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Django Unchained and Why Context Matters

6 Jan

django_unchained

Some spoilers ahead, but mostly I’m  just feeling all my feelings…

Growing up, I had to deal with my mother’s love for Westerns. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Outlaw Josie Wales. One of the many joys of expanded basic cable (besides the Cooking Channel, of course) is that I get Encore Westerns. Between that and reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger, I know that when my mama comes to visit she will be thoroughly entertained.

I don’t get her love for the genre. I mean, I get it on one level. I know my mother appreciates a good revenge tale and she likes it when the bad guys grovel at the end. But Westerns? Really? Then again, I unapologetically look forward to watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta and all the iterations of Love and Hip Hop, so who am I to judge? We all hold contradictions, not to mention shamtastic and raggedy entertainment choices.

So, when I saw that Django was coming out during the holidays, I thought this would be something that we could watch together. I mean, I do “enjoy” an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger now and again but I’m not sure that that counts. Django would definitely give us both something to talk about.

I did have some apprehension about watching Django, though. For one, I am not a fan of Tarantino at all. At all. Generally, I find his work contrived, overly self-conscious, and, frankly, boring. Plus, to me he’s like the worst kind of hipster racist, a grown up version of Justin Timberlake desperately trying to affirm his black card at all times, while thoroughly proving himself to be white as hell. The living worst.

But, I was still intrigued by the movie.  As a scholar of African American literature, I’m always interested in how we understand and talk about slavery today.  Besides, I love Kerry Washington with a fiery burning passion and would watch her read the phonebook.  (Too bad she had like five lines in the movie. She did have that lip quiver though. Can’t forget about the lip quiver).

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm...

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm…

I ended up watching the movie and it exceeded my admittedly low expectations. I won’t do a formal review here, largely because I think the film has been discussed elsewhere in brilliant ways and who needs to reinvent the wheel? (On that note, check out discussions of the film by Salamishah Tillet and The Feminist Wire if you haven’t already). What I do want to talk a bit about was my movie going experience.

I decided against seeing Django while I was spending the holidays at home in Fort Lauderdale. I anticipated that my little heart couldn’t take it. I imagined some irreverent scene involving slavery and being in a movie theatre filled the laughter of whites who, in their next breath, wouldn’t hesitate to remind me of how postracial we are and how Tarantino has every right to create art as he pleases and how brilliant he is and on and on and on. I figured I might have a slavery flashback and go Nat Turner up in there and that’s not how I’m trying to go out, folks.

Instead of that unfortunate scenario, Mama and I headed to the movies in Atlanta on a Friday afternoon. Since my mother is a stickler for time we got there early and I did a lot of people watching as the theatre filled to capacity. Our fellow viewers were Black—pretty much everyone as far as I could see—and largely grown. I’d say middle-aged and older. There were couples on dates. Clusters of homegirls and homeboys. Church sisters and ladies who lunch. Not the crowd that generally thinks Reservoir Dogs is awesome, interestingly enough.

I immediately felt at ease. I felt like I was at a family reunion where something dubious was about to happen but that, nevertheless, it was going to be ok because my auntie and my mama were there. Weird, perhaps, but true.

So we all sat there in companionable (semi) silence, watching Tarantino’s comedic spaghetti Western slavery action-comedy, cheering when racist slaveholders came to their timely and explosively bloody ends, sighing in satisfaction when Django finally got his girl, and laughing out loud at the absurdly funny scenes involving shit that is generally not funny at all.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

Take for instance a scene involving some night riders (aka the forefathers of the KKK). The group arrives to kill Django and his white companion but before they can get to the lynching, there’s a whole discussion about how their outfits (namely the poorly shaped eyeholes on their white hoods) are getting in the way of their appointed task. It goes without saying that lynching is not funny. I mean, really. But laughter reverberated throughout the theater. Not uncomfortable, tinny laughter that rings hollow and dies quickly in your throat. But genuine “people can be so damn foolish,” “you got to laugh to keep from crying” and “ain’t this some shit?” laughter thundered, yes, thundered throughout the theater. I don’t know that I could have laughed during this moment in another theater, but I laughed heartily on that day.

When the movie was over I asked my mom what she thought about it. She said she loved it. She loved that Django went about avenging people for his wife and that all the bad people got killed, especially Samuel L. Jackson’s old Uncle Ben looking ass. For her, it was the best kind of Western. When we went out to dinner that evening she expressed several times how satisfying it was to watch racists get cut down. I could only agree.

F@#% you, Stephen!

F@#% you, Stephen!

