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DIAMONDS & DUST: Succumbing To Pressure You Put On Yourself

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I had to do something really uncomfortable the other day. I had to sit down with someone I really cared about, look them in the eye, and tell them, “Hey. You’ve really gotta cut the bullsh*t and get it together.” I knew this person was avoiding the conversation, and I knew they didn’t really want to hear it, but it had to be said.

That person on the receiving end of this reality check was me.

Though I’ve maintained a steely exterior, fault lines have been forming below the surface for some time now. I’m always reminded that diamonds form under pressure, but I’m quick to note that things crumble under it too. I always err on the side of being sparkly, beautiful, and conflict-free, but I finally had to admit that if the products of pressure were laid out like a fork in the road, things were actually heading down a dire path.

I’m a true Taurus in that change is very difficult for me. Becoming a mom, physical fluctuations, moving and becoming a homeowner, leaving my 9-5, having more time for passions, having some passions lose their lustre and turn into burdens – things have changed so much that sometimes I look in the mirror and have a hard time recognizing myself. Being a chronic overachiever, self-critic, and overthinker do nothing to help with my identity shift, either.

I see now that there are things I’ve done, things I’ve agreed to, more for the purpose of proving I could do them than actually wanting to do them. I’ve tried to hold on to parts of life that were familiar, and I’ve tried to mold something magnificent with these new compartments – but the way I feel much of the time shows me that I’ve gone about it all wrong. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve done a good job of internally dealing with all these changes, and I’ve been using external things to pretend like I have.

How common is it to hop, skip, and jump over things that need to be addressed by just layering something else on top of it? Sometimes retail therapy is my chosen cloak of oblivion. Sometimes I get very vain and focus wholly on the external – feeling “together” if the outside is shiny, painted, and pretty. Other times – like now – I get high on achievement and doing things. Doing things keeps my mind busy. Gives me something goal-oriented to focus on. Lets me know people still value me when they ask me to be somewhere/do something. Achievement and accomplishment get a bit addictive, especially when someone even slightly insinuates that there’s something I can’t do. So instead of taking a break, checking in with myself, and giving myself time to adjust to everything swirling around me, I’ve been pushing through, masking my insecurities and poor adjustment skills with doing more and more.

I sat down with myself the other day and said, “Self, this cannot continue.” I had heard it from those near and dear to me, but didn’t take it to heart until I said it to myself. It’s time to assess why I do the things I do, what I may be missing in the constant noise, and how I’m going to proceed. I’ve only gotten as far as that conversation with myself and this blog post, so I have some work to do.

Sometimes the hardest conversations are the ones we have with ourselves. I believe that they’re also the most transformative ones, so here’s to being real, being honest, and coming out as a more balanced and well-adjusted person on the other side.

WISH/CREATE: Why I Created #MirrorImages Ft. Black Canadian Women In Media

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There’s nothing more liberating – and frightening – than deciding to create instead of wait.

Let me explain.

I tend to get myself into trouble (good trouble) when I open my mouth or mind and say “I wish…” I’m usually wishing to see something, do something, have something, or visit somewhere. And I’m usually waiting for someone else to do the leg work in order to grant me my wish.

Lately, I’ve taken a bit more of a proactive approach to making my wishes come true in two big ways.

One day, I openly lamented the scantiness of parenting blogs run by non-White moms and dads in Canada. The next day, I stayed up til 5am buying domains, picking themes, setting up emails and social media accounts, and writing posts for The Brown Suga Mama.

One day, I read a piece about natural hair in the eyes of Canadian media from one woman’s perspective, and openly wished to attend an event featuring Black Canadian women in the industry. Two hours later, Mirror Images: Conversations On Diversity & Representation In Media was born.

The presence of Black women in media has been a major talking point of late. Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, black-ish, Suits, and Sleepy Hollow frequently come up in discussion, opposing the images of Black women offered via reality show vehicles. Here in Canada, the recent Globe and Mail gaffe mixing up Traci Melchor and Tracy Moore led to discussions on the cross-race effect, or other-race bias. Arisa Cox’s earlier-mentioned piece on being ordered to straighten her natural hair (and her decision to quit instead) was the final catalyst to the creation of Mirror Images. These points and more inspired me to forge a space to have an authentic conversation about the issues around diversity and representation in media, particularly from the perspective of Black Canadian women.

I find that the majority of conversations I engage in around race and media come from an American lens. Having those kinds of discussions here in Canada seems rare, but is not something we should be shying from. As I’ve said before, Canada’s PR team is GOLDEN – we often snuggle under our cozy blanket of multiculturalism, but far too often we pull that blanket over our heads and refuse to discuss the nuances of that multiculturalism in various contexts. I’m hoping that Mirror Images will help us to pull that blanket down and bring light to a variety of issues from a Canadian perspective – this is a conversation that EVERYONE needs to be a part of.

