Racism + Silence = The Real Pandemic

Image by Amber via @mysydneyjames

Infuriated. Devastated. Disgusted. Deeply Disturbed. Tired. Still Tired. Again. Some of the many words that encapsulate the feelings and narrative that has resurfaced for me as I experience yet another episode of, “PTSD from being Black in America.” After hesitantly watching the murder of George Floyd, chills engulfed my body, tears fell to my lap, and my heart knew nothing but pain. 8 minutes and 46 seconds is a long a** time! I kept shouting inside my head, get off of him, help him, he’s going to die, but no one could hear me, but even more unsettling, they refused to hear him. George Floyd + the many other known/unknown black men and women who have died for: Penal Code § 16192020 Caught being Black in America.

This tragedy took place in broad daylight as multiple people witnessed this heinous crime. It appeared to me there were bystanders who wanted to do more to step in but were conflicted. Conflicted because they shared the same color skin as the one pleading for his life. As my mind has taken many trips on the, “what if” train, I wonder what I would have done if I too witnessed this evil. We are taught to obey and respect authority; it makes society a more civilized one. However, was it the role of white bystanders to use their white privilege (the reality that a person’s whiteness comes with societal benefits and advantages that are not shared by all people of color) and physically insert themselves? Yes, the officers involved are the only ones at fault. However, watching this play out placed a bright spotlight on civilian fear of doing what is just when law enforcement are the ones committing the crime. Video recording is vital and our white allies can do more…right? I never want to put anyone’s life at risk, but these types of questions keep me awake at night.

One thing I do know is how pathetic it is to discriminate against people with a certain skin color and certain chromosomes. Yes, this is a deep-rooted problem Black America navigates underneath our daily smiles and surface-level presentations of ourselves; similar to the Iceberg Illusion–what people see vs what people don’t see. Underneath our brave faces, we are processing a daily dose of implicit bias + discrimination + limited resources + racial profiling + intersectionality, and the list grows on.

A short film showing metaphors for obstacles to equality. All graphics and animation by Erica Pinto.

There are far too many men and women who take an oath to serve and protect their communities, while also hiding behind the racist values that they consciously carry into the workplace. Matter of fact, I fear that many take on this job of power and control with the sole intent to exterminate us. Black Americans account for less than 13% of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans” —washingtonpost.com . The ugly truth is that this has been happening since the inception of our country. American history continues to repeat itself at the expense of innocent Black lives. However, FYI–we are tired of dying.

I can not breathe because being a black woman in America does not grant me the same unalienable rights as nonblack women who roam the same neighborhoods as me. 


I can not breathe because I am the mother of a black son; fearful for the moment when he will be seen as a threat to those who refuse to see him as a human being. 


I can not breathe because every time I try to recover from the next execution and soon-to-be-hashtag, I relive the same nightmare all over again—except I never wake up because it is my reality. 


I can not breathe because no matter how much education I have, success I attain, and all the hoops I have to jump through, I am still considered less than and disposable.


I can not breathe knowing that no one in my family is safe both inside or outside of our homes. 


I can not breathe until the chains of systemic racism are forever broken.


@mysydneyjames

Let me guess. If you are still reading, you want to D O something, but are not sure where to start. I scrolled across a quote while digesting IG and it really resonated with me.

“Resistance is NOT a one lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day.Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.” @lindss_tastic 

Being an educator for the past 13 years, I also feel that our collective willingness to remain constant in the our individual cycles of learning and growing, is one of our biggest weapons against hate and racism. This work is constant. Educate yourself, your family, your friends. Speak up when you hear that racially fueled comment land on the dinner table. Correct your friends when they use the N-word, visit museums that highlight African and Black history, buy from Black-owned businesses, volunteer and/or donate to organizations that are actively working towards racial equity, share content created by POC creators, show up to protests, donate to bail funds, VOTE for the leaders our country so desperately needs to make positive change for generations to come, and be a white ally today, tomorrow, and always. For those of you who are already doing these things, I see you; please keep your foot on the gas.

Here is a list of educational resources so you can commit to this work, and (for self-care) songs to refuel your soul for the work that must be done. “The association of race and disease is a deep reservoir from which those thirsty for direction, answers, and meaning drink deeply.”

