Thursday, September 16, 2021

Wanna Make Money In Your Sleep? Keep Dreaming!


At some point last week, I was chatting with someone about storytelling. I have no idea who it was because I chat with lots of people about storytelling.

The person in question said something in passing that didn't strike me until days later, which is why I can't remember who said it. It might have been my daughter.

"If your business isn't taking advantage of the digital angle of work, you are just leaving money on the table."

At the beginning of 2020, I would have shrugged that off and thought about how we are storytellers and our work is in person.

From Peachtree Press

I would have been justified in saying that, except for one thing: I am a huge fan of making money in my sleep!

I define that as having projects out in the world that continue to bring in cash without you having to monitor them all of the time. 

For me these income streams include:

1. Books 

Which reminds me - I have a new book that dropped on September 1st!

2. MP3 Tracks

But that was pretty much it.

Then, March of 2020 hit. I wouldn't say I discovered Youtube, but let's just say I spent more time watching videos than I ever had. 

I watched videos about things I never even had any interest in. 

I fell in love with everything from Flat Earth Debunking videos to Reptile Keepers. I got hooked on several Youtubers who are all about Brexit, and I watched themed channels about anything my little heart desired.

I had a great time. Now I have a Youtube habit I need to curb. Sigh.

Anyway, some years ago I had this idea for a Youtube series that I never bothered to pursue. I realized that even as I was putting my ideas together I didn't have the capability to do it without some serious help. I had some vague ideas about getting my family members to help, but it never really got off the ground.

Here, in the fall of 2021, I have discovered that not only do I possess the required skills there isn't any reason not to shoot it and put it online.

Except for the fact that when it comes to diving into projects like this I am a huge procrastinator.

So, the other night I called my son and asked him if he would compose a lullaby for me. This is what he sent me.  

It is perfect for the little series I want to do! Then, I started thinking of the possibilities of what I could do with the series, and who might want to listen to it, and then...well, I figured the sky was just the beginning.

So, I told The David what I was thinking about doing, and he did one of those "Wait a Minute! Do you have a plan for this, or were you just going to throw it up on Youtube and see what happens?"

Well, yeah.

I mean, I have some ideas, some basic plans, tons of potential content, and a lullaby. What else do I need? 

In case you don't know, this is what happens when you live with your business manager. 

So, I did some thinking about what I am willing to do and what I have time to do. How to connect it to the people who might most enjoy it, how to do the initial spreading of the word, and how to monetize it effectively.

Then I thought about all of the ways I might start getting a following by using some of my more traditional marketing techniques, thinking about how many episodes I would have to upload, the schedule of release, the editing, possibly offering Patreon activities, and on, and on, and on....the whole thing became overwhelming because I can honestly say I have no interest in monitoring a Youtube channel.

I mean, I am not looking to add another element to my calendar that drains time out of my schedule. Why even begin something that will require this much tending? It isn't like I'm not busy!

I got myself worked up and then I just stopped and started laughing at myself. 

What am I so worried about?

You do a thing on youtube and you see what happens.

I know someone will watch it because that's the nature of Youtube, but it isn't like this is going to become my main source of income or anything like that! 

So, I am just going to go for it and enjoy the process. 

Will this new series turn into another source of income? Ummm, possibly, but I will definitely learn something, and on the other side of it, I will free up space in my brain for another project. (Originally I had written "probably not" but when I read it to The David he suggested turning probably not into possibly. That guy even believes in me when my syntax doesn't!")

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to have breakfast, go to the gym, vacuum the house, clean the bathrooms, and all of the other things I can think of rather than start recording for what I know will probably take me three weeks of solid shooting before I have the whole series done.

I am nothing if not a procrastinator!

Still, I have a timetable now, and that's more than I had two days ago.

So, thanks to The David, and Devin, I am one step closer to making that sweet, sweet Patreon Youtube money in my sleep...someday. 🤣🤣🤣

Happy Dreaming!

Friday, September 10, 2021

When Life Imitates Teaching - The Process In the Pudding!


I had my first live show of the 2021 - 2022 season at a community event!

It was part of the Lollipop series at Carrboro Parks and Rec!

