Ponder me


Ponder me

Shanta Lee

Shanta Lee Gander is an artist and multi-faceted professional in areas of marketing, management, event planning, and other areas.    As an artist, her endeavors include bellydance, writing prose/poetry/articles, and photography. 


Shanta’s projects includes a photography collaboration, Perfect Imperfection (storieswetellphotography.com)with photographer Liz LaVorgna (www.lizlavorgna.com) and organizing the Slow Living Summit with the Strolling of the Heifers.


Shanta has an MBA and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality and serves on the Brattleboro Community Television (BCTV) board and is the President of the Arts Council of Windham County Board.  Her writing has been featured in Rebelle Society and on the Ms. Magazine Blog. 


Shanta and her many ponderings can be heard in her weekly radio segment,

PonderThis, featured on Chris Lenois’s Green Mountain Mornings on 100.3 FM/1490 AM WKVT. 


Shanta is also the co-founder of  WildlyCreative.World, a site dedicated to helping individuals seek and find their creativity through various paths.  “The more I feed my creativity, the more I unzip my wild and become more me.”

The text in this column is © copyright Shanta L. Evans-Crowley, all rights reserved.

Material is also copyright, layout and images, by Vermont Views Magazine.

Permissions to reproduce some or all material can be made to


The Unexpected Gift We All Received From President Trump

It is inevitable to not think about the reality show and horror unzipping on our political stage in America.   But perhaps the good that comes out of Trump’s presidency is a connection with that we’ve lost long ago… community.  Community is a concept that has become a wraith due to changes in American life throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  However, I’ve noticed a rebirth over the past couple of months given our mass disillusionment.

“Don’t Talk to Strangers” & The Dismantling of Community

As a young adult I made the promise to break the “don’t talk to strangers” rule that was drilled into me as a child. I have often enjoyed sharing laughs, listening to stories, or just having a random exchange as I went about my day.  Admittedly, most of theSE exchanges happened between myself and a store clerk, a barista, or with individuals as we journeyed to our separate destinations.  

At some point, most of those engagements with passers by stopped.  Either we were each in our own world, or became subconsciously infected with the post 9/11 world.  Even if you are not a news junkie, most of us noticed how we became silo’d over time based upon our changing society. My parents always talked about the all-seeing eye in their generation within the context of a neighborhood.

Growing up in Hartford, CT, the concept of knowing all of our neighbors or playing outside until the streetlights came on was over. This continued to echo through a series of focus groups I once witnessed a decade ago. The common theme among parents of various ages, cultures and neighborhoods was the lack of safety and feeling like the concept of community was a thing of the past. 

At some point, because the boogyman could have been any one of us, we stopped talking to each other, refused to look each other in the eyes, or exchange a smile.  Because I grew up in a city, I was taught that all casual encounters were dangerous thus baring a grin was not a good idea.   

Of course, media has not helped the concept of community either.  Most of us remember the iconic kidnapping van featured in many 80’s movies.  Today, many real-life crime shows like Nightmare Next Door, Stalked:  Someone’s Watching, House of Horrors:  Kidnapped, or  Fear Thy Neighbor encourage us to remain terrified of the person unknown while resurrecting fears of the familiar.

Shared Fears, Shared Sleep

Amidst all of these shared fears was a feeling of comfort and a hushed sleep that swept over us. We could assume that we all shared the same political beliefs or values due to being spoiled by eight years with Former President Barack Obama.  Sure, there were still many global tragedies, but home still felt like home.  We could continue to silo because after all, the person next door believed what we believed.


In fact, we would have been headed down the same road of comforts had Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders became President.  But something changed that jolted us out of sleep and comfort when Donald J. Trump became President. And perhaps, it is both the best and scariest thing that has happened to America. 

Now that Linus has Lost his Blanket: The Path Back to Community?

I don’t need to list the horrors given what we know of President Trumps first week in office.  However, I do want to shine the light on the good that came out of all of this now that Linus (all of us) has lost his blanket.  I noticed that individuals crossed the divides of their silos to talk to each other.  One of my friends (among many) has started an action group that meets regularly while another friend has been organizing weekly community potlucks.  Others traveled down to DC and continue to have conversations about actions they can take. 

Many of us are engaging in the simple act of talking to each other.

This week alone, whether it was a passing comment I made to a friend in a parking lot, or being brave enough to ask someone if I could share their table at the local co-op, my random engagements with strangers returned. This time with an air of needing to connect, laugh together at the ridiculous nature of things, exchange smiles, or perhaps try to find meaning.

