Archive | November, 2011

Some Thoughts on Jay-Z and Those “Occupy All Streets” T-Shirts

28 Nov

Sometimes, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why we expect rappers to be invested in social justice. Rapping is a job.

This is not to say that they can’t be. I only ask why we expect them to be.

When Kanye showed up at OWS NYC, I thought this is interesting.

The US has an interesting history of Black celebrities using their voice to advance causes on the behalf of those who have less social power than they do.

Think Muhammed Ali.

Think Sidney Poitier y Harry Belafonte.

Think Lena Horne.

There are countless others.

There were also several other folks as well who are not necessarily Black. John Lennon and Yoko Ono come to mind.

The process by which a person becomes politicized, and by that I mean becomes willing to read, think and take action to change some janky shit (on an individual or a systemic level) varies from person to person.

It may come from participating in an event at your school and realizing that if you become organized you can change things.

It may come from registering folks to vote in your neighborhood and realizing that if you become organized you can change things.

It may come from working with a youth advocacy organization and learning that if you work together you can prevent the city from implementing a 17 and under 10pm weekday curfew and building a half a million dollar youth detainment center for those who were caught outside past curfew. That would be mine. We did this in ‘Frisco.

I do understand that given the history of rap music that there has always been a variety of voices, some progressive (PE, early mid career Ice Cube), some partying and misogyny (Too Short) some fun (LONS, Digital Underground) some darkness (Geto Boys). The point is that not only was their variety in content, but because it was largely marginalized music, remember MTV had to be convinced to play Rap videos, it existed on some pop stations and largely on college radio and mom and pop outlets.

My point is that I don’t romanticize rap music as some glorious do-right genre.

However, I do think that there is something particularly important about the fact that these t-shirts even exist (or existed).

When I saw the shirts, I thought of the contradiction.

With Jay-Z, here is a man, who embodies a rags to riches story, in possibly the most American sense possible. One of the richest Black men in this country. Low income kid from the hood who did good. We are similar in that way. Why is one of the richest Black men in the country making money off of a movement based on people taking action because many of them are not eating. The hood is not eating. Apparently neither are the suburbs.

For examples of people missing meals see:

This.

This.

or

This.

In some ways those Occupy All Street T-Shirts reminds me of how capitalism, in its very DNA, will try and squeeze profit out of everything it comes into contact with, even if it is blood from a rock.

You know how Ross has Maybach Music? When I saw those t-shirts, I thought of Watch the Throne (Jay Z’s and Kanye’s new album) as 1% music. How could it not be?

All of these thoughts leave me with a few questions.

What do we stand to gain if we stop looking at rappers as “activists”?

Why do we even do that in the first place?

Conflict is forever: Can we change attitudes about diamonds?

21 Nov

From Global Witness

It’s holiday season.  Often, this time of year, people feel romantic. Consequently, engagements and gifts of jewelry abound. Having many people in my life become engaged and married of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the bling that goes along with these endeavors.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about diamonds. Why, you ask? Well, because as I see more and more friends and family become engaged I have been seeing more and more diamonds. To be clear, I have not become pre-occupied with the idea of engagements and rings, but with the desire for diamonds in particular. I’ve been trying to  understand just what it is that makes them so desirable, given that we all know, on some level, that the market demand for these stones fuels violent conflict, war and suffering in many places of the world. That is the connection that I aim to tease out.

A caveat: I have many friends and family members who own diamonds and covet them. In fact, I, too, find them quite beautiful, as a self-professed lover of shiny, beautiful baubles. I possess one pair of diamond earrings that belonged to my Nani (grandmother) in India and were given to me by mother after Nani passed. I love those earrings, and wear them rarely, with a mixture of both sorrow and joy. When I see diamond rings, earrings and necklaces on others, I admire their beauty. Increasingly, though, I find it very hard to un-remember the social ramifications of our cultural desire to give/own/receive diamonds as declarations of love and affection. Especially, when I think of the wars that these beautiful objects make us complicit in.

