American Experiment: Caught in the Intersection*

An active-duty friend of mine was fired recently. Despite being described as “hard-charging, high-flying, and mission oriented” (usually positive descriptors in a military setting), those in supervisory positions determined this particular leader did not have sufficient soft skills to continue to lead.

Apparently accountability to published standards was too much for those in subordinate positions, who deemed this leader assertive and ambitious.

Do I even have to identify this leader as a woman?

I’m sure it’s obvious; these traits are only considered negative when displayed by women. The mostly men in her chain of command have freely admitted to urging her to be softer, less strident, more soothing, seemingly oblivious to the extreme sexist, misogynistic, and anachronistic attitudes their comments reveal.

As someone who has frequently and favorably compared the military’s willingness to reward good leadership regardless of gender, to what I’ve experienced post retirement, I was taken aback.

But there’s more. This stellar officer, a frequent presenter at professional conferences, made an “I’m-working-like-a-slave” comment in a moment of stress that was heard by a subordinate who reacted uncomfortably. Apparently, this comment, coupled with concerns about her disposition, required her to be fired, disinvited from presenting at a conference she was scheduled to attend and the subject of a whisper campaign within her professional community.

Before you pronounce her guilty of racism, did I mention this leader is black? Is it necessary to mention the subordinate is a white male?

And without getting into the whole “can black people be racist” argument, I have questions…

What makes any comments uttered by black people about slavery racist? Even Kanye West’s controversial comments about race and slavery were primarily labeled ignorant and inaccurate versus racist.

Doesn’t firing the black woman play into the reality of institutional racism? Isn’t the accusation of racism by a white man and subsequent firing by another white man examples of the white man’s positional power to define reality in a system of white supremacy? Isn’t using the institutional power of the dominant culture to punish a black woman for being something she technically cannot be, exactly what constitutes institutional racism?

Did the black men made aware of the incident acquiesce to defining the incident as racist because they believed it to be so or were they unwilling to push their white counterparts or subordinates to consider a more nuanced interpretation? Were the white women privy to the story outraged by the sexism but unwilling to interrupt the real “ism” by speaking up for a woman they might perceive as uppity?

Black women often find ourselves at the perilous intersection* of race and gender, victims of patriarchy, white fragility, expectations about what is feminine, perceptions that don’t recognize our femininity and stereotypes that mistake our strength for anger. In this space, some are discredited, some are discarded and some die. Those who proudly serve this country are no exception.

After a career spent working hard, sacrificing personally to achieve role model, rock star status, my friend has been devastated.

I pray she recovers.

“There’s a huge double standard and a massive problem going on with weaponized outrage in this country. White men have found a way to destroy women and people of color with their mostly manufactured outrage at comments and actions that make them uncomfortable while being absolutely immune to and vaccinated against the outrage of others.” paraphrase of a Twitter comment by Eugene Gu, MD, a Surgeon-Scientist

*Intersectionality refers to the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups. The term was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 essay that asserts that antidiscrimination law, feminist theory, and antiracist politics all fail to address the experiences of black women because of how they each focus on only a single factor. Crenshaw writes that “[b]ecause the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”


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Broken Trust

It sometimes seems that those who have been the most marginalized in this country seem afraid to trust positive change, afraid to loose the little bit they have, afraid to believe in plans that could improve their housing, their communities, even their way of life.

But is it fair to expect those who have been intentionally prevented access to the wealth of one of the richest countries in the world, to suddenly trust people offering help without asking what is needed, people making promises when previous promises have been perverted, or people making plans for a community without including the community in the planning process?

“The Obama Foundation’s plans to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park have sparked a complicated, and at times emotional, conversation about race, class, segregation, privilege and power on the South Side.

The conversation has raised delicate and fragile issues: who gets a voice in the discussion, who gets heard, who gets action, and how the history of racial and class segregation shapes expectations.” ~ Lolly Bowean, Contact Reporter, Chicago Tribune

Inhale Agreement, Exhale Alienation…
Inhale Inclusion, Exhale Isolation…
Inhale Negotiation, Exhale Segregation…
Just Breathe…


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Poverty Shaming

I was surprised to see a former military leader suggest the presence of robots at a fast food restaurant was the result of workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage.

There was no blame for the housing industry which has made it difficult for a person with one minimum wage job to afford a place to live or energy companies which are enjoying record setting profits while charging record-setting prices or any other entity which has contributed to a higher cost of living in this country.

Nope. All blame was directed at workers trying to keep their heads above water.

