FWD – Fundraising While Black – Survival Tips

What we internalize, and how we respond and engage, very much reflects our lived or learned experiences, or the fabric and dynamics of the society(ies) in which we operate, and shape our social interactions and belonging.

Over the weekend, during one of our family activities I had a piercing experience of Fundraising While Black (FWB). I am not claiming the experience of FWB is uniform to all Black folks, but the visibility of color, race, Blackness, is the ‘sad’ reality, of living in America.

Particularly, as a Black person in America, even a simple act of hanging “Scouts Popcorn Fundraisers” door-to-door in Popcorn Door Hangerpredominantly White suburbia neighborhood, can be quite traumatizing! Don’t be turned off, I am not gonna badmouth my neighbors as nasty, racist and mean-spirited; I do not know plenty of them to opine about their sentiments toward me. Perhaps, that is a problem, on its own.

The ones I have met and interacted with, are a mixed bag. Some, are really good people, who I have meet while dropping off or picking up our children from the bus stop, or while walking in the neighborhood, with their dogs, at the mailbox or enjoying the outdoors. They have stopped to say hello, and we have engaged in extended conversations. Others have seen me running on snow, sleet, rain, humid, pollen days, and let me know they were in awe of me!

Friends in my neighborhood have also introduced me to friends. Engaging in community activities has also broadened my social network, like Valentine’s Day celebration at my immediate neighbor’s, Child of Mine’s “Kids Patrols Laurel Lake CleanUp” on Earth Day, or Halloween “Trick-Or-Treat”, or selling icy’s with my child’s cousins this summer.

But there are also neighbors who don’t give a rat ass whether I exist here or on planet. Some won’t respond when I give them a, “Hi” or smile. Others will not control their dogs charging at me, while running on the streets past their house. Sometimes, the dogs unexpectedly run after me, before their owners reluctantly call them back. But the Oscar for “worst neighbor” goes to an old man we met this past summer, while chaperoning child and his cousins to sell Icy’s in the neighborhood.

One of our immediate neighbors, who we had never met, accused us of “importing immigrants from abroad to live in America on his tax revenue, then sending them to NYC for school.”I tried to explain to them that, “No, those are Child’s cousins, who come over from New York to visit.” Instead, threatened to call the police on us, to investigate us, and spelled out his Penn Law degree credentials. I apologized for knocking at his door, gathered my entourage and left his home immediately. But Child was already and sobbing, terribly traumatized by the mean nasty old man threatening us. He has since vowed never to walk by his house again…[except, the times he did not seem to recognize the house each time, we have passed by].

Anyway, back to FWD. This weekend, we decided to step-up our Cub Scout Popcorn sale to “Support Our Troops”, with only a week left. We went around hanging flyers on doors in our neighborhood, avoiding to knock at doors, unless we personally knew the occupant(s). We felt safe to put the Door Hangers with information about our fundraiser, name of Cub Scout, contact phone number and email address.

Still, it was quite a scary exercise, entering people’s yards and walking up to their doors. Even if the inside door was opened, we simply hang the flyer and left, unless the owner saw us and came up to speak with us. We literally crept away from the door, and out of their yards, ensuring we were not visible. We caught a couple of prying eyes peeping through windows; some open the doors, others did not come out.

Moreover, because we are black, I made sure we took extra caution. I gave Child extra ‘warnings/instructions’ and “Do Not List”:

  1. Do not wear your hood on your head, or you might look like Trayvonn Martin.
  2. Do not run to and away from the door, or you might be mistaken for a thug and trespassing. 
  3. Do not look through people’s houses or windows, but stand in front of the door, or someone could shoot you for peeping.

Yes, he is just a 7 year old. But, this is Our America!

I know he does not understand right now all these “Don’ts”, but he will understand when he grows up. When his innocence, as another school, community and neighborhood kid and friend, is stolen from him, because of the color of his skin relative to his society. No doubt, some people are already judging him, from the little they see and know of him, by the way he speaks, the way he walks, the way he carries himself.

At seven years of age, this Black Child of Mine has the responsibility to carry himself to “Societal expectations”. I should not appear scared or scary, or he might look suspicious.

