Rachel Dolezal and Her “Lie” of Blackness

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about what that white woman in eastern Washington who was pretending to be black?

Signed,

Gabriel

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Dear Gabriel:

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, here’s a brief synopsis:

Rachel Dolezal, a 37-year-old president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, a Howard University graduate, and a part-time professor of African American Studies at Eastern Washington University, has claimed for years that she is an African American. Last week, a white couple from Montana came forward to say that Dolezal is their daughter and that she is actually white. “There seems to be some questions of how Rachel is representing her identity and ethnicity,” her father Lawrence Dolezal said. “We are definitely her birth parents. We are both Caucasian and European descent—Czech, German and a few other things.”

According to Mr. Dolezal, while she was a student at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, Rachel became involved in Voice of Calvary, a “racial reconciliation community development project where blacks and whites lived together.” “You speak and sound and act and take on the mannerisms of the culture you live in,” Mr. Dolezal said. When she applied to Howard University to study art with “a portfolio of exclusively African American portraiture,” the university “took her for a black woman” and “gave her a full scholarship.”

“And ever since then,” Mr. Dolezal said, “she’s been involved in social justice advocacy for African Americans. She’s assimilated into that culture so strongly that that’s where she transferred her identity.” “But unfortunately,” he continued, “she is not ethnically by birth African American. She is our daughter by birth. And that’s the way it is.”

Here’s a link to the story if you want more information:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/12/spokane-naacp-president-rachel-dolezal-may-be-white/

So, what do I think about Rachel Dolezal pretending to be black? I confess that I have mixed feelings about this. If race is socially constructed, as most anthropologists argue, then what’s wrong with her constructing a “black” identity into her 20s and 30s? What does it even mean to be black? Must we stay assigned to a racial group—until the day we die—because of whom our parents (say they) are, or is it ok to self-identify with a group you more closely align with when you become an adult?

Some of my Facebook friends have suggested, as Rachel Dolezal’s adopted brother has, that her pretending to be black is racist and akin to blackface. “Back in the early 1900s, what she did would be considered highly racist,” Ezra Dolezal said. “You really should not do that. It’s completely opposite—she’s basically creating more racism.” To these folks who believe this, STOP. NOW. Those who performed in blackface were doing it to belittle, to degrade, and to objectify the black community about which they were making fun. Rachel Dolezal was not doing that; from what I have read, she was pretending to be black so that she could be a better ally to the African American community. The black community needs more allies, even those who are not *really* black.

Many people also seem fixated on what they see as Rachel Dolezal’s lie about her blackness. One FB friend wrote, “She’s a liar; what’s to be on the fence about?” while another wrote, “Having a personal style is one thing; lying about it is another.” Yes, I guess technically she lied about being an African American woman (though she did put on her application that she was white, black, and Native American), if being African American is only about how much melanin one has in her skin. The United States has had a tumultuous—but most often an arbitrary, ridiculous, and absurd—relationship with race and what it means to be black, and at one point, all one had to be was 1/32nd black to be considered black.

Is anyone certain that Rachel Dolezal isn’t at least 1/32nd black? And, does it really matter that she gave up her “whiteness” to “pass” as an African American woman if she did this in order to help the black community? As my friend Andrew wrote, “Aren’t we and don’t we become what we identify with and relate to? I don’t think she is hurting anyone. She has probably developed the ‘background’ to make her more effective in her role. She most likely gets less resistance when relating to black society by molding herself to become part of what she fights for. The bottom line should be does she do a good job?” Yes, Andrew, that is what should matter most, not the race and ethnicity of her birth parents.

I do agree with my friend Randy who believes that the one mistake Rachel Dolezal made was in not better explaining her decision to pass for black. Do we know if she has struggled with her racial identity, much like Caitlyn Jenner said she struggled with her gender identity? Why is it such a stretch to believe, that, just like Caitlyn Jenner said she always felt like she was a woman trapped in a man’s body, that maybe Rachel Dolezal has felt like a black woman trapped in a white woman’s body? Who has she really harmed by passing as an African American woman? I’ve been black for more than four decades, and although I can’t speak for every black person in America, I can assure you that Rachel Dolezal has not harmed me or any other black person by reverse passing. Moreover, I’m still waiting for my white friends who have claimed that she has harmed the black community to explain to me the damage she has caused.

Some people have said that Rachel Dolezal gained an unfair advantage by pretending to be black, and I have to admit that this is one of the first times I’ve heard that being black is, in general, an advantage to being white. Did Rachel Dolezal get her job as president of the Spokane NAACP only because she said she was black? I doubt it, since the NAACP has always been a multi-racial organization that was founded in 1909 but a coalition of prominent black and white civil rights leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary White Ovington. Did Rachel Dolezal get her part-time teaching position in African American Studies at Eastern Washington University because she said she was black? I doubt that, too, since African American Studies has been open to white and non-whites for years. (In fact, my school—Austin Peay State University—recently hired a white woman to teach African American history and a Japanese man to teach African American Studies.)

If we simply look past her skin color, Rachel Dolezal is probably “more black” than I am. I was born and raised in Moline, Illinois, and it is the home of the John Deere Tractor, which should tell you how white the community is. At Butterworth Elementary, I was often one of two black students in my class, and at Wilson Middle School and Moline Senior High School, it was not uncommon for me to be the only African American student in my class. When I went to the University of Iowa, there were more professors who had volunteered to mentor the incoming black students—300—than there were actual black undergraduates enrolled. I now live in a mostly-white neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee; I go to a predominately white Catholic Church; I hate watermelon, Kool-Aid, and fried chicken; I’ve been told I sound like a white woman; I can’t sing or dance; and almost all of my friends are white (well, gay white men to be exact). I love sushi, Air Supply, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Judge Judy, “Matlock,” “Murder, She Wrote,” and “The Golden Girls.” Even my white friends like Greg Thompson think I should have my black card permanently revoked. (Maybe Rachel Dolezal has the black card that so many of my friends have revoked from me?!?!)

