On Belonging

I appreciate being in a period of national relief. There is something so calming, even when the world is still in a shambles, about humane leadership. It allows my creative mind, anyway, room to react to events without trying to problem solve or anticipate the next horrific thing.

One result of that has been more space in my mind to reflect and create. One aspect of my life I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past year has been my connection to The Bronx and why I am so attached to it as a site of my fiction and creative nonfiction, why it is a place that, when I lived far from New York City, pulled me back to it. I think I understand better having written this piece on Medium, but I’m not sure. It may be constantly changing like everything else.

Here’s an excerpt:

It feels like the least a Black woman can expect in the way of belonging and safety in 2021 is to not stand out from the crowd in an era of white nationalist fervor and anger. I want that sentence to mean less in the wake of this historic week but I fear it means more.The safest option, even when the world is quarantining during a pandemic, is to not make oneself more of a target for surveillance or harassment.

In the before times, I found subtle ways of trying to take up less space knowing I would be in a situation, or traveling to a place, where I would be The Only One or One of The Onlies. The stress of living in a cauldron of constant chaos and upheaval is offset by the relief of not having to navigate multiple reactions to my Blackness and my womanhood and their intersection, which seems to be the most intimidating and off-putting fact of my existence of all.

Staying in my lane, or my neighborhood, has become my safety, my insurance. My safety is that I am surrounded by others who more or less expect me to be here. That expectation is reassuring, because when white people are surprised by Black people, the Black people end up dead or in prison. It probably helps that I don’t move that quickly, since there’s a lot of me to move around. Even if I were to be one of those sudden movement types, there is, after all, a police precinct up the street. That said, I am not often made to feel like a suspect in my neighborhood, though I wonder if the Black men in my neighborhood would say the same. I bet even the famous ones would tell a different story.

I wonder: Do you feel like you belong to the place where you live? Why or why not?

On Medium: White Supremacy is an Emergency

Like much of the nation, I am still processing and trying to be productive in the wake of last week’s domestic terrorism. Increasingly, it feels like when there is nothing new to add, there is no reason to post anything here. But I did have thoughts about the urgent threat of white supremacy — that it is, in fact, an emergency — in the same way that I have been pondering how traumatic racism is for all of us. My thoughts are up on Medium today:

Trauma is defined by Merriam-Webster as a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress or physical injury. It is possible that we cannot reorder the psyches or behaviors of angry, fearful white men who believe their inheritance has been stolen. This is one of the biggest reasons I worry that the rhetoric of hope is not a cure and it will never be. If anything, our insistence on hopefulness only deepens the wound and adds insult to injury. The hope for an equal world displaces white male privilege, which obviously is at the core of preserving white supremacy as a way of life. Hope for equity banishes white men from control and power; it upends the world, because it means imagining a world where white men are not at the center.

Book Review: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Happy summer, as happy as it can be, I suppose. I wanted to drop by to rave a little about Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece, Caste, publishing soon and definitely one for you to pick up. Here’s my full review from the Sunday Boston Globe and an excerpt:

“With an old house, the work is never done, and you don’t expect it to be,” writes Isabel Wilkerson in her new book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” “America is an old house.” It is a simple analogy that is classic Wilkerson, whose previous book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” chronicled the Great Migration through the masterful weaving of thousands of narratives within the United States. In her new book, which should be required reading for generations to come and is as propulsive a reading experience as her debut, she turns her attention to India, Germany, and what their histories have in common with America’s.

A significant work of social science, journalism, and history, “Caste” removes the tenuous language of racial animus and replaces it with a sturdier lexicon based on power relationships. “Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions,” Wilkerson explains, “an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry.” Using examples from around the world, she goes on to demonstrate how the codification of caste throughout the world has hardened economic and political inequality into seemingly permanent markers of difference.

School Library Connection Author of the Month Interview

SLC Author of the Month

I’m delighted to share a Q&A with School Library Connection as its December Author of the Month. I got to share my love of The Bronx, the story behind Ava Murray’s name in the I Can Write the World series and more about faith, solitude and writing across genres. I hope you’ll check it out. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve included an excerpt below:

 

I love the way Ava’s mother uses the window frame to explain how journalists “frame” stories. It seems like so much of our news these days is framed to fit a particular narrative, rather than to express the truth. Why do you think this started to happen, and what can be done to fix it?

