Can we talk about racism in the church?

How about now?

In the wake of one of gospel’s greats finding the strength to share his story, I wonder how much longer it will be before he receives an appropriate response. I also wonder about the kind of opposition he might be facing. I keep imagining Christian celebrities and civilians muttering behind the scenes, warning Mr. Franklin not to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, I would like to thank him for his bravery.

The way that TBN (the Trinity Broadcasting Network), the Gospel Music Association, and the Dove Awards has behaved is proof that these institutions can be just as racist and cowardly as the rest of society. The pattern is typical: Enjoy Black people’s time and talents. Delight in our worth, on a superficial level. So long as we entertain you, all is well.

Yet let us honestly discuss issues that cause us real trauma. Suddenly, we’re too much. Suddenly, we don’t deserve your support. The pain that we feel shouldn’t be expressed. Our realities deserve to be eliminated.  

If you participate in this kind of erasure, perhaps you may not realize it. But when you tell Black people to keep quiet about what we’re going through or what we worry about, you tell the truth about just how much you really care about us. In spite of your statements about being one in Jesus’ name, the truth is evident. Your love is not sincere. Your concern is not genuine.

I want to say more about racism in the Christian community. I’ve felt an urgency in our political climate, as people have begun to reveal their true colours.

Back in the day, before putting pen to paper on this issue, I felt the way I usually do whenever I’m about to write something: There were moments where I caught myself wondering if I could find the words to express what I was thinking. However, now, I realize that what I really need is the nerve.

Will Kirk Franklin’s honesty embolden me? I’m not sure. But if nothing else, I know this: The way that the predominantly white Christian church–and therefore, white Christians–in North America regard people of colour needs to change. People on the fringes of the faith have known this for years. The question is, now that racism in Christian contexts has been mentioned in the mainstream, what will happen next?

Watch It!: The Family

Photo by Ricky Turner via Unsplash

Earlier this year there was a bit of buzz related to Netflix’s new show, The Family. I took note of the fact that it would air later this year, but otherwise, left it alone. That is until a few weeks ago. One Saturday morning I noticed that someone in my social media feed had posted about the show. By that Sunday, I’d begun to check it out. 

Thus far I’ve seen The Family once and if I have time I might watch it again. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, but I would like to talk about what I saw. 

Hence, on that note, how can I best describe it?

As the content unfolded onscreen I was…Surprised–but not completely. Just thinking about the way American politics has evolved over the years, it’s been hard not to believe that behind the scenes,  something horrible has been going on all along. And I can honestly tell you that if you’ve had any fears about religious corruption, The Family will confirm them. Although it isn’t in the horror genre, its content gave me the creeps. Overall, though, I was mostly disgusted. 

The Family is a docuseries that recounts the evolution of a bipartisan religious organization–referred to as The Family–which has been tied to the government’s top leaders in Washington, DC. Based on a pair of books by Jeff Sharlet, the first episode begins by telling its story through the eyes of the author. In his younger days in Washington, Sharlet was first introduced to The Family via his time at Ivanwald–a household that serves, essentially, as a Christian fraternity. 

Throughout the series several snippets of dialogue reveal the sinister nature of a movement with seemingly innocent roots. In one scene, James Cromwell, as religious leader David Coe, speaks to a group of young men. He asks them a simple enough question.

“Can you think of anyone who made a covenant with his friends?” 

In response, young Mr. Sharlet gave what I thought was the most obvious answer to this question. “Jesus.” However, Mr. Coe had another person in mind. 

At this point I should note that when Coe replied, I initially thought the screenwriter was using a bit of artistic license. After all, some of The Family’s segments were dramatized. I honestly wanted to believe that Movie Coe didn’t actually use Real Life Coe’s words. And I might have, if not for the fact that The FamIly includes actual footage of David Coe standing in a pulpit. As he speaks to his audience about how to influence others, he shares his thoughts.

“Hitler. Hitler made a covenant. The Mafia made a covenant. Look at the strength of the bonds.”

“HITLER made a covenant”?! Watching that footage, I don’t think I’ve ever given my computer a more horrified stare.

Truly, I was stunned. 

Imagine. You have Jesus Christ HIMSELF, as the head of your religion. Yet when you want your followers to have an example of someone who successfully made and kept a promise to others, you choose HITLER?!  

