#ILoveBlackWomen

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Dear Friends, Family, Co-Workers, Neighbors,

As many of you are no doubt aware, I’ve been active in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement in the past few months. It has been stressful and, at times, heart breaking to fight day in and day out for my own humanity to be recognized. It upsets me that I have to work hard to assert publicly that my life should matter. I am terrified as it becomes so clear how often it does not. One of the most sustaining things I have found in this movement has been the support and leadership of Black Women in movement spaces.

This extraordinary moment in history, as America is just beginning to be forced to take a long hard look at state violence against Black people, has been built into a movement for Black Liberation by Black Women! There is no denying it, yet often the erasure of Black women from the narrative of Black Liberation is also an irrefutable fact.

Far too often, Black women’s contributions, leadership, lives and deaths have been erased from the stories we tell about this movement. Far too often Black men take the mic at events Black women plan or simply aren’t around when it is time to talk about the lives of #IslanNettles #RekiaBoyd or #RelishaRudd or the many other women who have been killed or disappeared by state violence and abuse.

It upsets me to hear women I respect, women who have taught me more about the movement than any man, express concerns for their safety in movement spaces, at work, or just waiting for the bus. It upsets me when I see Black female leadership be disrespected by men of all races. It upsets me when I think of the world my niece has been forced to grow up in: a world that can’t bring itself to tell her how beautiful she is.

I am at loss for what I can do to change that on my own. I am not sure what I can do to create a world that celebrates instead of erases Black women. All I can do is celebrate the Black women in my life, support the leadership of Black women and work with them to tear down the structures that oppress them and us all.

I want to tell all the Black women in my life, my mother, sisters, aunts and friends that I love you. You are all phenomenal people who have given me more than I can articulate. Despite what the world may tell you, despite the constant messaging that you are ugly or worthless or less than, you are beautiful and powerful beyond measure.

The more I am blessed with the presence of such intelligent, wise, creative, and wonderful Black Women, the more I realize how right my friend and gifted organizer Omolara Williams was when she said that “Black Women are magic.”

Those of us used to dwelling in the darkness of our own insecurity often cannot admit your beauty because for us your radiance is near blinding.

So I ask all of you to join me in celebrating Black women. Let us overwhelm the negative messaging that our mothers and neighbors and teachers and congresswomen hear every day. Let us tell the world that we love Black Women.

Let us love them so hard that the bullets cannot reach them.

Let us love them so freely that their would-be assailants cannot find them.

Let us love them so honestly that their accomplishments may never be forgotten.

Let us love them so genuinely that we can learn from their strength and grace and wisdom and be confident enough to see them for who they really are: shinning stars in a world too full of darkness.

Tell the world #ILoveBlackWomen and give a lagniappe to the Black women in your life.

A lagniappe (/ˈlænjæp/ lan-yap) is a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase (such as a 13th doughnut when buying a dozen), or more broadly, “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”

Lagniappe is also the word I use for random [often odd or complex] DIY gifts I give people on random non-holidays. It is a gift from the heart that shows the Black women in your life how much they mean to you.

So join me in celebrating the contributions of Black women in our lives by doing the following:

1. Sign up for the event here

2. During the week of May 18th, give random gifts to the Black Women you care about. It can be a hug, a coupon, a smile, a book or diamond ring. You can take a your co-worker out to lunch, buy your manager some flowers, drive your neighbor to church or take your line-sisters out to the movies. Do something to show the Black Women in your life that their lives not only matter but are precious. Make sure that you name not only your love for them but also how you recognize, uplift and cherish their Blackness as well.

3. Share your love of Black Women with the World! Take picture of your delivering your lagniappe or DIY gift to the Black Women in your life, or picture with you holding a sign saying #ILoveBlackWomen and share it on social media with the hashtag #ILoveBlackWomen.

4. Turn your love into Praxis. Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized.
•Listen when Black Women tell you what they need from you and don’t be afraid to ask how you can support the Black Women in your life

•Donate to organization led by and/or serving Black Women, Black Trans* Women and Girls [I will try and compile a list soon].
• Follow these steps.
• Constantly support the Black Women in your lives by telling them how important they are to you on a regular basis.
• Support Black Women in leadership
Consume media by Black Women
• Read about the accomplishments of Black Women

Letter to My Niece [and All the Black Girls Struggling in America]

Dear Jadie [and all the other Black girls growing up in a world that erases them and still expects them to carry a nation on their backs],

Keep your head up. Keep your back straight. Keep your eyes open. You have your grandmother’s eyes and the world needs that light to guide it out of the darkness. But don’t do it for the world, keep your eyes open for yourself. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beautiful Black woman you are becoming.

