Archive | May, 2010

War(rior) Women: For Harriet, Shoshana, and All the Rest

31 May

When I think of Black women’s relationship to the military, to war, and to soldier narratives more generally, I’m reminded that our motivations are often times fundamentally different and that our stories, like our lives, are unfairly ephemeral,  fading quickly into the background.

Black feminism would not be the same without one Black female war hero in particular: General Harriet Tubman. During the Civil War, Tubman planned and executed the only military campaign in U.S. History to be led by a woman. The result of her action at the Combahee River freed 750 slaves.  It was Harriet’s heroics at Combahee that led Black feminist activist Barbara Smith to name the venerable Black feminist group of the 1970s the Combahee River Collective. Smith said that the name “was a way of talking about ourselves being on a continuum of Black struggle, of Black women’s struggle.” And without Harriet, without Combahee, without Barbara Smith, a warrior in her own right, there would be no Crunk Feminist Collective, no model of fierce female activism for this generation.

I think, too, of 2003, the year that Shoshana Johnson, became the first Black female prisoner of war for 22 days. She was held captive in Iraq, and upon release, her story was dwarfed by the story of Jessica Lynch a fellow P.O.W., who received a multi-million dollar book deal. Both of these women were heroic, and both women’s stories deserve to be told. Not just Jessica’s.  But Jessica challenged soldier narratives because she was an ultra-feminine, dainty, blonde-haired white woman. Her challenge to the dominant masculine narratives of our military are welcome. But like so much of the history of white and Black women and feminism, the Black woman in this scenario was overlooked. Perhaps because America was honest enough to admit that Black women aren’t new to war, aren’t new to prison, aren’t new to violence on behalf of this nation. Perhaps because Shoshana’s dark-skin and Panamian features rendered her distinctly unfeminine and made her labor of love more cursory—obligatory— expected. Whatever the case, Johnson was a recipient of the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and P.O.W. medal. Her memoir I’m Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free CitizenMy Journey Home was released this year by Simon & Schuster.

So on this day, I will remember all the sisters who have fought  and are fighting for us to be free. And I am reminded that when Harriet fought, when Shoshana fought, when Ida and Sojourner, and Rosa, and Ella, and Fannie, and Angela fought, they fought for a realer more robust definition of freedom. One that recognized the fundamental humanity of all people, no matter color, gender, religion, sexuality, class or ability.  They understood that U.S. does not have a monopoly on freedom or a mandate to take liberties with the livelihood of others.  These women are the authors of my freedom songs, and it is them I remember today.

For all those sisters who are literally at war and the families missing them at home, I dedicate to them the new video from Trey Songz (I know, y’all—but  as contemporary representations of Black love go, this is one of the better ones). And to every sister fighting for us overseas, on war-torn urban city blocks, and in every place of struggle, I simply wish them: peace.

Dear Kiely, Pt. II

31 May

Male and Female Leads of Obvious Child wait in waiting room of abortion clinic

Hello Kiely,

Moya here again :)

I hope all is well in your world. I came across a short movie that reminded me of a question I’d asked in my initial letter to you. I wanted to know what a consensual one night stand without a walk of shame might look like.

Take a look; I think it’s pretty awesome.

Obvious Child from Gillian Robespierre on Vimeo.

It’d be nice to see people of color make a film like this, no? It would also be nice if to baby or not to baby weren’t the only question raised. I suppose because the condom broke they felt the question of STI’s  had been addressed.  And I’m sure for a lot of women of color it might not be quite this idyllic. And a horrible break up, that precipitates the drunken encounter, that  creates the possibility that a one night stand might turn into a relationship, is doing its own moralizing work.

Nevertheless, I thought you might enjoy seeing what’s possible in terms of visuals with a message these days. I do get the sense that “the sex was spectacular,” that she consented, even if she didn’t remember dude’s name.

Would love to know what you think Kiely, and if it makes you think about your own video any differently.

Best,

Moya B

*This open letter is part of the FAAN Mail project. Click here to learn more*

Heart Reached.

24 May

Janelle Monae and Crunk Feminist Moya Bailey at Release Party for Suite I Metropolis

Dear Janelle Monáe,

Wow. Your album reminds me of something Mdot always says: Black girls are from the future.

