Archive | March, 2011

How Chris Brown is Effing Up My Sex Life: A B-Side to Dating While Feminist

31 Mar

For the last month or so, I have been entertaining a new Friend.  This brother is cute, sensitive, ambitious, educated, knowledgeable, adventurous and funny. For these reasons and others, he could most definitely get it.

Sounds great, right? Yes. And then Chris Brown happened.  The day after the recent shamtabulousness occurred, I told Friend of  my intention to discuss the whole ridiculous chair-throwing incident with students who are taking my Hip Hop class.

Chris Brown w/ Blonde Hair

Photo Courtesy of GlamazonsBlog

Here’s a brief excerpt from our text conversation:

Me: I’m supposed to be preparing a lecture on Hip Hop: The Modern Era, Part I: 1992-1994. But in light of the C Breezy shenanigans I’m gonna lecture on gender politics instead.

Him: Breezy Bad Now

Me: He needs a therapist like yesterday!

Him: In his defense…ppl fuckin with him for no good reason

What?! [Red Flags Waving]

Me: Nobody fucked with him. Robin Roberts asked very reasonable questions and she cleared them with his team first. Asking about the past is not the same thing as dwelling on it.

Him: Hey….I’m just thinking stop mentioning it….he’s suffered enough tho

Me:  This is not about suffering. He beat that girl senselessly. He is nobody’s victim.

Him: Look. No one knows what happened in that car.

Him: Furthermore, it’s no one’s business.  Yeah he shouldn’t have beat her…but that was years ago now.

Him: It’s over…talk about the man’s album not past transgressions.

Me:  Domestic violence is our business. And clearly the past isn’t the past if dude destroys shit at the slightest provocation […]

Him: Let’s talk about Lindsay Lohan and how she can’t seem to put the bottle down. Or Charlie Sheen who can’t seem to put the pipe down.

Me: Re: Sheen, Lohan, and Hilton, all that you say is true. And yet racism is still not an excuse for bad behavior. That argument is the equivalent of blaming the man. Again it’s some bullshit.

Much more was said. But y’all get the gist.  Given that Friend and I have had conversations of this ilk before, I wasn’t entirely shocked that he would take this tack.  But I am wondering what this means in terms of my own gender politics and my own acute understanding of the personal as political.

The necessity of that question was driven home the next day as I broached the subject with my students. Disturbingly, all of my Black women students said almost exactly the same thing as Friend said—that the past was the past, that Robin Roberts goaded and pushed Chris, that we didn’t “know the whole story” with Rihanna.

I was/am livid, sad, and afraid for them.  These same students who were visibly disturbed at many of the misogynistic lyrics we’d listened to in class failed to see how their own belief that a black woman could ever do something worthy of violence was a complete contradiction.  Frankly, being mad that someone calls you a bitch or a ho, but not being mad that a dude beats a woman’s ass, seems to be an exercise in missing the point.

How do we change this thinking in our communities that a woman’s behavior is responsible for pushing a man over the edge? That she can ever do something to deserve to be beaten to a pulp? That a man has a right to a violent response simply because he doesn’t like the way he’s being talked to or treated? That violence is a legitimate response to being mistreated?  That any policy other than non-violence  (on all sides) is good for relationships? That men are out-of-control beings around whom we must tread on eggshells?

And if I ask my students to question their assumptions and to demand better treatment in their relationships, then what kinds of things must I demand in mine? And does that standard apply to all relationships, romantic and platonic?

Can you be a good feminist if you have intimate engagements with partners who have diametrically opposed gender politics?

In a post last year, I lamented the fact that I was meeting men who were rarely physically interested in me and who were always and only intrigued by my mind. Now I’ve met someone worthy of genuine interest, and my brain and my politics are getting in the way again.  But while last time, I was concerned that my brain occupied too much space in my romantic encounters, this time around I’m afraid to check it at the door.

And that is exactly what I would have to do to share my intimate space with someone who doesn’t get the politics of intimate partner violence.

Can I share intimate space with someone who thinks that asking questions about questionable actions is antagonistic?

If you think opinionated women are threatening, will you use intimate space to dominate and tame them?

To what extent is and should my sex life be political?

I mean should I withhold sex from dudes with sexist attitudes as an act of solidarity with my sisters?

