I felt like Solomon Northrup at 12 years old.

As I watched 12 Years a Slave, it felt reminiscent of a nightmare I had as a child. 

Many of you might be shaking your head and thinking “that’s weird” or “poor Lauren. That was long ago in the past.”

Please let me explain with two short vignettes:

MY history and YOUR history

   In elementary school the only time I remember talking about black people was when we discussed slavery. I can still see the pictures of shackled Africans in my history book.

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I can remember feeling my whole body burn and my stomach somersault each year because I knew the teacher would single me out and ask “how does this make you feel, Lauren” or pull me aside and say that I could leave the classroom if this was too hard for me.

The teachers made slavery MY history and not OUR history.

The students stole glances at me throughout popcorn reading the segment.

Everyone knew I was somehow connected with these African people…

but nobody wanted to acknowledge it.

So I did not know how to acknowledge it.

I just wanted to avoid the lessons all together. 

I just wanted to go back to discussing OUR history

because MY history made everyone uncomfortable. 

Colonial Day

    I have never admitted this to anyone when I was younger, but I envisioned Colonial Day to be like 12 Years a Slave. Colonial Day, for those of you who were fortunate NOT to experience the day, is a day devoted to dressing up and recognizing colonial life. Each student dresses up in colonial attire and participates in colonial activities, like candle making and playing with a hoop and stick.

I have included a picture from a news article about “Colonial Camp” at Charlotte Prep. Please take note of the attire of the black children in the center (with PARTICULAR notice being made to their headwear). 

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Yes, all the students look happy…but what are the indirect implications of this activity?

Some schools directly address the issue of race and slavery.

For example, Colonial Williamsburg suggests drafting a letter like this to send to parents about the Colonial Days: 

Dear Parents,

SAMPLE A—LETTER TO PARENTS

For Carlton Oaks Colonial Days, our class is responsible for creating a slave quarters, gentry home, tobacco field and a cooking center. Among other activities, our class will be reading related literature books, researching and writing speeches about these various aspects of Colonial history. We will also be gathering and making replicas of artifacts that would be typical of 18th-century activities. 

A slave quarters?!!! 

If I were at that school, I would think that part of the act would be to put me in those quarters…but I digress. 

I remember eagerly making an outfit with my mom. I picked a pink skirt and cute bonnet like my classmates and I eagerly awaited colonial day. A day off from real learning 🙂 

I never anticipated that I would feel out of place. 

I still remember jumping each time someone called my name.

I was afraid someone would say “umm historically wouldn’t you be a slave?” or “Lauren, can you help with this?”

It sounds so silly because of course nobody would say that…

but I had no fake papers to show my freedom and we were in Virginia!! 

I felt like Solomon Northrup at 12 years old.

What if someone saw my skin color through my costume?

Was I supposed to be a free black woman in colonial Virginia?

Who was I supposed to be?

Who was I supposed to be?

I certainly would not have been a white landowner reaping the benefits of cotton and/or tobacco?

I felt like Addy the American girl doll, while everyone else was a Samantha and post-racial society decided that the best solution was not to discuss race in the modern day.

So I kept it quiet and shrugged the feelings off.

Years later, I was asked to participate in another event. 

MLK Day in High School

One day I was pulled out of my AP Biology class for a meeting about Martin Luther King Jr. Day where a white subschool principal put on a scarf, called herself Harriet Tubman, and danced to slave spirituals in order to “bond with us” and convince us to make a presentation for MLK Jr Day. To further convince us, she called the custodian- a black man- in to talk to us about needing to participate. OUCH, right?

I wish I was fabricating this story…

I told my parents about how much the event hurt and they offered to approach the school with me, but I was too scared to approach my high school. I was afraid of punishment…as if I was doing something wrong by reporting the incident.

Once again, I thought I was just overreacting.

My point in writing these vignettes is to ask:

How many children brush off and keep their discomfort…their questions…and their hesitations quiet?

What are schools teaching our black children?

No child should feel like Solomon Northrup.

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I felt like Solomon Northrup at 12 years old.

We CAN: My Visual Reminders!

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I want to take time to gush about Eunique Jones Photography and her project: Because of Them, We Can.  My order just came in the mail and I cannot stop looking at these two posters I ordered.  I could not think of a more perfect view to look up to as I work in my lab.

The quotes resonate so well with my vision, mission and reason for pursuing a Masters in Child Development.

The quote becomes so much more powerful because each quote is accompanied by a photo of a child.

I am tempted to buy the full poster set (on sale right now!), which can be found at http://www.becauseofthemwecan.com/collections/all/products/full-poster-set, because her work is an act of brilliance.

I want her posters to adorn my future office as a visual reminder for all my students and clients.

We can.

We can.

We can.

You can find the many, many posters, shirts, bracelets and calendars at http://www.becauseofthemwecan.com 

We CAN: My Visual Reminders!

Stop defining “blackness”

One day in middle school, I came home sobbing. I could barely speak as I told my mom all about the bullying I faced by black girls in my school because I was in all honors classes and how I “dressed like a white girl.” I went to a predominantly white middle school and the black children used to gather at one table.

I used to smile when I saw the group at lunch. Some days I wondered what would happen if I sat at their table. As I walked by where they sat to go sit with my friends from my honors classes, they would whisper and say things like “who does she think she is…” or “she ain’t black because (this girl got money or this girl be acting all bougie).” 

Those words carried with me into high school. In high school, I used to look in the mirror for hours and think “does this make me look white?? or “how can I be more black??” 

One day I woke up and realized that I did not to defend my blackness, my personality or my place in society. 

Being me was being black.