Thank you; it wasn’t until I had the great honor of sitting on a panel at the 2019 Bologna Children’s Book Fair with Rudine Sims Bishop, whose beautiful description of books as windows preceded Kim’s description in the book, that I thought more about the significance of how we talk to children (or don’t talk to them) about how stories are framed, or shaped.

I think that it’s fairly recent in society—adjacent and aligned with the rise of social media—that everyone sort of considers themselves a journalist. When you think about it, journalists are witnesses, people who report what they see. So in a way, everybody’s right. What everyone doesn’t necessarily have, though, are the ethics that go along with what professional news gatherers have—this inclination to shine a light on injustice and unfairness. Most news reporters get into the business (and it is increasingly considered mainly a business) with the aims of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. But I think the reason why news more often resembles propaganda now has to do with a kind of commodification of truth and certainly of news. Integrity or nobility are less emphasized than they used to be because most media moguls are looking for revenue to survive in an environment where no one thinks they need an intermediary for news.

One thing I think all of us could do more of is to consider how powerful our platforms are, whether you think you have one or not. All of us who write, for example, have presences online. How can we use that to help others share their opinions or their stories more mindfully? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking these questions, which I love and did not originate with me: “Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me?” The other thing is if we are all journalists, now, it shouldn’t just be when it’s comfortable or cute, but all the time. Ask more difficult questions. Who is the source of this information? Are they lying to me about their objectivity? Why do I believe them? Why should I believe them? When in doubt, find your own credible sources and go with that.

On the legacy of Toni Morrison

“In time, writing became a way to ‘order my experience…’ It’s always seemed to me that black people’s grace has been with what they do with language.”

Late last year I received a copy of The Source of Self-Regard. I guarded this galley with my life, and from the first page, I felt fed. Redeemed. Seen.

I was completely astounded by it, and by the possibility of writing about Toni Morrison for the first time after years of steeping myself in her work. I did what I always do when I’m intimidated by the prospect, by the responsibility, of trying to do someone justice: I went overboard with research. Flung myself into the stacks at the Schomburg. The above quote comes from the 1987 book, Toni Morrison: An Annotated Bibliography by David L. Middleton. Here are my other notes:

Born 1931 in Lorain, Ohio

Chloe Anthony Wofford

Shortened her name to an abbreviation of her middle name purportedly (and with regret) because no one could pronounce Chloe. The theme of claiming one’s name emerged –noted in entry – in her fiction – from third novel, Song of Solomon (1977) to Tar Baby, her fourth ( 1981)

Graduated from Howard in 1953, English Major, classics minor

Master’s from Cornell in 1955 – her thesis was on suicide in the work of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.

She taught for two years at Texas Southern University in Houston, then returned to Howard as a faculty member.

She married Jamaican architect Harold Morrison in 1958

They had two sons together, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. They divorced in 1964.

She moved w/sons to Syracuse where she worked as Random House textbook editor. Began writing at night as therapy for her loneliness when her sons were in bed.

Transferred to NYC in 1967 to headquarters for Random House editing acclaimed black women writers like Gayl Jones and Toni Cade Bambara.

She kept teaching – at SUNY Purchase 1971-72, Yale, 1976-77. She left Random House in 1983; Appointed Albert Schweitzer chair at SUNY Albany in 1984. Stayed until 1989, when Princeton appointed her Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. (Note from me: That means 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Toni Morrison becoming the first Black woman to hold a chair at an ivy league university.)

When I am overwhelmed with sadness and grief, like now, I reach for books. Toni Morrison made it so that when I reached for books, I saw the most glorious, complicated and layered parts of myself as a black woman becoming. When I joined the Well Read Black Girl sisterhood for a viewing of the documentary about her life, Toni Morrison: The Pieces That I Am, it felt like we were witnessing a celebrity in the room with us, like she was talking to every black woman in the room even though we were in a crowded theater in Brooklyn.