I was not as prepared as I usually am. I could feel the rust.

I walked out of the house and realized I'd forgotten to paint my toenails. Of course, I had. When is the last time an audience saw my toes?

I painted my nails on the way there as The David drove.

six people came to the show not counting The David and the organizer.

All six members of the public sat right in the front row.

There were two women who knew each other and their daughters who seemed to be about three came in holding hands. There was also a dad and his daughter. She was four.

It took me about thirty seconds to realize that the two ladies and their daughters didn't speak English.

Welcome back to live telling!

I told a story called Silly Annabelle which is highly participatory with sound and movement. There is lots of repetition, and once you learn the patterns, you can figure out what happens next.

The four-year-old and her father who were able to follow the tale were very participatory. They beautifully modeled the way to interact with the storyteller. 

The non-English speakers participated as well. They waved their hands in the air, danced with the dragon, shook the trees, clapped, considered, and made all of the right sounds. They even learned most of the refrains by the end and said them more or less as they clapped, or danced around.

The David and the organizer were in the back of the room. They could only see the back of the six participants. 

When the show was over, and the six people were packing to go, I thanked everyone for coming, and I spent a few moments communicating with the two ladies. They were from Japan. That was all they could tell me. 

The organizer came over to speak to everyone and that is when she found out they couldn't speak much English. She was shocked because of how participatory they were.

As we left the venue, I told The David that it was interesting that my first show back - just for kicks - most of my audience had no idea what I was saying. 

He looked at me quizzically. "What do you mean?"

"The two ladies and their children didn't speak any English."

"Are you sure?" he asked. "They were participating really well."

"I spoke to them. I know they weren't completely sure what I was saying."

He raised his eyebrows. "You couldn't tell that from the back. They participated with everything!"

It was only after the fact, that I realized I'd just exemplified the workshop I'd given the weekend before.

I was speaking with English teachers from all over the world who were teaching English to children in Tunisia. They are working in a program called American Corner Tunis.

I sent them an hour-long pre-recorded workshop, and I joined the workshop at the end for a Q&A. The students enjoyed the workshop, and they were very excited about working on their new skills and using more storytelling in the classroom.

Not one of them questioned whether or not it would be a useful tool, and all of them appreciated how storytelling could both inform and shape how they worked with their students from the little ones all the way up to high school.

I have done a number of workshops about using storytelling with audiences who might not speak English. We learn from each other how to make a story work across cultural and language divides. (I am going to stop using the word barriers when I think about how we communicate with people who have different life experiences from us.) When I was putting the workshop for Tunisia together I had a moment. It has been a while since I was telling in person. Zoom doesn't give you the same kind of feeling with an audience.

I was concerned that I would be very rusty in person, and in some ways I am. Still, the process I have lived with for thirty years on how to deal with various audiences and find ways to meet them where they are and communicate is still part of me.

The temperature is dropping.

Schools are making their arrangements.

Bookstores are calling for appearances

Conferences are tentatively trying in-person gatherings.

Me? I'm getting ready to socially distance embrace audiences. 

This season is going to be amazing - No matter what happens!

Happy Telling!

For a bit of fun, here is another blog I did about communicating across the language divide.

Monday, August 30, 2021

What is your 2021 - 2022 COVID Performance Plan?

Nobody would accuse me of being a technophile. I am not computer savvy. Nobody would have accused me of being a videographer either. 

In fact, there are many things I am not...or perhaps I should say "was" not before the 2020 - 2021 performance season.

Then, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! A new vaccine made with old research that got new funding unfurled before us! 


 We were saved! All we had to do was innoculate the world! This is what we'd been waiting for, right?

Apparently, only some of us were waiting for it. 

Either way, the world is open before us once more. Everyone wants the old normalcy to begin. Let's go back into schools, play festivals, and other types of venues all over the country.

The David and I are facing the exact same question we had last year.

Is it safe?

Apparently, that depends on who you ask.

So, how much are you gambling? What is the difference between hope and preparation? Does anything we do matter? Can we keep ourselves and our audiences safe? What is our part in any of this? 

Regardless of what the venues do, what are you doing?

Have you put any policies in place for your business? 

What are the circumstances under which you mean to go into venues? 

