"Get Out" In black & white

*this article contains some light spoilers

Your role in social change starts two steps past where you’re comfortable.
— Brittany Packnett

Both times I’ve watched “Get Out” have left me disturbed and sleeping uneasily.  Not to be over dramatic about it.  I am generally scared of the dark and what lurks behind shower curtains, but “Get Out’ isn’t that type of horror movie (now I'm afraid of people stirring cups of tea.)  It elicits a unique mixture of being disturbed by the realities depicted, yet comforted by the common experiences the film brings to light.

There’s not much debate to be had about the impact of Jordan Peele’s directorial debut.  Over the past weekend (it’s second since being released) “Get Out” made Peele the first Black writer/director whose debut film made over $100 million.  It says even more when it’s noted that the film was made on a $4.5 million budget, and focuses on subject matter that many would reasonably doubt could even be broached in a major Hollywood film.  Beyond dollars, the film’s impact is reflected in the amount of fan art that has been inspired.  Imagery that demonstrates how vividly the ideas in “Get Out” have resonated with artists.

FullSizeRender-12.jpg

There are some banging pieces out there on the meaning and implications of this movie.  Son of Baldwin has written one and linked to many others here.  Some of my personal favorite aspects of “Get Out”:

  • Sick, genius level attention to detail.  This has to have contributed to the massive box office success.  A movie that’s worth seeing more than once in the theater is rare.  The detail is so smart and clever, it takes multiple viewings to catch it.
  • Ignoring or laughing off the less overt racism.  Chris repeatedly does this.  Many of us do the same. We’ve gotten to a place in society where Black people don’t react to micro-aggressions because we’d be reacting all day.  We’re trained, subconsciously or not, to protect white fragility.  Meanwhile, other sub-groups overreact, with deadly consequences, to what they perceive as threats.  Perceptions created by the racist imagery and propaganda that’s built into the fabric of America.
  • Rose didn’t sit right with me from the moment she informed Chris that she hadn’t told her parents that he is Black.  Even more egregious was Rose interjecting herself into Chris’ interaction with the police officer.  A real thing that people oblivious to their own privilege do.  It was repulsive.
  • The opening scene and it’s demonstration of what kinds of neighborhoods are scary and uncomfortable for which people.  This makes me think of all the “Best Places to Live” articles.  Best for whom?
  • The beyond creepy scene where Rose is eating her multi-colored fruity O’s separate from her white milk.  The whitest thing about it was her biting her pieces of cereal in half, and bumping the music from Dirty Dancing.  Artful display of creepy, real, and funny at the same time.

 

Something outside the movie itself that I’ve found interesting are comments here and there expressing surprise that Jordan Peele, a Black man with a white mother and a white wife, has created such unsympathetic white characters.  Seriously, there are zero redeeming white people in the movie.  How often does that happen in Hollywood?  Based on interviews, it seems that Peele’s specific racial identity and experiences are a huge part of what facilitated his conception of this film.  That suggestion that the child of a white woman would not create honest critique culture and race in America is kind of crazy, but because white supremacy, this kind of idea isn’t new or rare.  People still believe that proximity to whiteness in ones upbringing is not only desirable but protective against the realities of being Black in America.  Proximity, including geography, skin tone, family status, speaking patterns… are things that confer privilege in our society.  These things are also part of what creates the breadth of the Black experience—they certainly don’t mean you’re not still Black in America.

The undertone is that if a person has the option (through their skin color, education level, economic status, etc.) to diminish or downplay their Blackness and assimilate, that would be the desirable choice.  If one could choose whiteness, or closer to white, it would be a logical.  That because you experience light-skinned privilege you are going to be complicit in white-supremacist ideology and let the bullshit slide.  Essentially going into “The Sunken Place.”

