Archive by Author

Game Over?

7 Jun

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When I heard that Melanie (Tia Mowry Hardrict) and Derwin (Pooch Hall) were not returning to The Game next season I must admit that I drank the Kool-Aid and tuned back in to see how their complicated love story would end.  I even saw most of the episodes I missed after taking a hiatus (during the four day, five season marathon on BET) this past weekend.  Watching episodes from five years ago reminded me of why I was a fan of the show in the first place, and in some ways, the final episode of Season 5 offered a slight, albeit temporary, glimpse of the good ole’ days.

At first The Game (on The CW) was refreshing because it was comedic, focused on friendships, and offered nuances to the characters (i.e., us learning how/why they are the way they are—from Melanie’s bourgeiose family to Maalik’s fatherless son with mama issues translated to woman issues narrative).  Unfortunately, when they returned, on BET, much of that was lost.  I continued to watch because I was a loyal “fan” and I was committed, at first, to watch The Game until the bittersweet end.

Clearly I am not alone in my nostalgia.  There is a facebook fan page, Save The Game, that is devoted to both remembering what made The Game work for the first three seasons (via “throwback Thursday images of The Game during its former glory,” and calling for corporate accountability for the new programming, via an open letter to writers and producers).

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I won’t repeat things I have already said about the frailties of the show since its transition to BET, but I will say that one of the disappointments was the way that the writers handled the characters we had all come to love.  It was as if they did not know what to do with the characters anymore, and instead of maturing them, they regressed into childish, selfish, shells of their former selves.  It was hard to like them, let alone love them.

I can say, though, that over the course of the season, it seemed, that some of the characters softened.  I must admit, while I was initially blackgirl offended at the introduction of Chardonnay as an over-the-top exaggeration of black ghetto fabulousness, she seemed, at the end of the season, to be less rough around the edges and more believable.  Tasha Mack’s character, while wildly stereotypical, showed her soft/er and vulnerable side in the last episode, in what I believe to be one of the most remarkable and memorable scenes she has had.  (What woman doesn’t want a lover who will “take care of her” when she is sick?)

Unfortunately, Tuesday night’s episode represented one high mark in two seasons worth of foolishness.  There have been so many episodes, over the last two seasons, that left me hanging, so many storylines that were not thought through or properly executed, so many things that did not make sense, that one episode where the imprudence was minimal does not make up for it.  I appreciate that we were given an ending that gave closure (in a TV series kind of way) for the characters, but it makes me wonder what is going to happen next?  In what ways is next season going to take away the temporary “good feelings” I had after Tuesday’s finale?

In many ways the final episode of season 5 could have been the series finale, an end to the stories that help us know that everybody is going to be okay (just like the first, though abrupt, series finale).  We get a glimpse of what tomorrow will bring for the characters that doesn’t feel jagged edged, that doesn’t feel impossible, or short-changed.  Tasha finally finds “everything she always prayed for” (in Pooky).  Jason finds his true blackgirl love.  Maalik has his second chance with his first love (football), and resigns to being himself (the arrogant, cocky playboy we learned to love); Melanie and Derwin get their “thing” back, the spark we were introduced to on the first episode of the game, only this time instead of Melanie being expected to sacrifice her dreams for her man, Derwin sacrifices his for hers.  She finally gets to come into her own, fulfill her own dreams and goals to be a doctor, without sacrificing her marriage or happiness to do it.  She gets it “all”—at least in the moment when her (gorgeous) husband comes to the airport to go with her to D.C.

I don’t know what will happen next season, and I can’t say that I am anxious to see it or that I will even watch it.  In many ways I feel like The Game has run its course.  On The CW it was entertaining to watch, but if BET is overtime, I am over it, and even when you are a fan of your team, at some point you are just ready for The Game to be over.  After several disappointing Tuesday nights, the final episode of season five is the one I want to remember it by—an episode that finally, it seems, brought everyone full circle, back to where we started.

Game over.

The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick

31 May

Down Ass Chick:  a woman who is a lady but she can hang with thugs. She will lie for you but still love you. She will die for you but cry for you. Most importantly she will kill for you like she’ll comfort you. She is a ride or die bitch who will do whatever it takes to be by your side. She’ll be your Bonnie if you are her Clyde. Thugs love these bitches and they show this by showering them with stacks of cash, flashy jewels and rides. (Urban Dictionary)

I taught a class on black masculinity during the pre-summer session and the course covered everything from black man stereotypes, and the patriarchal requirements of black masculinity to big black penis myths, homophobia, and hip hop.  One of our most recent classes on romantic relationships between heterosexual black men and women inspired an interesting conversation that stayed for days. Forgive me for a quick (perhaps academic) summary.

Several black women scholars, including Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks, tell us that black love is an act of rebellion.  In a culture that claims black women are unlovable and undesirable, and black men are violent and irredeemable, it is considered “rebellious” when black men and women love each other.  In an article called “Can a Thug (get some) Love? Sex, Romance, and the Definition of a Hip Hop ‘Thug'” Michael Jeffries discusses the ways in which a thug (or hip hop) masculinity makes room for romantic love.  Further compelling (per Michael Eric Dyson) is the fact that patriarchy (and hip hop) forwards a binary way of seeing women as either good or bad; a virgin or a whore; a “good sister” or a “ho,”; a down-ass bitch/chick or, yep, you guessed it…a ho. :/  Black women are situated as either a ride or die chick and wifey (but not a wife) or a disposable chick used for sex and good times.  I wasn’t feeling those options.