Do you have some plans for practice and procedures? 

Are you building those into your contracts?

The David and I are putting together our 2021 policies. I suspect they will change as more and more people contact us for in-person work. So far this fall we have been asked to participate in the following types of work:

1. In-person shows in schools - I would be performing for hundreds of people at once

2. In-person shows at conferences. I would be running a one hour workshop with about sixty people

3. In person residency - Three days of hands-on contact with about one hundred middle and high school students for four hours each day

4. In-person shows at small venues

5. Live-Virtual and Pre-recorded shows.

Our Plan?

1. Whenever possible, weather permitting, we are encouraging school assemblies to be done outside. That many people squeezed into a multipurpose room or gym in a system where vaccination is optional and most of the people in the room aren't even eligible to be vaccinated does not seem like a good idea to me. I will bring my sound system, so we will need access to electricity.

2. I am not sure I will be flying this year. We are going to have to make that decision soon, however.

3. All of the venues we've book who have asked for in-person shows understand that there is a caveat for me being there. It will depend on what their personal COVID situation looks like. If by the time the show comes up on the calendar, half the school is out with COVID, then we might have to pass on that venue. So far, everyone has been understanding.

My biggest fear this year is not me getting COVID - I am vaccinated, my husband is vaccinated, all of my family and friends are vaccinated, and I will be in line for that booster shot.

My concern is that I could be a major disease vector.

Bee with full pollen sacs

Think about it like bees visiting flowers. I could end up with a mild or a-symptomatic case of COViD. If that happens, every single time I go into a school, I could be a problem.

If I ever even once thought a teacher or a child ended up in a hospital or a morgue because of me.... 

That doesn't change the fact that I still have to make a living -

This is how we mean to proceed:

1. I will be masked until I perform...maybe even as I perform, if it doesn't interfere with my mic, which I will check soon, I may remain masked as I perform.

2. I will continue to do the elbow bumping, though, in my defense, I have always done that during flu season. People have always thought it was weird, but now, the times have caught up with me.

3. We will continue to monitor my own health circumstances even as we keep an eye on the counties and schools I will be visiting.

That's where we are now.

What about you?

What are your performance, teaching, audience plans and procedures for 2021?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Day 4: A New Generation: The Teenage Social Justice Warriors

 I am good at talking myself out of work.

Anybody else have this problem?

I am good at listening to a client, realizing that I know someone else who would do a better job or be a better fit, giving the client the other artist's name and number, and hanging up the phone.

I'm looking at you, Linda Gorham.

I am good at listening to a client, realizing they need something different, and sending them off in a direction that is not as profitable for me.

This is one of the reasons The David talks to clients and not me. He has way more faith and confidence in my being the right person for the job than I do!

Even so, there are times when he gets a call that requires me to speak directly to someone who wants to book an event.

This happened a few weeks ago.

The David handed me the phone and there was a bubbly woman on the other end who worked at a high school. 

Somebody at her school had seen Chairs In The Trees, and was certain that it would be perfect for their school. I assured her it would.

Then she proceeded to tell me it was their Black History assembly, and after the set she wanted me to lead the students in a discussion of social justice today.

I stopped her right there, suggested she get someone from their local community like an Alderman or something to speak to them. 

She stopped me and said the kids were already planning to interview African American leaders from the community to find out what they thought about social justice. They were going to play the clips during the assembly.

I told her about an event I'd gone to in the past where High School students had created a "Colored Museum". They'd filled a space with the history of African Americans who'd contributed everything from inventions, scientific breakthroughs, and social justice movements to our culture.

She thought that was a great idea.

I then pointed out that Chairs In The Trees was an hour-long program. We couldn't do the entire show.

She was disappointed.  We kept talking

By the time we were done, I'd agreed to tell a fifteen-minute story at some point during the event. I'd also managed to structure it and suggest how she could incorporate the various elements the kids brought to the table so they'd have a cohesive program. She was pleased.

I gave the phone back to The David.

I'd talked her out of a show doing an hour. I was going to be a moment instead of the main event. I was pretty sure it was the right thing to do.

On Friday, February 12th, I attended the show.

I have never been so glad to have talked myself out of work in my life.

