DCP EP. 91 We Are Not Broken: George M. Johnson
Transcribed by: Sydney Henriques-Payne
Completion date: November 23, 2021
Shana Pinnock [00:00:00] What’s up, Dear Culture family? We are so excited to share this week’s conversation with friend to the show George M. Johnson. Before we dive into that delightful chat, we wanted to give you a brief update about George’s battle to keep their book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” from being banned from libraries in eight states. We’re pleased that it’s good news. On Monday, November 22nd The North City, Kansas School District reinstated the book to school libraries, and while George and other activists are still fighting to keep the book on shelves in other cities, this is a giant victory for freedom of speech and for Black and queer storytellers. We talk with George about all that and so much more so without further delay, let’s get to the show.
Shana Pinnock [00:00:46] Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast that gives you news you can trust for the culture, and I’m your co-host Shana Pinnock, Social Media Director here at theGrio.
Dr.Micia Mosley [00:00:53] and I’m your guest co-host, educator and comedian Dr. Misha Mosley in Today for Gerren Keith Gaynor. This week we are asking dear culture, how do we honor the beauty of Black family?
Shana Pinnock [00:01:13] Whew. All right, it’s going to be a good, good topic, Misha, thank you for joining us. So just real quick as a little bit of a preface, if you were watching us on YouTube, you can see the helmets I have in the back. Here I am in the middle of a move heading to Atlanta in four weeks, so you better to get used to all these all these boxes and behind me, you’re going to see and my beloved co-host Gerren Keith Gaynor is out this week and we are sending him all the good thoughts as he is traveling. And while he is missed. So excited to have you here, Dr. Micia Mosley. So one thing that she didn’t say is, you know, in addition to being an educated comedian, she’s also executive director of the Black Teacher Project. We are so very happy to have you here. But before we even get started, tell us what’s on your mind this week, Micia.
Dr.Micia Mosley [00:02:07] I’m happy to be here because I just I need a safe space. I need a safe space. Because this week, this white boy, I mean this Kyle Rittenhouse situation. We talk about white women’s tears, we talk about the cameras, we talk about the weaponizing of white women’s tears, but the way this white boy is, I can’t even say that they’re tears because really, you know, he he enacted all this violence in Wisconsin. He’s on trial right now. And he really came to perform. I feel like some sort of acting lessons may have occurred during the transition between his arrest and the trial. And so he’s trying to conjure up some sympathy in his enactment of regret. And if you watch closely, he couldn’t even get the tears out. Could he be? I mean, rub an onion under the eyes before you get on the stand, if you really trying to be about it. And so I’m just really frustrated because I feel like he’s trying to take a cue out of the white women tear book and the fragility tear book and bring it to us. But there’s no sympathy. There’s no sympathy given. And right now, I’m just I’ve had some feelings about how we are consistently pushed to feel some kind of sympathy for people who are literally, literally killing us.
Shana Pinnock [00:03:30] Yeah, just watching that entire trial and I know the trial for the killers of a Ahmaud Arbery is also happening right now, and it’s just been a masterclass in watching whiteness work. It is. It’s actually frustrating to see and to see it play out and then to still have people with their their, their right, you know, right wing commentary. And you’re just like, Are we in an alternate universe? Like, What? How are we misinterpreting this information? It is absolutely insane. I mean, and just for me this week, just to pivot a little bit because there’s only so much about the whiteness that I can talk about. But I mean, lowkey, I guess this is kind of related. DaniLeigh now DaniLeigh, who you know, on occasion claims that she is Dominican or whatever else. But let’s also recognize that being Latino is not in that it’s an ethnicity is not a race. So therefore you are not just automatically Black because you are Latino or Hispanic. Well, fine. Whatever DaniLeigh Dababy have. You guys have been paying any attention to this drama that has played out on Instagram Live. You know, we have seen yet again more examples of Da Baby. He’s never trending for, you