As a self-proclaimed “good girl” I find it problematic that “good girls” are punished for being good.  While we may be the ones men claim to “want” (in the long run, when they are finally ready to settle down and do right) most of the good sisters I know are situationally single.  The good girl is put in the pocket while the other woman gets the attention, affection, love, sex, children, etc.  What is wrong with that picture?  And the catch is, if good girls grow tired of waiting and become ambivalent about this wait-and-see kind of love, and if they transform themselves to the version of themselves that men will pay attention to, they will no longer be “good” and therefore no longer be desired (in the long run).  Ain’t that some ish?  Patriarchy at its finest…

When I was 17 years old, I aspired to be a down ass chick. I was into pseudo-thugs and pretty boys, or any combination of the two, and (would have) gladly compromised my goals to be “down.”  Here is what a down-ass chick was:  loyal, sexual, willing to lie, die, kill (read: fight), or steal for her ni**a.  She kept her mouth shut and legs slightly open, but only for her dude.  She was supportive and submissive, and essentially self-sacrificing.  She was glamorized in the music and films of the late 90s, early 2000s (and even currently) and she always got the dude—whether he was worthy of being had or not (keep in mind that having the dude included being his “main girl” if he had other girls, or being his faithful chick on the streets if he was locked up).

The promises of the down-ass chick were intoxicating, seemingly liberating, but what did I know?…I couldn’t even vote yet!  It is only now that I can carefully critique a love scenario that makes it nearly impossible for a black woman to measure up.  For example, while hip hop thug masculinity acknowledges that “thugs need love too”—it is a particular kind of love that cannot be accomplished by one woman.  Women have to be conflicted and oxymoronic to be “enuf.”  For example, you need to be good, but willing to participate in criminal activity; you need to have your own, but let him take care of you; you need to be virginal but sexually talented enough to keep him satisfied; you need to be faithful to him, but willing to tolerate his infidelity; you need to be masculine enough to kick it with the fellas, but feminine enough to be sexually desirable; you need to be quick witted, but not more so than him, etc. etc. etc…

When we went around the classroom, quizzing each other on our “downasschickness” (or desire to have a DAC) I willfully and happily opted out.  “Hell nah,” was my reply when it was my turn.  My interpretation of a down ass chick (the ride or die chick who is willing to sacrifice herself, lie to the feds, take a case for a dude, sit idly by why being disrespected and dismissed, tolerant of emotional and physical abuse and infidelity, etc.) is not desirable to my grown woman sensibilities.  The 17 year old in me was saying yes, but the grown-ass, 30+ feminist woman with things to lose said “hell nah.”  When I said I was NOT a down ass chick the black men in the room were visibly disappointed. I don’t think they saw down-ass-chickness as something linked to maturity, education, or knowing better therefore doing different.  For them, the fact that I was cool and cute, and had been unapologietically vocal about my love and advocacy for black men, should have made me automatically down for being down (DAC).  And then I wondered why something I had once embraced was suddenly something I felt I had outgrown.

When I discussed this conversation with a beautiful man friend in NYC, he explained that what a down ass chick is for a 20 year old black man and a 30+ year old black man are utterly different. At <25, (given the limited prospects and opportunities black men have to prove their manhood outside of macho norms, and the misogynistic and womanizing expectations of his peers and culture about owning his masculinity) it makes sense that a dude may be looking for a woman who is all about him, who will meet him at the precinct and courtroom to plead his case, and be willing to wait on him if he is ever incarcerated…but for a 30+ year old man, who has his ish together, a down ass chick is someone who is down for you in other ways, who is not a liability, who brings something (other than just herself) to the table, and can help you build.  Both versions are loyal and have your back, but when you are older you shouldn’t need your girl to lie to the feds or bail you out of jail or take you back when you cheat.  Further, the 30+ DAC is not willing (nor required) to sacrifice herself or her goals for her man.  They are building together!

After that conversation I realized that maybe I am a down-ass chick after all.  I mean, I’m with the grown ass woman version of a down ass chick.  I am down to be a lover, a partner, a friend/homegirl.  I am down to be a woman who calls out all of your beauty but also calls you out on your shit.  A woman who loves, supports, defends, holds, co-creates and motivates.  Yeah, I can be that chick.  I am that chick.  But she is somehow missing from the (mainstream) music… (or is she some desirous version of the independent woman that, though perpetually single, was heralded and serenated through song five years ago?).

What do you think?  Is there an evolution to the down-ass-chick?

Beauty Parlor Politics

7 May

The first time I “got my hair done” beyond school nights sitting between my mother’s cocoa butter legs while she combed through my hair with grease soaked fingertips, or  Saturday morning hot comb rituals in front of the stove, was in the house kitchen of a church lady who did hair on the side.  She was not professionally trained or licensed but her clientele graced her threshold every other Saturday and she worked from sun up ‘til sundown, frying, dying, twisting and curling our hair into beautiful masterpieces on our head.  I felt grown up and welcome when I “got my hair done.”  The sweet smelling shampoo and used utensils made me feel special and grown up, I felt like one of the girls which was all I had ever wanted.