The event was amazing.

It started with the student body president - a stunning African American young woman - telling her classmates that she wanted them to listen with an open mind and consider the stories and ideas they were going to be hearing.

Her counterpart - another stunning African American young woman - explained that all of us are programmed to believe things that might not be true. She said that this isn't usually malicious, but a product of where people were raised, having an adverse encounter with someone, or cultural misunderstandings.

The only way to break through institutionalized racism and misunderstandings is to listen to people

Then, they released the Kraken.

The students merged personal narrative, poetry, their thoughts about social justice, equality, and equity into an amazing presentation that sent me into tears, made me cheer, and had me howling like a crazy lady with pride. 

What did they cover?

Natural Hair -

I met black girls who - by the age of sixteen - had come to love their natural hair. These young ladies told stories about being teased, or not seeing enough images of little girls like them with natural hair wanting to change themselves to look like what they thought "beauty" or "normal" was supposed to be. They ended up putting harsh chemicals in their hair because they wanted it to be "straight". 

They spoke of how the societal norms of what constitutes beauty made them unhappy with their bodies, skin, and hair.

They ended by explaining that with the positivity of friends, family, and teachers, they'd come to see that their natural hair was beautiful.

My daughter rocking her natural hair! 

They had fabulous hair!

Then, I learned about The Crown Act. It is a piece of legislation that is being sponsored by Dove soap to counter the discrimination that black women experience because of their natural hair!  The research on this was shocking to me. 

I had never encountered this because I don't work in an office.

The next topic had to do with body shapes.

Have you heard the term "thick" girls?

It is a term that I have heard to describe girls who are large and curvy. I was going to link to some articles or something, but most of the images are about women who have traditionally not been thought of as beautiful because of their large sizes posing in poses. 

There is a reclamation of body positivity from these grown women. I am all for that. When a girl is young, it causes a completely different problem.

One of the young women used it yesterday. She called herself a thick girl.

This soft-spoken, dark-skinned Sophomore spoke of how when they were in elementary school they wore uniforms. She was always larger than most of her peers, and it was always hard to get the sizes she needed. When she got to middle school, she could wear what she liked, but she was often sent home because her clothes were inappropriate or she was given a sweatshirt so she could "cover up".

She has shapely legs and curves everywhere and has had since she was pretty young.

It was only later she understood that leggings on a skinny girl were okay, but if she wore them, she was acting too "grown" or it was "distracting". She spoke about the sexualization of young black girls.

She didn't understand what was happening when she was younger. She didn't understand why people kept telling her she was trying to be too "grown".

She shook her head. "I am the quietest person. I like to sit in my room and read, I'm always up under my momma, I like to talk to my friends and goof off. I'm a great student. I wouldn't stay out late, I don't drink, or do drugs, or even use foul language. I don't even have a boyfriend, I've never been kissed, but I'm "grown".

She ended her segment with, "I am not the problem here!"

Then - 

Well, then something happened that had me in tears for a bit.

This sixteen-year-old gentleman played a video of a poem he'd written. I'm not going to try to explain it.

Just watch:

I cried, I was angry, I was impressed, I was proud, and I was hopeful

I immediately asked if I could share the video and he said yes.

I switched my view to gallery and watched all of these young people from every possible type of family in America watching this assembly.

They were as enraptured by what they were seeing as I was. They sent out that silent applause emojis, commented in the chat, and let their voices be heard.

Then, suddenly, it was my turn. I did a quick variant of The Men of Kent Street, and went back to watching the kids work it!

Their staff advisors also go into the mix. They asked the kids questions about social justice issues and then had them respond in the chat at once like a waterfall. 

Everyone would type something and then wait. Then, the advisor would say, Niagra - which has to do with something I'd never heard of before, and will be subject of a blog post in the near future - and we would all push send at once. The replies would cascade into the chat. It was powerful to see these young people
The Niagara Movement

expressing fury, dismay, and sadness for the struggles of their classmates. Struggles that many of them didn't even know were an ongoing thing.

