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Coming Out Stories: On Frank Ocean

10 Jul

By Summer McDonald

Original Published at The Black Youth Project

I’ve spent the last week treading in the liquid of a queer-flavored ambivalence, trying to determine why the Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean coming out announcements mean less to me than other people. I have seen enough episodes of Coming Out Stories and foolishly subjected myself and my partner to the awkward anti-climax of telling my father about my sexuality to know that helping folks who somehow don’t know how to use context clues with declarations of same-gender-lovingness is supposed to make one feel liberated, free, authentic. I know that my role is to stuff this blog entry full of words, symbolic pats on the back of Anderson, of Frank. Each paragraph should serve as a swell of applause for their bravery, I suppose. But there are enough of those posts already. And I try not to be disingenuous. So, I have spent the last week avoiding being pummeled by all of the congratulatory remarks for several reasons: 1. I needed to put words to my own feelings of ambivalence with as little outside influence as possible, 2. I read two responses to Frank Ocean’s apparent coming out and knew that something was terribly awry, and 3. Although I had treated both “announcements” similarly–that is, I made snarky remarks via Twitter and Facebook–I was also told that Frank Ocean’s coming out was more important than Anderson Cooper’s.

Pause.

Now, shrugging off Anderson Cooper’s “The fact is, I’m gay,” remark seems perfectly understandable. After all, I haven’t checked for Anderson Cooper since his coverage of black suffering helped catapult him into media superstardom. Not that he’s the first, but still… He doesn’t need nor does he seek my words of support. Besides, as the phenomenal Phaedra Parks might say, “Everybody [already] knows Anderson Cooper is gay.” Moreover, I find no reason to believe that Cooper’s confirmation does much for social justice. I’ve spoken ad nauseam about privilege: white privilege, male privilege, class privilege. All of which Cooper has. A fact that, in my opinion, undermines most of the significance of one line in an email. Perhaps my imagination is too limited, but I cannot envision the most vulnerable of us choosing to stop being locked away in the proverbial closet because Anderson Cooper just spilled his tea. That said, good job, good effort, Anderson.

My dismissal of Cooper on the technicality of privilege, I imagine, might lead one to think that I find more significance in Frank Ocean’s Tumblr post wherein he discloses that his first love was a man. After all, Ocean is young, black, not BFFs with Kathy Griffin, entrenched in hip-hop, and might have been interviewed by Cooper back in 2005 had he not left his native New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. Still, I didn’t flinch. I almost treated Ocean’s “announcement” in the same way I reacted to Cooper’s. But since I kept getting hit with waves of reasons why my equation should read: Frank Ocean coming out > Anderson Cooper coming out, I realized that perhaps it might be more beneficial to explain why I cannot properly compute that mathematical sentence.

First, I’m no theorist, but coming out, at least the way it is currently constructed, seems to go beyond articulating a desire to be accepted by others. It’s not simply about wanting an unmediated and honest connection with people (we care about). I say this understanding coming out as a kind of rites of passage, as a story we’re all supposed to tell. “So, when’d you come out?” is such a common refrain among those of us who were allegedly in the closet; it’s seemingly inherent to a gay/queer identity. We discover that we are queer, we tell people or keep the secret, we live on–or not. I know this is an important act for folks. It was important to me, too. However, coming out also seems to work as a plea for the continued recognition of one’s humanity. The reaction to these public, quasi-confessions reveals to me that coming out  seems less about the person revealing the “secret” and more about the response from the people witnessing the emergence from the closet. Coming out seems to be a really dramatic way of humanizing a concept and asking, “Will you still love me…?” Which is to say that it is a tool that tests presumably straight people. By coming out the way that I did, I was essentially testing my father’s capacity to still see me as a human being worthy of love, as I was doing something I thought he didn’t necessarily think any human would naturally do.  And although he is my father, a man whose approval I still thirst for, I now understand my act as one that (temporarily) gave up my own authority to understand myself as a human being with no need for such reassurance. And that’s understandable, but it’s issue-laced. Love is a fundamental right of living beings, no matter their “behavior.” And those of us who operate in a capacity that does not seem normal should not serve as a testing and/or educating ground for those who do. In yet another problematic piece for Time.com, Toure put it this way:

Studies show that people are more likely to be at peace with homosexuality even if they only know homosexuals through parasocial relationships — the sort of one-sided relationships we have with celebrities. It becomes harder to hate gay people when you find them in your living room all the time via Modern Family or Will & Grace. So coming out remains important because the visibility and normality of prominent gay Americans makes life easier for less famous gay Americans, some of whom commit suicide because they fear the life ahead of them.

In other words, coming out is important because it helps straight people stop being judgmental bigots.

