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(Un)Clutching My Mother’s Pearls, or Ratchetness and the Residue of Respectability

31 Dec

shawty-lo-photos-extralarge_1209751862690

The recent news that ATL rapper Shawty Lo (of Laffy Taffy fame) may be the potential star of a new reality show featuring him, his 11 children, and his 10 baby mamas had this feminist searching for somebody’s pearls to clutch,  seeing as how even the First Lady’s love of pearls has not inspired me to cop a strand of my own.

I watched the trailer for this latest train wreck out of Atlanta in mild disgust and mega internal conflict. On the one hand, I felt compelled to embrace this potential portrayal of what one friend called an “alternate family.” I mean, my family, composed of my single mom, my only-child self, my cousins who were stand-ins for big brothers, and more recently my step-family is certainly “alternate.” At least I felt that way as a kid when I was asked to fill out those old-school ditto sheets with the members of my family, which curiously left absent slots for cousins and aunties and grandparents. 

And when I see the “rabid” nature of respectability politics that makes grown-ass women feel justified in referring to other sisters hustling trying to make it as “brood mares” I am reminded that I don’t ever wanna be down with the myopia and pathology of the respectability racket either! It is so absolutely clear that this respectability shit IS.NOT. working, no matter how much we remix it. The refusal to see that requires what I like to call indignant ignorance, and frankly ain’t nobody got time for that!

sweet-brown_o_GIFSoup.com

On the other hand: this Shawty-Lo biznass is utterly ratchet! And ratchetness gives me pause, every single time! It’s meant to. Ratchet acts are meant to be so over-the-top and outrageous that they catch your attention and exceed the bounds of acceptable saying.

This is the manner and mode of ratchetness that Bey seems to be invoking (successfully or not, you be the judge) in this pic which had the internets all ablaze over the weekend. 

Let's Get Ratchet! Let'sGetRatchet!

Let’s Get Ratchet! Let’sGetRatchet!

Bey’s ratchetness is about flamboyance, about doing the most, and “Bey-ing the most.”

Shawty-Lo’s brand is “ghetto” “hood” ish on steroids.

In this regard,his show is certainly poised to succeed. (And it ain’t even aired yet.)

 So my initial thought to my friend on FB was: “When there’s a show about a woman and her ten baby daddies then we can have a discussion about alternate families. Until then, this just sounds like women with few options capitulating to Black male patriarchy.”

By-and-large, I believe this is true. But it is also true that I find something fundamentally off-putting about a brother with 11 kids by 10 different women, even though it appears that he supports them all, claims them all, and works to have some level of relationship with their moms. I’m tired of brothers not having to be emotionally accountable for their relational choices. I’m tired of the way patriarchy’s love affair with capitalism sets men up to think that manhood and fatherhood are tied to one’s bank account.

 Patriarchy exempts men from having to emotionally grow the fuck up.

 I mean, it’s great that Shawty Lo knows and claims all his children.  But um, WHEN did that become the standard?!

Men don’t want superficial relationships, but they have little motivation to cultivate the habits of character—emotional generosity and maturity, selflessness, self-confidence (not EGO) – that are necessary for good relationships. Intuitively most men reject women who want them only for what they have, and rightfully so. But these same men are rarely challenged to cultivate the kind of emotional consideration that they seek in others.  They want these things from women, benefit from the time we spend cultivating these attributes in our friendships with other women, but are so ill-equipped to provide them themselves.

 Even still, in the crevices of my wrinkled forehead are the residues of my own respectability politics, my ambivalence about the limits of our alter(n)ations, and our excessive celebrations of alterity.  Even as our generation works hard to stop clutching the pearls and with it the respectability that we think is held in tact by the thin tie that binds, we are confronted with the challenges that led our foremothers to embrace respectability in the first place. We might not be striving for big R-type Respectability, but we are all over little-R respectability. 

Why?

Well, “ask me what I do and who I do it for.” For the future kids, for my mama, my grandmama, my aunties, all those people, for whom I am the embodiment of hope.

When I was growing up, watching way too many girls become mothers before they had the resources to make sustainable lives for themselves and watching my mother hustling to make ends meet, I caught the cautionary tale real quickly. Whatever you do, don’t do this. 