The next student talked about microaggressions and the way language is used to belittle African Americans by suggesting that they can be dismissed, separated from other black people, or categorized as "different" if they are educated. She is a well-spoken black girl who particularly hates being called "articulate". She asks, how many kids do you say that to? What makes me different from my white peers who speak a certain way? 

(Now, to be fair, she was a fabulous speaker and she was very well-spoken! Most kids her age probably don't have that much command of themselves, but her point was well taken!)

It was an hour of pure magic!

I stayed 'til the end and thanked the students for the amazing presentation.

Later, in the kitchen, I was trying to explain what had happened to my husband and son. I broke down in tears. 

2021 has been a very challenging year for me emotionally.

I was on such pins and needles during the last part of 2020, I don't think I sat with any emotions -aside from anger - for months.

Now, in this time, when things are starting to resolve and life might be trying to find itself back to something I recognize as normal, I realize I am deeply sad. 

The sorrow I have been carrying for separated families, children locked in cages, the horrific murder of George Floyd, the BLM protests that rocked the entire world as people marched for justice in cities from almost every place on the globe to the insurrection that could have destroyed our fragile democracy has finally come for me. 

I have been overwhelmed with grief, hopelessness, and despair that we are going to have to litigate my right, the rights of my children, and perhaps my grandchildren to live with equity in America all over again. I have been feeling rather lost. It seems like there is no end to this war where one side is saying  - I'm human! All I ask is that you treat me as such! and the other side saying, "You are asking too much! Be thankful we aren't just shooting you on sight! 

Yesterday? Yesterday I saw the next generation of leaders step up and speak out in a way that didn't happen when I was a kid.

Yesterday? Yesterday I saw a group of young people lead their classmates into a discussion on the difference between equity and equality and why that matters.

Yesterday? Yesterday I wanted to drive to Fayetteville, NC, station myself outside each and every one of these young people's homes, and announce to the world that anyone coming for any of these hopeful sparks had to go through me first.

Day 1: Telling My Ancestor's Story

Friday, February 5, 2021

I Couldn't Be Prouder - Reframing What It Meant To Be A "Slave"

 One of the things that used to cause me no end of shame and discomfort when I was in middle school and high school was the discussion of slaves in America.

There were many things they could have been called.

The Myth of the Happy Slave

Kidnapped Enslaved Africans.


Kidnapped Enslaved People.

Enslaved for Generations.

Denied basic humanity for Generations.

Raped, Beaten, Worked, Violated, Experimented upon, and Viewed as Property for Generations.

How was it faced in my history books?

Ha! Got you! It wasn't faced at all.

Slavery was usually dealt with using as little language and discussion as possible. The books downplayed it when it was discussed.

Oh, they said that not all slave owners were mean. They assured us that slaves were valuable and so it would not have made sense to treat them badly. Oh, yes, there were some terrible slave owners, but not all of them were bad.

I have no doubt that my classmates were telling themselves that if they'd lived in those times, they would have been "good" slave owners.  They never would have beaten their slaves.

Some probably were certain they wouldn't have had slaves at all, and I am sure some of them would not have. 

Some no doubt were certain they would have been part of the Underground Railroad, and perhaps they would have been.

What none of them took into account - mostly because our textbook didn't deal with it at all, was what the enslaved people thought of this whole situation.

Oh, and that's a thing I should discuss if you've never heard me bring it up in the past.

I would like to respectfully submit that from here on in we should always refer to the state of living for those people abducted and forced away from their homes as enslaved.

The word "slave" suggests that a person is a thing. Being a slave in the context of early American history is like a brand. It suggests that this was a natural state of being for the captured Africans. It is like that big scarlet letter. Trust me. My classmates were being told that I was a descendant of slaves.

You don't need another party to be a slave. If you are in someone's custody, they own you. Being free is not your natural or normal state.

The word "enslaved" suggests that somebody is actively doing something to you.

As opposed to saying that Africans were slaves and that is a mark against us as a people, I should endeavor to say that they were enslaved. Enslaved is an active thing. It requires an enslaver. Without an enslaver, the enslaved are free. 

I wonder what my classes would have been like if instead of talking about Southerners and "their slaves", how it would sound if we'd been taught about "Enslavers and their victims."

