Take a Look. It’s in a book.*

I earned two degrees of higher education, and when I say earned, y’all I sweated for six years for those coupons that hang on the wall of my office. I would ball up into a study cocoon with ridiculously large headphones in the study room of D2C, the basement of SWEM Library, classrooms in Morton and in my grad school home at #2 Fraternity Row where I did a surprising amount of writing papers and reading stacks on stacks of articles and books.

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I take for granted all of the material that I was strongly encouraged to read during those years. I chose to be a Sociology major so I spent a great deal of time, in community with others, looking at the world through the lens of various social identities. I then went to a grad program that greatly valued diversity & inclusion which means I spent time digging even deeper into the Big 8. I had amazing professors and though I didn’t always enjoy those pages and pages of syllabi, I am now grateful for the depth and the challenge of my classroom education.

As I scroll through social media, watch the news,  and experience the viewpoints of others, I am constantly amazed at the level of ignorance people have when it comes to race and ethnicity in America. There’s so much well-intentioned, “I didn’t know.” “I wasn’t exposed to that.” “I’m colorblind.”  “We didn’t talk about this in my home or school.” “I didn’t grow up with people who are different from me.” “My parents/family members instilled these beliefs in me.”  I don’t want to harp on that because there’s a whole lot of things I don’t know about many identities. We’ve all got our bubble of truth. However, what I think we all need in this world is the gumption to go beyond our often over forgiven excuses of truth.

If you truly care and you want to know more and be an active part of creating a better environment for all people, then it would be helpful if you used your Google finger to lead you to material that will aid you in ways that will create internal growth and change.  Texts that can serve as a medium that will help you stock your toolkit with answers to the questions that are marinating in your head. This foundation will also help you start a conversation with someone in your life who’s open to chatting about the hard stuff — you know, the stuff you were probably told not to talk about at the dinner table.

Oftentime, we cite fear as being the reason that we don’t move towards learning and engagement. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “I don’t want to be called a racist.” The question becomes, do you care enough to face your fear? Ignorance isn’t bad, it just means that you don’t know and we all need to support each other in the fight to alleviate ignorance. This should be a collective goal, which is probably why I am passionate about my role as an educator.

If you do your homework, then I, as a person of color,  will feel as if you have an investment in our dialogue and therefore I’m more than willing to chat it up until we have somewhere else to be, but when people come to me at ground zero, after they just finished Googling how to catch a Pokemon, who JoJo sent home on the Bachelorette,  the latest on the Kim K, T.Swift, Kanye drama, or how to change the oil in their Toyota, then I really can’t be bothered. Because, in this day and age, when you want to know something, you look it up with a quickness. Be mindful that you have the same ability when it comes to race and ethnicity. Your “I don’t know.” has become a choice. Now you must deal with the consequences.

I didn’t have everything figured out about my racial identity when I entered the College of William & Mary in 2001. I had a lot of hang ups about my Blackness, my skintone, my not so great relationships with many of my African-American peers in high school, the constant state of being called an “Oreo” or being told that I “act like a white girl”. I was done with trying to fit into some mold of blackness that didn’t feel natural to me. I read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison repeatedly. My Sociology classes and all of those unicorn professors helped me figure it out and not only did we have the best class conversations, but they gave me SO MUCH STUFF TO READ. I don’t think we could Google back in those days.

Your teachers never just told you the answers, you had a role to play in obtaining your education. Why would this be any different?

If you are wondering what you can do in these precarious times, if you have questions, if you’re just curious, then feed your mind. I don’t mind a good conversation but, I am not every black person–I can only tell you my truth.  Ahem! Newsflash! This stuff is tiring and emotional. It’s exhausting to be the Encyclopedia of Blackness.  To help me, help you, you’re going to have to help yourself.

In order to assist you on your journey, I made a list of some of those key texts that I read in college and graduate school. I also included a group of links below to curated book lists. I’m not going to lie, this stuff is heavy,  and I remember having my mind blown while reading some of these texts as an 18-22 year old.

History is taught differently depending on where you live. I grew up in Virginia, a southern former member of the Confederacy state,  45 minutes from Colonial Williamsburg, with Jamestown and Yorktown in close proximity, and a huge military presence, so there was a great deal of emphasis on the origin story of our country.  I had to learn, not until college,  that history books glossed over and lied about many things.

Q: Whose truth gets told?

A: The truth of those in power. “Until the lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter.”

It’s difficult to live from a place of awareness and knowledge when the institutions you’ve trusted with your education aren’t providing you with various versions of the truth or lying by omission.

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Gain some new perspective. Evaluate new truths. Refine your truth. Read for you and read for those you care about in this world. You owe it to your potential. Reflect on the versions of truth that have guided your life and be open to disruption. Be open to the dissonance that occurs when you dig deep into a new space. THEN, ask the questions festering in your mind. Those questions are simply waiting…waiting for you to gather the courage to ask.

Happy Reading!

 

Vanderbilt’s Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence created an entire diversity toolkit here: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/iicc/resources/diversity/

*Reading Rainbow was just EVERYTHING!

