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Remember Their Names: In Memory of Kasandra, Cherica & Others

3 Dec

I am sure that by now many of you know the name Jovan Belcher.  If you didn’t know his name (as I didn’t) before this weekend, you know it now.  He is the Kansas City Chiefs player who shot and killed his girlfriend before taking his own life on Saturday.  Headlines and news stories have focused on the tragedy from the lens of the perpetrator (including speculation of potential brain trauma, his involvement, as an undergraduate, in a Male Athletes Against Violence initiative, and his standing as an allstar athlete), in some ways dismissing or overshadowing the lens of the victim, who in headlines is simply referred to as “(his) girlfriend.”

kasandra

Her name is Kasandra Michelle Perkins.  She was 22 years old, a new mother, and an aspiring teacher.  Her picture shows off a beautiful smile and her friends describe her as selfless, kind, and generous.  She was excited about being a mother to her newborn, Zoey, and was optimistic about her future.  But her future was cut short, her life was taken away, and I think you should know her name.

This tragic story pushes to the forefront an important issue in terms of domestic violence and murder.  When the murderer is famous, attractive, rich, or charming people don’t want to believe that they are guilty.  I don’t pretend to know Jovan Belcher’s heart, motives, or mind set when he fired numerous gunshots into the body of his baby’s mother, and then turned the gun on himself.  I don’t know why his only option, in that moment, felt like a desperate one.  I don’t know what caused him to murder Kasandra, but what I do know is that it was not Kasandra’s fault.  I know that staying out until 1 o’clock in the morning at a concert was not an invitation to die.  I know that it doesn’t matter what she wore that night, or what she may have said, or whether or not she may have been intoxicated, or rolled her eyes at him, or called him out of his name, or talked to another guy in passing, she didn’t deserve to die.  I know Kasandra didn’t start it, or run off at the mouth, or otherwise instigate her murder.  I don’t know what happened in her relationship, or in that room that night/morning, but I do know that there is nothing Kasandra could have said, done, or imagined that would justify what happened to her.

It is ridiculous that I have to write a disclaimer of responsibility, anticipating an assumption of accountablity for the victim, a young woman who had not even began to live her life, a new mother who will not get to see her child’s first Christmas…but there are (or will be) people who, in Jovan Belcher’s defense, will ask aloud (or wonder silently) what she did to set him off.  They will say she had no business going out with a three-month old at home.  They will wonder what she did to make him so mad that he would jeopardize everything he had worked so hard for.  They will speculate about her cheating, or lying, or disrespecting him.  They will assume that somehow she is at least partially to blame for her own demise.  But I posit that there is nothing that she did do, didn’t do, or could have done to justify her tragic, violent and untimely death.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that Jovan Belcher was a good man, a good athlete, a good friend, a good father, or a generous son, but his desperate act in a moment of rage or confusion made him a murderer, and his pre-death accolades and post-death reputation should not be protected at the expense of the person he killed.  Many articles are focusing on how shocked people are that this happened because he was such a good man, and did not have violent tendencies…but imaging that makes him a martyr is problematic because it makes it seem like Kasandra Perkins must have provoked him.  The insinuation, even mildly, that the victim of a violent act is somehow responsible for what happens to them is reprehensible…but unfortunately not uncommon when the victim is black, brown, nonheterosexual, working-class, non-cissexual, disable bodied, or a woman. (NOTE:  A recent example of this “blame the dead victim” mentality was shown when George Zimmerman’s defense requested access to Trayvon Martin’s social media records, as if a facebook status, re-tweet, or candid photograph of a 17-year-old black boy would somehow prove his culpability in his own killing).

*

Do you remember Cherica Adams?  Eight months pregnant, she was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on November 16, 1999, when Rae Carruth, a then wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, conspired to have her killed because he did not want to pay child support (she had refused his insistence that she get an abortion).  With a will to survive and save her child she had the fortitude, with multiple bullet wounds, to call 911, and name Carruth as her murderer.  She gave birth to her son (who was born with cerebral palsy as a result of the shooting), slipped into a coma, and died a month later, 13 years ago this month.  Did you know (remember) her name?

