Archive | August, 2011

On C. Breezy and Feeling Old

29 Aug

Last night, I watched the VMA’s. They were chock full of typical MTV silliness, Lady Gaga in drag, and shocking announcements via dance numbers. You know, the usual.

Mostly, it became clear to me that I am no longer the target demographic for the show. (There were points where I looked at the screen and said, “I can’t read that font! How are we supposed to understand who to text our vote for if we can’t even read the FONT!” Boom. Age, betrayed.) And when Chris Brown came onto the stage to roaring applause and cheers from his peers, it also became clear that many folks have a much shorter memory than I do, despite my advanced years.

Seeing the response to CB (and after having a late night analysis of it with CF Susana) made me realize that most folks seem to have moved on from the Rhianna fiasco, particularly in regards to Chris Brown and his music. As he took the stage it was clear that folks had put the incident behind them, and I felt disgusted by the power of the patriarchy. It is, in fact, a function of the patriarchy to conveniently allow narratives to shift discreetly and irrevocably. Holding on to such things is, clearly, “so last year.” Calling for accountability is blasé and tedious, it seems.

Anyhow, what struck me rather strongly was the support Brown was getting from his peers in the audience (with a notable exception, it seems). This made me think about just how valuable it could be to have accountability amongst men, among artists of all genders– this tacit and not-so-tacit shrugging off seems like such a grave loss of opportunity. The opportunity for men to speak out; those men who have thought about what it means to end the cycle of violence and are willing and able to serve as models and leaders. There are many such men and great organizations dedicated to ending the seemingly interminable cycle of violence, but last night I wished there were more. And that we wouldn’t let opportunities like this one, keep passing us by.

Maybe I’m just a cranky, not-as-young-as-i-used-to-be crunk feminist, a distinct possibility.

Share your thoughts on the VMA’s in the comments, please.

Back-to-School Beatitudes: 10 Academic Survival Tips

25 Aug

Black Girl Reading

Graduate school was nothing short of an emotional and physical rollercoaster. I spent the first semester depressed and homesick, years 2-4 battling a stress-induced stomach condition that caused me to lose not only 75 pounds but also a whole semester of work. I healed just in time to begin my dissertation, wherein I gained back most of the weight I lost, and experienced a nasty case of stress-induced shingles just as I was rounding third. I love my work, and I’m glad I made it, but as we all head into a new academic year, here are a few things I wish I’d known…

  • Be confident in your abilities.
    • If you feel like a fraud, you very likely are suffering from impostor syndrome, a chronic feeling of intellectual or personal inadequacy born of grandiose expectations about what it means to be competent. Women in particular suffer with this issue, but I argue that it is worse for women-of-color (particularly Blacks and Latinas) who labor under stereotypes of both racial and gender incompetence. The academy itself also creates grandiose expectations, given the general perception of academicians as hypercompetent people. Secret: Everybody that’s actin like they know, doesn’t really know. So ask your question. It’s probably not as stupid as you think. Now say this with me: “I’m smart enough, my work is important, and damn it, I’m gonna make it.”
  • Be patient with yourself.
    • Be patient with your own process of intellectual growth. You will get there and it will all come together. You aren’t supposed to know everything at the beginning. And you still won’t know everything at the end (of coursework, exams, the dissertation, life…).
    • Getting the actual degree isn’t about intellect. It is about sheer strength of will and dogged determination. “Damn it, I’m gonna walk out of here with that piece of paper if it’s the last cottonpickin’ thing I do.” That kind of thinking helps you to keep going after you’ve just been asked to revise a chapter for the third time, your committee member has failed to submit a letter of rec on time, and you feel like blowing something or someone up.
  • Be your own best advocate. Prioritize your own professional needs/goals.
    • You have not because you ask not.  You have to be willing to ask for what you need. You deserve transparency about the rules and procedures of your program, cordial treatment from faculty, staff and students, and a program that prepares you not only for the rigors of grad school but also for the job market (should you desire a career in academia).  But folks won’t hand it to you on a silver platter. You have to build relationships, ask questions, and make demands.
    • Figure out your writing process (the place [home, coffee shop, library], time [morning, afternoon, night], and conditions [background noise, total silence, cooler or warmer] under which you work best and try to create those conditions as frequently as possible during finals, qualifying exams, and dissertation.
    • Your self-advocacy will often be misperceived as aggression and anger, entitlement or selfishness. Don’t apologize. 
  • Be kind to yourself.
    • Reward yourself frequently.  Most of us need positive affirmation of a job well done, but for long stretches, especially during exams, dissertation, and the job market, the rewards elude us; and often given the time crunch, once we conquer the mountain, there is little time to enjoy the view before it’s time to trudge back down and start climbing the next one. All that hard work  in high stakes conditions for anti-climactic ends can take a toll on your psyche. So be kind to yourself. Figure out the things you really like and make sure to enjoy them as much as is possible and healthy.
  • Be proactive about self-care.
    • Figure out your non-negotiables. For me, sleep is non-negotiable. I must have it. I don’t do all nighters. I also generally don’t do weekends, so I adjust my schedule accordingly. What are your non-negotiables?
    • Take advantage of on-campus therapy services. My last two institutions have had women-of-color thesis and dissertation support groups. Consider joining.
    • Cultivate a spirit-affirming practice. Grad school/the academy is a mind-body-spirit endeavor. So meditate, pray, exercise, do yoga, go to church, cook a good healthy meal. Do whatever you need to do to keep your mind, body, and spirit in balance.
  • Be a friend/comrade to others and let them do the same for you.
    • Build community with colleagues inside or outside your department.
    • Build community with non-students/non-academics. You need folks who live life outside the dungeon. They will affirm you and help you keep things in perspective.
  • Be willing to get CRUNK!
    • If the environment is hostile, it is most probably characterized by microaggressions of various sorts.  Racial microaggressions –“brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color– are quite common for women of color, but microaggressions can be used in sexist, heterosexist, or ableist ways as well.  A microaggressive environment demands resistance of various sorts. So do you and be you. Unapologetically.  Keep a copy of Sister Audre near by so you can make sure you’re channeling your legitimate anger productively, and then, get crunk if necessary.
  • Be better not bitter.
    • Fail forward. Being the overachievers that we are, we tend not to deal with failure well. It tends to become an indicator to us of our intelligence, worth, and competence. (See #1). But failure is a part of the process. Unless you are incredibly, exceptionally lucky, you will hit a snag in a course, while writing the proposal, on the dissertation, submitting a journal article or submitting a book. Two tips: take the time to process, particularly for big issues like proposals, dissertation chapters or books. Cry, scream (not at your committee or editor), go to a kickboxing class. And then dust yourself off and try again. Look at the suggestions offered; determine their validity. Heed them or disregard them depending on your best judgment, and then proceed to the next step.  And one more thing…don’t let the resentment fester. It may be well-justified but it simply isn’t productive. Just think of it as hazing, and for your own sake, let it go.
    • A lot of anger comes from bitterness at mentors who have not met our expectations. But all mentors are not created equal. Some will build your confidence, some will give you hell,  some will go above and beyond, but a mentor is there to illumine the process and give you tools to be successful, not to be your friend. So have multiple mentors; know the difference in function; and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  • Be tight. Bring your A-game.
  • Be a light. As you make your way, show the sisters and brothers behind you how it’s done, so maybe they won’t have as many dark days as you’ve had.

