Traveling While Black: Barcelona

This is a first of my Traveling While Black series which  will chronicle some details of my travels abroad and near home. Before I travel, I usually read what others have written about the location I’m visiting, but it often comes from a white perspective. I, however, have done enough traveling to realize that my travel experience may be different from my non-Black friend’s travel experience, because I am Black and am most often traveling with my Black husband. In these posts, I will write my experiences traveling while Black by answering a set of questions. Bon Voyage!

LaSagrada

I’ve been wanting to go to Barcelona for a while now. My interest in Spain began with one of my high school Spanish teachers. Due to his love for Espana, I soon started dreaming of walking through the Spanish plazas, eating paella, and speaking Spanish with a sexy lisp.

My fantasy of what Spain could be, however, was interrupted by multiple friends’ accounts of witnessing or experiencing racism against Black people. Looking up people’s accounts of  being Black in Spain didn’t help, and as someone who has experienced American and International racism, I’ve been hesitant to make the trip. I did attempt to do so twice over the last 12 years, but had to cancel for various reasons. Fortunately, my husband and I finally had our Barcelona experience. Here is my account.

Top Three Things I Did

While seeing Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia were wonderful experiences, here are my top three favorite things from my trip to Barcelona:

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  • Simply walking the streets and studying the old buildings. Looking up into peoples’ balconies and windows, and considering how many people have lived in these old structures that have been here for centuries.

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  • Eating at La Pepita– a very small, but popular tapas restaurant amongst locals and tourists. Eating here confirmed my suspicion that the States knows nothing about tapas. My husband and I were cramped up against a graffitied wall and enjoyed the best tapas of our lives. Our favorite was a grilled octopus dish placed atop mashed potatoes. A green sauce that tasted like it included cilantro and lime brought out all the flavors. It sounds odd, but was divine!

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  • Seeing a live Flamenco performance in la plaza of a 17th century castle. The live singing, dancing, and guitar and cajon drum playing was intensely beautiful. The musicians and dancers improvised off of each other’s emotions. It was Jazz.

What is the Black Population of Barcelona, Spain?

I’ve been trying to find an exact percentage of people of African decent living in Barcelona, and am struggling to find a number, which is telling. My girl, Wikipedia, has no word for the amount of people of African descent living in Barcelona, but she did tell me that roughly 4% of Spain’s immigrants are folks from the sub-Saharian African countries.

In Barcelona, I saw some tourists of African descent- mostly French and British. There was only a small number of  Black people that I saw who appeared to live in Barcelona. They were mostly working construction or in service jobs. Those working service jobs were especially friendly to us, and we returned the respect.

How was I treated as a Black Person?

For the most part, I feel like my husband and I were treated the same as other tourists. In general, it felt like service was slow, but my investigative eyes observed that this was the case for those around us. The food, however, was always delicious.

When walking around Barcelona, people stared. Tourists and people living in Barcelona definitely took a long look at my husband and I, trying to figure us out. This is something I’ve become used to, and it’s something any Black person becomes used to when they travel.

What Influences from the African Diaspora did You Notice? 

When I’m away from my people, I miss us. Fortunately, our influence is global, and even when I’m far away from home, I can usually find or hear a little piece of us somewhere. This is what I found:

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  • A tea towel from one of my favorite artists, Chris Ofili! So random and perfect that I had to buy it, even if it’s not very Spanish.

 

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  • Graffitied streets always makes me think of us. Especially when I see a graffitied afro in the alleys of El Born.

 

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  • As usual, I heard Hip Hop blaring from cafes and restaurants, but a favorite memory is looking for a spot to eat at 11:00 pm on our last night, and coming across a cute restaurant in an alleyway called Story. Its theme is tapas, books, and Jazz, which means it was calling my name. They played Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong during our entire meal, reminding me that even when I’m far from home, the Diaspora is close behind.

 

And this was my experience, Traveling While Black: Barcelona.

 

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Black Women… Beyonce’s Lemonade

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I just watched Lemonade, and before I can get into my first reactions to this musical film, I need to get one thing off my chest:

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Fuck Jay Z & fuck forgiveness.

Okay… now I can begin.