Not justifying. More like confessing. And inviting us–respectable, supereducated brown girls, the ones who “did it the right way,” whatever the hell that is– to tell the truth about our continued investments in respectability, and about all the ways that our love for all things ratchet is as much about getting free as it is about reminding ourselves of all the reasons why we made the choices we made. So we wouldn’t end up like that. Like them.

I mean it could be good ole fashioned “Chickenhead Envy” on my part.  Cuz damn. It definitely feels like “Hoes be winning.”

But are they really? Are any of us of winning in a scenario where respectable and ratchet are the only two options? 

Yes, the alternate family that Shawty Lo and the Baby Moms have built may be subversive, transgressive, and even admirable in its insistence on creating meaningful kinship bonds despite the dictates of respectability. Alternate families are incredibly difficult to create and structurally discouraged at every turn. And in some ways our affective lives (our emotional selves) have not caught up to the space, time, and resource demands of this neoliberal moment.

Ratchetness emerges under these conditions as a kind of habitus through which (some) working-class folks and folks with working class roots interact with every aspect of their lives from entertainment to family to government.

(Hurricane Chris performs “Halle Berry”–one of the first songs to popularize the term “ratchet” in front of the Louisiana Legislature, watch around the 6min mark.)

 More and more though, I am coming to understand that subversive and transgressive politics do not a revolution make.  I mean how exactly does the subversion and transgression represented here undercut patriarchy?

Just because it’s alternate and non-normative–and thus even potentially queer– should I as a feminist embrace it?

From what I see, this radical reimagining of family works primarily to balance the public portrayals of Black men as oversexed deadbeats against the reality that “as long as he takes care of his kids,” we can’t really have anything to say, because ultimately “he ain’t that bad.”

 What do we do with a man that sleeps around unprotected with all these women given the alarming rates of HIV infection in ATL? (And how many people will come to this post and remind me that the women also chose to have unprotected sex with him?!)

As I watch the mothers of Shawty Lo’s children form strategic alliances all in the name of parenting their children and getting what they need from this ONE man, I think about the continued imbalance of power that Black men have over Black women despite all the ways white capitalist supremacist patriarchy conspires to keep Black men locked into a form of subordinate masculinity.

 I know that should this show become a full fledged series, everyone will focus on the Mamas, on how stupid they all were to take up with dude, who has a reputation for foolishness. Their maturity and the wisdom of their choices will surely be discussed. 

His? Not so much.

As I’ve said before, reality (television) frequently makes Black women the victims of persistent acts of disrespectability.

So even as I unhand my (mother’s) pearls, I think this show among others can invite us to think about Black women’s deployment of ratchetness as part of a kind of disrespectability politics.

Or in Bey’s case, as a kind of joy and celebration, that the rush to respectability simply doesn’t allow.

Elsewhere I have written about ratchet feminism, primarily as a kind of female friendship forged in the midst of complicated relationships among men, their mothers, and their many women.  I think this show will place this concept on the table again, as it demands we think about all of the creative ways women negotiate patriarchy.

At the same time, we have to think about how the embrace of ratchetness is simultaneously a dismissal of respectability, a kind of intuitive understanding of all the ways that respectability as a political project has failed Black women and continues to disallow the access that we have been taught to think it will give. #AskSusanRice

We must ask what ratchetness itself makes possible, even as the gratuitous and exploitative display of it attempts to foreclose possibility. What does ratchetness do for the ratchet and non-ratchet (and sometimes ratchet) alike?

Are Black women not always already perceived as “ratchet” anyway? As over-the-top, excessive, doing the most and achieving the least, unable to be contained, except through wholly insufficient discourses, like ghetto, and hood, and ratchet. AND respectable. 

Are Black men “ratchet”? Can white women be ratchet? Is  this ratchet? 

Kanye and Baby Mom (to be) Kim Kardashian

Kanye and Baby Mom (to be) Kim Kardashian

I don’t have the answers. And I’m not knocking these moms. The best I can do here is own my contradictions and then let go of these damn pearls, because despite my desire to hold on, this ain’t our mothers’ feminism. 

How Do You Get Crunk?

10 Dec

Somehow I doubt this is what she had in mind.

