Archive | September, 2010

On Eddie Long and #NWNW

30 Sep

Picture of Eddie LongNo Wedding No Womb Logo- wedding bells = image of stick baby

So I’m trying to write a dissertation and support some really amazing disability justice activist friends of mine so I really don’t have time to be messin’ around with this Eddie Long/#NWNW business but…

Here I go.

This will be real quick though. Promise.  Point by point even.

  1. Abusing children ≠ “gay” – I am all for us critiquing and thinking about Eddie Long’s desires for men but the truth is (yes, I think he did it) he abused his power and at least four vulnerable boys, as their age defines them in the “courts of justice.”  There are plenty of people who embrace their same sex desire and incorporate that into their identity or choose to keep that part of themselves to themselves. But they don’t abuse children. That’s what we should be talking about with Eddie Long, lest we equate repressed same sex desire with gay identity and subsequent child sexual abuse. LGBQ people choose to love each other and enter relationships; they don’t coerce vulnerable children with much needed affection and affirmation and prey on them.
  2. “No one man should have all that power.” -The power of the pulpit co-creates these situations with ample collateral damage.  Did you know that absolutely awesome phrase that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” was written about papal power in the Catholic Church? We can all see how relevant it continues to be in that religious context and beyond. When Eddie Long stepped up to the pulpit and put his glasses on to the roar of his congregation I couldn’t help but think of that line from Malcolm X (h/t to Tobias). It didn’t matter what Long said (and he didn’t say he was innocent), the congregation “supports its pastor, period.” The inherent hierarchy of the church exacerbates abuses of power and the fact that we’ve seen iterations of these abuses over and over again doesn’t seem to change the way folks feel about their “prophets.” Regardless of their desire for adult men or lack of desire for adult women, preachers/priests/pastors and self proclaimed bishops’ unfettered access to vulnerable children and the immense amount of power we grant them, should give us pause (no homo).
  3. No Wedding No Womb- I’ll give you that you just picked the title b/c you liked the alliteration (it’s a favorite literary device of mine too), that your inadvertent and untimely use of the word “wedding” amidst the fallout of the prop 8 black people controversy and ongoing debates surrounding same sex marriage is more an issue of semantics than out right heterosexism. Okay. But to act as though a commitment between two people is the solution to men— wait, I take your pass on heterosexism back—dipping out on parental responsibility seems to completely misrepresent what actually is a crisis in infrastructure, resources, and cause to question our reliance on a nuclear model of parenting in the first place. People need community, love, dough (both kinds) to raise kids. Married or partnered parents are not better than other parents.
  4. Solutions – #NWNW has critiqued dissenters for not offering solutions (though I feel like we’ve been offering them) so I’ll be explicit here.
    1. Let men be queer-  I mean let men express emotions that are typically gendered “woman”, like sadness, love, happiness, etc. without saying they are less of a man because of it.  Allow men to shed hypermasculine notions of being in terms of how they dress, behave, etc. How dope would it be if men could shed their cold detached unfeeling personas? This has the effect of allowing men to be emotional beyond the confines of nuclear family and be more loving to other children and women in their lives, regardless of whether or not they’re related. It has the added effect of destigmatizing traits that are read as feminine in men, which in turn might reduce some of the homophobia that energizes the Eddie Long situation and these recent tragic “suicide” deaths of young people. Homophobia Kills.
    2. Demand more infrastructure to support parents- The government owes its people and its children more than its giving. It passes the buck to individual households to do the heavy lifting. The classism and ableism at the heart of the nuclear family has got to be unpacked. Even in married two parent homes there’s not always enough to go around. The assumption that people should be able to do it on their own as a single family unit perpetuates the myth of independence. We all need help to get through life and most of the time we act like we don’t because that supports a capitalistic ethic of individualism.
    3. It takes a village- We see the fallout of thinking that children are the individual responsibility of their parents in #NWNW own posts. In the greatest of ironies, the founder said the crisis of black fatherlessness was responsible for Eddie Long’s indiscretions as opposed to reading his marriage and patriarchal power as an enabler of his behavior and the reason that people thought he was safe. Surely a married, wealthy, pastor with kids who does good things in the community can’t hurt these boys. We remain attached to the myth of the predator “out there” as opposed to examining the conditions that create the power imbalances that cultivate abuse. How might this situation have played out differently if everyone thought of those boys as their “spiritual sons?” What would it mean for all adults to feel accountable to all children in their community? Would individual fathers who weren’t present matter? As is evident in cultures around the world, the primacy of biological parents is not a given. There are a myriad of traditions of child rearing that don’t center biological/nuclear parenting and the kids are more than all right.  Two people, man and woman, even with rings need resources to raise children and to ignore that as well as the accompanying hypermasculine gender expectations for black men in those structures is to miss the issue all together. Perhaps black folks’ ambivalence about marriage signals problems with the institution itself and not with black people.

