) – I would write more readily about how I went from purity culture chastity maven to throw it in a circle ten times past Sunday life. And still get blessed.

So, #52essays2017 is an exercise to “build my writing muscle” indeed. It’s also a chance for me to stretch into the fullness of my human experience, tell my stories, and resist 45 taking up all of the creative oxygen in the damn place.

Featured image credit: Createherstock.com

What the [Cuss] to Say While Suffering?

“When did you begin experiencing Writer’s Block”?
“After the election…”
“How does that feel”?

I get it. The point of therapy is to talk about our thoughts and feelings – the ones that threaten to undo us subtly, bit by bit. Breaking our resolve in increments. Or the ones that come flooding into our minds and hearts before we can even catch them. Knocking us on our asses. Forcing us to see them.

But I did not want to talk about this.

“It sucks. Like, it literally just sucks. You can make up all kinds of philosophy about why Trump’s election sucks. Sure, we are reckoning with the practices of White supremacy in new ways due to his impending office / administration. We’re also reckoning with the fact that he doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – in a literal sense, he doesn’t seem to know what a “President” does. But no matter how many angles I take to look at this – the bottom line is that it sucks. How do I feel? I feel that it sucks… on a deep, subconscious level”. 

I always imagine my favorite writers sitting at their desks with a steaming hot cup of tea or coffee. I imagine their well formed thoughts – sounding immediately beautiful all the page. I also know this vision is oft-times, a scam.

And I thought about my friends who must address people after “the Tower” has crashed: after all of our constructions about the world we live in have been violently toppled. I thought about the friends who write and preach – who create art and engage in direct action. And I thought, “So, what the (expletive) does one say…”

Especially now that the one thing I don’t want to say is even the name of the newest President-to-be. I figured if his presence could be absent from my written world, perhaps I could deal with it a bit more in the material world. I also know that vision is a scam.

I found my words this evening, as I reflected on a Dharma talk by Buddhist monk Ajahn Achalo (Peace Beyond Suffering). In “Waking up to Deeper Peace”, he explains that the monks begin the morning chant that goes a bit like this:

“Birth is suffering”

Acknowledging this, he asserts, is a step toward less suffering. (I’ll be reflecting on this for a GOOD while).

As a note of review, I was raised in a nondenominational Christian tradition. While we had some view of suffering (especially the suffering of Jesus), there were also implications that “if we lived right” there was also a chance of circumventing this type of thing. Another popular theory in that space is our experiences of suffering were due to cosmic battles between Light & Dark. Thus, it flowed that all suffering – from cranky coworkers to cars that ran out of gas – were game to be included in the endless “tricks of the enemy (the Devil)”.

I moved away from these theories long ago, in my teenage years, but that doesn’t mean they have left my subconscious. So, I battled with my thoughts: What in the literal and figurative heavens were the Deities DOING? I heard many theories on that question in the weeks that followed. Some were okay. Some, I understood and believed (’cause no one can tell me that White supremacy isn’t demonic). Others were… well…

There is immense pressure to explain away why things happen the way they do. On both a spiritual / cosmic level. And on a material level. To a large degree, I appreciate this. Let’s be clear: I spent a good amount of time constructing a theory of my own work that is based on Critical Race Theory and sociological concepts. In that respect, I can tell you precisely why this happened – this upswing of fuckery…

Yet, as I reflected on the dharma talk I realized that right now, the message (for me) is to first acknowledge the suffering and the potential to suffer due to circumstances BOTH inside and outside of our control. Internally facing the fuckery that is to come is… It’s brave. It readies us. It steadies us. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight against it. But as someone who does a lot of “addressing”, I’m feeling rather done with the empty platitudes of “It’s going to be okay” and “The Deities are in control”. Perhaps, they are. But that does not provide me with any “today” comfort.

Right now, my synopsis and synthesis is…
This sucks. 

This present moment. Sucks.
And at the same time, I’m still here. As my good friend, *Jae says, “I’m still. the fawk. here”( say it aloud until you get it 🙂 ).

My amazing friend Alicia just got back from Standing Rock, in solidarity with the Water Protectors. From the trip, she found this beautiful mural by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, in Oklahoma City, OK:
credit-tatyana-fazlalizadeh-wheat-pasted-oklahoma-city-ok

So, the inhale on which I acknowledge “This sucks”, becomes the exhale that “We’re here”. And because of this, our intentions and commitments for moving forward are important. I believe this deeply.

So, I’ve spent some time lamenting, some time doing some deep facing-of-fears, and some time making my commitments a bit more clear. I can’t say that this will help you, reader, as much as it does me – but that is my sincere hope. Join me in these commitments, if you can, and let’s see what we can do together:

And neither are you.

Dating with Chronic Illness(es): Healing Conversations with Sister-Friends

The constant, chronic pain hummed at a 3 in the electric wiring of my body. Through each city block, my body spoke to me, “Okay, slow down”. First, an uncomfortable warmth in my feet, hips, and lower back. Then, a distinguishable ache. Finally, sharp pain. We got to the bakery just in time for me to sit and re-group.

Our double date was wonderful in every respect – good food, great friends, in a city that we love. Yet, when we sat down with our pastries and coffee, our conversation pivoted quite a bit from those things.

