When Hope Feels Like A Four-Letter Word
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"The length of Black life is treated with short worth." —Black Star, “Thieves In The Night”
Michael Brown. His name is just the latest addition to the list of boys and men killed in this country for being Black, the newest extension of this country’s legacy of murdering people who look like my father and my brother. His death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has prompted a town to turn on its residents, launched a million tweets, and pulled the attention of national media in a way that similar murders haven’t in the past.
As a way to remember Brown and those who have fallen before him, blogger FeministaJones called for a National Moment of Silence yesterday. I wasn’t able to make it to the local gathering, so I elected to observe a few moments where I stood, in my home with my three-year-old daughter. As the time crept toward 7:00 p.m., I hastily ended a phone call, turned off MSNBC, put away all my devices, and gathered Babygirl into my arms. She’s exactly the opposite of silent from the moment she opens her eyes in the morning, so I knew I’d need to explain why I wanted her to act outside her character. I told her that we were going to take some quiet time to remember our family members who aren’t here anymore and pray that we don’t lose anyone else.
"Why, mama?" was her response. It’s a typical retort for a three-year-old, full of equal parts genuine curiosity and smiley face cheekiness. But as she looked up mid-giggle and saw the sadness in my face, concern crept into hers. "Why, mama?" she asked again, then waited, wanting to know why our loved ones, our people, weren’t here anymore.
And I didn’t really know what to tell her. I’m known for talking to my child like a grownup. There has never been any baby talk in our home. In fact just last week we had our first ever gibberish conversation and she thought it was the funniest shit ever to hear me speaking nonsense. (“You’re hilarious, mama!”) So I ventured down my usual road: logic.
"Well, there are some people who don’t value the lives of people in our village, and sometimes they do bad things and we lose people who we care about."
"But why?" she asked, her little body now swiveled around in my lap as the seconds ticked toward 7:01.
And I said…nothing. Logic could not carry me here, had in fact left me some time ago, alone to hitchhike with nothing but my prayers and eyes shiny with tears that I held onto like a lifeline to my humanity. There was no way for me to make sense of how one human being could shoot and kill an unarmed human being. No way to explain how this keeps happening, how Eric Garner was choked to death on a Staten Island street last month, how John Crawford was gunned down while holding a toy rifle in a Dayton, Ohio, Walmart last week, how nothing has changed from last year when Trayvon Martin met his earthly end and we donned hoodies to show that we, too, were Trayvon, or when Emmett Till “flirted” with a white woman. No way. No.
So I was silent, with her tiny body on my lap, her questioning face swiveled toward mine as I soundlessly mouthed the names of our fallen, reminding the Universe that we haven’t forgotten. Then, even as she struggled to climb down—120 seconds really is along time for her to sit still—I prayed into the top of her little head, asking for comfort for the mothers and fathers and children who lost their kin, for a peaceful night in Ferguson, Missouri, for a way forward that makes “Why, mama?” a question that I can consistently answer with a belly tickle and a smile, or at the very least a logical stream of words that doesn’t make me feel like “hope” is a bad one.
"The length of Black life is treated with short worth." Exactly how I’m feeling right now. #EndangeredSpeciesStatusTweet
Twirling in the self-selected outfit of the day.Tweet
I guess that’s a good word for what I’ve been lately. Between promoting Bet on Black and doing, you know, life, I’ve let the words get away from me, increasingly found my attention split, even as my thoughts continue to wander back here to this space.
So I’m back, again. Let’s go.
The first in a series in which Babygirl gets herself dressed, poses, and implores me to take her photo. Is she a mini fashion blogger, or nah?Tweet
Please check out my Kickstarter video and take a moment to support. Even $1 pledge will help the cause. Many thanks! #BetOnlackDadsTweet
Bet On Black Dads
“So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle—that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls; that if I could give them anything, I would give them that rock—that foundation—on which to build their lives. And that would be the greatest gift I could offer.” —President Barack Obama, Fathers Day 2008 speech at Apostolic Church of God
Regular readers know that I’ve been unusually absent from this space. Now I can reveal why: I’ve been hard at work on my third book, titled Bet on Black: African-American Women Celebrate Fatherhood in the Age of Barack Obama.
The idea for the book stems in part from the quote above. When I first read those words from then-presidential candidate Obama, I recognized my own story in his message. I know firsthand the value of the gift he sought to give Sasha and Malia; I was raised by a single father who valued taking care of his children above all, who taught me to expect as much from the world as I expect from myself, and who never had to tell me that I could do anything, because he showed me that I could do everything.
The media would have you think that my daddy is an anomaly. There are a million songs, movies and books (and Tumblrs!) about mamas, but it’s the rare artist who waxes poetic about Dad’s ability to help conjure up the mortgage payment each month or take out the garbage on the coldest day of the year. The picture is even bleaker when it comes to Black dads. As a group, they’re characterized as deadbeat, sex-crazed sperm donors who don’t care how many babymamas they leave in their wake. But I know that there’s more to the story. Bet on Black aims to tell it.
Today marks the beginning of our Kickstarter presale. If you’re interested in this book’s mission, it’s a great time to buy. You’ll help my independent publisher fund the first print run, and get cool perks in the process, like signed copies, handwritten notes to your dad, limited edition t-shirts and VIP treatment at our NYC launch event next month.
Please order your copy here: http://bit.ly/14VDx7w. Thanks for your support!Tweet
Combating the Worst with the Best
This post and accompanying digital care package from the awesome Dr. Yaba Blay is the best thing ever. You probably heard the heartbreaking story of Tiana Parker, a seven-year-old girl in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was sent home for wearing dreads, saying her hair was unacceptable according to their dress code.
In a touching display of love for Tiana, who is being taught by the world that her natural texture makes her less than the beautiful young lady she is, Blay created this book of 111 photos of and messages from women who proudly wear locs. Please click through to view and share it widely with the children in your life who need to know that they are beautiful, too.
And while you’re at it, sign this petition calling for the school, Deborah Brown Community School, to apologize to Tiana and her family.