On a personal note, I have experienced being accused of “forgetting where I came from,” in a way that is contrary to the more common narrative of a Black person ‘making it’ and leaving their heritage behind.  Rather, the accusation is based on being raised by my white mother, yet speaking about racial justice or identifying as Black.  My personal struggle is to define myself for myself, despite the constraints of a white supremacist society. Because whiteness and lightness is privileged, claiming it feels like a form of complicity—even though that is in fact part of my identity.  Jordan Peele had a bit about “coming out” as Bi-racial.  I personally am most comfortable identifying as multiracial Black, but most frequently as Black.  My identity is in no way conceived of by me forgetting from whence I came.

Part of where I come from is visiting a white childhood friend’s home, only to have her mother dive into a speech about the Black people who work for them, how Black people work so hard, and that Black people have SUCH NICE TEETH. 

Part of where I come from is having a coach get grease smeared on her clothes from some equipment and telling me, the only Black child, “it must have rubbed come off you.”

Part of where I come from is having a friend’s neighbor say, “Black people are greasy,” and my 11 year-old self not knowing what to do, responding with, “no, white people are greasy,” to which this grown ass white woman slapped me across the face. 

(The ironic part about this grease theme is that I most likely had the driest hair around, since no one was moisturizing it properly.)

 

Again, proximity to whiteness is not protective against white supremacist America.  These happenings in my girlhood aren’t unique, they are part of the fabric of the Black experience.  Having a white parent, growing up around white people, does not protect from this or diminish a person’s awareness of their Blackness.  In many cases it heightens it.  Heightened awareness or not, the problematic extension of the idea that mixed race Black people shouldn’t speak and act in the interest of justice is that white people also shouldn’t.  Wrong.  People in positions of privilege bear an even greater responsibility.  A responsibility that Peele apparently takes seriously and has given us the gift of “Get Out.”

Part of the desire to live in a post-racial world includes the desire not to have to talk about racism, which includes a false perception that if you are talking about race, then you’re perpetuating the notion of race. I reject that.
— Jordan Peele

5 Steps to Your Best Performance

The 2017 CrossFit Games Open begins this week.  At this point no one is going to get significantly more fit over night, but there are some concrete steps you can take on and around game day to maximize your performance.

 

The list of elements that go into being mentally and physically prepared to create your best performance each week is long.  I want to hone in on a specific aspect, which is your mental strategy immediately before and during the workout, in five steps.  Mindset is key not only to perform better, but to create a more meaningful and personal growth oriented experience.  


1.) Focus on Strengths

In Social Work we have a practice framework called the “Strengths Based Perspective.”  This paradigm guides us to pay particular attention to a client’s strengths, building upon strengths to ultimately address and resolve areas that are problematic in the client’s life.  The same concept can be applied to how you address a workout.  We want to maintain a positive state of mind when doing a workout, and focusing on your strengths is a tool you can use to achieve that positive mindset.

 

How can you apply the strengths based perspective when performing a workout?  Ask yourself questions like:

  • Which of the movements do I like?
  • Which of the movements do I perform well?
  • Where can I breathe/recover in the workout?

 

Your responses to these types of questions will help you identify the strengths that you can draw on when you perform the work.  Your strengths can be a life preserver or bright spot as you take on the challenge of trying to bring forth your best performance. 

 

2.) Breathe

Feeling some stress is normal when you’re on the verge of taking on a task that’s important to you, and for which you’ve invested a lot into preparation.  Your body produces adrenaline in response to this stress thereby raising your heart rate and respiration, creating tension in your muscles- not necessarily the way you want to go into a workout.  Depending on how you respond to it, adrenaline can propel you to great performances or it can be a serious obstacle to overcome in achieving high performance.  An invaluable tool for channeling the nervous energy is intentional breathing.  It may sound like a given, but seriously, give your breathing the attention it deserves, before, during and after the workout.