That bit of dialogue haunted me. It also called to mind a greater problem within mainstream religion. Time and again, certain Christian leaders try to put up a good front. Yet ultimately, they demonstrate that they don’t have genuine confidence in their faith. This tends to be revealed in challenging situations: Rather than standing by their principles, in a quest to relate to the world, some pastors rush to support evil in all of its forms.

For some reason or another, some would rather choose fame over discernment and authenticity. 

But I digress.  

I already thought something was off with Big Box Christianity and its connection to the American government. In the end, The Family only confirmed my suspicions.

Before I go, let me offer you a warning: If you’re going to view this show, you might want to mentally prepare yourself. Especially if you have any previous experience with religious fundamentalism. The Family wasn’t easy to watch. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did.

Status Report?: Spiritual Renewal

Earlier this summer, one of the hottest musicians in the galaxy mentioned prayer in an interview, and I felt it.

When I first read Rihanna’s chat with Sarah Paulson, I was excited. I had just shared a post on meditation. Next on my schedule was prayer, but I needed a hook. Perfect timing, right?

Except it wasn’t.

Something was wrong with me. 

As a writer, over the course of this year I’ve had doubts about my skills. And as I looked at tackling spirituality, I felt more intimidated than inspired. The thought of writing on God opened infinite possibilities. Yet how can someone possibly quantify something that’s immeasurable?

Thankfully, not too long ago, I faced a genuine moment of divine intervention.

One day, rather than feeling a sense of intimacy with God, I felt overcome by the weight of an incredible distance. It was an odd, painful encounter. And of all the things in the world, while listening to a gospel track, I started to sob.

Looking back on that moment I recognize that I was pretty much the epitome of a religious cliche. But at the time, I felt as though a door had opened. I started asking myself questions. Was I dreaming, or when I was younger, did I have a more authentic spiritual practice?

Lord knows (no pun intended), over the past few years, something has felt different.

And so, back to my origins I’ve returned.

Mind you, as I go, I’m still discovering what this means. Yet the loss of people such as Rachel Held Evans has reminded me that there’s work to be done. In this political climate, the theologian within still wants to call people towards a more conscientious vision of Christianity.

Overall, I’m not comfortable with any form of piety that denies our common humanity. I really want to dive into religion and some controversial material. But that’s another post for another day.

And so, until next time… Here’s the last sermon I watched. Pastor Furtick offers a decent riff on the idea that man contains multitudes.

She’s Gotta Be Kidding

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Recently I was reminded of something. In this era of awareness concerning diversity, it’s been all too easy for me to believe that because the creators of certain projects are Black they would take greater care to accurately portray members of the African diaspora. Surely, after being annoyed by biased, inaccurate representation, African-American creators would strive to depict their fellow Black people as human beings with a modicum of sense. But no. It seems some are content to approach members of the diaspora with the same lack of care that the industry typically shows them. Take a look at the clip below.

That’s from an episode of Netflix’s hit series, She’s Gotta Have It. When I first saw it, I was appalled. (Full disclosure, I’m Canadian. I’m used to seeing Blackness and Canadianness misrepresented by the mainstream American media.) I wanted to know which of the SGHI writers hated Black British people so much that they would portray them like this—as having no clue about colonialism. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Among the people who saw the above clip was John Boyega, who referred to it as “Trash”. And while I couldn’t blame him for his perspective, the other day I was intrigued when the writer of the episode in question decided to respond.

Mr. Barry Michael Cooper chose to address Boyega via an open letter. Since reading it, I haven’t taken the time to check and see if Boyega responded, but I’ve had some thoughts of my own.

First, a bit of background: In case you don’t have time to read Cooper’s letter, you should know that the scene in question was inspired by a discussion on Twitter. A few years ago, people had a lot of opinions regarding Samuel L. Jackson’s comments on the casting of Black British actors.  (This initially occurred around the time that Get Out was receiving publicity. Its star, Daniel Kaluuya, is British.) Although Jackson later clarified his remarks, I remember that initially some were alarmed. Judging from the tone of his letter, I take it that Cooper meant for his scene to be a teachable moment. However, from where I sit, he failed tremendously.