Maybe it is the fact that we find ourselves in a nightmare and we are trying to help each other escape.  Perhaps it is a sense of having a shared boogyman that has brought about this feeling of camaraderie.  One thing that has become clear to me is the unexpected outcome of the Presidential elections—rediscovering community, talking to our neighbors, and perhaps capturing an important lesson from our long slumbering as a nation.

From Self-Immolation to Hashtag Activism: What Is Activism in the Age of Social Media?

I recently participated in an online conversation about race and class.  Within this virtual dialogue, someone challenged us with a response, “We need to do something beyond the talking”.  The comment echoed my quandary about activism in this age of social media:  is activism alive? Have we traded in protesting in the streets for keyboards and hashtags?


On January 20, thousands (perhaps millions) will march in Washington D.C. in reaction to Trump’s presidency.   Activism over the past decade has included the Million Man March, the March to Save Women’s Lives in response to the Bush administration, and the Occupy Movement in 2011 in response to economic inequality.  The Dakota pipeline inspired many to take a stand against environmental and cultural injustice.


Alongside of all of these efforts was the rise of online activism.  This included everything from individuals changing their profile pictures to match the flag of a specific country as an act of solidarity to what is being referred to as hashtag activism.   I witnessed an example of social media activism during the protests in Dakota.  Several of my Facebook friends updated their statuses by “checking-in” at Standing Rock as a symbolic gesture for the protesters.  I shared my observation with my partner while exclaiming “How is changing a Facebook status doing something?!”  I posed the question yet I did not join the protest or post anything on my social media about it.


For those of us viewing these actions with skepticism, a Washington Post article by Tanya Sichynsky outlined some of the ways that hashtaging on Twitter has been used as a vehicle for many to use their voice:


o   27,200,000 individuals united around what was happening in Ferguson;


o   Virtual storytelling connected to personal experiences with sexism, rape, and abuse was shared via #YesAllWomen in reaction to the Elliot Rodger murders in California;


o   The use of #BlackLivesMatters by 12,000,000 eventually became an organization which is establishing chapters and actions around the country;


o   In response to the historic Supreme Court ruling, 12,800,000 shared their support using an emoji alongside of #LoveWins.


The numbers are impressive and there is an argument to be made about having a sense of belonging within a group even if it is virtual.  But it isn’t in every instance that an organization is formed in response to the volume of voices online, so what next?   Perhaps the better question is how to make sense of all of the choices of activism available to us?


Caught Between Gen X and Y:  A Brief Transformation of Activism


In 2001, one of my first jobs was with Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.  My role involved employing interns from universities across Connecticut and teaching them how to engage with other students through activism.  These interns were taught everything from how to use letter writing campaigns, craft letters to the editor, to using events as vehicles for change. 


Other strategies included tabling, phone banking, burma shaves, and other tactics in service of inspiring activism on their campuses.   While teaching these interns about engagement, I also had to be an activist.  Doing something included setting up appointments with local or state representatives, writing testimony to deliver before a legislative committee, and/or arranging press conferences to raise the profile of an issue.


Eighteen years later, I teach groups of high school students about various social justice issues.  I encourage them to think about action while trying to understand sexism, race, class, or xenophobia among the daily horrors often reported internationally.  Yet, the first action we’ve taken is through our learning and discourse about these various difficult topics.

So what, now what?


This week has opened with the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and closes with the inauguration of President elect Donald J. Trump.  As we reflect upon the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and grapple with how to respond to the sociopolitical confusion in America, there is something we can’t overlook while examining the concept of activism. 

In the early 1960’s a continuum of action included the symbolic non-violent lunch counter demonstrations in Greensboro, NC and individuals like Norman Morrison,  a Quaker who set himself on fire in protest to the Vietnam War.    We can choose to discount symbolic action and silence the millions who may never take action through protest or we can denounce those who put their bodies on the line in the name of activism.

Or we can truly honor one of history’s most courageous freedom fighters by trying to find the balance between direct and symbolic action.  Our possible spectrum of action includes taking a chance of being injured by rubber bullets to protect a pipeline, contributing ten dollars to a go fund me cause, risking arrest, tear gas, or death to protest police brutality, participating in an ice bucket challenge to raise awareness about cancer, joining millions to share a hashtag, and/or bearing witness through creating art.  There is no clear bridge between these shades of activism because they bleed into each other in ways that are complicated. 