Check tweets by @shelbygoodwin, @dopegirlfresh, @aliciasanchez and @crunkfeminists for more on #NWNW.

Fish Dreams and Fantasies: Contemplating Motherhood

30 Sep pregnant pic

Fish dreams signal pregnancy in my family.  The premonition, which was mostly my grandmother’s or another maternal figure, has been consistent and accurate for as long as I can remember.  All girl children were implicated by any dream that featured fish. . .

 Menses signaled to my family that I was to be watched, warned, and if need be threatened with the many ways that motherhood would limit my options, embarrass the family, and guarantee me a life of struggle.  I was told that I should keep my head in the books and my legs closed.  So I followed directions and resisted temptations.  I also learned the synchronicity of fate and the intentionality of swallowing a tiny pill at the exact same time every single night.  Fear and abstinence kept me from doing what I was perpetually warned not to do, “come around here (home) with no babies!”

I am not sure that anyone expected me to still be child-less in my twenties, but I approached that decade as I had my earlier years, masking heartache and loneliness with focus and determination, seeing a potential pregnancy as an unnecessary complication, and pouring my maternal longings on other people’s children.  I always imagined I would have plenty of time to have a family, and in my fantasies (where love and fairness is spread out equally, regardless of race; where beautiful black men are not scarce or disinterested; and where our ideal time lines and expectations about love are met) my soul mate would emerge with enough time for us to spend a decade falling in love, followed by an intentional and well orchestrated pregnancy.  I would give birth to a son, who would favor his father and my mother.  I would teach him how to be a feminist, an artist, and a football fan.  My fantasy about being a mother usually ended there.

The reality is, women don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the time is right to decide if they want to be a mother.  Biological clocks start ticking loudly when you turn thirty, and I imagine they ring like an alarm by the time you are 35.  Having recently had a birthday I am suddenly utterly cognizant of the fact that with each passing year, I am less likely to have a biological child.  I also know that the decade-long courtship of my fantasies is unrealistic, if not impossible, especially leading to a blissful and uncomplicated pregnancy in my thirties or forties.  I don’t know how I feel about that. 

When I was in my twenties I convinced myself I didn’t want children, so the inconsistencies didn’t matter. Like Sula, the main character of Toni Morrison’s novel by the same name, “I didn’t want to make somebody else, I wanted to make myself.”  But now I am faced with fleeting moments of baby blues, punctuated by the fact that “making myself” isn’t a permanent process. 

For most of my life not getting pregnant has been a tremendous accomplishment.  The hallmark of my success as a girl, and my mother’s greatest accomplishment as a parent, was getting me through school without having a baby.  My sister and I were the first of my grandmother’s female grandchildren to make it out of high school without getting pregnant.  

Sometimes I cry for my would-be son, wondering if he will ever be born.  I cry because I want him so bad, but at the same time not at all.  I cry because I don’t have time for him now.  Because I haven’t met his father yet.  Because if I miss the opportunity to meet him or be his mother I will be devastated.  I imagine my maternal aspirations are transitory.  They will pass.  I may not want to be a mother tomorrow.

When I think of living a child-free life, a life that may or may not be my destiny, I fear

absence

loneliness

regret

lost opportunity

an expired biological clock

no legacy

no one with my mother’s eyes

my grandmother’s skin

my sister’s smile

my father’s dimples

no piece of me or part of me left in the world when I’m gone

The possibility of having a baby scares me, but the impossibility scares me more.

The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Sex and Power in the Black Church

29 Sep

Last night, I watched the interview of  Jamaal Parris,  one of four young men who has come forward accusing Atlanta mega church pastor Eddie Long of sexual abuse and coercion. When the story of Long’s alleged sexual abuse of these young men hit news outlets last week, I was shocked and reluctant to comment. You see I’m a committed Christian, a weekly churchgoer, and the (step)daughter of a pastor. I attended grad school in Atlanta, where I also regularly attended a mega-church, led a ministry team, and heard Bishop Long preach on more than one occasion. He’s my pastor’s pastor.  And my deeply spiritual and religious parents reared me that we do NOT speak against pastors (God’s anointed). All these things swirled in my head as this story broke. But alas, “it’s time to put away childish things” and have some grown folk discourse about sex and power in the church.  Ironically, that verse appears at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, the oft-quoted passage on love, because it is a reminder that real love is grown folks business. It cannot be undertaken and sustained by the childish, the immature, and the faint of heart.