“Yo, I’m not sure many people understand what it’s like to date with a chronic illness that isn’t visible”

This conversation was called into the space by my sister-friend, Jené  Colvin (whose awesomeness really does surpass words). It was the conversation that engaged us until the bakery closed for the night. It was a time to vent, to acknowledge this reality, and on some soul-level, to continue healing. Our partners sat in (mostly) quiet reflection, open body language, and a few knowing nods along the way.

This was the start of a brainstorming process for the things we’ve learned about dating with chronic illness(es) along the way. We want to share those things with you.

It’s important for you to know that we present our knowledge and lived experience to you with both anticipation and trepidation. For me, it is the continuation of a project I started (got scared of, and then stopped) a year ago. Typically, we both tend to be extremely reserved about the life cycle of our romantic relationships. Yet, through our conversation, we’ve realized that this is the moment to open up about this.

As a note, for the sake of “not all our business needs to be out on these Internet streets”, I will not directly name the chronic illnesses involved – unless it serves a key point. Jené’s comments will be marked with JAC, and my comments will be indicated by JTP. It is my great hope that this information is helpful for you as you reflect, adjust, engage, (and – lowkey / highkey – dismantle ableism).

Disclosing Chronic Illnesses

JTP: I’ve had some very interesting first date scenarios when it comes to disclosing an illness. Let me say from the gate, I still haven’t found a rigid, catch-all rubric for disclosing a chronic illness in a romantic setting. For example, the first time I met up with V in person, I knew that I would have to disclose some potentially uncomfortable things. I honestly didn’t know how that would sound:

“Yes, I’d love to go out to eat with you! But because of a chronic illness that impacts my digestive system, we just might end up going home a little earlier than anticipated if my body decides it just isn’t having it”.

“A walk around the park sounds lovely! Also, I’ve got chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet and this impacts my overall gait. So, if I stop in the middle of a ‘moment’ to stretch, then that’s why…”

“I promise I’m so excited to be with you right now! Yes… that’s exactly why I’m breaking out all over. My body has an interesting way of processing adrenaline…”

Sometimes, my body decides to be incredibly kind and sweet. Other times? Well…

chronic-illness-cat

Photo credit: Chronic Illness Cat, Facebook page

With V, I ended up disclosing very early on in the process because of the circumstances. In other situations, I waited a bit longer. There have been times I’ve disclosed and ‘potential bae’s’ have looked at me in shock, surprise, and even… fear. (Needless to say, they didn’t last very long). There have also been times I’ve disclosed, expecting fear, and have been met with deep understanding.

It takes a lot to disclose because of the stigmas we have around health. In a society that hinges itself on capitalism and production, saying, “I have chronic illness(es)” can be seen as a detriment. Oftentimes, people go immediately to, “Have you tried (insert random healthy thing here)” – going to the remedy. Understand that chronic illness means… chronic. That’s not to say that there is no possibility of wellness or even complete healing. It just means that most chronic illnesses happen and will happen across a long period of time, or even a lifetime. (And yes, I do have to say this because too many people ask, “Are you better yet”?)

I don’t have a ‘thesis of disclosing’, and I’m not sure that a neatly-written script is possible in every case. What I’m here to share is that since we are all temporarily able-bodied (read up on Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory and get clear on that), disclosure is a very real part of life. So, it should be met with honor, care, concern, and confidentiality (when we share something with you… we’ve shared something with you).

Going Out!

JTP: In my experience, going on on dates has been great, as long as we think creatively and carefully about everyone’s access / accommodation needs. (Which, honestly, is just good general practice. You should be doing this even in friend outings. I try not to use a lot of ‘shoulds’ in my writing, but really… it’s 2016… like… think about people’s accessibility needs).

It’s important for both of us to be mindful: is there seating around a particular venue? How long is the walk to the venue? Should I bring an assistive walking device? If someone approaches me about my handicap placard because I don’t “look sick” (yes… it happens… a lot), who will deflect the individual that day so that our date isn’t spoiled? Whose got the medicine? What does the menu look like (for dietary needs)? In the event of an illness flare up, what is our emergency plan?

Perhaps this doesn’t sound sexy. But knowing that someone cares about your safe and enjoyable access is body-roll-worthy-do-you-hear-me?!!! It’s important to extend this framework to anyone that you’re planning to go out with (in any capacity). Practicing equitable relationships and bae-ships includes being mindful of accessibility and accommodations.

Communication Ain’t a Game

JAC: You might have to come up with your own language for what is going on so that communication is easy on bad days. It’s been really helpful for my partner and I to use an alert system for anxiety. For example, “We’re having a red / orange / yellow day” (as opposed to a ‘green day’).

It’s important to share that and to share what helps / what hinders in communication. As an example, being told “It’s okay” can be the worst thing to hear at times. It’s nice to know that your partner isn’t mad at you, doesn’t blame you, still loves you, and understands the situation. But “It’s ok” really may not be the best way to communicate that. Sometimes, “It’s okay” is like nails on the chalkboard.

It might be okay for you that we can’t have sex because fibroids are making me feel like my body isn’t mine this week – which peaks my anxiety – which makes sex too hard to engage in. You might not be mad at me for that. Yet, I might be furious and frustrated that I can’t be intimate in that way, at that time. I’m not okay. So, I don’t want you to tell me it’s okay.

