Tag Archives: friendship

Beauty Parlor Politics

7 May

The first time I “got my hair done” beyond school nights sitting between my mother’s cocoa butter legs while she combed through my hair with grease soaked fingertips, or  Saturday morning hot comb rituals in front of the stove, was in the house kitchen of a church lady who did hair on the side.  She was not professionally trained or licensed but her clientele graced her threshold every other Saturday and she worked from sun up ‘til sundown, frying, dying, twisting and curling our hair into beautiful masterpieces on our head.  I felt grown up and welcome when I “got my hair done.”  The sweet smelling shampoo and used utensils made me feel special and grown up, I felt like one of the girls which was all I had ever wanted.

Women of all sizes, colors, backgrounds and religions gathered together at the salon, waiting patiently, all day if needbe, for their two week fix.  In between appointments they would talk in hushed tones, cross their legs, flip through black hair magazines and shoot the breeze.  It was the only time in my childhood when I was not banished from the room full of grown folk talk. The all-woman space, smelling like Jean Naté and scorched hair, made me feel empowered.  It was nothing for women to share secrets, give advice, get into friendly debates, laugh, and listen to each other while offering a bite from their plate or a drag of a cigarette while we all sat around, watching the transformations from new growth to relaxer, split ends to goddess braids, or bald spots to hair pieces.  “At the shop” we were sisters, even when we were strangers, because being without a done ‘do was like being naked in public.  But between our sing alongs and gossip, no one noticed.  The salon was a meeting place, the great equalizer—like church, but without the judgment.

It was a place where you would hear “girrrrrrrrrrrrrl” and “honey chile” between sweet smiles and heartfelt compliments.  “Girrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl, you’re so pretty,” or “Honey chile, your hair sho’ look good like that.”  These (unsolicited compliments from one black woman to another) were things you would rarely hear between black woman strangers out in public.  But in the salon we saw each other as beautiful and said so—out loud and proud like.  I think that was part of what drew me to it, and still does.  For me, hair salons are not places for competition between women, but rather bonding.  Salons have, over the course of my life, served as safe spaces for talking through everything from heartache to home remedies, recipes to religion.  It is a safe space for social critique and casual conversation, a place where women gather together in one place unseparated by their difference (i.e., education, class, orientation, ability, age, relationship status, religion, etc.).  These public-private spaces, almost exclusively occupied by black folk (this is equally true for barber shops) transform strangers to sister-girls, if only for a few hours, every two weeks.

So imagine my surprise when I realized, after a recent visit to the hair salon, that upon my exit I was verbally assaulted by another black woman.  A black woman who I did not know and who did not know me, and whose shared presence in the room may have lasted all of five minutes.  If I noticed her I would have smiled, because that is what I do to every black woman I see in the salon, but I didn’t notice her, but evidently she noticed me.  In the brief time period that we shared space she walked in on an ongoing conversation I was having with another black woman in the salon.  Granted, I do not remember what we were talking about, but I routinely initiate and/or participate in provocative hot topic discussions in the salon. The stylists and I, along with various other patrons ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-seventies, have shared laughs and wisdom about topics ranging from politics and sex to interracial relationships and popular culture.  While I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation I know two things for sure about any and everything that I ever say publicly: 1) it was truthful (at least my truth); and 2) it was not (intentionally) offensive (I am very intentional with my words, and mindful of correcting myself, immediately, if I feel I have spoken out of turn, or inappropriately).  I am also a communication professor who has had years of training in public and professional speaking so I imagine that despite codeswitching and my country drawl (which comes out when I am especially comfortable) I am easily outted as an academician.

I was warned, when I returned to the salon a few weeks ago, that this unnamed black woman (who I had never seen before) had announced her intention to “get me in trouble” on my job for the things I said in the salon.  Her assertion was, in addition to being ludicrous, absolutely inaccurate.  What, I wonder, could I have said in the hair salon that would warrant some kind of reprimand at work (especially when I work at a public institution where I study, research and teach on taboo topics, and as an auto/ethnographer, part of my job is to write about and critique social encounters)?  My stylist was apologetic and concerned as she explained what happened.  I was grateful to know that in my absence, the beautiful black women with whom I spoke stood up for me and defended my right to say whatever I wanted to say.  I assured her, with a full heart of gratitude (that these women are indeed my friends, and have my back when I am absent) that my job was not in jeopardy, and that any clout that this person pretended to have could not affect me.  Still, I was bothered, albeit temporarily, by the audacity and nerve, and even the seeming need, for this woman to try to reduce me, an educated, progressive, empathic and down-to-earth black woman to the status of a child who can be chastised into conservatism or at the very least punished (hence, getting me in trouble) for having an opinion (or look or voice or intellect, etc.) that she may have found distasteful.  She disrupted my narrative of support and jeopardized the ethic of care I had come to expect (and need) in the hair salon.

