Archive | June, 2012

Health care reform, politics and power: Is the Supreme Court Crunk?

28 Jun

MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

At 10:07am Eastern Standard Time the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) released its long-awaited decision on whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s major policy achievement during his first term, was constitutional. The ACA was Congress’ first major effort at reforming our health care system in many years, with many Presidents trying and failing to make it happen.

Given the balance of the Supreme Court, there was lots of speculation in the hours before the decision that the ACA would be found unconstitutional and struck down. That did not happen, Chief Justice Roberts, a staunch conservative, broke the tie by joining with the 4 more liberal members of the court to uphold the law.

Here’s the breakdown (and here’s a news round-up):

  1. The Individual Mandate: The ACA’s key provision is known as the “individual mandate” which requires virtually all citizens to buy health insurance meeting minimum federal standards or to pay a fine if they refuse. Supporters of the mandate said it was necessary to ensure that not only sick people but also healthy folks would sign up for coverage, which is how we keep health insurance premiums affordable. (Note: the ACA offers subsidies to poorer and middle-class households, varying with their incomes. It also provides subsidies to some businesses for insuring their workers.) Twenty-six states opposing the law challenged the individual mandate and the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether the mandate was constitutional. They found that it is indeed constitutional, but in the form of a tax – click here to understand what that means.
  2. Medicaid expansion: The ACA requires states to expand Medicaid coverage for poor and nearly-poor households. About 30 million people are expected to gain insurance from the law, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Medicaid expansion is one path to making sure that everyone has health insurance coverage. The Supreme Court was tasked in determining whether it’s constitutional for the law to make states expand their Medicaid eligibility, or risk losing funding for Medicaid from the government. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding. Here’s more about what that means.

There’s much more in the ruling itself, to read it click here. But these two issues were the major pivot points for the law’s survival.

So, what’s does all this mean? The real impact and significance of this ruling will shake out in the coming days and weeks, but here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. The opponents of the ACA were fighting against the law as an unconstitutional use of the government’s power, not to mention the horribly racialized imagery that accompanied the messaging around “Obamacare.” Much of the opposition was yollering that the ACA was socialized medicine and a scourge that would best be eliminated. That is expressly not true: the ACA is anything but socialized medicine. In fact, some would argue (me included) that the ACA is a love letter to insurance companies, who stand to gain millions of new customers with the implementation of the law.

Also, please note this comment from SCOTUS Blog: “The rejection of the Commerce Clause and Nec. and Proper Clause should be understood as a major blow to Congress’s authority to pass social welfare laws. Using the tax code — especially in the current political environment — to promote social welfare is going to be a very chancy proposition.”

The only mitigating factor here is that the ACA has many new, and rather strong, consumer protections, like making sure that insurance companies use almost all of the money they get from us on actually giving us health care, eliminating lifetime caps on the amount of health care they will cover, making sure they can’t deny folks health care if they have a pre-existing condition, making sure all kids are insured and making sure that insurance companies can’t just charge women more than men just because they’re women. The bottom line is that this law is not socialized medicine (would that it were), but that it’s also got some accountability measures to protect us from insurance companies. There were many passionate and dedicated advocates that fought for these protections during the passing of the law, and I’m proud to have stood with them to make sure they made it into the final law.

2. The narrow reading of the Medicaid provision is, in a word, unjust. By not requiring states to expand their Medicaid coverage, so many poor folks will have no recourse for getting health care, aside from buying it from insurance companies. How will states ensure that it will be affordable? That remains unclear. States are going to have to do a lot more work to make sure that the poorest and most vulnerable get health care coverage, and given that many states are facing extreme budget crunches, I have very little faith that the most marginalized amongst us will get what they need. There is a legitimate fear that many Southern states will opt out of the Medicaid expansion, and given that many of those states have disproportionately high poverty rates, it’s a recipe for exclusion and further marginalization. The Medicaid expansion was my favorite part of the law, and it’s just been significantly weakened.

3. The ACA was NEVER a perfect bill. It was never really even close to that. The big problems that were there, still remain. It’s not a bill that gives us Medicare for all, which is the only real way that we can get equity across the board.  Access to abortion and health care coverage for immigrants were thrown under the bus in an effort to get the law passed.  It’s unclear, based on budget projections whether and how the law will save the country money. And finally, the principle of using corporations as the way to help us achieve human rights is historically proven to be a hot mess. We still need to repeal the Hyde Amendment. We still need to challenge capitalism. And we still need grassroots organizing. Therein, lies our hope for getting real, affordable, accessible, health care for all.