know, music or talent or anything good. Da Baby is always training for trash, and this time he was trending because he was trying to. He was playing like DaniLeigh has not been his girlfriend. You know, he called her some, some sidekick at like gaslighting her on Instagram Live for all of us to see, like verbally abusing her on Instagram Live, for all of us to see why she’s feeding their newborn child. And you know, he’s saying he wants her out and blah blah blah. And then they both have the audacity to catch an attitude when people are offering their commentary on this. Y’all are the ones who told us. We could. We could have never known what was going on in your house. Y’all could have just shut up. But what I will say for other, Da Baby is trash. I want him to go away. He’s garbage. One thing I will say is for DaniLeigh and for women like her, you have to be very, very careful of How you treat people in what you thought was your winning season because you thought she was winning, you thought yellow bone was what he wanted and then you got the surprise of your life when he was still out here treating you like the like the dark skinned baby mama Mimi, I believe her name is. I mean, let’s be very clear. So, you know, it’s I think it’s just a life lesson in general. I really feel for that poor little child, that newborn baby who has nothing to do with this from the stupidity and whatever from their from her parents. But yeah, I just I say all that to say, y’all be very careful. And let’s be clear, people are not hating on DaniLeigh because, oh, you know, she’s whatever it is that she’s catfishing Blackness. And, you know, using the N-word all the time, like, no, we’re not. We’re not hating on her because of that. We’re not hating on her because she’s light-skinned or yellow boned Like, we’re hating on her because she had all this stuff to talk and all this terrible stuff when you couldn’t even stand in solidarity with another woman and then you let this man impregnate you sis — you were so in love. All right, cool. Well, now you have to deal with the consequences and repercussions. But, you know, speaking of family dynamics, I am so right and all of its nuances. I’m so excited to talk about those nuances of family, and let’s actually talk about something joyful. All right. Not all that drama. Let’s talk about a little bit of Black family joy.
Dr.Micia Mosley [00:07:23] The holiday season is upon us. And of course, that means it’s that time of the year where we are spending time with and reflecting on our families, both biological and chosen. Our guest today writer, author and activist George M. Johnson, is doing exactly that in their new memoir, We Are Not Broken, which chronicles their coming of age alongside their cousins who, through the love and strength of their grandmother, became brothers and their actual younger brother. We’ll talk with George in just a little bit about the bruises and beauty of Black, boyhood and the Black family.
Shana Pinnock [00:08:08] Awesome. But before we, you know, talk to George Misha, I just had a question for you like what something that you’ve learned from your family, whether biological or chosen that you feel everyone could learn from.
Dr.Micia Mosley [00:08:21] No one, no one’s canceled. Well, you’re talking about real family. Listen, Listen… You you have to hold people tight, right? And so one of the things I’ve watched my parents in particular, I didn’t grow up with my father. They didn’t talk for 30 years. They got divorced when I was little and I’ve watched them reconcile because of the love they have for me. And so they each had to do their own healing and work on their own stuff. But this lesson when people are like, “Oh, I don’t talk to them no more, I don’t talk to them no more.” Anf I’m like, “Okay? But can people grow? Can we actually allow folks to to be different than they were 10 years ago or 20 years ago?” [00:08:59]Now, I’m not saying that everybody needs to have everybody close who harmed them, but just this notion that we can actually heal and come back to the table and really be able to to be the best version of ourselves. I think it’s Brian Steven… Stevenson, who says we’re all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. [19.4s] And so just that that reconciliation with my parents, you know, they’re not besties, but they’re good enough and they’re good enough. And so that was an important lesson.
Shana Pinnock [00:09:29] You know, what’s so funny is mine is like the actual inverse of that right now. So yes,.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:09:35] OK, talk about it,.