A little musical inspiration for the journey…

Alright, fam. Please share your survival tips for grad school newbies and veterans and junior faculty as well.

Mamie Till’s Memorial

22 Aug

she wanted the world to see what they had done to her baby, Emmett. so as we quickly approach the day Emmett was violently violated and killed (August 28), i want to consider again the religious ethics that prompted his mother’s — Mamie Till-Bradley — desire for the world to experience the death of her son. of course, we already know that death is anything but uncommon. it is but a part of what we call life, it is the culmination of such lived experience and behavior. death is not unique of itself, so we must know that Till-Bradley was not celebrating the death of her son. thus when she declared that she wanted the world to see, it was not death itself, but a particular aesthetic, a specific mode of violence in which she and her son lived, that she wanted to display for the world. that is, she wanted the world to see the way folks would go about murder, the evacuative nature of such violence and the sorta havock it produced on flesh and blood. she wanted the world to see what violence does in the world, how it bloats and mottles, how it distends and reeks in order to prompt us to engage with others another way.

an active member of Evangelistic Crusaders Church of God in Christ, Mamie Till-Bradley was pentecostal and i want to consider her openness to what Anthony Heilbut describes as “the blackest of institutions,” i.e., black pentecostalism, opens up for Till-Bradley in terms of a very specific enactment of black feminist care [of her son, for her community [and community is not fictitious or mythical]] and critique of the world that would allow such violence and violation to occur.

can we think with her? experience her grief? Emmett’s mythic whistle turned

cotton gin
70 pounds
barb wire tied
noose neck
throw in water
clench teeth

(maybe he was dead already?  but)

clinch teech
underwater, underneath
the sound, the sound of
breath stolen
life stolen
mississippi?  goddamn.

1955 saw her son’s demise and it took several days, and several phone calls in order for Till-Bradley to convince the municipality of Money, to return Emmett’s body to chicago.  and we know that the return of the body to chicago was nothing short of an attack on the senses.  so much so that it is said that Emmett’s body could be smelled blocks away from where it emanated. can you hear her?  screaming?  crying?  the loss of her son.

mississippi?  goddamn.

she wanted the world to see what happened to her son, so she decided to have an open casket at the funeral: There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see.”  what does this open casket and her pentecostalism have to do with each other?  hers was the same sorta pentecostalism that was only gaining a bit of popularity in 1955, from which many mainline black churches — baptists, ame zions, methodists — were distancing themselves.  this was the same sorta pentecostalism that was getting people kicked out of their homes for joining up with the “holy rollers” and the “sanctifieds…”  in other words, this wasn’t a popular sect at all, and the disdain often functioned by way of an indictment against the emotionalism, the tears, the running and shouting (not to be confused with hollering) around and in the church.  and of course, these emotive bursts are not reducible to pentecostalism, though i’d argue that in a cultural worldview, pentecostalism is thought to be constituted by these seemingly excessive physical, embodied practices.

