Helping Your Friends Through Grief

So much death has happened in the last few days. My roommate’s adopted grandmother, from the church she grew up in, passed away Sunday morning around 6:00 a.m. It’s difficult to grieve with someone when you don’t know the person who died.

Something even more tragic happened the same morning, minutes before the death of my roommate’s grandmother. Three students died in a car accident just miles up the road from Taylor. Sadly, these students were acquainted with my Taylor friends. They had just dropped my friends off before the accident occurred.

Everyone who knows about the accident is thinking one thing, “What a senseless thing to happen.”  My heart breaks though I am far removed from the situation. Three international students two from Ethiopia and one from Nigeria, who’s parents are oceans and mountains away, who’s families had all their hopes in sending their children to America, who’s friends will now bear the burden of loss for a life-time.

#tragic

I know I usually write about race, identity and social norms, but today none of that seems to have a place. Death is an issue of humanity, not felt more by one race than another, not experienced greater in one people group than the next. Death is universal, global, cultural. Twelve of us gathered last night to pray and weep for our friends, for the families who lost their children.

Where is hope in death? In racial reconciliation I have confidence. In equality and social justice I see a promising future. But death speaks when it wills. It sneaks up and strikes when you least expect. For every time there is a season, a time to live and a time to die.

#ThisIsRealLife

The chapel speaker this morning spoke about grieving. She said the best way to support your friends when they are grieving is to simply let them know you are there. To make your presence known to them, to comfort them in the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not life, not death, not anything now or to come.

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A Credit to My Race

Last week I did very poorly on an exam. My internal response was different than that of my Freshman self. In the beginning of my university life I had to prove to everyone that I could do it, and a bad grade was a mark against my ability to succeed.

Somehow as a Senior, though I am very disappointed with a bad grade, it doesn’t feel as detrimental to my future career. However, it worries me that my performance is or is not a credit to my race, that my grade point average could possibly be used for a statistical evaluation of African American students at liberal arts institutions.

Nevertheless, seeing that horrible grade makes me want to do just one thing, and that is to crawl into a hole with a pint of ice cream and forget the world. #WorstDayEver — But then again, after sulking, my natural instinct is always to go back and ace my next exam.

I have to give myself a pep talk when I experience failure. “It was just one test. You will do better next time. There are plenty of extra credit opportunities. Your worth is not in your grades.” In the class following my  exam I sat at my desk, deep in thought repeating these positive reinforcing statements over and over. But all the same I couldn’t help but realize that I am the only black student in my class. Does my performance reflect the color of my skin, fulfilling the stereotype of my own kind?

Will my professor see my grade and account it to my race?

#concerned

 

 

The Horror and Humor of Beyonce Turns Black

In my class, Conversations on Race, the professor had us watch the recent SNL video titled, “The Day Beyonce Turned Black.” This skit pokes fun at the outrageous mix of controversy and approval concerning Beyonce’s latest music video, Formation. She performed it at the Super Bowl half-time show with a host of backup dancers sporting afros and burets.

After we watched the SNL skit our prof asked what it was that made the video so funny, because in all humor there is an element of truth.

For a class with the word “conversations” in the title, we’re awfully quiet. The students didn’t really know what to say. Honestly I didn’t either. It got me thinking that maybe my fellow classmates didn’t know what was comical about this skit aside from the sarcasm and body language portrayed by the comedians.

#awkward

What happened in Beyonce’s new video is an example of someone embracing her ethnic heritage. Beyonce didn’t become Black because she suddenly started singing about hot sauce in her bag and baby hair. In this video she is, however, publicly acknowledging her Blackness.

Q: Why does this surprise everyone?

A: Stereotypes.

Beyonce doesn’t fit the stereotype of a Black person, and therefore society doesn’t see her as really Black. Excuse me for using that word “really.”

In the SNL skit a White woman says to her friend on the street,

“What? You’re not Black.”

“Yes I am,” her friend replies, she points to a hooded man in sweats standing on the sidewalk. “He’s Black too.”

“Well I know he’s Black,” the White woman responds. It’s important to understand that our mind registers stereotypes subconsciously.

So do you follow my pattern of thought? Are you picking up what I’m putting down?”

Stereotypes compartmentalize people.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I never feel more Black than on MLK day. The celebration of Dr. King is a day when everyone remembers that people like me are Black. Who are people like me? Blacks that don’t fit the stereotype. As a biracial person raised in a White community, I seem White, despite my hair and skin color. Because I don’t fit the stereotype of a Black person, I am therefore not one, according to American society.

“You don’t talk Black, dance Black, sing Black or dress Black. . . . aren’t you like Ethiopian or something. . . .Wait what are you?”

#facepalm

The Formation music video identifies elements of the Black culture that most White people may not understand. It displays what the Washington Post is calling, Sheer Blackness. Beyonce mentions how she likes her baby’s hair in a fro and the Jackson Five nostrils, both attributes of Black people often used to build stereotypes.

What can we take from Beyonce embracing her heritage? Aside from the fact that it’s causing an uproar among police in places like New York, there is something racially important about embracing one’s ethnicity. Something I’m beginning to learn from the classroom is that everyone can embody her racial heritage no matter the color of her skin. What if White people were just as proud and appreciative of their heritage as anyone else. I’m not saying we need a White History month, I’m just saying race is something to be recognized outside of the cultural stereotypes.

Thoughts?

Comment below.

