Rebuilding Black Communities, With Love

Recently, I was listening to an audio-taped interview with Ollie Gates, who is the owner of Gates Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. Mr. Gates is now 80+ years old, and he is the son of George and Arzelia Gates. Because of the efforts of George Gates, Gates Barbecue was officially established in 1946 in Kansas City, Missouri, and Ollie Gates is now an icon with a reputation that is much, much bigger than barbecue.

That interview, which I did not conduct, happened behind closed doors in February of 2017, and I actually had the chance to hear it in person. Mr. Gates was asked if his early cultural expressions of his childhood affected his life choices. In response to that question, he said yes; he also said out-loud that because of his environment [which was a mid-twentieth century urban ghetto designed as a segregated space for blacks in Kansas City] he was not “supposed to be a nice guy.” According to Mr. Gates, “…because of all the ugliness [in my community], I was going to be the biggest thug in all the world.” Obviously, he didn’t become a thug. As he continued to reflect upon his upbringing, both spatially and socially, he went on to say that he had to decide what kind of life he was going to make for himself, in spite of the early economic and spatial challenges for which he had no control. Today, Ollie Gates is the owner of six different restaurant locations; his barbecue and sauce and his reputation are celebrated worldwide; and he has now sustained six decades of entrepreneurial success of reinvesting his labor and wealth into the area that was once intended to keep black people “in their place.”

How did he do it? How did he come from a urban black ghetto and manage to become a successful business man and such a celebrated entrepreneur? Well, one thing that I learned as I listened to Mr. Gates talk about his connection to the historic 18th & Vine District in Kansas City, is that he never despised the fact that he is black, phenotypically and culturally. Deep down he embraces his heritage as a black man and he embraces the history of the space from which he came to inform his knowledge of self and business. As I listened, I found his attitudes and the love that he has for black culture very empowering and enlightening. As a womanist, who is dedicated to the progress and transformation of black people and black culture, I was inspired. To hear Mr. Gates encourage the redevelopment of 18th & Vine from a place of pride, authenticity and with a genuine love of being black in a world that despises blackness at every turn, I was deeply moved.

In the course of my travels nationwide and beyond, I have heard many talk about rebuilding black communities. As an urban planning professional and writer, I have read many books and articles about the redevelopment of black communities. I have also been in many rooms where I have heard from community leaders, developers, and politicians talk about how to revitalize former ghettos and declining areas. There, we have examined redevelopment in terms of bricks and mortar, and thus we have explored many scenarios for the rebuilding of former black communities, neighborhoods and businesses. We’ve talked about about landscaping, commercial and residential designs; we’ve explored the many ways in which space can be re-imagined or redesigned, brick by brick and block by block. However, many of the dialogues that I have been a part of do not consider the redesign of space and place in social and personal terms.

What I found compelling about Mr. Gates’s reflections on the historic Kansas City 18th & Vine area, was that he is first and foremost proud of himself and he is not ashamed of where he came from. And, despite his ability to move beyond the spatial boundaries of 18th & Vine, he never abandoned it. On the contrary, he has dedicated his life to putting his community-building efforts back in the area where he was born. And although I do not know him personally, and barely at all, after hearing him talk about his community in person, I sincerely believe that he has been able to do this because he came from a family and a community that loved him. From within a once segregated and abandoned space, Mr. Gates found love for himself and he has built his business upon that love. Openly, he credits the love that he experienced from his family and his former community as the motivation for his efforts to revitalize Kansas City’s 18th & Vine community that exists today.