Perhaps I am in the minority in this, but this line of thinking is not at all okay. None of my identity serves to make people comfortable nor do I exist to make them better at being people. It’s just not my job. (It’s Google’s.) If coming out is important because of its utility to straight people, then I’d rather not come out. Such an act, in its current manifestation, does nothing to destabilize heterosexuality as a default category that everything else must orient itself around. Furthermore, it becomes the way others test themselves. Which is why, I suppose, I find so little space between those who took up keyboards to douse Frank Ocean with a deluge of words about his bravery and those who took the opportunity to vehemently bash him. Both sides are responding to the same stimulus. But we can only be awakened by such news if we continue to regard heterosexuality as the state of inertia. So when we applaud or express our disapproval in the way that we have, we reify straightness as normal. Social justice, then, should not necessarily lionize coming out, but mitigate the act by articulating an understanding that sexuality is fluid–not something that fetishizes otherness to the extent that it is championed.

Perhaps dream hampton’s letter to Frank Ocean (accompanied by a picture of hampton and Jay-Z, mind you**) best exemplifies my trouble with coming out as we know it:

It’s true, we are a lot alike… “spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to.” In your opening few lines, you simultaneously established your humanity, a burden far too often asked of same sex lovers, and acknowledged that in this age of hyper self- awareness, amplified in no small part by the social media medium in which you made your announcement, we are desperate to share. You shared one of the most intimate things that ever happened to you – falling in love with someone who wasn’t brave enough to love you back. Your relieving yourself of your “secret” is as much about wanting to honestly connect as it is about exhibition. We are all made better by your decision to share publicly.

The first and last lines of this opening paragraph particularly strike me. hampton immediately arrests Ocean’s letter in a kind of self-congratulatory gesture: the quickness with which she takes on Ocean’s language and inserts herself in his story prevents his letter from breathing on its own before she interrupts. Ocean’s declaration gets suffocated by the need to announce that “we” are and/or have been made better people by what Ocean has said. Yet the rest of hampton’s letter, like so many articles and blog posts that have come after it, drown the narrative to which they are responding. In fact, hampton rather presumptuously regards the “he” pronoun in the letter as moot, thoroughly and severely undermining Ocean’s point in a manner that attempts to create a palatable universality–we’ve all been in love–that consequently removes the weight we are to glean from the “confession.” This move not only silences Ocean, but wrests away his authority over his own story to the extent that hampton can now occupy that jurisdiction and thus make a claim about what is important and what is merely “incidental.” Yes, hampton is proud of Ocean for his bravery, but she seems even prouder of those, like herself, who either showed their support for Ocean instantaneously or have taken this as an opportunity to become better people by expanding the limits of their tolerance and/or love. To add, the post ends with an N.B., informing the reader that Jay-Z posted hampton’s letter to his site without hesitation. All of which compels me to ask: Who are we reallyapplauding here? To whom is the coming out act so crucial? And why are we lauding Ocean so?

It’s rather evident that the answer to the last question lies in hip-hop. We’re supposed to care more about Frank Ocean because he’s a young black man on the brink of superstardom who happens to be entrenched within a genre that is regarded as notoriously homophobic. Indeed, hip-hop is homophobic; I don’t argue against that. When an institution is composed of young black men whose sexuality and agency is already compromised, homophobia seems inevitable. I imagine similar kinds of poorly conceived articulations of reactionary masculinity are elicited in other homosocial spaces such as locker rooms and frat houses. What we are left with, then, is blackness. Which leads, yet again, to the idea that black people are somehow more homophobic than others. And I resist that argument. I will not valorize Frank Ocean because I believe that his counterparts are more homophobic than men of the same age with less melanin. And I think this impulse to add grandiosity to this alleged coming out moment is predicated on that opinion. So much so that we’ve assigned sexuality onto Frank Ocean when he didn’t even really come out. He told us that his first love was a man, and even that was more than likely a response to some lyrics which left many wondering. Yet we are so busy searching for a “just how homophobic is hip-hop?” test case and so consumed with fixing an identity marker on something that is so unstable and fluid that we forget that small point. Ocean’s post could have less eloquently been written as, “The fact is, I fell in love with a dude once.” Nonetheless we, those of us who do not identify as heterosexual especially, are so thirsty for these moments in which we can prove our humanity to the world; we are so distracted by congratulating Jay-Z, et. al. for such public open-mindedness that we’ve forgotten who we’re talking about in the first place.

And so, my decision to shrug can be whittled down to my choice not to congratulate the masses for their apparent liberalness through their decision to still listen to Frank Ocean, nor scapegoat hip-hop as peculiarly homophobic. Those arguments are not enough for me to add value to Ocean’s letter. What I can say, however, is that if we are to regard Ocean’s Tumblr post as a significant moment, it isn’t because of his sexuality. It’s not because we’ve found a new mascot. It’s because a young, black man, presumably raised upon a diet that included Biggie, ‘Pac, and yes, Jay-Z, publicly and eloquently emoted about his love for another. In a milieu where “we don’t love these hoes” is a thoroughly banal assertion, where black men must comport themselves as emotionless and hypermasculine as product of racism and a method of survival, Ocean’s bravest admission was that he was vulnerable, that he loved someone. When the mantra of your adolescence is big pimpin’, fuckin’ bitches and getting money, the most revolutionary thing you can do is love another and say so. Frank Ocean loved. And he told us. That is what we should we applaud. That is where we should find value. For that is the true revelation.

