Life Musings, News

Hello again…

Cue the music . . .

Alright. I know I’ve been absent from this space for a really long time. I’ve been playing in other sandboxes and writing many other things, but I do think I’m finally in a space where I’m ready and willing to come back to this blog and share some of my musings at the intersection of politics and spirituality. For those who are still reading, feel free to check out my recently updated professional website with news and information about my book projects, upcoming talks and so on. In the meantime, stay tuned.. I’ve got more words for you.

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Academic Musings, Life Musings, Race & Ethnicity

The French Approach to “Anti-racism”: Pretty Words and Magical Thinking

I first came to France twelve years ago during my junior year abroad. I was the first person in my family to get a passport and I could barely contain my excitement. In the winter of 2003, two years before the riots that followed the untimely deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore, I landed in Paris bright-eyed and bushy tailed, armed with a very shaky grasp of French and a naive fascination with this beautiful country.

As an African-American, I was vaguely aware that France did not deal with issues of race the way we do in the United States. And when I happened to forget, French white people were keen to remind me. In one of the sociology classes I took at a university in the south of France, I hesitantly raised my hand to ask a question. The white French professor had been lecturing on youth and delinquency. I asked, in my broken French, if the dynamics he described had any relation to racial or ethnic belonging. “We don’t have that kind of problem here,” he said, adding: “This isn’t the United States.” Embarrassed and flustered, I nodded and continued taking notes. After class, one of the only other black students pulled me aside: “We do have those kinds of problems here. Hang out with me and I’ll tell you about it.”IMG_7291

My new friend was from Cameroon and had moved to France along with her sister and brother several years prior. Over the course of the semester, her family basically adopted me, inviting me to dinners, showing me the area and telling me about their lives. I learned that despite the fact that each of them had white French partners and white close friends, they nonetheless experienced racism. But, as I learned in that sociology class that day, many French people denied that racism was actually a problem in their supposedly colorblind society.

Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, two teenagers who died on October 27th in 2005 after being chased by police officers. Photo courtesy of Le Monde.
Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, two teenagers who died on October 27th in 2005 after being chased by police officers. Photo courtesy of Le Monde.

Continue reading “The French Approach to “Anti-racism”: Pretty Words and Magical Thinking”

Life Musings, Spiritual Musings

A Beautiful Synchronicity

IMG_7508Last night, a cab dropped me off at apartment in Paris around 9 PM. I get in, warm up dinner, relax. Two hours later, I’m on the phone with my girlfriend when suddenly — in the middle of our conversation — I realize that I can’t find my wallet.

I spend 10 minutes methodically searching the apartment. Nothing. Another ten minutes unpacking my bags. There is no wallet anywhere to be found. With growing disappointment, I see that I must have left it in the cab. I know that I must cancel my cards. I begin to wonder how I can possibly get new cards while abroad. I take a breath, tell myself to relax. I get the phone and start to look up numbers for my bank. A flood of self-judgment: How could I have left my wallet in a cab? Why didn’t I look down at the seat as I usually do before getting out? Is mercury in retrograde? In my mind, I tried to retrace my steps. Had I taken the wallet out to pay, and then put it down to find my keys?

At this point, something tells me to stop. Something tells me to go to the window. It’s not that I heard a voice or anything like that — it’s that I heard a thought. “Go to the window.” As I stood up and walked toward the window, I realized, inexplicably, that I was hoping the taxi would be there.
Now, understand that it did not make any sense whatsoever to hope or expect the taxi to be there. It had been two hours since I was dropped off.
I go to the window.
There’s a taxi.
I can’t believe it. I think: Well, someone else is being dropped off. But, as I go to close the curtain..
The taxi driver appears. My taxi driver. An Asian, middle-aged man. He’s waving at me. Breathless, I rush to put on my jacket and run outside.
“How long have you been here?” I ask.
“I just arrived — I was getting off of work.”
“How did you know which apartment was mine?”
“I didn’t ..”
I checked my wallet. Everything was inside. I still couldn’t believe it. I walked back into my apartment, in a daze.
* * *
I must have realized I lost my wallet around the same time he began driving to my apt. As he arrived, something within “happened” to tell me to get up and look out the window. I “happened” to listen to this crazy thought. The driver “happened” to actually be there —  and find my window right before I closed the curtain. All of this defies any rational explanation. I’d never taken this taxi before. Hadn’t written down his info. I had no way of contacting him. Two hours had passed since he dropped me off. I figured that if I left the wallet in the cab, another passenger might have swiped it. Even if someone turned it into the police, I could not imagine how they would find me. (Though I’m sure they “could” if they wanted to..) So I just wrote the situation off and figured I wouldn’t be seeing my wallet again.
Then the thought: Go to the window.
And he was there.