I have an incredible panel line up:

Tatiana King: Radio Personality, G 98.7FM’s “The African Groove Show”
Arisa Cox: Freelance Journalist & Host of Big Brother Canada
Kim Johnson: Producer, CityNews
Nneka Elliott: Reporter/Anchor/Co-host, CP24 Breakfast
Ingrie Williams: Stylist & Editor of HOLR Magazine
Namugenyi Kiwanuka: Columnist & Videographer

These women are all representing various arms of Canadian media, and will all bring rich perspectives and experiences to the table. With these women, I hope to foster an important discussion and allow room for new connections to be made. If you’re in the media industry, aim to be, create content, or consume media, this event is for you. Mirror Images sponsors Harlem Restaurant, R Flavour, Soulafrodisiac, and Caribbean Vibrations TV all believe in the vision of the event, and the support has been amazing. Like I said at the start of this post, creating the things you wish for is liberating yet frightening – but genuine support helps to alleviate some of those jitters.

I’m hoping you’ll be able to show support as well – if you’re in the Toronto area, please join us for Mirror Images: Conversations On Diversity & Representation In Media on Sunday, October 26th from 1:30-5pm at Harlem Restaurant (67 Richmond Street East)! Tickets are $10 and available here on Brown Paper Tickets.

Mara Brock Akil’s acceptance speech at the 2013 Black Girls Rock award show has stuck with me since I first heard it. She stated “My work is driven by my belief that the human spirit needs validation,” and continued to let us know, “Even if no one else sees you, I see you.” With Mirror Images, I want us to be seen, to be heard, to be validated, and to be respected. That’s what I wish for.

FEMININE FOUNDATION: Lessons From My Mother’s Room

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about womanhood and my understanding and expression of it. I recently wrote a piece about how my Caribbean heritage played a role in my development from girl to woman, and a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of another way in which my womanhood was molded – by visiting the sacred space known as my mother’s bedroom.

Someone on Twitter threw a question out to the timeline the other day – “How old were you when you realized your mom was fly?” I couldn’t remember the exact age, but I recalled being in Jamaica one night when my parents were prepping for a night out on the town. I remember sitting on the bed watching my mom in the mirror, painting her lips red while fixing her curls. She wore a pretty gold dress and slipped her feet into black pumps before floating out the door in a cloud of perfume, and I swore she was magic. After that moment, I loved being able to sit in my mom’s room and soak up all things grown woman (cue Beyoncé).

My closet was full of little girl clothes, and my drawers filled with little girl undershirts and underwear. My toiletries were pink and purple bottles, marked with cartoon princesses and other accoutrements that signified my youth. My “nail polishes” and “lipsticks” were kid-friendly lacquers that didn’t compare to the real thing, and I knew it. And everything was plastic. Plastic could be cleaned, could drop without shattering, could be refilled when the familiar wheezing sound alerted us to its emptiness. Plastic wasn’t precious.

Meanwhile, everything in my mom’s room had a presence that demanded respect and the utmost care. Waxy lipsticks in rich reds and deep burgundies. Clothes that shimmered, that exposed brown legs and décolletage. Satiny, silky, lacy undergarments folded carefully in drawers. Shoes that my feet swam in, but that pumped me up a few inches when I slid them on. Jeweled hair clips and glass perfume bottles with vintage atomizers glittered on her dresser, and everything begged to be touched. Some of the most fun I had in my childhood was the time spent in my mom’s room, getting lost in her take on beauty and womanhood, and daydreaming about what my own expressions of the same would look like. My childish trinkets weren’t enough for me, and I couldn’t wait for the chance to be a grown woman just like her.

Well, I’m gettin’ grown now and I’m my own woman. Like my mom, a good red lip and black eyeliner are among my beauty staples. I appreciate the power of a hypnotic fragrance, and agree that some of the best fashion statements are made in the small details. Unlike her, my hair and earrings can never be too big. My style isn’t as refined and classic as hers, and we have differing boundaries on what’s ‘too sexy’. She gave me the starting point with which to build my foundations of femininity and womanhood – but even more importantly, she gave me the freedom to develop into the kind of woman I wanted to be.

Time is a funny thing. It can crunch years into a tight coil, making a decade ago feel like a day ago – or, it can take the span of a month and stretch it into what seems like forever. Now that I have my own daughter, I wonder what lessons she’ll learn from nosing around my dressers and closets – and it feels a bit surreal that history is already repeating itself. No matter how much I may be solidifying my own definitions of beauty, femininity, and womanhood, there’s nothing like tiptoeing into Mom’s room and running my finger along her dresser to make me feel like a little girl again.