Unfortunately, I have had dozens of such experiences with black women in my lifetime, and most especially in my professional life.  I have had black women roll their eyes at me, disconfirm and ignore me, refer to me as “that girl,” or “that bitch,” and stare at me without speaking.  When I first moved to Alabama a black woman professor who sat across from me at a welcome dinner refused to even shake my hand.  Many of these slights occur with perfect strangers who, like the unnamed black woman at the salon, decide, immediately that I am _______. (I don’t know what the blank represents, perhaps different things to different people).

I have learned, though, that in small towns, like the one I live in currently (and the one I grew up in) I relish in the precious moments I have in the beauty salon being around and among beautiful black women who just let me be.  There is no jealousy or competition, no nuance of attitude and resentment, just us having magic blackgirl moments and seeing each other beautiful.  And smart.  And glorious.  And enough.  It is one of the few places/spaces where I feel at home with my non-academic-no makeup-thick glasses wearing–no need to be politically correct- hair all over my head-chipped toenail polish-wearing yesterday’s clothes and flip flops- self.  A space where I can bounce ideas off of other women and ask them about their experiences compared to mine. A space where I fit in without trying.  A place where instead of feeling ganged up on, I feel supported and understood.

In two weeks I will gather together the money I put aside to pamper myself and make my way back to the salon.  When I open the door I will be greeted with the warmth and welcome that radiates from the women who are there and who are not looking to judge or scold, but to listen, be heard, and to just be.  There is no guarantee that there will not be another interloper who resents my presence or my hair style, but I refuse to give up the very necessary experience.  It’s blackwomanlove at it’s finest!

How to Lose A Friend in 10 Days

30 Apr

Day 1: Maintain a friendship with your childhood friend, despite the fact that you no longer live in the same state. Tell her you love her like family and that she is like a sister to you.

Day 2: Like friends do, share your secrets and fears. At the moment, because you are both approaching 40, talk about your frustrations about not being married and wanting to start a family. Talk about how the lack of prospects has led you both to rekindle and revisit past loves.

Day 3: Listen intently as your friend talks about her man problems. She is hopeful. There are two men she is interested in, both out of the state, one from high school, the other from college. You remember the one from high school. She seems excited about him and plans to go visit him soon.

Day 4: Listen to your friend tell you about how much she likes the high school crush and is focusing all of her energy on him. When she visited they reconnected. They laughed. They made love. They made plans to see each other again. She is hopeful.

Day 5: (Be)friend your friend’s high school-turned grown woman love interest on facebook.

Day 6: Flirt with your friend’s high school-turned grown woman love interest on facebook (Ish, it’s not like they are “together.”)

Day 7: With the support of your friend, make plans to visit your own lost love, who just so happens to live in the same city and state as hers.

Day 8: When your plans with your long-lost fall through, call your friend’s crush and invite him for drinks. Utilize information you are privy to about your homegirl (and conversations she has had with him) to convince him that she is untrustworthy. Tell him that she is also dealing with someone in another state that she knows from college. Tell him all of the things you know about their interactions together. Don’t tell your friend.

Day 9: When confronted by your friend about reaching out to someone she is interested in (he tells her before you do), don’t apologize or recognize your bad judgment, instead get defensive and say hurtful things to her to try to make her feel undesirable.

Day 10: Call your friend, tell her that the man she has recently slept with and was interested in doesn’t want to be with her, he wants to be with you! Let her know that you are planning to move to his state so that the two of you can be together. Then ask her if, after some time passes, you can (all) still be friends?

#Truestory. Not mine, but my homegirl’s.

When she told me about her friend’s betrayal I was partially speechless. I wondered if her friend knew the code, friends don’t hook up with friends’ exes… especially when they know their friend still likes them. Where they do that at?

