Raven Symone Speaks: Resisting Labels

I use to work for an Afrocentric social service agency prior to full time pastoring. And at my work location there was a retired black man that often was out in the neighborhood when I arrived to or left from work. He had been in the community long enough to know the happenings on his street fairly well. Our relationship evolved from greetings to occasional conversations about world events. Whenever he discussed something in the news that pertained to black people he would say “your people.” He was clearly disappointed by some of our actions. He was African American so I would jokingly say they are your people too. He would say no they are not and we would laugh. Even though he was joking I’ve been told there is some truth present in all jokes.

I once heard someone say labels only help the labeler but often they are not as helpful for the one being labeled. Let’s go there. When people start dating someone of the same gender when they had previously dated people of the opposite sex, the first question people generally ask is, “so are you gay? ” So what does that really mean? I mean it’s obvious the person is dating someone of the same sex. What more are we trying to ask? What does gay mean? I know the basic definition but what really does gay mean? And what does the label do for the one labeling and the one being labeled? And what does it tell you that you already didn’t know? Labels sometimes are a way of ending conversations as opposed to engaging others. Labels allow us to take short cuts without ever getting to know someone. They sometimes allow us to make judgments, exercise assumptions and draw conclusions without any real information.

So Raven-Symone in her interview with Oprah stated, “I’m tired of being labeled.” She also stated she didn’t want to be labeled gay. She’s not African American. But what others heard particularly among African Americans was a stupid little young girl who was rejecting her race, and therefore rejecting her people. It’s not the firs time someone black of notoriety has tried to distanced themselves from being black. I am reminded of the community guy again who would say “your people.” We embrace our Indian side, our Caucasian side, and our Latino side but those black roots are just too much to bear. As Oprah predicted Twitterville lit up.

I have a wise friend with not many words. She is older and has raised her two children and is enjoying her grandkids. As a parent, I asked her what were her ambitions for her children when she was rearing them. I thought she would talk about college or the American dream. Her answer was different from any I had ever heard to the point that I never ever forgot the wisdom of her words. She said Charlene of course I want my kids to be happy but mostly I just want them to be good human beings. I want them to be kind to others. I want them to treat others with respect. I want them to work hard. I want them to be good human beings. When I am frustrated or challenged by the distance between my son’s ambitions and my hopes for him I remember her words and they comfort me.

I think Raven knows who she is.   It’s impossible to be on the Cosby Show all those years and not gain a sene of one’s cultural identity. The Cosby show portrayed the black family for the firs time on a national syndicated tv show as functional, loving, professional, middle class, and human. Raven is saying something more and we missed it because it triggered the pain of our history. Raven is saying something and we need to hear it. She recognizes the limitations and oppressiveness of labels and she’s resisting. In fact she says, “I’m tired of being labeled.” She is gay. She is black. But beyond that like my friend raising her children she wants people to see her humanity. She wants people to see her. And maybe just maybe that is a prophetic idea for all of us. By the way I too grow weary of labels


Kicked Out Of The Choir

I remember decades ago I attended this big conference.  It was my second year and they had a choir.  I remembered from the first year how much I enjoyed the choir.  So it wasn’t a hard decision, when I heard the dates for practice, to decide I wanted to be a part of the choir.  I showed up with goo gobs of people to make beautiful sounds.  They divided us into sopranos, altos, and tenors.  I had always sang in the alto section so I joined that group.  Honestly, I had never felt comfortable singing alto; it was hard on my vocal chords but I knew absolutely nothing about the world of music.  I only knew I love the sound.  I was tone deaf to my limitations.

Each group had a leader.  I remember feeling scared because I had never been a part of such a big choir.   The group leader of the altos came over and barked out a few orders.  We began going over a piece.  I was excited and scared.  At some point during rehearsal the leader of the altos came over to me and said what do you sing?  With doubt, I said, “I think alto.”  With confidence, she said, “no you don’t sing alto.”  I had been dismissed.  So much for compassion and kindness among the saints.  My very first big choir and I was kicked out.  I don’t remember what happened next.  I think I tried to put as much distance between me and killer of small dreams.