In specific regard to engagements: others have argued about whether or not they are an outmoded social custom. Quite honestly, I believe in living and letting live on this issue. I’m not here to be the crunk feminist betrothal police. I certainly, have my own opinion about engagements (I’m down) and weddings (it’s complicated) and the relation of all these things to romantic love (perhaps a forthcoming blog-post?).

A smidgen of history: The “tradition” of the diamond engagement ring is actually rather new. The first known diamond engagement ring was commissioned for Mary of Burgundy by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477. Then, in the late 19th century, mines were discovered in South Africa, driving down the price of diamonds. After which, Americans regularly began to give (or receive) diamond engagement rings. Before this moment, some women got thimbles instead of rings to signal their betrothal.

Now here’s the clincher (from a great piece by Meghan O’Rourke in Slate):

“Even then, the real blingfest didn’t get going until the 1930s, when—dim the lights, strike up the violins, and cue entrance—the De Beers diamond company decided it was time to take action against the American public.

In 1919, De Beers experienced a drop in diamond sales that lasted for two decades. So in the 1930s it turned to the firm N.W. Ayer to devise a national advertising campaign—still relatively rare at the time—to promote its diamonds. Ayer convinced Hollywood actresses to wear diamond rings in public, and, according to Edward Jay Epstein in The Rise and Fall of the Diamond, encouraged fashion designers to discuss the new “trend” toward diamond rings. Between 1938 and 1941, diamond sales went up 55 percent. By 1945 an average bride, one source reported, wore “a brilliant diamond engagement ring and a wedding ring to match in design.” The capstone to it all came in 1947, when Frances Gerety—a female copywriter, who, as it happened, never married—wrote the line “A Diamond Is Forever.” The company blazoned it over the image of happy young newlyweds on their honeymoon. The sale of diamond engagement rings continued to rise in the 1950s, and the marriage between romance and commerce that would characterize the American wedding for the next half-century was cemented. By 1965, 80 percent of American women had diamond engagement rings.”

[For an interesting demonstration of cultural production, please see the DeBeer’s Website for their version of the history of the engagement ring.]

So, in light of all this, let’s return to the central question: what exactly is a conflict diamond?

From the UN:

Conflict diamonds are diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.

According to the NGO, Global Witness, conflict diamonds have funded brutal conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Côte d’Ivoire. These conflicts have resulted in the death and displacement of millions of people. Diamonds have also been used by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda to finance their activities and for money-laundering purposes.

Brought into the mainstream by the film Blood Diamond, which featured Hollywood heavyweights like Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly, there has been some attention drawn to conflict diamonds and the long standing movement to curb and eliminate their production.

In 1998, Global Witness (which was co-nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for this work) launched a campaign to expose the role of diamonds in funding conflict, as part of broader research into the link between natural resources and conflict. In response to growing international pressure from such NGOs, the major diamond trading and producing countries, representatives of the diamond industry, and NGOs met in Kimberley, South Africa to determine how to tackle the blood diamond problem. The meeting, hosted by the South African government, was the start of a complicated and fraught three-year negotiating process, which culminated in the establishment of an international diamond certification scheme. The Kimberley Process was launched in 2003, and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council. According to NGO’s like Global Witness, who are monitoring and evaluating the Kimberly Process it’s clear that diamonds are still fueling violence and human rights abuses. Although the Process makes it more difficult for diamonds from rebel-held areas to reach international markets, there are still significant weaknesses in the scheme that undermine its effectiveness and allow the trade in blood diamonds to continue.

Knowing this, here’s why I decided to research and write this post: we can actually stop this. Diamonds are not food. Diamonds are not required for survival. A change in cultural attitudes can actually stop these conflicts. It can stop the violence in communities where these diamonds are found. If the desire for diamonds were to vanish, these conflicts would lose exactly what fuels them.

I don’t write this post to make people with diamonds on their fingers feel bad. I shop for bargain goods that I know are made in sweatshops. When I purchase produce, I know that it was grown and picked by laborers whose rights are violated. I try to make ethical choices, all while knowing that I am complicit in a world economy that is rooted in human rights violations.

