Resistance is Restless

I am one of the many women who went to work on March 8th. I could say that I was in turmoil over it, but that would be a lie. That’s what I do… work. Every day. No days off (Wale voice).

I knew what I signed up for in this career and I knew this day would come. There’d be a moment when I’d be toiling over minutiae while everyone else was out fighting a good fight that I felt should be mine. This happened last year for any number of Black Lives Matter protests. It happened years before many times over. But, alas, life is not made of newspaper headlines or twitter rants. It is not the meta-narratives of history books that one lives while history books are being written. Instead, it is the particular histories of daily life that all seem mundane individually, but are collectively more than the sum of their individual parts.

In light of this, I’m sharing my mundane Women’s History Month resistance routine. The month started off with making a donation to WNYC studios so that podcasts like 2 Dope Queens and Sooo Many White Guys could continue to give me spurts of joyous laughter between monotonous policy drafts and email responses (#trypod). Luckily for me, there was an option to get Phoebe Robinson‘s (1 dope queen) new book “You can’t touch my hair..” I thoroughly enjoyed it and, as a result, snorted a few times. With that in my memory bank, I’ll be symbolically burning a bra all month long. Here’s how:

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The lady on left is looking how I’m feeling! (Today Show)

1 – Making my husband visit his mom!  – This trip is the gift that keeps on giving. My mother-in-law is the salt of the earth. She’s also very sane. Her physical presence in the life of her eldest son is very sobering for all who witness it. He, of all people, could use her grounding right now. I, on the other hand, could use some alone time, followed by girl time, followed by work like a dog time, followed by more girl time. Snowball effect accomplished.

2 – Reading Sonia Sotomayor’s biography – I’m going to read more about Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s life, because I hear she’s got a great journey to share. I also feel it will balance out Phoebe’s book in both heft and severity. I can’t just laugh and cuss all month long. I need to be inspired to do something positive with the platforms I have. I’m hoping the judge will remind me of  a time when public servants and leaders were actually admirable and inspiring; I wanted to be in that number. It wasn’t that long ago. It’s good to know that some of them are still around – kicking and screaming beneath very powerful robes (keep the cape). And, like me, she’s not an immigrant, so at least we have that in common.

3- Self care – Ask me why I have a physical, dental exam (w/ x-rays) and spa day booked before the end of the month ? My response is a direct quote from Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — A Burst of Light: Essays – I won’t be undone, disarmed, minimized or placated, so long as I am well fed, well rested, well loved and able bodied. My job is to stay that way!

4- Starting a business – My amateur meanderings have led me to two very stimulating entrepreneurial endeavors. And rather than pussyfoot around any longer, I’m finalizing the LLC for one of them this month and reserving the business name for the other. Not regularizing my business investments leaves me personally vulnerable and that’s not sustainable or growth minded. See, ya’ll, I’m speaking that business-lady talk. Bossy pants all month long! #queenboss

5 – Writing an article on women of the Diaspora – In the works, as I type, is a piece I’m co-authoring with my PhD advisor on 2013 research data I collected in India. It has taken a combination of guts, cajoling, and stagnation to get me to the point where I can finally write this long overdue academic article. Hallelujah! The day (or month) has finally come. My March 24th deadline for a draft is well timed, because I’m sure that my academic sisters, mothers, and friends will help me finally execute. “We can do it!”

Even if you don’t take on one of my 5 pillars of the month, you too can create your own mundane resistance routine. I’m sure you’re wondering how to make a difference within the parameters of your daily routine. My advice? Choose daily wins and small victories with big impacts. Deliberately support businesses and development efforts of women. Affirm their femininity and their excellence. Hug a woman you love, or a man who loves a woman you love. Stop, smell some roses, and then… get back to work! There is soooo much to be done.

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#musicamondays #MusicMondays (67)

Welcome to the 67th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Chicago born, Gil Scott Heron been woke since woke was a thing… He’s probably turning over in his grave right now, but… every once in a while we need to be reminded of how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t… Thank you, sir.

And since it’s a Monday Morning, this feels appropriate… let’s call on Lady Day and make the most of the day we have in front of us!

When I became a PhD Student…

…my entire life changed in ways I can’t quite describe, but will try to do so as accurately as humanly possible.