Shana Pinnock [00:09:36] Right? So I talked about it on the show millions of times. I’m super close with my parents, right? My mom and my dad, I’m here in this apartment that I’m moving out of right now. My mother, my father, live in the apartment upstairs. Like there, those are the homies. I love them. And I’ve also been very blessed to be able to have a number of chosen families, right? So I have my line sisters, I have my sorority sisters, I have my Spelman sisters. I, you know, they’re all of these people who I’ve managed to help cultivate around me for, you know, just throughout life’s journey. However, one thing that I’ve learned is all of these relationships inevitably become a choice. They’re all work in their own ways. And I’m a firm believer in once you become a little bit too much work, you probably shouldn’t be there. I’m actually not that interested in having my energy in such strained right. So like throughout the throughout the years, like my friendship circle has gotten a lot tighter. Like, very, very lean. And it’s not even necessarily one of those, you know, I’m never going to talk to that broad ever again. It’s not even one of those. It’s just like, you know what, you’re actually a little too much work, and I don’t have that much bandwidth for that. Same thing with family. There is I think I’ve talked about her on this show before, too. There’s a cousin of mine who we grew up together, right? We you would think that we would be incredibly close. I do not speak to that woman. I don’t know what’s going on in her life right now, and that’s perfectly fine. And mainly because I recognize, yes, although she is still family and everything else, our personalities don’t gel well together, so we are not friends. And it also gets to the point where the fact that we’re not, we can still we can still not be friends, but be family. If there’s a certain love and level of respect there, that’s not even there anymore. So at this point in time, you know, it’s one of those. I mean, if I see you at the family reunion, you’ll get a head nod. But I’m not. I’m not. I’m not making ways to allow you to enjoy my space in my energy. And quite frankly, you know, everyone’s the the superhero in their own story. I’m certain I am the villain in hers, so she probably feels the exact same way about me, and that’s fine. And that is perfectly cool. [00:12:07]But I think at the end of the day, especially as you as you are an adult and as you are maturing and you start to fully recognize and acknowledge the things that you will and will not stand for in your relationships. And that’s every relationship. That’s friendship, that’s family, that’s romantic relationships. And there are people who are not willing to abide by those boundaries. Then you can go and it doesn’t have to be ugly. It doesn’t have to be, Oh, I cursed her out four or five years ago when we havent spoke since. It doesn’t even have to be any of that. It can just be. I’m good on you. [33.4s] Maybe I don’t, you know, send that birthday text every year. Perhaps I’m not sending these this gift message of Christmas and Thanksgiving. I’m good. We don’t need to talk. I’m straight. So that’s what you miss.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:12:54] Yeah, I hear that. Yeah, no, I thought because I think there’s you got to protect your piece, right? You got to protect your peace. So I hear that.
Shana Pinnock [00:13:01] Yeah. So ultimately, though, I think I’m looking forward to talking more about. Family, especially with today’s guests, who I’m excited to welcome back to the show, no stranger to DCP. We may be bruised, but we are certainly not broken and no one knows this better than our guest today. George M. Johnson George is a journalist, activist and selling author of the book “Not All Boys Are Blue.” They were also recently named as one of out 100 queer titans of media. Their new memoir, “We Are Not Broken,” explores the Black Family Black Legacy and celebrates Black Boyhood in all its glory. It’s also an ode to their beloved matriarch and exploration of love and sacrifice. George, it’s always a pleasure to be in conversation with you. Thank you so much for joining us yet again.
George M. Johnson [00:13:49] Yeah, thank you for having me.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:13:53] So good. So good to have you here and to have a chance to talk about this amazing, amazing book. Now you describe the memoir as a way to disprove notions that Black boys aren’t deserving of love, which I think is just beautiful and poignant. And you opened this book with parallels around, you know, between your cousins and you and Tamir Rice and this idea of playing with toy guns and just all of these stories of Black…about Black boyhood. And so we wanted to just kind of get your thoughts on who were the Black boys we meet in the memoir and how are their stories changing the broader perspective perceptions of Black Boys and Black Boy Hood?
George M. Johnson [00:14:37] Yeah. So the Black boys who you meet in the memoir are myself, my younger brother Garrett, who we call g, y older cousin in Little Rawl, who’s the oldest grandchild and his younger brother, Russell, as well as justice, who for a period was the youngest grandchild until Kennedy, the only granddaughter came along, you know, and in meeting as you meet for different, very different personality types who were all raised together by my grandmother as if we were brothers. I think importantly, though, what you get to see is that the existence of Black boyhood isn’t always seen through a lens of just our trauma. You got to see that we had adventures and we had an imagination. I always liken our story to “Stand by Me” the movie with the four little white boys that are on this adventure and on the train tracks and running from dogs and doing all these things. And as an adult, I just sit. Sometimes I wonder, like, where is the Black version of this? Because Black boys too have these same type of memories and we have these same type of adventure than I can remember sitting with my uncles, we talked about when they were kids and jumped out of windows, and we’re doing the same rambunctious things that we were doing, except we were jumping out of trees, right? And so it was like, where is that storytelling, right? Why is the notion of us always told through this one lens that villainize is young Black boys and that only can see us or where society sees us as young Black boys? And then they hit a certain age which can be as early as kindergarten, where the prison industrial complex comes in and the school to prison pipeline starts. And we are viewed as adults and we are viewed as villains and we’re viewed as demons in society. And so the boys you meet in this book are boys who experience all those things, which you get to see the other side of the story. You get to see that we skipped rocks, we flew kites and we ran and we fought and we did all of the same things. But but it just gives a total picture of what Black boy joy really looks like.