what does this religiocultural experience for Mamie Till-Bradley have to do with her desire for a radical, excessive, emotional openness?  not just an openness to the horrors of the world?  she was, to be sure, a black mother.  and Moynihan’s report was soon to come, the “pathologies” he’d happen upon were previous to that “report” (1965).  black motherhood was always conceived as something of an impossibility.  she was also radically open to display, to showing that was at the same time, always already more than merely showing, more than merely visual. and if we think about the song that i oft deem egotistical for a church to sing —you can’t join it, you’ve got to be born in it– with Till-Bradley’s public display of her son in mind, one wonders what the relation of this particular kind of seeing that necessitates hearing is to being born into a movement, rather than merely joining it.  that is, i do believe that the work of social justice is not about merely declaring yourself a part of it.  but it takes a transformative posture, an ennobling force, some state of ultimate concern that evacuates a sense of individualism and joins one to community to struggle together.

she wanted the world to experience what had been done.  the dismemberment, the disfigurement.  this was, in my estimation, a public theology of pentecostalism that became an important moment in the long history and tradition of black social upheaval.  to be sure, Emmett was not the first to be lynched and would not be the last.  but his moment served as a hinge of sorts.  Brown v. Board of Education took place one year previous but schools would not be desegregated until at least 1957 with the Little Rock 9.  i’d argue that Mamie Till-Bradley’s religiocultural, existential crisis that was bound up with an embodied religious experience is what made a movement that was already moving move further still.  that is, though movement for civil rights were underway before the picture of swollen, mottled body was circulated, that the desire for the world to see reverberated and echoed.  it made pentecostalism public, palpable, pleasurable.  it gave pentecostalism what it already had: the capacity to be transformative, to enact social justice.  but more, she gave the movement for civil rights an aesthetics that it already had.  pentecostal theology is about the emptying out of oneself in order to be filled with the Divine.  and this emptied fulfilling is noticed by way of movement, sound, dance, by the way one behaves and comports.  an aesthetic of excess is normative.  but the display of the image of her son was also about knowing that brutality does not take away the capacity to be filled and moved.  she should have been so hurt because of her son’s death that immobility would have been understandable.  but the capacity to move remained.  through it all…

of course, Till-Bradley was not happy.  she was not happy to have lost a son.  she was not happy to open a casket and have the world see.  but she did it anyway.  the old saints would call it “holy boldness.”  they’d say that in the face of the incalculable, regardless of the rejection from friends and family, that there was something down inside them telling them to go on ahead.  to keep moving forward.  i feel constrained to say i love this narrow way, glory hallelujah, i’m one of them today.


Till-Bradley knew something of a holy defiance that was not about happiness but that echoed pleasure.  of course, she loved her son.  she enjoyed her time with her son.  she wanted the best for him.  her display of his open face, by way of an open casket, was her giving the world the gift of her capacity to love.  she could not describe her love, so she gave something else: she gave the edge, the bruise, the image of what took him away.  she gave us the moment of her most ineffable and pointed coalescence of emotion.  the fact that she could not describe is not surprising.  so indescribablewords don’t go there, so maybe moaning will.  to give the world the image of her inability talk, to enunciate, to describe, to give the image of a moan?  it is to make visual the sound of moaning (and what i’m saying here, of course, is not new).

certainly, her love was not reducible to the photograph, or the image, or her tears.  but in those moments that we see of her, and in his stillness, his swollen body that she gave us to see?  therein we see the love of black mothers that Moynihan thought impossible.

what if we thought of excess as prompting thought?  Till-Bradley wanted us to see these images.  there is within them, i think, the energy of her love. there is within them, i think, the energy of her theological, existential position…a peculiar people, indeed.  something is internal to the image of Emmett that is also internal to Mamie Till-Bradley’s religious posture, a quickening and movement of the spirit, by the spirit towards justice. so, and of course, as we approach the day of Emmett’s death, the day when the love of Till-Bradley turned into a force of movement, we can not simply shed tears of a bygone time. James Craig Anderson’s recent death — in mississippi, goddamn — rehearses for us the ongoingness of racial animosity, hate and fear. times are still very urgent and i think Till-Bradley’s black feminist aesthetics of openness and movement still echo with us today, and still have the capacity to inform our resistance against these institutional and systemic forces that refresh and revise racism for a new era.

Confessions of a Reality TV Junkie

18 Aug

What began as morbid curiosity and harmless voyeurism has turned into somewhat of an obsession.  Reality Television has become a habitual part of my nightly routine and something that I am not particularly proud of.  As I spent the weekend clearing out my DVR, which was full of reality tv shows I missed while being out of town, I realized that perhaps I have a problem.  Why else would I secretly watch rerun marathons of Real Housewives of Atlanta all damn day when I have already seen the debauchery?  Why else would I DVR Basketball Wives and mentally if not verbally take sides about who is “in the circle?”  Why else would I be so invested in who wins the challenges and/or prizes at the end of Food Network Shows that there is often a tightening in my belly before the announcement (Chopped, anyone, lol)?  Why else would I have done a happy dance at the re-emergence of Project Runway?  I do believe I have a problem!