BOOKS  (for kids)

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

A Black Dad Wrote A Kids Book About Racism Because “They Can Handle More Than You Think”: A Kid’s Book About Racism by Jelani Memory

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness,” written and illustrated by Anastasia Higginbotham—“An honest explanation about how power and privilege factor into the lives of white children, at the expense of other groups, and how they can help seek justice.”— Meena Harris

BOOKS (for adults)

If You’re a White Person Seeking to Be a Better Ally, Add These Books to Your Reading List (Popsugar): https://www.popsugar.com/news/books-about-racism-white-people-should-read-47518818 

CLIPS + ARTICLES

“A Conversation About Growing Up Black” by Joe Brewster and Perri Peltz is a short documentary where young black men explain the particular challenges they face growing up in America.” https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000003670178/a-conversation-about-growing-up-black.html 

Fatal Force (Washington Post) https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/ 

Police Videos Aren’t Going Away. How Can We Learn From Them? (NPR) https://www.npr.org/2017/03/25/521102557/police-videos-arent-going-away-how-can-we-learn-from-them 

Trevor Noah speaks out to address those who may be more upset about the destruction of property than the loss of life. https://twitter.com/TheDailyShow/status/1266523374207057922?s=20 

Trevor Noah + other Hollywood celebrities take a stand: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2020-06-01/george-floyd-protests-trevor-noah-celebrity-reactions 

Kimberlé Crenshaw: What is Intersectionality? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViDtnfQ9FHc ; https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality/discussion 

Color Blind or Color Brave? (Mellody Hobson, TED) https://www.ted.com/talks/mellody_hobson_color_blind_or_color_brave 

Dr. Joy Degruy: https://www.joydegruy.com

Rachel Cargle details how you can use knowledge, empathy, and action to make positive change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leBPMyQ60HM

Uncovering the truth behind the Statue of Liberty: https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/abolition.htm  

Teaching Hard History: https://www.splcenter.org/20180131/teaching-hard-history 

MUSIC

Spotify Playlist: “You can follow the full “Songs Giving Us Life” playlist on Spotify. And while you’re at it, check out NPR Music’s “Isle of Calm” playlist. It’s got more than six hours of music “to help settle your jangled nerves, slow your heart rate and string up a little hammock for your soul.” (Code Switch;NPR)

FILM

Just Mercy, based on the life work of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, is one resource we can humbly offer to those who are interested in learning more about the systemic racism that plagues our society. For the month of June, Just Mercy will be available to rent for free across digital platforms in the US.” —@wbpictures

Who Me? Biased? A series of short films that explore the brain science behind implicit bias and what you can do about it.

A Conversation on Race: A series of short films about identity in America

P.S. WHITE ALLYSHIP–After a text conversation with my dear friend who lives in DC, she had some plausible tips that our white allies could use to help move the pendulum forward: acknowledge racism is real and well alive and disproportionately affects people of color, check your privilege daily, hold your law enforcement and elected officials accountable, listen, create spaces and opportunities that uplift equity, stop being naive, extend compassion because many Black Americans are not okay, and use personal platforms to spread awareness. –@amhenry

Inaction + neutrality + silence feeds bigotry. Mistakes will be made, but it’s better to “show up imperfectly than to not show up at all (Rachel Zoe).”

See us, hear us, and stand with us to right the wrongs of this unjust system.

*Personal Tool Kit: Responsibility. Accountability. Continuous Action. Education.

Straight, No Chaser

Remember that giant overwhelming mound of impossible daily tasks? An endless list of ta-dah’s you were put on Earth to conquer. A mental or physical checklist that always seemed to grow and only temporarily managed to shrink. We all know that list. Well…believe it or not, I’m missing every bit of it. My brain keeps searching, but the file is currently unavailable. Similarly to my Instacart order when I proceed to checkout, but I won’t venture off on that tangent. Maybe it’s the sense of purpose it gave me or the freedom it provided me to run  errands and rush to appointments, but without it, I’m feeling a little lost. Furthermore, I am longing for the adrenaline of getting out the house by a certain time every morning, interactions with familiar and unfamiliar humans, sitting in traffic, evening soccer practices, fiddling with my navigation to get from point A to point B, exploring LA nightlife, planning trips that I wasn’t forced to cancel, entering the grocery store without suiting up for battle, knowing that the people closest to me were generally safe, face-to-face conversations, hugs, connection— the list goes on and on. Living a life I took for granted by finding reasons to complain now seems so beautifully flawed. What I wouldn’t give to freely leave my house without questioning if a quick trip outside could put me in the hospital or even worse. Where are we!? I don’t know the day, date, or time, heck, I don’t even know if this is even Earth. I don’t recognize this new normal.