Substitute Enslavers for Southerners, and I suspect those kids who looked at me out of the sides of their eyes when someone said, "slaves" would have instead stared down at their textbooks and hoped I wasn't looking at them as "enslavers". I also wish the textbooks had been more clear about how truly evil it was. 

I was not the one who should have been ashamed of my ancestors in that situation. They hadn't done anything wrong or immoral.

So, just to bring the point home, this is what happened.

- The enslavers removed the youngest, strongest men women, and children from West Africa for three hundred years.

- It is estimated that over the three centuries of human devastation - fifteen to twenty million Africans were abducted from their homeland.

- We will never know how many of these people were murdered during transport from Africa to the Western World, but it is estimated to be at least one million. (Yes, murdered. The process of transporting them, and the way they were transported led directly to their deaths) - and yes, I'm still salty about this.

The Upshot?

In Africa -

For three centuries the Western World removed their youngest, strongest, brightest, and most promising people. 

Cultures collapsed -

Families were destroyed -

People lived in perpetual fear -

Progress stagnated -

Traditional ways were abandoned and lost -

The people were devastated, scattered, and traumatized - REPEATEDLY for three centuries

In America -

Imagine that you have rounded up the youngest, strongest, most able men, women, and children you could find. You put them in pens.

Some of them are not going to survive that. The strongest will. The most cunning. The ones who have the most will to live. The angriest.

Put them on ships and send them across the ocean.

Some of them are going to die. Who will survive? The strongest. The most cunning. The ones who have the most will to live. The angriest.

Now, you are on the other side of the ocean. What have you got left?

The Strongest of the strong

The Most Cunning of the cunning

The Most determined to live

The angriest damn people on the planet

The ones who were able to reach inside of themselves and find a reason to go on whether it was through music or stories or hope

That is a pretty intense group of people. 

That is the group that the enslavers in America tried to keep like livestock.

When you look at it like that, then lots of things make sense.

These were not a group of people who'd been beaten down and dominated.

This was a group of people who had figured out how to survive. 

Phyllis Wheatley - First black Poetess in America
Harriet Tubman comes from This!

Sojourner Truth comes from This!      

Frederick Douglass comes from This!

Madam CJ Walker comes from This!

Phyllis Wheatley comes from This!

All of the glorious, brilliant, determined, angry, stubborn, hopeful, beautiful black men, women, and children who have the blood of survivors running through their veins come from this!

I come from this. 

That is who I am.

And I couldn't be prouder.

I Couldn't Be Prouder - Reframing What It Meant To Be A "Slave"

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Day 2: The historical Lens Was Cracked!

"Everyone thinks they're the good guy - no one thinks they're the bad guy. Even Al Capone thought he was misunderstood."
 - Amaryllis Fox - former undercover CIA operative

As an adult, I realize why my textbooks in history were so skewed and strange - 

The people who wrote them had a world of internal biases that were seen as "truth".

1, Western Society is the pinnacle of civilization

2. Europeans did terrible things to almost every other group of people on the planet brought civilization to every other group of people on the planet.

3. Americans are all descendant of Europeans - 

4. Americans fought the indigenous people because they were attacked.

5. Manifest Destiny was imperative. There was no other way this could have happened.

At university in a Women's Study Course, I was intrigued by the concept of "The Male Gaze".

Though the term came into being around gender issues and sexuality, I realized that it had been the main problem in my history classes! Not because of sexuality but in terms of who is looking at the scene and who is making the choices about what I learn and see.

Compound that with teaching America the Beautiful, Free, Bold and Magnificent, and the lens you are staring at history through is cracked!

How I'd Reframe It!

Instead of teaching about European cultures as if they were the obvious way cultures should develop or as if they represented "civilization" and everybody else was "less civilized" I would have liked there to be a foundation for how we talk about cultures in general. 

Why were they different?

What forces shaped them?

With that as a background for talking about different kinds of people, we could compare the various cultures as they interacted to understand why the outcomes were as they were.

It would make what happened when Europeans encountered different civilizations more understandable, and it would have given me as a student more of an appreciation for different ways of thinking about the colonization of the world. 


1. All human beings, every single person alive, your ancestors and mine came from Africa. Africa produced the first modern humans. Human beings left Africa in waves and settled all over the world. 