*

I did not write this piece to offer a commentary on the dangers of hypermasculinity, or to insinuate a direct correlation between athletes and violence (though those are conversations that are worthy of discussion).  I did not write this piece to co-opt a space where fans, friends, and family can mourn their loss and seek comfort for the understandable devastation they must feel.  I did not write this piece to bad-mouth Jovan, or speak ill of the dead (may he and Kasandra rest in peace).  I wrote this piece to adjust the focus away from the famous athlete who “snapped,” and to put it on the true innocent in the case.  I wrote this piece as a clarion call to remember Kasandra by her name and not by her relationship.  I wrote this piece so that we don’t forget that victims may fall into statistics but they have names!  I wrote this piece as a reminder that Kasandra (and Cherica) existed before their relationships with men who did not value their lives.  I wrote this piece as a reminder that when a tragedy like this happens, it is not the perpetrator’s name we should remember, but the victim’s.  And since Kasandra Perkins’ name is not in the headlines (and Cherica Adams’ name was not in the headlines), but is rather hidden somewhere between the facts of the case and the eulogy of a man deemed the tragic, martyred hero, I wrote this piece to call out her name.  I feel like you should know her name.  And Cherica’s name.  And the name of every other victim who gets lost in the shadows of a murderer’s limelight.

In an article by the Kansas City Star, a close friend of Kasandra said, “I don’t want her to get overshadowed by who he was…she deserves recognition, too.”

Indeed she does.  Don’t forget her name!

Please use the comments section to call out the names of any (living or dead) victim/s of a violent crime you want to honor, remember, and/or recognize!

And please…pay attention in your relationships!  Look for signs of danger (see Pearl Cleage’s Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth) and escape if/when you see them.  If someone threatens to kill you, believe them! If someone is emotionally or verbally abusive, leave the relationship.  Love should not hurt, and despite the romanticization of manic love in popular culture, it is not worth dying for.

we: a cfc thanksgiving mix

21 Nov

Gordon Parks, 1942

Thursday we feast. We who have it good enough to put a turkey on the table and lament the tryptophan-induced ‘itis with loved ones over card tables. And that we won’t include me. I won’t be home for the holidays but here in Harlem and I haven’t done turkey for more than a decade. I’ve done vegan field roasts, the palate-spoiler that is Tofurky (rebuke it family), the delightful but not vegan Quorn Turk’y Roast, tofu cutlets, Sophie’s Kitchen extraordinary vegan calamari, the list of faux meats goes on and on.

But my outsider status is a privilege–I could partake of the slain bird (yes, I’m judging) and cough up the small fortune to fly home to Seattle–and that we is a lie. It doesn’t cover my behind much less the choppy waterfront. That presumptive we excludes folks whose holidays evince neither Hollywood’s disarming dysfunction nor the heartwarming diabetes of the black cinematic tradition. Not to mention the rent remains too damn high and just getting by too damn prevalent. But there is a we that works. A we that will order our steps nowhere near Wal-Mart this Thursday or any other day of the week (consider sponsoring a striker). A we that raises ruckus about public housing conditions in the immediate wake of Superstorm Sandy and long after. A we that can keep someone from falling. Better yet, a we that with work finds us all on our feet. A we like my family, bound not exclusively by blood but intentional, inclusive and beloved community. Thursday I’ll miss the comforting grip of their hands during the marathon that is Thanksgiving grace but if anything they taught me there are always hands that need holding and it is all of our charges to find them. When I think about that we. I give thanks. I also get all up in my digital crates.

we: a cfc thanksgiving mix

“Ain’t It A Lonely Feeling” Camille Yarbrough
“Big Brother” Vijay Iyer Trio
“You’ll Never Rock Alone” Tata Vega
“Love Is Plentiful” The Staple Singers
“Brothers & Sisters (Get Together)” Kim Weston
“Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” Willie Hutch
“Sister Matilda” Stu Gardner
“Painted on Canvas” Gregory Porter
“Word Called Love” Brian and Brenda Russell
“People Make The World Go Round” Marc Dorsey
“You Are The World” Donald Byrd
“Don’t You Forget It” Glenn Lewis
“Home” Stephanie Mills
“You’ve Got A Friend” [LIVE] Donny Hathaway
“Keep On Movin’ On” Martha Reeves & The Sweet Things

[STREAM/DOWNLOAD]

Chasing Time: A Reflection of Thanks(giving)

19 Nov

Time flies whether you are having fun or not.  My childhood seemed to linger like thick molasses while my twenties flew by like short school days.  Before I knew it I was post-30, highly educated, minimally motivated, hundreds of miles away from home but finally at home with myself.  When I turned thirty I had all kinds of epiphanies.  I woke up loving myself some myself, and intentionally purging negativity (thoughts, people, pain) out of my life.  For the first time in what seemed like forever I wasn’t afraid of what that might mean.  Affiliations be damned.  So-called friends be damned.  Popularity be damned.  I was going to speak my mind, tell my truths, and let the chips fall where they may.  They fell, but there was no destruction.  Coming into myself was a beautiful process that I am still walking in unapologetically.