With the overabundance of information I’ve consumed from the news, social media tidbits, friends and family experts, and a heightened number of emails and Zooms to manage; my mind, body, and soul has been forced to forge on and process the now, while I simultaneously mourn the days I failed to compliment. This is all exhausting! At first, it sounded like a temporary pause, but the uncertainty communicates an unknown timeline. One that creates anxiety and major disruption which are both hard to shake. I find myself wearing many faces and emotions. Some days I do less. Some nights I can’t fall asleep. Some days I can’t stay awake. One minute I’m bonding with my family, and the next I’m feeling claustrophobic by their presence. But, I’m trying to remind myself, there are no rules to this. No one was prepared for a pandemic. We thought the closest we might get would be the movie version. But, here we are.

More than ever our interconnectedness is evident as we rely on each other for more than we took the time to acknowledge. Not only did I overlook the parts of my life that made it feel more whole, but the people who helped make those parts possible. Work; my home away from home, and the students and colleagues I rushed to be with every morning. Family; the little humans that I would hurriedly leave at 7:30 a.m. and speed to at 3:00 p.m. Our heroic essential workers; the glue holding us together through this living nightmare. We need each other in this game of life. 

Life Lesson #13,140: As we slowly regain a sense of normalcy, let these moments be a reminder that life is meant to be lived. There will be a constant parade of feelings; some will be absolutely amazing and others won’t. But, we need both to appreciate the uniqueness that each day brings.  So, acknowledge all of your feelings. I’m privileged to stay home, but I’m also feeling stretched thinner than ever by being everything to everyone. Besides assuming the roles of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker all at once, there IS a silvery sparkly lining. While many have lost their jobs and/or loved ones and health care workers continue showing up to dangerous and grueling job sites, I remain in the comfort of my abode safe and sound. Using gratitude to cope, may be the strongest medicine we have as we await for the power switch to turn back on. 

The Real…#couchtalk01

Sooooooo, set your purse down, grab some soup of the day (champagne), and join me over here on my e-couch. It’s been waaay too long and we desperately need to catch UP!

As you know, my IG niche is lifestyle with a big emphasis on female empowerment, self-care, and motherhood. Why? Because I am THE person who easily neglects s e l f to care for others, i.e. family. IG is essentially a platform that functions as a stage to share, but also as my own self-reflective mini therapy sessions. Go figure…its free and fun…why not!? 

Recently, I stumbled upon an article, What To Do About Toxic Positivity—The Worst Type Of Advice We Give & Get by Jenn Selby. I must say the guilt immediately flooded my thoughts after reading the final sentence. So, let’s get real with each other. Let me fill you in with the nuts and bolts instead of a Bryant Gumbel play-by-play of Selby’s article. Bascially, Instagram is saturated with positivity: quotes, inspiring messages, motivational memes, cute cat videos, etc. While it’s lovely to know the sun will come out tomorrow, being so stinkin’ positive isn’t necessarily the most beneficial way to be of service to others. Sweeping negative emotions under life’s rug to focus on the good, stops people from expressing their truth. Selby calls it “toxic positivity.” I call it, my adult life. Probably, one of the main reasons I should see an actual therapist…but I digress.

The typical canned responses: “It could be worse,” “There’s something better on the way,” “But, what’s the silver lining here?” can make those cheerleaders sound unrealistic, disingenuous, and (insert any word that physically equates to an eye-roll). Hold on. I know what you’re over there thinking. Yes, these responses are all apart of my repertoire of friend language! (But, excuse me…let’s revisit our friendly reminder—this is a no judgment zone). Back to the recap. According to the experts, this type of harmless cheerleading makes people dread sharing their newest hiccups with you. Instead, they’d rather keep it to themselves, bottled up inside, which simply breeds all things bad for the mental health of human beings. 

Nobody can rid anybody of their problems with happy talk. Instead, offer folks a space to validate their feelings, normalize their problems, and just listen (zip.it.com). People are seeking help and support, they usually aren’t waiting for you to sprinkle positivity dust to rid them of their problems. We have to honor both our good and bad feelings and just sit with it. The bad ones give us vital information such as how to assess our safety, if we should challenge ourselves to accomplish something new, or if we should pause and focus on the now. Use those negative emotions to grow coping skills and resiliency for those future imminent low points that are an unavoidable part of daily life. 

What did I learn from Selby’s article? I will be adding more to my IG to acknowledge all feelings, be a resource, and communicate with more empathy. I can’t solve your problems, but I can offer similar experiences or feelings by highlighting my own and providing validation that your negative thoughts are OK.

When you know better, you do better. Stay tuned, IG tribe! #alwaysgrowing

*P.S. Check out this animated video by Brené Brown. Empathy goes a long way when someone is feeling “stuck in a hole.”