Though my skin color is part of who I am, it is not the sum total of who I am. The same is true for Rachel Dolezal. Who is and who isn’t black and how we define blackness is more complicated in 2015, and though some have accused her of appropriating black culture, she’s certainly not exploiting black culture in the same way lots of other white folks have. By passing as an African American, Rachel Dolezal has gained entry into a life many white folks would never, ever choose for themselves. She seems to have used the privilege of being able to pass for black—certainly no one who looks like me could ever pass for white—to try to do some good.

My point is that blackness just isn’t about how much melanin one has in her skin, and we need to get beyond the “well, she lied” part about Rachel Dolezal. I think that it’s admirable that she was willing to shed her “white privilege” in order to fully immerse herself in the black community in order to be an advocate for change. Having “lived” as a black woman for years, I can only imagine that Ms. Dolezal has experienced what many of us have. While she may not have been “born” a black woman, my guess is that by saying and creating a persona as one, she has come to “experience” life as a black woman and she knows what it’s like to be profiled, to be judged, to be stereotyped, and to not be given the benefit of the doubt.

I think that what most confuses some white people who read this story is why any white person would choose pass for black. Some have suggested that Rachel Dolezal did this for power, but I’m still not sure what “power” she gained. There is no indication that she shed her “black” skin and went back to being white when it was convenient; she seemed to “live” the life as a black woman for more than a decade until her parents outted her. I’m sure this concept of reverse passing seems so foreign to a lot of white people because they can’t imagine giving up all the benefits of being white (and please, white people, don’t act like you’re not aware of the benefits and the privileges of your whiteness). The fact remains that whiteness and white privilege have been violently protected in this country, but too many white folks have spent too much time calling her a liar and questioning her “true” motives while racism lives on in this country.

Rachel Dolezal has said that she “considers myself to be black” and that she “feels black,” and that should be the beginning of a discussion about what it means to be black and what it means for a white woman to spend years of her life passing as a black woman. I think most black folks don’t care that much that this white woman has been passing for black since she’s has used her newly racial identity to help the black communities in which she has lived.

While the nation continues to be distracted by this non-story of a white woman passing for a black woman, black men and women still face a very real and present danger every time they encounter a police officer of any hue. Too many black folks live in neighborhoods where black-on-black crime is rampant and criminals are unapologetic. African American children are often forced to attend low-performing schools with teachers who are mostly there to earn a paycheck, and too many black children are born into unstable homes without a married mother and father.

Can we please focus our attention on the racism and prejudice that ails black America and this country in general and not on this white woman who sometimes wore dreadlocks and put on too much self tanner so that she could misrepresent—i.e., lie about—her race? As Paul Mooney said, “America is racial. America was founded on race. Race is America. The code name for America is ‘race.’” Let’s stop castigating this white-black woman in eastern Washington, and let’s start spending our time figuring out how to help black children—well, all children—create lives that are meaningful and in service to others.

Jan NAACP

P.S. I failed the “Are you Blacker Than a Rachel Dolezal” quiz. 😦

Here’s a link so that you can see how black you are:

http://theurbandaily.com/2015/06/12/askrachel-rachel-dolezal-quiz/

Should Planet Fitness allow a transgender woman use the woman’s locker room?

Dear Dwonna:

You’re a big supporter and advocate of LBGT rights and equality. What did you think about Planet Fitness canceling the membership of the woman who complained about a transgendered woman using the woman’s locker room?

Signed,

Kayla

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Dear Kayla:

Yes—my friends and family and students know me as a big advocate of marriage equality and of LGBT civil rights, so my answer might come as a shock to many.

For those who have not heard, here’s the background to the story. In early March, Planet Fitness—a national gym whose mantra is that it is a “Judgment Free Zone”—canceled the membership of a woman who complained about a transgendered woman in the woman’s locker room.

Yvette Cormier, a 48-year-old member of the Midland, Michigan, Planet Fitness, said that she was “stunned and shocked” when “a person she thought was a man” (“he” was wearing leggings and a baggy t-shirt) entered the woman’s locker room while she was changing clothes. Cormier then complained to a front desk employee. “I wanted to know why there was a man in the woman’s locker room,” she told WNEM, a Saginaw TV station. “He looked like a man, and that’s what stopped me in my tracks.” The Planet Fitness employee told Cormier that it was “company policy to allow members to use whichever locker room associates with their gender identity.”

“They proceeded to tell me that they have to embrace whatever sex somebody thinks they are, and they’re allowed to use what restroom that they would want to use,” Cormier said. “They should point that out before you sign up to join their gym or post it on the front of the bathroom door.” The mother of two said that she was “acting out of concern for her safety and the privacy of other female gym members when she raised the issue on Saturday, February 28.”

Cormier returned to Planet Fitness on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday “to get the word out” to other women that they “let men in the women’s locker room.” Cormier told CNN: “Every day I said, ‘just so you know, there’s a man they allow in this locker room and they don’t tell you that when you sign up.” Planet Fitness—perhaps fed up with Cormier’s unwillingness to drop the subject of this transwoman in the woman’s locker room—canceled her membership, saying that “the manner in which this member expressed her concerns about the policy exhibited behavior that management at the Midland club deemed inappropriate and disruptive to other members.”

Cormier said that she stands by her actions in a case that has drawn national attention to what rights transgender people have (or don’t have). “This is all new to me,” Cormier said. “I didn’t go out to specifically bash a transgender person that day. I was taken aback by the situation. This is about me and how I felt unsafe. I should feel safe in there.”

I suspect that my opinion to all of this will surprise a lot of people who know me and who know how vociferously active I have been in promoting the humanity and civil rights of the LGBTQI community, but I agree with the woman who complained about having to share a locker room with a transwoman. While I disagree with Cormier’s tactic of devoting four straight days to telling women who came to the gym that Planet Fitness allows transwomen to use the women’s locker room (that was quite obnoxious), I agree that every women should feel safe in a locker room that is supposed to be reserved for women only.