Once, shortly after his fifth birthday, someone close to him told him, “Don’t shoot me; we have to learn to live together,” because he said he did not like her [in reality, he was not yet comfortable with her].

I told him people could shoot anyone caught peeping through their windows or trespassing on their yards, and would not go to jail because they can say they were defending themselves. More over, chances are higher, if you are Black; there is not much safeguard to hide behind, not even for a Cub Scout.

How I wish we could raise money standing by the streets! But that has not been practical nor fruitful in a neighborhood without sidewalks. Maybe, if we were in the city or in a more familial environment, like Uganda, less traumatizing about standing out or more optimistic about friendlier reception. Somewhere I would feel I have the Right to Belong, where I could just knock at the door, with my child, without the politics of race, color laden in my head. That’s all I wish.

Throughout all my years of fundraising, I keep learning new lessons about “identity formation” or “identity contestation”. Who I am, in the particular society, who knows or does not know me, and how that shapes their engagement with me. This time, I am learned first hand, the burdens and responsibility of FWB – Fundraising While Black!

Running Alone, In a Sea of Runners

 [I wrote a week ago, on the even of Steamtown Marathon 2015, Saturday, October 10]

I recently reSteamtown Expo signad a blog thecatchmeifyoucan.com, the blogger explaining that she chooses to travel alone.

I do not! I neither choose nor like to travel alone, but I do. Nor do I choose to run alone, but I do.

As I sat in the cafeteria of Nazareth Students Center at Maywood University in Scranton, PA, reality checked me. I had just picked up my running Bib and pack for the 20th Steamtown Marathon 2015, happening the next day, October 11. I realized that I am actually running the marathon, as the only person I know.

I am running the marathon alone, in a sea of runners. How could that be? Just like my usual runs, which I always run solo. Even though the Pocono Area Running Club (PARC) exists in my neighborhood, but its schedule does not permit. See, I told you before, “Choice is Illusive!”

That I am running solo, is probably not unique.  I bet there are others like me. I have seen a couple of runners, sitting by themselves around here. But who knows if they are waiting for friends or family? Well, others, thankfully, have families who accompanied them to pick up their race packets. And will probably stand along the route to cheer them on tomorrow.

What is actually unique to me, is that I am the only black woman I have seen here, thus far. True, I have seen a couple of black men, but no black women in sight. And because this is America, we see color and race very quickly.
Steam town race packages

So, how do I always end up traveling and running solo? As I said, I do not choose solo life; it just finds me. But it is not a deterrence to me. I will still run, even if I am the only person I know. I registered alone, so why should I expect to meet anyone I know at the race!

Well, Boston/BA
A 201
5 was different. I expected to meet plenty of runners from my alma meter(s), even though I trained solo in Mt. Poconos. My first marathon – Standard Chartered Nairobi marathon, was the only time
I registered, trained, traveled and run with a group of friends. I enjoyed every bit of it! Matter of fact, I had a pace-mate.

Since then, I have registered for each successive marathon alone, and run so
lo. At the Edinburgh Marathon (EMF), I run solo, but expected to see my friends cheering me on along the route, and meeting me at the finish line. Bet
they underestimated how fast I run! I saw none along the route. In fact, they arrived hours after I was done running, and had downed umpteen gallons of beer!

Now, here at the Steamtown Marathon, I am eating my pre-race dinner, all alone, sitting alone, moving up and about alone. Deterred? I am not! And while I feel…

…unprepared,   underprepared, undertrained and overwhelmed, I am ready to go out and conquer he World. Let’s Steamtown!

Who is to Define Who is Black?

Forgive me, but I am still struggling to find fault with Rachel Dolezal. If you’re still not in-the-know, Rachel Dolezal’s name is now ‘synonymous’ with “Identity [re]formulation”; not the Caitlyn Jenner way. By the way, unlike Caitlyn Jenner who become an instant global phenomenon, especially among the people she re-invented to identify with, Rachel Dolezal has not been much embraced. I doubt she’s gonna sign a “Cover Girl” deal soon, like Caitlyn.