 

For us, Crunk Feminism has always been about showcasing the possibilities of existing productively with our contradictions, about embracing our tensions,  about avoiding easy answers, about not preaching to the choir, about struggling and making-meaning in community, and about having side-spliting fun, whenever possible. In short, we believe in getting CRUNK, in all the expansive ways we can imagine that term,  whether that has meant telling it like it is to whomever needs to hear it, rolling hard for the crew, giving the forceful side eye (and a few well-chosen words) to rappers who’ve gotten out of pocket, or conversely  shaking our asses with a little drank in hand on occasion…

But mostly it has meant reveling in the joy that is a part of a life lived in the most intentionally feminist of ways.

And you, Dear Readers, are a part of that joy. This work  has not been possible without you, who keep challenging us to grow, to stay true, to not compromise, to keep it CRUNK.

I’m not much on Apocalypse talk — too much ish to do (and as Crunkadelic would say, too few f*cks left to give) — but there is the sense as we come to the close of 2012 that we are fast approaching the end of the world as we know it. Heck, we may already be there.  And the best way to respond to rupture is with connection. Dance. Laughter. Creativity.

So come hangout with us!!!! 

The Google Hangout that we are hosting TOMORROW, December 11th is in honor of you! Join us live on our own YouTube channel, where we will be talking about all the ways we have been getting, are getting, and will be getting CRUNK (past, present, and future).  You don’t need a Google Account to participate.

So in the words of this song just “bring yourself.”

The Hangout starts at 8pm and will run about 20mins, so take a study break, all y’all hard working academics and activists, and come join us.

And if there’s anything you’ve been dying to ask a CF, here’s your chance; there is still time to submit questions to us in the comments section, via Facebook, or on twitter @crunkfeminists. 

So come let us know how YOU get CRUNK!

 

 

What: Google Hangout

When: Tuesday, December 11th, 8pm EST

Where: Crunk Feminist YouTube Channel

Topic: How Do You Get Crunk?

 

CFC Plans for 2013: We Need Your Support!

20 Nov

Dear Family:

As we near the end of a stellar year at the CFC, we want to thank you for your steadfast support. This year we achieved many milestones. Because of your support, we have received over 1.7 million views to our blog.  In early August we reached over 10,000 Facebook fans, and to date now have nearly 12,000 likes on our Facebook page!  Three of our CFs were featured in Essence Magazine’s profile of 35 Young, Black, and Amazing Women under age 35.

You can see two of them post-photo shoot here.

We also have a committed group of followers on Tumblr and Twitter. And we are excited about the future!

We are now in planning mode for our 2013 blog cycle, and we need your support. Each year we plan our content and initiatives during a 3 day retreat in the North Georgia Mountains. This is also normally the one time of year that the majority of us are in the same room together, so it is also a time of reconnection, rejuvenation, revival, and re-visioning. This year, we’d like to spend some dedicated time reflecting on our mission, particularly the way our own privileges may show up in cyberspace. We take seriously the critiques from some of our readership and would like to think through ways of growing our critical edges even amongst ourselves.

Usually, we pool together our own personal resources to rent the cabin, pay for food, transportation (including airfare) and materials. However, after 2.5 years and nearly 2000 hours spent blogging three times per week on average, doing speaking engagements, conference calls, conferences, leading online activist campaigns and doing community work, sustainability and self-care have become key words for us.

If our labor of love has blessed you, inspired you, or uplifted you, please consider financially supporting us as we fund our 2013 CFC Planning Retreat and upcoming initiatives.  We would like to raise $3000 to fund at least 10 CFC Members to attend our retreat. That money covers the rental of a modest cabin, food for us to cook our own meals, transportation (including airfare and ground travel), and planning supplies. 

Here are just a few of the initiatives and goals we would like to accomplish next year:

  1. 2013 Crunk Feminist Collective Planning Retreat
  2. Launching a new CFC website with dedicated space for digital activism, digital pedagogies, and digital humanities projects
  3. Feminism 101 for Girls Saturday School
  4. Compiling and editing a CFC volume
  5. More Video Blogs
  6. A Speakers Tour to Cities, Universities, Feminist Bookstores and Community Spaces Near You

If every Facebook fan donates $1 we will be able to cover the expenses for all of our CFC initiatives! We know not everyone has even $1 to spare but if you can’t give, please signal boost, by spreading this post and asking friends to donate.

Thanks for your support!
 