It wouldn’t be the first time that Black women withheld sex from Black men in service of larger racial interests. After the Civil War, Black men (but not Black women) could vote for a few brief years. Back then, most Black folks voted Republican as they were the more liberal party at the time and the party of Abraham Lincoln. But there were times when some Black men determined to vote Democrat so they wouldn’t be the target of white racial backlash. In addition to accompanying their men to the polls to monitor their votes, Black women banded together and encouraged each other to withhold sex from any man who voted against the community’s interests. These sisters knew how personal the political was long before white women said it. They knew that when it comes to Black women’s quality of life, there is nothing more political or personal than the person we’re sleeping with.

In a culture where sisters are dying in alarming numbers from domestic violence, what responsibility do I have to them and to myself to choose intimate partners whose thinking and actions are sound on these matters?

Doesn’t the fact that Friend and I had a civil and honest dialogue that ended amicably count for something? And if so, what does it count for?  Honest dialogues are feminist right?

And since we’re being honest, I have some more questions:

How can I get next to you if I can’t get next to your politics?

How can I let you touch me if I wouldn’t touch your politics with a ten foot pole?

Can I feel safe in the softness of your touch if you don’t feel led to question a culture where other men routinely touch other women violently?

Can we really cuddle if you have the option to not care about women and violence?

Isn’t that choice, the choice to not care about how the world affects the woman you’re spending time with, a violent one?

How can I trust you to hold me when your beliefs hold me down?

Damn. Who knew politics were so intimate?

Fam, we’d love to hear how you’re grappling with these questions. Please share.

Inconceivable: Black Infertility

27 Mar

“Fish dreams signal pregnancy in my family.  The premonition, which was mostly my grandmother’s or another maternal figure, has been consistent and accurate for as long as I can remember.  All girl children were implicated by any dream that featured fish. . .” said CF Rboylorn, Fish Dreams and Fantasies: Contemplating Motherhood.

There have been no fish dreams for me. There is a stork-less stark reality that my 2-hour treks to an expensive specialist to be jacked open, probed, and drugged, and my regimented record keeping about peek ovulation, period flow, body temperature, and patterned intercourse over the course of two years might still result in the inconceivable:  infertility.

As a child, I did not crave a Cabbage Patch to cuddle when imagining a “play play” family with girlfriends.  I used my “play play” Barbie as a mannequin to model clothes made from remnants by my mother, who purchased my miniature sewing machine from a nearby Goodwill thrift store.  I learned how to sew before I learned how to cook. My mother and my aunties indulged my creativity by asking to hear my latest poems or to see my latest designs in my so-called fashion portfolio.  Most important, these womenfolk praised my elementary adoption of the closed-leg policy.  I learned I could garner the spotlight and count on their unconditional support if I evaded the cardinal sin of black girlhood: pregnancy.

Yearbook Photograph of Halloween Costume Contest

Early pregnancy seemed to be a dream-stealer.  The praise I received was always accompanied by a cautionary tale about one Future swaddled and later abandoned because of the immediate demands of motherhood.  I became so terrified of pregnancy that I developed anxiety at the very anticipation of holding a baby. To this day, I can count on one hand the number of babies that I have held in my lifetime. A junior high school yearbook photo from Halloween illustrates how I imagined pregnancy as horrifying (and somewhat humorous). Twenty years later, I am not only confronting prevailing cultural myths about black female hyperfertility and hypersexuality, I am also coming face-to-face with my childhood fears and my grown up fantasies.

“The possibility of having a baby scares me, but the impossibility scares me more,” said CF Rboylorn.

I escaped the social stigma surrounding urban teen pregnancy only to bump up against another one regarding Black female infertility at thirty. Uterine fibroids (or noncancerous tumors), endometriosis (characterized by tissue growing outside the uterus), and untreated diseases (tragically depicted in the film For Colored Girls) are medical conditions that adversely impact our reproductive health. Black women are less likely to receive an early diagnosis of infertility or seek medical treatment because of the escalating costs and powerful cultural myths.   Much of the public visibility and value ascribed to Black women is based on our perceived role as mother. Whether the endearing mammy celebrated in early forms of popular culture or the bad black mother (e.g., teen mother, crack mother, welfare queen) demonized in news media since the 1980s, she is still a mother.  To add, our very theories of womanism and black feminist thought use (other)mothering as frameworks to describe how black women engage with the world. These frameworks do provide broader understandings of mothering as a communal act, yet with so much meaning attached to motherhood, the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term can be a devastating and demoralizing experience for some Black women.