The concept of love has been an important topic for me. In fact, in 2012, my essay on a concept known as “loving attachment,” which is a feminist and theoretical approach to urban and regional planning, I explored the way in which planners can operate with communities and others from a place of love and attachment. Personally, I know the power of love and what it can do for the human psyche. In fact, I’ve said it before and I will say it again: a good, healthy love can make you fly. Yet, in many of today’s urban ghettos, especially black urban ghettos, there are many children and adults who do not know the transformativeness of love or its power. As a certified substitute school teacher and as an urban college professor, I have found, more times than not, that children and adults who live in today’s black urban ghettos know subconsciously that they were/are abandoned by those who did/do not love them, including municipal officials and developers. In meeting after meeting, I hear from black urban ghetto residents who do not know or feel the love that comes from an entire community of people taking pride in themselves and in what they have, even if what they have spatially is minimal or even deficient. Over and over, they do not express the sentiment or the belief that what they have, socially, personally, and culturally, is of far greater value than the spatial attributes and boundaries that they inhabit. The ghetto spaces where they live are not as they were some fifty or sixty years ago; they are categorically different and much more commodified than they were back then. And, as a general rule, they are perceived as spaces that are loveless and unlovable.

As an advocate for good urban and regional planning, I am quite interested in exploring the importance of love as it pertains to community and economic development. I wonder how many black communities could be revived if the people who used to live there were to invest in the places and spaces that they used to call home. I am curious to find out if being attached to a place in a loving and familiar way has or could lead to actions that can transform the places and spaces that were meant to demean and discourage former residents. I fantasize what could happen if former residents of those places might be courageous enough to do the unthinkable with their resources and their power on behalf of the urban places that have been repeatedly abandoned.

Upon hearing Mr. Ollie Gates, I heard something, and it is something that I have known for a long time and in many different aspects of my life. That something is that at the end of the day, there is only one thing that can change things for the better. That something is love. And, when black people love themselves and their communities enough to reinvest their money and their wealth in those communities, I wholeheartedly believe that we will see a change in how those communities look, feel and operate. But, as long as we do not invest in those places from a genuine place of love for black culture, or if we only wish to exploit them for momentary satisfaction, they will continue to be loveless, and possibly hopeless places to be. Indeed, every now and then a developer with the right amount of money might come along and put up a new sign or a new face, but the development of a former ghetto area will not be sustainable without the love and embrace of a community. This type of love, that is born and nurtured in culture and community, cannot be found in bricks and mortar and it cannot be manufactured via lending institutions; the love and respect for culture is only found in the strength and expression of a people and persons, like Ollie Gates, who unabashedly value and love themselves. No person can survive the ugliness of this life without the love of self and the love of a community. And no community can be sustained without the love of those who once lived there or without the love of those who live there today.

So, when it comes to rebuilding black communities, we have to consider the power of love and culture, and we have to know that a sustained effort at revitalizing former and current black ghettos has to come from the people who are willing to embrace it as their own and as declared in the words of the great Ossie Davis, from those who know that the that the best of being black is yet to be:

Be not deceived

The struggle is far from over

The best of being black is yet to be

So said the ones who died

To set you free.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

The Significance of Saying “Thank You,” Today!

There is nothing more powerful than being able to say thank you to the people who have inspired us in life and made our world richer and deeper. To do this while they are living – to say thank you in person – is most fulfilling.

Last night I had the opportunity to meet Dianne Reeves at the American Jazz Museum in person (and I took a picture, of course, that I will print and hang on my special “wall of fame” that I create at the next place I call “home”). If you don’t know who Dianne Reeves is, then let me invite you to know her as one of the greatest black women jazz vocalist, ever! Saying thank you to her, in person, is a moment that I will truly treasure. I was so very excited!

If you’d like to know where to start with Dianne Reeves, I recommend her live CD, In the Moment. But, that is just a starting point, and, it is absolutely, positively, not her first CD. I just like it because I believe it illustrates the power of her voice, live. Dianne Reeves is one of most talented and genuine jazz vocalists that I have ever known (and I have been lucky enough to meet a few jazz vocalists, such as Abbey Lincoln, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Rachelle Ferrell). And I say that as a former radio host who spent three years producing a local radio program dedicated to black women jazz vocalists at WXOJ-LP in Northampton, Massachusetts (as well as a few good men jazz greats).

