Step One

January 21, 2010
I see an African female youth on the train singing “Old McDonald Had a Farm”– she is beautiful to me. Not because of the low concentration of melanin in her skin or her hazel eyes, but because of her innocence. She is able to transform a car of one of the dirtiest train lines in Chicago into a fantasy land of her conception. The filthy window, giving a view into the essence of poverty, becomes a blank canvas for her imagination and creativity. I glance at her Tinkerbell backpack, realizing that at a mere five years old she has already begun to idealize the white cartoon characters she most likely sees on television daily. As I listen to the tuneless yet angelic singing only a child can attain, I am saddened. I know that before she reaches full maturity, she will encounter hardships that her white counterparts will never face. She will be discriminated by them because of her blackness, and discriminated by her own because of her lack of it. I want to take her hand, look her into her eyes, and tell her what she is in for, but I don’t. I cannot shield her from the hatred of the world anymore than I can myself. I let her pure voice enter my mind and put me at ease, although I know that one day to her “Old McDonald Had a Farm” will be nothing more than a childish spew.
I also see a middle-aged woman African woman. You can tell she was beautiful at one point in time; it is also evident that drugs have intruded upon her life. She is feeble and nothing more than a shell of her former self, for her spirit has long vanished. She moves from car to car begging for “spare change” – she never asks for food or drink, clothing or shelter. These things cannot support her addiction. She has lost all dignity and pride. Her mentality tells her that the only way she can survive is begging or welfare, she has chosen the former but has probably attempted the latter several times. She smells and it is evident that the least of her concerns is her appearance. Her addiction drives her to only focus on acquiring her next “fix” at any means necessary. She will sell her body, pride, and the smallest once of her soul left to contaminate her body with “temporary euphoria”, which is implemented by the white man and distributed by her own. I watch her as she moves from one end of the car to the other with her hand outstretched, and I notice that everyone else ignores her. It has become so routine to see an African woman or man demeaning themselves that we no longer give a sideways glance, let alone some “spare change”.
I see two images: the girl and the woman; one represents innocence and potential, purity optimism. The other represents what is left of us after we have been brainwashed, miseducated, turned-down, laughed at, humiliated, discriminated against, victimized, and poisoned. We lose our spirits in the process. We give away everything we have until there is nothing more to give, until we become heaps of untapped intelligence left to deteriorate. Like the girl, we are taught young white superiority. We are taught they are better and we, as a darker people, are meant to fear them, to give them our money, to struggle to be just like them, even though we know we never can be. I wonder if the girl sees the woman, how she feels, and if her mother is in fact a drug addict herself. This is the examples young African women face everyday: they must either sell a false image of themselves that they have convinced themselves to be true or suffer being a “crackhead”. I wonder how this has happened, for I know that that woman was once that girl, that she too was able to see beauty in everything. How was she transformed from the epitome of innocence to the woman I see before me; shucking and jiving for a few bucks? At what point did that girl become that woman? Are they really so different? Is the young girl completely departed within her or has she been so oppressed throughout her life that she no longer knows who she is? How do we begin to correct this line of oppression and remedy the slave mentality that has invested our people for centuries? These questions I ask myself everyday and I am yet to find all the answers, but we must share what we do know to everyone who will listen and even those who wont.We must never forget our culture and our heritage, and above all we must continue to empower each other and stop the belittling. The change must begin with us and only us, which is why I will continue to educate, inspire, and encourage. Like the wise man Tupac once said, “I don’t plan on changing the world, but I’ll spark the mind that does.”

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