MY WORLD with Karmen Barnett

Karmen Barnett
is an independent columnist for BlackBostonOnline.com.

Contact him at:karmen@BlackBostonOnline.com

A Brand New Me

"When I stand and view myself, I don’t want to see just a woman. Just a woman breathing and working, but a woman living! Before I was smoking, but (at 50 years old) watch out ‘cause I’m about to be on fire" - Oprah

For many of us it is a difficult and often stressful task. We struggle day in and day out trying to get ahead, and the notion of changing directions seems down right ridiculous. Change has its perks. It all depends on how you look at it. And change to the optimist, can be a much-needed reevaluation and boost in a new and exciting direction.

In recent months I found myself becoming a control freak. If the situation wasn’t happening like I planned, I blew up. If you got in the way of my plans, I carefully dismissed you as an obstruction. This unhealthy attitude led to a lot of stress. But since hearing this one phrase, my life has changed. “We plan, but Allah is the Master Planner!”

As I sit here at the Starbucks where I have written a large number of these articles, I am challenged even as I type. Here at my favorite writing space, the familiar “barista” has just informed me that today is their last day of operation. At first, I thought how sad. The place I have come to know and love is leaving. But then I thought, what a divine opportunity to find a new space, meet new people, and become inspired in new ways.

Change is constant! If you are growing each day, you are not the person you were last year, last week, and hopefully not the person you saw in the mirror yesterday. If you are, then you are not learning from your experiences and are missing out on divine opportunities to enjoy a new you.

Sometimes we as a people get caught up in our age, surroundings, and or current situations. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “I’m too old to change!” Newsflash- if you are not changing in an ever-changing world, you are standing still and might as well be dead. Someone recently said to me, “what are we gonna do next year? All the good television shows are ending this season.” I thought to myself, I am gonna live! While we are sitting home watching television, there is a world of things happening around us. We are rushing home at five to do less than we are capable of. And we can’t say that our children are hindering us. Children are portable, and will do anything for pizza. Plug in your VCR, get Tivo, or have a friend do it for you, but it's time to stop watching life on television and start living life with the volume turned up to 10!

I am making a conscious effort to live with my life and not against it. I have partied until 6 a.m. this year. I can’t believe it myself, and it felt good. I have hung out till 3:30 am on a Tuesday night. I started going to the gym. I have a healthier diet. I have taken dance classes. I have taken up the guitar, and I have started talking to complete strangers while waiting in line at the Post Office (it makes the wait bearable). I don’t say this to boast but in hopes that ir encourages you to take today as an opportunity to do something different or to add something new to your experience.

In these summer days to come I encourage you to take your days off to get to know your family, they too grow and change, despite what you might think. I encourage you to open your eyes to a different way of viewing yourself. Reward yourself for the courage to get out of bed every morning and face this world. You are your best thing! Know this, love yourself for it, and be willing to step out on faith and try something new. I leave you with the words that encourage me everyday!

“When you’ve come to the end of all the light that you know, and are about to step off into the darkness… Faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. There will something solid for you to stand on, or you will be taught how to FLY!”

The Down Low Phenomenon

"Keep it on the down low, nobody has to know" - R.Kelly

AIDS is now the number one killer of Blacks in America, affecting Teenagers, college students, and surprisingly, even people over fifty. All hands on deck! Extra! Extra! All of your alarms should be going off. If you have blood flowing through you veins, you need to pay attention. Although there are many causes for this state of emergency, the "Down Low Phenomenon" is forging to the head of the class.

Living on the "down low" or "DL" is described as a man whom considers himself straight, yet desires sex with another man. This "DL" brother could be a married man with children, a minister, a corporate executive, a rapper, or a thug from any walk of life. He is undetectable to anyone unless he wants you to know. He doesn’t consider himself bisexual or gay, and he wants nothing to do with gay culture. You won’t find him at any gay events, marches, or wearing any rainbow adornments. Similar to a thief in the night, he does his work when no one is watching, and when you realize that you’ve been hit, it would take a forensic scientist to collect his microscopic evidence.

This “secret fraternity, “ of mostly black men, are admittedly having unprotected sex “sometimes” with multiple partners. The tragedy is that the black women they are having relations and relationships with, are none the wiser. Why? Why would your husband, cousin, brother, uncle, or boyfriend be dishonest with you about his sexual desire and practices?

In the black community, there has yet to be an open discussion about the topic of “gayness.” Many blacks feel strongly that to be gay, bisexual, or “experimental” is wrong, and we are missing the real issue. Right or wrong, it exists! It exists, has existed, and will continue to exist. So, while we refuse to acknowledge this fact, our ignorance is allowing black men to remain silent and to continue this deadly behavior that is infecting and affecting our entire community.

