Archive | March, 2011

How Chris Brown is Effing Up My Sex Life: A B-Side to Dating While Feminist

31 Mar

For the last month or so, I have been entertaining a new Friend.  This brother is cute, sensitive, ambitious, educated, knowledgeable, adventurous and funny. For these reasons and others, he could most definitely get it.

Sounds great, right? Yes. And then Chris Brown happened.  The day after the recent shamtabulousness occurred, I told Friend of  my intention to discuss the whole ridiculous chair-throwing incident with students who are taking my Hip Hop class.

Chris Brown w/ Blonde Hair

Photo Courtesy of GlamazonsBlog

Here’s a brief excerpt from our text conversation:

Me: I’m supposed to be preparing a lecture on Hip Hop: The Modern Era, Part I: 1992-1994. But in light of the C Breezy shenanigans I’m gonna lecture on gender politics instead.

Him: Breezy Bad Now

Me: He needs a therapist like yesterday!

Him: In his defense…ppl fuckin with him for no good reason

What?! [Red Flags Waving]

Me: Nobody fucked with him. Robin Roberts asked very reasonable questions and she cleared them with his team first. Asking about the past is not the same thing as dwelling on it.

Him: Hey….I’m just thinking stop mentioning it….he’s suffered enough tho

Me:  This is not about suffering. He beat that girl senselessly. He is nobody’s victim.

Him: Look. No one knows what happened in that car.

Him: Furthermore, it’s no one’s business.  Yeah he shouldn’t have beat her…but that was years ago now.

Him: It’s over…talk about the man’s album not past transgressions.

Me:  Domestic violence is our business. And clearly the past isn’t the past if dude destroys shit at the slightest provocation […]

Him: Let’s talk about Lindsay Lohan and how she can’t seem to put the bottle down. Or Charlie Sheen who can’t seem to put the pipe down.

Me: Re: Sheen, Lohan, and Hilton, all that you say is true. And yet racism is still not an excuse for bad behavior. That argument is the equivalent of blaming the man. Again it’s some bullshit.

Much more was said. But y’all get the gist.  Given that Friend and I have had conversations of this ilk before, I wasn’t entirely shocked that he would take this tack.  But I am wondering what this means in terms of my own gender politics and my own acute understanding of the personal as political.

The necessity of that question was driven home the next day as I broached the subject with my students. Disturbingly, all of my Black women students said almost exactly the same thing as Friend said—that the past was the past, that Robin Roberts goaded and pushed Chris, that we didn’t “know the whole story” with Rihanna.

I was/am livid, sad, and afraid for them.  These same students who were visibly disturbed at many of the misogynistic lyrics we’d listened to in class failed to see how their own belief that a black woman could ever do something worthy of violence was a complete contradiction.  Frankly, being mad that someone calls you a bitch or a ho, but not being mad that a dude beats a woman’s ass, seems to be an exercise in missing the point.

How do we change this thinking in our communities that a woman’s behavior is responsible for pushing a man over the edge? That she can ever do something to deserve to be beaten to a pulp? That a man has a right to a violent response simply because he doesn’t like the way he’s being talked to or treated? That violence is a legitimate response to being mistreated?  That any policy other than non-violence  (on all sides) is good for relationships? That men are out-of-control beings around whom we must tread on eggshells?

And if I ask my students to question their assumptions and to demand better treatment in their relationships, then what kinds of things must I demand in mine? And does that standard apply to all relationships, romantic and platonic?

Can you be a good feminist if you have intimate engagements with partners who have diametrically opposed gender politics?

In a post last year, I lamented the fact that I was meeting men who were rarely physically interested in me and who were always and only intrigued by my mind. Now I’ve met someone worthy of genuine interest, and my brain and my politics are getting in the way again.  But while last time, I was concerned that my brain occupied too much space in my romantic encounters, this time around I’m afraid to check it at the door.

And that is exactly what I would have to do to share my intimate space with someone who doesn’t get the politics of intimate partner violence.

Can I share intimate space with someone who thinks that asking questions about questionable actions is antagonistic?

If you think opinionated women are threatening, will you use intimate space to dominate and tame them?

To what extent is and should my sex life be political?

I mean should I withhold sex from dudes with sexist attitudes as an act of solidarity with my sisters?

It wouldn’t be the first time that Black women withheld sex from Black men in service of larger racial interests. After the Civil War, Black men (but not Black women) could vote for a few brief years. Back then, most Black folks voted Republican as they were the more liberal party at the time and the party of Abraham Lincoln. But there were times when some Black men determined to vote Democrat so they wouldn’t be the target of white racial backlash. In addition to accompanying their men to the polls to monitor their votes, Black women banded together and encouraged each other to withhold sex from any man who voted against the community’s interests. These sisters knew how personal the political was long before white women said it. They knew that when it comes to Black women’s quality of life, there is nothing more political or personal than the person we’re sleeping with.

In a culture where sisters are dying in alarming numbers from domestic violence, what responsibility do I have to them and to myself to choose intimate partners whose thinking and actions are sound on these matters?

Doesn’t the fact that Friend and I had a civil and honest dialogue that ended amicably count for something? And if so, what does it count for?  Honest dialogues are feminist right?

And since we’re being honest, I have some more questions:

How can I get next to you if I can’t get next to your politics?

How can I let you touch me if I wouldn’t touch your politics with a ten foot pole?

Can I feel safe in the softness of your touch if you don’t feel led to question a culture where other men routinely touch other women violently?

Can we really cuddle if you have the option to not care about women and violence?

Isn’t that choice, the choice to not care about how the world affects the woman you’re spending time with, a violent one?

How can I trust you to hold me when your beliefs hold me down?

Damn. Who knew politics were so intimate?

