Archive | February, 2012

Battle of the What?: A Brief Reflection on the Battle of the Complexions Controversy

27 Feb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sick and tired of the cultural story line that insists only one version (complexion) of black women can be “in style” (beautiful, popular, desirable) at any given time.  There seems to be a not-so-invisible scale that insinuates that black beauty is either light or dark, always one or the other, never both/and.  Binary thinking is always problematic and especially in this instance because these evaluations are inextricably linked to issues of self-esteem and self-worth.  In a society that has been obsessed with black women’s single/sex/personal lives, this feels like another opportunity to pinpoint the pitfalls of being a black woman and tell her why she is not wanted (could it be you are the wrong complexion too?).  Since black women are routinely subjected to desirability tests that are based on their measure of whiteness exoticism it should be no surprise that those comparison scales are becoming more intentional and literal (see below).

Being judged and rated in society is an unfortunate plight that black girls learn how to negotiate with the help, love, and reassurance from other girls and women, of various shades, throughout our lives.  These women are our red-boned mothers, our high-yellow aunties, our mahogany brown best friends and other brown blood and soul sisters whose beauty we immediately recognize.  We learn, from our relationships with these black women, that there is no such thing as one kinda (black) beauty.  We learn how to appreciate our differences and likenesses and we realize that the discriminations and prejudices that we face are similar and rooted in racism.  But then the outside (influences) makes its way on the inside (mind).

In what was claimed to be “a black history month event,” by club promoters Mack TV and Nelly Da’Celeb of St. Louis, black women were invited to participate in a contest where they would be ranked and evaluated based on their skin color.  The “Battle of the Complexions” was a “runway contest for [the] sexiest complexion.”  A facebook page for the event announced, ‘This is the most debatable topic of the year, what’s the sexiest skin complexion?? So ladies come out & lets settle this!!”

It seems that this supposedly debatable topic could be settled in a crowded night club with hundreds of horny and inebriated men and attention-needy women on stage with something to prove.  When confronted with the multiple and layered problems of their “light skinned versus caramel (brown) skinned versus dark-skinned” contest, the promoters, two black men, not unlike Too $hort a few weeks ago (check out this post,  this post , this post, and this one), apologized for offending those who were offended, but not for the misguided event itself (the event took place, as planned, on Friday night).  In a statement they said, “It’s Black History Month so we made a party theme dedicated to our African American crowd…here’s the first time ever you can come out and be proud that you are black!!  Regardless of your skin tone!!.. We could have used a better choice of words…We did not mean to offend the offended.”

Battle of the Complexions

Well…I am offended.  And despite the attempt to clean up the mess they made, it is not just a matter of semantics.  It is not only the words that are problematic but the theme itself, because evidently it does matter what skin tone you have if the purpose of the event is to choose the most sexy complexion.  The ways in which this perpetuates and promotes colorism and division makes it far more than misguided and unfortunate word choice.

I can’t help but wonder what the tone of a venue that pits black women against each other must be like?  Do they call each other names?  Do they call each other ugly?  Do they create color-coded cliques and demean the women not “qualified” to be on their team?  How do they prove their worth/beauty/desirability?  What must they sacrifice to win?  And what would it mean to win a contest that, if only for a moment, puts you at the top of the black girl hierarchy?  Is this the kind of victory you celebrate?  In these moments black girls turned women forget about the beauty and diversity of skin tones in the family, they dismiss their light or dark skinned sister or best friend, and find themselves needing to prove their worth—their beauty—on a stage where only one can win, and in fact everyone loses.   Why does one person’s beauty have to be at the expense of someone else’s?

National Pretty Brown Girl Day, which was celebrated on Saturday, is attempting to avoid what contests like the Battle perpetuates.  The need for a day to celebrate “pretty brownness” is evidence that our society doesn’t value and celebrate it on a daily basis.  We need to start challenging that–by devoting days to celebrating black beauty, in all of its many manifestations.  Perhaps by loving on each other (when no one else will bother) will help to dismantle the cultural cues that say only one version of black is beautiful.

Feminist Care Packages: Healing Love for Hard Times

23 Feb
Image of a brown paper package tied up with string

CC Licensed from LethaCollen on Flickr

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” – Luciente

This month we’d hoped to talk about love and relationships but a lot of terrible things have been happening in the world. Whitney died. Too Short gave some terrible advice. So did Not So Very Smart brothas. and there’s a thread in these narratives about black women and girls bringing things on to themselves when really the deadly combination of heteronormative masculinity is to blame.

The binaristic gendered scripts we set up for people are killing usLiterally. The conversations that blame feminine people for the violence they experience but some how miss the role that masculine of center people have in that violence is beyond me. Yolo reminded us that most often, what survivors want is for the abuse to stop. They don’t want to get rid of the person who is hurting them; they just don’t want to fear for their lives.