Years later, I look back on that incident and chuckle. I have used it in several teaching moments.  And I did discover that I was a tenor with lack of confidence.  I love joining my fellow tenors today.  And every now and then I tip over into the alto section when the tenors go lower than I want and I crawl back to my tenor family when the altos go further up the hill than I can travel.  The truth is I love to sing with the choir but I will never be a part of the choir.  Or better yet the choir doesn’t want folks like me.  And I don’t think I’m ready to get asked what part do you sing?  So I listen, which I do with skill, and when I can’t resist I join.

Well all this talk about choirs has me thinking on parallel lines I’m not really a part of the political choirs on our home front.  I listen to the climate of racial, religious and political tensions.  I listen to both sides perhaps because neither side is compelling enough for me to add my voice.  If I did, because of the lack of authenticity someone might ask and what part do you sing?  I can join in as it relates to race relations are bad in America.  The quality of human life is tainted by race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.  The list does really go on.  I know since Obama has been in office that which was dormant has awakened.  So I sing with one group.  But I am not a conspiracist.  I cannot always look over my shoulder because that type of vigilance is tiring.  I do not think everything that happens to minorities is the result of some group/systems somewhere else plotting to harm others.  And no matter how far out in the ocean I go I always want to return to shore to discover how do we live together?  How do we work out our differences?  How do we hear the distinctive parts of the choir as opposed to continuing to sing with folks that sing in our range?  Perhaps I will just sing as I am called, in movement.  Perhaps there is no choir for people like me.


Between Us: Black Women and Their Stuff

I just attended a retreat for black clergy women.  One speaker spoke about not only the inseparable bond between black women but the stuff between us. For some reason, the stuff between us registered with me.  I have experienced for some time the wonderful sistah girl relationships and yet some of my greatest wounds come from sistahs.  I believe in sistah girl spaces and I have a group of sisters that I have developed close community.  It is essential to who I am but that’s not what I’m really interested in talking about.   I want to delve deeper into this thing that sometimes exist between us.

Years ago I interviewed a sistah for a listed position at my church.  She applied with others and did not get the job.  It had nothing to do with her ability.  She is competent, called and bright.  Job employment involves several of things inside our control and several things outside our control.  I have a unique congregation with unique needs.  And I was looking for the best fit.  The interview was intense which has more to do with my style.  I like to know the person beyond the easy correct answers.  So I ask off the map questions wanting to solicit as much of the person’s experience and self as possible.   Anyway, by the time we ended, it was obvious that the interview did not go well.

A couple of years later (six degrees of separation) it gets back to me that this sister is bad mouthing me.  I’m talking about to the point where she uses the b word.  And as a human with all of the flaws that comes with that package, I felt anger.  It’s one thing to have a  bad encounter.  In the small world of black women clergy it’s quite another to bad talk a sistah.  Why was she bad mouthing me?  Why was she telling folks to stay away from me?  Why didn’t she have the courage to come to me versus talking behind my back?  And did she not have enough moral courage to face her demons whatever they were?  I felt like it was immature on her part.

So I’m on a retreat and she’s here.  Let’s see how this plays out.  She can barely speak to me and her eyes divert elsewhere.  And I listen to her because that’s what you often do on retreats.  And I realize that her bad mouthing me hurts, that this thing between us is awkward and that would be a good place to start for me.  I also reflect maybe the interview impacted her in such a way that she was never able to own her feelings and made it about castigating me in a bad light.  But as I listened to her and observed I realized that many of us sistahs have a lot of issues and the external beautification often mask the internal damage.  We still have a lot of stuff we have to sift through.  I see sistahs doing bad stuff on the globe and yet psychologically damaging one another.  And I realize that black women have a lot of stuff between each other.


Why Racism is Not the First Card in the Eric Duncan Case

So Eric Duncan, the first American resident, dies of Ebola.  Some believe because he was black he received medical treatment later that led to him dying.  Here is why I am on the fence but never the less sad about the situation:


Eric Duncan lied about being exposed to Ebola.  Some say because as an African he feared he would not be allowed to return to America.

Eric Duncan went to the hospital with symptoms of Ebola.  He was sent home.  They didn’t catch it but he had to have known he had it.  He just left the area most hardest hit by Ebola, Liberia.

He was admitted some days later in worse condition.  It was clear he had it.

This disease has best result when treated early.  He was not in the hospital early to treat it.