**dream hampton’s original post, which originally appeared on Jay-Z’ site, features a picture of Frank Ocean. However, sites, like GlobalGrind, that chose to re-post the letter exchanged that picture for one of hampton and Jay-Z. GlobalGrind was where I read the letter, so I chose to cite it in my piece.

The Joys of Stillness

9 Jul

Recently, Tim Kreider published a piece in the New York Times called “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” where he extolled the virtues of being both lazy and ambitious. Krieder is not really talking about genuine busyness brought on by meaningful obligations, but all the small stuff that can take up a lot of room in our lives. In fact, Kreider insists “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Whoa.

But when you think about it, constantly checking Facebook, or tweeting, or answering email, or staying late at work to complete a list of inane tasks that you can do tomorrow can really be desperate cry for validation—even if everyone else is doing it.

When I read Kreider’s piece, I thought of all the academics and activists I know. Folks who are, indeed, engaged in a whole range of cool projects and important things, but who were often crushed under the burdens of too many obligations, too many meetings, and just plain old too much stuff to do. Like Kreider, I believe there is virtue (and sometimes even productivity) in stillness. I know getting quiet and listening to what my spirit needs has helped me tremendously, both personally and professionally.

But what I want to call out today is the commiseration around busyness, as if that mess was cute. It goes a little something like this:

“Oh my God. I really want to do (xyz reasonable, soul-sustaining activity), but I’m super busy!”

“Oh my goodness. Me too! I have this, that, and the other self-imposed, toxic activity on my plate. Oh well. I’m super busy!”

And on, and on. Folks complain but it’s a badge of honor. What I’ve also noticed more and more frequently is the guilt-tripping that some “super busy” folk try to lay on those around them. Yes, the busyness police. Let me assure you that I will rebuke anyone trying to haze me with their to-do list. When I see those folks coming I try to ground and shield myself from the foolishness.

Lately, I’ve gotten back to reading for pleasure as one of the many ways I reject the narrative of busyness. (I know, an English prof who doesn’t have time to do the very thing she loved so much that she decided to do it for a living! It boggles the mind). My friend and colleague, Chantel, a talented novelist in her own right, has recommended and passed along several books that I’ve been holding hostage for months.  I’m reading those bad boys—without the nagging notion that I should be doing something “more important.” Come to think of it, I can’t think of anything more important than feeding my soul. Can you?

So, family, what are some of your methods for avoiding the busy trap and/or its guilt-seeking minions?

Interrupted Attachments: On Rights, Equality and Blackness

17 May

Remaining attached to certain ideals even when – and sometimes, most especially after – privileges that accrue to such concepts have been pointed out and problematized, should force us to ask some serious questions about the relation of citizenship and subjectivity, the relation of citizenship as subjectivity, to ongoing processes of exclusion and violence. The questions would be something like: Who am I? Who do I want to be? Attachments to certain concepts rehearse, reiterate and revise – through an uninterrogated longing and desire to be an individual, a self-determined thing that seeks the power of the state for validation – the virulence of state power, its capacity to make of us all docile creatures waiting for an affirmation of what we already have, what we already do in perpetuity, as if we have nothing and do nothing without such recognition. And thus, we celebrated the announcement from the head of the United States – an historic, enduringly imperialist project of the uninterruption of violence, incorporating difference insofar as it consolidates the furtherance of capitalist inequity – while readily dismissing and setting at remove for a later date, a non-utopic future always approaching but never here. This is not about the possibilities of horizon, a queer manifestation of the liberational force of broken frame.

Attachments are deferral without demand, abeyance without appeal.

Attachments are the “wait until we have this,” which is never too far from hearts, minds and lips of uninterrupted celebratory posture, wherein what is continually inaugurated is an abstraction – in the name of a “we,” but in the service of nothing other than desired coherence, stability, stasis.

What is given here is an incrementalist approach towards citizenship rather than a radical commitment towards justice. We see trees but certainly, no forest. Incrementalist approaches are necessarily a solicitude of citizenship, and embedded within this approach is the implication that in just a few “short” years, we will all look back at the folly of what is now our present moment with derision, but also with self-satisfied joy. We need only wait. But the “we” who is called upon to wait is always a peripherality to, and obstruction of, thought.

This pic/meme of the opposition to interracial marriage and now gay marriage should be noted.

