White Friends: Here’s Your Bill for My Racial Labor

Dear White Friend,

Thank you for choosing me as your consultant for your recent questions and concerns about racism and/or racial reconciliation. I trust that your needs were met and you were satisfied with the level of grace, thoughtfulness, and honesty with which I responded to your inquiry. Below you will find the invoice for my services.

You may be surprised at this new billing structure. For many years, I have provided these services freely. Being a racial ambassador is part of my call to God’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16-20), and I am grateful for the privilege of working with you. But the “worker deserves [her] wages” (Luke 10:7).

I am sure that you will find this new billing structure to be significantly reduced given my credentials, which include:

  • 40+ years of lived experience as an African Racial labor invoiceAmerican woman living in the southern United States, with a multigenerational legacy of slavery, sharecropping, and involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • 13 years of formal, self-funded education in cultural and gender studies, theology, and psychology, resulting in 2 bachelor’s degrees, 2 master’s degrees, and a Ph.D.
  • 12 years as a scholar and teacher in these areas, with dozens of academic and lay publications, including my recent book, Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength.
  • 20 years of clinical and ministerial experience with people of color and economically disadvantaged populations.

The attached invoice does not bill for prior expenses. It is limited to expenses incurred directly as a result of our recent conversation, specifically the time for services rendered (time that could have been devoted to professional activities for which I am paid) as well as the considerable emotional distressed induced by our conversation.

Racism is not an academic subject that I study objectively or from a safe psychological distance. It is a systemic oppression that envelops my daily existence. When you come seeking answers to your questions, you are asking me to delve into thoughts, memories, and experiences that are bathed in emotion. Memory cannot be separated from emotion. So when you ask me to recall an event, you are also asking me to recall – even re-experience – the fear, anger, and sadness that accompanied it.

Further, each time I engage in conversation with you on these topics, I do so fully knowing that you may dismiss my experience. You may employ your white privilege to tell me that my interpretation is invalid, that you know more about my experience than I do, that your limited time thinking about race trumps my four decades of living with it.

Even if you do listen to and trust my experience, at the end of our dialogue, you get to walk away from it. I, in turn, slip further down the rabbit hole of painful racialized memory.

There are also the costs of continuing education. I work constantly to be informed about issues of race. This includes keeping up with the latest publications on race and gender, even those not in my discipline, so that I can serve as your personal reference librarian. That in itself is a costly endeavor. I am also required to keep informed about national issues such as Ferguson, Baltimore, Rachel Dolezal, and the Charleston shooting. That means that I am continually subjected to cultural trauma, which has significant impact upon my health and well-being.

Previously, I have simply absorbed these costs. I am unable to continue to do so. Thus, I am requiring beneficiaries of my expertise to compensate me for the financial, emotional, and physical costs associated with this labor.

It is impossible to estimate the actual monetary value of my services. Instead, I am billing you for the therapeutic services required to recover my equilibrium following our conversations. These include flotation therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture. You may remit payment by calling FLO2S or Massage Associates of Atlanta to put a credit on my account.

For high-frequency clients, I strongly recommend that you put my services on retainer by purchasing a FLO2S monthly membership or a Massage Associates of Atlanta acupuncture series.

If you are unable to work with this billing structure, I would be happy to refer you to an alternative provider for future consultations.


Chanequa Walker-Barnes

Attachment: Racial labor invoice

Race Matters and So Does Racial Fraud

Beyond retweeting a few folks and reposting some interesting articles, I have tried to refrain from commenting on this Rachel Dolezal situation. I don’t want to engage in speculation about why she did it. As a psychologist, I know that the question of why is usually far more complicated than can be deduced from reading a few articles or listening to a few interviews.dolezal

I am more interested in the the rhetoric that I’ve heard invoked about the case. There’s a lot of wrongheaded thinking on this, even by people who are usually considered well-informed on racial issues. We’re clearly muddled by the idea that someone would pass for Black. Here are a few of the puzzling comments I’ve heard and read in the past week.