Women of all sizes, colors, backgrounds and religions gathered together at the salon, waiting patiently, all day if needbe, for their two week fix.  In between appointments they would talk in hushed tones, cross their legs, flip through black hair magazines and shoot the breeze.  It was the only time in my childhood when I was not banished from the room full of grown folk talk. The all-woman space, smelling like Jean Naté and scorched hair, made me feel empowered.  It was nothing for women to share secrets, give advice, get into friendly debates, laugh, and listen to each other while offering a bite from their plate or a drag of a cigarette while we all sat around, watching the transformations from new growth to relaxer, split ends to goddess braids, or bald spots to hair pieces.  “At the shop” we were sisters, even when we were strangers, because being without a done ‘do was like being naked in public.  But between our sing alongs and gossip, no one noticed.  The salon was a meeting place, the great equalizer—like church, but without the judgment.

It was a place where you would hear “girrrrrrrrrrrrrl” and “honey chile” between sweet smiles and heartfelt compliments.  “Girrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl, you’re so pretty,” or “Honey chile, your hair sho’ look good like that.”  These (unsolicited compliments from one black woman to another) were things you would rarely hear between black woman strangers out in public.  But in the salon we saw each other as beautiful and said so—out loud and proud like.  I think that was part of what drew me to it, and still does.  For me, hair salons are not places for competition between women, but rather bonding.  Salons have, over the course of my life, served as safe spaces for talking through everything from heartache to home remedies, recipes to religion.  It is a safe space for social critique and casual conversation, a place where women gather together in one place unseparated by their difference (i.e., education, class, orientation, ability, age, relationship status, religion, etc.).  These public-private spaces, almost exclusively occupied by black folk (this is equally true for barber shops) transform strangers to sister-girls, if only for a few hours, every two weeks.

So imagine my surprise when I realized, after a recent visit to the hair salon, that upon my exit I was verbally assaulted by another black woman.  A black woman who I did not know and who did not know me, and whose shared presence in the room may have lasted all of five minutes.  If I noticed her I would have smiled, because that is what I do to every black woman I see in the salon, but I didn’t notice her, but evidently she noticed me.  In the brief time period that we shared space she walked in on an ongoing conversation I was having with another black woman in the salon.  Granted, I do not remember what we were talking about, but I routinely initiate and/or participate in provocative hot topic discussions in the salon. The stylists and I, along with various other patrons ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-seventies, have shared laughs and wisdom about topics ranging from politics and sex to interracial relationships and popular culture.  While I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation I know two things for sure about any and everything that I ever say publicly: 1) it was truthful (at least my truth); and 2) it was not (intentionally) offensive (I am very intentional with my words, and mindful of correcting myself, immediately, if I feel I have spoken out of turn, or inappropriately).  I am also a communication professor who has had years of training in public and professional speaking so I imagine that despite codeswitching and my country drawl (which comes out when I am especially comfortable) I am easily outted as an academician.

I was warned, when I returned to the salon a few weeks ago, that this unnamed black woman (who I had never seen before) had announced her intention to “get me in trouble” on my job for the things I said in the salon.  Her assertion was, in addition to being ludicrous, absolutely inaccurate.  What, I wonder, could I have said in the hair salon that would warrant some kind of reprimand at work (especially when I work at a public institution where I study, research and teach on taboo topics, and as an auto/ethnographer, part of my job is to write about and critique social encounters)?  My stylist was apologetic and concerned as she explained what happened.  I was grateful to know that in my absence, the beautiful black women with whom I spoke stood up for me and defended my right to say whatever I wanted to say.  I assured her, with a full heart of gratitude (that these women are indeed my friends, and have my back when I am absent) that my job was not in jeopardy, and that any clout that this person pretended to have could not affect me.  Still, I was bothered, albeit temporarily, by the audacity and nerve, and even the seeming need, for this woman to try to reduce me, an educated, progressive, empathic and down-to-earth black woman to the status of a child who can be chastised into conservatism or at the very least punished (hence, getting me in trouble) for having an opinion (or look or voice or intellect, etc.) that she may have found distasteful.  She disrupted my narrative of support and jeopardized the ethic of care I had come to expect (and need) in the hair salon.

Unfortunately, I have had dozens of such experiences with black women in my lifetime, and most especially in my professional life.  I have had black women roll their eyes at me, disconfirm and ignore me, refer to me as “that girl,” or “that bitch,” and stare at me without speaking.  When I first moved to Alabama a black woman professor who sat across from me at a welcome dinner refused to even shake my hand.  Many of these slights occur with perfect strangers who, like the unnamed black woman at the salon, decide, immediately that I am _______. (I don’t know what the blank represents, perhaps different things to different people).

I have learned, though, that in small towns, like the one I live in currently (and the one I grew up in) I relish in the precious moments I have in the beauty salon being around and among beautiful black women who just let me be.  There is no jealousy or competition, no nuance of attitude and resentment, just us having magic blackgirl moments and seeing each other beautiful.  And smart.  And glorious.  And enough.  It is one of the few places/spaces where I feel at home with my non-academic-no makeup-thick glasses wearing–no need to be politically correct- hair all over my head-chipped toenail polish-wearing yesterday’s clothes and flip flops- self.  A space where I can bounce ideas off of other women and ask them about their experiences compared to mine. A space where I fit in without trying.  A place where instead of feeling ganged up on, I feel supported and understood.

