Beauty in Being Black

Image Credit: T.A.S. Photography on flickr

I’m currently reading a book titled The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. I found this author because I was searching for more black, female bloggers to read and stumbled upon her own. Ms. Durrow is mixed, or multiracial, with Black American and Danish. When I first saw her picture, I thought, “WOW! She’s really attractive!” and I envied her blue-green eyes.

And in her book, the main character has a similar back ground; mixed with a white mother and black father, always being told how pretty she was as a child.

It reminded me of a conversation I had in college, sitting at a table with other black girls. I had commented that Terrance Howard had nice [green] eyes, and the girl across from me exploded into a mini tirade about how her “shit brown eyes” were just as attractive as Howard’s. Every part of me ached to say, “No. They’re not.” But I kept silent, wondering how she’d become under the delusion that brown eyes were appealing. 

At some other point in my not-so-distant past, I was talking with my grandmother about actors and actresses I thought were attractive. I can’t even remember who I chose, but I remember her reaction; why didn’t I find darker skinned women attractive? Someone like Angela Bassett? 

Then I’m reminded of how black women go natural to reclaim their own sense of beauty and power. And how straight hair is often times seen as black women trying to imitate white female beauty. Or of how black women will claim a dozen ethnicities under the sun, as if to exaggerate a mildly exotic looking trait. Or attempt to achieve some sort of otherness, that isn’t completely black.

My closest friend is mixed, and she would often tell me about how people would ask if she’s Indian (probably because of her hair and complexion). And jealousy would bubble to the surface and I reminisced of the few times where people asked me if I was Haitian. I talked about over and over (though to no one in particular) about how exotic or other I must look, especially when people remarked that I resembled two friends I had who were also mixed. I thought it meant that I looked mixed too.

I don’t.

I think about all these things as I struggle to read through the book, written by a black woman with blue eyes. I think about The Bluest Eye, an incredible story by Toni Morrison and I wonder if I’m like that character. In a way, I used to brag about being light skinned, as if it brought me closer to being exotic. I thought about how my mother sent my baby cousin in to tell me what color I was; “Yellow” he said, and I swallowed my excitement.

Do I want to be white?

Not necessarily. But I struggle find beauty in my own blackness, as I admire biracial girls, or girls from various ethnic backgrounds that aren’t mine. I spend quite a bit of time, wondering about my physical normalcy – how there’s nothing particularly exotic or interesting about the way that I look.

Self-esteem is so closely tied to our physical bodies, and I wonder how am I supposed to reconcile these feelings of not looking like Heidi W. Durrow, Halle Berry or some other individual?

I don’t have any answers, just loads of questions while I try to deal with my belief system regarding my body, and how unbelievably average it is.

Stop expecting great things from not so great shows.

While playing around on Twitter, I found this really cool link about Mercedes on Glee. She’s the only black female who is consistent, but she’s also the only one without ANY love interest. Even Rachel, the neurotic and t unbearable Star performer has had two love interests. According to whattamisaid, she goes on to discuss the racial implications of this (which I certainly don’t disagree with) and the general approach white television tends to take toward its black, female characters.

As a short preface: GLEE seems to be under attack constantly for its depiction (or lack there of) in regards to its poor, one-dimensional characters, weak plot points and general inconsistencies in regards to, well, everything. During the episode Blame it on the Alcohol, my friend complained of the biphobia when Kurt remarked that bisexual boys were really just gay boys in denial, thereby marginalizing bisexuals. Another girl I know complained about the treatment of Quinn and her teen pregnancy. I definitely find myself grinding my teeth whenever Quinn uses her “I was a pregnant teen” to show how marginalized and oppressed she was, as if that’s enough to show her what the world is really like. Or something like that.

But I’ve found that it’s getting rather redundant. GLEE has a lot of faults so much so that it’s not even really a show. It lacks so much of what makes a series excellent; full-fledged characters, consistent and growing plot line, realistic drama, great production value. A great television series should send us off to wherever that world is, and make us want to live there. Or at least just visit.

