Monday, June 13, 2011

The Moment: Do You Remember the *Moment* You Realized Your Skin Color Mattered?

I was watching a video of Joel Freeman doing a synopsis of his book Return to Glory and he spoke of that MOMENT in your life in which you realized that you would be treated differently based on the color of your skin.

Sooo, I sat there and kinda had to think about it. I am of the white man can't keep me down and black folks should be more accountable mentality.. so it took me a moment to conjure up a memory...

For the most part, my childhood was racism free.. If there was racism, I certainly didn't experience it. I was fortunate enough to experience many integrated settings as I took private flute lessons at Sherwood Conservatory where I was exposed to all races and cultures as well as performed with Chicago's All City Band.  I had friends of all cultures and never thought twice about race being an issue.

Then in 1991, I went away to college at the University of Minnesota @ Morris. A small campus of 2,000 students (80 of whom were black) in west central Minnesota.. not too far from the Dakota's borders. Being a music major, I was required to sign up for a meeting with the band director. the sign up sheet was on his door. When my appointed time came, I knocked on the door to his studio, (music profs have studios) and the look on his face was classic. I can't say the color drained from his face, for he was a very pale white man, but I do remember he turned beet red, stumbled over his words profusely and kept asking me my name repeatedly to which in my 17 year old Chicago black girl attitude replied ROBERTA MATTHEWS AND I AM A MUSIC MAJOR!! Im not sure which floored him the most, me having the nerve to  be standing at his door or the fact that I was a music major, or perhaps it was a combination of both.

It came time for seating arrangements so all 20 of us had to perform a piece and we were seated by level of performance. Now when I was in All City Band, I was 2nd chair 1st row. I didn't figure to be in the first 5 chairs, but I definitely figured to be in the first row. Imagine my surprise when I was seated in the 2nd row, 8th chair. which is 3rd from the bottom. So I said, Ok, maybe since Im a freshman, maybe Im still too new to be up front. A couple of weeks go by and as I get to know my flute-mates I discover that a few in the front row were freshman, and not only were they freshmen, one asked me how to key an upper register note.

*blank stare*

So, you are in the front row, but you dont know how to key upper register notes? Really?

Did I mention I was the only black music major in the music department? The only black in the College Concert Band? I used to sit there during rehearsal and so many would stare at me so intently because they had never seen a black person before.

Anyflutes... 2nd year of college, I am placed 2nd row, 3rd seat. ok.

At the end of my 2nd year, music major were required to perform a jury, and thats when you go before the music faculty and perform a piece from each musical era... I passed, which I was surprised. So I figured by the 3rd year, I should at least be in the 1st row.

Nope. So this time,  my fellow flute mates (all white) were quite sure race played a part of me being seated so low, so they petitioned whoever they petitioned and got us all a re-audition. Which we did, and I moved up one seat. They were pissed. When I think back on it, those white girls had a lot of balls.. but thats another conversation...

During these years, I am struggling horribly in music theory. I do mean HORRIBLY. Although I had private lessons, I never took any classes in music theory in high school . First year theory was alright, but as the difficulty got greater, my grades got worse! I begged my professors for help cuz I didn't understand why I wasn't getting it. I was determined not to fail, for i NEVER failed at anything academic. Not one professor helped me, and believe me I asked for help.

my music adviser told me to change my major, that I would never be a good musician. WOW Talking about killling someone's dreams. Instead of helping me, he tells me to quit. I could see saying that to me if I was being tutored and still failing, but none of them would help me! This totally altered the course of my life.

needless to say, I ended up flunking out of college. and that is that.This is the momement in my life in which I realize the color of my skin played a part of how I will be treated.

The Moment by Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee
I saw a Baltimorean
kept looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
and he was no whit bigger
And so I smiled, but he poked out
his tongue and called me "Nigger"
I saw the whole of Baltimore
from May until December:

Of all the things that happened there
Thats all I remember.

Soooo... what was your moment? Either you are black and realized racism or you are white, and realized your whiteness gives you privilege. Oh, the moment goes both ways, in my opinion.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

God Is Trying To Tell You Something, Are You Listening?