 

Tips to put your breathing to work for you:

Before the Workout:

Using specific breathing patterns is an effective way to calm your heartrate and respiration before a workout.  There are a variety of counting patterns that can guide you in this process.  A few of my preferred counting patterns:

  • Box breathing.  Also known as four square breathing.  (4 count inhale, 4 count hold with the lungs full of air, 4 count exhale, 4 count hold with empty lungs)
  • 6 Count  breathing (coordinate a breath that is slightly longer than your normal breath, to coincide with a 6 count inhale and and 6 count exhale)
  • Cleansing Breath (6 count inhale, 2 counts holding breath in the lungs, 7 count exhale

 

3.) Visualization:

An advantage of the Open format is that you can have some time to consider the workout before you perform it.  This puts an invaluable tool at your disposal:  visualization.  Visualization is a performance enhancer that I absolutely adore, in that it does it’s job of training and preparing both the body and mind without having to do any more work in the gym!  In the Open you have a great deal of information about the workout, your equipment and and general surroundings.  Use this abundance of information to create the most vivid and complete visualization you can, tapping into all your senses.  Think about when you do a workout for a second time, you almost always get at least a few more reps or a little better time.  Visualizing the workout in advance can give you that same type of advantage.  

 

4.) Coach Yourself Kindly

Positive self-talk is a key component to any performance related mindset practice.  Everyone has an internal dialogue, and how you talk to yourself will greatly impact your performance–both in terms of production, and what the experience feels like.  Yes you want to get the most reps.  More importantly in the end is how achieving that impacts you as a person.  Beating yourself up or being judgemental or critical while you work is not on only counter productive to high performance, but it doesn’t make for a very fulfilling experience.  

 

How to shape positive self talk:

Affirmative Performance Cues:  This is one of my absolute favorite techniques to use in a workout.  Not only because it helps me stay positive and move efficiently, but also because it gives me something constructive to think about and helps me stay in the present moment. 

 

In reviewing each prescribed movement, identify one or two short, specific performance points that are key to efficient execution.  These cues should be individual to you and phrased in a way that resonates with you.  This will direct your self-talk (and in turn, your movement) throughout the workout.  Commit yourself to the idea that moving better is going to make your work more productive, sustainable, and safe.  Your affirmative performance cues will help you make this happen.

Phrase these cues affirmatively.  Each cue should be a reminder of what you do want to do, as opposed to what you don’t want to do.

Examples:  

  • “Snappy on the turnover,” vs. “don’t be sluggish”
  • “Elbows in,” vs. “don’t let your elbows flare out”

                  

General Mantra:  In addition to focusing your self-talk on specific movements, identify a general positive mantra that you can fall back on if your mind begins to wander to an unproductive place.  One mantra I’ve used a great deal is, “trust your body, trust your tools.” It helps me maintain faith that my body is prepared to do what I’m asking of it.  Again, the general mantra should be specific and meaningful to you.  

 

Key Words:  One last piece I want to touch on with self-talk is the use of keywords, or simple, single words that you can draw on as a quick reminder of how you’re trying to execute the workout, or what you’re mission is.

Examples:

  • Rhythmic
  • Methodical
  • Precision
  • Discipline
  • Effort
  • Focus
  • Breathe

 

5.) Perspective

Remember Your Why:  Presumably you have a reason you’re competing in or completing The Open.  Consider what that is and conduct yourself in a manner that will help you reach your objective.  


Stay in the Moment:  My best performances, and most pure experiences I’ve had as an athlete came when I’ve been able to remain non-judgemental and concerned with what I’m doing in the moment as opposed to being focused on the outcome.  
Believe in yourself. You create your reality between your ears!

Two Homes, One Task

I’ve been co-parenting for the past six years.  There are certain aspects that, while they are our normal, they aren’t easy.  At times I check myself when I think, “why haven’t I gotten used this yet?”  Besides working to be a great mother in general, I consider managing the co-parenting relationship and a child’s adjustment to co-parents to be the most important thing I can do for my son’s well-being.  How ironic, the personal relationship that for whatever reason didn’t work out, is still a relationship that requires your effort and commitment.  It can be quite a daunting task,  giving care to your child’s and your own emotional needs as well as tending to all the involved relationship dynamics.  Over the years there have been plenty of ups and downs in my family, and through the challenges I’ve held on to (and continually developed more!) coping strategies.

