With one eye toward my next book, I wanted to take some time to look back on how far I’ve come as an author. Here is the first essay I had published; it was adopted from a research paper for a graduate course I took many years ago. For authenticity’s sake, I kept this piece exactly as it was all those years ago – worts and all. Peace
Our society would have us believe that interracial relationships are becoming more accepted. The racial landscape of America has changed drastically within the past forty years – the Civil Rights Movement helped repudiate laws and overt practices which barred Blacks from receiving rights and being treated equal to Whites; the Women’s Movement overturned laws and social practices which hindered women from making choices regarding their physical appearances, termination of pregnancies, and display of sexualities. Yet, interracial relationships are still taboo. The following are obstacles are inevitable for interracial couples. Overcoming these obstacles, however, will require moving beyond historical racial conflicts and unlearning the lessons on race relations that society continues to erroneously teach. And though our society discourages us from dating outside of our race, the benefits of engaging in interracial relationships have proved to be profound.
One of the first factors to consider when engaging in an interracial relationship are those persons – both strangers and loved ones – who are adamant about showing their disapproval for your partner. For multiple reasons, whether it’s ignorance or the historical conflict of the races, there will be people who will frown upon your choice of dating someone of a racial background different than your own. They will grit their teeth and turn up their noses, give your partner cold stares and scowl when the two of you hold hands, and will practically ignore you whenever you bring your significant other in their midst – treating your partner as if he or she is nonexistent. Such behavior may be expected from strangers. But, your friends and family members may also act so disgustingly. And thus, be especially sensitive when lover complains that one of your friends or family members made a rude comment or scowled their way. Comfort your lover. Promise your lover you will confront the person who has offended him or her, and do so. Do not be afraid to hold friends and family members accountable for their actions. Inviting that friend or relative out to dinner with your partner may seem like a novel idea. But that encounter may end in disaster, with your mate offended and angry, and your friend or relative reaffirming his or her bigoted thoughts. On the same note, offering explanations about whom you chose to date is inconsequential. If your brother truly loves you, he will also love the person you bring home. Depending on your parents’ upbringing and social circle, bringing your mate home to meet your parents for the first time can be a grueling task or a pleasant encounter.
It is also imperative to be conscious of social scenes at the early stages of your interracial relationship. Your lover could end up being the minority in a particular setting, and before you are aware, stares and comments will already have ensued. If your lover begins to feel shunned and left out of conversations, he or she may grow resentful; deducing your actions – which may suggest, unbeknownst to you, contentment with the biased behaviors – as wanting to act as a couple when the two of you are alone; that is, in social scenes you prefer not be “seen” with him or her. To avoid such confusion, properly introduce your partner as such, and fear not demonstrating the public displays of affection the two of you have agreed upon. Include your partner in conversations you are having and try not to leave your mate alone with people s/he are unfamiliar with for long periods of time. Your partner will find comfort knowing you have no reservations about your relationship.
Another lesson to be learned is to cherish the diversity of your partner’s heritage rather than spitefully complaining about the difference between your cultures. The first time you bring your partner home for Thanksgiving, for instance, he or she may be confused to find there are no collard greens, sweet corn bread, or homemade gravy. But just as families of different religious affiliations celebrate holidays uniquely, so too do families of different racial backgrounds. Embedded within each racial group are ethnicities that have cultures and identities all their own – including a distinct cuisine, music, and other characteristics which that group contribute to our society. Germans eat candy out of their shoes on Christmas Eve. A little eccentric you may think at first, but that is exactly what makes our society so wonderful.
Should you feel unable to fully grasp the nuances of your partner’s heritage, try to make a conscious effort to educate yourself about those nuances. Consider reading books by authors who are of the same racial background as your mate, then discuss the readings with your lover. Not only will you and your partner surface upon spiritual elation, but also the barriers of communication will come crumbling down more easily.
Interracial couples may need to work more arduous to break communication barriers than intraracial couples. When communicating with someone from our own racial group, we take for granted therein lies a similar vernacular. Thus, not inquiring about your partner’s true intentions when confused will become frustrating when you’re stuck trying to decipher your partner’s phrases instead of spending quality time together. That which is “All set” to some is “Straight” to others. Italian-Americans know that gravy is not the brown lumpy stuff that goes on turkey; it is the red sauce that goes on pasta. As with any relationship, listen to your partner, rather than just hearing the words flow from their mouths; and when confused, ask questions.
It takes a great deal of patience to remain happy in an interracial relationship. Be patient with your partner, and especially with yourself. When people engage in interracial relationships for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to be anxious – for example, showing their partner affection in public. Try not to be discouraged if initially your boyfriend does not seem to want to hold hands when walking through the mall. Rather, open the doors of communication, and speak with your lover to find out if either of you are intimidated by showing affection publicly.
Another immanent issue in interracial relationships is trust. If the relationship is to thrive, both partners should make conscious efforts to trust their partner enough to take risks. Your lover may offer you a dish that you have never heard of, never mind tasted, like chitlings. Try not to be put off by the aroma. If you trust your partner – and why would you engage in a relationship with someone if you do not trust them – you should trust him or her enough to experience something which may have seemed foreign to you previously. One of the primary benefits to being in an interracial relationship is the opportunity to learn about another culture. Embrace the offers made by your partner. Have a few slices of proscuitto or go to that Alanis Morissette concert. You may just enjoy yourself.