In regards to overall communication, you should be able to talk to your partner about chronic illness. But you won’t always be able to talk to your partner about your illness
you just won’t. Sometimes, they won’t get it. Sometimes, it’ll frustrate you. So, you’ve got to have some other folks to lean on. You also don’t have to expend extra energy making someone else feel okay about not being able to fully understand.

JTP: Right, and that’s why I appreciate the community I’ve found with other people who suffer from chronic illnesses. I’ve found a lot of this community online, in the humor of Chronic Illness Cat. There are some things that my partner doesn’t understand, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care about it.

I’ve found that asking, “Can I help” and then, “How can I help” gets us to solutions fairly quickly. There are times that my body is just going to do whatever it wants to do. So, “Can I help” is just a good starting point. From there, we can decide what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s as easy as, “Please put your hand on my back so that I can have a bit more support”, or “Please pass me the Motrin from my bag”. It sounds over-simplified when written but in times where my body is being very… demonstrative… it’s an efficient practice.

Maintaining Balance and Respecting Boundaries

JAC: It’s important to figure out what still makes you feel like partners. There will be times where they are caring for you because you just can’t. It’s already hard feeling like a grown ass person when your illnesses tell you, “You can’t”. But your relationship shouldn’t make you feel like their child, the burden, or diminish your dignity.

There has to be mutuality in the relationship.

JTP: Right, and these can be practical things. Often, standing for long periods of time can take a toll on my body. This means that household chores such as doing the dishes can be a bit taxing. Mutuality means that I’m being honest about those things and contributing in the areas that I can, when I can. Mutuality also means that the limitations of my body are being respected and that I’m respecting the limitations of my partner’s body.

JAC: Healthy boundaries also include getting acquainted with the ways we apologize for our illnesses without saying the word, Sorry. Sometimes, we can apologize without using words (by overextending ourselves). When we don’t take care of ourselves, shit can get out of hand very quickly! Arguments and fights are often at the end of that barrel and often, you don’t even know how you got there. So, try to gauge the things that you do with / in / through your body as a way of trying to ‘apologize’ for an illness.

On Intimacy #Bodyroll

JAC: Sex requires SO much communication and your needs will CHANGE. This is true of sexual interaction in any relationship, but it’s also real when you have to juggle your desires with what your body is actually capable of.

JTP: That definitely requires some concentrated unpacking. So, perhaps a Pt. II blog post would be best. I think it’s good to rest here and pick it up again later. At this point, I’ll also open this up for my other spoonies, friends, and family who live with chronic illnesses. If you’re interested in unpacking what dating, intimacy, life, etc. with chronic illness is like, please do contact me here! I would be honored to hear your stories!

Click here to read pt. II.

 

 

 

 

Creation in the Time of Death

“They ain’t tryna’ to see me shine, shine
Bullet on my time, time
But fuck it, I’ll live forever…” -NoName, Telefone, Track: Forever

One of the hardest questions I’m asked is, “What is your creative process?” It’s even more difficult to answer from where I’m sitting in history today.

At this moment, I’m alive in a nation of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. At this moment, #BlackLivesMatter is the rallying cry – the reality that we deserve to live and to thrive. This cry has consistently been met with the pithy and subversively racist #AllLivesMatter cry – diverting focus from those whose Black bodies are being ripped from our Black souls in these United States of America.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the death of Korryn Gaines – a 23 year old mother whose home was broken into by the police – after her on some bullshit traffic violations. This encounter ended with her murder, the wounding of her son, and her story obscured and picked apart.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the deaths of Joyce Queweay, who passed because her boyfriend and his friend thought they would teach her a lesson about “submission” to male authority. She was murdered. And at this moment, I’m grieving the death of Skye Mockabee, a transwoman, murdered and left in a parking lot.

My sisters are being murdered. My brothers are being murdered, too. And everyone’s fighting about the fucking details.

And someone’s asking me about what my creative process is. Now.

I’ve never been more sure of the importance of writing, rapping, singing, sharing personal and cultural pain, joy, healing, lament, and strategy. I’ve never been more convinced that the writers of color are called to be the griots, healers, and purveyors of cultural / ancestral knowledge. There is necessity of creation in the time of death.There is something healing about the practice of wrangling cohesion from chaos – even if the healing happens only in the Self.

But this shit is heavy. It gets heavy. And it BEEN heavy.

“What’s your creative process?”

These days? Cry a bit. Write. Wipe tears. Cry a lot. Stop crying. Feel numb. Writers aren’t made of numbness. Stare out the window, and look at what is alive. Trees. Birds. The moth that just settled on the window. Write a bit. Stop writing. Allow my sisters to sing and speak to me…

“And I’m afraid of the dark
Blue and the white
Badges and pistols rejoice in the night
And we watch the news
And we see him die tonight” -Noname, Telefone, Track: Casket Pretty

Allow my sisters to write me through:

Erica Thurman’s, Black Folks Are Dying and I Just Keep Buying Lipstick. And Crying: On the Emotional and Economic Expense of Existing Through Trauma
The Churched Feminist’s, Litany For Black Children Who Became Collateral Damage
Brittney Cooper’s, Connect The Dots: For Korryn Gaines, Skye Mockabee and Joyce Quaweay
Nicole JhanRhea’s, Korryn Gaines I Speak Your Name

Try really hard not to play the videos or recount the events. End up doing both of those things anyway. Hoping that somehow they could live forever. Knowing that they will, somewhere, even if in the Remembrances of their Stories and the Saying of their Names. Lavishing sisterly love on them, carefully listening for the lessons they want to teach me, and wishing them well from the other side – from this fucked up plane of reality.