So, is the Supreme Court crunk, you ask? Today, maybe a little.

I’ll share more in the comments as I learn more about the bill since this is a really speedy assessment, and I’ll also share any amendments and clarifications. Please feel free to crowd source info in the comments as well.

Thoughts on Lupe’s Bitch Bad

27 Jun

On most days, mainstream Hip Hop is a place that makes me grimace and shake my head derisively (at the exact same time that my hips begin to gyrate and my ass demands to follow the pull of gravity.)

It’s Du Bois remixed for a new era: this inherent two-ness that Hip Hop engenders. If you’re a Hip Hop (Generation) feminist or even just a Hip Hop Head – which means at base that you listen brain first, then you understand the duality/the duplicity of the encounter, music with beats so good, and words so bad (by bad, I mean bad, not bad as in good #peacetoMJ) that you are left with an amplified sense of being   “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

But we stay trying to stay (put) together in this place of (un)enviable contradictions. Ever confronting our need for mutuality in a place that seemingly only begets duplicity.

Lupe Fiasco’s latest joint “BitchBad,” offers some hope, that there can be a cross-gender and cross-generational dialogue about the misogyny in the music. (You should probably listen more than once.)

“Bitch Bad”

In it, he masterfully weaves a story of two young people – a young boy fast becoming a man, who has gleaned his understandings of womanhood from watching his mother – a self-proclaimed “bad bitch” reveling in her ability to do for herself and her son – and a young girl, “malleable…unmentored” perhaps too quickly on her way to being grown (or thinking she is) caught up in fanciful, video-chick informed ideas of what it means to be a bad bitch.

Inevitably, the two meet.

“And he thinks she a bad bitch…and she thinks she a bad bitch/ he thinks this (dis) respectfully and she thinks of this sexually/ she got the wrong idea/ he don’t wanna fuck her/ he thinks she bad and a bitch like his mother.”

This, Lupe, let’s us know is “the fruit of the confusion.”

Thus the refrain that he hopes will bring clarity:

“Bitch Bad. Woman Good. Lady Better.”

Two warring ideals…

When it comes to contemporary womanhood, the trajectories of who we can and should be are not so easily summed up in these facile superlatives –good, better, best.

I’m not sure I aspire to ladyhood, or that my future daughter should either.

So there is that. Then there is the fact that the word bitch moved into regular rotation in my lexicon after I became a feminist. Not before.

There is also my troubled sense that for all Lupe’s trying and  despite the sincerity and potential truths of his critique, it is Black women and girls who come off as the villains and not the victims here.

(Yet, we can’t seem to talk gender politics in Hip Hop without a villains and victims narrative, and that will probably persist until we realize how infrequently such narratives beget victors.)

The young man in the song gets his confusion from watching his mother uncritically sing along to the copious “Bad Bitch” anthems of our times. The young woman gets her questionable ideas about Black womanhood from paying more attention to the willing video vixens than the rappers who pay them.

In the end, the boy has a grip on “reality,” while the girl is “caught in an illusion.”

The root of the problem becomes in Lupe’s estimation, gender role confusion, wrought by Black women’s failure to parent their sons and mentor their daughters more proactively.

 “Mama never dressed like that/come out the house hot mess like that/ass, titties, dressed like that/all out to impress like that.”

To be sure, disrespectability politics reign in Hip Hop. And we have left Hip Hop’s youngest generation struggling to find their way to freedom and each other, with only the narrowest of labyrinthine paths, carved out in a desert of landmines.

In these kinds of conditions, superlatives are easy.

Bitch bad. Woman good. Lady better.

I want respect. Hell, I command respect. But I don’t want to return to respectability politics. The distinction is important. Respectability politics might seem better in the short run, but in the long run they aren’t best.We can place a high value on receiving and giving respect in our interpersonal interactions, without falling into the trap of  believing that changing our behaviors will have the power to transform a system that actively works against us. We become accountable for changing shit we didn’t cause. And in the process we lose sight of those who have more power to change things than we do.

Men have some power.  They are not hapless victims of less-than-thoughtful mothers and confused, non-self-respecting schoolgirls. As corporations go, male rappers are Davids fighting Goliaths. But at least David saw himself as having a stake in the fight.

Clearly, so does Lupe. And in that regard, what he has done (at least in terms of the music) is summarily GOOD. There is confusion. We are all complicit. Yet, despite all the bad, at the microlevel, in our everday interactions with those under our tutelage, we can do better. Much better. Thanks to Lupe for the reminder.