DON’T BOW DOWN: Thoughts Inspired By Michael Brown & Ferguson

via Cleveland.com

via Cleveland.com

It hurts to say this, but I had a moment last week where I looked at my daughter and wondered, “What did I do? This might have been a mistake.”

Not because I regret her presence. Not because I think I’m a terrible mother (well, I have had those thoughts, but that’s another #BROWNSUGAMAMA post for another day). No, I looked at my daughter’s face as she slept and wondered if I made a selfish mistake to bring her into this world, because I wonder what “surviving while Black” will look like for her. In the case of Michael Brown, John Crawford, Renisha McBride and so many others, it’s quite clear that there is still a critical struggle to see the value in Black lives.

I’ve been glued to all things #MikeBrown and #Ferguson since the news started trickling down – then flooding –  my Twitter timeline on August 9th. The fact of the matter is this: Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old, was shot multiple times and murdered by Darren Wilson, a White cop in Ferguson, Missouri.

Both victim and killer are gone.

One is waiting to be laid to rest after laying in the street for hours post-shooting, after enduring autopsy after autopsy, after using science to shed light on the truths his body holds.

The other has seemingly vanished behind a protective wall of blue, on paid leave while receiving over $100,000 in GoFundMe donations from other police officers, bigots, and racists alike.

Through it all – the mishandling of Brown’s body, the attempts to assassinate his character, the lies told by Wilson and the police department, the treatment of protesters in Ferguson, the mixed messages between mainstream and independent media, and the brazen boldness of racists with internet access – I’m not sure how anyone can cling to the claims of living in a post-racial society. If the jig was ever present, it is now up.

It seems that when Black bodies aren’t being seen as curiosities to be prodded and examined, they’re being seen as threats to be exterminated. Some remain under the belief that respectability politics around pulling up our pants and not dressing like “thugs” and “hoes” will save us, but that negates the fact that Blacks have been harrassed, attacked, beaten, lynched, and shot wearing their Sunday best for decades. Others say well-intentioned yet erroneous statements like “I don’t see colour” or “We’re all just one race” when neither colour nor race is the issue. The beauty in our differences gets marred by the ugliness of bigotry and racism – and it’s that evil that is the real enemy. Do I want to be colourless and melt into one overarching race? No. Do I want to be respected as the brownskinned Black Canadian woman of Jamaican descent that I am? Yes. Frankly, you’ve got me f*cked up if the only way I can earn my humanity is to erase any flavour of individuality that has been handed down to me by my ancestors.

I’m tired of feeling like I have two strikes against me as a Black woman, and I’ll be damned if I allow my daughter to feel the same. I’m tired of worrying about my husband, my brother, my father – living/working both in Canada and in the States, being harassed by police both in Canada and in the States, being feared and having to prove their humanity both in Canada and in the States. I’m tired of snatching the rose-coloured glasses off of people who think we live in a utopia; who think that racism will disappear when victims of racism stop talking about the abuse they experience at the hands of racists. I’m tired of people demanding perfection from Black folk – a perfection that is killing some of us in attempts to attain it, and finding many of us dead in spite of it. I’m tired of deceased Black men and women being put to trial for their own murders, being convicted with harsher penalty than the real criminals. I’m tired of helplessly mourning lives taken by cowards who hold the weapons yet play the victim when face-to-face with skin darker than theirs. I’m tired of being tired and refuse to bow out of the fight. Joining the ranks of Black motherhood in this day and age requires a new burst of energy to protect my child and initiate as much change as possible to make her world a bit better, more liveable, more survivable.

Michael Brown’s death will not be in vain. The mobilization and consciousness around the realities of what’s happening will undoubtedly lead to some level of change. A conviction in his murder? The end of racism? That, I don’t know and highly doubt. But some change is coming. I feel it.

My daughter’s life is not a mistake. The enemy will not take my happiness, as was attempted months ago during my pregnancy. Walking down the street, I had an encounter where I was pushed and called “a n*gger with a n*gger baby” by an Asian couple. I will not fear the decision to bring her here, and will teach her to be fearless and unapologetic in her expression of self.

Not sure what more I can say. Rest in peace, Michael. Stay encouraged, residents of Ferguson. Citizens of the world, I’m praying for us all.

RACE IN CANADA: Where American Media Went Wrong With Justin Bieber

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Being a Canadian blogger/writer with a majority American readership, I sometimes struggle to balance topics that I’m genuinely passionate about with those that will resonate with the lovely people who read my words.