 

On Charleston & the Twisted “Luxuries” of Ignorance

I’ve been avoiding my inbox for an entire week after hearing news of the hate crime that took place in Charleston, SC. White supremacist, Dylan Roof, walked into Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church and killed 9 Black people who were gathered to worship and study the Bible. A full recap of the events has already been done by others. As I think about the brothers and sisters lost to this violence, I can feel my body tensing up, my breathing becoming more shallow… at the realization that yet & still, Black people in America are targeted with hate, vitriol, and lethal violence in our places of worship.

On the morning that I heard the news, I was on my way into the Black church to celebrate the life of someone very close to me who had passed away. When I returned from services, my inbox was inundated with requests to process what happened in Charleston. I’ve avoided them for a week.

There was no time to grieve or to make sense of the deep tragedy and horror of it.

There was no time to wrap my mind around the fact that the shooter, Dylan Roof, chose the church because he intentionally wanted to kill Black people and intentionally wanted to start a race war. There was no time to wrap my mind around the fact that the Black church has been a place of solidarity and being known for me and for so many others – a sacred space.

I had not yet had time to consider the 5 year old girl, who played dead, in order to live… when the inbox messages started pouring in…Very few of them were from people of color and most of them read to the tunes of, “I don’t understand… what’s going on”,  “Can you explain to me how…” and “But, I don’t see color”.

What they communicated said a lot about of one of the twisted luxuries of privilege: ignorance.

There are a few kinds of ignorance that I’m referring to here (please note this is NOT a comprehensive list): 1) Ignorance about what happened in Charleston, 2) Ignorance about its historical roots and significance, 3) Ignorance about its implications.

1) In regards to ignorance on what happened in Charleston:

Expecting Black America to solely carry the burdens of ignorance on racial & social justice is unfair and tiring. But expecting Black Americans to explain and recount a hate crime against Black Americans in Charleston, SC… falls a bit farther on the ridiculous – and – crass side. It is a thinly veiled communication that even the simple act of searching for information was too inconvenient or too much of a task… even when the very lives of 9 Black people were taken by a White supremacist, during their weekly Bible study gathering.

Conversely, Black people in America absolutely MUST understand the ways in which White supremacy works THEN HOW TO COMBAT IT… in order to survive. I’m not talking about survival in a philosophical sense; I’m talking about our very lives. What Mamie Till expressed upon learning of the brutal murder of her son Emmitt Till still speaks truth: “…that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all”. This is something that many in Black America know. This is something that has been interwoven into our anecdotes for as long as I can remember.

Quite a number of scholars have talked about this concept, this luxury, and this type of ignorance. Dr. Francis E. Kendall (2002) explains:

“While people of color understand the necessity of being able to read the white system, those of us who are white are able to live out our lives knowing very little of the experiences of people of color. Understanding racism or whiteness is often an intellectual exercise for us, something we can work at for a period of time and then move on, rather than its being central to our survival. Further, we have the luxury of not having to have the tools to deal with racial situations without looking incompetent…”

So when people rely solely on their friends / colleagues of color to recount the (Googleable) events of the hate crime in Charleston, there is the subtle implication: you were not willing to put forth an extra effort to discern what happened for yourself. You were not willing to “make it your business, as well”.

[Note: The Post and Courier published a highly detailed piece on the shooting of the 9 beautiful souls at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. You can find that here]

2) In regards to ignorance on historical roots and significance:

As we grieve what happened at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. the minimal amount of commitment to social justice and reconciliation demands that we search, read, and understand what happened. At the very least, we should work to understand what is going on and why Roof’s actions were motivated and spurred on by White supremacy. If you, white allies and the like, are committed to understanding the plight AND walking with Black Americans at this moment you can read this information from sources that promote justice & equity for Black people in America. You can read articles from people of color that are already written on this subject. And while you’re reading, you can also ask the questions: a) Where is this article posted & what is the significance of this forum / site / format? b) Who wrote this article? What is their lens & expertise? c) When was this article written and how is it relevant to current events? d) What is the main argument of this article? and e) With all of these things in mind, will this reading help me to understand and unpack the lethal, psychological, emotional, and physical implications that White supremacist notions /practices have on Black lives?

Write down further questions that you may have. Go down to the sources cited, refer to the many works in the Charleston syllabus (curated via Dr. Chad Williams) for texts that unpack the history of Black lives in America, click on the hyperlinked texts, see if they answer some of your questions, and do not put the burden solely on people of color to do this work for you.

In regards to ignorance on the implications of this act:

An implication, as defined by dictionary.com, can mean: “the act of implicating or indicating that one or more persons may be involved, as in a crime”. We understand that Dylan Roof was the one who showed up in the church to kill 9 Black lives… but we also need to understand that the systemic killing of Black people has been displayed throughout history. “One or more persons have been involved…” explicitly and implicitly in the brutal murdering of Black lives in America, throughout history, based on racism and White supremacy.