In his note to Mr. Boyega, Mr. Cooper pointed to an article by Black British actor, David Harewood. Mr. Harewood has had roles in a variety of American productions, including his current series—Supergirl.

In his Guardian essay, Harewood refers to his time playing Martin Luther King Jr in a production of The Mountaintop. His purpose was clear: To share his thoughts on why he feels British actors are qualified to play African-American characters. However, I was troubled by his rationale. In response to the idea of Black British actors not being American “brothers”, Harewood concluded his commentary by saying, “Perhaps it’s precisely because we are not real American brothers that we [B]lack British performers have the ability to unshackle ourselves from the burden of racial realities—and simply play what’s on the page, not what’s in the history books.” (Emphasis added.)

Quite frankly I found the implications of Harewood’s words troubling. Just because a Black performer is not American, that doesn’t mean that they are automatically able to divorce themselves from the impact that racism has—whether in a historical context, or referring to its presence in one’s daily life. Overall I’m still confused about why anyone would read his essay and believe that just because it was published, it deserved serious consideration as being representative of all British people of African descent.

Racism and colonialism aren’t exclusively American issues. I feel ridiculous writing that, yet it’s not a message that everyone seems to understand. On that note, let me also state that Black folks who live outside of the United States are not, somehow, too simple-minded to be aware of the impact that colonialism has had on their culture. Why someone would feel emboldened to assume so floors me. Yet that’s what I took from the above snippet from She’s Gotta Have It. All the while Nola Darling was supposedly schooling her English lover, I was looking at my computer in disgust.

Mr. Cooper’s script and subsequent letter reminded me of a familiar problem. A few years ago Justin Bieber was called out for videos which showed him using the n-word. Back then on The View, Whoopi Goldberg was willing to excuse him. I recall her reaction was discussed on one of our morning shows. Back then she expressed the belief that in Canada “nigger” doesn’t have the same meaning that it does in America. I couldn’t help but feel both stunned and disgusted. Canadians of African descent have lived in my home country for hundreds of years. Racist language isn’t anything new to us, and its hideous meaning isn’t somehow obscured by the soil that it’s spoken on.  

In his epistle, I noticed that Mr. Cooper went to great lengths to explain the inspiration behind certain elements of his show. He was careful to use the phrase “[i]t’s not something I made up,” to enforce the fact that different aspects of his work were meant to reflect material drawn from real life. Yet that does absolutely nothing to nullify the fact that the scene’s dialogue was born out of a horribly executed idea. 

Mr. Cooper seemed peeved Boyega used the word “Trash” to describe his work. Yet I think he had every right to do so. It IS trashy–and downright harmful–to use your platform to depict characters from the diaspora as uninformed ignoramuses concerning the Black experience of people in their own country. If there were a scene on a different program involving a white American man attempting to put a Black American woman in her place and “enlighten” her—after the show’s writer was inspired by an aspect of Blackness that he’d read about once in ONE biased article–heads would be rolling.

I fail to see why a Black American lecturing a Black person of British descent as depicted in SGHI should be deemed acceptable. It’s as though the show’s writers wanted to say that surely, we must remember that only Black Americans experience racism and have a correct understanding of its historical impact. So long as those in charge of the media think that way, there’s no telling what else they believe. For all we know according to them, no Black person from anywhere else on the globe has sufficient experience or knowledge—whether of themselves or their homeland—to be able to accurately comprehend how racism could possibly influence their experience in the present day.

Ultimately Mr. Cooper’s letter seemed to me to be an overwrought attempt to excuse an incredibly insulting narrative. Deliberately portraying Black people who aren’t American as gravely out of touch isn’t endearing or uplifting. It’s degrading, it’s insulting, and it’s a habit that needs to end.

Spiritual Self Care: Meditation

Whenever the subject of self care comes up, I can’t help but think about my belief that we humans are inherently spiritual beings. Hence, I believe the effort that we put into caring for our souls is incredibly important. Our spirits are our foundation. Meanwhile, in the quest to honour our most sacred selves, I know there are a number of popular rituals.

This week I thought I’d start to share my thoughts on a few different aspects of my spiritual practice.  Although I’m not a guru, I’m definitely a regular human being with an opinion.

Since it’s Monday, why not focus on meditation?

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

I might as well begin by making my relationship with meditation clear as day: Over the years my practice has been inconsistent. Nevertheless, I believe in it as a legitimate discipline.

