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Gabby the Great Gets the Gold!!!

3 Aug

And #thebestisyettocome. ‘Nuff Said!

Postscript — Check out this awesome, tearful tributefrom Dominique “Awesome Dawesome” Dawes!

UPDATE: Gabby Douglas leads Team USA to the Gold

1 Aug

I purposely titled this essay to highlight Gabby Douglas’ leadership of the USA Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team, which she led to victory yesterday, by capturing 33% or 1/3 of the total points  the team received.

You heard right. This kid, who commentators continue to suggest is “unable to handle the pressure,” was the only member to compete in all four events — vault, bars, beam, and floor.

So though she’s only 1/5 of the team, she did 100% of the events, and captured 1/3 of the points.

Of course she didn’t get 33% of the coverage, or even a quarter of the love her teammates got.

During the medal ceremony the camera panned to and stayed with Jordyn, ofttimes obscuring Gabby’s face. Commentators were exultant about Jordyn’s gold medal. “Jordyn’s gold.” As though there were a medal with her name already engraved on it or something.

But um…

The Olympics trades in Gold Medals, not Gold Stars! Put another way, there are no “A’s for effort.”

I want to be clear. I have nothing but love for Jordyn. She’s the reigning world champ. She’s mega talented, and she showed up for Team USA in a major way yesterday. I do not want to diminish her accomplishments in any way in this post.

But I take serious issue with the media’s coverage of her accomplishments and the sense of white entitlement that permeates that coverage. The coverage magnifies Jordyn’s victories, while minimizing Gabby’s. And it isn’t right. Not to mention that it is classic passive aggressive white racism. (Yeah, I said it.) The kind that injures not by heaping insults but by failing to grant recognition, when it has power to do so.

Gabby didn’t receive the low score in any of her four events, and she received the highest score in two of them (beam and bars). (See all scores here. Click on the plus out to the side for individual scores in each event.) Gabby outscored Jordyn on each of the three events they competed in yesterday, and she outscored Aly in one of two events. She didn’t put up one score less than a 15.066 in any event.

The first to do floor, Gabby’s performance received a score of 15.066. Solid. I literally waited on the commentators to find anything good to say about the routine. *Crickets* They said virtually nothing. And then Jordyn performed. They were glowing with accolades and affirmations for her, in a routine that was technically less difficult than Gabby’s. When the scores came back, Jordyn had a 15.000. And you could almost hear the disappointment, not at Jordyn’s solid score, but that it was lower than Gabby’s.

I guess I should be happy that at least this time, the media found it appropriate to actually pan to some shots of Gabby’s family watching in the audience. But unlike her counterparts, they never said who those three Black people were. I guess we could just Match them up based on skin tone. Contrast that with the fact that every time they panned to Aly’s or Jordyn’s parents, there would be some commentary about their reactions.

I am extremely proud of team USA. I hope that is clear. I watched the Magnificent 7 win Gold in 1996. Most of these girls were barely toddlers then! After the interview, they talked about the 2004 Olympics as their most memorable one. Made me feel O.L.D. So it was truly awesome to watch us return to that former glory. And these girls deserve every bit of shine they get.

And I am determined at least in this space that Gabby will get her just due.

Because let’s be clear.

Gabby showed up for her team in each and every event, and in Black vernacular, she showed out! But that reminds me of some more ol’ school Black wisdom, too– “you have to be twice as good, to get half as far.” Every Black kid hears this at some point in her lifetime. It still rings true. And what our parents don’t say is that even then, you still might be invisible. Invisible, that is,  in your accomplishments. Your flaws won’t be treated half so graciously.

Anyway, brush your shoulders off, Gabby. (Check her doing just that at the 1:02 mark!)


They may not see you coming, Gabby. But know this. We see you! We SEE you!  And we are cheering you on! #yougotthis

Olympics Oppression?: Gabby Douglas and Smile Politics

30 Jul

I tune in to  the Summer Olympics every four years primarily for one sport: Women’s Gymnastics. I like basketball, women’s tennis, track and field, and men’s diving, too. But Gymnastics is my bread and butter.

I had the privilege of falling in love with gymnastics in the early 1990s, the golden era of Team USA. All coached by the great Bela Karolyi, the 1992 and 1996 teams featured the likes of Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, and Dominique Moceanu, just a few of my faves from back in the day. And my all time favorite moment is when Kerri Strug perfectly stuck that vault landing with an injured ankle at the ’96 Olympics. I’ve never seen more heart. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

So I was mad excited to tune in to see this year’s team of five girls, the favorite Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, McKalya Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Gabby Douglas.

Gabby, Aly, Kyla, Jordyn, and McKayla

I’m cheering for all of them, but I have a soft spot for the girls of color on the team, including African American Gabby Douglas, and Kyla Ross, who is of African-American, Japanese, Puerto Rican, and Dominican  (Correction: Filipina) descent.

As with most sports coverage though, every time a Black girl participates in a sport traditionally dominated by white women, you can count on the commentators to show their asses. And they did not disappoint yesterday.

17 year old, reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify to compete for the individual all-around finals. As shocking as it was for all of us, it must be truly tough to have your life long dream dashed before a watching world. And I agree with Bela Karolyi that the top 24 girls regardless of country should compete in the all arounds, rather than the top 2 from each country. 

Be that as it may,  Jordyn’s best friend and teammate Aly Raisman will compete for gold along with Gabby Douglas. But Jordyn’s understandable disappointment in no way justifies the uneven and downright biased coverage that Gabby received for her performance.

First, during floor exercises, Gabby stepped out of bounds with both feet, resulting in several tenths of a point deduction in her score. That’s not an insignificant error for sure, but the rest of her routine was almost flawlessly executed.

You wouldn’t know it to listen to the sportscasters chomping at the bit, talking about how absolutely terrible it was, what a HUGE mistake she’d made, how low her score was going to be. And on. AND ON.

Never mind that Jordyn had a bad day. She gaffed on her balance beam routine and almost fell, but the commentators focused on how she recovered and pulled it off, by sheer strength of will. And a monster toe grip. I’m not tossing any shade to Jordyn. It was a beautiful routine.

But the sportscasters are far, FAR from impartial.

For instance, peep this coverage about Jordyn Wieber’s upsetting finish. Around the 1:22 mark, you’ll notice that they show an individual picture of every team member EXCEPT Gabby!

Aly and Gabby advanced to the all-arounds, coaches and teammates hugged and congratulated Aby. They comforted and consoled Jordyn. But they said not a word to Gabby. There were no hi-fives, congratulations (not on any coverage I saw), no celebration. Just total disappointment on Jordyn’s behalf, and the overwhelming sense at least among the sportscasters who talked about Jordyn’s dashed hopes and dreams that Gabby didn’t really deserve it, that she’d taken a spot that didn’t belong to her. 

Why celebrate Aly and not Gabby?