If we are committed to a revolutionary love ethic, we have to be honest even when it hurts. And what’s honest is that there is something undeniably real when you listen to this young man’s testimony. Given the parochial and limiting narratives of Black sexuality and Black masculinity propagated by the church and the unchecked power given to preachers particularly in mega-church pulpits, this man has everything to lose and nothing to gain if his accusations are untrue.  He admitted to a same-sex encounter with a married preacher. Because of our rampant homophobia and blind love for our pastors, this young man has been subject to much ridicule I’m sure.

When I looked into Jamal’s eyes, I was reminded of more than a few Black men with whom I’ve come into contact who have admitted being abused as children. Can we get real about the dirty little secret of sexual abuse in our communities? If we’re honest, part of the reason that Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes have been able to build the empires they have is because they actually will name this issue. The success of their films at least confirms that while much, very much is to be desired, we at least have some kind of discourse about the abuse of Black girls and women. But we are virtually silent on the abuse of young men, even though it is too common to be uncommon.  Because of our homophobia, insularity, and mentality of closing ranks, we’d rather not deal. And so we leave countless Jamal Parris’ to be abused, with no outlet other than legal to address  and redress their concerns. And just like we know that prior sexual abuse is a major cause of low self-esteem and other emotional ills among Black women, perhaps we should consider that much of the violent, self-hating behavior that we see among young Black men is due at least in part to unnamed and unacknowledged sexual abuse.

But let’s also be clear. What Long has been accused of doing isn’t about sex. It’s about power, as sexual abuse generally is.  And as my friend Theresa has written, we need to seriously rethink our stance on giving pastors all the power. At my church in Atlanta, a few years back, we voted as a congregation to take away all voting power from ourselves and to give virtually all decision-making power to the pastor. Back then, the decision made sense. I understood my pastor to be one who heard from God about God’s vision for our church, and I understand that that vision was not supposed to be left to the whim and fancy of the people. When I was confronted with the reality of these four young men, I realized the fallacy of that thinking. Everybody has to be accountable to somebody, and in a community of faith, if God tells it to you, surely God will confirm with a substantial number of one’s congregants. Otherwise it’s suspect, no matter how good it sounds.

But as I reflect back on that time, I am amazed at the degree to which I bought in to all I was taught, the degree to which I was afraid to question, question though I did. The penalty for challenging church authority is steep, and I’ve definitely paid some tolls on that highway. And my mode of challenging can’t hold a candle to the courageous acts of these young men. So I know the price is inordinately high for them.

Yet, it amazes me that we can’t speak about sex given that book of erotica dropped right in the middle of the Bible. Song of Solomon is not just a Toni Morrison novel, in case you were wondering.   Ifvthe very preachers who continue to espouse this theology fail over and over again to live it out, perhaps the problem is not one of human frailty and sin as we are so wont to conclude. Perhaps our sexual theology needs revisiting and rethinking. And this for both straight and queer folks.

On Sunday morning, I watched the live coverage of New Birth’s early service. Long is a powerful preacher, and his mini-sermon on how to handle tough situations, reflected the best of Black Baptist homiletic traditions. After mocking the crowd [“we’re here every Sunday,”] with raucous applause from the New Birth family, and standing ovations after every comment, Bishop Long got down to what everyone “came for.” He said that though he was not “a perfect man,” he “is not the man the television is portraying him to be.” He indicated that he was “gonna fight this thing.” And in a most arrogant twist, he put his accusers on notice, “I feel like David fighting Goliath. I’ve got five stones and I ain’t thrown one yet.”  <Drops Mic>

“Love is not arrogant or rude. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

On Sunday, I didn’t see any Jesus in Eddie Long. He did not one time express concern for his accusers and it stands to reason that if these are totally trumped up charges, a pastor who admittedly claimed to love these boys would be troubled, would ask his congregation to pray for their well-being,  would indicate his own hurt, bewilderment, and confusion at this situatin. But no. None of that. Just an arrogant pronouncement that he was gonna come for (no pun intended) his accusers.

The question to be asked about Sunday’s shenanigans is a simple one: “Where is the Love?”

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers…but I have not love I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and give up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

For all those folks who think Long’s good works serve as an apologia for his abuse,  they don’t. You can’t love someone and violate them, abuse their body, coerce them, emotionally manipulate them, and then lie on them and subtly threaten them when they speak out against you. Abuse is not love.

If faith is the “evidence of things unseen,” what is evident to me are four hurting young men, an arrogant preacher, and a Black Church largely unwilling or unable to get real about sex, even though there’s a whole lot of it going on from the pulpit to the pews.  With that much evidence, what more do you need to see?