It took a few more days to give him the magical medicine.  Why did it take so long?  #conspiracy theorist have answers

The hospital clearly did not know what they were doing.  They are operating in panic.  We have hospitals here in Chicago that you pray you never have to visit.

Eric Duncan’s condition worsens.  Family is concerned about his decline.

Eric dies.

And now the middle class black elites are hollering that it’s racism.  There are too many extenuating circumstances different from the other Ebola patients for me to jump on the reactionary band wagon.  With the other cases the disease was identified early.  They were flown in to hospitals ready to receive them.  They were treated by different hospitals.  They return to America with a high alert already in place.  These are the biggest differences.  And if we follow black conspiracy theorist then the stereotypes should have led this Dallas hospital to accept an African man with Ebola symptoms.  With all the media coverage any African would be a high suspect for Ebola.

Over and over again, I have learned that there is much we do not know often more.  We are so ready to cry racism as the first card without even looking at other possibilities.  In light of being given very select information, we rush to form judgments and opinions based off the little which means we are alread slanted in what we thinks happens to black bodies in America.  Eric Duncan is just a fulfillment prophecy of what we already believe.  That said, the hospital’s actions or lack of action is questionable.  Why didn’t he get the medicine?  What kind of insurance did he have?  Do insurance and class also have some impact on his level of care? What is the  whole story of his journey back to America?  What are they not telling us?   But wait for the answer instead of drawing one’s own conclusion.  I do not know why this man stayed at home so long with the symptoms and I’m not trying to blame him but understand.  I really think there is more that we do not know and yelling racism is premature in light of all that we simply do not know.  For all of the reasons above race is not the first card for me.


White Mommies, Black Baby, & Sperm Bank Mess Up: The Race Factor

So the sperm bank supposedly gave these two same gender loving women #330 a black male instead of #380 a white blue eyed blond haired male.  They live in a less tolerant of diversity community.  The sperm bank when they learned of their mistake said sorry, we can no longer talk to you, and goodbye.  The mothers are now considering moving because they want their daughter in a more diverse community.  They didn’t sign on for biracial kid.  They had a business transaction that went south. And now much of society is looking at them judgmentally for suing a company as implying they do not want that black child.  They are saying we love our daughter and we want this company to be held accountable for their mistake.  The company reimbursed them for the mistaken vials sent out and called it a day.

Desires of motherhood came rather late for me.  When I did embrace this as a desirable journey for me, I moved ahead.  My waiting and excitement was replaced with shock and a tiredness unknown to any other species but parents of newborns.  I cried and cried.  My goddaughter even started commenting about how tired I looked.  Others later would concur, but during the baby doesn’t sleep through the night stage, kept their opinions to themselves.  As the baby grew and grew so did his personality.  Josiah from the beginning was a demanding child confirmed by the Grandmother Association of America.  At some point I realized that being a mom was not the picture I had in mind nor was Josiah the child either.  But then something magically happen.  Truthfully it tools a lot of bumps in the road for me to arrive.  I learned that I had to love the child I had been given instead of yearning for the child in some fairy tale book.  I took another road and I find my love and appreciation growing deeply.

Rarely do we get what we want.  The mature soul learns how to adapt and make the best of what they have especially as it relates to relationships.  And I imagine this same gender couple did not get what they wanted.  With sperm bank arrangements it really is about getting what you want.  They paid money and invested time in researching individuals and they chose #380.  Their movement was calculated.  And yet after the long journey of questions, answer, process, hope and waiting, to discover upon seeking more vials for a second child that they had #330, I can only empathize with them.  But to then discover not only did they not get the hunk #380 they got a black man either is insane or funny.  It’s almost unreal.  And because it is a business I think they should sue.  I think America should leave them alone.  I hope they win.  And I hope they are able to love and raise a beautiful biracial girl who is loved and nurtured and has a sense of her place in this world.


