Archive | May, 2011

These Days I Hate Going to the Gynecologist

30 May

Oftentimes women complain that they hate going to the gynecologist because they don’t like the procedures.   Sometimes it is likened to going to the dentist but more uncomfortable and personal.  I can’t say that my reasons are related to the procedures.  In fact, what makes me most uncomfortable about the speculum is the historical exploitation of black women whose bodies were violated as subjects in the development of this tool.

I also cannot say that I dislike the intimate discussions about my personal life and habits.  Ideally this space should be like going to a mental health therapist where I would have an opportunity to learn about my body, my habits, and my emotional well-being without feeling less than or abnormal.  Unfortunately this is not what happens.

Why do I have such idealistic notions regarding the possibilities of a gynecological visit, you might ask?  Well I have had phenomenal experiences early in my life that suggest that my ideas about gynecological safe spaces could be the norm.  I want to take a quick moment to shout out three good experiences out of numerous horrific encounters.  Nurse Fuqua at Spelman College Health Center, a black woman who taught me to feel powerful as a sexual being and to be cautious.  Dr. Martin Dukes, a retired black male doctor who always made sure to have another person present and was deliberate about making me as comfortable as possible in the exam room.  The Feminist Women’s Health Clinic in Atlanta has been a “breath of fresh air.”  I engaged in real-talk with the white female nurse practitioner (whose name I cannot remember) and was treated like a grown up worthy of dialogue and not health-insurance-speak.  Unfortunately I the FWHC cannot function as my primary health provider.

The Feminist Women's Health Center Logo

So I have told you the good, now here are three ridiculous scenarios I have experienced myself and one disturbing story I have been told by many friends, who are black women.

1.  Most recently I went to a gynecologist at a clinic and the black female doctor was so extremely rude and rough that I literally left in pain and with an unhealthy fear of returning.  When I came back to get test results I brought a friend, who at one point actually asked the doctor to leave the room.  I wanted to do violence, and those who know me know that is out of character.

2.  In 2009 I went to black female doctor and during my examination I requested an AIDS test, and she replied, “but aren’t you married.” (Strike one, two, and three–you cannot be my doctor).

3.  In 2008 I was having pain in my uterine area and was going to “holistic” black female doctor who gave me an ultrasound which indicated that my ovary was attached to my uterine wall.  Even though the pain was on the opposite side of my uterus she suggested outpatient surgery.  The background story is that she had identified that my estrogen levels were high and that I drank soymilk regularly.  It turned out nothing was wrong, I stopped drinking soymilk and the pain went away instantly, and realistically as second ultrasound (which is cheaper and less invasive) would have revealed that my ovary was not attached to my wall.  Needless to say that was my last visit there.

4.  Over the past few years I have been having this discussion about finding a good gynecologist.  I am very disturbed that one of the main reasons why many women I know indicate that they stopped going to the gynecologist altogether is because they would go for an annual exam and get a lecture on weight loss and BMI.  Now it is one thing for a doctor to have a holistic discussion about healthy bodies.  It is something totally different to peddle weight loss programs and pharmaceutical drugs in a gynecological space, especially if it has no bearing on the concerns that bring women into the space.

What am I looking for in a gynecological relationship?

1.  Access–I don’t want to wait 6 months to see my doctor about a yeast infection.

2.  Dialogue–I need them to respect me enough to give me non-scripted explanations provided by pharmaceutical and insurance companies.  I want to know why you are asking particular questions about recreational drug use and how that is related to my uterine health.

3.  Be gentle and kind–Recognize that internal investigations and treatments are intimate and have emotional costs.

4.  Be supportive–If I am in good health, don’t target me for weight loss products and leave my body esteem intact.

5.  Respect me–If I have particular concerns address them to the best of your ability and refer me to someone else if you cannot.  Furthermore, don’t require me to fit into a normalized lifestyle to receive excellent care, know your craft and treat me as an individual.

As you can see, I have a commitment to supporting black female and women-of-color doctors, but honestly my best experiences have been with female nurse practitioners.  It is not my intent to suggest that black female doctors are not good gynecologists, my experiences suggest this but I simply refuse to believe it. Ultimately, I want to open up some dialogue about the right to have good gynecological experiences.  What are some of your good/bad/ugly stories?  What are you looking for?  What have you found?

SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls

23 May

Courtesy of Indybay.org

Today, we had initially planned to bring you a review of the new groundbreaking book Hey Shorty: A Guide to Combatting Sexual Harassment in Schools and on the Streets. And you can read it here. But in light of the SlutWalk movement that broke out in Toronto earlier this year and the embrace of the movement in U.S. feminist mainstream over the last few months, I would like to add a few more thoughts to the discussion, in light of recent and much-needed calls on the part of feminists of color for a much more critical race critique in the SlutWalk movement.

SlutWalk Toronto started as an activist response to the ill-informed, misguided words of a Toronto police officer who suggested that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Women in Toronto were enraged and rightfully so, and SlutWalks have become a way to dramatize the utter ignorance and danger of the officer’s statements. And on that note, I fucks very hard with the concept and with the response, which is creative, appropriate, and powerful.

What gives me pause is the claim in SlutWalk Toronto’s mission statement of sorts that because they are are “tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result,” they are reclaiming and reappropriating the word “slut.”  Um, no thank you?

Here’s the source of my ambivalence: as I read the mission statement, I was struck by the righteous indignation these women had over being called slut. While that indignation is absolutely warranted, it also feels on a visceral level as though it comes from women who are in fact not used to being fully defined by negative sexual referents.

Perhaps my cynicism reflects my own experience as a Black woman of the Hip Hop Generation in the U.S., or a Black woman who’s a member of the Western World period. It goes without saying that Black women have always been understood to be lascivious, hypersexed, and always ready and willing. When I think of the daily assaults I hear in the form of copious incantations of “bitch” and “ho” in Hip Hop music directed at Black women,  it’s hard to not feel a bit incensed at the “how-dare-you-quality” of the SlutWalk protests, which feel very much like the protests of privileged white girls who still have an expectation that the world will treat them with dignity and respect. 

The first activist response I ever heard to such mistreatment was Queen Latifah’s 1993 Grammy-winning song, U.N.I.T.Y.

It energized a community and opened a space for much needed conversation. But sisters did not line up to go on  symbolic, collective ho strolls. And for good, and I think, obvious reasons.

So maybe the best way to deal with the debates about re-appropriating the term “slut” is the way I deal with the whole n-word debate. As a Black person, who occasionally uses the n-word (with an ‘a’ on the end), I am admittedly ambivalent about whether or not the use of the term among Black people really does constitute a reappropriation. I’ve heard and read most of the arguments, and I remain…ambivalent but generally think the word is unproductive. That said, I balk at older Black folks who act as though the Hip Hop Generation are the first Black people to toss the word around. Read any 19th century Black literature and you’ll know different. What I’m clear about, however, is that to use or not to use is a decision that  lies solely within Black communities. White people simply don’t get a say; the word is off-limits to them. Black folks have surely won the right, long held by white folks, to struggle and determine amongst ourselves how we will refer to and define ourselves. Period.

For me, so it is with the word slut. It is off-limits to me. But for those who have been shamed, and disciplined, and violently abused on the basis of its usage, they have the prerogative to determine whether to reclaim or not to. As a word used to  shame white women who do not conform to morally conservative norms about chaste sexuality, the term very much reflects white women’s specific struggles around sexuality and abuse. Although plenty of Black women have been called “slut,” I believe Black women’s histories are different, in that Black female sexuality has always been understood from without to be deviant, hyper, and excessive. Therefore, the word slut has not been used to discipline (shame) us into chaste moral categories, as we have largely been understood to be unable to practice “normal” and “chaste” sexuality anyway.

But perhaps, we have come to a point in feminist movement-building where we need to acknowledge that differing histories necessitate differing strategies. This is why I’m somewhat ambivalent about accusing my white sistren of being racist. If your history is one of having your sexuality regulated by the use of the term “slut” for disciplinary purposes, then SlutWalk is an effective answer.

