Tag Archives: love

Love Lessons: Musiq Soulchild and Tressie Cottom

11 Feb

When I sat down to write the song that came to mind for me was Musiq Soulchild’s Love.  I thought about this beautiful ballad because it allows for a much bigger vision of love that includes all manner of relationships including the one we have with ourselves.  Soulchild sings…

Love
So many people use your name in vain
Love
Those who have faith in you sometimes go astray
Love
Through all the ups and downs the joys and hurts
Love
For better or worse I still will choose you first

I have been reflecting on the love of my sisters, particularly in feminism.  I have been troubled by the fact that many of my sisters have been struggling for a number of reasons, but there are certain hurts that just should not be.  A few weeks ago I read a blog by my sister-in-scholarship, Tressie Cottom, super-scholar and new friend who lamented on the lack of love demonstrated when a student at the University of Chicago threatened to circulate a mugshot photo of her in an effort criminalize her, attack her character, and denounce her scholarship, simply because he disagreed with her perspective on the importance of grades in graduate school.  REALLY! While for many of you this is old news, I bring this up because I realized that the reason she was even in the Atlanta University Center area near Morehouse College is because she was lost trying to get to me to join my class for a celebration dinner.  But instead of weighing in on the ridiculousness that occurred, both Morehouse police for pulling her over and “booking” her and U of C brotha-student lacking basic decency and manners, I want to focus on how love guides much of the work the feminists in my life do regularly.

Sometime Yes! is a powerful statement.  I teach a Poverty and Social Justice course at Spelman College and I wanted my students to learn to write in ways that encourage them to enter public discussions now.  The five page paper and the research papers have their place, but students should be cultivating their voices as students.  With all their access to the interwebs and simple applications I believe they need to work on a little more production and a lot less consumption.  I called Tressie because she was highly recommended by another sister scholar to do a workshop on Opinion Editorials for my class.  She did not know me.  She said, “Yes!”  In fact, she said, “Yes!” again in the Fall, and again she has said “Yes!” for this Spring.

On the night she was pulled over I had invited her to have dinner with my class to thank her for sharing her time and talent with us, but she did not show up.  I assumed something came up and let it be.  I found out through her blog two months later that she was arrested.  So here is where the challenge comes in.  When my sisters need help all too often too many of them do not call.  They say, “I did not want to bother anyone” or “It wasn’t that big a deal.” And it would not have been if someone did not decide to look for ways to tear her down.

Love
So many people use your name in vain
Love
Those who have faith in you sometimes go astray
Love
Through all the ups and downs the joys and hurts
Love
For better or worse I still will choose you first

One of the most important commitments of the Crunk Feminist Collective is self-care.  We insist on figuring out ways to care for ourselves and one another.  We send care packages to one another and others as we can and we remind each other to take care of ourselves.  What we realize is that working in the academy and advancing feminist politics in a broken nation can be toxic and while we don’t want to be negative one of our goals is to “not die” trying to do this work.  Too many of our feminist foremothers and forefathers have died too soon trying to do this work.  I am thinking of Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and recently Rudolph Byrd.  The way that we move forward and “live” is by caring for one another by saying Yes! and sometimes No!, but also by agreeing to engage one another in love.  To engage one another in love may mean getting crunk when need be, but it also means sending a lifeline (text, email, phone call, lunch) when you know someone needs it.  Instead of getting Crunk online, this time we chose to send life lines to our sister to let her know that while the principles of online engagement are important to figure out, making sure she was okay was our top priority.

I have women in my life right now trying to figure out how to be in community with one another and love sometimes feels like it isn’t enough.  I have to believe that “love in struggle” is enough.  I love Tressie because she gives of her time and talent because she loves working with young scholars-of-color to develop their voice through their writing.  I love Tressie because instead of attacking another scholar she reached out to invite him to participate on a panel to discuss academic engagement and social media.  I love the CFC because in this community I am so much more informed about the people and issues I care about, like Tressie’s situation.  This time she did not call me, but in this community of love I did get the message and was able to respond.

