Mommies in Black and White

Two Moms. Two cultures. Lots of Laughs. Join Us!

Author: Jebeh Edmunds (Page 2 of 7)

Reflections of love, loss, and legacy

Ma HajaCivil strife and unrest separated me from my grandparents. My parents’ courageous decision to leave their homeland of Liberia must have been a hard one to make. Most kids that I grew up with had their grandparents close by. The few times I was around my grandparents are some of my most cherished memories.

My paternal grandmother, Ma Haja, loved our frequent visits to the Dollar Store. She was fascinated with how cheap everything was. I can’t tell you how many times she asked my dad in delight while we shopped, “How much is this again?” It was like she won the lottery.

As an adult now, I realize that my grandparents seeking refuge at our home was  a temporary situation. Trips to the Dollar Store would only last a little while. Reality would set in and her time with us was inevitably cut short. Grandma would have to go back to the chaos of war.

Six months ago, my sweet grandmother, Ma Haja, passed away. I will remember her baritone voice and laugh. She nicknamed me ‘big sister’ because her older sister was my namesake. Her passing has allowed me time to reflect on the ways she impacted my life and how she was with me in spirit during major milestones.

She would send my favorite peanut butter and sugary treat called Kayan, when I was studying in my college dorms. She was unable to attend our wedding due to more political strife, but she sent a Lappa (long piece of fabric, traditionally worn as a skirt) with my aunty so we could have a piece of her there to celebrate. I was blessed that my boys were able to talk with their great grandmother in Liberia from time to time.

Liberian family and traditionShe would have been 90 years old this month. Two weeks ago, our family and friends in the U.S gathered to celebrate her life. Most of her grand and great-grandchildren wore her favorite color green, and her children wore all white.

It was a beautiful, traditional Liberian event. In honor of her religion, we had local Imams recite the Quran and all the women had special Hijabs during the service. We danced, reflected with old photographs, shared stories, and reconnected with each other.

My grandmother was a strong and determined woman. Many people in our home country loved her. She built several mosques throughout Liberia. She built a bus shelter in her hometown so people wouldn’t have to wait in the rain for transportation. She was married to my Episcopalian grandfather for 61 years. Although they were married and practicing two different faiths, they respected one another. She didn’t have a formal education, but she expected all of her children and grandchildren to get an education.

She was a respected mother. She had 13 children of her own and raised more children without hesitation, taking in friends and family who needed support. Every day dozens of people filled her front porch and yard ready to listen to her speak her truth. They would follow her everywhere she went with praise. She was grounded in her faith. She was unapologetically headstrong.

I didn’t have my grandmother physically around me all the time. But, I can attest that our bond was very strong. Our few shared memories and her legacy of strength, compassion and wisdom will always beat strong in my heart.

What it means to be a Loud Black Girl in America

Loud Black Girls or Courageous Women?

Case #1

A group of African American women celebrating their book club in Napa Valley last August were kicked off a wine train for being “too loud.” Their night out turned into a degrading event that prompted them to act. They just settled an 11 million dollar racial discrimination lawsuit. Racial discrimination lawsuit settled

I understand the hurt of the women on the train. I recognize a desire to be myself while also being conscious of social norms and stereotypes that might stifle my authentic self. 

Case #2

Bianca Dawkins made an appointment at a high-end salon in Minnesota. She felt humiliated when the stylist complained about her natural hair saying it was a “wild animal that can’t be tamed.” She used her voice to call out the salon on social media. Minneapolis Salon Slammed

I understand the struggle to find a stylist who is sensitive to your hair texture. I am blessed to have a stylist who treats me and my hair with respect. There are few in my city who are qualified or experienced in this area. 

Twitter has exploded with the hashtag #LoudBlackGirls. Many tweets include negative comments about black women speaking up.

Why can’t I, a black woman, speak up for what I believe in without being seen as a threat? Those who know me are comfortable with my humor and outgoing demeanor. Often, though, I hear a voice in my heart that holds me back from confrontation about race in my community. I fear that I will get a reputation as ‘that angry black woman.’ So I stay silent. In turn, I feel guilt or I walk away thinking about my rebuttals or what I should have said.

The choice is daily. To speak up or to take it. To engage or walk away. The challenge is in knowing when and how so that the effort is not only perceived positively but can actually make an impact. I am constantly searching for the courage to speak up when I see things that affect my family and me.

I comes down to this: As a mother, I owe it to my boys, to the generations after me to be a voice for CHANGE and for understanding. My fear of being perceived as a “loud black girl” is superseded by my desire to lessen the burden on my children. My goal is to have those brave conversations without jeopardizing my moral principles or integrity. I will be loud with a purpose. 

I will be loud with a purpose. 