Noted not because of the framing similarities between the juridical discourse and public debate about gay marriage with interracial marriage; it should be noted because we have not yet dealt with – nor does it seem urgent for enough folks to do – the root causes of such inequitable distributions of rights in the first place. So in fifty years we will say how “backward” our now present moment was with regard to “gay marriage” but because we refuse to deal with the root – an imperialist political economy that necessitates inequities of all sorts – we’ll likely both be having this same conversation with a newly marginalized group while AT THE SAME TIME folks will still be discriminated against based on race, gender, sexuality and class. Because, you know, racism, sexism and classism aren’t really dead yet and aren’t promising to go anywhere soon. [This notion of the “backwards” has been stated about North Carolina and the overwhelming vote for Amendment One, lampooning the state as full of “rednecks,” “hicks” and conservative black Christians; this displacement does not even think about the exploitive political economy of the US, let alone NC – something like 2% above the national unemployment rate, for example. The self-satisfaction of those making the claim about NC, for example, while refusing to interrogate the political economy that creates the conditions of inequity is not a little bit intriguing.]

Anyway.

The normativity of monogamy married [pun? intended.] to the ability to receive financial aid and benefit and tax breaks, as well as the literal violence of the rhetorics of “same gender” / “same sex” to folks who are intersex, genderqueer and transgender compel the inquiry: who is this “we” and what is the “this” that is seemingly being attained? Of course, one could claim that a general public would need be educated about such queer variances and that what is most pertinent in our now moment is the celebration of the now moment, a prepositional displacement banishing the concerns of others for the now moment. But then the most we do is submit to – even if we’d rather critique – the power of the state, reinforcing its capacity to extend by excluding. It seems that everywhere, folks have aspirational attachments and none of us occupies a position where this could never be possible, though historical marginalization tends to be thought as shoring up against such aspiration. Thus, the case of the following curious picture should be noted.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the first dude is white and the second anti-gay marriage dude is black. I think it’s the tight curly fro or something. [Even if he’s not, stay with me]. What this picture rehearses, beneath its very thin veneer is not simply the idea that black people in the US are more homophobic than others, nor simply the idea that blacks cannot see the connection between interracial marriage and gay marriage as both are concerns about civil rights. What is beneath the surface is an implicit, but more foundational, claim about the coherence of marginalized groups, about how historically marginalized peoples gain subjectivity: by the assemblage of fucked up things that have happened to them. The second panel of the image implies: “hey, black man! some bad things happened to you in the past and that bad stuff is the sum total of what, and – most importantly – who, you are!” The vivifying force of the image is the idea that that which marginalizes is that which makes or forms “subjectivity” [and I think subjectivity is a bad thing; more on that soon]. The implication in the image is that marginalized groups own that which marginalizes. When this attachment is operative, “community” [which some say is fiction, though I’ve not been convinced; I’m an agnostic who goes to church for a reason] is grounded in that which is offensive, that which wounds.

But blackness is not reducible to “bad shit”; black community did not subsist and thrive in the face of the violence of slavery and Jim Crow by gathering around and deciding to be more fucked up and by believing that those things that others pathologized in us were bad. Black community was and is an incarnation of blackness, characterized by the joy of living in the face of institutions and systems that seek to diminish the very possibility for joy, for life, for love. The image rehearses the iterability of the narrative that reduces blackness to discriminatory things done to black people, that regulates blackness to bad shit, as a particular kind of historicizing purity, a coherence at the heart of our definable moments [e.g., the violence of Middle Passage rather than mati, affectional bonds created during Middle Passage that exceeded the horror, exceeded the violence, and allowed thriving life]. And, thus, the critique of black folks by Robin Roberts in her interview with Barack Obama wherein she bespoke the “especiability” of black homophobia such that Obama’s change would be grave “…especially in the black community”; thus the critique of Barak Obama by black clergy like Jamal Harrison Bryant and by religious groups such as the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The above image, thus, is the presentiment of the various critiques from multiple directions – both for and against “gay marriage” – as they each assume blackness is reducible to historic marginalization, and that those historic conditions are the grounds for a coherent, stable identity that can be easily and readily identifiable. In this formulation, blacks would have to be “more homophobic” just to identify the antithetical position of necessarily nationalist, patriotic sentiment, or as Hortense Spillers argued otherwise, this black homophobia would have to be invented [and in some ways, it seems to have been]. This is a problem of, fundamentally, attachments.

