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These are my thoughts, yo.

Blood Magic and Red String

jasmine banks

After I survived the worst of it I called my Grandma Annie Pearl and begged for a solution. I never ever wanted to feel the way I felt before. Do you know that kind of pain? It drips down the walls. It thickens the air and chokes out oxygen. It threatens to drown out the light of the sun to keep everything from growing, even your heart. Which, as it turns out, might not be the worst thing. How can a heart grow that is shattered anyway. Love and abuse and sorrow isn’t a biological science. Fragmented.

So I called her and begged and she said she had a solution. She offered one.

I arrived in New Orleans sweating. The small of my back collected the sweat from a 10+ hour drive. I rolled the windows down during the drive and scream-cried-snot-sputtered-sang all of the songs I could. I’m not a natural crier. You can’t cry when you have shit to do. You can’t cry when tears might mean another blow to the face. So you learn not to cry. But when you become a grown ass adult who knows there is purpose and import behind feeling things you gotta find a solution to feeling again. My playlist was loaded with the most fucking sad songs I could think of. I cried on the drive eventual, until I couldn’t anymore. The hot air blew on my face and the sweat collected all over my body and on the leather seats of the white Mercedes my ex-husband purchased as a cover up for how much he abused me and our children, my children. I didn’t know how to cry and feel anymore as a means of survival, but the playlist had worked. It had provoked the levees to release a flood of emotions.

How appropriate then that I turned off the ignition in a neighborhood in New Orleans, a city known for it’s emotions, its floods, it resilience, it’s bloody knuckled will to survive. My was face stained with mascara tears and water was still pouring out of my body. I grabbed the bottom of my top and flapped it back and forth, unsticking it from my body in hopes of wafting air across my nutmeg skin. I exhaled and approached the gate to the front of the house. It didn’t take long for my focus to narrow and my right ear, the one with full range of hearing, to pick up on the sound that slithered along the air. It was BB King. The same song my Grandma loved. I was in the right place.

What kind of ceremony or medicine to you use to help someone believe in love again?

The Kids Aren't Alright, Though...

jasmine banks

That meme, "the kids are alright" is all over Facebook. But the kids aren't alright or at least we have to wait a bit longer to know if they will be. And IF they will be alright, depends on us. Lets not even get started on what these kid's ACE score is. The Adverse Childhood Experiences score (ACE) gives a score that quantifies the range of abuse and neglect one experiences in childhood. The higher the number of your score, the higher your risk for later health problems. My Ace score is a 10. There is not a single day that goes by that I am not significantly impacted by the trauma I experienced in childhood. I survived it... but thriving is a different conversation entirely. Folks who have an ACE score of 10 often die by suicide, are significantly disabled and disempowered, and (as a result of their trauma-informed behavior) are targeted and labeled as toxic and bad. There are few soft spaces in this world for the 10s. 

The brain, as magical as it is, requires time and space and reduced stimuli to process and heal--it requires mourning, and safety, and being enveloped by a community that advocates for the harmed.  We've created a world where such a thing is not possible for the survivors of the Douglas High violence. Instead they are catapulted into action, demanding a better world and justice, and immersed in constant reaction to defend themselves. Their pain is being politicized.

The urge to write in resilience and a heroism seems to be an imperative these days. I get it. We've had so many hits, so many atrocities, so many loses that we really really need to feel like we've got a win. But is a world where such vulnerable young people, in active trauma, being required to do this kind of heavy lifting before they've even grieved a win? I'm not inclined to dictate what is best, because all ecosystems fight, heal, and regenerate in their own way... but I have to honestly say the path of events doesn't feel good to me.

We failed them, y'all.

And still, I don't believe the lies of despair. 

We have a collective responsibility to be accountable for the violent communities we've created. We have a collective responsibility to consider how each of us has participated in building spaces where the harmed have no soft place to grieve, where we applaud their heroism until the next crisis demands our attention away and we leave them alone, abandoned, to become the folks we'll later incarcerate because they can't be rehabilitated. Their behavior too toxic. Their contributions to society unworthy. Their woundedness unrecognizable to us, because they are an invisible name on a forgot list of too many mass murders.

I don't know. I just don't think the kids are alright... and I don't think we are either.  