Help Support “To The Other Side of Dreaming”

28 Sep

Mia and Stacey

Support “To The Other Side of Dreaming”

In a flash of bold courage and brave vision Mia Mingus and Stacey Milbern began a journey of possibility the likes of which the world… well at least we’d never seen. “..two queer disabled diasporic Korean women of color in the process moving from the South to the Bay to create home and community with each other”?! While surely such a phenomena cannot be new to the universe, have YOU ever heard of such an amazingly beautiful thing?!

This radical act of love and reclamation cannot be performed alone. The costs of moving from coast to coast is daunting for anyone, yet even more daunted when dealing with the realities of our able-bodied and inaccessible world.

In an effort to lend our support to two of our favorite people we are working to help them raise the $12,000 necessary to make their dream a reality.

Energized by the collective spirit that their move embodies, we are calling on our communities to support their vision by giving what ever you can give!

As Mia writes, “the reality that once we’re there, there aren’t even going to be that many places we can go to, get into, be with people in.  Will we be able to go over to people’s houses to build with them outside of public spaces (the limited accessible public spaces that is)?  the knowledge that what we are doing here is finding not just space for us, but for community as well.  we are finding home to be intimate with people in, to be queer in, to be women of color in.  we are making accessible queer space, accessible queer people of color space, accessible disabled queer people of color space, for all of us; something that i have been yearning for for what seems like forever.  places where we can begin to build past these concrete divides of stairs, money, bathrooms, doorways, reading, speaking…silence and exclusion.”

Don’t you want to be a part of this awesome vision?! Don’t you want to build this amazing inclusive community?!

We thought so!

So here’s how!

Support “To The Other Side of Dreaming” chip in!

http://miamingus.chipin.com/support-to-the-other-side-of-dreaming

$12,000 is  a lot of money but it’s the actual, for real, no frills, cost to get Mia and Stacey to the bay.

  • For Stacey and PA to go out to see a house and/or continue house/housing hunting on next trip flight for two – $750
  • PA gas and tolls to get to Mia’s house in ATL- $150
  • PA food for a week – $125
  • PA pay ($150 x 5 days) – $750
  • For Mia to go out to the bay again to either do the walk through (since the house won’t be ramped yet) or go and continue looking for housing since Stacey won’t be able to go and look at most things to see if they can be modified to be made accessible flight – $300

House alterations (if they get this house):

  • Main ramp: $1,215
  • Home modifications: $500
  • Personal care attendants at 8 hrs a day $15 a hour for 2 months: $7320.  This will be for the 2 months (we hope it’s only 2 months!) when Stacey is moving her state services over to CA.
  • Taxi from airport because of no access to van: $40
  • Extra crip baggage: $50
  • Shipping our stuff: $800

But building collective disability community… priceless!

If you’d like your contribution to correspond with one of the above needs, let us know by leaving us a note with your donation!

And of course, money isn’t the only way you can help! Check out these other creative fundraising ideas that folks have come up with!

If you have other ideas (like you’ve got a moving truck or you and friends can build a ramp) please email us at totheothersideofdreaming@gmail.com!

In radical love,

the Quirky Commune aka 2/3 or simply, Moya & Yolo!

On the possibilities for beauty; for love.

27 Sep

We live in a hurting and hurtful world.  News reports abound, of course, that makes nihilism a quotidian way of life.  But more than that, it is a viable option for moving through times that give us so little reason to smile, to love, to have joy.  But the beat drops and you see folks nodding their head in a hooptie in the hood.  You see a kid running, laughing, with the biggest smile on his, her or hir face.  And you begin to wonder.  And feel, maybe just slightly, wonderful.  There is beauty in the world, in this world.  Not because of what we do, what we create or our life situation; there is beauty because we are here, because we exist, because we are.

I remember the sermon I preached at Metro State Women’s Prison in Atlanta, GA in 2005.  Women locked up, behind bars, behind walls…away from family, with khaki colored prison uniforms, white socks and sneakers on.  To consider life within the compressed space of the prison is to think about the possibility for joy in the most constrained environments.  To think about the life, love and laughter there is to elucidate for me how there is the possibility for something new in situations that are rather horrific.  To linger in the condition of imprisonment would make us miss the humanity of the women altogether.  What can we learn from the incessant desire to remake the world, even in the confines of constraint?  The sermon I preached – “You Are Beautiful” – resonates with me even, if not especially, today because I do not think we hear it often enough.  So here, right now, to you, I say: you are beautiful.