She’s done a lot for the Black community and hasn’t hurt anyone with this. The media is just using this to distract us from real racial issues.

This one really gets me. If you’re this easily distracted from “real racial issues,” then you don’t have much of an attention span and you’re not really a racial justice advocate. If you think Rachel Dolezal’s racial fraud is simply a misguided act that doesn’t hurt anyone, then you obviously have never been: (1) a person of African descent whose racial allegiance is questioned because of your light skin; (2) a person who has been accused of being a justice advocate solely for personal gain; or (3) a cultural studies scholar (or a non-white professor in almost any field) whose presence and/or scholarship is deemed unworthy of the academy.

Well, she’s just being transracial.

Please stop. No really, stop. If you think that transracial is a new word to describe this, then you are wrong. You are co-opting a word that has a long-standing use and a very specific meaning related to adoption. And if you’re trying to draw a parallel between Dolezal and Caitlin Jenner, you really should be quiet. Spend a few more years listening to and learning from transgender people and maybe you’ll eventually get why that’s a bad parallel. Tanning your skin and wearing braids can no more make your Black than wearing a bone straight weave and blue contact lenses can make you White.

Race is just a social construct, so she can choose to be whatever race she wants.

Scholars have to take some of the blame for this one. We’ve been pushing the race-as-social-construct argument too hard. Yes, race is largely a social construct. Most humans – regardless of race or ethnicity – share over 90 percent of our genetic material. That makes sense given that we are more like each other than we are like other mammals. The factors that distinguish us are very limited in quantity. They are important only because we as a society decide that they are important.

We typically assign a person’s racial identity based upon characteristics such as skin color, facial features, hair texture, primary language, geographical origin, and family history. And our understanding of racial identity is not fixed, but changes over time. This is especially the case with the category of White, which has been expanded over time to include groups who used to be considered non-White, such as Irish and Jewish peoples. There are several excellent books on this, including Matthew Frye Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color.

Then you take the fact that there’s been so much mixing between ethnic groups in the Americas and the determination of race becomes more difficult. From a biological perspective, many people in the Americas are really mestizo, a combination of multiple racial and/or ethnic groups. In the United States, though, we don’t use that category. Because of that one-drop history, we just reduce people to one category, the one that they most look like. So racial identity becomes a social definition rather than a biological definition.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s no biological component. When we say that someone is Black, we are not just talking about what they look like. We are saying their family line originated on the continent of Africa. It’s true that all humans share much of the same genetic material. But people who originate from a common land will share even more.

Just look at research on disease processes. Sickle cell is almost exclusively diagnosed among people of African descent, while cystic fibrosis is almost exclusively diagnosed among people of European descent. It does not matter where in the world those people live or how many generations it has been since their families lived in Africa or Europe. There is something about racial origin that determines the diagnosis.

Sometimes race determines disease process. Black women in the U.S., for example, have slightly lower rates of breast cancer than White women. But breast cancer in Black women tends to occur at earlier ages and their tumors are more aggressive. And that happens regardless of their income, education, access to quality health care, and use of routine screening. Researchers keep trying to find some other explanation than race. But so far, it keeps coming back to race.

Even if race were a purely social or psychological construct, it has very real impact on people’s lives. And there is a growing field of research that shows that social experience transforms biology. This is especially the case with trauma. Using brain imaging and other techniques, researchers have shown that the experience of sexual abuse or other forms of trauma actually changes how the brain is wired. Social experience becomes biological reality.

And it doesn’t just do it for the trauma victim. There’s some emerging research that shows that the effects are intergenerational. The children of mothers who have experienced trauma have different brain chemistry than the children of mothers who have not.

Now imagine what that might look like for a group of people who share a common geographic origin and are subjected to shared experiences of enslavement and oppression for four centuries.

Single Black Women: The Miner’s Canary

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem?, they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town – W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

How does it feel to be a problem? The question famously articulated by W.E.B. DuBois is well suited for single black women in 2010. There’s been a lot of chatter this year about the seeming crisis of singlehood among African American women, especially well-educated, middle class African American women. The issue has been the focus of an ABC Nightline special, a Washington Post story, and countless blogs.

