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Shade, Smirks, & Zingers

4 Oct

I’m too through. I should have watched some old episodes of Parks & Recreation rather than trying to watch this hot mess of a debate. To quote my fellow CF, watching this debate was like watching Jim Lehrer try to herd cats. Bless his heart; he needs to go have several seats and throw in the towel on being a moderator.

Also, maybe it was a mistake to watch the debate with my mama. She basically yelled at Gov. Mittens for 90 minutes.

In any event, what follows are my thoughts jotted down during and right after the debate.

My thoughts regarding Mittens:

-Why is your flag pin so big? Stop being so fucking obvious.

-You over talking everyone like you don’t have no damn sense. But some folks will actually think that you argued better. Style over substance, I guess.

-Why do you want to fire Big Bird? We all know that it’s Bert and Ernie who are the real threat. Damn Communists.

My thoughts regarding the president:

-Why do you talk so damn slow? You know our attention spans are short.

-I appreciate you being calm and collected, but damn homie, rhetoric and style matter. At the same time, I recognize that if you go ham on Romniferous you’ll be just be an angry negro. You can’t win. It’s a Sisyphean battle.

-Were you trying to take the high road by not talking about the 47% ? It didn’t work. Remind everyone that Romney gives very few %#$@ about most Americans.

On a more serious tip, I’m not sure how productive this debate ultimately was. Romney was smirking and generally being a condescending rich white man, and while President Obama was giving us some good professor shade, he was also getting filibustered severely. Plus, the fact that neither candidate discussed women’s health, LGBTQ issues, immigration, and other pressing matters, though unfortunately not surprising, was a major fail.

What are your thoughts on the first debate, fam?

For Whites Who Consider Being Allies But Find it Much too Tuff

6 Aug

Trigger Warning: Some language about sexual violence to follow.

The following post is a crunk public service announcement for our own post most racial times.

For the record, being a white ally means…

Not expecting your friends/colleagues of color to do the heavy lifting around your own privilege…

Not recentering the conversation back to yourself when difficult subjects come up…

Not asking people of color to be less angry so you can really listen. Child, please…

Not petulantly zeroing in on petty aspects of a person of color’s argument or analysis because it makes you feel uncomfortable or illuminates holes in your thinking. It’s really transparent…

Not bringing up the fact that your best friend/boo/adopted stepchild is black/brown/polka-dotted. Such “facts” are not get-out-of-jail free cards for saying stupid shit or generally being racist. You can have intimate relationships with people of color and still have fucked up race politics….

Not expecting/demanding cookies and milk because you are pursuing anti-racist activism. While we may be happy to work with you, you are doing what you’re supposed to do. Period. Point blank…

During conversations about race, the phrases “race card” and “oversensitive” don’t even enter into your mind, much less escape your lips. It’s never the right answer.

And, never forget, being a white ally means being less concerned with potentially being called racist and more concerned with actually perpetuating racism.

I’ll end this PSA with the wise words of the late, great poet, Pat Parker.

“For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend”

the first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.

Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,

but don’t play here every time i come over.

An if you decide to play Beethoven-don’t tell me

his life story. They make us take music appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it, but don’t expect me

to locate your restaurants

of cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,

mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,

rips your house or is just being an ass-

please do not apologize to me

for wanting to do them bodily harm.

It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than

whites-don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.

In other words-if you really want to be my friend-don’t

make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.

This was a crunk public service announcement. Carry on.

Dancing in the Streets

2 May

As I type this post, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Folks are singing, dancing, waving flags, and generally applauding what they see as American badassery.

 All across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and various other forms of social media, folks are weighing on the recent events. While some had measured responses, several of my Facebook friends, for example, were all about “Boo-yah!” “Take that, you terrorists!” “You can’t stop our freedom!” and so on. 

 I have to admit, though, that I’m definitely feeling some kind of way about all this celebrating.

