Thursday, February 11, 2010

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

Do you think we are programmed to be the way we are or is it training, exposure and DNA -and by that I mean habitually watching our parents perfect a move? "Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference."

Facebook strikes again. Lately I have had the extreme joy of reconnecting with people from elementary school. Seriously, I mean people I met when I was five years-old! People I spent nine years of my life with. And there is so much from that time that I had forgotten and so love being reminded of. My past flashes across my eyes like the last moments before death - bits and pieces, smiles and tears. All in the hopes of remembering a life. Who would I be right now if I had stayed in New York at the age of fourteen? I left home and went to boarding school. It felt like the right thing to do at the time - it saved my life in so many ways. And yet, it turned me into a person who is really different from her extended family and from the people she knew when she was a girl.

Some of the questions I ask myself: would I still go to church? Would I still believe in a personal G-d? Would I have a different job or career? And is it even worth it to ponder these things? It feels like it's worth it in that it reminds me of the person I was and what I valued when I was young. I think I was always an unabashed progressive, never happy to fall neatly into a box but willing to stand in one while my vote was being counted. My friends are all over the globe and just down the street from me. And I have no one person, save for my sister, who can recall the best memories from my entire life instead of in 4 year increments. And all that is to say that I am rare and diverse. I can fit into so many places and have so many experiences to recall. Does that make me any less authentic? Is there some me that needs to show up everywhere and is always constant in her behavior and speech?

There was a white girl in college who told me that she was more black than me. Pissed me off. Because I realized that she equated being "black" with a kind of speech and walk and dress and music and food. I equated being black with being my mother's child, with having a very conscious understanding of racism and recognizing when I was being followed around a store. I equated it with trips to the south and family lore and being reminded that in my mother's lifetime my relatives could not share a bathroom with white people. With men who looked like my father and my sons swinging from trees and with the amazing hope of surviving the brutality of the Atlantic Ocean to stand on the shores of the diaspora and sing that note called blue, called jazz, called salsa, called reggae.

John Mayer recently (in what I am sure was a drug-induced spill of the tongue) told Playboy magazine that he had a "hood pass." That he was able to say words like "nigga" (I don't even say that word) but that his penis was a white supremacist. He didn't open himself up to being interesting to black women. What?! I don't really care who he has sex with - that is his choice but a hood pass? His penis is a white supremacist? Not funny. And it made me start thinking seriously about the issues of identity, culture and stereotype.

One of the reasons I stood up and cheered and talked back to the television during Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention was because of this sentence: "children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." Amen. As my grandmother would say, "I was called everything except a child of G-d!" when I was growing up. "Not black enough," "Oreo," "White girl," and even the dreaded "N" word. But it was all in an effort to define my identity. To put me in a box that I don't think I ever lived in. I think I came to this planet hard-wired to be the girl that I am. The diverse, crazy, compassionate woman that I am.

Identity is so hard. But as I see 40 coming around the corner I am getting more and more comfortable with the many sides of me. And I am loving them and giving them each an equal voice in my head instead of constantly warring with them. It feels good. And it reminds me to keep my game tight for the next evolution. So all the parts of this girl - the professor, the mama, the motorcycle rider, the good coffee and wine-drinking, tattoo brandishing, minivan driving, soul food munching, grits cooking, trash-talkin, sista is letting her freak flag fly. And if you send yours up the flagpole I promise to salute.

we are blessed may we recognize the blessing

in peace,

credit to whom credit is due: Thank you Robert Frost for The Road Not Taken and the allusion to the "note called blue," from Elizabeth Alexander's Poem Absence.