Reflection in the Mirror: Fabricated Images (Part One)

I have a mirror in front of me, but instead of seeing my own reflection, I see what society has made me. I remember 1st grade like it was yesterday. My mother dropped me off at school, right before she left she said: “Jessica have a nice day at school” kissed me and departed. I walked to my classroom, and like atoms me and the other girls joined together, looking for friends to be with the remainder of the school year. I did not know the definition of skin color, and how it marked an individual like a tattoo. I went and sat with the group next to me. A girl approached me and asked,”Why is your hair so nappy? It’s not long like mines.’’ You could only imagine the way I was feeling the rest of the school day. When my mother picked me up, I cried to her, “The other girls at school told me my hair is nappy.” My mother replied, “I want you to go up to them and tell them that you are happy that your hair is nappy.” Going back to my own reflection in the mirror, I see that society’s control over the media gives them the ability to construct an image of “good” and “bad” to hair textures. Deep within me I know that my hair is what makes me different, and it isn’t something that I should be ashamed of. I was in for a surprise to soon discover that this technique that the media use to force self-doubt on my hair, a similar technique of creating self doubt is applied to my skin color as well. For the most part, these “bad” descriptions that society illustrate about African Americans, destroy a part of their self confidence, and soon an individual would start to believe in these fabricated views. I love the skin that I am in. Who would ever think that I would be ranked by skin tone?

It’s a common misconception that the lighter your skin is, the more attractive and “positive” you are. This illusion has not only led the elites to create a system of social stratification, but it starts a trend labeling an individual’s qualities based on the complexion of their skin.  “Colorism”, a term that is mentioned in Alice Walker’s essay “If the Present Looks Like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like” suggests that there is a scale ranking an individual by their skin tone. The lighter your skin is, the more favorable you are. The darker your skin is you are often labeled as being negative. The problem with this is that other African Americans adjusted to this belief that lighter tones of brown is more attractive than darker tones. Causing yet another battle between our people. Once again I face my own reflection, and I don’t see myself fitting into this stratification system of color. The thoughts of running out of my skin to please society’s expectations invades my mind. The inner me interrupts, and reminds me that I am beautiful just the way I am. Though I have this double view myself, I have learned not to let these false images take over me and my perception of myself.

As I grew older, I became more aware of this double view. Although it has it disadvantages it made me stronger. I am able to put myself in other minorities shoes, like the LGBT community for example. From their standpoint they also possess this double conscious view of oneself.  If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. My mother taught me that I shouldn’t change myself just because other people influenced me to do so to fit their standards. The next day at school I did go up to the girls that teased me, and I told them “I am happy that my hair is nappy.”



In my reflection I see what society wants me to be

In my mind I have this craving to be set free

I don’t want my skin color to get the best of me or take over

my soul and produce insecurities

If you don’t understand my life take a minute to learn

That my skin color shouldn’t be a major concern

open your eyes and see all that was created

we are all human c’mon let’s face it.



(Sources: Langness, David. “Skin and Character: the Colorism Connection” ).



Jagic Agonistes

I think it was because of the comedic value of my writing about football hooligans that Weicker sent me to Belgrade. My pieces on the fan wars between Manchester United and Manchester City for Bonkers —’The Online Pleasure-Dome for Young Men of All Ages’—magazine drew tens of thousands of hits, attracted lots of advertising, which made him all tumescent and giggly. Thus he called me from the head office in Barcelona, Spain and offered me a free trip home to my native land to cover the Derby in December.


“Nah,” I said. “The thing of it is that all that is long ago has been and gone.”




“Well, the thing is, like, all that crazy street fighting shit was sectarian.” He grunted again. “United were a Roman Catholic team with nothing but Catholic players.”


“And you supported them?”


“Right. And we hated Shitteh, who were Pro-Pros.”




“Manchester City. We wear red. They wear sky-blue. Protestant. Catholic. Hate. Sectarian war. You’d give up your life to steal a Shitteh scarf.  But,” I say, “that’s all over now.”


“Why’s that?”