In the biblical book of Genesis – that space where things began, where things were spoken, where things were called forth – is a simple mythic declaration from the deity figure: “let us make humankind after our image and in our likeness.”  Surely, this seems simple at first blush until we consider the context in which this initially oral tale was told.  Israel was a captive group, always in danger of being stolen from their land into diverse places and put to work.  The Egypt narrative – where they were enslaved and forced to labor – is one such space to consider.  Other religious traditions in existence during the time this Hebrew biblical story was being told posited that only the king or chief or leader was created in the image of the Divine.  As such, the status of the individual was the condition of possibility for beauty.

Beauty – in the way of image and likeness – is conferred upon us all.  Thus, the narrative of “let us make humankind after our image and in our likeness” democratizes the notion of beauty.  This beauty is not a function of what one does or what one’s labors produce.  Beauty is not limited to those who have a particular class, gendered or ethnic status but is opened up to all created being. Beauty resides in the very fact that you are an idea, an idea that exists…here.  Now.

To begin again.

In Beloved, Baby Suggs preaches in the clearing – the compressed space of the wilderness, the far far away, distant land – always in danger of being violated because the bodies populating the worship service were constantly surveilled.  It was there in that place that she told the people to laugh, cry and dance, to love their hands and hearts.  If there was a confession of faith it was in this: say that you love yourself.  Indeed, that is the prize.  Loving yourself indulges your beauty.

Loving yourself in the face of impossibility is the prize, it is the knowledge of beauty in the world of refusal.  There is a gap between love and the things deemed possible.  In that gap is desire for relationality, for love, for remaking the world.  In the gap between the fact of enslavement and the idea of freedom are those dancing, moaning bodies to whom Baby Suggs preaches.  In the space between the fact of imprisonment and the idea of liberation are the women of Metro State Women’s prison, having social, sexual, erotic lives when the prison would preclude this potential.  Evident is that we can inhabit multiple worlds simultaneously.  The world we perceive quickly  is not the only one available.  There is beauty in the world…this world.

I have been obsessing over the bass lines in songs lately because they do what I wish to do: extend the beat with playfulness, by the pluck of the string.  The virtuosity with which bass players perform is a primary example of the sorta play that intrigues me (listen to Musiq’s “Until” for an example: http://www.theregen.net/music/until.mp3).  Running and jumping and descending the scales, sometimes in succession, others in atonal intervals.  In between the bass notes plucked is, I think, the desire to stretch the meaning of that very infinitesimal pluck of the string, the hope that the vibration of the string which we hear can be ongoing, that it will allow us to linger just a little while longer.  I want to be in between these notes, to look around a bit, to explore possibilities unbounded, possibilities abounding.

Love, in my opinion, allows us to relate to one another.  It is what caused Harriet Tubman to think of freedom as a fundamentally social thing: she missed the people with whom she lived and laughed, felt pleasure as well as pain.  Freedom was a spiritual thing, and a community experience.  To be in New York alone was not freedom.  To escape with others…that was freedom.  Freedom was not in the place of New York.  Rather, it was in the space, in the between, in the movement back and forth.  Freedom was in her love, in her loving movements, in her loving escapes.  Freedom was in her capacity to have emotion and to find ways to enact them.

Relationships are the occasion for organizing and targeting toward specific objects, thoughts about love, happiness, joy, affection and care.  Emotion resides in us and is quickened when we meet someone towards whom we would like to explore the possibilities of expressing these feelings.  These emotions exist previous to their being enacted.  Love precedes the occasion or event, simply searching for a chance to be performed.  Our emotions exist as preface and many times there is the undesirable postlude (the break-up).  But we want the song.  The song is the in-between-ness that gives the chance for social interaction.

To love is to linger, to extend the feeling as long as possible.  Maybe this is why repetition in music is so powerful, why bent notes are so persuasive, why melisma is so enrapturing, why screams are so piercing.  These sounds go down, way down, deep down below the surface to infinite depths, exploring possibilities for life, love and liberty.

And Baby Suggs preached about love and beauty.  And in Genesis, we have a narrative about love and beauty.  We continually are reminded that even in the most horrible of conditions, love and beauty must be possible.  They are what allow us to relate to one another, what prompts our imagination toward the making of a new world.  So in this world of hurt and hurtfulness, love and beauty are not destroyed.  Rather, since they precede action and are organized according to situation, when they are compressed they are enacted creatively.

Females: You Just Can’t Trust ‘Em and Other Lies Women Believe

19 Sep

Distrust among women is at epidemic proportions, especially among women of color.  I am always amazed at the number of women I encounter who declare proudly, that they don’t hang with other FEMALES, preferring the company of males whom they are quick to assert are less prone to gossip, back-stabbing, and emotionalism. Side Note: Y’all know dudes gossip! Stop frontin! For many women, it’s a badge of honor to be “one of the guys.”