On the brink of another year it seems like just yesterday that I was ringing in 2012 in my mother’s living room.  There was no wine, no fireworks, no benediction , no kiss on the lips at midnight, just me and my family staying up long enough to say we did, and greeting each other and the new year with hopeful anticipation of realized dreams…finally!  This would be THE YEAR (just like 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, you get the picture), which was the echoed mantra I internalized year after year at New Year’s Eve church services and sermons that promised me a renewal of my dreams if I just believed…and waited.  So I have believed and waited, but I am shifting my expectations because the process of waiting is exhausting.  And sometimes when you  have been waiting what has been years and feels like lifetimes you think that perhaps you have been doing it wrong.  Maybe I didn’t believe good enough.  Maybe my waiting was not good enough.  But in reality it was.  I have had several accomplishments this year, but they are not necessarily the ones that “count” in the eyes of others.

I have been struggling lately with not knowing what to hope for when throwing borrowed pennies in wishing wells and laying on bended knees begging for something I don’t know I really want or need.  The world tells me I am supposed to want what they say I should want as a woman (i.e., marriage, children, etc.).   Society prescribes the things we are supposed to hope for, pray for, wish for, and wait for.  But what happens when the hoping and the praying and the wishing and the waiting never yields results, or is different from people’s expectations?

Despite my successes, a lot of times people feel sorry for me when they realize I am single with no babies.  When I say I am happy, they don’t believe me.  They feel sorry for me.  They assume that my extended singleness must have me tripping ‘cause they don’t know of any blackgirls who aren’t checking for marriage or being somebody’s mama.  I guess I’m different.  I didn’t grow up fantasizing about weddings or picking out baby names.   But then again, I was a morbid child, and marriage and pregnancy was too ubiquitous to mean anything significant then.

I am at the age that when  I go home and see folk I haven’t seen in a while they ask if I am married.  No.  Engaged?  No.  Seeing somebody special?  Not really.  Well, what am I waiting for?  I’m not waiting for anything.  Don’t I want children?  Maybe, not necessarily.  Don’t I know time is running out?  All the time.  My biological clock ticks like a time bomb.  So, can I introduce you to somebody?  Hell no. I’m good. Folk don’t know what to do with me and my progressive ideas.  My answers don’t sound quite right, they say with expressions, not words.  Well, what does your Mama say?  Nothing, I’m grown.  I can’t help but look down at myself when I remind them that I am not a child, to make sure the grownasswoman body I walked in with was still the one that was visible. I love the way countryfolk think children, regardless of their age, can be admonished into submission and/or compliance by a parent.

As we near the end of another year, and I brace myself for the curious questions and inevitable disappointment in my responses, I am reminded that the things that make me feel most significant and/or uncomfortable are part of the process of growth.  I don’t have to feel like something is wrong (with me), or that my life doesn’t measure up because it is different.  This year, like last year and next year, I am going to be fully myself and see what happens.  A lot can change in a year’s time.  Love, marriage, and having babies doesn’t take a lifetime, but self-love, inner peace, and stability has taken me every year of my life until now.  I am going to focus on the latter.

Please Feel Free to Keep Your Bullshit Apology

11 Oct

So, I was on Facebook (granted, I know that was my very first mistake) and I came across a homophobic comment posted by my youngest brother.

Back story: my little brother and I have the same dad but different moms. I don’t use the word “half-brother” because to me if feels like it somehow delegitimatizes our bond. Even though we grew up in different homes, we have a very strong history and have created many loving memories. Needless to say, I love my little brother very much. I am often saddened by the fact that we didn’t grow up in the same home. I think that maybe if we had, he wouldn’t put such dumb shit on a public forum like Facebook. Maybe, just maybe, he would think twice.

I wasn’t born in this country. English is not my first language. I wear a size twelve. I’m also a queer woman of color.  Clearly, I have had to develop thick skin. I’m used to seeing manifestations of intolerance everywhere – in public policy, society, at work, in the media … you get the picture. I am also very private and because of that keep my Facebook circle really small. The folks on my friends list are progressive and agree with me on the importance of silly things like social justice and equal rights. This is why this post hurt so terribly. I was being attacked on Facebook, but, most surprisingly, by my own brother. He knows that his sister is gay. It is no secret. He knows this. He also knows that his sister is smart, strong, opinionated, giving, caring,  and, most of all, human.