Thus, it is not an either or but when and how we will rise to the occasion.

The Cautionary Tales of Shiny New Places

Our travels to various cities for the holidays has officially ended and I find myself struggling with being home.   On this particular drizzly wet, cold, grey day, I replayed our trips and a lesson of life that I often need to revisit.  The places that we travel to in life are novel because we don’t truly inhabit them. 

During our last night in New York, our friend shared a cautionary tale that served as a hearty reminder of this fact.   She explained that every morning, she employed a babysitter to take her daughter to school so that she could take at least two trains to get to work on time.  The evening commute included more or less of the same and became further complicated if she wanted to see friends.  “This city does not give you space!” she exclaimed.  She elaborated that limited “space” amidst the hustle, bustle and buzz of the city meant that one had minimal time to enjoy life or make art unless they had the financial means to do so.  “You are either working OR an artist but not both.”

When we first arrived in New York, it was the same grey wet cold weather and nine days before Christmas.  I stood outside of a building not sure if this was the right destination for a hair braiding salon on West 125th in Harlem.  A shabby older man with his bags made his way past where I was standing.  He stopped short of McDonalds and tucked himself into a corner off to the right with his back turned to the street.  Within minutes I heard the sound of him urinating while mumbling to himself. I was amused and in that moment wondered why I would have been more disgusted with this scene if it were Brattleboro?  I chided myself for finding public urination novel in New York as opposed to my current home city. 

Over the past few weeks, my partner and I have been debating about this: how do individuals seek meaning within their daily lives in various environments?   I argued that bigger cities for instance offered more options.  He countered that despite the addition of options, it was still the same thing-the desire for that which seems different and shiny.

Over the past eight years of being in Brattleboro, I’ve had moments of being enchanted and disappointed by Brattleboro.  The heroin epidemic was not helping, nor the fact that when events did take place they seemed to all be happening at the same time.  While living here, I became involved with several non-profits in an effort to create more of what I wanted to see or experience.  Yet even after all of that, I still wanted more. 

But more of what exactly?

It was my time in Connecticut this past weekend that reminded me that the desire for a new place would be the same no matter where I was living.  I had a brief appreciation for my home city of Hartford which provided seemingly shiny experiences.   Friday evening, we went to The Russell, where everyone who attended exhibited a range of personal style with a level of sophistication that I missed seeing regularly.   On Saturday night, were where faced with numerous options for New Years Eve celebrations until we chose a club that included 3-4 DJs all playing different music on 3-4 floors within a particular club.

However, once we emerged from our Sunday slumber, the shine wore off.  As we walked the streets of Downtown Harford, my appreciation transformed into frustration.  Most things were closed as they would be on any Sunday in Downtown Hartford.  As we walked the vacant streets I confessed to my partner, “I also complained when I lived here.  Sure there are more choices than are in Brattleboro, but there were just more options to complain about. “ 

I further acknowledged that it was indeed true “The same shit, no matter where you go.”

As I end this piece surrounded by a rainy, cold, grey day in Brattleboro, I am reminded of the epiphany I had years about the ways we construct being stuck in our “here” versus the fantasy of being “there.”  It is similar to the cautionary reminder we received while in New York.  We create mental or physical escapes to places we call “there” whether they are cabins in the woods or vacations.  That certainly rings true as I try to escape the view of the former crack house across the street in the front of our apartment or the trailer park just beyond our backyard now exposed due to the bare tree branches.  I find more frustration than beauty on this wet grey day mixed with the blessing and curse of having a lifelong restless spirit. 

Yet, my inner wisdom knows that no matter where one is….the mundane “here” where you end up was once the exciting or glamorous “there” you wanted to escape to.  I once excitedly looked forward to escaping to Brattleboro every weekend over 8 years ago to escape the concrete jungle of Hartford, CT.    And the truth is I can fantasize or plan trips to some far-off “there” or I can remember what made here so special in the first place.

2016:  The Year of It is What it Is

For years I would review and christen each year as it left and a new year entered.   But 2016 has certainly thrown me for a loop.   What can one possibly say to the year that has brought us Pokemon Go, Allepo, cyber hacks, Brexit, the death of American Idol (it is okay if you missed this one), countless lifeless black bodies as a result of an encounter gone wrong with law enforcement, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series after a drought that lasted more than 100 years, the rise of a reality television star business mogul as America’s President, and the deaths of several greats in our popular culture (just to name a few events from this year).