And I go on to explain that City (a/k/a Shitteh) are now owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi. The crown jewel of the United Arab Emirates while United are owned by property millionaires from Tampa, who look like a gang of Jewish leprechauns. It’s all about worldwide television property rights and replica shirt sales. I explain how United bought a way past-it Bastian Schweinsteigger for seven million pounds and then flogged 25 million ‘Schweini’ shirts in the next six days. I’m blubbering on about United on the stock market and the club being worth more than the New York Yankees when he interrupts me.


“So isn’t there somewhere where hooligans exist?”


“Yeah,” I say, and I start thinking about Corfu and pulchritudinous German girls topless on the white beaches, “Athens.”


“I don’t like the Greeks.”


”You asked a question. I answered.”


United-versus-Liverpool is pathetic, so you’ve got the Arsenal and Spurs, the knife culture in Istanbul when Galatasaray and Fenerbahce go at it and I can tell gory tales about being stabbed in the right buttock by a screaming Turk with the glimmering green neck of a broken bottle.


Then it hits me.  I’m back there, at the Franz Ferdinand hotel on Jetíca, drunk on a wash of sugary Slivovicz out of my mate Slob’s basement, double-vision-staring at bamboo-framed pictures of the Archduke and his bride. The Great War in memory. Thousands of framed photos and rotogravures of Sarajevo as ground zero for the most beautiful loser of all, the failed nation-state of Yugoslavia.  The rip-roar of graphite-tipped bullets from snipers’ bullets. It’s very bizarre, but the Bosnians—whatever their ethnic loyalties and bred-in-the-marrow ambivalence— can cite the most obscure trivia on this great historical  disaster, whether it’s about Franz-Josef, the Archduke and his ruddy, chipmunk-cheeked bride or the Serb hero/assassin, Gavrilo Principe. Bullets pinging like pinballs. A sense memory so specific and relentless that it’s come back to me in the midst of the sex act or while I’ve been lecturing to journo majors. Something akin to the ghost of an amputated leg, I’m guessing, or lifting a corpse’s dead weight, which I’m not guessing about at all. Sarajevo giving me its siren call.


“Belgrade,” I say, “it’s like Tombstone. Red Star against Partizan. Fights. Stabbings. Maniac cops. Fucking brilliant. And cheap.”


“Really? The woman grow beards there under their arms, right?”


“Sure,” I say. And I can tell he’s going to bite. “Absolutely.”


So, six weeks later. I’m supposed to be in Belgrade, but instead I’m surreptitiously ensconced  in the Ottoman section of Sarajevo on the Baskarija, having dinner with my old mucker-cum-lover Slavenka at the Deveri restaurant on the Proke Bakovica, staring up at the stars through the glass-roofed terrace, stuffing my face at Weicker’s expense on Deveri steak, which is this fantastic smoked, thin-rolled veal accompanied by grilled eggplant and cheese. I haven’t seen stars in years. Chicago is too polluted.


Slavenka has the same ol’ same ol’ habits. Gnawing at her cuticles.  Her hazel eyes now own dark mini-saddlebags underneath, but her dark Slavic beauty still both arouses me and fills me with an awkward nostalgia, which, a little voice tells me, is not good.  Half-Serb/half-Bosnian Moslem, she owns the best shit detector for political and military spin I’ve ever encountered.  Willfully unmarried in a macho universe, she still struts around their version of city hall in nine-inch, ankle-strapped stiletto fuck-me shoes and transposes a multiplicity of thespian personas to suit the narcissistic egoismo of whichever frail male ego is the subject of the day. I heard Gwen Ifill say she wears too much makeup, but I say: “When in Sarajevo..” If I hadn’t had her around to wipe my tuchis, box my ears and koegle my overeducated brains out, I’d have starved or been sent home in disgrace, back doing police blotter articles on Friday nights at Cook County.


We finish and walk. Promenade down Obala Kulina band, the old Appel Quay. It’s the broad boulevard that’s the sum parallel to Dealer Plaza. We stop by the Latin Bridge and turn onto Zeleni  Okotki and turn right on the very spot where, on June 28, 1914 Gavrilo Principe, shot the Archduke. And just at the moment my lovely Slavenka lets loose a muffled kind of animal moan,  before placing all fingers over her ruddy lips.