I feel at times that the voices and experiences of Black Canadians get lost in the roar of our cousins to the south. Working to uncover our own histories and cementing our own identities is hard enough – we’re either sucked into the cultural vortex (i.e., being called “African-American” by Whites, which they think is PC but we know is geographically incorrect), or our experiences are negated because we live in ‘Canada’ – a land whose name has apparently come to mean “blessed nirvana where social ills cease to exist.”

The latter was all too apparent this week, as Justin Bieber – or La Bieba, as I like to call him – was seen on two leaked tapes (the first, and the second) dating 5-6 years in the past, referencing “niggers” and singing about joining the KKK.

Rocsi Diaz (of Entertainment Tonight) said that La Bieba “didn’t know better because he’s Canadian,” and granted him a pass.

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Whoopi Goldberg (of The View) tweeted that “Canada didn’t have the same history” with the word as America, and granted him a pass.

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Don Lemon (of CNN) wrote about his soul-burning question – “Are we to blame?” (before editing the original title) – asking if African-Americans and AA culture was the cause of La Bieba’s ignorance, and gave him a pass.

If it wasn’t enraging enough that these media figures were finding ways to paint La Bieba as a poor victim of circumstance or an unaware patsy, they did it while simultaneously minimizing or ignoring what I feel is the true grievance – the prevalence of racism in Canada.

Allow me to enlighten you all in simple terms.

I am a Black woman.

I was born and raised, and still live in Canada.

I spent my first 23 years of life in a small town very close to the smaller town La Bieba is from.

And lastly – get ready to clutch your pearls – racism is alive in Canada. Don’t let our Olivia Pope-level (seasons 1 & 2, not 3) PR fool you.

Covert and overt racism exist here. From being hit with bananas thrown at me from passing cars as I walked to school, to having teachers keep me separate from classmates because their parents didn’t want us fraternizing, to being followed in stores like a thief or outright ignored due to my perceived lack of finances, to most recently when my physical space was violated and both myself and my unborn child were called niggers – I’d love the Rocsis and Whoopis of the world to recognize our reality.

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Visiting my father’s friends – migrant farm workers – who lived in the country surrounding my and Justin’s hometowns, I distinctly recall having to leave before sundown to avoid “trouble.” Ku Klux Klan activity was known and accepted around my town, and it was commonplace to hear young White children holler “Nigger!” from their front yards as Blacks passed by, to the delight and pride of their parents. I see La Bieba in the same light as these children from my past – absorbing learned behaviours and sustaining those lessons as they move through life. To the Don Lemons of the world, please understand that for many of these children, hip hop and African-American culture were not their introduction to racist terms. The red carpet to that entranceway was rolled out by families and communities who instilled in them the ideologies of racism, White privilege, and Black inferiority, long before a sing-along to Jigga My Nigga or connections with YMCMB gave them any level of permission.

Canada’s spectacular PR team laid out the most delicious of cookies and Kool-Aid, and people like Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don took the bait. Canada is not populated by unsuspecting yokels who sing Kumbaya with their multicultural neighbours. Canada is not a place lacking in its own ugly, painful history (and present, to be honest) of disastrous race relations. Canada is not an idyllic oasis that can solely blame the American influence for the soils and stains on its pristine image. Canada is a place where the intent and emotional effect of hurling racial slurs is the same as it is in America, and it is a place where there is no room for the excuse, “He didn’t know any better.”

To Rocsi, Whoopi, and Don: I hope this helps straighten things out.

Signed,

Your neighbour to the north

THE GAP: Where Are The Black Canadian Mommy Bloggers?

Photo via Huffington Post

Photo via Huffington Post

With Little Magician about to make his or her grand entrance in just a few weeks (where the hell did time go?), I’ve been spending more time online – getting info on Braxton Hicks contractions, finding prenatal yoga videos on YouTube, and sticking my toe into the unfamiliar waters of mommy blogging. Up until now, reading parenting blogs was done with an air of general interest and curiosity, but these days I find myself more drawn to the words and experiences of other moms in the digital sphere.

Sites like My Brown Baby, Mater Mea, Baby And Blog, and Black And Married With Kids have given me awesome insight to the complexities of modern African-American parenthood – but that’s part of my current conundrum. I’m not African-American.

Searching for parenting blogs by Black Canadians has been extremely difficult. On lists like Savvy Mom’s 75 Most Influential Canadian Mom Blogs, Yummy Mummy Club’s 24 Mom Blogs You Should Be Reading, and Reader’s Digest’s list of Canada’s Top 10 Mommy Bloggers, I could only readily identify 2 blogs by Black moms – Peg City Lovely and Globetrotting Mama. I haz a sad.