The latest entrant into the conversation is CNN’s coverage of a debate sparked by author and relationship columnist, Deborah Cooper. Cooper recently wrote a post arguing that the black church is responsible for the low marriage rates among African American women. The crux of her argument is that the black church teaches women that the only suitable marriage partners are men who are “equally yoked,” in other words, fellow Bible thumpers and avid churchgoers. Cooper thinks this is problematic since there are many more black men who do not attend church than those who do. Her solution: black women need to skip Sunday services and head instead to the local sports bar in their best go get ’em outfits.

On the face of it, it might seem like a decent argument. After all, Cooper is saying that women need to expand their notions of appropriate romantic partners. I’m not one to quibble over that point, given that most women’s lists of desired attributes in a romantic partner are based more upon fantasy than reality – Disney movies, romantic comedies, and Harlequin romances.

Cooper overlooks the fact that religious identity and involvement are not arbitrary characteristics but are central to many people’s sense of self. They form the core values and beliefs about who we are and how we related to other people. And while all forms of religious practice, including the beliefs and practices of black churches, have some problematic aspects, Cooper’s criticism of patriarchy within the black church overlooks the ways in which black women find sustenance to cope with racism, sexism, and classism within the walls of the church. So admonishing women to loosen their religious ideals for the sake of marriage is short-sighted and irresponsible.

Still, that’s not my main contention with Cooper’s argument. I have the same issue with her column that I have with every article and television report on this topic: they are trite, specious, and unrevelatory.

Most of these discussions are based on a single, faulty assumption: black women’s singleness is an abnormality. Often there’s a second assumption: this abnormality is the result of some deficiency, most of which resides in black women themselves.

Maybe. But there’s another phenomenon occurring that is repeatedly overlooked in these discussions: there is a pervasive cultural shift underway in America with respect to beliefs about and practices of marriage. The high rates of singleness among African American women are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. They are not an abnormality but rather a prediction of the direction in which the rest of the country is heading.

In societies stratified by systems such as race, class, and gender, those groups on the lowest rungs of the sociopolitical ladder are particularly vulnerable to social shifts. Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres say it well in their book, The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy:

“Those who are racially marginalized are like the miner’s canary: their distress is the first sign of a danger that threatens us all. It is easy enough to think that when we sacrifice this canary, the only harm is to communities of color. Yet others ignore problems that converge around racial minorities at their own peril, for these problems are symptoms warning us that we are all at risk.”

When it comes to marriage in the United States, African Americans have been the miner’s canary for a long time. According to Census reports, there has been a consistent decline in marriage across race and gender since 1950. While the decline has been more pronounced among African Americans, it is not unique.

Notice that rates of marriage among black Americans have always been lower than rates among white Americans. Also notice that rates of marriage among white Americans in 2009 were similar to the levels for black Americans in 1950. Perhaps in another sixty years, the percentage of white Americans who are married will be akin to the 2010 rates for black Americans.

There is, however, something interesting happening with African American women. Between 1950 and 1960, the percentage of women who never married were similar (and low) for blacks and whites. Likewise, black and white men had a similar likelihood of never being married. Since 1950, the chances of never marrying have increased for blacks and whites. However, the rates for blacks increased at a faster rate. And the percentage of black women who never married have risen so dramatically that they now approach the rates for black men.
Again though, notice that the chances of never marrying for white men and women in 2009 are actually slightly higher than black men and women’s chances of doing likewise in 1950.

Marriage, in general, is on the decline in America. So if being single is a problem, it is the nation’s problem.

So, how does it feel to be a problem?

Note: I have constructed these charts based upon a very brief (and not very scientific) analysis of Census data.