Another memory has once again come from nowhere...

I remember the first night when I moved in with Mister. I had a dream that shook me to my core... At this time I was 4 months pregnant and had not yet found out what the sex of my baby was going to be.

In the dream, I had a girl who looked just like me. And we were living in a 3 room apartment, walking to the bus stop and getting on a yellow and white bus. I couldn't see the clothes she had on but she had ponytails with blue and white barrettes. And of course, she was talking up a storm.

At the time I thought I was being fearful of living out my own childhood with my daughter. Repeating the pattern. Something I was/am very afraid of. I know now it was something entirely different.

So fast forward 3 years and MiniMe and are living in a 3 room apartment, and yes she looks just like me, and we walked that same route to the bus stop and we got on that yellow and white bus which is the Pace Suburban bus here in Chicago. Its her 1st day of me taking her to Pre-k3 school at a Catholic school from our new 3 room apartment, she has on a blue plaid jumper and blue and white barrettes. I remember being on the bus that day with the oddest sense of deja-vous...

It took a couple of days to pull the memory of that dream to the forefront of my brain, and once the remembrance of that dream came full circle, I sat there in horror in realization that my worse nightmare has indeed come true... I am having my daughter live out my own childhood, 3 room apt, on the bus and no money...

I now realize, some 4 years after that deja-vu moment the dream meant something entirely different. I realize now that God speaks to me in my dreams (because Im too stubborn to listen while Im awake). Here I thought in my fleshly mind that I had dreams that told the future when in fact my dreams was God warning me about a course of action that I have taken or He is guiding me in a manner about my life in which I need clarity.

At that time, I was greatly concerned about shacking up with Mister... everyone has those certain sins that we simply will not cross the line on, and for me living with a man I wasn't married to was up there with murder, stealing & adultery... something I never thought I would do.

Im not going into all the details with Mister. Those of you who have followed me over the years know the story, but at that very moment in time Mister had yet to fully shed his sheep clothing and expose himself as the wolf he is. However, when reflecting back on that particular dream God was telling me...

"Pack yo stuff up gal and go now while the getting is good for this is where you will end up!!!"

When God speaks to you, there is a certain amount of conviction you feel, you know for certain what you are suppose to do. When I woke up from that dream I looked at Mister with horror, knowing I should pack my stuff back up at that very moment and haul tail outta there! However, I came to what I thought was my senses (my allowing the enemy to deceive me) and figured this was me having a moment about my fear of living my childhood over as an adult.

If only I had listened.... but at the very least I learned some very important and good lessons. So I suppose it wasn't a complete waste.
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Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Art of Story Telling: The $175 Lesson

Disclaimer: Im writing this on my phone, so bear with me thru any typos and weird spacing...

Although, Im not telling a make believe story, Im oftentimes amazed at how vividly I remember some of the darkest days of my life...

This past Friday I was suppose to go on a women's retreat with the women in my church. I couldn't wait to go, a mere hour away, to take me away to serene beautiful location away from the city and madness to a place filled with prayer and deliverance... oh... I was fully ready and expecting being delivered of some stuff as well as maintaining the deliverance I've already received...

Back when I paid my $175 for this trip, for whatever reason I thought MiniMe was getting out of school on this past Friday and the plan was for her father to pick her up from school that day as I made my way out of town. Well those plans fell thru last week when I found out MiniMe doesn't get out of school for another week. For a week, I desperately searched for someone to watch her... everyone had plans or simply said no... finally a break when 2 girls whom she loves said they would do it... but that too fell thru... then my brother in Christ asked his Mom and she said yes... this is almost at the final hour of me leaving... Soooo I tell MiniMe of the new plans and she had a fit...

Right there at the train station...