So why, why, why would my little brother post a homophobic comment? Why would he of ALL people promote hate and intolerance? I don’t have the answers. None of the ones I came up with seem to make much sense or make the situation any less painful.

After pulling it together, I sent my little brother a private text message asking him why he said those things and whether or not he thought those things applied to me, his gay sister.

We went back and forth for a bit. His responses were even more disheartening and basically along the lines of ‘but you’re different.” My all-time favorite response was, “If I offended you, my bad,” followed by a Facebook post of the music video “Sorry I Can’t Be Perfect.”

Really, homie?

Due to the fact that I am an educator (and I love him), I‘ve decided to use this as a teachable moment. In the future, I want him to have the proper tools when he messes up and needs to offer an apology. Feel free to use this in your own circles.

  • I want to apologize for what I said/did. I didn’t think about the power of language or how my words/actions can truly affect and sometimes hurt others. I love you and would never want to (unknowingly or purposefully) hurt you. I understand that it may take some time for you to forgive me, but I hope that you can find it in your heart to do so, because I care about you and the future of this relationship. I’m sorry.

So, little bro, this is what an actual apology looks like. You are now in your 20s and, by all accounts, a grown man. It’s about time you started acting like one.

If this offends you, then, my bad.

To everyone else, Happy National Coming Out Day!

Throwback Thursday Remix: How to Say No…And When to Say Yes!

20 Sep

(This entry combines a previous entry, dated March 14, 2011, with a new reflection).

Saying No

It took me years to unlearn the habit of saying yes automatically when someone asked me for (or to do) something. So often had that single syllable fallen from my tongue that I would often agree to things before people even asked.  In time I realized that I had spoiled the people around me to the point that they assumed I owed them a response of agreement, no matter how inconvenient and unreasonable it was. Many times, if I was unable to concede, they would be agitated and annoyed—and I would feel guilty. To this day I find that when I tell someone no, even a stranger, they seem surprised, almost offended, at my nerve.

And perhaps it is nerve. And the fact that saying yes all the time got on my very last one, and kept me on edge. I would say yes because as a self-described superwoman and strongblackwoman it was the only word I knew to say. I would say yes because I was flattered at the request(s), anxious to people please, and focused on making other people happy. I would say yes because it felt like the right thing to do, the polite reply to any well-intentioned question, and evidence that I was a good/nice/sweet/reliable/thoughtful/friendly/generous person. I would say yes because I felt like people were taking score, and I wanted to always be on the plus side (even though, like most people who perpetually say yes, I hardly ever asked anyone for anything). But the yeses nearly took me out. I realized that saying yes to everyone else was in essence saying no to myself. No, my personal time and space wasn’t important. No, sleep was optional and it was reasonable to expect me to accomplish multiple tasks in a day. No, I don’t deserve a moment to breathe or a moment of reprieve.

When I learned to say no, I realized that it did not require an explanation and that “No” is an adequate one word response. There didn’t have to be a substantial reason why. No. I didn’t need an excuse or grand reason that I didn’t want to participate in an event, or guest lecture in a class, or attend a workshop, or go to dinner, or review this book or this article, or go out on a date, or join a club or support group, or be a mentor/advisor/reader. No.

Sometimes it (the no) is because I am simply tired, overwhelmed, depressed, moody, PMSing, jonesing, or otherwise distracted. Other times it is because my plate is already full, overflowing with the residue of other unintentional or well-meaning yeses. And sometimes, it is because I simply don’t want to, don’t have any interest or desire to, and would prefer to indulge in doing something else or nothing at all.

No, I don’t have other plans or a laundry list of chores to accomplish first;

No, I am not sick or bedridden;

No, I don’t have a deadline or a stack of papers to grade;

No, I’m not caking or sexing or crying;

No, I just don’t want to.

I don’t feel like it.

I have a date with my damn self, bubble bath, glass of wine, mellow music and all, and I’m not breaking it. I have had a long day/week/month and I just want to chill. I need some personal, one-on-one, just me and the reflection in the mirror time. No, no, no, no, no!

So, in the spirit of knowing how to say no… I have the following suggestions that I have learned over the years (post 30):

1. Always say “no” first. Do not allow “yes” to be your default answer. It is easier to go back later and say yes, than it is to go back later and say no.

2. Never agree to do something on the spot. Always take some time to think about it and consider whether or not it is going to be an imposition. If it is, say no.