You need to keep your eyes open to see how you are shaping the world with your powerful presence. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beauty the world has to offer. You need to keep your eyes open to learn from my mistakes. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beauty of your mothers, aunts and sisters in the struggle. They will help show you a way to be, though not necessarily your way.

And yes, you need to keep your eyes open to avoid life’s pitfalls and dangers.

We are living in dangerous times. Our oppression is real. Your pain is real and you did nothing to deserve it. Do not hide your head in the sand but don’t let you pain define you. Organize, agitate and speak out to liberate yourself and those around you.

There is power in utterance and as Audre Lorde said, “your silence will not protect you.”

As you sit in class thinking that weight of the world is on your shoulders, know that you don’t carry that weight alone. Know that you don’t have to fix all the world’s ills. Know that you don’t have to climb America’s racial mountain to be successful.

The fate of the world is the responsibility of all of us, just as with the destiny of Black people, it is not your cross to bear.

Please, know that idea of “destiny” is as false as the voice in your head telling you to quit. Know that you are not just a statistic. At the end of the day success is subjective and we build our own happiness.
Know that while we cannot always control the plot of our lives, we can construct our own life narratives.

You must be the heroine of your own story. Whether your life is a tragedy or a comedy is entirely up to you.
Know that there is no proper way to be. Know that everything gets easier when you accept yourself for the beautiful, flawed and worthwhile human you will always be. Know you don’t have to do anything but thrive and continue to grow to make your family proud.

I know it may not seem like that. I know our family placed a lot of that weight on your shoulders. I know we told you to prepare for the worst. I know calling you queen made you think you had to rule. I know we taught you be wary of asking for help.

I know we told you to be strong but taught you to be hard. I know that despite what we may have said, we taught you to bear it all alone till it breaks you. I know we sometimes forgot to model for you how to ask for help before it got to be too much to bear.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are now old enough to understand how cruel and hard the world can be. I’m sorry that the world will not pause for you to be able to figure it out. I’m sorry that you will have to live your life at full speed.

I’m sorry you are old enough to know that adults are not always right but still too young to not rely on us for almost everything. I’m sorry for all that I did, and still do, to place this weight on your shoulders.

I’m sorry we told you that you have to work twice as hard to get half as much. I’m sorry we narrated your life in terms of deficit and debt. I’m sorry that I told you lead then called you bossy for showing initiative.

I’m sorry it’s so hard to be a Black girl in America.

I’m sorry for not telling you are beautiful, just the way you are, every day. I’m sorry I still told you were beautiful more often than I told you were brilliant. I’m sorry for every time I forgot to tell you how proud I am of you.

For every time I forgot to mention your genius, your talent, your strength; I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for every time I didn’t have the patience to explain my frustration to you. I’m sorry for every time I made your mistakes seem like a reflection of who you are or could be. In reality, it was more a reflection of my fear for your future.

I wish I could take your pain away. I wish I could explain that there is not one way to be Black. I wish I could teach you how to love YOUR Blackness. I wish I could teach you love it without being defined by it. I wish I didn’t teach you to talk about “those Black people.”

I wish our family had figured out a better way to prepare you to thrive in world that doesn’t respect your humanity. The truth is, we are as imperfect as we seem. But we are trying.

And we belief in you. Even though you don’t always hear it when your mother and I tell you, we love you and are so proud of you.

Your poetry blows my mind. Your talent inspires me. Your voice gives me hope that maybe our future is brighter than I imagined.

We won’t understand all the choices you make, but your grandparents didn’t understand ours. We are terrified that we will release you into the world unprepared, but your grandfather still calls me to make sure I’m sleeping and am taking care of myself. So, while we don’t know what you will do with your life, but we can’t wait to see it.

You are powerful. You are brilliant. You are an amazing young woman. All you need to do is you. You don’t need to strive to move mountains. You don’t need to plan to carry the weight of the world on your back. You don’t need to stress over ensuring that you do amazing things in the future.

Love yourself unconditionally.