This is the beautiful thing about symbols, they can be changed. They have only as much power as we give them. We can actually stop much, if not all, of the violence that is a result of the demand for diamonds. They way that our cultural attitudes about buying fur have changed within a generation, so can our cultural attitudes about diamonds, I propose. It’s not really going to be easy, they are a beautiful and powerful symbol of wealth and status. Increasingly, I hear many politically conscious people say they want a “vintage” diamond. This is clearly an effort towards detangling oneself from the trade of conflict diamonds. My point here, though, is about the cultural cache of diamonds. While purchasing a vintage one might not support the blood diamond industry directly, it certainly does nothing to challenge the value that diamonds have in our society.

All that being said, I think we can indeed move the needle.

“Diamonds are forever” it is often said. But lives are not. We must spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations and death for the sake of conflict diamonds.”Martin Chungong Ayafor, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts

However, eventually, I think we can change the way we think about diamonds. If we know more, and if we are challenged to face the truth about the havoc they wreak, we might make different choices. We might not choose diamonds after all. They have nothing to do with love, as it turns out.

Feminism 101 for Girls: A Report Back

17 Nov


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Dear CFC Community,

Sunday November 14th was a day I had dreamed about for sixteen years.  I took my first Women’s Studies courses second semester senior year at Spelman College with the formidable feminist scholars and teachers Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, and Dr. Kim Wallace-Sanders. The entire semester I thought why am I learning about this “feminism” now when I needed it in high school.  Well, this past Sunday we were able to introduce “feminism” to ten black teenage girls from Atlanta and it was more amazing than I could have ever dreamed. Image

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Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall was there to see a generation of scholars, some of whom she trained in black feminism, share the way we view the world with the next generation of girls.  Even more important, these young ladies shared their ideas and perspectives with us on a range of issues and then thanked us for letting them speak their minds.  How great is that!

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Thank you, all the supporters who contributed financially, reposted the blog, and sent kind words and well wishes.  I want to thank the facilitators: Mashadi Matabane, Chanel Craft, and Asha French for your fantastic patient thoughtful facilitation.  Thank you Nicole Franklin and Lorraine McCall for making arrangements for the participants to come and for the continuous work that you do with young black girls in your work and spare time.  Shout out to Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown and SolHot for modeling good pedagogy and your ongoing commitment to girls.

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I want to thank NWSA for allowing us to bring young girls into this powerful space.  I am not certain, but I think this may have been the first time there were girls included in the schedule of the National Women’s Studies Association conference. Thank you CFs and allies for participating and providing much needed support prior to, during, and after the workshop. Everything was fabulous, especially the dance circle close-out.

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I feel so blessed and I can’t wait to do it again.  Next up–Feminist Saturday School for Girls!

Sheri Davis-Faulkner

A Daughter Named Beautiful

by Asha French

It doesn’t take long to return to your mother-tongue. I learned that when, after a long journey through academia (read: lessons of the white fathers), Professor Beverly Guy Sheftall opened the door to black feminism for me.

ImageFrom this ideological stance, I was able to more clearly articulate the way that my mother had taught me to survive as a grown up black woman and the ways that the academy had tried to make me forget. I believe that when we teach feminism to young girls and women, we affirm and encourage the very best of the mother-wit they already own.
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On Saturday, we tried to open the doors. In a small period of time, girls went from spouting Moynihanisms to writing messages of encouragement to Amber Cole as members of her “crew.” Many of the girls sounded like our mothers. They said things like, “We are all fully human, no matter our skin color” and “It’s okay to have a voice” and “You think I ain’t smart because of the way I talk, but I AM” and “I only have a mother and I am VERY loved.” One girl had a daughter named Beautiful, and I believe that says it all.

The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice

16 Nov
The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice
Guest Post by Yolo Akili
“Emotional Justice” is a term widely recognized as coined by journalist and Radio Host Esther Armah.