As with any relationship, follow your heart. If you are indulging yourself in an interracial relationship because you are curious about having sex with the other person, do not expect much romance to blossom. An interracial relationship is an excellent opportunity to learn about another culture, and at the same time find someone who may complete you.
All in all, engaging in interracial relationships can be a vast learning experience, especially more so than intraracial relationships. As a result, interracial relationships have the potential to stay fresh longer because the partners are constantly learning – not only about the person whom they are dating, but also about their family traditions and ethnic customs. Furthermore, when involved in an interracial relationship, you will not only be subjecting yourself to the unfortunate prejudices from opposing racial groups, but also to prejudices from your own racial group – which is, sadly enough, where you will truly experience just how close-minded others are.
Interracial couples also bring the world one step closer to acceptance, understanding, appreciation, and embracing of cultures other than those that dominate our society. Not everyone can engage in interracial relationships, however. For then, we would lose our individually rich heritages.
When you finally find love and he or she happens to be of a racial background different than your own, you would be quite foolish to turn away that person just because their skin color different than yours – a practice our parents instilled in us when our society was far less Civil.
This was someone whose footsteps I always wanted to follow. We were RAs together and after graduating, she went into higher education. A year later, after graduating, I found myself going into higher education. She ventured into student leadership and development, and I went into student leadership and development. She made the jump into the corporate world, and I wanted to make that same move. All though her journey, I had no idea that her some of jobs were just as UNFILFILLING as my own. Upon interviewing her for the webinar I facilitated last week on the elusive dream job, I uncovered this nugget of wisdom from my friend, Jen, which is just as fitting for recent college graduates as it is for seasoned professionals:
“Get a side hustle! If your job isn’t filling you up, then find something that will – something you can do alongside what’s (currently) paying the bills. It could be working on a book you always wanted to write, or volunteering at an organization. For me, it was DJing. I totally stumbled into it. I basically taught myself. And in the beginning, I would work all week at my full-time job and be miserable and mentally exhausted by Friday. But then I would hit the boards at a club on a Friday night and the dance floor would be PACKED and people we having a great time and I was like “I did that!” And it just lit me up. And I was instantly hooked. I would only make a couple hundred dollars per gig, but it was not about the money – it was about doing something that felt like I was applying my talents to bring joy to people. And now, here I am, five years later, turning down gigs because I’m too busy!”
Still on a high from the webinar I facilitated for my alma mater!!!! The topic: the elusive dream job. To prepare for the webinar, I interviewed several friends with whom I graduated about how they have been able to attain their dream jobs AND what lessons they learned along the way. From my preparations, I learned (fortified, really) that the dream job – or the very idea of it, anyway – is, indeed, elusive.
Before I get there, I had done some prior research into friends’ pursuit of the dream job, that, I think, will provide a framework here. Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who admitted he was in a rut. He was in his mid-twenties, he had a great career (a lawyer, for god sakes!), lived on his own, was single and ready to mingle, and was your typical bachelor. But, still, he felt stuck in a rut.
He wasn’t the only friend who professed this to me. Another friend lives in Boston (well, just outside of Boston, really, like most people who live in Boston) and is ready to party as soon as his phone starts to buzz. At the time, he was a manager at his job and by all means was successful. Yet, he also felt stuck.
Another one of my friends lives in Connecticut also felt their pain. She was unhappy but not miserable at work – which only means she didn’t really like her job, and it’s not what she wanted to do (although at the time, she did not really know what she actually wanted to do); but her job was not terrible enough to make her quit. Beyond work, she was out partying every Saturday, at Happy Hour every Friday, and had Girls Nights about once a month. She vacationed with her girlfriends and had heart-to-hearts anytime she needed them. Despite that, something was missing.
If that wasn’t enough, another friend from New Hampshire, who is married, has two children, and makes six figures (which makes my puny paycheck look like crap!), wishes he could go back. He loves his life now — his wife, his children, dog, white-picket fence, and all that nuclear family jazz – but every now and then, he talks about the way things used to be.
And then there was me. Stuck.
We were all afflicted by it.
But what if the issue was not with us as much as it was with how we were all taught to view the idea of a career? More specifically, the dream job.
Our brains are still forming until our mid-20s, most teenagers are still unsure of themselves in high school, yet we expect people to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. First problem.
I liken this to the way we are socialized to view women in the media. Pick any magazine cover with featuring a woman and you will undoubtedly see flawless skin. Eyes that pop. Pouty lips. Long, flowy hair. Impeccable physiques.
This image is dated, I’ll admit that. But, I used it on the webinar because it was tame (relative to the others from Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition) AND features a notable celebrity.
See, we adore these images (and our female celebrities) because in our eyes, at least how we have been taught to view them, these women are perfect examples of beauty. But it is almost as if we pay no attention to the editing, enhancements, and Photoshoping that has taken place to deliver to us the image of (in this case) the perfect woman. For many of us, those adjustments to the image do not matter – all that does matter is what we see: flawless skin. Eyes that pop. Pouty lips. Long, flowy hair. Impeccable physiques. Because this image has been enhanced and adjusted, it becomes an illusion.