But when I asked heterosexual black women their opinion about man-stealing, there were varying views. Most women said that it depended on the circumstances. For example, how long they had been together? How serious was the relationship? Was she in love? Some people think that if enough time has passed between one relationship and the next, then it shouldn’t matter. Still others said that if a man is interested in someone else, who happens to be your friend, and they fall in love—who are you to stand in the way? And other women think it is about age. They said it is easy to have the “I saw him first” rule when you are 16, but as we get older, and the pool of eligible and dateable black men diminishes, you have to get in where you fit in.

Luckily, for me and my friends, we are never attracted to the same (kind of) man, so it has never been a problem. And since most of my friends, and I, are so visually and fundamentally different—we don’t tend to attract the same (kind of) men or be interested in the same (kind of) men.  Still, I like to think that if there was a man that I was interested in, that my homegirl saw first, had first, etc., that her feelings would be my priority and her previous interest would be a dealbreaker for me. I like to think that I would choose my friendship (over a man or lay).

Yet, I don’t know how to judge women who approach dating like crabs in a barrel. I mean I get it. Regrettably I have been a crab in the past—judging, scratching, and clawing my way to a man on the neck of another woman. I never saw it as that but as my homegirl described her former friend’s ambitions for a man at her expense, I thought about the women I may have (knowingly and/or unknowingly) disrespected or disregarded for a chance at love. Granted, it has never been a friend of mine, but it has been a woman, who, no different from my homegirl may have saw or loved him first.

All this has me thinking…what is the new standard?  Can we reverse the misogynistic male rapper mantra of the 90s, M.O.B. (Money over Bitches) which made it sensible (common sense) for men to never choose a woman over a friend (though, of course, these were the same men who “shared” women… “ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none”) to a new millenium B.O.M. (Blackwomen over Men, by the way, not bitches over money) stance?

What do you think?

Tu(r)ning to Black Love

20 Feb

Whitney Houston with her mother Cissy

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

Where is the love?

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

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

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

Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen book cover

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

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

Feminist Musings on Showing Up

1 Sep missing

It’s 11:30 PM. I have a baby with a cold. I have a looming, untouched exam prep list. I have a sink full of dishes. I have students writing me after 9:00 asking for “leeway” in tomorrow’s class. I have a headache. I have a backache. I have anxiety-induced insomnia. I have people. And when the rest of the list makes the latter seem small, my people show up and, as the church folk say, show out.

You may be wishing for a quota on feminist writing about friendship. You may be wishing that we would stand erect and alone, our spines as stiff as steel. You may wish we would stop complaining about the world and study mathematics. You may wish we would just shut the hell up already. You may never have disappeared. You must have always been visible. You may, you must, you should move on if you are bothered. Because my sister friend has told me to show up and I will.

She called because of facebook. Because of the way that we ask others to see us in 500 characters or less. Because I was complaining again, feeling small, feeling like giving up, feeling invisible and less than worthy. Because I drank the academy’s Koolaid and she was calling to “wreck that shit.”

“If you ever feel like disappearing,” she said, “hear my voice telling you to show up.”

It was more than a suggestion. It was a fourteen word holy gift. It was firm finger lifting a heavy chin, a left hand on a right shoulder blade, a mama’s lap, a sister’s hug. It was a conundrum.

If you ever feel like disappearing…

There are millions of disappeared people. They have ceased to exist. They have vanished from sight. They have passed from view. The definitions all depend on a seeing other. Someone ceases to exist (to whom?). Someone vanishes from (whose?) sight. Someone passes from (whose?) view. The truth is that by the time I feel like disappearing, I already have.
I’ve disappeared from doctors who believe brown bodies are already diseased, law officers who color-code deviance, preachers whose conceptions of sin are embodied by Eve, academics who measure my skull and find it wanting… My many disappearances don’t seem to be my choice.

But my friend told me that if I ever feel like disappearing, I should hear her voice. She implied that disappearance could be active, a decision one makes to vanish. I think of my many active disappearances: the “informal” department parties I skip, unwilling to down glasses of wine and pretend not to feel interrogated. I think of the ways I cease to exist as a student by telling myself that my opinions don’t matter, that they aren’t useful or polished enough. I sometimes vanish from sight as a teacher, acting as little more than a moderator for uninformed opinions because of fear that sharing my true self will lead to negative course evaluations. Nervous laughter helps me pass from view in churches when male preachers blame the falls of (biblical and contemporary) great men on (biblical and contemporary) hoes. Some disappearances are active; sometimes disappearance is an act of protection. Other times it is an admittance of defeat.

