Being Black in Peace Corps
It seems that my foundation for any conversation involves my race, or race period, which is unfortunately non-negotiable. I don’t have the privilege of viewing myself as just Tiffany, or a woman, or an American. My race constitutes my placement in most, if not all, societies and determines the value people and our institutions place upon me. This is something I’ve learned to embrace in the midst of working towards re-narrating what Black is. So when you’re wondering why black is always mentioned in my identity as a BLACK woman, a BLACK American, and a BLACK Peace Corps Trainee, remember that I did not start this and I do not perpetuate it. It is always already inscribed in my being and dismissing it is being nonexistent.
I’ve been in the Sing Buri Province of Thailand for a month and a half. This time has consisted of strenuous mental and physical preparation hosted by the staff of Peace Corps Thailand. Think of it as a sort of hazing process or maybe even being jumped into some sort of gang. I’ve returned to bed with bruises, scrapes, headaches, anxiety, friendships, enlightenment, appreciation, awe and everything else you can and cannot imagine. On my way home and leaving from, I may or may not be chased by neighborhood dogs that have grown familiar to me, however, the Thai people have cushioned these hard days.
I began staging in San Francisco, California. Staging is similar to hopping on the diving board. You’re excited, but scared you might die; you’re ready, but can’t see any of the shit that is coming; you’re energetic, but tired as fuck from pre-preparing. I hopped along staging , during the cross-cultural and diversity trainings thinking, “What?! There are folks here that don’t know the difference between gender and sex” internally patronizing the folks that I was leveled with. There was an aura of arrogance that clouded me. Me, this black girl from the South, lineage of a privileged and resilient black family who sought to achieve the American dream for their children. This might sound cliche but this is the story, as I assume, of many black families in the suburbs. My brother and I, suburban kids roaming the cul-de-sacs of Prince Georges County, living life like it’s golden as much as America allows black children to see gold. This is what I carried in my baggage that did not effect Peace Corps’ weight limit but weighted on the diving board.
My intangible and most valuable baggage was a critical mind. I had the fortune of learning to be critical at the renowned Schomburg Center of Black Culture and Research. I believe that to love being black is to be critical of all things because most things teach black hatred. I came to these cross-cultural and diversity trainings as a facilitator of these conversations because my first professional job was in diversity and social justice education. I worked at a diverse higher ed institution; diverse to white American standards (percentage of all “others” students matching or barely exceeding percentage of white students). This was the first time I sat in a diversity and cross-cultural training as a participant and a sole representative. Needless to say I felt alone and invisible and often times I still feel that way.
The intention of Peace Corps and their trainings in cross-cultural competency are good however, how do you teach those that have lived and maneuvered in their home country as an outsider to maneuver as an outsider in another? No matter who could have delivered this training, that was the question that replayed in my head. Respect, kindness, gratitude, resiliency, patience were all involuntary attributes I had to have to survive in my home country. Now, some people might think that using words like survival is extreme, but my Peace Corps network will understand that Pre Service Training is a sort of survival and efficiency camp.
Staging is a short period of time; three days to be exact. I learned more about the Peace Corps culture I was entering than Pre-Service Training has taught me thus far. Peace Corps is an American agency and you can’t expect it to be any less American than America. There are plenty of failed attempts, within internal conversations, to separate service mentality from our current Trump-reigned America. I don’t entertain these conversations nor do I share tears with other Trainees. Being black is having an ignored and shunned struggle and Peace Corps unconsciously, in my opinion, has that bias running through it’s peaceful veins.
Moving forward into Pre-Service Training, there is a monolithic presentation of culture and being. Inevitably I am excluded and silenced from this because my experience is uniquely American, which in many ways is not shared amongst my white counterparts. But I can survive, though it is not a choice to survive in such conditions, I have been conditioned to survive. What I think is damaging that happens in my Pre-Service Training is the American vs. Thai comparison that arise in trainings from Thai natives and occur in outside conversations by Trainees. I’ve been a contributor of dangerous dialogue and often have to check myself when encountering situations that make me uncomfortable because of misunderstanding. But this is the way we have conversations about “other” things and people. This is how our language has been formed when encountering difference. Despite the utopian cross-cultural D.I.V.E (Describe, Interpret, Verify, Evaluation) Model I am trained to use, there is a conditioning of how comparisons, pros, and cons, are spoken about dated back when folks were locating new lands and people. Maybe I needed a deeper conversation. I definitely needed a deeper conversation.
