You know how sitcoms always have that one episode full of flashbacks?
These episodes serve to remind the viewer of defining events or character traits that make the character unique or memorable. For example, on my favorite TV show, Community, that meant showing protagonist Jeff Winger making his trademark inspirational closing argument speeches, even when, in classic weirdo fashion, that meant flashing back to events that hadn’t been seen before.
These episodes help to build a sense of context. And context is essential to understanding anything.
It’s my hope that this post will function as a good flashback tool. Readers who are new to my personality and/or style of writing might be well served to bookmark this article and come back to it anytime they’re upset, confused, or opposed to anything they see written under my byline. Knowing these things about me will help you to more fully understand what I’m about and why I think, write, and believe the things I do.
I’m Jelani Greenidge, and I am . . .
An African-American male, with all the complicated privileges and disadvantages involved therein.
Overall, I feel much more secure in my Black identity than I do as a dude, because I didn’t grow up being exceptionally athletic or excelling in any stereotypically “male” pursuits. However, being married to a White woman who is equally passionate about leadership (more on that in a bit) has opened my eyes to the various layers of male patriarchy embedded into society. It helps me to see both sides of the privilege equation.
(It feels funny having to tell people that I’m a dude, but sometimes my pieces are published online without any accompanying picture, and I’ve had people assume that I was a female. In my mind, I assume that such people pronounce “Jelani” with an emphasis on the first syllable, like “Melanie.” And then, in my mind, I cast withering glares in their direction.)
Also, you might see me refer to my ethnic/cultural identity as either Black or West Indian, which refers not to the western portion of India but to the Caribbean Islands. Either way, I do not apologize for having a distinctly Black perspective. This is not to say that my writing will resemble any other high-profile Black writers, because we are not all cut from the same stone. But it does mean that I might be working from a different set of assumptions, values, and/or presuppositions than what you’re used to, ones that are informed by my experiences, further complicated by the fact that I grew up in Portland.
I am also . . .
An intellectual. In the Meyers-Briggs temperament sorter, I am a Rational, classified as an ENTP. I have a very analytical bent. I love breaking things down and remixing them for fun. I care less about right answers than I do about good, healthy processes. I am the king of the analogy, like the time when I explained gentrification using a Sir Mix-A-Lot tune. (No, not THAT one.)
In person, I try not to be overly emotional, but sometimes you can see it come out when I’m writing about one of my passionate causes. Also, in general I try not to cuss, but I’m also not afraid of using profanity when describing things that are, well…profane.
This, despite the fact that . . .
I’m a worship musician who grew up as a pastor’s kid.
Both my wife and I grew up with life “behind the curtain,” and we are passionate about how church and church leaders should operate. I’ve had a variety of significant church experiences, from loud expressive charismatic revivals to more traditionally quiet and reverent liturgical experiences. Because my father planted one of the first intentionally multiethnic churches in the Evangelical Covenant denomination, most of my formative years have been spent doing cross-cultural church ministry.
Which reminds me…
I am a bridge person. As my friend Josh Pursley says, “Those of us who weren’t made to fit the molds were made to bridge the gaps.”
On my best days, I try to write like the kind of person who can relate to a wide variety of people. On my not-so-good days, I try to take solace in the “compliment” I often receive, that I’m the kind of Black person that White people seem to like. (This is both a blessing and a burden.)
In my longer artist/speaker bios, I usually include the following:
Jelani’s sweet spot for writing is anything that sits at the intersection of hip-hop culture, nerd culture, and evangelical culture. Stop and say hi! It’s not a busy intersection.