Shana Pinnock [00:16:50] Powerful. So I got it’s it’s a two part of a question, George. So, in this book you also dedicate it to your beloved nanny, right? You always say that she is basically a conduit for your other ancestors, for the readers, or for the listeners who haven’t become readers yet. Who was she and why was it so important for you to memorialize her in this way and share her story? And then I got a second part for you!
George M. Johnson [00:17:19] Yeah, nanny nanny was just this. I don’t know. Like omnipotent, powerful being. I guess it’s like if you think about like the The Wizard of Oz and you think about like that voice, it was like you didn’t know who the wizard was, but you knew that there was a wizard. But like she was the wizard that controlled everything. But you also saw her. So it wasn’t just her voice. She was a powerful Black woman from the South. The baby, technically, she wasn’t the baby, but she had three younger siblings who died in a fire when she was four years old. And so she became the baby of the family, which I think is triumphant in many ways because she then became the matriarch, not just of our unit, but the. Matriarch of her entire family. Nothing happened without her making the final decision on things, a woman like I said from South Carolina, who had to leave school, probably around great shoes. She never was really sure when she left school, she just knew that she left high school at some point, probably around like the ninth grade or 10th grade, but it never stopped her. She still became an LPN -a nurse, ran multiple businesses, but I think at the end of the day, she just imparted wisdom on us, which we call her nanny isms. These little thoughts in quotes that still stick in our head. And like I said, she was our connection to our ancestors because she talked about our great grandmothers and our great great grandmother. Then she was the one who connected all of the dots for us with our lineage and where we came from, while also making sure that we all had a place to call home. In many ways, when society was coming at us and coming at our parents, she always made sure that us, as as young boys, always had a place that we could call home
Shana Pinnock [00:19:11] and see, you already done tip tapped into to my my, my. My second question is so nanny isms, right? Which you described as a bunch of little bunch of sayings and such. And you know, y’all know how, how, how the elders like to just throw some words together like, you know what? That actually makes it. So use it you like. I know there was one that you said, Every shut eyes ain’t a sleeping eye,
George M. Johnson [00:19:37] All shut eyes ain’t sleep
Shana Pinnock [00:19:39] So can you tell us your favorite nanny ism and what it means to you?
George M. Johnson [00:19:45] Oh man, my favorite one that I don’t know lately. I guess lately, because I’ve been like a jack of all trades and trying to be a master of all of them as well. I think the one that he has a sticks sound is “It’s a sad rabbit that only got one hole.” And I think that story is funny because when she said it, she was talking to my uncle Rawl and he was a drug dealer at the time. And so in this story, it’s him basically telling her that, you know, or, you know, her knowing about his drug dealing. And he thought she was going to, like, criticize him for being a drug dealer, and she really criticized him for that being his only hustle. And she said “It’s a sad rabbit who only got one hole” and He just remember looking at her. Like, “What?” And she was like, “So what happens when the drugs dry up or like when a new dealer comes, you just broke, you just on the street like you ain’t got no other hustle going on. You can’t do this. You can’t do that. That’s all you got.” And he just was so like shocked by like our response not being one of like, “Oh my god, my son’s a, you know, a dealer” it was like, “Is that the best you could do?” Like, that’s the it. You got to figure it out. And so I listen to that, though, because as someone who is a speaker, someone who still devils and dabbles in journalism, someone who’s an author is someone who’s going into TV and film, I just make sure that I extend myself into everything that I do. So my work doesn’t become pigeonholed. [00:21:18]You know, people would love to just pigeonhole me as a Black queer writer, but I am so much more than that. They would like my book to only be accessible to a certain demographic, but I don’t let myself get stuck in one hole. I let all of my things that I do in my work be able to migrate into different areas and different spaces. [18.4s] So, I think that’s the one that’s sticking with me the most as I’m writing books and doing TV and speaking and all of the things
Shana Pinnock [00:21:44] we’ll shout to Nanny. All right.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:21:48] I love it. I love it. I mean, “Always put on new underwear, even if you ain’t wash ass because you never know what you get.” I got to say, like, that’s the one that I feel like. Every, every, every Black family is like “Are your draws clean. Are your draws clean?”