Being black in Peace Corps is a host of conflicting emotions. What makes this experience unique is that being black makes me a double outsider, though many times I feel more of a connection to the Thai people (specifically the Thai people that have not been/visited/been educated in European countries or America) than I do with the fellow Trainees. Only if I had the language! My host mother would send me with her friends to sell her iced coffee at the market. The Thai women dressed me in traditional clothing, taught me Thai words and phrases, and fed me until I could no longer force the food down. That was the most familiar and warm experience I’ve had since Peace Corps began which includes all encounters with Thai people and Trainees.
I’m not saying that all black folks in Peace Corps will experience this same, occasional disconnect but I do encourage black people interested in Peace Corps to have a knowledge and comfort of self and of being black before taking this dive. Being black in Peace Corps is a necessary struggle. Being black in Peace Corps is redefinition and global education. I receive said benefits but most importantly, I give it. What I am able to give is an unfamiliar standard of intellectualism, professionalism, beauty, speech, and perspective. I’ve always felt that the black presence alone is radical. To live, to strive, to pursue is black radicalism (Of course, there are conditions). This speaks to the sweeping of black men and women in prisons and black bodies bleeding by the hands of law enforcement. Everyone’s step towards change differs and if this is your lane then take Peace Corps for a worthwhile ride.
The contents of this website belong to Tiffany Fitzgerald and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Royal Thai Government, or the Peace Corps.
Extension: “Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman”
Recently, I read a post titled, “Why I’m Absolutely An Angry Black Woman” and I don’t have all the words to explain it. It is a must-read and captures the essence of struggle and strife, the burning beauty, and the severe and complex existence of black womanhood. This woman’s statements are all unconscious and conscious thoughts, fears, and experiences that sculpt my being. And what this woman did with my being was give its pain a strengthening voice of ownership, agency, and pride. To continue strengthening this voice, I’ve decided to extend it as I wish for all voices of the oppressed.
Because when I read, “Why I’m Absolutely An Angry Black Woman”, and reflected on my black womanhood I knew there were infinite reasons for black women’s anger. Because when my elementary friend and neighbor, whom was a white girl, was at school she refused to talk to me in front of her “school friends”. Because when I was in middle school I remember my father coming home livid because on his lunch break because police officers arrested him for looking like someone. Because my mother had to file a class action suit for racial discrimination against her job which occupied most of her family time. Because my mom had to work too hard. Because my father was embarrassed of his job and education level.
Because my brother was chased by a police car and they ran his leg into a tree. Because I saw a group of neighborhood boys being taunted and abused by county police officers in their own neighborhood. Because my mother got angry with me for being angry. Because that night I cried and I couldn’t even explain my anger. Because I had to convince my teachers I was adequate enough to enter Advanced Placement courses. Because my high school vice principal said to me, “Your parents probably don’t even care” when I was caught playing hooky. And then proceeded to be surprised when I was an honor student.
Because a dark-skinned boy told me he couldn’t date me because I was too dark. Because I knew his mother was darker than me. Because I knew that going outside in the summer meant no male attention from black men. Because I am always thought to be intimidating. Because I must have a resting bitch face as a shield. Because I have to always be on guard. Because people called me Hazel as a joke. Because I began using that same joke amongst my friends.
Because people defend oppression by saying, “You all had Obama. You have/had a black president”. Because when I went to college, everything was worse. Because I had to wait to get to college to be educated about my history. Because there was a handful of black professors and administrators at my university. Because most of those professors and administrations have left the university. Because I was repeatedly mistaken for a college student by my white colleagues and told, “You should be proud of that”. Because I am consistently told how to feel. Because I overhear professors telling students that protesting is “negative”. Because my history is embedded in protest. Because I can protest for years upon years and continue to be dehumanized.
Because I get anxiety when I hear Kanye’s Gold Digger. Because when I go to rap concerts and hear the unanimous “nigga” amongst the predominately white crowd, I just have to deal. Because I can’t enjoy a damn rap concert without feeling oppressed. Because I’m a Peace Corps volunteer and have heard white volunteers say “nigga” because it’s in a song. Because these same people call themselves allies. Because I feel I can’t even trust the allies.
