I have spent the past four days surrounded by young black folks in Atlanta. It’s the blackest big city I have ever visited of my virtual gypsy travels, and I find myself wanting to buy a pair of gold high heels at a shop that sells Kangol hats and $150 hoodies.
It must be the Nuyorican coming out. In this town, I’m a light skinned sista.
Two Latinas with thick thighs walk into the shop speaking Spanish. They push along three little black boys. Blacktinos? Blaxicans?
This is Atlanta 2009. A city that has experienced massive transformation since the 1996 Olympics.
“A lot of people moved here from South America, Central America for the jobs,” says my Groome Transportation driver, who moved to Columbus three years ago for a slower pace and kinder folks.
And yet, as I wandered Peachtree Street, Peters Street, Ralph David Road, I only saw black faces. Blacklanta, I decided to call this historic city, which I first learned about through the eyes of “Gone With the Wind’s” Scarlett O’hara – A white southern belle who learned how to be a better woman through struggle.
So, it’s a huge slum, right? Isn’t that what “black neighborhood” means?
Let me enlighten your ignorant ass…
This is the capital of black academia, home of Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown colleges. You’ve got lawyers and judges and journalists and business people walking down the corridors of the Hyatt Regency, the Westin, City Hall, which has tackled homelessness and panhandling by installing meter type boxes for passersby to drop their extra change.
On a first glance, and perhaps a superficial level, this is a successful black city.
Dig underneath, and the problems I know and experience on a daily basis in Miami, persist here too.
Nobody trusts anybody.
“I’m stuck with a baby mama with low self esteem,” says Paul, who sells “trees” to pay the rent. We are on our way to Q-Time, a soul food restaurant around the corner from a beauty shop packed with black girls getting their nails did by Koreans.
“Paul, has it ever occurred to you that your baby mama’s self esteem is directly related to the way you treat her?” I ask him.
“What?! I already tried bein’ nice to that bitch and she still act crazy,” he says shaking his square-shaped bald head. Paul is blackipino…he is the kind of guy who looks like the people I wondered about when I was a little girl watching Sesame Street.
“Mom, are there black people with chinky eyes like Chinese people?”
“Ay, Gypsy, the questions you ask,” my mom would reply, and return to whatever she was doing in the kitchen. She was a stay-at-home mom whose husband went to work everyday, a luxury many black moms don’t have these days.
Young black women, from what I can tell from four days in Atlanta, are still slaves. Their sense of selves come from young black men, who are stoned 24 hours a day and write lyrics about all the pussies they “own.” No wonder this is the stripper capital and artwork in a gallery in the former Underground Railroad consists of scantily clad females competing for the attention of rappers.
Paul shows me a text he receives from his baby mama:
“Today is National Don’t Talk to Liars Day and in observance of this day, don’t expect a call from me.”
“Fine with me,” says Paul, who is currently editing the speech that Arnold Jackson, director of Census 2010, gave at this week’s ethnic media conference.
“That dude be talkin so slow,” Paul says, and I wonder if any of the role models he shoots and edits will ever influence him into a more positive direction. He finished two years of Morehouse College, but didn’t graduate because “only gay men graduate from there.” His brother is a lawyer. And his baby mama, a light skinned sista, isn’t stupid – she often participated in my roundtable forums when I edited Youth Outlook Magazine, and contributed insightful commentary on the 9/11 politics of the day.
I’m sure at one point Paul found this sexy…a woman with opinions…a woman who might be on his level…but then sex factored into the equation, and a baby changed everything. Life ceased to be bohemian. Life became obligation and responsibility, and neither was ready. They feel cheated that their glamorous life of being single and free is now full of arguments, mistrust, jealousy and financial struggle.
Paul doesn’t see himself as the leader of his new family – he is still only living for himself.
“Ma, we put up with anything for the pussy. Once we get it, we’re like, ‘Bitch, I don’t wanna hear it.’”
“No!” I insist. “Why do you diminish yourself to a caveman? Is sex really all you want?”