The driver said that if he couldn’t find me, he would have left a note with his information. But how amazing is it that he didn’t have to? What if I hadn’t listened to the inexplicable thought that said “go to the window”, hours after my taxi drove off? I listened.

He was there. 

For me, the gift was not merely getting my wallet back, though that was nice. But the truth is that I would have been fine without the wallet. The cards would have been cancelled, and arrangements made. The gift was being attuned to the synchronicity of the moment. The gift was hearing a message that didn’t make any kind of rational sense, but listening anyway. The gift was seeing that listening confirmed before my unbelieving eyes.
If anyone else told this story, I wouldn’t believe it. It happened to me and I barely believe it. But this kind of thing actually happens to me all the time. I call them “Matrix Moments” and over the years I’ve come to see them as signals to trust the Universe, to trust myself. I also experience these moments as reminders that there’s a side to life that defies conventional explanation, that is magical, mysterious. Moments when everything is so obviously, inexplicably aligned that I’m reminded that every other moment is also aligned. Because if even one moment is “on time”, then every other moment must be on time, too.. as all moments are interconnected and interdependent.
The beautiful alignments remind me to remain calm and grounded during moments that seem misaligned, uncomfortable, undesirable, painful. And what’s interesting is that after all this time, after all these reminders, I still need reminding, because of course, I am consciousness expressing Itself through a limited, human form — and these limitations necessitate faith in the Unlimited, in the Unseen.
* * *

Years ago, when I began intentionally “listening” to the Universe, I had a lot of doubt: How could I trust something that I could not explain? As I prioritized spirituality, Life began to speak to me in ways that seemed increasingly magical. But I had to stop trying to explain it. I’d have a dream that something happened, and would wake to see it actually happen. Or, discover that it happened while I was sleeping. An intuition would compel me in a certain way. I began to listen, without knowing why, but only knowing that it felt “right”.

As a fairly rational person, and an academic, I had to consciously overcome my fear of acknowledging this magical, inexplicable side of life. I had to let go of my fear of being seen (or seing myself) as crazy for embracing things that could not be explained, for having faith in the unseen, for trusting in processes and experiences that did not “make sense” in a conventional way.
But the synchronicities and messages were so direct and obvious that I could not deny them. Over time, my faith and trust began to grow. I began to trust my inner knowing, my intuition — even in moments when it seemed that my intuition was wrong, that I’d been mistaken — I began to see that even these “mistakes” were apart of a purposeful unfolding. The conventional, human part of my identity still doubts on a daily basis. Always stressing about something, fearful and striving. But over time, something more profound has grown within me that allows those human fears to be, but also eclipses them with an inner knowing.
On a conventional level, my ego worries and despairs about many things. But the greater part of me knows that everything is in alignment. Aligned for what? I don’t know. And I don’t need to know. Aligned by whom? Can’t say, exactly. But there’s something mysterious, benevolent and intelligent that I trust.

The idea that everything in life is unfolding as it “should” is not something I would impose on anyone else. It is a difficult notion, one that requires a nuanced understanding of different levels of analysis for taking stock of life in all of its complexities. Because the truth is that lots of awful things happen every moment of every day — across the conscious experience of every living being on the planet, unimaginable levels of suffering coexist with joy, love and feelings of peace. What one person experiences as a “blessing” is another person’s “curse”.

But it seems to me that if anything at all is as it should be, then everything is as as it should be — for everything that has ever been, everything that is now and everything that will be is inextricably interconnected. It may be a stretch for some to say that everything as it should be, given the realities of oppression and suffering. Indeed, it is obnoxious, unhelpful and even abusive to try to make someone else believe that an awful thing that happened was “meant to be”.

But there is part of me that holds space for this paradoxical truth. There is something in me that feels that it must work to change things about myself and about the world, even as there is something more profound that knows that nothing needs me to change anything at all — rather, there are simply changes taking place, changes that are changing me, changes that must take place, changes that are meant to be.

The human concept of a blessing is often very selfish, very confused, dualistic and dependent on a Santa-Claus-like image of “God”. And while it’s fine to feel blessed and acknowledge blessings, I personally feel that accepting all of life as a blessing, as one interconnected and mysterious unfolding is my spiritual work. I’m grateful to the taxi driver, for sure. But I’m even more grateful to the Universe for continuing to wink at me in such a delightful way.