I don’t know what your relationship with meditation is like, but think for a minute. If you don’t meditate, but you have friends who are trying to get you on board, what do they tell you? At the start of my meditation journey, I kept reading about how important it is for us humans to spend time in silence. On one hand this seemed logical to me. Our lives are full of organic and digitally-manufactured noise. How can the Spirit speak if we don’t give it room to move?

Meanwhile, on the other hand, I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t know a great deal about meditation, but the little that I had heard didn’t seem to make any sense. How was I supposed to find inner peace by sitting in a room, listening to absolutely nothing? Why was it important for me to focus on my breath? In spite of my doubts, the more I researched, the more articles I found that listed the supposed benefits of meditation. Clearer thoughts? A calmer mind? I was eager to get started!

And then, I did. Or at least I tried.

Over the years, the greatest struggle for me when it comes to meditation has involved the idea of surrendering–or silencing–my thoughts. Whether a session requires focus on a particular mantra or just my breath, ignoring my brain’s constant chatter can be incredibly hard.

There are times when I find I have to reason with myself. Those thoughts that won’t go away–the ones that chase me when I’m trying to take time just to focus on me… Are they interesting? Are they positive? No. Whenever I catch myself longing for mental rest of any kind, the thoughts that rise up and march around in my brain tend to be ones of frustration, anxiety, and worry.

Are any of them helpful? Absolutely not.

To this day, if I want to meditate, there are times when I have to actively ward off negative input. Somewhere inside of my brain, I swear, there’s a version of me that’s actually had to stand up and yell at my chitter-chatter, “STOP! This is MY TIME!!”

Now, Inner Claire isn’t always successful. But once my swirling thoughts start to disperse, I tend to stay alert, ready to follow up with more phrases to get me into the zone. Sometimes something as simple as “No!” or “Not now!” is beneficial. In this world of constant distraction, it’s important to protect my “me” time at all costs.

Mind you, this doesn’t always work. While I’ve done my best to establish a regular meditation ritual, there have been days when I’ve had to throw in the towel.

In spite of my resistance, when I’ve practiced consistently, I’ve found that what they say is true. Meditation works. Overall, when I meditate regularly I feel better and less anxious. My manic mind has begun to learn the importance of surrendering to the flow of life via surrendering my thoughts.

So what if you’re interested in meditating, but you’ve never tried it out. Where do you begin?

Guides like this one from Gaiam offer some basic information on the benefits of meditation, and how you can get started.

Sites for apps like Headspace include useful articles  which explore various types of meditation.

As for useful tools, currently I use Calm. In the past, I’ve tried Headspace, and Omvana.

If you don’t want to turn to your phone, there are books and CDs available. Years ago, I downloaded one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s recordings.

And of course, there’s plenty of information available online for free. Whether you turn to YouTube, podcasts, or a variety of other resources, don’t be afraid to take time to support your mental and spiritual health. In the end your mind will thank you.

Read it!: Big Magic

I’m trying to get my writing mojo back, and a part of that process for me involves getting caught up on my reading. Simultaneously, I figure it can’t hurt to share what I pick up along the way.

Last winter I bought a ton of books, but didn’t have time to read them. Fortunately, in 2019, the tables turned.

Every now and then, I’m going to share with you my insights into the good, bad, and the ugly side of my reading material. And so, whether you’ve read it or not… This time around I’m covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s last book.

I know I’m late to get on the Elizabeth Gilbert love train. Last year my therapist loaned me her copy of Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t finished it, but I need to return it.) Prior to that, though, I first laid my eyes on Elizabeth via one of her TED Talks.

I thought she had a refreshing take on life and creativity, and when Big Magic was released, the hype was hard to ignore. The subtitle alone was enough to grab my attention: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Ohhhhhhh boy, I thought. I NEED this book. Although I think of myself as a creative person, I’ve let fear and procrastination keep me from creating anything substantial for years. (When I think of all the time since I first graduated that I could have spent writing a book, it’s a damn shame.)

As I approached Big Magic I was curious about Elizabeth’s approach. Within the first few pages, I found it incredibly easy to root for her premise. Regardless of your area of creative interest–whether you’re pursuing the arts, or your drug of choice involves math or science, when you create–when you MAKE something–you are taking a risk and daring to demonstrate your willingness to approach The Unknown. Putting yourself out there is scary. To dare to extend yourself is a powerful thing.