The CFC

Black Women Rock the Vote. Black Men Mock the Vote?: An Election Day Story

5 Nov

The first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote was the 2000 Gore-Bush contest. On Election Day, my mother called me and said simply, “I wanted to make sure you voted today. Your great-grandmother (born in rural North Louisiana in 1903) took great pride in voting. You do the same.”

  My great-grandmother Daisy, made sure that one of her granddaughters came during every Presidential election to take her to vote. Even though she didn’t walk well, because of a physical disability from her youth. Even though she signed her signature with an X.

 When I got to the polls adjacent to Howard U’s campus as I headed in to vote, I ran into an older man named Lawrence Guyot. He was gentle and called us eager young voters up to him one by one to explain that he was running for election to the City Council (I think) on the Green Party ticket. I obliged him politely, albeit probably a bit impatiently.

 And then I went in and cast my vote for Al Gore. I may even have voted for Mr. Guyot. I can’t remember now.

We all know how the story ended. The Supreme Court disregarded the will of the people in Florida and stole the presidency for George W. Bush.

And today, we find ourselves still reeling from the economic and geo-political results of that decision.

 

It would be years later, when I was in graduate school, before I came to know who Lawrence Guyot was. As director of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 and as chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, he had literally been beaten and arrested for my right to vote. We know the MFDP because it put Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer on a national stage, as the MFDP moved to unseat the state Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

 

When I walked in and cast my vote that day, there was literally someone there who had fought for me to be able to be there. And he brought along the presence of the ancestors, my great-grandmother, Fannie Lou Hamer, and so many others who understood the value of the vote.

The thing that staggers my mind today is how easily history had moved to forget Mr. Guyot. I think about how I didn’t even know his name until I was privileged enough to go to grad school, something most Americans will not do.

 I think about how easily the battles and struggles to get here are forgotten.

 We have re-learned this lesson this year as the GOP has waged a veritable war on Women’s Rights. And voting rights, too.

 

Despite these lessons, this history, I have seen a profusion of young radical brothers and old school radical cats declaring brazenly that they will not vote.

Over and over again, I saw in my FB feed, them reposting an excerpt from a 1956 W.E.B. Du Bois speech in which Dr. Du Bois declared:

 

“The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. Stevenson promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. … It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.” — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1956 

 

He could just as easily have been talking about 2012 as 1956. And yet, it was after he said this that Martin Luther King marched, that Fannie Lou Hamer got beaten, that Malcolm X demanded “the ballot or the bullet.”

 How do we reconcile our history of Civil Rights, our deep belief and investment as a people in the franchise with today’s legitmate disillusionments?

I know that many of us who tend toward the radical left in our politics cannot help but see the problems with the kind of imperialist, capitalist, deeply racist and patriarchal politics that continue to structure American society. We do not want to keep co-signing the madness for the sake of “tradition.”

And certainly, it goes without saying that President Obama governs just slightly to the left of center on his best days. On his worse days, he could be an actual Republican.

And yet, statistics show that in 2008, Black women were the single largest voter demographic of any group. Is it that Black women are politically naïve, that Black men are more politically visionary? Does Black women’s support for President Obama suggest a reckless disregard for life of people of color everywhere else?

Of course not.

It was Black women like Jessie Fauset and Anna H. Jones, who organized the Pan African Conferences that Du Bois is so famous for. It was Black women who started the International Council of Women of the Darker Races in 1922. It was Black women who started the Third World Women’s Alliance in the early 1970s. We have always had a global perspective.

 And unlike, Du Bois, (and James Baldwin and Richard Wright), we didn’t quit the country.  Sisters as wide-ranging as Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Pauli Murray, and Angela Davis, have journeyed abroad, found racial conditions much more livable there, and still chosen to come back home and fight for the lives of Black folks in the U.S.

Black women have never had the luxury of disillusionment. While brothers have gathered in elite organizations and institutions to hash out Black people’s political future, to engage in a lot of intellectual dick politicking and pissing contests, sisters have done the community organizing and voting that has held the racial body politic together. We have voted for the candidates that would make sure we could have a job, put our kids in safe schools, and put food on the table.  

We have clawed and struggled for every meager gain we have gotten in this democracy. And sisters have the broken nails and bloodied knees to prove it.

Far from being short-sighted, we have what Stanlie James and Abena Busia call visionary pragmatism.

