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“Open the Fucking Gate”: Microaggressions

“Are you going to open the fucking gate?” I yelled at the intercom machine. I could not see the person who I was talking to but they could see me. My morning had been particularly stressful and all I wanted to do was pick up a student and leave. This left me on edge.

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

Here is the story:

I pulled up to the parking garage at my job. My ID card wasn’t working

Man: Your card isn’t working? (He can see me via video camera and can also see that my card is white not blue/red which is designated for students)

Me: No, its not working. I have two and I never remember which one is magnetized. Can you let me in?

Man: What is your name and your department?

Me: Tabitha Chester, Black studies. Can you let me in?

Man: Well, students are not allowed to park here.

Me: I just told you my name and my department. Are you going to open the fucking gate?

I am the first to admit I sometimes have trouble controlling my temper. On the surface this incident should not cause me to lose my cool. If, of course this was an isolated incident. Being read as a student is something that I face all the time. While many people suggest that this is a positive thing and I should enjoy looking younger than I am, the situation is a bit more complex than this. As a young Black woman who at times may appear gender non-conforming it is very hard for some people to read me as a professor. The only way I make sense to some people on a college campus, is if I am a student. My biggest issue with this occurs with staff at my university. I rarely have any issues with students or other faculty. Here is a brief list of some of my encounters:

  • I was reprimanded by a librarian for not having my ID or knowing my Student ID number. When I informed her I was not a student and was a faculty member her attitude completely changed. I had so many incident with be treated rudely at the library I now have the student workers go for me.
  • While standing in line for food, I am routinely passed over in favor of someone who is more easily read as staff or faculty.
  • Heading to my office with a bag of tortilla chips. Some lady decided to ask was that my lunch and proceed to lecture me about unhealthy for choice as if she was my mother.

These are just some incidents. They occur when I am wear business casual clothing or jeans. They occur in person and on the phone. The resounding message becomes- you do not belong here. I speak to my friends who are also Black professors on college campuses and they have similar experiences. They are not all read as students but they are never read as college professors. Somehow regardless of age or gender it is hard for many to see us as professors. I have friends who changed the manner in which they dressed to be seen more traditionally professional, it did not alter their treatment.

Of course, this experience does not just happen to professors. Many of my Black students recount tales of being asked repeatedly to show their ID to prove they are students. Something that their white peers rarely have to do. Students have told me they have been pulled over by security on campus for acting “suspicious”. Earlier this semester at a fraternity party, students were told that Blacks and gays were not invited. Again the message becomes both explicitly and implicitly- you do not belong here. These are microaggressions that students and faculty of color regardless of institution affiliation can relate to.

I recently heard a case in Florida, where a black judge was approach by another resident in her condominium and was asked “What family did she work for?” in so many words, this man was telling her that she did not belong. His mind could only conceive that this Black woman had to be the hired help.

Stories like these are not an anomaly. These are experiences that happen every week, day or sometimes every hour. They add up and as much as I would like to admit, they affect me. I have to consciously affirm myself and remind myself I don’t need permission to be here.  I am motivated by Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, who walks around with her colored wigs daring the establishment to come for her. Forcing the university to deal with her Blackness and never assimilating to university culture. When I ask her how do I have fun with my scholarship and teaching? She tells me “Just do what you want. Cost too much not to.” I won’t let microaggressions scare me from being myself. Sometimes I am will wear a blazer or I might wear a hoodie with my hat backwards. Either way you have to deal with and respect this Black Girl Genius.

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Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown and I

But next time I will take a moment before I tell the man in the intercom to open the fucking gate.

Or maybe I won’t.

~JustTab

I have yet to find another faculty member who has even talked to the person on the intercom. They always just get buzzed in. I always have to prove that I work there. 

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Academia, Learning bout Tab!, politics

 

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But that’s not how the story ends…Easter 2015

I wish I could tell you the last time I went to church on Easter Sunday. Maybe 5 years ago, but don’t quote me. My childhood is full with memories of Easter. Reciting Easter speeches, finding the perfect outfit (I believe Easter was the first time I wore heels) and of course getting the hair did. Does anyone else remember microwave ponytails? A weave ponytail that you put in the microwave to give it curls. Real Black shit. Easter is one of the Sundays that everyone goes to church (add Christmas and Mother’s Day to that list), particularly the “heathens”. I have descended so far past heathenism that I barely remembered today was Easter. I spent the day writing and grading. Holidays formally rich with religious and family memories have lost pretty much all significance in my life. I slept till 6pm on Christmas, did not get/give one gift and it has been 6 years since I spent Christmas with my family.