 

Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed. The impact of oppressive trauma creates cultural and individual wounding. This wounding produces what many have called a  “pain body”, a psychic energy that is not tangible but can be sensed, that becomes an impediment to the individual and collective’s ability to transform and negotiate their conditions.

Emotional justice is about working with this wounding. It is about inviting us into our feelings and our bodies, and finding ways to transform our collective and individual pains into power. Emotional justice requires that we find the feeling behind the theories. It calls on us to not just speak to why something is problematic, but to speak to the emotional texture of how it impact us; how it hurts, or how it brings us joy or nourishment. Emotional Justice is very difficult for many activists, because historically most activist spaces have privileged the intellect and logic over feeling and intuition. This is directly connected to sexism and misogyny, because feeling and intuition are culturally and psychologically linked to the construct of “woman”, a construct that we have all been taught to invalidate and silence. So by extension we invalidate and silence the parts that we link to “woman” in ourselves: our feelings, our intuition, and our irrationality.

This disdain leads to many things: a dismissal or minimization of our own and other’s feelings, a fear of revealing oneself as “emotional” (instead of as sternly logical) and a culture of “just suck up your feelings” or shrug them off. All of these responses to our emotions have consequences that contribute to a range of emotional and spiritual stressors which impact our lives.  In this article I am going to focus exclusively on the reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice and why the integration of our emotional selves into our activist work can’t wait.

Reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice

1. Activist Organizations Are Often Over-capacity
Many grass roots organizations and non-profits operate with a small staff that is expected to complete herculean tasks. This expectation leads to fatigue, stress and emotional imbalance. Asking to add emotional justice discourse(s) to the workplace/organizing is seen as a waste of time when organizations are trying to survive and fulfill grant/monetary obligations with limited resources. Yet it is an emotional discourse that could offer many movements opportunities for self-evaluation, especially as it relates to perpetuating models of capitalist productivity that they are often seeking to end.  Regular guided dialogues and retreats must become a priority and should be led by outside consult. They can help build connections, clarify the mission(s) and re-invigorate the collective.

2. Emotional Justice Has No Succinct Time Line
There simply is no timeline that can be put on someone else’s healing. Within an emotional justice framework, someone is able to bring up their pain as they feel the need. Our patriarchal emotional discourses will push back against this, however, and  will instead encourage us to deny, dismiss, and move on as quickly as possible from difficult emotions. Engaging emotional justice requires us to check this attitude within ourselves and develop ongoing strategies that allow us to express our concerns and feelings.

3. Emotions are Used as a Tool for those with Privilege to Avoid, Minimize or Escape Accountability
In an experience working with a group of queers on a racism project, a white identified cis gendered woman in the group would constantly break into tears whenever someone challenged her on the choices she was making that perpetuated racist themes. Her crying, which happened in several sessions, led to the entire group, especially the women of color, to comfort and assure her that she wasn’t a “bad person.”
Yet in the midst of attending to her emotional expressions, she continued to evade accountability and perpetuated the same dynamics. When she was challenged on her use of crying, she was able to come to an understanding that as a child crying had been a tactic she had used within her family to avoid being held responsible. This awareness led to her participate in the space in a much more accountable manner.
Stories like these happen all the time. Unfortunately in most spaces there are not always individuals with the skills to compassionately address these kind of emotional dynamics. This lack of skill prevents many from engaging emotional justice for fear they will get lost in these issues. This another reason seeking the support of healing justice/emotional justice educators is necessary.

4. Very Little Knowledge of the Emotional Body or Emotional Language
What is a feeling? What are the lessons they offer us? How can they invite us into ourselves? These are the questions that emotional justice guides us toward. Emotional justice can help many begin to work with their feelings in constructive ways that can help the movement as a whole.
An example: If someone asks many activists, what do you feel? The response may be something like,
“I feel like we just need to hurry up and make this thing happen because they keep on trying. yaddda yadda.”
But that was not a feeling. That was a thought. A feeling is one word. The feeling for this statement could be: “I am anxious, or I am frustrated”. Aiming directly for the feeling, as opposed to the thought around it, can help save time and address deeper issues.  If feelings are continually confused as thoughts, then the intellectual debate process kicks in, and before you know it, we are battling for philosophical dominance instead of saying that we are hurt.