I'm Sorry, I Can't Hear You

jasmine banks

My daughter and I have the same phrase that we repeat often: "I'm sorry, I can't hear you." It took my awhile to really unpack why we felt the need to apologize since we are both hard of hearing/deaf.  My daughter has failed every hearing test performed on her left ear since the day she was born. She has mixed hearing loss. My family is probably a lot like your family. We don't find out about shit about each other until something impactful happens. Becoming Addison's mother and self-educating about the best ways to mother a child who is hard of hearing/deaf led me to identify my own disability. "Oh yeah, Jazz. Your Great Grandma and your Aunt had progressive hearing loss. You had bad ear infections on the left as a kid too," my mom explained as though this wasn't valuable information to have known in my teen years or before.  

 I made an appointment with an audiologist. I was stunned when both the hearing tech and the doctor explained that I had a deformity in my left ear, that my inner ear was really damaged and not testing within normal range. "You could wear a hearing aid and that would help, but at this point it looks like you'd learned to navigate without that side hearing really well," the doctor shrugged. "I'm more than happy to give you a device if you'd like, it'll definitely make you look disabled, though." I couldn't hear much on my left side around 57 decibels and difficulty increased depending on ambient noise, how far away someone was, and the tone of someone's voice. The tests showed anatomical conductive issues (my ear canal and ear drum) combined with sensorineural hearing loss. The diagnosis helped me make sense of my anxiety. I'd spent years compensating and not realizing it. The hearing loss was so much a part of my life that I never noticed how I watched folks lips when they spoke, that I'd turn to the right side to hear better, or that I felt highly overstimulated often because I would focus so hard to hear and understand what was happening around me. Even now I have insecurity about calling myself a member of the hard of hearing/deaf community because I compensate so well. The amount of physical and mental energy I exert to compensate is very draining. Often, when I tell folks about my disability, the only time I receive accommodation is when I refuse to compensate for my disability and make it utterly apparent that I am unable to hear. The ableist gaze and relinquishing my own resiliency is often required in order to be treated with dignity as someone with an auditory disability. 

For the Black queer woman with a disability (me), the compound oppression makes navigating through the world very difficult, and often means that folks either refuse to engage in building accessibility in mind or I receive pity and am treated without dignity. The strong Black woman trope often comes into play with how folk interact with me once they find out I am disabled: "wow, I would have never been able to tell that you are hard of hearing/deaf."  The progressive movement spaces have been some of the worst enactors of harm around my experience with disability.  I've witnessed very few conversations about the progressive reflex to engage in the politics of rescue. My personal traumas around my experience with disability convicted me to interrogate the ways in which I also engage in rescue politics and require the other to be a subject of pity rather than dignity. 

Part of the power I've been intentional about cultivating in my daughter, Addison, centers on her vulnerability. Her hearing loss makes her vulnerable in a world that prioritizes the needs of those without auditory and other disabilities. That same vulnerability evokes emotional responses from folks who come into contact with Addison, even more so because she is read as Black. I've explained and modeled to Addison that she should not trust those who do not treat her with respect and require her to be a subject of their pity. Their behavior is about their need to feel good (power) than it is about truly understand Addison's abilities.  I model and teach Addison that she should invest in those who shift their power to her and work to change the conditions that keep her from access. I teach her that she has an unequal relationship to many people not because she is any more vulnerable or disempowered naturally, but because those who have the power hoard the power. They are greedy and do not have the skills to create identities outside of their unearned power. I teach her this, because I want (more than anything) for her to externalize the narratives about people with disabilities that I have internalized. I've spent too many hours of my life feel utterly devastated that I couldn't will my physical abilities beyond what they were. I've vacillated between having to make my disability super obvious, and feel undignified as a result, or completely hide it in order to be treated with respect and care. I've had to challenge the reflex to model victimhood while also holding in tension the ways in which social interactions with the ableist gaze do victimize me. 

"The biggest problem that we, the disabled have is that you, the able bodied, are only comfortable when you see us as icons of pity." - Nabil Shaban, disability rights activist

Questions to ask yourself as you work to interrogate your ableism:

  1. Are there parts of my life and interactions with others with disabilities that have been designed for their dependence on me?
  2. What sort of unspoken social arrangements to I engage in that help me maintain positional power over others with disabilities?
  3. Have I created models of interaction that dehumanize those with disabilities?
  4. Disabilities are not fixed. Often accommodation needs change depending on the environment and circumstances. Do I take time to ask the disabled person what they need today, in this moment, to have equitable access to what we are doing.
  5. Do I actively challenge my internalized beliefs informed by oppression and frame new narratives about people with disabilities. 
  6. Do I risk making mistakes and make myself vulnerable to not "being perfect" which is a form of ableist anxiety.

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