In two weeks I will gather together the money I put aside to pamper myself and make my way back to the salon.  When I open the door I will be greeted with the warmth and welcome that radiates from the women who are there and who are not looking to judge or scold, but to listen, be heard, and to just be.  There is no guarantee that there will not be another interloper who resents my presence or my hair style, but I refuse to give up the very necessary experience.  It’s blackwomanlove at it’s finest!

How to Lose A Friend in 10 Days

30 Apr

Day 1: Maintain a friendship with your childhood friend, despite the fact that you no longer live in the same state. Tell her you love her like family and that she is like a sister to you.

Day 2: Like friends do, share your secrets and fears. At the moment, because you are both approaching 40, talk about your frustrations about not being married and wanting to start a family. Talk about how the lack of prospects has led you both to rekindle and revisit past loves.

Day 3: Listen intently as your friend talks about her man problems. She is hopeful. There are two men she is interested in, both out of the state, one from high school, the other from college. You remember the one from high school. She seems excited about him and plans to go visit him soon.

Day 4: Listen to your friend tell you about how much she likes the high school crush and is focusing all of her energy on him. When she visited they reconnected. They laughed. They made love. They made plans to see each other again. She is hopeful.

Day 5: (Be)friend your friend’s high school-turned grown woman love interest on facebook.

Day 6: Flirt with your friend’s high school-turned grown woman love interest on facebook (Ish, it’s not like they are “together.”)

Day 7: With the support of your friend, make plans to visit your own lost love, who just so happens to live in the same city and state as hers.

Day 8: When your plans with your long-lost fall through, call your friend’s crush and invite him for drinks. Utilize information you are privy to about your homegirl (and conversations she has had with him) to convince him that she is untrustworthy. Tell him that she is also dealing with someone in another state that she knows from college. Tell him all of the things you know about their interactions together. Don’t tell your friend.

Day 9: When confronted by your friend about reaching out to someone she is interested in (he tells her before you do), don’t apologize or recognize your bad judgment, instead get defensive and say hurtful things to her to try to make her feel undesirable.

Day 10: Call your friend, tell her that the man she has recently slept with and was interested in doesn’t want to be with her, he wants to be with you! Let her know that you are planning to move to his state so that the two of you can be together. Then ask her if, after some time passes, you can (all) still be friends?

#Truestory. Not mine, but my homegirl’s.

When she told me about her friend’s betrayal I was partially speechless. I wondered if her friend knew the code, friends don’t hook up with friends’ exes… especially when they know their friend still likes them. Where they do that at?

But when I asked heterosexual black women their opinion about man-stealing, there were varying views. Most women said that it depended on the circumstances. For example, how long they had been together? How serious was the relationship? Was she in love? Some people think that if enough time has passed between one relationship and the next, then it shouldn’t matter. Still others said that if a man is interested in someone else, who happens to be your friend, and they fall in love—who are you to stand in the way? And other women think it is about age. They said it is easy to have the “I saw him first” rule when you are 16, but as we get older, and the pool of eligible and dateable black men diminishes, you have to get in where you fit in.

Luckily, for me and my friends, we are never attracted to the same (kind of) man, so it has never been a problem. And since most of my friends, and I, are so visually and fundamentally different—we don’t tend to attract the same (kind of) men or be interested in the same (kind of) men.  Still, I like to think that if there was a man that I was interested in, that my homegirl saw first, had first, etc., that her feelings would be my priority and her previous interest would be a dealbreaker for me. I like to think that I would choose my friendship (over a man or lay).

Yet, I don’t know how to judge women who approach dating like crabs in a barrel. I mean I get it. Regrettably I have been a crab in the past—judging, scratching, and clawing my way to a man on the neck of another woman. I never saw it as that but as my homegirl described her former friend’s ambitions for a man at her expense, I thought about the women I may have (knowingly and/or unknowingly) disrespected or disregarded for a chance at love. Granted, it has never been a friend of mine, but it has been a woman, who, no different from my homegirl may have saw or loved him first.

All this has me thinking…what is the new standard?  Can we reverse the misogynistic male rapper mantra of the 90s, M.O.B. (Money over Bitches) which made it sensible (common sense) for men to never choose a woman over a friend (though, of course, these were the same men who “shared” women… “ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none”) to a new millenium B.O.M. (Blackwomen over Men, by the way, not bitches over money) stance?

What do you think?

The (Public Service) Announcement: Black Women & HIV

12 Mar

March 10 was National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day, a nationwide observance that is used to help raise awareness about the peculiar impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. One of the goals of the day is to help facilitate discussions and disseminate information about prevention, testing, and/or living with and coping with the disease.  On March 11, I watched the ESPN documentary The Announcement, which traces Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s discovery that he had contracted HIV in 1991 and the subsequent narrative around it, including his emergence as a spokesperson against the disease.

Needless to say, this weekend I felt hyperaware and re-reminded of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women’s lives, particularly black women’s lives.  Cookie Johnson, Magic’s wife, emerged as a heroine in the documentary, never wavering in her commitment to her husband and staying committed to him even after his announcement.  Cookie was HIV-negative, but she represents thousands of women who are unknowingly exposed to the virus and hence at risk.  A recent study states HIV is five times more prevalent among black women than previously thought.   Black women currently make up 60 percent of new infections and 13 percent of the total AIDS epidemic.  Heterosexual black women have the second highest rate of new infections and contract the disease at 15 times the rate of white women.  These statistics are consistent with conversations I have (over)heard and had over the past few years, but I cannot help but wonder why this is such an un(der)discussed and underpublicized phenomenon.  Why are the numbers getting larger instead of smaller?

