Friday, December 5, 2014

Carte Blanche


When traveling by myself in Cape Town, South Africa in 2001, just seven years after the end of apartheid, I had a major aha moment while having tea in the lobby of the historic, old-world luxury Mount Nelson Hotel.

Feeling somewhat awkward in my solo budget travel state, I was in the midst of sipping Earl Grey when something clicked within me on the most profound of levels. It occurred to me that due to the mere fact my skin was white - with the bonus of having blonde hair at the time - I was essentially given free rein to go wherever I desired and do whatever I wanted, and no one would ever question me, look at me strangely, or think I didn't belong. 
Yes, I was in one of the most segregated countries on the planet, but it really struck me that this applied in a broader context - no matter where I go, simply because of the color of my skin, along with being tall and dressing reasonably well, in addition to being educated and American, I enjoy a certain level of trust, respect (well, this was just before 9/11) and service, and almost always inadvertently avoid outright discrimination and bodily harm, even as a woman (which itself is topic for another discussion, since that is only a very recent phenomena and may apply to less places, but I digress...).
Suddenly the phrase "carte blanche," which literally translates as "white card," came into my head and I immediately made the connection to the District Six Museum's display of various ID cards for citizens under that classified system:  White, Coloured, Black, and Indian.  In the United States, and in a global sense, it is an invisible card I carry that gives me entree, ease and yes, a certain unearned privilege, to live a life free of so many stresses, layers of misperceptions, institutionalized prejudice, fear, bias and/or hatred the majority of those of darker shades must endure, and are too often endangered by.
I realize in telling you this story I may sound naive, but you have to know this came at a time to someone who from childhood in theory, and more than ten years prior to that moment in practice, was not only quite aware of, but particularly passionate about, the issue of racial inequality and had many interpersonal experiences, observations and relationships informing a significant understanding of the complexities all that entails - earlier that year I had even started a non-profit organization to dispel stereotypes and bigotry in order to bring women together to "Recognize Our Unity" and "Celebrate Our Diversity". 

But being in a place where racism had so recently been explicitly acknowledged and addressed in such a direct manner brought this concept home to me in a way that up until that point in my life, because I am White, had only been subtly perceptible, and even then, only because I was sensitive to the issue.

A couple of years later while waiting in the cold for an MTA bus on First Avenue in the East Village I got to experience this overtness in reverse. Two Black women chose to ditch the delayed public transportation, and I watched in disbelief as two, three, five, six open taxis passed by as they tried to hail them; disgusted, I asked if they needed help, and of course the next cab stopped for me but when the driver realized the Black women, not me, were getting in, he drove away.  Finally I asked where they were going; I was so appalled I decided I would just get in and share it with them. Of course the irony was that they were only going to 78th between First and Second, probably one of the whitest blocks in the city...It was perhaps the closest I will come to know what it must feel like to deal with race on a daily basis, simply trying to accomplish the most mundane of tasks.

Fast forward to February 2012. After my talk at the NY Science, Industry and Business Library a young Black man came up to thank me for what I had shared, how it made him think differently about his life, and pointed out to me what he had written down so he could make positive change going forward. He then said he had recently been released from federal prison, would I be willing to work with people like him?  Well, this began a journey in which I learned more specifically about the consequences of race and the criminal justice system, the roots of mass incarceration and the many barriers to re-entry. It has since widened and deepened my understanding of the unhealed wounds, scars and repercussions of our country's history of slavery.

What we are dealing with in the aftermath of injustice after injustice against people of color are symptoms of a very sick system that is made up of people, and people are crying out for transformation and healing. It is not a Black problem; it is not a White problem. It is a human problem. No matter what card-carrying member of our race you proclaim (or are deemed) to be, we're all in this man-made mess together - and we will only solve it one story, one interaction, one aha moment at a time.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Wisdom of Childhood

CHICKS ROCK! is happy to welcome Patricia as a guest blogger this week. 

Patricia Philippe is a Haitian-American writer, creative writing workshop facilitator and marketing consultant living in the Bronx. Currently she blogs about the journey of re-inventing herself after years as a caregiver and is working on a number of writing and teaching related projects.

When I reflect on my life, I notice that the common threads of curiosity, exploration, and courage have always been present. There’s a Polaroid from my childhood that I look at when I begin to wonder if I am being authentic. At about eight years old, my twin sister and I stand in front of a building with a pale yellow tiled fa├žade. We pose shyly in our matching orange plaid coats. My head is tilted to the side, eyes lifted up to the sky, a classic Patricia is in the deep thought pose that my friends recognize even today. I imagine my eight-year-old self thinking there are issues in the world to solve, stories to make up, and new things to explore. Wondering what to do about the things my eyes witness but don’t understand how to fix.

After college, I signed up for the Peace Corps. Images of starving children beckoned me. Thoughts of teaching English enticed me. But I didn’t go. I was afraid. There was healing that needed to take place before I could be present in an inspiring way for anyone else.

Fast forward 20 years and you’ll meet me, a woman who feels like she’s walked a thousand miles in the desert with 100-degree sun scorching her naked flesh. She experimented. She learned. She thrived. After completing personal development programs about transformation, living authentically, healing from the past and choosing self-care, I consider that perhaps I have always known who I am.

My name is Patricia Philippe. I am a writer. A healer. A teacher. In September, I will volunteer with VoiceFlame in Malawi, Africa to lead writing groups for orphaned girls and village women. Writing my story has allowed me to channel the wisdom of that little girl who contemplated how to make silk thread from broken glass.