Hear my voice and show up.
It was more than a suggestion. It was my grandfather telling me to “get my education” as if he, who was raised in the Jim Crow south, knew the process would be/ should be anything but passive. It was a command to stand up and be my Momma’s daughter, to lift my head like she taught me so that the weight of the world wouldn’t crumple my spine. It was an invitation to swagger, the way rappers turn a plea (can’t you see me?) into an accusation (you don’t see me), into a bonafide diss (you can’t see me!) as if intentional blindness is an admission of impotence.

So I accept the invitation and I’ll pay it forward. I will show up in my department as brown bodies always show up, especially against a white background. Others attempt to discredit me because they are afraid I will show them up, that their lies will show up, especially against the background of the truth. We show up for each other because we know firsthand the difficulties of showing up alone. I will show up for my people as they continue to show up for me. And if you ever feel like disappearing, I hope you will hear my voice and show up.

Sex, Scripts, & Single Ladies

23 Jun

I’ll admit it.  When VH1’s scripted dramedy Single Ladies premiered a few weeks ago I had very low expectations–so low, in fact, that I forgot it was even coming on that night. It wasn’t  until I logged on to my Facebook and saw a bunch of statements like, “OMG!” “He said what?” “Stacey Dash is how old?” “Why does LisaRaye always play herself?” that I realized the show was on. So, I flipped the channel to VH1 to see what all the buzz was about. To tell the truth, it took me a minute to even find VH1 because a channel whose claim to fame is messy-ass shows like Basketball Wives and Love and Hip Hop is generally not on my radar.

Anyway, my first impression of Single Ladies was that it was an over-the-top soap opera in the vein of Dynasty and Melrose Place, replete with rich, beautiful people and sudsy, paper-thin plot lines. And while I thought it had the potential to be some escapist fun, the raggedy acting, flat characters, and reliance on tired stereotypes had me giving the show the side eye. I will say I had great fun Facebook-critiquing it and decided to keep watching the show for the moment, if only for sociological interest…okay, and the eye candy, too, let me not front.

April, Val, and Keisha out on the town. Is it wrong for me to wonder if April shops at the same wig shop as Kim Zolciak?

My Facebook friends ran the gamut of reactions to the pilot episode. Some vowed that Single Ladies took two hours of their lives that they can never get back. Others decided that they would stick it out, at least for a few more episodes.

In thinking of my own mixed reaction to show, I decided to check out what critics had to say. Let’s just say that reviews have been less than kind, to say the least.

Hank Stuever at The Washington Post wrote:

This is a series for people who found “Sex and the City” too quick-witted and “The Wendy Williams Show” too intellectually stimulating.  It’s the TV equivalent of a beach read with no words.

I’ll admit it. I died and was later resurrected when I read that. Ooop!

Brian Lowry at Variety wrote:

Although VH1 bills “Single Ladies” as a romantic comedy, this hourlong show is really a soap–basically a scripted version of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” seeking to fill a niche among African-American women largely abandoned by broadcasters since “Girlfriends” went off the air. Still, it’s not a particularly inspired serial, replete with tired situations, stiff dialogue and male characters possessing less dimension than those populating “Sex and the City,” if that’s possible. It’s not easy for a series featuring beautiful women to harbor zero appeal among men, but these “Ladies” thread that needle.

Hmm. I can get with the first part of the comment, but I must admit that one-dimensional male characters were the least of our concerns in Sex and the City. You mean to tell me that those women went all around NYC and they couldn’t find more than like three people of color to put in the whole series (Sonia Braga, Blair Underwood…who was the third, y’all? Help me out…). So, no, the fact that we did not learn Big’s first name until the last episode of the series has not kept me awake at night.