Image from The Broken Brown Egg: African American Infertility and Reproductive Health Awareness

It has been for me. I have experienced shame, anxiety, and depression. I did not seek support because I believed I could bear it, so says my inner strongblackwoman.  For a moment, I believed my infertility was spawned by my inability to perform perfect would-be motherhood—window shopping, name surfing, and publicly gooing over all-things-baby. For a moment, I convinced myself that my book—my professional baby—was undeliverable because of all of its imperfections. I convinced myself that I was unproductive. For a moment, I participated in the suffocating silence because I felt I had no permission to speak freely about my experiences—those tragic and triumphant.  I spent months alone with my bare feet cuffed inside icy metal stirrups, staring at one-too-many ultrasound monitors because I believed that time would be the time. It was only a month ago when I allowed two years of tears to wash over me during an 8-hour cry-fest with a girlfriend.  I released the pressure to conceive that was bottled inside me. It was a baptism of sorts. My sistahfriend lovingly sent me home with my grand mother, Yemaya, and these days I feel at peace on my path.  This week I will return to the cold white room with the monitor staring at me.  This time, however, I will fold into myself to imagine my own rebirth.

Infertility affects more than 7 million people.  For helpful information about infertility, reproductive health, and support networks in your community, please visit:

The American Fertility Association

The National Survey for Family Growth

Resolve: The National Infertility Association

The Broken Brown Egg Inc.

Black Women’s Health

In celebration of the CFC one-year anniversary, this post was generated as the “B” side to Fish Dreams and Fantasies: Contemplating Motherhood.

Art and War: Libya and Making Sense of it All

24 Mar

Yesterday night, after a long day at the office working on women’s health and reproductive justice. I settled in front of the computer with some tea and a determination to catch up on what’s happening in Libya, and what the arguments both for and against military intervention. I found a couple of very nuanced assessments that helped me get a handle on the situation.

An article in Jadaliyya makes the crucial point that, “The desire to act in solidarity with the Libyan people demands that we assess the available options against the core principle of legitimacy that any intervention must satisfy: do no harm (that is, do not do more harm on balance by intervening). The likelihood that any of the current proposals involving coercive intervention would satisfy this principle is severely constrained when evaluated against the historical record, logistical realities, and the incentives and interests of the states in a position to serve as the would-be external interveners.”  Please read the full piece here.

Additionally, yesterday Democracy Now! hosted Libyan poet, scholar and University of Michigan professor Khaled Mattawa, who supports U.S.-led intervention, and UCLA law professor Asli Bali, who says the U.S.-led coalition has ignored viable alternatives to military attacks. Their debate is sincere and each of these scholars makes critical points about the aims of the US military intervention and the alternatives in the face of a brutal dictator. Watch the segment here.

Then, as I kept reading and watching various news sources, I found that sleep was evasive and I needed something to help me make sense of all these competing political narratives. And that brings me, finally, to the point of this post: Art. I’ve always felt that art is so much more than singular acts of creative expression. It is analysis. It is energy. It is action. It is therapy. It fosters reflection and yes, it can change the world.

We know that laws are made by those who win the wars. Policies are made by those who can vote. But if we seek the voices of the disenfranchised and the marginalized, where do we look? We look to their art. More than anything I read about Libya, nothing reflected the turmoil I was feeling more than the following performance by Suheir Hammad, Palestinian-American poet, author and political activist.

In the comments, please share other sources on Libya as well as anything that is offering you sustenance during these times.

My Sister’s Keeper: A “B” Side for Cleveland, TX

17 Mar

Trigger Alert: The following is a meditation on sexual violence.

This piece is in response to my previous post, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me?”, in which I discussed my experiences as a survivor of child abuse.

Last year, I wrote a piece in which I declared myself a survivor of child abuse. That fact is something that not a whole lot of people know about me. I know that much of my dissemblance stems from a deeply cultivated sense of privacy, but I would be lying if I said that, even as an adult who knows I did nothing wrong, that there was no shame in my silence.[i] When I think about what happened, I sometimes hear a voice saying things like, “It was so long ago, you need to get over it” or “Compared to what others have been through, you can’t even complain” or worse.  And while I know this voice is full of shit, it’s still there.

Last year, CF Ashon wrote something in the comments that continues to resonate with me: “we live in a world that makes it difficult, if not shameful, for people who have been victimized to speak…” This phrase has come back to me a lot in the recent days, especially as I think about the gruesome events that have happened in the small town of Cleveland, TX.

If you have not already heard, a young Latina sister—only eleven years old—was gang raped by eighteen black men —yes, you read that correctly. Eighteen men. A New York Times article with some skewed reporting focused on the community’s bullshit response to this sister’s assault.  For example, a community member lamented that the alleged perpetrators “will live with this the rest of their lives.”

Sometimes I wonder what planet I’m living on. A child is raped and folks are up in arms about how her eighteen attackers will feel for the rest of their lives?! Jesus, take the wheel.

Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of victim blaming: claims that the girl said she was of age (side eye), that she dressed “provocatively” (side eye), that her mother was negligent (side eye). All of this ballyhooing about blame is obfuscating the issue, which is: a girl was raped. Period. There’s no excuse. I don’t want to hear it.

Although much mainstream coverage of this incident has been fairly bootleg, thankfully we have folks like Akiba Solomon and Denene Millner who bring both sense and compassion to this discussion. Solomon indicts the rape culture that sanctions this behavior, asserting:

“In this framework, girls of color are the predators, the fast-asses, the hot-asses, the hooker-hos, the groupie bitches, the trick-ass bitches, the bust-it-babies and the lil’ freaks who are willing to let dudes “run a train” on them.”

Solomon is right. Perpetrators get let off the hook because folks are quick to want to uphold patriarchy by talking about brothers who act a damn fool as victims. And, let’s not get it twisted; we all know that black men, in particular, have had a history of being charged with rape, and other offenses, when their only crime has been being black and alive.  I know this. But folks, we have cell phone footage and so on. Indeed, folks in the community don’t even deny that sexual activity occurred, but rather, in Solomon’s words, they are calling the incident “a case of consensual group sex gone wrong.”

This brings me back to Ashon’s comment about shame and silence. While I am absolutely sick about this and hope that the girl’s attackers are brought to justice, at this moment, I’m just as concerned about how this girl is doing right now. Reports state that she has been placed in foster care in another town because of threats to her family. (Sigh).

My concern is how is she getting up and facing the day. I suspect that this sister is being bombarded with a host of angry voices—internal and external—voices that question her morality, her sexuality, her intelligence, and her self-worth.

I wonder, is she being supported? Is she being held if she wants to be held or left alone when she needs space? Is she able to cry it out, talk it out, scream it out, draw it out, or dance it out?

If I could talk to this sister, I’d have a lot to say. But, first, I would listen to her.  She has been talked about, conjectured about, and, I suspect, lied on, but I’m not sure how much listening is happening. I’m pretty sure that I will not be able to do this, but I hope that this sister can discover a supportive and affirming community that will listen to her needs and help her heal. And I hope this happens sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, I know from experience that this sister from Cleveland, TX is not the only young girl out there dealing with sexual trauma from the hands of those closest to her. But there are things we can do besides shake our heads in collective disgust.

  1. We can continue to talk about it. I know the saying is that talk is cheap, but in the case of sexual violence, the silence is often overwhelming. Talking about these incidents, when possible, helps to illuminate the workings of rape culture.
  2. We need to listen. When folks admit to being survivors, we need to listen and not judge or shame them.
  3. We need to provide folks with information. Check out great resources like A Long Walk Home, No! The Rape Documentary, and Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, for starters.
  4. We need to help create counternarratives to the pervasive rape culture in our society that deems “running trains” and other sorts of sexual violence sites of masculine rites of passage.  This means radical deprogramming for men and women in our communities. I know this is no short order, but this is life or death kind of serious.
  5. We need to be accountable to one another. As in, yes, I am my sister’s keeper. When anyone experiences sex violence or violence of any kind, we should be outraged and ready for action. These are not hypothetical situations. These situations are happening every day.

This is just a short and by no means exhaustive list and there’s much work to be done.

So, let’s get to it.

[i] To be clear, I’m not making an equivocal statement about silence in all survivors of abuse and assault. I know that for some speaking out is neither desirable nor possible.


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,

Single, Saved, and Sewn-In: The Gospel of Getting Your Hair Done

10 Mar Sew in
* To celebrate our anniversary month, some of us are revisiting previous posts from the past year and reflecting on them. I have chosen to reflect on “Single, Saved and Sexin’: The Gospel of Getting Your Freak On” because it was one of our most popular posts. Crunkashell’s truth telling and well-written argument inspired me to think about another Biblical edict that has shaped my life. I hope this frees you too.                                                            Sew in
Unapologetically sewn-in.


Like most conservative, fundamentalist, literalist Christian folks, I grew up believing that getting your hair done was a sin—the only sin, in fact, that ever made God tell an angel to go to hell. For years, my grooming experiences were laden with guilt. I routinely went years at a time without getting my hair professionally done, until societal pressure would push me to give in to my urges. I couldn’t even enjoy all of the shocked faces at my high school prom because I just knew that if Jesus came back during the middle of a Luther song, I would burn in hell from the tips of my toes to the top of my perfectly coifed hair. I was caught in a continual cycle of high maintenance cuts, low maintenance care, trim, condition, rinse and repeat, topped off with five years of home hair care (if you can call what I did care). I treated hairstyling as if it were a bad habit that I desperately needed to break.