For me the love lessons are many; brotha Soulchild teaches us that sometime folks ain’t gone act right, Tressie teaches us that we can choose to let love guide our engagement both online and off-line.  The love lesson I want to leave you with is this…

Sometimes our folks need our support and love but don’t know how to ask for it or don’t think it is important enough, so we have to tell them regularly that they can call on us.  Sometimes people who give love need invitations to be loved back.  After scolding Tressie for not calling on me, I let her know that I love her and that next time she has to give me the opportunity to say, “Yes!.”

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

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.

On the Queerness of Self Love

14 May
Tattoo on inside of someone's fingers that says "self love"

Self Love by Artnoose

While conducting a seminar with college students about self-esteem, Yolo Akili heard a young person say something that remains an important touchstone for those of us trying to do liberatory work in our communities. When talking about loving oneself, a Black woman said, “Self love? That shit’s gay!”

I’ve turned this statement over in my head a million times as it so accurately and unintentionally reveals so much about the constructions of sexuality in our culture. “Gay” has become an all purpose insult that means something is not cool, wack, aberrant, and not worth your time. How deep is it that loving yourself is a weird and unworthy pursuit? If self love is gay, what is straight? Is straightness self hatred?

I want to be clear that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a cis gender man or woman engaged in loving consensual relationships with cis gender women or men. Like with race in our country, the problem isn’t necessarily white people, but how whiteness as a problematic social construct impacts everyone. Similarly, I would argue that straight people aren’t the issue but the way straightness and heteronormativity operate in our culture are serious impediments to self love and self actualization.

I choose to be queer. My choosing queerness has a lot to do with the scripts that exist for straight men and women’s relationships. Take the recent box office smash, Think Like a Man. So much of what is prescribed for straight couples is for women to change themselves into what they imagine men want from them.  You can see it if you want to but it’s essentially a feature film length infomercial for Steve Harvey’s similarly titled book. It had the requisite gay jokes (for both men and women) and many a strong black woman cut back down to size. By thinking like a man, you ensure that he gets what he wants, sex, and women get what they want, a man. This reductive view on what motivates straight relationships depends on strict gender roles.

Straightness/heteronormativity sets up roles for men and women that serve a capitalistic agenda more than the building of loving relationships. The script is simple; find a member of the “opposite sex”, date, get married, buy a house, have kids and do all of this as an individual family unit. Our culture will sell you the tools to properly achieve these ends, to properly conform to gender norms that will hopefully help you attract someone to walk down the aisle with you. Buy this men’s loofa and women will be all over you, buy this lady razor and your man will love to get close to you. Selling people the idea that they are somehow insufficiently performing their  gender, and therefore not attractive, reinforces a sense of self doubt and looking externally for validation, which is great for capitalism. You have to do something or buy something to be worthy of relationship. What a queer thing to say that my relationship with myself is important and I should invest in it over and above my ability to pull a partner.

And this is why I and other queer folks are giving Obama’s announcement regarding gay marriage the side eye. Leveraging privilege for certain types of households does nothing to address systemic inequality or combat discrimination that queer folks face. Why do romantic ties afford rights and access that would otherwise be denied? And I use the word “afford” deliberately because so much of what is obscured about marriage are its roots and continued relevance as a financial institution. Love takes a backseat to the structural realities of couple privilege in our culture. Society continues to give us messages that marriage is valuable, perhaps even at the expense of our own personal safety and freedom.

Self love is awesome. It should be celebrated and encouraged, not derided because it hinders an economy that’s dependent on folks feeling insecure. If loving yourself is gay, I don’t want to be straight.

a praise song for mamas: cfc mother’s day mix

10 May
my sister, mom and me

my sister, me and mom (flanked by a passionate couple)

I am invested in sepia mamas. My mother lines my eyelids and floats my dreams. She sits on the right hand of the throne she abdicated to all I might become. “Mama gonna work it out,” Martin versioned at his best. Her frame, I shouldn’t calcify. And I’ll leave her flesh be. I know they all can’t be spirit walkers, miracle workers, love lighters but my life tells me so. And just surviving the ‘buking and scorning is worth sainthood. Much more is our mothers’ legacy though, my life, but one humble example. As these years have gone by, I have come to know the women who’ve mothered me as real people with fears and faults and that has not diminished their astounding light. My soul feels good about the ties that bind and with this mix I sound thanks.