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I started off thinking that this journey would be one of accomplishment and accolades. Who doesn’t want to be a Dr.? Seriously. As far as I can tell, I’d be the first in my family – on both sides – and I could finally be like some of my colleagues at the CDC who use a whole slew of letters in their signature line. Imagine, Mrs. Government Worker, BA, MIA, PhD, BIYATCH! I thought it would feel great to say I was a no limit soldier, as far as education was concerned.

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I also started off thinking that this wouldn’t be so bad. Much like how I naively thought that my Master’s program would be manageable while working a part time job, I naively thought this PhD could neatly fit into the hours after my full-time day job. I was discouraged by PhD students on 3 continents. I was warned by Professors everywhere, but I thought… pshawww… they don’t know me, like I know me. I got this.

Spoiler alert: I don’t got this.

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You know what else I don’t got? Any free time! An evening free of grad school guilt! Disposable income that doesn’t go to books! And, I’m going to blame my soon to be gone gallbladder on this PhD too… yup, I lost an organ, ya’ll.

Ok, so no, my PhD isn’t directly to blame, but a lot of things changed the minute I was admitted to my PhD program. I’m going to say that “bad genes,” as my surgeon put it, and bad habits brought me to this day.

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1 – I eat a lot of quick and nutrition-less food these days. – When a PhD happens to you, it’s like nurturing a pregnancy, except there are no doctors to tell you what to do and you stay pregnant until you decide that you’ve gotten over the fear of giving birth. Lucky for me, I have a spouse that tells me to put the chocolate mousse down while reading the latest 20th century military war chronology. Others are not so lucky. If it has a wrapper, it won’t go bad in my bag for a day, and it can withstand tropical temperatures, I’ll probably eat it with reckless abandon. Oh, and did I mention I don’t eat meat… and I live in Africa? This means, my quick foods are highly likely to be deep fried, cheese or potato based, and/or purchased on amazon.com. Gone are my long leisurely weekends of making nutritious meals to last a week. If you find me in the kitchen NOT standing at the microwave and without a book in my hand, your eyes are deceiving you.

2 – About 6 months ago, I vowed not to beat up on myself about my weight. – This one act of self-love turned into non-exercise of all kinds. If it didn’t entail lifting a book to eye level or working while standing (b/c that’s just good for your lumbar system), I didn’t beat myself up for NOT doing. This means, all that fatty, sh$tty food I ate went straight to parts of my body that I didn’t even know I had. Who even knows where their gallbladder is? Really??

3 – I started letting other people make life decisions for me. – I realized that I needed to delegate a lot of my responsibilities to others, because there’s no way on God’s green earth it is possible to work my job, finish this PhD and live my life – succesfully – at the same time. So, to reduce stress on the latter and the former, I defered to people much less educated than wikipedia to make major decisions for me, including some about the state of my health. I let nurses tell me that I was too young for the surgery I obviously needed. I let those same people give me extended courses of antibiotics for issues they didn’t know how to treat. Essentially, I delegated the wrong decisions to the wrong people. So, I’m paying the price for breaking Management Rule #1 Delegate Authority but not Responsibility.

In short, consider this fair warning about getting a PhD and other acts of “doing too much,” which seem great on paper. I have to admit that in my attempt to get book smart, I’ve done a lot of dumb things. It makes you wonder, how they let me into this program at all. But, in any case, I hope those of you out there with academic ambitions, who still have all your organs take this as a warning. A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a game of chess, not checkers. So, train, prepare, and take care of yourself for the longhaul!

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…a freewriting on fieldwork and Black Britain’s inspiration…

What was supposed to be a week spent reading and writing about the Indian Diaspora somehow became one consumed with fascinating books about Blacks in England. Oddly enough, my curiosity brought me to three books in the library that I devoured with speed and interest. All short texts, Roy Kerridge’s The Story of Black History, Phil Cohen and Carl Gardner’s It ain’t half racist, mum, and Tessa Hosking’s Black People in Britain 1650-1850, consumed my week with a whole new world of history, racism, quirky nostalgia and well earned pride.