She did not know me, but she knew me, because her work reached into my soul and embraced the core of me. That is some of how I feel about Toni Morrison’s work; Toni Morrison who lived by the Hudson, recovered from personal tragedies and still, rose. Still, she wrote. Not just anything — everything. The following paragraph did not make it into my Bitch Magazine review of The Source of Self-Regard:

It is easy for us to take for granted Morrison’s vision, the scope and depth and breadth of it. How far she could see into our future from the quiet of those dark nights of her loneliness. The Bluest Eye, for example, was a precursor for this time – showing us that we would continue, always to vilify the acts of sexual assault against black girls or against women, at least, and maybe sometimes we would consider those two to be in the same category, but we would always excuse the perpetrators of that violence in the bodies of black men. It is easy to look back now that Morrison is nearing the end of a storied, established life, not to put her in a grave or anything, and applaud or be dismissive of the soaring loveliness of Beloved. If the book’s failure to win the 1987 National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award despite notable acclaim was any indication – as these things go, it was taken as such – the idea that a mother willing to kill her children instead of submitting it to a life of slavery was so great a leap that it took an open letter published in the New York Times Book Review signed by 48 prominent black writers to have the literary establishment look again at their discomfort. The following year, Morrison won the Pulitizer Prize.

I would be a less proud, confident, whole black woman writer were it not for the gifts of Toni Morrison. She was and is a literary light for the ages. I will miss her sharp, soft language, that keenly spiritual eye and of course, always, forevermore, the narratives she had left to write, if there was any more for her to give.

I’m too gutted to read her eulogy to James Baldwin in its entirety this morning. But this part, this is what I feel about Toni this morning:

You knew, didn’t you, how I needed your language and the mind that formed it? How I relied on your fierce courage to tame wildernesses for me? How strengthened I was by the certainty that came from knowing you would never hurt me? You knew, didn’t you, how I loved your love? You knew. This then is no calamity. No. This is jubilee. ”Our crown,” you said, ”has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do,” you said, ”is wear it.”

And we do, Jimmy. You crowned us.