Don’t worry this is not a lament on why I don’t do Holidays. Been there done that. Since my FaceBook newsfeed was hellbent on reminding me today was Easter, I might as well speak on it.

The thing I love about Easter is the choir sings one of my favorite songs, No Greater Love “That’s not how the story ends, three days later he rose again- That’s love!!!” That shit goes hard!

Today one of my friends, Ahmad Greene posted this status:

“He got up,” isn’t where the story ends, though that’s where y’all typically close the book. What does resurrection from crucifixion mean when those that have “risen with Christ” crucify others? For example, as Candace pointed out today, it was the women (Mary Magdelene, Joana, Mary the mother of James) who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection first, but it was the male apostles who ignored their witness and went to inspect the tomb for themselves (Luke 24: 10-11). Indeed, it was sexism that crucified the women to a metaphorical cross, and arguably, it is that same hatred and vitriol that crucifies many among us to both physical and spiritual crosses. Jesus got up, but Jesus also had love. And you honestly can’t shout, dance, and roll in the floor today because “He got up,” if you’re not living the LOVE he preached every day he walked the earth. (Well…you can and that’s what y’all typically do *sips tea*). Stop crucifying others in Jesus’ name. It ain’t Godly and it ain’t love. This, in fact, is a word for those who call themselves “Christian.” Little do you know, you side with Pilate and the Roman government more than Jesus.

This status struck me for several reasons, most directly the continuing crucifixions that “Christians” often perpetuate. The show Preachers of Detroit, has recently highlighted the blatant and often unapologetic sexism that is rampant in Black religious spaces. My concerns are primarily for the Black community, but I will acknowledge sexism is a problem in a variety of institutions and races. As Greene’s status indicated women are often ignored and dismissed within religious spaces. Jesus resurrection, had to be certified by male apostles. The conversations about women’s role in ministry that Preachers of Detroit incited made me face my own battles with the internalized sexism I inherited from my religious upbringing. Subsequent conversations with my father reminded me how the talents and strengths of Black women are often dismissed in the patriarchal structure of the Black church. I have watched my father elevate unloyal, lazy and ignorant men to positions of authority- yet his theology won’t allow him to see women as viable religious leaders. I wonder how much his ministry would benefit if it could be free from the shackles of sexism. In the same vein, how many of our queer brothers and sisters in ministry are ignored or not seen as viable leaders due to the hetero-normative and homophobic structures often embedded in the Black church. What are we overlooking and missing as we wait for the “male apostles” to confirm the resurrection, to confirm things the women have already told us?

During a week in which a noose was found hanging from Duke University campus. Easter becomes a time to remember the countless Black bodies crucified through state sanctioned violence. As Pastor Starsky Wilson reminded me during my journey to Ferguson- the Crucifixion of Jesus was nothing more than act of state-sanctioned violence. A murder carried out by the government (the police) and praised by the people. As James Cone eloquently wrote in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, the “crucifixion was a fist century lynching”.

“The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, usually reserved for hardened criminals, rebellious slaves, and rebels against the Roman state and falsely accused militant blacks who were often called “black beasts” and “monsters in human form” for their audacity to challenge white supremacy in America. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree.
“Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock…. Rather, he died like a [lynched black victim] or a common [black] criminal in torment, on the tree of shame” (Hengel). The crowd’s shout, “Crucify him! (Mark 15:14), anticipated the white mob’s shout, “Lynch him!” Jesus’ agonizing final cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) was similar to the Georgia lynching victim Sam Hose’s awful scream, as he drew his last breath, “Oh my God! Oh, Jesus.”

So on this Easter Sunday it is hard for me to think about Jesus, the son of God- who was without sin but died for our sins. Without thinking about Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Relisha Rudd, John Crawford, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and the many many more Black bodies killed in this country that were guilty of being Black in an anti-Black world. In my theology those hours that Jesus hung from the cross as public spectacle are not that different from the hours Michael Brown laid in the streets of Ferguson.
As I was discussing religion with a culturally Christian, non-practicing friend she stated

“I believe in the power of that story (Easter). I believe in the power of resurrection. And our creator offering a life for which we could see the world anew.”

So while I am no longer interested in dressing up and attending anyone’s Easter service. While I have realized my salvation will not come from Jesus- I do believe there is something valuable about reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope that it provides in today’s world. There are lessons to be learned by radical politics of Jesus love.