As a feminist, I find it troublesome that so many of these shows represent women in problematic ways.  And while I have written about the nebulous position of being a critic and fan, or what Henry Jenkins calls an “aca-fan,” I feel the need to justify my over-consumption of other people’s “made for television” lives. 

Truth is, I don’t always watch these shows for “research” or entertainment.  Sometimes I watch for the same reasons I recorded The Jerry Springer Show when I was a college student.  I watch for the temporary escape from my own life and the reminder that no matter how bad things are (in my own life) they could always be worse.  I watch so that I can get on my proverbial high horse for 30 minutes to an hour and judge someone else’s life without being judged in return.  One of the appeals of reality television is the one-sided view.  I can watch someone else’s life, make claims about how I might have handled a situation better or differently, complain about the choices or representations, challenge the authenticity, participate in virtual and actual conversations about the characters with other consumers, and then turn off the tv.  Reality television makes me feel better about myself and it allows me to have conversations with other viewers or track comments online, laughing and/or nodding and/or shaking my head at other takes on what I saw with my own eyes. 

Despite the fact that I am disgusted and oftentimes troubled by the ways in which Black women on these shows represent themselves and treat each other, and the ways that women are characterized and caricatured in general, it does not keep me from turning on the tv and shopping for a show.  And since reality television is not going anywhere, I feel the need to justify my continued fixation.

I do, however, try to temper my addiction.  I don’t watch Big Brother or Dancing With the Stars, or any reality shows featured on network television (hm… could it be they are not scandalous enough) and I always critique and discuss what I see/think/feel in order to emotionally justify my curiosity.  I mean am I just that damn nosey?  Am I a masochist?  Is my life so routinized that I get off on other people’s drama?

I have decided that while reality television has its evils, it is not the devil.  I think that reality television shows offer important social commentaries about the hegemonic bullshit that oftentimes goes unchecked or unnoticed.  For example, The Bachelor(ette) and all of its various versions demonstrate the problematic notion of a fairy tale, both through its unrealistic portrayals (including the embedded classism, racism and heterosexism of the show/s) and un-happily-ever-afters.  And it is also contentious that the Real Housewives franchise includes many single, divorced or never-married women who are simply bourgeois, rich, privileged, and attention-starved.  (I am continuously confused by the titles—Basketball Wives should perhaps be called Basketball Exes…but I digress).  What I am getting at is that I think reality TV offers a platform for interesting opportunities to have conversations about issues that we should be talking about anyway, issues that influence the female image. 

Take Teen Mom, for example, the spinoff of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.  I found the latter show by accident but was immediately immersed into and fascinated by the documentary of 16 year old girls who are unexpectedly expecting.  The show chronicles the lives of young girls who negotiate the very REAL issues surrounding teen pregnancy, from contemplation of abortion and adoption, to the realities of motherhood, unsuccessful relationships with the fathers of their children, challenges to their relationships with their family and friends, domestic violence, intergenerational privilege or poverty, etc. I remember watching the series and feeling impacted by the reality of it all.  My initial impression was that this show would discourage young girls from having unprotected sex (a good thing) and garner public attention and discussion about how to care for young girls who find themselves in the undesirable position of being unexpectedly pregnant (another good thing—the call for care, not the unexpected pregnancy).  The general response, however, is varied, and some people feel the show encourages risky sexual behaviors.  I read some time ago that some girls were trying to get pregnant so that they could be on the show L.  Perhaps the drawback of any reality television show for young and impressionable young women is the illusion of fame as a permanent or positive position.

When I realized that they were doing a follow-up series, Teen Mom, to follow the teen mothers on their journeys through parenthood I began watching religiously.  I watch for a few reasons.  First, because reality television has conditioned my interest and fascination with characters to be more ongoing (16 & Pregnant chronicles a different girl every week while Teen Mom follows the same group over a longer period of time).  I also watch to see if the criticisms of the show are fair, if it really glamorizes teen pregnancy or offers a realistic purview into the sacrifices and struggles that are inherent in the everyday life of teen mothers.

I realize that my perception as a grown ass woman who did not face teen pregnancy is one that is limited by my own experience(s).  While I have never been pregnant, I witnessed teen pregnancy from the outside looking in.  When I was a teenager I knew many girls who found themselves pregnant and had to make difficult, permanent adult choices when they were barely past puberty.  And that is a feminist issue worth troubling—unlike the more superficial points of many reality shows.

So, while I cannot justify all of my reality-television watching, and I confess that I need to wean myself away from my hours-long binges, I hope to utilize some of what I learn and see to initiate conversations about social issues and not just good gossip.  VH1’s catch-all phrase, popularized during their hot-ass-mess Flavor-of-Love days, “watch and discuss,” prevails here.

Author Martha Southgate on Why the Film “The Help” is a Symptom of a Larger Issue: My Thoughts.

17 Aug

Author note: Post written last week.