Resources for Furloughed Government Employees

I’m on a lot of listservs that vary by city after spending so much time living in different parts of the country. I received this list of ways to assist the federal employees living in the DMV area from one such listserv that offers resources in the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia area (or DMV for short) — if anyone reading this has resources for federal employees in other areas, feel free to post and I can update this blog.
FYI – Furlough Information (DMV area)
Since the federal government remains closed affecting over 360,000 federal employees in the Greater Washington, DC Metropolitan Area, lets transform this “sour lemon situation” into a “lemonade experience”. Enclosed below is a listing of businesses and organizations around the DMV that are offering freebies and special deals to furloughed employees with proper Federal Work I.Ds. Please keep your spirit up and remain positive!
1. Financial Assistance: 
Bank of America, Citi, SunTrust – offer varying degrees of assistance for affected clients through their financial hardship programs, some are on a case-by-case basis, and customers are being asked to contact their bank to learn of the programs.
Chase – Their hardship programs allow customers who no longer receive a government check directly deposited into their bank account to automatically waive or refund overdraft and monthly service fees until the shutdown ends.. Moreover, according to The Financial Times, Chase will help government workers who could miss a payment on a car, credit card or mortgage payment
Congressional Federal Credit Union – offers furlough solutions ranging from a relief line of credit with an initial rate of 0 percent for 60 days and then 4 percent interest on the remaining balance, to line-of-credit limit increases to payment deferments and more. They are also referring customers with specific concerns to their in-house financial counseling services.
Democracy Federal Credit Union – offering a short-term emergency loan with 0% interest, lending director Antoine McStay said to CNN. They are offering contractors other options, such as delaying their payments on existing loans.
First Command Financial Services – offering solutions including interest-free payroll advances, as well as other assistance.
Navy Federal Credit Union – Federal government employees whose salaries are deposited into their account with this credit union are being offered 0% APR loans up to $6,000, depending on eligibility. The loan does not require a credit check and has no fees or interest. The amount credited to the account will be automatically deducted once government reopens and pay resumes.
The United Way of the National Capital Area – Their Emergency Assistance Fund will provide additional monies to nonprofits that provide food and housing to help them meet the increased demand for their services during the government shutdown.
Thrift Savings Plan – Furloughed federal employees can take a loan against their retirement savings in the TSP so long as they are in that status for fewer than 30 days. Members should read about the shutdown’s impact on TSP contributions, loans, and withdrawals.
Transportation Federal Credit Union – offering furlough preparedness and assistance including money management counseling, short term emergency furlough low-interest loan up to $3,000 to customers, and a Skip-A-Payment option (with fee waiver) for members who already have a consumer loan during the furlough period.
USAA – offering low-interest loans to their Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uniformed officer base, affected by the shutdown. Visit this link to learn more.
Wells Fargo – will consider reversing overdraft fees for customers whose income has been disrupted by the shutdown; and mortgage, loan and credit customers may qualify for forbearance or other payment assistance programs.
2. Utilities
DC Water – Furloughed federal workers who are having hardship paying their bill can learn more about the various program offerings by contacting customer service at 202-354-3600.
Dominion Energy – offering various forms of assistance, including payment extensions, long-term payment plans and bill payment assistance options. Assistance varies by state.
PEPCO – PEPCO is urging impacted federal workers to consider visiting their website to learn more about the available assistance programs being offered. They encourage those in need to consider applying for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program which provides utility assistance grants.
Washington Gas – offering impacted federal workers flexible payment arrangements, payment deferments, budgeting plan, and financial assistance to pay for their bills via The Washington Area Fuel Fund. Customers should contact Washington Gas customer service representatives at 1-844-WASHGAS for more information and to discuss their individual situations.
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) – will be suspending all water service shutoffs, waiving late fees, and working one-on-one with customers impacted by the partial shutdown. Information on their assistance programs can be found at this link.
3. Food: FREE
&pizza – All D.C. locations offer free pizza pies for federal employees between 6pm-8pm during the shutdown.
Baked by Yael – Across from the National Zoo, this popular bakery offers free coffee for federal workers and contractors, and free bagel sandwiches or small orders of soup each weekday to zoo workers working without pay. This is while supplies last. Free cake pop classes for federal workers and contractors.
Carmine’s – Downtown DC – Free order of meatball sliders from 2-4pm during the shutdown. Their happy hour menu will be offered all day long at the bar for as long as the shutdown lasts.
Charlie Palmer – The steakhouse on Constitution Avenue is offering a free fried chicken sandwich to all government employees during the furlough with a government ID. Add a Blue Point Toasted Lager with fries for $12. Valid as long as the shutdown lingers for lunch guests at the bar only.
Chef José Andrés – All of celebrity Chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup restaurants are offering different free sandwiches each day from 2-5pm, to federal employees until they get paid again. You don’t want to miss these tasty sandwiches. Participating restaurants include: barmini by José Andrés, Beefsteak, China Chilcano, Jaleo DC, Oyamel, and Zaytinya.
