Archive | September, 2011

From Margin to Center: Health for Brown Bois

29 Sep
Image cover of the Brown Boi Health Guide. Black Person in shadows looking into the camera.

As a graduate student, I elect to receive health care through my school (because they pay for it). Student Health Services has its pros and cons and my experiences have been, to put it nicely, mixed. My experiences with health care providers are what motivated me to think about the hierarchical relationship between doctors and patients in my dissertation. My providers have routinely presumed straightness, a feminine gender identity, and a certain class background. I was telling a friend about another less than awesome experience with a doctor and they joked, I could put my own experience in my dissertation. If only autoethnography was one of my research methods.

Health care providers have got to do better. Disparities in access to care are a major concern but once you are in the doctor’s office it doesn’t necessarily mean that service provision is equitable, particularly if you are are already marginalized in greater society. That’s why I was so happy to hear that the Brown Boi Project had created a resource guide for Masculine of Center (MOC) people of color and its available now.

The Brown Boi Project “is a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and our allies committed to transforming our privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving Racial and Gender Justice.” In that vain, they set out to create a health guide that would help brown bois advocate for better health outcomes for themselves when interacting with health care providers, friends and family.

The six chapters of the guide provide an introductory look at different components of health beginning with spiritual, mental, and emotional health, concepts that western medicine steers clear of all together or brackets as somehow separate from physical health. Additional chapters provide an overview of health concerns specific to MOC folks including “holistic care through gender transition” and issues of body taboo in relation to menstruation, pregnancy and sex.The narratives of real self identified brown bois provided regarding their own journeys and processes around health were the most compelling element of the book. It is in these personal accounts that you really see the intersectional nature of health, the ways in which structural forms of oppression like queer hatred, racism, and other forms of discrimination impact people’s health on all levels.

Images from open pages of  the health guide
The photography and illustrations in the book are amazing as well. Non-normative bodies of various races and shades help to provide a much needed shift in the way patient bodies are represented. The images do work that words can not.

The need for such a resource is undisputed and as a first edition, it far outshines its limitations. I was left however, wandering about the margins within the margins. What of disabled brown bois? How do we simultaneously hold a desire for wellness without pathologizing people as carriers of STI’s or victims of impairments? What of the guide’s high gloss veneer and PDF format for folks with little to no web/computer access? It’s definitely an overview and they remind readers that it’s not an exhaustive look at health but some general information to help stimulate better communication with health care providers and loved ones.

This is a guide and not a zine. It is not an updated more specific Our Bodies Ourselves so it has a different end goal. This guide offers a more generous read of trying to work with health care providers as opposed to abandon the system all together. Each have there uses. I think it would be a great teaching tool for doctors and medical students who get very little if any training regarding folks on the queer and genderqueer spectra. In addition to educating the medical community, we need to have more access to health care information ourselves and this guide is a move in that direction.

The Choices We Make

26 Sep

Story #1- Last Monday I picked my son up from his afterschool program and was met with a full on tantrum.  He was upset that I would not allow him to eat the gummy Starbursts given to him by his chess coach and informed me that he had already had some at “snack” time.

Story #2-On Saturday my mother asked me to pick up some food for my stepfather who is diabetic and paralyzed from the waist down.  My stomach cringed because I knew he was going to ask me to pick up something from a fast food restaurant.

Story #3-Last night I was reviewing literature for America Recycles Day in preparation for my son’s school event which is scheduled for November 15th.

Yes, I’m one of those mothers who don’t want to go along and get along. I regulate my son’s high fructose corn syrup (chemically processed corn) intake, I do not want to purchase fast food for an advanced stage diabetic, and social marketing campaigns always get the side eye (to borrow from my sisters).  Each of these stories raise concerns for me because it is damn difficult to function in this ridiculous culture of consumer capitalism because at every turn you have to suspend common sense to make decisions like purchasing school pictures and selecting the pose before your child actually takes the picture.