In the immediate interviews afterward, Aly got asked questions about how excited she was, how she felt about her friend, but ultimately what this meant for her dreams. Gabby on the other hand got three questions about her shortcomings — her mistakes during the floor exercise, the belief among the coaching staff that she couldn’t handle the pressure, and her feelings about coming in ahead of her teammate (who presumably) deserved it more. The fourth and final question asked her how she felt to be there, and like Black girls used to this kind of passive aggressive white hostility are so deft at doing, she responded with an affirmation of confidence in herself.

And then she gave that big beautiful smile that everyone keeps focusing on.

Her smile is beautiful to be sure. And a world in which Black girls smile, giddy from the joy of being able to pursue their dreams, is a world I want more of.

But after having read Toni Morrison’s analysis of Clarence Thomas’ nomination hearings for the Supreme Court, and the copious amount of times that Congressmen referred to his great smile and jovial personality (rather than his record of legal scholarship and groundbreaking rulings), I am suspicious of these kinds of smile politics.

Perhaps, focusing on her smile makes Gabby seem non-threatening. And make no mistake–she’s in it to win it.

It remains unclear to me why Kyla Ross is not subjected to similar kinds of coverage, but I think that she is exoticized a bit on the one hand, and on the other, while she is a strong part of the team, she hasn’t presented herself as a threat to any of the individual goals set by the white girls on the team. But Gabby’s ambitions and her ability to achieve them are clear.

I guess I should be used to this kind of shamtastery in the sports commentating after years of watching the Williams Sisters dominate women’s tennis. But it still irks me. Even so, I’m cheering on Team USA, and I’m #teamGabby all the way!

Feel free to weigh in:

Are y’all watching the Olympics?

What are your fave sports/athletes?

Have y’all noticed this differential coverage in the Olympics?

Thoughts on Lupe’s Bitch Bad

27 Jun

On most days, mainstream Hip Hop is a place that makes me grimace and shake my head derisively (at the exact same time that my hips begin to gyrate and my ass demands to follow the pull of gravity.)

It’s Du Bois remixed for a new era: this inherent two-ness that Hip Hop engenders. If you’re a Hip Hop (Generation) feminist or even just a Hip Hop Head – which means at base that you listen brain first, then you understand the duality/the duplicity of the encounter, music with beats so good, and words so bad (by bad, I mean bad, not bad as in good #peacetoMJ) that you are left with an amplified sense of being   “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

But we stay trying to stay (put) together in this place of (un)enviable contradictions. Ever confronting our need for mutuality in a place that seemingly only begets duplicity.

Lupe Fiasco’s latest joint “BitchBad,” offers some hope, that there can be a cross-gender and cross-generational dialogue about the misogyny in the music. (You should probably listen more than once.)

“Bitch Bad”

In it, he masterfully weaves a story of two young people – a young boy fast becoming a man, who has gleaned his understandings of womanhood from watching his mother – a self-proclaimed “bad bitch” reveling in her ability to do for herself and her son – and a young girl, “malleable…unmentored” perhaps too quickly on her way to being grown (or thinking she is) caught up in fanciful, video-chick informed ideas of what it means to be a bad bitch.

Inevitably, the two meet.

“And he thinks she a bad bitch…and she thinks she a bad bitch/ he thinks this (dis) respectfully and she thinks of this sexually/ she got the wrong idea/ he don’t wanna fuck her/ he thinks she bad and a bitch like his mother.”

This, Lupe, let’s us know is “the fruit of the confusion.”

Thus the refrain that he hopes will bring clarity:

“Bitch Bad. Woman Good. Lady Better.”

Two warring ideals…

When it comes to contemporary womanhood, the trajectories of who we can and should be are not so easily summed up in these facile superlatives –good, better, best.

I’m not sure I aspire to ladyhood, or that my future daughter should either.

So there is that. Then there is the fact that the word bitch moved into regular rotation in my lexicon after I became a feminist. Not before.

There is also my troubled sense that for all Lupe’s trying and  despite the sincerity and potential truths of his critique, it is Black women and girls who come off as the villains and not the victims here.

(Yet, we can’t seem to talk gender politics in Hip Hop without a villains and victims narrative, and that will probably persist until we realize how infrequently such narratives beget victors.)

The young man in the song gets his confusion from watching his mother uncritically sing along to the copious “Bad Bitch” anthems of our times. The young woman gets her questionable ideas about Black womanhood from paying more attention to the willing video vixens than the rappers who pay them.

In the end, the boy has a grip on “reality,” while the girl is “caught in an illusion.”

The root of the problem becomes in Lupe’s estimation, gender role confusion, wrought by Black women’s failure to parent their sons and mentor their daughters more proactively.

 “Mama never dressed like that/come out the house hot mess like that/ass, titties, dressed like that/all out to impress like that.”

To be sure, disrespectability politics reign in Hip Hop. And we have left Hip Hop’s youngest generation struggling to find their way to freedom and each other, with only the narrowest of labyrinthine paths, carved out in a desert of landmines.

In these kinds of conditions, superlatives are easy.

Bitch bad. Woman good. Lady better.

I want respect. Hell, I command respect. But I don’t want to return to respectability politics. The distinction is important. Respectability politics might seem better in the short run, but in the long run they aren’t best.We can place a high value on receiving and giving respect in our interpersonal interactions, without falling into the trap of  believing that changing our behaviors will have the power to transform a system that actively works against us. We become accountable for changing shit we didn’t cause. And in the process we lose sight of those who have more power to change things than we do.

Men have some power.  They are not hapless victims of less-than-thoughtful mothers and confused, non-self-respecting schoolgirls. As corporations go, male rappers are Davids fighting Goliaths. But at least David saw himself as having a stake in the fight.

Clearly, so does Lupe. And in that regard, what he has done (at least in terms of the music) is summarily GOOD. There is confusion. We are all complicit. Yet, despite all the bad, at the microlevel, in our everday interactions with those under our tutelage, we can do better. Much better. Thanks to Lupe for the reminder.


Now weigh in:

What do you think of the song?

Does it elevate gender discourse in Hip Hop?

Does his attempt to invert/subvert the Bad Bitch meme in Hip Hop work?

How do we navigate our way out of the endless maze of confusion? 

When the Church Fails Its Women: 7 Truths We Need to Tell About Creflo Dollar, Black Daughters and Violence

11 Jun

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I walked out of church in the middle of service. I grew up in church; my stepfather of 15 years is a pastor; as recently as 2009, I led a ministry team  at one of Atlanta’s Baptist megachurches. Thus, my choice to get up and walk out while the pastor was speaking defied every notion of decorum I have ever been taught.

Image from

But when he stood to express his unequivocal support for Atlanta megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar who was arrested late last week for committing simple battery and cruelty to a child on his fifteen year old daughter, I had to go. 

I have struggled in recent years to reconcile my long-standing faith, to my relatively more recent feminist commitments. And it is precisely because of the Black Church’s continued willingness to advocate problematic, violent, hierarchical stances against women and gay people that I continue to struggle.