Fam, we’d love to hear how you’re grappling with these questions. Please share.

Inconceivable: Black Infertility

27 Mar

“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. . .” said CF Rboylorn, Fish Dreams and Fantasies: Contemplating Motherhood.

There have been no fish dreams for me. There is a stork-less stark reality that my 2-hour treks to an expensive specialist to be jacked open, probed, and drugged, and my regimented record keeping about peek ovulation, period flow, body temperature, and patterned intercourse over the course of two years might still result in the inconceivable:  infertility.

As a child, I did not crave a Cabbage Patch to cuddle when imagining a “play play” family with girlfriends.  I used my “play play” Barbie as a mannequin to model clothes made from remnants by my mother, who purchased my miniature sewing machine from a nearby Goodwill thrift store.  I learned how to sew before I learned how to cook. My mother and my aunties indulged my creativity by asking to hear my latest poems or to see my latest designs in my so-called fashion portfolio.  Most important, these womenfolk praised my elementary adoption of the closed-leg policy.  I learned I could garner the spotlight and count on their unconditional support if I evaded the cardinal sin of black girlhood: pregnancy.

Yearbook Photograph of Halloween Costume Contest

Early pregnancy seemed to be a dream-stealer.  The praise I received was always accompanied by a cautionary tale about one Future swaddled and later abandoned because of the immediate demands of motherhood.  I became so terrified of pregnancy that I developed anxiety at the very anticipation of holding a baby. To this day, I can count on one hand the number of babies that I have held in my lifetime. A junior high school yearbook photo from Halloween illustrates how I imagined pregnancy as horrifying (and somewhat humorous). Twenty years later, I am not only confronting prevailing cultural myths about black female hyperfertility and hypersexuality, I am also coming face-to-face with my childhood fears and my grown up fantasies.

“The possibility of having a baby scares me, but the impossibility scares me more,” said CF Rboylorn.

I escaped the social stigma surrounding urban teen pregnancy only to bump up against another one regarding Black female infertility at thirty. Uterine fibroids (or noncancerous tumors), endometriosis (characterized by tissue growing outside the uterus), and untreated diseases (tragically depicted in the film For Colored Girls) are medical conditions that adversely impact our reproductive health. Black women are less likely to receive an early diagnosis of infertility or seek medical treatment because of the escalating costs and powerful cultural myths.   Much of the public visibility and value ascribed to Black women is based on our perceived role as mother. Whether the endearing mammy celebrated in early forms of popular culture or the bad black mother (e.g., teen mother, crack mother, welfare queen) demonized in news media since the 1980s, she is still a mother.  To add, our very theories of womanism and black feminist thought use (other)mothering as frameworks to describe how black women engage with the world. These frameworks do provide broader understandings of mothering as a communal act, yet with so much meaning attached to motherhood, the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term can be a devastating and demoralizing experience for some Black women.

Image from The Broken Brown Egg: African American Infertility and Reproductive Health Awareness

It has been for me. I have experienced shame, anxiety, and depression. I did not seek support because I believed I could bear it, so says my inner strongblackwoman.  For a moment, I believed my infertility was spawned by my inability to perform perfect would-be motherhood—window shopping, name surfing, and publicly gooing over all-things-baby. For a moment, I convinced myself that my book—my professional baby—was undeliverable because of all of its imperfections. I convinced myself that I was unproductive. For a moment, I participated in the suffocating silence because I felt I had no permission to speak freely about my experiences—those tragic and triumphant.  I spent months alone with my bare feet cuffed inside icy metal stirrups, staring at one-too-many ultrasound monitors because I believed that time would be the time. It was only a month ago when I allowed two years of tears to wash over me during an 8-hour cry-fest with a girlfriend.  I released the pressure to conceive that was bottled inside me. It was a baptism of sorts. My sistahfriend lovingly sent me home with my grand mother, Yemaya, and these days I feel at peace on my path.  This week I will return to the cold white room with the monitor staring at me.  This time, however, I will fold into myself to imagine my own rebirth.

Infertility affects more than 7 million people.  For helpful information about infertility, reproductive health, and support networks in your community, please visit:

The American Fertility Association

The National Survey for Family Growth

Resolve: The National Infertility Association

The Broken Brown Egg Inc.

Black Women’s Health

In celebration of the CFC one-year anniversary, this post was generated as the “B” side to Fish Dreams and Fantasies: Contemplating Motherhood.

Art and War: Libya and Making Sense of it All

24 Mar

Yesterday night, after a long day at the office working on women’s health and reproductive justice. I settled in front of the computer with some tea and a determination to catch up on what’s happening in Libya, and what the arguments both for and against military intervention. I found a couple of very nuanced assessments that helped me get a handle on the situation.

An article in Jadaliyya makes the crucial point that, “The desire to act in solidarity with the Libyan people demands that we assess the available options against the core principle of legitimacy that any intervention must satisfy: do no harm (that is, do not do more harm on balance by intervening). The likelihood that any of the current proposals involving coercive intervention would satisfy this principle is severely constrained when evaluated against the historical record, logistical realities, and the incentives and interests of the states in a position to serve as the would-be external interveners.”  Please read the full piece here.

Additionally, yesterday Democracy Now! hosted Libyan poet, scholar and University of Michigan professor Khaled Mattawa, who supports U.S.-led intervention, and UCLA law professor Asli Bali, who says the U.S.-led coalition has ignored viable alternatives to military attacks. Their debate is sincere and each of these scholars makes critical points about the aims of the US military intervention and the alternatives in the face of a brutal dictator. Watch the segment here.

Then, as I kept reading and watching various news sources, I found that sleep was evasive and I needed something to help me make sense of all these competing political narratives. And that brings me, finally, to the point of this post: Art. I’ve always felt that art is so much more than singular acts of creative expression. It is analysis. It is energy. It is action. It is therapy. It fosters reflection and yes, it can change the world.