White America views this issue differently than blacks. The media even portrays this vast difference of acceptance or acknowledgement. “Will & Grace,” a primetime television series, is targeted to the Caucasian market. If executives had launched the exact same show with an all black cast, would it have been the success that it has become?

In a recent airing of “Law & Order” about a client living on the down low, rapper “Ice-T” made a piercing statement. He stated that in the black community, you can commit a murder and go to jail and yet we will stand by you. However, if you “come out” and say that you are black and gay… you are written off!

Surely there is a lot of work that needs to be done, and my article cannot cover the entire basis. What I do wish for our community is to start an open dialogue about this. First, get information about your H.I.V. status. Realize that if we don’t take care of our people, no one else will. And although this down low brother has no detectable signs or signals that you should be looking for, get nosy about what goes on in your house and on “guys night out.”

Lastly, get the information about this underground world from J.L. King’s new book, On the Down Low. J.L. King is a down low brother who was married with two children when his wife caught him. It is due out next month, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.

On the low, or in the know, the choice you make could save your life!

SEX and Chocolate City

Sex or good sex that is the question...

Everywhere I go people are talking about sex. For awhile many of us celebrated Janet Jackson’s breast making it’s primetime debut. Then there are same sex marriages, music videos and sex, and my favorite “the intern sexed who?”

Sexual conversations, innuendos, and images are as commonplace as Al Sharpton and a roller set. But I am here to tell you that there is something else. For I have been to the mountain top and my people… as much as we claim that sex is good, I now know that many aren’t experiencing good sex. After speaking with various men and women of color over the past three weeks, this is what I have learned.

1- Many have settled for less than they have wanted or felt that they deserved. I don’t need to tell you how many people have relationships where sex is the foundation. In an attempt to compensate for a lack of attention or affection, women and men turn to sex as a band-aid. Many couples can settle an argument simply by having sex. I have this friend, let’s call her Dee. Dee is in a situation where she doesn’t experience the “BIG O,” because her man won’t actively participate in oral sex. He will receive, but will not give! (How did he get that gig?) Anyway by a fluke, she climaxed one evening and it got on his hand. He was disgusted and demanded she get him a towel, “quick!” This left her feeling empty and frustrated. When asked for my advice, I simply said, “if you don’t ask for what you want, how do you expect to get it?” A closed mouth never gets fed. (No pun intended)

2- Many of us don’t ask for what we want. Why? I have found that in the black community, the topic of sex is taboo. Many believe that only the sinful- hell bound would discuss sex openly. Even the Bible talks about sex. Just read Song of Solomon. But in our community, you can’t talk about oral sex, same gender sex, safe sex, or anything that begins or ends in sex. I believe that when you don’t discuss something this important it gives way to rumors and myths. As I have stated before, many men of color were taught sex via videos and trial & error. (Mainly errors that we have secretly been trailed for.) My good friend, we’ll call her CeCe, was told quite frankly by her mother, “when it comes to sex, don’t get up until you are satisfied!” On a trip down memory lane a few nights ago, we laughed at the ignorance she had back then to such a statement. But now as a grown woman, she confirms that it was the best advice given to her from her mother.

Another acquaintance told me that his father gave him a box of condoms and told him that the goal of sex is to try to withstand from climaxing until you reach “the bottom!” I must admit that I laughed a good ‘while on that one.

This is exactly the nonsense that our children and we are walking around with. But I realize that many of us simply don’t understand sex, let alone what good sex is. We don’t understand why sex was created and what it is designed for. I think that most of us are chasing a high that can’t be duplicated.

Sex was designed to connect two people together (that’s why the pieces fit so well together-like legos) and for procreation. When two people physically connect, in a sexual act, a spiritually binds them. That is why husband and wife become “one.” Am I saying that you shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage? All I am saying is that if you wonder why you can’t get over someone who is no longer “the one” for you, maybe because you created a spiritual bond that can not be naturally broken.

Two great couples I know, often boast about their sex lives. Married for years now, I always hear how great it is. One said to me, “If you think it’s good now, think how great it will be when it’s consecrated! I mean… you young people have so much to worry about these days. We didn’t have all the diseases and whatnots that you have now. But the good thing about us is that because she is my wife, we can explore more freely instead of being out there all Willy Nilly. She wants to please me and I want to please her. We rock each other’s world!”

I am left to wonder. The next time I am in Chocolate City and caught between a rock and a “hard” place… Will I ask for what I want or will I settle for less? Will I wait until I find that “special” person, or will I continue with the notion that practice makes perfect?