And this illusion begins to color how we respond to women in the media (they become sex objects, which is another lesson, for another day) and impacts how we treat women in our everyday lives.
The reality is we are given perfected images of what a beautiful woman looks like, and gone unchecked, the images become our standards for beauty. Standards based on illusions.
How we have come to see career is similar. Something that, for most of us, can feel both real yet unachievable at the same time. We learn that our careers should provide financial wealth, allow us to afford a home, go on vacation, and ultimately become a boss! Rarely do we hear about those things we may not attain through our career such as family or a sense of belonging, and how those values impact our professional selves.
So what I encourage students, and new graduates to do, is reframe that way in which they see career, the amount of value they place on a career, and how much influence they allow a career to have over them. Not easy, by any means. But this mindset can be adjusted by working on self-reflection, developing and working towards both a personal mission and goals, as well as working to achieve work-life balance.
Our problem is we have already frolicked through the fields of heaven (that was our college experience), so the circumstances we’re going through now simply feel like purgatory. We’re all wishing we could somehow fuse our lives now with our lives from back then. We all wish we could return to a life that was.
Here is a piece that I had started right after graduating from college, hoping to tap into the darkness with which Edgar Allen Poe wrote.
Bane of an Existence
I will forever remember this night all the days of my existence; it will forever be cemented within my memory as the day in which I lost all that I love – for I no longer love myself after this disastrous deed.
Somewhere buried under all the knowledge we think we have obtained, the wisdom we think we possess, and the experiences we think we are grateful to have, lie disastrous deeds, unfortunate incidents, and grotesque images that we only wish we can forget about.
I was only to blame. And yet blame was the one descriptor that no one, not even officers of the law, dared associate with me.
Whenever I was overcome with sadness, I frequented the priest who presided over the parish I attended during my adolescent years. Yet, he did absolutely no good in helping me to reveal my inner-most thoughts. I became lethargic, confused, and sullen. And while I do not entirely remember the happenings of that night, I do remember particular events, either because they have been embedded within my memory from their intensity or simply because my drunken stupor will only allow me to recall these specific events. It is my sister, however, who has pieced together the incidents I could not and made them as clear as a morning’s day.
On this horrific day, my sister recalls haven spoken to me on my cellular phone after I left my place of work, and after speaking with some of my co-workers, she uncovered how I had been sitting in a bar for quite some time, when an acquaintance, whom she will call Tyson, began trying to cajole me, with incessant chants, to accompany him into becoming nothing more than a grotesquely inebriated monstrosity: “You won’t do it! (clap, clap, clap clap clap)…You won’t do it (clap, clap, clap clap clap),” I can still hear him shouting, with nearly all of the other patrons in the tavern joining in, as the bartender poured a shot of Banana Schnapps (100 proof alcohol) in front of me. Before the bartender could change the bills which Tyson handed him for the drink, I had picked up the miniature glass, and chugged, not sipped!, the alcohol until the other drunkards congratulated me with a round of applause. Somehow I impressed Tyson by finishing the shot more quickly than he had envisioned, though I am told I only sipped the liquor, that he ordered two additional shots as the bartender was exchanging moneys with the cash register. The bawled up expression the Banana Schnapps left upon my face was an indication of my tongue’s utter disgust, my stomach’s anger, and the burn raging within my chest.
As the bartender poured the next two shots, I began shaking my head in refusal, seeking solace from the burn. “Chase it with this,” Tyson suggested, sliding his beer in front of me. “C’mon, Ed! Stop looking at it and drink the fuckin’ thing,” he yelled something to the effect. Indeed, I do recall how the alcohol seemed to send me into a daze; my actions were beginning to feel mechanical and I felt no longer in control. Tyson began chanting again, triggering additional voices, and together they blasted away any chance of reason, second thoughts, or denial. Unable to further resist the compelling forces, the bartender informed my sister how I picked one of up the miniature glasses and threw the alcohol inside my mouth, swallowing almost with ease. And before I could place the glass back onto the bar, there were more incessant screams and the regulars began to pat me on the back; I vividly recall their hands slamming upon my shoulders as if I were being chastising rather than congratulated. Tyson yelled and handed me the next miniature glass and I quickly gulped down that shot and again the incessant chants arose.
And I will be the first to admit that the wrongdoing on my part began at that moment, in that bar, when I refused the alcohol being poured in front my person. I do remember, albeit vaguely, Tyson’s antics being so dreadfully annoying that I wanted do whatever it would have taken to subside his chants. And it is that same lack of conscious control that has now led me to repudiate physical pain, thus my fingernails being bitten off almost completely, the section of my scalp which bares no hair, and the broken bones in both my hands. I will admit that I am not the same sane and conscious fellow I once was because of the deed of which I am speaking.