The issue is not that there are transgendered people in this society; of course, I believe that they should be treated with dignity and respect at all times and in all places. However, when it comes to sharing a public locker room where I am changing my clothes or taking a shower or using the restroom, I do not wish share this space with someone who is—biologically—a male and who, by all account, looks like a man. (It should be noted that Carlotta Sklodowska, the “man” involved in this case, has not taken hormones or had surgery to become a woman and that even he acknowledges that his “body structure is masculine.” “It’s obvious, even from the back,” Sklodowska said.) While I do believe that most people who present themselves to the world as transgendered really do believe that they were born in the wrong body, what is to prevent a man from saying that he’s transgendered just to gain entry into a woman’s locker room? I doubt that this would happen very often, but we live in a sick society where this is a very real possibility.

When I mentioned my opinion to a former male student who says that he’s a transwoman, he immediately accused me of being “transphobic” simply because I said that I did not feel comfortable sharing a locker room with a man who chooses to present himself to the world as a woman. He also told me that gender is fluid, that it is socially constructed, and that it is not defined by one’s genitals or sexual orientation. I disagree. There are, indeed, biological differences between men and women, and if gender is not “real,” then why do we even have men’s and women’s locker rooms at all? Why do we have men’s and women’s bathrooms? Where—and how—do we draw the line on how men and women should interact in public if gender is not “real” and is simply “socially constructed”?

The other thing that I think many transwomen fail to understand is what it means to be born and live in America as a woman. Although many transwomen have a plethora of stories about feeling alienated by the larger society because of their feelings of having been born “in the wrong body,” my life as a woman began at birth. As Shirley Chisholm said, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: it’s a girl.” Because many transwomen began and have lived a significant proportion of their lives as men, most of them have been accorded a certain unearned privilege that I as a woman have never received. Thus, they may not be aware of the fear that many women experience when they suddenly notice that a transwoman who looks like a man is standing next to them as they are changing their clothes in a locker room.

As a person who has only lived as a black woman, I know what it means to be vulnerable around men and especially around white men. I know what it means to be afraid to walk my dogs around my neighborhood before dusk and after dawn and to be told to “fuck off” when I ignore the man who’s whistling and hollering at me and trying to get my attention. I know what it means to fret about what I’m going to wear each and every day because I worry that a “provocative” outfit might lead some man to objectify me and/or my body. I know what it means to be extra vigilant when I’m home alone at night and hear a strange noise, and I fear for the day when Satchel Paige—my very protective lab/chow mutt—shuffles off this mortal coil and ascends to his place in doggy heaven because he makes me feel relatively safe in my house. Announcing that I prefer not to undress and shower in front of a man who says he’s a woman does not make me transphobic; it makes me a woman who lives in a society where women are often not safe around men. I, like a lot of women, live in a state of constant fear. Every. Damn. Day. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

When my trans-student asked me what my solution was because “transwomen are not men” and that “sending us to the men’s room would cause even more of a controversy,” I told him that the solution is very simple: have unisex bathrooms and ask those transwomen who “look like men” (or transmen who “look like women”) to use them. Although most transgendered people would prefer that everyone accept their new identity, it is neither fair nor reasonable for them to expect every woman to feel safe dressing and undressing in front of a transwoman who looks like a man. Transwomen should be more cognizant and more sensitive about how vulnerable this might make some women feel, and they should accommodate us even if they think we’re being capricious and thoughtless. This is not like the argument that some military folks made during the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” when straight men said that gay men would stare at them in the shower; this is about common sense and making sure that men and women have safe places to change their clothes, to use the bathroom, and to shower. This is not about keeping transwomen out of the gym or relegating them to lesser roles in society; it’s about giving all women some peace of mind.

I’ve talked just a little bit to my former male student who now lives part-time as a woman, and I must confess that I still don’t understand what it means to be transgendered. I am, nonetheless, open to learning and to hearing about his experiences. What does bother me, though, is that I cannot honestly ask him questions or tell him my opinion about having to share a locker room with someone like him without him calling me “transphobic” and then summarily dismissing what I believe are my very real concerns about sharing that space with a man. Why does his desire to live as a woman trump my desire to feel safe and comfortable?

Planet Fitness had every right to cancel Yvette Cormier’s membership. She was an obnoxious bully who didn’t behave well, and she deserved what happened to her. However, Yvette Cormier had every right to be concerned about Planet Fitness’s policy that allows every man who presents himself as a woman to use the woman’s locker room. The question then becomes: how do we help transgendered people feel safe in the ever-changing world while also making sure that all those they encounter feel safe and comfortable, too?

I am all for integrating transgendered people into mainstream society, but the reality is that we don’t live in that world yet. Establishments like Planet Fitness are a great beginning for helping society make that transition, but in the meantime, we must respect not only the feelings of the transgender community, but everyone else as well. So, the answer for now is simple—full disclosure. And unisex locker rooms. And just a little more time.

PF2

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions you wish to share with us?

Dear Dwonna:

Here’s what I posted on my Facebook wall:

“I really hate how people talk trash about other people trying their new year resolutions. More people might stick to their resolutions if they didn’t feel like everyone is already expecting them to fail. So, why doesn’t everyone stop complaining about how crowded their gym is and use that energy to inspire or say something nice to someone who may be a little out of their element while trying to better themselves.”

What are your thoughts about my Facebook rant? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions that you wish to share with us?

Thanks!

Jen

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Dear Jen:

I have to confess that I don’t usually make any resolutions on January 1, mostly because I’ve always been in education—either as a student or as a professor—so for me, my new year always begins in August. New Year’s day has never been a time for me to sit down and evaluate (or re-evaluate) how my life is going and to pontificate what changes I want/need to make, so I don’t really understand this yearly winter ritual when people take stock of the person they are and the person they want to be.

I will also confess that I am one of those people who hates going to the gym in early January because the crowds of “I’m going to lose weight this year, so I better get to the gym for the first two weeks in January before I go back to being who I’ve always been” just get in my way and mess up the routine I’ve had in place all year. You’re right, Jen, that people like me should probably be more encouraging of those who are trying to make positive changes in their lives, but it’s hard for me to do this when these people post all their crap on Facebook and then fall off the radar five to seven days later (if they even last that long). Why can’t people just make their life changes without chronicling the first few days of their new “lifestyle”? Just get up every morning and do whatever it is you say you’re going to do. As Nike says, “Just do it!”