I found my voice through writing. The project in Malawi supports others in the discovery of their own strong, unique voices. Click here to learn more or to make a donation to sponsor me; I greatly appreciate your support.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dancing Towards Your Dreams

Growing up, I was the super quiet kid in the corner, reading a book or writing a story. The only time I made a sound was when I sang. F​​rom elementary school through high school, I was in musicals, chorus, and even ended up with a solo my senior year of high school. That solo was the absolute thrill and highlight of my singing life​​ (and, sadly, there's no documentation of it whatsoever).

It was also the second to last time I sang in public for 10 years.

What happened? Well, fear and panic and “I’m not going to be a singer so I can’t major in that” and “I’m probably not even that good of a singer so why bother?” The longer I stayed on my self-imposed singing hiatus, the bigger the fear grew, and the harder it was to get back to it. I missed it SO MUCH. I felt incomplete without it. But I couldn’t get over my fear. Looking back, I’m actually incredibly sad – like, crying-as-I-remember-and-write-this sad.

A couple of years ago, fate and my intuition took over and I quieted my fears long enough to sign up for The Singing Experience. It was wonderful; I had a blast and I remembered that the joy of singing on a stage far outshined the voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough. After that, I signed up for voice lessons with various wonderful teachers and coaches, and I performed three more times.

This year, I knew I needed to do what I didn't really think possible as a little girl but wanted more than anything: to sing on stage in front of people I love for a whole show. Me, a microphone, an awesome band, and maybe some tears. (The tears weren’t in the little girl’s vision, but wiser me realizes they’re likely.)

I have three days left to raise the $7,380 I need to make this show happen and make that dream come true. I know I’m asking for a miracle here because I have more than $5,000 to go and just three days to get there, but I’m committed to seeing this through.

If you can make any donation at all, big or small, I’d be beyond grateful. And if you could share it with friends, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, co-workers, that person who flirts with you sometimes, whoever, I’d be beyond grateful.

May you keep dancing towards your own dreams – it’s really never too late.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why I'm Feeling Lighter (And, Apparently, Looking Younger)

It seems to me that one of the hardest things to do is to be fully, confidently, unapologetically authentic in every area of your life. I have grappled with the question of who I am and how I express that to others my entire life. I spent most of that time holding back: not letting myself be too loud, too confident, too emotional, too honest, too whatever. I also didn't spend my time or money or energy in ways that inspired and fueled me; it didn't occur to me until a couple of years ago that how you spend your time and your money is how you spend your life.

Since then - and especially in the last few months - I have started to let that go. And, boy, do I feel lighter!

Instead of constantly wondering what the other person is thinking or how they'll react, I just speak my truth. And since I make a conscious effort to spend my time, money, and energy on what I feel is an expression of my authenticity instead of on what makes me feel "meh" or drained, I'm happier, calmer, and more centered. Whether it's a dance break, a manicure, or prioritizing a doctor's appointment, I fill my life as much as I can with what's true to me.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend I hadn't seen in a couple of months asked me what I was doing that had me looking so young and vibrant. I was so surprised, I didn't know what to say. "Um... I'm happier???"

Since experiencing this change in myself and in some of the women I know, I've become passionate with helping others reconnect with their authenticity and show up as all of who they are. I talk to so many women whose lives are compartmentalized, or who get blocked by fear and memories from the past when they try to express themselves.

I teamed up with a few friends who are also passionate about authentic expression to put together an all-day workshop/dance party. It's this Saturday in Brooklyn and I'm so excited, I could burst! It's going to be an inspiring, empowering, magical event. If you know you're ready to rediscover and celebrate your authenticity, join me!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

For The Love Of Her Brother

For the past several weeks, my Mom's older brother has been very ill, and after a lot of debate, she finally decided to fly to Kerala, India to see him today. The reason for the back and forth is because she undergoes injections once a week to treat her many allergies, which include dust and other airborne allergens. My Uncle has the same type of condition, and never had injections or any other similar treatment; this most likely contributed to his current condition. Mom told me that when she visited him last fall, both of them coughed so much that they sometimes did so in unison; one of their hired drivers even commented on this during a day trip he accompanied them on. Now, my Uncle is in the hospital, and my Mom is risking some of the progress she has made with her health so far to visit him in India, especially during the monsoon season. I know that she must go see him now, in spite of the obstacles.

Mom has always told me that her older brother helped and guided her when their own parents were unable to do so. He has a wonderful combination of compassion and intelligence, which my Mom and so many other people admire and respect him for. When they were younger, my Mom and her older brother were lucky enough to live together when they had to move to their uncle's house. Living in that environment was very difficult, but they relied on each other for support, love and friendship, especially during their darkest days. Mom remembers him walking hand in hand with her to church when she was three and a half years old, playing hide and seek in a rubber tree forest when she was six, and standing up to their father when she wanted to become a nurse (rather than a nun or a wife) at the age of seventeen. My Uncle is more than just her older brother; he is her hero, advocate, and dearest friend. I really admire their relationship, because it is special and beautiful.

My Uncle has always had a talent for writing, which is where I think I got my interest from. There is definitely something to be said about hereditary influences, especially since I don't know him as well as I would like to. The few times I have been lucky enough to visit him were great, because he is one of a handful of relatives from my parents' generation who speaks English very well. When I met him as an adult, I noticed how his eyes would light up every time he talked about my Mom, or was in her presence. They have had some ups and downs of course, but the love and respect they have for one another is stronger and more deep-rooted. Thousands of miles have kept them physically apart for long periods of time, but their relationship remains in tact. So while I am a little concerned about my Mom going to India because of her health issues, I know that there is no way she can stay away from her brother during his present crisis. He is a lovely human being with a great intellect, who also happens to be one of my Mom's greatest influences. For that, and so many other things, I am forever grateful.

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