 Let’s not get it twisted: I’m not pro-Bin Laden or pro-al-Qaeda. I think Bin Laden was an asshole and I rebuke terrorism of all kinds. I’m pro-peace, pro-love, and, perhaps above all, pro-sense.  Frankly, I’m more concerned with the thousands of folks who died on 9/11 and the tens of thousands of folks who have died since then, and continue to die, in the name of the War on Terror than in celebrating right now, especially since I’m not hearing a whole lot about honoring victims in these celebrations.

 I know for some of the folks in front of the White House, at Ground Zero, and in other places, these celebrations are about healing wounds, crying it out, and reconciling their pain with the inevitable schadenfreude this situation incites. While I have loved ones in the military (one of whom participated in rescue missions at the Pentagon on 9/11), I did not lose anyone that day and I’m not here to cast aspersions to those who have and will spend a lifetime dealing with that pain.

But, I suspect for some others these celebrations are not about anything like that. For these folks, the public carrying on at the White House, on Facebook, and elsewhere is about applauding American imperialism, feeling vindicated in our invincibility, and generally acting a racist fool (cue the inevitable anti-Arab sentiment).  And I just can’t cosign on folks wanting to engage in some collective jingoistic masturbation. I just can’t.

A few days ago, President Obama had to show his papers to prove he was legit, and now he’s pulled what some might call the ultimate H.N.I.C. card on Birthers, Tea Partiers, and haters in general.  (Yeah, I saw his “see you in 2012, busters!” strut as he left the podium after his speech).

But the fact remains is that President Obama felt he had to show his papers to get some respect. So, one day he’s showing his papers and the next day he’s the best commander-in-chief ever? (Side eye). Excuse me if I don’t think our post-racial, post-feminist, post-sensical society has morphed that much overnight.

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, ’cause I’m all about parades. I say all this to say that while we’re dancing in the street, we can’t forget that despite what has just happened, the world in some ways has not changed all that much between April 30th and May 1st.  Dancing in the street or showing out online does not change a damn thing when our education system is laughable, our healthcare system is pitiful, our criminal justice system is deplorable, and our service men and women are deployed routinely for dubious ends. Need I go on? Suffice it to say, we need to keep our eyes on the prize instead of applauding Pyrrhic victories, no matter how tempting they may seem.

My Sister’s Keeper: A “B” Side for Cleveland, TX

17 Mar

Trigger Alert: The following is a meditation on sexual violence.

This piece is in response to my previous post, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me?”, in which I discussed my experiences as a survivor of child abuse.

Last year, I wrote a piece in which I declared myself a survivor of child abuse. That fact is something that not a whole lot of people know about me. I know that much of my dissemblance stems from a deeply cultivated sense of privacy, but I would be lying if I said that, even as an adult who knows I did nothing wrong, that there was no shame in my silence.[i] When I think about what happened, I sometimes hear a voice saying things like, “It was so long ago, you need to get over it” or “Compared to what others have been through, you can’t even complain” or worse.  And while I know this voice is full of shit, it’s still there.

Last year, CF Ashon wrote something in the comments that continues to resonate with me: “we live in a world that makes it difficult, if not shameful, for people who have been victimized to speak…” This phrase has come back to me a lot in the recent days, especially as I think about the gruesome events that have happened in the small town of Cleveland, TX.

If you have not already heard, a young Latina sister—only eleven years old—was gang raped by eighteen black men —yes, you read that correctly. Eighteen men. A New York Times article with some skewed reporting focused on the community’s bullshit response to this sister’s assault.  For example, a community member lamented that the alleged perpetrators “will live with this the rest of their lives.”

Sometimes I wonder what planet I’m living on. A child is raped and folks are up in arms about how her eighteen attackers will feel for the rest of their lives?! Jesus, take the wheel.

Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of victim blaming: claims that the girl said she was of age (side eye), that she dressed “provocatively” (side eye), that her mother was negligent (side eye). All of this ballyhooing about blame is obfuscating the issue, which is: a girl was raped. Period. There’s no excuse. I don’t want to hear it.