As an attempt to help me in my quest, I posed a question on social media a few weeks ago about 2016 asking individuals the following: — If you were to write 2016 an open letter or perhaps have a conversation with it over a dinner table, what do you want to say to it?

It is hard to know what I would craft in a letter to 2016 but I want to share a short vignette of how I recalled the birth of 2016 which may earn it the theme of the Year of It Is What It Is:  For better, worse, and a reign of indifference.  As 2015 was slipping away, I recalled the scene that seemed or felt just as surreal as the ending of 2014.  As 2014 bowed out, I was tucked away on a hill in a McMansion with one of my best friends, her daughter and her daughter’s friends as we all took delight in feasting while playing host to a small pack of teens who seemed to know more about how to usher in a new year more than we did. 

Within the last hour of 2015, I sat across from another best friend in the kitchen of my nest in Brattleboro, VT.  She chose to bring in the New Year chanting Buddhist prayers while wrapped in one of my cozy throws.  I was sitting directly across from her in an 80’s styled sweatshirt, hot pants, and tall house socks while on the phone with another dear friend who called me so we could ring in 2016 styled with equal doses of cynical and sarcastic predictions.  As the clock turned from 11:59 to midnight, he exclaimed, “That’s it Shanta….it is all over now…..we are all fucked!”

I laughed hysterically at this scene filled with incongruent images paired with what my friend said.  I still wonder at how on target he was as I responded to him that night saying “Come on don’t you think things are going to be different? Aren’t you hopeful?”   Moments after ending the phone call, my other friend and I cranked up some music and decided to have our own private dance party to enjoy the moment.   That question I asked my friend just before leaving the conversation was temporarily placed on time’s shelf but it occasionally returned throughout 2016 to haunt me in some way. 

Every year around mid to late December, we seem to put weight on the changing of the calendar year to deliver us from the darkness of what we have endured over the past 12 months as opposed to just accepting that life is just unfolding as it always does with a recurrence of themes—births, deaths, epiphanies, reclamation, etc.  I am still trying to make sense amidst the maelstrom of experiences but 2016 kept reminding me that sometimes things just are.   And while I do hate the phrase that seems to be without an origin, “It Is what it is,” 2016 seems to be the very epitome of that idiom as we try to come to terms with varying levels of acceptance of all of the realities that have unzipped. 

As we move through attempting to open ourselves to what it is….perhaps we can make room to create an open letter to 2017 through our intentions.  How might we want things to be different?  Even if the difference involves just accepting the inevitable timeless cycles of life. 

Intangible Things = Intangible Human Relationships

Think for a moment about the last time you encountered a steady stream of people, places or things you could touch?  In other words, when is the last time things felt tangible in your life?  Before I get into my point, I want you to consider the following:

oThe last time you purchased a CD or album rather than just download it to a play list?

oTalked to an actual person first (or second) when making a call to a business or company?

oThe last time you purchased a movie or a series you liked as opposed to just watching it on Hulu, YouTube or Netflix?

oSat down to talk to a friend face-to-face or through an extended telephone call as opposed to Skyping, sending a message on social media or text?

oUsed the phone to make a quick phone call or have a quick visit as opposed to using Snapchat to convey a moment?

oHeld a hand written or typed letter as opposed to a print-off of a long email?

oEncountered numerous files (with actual folders) that were more than just numerous desktop files on a computer?

oLooked through a photo album in your hands as opposed to viewing a digital photo album?

oHad several magazines in your house on your coffee table or a daily/weekly newspaper as opposed to flipping through the articles on your computer?

oWore a watch, had a visible clock in your house, or used a calculator as opposed to relying on your cell phone for these things?

oResearched anything that involved something other than using Google?  In other words…when is the last time you searched through sources using primary sources that you actually held in your hands?

oPurchased a hard or soft cover book as opposed to adding the book to your virtual library on your kindle?

oRelied on a review by word –of-mouth as opposed to relying on what you read in an online review site?

oEncountered a potential date or hook-up by a real-life chance encounter as opposed to using Match.com, Tinder.com, E-Harmony, or any dating or hook-up sites of the moment?

oUsed a cookbook or recipe card as opposed to looking a recipe up online?

I’ve been thinking about how intangible our lives have become for some time and in many ways some of these changes add convenience.  For example, we can instantly connect with individuals in other countries or find anything we want to experience through our computer screens within minutes. 

