Melanin’ Abundant

Melanin’ Abundant  /ˈmelənən əˈbəndənt/  phrase. – black, dark brown, or brown pigment existing or occurring in large amounts. The phrase acknowledges and celebrates darker complexions, as well as confronts the negative tropes of Black beauty.

Interview with Angelique

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

So my name is Angelique. I grew up in a small town called Junction City, Kansas. I am from a military connected family. So, my grandfather served in the Korean War for about 20 years and then met my grandmother while he was in Germany. And they got married, they adopted a child from Ghana and then she got married to a military man from Leesville, Louisiana and created a family. I have a younger sister and a little brother. And so we kinda grew up in Junction City, Kansas. So I would consider that my hometown, but I was actually born in Pineville, Louisiana.

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As far as who I am, I am someone who is very passionate about finding healing, having others heal from their personal woundedness. I think just coming from my own background of having both a military aspect and multicultural aspects… As my grandmother’s is originally from Dusseldorf, Germany, growing up as a white woman with blue eyes and orange hair, and then adopting a child who wasn’t even her own… It really kind of inspired me to do the work of helping and loving others and seeing them for who they are.

And so, I am also an educator as well as an advocate for mental health. I’m married to a wonderful husband who’s from originally from Brighton, England. And so we met, we were college sweethearts and met at Kansas State University in a psychology class. And yeah, that’s just who I am.

How would you describe/define beauty? Black beauty? Black style?

When I think of beauty, I think about the outer and the inner. So for instance, for me the inner is more important. So it’s about the soul. Is there a deep connection? What energy do you carry? The vibe you have? The beauty is really about this essence of power. I would say even just a quiet confidence and this aura of warmth that you exude through your mannerisms… how you talk, how you interact with others, how do people feel when they’re in your presence… That’s what I feel beauty is. And then the outer, obviously, that’s superficial looking — eye shade, skin tone.

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When I think of Black beauty and Black culture, it’s really about a sense of pride. It’s also a sense of this deep willingness… this deep resilience, right? Being able to go into any place with a sense of grace; exuding that feeling of loyalty, honesty, hard work ethic that has really had been passed down from generation to generation, from the hardships. So (for example) when I think about beauty, especially Black beauty, I think of the Obamas… specifically Michelle Obama. How she’s just very graceful and classy, but not in the uppity way or in a way that deters others from her. Honestly, she has a quiet strength about her and this radiance, this feeling of I know who I am and with or without Barack Obama. I am still going to be that chick essentially. Like, I am well-educated. I am deep within my roots from South side Chicago. She praises her father and her mother for the work they put in. Personally, I have to do some inner work… with both my marriage and myself. And when she wrote her book Becoming, its been beneficial just kind of the way that she still didn’t forget where she came from, but was able to be in the room and take ownership of it without feeling intimidated, you know, with grace.

“I feel beauty is, it’s about your warmth, your aura, what you exude from your inner soul and how to and how do people feel around you.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

When it comes to societal pressures, I can definitely say it’s a lot of body image. You know, what I saw growing up in the magazines did not reflect how I was supposed to look or what was sexually appealing to the boys in school and college and everything like that. So definitely body image. Growing up, I was very thin, kind of boney and was teased a lot about that. But then another side with other friends, I was looked at as like a model and modelesque and it was very confusing cause it’s like, Wait, does that mean to be skinny is to be beautiful? To not have full hips and full lips like my sister or like my aunt who’s still a beautiful person on the inside.

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I also felt the societal pressure about hair and taking care of your hair. But it really came from the culture messages I received from my own family. So growing up, my mother — I came from a one parent household — what was important for her, for her two girls, was to make sure that our hair was always done– in barrettes, twisted up, have the pink lotion, and everything. She would wash her hair on Wednesdays and Saturdays and maintain it. And you know, there was a sense of pride with that. But as we got older, she kind of took the reigns off and let us kind of do her own thing. But I was never really taught like, what is my hair type. I only saw in the magazines that it had to be “bone straight” and thin. I just remember (my mother) she was like, look like you came from good home.  And I was like, what? I wasn’t raised to say who you are is just enough.

Have you ever experienced racism or discrimination? If so, any stories you would be willing to share?