Ultimately, Big Magic is a prolonged pep-talk. Divided into SIX sections, and at 272 pages, the book’s length combined with its tone made it a quick, comfortable read. Throughout her book’s pages, Elizabeth encourages readers to boldly greet their creativity, embrace, and enjoy it.

She also includes a few curious concepts. For instance, consider The Shit Sandwich. Whether you’re pursuing your dream full-time or dealing with a day job, in the segment entitled, “Persistence”, Elizabeth asks the ultimate question: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

When I first read those words, I smiled both inside and out. I could truly relate. As my last full-time position came to a close, I found myself questioning everything. Among other things, I actually remember thinking to myself, “None of this is worth it.”

As the book went on, I found myself supporting just about everything Elizabeth has to say. But there was one exception: In the segment entitled “PERMISSION”, I found her usesing some that really bothered me. Actually, it was beyond bothersome: I found it offensive.

When it comes to making things, Elizabeth says, “…in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. Because in the end, it’s just creativity.” I was on high alert after reading that. And that statement wasn’t the only anti-creativity bomb that she dropped.

Now, to a certain degree, I get it. There are times when people can take their creativity too seriously. As a result of their delusions, creatives can become overly stressed. And a part of me realizes that Elizabeth was probably trying to get certain folks not to worry too much and just enjoy the creative process. That said, regarding making music, Elizabeth wrote that, “Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is.”

And when I read those words, I nearly threw her book away.

Not only have there have been studies, but there are books that exist about the power of music and the effect that it can have on human beings. Regardless of which resources you choose, the authors’ statements are backed by science.

Plus there’s the fact that I’ve always taken music personally.

As a child, my mother sang in church. I remember very little about going to rehearsals with her. But one thing I could never forget is that I used to cry when she sang.

Music moved me that deeply.

That level of emotion stirred in my spirit again recently when I was watching a pianist on Instagram–of all places–playing Mozart. (Shoutout to Chloe Flower, Cardi B’s pianist.)

I’ll spare you from more ranting, but in a nutshell, when people say that art doesn’t matter, it makes my blood boil. And even when I’m not that angry, it makes me struggle to take them seriously.

Fortunately, after her comments on how unimportant art is, Elizabeth returned to her regular self. She discussed a few other relevant points, including the horrible myth that people buy into which states that artists can only create in the face of personal tragedy.

In general I felt comforted by Elizabeth’s words. These days, in spite of opportunities to shine brighter, creatives can be plagued with the temptation to doubt their own authenticity. Yet among other things, she reminds us, “…you are already creatively legitimate, by virtue of your existence among us.”

Overall, Big Magic offers readers lot of common-sense advice in a refreshing package. I enjoyed how Elizabeth framed various aspects of creativity. For instance, at one point she discussed the idea that one’s craft has to be formally studied in order to succeed professionally.

If you’re a writer, you know the drill. Supposedly, in order to be a writer, you need an MFA, or you MUST go to journalism school. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Would I read Big Magic again? If I have time to, maybe.

Would I recommend this book?

Eh…As I said before, It’s a quick, comfortable read. I like Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s seems like the type of person I’d go to lunch with. I like what she has to say about art and inspiration. Big Magic is light, warm, and mentally provocative.

Yet again, I can’t forget about the passages in “Permission” where she said art was useless. That section threw me off so much that I actually caught myself wondering about the kind of debates Elizabeth might have had with her editor.

Eventually, Ms. Gilbert encouraged her readers to “relax”. That’s very well and good, but I feel like she could have made her point without using statements that seemed to be so needlessly opposed to the book’s main objective. There are ways to tell people that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously that don’t involve insulting their calling.

I’m BACK!

Would you like to know where I’ve been? So would I.

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Photo courtesy of CreateHER Stock Photos

After some freelancing success and a hiatus away from all things writing-related, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not I lost my mojo. Over the past few months, I’ve certainly felt as though I’d been torn away from my talent. I figured now’s as good a time as any to get to know and show who I am again.