Too often in this culture, safety means the survivor has to leave. We haven’t yet figured out how to create accountability that doesn’t look like recriminalizing the survivor by restricting their movements or demanding that the abuser be held accountable in a way that supports the survivor’s needs. We blame their choices and actions because honestly we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the massive collective fail that didn’t keep someone safe. We point fingers at the survivor and try to believe that perpetrators are uniquely bad people, not logical products of a culture that rewards aggression and violence directed at those who appear weaker. How does one ever make sense of what types of violence are and are not ok when the state enacts violence on communities and the planet all the time?

We can’t throw away people. Not into prison, where they come out years later more hardened than they were when they went in. Community service and anger management don’t come close to undoing a lifetime of social conditioning that supports masculine folks thinking that abusing feminine folks is only bad if you get caught or leave marks. Abusers live in our communities and our gender scripts recreate them everyday. There is no security in locking people away when we actively create these ideas about how to relate to each other in our society. If the culture is toxic, a quarantine is not an effective solution.

In trying to make real the transformative justice we desire for both survivors and perpetrators of gender based violence, The CFC, FAAN Mail, and Quirky Black Girls present Feminist Care Packages*. The CFC has been sending feminist care packages to each other in our times of need but the project of care goes beyond our collective. Feminist Care Packages are public offerings for healing and justice, invitations to survivors, perpetrators, and community to create a new narrative for the world we want. They include a letter to the person and a list of resources that may help them on the road to resilience. These are open outpourings of hope and possibility.

We are not naive enough to think that these suggested resources are enough to shift centuries’ old ideas about behavior but we hope that they begin conversations that have a greater capacity to hold the complex reality of human existence. By holding folks accountable and giving them tools to see their world differently, another world is possible.

There will be a series of Care Packages but in light  of recent events, the first Feminist Care Package is for Too $hort.

*Shout out to Mark Anthony Neal for giving this idea to Moya several years ago.

Tu(r)ning to Black Love

20 Feb

Whitney Houston with her mother Cissy

This past week, I found myself swept in an emotional whirlwind witnessing Whitney’s homegoing while remembering that she was not even in the ground before the Fox-affiliated shock jocks called her a babbling idiot, bag lady, and a crack ho that should have died years ago. From AM talk radio to morning cable television, a Fox News anchor “jokingly” told Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to “step away from the crack pipe” to squash her criticism of a racist conservative right.  And right as I prepared myself for the first Valentine’s Day unhitched in years, I heard more misogynoir (i.e., hatred of Black women) news from the pimp-like-rapper Too Short who “advised” middle school boys to “turn girls out” in a video posted to the XXL hip hop website.

Where is the love?

This past week, I would have been a Black woman undone if I did not turn to other women of color to savor the soul-stirring, love-filled acts of solidarity in a month that has been so soured by hate.[1]

While folks are giving kudos to a masterful, out-of-character performance by actor Tyler “Madea” Perry, I want to remember Kim Burrell’s loving act to her sistah-friend. The Texas-born gospel singer transformed a song that could serve as the title track for the civil rights movement; she changed Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come to one that not only spoke about Whitney as a daughter, friend, and mother, but it spoke to the lived reality of countless Blackgirls who watched her metallic casket and mourned for the Black girl we know (inside) and for the Black woman she/we dared to be. I believe Burrell’s spirit-driven interpretation will stand as a counter-narrative against the lusty, flesh-bound and career-centric monologues offered by some menfolk. (Side eye to you Clive.)  Kim Burrell might have singlehandedly replaced my Denzel dreamscape and my cinematic memory of Malcolm X’s assassination with her lifting tribute to a fallen (but not forgotten) star.

This past week ended with the debut of a self-proclaimed Black feminist in her cable show simply called, Melissa Harris-Perry.  Let’s just say if Oprah is America’s honorary mother, then Prof. Harris-Perry is slated to be our teacher because she was schooling a national audience about intersections of race and gender, and she provided a much-needed Black feminist perspective, which is often offered by Black men (if included at all). When I tuned in to her show, she warned her audience that we’d enter “nerdland” or the place where political commentary is spliced by definitions, old videos, and graphs to add context to oversimplified, hot-button topics. After an emotional whirlwind, it feels lovely to say I will be (at) home on the weekends where folks can hate (yes, I’m looking at you Cornel West), but I can turn on and turn to Black women-centered love.

Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen book cover

Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen book cover copied from blacktieandflipflops

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[1] This past week I was able to trade trash talk and blackgirl giggles, remember-when stories, love-strong hugs, eye-to-eye recognition, and women of color wisdom with Stephanie Troutman, Bettina Love, Elaine Richardson, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, and Joan Morgan. I am enriched by your generosity and your creative, intellectual and politically-grounded work.

Queer Sisters Keep Saving Me: The Brilliantly Selfish Act of Being an Ally

17 Feb

 Guest Post by Black Artemis

Today is the first St. Valentine’s Day in three years in which I write a new blog about what this day means to me. In 2009 I wrote one wherein I recount why St. Valentine was a historical figure worthy of recognition especially in these times and reiterate my support for marriage equality. (These may seem like disparate themes, but trust me, they come together in the blog.) Rather than write a new post, I simply pulled The Spirit of Love and Resistance Behind St. Valentine’s Day from the archives and put it back into circulation every February 14th.