I guess I just expected a little more compassion…

The income-inequality trajectory observed in the United States is largely due to massive educational inequalities, combined with a tax system that grew less progressive…” ~ Beatrice Dupuy, Newsweek

Inhale Compassion, Exhale Inequality…
Inhale Compassion, Exhale Greed…
Inhale Compassion, Exhale Excess…
Just Breathe


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Citizens All

I heard a former Army officer claim a level of U.S citizenship above those who had not served. But we don’t convey citizenry based on military service, race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation; all born or naturalized in the U.S have the same rights and responsibilities.

At least, that’s what our founding documents proclaim…

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”  14th Amendment

Inhale Equality, Exhale Exclusivity…
Inhale Responsibility, Exhale Avoiding Duty…
Inhale Citizenry, Exhale Captivity…
Just Breathe


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Civic Duty

I had my first civilian jury duty last week. I WANTED to serve, although just for a short case, and that’s exactly what happened. I haven’t been able to format my experience in a way that fits this space but I know it was vastly different from the other jurors because of how we responded to the information we were give.

The trail reinforced for me the need to have defendants judged by their peers. And since we live in a country that incarcerates black and brown people at 5.1 and 1.4 (respectively) times the rate of whites, to me, that means more people of color need to be in the jury box.

Inhale Civic Duty, Exhale Excuses…
Inhale Fairness, Exhale Prejudice…
Inhale Justice, Exhale Systemic Injustice…
Just Breathe


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Who Am I?

How do the descendants of the colonized, de-colonize ourselves? How do we recognize what is ours and what has been imposed on us? How do we differentiate between behaviors indigenous to our ancestors or adopted to survive in an environment where they were desired and despised? And does it matter to our current reality?

“Who are you?” Wakandan greeting, Black Panther

Inhale Whole, Exhale Broken…
Inhale Reclaimed, Exhale Disconnected…
Inhale Culture, Exhale Acculturated…
Just Breathe


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Dominant Impact

The permissions granted to white Americans but denied to America’s citizens of color have created a sense of entitlement among the former and often sucked the hope of life from the latter.

A European, middle-class, “Christian” culture dominating all social constructs in this country has given white males in particular the confidence to act on whatever good or evil impulse they have.

Black Americans, on the other hand, frequently withhold permissions from themselves and their children to take life-affirming actions because of a sometimes imagined but often real risk of life-altering consequences.

… the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is…another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world’s assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction.” ~ James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Inhale Integration, Exhale Assimilation…
Inhale Acculturation, Exhale Compliance…
Inhale Freedom, Exhale Control…
Just Breathe


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Irony Deficient: Part 3

Each wave of immigrants to this country has been “othered” by the entrenched immigrants already here. Every group fighting for equality and authenticity has been “othered” by those who have won their battles. How ironic that once our own “tribe” achieves recognition, we don’t support the struggles of others to enjoy the full rights and privileges of being Americans.

“..belonging and inclusion [is] the only sustainable solution to the problem of othering.” ~ john a. powell and Stephen Menendian, Inclusiveness and Belonging

Inhale Welcoming, Exhale “Othering”…
Inhale Belonging, Exhale Excluding…
Inhale Including, Exhale Hostility…
Just Breathe


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American Poverty

“According to the Census Bureau, nearly 41 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. That’s second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries, as measured by the percentage of people earning less than half the national median income.” ~ Carlos Ballesteros, Newsweek

This week, the United Nations is reporting on third world poverty and disease right here in First World America.

So I’m thinking that instead of some quilt assuaging, economy-disrupting, seed packaging, give-away to an impoverished country, maybe some of the mega-churches in this country could tend to the impoverished right here in America.

“Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6: 17-19, MSG

Inhale Do Good, Exhale Poverty…
Inhale Help Others, Exhale Poverty…
Inhale Give Generously, Exhale Poverty…
Just Breathe

Reflections with Renita

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American Exceptionalism

This summer, I participated in a curated discussion exploring the black experience through television. After watching ‘black-ish” the exceptional creation of Kenya Barris, one of the white male participants voiced his objection to the Johnson’s acting white. When pressed, he couldn’t quite explain how they were acting white, except they live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, drive expensive cars and wear fabulous shoes.

I saw his reaction as a demonstration of the way Americans equate wealth with whiteness. So ingrained in the American psyche is this idea of white wealth and, conversely, black poverty, that whole black communities have been destroyed by whites, indignant that blacks would possess material wealth reserved ONLY, they believed, for whites.

Today, that same sentiment is expressed in the extra security for people of color shopping in swanky stores, the harassment, even arrest of non-whites trying to deposit big checks and of course, the consistent assumption that people of color couldn’t possibly afford first class.

And since we know that any escalation will probably end badly for us…’cause racism… we resort to recording the woman who thinks she should board the plane ahead of us.

Inhale Deeply, Exhale Anger…
Inhale Slowly, Exhale Hostility…
Inhale Fully, Exhale Escalation…
Just Breathe…

Reflections with Renita

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