According to the police report, Dollar told his daughter  she couldn’t go to a party due to bad grades.  From there the situation got real ugly. His daughter left the room, went into the kitchen and started crying. Dollar followed her, asked why she was crying, and when she indicated that she didn’t want to talk to him, she says that he  “then charged her, put his hands around her throat and began to choke her, slammed her to the ground and began to punch her,  and took off his shoe and started whooping her with it.” The victim’s 19 year old sister, who witnessed the altercation, backed up her sister’s story. Dollar, himself, admitted only to using a shoe.

In classic fashion, Dollar denied everything yesterday, as he entered his sanctuary to a standing ovation. “She was not choked. She was not punched….I should never have been arrested.” Elsewhere he said, “All is well in the Dollar household.”

Apparently, his daughters are bald-faced liars. Both of them. And apparently, they resent him so much that they would concoct this magnificently violent tale in order to have him arrested. If he thinks all is well, clearly he isn’t well.

So now let’s entertain the notion that his daughters are telling the truth or at least some truth.

What would it look like for our faith communities to be places where Black girls could testify about the violence they experience from the men in our communities and be believed? 

What would it look like for Black women, the primary attendants and financial supporters of the Black Church, to demand accountability from the overwhelmingly male leadership in our pulpits?

The most troubling thing about Creflo’s statement was the overwhelming amount of support from his female parishioners. I can’t help but notice the admixture of fear and disappointment on the fifteen year old girls face in the above video (1:19) as her mother actively sides with Creflo for the cameras. 

What would it mean for us to recognize that when we refuse to believe the testimony of other Black women and girls, it makes our own witness “for the Lord,” before the law, and before anyone else we need to believe us less credible?

Yet, I witnessed Black women coming out in full support of the “man of God” in droves because…

“We weren’t there.”

“We don’t know what happened in that house…”

“We don’t know what she did or said to provoke him…”

[What is this? Chris Brown and RiRi 2.0? (Let me leave that alone.)]

“If she swung on him first (as some news outlets reported), then she deserved it…” {And for the record, the police report in no way indicates any such thing. Even Creflo doesn’t say she swung on him.}

“If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you know how they can be…”

“He has the right to discipline his children.”

For the record, we never know the whole story about anything, if it didn’t happen to us. That doesn’t prevent us from making reasonable judgments based on the evidence. Christians use the same type of reason to profess our faith in a God-man, who was born from a virgin, crucified on a cross and Resurrected on the 3rd day. And we believe in his Resurrection, primarily on the basis of the initial testimony of some women who Jesus’ male followers weren’t trying to hear (Mark 16: 1-11). So in my view, if we refuse to believe Black girls when they testify about their experiences, we call the basis of our own witness and our own faith into question. Jesus prioritized listening to women, even when his disciples said they were being a nuisance.

Why I wonder are Black women so willing, so ready to co-sign theologies that literally support us getting our asses kicked in our own homes? 

Why have we bought into the primary premise of white supremacy, that the most effective way to establish authority is through violence? Surely, this situation teaches us that the only thing that kind of parenting does is breed the kind of resentment and contempt that will have your children calling the cops on you at 1 in the morning.

Why is it so hard for us to take a stand against Black men and tell them that there is never a reason to put their hands on us in a violent fashion? Not when homicide is the top killer (after accidental death) of Black women and girls ages 15-24.

Frankly, we need to “radically rethink” our understandings of authority, love, violence, and respect in the Black Church.  Black folks love to say, Tell the Truth, and Shame the Devil. Well here are seven truths we need to tell.

1.)   Sisters have the power to change this thing. The Black Church is one of the few places where we do have this kind of power. And the tide won’t turn, until Black women get fed up and then start to stand up, start walking out, and start taking our money with us.

2.)  Children are not our property. It is not their job to confer upon us the worth and dignity denied to us by others. We do not get to violently beat them into submission, supported by terrible “spare the rod” theologies. Everyone wants children to obey, but what do we do with Ephesians 6:1-4 which clearly, after telling children to honor their parents, admonishes fathers not to “provoke children to wrath.” Wonder why that’s in there?

3.)  Discipline is not synonymous with punishment or spanking. It was in church that I learned that discipline and disciple share the same root word. To disciple means to train up (usually in the ways of Jesus.) Aren’t there more creative and effective ways to parent? Spanking is the easy-out option. It is the option that packs the “literal” biggest punch, requires the least amount of thought, and is designed to quickly redirect undesirable behaviors. But it is largely ineffective, and rarely about actual discipline. Spanking is used to communicate anger to a child for doing something wrong. They are used to remind the child who’s boss. And the boss is the person who gets to mete out violence when the rules don’t get followed. Interestingly enough, in the Black Church, I think far too many of us understand God in these exact same terms –as the strict disciplinarian, who polices all our actions, ever ready to issue cosmic butt whoopings when we don’t fall into line. Thank God for delivering me from such thinking.

4.)  Domestic violence is not discipline. And this was domestic violence. And I find it hard to believe that a man who will beat the shit out of his own daughter, who feels biblically justified in doing so, wouldn’t beat the shit out of her mother, too. Not levying any accusations here, but I think it’s a question worth raising. Read this Black girl’s testimony and see how true it rings

5.)   Just because your parents whooped you, and you “turned out fine,” doesn’t mean the whoopings are the cause of it. Black folks are overcomers by copious circumstance. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep recreating negative circumstances for our children and calling them right and good. I had a racist sixth grade teacher who made me cry every day. I still made excellent grades and remained undeterred. If I have children, I will not seek out a racist teacher for them, celebrate their ability to excel despite it, and then claim that they excelled because of it. That is pathological.

6.)    The Black Church can’t have it both ways. If Black fathers set the moral tone for how men will treat their (presumably hetero) daughters, then Black folks cannot continue to insist that a father’s punches thrown in anger are wholly distinct from a partner’s punches thrown in anger. I’ve always found it interesting, that when we talk about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, no one wants to critique Lot, nephew of Abraham, for tossing his daughters out the door to be raped by the men of the city. No one makes the connection that a few verses over these same two daughters get Lot drunk, sleep with and get pregnant by him, and become the mothers of tribes that create all manner of havoc for the Israelites. We are so invested in sic’ing this text on gay people like rabid dogs, that we miss it’s more obvious invitations to consider the ways in which men of God–and the Bible calls Lot “righteous”–have a long tradition of subordinating the well-being of the women in their lives to other goals that seem to be more morally significant, those aims namely being homophobia and patriarchy. But Genesis seems to insist that a father’s choice to subject his daughters to violence can cause those daughters to both resent and actively seek to humiliate their father. (Genesis 19)

7.)   Our theology will kill us if we let it.  As the Bible thumpers love to remind us: “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is destruction.” (Prov 14:12) Consider this my remix. Jesus already died, and I refuse to let the Black Church turn me into a martyr for its causes. I refuse to stand by while Black men (and women) use bad theology about headship and Black women and men use bad theology about “sparing the rod” to heap indignities on women and children in the name of God.  Our blind investment in patriarchy, and the kind of hierarchy it promotes in churches and families is not healthy for a people who continue to find themselves on the bottom of every social hierarchy that exists. In my faith communities, being a feminist makes me suspect. But to them I say,  Jesus was a feminist. In my feminist communities, being a Christian often makes me suspect. And to them I say the same thing, Jesus was a feminist. So I am going to unapologetically let my faith and my feminism inform one another. (And keep reading great blog series like this one to help me out on rough days.) It is because I believe in Jesus and feminism, that  I don’t tolerate violence against women in any form from the men in my life, and I for damn sure, am not gonna sit up and hear violent ish coming at me from the pulpit. Black women have to become as serious about demanding that our churches are spaces where we can tell our testimonies about the violence done to us and be believed. I am determined to have a theology that is truly liberatory, one centered on grace, healing and abundant life. And if I have to raise hell and disrespect a few pulpits to get it, so be it. 