a praise song for mamas

“Jalylah’s Theme” Hezekiah & Muhsinah
“Momma” Hodges, James & Smith
“The Sweetest Song” Stu Gardner
“Blessed” The Emotions
“Echoes Of Love” Black Magic
“Mama Used To Say” Junior
“I Wish” Stevie Wonder/ “Hamburger” Eddie Murphy
“I’ll Always Love My Mama” The Intruders
“Mama Says” Black Magic
“Mama Prayed For Me” The Williams Brothers
“Do You Know Where Your Children Are” Birthright /“Mothers and Fathers” Bill Cosby
“Don’t Cry Mommy” Phylicia Allen
“My Love Is Your Love” Whitney Houston
“All I Can Become” Emily King
“The Sweetest Song (Part II)” Stu Gardner

[STREAM/DOWNLOAD]

Get Crunk! Two Years and Counting!

10 Apr

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crunk Feminist Collective is a Labor of Love

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

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

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

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

Feminist Care Packages: Healing Love for Hard Times

23 Feb
Image of a brown paper package tied up with string

CC Licensed from LethaCollen on Flickr

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” - Luciente

This month we’d hoped to talk about love and relationships but a lot of terrible things have been happening in the world. Whitney died. Too Short gave some terrible advice. So did Not So Very Smart brothas. and there’s a thread in these narratives about black women and girls bringing things on to themselves when really the deadly combination of heteronormative masculinity is to blame.

The binaristic gendered scripts we set up for people are killing usLiterally. The conversations that blame feminine people for the violence they experience but some how miss the role that masculine of center people have in that violence is beyond me. Yolo reminded us that most often, what survivors want is for the abuse to stop. They don’t want to get rid of the person who is hurting them; they just don’t want to fear for their lives.

Too often in this culture, safety means the survivor has to leave. We haven’t yet figured out how to create accountability that doesn’t look like recriminalizing the survivor by restricting their movements or demanding that the abuser be held accountable in a way that supports the survivor’s needs. We blame their choices and actions because honestly we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the massive collective fail that didn’t keep someone safe. We point fingers at the survivor and try to believe that perpetrators are uniquely bad people, not logical products of a culture that rewards aggression and violence directed at those who appear weaker. How does one ever make sense of what types of violence are and are not ok when the state enacts violence on communities and the planet all the time?

We can’t throw away people. Not into prison, where they come out years later more hardened than they were when they went in. Community service and anger management don’t come close to undoing a lifetime of social conditioning that supports masculine folks thinking that abusing feminine folks is only bad if you get caught or leave marks. Abusers live in our communities and our gender scripts recreate them everyday. There is no security in locking people away when we actively create these ideas about how to relate to each other in our society. If the culture is toxic, a quarantine is not an effective solution.

In trying to make real the transformative justice we desire for both survivors and perpetrators of gender based violence, The CFC, FAAN Mail, and Quirky Black Girls present Feminist Care Packages*. The CFC has been sending feminist care packages to each other in our times of need but the project of care goes beyond our collective. Feminist Care Packages are public offerings for healing and justice, invitations to survivors, perpetrators, and community to create a new narrative for the world we want. They include a letter to the person and a list of resources that may help them on the road to resilience. These are open outpourings of hope and possibility.

We are not naive enough to think that these suggested resources are enough to shift centuries’ old ideas about behavior but we hope that they begin conversations that have a greater capacity to hold the complex reality of human existence. By holding folks accountable and giving them tools to see their world differently, another world is possible.

There will be a series of Care Packages but in light  of recent events, the first Feminist Care Package is for Too $hort.

*Shout out to Mark Anthony Neal for giving this idea to Moya several years ago.

Queer Sisters Keep Saving Me: The Brilliantly Selfish Act of Being an Ally

17 Feb

 Guest Post by Black Artemis

Today is the first St. Valentine’s Day in three years in which I write a new blog about what this day means to me. In 2009 I wrote one wherein I recount why St. Valentine was a historical figure worthy of recognition especially in these times and reiterate my support for marriage equality. (These may seem like disparate themes, but trust me, they come together in the blog.) Rather than write a new post, I simply pulled The Spirit of Love and Resistance Behind St. Valentine’s Day from the archives and put it back into circulation every February 14th.