Birthday Staycation

July 22nd, the day this queen was born, I went to bed completely stuffed with birthday joy, AND I woke up without a lick of guilt looming over my head. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is always another story (rolls eyes). 

Sunday, my Birthday Eve, was spent enjoying all things simple: friendship, belly laughs, flavorful food, mimosas, chauffeured rides, siestas, discovering a new fav place to dine, complimentary desserts, and being woken up to midnight birthday kisses all over my cheek from Lulu (aka best friend and soul sister). I guess that was my birthday theme this year, unelaborate and fulfilling. I wanted to soak it all in with positive people who love and support me. No club scene, no traditional sequin party dress, and definitely no 3-tier birthday cake. I was craving a 24-hour break from the word Mommy mixed in with some self-love, and that’s just what the universe delivered. In the words of June Osborne, praise be!

I floated into the 1 Hotel and let me tell you, what you see online is what you get, but much more (we all know this isn’t always the case). In the common areas there’s beautiful baskets of fresh fruit available, tons of white, beige, and green decor all over the place (ironically my wedding colors, go figure). It’s like being transported into an indoor magical forest of modern impeccable design and detail. A calmness and peace immediately covered my mind and body for the duration of my stay. And to top it off, my room was ready for an early check in at 1:00 pm…ayyyyyy! Birthday blessings and good karma make for unexpected and delightful surprises. 

Photo by 1Hotel

The room! It looked to be the work of Joanna Gaines, the goddess of HGTV. A sustainable art piece: plush white linen couch, textured white walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful wooden headboard, chalkboard on the nightstand in place of the usual pad and paper, hangers recycled out of homework (the teacher in me was tickled but not pink), a yoga mat (definitely not for me, but I appreciated the gesture), and the sweater-like cozy robe that put me to sleep. It was just what I ordered. At one point, there was a random knock at my door. Turns out the hotel team curated a generous display of sweet treats along with a celebratory message. I felt like a princess! It’s really the little things that mean the most. 

The next morning, I woke up with such gratitude and wholeness, the clouds from the year parted and light was shining all around me. This must be what happiness feels like. So, I danced, entertained myself with a few rounds of karaoke, courtesy of Spotify, had a breakfast-in-bed date with my selfie, a soak in the tub, and enjoyed the company in the room with me, myself, and I.

Birthday takeways: Take time to really appreciate what is pleasurable, nurturing, and sustaining to your soul. Delete or cut (don’t paste) what is annoying, frustrating, and hurtful. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Be present. Live. 

Writefully So

While almost everything around us continues to evolve, speed up, and offer instant results, we must not forget about those small but mighty gestures. The reality is, we all love receiving cards from our friends and family. Why? Because it shows us how much we are cared for. “Handwriting is intimate and reveals personality. We express emotion when writing a greeting card. Equally time is the most precious thing we have to give, so if we spend time choosing, writing and sending a card we are helping people feel valuable and worthwhile. Who would have thought a greeting card could do so much” (Shaw, Lynda)

Mysydneyjames offers inclusive contemporary greeting cards for almost every occasion or motivational words for your mood board. Either way, you can’t go wrong with this unique collection. Take a peek and make your purchase at Writefully So

Fear vs Want

Trying to figure out your next move? Chasing what we love can lead us to amazing places, and tackling our fears can do the same. Don’t believe me? Check out this journaling exercise that I mentioned on my recent IG post. This should make you a believer!

Journaling Exercise by Krista Suh

Draw two big circles to form a Venn diagram (a great tool for brainstorming and showing relationships). Label one circle “Fear” and the other “Want”. Write down everything you fear and everything you want, but if there’s anything that fits for both, write it in the middle where the two overlap. The place for overlap is where the fairy dust appears and the magic happens. If you want something but you’re fighting against it at the same time, there’s much more to unpack and sort through. You will reap major benefits from pursing what’s in the overlapping section with a laser beam focus.

Venn Diagram

Plus, if you fear something and have no interest in it, this exercise also communicates that we don’t have to take on all of our fears. I have real trepidation when it comes to heights. It even shows up when I’m driving over bridges, through mountains, or along elevated highways. However, while planning a summer trip to Canada, I developed a strong desire to walk across Vancouver’s Capilano Suspension Bridge and experience that raw feeling of accomplishment. It remains one of the best moments in my life, underscoring that my fears won’t stop me from living. On the flip side, I also have an inherited terror of snakes (thanks, Mom). But, I have not one small inkling of desire to hold, touch, or be in the room with this reptile (although, I’m sure they are lovely creatures). Therefore, there is no need for me to focus my energy here. 