 

Now weigh in:

What do you think of the song?

Does it elevate gender discourse in Hip Hop?

Does his attempt to invert/subvert the Bad Bitch meme in Hip Hop work?

How do we navigate our way out of the endless maze of confusion? 

The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick, Part II (or Why Miss Independent Is Probably Single)

25 Jun

NOTE:  This blog continues the conversation about the implications of hip hop masculinity on heterosexual love relationships between black men and women (see The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick).

Independent Woman: A woman who pays her own bills, buys her own things, and DOES NOT allow a man to affect her stability or self-confidence. She supports herself on her own entirely and is proud to be able to do so (Urban Dictionary)

My father’s absence and general disinterest in me growing up, alongside my mother and grandmother’s insistence that I know how to take care of myself, led to a fierce independence in my twenties that annoyed some and confounded others.  On the outside I held myself together with super glue.  On the inside, I felt my independence was a symptom of larger issues that required me to be self-sufficient.

My independence was not (immediately) linked to (my) feminism both because I didn’t have the language at the time, and because there was no consciousness or intentionality behind it.  I was independent out of necessity and fear.  I needed to be self-reliant because I was afraid of the consequences.  (What would happen if I needed someone and they left?)

My mis-independence was informed by the singleness of many of the women in my life and the way they came together to take care of me and each other, sometimes with harsh words warning me that blackgirls become strongblackwomen, and I better not depend too much on anybody but myself (and, when applicable, them).  What they didn’t say was that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be kept, cared for, and loved on.  I imagine they didn’t want to get my hopes up so they taught me to be prepared because the ability and luxury of being dependent was reserved for rich women or white women or rich white women and we were none of those things.

The lessons I was given insinuated that I should never tolerate the malfeasance of a man, (as in “you can do bad by yourself”) while watching women, with needs that went beyond money-help or affection, put up with all manner of foolishness from men (as in “do as I say, not as I do”).

The confusion of these childhood lessons are equivalent to the confusion forwarded through mainstream media and hip hop.  Last month I wrote about the evolution of a down ass chick, and while an independent woman, like the “good girl” I discussed in the first installment, is in theory the antithesis of the stereotypical down ass chick, I think in a way she can be manipulated into another version of the DAC, riddled with contradictions about being desirable and unwanted at the same time.

I have always questioned the so-called odes to independent women.  When I taught a Women and Communication course at USF and we discussed the independent woman phenomenon black men overwhelmingly said they wanted an independent woman but they didn’t want her throwing it in their face (I would often tease them and ask if what they really wanted was an independent woman on the down low who was self-sufficient in private but needy in public–an adaptation of the lady in the streets, freak in the sheets meme). But their opinions, largely informed by patriarchy and hip hop, were consistent with what hegemony requires and what we were hearing on the radio at the time.  Patriarchy doesn’t allow for women to be truly independent, and hip hop doesn’t allow women to have much gender versatility.  So, the independent woman becomes an anomaly of sorts and can only be acceptable in hip hop, as a romantic option, if she imitates the down ass chick.   I have a theory… stay with me…

Let’s look at the music.

Destiny’s Child first penned a song about independent women in 2000.  Their theme was borrowed by Kelly Clarkson in 2005… and then a rapper and crooner caught on a few years later.  Webbie’s Independent came out in early 2008 and then Neyo’s version, which came out the latter part of that year, was so popular he offered two parts (the follow up She Got Her Own featured Jamie Foxx and Fabolous).

Something happens to the independent woman trope depending on who is behind the mic (or writing the lyrics).

For example, the original version, Independent Women by Destiny’s Child,  upset a lot of men.  The song lyrics paint the picture of an independent woman as cold and aloof, fully financially independent, and disinterested in men or relationships except for occasional sexual encounters.  This “independent woman” taunts men about how she doesn’t “need” them and they aren’t on her level.  This is the independent woman that pissed off my male students.  Essentially, this independent woman is alone because she deserves to be and supposedly wants to be.  She is the modern day Sapphire, emasculating men with every hard-earned dollar and stinging them with every harsh reminder that they are disposable, replaceable, and not needed.  Her vocality about her independence is a turn off.  She doesn’t play her position.  She is not “down” for the cause.

The Kelly Clarkson (I know, not hip hop, but go with me) version of Miss Independent is a woman who has been hurt so much and so bad that she doesn’t believe in love anymore so convinces herself that she doesn’t need a man…or love… but (in the white-washed version) is able to “get over” her temporary independence and find true love.  Note that this version isn’t about the limitations of men, but rather about the erratic nature of love.  This “independent (white) woman” is redeemable, innocent,  and only alone long enough to get over her heartache and defensiveness.