“Jagic,” she says. “I just saw Jagic.”


And off goes the rolodex in my brain. Milutin Jagic, former goalkeeper for FK Sarajevo and Werder Bremen. Arkan’s favorite. The Butcher of Zvornik. Lantern-jawed, 6’4”. A Bosnian-Serb Clark Kent. I had sat with him once in a tavern on the Drina in a village painted brown, like a miniature Hershey, PA, with a paramilitary commander named Vojislav Seseli and listened to them, as, well oiled with Bushmill’s and Hacker-Pschorr chasers, they boasted about the number of  Moslems they had “sent to have a nice chat with Allah!” When another man showed up at our table with three behemoth bodyguards, a  Mr.Raznatovic, I was struck by the absence of mouth in all six. Not a lip in sight, just deep-set eyes that looked like somebody had jammed moist dried prunes deep into their oblong craniums. It was I recall, Slobodan Milosevic’s birthday. “Zivjeli, Slobodan!” we toasted. “Zivjeli!”


“You sure?”


“Daa li izgledam kao da se glup?” she says, which means something like: ‘Do I look stupid?’


“Well, you all look alike,” I laugh.


Slavenka laughs, too, but I’m thinking of the war. The war here which never leaves me, like the mortar shells,  the double-concussion snap of howitzers and sniper fire across the Milijacka.  My translator friend Stojko  talking Heine with me as we dodged through the streets, close to the walls, like a pair of rats.  Sprinting across the Voijvode Putnika accompanied the familiar rattle of automatic splat from AK-47s. Winded, we  light up our Drina cigarettes.  I am guessing, but I think it was the zippo lighter that the sniper zeroed in on. All I remember, simultaneously, was a keening noise from Stojko and  a wet explosion as his brains flew into my eyes and splattered bloody wet all over my face.


“It was Arkan we had dinner with. Zeljko Ratnatovic.” Even his watch was cammy,  I remembered.  The two of us, poisoned by nostalgia. Still too close for comfort to be anything healing or comedic.


“The United Nations has a ten million euro price on his head.” she says.


So we walked back to the hotel with our hands clutched tight. The  white noise of memory and depression. The  béte noir’s teeth are sharp.




Christmas: Paying the Price of Freedom

Monday, February 28, 2011

“The Sunrises are really pretty here.  The sun is actually orange, and seems foreign.  I still only look at it through the scope though.”

Although the sunrises were beautiful on the submarine, the life was extremely harsh.  We were gone 6 to 8 months of the year, every year, and when were are in port we still have to work a duty day every 3 days (a 24 hour workday from 6:30am to 6:30am).  The hardest part about this life was dealing with the holidays.  On December 14, 2010 we went out for a deployment even though Christmas was within 2 weeks.

Monday, December 20, 2010

“Today I woke up and realized Christmas was around the corner.  Normally I would be counting down the days and be looking forward to it, but this year I am not.  Tomorrow we pull into Saipan.  I have duty tomorrow and on Christmas.  This will be a Christmas I will never forget, and not because it was awesome.  The crew had received bags, which contained a movie, a bunch of treats, and a Christmas card, which is a horrible idea when it’s not from someone you know, and you’re not spending Christmas with your family.  On top of that it seemed like the movie was picked from the bargain bin.”

I awoke that dreadful day to a messenger telling me it was 5:30am.  I got up, threw on my coveralls, and headed to crews mess for chow.  The breakfasts were my most hated meal, but we were in port, which meant we had real, fresh eggs.  After breakfast we had our duty meeting.  I didn’t have watch until noon, so I went to my rack and pulled out my Christmas cards my mom had given to me before deployment began.  I had 2 boxes of letters/cards from her.  They were organized with dates on them, so I could open one everyday, and they took care of the holidays, and birthday letters.  The cool thing was that she was able to get most of my extended family to write a lot of these letters.

I opened the first card, from a cousin, she wished me a merry Christmas, and hoped that I was doing well.  I opened the second one, from my brother.  He said he knew what it was like to not be with family for Christmas, and to stay strong on this holiday.  I got a frog in my throat and I held back tears.  I opened the third card, from my mother.  It said, “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were home.”