Is this the man of God who is supposed to be attracted to a woman whose head is a wreck? Or is he a sinner because he has dyed his hair, permed it, and drawn in his edges?

All of this is a prelude to a confession: I’m single. I’m saved (as in a born-again, my-name-is-on-the-list, goin-up-a-yonder Christian). And I have a sew-in. Unapologetically.

At my former church, I spent Saturday mornings (the time that many women spend in the hairdresser’s chair) with beautiful, dynamic, educated women whose heads were wrecks. We didn’t consider ourselves self-righteous; we were easy to be around and non-judgmental of each other. Together we prayed for the fallen sisters among us—the ones who missed a Saturday in sinful preparation for a Monday job interview. We also prayed for those who, in frustration, committed the most heinous sin of all: braids—the only hairstyle that the Bible explicitly denounces TWICE. We realized that they weren’t evil-hearted for their refusal to live by Christian standards: we prayed for an evil world that calls everyone to a standard of vanity that Paul and Peter both found appalling for women. More than anything, we prayed for the heterosexual men of God that our savior promised to send—men who would judge us by the content of our characters rather than the hair on our heads.

Juanita Bynum

Isn't she holy? Isn't she also fried, dyed and laid to the side?

When we were teenagers making non-vanity pledges, we couldn’t have guessed that these promises would have such an effect on our romantic lives 10-20 years later. In fact, according to our worldview, our (lack of) hairstyles wasn’t the problem; the problem was with the sinful men who were attracted to the very vanity that God despised—the men who preferred long hair, short hair, natural hair—any style at all. We were convinced that we were doing the right thing and the rest of the world, though beautiful by man’s standards, was wrong.

I still respect the sisters who believe that and I believe that we serve the same God; I just no longer believe in their ethics of care. It is hard to live and thrive in a world that you know is gawking at your head. It’s hard to take the Bible as the gospel truth when black women are already policed in this society that is built on the fact of our deplorability. Do black women get a pass on the Bible’s vanity clause when they live in a society that demands it? Were not Paul’s words written to a people for whom “get up and go” hair was not a cause for consternation? What should black women do with their hair when we can neither cut it, style it, perm it, or God forbid, braid it? And were our ancestors living in sin for the hundreds of years that nimble fingers weaved intricate braids in the heads of women and men? I cannot serve a God who would turn someone away from His heaven for a hairstyle.

Holy hair.

After all of these years, I’ve realized that the perfectly humble, holy hairstyle is not what I needed. I needed a bigger view of God.

For so many women, the biggest faith struggle is believing God for a male, heterosexual life partner. The women pray, serve, and refuse to apply makeup or comb their hair in hopes that God will send a spirit-filled, Word-educated man who was wildly attracted to their piety. Black women especially are attacked from both “the church” and “the world” about all the things we are doing that keep us single. The church says take off that makeup; men will think we are sex workers. The world, with the help of Queen Latifah, says we’d better not; men will think we are not nice or fun. The church says stay away from those demonic braids because they were a sign of sex work in Paul’s day. The world says get a sew-in—a style that requires braids—because real men dig Beyonce.  

God is bigger than our understanding of Him. I have learned the limitations of my previous belief in the inerrancy of a text. Words, like any sign, are infinitely interpretable. Trying to nail down the single truth of a sign is an attempt by man to control a world that has always been out of control. Running from the hairdresser’s chair in a fit of guilt when she’d only finished half my perm felt better than coming to terms with cancer’s attack on my family.  Walking the halls with my afro flat on one side made me feel righteous and important in a school that didn’t value us enough to give us new books. Shouting out of our hastily-done ponytails in church gave us joy in the face of the poverty we faced all week long. There are so many things that we cannot control; refusing to change my hair does not change this fact. It only blinds me to world-problems that I’d probably have the confidence to effect if I weren’t so caught up on this head of mine.

So hairstyling is back on the table for me. I have a sew-in. It’s luxurious. Underneath my sewn-in hair is a set of braids that would make my former Sunday School teacher speak in tongues. When my stylist patiently parted my tangled hair and gently braided it close to my scalp (but not too tight), I fell in love with her and refused to feel bad about it. My sew-in hides the sin of my braids, but one day I will feel bold enough to rock a fro-hawk or some other style that shows the extent to which I have “back-slid.” And that’s ok. I believe in a God who will love me anyhow.

That’s why I’m unapologetically single, saved, and sewn-in.

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