Sunday, March 29, 2015


There comes a moment when all of the voices in your life become too loud.

My rapper friend L.T.Z. has a song with this chorus: “My mom’s friends say ‘Do what makes you happy.’ My pop’s friends say ‘You look just like your daddy.’ My high school friends say, ‘Man, you still rappin’?’ What kind of friend you gon’ be when you look at me?”

We all live under multiple sets of expectations:

  • Our parents want us to do certain things – and we are lucky when both parents want the same thing.  
  • Our spouses want us to do certain things. 
  • Our bosses want us to do certain extracurricular things.  
  • Our pastors want us to do certain things.  
  • Our fitness trainers
  • Our dietitians
  • Our neighbors
  • Our fellow-PTA members
  • Our mentors.   

All the different streams of advice can become overwhelming.

None of these people are trying to hurt us.  In the worst case scenario, they have a misguided understanding of our role in the world and think we need to behave how they say in order to keep the globe on its axis.  They mean well.  They most likely are under the distinct opinion that this course of action will make you happiest.

But when your boss wants you to take on another project that could lead to a promotion, and your husband wants you to spend more one-on-one time with both him and your middle daughter, and your pastor wants you to lead a small group, you have to look at your calendar and the bags under your eyes and understand that not every person’s advice is relevant at this moment.  Something has to yield.
(In my example, it probably seems obvious to choose family, but our choices aren’t always obvious.)

When faced with several opportunities to do something good, which do you pick? When forced to put one thing you love in front of something else you love, which do you pick?

This is when it’s best to respectfully thank all your wise voices for their advice and get on your knees with your Bible open.  Only God can show you which task or relationship needs your attention right now.  Life is about balance and everything has its time and season.  Every person and every task has seasons of yes, no, and wait.

Lao Tzu is credited with saying, “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”

I am guilty of “loving too much,” being interested in and excited by almost anything.  I want to be a teacher whose kids pass their state tests with flying colors and can brilliantly analyze Ayn Rand and Stephenie Meyer and X-Men.  I want to be on the national list of dope poets, listen to all the rap music and a spattering of all other music, and make the leaderboard of Younique cosmetics presenters.  I want to do yoga every damn day, distribute Shaklee health products, coach high school cheer, and rock healthy, huge, natural hair.  I want to co-lead a small group of Christ-followers who are doing everything they can to make earth look like heaven.  And I want to marry a dark-skinned African and have at least three smart, artistic, athletic, loving, well-adjusted kids who function well as a team. And read 50 books in a year (or 25 books every year). And fill out a March Madness bracket as someone who knows which teams are good.  And run a 5k.  And be a weekday vegan who cooks 90% of the meals at home.

Are you starting to see my problem? There’s almost no way in the world to accomplish all these goals at once.  This is a bucket list.  This might be a bucket list and a half, despite the fact that I plan to live to be 100.  And different people from different areas of my life want me to accomplish each of these goals sooner rather than later.

I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Uptown Girls.  Brittany Murphy’s character has a bunch of possessions she claims to love, but she is recently broke and needs the income that selling many of them would bring in.  Her friend tells her she must “streamline. Find your center.” She means: not everything here is truly important to you. Some of it can be “sold” to “pay for” something that is closer to the core of who you are.

Some of us spend too much time underneath others’ words and we have forgotten the strength and intelligence of our highest selves, the selves who are closest to God, who have His words hidden in our hearts.  Some of us have become too invested in things and people that are not essential to us reaching our most important goals.

When confusion comes, take in all the advice, take inventory of all your baggage, then sit down with nothing but the truth and figure out what is truly attached to your core.


Monday, March 9, 2015

SAE Just Showed Us Why There's Not Enough Love For All of Us

Disclaimer: If you have not read this BLACK SAE's post, do that first. Seriously, his is more relevant, closer to the issue.  His takes priority over mine. In fact, here's a video too.

Disclaimer: I am a Christian. We are supposed to look at deeper issues than race. Me and Jesus are working on that. Until we get it worked out, this post will be written and read.  As Anne Lamott told us writers: "Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth."  Knowing me, there will be an equally expository and self-deprecating piece on a faith-based reaction later on.