I closed the card.  Tears were starting to glide down my cheeks.  I put the cards back into the box and decided not to read the rest of them, it was just too hard.  I wiped off my face, I walked out of the sleeping quarters, down the hallway, and up the stairs to the ladder for the hatch.  I climbed out of the hatch, I walked past the 2 topside watch standers, had not said a word, I didn’t pick my head up to look at them, all while hiding my emotions as best I could.  I continued to walk onto the concrete pier.  I found a spot where nobody could see me, and then I broke.  My face flooded with tears.  I looked out over the ocean, but there was nothing, not even hope.  No matter what I wished for or how many times I wished it, I would still be here, alone.

There is a place we all think of where we feel most comfortable, it’s different for all of us, but if there was one place I wanted to be it was home.  Home is a place where you stay wrapped up in your warm blankets on a bed.  Home is a place where you can stay in your room for as long as you want.  Home is a place where you can sit by a fire roasting marshmallows on a Friday night, and enjoying the company of family and friends.  Home is a place where you see and talk to your friends and family, and see their faces everyday.  The days on the submarine are all the same, every week the same routine.  From pizza night on Saturdays, followed by sundae Sundays, and being woken up at 4:30am for morning watch.  I may have lived on a submarine for 4 years, but I will never call this place home.  This lonely, cold concrete pier is not home, and it’s the farthest from home I’ve ever been.  This place is just as dark and cold as the depths of the ocean, but I have to be here, stuck and powerless on Christmas.

I stayed in that spot for 45 minutes.  I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to face the reality that I wouldn’t get to see any of my family members today, and I didn’t want this from Christmas.  I was destroyed, broken down, devastated, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The rest of the day was just a normal day.  I stood watch, I waited for time to go by, then I went to sleep, but I did write another journal entry while I was on watch.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

“Today was rough.  I opened all of the letters and Christmas cards from loved ones, and opened the gift from my mom.  But nothing can make up for not being there.  I’ve watched so many of my days go by.  All of them just a waste of life.  It took a while but I got used to watching my life wash away like that.  I’m numb to duty days, but there are days that are hard to watch go by.  This would be one of those days.  I’ve seen a Thanksgiving go by, I’ve seen a Halloween go by, and now I’ve seen a Christmas go by, and this one hurts the most.”

Because of this day, I learned what it means to have a family, what it means to have their support, and the pain that is caused by spending the holidays without them.  I will never forget this day, or the memory of the pain I went through.  I will never spend another holiday alone.


Dear Daddy

Dear Daddy,

Hi daddy! This is your little girl.

I’m all grown up now, but still yours.


I don’t know that much about you, except that you didn’t stay.

I’ve never known if this was true or just what people say.


I’ve always wondered what you look like, since no one has a picture.

They say that I’m your twin, I look nothing like my mom or sisters.


Mom says you played the guitar, that you were sweet, and very gentle.

That must be where I get it from, I can be so sentimental.


You’ve taught me so much in your absence, like how to be okay without you.

I can fall down ten times, but get right back up because that’s what I’ve learned how to.


I’ve done so much with my life since you’ve been gone. You’d be so very proud.

I’ve become an excellent mom, gone to college with honors, and just like you with your guitar, I can steal a crowd.


My sister used to tell me, before she passed away,

that if you heard me sing for just one second you’d be here to stay.

She told me that you loved me, even if you don’t know how.

That one day if we meet, you’d be sorry for your doubts.


I’ll be one year older soon, and there’s nothing I want more,

than to meet you and to hug you, and no longer wonder what I’m looking for.


I have a little girl now too, and her father isn’t here.

For her to feel what I’ve felt all this time is one of my greatest fears.


Sure, she’ll probably be okay. I turned out just fine.

I’m happy and unbroken and I’ve stood the test of time.


But my worry is not what will happen if you or her father are not there.

It’s what could she be, what could I have been, if life wasn’t so unfair?


You see, we didn’t ask for this. To live the life of the forsaken.

It’s not our choice, but yours and his to be so sadly mistaken.