3. Limit yourself on how many things you agree to do (beyond your comfort zone) every month/semester/year, etc. I say “yes” to three things beyond my regular responsibilities every academic semester. After that, I almost always (depending on the request) say no. NOTE: I said beyond my regular responsibilities, which already leave me with limited personal time.

4. Never compromise your peace. If you have a full plate, acknowledge it. Don’t try to overcompensate for a previous “no” with a present “yes.” Never agree to do something you are not comfortable doing or that will stretch you beyond your limits. You do not owe anybody anything!

5. If you have a choice (and clearly, sometimes, whether it be for personal or professional reasons, we don’t), reserve the right to decline or say no.

6. Save some “yeses” for yourself. Women have the tendency to put other people’s needs and priorities above their own. Self-care is not selfish and even if it were, we deserve self-indulgence every now and then. Don’t say yes to something that is essentially saying “no” to yourself. Take care of yourself.

7. Don’t apologize for saying no. You have every right to decline a request or refuse an opportunity. You should not feel like you are doing something wrong, being rude, disrespectful, or obstinate. No is the other option to yes. It is a neutral response, neither positive or negative (regardless of the requestor’s reaction).

8. It is not a sin to change your mind. Don’t feel locked into something just because you may have agreed to do it in the past. Circumstances change. Your #1 obligation should be to yourself.

Saying Yes

After reviewing my “no” list, at the near end of a painstakingly stressful week of long days and short nights, I realized that while it is important to know how to say no, it is equally important to know when to say yes.  Here are some reasons to say yes:

1. Say yes if/when you are being offered a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Last year I traveled to South America in August and went on a 7-day cruise with my maternal family for Thanksgiving, two things I almost declined doing because of the physical and financial costs.  When I thought about the uniqueness of each opportunity, and how I may never have the same chance again, I said yes.

2. Say yes when saying yes makes you feel good.  Whether it be indulging in a sinful dessert, buying the bad-ass shoes, or making love, give in to your cravings when possible. And let others love on/take care of you.

3. Say yes when saying yes can/will make a positive difference in someone’s life (including your own).  Sometimes something seemingly insignificant to you can have a lasting impact on someone else.  And sometimes the smallest effort on your part can make a significant difference in your future.

4. Say yes when you really want to say yes.  While I don’t think we should ever say yes out of some sense of responsibility, if you want to say yes, you should!  There have been times I have been tempted to say no just for the hell of it, or because I was already over-committed, or because I didn’t want to seem too available, or because I didn’t want to seem over-eager, or because I wanted to give someone else the opportunity, or because I felt guilty for having declined a different invitation (see #3 of The No List), or out of concern about what someone else may think/say.  At the end of the day, if it is something you want to do, something that will make you happy, do it!

5. Say yes when it is the opportunity to do something you have never done before.  Be open to new experiences. (Hike a mountain…why not!?!)

6. Say yes when saying yes can benefit your overall health and well being (i.e., yoga, juicing, massage, exercise).  Sometimes saying yes is saying no… yes to healthy choices, is no to unhealthy ones.

7. If it has anything to do with your Mama… say yes!

8.  If there is ever a conflict between the yeses and the no’s (meaning you feel conflicted or uneasy and/or you feel ambivalent) say no!!  A guilt-inspired or unenthusiastic yes is really a silent no.  Say your no’s out loud (so people can hear them)!

9. Always revert to #1, 2, 3, 6, 7 & 8 of The No List.

Here’s a little Destiny’s Child to bring this throwback flashback full circle.

Memories, survival and safety

27 Aug

TRIGGER WARNING This post contains information about sexual violence that may be triggering to survivors.

I know if feels like I been gone for a minute but now I’m back, green tea on ice with a fitted. :)

Mi familia, it has been a while since I last posted. I have to be honest, for a while it didn’t feel safe to write for the blog. I am an extremely private person. So private that even Facebook gives me the creeps. Consequently, it felt like writing for the collective and speaking frankly about my experiences, thoughts, doubts, fears and feelings exposed me more than I felt comfortable with. Most folk don’t really understand that this ish right here is not easy. We expose our true selves regularly and though we have many wonderful and thoughtful fans, there are those who often cross the line and say many unnecessary and hurtful things. At the end of the day, we are all just real people with real feelings. We’re also real sensitive about our shit.

I have been thinking about what to write for a very long time, six months to be exact. Every single time I thought about a topic, it felt like I was exposing too much of myself. The more I thought about it, the more it became clear: writing sometimes makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable. These emotions are often difficult for me to deal with. They bring back unwanted memories. The first time I felt this way I was eleven years old.