Amidst a firestorm of political and social debates and cultural conundrums about women’s bodies, choices, sexuality and needs, it is important that we talk to (as)  black women about this issue.  We need to talk to our family, friends, daughters, protégés, ourselves, about the risks and why we are taking them.  I never imagined that twenty years after Magic Johnson’s announcement, which for the first time gave HIV a public and black face, and despite our national and historical awareness of how the disease is spread: having sex without a condom; sharing needles, syringes or drug works; and pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, that HIV is still spreading at such an alarming rate.  I personally suspect it is a combination of immortality complex (the belief some people have that they are immune to the consequences that other people suffer for bad choices) and misinformation about HIV/AIDS (i.e., that you can tell if someone has HIV by looking at them, or that as long as you are not having sex with someone who uses drugs or is promiscuous, you are safe).

For many women, it is bigger than the virus.  There are social and environmental issues that contribute to the epidemic.  When folk are living in communities and under circumstances that constantly find them in desperate situations and disparate conditions, HIV infection is just another of countless dangers they encounter on a daily basis that puts their lives at risk.  For example, the CDC recognizes challenges such as socioeconomic issues like poverty, limited access to health care and housing, limited access to HIV prevention education, lack of awareness of HIV status, and stigma, fear, discrimination, homophobia and other negative perceptions about being tested as deterrents to prevention.

According to a recent study, black women in six urban areas have some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS:  Baltimore, Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, NC, Washington, D.C., Newark and New York City.  Further, according to the CDC,  “The greater number of people living with HIV in African American communities and the fact that African Americans tend to have sex with partners of the same race/ethnicity means that they face a greater risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.”

And let’s not dismiss the very vulnerability for intimacy and connection that oftentimes causes young women to make reckless choices about sex.  When teaching a class in central Florida and discussing strategies for encouraging safe sex a student, who worked at a health clinic part time, noted that young women would come in and be treated for STI’s.  She said that even though the staff would give them tempered warnings and free condoms those same young women would come back, weeks or months later, with another STI.  When confronted about the risk of unprotected sex they responded “my boyfriend doesn’t like them,” or “he says we don’t need them (because we are in love).”  These girls were as young as fifteen and had already exposed themselves to the possibility of contracting a lifelong disease.  According the the CDC, 1 in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection in their lifetime.  87% of them will have gotten the infection by having unprotected sex with a man.  While HIV is no longer a death sentence, there is no cure.

In many ways we have heard/seen the public service announcements, we know the warnings and the risks, yet we continue to make problematic choices.  Perhaps this generation has become desensitized to the risks associated with unprotected sex.  Protected sex is not only about preventing pregnancy.  It is about preventing STI’s, one of which is HIV.  One study states that sometimes women who use hormonal birth control are more likely to contract the disease because while they are careful about protecting themselves from pregnancy, they are not always equally mindful of sexually transmitted infections.

A new campaign, Take Charge Take the Test hopes to raise awareness and urge black women to get tested and know their status.

At the end of the documentary, Magic Johnson says that his contraction of the virus has been both a blessing a curse.  A blessing, he says, because it has helped to raise awareness about the disease.  A curse because his wellness seems to be attached with a nonchalance, rather than fear, about the seriousness of HIV.  While there have been amazing medical interventions that make living longer and healthier lives (with medication) possible, there are other factors that must be considered.  One of which, as Magic explains, is that the disease affects different people differently.  Not everyone will respond to treatments in the same way that he has.  And not everyone can afford the (expensive) treatment.

A few lessons settled with me as I pushed my chair back from the articles, turned off the tv, and felt the full weight of the words, the announcements.  The lessons felt clear and intentional, like the script of an afterschool special.  I am left writing out what I want to say to every black woman I know (and will ever meet)…

  1.  Love yourself more than anyone else. 
  2. Sex should always be protected (unless you are in a committed and monogamous relationship and you have both tested negative!)
  3. Conversations about sex and past sexual partners and status should be foreplay to the foreplay.  If you don’t feel comfortable enough to have this conversation with your sexual partner, perhaps you shouldn’t be having sex with them.
  4. Use condoms even if you are on other methods of contraception for birth control.
  5. Talk to other women about knowing their status and encourage them to get tested.  (Volunteer to go with them when they go!)
  6. Initiate a conversation!  Don’t assume people (especially young people) know what they need to know about HIV.

no strings

3 Mar

i thought that i

could be brave enough

to make love to you

with

no

strings attached

but your arms around me felt like strings

your fingers, like strings

when you used them to massage my neck

and caress my back

and my legs

felt like strings

when i

held them around your neck

& squeezed and scratched your back

leaving marks that looked like strings

i thought

we could be happy together

laughing before, during, and after

wrapped up in damp sheets

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

all that touching and holding and moaning

we just did

because we are f’cking without strings

attached

but it felt like a string

pulling and luring me back to you

tying your hands above your head

torturing you with my eyes

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

or place

as I straddled you and rode you to perfection

but it’s cool because

i never promised to love you

and you never promised to love me back

and i don’t need you to love me

i just want you to want me. . .back

but these strings in my heart

won’t let me

my pride

won’t let me

hold on to false strings

yet somehow i got attached

© R. Boylorn, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

This poetic response offers an extension of Crunktastic’s Birthday Sex post on March 1, 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battle of the What?: A Brief Reflection on the Battle of the Complexions Controversy