Make mistakes at full speed.

Reflect early and often.

Grow.

Speak out.

Fight the fights that need fighting.

Learn to ask and accept help.

Don’t lose faith in other people’s humanity and don’t waste your time with people who can’t see yours.

Do this, and you’ll shine to brightly to notice anyone’s shade.

Do this, and you’ll be too busy living to worry if you are successful.

Know that I love you for everything you are and everything you’re not. I love how much of my siblings I see in you. I love much of you is unique and wonderful. I love that you are a beautiful self-creation just beginning to realize your own power.

Keep doing you!

Clare: The Stories We Tell Ourselves In Order To Live

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I’ve debated with myself about what the purpose of these interviews is. I’ve been constantly questioning why I do them and, more importantly, what I want my audience to get out of them. I have yet to come up with a coherent answer to the second question but talking to my dear friend and big sister Clare O’Brien Rocha has reminded me of the first. Clare and I share a special history. Our parents met shortly after my parents were married and while her parents were dating in a little post-hippie Baha’i community in 1970’s Colorado. We grew up together, sharing family vacations and alternating Thanksgivings at each other’s houses for over 15 years.

As a kid, her parents were my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Steve, the kooky hippy couple whose life seemed like how married life was supposed to be. Her mother Nancy was both a second mother and, if I’m honest, the archetype for what I thought the perfect wife was supposed to be: beautiful, warm, funny, and passionate. Her father goes harder in everything that he does than any man I’ve ever met. I love both her parents like they are my own. In fact, my dream marriage would be facilitated by her father in swim trunks, Hawaiian shirt and suit jacket.

When her mother passed a few years ago I was devastated. It was a like a part of my world no longer made sense. It seemed like with no Nancy to look forward to every Thanksgiving, with her warm smile and long dark hair, a little bit of the world’s magic left too. I was unaware of Nancy’s mental illness until she passed and I never really talked to Clare about it until this past April when I stayed with her and her own family out on Long Island.

Seeing Clare again after so many years was an amazing and moving experience. Clare has a unique gorgeousness about her. Seeing her not only reminds me of the only teenager who would hang out with “the babies” on family vacations but I also see the same smile and raucous humor of her father and the same warmth, empathy and same clear eyes and long dark hair of her mother. She embodies a spirit of my childhood, the hippie, sing along, wholesomeness mixed with a down to earth realness that I don’t find with many other people. Likewise, one of the first things she said to me was, “I saw you and it like looking at a young Tony!” I realized, sitting on my her couch, taking up the most space possible, with my hands rested on my belly and half my shirt covering my bearded mouth, that I was just that; a young version of my father. She says it with such love and nostalgia that I became much prouder of the idiosyncrasies of my father that I’ve internalized.

So for me, it was clear that I just had to interview Clare. I had to talk to her about our completely interlinked childhood. We talked for hours about how different our views of our respective families and what it was like to be raised Baha’i in Colorado. We talked about how our parents’ friendship became our model for what adult friendships were supposed to be. We talked about how we assumed that your close friends become your family and that while blood will always be thicker than water, sometimes the water can run twice as deep.

So what will you, the listener, get from Clare’s interview? Other than the awesome music that weaves throughout the interview, other than her truly beautiful [if slightly sick] voice, Clare moves the world with more style, swag and intentionality than you’d ever imagine. Clare is a stay at home mother of two, living in the Gatbsy-esque tip of Long Island known as the Hamptons and drives an Audi yet every image of her that just popped into your head from that description is either false or woefully incomplete. Whenever Beyonce comes on [which is quite often]her oldest son, who is quite possible the cutest child in the history of children, looks up and says “that’s my mom’s best friend ‘yonce.” She is a feminist, an artist, a fashionista, a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter, an amazing cook, a hilarious story teller, role model, a big sister, a trend setter and the first real interview for the Stories We Tell Ourselves In Order To Live!

Through her own rugged determination and restless art filled spirit, Clare has created a narrative of life that is truly wonderful. Hers is, among other things, a narrative of the power of every day choices, of constant growth and endearing love. She cannot be defined or understood in 40 minutes of monologue but I believe that we all have something to learn from her internal beauty. Listen! Share! And increase your self-awareness through dialogue.