It was father’s day and I was at my grandparent’s house for the summer. All of the grown folks were drinking and playing card games. I remember going up to my grand parents and saying that I was going to go to bed, that I was scared to be in the house by myself and asking them not to take long before they too retreated for the night.

I went to bed, fell asleep and woke up with my grandfather on top of me. His hands were all over me as he licked my face and repeated, “suck on my tongue.”  I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t even scream. At some point, my grandmother opened the door to the house. Once he heard the sound of the door opening, he quickly got off of me and jumped into the bed he shared with her.

He did not rape me. However, he did scar me for life. He stole my childhood and all of the childhood innocence I once had. From that moment on I understood that there was evil in the world. I was so ashamed of what happened that I didn’t tell anyone. For years, I blamed myself and wished I had had the courage to tell someone, anyone of what he was capable of. To make matters worse, I blamed myself – convinced that I was a bad little girl. Sadly, my child logic told me that God, wouldn’t let this happen to me had I been a good little girl.

It took years for me to realize that it was not my fault; that I was just a child; that the adults that were supposed to take care of me failed; and that he was the one to blame. The Church taught me that there was great power in forgiveness and I made an honest attempt to forgive him. I convinced myself that alcohol made him do it. Sadly, that was not the truth and I received a rude awakening at the age of fifteen. I was at my mother’s apartment doing my homework while a movie starring Tom Cruise played in the background. I was sitting in the living room couch and from the corner of my eyes could see my grandfather fidgeting in his seat. At one point Mr. Cruise kissed the female lead and my grandfather looked over and said, “Do you remember when we did that?” He said those words with pride. That is when I realized that I could never forgive him for what he did to me. I remember screaming at him, going to my room, calling my best friend and having a panic attack. After that incident, I decided to tell my mother. When I told her, she yelled at me and asked me why I hadn’t told her sooner. She expressed anger at my silence because I had a little sister and he may have done the same to her or to others. [Note: this is NEVER an appropriate response. It is never the responsibility of children to protect other children. That is what adults are for.]

My grandfather died of prostate cancer a few years after that incident. I remember trying to console my mother for her loss while being very angry at God for giving him that much time on this earth. Unfortunately, I was not the only one damaged by his actions. Other women have come out and admitted that he fondled them as well.

My story is a very complex one. I was abused by my grandfather at an early age and was later forced to live with him after the abuse had occurred. I couldn’t tell anyone, but in hindsight the clues that I was abused were always there, the adults around me just didn’t know what to do with the information. We often don’t know what to do with child abusers in our families or our communities. That is a sad truth.

The story does not end there. My grandfather was not the only one to abuse me; there were babysitters and family friends who also stepped out of line and fondled me. The memories are fuzzy. For a very long time I was haunted by my lack of childhood memories. In my mid twenties I inexplicably started crying without reason or provocation and decided to seek therapy. Even at the therapist’s office, I just couldn’t keep it together. I discovered that the crying episodes had to do with the fact that there was so much I couldn’t remember. I was horrified about the fact that my subconscious blocked away five years of memories. What could be so horrific that my subconscious would lock it all away? What would happen to me if I were to remember all of it? Would the memories break me? My therapist reassured me that I didn’t have to remember and that I was safe now. I found that to be quite liberating and only then was I able to stop crying. Thank goodness for therapy.

I am better now but I often have nightmares. There is no rhyme or reason to when they come, they just do. In fact, my girlfriend recently revealed to me that I often quietly sob in my sleep. I do not want to make this post longer than it already is but need to be clear that there are a lot of details to my story that I am not including here. It is nearly impossible to package our stories in neat and linear boxes. Although, I am a survivor of child abuse, this does not define me. This story is complex. My story is complex. I am complex.

I am sharing this story because I think there is power in sharing your truths. I do not live in fear anymore. I am indeed safe. I hope with all of my heart that other victims of sexual abuse can one day say the same.

The following are some facts about child abuse:

1)   While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or trusted individuals. Child molesters, pedophiles and perpetrators are everywhere: they are parents, grandparents, family members, teachers, neighbors and friends.

2)   Oftentimes survivors of child abuse are forced to see their abusers regularly.

3)   Perpetrators know how to identify their victims. Consequently, victims of sexual abuse are often vulnerable to abuse by multiple people.

4)   Most child abuse cases go unreported.