We know that laws are made by those who win the wars. Policies are made by those who can vote. But if we seek the voices of the disenfranchised and the marginalized, where do we look? We look to their art. More than anything I read about Libya, nothing reflected the turmoil I was feeling more than the following performance by Suheir Hammad, Palestinian-American poet, author and political activist.

In the comments, please share other sources on Libya as well as anything that is offering you sustenance during these times.

My Sister’s Keeper: A “B” Side for Cleveland, TX

17 Mar

Trigger Alert: The following is a meditation on sexual violence.

This piece is in response to my previous post, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me?”, in which I discussed my experiences as a survivor of child abuse.

Last year, I wrote a piece in which I declared myself a survivor of child abuse. That fact is something that not a whole lot of people know about me. I know that much of my dissemblance stems from a deeply cultivated sense of privacy, but I would be lying if I said that, even as an adult who knows I did nothing wrong, that there was no shame in my silence.[i] When I think about what happened, I sometimes hear a voice saying things like, “It was so long ago, you need to get over it” or “Compared to what others have been through, you can’t even complain” or worse.  And while I know this voice is full of shit, it’s still there.

Last year, CF Ashon wrote something in the comments that continues to resonate with me: “we live in a world that makes it difficult, if not shameful, for people who have been victimized to speak…” This phrase has come back to me a lot in the recent days, especially as I think about the gruesome events that have happened in the small town of Cleveland, TX.

If you have not already heard, a young Latina sister—only eleven years old—was gang raped by eighteen black men —yes, you read that correctly. Eighteen men. A New York Times article with some skewed reporting focused on the community’s bullshit response to this sister’s assault.  For example, a community member lamented that the alleged perpetrators “will live with this the rest of their lives.”

Sometimes I wonder what planet I’m living on. A child is raped and folks are up in arms about how her eighteen attackers will feel for the rest of their lives?! Jesus, take the wheel.

Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of victim blaming: claims that the girl said she was of age (side eye), that she dressed “provocatively” (side eye), that her mother was negligent (side eye). All of this ballyhooing about blame is obfuscating the issue, which is: a girl was raped. Period. There’s no excuse. I don’t want to hear it.

Although much mainstream coverage of this incident has been fairly bootleg, thankfully we have folks like Akiba Solomon and Denene Millner who bring both sense and compassion to this discussion. Solomon indicts the rape culture that sanctions this behavior, asserting:

“In this framework, girls of color are the predators, the fast-asses, the hot-asses, the hooker-hos, the groupie bitches, the trick-ass bitches, the bust-it-babies and the lil’ freaks who are willing to let dudes “run a train” on them.”

Solomon is right. Perpetrators get let off the hook because folks are quick to want to uphold patriarchy by talking about brothers who act a damn fool as victims. And, let’s not get it twisted; we all know that black men, in particular, have had a history of being charged with rape, and other offenses, when their only crime has been being black and alive.  I know this. But folks, we have cell phone footage and so on. Indeed, folks in the community don’t even deny that sexual activity occurred, but rather, in Solomon’s words, they are calling the incident “a case of consensual group sex gone wrong.”

This brings me back to Ashon’s comment about shame and silence. While I am absolutely sick about this and hope that the girl’s attackers are brought to justice, at this moment, I’m just as concerned about how this girl is doing right now. Reports state that she has been placed in foster care in another town because of threats to her family. (Sigh).

My concern is how is she getting up and facing the day. I suspect that this sister is being bombarded with a host of angry voices—internal and external—voices that question her morality, her sexuality, her intelligence, and her self-worth.

I wonder, is she being supported? Is she being held if she wants to be held or left alone when she needs space? Is she able to cry it out, talk it out, scream it out, draw it out, or dance it out?

If I could talk to this sister, I’d have a lot to say. But, first, I would listen to her.  She has been talked about, conjectured about, and, I suspect, lied on, but I’m not sure how much listening is happening. I’m pretty sure that I will not be able to do this, but I hope that this sister can discover a supportive and affirming community that will listen to her needs and help her heal. And I hope this happens sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, I know from experience that this sister from Cleveland, TX is not the only young girl out there dealing with sexual trauma from the hands of those closest to her. But there are things we can do besides shake our heads in collective disgust.

  1. We can continue to talk about it. I know the saying is that talk is cheap, but in the case of sexual violence, the silence is often overwhelming. Talking about these incidents, when possible, helps to illuminate the workings of rape culture.
  2. We need to listen. When folks admit to being survivors, we need to listen and not judge or shame them.
  3. We need to provide folks with information. Check out great resources like A Long Walk Home, No! The Rape Documentary, and Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, for starters.
  4. We need to help create counternarratives to the pervasive rape culture in our society that deems “running trains” and other sorts of sexual violence sites of masculine rites of passage.  This means radical deprogramming for men and women in our communities. I know this is no short order, but this is life or death kind of serious.
  5. We need to be accountable to one another. As in, yes, I am my sister’s keeper. When anyone experiences sex violence or violence of any kind, we should be outraged and ready for action. These are not hypothetical situations. These situations are happening every day.

This is just a short and by no means exhaustive list and there’s much work to be done.

So, let’s get to it.


[i] To be clear, I’m not making an equivocal statement about silence in all survivors of abuse and assault. I know that for some speaking out is neither desirable nor possible.

 

How To Say No: The “B” side to Self-Care

14 Mar

(This post is in response to Life Is Not A Fairytale:  Black Women and Depression, one of our earlier and most popular posts.)