Here are the primary issues with each story, I had to have a 45 minute conversation with my son’s coach about the inappropriateness of giving children 25g of sugar (HFC) for an afterschool “snack.”  Food prices are increasing significantly, yet my stepdad’s double burger and fries costs $2.36.  I can barely get a cup of tea or a half-gallon of milk for $2.36, so how can I pursue a discussion about changing food habits with a family member on a fixed income.  $2.36 is not affordable food, that’s damn near free in comparison with the costs of slow food.

Finally, I want to be an active parent so I joined the Green and Healthy committee at my son’s school.  So why is America Recycles Day sponsored by Pepsico, Disney, Nestle Waters, Johnson and Johnson, LG (appliances and electronics), and Glad (plastics)?  Their investment in global supply chains that destroy natural resources and people’s lives globally is precisely the problem.

When I was young a school fundraiser was a bake sale of homemade goods or chocolates that had actual sugar not HFC.  Now a school fundraiser means talking with parents that work for Coca-Cola Inc. and online jewelry and magazine sales.  Having a 45 minute conversation every time these situations present themselves would not only usurp all of my time but it would also make me a pariah in my son’s school, afterschool, and in my family.  So I get screamed at by my son for taking away the 25g of HFC sugar, quietly hand over the bagged $2.36 meal, and hold my nose while planning an America Recycles (for a) Day activity with leading corporate plastic, aluminum cans, and energy polluters.  You may think these are minor but this is one week and simply the stories I choose to share.  I know I have “choices” and that I need to “choose my battles” but really it’s the same limited choice day in and day out—engage or resist, and I’m getting a bit worn out.

Disappearing Acts, Unreciprocated Interest(s) & Other Rhythms to My Blues

22 Sep

On the crevices of my thirty-third year if you listen hard enough and look long enough you might hear the rhythm of my blues.  This is not a blues to sashay to– but rather one that leaves you listening to your heartbeat, while sitting on the floor legs folded, with crossed arms and neck pushed back, eyes closed.  This is the kind of blues that leaves you unsure about life and reflective about the ways that life folds in on itself after a while.  This is a Nina Simone-like blues.  A fear of being alone-type blues.  A blues that sustains and suffocates at the same time.

As I sit here I imagine myself fully strong and round and rise to perform myself accordingly.  In reality, this week especially, I have been struggling, disappearing on myself the same way others have seemed to vanish from my life, silently but intentionally, and without warning.  I had imagined these blues would be different, the post thirty blues, unrelated to the things that marked the ambivalence of my twenties.  Instead I find these emotions are inextricably linked to the past.  My blues are still sometimes about the ignorant acts of white folks in the south, the fear of abandonment and loneliness, the residue of bad choices and regret, the rejection and unreciprocated (and unexplained) interest of romantic possibilities, the insecurity of not being/having/becoming enough, the pressure of performance on my job, and in my life.  This, as they say, is not supposed to be my life.  I had imagined it different, post-thirty, as if I would miraculously wake up with all of my shit together, and all of my issues in order.  Instead I trade war stories with friend girls about broken hearts and hurt feelings when sex is intermittent, love is underrated, dreams are drowned by disappointments, and the expectations and random requests of others outweigh my time, energy, and interest.  My unintentional blues and forced celibacy come back at me like unintentional celibacy and forced blues.   These are grown woman problems. 

But I walk around, thick thighs and wayward hips, back tall, chin up, eyes open, just like my mama taught me, acting like I have it all together when only me and my big legs know it is a lie. A performance.  A walk that reads as confident.  A smile that looks the same whether I mean it or not.  Truth is, I have gone eleven days without smiling… on the inside.  I told my homegirl it was probably just post-birthday blues.  The fog of reality we settle into after the euphoria of waking up into the first day of another year of life.  My life is vibrant and predictable and beautiful… I am not ungrateful… but I don’t know what to do with the sadness that reverberates in my life like rhythms.

There is sadness in the world made manifest through the perpetuation of –isms and ignorance that I face on a daily basis, sometimes within inches of my own life’s breath.  There is unjust justice that snatches away the innocence of life by those whose skin color and gender make them constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time (#wearetroydavis).  There is the discrimination and disrespect I oftentimes have to negotiate in classrooms with white men and black women, respectively.  There is sadness.

