I am a product of a North American mother and Central American father. Both of my parents are black, meaning their ancestry is tied back to Africa. My mother is a native English speaker and my father is a native Spanish speaker. I am a curly-haired, coffee-colored, full-figured combination of two distinctly different Americas and the one I reside in has no clue.
According to my father, all of the Americas are identified as such - America. In Panama, where he's from, the United States is referred to as "Estados Unidos" - not America. Also, both my parents and I identify as black. My father may be considered Hispanic or Latino, however that's an identification of culture and geography, not ethnicity. I clarify these things because I'm often asked by other blacks (from the U.S.) if I'm "mixed" or where I'm from. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas (where I now reside). I actually grew up in a lower middle class black neighborhood. Most of our neighbors were professionals, students, or seniors. We had mixed socio-economic demographics from the welfare recipient to the executive.
Until I became a parent, I thought most black neighborhoods were like mine. I realize today, however, that my black experience is considerably more privileged than most because I have a cultural, educational, and physical way out of the after-effects of a post-slavery society.
In the throws of political rhetoric, government mistrust over criminal justice, media whirlwinds, and brazen public commentary I must remember that I have an incredibly unique black American experience. In many ways I'm grateful, of course, as my experience helps me to step outside of the problem in it's current form and use tools I've acquired and learned elsewhere to apply a relevant solution. I also have the first-hand experience to know that man kind has some fundamentals that are the same around the globe. The nuances are what allow us to excel or decline, collectively.
A tool that I teach as much as possible is how to engage with others that are not like you. It's important in my work that I get messaging with my client right every time. Many times I just don't know enough about a segment of a population to know if my message resonates or not. So, I teach and practice how to ask. Walk with me as I explain my trailing thoughts, here...
I saw a documentary on black women who belong to a fight club in Brooklyn this week. The gist is these women have promoters that work like a pimp and fight in a boxing ring with no head gear, no training, no rules. They're just thrown in there to duke it out until their opponent is down. Apparently they make a good living off of it, and they're heralded for it in their neighborhoods. For practice, they street fight for free. They are attempting to be good mothers to their children. They are tough in every sense of the word. They speak in round, garish bellows made of curse words and threats to anyone who dares to challenge them. When the documentarian asked one of the fighter's children what they knew about her work they replied that she's the best street fighter out there, and no one messes with her, not even the men.
Don't think for a second that I'm being judgmental of these women. I wouldn't dare. I'm a huge fan of any warrior who happens to be a goddess. I'm a fan of mothers doing what they have to do to protect their children, put food on the table, and clothes on their backs. I am not a fan of women doing it at the detriment of themselves, or being pimped for it.
I digress. My curiosity here is that I identify with these women in so many ways, yet our black American experience is so radically different. At one point my reality of managing basics for my children included working 2 jobs; 1 for an organization, and 1 as an entrepreneur. The only pimp I paid was Uncle Sam, and (in my mind) my worst enemy was time, lack of resources and the threat of an illness for me or my kids. If I were to try to influence them with a campaign about something like self-worth, entrepreneurship, non-violence, or love languages what would I say? What's their reality? Are these things even important to them, and why or why not?
Culture in America is equally, if not more, important as ethnicity (or race). What a community accepts as meaningful and/or useful for survival varies based on where they sit in the bleachers of the great American game. At the end of the day I intend my work to be authentic and a viable communications resource to engage others to support positive change in their communities.
The only way I win, you win, or we win is to continue to ask, ask, ask and then do it until we get it right. What tools do you use to become more informed about other's viewpoints?