 

I know it is not only Black men who have problems with President Obama. I know plenty of radical left sisters who are fed up with the utter ineffectiveness of a two-party system.  Black women, in fact, have a long history of defying the two-party system. Charlotta Bass ran for Vice President on the Progressive Party Ticket in 1952. In 2008, Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente ran on the Green Party ticket. And in this election a young sister named Peta Lindsay is running on the Socialist Party ticket.

And while I will be voting for President Obama, despite my varied disappointments, I can understand voting for a 3rd party candidate. But not voting is unconscionable.

Brothers can tell themselves that not voting is fine, because they by-and-large don’t have to worry about the cost of birth control. Good condoms cost what? $7 a pack. Birth control pills? $25 a pack with good insurance! Brothers by-and-large don’t do the care work in our communities. The care of the elderly is deeply gendered work.  So they can tell themselves that withholding their votes serves a greater good even though the choice to do so might make life a hell of a lot harder for the elderly folks they hold so dear, not to mention continuing to place an undue economic burden on women.

 

In many cases, I do believe in drawing lines in the sand. I do think we have to take a stand for what’s right, that sometimes doing what is convenient in the short run will short-circuit our ability to change things for the better in the long run. But as a Black feminist, a Hip Hop Generation feminist, I also fancy myself a both/and kinda girl.

 Can I hold in tension the fact that my vote simultaneously eases tax burdens and healthcare costs on the poor and the middleclass in the U.S. while also going to fund wars I don’t believe in and capitalist trade practices I don’t support? Can I hold in tension the fact that President Obama has arrested and deported more Brown folks than the Bush Administration, greatly expanding the operation and reach of the Prison Industrial Complex, while also being reminded that his is the first administration to reduce the crack vs. cocaine sentencing disparity that had disproportionate effects on communities of color?

 Can I hold in tension the fact that every single brother I know who says he’s withholding his vote in pursuit of a revolutionary future is an academic at a fairly elite institution?

Consider this recent editorial in the NYT as one such example of Black male academic disillusionment.

Though Professor Frederick C. Harris does go so far as to reject voting, he writes among other things: “Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality. The tragedy is that black elites — from intellectuals and civil rights leaders to politicians and clergy members — have acquiesced to this decline, seeing it as the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House.”

Professor Harris also decries the decline not only of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality, but also a decline in the Black prophetic tradition, particularly that, which grew out of the Black Church. While I agree with his critique of the ways that Black religious cultures have become depoliticized in the wake of the rise of the prosperity gospel, I continue to be totally disappointed by all these Black male academics who construct their notions of the best of Black political visions around a procession of Great Race Men.

 Of the paltry number of Black women mentioned, only Ida B. Wells is celebrated. Like many of his contemporary Blackademic male colleagues, Harris dismisses Melissa Harris-Perry as “all but an apologist for President Obama.” 

 Moreover, since it is Black women by-and-large who voted for President Obama, he reduces our political decision making to a desire solely to see a Black family in the White House. This assumes that we don’t see beautiful, functional Black families in our lives every day. Moreover, it shows a real myopic understanding of the political pressure put on Black women to maintain the Black family as a viable political and cultural institution, particularly while academic elites like Harris proclaim the decline of Black political leadership a la Harold Cruse. Even if it were true that Black women voted for President Obama solely out of a sense of loyalty to Black male race leaders –and there’s no denying that this is a part of our thinking, but not the whole of it—to dismiss that as a kind of fantastical naivete is to engage in a kind of willful ignorance about the ways in which racial patriarchy compels Black women’s loyalty to Black men, particularly when they are as impressive as President Obama.

 What I’m really trying to get at is this sort of Black male political and intellectual arrogance, this smugness with which Black men levy these political critiques and the ways in which Black women either disappear from the histories that undergird their perspectives or become  dismissed as unthoughtful apologists for a broken system.