Let me begin by getting you up to speed: During the last few months of 2018 I had a day job*. Although it looked good on paper, in reality, the position truly wasn’t for me. Currently, I question whether or not I should even have it on my resume. There were signs from the beginning that things weren’t meant to be. A bad contract and horrible reviews of my workplace should have been enough to make me be cautious, but I was desperate to be employed. (Note: Desperation ALWAYS leads to bad decisions.)

As time went on, I found myself perpetually stressed. Yet through it all, I longed for a sense of normalcy. Every now and then I tried to keep up with friends and acquaintances via my social media accounts. But by the time Christmas Holidays rolled around, I was mentally and physically drained. In the end I learned that when it comes to finding work, I can afford to be cautious. 

Since then, in the wake of the new year, I tried to resurrect an old piece of writing. Last year I’d successfully pitched yet abandoned an essay. Writing articles can be a nerd’s dream, and this one was no exception. Looking back, I know that I’d conducted some amazing interviews, and I still believe in the vision behind my original concept. Therefore, when I first went back to my work, I didn’t anticipate any problems.

And yet, as I attempted to revise and refresh my article, I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. There are times when you write, and your material touches you personally. You may have done an incredible amount of research, and received quotes from amazing people. You may even turn to friends for great writing advice. Yet when you try to assemble your work and and support it by adding the veil of your own perspective, you may feel as though you’re not doing it justice.

That’s the challenge that plagued me while working on my latest piece of writing. In spite of the good intentions behind my attempted revival, something just wouldn’t let my soul rest.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that I can write. But as I worked I couldn’t help but have doubts about my story’s substance. I hate the idea of being inadequate in a realm that I was born to succeed in.

Meanwhile, as I tried to sort out what was wrong, I’ve had a few epiphanies related to fear and procrastination.

A few weeks ago I thought I’d finally begun to understand where my resistance was coming from. On Twitter I’d written to a fellow writer:

Today I think I finally started to figure out how not to be afraid of writing.

The sensation didn’t last, but the reasoning behind it stuck with me.

One day I realized I was at my best when I stopped wrestling with my doubts. As an artist I’m at my best when I surrender and accept my fate. Writing is what I was meant to do. It’s all I’ve ever wanted since childhood. Yet whenever I’ve caught myself fretting over the fact that I had to write something, instead of focusing on the fact that I got to write–that’s where my internal hell began.

When it comes to your life’s mission, time spent worrying is better spent working.

And then, another revelation. One afternoon when my anxiety was at my most aggravating, it hit me:

I get it! I understand why some artists are driven to substance abuse. 

Or, at the very least, I felt as though I understood why some of them had mental health issues.

There are times when feeling the weight of your life’s calling can really mess with your head. On one hand, you’re in a position where you’re able to create and share something amazing. On the other, impostor’s syndrome is darkening your door.

You’re powerful enough to do this, but how dare you?!?

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Photo courtesy of Lenka Sluneckova on Unsplash.

So where do I go from here?

Right now, it seems as though my life is at a standstill. Whether or not it’s the calm before the storm, time will tell.

Ultimately, though, I’m convinced that when you reject what you were meant to do, you’re rejecting YOURSELF. In order to heal this rift, the first solution that comes to mind is a spiritual one. I need to give myself space daily to think intimately about how I regard myself. No matter how much I may have attempted to avoid it in the past, the fact is that I love writing–body and soul. What sense does it make for me to hate my one true love?

In the days to come I look forward to settling down to work, and genuinely embracing my reality. Let’s see what happens next.

For more on mental health and the writers’ journey, read Alicia Elliott’s essay On Burnout.

*I’m looking for a new position. If you know anyone who needs to have something written, get in touch!

Black Excellence

We talk about “Black Excellence” and regard it as this beautiful, indomitable force in people of African descent. But what if it were a product? What would its ad campaign look like?

Those questions inspired this week’s video.

I won’t share much about my creative process. Instead I’ll point out something very important: I didn’t shoot any of the images. They’re all from Unsplash, and I’ve credited the photographers at the end of this post.

Interestingly enough, this project reinforced a few things.

1. I can create decent content. Huzzah! (That’s the first time I’ve used that word, and it may be the last.) In the past I’ve dabbled a bit in video, and I podcasted off and on a while ago. I miss those days.