And so… thinking about what happened in Charleston as an isolated incident WITHOUT also thinking about the tangled web of White supremacy that was weaved in America is a lazy and futile thought process. It is not enough to chalk it up to “one bad person who did a very bad thing”. As our nation erupts with hate crime after hate crime, our due diligence and reasonable service is to consider, “How did people LEARN such hate? Where did they learn it? How was this hate affirmed?

As you complete some of the readings on historical roots and significance, much of this will be unpacked [as you will find, violence against Black people in their churches by White supremacists has happened many times before, but that is just the tip of the deep, deep, injustices].

Yet there is also another step to combating the ignorance that hinders systemic change: asking and answering the questions, “Is there ANYWHERE in the system that I have entered and engage in (i.e. healthcare system, justice system, sacred institutions, institutions of higher learning, etc) where I have not challenged or considered where these ideas might have been fostered (in our legacy) and might still BE festering (in our praxis)”?

As we consider how to respond to the hate crime in Charleston, there are some very concrete things we can do. For some, it is continuing to grieve, engage in self care, and strengthening ourselves to call out injustices where and when we find them. For some, it is deliberately choosing to put down the twisted luxuries of ignorance – for ignorance often gives way to apathy. It is choosing to understand, publicly denounce (and by publicly, I mean, not via inboxes or whispered words), and organize against the perniciousness of White supremacy. Our lives, Black lives, are at stake.

Image Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

“Mother, Mother…”: On Mass Media’s Re-Imagining of Toya Graham

“Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today…” – Marvin Gaye, What’s Goin’ On

I had not yet finished processing my thoughts on the uprising in Baltimore & the death of Freddie Gray – a young Black man who made eye contact with a police officer, ran, and ended up with a severed spine…while in police custody. I was having discussions both online and offline about this when a viral video seemed to surface “out of thin air”. The video featured a mother, Toya Graham, seen beating her child with her fists on national television for participating in social protest, wearing a mask, and throwing rocks. It was not long after a friend showed me the video that mass and social media was lauding her as the ‘Mom of the Year’. The comments that I saw ranged from exclamations of her great parenting skills to admonitions for other parents to do the same thing if their child was ‘out there’. But I honestly could not join in the celebration – the video and the corresponding media reception left me with a sense of dread…

I am not a parent and don’t know much about parenting. I will put that out there early on and let you know that I am not commenting on Toya Graham’s parenting skills. I can only imagine the type of fear she described in her television appearances – a fear that the next Black man left dead in police custody or because of police involvement would be her son. I know that fear as a sister… as a partner… as a friend… but not as a mother. This piece will not even scratch the surface of what Toya Graham’s parenting skills or choices were in that moment.

Yet there are two things I do know about. I know about systemic injustice and I know about the ways in which popular media can & will spin a story or craft a message. I know this not only because I study it, but because I work within two realms – higher education & writing / journalism. I know the ways in which the media can use an individual’s actions to craft a narrative, most times unbeknownst to the individuals involved. So, choosing to report honestly & fairly is a matter of ethics. And American mass media really doesn’t have a proven track record of great ethics when it comes to reporting about race in America.

So, what’s at play here, with our ‘Mom of the Year’ – and the way the media has re-imagined her? If we center the thought and dialogue process on whether this mother was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, then we miss a bigger point about the media’s messaging TO, FOR, and ABOUT people & parents of color. Media is about imagery. And the imagery that we get from mainstream media is already supporting a national narrative of people of color. Not until this moment, has mainstream media had ANYTHING positive to say about Black parenting, specifically.

So, with that in mind, I have to pause and reflect on WHY the mainstream is now media lauding a mother of color – not for marching with her son… not even for pulling her son away from the crowds and sternly admonishing him to get home quickly – but for beating her son in the midst of a protest scene. We have to reflect on that imagery… in other words, how does that image contribute to the national mainstream media narrative about / around people of color?

Is it a coincidence that after being completely silent (and many times berating and condescending about) the parenting skills of people of color… this woman beating her brown son is now touted as an image for the “Mother of the Year”…? I cannot assume it is.

As I looked at the video clip and read comments from people of color and non-POC’s, I could not help comparing media imagery across two mediums – news and creative film / movies. In the film, 12 Years a Slave, there is a scene where the protagonist, Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), is instructed to beat Patsy (played by Lupita N’yongo) as punishment for a minor “disobedience” against her oppressors. Before this beating, she cries out, “I rather it be you…”

What amazes me is hearing a similar cry via social media & offline discussion in the forms, though the relationship displayed in the viral video is not the same as Patsy & Solomon’s. Through my news feed, a repetitive message thrummed, “I rather it be me beating my son instead of the police”, “The woman cares about her son – her beating him is the lesser of the two outcomes…” In the media’s re-imaging of Toya Graham, she is “the lesser of two evils”, as evidenced in CBS’ interview of her and her son as Charlie Rose, CBS correspondent, described that her son had respect & fear of her and her “right hook”.