2. As cultures developed in different parts of the world, their environment shaped the melanin content of their skins, the way they developed languge, what they valued, how they lived on the land, what sorts of shelters they needed, what was important for survival, and how they dealt with strangers. They created different traditions, had different sacred beliefs, and made different choices about right and wrong. 

3.  For Europeans, owning and controlling land (space) became the most important commodity. Europe occupies a very small amount of land. The more land you controlled, the richer and more powerful you were. 

4.  Western European civilizations had a high proportion of herd animals that would readily accept a human as their leader. Zebras can't be ridden, Bison are hella difficult to domesticate, and will revert to "wild" behavior if startled. Western Europeans also had a very small number of large, dangerous carnivores. This is due to a fluke of latitude, and where these animals settled out after the last Ice Age. This meant that Europeans lived in close quarters with animals. A number of diseases that infect animals jumped into the European population. These zoonotic diseases became common, and the longer they lived with them, the more tolerant Europeans became of the effects.

(Yes, I know. This is a basic lift from Guns, Germs, and Steel, but man, I wish textbooks had used that model to teach history instead of the confusing one they had when I was a kid!)

5. Western Europeans had a very definite belief that the Christian God had chosen which people were going to be wealthy or poor, held in high esteem, or dismissed. Your status in life was Heaven Ordained.

6. When Europeans encountered other cultures, many of them were culturally and philosphically ill equipped to view these "other" peoples as full human beings or anything approaching equals. Humans in general did not know how to deal with "different" people when they first encountered them.

Why does it matter what lens we use to teach history?

The biggest problem in  America right now? Much of the suffering we are still dealing with can be traced to the last two points!

America is still a strong reflection of the Western European Cultures that settled here. We are still treating people as if they somehow "organically" matter less!

Until we face the reality that points number five and six are sung into our bones from the time we start learning the history of who we are, this fight we have between the deserving and the undeserving is going to persist.

We are also going to continually produce people who look at the length and breadth of history and say things like this from former Republican Representative from Iowa - Steve King

This man is a product of a historical perspective that told him that his gaze was the only one that mattered. He certainly doesn't think he's a bad guy. He was just trying to save America from the non-white, multi-cultural infection that he is pretty sure is destroying it.

I am also a product of that history. I'm not a bad guy. I just want to be seen.

He has no reason to question the history as it was taught. As far as he is concerned, what it told him reflects how he has lived his life.

Me? I had no choice but to reject his view of history. Otherwise, I accept that I have no place in it. 

Day 2: The Historical Lens Was Cracked!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Day 1: Telling My Ancestor's Story

 Not Everything that is faced can be changed,

but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

- James Baldwin

I loved history when I was in school. It was one of my favorite subjects. I loved learning how the various moving parts and stories intertwined to create the wild tapestry that explained why the world looks the way it does. I especially loved Medieval history and European history. 

This was not because I found European history more interesting than any other kind. No, what I have realized is that I enjoyed European history because it was the only history that actually flowed and made sense. 

I also loved ancient history. I loved reading about Ancient Greece and Rome. 

These histories were also authentic to me.

Early American history always felt uncomfortable. Lots of African and South American history felt odd. 

Looking back now, I can put my finger on what it was about learning that history that was both uncomfortable and odd.

Europeans had been fighting, killing, and dealing with each other for generations. They had respect for each other even if they didn't like each other. They recognized each other's strengths and knew their history. 

When the textbook writers wrote of English, French, Roman, or Greek history, they were solid. They wrote with confidence, and they have gorgeous, sometimes horrific, full-throated confident language that showed those people and cultures as powerful or important in their own right.

Then there was the way they spoke of Africa...

Looking back, it is clear the people writing these textbooks learned about African History from people who only knew Africa from a Western European perspective. 

We didn't learn about African people.

We learned about the "discovery" of Arica as if it wasn't there before white folks found it.

We learned about the first encounters between Africans and Europeans as if the Africans were some other species of creature.

Columbus "Discovering" America

The same thing happened with the Incas, First Nation peoples of every other continent, and their cultures. Then, when they got to how those other cultures were treated...well, it just went from bad to embarrassing. 