Visiting the aforementioned African-American blogs often makes me feel like I’m at a summer BBQ with the people who “get” me – those Black moms (and dads) who are navigating the ups and downs of raising Black children in today’s world. However, every once in a while, a post here or there will remind me that I don’t quite fit – like that distant cousin who brings the questionable potato salad to the festivities. Simply put, the African-American experience doesn’t always resonate with my African-Canadian one, and I yearn to balance that with digital offerings this side of the border. That’s proving to be quite difficult, though.

I attended a Canadian blogging conference a year and a half ago, and found that mommy bloggers rule the world up here. I met one Chinese-Canadian mommy blogger and one Sri Lankan-Canadian mommy blogger, but aside from them, the rest were White. Now, I know that that was just my finding at one random conference, but Google searches and requests for referrals from others have yielded very similar results.

Where are the Black Canadian mommy bloggers? Where are the mommy bloggers to discuss how provincial government cuts affect the statistics around Black children and education? Where are the mommy bloggers that have the scoop on cultural programs and events in the city? Where are the mommy bloggers who’ll write about the first time they introduced their babies to cornmeal porridge, yam and fried dumplin? I understand and acknowledge that there are a multitude of motherhood topics that transcend race, but damn – sometimes I want to read about the experiences of parents who more closely share my cultural identity.

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I was having a conversation about this with another mother of colour, and she stated that she’d love to start a mommy blog, but wanted it to be just that – a mommy blog, not a Black Canadian mommy blog. Concerns about alienating potential readers and brand partnerships were at the top of her list – “You’ve got to be careful not to make things too Black up here – I don’t know if people are ready for that,” she said. My response was, “What is ‘too Black’? And how will people ‘get ready’ for us if we don’t make our presence known?” Similarly to people who think that racism will go away when Black people stop talking about race, I feel that Canadians think we’ll truly embody our happy multicultural identity when we stop drawing so much overt attention to our multiculturalism. I could go down a rabbit hole on thoughts around diversity, representation, appealing to the mainstream, access to business partnerships and much more (both within and outside of the digital sphere), but I’ll hold off – for now. All I know is, if I can visit a Canadian mommy blog and be intrigued by a kids’ DIY featuring a Scottish family crest and tartan, why can’t someone visit another Canadian mommy blog and be intrigued by a recipe for a healthy kids’ snack using ackee and saltfish? As a Black Canadian woman, I’m inspired by things totally unrelated to my culture all the time. We do ourselves a disservice when we place a label of normalcy on one cultural offering, and assume that our offering is too different to be accepted – leading us to seek acceptance by assimilation. You (yes, you, reader!) may disagree with me, but I don’t think that should be the blueprint. And if I choose do go down that mommy blogger road, I don’t think it’ll be mine.

Ah, yes. If I choose to go down that mommy blogger road. While searching the web for that particular blog niche, a familiar voice popped up in the back of my head saying, “Be the thing you’re looking for.” Many of the goals I’ve accomplished and risks I’ve taken have all happened because I started out wondering when someone else was going to do them – and this mommy blogger thing might be the next task on that list. Now, I haven’t fully committed myself to the idea or conceptualized what it may look like, but I do know that the best things come to me when I identify a gap and fill it myself. As ’83 To Infinity is already my digital comfy couch, it’s a given that I’ll be posting about the journeys with my Little Magician from time to time – but how far do I want to take it? Until I figure that out, I’ll continue to dabble in the digital offerings on both sides of the border and beyond, and see what other mommies have to say. I’m sure I’ll add my own voice in my own way soon enough.

Who are your favourite mommy/parenting blogs? I’d love to check them out! 

COZY BLANKETS: The Curious Connection Between Baby Girls & Our Comfort With Misogyny

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So, I’m rounding the final curve of this pregnancy run, and the experience thus far has been extremely positive. It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park, but I think I’ve handled the changes much better than I ever expected I would. In about 9 weeks, I’ll finally be able to answer the question that so many people seem so fixated on:

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

Interestingly enough, quite a number of people have no qualms about following up with “I hope it’s a boy – girls are (insert negative attribute here).” If there’s one thing that pregnancy has opened my eyes to, it’s been the ways in which we “innocently” uphold misogyny in 2014.

I can’t help but feel that we set our girls up to fail before they even take their first breath. While many mothers playfully ascribe to the old wives’ tale that ‘girls steal your beauty,’ I often hear a bit too much bitter disdain in the voices of moms who believe the statement. On some level, no matter how minute – baby girls suddenly become the enemy. Catch me on a good day, and I’ll undoubtedly hear the commentary that I must be having a boy – that glow! that hair! – eliminating any threat that a baby girl would pose to my vanity.