In Entertainment Weekly, one of my favorite authors, Martha Southgate (@mesouthgate) discusses the film “The Help” stating that,

There have been thousands of words written about Stockett’s skills, her portrayal of the black women versus the white women, her right to tell this story at all. I won’t rehash those arguments, except to say that I found the novel fast-paced but highly problematic. Even more troubling, though, is how the structure of narratives like The Help underscores the failure of pop culture to acknowledge a central truth: Within the civil rights movement, white people were the help.

I would say that she certainly has a point there. And, given the fact that I am swimming in readings about women in the civil rights movement, at this VERY moment, I am particularly sensitive to claims about women during the civil rights movement.

White people did play a substantial role in the civil rights movement.  However there were incredible tensions in the civil rights movement because “women” were seen as “the help.” Looking at how gender played out in the civil rights movement in fact may poke more holes in Sockett’s narrative. For example,

  • Many White feminist wanted to organize under the auspices of women united for solidarity but did not want to acknowledge the differences between women. See Benita Roth’s “Separate Roads to Feminism.”
  • Stokley Carmicheal, of the Black Panther Party alleged that the best position for a woman in the BPP was “prone.”
  • There were some White feminist lesbians who felt that engaging with men was apart of the problem so becoming separatists and living amongst and supporting women was the solution. See Radical Sisters: Second Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in DC by Anne Valk.
  • Here is a link to Courtney Desiree Morris analyzing Assata, Angela Davis and Elaine Brown  and how sexism impacted their work with the Black Panther Party.
  • Black women played a prominent role in organizing the March on Washington but they were not allowed to SPEAK at it.

I by no means intend to conflate the Black Power movement with the Civil Rights movement. They are overlapping yet distinct in tone and intent.

However, I wanted to bring the issue of “Women” to bear on Southgate’s article on the film and book, The Help.

Here is her excellent closing paragraph, which actually upended me from my reading ABOUT women in the second wave and compelled me to write this blog post. She writes,

This isn’t the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. Most Hollywood civil rights movies feature white characters in central, sometimes nearly solo, roles. My favorite (not!) is Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning, which gives us two white FBI agents as heroes of the movement. FBI agents! Given that J. Edgar Hoover did everything short of shoot Martin Luther King Jr. himself in order to damage or discredit the movement, that goes from troubling to appalling.

Why is it ever thus? Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That’s a shame. The continued impulse to reduce the black women and men of the civil rights movement to bit players in the most extraordinary step toward justice that this nation has ever known is infuriating, to say the least. Minny and Aibileen are heroines, but they didn’t need Skeeter to guide them to the light. They fought their way out of the darkness on their own — and they brought the nation with them.

Southgate’s fourth novel, The Taste of Salt, will be published in September.

By centering White women as actors in the civil rights movement, we mask, hide and erase the work of Black men and women, and we negate the ways in which WOMEN were treated in many instances like “The Help” in Black and White organizing circles. 

*The terms Black and White are capitalized because I see them as racial classifications AND political identities. #ummhmm.

“wife” is code for “The Help”

16 Aug

So all the women in my life are going to or have already seen the new movie The Help, but I cannot possibly bring myself to go because 1) I really don’t feel that I need another “black women as domestic servants to white women” or “black women as nanny/mammy to white children” story in my life and 2) because I feel like I am “The Help” in my own life so this movie would not be an escape.

Of all the hetero girlfriends that I have who are married or have been married none of them seems to feel the “bliss” that is supposed to come along with their marriage.  In fact, even with more education and higher paying jobs than our grandmothers, the second shift is in full swing.  I was talking with a single and actively dating girlfriend recently about the way in which our mother’s generation suggests that if he does not beat or cheat, you got a “good man.”  Now I will give some credit to our generation that we don’t necessarily agree with this standard, but on the other hand when it comes to flat out common sense in non-beating/cheating relationships I think we have regressed.

For instance, one side of my grandparents was a mess and I am convinced that what they were doing was fighting.  Why you might ask?  Because my grandmother did not play, she was fierce about her rights as a human being and she would defend them.  That meant “we have four kids, bring your paycheck at the end of the week and put it on the table–or else.”  And he did.  Me, well I make about a third of what my husband makes, but somehow I paid more towards our bills over the past four months.  To be clear I think safety/security in your relationship ranks #1, but that is not a high standard of living.  In fact, the true standards of partnership get murky because of that low f*ck#ng standard.  We seem to think there is no reason to speak up; act out; fight back when they for instance…

  1. Wait til the last minute to commit to EVERYTHING so that you are always scrambling and late.
  2. Treat you like the nanny, such that you are default “childcare.” You, however, must inform them of your plans weeks in advance with reminders. (And they will still either insist that you find childcare so they too can have the night off or try to squeeze in an outing right before you leave so you are scrambling and late.
  3. Organize “family day,” which apparently means take their wife and kid(s) to their in-laws house and basically bounce until it is time to go home.
  4. Offer to take care of something, but call you every fifteen minutes for two hours about what they are “taking care of” and then complain that your work is taking too long, “ohh and I may not be able to do the child pick-up that I committed to because I am running behind schedule” (See #1).
  5. And my favorite is that they prioritize EVERYTHING over you.  No thank you for being the primary caretaker even though you have full responsibilities as well.  You get conflated with children therefore their time spent at home counts for quality time with “the wife” even if she spent the day cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry, changing sheets in each bedroom, the dining room, and in the interim doing homework and playing with the kid(s) so they are not watching television the entire day.