5. Lack of Self-Awareness into how our own unique Psychological Frameworks, Trauma and Social locations inform our Interpretation of Reality
Journeying into our own narratives and seeing how they inform our current understandings of others around us can be  invaluable in times of challenge.  There are many tools for this;  one in which I find very effective is Psychological Astrology; as it invites us to explore, whether we believe in Astrology or not, what our motivations are, what we need to feel emotionally satisfied, the root of our personality conflicts with others, and how we express our aggression. This exploration can help us recognize an area of difference that is predicated on the ways in which we psychologically experience the world around us, a recognition that can help us understand and hear each other better in conflict situations.

6. Ideological Violence
“We were often poised and ready for attack, and not always in the most effective places.  When we disagreed with one another, we were far more vicious to each other than the common originators of our problem. ” -Audre Lorde

It is apparent from Audre Lorde’s words that ideological violence was a big problem for her generation. Many years later it continues to be, as unproductive ego wars rage amidst our movement spaces.
These ego wars (or as many of my friends say, “intellectual dick fights”) are for many apart of the academic environmental training that encourages us to battle for philosophical dominance. While debate in itself is healthy and can be empowering, the challenge here is that this “training” is colored with patriarchy and a “power over others” construct. Tactics such as Interrupting, yelling, belittling each other, and personal attacks, are dynamics of patriarchal communication and must be seen as the acts of emotional violence that they are.* As this is acknowledged, steps must be taken to train and understand assertive communication and the myriad of cultural communication styles that allow us to express our hurt, rage and frustration in ways that minimize harm.

Emotional Justice is not anything new to our movements. It is already being enacted in many spaces and in organizations all across the country.  My hope in writing this is that this work is expanded, illuminated and raised to a level of importance on par with our intellectual critiques.  It is my hope that we realize that just as we must construct new systems and institutions, we must also develop new ways of relating with each other and to our emotional selves. These models of relating will call on us to develope skills and  to work with our feelings, our trauma and our pain. It calls on us to recognize that emotional justice is an immediate need, not only for our movements, but for the world at large.

Yolo Akili is an Emotions Educator, Performance Artist, Practicing Astrologer, Yoga Teacher and long time activist. He can be reached at Yolo@yoloakili.com

Sexy, Self-Conscious, Sanctified, Sassy & Single: Why I Married My Ph.D.

14 Nov

2011 has garnered a lot of conversations centering on the undesirability (hence un-marryability) of (professional) black women.  Black women have been fed unsolicited and unnecessary information about how to correct and prepare ourselves for our soulmate without giving us the credit due grown ass women who routinely (and effectively) handle our ish, look good doing it, and write home about it.  By mid-year I was already exhausted of the black woman dramas that were being written about (but not by) black women.  It was almost as traumatic as last year’s For Colored Girls

In response and in reaction to many of the speculations around black women and their experiences of being single, I began to write poetry excerpts, sometimes owning my feelings, sometimes distancing myself (as is evidenced by the first and third person techniques).  The following poem is featured in a recently published anthology, With This Ph.D., I Thee Wed: Experiences of Single African-American Women Professors.  I use the poem to think through my internal dialogues about single professionalism.  I am still thinking through…

Sexy, Self-Conscious, Sanctified, Sassy & Single: Why I Married My Ph.D.

sexy.

thirty years later

nakedness prevailed in dim lit rooms

smelling of sour musk and

dull like water,

she longed for silver touches

on her skin, violently brown and calm

and longing to be touched

after years of reckoning

she did not want to be another man’s invention

but rather his salvation

becoming whatever it was he wanted

in the moment, sacrificing herself

to be everything he needed

subsiding his aggression,

swallowing his wonder,

tracing his steps with her fingers.