Then, there is sadness of the spirit that lingers like cigarette smoke and stays wherever it touches for days, sometimes weeks, until I have the energy, focus, and mind to clear my head space.  The sadness of knowing that despite my best intentions (and other peoples’ misgivings about my abilities and availability) I am not superwoman (or strongblackwoman), and holding it together for everyone else’s benefit is an exhausting, oftentimes unreasonable endeavor.  There is the sadness of feeling inadequate and replaceable.  There are the multiple memories of mistreatment and the embodied memory of pain.  There is sadness.  And sometimes sadness is inevitable.  And perhaps instead of concentrating so much on pushing it away, I should pull it in.  Embrace it.  Utilize it. Co-create with it until the blues slip away, to keep myself present, so that I don’t disappear. 

There is power in my blues (sometimes), untapped potential, reservoirs of resources and creativity.  Maybe instead of chasing my blues away I should invite her in for a while.  Have a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of wine and patiently pay attention to her.  Hear her words, heed her warnings, and listen to her rhythms.

I think I will make myself comfortable until the season changes.

Lynching Remixed: The Execution of Troy Davis

19 Sep

On Wednesday, the state of Georgia will execute Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of police office Mark MacPhail. Since Davis was convicted in 1991, 7 of the prosecution’s 9 witnesses have recanted their statements, and have repeatedly given testimony to courts and to the media that their testimony was coerced. Additional witnesses have come forward implicating Sylvester “Redd” Coles, another person at the scene for the murder. Not only did Coles brag to others about the crime, but he was the first to finger Troy Davis for the murder. Three of the original jurors have also come forward with signed affidavits which indicate that they would not have voted for Troy Davis’ guilt had they known then what they know now. Finally, there is no physical evidence of any sort linking Davis to the crime. 

We cannot understand the killing Davis outside of a long history of lynching Black men (and women and children) for crimes that they didn’t commit and often, when no crimes were even alleged. Lynchings were frequently committed just for sport, while white families brought their children along and hosted picnics as happy spectators.  These days conservative (white) Americans fancy themselves more civilized than their bloodthirsty ancestors, but I submit that the state sanctioned murder of Black men based on dubious, trumped up, and coerced evidence is just lynching remixed for a new generation. Lest we forget, the state (i.e. police officers and sheriffs deputies who were present at many lynchings) frequently sanctioned mob killings as well. This go around, the willfully naive can self-sooth with narratives of “justice being served.” Let me be clear. Mark MacPhail’s family deserves justice. But no one deserves justice at the expense of a potentially innocent man.

Let me offer one contrasting difference in approaches to the death penalty. In June 2011, Daryl Dedmon, Jr, a 19 year old white Mississippi teen, along with two truckloads of his friends, drove from his hometown of Brandon, MS into Jackson to “go fuck with some niggers.” After locating James Craig Anderson, a plant worker leaving work at 4 in the morning, the teens assaulted him, yelled racial epithets like “white power” at him, and then left him to stagger back to his truck. Dedmon, however, couldn’t leave bad enough alone, and looped back, savagely running over and killing James Anderson. He then called his friends and bragged about it. The national fervor this summer over The Help, a racially romanticized narrative of Jackson, MS, overshadowed James Anderson’s murder, a tragic modern day Jackson, MS tale that would have forced us to confront the racial realities of Black folk in this 2nd decade of the 20th century.

The supreme irony, however, is that last week  James Anderson’s family sent a letter to the Hinds County district attorney asking them not to seek the death penalty in Dedmon’s case:

“Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well,” the letter states. …”We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites,” the letter states. “Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.” (source:

(Black folks are the most forgiving people I know. #Jesuswalks)

In their courageous act of petitioning the state to not avenge the killing of their beloved family member by taking another life, the Anderson family powerfully demonstrates the ways historically and currently that the death penalty has been/is used to punish Black men, ostensibly for being a threat to white women, men, and children. In addition to their moral conviction against the death penalty, they have a political conviction against it, namely that if it is not applied fairly, then it shouldn’t be applied at all. Even if, by chance, you morally believe in the death penalty, you can still be politically opposed to its use. Their self-sacrificial act, in the face of overwhelming evidence of Daryl Dedmon’s guilt, should challenge us all to think more critically about the death penalty, about racism, about policing, about state coercion and violence–in short, about what we really mean when we say “justice.” 