The significance of saying thank you to those who we admire and appreciate, in the moment (pun intended), is so very, very, important. Don’t wait until someone you admire or love is gone to say thank you. Take the time to do it, today; it will help you to see that your life is really not your own! Our lives have been made and re-made by many women (and a few good men) who have had the desire and the will to lovingly and creatively share themselves with us, in the moment!  And we should never underestimate the power of living and being in the moment.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

After the Election of 2016: Disappointed, But Not Discouraged!

We live in a world and in a country that has been deeply compromised by violence, inequity and injustice. And, there are many reasons for that – not just one. I cannot and will not think that I have arrived, or that I am better than others just because I can pay my bills, and enjoy a fairly decent “good life” because of my accomplishments or because I am not white. I am not a good person merely because of the things that I have accumulated in life or due to the fact that I am black. Black is not synonymous with being good or better than white. It is not the binary opposite of white. I do not need white people or whiteness to be or know blackness. I am good because I believe that goodness is an essential part of being and becoming human. And, I happen to be both black and woman, yet neither one of these identities gives me the right or the privilege of saying that I am good. I am good because good is who I am.

 

Some humans, however, do not believe that they are good. They believe that to be human is to live in depravity or in what many have identified as “sinfulness,” or “wickedness.” For many to be human is to be cursed, damned and without redemption that can be obtained or gained on one’s own terms. For many, only a god – something or someone outside of themselves – can bring them true goodness or liberation. Indeed, I used to think this way because of the religious indoctrination of my childhood and youth, but I have spent the last decade or so trying to undo that destructive, self-sabotaging, anti-human way of thinking and being. I suspect that I will continue to unlearn those teachings and any others like them until the day that I die, which is fine with me. This is what it means to me to become human: to evolve, grow, and change.

 

The reality is that we live in a world that is very complicated and very monied. For most of us, if we lost the ability to pay our bills, or if we experienced a life-changing event like a terrible car accident (and I saw a couple today out on the road), or if we were given the terrible news of an unwanted diagnosis, our whole reality would change instantly. Being aware of that common problem – of the fragility and temporality of life – should bring us together, not divide us.

 

After the 2016 Presidential election, I was disappointed. I was disappointed in the people and in the systems that have made it possible for Donald Trump to be in the highest leadership position in the United States. I was also very disappointed in so many women, predominantly white women, who voted for a man who is unabashedly patriarchal, abusive and sexist. Apparently, Trump’s obscene behaviors did not matter to them. Their votes for him condone his contempt and offensive treatment of women, including many white women. Yet, because of the world in which we live, I can understand why this many white women would vote for a man like Trump. I can understand what it means to participate in one’s own oppression, because I too have done it; many black people have done it. And, these white women are not totally to blame for Donald Trump’s election; we live in a world of systems that teaches peoples to deny and oppress themselves and their truths, rewards them for doing it, and then sits back as if it were innocent when those very people are isolated, hurt or destroyed.

 

I have difficulty imagining Donald Trump as “The President” because of his many hateful behaviors and opinions, which he himself made vocal during the presidential campaign of 2016. President-Elect Trump has judgments for many people, he calls them many derogatory and awful names, and he bases his opinions on inaccurate and incomplete information, especially when it comes to black and brown peoples. He dehumanizes and demonizes brown immigrants, but he does not do the same for white immigrants, which would implicate his many wives and their children. Was Hillary Clinton much better when it came to her behaviors during the campaign? For me, yes she was, because I believe that at the end of the day she is conscientious and that at the least she has the ability to show regret and remorse. I also believe that she is pro-human, which is more than I can say for Donald Trump. I have not understood any U.S. President as perfect or as a redemptive figure, and that includes President Barack Obama, but I do believe that when the lights are off and the cameras have stopped rolling, the person who is President of the United States should not be anti-human. I don’t believe that Donald Trump is good for the country because his behaviors and his opinions demonstrate that he is arrogant, uninformed and so very, very anti-human. And, unfortunately, what this election revealed to many is that there are many Americans who think and act just like him, which is very, very disappointing.