“Formation” marked a turn to Beyonce’s image and career. As she fearlessly proclaimed and reclaimed her Blackness, and stood up for the dignity of Black women and Black lives, she carved a new place for herself as an artist.

Two months later, she brings us Lemonade. A film. A musical. An album. An invitation into Beyonce’s most vulnerable self, and a love letter to Black women’s past, present and future, it’s both heartbreaking and beautiful. Visually, it’s breathtaking, lyrically it poetically justifies Beyonce as an artist who’s untouchable and constantly redefining herself. Lemonade transitions Beyonce from a sexy pop icon, to a deeply refined artist.

Before yesterday, we didn’t know what Lemonade was going to be. I don’t think any of us were prepared to have Jay Z’s infidelity confirmed and detailed in this visual album. Lemonade reveals the darker side to the Carter’s marriage. A marriage that has always been posed as sexy and powerful has been uncovered as deeply flawed, and, quite frankly, trope-ish . Even Beyonce, with all of her beauty and significance, hasn’t been able to escape the tradition of men stepping out on their wives over and over     again. Beyonce’s response to her pain is raw, complicated, and whether or not I approve of her “final warning,” it’s honest.

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But is this solely an album about Beyonce and Jay Z’s less than perfect marriage? It’s easy to get lost in the devastating details Beyonce lays out for us. Comparing  J to her daddy, recalling the various women she’s seen in her hallways, along with the sleepless nights waiting for him to come home or return her phone calls, we feel sad for Beyonce. Not because her vulnerabilities have exposed her weaknesses, but because they reveal something we’ve never truly seen from her: human pain.

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In the song, “Anger,”  we hear Malcolm X summing up the reality of Black women:

The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the black woman.

While these powerful words most certainly can be directed to Jay Z’s treatment of Beyonce, it doesn’t stop there. Later in the album/film, we also see the Black mothers who have been disrespected by our judicial system. In “Resurrection,” women hold photos of Black men who have died. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Gwenn Carr, mother of Eric Garner, and Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, are shown holding photographs of their murdered sons.  Their presence in the film is significant, because it brings to light the Black women who have often been forgotten and silenced in the midst of the Black Lives Matter Movement: the Black mothers.

In the forefront of infidelity, shameless behavior and the systemic mistreatment of Black women, we see the other women. Not the women J’s been creeping with, and not only the women who’ve been mistreated, but the women standing next to, behind, and before Beyonce. Black women– in all of our pretty shades of brown and beige– stand, sit, dance together.They hold hands with each other. They look out for each other. They hold each other. These women are from our past, these women are from our now, these women are our future. I find these women to be the lemonade made from the lemons of our realities.

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Favorite Quotes from Danticat’s Create Dangerously

 

 

Edwidge Danticat’s collection of essays, Create Dangerously, was gifted to me a few years ago, but I wasn’t ready for  it yet. There’s always a time and place for certain books, and my time for Create Dangerously was the beginning of 2016. It’s been a month and a half since I read this powerful book, and I continue to go back to particular passages. Below are some of those passages that I found most striking.

On Why There are No Writers in Her Family

“Perhaps there are no writers in my family because they were not allowed to or could barely afford to attend a decrepit village school as children. Perhaps there are no artists in my family because they were silenced by the brutal directives of one dictatorship, or one natural disaster after another. Perhaps, just as Alice Walker writes of her own forebears in her essay ‘In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,’ my blood ancestors—unlike my literary ancestors—were so weather-beaten, terror-stricken, and maimed that they were stifled. As a result, those who somehow managed to create became, in my view, martyrs and saints” (14).

On Offending Others

In response to being accused of exploiting her culture for money, Danticat writes, “Anguished by my own sense of guilt, I often reply feebly that in writing what I do, I exploit no one more than myself. Besides, what is the alternative for me or anyone else who might not dare to offend? Self-censorship? Silence?” (33)

On Memory and Forgetting

“There are many ways that our mind protects us from present and past horrors. One way is by allowing us to forget. Forgetting is a constant fear in any writer’s life. For the immigrant writer, far from home, memory becomes an even deeper abyss. It is as if we had been forced to step under the notorious forgetting trees, the sabliyes, that our slave ancestors were told would remove their past from their heads and dull their desire to return home. We know we must pass under the tree, but we hold our breath and cross our fingers and toes and hope that the forgetting will not penetrate too deeply into our brains.