For the state of Georgia to proceed with the killing of Troy Davis in the name of justice when so much reasonable doubt exists is for them to thumb their noses at the very concept.

Today, the State Board of Paroles and Pardons will hear Davis’ attorneys plea for a grant of clemency. Last week over 600,000 petition signatures were delivered to the board in support of Troy Davis. 

To Troy, we send out this effort of love and energy to you in the spirit of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Pauli Murray, Mary Church Terrell, W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter White, and all those ancestors and freedom fighters who have fought fearlessly for justice, past and present. 

If you want to call and express your support, or sign the petition, see info below.

To get involved, contact:
Gov. Deal of Georgia: 404-656-1776
State Board of Pardons and Paroles:  404-656-5651

Sign Sign’s online petition.

Sign Amnesty International’s petition.

Watch out for the Big Girls: Some Thoughts on TLC’s Big Sexy

15 Sep

One of TLC’s latest unscripted shows, Big Sexy, has been hailed by some critics as a “plus-sized Sex and the City.” The show follows five fluffy friends who live in New York City and work in the beauty industry. Viewers get to tag along as the ladies traverse the ups-and-downs of careers, romantic life, and sisterhood in the Big Apple.

 Despite a premise that didn’t seem to completely insult my intelligence, I was pretty ambivalent about watching the show. Now, let’s not get it twisted. Like some of my fellow CFs, I’m not above watching a little reality TV to pass the time. Catch me at the gym and I might just be keeping up with the Kardashians or some similarly inane E! show.  (Most of my favorite shows are on Food Network or the Cooking Channel and the last thing you want to do while you’re sweating to the oldies is watch Ina Garten make some truffle mac and cheese). Plus, I’ll admit it: one day I got sucked into watching a marathon of Ice Loves Coco. While those are hours that I’ll never get back, I have to say that I was mightily amused. That should count for something, right?

But, I digress. Despite my questionable reality TV show choices, I was not planning on catching Big Sexy. Although the advertisements were fairly innocuous in a world hell-bent on fat shaming (they featured confident plus-sized women sashaying arm-in-arm down glittery NYC streets, proclaiming that the world better “watch out!”), I feared a fetishization of fatness, at worst, or a 60-minute PSA on how “fat people are just like us!” at best. So, while we’re myth busting, let me make some other startling revelations: black people read books, men cry, and gay folks are not out to “convert” straight people. Likewise, Bigfoot (also known as “Sasquatch”) is not real…although there was a brotha I dated for a while in ATL that sort of fits the description…but, that’s a story for another day.

 In other words, I couldn’t forget TLC’s generally shamtastic and rather dubious, exploitative, and ableist lineup of “educational” shows that display a fascination with multiples, little people, and “medical anomalies.” Suffice it to say, I was ready to dismiss the show and avoid it the way I avoid the Basketball Wives franchise.

 But, one night I was flipping through the channels, lamenting that the new season of Parks and Rec was not on yet and I stumbled into watching Big Sexy. And, after all my shit talking, the show was actually kind of decent. The women were smart, funny, and genuinely seem to like and respect one another. (In fact, they are so nice to each other that I fear this show will not last more than one season for lack of “drama”).

 I appreciated that the show’s narrative talked about their careers in fashion in a way that was not dismissive but instead emphasized the women’s creativity and ambition. One woman, who works as a plus-sized model, frankly discussed her frustrations with body image and her agent’s push for her to lose more weight in order to be more marketable. Another woman launched a bikini fashion line that catered to busty women (D cup or higher) who often struggle finding bathing suit tops that don’t look either matronly or super risqué. I especially appreciated the episode when one of the women experienced a breakup; her girls rallied around her, buoyed her spirits, and then they painted the town—as your girls should do. When one woman suggested that they all go to a Big Beautiful Woman (BBW) party, they mostly balked. One complained that only “snaggletoothed” dudes attended such events. Another woman affirmed that mostly men with “fat fetishes” frequented these parties. Remembering a fateful BBW party that Crunktastic and I attended in 2006 or so, I laughed heartily and had to concur.

