Archive | August, 2012

Throwback Thursday: Back-to-School Beatitudes–10 Academic Survival Tips

30 Aug

Update, August 2012

Next week,  my full time grind starts again, after a year of being on fellowship, which allowed me the time to think, read and begin the process of writing my first book. I’m grateful for the time. It has been a year of re-learning old lessons, numbers 1, 2, 4,  and 5 below to be exact. This year, I have worked through a terrible case of imposter syndrome, learned over and over again to be patient with my own ideas, recognizing that good ones take time to develop, come to understand that gentleness with myself is the prerequisite for  and not an impediment to productivity, and finally, when I landed in the hospital, began to prioritize self-care. I try to remind myself  regularly to trust the process, to trust myself, and to trust God.  (On good days, I can do all three.)
 
In the meanwhile,  I started riding bikes again for the first time since childhood, took frequent trips to the beach, spent some extra time kicking it with the CFs this summer, and started juicing. They are all small ways that I have affirmed my own value with intention and deliberateness. I hope if you haven’t already, that you will do the same. It’s never too late to begin.

Original Post

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.

Memories, survival and safety

27 Aug

TRIGGER WARNING This post contains information about sexual violence that may be triggering to survivors.

I know if feels like I been gone for a minute but now I’m back, green tea on ice with a fitted. :)

Mi familia, it has been a while since I last posted. I have to be honest, for a while it didn’t feel safe to write for the blog. I am an extremely private person. So private that even Facebook gives me the creeps. Consequently, it felt like writing for the collective and speaking frankly about my experiences, thoughts, doubts, fears and feelings exposed me more than I felt comfortable with. Most folk don’t really understand that this ish right here is not easy. We expose our true selves regularly and though we have many wonderful and thoughtful fans, there are those who often cross the line and say many unnecessary and hurtful things. At the end of the day, we are all just real people with real feelings. We’re also real sensitive about our shit.

I have been thinking about what to write for a very long time, six months to be exact. Every single time I thought about a topic, it felt like I was exposing too much of myself. The more I thought about it, the more it became clear: writing sometimes makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable. These emotions are often difficult for me to deal with. They bring back unwanted memories. The first time I felt this way I was eleven years old.

It was father’s day and I was at my grandparent’s house for the summer. All of the grown folks were drinking and playing card games. I remember going up to my grand parents and saying that I was going to go to bed, that I was scared to be in the house by myself and asking them not to take long before they too retreated for the night.

I went to bed, fell asleep and woke up with my grandfather on top of me. His hands were all over me as he licked my face and repeated, “suck on my tongue.”  I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t even scream. At some point, my grandmother opened the door to the house. Once he heard the sound of the door opening, he quickly got off of me and jumped into the bed he shared with her.

He did not rape me. However, he did scar me for life. He stole my childhood and all of the childhood innocence I once had. From that moment on I understood that there was evil in the world. I was so ashamed of what happened that I didn’t tell anyone. For years, I blamed myself and wished I had had the courage to tell someone, anyone of what he was capable of. To make matters worse, I blamed myself – convinced that I was a bad little girl. Sadly, my child logic told me that God, wouldn’t let this happen to me had I been a good little girl.

It took years for me to realize that it was not my fault; that I was just a child; that the adults that were supposed to take care of me failed; and that he was the one to blame. The Church taught me that there was great power in forgiveness and I made an honest attempt to forgive him. I convinced myself that alcohol made him do it. Sadly, that was not the truth and I received a rude awakening at the age of fifteen. I was at my mother’s apartment doing my homework while a movie starring Tom Cruise played in the background. I was sitting in the living room couch and from the corner of my eyes could see my grandfather fidgeting in his seat. At one point Mr. Cruise kissed the female lead and my grandfather looked over and said, “Do you remember when we did that?” He said those words with pride. That is when I realized that I could never forgive him for what he did to me. I remember screaming at him, going to my room, calling my best friend and having a panic attack. After that incident, I decided to tell my mother. When I told her, she yelled at me and asked me why I hadn’t told her sooner. She expressed anger at my silence because I had a little sister and he may have done the same to her or to others. [Note: this is NEVER an appropriate response. It is never the responsibility of children to protect other children. That is what adults are for.]

My grandfather died of prostate cancer a few years after that incident. I remember trying to console my mother for her loss while being very angry at God for giving him that much time on this earth. Unfortunately, I was not the only one damaged by his actions. Other women have come out and admitted that he fondled them as well.