Disclaimer: If you don't intend to read ALL of this, do me a favor and don't read any of it.  If you're Caucasian American, something near the top will piss you off.  Not "it might," it definitely will. So either commit to your decision to be pissed off, or don't even read beyond here.

Disclaimer: I will not name any organization beyond the one whose reputation we no longer have to protect because they are done for.  I am doing this for several reasons: 1) One of my best friends is Greek to her core and she gets very upset when I discuss this. 2) I, personally, did not have a single blatant racist experience at college. In fact, I knew some very interested and sensitive advisors.  I know that if I start naming orgs, then they pop up in Google right along side the most guilty party.  I'm not mad at them; I am just participating in the national discussion.  3) I'm a teacher and I hate playing into people's laziness.  If you want to know where I went to college, it's in the public domain, as is the name of the organization I was (am?) a member of. But I would argue that it doesn't matter.

Disclaimer: I represent absolutely no one. I am just a Latinegra telling her story.

Some terms you should know:
PWI/PWC/PWU - Predominantly White Institution/College/University; everything that wasn't founded by a person of color.
NPC - National Panhellenic Conference - the governing body of (predominantly white) female Greek social organizations
NPHC - National Pan-Hellenic Council - the governing body of both male and female Black Greek organizations
NIC - North-American Interfraternity Conference - the governing body of (predominantly white) male Greek social orgs; the larger version of IFC - Interfraternity Council
Rush/Recruitment - the process of choosing or being chosen for a Greek org
BSA/BSU - Black Student Association/Union - an organization on a campus that unifies African American students on that campus and usually stays connected to the BSA/BSUs of other nearby colleges/universities. These organizations were originally formed as shelters for Black students at PWIs (perhaps those who did not want to be sheltered in the NPHC Greek system). For obvious reasons, BSA/BSUs don't exist at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (while NPHC orgs were originated at HBCUs and thrive there).


Once upon a time, I was born into a college-educated, well-spoken, well-read, well-traveled family of not all Black people.  My uncle married a white lady back when it was a big deal.  Her family lives close to mine, so from the second I was born my cousins were all the colors of the race spectrum.  My white cousins and I used to love to confuse people by telling them we are cousins and then explaining how.

Once upon a time, I was smart and snobby - oh wait, that hasn't totally changed - and I had expensive tastes.  I wanted to go to a "good school" with other smart, driven people who understood how brilliant I was.  I also wanted to be close to my friends (primarily the mixed one I was in love with, and the 2 white girls I was friends with, and the black guy I could never get to date me); wanted to rise through the ranks of leadership and accolades just like we had in high school.

I picked a private PWI.  Because I was an idiot.  Most socially conscious people already know that the university's status as private is at least partially why it's a PWI. It's hella expensive.  I am getting a second job next week in order to work at paying it off.  Most expensive decision of my life.

At Any University America, you have pre-school activities for incoming freshman.  They throw you several parties, all of which say, "Thanks for your money! Here's all the fun stuff you can do with it!" But they leave out that "all the fun stuff" will cost more money.  At Any University America, NPC and IFC Rush (see the terms above) is one of the pre-school activities. So you sign up for classes and dorms and buy parking spaces and books, but before you ever set foot in class you decide if you want to be Greek. I find this ridiculous.

NOW, at Any Large Public University America, the NPHC (see terms) members are standing at booths and stomping the yard (yes, that is a real thing) during orientation week, telling poor, naive, misguided Black kids like me, "Hey girl, you don't wanna rush those organizations. They don't care about our community. Wait a year, keep your grades up, come to our mixer next month, and rush for us next semester/year."

But at my tiny, private university in America, there were not enough Black students interested in any one NPHC org to charter one, so there was no Black Greek presence on campus.  Not only that, but there was another Black girl in an NPC org there.  I saw her and said, "Yes! Someone who gets me!" Plus my friends from high school were all Greek - one white girl in the org I subsequently joined, the mixed guy and the black guy both in another org on campus.  I went to that university to be with my friends.  Why not go big or go home? I didn't have a Black community to save me. And I didn't think I needed saving.

After all, there's quite enough love for all of us. There's quite enough joy and quite enough laughter to chase away gloom, for my sisters, all my sisters are in this very room.