I’m not asking you for much, and I don’t expect your love.

I just want to meet you, that will be enough.


To see your face and feel your touch, that is my elixir.

No one knows, not even her, why the love she’s never had can always fix her.


College – the Best Way for Your Future


“Those who claim education is a waste of time are missing the bigger picture” (Hrabowski 259). College is extremely important for gaining success, wealth, and power. After a lot of work by community members to give everyone the right to attend college, many people don’t value it. Too many people don’t understand the power and purpose of a good education. Today, many young people only want to be an athlete or a rapper instead of being a teacher, a lawyer, or a business leader. Many people think that a college degree is not the only or the easiest way to be successful in life. Even some people claim college is for suckers because it is expensive and does not always prepare for the world of work. With many difficulties for choosing a good and suitable college education such as school selectivity, field of study and career, and graduation rates, some think a college degree is likely not the best investment for everyone’s future. These difficulties are not challenges, but opportunities for you to try to get what you want and try to become what you need to be for your future. Besides the enormous economic benefit, college is the best way for everyone to prepare for their freedom and power, regardless of one’s background.

Fortunately, college is a good option for everyone regardless of one’s background. No matter if you are smart or not. In his article “Hidden Intellectualism”, Gerald Graff explains why he thinks college is for everyone. First because of hating books, when he was young, Graff thinks he was not smart and able to study in college, but by reading the sport magazines, he recognized his hidden intellectualism and sports was a foundation for his later intellectual studies in critical reading and analytical writing in college. Both smart students and weaker students are equally important to being a foundation for academic life. College education helped Graff explore a type of analysis and this taught him how to argue, to explain the other’s views, and to generalize what people think in the endless analysis of sports teams and sports games. Now he can see the parallels between the sports and academic worlds (267- 69). Graff suggests that “street smarts” can often be intellectual and those who are only street smart have the abilities to shine academically. Everyone is able to go to college, explore their abilities, and learn useful things for their future. There are many advisors willing to spend countless hours advising prospective students. In “College Prepare People for Life” Freeman Hrabowski writes, “Higher education must continue to partner with school systems to prepare more students for college” (261). In other words, if you don’t know what major is suitable for your ability or for your future jobs, you can come and talk to the college advisors. This means there is no excuse for someone not to come to college. It is important to remember that college is always an open door for both smart and weaker students to come and get the amount of substantial opportunities.

Although the cost of American higher education is not cheap, college education is relevant for not only high-income students, but also low-income students. One strength of the American higher education system is the diversity of missions among the 4,700 colleges and universities.  Hrabowski advises, “Students should estimate the net costs, looking carefully at expenses and anticipated grants and loans” (260). He emphasizes that students should not pledge to study subjects that are not suitable and a waste of time and money. They have to decide where to go to learn and which career to do. Students can find institutions—public and private, two-year and four-year—for just about any educational plan and budget. Besides, government at all levels has come close to supporting colleges to decrease the cost of college. Also, low-income students can apply to selective schools that they are qualified to attend—and they can be eligible for generous financial aid. Financial aid, scholarships, grants, and loans are always available to help more students attend college. Consequently, college is the best place for everyone, regardless of one’s background.

In addition, getting a college degree is the smartest way to invest in your future finances. In a difficult economy, in most fields, employers tend to hire and pay more money to people who have at least a college degree. So, college graduates have more chances than high school graduates to earn money. Even though there are some differences among majors, it is still easier to get jobs with higher expected salaries and good benefits to greatly improve your financial prospects if you have graduated from college. In addition, the imbalance of earnings between college and high school graduates will increase year after year. According to the Hamilton Project in “Should Everyone Go to College” written by Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill reports, “23 to 25 year olds with bachelor’s degree make $12,000 more than high school graduates but by age 50, the gap has grown to $46,500″ (211). In 25 years, the gap between the earning of college graduates and high school graduates will be $34,500. If you keep working, it will increase more. Which one do you want: to work with a high school diploma or to continue studying and getting a college degree? In addition, Michelle Obama—First Lady of the United States—also emphasizes in “Bowie State University Commencement Speech” that college graduates or higher can earn nearly three times more than high school dropouts to encourage young people to continue their education after high school. It is unlikely that college graduates are unemployed. Making more money helps people with a college degree be happier and live longer than those without (291). All aspects of life are better with a college degree. Earning and having money for a better future is everyone’s dream. A college degree will help your dreams come true.