I took a step forward in this regard. If you remember my comedian post, you’ll know I left that situation without saying what I wanted to say. I have since reached out and met with Mr. Hoodie “Comedian.” I told him exactly how I felt and I’m working with the comedy club owner to make sure that type of “humor” doesn’t make it back on stage.  

This voice that I used was frightening at first. But by using it I’m feeling stronger. I’m not afraid to get a little loud in order to make a difference. My children depend on me to do that. I’m proud to say that I will be a Loud Black Girl if I have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That awkward moment when you are the punchline at a comedy club

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good joke. My family members tease me and say that “Jebeh has no shame.” I’m a beautiful, black, confident woman. But, some things are entertaining and others are just offensive.

Last summer, my friend and I went for a much-deserved ladies night. We ended up at a local comedy club we’d both frequented before. We knew the unwritten rule: do not sit in the front row or  you’ll be part of the comedian’s set. We chose to sit at the table furthest back.

It didn’t save us. Some random guy dressed in a grey hoodie, who was inebriated (so I thought) sat at our table (uninvited) and said to us, “Oh man I can’t do this, I feel like sh**.” That random guy then headed to the stage. Surprise! The drunk hoodie guy was the headlining comic. I looked at my friend and we agreed, it wasn’t going to end well.

He was not funny. He grasped at straws and got only nervous laughter in response. Then, Mr. Hoodie-Comedian went on a racist rant: “I wonder what it would be like to be a slave master?” “You could get anything you wanted and wouldn’t have to pay them.” The crowd went wild. Just like that, he was the next King of Comedy.

Just like that, he was the next King of Comedy.

My friend and I felt like we were at a Klan rally. Mr. Hoodie-Comedian then pointed at me across the audience and said, “There’s one black lady in here and she’s in love with me. She would be my slave any day.” The crowd roared with laughter. After his set, he gave me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry.” I pushed him off and left in disgust.

I was so angry at the white man who decided to offend me for a few laughs. More disheartening was the crowd’s response. I know comedy is not for the faint of heart, but that kind of comedy was not worth our time or anyone’s time for that matter.

At moments like that I try to reflect on my life and the people in it. I remind myself of what I have accomplished, of the family I have built and the friends that have my back. If I compare those things to where that comedian was in his life, the anger just melts away. My laugh is the one that is heard. Next ladies night, we’ll hit up a movie instead.

No Identity Crisis Here

Some adults still struggle with their identity. We all wear multiple hats, but at the core, our identity is our true self. It reflects who we really are and is comprised of our beliefs, qualities, characteristics, and values. Sometimes, the hats we wear don’t align. When our values, beliefs, and qualities conflict with expectations of our various roles and our understanding of self, it can lead to identity struggles.

But I’ve never felt that. I’ve always identified myself as a Liberian-American woman. I was born in Liberia but raised in the United States. I’ve been fortunate enough to identify and embrace who I really was since I was about three. I used to play ‘fashion’ show with the tons of Liberian dresses and matching head-ties my grandmothers would send over from back home. In fifth grade we had a choir concert with the theme “Love in any Language” and I made my mother sew me a pink kaftan dress with matching head-tie. See a pattern here? I love my accessories.

I had this feeling of being different because my name was different. My family was a minority in a predominately white suburb. None of my friends looked like me. I had to embrace my difference within my community. I rocked it too.

I ate all the Liberian foods my mother and family would cook. I wore t-shirts with pride that said “Got Fufu?” or “Vai Girl” everywhere I went.

I ate all the Liberian foods my mother and family would cook. I wore t-shirts with pride that said “Got Fufu?” or “Vai Girl” everywhere I went. I even found a job in my community where I could share stories and Liberian dance (my way) to thousands of K-college aged students for over an eight year span. It became common when I would go shopping to see a sweet blonde child smile at me and say “Yah-kuhneh”(Hello in Vai) and see their blonde mom “freak out” because she didn’t have a clue what her child just said. That was funny.

I have been blessed to add to my identity Naturalized Citizen, wife, and mother. Each of these facets of my identity make me the woman I am today. I cherish each one because it was no easy feat to accomplish the last three parts of myself.

As a person of color in a predominantly white community I often get asked, “What are you?” or “What should I call you?”

As a person of color in a predominantly white community I often get asked, “What are you?” or “What should I call you?” While these might be well-meaning attempts at understanding and being nice, they are also near-sighted. The answer they are often looking for is a descriptor of my skin color. But that’s not who we are. That’s not what I am.

Think about it. Would a white person be asked, “what are you?” or “what should I call you?” And, if by some chance they were, would “white” be the response? To those questions I simply say, “I’m Jebeh.” In my heart I’m thinking… “If you ask me a question like that, then you don’t really know who I am.”

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