Rachel Dolezal’s crime, guilty as already charged by a large section of the ‘moralizing’ public, is “masquerading” as a Black person. She is identifying as an African American, a ‘coveted’ identity supposedly for only those who know suffering, blanket assumption is all Black people. Plenty of America’s Black women are up in arms that Dolezal “is demeaning and devaluing the suffering of Black women, who by no choice of their own are labeled black with insurmountable burdens and negative connotations. “Black womanhood is an identity forged in the lived experiences of black children,” writes Alicia Walters, who, like Rachel grew up in Spokane, WA, but allegedly without the ‘choice’ of ‘performing’ blackness.

Plenty are up in arms, charging Rachel with ‘performing blackness’, and ‘wearing’ an identity that is not her own, so they say. Her parents, as well, are ‘distraught’ that Rachel is misrepresenting her true identity, disagree with her blackness, and concerned that she is estranged from them. They say, she began ‘acting black’ after she went to college in Mississippi, and after the death of her husband, an African American.

I am concerned about the public ‘stoning’ of R. Dolezal’s African American identity as deception, fraud and performing blackness. Call her out for suing Howard for discrimination, or allegedly calling out another Latino for not being “Hispanic enough”. Don’t call her a fraud, because she self-identifies as “Black”!

Who is to say that Rachel Dolezal is not Black, if indeed she identifies as Black? Can we claim that Rachel is not black, by merely looking at her portraits from childhood to present? Don’t looks lie? Especially in our America, where the label is attributed to anybody with just a drop of black blood in their DNA? Can we rely solely on parental visual appearance and self-identity to tell us the racial make-up of their offsprings?

When I saw Rachel’s adult portrait, my first instinct was a recollection of “Skin”, a 2009 movie based on Judith Stone’s book When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race. It is about a South African girl born to white Afrikaner parents but officially classified as “Colored” by the apartheid government. Taken prima facie, her facial appearance could have justify the classification as “Colored”, presumably a result of a genetic case of atavism, a reappearance of genes from previous ancestors, who could have been black, in the case of Sandra Laing (Skin).

A similar case is Little White Lie, a book and film based on the life of Lacey Schwatz, who grew up white, raised by two white Jewish parents she was made believe  both were her biological parents. Her mother hid a secret affair with her biological father, an African American man. Well then, maybe parents as well, misrepresent the truth, sometimes?

  1. Who is to say that Rachel Dolezal is performing “Blackness” and “Black Womanhood”?

  2. Why can’t we let Rachel define her identity to us, on her own terms?

  3. Do blacks [in America] have a monopoly over Black identity? And is it true that black womanhood is formed as black children?

  4. Do all black children, really grow up as Black? Or is Blackness attained as a Black child progresses in age, and within specific societies with overt racial categorizations?

  5. Is it not true that, perhaps some black children are ‘shielded’ from growing up with all the encumbrances associated with “blackness’ in America, such as, societal discrimination, underprivileged, physical threat, prescribed acceptable public behavior and actions, pre-defined identity, even if not their entire lifetime?

It is a wide generalization that “Black womanhood is formed as black children. Some black children, including my own, enjoy the ‘privilege’ of not knowing they are black, until later in life or until their parents open the subject of ‘coloring’ and ‘racism’ to them, or until they encounter a racialized experience during their young lives.

Here, I am thinking of Black children growing up in predominantly white suburbs, where they are the lone or one of the very few black family. Many of these children do not, by own confession self-identity with blacks from inner cities and metropolitan settings. Some, again by own confession, are afraid and ashamed of fellow blacks, and see their culture as ‘uncouth’ and incompatible with their lived cultural experience. Their main cultural experience is similar to the predominant white culture where they are growing up and exposed to, in their daily interactions.

For instance, my six-year old, growing up in a predominantly white community and culture, until very recently, identified as white. Until his classroom discussion about Martin Luther King during “Black History Month”, he did not have a clue about racial identity [in America]; he did not think of himself as black, and considered me chocolate not black. Still, I doubt the lesson in his classroom and our conversation at home on racial identity have altered his cultural learnings, experiences, and radicalized identity.