Webbie’s i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t woman “has her own house, car, and works two jobs.”  His version is a down ass chick in disguise because she is a “bad bitch” who he can brag to his friends about.  She is not classy, and is therefore not bourgeois, and doesn’t use her independence or success to intimate men, but rather to entice them.  She “never trip” because she is only interested in the relationship for sex.  She is preferable to a golddigger and instead provides money to her dude, but unlike the Destiny’s Child version she is not braggadocios (instead allowing her man to brag about her and what she does for him).  According to the song, she has a good job, doesn’t need his help with her bills, has good credit, has straight sex game, and “spoils him” (buying him gifts).  He, therefore, can’t be bothered with a woman with material or emotional needs (a fact that he brags about towards the end of the song).

Then there is Neyo’s Miss Independent, which he reportedly wrote as a tribute to his mother and grandmother.  In an interview he described the song saying, “This song is an ode to my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, and all the women all over the world like them – women that can do it themselves and make no apologies for who they are. They’re strong because they’re strong, love it or leave it.”

Neyo’s initial intention of Miss Independent was not a woman he was necessarily checking for, but rather one he appreciates and admires (which he says in the intro to the song).  So, even if Neyo & Jamie Foxx sing “there is nothing that’s more sexy than a girl who wants but don’t need me”—they are checking for models-turned-housewives, not Ph.D.s and supervisors.  And while I imagine that there are many men who deep down desire to be with a woman who puts them in the mind of their mama when they settle down, this is eerily similar to the good girl—DAC binary.  This version of the independent woman is the good girl that gets put on the backburner while the needy woman gets all of his attention and affection.

There are at least five things that the independent woman has in common with the original down ass chick:

1)      She loves and WANTS a black man (but doesn’t need him…except for sex)

2)      She makes her own money (&/or goes to school)

3)      She is fly

4)      She is put on a pedestal (albeit different pedestals and for different reasons)

5)      She is in competition with the other (DAC vs. IW)

So essentially I think there are versions of the independent woman, some of which challenge the DAC, some of which mimic the DAC.  I also think that when a woman defines herself as independent it is seen negatively, but when a man recognizes her as independent it is an asset.

Independent women get a bad rap.  Seems they are largely damned if they do, damned if they don’t.  They have needs but to articulate them out loud is emotionally dangerous.

Like Destiny’s Child says, “it ain’t easy being independent” especially since according to one of my homegirls, “men need to feel needed…”  Ultimately the men in my class agreed, saying they wanted to feel needed (like their girl can’t do without them) even if its bullish. (Fair enough, I think everyone, to a particular degree, needs/wants to feel needed/wanted).

Here are the questions of the day:  Do you think independent women are another version of a down ass chick?  If independent women don’t “need” a man for material things, how can they express emotional and physical needs without feeling vulnerable (a fear that oftentimes fuels their independence)?  And how can men in/and hip hop create a space that makes it safe for them to do so?

Thinking of Happiness and Black Female Bodies

19 Jun

So over the past few weeks there has been much controversy over “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Flaming Lips video that was edited and released without the knowledge/approval of the featured artist, Erykah Badu.  Honestly, I have mixed emotions about the video, liking some parts and disturbed by others.  Full disclosure: I found the “Window Seat” video to be a very powerful statement.  I felt it viscerally, I was both anxious and fearful of the backlash and envious of what I perceived to be free-spiritedness and freedom of Badu’s actions. But for this recent one I’m still trying to figure it out, but it got me thinking about artists that have done body work in their lyrics.  The song that is always with me is “Images,” a haunting ballad sung by Nina Simone based on the 1920’s poem written by Waring Cuney.  The lyrics are as follows:

She does not know her beauty

She thinks her brown body

Has no glory

If she could dance naked

under palm trees

And see her image in the river

She would know

But there are no palm trees

In the streets

And dishwater gives back

No image

Whenever I hear this song I think of a series of songs that support Cuney’s basic body philosophy.  I think of this song/poem because we have lots of discussions about appropriate body narratives and body visuals through popular culture, but on a basic level it feels like television is the “dishwater” and shameful billboards take the place of palm trees. We could truly benefit from some time at the river, no mirrors, no media, just nature.  In these moments of uncontrollable swirling images I prescribe “nature care,” literature, and history for your happiness tool box.