 

On the other hand, I am not discouraged. Yes, it is going to be rough, and yes, many people will suffer under this new administration, but it will not be without a struggle, and it will certainly not be the first time that the American people and immigrants have suffered under a governmental regime that is working against them. With the exception of those who were stolen from Africa and other countries across the Atlantic and put on plantations, and the First Peoples of this land who were forced from their ancestral lands and placed on another form of plantations – called reservations – this country of immigrants has always been at odds with the idea of immigration. And, since the arrival of this country’s first European immigrants at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, many of these immigrants and their descendants have apparently been engaged in a vicious cycle of inclusion and exclusion, competing for social space (as in Ernest Burgess and Robert Park). It’s a damn shame that it is like this, but this is the truth: over time a good majority of the American people have become hateful and resentful of “others” who are not like them.

 

Nevertheless, in the wake of such a disappointing election, we owe it to ourselves and to the people around us, even those in far away countries, to believe in the good and the power of our humanity. History has shown us, time and time again, that we can and we will fight for ourselves, our dignity and for the right to be free. Indeed, that fight and that freedom never comes without a price; it is a price that every freedom fighter has and will reckon with sooner or later. And just like those who went before me and for those whom I have known in my lifetime, I am more than willing to pay the price for freedom because 1) I believe in the goodness of humanity; 2) I believe in the power of the people to resist; and 3) I refuse to become like human beings who have decided that they are better than the rest of us.
© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

Have You Ever Written a Neighborhood Plan (Young Lady)? Sexism and City Planning

Today I talked to someone who asked me if I had ever worked for a city planning department. Here’s what I said in response: Well,

Number one: I teach students who go on to work for city planning departments.

Number two: I have worked for city planning departments, mostly in the role of a researcher/academic.

Number three: I am mostly engaged and committed to planning that is from the bottom up; my work in city and regional planning has been primarily with not-for-profits as well as local and state government agencies.

And then he said, “Yeah, but don’t you want to be a director of city planning?” Who came up with that?

I started to say: “What parts of numbers 1, 2, and 3 do you not understand?” But I didn’t.

And then he asked me: “Well, where did you go to school?” As if there was something deficient about my planning education.

When I named the schools for him, he said, “Yeah, I know about those schools; they are pretty good.” Like that had anything to do with anything.

And, all the while he was doing this, he was calling me “young lady.” Just for context: he was an older black man; probably about 25 years my senior.

This exchange reminded me of a more recent conversation that I had with a local white planner who was, I suppose, a little perturbed by my critique of his planning presentation. In response to my comments about his presentation, which were not hostile – I just didn’t agree on a method he was proposing (and I proposed another one instead), he asked me, “Well, have you ever written a neighborhood plan?” Just like that. Out of nowhere; who I am, what I said; none of that mattered. Like the man who asked, “had I ever worked for a city planning department.”

Why? Why should I be shocked when I encounter appeals to accomplishment and rank as a means to silence me and my critiques? I received similar receptions in my previous profession (I was a United Methodist clergywoman). When people learned that I was the pastor, the church administrator, the one with the authority to be in charge, they would ask me, “When were you ordained?” Or, “Where did you go to seminary.” By contrast, these were questions that my male counterparts rarely, if ever, had to answer. People just took their word for it that they were who they said they were, the “Reverend So-and-So.” Why should it matter to me that men who are black, white, brown, red, and yellow constantly question my credentials or my “fitness” for the work that I have been doing for years? Why should I be so offended since it happens so frequently? Even today.