 Now, I might seem to be gushing about the show, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s perfect. I mean, it’s a show on TLC, so there’s that. It’s not a show that can/will be all things to all people. Still, I did give the side eye to a few things. It’s super-heteronormative, for one. Big girls are on all parts of the sexual continuum and it would be cool to reflect that. Also, I do find it interesting that there are no African American women on the show. (The show features three white women and two Latinas). Considering all the public chatter about black women and our weight, I think it’s an interesting choice that the producers of the show have made. It would also be interesting to see some Asian and indigenous sisters too. You know, big girls do come in all shades and ethnicities.

And, speaking of race, the dating episode did have an interesting tidbit about black folk—black men, in particular. All of the women remarked that mostly black men approached them and that white men very rarely did so. Then the ladies hosted a BBW party that screened out the busted and digusted and they came up with about 20 or so generally attractive black and Latino brothas. By the end of the party, most of the women had multiple phone numbers and were calling the night a success. Now, I wasn’t sipping haterade as I watched the show (it was  margarita), but I did think, “See, all these women are beautiful, but they are all lighter than a paper bag and, despite what we might have said in the 90s, light-skin has never been out of style.” Now, I certainly don’t expect TLC to discuss issues of skin-color privilege on this light-hearted show, especially considering how volatile the issue is (let’s not forget last year’s conversation on colorism on the blog was like a feminist death match), but I did think that fact complexion is often a significant factor in dating is worth remembering.

 So far, I think Big Sexy is fun and I’ll probably add it to my arsenal of procrastination programming. I look forward to seeing a variety of shows that more accurately reflect diverse body types without simply relegating full-figured folks to shaming or punchlines. I mean, can a big girl get some love?


Refereeing Serena: Racism, Anger, and U.S. (Women’s) Tennis

12 Sep

Yesterday, I tuned in, as I have done nearly every summer since I was nine or ten years old, to watch the finals of the U.S. Open. Serena Williams was vying for her 15th Grand Slam title against Australian player Sam Stosur.

As I tuned in, I steeled myself for the endless stream of racist commentary from the sportscasters, of whom Mary Carillo, Chris Evert, and Darren Cahill are the chief offenders.

All honest tennis players and stans will admit that the Williams Sisters have transformed the game of women’s tennis. They have brought power and speed to bear in ways that used to be relegated to the men’s game. With their power serves, speed, and willingness to chase down and make impossible shots, the Sisters also upped the physical fitness requirements for champions.

When asked about 3 years ago how the Williams Sisters had transformed the game, Darren Cahill offered rather hesitantly, “they have opened the doors to people from all walks of life.” Really? That’s it? Tennis is more colorful now that the Williams Sisters have been a part of it? Thanks for the magnanimity, Darren. 

But it is the female commentators who make me want to spit nails. Mary Carillo and occasional commentator and tennis legend Chris Evert are the worst of them all.  Mary Carillo vacillates between loving Serena—now, anyway—and criticizing her. In the early part of their careers, the sisters winning game was attributed to their powerful bodies. But they were frequently accused of “lacking strategy,” “not thinking about their shots,” and “relying on their ‘natural athleticism.”  Whey they started coming to the net and winning, their success was attributed yet again to their “natural athletic ability.” The Williams Sisters were represented as hypermasculine, unattractive women overpowering dainty white female tennis players (although Jennifer Capriati, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin are anything but dainty.) These narratives about Black bodies as “naturally athletic,” “more powerful,” “more wild,” “less thoughtful,” and “less strategic” and black female bodies as “(un)naturally strong, invulnerable, and unattractive”– are central to Western narratives of white racial superiority.

I knew the hateration would be back in full force this year, when I tuned in to watch Donald Young, a wild card player in an early round match.

