Raising black children is a courageous act. Not a task for the faint of heart. Each day, I pray that my children return to me safely. While I imagine this desire is present within most parents, black children carry an additional burden. The burden of being perceived as a threat. The risk of being viewed as expendable, or collateral damage in the battle to maintain white supremacy. Our children become news clippings, ghosts, memorials in the streets. They whisper in our collective ears, haunting our national conscience—a continual reminder that we have failed to meet our moral obligations and ideals.
Every day, families mourn and grieve for the children that have been taken away. Lives that never got to reach their maturation. As parents, we do our best to prepare our children for the battles they will face. The subtle, every day occurrences—such as, contending with racist micro-aggression, the continuous reminders that you live outside of the “mainstream,” that you are different. The battle to be seen beyond the myths associated with your skin color, the unconscious negativity that society collectively associates with the word, black—black magic, black market, black mail, the black plague. The pressure to constantly put non-black people at ease, to prove that one is not a danger or a threat to them. The attempt to not be too angry, or too loud, or too confrontational.
Add on the assumed belief of black inferiority, the erasure of black achievement from the educational discourse, and the dominating doctrine that proclaims that all significant historical achievements were initiated by those who classify themselves as white; It takes significant courage and tenacity to raise black children in the face of such immense hostility. To instill within them the self-love and knowledge to face such seemingly insurmountable circumstances. As parents of black children, we are fighting to undo over 400 years of self-hate indoctrination. To teach our children that they are loved, beautiful and worthy of all the gifts of life. That their skin is strength, not inferiority or weakness. To embrace and take pride in their kinky, curly hair. To love all of the various hues and shades of blackness, from caramel to dark chocolate. To respect, support and uplift one another. Our children are our most precious gifts—the legacy that we pass onto the world. We must put our full efforts into raising them to be the best human beings they can be. We must support and help them to foster their gifts and talents.
We must protect them from those that would try to cause them harm. This materialistic society attempts to trick us into believing that money, material wealth, and the ability to amass and accumulate things is what life is all about. However, this is a fallacy, smoke and mirrors, another trap designed to deceive and leave us morally bankrupt. The protection, nurturing, and uplifting of our children is where the true wealth of a society resides. I may not own stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, but investing time and energy into the well-being and development of my children is the greatest investment that I could make.
I will continue to battle against the doctrine of white supremacy. I will challenge the norm that says black children are disposable, that their lives are of less value. I will continue to combat the myth that black history and achievements are irrelevant or subordinate to white history and achievements. These are the investments we must make as warriors raising black children in a physically and emotionally hostile environment. Hold onto your children, teach them well, nurture their gifts, keep them safe. Our collective future as black people depends upon it.
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing
March 2, 2018 marked my six-year anniversary living in New Mexico. Reflecting upon my journey from Pittsburgh, to Denver, to Santa Fe, I realized much of my energy had been spent catering to the happiness of others. When my marriage emotionally ended in September of 2016, leading to my legal divorce a year later, I found myself physically and emotionally depleted. I had become so preoccupied with attending to my deteriorating marriage, my children, and my work, that I neglected my own needs. I became fixated on the idea of, “once I achieve x, y, and z, then I will be happy.” This train of thought treats happiness as a destination—somewhere that we will eventually arrive at if we just keep working towards it.
During the past year while going through my separation and divorce, I learned that happiness is not a milestone or destination, it is lived moment-by-moment. Once I let go of feeling responsible for the happiness of others, I became free to discover my own. I began to learn about myself, explore interests that I have previously abandoned, and try new things. One surprising source of happiness that I discovered over the last year is the pleasure I derive from cooking.
Previously, I had cooked merely out of necessity; I never felt comfortable experimenting with different recipes or exploring new cuisines. However, after moving into my own apartment almost a year ago, I have discovered that I love trying new dishes and experimenting in the kitchen. Preparing a meal is a tranquil activity, I get lost in the spices, the chopping of vegetables, the tactile nature of working with food. Adding to the aromatic pleasure, I often light a stick of incense and play some relaxing jazz or R & B music while I cook. I have found preparing a meal to be a therapeutic process that allows me to get out of my brain and into my body.