27 Feb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sick and tired of the cultural story line that insists only one version (complexion) of black women can be “in style” (beautiful, popular, desirable) at any given time.  There seems to be a not-so-invisible scale that insinuates that black beauty is either light or dark, always one or the other, never both/and.  Binary thinking is always problematic and especially in this instance because these evaluations are inextricably linked to issues of self-esteem and self-worth.  In a society that has been obsessed with black women’s single/sex/personal lives, this feels like another opportunity to pinpoint the pitfalls of being a black woman and tell her why she is not wanted (could it be you are the wrong complexion too?).  Since black women are routinely subjected to desirability tests that are based on their measure of whiteness exoticism it should be no surprise that those comparison scales are becoming more intentional and literal (see below).

Being judged and rated in society is an unfortunate plight that black girls learn how to negotiate with the help, love, and reassurance from other girls and women, of various shades, throughout our lives.  These women are our red-boned mothers, our high-yellow aunties, our mahogany brown best friends and other brown blood and soul sisters whose beauty we immediately recognize.  We learn, from our relationships with these black women, that there is no such thing as one kinda (black) beauty.  We learn how to appreciate our differences and likenesses and we realize that the discriminations and prejudices that we face are similar and rooted in racism.  But then the outside (influences) makes its way on the inside (mind).

In what was claimed to be “a black history month event,” by club promoters Mack TV and Nelly Da’Celeb of St. Louis, black women were invited to participate in a contest where they would be ranked and evaluated based on their skin color.  The “Battle of the Complexions” was a “runway contest for [the] sexiest complexion.”  A facebook page for the event announced, ‘This is the most debatable topic of the year, what’s the sexiest skin complexion?? So ladies come out & lets settle this!!”

It seems that this supposedly debatable topic could be settled in a crowded night club with hundreds of horny and inebriated men and attention-needy women on stage with something to prove.  When confronted with the multiple and layered problems of their “light skinned versus caramel (brown) skinned versus dark-skinned” contest, the promoters, two black men, not unlike Too $hort a few weeks ago (check out this post,  this post , this post, and this one), apologized for offending those who were offended, but not for the misguided event itself (the event took place, as planned, on Friday night).  In a statement they said, “It’s Black History Month so we made a party theme dedicated to our African American crowd…here’s the first time ever you can come out and be proud that you are black!!  Regardless of your skin tone!!.. We could have used a better choice of words…We did not mean to offend the offended.”

Battle of the Complexions

Well…I am offended.  And despite the attempt to clean up the mess they made, it is not just a matter of semantics.  It is not only the words that are problematic but the theme itself, because evidently it does matter what skin tone you have if the purpose of the event is to choose the most sexy complexion.  The ways in which this perpetuates and promotes colorism and division makes it far more than misguided and unfortunate word choice.

I can’t help but wonder what the tone of a venue that pits black women against each other must be like?  Do they call each other names?  Do they call each other ugly?  Do they create color-coded cliques and demean the women not “qualified” to be on their team?  How do they prove their worth/beauty/desirability?  What must they sacrifice to win?  And what would it mean to win a contest that, if only for a moment, puts you at the top of the black girl hierarchy?  Is this the kind of victory you celebrate?  In these moments black girls turned women forget about the beauty and diversity of skin tones in the family, they dismiss their light or dark skinned sister or best friend, and find themselves needing to prove their worth—their beauty—on a stage where only one can win, and in fact everyone loses.   Why does one person’s beauty have to be at the expense of someone else’s?

National Pretty Brown Girl Day, which was celebrated on Saturday, is attempting to avoid what contests like the Battle perpetuates.  The need for a day to celebrate “pretty brownness” is evidence that our society doesn’t value and celebrate it on a daily basis.  We need to start challenging that–by devoting days to celebrating black beauty, in all of its many manifestations.  Perhaps by loving on each other (when no one else will bother) will help to dismantle the cultural cues that say only one version of black is beautiful.

Why I’m (Probably) Not Watching “The Game”

26 Jan

Last year I posted on the return of The Game (yes, it has been a year since it (re)debuted on BET) and offered a critique of the ways in which the characters morphed to fit BET programming, which compromised the integrity of the characters that fans had fought and petitioned for.  After The Game came back on I was disappointed in the ways in which originally nuanced characters had been re-written as the typical black tropes: women who are angry, ghetto, untrustworthy, money-hungry, vindictive, and promiscuous.  And men who are selfish, ghetto fabulous, wreckless, and drug-addicted.

