Grace: a word and associated actions I’ve never been able to comprehend. I don’t think our minds can fully grasp grace. I know many people could define grace differently, but for me, I see it as receiving love when we don’t necessarily deserve it. It’s love when we least expect it, and it’s love when we have done nothing to receive it.
I share this very personal message from a place of fear because we all know fear on some level. Women know fear from just being women. Surrounded by men in a male-centric world where “rape culture” is actually a thing. Think about that – we have something called rape culture. Men, White folks and others who hold privileged spaces are not immune to fear either. Fear is universal. Why we fear is not. That we should fear because of who we are should never be.
We were driving from Louisville, Kentucky to Destin, Florida yesterday to start our vacation and family reunion. It was me, my little brother and my daughter. Before we even got on the road my cousin sent the warning:
“if you can, try to leave very early, that way you aren’t going through AL (Alabama) at night. No lights and there are police every where so be cautious. Love you guys and big HUGS!”
That warning came before any Ferguson verdict, and would have come long before Mike Brown was murdered. It’s a warning I have heard my whole life as a Black man. And one we still tell our children and students and even strangers with whom we share a brief moment. The message is simple, and horrifying: be careful where you are, because of who you are.
We literally warn each other to not drive through certain parts of our country, (my country, my home) because we fear what might happen to us. What may seem like a general warning to “be careful” is really laced with an insidious subtext that continues…“because you are black…and they will hurt you.” When someone hates and targets you for who you are, there is not much you can do to anticipate that. It defies logic and normal precaution. If someone is robbing me because it’s dark and they want money; I give them money and they go away. What do I do if I’m targeted, judged, pulled over and they hate my skin? They hate my very being. I have no defense. No escape. Nor should I need one. I have accomplished a lot, and care about people, and have much to contribute; yet before I can even open my mouth – I’m hated by so many.
It wasn’t just my cousin’s words that were terrifying. It was the realization that I didn’t even need to be told that. I already knew. As I drove through the highways of Alabama (and be clear it could have been almost any state) I was fearful. Birmingham…Selma…Montgomery. Each invoking their own sense of history, anger, and fear. As I passed the trees that lined the highways, I thought about the strange fruit that used to hang there. And I remember it wasn’t that long ago…and they were hanged for looking like me. I am acutely aware that the kind of hate that existed then doesn’t easily die. It has a long memory, and continues today. It is everywhere. And I’m scared all over again.
Then came the verdict.
Real fear is not being hurt or murdered. It’s realizing that it can be done so easily. It’s realizing that “they” will get away with it. And that even in death and suffering my family wouldn’t see justice. I can be erased. And that’s all. That’s real fear. No one deserves that.
I don’t know this young scholar all that well, but social media has a way of blessing us at the most unexpected times. His words traveled across the ocean to fall on my heart at a time I really needed to read it. His words also reminded me of gifts from two of my favorite authors, bel hooks and Paulo Coelho. All of us wrestle with loneliness and solitude, and it can be hard to find your way in that moment. His blog post helped me to think through my loneliness and solitude in a time when those two fiends are regularly finding their way in my life.
Share with others who may need it, and I’m sure he won’t mind either.
Back in 2008 at the University of Louisville, there was a pretty big shift about to take place within a long-standing office on campus. To complicate matters this office was steeped in tradition, and had long served the university’s African-American student population in many important ways. At the same time, there was need for a new direction and vision, one that was more inclusive of other students of color and traditionally under-represented students on campus. I was tapped to lead this important transition, and to literally rebuild a center that would both honor the traditions and work of the past, while moving boldly into the future. One need not live in Louisville, KY to understand that this was going to be a challenge.
When working within the “diversity and inclusion space” there is an analogy used that I can only imagine is borrowed from the budget and finance world. Groups of people (typically clustered around race/ethnicity) will often speak about and vigorously defend their “piece of the pie.” This piece of the pie refers to their slice of the college’s resources that are committed to “diversity and inclusion.” As you can imagine, this is problematic on so many levels, and it showed up during this important transition that I was asked to lead. The prevailing question I was faced with, very loudly from those in the community, alumni, students, and faculty, was; “what about our piece?” Underneath the surface of that questions, was this: “how are we going to get ours, if we let all those other people get theirs?” And, “we don’t have enough already, how are we going to share with them?” These are real questions, born out of real oppression and frustration, and I understand it all too well. As a Black man, raised in the southern part of the U.S., I know well how this “pie” is often doled out by some faceless entity(ies) that expect the recipient(s) to make it last. This can be in the form of public assistance, quality education, financial aid, space, or other resources. The problem is, I think we continue to ask the wrong question. Which leads us to have to ask the same questions time after time.