Aside from the patriarchal messaging around boys being better protectors and having the power to maintain the family name, people seem quite comfortable with embracing misogyny – consciously or unconsciously.

“Girls are always spoiled – they’re too much trouble.”

“Girls these days are too fast.”

“Trust me – you don’t want no girl bringing home no babies in high school!”

Whatever the statement, we suddenly blame girls for qualities that we place upon them; circumstances that are far too often misconstrued by adult assumption; situations that require the equal participation of someone’s son, but places sole blame on someone’s daughter. Let some people tell it, my potential daughter will come into this world naturally primed to be a spoiled, promiscuous slut – but of course, no one means it that way, right?

Curiously, the majority of people I find making these kinds of comments are other women. As women, we somewhat curse ourselves when we curse our baby girls, don’t we? Perhaps we’ve been blamed, chided, knocked down a peg. Perhaps we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that this is just the way things are. Perhaps in some strange way, we feel we’re preparing our girls for a world that largely works against them by speaking these things over them. All this tells me is that patriarchy and misogyny have become such cozy blankets that we don’t realize when we’re suffocating under them.

From the comfort of our homes in the Western world, we often sip iced tea on our front porches and suck our teeth at the barbaric behavior of our neighbors over there. Girls aborted, abandoned, abducted, raped, and killed – and we wonder, how can people treat precious children that way? How can they not see their worth? While my experiences here in Toronto may not reflect the brutal realities that girls and women face in other parts of the world, I often wonder the same: when we speak negatively about our baby girls, when we burden them before they’re born, when we accept their position as second-class citizens and perpetuate the notion without question – how can we treat precious children that way? How can we not see their worth?

To the friends, elders, and complete strangers who have expressed some level of concern with the possibility of Little Magician being born female, know these two things. One: raising ANY child (especially a child of colour) today comes with challenges that we’ll have to weather, regardless of said child’s sex. Boys and girls have their unique lessons and obstacles, but as a first-time mom, I hardly look at either being easier than the other. Two: as a proud woman who was an awesome little girl, I won’t be complicit in negating my existence by cosigning your misogyny. Wake up, throw off those cozy blankets, and realize that upholding misogynistic and patriarchal ideals stifles both our girls and boys. Deconstruct, unlearn, and let’s help them to flourish, not fail.

TRAVELLING GAL: Journeying To Face Fear [+ Hot Event Giveaway]

Bee-Chimamanda quote
I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Over the last year and a bit, I’ve been doing a lot of travelling. Not necessarily the kind of travelling that finds me packing bags and booking flights and arriving to stretch my limbs on the soils of new lands, but the kind of travel Chimamanda spoke about. I’ve made a concerted effort to face a number of my fears, and I’m proud that say that that journey has afforded me the ability to return home and find myself – a new and improved version – there.

One of the biggest fears I’ve had to overcome has been my fear of public speaking, and within that, my fear of voicing my opinion. Though I went to a performing arts school in my childhood, I rarely felt comfortable with the spotlight on me. I preferred to express my art in quieter ways, so writing and visual art became my close confidants. As I’ve mentioned time and time again on this blog and in other spheres, I’ve always loved writing – but I think writing became a crutch for me to express myself when I felt my spoken words were lacking. When it came to vocalizing my opinion on a topic, I found that extremely difficult as well. I was afraid of sounding stupid, of having people disagree with me, or of having people simply not understand what I was trying to say. The frustrating thing was that I wanted to be a performer. I wanted to embrace the spotlight. I wanted to engage in debate and be confident in my stance – I just…couldn’t. These fears lasted well past childhood and have followed me into my adult life.

A couple of years ago, I decided to pack up my mental/emotional baggage and take a trip that would force me to confront my fears head on. That journey was called the “Just Do It Like Nike World Tour” and the premise was simple. To go from place to place, I’d have to get there by doing the things that scared the sh*t out of me. That was the only way. And so I did. Public speaking opportunities? I took ‘em. Chances to respond clearly when someone asked me my opinion on a topic? I embraced ‘em. I made myself promise not to shy away from anything that scared me, and listen – I have grown.