What is most vulgar about uninterrogated attachments is that it causes us to contend with institutions like COGIC and its restatement of their opposition against gay marriage, requires us to respond to Jamal Harrison Bryant’s statements about gay people, while leaving intact and uninterrupted the violence required for citizenship under these American skies. Roberts’s statement of black homophobic “especiability,” COGIC’s oppositional restatement, and Bryant’s resistance to gay folks all articulate, at bottom, a concern about what it means to have personhood in the face of uncertainty, incoherence and instability. However, the problem emerges from, and is an attachment to, the fact that subjectivity is created by a violent move out from the incoherent, it is an aspiration toward stability and certainty. In that way, Roberts, COGIC and Bryant simply participate in the ever-expansive goal for subjectivity. But as the very idea of subjectivity is sustained by the logics of self-determination, I fail to find the utility; these are western philosophical concepts, placing “European man” as theological-philosophical-spatial center, and the “others of Europe” (as Denise Ferreira Da Silva calls it) can only journey toward a determined “self’ … subjectivity is defined by the ability to be fully possessed of oneself, to be closed, stable, anti-social, to be wholly determined; it emerges through violence and violation, thus i’m not persuaded that it is a worthy pursuit. The attachment is to a particular mode of violation against the social, a violation that yields the articulability of the individual. We might say that “gay marriage” is articulable in our present moment as a desire for citizenship that necessarily moves out violently from the incoherence and instability of queerness, sets those who cannot easily be – or those who do not want to –  “same gender” or “same sex” in the zone of deferral and abeyance. No demands, nor appeals here.

Maybe detachment is what we need. But how can we get there? Is an anti-political politics possible that thinks the world differently? One possible reply, which here may show up as a peculiar conceit, is to ask – and daily inquire intentionally and diligently – who do we want to be? Certainly not a novel question though it is ever-pertinent. Do we want to perpetually reinstantiate the conditions of inequity, only ever-so-slightly increasing who gets to count as normal, enlivening and refreshing the violence of the state, allowing such violence and violation to go uninterrupted in some otherwise location [e.g., the Prison Industrial Complex; Palestine; Wall Street]? Or do we want to radically transform our world by asking tough questions about our own, personal, private propensities for comfort over and against the safety of others? What world have we been given and what world do we desire to make? Southerners on New Ground does this work: to make bonds that do not diminish difference but builds coalitions based on collective struggle for a world full of radical, affirming love. SpiritHouse, Inc in North Carolina does this work: to lament the loss of black life but, as importantly, to affirm the life still here: to care for this life through joy, song, prayer, dance. This affirmation, this coalition creation, comes about through asking: what do we want to be, today, everyday? This affirmation, this coalition creation, comes about by relinquishing attachments to ideas, philosophies and theologies that we – even if they would have us – should interrogate because they would not, nor could not, have us fully whole, fully human, fully alive without relegation or repression. And maybe detachment from certain violent and violative concepts would allow us to fully attach, both to our deepest and most foundational humanness, and thus, to the world in which we abide, with others, in joy, in love.

Get Crunk! Two Years and Counting!

10 Apr

Picture of Round Cake with Icing that says "Celebrating 1 year CFC"

 

http://www.ustream.tv/embed/recorded/21662874
Video streaming by Ustream

I’m in a reflective space after the Black Thought 2.0 Conference at Duke. I want to begin by thanking the conference organizers for inviting me to be on this panel. It felt good to be recognized as a junior scholar for my work and contribution to a growing network of black thinkers concerned with the digital. I’d also like to thank the often unnamed people of color who make campuses run, the people who maintain the buildings, who cleaned up after we left, who built this building, the indigenous and black people whose lives and land was taken for us to be at Duke last weekend. Even as we move through the settler colonial United States we can remember that’s what we are doing. Ashe.

Like the crunk music it references, the Crunk Feminist Collective has a multilayered herstory. From our archive:

In 2004 while Brittney Cooper and Susana Morris were students at Emory University, they were part of an informal group of women of color feminists who routinely convened with one another for fellowship, commiseration and strategizing about how to be successful in grad school. They began to refer to themselves affectionately as the Crunk Feminist Collective, in part influenced by the Southern musical ethos of Atlanta, but also by their absolute willingness to “get crunk” or to deploy crunkness as a form of resistance to the racist, sexist, and heterosexist assaults that they routinely experienced. Revived in 2010, the CFC aims to articulate a crunk feminist consciousness for people of color, who came of age in the Hip Hop Generation, by creating a community of scholar-activists from varied professions, who share intellectual work in online blog communities, at conferences, through activist organizations, print publications, and who share a commitment to nurturing and sustaining one another through progressive feminist visions. Crunk Feminism is the animating principle of our collective work together and derives from our commitment to feminist principles and politics, and also from our unapologetic embrace of those new cultural resources and tools, that offer the potential for resistance.

As the kids say, “we ratchet” particularly in the service of creating a more equitable world.

In just over two years, the Crunk Feminists Collective has produced more than 250 blog posts, gotten over a million hits on our webpage, and been used in classrooms across the country.  We’ve talked about many of the problems facing our communities and what tools can be used to address them. We’ve called folks out and also offered means of accountability. Like our name, we embody the both/and, the slash of people of color intersectionality.  We do all this in two blogs a week, tweets, tumbles and status updates. We are building digital networks of community with shared words and conversations. Get Crunk!