she was not told about love

only the loneliness it left

and the possibility of scorn

and the vulnerability and visibility inherent in

nakedness

she was told

desperation is never sexy

self-conscious.

ness,

i lose consciousness

when faced with the self-awareness

that swallows me, cradling the duality of roles I play.

professor by day, woman by night.

but not superwoman

and not strongblackwoman,

just woman.

vulnerable and newly aware of childhood scars

and moles like mama on my face.

working these curves because it gives me more than attention,

but ambition,

and power.

because between these thighs is as much treasure as my brain,

and my heart beats strong for every wrong I ever made.

i am self-conscious of the image i see in the mirror facing me.

a seeming fraud, a scam artist

a black girl docta

holding all these damn credentials

in my hands

& a ringless second finger

pushing away doubt and doubters because I can do this, be this

sanctified.

she remembers

falling to her knees and praying loudly and silently at the same time.

loud enough for the people to hear her on the back pews

saying lines of scripture long memorized and silently begging God to hear her

this time,

save her from herself, this time,

& her ambitions,

& fierce independence,

her feminist, can-do-bad-by-her-damn-self self.

sassy.

seemed to my mother another word for acting grown,

womanish,

too big for my britches,

and she felt it her right and responsibility to wear me down,

or with switches harboring her own stifled sass,

wear me out

until I learned how to watch my mouth

but as I grew older,

sass,

kept my tongue sharp like a razor,

with words of fire rising in me,

words on fire forcing me to speak my mind and speak out about what I thought,

no longer under my breath in intimidation, but out loud and lyrical

in a take-it-or-leave it tone

and a take-me-or-leave-me way.

& so often I got left

quintessentially single

statistics startled me

from whitegirl fairytales

& my own flagrant fantasies

so I married me

a ph.d.

to stifle the possibility of loneliness

& it spoiled me with the possibilities & promises

of permanence and prominence

being enough

when stable arms were not there

my ph.d. sweet talked me like the man who never stayed

& the one who never showed up in the first place

this education thing is what mama promised me

what daddy left as a viable option

what the church ladies were so proud of

my ph.d. is not a substitute for a husband

but it is my destiny, my soulmate

the reason I changed my name

& everything I fought so hard for

this must be love.

AFTERTHOUGHT (later morning musings):  I think it is important that we learn how to celebrate ourselves both inside and outside of relationships–or perhaps see our relationship with ourselves as the most significant one we will ever have.  Loving myself intentionally has been the most difficult, yet necessary, feat of my life.  There were times, this year, when I questioned my successess, questioned my accomplishments, as if I had somehow done something wrong by “doing me” and prioritizing my life goals.  This would have been one of those moments when after reading an assanine assessment of why Black women are perpetually single I had a temporary lapse of individual judgment, and wondered, sometimes out loud and oftentimes to my friend girls, should I have not pursued my Ph.D.?  Should I have not devoted my twenties to self-improvement?  Should I have settled?  The answer is no, hell no, to all three questions.  I became a feminist during my pursuit of a Ph.D.  I became a feminist in my twenties.  Being a feminist urges me to never settle… for anything… less than I deserve/want/need.  So in many ways my Ph.D. was my salvation, my awakening, an irrevocable investment in myself and my consciousness.

So yeah, after having slept on it, I embrace my sexy, self-conscious, sanctified, sassy, single self!  You can call me Dr. SSSSS!

How Talking to Your Homegirls Can ‘Liberate’ Your Sex Life

9 Nov

Over the summer, while I was visiting Crunkadelic, she and I ended up brainstorming methods for positioning oneself at an optimum angle for penetration in the missionary position.  Yes, that means what you think it means. #selfcareisnotagame

For professional Black and Latino women (source) who are often dogged by long periods of forced celibacy, “getting it in” cannot be merely a declaration. Sometimes there needs to be a pragmatic conversation about how to, um, get it in and keep it in.

At some point, we thought that perhaps a pillow under the bottom could provide that extra lift, and since nothing is new under the sun, we figured that some sex guru had already invented such a pillow.