I tuned in a few weeks ago for the new season and I watched again last week (not because I was particularly interested, but it was pre-set to record on the DVR.  I watched it over the weekend because there was nothing else on TV while I was waiting for playoff football games to start).  Every week I am hopeful that the writers will fix what is not working—but these characters have no character.  (SN: I was not impressed seeing Nene Leakes on BET—Bravo is plenty!)  You can tell that things have completely turned upside down when the “deepest” character on the show is Jason Pitts (not sure how I feel about his newly discovered blackness—but at least he is being reflexive and somewhat responsible.  Last season he quit his job in order to focus on fathering his daughter, and this season he seems to be having an epiphany about his racial identity, and the issues surrounding it—his conversations with his “new black wife” sound like therapy sessions).  Meanwhile, Melanie and Tasha are at each other’s throats, Derwin has gone from charming choir boy to selfish superstar, and Kelly is M.I.A.  Maalik’s mommy issues tend to always lead him into detrimental relationships that are doomed from the start.  His tryst with the bosses wife has landed him on the bench and nearly bankrupt, and his infatuation with the model (did we even know her name?) had the Robin Givens-esque vibe of unreciprocated interest. And then there’s Tasha, I didn’t think the sexy Sapphire could get much louder or overly-dramatic.  I was wrong.

The newly emergent female characters are flat, at best, and those that are rounded out with a background and personality only serve the purpose of furthering problematic black woman representations.  One of the newest Sunbeams from last season, for example, is a former stripper groupie turned football wife who’s largest contribution to the group has been teaching the women how to shake their asses for their men (not to mention suggesting threesomes–because of course sex is what gets and keeps a man–side eye).  Then, we discover in this week’s episode, thanks to Tasha’s nonchalant and retaliatory comment to her, that she doesn’t have custody of her children (can you say Jezebel stereotype?).  Brandy, (or should I say Chardonnay) the newbie this season, seems to fit the sassy Sapphire stereotype (with the ghetto, named after alcohol name) who’s anger and attitude make her a younger version of Tasha Mack.  Her purpose seems to be to help Jason get over his fondness of white women and get in touch with his “black side.”  Smdh. 

I am clearly not the only one disillusioned and ambivalent about The Game.  In the article, “The Game Doubles Down on Melodrama, Eliminates What Fans Loved,” Tyler Lewis states: 

“If Mara Brock Akil and BET want to make a black nighttime telenovela where the cast never interacts with one another, where the relationships established in the first three seasons are thrown out in favor of separate, unconnected, over-the-top storylines for each of the five leads, then it should decide on what kind of show that is and settle on a consistent tone.  Because I do think the ship has sailed on any hope that The Game will be the show that folks wanted to be brought back. I think the audience has accepted it (and, likely, moved on). The producers should commit to it.”

Their ratings have dropped significantly, from 7.7 million viewers when they re-launched last January, to 5.3 million for the season 5 premiere on January 10, 2012.  This week’s show only garnered 2.88 million viewers.  I suspect that the downward trend will continue… how many episodes and chances will fans give before they find something else to watch on Tuesday nights? (I for one will be tuning in to White Collar, I have a hella crush on Neil Caffery). 

None of the characters have the same innocence and likeability they used to.  Perhaps if they weren’t already rich in previous seasons I could believe that money changed them… or perhaps the writers are trying to depict the extremes of newfound celebrity and the ways in which it can go to your head and dismantle your relationships (clearly possible and realistic, look at T.O. )—but would this be true of everyone?  I understood Jason’s arrogance–and Maalik’s personality was already eccentric and extreme, but it seems like no one gives a damn about anybody else anymore, and given the previous relationships they had with each other, that is not only unbelievable, it is unfortunate.  Watching The Game has become like watching Basketball Wives (Miami or L.A.), or some other petty reality show that glamorizes selfishness, opulence, and fame for fame’s sake.  

Is it BET?  Do the writers need a re-up?  Does Kelly Pitts need to make a return (I’m not really feeling Brandy)?  Am I naive for thinking we could go back to the way things were?  I’m not sure what the remedy is, but there is definitely a problem.  I guess time will tell if the season and show is salvagable.

I am not going to say that I will never watch The Game again (there is a reason reruns and marathons show at insomniac hours), or that I am not hoping it somehow survives (the actors aren’t writing the scripts, and they have to eat), but I damn sure erased it from my DVR recording schedule.

5 Reasons To See The Mountaintop

15 Jan

I went to New York City over winter break to see Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop on Broadway.  I had been excited about seeing the play since it debuted in October.  It stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in a re-imagining of the night before Martin Luther King’s death. 

I found the play to be provocative and compelling in many ways, helping me to challenge what it means to celebrate MLK Day tomorrow.  More importantly I have been challenged to think about what it means to honor his legacy, a legacy that we inherited, linked to a dream that we expand with our own visions of equality and justice. 

The play runs through Sunday, January 22, and if you are in NYC or will be in NYC between now and then, here are five reasons I recommend you see it:

1. The play offers a portrayal of Martin Luther King as human, vulnerable, flawed, and afraid.  It also exposes his sexism, his occasional self-importance, his frustrations with the movement, his fears about dying, and competing responses to his cause.  It offers an intimate glance of his private, alone without an audience self, and then his flirtatious, needy, interestingly comical self– in the presence of a common woman who is both impressed by and ambivalent with him.  His regular black man self is more ephemeral than his public self, but we see the conflicts and complications of what his life must have been like, from the inside out.

2. The play is held together in the hands of a heroine (and expands the possibilities of feminine-focused spirituality).  One of the two main characters is Camay, a black woman who is strong, opinionated, beautiful, witty, charming, sarcastic, foul-mouthed and angelic, but NOT a stereotype!  Her character will inspire you to be yourself unapologetically and to use your traumas and pain to be a worldchanger.