It took me years to unlearn the habit of saying yes automatically when someone asked me for (or to do) something.  So often had that single syllable fallen from my tongue that I would often agree to things before people even asked.  In time I realized that I had spoiled the people around me to the point that they assumed I owed them a response of agreement, no matter how inconvenient and unreasonable it was.  Many times, if I was unable to concede, they would be agitated and annoyed—and I would feel guilty.  To this day I find that when I tell someone no, even a stranger, they seem surprised, almost offended, at my nerve.

And perhaps it is nerve.  And the fact that saying yes all the time got on my very last one, and kept me on edge.  I would say yes because as a self-described superwoman and strongblackwoman it was the only word I knew to say.  I would say yes because I was flattered at the request(s), anxious to people please, and focused on making other people happy.  I would say yes because it felt like the right thing to do, the polite reply to any well-intentioned question, and evidence that I was a good/nice/sweet/reliable/thoughtful/friendly/generous person.  I would say yes because I felt like people were taking score, and I wanted to always be on the plus side (even though, as is general with people who perpetually say yes, I hardly ever asked anyone for anything).  But the yeses nearly took me out.  I realized that saying yes to everyone else was in essence saying no to myself.  No, my personal time and space wasn’t important.  No, sleep was optional and it was reasonable to expect me to accomplish multiple tasks in a day.  No, I don’t deserve a moment to breathe or a moment of reprieve.  No, I’m not important—everyone else is.

When I learned to say no, I realized that it did not require an explanation and that “No” is an adequate one word response.  There didn’t have to be a substantial reason why.  No.  I didn’t need an excuse or grand reason that I didn’t want to participate in an event, or guest lecture in a class, or attend a workshop, or go to dinner, or review this book or this article, or go out on a date, or join a club or support group, or be a mentor/advisor/reader.  No.

Sometimes it (the no) is because I am simply tired, overwhelmed, depressed, moody, PMSing, jonesing, or otherwise distracted.  Other times it is because my plate is already full, overflowing with the residue of other unintentional or well-meaning yeses.  And sometimes, it is because I simply don’t want to, don’t have any interest or desire to, and would prefer to indulge in doing something else or nothing at all.

No, I don’t have other plans or a laundry list of chores to accomplish first;

No, I am not sick or bedridden;

No, I don’t have a deadline or a stack of papers to grade;

No, I’m not caking or sexing or crying;

No, I just don’t want to.

I don’t feel like it.

I have a date with my damn self, bubble bath, glass of wine, mellow music and all, and I’m not breaking it.  I have had a long day/week/month and I just want to chill.  I need some personal, one-on-one, just me and the reflection in the mirror time.  No, no, no!

So, in the spirit of knowing how to say no… I have the following suggestions that I have learned over the years (post 30):

1.   Always say “no” first.  Do not allow “yes” to be your default answer.  It is easier to go back later and say yes, than it is to go back later and say no.

2.  Never agree to do something on the spot.  Always take some time to think about it and consider whether or not it is going to be an imposition.  If it is, say no.

3.  Limit yourself on how many things you agree to do (beyond your comfort zone) every month/semester/year, etc.  I say “yes” to three things beyond my regular responsibilities every academic semester.  After that, I almost always (depending on the request) say no.  NOTE:  I said beyond my regular responsibilities, which already leave me with limited personal time.

4.  Never compromise your peace.  If you have a full plate, acknowledge it.  Don’t try to overcompensate for a previous “no” with a present “yes.”  Never agree to do something you are not comfortable doing or that will stretch you beyond your limits.  You do not owe anybody anything!

5.  If you have a choice (and clearly, sometimes, whether it be for personal or professional reasons, we don’t), reserve the right to decline or say no.

6.  Save some “yeses” for yourself.  Women have the tendency to put other people’s needs and priorities above their own.  Self-care is not selfish and even if it were, we deserve self-indulgence every now and then.  Don’t say yes to something that is essentially saying “no” to yourself.  Take care of yourself.

7.  Don’t apologize for saying no.  You have every right to decline a request or refuse an opportunity.  You should not feel like you are doing something wrong, being rude, disrespectful, or obstinate.  No is the other option to yes.  It is a neutral response, neither positive or negative (regardless of the requestor’s reaction).

8.  It is not a sin to change your mind.  Don’t feel locked into something just because you may have agreed to do it in the past.  Circumstances change.  Your #1 obligation should be to yourself.

This blog is also posted on blogher, http://www.blogher.com/just-say-no-first-crucial-step-selfcare

Single, Saved, and Sewn-In: The Gospel of Getting Your Hair Done

10 Mar Sew in
* To celebrate our anniversary month, some of us are revisiting previous posts from the past year and reflecting on them. I have chosen to reflect on “Single, Saved and Sexin': The Gospel of Getting Your Freak On” because it was one of our most popular posts. Crunkashell’s truth telling and well-written argument inspired me to think about another Biblical edict that has shaped my life. I hope this frees you too.                                                            Sew in
Unapologetically sewn-in.

 

Like most conservative, fundamentalist, literalist Christian folks, I grew up believing that getting your hair done was a sin—the only sin, in fact, that ever made God tell an angel to go to hell. For years, my grooming experiences were laden with guilt. I routinely went years at a time without getting my hair professionally done, until societal pressure would push me to give in to my urges. I couldn’t even enjoy all of the shocked faces at my high school prom because I just knew that if Jesus came back during the middle of a Luther song, I would burn in hell from the tips of my toes to the top of my perfectly coifed hair. I was caught in a continual cycle of high maintenance cuts, low maintenance care, trim, condition, rinse and repeat, topped off with five years of home hair care (if you can call what I did care). I treated hairstyling as if it were a bad habit that I desperately needed to break.

 

Pearson

Is this the man of God who is supposed to be attracted to a woman whose head is a wreck? Or is he a sinner because he has dyed his hair, permed it, and drawn in his edges?