After the three fiery gulps of alcohol I could stand no more. And as I rose to my feet, the bartender did attest, I found out that I could also stand no more. But, he informed my sister how I stumbled my way out of the door, with no goodbyes or thank yous; for how could I thank those heathens for helping me to inebriate myself when I only wanted a refuge from the maddening occurrences of my household – my daughter, in her third year, was running amuck, and my wife, could hardly restrain the adolescent girl; but to my wife’s credit, she had been pregnant with our second child and was expected to deliver any day. But the chants at the bar did not penetrate nearly as deep as did the frantic behavior by both women: I could no longer stand the wining, “Mommy, I can’t tie my shoe again,” my daughter would sing whenever she yearned for attention; “Oh Ed, I can’t bend down to pick up Maggie’s shoes,” my wife would call out. I could no longer take the tantrums of my daughter, running over my bare feet; I had worked laying brick and my work boots always left my feet swollen until the next morning. She’d barely escape her mother’s outstretched arm, but the scolding was inescapable, at least for me, as she fled with tears in her eyes and another cookie in her hands. And I could no longer deal with my wife, pregnant and all, asking me to help her out of the bathtub, out of bed, out of a chair, out of anything she could get herself into. That being said, will you concur that I was not mad at the time, but simply overstressed?
It seemed that each day of the week I am speaking, my wife and I rushed to the hospital, and each time we were informed that her prenatal pains were a false alarm. And on this particular day of which I am speaking, I remember hoping that her prenatal pains would not ensue until I arrived home for the night. My sister somehow traced the calls of my cellular phone and uncovered that I received a call from my home number, where she only assumes that just as I stumbled into my car, my wife alerted me that her pains were beginning again and that I should meet her at the hospital.
How I managed to insert the key into the ignition and drive the car in the direction of the hospital is beyond my comprehension. I can attest that while I was on the road the cars in the opposing lanes all seemed to be darting towards me, as if we were transfixed in a demolition match. I must have grown annoyed at the passing automobiles, for I recall incessant honks of my horn. It is possible that I veered both left and right in hopes of avoiding the on-comers, but I somehow swerved away from one vehicle, and another steered right into me!
I never lost consciousness, though I always wish I had; for I know the memory of the accident is the Lord’s punishment for my tortured soul. And at this point, I am afforded, or cursed with, my full memory of the proceeding events:
My eyes were closed and when I reopened them, smoke filled the air and a large white pillowy-sac-like object was in my forefront. At this point, the inebriated dizziness I felt only seconds beforehand had vanished and a new dizziness had overtaken my senses. My head and shoulders were resting upon the driver side door, which had detached from the car’s body and was lying on the ground. My lower back and hips were upon the driver’s seat, barely, and my feet hung still in the air. I snaked my lower appendages onto the ground and pushed myself onto my hands and knees, for I had not enough strength to completely rise to my feet; the glass that shattered upon the ground burrowed into the palms of my hands and into my knees as well. I crawled towards the vehicle I’d collided with; it looked as if my own. The crash was so intense that I was thrown from my car and into and out of the other, I began to think. I felt alive but thought of myself as deceased. I was a rejected soul trapped in purgatory!
I soon heard sirens blaring and lights flashing. Blood had been smeared all across the windshield of my car. Incomprehensible voices began to penetrate the air and they prompted me to halt. I was not dead! I was immediately carted off to the hospital where, during my overnight stay, I learned that there were three passengers in the other vehicle involved in the collision, and all had died.
I did not sleep much that night, as I lay awake worrying what explanation I would offer to my wife. I was so dazed from the accident that I could hardly discern any one voice from another. Soon after the stitches were sewn into my neck, back, and shoulders and staples placed into my scalp, I received visitation from the doctor who had performed the bloody tasks asking if I had a next of kin to notify. I spoke the name of my wife and my home telephone number and moments later was told she was on the phone. I lifted the receiver to my ear, when before I could complete the greeting of “Hello,” I heard screams of joy. She informed me that she would be in to see me immediately. Hours passed, and I found both refuge and recuperation in sleep. Upon my awakening, I found my sister sitting in a chair beside to me. She grabbed my hand and kissed it and tears began to run down her face. She delivered to me the most astonishing and disastrous news I do ever remember hearing, or reading, or receiving in any medium for that matter.
When the doctor called my home and asked for Mrs. Johnston, she, my sister, answered in the affirmative, not realizing herself that she would be considered a Ms. Johnston seeing as though she has never married. My sister later helped me to piece together the incidents. With her help, I recalled how I drank myself into a great stupor. Somehow I found myself driving towards the hospital, which I later realized was in the direction opposite of which I had been traveling. But as I drove, I crashed my car into my own. My wife and daughter were the occupants and were on their way to the hospital, where my wife was to give birth to my second child, the third passenger. And the only reason my daughter was permitted to accompany her mother is because she hadn’t seen me all day and was throwing another tantrum and my wife hadn’t the strength to discipline one child when she was in labor with another. My sister was house-sitting, as she has done each time that week, until my wife and I were to return home from the hospital.