I’ve been a fan since forever, like since before you and I existed in present forms. The dorm tour, Dark Tower days, a jam session at Chuck Lightning’s… for real a magical night that is the stuff of grandparent “when I was in college…” lore.

Its been amazing to see you come into yourself, like the magnificent sculpture that emerges from a lustrous wood and the work of a fine crafter. You were/are before your time.

With ArchAndroid, I’ve been transported and transformed.
What you and your wonder twin have done this year for music is like what Octavia did for Afro-futurism before she transitioned.

Prophets heralding a new world era where black women, clothes on or stripped bare are changing the game.

Having a wonder twin and twin myself, I really love that way of naming your relationship to Erykah Badu.  Where as she sometimes gives an audience a thread to hold onto in the way of a sample or familiar phrase while gently pulling us by the heart and third eye to the future, you ask that we tip on it, take a risk and jump; sink or swim, fall or fly. Well luckily I am properly prepared, newly reminded that I’m 20 feet tall and I can jump up in the air and stay there.

ArchAndroid reminds me to reach for my higher self, that my playing small does not serve the world. It reminds me why I started quirky black girls and what I want for us.

I am so grateful for your words, the precision of your art, and the divine intention that your work reveals. You are a patternmaster, catching and transforming us with every note you sing.

You reached my heart.

Sincerely,

Moya B.

P.S. I loved your interview on 106 & Park! Also like your wonder twin, you seem to short the circuits of conspicuous consumption and groupthink. I love that you wear that tuxedo to honor your family and the girls who look up to you; A uniform for the cold war. Thanks again for reminding us to reevaluate.

For Elsie Lacks

20 May

Does anybody see the black women
Bound and gagged
In dirtied white gowns
Hair disheveled and feet bare
Climbing over one another
Trying to get your attention

Does anybody hear the black women
Moaning muffled cries
Kicking and wiggling
Banging their heads against the floor
Trying to get your attention

I see them.
I hear them.

They must be wondering…
Why is there a statue
Of Henrietta Lacks
In the middle of this room
Littered with our bodies–
Some injured, some sore, many dead?

Why is it these “brilliant” people
Keep looking up at this
Black women’s statue
Feeling the texture of her vagina
Admiring the details of her cervix
Praising the dedication of the sculptor

And yet they manage to keep
Stepping over our bodies
Without so much as a glance downward

They ask the artist
Can the family get compensation?
The family deserves something
But she insists that the law and medicine
do not protect such subjects
cannot repair the subjected
And so they move on.

They keep saying
the doctors and scientists
that used her cells
did great things for many people.
They deserve redemption.
They must be redeemed.

I’m a scientist.
I’ve worked with her cells
I must be redeemed

I studied under the doctor
who took her cells
He was a great man
He did great things
We deserve fair treatment
in the eyes of history

The artist offers a scale
supported by Black women’s bodies
Balancing the rights and good deeds of the
Scientific community on one end
and the Lacks family on the other
Fair and balanced
On Black women’s backs

They want to understand
How hard was it for you–
a White woman–
to get close to a black family
To get Henrietta Lacks’ story

They never question
how a White woman gained so much access
to privileged information
from largely White doctors, scientists, and assistants
to tell the HeLa story

And what of Mrs. Lacks’ daughter Elsie
One of the many
writhing Black female bodies
that got brought into this room
with this statue of her mother
erected in honor of the HeLa story

They too have stories of
systemic non-consensual experiments
that benefited people other than themselves
and their families

Research that left them battered, broken, and
banging their heads on the floor
for your attention

Can you see them?
Do you hear them?
I’m starting to think
I might be the only one.

“Damn, I Shoulda Said. . .” Vol. 1

20 May

Have y’all ever had one of those “Damn, I shoulda said. . .” moments? Generally this happens after someone has told you something totally unreasonable as though it were the most reasonable ish in the world. I had one of these conversations with my cousin recently. He told me he had been reading the blog and keeping up with what I was doing. Woohoo!  “You know,” he said,  “I think you’re a man-basher.” Huh? Immediately, I began  to mentally sift through the pieces I’ve written for the blog, searching for the day when I or any other CF had declared that “niggas ain’t shit” or some other like sentiment. Couldn’t find it. When I tuned back into the conversation, my cousin was saying, “you can’t talk so loudly all the time. Sometimes you have to use your indoor voice.” Indoor voice! Seriously?! Clearly I’d mistaken the CFC blog for an elementary school playground. And given the nature of this conversation, a recess—or better yet a time out—was most definitely in order. But I wasn’t so lucky. He went on to tell me in an earnest, even sincere voice, “Cousin, I think what you really need is to get it. You need to get it good.” Flabbergasted, I made a few half-hearted protestations and got off the phone. But the conversation has lingered, most likely because I didn’t say what I shoulda said.