This year is different because St. Valentine’s Day has acquired deeper significance to me. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of this year, I learned that I have breast cancer.For many reasons, it has been challenging to reveal my condition to those I know who love and appreciate me never mind acquaintances, colleagues and virtual strangers who follow me on social media. While I got over the shock of the diagnosis fairly quickly – I had to – accepting this frightening contour to my identity enough to make it public has been more difficult.

So why am I “coming out” today as a person with cancer? I do it to acknowledge all the queer women of color in my life who have stepped up for me since I was diagnosed. Rest assured, I have been showered with heartfelt messages of love and encouragement and genuine offers of support from people of all walks of life. Every one of them has been integral in activating and sustaining my new warrior mode, reminding me of how too blessed I am to not beat this disease. All of these people are soldiers in my quickly formed and ever-growing wellness army.

But there have been certain sister-friends who have played immediate and special roles through the early days of my devastation and terror. Not even weeks after my diagnosis, the woman I affectionately call my Minister of Defense and her husband helped me clean and reorganize my bedroom so that it can be a space much more conducive to my healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, she has been fielding the outpouring of concern from our mutual friends and has appointed herself the coordinator of my extended support system – rides, meals, escapes and other things I may need as I undergo treatment. My Minister of Defense and I were supposed to leave for Sundance a few days after I was diagnosed. Not only did she cancel her trip, she let the others we were going to stay with about my condition. Upon receiving the news, those women made time in their hectic festival schedule to pray and chant in community for my recovery.

It was critical for me to not wait until conventional treatment started to take action towards healing myself. I needed to build my sense of agency as well as my immune system, and before I could even take the first step, my Minister of Defense and another friend teamed up to split the cost of having a box of organic fruits and vegetables shipped to my house each week so I can juice every day. I could not afford to do this otherwise. They also take turns accompanying me to my appointments which is not only of comfort to me but to my elderly parents who insist on coming with me. When not taking the copious notes and posing the questions that I may be too overwhelmed or frightened to ask, they are engaging my parents in the language in which they feel most comfortable about anything and everything but the fact that their youngest adult child is facing a life-threatening illness. It helps them, and that in turn, supports me. Another lifelong friend – a doctor who is facing a challenging transition of her own at this time – not only sent me hundreds of dollars in health assessment and improvement kits including immunity-boosting supplements, she flew to New York City so we could have an ol’ fashion slumber party in her hotel room.

In the fight for my life, these women have been on the frontline. Each of them, at one point in her life, has been in a romantic partnership with another woman. Because I had not gone public with my diagnosis, one of the friends who went to Sundance actually sent me an email to ask permission to tell her partner because her wife had a very strong relationship to powerful ancestors who answered her prayers. I have no doubt that she organized the prayer circle for me in Park City even when her primary reason for being at Sundance was to premiere and promote her own film. All this slander against LGBT people, painting them as ungodly, immoral and such, when from where I sit, they are the most spiritual and even prayerful folks I know.

This is not the first time I have written about being an appreciative ally. I am the first to say that heterosexual people especially women owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy. Ironic as it may seem, the boundaries queer people bend and bust at the risk of their own lives in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement for every time they push the envelope, they set a new “normal,” and it’s not even they who benefit the most for their courage. Rather it is those of us whose sexual identity is already validated.

While I admit now that this is an oversimplistic analogy, I liken it to how the presence of Malcolm X made the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. more palatable in a society where his ideas were already deemed radical. Same visions, different philosophies, both to the left of what was considered acceptable and therefore also dangerous and vulnerable to the status quo. They needed each other to survive long enough to make the impact that the rest of us, regardless of what we may believe, continue to enjoy today.

