I think a lot of people need to be told this right now. Including me. You are all loved. And that’s all that matters. And everything will be okay. I just know it. (And only three more months of this winter bullshit).
1. Be privileged. (This post could also be titled “Examining My Privilege”)
“Privilege” the word makes people very uncomfortable. “White privilege” the phrase spins some people into denial so rapidly it will make you dizzy. So let’s not talk about it. I don’t want to piss everyone off so early on. We’ll just skip it.
2. Don’t be a black male or black for that matter.
That makes you uncomfortable too. Just a little, right? I mean why wouldn’t it? That’s like saying black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by the authorities. Oh. As a black female I certainly have my work cut out for me. Patriarchy is one hell of a drug. But what that also means is while I have been harassed by the authorities because of the color of my skin, occasionally I will be harassed and then flirted with while being detained against my will. Yes. That happened. You think you feel uncomfortable because of street harassment? Imagine street harassment in a uniform.
3. Live in an affluent area.
I’ve talked about how great my neighborhood is. Because it is. I am a metro ride away from downtown DC and just that address has awarded me more opportunities than most of my cousins who live in less affluent locales. Where my Dad originates from in Pennsylvania, the average house sells for $187,000. Where my Mum originates from in Alabama, $89,000. In our neighborhood in Virginia the average house sells for $550,000. We’ve been in our house for 31 years (back in 1983 we could almost afford it). But that still didn’t stop a wayward neighbor from accosting myself and a friend once for taking photographs of the beautiful cherry blossom tree behind his house. It wasn’t located on his property. It was cluster property. He just decided we did NOT belong. Yup. I got Trayvoned in my own neighborhood. I’ve lived here for 30 some years and according to some newbie, I don’t belong. And no. It didn’t feel good.
4. Have parents who understand the value of education.
My Dad attended Stanford on a full academic scholarship (class of 1970). He was gifted in basketball and performed in his high school modern dance troupe (which he swears gained him entry into the school … not his basketball skills despite playing for the university). He was awarded that opportunity which opened many doors because his father had moved the family to California in order to enroll in a program at Stanford through his job. My paternal grandfather attended Penn State on a football scholarship under Joe Paterno as an assistant coach and Rip Engle as a head coach. So not only have parents that are athletically gifted, but they should also be fearless with a lust for life and serious hustle. You’ll need a pinch of luck for good opportunities to come your way too. Getting out of small town Pennsylvania is tough. My Mother has her Masters too. She came from an impoverished background with many siblings and an absent father in Jim Crow Alabama. I truly believe my parents are wonders of the world. Because the world is simply not set up so that blacks succeed.
5. Have a parent who’s home.
My Mum didn’t work until my sisters and I were older. So we didn’t get away with much. But at the same time, having one parent at home is incredible privilege. We are strictly middle class but we got by on one salary for a portion of my life. I work in tv today because my Dad had a skill to pass on to my sisters and I and he did that instead of giving us allowance. He taught us work ethic and professionalism at the age of 16. You can’t get into tons of trouble when you’re working a production assistant job on the weekend and your mother is home during the week. But once again, that’s privilege. Having those doors opened to you at a young age means that you are damn lucky. Little ingrate I was, I pooed pooed on it so much because I hated lugging camera equipment around all summer long while my friends were lounging at the pool.
But imagine what life is like if you’re born to two people who never finished high school. Imagine living in a household where education isn’t stressed and opportunities simply aren’t there?
5. And now a fun one: Have a cute dog.
You think I’m joking but I’m not. Piper is so cute she immediately disarms anyone who comes across my path. People are ten times more likely to smile at me when she’s by my side. But even she reeks of privilege. Pure bred shih tzus aren’t cheap. (I’m a shelter dog lover myself but the she is my sister’s dog and the breeder is my sister’s best friend). Her hair requires more maintenance than my own to keep her cute and fluffy. So even having a disarming sidekick is privilege.
6. Don’t shoplift.
Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care if you or someone you knew went through a shoplifting phase! Seeing a lot of hands in my personal friendship circle. A ton. You know who didn’t go through a teenage shoplifting phase? Me! I watched my white friends come to school with new loot every day. Some even got caught. No big deal. A few of my friends have said essentially the same thing.
“I’m a white girl. Nobody is looking at me.”
One friend quit because she got bored. It was just too easy and you know what? You have no appreciation for the value of stuff when there’s no struggle. I personally never went through that phrase because my weekend production jobs provided me with spending cash. I know for a fact I was the first girl in my high school with a Kate Spade handbag AND it was bought with all my own money.
But I had also been told by my Mum that her heart would be broken if I ever decided to shoplift because,
“They’re already always watching you. Just know that. And we don’t need to steal.” Well neither did my white friends!
But nobody died.
