My mind is racing, my heart is pacing, I can’t sleep. I keep checking in on our 4 year old as if he’s going somewhere. I keep hugging him and he keeps squirming. I keep whispering our love to him. Keep kissing his face. I keep praying and crying. We can’t control the outside world. We can arm him with info. But what info? I’m not yet prepared to tell him the crazy truth about his identity, which he’s begun to be so proud of “Mommy! He looks brown like me!” and smiles broadly. Makes your heart race and soar. He could be over-prepared or under-prepared. A million conversations bounce in my head “Son, if you’re in trouble look for a police officer.” “Son, keep your hands visible or a police officer may think you have a gun” “Son hands visible or not…” Justice. Peace. I don’t anticipate him being “in the wrong place at the wrong time” or “hanging out with the wrong folks”…but what does all that mean??? And really? Trayvon and Michael were teens. Doing what we might typically label as “teenage mischief”…or not…my head hurts! My son. My nephew. My brother. I flash back to college and Rodney King…that was 20 years ago! I never said I was Trayvon, I always said “I am Trayvon’s mother” and Now “I am Michael’s mother.” Hugging my boy some more. Summoning enough energy to turn disbelief and sadness mixed with some anger into justice, peace…God have mercy. My privilege just got questionable. I’m not surprised. I’m disappointed. I’m sad. I’m quite frankly scared. Our son is 4, since his birth I’ve lost count but over a dozen similar incidents each year, most non-publicized. I’m sick. Fear will not paralyze us. Breathing. In 9 years society will make many changes and I fear that our perceptions of each other based on race and ethnicity may not change (the pessimist in me). The optimist says if all the like-minded folks work (harder than we have been since the nation began lol) change will come…9 years is around the corner and tonight I am Michael Brown’s mom and I feel her pain.
I made a valiant attempt to do 75 days of posting honoring my mom and 27 days of Thanksgiving Thanks posts, but…life, job, family all got in the way! LOL How do I become a full-time blogger? I guess I go on sabbatical…1.5 semesters and counting…Until then…
I have read several friends’ posts and a few articles this month on privilege. Most of these authors write about one’s ability to complain about having a name misspelled on a Starbucks cup, complaining about a commute to work (in a car), or complaining about all the SPAM messages on one’s tablet, etc…Peggy McIntosh made popular the notion of naming, acknowledging, discussing, deconstructing, and then doing something about privilege. McIntosh started with the BIG one, white male privilege. Other scholars followed suit with able-bodied privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc. As I used each of the privilege worksheets in class with my students and facilitated discussions I became increasingly uncomfortable with my own privilege. What? A woman of African descent has privilege?!
The first time I said it out loud in class my students looked at me oddly. After all I had allowed them to follow that typical pattern of thinking in which we only view women and people of color as oppressed individuals. Which is one perspective and depending on who, what, where, how, and why that vulnerable oppressed persona may fit. As I write this blog I am waiting to hear the Grand Jury decision on officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown. I am 44 years old and I feel as if I have sat-in-waiting many many times before…so, I fully acknowledge that there is still a great amount of oppression for youth, men, and women who have brown, red, yellow, black skin; accents; unacceptable documentation; not enough resources….
AND another reality of 2014 is that many people who have the life I have had and currently have, also have much privilege. I grew up with more than enough resources. I have an advanced degree. I have a full-time job. I am heterosexual, born in the U.S., and am able-bodied. Yes, I am a proud woman of color. I have many challenges based on those two identities – separated and combined. But at the intersection of all of my identities, I am privileged. Primarily because I can use my socioeconomic status to combat what comes my way based on biological sex and race. I am thankful that I have enough privilege that I can Code Switch and take action. It’s often exhausting work and sometimes I refuse to do it. But mostly I acknowledge my privileged statuses, and use them when and as I can to combat the isms. I’m also attempting to make our 4 y.o. son aware of his privileges…that’s another blog!
Today I am very thankful that my momma raised an aware, proud, activist Black woman! Thanks momma! Privilege comes with responsibilities.
I’m always reflective in November. Even before my mom passed away. It happens to be the month in which so many people I care for were born, including my mom and son. My mom left me a great legacy. There’s stuff, but what is most meaningful is the non-tangible. These past couple of weeks I have been particularly reflective on the legacy of cultural capital she left me.
I teach a class on cultural competence. That class is about human service workers being able to work effectively and compassionately with people of different social identities (race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc.). There is a different type of cultural competence that I’ve been reflecting on lately. The first snow has fallen on Loon Mountain and folks are going skiing….
In undergraduate and again in our doctoral program I read Bourdieu’s work along with some post modern takes on cultural capital. The term is broad, vague, ill-defined, not ethnically relevant, maybe even unnecessary, except when you realize it is necessary…I am sure that in proper society no one goes around speaking of their cultural capital, but we know it when we see it. I’ve been particularly reflective about ethnic-specific and regional differences in cultural capital. I’m not ready to write a thesis about this, but I am aware of that in my travels around the country, living in different regions and being blessed enough to have friends from different backgrounds, I’ve noticed that we each have cultural capital in different ways. And even with our country’s growing diversity I am struck that we still revert to a WASP standard of cultural capital (orchestra outings, certain types of art, music, skiing, apple picking, specific books, etc.).
When and how does cultural capital become diversified? I know that in the African American community there are organizations that have been formed in an attempt to inculcate children with some forms of cultural capital. And while depending on the region of these by-invitation-only groups a child may get the typical reproduced messages about cultural capital with some sprinkling of ethnic-specific cultural capital (i.e. sharing of some art by famous black artists and musicians). But for the most part the cultural capital being instilled and passed on is still lodged in the WASP world. It’s o.k. and it’s not o.k. Every ethnic and racial group has much to contribute to the mickle bag (a term one of my eccentric high school English teacher used ad nausem…I think she made the term up!) of what can be considered to be part of the cultural capital suitcase. I’m sure someone has written an article (or two) about this; and maybe I’ll go look it up…but my point is that some of our parents do an amazing job of providing some elements of cultural capital (which we then hopefully build upon for ourselves) and I’d like the scholars, theorists and pundits to consider adding futbol (soccer), and Gordon Parks, and hair braiding, and making tamales, and…you get me right? Cultural capital should be culturally competent & relevant.
For me, I am thankful that my mom laid a foundation in our multi-cultural, multi-value, multi-activity house and elsewhere that allows me to move with some ease within and between cultures with my well-packed cultural capital suitcase. It’s that ability to code switch (a show on NPR now) that really makes me a culturally competent individual with capital. And I’m thankful. Thank you mommy! I’m hoping to reproduce some culturally relevant capital with our son. Here’s hoping I can build upon my mom’s legacy and also hoping I don’t drive our son crazy in doing so!