Loud Music: Michael Dunn & An Excuse for Hatred

The other day I am driving home from work.  I’m tired and looking at at least 5 more hours of work, cooking, homework, and bedtime ritual related stuff.  My son is int he back seat.  I am stealing a moment of peace while he occupies himself in a mentally-transported fantasy world.  I pull up to the red light only to have my peace stolen by a car with loud music.  You know the kind of loud music that makes all the cars around vibrate.  I look over at the offender in a white Nissan Ultima.  I would love to say a few words to her.  First, how can one be so insensitive to impose your choice of music on everyone else.   Second, it’s a nice day and if you have to play it, turn on your ac and roll the windows up, at least.  I was frustrated and felt like someone’s choice of loud music had intruded on my already very busy day.  And then I thought of Michael Dunn.

So Michael Dunn has been found guilty.  Up front I want to say I support that verdict and also that I am slow on coming to a conclusion in general.  But in this case I believe a second trial gives us some justice because there is no justice for dead bodies.  While I too do not like loud music I share the planet with others.  And even though these folks bother me sometimes, I complain and keep it moving.  t stay in my car.  I might make a face too.  As a therapist, I have observed that we are all carrying high levels of anger, so I try not to stimulate folks more.  It is an inconvenience but the interesting fact of an inconvenience is it’s temporary.  I almost forgot about the lady with the loud music, until I heard the verdict on the Jordan Davis case.  It seems so pressing in the moment but that moment passes.

I’ve read some of the comments on the articles announcing the verdict on Michael Dunn and I am shocked.  It seems the conservatives have gotten a foothold on the comment boards.  It reads something like this:  blacks kills whites at a much greater number than whites kill blacks;  black folks kill their own; I’m black and the person I’m most afraid of is other black people; get over slavery bs; blacks are evil and they kill each other all the time; and God allowed Jordan to be killed which may be part of the God’s plan to punish the Hamites.  Some of this stuff is incredible and hard to believe and then I remember I have a high school classmate that has a gun and threatens to use it if any intruders come on his lawn.  And I know if I see him in the news ,what time it is.  As I read comments, I am concerned about the hatred.  There seems to be a whole lot of ignorance out there.  Even if we believe all of the hype out there on black males, it can never justify the killing of Jordan Davis this I am convinced.  We have lost our way to one another.

Michael Dunn encountered black males with loud music.  We see race everyday and based on our socialization it’s not hard to conjure up an image of what gets played out when we pass black brother in a SUV with loud music.  My colleague just the other day says she clutches her purse whenever she passes by an ashy black male with locks.  Our stereotypes are real and I do not think Michael Dunn is exempt.  Michael was visibly upset and he acted on it.  He did engage folks who were not talking to him in a defensive matter.  Generally, that sets up a dynamic for you to get told off.  He acted aggressively on a situation he created.  If he had of kept his mouth shut, griped with his girl, and kept it moving like me, he would have realized frustration is short lived.  But he did not act in such a manner, and as a result a male is dead and the lives of those other males will forever be changed.  Parents lost a kid.  The clock cannot be turned back.  He did the crime and now it is just that he serve the time.  What does society want?  Justice. When do we want it?  Now.  Glad you were found guilty.  And a word of advice, instead of looking outward and shocked look inward at the hate that is lodged there.  With your time that would be  good place to start.


The Subjectivity of Beauty: Viola Davis & Shoes

So this “less classically beautiful” comment about Viola Davis has me thinking; however, I do think as a part time gig.

So I have this friend who loves to comment on the ugliness of my shoes.  This has been an ongoing phenomena for years.  Even this past summer she caught hold of a new pair of shoes and said you have outdone yourself again.  She rips on my shoe collection.  So when I purchased a pair of shoes yesterday, I could hear her voice and her disapproval ringing in my ear.  They were ugly? They were also leather and comfortable which is a value I prize over look and style.

The average person might not know it but I like shoes.  I look for shoes that treat my feet well but there are also certain styles that speak to me.  Like most people if I had more money I would invest in more shoes.  There are some styles that really grab my attention.  I do not buy ugly shoes at least as far as I’m concern.  I don’t walk in a store and say let me pick out the ugly shoe so my friend can have something to say.  Like most people I choose what is appealing to me.  And even though this new shoe is different there is something about the shoe that speaks to me.

I grew up with a mother similar to my friend.  She has very finite opinions about what is nice looking and what is not.  She loves heals and colors that shout.  She also likes fish net stockings and they are  signature of hers.  In addition, she comes from a generation of women who wear hats.  I’m talking about hats that you put in layaway and pay on because they are specially made.  These hats talk and the rest of one’s outfit follows.  She is a different kind of woman.  She believes every time she steps out the door she is making  a statement.