Vanity Fair and the Light/Dark Thing

There’s been quite a buzz in the blogosphere these days about the lack of diversity in Vanity Fair’s annual “Hollywood Issue.” The fold-out cover features nine of Hollywood’s up-and-coming actresses. And wouldn’t you know it? All nine happen to be very thin, fair-skinned white women. Notable exclusions include Zoe Saldana, who starred in two of the year’s biggest films (“Star Trek” and “Avatar”) and Freida Pinto, star of the runaway hit, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

But most of the controversy over the lily-white cover has centered upon the omission of Gabourey Sidibe, the Oscar-nominated star of “Precious.” Sidibe was not completely ignored; she appears inside the magazine. But her exclusion from the cover has a lot of folks talking about the magazine’s bias against people of color. One writer bluntly questioned whether Sidibe is “too fat, too black” for the magazine’s cover. The fact that Sidibe graces the March 2010 cover of Ebony magazine seems to underscore the charges of racism. A lot of folks, many of them non-black, are pulling the race card on this one.

But not so fast. I discovered the Vanity Fair controversy the same way that I learn about most popular culture these days – via Facebook. The posts started flying the same day as the Grammy’s, which inspired quite a few comments as well. So between reading people’s thoughts about the Vanity Fair cover, I also got my fair share of interesting tidbits such as: “Beyonce didn’t call Jay-Z by name because he doesn’t really love her“; “Michael Jackson’s kids don’t look like him because they’re not his kids“; “What is she wearing?“; and “Doesn’t Lil’ Wayne look like a cockroach personified?

Oh wait, did I forget to mention that all of the Grammy posts were by African Americans? Now, I’m not going to make the argument that Lil’ Wayne should be a contender for the male version of “America’s Next Top Model,” but a cockroach? Come on people. Let’s not get it twisted. There is only one feature of Lil’ Wayne that makes such a comparison fathomable – his blackness.

The cockroach insult is not a new one. It has been used as a racial slur for a long time. But among African Americans, it is an epithet typically reserved for dark-skinned blacks. No matter how “unattractive,” medium and fair-skinned blacks are immune from it. It is the slightly subtler version of the “African booty scratcher” insult leveled on school playgrounds. And in the vast majority of cases, both the perpetrator and the victim are African American. After all, let’s face it – the only white people who would dare enunciate such obvious racial epithets are the hood and swastika wearing varieties.

At some point in their lives, many dark-skinned African Americans have heard the term “black” hurled at them by other African Americans with such venom that it makes them feel lower than low. The color complex is the wound of internalized racism that African Americans try to keep concealed from whites. We may have come a long way since slavery, but we’ve yet to learn to love our blackness. I once heard activist John Perkins say that black people hate ourselves so much that we required an entire movement to try to convince ourselves that black could be beautiful. If the continuing (and perhaps rising) popularity of skin lighteners is any indication, that movement still has a way to go.

Oh yeah, we’re not supposed to talk about skin lighteners anymore, especially in mixed company. But if you open that Ebony issue featuring Gabourey Sidibe, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of ads for them inside, their number likely rivaled only by the number of ads for hair straighteners.

I’m not opposed to critiquing the Vanity Fair cover. But quite frankly, I’m less interested in convincing white folks to love blackness than in helping us to love ourselves.

The Fascination with the American Negro (Episode 1)

I have spent much of my life being the first, the only, or the youngest. It comes with the territory as a black person in the academy and as a woman in ministry. When I began my current position at a historically black seminary three years ago, it was the first time since elementary school that I had been in an academic setting (either as a student or professor) that wasn’t dominated by whites (although my high school was predominantly black, the AP classes in which I was enrolled were decidedly not, but that’s another story).
My husband’s experience is similar, albeit in reverse. The day that he graduated from college was his last time that he spent his days in a majority black setting. Over the past 15 years as an engineer, he has always been one of a small handful of people of color at the firms at which he’s worked.

So it’s not surprising that by virtue of our socioeconomic status (as well as our commitment to racial reconciliation), we spend a lot of time in places populated mainly by whites. In our home city of Durham, we’re part of the granola crowd. We shop at Whole Foods, are members of the NC Museum of Life and Science, and take our son to classes at the Little Gym.

