Tag Archives: Whitney Houston

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.

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.

whitney: an attempt at tribute.

12 Feb

RIP Whitney Houston

i’m still in utter and complete shock regarding whitney houston. floored. very saddened. i left church this morning with some seething hope that i’d hear “it was an internet rumor” or a hoax or something. the weird thing is, my parents didn’t allow my brother and i to listen to “secular” music growing up and whitney was no exception. but as i heard of her passing last night, i teared up a bit. i began to think that even with the injunction against non-gospel music, i somehow still knew most of whitney’s songs, even when i was very young. her music made its way into school shows, everyone sang about children being the future, wanting to let them lead the way. everyone belted “and iiiii will always love you!”

but it was when she remade chaka’s “i’m every woman” that i got in trouble — a lot of trouble — for singing the song in my junior high school hallways. see, i must’ve been too flamboyant when i was 12 years old but i distinctly remember being reprimanded by my science teacher in front of the entire class when she said to me, without a hint of humor, “you’ve got some really feminine ways about you. if you don’t stop acting like that, people will think you’re gay” and she went along and finished her lesson or whatever. funny how some moments become etched in your mind.

i became not a little bit careful and surveilled myself with the hopes of repressing as much of those “feminine ways” as possible. but not knowing the grounds upon which my teacher made such a declaration, i was fighting a losing battle. anything i did i’m sure could have been construed to be in the “feminine” kind of “way.” and so it was that one day, after watching BET videos — likely video soul – i found myself in love with this “new song” called “i’m every woman.” and so it was that i’d sing this new song in the hallways of my junior high school: loudly, with much excitement and not a little bit of irony. but it just so happened that my science teacher’s attempt at public shaming gave others the license they needed to participate in a similar surveilling of my activities.

and so it was that a friend of mine [i will, of course, never forget who it was] said to me in the middle of a line, “ooooh, imma tell ms. burke! you actin like a girl!” and could not wait to return to the classroom to tell her that, indeed, “ashon was singing a girl song!” my teacher looked at me with not a little bit of disdain but also a hint of pleasure, “what did i tell you about that? people are gonna think you’re gay.” and that was that. it was an odd moment where the performance of gender, sexuality and song came together for me, even in a derogatory way. i’d been called a “faggot” in church for singing soprano but those school scenes — with classmates and teacher — seemed different. my voice was changing, puberty had already set in. so it wasn’t my voice that was the culprit. it was something other. of course, i still love, and sing, the song … whitney’s version of the song. but not again until after a very long period of waiting.

i found, with singing some non-gospel song, that the relationship between queerness and song that worried me since before puberty began was not relegated to the church … but that the performance of someone like whitney could also tattle. a choice had to be made: to continue to listen to her background ubiquity with pleasure, to sing anyway; or to stop, become quiet, and withdrawn. i chose the latter for a very long while because i could not untangle my sense of erotic, libidinal difference from such songs — sacred or secular. but in the background, in the underground, underneath, all this music still moved me. and moves me still.

whitney was just always there, always in the background singing clearly. for me, and with her performance of “i’m every woman,” she was an underground soundtrack for how performance pronounced all kinds of queer things about you, libidinal excesses. and her voice was always celebrated: they named a school after her in east orange, she continued to visit her church in newark, my high school prom date sang background for whitney all of the time. last night, it hit me: i share in all of these tangential connections to her work, to her voice. and i realized last night, as i was struck with the desire to cry, that whitney’s voice, her unabashed tone and clarity, her playfulness and depth of character created a performative space for me to be … whatever that being was and was becoming. like nina simone stated about the song “feelings” at the montreaux jazz festival, similarly, i am not mad at whitney making contemporary for me a “girl song” that i could sing … rather, i am mad at the conditions [all those institutional -isms] that produce the necessity and demand upon my science teacher to respond to my singing whitney – to singing a presumedly “girl song” in a decidedly “heterosexist land” — with such dismissal and chagrin.

because i realize: in me is every woman’s voice that has come before me, their life, their breath, their force, their vitality. the love of my mother and grandmothers is all in me. every woman is in every child ever born, a materiality of the refusal of alienation. black folks know something about an injunction of having to “follow the status of the mother” … but though the imposition was through a horrific condition, we celebrate the mother anyway. because it’s right. every woman. in all. each of us.

so i’m just sad. thank you, whitney, for your life.

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