Taking It All Off: Black Women, Nudity, and the Politics of Touch

21 May

Everyone who knows me even remotely well knows I don’t do hugs. Get too close physically and I am quick to let you know that you’re invading my personal space!

So of course, hilarity regularly ensues since it seems I’ve managed to attract a significant number of friends whose primary love language is physical touch. And frankly, sometimes I think these friends just like to lay hands on me for the hell of it.

You can imagine, then, my skepticism when my crew of sista prof friends planned a spa day at one of those places that boasts not only unlimited use of saunas, swimming pools and a range of pay-as-you-go spa services, but also, to my chagrin, openly nude bathing pools. I had heard of such places and vowed never to go to one. Anyway, I decided to be brave, because spa days are high on my list of self-care strategies. But I swore to my friends that anything I’d be doing there must involve clothing—or it wouldn’t involve me.

And the goddesses laughed. Hysterically.

When we arrived, after a good amount of deliberation, several of us decided to get the daily special—a body scrub and massage. The catch was that these body scrubs, which require you to be completely naked, happened in an open room with at least three other naked women, being scrubbed by middle-aged Asian ladies in bras and panties.

So 2 hours later, there I was following my equally naked homies into the collective showers, and then into the warm bathing pools to wash off, in preparation for our body scrubs.

My body scrub was in a word: delectable. I was almost an instant convert.

And afterwards, when me and my compadres climbed back into the warm bathing pools to relax, we had not only shed our dead skin cells but a good degree of our self-consciousness with each other.

We began to talk about Black women and the politics of touch, wondering if our mamas, each from very different generations would ever even consider coming to a place like this. All of us concluded that, “No. They wouldn’t.”

We claim in Black women’s communities to believe in the power of touch—to believe in the “laying on of hands” a la Ntozake Shange. In many evangelical charismatic churches, there is still foot washing, laying on of hands, and anointing with oil. And a significant segment of Black women attend these churches. But I’m not so sure how effective these moments of touch are given the kinds of conservative theology that otherwise tell us to be at war with our flesh and its desires.

Our cultural investments in touch have largely become another casualty of late capitalism/neo-liberalism. We routinely economically outsource something so basic as touch, and we ask (usually non-Black) people of color to do labor that we have become uninterested in doing for ourselves. We buy beauty products and pay for manicures, pedicures, and massages, to the tune of multi-billions of dollars every year. And while there is an economic rationale for having some one else get your feet together, I think our reasons are deeper.

As I lay on the table, each time my masseuse ran the exfoliating gloves over the palms of my hands, I had an intimate memory of a lover who intertwined his fingers with mine, our hands palm to palm, as we coupled. And I longed for that touch and the intimacy that came with it again. But what does it mean that I have relegated touch in my own life to the act of sex?

That is why touch is so scary. It forces you to be fully present in your own body, to come face to face with its longings and its deprivations, to confront bodily memories that an otherwise hyper-intellectual life can allow you to avoid on most days.

In a word, touch makes us vulnerable.

And that is why it was particularly egregious, when at the end of my scrub, as I prepared to climb off the table, my masseuse ended our very light conversation about my life—Married? No. Children? No. Boyfriend? No. – with a bit of what she presumed to be much needed advice: “You should try to lose some weight.” Come again? (I asked both internally and aloud.) She repeated, a little less sure this time, but still definitively: “You should try to lose some weight. Diet foods might help with that.”

Injury. That is really the only word for it. Even though I wrote recently about the same thing here, saying it to myself and having someone else say it to me are two different things. And let me also acknowledge that when we ask other women of color to do these spa services, we are often asking them to do exploitative kinds of emotional labor. I try to be mindful of that. I take responsibility for my own emotions and acknowledge my privilege as a middle-class Black woman who can afford to pay some one to wash my body. So while I don’t expect  these women to offer me emotional care, I do expect them not to do emotional injury. 

Part of the reason, I had come to the spa was to engage in a bit of mind-body healing after a fairly serious recent health ordeal, an ordeal that healed my illness and relieved me of my gallbladder, but left me far from well. During my hospital stay, I experienced the kind of fat discrimination that I wouldn’t have believed until I saw other bloggers writing about it. This  poignant and powerful piece from Akiba Solomon and legendary Hip Hop DJ Kuttin Kandi, appeared during the 2nd day of my hospital stay.

To my doctors, I was an overweight, dark-skinned woman, worthy of all the fat-hating, misogynoir they could spew.  There were the doctors who insisted that I must be pregnant, one demanding that I take two pregnancy tests in under 24 hours.There were the medical residents who spoke to me with belligerence and impatience, no doubt because they assumed that I must be a welfare case (and they assumed that folks on welfare can/should be treated disrespectfully). And there was the continued shock and awe at my lack of medical history, because overweight people must, must be unhealthy.

Then there was the somewhat humiliating conversation I had to have in order to make arrangements for my care: “Dr., I need you to nail down a date for the surgery. I am single and childless. There is no one to take care of me at my house. A family member will need to come, and my closest lives thousands of miles away.” I must have had this conversation at least five times, during my first 3 day hospital stay. It seemed unfathomable to these folks that there was no one to take care of me, I mean with the 15 babies that I must be mothering. <side eye>

When I made it to that spa, three weeks later, I was definitely in need of a healing. I had come to escape the shit in my life that I can’t control. The very singleness that my masseuse chose to highlight is a singleness of which I’m intimately aware, because on the daily it means that when I want to be touched and to be held, I can’t just snap my fingers and make it happen. Like I said to my mother, after she got on an emergency flight to come take care of me, I wish I were having all the sex these doctors think I’m having, given their insistence on my being pregnant.  I’m pretty sure Mommy didn’t wanna know all that, but #blameitontheanesthesia.

I lay on that table, submitting to a needed body service, in part to undo the spiritual injuries that I experienced from all the folks who had to touch my body in order to make it well again.

I went to the spa, to treat myself, to be in community. And I agreed to that body scrub because I needed to reaffirm that whatever my weight struggles may be, my body is worthy of loving care and attention. And I learned while there, that even if I never pay for the service again, if I ever want a body scrub like that, I cannot do it by myself. It is physically impossible. We (whoever your we is) need each other.