By way of providing a solution to this dilemma, I would like to offer advice that Dr. Marc Lamont Hill shared during his keynote. We need to reframe the questions that we ask. Instead of saying “what will happen to my piece of the pie,” let’s instead ask:
This shift is beyond mere semantics. As Dr. Hill said in his keynote, this change literally requires an epistemological shift. Asking “what will happen to my piece of the pie” is a deficit way of seeing the world. It assumes limited resources, perpetuates siloism in our lives, and necessitates competition in and amongst communities that are intersectional and oftentimes similarly marginalized. Furthermore it ignores, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” Even if the injustice is being committed to someone different from you. And as if that isn’t enough, this deficit thinking ignores the fact that people are, by design, interesectional beings. I am Black AND (Christian, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc.). We force people being oppressed already, to oppress other parts of themselves and pick a “side” to defend. This is the worst kind of torture.
In my work, discussions of privilege and power come up a lot – and actually should come up more. Talking about privilege and power is not meant for trivial coffee conversations either. It is a matter that impacts us every day of our lives, no matter your many social identities. When I find resources that help talk about privilege in a way that will be heard, I want to shout it from the rooftops. So here is my rooftop, and here is me shouting.
Read…marinate…read again…marinate…then post this everywhere you can. Much appreciation to his author for adding to this conversation in a way that many and more can get….and many and more will miss. But it’s good all the same. I humbly share this from http://www.robot-hugs.com/?attachment_id=894
Watch the world’s best perform. The best anything, athlete, musician, educator, scientist. You can turn your TV on right now and see the world’s best doing what they love. It’s not just the physicality of what they do, though that is remarkable. But watch their faces. Watch how their very souls come out in the work they are doing. I see this despite the gender of the performer, and despite the particular sport. There is a grit and joy in what they do. What is most amazing is they do it without shame or concern for what others think. No matter how silly they may look (some sillier than others honestly), or how they contort their bodies and faces in ways others may not understand or quite appreciate, they do it anyway. No shame – it is all left on the court/ice/slopes. I love that. They do what they do with such grace, passion, and commitment that it inspires me to do and be better. I have to ask you to do and be better too.
What if we brought this same energy to the work we do; the relationships we build; our businesses; our ministries? We could all be Olympians in that respect, and the world would that much better. That to me is the goal. To be expert and excellent at being my best possible self, and doing my best possible work. It requires a level of self awareness, commitment to who you are, and unashamed joy to do it. Check out these Olympians doing what they do, and challenge yourself to do it too.
Share this with someone who needs to be encouraged to do more, and be better.
I’m having trouble finding peace right now. So maybe I’m not the best person to write about the necessity of peace in your life. Or maybe I am. I’m going to talk about what I know I should be doing in these tumultuous moments, and hopefully through that, we can all get closer to where we need to be.
As a Christian I go first to Christ to find my peace (at least I should). I’m reminded of how despite the storm raging outside of the ship, Jesus was sleeping soundly inside. I’m reminded how everyone around him were completely melting down, in an actual storm that threatened their lives. I’m reminded of how they did this despite literally being in the presence of God. I’m reminded how I do the same thing everyday. I have so much around me that reminds me of God’s peace and goodness, yet I find myself feeling overwhelmed by my personal storm.
So I am re-committing to what I know about storms, and how to get through them. Here is what I know from personal experience:
- Storms happen for a reason – wait it, stay faithful, and think about the sunshine on the other side
- Storms are temporary – even when it doesn’t feel like they are
- God is still in control – He’s not the list bit rattled or surprised by what seems to be out of the blue
- Other people are experiencing the same storm, or a similar storm – I can seek support and solace in my relationships until it’s over
- The last storm didn’t take me out, neither will this one, so I still have a lot of value on this Earth.
So whether you are challenged by a difficult relationship, or assignment, or job, or loss, hang in there. If for no other reason than to say you did, hang in there. Share this with someone who may need it, and let me know if we can help each other through our storms.