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For those who say that losing weight and getting healthy are two of their New Year’s resolutions, just remember that it’s your food intake that you must first control. Exercise is nice and it’s a good way to increase your metabolism, but it won’t burn off the bad stuff you eat during the day. (For example, a four-mile jog will only burn about 450 calories, and this won’t negate the cheeseburger and fries you eat for lunch.) If you’re worried that you don’t have time for or cannot commit to going to the gym three or four days/week, take a 45-minute walk every day. You’ll only need a good pair of walking shoes and the motivation to go. When you can commit to walking every day—even in bad weather—for a month, you’ll know that you’re ready for a gym membership.

Do go for a 30-minute walk every night after your last evening meal, and do not eat dinner after 6 p.m. But, most of all, ditch the sodas—diet and regular—eat more fruits and vegetables, eat breakfast every morning, cook more at home, and drink 64 ounces of water EVERY single day. You cannot undo bad habits overnight, so don’t beat yourself up if you slip back into your old ways. As Yoda says, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Get back to doing what you say it is you want to do and don’t spend any time worrying about how you got off track.

So what New Year’s resolutions would I make for myself if I made New Year’s resolutions? I’d like to be more open to hearing the different opinions of people with whom I may disagree, but I have to admit that it’s hard for me to listen to folks who are uninformed and are blissful in their ignorance. I’d like to write more so that by the end of 2015, I will be the “Black Dear Abby.” I’d like to be more patient, I’d like to be more forgiving (of myself and of others), I’d like to be less judgmental, and I am hoping and praying that my friend Kim Chance (from all the way back to Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Moline, Illinois, home of the John Deere Tractor) KEEPS KICKING CANCER’S ASS! I’d like at least one of my gay friends to get married and invite me to be their flower girl at their wedding. (Have blonde Afro wig; will travel!) I’d also like to lose these last three pounds, but maybe 2015 will be the year that I finally embrace the fact that I look pretty damn good for a 30-year old woman who graduated from high school in 1986. 🙂

I’d like for there to be peace in the Middle East and in other parts of the world and between Republicans and Democrats in this country, but since that doesn’t seem possible right now, I’d like for people on both sides of the political spectrum to be nicer to each other. Speaking of politics, I’d like for politicians to remember that their first job is to serve the people who bothered to get out and vote, and I’d also like for more people to actually get out and vote. Yes, it’s true that sometimes it seems like we’re choosing between the lesser of two evils and that oftentimes people vote against their best interests, but it’s not fair that a small group of voters are the ones who are deciding who will represent the ideas and wishes of the larger population. Furthermore, if you don’t bother to vote—especially in the primary elections—you shouldn’t bother complaining when your “elected” officials pander to the will of the lobbyists and not to the will of the people.

I’d like for those who say that they’re Christians to behave in a more Christ-like manner—to take care of the sick, the poor, the elderly, and all those who truly cannot take care of themselves—and for conservative Christians to stop using the Bible to explain why they are so nasty and mean to the people they say aren’t following Jesus’s ways. Leave the gays alone already. They aren’t the reason for your second (or third) divorce, nor are they the reason your baby’s father left you. I’d also like for conservative Christians to stop sending me racist Obama memes. Speaking of President Obama, I’d like for white people to stop blaming the POTUS for the situation they’re in. If you’re not doing well in life, don’t just blame the black dude in the White House; blame yourself and your poor choices and start making better choices. I’d like to stop yelling at my students, but if I stopped yelling at them, they wouldn’t know how much I loved them. 😉

I’d also like for the Fox “News” pundits to stop making white people so afraid of black people, and I’d like black people to stop thinking that every white person (and the police) has utter disdain for them. I’d like for Americans to remember that undocumented immigrants are people, too, and that most of them came to this country simply because they desire what most of us want: a better life for themselves, their children, and their extended families. I’d like for people to own fewer guns, and I’d like for those who own guns to own them responsibly. I’d like for people to turn off their televisions (and their video games) and to READ. MORE. BOOKS. Can we please, please, please stop making people like the Kardashians, the Jersey Shore clan, the Real Housewives of Atlanta or New Jersey or wherever, Wendy Williams, and all these other reality stars famous?!?! I’d like for all the dogs and cats in shelters (I didn’t forget the cats, Marcia Till) to find good and happy “furever” homes. I’d really like to know the truth about Bill Cosby; I mean, did a black dude really drug and rape all those white women in the 1960s and 1970s? Of course there’s much more that I would like for 2015, but I guess I’ll stop here…for now.

Jen, when I first read your Facebook post, I must admit that my immediate thought was to tell you to stop whining and to start doing and to not worry about the naysayers because only you have control over whether or not you’ll be successful at achieving your New Year’s goals. (I’m sure you can imagine me rolling my eyes at you and Jaya Martin if we were discussing this in my office, but I digress.) Anyway, I was wrong. Not to sound like some hippie from the 1960s, but we need to keep more love in our hearts, and we need to be more loving toward each other. Just as important, we need to be a little (a lot?) kinder and a little more encouraging than we have to be because, as Plato said, “…everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Henry James once wrote, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” Mother Theresa said, “Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” How much better would this country be if each one of us embraced these two dictums as we ventured into the world every day?

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What are you thoughts about Ferguson, Michael Brown, and the white cop who killed him?

Dear Dwonna:

I’ve been patiently awaiting your comments about the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson not to indict the white officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African American.

Signed,

Alysha Lewis

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Dear Alysha,

For those who have been asleep the last few weeks, here’s a brief synopsis of what has happened.

On Saturday, August 9, 2014, at 11:51 a.m., Michael Brown, 18, and his friend Dorian Johnson, 22, went to the Ferguson Market and Liquor, where surveillance video captured one of the two men pushing a clerk before walking out of the store with a box of cigarillos. Someone at the convenience store called 911 to report a “strong arm robbery.” (Dorian Johnson’s lawyer said that his client told investigators about the “situation involving Bike Mike taking the cigarillos.” “This is not a theft,” the lawyer said, “it’s more of a shoplifting situation.”)