Life Musings, Politics, Race & Ethnicity

What Does It Mean to “Love White People”? On Common and the Absurdity of #HandInLove

It’s sort of beneath my dignity to have to say that I love and have loved quite a few white people, but let’s just put it out there:

Yes, some of my very best friends are white folks.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in predominately white suburbs of predominately white nations, predominately white schools and predominately white organic grocery stores.

By virtue of my minority status and choices, my life involves a lot of working, talking and loving across different types of racial lines. I’m a East-coast raised, Southern-born, multi-generational, multi-racial black woman of U.S. slave ancestry. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumor has it that there’s Irish on both sides of my family tree. My family (biological and chosen) includes a diverse array of beautiful people: loved ones from a variety of diasporas, a Haitian godmother, Jews whose families immigrated from Europe.

I have a lot to learn and much room for growth, but I live a relatively cosmopolitan life. I like the fact that my hapa girlfriend grew up between California and Tokyo, spent years in Africa and speaks French with a Senegalese accent. I’ve visited a dozen countries and spent a significant portion of my twenties living in Paris. In my personal life, I have made it my business to consciously learn and explore what interracial, anti-racist love looks like. My spirituality is deeply influenced by Eastern traditions and philosophies, including Buddhism and Hinduism (Advaita-Vedanta). As an anti-racist educator and a panentheistic non-dualist, I know that who we are, on an existential level, has absolutely nothing to do with the social fiction of race.

And yet, I’m also intimately familiar with the social reality of our collective fictions. While I teach my students that our ideas about race are socially constructed, I also equip them to recognize and understand the very real consequences of past and present racism.

What I know for sure is that much of what people say about matters of race and love in public contributes to white supremacy.

Continue reading “What Does It Mean to “Love White People”? On Common and the Absurdity of #HandInLove”

Life Musings

A Black Bisexual Manifesto

Hey y’all! Check out my latest piece, “A Black Bisexual Manifesto” on The Huffington Post (Black Voices). It’s part of #ThisIsLuv, an exciting and inspiring multimedia campaign launched by creative visionaries Darnell Moore and Wade Davis to shine light on LGBTQ-inclusive families in the black community. I was honored to take part in a segment about the campaign on HuffPostLive today along with Darnell, Tiq Milan and the brilliant Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

I want to also take this opportunity to recognize and express gratitude to my mother, Barbara, for encouraging me to take part in the campaign. As I explain in the post, she’s come an incredibly long way toward being a supportive ally as I’ve stepped out in my truth. But, it’s a path that hasn’t been easy. I was unsure about keepin’ it real regarding the difficulties involved in navigating homophobia and biphobia in our family, so having her support in telling my story means a lot to me. Our mother/daughter relationship continues to play an important role in teaching us both about love, and for that, I’m deeply grateful.

Gender, Life Musings, Race & Ethnicity

The Need to Understand Myself as a Cis-Gender Woman of Color

I’m an anti-racist scholar and yet, to my shame, I have been resistant to understanding myself as a cis-gender woman. While I’ve publicly embraced the social reality of my cis-gender-ness — and taught my students about the need to be aware of cis privilege — I’ve done these things while feeling resistance. Privately, I concealed the fact that I did not actually want to refer to myself as cis-gender–that I was doing so begrudgingly.

In fact, it was during my first year of teaching a graduate seminar on race three years ago that a (white, male) feminist student pushed me hard on my undertheorization of gender. From that moment on, I began to make a concerted effort to take intersectionality more seriously in my own pedagogy and research.

To that end, I increasingly acknowledged (my) cis privilege in explaining axes of oppression to students, but could not admit to them the discomfort I sometimes felt while doing so.

I knew that this resistance was regressive, that it was grounded in the wrong politics–that it was undeniably ignorant. Yet, knowing all these things, I could still not deny it.

I could not deny that I privately felt attacked when trans activists and educators indirectly reminded me that my claim to womanhood was tenuous.  I could not deny that I felt resistance to acknowledging how afraid I’d been of trans people while a student at Wellesley–a “women’s” college whose policy was (and still is) officially transphobic. I was, incidentally, also afraid of openly lesbian and bisexual women on campus as a closeted woman in my early twenties. [Note that Wellesley is only now initiating a campus-wide dialogue on transgender inclusion and Mt. Holyoke just became the first of the ‘Seven Sisters’ colleges to admit trans women].