Perhaps I am stretching for meaning behind my receiving the news on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, but one thing remains true. For the longest time I have felt that in many ways I can choose to do with my life and body – have (a certain kind of) sex or not, get married or not, have children or not – because the authentic living of openly queer women make it more permissible for me to make choices that buck the heteronormativity that attempts to govern even my life as a straight woman. What I do or not and why or not is on me, no doubt. But I have more sexual choices that carry less negative repercussions because of their sacrifices as much if not more than any other freedom movement.

And so it is on this St. Valentine’s Day, the lapsed Catholic with breast cancer is reminded yet again in the most visceral way why supporting full equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people is not some noble feat of reneging her privilege. It is a radical act of self-preservation. In more ways than I can count, queer sisters keep saving me. Again, I am humbled, appreciative and grateful to new depths of my being. 

The day after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California affirmed the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8, I sat in a waiting room at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Cancer Center with my parents and a lesbian “sister from another mister.” She reminded me of the previous day’s historic significance. We slapped a high five, and I joked, “If these MFers can’t support marriage equality because they can’t see past their religious dogma that it’s the right thing to do, at least do it because it’s strategic. It’s good fiscal policy!”

“You know how many people would flock to get married?” my friend said. “How much money that would put into the economy?”

 “It’s a recession, yo,” I reminded no one. I reminded myself, however, how lucky I am. Here I face the biggest challenge of my life, and choosing to be on the right side of justice is proving to be one of the most brilliantly selfish things I ever did.

Sexy, Self-Conscious, Sanctified, Sassy & Single: Why I Married My Ph.D.

14 Nov

2011 has garnered a lot of conversations centering on the undesirability (hence un-marryability) of (professional) black women.  Black women have been fed unsolicited and unnecessary information about how to correct and prepare ourselves for our soulmate without giving us the credit due grown ass women who routinely (and effectively) handle our ish, look good doing it, and write home about it.  By mid-year I was already exhausted of the black woman dramas that were being written about (but not by) black women.  It was almost as traumatic as last year’s For Colored Girls

In response and in reaction to many of the speculations around black women and their experiences of being single, I began to write poetry excerpts, sometimes owning my feelings, sometimes distancing myself (as is evidenced by the first and third person techniques).  The following poem is featured in a recently published anthology, With This Ph.D., I Thee Wed: Experiences of Single African-American Women Professors.  I use the poem to think through my internal dialogues about single professionalism.  I am still thinking through…

Sexy, Self-Conscious, Sanctified, Sassy & Single: Why I Married My Ph.D.

sexy.

thirty years later

nakedness prevailed in dim lit rooms

smelling of sour musk and

dull like water,

she longed for silver touches

on her skin, violently brown and calm

and longing to be touched

after years of reckoning

she did not want to be another man’s invention

but rather his salvation

becoming whatever it was he wanted

in the moment, sacrificing herself

to be everything he needed

subsiding his aggression,

swallowing his wonder,

tracing his steps with her fingers.

she was not told about love

only the loneliness it left

and the possibility of scorn

and the vulnerability and visibility inherent in

nakedness

she was told

desperation is never sexy

self-conscious.

ness,

i lose consciousness

when faced with the self-awareness

that swallows me, cradling the duality of roles I play.

professor by day, woman by night.

but not superwoman

and not strongblackwoman,

just woman.

vulnerable and newly aware of childhood scars

and moles like mama on my face.

working these curves because it gives me more than attention,

but ambition,

and power.

because between these thighs is as much treasure as my brain,

and my heart beats strong for every wrong I ever made.

i am self-conscious of the image i see in the mirror facing me.

a seeming fraud, a scam artist

a black girl docta

holding all these damn credentials

in my hands

& a ringless second finger

pushing away doubt and doubters because I can do this, be this

sanctified.

she remembers

falling to her knees and praying loudly and silently at the same time.

loud enough for the people to hear her on the back pews

saying lines of scripture long memorized and silently begging God to hear her

this time,

save her from herself, this time,

& her ambitions,

& fierce independence,

her feminist, can-do-bad-by-her-damn-self self.

sassy.

seemed to my mother another word for acting grown,

womanish,

too big for my britches,

and she felt it her right and responsibility to wear me down,

or with switches harboring her own stifled sass,

wear me out

until I learned how to watch my mouth

but as I grew older,

sass,

kept my tongue sharp like a razor,

with words of fire rising in me,

words on fire forcing me to speak my mind and speak out about what I thought,

no longer under my breath in intimidation, but out loud and lyrical

in a take-it-or-leave it tone

and a take-me-or-leave-me way.