What becomes an issue is those white women and liberal feminist women of color who argue that “slut” is a universal category of female experience, irrespective of race. I recognize that there are many women of color who are participating in the SW movement, and I support those sisters who do, particularly women who are doing it in solidarity and coalition. But rather than forcing white women to get on the diversity train with regard to the inclusivity of SlutWalk, perhaps we need to redirect our racial vigilance. By that I mean, I’d prefer that white women acknowledge that they are in fact organizing around a problematic use of terminology endemic to white communities and cultures

In doing so, this would force an acknowledgement that the experience of womanhood being defended here–that of white women– is not universal, but is under attack and worthy of being defended, all the same.

Perhaps, also, if white women could recognize SlutWalk as being rooted in white female experience, it would provide an opportunity for them to participate in coalition and solidarity with similar movements that are inclusive and reflective of the experiences of women of color.

One example is the Stop Street Harassment movement– a multiracial movement that has led to “Stop Street Harassment” campaigns throughout the U.S. and abroad. It is that movement which is the subject of Hey Shorty!  This movement, too, works from the premise that streets and schools should be safe for women, but it recognizes that challenges to that safety while similar in some respects, can differ across race and class. And as I said, earlier, different histories necessitate different strategies. In that regard, I don’t think sisters will be lining up to go on a symbolic “Ho Stroll” anytime soon.

We’d like to hear from you. What are your feelings on these two movements and the connections and divergences between each?

Making Schools and Streets Safer for Girls

23 May

Hey, Shorty!

We are excited to bring you this guest post from journalist and friend of the CFC Elizabeth Mendez Berry!

It is hard to envision a school without sexual harassment. However, if one existed, I imagine it would be a place where kids can excel as students instead of having to worry about what is going to be said or done to them the next time they go in the hallway.” – Kai, student organizer, quoted in Hey Shorty

“So the dean says [you] know how young men think and [you’re] at fault for wearing an outfit that provoked that sort of attention, [you] should have known better, so he can’t do anything about it.”- Ariel, student organizer, quoted in Hey Shorty.

Schools are supposed to be safe spaces for learning, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For many girls and LGBTQ youth in New York City, sexual harassment inside and outside schools makes sidewalks, hallways, playgrounds and stairwells intimidating. A few weeks ago, I met with a group of teen girls at a Manhattan after school program, and I heard harrowing stories of harassment by their peers and older men, some of whom loiter outside schools waiting for children to emerge in order to flash or harass them. Several of the girls I spoke with had been followed home or physically grabbed by men or boys.

So what can we do about it? Hey Shorty: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets offers a comprehensive strategy. Written by members of the Brooklyn-based group Girls for Gender Equity, it chronicles a girls of color-led campaign against harassment, focusing on New York City schools; girls who led the campaign had been harassed on school property by their fellow students and even teachers.

These girls’ work is a potent example of youth activism: they successfully raised awareness about an issue that has too often gone ignored. The girls surveyed thousands of their fellow students around the city about sexual harassment. According to their research, “sexual teasing, ogling and touching is ubiquitous enough that [students] think these types of behavior are a normal part of everyday school experience.” In collaboration with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the girls made a  documentary about harassment.

The young women and the Girls for Gender Equity team tried to get the Department of Education to do something about it, because, it turns out, the D.O.E. is legally required to. 

I’d always heard about 1972’s Title IX legislation in the context of athletics (thanks to Patsy Mink of Hawaii— first woman of color in Congress– for authoring the legislation), but it also protects students against sexual harassment. Read this book and you will feel the group’s frustration at finding out that in New York, Title IX coordinators—required by law— are M.I.A.

In my own research,I’ve been struck by how frequently young girls are harassed on their way to school— New York city councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who organized the country’s first ever hearing on street harassment of women and girls last October, heard from girls in her district who were being explicitly catcalled as they walked past a construction site on their way to class.

But despite all that attention to what happens on the sidewalk, I didn’t know much about what happens once girls arrive at school. According to Hey Shorty, school is no sanctuary. 