George M. Johnson [00:22:06] Are your draws clean –Yeah, right.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:22:07] And then there’s a whole one at the hospital. I just feel like, did somebody tell that is their origin story? Why does everybody worry about the doctors in the hospital hospital.
George M. Johnson [00:22:17] The hospital And whether your underwear was clean when they trying to save your life? It is the funniest thing, but then again.. She’s not the only older person I’ve ever heard kind of allude to that, and she was like, Where did this start? Like, I have no idea where to start.
Shana Pinnock [00:22:30] Where did this come from
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:22:31] Exactly, exactly. But you know, it speaks to the connections in Black family, right? And that even if we’re not biologically related, there is a deeper relationship. And when we think about family and friends, some people make a distinction. [00:22:47]But what I love in this book is you talk about the work that you and your family did to actually become friends, right? And to really understand that just because we’re blood related or we all live in a big yellow house or whatever it is, we have to put in some of that work. [15.9s] And so I’m. What if you could just give us a little bit more about what that work looked like for you and your family and even what that distinction between family and friends means for you all?
George M. Johnson [00:23:15] Yeah, I mean, I think being family is, you know, that’s that’s blood related. That’s something you can’t even if you say, like, I’m no longer family, it’s like, Yeah, but genetics wise, yes, you are right. So it’s like, that’s just something you cannot deny, right? [00:23:31]Like family isn’t a choice. Family happens by genetics and DNA, and this is who your biological mother is, and this is your biological father is. And this is your biological grandmother is. There’s no denying that. Friendship is a choice, and I think that’s the biggest difference is friendship is an actual choice. And so just being family with someone doesn’t mean you’re going to get along with someone doesn’t mean you’re going to even want to be around those people. I think when you make the intentional choice to also become friends with those who are in your family, that is when, you know, intention is behind the love that you have with one another. [32.0s] And so I think for us, typically our friendship with I’ll say, our friendships start to begin around probably around 16 in our family. And I think that’s like across the board I can say, like Kennedy, she’s 17 now, but Kennedy is like our friend, like we can talk. We talked to Kennedy like an adult. We talked to Kennedy. She’s in a room for adult conversations. You know, she’s she’s allowed space to have agency, to speak her own mind and to say things she does like and she doesn’t like. And I think that’s kind of how our family does it. You know, I think we get to a certain point where we start to realize like, you know, we have to kind of now, you know, at some point we’re going to be drinking with our kids, right? At some point our kids are going to start cursing with their friends. So we have to give them space to curse around us too right and not be like, “Oh, that offends me because I’m older and you should have a respect level,” but it’s like, that’s not how that necessarily works, right? Like, we should all have the space to communicate to each other the same way you all get to communicate as older adults in front of us. At some point we become those adults too, and we should be able to have the same communication styles with you and no one be offended by it. And it would be funny, though, because, you know, I think Nanny would be the only one sometimes, like, did you just say the f word? And literally we would look at her like, you have said the F-word four times today, and she would be like, “But I’m, but I’m a grandmother” and like, she would do that all the time. So it was like she was never actually offended by it. She just always wanted to make sure that she at some point we knew that she could check us at any time if we were cussing like. But you know, and we would do our best not to say too many things, but she always said, Nanny was our friend. Nanny was the person we hung with. It was like I used to hang with her at the casino. Like, we would just go over there in the morning and she’d like, Come on, yeah, let’s go to the casino and we would get in the car driving to Pennsylvania and be at the casino all day where she would want to go to the beach and go to the beach. You want to go, do I want to go eat? All right? She was all whole family to go eat. She would pay for it. She… We were friends. It wasn’t just like it had to be a family occasion for something. And I think that’s what I mean when I say the distinction between friendship and family.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:26:16] It’s beautiful. And there’s you know in that you also alluded to some of the lessons. Right. So we’re taught sometimes as hierarchy like, you can’t be my friend because you’re my nanny. And so it seems like you all transform some of those familial lessons and some of the lessons that you keep deep in your heart. But you also mentioned some things you had to unlearn. So can you tell us a little bit more about some of those lessons?