This year is different because St. Valentine’s Day has acquired deeper significance to me. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of this year, I learned that I have breast cancer.For many reasons, it has been challenging to reveal my condition to those I know who love and appreciate me never mind acquaintances, colleagues and virtual strangers who follow me on social media. While I got over the shock of the diagnosis fairly quickly – I had to – accepting this frightening contour to my identity enough to make it public has been more difficult.

So why am I “coming out” today as a person with cancer? I do it to acknowledge all the queer women of color in my life who have stepped up for me since I was diagnosed. Rest assured, I have been showered with heartfelt messages of love and encouragement and genuine offers of support from people of all walks of life. Every one of them has been integral in activating and sustaining my new warrior mode, reminding me of how too blessed I am to not beat this disease. All of these people are soldiers in my quickly formed and ever-growing wellness army.

But there have been certain sister-friends who have played immediate and special roles through the early days of my devastation and terror. Not even weeks after my diagnosis, the woman I affectionately call my Minister of Defense and her husband helped me clean and reorganize my bedroom so that it can be a space much more conducive to my healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, she has been fielding the outpouring of concern from our mutual friends and has appointed herself the coordinator of my extended support system – rides, meals, escapes and other things I may need as I undergo treatment. My Minister of Defense and I were supposed to leave for Sundance a few days after I was diagnosed. Not only did she cancel her trip, she let the others we were going to stay with about my condition. Upon receiving the news, those women made time in their hectic festival schedule to pray and chant in community for my recovery.

It was critical for me to not wait until conventional treatment started to take action towards healing myself. I needed to build my sense of agency as well as my immune system, and before I could even take the first step, my Minister of Defense and another friend teamed up to split the cost of having a box of organic fruits and vegetables shipped to my house each week so I can juice every day. I could not afford to do this otherwise. They also take turns accompanying me to my appointments which is not only of comfort to me but to my elderly parents who insist on coming with me. When not taking the copious notes and posing the questions that I may be too overwhelmed or frightened to ask, they are engaging my parents in the language in which they feel most comfortable about anything and everything but the fact that their youngest adult child is facing a life-threatening illness. It helps them, and that in turn, supports me. Another lifelong friend – a doctor who is facing a challenging transition of her own at this time – not only sent me hundreds of dollars in health assessment and improvement kits including immunity-boosting supplements, she flew to New York City so we could have an ol’ fashion slumber party in her hotel room.

In the fight for my life, these women have been on the frontline. Each of them, at one point in her life, has been in a romantic partnership with another woman. Because I had not gone public with my diagnosis, one of the friends who went to Sundance actually sent me an email to ask permission to tell her partner because her wife had a very strong relationship to powerful ancestors who answered her prayers. I have no doubt that she organized the prayer circle for me in Park City even when her primary reason for being at Sundance was to premiere and promote her own film. All this slander against LGBT people, painting them as ungodly, immoral and such, when from where I sit, they are the most spiritual and even prayerful folks I know.

This is not the first time I have written about being an appreciative ally. I am the first to say that heterosexual people especially women owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy. Ironic as it may seem, the boundaries queer people bend and bust at the risk of their own lives in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement for every time they push the envelope, they set a new “normal,” and it’s not even they who benefit the most for their courage. Rather it is those of us whose sexual identity is already validated.

While I admit now that this is an oversimplistic analogy, I liken it to how the presence of Malcolm X made the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. more palatable in a society where his ideas were already deemed radical. Same visions, different philosophies, both to the left of what was considered acceptable and therefore also dangerous and vulnerable to the status quo. They needed each other to survive long enough to make the impact that the rest of us, regardless of what we may believe, continue to enjoy today.

Perhaps I am stretching for meaning behind my receiving the news on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, but one thing remains true. For the longest time I have felt that in many ways I can choose to do with my life and body – have (a certain kind of) sex or not, get married or not, have children or not – because the authentic living of openly queer women make it more permissible for me to make choices that buck the heteronormativity that attempts to govern even my life as a straight woman. What I do or not and why or not is on me, no doubt. But I have more sexual choices that carry less negative repercussions because of their sacrifices as much if not more than any other freedom movement.

And so it is on this St. Valentine’s Day, the lapsed Catholic with breast cancer is reminded yet again in the most visceral way why supporting full equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people is not some noble feat of reneging her privilege. It is a radical act of self-preservation. In more ways than I can count, queer sisters keep saving me. Again, I am humbled, appreciative and grateful to new depths of my being. 

The day after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California affirmed the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8, I sat in a waiting room at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Cancer Center with my parents and a lesbian “sister from another mister.” She reminded me of the previous day’s historic significance. We slapped a high five, and I joked, “If these MFers can’t support marriage equality because they can’t see past their religious dogma that it’s the right thing to do, at least do it because it’s strategic. It’s good fiscal policy!”