The Crunk Feminist Collective is a Labor of Love

We labor because we love. We put in extra hours because we care about who is able to read our work. We care about shifting conversations in mainstream media from what did Trayvon Martin do to why Trayvon needs to be an innocent victim for a crime to have been committed. Why do dead black men mobilize communities in ways that dead black cis and trans women do not?  And what sort of accountability do we have as a society for perpetuating the racism that ended Trayvon’s life?

We take risks. We put our sex lives on the table, lay our politics bare. And in doing so we remind ourselves, that part of the work is the self. We often do pieces on self care and though not always well received by our audience, they reflect our intention to document and share how we take care of ourselves and each other. Behind the scenes we have emergency dissertation phone calls, we prescribe rest and cake, we send each other care packages, we show up for each other. This work is the least visible but some of the most important because it’s what sustains us in the hard times.

We don’t get paid to do this work. We write pieces that many of our departments, present and future, won’t count as publications. We write as we finish dissertations, book contracts, tenure files, work full time jobs and raise the next generation of crunk feminists. We are at once lauded for what we produce but reminded that it is not rigorous enough to be real scholarship. We get recognized and linked and shouted out by journalists who do get paid.

We’ve been told that people use our work in their classes, workshops, and events regularly. This is awesome. If you have used our work in your classes, think of inviting us to speak at your campus. If our tumblr or twitter feed has brought something to your attention that you didn’t know about, let people know where it came from. If you are connected to a journal, talk to us about developing pieces for publication. Let’s continue to grow what’s possible, through spreading the word and spreading the love!

Reconciling the Non-Profit “Post Industrial” Complex with Black Girls in Mind

5 Apr

Who is Anna Julia Cooper? Click here to learn more. Awesome FIRST wave Black Feminist.

On Monday, I went to visit the Score Small business mentoring office to learn about the benefits and limits of a 501 (c) (3) versus an LLC or a conventional corp. #planning. #wingsup.

I was REALLY surprised to learn that a 501 (c) (3) is seen as being owned by the public because of the tax exemptions that it receives.

I was really surprised to learn that there was an entire series of tax exempt classifications.

I also learned that,

To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

This has huge implications for Black girls, in that I know that 501 (c) (3)’s are relatively recent institutional creations charity wise. This also makes me I wonder what was the unstated rational for preventing 501 (c) (3)’s from being allowed to be involved in electoral politics.

Here is the exact language,

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

Were 501 (c) (3)’s created, in part, to absorbed the progressive energies of women while also giving them a wage?

#blackgirlpolitics.

What happens to Black girls employed in 501 (c) (3)’s when the executive directors don’t know that they are magic, and attempt to relegate their duties to to administrative realm ?

Don’t get me wrong, I have been an admin before, and I enjoyed the work, because not only was I good at it, but I was also recognized as being a extremely good at it.  I can run your office. Trust. Without an awesome admin, you don’t have an office.

However, if you are a Black woman who is a policy expert, health expert or finance expert and you have to keep struggling to not have your position turned into one that is increasingly administrative and marginalized, and less focused on your expertise, it feels both racialized and gendered. Our mothers and fathers did not sacrifice and fight tooth and nail for us to go to school, only to be treated like administrative mammies in the workplace. #DamnthatwasaTangent. #HadsomeShittoSay.

Which leads me to the question of how does this rule impact the lives of women in general, women of color in particular?

How does the creation of 527’s impact the lives of women of color?

How different would community organizing look of 501(c)(3)’s could participate in electoral politics?

Black Girl 501 (c) (3) thoughts? I wonder what Latoya thinks…

Why I Supported the Hoodie March and Not SlutWalk

2 Apr

Nearly two Wednesdays ago, after a long day in the office, I frantically drove home, donned one of three dark hoodies that I own, hopped a train to NYC from Jersey, met another Sista Prof friend and made it via taxi to Union Square just in time to participate in the first One Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin March, which had been announced only the day before.

After hearing from Trayvon’s parents and the family’s attorney, we burst into the streets of Manhattan, speaking Trayvon’s name, almost as if the fervency of our incantations would call this boy, this young Lazarus, back to life. The energy in the air was nothing short of electric. We were not there when Trayvon begged for his life on a suburban lawn in Florida. But our collective screams on his behalf hopefully served to amplify his own screams that night.

I have been taken aback by the degree to which this case has touched the nation. With more than 2,000, 000 signatures on the Change.org petition and many public figures donning hoodies on his behalf, Trayvon’s murder has the potential to galvanize national conversations about racial profiling, the criminalization of Black male bodies, and the unequal way that arrests, conviction, and sentencing are applied to Black v. non-Black persons.

But as I sat home the next day and reflected on how simple a decision it was for me to attend the March and how glad I was that I went, I thought about my more ambivalent stance toward another movement that is also central to my political commitments.

SlutWalk.