But is our intangible society (as I described in my questions above) a slick road to hollow and intangible human relationships?

In many ways, we have become the disposable society.  Accustomed to a script that illustrates that things don’t withstand the test of time, so why bother with encountering items that we would have to maintain in any way?  With a digital photo album, for example, you don’t have to be concerned about keeping the condition of your photos.  With reading your book via the kindle, you don’t have to worry about a damaged book spine or creased pages.

Arguably, the changes that I mentioned are things that add ease to our complicated lives.  It is easier to do research using Google than using a card catalogue at a library or flipping through an encyclopedia.  It is quicker to send a text to a friend or perhaps use Snapchat to capture a moment as opposed to making a phone call that may take more than a minute.   

In other ways, our intangible virtual lives inspire us to think differently about the concept of personal ownership or what it means to have a collection of items.  For example, I can have a virtual music collection of 4,000 songs on my computer as opposed to having 4,000 records or CDs.    These songs are all easy to copy and share with friends while allowing me to be worry-free about the physical condition of the music I’ve collected.

Our lives have become more digital in varying ways.  Yet in a culture that is experiencing the rise of instant quick hook-ups brought to you by Tinder (A wham and a Bam with little hello and not much thank you) or Snapchat in which a shared moment disappears after 10 seconds, what is one to think about the condition of human relationships?

I am not saying we need handwritten letters to make a come back and perhaps we will not be able to make time for a 30 minute phone call to catch up with a friend (remember, you can just send a text).  Yet, as we have less physical access to people, places and things in our environment, as our ability to touch becomes mediated by more screens, the intimacy of human relationships has become intangible. 

Change and so-called progress will continue and we do have a say in the matter.  We can mindlessly participate in these shifts and ignore how our ability or capacity for human relationships is dwindling.  Or we can use this opportunity to explore what this might mean in the next evolution of human relationship.  After all, this is impermanence at its best.  And maybe we can find a path to each other even if it involves our screens.

We’ve Come Undone:  Our Gender Problem


While flipping through the pages of this week’s New York Times Fashion Magazine, I became transfixed by an androgynous blank face staring back at me.  This particular model appeared several more times with the same unchanged expression in a Spartan fashion shoot accompanied by the words,  “She’s Come Undone.”  The title and photographs added to my observations about the current state of gender in America.  The truth is that we are all becoming undone amidst the debate over gender especially as we engage language in our attempt to erase categories. 

Private spheres of confusion

My eyes adjusted to the image of a young face in short hair dressed soft pinks and blues while trying to figure out if I was looking at a woman or a man.  My internal questioning did not negate my appreciation of the androgynous presentation of the traditionally gendered colors pink and blue.  In one frame, a pale pink shirtdress hung off of the model’s body in a stance that was not wholly feminine with a hint of street masculinity.   

By today’s standards, I am wrong for questioning the categories of this image yet my mind continues to raise the question.  Who am I looking at?

[Image: New York Times, Photographer Martin Perlaki]

The photographs reminded me of an early 90’s Duran Duran song, “Come Undone.”  Perhaps there is no connection yet the music video provides the perfect visual to our state of being undone around gender.   Among the disparate images within this particular music video, we see a guy in a suit and tie tugging off his coat mid-stride.  In another shot, he rips off his tie and unbuttons the pinstripe shirt to expose a black lacy slip.  The scene ends with the guy in a red dress and red lipstick that he begins to smear all over his face.

He has become undone.  The young figure in the fashion magazine is undone (at least according to the title), and we are currently all in various states of unrest around gender.  By day, we attempt to adapt by using the ever-changing and expanding pronouns  and phrases.  By night, we express our frustration or confusion in private conversations.  It is not the new discourse that is the problem but the lack of space to talk about our challenges with it.


So what is all the fuss and discomfort?

Amidst the attempts to expand our language we won’t name the elephant in the room.   It looks something similar to me trying to identify the face and body I was seeing for no other purpose than to try to just make sense of who I was seeing.

It should be straight forward for someone like me.  I earned an undergraduate degree in Gender Studies, worked for Planned Parenthood for 8.5 years, and currently teach  social justice to high school students.  Yet, I have attachments to old fashioned gender roles that would get me shamed in the new millennium’s public square.