& so often I got left

quintessentially single

statistics startled me

from whitegirl fairytales

& my own flagrant fantasies

so I married me

a ph.d.

to stifle the possibility of loneliness

& it spoiled me with the possibilities & promises

of permanence and prominence

being enough

when stable arms were not there

my ph.d. sweet talked me like the man who never stayed

& the one who never showed up in the first place

this education thing is what mama promised me

what daddy left as a viable option

what the church ladies were so proud of

my ph.d. is not a substitute for a husband

but it is my destiny, my soulmate

the reason I changed my name

& everything I fought so hard for

this must be love.

AFTERTHOUGHT (later morning musings):  I think it is important that we learn how to celebrate ourselves both inside and outside of relationships–or perhaps see our relationship with ourselves as the most significant one we will ever have.  Loving myself intentionally has been the most difficult, yet necessary, feat of my life.  There were times, this year, when I questioned my successess, questioned my accomplishments, as if I had somehow done something wrong by “doing me” and prioritizing my life goals.  This would have been one of those moments when after reading an assanine assessment of why Black women are perpetually single I had a temporary lapse of individual judgment, and wondered, sometimes out loud and oftentimes to my friend girls, should I have not pursued my Ph.D.?  Should I have not devoted my twenties to self-improvement?  Should I have settled?  The answer is no, hell no, to all three questions.  I became a feminist during my pursuit of a Ph.D.  I became a feminist in my twenties.  Being a feminist urges me to never settle… for anything… less than I deserve/want/need.  So in many ways my Ph.D. was my salvation, my awakening, an irrevocable investment in myself and my consciousness.

So yeah, after having slept on it, I embrace my sexy, self-conscious, sanctified, sassy, single self!  You can call me Dr. SSSSS!

Close Kin & Distant Relatives: Some Thoughts on Family

3 Oct

Folks who know me know that I have family on the brain.  I am writing a book on family as theme in contemporary black women’s literature. Right now I’m also teaching a survey course on African American literature, with family as the guiding theme and this is not the first time I have done so.  Studying how folks write about family has been a major interest of mine since I was in college.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I am one of those people for whom their life’s work is, in some ways, a reflection of the anxieties at the center of their private lives. In other words, writing and teaching about family is like cheap therapy for me. It’s not so much that I talk about my own experiences in the classroom or in publications, but rather that some of the things I’ve experienced directly informs my intellectual work.

My family of origin has a lot going on. I have a brilliant, delightful, kooky mother who is a trip, and who I love fiercely. I have two older sisters that I am not particularly close to, a circumstance that I’ve struggled to accept.  I haven’t seen my father since I was five and am not sure if he’s dead or alive. I have scores of cousins scattered across the globe, most of whom I never see. Growing up as a latchkey kid with much older siblings, I often felt like an only child, for better or for worse.

I know that a lot of my thinking about transgressive iterations of family come from my own struggles with wanting a “normal” family as a kid.  Early on, I had to reject the notion that “blood is thicker than water.” By and large, that has not been true for me. Instead, I have had multiple caring, sustaining, and loving relationships with folks I met in school, at work, and just around the way and have come to recognize that these folks are my family.

Now while I would have appreciated having a responsible father or being closer to my biological sisters, I don’t have a narrative of lack in my life.  I am grateful for my mother, the first crunk feminist I’ve known. I’ve been blessed with brothers and sisters who have become the closet of kin to me, even if we aren’t technically related. These folk make me laugh, give me the space to cry, challenge my thinking, and call me on my shit. I just hope I am doing the same for them.

Sometimes we need a paradigm shift to really figure what’s best for us. For me, rethinking what it means to be in close kinship with folk who are not biologically related to me has been freeing, gratifying, and necessary. I literally do not know what I would do without my them.

I probably don’t say it enough, but I want to thank them, you, for being in my life and for loving me fiercely.

I love you, unapologetically.

We are, indeed, family.

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