A Google search confirmed our suspicions.

So I thank/blame Crunkadelic for putting me on to the Liberator wedge and ramp and all the other goodies that they boast at their website.

You can imagine then that it was a pleasant surprise to discover via my FB newsfeed (which is how I find out most things worth knowing these days) that three of the cast members of the Real Housewives of Atlanta visited the newly opened Liberator Store in Atlanta on the premiere episode.

Now I was busy watching #BlackGirlsRock, on BET.

And we do rock, in case anyone was wondering. S/N: I was pleasantly surprised to see the embedded layers of social critique within the program—discussion of the prison industrial complex (from the venerable Angela Davis), discussions of sex trafficking of Black girls and women, and of course, a range of challenges to the paucity of representations of Black female subjectivity in media.

Back on FaceBook, one of my male friends remarked on the alleged contradiction of having Black Girls Rock on at the same time as RHOA. In my estimation it was a failed analogy, unless, the argument is that Black women should only be center stage on one channel at a time, or that we can’t be both fabulously fly and outrageously over-the-top at the same time. Now I agree that if there is a such thing as authentic representation, it is probably somewhere in between the hyper-positivity of BGR and the hyper-negativity of RHOA.

And while I stopped watching RHOA for all the obvious reasons after season 1, I found Sheree, Kandi’s, and Phaedra’s trip to the sex store important for a couple of reasons.

1.) Black women are pro-sex, notwithstanding the bad reps we get as denizens of respectability. And as others have said, since Black feminist sex is the best sex ever, I need Kandi to make it happen with her sex toy line.  Every grown woman needs sex toys.

2.) If you want to have better sex, you should discuss it with your homegirls. I’m serious! Frankly, I would venture to say that the good sex I have had is as much a result of “consultations” with my homegirls as it is a result of the skills sets of my chosen partners.  It is my girls who have encouraged me to be bold in asking for what I want and to try new things, disabused me of my investment in being a good girl in the bedroom, helped me to know what is “normal” (namely anything that I and my partner willingly desire and consent to do) and what is not acceptable (e.g. being used as a partner’s masturbation machine,  being pressured, and being in pain [BDSM isn’t my thing]).

Me and my girls routinely have intense conversations about our intimate lives, what it looks like to have the kind of sex we want to be having in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, and the nuts and bolts of the acts, when necessary.  I have helped homegirls plan whole seduction schemes from the lingerie to the breakfast menu, and they have reciprocated. When it comes to getting it in, my motto is be intentional.

So of course, I was slightly offended when one of my FB friends had the nerve to question why anyone would need a pillow during sex. It reminded me that in a culture which privileges smaller body types, it rarely enters into the purview of the slim (and the able-bodied), that all bodies can’t and don’t and don’t want to have sex in the same ways. Because fat people aren’t seen as sexy, most folks think that fat people aren’t having sex, or at least not good sex. Lie Number One.  Truth: The Overweight Lovers are in the house! (Much love and RIP to the Original Overweight Lover Heavy D.)

And Lie Number Two comes from big girls who are fronting and faking like sex happens for us in the same ways as our skinny counterparts. Yes, there are some big girls who are flexible and acrobatic, and they are my sheroes. But it’s not a leap to recognize that physical acts work differently on bodies that are 120 or 150 pounds versus bodies that are 250 or 300 pounds.  Can we be real about that? Extra weight requires extra creativity about most things, from fashion to sex. And ain’t no shame in admitting that.

So if the Liberator pillow (or any other similar product or strategy) can offer support for F.A.T. (fabulous and thick) girls or people with disabilities who may be less flexible or need additional support for the elbows or the posterior, then I say get free! Trust I will be getting free as soon as freedom is in the budget.  This weekend when I head to Atlanta for NWSA, I got two words for y’all: field trip!

And let me say it one more time: #blackgirlsrock!

Leave Kim Alone!