Unsent Letter To All The Girls I’ve Loved

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[Below is an unsent letter to every female friend I’ve been secretly in love with whom I sent really long e-mails to or hand written notes to after/before I went to college/when you were studying abroad/when I moved back to Falcon in 2008/when I moved to Colorado Springs in 2010/when you moved to a coastal city once I made it back to Chicago/when you went to grad school/visited your family for Hanukkah/ moved with your significant other [sometimes another female friend I had also once liked] back home/I moved to D.C.  If this sounds remotely similar to a letter I once sent in you in one of these moments then this was probably the first draft of a letter I wrote and decided not to send for one reason or another. I realized that this a recurring pattern in my life that I need to analyze…so I did…and what better way to process self-analysis than self-parody?]

To All The Friends I’ve Loved,

[There always start with some  overwrought and florid metaphor for whatever I’m unhappy about in the moment. In most of these letters it is my hometown] I’m not sure if a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest with no one to hear it but I know from experience that the speed at which it falls is in direct proportion to number of observers. Falcon is not a place for me to write. Falcon is where writers are born. It is where the bigotry and backwardness drips from the lips of neighbors destined to be characters; cold as molasses and twice as black, pumping sweet visceral into an author’s creative glands.  Falcon will serve as the time capsule I use to write of time so long ago that it never really existed, at least not in the way I remember it.

In my stories I call it Mesa Valley, my Yoknapatawpha County [always includes an oblique reference to writer whom I feel an unjustifiable though visceral connection to. Sometimes I’ve only read their shortest published work but count them among my favorite authors] I write about the villains and saints of my childhood in this Mesa Valley so that the fictionalized grandiosity of the moment evokes the same emotion as the tonnage of years of microagressions and mini miracles. Put simply, the events are lies but the emotions are real. My neighbors will undoubtedly protest but I imagine my fame will soften their protest the same way their privilege softened mine. Their bigotry bit into my psyche layering trauma upon trauma [I actually had a pretty chill childhood but I thought for a while that I need to be a tortured artist to be a good artist.]

Is life so miserable? Is the darkness seeping in, encroaching on my happy moments? No, I suppose not. [almost all of these letters start the second paragraph with a refutation of the overwrought opening metaphor…insecure much?] In reality life is bland and it is that blandness that frightens me. Like Oscar WildeI live in terror of not being misunderstood. [quote is purposefully out of context. In an example of hipster letter writing, it serves as an illustration of my meta awareness] Drama and vibrancy are my heroin. In their absence I fiend for the thematic like a smoker turned niciderm addict. I lust for action with all the gusto and impulsiveness of a sex addict.  In the late hours of the night, when time seems to drip like a leaky faucet in a silent kitchen instead of flow, I try to figure out why this is. I have always had an overactive imagination and I have always been vicarious reader, living the lives of the characters as I read them. If you had asked my 12 year old self what I wanted to be when he grew up he would have said “a living legend.” Yet no childhood trauma or tendency could explain this burning desire of mine in its maturity [though, when I was 8 I used to scream “I’m going through a stage!” at my family when my siblings complained about my parents bending over backwards to not accommodate my latest fixation. I heard my parents discussing my habit of hiding eggs around the house and whether it was a “stag” or ealy onset mental illness one night and decided to use the phrase to justify my weirdness…jury is still out about early signs of mental illness]

There is an answer to the question. And yes, that is the short one. I’m doing fine. [you are supposed to assume the unasked question “how are you?” Man, is this guy meta or what?] Living with my parents has been interesting though not ideal. I am doing what I can to not waste way. When the monotone hum of prairie life turns into a tempest of passive, almost inert, aggression that threatens to overwhelm me I try to think of you and your adventures in [insert study abroad program, grad school, or new city her]. I imagine your [insert distinguishing feature] as you [insert activity that can I think can only be done where you are]. How is it in [insert colloquial/pretentious nickname for current location]? How is the air? What are you thinking about? What things are challenging you? Forcing you push your limits? What do you know now that you didn’t before? [still not sure where this habit of asking these sorts of questions to people became a thing that I do…constantly… but I can remember doing it as early as middle school]