All of this is a prelude to a confession: I’m single. I’m saved (as in a born-again, my-name-is-on-the-list, goin-up-a-yonder Christian). And I have a sew-in. Unapologetically.

At my former church, I spent Saturday mornings (the time that many women spend in the hairdresser’s chair) with beautiful, dynamic, educated women whose heads were wrecks. We didn’t consider ourselves self-righteous; we were easy to be around and non-judgmental of each other. Together we prayed for the fallen sisters among us—the ones who missed a Saturday in sinful preparation for a Monday job interview. We also prayed for those who, in frustration, committed the most heinous sin of all: braids—the only hairstyle that the Bible explicitly denounces TWICE. We realized that they weren’t evil-hearted for their refusal to live by Christian standards: we prayed for an evil world that calls everyone to a standard of vanity that Paul and Peter both found appalling for women. More than anything, we prayed for the heterosexual men of God that our savior promised to send—men who would judge us by the content of our characters rather than the hair on our heads.

Juanita Bynum

Isn't she holy? Isn't she also fried, dyed and laid to the side?

When we were teenagers making non-vanity pledges, we couldn’t have guessed that these promises would have such an effect on our romantic lives 10-20 years later. In fact, according to our worldview, our (lack of) hairstyles wasn’t the problem; the problem was with the sinful men who were attracted to the very vanity that God despised—the men who preferred long hair, short hair, natural hair—any style at all. We were convinced that we were doing the right thing and the rest of the world, though beautiful by man’s standards, was wrong.

I still respect the sisters who believe that and I believe that we serve the same God; I just no longer believe in their ethics of care. It is hard to live and thrive in a world that you know is gawking at your head. It’s hard to take the Bible as the gospel truth when black women are already policed in this society that is built on the fact of our deplorability. Do black women get a pass on the Bible’s vanity clause when they live in a society that demands it? Were not Paul’s words written to a people for whom “get up and go” hair was not a cause for consternation? What should black women do with their hair when we can neither cut it, style it, perm it, or God forbid, braid it? And were our ancestors living in sin for the hundreds of years that nimble fingers weaved intricate braids in the heads of women and men? I cannot serve a God who would turn someone away from His heaven for a hairstyle.

Holy hair.

After all of these years, I’ve realized that the perfectly humble, holy hairstyle is not what I needed. I needed a bigger view of God.

For so many women, the biggest faith struggle is believing God for a male, heterosexual life partner. The women pray, serve, and refuse to apply makeup or comb their hair in hopes that God will send a spirit-filled, Word-educated man who was wildly attracted to their piety. Black women especially are attacked from both “the church” and “the world” about all the things we are doing that keep us single. The church says take off that makeup; men will think we are sex workers. The world, with the help of Queen Latifah, says we’d better not; men will think we are not nice or fun. The church says stay away from those demonic braids because they were a sign of sex work in Paul’s day. The world says get a sew-in—a style that requires braids—because real men dig Beyonce.  

God is bigger than our understanding of Him. I have learned the limitations of my previous belief in the inerrancy of a text. Words, like any sign, are infinitely interpretable. Trying to nail down the single truth of a sign is an attempt by man to control a world that has always been out of control. Running from the hairdresser’s chair in a fit of guilt when she’d only finished half my perm felt better than coming to terms with cancer’s attack on my family.  Walking the halls with my afro flat on one side made me feel righteous and important in a school that didn’t value us enough to give us new books. Shouting out of our hastily-done ponytails in church gave us joy in the face of the poverty we faced all week long. There are so many things that we cannot control; refusing to change my hair does not change this fact. It only blinds me to world-problems that I’d probably have the confidence to effect if I weren’t so caught up on this head of mine.

So hairstyling is back on the table for me. I have a sew-in. It’s luxurious. Underneath my sewn-in hair is a set of braids that would make my former Sunday School teacher speak in tongues. When my stylist patiently parted my tangled hair and gently braided it close to my scalp (but not too tight), I fell in love with her and refused to feel bad about it. My sew-in hides the sin of my braids, but one day I will feel bold enough to rock a fro-hawk or some other style that shows the extent to which I have “back-slid.” And that’s ok. I believe in a God who will love me anyhow.

That’s why I’m unapologetically single, saved, and sewn-in.

Ten Crunk Commandments for Re-Invigorating Hip Hop Feminist Studies

9 Mar

This past weekend, the CFC attended the important Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference at UT San Antonio. We had a great time and  were reminded of all the wonderful possibilities in the field of Hip Hop (and) Feminist Studies, and we thought we would share a summary of our presentation and our thoughts on what can move the field forward. Thanks to  CFs Aisha, Susana, and Rachel for their contributions to this post.