I killed my wife and two children! But, I could not be charged and tried and imprisoned for such offenses because the police officers did not check my blood-alcohol levels. Their primary purpose, at the time of the accident, was to check the victims into a hospital, where they could be seen by surgeons. They searched for my identification, and identification of my wife, and before long, realized we were married. And I only assume that the officers made the assumptions that both my wife and I had been driving along in my car, or the car in which my wife and children were driving, when we, rather they, were struck by an oncoming automobile; definitely plausible, since, upon the officer’s arrival, I had made my way towards the passenger door. I later realized how oblivious I had been in thinking I was thrown from one vehicle and into and out of another, as such a predicament is feasible certainly not. Without proof I had been driving drunk, besides my own confessions which I tried offering numerous times but was told since my memory did not permit me to recall each event of that night, my story would not be considered genuine or credible, I could not be tried for the crime.
Duly, I have become the bane of my own existence, thus, the countless attempts at taking my own life; and I am left in this white jacket with my arms strapped underneath.
I posted Part I of this letter in July of 2016, following the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Now that the city of St. Anthony has reached a settlement with the Castile family, yet the officer who murdered Philando was acquitted, I’ve felt compelled to withdraw from it all. I want nothing to do with current events, news stories, social media, you name it, I want out…all the while knowing that I will never be truly able to retreat from the real issue – racism. See, I could not (and still cannot) imagine living in a country where a person who looks like me, can be murdered, simply because they look like me, and no one is held responsible…but here is nearly three million dollars to avoid “a federal civil rights lawsuit” as one article suggests.
So here is Part II of this letter, now that I’ve had a chance to reel in my thoughts from running on hyper drive.
Dear (if you’re my friend, and you’re White, insert your name here),
Because the answer to dismantling the racial tension we’re experiencing as a country is not to retreat to our individual racial and ethnic sides of the fence, and point fingers at the Others – on the opposite side of the fence, as if to say, you’re what’s wrong with this country – I am writing to continue the conversation.
Has it gotten any realer?
By that I mean the racial tension in this country that feels as thick and overbearing as the humidity on a scorching summer’s day. By that I mean the discomfort one ought feel at seeing a person get shot, the final moments of their life caught on a cell phone video. By that I mean hearing people proclaim, “go back to your country”.
See, social justice warriors would avow that during times like these, we shouldn’t worry ourselves with the feelings of the majority, but instead, with the rights of the minority. And while I believe in this idea on many levels, on one particular level – from my experience in helping bring under-represented groups to the figurative table (as a member of the dominant group you aren’t particularly under-represented, but just go with it) – these are the times when we should be engaging in dialogue with the dominant group. So again I ask, has it gotten any realer?
I’m hoping it has. If you’re my friend, that is, it probably has. It has to be tough knowing you are part of the larger group that has historically inflicted harm and marginalized other groups. And even though you do not participate in those inflictions, you still benefit from them, and the subsequent marginalizations. It’s similar to the bouts I face with my own privilege as a male. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot undo all of the atrocities committed by the group of which you’re a part. So, if you are my friend, you undoubtedly have inner conflict over the racial tension sweeping across our nation with flu-like quickness. I’m sure you’ve been scapegoated, and stared at, and had insulting remarks yelled in your direction because of the actions of some of the people who are in the dominant group to which you belong. So I’m writing because I’m wondering if it has gotten any releaser. See, those scapegoats, stars, and insulting remarks are what many of us face daily. But I realize they may be new for you, and unbeknownst to you, you’ve worked so hard at becoming, and remaining, an ally to people of color (as we’ll see below), that I’d hate for you to retreat because of the inner conflict you’re experiencing. I’m also writing because although I can’t tell you with any certainly that the inner conflict will subside, I can offer this: I’m glad you’re my friend.
In looking back on our friendship, I’m glad you laughed with me (and not at me) when I told stories of growing up Black, and poor, and fatherless. I stole a line from the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” when I used to say, “I’m just a poor Black man trying to make it at Quinnipiac”. And even though you may not have fully understood what I meant, I appreciate that you were willing to try. Like listening listening to Tupac on full blast with me (remember those days?!) or engaging me in dialogue when I told you the reason I couldn’t swim – we don’t got pools in the hood. I’m glad we had those conversations and shared that laughter. Most times, the laughter was really was a cover for the pain. On the flip side, thanks for introducing me to Alanis Morrisette, drinking games (flip cup, anyone!), and how to take pictures without giving the finger.
It’s no surprise I still remember those deep talks we had – how your father left your mother for another woman, how there was only one Black kid in your high school graduating class, and how he got picked on to no end, how you always wanted to date another girl but couldn’t find the courage. How you had cancer in high school and how your brother was an unsupportive schmuck. Those talks helped me see the world through your eyes, and how you culture works. Those talks helped me connect with you in ways that could never be duplicated in a classroom or some diversity training. More than anything, those talks helped me see you as my friend first, and your racial and ethnic group second.
For me, those talks helped things get real – my connection to you, my connection to your world, my connection to everything I was not.
By having those talks, I now see that we were able to correctly conclude that there’d been historical and institutional injustices committed against damn near every racial and ethnic groups. So when I spoke of injustices members of my family had faced, I could see in your eyes that you felt I wasn’t making it up. That validation has been important to our friendship. To be my friend, I’ve needed to know that you get it, that being Black brings about a certain level of burden. But it wasn’t just Black and White – yesterday it was the Irish, before them, Native Americans and African slaves. Now, it’s African Americans, the entire LGBT community, and our Latin brothers and sisters. Injustices have also afflicted Asians and Italians, Jews and Muslims. As Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote, “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.” I think it’s safe to say they came for me, just as they came for you. And we’ve remained friends because we spoke up for each other.
