Breathe Easy, You've Found Me ((HUGS))

People will wonder why this blog is needed, why minority midwifery student? It's very simple actually; I was looking for this blog...but I couldn't find I created it. We all have unique experiences, and every experience, every story, can help someone else. I am a black girl from the hood at an ivy league professional school. That, alone, is reason enough to write. Somebody was looking for this blog. Someone wanted proof that what I'm doing can be done - even when you come from where we come from.

To that person especially, WELCOME.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Bridge Poem (Me Winding Down)

I took my Patho exam as scheduled yesterday, and my advanced physical assessment lab exam (where you do a physical exam of a random system on your partner) today. I pulled "neuromuscular" so that's the 30 minute exam I had to do on my partner. It included things like testing all of the cranial nerves, sensory function tests, motor function tests, etc. I'm glad the exams for this week are over and done. I owe myself one day (or at least a few hours) of winding down...of taking back possession of my thoughts. Do I still have thoughts of my own? Nursing/Midwifery/Graduate school in general will really make you question whether you know anything at all. Some days I'm not even sure I know the color of my own shirt...even when looking right at it! It's like if "they" come tell me that it's not grey...even though I know it is...I might actually question whether I'm wrong. Now, it's not really a big deal when it's the color of your shirt, but when it's, say, your identity, your sense of self, it gets a little scarier....another post for another time...

For now, let's see if I can still write a decent sentence (or two) about something other than how Prader Willi syndrome is due to a deletion of the father's portion of chromosome 15 (aka: how come they never ask you the shit you do know on the exam?) Anyway.

A couple days ago I said "The Bridge Poem" was one of my favorite poems. Dark Daughta asked why. I haven't ever really thought about "why," other than to recognize that the first time I read it (it was handed to me, I think, at a time when I was in a mentor's office venting about something) I instantly loved it. After that I had to read it out loud, over and over again, and eventually I read it at a poetry reading during a Malcolm X Festival.

When I read it, I see myself. What is it that makes me feel responsible for translating for people? How often have people asked me to translate vs. my volunteering myself for the task based on my assumption that I can and should? I don't know, it might be about equal. People are not afraid to ask (or they overcome their fear, similar to when Sage Femme asked me if it was rude to ask someone (me) to teach her about racism, which is in itself a request of me to be a bridge between the uncomfortableness of addressing racism head-on, viscerally, and the safety of her self-acknowledged privilege) I didn't mind offering a starting point. Why? Because I was thinking, this is a huge topic...where does one start? You could say, "at the beginning," but it has been my personal experience that starting "at the beginning" (ie: at the point where two groups of people first met and started making judgements based on "race") doesn't work...I always, narcissistic or not, have to start with myself, something that fundamentally matters to I thought, pick a book that might allow her to relate through another avenue (Killing the Black Body - for its reproductive rights focus) which also clearly begins a discussion about racism. Her asking the question and my agreeing to be a bridge benefits our profession because the dialogue is running, and her next brown patient will be greeted by a provider with a slightly better understanding of some of the nuances of her life. But was it my responsibility? No, it was not. I could have said, girl please! As if! But I felt personally responsible, and that's something that always comes up when I read the poem.

What I relate to in the poem is the sense of frustration with being the bridge...or, in my case, with my own acceptance of/acquiescing to being the bridge. I feel the exhaustion of playing the role of negotiator, and my irritation is only heightened by the fact that I am not even sure if my negotiations are for the right cause or are being used in the way I intend them to be. As I am explaining myself and my people to classmates, are they hearing it/using it to provide better care? That's one of the reasons I'm offering the information. Or are they using it (ignorantly or purposefully) to the detriment of those seeking care? An example is those "cultural competence" sections of health care read these excerpts about different cultures, and it's supposed to help you give better care to patients that come from these different backgrounds...but the problem is that it's hard to write such excerpts without succumbing to lists of stereotypes...and then we take those stereotypes to the population and if they're offended, and their care is then compromised. Someone was trying to be the bridge, provide the bridge, but at what cost?

What is the cost to me? Exhaustion? Frustration? Time? There are days when I decide that it is not worth it to explain one side to the other...when I am tired of being the only brown person in the room trying to stand up for myself and the other brown people who are not able to be in the room (or in the case of my school, not even within the gates surrounding the institution). There are times when in a split second I decide that I am not speaking that day. I will not raise my hand to say what other people know is true but are unwilling to say for fear of being that person. Those are the days when I think (lines 41-48):

I am sick
Of having to remind you
To breathe
Before you suffocate
Your own fool self

Forget it
Stretch or drown
Evolve or die

(except, often in my mind I say "Fuck it" instead of "Forget it" :o)

I'm always thinking, this is going to be the end of us. (I'll leave you to decide who "us" is...I'm not sure myself...ethnic people? Women? Americans? Global people/All people?) But the "this" is our unwillingness to call a spade a spade/to acknowledge our humanity and our hatred /to see more than one side of things/to tell the truth. Our refusal to do these things with real effort is going to undo us because as we complacently go about our lives, some folks' defenses fall, while other folks' frustration rises...the balance (for lack of a better word) that keeps us going along as we are is disrupted and, eventually, the oppressed "rise," or shall we say "get fed up enough," and life as we know it will be over. I'd like to believe that what will happen is revolution, but I have the sinking feeling that instead of revolution, what we will have is I'm thinking, go ahead and "suffocate your own fool self" because I'm tired. And the more I tell you to breathe, the less time I have for myself before this end of times that you're/we're bringing on.