It was therefore pretty difficult to discover that the psychic price of letting someone access my body – and I’m speaking both of the masseuse and the medical professionals—is that their assessments of me would center on my lack of romantic relationship and my overweight body.

What I owe to myself is the reminder that I am much, much more than what I am not.

So in that immediate moment, what I had (and have) was a community of fierce sister scholar homegirls that I could spend a day at the spa with, friends who took care of me while I was sick and were still taking care of me on our spa day as I was still recovering, and friends who I could literally and figuratively shed it all with.

What I long for, for myself, and for all who need it is touch that is not facilitated by capitalism. Touch that, in its demand for our vulnerability, our giving of our whole selves, does not exact from us psychic violence. Touch that is healing, and intimate, and loving, without the necessity of being sexual. And yet, access to safe, healthy sexual touch, when we want it. 

However uncomfortable a truth it may be, getting naked (with your friends or your sex partners) is very often a precursor to being well.

Healing for Black women, and women of color, who are continually subjected to injury, physical, emotional, psychic, is not an event, nor even merely a process. It is a lifestyle — a total and active commitment to being well. And regular touch must be a part of it.

Even so,  I’m still not a hugger. And I still require folks to ask permission before they proceed into my personal space. But lasting the whole day at the naked spa has got to count for something.

Image from

Big Girls Need Love, Too: Dating While Fat (And Feminist)

16 Apr

I have recently come to the conclusion that I’m going to have to lose a significant amount of weight in order to have a viable chance at a love life.

Let me be clear: this is not a fat-hating post. When I look in the mirror, for the most part, I like what I see. I like my curves, I like ass, I like my legs, I like my boobs (which I only have in abundance, when I’m tipping the scales), and I like my face.

Photo courtesy of Laya Roullins, Bella Chadette Photography,

But the fact remains that I’m a short, dark-skinned, fat Black girl, with a natural. I’m all those things in a culture that not only hates fat, and finds it repulsive, but also in a culture where fat dark-skinned women can only find roles in movies as maids. 

Even so, one could argue that these mainstream films reflect the desires of white America, or more to the point, white men, and not Black men, which up to this point is the only group of men I’ve dated.

But with brothers I find, that they, too, have internalized a particular relationship to the body-type most associated with the mammy figure. They see girls like me as sisters, as homegirls, but not as love options, because they don’t find big girls sexy. They usually find us comforting. Strong. Stable. Huge difference.

I know there is this myth in Black America that brothers like their sisters thick, thick like a luscious milkshake, that “brings all the boys to the yard,” as it were.  But what I call thick and what the average brother calls thick is not the same thing. I’m (pre-weight-loss) Mo’Nique thick. (Sister looks fabulous, by the way.) Not quite Gabourey Sidibe thick. But thick nontheless. And when I was doing the online dating thing (I’ve tried it twice, and I’m taking a break) I saw one brother that specifically said, “I’m not into the Mo’Nique thing, ladies.” Translation: No fat girls need apply.

Even Demetria Lucas’ whose fabulous and feminist book on modern Black dating you should check out, has (reluctantly) said as much, in her dating advice column.

It’s not popular to say (and I’m sure I’ll be e-stoned for saying it anyway), but if you’re overweight and serious about expanding your dating options, it may be worthwhile to shrink your waistline. I’ve interviewed thousands of men in my career as a dating expert and journalist, and I’ve noticed that on every rundown of what it is that men are looking for in a woman, weight inevitably sneaks high on the list, usually in the form of “She works out” or “She stays fit” or “She is concerned about her weight and personal appearance” — i.e., she’s not fat.

No stones to throw over here. The girl speaks the truth. So does Britni Danielle over at Clutch.

Acknowledging these larger structural issues around the commodification of male desire and the way it affects our dating options and choices as women is difficult, because it can make us feel powerless and/or less-than-feminist.  So posts like this make folks uncomfortable, often leading to three kinds of reactionary (and unhelpful) comments. The first will be from those folks who insist that I must really have low self-esteem about my weight and that it must be coming through to the dudes I’m meeting. Um, that would be a Negative. That ain’t it. Even though we all have insecurities, self-confidence is not my major struggle.  The only way to live in my body, doing the work I do, is to be confident.

Others will come over and lecture about weight loss and health.

Before you do it, don’t. 

I know that we have huge problems with obesity in Black communities. I have thought long and hard about my relationship to food (and exercise), and I have started to make some changes in order to remain healthy. I also have both short and long term goals for doing so. I made those choices for myself, not for a man. So please save the condescending lectures (and arm-chair therapy) for someone else. This big girl (and I suspect every other big girl with access to a TV) doesn’t need it.

And a third, fundamentally more well-meaning group, will come over an give anecdotes about all the thick chicks they know who have male partners.  The number will usually total up to no more than 2 or 3 mind you. Those stories ring hollow, because they ultimately amount to a futile attempt  to amass enough  exceptions to disprove the rule. Moreover, perhaps folks aren’t considering that the partner-less fat girls simply remain invisible to you, and the thick girls with guys are visible, precisely because they are an anomaly.

What I’m getting at is something much more fundamental.  Because desire is socially constructed (no matter how much folks justify their limited dating choices based on ‘natural preference’),  the fact that we live in a fat-hating culture greatly affects who we’re attracted to, and what we find attractive.  The idea that we’re only attractive within a range of sizes is absurd. And narrow. And it is absolutely a function of patriarchy. And yet, I live daily with those realities.

Some (admittedly anecdotal) examples:

Several months ago I was in a bar/lounge type spot, with a group of 7 or 8 homegirls. We ranged in size and skin tone, from short and petite, to tall and lanky, from light-skinned to dark-skinned, from skinny to fat (me being the fat one), and everything in between. The homeboy of one of my homegirls happened to be in the club. Now in many ways, he was my type. Mid-height, stocky, dark-skinned, bald-headed. My girl gave us his vital statistics and it turns out the brother is highly intelligent and very accomplished. He was also a natural flirt. This I discovered, as I watched him at different points during the evening, strike up a conversation and flirt with every single girl in the crew—except me. My homegirl indicated to me at some point that I should make sure to meet him, because she thought we’d have similar interests.  Not one to be shy, I did at some point attempt to strike up a conversation.  He barely acknowledged me! I mean he literally didn’t look me in the eye, made no real attempt at conversation, and pretty much gave me the brush off. And starting talking to another one of my homegirls!

It was clear to me that he wasn’t really that interested in a serious thing with any of the girls at the bar that night. He was just doing the bar/lounge thing, as was I. But why the cold shoulder, from a brother I’d never met? Why the unique snub reserved for the one fat girl in the crew? I wish I could say that this experience was isolated, but it’s been more the rule rather than the exception for me. 


I think of all that CRUNK club-hopping I did in ATL back in the early days of the CFC. Nothing can make me dance with abandon like a smoke-filled club strung out on CRUNK. And when me and my girls would go and shut the club down, routinely, I’d be the only chick that hadn’t been approached, danced with, hit on. Now I never thought I’d find my prince charming in a club. But everyone likes to be desired. So no matter how much Big Boi proclaimed back in 2003 that “Big Girls need love, too,” I don’t think the other ATLiens got the message.