From the first second I walked across the threshold to the last alumnae event I went to in an attempt to continue being sisters with women who I had very little in common with, every woman I met in that house respected me as a human, as an intellectual, as a member of the same organization. They treated me like a sister to the best of their ability.  All problems (there were not many) were a result of simple, natural personal conflicts (they didn't love my best friend's personality either and she's white) that occur regardless of race and class. I do not hold a single one of the women who were members at the time I was a member at fault for anything anyone else has ever said or done. They were sweet. They almost made me believe that racism was past.  In that room, for three years, there was quite enough love for all of us.  I even met several girls from other chapters of this org and they were all lovely to me as well. 

Second semester freshman year, I started dating a senior from one of the state universities who was also a member of an NPHC org.  From the first moment I mentioned it, he never stopped lecturing me about how being a member of an NPC org made me some kind of race traitor.  I heard that from the next guy I dated too - a graduate of the same university, but in a different NPHC org.  I heard that from the most recent guy I dated - a graduate of a different large public university, but from the same NPHC org as the first.  The point is: the bewilderment was pervasive. Why in the world would I give them all my time and money and fancy dresses and photos?

I was so naive.
Why not? I asked.
We're all human. I said.
This is 2008. I said.
They like me. I said.
They think I'm smart. I said.
They put me in office. I said.

My junior year, the BSA at my school started becoming much more actively involved in campus happenings and I was drawn in.  I felt the tension immediately.  Ask my best friend - who was pretty high on the totem pole of our org; I started talking about "black stuff" a lot all of a sudden.  Junior spring, I went with BSA to the Big Twelve Conference on Black Student Government.

Talk about CHANGE MY LIFE!
Here's a statement to make all the Black people mad at me too: I was so pleasantly shocked to find out that there were large quantities of Black people who were just as smart, organized, and driven as me - they just all went to other (cheaper) schools!

I got knocked down several notches that week, that year.  If I'm not the smartest Black kid in the U.S. there must be another reason or set of reasons why I am the smartest (okay, okay, fourth-smartest) Black kid I know.  Maybe it's regional.  Maybe it's because they were all smart enough to choose cheaper schools.  Maybe it's because they were so smart they got full-rides to east and west coast schools instead of staying in the dirty south where most of the racists are hiding.

Maybe the answer is not simple.

Maybe I wasn't as smart then as I thought I was.

At Big Twelve, I started understanding for the first time how institutional racism works. How the white sorority girls at all schools act afraid of the Black athletes who speak American Black English Vernacular and listen to their sweary, offensive rap music way too loud. I started understanding how I could listen to our music, and speak our language, and still want to change the world.  I started seeing that there was value - more value - in sisterhood and brotherhood among my actual sisters and brothers than among white people.  I started seeing who had my back.

When I transferred universities, I met a few girls who were members of an NPHC org who also tried to convince me to denounce my white org.  I didn't hold any real allegiance to them any more.  But I wasn't ready to let go of the idea that I could represent some kind of shift in the world, where I could be in that white org because my friends were, because they wanted me as their sister.

And until Sunday night watching SAE chant about lynching niggers who can't join their organization and Monday afternoon reading this mean-spirited, prejudiced, and hilarious response that I understood their point.

Why did the SAE members chant that? 
Because every single thing comes down to who has your back and whose back you have. SAE wanted us all to know they don't have any niggers' backs. None of us. Not one. Ever.

Not if we want friends to party with on the weekend.
Not if we need a lift because our tire went flat.
Not if they are the cop and we are driving 10 miles over the speed limit to our friend's house to take them medicine because they are sick.
Not if we need a job.
They will never have our backs. We're just niggers.

Why did that prompt me to tell my story?
In this article linked above, Dante wrote, "How many other frats saw that video and their first thought was 'WHEW! Thank God they didn’t catch our shit on video too!'?" and I laughed, before realizing that is the question I've been asking myself for 5 years. Will James (see the first posted link, which you should have already read) is sitting somewhere putting on a fake smile for his baby boy because his "brothers" were nice to him just like my "sisters" were. I was reading that article and crying, because I know exactly what he meant.  I know it with hundreds of dollars and hundreds of photos and a dozen semi-formal gowns, and a song that promised me there was quite enough room for all of us.  But can I say with any certainty that my (former) org will never make national news for singing something racist? You can say yes, because in general women are classier than men.  You can say yes, because we are smarter than to film ourselves being stupid.  But until you can show me the founding documents where Ethel and Beth and Odette (not the founders' real names) stated that they welcomed members of all races, then we will never know.  There might be a chapter in Mississippi singing a song just as ugly.  And my "sisters" will keep saying they love me until that video is leaked.  Just like Will James's "brothers" loved him.

