Save Tonight

Back in February I flew to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t afford the trip, but honored to be a bridesmaid. I wouldn’t dare, couldn’t dare cancel– under any circumstances.
In the past few years the bride had become like a sister to me: an inspiration who never set limits on anything and who believed that anything could be overcome with patience, faith and good old-fashioned, hard work. I was honored to participate and excited for her marriage.
When I boarded the plane, I was frazzled. Although I’d picked the two most feasible sizes, my bridesmaid dress wouldn’t zip. On top of that I couldn’t afford more shoes, so I brought the only heels I had: thick, black, army-like ankle boots.
I took a window seat on the flight in the very last aisle of the last row– at the back on the right. I was in a hurry and wanted the least human interaction possible.
When the turbulence started, my heart fluttered. I put my scarf over my face and tried to sleep, but the rattling was overbearing and persistent. The plane shook left a few times then shuttered to the right. I could feel my chest tighten, so I grabbed a book and started flipping through. It took a few pages to calm my nerves, but the swaying was so pronounced and clear that the couple up ahead gasped in fear, and the woman to my left (who’d previously declined my hello) grabbed and held my hand.
We looked at each other with such fear and panic, and neither of us let go until the plane had almost landed. We said nothing but breathed heavily through our fear.
When the plane landed it hit the ground with such ferocity that we thought it would explode on impact. Some of us shrieked, and when the fasten seatbelt sign dimmed, we removed our belts, grabbed our chests, and exhaled (to each other, and to ourselves) in unison. We knew, without questioning, that it very well could have been our last flight.
For those like me who were spared by Harvey, there’s a collective sense of grief and shame. We’re embarrassed, but grateful. We feel a collective responsibility to feed, shelter, and contribute, but a keen awareness that many of our friends and families have lost everything.
We understand our privilege, and we are ashamed.
Since it landed, I’ve called my mother everyday. I’ve checked in with my sister and her family constantly. When I ate breakfast this morning, I thought about not having access to food, or not having enough food for my family. I thought about being scared to drink the water, and not knowing when, where, or if my next meal would come.
Today, and everyday since it landed, everything was significant. Everything was important. Everything was sacred. I was overwhelmed by the desire not to be wasteful. Not to waste anything: a scrap of paper, an inch of bread, an ounce of time.
Save tonight.
Do what you can to show your appreciation for what you have and who’s helped you acquire it.
Use your anger in meaningful and significant ways. Don’t waste it on small battles. Don’t waste it on small victories. Don’t waste it on people who wish that you were smaller.
Don’t waste it on struggles that don’t cause growth or bear fruit. Don’t waste it or bury it where it will sprout up inside of you.
Save tonight. Value it. Treasure it. Use it. Keep it in the place you have for keeping.
Call on it when you need its memory to save you.

Black On Both Sides

When I was white, it wasn’t on purpose. It wasn’t intentional. It started because I was a square peg coveting circles. It started because I stuck out everywhere, even when I didn’t want the attention. Even when race and gender didn’t play a role. I just didn’t seem to belong anywhere.
About seven years ago the Ensemble Theater introduced “The Ballad of Emmett Till” in Houston. It was a work of musical theater meant to share the story of his life. I wouldn’t have known about it, except that there is a picture of the playbill that hangs in a frame on the wall of the museum.
I started volunteering there because I wanted to learn more about art, and I wanted to meet other people. While I was sitting at the front desk today, a family came in. The parents wandered over to Faith Ringgold’s exhibition while the boy wandered over to the picture on the wall—captivated by Till’s beaming face—a young black boy, similar in age and appearance.
He was excited to see a picture of someone his age who looked so much like him, so he ran over to his father to share the news. “Look! Who is that? Is he famous? What did he do?”
I winced, but turned my head– pretending to refold shirts that sat comfortably on the shelves. But the father, unfazed and unfettered, looked him squarely in the eyes. Without malice, shame, or horror he retold the story of Emmett Till.
I winced again in secret, feeling an old, familiar, deeply rooted pain.
Why are these the stories of our children?
Why does our desire to tell the truth to our children create sadness and fear and harm?  Is it better that we keep this trauma hidden, at least to a certain age?
My lord.
When I was white, it wasn’t on purpose. It wasn’t intentional. It started because I was a square peg coveting circles. I wanted what they had.
It started because I stuck out everywhere, even when I didn’t want the attention. Even when race and gender didn’t play a role. I just didn’t seem to belong anywhere.
I struggled to find connections and make real friendships. I struggled to find people who cared about me and cared about the things I was interested in.
For the first few years, I didn’t know that I was white. I was colorblind and compassionate. If you had asked me, I would’ve said something like race doesn’t matter, or that race isn’t real.
We all struggle. We all suffer. We all set out to carve our own path.
In the last few years that I was white, I was sullen and bitter. I was angry because of the boxes I was put in. It wasn’t my fault that the things I enjoyed were already assigned to a white majority. People needed to be more open-minded and less-bigoted.
When I was white, I subscribed to a few truths I held self-evident. I believed them to be both universal and unequivocal.

  1. I believed that we all sunk or swam by our own merit. I am the captain of my ship. I am the master of my sail.
  2. I believed that we all should be held accountable for our choices.
  3. I believed that if we failed to launch—we only had ourselves to blame. Poverty came from a lack of ingenuity and a failure to make good choices.