Where is this “bliss” that you speak of and furthermore, by the time you go over in your head how pissed you are that what used to be your VOICE is now your voice and when you do finally use it you sound like you are underwater.  You must be because no one, especially him, can f*ck#ng hear or understand you (at least that’s what it feels like).

Here are my two favorite argument complaints.

Him: Why are you stringing so many events together?  Why are you bringing up the past? Can we focus on one thing at a time?

Me:  NO. It is called establishing a f*ck#ng PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR.

Him: Get out of your head.

Me:  Well you were not here for the initial argument so now this is just a report on the outcome.

So I guess what I am saying is…if your husband can basically come and go as he pleases because he refuses to commit and therefore be accountable or fully responsible for his actions, but does it in a nice way that leaves you responsible for everything all the time; if he identifies what he does do as “helping you out” versus just being a responsible adult and parent; if he manages to arrange outings regularly with everyone but you, then you are essentially “The Help.”

In 1995 my girls and I were on to something (this is pre-marriage and during full-scale feminist life planning)—we need a damn wife too.

(More) Love for Awkward Black Girl

11 Aug


Image of Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl looking awkward in an Awkward Black Girl tank top.

I was writing a pretty depressing piece for today about why I’m not voting for Obama in 2012 but I’m still a bit skittish about comments post Kreayshawn so I need another month or two to mentally prepare for what I anticipate will be some serious backlash. Plus, I’m tired of being sad and overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world so I thought I’d spotlight something that makes me smile!

I’m talking about The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, an amazing web series that we’ve mentioned several times on the blog, facebook and tumblr!  Writer/director/actress Issa Rae plays J, an awkward black girl with a penchant for writing violent rhymes to blow off steam, a deep and abiding hate for spoken word, and the ability to clock and interrogate racism with righteous precision and be hilarious while doing it!

The cast and crew were worried that they’d have to stop the show because they had run out of money so they started a Kickstarter and have raised over $50,000 with an initial $30,000 goal!

The success of the show and the fundraising effort comfort me and suggest that the announcement of a possible Tyler Perry TV channel doesn’t have to mean that the apocalypse is upon us. It is possible for independent awesomeness to survive and thrive if we are willing to support it and it looks like we are!

She Got A Big Ego?: Thoughts on Dating with a Doctorate

8 Aug


Recently, my romantic interested accused me of throwing my Ph.D. in his face. Most Black women with Ph.D.’s will know exactly how egregious an accusation that is, especially since we are hypersensitive and overly vigilant about making sure never to “throw our degrees” in the face of less-accomplished potential boos or family members.

During a casual phone convo about our respective college experiences, Dude who is a high school math teacher and has a couple of advanced degrees in math fields remarked to me that he found most humanities/ social science majors, including English and Political Science—my undergrad majors—“illegitimate.” Now given that all of my degrees are in humanities fields, I was majorly incensed.

And although I’m tired of  used to –and normally unphased by– these inanely conceived verbal jousting matches that dudes engage highly educated women in in order to see if we are really as smart as our degrees seem to indicate, this time I was pissed.

It’s college administrators and other knuckleheads who think like him that make my job so hard in the first place. Thinking like this explains, partially anyway, why my students can’t write for shit and why my salary is a comically paltry percentage of the amount of student loans I owe.

When I questioned his logic, he got defensive. When I further exposed the flaws in his arguments (skills courtesy of my humanities education), he explained that he would not “back down,” or “give in” even though he could admit that his opinion “wasn’t well thought out,” because he knew that this is what I was used to men doing…”backing down to stroke my ego.” Projection, anyone?

What I’m actually used to men doing is attacking me once they start intellectual fights they can’t finish. I’m used to men putting me in the friend zone because they find my smarts intriguing but not sexy. I’m used to men straight up belittling and insulting me—calling me stupid, unattractive, or using “feminist” like an expletive—in order to get the upper hand when they feel intellectually outmatched. 

Yep. So I went off. Reiterated the illogic of his arguments. Told him my feelings were hurt. Explained that it is important to me that folks who are close to me value what I do, as it is a part of who I am.

His reply: “well, I think it’s cool that you’re a teacher. And people should teach subjects they are passionate about.” Subjects that he doesn’t respect, mind you. “I don’t just teach; I also conduct research and write books and articles” I told him, trying to get him to understand that his remark was patronizing at best. 

What did I say “just” for?

To that came his snarky reply, “I don’t just teach either, and just because I don’t have three little letters behind my name, doesn’t make what I do any less valuable.”

I’ll spare you the sordid details; let’s just say it’s was already a thin line and he crossed it.

But the situation reminded me of all the ways that patriarchy conspires against our ability to build loving connections with men.