Likewise, I have to ask myself, why do I think or want to think that urban planning academicians and professionals who call themselves committed to social justice, advocacy and equity are free from sexism, racism or any other “ism” for that matter? What makes me want to believe that women planning scholars should or could get equal treatment in the classroom, in the conference room, or even when it comes to discussing and implementing urban plans in “the real world of planning?” Where have I seen a good example of gender or racial equity in the urban planning profession, and in the U.S.?

In the classroom, planning scholars and urban historians often make reference to Jane Jacobs, a pioneering white woman who is known for her critique of city and neighborhood planning in the late 1950s. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was written in the in the context of the urban neighborhood in New York City and not long after WWII. As noted by one of my colleagues, this is a book that you can still find on bookstore shelves today (including virtual book shelves). Jacobs is well-known for her critique of one of NYC’s “finest” a/k/a “The Power Broker,” Robert Moses. Of course, there was a lot that Jane Jacobs did not say or do in her important book (i.e., as it concerns matters of race and class), but, one thing is for sure, she was willing to stand up for herself and for her community, and she did this in spite of the sexism exhibited by the city and regional planners and the contemporary thinkers of her time. How did she do it? Indeed, with the power of the pen! And, voila, there is the example!

Well, it is 2016, and half a century later, women planners are still being ignored and dismissed; we still face sexism among  our colleagues, students (yeah, I said it!), and from practitioners that we know like the one who interrogated me today. Conference sessions on diversity, women, race, and planning are pushed to “the back of the bus” and scheduled on final days when nearly everyone is out of steam or they have gone back home, which shows us all how very important matters of gender, equity and inclusion really are for academics in city and regional planning and in the planning of its  conferences. Emerging feminist ideas about planning methodologies and frameworks, such as “loving attachment,” (made visible and palatable by Leonie Sandercock, Karen Umemoto, and Libby Porter) are not unknown, but they are not put into practice and thus they are not taken seriously by planners “in the real world.” Like, when have I heard this concept explained in detail for students or communities by one of my male counterparts?  That would be never. To make matters worse, it is not unusual for feminist proposals to be  openly criticized as divisive and unnecessary by those who are much more comfortable with traditional, Euro-masculinist theories and practices of city and urban planning.

Time and time again, women planners and planning scholarship that is gender-specific is disregarded and deemed not “good enough” or important enough to be first in presentation or priority at gatherings of scholars and students of planning. In addition, name for me one city where you have heard of a development project that has been designed for women or girls or with womens’ issues or concerns as the primary and motivating force. Yes, in planning programs we have inspiring workshops and courses that encourage us to think in terms of gender and race, and as they pertain to the built environment; and, we have women who are visible and audible in the teaching and in the practice of planning. But, where can we see city and regional designs or plans that make women and girls the primary beneficiaries?  Where do we find women’s thoughts and ideas about space and place that occupy the center of local discussion about city and urban planning projects and designs (beyond a class session or two)? Where, beyond the work of Dolores Hayden, and the planners I have mentioned above, do we see women city and regional planners taking the lead, offering visions of urban development that are also predominantly women-identified and women-centered and “in the real world?” I am not saying that they are not there, but I would like to know what is really happening with women and planning in the 21st century when many of the women that I know in planning have ultimately been more than willing to act in the interests of self, tradition, tenure, whiteness and patriarchy. As bell hooks once said, “Where is the Love?

Now, about black women planners and scholarship. Of course, I want to believe that black womens’ planning scholarship is important to city and regional planners who are “in the real world,” but today, after the “motivating” conversation that I had with a local Kansas City resident who has been active in community and neighborhood development, and after thinking about my own experiences “in the real world,” I really don’t see where black women planning academicians who talk openly and powerfully about race and gender in city and regional planning are perceived of as significant or important to the development of planning theories and practices (and who are on full-time status at schools and colleges of planning in the U.S.). I see black women planning academicians and practitioners, but rarely do I see the ones who are openly feminist or womanist and openly anti-racist (just for starters).