7 Nov

I upgraded my cable package a few years ago and have been keeping up with the Kardashians for a few seasons now. I’m not sure what happened the first few years, but thanks to E! marathons I am certain that I’m up to speed. I have no problems admitting that I’m a fan of the show. It only comes second to my beloved Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane. I thoroughly enjoy watching both shows for very similar reasons:

1)   I enjoy celebrating women’s stories.

2)   They represent different models of quirky and loving families.

3)   The women are ambitious, business savvy, and, most importantly, they run the show.

Before people start discrediting the shows and highlighting all of their flaws, let me be clear: I understand that the shows are not perfect, they perpetuate consumerist culture, and often times promote very questionable priorities. At the end of the day, however, they provide me with a much-needed escape from my reality.

I keep missing the first part of Kim’s Fairytale Wedding but I was able to see Part II a few days after it aired. Yes, it is ridiculous to spend an estimated 10 million dollars on a wedding reception when billions of people around the world are hungry. Yes, it is outrageous to sport an allegedly two million dollar engagement ring when governments around the world are crumbling. Indeed, thousands of people are sleeping in tents protesting the greed that has always dominated our governments and corporate America. It is painfully clear that Kim’s reality is just not reality. Period. However, Kim is not the first to continue living life in lala land. She will also not be the last.

I watched Part II of Kim’s Fairytale Wedding and being the hopeless romantic that I am, cried when they (I mean, the bishop) exchanged their vows. I thought they would last at least a year. Just like anyone else who follows the show, I saw all of the red flags. As cute as they were together, it was painfully clear that they were not compatible. Most troubling is how often he would try to crush her spirit pointing out her flaws, reminding her, for example, that no one would care about her in a few years. I often found myself wondering, “has he met this woman?” She is clearly in the business of being in the spotlight. It’s her shit. Ours too, since we keep tuning in for more: watching marathon episodes, reading the tabloids, and clicking on all internet articles regarding the latest Kardashian controversy.

We all knew the marriage would end. I had countless conversations with my girlfriends about it. I was, however, surprised that it ended so abruptly. More shocking, though, are the strong reactions to the news. People are just being mean, as if they’re the ones that got dumped. They’re lashing out at her from every angle and I honestly think it’s just unnecessary. The woman got caught up. She bought into the ideas that we have been spoon fed for years: there is nothing worse than being a single woman in your thirties, marriage equals “happily ever after,” and when you finally get to plan a wedding – lose your damn mind because it is YOUR day and you DESERVE to be a princess.

As sad as all of this is, Kim has reminded us of a few things we keep forgetting:

1)   Sometimes love is not enough

2)   Marriage does not equal happily ever after

3)   Expensive weddings do not equal happily ever after

4)   It is never healthy to have too many people in your business

5)   “Mo’ money, mo’ problems

I hope that this motivates folks to reevaluate all of the unhealthy messages forced on us about relationships, love and happiness. Quite frankly, I’m tired of how mean people are being and all of the things they are accusing her of. She is, at the end of the day, only human.

Kim, if you are reading this, I offer some unsolicited advice:

1)   Stop working/making appearances. I understand that you are about your money, girl. But you are now legitimately over-exposed. Take a cue from the Sex and the City movie and escape with your closest girls to a paparazzi free location and grieve. Grieve, process, and repeat.

2)   Stop talking to the cameras. I understand that you are a reality star but you aren’t filming now. The more you talk, the more people will feel like you owe them an explanation. You don’t. Tell your mama to stop talking to. She isn’t helping the situation.

3)   We just need a break. It will take some time for us to heal, but we’ll be okay. Time apart will be good for us. In time we will be able to work on building a healthy relationship. Once we’re at a better place, we can be friends and we’ll continue to keep up with you.

Okay, I have procrastinated enough and should get back to my job because my reality is that I have rent and student loans to pay.

P.S. I genuinely felt compelled to write a piece that reminded us of Kim’s humanity. If you are interested in reading more takes on Kim and her divorce, I recommend fellow feminist Jennifer L. Pozner’s piece,  “Why Kim Kardashian’s Divorce is Good for America – and Women.”

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