And of course there is that story of the time that Crunkadelic and I went to one of those Big Beautiful Women parties. But um, I’m not trying to date a dude with a fat fetish. No hate on fetishes, but being the object of that particular one feels…objectifying. I want to date a man that has a range of desires wide enough to see a big girl as attractive. Just like I find a range of men attractive.

Getting back to Big Boi, the reality is that Big Girls do need love. This big girl anyway.  So as much as I resent the limited range of desire that it seems (Black) men have and the ever-present male privilege that allows them to never have to interrogate their sexual and romantic investments, I hate my limited partnering prospects much more.  As un-feminist as I’m sure it is, and as much my Sagittarian self wants to say f**k the world and embrace my life of singleness in a blaze of principled feminist big girl glory, the #truestory is that I’m seriously trying to figure out how I can get my J.Hud on.  (Well, maybe not to that extreme!) In my thirties, I’m prioritizing self-care and that includes being loved on and getting my groove on. Regularly. And  I know for sure that those things are feminist. I also know being thinner won’t guarantee me a date, but I’m willing to bet it’ll improve my chances. 

Feel free to weigh in in the comments on your experiences dating as a big girl, your thoughts on the sometimes un-feminist things we do for love, or anything else you wanna say. But be nice, please. I mean it.

If I Could Have This (Black-Girls-Run-The-Media-World) Moment 4 Life …

8 Apr

I have already begun my mental preparations for the latest insult to Black women’s romantic lives that Steve Harvey’s upcoming film Think Like A Man will most certainly be.

I have had to start these preparations because I know that despite the sense I claim to have, I’m prolly gone go see the movie. Why? Because even though light-skinned men went out in the 80s, Michael Ealy will never go out of style! He is #mmmgood!

Anyway, let me stop being scandalous. This being Easter Monday and all.

Instead, let me give a shout out to Scandal, Shonda Rimes’ newest show starring Kerry Washington, the first Black female lead on a primetime network drama, in, let’s just say, forever.

I caught the show via DVR this week, and I have one thing to tell you. Olivia Pope is a bad-ass. And for that reason, alone, she is my shero.  I don’t like all her choices, particularly of dudes (watch the show, if you wanna know!), but I cheer simply for the presence of Black female complexity being represented in primetime. And whatever I might think of Olivia, I do know this. Kerry Washington is a bad bish.

And I guess this is what it looks like when Black girls run primetime.

I was reflecting on just that point when I got the chance to see Washington as a guest on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show.

Now, I was already an MHP stan before the show—the first  news show hosted by a Black woman on a major cable news network—(no shade to Jacque Reed for holding it down all those years at BET) debuted in February. If the MHP Show has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that in a Black feminist universe we DVR the news!

I’m so serious. I now have to have my weekly #nerdland fix. It is not a game. And  I swear this show is some of the smartest programming on weekend television. On television period. It matters even more that MHP is a self-avowed Black feminist, particularly since so many sisters still seem to have a problem with that word.  Both Washington and MHP identify as feminists and are fierce advocates for women’s rights through their various platforms. For all the reluctant feminists out there, these women represent just two of the many forms that Black feminism can take.

One of my favorite moments from the show was the day that MHP talked about the movie that Black feminist chicks – me included—love to hate: The Help.  But on her show, she chose to interview an actual domestic, Barbara Young, the head of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. And when Ms. Young offered a different perspective than that of MHP and her other panelists, MHP made sure that Ms. Young’s voice and perspective didn’t get drowned out by the other folks who felt educationally entitled to take up more space in the room. We Black feminists take care of our own.

The more I thought about this awesomely unique moment in which we have a Black feminist delivering the news, a Black female lead (who can act her ass off) in primetime, and a Black female show creator,  I realized that slowly but surely Black women are fighting back against this onslaught of misogynoir that has been the Tyler Perry-Steve Harvey media universe for much too long.

Sisters are kicking butt now and taking names later.

Over at, Kierna Mayo is leading a swift and steady revolution. I have read so many smart pieces there, since the site’s relaunch just a few months ago. I grew up reading Ebony and Essence, the two black magazines that we got at my house. My grandmother got Jet so the triumvirate was complete. But I let my subscriptions lag a long time ago.  Yet, I knew something had changed when I began to see the word “feminist” there on a regular basis. And when I tuned in a couple of weeks ago and caught an important  article on African American trans trailblazers, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Needless to say, is now in my regular rotation.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl won the Shorty Award for best web show, beating out 783 other entries. And Issa Rae demolished her racist haters in the aftermath.

Ava DuVernay won best director at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

And we can’t forget that whatever issues some folks might have with her, a Black Girl has got her OWN media empire.

 So even though I’m not in the habit of quoting Nicki Minaj,  I really do wish I could have this moment for life. This moment, when I can catch a Black girl (well, make that two Black girls) running things in primetime, a Black girl running things on cable news, a Black girl running her own network, a Black girl running the web, a Black girl running, and let the NYT tell it, a Black girl running hip-hop.

And to top all that off, there’s a Black girl running the White House. 

I dare not close my eyes, cuz I feel like, in the blink of an eye, it could all be gone. And yet, I choose to savor this moment. Sometimes we Black feminist chicks, I guess because of our fervent desire to make this world reflect our best dreams for it, are quick to see the shortcomings, the wrongs. But in this moment, however brief it turns out to be, there are at least a few things going right.

And in a salute of that, I’m doing my Black girl dance, cuz this is what a Black girl world could look like.

So DO tha ladies run this? Hell yeah. At least for this one singularly  exquisite moment. And right now, this one brightly shining moment is enuf. Because if I know Black girls, I know this. Don’t give us even an inch, because we will take over the whole she-bang. #watchoutnow

Why I Supported the Hoodie March and Not SlutWalk

2 Apr

Nearly two Wednesdays ago, after a long day in the office, I frantically drove home, donned one of three dark hoodies that I own, hopped a train to NYC from Jersey, met another Sista Prof friend and made it via taxi to Union Square just in time to participate in the first One Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin March, which had been announced only the day before.

After hearing from Trayvon’s parents and the family’s attorney, we burst into the streets of Manhattan, speaking Trayvon’s name, almost as if the fervency of our incantations would call this boy, this young Lazarus, back to life. The energy in the air was nothing short of electric. We were not there when Trayvon begged for his life on a suburban lawn in Florida. But our collective screams on his behalf hopefully served to amplify his own screams that night.

I have been taken aback by the degree to which this case has touched the nation. With more than 2,000, 000 signatures on the petition and many public figures donning hoodies on his behalf, Trayvon’s murder has the potential to galvanize national conversations about racial profiling, the criminalization of Black male bodies, and the unequal way that arrests, conviction, and sentencing are applied to Black v. non-Black persons.

But as I sat home the next day and reflected on how simple a decision it was for me to attend the March and how glad I was that I went, I thought about my more ambivalent stance toward another movement that is also central to my political commitments.