Because I can’t say all the names of the black women that have died in the hands of police. Because I can recite the Constitution like it was written regarding women like me. Because I can’t watch the police murdering black people on film anymore. Because I keep scrolling and must continue my life. Because I can’t cry in front of people. Because I’ve rarely seen the women in my family shed a single tear when I know they are hurting. Because they feel they have to be strong. Because they have to be superhumanly strong. Because the only compliment I can get from non-black people is that I’m strong.
Because I have to follow @darkskinbaddiesdaily on Instagram to remind myself that beauty does come in dark skin. Because that account even has to exist. Because I hear things like “black on black crime”, “black people are racist too”, and “I honestly don’t see color”. Because Fox News is a fully functioning network of idiots. Because of the ‘coincidence’ that three black federal judges have been reported mysteriously dead or dead by suicide. Because Katy Perry can be on stage with Migos and say “All Set” instead of “Offset”. Because white people think it’s funny to make fun of the words in Southern rap music. Because they have the nerve to think I will laugh with them. Because something that small represents a larger racial problem that I feel I only understand.
Because I’m in Thailand and young girls say to me, “You’re black is beautiful but mine isn’t”. Because I was in a Thai parade and the artist refused to use the foundation I brought that was my shade. Because I looked like a black ghost princess for 6 hours. Because I saw a group of teachers dressed as a Thai ethnic group that has roots in Africa. Because I saw blackface in Thailand in just 5 days of being at site.
Because majority of skin products in Thailand has whitening in it. Because all the textbooks in Thailand have photos and pictures of white people. Because this is one of the many countries that is infected with white supremacy.
“Because there isn’t a place in the world white supremacy hasn’t touched.”
Because I feel like an agent of white supremacy teaching English to Thai youth. Because there is no educational progression unless you know English. Because I can’t write about anything that isn’t about race. Because it consumes my mind, body, and soul. Because I can’t get a break. Because I didn’t ask for this. Because I don’t believe I will see change in my lifetime. Because I don’t even know what change would look like. Because this was so easy to write.
“We Are One Race, The Human Race” is the new “I’m Colorblind”
We love division and categorization. You must admit. We love being able to uniquely identify ourselves. It’s a conflicting love because in the same token we love to unify and find connections. That’s a special feature of humans that heal and harm us.
Lately, there is a lot of talk about “We are one race, the human race.” “There is no race. It is made up” Then ideally what follows is that we all come together hug, sing Kumbaya, and the black folk bring some chicken to accompany the white folk green bean casserole. Bam! America is cured.
In the reality most of us refuse to live in, race is an identifier that cannot be erased. At least not now. And should it be? Many institutions have been created to supplement racist ideology and many institutions have been created to counteract that damaging ideology. These great institutions like HBCUs, black television networks, black social justice organizations, #BlackLivesMater, etc. do not perpetuate division, they provide an alternative that caters to a neglected community. What Wendy Williams is not understanding is that ignoring race ideology, that has been present for centuries and effects all lives, is ignoring the unbalanced position of racial power. That is why it was created! We can be one race “the human race” but we ARE made of different constructed categorizations based on our skin color which determines our social power. That’s reality.
Some of my work at my university is coordinating heritage month celebrations. For a while I was conflicted about why something like Black History Month and Latin Heritage Month is celebrated at universities if our goal is to produce adults of the future. These young adults are to transform and shift the existing world and improve it. My former idea of improvement meant adopting the monolithic mindset that we are all ONE, not to ignore the racial power at large but, to integrate it with the standard. Why don’t we recognize Black heroes as American heroes? Well, it took some critical thinking to accept that race (skin color) will always be in my judgment, in America’s judgment, in the world’s judgment. If i ignore it then I am covering one eye. My sight, thus, is impaired.