Ironically, I have never heard a man declare that he doesn’t “kick it with other dudes, because men are generally not to be trusted.” In fact, such a notion sounds absurd on its face, doesn’t it?

I’m not trying to be clever or dismissive. I get it.  Many of us have been hurt by other women. Deeply. I certainly have. I have had girlfriends to smile in my face and then talk behind my back, sometimes while I was still in earshot. Because I’m more of a nerdy, home-body, I continue to be the friend easily left on the back burner when more glamorous, exciting people come along. I have had knockdown drag out arguments with homegirls, nursed terrible break-ups of what I thought would be life long friendships, and cried more than a few tears over unreciprocated acts of platonic love.

As one friend told me in the midst of hurting me deeply, “I’m not used to expending this kind of energy on girls. I only expend this kind of energy on men.” She was insinuating that my love for her, my commitment to our friendship, must have signaled that I was lesbian. The statement was insulting, not because it questioned my sexuality, but because it reduced my love to the sexual and suggested that women who love one another deeply must be sleeping together, as if sex is ever a guarantee that the love is good.  Lesbian sisters will tell you that it ain’t easy for them either. But it is precisely our homophobia, our fear that loving other women actively exposes the falsity of the strict boundaries of straight and gay identity that keeps many of us from loving one another with our full selves.

Perhaps what is more troubling is that many straight women believe deep down that in matters of happiness women are as expendable as men are indispensable. Hence my friend’s conclusion that only men are worthy of her relational energy.  But a life without sister-friends is a miserable and unhappy life.

Why is it that when women hurt us, the entire lot of us ceases to be trustworthy? And yet, men daily commit humiliating, heart-wrenching, soul-gutting acts of insensitivity, inconsideration and violence toward us. And we get up again and again and commit to loving them. Something is wrong with this picture.

Our thinking must change.

Let’s revisit and revise the messages that we got from our personal experiences, men, and even the women in our families that told us not to trust other women. Adulthood demands that we deal with our daddy issues and issues with men in general; Grown womanhood demands that we unpack the bullshit that we have with other women, that we name it, process it, and begin to heal.

Every time we use the word “female” in a derogatory manner, we strip women of their humanity. Cats can be female. Dogs can be female. Women are people. And no woman, be she cis or transgendered, should be reduced to her biology or discredited because of it. And as female dogs go, surely we don’t need anyone else to refer to us as bitches. For those of you who think your use of the term is innocuous, consciously check to see if you are ever saying anything positive about women when you refer to them as “females.” (E.g. “I don’t associate with females.” Substituting women in this statement doesn’t really make sense; although substituting the term “bitches” makes the most sense of all. So what are you really saying when you call women “females”?)

And can we also just be honest? If you can’t trust “females” as a group, can we trust you? The notion that every woman including you is not implicated in her own sweeping denouncements of other women is just as faulty as the woman who tells herself that her favorite rap star, “ain’t talking about me,” when he refers to all women indiscriminately as bitches and hoes.  Trust is like respect. To get it, you gotta give it.

In the last few years, I have been blessed with many women friends, after many lonely years of wondering if I would ever have close girlfriends. These women have loved me fiercely, even in moments when I didn’t love myself. They have talked me through countless heartbreaks and romantic disappointments. They encourage me and challenge me to grow. I am a better me because of the women I (have) know(n,) love(d), and share(d) this walk with; without them, it would have been a spiritually truncated journey.

A friend’s blog post reminded me recently, “I’m not only my sister’s keeper; I am my sister.” That one is worth taking to the bank.

Open Season on Women

16 Sep

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS AN ACT OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE

A young woman is walking to work at about 6 AM when a man appearing to be on a cell phone waits for her to pass him and then  grabs her and carries her behind a van.  They disappear from view and he later emerges fixing his clothing and she emerges a few minutes later in a state of confusion adjusting her clothes. This is caught on the surveillance camera of a convenience store that was not yet open.

When my brother brought this video to my attention I was not prepared for what I saw.  Even though I read about this, and hear about this, and haven’t been that far away from this myself, I just wasn’t ready.  When I saw this video my heart stopped beating and hasn’t beat the same since.  I’m still struggling to comprehend the world we live in that can produce such sickness and evil, but I still don’t have the words to speak.  I wanted this blog post to say something deep, but I’m feeling to much to think.  A moment of silence is necessary…

Street Harassment: The Uncomfortable Walk Home

16 Sep

Family, check out this piece from friend of the CFC Elizabeth Mendez Berry.

by Elizabeth Mendez Berry/ www.mendezberry.com (this is a translation of a Spanish-language oped originally published by New York’s El Diario on September 14, 2010)

I was 13 when I was sexually harassed for the first time. On a sunny summer day, two men in a pickup truck followed me for several blocks, yelling obscene things they wanted to do to me. When I was 18, a catcaller chased me home from the grocery store; he tried to force his way into my apartment.