It may seem odd that this combo of white advocacy and white criticism was entertained fully by my skeptic brain, but the excuses it provided to procrastinate and also to empathize shouldn’t be underestimated. Sifting through Kerridge’s thinly veiled superiority complex as both a historian and a bastion of knowledge on black authenticity, I learned about the SS Empire Windrush that brought many West Indians to England in 1948. And while pondering Melissa Harris-Perry’s most recent departure from MSNBC in response to their lack of support and undermining behaviors, I read Cohen and Gardner’s account of Alex Pascall’s experience with his radio show Black Londoners in the late 1970s and 1980s. I learned the names of Ignatius Sancho, Tom Molineaux, and Francis Barber from Hosking, and experienced a burst of reminders about white sympathizers like Granville Sharpe.

More important than names and dates, these texts resurrected Pan-African understandings that I have – for a long time – not explored. They also reminded me that while so many people draw inspiration from African-American images, they know very little of African-American realities and instead cling to stereotypes at both extremes of the socio-economic spectrum. These texts mentioned the many African-American British loyalists who found themselves in England at the end of war for independence, only to be treated as unwelcomed hangers on. They made mention of the Sierra Leonians and the diversities of experience and histories between those returned from the Americas and the natives who took them in as neighbors *unclear if done so willingly*. All told, one thing all these British texts had in common was a reminder that Black British history wasn’t African-American history. In fact, Kerridge makes it a point to remind people that African-American history, no matter how Nubianized, has become revisionist history for Blacks all over the world – something he deems wrong and historically inaccurate.

What do I take from this? Probably not what you’d expect. I take the pride in being of the ancestry of slaves and deep pride that that history has been exported, invented, reinvented, spread and mimicked around the world and infused into daily actions of people who barely know our names. I take great pride in realizing that while we may be greatly misunderstood, domestically and internationally, we are ever present. In British history books our presence is to be countered. On the mainstage of MSNBC our presence is to be critiqued. And somehow, being present is an act of militancy.

I suppose this take away speaks more about where I am in life, than what these authors expected their readers to absorb. As an African-American who is often asked about my expat lifestyle, about my identity now that I am married to an African, about how African I feel, I have struggled to find responses that I am not later ashamed of. They could have been better worded. They could have paid homage to multiple realities. They could have been more open, more closed, more accurate, more imaginative, more or less…entertaining. I have to ask, am I making a Diaspora of my own in my travels? Is that question, in itself, self-serving or trivial?

I’m pondering greatly what my presence means. Whether or not being an expat makes me a migrant, an immigrant, an interloper or an interpreter. Being present has been a privilege, but it hasn’t been without responsibilities. Living while Black isn’t easy anywhere, but living while Black in Africa, representing a politics of the West, studying a people of the East and eeking out, dangerously, some semblance of normalcy in the short 24 hours I’m given daily – feels militant. It feels defiant. It feels counter to expectation, counter to understanding and, for me, just surreal.

People have asked me to start talking about my experience more – as a traveler, as an academic, as a professional. To be the story has always been my goal, but never my lived reality. To do so would be to be exposed. To do so would be to show vulnerabilities in a veneer of strength, to expose a brain behind the face of so many transposed expectations, to give words to deliberate, self-preserving, silences. Silent presence helps to hide self-consciousness and inarticulate descriptions of what it means to be me, today, in this world of worlds, in these spheres of power and in the banal spaces of daily life.

So what started out as a week of reading about a series of others has been a very critical site of academic and personal metamorphosis. It’s the moment when I learned to write my presence, not just in the stories about me, but in the stories that have come my way by virtue of my presence – in the workplace, in the interviews, in the academic spaces that I transit.

In the coming year, I hope to be less preachy and more exposed. I hope to share my field notes here – explaining diversions that make no sense to me – and expressing feelings that Psychology Today may say have no name. What all these three writers have given me  this week is a history that demands a voice. It demands that trivial events are written, in the hopes that they will later become a history – a history of boring questions, fleeting moments, principal characters – as complex and confusing as the lived experience.

I hope to give you mine… and one day, may it become a history, so that those same voices who silence us daily won’t plain write us out forever.