It occurred to me that there was a central point of connection between the organizing principle of the Hoodie Marches and of SlutWalk, namely that each movement has sought to dramatize the intrinsic illogic of suggesting that one’s clothing choices invite–and more to the point– justify violent treatment. Not two days after the NYC hoodie march and one day after more than 30,000 people showed up in Sanford, Fl on Trayvon’s behalf, Geraldo Rivera said on Fox News that in fact Trayvon’s hoodie has as much to do with his murder as Zimmerman’s gun.

As if.

But then all of a sudden, dudes understood. I saw FB status after FB status saying, “a hoodie is no more to blame for Trayvon’s murder than a woman’s clothing choices are to blame for rape.” I might have cheered.

But really, what I had was a larger question. Why had I, an ardent (CRUNK) feminist refused to support SlutWalk? My primary reason as I’ve said before was about the inherent white privilege signaled by a movement that wanted to “reclaim” the word “slut.” Moreover, I felt like there was simply much more at stake to ask a woman of color to come and actively identify as a slut, than was at stake for the white women who readily jumped on the bandwagon. Also, as Trayvon’s case has demonstrated, the larger issue within SlutWalk was policing. I told organizers months ago in a dialogue in our comments section, that a critique of policing would invite all kinds of folks to come to the table. Because what has become abundantly clear is that both gender and racial ideologies are deployed to constrict the rights of women and men, Black and Brown to take up public space.  So my choice not to participate was an active assertion of the principle that I don’t want to be a part of any feminism that fails to actively critique racism.

Yet, I know that contemporary Black feminism emerged not just as a critique of white women’s racism, but also as a critique of Black men’s strident sexism.

Nothing infuriates me more than race-based organizing in which Black men take up all the space in the room. And it is precisely because of the long history of unjustified murders of Black men, that brothas feel entitled to exist at the center of the Black racial universe and feel justified in having the struggles that they face take up more than their fair share of the finite political, financial, and emotional energy and resources that we have to organize.

The result is that Black women find it incredibly difficult to make the case that the issues which affect us– alarmingly high rates of AIDS/HIV infection, disturbing statistics around Intimate Partner Violence, homicide, and rape, disproportionate rates of poverty, increasing numbers of incarceration and policing, the explosion of sex trafficking of young women, and copious amounts of street harassment—matter as much, are worth as much attention.

To put it the way some brothers have more or less put it to me: YES, sistas are being beaten, raped, and making do by themselves, but brothers are being KILLED. *Brotha drops mic. Walks away* Conversation over. (with no acknowledgement of the kind of privilege it is to both have the mic in the first place AND an audience when you do get the chance to speak.)

And now, another black boy is dead. And we are all rightfully angry.

But this position does not come without its risks.

Consider that there are no mass marches for Rekia Boyd, no massive national outcry, though her story has received more coverage in light of the Trayvon Martin situation.

In a zero-sum universe where resources are finite, and we have to pick our battles, rape/beating/harassment is (apparently) no match for state violence and murder. Within Black communities, high rates of Black male-on-Black male homicide matter more than the numbers of Black women killed at the hands of their Black male partners.

Feminist or not, it remains clear that Black women’s collective racial love affair with Black men is still going strong.

As a feminist, I personally struggle with what it means that on any given day, racism still seems to matter more to me than sexism. 

I marched for Trayvon almost without a second thought; with SlutWalk, its shortcomings were enough to keep me away.

 And while I could chalk up my choices to my experiences with violence– I have seen lots of violence in my lifetime, having lost my own father to gun violence—my choices are not quite so simple, when I acknowledge that I also have many, many women friends –and quite a few male friends, too—who are the victims of rape and sexual abuse and far too many female relatives who’ve confronted near-deadly violence at the hands of their male partners.

A couple of days after the Hoodie March, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference called Women of Power in Harlem. At the behest of the conference’s fierce Feminist Enough organizer, Shantrelle P. Lewis, we panelists rocked our hoodies at the morning sessions.

Photo by Jati Lindsay

That simple request and the seriousness with which we all took it, reminded me of just how much it continues to matter to Black women that our Black feminism not alienate us from Black men.

In fact, if I could just keep it one hundred, I think Black women care much less about whether our racial commitments or feminist expressions alienate us from white women.

Yet, the question remains

 Do Black men love us as much as we love them? Do they care enough to make sure their racial commitments and their gender politics and investments in unhealthy forms of masculinity don’t alienate us? Are they outraged about the shit we’re facing?

How do we make it so that our choice to stand up for Trayvon and acknowledge the injustices perpetrated in his name doesn’t set Black feminist organizing back three decades, by reinforcing notions about Black men being an endangered species, particularly since in this moment, it feels in some ways, like they are?

I don’t have answers, but I do invite dialogue. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Re-Nigging on the Promises: #Justice4Trayvon

16 Mar

Another Black kid is dead.

This time it’s 17 year old Trayvon Martin.

His life snuffed out at the hands of an overzealous, trigger happy white neighborhood watch commander named George Zimmerman, who thought Trayvon looked “suspicious” as he walked back to his father’s home in a suburban Florida neighborhood with a pack of skittles and an iced tea for his little brother. Trayvon was unarmed; Zimmerman was packing a semiautomatic weapon.

How do we make sense of the senseless?

From the facts alone, it is clear that Zimmerman presented the real threat. But it has now been two and a half weeks since the shooting, and Sanford Police Department has declined to charge Zimmerman with a crime. Law enforcement officials claim they have no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self-defense.

Apparently an unarmed, dead Black teen is not evidence enough.  If this were 1912 and not 2012, we would call a Black man killed by a one-man firing squad with no just cause what it is: a lynching. These days, we search for euphemisms.

Self-defense. That feels so inadequate.

I mean, whose selves really need defending if it is Black selves—primarily Black male selves—that keep being murdered?

It’s high time that we started asking some serious questions about how we keep ending up here.  Because there is most assuredly a racial logic—an alarming method – to this madness.

So come, let us reason, together. (Yeah, I got Biblical, because in times like these we need a savior. Take that as literally or as figuratively as you will.)

In one of the earliest reports I read about this murder, the author felt it important to mention that Trayvon was visiting his father because he had been suspended from school for a week. It infuriated me that this detail was there. It was a subtle way to suggest that this kid didn’t have his head on straight, that he had some flaw, that he had already demonstrated himself to be a disciplinary problem.

How does it feel to be a problem? It feels like gunshots, unheard screams, and a lonely, violent death.

It is now statistically documented that Black students are suspended 46% more than all other students, and account for 39% of expulsions, though they only make up 18% of the school system.  One in five Black boys is subjected to out-of-school suspension. The increase in zero-tolerance policies and automatic referrals to law enforcement are major culprits here. It is beginning to sound like schools have a zero-tolerance for students of color in general, and an aversion to Black boys in particular.

A story.