Anything out there you doubly fear and want occupies a larger room in your mind. You truly care about it, but have talked yourself out of it with all the ways in which it could go south. So, in this case, would we call these real fears or counterfeit ones? Uncover your happiness the moment you get rid of those imposters living in your head. 


Too Soon for HBD!

“Owning your feelings and your truth.” A simple yet positive vibe that makes me feel empowered (insert power pose) and definitely aligns with my beliefs. Well, I can’t just talk about it…I have to own it through my thoughts and actions.  So, here it is…my truth…deep breath. Turning 36 feels f***ed up and completely terrifying. Besides the intimidating number, (technically speaking, in the world of math, my age rounds up to 40 and in dog years I’m pretty much dead), I’m just not ready. Literally, where has the time gone? I’m a single mom of two with so many more goals and aspirations. It feels like I’m on life’s treadmill. The longer I run, the more tired I get, and eventually I’m going to tap out. Do I have the time and stamina to get to my personal and professional destinations? Wait. Please hold….ok, rewind. The world keeps inserting its expectations and definitions into my thoughts. It’s so easy to let this noise cloud our beliefs. Inside of me is a person waiting to fully emerge. But, in order to successfully do this, I have to spend less of my priceless time focusing on what I could be by cherishing the life I currently have, my truth.

Aren’t we all looking for peace within ourselves; the moment when we can comfortably stop the treadmill and retire to pure greatness, queendom. We want to be the architects for the lives we love, nourish our passions, and walk off that treadmill with no regrets.  For the rest of this year, I’m making a promise to work on staying more present and enjoying the now. I’m proud of who I’am. Why shouldn’t I be. I’m accomplished, a bada** mamma, a good person, a beloved daughter/sister/auntie/friend, always aspiring to be better than yesterday, aka Amber. This is what it looks like to reject the boxes created and recreated for us. Some days are better than others, so we have to constantly put our own selves in check until we no longer have to. This is my life, my path, my choices, my losses, and my gains. I’m feeling right where I should be. Getting older means valuing my odyssey and being true to myself at all costs. This year, getting older means learning to release my fears and enjoy the marathon. 

““Brown down, break through, break the shell, elevate, and fly.” – India Arie

The Genesis

The Genesis

I am…an all-girl high school graduate, empowered to project my voice within a world of male dominance. “Aspire to be a doctor, lawyer, or entrepenuer,” they drilled into me. “Women can achieve the same success as men.” So, I became a feminist. Not a mis’andrist but simply a feminist. I am an advocate for social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

After escaping the bubble wrap I was enveloped in and heading off to college, ready to run the world, I decided to reinvent myself. Well, not so much of a reinvention but more like a remix. Why not? I was still exploring the depths of myself and there was so much more unclaimed territory. At this time, naive and I were the best of friends. I only saw the good in people and managed to dodge more dark clouds than most. I was a bubbly eighteen-year-old, floating down life’s runway.

Itching to express my creativity and passion for film, I strutted into Norris Theater with my coffee colored, vintage Gucci backpack and felt fitted. I studied the phenomenal works of Micheaux, Hitchcock, and Coppola, to name a few. Soon, I found myself entranced with the powers of a camera and a well-executed script. I would from that point on, proudly wear my appreciation and fascination with cinema-television, everywhere life would take me. Perhaps a doctor, lawyer or entrepenuer were better suited for my other cohorts. I preferred to project my voice through my analysis and self-expression of art, whether it be film, television, fashion, music, or beauty. I am a storyteller (through various outlets), lover of fashion not style, music is my therapist, and I fancy the thought of cutting edge makeup to enhance my personal canvas.

Three years later, upon commencement, I was soon forced to add more to this remix. I unexpectedly toddled into parenthood feeling concerned, young, and completely unprepared. Being a “mommy” just wasn’t mentioned in college, or any of my private high school classes and I’m pretty sure that agreement was written in the fine print below the price of tutition. With a great support system and thirteen years of experience under my multicolored leather Louis Vuitton belt, I am a proud mom of two of the sweetest mini people I have ever met.

So, what’s the next part of the remix? How do I combine who I am…an educated, creative, soul who my kids refer to as mom, and further explore the rest of who I am meant to be, without neglecting any of the above? At this point, I’m still working on an answer. However, having a place to voice my ideas, frustrations, concerns and daily rewards along the way, is one reason this blog was born. I’m not looking for approval from anyone; just a place to continue expressing who I am and where I am going. You coming?