My prayer this Easter Sunday is that the Black bodies, our country continues to crucify, deaths are not in vain. That we remember the power in the story, the promise of liberation and redemption. Remember the impact of state-sanctioned violence. Remember the audacity of Jesus who challenged the status-quo as we dare to challenge white supremacy. That we reflect on the bodies we continue to crucify in the name of religion…of the voices and ministry that we ignore simply because they are not cis-gender men.We are living in a world where the governor of Indiana has signed into law “A Religious Freedom Act” that is entrenched with religious infused bigotry.Christians are looking more and more like Pilate and the Roman government than Jesus.  As we challenge racism, homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, ableism, etc. remember and declare that we decide how the story ends.

~JustTab

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Holidays, Learning bout Tab!, Religion

 

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Blue Ivy is my Savior or The ramblings of a colored girl who is finding her own salvation when Jesus was never enuf

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Blue Ivy is my Savior. My friends and acquaintances constantly hear me refer to the child of Beyonce Giselle Knowles and Shawn Carter as my Lord. To be honest it started as a joke. I really enjoy performing irrational ‘Yonce stan. I love the utter ridiculousness of the Beyhive. As time progress my reasoning for calling Blue Ivy my savior also progressed. It was my way of drawing attention to the “irrational” concept of needing a savior and what I deem the arbitrary yet fanatic way Black people revere Jesus Christ. In order words what makes one baby divine and another not. I firmly believe that salvation comes from within and often we as a people spend too much time looking for an external savior.

However there is another reason Blue Ivy is my Savior. I remember the first time I heard someone refer to God as a she. I remember how outrageous I thought that was. How sacrilegious the concept seem to be. Never had I in my 20 years of life, ever even considered God as a woman. I immediately wrote this young lady off as some heathen who would burn in hell. How dare she refer to God as a woman? I later realized my reaction said a lot about my own conception of myself and beliefs about women. Growing up in a very patriarchal world, which was heightened due to my intimate experiences in a patriarchal religious environment. I was taught and believed that women were less then. If I had the time or desire I could describe the ways in which I saw women demonized in both scripture and in religious spaces.  Hell, the fall of men was blamed on Eve, and that’s the first book of the Bible.

He can’t do nothing for me

The concept of Jesus’ Blackness was a less radical thought. However, I still spent much of my adolescences in a church with a mural of a white Jesus on the wall. I was still raised in a world that painted and depicted Jesus the Christ, Savior of men as a white male. The history of white males with blonde hair and blues eyes (as Jesus is so often seen as) have a history of never seeing me or treating me as equal in this country/world.  So what does it mean that I was to think of these depictions as images of someone who could and would save me? The pictures that do show Jesus with hair and skin like mine are always labeled “Black Jesus,” calling attention to their deviation for the norm- that is the real Jesus-the white one.

When I say Blue Ivy is my savior I am affirming a feminine divinity. I am making a conscious effort to affirm my own femininity in my conception of a Savior. When I say Blue Ivy is my savior I am affirming a savior that has skin like mine, who has hair like mine. I am affirming my Blackness in a very anti-Black world. My femininity in an anti-female world. The research on Black girls show that are more likely than their counterparts to be suspended, that they have low self-esteem, they are deemed a problem, they are more likely to be sexually assaulted, less likely to fit in at suburban  schools. Black girls are often seen as the problem.  When Black girls grow up, they can look forward to articles with titles like “Why Black women are single.” When I say Blue Ivy is my Savior I am proclaiming that Black girls are not the problem they are the solution. That if I am to have any external savior not only must they look like me, but I am proclaiming that I am the only one that can save myself. The only way the little Black girl inside of me can be redeemed, is through me. As stated in my favorite book The Color Purple  “The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it.”

I am a big fan of liberation theology. The idea that Jesus came to liberate the oppressed and through the liberation of the most oppressed in society we all shall be liberated.

So when I say my Savior is Blue Ivy- in my head and in my heart I am saying that my Savior is Black and Female. Girl-child and Queer. Misunderstood and Powerful. I am saying that my Savior is me.

“I found god in myself / and I loved her / I loved her fiercely”. ~ Ntozake Shange

What does your Savior look like?

~Just Tab

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Learning bout Tab!, Rants, Religion

 

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Latch-Dance

My alarm went off at 5am. It was 6:15am before I got up.

Checked the weather…way colder than I expected. Needed to change my outfit. Tragic because I looked really cute.

Tired. Too much grading to do and not prepared for the day,

I got to campus. Did some work. Still Tired.

With 15 minutes left to class time. Decided to close my door and dance.

Energized. Ready to go.

The point of this…don’t forget to dance.