It occurred to me that there was a central point of connection between the organizing principle of the Hoodie Marches and of SlutWalk, namely that each movement has sought to dramatize the intrinsic illogic of suggesting that one’s clothing choices invite–and more to the point– justify violent treatment. Not two days after the NYC hoodie march and one day after more than 30,000 people showed up in Sanford, Fl on Trayvon’s behalf, Geraldo Rivera said on Fox News that in fact Trayvon’s hoodie has as much to do with his murder as Zimmerman’s gun.

As if.

But then all of a sudden, dudes understood. I saw FB status after FB status saying, “a hoodie is no more to blame for Trayvon’s murder than a woman’s clothing choices are to blame for rape.” I might have cheered.

But really, what I had was a larger question. Why had I, an ardent (CRUNK) feminist refused to support SlutWalk? My primary reason as I’ve said before was about the inherent white privilege signaled by a movement that wanted to “reclaim” the word “slut.” Moreover, I felt like there was simply much more at stake to ask a woman of color to come and actively identify as a slut, than was at stake for the white women who readily jumped on the bandwagon. Also, as Trayvon’s case has demonstrated, the larger issue within SlutWalk was policing. I told organizers months ago in a dialogue in our comments section, that a critique of policing would invite all kinds of folks to come to the table. Because what has become abundantly clear is that both gender and racial ideologies are deployed to constrict the rights of women and men, Black and Brown to take up public space.  So my choice not to participate was an active assertion of the principle that I don’t want to be a part of any feminism that fails to actively critique racism.

Yet, I know that contemporary Black feminism emerged not just as a critique of white women’s racism, but also as a critique of Black men’s strident sexism.

Nothing infuriates me more than race-based organizing in which Black men take up all the space in the room. And it is precisely because of the long history of unjustified murders of Black men, that brothas feel entitled to exist at the center of the Black racial universe and feel justified in having the struggles that they face take up more than their fair share of the finite political, financial, and emotional energy and resources that we have to organize.

The result is that Black women find it incredibly difficult to make the case that the issues which affect us– alarmingly high rates of AIDS/HIV infection, disturbing statistics around Intimate Partner Violence, homicide, and rape, disproportionate rates of poverty, increasing numbers of incarceration and policing, the explosion of sex trafficking of young women, and copious amounts of street harassment—matter as much, are worth as much attention.

To put it the way some brothers have more or less put it to me: YES, sistas are being beaten, raped, and making do by themselves, but brothers are being KILLED. *Brotha drops mic. Walks away* Conversation over. (with no acknowledgement of the kind of privilege it is to both have the mic in the first place AND an audience when you do get the chance to speak.)

And now, another black boy is dead. And we are all rightfully angry.

But this position does not come without its risks.

Consider that there are no mass marches for Rekia Boyd, no massive national outcry, though her story has received more coverage in light of the Trayvon Martin situation.

In a zero-sum universe where resources are finite, and we have to pick our battles, rape/beating/harassment is (apparently) no match for state violence and murder. Within Black communities, high rates of Black male-on-Black male homicide matter more than the numbers of Black women killed at the hands of their Black male partners.

Feminist or not, it remains clear that Black women’s collective racial love affair with Black men is still going strong.

As a feminist, I personally struggle with what it means that on any given day, racism still seems to matter more to me than sexism. 

I marched for Trayvon almost without a second thought; with SlutWalk, its shortcomings were enough to keep me away.

 And while I could chalk up my choices to my experiences with violence– I have seen lots of violence in my lifetime, having lost my own father to gun violence—my choices are not quite so simple, when I acknowledge that I also have many, many women friends –and quite a few male friends, too—who are the victims of rape and sexual abuse and far too many female relatives who’ve confronted near-deadly violence at the hands of their male partners.

A couple of days after the Hoodie March, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference called Women of Power in Harlem. At the behest of the conference’s fierce Feminist Enough organizer, Shantrelle P. Lewis, we panelists rocked our hoodies at the morning sessions.

Photo by Jati Lindsay

That simple request and the seriousness with which we all took it, reminded me of just how much it continues to matter to Black women that our Black feminism not alienate us from Black men.

In fact, if I could just keep it one hundred, I think Black women care much less about whether our racial commitments or feminist expressions alienate us from white women.

Yet, the question remains

 Do Black men love us as much as we love them? Do they care enough to make sure their racial commitments and their gender politics and investments in unhealthy forms of masculinity don’t alienate us? Are they outraged about the shit we’re facing?

How do we make it so that our choice to stand up for Trayvon and acknowledge the injustices perpetrated in his name doesn’t set Black feminist organizing back three decades, by reinforcing notions about Black men being an endangered species, particularly since in this moment, it feels in some ways, like they are?

I don’t have answers, but I do invite dialogue. Feel free to share your thoughts.

On Appropriate Victims: More on Trayvon Martin and Other Names You Need to Know

26 Mar

Image of Rekia Boyd

Part of the reason folks rallied in reaction to Trayvon Martin’s murder has to do with ideas about who is an appropriate or worthy victim. He was shot by a vigilante, he wasn’t armed, he was a good student, had some class privilege, he was doing something mundane, simply returning from buying Skittles and ice tea. He was “innocent” and killed in cold blood.