George M. Johnson [00:26:40] Yeah. You know, I think as adults, we go through conditioning societal conditioning. Much of it is to be homophobic. Much of it is to be sexist, to be misogynistic, to be to to assimilate into systems like we all go through that conditioning. [00:26:57]And I think we get to a certain point where we realize that all the things we were conditioned to do come at a price and it comes at a cost and that cost and that price is often the oppression of someone else. And so you then have to begin to go through an unlearning phase for two reasons. One, because of the harm you’re causing other people in your community, but to because of the harm that you cause yourself by not allowing yourself to be yourself because of societal constraints. [23.2s] And so I think I went through a learning process. I mean, I’m always going through a learning process right away. I think we have all because I was born male and because I was conditioned to be a man. I went through every single process of being misogynistic and homophobic and transphobic and all of those things as a team, right? Even with having trans people in my family, there were still moments of like being embarrassed by that, even though I loved my transgender of what I my heart, there were still moments because being with her then cast doubt on me, right? And that society that made me feel that way. You have to unlearn a lot of those things, too. To Where now, you know, but but it’s funny, though, because I can recall feeling like that and then getting in the fraternity and having heterosexual men feel the same way about me. And that then being too close to me cast a light on them, right? So it’s funny how the tables kind of turn and so through that, I kind of had to really learn like, “Oh, wow, like, you know, the same thing I was fearful of is the same thing someone else is fearful of about me.” And that’s the type of unlearning that that I like to talk about, that I’ve had to go through to where I can be comfortable with myself and say that I’m non-binary. My pronouns that they/them, I dress how I want when I want. And, you know, I just showcase and try and show up in the world outside of the constructs that say, I have to look and be a certain way.
Shana Pinnock [00:28:52] OK. And I’m so glad that you touched on the point of, you know, even like the kind of self harm that we come that we do to ourselves with a lot of these ideologies. Why was it so important to you to make the connection between your grandmother and what you describe as the many ways in which Black women sacrificed to the point of, you know, their own detriment?
George M. Johnson [00:29:14] Yeah, I mean. I think it was necessary. Well, one I wrote about the term weathering, which is basically how societal conditions, how societal conditions and social… Social determinants of health are determine the health outcomes of Black people. So it is not just about the fact that we exercise every day and that we eat certain foods and that we try not to be stressed. It is also the fact that racism exists and that plays a role in our health, that education barriers plays a role in our health. That socio economic barriers also play a role in our health, right? And I wrote an article basically talking about my grandmother’s story about battling cancer six different times until she finally ended up passing away from brain cancer. And just how, you know, I feel that in addition to her trying to take care of family and doing her all to make sure we were OK, she probably burned herself out to the fact that her body probably couldn’t fight many things off because she was expending so much energy. You know, originally raising her own kids. And then you have an epidemic of mass incarceration and epidemic of HIV and an epidemic of crack, all intersecting at the same time. And now you have grandma raising two of her grandkids. And you know, my mom and my dad, they worked a lot to provide for us, but then working a lot then added an additional two children for her to watch. So now she’s watching four kids all the time, right? In addition to her still working, in addition to her also being a licensed nurse practitioner and taking care of the gentleman that used to take care of in Madison and also her running a nursery and also her cooking all the Thanksgiving dinners and… At some point, the body just cannot. Specifically for a Black woman, you know, she’s doing all of these things, which is like, when does she ever have solo time to take care of herself? Like, when? There was no time to ever take care of herself, and the only time she had moments to take care of herself was was when she was in a health crisis and there was nothing she could do but to stop. But as soon as the crisis ended, she went right back into the same thing that created the crisis. And so I thought it was important to kind of tell that story because, you know, I watched my mom sometimes overextend herself. And, you know, a lot of the things that I do now is to alleviate that overextension because I don’t want the same thing to happen to her that I feel happened to my grandmother where she kept running so much that at some point she just ran out of space to run. [00:32:02]And, you know, and so that’s that’s why I talk about that story specifically with Black women, because the the brunt of community care has always been on them and it continues to be on them. [10.9s] And so, so yeah, I thought it was important to really tell that story about her in that way.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:32:20] Mm-Hmm. Powerful. And it’s it’s such a beautiful connection to to this this concept of labor and survival and this notion, you know, between a love, wrote a book we want to do more than survive, right? [00:32:37]And so just the importance of us not just making it through, but actually thriving. [4.4s] You know, one of the many rave reviews we know their haters. But you know, you have rave reviews about this book because it’s fabulous. One of them says that the memoir quote “memorializes the legacy of their grandmother and all of the Black grandmothers who have built the foundations necessary to ensure that their families would not only survive but flourish.” So, I want you to take us a little bit into how exactly your grandmother helped your family flourish and not just survive.