When I was dating my then-boyfriend-now-husband, who is a white Englishman from a pretty wealthy suburb of Kansas City… I was visiting him, his family’s during the holidays, and wore long box braids. Now, most of the time when I would visit (his family) I had a short Afro or my hair didn’t have any box braids. So, I drove in this nice neighborhood with my Mitsubishi, missing a hubcap, everything like that and I remember listening to music very loudly. So then when I parked  and thought, Oh, I didn’t see any cars in front of their house. So, let me go ahead and just kind of walk up and look in the window next to the door. Mind you… I’m thinking in my head, I’ve been here many times. You’ve seen my car, you know. Maybe 10 minutes later… A police officer came from that area showed up and asked what I was doing there.

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And I remember the shock that my now mother-in-law had and that was the first time I had to tell them that this… this is what racism is. It happened maybe, like, five years ago.  It’s just a constant reminder that just because certain people may see and love you for who you are… As soon as I had shared a little of my Blackness, whether that’s through my braids or listening to music, that’s when that facade was quickly melted away, you know? And that was a tough lesson for my boyfriend, his family, and me. But it was something we needed. I almost feel like it had happened to break that facade, that racism does exist.

This writer, Dr. Robin DiAngelo. She is the author of White Fragility and talks a lot about White narrative complex. There’s this constant narrative… this kind of ideology that White people grew up with saying, Racists are bad people, right? Meaning… that if I’m a good person, if I smile first on the elevator, if I didn’t cringe when I saw this person’s hairstyle or whatever, then that makes me a good person. Therefore, I can’t be a racist. So, I think that’s what’s happening right now, something that I’m passionate about… My work is dispelling the myth that racists are those who are very overt…  you know… Times in the fifties to sixties. The ones Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought against. Even though that’s not prevalent as much, it’s still happening with police brutality on the webcams or getting recorded by the phone and then people have audacity to be like, Oh my gosh, It happened in our neighborhood. My mother-in-law had to realize that she has a Black daughter-in-law. And we’re not in Scotland or in England, where there’s a different kind of history and complexity with race relations. So to dispel that myth that because the police were called on me because it couldn’t have been because, she has her different religion or anything (intangible/not visible). Like that’s not something you can see. They saw my skin tone. They saw one thing and they said This is a threat that needs to be removed from our neighborhood.

“They saw my skin tone. They saw one thing and they said, ‘This is a threat that needs to be removed from our neighborhood.'”

In those instances of racial/racist moments, people try to create logic tracks by saying, “Well it’s not racist, it’s this, this and this.” If you were responding somebody that said, “Well, it’s not racism, it’s just that you are not a person that they normally see in the neighborhood,” what would you say?

So in that conversation, first, I would go in with a sense of sense of transparency and a little bit of honesty by saying, This is vulnerable for me right now. So I want to make sure that you know this conversation, it’s going to be difficult because we’re going to talk about race and second, here’s an example… I would tell them that although I understand that, the intention of the officer, the intention of whoever called the police officer on me, it’s the impact that made a difference. It created a negative impact both physically and a physiological response.

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I felt sick the next day. I felt unwell. I didn’t even, I didn’t even want to be in their house anymore cause I’m like, if this is the neighborhood you’re in and this is the response I get, why would I want to come back? So then these questions came to my head, What was it about me? Who called on me? So then you have this feeling of panicking. So, I would just urge the person to understand that this is a sensitive topic and I want to make sure we give it the respect it deserves. But, also, just think about the intention.

When someone has “well-meaning intentions,” does it matter when the impact is negative?

For me, my personal experience with that was, Now do I feel like all police officers are like that? What I appreciate about that police officer in that example, you know, (he was a) white male in his late thirties. He came to me with a sense of apology because he knew what the source of that conversation was about… (same thing)  we see in the media, the #bbqbecky. So, he knew that this was somebody feeling uncomfortable with this certain person in their neighborhood. So he was very apologetic and was like, I’m sorry, but didn’t really call out and say, This is racist and this will not happen again. That’s something that would have made a difference…. I wish that would have been part of the healing.

There are different levels of racism and discrimination. How do you feel these moments impact a Black person’s psyche?

I would say racism is an epidemic in the sense that it is literally killing people. Killing lives slowly. Slowly taking away their life expectancy. So, for instance, we have statistics saying that Black men die at a higher rate than white men, specifically around 72 (years old) where white men will live to like 85 (years old). Right? Because of the stressors associated. It’s not even overt racism. Like I want to be clear about it– it’s the microaggressions that happen on a day to day basis that we as a people — and I’m just speaking for myself — there are no built in tools about what do you do when the racist thing happens to you.  You just kinda say, okay, I’m just going to avoid that person, that person’s dangerous,  Or, okay, this cop is following me. My heart’s going faster, but I’m not going to think about just like the psychological impact that has. Or, I’m lashing out at my wife because of what happened to me at work. So, I would say it’s a very big social epidemic no one wants to think about or look at because to look at it and examine it means that it actually exists in America. And the way this whole system is set up right now is based off of everyone’s entitled to their own facts… Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions. And so, if they believe racism doesn’t exist, that means they can’t really be killing lives.