We need to take action to make the streets and schools safer for our girls (and for everyone else). Hey Shortyoffers a detailed blueprint for how to do it, by empowering young people to take leadership on this issue and supporting them to develop effective strategies. But as you’ll see, despite all their hard work, these young women and their allies were not able to make the D.O.E. enforce policies that have existed for decades to protect students. We must raise awareness of this issue, and of the leadership these young women have taken, so next time the D.O.E. can’t ignore them as easily. These girls had incredible successes, but they can’t do it alone. 

Please support Hey Shorty and Girls for Gender Equity.

For more on sexual harassment in schools, visit the National Women’s Law Center.

The Ugly Truth: Today’s Psychologies of Racism and Sexism

17 May

By now, most of you have heard of the blog article that appeared in yesterday’s issue of Psychology Today asserting that Black women are objectively less attractive than women of all other races. The piece was removed after a bad attempt at re-titling it, but here’s a repost.

Here’s a truth: Objectivity is the originary creation myth of science.

But that’s not what this post is about. 

I want to make three very brief observations about this so-called “study” published in Psychology Today.

First, in addition to making disturbing pronouncements about the lack of intelligence of Black people as a whole, Satoshi Kanazawa, the “study’s” author concluded that while Black women were in “fact” less attractive than all other groups, we subjectively believed ourselves to be more attractive than any other race of women. So the study argues that we are a culture of mentally impoverished, delusional womenfolk, who have an aversion to fact. Meanwhile, the pseudoscience of this study, in perpetuating the notion that Blacks are not only mentally inferior but mentally unwell, offers conclusions that are  wholly and regrettably ableist.

Kanazawa goes on to perpetuate the biologically determinist, essentialist fiction that there are significant genetic differences between the races:

“There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive.”

And this leads to the second observation: this particular pronouncement not only pivots upon pure lies, but is also a not-so-subtle attempt to perpetuate the gender wars between Black men and women, and I hope thinking brothers don’t fall for it. And even better, I hope they view this as an opportunity to stand for and with Black women, without re-centering the racial narrative on themselves. For once, racist pseudoscience seems to be working in Black men’s favor, although I suspect that these notions of Black male objective beauty pivot upon their own set of problematic cultural fetishizing of the Black male body.

The entire point of this study is that Black women’s “objective ugliness” can be determined by genetics, and because this is clearly a conclusion searching for facts, the author locates the culprit in testosterone. He argues that Black women have more testosterone than other women, which makes our bodies more masculine and therefore less attractive. In addition to offering a biological basis for the Sapphire myth of the emasculating, angry, aggressive Black woman, Kanazawa’s pronouncements remind me of the same 1850s era gender beliefs that had Sojourner Truth bearing her breasts to prove she was indeed a woman.

And this brings me to the third and final point: the failure to consider the ways in which these pronouncements impact transwomen makes this study an exercise in transphobia as well.

Let me, however, be honest in saying that this study did not merely make me angry. It also hurt my feelings. These continual daily assaults on the bodies and minds of Black women do take a toll, psychically and physically. There is a very real reason why Black women quoting Sister Fannie, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Our bodies have so little value in American society that magazines, media, musicians, Black film directors and romantic advice gurus, and any other post-moral opportunists have no problem waging an all out cultural assault on our intelligence, achievements, feelings, or bodies to sell the product their selling.  This ridiculousness reaffirms the very real need for Black women to have a committed regimen of self-care. 

And on that note, I am now resuming my vacation.

To support the cause, please sign this petition calling for editorial acccountability at Psychology Today over at Change.Org.

And for additional excellent coverage of the response to this debacle, check out

Akiba Solomon’s piece at ColorLines here and

Latoya Peterson’s piece at Racialicious here.

It Gets Wetter: A Message to Women Who Frequently Have Horrible, Rushed Sex (NSFW)

16 May Water

Here’s a bold truth: I don’t enjoy penetration of any kind unless I’m wet enough to drown a dolphin. And this truth wouldn’t be a problem if sex weren’t always about penetration. One sex therapist put it best when she said, “If most women don’t have orgasms during ‘sex,’ but do have orgasms, perhaps we need to redefine sex.” Amen and Ashé.