Understand that the standard is white. When you think of a plain shirt, what color shirt comes to mind? I’m sure it ain’t purple. Yes, race is deeper than the color of a shirt but what I’m trying to articulate is how we (humans) think which reflects race ideology. Wendy, the reason a “NAAWP” or “HWUs” don’t exist is because we already have them. They are called every other university and organization in the U.S. This doesn’t mean these institutions are inherently racist and exclusive, however, they were created under a guise that follows a racial ideological apparatus that standardizes whiteness. How is whiteness standardized? Let’s take a trip back in time when ideas of ONE were produced at the same time people of darker skin were being excluded from these standards. We were integrated into the standard. Little by little we were given the right to own property, to vote, to have state sanctioned marriages, to have limited liberties. According to the United States Government, these were not innate rights for people of color. Why, you ask? Because, we are not the standard. And frankly, I don’t want to be.
What’s disappointing about Wendy Williams’ comments on her television show is that she doesn’t understand her position of power as a black woman host. Of all people she should realize that she does not fit into the standard and she never will. She will never be categorized with the Kelly Ripa’s of television and I’m sure she does not want to be. Her aesthetic is black which distinguishes her from her competitors. Her gossip and shade is like the aunts and great aunts at the annual family reunion. Her shows air on BET which is equivalent to the NAACP and HBCU institutions that she condemned. They all do the same work which is to provide a service to those neglected. The nerve! I’m sure some of us were taught not to bite the hand that feeds and I’m sure her airing on BET puts food on the motha-fucking table. Now she done lost money with her Chevrolet sponsorship for a failed attempt to play devil’s advocate. I wonder how she’s doing after that?
All this is to say that if we want to kill the deeply rooted racism in this country then we have to make a commitment to being realistic. Ignorance and naivete are enemies but they can also be opportunities. Much appreciation goes to the white folks claiming that #BlackLivesMatter in the face of All Live Matter. That’s more than love. It’s conscious. But don’t discredit your claim with the “We are ONE” bullshit. There has never been an appropriate time to live in a false reality. Lives are at stake when you speak of injustice, inequity, and inequality. We don’t need to be ONE to unify. We can unify in all our differences and come to terms that ideally we would love the world to blanket all people with humanity but realistically some of us are left in the cold. It’s too late to be ONE. Too much work has been done to make us MANY. Let us work within the field we are in.
Five Stages of Consciousness
The cool thing now is claiming to be “conscious“. Many people are using this new C-word to describe themselves often unrightfully.
There is a process to consciousness. It is not something you are born with. You don’t have to be a part of the oppressive body to have it. It is a process that takes you through a host of different emotions that transform you as a person. At the end of it all, you might be less happier with the world but you will be more accepting of yourself. Here are the steps of consciousness as I have experienced it. If you are not conscious, it is not too late. If you are not conscious you might not even know. This is the first stage.
People love to call others ignorant. Often they use it interchangeably with stupid however; they do not mean the same. Ignorant is lacking knowledge or awareness. For example, I am ignorant when it comes to physics. I don’t know shit about physics. So if a physics scholar called me ignorant, I’m not taking that as fighting words. It’s the truth. To claim your journey to consciousness is to seek knowledge and awareness of something. Therefore, the first step of coming into consciousness is admitting to not knowing.
After you hear something like, “The Government made orders to murder Martin Luther King Jr.” or “Black men are being targeted by law enforcement to fill privatized prisons which is an evolution of slavery” or “History is being diluted and erased to serve a larger agenda”, they can sound like a hoopla of conspiracies but these facts aren’t that secret. No, there is not a room of white men planning for world domination
since the making of the Constitution. (Joking, but not really) But because these facts are so off-putting they can easily be dismissed. This dismissal is disbelief. No way J. Edgar Hoover initiated COINTELPRO which murdered and framed black revolutionaries of the 70s-90s. No way these same strategies are being used on black activists, specifically the Black Lives Matter Movement. Sorry boo, it happened and is happening.
So now that you know the truth, you mad or nah? The truth hurts. It might’ve been better not knowing. That’s why so few people are conscious. Some stop in stage 2 or they live “blissfully” in stage 1. Conscious folk know that ignorance ain’t bliss and disbelief of facts is like those Christians that don’t believe in dinosaurs. It makes no sense. And now we should know that consciousness has ALL to do with sense. So, you’re angry now? You hate institutions and people, you might even hate yourself a little for finding this out so late. This anger and frustration is unhealthy to sit in though it could last for years. As hard as it might be, move past this and you will see the light in Stage 4… or not.