As they walked down the middle of Canfield Drive toward Johnson’s house, a Ferguson police officer confronted the two men. According to Johnson, Officer Darrin Wilson told the two to “Get the fuck on the sidewalk” or “Get the fuck out of the street.” They replied that they were “not but a minute away from our destination” and that they “would be shortly out of the street.” According to Officer Wilson, when he encountered the two men, he rolled down his window and asked Brown and Johnson to get out of the street but that the two men refused and “were yelling back, saying we’re almost where we’re going and there was some cussing involved.” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has said that Wilson originally approached Brown because he was “walking down the middle of the street, blocking traffic.” Then the situation got physical.

Officer Wilson drove away, but then he quickly put his car in reverse and backed up. This is where the stories of the witnesses and Officer Wilson diverge. Johnson said that Wilson’s car was so close that he almost hit them and that when he “aggressively” tried to open the car door it “ricocheted both off me and Big Mike’s body and closed back on the officer.” Officer Wilson said that he thinks it was Brown who “violently” slammed his car door when he tried to open it, then “bum rushed” him, “shoved” him back into his car, and punched him in the face. Wilson said he went for his gun, and Brown grabbed it, causing the gun to go off. Brown ran; Wilson pursued him, shooting his gun at least nine more times.

Johnson said that Brown had his hands up and was indicating to Wilson that he was unarmed. “He was running for his life and just got shot and turned around and didn’t try to reach for anything. He put his hands in the air being compliant and he still got shot down like a dog,” Johnson said. Wilson said that Brown “just kept coming” at him full speed and that’s why he just kept shooting. Wilson was treated at a local hospital for a swollen face; at least six bullets hit Michael Brown, including a fatal shot to the head. One bullet hit the top of Brown’s head. Michael Brown’s body laid in the street, uncovered, for hours while Ferguson police officers investigated the shooting of this unarmed, black 18-year-old.

More than two weeks of rioting began shortly after news of Brown’s shooting was heard, and violent protests began anew on Monday night after a grand jury—made up of 9 whites and 3 blacks—decided “that there was not enough probable cause to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.” “The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact and fiction,” said Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney. “After weighing the evidence, at least 9 of the 12 members of the grand jury decided that Wilson acted within the limits of the lethal-force law.”

For those who question the wisdom of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson, keep in mind that they perused more than a thousand pages of documents and listened to some 70 witnesses testify over the course of three months. Many people believe that the grand jury’s decision came down to finding a definitive answer to the following question: was Brown surrendering or was he charging when Wilson shot him? One grand jury witness at first claimed that Brown was “defenseless, hands up, he was trying to stay on his feet and you could see that his knees were beginning to buckle and he was going down.” Investigators got this witness to later say that Brown was “moving toward Officer Wilson, who was screaming ‘Stop,’ as he fired his weapon.”

In his grand jury testimony, Wilson said that during the physical confrontation with the much bigger Michael Brown—Brown was 6’ 5” and 290 pounds compared to Wilson, who is 6’ 4” and 210 pounds—he feared for his life. After already taking two blows to the head, Wilson said that he feared that a third punch “could knock me out or worse.” “I mean it was, he’s obviously bigger than I was and stronger and the, I’ve already taken two to the face, and I didn’t think I would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.”

After the verdict to not indict him on charges of murder and manslaughter was announced, Darrin Wilson broke his silence in an interview with ABC George Stephanopoulos. He told Stephanopoulos that he would have “acted that same way if circumstances were repeated.” “The reason I have a clean conscience is I know I did my job right,” Wilson said, adding that he would have made the same decisions had Brown “been a white man. Wilson also said that the incident was the first time he had ever fired his gun in the line of duty and that the witness accounts that Brown “held up his hands to signal his surrender were ‘incorrect.’” He also said that he was sorry that Brown’s parents had lost their son.

Many people simply don’t believe Officer Wilson’s narrative of what happened. In fact, many pontificators have suggested that Wilson’s detailed accounting of the August 9th events is a complete fabrication (some have called it a fairy tale) and that those events could not have unfolded in the way he has described, and they believe that he acted in haste, with careless and reckless abandon for Michael Brown’s life, or with racist intent (or some combination thereof). I can only imagine how difficult it is to be a police officer in today’s society and to have to make a split-second decision about whether or not to shoot or be shot. As Charles Barkley said, “[We] have to be really careful with the cops, because if it wasn’t for the cops we would be living in the Wild, Wild West in our neighborhoods…. We can’t pick out certain incidentals that don’t go our way and act like the cops are all bad.”

I wasn’t there when Brown and Wilson’s paths collided on that day in August on that street in Ferguson; I don’t know what happened and will never know no matter how much I read. An 18-year-old black kid is dead, and the white police officer who killed him will not face any criminal charges and has since resigned from the force. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to sit on the jury that was charged with judging Wilson’s guilt or innocence. It seems fairly clear from the conflicting testimonies that the events that led to Michael Brown’s death are not as black and white as some on each side of the debate would like the other side to believe. Being a white cop in a mostly-black neighborhood is probably really, really difficult, and it’s a mostly thankless job.

To the white people who want to make Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent rioting, looting, and violence in Ferguson a banal and overblown racial issue (you know, the ones who say things like, “This looting would never happen if Michael Brown had been white….” or “White people didn’t loot when OJ was acquitted….”), STOP, and open your high school U.S. history textbook. There is no historical legacy of black police officers systematically shooting and killing unarmed white Americans, so your comparison is nonsensical. There is, however, a disturbing record of white cops shooting black folks. Between 2005 and 2012, on the average of about twice a week, a white police officer shot and killed a black man. A black man is 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white man. It’s not just a myth that white cops too often kill black men.

Still, a more salient issue that former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich noted on his Facebook page needs to be addressed—that “poor, minority communities deserve community policing that builds trust, including minority police officers, rather than law enforcement that’s viewed by a community as repressive.” Sadly, the original scuffle between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown is symbolic of the disconnect that too often exists between blacks and whites in American society—that race (still) matters when it matters, but sometimes it’s difficult to decipher when it doesn’t.

Let’s get back to these protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and in other cities throughout the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that is a descending spiral,

begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.

Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

Through violence you may murder the liar,

but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.

Through violence you murder the hater,

but you do not murder hate.

In fact, violence merely increases hate.

So it goes.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,

adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;

only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I’m certainly not saying anything provocative when I suggest that looting and burning down businesses and attacking the police and the Missouri National Guard are not constructive behaviors for those who really want to see changes in the way police interact with the black community. Looting and burning down buildings and all the other tomfoolery that’s happening in Ferguson simply gives more fuel to the white folks who already think that black folks don’t know how to behave. Said Bill O’Reilly of Fox News: “The non-violent protesters are just as guilty as the looters and the rioters, and they should be arrested for aiding and abetting. They have set Blacks back years now.” Borrowing from the chants of the protesters who yelled “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” during the August protests, Don Alexander of Brentwood, Tennessee, used the Indiegogo crowdfunding page to raise money for a billboard in the Ferguson, Missouri, area, that simply said: #PantsUPDontLOOT. And, after watching the recent chaos and violence unfold in Ferguson, a 51-year-old white man said to me, “See, those black people say that they want equality, but they don’t want any accountability for their actions.” I highly doubt that he’s the only white guy who thinks this.

Could these protesters not have found a more peaceful and a more proactive way to demonstrate against what they saw as an unjust grand jury decision? Do these same protesters get this angry when they see generations of young black men and women drop out of high school or forgo college or a post-secondary education in favor of an uncertain life in and on the streets? Do they get this angry when they hear about the shooting death of an African American at the hands of another African American? Do they get this angry when they see black mothers and fathers partying and drinking and engaging in shenanigans rather than staying home and taking care of their children? Do they get this angry when they see so few parents participating in their child’s PTA or attending school functions? Do they get this angry when they see a black teenage mother getting pregnant, again, while the black teenage father walks away from his responsibility? Do they get this angry and organize the folks in their local neighborhoods when they see the state of the public schools in their communities? Do they get this angry when they see so few African Americans voting in midterm or presidential elections? Do they get this angry when they turn on the television and see black folks being exploited—and exploiting themselves—on the Maury Povich show, as they try to figure out which of the men they brought to the show is their baby’s father?

Michael Brown—despite the fact that he didn’t behave well at all on that August 9th day when he pushed that store clerk and stole those cigarillos and then was shot and killed by Officer Darrin Brown—could have ultimately created a life that mattered to the city of Ferguson or wherever he ended up residing and earning a living. Let’s do all we can to make his tragic death matter. What, specifically, are these protesters doing to make sure that other young black men and women are creating lives that matter? Protesting and getting yourselves arrested is hardly a recipe for changing communities and how the police interact with non-white people. As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others’?” What, really, are these protesters doing for others?

Instead of organizing protests and burning crap down, perhaps they could organize book drives so that parents will have books to read to their children before bedtime. They could organize book clubs, so that black folks will read and engage in intellectual activities rather than sit on Facebook and Twitter and talk about the latest episode of “Scandal” or “How to Get Away with Murder.” They could organize and volunteer at their local school. Organize and volunteer to teach young women to respect themselves and their bodies and to do positive and uplifting things with their lives and for other people so that they will not look for a man or a baby to love them. Organize and teach folks how to garden so that they can eat a more holistic and organic diet. Organize and teach folks how to care for their body and to be more judicious about what they eat. Organize walking groups or exercise clubs so that folks can be better stewards of their body.

Listen. Lying down in the street to recreate and to remind folks how Michael Brown died is dramatic, but it isn’t constructive and is hardly a long-term solution to what ails the black community. As Charles Barkley said about the miscreants who were burning down and looting buildings in Ferguson: “Those aren’t real black people; those are scumbags. Real black people aren’t out there looting.” The “real black people” need to find constructive things to do that will REALLY help the communities who most need it.

Keith Myers, my friend from the University of Iowa, wrote this on his Facebook page the day before Thanksgiving: “Biggest tragedy about Ferguson? A mother lost her child. Maybe WE ALL should remember that when we break bread with our friends and loved ones tomorrow.”

Let us remember the sorrow of Michael Brown’s family, let us go into the holiday season spreading cheer and good will to each other, and let us always carry with us what the Dalai Lama said: “We all have to live together, so we might as well live together happily.” Let us all of us do better at living together happily.

Ferguson1

On Death, Dying with Dignity, and Brittany Maynard

Dear Dwonna:

I believe that suicide is wrong, but the 29-year-old woman in Oregon who chose to end her life last week has made me question my rigid belief. What are your thoughts about this?

Signed,

Reuben

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Dear Reuben:

Here’s a little bit of background for those who don’t know the story of Brittany Maynard.

On New Year’s Day of 2014, doctors diagnosed 29-year-old Brittany Maynard with “a likely stage 4 glioblastoma,” a terminal brain cancer “for which there was no cure or life saving measures available.” Doctors gave Maynard just six months to live. After “careful assessment of her prognosis and end-of-life choices,” Maynard and her husband “reluctantly decided to move” from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of the state’s Death with Dignity Act. Oregon is one of five states (Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico are the other four) that allows physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients. “My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that’s out of my control,” Maynard told People magazine. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”

In September, Maynard announced that she would end her life by taking a “fatal dose of barbiturates” on November 1, 2014, a decision that reignited the national debate about physician-assisted suicide. In the last weeks of her life, Maynard became an advocate for “access for death with dignity in California and nationwide,” and on October 6, she launched an online-video campaign with Compassion & Choices, a non-profit organization that is “committed to helping everyone have the best death possible.” “The freedom is in the choice,” Maynard said. “If the option of DWD [death with dignity] is unappealing to anyone for any reason, they can simply choose not to avail themselves of it.”

Maynard said that her family accepted her decision to end her life with dignity, telling People: “I think in the beginning my family members wanted a miracle; they wanted a cure for my cancer,” she said. “When we all sat down and looked at the facts, there isn’t a single person that loves me that wishes me more pain and more suffering.” An only child, Maynard said that she hoped her mother did not “break down” or “suffer from any kind of depression.” She also said that she hoped her husband “moves on and becomes a father.” “There’s no part of me that wants him to live out the rest of his life just missing his wife,” she said. For Maynard, what mattered the most was “the way I’m remembered by my family and my husband as a good woman who did my best to be a good wife and a good daughter.”