But if your prophetic and political tradition starts with Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth, moves through Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary Church Terrell, takes a gander through Claudia Jones and Flo Kennedy, stops by the house of  Fannie Lou Hamer,  Shirley Chisolm, Barbara Jordan and Fran Beale and doesn’t forget Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, bell hooks, Patricia Williams, Donna Brazile and all the nameless faces of sisters that can’t be named because they were never doing it for the spotlight, then it would be harder to see Black prophetic traditions as being in decline. It would be easier to see that what’s really in decline is a Great charismatic Race Man model of leadership. (You should check out Erica Edwards fabulous new book Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership for more on this point.)  And even though Black men know all the limitations of that model, in many ways the world of Black politics feels safer with Strong Men running it. We are in a world deeply in need not only of new political models but also new leadership models. And based on Black women’s long history of staying connected to the pulse of Black communities, I’d say that the places where Black women put their political energies are a good bet for all of us.

As for tomorrow, I’m sticking with the President. I hope you will, too.

 

 

Below feel free to share your thoughts on voting or not voting, how you do or don’t reconcile a radical politic with a choice to participate in tomorrow’s elections, or your general thoughts on Black leadership.

 

 

She’s Not Heavy, She’s Our Sister: Love Notes for Sharmeka

24 Oct
Dear Sharmeka,

I’m so sorry for what happened to you. I am sending you love. What happened to you has been a wake up call about the traumas of being multiply marginalized in this world. I hope you get exactly what you need.

So much love,

Moya


Dear Sharmeka,

Hey sis. I just wanted to reach out and let you know that I am thinking about you and sending you love and best wishes for a speedy recovery. What’s been going on with you, girl? Maybe you felt invisible, maybe you felt like you deserved this particular type of pain? I just don’t know. I do know that you are probably on the receiving end of a lot of anger and frustration, some of which has to do with your situation and some of which is connected to you simply because you’ve become a symbol of our decidedly not post-racial society. I hope you can find support, healing, and empathy as you move forward. And I hope that the rest of us can see your story as an opportunity to move forward in the world with a spirit of support, healing, and empathy.

Yours truly,
Susana

Sharmeka,

I feel like I know you.  You represent any number of blackgirls I see every day carrying pain that the world can’t see.  I wish the hopelessness you felt in a moment of self-demise could be retracted…that I could help heal what was broken…that you could see in yourself the beauty and majesty that was there all along.

Blackgirl to Blackgirl, I wish that self-hate crimes didn’t exist, that blackgirls didn’t feel the need to be so strong, and that the raced histories and legacies that frame the scenario you initially told were not so prevalent.  Truth is, I feel speechless around how to approach my disappointment and confusion in the staging of the incident.  Racial politics are complicated and our public dialogue needs to be shrouded in honesty.  The untruth you told jeopardizes the credibility of other blackgirls’ stories, myself included. I’m struggling with knowing how to hold you accountable and hold you UP at the same time.   But one thing I feel full voiced about is my unwavering support of YOUR WELL BEING.  I know how it feels to be overwhelmed with hopelessness and pain.  I know how it feels to be pushed in on all sides (multiple discriminations happening at once).  I know how it feels to hurt so bad that you want to hurt yourself.

My hope for you, moving forward, is that you get the support and help you need to be hopeful, whole, and at peace.

In solidarity & love,

Robin

Dear Sharmeka,

I wish everything about this story wasn’t true. I wish you were not lying in a hospital bed with scars that you will have to live with for your entire life.  I wish we didn’t live in a world that makes Black girls feel invisible. I wish the terror you felt on the inside didn’t feel like the terror of being ambushed while you walked in a park alone, a terror that so many Black women have felt and do feel everyday. I wish we could tell the truth about racism, so that we would be clear that your singular lie against the KKK in no way equates to the systematic reign of terror that they have perpetrated on Black women. I wish that broken and bruised black bodies weren’t the only credible forms of evidence in our fight against racism, since even the broken bodies frequently aren’t believed. I wish that sexism did not create a world in which Black girls’ bodies are collateral damage in the war on racism. I wish we knew better how to stay well in a world hell-bent on making us unwell.  I wish I could say that I didn’t feel anger and embarrassment when I found out that some parts of your story are apparently untrue. But then I wish we lived in a world where you could have told us your truths, your pain, and your struggle, and been believed.

I hope you are surrounded in love and support. I hope that healing is forthcoming. I hope you see someday the outpouring of care you received from all races of people. I hope that care is not so swiftly retracted. And I hope that anybody who would wish you harm, any opportunist who would equate your misguided act with a reverse ism of any sort, would think again and then take a seat.

You are not heavy. You are our sister. And we have your back.