My experience is not unique: street harassment is an everyday problem, but one that’s rarely acknowledged. According to several studies cited by Holly Kearl, author of the new book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, between 80 and 99 percent of women have been the targets of aggressive, unwanted attention from male strangers. When she polled 800 women, Kearl found that 75 percent had been followed, and 57 percent had been sexually touched or grabbed in the street by male strangers, some when they were just ten years old.

This epidemic has serious consequences: University of Connecticut researchers found that “the experience of street harassment is directly related to greater preoccupation with physical appearance and body shame, and is indirectly related to heightened fears of rape.” In a country where one in three women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, such fears are not unfounded.

Unfortunately, the average street corner catcaller is oblivious to this reality. Recently, a young man on a bicycle followed me up my own street. When I asked him to leave me alone, he was surprised and seemed even embarrassed, as if it had never occurred to him that a woman wouldn’t enjoy being chased at night. Though many catcallers don’t have nefarious intentions, they don’t put themselves in our shoes. Too often, it’s a long, uncomfortable walk home.

Despite the fact that it touches almost all women, gender-based street harassment isn’t considered a social problem in the way that, for example, racially-motivated street harassment is. Many believe that women should just relax and enjoy the commentary. And many of us do appreciate a poetic compliment from a respectful man. But the problem is that a “Good morning, beautiful” can instantly become “Go to hell, bitch” if the gentleman in question doesn’t take rejection well. In Washington D.C. last May, a man shot a young woman in the leg when she declined to give him her phone number. It’s an extreme example, but many women report that they have been threatened or even attacked by disgruntled harassers– I know several women who have had bottles thrown at them. The vulgar turns violent with a troubling frequency.

Ten percent of women report quitting a job in order to avoid a harassment-heavy commute. Street harassment also decreases its victims’ workplace productivity, and it makes them limit their time in public spaces.  Kearl argues in favor of creating laws against gender-based street harassment, the way there are laws against other forms of harassment. But women don’t just need legal protection. Until our society values women’s right to liberty and security more than men’s supposed right to objectify and intimidate us, girls and women will continue to navigate the sidewalks uneasily. This isn’t harmless flirtation.

*** Image from stopstreetharassment.com.

A (Hetero)Black Feminist F(ordin)airytale

12 Sep

My husband and I have been together for ten years, married for five.  I have been reflecting on our relationship particularly because there are very few positive narratives about black male and female relationships in general.  But I have been thinking about the fact that I haven’t come across many positive narratives about self-identified black (women) feminists in intimate relationships with black men.  It seems that hetero black feminists tend to discuss brothas in an “out there” cultural or intellectual kinda way in our scholarly work unless someone close to us does something unforgivable and then we make “the personal political.”  The obvious exceptions are poetry and songwriting.  Now I know for a fact that I have a tendency to only write about personal stuff when I am really upset, but today I am going to try something different.  I am going to write from my happy place.

I feel privileged to call my spouse “my partner” after ten years because sometimes it can be extremely difficult to have black feminist values and be married and parenting.  To be clear, I recognize that it is a privilege on many levels to be able to go to the JOP in the middle of the day and get married immediately and to decide I want to have children and just get pregnant.  But I want to raise the fact that marriage as an institution can crush your feminisms from the outside in unless you cultivate a partnership where the discussion of roles and expectations is ongoing.  Because many heterosexual couples assume that they agree on roles, I think this discussion rarely happens, and unfortunately cultural pressures to conform to traditional heteronormative gender roles comes from everywhere.  Now there are some black men who have figured out that marrying a feminist works to their advantage because she is expected to work full-time, split the bills, and cook, clean, and raise the child(ren).  And that right there is some bullshit, but not my focus.

I really want to talk about what it can look like when black men and black women rewrite the script.  In keeping with the CFC top ten lists, here is a list of ordinary but important things that my husband, a black man, has done or does in support of our re-scripted partnership.