Herein lies the challenge. Because we are usually the only African Americans (or among a small minority) in the contexts that we inhabit, so is our 18-month-old son. As a result, he’s become something of a celebrity. Being the “only” makes you highly noticeable and recognizable. When you play the go-around-the-circle-and-introduce-your-child game, everybody remembers the name and face of the solitary black child. It’s not uncommon for my husband to have unfamiliar white women greet our son by name at the grocery store or museum. We’ve gotten used to it.

But it makes for some very strange moments at times. Take this week’s gym class, for instance. There was one little girl who had apparently never seen a black person. Or at least black hair. Or at least a 1″ Type 4B Afro that had been packed under a winter cap (I admit it, the boy looked like who shot john). For the bulk of the 50-minute class session, this little girl followed my child around the room, pointing to and patting his head. He seemed oblivious to it and kept playing. But his mother, who has some major hang-ups around race and hair, was not.

“Oh here we go,” I thought, “It’s time for another ‘fascination with the American Negro’ moment.” Since the majority of African American women do not wear their hair in its natural texture, when we do, it is often a source of heightened attention and discussion by folks of all races. But with whites, there is an added element (especially if you have locs, which I did until two years ago) – morbid curiosity:

“How did you get your hair like that?”

“I didn’t. This is what God gave me.”

“I’ve never seen hair like that.”

“That’s because it’s usually hidden under relaxers and weaves.”

“Ooh, can I touch it?”

Hell no.

Sorry, that was a flashback. Post-traumatic hair syndrome, I guess. But having absolute strangers or casual acquaintances try to turn you into a hands-on museum exhibit is beyond maddening.

I once spent a week at a retreat for black women. Toward the end, after days of spending every waking moment together, one of the women said to me, “Your locs are so beautiful. Can I gather them?” I could tell her motives were pure, so I said yes. My spine tingled as she stroked my locks from crown to nape, pulling the wandering strands – in the most gentle way possible – into a single stream flowing down my back. In that space, surrounded by women trying to love ourselves and one another, that was an act of love.

Of course, none of that – the dehumanizing-museum exhibit moments or the intimate acts of sister-love – means anything to a blond 18-month-old who thinks the fact that her new friend’s hair looks and feels like a cotton swab is cool. Her mother was clearly embarrassed, trying unsuccessfully to make her stop. “Don’t worry about it,” I told her, “he doesn’t even seem to notice.”

Meanwhile, I thought to myself, “Okay, this is really the last straw. He won’t sit still long enough for us to pick it out, it gets messed up anyway, we have to get soy nut butter and applesauce out of it twice a day, and now he’s getting harassed by little white girls.”

He was in the barber’s chair three days later.

Resolutions for Revolution (or, What Black Folks Need to Do in 2010)

Another New Year has arrived. If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions. Never mind the fact that you may not keep them past March. Making them – and even breaking them – is an important exercise. It encourages us to spend some time reflecting on the lives that we would like to live, the persons whom we would like to be, and the values and practices that we hold most dear. It helps us to embody, in word and deed, God’s ongoing creative activity in our lives. Even our failures are important. They remind us that our transformation is not entirely under our control; we must lean into God’s grace and strength for real change to take place.

This year, the celebration of the New Year and the impending observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday are inextricably intertwined in my mind. Perhaps it is because I am still haunted by my last visit to my hometown of Atlanta. It’s been 15 years since I left Hotlanta and each time I return, I am reminded why the city has become one of America’s black cultural capitals. There is so much to do, see, and experience of the Black diaspora in the city – galleries and museums, cultural centers, civic groups and organizations, historical sites, and soul food and Caribbean restaurants. Even the walk through the airport was enjoyable; the walkway to baggage claim in Hartsfield International currently has an installation of sculptures by Zimbabwean artists. A trip home is always a striking reminder of just how far African Americans have come in the 45 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But during my ride through the city, I noticed something else, a reminder that the struggle is far from over, even for those who have ostensibly “arrived.” While traveling down a major thoroughfare on the south (code word for “black”) side of town, I realized that I was in the largest collection of beauty supply stores, car accessory shops, and chicken wing shacks that I had ever seen. I had no idea that it was possible for one street to sustain that many beauty supply stores, a large one on every block. And there were rims galore. For rent, no less! And the chicken – the air was permeated with the smells of grease and sauce (okay, I’m exaggerating, but there really were a lot of them).