5)   There are often many signs that a child is suffering from abuse.

6)   It takes a lot of courage to tell anyone that you have been a victim of abuse.

7)   It is never okay to blame the victim.

8)   If you or someone you love has suffered because of abuse, please know that there are many resources out there:

~Crunkista

Throwback Thursday: no strings

23 Aug

In as many days I have had conversations with two homegirls who are negotiating the complications of no-strings-turned-tangled situations with could-be, should be, damn near would be lovers.  Sex is serious business.  Because while everybody should be able to get their physical needs met, there are other, more complicated and tangled needs wrapped up somewhere between tight thighs and restless bodies.

In her collection “The Love Space Demands (a continuing saga)” Ntozake Shange says, “Watching the women in my group suppress giggles, raise eyebrows, and wiggle in their seats, I realized that we all were having trouble separating love from sex, sensuality from affection, devotion from masochism, and independence from fear of intimacy.”

Uhm-hm.

She also says, “The ephiphany of orgasms or infatuations is a consistently sought after reward for leading an otherwise reasonable life.”

#Word!

My throwback (originally posted March 3, 2012) is a poetic tribute to all of the ways our (sexual and emotional) needs and wants struggle to get met at the same time.

no strings

i thought that i

could be brave enough

to make love to you

with

no

strings attached

but your arms around me felt like strings

your fingers, like strings

when you used them to massage my neck

and caress my back

and my legs

felt like strings

when i

held them around your neck

& squeezed and scratched your back

leaving marks that looked like strings

i thought

we could be happy together

laughing before, during, and after

wrapped up in damp sheets

and avoiding each other’s eyes so that we can pretend that it wasn’t that deep

all that touching and holding and moaning

we just did

because we are f’cking without strings

attached

but it felt like a string

pulling and luring me back to you

tying your hands above your head

torturing you with my eyes

because the strings would not allow me to look any other way

or place

as I straddled you and rode you to perfection

but it’s cool because

i never promised to love you

and you never promised to love me back

and i don’t need you to love me

i just want you to want me. . .back

but these strings in my heart

won’t let me

my pride

won’t let me

hold on to false strings

yet somehow i got attached

© R. Boylorn, 2012

Throwback Thursday: A Love Poem for Single Mothers

16 Aug

Hey girl, I’m calling

Cause I got your text

Seems you might need a hug

And a minute to vent

So you spent one more night

Trying to find the words

To explain that joint parenting

Means JOINT WORK!

Image

That what he can’t pay for

Can be supplemented with time

Especially since you’re working

And studying at night

Image

He seems to believe

That you are well paid

Even though you are overqualified

For a job that you hate

But you stay cause you have to

And your boss knows that well

But her singing your praises

Is not paying your bills

Image

And you’re tired I know

Because you tell me so

From the bullshit at work

To the bullshit at home

Cause he said he was coming

But then something came up

You finally made plans

But now you are stuck

He says they can visit

Now that he’s moved away

As long as you pay for

Plane tickets each way

Now he’s taking you to court

Because he has not seen them

But has not paid ANY child support

Since you left him

Image

You are buying the school clothes

Supplies and new shoes

Paying for aftercare

Shopping for good schools

There’s soccer, dance class

And pediatric care

Dropping off, picking-up

Brushing her hair

Managing the five emotions

they have in five minutes

Begging for bathroom privacy

until you are finished

All this seems to happen

In a matter of weeks

You are wanting to scream

You can barely speak

So just bring them over

You need some time

To breath, do yoga,

Sleep and unwind,

Have sex if you want to

Do nothing at all

They can hang with their auntie

I was waiting for your call

And here is some money

For that overdue bill

Some tickets to a play

A container with a meal

Don’t fight me just take it

You deserve a full day

To get yourself centered

To just get away

Image

And when you return

Feeling rested and loved

You’ll get your children, a small bag of dirty clothes

And that hug.

Image

A (Not So) Guilty Pleasure: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta

23 Jul

By now, many of you have experienced the delightful ratchet theater that is Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.


One word: Ratchetstilksin

Love and Hip Hop Atlanta is the brain-child of producer, Mona Scott-Young, who also unleashed upon the world created the first Love and Hip Hop series. LAHHA follows, as you might have guessed, the high and lows of several (not particularly well-known) artists, producers, baby mamas, and the like who are enmeshed in the music scene in Hotlanta. After randomly stumbling upon the show a few weeks ago, I must confess that I am hooked. I swear I watch episodes without blinking!

How could you look away?