Much love,

Brittney

My Sister Sharmeka,
I have spoken your name with my students at Spelman and in private send you love and affirmations. We recognized that your body was experiencing pain but now it seems there was much more pain than we could have recognized. I will continue to speak your name in love and to encourage others to try to understand and listen in hopes that no other black girl feels so silenced and invisible and alone that she experiences such pains.  I wish you peace and recovery but mostly I want you to be surrounded by many experiences of black girl love that crowd out the noise of black girl hate. You have sisters and brothers who are sending you fierce love but wanting you to know that you must be accountable for your choices. In these difficult times please remember to ask for what you need.

With so much love,
Sheri


Dear Sharmeka,

What can I say but I am sorry. I am sorry that you, your life and your story are being reduced to catchy headlines and two minute news clips.  I am sorry that, for many, you will become a symbol and cease to be a real person with needs and concerns.  Most of all, I am sorry that you are in pain, in any and every sense.  I am sending you love, healing energy and recognition.

With Love,

Whitney

Sharmeka,

Wellness is my wish for you: healing for the wounds that festered before the fire and the ones opened by the flame.

love,
jalylah

Resources:

When the Hoodies Are White: Justice4SharmekaMoffitt

23 Oct

Sharmeka Moffitt

On Sunday evening, Sharmeka Moffitt went to a local park in Winnsboro, Louisiana to “walk a mile and run a mile.” Sometime later, she was approached by three men in “white t-shirt hoodies” who doused her with flammable liquid and set her on fire. For good measure, they scrawled “KKK” and “nigger” on her car. Sharmeka was able to get to a spigot of water, put out the flames, and then call 911 for help. She is now in critical condition with burns to over 60% of her body at the Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport, LA.

As of late Monday evening, the local Louisiana authorities were still vacillating over whether or not to call this a hate crime. Part of their hesitancy stems from the fact that Sharmeka could not definitively identify the race of her attackers. 

The fact that the race of her attackers is being used as a gauge for this hate crime demonstrates the limitations of how we think about race and racism in this country. This Black woman was targeted and subjected to severe and life-threatening bodily injury for sport. Her perpetrators then thought they should punctuate their crime by scrawling hateful racially incendiary messages on her car. What isn’t hateful about that?

And what is with all the shock and bewilderment? Winnsboro, Louisiana is just about 60 miles from Jena, Louisiana, the site of the 2007 Jena 6 incident. I grew up in Ruston, Louisiana, about 75 miles from Winnsboro. As late as the late 1990s, the KKK marched in downtown Ruston, and my classmates bragged during class trips about having relatives who were high ranking officials in the terrorist organization.  Racially incendiary acts are commonplace in this part of the world. (Every damn part of the U.S. world) Like critical race theorists tell us, racism is not an aberration. It is part of the everyday, commonplace fabric of our lives. Before folks start decrying this act as an individual aberration of 3 sick individuals, perhaps we would do well to remember that their acts are symptomatic of the continued persistence of racism in this country.

Racism is like an autoimmune disorder. It attacks the body politic from the inside out, warring against itself, but frequently on the surface, things seem normal and healthy. We are only attuned to the problem when a flare up happens. But to continue to act as though the flare up is the disease is to engage in the most unhealthy and self-defeating form of denial there is. 

Then again, maybe it’s the hoodies. Selective historical amnesia being what it is, perhaps folks have come to believe that only Black men roam in public space under hooded covers threatening to do harm to other citizens.  Our rush into a postracial fantasy makes us too soon forget that white men, particularly rural Southern white men, are experts in terrorizing and policing racial minorities’ access to public space.

Even if it turns out that Sharmeka’s attackers are not white men, we should ask ourselves why her attackers would choose such a powerfully interpretive  historical narrative in which to play out their need to do harm to a Black girl’s body and personhood. Racism has a basic grammar, a set of rules, which we all learn to speak, having been immersed in it our entire lives. In a racist grammar, the subjects know that power is predicated on the ability to exercise violence (of various types) against a direct object, namely an innocent victim who bears the marks of the wrong skin color in the wrong time and place. 

And for all the folks who think Black women don’t use public parks for exercise because we want to maintain our hair styles, let this be an object lesson. Maybe Black women with modest resources who can’t afford to go to the gym  don’t use public parks because those spaces are unsafe. 