While Atlanta’s chicken wings have a special place in my heart and I have many memories of scouring beauty supply shops for the perfect product, the whole scene was mildly depressing. I could almost hear a voice emanating from the shops: “Come to us. There is a hole inside of you that we can fix. You are not enough. Come to us, my daughters, and we will give you hair to cover your insecurities. Come to us, my sons, and we will cover your alienation with rims that you cannot afford. And if that doesn’t fill the emptiness, come to us, my children, and we will fill your stomachs. Come to us and we will make you enough.”

I have often heard African Americans say that integration destroyed the fabric of the black community in America. But what has been known as “integration” – the end of legalized segregation and the granting of access to education, housing, and employment – was never meant to be the final destination of the Civil Rights Movement. It was simply a road marker, and an important one, on the journey to beloved community, a society where reconciliation, redemption, love, and justice would be realized. Dr. King envisioned the beloved community as an America where we would adhere to the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength; and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (cf. Matthew 22:34-40).

But as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, many African Americans still have a lot of difficulty loving ourselves. Centuries of racism has inculcated within us a sense of self-loathing. Most often it’s an unconscious impulse. That is, most of us don’t go around thinking, “I don’t like being black.” Rather, we have a deep, abiding sense that “I am not enough.” We try to make up for not being enough by doing more, getting more, and consuming more. We take on superhuman personas, trying to live into the ideologies of the StrongBlackMan or StrongBlackWoman. Or we spend a disproportionate amount of our income on visible signs of “enoughness” – hair, nails, clothes, purses, shoes, rims, cars, TVs, bluetooth headsets, cell phones, etc. Or we eat…and we eat…and we eat. Sometimes we do all of the above. And the struggle continues.

So as you make your resolutions for 2010, consider the inner revolution that still needs to take place for the liberation of the African American mind. Make resolutions that will help to free you and your family from the vestiges of internalized racism. Sometimes societal change demands marches and legislation. But oftentimes, it needs the decision and determination of individuals to be differently.

And just in case you need help, here are a few ideas:

First, take charge of your health. In 2007, 35.6% of African Americans were obese, according to CDC data. For too long, our knee-jerk reaction to such statistics has been to say that the weight charts do not take into account African American “bone structure.” That’s all well and good, but somebody needs to send that memo to our cardiovascular and endocrine systems, because they seem to think that our bodies can’t handle that weight. We have the highest rates of hypertension and Type II diabetes of all ethnic groups, with some rates rivaling those of people in the poorest countries in the world. Who needs Jim Crow and lynch mobs when we are committing slow suicide with overeating and underactivity? Not to mention epidemic rates of HIV/AIDS and homicide. Let this be the year that you develop and sustain healthy diet, exercise, and sexual habits.

Second, regain (and retrain) your righteous mind. A 2004 Nielsen study shows that, on average, African Americans watch 40% more television than all other ethnic groups, a whopping 11 hours per day! It’s bad enough that we spend that much time being physically and mentally inactive. It’s even worse when you consider the values and images that are being transmitted by television shows, videos, and commercials. No wonder we continue to believe that we are not enough! In contrast, only 37% of Arican Americans read literature. A few years ago, I read a study that showed that by the age of 5, children in white, middle-class homes have an average of 100 books; their black counterparts had only 60, even though the parents had similar levels of income and education. I don’t want to underplay the impact of racism and poverty on racial differences in academic and occupational achievement. But let’s be honest – we aren’t helping the cause by willfully neglecting our intellectual development. Make this the year to increase your reading and decrease your television consumption.