Figure Out Your Child’s Transition Needs

 

photo credit Michael Brian

When my son’s father and I divorced, my son was three years old.  He’s an only child and has always enjoyed playing independently while I do chores or something else around the house.  I noticed early on in our “two homes” life that if I carried on as usual when my son first returned from his dad’s, I would see more acting up and little behavioral issues.  As part of his transition between our homes, he needed a period of undivided attention.  If I stopped what I was doing and spend some one on one time doing an activity with him for 30-60 minutes, the rest of the day would run more smoothly.  Now that my son is older, and frankly much of the time he doesn’t want to play with me, that period when he first comes home he is more likely than other time to sit with me and read mail that came while he was gone, play, or fill me in on what he’s been doing the last couple of days.

Cultivate Your Own Interests

This is a self-care necessity and an opportunity you may not have had if your child was with you every day. I got a divorce in the fall of 2010 and it didn’t take long to notice the emotional dip  I experienced when my son was with his father.  That sadness doesn’t go away, but finding constructive and enriching things to do with that empty space can make a world of difference.  For me, cultivating my own interests meant starting CrossFit.  Following divorce, suddenly 50% of my time was no longer devoted to family life.  I needed an outlet, and CrossFit was an hour of my day that I wasn’t thinking about missing my son or worrying about all the life changes, but simply listening to my coaches and focusing on my body working.  Since then, it has morphed into a bigger part of both my and my son’s lives, but initially it was simply a new hobby.

Seek out activities that provide an emotional, social, and physical outlet, can be done regularly, and fit your schedule.  Meditation practice, fitness classes, some type of spiritual exploration or community activism groups come to mind as examples.

Find Community with Other Co-parents

Some of the best support comes from commiserating with other people who are also co-parenting.  Whether discussing nuts and bolts like the costs and benefits of various parenting schedules, to general moral support from someone who truly understands, these relationships are invaluable.  Fellow co-parents can be great, non-judgemental sounding boards.

Keep a Schedule

Maintaining a clear schedule can be helpful for everyone involved.  I know my son gets a lot of solace from knowing what is happening when.  Sometimes he remembers the schedule better than I do!  The amount of fluidity that can be accommodated in the schedule is based on how smooth the dynamic is between the co-parents.  If things are tense, a more rigid schedule can be a helpful tool to avoid ongoing disagreements and cut down on the back and forth.

Be Prepared for the Ebb and Flow

Your child’s experience and perception about their home life is going to shift as they enter different developmental stages, have various social interactions, and experience more life. We’ve had periods where there were many questions and discussions about the divorce, mixed with long periods where it doesn’t come up at all.

Like almost anything else, a co-parenting relationship itself is going to have different phases and stages.  If things are tough, take heart, it doesn’t have to stay that way! It’s not static, it’s a constant process of adjustment to find a balance that works.

Maintain Transparency with Your Child

This point was brightly illuminated for me when my son was young.  I always wanted to develop an open, communicative relationship with any children I would have, but one encounter made it an even higher priority.  I was explaining divorce to my three year-old (not fun!) and in the course of the explanation I said something like, “sometimes when a mommy and daddy can’t get along, they have to live in two different homes.”  He replied, “and then little boys live alone?”  My heart was pretty much demolished at that point.  Imagine if he hadn’t asked the question and left the conversation thinking that!  The blessing was that it reinforced the importance of talking frequently, as clearly and honestly as possible, and verifying in every way I can that the intended meaning is understood.  Ask your child questions, find out what things look like from their perspective.

Keep the Communication Flowing

So many tools are available for keeping the lines of communication open with your child and co-parent.  FaceTime, Skype, text, social media accounts, private blogs, Google docs… the point is, take advantage of them!  Use them in whatever way works best for your family.