Having “officially” worked in the two-year / community college space for just over a year now, I want to re-affirm my total faith in these institutions, and hope to help others gain or renew their appreciation for what they do and can do. Instead of talking about attending them though, I wanted to share this great article from the Chronicle of Higher Education written by Rob Jenkins. For my colleagues, students, future students, etc. thinking about teaching – you really need to read this. I am thinking of a companion piece about working as an administrator in two-year colleges. I think it is equally awarding, particularly for those talented Student Affairs folks out there. Happy reading, and share your thoughts!
Why You Should Consider Community Colleges: http://shar.es/9wxLL
I am thankful for 2014. There were times in 2013 that I asked that oh so selfish question…you know the one. The one that assumes that you can’t have problems, and that bad things aren’t supposed to happen to you. I asked…Why did my aunt have to die? Why did my fraternity brother, and two of my former students, all 33 or younger have to die? Why did my mother get that? Why did she do this? Why did he say that? Why did I lose this? Why is life seeming to crumble around me? Then I looked around. I looked up at the roof covering my head. I looked down into the face of my daughter – the true love of my life. I looked beside me and saw my friends and family, and heard their words of support and wisdom. I looked at my phone to see the technology to which I am privileged to have access.
The reality is that I have my senses, and I can still extend love and support to those around me. Despite the horrors and difficulty of 2013, God has still favored me in numerous ways. Despite my own proclivities and hang ups, I am still shown mercy. The greatest grace I know is understanding that the sadness and darkness passes. It’s OK to dwell in it for a short time, but I have to change the question. Maybe I (and you) should be asking “why not me?” I am resilient, well resourced, and well supported. I have been blessed with so much, shouldn’t I expect to be challenged and tested in this life, just as everyone else is? I think the answer is of course.
So I will start everyday with this: there are two roads we can choose to go down; two realities we can choose to acknowledge. I choose to go down the path that reflects on the blessings in spite of the curses, and I choose to acknowledge that in reality – I’m very much so OK. I am blessed and highly favored. And if you have the privilege of reading this, then you are too. Share this with someone who might need it, and Happy New Year!
During the 2001-2002 school year, I was the President of the Student Senate (and Vice President of the Student Body) at North Carolina State University. I attended the Conference on Student Government Associations (COSGA) at Texas A&M University with a group of fellow student government leaders. One night was a thematic night where we were to “dress up” in Texas attire for that night’s festivities. Being a “city-boy,” I only had a vague idea of what that meant. Yet, I had no problem with taking a great deal of liberty “dressing up” like a cowboy, or what I thought looked like a cowboy. It was bad. Think of me, in overalls, a belt around said overalls, Timberland boots, a straw hat, and a plaid shirt. Again, it was bad. I wasn’t the only one, a few others with me were also dressed up in their cowboy best and we all looked a mess. We then proceeded to walk into a local establishment, where many a’real cowboy sat, and walk through as if we would blend in. We did not. In fact, we looked like fools. But that’s OK right? We were, after all, just playing dress up, and knew that we looked a bit foolish anyway – so that didn’t matter much.
What did matter to me was the obvious disgust, hurt, and offense that I saw on the faces that we passed. In that moment, all at once, I realized just how dangerous and hurtful playing dress up can be. We felt so ashamed that we left immediately, and changed clothes. I was embarrassed and hurt that I took what was essentially the everyday experience and culture of another group of people, and knowingly mocked it for my own enjoyment. My people and my culture for centuries have had this very same thing done to them. I knew better, and yet I didn’t do better.
I share this story now after reading an amazing article written by Jarune Uwujaren in Everyday Feminism, on the website Good Men Project. It was written with such care, balance, pace, action-orientation, and tone that I had to write about it and share. The article, What’s the Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation?, and its tenets are something that should be talked about in homes, work places, and schools across this country. In particular during this season, when at the end of the month many across the U.S. will celebrate Halloween. College campuses are notorious for hosting parties where people go beyond just dressing up as fictional characters for fun. They take the extra step to make the people with whom they interact with everyday, caricatures for their night of fun and revelry.
This has happened at colleges and universities where I have attended, and worked. I was happy to see students at Ohio University create an amazing campaign a few years ago, where they declared “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume.” This campaign beautifully captures the damage that can be done by thoughtless celebration. Check it out, and share it with others. More important, do something about it. Whether you are a student, employer, employee, or volunteer, read the article above, do your own work to gain wisdom and understanding. And please, share this with those who need to see it.
- What’s the Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation? (unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com)
- Cultural Appropriation (projectawarenessrevolution.wordpress.com)