Though I am not a parent, I cannot completely distance myself from the fear that Toya Graham may have felt. I fear that my friends who engage in political / social protest may not come home. I fear that police brutality will be allowed to continue indefinitely without any accountability from the American government or systemic policy. I feel a tightening in my chest each time I see a police car, roaming down the street, even though I have done nothing unlawful. If I saw a loved one engaged in protest and throwing rocks / bricks, I have no idea what I would have done. Though we can consider the emotional responses of individuals we have to also consider the fact that enacting violence on Black & brown bodies in public spaces, for mass consumption, is codified in an American legacy. It is a function of white supremacy and oppression at its root. How & why? Because in the end, whether it be by a caring mother or a police officer… a brown body is bought ‘into order’ by physically beating. The question is not whether Toya Graham was right or wrong. The question is, How long will we have to beat our own in order to ‘keep them safe’ from oppression…?

People of color beating other people of color in order to fold into mass messaging about what is & is not acceptable in the system of white supremacy has been institutionalized since slavery times. So, I have a hard time watching THE MEDIA’S response to Toya Graham’s intentions & actions, and saying, “Oh yes… they are just telling it, as it happened, with no specific and intentional messaging”.

As indicated in Race Forward’s report, Moving the Race Conversation Forward, in order for mass media to be what it is, we have to walk away with a specific message about ourselves, the world around us, what is socially acceptable, and what is not. Media correspondents and executives do this by playing to the “frame” of the audience it is serving. If you look at popular media coverage even today, in regards to racial / socioeconomic justice issues, we can uncover the frame by certain cues. These cues include the consistent usages of the word “thug” in conjunction with people of color, the frequent coverage of crimes perpetuated by people of color, the usage of the word “riots” instead of “protests” and / or “uprisings”, the erasure and omission of people of color in mass media awards shows… I could go on and on.

RaceForward’s 2014 report on mass media states that frames converge to create a narrative, and that “Narratives must include characters (e.g. protagonist, antagonist, heroes, villains), settings (context, time, place), action (interconnected events that change the situation, leading to a climax and resolution), and a core idea that grounds the story” (p. 4). So, let’s come back to Toya Graham and the uprising in Baltimore. Given the framework already established, we are lauding Toya Graham as a “hero” in the story [with her own son as the antagonist, mind you]. The part that becomes interesting is that the media has re-imagined her as a hero, because she states to CBS, in her own words, that she did not feel like a hero. From her comments, I feel safe to say that Toya Graham knows that the issue is more complex than hero / villain, protagonist / antagonist. The issue is systemic injustice and pragmatic survival.

The setting is an under-resourced location in Baltimore, MD- the site where they shot her early interview. However, the platform has grown as she has since appeared on ABC News and the View. At some point, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why are so many networks gravitating toward this story’ – what’s the spin?  Well, let’s go through the process of elimination. No one centered the story, or even commented, on the fear that she felt for her son’s life BECAUSE of police brutality. No one, except her, that is. No one, within the mass media, talked to her son about the decisions that prompted him to throw the rock and what his thought process was from the time he arrived to “fight for what (he) stood for” (as stated on the View) to the time that he picked up the rock to throw it. Her story did not include any depth of analysis or real follow up on the social identities she described – single, mother of 6 children. No one asked about what exactly she meant when she said she lived in an impoverished neighborhood or specifically, why she feared for her son to “become another Freddie Gray“. No one commented on her employment status OR EVEN the deep emotional relationship that she had with her son. No one, except her that is.

So, what WAS the resolution and the core message that comes from this story? I think CBS news reports did a good job of subtly laying that out in their following section (emphasis mine, so you can unpack the semantics):

“Graham, a single mom with six children, denounced the vandalism and violence against police officers. She said rioting in Baltimore is no way to go about getting justice for Freddie Gray and that she doesn’t want that life for her son.

mom2.jpg
Toya Graham lays into her son Michael after seeing him with the protesters.
CBS NEWS

‘There’s some days that I’ll shield him in the house just so he won’t go outside and I know that I can’t do that for the rest of my life,’ said Graham. ‘I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me, know I don’t play that.’

It’s that reputation that made her son wince the second he saw her.”

Over the next few days, watch the media coverage on Toya Graham, her son, and the story that is being told. See if her re-imagined heroism is continuously situated alongside violence and establishing order, in both text and in graphics. See if you can find another narrative that does not myopically focus on the climax of her son throwing rocks at police officers, and the ‘resolution’ of him being beaten and sent home. You might find it in brilliant pieces like that of Dr. Brittney Cooper’s or Dr. Stacy Patton’s, but see if you can find it on CNN, ABC, etc. When we talk about Toya Graham’s story, let’s not be confused… we can harshly critique the media sensationalization of violence on Black & brown bodies WITHOUT coming for Toya Graham. This is what it means to think critically and incorporate nuance.

So You Want to Be “More Diverse”: An Open Letter to Campus Ministries

It is not often that I read an open letter that is not dripping with sarcasm and nice-nastiness. So, you should know that as I write this, I’m drinking my Turmeric tea blend, and channeling all the Zen in my tone that I can muster. Yet I cannot promise that it will be as easy to swallow what needs to be said. In that respect, I invite you to get comfortable, take a breath, and if you were here, I’d offer you a cup of tea for goodwill.