Rather than ignore, suppress or justify my resistance, I made a conscious decision to regard my own regressive politics with curiosity–even as I sought to unravel them. I also “came out” about this internal work, speaking with others about my desire to more clearly identify and transcend my own transphobia. In so doing, I committed myself to making visible the unexamined assumptions, emotions and thoughts that explained my resistance. Why did being ‘told’ that I was ‘cis’ (a term I did not know until a few years ago) bother me so? Why did I feel uncomfortable being ‘labeled’ as cis? Why did I feel uncomfortable labeling myself in this way? What explained my enduring attachment to the fiction that my physicality – especially my breasts and vagina – somehow made me a woman (and by extension, made all women “women”)–even as I began to teach others that this fiction was untrue and a source of violence? What privilege was I trying to protect? What was it that I could not yet admit about myself? And what was it that I didn’t know about other experiences of womanhood that I needed to know to see my the specificity of my own experience — and my specific role in perpetuating the oppression of trans people?

It was clear to me, as I posed these questions, that I was, in fact, going deeper into the work of challenging my own transphobia. And I was terrified of admitting this–to myself or anyone else. I did not want to acknowledge how ignorant I was of gender, or further probe the hateful ideas I’d absorbed from a society that at once denies the existence and humanity of trans people. I did not want to admit that I was still very much part of the problem.

Continue reading “The Need to Understand Myself as a Cis-Gender Woman of Color”

Academic Musings, Life Musings

Bisexual Awareness Day!

Today, September 23rd, is Bisexual Awareness Day–a day that I, a bi-sexually identified person, didn’t even know existed until a few weeks ago.  In honor of this occasion, I’m sharing a few reflections on a post I wrote last year, “On Being Openly Bisexual in Academia”.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that I should have contextualized my personal narrative in the data we have on the experiences (and considerable disadvantages) of bisexual people more broadly.  While it is indeed true that being open about my sexuality has mostly been met by colleagues with a collective yawn, I also realize that I possess a number of privileges that may protect me from some of the more pernicious dangers and dilemmas that many bisexual people face in coming out in their own work spaces. And even for me, it has not always been easy. I know that acknowledging my sexuality comes with a cost, even within the so-called “liberal” enclaves of academe.

As this informative article published by GLAAD makes clear, bisexual people are not only less likely to be out at work (and to health care providers) than lesbian women and gay men, but they also experience higher rates of poverty and poorer physical and mental health.

  • Approximately 25% of bisexual men and 30% of bisexual women live in poverty, compared to 15% and 21% of non-LGB men and women respectively and 20% and 23% of gay man and lesbians”
  • Nearly half of bisexual people report that they are not out to any of their coworkers (49%), compared to just 24% of lesbian and gay people.”
  • 20% of bisexuals report experiencing a negative employment decision based on their identity, and almost 60% of bisexual people report hearing anti-bisexual jokes and comments on the job.”

And this, from the Bisexual Resource Center:

Bi health disparities BHAM

More than half of the United States 9 million LGBT people identify as bisexual — but many do not feel comfortable or safe acknowledging their sexuality to people in their lives. This discomfort should not be minimized. Many people do not understand bisexuality and bisexual people are often targets of stigma even (and perhaps especially) within the queer “community”. Further, people who are bisexual but in relationships with people of the “opposite” sex are almost always rendered invisible and find it very difficult to challenge that invisibility. It is important that we-individually and collectively-raise awareness about these issues and affirm the moral principle that people should be valued and cared for no matter the gender(s) of the person(s) they love.

In the ten months that have passed since I wrote my post, strangers have written me long emails to thank me for being open about myself and others have sent private messages on social media, admitting how difficult it is being bi. Colleagues have thanked me personally, at conferences, for sharing a story that resonated with them, a story they sometimes do not feel comfortable expressing themselves– for all the reasons I’ve outlined here. I also heard from a group for Bisexual Women of Color who build community on Facebook. I feel honored and grateful that folks have reached out to me in this way, as it allows me to know that I, too, am not alone.

Over the last year, I’ve also had an opportunity to re-think the politics of bisexual identity.  Being in my first long term relationship with a lesbian-identified woman — and being perceived as lesbian by people who see us together — means that I have developed a deeper understanding of the fact that bisexuality can co-mingle with queer and lesbian identities. Most people see me as a lesbian because I’m in a visible relationship with a woman — and this has reshaped the contours of my own identity. Sometimes I see my sexual identity as queer, as lesbian and bi-sexual — these things coexist for me — yet I continue to find it politically and personally important to highlight my bisexual identity, if for no other reason than the fact that if I don’t, this important aspect of my identity will be ignored.