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You know, you get kind of this red scarlet letter on your back when you speak up about the basic injustices. And to me it’s like it wasn’t working when I didn’t say anything. So, I started to talk about it and because I work in a healthcare setting it’s important that I’m delicate about this topic. I have to tap into my allies, specifically my White leadership allies, who are willing to talk about it. And that’s something that’s hard because you have to tap into those who are not doing the education on their own, but need a place… need a safe space… kind of a brave space… to talk about these things with someone who’s a person of color. And that’s difficult.  I think  there’s this perception that those conversations can’t happen because there’s this stereotype anxiety. If I say something, then I’m going to worry that I look like a racist and therefore I’m not gonna say anything, but I’m not going to speak up when something does happened, you know? So, although we do have these kind of different media outlets and (these issues are) coming to (the) forefront, I think it’s just difficult that we’re not finding any answers to these problems besides just raising awareness.

“I think it’s just difficult that we’re not finding any answers to these problems, you know, besides just raising awareness.”

What do you mean… What type of awareness or action do we need?

In a perfect world, if by next year, our president, whoever that is, or somebody in high leadership, or in high regard in America can put out an apology and tell people, Yes, slavery existed. Yes, we benefited from it and that still benefits you. Today, our justice system, our legal system, our healthcare system are all deeply rooted and manifested in racism… And we have benefited from it for many years. What we’re going to acknowledge that and then do something about it. Reparations for Black folks… and not so much like, Okay, we’re going to pay you off and Oops, my bad. But to honor that acknowledgement and give the validation it truly deserves.

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And I hate to say it, but at the end of the day it’s about money. You know, we are living in a capitalist, patriarchal society that only looks at the value of human beings through what I can get from your earnings and everything like that. It happened like four hundred, five hundred years ago. I would argue that even though that happened long time ago, the psychological effect is happening to this day and our system is still benefiting from slavery. Even though Black bodies are not enslaved, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not affecting our generation. So, for reparations, although I’m not a proponent of, Let me pay you off kind of thing for the harm and damage we’ve done, I think that you have to do so and give a true apology. Even though this may not erase what we’ve done, moving forward there’s something that’s going to hopefully benefit the next generation. Maybe pay off debt or something like that. Make it tangible. And then, acknowledge that we’ll make some actionable steps to change our system — the legal system, healthcare and all that. And I only say that (solution) in the context of the society we live in. Like, if we weren’t driven by money, I don’t think money would be the solution. It should really be about equity… Meeting them at their need and bolstering in a way that each person can have a fair and just opportunity to strive/thrive. Earning a livable wage for everybody is a way to do this. But because we have this growing wage gap in America, I’m not sure if we’ll get there. And that’s tough to say, but we have to keep on fighting.

Why do you think it’s so hard for individuals, people, or a country to acknowledge past mistakes?

Part of me feels like — I have a background in psychology and family studies — we look at things in systems and on a psychological perspective and it all comes down to this feeling of guilt and shame. And those are very powerful feelings that can keep you rooted in toxicity. As human beings, majority of humans, I think we operate more from the feeling of guilt than we do from a sense of honesty and compassion. That’s why we have all these things going on… Because something happened to me and I was powerless therefore I’m going to try to take power from others, right? And so that’s why I feel like it’s difficult when no one wants to admit what my ancestors did or what systems is currently doing to benefit from (past actions). So, I’m not going to talk about it. And if I hear something about it, my first thought is to defend or to dismiss or discount it. That’s not my existence because then you call me a racist.

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Peggy McIntosh who wrote the Invisible Knapsack, I think she, she coined the term “white privilege” back in the 90s said that majority of folks have gotten miseducation about racism and America. And because of that, we’re all operating from that place. Yes, there are some awareness and pieces like that, but I think there’s a lack of willingness to do some deep exploration for our families and our friends.

What are the characteristics you attribute to Black women?