There was no deep telling of who these "other" people were or what they had been up to for thousands of years. 

It was as if they were bit players in the great story of white men in the world. Which, let's be honest, that is how they were portrayed in my history.

No part of history really belonged to me or my ancestors. My only real worth was as a backdrop for the great white way.

There was a paucity of blackness or color of any kind in my "official" teachings of what human history is or was or that people like me had any hand in shaping it.

It made me feel small, insignificant, and as if I had no place.

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, "No it didn't! Children really don't think about it like that. You are projecting your adult, been through the classes, looking at the research, remembering it wrong brain on your child self!" 


What I remember is clinging desperately to any and all references of blackness that were even somewhat kind, strong, positive, or meaningful.

I tried so hard to find ways to be proud of what and who I knew I was, to the point of my now being able to list three things that struck me in childhood.

1) The book I brought into Show and Tell in Kindergarten. The only one I had that featured a little girl "like me". My favorite book for many years.

This is the original cover

2) The poem that was read to us in music class. I don't remember which teacher read it. All I remember is that I was in second grade. I was at Sheridan Road Elementary School. The poem was by Mary O'Neil, and it was from the book Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Poetry and Color

Want a Copy?

The poem that stayed with me that I kept repeating over and over and over in my head for about three years? The poem that still comes back to me as an adult, but it a different way?

Here is the whole poem:

"What Is Black?"

Black is the night
When there isn't a star
And you can't tell by looking
Where you are.
Black is a pail of paving tar. 
Black is jet
And things you'd like to forget
Black is a smokestack
Black is a cat,
A leopard, a raven,
A high silk hat.
The sound of black is 
"Boom! Boom! Boom!"
Echoing in
An empty room.
Black is kind -
It covers up
The run-down street, 
The broken cup.
Black is charcoal
And patio grill,
The soot spots on 
The window sill.
Black is a feeling
Hard to explain
Like suffering but
Without the pain.
Black is licorice
And patent leather shoes
Black is the print 
In the news.
Black is beauty
In its deepest form,
The darkest cloud 
In a thunderstorm.
Think of what starlight
And lamplight would lack
Diamonds and fireflies
If they couldn't lean against Black... (O'Neill, 1960).

3) The last bit of my childhood that I clung to when thinking about finding strength was the story of Wilma Rudolph. I loved this woman's story.

Who was Wilma Rudolph

I found out about Wilma Rudolph when I was in fourth grade. I wrote essays about her as my most admired American for the next four years. She'd worn braces on her legs when she was a child. I'd worn a cast on mine when I was little because my feet and legs were not in alignment and they weren't sure I'd ever walk.

She was an Olympic medalist! She was not given a chance to walk well, and she ran! She was black! She was black like me! 

I absolutely worshipped this woman when I was a kid.

Looking back now on those three tangible facts about what it meant to be going through school as a black girl in the '70s and 80s, I am both angry and sad for that kid when I think of all of the things she could have been taught. 

I'm glad she was surrounded by opportunities, family, books, music, laughter, love, hope, and teachers who looked at her, couldn't believe she was as smart, precocious and determined as she was -

 (these were not qualities that were normally assigned to black girls when I was little - I can guess this because I was literally the only black girl in most of the work groups, study groups, and classes I had through all of my k-12 education, and I know I wan't the only smart, determined, or capable black girl in every school I attended )

and pushed her to do what even she didn't know she could do.

So, as I approached February and thought about what I'd like to do to honor black history month this year, I thought perhaps I would do some retelling.

What would I have wanted to learn about what it meant to be black in America? 

What would i have wanted to understand about what it meant that my ancestors were enslaved here?

What would I have liked to have known?

What would I have liked to have felt?

So, I am going to begin to tackle that.

I am going to spend 27 days retelling this story. 

I won't get through all of it, there are centuries of information to unpack...but I can begin with a rough outline and expand from there.

So, here we go...

Day 1: Telling My Ancestor's Story

Day 2: The Historical Lens Was Cracked!

Day 3: I Couldn't Be Prouder - Reframing What It Meant To Be A "Slave"

Day 4: A New Generation: The Teenage Social Justice Warriors