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This coming Saturday, I continue the JDILNWT as I co-host The R&B: Relationships & Bullsh*t Show Live at Trio Lounge with my homie Lincoln Anthony Blades. This is the 3rd installment of our conversation party about, well, relationships and bullsh*t, and it’s been a big part of my personal journey. Standing up in front of a room of hundreds of people, cohesively managing a crowd, hosting an event, and sharing my thoughts on everything from sexual taboos to monogamy and cheating? Bee of Days Past must be in a parallel universe, watching this unfold as she chews her lip out of stress – but 2014 Bee is doing it. This time, we’ll be discussing the question “Are People In Toronto Still Interested In Serious Relationships & Marriage, Or Do We All Just Want Casual Sex?!” and guess what – as I typed this very post, I got word from Lincoln that the show is SOLD OUT. If you’re one of the lucky folk who grabbed their ticket early, I can’t wait to see you out – and just know that I appreciate your role in this journey of mine.
mysticeffect

Never fear – I’m part of another amazing event coming up in Toronto on May 4th at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, and you could win a ticket! Last year, I took a HUGE leap by co-hosting Stacy-Ann Buchanan’s fashion and art show called The Mystic Effect, and this year I’ll be back in the role of Social Media Correspondent! The Mystic Effect intertwines fashion with music, poetry, dance, and film, and this year will be incredible. If you aren’t able to attend, make sure you’re following me on Twitter and Instagram at @BeeSince83 and follow the hashtag #themysticeffect for all the show details! However – if you’re in Toronto and want to attend, I’ve got the hook-up:

 To win a ticket to The Mystic Effect on May 4th (doors open at 4pm, show starts at 5pm), simply tell me about one fear you’ve overcome. Comment below, tweet me, comment on my Facebook, or email me – any way you wish! I’ll pick one winner on Tuesday, April 29th!

Good luck to all entering the ticket giveaway, and good luck to any and everyone who is working on challenging their fears. May we all travel along that journey and come back home to find ourselves, stronger, better, and more fearless!

CATHARSIS: Caught Up In The Rapture Of Life’s Transitions

I'm trying to be her.

I’m trying to be her.

Truth moment: lately, I’ve been feeling totally, completely, and utterly off. I’m talking disjointed from reality, swirling around in the after-effects of the worst planetary retrograde ever, frustrated with nearly anything breathing or inanimate, and living under the unrelenting stare of grown-up decisions waiting to be made. I’ve been feeling like I’m pushing against a force that refuses to let up and let me be great – and I just really want to be great, dammit.

I’ve at least identified that force, which I guess is half the battle, right? Change. That’s the beast I’m up against, and it’s putting up a hell of a fight.

There’s the most apparent one, which is Little Magician’s rapidly advancing “Hey, world! Here I am!” date. At 26 weeks, I’ve shifted from counting up to milestones and find myself counting down to the biggest one yet. With less than 100 days to go, the realness of the situation is hitting me in a brand new way, and I feel fully unprepared. Are we moving? Have I registered for the shower yet? Am I up on the latest and greatest must-haves for the baby? Do I even know what I want to name this child? Every day, my to-do list multiplies.

I’m in the throes of the biggest transition period of my life, and while Little Magician is a catalyst to that, he or she isn’t fully to blame. I’ve been blessed to receive some incredible opportunities this year that have me viewing myself and my world in entirely new ways. Solidifying some excellent freelance writing partnerships; flexing my developing public speaking muscles with workshop facilitation, event hosting, and TV appearances; and being urged to embrace my entrepreneurial side by HomieLuva all have me looking at my reflection in the mirror, almost able to see my cells and molecules shifting and taking new shape under my skin. I’m becoming a new woman with new skills and new possibilities at my fingertips, and the biggest question that comes to mind is, “So, whatchu gon’ do with it all?”

One thing I’ve unfortunately learned NOT to do is talk to certain folks about my plans, fears, goals, and ideas. I was listening to Jay Electronica and Jay Z’s “We Made It” remix and heard a line from the show Eastbound & Down that made me pause:

Kinda makes me wonder why the hell so many people are tryna tell me to slow down. Seems like motherf*ckers should be shutting the hell up and enjoying the show.

Slowing down is something I’ve heard over and over – either in being told I should “slow down” now, or tinged with the salt of a snide chuckle when someone tells me I’ll be “forced” to “slow down” later.

Instead of slowing down, this transition period has me wanting to ramp up speed. There are many who don’t understand my excitement at melding my existences as mother/entrepreneur/woman, and instead try to discourage. Some of the discouragement comes from a place of genuine concern: “I just don’t want you to be disappointed if you can’t do all of the things you want to do,” they say. Others come from a place that’s easily perceived by me as bitterness: “Well, when I had MY child, I couldn’t do ANYTHING!” they say. 

Life transitions come with the possibility of disappointment and your high hopes crumbling and having to switch directions at a moments’ notice. Life transitions are also deeply personal and no two journeys are the same. I know this. I just wish more people would be cognizant of that fact before trying to save or stifle me.