Living in a culture characterized by a 24-hour news feed, it is important to take time and reflect on the little, day-to-day things that contribute to our sense of happiness and well-being. For that reason, I have created a “happy list,” as a way of staying mindful about happiness in society that publicizes and promotes cynicism.
Devin’s Happy List:
I would love to hear from others about what contributes to their happiness and sense of well-being. Feel free to leave comments or stories about things that make you happy. In a world that would rather focus on what is wrong or lacking, we need courageous people to share stories about what provides happiness and meaning to their lives.
Thanks for taking the time to read and share!
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing
As I packed lunches for my children, began preparing dinner for tomorrow evening, and ironed my clothes for work, I began reflecting on the concept of hustle. The idea is frequently referenced in hip-hop music and popular culture. Many people proclaim that one must, “stay on their grind,” and “constantly hustle,” in order to attain success. This notion made me think back upon my teenage years, when I was hungry for my first job. I remember the tenacity I put into my job search, pounding the pavement, going from business to business to inquire about potential employment opportunities. I fast forward to when I decided to return to college to complete my undergraduate degree in 2011, and later my graduate studies in 2016. I think about the many nights when I got 3 to 4 hours of sleep, as result of staying up to complete assignments and write papers. As a black person in the United States, we have always had to possess a high degree of hustle in order to simply attain access to the same opportunities as our white counterparts.
All of this made me wonder, is hustle something that is innate or can it be taught? As I go about my day interfacing with young people in my work, I notice many seem to lack this sense of urgency—a hunger for opportunity. When I got my first paid work opportunity as a dishwasher and delivery person at my Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I was elated to simply have an opportunity to make money. The summer after graduating high school, I worked as a custodian for my school district, and later as a deli clerk at a local supermarket. Earning my own money, and having financial independence has always been a motivating factor for me. In my job as a workforce developer, I encounter many young people who turn down work opportunities if they do not align with their interests. These same individuals will come back a week or two later, and complain to me about how they cannot meet their financial obligations. Some people may call this behavior entitled or privileged; however, I believe it correlates to lacking a sense of hunger, urgency—i.e. hustle.
While I do not believe hustle can be taught, I do think it can be demonstrated and emulated. Growing up, I watched both of my parents hustle every day. They got up each morning, got me and my sister ready for school, and went off to their jobs. This act alone demonstrated the importance of consistency. My mother is the type of person who is always in motion, whether she is heading to work, preparing dinner, or cleaning the house—she is never idle. Hustle demands active intention; nothing changes for those who sit idly and wait for their opportunity. When I was young, my father played in bands. He also worked a full-time job at the electric company. I recall on numerous occasions, going into our basement to find him practicing on his piano. This taught me two important things: first, it showed me the importance of having a disciplined practice. To this very day, my father wakes up at 3 or 4 in the morning to perform piano drills. Developing and maintaining a disciplined practice, is essential to any endeavor in which one aspires to be successful at. The second thing I learned was the importance of managing responsibilities, and staying committed to one’s craft. Many of my father’s band mates only played music, whereas he maintained a full-time job to support our family, and concentrated on his music after work and on weekends. Maintaining this balance between responsibility and passion was an important lesson. It showed me the necessity of handling one’s responsibilities, while never abandoning one’s passion.
As I move into this new chapter of my life, newly divorced, single dad, professional writer—I hope to model the importance of hustle for my children. To show them, that despite what life may throw at them, it is possible to adapt, overcome, and most importantly—keep moving forward, keep grinding—keep hustling towards your dreams.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave questions or comments.
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing
3/21/2018 0 Comments
It has been almost three months since my last blog post. During this period of hibernation, I realized something—the idea of blogging with regularity terrifies me! The assumption that we, as writers, are so interesting that people will follow our thoughts, opinions, and experiences feels egocentric and arrogant. Additionally, the pressure of coming up with new topics each week, in the midst of coming out of a divorce, working full-time, and raising two children seemed overwhelming.