  1. Know your history. – If you are going to engage in scholarship on Hip Hop and/or Feminism, know and cite the authors who have helped to shape the field—Joan Morgan, Gwendolyn Pough, Mark Anthony Neal, Tricia Rose, and others are a few good folks to start with. In the rush to incorporate the sexy theorists of the moment, don’t throw away important theorists like bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Gloria Anzaldua, Chela Sandoval and others in projects on Black and Brown feminisms. See a non-exhaustive, beginning bibliography here.
  2. Don’t Romanticize the Past. – There is no Hip Hop Eden. Resist the urge to act as though there has been a pure moment in Hip Hop where issues of misogyny, commercialism, opportunism have not been an issue.
  3. Positions—Know Yours/Take One. – Make sure as you are doing this work that you position yourself in relationship to the community. Recognize the need to acknowledge your race, gender, generational, and political positionalities. Be willing to take intellectual and creative risks, to question accepted orthodoxy.
  4. Contextualize and Situate. – Name the cultural, political, historical and scholarly contexts of your work and your arguments.  Make sure to articulate the key political and social issues that frame this moment. Other scholars pointed to the 70s and 80s as the era of deindustrialization, the defunding of arts programs in public schools, the war on drugs, etc. But this moment is very different. It is characterized by unparalleled conservative backlash, near total deregulation of media and corporations, outsourcing, the economic and political dominance of transnational corporations, battles over the meaning of American citizenship, the War on Terror,  the concretization of the prison industrial complex and massive economic downturn. These are the issues that have framed the creation of Hip Hop music and culture in the 21st century, and new analyses must be attuned to these issues specifically.
  5. Avoid the pitfalls of presentism.— You cannot have this moment for life. Do work that will last. Do not merely discuss those artists whose work is hot in the moment but will have no lasting value. Make sure that your line of inquiry ascertains the broader relevance of the subject matters you choose, so that the formulations you offer will remain relevant even if the example you choose does not.
  6. Embrace ambivalence. – Reject false binaries. For instance, the line between mainstream Hip Hop and underground Hip Hop is at best blurry.  Also reject formulations like the Madonna/Whore split when evaluating the contributions of women in rap music.
  7. Envision the possibilities. – Rather than merely deconstructing, Hip Hop scholars and feminists scholars alike, must ask “what kind of world are we creating or do we aim to create?” We must also ask new questions. Questions about misogyny in Hip Hop are fairly uncreative at this point. Projects should begin to address Hip Hop films, Hip Hop literature, Hip Hop fashion, Hip Hop and the arts, and Hip Hop’s epistemological relationships to other knowledge systems.
  8. Wield Technology.—Technological literacy is critical for scholarship, creativity and social movements. Open yourself to this world, and begin to ask questions about how the technological universe affects Hip Hop culture and feminist studies.
  9. Lived Realities Still Matter.—Scholarship must be accountable to the people. Hip Hop and Feminist scholarship must still be connected to movements for social change. Also, theory does not flow in one direction (i.e. from the top down.) In fact, scholarship needs to catch up to the culture, not the other way around.
  10. Recognize the Power of the Collective.Collective organizing draws on the best creative, political and          scholarly traditions of both Hip Hop and Feminism, and folks who actively move in these communities,       must both remember and recenter the power of the collective in doing scholarly, political, and creative work.

God’s Plan Ain’t Black Mother’s Dying Young

7 Mar

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a distant cousin, and I was angry throughout the entire service and for the rest of the day.  I am still angry because we buried a 47 year black mother, and no one could tell me why.  The family had to get an autopsy done to determine the cause of death.

The minister preached from Job 1:21 “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Maybe it is because I did not know why she died at the young age of 47, leaving four children to mourn her, but “the Lord has a plan,” just wasn’t doing it for me.  Couple that with her white male employer stating that, “she put everyone’s needs before her own;” “she knew all of my family members by name,” and “she was a loyal employee.”  I had real questions like who helped her raise her four children; how many hours was she working a week; what kind of health care did the major retail franchises she worked for all her life provide for her and her children.  And “God has a plan,” just is not enough for me because I cannot imagine that God’s plan is for black mothers to work work and work some more and die young.  The choir was great, but the message did not work for me.

At the funeral for this amazing black woman all of the women involved in her life are excluded from the sermon.  “[He] came forth naked from his mothers womb, so shall he return,” (Ecclesiastes 5:15). This coming forth idea perplexes me because last I checked, and I am a mother, women work really hard birthing children, and I know it must hurt like hell to have to bury them.  These rhetorical and visual images of pregnant women with no bodies, i.e. missing breasts, head, face or legs (like the ones currently circulating on posters for the WIC Healthy Eating Campaign in Atlanta) are damaging.  I’m fine with God being a he if that’s how the church presents their God, but what I find disturbing is at a funeral where the father of the deceased and the father of her four children are not present, but where the mother of the deceased and the deceased are present and on display, the sermon renders them both invisible.  How can you be a present absence at your own funeral.  And to end with “don’t cry…. he is not dead,” I’m sorry but I’m crying because a hard working black mother is dead at 47, and I’m crying because her mother is going to have to bury her.

To be clear her death does not make me angry with God. I am angry because there is no fucking war cry.  No call to stand up for and to support these hard working mothers in our community, who we seem perfectly content to let take care of everyone’s else’s needs before their own.  We are too quiet when they are working themselves to death because there is no affordable housing or accessible healthcare, few sustainable jobs and no protection through unions, and no affordable free childcare.  And when they die all that can be said is “God has a plan.”  That’s not enough, what’s the plan, and are we not the implementers of this plan?  Isn’t the preacher supposed to share the plan with us, inspire us to get moving, to help God help us?  No the message seems to be do not question “the plan,” but come worship at my church of 4000 and maybe I will let you in on a little secret.

I’m sick right now because black women are dying unnaturally of EVERYTHING, and the supposed solution to all of our problems is getting a man.  Get real.  We need a community.  We need burdens to be lifted in real ways now, not when we have “transitioned.”  We need people to tell us to slow down and to take care of us too, or else being an “angel” for others might get us buried at 47.   What we needed was a war cry.

The family did not need an autopsy to determine the cause of death because the answer was written in the obituary.  Mother Jones said, “mourn the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”  It’s time to fight like hell for hard working black mothers.  Let’s give them their accolades while they are living.  And it would be nice if they could be addressed in the sermon at their own funeral as well.  Get Crunk!

The Game Rewind (and Revise)

3 Mar

Last night, CF Asha and I chatted about BETs The Game. We discussed our overall opinion of the series as a whole and the Tuesday (3/1/11) episode specifically. As Crunk Feminist we pay particular attention to the linkages of race, gender, and popular culture and ask for the writers and producers to do better. We posted the edited transcript of our conversation below.  (Note: It’s a bit long, but its a chat so should be a quick read).