As of this point, the coverage of Moffitt’s attack has been minimal. I knew about it only because folks back home were posting info from local news sources. I guess it is left up to social media to convince the world yet again that violence against Black women matters. And I hope Black folks remember, too, that Sharmeka’s life deserves the same energy that we gave to the Jena 6 and to Trayvon Martin. 

Sharmeka, you are not invisible to us. We stand with you in your fight.

You can see updates on her story here.

Unleash Your Inner Wench

9 Oct

One of the things I love about the Hip Hop Generation is our ingenuity, our willingness to reinvent ourselves, and to think anew about the traditions we’ve been handed.

When you mix that ingenuity with the kind of conscientious political critique that comes from Black and Brown feminisms, something remarkable happens.

With appropriate intention, mundane, everyday acts become hella political.

Oiling your legs can be political. In fact, as I think about the many summer days that my grandmother made me rub olive oil into my dark ashy knees, so I would look like I belonged to someone who loved me, I realize that skin care for Black women is never un-political.

Even my great grandmother was prone in her twilight years to insist that my mom and aunties buy her some cold cream! I think she fancied Ponds. Wrinkles be damned.

Perhaps because I come from a line of Mary-Kay wearing, knee oiling, wrinkle shunning women, I chose to keep it simple. Unlike many sisters I know, I am, in fact, not a product junkie. Ivory Soap and some lotion are usually good enough for me.

***

Over the summer, I got word that Joan Morgan had debuted Emily Jayne, a new line of body butters and fragance oils.

At her lovely sampling party, I was slightly skeptical, because in 30+ years of encounters with lots of body products, I’ve reverted over and over again to my simple Ivory Soap ways.

But go on ahead and call me a convert.

Perhaps it happened as I sat around the room and spooned small dollops of butters like Antilles Market, with its hints of dark chocolate, or Antilles Cimarron, that smells of cedar and frankincense.

Perhaps it was the fact, that after just a few minutes, my skin felt incredibly soft.

Perhaps it was the Wench.

#Wench

As the tiny bottle with the prototype moved around the room, sisters inhaled ylang ylang, and exhaled naughtiness, hitching up just a corner of their lips, and meeting other sisters with looks of deep knowing. Of… the ish that would pop off with the lovers in our lives, should they get even a whiff …Scandalous.

I brought home Antilles Cimarron and Vetiver Neroli. The Cimarron, with its shea butter base, smells spicy and almost citrusy on my skin. I wear it as my day time go-getter fragrance.

The Neroli is my night time (and sexy time) fragrance. It smells balsamic but is toned down and sweetened with just a hint of orange.

 The fragrances are unisex. One of my guy friends purchased some Driftwood 1838 fragrance oil. It is both light and strong, when you smell it on a man’s skin. My friend raves about it.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m telling you to cop you some Emily Jayne posthaste.

After a couple of months of using the products, I’ve already been back for more. And the thing is, you don’t need multiple products. I’ve used the butters on every part of my body from ‘fro to toe (sans face). My dry, cracked heels love this product. It doesn’t take much, and the scent lingers for hours. 

***

Joan started this business in part to encourage Black women to do something so basic. Touch ourselves. 

I’ve written here about the complicated facets of Black women’s relationship with touch.

Touching oneself is what Joan would call a pleasure principle, and it is a basic tenet of hip hop feminism’s move toward a new politics of pleasure. These pleasure principles are rooted in a reinvention of truths handed down to us long before we got here.

Emily Jayne is named after Joan’s two grandmothers. Perhaps our grandmothers knew about the power of touch, in ways that our virtual realities have allowed to escape us.

I’ve learned over these last few months that touching ourselves is essential. Essential for pleasure. Essential for health. To oil and massage one’s own skin is to affirm the beauty of the “skin we’re in” in a world that doesn’t love it. To touch one’s clitoris is to affirm that we are worthy agents and recipients of our own pleasure. To touch one’s breasts is to affirm that we are experts on our own bodies and advocates for the healthy life-saving information they often give us.

So oil yourself up, rub yourself down, and bring out your inner wench.

You deserve it.

 

 

For more info and to purchase products, check out the Emily Jayne Website.

Like Emily Jayne on Facebook

To see what others are saying about the products, follow @EmilyJayne1838 on twitter.

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