When I think of Black women, I think the first thing that comes to my mind is strength. I think there’s a sense of this deep radiance of beauty that cannot be replicated — always duplicate it, but can never be replicated. There’s a sense of very family orientation. Sometimes there’s negative of being sacrificial, right? Sacrificing our health, sometimes our mental health, without actually acknowledging the things that we have within ourselves. Being vulnerable is also a sign of strength. So, I think that’s what we are as Black women… It’s just very beautiful, powerful, but also have a sense of vulnerability and strength that I don’t think other folks can carry as well as we can.

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You know, Viola Davis and Issa Rae, they’re using their creative to create a freedom and the power to shift the narrative in a way that has not happened before in Hollywood. And I think that our voices are so powerful and that we are the backbone of Black culture and our families.

I think about my best friend of 15 years… she is a military career woman and she’s a fantastic mother — beautiful mother. She said everything she does, she does for her daughter. But she doesn’t forget where she came from and I remember she texted me a picture of the person who won Miss World. It was someone with someone from South Africa and she texted me that and she’s like, This is what it’s all about. And I just had a swell of pride when she sent that to me because it just reminded us like, we got it goin on and the world is just just now figuring that out.

Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi. Photo by: Benjamin Askinas/Miss Universe

Being an educator in the health industry, What have you about systemic, systematic racism/discrimination in the health industry?

I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was not aware of just how deep it goes, especially even in health care. For example, the red lining policy in Kansas City, I didn’t know anything about. All I knew growing up as a little girl in Junction City, Kansas, hearing about Kansas City was it’s a place you don’t live. It’s bad. Houses are burned down from Prospect and Troost. But, I was misinformed and misguided. There were these messages that was sent to me saying, This is a dangerous place. People kill each other. When really it was the policies that was placed almost 50 years ago to create an environment where people are thriving and striving to have a fair opportunity to housing and clean water and health care and all those kinds of things.

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And then, that has huge outcomes on our health. So I’m very mindful, as an educator, that I have to understand the history behind it and that it does exist to this day about who are we hiring, who are we not hiring, what pictures are we showing, how important fines (bills) are… Cause, I want to feel visible or I want to be seen and I want patients to be seen. Just because the traditional way was just to do it this way doesn’t mean it was the right way. I think education can be very transformative in the sense that once people have a dose of it and they’re willing to look within, there could be changes that can happen on an interpersonal level and and intrapersonal level. And so that’s where I see the most value in my work cause I work closely with equity and diversity.

Full transparency. One thing I didn’t know for sure is that was racism exists (in the medical field). I didn’t know for a fact that patients and families who walk through our spaces have experienced it day to day. I had this miseducation and was misinformed about certain things cause the source that I came from wasn’t actually a true source…. It just came from someone operating from a sense of fear and a sense of guilt. So, when I worked in this space, it was so important that I had a mentor like Dr. Briana Woods-Jager. She was just phenomenal. She was very passionate about trauma informed care and health equity and all of those things. She’s a Black woman — Black psychologist — that raised the bar and she was very brave to want to have these conversations and talk about it in a setting where you really don’t hear about stuff like this. 

So when she moved on and went to another position, someone inquired if I wanted to do this. I jumped at it because one of my biggest dreams in life was to really be in a place where I am educating or sharing knowledge with clinicians, doctors, and nurses. I feel like that’s a form of healing, healing in both physical and emotional sense. I went the clinical route and did the marriage and family therapy cause I feel like that families have an inner resource in themselves that can and needs to be tapped into in order to address issues and problems. However, I’ve always felt that the hands that are touching and healing (e.g., doctors, nurses), really need to understand the narrow scope that they’ve got their education from. Like having a one page article about social determinants of health or maybe a little bit of history about why do Black people or people of color have mistrust in the system is not going to cut it. It’s still happening (now). So I think it’s an honor and privilege because now I get to pass this knowledge on to others.

What do you feel you have accomplished in your life? What are you proud of?

The thing I’m most proud of in my life is understanding that not only do I have a voice, but that my voice is powerful and I’m using it for the greater good of the common person. So for instance, as an educator in a healthcare setting, I acknowledge the fact that I didn’t get here by all my own. You know, I came here from a hard lineage of hardworking women… Who made sacrifices, continued to love, care, support me, and showed me that my voice was powerful and we want to develop that. And I honor them each and every day by talking about this, by being part of this interview, by acknowledging, by bringing in leadership and saying, let’s talk about this article that says racism is a health epidemic on our children, you know, and believe in what’s right.