With years of slowly winding your eyes open you now see the light and realize that the light isn’t light. Light is an illusion. What I mean by this is that, the way you now see the world is not in binaries and opposites: rights and wrongs. You realize that life is more complex and grey. You see things in a way you did not before. Your preferred conversations change and you begin to analyze the awareness of your surroundings and your circle. The people you admire change and you start to think that the Black Israelites on the corner of Jamaica Ave. and Sutphin or by Gallery Place aren’t as crazy as you thought. (Though, yes they can be quite extreme) You start to question every fucking thing. You almost feel like a toddler with the sponge brain and infamous “why” questions. Though the new information usually isn’t good news, you will be so satisfied in knowing that you know. It’s like learning your numbers or how to spell your name. This is a rebirth. Cradle this newborn awareness and nurture it. Feed it, clothe it, and reintroduce it to the world. Hopefully this is the new and improved you.
Sometimes being hopeful can come across as naïve. When I speak of hope, I speak in terms of change and one’s hope for a meaningful change. Is it possible or is it impossible? You choose your position. Once reborn your sight is clearer than ever and how ironic that the world becomes so grey. How unpleasing and grotesque. I think this is the stage I am in. After my awareness of the world around me I felt that there was hope in purifying the ugliness of the world. Recent events brought to light by video footage such as the murders of black and brown bodies often makes me feel hopeless. Sometimes you might feel there is no avenue to lift the root of the issue. I didn’t want to go the leaf or branch route because the tree still stood. Are you following me? After questioning your faith and loosing yourself, you are lost and only have your consciousness. You find comfort in someone that shares your consciousness and this allows you to exhale but it’s not enough. As depressing as it sounds, find comfort in this feeling. Find comfort that because you have gone through this process of consciousness that means you are an agent of hope. Find comfort in feeling alone. You won’t be alone for long.
Realize that consciousness is cyclic. All through life you are learning but you will reach a point when you feel confident enough to use this knowledge toward advocacy. There is no way you can be conscious and not feel moved to change your surroundings. And those that seek change through service are not necessarily conscious. Consciousness, overall, is a learning journey and I believe it has no end. The world is forever shifting thus; one’s knowledge of the world will do the same. I don’t believe that being hopeful is the final stage of coming into consciousness. I think it is the beginning of advocacy that can transform the world as we now see it.
5 THINGS NOT TO DO THIS SUMMER
- Reconnect with your ex
Spring comes before summer and if you’ve done your spring cleaning then you should’ve left homeboy/girl in the trash. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Don’t bring sand to the beach” especially if it’s the sand from last summer. As you take your vacations, attend dope music festivals, hit the day parties, etc. network with a new boo or a few and enjoy your free self.
- Take a cheat season
Surely you spent the long, cold months getting your summer body ready. Maybe you substituted meals with protein shakes, ate boring salads, and probably tried being a vegan for a week. The gym trainers greet you by name and now you don’t just walk around the machines looking confused. You are (on the verge of being) a professional in the gym and maintaining a healthy balanced diet. DON’T STOP! Keep hitting those workouts no matter how nice the weather. Stay away from the junk and take shots instead of mixed drinks. Less calories.
- Be unproductive
Summer is the season to relax. You might have finished school or things might have slowed down at work however, this does not give you a season pass to laziness. Summer is the best time to work on yourself. Write up three goals and follow your progress. Maybe you want to blog about the music events you attended, network with new folks, or spice up your wardrobe. If you have the time fill it with productivity instead of idleness.
- Not drinking water
Water is so important. If it wasn’t then 71% of the Earth wouldn’t be covered by it and 60% of your body wouldn’t be it. While indulging in drinks and party favors, and standing or dancing in the hot sun, you must make sure to stay hydrated. Don’t be the friend that’s rushed to the hospital because of dehydration. It’s no good for your health and not fun for your friends.
- Fuck up your commas
I mean, if you have it like that then who am I to tell you how to spend. But, if you’re like me (balling on a budget) then summer can really screw your finances. To avoid the cringing feeling of brokenness set a savings goal, open a savings account, and put money in it. If you’re just beginning, get a jar and put all your spare change in after a long night barhopping. Set a goal and stick to it. You will be so happy when Fall comes and you have a couple hundred in the bank.