My story is a very complex one. I was abused by my grandfather at an early age and was later forced to live with him after the abuse had occurred. I couldn’t tell anyone, but in hindsight the clues that I was abused were always there, the adults around me just didn’t know what to do with the information. We often don’t know what to do with child abusers in our families or our communities. That is a sad truth.

The story does not end there. My grandfather was not the only one to abuse me; there were babysitters and family friends who also stepped out of line and fondled me. The memories are fuzzy. For a very long time I was haunted by my lack of childhood memories. In my mid twenties I inexplicably started crying without reason or provocation and decided to seek therapy. Even at the therapist’s office, I just couldn’t keep it together. I discovered that the crying episodes had to do with the fact that there was so much I couldn’t remember. I was horrified about the fact that my subconscious blocked away five years of memories. What could be so horrific that my subconscious would lock it all away? What would happen to me if I were to remember all of it? Would the memories break me? My therapist reassured me that I didn’t have to remember and that I was safe now. I found that to be quite liberating and only then was I able to stop crying. Thank goodness for therapy.

I am better now but I often have nightmares. There is no rhyme or reason to when they come, they just do. In fact, my girlfriend recently revealed to me that I often quietly sob in my sleep. I do not want to make this post longer than it already is but need to be clear that there are a lot of details to my story that I am not including here. It is nearly impossible to package our stories in neat and linear boxes. Although, I am a survivor of child abuse, this does not define me. This story is complex. My story is complex. I am complex.

I am sharing this story because I think there is power in sharing your truths. I do not live in fear anymore. I am indeed safe. I hope with all of my heart that other victims of sexual abuse can one day say the same.

The following are some facts about child abuse:

1)   While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or trusted individuals. Child molesters, pedophiles and perpetrators are everywhere: they are parents, grandparents, family members, teachers, neighbors and friends.

2)   Oftentimes survivors of child abuse are forced to see their abusers regularly.

3)   Perpetrators know how to identify their victims. Consequently, victims of sexual abuse are often vulnerable to abuse by multiple people.

4)   Most child abuse cases go unreported.

5)   There are often many signs that a child is suffering from abuse.

6)   It takes a lot of courage to tell anyone that you have been a victim of abuse.

7)   It is never okay to blame the victim.

8)   If you or someone you love has suffered because of abuse, please know that there are many resources out there:

~Crunkista

Claressa Explains It All

24 Aug

Claressa Shields wins Gold as the ref holds up her hand in victory!

I’ve always been ambivalent and maybe even a little skittish about sports. They seem violent and remind me of The Hunger Games, particularly with the amount of POC presence and the injuries athletes incur. I wasn’t invested in the Olympics until my tumblr friends started pointing out the racism, sexism and nationalism in NBC’s coverage and Cruntastic’s two pieces about the ill treatment of Gabby Douglas.

Now the games are over and Gabby’s on a cereal box, a mural in VA beach and has appearances on fancy shows. I’m super excited for her but as I got caught up in the Olympic fever, there were other athletes who I want to see on TV. In particular, I wonder why there hasn’t been the same level of love and adoration for Claressa Shields.

Her story is ultra compelling, a hard knock life, a survivor, just 17 and she’d only been defeated once in her entire boxing career before the Olympics! She won gold, defeating someone much older than her! She even got in trouble for repeatedly sticking her tongue out at her opponents (na na, na na na). In her own words, “she’s bad!” But how come Claressa can’t be in the spotlight with or like Gabby?

First, Gabby and Claressa’s sports are different. Gymnastics is elite and elegant. It’s appropriately feminine too. People have a different idea about boxing, and women’s boxing at that. Claressa is already de-feminized by the sport she plays. The way that the sports are classed also maps on to the way both Gabby and Claressa speak. Claressa’s Flint inflects her every word.

For all the talk of Gabby’s hair, Claressa’s showed the wear of the work she put into getting her gold. Gabby can be a black girl hero, someone to aspire to, someone whose hair matters in sub plots of black respectability and heteronormative desirability. Claressa gets a pat on the head and a good job. She’s not a credit to the race or gender, not someone we want our daughters to look up to and emulate.