7. Live your life letting insensitivity bounce off of you.
If I had a dollar for every time I ignored an ignorant comment directed towards me based on my race, I’d be rich. If I stood up for myself every time I had an insulting comment hurled towards me, I’d be dead. This is not an exaggeration. This is not a joke. Over the summer I had a racially motivated run in with law enforcement which left me bawling my eyes out in some shitty little town in southern Virginia. I called my Dad and he was so startled he got off camera immediately and tried to calm me down. He kept insisting
“But you’re alive Aja! You’re alive!”
Meanwhile white friends were telling me to fight the charge. Fight the system. Stand up. All I could think is,
“You guys are so lucky. You are so privileged to have no idea how this feels. You are so lucky to be so blissfully unaware of what happens to mouthy little black people in the hands of the ‘authorities’.”
I never want to visit that armpit again. So it was worth it not to fight.
Even as I was gathering my thoughts for this post, I was listening to white colleagues bemoan the protesters in DC for blocking the roads with their silly little protest over the death of a black kid. They were mocking and I sat there growing more and more irritated by it.
Being a quirky, mostly disarming black girl from a strong and interesting background is a privilege that I REFUSE to take for granted.
Michael Brown simply didn’t have that privilege.
(Image from here)
It absolutely sickens me that I live in a country where people insist on frisking Muslims at any opportunity but let our own branch of homegrown terrorism operate covertly in our police departments. If this is happening in Ferguson, YOU KNOW it’s happening other places too. How is someone like me safe when the people who are supposed to protect you are the same ones that would love to string you up from a tree? And how is it that my nation as a whole is so obsessed with international terrorism but everyone ignores the fact that we clearly have a terrorism problem right here at home. And no, they’re not Muslim extremists. They’re Christian and they’re white. I guess that just doesn’t fit the bill of what a “terrorist” looks like in some people’s eyes. I find it equally daunting that none of our so called “liberal media” of the mainstream have reported on this story but the Daily Mail (an British publication) has. Shame on you America.
… the last time the computer you use the most died on you? The panic and sadness you felt because you never realized how much you depended on it until it decided to quit you? How if only you had more time together, you would appreciate it more and it would never feel unwanted? Okay, I’m getting carried away. My desktop died and my laptop is painfully slow. Which will slow up things around here temporarily!
I’m currently reading the book Save The Date by Jen Doll. In the book Doll focuses on the various weddings she’s attended in her life, the outcomes and the lessons learned. One of the topics Doll highlights is the nature of the “wedding friendship”. Easily made and even easier lost. I see what she means. But I met Anita at a wedding and I like to think we skirted the odds. The most beautiful wedding in South of France, summer 2012 to be exact. I had attended by myself, which meant there were new friends to make and making out with strange boys to do. One day I’ll tell you more about that wedding. While she wasn’t in attendance, there’s even an Agathe story. (Because the world is very small).
On the plane ride back to London I managed to sit with Anita and her friend Kristen. I talked with them the entire time and decided I adored them. When I was finally arrived stateside, I expected the friendship to flicker out. But then via facebook we realized we hated a lot of the same things and somehow two years later here I am, wearing a sweater she convinced me to buy with my beloved leopard print coat (because leopard is Anita’s stripes). So this is a tribute to a very stylish lady and a pretty rad friend. Hold tight to your wedding friends because every now and then, you meet a real gem.
I live with my parents. I can hear you right now thinking,
“That poor girl. At her age?”
Please, please, please do not pity me. It is faaaaaabulous. First of all Bil and Shelly are good company. I pay them rent because I’d rather give it to them than a landlord or roommate I can’t stand. Sure, it’s a little crowded at times (stuff is our “issue”) but they feed me, give me a little peace and in return, I try and be a good adult daughter and pitch in wherever I can. The food is plentiful and sometimes it’s just good to be here. There’s something nice about being at an age where you care for your parents when they’re feeling under the weather and they do the same for you. It’s a short time frame but if you’re lucky enough to experience it, it makes your bond stronger.
Anyway, Bil has an eye for furniture which he’s passed right down to me (Bertoia diamond obsession here). Around 1986, Bil purchased two Wassily chairs. Toddler Aja, immediately saw the appeal of the geometry of leather and metal. Recently the two big comfy living room chairs (31 years of naps taken, books read, conversations had in those old chairs) were sent off to a workshop to be rebuilt and reupholstered. The Wassily chairs were moved up from the basement. I watched my Dad attempt to get comfortable several times before finally swinging his legs over the side and saying with a laugh,
“The thing with these chairs is that you can’t think of them as too precious. You gotta make ’em your own, otherwise you’ll never get comfortable.”
He is so right, yet again.
Someone once told me that I had this magnificent skill for making friends out of complete strangers. This photo is exactly what he meant I suppose. If you haven’t made it down to FotoWeek2014 in DC, tomorrow is the last day. The event is open to the public and there’s some beautiful photography to see.