Something to Cry About: Report from the Kitchen Floor (Trigger Alert)

11 Jun Picture of a kitchen floor

Picture of a kitchen floorOne point on which Creflo Dollar and both his daughters agree is that he walked into the kitchen and said, “Why are you crying?” He already knew why. I imagine that he asked his question with a bullying tone; I imagine there was an unspoken threat behind the question, a threat with which too many are familiar: I’ll give you something to cry about.

And to the question with the obvious answer, to the veiled threat, she didn’t give the response Dollar required. According to Dollar, his daughter didn’t give enough deference to his privileged position. She didn’t acknowledge his authority. She “became very disrespectful.”  He told the police that he approached her to “restrain” her. That’s his report.

I have a report of my own, one from my own kitchen floor. Distance, linearity and many of the things you expect as Western-trained academics are impossible for me. See trauma theory. See black women’s biomythographies. See yourself in the mirror and try to tell, in five minutes, a very very bad thing that happened.

In the kitchen, I triggered my mother. Her thumbs pressed my trachea and she shook me back and forth like a button-eyed rag doll. I didn’t know when she would stop or if I would still be alive when she did. My first mind said, “This is Momma,” but my second mind made my hands spring out. I can still feel her flesh moles under my fingernails, my hands trying to pry her arms away, her eyes wide with shock as she realized that this “bitch” was fighting back. She threw me on the ground.

I love my mother. She is my closest friend. I’m not half the woman she was at my age. She knew what had to be done and she did it. She worked very hard to insure our financial well-being. She is the funniest woman I know. She encouraged me to speak up, to speak back, despite the consequences. Her violence didn’t make her a monster; it made her thoroughly American.

I don’t have to tell you why I feel the need to defend even as I tell my truth. You already know. It is the reason you tell similar stories with laughter, with nostalgia for the days when children didn’t criminalize their own parents, didn’t dial 911. IN the court of public opinion, minority parents have already been condemned, especially against the mythology of passive white parenting. Perhaps that’s why we defend our parents with silence or a laughter that shows our appreciation for bringing us up right.

I am fifteen. My mother doesn’t like me and she’s told me so. I want her to like me. I want to be a good girl, but I keep being bad. I have an attitude. I don’t understand that there are things I cannot have and I continue to ask. I have little respect for authority. I don’t appreciate her sacrifices because I don’t yet know them. I hide in my room. I am moody.  I withdraw. I am sometimes not courteous. I think the world revolves around me, around my desires. I am fifteen and developmentally appropriate.  This fact doesn’t excuse, to my parents, the types of offenses I commit.

I want to tell you what it feels like to be kicked. You curl into a ball. You know the fight is over and you’ve lost. You realize you never wanted to win. You try to protect your face but not your eyes because you need to see her feet so you can roll to avoid the blows. You scream, “I hate you.” She says, “You know what? I hate you too!” You believe her. You think you always will.

After my mother choked, stomped, and punched me she kicked me out of the house. My father stayed in the basement. My brothers watched from the dining room. I rang the doorbell and asked through the closed door if I could use her phone to call my best friend to pick me up.

My brothers later told me that they’d laughed that night, laughed at the sight of two crazy [women] fighting in the kitchen.

My mother, like yours, was raised before Oprah and the eighties research on child-centered, intentional parenting.

She deserved respect and confused it with fear. And who was supposed to teach her the difference? Public libraries closed before she could leave her desk. AOL searches and instant information were years away. Which friends of hers had not been beaten? Where would she have taken a child development course or a class in adolescent psychology? She worked too hard and too long to come home and be challenged by a doppelganger with an attitude problem. I get it. And I’m glad no one called the police. Jailing half of my parents would have created more problems than it solved.

Besides, I’m anti-prison industrial complex and for a judicial system that considers the needs of the victim. The media coverage of Creflo Dollar drones on like an extended episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; the victim is forgotten after the first five minutes and the rest of the episode focuses on the psyche of the perpetrator.

What are Creflo’s daughter’s needs? I can’t speak for her, but I can imagine that what she didn’t need was a standing ovation for her father or a bunch of nostalgic people with internet access telling pornographic stories about the beatings they meted out to their own children. I imagine that what she needs are consequences for the perpetrator and a guarantee that this will never happen again.