That said, I am currently in the process of working through a hypothesis, along with a trusted colleague, which posits that black women planning academicians who operate from a gender-centered position and from a standpoint that privileges the experiences of black women and girls and black communities (e.g., the epistemological privilege of the poor) will be dismissed, disregarded and ultimately rejected in response to being openly critical of whiteness, maleness and the positivist roots of city and regional planning. For several months, we have been working to construct and test our theory which says that black women planning scholars who openly and unabashedly critique men, especially white men and white conceptual frameworks of  city and regional planning, will face negative consequences and negative responses from colleagues, students, administrators, and other institutional officials overall. And, we predict that this response will happen more times than not and in the form of some very specific consequences and negations. If our hypothesis is proven to be true, then we – as in city and regional planners – have not come all that far when it comes to women and planning. In other words, if a significant percentage or group of black women planning academicians are not free to theorize and to practice city and regional planning as they see fit, then we are not free (not individually and not as far as academic freedom goes)! Unfortunately, “in the real world,” if we have that finding, we believe that it will demonstrate that theories and practices of city and regional planning and the institutional terrain of planning schools, colleges, and thus municipal and regional planning departments are still as Barbara Hooper said in 1992: what white bourgeois men have said it is.”

And if our findings prove to be true, since I am a womanist scholar, I think that what we must then think in terms of is what womanist Katie G. Cannon, a theologian and womanist scholar whose work was critically beneficial to me in my 2010 dissertation, is whether we, as city and regional planners, have “structured academic amnesia.” And, if we do have this ‘structured academic amnesia,’ you can be sure that it will be played out “in the real world,” “as if this true [feminist and not this] womanist story] never happened.” Yet for some of us, like Jane Jacobs did half a century ago, who are willing and brave enough to utilize the power of the pen, nothing could be further from the truth!

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

For more on Katie Cannon, I recommend: Cannon, Katie Geneva.  2006.  Structured academic amnesia:  As if this true womanist story never appened.   In Deeper shades of purple:  Womanism in religion and society., 19-28.  New York:  New York University Press.

For more on Barbara Hooper, I recommend: Hooper, Barbara. 1992. “Split at the roots”: A critique of the philosophical and political sources of modern planning doctrine. Frontiers 13 (1): 45-80.

Black Lives Still Matter

We Africans have been declaring that

BLACK LIVES MATTER

Since captivity at the hands of the greedy Europeans of the past.

 

That the greedy Europeans of the present do not want to hear us or see us

Does not silence us

Black lives still matter.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Why I Didn’t Get Married

First of all, this blog is long overdue. I have been meaning to write on this topic for months, but I could never bring myself to do it with everything else that has been happening in my life for the last four to six months. But, from day one, when the words came to me, I felt that it was very important for me to blog about marriage. So, here it goes.

Frequently, I am asked about marriage. The closer that I get to being fifty years old, I guess, for some, it seems an appropriate question for a woman. And, for some, I suppose that it seems strange that a woman has managed to stay unmarried with no children in her adult life. I’ve been close to marriage once. It has been more than twenty five years since I was engaged to be married, but it was an engagement that lasted all of two months. The deceptive actions of my ex-fiance made the idea of marriage – with him – simply unimaginable. Now, when I look back, I don’t regret backing out of that engagement for a moment, but when it happened, when it was clear that our relationship would not lead to marriage, I was devastated. But, that was to be understood; I was in my early twenties and marriage was an idea that I had been taught to embrace from my childhood. To be more exact I would say that I was indoctrinated into embracing and believing in the idea of marriage.

Today, marriage is not a priority for me. In fact, there are times when it is not really an idea that appeals to me; at least not with so many relationships and marriages in the U.S. falling to pieces. One book captures this concern. In Is Marriage for White People: How the African American Decline Affects Everyone, professor of law at Stanford, Ralph Richard Banks queries:

White adults, men and women alike, are more than twice as likely to be single now as in 1970. More American women in their early thirties are single today than ever in our nation’s history. African Americans lead the marriage decline; other groups follow…Still, marriage has diminished more among African Americans than among any other Americans, including whites with whom I typically contrast African Americans for ease of exposition. Black women are only half as likely as white women to be married (11), and more than two times as likely as white women never to marry (12). As others marry, black women often remain alone (13).