Although much mainstream coverage of this incident has been fairly bootleg, thankfully we have folks like Akiba Solomon and Denene Millner who bring both sense and compassion to this discussion. Solomon indicts the rape culture that sanctions this behavior, asserting:

“In this framework, girls of color are the predators, the fast-asses, the hot-asses, the hooker-hos, the groupie bitches, the trick-ass bitches, the bust-it-babies and the lil’ freaks who are willing to let dudes “run a train” on them.”

Solomon is right. Perpetrators get let off the hook because folks are quick to want to uphold patriarchy by talking about brothers who act a damn fool as victims. And, let’s not get it twisted; we all know that black men, in particular, have had a history of being charged with rape, and other offenses, when their only crime has been being black and alive.  I know this. But folks, we have cell phone footage and so on. Indeed, folks in the community don’t even deny that sexual activity occurred, but rather, in Solomon’s words, they are calling the incident “a case of consensual group sex gone wrong.”

This brings me back to Ashon’s comment about shame and silence. While I am absolutely sick about this and hope that the girl’s attackers are brought to justice, at this moment, I’m just as concerned about how this girl is doing right now. Reports state that she has been placed in foster care in another town because of threats to her family. (Sigh).

My concern is how is she getting up and facing the day. I suspect that this sister is being bombarded with a host of angry voices—internal and external—voices that question her morality, her sexuality, her intelligence, and her self-worth.

I wonder, is she being supported? Is she being held if she wants to be held or left alone when she needs space? Is she able to cry it out, talk it out, scream it out, draw it out, or dance it out?

If I could talk to this sister, I’d have a lot to say. But, first, I would listen to her.  She has been talked about, conjectured about, and, I suspect, lied on, but I’m not sure how much listening is happening. I’m pretty sure that I will not be able to do this, but I hope that this sister can discover a supportive and affirming community that will listen to her needs and help her heal. And I hope this happens sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, I know from experience that this sister from Cleveland, TX is not the only young girl out there dealing with sexual trauma from the hands of those closest to her. But there are things we can do besides shake our heads in collective disgust.

  1. We can continue to talk about it. I know the saying is that talk is cheap, but in the case of sexual violence, the silence is often overwhelming. Talking about these incidents, when possible, helps to illuminate the workings of rape culture.
  2. We need to listen. When folks admit to being survivors, we need to listen and not judge or shame them.
  3. We need to provide folks with information. Check out great resources like A Long Walk Home, No! The Rape Documentary, and Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, for starters.
  4. We need to help create counternarratives to the pervasive rape culture in our society that deems “running trains” and other sorts of sexual violence sites of masculine rites of passage.  This means radical deprogramming for men and women in our communities. I know this is no short order, but this is life or death kind of serious.
  5. We need to be accountable to one another. As in, yes, I am my sister’s keeper. When anyone experiences sex violence or violence of any kind, we should be outraged and ready for action. These are not hypothetical situations. These situations are happening every day.

This is just a short and by no means exhaustive list and there’s much work to be done.

So, let’s get to it.

[i] To be clear, I’m not making an equivocal statement about silence in all survivors of abuse and assault. I know that for some speaking out is neither desirable nor possible.


Won’t You Celebrate With Me?

15 Jul

Trigger Alert: The following is a meditation on childhood abuse.

A few months ago, the family of Oscar-winning actress Mo’Nique went on Oprah to discuss an issue that has torn them apart. After years of denials, Gerald Imes, Mo’Nique’s older brother, admitted to molesting his sister for several years. Though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, what struck me the most about the interview was the family’s defensive posture regarding the situation. Another of Mo’Nique’s brothers was really invested in maintaining that his brother “wasn’t a monster” and that Mo’Nique seemed to have “gotten over” the abuse because she and Imes seemed to have a “great relationship” in the years after and are only recently estranged. (Side eye). Watching this episode, horrified, I meant to write a post on surviving childhood abuse that week, but I’ve just gotten up the strength to do so.

Before I speak my piece, I’d like to start off with a feminist prayer, of sorts.

won’t you celebrate with me

by LUCILLE CLIFTON (1936-2010)

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

I feel blessed every time I read this poem. While I love so much of Clifton’s work, this is the one that speaks to me the most often, the one that I return to when I’m feeling low down and sorry for myself. I think, I’m here, I’m a survivor. So much bullshit, and yet, I’m still standing.