Although GLEE doesn’t have that effect on me, this isn’t to say that I think GLEE should be kicked off the air, never to return, but I wonder why people expect so much from GLEE. Is it because GLEE is so popular and people feel that a mainstream show has a greater obligation to explore privilege?

As a black female, I find that complaining about the insane whiteness of television to be satisfying in a perverted sort of way. It’s like picking at a scab, or putting pimples. It’s not good for you, it’ll leave scars, but it’s easy and fun. I found myself irritated at channels like CW, which showcase nothing but all-white casts on ALL of its shows (with maybe a token here or there). It’s suffocating when I think of all the shows that lack in-depth non-white characters, and wonder why or how people don’t even notice.

So what can be done about GLEE? My general reaction to things is rejection. Turn around and forge your own path instead of trying to force other people to convert to yours. But is that cowardice to run away from a show that’s unappealing to you? I don’t think so. I’d like to think that if more people stopped watching television because it didn’t meet their standards, that maybe TV will do more to accommodate us. Or maybe not.

What do you think? Should people keep holding out for not so great TV to become great? Or just reject it altogether? Or maybe something else entirely?

Who Do You Like? And Why?

Since my early teen years, I have felt a passionate connection to fictional characters. Reality disappointed me, leaving me frustrated with my life and a lack of people to admire or feel kindred spirits with. So for a long time I looked toward fiction (in all its forms) to give me someone who I could understand, who I felt was going through the same things I was. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much success with this and it wasn’t until my Senior year of high school that I discovered a character who would change me forever. Howard Roark, the famed character of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I admired Roark for his independence, strong sense of life and an unwavering conviction to what he believed in. He embodied a strength few other fictional characters possessed and I loved him.

          Then, during my Junior year in college, while I was in Paris I saw The Watchmen. When I had first seen the trailers, I had felt strongly connected to Rorschach, an equally uncompromising character similar to Roark. Rorschach, so strong in his beliefs, died because he refused to live a lie. Tingles ran through my body as I watched this man never give up despite the fact that he stood alone in his quest for justice, while as others condemned him. I loved him, because he knew himself so well that he couldn’t be anyone else.         

                What has my attraction to this characters taught me? Not much, per se, but it’s made me aware of what I like in a person, and I try to achieve that for myself because I personally believe, quite ardently, that we can choose the type of people we’re attracted to. Attraction isn’t some haphazard event that seems to blindside us – we bring into our lives the very people who reflect our sense of self. If I find myself to be unworthy, I’m probably more likely to attract someone who is going to re-enforce that mindset. Like attracting like is an insanely popular idea, and I am curious if other people have similar experiences.

            Do you find yourself attracted to people who reflect yourself? Your ideas, opinions, and sense of life? Sometimes these things will change, and eventually your relationships will fall apart because of it. But I am deeply curious; what sort of person are you most attracted to? Not just physical qualities (both Roark and Rorschach have red hair – which I LOVE) but the internal qualities that make them who they are. Have you met this person? Or are you waiting (so to speak) for them to arrive? Or do you have no idea what this person would be like?

Appreciating Stillness

 

I don’t have a lot of patience. I used to think I did. I used to think that because I could wait twenty minutes in line, that it meant I could tolerate waiting.

But in reality – I’m an insatiably impatient person. 

Currently I’m still unemployed, wondering what I need to do to get a job. I just got an e-mail from US Airways – a place I applied to so long ago I don’t even remember doing it – to tell me that they rejected me. What do I have to do to get my feet off the ground? How do I get started on life? That sounds really silly – but I wonder how I can move forward if I’m not making progress RIGHT NOW. I’m using the social media/networking thing at a very slow and awkward pace. I like Twitter, but can’t seem to generate insightful tweets. I like Brazen Careerist, but am not sure I know what I’m doing. And I like blogging, but it’s a process that takes time since it involves cultivating relationships and marketing oneself.

Of course, there is tons of information about how to use all these outlets (and more) to generate traffic, awareness and potential jobs. But again – another thing that takes time. I feel like I have NO time, that I want my future in my hands right now. I think about it – I’ve been here in this position since February and it’s almost May – that’s a lot of time. Imagine how much I could’ve learned or done in the three months since I’ve been here? 

