Archive | September, 2011

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.

Seriously.

Stop.

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

Crunkista

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.

Feminist Musings on Showing Up

1 Sep missing

It’s 11:30 PM. I have a baby with a cold. I have a looming, untouched exam prep list. I have a sink full of dishes. I have students writing me after 9:00 asking for “leeway” in tomorrow’s class. I have a headache. I have a backache. I have anxiety-induced insomnia. I have people. And when the rest of the list makes the latter seem small, my people show up and, as the church folk say, show out.

You may be wishing for a quota on feminist writing about friendship. You may be wishing that we would stand erect and alone, our spines as stiff as steel. You may wish we would stop complaining about the world and study mathematics. You may wish we would just shut the hell up already. You may never have disappeared. You must have always been visible. You may, you must, you should move on if you are bothered. Because my sister friend has told me to show up and I will.

She called because of facebook. Because of the way that we ask others to see us in 500 characters or less. Because I was complaining again, feeling small, feeling like giving up, feeling invisible and less than worthy. Because I drank the academy’s Koolaid and she was calling to “wreck that shit.”

“If you ever feel like disappearing,” she said, “hear my voice telling you to show up.”

It was more than a suggestion. It was a fourteen word holy gift. It was firm finger lifting a heavy chin, a left hand on a right shoulder blade, a mama’s lap, a sister’s hug. It was a conundrum.

If you ever feel like disappearing…

There are millions of disappeared people. They have ceased to exist. They have vanished from sight. They have passed from view. The definitions all depend on a seeing other. Someone ceases to exist (to whom?). Someone vanishes from (whose?) sight. Someone passes from (whose?) view. The truth is that by the time I feel like disappearing, I already have.
I’ve disappeared from doctors who believe brown bodies are already diseased, law officers who color-code deviance, preachers whose conceptions of sin are embodied by Eve, academics who measure my skull and find it wanting… My many disappearances don’t seem to be my choice.

But my friend told me that if I ever feel like disappearing, I should hear her voice. She implied that disappearance could be active, a decision one makes to vanish. I think of my many active disappearances: the “informal” department parties I skip, unwilling to down glasses of wine and pretend not to feel interrogated. I think of the ways I cease to exist as a student by telling myself that my opinions don’t matter, that they aren’t useful or polished enough. I sometimes vanish from sight as a teacher, acting as little more than a moderator for uninformed opinions because of fear that sharing my true self will lead to negative course evaluations. Nervous laughter helps me pass from view in churches when male preachers blame the falls of (biblical and contemporary) great men on (biblical and contemporary) hoes. Some disappearances are active; sometimes disappearance is an act of protection. Other times it is an admittance of defeat.

Hear my voice and show up.
It was more than a suggestion. It was my grandfather telling me to “get my education” as if he, who was raised in the Jim Crow south, knew the process would be/ should be anything but passive. It was a command to stand up and be my Momma’s daughter, to lift my head like she taught me so that the weight of the world wouldn’t crumple my spine. It was an invitation to swagger, the way rappers turn a plea (can’t you see me?) into an accusation (you don’t see me), into a bonafide diss (you can’t see me!) as if intentional blindness is an admission of impotence.

So I accept the invitation and I’ll pay it forward. I will show up in my department as brown bodies always show up, especially against a white background. Others attempt to discredit me because they are afraid I will show them up, that their lies will show up, especially against the background of the truth. We show up for each other because we know firsthand the difficulties of showing up alone. I will show up for my people as they continue to show up for me. And if you ever feel like disappearing, I hope you will hear my voice and show up.

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