Dissent Is Clearly Anti American

America is a polarizing place.

Maybe you don’t share my opinion on that.  That’s the beauty of the United States of America.  We can disagree.

To say that I’ve been feeling a little down lately is the grandest of understatements.  This year in black death has left me troubled to the very core of my being.  I notice subtle changes in myself.  Things that aren’t apparent to the outside world.  First my appetite changes, I’m almost never hungry and sometimes eating feels like a chore.  This appetite change is strange for winter, which is a time when I usually busy myself eating bread and potatoes like it’s my job.  Things which normally bring me joy feel like chores as well.  I haven’t felt the desire to dance ballet in a month.  And then there’s Christmas.  I asked my family early on if we could skip presents.  To quote a friend

“Healthy countries deserve healthy economies and this one is sick”.

A wise old fool once said “women be shopping” and while that statement is totally faulted, I laugh because I would normally include myself on the count.  Not right now though.  Too heartbroken to think about those little things.  The worst part was that people whom I had formally felt close to, seemed to live in blissful bubbles of unawareness.

Not knowing quite how to deal with this mixture of sadness and annoyance I felt, I turned to black twitter.  Because if I believe in anything right now, I believe that black twitter is a humongous source of power.  We can spread messages quickly, effectively and frankly … there’s safety in numbers.  Not much, but some.  What I wanted to know most was, did this year in our home country leave other black twitter users else feeling as down trodden as I currently felt?  And I wanted it to be short.  #AmericaInFiveWords was born.  I started a few tweets myself.   My personal favorite:

Because frankly it’s one of the most beautiful and poignant images of 2014.  In America, one can be both dedicated to throwing a tear gas canister and clutching tasty snacks.

I knew with my mere five hundred some followers, I couldn’t do this alone, so I decided to ask some friends.

We were off and running!  It happened so quickly, I went to bed and woke up to find my phone aglow of twitter notifications.   My brief moment of excitement was QUICKLY replaced with a sinking feeling of utter dread.  I know what happens to mouthy little suffragettes like me when we speak out of turn.  Let’s start with the fact that Imani Gandy has twitter trolls who make up screennames after getting blocked by her every week, just to call her the n-word (and various combinations on said word).  That is some serious dedication to racist trolling and that’s just one story of many.  I sat back and enjoyed some of the beautiful and heartbreaking five word combinations which came my way, but knew that my time in the sun was limited because the troll party would show up shortly.

I even had wonderful friends who had never really gotten into twitter, signing on to join in.  They recognized how exciting it was to watch something trend and I could not have been more proud of them for jumping in!

It was all getting too good.  Soon a certain political pundit jumped on board calling us all “grievance mongers”.  Yup.  That’s right.  Asking for justice for lives stolen is simply impermissible, isn’t it?  Like clockwork her troll posse rolled up in my mentions calling me a “bitch” and “fuck u” and what not.  That sort of stuff rolls off me like water on a duck’s back.  My “block” hand did start to tire after a few hours though.  I knew if I let my mentions get filled up, the hate would be overwhelming, so I stayed glued to my phone in this unfortunate way.  Awful words can be easier to digest in small doses.  Eventually the hatred directed towards me died down.  But not before one friend who was new to twitter told me,

“I had NO IDEA how much racism was on here.”

The amount of abuse minorities and women encounter on twitter for simply speaking their minds is simply intolerable.  People would tag me in arguments they were having with trolls and it made me realize I wasn’t the only one under attack.  One friend called me in the middle of the night because someone I had blocked was saying “horrible things” about me.  I just felt lucky there were no death threats or rape threats involved.

I felt more concrete in some of the things I already knew.

1.  Dissent is often seen as “unpatriotic” to those who find the system works perfectly fine for them.

2.  Trolls love calling people who are unhappy with the current state of things “lazy”.  But is there anything quite as lazy than knowing that your country is broken, it’s citizens are hurting and you’re name calling because it works for you?

3.  Trolls also love to tell you that “if you don’t like it, you should leave”.  That makes zero sense.  If someone didn’t like their house, should they walk away from it one day never to return?  No.  We make repairs.  We replace the kitchen.  But also, when saying that to a large group of black people, please try and remember that our ancestors did a fair amount of the leg work for this nation and there’s NO WAY we would walk away and leave it for you.  We’re not going anywhere.

The trolls did not disappoint.  But neither did black twitter.  Black twitter never does.


How To Stay Alive In America


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.

–  Aja

LastwordsMichaelBrown(Image from here)


It Can’t Always Be Hearts And Flowers Around 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. 

–  Aja