Who You Callin A Bitch?: Reviewing Helena Andrews’ Bitch is the New Black

2 Aug

I don’t believe bitch is the new Black, anymore than I believe that 30 is the new 20. As our most recent racial shenanigans have reminded us, Black is still its same ol’ Black self. And anybody who engages in the same shamtastic behaviors at 30 as she did at 20 is just plain trifling. That said, I think y’all should check out Helena Andrews recently published memoir Bitch is the New Black.

We know good and well that it ain’t easy out here on single Black women.  And the Tyler Perryization of Black women’s lives has made it possible for the likes of Steve Harvey and every other jackleg Black relationship expert to capitalize on our story but us.  Since Black women are always represented as loud, sassy, and inappropriate, our silence has been deafening. It’s high time that we get bell hooks with it, and start talking back. Helena Andrews has done that masterfully.

Hers is a delicious Black girl story, one that hits so many familiar notes, that you are transported episodically to different moments of your own life to recall how you handled a similar situation—family conflicts between your mom, your grandmother and your aunties; your first cheating lover; a pregnancy scare; a ridiculously stressful and uninteresting first job; your first encounter with the domestic abuse of a loved one; your love affair with the Cosby Show.  And yet, Helena Andrew’s story is also all her own, unique, self-contained, filled with the kinds of idiosyncrasies, that remind us that we are not the same, no matter how many two-dimensional portraits of ourselves we encounter daily. So here we learn what is like to be a Black girl reared by a lesbian mother, in a family that associates same-sex love with pedophilia. We encounter a bohemian Black girlhood, one associated with movement, not because of poverty, or military life, but because of her mother’s need for new surroundings.   For the adult Helena, this translates to a life of literally walking the walk. She doesn’t drive and has no interest in learning, even after two muggings.  And when she isn’t walking it out, homegirl Helena is talking it out, in classic Black woman fashion, with an endless string of refreshingly familiar girlfriends and colorful female characters.

The text is, of course, not without its hiccups. But then, neither is the path of a professional Black woman approaching 30. There are moments when the transition from e-chat speak to text are choppy and disorienting. That’s a technical issue. There is, however, also the sense that while Andrews grew up with a lesbian mother, she wants us to be very clear that she’s as straight as they come, whatever that means. There are thus endless recourses to referring to the most mundane of things as being “so gay,” or as in a chapter called Trannygate, referring to a transchick as “the she-man…name unnecessary.” Uh, not cool. Andrews certainly didn’t need to get didactic with it, but her own childhood put her in a unique position to represent queer folk humanely and heterosexual dating in ways that might have avoided such strident heterosexism.  That said, I know now in a very real way how much courage it takes to let others into your life, particularly among sisters who can sometimes be the worst critics among us, and so I refuse to be overly critical of this book. I don’t promise that you’ll like everything in it. You might even dislike the author, given her self-professed bitch tendencies. But what she has proved is that our stories matter; and if you don’t like hers, write your own.

This is a book for every Black woman who’s ever needed to read, hear, feel, breathe another sista’s story… a book for every girl who’s ever dealt with inappropriate sexual conversations from a mother who’s trying to be hip, an ex-dude with stalker tendencies, or a dead-end relationship that kept you pinned down because the sex made your toes curl. And while, Andrews has her admittedly bitch moments in this book, she does not shy away from admitting the vulnerability that informs those moments, or from brutal, gut-wrenching honesty in general, even when it means discussing the suicide of a close Black girlfriend, in a culture where strongblackwomen just don’t do that.

When I heard about this book, last Fall, and its title, I approached it with the same skepticism with which I approach Tyler Perry movies. I didn’t need to have anyone else calling me a bitch just because I’m educated, especially not a sista. Unlike TP, however, this text does not disappoint. When you read this, you will know that there’s another Black chick out there, who’s slogging through it, who’s working it out, perhaps very differently from you, but who ultimately gets it.

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One Response to “Who You Callin A Bitch?: Reviewing Helena Andrews’ Bitch is the New Black”

  1. YC August 4, 2010 at 8:00 PM #

    There is, however, also the sense that while Andrews grew up with a lesbian mother, she wants us to be very clear that she’s as straight as they come, whatever that means. There are thus endless recourses to referring to the most mundane of things as being “so gay,” or as in a chapter called Trannygate, referring to a transchick as “the she-man…name unnecessary.” Uh, not cool. Andrews certainly didn’t need to get didactic with it, but her own childhood put her in a unique position to represent queer folk humanely and heterosexual dating in ways that might have avoided such strident heterosexism.

    You would think.

    Someone this transphobic and gender-insecure is not anyone I would want to call a “sista.” Period. Nothing for me is more rage-inducing than heterosexist Black folk.

    No matter how much we’ve pledged fealty to this racist, murderous system, cisnormativity ain’t never done us much good. Not now, not ever. The sooner Black folk learn this, the better.

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