For the past few years, I’ve done work within higher education & student affairs, within the realm of diversity / multicultural initiatives. Yet, I have also spent a considerable amount of time interfacing with ministries in formal / informal ways that have asked me for feedback on their campus ministry “diversity initiatives”. As a woman of color, this feedback comes from both lived experience and professional understanding. I write this open letter with those two facets in mind and invite you to explore them with me:

Most of the campus ministries I have seen (and informally advised) are predominantly White. I think it’s important to put that out early on in the letter, without yet placing value or judgement on that fact. The first time I was approached by a college ministry, I was only a first year student. I was still transitioning in my own faith & discernment processes, had written a list of campus ministries that I wanted to check out, and showed up only to feel incredibly marginalized. I attended a predominantly White institution so I was prepared for that experience in the classroom. Somehow, my adolescent mind had not connected this would be the case in campus ministry settings, as well. The metaphors were not the same. The collective understanding was vastly different. Efforts for my inclusion in the space were well-meaning, but crass, at best: would I sing them some Gospel? Would I be interested in leading the Gospel segment? Would I like to plan their diversity dinner? How should they talk to Black people? How can they include more “diverse people”? It took me a month to decide to disengage completely.

Over the years, the questions have gotten more refined, but it seems that we are collectively no less confused as to how we model diversity and inclusion within campus ministry settings. I saw this confusion as many campus ministers stood aghast, bewildered, and / or completely ignorant regarding cases like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown. I heard the shy and tentative questions for explanations (and sometimes all-out fear) regarding the responses they saw from their colleagues of color.

The issue is this: When we make diversity & inclusion our outcome without first developing multicultural competence, everyone loses. 

Seeking to increase structural diversity (i.e. the people who are participants in the campus ministry) without seeking to increase multicultural competence to honor them once they GET there will always betray a lack of forethought & process. There has to be a continual process of critical assessment & reflection, not on our numbers, but on the WAYS we think about diversity & multiculturalism. The point of this open letter is to assist in that reflection.

I. A person is not diverse. 

The initial thing that we have to understand is that diversity is not a person. One, singular person, can not be “diverse”. To ascribe to that thinking is to imply, “Everyone else is diverse except for me because my identity, presence, and culture should be, will be, and has always been primary, normal, and assumed.” Again, I say, a person (singular) is not diverse. Hurtado et al. (1999) talk about diversity in terms of a climate with different aspects which make up that climate. Those aspects are:

  • Structural – Who is there and who is represented? (Often times, many campus ministries stop there when they talk about diversity)
  • Historical Legacy of Exclusion or Exclusion – What is our history, as it pertains to integration? Who is this particular ministry set up for regarding the policies, doctrinal statements, practices, and mission?
  • Behavioral – What do our behaviors say about our lens on inclusion? What do our social interactions say about us? Who is involved? Who is not? Why?
  • Psychological – What are the (subtle and explicit) attitudes of leadership & key stakeholders that reduce and / or perpetuate stereotype, bias, and / or discrimination? What are the attitudes of our participants?

Attending to these different aspects, asking questions, critically reflecting, and making changes as needed is what allows true diversity & inclusion to take place. It is not just a matter of getting “diverse people” to your Bible study group.

II. Including a person of color on a panel about race does not necessarily show inclusion.

There’s this thing that happens when we want to “show diversity” within a setting. It’s when you see that one brown person on the cover of admissions brochures and that is supposed to represent “diversity”. It’s that one person of color they asked to be in the movie with a predominantly White cast, so we could all point and say, “See! There’s diversity here!” In campus ministries, it’s that one active participant who is either a person of color or is racially ambiguous to you, that you ask to lead the Gospel music worship segment, participate on panels about race / social justice / equity, etc. That is not appreciation for diversity. That is tokenism.

Tokenism is all about setting up an image of diversity, without considering marginalized or underrepresented voices in:

  • Shaping, crafting, and steering an overall vision for campus ministry
  • Decision-making on how campus ministry practices are run, what texts are read, what lenses influence the interpretation of sacred texts
  • Asking students of color to unpack their understandings / thoughts on the structural, psychological, behavioral, and historical aspects of diversity in your ministry

Tokenism is about taking an “out”: not learning enough about the Black lives matter to speak on it as an ally. Rather, allocating the task to a person of color to do the “heavy lifting”.  It’s rehearsing one Gospel music song or a few songs in different languages, without studying the true dynamics & nature of worship experiences in cross-cultural settings. It is a well-intentioned afterthought.

I get it. People mean well, and I get that. However, we can only address tokenism in campus ministries when we change the perspective from intent to impact. We must consider a question that columnist Jamie Utt poses in such instances: “what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us?”

III. You can have structural diversity, and still be a predominantly White organization.

This is the one that takes many by surprise. In other words, you can look around the room and see people with different racial / ethnic backgrounds, but still function as a predominantly White campus ministry. This is about the distribution of power and engagement. If you look around and see representation that you think is diverse within your campus ministry students, but only have White leadership (that is unfamiliar with multicultural competence), then at its core, it is still a predominantly White organization. College ministries may do well with structural representation. However, if all of the books we are reading are from White theologians, all of the songs we sing are from White musicians, all of the social events that we plan appeal to a broader White audience, all of the ministry movie nights feature White actors, then… well… it’s still a predominantly White organization. Acknowledging this is not to bash predominantly White campus ministries. However, it is to admonish us to stand in truth and “call a thing, a thing” without charade or pretense. Being able to work through discomfort, in order to “call a thing, a thing” is absolutely essential IF your campus ministry wants to be “more diverse”. In other words, if we are taking diversity seriously in our campus ministry setting, there is no way to get around grace-filled truth telling.