In May, I will have been out of college for a whole year. And I have accomplished a lot, even though it doesn’t feel like it. I moved to the west coast and ended up working three different jobs, living with a person I didn’t know and then moving back when I decided that enough was enough. Now I’ve started blogging, and even though I’m not exactly Seth Godin or Penelope Trunk – I like it. I like the people I’ve met so far, and I’m hoping to meet more people in the future. I’m trying to be more proactive.

So I’m trying to appreciate the stillness because right now I feel stuck. Trapped at a crossroads and not sure where to go from here. But part of my leaving Seattle was to understand myself on a more internal, and spiritual level. To figure myself out and try to make healthier and more informed decisions about who I am and what I want.

I’m not working. At least not in a capacity that’ll make me money. But I’m working on it – slowly and awkwardly. But right now, I’m going to try and appreciate what not working gives me: peace and a chance to grow in another way.

Having Faith isn’t just about believing in Diety

“It’s hard to fill a cup that is already full.”

- Avatar

I recently sumbled upon this blog post about being a freak, by Jonathan Fields. It’s about being different, not “fitting in” – a subject I know all too well. It surprised me to see all the comments from other self-proclaimed freaks. I had never truly considered my own freakdom something to champion, it’s right on par with why I never call myself a non-conformist; I just don’t think like that. But, I probably should because I’m all about authenticity. Or at least I’m trying to be.

Being authentic is actually really, really hard because it’s about being aligned with our core beliefs in a very consistent and real way. It means quitting a job that you don’t like even if it means not having money. It means rejecting the friendship of a person who doesn’t appreciate you at the risk of being alone. Being authentic is about loss, because you can’t live the same sort of life as other people.   

My view of authenticity is basically spiritual. It means looking at a situation, or a person and wondering; Does this serve me? Am I living authentically by making this decision? It’s hard, because there’s no consistent or correct answer. It also means being connected to Spirit and knowing what makes your particular Spirit happy. A task that requires a large dose of introspection.

For example: my Spirit really, really loves cats. I’ve had an intense love for cats (and animals in general) since childhood. And when I went to the SPCA today, I wanted to get my “cat fix” and see all the adoptable kittens.

Living in Spirit means being authentic, and being able and willing to recognize a situation that isn’t in your best interest. This could even be as simple as not cleaning your room, leaving your house in shambles. Before I do any spiritual work, I at least make my bed.

This has certainly been weighing on my mind the past few days as I struggle to figure out what makes me happy, what I want to do. It’s been a struggle as I deal with my insecurities; like how I wanted to major in Biology in college but got a gigantic C in my first bio class. It scarred me, and I definitely regret getting caught up in my fear instead of just tackling it head on. I took the safe, fear-induced route -by taking classes I knew I would do alright in, instead of venturing out and taking classes in subjects I had no experience in. Even though I’ve been out of school for nearly a year now, I resent never having taken more political science or history courses. Or attending more school productions – which were actually really good! I hated not fitting in, even though I desperately wanted to. All my regrets about college make me despise the entire experience, making me wish I had never attended in the first place.

Maybe if I had been living authentically, I could’ve made friends (or found the gusto to transfer, despite it being my second time). Maybe I could’ve discovered a class or a professor who would’ve revolutionized my entire collegiate experience. But I played it safe, and scared – and I resent that. My biggest regret to date is not having taken the opportunity to live my life as me.

So as the Avatar quote suggests, how can I learn more if I’m unable or unwilling to empty out what I think I know about myself and the world that I live in? So I want to live as authentically as possible, even if that means living as a freak.

Communion

Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

And who do I now choose to be? (p. 129)

- Communion with God by Neale Donald Walsch

The search for identity is something that seems to plague most people in the worst possible way. People chase after ideas, hoping to find fulfillment in these pursuits. You move to discover yourself. You dress a different way to attempt to forge an identity through clothing. The paths to identity are so numerous, it’s almost impossible to truly fathom what they all could be. In fact, I moved to “discover” myself, as if I were a lost kitten, mewing for her absent mother. But in my readings, particularly those by Neale Donald Walsch, I am slowly coming to terms with a much different idea.