Moving along from that tangent, dark daughta mentioned people's tendency to "confuse building political coalition, with forcing many of us to be bridges where we are not supposed to centralize our own experiences, but instead are forced to centralize and tip toe around the beliefs, values and experiences of others who may be obscuring their own realities so as to better accrue privilege that we ourselves cannot." (from the comments section of this post) I'll let her unpack it her way (either here or at your place) but this is what I instantly thought about when I read it (which I'm sure is different than what she was thinking...which makes this great! anyway...)

I've been thinking about/journaling about hip hop/my life/my husband/black men and the connection among them for quite some time now. Her quote made me think more about this...I often say, "I love hip hop, the good, the bad, and the ugly." But right now I'm thinking, yep, that's me, I confuse political coalition with being the bridge between hip hop/my husband and the rest of the world. I accept hip hop for exactly what, or personified in my husband (usually, in this blog, and hereafter termed "the man") who, it is because I believe that without doing so I cannot maintain political coalition with it/him which I find to be vital to my existence. That is, the me I'm trying to be/trying to hold on to in this new world I'm moving through, is fractionally dependent on maintaining our coalition. But our coalition is not to be confused with/mistaken for any political coalition between hip hop/the man and the rest of the world, because they do not have a political coalition...that's the problem, by the way, with hip hop right now, I think...(another post for another time)... Instead, I, and people like me, are the bridges that are holding/centralizing the beliefs/values/experiences of both parties. How? I'm living/loving/learning on both sides (one side is hip hop/the man and the other is a lot of stuff, but I'll call it academia) and I'm taking on the responsibility of defending both sides because of a (false?) sense of (needed?) political coalition between the two. Maybe it's selfish bridge-building on my part...maybe I'm building this bridge in the hopes of forming a coalition so that my life (exemplified in this post) will be a little easier - so that the tugging will not be so violent. Whatever the case, does my United Nations-esque translating really do any good if neither side is telling the truth? The academic side (which represents privileged people, in this post) is not going to tell the whole truth because they're interested in maintaining their privilege. But, I argue that hip hop/the man is not telling the whole truth of their lives either, and as a result they, too, are continuing to accrue/use privileges that I cannot because at this point I have somehow become "too educated" to hang. These privileges that I speak of are probably not privileges to the average reader of this blog, but some of you will understand what I'm talking was not until recently (last year) that I lost the privilege of walking around in the middle of my community as an insider. I lost the privilege to ride the city bus and be welcomed, rather than looked at questioningly as to why I'm on the bus. I lost the privilege of speaking black english (aka: African American Vernacular English) without someone looking at me like I "know better." What a difference a year makes. From last year to this year I was supposed to become a completely different person...walk different, talk different, get to the mall different! And I'm supposed to tip toe around it. Why? Because I'm building bridges, not burning them. And if I stop centralizing/reconciling our beliefs, the political coalition that I thought might have already existed, will never exist...and I think I need it to, less my own damn identity never come full circle.

That felt good. Back to studying for hell week.


Dark Daughta said...

I saw myself and the questions I ask myself about all the different "wheres" I sit simultaneously. I thought about my coalition/relationship with Papi and about what it means to be Black and educated. It felt good for you writing this? It felt good reading you explore it. Thank you for the nods, the familiarity, the giggles and all the rest of the stuff I experienced as I read you.

CNM said...

What a great post. I'm glad you took the time to write it, and I hope it gave you some of the release and time to *breathe* that you need while you're in the midst of all of the school craziness. It made me think of another post I've read by Dark Daughta on all of the different roles and shapes and personas she assumes at different times when she needs to (she calls it being her chameleon), and how some people don't realize they are being chameleons, but others do, and use it to their advantage:

Thanks for sharing this. I really need to read your blog more often- like, every day.

Dark Daughta said...

Second Waver came by today and reminded me of one of many instances when I knew that functioning as bridge woman was a death sentence that I needed to refuse. I remember and intimately understand that there is no choice in that place. If we do, we are most often forced to function as the caretakers of those who suck from our energies. If we do not, we are defined as unapproachable bitches who must be put down like rabid animals. For me the choice is mostly clear. Even in my relationship where I often feel as if I spend my time with Papi turning him away from me and back around to face himself in the mirror which he really fucking hates, there is no choice but to keep refusing this particular death sentence and inviting those who come with it in their eyes to build their own bridges to a place of consciousness of who they themselves are.

Just call me bitchy-poo. :)

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