I find a couple of things fascinating about the show. One of the main plots of the show is the love triangle revolving around producer Stevie J, his long-suffering “main chick” Mimi Faust, and his protégé/side piece, Joseline Hernandez.

The shade of it all!

Shoot, I might could call it a love rhombus since Stevie J can’t seem to recall how many women he’s “smashed.” (Also, could we forever retire that term as it relates to sex? Between banging, smashing, hitting, cutting, beating it out the frame, and blowing people’s backs out, sex seems more like war than an exercise in pleasure. For real.)

In any event, I have been chatting with various friends who watch the show about the allure of Stevie J. I just can’t figure it out!

Yes, this fine specimen.

We debated whether he was really putting it down like that, if it was just some swag (that I couldn’t see), or is it that he preys upon the weak and the desperate.  I think it may be a heady combination of all those things. What has been interesting, though, is despite the foolishness of LAHHA, in many of these conversations, my friends and I are not simply talking about the antics of these “characters” that we may make fun of from a distance, but remembering the fact that some of the people we know and love—perhaps even ourselves—have been embroiled with the insecure, the unavailable, the emotionally-manipulative, the wack, and the ratchet. Or that we ourselves might have (and still might be) those very things.

The other thing that’s interesting to me about LAHHA is the whole discourse around femininity, especially as it relates to Joseline. A former sex worker with aspirations of producing mediocre rap/reggaeton, Joseline’s so-called masculine appearance has been ridiculed on the show and pretty thoroughly in the blogosphere.

Tell ‘em why you mad.

I’ve heard everything from the fact that she is “really a man” to the notion that her whole experience of getting an abortion was just a ploy to convince viewers that she is “really a woman.” Now, I expect very little from VH1, which has rebranded itself as a top channel on the backs of women-of-color acting a damn fool, but this unadulterated trans hatred has lowered my already piss poor expectations of the network.  And the discussions of Joseline on the ground emphasize what we already know: we desperately need the language to talk about sexuality and gender expression in ways that not only do not diminish others, but that also recognize complicated realities within ourselves.

The storyline with Lil’ Scrappy (bless him) and Erica is also fascinating to me. The whole notion that she’s unavailable emotionally and that he needs someone who’s more affectionate is type interesting. On the one hand, let me mess around and find out that the Prince of the South is a softee and just needs to be held at night. I appreciate seeing dudes with neck tattoos reveal vulnerability. Then again, the discussion about Scrappy’s emotional needs seem to come at the expense of Erica’s. So, she’s wrong for not staying by his bedside when he has an alcohol-infused asthma attack, yet Erica revealed that Scrappy was not there for her during a miscarriage. Now, relationships—even on reality TV—don’t survive on passive aggressive tit for tat type behaviors, but something just ain’t right there. And it seemed all too convenient that their breakup went down after Scrappy got into some extracurricular activity with his best friend, Buckey from Flavor of Love Shay. This is all too messy. I will say, the exchange made me think of some sistas I know who, on the one hand, are asked to always asked to be a STRONGBLACKWOMAN and who then get blasted for being too cold, frigid, and distant. It just seems like a setup.[i]

OK K K!

Some of you may be thinking, “Really, Crunkadelic? I come to the Crunk Feminist Collective to read about weighty issues and you talking all this noise about some silly show on Vh1. Really?!”

Yes, really.

I mean, it’s cool if you don’t like reality shows or if you prefer to save your brain cells by watching more intellectual fare or by reading a book. We not going fall out about it. Indeed, I totally cosign with my girl Black Artemis who recently wrote a great post about letting go of her guilty pleasure, Basketball Wives. (A show that brings my pressure right on up. I just can’t do it). Sometimes, shows (books, jobs, people, etc.) are just too toxic and, if we can, we have to let them go. That being said, I’m pretty unapologetic about my complicated viewing choices. I have already written about my appreciation for trashy TV. These days, when I do have time for TV I can watch anything from Melissa Harris Perry’s show on MSNBC to The Barefoot Contessa cooking show, Parks & Rec, Sherlock (I’m obsessed! Also, I want a puppy named Benedict Cumberbatch), in addition to more ratchet fare such as Keeping up with Kardashians (I know I’m not the only one), Love & Hip Hop, Single Ladies, and so on. And I’m interested to what these scripted reality TV shows say about our own lives and how we make sense of life and love where cameras are not rolling.

So, fam, what are your thoughts on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta?


[i] Check out Joan Morgan’s When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost for more on this phenomenon.

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.

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