  • Patriarchy makes men competitive. It makes them see women with more education as competition rather than as folks who would make good partners.  
  • Patriarchy conditions men to use emotional extortion and passive aggressive behaviors –saying hurtful things and then claiming them as innocuous opinions; shutting down after deliberately saying something provocative and offensive and then accusing the woman of picking fights or being emotional; demanding your silence in the face of offensive behaviors in exchange for love and affection–as a way to gain control over women who intimidate them.
  •  Patriarchy makes straight men feel justified in domesticating smart women. In the case of Black men, with whom I’m most familiar, they largely measure success by their ability to create traditional families. By contrast, many accomplished  straight Black women have become that way largely by jettisoning their investment in traditional gender roles. I get it at an historical level. The Civil Rights Movement for Black men was as much about manhood as about race. Black men wanted to be able to perform the traditional roles that they’d seen white men performing for their families. And they built concepts of masculinity around such outcomes.  Black men want women who are impressed and content if they stay, provide, and lead.  For Black women, there were different outcomes, courtesy of Civil Rights and Black feminism. These sisters imagine men who champion their careers and are willing to actively co-parent– men who partner, support, and communicate.  
  • Male privilege allows Black men not to interrogate these relational preferences, but rather to see them as natural and innate. Hence, they never have to explain why it feels emotionally safer and more comfortable to them to date, conquer, and domesticate a high-achieving sister.  Black women have not had such luxuries. Many of us have had to relinquish our supposed natural desires for a traditional hetero-patriarchal set-up and entertain/embrace other possibilities for partnership. But if dudes can’t or won’t get on board with that, then largely we are shit out of luck. And the reality is that most Black men don’t have to get on board with it; with 70% of highly educated Black women having never been married, our choice not to submit to traditional expectations will not cost Black men anything in the way of finding a partner.

And perhaps it was that realization, that Dude could just pick up and move on to the next one, in a way that my lack of options has not thus far seemed to allow, that made me stay when I knew—and when many of you told me months ago—to go. But perpetual romantic droughts can make one’s principles—“You’re the best thing I never had; there’s a good in goodbye (I never have the Beyonce “sucks to be u” moment, y’all!!! Will I never be vindicated?); etc, etc” seem like the most unconsoling of consolation prizes.

Putting My House in Order: Some Thoughts on Self-Care

4 Aug

Toni Cade Bambara’s “On the Issue of Roles” is one of my all-time favorite essays and a particular passage has been on my mind a lot lately. Bambara writes:

Running off to mimeograph a fuck-whitey leaflet, leaving your mate to brood, is not revolutionary. Hopping on a plane to rap to someone else’s “community” while your son struggles alone with the Junior Scholastic  assignment on “The Dark Continent”  is not revolutionary. Sitting around murder-mouthing incorrect niggers while your father goes upside your mother’s head is not revolutionary. Mapping out a building  takeover when     your term paper is overdue and your scholarship is under review is not revolutionary. Talking about   moving against the Mafia while your nephew takes off old ladies at the subway stop is not revolutionary. If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. (The Black Woman, 134-135; emphasis mine)

Talk about crunk. Bambara gives the side eye to the notion that you can attack capitalism, racism, or other systems of dominance out in the world without challenging those same systems (especially hetero-patriarchy) within one’s own relationships. That, in fact, leaving your own house “out of order” not only jeopardizes but it, in fact, undermines both your potential for good work and your potential for intimacy and happiness. Indeed, for me, Bambara’s call for us to essentially get our ish together charges us to recognize how important—how revolutionary—it is for us to love (and love on) each other and ourselves fiercely and fearlessly.

Family, I’ve been trying to get my own house in order.  The past few years have had a lot of joy, but they’ve had a lot of pain too.  Betrayals, disappointments, setbacks, and outright bad luck have played an all too prominent part of my life. At times it seemed like everything in my personal and professional life were conspiring together to get my pressure up.  I’ve been sick, tired, frustrated—you name it. Of course, I kept chugging along, smiling, showing up, doing my thing, but I was so over it. Where was my joy? I wondered.

One day I was in my office, checking Facebook between classes and an intriguing quote showed up in my newsfeed:

“‎If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete” ~Jack Kornfield

I remember sitting in my chair and becoming quite still. How was I trying to be this feminist teacher/scholar/activist/ mentor/daughter/sister/lover/homegirl when I didn’t (really) treat myself with the same loving kindness I was trying to put out into the world? Why wasn’t I extending the grace I tried to extend to others to myself?

The answer to that question is complicated, but, suffice it to say, the quote helped to catalyze some thoughts that had been swirling around in my mind for some time. Sitting at my desk that day, I typed up the phrase “Are you taking care of yourself?” and printed it out. I put the question all over my house. When I get up in the morning and go the bathroom “Are you taking care of yourself?” is pasted on the mirror so I can consider it as I brush my teeth or wash my face. The phrase is also pasted under the Ochun altar  I have in my bedroom so that when I light candles and meditate I don’t forget to think about how I am caring for myself.  The question is pasted on my front door so that as I am rushing out (invariably late for something or other) I can take a moment to check in with myself.