3. The play does not shy away from the controversies or contradictions of King’s life, or his legacy.  It insinuates that there were multiple sides to him, as there are to all of us.  It shows us a glimpse of who he might have been, beyond the iconic figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement.

4. The play offers a reminder that social activism and social justice movements don’t start or end with one person.  Important work requires multiple arms (and sometimes more than a lifetime of time to invest). 

5. The play has an inspiring and powerful message.  (I am sure you saw this one coming).  The show makes you think AND feel.  As Angela Bassett said of the play, “It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you sigh.”

It is, however, not a show without flaws.  The scope of the topic is huge for an 85 minute narrative, and I found it to be a little slow-starting.  Also, as a rural black girl the exaggerated southern accents were distracting, at best.  Other critics have pointed out the lack of historical accuracy or the (un)believability of King’s everydayness.  I, however, am a fan.  The storyline captured my imagination and the amazing portrayals by the actors gave me characters I could care about, representations that were familiar, and a story/possibility that I will remember. 

 If it weren’t for the miles I would have to travel and the money I would have to find, I would see it again before the curtain closes!

Teaching Moments: On Accountability, Love & Patience

8 Dec

I teach and do research on issues centering on identity and diversity.  As the fall semester is coming to a close, I had the benefit of watching my students, many who started the semester ambivalent about difference and the need for diversity and acceptance, come full circle.  Through presentations and last words, they expressed how life changing the opportunity and challenge to think about difference differently has been.  Their embrace of diversity and each other (across race, class, gender, sexuality, religious and ability difference) has been transformative. 

At the start of the semester I warn my students that learning about diversity and various methods and strategies for communicating about and across difference can be challenging.  I tell them that when your concrete ideologies are compared with other concrete ideologies, it is not easy.  I remind them that unlearning discrimination and prejudice will be difficult and uncomfortable.  I encourage them to be open and open-minded and to trust the process.  I tell them I am not their homegirl and therefore not invested in them “liking” me (so I will not be moved or persuaded against pushing them to fully engage the material, whether they like it/or me/or not) .  Likewise, my mother was never interested in being my friend while I was growing up because she was busy raising me, teaching me right from wrong, and tempering my bad ass attitude because I thought I knew everything I needed to know to get along in the world (SN:  Now that I am grown, my mother is my very best friend, and I am grateful that she was a parent when I was growing up, which is what I needed, not a friend).  I ask them to question what they think they know and to be honest about their prejudices.  I tell them we will have good days and bad days and that we will experience a range of feelings from ambivalence to fear  to anger to confusion to excitement to curiosity to embarrassment to rage to sadness (and back to ambivalence again).   I ask them to take what they learn and utilize it in their lives and relationships.  I challenge them to hold others accountable in the way that I (will) hold them accountable.  I beg them to not be silent in the face of discrimination of any kind (anymore). 

In the classroom, I expect silence, discontent, frustration, rolled eyes, elevated voices, misunderstandings, anger, sarcasm, disrespect, and distance as we discuss taboo topics of class(ism), racism, sexism, homophobia, sexuality, ability and the various intersections between them.

I struggle through moments of the wrong things being said (and deciphering what the right response is), defensiveness, divisiveness, strife, self-imposed segregation, and blind allegiances.  It is a practice of patience…and stamina.  But teaching is repetitious (and frustrating/exhilarating/terrifying  at times), and I am accountable to every potential representation in the room.  There are particular rules in my classroom space.  Students must filter their words.  When someone says something offensive or problematic, I interrupt them immediately to correct them and explain how and why their word choice, regardless of intent, may be harmful or hurtful.  I love on them, require their acknowledgment and accountability, and encourage them to be mindful of the impact of their words.  I require them to listen to each other and not just respond reactively, or echo like minded individuals without being thoughtful and reflective.  I put them in uncomfortable situations.  I give them readings to make them uncomfortable.  I share personal experiences to make them uncomfortable.  The discomfort pushes them to think about what they are feeling and why.  These are all teaching moments.

The first few weeks we juggle extremes and trade silences while they decide if what I am saying is bullshit or brilliant, because it challenges everything they (think they) know.  And I worry that they will be offended rather than changed and/or walk away from the experience with the same stereotypic mindsets they started from.  But then it happens.  Unexpectedly and unannounced, they get it!  I can see it in their eyes, read it in their posture, and experience it in the roundabout way that they become easy with one another and less judgmental.  Our conversations become longer.  We tell transparent tales and connect in the ways that we are alike, astonished sometimes that we are not nearly as different as we look/seem.  We look at each other instead of avoiding glances.  We listen to each other’s stories instead of passively hearing each other’s words.  And while I can never pin point when it happens, there are miraculous moments when brave students share their truths, when public stories give us the opportunity to have private conversations out in the open, and when misjudgments, stereotypes, and mischaracterizations are corrected through conversations that prove missing each other on purpose misses the point and wastes opportunities for connection.

If ignorance is bliss, it is also dangerous and we are accountable for what we know.  We are also responsible for having difficult conversations.  Because of this, we will occasionally be misunderstood or attacked for standing up and defending our passions.  And that is okay.   I feel that we are called to love people past (in)difference.  And like I said, I am not their homegirl 🙂

And while teaching (classes and the larger public) is not always easy, seeing the benefits of the effort (which takes time, sometimes a lifetime), reminds me that it is always worth it!

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