I am not mad about ridiculous obvious racism like SAE's chant.  People suck.  I'm over it.  I get mad when people who are otherwise intelligent behave as though they are oblivious and unaware of systemic injustice and racism.  I get mad when a woman looks me in my eyes and tells me there's enough love for all of us but won't stand up to protest for the remanding and imprisonment of Daniel Holtzclaw who is charged with 26 counts of abuse to Black women on the east side of my city.  That's what our philanthropy is for, isn't it?

Or was my ex-boyfriend right? They don't care about it when it's our community.

Why did I write this?
We can't do anything but tell our stories and hope the collection will show the world what kind of mess we have always been wading in.
SAE is talking about lynching niggers and an unarmed Black person still dies every 28 hours at the hands of a person who is not prosecuted. They might not be connected; or they might be two sides of the same coin.

Questions Black People Will Ask:
Why didn't your parents tell you not to join a white org?
They did. I was both naive and stubborn.
They were also unable to clearly articulate the specific and compelling reasons why I shouldn't.  "Don't do it" has never been a convincing argument, especially not from your parents who told you not to walk and chew gum or sing at the dinner table.  I needed convincing, real life, anecdotal, convincing reasons.

What do you mean you don't know any smart Black people?
I know a TON of them now. I didn't know them then.  They stayed away from me because I was always looking down my nose at them. That perspective was my fault, not ours. I now understand that what makes Black people seem less smart than white people is really systemic racism in our education system and in our society.  I know now.  I'm sorry.

If you had it to do over what would you do?
Go to a large public university and not be Greek at all.  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Brokenness Over Belligerence

"She only cusses when she's angry and she only gets angry at the right things." - me about myself on 9-3 after doing a bit too much research into educational malpractice.

There's a song by Matthew West called "My Own Little World." When I hear it on K-Love or read through the lyrics, I see privilege (many people of color would call it "white privilege" although it's more about money than race). But I also see a man who knows he is operating from a place of privilege and wants to change it.  He sings, "break my heart for what breaks Yours," and I know that the heart of God is broken by needless and senseless violence, death, greed, poverty, depression, bullying, the abandonment and abortion of children, inequities in education and opportunity.  All of that breaks the heart of God. I know it and so does Matthew West. 


I also know that, by God's standard, hatred is never ever appropriate.  I recently learned through a pastor that, by God's standard, apathy is not appropriate either.  So I can't hate the guy who doesn't give a flying fig about education equity.  He's not all bad anyway. 
I can't hate the people on my timeline who care more about property damage than the loss of a life, hundreds of black lives. Those people are not all bad. They are teachers and church organizers and in general they are sweet.

It's so much easier to be angry than to be hurt.

If I could have, rather than sitting with my friends and cussing about the injustice of adults of who mistreat or inadvertently screw up the futures of children, I would have cried.  For me, anger is almost never anger at its root; it is either fear or grief.

The appropriate thing to do when you're afraid - if you're a Christian and you walk in the authority you share with Christ - is to fight off the devil and his schemes (usually through intercessory prayer and declaration of the Word).  God did not give us a spirit of fear.  So comforting ourselves with our anger is actually akin to cowardice.  Because we are afraid to fight, we are going to let the devil win and simply throw a little tantrum to keep up appearances.

The appropriate thing to do when you feel grief is to cry - especially if you're a woman.  I once picked up a book that I wanted so badly to read.  It is If You Have to Cry, Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone.  I was inspired by her bravery and her determination and her ability to remain professional no matter what.  But I know now, the Lord would not give me the stamina to read that book because that is not a concept I need further internalized in my life.

Sometimes our hearts get broken and when that happens, there is no better reaction that to release the pain and anger.  Too many times we mask our grief as aggression and our fear as anger.

Remember that there is a blessing in the storm.  Remember that the Lord has not brought you into the desert to leave you to dehydrate and die.  Remember that He works all things together for our good.