We have an idea of who is deserving of support en masse and who is not. And for similar reasons we thought, with 911 tapes, eyewitness testimony, national outrage that it would result in a prosecution in the very least. If anything, the murder of Trayvon Martin shows us once again that there is no such thing as an “appropriate” Black victim.

Despite all evidence, Geraldo, Gingrich and others have found a way to make Trayvon the guilty party in his own fatal shooting. When brown and black men wear hoodies, they are asking for it. In a moment when it seems undeniable that race is a factor, people are still denying it! They even use victim blaming language.

Last week was International Anti-Street Harassment Week and I was struck with the similarities between the harassment that Black and Latino men experience by the police and the experiences of trans and cis women and gender non-conforming folks on the street. The language used by men of color to describe police harassment, is very similar to the language that those of us marginalized by our genders use to name our realities. Our clothing choices, our right to be where we are, when we want are all called into question.

Stopped, Frisked and Speaking Out from NYT The Local – Ft. Greene on Vimeo.

It seems that this time we can begin to talk across these incidents of violence and see the ways in which societal oppression is killing people. When you wear your hoodie for Trayvon, also think of:

Shaima Alawadi
Rekia Boyd
Deoni Jones
CeCe McDonald

Because these victims were women, Iraqi, trans, they didn’t pass the appropriate victim test. News media and popular opinion hasn’t prompted folks to take to the streets in the same numbers for them. But people are making the connections. We can be more coordinated with our outrage. We can demand a justice that doesn’t rely on the very system that didn’t help Trayvon in the first place (will we really be satisfied with the prosecution of Zimmerman? Can’t we ask for something else?). We can build solidarity to deal with the xenophobia, transmisogyny, and racism that target our communities in similar ways. In the wake of this tragedy we can start new collaborative initiatives that support survivors and families that are recovering after loss and move our collective response from reaction to revolution!

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.

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

The World Can Wait

30 Jan
Members of the CFC smiling for a picture.
Cis and trans* women of color do a lot of work that they don’t get paid for. Work at home, work at work, work in our communities, everywhere really. And a lot of it is done out of love. Love for our communities, love for our lovers, and things/people we believe in.There’s a saying, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and it has always missed the mark for me because it assumes that we would and do treat ourselves well. Women of color don’t always do that. We have a well documented history of doing for others before we do for ourselves. This self-sacrificing martyrdom has its consequences but I’m really interested in the impact it has on each of us.

It seems like we expend so much energy helping and saving others, we have nothing left for ourselves. I see too many of us feed everyone else and forget to eat. In the case of this blog, I’ve seen us use a lot of energy dealing with negative comments and backlash, finding and becoming resources for those who ask, then end up with little time or reserves left to support each other.

I take inventory from time to time of what posts get the most attention on the blog. Pop culture posts and even more specifically, moments in pop culture when white women do racist things or black men do sexist things get folks all atwitter. To me, this speaks to the gendered racism and racialized sexism that impact many of the cis women of color bloggers here. These posts that rise from our particular stand point are often the ones where we have to do the most work, reminding folks that no, this is not a post racial world and gender, race, and sex are always at work in complex ways. And we want so badly for folks to get it, that we neglect each other and ourselves in the process.

I think because we are so used to an embattled position with folks who wield power over us, we cut corners and are sometimes less patient/more careless with each other. As of late the CFC has taken some hits from other women of color, some deserved, some not, about what and how we write here. I’ve seen moments of real opportunity for engagement squelched by reactionary stances. I look for models of fierce and loving critique between women of color and I’m saddened by how rare it seems to be.

As I check my own willingness to hear the hard truths about myself, I see another connection to  my thoughts about women of color’s labor in the world. Why is it that my self-care to do list is the shortest and the last one I get to? Why do I expend more energy trying to make people understand rather than giving that time to the people who show up for me? Why do I lay claim to allyship when I’m too busy to be present in the ways people ask me to? Honestly, I think I find it easier to deal with someone else’s stuff than my own.

Racism, sexism, queer hate? I know how to handle those. I’ve got my arsenal of feminists theory and lived experience to take them down. By dealing with the world, I can avoid my own places of privilege or the stickiness of issues that don’t have such clear power differentials in my life. In an age where internet courage can allow you to rail at any deemed threat through a screen, we still have trouble saying the hard things to the people who are closest to us.

But I want to do better. For me that means not using the continued assaults on marginalized people writ large to shirk my own accountability to myself and fellow marginalized folks who I claim to love. It also means not expending inordinate amounts of energy on people who have no interest in my well-being because it impacts my ability to be there for the folks who love me.So, I’m adopting a new (for me) and modified mantra:

Me and mine first.

The self-care list gets checked first. The work I need to do for myself is next. Then comes the family/friends/loved ones.

The world can wait.
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