I know you are probably laughing at my intensity. You mention that intensity often and each time I want to tell you how I really feel. [this when I show my insecurity in a self deprecating way. This portion is usually added to qualify previous or subsequent statements that were overly florid or ridiculous but I found too well phrased to delete.]  I spend so much time trying to calm that intensity for fear of scaring you away yet sometimes restraining my love for you seems more intolerable than your absence. I want you too know, finally, that I love you fiercely. [this is the part that is ALWAYS cut out of the final draft. The unspoken longings off…ugh…I’m doing it again!] When we take our walks through [insert significant place in our friendship] I’d be convinced that my feet never touched the asphalt if hearing you about what’s one your mind this week didn’t make me feel so grounded. I love the way your mind unravels in those moments. Your thoughts are distinct and intricately laced like braided steel cables supporting intellectual bridges from Kafka and Morrison to Weber and Du Bois [I always reference Kafka but never actually read Kafka until like 6 months ago.] Sometimes I am too mesmerized by how an individual thought of yours develops that forget how your smile gives me butterflies.

Your wild and frantic idiosyncratic hand gestures that increase in their assertiveness as the topic turns from history to your theory of how we constructive our identities through narratives remind me of the awkward girl I first met and not the poised woman I know now. As your passion burns through your light brown eyes I’m tempted to believe that my world has the same golden haze has its reflection in your gaze. In these moments I want to tell you that I love you. I know you would just smile and say “I know.” I know that I would have to hold your heart-wrenchingly beautiful gaze longer. I would lock my eyes with yours to add weight to my words; to tell you this was that kind of the love. The kind of love that causes me to fear that I’m losing myself in you, the terror of thinking that maybe falling so hard for you that I forget who I am sounds more like heaven than white clouds and halos. [who says that…seriously….I mean…it has a nice ring to it though…reminds me of this poem I wrote about my first “real” love]

Instead, I smile and hold my tongue. We walk miles through this city, you and I, with the secret of my love between us like a warm invisible sea. Swimming through it is the most exhausting endeavor of my life but living without it seems dry and barren in comparison. When we hug goodbye I wish I could wrap my hands around your soul instead of your waist and I pretend that my sadness is contemplation and not the awareness of the inevitability of your departure. [this would typically get re-written to something about missing you but not loving like THAT.]

[I feel like some of my friend must have suspected that I was not so secretly in love with them. Yet, I still write letters to some friends like this, long after I’m crushing on/overly-dramatically in love with them so I think most of friends probably just think its par for the course…and I guess it is par for the course. I love all my friends dearly, male or female and I’ve had a crush on like 95% of the women I’ve met who are no more than three years younger or 10 years older than me. I think if I had to put a number on it, which I don’t but will anyway, I’ve been in love with about 30% of my good female friends at some point in my life. I don’t actually think I’m using the phrase “in love” lightly here either. I have a natural tendency to love easily, deeply, quickly and fiercely. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been with a female friend and thought “we should just get married…like… right now. Why wait.” Yet for most, the timing was off or I was too shy. By the time either changed, we had changed.   But I’ve been in love with almost 1/3 of my female friends even if only for a moment and while that might seem pathetic and laughable…well…it might actually be laughable…it is not pathetic. I feel very fortunate to have befriended such amazing and beautiful women in my life.

I’ve been blessed to love women who have pushed my intellect, who have encouraged me to follow my dreams by pursuing theirs, who have shown me what it means to live by your principles, who have become teachers, and mothers, and executives and dancers and writers and organizers and PHd candidates. They are the unofficial therapist of their friends, the shoulder to cry on, fierce advocate for justice, level-headed and practical guides, the uplifting jokers and gorgeous wordsmiths of my world. I have learned and grown so much from these friendships and am so glad that we got  through the infatuation, the puppy love and the romantic love to richer and more sustaining and truly platonic love with my friends. I feel that with a few of my friends our relationship has matured into something greater than any romantic love I’ve ever experienced; we’ve learned to “love each other well.”  So to all the girls I’ve loved. From the playground to county fair to the main quad and whether I loved you for a conversation, a week or since the moment we first talked about our passions, I’d like to thank you teaching me, for bearing with my florid passion and intensity and, most of all, for accepting my love even if you were unaware of its true form. Know that every letter I send and note I write expresses the truth of how I feel about everything, even if only a part. Though honestly Erin, if you are reading this, my offer of marriage still totally stands. My romantic love for you is eternal and forever enriches my platonic love for you which is equally eternal. So, uh…call me, Maybe?]

With love [in all its varied forms and meanings],

Aaron

True Love