I’m asking you now to speak up because it’s real.
I’m asking this of you because there is a certain level of emotional and psychological safety I feel in your midst. You have, and continue to allow me space to share my organic thoughts when it comes to issues of race. Like the soliloquy I crafted about whether I am truly an American, after the officer who killed Michael Brown was not indicted. Or like all of those times I quoted jokes from Chappelle Show. They weren’t White jokes any more than they were Black jokes. Instead, they were humorous analyses of our cultural differences, because sometimes using humor helps lessen the pain.
See, sometimes you just need a vent session, like when women get together for a Ladies Night. Nothing against men, sometimes women need a forum to share their thoughts and experiences with other women, without judgment, and without fear of offending anyone. Similarly, sometimes I wanted to admit that I didn’t understand how some White people could do (fill in the blank – whether it was kill a lion for sport or not season their vegetables), knowing that I love you and White people, too. I appreciate that you joined me in that space. Never one did I hear I was mentally weak or that my response is just a part of my narrative or rhetoric. Your response to my response told me that I was free to have my perspective in your midst, and that I could be my authentic self.
Along those same lines, I’m better off that you challenged me when I needed it. Whether it was calling me out for being am ableist, exhibiting male privilege, or reminding me that not all White people do (fill in the blank). Even though those were tough conversations, we were able to have them – and I was willing to listen – because you are my friend. We had those conversations because we got real with each other. Through I may have given you the finger a couple of times during those talks, I can honestly say I’m a better person because you’ve challenged me.
Thank you, as well, for celebrating my culture, focusing more on our similarities than our differences, and for not trying to define my Blackness for me (as you’ve seen, you can be Black and listen to Alanis Morrisette!). Most of all, thank you for learning with me. Calling me you brother from another mother was funny. But referring to me as your nigger wasn’t cool. I know I called you that word several times, and I referred to our mutual friend who’s also Black, as my nigga. And sure, we listened and dances to music, where the lyrics seemed to be nigga this and nigga that. Through all of that, I love that you understood my boundaries and respected them.
Within our friendship, we have been able to expose each other to new ideas, and push each other to extend our comfort zones. As I sit here empathizing with you during these times where racial injustices seem like they’re at an all-time high, I have to imagine you feel as if you’re part of the problem, simply because you’re White. While I can never give you a She’s Down card for other Black folks to see, I can let you know that you are an ally and that I value your friendship. When shit goes down, I know I can count on to help stand against the injustice, and for that, I’m proud that you’re my friend. For those, and countless other reason, thanks for being someone I can count on.
So this is your ally card. And with it, I am entrusting you to bear it responsibly. I’m also asking of you to speak up because it’s real. It’s real that a family member (though marriage) commented that if I don’t like the country and he and his brothers fight for, that I should leave. It’s real that I have to teach my children to embrace their dark skin because everything on TV tells them light (that is, White) skin is the best skin (try having that conversation with a five-year-old!). It’s real that Black and Brown people are being murdered by the same groups that’s supposed to protect and serve.
In order for your ally card to remain valid, I’m asking you to take another step — let it get real. And when it gets tough, and need someone to help you process the inner conflict, you know where to find me.
Because sometimes it feels that the career we love so much
Yes, I’m in love with my career. It’s my passion, one of them, anyway. It’s (probably) the one thing I am good at doing. How good I am at my career brings to mind the line from Good Will Hunting:
“Mozart, Beethoven. They saw it, they could just play. I can’t hit the ball out of Fenway and …. But when it came to stuff like that, I could always just play”.
When it comes to providing education on sexual violence prevention, I could always just play.
I love what I do. Mostly because as a result of doing this work I am helping to make the world a better place. Like the camouflage-pants wearing guy, who approached me after a training because he wanted to shake my hand, and say thanks for presenting the material in such an engaging and non-threatening way. Or the dozens of young people (mostly women) who wanted me to tell me they knew someone who had been victimized, that they had been victimized, and wanted to know (more specifically) where they could turn to for help. Or the thank yous I receive from friends and family member who contribute when I ask for their support, who speak of the good work I’m doing. I should also mention the student who came up to me, to ask if the way her history teacher had been looking at her was wrong. (Yes, it was!)
These (along with countless others) have come to be my success stories. My very own personal motivational speeches. Reminding me of a job well done, especially on days that I need it most. That I am actually making a difference, on days when I cannot tell the difference.
So I love my career. But, lately, I’ve come to think that my career doesn’t love me.
No hyperbole here. This isn’t some haphazard comparison to abusive or toxic relationships. For, I’ve had far too many family members, friends, and clients experience abuse within their relationships to make some bullshit comparison. No, the empathy I have for survivors will not allow me to compare my career journey with the debilitating effects of abuse.