Years ago, I taught reading to a group of middle-schoolers in D.C. public schools. That year four of my male students –all African-American—were expelled. Three of them were expelled not for selling drugs on the campus, but for failing to report that they knew one of their classmates was doing so. As the Head of School told me, “we have an honor code and a zero-tolerance policy.” Nearly ten years later, I find that decision the most dishonorable of decisions I encountered at that school, which was a fairly dishonorable experience for me. What my boss didn’t seem (willing) to understand is that these students –while boarding students during the week—returned home on weekends, to the very communities where the dealers supplying the drugs to their classmate lived. To ask these students to put their lives and their families’ lives in danger in order to honor our honor code was an exercise in missing the point. So the kids were expelled.

I learned a lot then about how the cultures of discipline in public schools fail to honor the very real material realities that shape how kids engage in school. When scholars talk about a school-to-prison pipeline, they are not simply talking about the ways that systematic lack of educational access sets up Black people for a stint in the criminal justice system. They are also pointing to the fact that the very logic of public schools is designed to discipline Americans into a certain model of  citizenship, one that helps us to believe in the propaganda of equal rights that we are taught in our social studies classes, while obscuring the systematic inequalities that are on gratuitious display through the treatment of children of color, students with disabilities, and poor students.

I can’t help but wonder if it is this kind of discipline to which Trayvon had been subjected. School discipline should not be the pathway to a prison sentence or a death sentence.

A Black kid is dead. And blame must be placed somewhere.

I have zero-tolerance for a justice system that deputizes overzealous white men and vests them with the power to be judge, jury, and executioner, under the trumped up guise of self-defense . If this community fails to prosecute George Zimmerman, their silence, their acquiescence, their approval will constitute an official sanctioning of his course of action.

I can’t help but wonder what he must have thought as he was confronted for no reason by a white guy with a gun, while he was simply trying to go home.

Eyewitnesses said they heard Trayvon call for help. The police swiftly corrected them, letting them know that in fact, it was the white guy who had called for help. Even with eyewitness testimony, the police seemed incapable of seeing Trayvon as the victim. Young Black men are always the aggressors, right? Not the gun-toting white guy, who weighed 100 pounds more than Trayvon. Not the self-styled neighborhood vigilante with a documented disrespect for law enforcement. Nope. Just the Black kid, whose skin is (perceived as) a weapon.

Though Zimmerman had been charged in the past with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest, officers told Trayvon’s parents that Zimmerman’s record was squeaky clean.

What is this peculiar thing about whiteness that it makes criminals look like victims and victims look like criminals?

Trayvon’s skin, not his actions, not his character, made him a criminal. Blackness always looks suspicious. Whiteness always looks safe.

A history lesson.

In 1857, Justice Roger Taney infamously declared in the Dred Scott case that “a Black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect.”

In this post- most-racial moment*, we must seriously re-evaluate this narrative of linear historical progress that we are beholden to. No, Black men don’t routinely find themselves hanging from trees. But that might be less an evidence of progress and more an evidence of white racial adaptation.

“Racial patterns [will always] adapt in ways that maintain white dominance.” – Father of Critical Race Theory Prof. Derrick Bell’s famous maxim echoes in my ears.

(No wonder folks were mad last week to see the re-circulated video of Harvard Law Student Barack Obama hugging his professor Derrick Bell. As Melissa Harris- Perry said, two brothers hugging one another is an unforgivable offense.)

Perhaps a hip-hop metaphor is more appropriate. Present white racial violence frequently samples its own racial past, but packages the narrative in ways that make us think we are making progress, that we are doing a new thing. But this shit ain’t original.

Take for example this 2012 campaign bumper sticker.

The challenge in getting stuck on this show of ignorance is that most racism isn’t that visible. And because it isn’t, white folks (like the many I saw comment on this photograph on facebook) can tell themselves that this is isolated racial ignorance.

They don’t have to contend with the ways that our legal justice system continues to renege on its promises of equality and justice for all, through the enactment of supposedly color-blind policies like stricter voter registration laws that are designed to exclude folk of color from voting, through campaign suggestions that racialize the welfare system, and through sentencing disparities that criminalize Black and Brown folks for life. White folks can see this bumper sticker and never think about the ways in which every one of these deadly racial encounters (which seem to be a not infrequent occurrence in Sanford, Fl.) constitutes a “Re-Nig(gerizing)” of the Black male body. 

Trayvon Martin  “looked suspicious,” Zimmerman told the 911 Dispatcher. In fact, to say  “suspicious” and “Black man” in the same sentence, feels redundant.



All these (short but long) years later, the racial logic remains the same. Black men are threatening. And murder is a proper response to that threat or a least an understandable one. Ida B. Wells could’ve told us that. And she did. But that soundtrack has been remixed to accompany us into a new era.

How does it feel to be white?

Whiteness, Critical Race Theorist Cheryl Harris tells us, is a “form of property.” In the classical sense, whiteness, like property, confers “all those human rights, liberties, powers, and immunities that are important for human well-being including freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom from bodily harm, and free and equal opportunities to use personal faculties.” (CRT Reader: 279-280)

Does it feel like freedom? Whiteness.

Well it certainly looks like justice.

The kind of justice that we want for Trayvon.

But there is one problem. Trayvon is Black. And that matters when whiteness is the sine qua non of the American legal system, when possession of a white skin is the prerequisite for justice.

And it is precisely because of this deep-seated association of white skin with property, that George Zimmerman felt he had the right to “patrol” his neighborhood for interlopers and outsiders.

 It is not coincidental that Black men are routinely profiled for looking suspicious in nice neighborhoods “because they don’t belong there.” The battle over who belongs in neighborhoods– even though Trayvon’s step-mother lived there!—is just a modern site for a long-standing warfare over white racial entitlement to control land and every thing that moves on that land.

So despite our cries of #justice4Trayvon, we know that it is a toss-up as to whether Zimmerman will be charged with anything, that it takes a literal act of God for the system to work for us. That God is all we have, when the system works against us.

We keep hoping that reason will take over, that the facts will be presented in just such a way that the crime committed here will become visible, evident, to the powers that be. Somehow, I don’t believe that this is what President Obama meant by “the audacity of hope.” And if he did, I hope he realizes that hope in the face of mounting injustice is an unreasonable thing to ask of us. We are the post-post Civil Rights Generation, the Hip Hop Generation. And we are tired of hope and dreams deferred.

If the persistence of racism has taught us anything, it is this : that racism is not rational. It literally doesn’t make any sense. Yet, we keep appealing to reason, even though we feel like taking it to the streets, because we know that such acts of violence, would be perceived as irrational. Threatening. And met with all consequent force.

 Yet we keep appealing to reason, in hopes that someone will listen.

As we appeal to the system, signing petitions calling for the prosecution of George Zimmerman, we hope against hope, that the system will not decide that Blackness alone makes one a probable threat, worthy of execution, just a few hundred feet from one’s home. And yet, that decision has been made thousands of times. Will Trayvon be any different?

You think our lives are cheap, and easy to be wasted, as history repeats, so foul you can taste it…His life so incomplete, and nothing can replace it”–Lauryn Hill

*Thanks to Rhea C. for the “most-racial” reference.

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