This blogging paralysis lasted until yesterday, when I met with a friend and fellow writer for tea. Among other things, my friend asked if I considered blogging as a medium for promoting my writing to potential publishers. However, beyond the specific medium, my friend emphasized the importance of telling my stories. Being an African American, divorced, single father, living in the Southwestern United States provides me with a unique experience. The idea of being an “invisible” minority in a state where African Americans make up less than 2% of the state’s population; or the challenge of trying to date as a single dad in an area where very few people represent your racial and cultural background. As we continued to talk, I realized that I just needed to begin writing—I needed a medium to get these stories out into the world.
My blog can serve as that medium. It can be an outlet to get my stories out into the world. After finishing my graduate program, I felt completely bogged down with stress from the divorce, lawyer fees, my impending student loans coming due. The focus became—how can I quickly generate money from my writing. While all artists want to be fairly compensated for their efforts, when the focus becomes solely about money the art becomes compromised. In my situation, I felt completely stifled and was unable to produce anything that I felt was adequate. What I failed to see at the time, which my friend helped me to realize, is that I have yet to pay my dues as a professional writer.
My father, who has been a musician since he was 20-years-old, and is now in his sixties, has written thousands of songs over the past forty years. While he has not yet achieved notoriety as a result of his music, he has undeniably paid his dues as a musician. While I may not always receive payment or recognition for my writing, I must continue to write. This is what those who truly love the written word do! They write because they love the act of writing. They write to quench the unyielding desire to share stories and human experience.
As we approach the closure of the third month of 2018, I recommit to writing in all of its beautiful and diverse forms. I will no longer limit myself with fixations about publication, monetary compensation, or being the most prolific writer. My goal for 2018 and beyond is to write authentically, creatively, collaboratively, and with discipline.
To all of my fellow writers seeking inspiration and encouragement, check out “Why I Write,” by Terry Tempest Williams.
Thanks for reading and keep writing!
Devin James Baldwin, M.A. Professional Writing
Photo: Me and my brother
It was a summer evening in June. My children and I had just finished dinner and I was sitting on the couch with my six-year-old daughter. While relaxing and getting ready to watch some television, my daughter asks me, “Dad, am I white?” I responded, yes, you are biracial, you are part white and part black.
Thinking that I had resolved the inquiry, she threw me a curve ball, “My friend at camp says I can’t be white if I have a black dad.” In this moment I was at a loss for words—I had no response. At the age of six, my daughter was being given the message that she must completely deny a part of her identity.
This made me think, if my daughter had a German mother and an Italian father, she could acceptably co-exist in these two diverse ethnic and culture worlds. However, ethnicity works differently than race—especially if your racial classification is black or African American. Because her skin, hair, and other physical features reveal her African ancestry, she will be labeled black by the dominant society. As she grows up and matures, she will be perceived as a black woman; possibly accepted as biracial or mix-raced, but never white.
In this way, my daughter has been robbed of her ability choose an identity; society has already determined she will be classified as black. If she did not possess the beauty and burden of my complexion, she might be afforded this choice. She could speak to the Croatian ethnicity of her mother’s maternal lineage, or the German and Irish heritage on her mother’s paternal side. If her father had been a man of European descent, she could be accepted as having a dual identity.
This inability to choose one's identity can be traced back to times of slavery. Since African enslavement was an instrument of social and economic control, policies such as the one-drop rule (a doctrine stating that anyone whose ancestry contained one-drop of black blood was classified as black) were created and instituted to control and classify the offspring of black and white miscegenation. These mix-raced individuals whose African ancestry was often revealed in their physical attributes, were almost always classified a black. In this way the slave population could be easily labeled, monitored, and controlled.