Books are a fantastic conversation starters, and I know in my household have been invaluable to normalize emotions, and revisit important themes.    During stretches of time where I’d think divorce is the last thing on my child’s mind, I’ve had him grab a book like, It’s Not Your Fault KoKo Bear off the shelf to read together.

Consider an Unattached Approach

One thing that has been very empowering for me from an emotional standpoint is being less attached to societal norms when it comes to family life.  The expectations of what family looks like, what Thanksgiving celebration looks like, what a co-parenting schedule looks like—these are not rules or even helpful guides to figure out what works in your situation.  I don’t attach myself to what a certain day is ‘supposed’ to be like, for example if I’m not with my son on a holiday the way ‘normal’ families are.  This point of view has helped me release a great deal of sadness and embrace that I can share special things with my son in our own unique way.

Look at the Bright Side

Although there’s pain and disappointment that comes from the circumstances that lead to co-parenting, there can also be some bright sides if we allow ourselves to acknowledge them.  A few I have identified for myself:

My son gets to see different lifestyles and ways of running a home.  The same things that can cause conflict in a relationship, demonstrate the varied choices we have in life.  It gives him an opportunity to see that when he grows up he can live the lifestyle of his choosing and there are different, equally good ways to live.

He is adaptable.  Although as co-parents we try to provide consistency on big things, the reality is each parent does things differently.  My child (kind of amazingly) flows back and forth through those differences.  This adaptability and fluidity is a great life skill.

A shared parenting schedule allows me time to refresh myself.   I have time to cultivate my own non-parenting related interests.  When my son is with me he gets a more energized version of me because I’ve had down time from parenting to take care of myself.  We cherish our time together because of the times apart.

At the end of the day, my ultimate mantra to myself when it comes to co-parenting is, “it’s not about you.”  Of course I need to tend to my own well-being, but as it pertains to my relationship with my child’s other parent, it’s not about me and my feelings.  It’s about doing everything in my power to create a loving base of support for my child, even though it’s located in two homes.

How My Son Helped Me Win a CrossFit Games Event

There’s a moment in my CrossFit Games life that always seems to come up, no matter how many years pass…the 2011 Killer Kage. I’m not mad when it comes up. It’s a lovely memory. Recently I was chatting with one of my personal coaching clients after she had returned from her holiday travel. She has transformed her body over the past year, and the subject of her training came up with her family. In the course of telling her family about her work with me, she showed them a video of the Killer Kage. Now this client has an incredibly vibrant personality, so when she describes something her excitement really comes through. She can makes things sound pretty damn amazing. She had me walking away from the conversation thinking, “dang, I need to watch that video!”


I don’t generally have occasion to watch videos from the CrossFit Games, although I have, at times, made a specific effort to do so. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really have a strong connection or identification with my Games experiences. Something I’ve done within a life of many somethings. I also push back against some of the culture around being a “Games Athlete” as a status symbol. However, it’s important for me to acknowledge that these are special and unique experiences in my life, and I haven’t always allowed myself that. Additionally as a competitor, successful experiences such as the Killer Kage are so important to being mentally prepared to compete, to keep the motivation high in training on a daily basis, to run through my personal highlight reel and maintain a connection to what it feels like to be in flow. Being in flow, as one of my absolute favorites George Mumford explains,

 

“Flow is your ability to stay in the present moment. It’s a very particular state of mind. The ability to stay present is what fosters the Zone experiences. There’s no denying that strength and skill are a big factor in achieving high performance in sports, but many players have extraordinary strength and skills. The real key to high performance and tapping into flow is the ability to direct and channel these strengths and skills fully in the present moment—and that starts with your mind.”

Preach.

About a week after my client was downright gushing about this supposedly awesome Killer Kage video, I posted a couple videos on Instagram that brought the workout back to the surface once again. The first was a demo video of some movements for a 12 Week Strength & Condiitoning Program I’m offering. In the background of the video you can see my son swinging and playing around in the gym. This is so commonplace, I didn’t even notice it, but the majority of the comments on the video were about his little antics. I posted another clip where he was the undisputed center of attention, doing the swinging, playing and tricks that gym kids do. A number of people mentioned the Killer Kage event in their comments.