On October 29, Maynard posted a video in which she said that she still felt “good enough” and that “I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time now.” Many people expected (hoped?) that she would postpone her November 1 suicide. However, Maynard “suffered increasingly frequent and longer seizures, severe head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms.” “As the symptoms grew more severe,” a statement released by Compassion & Choice said, Maynard chose to “abbreviate the dying process by taking the aid-in-dying medication she had received months ago.” She died “peacefully on Saturday, November 1 in her Portland home, surrounded by family and friends.”

Not everyone agreed with the 29-year-old woman’s decision to end her life. Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life, said in a statement after hearing about Maynard’s death:

“We are saddened by the fact that his young woman gave up hope, and now our concern is for other people with terminal illnesses who may contemplate following her example. Our prayer is that these people will find the courage to live every day to the fullest until God calls them home. Brittany’s death was not a victory for a political cause. It was a tragedy, hastened by despair and aided by the culture of death invading our country.”

In an article for Religion News Service, Joni Eareckson Tada—an evangelical inspirational speaker and Catholic seminarian who also has brain cancer—wrote, “I understand she may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God.”

Janet Morana, Joni Eareckson Tada, and everyone else who believe that people with painful and terminal illnesses should “find the courage to live” are just plain wrong, and these people should spend more time helping the terminally ill “die with dignity” rather than suggesting that they stay around for a painful life. Who are these women to suggest that Brittany Maynard should suffer because Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act makes them uncomfortable? Who are Morana and Tada to decide that someone they have never met should “live every day to the fullest until God calls them home” when they may not be the ones suffering? Does the God Morana and Tada worship really want people like Brittany Maynard to suffer? Why would this God they worship let Maynard suffer so without providing the tools for her to end her suffering and die peacefully on her own terms? “For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me,” Maynard said. “They try to mix it up with suicide and that’s really unfair, because there’s not a single part of me that wants to die. But I’m dying.”

Yes, doctors told Brittany Maynard that there was no cure for what she had and that she was going to die, and she had every right to decide for herself to die with dignity sooner rather than wait for a painful—but natural—death later. I pray to God, Jesus, Mother Mary, Buddha, and all of my guardian angels that I am never so sick as to have to make the kind of decision that Brittany Maynard did. I am grateful that I am healthy, and I pray that I always stay this way. I’m not willing to judge Maynard’s decision to end her life surrounded by her loved ones when the pain became too much because I’m not the one dying of brain cancer.

Some organizations criticized Compassion & Choices for “exploiting” Brittany Maynard, saying that they used her story to “politicize” the debate about right-to-die issues. The National Right to Life called them “ghoulish,” saying that they were “angry that Compassion & Choices would exploit her tragedy for its own malevolent purposes.” Maynard would disagree. In her own blog, she wrote:

“I made my decisions based on my wishes, clinical research, choices, discussions with physicians, and logic,” she wrote. “I am not depressed or suicidal or on a ‘slippery slope.’ I have been in charge of this choice, gaining control of a terrifying terminal disease through the application of my own humane logic.”

Throughout the last month of her life, Maynard said that was the reason for her campaign—“to fight for other terminally-ill patients in states without protections.” Neither the Catholic Church, nor federal or state governments, nor the National Right to Life should have a say in whether or not a terminally-ill person chooses to die with dignity. Let each person suffering from a terminal illness figure out his or her own best way to “die well.”

In God is No Laughing Matter, Julia Cameron writes, “Sometimes the dying live more fiercely and wisely than the rest of us.” This seems to have been true for Brittany Maynard, whose last words to the world before she ended her life on November 1 were “Spread good energy. Pay it forward!” Although she only lived for 29 years, Maynard made us all think about what it means to live, and what it means to die. “It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest,” Maynard said. “If we change our thoughts, we change our world! Love and peace to you all.”

May we all have the courage to die with the grace and dignity that Brittany Maynard had, and may she now rest in peace.

Brittany M

 

Why We’re Pro-Choice and Voting Against Amendment 1

Dear Dwonna:

What are your views on Amendment 1? I’ve read that it is not an anti-abortion bill and that it will ultimately protect women’s health.

Signed,

Johnquetta

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Dear Johnquetta:

Thanks for asking.

On November 4, voters in Tennessee will cast their ballots on “Amendment 1,” which states:

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statues regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

Contrary to what supporters of “Amendment 1” are telling their followers, the long-term goal of the amendment is to completely outlaw all abortions in the State of Tennessee. Furthermore, while these “pro-life” folks argue that this law will protect women’s health, notice that this amendment makes NO exceptions for a “pregnancy resulting from rape or incest” or to “save the life of the mother.”

Regardless of what your personal beliefs about abortion are, it is not reasonable to expect every woman to continue a pregnancy if she has been the victim of a rape or incest, nor is it reasonable for Tennessee to pass a law that declares that a fetus is more important than the health and the life of a mother. No woman should be forced to place her long-term health and/or her life in jeopardy simply because someone who has never met her has decided that her fetus is more important than her own existence. Let women make these decisions for themselves, please, and if you are against abortion, just don’t have one. It really is that simple.

Deborah Webster-Clair, a retired Ob/GYN, said last week at a press conference at a Planned Parenthood health center in Nashville that “Supporting Amendment 1 will erode a woman’s fundamental right to autonomous decision-making and privacy regarding her own health care.” Yes, a decision on whether or not to continue a pregnancy should be one that a woman makes with her doctor, her husband or boyfriend (if she has one), her conscience, and her god (if she has a belief in one). I’m bored with the “pro-life” crowd who simply want to make decisions for women they do not know and will probably never know. In fact, it’s quite arrogant for them to think that they unilaterally know what’s in the best interest of that woman and her fetus. I can’t help but wonder if this debate about abortion is not so much about “protecting an innocent baby” but instead is about regulating—and controlling—what women do with their bodies.