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But I’m also very proud of the fact that I am married. I am very proud of who I’m married to as well. You know — and this might be different for the viewers, you know, reading this — but I am married to a white man who is a police officer and I know sometimes in the community there could be some thoughts about that. Like, how can you be so passionate about and educate talking about this when you’re married to someone who may not understand it and yada, yada, yada. But in honesty, because I have someone who cares and love for me in a way and just sees me for who I am now, who wants me to be, It has kind of gave me that fuel… that vessel to keep these conversations going. One day we’re going to create a family, have children, and the greatest opportunity we can give them is a sense of exploring and sharing these issues that affect us day to day. And so two things I’m proud of is the work I do each day and the person I’m married to.

“I acknowledge the fact that I didn’t get here by all my own. You know, I came here from a hard lineage of hardworking women.”

What are your personal dreams?

My personal dreams are that I want to be able to provide therapy and culturally competent equity/diversity-related trainings in the community across different sectors… beyond just healthcare. So just owning my own business, travel to people who want to do, who want to learn more…. Who want to do deep exploring about white fragility, about unconscious racism, biases and all those things. That’s a personal goal of mine. As well as the dream — It’s just really to just be happy with who I am and what I do each and every day. That’s the ultimate goal — to find happiness and to be happy in every moment no matter what. And I think that part of my happiness is the freedom to do what I want, when I want, while helping others find what they want to do in their life.

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

I just think there’s just people in places who want to keep the system alive, keep this pro-racist ideology because there’s a benefit in it… Even though generations, upon generation we’ll suffer… continue to suffer… if we don’t do anything about it.

One problem…I would say is just the violence and lack of institutional accountability for the violence that is happening to our Black bodies… to Queer bodies… To everybody. You know, specifically, there just seems to be both an emotional violence, as well as physical violence, happening upon our community. I want to dispel the myth. It’s just not happening between us, its happening to us… And that there is systems in place that’s trying to keep that narrative growing. But our spirit will not break. We can keep going.

“For people to actually see each other for who they are as they are. See the wound, acknowledge the wound. For us to want to work together, cause we do better together…. And that’s what my dream is for society.”

What are you dreams for society?

I think it’s pretty simple for me. People being able to have a place where all can thrive and strive… not solely based on skin tone. For people to actually see each other for who they are. See the wound, acknowledge the wound. For us to want to work together, cause we do better together. And acknowledge that everyone has a different perspective and reward that perspective saying, I want to learn more and lean into that and not go straight into the guilt, shame and fear. You know, say yes, it’s a real live emotion, but there’s also happiness and joy that came from sharing with others. And that’s what my dream is for society.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

Oh, honestly, just having these kind of conversations, you know? Having these sometimes painful, awkward but necessary conversations to move the needle. And to say, What is it ? Do people actually think that one group should always be on the bottom? And if so, why? Let’s be active in changing that narrative. That’s what I think should happen.

“When you get the opportunity to hear someone’s song and story — and I say song and story, but you know, their experience — really listen to that…”

What advice would you give to other Black people?

I would say that each one of us on this earth, we are our ancestors’ biggest dreams. Remember that you are someone’s biggest dreams. To be removed… to be taken away… to have our bodies be raped, pillaged, all those kinds of things. To be taken away from far our homeland and to be taken to a land as a product. To rise from above. To know that someone long time ago said, I want us to be free in mind and spirit and body and everything. To remember that… and to think about the privileges we all have.

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Some people think they don’t have privilege, but we all have a sense of privilege one way or another. For example, being a citizen in the United States is a privilege. So let’s tap into those resources. I know it’s difficult because I don’t think that we should always be the ones that have to talk about race. It’s not our issue. It’s an issue that was brought on us by others. Just remember that we’re on this earth to make a difference and that we are honoring our ancestors by sharing the stories, singing the songs, and being fearless.

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experiences?

It’s really important to hear the stories, to hear the cries, to hear the storytelling, to hear the songs of people, of the pain that’s being carried. So, again, being sensitive to yourself and saying this (advice) to others… being willing and able to listen. But just being mindful that we all carry our own biases… whether it has positive or negative impacts… who you serve and who you work with, who’s invited to our wedding, who’s invited to the funeral… we all do. The only way you can really avoid bias is getting  the opportunity to hear someone’s song and story — and I say song and story, but you know, their experience. Really listen to that and not feel a sense of explaining. Just listen. And the willingness to want to talk about it.

Additional Information

Interview Date: 12/24/2019

Day 4 — Story posted on February 3, 2020

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