Then, what makes it wrong to accept someone, who personally identifies as African American? Who is to say, Rachel has not experienced or internalized blackness, or does not carry personal struggles identified with black people and black women? Who is to say that Rachel is wearing blackness as ‘a pair of shoes’, according to Alicia Walters? After all, she has been the target of the racist Aryan Nation in her Spokane, WA neighborhood, she found a noose on her porch, and probably a recipient of spite in her community, for marrying a Black man, her late husband.

Has she obtained privilege because of assuming an African American identity? Maybe. But so have plenty of Blacks that take on “Caucasian’-sounding names, and perhaps escape the [not so subtle] profiling in job application screening, or mortgage applications, where candidates with “African American sounding names” are not given the same or any consideration.

Or should we concern ourselves more about how Rachel has used her privilege as an “African American” for the betterment of African American peoples and cultures? In all of the history of African American struggles, white people have used their ‘white privilege’ to work  for the emancipation of colored peoples, forged alliances and immersed themselves into the black struggle, strategically or genuinely. I have white friends, who are as afraid as I am about raising black children in America, either because they are married to Black men or their hearts and life trajectories are intertwined with the struggle for equal humane treatment of all persons. White friends, who are married to black men, not as ‘voyagers’ but because that is “where the heart is”. I have white friends who have spent the greatest part of their lives advocating and fighting for the survival and lives of black people, putting themselves on the frontline to rescue refugees.

There are plenty of Black folks, for whom the “Black struggle” is not in their immediate preoccupation or concern, as much as their personal advancement and status in society. Some have publicly disowned “Blackness”, speak ill of Black culture, or wholly and conveniently embraced ‘white culture’ to their benefit, without seeing themselves as ‘fraudulent’ or misplaced, away from ‘Blackness’.

How can we claim to know what drove Rachel Dolezal to assume an identity so cumbersome in the world, especially in our America? An identity that is abhorred, denigrated and rejected even by the very people who are colored “Black”? Why should we label Dolezal a “fraud”, “deceitful” and “opportunistic”, for identifying with a people, a cause and a human race, within a society where due to her re-formulated identity, she possibly experienced being unwanted, and possibly exterminated by racist and hate groups? After all, she never claimed to be “Black” to obtain admission into Howard! Apparently, the school awarded her admission and a Fulbright scholarship, without the requiring her to disclose her ethnicity, most probably on merit. Assuming Howard awarded her admission based on her picture portrait, doesn’t that speak to the larger complicatedness of ‘Blackness” or Black womanhood in America, which the disgruntled Alicia Walters seems to agree is diverse/varied lived experiences?

If indeed Rachel Dolezal is misrepresenting the truth [I still give her the benefit of doubt, until DNA proves otherwise], so did plenty of folks involved in the Underground Railroad, or Henry “Box” Brown, holocaust survivors, international migrants and refugees or armed combatants. What all these people have in common, is the struggle for freedom and self-determination. The struggle to be set free from the bondages of being defined by others, and strive to create one’s own destiny and identity for the betterment of “the self” and/or the larger society. Don’t we all [re]invent ourselves, at different stages of our human existence?

No doubt, we should be much concerned about honesty, as well as letting others be! We do not know, if the experience of living with adopted African American siblings, and later marrying an African American husband gave Rachel an avenue to ‘find herself’ and find solace among a people with whom she felt comfortable and accepted? Perhaps that gave her the impetus to immerse herself in the lives and daily struggles of African Americans, by recreating her identity as an African American. In my experience, white folks who genuinely wish to be a part of the ‘black struggle’, while welcome and utilized by the [black] communities, are often still viewed and treated as ‘outsiders’. To avoid the baggage of being seen as a “token white woman”, perhaps R. Dolezal figured it would be easier to identify as African American. Perhaps? Well then, what is wrong with that picture?

Kids are Cultural “Whores”: Wait, can you say the “W” with Kids…?