Who knows what I’ll think or feel in the next 3 months/6 months/1 year – maybe I’ll realize that I was totally naive in my aspirations – but for now, I’m combating my fears of the unknown by holding on to my hopes, dreams, and goals. I can rest, but I can’t slow down. I can be realistic, but I can’t be pessimistic. I can get caught up in self-doubt, but I cannot afford to stay stuck there. Housing twice the life in one body has granted me my second wind in life, and has motivated me to live twice as fully going forward. So, slowing down? Not an option. I’m just getting started, so shut up and enjoy the show.

REMOVING THE BLINDERS: When You Realize Your Parents Are People

BeeMommy

Sometimes I marvel at how much I learn by keeping my mouth shut and just observing.

I thought I had my parents figured out by my teen years. I had both their personalities pegged; I could tell you what they’d each laugh at, how far I’d be able to push it with each one, what key words to use with whom, and what their respective consistencies and limitations were. It’s only recently that I’ve learned just how wrong I was – well, maybe not wrong, just premature. I now liken my parents to excavation sites – what you hit near the surface is usually only a glimpse at the treasures you’ll find if you just keep digging.

Lately, my new found observational skills have enabled me to soak up some new lessons from my mother, and they couldn’t come at a better time.

One day, my mother and I sat in a park in my hometown, and she opened up to me about parts of her life – both blissful and painful- that I had no clue about. This was when I first started to recognize the excavation site that was my mom – and when we walked away from our park bench, the woman standing beside me seemed so familiar and yet so different. I was just like her and nothing like her at the same time, and I knew that investigating the various parts of her would teach me so much about myself. I couldn’t have been more right. 

My mother is a true Virgo. Exact, critical, and sensitive, she’s hard and soft at the same time. When life gave her lemons, she persevered by using superhuman strength to pulverize those suckers into sweet lemonade. I’ve never thought I was as strong as her. It was easy to take her strength for granted until the tides turned and she was brought to tears by an offhand comment or tough love from someone close to her. I’ve never thought I was as sensitive as her. With Black women being constantly prided, upheld, and revered for their strength, we often forget about the underlying strength in vulnerability. We expect Black women to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and turn a setback into a setup for a comeback – and my mother is a master at this. However, her openness to be vulnerable and sensitive reminds me of the human essence of Black women. Sometimes this focus on Black women’s strength hurts us; the world believes we can shoulder more and more and more, rarely stopping to see if we’re OK or if we can manage – because, hey! We’re always OK! We can always manage! My mother’s ability to wear her emotions on her sleeve has taught me just as much about strength as her ability to endure life’s struggles. Her hard and soft parts make sense to me in a way they never did before. MC Lyte said it first, but my mother is the living, breathing icon:

Do you understand
The metaphoric phrase ‘Lyte as a rock?’
It’s explainin’ how heavy the young lady is

When it comes to being brave and taking risks, no one does it quite like my mom. Stepping out on her own with 3 kids to raise after leaving a marriage that wasn’t serving her? She did it. Daring to fall in love again and risking possible heartbreak? She’s done it. Choosing to challenge herself with a new job after 20+ years of comfort and familiarity? She’s doing it. My mom may not skydive or bungee jump, but quietly watching her take these life-altering risks and express sincere bravery at being OK no matter what makes me proud to be cut from a part of her cloth.

If my mother’s cloth is a quilt, one of the patches would read “Boss.” Much debate has ensued over the word “bossy” and what it means for young girls and women since Sheryl Sandberg launched her  new #BanBossy campaign – but as shy as I’ve been for the majority of my life (I can see y’all who know me now rolling your eyes!), being called “bossy” was never something I really had to contend with. In recent years, I’d like to believe that I’ve grown in my boss-ness, and that is definitely due to my mother. Her flavour of bossin’ up has never been related to power grabs and lording over others – instead, it’s rooted in knowing your shit, being assertive, and not allowing anyone else to walk over you. It took me a few years (read: a couple decades) to get comfortable with exercising these tenets, but now that I’ve started, I’m not prepared to stop. I think that part of her legacy is embedded in this – she never sounds more proud than when I’ve proven to a non-believer that I knew my shit, or when I’ve stood up for myself, or when I’ve stiff-armed an attempt by someone else to railroad me. The more she encourages, the more I know I can develop this boss muscle that I was given in birthright. I see now that the best way to honour her is to honour myself.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to see my parents in a new light. The blinders that block you from realizing that your parents are actually people serve to protect you when needed, but must be removed at some point. Little by little, those blinders have been lifted, and I welcome the light.

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