I decided to show my son the Killer Kage footage from the Games. It may surprise people to know that in five years of CrossFit Games appearances my son has never been to the Games with me, nor even seen much, if any of the coverage of it. His exposure has been limited to being present at the final workout of both the 2013 and 2014 Regional competitions. The ‘why’ behind that is a story for another day. In short, it largely goes back to me not wanting to make a big focus for him of me being in the Games. At any rate, I showed him the video and his reaction was awesome! I wish I had that on video! It was so fascinasting and fun for me to see his response to it.

The first thing he said was hilarious, because he noticed something that’s been a thorn in my side for my entire life, and most certainly for the duration of my competitive CrossFit career; the pronounciation of my name. After listening to the commentators he said, “Ackinwalee?” That misspelling is a pretty representation of the way my name has been consistently mispronounced in the years I’ve been doing CrossFit. There’s even a Games site video out there from the 2013 Regionals (when I completely smashed the weekend’s events, winning five of seven of them decisively) and they spelled my name “Ackinwale,” reflecting how thoroughly convinced people are that this is the way my name is pronounced. No. Ah-keen-wah-lay. In Luvvie Ajayi’s book, I’m Judging You: A Do-Better Manual, this passage resonated:

“How African names are approached by many Americans and the barrier of entry to even saying them feels like more othering. We have learned to say much harder names. We have learned phonetic rules of other tongues while ignoring the fact that a lot of African names still follow English pronounciation rules. By doing this, we’re telling people that their African names are too difficult and not worth learning how to say correctly. We tell them that their culture is a nuisance to our Western tongues and we force people to either abandon their real monikers or be faced with people who are annoyed at having to make an effort. It’s disrespectful.” –Luvvie Ajayi

 

 

Blank. Stare.


His next observation was, “It was your first year and you did something no one else did!?” in reference to the commentating on the “no-drop turn around.” I’m sure most parents feel good when their child is proud of them, and seeing his face as he made that exclaimation was truly priceless. I was thinking, “see, your mommy is cool!” Seriously though, his comment is a big part of what this is all about for me. Demonstrating for my son that there are no limitations. Showing him how hard work–something that he’s seen me put in through the countless times he’s accompanied me to the gym, or watched me stretch or ice or stim or compress at home, or listened to me discuss programming or mindset—translate into outcome and performance. We can preach or lecture all we want, but showing and allowing our children opportunities to try things out for themselves is exponentially more authentic and effective parenting.

 

 

Little did my son know that he was a huge part of my being successful in that workout. I’m not exaggerating one iota when I say that. The CrossFit Games is notorious for presenting athletes with tests each year that are elements they may not have experienced before, or at least are not commonly trained. This is the part of the Games that I absolutely love! I adore the challenge of responding and adapting on the spot. Most people will never have access to a colossal “Killer Kage” sized rig (which my son errantly called the “danger cage”). While I had never played on a giant set of monkey bars, I had most definetly spent time on the regular playground monkey bars with my son, including right before I traveled from Chicago for those Games. I had also done years of Spin classes and plenty of squatting, so pairing those elements together made the perfect set up for experiencing Flow. Those Flow experiences are something I deeply cherish, and I consistently work to set the stage for more of those to occur. I went into the workout with a simple mindset—keep moving. My sister was immediately behind me in the stands. My gym mates were there. My son was three at the time, at home and unaware that I was competing at all.

The combination of factors that lead to one of the most pure experiences I’ve ever had as an athlete reminds me of one of my favorite quotes when it comes to preparation and performance:

“The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.” –Bruce Lee

A concept I go around about in my head, because I like to overanalyze things, is the popular idea of not caring what anyone thinks. I see this all over the place as a phrase of empowerment, and I understand the intent. However there are people whose opinion and perception I most definitely care about, little boy is tops on that list. The example I set for him and the images I represent to him mean everything to me.