So here goes “Damn, I shoulda said”:

Cousin,

I’ve never been a fairy tale type girl. So you’ll be hard pressed to sell me on the notion that what I need in my life is a man that can wave his magic stick—er,um, wand—in the right direction [a little to the left is what you told me to tell him] and all my wishes will come true and my troubles will go away.  The only folks I ever saw work that kinda magic was Grandmama, my mama, and our aunties, who overcame lots of stress and few resources to make a life for us.

Hell, these days a fairytale brother ain’t the one who’s fine as hell, pushin a nice whip, or owning a nice house. I’d settle for one who ain’t afraid of or intimidated by a woman with big dreams of her own.  That brother is mature, educated, emotionally stable, and has a few earnest goals himself. He ain’t trippin on a sister with an opinion. In fact, he welcomes it. He sees my don’t-take-no-shit attitude as confidence, and my willingness to hold folks accountable for their BS as maturity. Who I’m not checkin for or layin down with is the dude who thinks that the most effective way to deal with a powerful, self-defined sister is to dick her down. And tell her to shut up.

Thanks to a range of battery-powered resources, I don’t need to let a man drill me, just so I can access his “natural” resources. My homegirl says that  battery-powered alternatives [BPA’s] are better for at least six reasons anyway:  they’re guaranteed safe; they travel easily;  they don’t make false promises; you can control the rhythm, timing, and movement of the interactions; you don’t have to share; and you can see it in the package before you buy it.   What this means for your little cousin is freedom, because though I have needs, I don’t have to make a choice between my heart and my health, my soul and my sanity, my mind and my body to get those needs met. Perhaps that was (t)oo (m)uch (i)nformation, but you started it.

Here’s what I admire about you: that you are working so diligently to raise two responsible and upstanding young men.  I know you want your boys to know that their worth and manhood isn’t between their legs, but between their ears. I know you want them to have strong minds and big hearts.  The fewer little boys we have wielding their penises to solve their problems, the more men we will have partnering with us to solve the problems we face.

Anyway, Cousin, here’s what I need you to get and get real good. What you’re hearing from me is passion, not anger. There is a difference. Am I disappointed sometimes in the piss-poor choices I see Brothers making? Honestly, yes. Does expressing that disappointment make me a man-basher? No. It means I care enough/love enough to say something. When folks ain’t trying to hear you, sometimes you have to speak louder. When Brothers start to listen, get willing to communicate, come to the table with open ears and hearts, I’ll happily use my “indoor voice.”

Thank you for reading our blog. And thank you for caring enough to offer your two cents about my life. I know it comes from a sincere and loving place. You probably don’t know that you help inspire my crunk. When I feel tired and misunderstood, I remember one of your raps from back in the day:  “I was given a gift/ and I feel honored to preach/ But most fear the power of speech.”

Much, much love,

Your Little Cousin

Daddy’s Little Girl

17 May

There are a few episodes of The Cosby Show that make me cry.  Probably as much for their unrealistic portrayals of black life that looked nothing like my real-life experiences as for the happily-ever-after endings that concluded every 30 minute segment.  The things I found most believable and desirable, however, were not necessarily the brownstone in Brooklyn, discretionary funds, or inevitable success of five children…ironically, for me, the thing that made me cry was the “daddy-is-in-the-house-and-gives-a-damn” storyline (which was the most un-real and the most tear inspiring). Nevermind the fact that daddy was a doctor, mama was a lawyer, and they had five well mannered and well adjusted children who did not suffer from a lack of attention, affection, or supervision (imagine that no premarital sex or pregnancy, no drug experimentation, no disciplinary problems, etc.). 