No shade to Gabby, but damn it, Claressa is my hero. She don’t take no stuff and chose boxing because she was tired of people seeing black girls as an easy target. Everyone knows a good defense starts with a good offense and she’s got a killer left-handed jab (I know, I’m mixing sports metaphors). Claressa’s prowess can not be understated. Her physical, mental and emotional commitment to her sport have inspired me and have me looking for boxing gyms in my area. Who’s with me?

Throwback Thursday: no strings

23 Aug

In as many days I have had conversations with two homegirls who are negotiating the complications of no-strings-turned-tangled situations with could-be, should be, damn near would be lovers.  Sex is serious business.  Because while everybody should be able to get their physical needs met, there are other, more complicated and tangled needs wrapped up somewhere between tight thighs and restless bodies.

In her collection “The Love Space Demands (a continuing saga)” Ntozake Shange says, “Watching the women in my group suppress giggles, raise eyebrows, and wiggle in their seats, I realized that we all were having trouble separating love from sex, sensuality from affection, devotion from masochism, and independence from fear of intimacy.”

Uhm-hm.

She also says, “The ephiphany of orgasms or infatuations is a consistently sought after reward for leading an otherwise reasonable life.”

#Word!

My throwback (originally posted March 3, 2012) is a poetic tribute to all of the ways our (sexual and emotional) needs and wants struggle to get met at the same time.

no strings

i thought that i

could be brave enough

to make love to you

with

no

strings attached

but your arms around me felt like strings

your fingers, like strings

when you used them to massage my neck

and caress my back

and my legs

felt like strings

when i

held them around your neck

& squeezed and scratched your back

leaving marks that looked like strings

i thought

we could be happy together

laughing before, during, and after

wrapped up in damp sheets

and avoiding each other’s eyes so that we can pretend that it wasn’t that deep

all that touching and holding and moaning

we just did

because we are f’cking without strings

attached

but it felt like a string

pulling and luring me back to you

tying your hands above your head

torturing you with my eyes

because the strings would not allow me to look any other way

or place

as I straddled you and rode you to perfection

but it’s cool because

i never promised to love you

and you never promised to love me back

and i don’t need you to love me

i just want you to want me. . .back

but these strings in my heart

won’t let me

my pride

won’t let me

hold on to false strings

yet somehow i got attached

© R. Boylorn, 2012

America breeds terrorists. And they are white not brown.

20 Aug

My heart is hurting. I am grateful for this platform and disgusted as I try to help amplify voices that shouldn’t need to tell their sad stories.

America breeds terrorists. And they are white not brown.

Wade Michael Page, Sikh Temple Terrorist

Wade Michael Page, Sikh Temple Terrorist

My parents grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 60’s. They were 16 when four little girls were bombed in church. In a Christian church… on a Sunday.

Terror is being scared to go to your place of worship because someone might try to kill you there.

Terror is being “confused” with another more “deserving” target of violence.

Terror is watching the news say that a terrorist made a “mistake” and that you were the intended and implied fair target of deadly violence.

Terror is eight incidents of violence in eleven days that are willfully being ignored and not connected.

Terror is attacks on your communities not being called terrorist attacks.

Terror is knowing that the cops killed your son and having to rely on the (in)justice system for justice.

Terror is being shot dead by the cop who hit your 4 year old daughter with his motorcycle.

Terror is being incarcerated for defending yourself when you were attacked.

Terror is white people comparing you and your struggle to their right to have guns in a library.

Terror is being brown, black, immigrant, non white, non straight, non cis, in a culture that will kill you for it.

These recent tragedies are not random, nor senseless. They are the product of an ethnocentric culture that assumes white and might are right. I see opportunity for solidarity across communities of color and faith in the wake of this violence. I hope that these tragic points of connection can be the impetus for new alliances across differences.

Throwback Thursday: A Love Poem for Single Mothers

16 Aug

Hey girl, I’m calling

Cause I got your text

Seems you might need a hug

And a minute to vent

So you spent one more night

Trying to find the words

To explain that joint parenting

Means JOINT WORK!