[00:33:16] Yeah, I mean, the ways in which she helped us flourish, in my opinion, was she was unconventional in her thinking. She knew that she was raising four boys, but she didn’t only like… She. She never operated from a space of like, OK, because they’re boys we’ll give them football and we’ll give them trucks and we’ll give them baseballs and we’ll give them bats. And would, you know, like it just wasn’t like, “OK, these are boy things. So I got to teach these boys boy things” right? She leaned into whatever our purpose was and what our passions were. She thought about the fact that even if we were boys, we also needed to know how to cook. And she, you know, taught me specifically how to cook, but she taught us how to cook. We had chores. We had to clean the house, right? And in the book, I talk about like, you know, cleaning the house and things like that are usually seen as like “woman duties.” She did not care like we had to clean the house top to bottom. And, you know, I still think about like how I still get up on Saturday mornings and I cut use newsagents like I did from when I was a child with her and I clean my apartment. My little brother does the same. I talk to my cousins, they do the exact same and literally they operate these same as how she ingrained it in us because to her, [00:34:35]it wasn’t a such thing as a boy or a “boy thing” or a “girl thing”. It was just, this is a thing that everybody should know. [6.2s] This is a thing that all children should know how to do and what they should be doing. I think about the fact that she instilled principles in us of a work of like working, but also following your passion. She was very passionate about children, and so she worked at the Sunday school and she did things for children. She was very passionate about community. So her and I started a soup kitchen when I was 14 years old for the city. So again, she was teaching me how to be an activist. And so it’s interesting, right? Like, I’m this activist today and I get all these awards for activism. But the first activist I ever saw was my grandmother because that’s what she was doing when she saw that someone in her community needed help. That’s what she did, and she brought me along with her. And because I saw that I now have a community focused lens that I never would have had had she not instilled that in me. And so I think about the little ways that she was imparting certain things on us to help shape us to to become who we actually become today. And, you know, everything she did, whether it was large or whether it was small, all of those characteristics play a role in a way that I see the world in the way that I see community. She was the first her and our Aunt Margaret and then were the first people that I ever saw love queer people in that way, had trans people at cookouts, had birthday parties for trans people, you know, you know, like, that’s the first time I ever saw it. And as an adult, I get to look back and reflect and say that was radical as hell in the 90s and early 2000s to have transgender women as your family and not be shamed or shunned, but be celebrated. Birthday parties cookouts. At the weddings, at everything. And, you know, like I again, it was just such again, as an adult. I can look back and see how radical she actually was because she did not care about what society said that she was supposed to be like or how she was supposed to treat people… When she treated people as people and allowed us the space to be individuals. Yeah, I think that’s all the things that she imparted on us in a little way now plays a role in a big way with the work that I do in the world.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:36:54] And I just have to note hearing that and hearing how much she loved her church and how much religion and church that seemed like it would be at odds, but this one beautiful human being was all of that. .
George M. Johnson [00:37:10] Yes. And and it’s funny. I didn’t put this story in the book, but I remember one of the last because we her we used to go to the Fourth of July parade every year together and the last parade we went to before she really got sick. I thought she was going to hit this preacher who jumped in my face like I really like. I really, really thought she was going to hit her on. And it was simply because I was sitting there and I have a lot of tattoos. And so I’m sitting there on my tattoos were all out because I had a tank top of one. And we were literally sitting in front of the lawn of our church because Mount Zion, because the parade comes through there and this preacher, you know, she’s in the parade as she had… And she really ran up on me and was like, You got to get a relationship with God and did it. And my grandmother was sitting next to me and I just saw her arm reach in front of me. And when I say she jumped and effacing was like, You know, nothing about my grandchild. My grandchild has been at this church behind us since they were five years old. And like, read this woman and a woman went away and nanny literally looked at me and she was like, I hate that people assume the worst of you because you have tattoos or because you come off as affeminate as a a male presenting person. And I just remember in that moment she was so pissed that somebody assumed that I had no relationship with God because of how I looked and because of my queernss and how I just was dressed and everything. And she was very, yes, like she was that church person who would not allow anyone to turn anyone away. And really quickly, I know I’m running my mouth, but really, really quickly. There was a member of our church who actually transitioned is now identifies as a transgender man. Her family, excuse me, as a transgender man, their family, his family still attended the church and refused to go to his wedding. And so my grandmother found out and my grandmother went in place of his mother and went to the wedding and gave the groom away. And she’s just that type of person like she was at a transgender man’s wedding from the church who she helped raise and then went back to the church and cussed her mother, excuse me, cussed his mother and his grandmother out for not going, you know, and so that’s the type of woman my grandmother was.