She didn't want to go with my friend's mom... she really didn't know her that well... and she was like noooooo Mommy... I don't wanna go!! this is my last weekend home before i leave for 3 WHOLE months and I want to spend it with you! So Im like u wasn't concerned with this being your last weekend when u thought u were going with the girls so what gives??? She said at least I know I was going to have fun! But how can u leave me with someone I don't know my last weekend home? And she just cried her lil heart out... and at that moment I felt sooooo selfish and guilty... I was putting my wants before hers just so I can go on this lil trip... I was filled with guilt, feeling self centered and selfish, and most importantly... empathy... and at that time I couldn't place where the feelings of empathy were coming from...

So I called the person I was riding with and told them to go ahead without me... Im not going...

This disappoint I felt was horrific... just soooooo mad at myself... mad for mixing up the dates, mad for wanting to push her off on someone just so I can go... the feeling was indescribable... more like a deep sense of loss... couple with this severe sense of empathy... i just wanted to go away if only for a weekend...that really wasnt alot to ask for yanno??

So I kept looking for the answer to that empathy feeling and that led me to a long forgotten memory...

When I was 9... my aunt committed suicide... my mother shut down for years after that. A few months to a year or so after my aunt's death.... I was home with my mother and she had an incredible sense of calm in her face... she told me very calmly that she was going out for beer and cigarettes and she will be right back. Nothing unusual, but something definitely felt odd... an hour passed... and then another... and then another... sometime during that time my mother's boyfriend came home... inquired to where she was, I told him and that was that...

Hours passed and I went to him and said she has been gone a mighty long time so he went to look for her...

He found her in her car passed out. Apparently she had gotten her beer and cigarettes. She had also planned out her suicide by placing a towel in the exhaust, starting the car and drank till she passed out hoping and expecting the carbon monoxide would fill the car and she would die quietly in her sleep. Little did she know that when she started the car, the power engine to the old green Plymouth Duster would blow the towel clean out of the exhaust pipe.

She was ever so thoughtful to have written a suicide letter to which she proclaimed her love for her boyfriend and her aunt and for someone to please take care of her 2 cats. No mention of me anywhere in that letter.

Suicide is an extremely selfish act. The destruction it leaves within a family is indescribable. I shudder in remembrance of just how selfish she was and still sometimes is...

I remember feeling worthless... I wasn't worthy enough to be mentioned in a suicide letter. I remember feeling incredibly unloved... that she didn't love me enough to ask someone to look out for me... she loved those 2 blasted cats enough, but not me. She took for granted that someone would feel obligated enough to burden themselves with me... not because they may have wanted to but because they would've felt obligated.. and although their (whoever they would have been) intentions may have been good... chances are I would've felt the burden I wouldve been to that person.

As I remembered this bit of horrific history... I thought of the look of horrow and sense of urgency in my daughter's face. She wanted to know did I love her enough and did I think she was worth me cancelling my trip for and the answer is yes Daughter, you are worth way more than my trip, I love u more than enough to not go for your sake...

Im often very hard on myself concerning how Im raising MiniMe.. always very fearful and mindful of being like my mother. My mother would've packed me up and sent me off despite my protest. She was just that selfish for every and anything always came before me. Its never the physical abuse I remember from my mother, but always the psychological and emotional abuse. Thats what stays with me. Thats what haunts me, even now. Although I have long forgiven her from my heart, and oftentimes yearn to forget those painful memories, sometimes I need the reminder of what not to be.

we had our weekend together and she enjoyed herself immensely... for which im glad... she will have this memor for a lifetime.

Sometimes, i want something that is just about me. I dont have birthday celebrations, Im not married nor in a relatonship and Im fine with that. i just wanted this simple lil getaway... but that too is ok. One day, it wont mean everything to me to go away and have a little time just for myself because it will one day be the rule and not the exception.

I oftentimes am envious when i see mothers & dabughters who have close relationships cuz I so wish I had that with my mother. but instead of being upset, i know without a doubt that i make sure my relationship with MiniMe never turns south. for all of u who have loving relationships with your mother, be forever thankful.

"We can make our plans but the Lord will determine our steps." Proverbs 16:9

It costed me $175 to learn that No, Im not like my mother... not even a little bit.
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