Image

That what he can’t pay for

Can be supplemented with time

Especially since you’re working

And studying at night

Image

He seems to believe

That you are well paid

Even though you are overqualified

For a job that you hate

But you stay cause you have to

And your boss knows that well

But her singing your praises

Is not paying your bills

Image

And you’re tired I know

Because you tell me so

From the bullshit at work

To the bullshit at home

Cause he said he was coming

But then something came up

You finally made plans

But now you are stuck

He says they can visit

Now that he’s moved away

As long as you pay for

Plane tickets each way

Now he’s taking you to court

Because he has not seen them

But has not paid ANY child support

Since you left him

Image

You are buying the school clothes

Supplies and new shoes

Paying for aftercare

Shopping for good schools

There’s soccer, dance class

And pediatric care

Dropping off, picking-up

Brushing her hair

Managing the five emotions

they have in five minutes

Begging for bathroom privacy

until you are finished

All this seems to happen

In a matter of weeks

You are wanting to scream

You can barely speak

So just bring them over

You need some time

To breath, do yoga,

Sleep and unwind,

Have sex if you want to

Do nothing at all

They can hang with their auntie

I was waiting for your call

And here is some money

For that overdue bill

Some tickets to a play

A container with a meal

Don’t fight me just take it

You deserve a full day

To get yourself centered

To just get away

Image

And when you return

Feeling rested and loved

You’ll get your children, a small bag of dirty clothes

And that hug.

Image

Ratchet Feminism

14 Aug

Down in the A, as all things Love and Hip Hop go, ish is moving from CRUNK to straight up RATCHET very quickly.

One of the things that brought the CFC together besides our love of and immersion in Atlanta’s Hip Hop culture is a desire to have less high brow conversations about the range of ways feminism can look in the everyday lives of women of color.

Despite all the ratchetness that goes on on LHHATL, I actually find it refreshing on a couple of levels. The myriad friendships between women seem genuine, especially between Erica, Rasheeda and K-Michelle. 

When I look at the way they have each other’s back, it reminds me of the community of sisters I’ve been blessed to have both within and beyond the CFC, who hold me down in every necessary way.

Friendships are never uncomplicated though. In last night’s episode, I was really disappointed when Rasheeda questioned the truthfulness of K-Michelle’s testimony about being a survivor of domestic violence. Who will believe us if we can’t believe each other?

Kudos to K-Michelle for owning, naming, and standing by her own truths and using her story to empower other young women.

On Twitter, one of my guy friends called her “crazy” and suggested that she shouldn’t be believed. “Crazy” in what way I asked?  Loud? Boisterous? Outspoken? Over-the-Top? Ratchet? K-Michelle is certainly gregarious. She’s the kind of friend I’d wanna take to a party with me for sure. But none of her quote-unquote RATCHET qualities justify anyone putting his hands on her.

Rasheeda’s disbelief grows out of the same logic; if a woman is not a perfect sweetheart, her credibility is shot. But there is another way to think about it, one that doesn’t scrutinize victims so much as it does perpetrators.

Abusers can reinvent themselves on the daily, being perfect gentleman to the women they are currently with, while being abusive assholes to their exes. #beentheredonethat So rather than questioning K-Michelle, if I were Rasheeda, I’d be concerned about whether Toya is good.

But hell, Rasheeda’s got an emotionally manipulative man of her own. I swear when I watched that whole scene where she fell on her sword, retained him as her manager, and confessed that she had been too focused on her grind, I wondered if the producers took a page from the play book of Tyler Perry.

The kind of emotional acrobatics Rasheeda had to do to appease Kurt’s ego would make Gabby Douglas proud. All the while he sits smugly with an unstated emotional ultimatum: “if you love me, you’ll retain me as your manager.”

My question to Kurt is: and if you love her, then what are you willing to do for her?

I continue to be amazed by the fundamental selfishness of some brothers and their lack of willingness to own their ish.

Take Scrappy. A woman has to cry from the pain you caused before you recognize that she loves you? Seriously? I’m confused. Are we in emotional Kindergarten? I can appreciate Scrappy’s attempt to grapple with the impoverished conceptions of emotionality that his own mother Mama Dee has handed down to him, but I’m more concerned about the baby mama(Erica), bestfriend/homie (Shay), and daughter Emani that are casualties of his attempt to emotionally grow the fuck up.

I also appreciate that for all the pathology and “bad black mothering” Mama Dee represents, we find Erica providing an alternative narrative of motherhood, that is conscientious, healthy, and committed. Rarely are the portrayals of Black women and mothering on TV complicated and multi-layered enough to contest the implications of Moynihan.

Despite my impatience with these brothers and the men in my own life around emotional (im)maturity, my conversations with the fabulous Esther Armah around the importance of #emotional justice have reminded me that we “diaspora folk” are usually working with a surplus of “untreated trauma” and a deficit in terms of our emotional tools. So we must be patient with one another. Patient, but not unwise, or unduly self-sacrificing. Translation: don’t keep putting up with bullshit, if there is no real move to change.