All my life, the older women in my family said, “Men only want one thing.” This was their way of warning me. But it isn’t. They want loyalty. They want respect. They want to be trusted. They want to be loved. And feminism has stripped them of these human needs…to the point that if a man admits he “needs” these things, he’s just GAY.
The level of homophobia in the black community is off the richter scale.
“I heard that 80 percent of black men are on the down low,” says Corey, a black female who is writing a book about 7 ways for women to have more confidence. She arrives with Bobbie, Paul’s ex-girlfriend from college.
“What?! That means most black men are gay? That doesn’t make any sense,” I say.
“That’s why I don’t trust a dude,” Bobbie says. “He can be telling you one thing and go home and suck a dick.”
“No one trusts anyone anymore,” I say.
When I wasnt aware of myself, I looked for validation from men. I didnt feel beautiful unless a man gave me attention. I didnt feel smart unless there was a girl around that I could outsmart. I didn’t think I was worthy of special treatment from anyone because I didn’t want to owe them any favors. I didn’t know how to love because I hated myself.
I had a hole in my heart leftover from the first boy who screwed me and left me when I was only 14. He said sweet things and I believed him. He made promises and didn’t keep them.
How many girls has this happened to? How many of us had a bad first sexual experience and spend the rest of our lives angry at the entire male team?
And is it possible for us to forgive them so that we can give a man, who may actually be telling the truth, a chance?
The black community is in a shambles because its men and women are still at war.
And what about Latinos? Josue is the youngest of four boys raised by a single mother. She brought them to the US to escape the civil war that was ravaging their home country El Salvador. The guerillas were recruiting boys as young as 14 and she didn’t want to lose her entire family. Josue’s earliest memory was at 2 years old because he remembered the change between El Salvador and the US.
His experience provides the fodder for his art, but when he spent last month on his own for an artist residency, he found himself going nuts.
“I didn’t like being alone,” he said. “I’m a community artist.”
He also thinks it’s too self-centered to make art about himself, and that he should focus on liberating others.
Meanwhile, Josue is enslaved himself in a relationship as toxic as Paul’s. His girlfriend is anorexic. She hacks into his Facebook. He has cheated on her and he still thinks about the other girl even while trying to patch it up with his girlfirend, who trusts him even less, but is too insecure to know that life is too short to spend one’s time and energy on someone un-trustworthy.
All this from a boy that never had these problems years ago when he was a church-going boy. Out of all the young people at Youth Outlook Magazine, Josue was the most radical because he openly talked about his relationship with Jesus. The others thought he was a straight-up square, especially Russell, who was the baddest of the boys…and had the strongest influence on Josue. They created a legendary comic series together for the back of the magazine called “Publick” and this relationship single-handedly transformed Josue from a solid, whole individual into a follower. He saw how Russell got the ladies. He saw how Russell got what he wanted by being a bad boy. Josue wanted to be a bad boy too. But he didn’t realize that being himself would be a more successful path.
“You need to break up with this girl,” I tell Josue as we drink beers at Hooters. I’m like a guy pal right now, telling him the truth he doesn’t want to hear. “Both of you needs to become whole before it will work.”
I explain to him how I have segmented my brain into the relationships I have chosen for my life. He asks why I have alloted 60% to a MAN and I tell him it’s because I am a woman, and I have learned from my bad experiences with relationships and studying yoga, the Bible, Buddhism and the art of matchmaking with angel investors, that my role in life is to put a trustworthy man before myself, and I will live a happier, balanced, sweet life. I tell him that when I was going the feminist route, I was too egotistical, and I was all about proving this or that and forgetting about L-O-V-E.
“Do you have a remote control?” he asks me.
“Yes,” I say. “And I have chosen to hand it over to him because he knows how to work it. We have a lot of fun with it.”
Josue is much more open to what I have to say than Paul is. I wonder if it is because Josue is Latin like me. We all have been taught to identify with “our people” and sometimes this prevents us from truly listening to each other. At the ethnic media awards banquet, I walked around all the tables before choosing the one where I had a chance to do the deepest, most high touch networking. The Asians stuck with the Asians. The elders stuck with the elders. There were a few mixed tables, but ultimately I chose to sit with a table of Latinos because I had randomly connected with Leslie Froelich during the cocktail networking before dinner. Leslie is not even Latin by heritage. Spanish is not her first language, but here she was tonight, accepting an award for an article she wrote in a Spanish-language newspaper about “Spanglish.”