And last but not least my partner.  She too is a fashionista of sorts.  I look at her some days and say not over my dead body.  She loves tie up antique looking shoes and scarves even in 90 degree weather.  She likes vintage.  She mixes all textures, colors and types.  Sometimes this is art and sometimes it’s a collision course according to this blogger.  I like her eye for color.  She has taught me to see the multiple hues in one color.  So really I can take a shade of green and blend with grey.  It’s amazing how you can even change the color of something by the way you blend other garments.  I see clothes with more complexity.

So where am I going on this Saturday morning.  Beauty is subjective.  I have wanted to badly tell those who have so many opinions about my shoes and clothes what I think about what they wear as retribution.  But instead I’m using my blog to vent and explore further this whole notion of how some folks just do not look sexy such as Viola Davis.  I listen to her story.  This girl had to struggle.  You can look at her skin and know she had to struggle.  Is she beautiful or not?  Meryl Streep has got to be the ugliest woman alive (of course I’m exaggerating) but it has not stopped her from playing all kinds of roles including sexy and worthy of love.  While looks matter in our world, her gifts as an actor make her sought after.  I would think our limitation on beauty, our inability to see beauty, would be challenged and not those we find “less classically beautiful.”   Viola Davis thank you for finding your way own way; I hope others can follow.


Less Classically Beautiful: A Reflection on Colorism

I have a lot of cousins.  One of my uncles, in particular, has four girls.  One is light complexioned, one is caramel, and the other two are dark.  The caramel complexioned daughter, when we were young, was always told about her beauty.  As a child I actually agreed.  She look more attractive than the other girls.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that a eery experience force me to rethink my thinking on beauty and complexion.  I was looking at a picture when I commented how pretty Cheryl (fictionalized name) looked.  It would have been great but due to the photographer and lighting the picture was actually a picture of her sister, Anita, one of the darker skinned sisters.  With the lightening of the darker skinned sister, Anita looked just like the sister we had all considered so beautiful.  They practically looked like twins and are close in age.  I had to do a double take.  I not only saw my caramel cousin differently but I saw the beauty of my darker skinned cousin.

I think as a society the saying, “if you are black get back, if you are light stick around, and if you’re white you’re alright,” holds more truth still than many of us would like to publicly admit.  The color of skin makes a difference, and while characters like Lupita Nyong’0 have helped us, her beauty is so striking you’d have to be blind to miss it.   Most of us are simply not on that scale of stunning beauty.  And in that case a person’s complexion can impact the range of beauty we see.  In fact, I have seen some light skinned people be viewed as pretty when really the focus was on their skin complexion and not necessarily their physical traits.  But this is not a black or white conversation, and I do not want to oversimplify something much more bigger in scope than I can give adequate attention.

So a recent NY Times journalist chose to describe a actress I admire, Viola Davis, as less classically beautiful and the twitter community has gone up in an uproar.  To be fair to the journalist, she did offer a nice writeup of the producer Shonda Rhimes and Mrs. Davis.  And to be more honest, I have struggled with Viola Davis appearance ranging from silence to a growing like.  I personally like her natural look and I struggle with the fake wigs that mimic her face, but that’s personal preference.  That said, I would not have used the words, “less classically beautiful.”  I agree with Viola Davis that’s basically saying she’s ugly.  Viola Davis beauty does not scream out at me but there is something in her eyes, her mouth, her complexion and her dialect that invite me to see beauty.  I will keep looking.  I do not watch t.v. shows due to my hectic life so I won’t see her new show.  But when I can, I love to look at Viola Davis and listen to her musings.  I’m glad she’s no longer letting how others define her limit her.  She has done the work.  She has been on a journey.  And I personally, as a black sister striving, love what I see.  Shonda Rhimes please give me more.  Viola Davis you rock!


The Psychological Traume of Spankingville On One Black Girl: Why I Am Against Corporal Punishment

I really didn’t think I could do a blog on spankings and the whole Adrien Peterson situation, but I’ve read one too many black person’s talking about the good old days in Spankingville and how it made them the phenomenal individual they were. I’m so grateful to Big Mama for taking that switch off the tree and breaking it over my ass. It really knocked some sense into me. It set me on the right path in life. It kept me out of trouble. And it is a part of the core reason why I am who I am and where I am today. Gosh, salutations to Spankingville.