Put your money where your principles are…

11247970_10204759314167049_8826692576397745492_nLast year, I wrote a lot about my efforts to discipline my spending, weigh and balance what my financial choices say about me, and to be a mindful giver. This year, I hope you’ll join me as I try to turn all those words into deliberate action. I read a horribly controversial book by Chika Onyeani just a few months back and despite it’s crass racial rhetoric, it left with me a strong sense of responsibility for my financial choices.

We all watched quietly in 2013 as thousands died in Bangladesh’s Savar/ Rana plaza building collapse, but I’m sure that you – like me – turned away with a feeling of helplessness. Those of us who felt anything at all likely donated money to an active charity doing rescue and recovery. What we did not do, surely, was research the brands that sourced garments from these factories that told their sweatshop workers to return to work despite visual indications that the building was unsafe. We didn’t stop buying the accused brands and we certainly didn’t demand retribution. According to Forbes, we’re talking about Benetton, Primark, Walmart, and JC Penney among the names you know, but Carrefour and NKD among those you don’t.

I could say I care because many haven’t compensated the lost and injured, but frankly I care for purely selfish reasons. I care because even those that have paid something have surely turned profits 100 fold on the labor bought and sold on the cheap in far flung places. I care because I’m sure they overcharged me, underpaid their workers and made out like fat cats on both our complicity.  I care because I want to do no harm, and apparently, shopping endorses forms of slavery that big businesses will say are sanctioned because you and I keep spending. I care because where I spend my money threatens to paint me as both an idiot and an asshole if I don’t pay enough attention to understand the implications of those financial choices.

In this new year, I am making a sincere effort to make better financial choices. In addition to starting a budget, which I have never actually had in my life, and increasing my monthly charitable giving, I am making a concerted effort to spend my money mindfully – #shoplocal, support free & fair trade, shop small and minority owned businesses, read the ingredients and animal testing disclaimers on all labels, research before clicking ‘check out.’

Some transgressions are unavoidable, like the Tantalum in our iphones or the chocolate in the dessert served at our favorite haunt, so that’s all the more reason to take a stance on what we can control. We have all gotten used to the ease of Amazon Prime and the convenience of big box stores, but the easier it is to buy and the cheaper goods seem to cost, the more likely it is that companies are cutting corners – in paying their workers, in being socially responsible, in doing no harm to the environment. The list goes on…

So, this year, I want every dollar I spend to NOT be easy. It should take effort and deliberation to wrench my pennies from my pockets. I want to monitor the life cycle of each cent and I want to know that this year, my hard earned money went in greater percentages to better causes. The filter between receiving my pay check and buying material things should only allow mindful purchases, necessary objects and proud choices to make their way onto my bank statement. And if I can have a face to put to the names of the brands in my closet, in my pantry, and in my office – all the better. If this process makes me shop less, what a priceless added benefit! I hope you’ll consider making a similar declaration to reverse consumption as a habit, and consider spending an act of protest and philanthropy.

It takes a village to do right by the world.

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See below a short list of the businesses I’m considering supporting going forward. I haven’t done all the reading I need to, but I like what I see so far. I hope you’ll do some research too and let me know if I should re-consider. Comment with the names/ lists of other brands and businesses to consider that aren’t listed here. Help me grow this list!

*No, I haven’t been paid to list those below and I won’t get kick backs or discounts if you shop. Some brands I’ve tried already (evanhealy, bami, Geeda’s, MOMs & Grenada Chocolate Company) and have had great personal experiences, others are completely new. There’s no funny business here. *

Bath and Body

Home

 

Clothing and Accessories

  Food & Dining

 

 

Lists to comb and consider for U.S. shoppers:

Fair Trade Clothing

Black owned businesses

Black owned spas

Women owned businesses

Toxin-free cosmetics

Black owned bookstores

Cruelty free products

 

 

#musicamonday #MUSICMONDAY (18)

Welcome to the 18th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

When my FLOTUS kicks beats, you better believe she will be featured right here. Listen to Lady O.  Go to college: even though the prices of most 4 yr degrees are too damn high! Try, apply, study & succeed. #StayMadAbby is cute today, but it needs to be the fuel to Keep Abby Mad 4 years from now and 4 years after that… and so on & so forth.

#bettermakeroom