Ashaf: Where should we start?
Chanel: well i think the Meagan Good (Parker) thing is a good place
Ashaf: But the season begins with Parker slapping the hell out of Malik. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I should take umbrage at the violence or accept it as part of kink culture. Are there lines? Am I being provincial?
Chanel: I don’t remember the context of the first slap. Was it sexual?
Ashaf: They were having sex on a toilet I think.
Chanel: lol. But they’re doing a lot of slapping this season. Didn’t Mel slap the shit out of Derwin last night?
Ashaf: Yes. Melanie got her slap on a few times last night
Chanel: That’s some lazy ass kink writing. The way they participated really wasn’t in a way that disrupted any kinds of sex norms, which is what I think is interesting about kink. This kink was on some Usher shit.
Ashaf: On some Usher shit!!! Bwahaha!!!
Chanel: what’s that song where he wants her to be the man for the night? Trading Places. Anyway in that song he does this whole thing about how he wants her to take control and give it to him like he usually gives it to her, but then in the end he takes control back. And some kind of way this kind of kink is similar because it seems to be controlled by male sexual desire.
Ashaf: Male desire definitely controlled Melanie’s attempts to liven things up last night. Did you see her face after the other woman kissed her?
Chanel: That whole thing was a shitty ass mess and did nothing for the overall goal of the season
Ashaf: What is the overall goal of the season? PLEASE clue me in
Chanel: i feel like this season really wasn’t thought of when Mara conceptualized the show.
Ashaf: I think they’re just trying to stay on television by cramming in as many stereotypes, booty shots, and pseudo-dramatic scenes as they can.
Chanel: I think that what we saw at the end of The Game’s run on the CW was supposed to be its ultimate ending that would have taken several seasons to get to. Now that it came back they have to try to create drama. But it would be much more useful if they were highlighting some Other Side of the Game (shoutout to Badu) that we didn’t know about. They are really pulling straight from the ESPN headlines and not even doing anything interesting with what they portray
Ashaf: Yes. The same formula won’t work here– especially when the show picks up two years later…
Chanel: They are using the headlines as a measure of authenticity as opposed to actually being authentically relevant to the lives of the viewers
Ashaf: I read an article that suggested that the Game was ahead of its time because the things that they were portraying eventually actually happened on reality television… Now they are behind those headlines, and it looks a little cheap, not cheeky.
Chanel: That’s so true. But it’s sad because these are the only places we have any form of representation. We are not on regular TV at all
Ashaf: But that’s why I’m so thirsty!
Chanel: i mean i feel like through the realm of cable television we have the power to really take some kind of power in our own hands and control the African American cultural representations. Cable television has a little more freedom than regular television because each channel tries to cater to a particular audience as opposed to a broad audience—so BET to black audiences
Ashaf: Yes!!!! And I thought The Game would be really powerful because it was OUR show– brought back by popular demand, not a major Network’s decision.
Chanel: but then that makes me wonder, what the game is saying to a largely black viewing audience, especially about male/female relationships and about black women. So for me, it’s largely becoming a disciplining project for black women. It’s providing a sort of measuring stick for us to adhere to.
Ashaf: Yes. Another way to tell black women how to get, keep and treat a man. Still, I wonder if the changes were the network’s decision or if they really just had less money and fired the good writers. The show looks like the writers meet in a living room and don’t belong to a union.
Chanel: yes! We totally need to know about the production
Ashaf: what about the rape scene last night?
Chanel: omfg. The rape scene
Chanel: that shit pissed me off on so many levels
Ashaf: Level one: Did she really “cry rape”- as in take a saying literally? Is that what people do? I wish that somebody came knocking on the door every time a woman cried rape…
Chanel: As if that what’s rape looks like though- screaming and throwing things. Sometimes sure. But that stereotyping of the reaction to rape is deeply troubling and leads a lot of women to blame themselves or wonder if it even happened because that wasn’t their reaction
Ashaf: Even if we give that horrible performance by Parker a pass and believe that she coerced Malik into sex with that move, what does it mean that the coercion was glossed over? He cried a few tears on a naked model before the show ended. But that was all. Coercion and rape were both jokes last night.
Chanel: Because certain bodies are unrapeable. Men and black women- these bodies can never be raped. So Malik wasn’t raped because men can’t be
Ashaf: Yes yes yes
Chanel: and for Parker, that just perpetuates the idea that black women cannot be raped because they either asked for it or are lying.
Ashaf: Especially those who claim to be raped by those with a great deal of power. We all know that powerful men have hearts– just like Malik. And golddiggers will try anything to make them fall.
Chanel: and speaking of the connection to the headlines, was that not that whole Kobe thing?
Ashaf: Yes, it was the Kobe thing. Recycling some questions from the public about Kobe’s rape trial: Why would Malik have to rape her when women throw themselves at him all the time?
Chanel: [difference being on the body of a black woman. and that connects to the history of the jezebel. the black female slave couldn’t be raped because she was hypersexual and was always already desiring and wanting some dick. Parker wanted sex so bad that she threatened rape to get it. I wonder if they’ll ever show that on the show. A football player actually raping
Ashaf: They lightweight showed one form of sexual exploitation last season when Malik revealed that he had a room full of videos of women, and that some of them didn’t know he was taping.
Chanel: oooooh yeah. I remember that shit. Surveillance at its finest
Chanel: i just worry about the implications of such representations. We’ve been blogging about this in the way that first black women’s experiences of sexual violence are never talked about and second when they are talked about they are deeply problematic. So in this case, she uses rape as a tool of manipulation and unlike a golddigger that wants his money she is hypersexual and only wants sex. But it’s still contributing to these archetypes of black womanhood that keep getting reinscribed and fed back to us (shout to Patricia Hill Collins)