For those who want people to vote “Yes” for Amendment 1 under the guise of “protecting the innocent babies,” I have several questions: Why is the fetus more valued and more valuable than the woman? Isn’t the woman who carries this fetus valuable, too? Why do so many “pro-life” folks think of women as incubators who must carry a fetus to term just because abortion goes against their beliefs? Can we please stop with these “personhood” laws that give the fetus more precedence than the woman who carries said fetus? Why can’t people leave these women alone so that they can make an informed choice without any interference from governmental bodies?

No politician—and most especially no male politician—should be working to pass any law that restricts a woman’s right AND access to an abortion. As Wendy Davis said last year during a filibuster of a Texas anti-abortion bill, “Lawmakers, either get out of the vagina business, or go to medical school.” As my students can attest, I often have great difficulty managing my own life, and I am in absolutely no position to tell another woman how she should manage hers. A decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a private one, and it must ultimately remain with the women who are faced with an unwanted pregnancy, as only they understand what their long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are. Can the so-called “pro-life” crowd please stop playing OB/GYNs and let women they do not know make whatever decisions are right for them?

I do not presume to know the lives of other women and what is best for them, and I wish others would embrace the fact that most women will make the best choice for their own lives, too. It is a woman’s body, and it should be her choice whether or not to terminate—or continue to full-term—a pregnancy. Unlike the “pro-life” crowd, I trust that women can and will make the choice that is appropriate for her and for her circumstance. To borrow a saying from a 1990s bumper sticker: if you can’t trust her with a choice, how can you trust her with a baby?

Moreover, if these so-called “pro-life” folks really are more than just “pro-birth” (since it seems like they only care about the fetus until a child is born), then they should be working to pass laws that will improve the lives of the children who are already here, too many of whom live in poverty and in dire life circumstances. As former Surgeon General of the United States Joycelyn Elders once said, “We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.”

I think George Carlin said it even better:

“Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.”

Listen. Let’s stop trying to regulate what women do with their bodies, and let’s spend more time in loving service to those who need us. Let’s go out into the world and be a blessing to those who are already here. Vote “No” on Amendment 1, and let each woman decide on her own what’s best for her, her body, and her life.

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Here’s what Jaya Martin, one of my favorite Austin Peay students, wrote in response to the proposed amendment:

As both a woman and a Christian, I value that everyone has different beliefs and opinions. However, I also value my right as a woman to choose what happens to my own body. In November, citizens will vote on Amendment One, a bill that could eventually lead to the abolishment of all abortions in Tennessee and will make NO EXCEPTIONS in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. This is the main danger of this amendment passing.

Abortion is not an easy subject, and I have struggled to find the courage to voice these words. However, I believe in my heart of hearts that there are instances when a woman should have a choice instead of being forced by the government to have a child she didn’t ask for nor want. I consider myself a protector of women, especially young girls who are victims of rape or incest and who are not physiologically ready to be mothers.

It is vital to remember that every situation is delicate and different. It is also important to keep in mind that if this bill passes, it will not prevent abortions from happening. It will simply get rid of safe, sterile clinics and put women at a greater health risk.

In November I will be voting NO on Amendment One. I highly encourage anyone who is on the fence to thoroughly research the topic and make an educated decision before they vote. Remember, this isn’t about being “pro-choice” or “pro-life”—it’s about defending our right to make private decisions free from government interference. Even if we all don’t agree on abortion, we can all agree that government has no place in our private medical decisions.

old woman

Should I stay with my boyfriend of seven years?

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 22-year-old college graduate, and I’m thinking about moving away from my hometown and going to graduate school in another part of the country. I’ve been dating the same guy for seven years, and I’m not sure what to do since he can’t move with me. What do you think I should do?

Sincerely,

Dina

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*Thanks to my pal Cati Montgomery for writing most of this.*

Dear Dina:

First, talk to your boyfriend about what he thinks the future holds for the two of you and whether or not you might want to commit to shifting this to a long-distance relationship. Although long-distance relationships can be very tricky and are oftentimes difficult, today’s technology—the Internet, Skype, and FaceTime, for example—can make them bearable for the times in between visits. Do have a plan for when you will see each other and how—and how often—you will keep in contact while you’re apart. If you do opt for trying the long-distance relationship thing, keep in mind that your interactions will change since you won’t get to see each other daily, but if you put in some extra effort, you just might make it work.

However, since you are moving to a different part of the country, you are bound to meet lots of fun and interesting new people. If you do meet someone in your graduate program who might pique your interest, what will happen to your seven-year relationship? You need to ponder this scenario so that you’re not dishonest with your boyfriend and a future “friend.” Still, don’t cut yourself off from meeting new people while you and your boyfriend are apart. Create and maintain a life that is separate from your boyfriend and then figure out how to merge your two lives when he comes to visit. At the end of the day, you will have to trust your boyfriend and yourself to not stray, and only you know whether you can remain faithful to him and whether he can remain faithful to you.

The second thing to think about is a long-term commitment and/or marriage. If you have already been dating this long and you have not had a serious conversation about your longer-term future together, you may need to pause to reconsider the value of this relationship. Are you holding on to him because he is safe and this relationship is what you have known since you were 15? What common goals and values do you share should you decide to stay together and get married? Does your boyfriend support your educational goals and talk about a future together? You’re only 22, and that’s really young to be getting married to someone you’ve known since you were in 9th or 10th grade. You’re probably too young to make that kind of long-term commitment.

Third, graduate school is a whole different level of commitment—to your work, to the students in your graduate school cohort, and to your professors. It will most likely require a much bigger time investment to study, to produce classwork and papers, and to perform original research. You will be learning about things at a pace you probably did not experience as an undergraduate, and sometimes the coursework and expectations of your professors can be overwhelming.

Graduate school may just be the time that YOU need to discover who you are, exactly, on your own. Your 20s are a time of growth and maturity, and you are just now beginning to evolve into the person you will be in your 30s and beyond. Perhaps you’ll want to take this next two years at grad school just to develop who you are as a person, without depending on the boy you’ve known since you were 15. You may discover some fairly interesting things about yourself.

Good luck!

Cati M