Who’s Side Are You On?

"Don’t should on yourself, and don’t let others should on you."
Iyanla Vanzant

A woman goes to the doctor and tells him, “ When I throw my head back my neck hurts.” The doctor takes a moment, and to provide this woman with the soundest advice possible he says, “stop it… stop throwing your head back!” Many times we are just like this woman. We are creatures of habit and advocates of routine. Although it may hurt us in some way, we continue to do the same things over and over. Well guess what, STOP IT!

With Valentine’s Day around the corner many of us will begin to evaluate our situations and ourselves. We will begin to look at others and start making comparisons. “Look at them. They have a degree. They have the perfect marriage. They have the nicer car. They have the finest things. They have a nicer home. They own a home. Their children are smarter. They… They…. They…” At this moment we start telling ourselves that we “should” be further along. We “should” have all the things that “they” have. Next, comes the rationalizing. “Well, if I would have… things would be different.” Don’t "should" on yourself!

Many of us start the blame game. We recall instances where we didn’t make the best decisions, and we began to summarize our situations as punishment. If I hadn’t done this or that, then I would be worthy of more. Lauryn Hill so eloquently put it as this: “There are no big shots in reality. We are all going through the same things, same problems, and fighting the same demons… We all think that the Gospel is joining some church building, but the real Gospel is repent. Letting go of all that crap that has you down. Life is meant to be a pleasurable experience, not torment. Yet we torment ourselves. …That’s not God saying, “Feel guilty!” God is saying, “Get free!”

There you are, my people. Get Free! Get free from the “shoulds.” Get free from the negativity. Get free from all the crap that is weighing you down. Stop doing things out of habit that don’t support a healthy and prosperous life experience. And as someone once told me, “ …if your religion or place of worship does not enlighten, encourage, and support you, then STOP IT!” Stop participating and find one that does.

You must believe that you are where you need to be in your life. Instead of “should-ing” on yourself, stop and think… Everyday I get up; I am constantly beat down by negativity, deadlines, demands, and “shoulds.” Why am I joining in on my bashing? Why am I beating myself up, and when did I stop being on my side? When did I stop advocating for me? When did I start thinking that I needed flowers, candy, and romance to feel loved on Valentines Day? When did I stop being enough for me?

Realize that there will always be someone that appears to have a better body, better car, better mate, or better job. You must love yourself! Not just on Valentine’s Day, but you must love yourself everyday. Stop comparing yourself to others because your findings will always be inaccurate. The Creator made each of us different on purpose. Each of us has our own unique fingerprints, yet we try to be just like someone else. Don’t get lost in the cloning process. Just be yourself and love yourself for every roll, wrinkle, and flaw.

So the next time someone attempts to should on you, before you join them ask yourself, “who’s side am I on?”

I hope it’s your own.


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Don’t Die in the Winter

“Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” -Dylan Thomas

The presents are gone, the lavish holiday meals have been digested, and the champagne bottles are empty. The wonderful white Christmas is turning into, “not that white crap…again!” It’s a new year!! Although we greet it with great expectation, this is the time of year when many of us begin a slow death until spring arrives to rejuvenate us.

Living in Boston during the winter is almost an oxy moron. It's next to impossible to “live” when it's twelve degrees and the wind feels like a pair of claws scrapping your face. So many Bostonians retreat indoors, where the sofa is comfortable and the heat is warm. Can you blame us? For many whom have lost loved ones in the past year, have recently relocated, children have left the nest, or have experienced a life-altering event in 2003, this is a time of grave loneliness and or depression.

The chill of the outdoors, gloominess of being inside, and the absence of the familiar, combined, can weaken even the most stable. Like the vibrant red, yellow, and green leaves that appear each fall in New England, by January we too die in the winter!

If this situation rings familiar, fear not. I have a suggestion on how we can all be like the evergreens...vibrant and colorful throughout the cold and dark winter.

Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand!” The Rev. Dr. Conley Hughes Jr.(Concord Baptist Church) reminds his flock often that, “ this joy I have…the world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away!” Life is meant to be a joyous experience all of the time.

The Bible tells us (James 1:2) to count it all joy when hard times come. So you see, it's imperative to smile, laugh, and be joyous during this season.

When was the last time you laughed? I mean a gut busting, side splitting, tears rolling down your face, good laugh! If you can’t remember, do you remember what a good laugh feels or looks like? We can take our cues from children. When children find something funny, their laughter is uncontrollable! Children make the ugliest faces and their little bodies contort into the most unimaginable positions. This is pure joy, and it is contagious. Somewhere on our journeys we were conditioned into believing that it is politically incorrect to laugh out loud. But it is high time we change our minds and our ways.