~JustTab

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Goodbye at 17 and 27 (a melodrama)

I remember leaving the Sunday School Convention with a car packed with all my stuff. I remember move in. Shopping at Wal-mart (before I knew it was the devil) and Target for all the things I thought I would need. I remember Sanchia, Dorian, Fabian and Kristin and the excitement that we all had to start classes. Meeting my roommate Layla, who would later go on to fuck my crush and accuse me of being racist. Going to church with my parents and hanging in their hotel room. Buying books and eating in the union.

It’s been almost a decade since I started college and consequently my journey into adulthood. Despite my memories of the excitement leading up to that first summer semester, what stands out to me right now- is the feeling that I felt when they left. I was having so much fun those first few days I never really thought about the fact my parents wouldn’t be in a hotel down the street forever. They hugged me, climbed into the green Ford Explorer and left.

They left me. Their baby. All alone in Tallahassee. The eager and cocky 17 year old girl suddenly stopped feeling so eager and cocky. I went back into Dorman Hall and cried. What was I to do now?

At 20… the same feeling came when he left me in Philadelphia. And at 23 when they left me in Arizona. Despite the fact that it was my decision to move those places…I still felt abandon.

Years later I leave them way more than they leave me. I guess I am grown and that’s the way it is supposed to be, but I would be lying if I told ya’ll that I didn’t break down and cry every time I leave and not know when I will see my parents again. They worry about me and I don’t blame them. I worry about them too. They are the loves of life. The phone maintains our bond. As much as I miss them I know I can’t grow living in the same city as them.

I miss them so much I don’t see them. I don’t want to be reminded how comforting a hug from my mom is or how much I enjoy just being in my dad’s presence. So I stay away until I forget how much I miss them and how much they are a part of me.

I am not 17 anymore. I know eventually things will change and they will leave me again….at some point it won’t be back to West Palm but it will be a permanent departure.  Mercedes tells me despite my attempts I can never prepare myself for their final departure. 

What I am trying to say is I went home this weekend. I saw my parents. Good-byes are hard at 17 or 27.

~JustTab

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.

80 years ago today Audre Lorde was born.

AL

This morning I saw this picture on Facebook and while I knew I had read the quote before it did not really resonant with me.

This afternoon as I was walking my dog the quote came back to me, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”  All I could think was that I was afraid of everything. When I got back to the house and climbed in bed for nap (something I rarely have time for), I noticed one of my business cards on the floor. On the back was printed: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing”. I thought to myself, had I really forgotten that quote? A few months ago the quote meant enough to me, to be printed on my business cards. I felt that quote and believed it for my life. Now just a few months later I barely recognize those words. Truth is I am barely recognizing myself.

Today I am grateful. I am grateful for the spirit and the light that is Audre Lorde. This fierce Black lesbian feminist warrior poet, who left a body of work and a legacy that, teaches us how to survive. To survive in spaces where we were never meant to. To define ourselves. To speak. To survive. How to deal with fear. How to use anger. The erotic.  That teaches us the power of freeing ourselves and others. On days like today when fear surrounds my body I am grateful for Audre Lorde. On mornings like last Sunday when I finally ended a silence that has crippled me since I was 16, despite my fears I spoke my truth…on mornings like those I grateful for Audre Lorde. I am indebted to my ancestors, those fierce Black women who came before and just by surviving showed me I could.

As part of my interview for my new position, I had to teach a class. I used Audre Lorde’s “The transformation of silence into language and action,” that was a deliberate choice. I understood despite my fears, the ancestors were walking with me and guiding me. From my conversations with my new colleagues, I believe it was teaching that lesson, that got me the job.

Happy Birthday Audre, may your light always shine in the darkest of places. Ase.

A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed

futures

like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours

***

 For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive.

***

And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid.

***

So it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Academia, Holidays, politics

 

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Before I jet off to dinner…bye 2013

I have dinner reservation in 25 minutes. Still trying to decide if I will attend church afterwards. When you decide that you want to attend a Black church but not one with imbedded with sexism, homophobia or preaches prosperity theology—it becomes pretty tough to find a suitable choice. I spent all my NYE minus 1 at watch night service and as much as it is a tradition I want to continue I’m not sure I can/will. So maybe I should just take the good from it and leave the bad. I don’t need church to pray in the New Year but after the year I had I know I need the prayer part. 2013 was challenging, I don’t think many people understand how much so… I am over being disappointed with my growth and position in 2013. I am ready for what 2014 has in store. After all I am in a new city—Columbus, OH. I have a new job—Denison University. In so many ways I am really moving into this adult life. I even hosted Christmas dinner with (for lack of a better term) my partner.

2013 taught me that I am not as strong as I thought I was but 2014 will show me that I am stronger than I ever thought possible.

Sending Blessing and Love for your New Year.

~JustTab

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
 
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