Grilled Cheese DC – offering a free grilled cheese sandwich on Thursday, January 10 from 11 am – 3 pm, and at 4pm and each night afterward until the furlough is lifted, they will offer four cocktails at $5 – the drinks will be that price all night long. Must have government ID for offers.
Junction Bakery & Bistro – This Alexandria bakery if offering a free 12-ounce drip coffee to all federal government employees with work ID.
Pork Barrel BBQ – The award-winning pulled pork sandwich is being offered free of charge to furloughed federal employees and contractors until the shutdown ends.
Taco Bamba – The Chinatown location is offering a free traditional taco with your federal government ID card.
The Capital Area Food Bank – partnered with Giant grocery stores, free produce will be offered each weekend (as of January 12) from 9am-12pm until the end of the partial government shutdown to the first 250 furloughed federal workers and contractors (with work ID). The five Giant locations are: 7074 Allentown Road, Camp Springs, MD 20748; 10480 Campus Way South, Largo, MD 20774; 1050 Brentwood Road, NE, Washington, DC 20018; 12051 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852; 6800 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, VA 22306.
Z-Burger – offering a free single burger (plain, cheese, veggie or turkey) per person for federal workers at their Tenleytown location only, for those with a federal government ID card. This offer is not daily, so please check their Twitter page to learn about upcoming dates and offers.. The next date is Thursday, January 10, 11am-7pm.
4. Discounted Drinks & Food:
BBQ Bus – Founded by a former government contractor, this Georgia Ave. NW BBQ location will slash 25% off the entire menu for federal employees and contractors.
Capitol Lounge – $5 drink specials and cocktails with cute names such as “Nothing Really Mattis” (Mad Dog 20/20 and Vodka) and “Mexico Will Pay For This” (Montezuma Blue tequila, OJ and grenadine).
Catch 22 – 15% off the final bill (excluding happy hour) for all federal employees during the shutdown.
City Tap – in Penn Quarter has extended happy hour with $5 draft beers, $6 house wine and $7 beer and shot combos.
City Winery – in Ivy City has $1 glasses of its own City Winery wines on tap..
District Doughnut – on 8th Street in Southeast, Cady’s Alley in Georgetown, and at The Wharf, free coffee with any purchase as long as the shutdown lasts.
Fazoli’s – Through Sunday, January 13 – buy a drink and you’ll get a free fan-favorite Pizza Baked Spaghetti at participating locations with your federal government ID,
Granville Moore’s – on H Street – offers a 30 percent discount on draft beers until the government reopens.
Little Havana – Show your government ID and get half off all drinks every day until the shutdown is over at this new and colorful Cuban respite in D.C.
Pennsylvania 6 – on Eye St. NW – offering extended happy hour, from 3pm-9pm while shutdown lasts with special $5 mixed drinks, a draft beer and a house wine.
Sugar Shack Donuts – locations in D.C., Arlington and Alexandria will give federal workers with ID a free cup of coffee with any purchase.
The Brighton – in the Wharf – is offering 10% off its regular prices.
The Ugly Mug DC – offers ‘The Affordable Meal Act’ – each Tuesday starting January 15, enjoy $7 meal deals and drink specials starting at 4pm.
5. Performances: Free and Discounted shows
Arena Stage – For government employees affected by the shutdown, Arena Stage is offering a 40% discount on tickets totheir next production, “Kleptocracy” — which begins January 18. Use offer code GVT40 and show your government I.D. when you pick up from the Box Office.
Millennium Stage – Catch up on some of the performing arts at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Created to make the performing arts accessible to everyone, their free daily programs begin at 6pm. No advance tickets are required unless otherwise specified. Read how the federal shutdown may impact The Kennedy Center’s hours, programs and employees.
Shakespeare Company – Offering 50 percent off tickets to performances to Noura and Hamlet if you use the promo code “shutdown.” You’ll need a federal government ID to pick up tickets, but can buy tickets to any of the shows which will continue into March.
Signature Theatre – On January 23, federal employees (both military and civilian) can enjoy a special discounted performance of its upcoming Judy Garland: A Star Is Born cabaret. There is a four-ticket limit per federal employee. Show your federal ID when picking up tickets. Tickets include a glass of wine or beer for those ages 21+ or non-alcoholic beverage for those under 21 years old. Get your tickets now.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – Federal workers can take 15% off tickets to the upcoming BLKS, which opens February 4. Use promo code SHUTDOWN.
6. Child Care Services and Schools:
M-NCPPC – Will be waiving child care and preschool fees for dependents of furloughed employees during the shutdown. This includes before and after childcare fees at community centers, therapeutic recreation including Pre-School, Leisure Skills Development, Leisure & Life Skills, Kids Care, Morning Care, Kids Club, Extended Care, and Kids Day Out. In addition, facilities will be waiving the requirement for membership fees to use the fitness rooms (only) at any of the 45 community centers, Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Center, Fairland Sports and Aquatics Complex, and Allentown Splash, Tennis and Fitness Park. This is for Prince George’s County residents only with an official furlough letter.
Prince George’s Community College – Eligible students impacted by the partial shutdown can get tuition assistance, one-time grants, holds on accounts and more to support their academic and career goals for the upcoming semester. To learn more about the criteria and required documents, students should contact the Tuition Assistance Hotline at 301-546-0154. In addition, the college offers free individual services and workshops on financial planning, budgeting, debt management, housing counseling, tax preparation, and more.
Prince George’s County Public Schools – The Excellence in Education Foundation Established a ‘10,000 Meals Challenge’ fund that will help pay for student meals during the partial shutdown and beyond. Those interested in donating to the fund may do so at this link.