Go ahead, try it; I dare you! Call your friends and family and laugh about the time when... Laugh about that dating mishap. Laugh about the shirt that you thought was the bomb, but was a bomb. Go ahead, try it; I dare you! Invite your co-workers to lunch and laugh. Laugh about the holiday party. Laugh at the boss. Laugh at each other. Go ahead, try it; I double dare you! Have a party, large or small, and laugh. Laugh with your neighbors until they become friends. Laugh at your childhood pictures. Laugh at the person you used to be. Laugh at the memories. Laugh at the diets failed. Laugh at the gym membership you are paying for and never use. Laugh at the economy. Laugh at the bills. Laugh at your paycheck. Laugh during good times. Laugh during bad times. Laugh when it hurts. Laugh when it feels good. Laugh! Laugh out loud and laugh for your life!

So this winter, when you feel the leaves of your life wilting and the color starting to fade, stop. Stop and remember that no matter how dark the situation, the evergreens hold their color because they know that this season won’t last forever. Remember that you are still here, and you are your best thing! Remember until you start to smile. Remember until that smile turns into a giggle. Remember until the giggle turns into thunderous laugh. And when asked why you are laughing so hard, simply reply, “Because I just can’t help myself!”

*A special thanks to Mildred Rock for your research and assistance.



“…One Nation, Under God” or Religion?

Recently I attended a well known church in Brooklyn where the “man of God” aggressively stated that if you don’t want to be thought of as gay, then don’t hang around gay people. This was the first of many outlandish statements. I haven’t heard such nonsense since the late eighties when teen pregnancy was rising. Similarly, if your friend got pregnant you couldn’t associate with them because you too would get pregnant. Is this what we, as humans are teaching our children?

He went on to say that if you came to “his” church and stated that you are gay and needed help, then you could stay. BUT, if you stated that, “This is who I am, and you have to accept it,” then he would put you out. In his opinion, this is a necessary action because, “rebellious spirit is contagious and before you know it…there will be more of them than there are of us!”

How could the merciful and loving God that I have grown to know agree with such foolishness?

I was born and raised in the “Bible Belt” of America. There, I was taught that you can’t measure your goodness by what you don’t do and whom you don’t hang around, but Jesus represents goodness because of whom he embraced, even though many considered him undesirable due to the taboo places he journeyed.

The difference is Jesus knew his calling and was able to shine in the darkest of places. So, if we are made in His image, then we too are able to do the same. I also learned that the church is like a hospital, it provides care, healing, and rehabilitation to the sin sick soul. But as I sat there, I thought that if a sick person were to come here with wounds, salt would be the bandage of choice. The Church is supposed to be winning souls. When church folk* are preoccupied with Bible beating, judging, and condemning others, it leaves me to wonder, when do they find time to save souls?

What exactly is the message are we teaching our children? That if you are gay, you are a bad person? The sad thing is that many in the black community still believe this. And as the number of African-Americans with AIDS grows, we still make it harder for our sexually alternative brothers and sisters to be open about who they chose to love. They feel threatened and alone. So, they hide from their spouses, lovers, and families, and many unknowingly spread the virus throughout the black community.

What we need to do is to educate our children about compassion and how to respect one another. Let them know that people are allowed to make choices for their lives. Although we may not agree, it’s ultimately their choice. Show our children what is means to be human and Christ-like. We have to lead by example. Religion isn’t doing it. Religion lets pedophiles disguised as priests, nuns, pastors, deacons, and missionaries molest and or turn out our children at young ages. So sure, let’s blame the gays…Why? In our minds do we believe that they are weak, thus an easy target?

I long for the day when we fight not just some, but all the little battles that create the wars. If we're going to protest gays then we should also get this upset and feel this passionately about everything. Why not protest Kobe Bryant for being an adulterer. Not passively accepting it because, “he’s a baller!” I want us to protest our neighbors that are living together and are not married. I want us to protest our President for lying to us about, “weapons of mass destruction!” I want us to protest everyone who has sex outside of marriage. I want us to protest the crooked CEO that is stealing from the company and it’s employees.

Let’s make a BIG deal out of all of them and not just easy targets like Martha Stewart. Let’s us not down grade our issue and upgrade someone else’s “in the name of Jesus!”

Practice some love, compassion, and respect for one another…. like Christ .