It is amazing how quickly kids switch cultural identify. Well, if like me, you believe that “language is culture”, that’s what I am talking about. Last summer we returned to the US, after three-and-a-half years globetrotting. We left the US immediately following my child’s first birthday, for a much deserved break and scholarly experience around the world.
About last Fall, I noticed my child’s accent changing, become less  “Ugandan” and more “American”. My friends did not help me feel better; they said it would be gone by December. I felt a ‘teeny weeny sadness’, at the thought that my son would no longer “be a Ugandan” with ‘the brand’ accent gone. Alas! I have not been good at making the accent stay! I did not realize how tough it is to teach a child another language in another country with a predominant language. Especially with my multi-national child: African [by ancestry] and American [by birth and ancestry].
Power to parents who succeed at nurturing multi-lingual/multi-national children. Sadly, not many of us Africans are good at keeping children fluent in our first languages, especially when born or raised abroad, but even when born and resident in our own countries to same nationals or foreigners. We get into the stupid “western culture superiority” complex, and deny our children a chance to become fluent in our Africans languages, arguably because ‘they will not develop’ or ‘compete in the globalized world’. Forgetting that we were born and raised speaking our mother tongue, or of parents who spoke our mother tongue.
Yet, many like me, become surprised that our children are ‘losing our culture’ or are becoming culturally distant and lost! I am always shocked when talking to my child, that recollection of our time spent in Uganda are not forthcoming! At times, he cannot even remember part of my family, the playmates he had, we had bathrooms or a kitchen, or that we ate food similar to what we have here in America. The worst, but without blame, he does not remember that we lived in South Africa (before Uganda) during the last couple of years abroad.
So, I decided to give him a “Lesson about South Africa” while we were at our local library recently. I pulled out a book, “South Africa by Pat Ryan”, which talked about how “Africans lived happily” [of course there is an element of romanticization typical of a western writers about Africa]. Then white folks came to South Africa and began fighting with the blacks, took their land, culminating in a system of “Apartheid”, where whites lived, worked, played segregated from blacks.  Black people became poorer than whites, lived in terrible housing, and could not shop in the same places as whites. I showed him the grass thatched huts where black people lived, and still live in the countryside; he thought they were “Weird”.  [btw, thanks to this young man, my love for the word “weird” no more!]; I showed him clothing of f the black people made with beads, which was strange, as well as the men racing on Ostriches. That made him laugh so hard! Well, at least he laughed; which means he learned something, right?
We discussed the book after reading, and I asked him what he had learned from the book. He told me that “brown” [not “black”] people were poor, while white people were rich. “Why did he swooped “black” with “brown”?” I asked him. He said, “Black is like darkness, when you cannot see properly or like the black shoes. But the people in the book were not black; they were brown.” I asked him, whether he knew of any black people, and he said, “I am black.”[ If you know my son, he is not “black like darkness”.] Surprising to me, since he has thought of himself as white, until our conversation not to long ago, about “black-and-white” in America’s racial conception.
Kids are smart ‘cultural whores’; telling it as it is, using their wit to make sense of nonsensical labels. To him identity is defined by color not the labeled per race. He sees brown, chocolate, and pink, He has protested before when I said his playmate “C”, classmates “M” and “S” are white, because “they do not look as white as paper,” he said. For now, he has accepted that label, since the conversation with mom following a class reading about Martin Luther King Jr.
Anyway, happy to inspire a young generation of thinkers, readers and critics. We hope that the reality of his eyes is followed by the reality of race relations when he comes of age. I hope he does not become a victim of racial profiling and racial injustice blatantly metted out against black folks in America, particularly our young black males. I think I am doing all I can to keep him openminded, culturally international in thoughts, ideas and experiences, and innocent to the brutality of life. Yes, I do agree to myself sometimes that “Ignorance is Bliss”!
Still, as a parent of a young black male growing up in America, particularly suburbia America, I worry very often whether this country will allow him to live and grow up without the preconceived injustices? Will he still be that “cute boy” at 12, 13, 14, free to skate around the neighborhood without anybody calling the police on him? Or would he be a sense of uncomfortable curiosity, that even the neighborhood dogs bark uncontrollable at him, just like they do with me. Would he still comfortably ware his jacket or sweatshirt hood over his head? Or walk in the neighborhood without an encounter from nasty neighbors. I believe this is the beginning of a lifelong education about the American culture, that he so innocently takes on as part of him, but that one day, he will fully recognize that it labels him [in fact labeled him since childhood], as a person to be feared, dreaded and be monitored all the time! Perhaps then, he won’t have as much luxury to ‘whore up’ this American culture, and would have to find another geographical and culture to experience and become a part of….?