Asking myself this question, being compassionate to my own self, checking in with myself, my needs and my feelings, has not made me superhuman or super-selfish. I’m just more present to myself and to others because I am less drained by the consequences of ignoring my own happiness. Maybe I’m getting all New-Agey and touchy-feely. Ha. Maybe so.  But, I do know that being more intentional about my self-care has brought me a greater sense of joy, peace, and purpose. And that right there is revolutionary.

“I met a woman today …”: Concern as Aesthetic Practice

1 Aug

The reiteration :: we already have what we need in order to form a new world, a new world forged out of the material existence of that which already surrounds us. We have love, we have laughter, we have light. We have desire, we have depth, we have darkness occasioning the possibility of secretive and social movement against the grain of the constant, ongoing, perpetual imposition of the violent force of normalcy, hegemony. I write from the sea cost in South Carolina today. And I write because, having visited an open-air market selling boiled peanuts, peaches, squash and shrimp, an older black woman who grew up on St. Helena Island encouraged me. She encouraged me to continue to do the work I am doing without knowing what, particularly, I am doing. She does not know the rubrics of my research, does not know me – as is often said – from a can of paint.

My cousin, with whom I recently made reacquaintance, introduced me to this older woman because I was looking for a few of the local Praise Houses on the island. Upon telling the small band of three who work in and own the open-air market that I will be traveling to Sapelo Island, GA soon for more research, I was told to take copious notes. My response: “I’ll try!” to which I was told “no no no! Don’t try. Do it! Just do it.” And I smiled. Right before leaving, having been pointed in the direction of a Praise House, the older woman turned to me, “the next time you think you can’t do it, when you wanna waver, just remember that I told you you could do it!”

She wanted me to remember her as someone encouraging. So a few questions, of course. What prompts such a desire in another to show concern and care? What mode of social life creates the contours of her existence so much so that anyone so brought into the boundaries are likewise given the same ethic of concern and care? Why did she not merely smile, but intentionally insist on such words to me, compelling me to continue on a journey towards which she knows not where? Some theorists would have that such folks isolated on islands, descendants of enslaved folks, were fundamentally and ongoingly alienated from forms of kinship and love. But rather than some sorta alienation or relegation from establishing concern and care, I believe that particular forms of social life disperse those qualities curiously, refusing heteropatriarchy as the only [or even privileged] site where love and laughter, in all its genuineness and generosity, can be deployed.

This refusal to allow the idea that “blood” is the ground of being for “family” is what I think is necessary addressing the problems of our world today, and urgently so. The notion that concern and care can be distributed in queer ways is sorta cool to me; queer insofar as the forms of relationality established by the performance of something other than some sorta biological determinism also resist state formation and incorporation as citizenship. That is, the very real concern and care demonstrated me today is an aesthetic form that is no less theological, sociological and yes, musicological. This has everything to do with the woman’s knowledge of the locations of Praise Houses on the island. And, indeed, her concern and care is likely much influenced by the forms of sociality and togetherness encountered in those Praise Houses. It is a form, however, that many seek to escape for its purported primitivism, for its backwardness, for its bygone quaintness.

I think her demonstration of, let’s say, concern as an aesthetic practice is theological in that it is about the worldview of the creatures on the earth and in the sea, about a particular type of transcendence of the material world that stands before her in all of its fullness into the desirous, deep, dark recesses of an unknown cosmic field and mosaic of belonging. Or, more simply, her belief that there are powers unseen acting in the material world allow her to care for cans of paint, for dwellings built for the expressed purpose of praise and for some dude she just met today.

Concern as an aesthetic practice was also demonstrated sociologically in that she was concerned with how the work I am engaging connects me to her, how it connects me to humanity in general. She became excited when learning of my trip to Sapelo Island because she, too, had read the work of someone who lives there, Cornelia Bailey and found the writing exciting and inspiring. By the woman’s own admission, she’s never been to the island, so in some ways, I am going for her, which is why taking notes is of necessity [“don’t try! just do it!”].

Finally, concern as an aesthetic practice was also demonstrated musicologically. Victor Zuckerkandl wrote about musical tones as “vibrational affinities” wherein one is always on the way from one tone to the next, never in one tone then the next. That is, musical tone – the sounds we hear when one is singing or slipping up and down the scale – is a social event, done together with other tones. But more, musical tones are vibrational, they are the always moving and on the move results of rubs, caresses and frictions. She became animated when speaking with me today, full of laughter and a sing-song voice, clapped her hands a bit too.

So I began to wonder: what if the aesthetics we encounter are not something we seek to escape but become the occasion for resistance? What if – rather than being fundamentally embarrassed by the small, cramped, dark, hot spaces of the Praise Houses from which loud singing and shuffling feet can be heard for miles – we cultivated such aesthetic practices in the service of modes of flight and escape from the inequitable distributions of power and resources encountered daily by many of us?

To reiterate :: we already have what we need to make the world anew, one committed to concern and care, a world where each is loved and laughter is cultivated. We would do well to pay attention to laughing women, dancing children and the folks thought to mine the fields of death that is always social. Maybe the abundant life they experience daily, the exuberance in spite of the marginalization, the joy in the midst of sorrow is a gift to the world that we need only accept.

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