The first moment of admitting my complex feelings around all of this started a few years ago.  During a conversation, I became offended because the individual talking to me referred to me as a “cis female.” I was afraid to protest against the use of the term while recognizing that the person was just adhering to the new language around gender.  I used the energy from my frustration to explore what others were thinking in regards to gender and the new language.

Some individuals have shared that it was generational.  One person in particular stated, “I still want to be able to say I am a woman!”  For her, it was about the freedom of continuing to use the male or female categories she’s been accustomed to for most of her life.  Many protest that not using the proper pronouns is invalidating the reality for the individuals wishing to be seen and heard. 

One could step away from all of this and say that it is the growing pains of change.  Whenever a culture shift takes place, it takes a while to emotionally and psychologically adapt.  Yet I’ve witnessed a simultaneous expansion and increased constraint about how we navigate gender.  For example:

oMen expressing their dismay over holding a door for some women who exclaim “I don’t need you to hold the door for me just because I am a woman.  I can hold my own door!”

oA few years ago I expressed to a few individuals that I wanted a male to escort me home if it was too late at night because I was feeling unsafe.  I was chastised because my statement was too closely tied to a traditional approach to gender;

oMy friends challenged or saddened when they are admonished for mistakenly using phrases or terms in social situations like ‘Goodbye ladies,’ ‘Hey guys,’ or mistakenly using the wrong pronoun when trying to share a story.

oMen expressing their upset feeling like they have to apologize for their masculinity because it is too rooted in archaic gender ideology that the current language is trying to dismantle.

Of course I have many other stories sprinkled with the confusion that many of us are facing but seem to feel like we can’t discuss in this environment. 

Were we supposed to become this edgy in trying to relate to each other?  Change can’t always be comfortable.  However, in an attempt to create more space and acceptance, it is resulting in frustration that is being ignored.   The style guide on how we relate to each other has been revised yet we can’t express anything other than acceptance.

The new language of gender is also attached to a message of admonishment.  For those who are having trouble getting with the program, you are the problem.  In other words, if you are having a challenging time with all of this, you must be against progress, or worse, involved in oppression.  As a result, no one is actually talking about it.

So What? Now What?

As I always like to say, it is not an either/or but an and.  We can use language and many other things in our culture to expand the gender categories while creating space to express how we really feel about change.  We can talk about dismantling the gender binary and admit that for some of us, it is like Linus’s blanket—warm, cozy, and familiar. 

We are in a cultural gender transition but according to who?  I’ve been talking about the metamorphosis of gender with my partner.  He made a sharp distinction, “I  doubt that too many young adults in the trailer parks are talking about what their gender category might be tonight.  This seems to be a conversation among the educated children of the upper class.” 

He made a sound point.  This was never a topic of conversation for my friends who teach inner city children.  These children and their families were more concerned with other needs on Maslow’s hierarchy.  Those of us talking about this miss the point that we have the privilege of having this conversation due to the benefit of class and/or education.  My Gender Studies undergraduate degree and six dollar Sunday New York Times afforded me the ability to see such an ad and take the time to write about it.  In some place else not so far from here, someone might see this rant, wonder why we are so undone around gender and rightfully say, “Who cares?  I have to worry about feeding my children tonight.”

Perhaps we should stop throwing around new language.  Stop pretending that it is creating change when it has become a linguistic playground or a discourse arcade for the privileged few.

If we are truly are liberated from gender, then we can express the complexities of our human existence that goes beyond new categories, language, and behaviors. 

Moonlight or “I, too, Am America” for a New Era? 

I’ve been eager to see Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins partially because of all of the praise and buzz about it that I witnessed in the various news outlets.  About a week ago, I was inspired to view the Moonlight movie trailer on YouTube  because of the large movie promo in the New York Times which had an image of a Black man holding a Black boy as if he was saving him from drowning.  I was curious and of course wanted to see how this movie might be different from other movies that presented main characters who were of color.


As the days passed, seeing the movie got filed away onto some distant to-do list until the night of Thanksgiving.  My partner’s 87-year old mother mentioned it as we were bringing dinner to a close, “Moonlight is playing at the Latchis.  I have been curious about going to see it.”  I was both surprised by her curiosity and excited because this was my chance to put a plan into motion.  By Friday, we were all solidifying the plan to see a Sunday matinee showing of Moonlight.


We arrived around 1:40 p.m. piling into the smaller theater of the Latchis and I watched others file in after us as the start time of the movie approached.  After a few minutes, the theater darkened and the movie started.   One of the first characters we are introduced to is Chiron running from some afterschool bullies and the drug dealer who rescues him from his hideout in an abandoned apartment building.   


