[I Can’t Breathe] A Mixed Message

Confusion rains down in waves, stemming from an ocean of emotions that well up in your bright eyes and rush through your veins, your tangled hair mirrors the modern tangled state of affairs we live in while the complexities of modern society beg your outlying community to define you and defile you, place you in a neat little box for the comfort of those that surround you.  

We exist in a country founded by our lightest of skinned forefathers, yet America was never meant for us – we’ve built this country on our hands and knees, with our blood, sweat and tears; yet, America was never meant for us.  It’s an ideal that was struck into rock and yelled from the mountain tops as true and sacred – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness –  but that was never meant for us; constitutional amendments granting us security, sanctity and safety protect our white brothers and sisters, but that wasn’t meant for us, either.  Us – the others, the colored, the separate; us – the multicultural and different, the dichotomized and the disenfranchised; us – the stolen nationalities and original tribes of this land.

In my 31 years on this planet, I’ve always understood that to be intrinsically different from the people who founded and funded this country would never be easy – but we’re currently living at a time that could rival what was started in the 70s.  For the millions that can be shoved into a box on a standardized test asking if we’re “White”, “Black” or “Asian” – there are millions for which world isn’t black and white in the way we’re treated; nuances exist for us on a sliding scale of grey that ranges from biracial, multicultural to polyethnic.  We’re different, and we know it.  We’ve existed in a continuum of absolutes which we refuse to abide by – not “cultured” enough, yet not “white” enough, curious why Sun-In turns our hair orange and our freckles multiply in the sun; we’re on the outside looking in and on the inside looking out, trying to make sense of an upside down world that we didn’t ask for, and that our children will have to ascribe to. One of the few, if only, truths about being of mixed background is that your children will be too, as are their children, and our children after that; one of the only other truths, is that the world will treat you apart from its whole. 

We live in a world where people are more comfortable with the differences of others if they can label them or put them in a societal ‘box’. Mixed children have always raised an inquisitive eye by society but the good news is in the last few generations, America has become an incredible mixing pot for multitudes of races, ethnicities and cultures, opening eyes, hearts and arms to a kaleidoscope of colors. As someone that’s lived through it, the best thing you can do is have an open dialogue with your kids when they get to an age where they can really understand their heritage and how beautiful it is – because truth be told, it will always be a conversation piece of dialogue. Especially now that a new Civil Rights Movement has emerged.  It’s been lurking behind us for years, if not decades, while remnants of the original movement swept under the rug during the age of the Vietnam War have slowly resurfaced. The rights we fought so hard to attain, the equality that we worked so very hard for – they still have never really been our own.

And now, halfway through 2016, we’re bitterly basking in an awkward afterglow of our cumulative mess. Just half a year has gone by, yet our American cops have killed upwards of 590 civilians – the same people that are entrusted with helping and saving our lives, the same people we are told to implicitly trust with the rules and regulations of our society.

Waking up this morning, I was overcome with a range of emotions, from determined to hopeful, to downright terrified. I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful because adversity has never stopped us, and it won’t now.  I’m hopeful because change has needed to come for a long, long time and I believe we have it within our reach to actualize it.  I’m hopeful because I have another day to make a difference in the world and fight for what I believe in. But I’m also scared. I’m scared because the rate of racial intolerance is exponential, because there are so many that quite obviously are not living freely, because my brothers and sisters of minority races all over this country are fighting to be treated as equals and fighting so the second amendment actually applies to them instead of only to our lighter skinned peers, I’m scared that a family member might be the next victim, and I’m scared because the same police that are supposed to protect and serve are the ones taking lives of those they’re supposed to be protecting and serving. I’m scared because it’s not a minority versus police issue, it’s an everybody versus the police issue that the media has swept under the rug – that the media is building into a race war and I’m scared because the American population is letting it.

There’s a line that’s been drawn in the sand, and I’m scared because I don’t know where we go from here. Being bi-cultural and black has amplified my feelings even more, especially when the shootings and lynchings are reminiscent of a time that I thought we already made it through and now it’s clear that the civil rights movement was only silenced, not won.

Am I white enough to pass? Or am I black enough to get shot? Questions I never thought I’d have to ask but here I am, wondering what my life’s worth on paper.