“You know how many people would flock to get married?” my friend said. “How much money that would put into the economy?”

 “It’s a recession, yo,” I reminded no one. I reminded myself, however, how lucky I am. Here I face the biggest challenge of my life, and choosing to be on the right side of justice is proving to be one of the most brilliantly selfish things I ever did.

Happy Galentine’s Day!: A Little Love (In Whatever Form) Is All We Need

14 Feb

Here at the CFC we like to spend February writing about love, sex, and relationships. But 2012 simply has not been cooperating.  Three of our five posts this month have been tributes to people we’ve lost tragically: Don Cornelius, Stacey English, and Whitney Houston. To top that off, I started off Valentine’s Day in a midnight twitter campaign against XXL Magazine and rapper Too Short, who gave an interview with a primer for middle school boys that might as well have been called,  “How To Be a Rapist 101.”  

Too Short really should take a clue from our beloved Whitney: “I believe the children are the future, love them well, and let them lead the way, teach them all the beauty they possess inside, show them a sense of pride.”

Love them well. Those are powerful words. To me well could be read both as an adverb of “how to love,” (and it is clear from Wayne’s song) that ppl our age and younger are really trying to figure out how to do it. When I think of Whitney though, I am reminded that we should also read these words to mean, “love people into a state of wellness.”  I have felt deep sadness over losing Whitney, because like so many, I hoped for her a different ending. As my mother’s only child, my heart wrenches for Bobbi-Kristina, and I wonder how she will marshal the strength to get to the other side of heartbreak. And I feel like we didn’t learn the lesson with MJ, namely that if we had shown these folks the kinds of love in life that we have shown them in death, perhaps they would still be here. At the same time, I am reminded that the things we hate most in others, are the things we hate in ourselves. We must learn to replace ridicule with a kind of radical, accountable love.

So to Too Short, I say simply: your apology was not enough. The advice you gave will needlessly turn young men into criminals and young women into victims. Your words give Black boys another model that tells them that their strength, their manhood lies in treating women like conquests and objects. Because no one talks to black boys about how to love themselves, the wellspring out of which they will come to love or at least offer care to romantic partners is pretty low. (And for Vanessa Satten, EIC over there, I have no words. I mean, et tu, chic?)

 And frankly,  if I can keep it really real, the unsophisticated view that Too Short promotes about women’s bodies, is one that many men carry into adulthood. And deploy to all kinds of ignorant ends.  

I’ve heard too many stories of late from my feminist homegirls about grown men who approach sex with ego first, dick second, and care last.  They have been taught to believe that women’s bodies are ready for penetration at exactly the same moment that they are ready to penetrate. More to the point, they have been taught that penetration, rather than pleasure is the goal. No hating on penetration, but this is probably the only time you’ll ever hear that the best time to go for a ride is when conditions are wet and slippery.  Take heed, brothers, and make it rain. Do the dishes, bring lube, but above all remember, if you have the luxury of getting it in this Valentine’s Day, I say to you, “it gets wetter.”

I will be getting it in this Valentine’s Day a different way: with my homegirls! My Galentines (Crunkadelic tells me that this is what Leslie Knope calls them, and I dig it)! Even though I know that Valentine’s Day is a commercial, made-up holiday, still I love it. Some feminists do, some don’t. (The Occupy V-Day Campaign is one I can get with.)

I think I get it from my mama. Every Valentine’s Day, my mom would get me a cool goody basket, with fun pencils and pens, books (usually Baby-Sitters Club, but there was that one year when I wanted all things New Kids on the Block), and lots and lots of chocolate, plus a cool Hallmark card. We weren’t huggers at my house (and anyone who knows me knows I’m still not), and not particularly expressive of verbal love either.  I always knew I was loved, my love language being quality time, of which my mother gave me much. The gifts were just, I think, my mother’s way to celebrate me, to be intentional about letting me know I was worthy of love and appreciation.

I’m thankful for those years because they taught me powerfully that having a boo isn’t the only option for having a Valentine. The last and only time I had a Valentine’s Day boo was circa 1997. So given my love for commemorative days, these last 15 years woulda been hella miserable had I retained my traditional definition. And hell, there have been some miserable V-Days. But about 7 years ago, I looked around and realized that one of the great blessings of my life was that I had more homegirls than I can stand. I knew what a blessing they were because I remember a lonely adolescence without many close Black homegirls, a time when I wondered if I’d ever have other nerdy, beautiful Black girls to share my time with. It took a while, but one day, I looked up and there they were in brilliant, beautiful abundance. Since most of us were single and hating it, I thought I’d throw a party. Feed them. (and in so doing feed myself.) Celebrate them. (And in so doing celebrate myself).