Like an unfortunately large number of people, I was abused as a child. It’s not something I talk about often or think about daily, but it’s a part of my past that exists just below the surface of my consciousness, like a throbbing vein beneath my skin. When I was a little girl and we had just moved from the islands to the mainland, my mother and I lived in the basement “apartment” of some family friends. Our place was a very small room that, in retrospect, was probably a walk-in closet. We shared a twin bed and a small side table. We didn’t have our own bathroom (we often used a chamber pot to relieve ourselves) and we alternated between freezing and boiling in the New England weather. Needless to say these were conditions my mother wanted to get us out of. So, she got herself a couple of low-paying, menial jobs and left me in the company of the aforementioned family friends during the day while she worked.

Once left in the care of these people, I became easily frightened and I cried a lot. I became intensely afraid of my mother dying and being left with these people who treated me so badly in a whole host of ways. My mother was worried, but was really focused on moving us out of there. My father was no where to be found (he’d abdicated his responsibility when my mother was pregnant with me) and the rest of my mother’s people were a thousand miles away. So I learned to get through the days as best as I could and when my mother came home and fell into the tiny bed in deep exhaustion, I didn’t say a word. This went on for two years. When I was seven, my mother lucked up and got a section 8 apartment and we left that basement hovel and never looked back. Boy, wasn’t no one as happy to see some projects as I was, I tell you what.

I was a fairly well-adjusted kid on the surface, though I suffered from nightmares and had intense crying spells. I loved to read and after a couple false starts, really began to excel in school, something my mom championed in me. She took me to the library and bought me books when she could. When I wrote up little stories and fairy tales, she told me they were great and that I would grow up to be a great writer and teacher. I really thank her for that because everywhere else I went I was getting the exact opposite treatment.  I really was working against all the stuff I went through in that basement “apartment” and I can’t tell you how many times folks—adult and children alike—told me how stupid, fat, ugly, not to mention poor, I was.

Against all odds, I’ve been to college and graduate school. I’m gainfully employed, live in my own place and drive my own car. I even have health insurance—the good kind that lets you go to the dentist and the eye doctor. I am surrounded by love from a whole host of folk who comprise a fiercely loyal chosen family. And I am very close to my mother, who is wonderful in all sorts of ways. All in all, I’ve turned out alright. Yet, mine is not a Horatio Alger story of triumph. Sure I worked hard, but I am here because I was able to tap into a feminist network of friends and create a loving family. The support I get from these folks cannot erase the past, but it can engender a healthy present and a better future for me and perhaps others with similar experiences.

I’m not telling you this for your pity. Rather, I’m speaking out because I’m in a safe space/place with feminist brothers and sisters who value my voice. There are so many who have gone through what I have experienced and more and who may have the desire to speak, but no safe space to do so. (I also recognize there are those who do not desire to speak about their abuse, and I respect that desire as well). If we call ourselves progressives, radicals, and feminists of any sort, we need to take close, hard looks at the sort of the communities we are born into and become a part of. What are we doing to make our communities a safe space for children and the survivors of abuse? What are we doing to break the patriarchal patterns of control that promote exacting violence as a rite of passage? I do not have all the answers, but I am damn sure asking some questions, and no one’s gonna shut me up for “airing dirty laundry.”

Although I don’t know all of Mo’Nique’s story, I respect her need to disconnect and disassociate from her abusers. I too have had moments where I was expected to be cordial to the very people that violated my trust. Back in the day, I would’ve smiled and held down the bile, but now I refuse and will continue to do so.

Despite the fact that abuse comprises most of my earliest memories, when I think of my past, I think of the last lines of Clifton’s poem. And I think of my mother and grandmother and all the other women in my family who, like me, are survivors of abuse. Now, let’s not get it twisted, I am not saying that abuse is a badge of honor. Far from it. What I am saying is that I went through the crucible and I’m still here. Sometimes I’m broken and bleeding, but I’m here.

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