So let me fast forward and then reverse. I was walking some years ago with an elected official in our denomination. We were taking a walk along the lake as we reflected on my new position as pastor. We saw some kids outside playing. They appeared to be active. We had a few words about the kids. Then this elected religious official said they remind me of you. I imagine you never visited Spankingville in your day. It was as if I had not been properly endorsed by the tried and true measure and this could be seen on me even as an adult. I experienced the comment as slightly offensive and inappropriate. That said, I have been to Spankingville and I’m qualified to talk about my visits.

Let me say, I did not get the fine quality spankings many of my peers received that left welts, marks, and one unable to sit down. My mother was more refined and resorted to the belt and/or in the moment her fist. They rarely left physical marks, but this blog is about the psychological scars that I still fight and try to move beyond even now. You can’t see them and some would even declare I turned out to be a fine individual. But before you judge the impact of the results of having been in Spankingville, at least, hear my story.

As an adult, my mother would love to share the following story with anyone who would listen including me. It is the funny story she remembers of backhanding me so hard that I fell over into the potato chip display. This story is hurtful and painful because it reminds me of the fist that I never saw coming. This story shames me and makes me want to retreat inward. It reminds me of how many years beyond that I would jump in anticipation of the fist that never came. It reminds me of how fearful I was and how even now I am still cautious beyond a fault. It reminds me of how Spankingville left me afraid to live my own life. It reminds me of a place that was damaging and how much I yearned to get out. A disclaimer: I am more free today.

So somewhere in my adult years and feeling more empowered (maybe because I didn’t get the switch treatment), I told my mother that that was a story she need not share with others or me anymore. I told her that story was not funny. Hitting someone when you are mad and out of control with their behavior or your life is not a laughing matter. Hitting someone as a form of punishment to teach them not to do it again shows them the short cut to dealing with conflict strike. Hitting a more vulnerable part of God’s creation because you are the adult is abuse. So I’m sorry I can’t join my people on this one and talk about the good old days in Spankingville because Spankingville was never fun.


Janay Rice Strikes First: Does It Justify Ray Rice Punching Her Out?

So Whoopi Goldberg is getting heat for saying, if you hit someone, then you have to be prepared to get hit back.  She concluded with that’s why she personal does not hit because she does not want to be hit.  And so there has been a little heat under Whoopi’s behind.  It’s not the first time Whoopi has said something unconventional.  What I do so appreciate about her though is her ability to have an independent thought.  She raises a point and a reality I had not, heretofore, considered.  The person who strikes first has a responsibility for their actions.  After you hit , you have to be prepared for consequences.

So I looked at the video again.  I watched to see this hit that came from Janay.  Honestly I saw her touch him but a hit I did not see.  My own partner argues it was a hit and so does Whoopi and various other people.  They experienced it as Janay violently reaching out to her partner.  And so if Janay threw the first strike, which we can hardly call a punch, does that change the game?  If Janay was the first one to make it physical, does this new information change how we think about the incident?  Does it change my belief that Ray was totally out of line?  It may not change my opinion, but it changes the layout of the field.

I remember a friend telling me she hit her husband.  I said what happened.  She said he hit me back.  And then what next?  We found other ways to communicate she replied.  I know her husband was not abusive.  He did not hit her in other instances, but he made it clear, if you decide to cross that boundary, I have something for you.  Now fortunately they are both slender in build.  And fortunately this one time encounter forged a different path.  But I always remember thinking that she did hit first.

I’m still a proponent of 0 tolerance as it relates to violence.  Ray was wrong.  But if Janay put her hands on Ray in the midst of the argument, she was wrong too.  And if she did physically strike out first, then it puts in perspective her apology.  And if she did strike first she’s not only a victim.  And if she did strike Ray first then my 0 tolerance policy applies to her.  This new information slows me up.  It makes me ponder maybe there are more sides that the larger audience does not know.  But at the end of the day Ray is a football player that partnered up with Black Barbie, and if he had punched me like he hit Janay I would have went out for the count too.  And something about him hitting her still doesn’t sit well with me.


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