What this is about, however, is navigating this career while experiencing few strong leaders and mentors. I need only one hand, and indeed, just a couple of fingers, to count the number of strong supervisors I’ve had the pleasure of working under. Supervisors who knew how to lead a team and how to motivate each member of that team. Supervisors who empowered and engaged, instead of managed and micromanaged. Supervisors who actually cared what I thought, and did not tell me what I should know. (For that, thank you, GH.)
Being in this career knowing that adequate financial compensation is realistic…yet, my career will shell out thousands of dollars on expert so-and-so. Two separate points, though they are tied at the hip. On the one hand, my career pay is mediocre, at best. If I want to provide for my family – in the sense of affording family vacations, summer camp for the kids, and date nights for me and my wife, I would be better served working in some mindless job in the corporate world. With my career, I have to choose – family vacation or summer camp for the kids or regular date nights with my wife. Nothing extraordinary, just basic life pleasures. I can’t have it all, or so it seems, and that it disheartening.
On the other hand, if should my career (as a whole) ever finds itself in a good financial position, I don’t think those of us who work in this field, will see any of that compensation. To earn real money – the kind where you don’t have to choose between that family vacation or summer camps for the kids – you have to become an expert. What actually constitutes an expert is unknown, however. Does an expert have strong familiarity with all of the leading programs in their field? Or have almost a decade’s worth of experience? Or have provided education to over 10,000 students (middle school, high school, and college)? Does an expert do all of those things, and serve as a trustee for a state-wide agency? What about provide training for professionals? What about…, I could go on, but the point has already been made. Although I would rather not speak of my own successes, when I compare my accomplishments with those of expert so-and-so, not only do mine stack up well, but in some cases, they actually exceed the expert’s. I’m also finding that we bestow the label expert on those who have a following (a celebrity, if you will) who happens to speak up about these issues. So an actor will quickly become an expert, although the clinician who has worked with survivors for decades does the work, can speak to theory and trends, and (as my students would say) is about that life.
I do love my career. But my career doesn’t quite have a path, per say. No linear line of progression like most other careers. You’re an educator, a clinician, or a manager (and those skill sets are all vastly different). In most fields, one could expect to work as a clinician and then become a manager. But this doesn’t work that way. Most of the managers I’ve had, have just average management skills. Practically no supervisory abilities; big-picture thinking and planning are decent, at best; but they are people persons! They can check in (a term I’ve come to hate, by the way) though like nobody’s business. A hundred times per day, if necessary. They can chat your ear off about their thoughts on whatever topic. However, listening to, or being receptive to your feedback, is a skill that has seems to have evaded them.
I’ve seen high turnover in my career. Chewing people up, spitting them out. Co-workers turned friends often speak of the long hours, with little pay and no recognition, the lack of support, the ever-changing landscape (a funder once used the term, build the plane as we’re flying it, to express how their expectations would be fluctuating from year to year, hell even week to week). Wearing down our mental health and resilience, while we empower and celebrate the mental health and resilience of others whom we serve. As I write this, I accept that these traits of my career may be similar to others. That we all may have these same things in common.
Still, that doesn’t make me feel any better about being in a one-sided relationship, where you love your career, but apparently, your career doesn’t love you.
And though this feels like an abrupt ending…it’s actually symbolic of the abrupt breakups colleagues have had with our career. No personal, hand-written thank yous to co-workers…like we would send to presenters. No warm announcements of moving on to a different career field…like we get from clients once their sessions have ended. No get togethers to toast all of the successes and memories…like we always say we should. Instead, work a zillion hours today, and gone tomorrow. Abrupt.
Yet, for me, and I’m guessing for all of us, it is the impact on survivors or clients or the children or our patients that keeps up coming back. Those that we serve, both literally and figuratively.
This back and forth is precisely what it feels like to be in love with a career that doesn’t love you in return.
I attended an informal writing workshop, and found this nugget of wisdom. Imagine you’re on a beach (or some other land mass) and two people are looking for treasure. One person is looking using a metal detector, maneuvering it back and forth, covering great distances. That person is most likely to stumble across small nuggets of treasures (such as coins), only. Another person, takes an archeological approach, and digs deep. Instead of covering a wide surface, this person expends their energy digging further down into the land. This person is more likely to come across large, impactful treasures (such as fossils).
The one treasure hunter, using the metal detector, would use moments or stories to tell a tale. The other, using the archeological approach, would use ideas, concepts, or issues to tale their tale.
I’m not sure who authored this metaphor but it spoke to me! As a writer, the idea is to go deep — explore an idea, concept, or issue further than you ever have. Give it the full complement of your time, attention, and energies. That is what makes for impactful writing. Write like an archeologist. Write deep.
I logged into my Facebook account recently, and saw a notification that it was your birthday, Tashi Nicole King. I still remember saying Hi to you on graduation day – beaming that cheery smile, wearing that natural hair, as only Eryka Badu can, radiating with the lively, yet warm spirit for which you were known.
Sadly, the birthday reminder also let me know that you’re no longer with us. That you will never get to read the birthday messages posted on your wall or hear the constant dings on your computer. That you will not be able to attend the next QU reunion in the physical sense and watch Jen dance on the bar, or Euric crack yet another sexual joke. That you will never be able to read the countless letters of love from friends and family members, pouring out their hearts to you, hanging on their last memories.