I grew up in a full house but with female father-figures because my biological didn’t bother–and divided time between my mother, othermothers, grandmother and pseudo aunties and cousins.  We were NOT the Huxtables.  But it is not the traditional, nuclear family structure that most turns my heart upside down—it was the lovingly strict and humorous way with which Cliff handled his children–loved his children.  One episode in particular made me cry for hours after it was over (the “Father’s Day” episode, season 1).  In the episode Cliff reminisces about various father’s day gifts he has received from his children and complains that they always give their mother the “good” gifts.  After being confronted by their father with the various useless items they have either made or purchased for him over the years, the children decide to celebrate Father’s Day early (even though it is Christmastime) to show Cliff how much they love and appreciate him.  The gifts represent their personal relationship with their father and their observations of his needs and appreciation of his being a good father.

I couldn’t stop crying.  While I am not 100% sure that the tears were not hormone-driven (I may have been pre-menstrual) or that I would have the same reaction watching the same episode now, something in me moved that day and every other day when I think about the impact of not being a daddy’s girl.  I have a recovered relationship with my father (meaning the wounds are healed and covered with band-aids) but I still find it difficult on birthdays and holidays to find a card that truly represents our relationship.  They don’t have deadbeat daddy cards.  There is not a greeting card that acknowledges “you were never there for me…but I love you anyway,” or “I can remember the time I needed you and you were not there,” etc.  I usually opt for a blank card and write my own words, or get a generic card that could just as easily go to someone I barely know.  With cards, however, it is the thought that counts.

I remember thinking how lucky Rudy was (we are almost the same age) and wanting so desperately (but eventually outgrowing) to be a daddy’s girl.  All these years later and instead of being daddy’s little girl I am a grown woman negotiating daddy issues.  Daddy issues manifest themselves in many ways—as a teenager (and in my 20s) they led me to attract men who were  unavailable or uninterested (in me)  so that I could correct in me what was never right with Daddy.  My tantrums (various culminations of begging, pleading, kicking, screaming, crying) never worked to win the men over, but it never stopped me from wanting their attention and affection–even if it meant waiting (patiently and diligently). Even when it meant believing lies. 

I have been actively forgiving my father for years.  When I think about it, it is so much bigger than I’m sorry.  My father could never say he is sorry enough to make up for how his treatment and dismissal of me as a child has affected how I see myself, how I see men, and how I see relationships.  Its all broken, and in some ways I am broken, and him being sorry or saying sorry isn’t enough.  But it is a start. 

It was selfish of him to make a daughter and then walk away—to prioritize everything above me—to not give me a semblance of balance between loving myself and showing me what love looked like.  The template he gave me is the template I have followed—he starved me for his love so that when he gave me any moment of attention the moments were delicious—I have always ravished the uninterrupted attention of a man.

It is a miracle I am not a whore because attention and affection are addictive.  But I think I learned a long time ago, from my daddy, that some types of love are temporary.  Luckily the sick one-sided love relationships I had with men who were just like my daddy ended as quickly as they started—because otherwise I may have found myself a baby’s mama to a triflin’ motherfucker with no prospects.  My daddy issues translated into fierce independence and success because as a little black girl I was conditioned to be strong and told that I could not wrap my dreams around a man—and unlike the Huxtable kids I wasn’t given an example that looked like right…

I come from a long line of absent fathers.  My daddy, my mama’s daddy, my grandmama’s daddy (my great-great grandfather did not abandon his children, however, but worked out of the state) and I struggle with becoming the fourth generation of women in my family who try to figure out who they are and how to give (and receive) love to men who don’t care enough to stay. Or leave. 

The Cosby Show episode ends with children laughing around a father who would be every little girl’s dream.  My daddy made me laugh.  And he has always been one of the most beautiful men in my life.  If I were to gather all of his father’s day gifts together they would probably include empty bottles I waited for him to fill and issues I am ready to pour out.

All the Single Ladies… are 7

16 May

I don’t really watch mainstream news so it took a friend to bring the 7 year old single ladies to my attention. Have you heard? A pack of surprisingly skilled Orange County 7-9 year olds shaking what they don’t have to Beyonce’s unrelenting anthem Single Ladies at a dance competition went viral on the interwebs.