By the same token, of all the critiques to make about Single Ladies, and there are plenty to make, the lack of fully realized male characters is not at the top of my list.  Because the show is a soap, the scenarios are definitely over the top.  Still, having lived in Atlanta for five years, I know that the dating scene there is often off the chain, with folks doing the most and achieving the least, much to  many sisters’ chagrin. Case in point: I dated a beautiful, smart, and gainfully-employed brother who thought the same stupid shit as Val’s sexy chef did in episode two: giving head is just not “manly” but receiving head is “natural.”  It’s true, folks, there are still people out there in the twenty-first century who think black men shouldn’t do cranial maneuvers! It is not a myth like unicorns and leprechauns; they actually exist. (Yes, I know there are brothers who do it and do it well, but y’all might want to take your fallen brethren under your wings, ’cause they are tripping).  So, seriously, I’m not hating on the show because some men (read: some straight men) ages 18-45 don’t like it. #kanyeshrug

How about the fact that the show only has one token gay male character, when we know good and hell well that Atlanta has a vibrant and diverse queer community? How about the fact that almost all the women on the show can pass the paper bag test? Riddle me that. Now, I’m not suggesting that a soap opera on VH1 has to be all things to all people. But with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit productions at the helm, I think it’s fair to ask for a bit more. C’mon, Khadijah, we need ya!

At the end of the day, I do find the show interesting on a few levels. Real talk, sometimes after teaching and writing all day all I want to watch is something that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower. I also do enjoy seeing a city I love represented, especially as I toil in the confederate wilderness of Alabama. Looking at Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy makes me vow to drink more water and get more sleep because they make 45 look really, really good.  Some of the situations that the women have encountered around men and dominance have been surprisingly interesting. In fact, I had a great conversation the other day with my girl Crunktastic about the whole dinner scene with the pompous professors, which tickled me especially as a sister with working class roots who went to Emory for graduate school.  Despite the fact that all the profs were caricatures, I did think the class dynamics of the scene was fascinating and I definitely laughed out loud when the words “hypersexualization” and “objectification” made it onto the show.  Let me mess around and find out that some folks at VH1 have taken women’s studies…

Bottom line for me: the show is not great, but it does prompt some interesting questions about race, class, gender, and sisterhood, in addition to having a slew of foine—yes, foine—guest stars and an easy, breezy plot. I’ll be watching, with a crunk feminist critical lens of course, for now.

What is your take on Single Ladies?

Nene vs. Star: Black Women & The Vulnerability of Anger

9 May

The first season of The Apprentice brought with it an impressive black woman (Omarosa Manigault) who deconstructed her brilliance to pacify an audience that seeks (if not requires) black women to fit a particular prototype on television.  Omarosa embodied what Patricia Hill Collins would designate the black lady, a black woman whose intellect and success make her difficult to like and love.  I find it fascinating that no matter what a black woman does and who she is (smart, beautiful, independent, etc.) —she is ultimately made to feel undesirable and unwanted–even and sometimes especially from people (who look) like her.

I was seduced to this season of The Celebrity Apprentice (though I loathe Donald Trump for various reasons, which I will not detail here) because of my intellectual and personal interest (read curiosity) of black women’s representations on reality television.  The unprecedented inclusion of four black women on a reality television show on network television lured me in, especially because I was interested to see how they would be depicted, how they would interact (having such vastly different backgrounds and demeanors) and what roles they would play with each other.  The season started with Dionne Warwick, LaToya Jackson, Star Jones, and Nene Leakes.  As weeks went on I was repeatedly surprised that the black women were surviving because reality competition shows, like horror movies, may start with black bodies but they are generally the first to go.  Nine weeks in, three of the four black women remained in the competition.  Perhaps it was their charm or ability to play the game, or more realistically their entertainment value and lure of black audiences, but the black women held it down, on the same team (until they were ultimately separated, first LaToya who came back to work with the men’s team, and later Nene being switched with a male player following an altercation between her and Star), week after week.  The complications, however, began immediately.  These women were angry and/or vulnerable characters. 