As Young played, John McEnroe, who has been a great defender of Serena, Patrick McEnroe went on a diatribe about how “undisciplined” Young is and how the USTA (US Tennis Assoc) has had “problems” with him. Young stopped training at the the USTA’s tennis academies, and has instead chosen to let his parents train him at the facility they opened in ATL. But if Black players continue to defect from the formal ranks of the USTA, to train by themselves, perhaps the issue is not with the players or “their lack of discipline,” but rather with the USTA itself?  Perhaps the problem is with a tennis system that largely sees Black players as a “problem.”

How does it feel to be a problem?

Still, it is the Williams Sisters who bring to the surface most of the problems with racism in U.S. tennis.

After losing the first set to Sam Stosur, Serena hit a winner at 30-40 in the 1st game of the 2nd set. Trying to pump herself up, she yelled out, “come on!” before Stosur hit the ball, apparently violating a little known “point hinderance” rule.  The point, played at 30-40 on Serena’s racket, was taken away giving Stosur the first game.  The ref had the discretion to call for replay of the point, or take it away, if it was deemed intentional. Clearly, it was unintentional.

Serena gave the ref the business for the next three games. She accused her of being the ref “that screwed me over last time,” remarking, “that is so not cool.” Turns out, the ref was not in fact the same person. Then during two changeovers Serena mocked the referee, telling her that she was “unattractive, pause, pause, pause, inside.” As she insulted the ref, Serena told her “don’t even look at me. I am not the one!”

Serena’s outbursts could be costly. At the 2009 Open, she was fined $82,500 and put on probation for threatening to shove a ball down the throat of a referee who kept giving her poor calls.  After yesterday’s show of anger, she could be banned altogether. That move would be unfortunate, unfair, and costly for the game of women’s tennis.

Yes, Serena lost yesterday’s match because Sam Stosur played better. But I must point out that Serena played the semifinal  until almost midnight on Saturday evening, only to have to turn around a play the finals match at 4:30 pm Sunday. The tennis officials capitalized on the Williams Sisters primetime appeal, by making Williams play her match after the two men’s semis. The move makes no sense (why split up the women’s semis?) unless we consider what the Williams Sisters mean for the USO’s bottom line.

And frankly, I see Serena’s outburst as understandable and amusing.  Call me a Williams stan if you want to. It’s true. But this is not about simple loyalty.

Yes, I’m aware of all the ways in which her acts in this moment reinforce stereotypes of the Angry Black Woman. However, we cannot use our investment in a respectability politic which demands that Black women never show anger or emotion in the face of injustice to demand Serena’s silence. Resistance is often impolite, and frequently it demands that we skirt the rules.

Even so, when asked about her loss yesterday, Serena, while not remorseful about her exchange with the ref, was nothing but gracious to Sam Stosur on her win.

Moreover, the USTA loves angry heckling players—as long as they are white men. Early in the tournament, there was a video and interview tribute to Jimmy Connors, a player legendary for his angry outbursts on the court. In the tribute they devoted extended time to showing one of the more famous of these outbursts, in a celebratory manner. White anger is entertaining; Black anger must be contained. (Check out #7, 5, and 4 to see how regular such displays are in tennis.)

Serena continues to disrupt tennis spaces with her dark-skinned, powerful body, her flamboyant sartorial choices, her refusal to conform to the professional tennis obstacle course, and her willingness to get angry and show it.

That disruption is necessary—because however “right” or “wrong” it may technically be—it demonstrates that all is not well racially in tennis. Black folks—men and women—are still largely understood within a narrative of brute, undisciplined physical strength—rather than as athletes who bring both physical and intellectual skills to their game.  As long as these issues remain, tennis will continue to be “unattractive” from the inside out.  

10 Years Later – Memory and Memorials

11 Sep

Today is the 10th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the US. The media and the blogosphere are abuzz with news and specials, with memory and memorials.

I was in college 10 years ago, planning a career in science. My whole life has changed since then. My entire politicization happened in the context of September 11th, and the ensuing wars. As a young South Asian woman, that context was intimately personal. My family, my friends, my politics, and even own skin were points of reckoning in this contextualization.

I have so many charged emotions about this day, as a person of South Asian descent, as an immigrant to the US, as a woman. Today, my reflections are intensely concentrated around the idea of war and what it means to have spent most of my adult, politically-aware, life in a country at war with people who look like I do.