I decided that I would sit at her table because in a sea of people, I wandered toward her direction, saw her and introduced myself. I didn’t know anything about her. I wasn’t introduced by anyone. I didn’t even know she was associated with the Latin community. My only mission was to mingle and practice law of attraction.
And isn’t it an interesting science experiment that Latin attracted Latin at the end of the day?
Her colleagues were from Mexico City, Venezuela, a few Puerto Ricans….it was the perfect setting to promote my blog.
The next day, I attend a talk by a phd about the state of the black community, and is it any coincidence that the only chair available is right next to Leslie?
As the black female PHD compares pink roses to red roses growing in a garden at her new home in the suburbs of Washington, DC, Leslie and I both shake our heads.
“Is this woman annoying you, or is it just me?” she whispers in my ear.
“Ummm. I’m still deciding,” I say. “There is a fundamental flaw in her argument. I’ll tell you in a minute.”
Leslie smiles and we continue listening to this academian’s theories that the pink flowers never had a chance to grow because they were planted in bad soil, whereas the red flowers have flourished and have become the favored color for a beautiful garden.
“Who is the gardener?” I wonder to myself. Finally, the phd mentions this, but she says it’s the government and the media. Wrong.
“If you notice,” I tell Leslie after the talk, “she mentioned that she just bought a house and was engaging in the very yuppie pasttime of growing a garden. She herself is a success, but she is stuck on the past, things will never be good enough, she NEEDs this cause to stay the same…it’s her MO.”
Leslie agrees and adds that our generation’s nonchalant attitude toward race is the result of the previous generation’s struggles. Didn’t MLK say that his dream is that his kids would be able to play on the same swingset as white children? Then what is this here? It seems to me another case of people setting goals and not even realizing they have achieved them because they’re already chasing something else.
“How many people in here do you think feel the same way we do?” I ask Leslie.
She looks around at the multicultural faces.
“About half,” she says.
“You know, as soon as I realized this skin I am wearing is my costume, I wasn’t afraid anymore to play on the same swingset as the boys. It’s kind of the same thing as race. If you keep seeing yourself as black, woman, Asian, you won’t ever realize we are all from the same place. That’s why I started an online TV show to help women and people of color become more financially savvy. They just need someone to explain things in a language they understand. The Latina Suzie Ormon. Have you ever thought of doing broadcast?” I ask her.
She blushes and smiles. She says she hasn’t but she knows it’s a necessary part of a journalist’s tool box.
I think about shooting at the range. The Ruger was easiest for me to handle and focus. I think about the breathing as I got ready to fire. Once again, I got the exact training I needed before entering the battlefield. This is why I give my MAN my remote control…he innately knows how to L-O-V-E me because he L-O-V-Es and honors himself. I can follow his lead because I love and honor myself. We create a balance to and from each other. We create kindness to others. We create a calmer world.
Like Richard Rodriguez, the famous gay Mexican author, said during the conference keynote speech, “Love is the story we forget to tell in the media…and this is the root of the ones that DO make it to print.”
The male-female, yin-yang, light-dark relationships of our lives create this “reality” we’re living in. I think of the Indian filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan, who always touches on this theme in all his movies, especially “The Happening.”
We need to start trusting each other again. We need to gamble away all our fears and understand that trust begins within oneself. When you are always being true to yourself, you inspire others to be true to themselves. For 8 years we had a poser leading the most important office in government. Our lack of trust has worsened because of this guy.
Is it possible that Obama can lift up the black community during his term in office? Michelle Obama is not a baby mama. She is a full-grown woman. She exudes confidence. Can she be a good role model for black women? It’s a heavy task being a role model. Maybe people just need to look inside themselves and forget about looking to others for guidance.
Amen. Namaste. Ciao.