With a redefinition that includes pleasurable, intimate touch, kissing and best of all (for me, anyway) cunnilingus, I realize that I had some of my best sex as a teenager. He was Pentecostal and I was a Baptist youth leader. We were both convinced that sex before marriage was wrong and equally convinced that only penetration was sex.  It was a sultry, sticky summer full of questions that began with “Do you like?” Sex was a lazy journey without a clear destination.

I was soon to learn all about the danger of clarity in a patriarchal society. Since then, sex for me has been a series of negotiations. I know there will usually be a moment when a male partner is ready for penetration and often, that is before I’m ready/ comfortable/ wet / aroused enough. If sex were not a personal expression of political power, these moments would be no more than awkward. It would be like leaning in for a hug first only to find that the other person was disinterested. The problem is that men in a patriarchy are socialized to “lean in” first– always. And those who are not conscious enough to interrogate this socialization begin to believe that leaning in is their right, their privilege. So awkward moments can become coercion, assault, or rape.  Or just horrible sex. But you know that already.

What you may not know is that with time, the right partner, patience and negotiation, it gets wetter. Believe you me.

 So I’d like to start with cunnilingus because, well, I like to start with cunnilingus. It’s a beautiful thing. Direct and indirect clitoral stimulation work together to flood sheets and help you ride the waves of multiple orgasms. A recent study found that there are only 29 people in America who sleep with women but don’t perform cunnilingus and only 11 of those expect to receive fellatio or cunnilingus but think cunnilingus should be reserved for “wifey.” Unfortunately, those 11 get around quite often. My girlfriends keep running into them. I believe that we should start a website to identify these people and block them from hookup or relationship radar.

There are a lot of songs about performing cunnilingus . In fact, the subject has been exhausted with various degrees of tact. The point I’d like to make is that the word “perform” is a misnomer that puts undue pressure on a partner. Unless you are into experimental, interactive theater, performance has connotations of independent expertise. In my experience, cunnilingus is best (especially at first) with a little direction. Those who consider themselves experts can suck you silly or lick you dry if what they’re putting down doesn’t work for your particular pubis.

About that pubis: the porn industry, Zane novels and other forms of sex miseducation would have you believe that a woman can be reduced to her orifices- that these are her only sites of pleasure. My dissertation will be about how the soft skin behind the knee is ignored in popular culture. Or the lost art of booty massage. Or the treatment of the vagina as a cavernous hole that brings pleasure to men or children to the world. Most vagina diagrams show the outer vagina only, leaving the inner workings a mystery.

Outer VAgina

See that small black hole? It's so much more.

I never had a vaginal orgasm until I read this book and saw a diagram of my beautiful vagina, full of nerve endings I never knew existed.

Vagina/ inner

Check out how big your clitoris really is.

When I saw how long the clitoris actually was, I was able to imagine the spongy tissue as I engaged in solo or partnered sex acts. Visualization helped me attach sensation to specific body parts. It was a life changer and I was angry about the years I spent not knowing. Imagine if men were taught that the only way they could achieve orgasm was by massaging the very tips of their penises. You’re right. It wouldn’t happen.

I invite you to study your sexual self. She’s beautiful. Draw her. Paint her (Judy Chicago=FAIL). Write poems to her. She deserves some personalized attention in this world that is hell-bent on her exploitation and commoditization.

I write these things and run the risk of being called crass, hypersexual, or just plain strange because I love you. I want you to know that life can and will be wetter for you. I want you to name it and claim it. I want you to receive this word I have for you. With time, your eyes will roll. Your thighs will spasm uncontrollably. Your pupils will dilate. Your very core will shake like the walls of Jericho when you believe. It will get wetter.

From the other side,

Ashaf

10 Crunk Things for Spring: Watch, Read, Listen, Support

12 May

We are more convinced than ever that the fiercest and most progressive communities for women of color have migrated online. We have collectively compiled a top 10 list of folks whose music, webshows, web communities, magazines and causes you should know about and support. We think they will inspire your spirit, make you laugh, and make you bob your head.

Check It:

1. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl – This web show is hilarious, diverse, and quirky; it shows another multi-layered dimension of Black female experience. For that and for the beautifully comic mind of its creator Issa Rae, we are grateful.