 And that is why the award for “Ratchet Feminist of the Week” goes to Karlie Redd!!!!

 

 (I know, I know. I was shocked, too!) When Benzino started to give her static about being so career driven, she said to him, “you just want me somewhere barefoot and pregnant.” Yes, Karlie, call out that sexism! He’d prefer “barefoot and butt naked,” but the principle is the same. As he said, “relationships are a two-way street and her career is taking up both lanes.” Stay in her lane= Know Your Place 2.0: #theremix

Sure career chicks should make sure that our careers aren’t all we have going for us, but when it’s truly male ego at play, we should not let that shit slide.

 Karlie stood her ground and affirmed her right to be career driven, held Benzino accountable for his anger and his unchecked ego, and demanded that they both give practical solutions to the problem. Yay for healthy conflict resolution!

LHHATL may be long on all things Ratchet. The antics of Steebie and Joseline confirm that for sure. But the show also clues us in to some of the cultural and social roots of our collective ratchetness and emotional wretchedness. Left untreated, our traumas can cause us to heap pain and violence on each other, physical and emotional.   For me, the show reminds me of the continued importance of the feminist work we do. Not just in analyzing representations, but also in providing language that helps women call out sexism and domestic violence, even if they don’t do it in academic terms.  It doesn’t matter if the sisters are loud, uncouth,  “ghetto,” “hood rich” or struggling; if they call out sexism and challenge its operation in their lives, then they’re down for the cause. To me, this is the kind of feminism that matters most. Our ad nauseum academic stunting can’t save us when shit gets real. Feminism that works is the only feminism I believe in. And as long as Hip-Hop culture perpetuates Black male emotional immaturity, the women in the culture can and must coopt and appropriate its terms in ways that facilitate survival.  So #letsgetratchet! 

So share your reactions to this week’s episode or the show in general.

Is it time for some new ways to think about and understand feminism?

What are your strategies for pursuing emotional justice and health in your relationships?

What violence does

13 Aug

A Sikh woman and her young child walk toward a temple flagpole to remember shooting victims from the Oak Creek Gurdwara in Wisconsin during a vigil at the Sikh Temple in Yuba City, Calif. on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.
Nate Chute, ASSOCIATED PRESS – AP

These things are hard to think about. They are painful to feel. They engender confusion and rage.  After the shooting at the Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin two weeks ago, I have found it so difficult to think about the incident and the aftermath. I can’t seem to intellectualize the story without thinking about what it felt like for those inside.

Immediately, I think of all the mandirs and gurdwaras I’ve sat in. I know what they feel like, what they look like, what they smell like and sound like. I know how loud and boisterous prayer there can be – the clanging of symbols and the women singing, and how soft and silent – the hushed humming of hymns by elders. Immediately, I’m transported to those moments.  When I think of violence in that scene, my brain experiences a moment of cognitive dissonance.  And then, a wash of sadness, pain, confusion and rage.

These are the hallmarks of terrorism, though. These feelings of confusion and emotional dissonance. This is what terrorism intends. This is what violence does.

This violence, though, is of a kind. It was fueled by bigoted hatred. It was fueled by a racialized rage. It was targeted.

It was not, as it has been called, “senseless.” Nor was it the same as the Colorado movie theater shooting; it was not random. These incidents occurred within days of each other so they are coloring and colored by each other. The things they have in common are apparently only two: these acts of violence were committed by white men, who purchased their guns legally. Many have written about the need for stronger gun laws, and some have written about the racial dynamics herein. Some have even written about the unnamed racism and Islamophobia in the impulse to educate the country about Sikhism (as it is different from Islam) in an effort to clear up any misunderstanding. And then there is the deep beauty of the Sikh faith.

All these points are vital. Race is playing a role in the way we talk about James Holmes, and Michael Page. It is playing a role in the way we talk about their motives: are they “crazy?” It is playing a role in the extraordinary search through our collective consciousness to find a rationale for their actions. And failing to find something, the age-old question: Are they “mentally stable?” Compare and contrast this with the incident in which NYPD shot and  killed Darrius Kennedy, a man reported to be “mentally ill.”  Darrius was black. Darrius was shot 12 times. As NYC officials are scrambling to justify that use of deadly force by appealing to the fact that Mr. Kennedy had a history of mental instability, we see the raced and classed treatment of these men, and these incidents.