But what happens when we cannot tell our own stories, when our memories have temporarily abandoned us? What is left is longing for something we are not even sure we ever had but are certain we will never experience again” (65).

On the Duality of the Immigrant Experience

“One of the advantages of being an immigrant is that two very different countries are forced to merge within you. The language you were born speaking and the one you will probably die speaking have no choice but to find a common place in your brain and regularly merge there. So too with catastrophes and disasters, which inevitably force you to rethink facile allegiances” (112).

Quoting Jean Michel Basquiat on Cultural Memory

“‘I’ve never been to Africa. I’m an artist who has been influenced by his New York environment. But I have a cultural memory. I don’t need to look for it, it exists. It’s over there, in Africa. That doesn’t mean that I have to live there. Our cultural memory follows us everywhere, wherever you live.’” (132).

On Creating Dangerously

“I am even more certain that to create dangerously is also to create fearlessly, boldly embracing the public and private terrors that would silence us, then bravely moving forward even when it feels as though we are chasing or being chased by ghosts” (148).

 

On Going THERE with Teachers: Discussing Race & Equity in the Classroom

It’s been six months since transitioning from the classroom to administration, and its been a welcomed challenge. One of my responsibilities as the Director of School Culture is providing training for teachers on culturally relevant pedagogy. As a nation, we lack the ability to address race responsibly, and this is also terribly true in the field of education.

Brown and Black students make up 50% of students enrolled in public schools, while more than 80% of teachers are white (National Study for Education Statistics). The culture gap is intense, and while some people try to act like it doesn’t matter (kids are kids, right?), some folks are trying to respond to the varying cultures that coexist within the classroom, and the disconnections that take place because the cultural differences aren’t usually addressed. I’m one of the educators trying to address the culture gap, and I’m currently doing so with the teachers I work with. While I love this work, am dedicated to this work, and predict it will be a part of my work for a long time, it’s also difficult, and, takes a lot of work. Discussing race is provocative enough to elicit interest, but can also cause a lot of discomfort for people who aren’t willing to go THERE.

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As a teacher, when I’d describe someone as white or Black for the first time, my students would perk up, and without a doubt, someone would say “oooooh that’s raaaacciiiiist.” Of course, I’d unpack that statement, and by the end of the year, we had a shared lexicon when addressing race, but I was always surprised that my nine and ten year olds had already learned to be uncomfortable when simply describing someone’s race.

I experience similar reactions when discussing race with adults. I think this is because of two reasons:

1. Most of us haven’t been supported with how to discuss race responsibly and        authentically (political correctness has altered our authentic voice).

2. Because of America’s history, discussing race requires that we go THERE, and going THERE is not always a welcomed destination.

Where is THERE, you ask? You know, THERE—that frightening place where we must confront, own, and shift our own biases. Whether you have a nuanced perspective on the politics of race, or have never thought about race, going THERE with a mixed group of people with different perspectives on and experiences with race is tough. Going THERE may result in people feeling uncomfortable at best, but defensive and angry at worst. I say uncomfortable at best, because even if discomfort isn’t an easy feeling to sit in, it is a learning feeling. When we’re most uncomfortable, we’re experiencing the potential to learn, and, hopefully, shift our practice.

Discomfort, however, must be followed with reflection. Otherwise we fall into simply feeling uncomfortable and defensive, and those feelings don’t shift perspectives. When I’m most uncomfortable, I try to question my discomfort and dig deeper- why am I feeling uncomfortable? Do I feel uneasy because I need to confront and/or change something within myself? Am I uncomfortable due to my own ignorance on something? It takes work to go THERE with yourself, but if we don’t, we rob ourselves from the potential to grow.