I loved Keifer Sutherland and Robin Williams. I aspired to attend USC and to play beach volleyball professionally. I loved penny loafers and Clueless and idolized Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.
I preferred my hair blond and curly. I critiqued the way people mispronounced words. I mocked their intonation.
I went by Yvonne because it seemed less ethnic, less southern, and less stereotypically black than Anjeanette.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas was one of my favorites. Hanson’s Weird was on repeat. I studied Latin in high school and again in college, and I opted to attend a predominately white institution for undergrad. And again for grad school. And again for grad school. And again for grad school (the struggle).
I loved old musicals and Audrey Hepburn. I wore faux pearls and French buns.
I didn’t aspire for whiteness as a pathway to perceived security or luxury. I was just a square peg coveting circles.
I don’t mean to imply that being white is problematic. Race is a social construction, which means it was made up. I also don’t mean to imply that other cultural groups can’t enjoy and experience whatever they’d like, cultural appropriation aside (more on that later).
But it is a problem, as a by-product of our location and time, to choose whiteness and idolize it for the sake of economic gain. Worse still, just to have what we perceive would be an easier, simpler, and more comfortable life.
Becoming black again was long and arduous, but in ways I never imagined it would be, it was easier. I found her inside myself, and I loved her. I loved her fiercely.
When my niece was born so many memories came flooding back—so many decisions I made for the sake of a separate peace and a simple life.
I worried (in advance) for her livelihood. I worried (in advance) for her heart.
I didn’t want her to have the same questions I had, to have the same insecurities. I wanted her to know and believe that she was loved unequivocally: completely and without conditions. Regardless of who she might become. Regardless of what she might do or say. Regardless of what she might worship or who she might choose to love or how she might choose to express her identity.
I wanted her to feel complete and whole and powerful. Capable of anything and everything she could dream. Not bound by a need or by an expectation to look a certain way, sound a certain way, dance a certain way, cook a certain way, worship a certain way, or love a certain way.
Not bound by an expectation of how much she should weigh. Not bound by the idea that black people aren’t supposed to be smart, or that women aren’t good at Math or Science. Or that a woman’s purpose is to be a helpmate for her husband.
When I was white, it wasn’t on purpose. I was a square peg coveting circles.
Not because they were circles and I disliked being square, but because there was a noticeable difference in their lives. There was a different expectation for their families and their children. There was a different expectation for their wealth, motivation, and drive. Different expectations and belief in their capacity and willingness to be good people, upstanding citizens, voters, caretakers, stewards, and lovers. Leaders and thinkers and visionaries and romantic leads in the most popular romantic comedy.
There was a different expectation of their ability to be human.
I didn’t become white on purpose.
But becoming black on both sides again has been an awakening, a rebirth, a reconciliation. A Women of Brewster Place brick by brick by brick homecoming.
I am home.

Save Tonight.

My mother used to make our clothes when we were younger. In fifth grade my favorite was a black and green checkered pattern two-piece. The top fit like a suit jacket with box shoulders and mid-length sleeves. The bottoms were shorts that swam past my knees. Whenever I’d wear it, I’d get permission to wear my hair down (what, what?!).
I. WAS. STYLISH.
In seventh grade my favorite was a white dress littered with pastel-colored roses. It had adjustable straps that were perfect for playing volleyball during study hall last period. I was so proud that she’d made them just for me, and no one else could say they had anything like it.
Her sewing machine was sacred. Sometimes I would sneak into her closet and try to master it. I’d always stop half-way through—scared that I’d break it, or that she’d catch me and wonder why I was hiding in the closet.
She would’ve kept making them for us as long as we were grateful, but I wanted new clothes in high school, not the ones Momma made. They needed to look like the other kids’. Crisp. New. Expensive. Plaid and green checkered suit coats and shorts wouldn’t fly anymore.
If I remember correctly (because memory can be a tricky thing) she even helped design a wedding dress for a family friend. I thought her clothes were cool, but I never fully appreciated the novelty (and never fully appreciated my mother).
I never fully acknowledged her talent or skill, or that she’d made them after a long day at work. After the cooking and cleaning and storytime and bath time and tooth-brushing, she’d sat herself down at the sewing machine and just sewed for us.
I took a basic class in middle school and earned praise from the instructor, who complimented me on my “natural talent.” I smiled shyly, knowing that both nature and nurture had worked in my favor.
When Momma stopped sewing a few years later, I felt like a piece of my childhood had ended suddenly and dramatically. I wanted it back. I wanted the designer experience. I wanted the Linda B. originals. I wanted Momma’s clothes.
For more than twenty years her sewing machine sat in the closet. Unused, but still sacred. A lifetime of memories keeping it steady and fully capable of reanimation.
Save tonight.
Memory is a trickster. It’s a funny thing. The hardest lesson I ever learned, the hardest truth, was always gratefulness. Even still it’s my greatest and least endearing character flaw. Over and over and over and over and over and over again I fail to be grateful. I forget to acknowledge the significance of memories and moments and the significance of time—which is both fleeting and precious.
Save tonight.
Do what you can to show your appreciation for what you have and how you’ve acquired it. Do what you can to remember where you were ten years ago and the progress you’ve made since then. Do what you can to stay in the moment—even the hard ones. Even the ones that create anxiety or aggravate insecurity. Even the ones that challenge you to accept responsibility for mistakes you didn’t make.
Do what you can to learn when you are part of the problem and when you shouldn’t walk away. Do what you can to learn when there’s nothing left to contribute. Do what you can to decide what you can change, and to decide what matters, and to decide when you will decide to make a decision.
Use your anger in meaningful and significant ways. Don’t waste it on small battles. Don’t waste it on small victories or people who wish that you were smaller. Don’t waste it on struggles that don’t cause growth or bear fruit. Don’t waste it and bury it where it will sprout up inside of you.
Save tonight. Value it. Treasure it. Use it. Learn from it. Keep it in the place you have for keeping.
Hold on to its memory when you need it to propel you the only way ‘round, which is through.