I want to tell you what happens when you survive the kitchen floor. You get up. You’re not a girl anymore. If no one stopped your parent, you feel like you will always be by yourself. You think there is something inside you that will always bring out the worst in someone else, and you believe those who tell you the same. You spend a lifetime creating opportunities for apologies, which are delicious to you. You attract bullies and people who like or love you with conditions. You want someone to change you, to make you better, more loveable. You pursue a sorority. You join organizations/ institutions with strict rules. You love an angry God. When you worship, you cry “I’m not worthy!” You mean it. You keep going to school because there are so many adults there with the power to validate or reject you. Rejection is best; it gives you a chance to be a better girl. You ask people, “Are you sure you like me?” You want strangers to promise to love you forever. You don’t trust that the people who do love you won’t change their minds. You bully your brothers, your lovers, your friends. You apologize and apologize and never feel forgiven. If you are lucky, your parents will be the last people who hit you. You will live much of your life fixing your face up, lest someone give you something to cry about.

I am not here to deliver maxims. They are not helpful and they invite arguments I don’t want to have. I know what I know and my bones remember. I’m a poet.  I don’t want to tell you what to do with your children, but I will teach your children how to tell what you did.

When the Church Fails Its Women: 7 Truths We Need to Tell About Creflo Dollar, Black Daughters and Violence

11 Jun

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I walked out of church in the middle of service. I grew up in church; my stepfather of 15 years is a pastor; as recently as 2009, I led a ministry team  at one of Atlanta’s Baptist megachurches. Thus, my choice to get up and walk out while the pastor was speaking defied every notion of decorum I have ever been taught.

Image from madamenoire.com

But when he stood to express his unequivocal support for Atlanta megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar who was arrested late last week for committing simple battery and cruelty to a child on his fifteen year old daughter, I had to go. 

I have struggled in recent years to reconcile my long-standing faith, to my relatively more recent feminist commitments. And it is precisely because of the Black Church’s continued willingness to advocate problematic, violent, hierarchical stances against women and gay people that I continue to struggle.

According to the police report, Dollar told his daughter  she couldn’t go to a party due to bad grades.  From there the situation got real ugly. His daughter left the room, went into the kitchen and started crying. Dollar followed her, asked why she was crying, and when she indicated that she didn’t want to talk to him, she says that he  “then charged her, put his hands around her throat and began to choke her, slammed her to the ground and began to punch her,  and took off his shoe and started whooping her with it.” The victim’s 19 year old sister, who witnessed the altercation, backed up her sister’s story. Dollar, himself, admitted only to using a shoe.

In classic fashion, Dollar denied everything yesterday, as he entered his sanctuary to a standing ovation. “She was not choked. She was not punched….I should never have been arrested.” Elsewhere he said, “All is well in the Dollar household.”

Apparently, his daughters are bald-faced liars. Both of them. And apparently, they resent him so much that they would concoct this magnificently violent tale in order to have him arrested. If he thinks all is well, clearly he isn’t well.

So now let’s entertain the notion that his daughters are telling the truth or at least some truth.

What would it look like for our faith communities to be places where Black girls could testify about the violence they experience from the men in our communities and be believed? 

What would it look like for Black women, the primary attendants and financial supporters of the Black Church, to demand accountability from the overwhelmingly male leadership in our pulpits?

The most troubling thing about Creflo’s statement was the overwhelming amount of support from his female parishioners. I can’t help but notice the admixture of fear and disappointment on the fifteen year old girls face in the above video (1:19) as her mother actively sides with Creflo for the cameras. 

What would it mean for us to recognize that when we refuse to believe the testimony of other Black women and girls, it makes our own witness “for the Lord,” before the law, and before anyone else we need to believe us less credible?

Yet, I witnessed Black women coming out in full support of the “man of God” in droves because…

“We weren’t there.”

“We don’t know what happened in that house…”

“We don’t know what she did or said to provoke him…”

[What is this? Chris Brown and RiRi 2.0? (Let me leave that alone.)]

“If she swung on him first (as some news outlets reported), then she deserved it…” {And for the record, the police report in no way indicates any such thing. Even Creflo doesn’t say she swung on him.}

“If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you know how they can be…”

“He has the right to discipline his children.”

For the record, we never know the whole story about anything, if it didn’t happen to us. That doesn’t prevent us from making reasonable judgments based on the evidence. Christians use the same type of reason to profess our faith in a God-man, who was born from a virgin, crucified on a cross and Resurrected on the 3rd day. And we believe in his Resurrection, primarily on the basis of the initial testimony of some women who Jesus’ male followers weren’t trying to hear (Mark 16: 1-11). So in my view, if we refuse to believe Black girls when they testify about their experiences, we call the basis of our own witness and our own faith into question. Jesus prioritized listening to women, even when his disciples said they were being a nuisance.

Why I wonder are Black women so willing, so ready to co-sign theologies that literally support us getting our asses kicked in our own homes? 