Like the time we shoved a couch in the back of your old school Range Rover, bungee corded the door closed, with Jim and Stacey laying on the couch, laughing all the way down Mt. Carmel Ave. Or like the time you broke up a party my friends and I had, and I offered a wiseass remark at the sight of seeing the RAs, and your expression was priceless. It just said really, and that was one of my first lessons on accountability that year. Or like our graduation day…
Alas, I will never get to tell you that I looked to you as a role model during our college years. Not just because you were older than us traditional-aged students, but because you were comfortable in your own skin, being who you were and not who everyone may have wanted you to be – the smile, the hair, the spirit. I found that comfort, maybe 5 or 6 days out of the never ending week…but, I was mesmerized that you were Tashi all the time.
Much like our national or cultural icons, your name has come to have a particular meaning for me. Tashi. A frees spirit, like the bird Maya Angelou writes about, if it had been uncaged. A beautiful treasure, forget the Mona Lisa, you embodied a Bob Ross painting with its breathtaking baby blue skies and happy accidents.
And I won’t pretend to have been the best of your friends, but seeing your birthday moved me. How could you be gone so soon?
And though our paths crossed for but a brief period in time, I sit here wondering what you would have been doing at this very moment, had you still been with us…and I am reminded that maybe this world was not fit for your, that maybe, just maybe, you were meant to be in another world or another universe or another lifetime. There’s no other explanation for how or why you, of all people, could be gone so soon. But maybe that’s the point. To those who knew you, there were no words to adequately or accurately describe you…similarly there is no explanation for why you left us.
What is it about life that it would take the young? Those that had barely cemented their places in the world, and, by my account anyway, have more living to do. What is it about life that it would take the kind? Those who would offer the shirt off their backs (or whatever your cliché), those that were happy and gentle and kind even in spite of adversity. What is it about life that it would take Tashi? The smile, the hair, the spirited.
As graceful as your entrance, so too was your exit. So thank you for blessing us with your presence, for making our worlds better and brighter. Thank you, Tashi, for being you, and helping us be better versions of ourselves.
Every day, I hear of adults failing the young people and teenagers in their lives. This is my letter to those adults:
Dear parents who told their daughter that she simply could not go away to college:
At this impressionable age, your daughter is bubbling over with ideas and ambitions, hope and dreams. One dream that she had was to go away to college. To be on her own, for the first time, and prove to herself, that she can make it. On her own. She wanted to go away to college, not as some sort of slight against you. But to better herself. Your decision to rid her of that college dream did more than just temporarily remove her desire to go to college. It also told her that she should not even dare to dream. She did not tell you, but you left her a broken mess. She no longer believes that she has the ability to pursue something greater than herself. You shattered that vision by insinuating it was okay to have low expectations and reach for mediocrity. Unbeknownst to you, you instilled in your daughter all sorts of self-doubt. You may as well have told her that she could not accomplish her goals, or that she did not have the capability to achieve all those aspirations she had been dreaming of since she was a little girl, or that she should not even dare to dream. Your message of mediocrity will not only affect your academic aspirations, it will also affect the relationships she makes, the people she choose to date, the career that she pursues. It will impact her life in all of these ways, and so much more. Please consider a change of heart. More than, please consider letting your little girl dream again.
The counselor who had to pick up the pieces.
If that girl were to write a letter to her parents, this is how I imagine it would read:
Dear mom and dad:
Growing up, your parental voices were seldom nurturing, and were more time authoritative screams – leaving your ears deaf to my cries. Your verbal scorchings have scarred my soul, and left me devoid of spirit, hope, or ambition. You turned your back and blockaded my every attempt at capturing your attention, when I only wanted your approval. My hopes began whole and were crushed into cubes, and then used to cool your ever distracting glass of lemonade. You became my adversarial force, incessantly ordering me to and fro, stop and go. And by ignoring me, you became parentally ignorant.
I grew lonely, and then became fed up with feeling all alone.
Your ignorance again reared its ugly head when you ignored me, taking little interest in my days at school, the teachers who belittled me in front of my classmates, and the sugary candy that made my teeth rot and my tummy ache. You sat me in front of the TV, VCR, video games, and other new technological advances, and wondered why I fell sullen and melancholic. And when I didn’t respond, I was assaulted with further tongue lashings and then, the back of your hand or your thick leather strap.
I used to fight with my brothers and sisters: the mythical standards you’ve set for us had caused me to grow ashamed, and in the process of masking my imperfections, I had in turn shamed others; both your biases and prejudices singed my soul, and left me afraid to love. But, I no longer feel alone. In my peers I now confide – though we are both as green as budding stems. I would have rather learn from their experiences than sip from your tainted glass. My soul was on the verge of dying, just as yours has already. Yet the passion and zeal of my youth just will not let me go gentle into that good night. That’s from a poem I read in English class. You know, the class I told you I loved so much and wanted to study in college. Only to hear you laugh in my face at how I would never become a writer or be able to support myself by majoring in English. Thanks for the encouragement.
This latest fiasco dealt me a major blow. By telling me that I could not go to college, you may as well have told me that I shouldn’t even dare to dream.
Your daughter who’s gone to pieces