You see, in most new age texts (if not all of them), the teachings suggest that life is a school, and that we’re here to learn. That everything has meaning, and that it is our task to uncover them. Trials and tribulations are tests, and if you “fail”, you merely repeat the lesson until you grasp it. This way of thinking have definitely sat well with a lot of people, and for myself, I gravitated toward that idea. I mean, I spent 22 years of my life in school, so the fact that life is a giant classroom, with quizzes and graded papers, isn’t far from my normal experience.

But – I’ve started to examine a different sort of truth. A truth that suggests that I have much more power than I originally suspected. There’s this infinitely famous idea of destiny, life purpose and fate. In fact, the idea is insanely romantic to think that we’re put on this Earth to accomplish one single goal. And it’s also incredibly overwhelming. To me, it’s created this intense desperation to find out who I am, what my talents and skills are so that I can accomplish this single task. Who am I meant to be?

It’s a question that has been burning in my skull for ages. I poured over my natal chart, took countless personality tests, and compared notes to others (albeit internally). How was I progressing? Was I further along, or getting left behind? It seems like everyone knows what they’re doing except me!  Cue the freak out, the self-consciousness, the poor sense of self. How was it that everyone else seemed to have such a greater grasp on LIFE?

Now, though, slowly I’m deciding that life isn’t a school, but it’s about Who I Am (or, Who You Are). By picking, deliberately, certain experiences, I am coming closer to my Spirit, and to figuring out what makes me who I am. Sometimes it’s difficult because I forget about choice, and instead feel more like a victim or someone who gets way too caught up in what other people are doing. A lot of the time I feel powerless, like I can’t really make the changes I want, despite how much I want them. It just requires a lot of faith.

But I’m learning, and trying in very small doses because I have to believe in myself. At least in some capacity. I’m the one who has to live my life, so I definitely want to have as much fun as possible.

College is Overrated. Get a job instead.

I just read an article about Peter Thiel and the education bubble. The article describes Thiel’s opinion on the education bubble:

Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe.

As a recent college graduate, it doesn’t seem my very expensive BA has earned its keep. I constantly complain about the uselessness of my degree (if I could do it over again, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college) and it’s made even worse by the never ending mantra of my BA becoming a high school diploma; everyone is getting one, and we’re all going to need higher degrees to stay competitive. Bu twhat having a degree doesn’t prepare you for is work, which is what employers are looking for in prospective job applicants. During my four years of university, I probably had one or two group projects. And unlike some of my more successful, or invested peers I didn’t have any mentors, didn’t participate in any internships and definitely wasn’t involved in any real capacity while on campus.

The education bubble is equally frustrating because most students probably don’t even know they’re in one. Several of my peers wondered how they were going to use their majors, particularly those who felt it necessary to have double majors, or double minors. A common question became, “What are you going to do with that?” While the talk of grad school seemed innate to our situation; how else can we get a job if we don’t have a bunch of degrees and distinctions? And I often find myself particularly envious of those whose degrees (like Economics or Finance) practically guaranteed them a lucrative position after graduation (especially if they had internship experience).

Inevitably, the problem with the bubble is largely one of ignorance and denial. When I was applying to colleges, I hadn’t really a clue what I was doing or real concept of how one goes about paying for school. It’s ignorance because I lacked the forethough to educate myself, because others didn’t think there were any alternatives to college. It’s denial because the American education system is deeply rooted to cultural beliefs; that college helps a person advance in the world, that college is the life boat on the Titanic that is life. If you have a college degree, you’re going to be better off than the people who don’t. It’s denial because those truths don’t seem to be existing anymore as post-grad students like myself are suffocating from the debt (and their collectors), are worried that with such a large burden – how does one manage?

The bubble needs to be popped so that if a high school student wants to go to college, they’ll go knowing informed and hopefully able to pay for it.