From No Julz to @YesJulz!
Philly is the move for this upcoming weekend for more reasons than one. Roots Picnic was already the highlight until YesJulz announced 1amVibes in Philly happening that night. Needless to say, me and my girls will be present to participate in the turn up. I suggest you check out her site for the upcoming 1amVibes near you.
I was first introduced to YesJulz early this year when a friend of mine showed me some very controversial tweets. Granted these were tweeted in 2011 and 2013, but they put a sour taste in my mouth. I won’t sit on a high horse and claim I’ve never tweeted anything controversial or offending towards other people. I have and I will admit that. The humanity of Twitter is getting a look into other’s thoughts, no matter what the content.
However, watching her climax as a social and marketing beast within the rap world, I was a little confused at how her speech of black women could be so careless at any point in her life and how or if this sentiment has ever changed. The tweet where she claims to be a black woman in Taz’s Angels is especially troubling because it suggests black women to be a persona that can be appropriated, which perpetuates the skinning of black female humanity and its value. I don’t mean to get too deep but What is a black woman? Just ass and tits? Of course not. Shame on 2013 Julz.
I questioned her consciousness and sincerity necessary to actually achieve the work of changing perceptions of rap culture and the youth, which is saturated in black art, performance and expression. Rap culture was misunderstood before its birth. It is boxed as a genre solely about female exploitation, criminal activity and capital, but rap culture is more. Rap culture is about leisure, self-determination, climbing the economic ladder, breaking racial and economic oppression, while disrupting Western and Eurocentric ideologies. Rap culture is freedom. I think this is why we (youth, collectively) rage so hard to it.
As a Southerner, fan and advocate for Southern style rap combined with her expertise of marketing and extraordinary entrepreneurial intelligence, I believe YesJulz, at the very least, has a solid understanding of what rap culture means to all youth, specifically youth of color. I think this is the passion that pushes her work. She creates platforms to give opportunities to rising artists. Her and her team consistently release a #NewMusicMondayz playlist featuring mainstream and underground artists of different genres. #1AMVibes is all about artists joining the public in a harmonious turn up. She also manages New Jersey artist, 070 Shake, which has gained much popularity due to Julz’s marketing genius (And of course Shake’s musical genius). Julz’s image (fashion brands, hairstyles, hosting style, party structure, etc.) carries the aesthetic of blackness. To me, it’s clear she appreciates and values that aesthetic and as long as it is respected then I am in full support.
I’ve moved past those tweets and now look at Julz as a business. When I think of her I think of Jay Z’s legendary line “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man”. Her growth is inspiring; there is no doubt about that. Her ability to receive and most importantly, retain attention and hype is what’s remarkable. She does all of this by just being herself and being accessible. Julz can see that people yearn for accessibility and to be so close to the ones they admire. She feeds and nourishes that craving in her Snapchat and Twitter. This is how she is able to form and build relationships with all of her followers and that’s exactly how she captured me.
Whether it was obvious or not, I was being shady asking her how she felt about the white face in Young Thug’s video. At that time I had only gotten to know her from the infamous tweets so I decided that the question was fitting. I expected no reply or possibly a subtweet about how “people always make everything about race” and whatever bullshit people like to say to dilute racism and inequity but her response, as simple as it was, impressed me. Simply, responding was impressive and unexpected.
After this I followed her Snapchat, looked up interviews and reviews, and binged researched. Who is YesJulz? Where does she come from? What is she about? Below are some videos that gave me more of an insight into Julieanna Goddard’s journey to YesJulz.
No Jumper- The Yes Julz Interview
So how do I feel about her now? I consider her a role model for young entrepreneurs. She is smart, strategic, proactive, and personable. Also, it doesn’t hurt that she is gorgeous. As a young entrepreneur myself, seeing her success is compelling and influential. I’m intrigued by her work ethic, youthfulness, drive, and her service to young children in need. #HashtagLunchBagMIA I have the utmost respect to those who give back. She marketed herself so well that this skeptical black woman (talking about myself) purchased a ticket and convinced her friends to rage at 1amVibes in Philly. I’m excited to see her work in person and in progress. I just wonder how accessible she will be as she moves farther up.
Stay tuned for a 1amVibes review from a first time rager. #GoodVibesOnly