So…. I’ve been going THERE with teachers, and it has been a challenge that I’m trying to welcome with open arms. I was first met with eagerness. Immediately, teachers acknowledged the existing culture gap, and agreed that it needed to be discussed and dealt with. But, during our last meeting, things got real, which means things got uncomfortable. I think some people were frustrated, definitely defensive, and I felt bad. The training was planned in a way that caused deep self-reflection, and it didn’t feel great for some people. I felt uncomfortable for putting teachers in that position, but, in reflection, I know it needed to happen. I’ve been a part of this work before, I’ve led this work before, and it’s never been neat. It’s messy, emotional, and intense. But these are the necessary emotions that come with the work of going THERE.

‘Alright’: Anthem for 2015 & 2016

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Though many beautiful things happened in 2015 (most notably, career changes for both me and my husband), there are also some challenges that we’ve been forced to face. Personal obstacles, as well as the ongoing challenges of communities of color (my mind hurts trying to think of all of the names of Black people whose justice have been rejected), have caused me to reach deep into myself to seek faith and strength. I’ve been forced to find peace in what’s most important. I’ve been brought to my knees with humility. And when the tunnel looks dark and intimidating, I’ve been challenged to peel back the film of my own fear and seek a layer of strength I never knew existed.

As I enter 2016, I’m carried by the power of love, friendship, the words of my ancestors, faith and music that serve its purpose to empower.

Because, in the end, I know that everything is going to be “Alright.”

 

 

Learner. Educator: New Job/New Lessons

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Because this blog often reflects my day job, I thought it might be important to update my change of employment.  For the past five years, I’ve worked as a teacher, and grown as an educator, a professional, and an, overall, human being because of my work in the classroom. I learned valuable lessons from fellow educators, from students, and from my students’ families. For multiple reasons, however, I felt it was time for me to move forward by taking a break from the classroom. After three months in my new position, I’m relieved to say there are no regrets.

My official title is Director of School Culture/ Vice Principal (long story for my long title), and I now work at an elementary school in Richmond, which is about 20 minutes from Oakland. My role allows for me to wear multiple hats (but what person in education doesn’t?) When students have behavioral challenges that can’t be handled in the classroom, I’m called. I’m in charge of dishing out the consequences, but, more importantly, I’m also responsible for creating preventive measures for disruptive behavior. Some of the ways I’ve done this so far is implementing a school wide incentive program, supporting classes with implementing conflict/resolution strategies for students, and what’s close to my heart is hosting a girls group for girls who are struggling with social relationships. I also support with ensuring that our attendance numbers maintain high percentages, and facilitate parent leadership within the school.

Another hat I wear is supporting efforts to ensure that our students receive an education that is culturally relevant to their experiences. This may be one of the more challenging roles in this position, because discussing race/ culturally relevant teaching and cross-cultural relationships is challenging. It’s sticky and confrontational. But, when done correctly, it can shift the way we approach lesson design, as well as academic results. I’m trying to figure out how to do this effectively so that my teachers’ hearts are listening and motivating shifts in teaching practices.

On this blog, posts that used to reflect my experience as a teacher, will now reflect my new role as a school administrator. I’ve been in this position for only three months, but I’ve had many questions that I’d like to explore and track on this blog:

What is effective discipline? How do I facilitate culturally responsive practices with a school wide lens? How do I support teachers in their own practice with culturally responsive teaching practices? How do I facilitate tough, but productive conversations? What does strong school leadership look like? I’ve taught in a traditional classroom for five years, which is solid, but not extensive. How do I stay relevant as an educator and leader, while being out of the classroom?

Whether you’re an educator, or not, I hope I can engage you as a reader, and if you’re willing, even seek out your thoughts as I explore education from a new lens. In between education posts, I’ll continue to post about race and pop culture, art, travel, music videos, etc…

21 Years Ago: The “I Wanna Be Down” Remix Was Everything to Me

                                                      

It’s been extra heavy on my page.  I’ve been wanting to lighten the mood, so, when “I Wanna Be Down” with Brandy featuring Yoyo, Mc Lyte, AND Queen Latifah blasted from my iPod, I knew I had to pay homage to one of my favorite collaborations of all time. In 1994, I was 10 years old, loved Brandy, Hip Hop, and myself. So, when I saw a music video with four Black women rockin’ the MIC, it was everything to me. I don’t even know if there was anyone I wanted to be down with at that time (except for Batman from Immature), but I sang and rapped these lyrics like I was grown.