Last week, an undergrad whom I truly adore messaged me to say: 

You’re definitely a beacon for women of color on campus.

That day in high school I vowed to be the best me I could be and know that I did not need to work to be black.

If you face the same bullying or feelings of confusion/that you do not belong or fit the arbitrary social construct, know that you are perfect just the way you are.

I hope by the end of my program, my beautiful black girls know that they are perfect just the way they are and that they do not have to belittle or alter their ambitions just because the field is reserved for people who are traditionally white.

Repeat after me: I am proud of who and where I am today and I will speak, dress, act or talk in whatever way I see fit. 

Ta-da! 

Lauren

Stop defining “blackness”

White privilege does not equal white immunity.

I was assigned the topic of “affluence being the new risk factor” in my Resilience class. I was UNCOMFORTABLE and LOST.  I kept envisioning myself fumbling at the front of the room in front of the class. I asked God why I had accidentally signed up for this topic when anyone would be better suited than me to give the presentation.

He answered in the most surprising of ways.

I usually love public speaking and presentations, but I procrastinated making this presentation until the morning of the presentation day.  The task, for me, was to give a presentation on the prevalence of substance abuse and somatic symptoms among the affluent.

My first instinct was to say that this topic was irrelevant because people who are affluent can seek help for any problems so the risk is really not as problematic as those without access/resources, but then I realized I wasn’t being my compassionate and empathetic self.

Any person can face problems.

I remember meeting so many people during undergrad who, on the surface level, appeared to have it all. Yet, they confessed to feeling the most empty.

Reading #whitegirlproblems on twitter is often funny, but some #whitegirlproblems are often serious. 

So I vowed to take others on the journey with me, from funny to serious. I began by showing a satire about a white girl crying because she didn’t get the newest iPod and had to get in the backseat when she drove with her mom #whitegirlproblems.

People laughed, then I had them list all the reasons people may abuse drugs/alcohol. Then, I asked them to list protective factors. The risk list still doubled the protective factor list.

I then proceeded to engage them in discussions of particular risks affluent families face; such as how some children have absent parents because being rich comes with working long hours. If we are able to sympathize with the struggles single mothers face, I thought, then we can sympathize with a boy who only sees his father some weekends because the father is so busy. It has been found that parental depression, which often comes with working long hours in a high stress job, can lead to risky activity and depression in boys (Absent fathers was a topic everyone was able to discuss when the topic was NOT in relation to affluent white home).

Some people in my predominantly white and affluent class began to look a bit sullen.

Some faces looked like mine each week, as we discuss poverty and a face of each of the children I’ve worked with previously pops into mind. Each week, it’s personal to me. When one girl hypothesizes that maybe some people just want to stay in jail (a justification for recidivism), I think of a friend who so desperately would love to see her father beyond visitation hours or of a person I know who missed the birth of their child while being in jail. How the system, and not the people, are broken….

And that was when it hit me…

Maybe I was given this task to turn the tables and shed light on the notion that “with great power, comes great responsibility”

And great risk?

We never talk about white privilege. It is unspoken. In a white society, white people ARE privileged…but white people are not immune.

One girl said, “I mean what’s the solution? Put kids who are having trouble picking between colleges in therapy?”

Everyone chuckled…but then I shot back “If that is leading to self injury/depression.”

Some people nodded.

I ended with a discussion of prescription drug use among the affluent and how it was slowly changing to heroin due to crackdowns on fake prescriptions. I mentioned Cory from glee and how he didn’t look like someone you’d think did drugs- but in fact that face is by no means an exception.

As I ended my presentation, I felt satisfied. My professor emailed me today and I couldn’t help but smile.

Thank you for making the presentation to the class yesterday.  It was clear that you have creativity, knowledge, and passion!  Your presentation style indicates that you have command of the material and enjoy fostering an interesting group discussion.  Thank you for contributing to the learning environment of the class.

Where did the notion that white people didn’t have problems come from, and what are the implications?

I pray people will develop sensitivity for all cultures and that comes with understanding that white is not right.

White privilege does not equal immunity.

Being white does not mean you have no problems.

If my young black girls think that white girls their age have no real problems, then what are the implications when they do have problems -that they are inferior?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Affluent white children are at risk for exhibiting problem behaviors #whitegirlproblems

Thank you for reading!

Lauren

P.S. #whitegirlsolutions are a different conversation for a different time! 

White privilege does not equal white immunity.

Life changes the day you find the beauty of your own voice.

Nothing will work unless you do
Nothing will work unless you do

Life changes the day you find the beauty of your own voice.

Finding your voice is like when a child learns that his tiny voice can echo in a parking lot. There is no stopping that child from screaming non-stop because she has become obsessed with the beautiful sound her voice is creating and how the sound seems as if it will go on forever.

I always spoke in “parking lots,” but I never spoke loud enough so that my voice would ricochet against the barrier and cause a disruption of sound waves.

Now I feel as if I am that child in the parking lot – diligently trying to test, navigate and push the “gaps,” “color lines” and “barriers” with my voice

…so as to make the world a little better for someone somewhere who has trouble overcoming something.

I  am obsessed with speaking, writing, designing, creating, implementing, and evaluating

…so that maybe my voice and my story can empower and inspire screaming in others.

This blog aims to engage all those who read in discussions of GRACE (Girls Rising Above Circumstances to Excel- my research program), race, and my knowledge base.

…so as to fill the space until OUR voices reverberate.

My dearest readers,

Will you test, navigate and push with me?

What separates me from the egocentrism as a child is that I understand that the sound becomes even more beautiful when it is joined by the voices of others.

Welcome and thank you. For believing in me.

Life changes the day you find the beauty of your own voice.