I’m still single, though hating it much less.  Perhaps because I’ve realized that I really love my life, and I love spending time with my homegirls, laughing, giggling, and not being pressed with the home responsibilities of children and partners. It’s a new luxury for sisters to get to spend this much time on ourselves, and for the intellectual types among us, the ability to choose solitude or company at will is…a necessity. So I’m still throwing parties in every new place, among every new group of homegirls. It reminds me, and hopefully them, that we are loved.  Now I’m off…the girls will be here at 7!

Love Overflow: A Red Reflection (and a Trigger Warning… SMH)

14 Feb

It’s early on Valentine’s Day, an invented holiday by U.S. greeting card companies (for real, look it up!). I just learned about Too Short’s “Fatherly Advice” to young boys about how to “turn girls out” in a video for XXL. While this is not shocking for Too Short, it also speaks to the culture we live in, where encouraging boys to rape girls is not something that automatically trips the “do not post/publish” kill switch. This is not a question of individuals’ values, as the hastily drafted XXL apology suggests, but indicative of a culture so steeped in misogynoir (Black women hatred) that our humanity is not assumed. As satisfying as it might be to see the editor fired on whose watch this occurred, it’s so much bigger than her. In this country, girls are objects, things to be manipulated for boys’ pleasure. And boys are getting fatherly advice that sets them up to see girls as agentless tools for their own desires.

On a day, where love=consumerism, we wanted to offer a counter narrative, one of self- love, intimate love, intergenerational love between mothers and children, a recentering of the type of love that can be celebrated. This takes on a profound new significance in the harsh light of  yet another reminder from a culture that doesn’t value Black girls (or Black boys) enough to say that they deserve to be safe.

And so yet again, we will do it ourselves. We will create the world we want to see. A world where kids of all genders (there are more than two) don’t feel forced to fit into two boxes that are predestined to join in some heteronornative, f*ucked up abuser/victim celebration on this day (that is made up!). The CFC wants to support children of all genders dealing with the “late middle school, early high school” years in an awesomely sex and body positive way. We want young people (and Lorde, help these adults!) to come correct, to make decisions about their sexuality with all the information and agency they need.

We encourage readers to support this project and others that remind us that we can create new narratives that challenge the old. We can reclaim this day as a celebration for the greatest love of all.

with love overflowing,

Moya

Love Overflow: A Red Reflection

by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

“When you first realize your blood has come, smile; an honest smile, for you are about to have an intense union with your magic.”

“from Marvelous Menstruating Moments in Ntozake Shange’s book Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (As told by Indigo to Her Dolls as She Made Each and Every One of Them a Personal Menstruation Pad of Velvet)”

From Awkward to Abundant: A Community Supported Miracle

Next month my mother and I are launching the newest groundbreaking workshop in ourThicker Than Whatever: Unstoppable Mother/Daughter Relationshipsseries:  LoveOverflow: Marvelous Menstruating Moments!  This process has caused my mother and I to look deeply at what a black feminist personal political economy of menstruation might look like in our ideal communities. This workshop is our inspired practice towards transforming intergenerational silence and shame into action and power.  We love each other too much to make the awkwardness of talking about bodies, sexuality, gender identity and blood a barrier to our fully expressed support and love!  In order to make sure this beautiful day is accessible for free to the amazing visionary black mamas and daughters in our organizing community we are reaching out to our whole worldwide community to support the costs of this program.  If you love this idea and find it healing that this type of space can exist we’d love your support!  You can chip in here:

http://alexispauline.chipin.com/love-overflow-marvelous-menstruating-moments-mamadaughter-workshop

Beyond Books: Tangible Practices for Embodied Love

So when mamas across my organizing community in North Carolina started talking about their complex and juicy emotions about their daughters beginning their periods, often earlier than they had began theres and  one of the Indigo Afterschoolers started her period afterschool at my house (how lucky we were to have Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo on hand to create a ritual right away!) what they spoke to was a need wider and deeper than a booklist.

Our Saturday program LoveOverflow comes from a core desire to create spaces to work through the questions, challenges and insecurities of all ages that the bright and deeply felt physical event of menstruation brings up in our communities.  We need rituals of ongoing affirmation.   So first Saturday in March my mom will be facilitating my mama comrades in working through the residual energy of their own early period experiences, their fears around their kids growing and changing and to create a mantra for everyday use that reminds them of their true love, passionate belief and inspired clarity about their daughters to refer to in hard times.   And I will be facilitating the younger folks, using art practices to draw through their questions, excitements and fears and helping them to individually create their own embodied and spiritual definitions of their menstruation experiences and rituals for how they want to honor themselves and create safe space monthly from here on out.   And THEN we will be bringing everyone back together for a ritual of affirmation, there will be circles and witnessing, lavender hand baths (our favorite), whispered poems and listening and love.   I know that this experience will be memorable for the participants and profoundly healing for my mother and I.

Not (Always) So Marvelous

My mama and I are so excited to bring our love and commitment (and the generative genius of Ntozake Shange’s words) to the community of black mothers and daughters here in Durham who have been bringing up the drama of the period…period of puberty and asking for support!  However when we started thinking about our own experiences blossoming into red, we realized that our first experiences and many subsequent experiences were not so marvelous, and for similar reasons.