What’s your heritage. . . . are you ready to embrace it?

Photojournalism

My photojournalism class is going to be a challenge.

While the class is focused on photos in media, telling stories with images, and complimenting articles with photos, my instructor expects us to already know how to use a camera. #youkiddingme?

Umm, my last name may look like camera and my daddy may be a filmmaker but I don’t know the first thing about taking pictures. #pointandshoot Hopefully that will be enough.

Assignment #1. Obtain a $400.00 camera

Assignment #2. Learn how to use it

These two instructions are to be completed before the second class.

#impossible.

The Only Black Student In Class

Classes for the real semester have begun. I say real semester because J-term doesn’t really count. It’s like a baby semester.

My courses thus far seem promising.  #stayingpositive

Ironically three of my professors this year are women and one of them is a black woman. Well, that’s a first.  This will be the first time I have a female African American professor. . .IN MY LIFE!

Because most college professors are white males, its refreshing to have some diversity in my education and to study under someone who shares both my gender and race.

Lately I’ve become keenly aware of my race, more than I used to be. Today, strange thoughts popped into my head during each period. I walked into class and automatically looked around at all the white students.

They’re all white.

I’m usually the only black person in the classroom. It’s pretty chill as long as no one brings up race or ethnicity. But if this happens I don’t feel uncomfortable, unless I’m asked to make a comment. Sometimes students, my fellow classmates, look right at me when they’re answering a question from the professor concerning ethnic minorities. 

I always feel weird when they say “black” . . . then pause . . . and say “African American.” You’re not going to offend me. Anyways, both terms are politically correct, if that is what you’re going for.

My university is like my second home and therefore the manifestation of white classrooms with white walls, white students, white papers, and white teachers doesn’t faze me.

Didn’t faze me.

These days, perhaps ever since I started a blog on racial identity, I suddenly want to ask everyone about their heritage. In Marketing class I sat beside a student who looked hispanic.

“What’s your ethnicity?” I wanted to ask. “Do you realize we are the minority in the room?” I would have said, “How do you feel about your skin color, and do you realize that every student in this class sees us differently than others?”

I didn’t. Of course. But I wanted to.

I might have, if I hadn’t thought twice and realized that the topic of racial identity is not something everyone is willing to discuss.

Being black in a white classroom is like being black in a white culture, but instead of white people all around you, the books are written by white authors, the PowerPoints display images of white people, and the handouts use photos of white models.

Do I mind? Only when this reality isn’t evident to everyone else, only when people act like it doesn’t matter, only when I feel like my race is unacknowledged.

As I sort through my thoughts I understand that I am not qualified to write this blog post because as I have mentioned before, I’m not really black. My good friend, Kay, often tells me, “Julia, you’re like an Oreo. Black on the outside, white on the in.” So I’m curious how other people respond to this reality.

How does it feel to be a minority in the classroom?

Why Finger Foods Are Not For Me

Do you have a pet peeve? Something that drives you crazy? Is there anything that sets you off, throws you for a loop, or leaves you on edge? For me, there are multiple.

I’ll spare you the list and instead name one in particular that I cannot get over no matter how hard I try or what lengths I go to in order to overcome it; this would be eating with my hands.

Now, I can do fast food, where grease and salt coat my fingers with fatty flavors. Sure it’s a little messy but not too bad. What bothers me most are really moist foods, particularly African foods.

Sharing meals is so fun for me, probably because food is my love language. I feel most loved when someone asks me to cook a meal together. Often times with international friends I get to try new food and new ways to eat it.

England – Eating something normal in a new way is not a problem for me.

Eating pancakes rolled like tacos, drizzled in honey-like syrup, and crowned with powdered sugar was something I first learned to do in the UK with my Uni friends, and I loved it. #pancakeday

France – Eating exotic food is not a problem for me.

In Paris, my friend Lucile had me try snails, smelly cheese, and spreadable meat– #notmyfavorite– All of which are on my list of most strange things I have eaten. But it wasn’t so bad.

South Korea – Eating food with new utensils is not a problem for me.

Chopsticks are a must when eating kimchi and Korean ramen. But even if you’ve mastered the grip on a pair of sticks you still might have to eat out of the same pot as everyone else. I admit I was super shocked when all my Korean friends started eating out of the same dish. “This is so unsanitary,” I thought. It took me a few meals before I got use to it.

But eating moist foods with my hands is so difficult. Last week I tried some Kenyan food called Ugali, a corn base, potato-like substance that you use to mop up stew and . . . well, other wet foods. All you use is your hands and I was struggling so much to do it right. The whole time I was thinking about how as a kid, my parents always told me to wash my hands before dinner. I should have washed them better.

When you’re eating African food, and I mean straight from Africa African food, you better wash those hands real good because they’re not only going into your food, they’re going straight into your mouth!

Maybe it’s the taste of my fingers or the stew-like sauce that seeps into my fingernails, but something is so abnormal about it that causes me to wonder, how I can dislike the way certain people eat food.

My step Grandfather, a journalist from Guinea, admired Europe and deemed it a more civilized society than his home in African. When it came to eating, he only used a fork and a knife. The fork was always in the left hand and the knife was always in the right. And when he was finished he would pick up the bones of his chicken and chew them whole.  My father taught us the same–not the eating bones part– and this is why I think I have such a hard time eating some foods with my hands. #spoonfed

What are your pet peeves? Do you know why you have them?

#shareyourstory