I came to terms, years ago, with the idea of being alone, as in being not married. At first I was not married due to a failed relationship – or so it seemed. Later, I was not not married by choice. Why? Well, by my early thirties I came to understand that being alone does not mean being without male companionship or intimacy. I do not have trouble finding men to date. Shucks, “some of my best friends are men,” and I often enjoy the presence of a man for fun and relaxation. However, rarely have I found that many of those men would make good or worthwhile lifetime partners. Yes, every now and then I meet a man who is quite intriguing, but marriage is the last thing on my mind. Most of the time, I’m just trying to ascertain what is possible with that man. Ultimately, I want to know can we get along! Do we have what it takes to last as a couple? If we can’t get through the first month or two, or six, without too much trouble, then, duh, there is no going forward. I am simply not into the idea of getting married just for marriage’s sake.

Today, my approach to marriage is similar to my approach to teaching and to my life as an academic in general. I expect college students to put their all into doing well in a course; and, likewise, I put my all into what I am teaching and writing. Furthermore, I believe that we are all students of life, and with that comes recognizing the lessons we learn about ourselves and love. I try to give my all when I feel love with a man, but, a man who shows me that he is not willing or capable of giving his all and of doing the necessary emotional work of relationship is not, as some might say, “marriage material.” In fact, such a man is not really “relationship material.” I enjoy being in an intimate relationship with a man; it is where I do some of my best work, so to speak. I enjoy talking and working things out, but rarely do I meet men who enjoy talking and working things out. On the flipside, I find that many men enjoy the fun of being in relationships, but they often avoid the not-so-fun part of being in relationship. And there is at least one good reason for that: when you open up yourself to someone of interest, you are making your whole self visible and thus seen. All the good parts are visible, but so are all of the not-so-good parts. Being seen wholly like this makes us all vulnerable and thus open to pain or hurt. Patriarchy and the social construction of masculinity teaches many men (from childhood) to avoid being so seen with such vulnerability. One of my favorite authors, feminist bell hooks, has explained, that boys, especially black boys, are often only seen in part, not wholly. For some, going through life not being seen as vulnerable, often expressed as cold, hard or angry, is a means to surviving traumatic and painful conditions. The downside is that refusing to be seen as vulnerable and making oneself invisible to avoid being seen as a way of life can also lead one down a very lonely and dark path. On the contrary, I have found that being vulnerable is the way to thrive in life and in love. Embracing our vulnerability (being willing to share our whole selves with another) is the lifeline to experiencing a good, healthy relationship. Of course, this kind of vulnerability, which leads to intimacy, doesn’t happen overnight, but gradually and with time and effort it has beautiful and rewarding consequences for those who are willing to make themselves visible to each other, scars and all, and in spite of the fact that they might get hurt. Unfortunately, the possibility of getting hurt goes with the territory of relationship.