2. It’s important to get in the arena. If you think of yourself as a creative, you can’t afford to keep your gifts to yourself. Kudos to Brené Brown for quoting Theodore Roosevelt, who said

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I once said ages ago that mistakes make magic. You can’t create large, great things without making smaller projects first and risking failure. To some my video may look simple, but I’m pretty damn proud of myself for putting it out there. 

3. “Do what you can with what you have” isn’t an empty phrase. Most of the work for this project was done my phone. Can you imagine what’ll happen once I have a whole suite of tools?

4. Representation will always matter. A lot of folks have experienced this, including me: Every now and then a white person will ask why a particular type of media has a label that references my ethnicity. (I remember some on social media flipped out when blackish was first broadcast.) Meanwhile in other avenues images of white people are considered the default.  People of colour don’t see ourselves in the media as often as they (we) should.

The photos I used spoke to me in one way or another. Ultimately, their message was powerful.  

“I am here, living this life, taking up this space.”

Words to live by.

 

BLACK EXCELLENCE – THE PHOTOGRAPHERS

  1. Hannah Grace 
  2. Enoch Appiah Jr.
  3. Tanja Heffner
  4. Quinten de Graaf
  5. Tom Cochereau
  6. Jascha Huisman
  7. Atikh Bana
  8. Jean Gerber
  9. Annie Spratt
  10. LinkedIn Sales Navigator
  11. Kim Carpenter
  12. Seth Doyle
  13. Rochelle Nicole
  14. Nichola Fiorvanti
  15. Anna Louise
  16. Brooke Cagle
  17. William Recinos
  18. Nathaniel Tetteh
  19.  Samantha Sophia
  20. Austin Neill
  21. Clarke Sanders
  22. The Creative Exchange
  23. Steven Van
  24. Eye for Ebony

Just because.

The joy that cannot be diminished in spite of hatred and heartbreak. In spite of unexpected evils that seem intent on rising up due to nature’s cruelest whim. I am here, as are you. And we shall not be stopped.

I was feeling a little poetic earlier. I’m thankful that deep down, my sense of hope is alive and well.

 

Photo by Tolu Bamwo via nappy.co.

Take A Knee

This summer, I worked with a group of teenage ESL students. I remember the first time I taught them our national anthem.

Everyone was ok with what we were doing, except one young woman. I’ll call her Emma.

After we sang “O Canada,”  I had the students work through an anthem-related activity. Once we were done, I couldn’t help but notice that Emma looked downright uncomfortable. While her classmates did other tasks, I took the empty seat beside her. We had a quiet conversation.

Emma was adamant. “An anthem is like a vow…” Technically, I knew she was right. However deep down, a part of me was stunned. Emma went on: she wasn’t from Canada, and didn’t want to disrespect her own country.

I dropped the issue. Days later, though, I had students do an activity that brought our anthem to mind. Once again, Emma was uncomfortable. And I was confused. Her reaction was unlike any that I’d encountered before. As far as I was concerned, Emma didn’t have to take the anthem as anything beyond what it appeared to be: A song.

One day after class, I approached my TA. I told him about Emma. His response?

He wasn’t going to stand in the way of anyone who didn’t want to sing “O Canada”.

Did I mention that my TA was Indigenous?

Instantly, I empathized. In the wake of his reply, it’s almost hilarious how quickly my attitude changed.

Looking back I can’t help but be intrigued. Two different perspectives can reveal so much about the meaning of a piece of music.

For one person, an anthem is a promise–when you sing it, you are declaring your devotion to a country. If you sing the anthem of a country that isn’t yours, you are being disrespectful.

For the other, an anthem can be a symbol of oppression. The first time I was present when a Native student didn’t stand for “O Canada”, I was curious. But I didn’t feel offended.

On one hand, I’m proud to be Canadian. Yet I’m not so proud that I don’t see my nation’s flaws. I understand why our past and present moves some of us to take a stand. Negative reactions to NFL players’ peaceful activism have been very telling.

Why should people be expected to entertain others at the expense of their humanity?

Yes, a national anthem is a song. But it’s more than that. It IS a vow–an expression of devotion and pride. And yet, to those who face injustice, its notes might not sound so sweet.

No one should feel obligated to be comfortable with a system that doesn’t value them. If you have strength and courage enough to protest against injustice, I salute you.

Photo source.