Today, I’m thinking about lives lost and lives changed : the people who died in the attacks 10 years ago, their families, the US soldiers who have died in the wars in the Middle East, their families, the people in Iraq and Afghanistan who have died, and their families. The costs in human life and in money are tremendous. But what seems lost, at least to me, in the mainstream analysis, is how these losses are all interconnected, and trying to understand what kind of effect being at war for 10 years can have on our social fabric.

As I look to the brave men and women of the Arab world, who are resisting tyranny, I see in them what I see in immigrants rights activists who are camped at the US/Mexico border trying to bring attention to the migrant deaths occuring there. When I work with reproductive justice advocates working across racial lines to challenge the hateful billboards targeting women of color and their right to control their fertility, I think of the women of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir square – all of us fighting for ownership of our bodies and our minds.

These connections, these constellations of resistance, are what sustain me. Today, I feel connected to all those who have experienced loss and are able to translate that experience into political solidarity. When everything around us pushes us to become stingy with our love and narrow-minded in our politics, challenging insularity and isolationism by standing next to someone who has also experienced loss is my deepest source of hope.

Suheir Hammad’s words on war come back to me every September and so I’ll leave you with them now:


Update: Justice for Kelley Williams-Bolar!

8 Sep

In January, we reported the story of Ohio mom, Kelley Williams-Bolar. Bolar was arrested for “records falsification,” tried, convicted, and sentenced to nine days in prison for sending her two daughters to school in a more affluent district outside of Akron where she resided. In July, in a move that defies reason, a parole board denied her request for clemency. Their decision amounted to an especial form of cruel and unusual punishment because prior to her conviction,  Ms. Williams-Bolar had returned to college to complete required coursework to become a teacher for special needs children. With a felony conviction on her record, funding for college and a teaching job would be impossible to obtain. But we are happy to report that Ohio Governor John Kasich disagreed with the parole board and granted Williams-Bolar clemency earlier this week. The result is that her felony convictions have been reduced to misdemeanors, and she will be able to pursue her education and her dreams of becoming an educator. The violence, humiliation, an undue hardship that she has had to endure at the hands of our mostly flawed criminal justice system is not lost on us. Indeed these narratives of bad Black mothering coupled with a belief in Black criminality continue to endanger the life chances of Black people, particularly women and children. We need a new conversation about public education in this country, one that pivots upon a fundamental restructuring of the ways schools are funded. Property ownership has long been used to disfranchise Black folk, and now property taxes have become another way to structurally discriminate against the poor, who are disproportionately Black and Brown. This must change. For while Ms. Williams-Bolar has now been given “a second chance,” according to Kasich <and he gets the serious side eye for the condescending and sanctimonious language>, her daughters have been forced to return to subpar Akron schools. Williams-Bolar’s reprieve, then, is a small victory and certainly worthy of celebration, but the battle for equal education and opportunity is far from won.

Rituals , Spells, and Intuition

5 Sep

I come from a world where you don’t mess with your ancestors, dreams have meaning, seashells give advice, upside down coffee cups tell stories, and practicing black magic has severe consequences. As a child, I would sit between my mother and aunties’ legs witnessing women tipping stained coffee cups to the side, preaching of ills and/or prosperity yet to come. I would listen intently to them speak of cleansing rituals and baths that needed to be performed to keep evil spirits and negativity at bay. They would mesmerize me recounting dreams where lottery numbers, impending pregnancies, and cheating husbands were part of encrypted messages. They’d talk about so-and-so’s future, what she needed to do to whip it in the right direction, and sometimes who the no-good person was to blame for “puttin’ somethin’ on her.”

My childhood memories are full of elders’ stories recounting all types of experiences with spirits and countless inexplicable events. Though, at the time, my young/Americanized self often questioned the logic of it all, I knew two things: some things you just don’t mess with; and our ancestors were more powerful than we could ever imagine. I learned that you could talk to the spirits that always protected you and rebuke the ones that were up to no good. It was clear that just because you didn’t see it, it didn’t mean it didn’t exist, and that some things you just couldn’t explain.