So, before I close this blog I will say openly that I am not against getting married, nor do I think that it is something that is only for white people. However, I will say that until people – men and women no matter what color or class – are willing to be seen as vulnerable then marriage is not something to be embraced or taken seriously. That said, I will also say that instead of constantly finding paradigms to fit ourselves into, such as marriage, we must endeavor to find the wherewithal to construct healthy social or relationship paradigms that work for us in the here and now. And, whatever relationship paradigms we construct for ourselves, must be specific to who we are, what we need and want from ourselves, others, and life in general. Indeed, the relationship paradigms that we create must be a reflection of our own lived experiences; and that will include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In conclusion, if a person is not good at developing healthy relationships – ones that are based on respect, honesty, equity, and loving kindness –  then how is marriage imaginable? No marriage will survive if there is disrespect, dishonesty, inequity or animosity for the other, unless, I suppose, there is some kind of covert arrangement or transaction at work, or, unless the person is willing to live with such expressions. On the other hand, it is very important to recognize one’s own autonomy or worth and completeness apart from anybody else. Thus, what I have learned from life is that I, as a black woman, do not have to be married to be happy or fulfilled in life. Being happy or fulfilled is something that is up to me to cultivate, and so far I do not require or need marriage or children to find fulfillment or happiness in life. Yes, it is always great to share myself with a man that I care about, and I have known some very interesting men, but I can love a man wholly without being married and without bringing children into this world. There is nothing wrong with being alone and the happiness that I feel and know for myself is something I know and create from within, alone. And, right now, there is nothing more important than cultivating my own happiness for myself.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

Shoulda Been Gone: When Is Enough Enough?

Certainly, there are times when I have asked myself: why did I stay in that place, that job or that relationship as long as I did? Weren’t there signs or events that happened that should have made it easy for me to move on or move out? I suppose that out of a genuine need to feel that I did all that I could do in a certain place or in a relationship that I have struggled with timing an exit or an ending. Like many, I have struggled with drawing a line in the sand and letting it be. Leaving that line there or saying enough is enough in a place (such as a city) or even in an employment situation is especially difficult when others don’t want you to go or when they expect you to stay (perhaps stuck and unhappy in a city, a job or a relationship like ~ ahem ~ they are). Detaching, particularly where human relationships are concerned, is not always an easy or pleasant thing to do.

I don’t think my struggle with detachment is all that unusual. Compassionate, healthy, loving human beings want to make good decisions, and they worry about others’ feelings, not just their own. On the other hand, selfish, unhealthy, or worse yet, narcissistic, dishonest and delusional human beings could care less about how their decisions affect others; they want and justify what they want no matter what and no matter who suffers in the process, and they frequently inflict a lot of emotional pain and confusion upon themselves and others. How I appreciate displays of compassion and mindfulness. When it is a personal decision (and not the result of emotional or physical intimidation or violence), I respect that sometimes we as human beings keep trying or hoping for better situations or better behavior in people (all the while as we too are doing our best to improve or address our behaviors). Committing one’s self to gaining the best possible outcome is a very respectful, humane effort.

Nevertheless, back to my question: exactly when does one pack it all up and move on down the road? When is it time to let go of a place, a job, a person or even an idea (like a god or a religion) that is no longer fulfilling or that has run its course? There are times when people, places or things are only temporary; when they no longer provide us with a sense of meaning or safety. When that happens, it is time for me to let go, and I have learned that saying “enough is enough” is, at the end of the day, my decision. On the one hand, in making decisions of whether to stay or go, I often talk it out with others ahead of time, but it is not up to the situation or the person or the idea who is no longer enough for me to determine whether I should stay. A conscious movement away from a place, person or idea (especially one that is causing me unhappiness, stress, confusion or misery) is never easy, and to be sure, the act of severing ties with anyone or any thing can be accompanied by unbelievable grief, anxiety and loneliness. But, moving on, no matter what others might say or do to keep you from leaving, or pressuring you in to not doing what you want because they are afraid to end or bring closure to undesirable or outdated relationships with people, places or ideas for themselves (which is something I have personally experienced when exes and/or children are in the picture…and when it comes to gods or religion), is a very powerful act of self-love and self-affirmation. In a world that is constantly abandoning us and encouraging us to abandon ourselves and our agency and to conform to the status quo, it is important that we learn how to 1) take ultimate control of our own lives and choices, and 2) exhibit that power when necessary. When should you be gone from people, jobs, places or ideas that no longer work for you? Be gone when you have had enough, and only you can be the one to say when that is. The others, the ones who are left behind and not happy with you for moving on and taking charge of your own life and destiny will just have to get over it. Or not.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.