I can’t quite remember my first period experience.  I know that I was about 14 and just starting high school.  Long ago in elementary school I had, along with my peers been giving a pretty illustrated book called “Period: A Girl’s Guide to Menstruation” and I remembered the affirming, reassuring and calming images from that book.   My first period experience was pretty painless, but after that I began to have intense-wake-you-up-out-your-sleep cramps.  I realize now that for years I ignored my own experiences of PMS, secretly wondering if I

a. needed a new life free from all of the people I knew

b. was experiencing the onset of one of the many mental illnesses in my mother’s psychology textbooks

Ultimately I assimilated my period as an intellectual experience without ceremony.  Like many other experiences since, my period was okay, and almost understandable because I had read about it somewhere.

It’s only this past weekend that I realized that my mother’s experience was similar to mine.  Growing up in Jamaica with an elderly grand-aunt who treated my mother’s period as something dirty to be ashamed of, my mother’s lifeline was a book that her mother sent.   My grandmother was a domestic worker in England paid to mother privileged white folks, and my mother remembers being upset and disappointed that all she had to help her through her transition and the complicated belts and napkins that accompanied it was this book.   She wanted her mother to be there herself to help her through.

And while I remember my mother being very sympathetic to the pain I endured (and continue to endure) on the first day of my period, we didn’t have many rituals or mechanisms to deal with the teenage angst and how impatient we could be with each other during period time at our house.   Luckily, we’ve learned a lot from our volatile journey through my teen years, and my mom now has stories full of advice to share with her therapy clients, all ending with something like..see and after all that my daughter still turned out great and we have a wonderful relationship today!

The bottom line is what our composite intergenerational period story shows is that ceremonyand presence are key elements of the growing time of menstruation that we both longed for and are excited to make more possible and accessible in the lives of young people and their parents today.

A Gender Diverse Approach

Even though the participants in our upcoming workshop identify as black mothers and daughters, in this workshop it is important for us to honor the fact that gender is in transformation and that while some people see their period as a symbolic opportunity to reflect on “becoming women,” becoming ourselves is a more complicated and gender diverse experience.   Gender is unpredictable and people of many different genders can experience menstruation.   We want the participants in this workshop, especially the youth, to have access to the knowledge that menstruating can be part of a process of becoming an intentionally creative person who releases negative energy and creates time and rituals for love of self, period.  It does not have to be a feminine or feminizing experience unless that is what they want it to be.    Towards this end we are in the midst of a wisdom drive collecting insights that people of many genders have learned from their experiences menstruating.   If you are interested in sharing an insight for our LoveOverflow depth of wisdom pool please email us at lexandpauline@gmail.com with the subject “LoveOverflow.”

Again…if you love this idea, spread the word to folks you know to donate their wisdom and/or dollars to the project!

http://alexispauline.chipin.com/love-overflow-marvelous-menstruating-moments-mamadaughter-workshop

Love,

Lex

whitney: an attempt at tribute.

12 Feb

RIP Whitney Houston

i’m still in utter and complete shock regarding whitney houston. floored. very saddened. i left church this morning with some seething hope that i’d hear “it was an internet rumor” or a hoax or something. the weird thing is, my parents didn’t allow my brother and i to listen to “secular” music growing up and whitney was no exception. but as i heard of her passing last night, i teared up a bit. i began to think that even with the injunction against non-gospel music, i somehow still knew most of whitney’s songs, even when i was very young. her music made its way into school shows, everyone sang about children being the future, wanting to let them lead the way. everyone belted “and iiiii will always love you!”

but it was when she remade chaka’s “i’m every woman” that i got in trouble — a lot of trouble — for singing the song in my junior high school hallways. see, i must’ve been too flamboyant when i was 12 years old but i distinctly remember being reprimanded by my science teacher in front of the entire class when she said to me, without a hint of humor, “you’ve got some really feminine ways about you. if you don’t stop acting like that, people will think you’re gay” and she went along and finished her lesson or whatever. funny how some moments become etched in your mind.

i became not a little bit careful and surveilled myself with the hopes of repressing as much of those “feminine ways” as possible. but not knowing the grounds upon which my teacher made such a declaration, i was fighting a losing battle. anything i did i’m sure could have been construed to be in the “feminine” kind of “way.” and so it was that one day, after watching BET videos — likely video soul – i found myself in love with this “new song” called “i’m every woman.” and so it was that i’d sing this new song in the hallways of my junior high school: loudly, with much excitement and not a little bit of irony. but it just so happened that my science teacher’s attempt at public shaming gave others the license they needed to participate in a similar surveilling of my activities.