Moreover, by improving your skills, college education will open more high-paying jobs opportunities to enter the competitive economy. This is the best way to prepare for your future finances. Now, it is easier to get good jobs with a liberal arts degree because, according to Sanford J. Ungar in his article “The New Liberal Arts”, our nation’s employers are looking for workers to be critical and flexible, and to be able to solve problems professionally and independently. These skills are taught in liberal art education in colleges (228). In other words, people with liberal arts degrees have critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills and have more opportunities for high-paying jobs than those without. Also, Hrabowski mentions the requirement of a college degree, “College graduates are much more likely to be employed than those with only a high school diploma and earn substantially higher salaries” (260). In a globally competitive economy, people who have at least a college degree will be the winners in finding good and high salary jobs. In contrast, for high school graduates, getting jobs is harder and harder, especially high-paying jobs. Spending your time, your money, and your efforts for better finances is worthwhile and necessary.

Furthermore, college is a good return on investment for your future finances. Comparing the average upfront costs of four years of college and the sum of earnings over a career, Owen and Sawhill call investing in college is a tremendous return. They are right. $102,000 of tuition plus opportunity costs for four years is a small number compared with $570,000—the sum of earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree (211). It means you can save $468,000. This good profit is the best reason that you should go to college now. Some people choose to work after high school because they want to earn money to support themselves and their families. When they just focus on earning money immediately, they don’t know that they are losing money in the long run they could get with a college degree. Thus, people should understand that investing in your finances means going to college.

Additionally, the best way to get freedom from oppression and power is a college education. Getting freedom was African Americans’ dream in the past. Hrabowski says, “When we focus so heavily on monetary inputs and outputs, we ignore the question of what it truly means to be educated, such as contributing to the public good” (260). Having education means people can get more money, but it is not enough. Education helps the public good because educated people will be better citizens. For example, crime rates are reduced and political participation rate is higher when we have more education (Owen and Sawhill 210). These things help you fight oppression and get freedom. College education makes freedom possible. African Americans’ freedom is one of the examples of college education causing freedom from oppression. According to Obama, in many parts of this country it was not legal for black people to get an education. Knowing education is a way to receive freedom, African Americans decided to get what they needed to succeed in this country. Even though there were many challenges, past generations tried their best to study to get excellent college degrees. Getting education means getting freedom. Also, it means now they have more chances to read books, share their informed opinions, and take their rightful place as full citizens in this country (288-90). A high education helps them fulfill their knowledge and improve their skills, so they find more freedom to voice their opinions, set their own rules, and create their own things. Therefore, freedom from oppression is one important reason for everyone to attend college and get a degree.

Furthermore, gaining a college degree means gaining more power. It means civil rights and political empowerment. For example, this was known by Dr. King, who argued against segregation, and was a leader of the civil right movement (Obama 290). This was also known by Walter Sondheim, who had received a strong grounding in the liberal-arts and ability to think broadly after graduating from college. He became the most admired civic leader in Maryland. He was an active leader in desegregation (Hrabowski 262). Also, President Barack Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. College helped him to improve his knowledge and meet other influential people. A college degree also helped him gain the respect of others and become a successful and powerful president of the U.S. Hence, college education not only gives you more knowledge and skills, but also helps you get the freedom and power that you need to succeed in life.

All of this suggests that it is absolutely right to tell young people, regardless of background, that going to college—any college—is the best decision they can make for their finances, for getting freedom, and for power. If you choose wisely and attend a school with generous financial aid and high expected earnings, and if you don’t just enroll, but graduate, you can greatly improve your lifetime prospects. The global economy is becoming increasingly more competitive, and in order to give yourself the best chance for high-paying jobs, for earning and saving more money, and for getting more power and freedom, you need to understand the importance of college education. A college degree is not the only way, but it is one of the best ways to prepare for your future.