CNN, ABC, MTV, E!, have all been talking about how far is too far as they play the video of the girls in nearly nothing on a loop, in between reporting on Miley Cyrus’ lecherous lap dance, the latest drama on The Hills, Teen Cribs, and commercials for age defying skin cream. Not to mention, one too many bloggers said the routine made them feel dirty and uncomfortable. Needless to say, not one of these entities takes any responsibility for contributing to our youth and sex obsessed culture, nor the inevitable merger of these two larger than life forces in media. Can we really feign surprise at the hypersexualization of seven year olds when just a few years later they are used to sell any and everything in ads and on runways around the world?

Bey’s video is pretty tame compared to what some (white) choreographer taught these white girls to do. Her video is built on the 1960’s Bob Fosse choreographed, Gwen Verdon danced Mexican Breakfast; middle aged white women prancing around a studio does not exactly equal risque. The parents claim that Sasha is just too fierce for their girls and that they got the moves from Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. You be the judge (I’m giving serious side eye to the parents). And how is it possible that Bey & Co’s outfits are less revealing than the 7 year olds? Which soccer mom stitched those costumes together? And if perhaps in their lust for a trophy, in their craze for victory, they hired a black choreographer or had a brown person sew those tiny nymphet outfits by hand, its still connected to the white privilege of parents who employ people of color to sex up their seven year olds.

I mean lets be honest, part of the reason white folks are upset is because its white girls killing those suggestive dance moves. I did some youtube research and found numerous videos of little black and brown girls doing their best to put a ring on it but none of them quite compare to the tour de force that is this routine. They didn’t invoke a public outrage or garner CNN coverage.  When a group of equally young brown boys and girls, spurred on by cheering adults,  do some dancing of their own it didn’t make the evening news. So why is the nation up and arms suddenly about children being sexualized? It begs the question, whose children?

This pattern is visible with more serious things like missing children, childhood sexual abuse and child murders. White children are eagerly searched for and black children may not even make the evening news. This disparity in dance however has been marked by other bloggers before without interest from mainstream media.

In addition to the way whiteness is operating in this story, the technical skill of the girls is part of the reason this story has captured the national imagination. Little kids trying to do grown up things is one thing but little girls successful execution of straight up stripper dance moves is something else.

Unlike their brown and black contemporaries on youtube, little Jamie and Allison aren’t doing it for love, they have to win. In an age where upper and middle class helicopter parents are paying Olympic coaches to train their children in team sports, a 7 year old’s reproduction of Annie at the school talent show just doesn’t cut it. If winning means more sex in the routine, fewer clothes, no mistakes, parents are willing to teach their kids to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Good to know you’ve got them learning the important life lessons so early; win at all costs.

I think what one of the father’s says is true. I think the girls don’t know what they are doing, aren’t particularly clear on how their dance moves are being interpreted by the masses. I think they are having fun, excited that they can mimic the movements of adult women. Unfortunately, in this world we live in, its really hard for their accomplishments to be celebrated because of how their movements and outfits are so sexualized.

But I’m not surprised. American culture sexualizes children just as it infantilizes women every day. Bieber Fever is professed by women of all ages, male bloggers created a countdown clock to when the Olsen Twins turned 18, and as soon as girls get body hair they are learning how to remove it. We say we don’t want children to be sexualized too early but we allow advertisers and media to use sex to sell EVERYTHING and then act shocked when children pick it up or parents use sex to give their kids a competitive edge in a dance competition.

This has everything to do with consumption. Who is consuming these 7 year old sexualized bodies and for what ends? We say we don’t want our kids sexualized but we love to tease pre-schoolers about having boyfriends and girlfriends when they can barely talk, we make bikinis for babies, sexify children’s cartoon characters and yet we still refuse to talk to our children about sex. All of this and we still feed children the myth that sexual predators are out there somewhere and not in our neighborhoods, intimate relationships, and families. All of this as we pretend that people who abuse children are “sick individuals” as opposed to people we know shaped by the world we created. All of this and we teach children that its their responsibility to defend themselves from “bad touches” from strangers as we dangle sexuality in their faces, or have them dance in ways that are overtly sexual. All of this and we have the audacity to pretend that none of it is connected.

What will it take for us as a society to say that we care more about people than profits? Children than competition? Where will we draw the line and begin the serious work of examining culture and the way it informs the way we behave?

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