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Music City Dreams

As I was watching The Head & The Heart be amazing at Ryman Auditorium a few nights ago, I realized why I’m deeply in love with Nashville, TN.

Middle school was an interesting time for me, in many ways, including when it came to my taste in music and how that intersected with my racial identity. I’d been introduced to country music during summer camp and around that same time my mom invested in cable television which meant my brother and I had full access to MTV, CMT, and VH1. Not to mention all of the shows about music including those that aired on FX when it was a cool and new network. I can thank FX for introducing me to Sheryl Crow. I remember the moment when “All I Wanna Do” lit up my TV screen. I was a goner. However, where I’m from, country music and Sheryl Crow were not on regular rotation in the African American community.

Up until then I’d only really been exposed to R&B, Hip Hop, and Gospel music. We shopped for our music at DJ’s Records and Tapes for years until my exploration led us to the mall or Wal-Mart for those things that weren’t really ever going to grace the shelves of an urban music store. There was no way that Faith Hill was going to be on those often browsed shelves and I was sure to get a look of shock and perhaps horror if I requested sweet Faith from one of the store clerks.

Country music was changing and women like Shania, Faith, Jessica, and Leann were running the show. I was obsessed with SheDaisy, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Deanna Carter, Chely Wright, The Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, and Gary Allan, etc. I could watch CMT ALL DAY LONG! When Faith Hill told her story about being discovered at the Bluebird Cafe (a place I thought I’d never see) and that she was adopted from MS who grew up wishing that she was black, you could have literally poked me with a hot fork and I wouldn’t have moved.

On top of that, MTV had No Doubt, Alanis Morrissette, Tracey Bonham, Bush, Lit, The Cranberrries, Smashing Pumpkins, The Goo Goo Dolls, Barenaked Ladies, Smashmouth, Sublime, 311, Jason Mraz, and all of these other artists that were completely new to me. Gosh, Aerosmith had this resurgence with Alicia Silverstone as their mascot, and Nirvana confirmed the inner turmoil that I never shared with a soul.

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I consumed music and tried to balance all of my tastes and make sure that I knew what was important for me to know as a teenage African American and still cling to loving all of the other ear candy that was pouring out of my TV. I remember the nervousness I had when I asked my mom if I could buy the new Fiona Apple CD. When we had to go to a mall 2 cities over to get the one copy of Nikka Costa they had on the shelf and the appreciation on the clerk’s face when I walked in the store after only speaking to him on the phone to request he hold it for me. I had to be careful about how into a song I appeared to be if it wasn’t deemed “black enough” by my friends. However, Britney, NSYNC, BSB, Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees, BBMak, SClub7, and the Spice Girls were the friends I actually wanted.

Most of my friends didn’t like what I liked and they didn’t care to try. I bopped about in my room and felt all the feels while collecting a CD collection that was eventually stolen in college. I learned what the word eclectic meant and I was thrilled to understand my newfound condition. I just wanted to hear things that sounded good and I wanted to care about the lyrics more than ever before. Music finally connected with my feelings and I needed a steady stream of it to get me through the day.

While all of this exploration was going on, I still loved my roots and when my family wanted to reward us by taking us to a concert, it was always of the R&B and Hip Hop variety. I’ve seen every iteration of Destiny’s Child, Boyz II Men, New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe, Janet Jackson, Blackstreet, M.C. Hammer, and probably lots of folks that I’ve forgotten BUT I always knew that no one was ever going to take me to Trisha Yearwood, K’s Choice, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Matchbox Twenty, or Natalie Imbruglia. I accepted that and created my own little music world that I’d escape to as often as possible.

But now, at 31, I can be one of those people that “goes to shows” and I can see any band I want when they come to town. I can be 1 of maybe 5 black people in Ryman Auditorium for The Head & The Heart, Mumford & Sons, and The Civil Wars. I can buy spur of the moment tickets to The Black Keys, I can finally see Fiona Apple in concert, and I can go to a 90’s cover band concert and sing all of my faves at the top of my lungs. I can buy tickets to CMAFEST and cover myself in four nights of country music.  I can finally live my music life out loud.

I’m no longer worried about my race and risking ostracism if my peers think that I’m “acting white” because of what’s I have on my Spotify. Who gives a poop? I can freely say that 99% of rap music is crap. I ACTUALLY met Martina McBride! Nashville has allowed me to engage with music in ways I never thought I’d be able to during my life. Bonnaroo is 1.5 hours away from the city. There is music literally coming out of the streets and I could go to a concert every night if my bank account allowed me to.

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Nothing makes my heart beat like good music. My overall sense of wellness and productivity rides on what’s floating out of my car and computer. I’m fulfilling all of  my 13 year old musical dreams by residing in this city and the feeling of my dreams coming true has bound me to this place in a way that I’ll never forget and probably will never be able to replicate.

Music City fulfilled its moniker in my life. It released me in a way that I still didn’t even know I was holding on to. I guess there are many ways, including musically, to grow comfortable in your skin. I salute you Nashville.

Now, back to the Punch Brothers.

Thanks for reading, y’all.