*Church Folk (people whom attend church and connect more with the teachings of their religion than with God)



Steady On the Grind

“Everyday it’s a struggle trying to hustle some dough. If you were raised in the hood, well then you already know. It be days it be good, but mostly money be slow. Have you ever been hungry be fo?” – Dead Prez.

It seems that lately my “normal” schedule has been anything but normal. Even as I write, tomorrow has crept into today. I remember days when I woke up with the sun and went to bed shortly after the moon came up. Now, I am awakened at 6:15am and the day doesn’t end until 1:30am the next morning. Why, all for the pursuit of money, money, and more money.

We desire the lives our parents didn’t have to give us. We want the lives we see on television. “What do we want, MONEY! When do we want it, NOW!” And now is the time, but many of us forget to live, NOW!

We often get caught up in the grind and forget to live right now, in the moment. We are working harder. We have gotten promotions and raises. Yet, we still put off that trip that we’ve been planning since we graduated from college. We have put our lives on hold for our families. We have sacrificed our dreams and our passions in order to get…there.

Somewhere, someone told us that there was better than here. Somewhere, somebody lied. There is never better than here. Or as my “big mama” would say, “the grass ain’t always greener on the other side, and if it is….they water bill is sky high.” Here is where we live and work, why not make the best of it? Here is the path we have chosen to travel, why not enjoy the scenery along the way? I am reminded of my 9th grade teacher saying, “half the fun is getting there!” But are you having fun? Or are we too busy being tired, broke, and disgusted to look at how healthy our families are? Or have we been on the grind too long to see all that we have accomplished and acquired over there years. Truth be told, we have more than our parents ever had.

If you are looking around and still aren’t happy….you are the author of your story. Write yourself happy! Resurrect you inner desires, dreams, and passion. Have a dream revival, right her and right now! But instead of associating your dreams with money. Know that your wealth is in your dreams. Bill Gates had a passion for computers and by doing his passion, he became wealthy. Donald Trump has an eye for prime real estate and has made a fortune with his gifts. Oprah didn’t set out to be a billionaire, but by following her passions she has become the most powerful woman of our time.

So the next time you find yourself dreaming of this phantasmagoric, bling-bling, bootylicious, storybook life, remember that the life you seek… just might be your own!

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Boys to Men

They say that you never really know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. But many would never make it a block in a black man’s shoes. Whether you are a black man, raise a black man, live with a black man, or love a black man, you see first hand the day to day demons that seem to plague him everyday.

Far from the everyday prejudices and stereotypes that black men face on a daily basis, ask any black man and he will tell you that the lack of support from family and community makes life more difficult.

No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. You see more black men marrying white women, and why? Many say it is because white women are supportive and don’t nag, gripe, or complain all the time. Sisters say that brothers have commitment issues. Many brothers grew up in single mother homes. So they weren’t given good examples about committing to relationships. What most brothers learned about women and sex came from friends and or trial and error. Sisters also state that all the good brothers are either married or gay. Hint- if you think this way, this is what you will find .The good news is that there are plenty “good” brothers out there. The question I have found myself asking is, “are you a good sister?”

A relationship is about two “whole” people joining together for the purpose of growth. You see, just because he looks like 50 cent on the outside, doesn’t guarantee he’ll be your knight in shinning armor. Black men have issues, past hurts and daddy hungers that they deal with also. Black men feel, black men hurt, and black men love. The problem is you may have to go through the feeling and the hurt to get to the love. But that’s where making him your friend first is a crucial step. Someone once said that, “loving a black man is like welcoming home a war veteran.”

Unlike black women, black men suffer alone and in silence. Black men aren’t taught to have “sister circles of support” with other black men. Black men are taught that it is weak to show emotion. Black men don’t have talk shows and magazines like Oprah and Essence that address their issues. All black men have is what black women offer them. What are you offering your brother, son, husband, or lover? Love, compassion, and understanding are needed!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t imply that you should be a doormat or play the fool for a black man. But once you love a black man, work with him not against him, and commit to understanding his plight. As Susan L. Taylor says, “before he becomes your lover, make him your friend and see him as your brother.” Choose your battles carefully because everything can’t be worth arguing over. “And when there’s conflict- soften your heart, see his innocence or ignorance, and don’t have an attitude. Practice peace in your home and all the behaviors you want him to adopt.”

Loving a black man can be very rewarding for him and our communities. Allowing the black man to stand and take his position in our homes and communities takes away the additional burdens black women have taken on in his absence. So the next time you see the blue collar, white collar, thug, sexually alternative, damaged, broken, and or confused brother don’t make a judgment. Ask yourself, “Am I my brother’s keeper, and if not… who is?”

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