I was immediately hooked by the placement of the music described as a “Piano and Violin poem” constructed by composer Nicholas Britell amidst various scenes of boys attempting to carve out their place in the world as young men.  I also took note of the use of silence, movement and the overall portraiture of each character.  The movie asks us to both witness and inhabit Chiron’s world in three main acts of his struggle towards identity.


Alongside all of this, I noticed the familiar use of language, clothing, and various settings reminiscent of a few of the realities I encountered growing up in Hartford, CT.  As the only person of color in the audience, there were immediate questions that surfaced while watching the film,


•   How are non-black audience members receiving this story?  Are there things about the language or imagery that reinforce a certain stereotype of education, class, or race in America?

•   In what way is this adding to the coming of age narrative or the tapestry of the pipeline from boyhood to manhood in America?  Yes, the cast of characters included all black actors and actresses, but is there a way of really seeing and experiencing this movie as one of the many realities in current America as opposed to a specific reality specific to a group?


In some ways, the movie invites us into the lull of our stereotypes about black manhood while also dismantling our preconceived notions.  We learn that Juan (the drug dealer who becomes the surrogate father to Chiron) is originally from Cuba and he hints to other possible world experience as he tells Chiron “You can find black people all over the world.”  Additionally, early in the movie, Juan takes Chiron out to swim.  We are immersed in the water along with Chiron who is  learning how to swim for the first time in the ocean.  I watched this image thinking about all of the jokes about Black Americans and the aversion or fear of swimming.   Yet, the way water is used throughout the film offers glimpses of the character attempting to seek it out as a spiritual vehicle.  Will he drown himself in it or find himself?  Or is it a pathway to freedom? 


The last question directly connects to a mythic piece Black history related to a slave ship landing on St. Simons Island in Georgia.  According to the story, upon landing and discovering they were abducted and taken to America to become slaves, this particular group of West Africans decided to walk into the marshes and drown rather than remain in captivity.  How much are the scenes of water about Chiron hoping to find himself if he just leaves his inner torment and allow the water to take him?


I listened to the language as it was a vehicle bringing us into the reality of these characters.  I recalled all of the times that I got in trouble at home for using improper English and how I was reminded that in order to be in the world, I must always show signs of my education.  The stern teaching at home earned a lot of teasing from my peers who asserted that I was somehow different or  “was not really Black” given my lack of slang or local dialect in my speaking.


My inner dialogue about the use of language in Moonlight  reminded me of the criticism that Langston Hughes once received for a book of poems.  When Hughes  debuted  Fine Clothes to the Jew  in 1927, Black intellectuals expressed their dismay over the use of  a certain type of Black dialect which included broken or improper English.  


I wondered if these audiences across America (including this present one) would leave the theater with their comfort zones and stereotypes in tact.   In other words, alongside the craft of the film, would the audience bring along proof that “those people” did indeed live that way and talk like that?  Am I a part of the problem for considering this question or feeling a sense of shame or guilt for this piece of Black America being shown—fatherless boys, the community’s homophobia, single mothers on drugs, the pervasiveness of living conditions that force young boys to find their manhood in the streets?  And why can’t this just be one of the many pieces of our America?  Not a Black America or a White America….but just one of our many American narratives?


We may not be there yet, but I believe a piece like Moonlight offers us a way if we allow it.  There are enough themes in this tale that we all can relate to:  the sense or need to belong, navigating our difficult relationships with our mothers, the longing or hunger for touch and love yet not knowing how to seek it in a lonely world.  Can we step back and allow ourselves to inhabit feeling or being Chiron specially as we look in the  mirror and ask the same question his childhood friend asks him toward the end of the film, “Who Is You?” 


That question does not have to appear in so-called proper English in order for us to understand the meaning of it.    When Moonlight faded to a close, I found myself wiping away tears and rushing toward the door.  I carried Chiron and the many layers of his story with me along with the fact that it was indeed one of the many narratives about existing in America. 


In my further reflection on the film, I thought about how Barry Jenkins presented us with his version of Langston Hughe’s I, too, sing America,



I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.



I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”




They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—


I, too, am America.


Chiron sings America forcing to see the red, white and blue bursting forth from his human experience of attempting to find himself.  And this time, no one, not even me, will be asking this narrative to be hidden in our closet of shame.