Hate does not drive out hate, only love can do that; fear does not drive out fear, only love can do that. But the hateful and afraid are the ones ruling our country and acting out, and they will until we can bond together, forget our skin colors, ethnicities and creeds and love each other;  we need to raise each other up, instead of holding each other back – and we – we the darker skinned, we the less fortunate, we the impoverished…. – we need our friends, peers, brothers and sisters of all origins to realize that for us to survive as an American society or an American community, we cannot hold our equals down and we cannot ask them to take less than what they deserve.

We need to use our voices and our intellect to educate the uninformed and ignorant, we need to rise up as a people and say “this is not working; fix it.” We need to systemically fix our judicial system and change the tactics used by the police. The police need demilitarized weapons, and they need training in multicultural awareness, racial tolerance and empathy. As a community, we need to vote for and elect our policemen the same way we do for politicians – and we need to hold them just as, if not more, accountable.

We collectively need to right the hundreds of wrongs done by our forefathers and theirs before them, but we have to do it together because we’re all we have and this world is all we’ve got.


[Write On] Listen Up and Get In Formation

We’ve started the year with two cultural schools of thought, on one hand there’s the loud and slightly ridiculous Stacey Dash phenomenon and on the other, we have the #OscarsSoWhite. So thank goodness that the Queen is back to shake things up and push us forward, Queen B that is. This past weekend, just the day before her highly anticipated Super Bowl collaboration with Coldplay and Bruno Mars, Beyonce dropped the world on it’s head with the release of her latest empowered single,’Formation’.  More than just a song, ‘Formation’ is a statement – ‘Formation’ is a movement;  ‘Formation’ is an ode to the rise of Black Feminine Energy – and it’s time to get in line.

Let me back up for a second.

After 31 years on this pseudo-green Earth, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that the ideas of race, ethnicity, cultural adversity and then diversity run rampant in my veins. If you are who you surround yourself by, I’m socio-culturally middle class, with a multicultural twist. Minority Report, Oreo, Chocolate Sprinkle. My nicknames say it all, but it runs deeper.  When standardized tests were distributed in school, I always took longer than everyone else figuring out which box to check for ethnicity – what if I didn’t see my box? Does that mean I didn’t matter – do I not count? Can I check more than one box?  Where do I fit in here?

The multiracial, only child of a split family, I always had issues reconciling my ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and the notion that they might invariable be two different identities were always kept at bay.  Remember Sun In? That shit turned my hair bright orange, not to mention warnings about sunscreen never seemed to apply to me.  When my dad remarried to my step mom and the three of us would go out together, people would infer I was adopted; fast forward twenty years later, and they mistake my fiance for their son.

Spot the Amanda

 

Silicon Valley born and raised, I grew up in the tiny and incredibly educated suburb of Menlo Park with my mom, and Palo Alto then Los Altos with my father. They were nice areas to be raised in and all that jazz, but let’s get one thing real for a second, they’re not the most diverse areas of the country; in fact they’re pretty monotone, sometimes painfully so. Whether it was with family, or in social endeavors, I always felt like the technicolor sheep of the family – never fitting in and always standing out.

Mentally, sonically, emotionally, I grew up in a boombox, self-identifying with Hip-hop and rap, including Janet Jackson’s anthemic Rhythm Nation 1814; but academically and socially, I attended programs where, in one way or another, I was the diversity. Whether it was attending Castilleja Middle School during the academic year, or their BRIDGE Program over the Summer, I wavered between a drop of milk in oil and a drop of oil in milk; an ever ebbing cascade of racial complexities that arose from a bi-cultural background that up until that age hadn’t been explored. Then, by the time I transferred back into Public School as a Junior in High School, Menlo Atherton High School had gotten national recognition with a center spread in ‘Teen People” as the most diverse yet segregated High School in America.