But the contextual recognition of my bisexuality has raised odd questions, sometimes from intimates and sometimes from perfect strangers. I usually don’t mind the (earnest, respectfully phrased) questions, as it sort of comes with the territory for one who engages in the politics of identity, but I’ve occasionally been taken aback. There’s the time, for example, that I was queried – by a straight friend – as to why I would ever talk about being bisexual when I’m currently in a serious relationship. Does recognizing my bi-sexuality suggest that I am not really committed to my partner? This question surprised me – although it should not have – because it implied that people’s sexuality in fact depends on their relationship status.  The reality, too, is that same sex relationships are very often trivialized and seen as less serious than heterosexual unions–perhaps especially when one or both partners are bi. I asked my friend whether his sexuality changes depending on whether he’s single or partnered. It was in that moment, I think, that he understood that my sexuality is my sexuality no matter who I’m with (or not with), just as his sexuality continues to be his sexuality whether single or partnered. It is obvious to me that my sexuality is not just (or even mainly) about who I relate to in my romantic life. My bi(sexuality) is, in a fundamental way, part of the lens through which I see myself, the world, and my place within it. This more expansive understanding of sexuality (as more than just who you are with at the time) is more or less tacitly accepted for heterosexuals, even if it is not explicitly acknowledged. The truth, however, for people like me is that when we are silent about our sexuality, it is rendered invisible by the assumptions people make regarding the gender of the person we have chosen to love.

As heterosexual wo/men can still appreciate the beauty of the “opposite” sex while partnered, so do bisexual people continue being bisexual when partnered. And there is nothing about this reality that makes it impossible for bisexual people to be committed.  It is evidently clear that heterosexuality itself does not imply that people involved in heterosexual relationships are committed to each other.

I love the fact that I am partnered with a woman who is rooted and secure enough in her sexuality to allow me to be who I am without being threatened by my identity. With her, I can laugh and joke about how attractive other people are, regardless of their gender. I can talk about my experiences dating men and women in the past without fear of judgment. It doesn’t mean she always understands those experiences — but she allows them, just as I allow her the integrity of her own reality and her past, even when doing so is challenging or stretches the bounds of what I personally understand. We can do this because we allow each other to be human–and more specifically, to be the kind of humans that we feel we are.  Knowing that identities can and do change, it is nonetheless reassuring to know that we can comfortably affirm the identities that feel right for us today.

All of this to say, my relationship to bisexuality — as an identity and social reality — is changing. But what has not changed for me, is the importance of raising awareness that people like me exist and are as valuable and beautiful and lovable and fly as anyone else.

So today, and everyday, show some love to bisexual people — those you know and those you don’t yet know that you know. Do not make assumptions about someone’s sexuality based on the gender of the person they are in a relationship with. Understand that bisexuality is very often hidden — that it is not easy to come out — and that coming out for bi-sexual people is often something that must be repeatedly performed in function of the gender of the person they are dating at the time. Try to compassionately accept, even if you might not personally understand, that some of us love across gender. Having the warm support of friends and family has helped enormously during times when I experienced rejection, judgment and stigmatization from people who could not (yet) and may never accept me as I am. Every bit of compassion we share can and does make a difference.

PS: check out the hashtags #biawarenessday as well as #bilookslike on Twitter .. Here are some of my visual contributions..

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Life Musings

The Beauty of Abandonment

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I spoke with my father today, for perhaps four and a half minutes. After a bit of courteous small talk that revolved around the weather and summer plans, he rushed to get off the phone.  I’m not sure why.  I didn’t ask.  Perhaps he had company, an appointment or something pressing on his mind.  He might have been in physical pain.  As a survivor of a traumatic accident, my father has multiple health challenges.  Walking is profoundly difficult. Even sitting isn’t easy for him.

I’m not sure what reason he had for getting off the phone so quickly, but I can’t say I was surprised.  Our last call – about six months ago – was similarly brief.  I felt so many things in those four and a half minutes. Concern about his health. Happiness at hearing the warm, deep tones of his southern drawl.  Guilt over waiting so long to call.  Anger that he hadn’t called either.  And all the while, an anxious awareness of the awkward space between us.  Continue reading “The Beauty of Abandonment”