Ashaf: It is strange that violence against women has never been addressed in this show that is all about athletes and their wives and fans… So why is it Malik’s character that gets used for all the “deep” stuff– absent fathers, tolerance of homosexuality, now coercion, rehab…? Is he supposed to be the most hypermasculine?
Chanel: He is supposed to be the representation of stereotypical black male athletes. The problem is they don’t really problematize this representation. Like it could be done really differently and good by pointing more closely to the structures that create such a representation. But instead they just drop that shit in and it sounds so familiar (single mom, drugs…) that it doesn’t call us to be critical. I’m thinking of a show like The Wire that did that particular well (though still left women and girls invisible and marginalized at best)
Ashaf: Right! I was going there. Earlier, they were doing some interesting things with his character… The Michael Eric Dyson guest appearance, the big girls episode… even the (hastily written) homosexuality episode. Now there’s no snark left.
Chanel: yes. That episode was good. It was one of the only times we saw black gay men on TV that weren’t there for comedic fodder
Ashaf: But even the gay episode was kinda comedic, right? Like is that really how gay men get down? They just read some signs then rub up on somebody from behind? That was kinda about heterosexist phobia that all gay men really want is to sleep with straight men…
Chanel: o yeah. I didn’t really remember the details of the episode. But you’re right. It was very flat representation. Even the model saving him provides a binary opposition for Parker and we get another good girl/bad girl thing happening where we are told to view one as evil and one as good. They ain’t slick with their constructions.
Ashaf: Yes– definitely the good girl/ bad girl shit going on. And what does a good girl want? To help the suffering man– even if it means jeopardizing her own sobriety by messing with another addict. What does the bad girl want? To satiate her own desires by any means necessary– cheating on her husband, crying rape-literally-, and coercing Malik into sex and cunnilingus. What was that “cat got your tongue AGAIN?” shit?
Chanel: I also want to touch on the threesome thing. I think it really showed (while not problematizing) the way that we as women continue to see ourselves as projects to be worked on. So even when our partner isn’t expressing dissatisfaction we go off and work on ourselves. Derwin didn’t ask for any of that, but she felt that she had to be better to keep her man. I feel like she’s having to do a lot of changing to keep him in ways that she didn’t have to before.
Ashaf: Yes. Harveyism. The message is that the marriage’s upkeep is up to the woman. I mean she literally dropped everything to “take care of” her husband. What does it look like to take care of a millionaire?
Chanel: how the hell he gon make her go to church?
Ashaf: Right! And when did he become the “head” of the household? He was so corny for all those seasons, but they were more like equals… both focused on doing their own thing and trying to figure out how to love and coexist.
Chanel: yes! How to love and coexist. I hate that Mel lost a part of herself to become one with him. I don’t believe that marriage is about two halves becoming whole. It is about 1+1=2
Ashaf: That is good addition, but in popular culture, love begins with subtraction. Black women need to take away a lot of things before they find “the one”– their attitude, their independence, their high standards and aspirations…
Ashaf: Last night, the women in competition trope was so loud!
Chanel: yes. Too loud. Where is the sisterhood?
Ashaf: Melanie’s competing with unknown groupies, with Derwin’s former lover, with the random woman at the club… She didn’t go through with the threesome because she felt jealous.
Chanel: *snaps*
Chanel: seriously. Melanie’s character has changed drastically
Chanel: she was always messing things up but i feel like before she was searching for self
Chanel: I’m not sure what she’s doing now
Chanel: it’s all out of fear of losing him. So really you’ll do ANYTHING to keep your man?
Chanel: you can miss me with all that. Seriously
Ashaf: I wish the producers would figure it out. The Janae thing is old (more competition!), Mel should have got used to it by now, and should even love Derwin’s son. Med school was a space for tension in the previous seasons– now she’s done. Her hair was sassy before. Now she looks like Weavonce.
Chanel: I feel like she’s become Kelly Pitts’ former character. The way she conducts that Sunbeam stuff is so unlike her. I also didn’t like that Melanie’s measure of progressiveness was tied to having a threesome. She told the woman something like “i thought i was the progressive woman but I’m not.” sooooo [not having a threesome] discounts your progressive politics?
Ashaf: Progressive is following your own desires, sweetheart, not fashioning your desires after what you imagine men will like.
Chanel: i mean i don’t think she’s progressive (well the show hasn’t shown that) but what does that have to do with that scene? And i feel like in some way it ties sexual activity to feminism. I mean they didn’t say feminism but i know they were lumping us in to that
Ashaf: I think it has to do with boiling down discussions of sexualities to discussions of tolerance. I am all for the no-bullying campaigns, but discussions of sexuality have the potential to queer lines… when we only talk about tolerance we are really talking about being politically correct (I don’t see sexuality. We’re all the same)
Chanel: but i know I’ll keep watching and hoping for it to get better
Ashaf: So what do you say to the person who asks why we don’t just change the channel? Why is it worth writing about? I gotta have something to tell my parents:)
Chanel: because we believe in it its potential and we have previous seasons to back up our beliefs. If we really felt that it was too far gone, we wouldn’t write about it. There is so much power and necessity in talking about sports
Ashaf: I think it’s also because pop culture is a form of education. People don’t want to criticize what they enjoy, but they are learning all along. This show will educate the jurors on future rape trials and that’s scary to me.
Chanel: so true! Pop culture matters in so many ways. I just really want complex representations of blackness in all its forms
Ashaf: Yes… crying for complexity
Chanel: depending on how this is received we can think about briefly talking about The Game every Tuesday

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