10.  Gives me positive body comments and tells me to drink more water and take my vitamins.

9.   Read my syllabi, exams, prospectus, and made written comments and suggestions

8.   Engaged in a full discussion about the politics of womanism and black feminism

7.   Volunteer taught cooking classes for my summer program (field research) with youth

6.   Stands with me to challenge family/friends/associates about their sexism, homophobia, and classism

5.   Cooks and does grocery shopping because he is better at it and more interested in it

4.   Listens, reflects, and re-engages when we have arguments or disagreements

3.   Shares parenting responsibilities from daily rituals like packing lunch, running baths and reading bedtime stories to special activities including kids’ birthday parties and volunteering at our son’s school

2.   Calls me out on my shit (personal and political)

1.   Holds me at night like it’s his last opportunity; tells me and shows me he loves me daily by doing ordinary important things

So, Two Feminists Walk into a Bar…

11 Sep

For some, the title of this piece would indicate that what follows is most certainly a farce, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Last week, I took a trip to New York to visit my girls and to celebrate finishing up my book manuscript.  I was dead tired but so so glad that I had booked a vacation. Far too often I have fallen into the trap of going, going, going, even when my body and spirit are telling me, “sit the hell down.”

So, for once, I listened. I hung out with Eesha P and Crunkista and other folks who are near and dear to me. I ate, drank, and was very merry. (There was even karaoke involved. Where’s our record contracts?). And this is when feminist bar hopping come into place. Last Friday, E and I decide to head to one of her neighborhood haunts, a sweet bar with mahogany and marble throughout, killer nachos, and delicious lemondrops. As the night progressed (and we got delightfully hammered), there was much laughter and fun, including pulling bar patrons into an impromptu dance to the tune of “The Way You Make Me Feel.” It was at this point that a couple of brothers sidled up to the two of us. (I mean, with dance moves like ours, it was only a matter of time). And hey, I’m cool with an attractive fella kicking game and being flirtatious, even if he is dressed like Diddy in the Hamptons. So while CJ* (a Wall Street “financier”–I’m just repeating what he told me) was doing his best James Brown/MJ footwork, and I was doing the classic SusieMaye shimmy and shake (watch out now!), I was indeed having lots of fun. I spied E from the corner of my eye and saw that she was engaged in earnest, and probably philosophical, flirty conversation with CJ’s boy, Duke* (a brain surgeon–again, verbatim from the surgeon’s mouth), who was giving the pensive Afronerd (complete with short Maxwell fro and glasses) in a big way. Extra cute. We end up kicking it with these boys (okay,30-something year old men), talking about race and ethnicity, having some more drinks, doing a little more flirting. CJ and I exchanged info, with him claiming he “wanted to talk about my book.”  Side eye. But I get the game, and I appreciate the nominal interest in my intellectual life.

Things were going well, but, as they sometimes do they took a decided turn for the worst. Dr. Duke was all like “it’s a disgusting habit that I rarely partake in, but…would y’all like to smoke a couple ciggies with me?” Then he pulls out a pack of Camel lites. (Side note: looks like you smoke all the time with that big old package and that well worn lighter, just saying). I agree it’s a disgusting habit, but I don’t apologize for my yearly ciggie so we go out there. E and CJ are off using the restroom, settling tabs, dancing the conga, I dunno. I just know I went outside and Dr. Duke and I smoked and chatted. We’re talking about how the world is not post-racial and I’m thinking, alright E, he might be cool to kick it with it, when this fool says “And you know my wife….and my kids….” Um, what? (CJ eventually reveals he has a fiance who is pregnant with twins when he returns).

Now, we were far from heartbroken, but with enough drinks in a sister what was a fun night could’ve turned tragic, real quick. E and I exchanged glances with each other and kept it cool, wrapping up the convo (which included a strange detour into a convo about feminism that was extra ridiculous).  After one last round of lemondrops (hey, they had to pay for their foolishness), we settled our tabs and headed out into the rising dawn. This is when those fools wanted to know what we had planned for the evening. How about not doing you? Ha! We turned on our heels and sauntered off, giggling perhaps a little too loudly, leaving blue balls in our midst. Deuces, suckas!

So, what does this have to do with feminism? Well, E and I are crunk feminists all day long, so a trip to the grocery store could be a tale of feminist praxis. Still, after this experience I am left with less of a “damn-dudes-are-trife” kind of feeling (although some indeed are), and more of a “thank goddess I got my girls”  kind of feeling (hums theme to Living Single).  I have some amazing women in my life who I am so grateful for. They read book chapters and talk about teaching with me. We debate politics and politricks. We talk about family, biological, chosen, and all kinds in between. We cry, we laugh, and we love. So, I rebuke the notion that women can’t get along, or that “chicks are so damn catty.” And, let me tell you, it’s not that I have some rosy view of interpersonal relationships. I went to a women’s college, taught at another, and have two sisters. I’ve had a range of experiences. What I will say is that being a feminist has enabled me to have richer experiences with other women (and men for that matter) because it helps me to recognize and honor affinity in expansive ways. Even after several whiskey sours.

*Names changed to protect the foolish

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