George M. Johnson [00:39:26] That is, I mean, I love your grandmother. I’m kind of sad I didn’t get to meet her. Oh, my goodness. So, you know, just a little bit before the audience, if you know they are unaware right now, George, you are you. Well, I mean, you always make a headlines, George. But as of right now, there is some current quote unquote controversy, particularly around your book “All Boys Aren’t Blue.” And that is, there are several entities in terms of school districts who are trying to have your book banned from from schools and being basically, I don’t know, we’re tiptoeing. into book burning time is what is clearly where we’re going. We’re very, very close. So, I mean, in all honesty, that kind of feels like one of those moments in which. And I know that you said I will not be silenced, right? And but it feels like one of those moments in which outside forces are trying to bruise. You are trying to turn that into brokenness. So in keeping with your latest book, “We Are Not Broken,” you know, what can you? How are you kind of applying the lessons that you’ve learned as you were writing through that book to turn to keep that current controversy, quote unquote around your book from turning into brokenness. Like how do you how are you moving past that?
George M. Johnson [00:40:55] Yeah. I mean, Nanny’s favorite saying was, “You got to bring ass to get ass” and I hear her every single day saying it to me as I’m going through this with the book and I literally can hear her saying, “You got to bring ass to get Ass, Matt, you got to bring us to get ass, Matt.”. And basically, what that means is if anybody is coming at you, they’ve got to. They better bring a full whatever at you because if you don’t bring it, you’re never going to get it from me because I’m gonna give it to you. And that’s what she always used to say. Like people run their mouth and pop stuff. You got to bring it. If you want to get it and trust me, if you bring it, then you better be ready for whatever I deliver to you. And she meant that, and I think about that every day because they were bringing it, and I was like, OK, if you’re going to bring it, then I’m a delivery. I’m gonna give you exactly what you want. And that’s literally how I have stayed very grounded in all of this. [00:41:48]I was prepared for this. I knew it was coming. I’m not a white queer writer. If I was white and queer and had a story like mine, I would have won a Pulitzer. I would have won every award. I would have been deemed, you know, the next great thing I would have been the Ryan Murphy of book writing. Like I would have I would have been given the keys to the kingdom had I wrote this particular type of story and put it in the world, right? It would have been as heralded as like a Fifty Shades of Gray. Trust me, if I was white and queer and wrote this particular type of memoir for young adults, it would have blown up every where. This would not be the issue it is today. It is because I am Black and queer. And knowing that I went into this already knowing that there was going to be challenges and that this particular day was going to come. But like, like the old folks say, you know, you don’t have to get ready if you stay ready. [51.5s] And so I was already ready for this and fully prepared, and I just thank her for being a person who never allowed us to be broken, like who always instilled in us, like to keep going and to push back against any type of bigotry and hate that came our way. And so that’s what I’m doing. And yeah, you know, I can just hear her saying, you know, I could hear her voice in my head like, you’re doing the right thing. Keep going, you’re protected, you’re covered. You know, they keep saying their god is stronger than your God. It ain’t. You know, I also believe in this universe. I believe in a God. She prays to find me and prayed to for me. So I’m covered. I’m good. And you know what? What do they they say — no weapons formed against me, right?
George M. Johnson [00:43:27] I love that. Yeah, I love that. Well, George, thank you so much for joining us. It has been an absolute pleasure. Misha, tell us where we can find all things about George, please.
Dr. Micia Mosley [00:43:42] All of it, including this heartbreaking, hilarious, heartwarming story and still reads because there are many in this book. Pick it up yourself. “We are not Broken.” Pick it up wherever books are sold. Or you can order it directly from George’s website. I am G M Johnson dot com.
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