In the close of this letter, I ask you to sit with whatever discomfort you may be feeling and take a deep breath. I encourage you to locate one thing within this post that sparks you toward action, reflection, or dialogue. I encourage you to reflect on what your campus ministry is doing as it pertains to this post. I encourage you to reflect on what your campus ministry is not doing as pertains to this post. Finally, I ask what stops you from doing that thing? Allow this open letter to spark dialogue and further understanding in your journey to bring your campus ministry toward authentic inclusion.

Creative Commons License
So You Want to Be “More Diverse”: An Open Letter to Campus Ministries by Jade Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Image courtesy of Chaloemphan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Resources
Hurtado, S., Milem, J., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1999). Enacting Diverse Learning Environments: Improving the Climate for Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education. ERIC Digest.

A Raisin, A Piano, & A Bible: Reflections on the King Lawsuit

“Gin my cotton Sell my seed Buy my baby Everything she need” -Skip James, musician
Opening line of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson”

“MAMA: Oh—So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
WALTER: No—it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.”
Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansbury, Act I, Scene II

I am trained in Theater performance and the concept of art imitating life has always been intriguing to me. Prior to studying identity theory in my M. Ed College Student Affairs program, I learned about it intuitively from my time spent in the pages of playwrights. Two plays that consistently strike chords in my being are Lorraine Hansbury’s Raisin in the Sun & August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson for their concepts of legacy, family, and the history of people of color in America. Both plays feature a character, specifically, a man of color, with an elusive dream. In the Piano Lesson, Boy Willie & Lymon dream of selling a family heirloom (a handcrafted piano explaining the history of the family) in order to secure a plot of land. They believe that this land will yield riches for them, and a symbolic place and space in the earth. Berniece, the matriarch of the family, refuses to sell the piano and therein lies the complication of the plot. Likewise, in Hansbury’s Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family awaits Mr. Younger’s life insurance check. This check is in the amount of $10,000. Mama is the primary beneficiary, yet everyone in the family has important opinions on the allocation of the funds (further schooling, a family home, etc.). Her son, Walter Lee, dreams of opening a liquor store with his friends Bobo & Willy. And just like Boy Willie in the Piano Lesson, Walter Lee believes that this will yield additional riches for the family for generations to come. In both plays, the matriarchs are primarily concerned with upholding and honoring the legacy of the family. In both plays, the principal male characters believe that some type of concrete, physical space (for one, land for farming… for the other, a liquor store) will allow them to yield profits for the unforeseeable future.

Though these plays were written decades ago, a similar plot is unfolding right now… with the children of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Two of his children, Martin & Dexter, are suing their sister, Bernice (who ironically holds the same name as Berneice from August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson) because she refuses to sell two family heirlooms: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize medal. Though the details are unclear, Martin & Dexter King are looking to sell these items “to a private buyer”, as cited in the LA Times. The LA Times also references Bernice’s response: “There is no justification for selling either of these sacred items. They are priceless and should never be exchanged for money in the marketplace.” And just like the old plays, the plot complicates…

What is it about the selling of life investments, of family heirlooms, to acquire material wealth? What kinds of strain does this create in families of color; so many precious things ripped from their histories, families, and legacies?

For may years, communities of color have been denied capital in a variety of systemic ways: denial of bank loans, socioeconomic poverty, red-lining, denial of employment opportunities, and the list could go on for the length of this piece. For many years, economic growth and equality has been a battlefield where we have searched to gain more ground. What happens when a window of opportunity opens… but in order to access it, you are asked to sell your birthrights, your family heirlooms, your ancestral history?

Can we compare Dexter and Martin to Boy Willie (The Piano Lesson) and Walter Lee (Raisin in the Sun)? In Theater, we (the audience) have the privilege of being invited into the internal landscape of the characters. We know what Boy Willie wants but more importantly, we know why he wants it. We know the psychology of his desire to sell the piano… a family heirloom that illustrates the story of his ancestors. In his mind, selling that heirloom affords his family the chance to reclaim / buy back the land that his family was enslaved upon. Perhaps, it affords the chance to claim a legacy of freedom that he wishes were weaved ages ago. Likewise, we know the psychology of Walter Lee’s desires. He believes the money offers the true freedom to his family (and implicitly, to families of color in America). Freedom, to him, is not as clear cut as ownership of self and of family. To Walter Lee, freedom can be funded…accessed through money. So, we grapple with this motif of freedom: does freedom come by grasping family legacy, or does it come through the selling of goods? A Raisin in the Sun, The Piano Lesson, and the King lawsuit all beg the audience to grapple with the question: as people of color in America, what things can you justifiably give up… in pursuit of a dream? In pursuit of greater freedom? In pursuit of wealth?

In this life-drama between the King family, we are not as privileged as we were as audience-members in a theatrical drama. We don’t know the psychology of Martin & Dexter’s desires to sell Dr. King’s Bible and Nobel Peace prize medal. And all that we know about Bernice is that these pieces are “sacred” and so, she refuses to sell them. Although we don’t know these things, the questions still remain: what do you give up? I mean what do you really give up… mentally, relationally, spiritually… when you sell symbols of your legacy in pursuit of a dream?

Image courtesy of Nuttapong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Creative Commons License
A Raisin, A Piano, & A Bible: Reflections on the King Lawsuit by Jade Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.