Over 150 years after the legal ending of slavery in the United States, people of mixed African ancestry (i.e. most individuals living in the United States identified as African American) are often still unable to choose and define their racial identity. Even our country's first African American president, Barack H. Obama, was unable to be seen within the context of his dual racial identity. He was simplified as America's first black president; despite the fact he had been raised primarily by his mother--a white woman from Kansas.
This leads me to the conclusion that the United States reserves dual identity for those of European heritage. Honoring and celebrating the diversity within various African cultures was never a consideration of America's racial classification system. The dominant culture intended, and still maintains, that those classified as African American, black, or Negro, shall be afforded no other racial or ethnic identity. In this way, black people can be continuously marginalized.
As a father of two biracial children who self-identify as African American, the best I can do is teach them how to navigate the unjust and racist society we live in. To teach them that their African heritage is as rich, beautiful, and diverse as their European ancestry. To help them develop the tools to critically analyze the complex issues that we face as a society around race, identity, and culture. And to support them in realizing that they ultimately define their identities, despite the restrictions that society will attempt to impose upon them.
For more information on the one-drop rule, see "Who Is Black? One Nation's Definition," by F. James Davis, at PBS.org: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/mixed/onedrop.html
This past week I watched a video on Bigthink.com with poet Sarah Kay, who spoke about the importance of being present and having fun when performing. This simple advice made me think about the concept of letting go and how important it is in daily life. In order to be present and have fun, we must let go of our assumptions and expectations, not only of the crowd’s reaction to our performance, but also of ourselves. This might mean letting go of our societal roles, such as father, husband, African American, or any other label that we use to define ourselves in relation to others.
Last night while out at dinner with my family, my nine-year-old son got upset by something that his fifteen-year-old brother said to him. Instead of allowing him to experience his sadness and openly cry at the table, I told him to not reveal when others say things that bother him because it will simply encourage them. Growing up, I can remember seeing my father cry at times. He never made me feel guilty about crying or made me feel ashamed to display emotion.
However, that freedom to be vulnerable changed when I entered seventh grade. The expectation of coolness and masculinity drastically shifted. Boys who displayed emotion were labeled ‘little bitches’ or “pussies’ and became targets of violence, taunting, and harassment. I was one of those boys. To survive, I learned how to 'mean mug,' to stare down an opposing male and show no sign of fear or sadness. My attire changed, I went from Khakis and sweaters that fit, to baggy jeans that read boss along the leg. I walked through the hallways looking angry, unwilling to smile, laugh or show any emotion that might be considered weak. I refused to participate in class discussions, as I did not want to draw the wrong type of attention to myself. To display intelligence and be academically engaged was to run the risk of being accused of acting “white.” As a result of my newfound bravado, my grades plummeted, I got into fights and ended up going to summer school that year.
Upon reflecting on the memory of my own trauma, I realized I was passing along a painful legacy of emotional aloofness to my son. While my intention was to protect him from hurtful words, I realize that my approach was misguided. In our society, boys are taught to be tough, non-emotional, and aggressive. We are constantly bombarded with messages, both overt and sublime, that it is not okay for boys to be emotional, that it is a sign of weakness. This made me wonder, if it had been my five-year-old daughter crying, would I have given her the same advice? I think it is safe to say that I would not have told my daughter to suppress her feelings, but would have attempted to soothe and comfort her.
While I consider myself to be progressive and open-minded, I realize that I am still a product of the patriarchal society that exists in the United States. In order to allow my son to be fully human, I have to let go of the idea that being a strong and resilient boy means masking one’s true feelings. I must allow him to fully experience his grief and express it in a way that is true for him.
When we allow ourselves to be present, we can fully appreciate the diverse range of emotions and experiences that define our humanity. We must let go of expectations, fear, and other things that prevent us from experiencing the reality of a given moment. If we are sad, let us be sad fully. If we are filled with laughter, let it resonate throughout our entire being. I believe this is what Kay meant; it is not the culmination of any single experience, but rather all of the little moments that create the experience. In this sense, life is not something to be lived with tunnel vision set on an end goal, but rather, a series of experiences that when lived fully allow us to construct purpose and meaning.