These nuances, and political framings are helpful, actually. What has made this process so tenuous, I realize, is what is being asked of me.  Of us all. We seek explanation. We seek understanding. These things do exist, of course. These men had motives. But these are the wrong questions.

We don’t need to ONLY understand their motives and their lives. We need to understand what violence does. We need to understand what racially motivated violence does, in particular. It seeps into our consciousness, it redraws boundaries of safety (movie theaters and temples are no longer “safe”), it makes it seem as though we are not safe anywhere.

This feeling is all too familiar to many of us, black, brown, immigrant, poor, female-bodied, gender non-conforming, non-white, differently-abled, queer, trans etc. This feeling is fear, terror, even. That we are not safe. That is country is not for us. That our difference makes us targets.

It removes our belonging. That is what violence does.

Throwback Thursday: The Twilight of Good Sense

9 Aug

On this Throwback Thursday I wanted to go back to one of my earliest posts. With the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, I got to thinking about what’s up with the fantasy of having a rich white man controlling you. It’s not like many of our realities are that different. I’m just saying. In any event, here are my thoughts on Twilight and the popularity of similar stories.


Yes, this is a post about Twilight. Well, sort of. If you break out into hives at the mere mention of the series (ahem, “saga”) that has tweens, some of their older sisters, and a lot of their mamas enthralled, keep it moving.  I understand your pain.

I was anti-Twilight from the jump. I remember seeing the cover and thinking it was interesting.  (Whoever designed the eye-catching covers for the series is brilliant). Then I read the jacket flap and saw that it was pure crap. In fact, this happened to me a couple of times; I’d see the cover and think, great design and then when I opened it I saw it was the same crappy book. I know the axiom about not judging a book by its cover (or, in this case, by its jacket flap). In fact, I remember going to a book store and seeing the striking cover for asha bandele’s memoir The Prisoner’s Wife and being immediately intrigued. I read the jacket flap and was like, I don’t know if I’m up for this. Fast forward more than ten years later and it’s one of my favorite books and I’ve taught it several times. But, let’s keep it real, Stephanie Meyer is no asha bandele.

And lest you think I’m a sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal romance hater, I’ll let you know I’m not. I grew up reading all of that, in addition to a healthy dose of Harlequins, Danielle Steele, and V.C. Andrews. I devoured Terry Prachett, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, random sword and swashbuckling dragon-fighting novels, and anything that was about mythology or folklore. I read X-Men comics (and watched the cartoon), I was addicted to Batman: The Animated Series, and I watched all of the Star Treks. To this day, Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown is one of my favorite books. (How I managed to sneak in some Jane Austen and Toni Morrison is rather surprising, in retrospect).

I mention my sundry literary history to say that I’m what you might call an Afro Nerd. (And that’s Dr. Afro Nerd to you in the back sniggling). Point is, I know my weird. But just as I was spreading my feminist wings in high school, I began pushing away from the sci-fi. I was reading all this stuff about knights and ladies and traveling into space and I was not seeing myself reflected in the pages. Eventually, I stumbled on Parable of the Sower and it changed my life. I still gave sci-fi the side eye for its racism, sexism, and imperialist fantasies, but I was so happy to find a black! woman! writing! in the genre that I loved.

Anyhow, with my nerdtastic credentials I can smell paranormal bullshit (i.e. Twilight) a mile away. But, when Crunkista said, “Watch Twilight, you’ll enjoy it,” I couldn’t just cast her recommendation aside. I mean, Crunkista knows her stuff. So, I rented the movie and you know what? I laughed my tookus off. I know it’s not supposed to be funny, but that’s half of the fun—guffawing at the ridiculous high school angst and the corny lines, all the while admiring RPattz’s blush and eyeliner, not to mention Taylor Lautner’s abs. (He makes me feel like an old dirty lady, but I digress). I have even read the “saga.” (All I can say is I can never get the hours back that were sucked away by thousands of  cringe-worthy pages. They were good for a guffaw or two, I will say that. Anything to not grade papers).

So many others have rightfully lambasted Twilight (see here, for a start), so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, as it were. I do want to give a shout-out to some good fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction, works that don’t feature vapid, listless, uninteresting protagonists who cannot live without a man and that don’t feature characters of color as the animal attachés to a set of heroic whites. How about Octavia Butler’s Fledging (a great twist on the vampire novel), or Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (black lesbian vampires, ftw!), or if you want to get a little more fluffy, check out the Vampire Huntress series by L.A. Banks, which features fierce vampire hunter Damali and her on-again/off-again vampire beau, Carlos Rivera.