2. Clutch Magazine — With its weekly serving of diverse features, news, fashion, and celeb gossip, Clutch is like the feminist Essence. The writing is good, the topics are interesting and provocative, and the vibe is fresh.

3. Mambu Badu Magazine — This digital photography mag grew out of a twitter conversation between three 20-something sisters; the first issue on “Memory” is visually stunning and showcases the diversity of Black art.

4.Fresh, Bold, & So Def: Women in Hip Hop Changing the Game — this book and its tumblr site point the way toward the vibrant community of women in Hip Hop. On the tumblr site, you can order the book and see a new profile each day of a woman changing the game in Hip Hop culture. And big ups to CF Rachel Raimist, one of the project’s editors.

5. Allied Media Conference/Shawty Got Skillz Workshop — In order to make cyberspace the inviting place it is for women of color, folks gotta have skillz. And one place to get those skills is the awesome Allied Media Conference that happens in Detroit each June. Please support the skillsharers of 3rd annual Incite! Shawty Got SkillzWorkshop–”a group of cis women, genderqueer and trans* people of color making media that directly mingles our personal lives with the political issues we care about. We believe, as Audre Lorde did, that ‘it is better to speak, knowing we were never meant to survive.’” Big ups to CF Moya, one of the organizers and skillzsharers.

6. Imani Uzuri/The Gypsy Diaries–If you want to hear good music, from a sister warrior feminist poet artist who can “sang!”,  check out Imani Uzuri. She has worked with a who’s who in contemporary music, some of which you can see and listen to, on her KickStarter site for her upcoming project The Gypsy Diaries. While you’re there, show Imani some love by becoming a backer of her KickStarter campaign.

7. The Lost Bois — If you wanna hear good, progressive Hip Hop music, check out these rising stars that are bringing the heat and showing us that queer Hip Hop is where it’s at…Find out more on their kickstarter site, and while you’re there consider becoming a backer for their first full length album.

8. VoiceMaleMagazine – this pro-feminist online men’s magazines features a range of conversations about how men are attempting to redefine masculinity in progressive, productive and diverse ways.

9. Homegirl.TV– Founder Sofia Quintero, an early friend and feminist big sister of the CFC, bills this webseries and online social network as the online slumber party. The premier episode“Should I put my boyfriend on my cellphone plan?” was hilarious and insightful.

10. Ask Arielle Loren — Who says Black feminists aren’t pro-sex? In service of the sex-positive revolution, we are checking heavily for the webcasts of Arielle Loren, who offers feminist advice on sex on her regular web show. She’s also hard at work on a documentary called “Bideology,” which chronicles the experiences of straight women who date bisexual men, which will be released during Pride Week, June 18-26, 2011.

***

And for more pro-sex feminism, we’ll toss this one in for free.

Musings on (the day after) Mother’s Day

9 May

Black baby nurse Gina, holds baby Bryn as Mother Bethenny strokes Bryn's hair.

Happy Mother’s Day to CF’s Asha, Sheri, Rachel, Whitney & Chanel! Happy Mother’s Day to all Mamas!

As a graduate student, with a penchant for procrastination, I watch a lot of reality TV.  In particular, I watch a lot of shows on Bravo that point out the hardships of being rich, white, and woman in a world made for their husbands rich white men. Some of these women are mothers and in light of yesterday’s really awesome holiday turned commercialized grossness, I thought I’d muse on motherhood as represented in these shows.

I’m particularly fond of Bethenny Getting Married now Bethenny Ever After, a show featuring Bethenny Hoppy, a new mother of one.  In one episode she and her recently wed husband discussed childrearing over dinner and her eight month pregnant stomach. They admitted that neither of them had baby sat before nor ever really been around an infant for any length of time. They laughed it off and continued to enjoy their Honeymoon in St. Bart’s.

Fast forward to the baby’s impending arrival; they have a friend introduce them to a baby nurse, a black woman from a different island frequented by American tourists. Gina (who doesn’t even have a cast bio on the show’s website btw) teaches them everything, from how to put in a car seat to changing dirty diapers.  And even with all the help Gina provides, she’s portrayed as trying to get over on them by slacking on the job. Yes, their live-in black nanny who taught them to parent, isn’t a morning person and likes to sleep in. In Bethany’s tongue and cheek words, “[they] work for her.”  A similar joke appeared on NBC’s 30 Rock in which character Jack Donaghy felt he had been out negotiated by his nanny (also a black Caribbean woman)and duped into allowing her to keep her salary. I watch way too much TV.