Serendipitous to consider it now, but it was around that same time that Destiny’s Child came out with their debut, self-titled album.  In a moment where I couldn’t find a cultural footing, somehow, with them, I found resonance, a voice, a mainstream media identity – or in my eyes, hope.  At 16, while away at an out of town basketball tournament, I walked into the room while several of my teammates were discussing their disgust with interracial relationships.  As I slowly sulked into the shadows, shuddering at each syllable, I faintly but distinctly overheard the words “…they shouldn’t be allowed to marry, and definitely shouldn’t be allowed to have children.”  My heart and ego sank in time as my head hung low for the duration of the tournament.  After, in an effort to reconnect to my roots, my aunt escorted me to a seminar in Los Angeles for Young African American Women; around the same time, I became a camp counselor in West Menlo Park and was quickly adopted under the wing of East Menlo Park’s more diverse subset of counselors where I became a master domino player, learned the proper way to eat fried chicken, not to mention the difference between sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie.  And in whatever down time I could muster, I buried my head in multicultural literature from James McBride’s The Color of Water to timely tomes from Danzy Senna, Caucasia and Symptomatic.

Combined, the ideas drilled in my head lead me to believe the next large sociocultural revolution would be a mixed race revolution, and we would be leading at the helm. But invariably, the events themselves, made me feel even more alone.  It was then, that the idea was finally and formally drilled into my head that there was a difference between being genetically ‘African American‘ and culturally Black.

Beyond the entertainment value, viral witticisms masquerading as lyrics and a host of regal outfits – the video  contains a not so subtle history lesson delivered with a passionate one two punch in under five minutes.  Starting with  emotional imagery and vocals that ask ‘What happened in New Orleans‘, Formation’ delves into the modern Black experience,  exploring the nuanced variety of genetic variability. Cascading through Southern cityscapes and landscapes, including estates and plantations, ‘Formation‘ offers a bevvy of emotional imagery: a cop car – and city -underwater,  a breakdancing toddler stalling a line of police with their hands in the air, ‘Stop Shooting Us’ haphazardly spray painted on an otherwise barren wall and coordinated feminine empowerment.

Imagery that grew only stronger with her performance the next day at the Super Bowl’s halftime show; decked out in gear halfway reminiscent of the 1970’s Black Panther movement spliced with Janet’s Rhythm Nation video, Beyonce urged a generation to mobilize and get in ‘Formation’.  The end result was a provocative performance of a ‘visual anthem‘ sure to live in cultural infamy.

Fast forward to three days later, and you’ll meet exactly what’s wrong with this country and could invariably elect someone as ignorant as Donald Trump; In light of the controversial dance ‘Formations’ and dress during her performance invoking the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X and supposed dissent against the police -not to mention a display of their own cultural ignorance – protesters are heading to NFL’s New York Headquarters on February 18th . Not only have people willfully avoided history textbooks or contextualizing social issues like the suffrage and civil rights movement, but on top of that their ignorance has become ego driven arrogance; and I’m not sure what frustrates me more – an echoed rhetoric that minorities, especially women, are only here to entertain and not educate, or the idea that people are more offended by the message of the song than the actions that drove the creation of this performance.

I’ll be the first to admit that I never paid much attention in my European History classes and found most of my United States history courses beyond boring; but when it came to the Civil Rights Movement, I had an uncanny desire to devour all available knowledge. And I know this: The Black Panther Party was made of revolutionaries that fought for a culture that had been undermined for their entire cultural history to be recognized as equal.  Yes, they were born out of the failed non-violent Civil Rights Movement of MLK Jr and Medgar Evers but the movement didn’t promote violence, it promoted fairness while protecting the community from the racist behaviors of others while simultaneously pushing citizens to police the police – an idea that is still echoed in today’s society.

To the calls of it’s Football and not Hollywood, last time I listened to Sportscetnter I got a whole earful about girlfriends and wives, houses and style; things that invariable have jack all to do with competitive sports.  And now, we’re taking a critique to a traditionally all white variety of Halftime Entertainment.  So for a second, let’s talk about the NFL.  Let’s discuss the amount of sex crimes and prostitution rings that are cracked down on during high profile games every year, the egregious amount of drunk drivers that get into accidents leaving games or the fact that from start to finish, NFL games are riddled with advertisements parading the US Military as a revered enterprise. Yet a five minute segment that gives weight to a population more often misrepresented and underrepresented in mainstream media receives a bevvy of backlash? It’s time that people get their priorities in formation