I’ve been thinking a lot about CF Chanel’s post about meeting girls where they are. Like other crunk feminists, I see the efficacy of using what girls are watching, listening to, and reading as a way to engage them. And as Chanel and others have suggested,  we need to show them (and ourselves) that there are choices. And if they haven’t read a novel or story that features the world as they (would like to) see it, they should, as crunk foremother Toni M. suggests, write it. I wonder if when we see our sisters, cousins, daughters, and/or friends reading New Moon or what have you, if we can’t also just slip them a copy of The Gilda Stories (or a blank notebook and a pen) and see what happens. I’m just saying.

take a load off family: black women, hair and the olympic stage

7 Aug

The author on the move in Harlem.

I am no athlete. I have not won an individual sports competition since maybe the second grade. I recall Usaining all comers in the 40-yard dash but, as Kasi Lemmons learned us, “memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others indelibly imprinted on the brain” and I might have photoshopped that one.

My middle school basketball team dominated the Seattle Catholic Youth Organization league but that was due to the AAU players on my team: Megan, petite with Chris Paul’s smarts and speed; and June, a Russell Westbrook-esque scorer.

With high school came the freshman basketball team, aka junior varsity cuts. Public school competition and talent defections resulted in us losing every game of the season. Each timeout we, headstrong and skill-poor, loudly militated against the directives of our sweet coach Leo. My dad, a brief overseas basketball pro and former international basketball coach, spent most of my games in laughter and, quite possibly, shame on the loftiest bleacher next to his rugged white bud who my older sister and I affectionately called Mountain Mike. The other Mike, a black Chicagoan, was my dad’s barefoot running friend.

These days, I too am something of a minimalist runner. I have been marathon training since my birthday two years ago and my lightweight racing flats have propelled me to eight and half minute splits on 30 plus miles a week although if 702 shuffles into rotation, I can break seven minutes. Of course, this feeble athleticism does not compare to the kinesthetic genius we are witnessing at the London 2012 Olympiad, particularly in track & field, which commenced Friday, and showcases athletes of the African diaspora. This heightened visibility has called my attention to the hairstyle choices of black women competitors. I know full well that the firestorm that has surrounded teen Gold-medal gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair makes this a sore subject but know that my distress is rooted in love. I’m confused as to how heat-retaining, scalp-suffocating and often weighty weaves lend themselves to peak performance.

My thick hair is hot on a warm day, let alone during a workout, and I can’t imagine sewing in more. I’ve never worn a weave, nor do I desire to, and, excepting about three years of my life, my hair has been relaxer-free. As a result, I have been able to vigorously c-walk (s/o Serena) to my heart’s content with little concern for root reversion. Madame C.J. Walker does occasionally call and on those occasions, I can’t front, I abstain from exertion for a week. You know how it is.

Beyond my skepticism about the practicality of a skull saddled with multiple packages of Indian Remy in elite competition (and a testament to our excellence is that we still slay), I am concerned about the witness it offers of our esteem, the invidiousness of European beauty standards and the message our adaptations to them send young black girls interested in sport. I am saddened that so many of us equate looking our best with extension-assisted styles. Must we weave, wig, braid in extensions before we hit the pitch, track, mat, slough? I don’t buy that the ubiquity of yaki is about convenience. Show me the receipts. Only thing that accounts for our epidemic edge-sacrifice is history. We been making our way up the rough side of the mountain since the middle passage. Let’s have an honest conversation about what we do not because the world is watching but because we are, would-be Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryces and Sanya Richards Rosses. I’m not proposing a ban on sew-ins but having a conversation about our wholescale investment in them even in the most illogical of circumstances.

Tomorrow I’ll greet the sun with my pillow-dented ‘fro. If I’m feeling vain, I’ll spray bottle my hair with water to define the curl, but most mornings I’m not about that life. I’m about the thrill of coming on the Hudson from my Harlem home, arms pumping, legs kicking, neon lime kicks pounding the pavement to the sounds of Lloyd, Azealia Banks and yes, 702. Sweat beads on my scalp and dots my forehead. It feels good to go hard. The wind blowing through my hair feels even better and, as a bonus, gives lionesque body. By mile five, it’s right voluminous.

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