On the new Bravo show Pregnant in Heels, rich, pregnant, mostly white women consult with self proclaimed baby expert Rosie Pope about all their pregnancy and post partum questions. Many of the women have little to no parenting experience. One mother with a baby due in weeks had never held an infant. Without hired help (and something tells me Rosie is pulling in more than immigrant women of color nannies), these mothers would be unable to complete basic parenting tasks. Yet there’s no stigma attached to their lack of knowledge. The Department of Family and Child Services is not knocking on their doors demanding their children be removed from the home. Young, poor, women of color get their children taking away and are demonized for parenting which is negotiated with far fewer resources. These shows expose the reality of parenting with privilege.

There’s an irony here that has afflicted black and brown women since this country’s illegal founding. Black and brown women are continually disparaged for not being good mothers yet are constantly roped in to taking care of white women’s children, often as a means to try and financially support their own families. Even as they are paid chump change in relation to their employer’s incomes, they are still regarded as con artists scamming altruistic white folks.

These shows illustrate the need for support networks beyond a nuclear family. Even in two parent households, the amount of labor childrearing requires often exceeds what  a mom and dad can hold. That support should be standard and not only accessible to those with financial means and traditional family structures. Take note #NWNWWouldn’t it make sense to have more people trained and prepared to take on these care taking tasks before there’s an actual pregnancy? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we actually supported parents in child rearing as opposed to expecting them to do it all themselves? With news of the amazing sociological project by high school student Gaby Rodriguez and the lovely video circulating giving love to young mamas, the conventional script of women of color mothering is being interrupted but we still have so far to go.

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

9 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need Each Other to Survive: On Recovery and Reclamation

5 May 225860_10150167186957843_590167842_7008846_7669280_n


Last Wednesday, I literally felt like I raced time leaving the city of Tuscaloosa, AL about 45 minutes before the deadly tornado that ripped my neighborhood to shreds, destroying lives, and schools, and property along the way. I was on my way to the Birmingham airport to catch a flight out to the Black Women’s Intellectual History Conference at Columbia, an event I had been anticipating for more than 6 months. The conference gave me life and renewed my sense of purpose and community profoundly, as I knew it would. I needed to be there. And I am so glad to have been in that room with sisters whose work and presence made me make sense to myself.

But I had the profound sense, as I sat in a hotel room in Harlem, convened with smart sister intellectual-poet-activists in a room at Faculty House at Columbia, and broke bread in various locales in Morningside Heights, that in just a few days I would confront the kind of destruction that simply defies the senses. I thought about how it would feel to come back to a place where the physical landscape and the lives of people had been so violently altered, so very quickly.  I thought of my students and friends. And I dreaded seeing what my neighborhood would look like.

Even anticipating all this, I left Columbia on a kind of high. The high that comes from being among a people who understand what it means to be in that kind of space together, having been brought there by a context of struggle and pain, and joy and triumph. For Black women celebrating and thinking about the lives of other Black women who have come and gone certainly have their share of struggle and pain and triumph and joy to thank for bringing us together.

I returned home to find that my apartment escaped unscathed, my broader community another story. After only two days back in T-Town, two days of  repeatedly seeing massive scenes of destruction in areas so close to my own, I dreamt that the bottom of my right foot was missing. No doubt my mind’s way of trying to reconcile my own feelings that the ground upon which I stand  is less sure. Seeing the utter vulnerability of buildings that appeared to be rock solid can mess with even the most self-assured person’s sense of confidence and safety.

The evening that I returned, I was in a fitful slumber, the result of my unsuccessful attempt to cope with all the destruction I’d seen on my drive home by sleeping.  I was awakened by a text from a friend in NY that said simply, “Osama dead.” Quickly I scrambled to get my bearings and turned to CNN. I watched crowds erupting in the streets of D.C. and New York, and wondered to myself and to my FaceBook family about “Where all the flags came from so quickly!”