Dionne Warwick was often portrayed as bossy and overbearing, giving out attitude but not allowing rebuttal because of her age. Star Jones, the consummate professional, masked her anger and deception behind articulate interviews and rolled eyes.  Nene Leakes…well, she is famous for being the aggressive, angry black woman on RHOA, which is undoubtedly why she was cast on the show.  Her anger, however, has seemed to be so much a part of her personality that she can turn it on and off like a faucet, cursing you out one minute and hugging you the next.  LaToya Jackson, soft-spoken but determined (having persuaded Donald Trump to re-hire her on the other team after being fired), did not represented the angry black woman but rather the victim.  She never seemed able to fully defend herself, speak (up) for herself, or take a leadership position (it was heartening when she returned this week, ever so briefly, to do just that).  LaToya’s emotions were mostly reactionary and non-threatening.  It is difficult to categorize her as “angry” in comparison to representations that are so utterly distinctive and destructive, but her representation was problematic nonetheless.

While Dionne and LaToya were both targets (Dionne because of her age, and LaToya because of her perceived lack of skill), the last several episodes focused on the animosity between Nene and Star.  Nene and Star were perhaps the most popular and controversial characters on the show given their well publicized beefs with other women, Nene on RHOA and Star from her abrupt departure from The View.

Still, interestingly, while continually battling each other verbally, the women also came to each other’s defense occasionally.  Their on-again, off-again black woman friendship reminded me of Audre Lorde’s essay Eye to Eye, which discusses the problematic relationship black women often have with each other, resenting and needing one another equally.

It is ironic that at the end of Sunday night’s episode, both Nene and Star (and LaToya) were absent.  Nene quit, a exaggerated response to hurt feelings (because Star did not want to be her friend), while LaToya and Star were both fired.  Somehow, in one felt swoop and three hour episode, all of the black women were gone!

I find it interesting that the only one of the three that left the show with dignity and integrity was LaToya.  She negotiated her way back for a chance at redemption, and while her team did not win, she did not play herself while playing the game.  With Nene and Star, however, they both fell into stereotypical scripts on their way out of the door, reinforcing, it seems, the inability for black women to “just get along.”   

I believe that Nene’s façade of being the “big bad bitch” is simply a front.  She seems to use her bullying and aggression to hide her insecurities.  Many of her rants, which were odd given her behavior, seemed to be about her desire for friendship (with Star, with Dionne, with LaToya) and forgiveness with/from black women.  Nene seemed sincerely disappointed and hurt that Star was not willing to forgive and forget the reprehensible and threatening things she had said and done to her previously.  She was also clearly emotionally distraught when Dionne Warwick confronted her and she seemed to genuinely embrace LaToya, the most impressionable of the group, luring her into a faux friendship after saying deeply hurtful things to and about her.

I believe Star’s façade of being the “professional black lady” is also a disguise.  While her credentials are impressive, she oftentimes used her intellect to manipulate others and limit their potential.  Her unwillingness to lose shaped her character as one that was vindictive, uncaring, and unemotional.  She relished, however, in the praise and accolades of other contestants.  Perhaps she has become so invested in what other people think about her, and being the most impressive black woman in the room, that she can’t help but sabotage or resent another black woman’s potential.

Nene and Star’s characters remind me of so many black girls and women I have known in my lifetime.  Those who used the angry black woman façade to keep people at arm’s length.  Those who refuse to acknowledge another black woman’s (beauty/strength/potential) worth in fear that it will outshine her own.  Women who use anger and disdain to cover their need for friendship, love, acceptance.

Nene and Star’s departure, I believe, represents a much larger issue that feels just below the surface of the episodes that have featured their dysfunctional relationship.  Their anger (and ability to anger each other) led to their downfall.  Anger, while it may feel enabling in the moment, is really disempowering.  Their anger made them vulnerable.  And perhaps the anger was never about their issues with each other, but about their issues with themselves.  Perhaps what they saw in each other reminded them of their own flaws and faults.  Perhaps Nene saw her own lost potential in Star’s success.  Perhaps Star saw the potential to be cast stereotypically in Nene’s behavior.  They were afraid of each other because of what the other represented—another black woman–or simply themselves.

I wonder how many times black women misunderstand each other.  How many times we miscommunicate or miss communication with each other.  It is impossible to be guarded and open at once, but we are essentially and undeniably sometimes vulnerable and angry at the same time.

How To Say No: The “B” side to Self-Care

14 Mar

(This post is in response to Life Is Not A Fairytale:  Black Women and Depression, one of our earlier and most popular posts.)

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, as is general with 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.  No, I’m not important—everyone else is.

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!

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.

This blog is also posted on blogher, http://www.blogher.com/just-say-no-first-crucial-step-selfcare

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