Why have we bought into the primary premise of white supremacy, that the most effective way to establish authority is through violence? Surely, this situation teaches us that the only thing that kind of parenting does is breed the kind of resentment and contempt that will have your children calling the cops on you at 1 in the morning.

Why is it so hard for us to take a stand against Black men and tell them that there is never a reason to put their hands on us in a violent fashion? Not when homicide is the top killer (after accidental death) of Black women and girls ages 15-24.

Frankly, we need to “radically rethink” our understandings of authority, love, violence, and respect in the Black Church.  Black folks love to say, Tell the Truth, and Shame the Devil. Well here are seven truths we need to tell.

1.)   Sisters have the power to change this thing. The Black Church is one of the few places where we do have this kind of power. And the tide won’t turn, until Black women get fed up and then start to stand up, start walking out, and start taking our money with us.

2.)  Children are not our property. It is not their job to confer upon us the worth and dignity denied to us by others. We do not get to violently beat them into submission, supported by terrible “spare the rod” theologies. Everyone wants children to obey, but what do we do with Ephesians 6:1-4 which clearly, after telling children to honor their parents, admonishes fathers not to “provoke children to wrath.” Wonder why that’s in there?

3.)  Discipline is not synonymous with punishment or spanking. It was in church that I learned that discipline and disciple share the same root word. To disciple means to train up (usually in the ways of Jesus.) Aren’t there more creative and effective ways to parent? Spanking is the easy-out option. It is the option that packs the “literal” biggest punch, requires the least amount of thought, and is designed to quickly redirect undesirable behaviors. But it is largely ineffective, and rarely about actual discipline. Spanking is used to communicate anger to a child for doing something wrong. They are used to remind the child who’s boss. And the boss is the person who gets to mete out violence when the rules don’t get followed. Interestingly enough, in the Black Church, I think far too many of us understand God in these exact same terms –as the strict disciplinarian, who polices all our actions, ever ready to issue cosmic butt whoopings when we don’t fall into line. Thank God for delivering me from such thinking.

4.)  Domestic violence is not discipline. And this was domestic violence. And I find it hard to believe that a man who will beat the shit out of his own daughter, who feels biblically justified in doing so, wouldn’t beat the shit out of her mother, too. Not levying any accusations here, but I think it’s a question worth raising. Read this Black girl’s testimony and see how true it rings

5.)   Just because your parents whooped you, and you “turned out fine,” doesn’t mean the whoopings are the cause of it. Black folks are overcomers by copious circumstance. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep recreating negative circumstances for our children and calling them right and good. I had a racist sixth grade teacher who made me cry every day. I still made excellent grades and remained undeterred. If I have children, I will not seek out a racist teacher for them, celebrate their ability to excel despite it, and then claim that they excelled because of it. That is pathological.

6.)    The Black Church can’t have it both ways. If Black fathers set the moral tone for how men will treat their (presumably hetero) daughters, then Black folks cannot continue to insist that a father’s punches thrown in anger are wholly distinct from a partner’s punches thrown in anger. I’ve always found it interesting, that when we talk about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, no one wants to critique Lot, nephew of Abraham, for tossing his daughters out the door to be raped by the men of the city. No one makes the connection that a few verses over these same two daughters get Lot drunk, sleep with and get pregnant by him, and become the mothers of tribes that create all manner of havoc for the Israelites. We are so invested in sic’ing this text on gay people like rabid dogs, that we miss it’s more obvious invitations to consider the ways in which men of God–and the Bible calls Lot “righteous”–have a long tradition of subordinating the well-being of the women in their lives to other goals that seem to be more morally significant, those aims namely being homophobia and patriarchy. But Genesis seems to insist that a father’s choice to subject his daughters to violence can cause those daughters to both resent and actively seek to humiliate their father. (Genesis 19)

7.)   Our theology will kill us if we let it.  As the Bible thumpers love to remind us: “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is destruction.” (Prov 14:12) Consider this my remix. Jesus already died, and I refuse to let the Black Church turn me into a martyr for its causes. I refuse to stand by while Black men (and women) use bad theology about headship and Black women and men use bad theology about “sparing the rod” to heap indignities on women and children in the name of God.  Our blind investment in patriarchy, and the kind of hierarchy it promotes in churches and families is not healthy for a people who continue to find themselves on the bottom of every social hierarchy that exists. In my faith communities, being a feminist makes me suspect. But to them I say,  Jesus was a feminist. In my feminist communities, being a Christian often makes me suspect. And to them I say the same thing, Jesus was a feminist. So I am going to unapologetically let my faith and my feminism inform one another. (And keep reading great blog series like this one to help me out on rough days.) It is because I believe in Jesus and feminism, that  I don’t tolerate violence against women in any form from the men in my life, and I for damn sure, am not gonna sit up and hear violent ish coming at me from the pulpit. Black women have to become as serious about demanding that our churches are spaces where we can tell our testimonies about the violence done to us and be believed. I am determined to have a theology that is truly liberatory, one centered on grace, healing and abundant life. And if I have to raise hell and disrespect a few pulpits to get it, so be it. 

Game Over?

7 Jun

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When I heard that Melanie (Tia Mowry Hardrict) and Derwin (Pooch Hall) were not returning to The Game next season I must admit that I drank the Kool-Aid and tuned back in to see how their complicated love story would end.  I even saw most of the episodes I missed after taking a hiatus (during the four day, five season marathon on BET) this past weekend.  Watching episodes from five years ago reminded me of why I was a fan of the show in the first place, and in some ways, the final episode of Season 5 offered a slight, albeit temporary, glimpse of the good ole’ days.

At first The Game (on The CW) was refreshing because it was comedic, focused on friendships, and offered nuances to the characters (i.e., us learning how/why they are the way they are—from Melanie’s bourgeiose family to Maalik’s fatherless son with mama issues translated to woman issues narrative).  Unfortunately, when they returned, on BET, much of that was lost.  I continued to watch because I was a loyal “fan” and I was committed, at first, to watch The Game until the bittersweet end.

Clearly I am not alone in my nostalgia.  There is a facebook fan page, Save The Game, that is devoted to both remembering what made The Game work for the first three seasons (via “throwback Thursday images of The Game during its former glory,” and calling for corporate accountability for the new programming, via an open letter to writers and producers).

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I won’t repeat things I have already said about the frailties of the show since its transition to BET, but I will say that one of the disappointments was the way that the writers handled the characters we had all come to love.  It was as if they did not know what to do with the characters anymore, and instead of maturing them, they regressed into childish, selfish, shells of their former selves.  It was hard to like them, let alone love them.

I can say, though, that over the course of the season, it seemed, that some of the characters softened.  I must admit, while I was initially blackgirl offended at the introduction of Chardonnay as an over-the-top exaggeration of black ghetto fabulousness, she seemed, at the end of the season, to be less rough around the edges and more believable.  Tasha Mack’s character, while wildly stereotypical, showed her soft/er and vulnerable side in the last episode, in what I believe to be one of the most remarkable and memorable scenes she has had.  (What woman doesn’t want a lover who will “take care of her” when she is sick?)

Unfortunately, Tuesday night’s episode represented one high mark in two seasons worth of foolishness.  There have been so many episodes, over the last two seasons, that left me hanging, so many storylines that were not thought through or properly executed, so many things that did not make sense, that one episode where the imprudence was minimal does not make up for it.  I appreciate that we were given an ending that gave closure (in a TV series kind of way) for the characters, but it makes me wonder what is going to happen next?  In what ways is next season going to take away the temporary “good feelings” I had after Tuesday’s finale?

In many ways the final episode of season 5 could have been the series finale, an end to the stories that help us know that everybody is going to be okay (just like the first, though abrupt, series finale).  We get a glimpse of what tomorrow will bring for the characters that doesn’t feel jagged edged, that doesn’t feel impossible, or short-changed.  Tasha finally finds “everything she always prayed for” (in Pooky).  Jason finds his true blackgirl love.  Maalik has his second chance with his first love (football), and resigns to being himself (the arrogant, cocky playboy we learned to love); Melanie and Derwin get their “thing” back, the spark we were introduced to on the first episode of the game, only this time instead of Melanie being expected to sacrifice her dreams for her man, Derwin sacrifices his for hers.  She finally gets to come into her own, fulfill her own dreams and goals to be a doctor, without sacrificing her marriage or happiness to do it.  She gets it “all”—at least in the moment when her (gorgeous) husband comes to the airport to go with her to D.C.

I don’t know what will happen next season, and I can’t say that I am anxious to see it or that I will even watch it.  In many ways I feel like The Game has run its course.  On The CW it was entertaining to watch, but if BET is overtime, I am over it, and even when you are a fan of your team, at some point you are just ready for The Game to be over.  After several disappointing Tuesday nights, the final episode of season five is the one I want to remember it by—an episode that finally, it seems, brought everyone full circle, back to where we started.

Game over.

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