But I also watched people gather in the place where I had just been, brought there by a context of struggle and pain and joy and triumph.

I feel ambivalent as I watch folks convene in the physical spaces of their loss to celebrate the slaying of Osama Bin Laden, a slaying confirmed for us by the showing of bloody images of the compound where he was killed. And I find the macabre debates about whether to show the images of his bloodied body to be literal overkill; Black folks moreso than most ought to know that plenty of our own ancestors lie buried beneath the surface of the waters, as assuredly dead as if we had seen them go with our own two eyes.

But perhaps the celebrations are like the family reunions that happen after funerals. In the midst of great loss, there is a renewing of connection, a reminder of mortality, a clarity about just how much we need each other to survive.

That is perhaps the most profound lesson of which I was reminded during my weekend of intellectual bliss with the sister scholars. We cannot do this work, of recovering, reclaiming, and reconstructing our intellectual history alone.

We need each other to survive.

This is not only one of my favorite gospel songs. It is also the most important truth which I carry with me in this newly reconfigured homeplace, this local context of struggle and pain, joy and triumph. As we recover ourselves, reclaim what was lost, and reconstruct what has been destroyed, we need each other to survive.

To help recovery and relief efforts, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/211MUVAZ0A07Y/ref=cm_sw_su_w

http://www.givetuscaloosa.com

Dancing in the Streets

2 May

As I type this post, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Folks are singing, dancing, waving flags, and generally applauding what they see as American badassery.

 All across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and various other forms of social media, folks are weighing on the recent events. While some had measured responses, several of my Facebook friends, for example, were all about “Boo-yah!” “Take that, you terrorists!” “You can’t stop our freedom!” and so on. 

 I have to admit, though, that I’m definitely feeling some kind of way about all this celebrating.

 Let’s not get it twisted: I’m not pro-Bin Laden or pro-al-Qaeda. I think Bin Laden was an asshole and I rebuke terrorism of all kinds. I’m pro-peace, pro-love, and, perhaps above all, pro-sense.  Frankly, I’m more concerned with the thousands of folks who died on 9/11 and the tens of thousands of folks who have died since then, and continue to die, in the name of the War on Terror than in celebrating right now, especially since I’m not hearing a whole lot about honoring victims in these celebrations.

 I know for some of the folks in front of the White House, at Ground Zero, and in other places, these celebrations are about healing wounds, crying it out, and reconciling their pain with the inevitable schadenfreude this situation incites. While I have loved ones in the military (one of whom participated in rescue missions at the Pentagon on 9/11), I did not lose anyone that day and I’m not here to cast aspersions to those who have and will spend a lifetime dealing with that pain.

But, I suspect for some others these celebrations are not about anything like that. For these folks, the public carrying on at the White House, on Facebook, and elsewhere is about applauding American imperialism, feeling vindicated in our invincibility, and generally acting a racist fool (cue the inevitable anti-Arab sentiment).  And I just can’t cosign on folks wanting to engage in some collective jingoistic masturbation. I just can’t.

A few days ago, President Obama had to show his papers to prove he was legit, and now he’s pulled what some might call the ultimate H.N.I.C. card on Birthers, Tea Partiers, and haters in general.  (Yeah, I saw his “see you in 2012, busters!” strut as he left the podium after his speech).

But the fact remains is that President Obama felt he had to show his papers to get some respect. So, one day he’s showing his papers and the next day he’s the best commander-in-chief ever? (Side eye). Excuse me if I don’t think our post-racial, post-feminist, post-sensical society has morphed that much overnight.

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, ’cause I’m all about parades. I say all this to say that while we’re dancing in the street, we can’t forget that despite what has just happened, the world in some ways has not changed all that much between April 30th and May 1st.  Dancing in the street or showing out online does not change a damn thing when our education system is laughable, our healthcare system is pitiful, our criminal justice system is deplorable, and our service men and women are deployed routinely for dubious ends. Need I go on? Suffice it to say, we need to keep our eyes on the prize instead of applauding Pyrrhic victories, no matter how tempting they may seem.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 79 other followers

%d bloggers like this: