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Only Odd*: the Holiday Edition

27 Dec

“Only Odd” is borrowed from tumblr-speak, as in, “I can’t even… I can only odd.”  Bloggers are often expected to react to major events. And though we often comply, the energy expended for such argumentation could also be used to finish manuscripts, start novels, knit sweaters or make passionate love as if the world wasn’t crumbling under the weight of imperialism. Sometimes we can’t. And that’s ok. Here’s a list of things this holiday that made me say, “I can’t even… I can only odd.”

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

If your nose never helped another soul but yourself, you would still be alright with me.

  1. Sandy Hook, Santa Clause, the NRA and the commodity of innocence. A man killed 28 people. Twenty eight. Himself. His mother. Six school employees. Twenty children. We created hierarchies of these deaths based on notions of innocence, notions exploited by various industries.  “Innocent” gets at our pockets. We buy toys in pastels to protect innocence; we lie to children about a classist, red-clad man who visits them but not their friends, a man who will prepare them to believe in a God who rewards the faithful (read rich) with material things. And when faced with a right-before-the-holidays massacre of innocents, we propose buying more guns to protect innocence. All our hands drip blood.
  2. Django. I can’t. I really can’t. Like, I can’t even post links from people who went to see the movie. Would you like to see a movie about slavery? See Sankofa.
  3. Guess who’s (not) coming to dinner? I can’t with the holiday blues. For those who must explain/ defend their singleness to (sometimes) well-wishing elders who grew up in different times. For those who weren’t able to spend holidays with their chosen (read queer) families because of the biases of their kin. For those who weren’t able to spend the holidays with their kin because of their disapproval of their chosen families (read homophobia). I’ve been in 2/3 of those boxes and I can’t. Even.
  4. Catfish marathons over the holiday. From the introduction to the last frame, American conceptions of beauty are unquestioned and reified. Those who manipulate these conceptions to connect with (shallow) others are portrayed as desperate, deviant and ultimately pitiful. Fat hatred, homophobia and ageism are just a few of the things that go unquestioned in this show  that joins the other MTV train wrecks that track on shame.
  5. Heretical holiday characters—like Rudolph. Rudolph stands for everything that our Lorde deplores. Rudolph was only accepted when his difference was valuable to the colonizer of his folks. If the catchy song seems benign, see The Help, Twilight, “Flipping Out” and every other movie, novel or show where the other helps others get they life their lives together.

Sex on Screen: An Intro to the Hella Brown Series (NSFW)

6 Dec

Photo of producer and store owner Nenna J

Porn is what’s hot in the streets (aka halls of the academy) now.

There are brilliant scholars who historicize and build upon black feminist participation in conversations about pornography. And there are others who simplify the argument into a false then vs. now paradigm that presents our foremothers as prudes, not as the women who made it possible for us to talk about sexuality in the ways that we do today. I believe these others wish for the day when black women can talk about sex as if they were white men, with no cloud of controlling images over their heads.

But perhaps I am falling into the pit of false binaries that is the porn war, which keeps popping up in any conversation about filmed sex involving brown bodies:

Good Bad
Sexual freedom Politics of respectability
Wild women Controlling images (mammy, jezebel, sapphire, tragic mulatto)
Fresh scholarship Foundational scholarship
Erotica Pornography
“Cultural producer” Deconstructionist
Avant-garde  erotica Mainstream porn

This polarization misses the nuances of arguments about the ethics and function of pornography, and it also produces a too-narrow site of investigation: mainstream, heterosexual porn.

In short, other folks are working. The (Silicone) Valley isn’t the only place where pornography is being produced and free internet porn often proves the adage about getting what you pay for.

Nenna Joiner, an Oakland-based director and producer, is working.  Nenna J’s films center black women with body types that aren’t affirmed in popular porn, she imagines the gaze of queer black women, and she resists the hackneyed scene endings of normative pornography.  If you want to see women of color perform a giggling, cooing ecstasy, you might want to go to Redtube. But if you are interested in embodied performances that respect the real of the reel, Nenna J’s Hella Brown: Real Sex in the City won’t disappoint. This is a link you don’t want to visit at work, but it’s a good trailer for what was, in my opinion, an awesome movie.

On Tuesday, we’ll talk more about Hella Brown with “Nenna J” herself. Please stay tuned.

** If you have any progressive porn/ erotica that you’d like to see reviewed, please write

We Want to Hang Out With You!

5 Dec

CFs Chanel and Asha ask that you hang out with us on December 11, from 8:00 pm to 8:20 pm. We also talk about our Feminism 101 for Girls project and the necessary steps to plan other events like this. We look forward to hanging out with you!

The Silliest Girl in Vagina Class, or Why Women’s Studies is Needed Now More Than Ever

29 Oct

In the past four years, I’ve developed a favorite pastime: taking advantage of all services covered by my tuition. To my delight, I discovered that my university offers free sexuality counseling. So after spending an hour with the local version of Dr. Sue, I was invited by my new sex therapist to join a three-week class called “I Heart My Vagina.” I signed up enthusiastically, imagining the types of yoni workshops I’d read about in books like Female Ejaculation and the G-Spot: Not Your Mother’s Orgasm Book.

Imagine my shock when I walked into a classroom full of undergrads with crossed ankles and nervous grins. I’d taken the DeLorean straight into my worst memory: middle school family planning class. In all fairness, I did gain some valuable information, my own speculum, free lubricant and the newest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. But since I was one of the oldest women in the class, I also spent a lot of time biting my lip and doing kegels as the freshmen reminded me that youth is wasted on the young. I’d now like to celebrate* the SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS by sharing some of the things she said that were too ridiculous not to write down:

On Being Woman
Dr. Sue: Let’s name one or two things we love about being women. We’ll go around the circle.
Gender Essentialist: Being emotional and loving.
Loud Religious Moralist: Using my body to bring life into the world and producing food with my own breasts.
Me (I am trying to avoid social constructs and stick to the body, but I end up looking like a pervert): I love having a clitoris, a body part designed exclusively for pleasure.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I like that you can wear jeans and skirts and not be gay.
Two women in 'I heart my vagina shirts"

On Gendered Intelligence
Dr. Sue: What you have in your hands is one of the most influential texts about women’s health. Our Bodies, Ourselves was the first American, comprehensive scientific text written by women, for women.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I’ve got a, like, question.
Dr. Sue: Yes?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Being that it’s written and published by women, is all the stuff in this book, like, accurate?

On Ovulation
(Dr. Sue has spent thirty minutes explaining the menstrual cycle…)
Dr. Sue: Go ahead.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Right after your, like, menstruation ends and you stop bleeding and stuff, is that when you can get pregnant?
Dr. Sue: There’s actually a likelihood of conception at every point in the menstrual cycle. There are, however, some days that you’re more fertile than others.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Well when is the day that you can most not likely get pregnant?

On Literacy
Dr. Sue: I’d like to do a study someday to see how students find out information about sexuality. Are you guys reading books or browsing the internet?
Me: I prefer books. I like to build subject libraries.
Modernist: I look things up on the internet. The information is just a click away and it’s free.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I, like, have noticed that I haven’t read much since starting high school. Like, after eight grade when you’re tired of reading your textbook for, like, homework and stuff and you just start to hate it. Do you guys ever feel like that?
Dr. Sue: Sometimes I have less time for reading than I’d like, but I’ve never had an aversion to reading.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: It’s not an aversion; it’s just something I don’t do. Like, if I have some extra time on my hands, I’d rather sleep.
Dr. Sue: Right.

On Abortion:
Loud Religious Moralist: Are there legal limits on the time that a woman has to decide if she will have an abortion?
Dr. Sue: Access to abortions past the first trimester varies by state.

On Surgery
Gender Essentialist: Why do women have C-sections instead of having babies the natural way?
Loud Religious Moralist: Yeah, like we’ve been doing it for five thousand years…
Dr. Sue: Or a couple million…
Loud Religious Moralist: Some say millions, God says thousands… But we’ve been having babies that way for a long time. Why surgery now?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Some people do it for beauty… no, wait…

On Sexual Ethics
Dr. Sue: This has been a fascinating class with a wonderful group! I’m so glad that you all signed up. Before we leave, are there any final comments or questions?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: My mother never talked to me about sex, so I thought that babies magically came out when you were married until I was in the eight grade. And, like, I’m a Christian and I’m just learning about sex so, like, my question is: wouldn’t the church say it’s bad to masturbate if you do it a lot?

* When I first wrote this post, I was making fun of the girl. But reducing the young girl to an object of ridicule only distances me from an earlier version of myself, a girl with less boldness than this character but equal misinformation. In twenty years, I may look at earlier writings and feel the impulse to make fun of myself. I hope I will be wise enough to celebrate this moment for what it is- a spot on a long journey. And I celebrate this girl because she was as bold as she was silly and she was courageous enough to show up each night.

Something to Cry About: Report from the Kitchen Floor (Trigger Alert)

11 Jun Picture of a kitchen floor

Picture of a kitchen floorOne point on which Creflo Dollar and both his daughters agree is that he walked into the kitchen and said, “Why are you crying?” He already knew why. I imagine that he asked his question with a bullying tone; I imagine there was an unspoken threat behind the question, a threat with which too many are familiar: I’ll give you something to cry about.

And to the question with the obvious answer, to the veiled threat, she didn’t give the response Dollar required. According to Dollar, his daughter didn’t give enough deference to his privileged position. She didn’t acknowledge his authority. She “became very disrespectful.”  He told the police that he approached her to “restrain” her. That’s his report.

I have a report of my own, one from my own kitchen floor. Distance, linearity and many of the things you expect as Western-trained academics are impossible for me. See trauma theory. See black women’s biomythographies. See yourself in the mirror and try to tell, in five minutes, a very very bad thing that happened.

In the kitchen, I triggered my mother. Her thumbs pressed my trachea and she shook me back and forth like a button-eyed rag doll. I didn’t know when she would stop or if I would still be alive when she did. My first mind said, “This is Momma,” but my second mind made my hands spring out. I can still feel her flesh moles under my fingernails, my hands trying to pry her arms away, her eyes wide with shock as she realized that this “bitch” was fighting back. She threw me on the ground.

I love my mother. She is my closest friend. I’m not half the woman she was at my age. She knew what had to be done and she did it. She worked very hard to insure our financial well-being. She is the funniest woman I know. She encouraged me to speak up, to speak back, despite the consequences. Her violence didn’t make her a monster; it made her thoroughly American.

I don’t have to tell you why I feel the need to defend even as I tell my truth. You already know. It is the reason you tell similar stories with laughter, with nostalgia for the days when children didn’t criminalize their own parents, didn’t dial 911. IN the court of public opinion, minority parents have already been condemned, especially against the mythology of passive white parenting. Perhaps that’s why we defend our parents with silence or a laughter that shows our appreciation for bringing us up right.

I am fifteen. My mother doesn’t like me and she’s told me so. I want her to like me. I want to be a good girl, but I keep being bad. I have an attitude. I don’t understand that there are things I cannot have and I continue to ask. I have little respect for authority. I don’t appreciate her sacrifices because I don’t yet know them. I hide in my room. I am moody.  I withdraw. I am sometimes not courteous. I think the world revolves around me, around my desires. I am fifteen and developmentally appropriate.  This fact doesn’t excuse, to my parents, the types of offenses I commit.

I want to tell you what it feels like to be kicked. You curl into a ball. You know the fight is over and you’ve lost. You realize you never wanted to win. You try to protect your face but not your eyes because you need to see her feet so you can roll to avoid the blows. You scream, “I hate you.” She says, “You know what? I hate you too!” You believe her. You think you always will.

After my mother choked, stomped, and punched me she kicked me out of the house. My father stayed in the basement. My brothers watched from the dining room. I rang the doorbell and asked through the closed door if I could use her phone to call my best friend to pick me up.

My brothers later told me that they’d laughed that night, laughed at the sight of two crazy [women] fighting in the kitchen.

My mother, like yours, was raised before Oprah and the eighties research on child-centered, intentional parenting.

She deserved respect and confused it with fear. And who was supposed to teach her the difference? Public libraries closed before she could leave her desk. AOL searches and instant information were years away. Which friends of hers had not been beaten? Where would she have taken a child development course or a class in adolescent psychology? She worked too hard and too long to come home and be challenged by a doppelganger with an attitude problem. I get it. And I’m glad no one called the police. Jailing half of my parents would have created more problems than it solved.

Besides, I’m anti-prison industrial complex and for a judicial system that considers the needs of the victim. The media coverage of Creflo Dollar drones on like an extended episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; the victim is forgotten after the first five minutes and the rest of the episode focuses on the psyche of the perpetrator.

What are Creflo’s daughter’s needs? I can’t speak for her, but I can imagine that what she didn’t need was a standing ovation for her father or a bunch of nostalgic people with internet access telling pornographic stories about the beatings they meted out to their own children. I imagine that what she needs are consequences for the perpetrator and a guarantee that this will never happen again.

I want to tell you what happens when you survive the kitchen floor. You get up. You’re not a girl anymore. If no one stopped your parent, you feel like you will always be by yourself. You think there is something inside you that will always bring out the worst in someone else, and you believe those who tell you the same. You spend a lifetime creating opportunities for apologies, which are delicious to you. You attract bullies and people who like or love you with conditions. You want someone to change you, to make you better, more loveable. You pursue a sorority. You join organizations/ institutions with strict rules. You love an angry God. When you worship, you cry “I’m not worthy!” You mean it. You keep going to school because there are so many adults there with the power to validate or reject you. Rejection is best; it gives you a chance to be a better girl. You ask people, “Are you sure you like me?” You want strangers to promise to love you forever. You don’t trust that the people who do love you won’t change their minds. You bully your brothers, your lovers, your friends. You apologize and apologize and never feel forgiven. If you are lucky, your parents will be the last people who hit you. You will live much of your life fixing your face up, lest someone give you something to cry about.

I am not here to deliver maxims. They are not helpful and they invite arguments I don’t want to have. I know what I know and my bones remember. I’m a poet.  I don’t want to tell you what to do with your children, but I will teach your children how to tell what you did.

Skinny, Ashy Ankles: The New Black Woman Pathology

22 May Ashy Ankles

Ashy Ankles

This just in: black women have skinny, ashy ankles. Black women have skinny, ashy ankles and the world needs to know. They are disproportionately represented in sales for Nivea, the thick cream marketed purposely toward black women’s bodies. They supply the band-aid brand with most of its sales, as they are the frequent victims of blisters. And they are dying. Read it: DYING from skinny, ashy ankles.


This is why it is a national crisis. Black women with skinny, ashy ankles are frequently the victims of career-ending injuries. Since black women are fat, their skinny ankles don’t hold all of the extra weight and they tend to topple over, especially the majority of black women who live in urban areas with unpaved sidewalks.

Skinny, ashy ankles are a class issue. Have you ever tried to use dollar store lotion? It doesn’t even have a scent and it has the consistency of a vinegar douche.

Dollar Store Lotion

Do you think most black women can afford Lubriderm? This is the alternative.

Skinny, ashy ankles are also a black family issue. Since black women are one hundred times less likely to be married than every other raced, gendered body in the world (and probably the universe if we would just admit that what we are really interested in is the study of alien bodies and extend our studies to the populations on Mars), they typically trip in places with no burly men to help break their falls. This is an epidemic that hurts the black family, as young boys have to watch their skinny, ashy ankle mothers fall without the support of men. These boys develop a sense of nihilism and think to themselves, “fuck it, I’m going to fall too. Falling is in my bloodline.” Then these African American sons of skinny, ashy ankle black women decide to sag their pants to make their falls more likely. Hence, because of skinny, ashy ankle women, falls and sagging pants are now integrated into black culture as if this pathology should be glorified.

Man with sagging pants.

Black women are responsible for this.

And you know what? Black women want to have skinny ankles. It’s because of slavery. This is the part of the essay where I apply my argument to the controlling tropes of black womanhood, as if black womanhood has not become a signifier in itself, a trope without tracks:

Mammy: Mammy’s ankles were ashy because she used all her lard in her cooking and therefore it contributed to her overwhelming obesity, which was passed down to the current generation of obese black women with skinny, ashy ankles.

Jezebel: Jezebel was led into sexual sin and exploitation by way of her seducer’s attention to her ankles. Her skinny ankles only fed her insecurities, which were exploited by male suitors. You will notice that the modern video vixen, aka Jezebel, has skinny ankles.

The Tragic Mulatta: It is well known that female products of miscegenation often had one full ankle (their European heritage) and one skinny, ashy ankle (the African heritage . They spent their whole lives trying to hide the black side. This way of walking, this peculiar fascination with positioning the white ankle toward passerby, was called “passing” by the journalists of the day and the term has continued to explain the mulatta experience in America.

Caricature of black woman beating a boy.

Look at the skinny ankles on this Sapphire.

Sapphire/ Matriarch: Like our ancestor Sojourner Truth, black women have never had men to help us over puddles—huge puddles that splashed mud on our already ashy ankles and made us lose our balance and titter over. All that falling makes a woman bitter, especially since we have learned to balance the world on our skinny, ashy ankles. No wonder we can’t keep the few good men who actually would like to help us. No wonder we run them off and raise their offspring by ourselves.

This is the part of the essay where I return to the present and talk about the joys and perils of skinny ankles. I am married. Read it: MARRIED. To a man. Who is straight. Who finds me desirable. Who makes me not a statistic and therefore the perfect person to write about black women’s pathology. And we have legitimate children who have skinny but well-oiled ankles. He loves my skinny, ashy ankles and he thinks the ashier the better. In fact, he loves when my ankles are so ashy that they get cut on the back of my pumps and I have to wear band-aids to cover the blisters. Those are the nights that he gingerly takes off my abusive shoes and wears them as earrings as we make passionate, heterosexual love, my blistered ankles in the air.

Black couple, post-coitus

Woman: Thank you, baby, for making heterosexual love to me despite my pathological ankles.
Man: Baby, it wasn’t no big deal. I love them ankles, girl. I’m a black man and my eyes are designed to find beauty in that which is deemed despicable by the rest of the world. Now get up on them ankles and make me some waffles.
Woman: Anything to keep you, boo. If you leave me, I’ll be a statistic.

Still, I don’t want my daughter to suffer my fate as a skinny-ashy ankled woman. I tell her to get her stuff together and oil those ankles. I apply butter directly to her ankles in hopes that the lipids will soak into her skin and give it a plumpness that is finally, finally non-pathological. I want the best for my children. I don’t want them to be like me—a web of problems, a “fix me” sign, a pathology, a wanderer in a desert, looking for the lake called hope…

Feminist Musings on Showing Up

1 Sep

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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