Third, get active for justice. Commit, in at least one tangible way, to striving for justice and equal opportunity for all of God’s children. You might volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter, mentor a child, organize a clothing or book drive in your community, attend vigils against the death penalthy, clean up a neighborhood park, or raise funds for a local nonprofit. Just do something.

Maybe if we make a collective attempt to fill the emptiness with health, knowledge, and service, we won’t be so inclined to fill it with weaves, wheels, and wings. And then we will know what the Great Spirit has been trying to tell us – we are enough.

The Week in Review (09-26-09)

In my daily wanderings around the internet, I usually run across some pretty interesting articles, blogs, and essays that are related to issues of race, gender, relationships, sexuality, and parenting. Some of these are certainly worthy of sharing to like-minds. So from time to time, I’ll post them here as a sort of “week in review.”

Here are a few that caught my attention this week:

“Good Luck Raising That Gender-Neutral Child” by Tracy Clark-Flory @ Salon.com

Many of us so-called progressives attempt to live out our commitment to gender equality in our parenting, trying to avoid gender stereotypes as we choose our children’s toys, friends, clothing, etc. But a common refrain heard among such parents is that once children enter the preschool years (around ages 3-4), they begin to exhibit traditionally gendered behaviors that may run counter to everything the parents have tried to instill. In other words, gender is not just a social construct (or performance). In this article, Lisa Eliot, a mother and neuroscience professor, discusses her recent book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Big Gaps – and What We Can Do About It, in which she reviews the research on gender differences and similarities. She also weighs in on preschoolers’ gender stereotypes, the “boy crisis,” and South African runner Caster Semenya.

“The New Generation of the Young, Gifted, and Black: What Are Their Responsibilities to the Black Community?” by Max Reddick @ soulbrother v.2

This is an older post that I just discovered this week. Max Reddick raises some really good questions. What responsibilities, if any, do the beneficiaries of the civil rights movement have to “the race” in our so-called “post-racial” age? And is it possible to feel any sense of responsibility to the race without also carrying the burden of representation?

Black Men and Boys Week @ soulbrother v.2

This week, blogger Max Reddick did a series on black men and boys, in which he examined the definition of black masculinity, the prison industrial complex, and whether single mothers can effectively raise black boys. He also provides several web resources for parents and educators of young black males.

Reflections on an American Election


A thought emerges…but it too is silenced.

I’m not sure how to respond to this – this new America. The possibility-turned-reality of a person of color – a black man – being elected to the presidency of the United States is not one for which I’ve been prepared. I can still envision that little girl with the afro-puff wearing the pink shirt that said, “Future President.” The little girl who, when asked what she’d be when she grew up, responded without hesitation: “A teacher, a scientist, a doctor, and president.” But then she learned that while teacher, scientist, and doctor might be within her grasp if she studied hard and went to college, president was never, ever, a dream to be reached. Not by little girls and especially not by little brown-skinned girls or boys.

And now, some thirty-odd years later, that little brown girl has exceeded her dreams. And still she wonders “what might have been” had the specter of race not cast a net over her dreams. A political career? Unlikely. Not really her cup of tea. But what other possibilities might have existed in a boundless imagination? More importantly, with the ceiling so visibly shattered, how does she raise that little brown boy, whose laughter rings throughout the house as she writes, so that he hears within his head, “Yes, I can,” and not “No, they won’t let me”?


Yesterday, a brown-skinned man was elected president. Today my sister-in-law and her family woke up to find that their home, as well as those of other African Americans in their community, had been paint-balled.

Yesterday a multicultural coalition voted in record numbers to honor the ancestors on whose shoulders we stand. Today an African American family in Birmingham tries to clean up the $7,000 in property damage and untold amount in environmental damage done by those who rock-salted their lawn.

The hope abounds. And so do the hate crimes. And downstairs is a little brown boy who must be prepared for both of those realities.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.