and so it was that a friend of mine [i will, of course, never forget who it was] said to me in the middle of a line, “ooooh, imma tell ms. burke! you actin like a girl!” and could not wait to return to the classroom to tell her that, indeed, “ashon was singing a girl song!” my teacher looked at me with not a little bit of disdain but also a hint of pleasure, “what did i tell you about that? people are gonna think you’re gay.” and that was that. it was an odd moment where the performance of gender, sexuality and song came together for me, even in a derogatory way. i’d been called a “faggot” in church for singing soprano but those school scenes — with classmates and teacher — seemed different. my voice was changing, puberty had already set in. so it wasn’t my voice that was the culprit. it was something other. of course, i still love, and sing, the song … whitney’s version of the song. but not again until after a very long period of waiting.

i found, with singing some non-gospel song, that the relationship between queerness and song that worried me since before puberty began was not relegated to the church … but that the performance of someone like whitney could also tattle. a choice had to be made: to continue to listen to her background ubiquity with pleasure, to sing anyway; or to stop, become quiet, and withdrawn. i chose the latter for a very long while because i could not untangle my sense of erotic, libidinal difference from such songs — sacred or secular. but in the background, in the underground, underneath, all this music still moved me. and moves me still.

whitney was just always there, always in the background singing clearly. for me, and with her performance of “i’m every woman,” she was an underground soundtrack for how performance pronounced all kinds of queer things about you, libidinal excesses. and her voice was always celebrated: they named a school after her in east orange, she continued to visit her church in newark, my high school prom date sang background for whitney all of the time. last night, it hit me: i share in all of these tangential connections to her work, to her voice. and i realized last night, as i was struck with the desire to cry, that whitney’s voice, her unabashed tone and clarity, her playfulness and depth of character created a performative space for me to be … whatever that being was and was becoming. like nina simone stated about the song “feelings” at the montreaux jazz festival, similarly, i am not mad at whitney making contemporary for me a “girl song” that i could sing … rather, i am mad at the conditions [all those institutional -isms] that produce the necessity and demand upon my science teacher to respond to my singing whitney — to singing a presumedly “girl song” in a decidedly “heterosexist land” — with such dismissal and chagrin.

because i realize: in me is every woman’s voice that has come before me, their life, their breath, their force, their vitality. the love of my mother and grandmothers is all in me. every woman is in every child ever born, a materiality of the refusal of alienation. black folks know something about an injunction of having to “follow the status of the mother” … but though the imposition was through a horrific condition, we celebrate the mother anyway. because it’s right. every woman. in all. each of us.

so i’m just sad. thank you, whitney, for your life.

Confessions of a Swagga-holic

9 Feb

My name is Crunkista and I am a swagga-holic. I am under swag’s spell. It is my kryptonite. In fact, the only thing that saves me from this powerful vice is my feminism. I have found myself in some very sticky situations because of my addiction and have too many embarrassing stories to tell as a result of it. For instance, I once flew across state lines just to see a woman whose swag caught my eye at a club. Her swag was intoxicating and I needed more. The night we met, her unfortunate friend tried to kick it to me and it became a whole night of matrix maneuvers trying to get to her while letting her friend down gently. We exchanged numbers and I flew back home the next day.  A few weeks later I was flying back to her city, trying to get my next fix. It did not work out. Sadly, the only thing that was there – was my addiction and her supply. Had I not had that little feminist voice in my head screaming “get the hell out of there” with each and every red flag, I would have found myself in some serious trouble. She was so damn cute though.

Speaking of beautiful women, I recently came across one of the “Shit Black Lesbians Say” videos and was pleasantly surprised when the protagonists were women of color. It turns out that they were promoting a new web series called “Between Women.” I really don’t know much about the web series business and was only recently introduced to them by fellow Crunk Moyab’s admiration for Awkward Black Girl. I am now a fan of both.

“Between Women” follows the lives, trials and tribulations of a group of friends living in Atlanta, Georgia. So far, only five episodes have aired. It has been quite refreshing to see the characters develop and the story lines become progressively more complex. Episode three features a powerful domestic violence plotline, followed by a PSA that I really appreciated. We don’t talk about the domestic violence that often plagues LGBTQ communities and I commend them for taking on that story.

The show features some really interesting characters. I enjoy watching the quirky, awkward and lovable, Sunny Walker, the youngest member of the group “navigating her way out of the closet.” However, (due to my addiction) my absolute favorite character is Miller Harris, the ever so dapper “successful marketing director.” Miller is pretty much delectable and an unapologetic womanizer. She oozes swag and it just ain’t fair. I am under her spell and I like it. Will this be a reformed bad boi story? I sure hope so.

I really enjoy watching the show and thoroughly appreciate losing myself in the lives of these women. It is incredibly comforting to see women of color desiring and loving other women. As much as I enjoy watching the show, however, I will admit that it is not without its flaws. So far, I am not a fan of what sometimes seem like stifling butch/femme dichotomies being promoted where the women who present themselves on the more “masculine” side of the spectrum continually disrespect, cheat on and basically play those who present on the more “feminine” side. I fully understand that it is a drama, and that the writers need to portray stories that hook an audience. But I do expect more.