Is this too cryptic? Okay, I will give you a personal account. In college I was fortunate enough to study folkloric dance in Cuba for a month, with two of my closest friends. While there, we happened to meet a guy who told us that his uncle practiced Santería. We all came from similar backgrounds (i.e. we believed) and decided to visit the Santero. While in the waiting room, a woman (related to the Santero and a practitioner) looked at me and said “your ovaries are sick.” I looked at her in disbelief. She looked me in the eyes and repeated in a stern voice, “your ovaries are sick.” Later on during my actual session, I was told that my mate was cheating on me. I went back to the states, scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist, and found out that I had a medical condition. My ovaries were indeed sick.  My mate also proved to be a  hot – trifling – mess. Needless to say: I believe.

Years later I read The Secret and came to the conclusion that the quantum physics theory had nothing on the stories I would hear as a child and my first hand experiences as an adult. Yes, you do have the power to control your surroundings with positive thought. However, the reality is that if you aren’t on top of your shit (that includes living a positive life & listening to your intuition), other people’s ill intent will inevitably effect you. Sometimes people just put stuff on you. For those of you that still don’t understand that last statement, I will be clear: sometimes people put spells on you, or like my people like to say, practice the brujería.

So, what is a feminista to do? I really don’t know. What I can tell you is what I do. I try to live a positive life. I love. I pray. I made a vision board that inspires me daily. I also have a shrine to Yemaya (because the Santero told me she was always with me). I honestly just try to be the best person/daughter/sister/friend/girlfriend/earthling that I can be.

So, for those that continue to hate on me (and I am thinking of a few individuals in particular…probably reading this right now) you should know that I pray for you every night. I pray for your health, your emotional well-being, your success and your happiness. I know (because my intuition tells me) that you are up to no good.

You should stop.



Bathing in Florida water, honey and rose petals right now,


Irene, Erykah and the Stuff after Storms

2 Sep

When Irene whistled, I listened to Erykah. Curled on a daybed in the dark, I rummaged for ways to salvage stuff in the midst of a hurricane when Badu pleaded to the self-proclaimed bag lady on a drained battery to let it go.

This summer, I returned to my Virginia hometown to weather a different kind of storm. Separated from my partner and seeking a homeplace to complete research for my “tenure” book, I found myself searching in a cardboard box—a time capsule, which housed old academic awards, articles, and origami-folded, water-stained yes-no-will-you-go-with-me love letters that date back to the 6th grade. I sifted through old things to seek some form of validation or affirmation after being told by faculty unfamiliar with women of color knowledge production that my work was too little, and being told by my partner familiar with yes-man women that our relationship was too much. Retreating home to recover and write felt right until I had no electricity and I began bumping into that box and all of the baggage that I brought back with me.

And then, the hurricane came. The hurricane came when I realized the amount the stuff I carried. There was the physical stuff dispersed in offices, storage facilities, my car, my “hobo” purse, and other folks’ houses; the virtual stuff that needed constant attention lest I risked losing data or (meaningful) connections; and, the psychic stuff of growing up poor, black and female and feeling the pressure to do more and be more so that others would see me as equal.  The weight of stuff seemed to be all-consuming.

Our stuff is a product of living in a consumer capitalist culture, which encourages us to accumulate things to feed the economy, and to feed our feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction. Shows, such as Hoarders, Storage Wars and Pawn Stars represent a new genre of reality television that captures how we deal with it in our lives. After experiencing one day without electricity, my father fueled a generator for a few hours to power deep freezers, a George Foreman grill, and a portable television because we didn’t want to lose the already thawed food or the chatter that cut the silence when we ate dinner. We sat together, yet we experienced emptiness.  It was as if the room had to be filled with something other than ourselves.

Before Irene, it would have been difficult for me to imagine voluntarily moving to a new space with a single suitcase. Today, I am abandoning the bag lady for the kinda (self) love that Badu, Bambara and Crunkadelic said would make life better. It might not be the easiest thing to do, but shedding some of the stuff that I have held onto for years might make handling life’s unexpected disasters lighter.

Power restored.

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