When I think of the work that remains to be done in our LBGTQ community, I always think of Good Asian Drivers’ performance of Queer Nation. Kit Yan puts it beautifully,“[…] but the truth is that we screw up too. See, we still haven’t found our groove on the outskirts of society. We’re still using old blue prints with bad foundations.”

Check it.

I have high hopes for this series especially because of the way they presented the domestic violence plot in episode three. Given that it is a web series, they depend on the donations of its viewers. I pledge to donate to them and will continue to tune in with the expectation that they depict a healthy romantic relationship and at least one butch/stud/boi who respects women and isn’t a womanizer. A girl can only dream.

“Between Women” is now on episode five but the third episode is incredibly entertaining. Please show your support.

 

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Today I Remember

6 Feb

First I want to congratulate the New York Giants for winning the Super Bowl and both teams giving us a good game, particularly in terms of defense.  I also want to shout out Madonna for putting so many women of color dancers to work last night and featuring two very different female emcees.  I must say I wasn’t very surprised by all the crotch shots, particularly after having watched a Nicki Minaj video marathon, but I was shocked by M.I.A’s “da Brat moment.”  I’m assuming she was giving the U.S. the finger because she was previously banned from entering the country.  Either way, good times, good food, good beer, a good end to the weekend.

The beginning of the weekend was not so good.  I went to the memorial service for childhood peer, Stacey English, the beautiful Atlanta woman who was missing for nearly a month.  Stacey English

Her body was found in the woods.  She was my age.  She had been in my class in elementary school.  I attended the service with my mother, who attended church with Stacey and is close friends with Stacey’s godmother. The entire time I simply wanted to leave the room where her closed casket was placed.  I did not know what to say to her parents.  I knew if I allowed my feelings to rise to the surface I would lose control and all of the fears and anxieties I hold daily would spill over.  So I stayed quiet and comforted my mother.

For a while I thought this was the first time someone close to me had been murdered.  It amazes me how much the brain can suppress until triggered.  Well Stacey’s death was certainly a trigger because I remember now.  I remember the last memorial service I attended for Jason Bowser, a high school student who was shot in his car.  I remember Johnny Johnson, a senior in high school who committed suicide thinking he might be sent to prison for stealing a pair of sneakers.  I remember Brandon Williams, a senior in high school who was shot at a high school football game.  I remember Sharon Davis, my stepmother who was shot during my father’s basketball game when I was eight years old.

I often think how blessed or privileged I am that I have not suffered as I believe others do.  Upon reflection I think I do not allow myself to suffer, which means that when it is time to feel I do everything possible to avoid it.  This is not self-care this is denial.  Last week I cried because I saw a powerful connection in my work, but it was not tears of joys, it was just uncontrollable tears.  I know tears are for healing, but I rarely feel I have time for my own tears.  Today I choose to cry.  Today I choose to heal.  Today I remember.

Don Cornelius, Indelible Soul

2 Feb

Don Cornelius, creator of the television show Soul Train, changed the media entertainment landscape forever. Yesterday,  the Los Angeles County Coroner confirmed that Cornelius had died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. He was 75.

Soul Train is one of the longest-running syndicated shows in television history. Created by Cornelius after he returned from Marine service in Korea and studied broadcasting, the show aimed to serve as a national platform for Black artists. Through it, Cornelius brought us exposure to musicians like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson and left a bright and brilliant mark on the 70s and ’80s.

Soul Train created an outlet for black artists that never would have been if it hadn’t been for Cornelius,” said Kenny Gamble, who with his partner, Leon Huff, created the Philly soul sound and wrote the theme song for the show. “It was a tremendous export from America to the world, that showed African-American life and the joy of music and dance, and it brought people together.”

Patterned on the show “American Bandstand” hosted by Dick Clark,  Soul Train centered on black music, fashion and dance, Cornelius explained in 2006, “There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity. I’m trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them.” And when Dick Clark tried to co-opt the show’s success with his own attempt called Soul Unlimited, Cornelius wouldn’t have it.

In this way, just  a few years after Dr. King’s assasination, Don Cornelius made a deep, intentional and indelible contribution to the civil rights movement. He unapologetically celebrated black culture and art. He even financed the show himself and was determined to hire black artists both on and off camera. For those who might want to make a pilgrimage, as of last year, the set and memorabilia of Soul Train is housed at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African-American History and Culture.

The latter years of his life were occasionally fraught with conflict, including a difficult divorce from his second wife, Viktoria. In 2009, during his divorce proceedings, he mentioned having “significant health problems” but did not explain further.

Now, as the tributes from civil rights leaders, musicians, academics, actors, and loving fans pour in, many of us are thinking about our childhood weekend mornings with Don Cornelius and how they shaped us. And while I do not understand the pain that brought him to his final moments, I do know that we owe him a great debt. In honor of this legacy of “love, peace and soul,” if you (or anyone you know) needs support dealing with depression, click here for resources.

Now, it’s time make our way down the Soul Train Line! Share your favorite memories and videos in the comments – the line, will always and forever, be mine.

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