So, what’s my verdict on Django? It’s interesting, frustrating, (at times) funny, violent, limiting, problematic, thought provoking…it’s doing a whole lot. I don’t regret seeing it, but it’s not in my top 10 list either. I think it is inciting interesting discussion, but I’m not naïve enough to think that this will necessarily translate to a bunch of nuanced portrayals of Black folk in slavery. What I do know is that my viewing experience was connected to where I saw the movie as much as it was connected to the film’s content and that, among other things, underscores my general ambivalence about the movie.

Have you seen Django? What are your thoughts on the film?

django vengance

A Theory of Violence: In Honor of Kasandra, CeCe, Victoria, Savita and Anonymous

4 Jan

**trigger warning**

A few weeks ago, a young Indian woman went to the movies. On her way home she took a bus on which she was raped and brutally assaulted by six men. We don’t know the name of this 23-year-old student.  We do know that  she was tortured so badly that she lost her intestines and needed numerous operations. Six people – including the bus driver – have been arrested. On Friday, December 28 she died.

I don’t know her name. I don’t have an adequate response, but I feel I should say something. Because I was born in the city where she were assaulted. Because so many, too many, experience such violence. Because I spend most of my waking hours thinking about how we can create a world where women are safe. Because she wanted to live.

●●●

This is both about and not about men. Here are some statistical knowables, true across most societies (just take a look at the extant research at both the global and national levels).

  • Violence against women and girls occurs primarily at the hands of men and boys.
  • Violence against men and boys occurs primarily at the hands of other men and boys.
  • Nations, statistically speaking, commit far and away, the most of the world’s violence via war and conflict. This involves military forces comprised largely of men and boys, who are both perpetrators and victims of this violence.

Gender, then, rises up as an undeniably important variable in regards to understanding violence. And though we might not have a shared understanding of this fact, sex and gender are different and there are more genders than two. Further, people who are gender-non-coforming, genderqueer, trans and/or those who complicate the gender binary experience violence at disproportionate rates.

In my work at Men Stopping Violence, our focus is on ending male violence against women. Far and away the most common first response to my explanation of our work goes something like this: “Yes, violence against women is a problem but, don’t women ALSO commit violence?”

Let me answer that question now: Sure, yes. Women are also perpetrators of violence. As are people of all genders, sexes and sexual orientations. But to refocus the question on women’s violence is to obfuscate the real problem. And that problem is violent masculinity. If all the above data has not convinced you yet, please note: According to the National Academy of Sciences, in the US, “Male criminal participation in serious crimes at any age greatly exceeds that of females, regardless of source of data, crime type, level of involvement, or measure of participation.” I say this not to pathologize masculinity as inherently violent, I certainly don’t believe it is. I say this to move us away from wringing in our hands in despair about a seemingly intractable problem (male violence against women) and move us toward naming the fact that this problem is deeply structural, rooted in patriarchy and colonialism.

The point here is this: violence in general and sexual violence in particular, like all social ills, is best approached with a multi-faceted and intersectional perspective.

●●●

“Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of the individual: it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. When we say someone is “in power” we actually refer to his being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name.” –  Hannah Arendt, from On Violence

What is the function of violence?

Resisting essentialist notions about sex and turning to think about gender, there is something in pervasive understandings of masculinity or masculine identity that accepts if not encourages violence.  This begs the questions: Is masculinity itself violent? Is there a way to be a man/masculine without being violent? What causes violence? What sustains it? These are questions that I think about daily and with my colleagues around the country. At MSV we work with many different men who join in this conversation with us. For us, that involves honing in on the problem of men’s violence against women.

Let me be very clear here, because this is the bulk of my point: we fail at answering these questions if we think of violence as merely a symptom of something else. If you listened to the NRA press conference last week in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, you might be lead to believe that the perpetration of violence is some elusive phenomenon, committed by the criminally insane, or at the behest of video games and violent movies. If you watched some of the Indian coverage of the Delhi gang rape story you’d hear lots of speculation that the young men who perpetrated this gruesome act, must have been intoxicated by drugs. I wholeheartedly disagree with this assessment of violence. It’s not merely a tragic happenstance. It is not something only done by those who have ‘lost their right minds.’ Violence is functional.

It is a means of asserting and securing power. When violence targets women in the dark of night it ensures, among many other things, that women stay out of the streets. When violence against trans women goes largely unreported in studies of violence against women, it is tacitly legitimated. When violence against white school children raises a national furor and violence against an innocent black teenager wearing a hoodie doesn’t provoke a national conversation about legislating guns, we can see the fault lines.  When a football player kills his partner and then himself and we find ourselves knowing his name but not hers, we see which victims matter.

Violence is functional and our response to that violence is also functional. Violence is functions by silencing those whom it targets. Let us not forget that most cases of rape and sexual assault go unreported. Let us not forget the stigma that survivors face. In the US only 24% of rape allegations result in arrest, never mind conviction. Whether it is perpetrated by an individual or made invisible by our social, cultural and political institutions, violence has an aim – to remove power and instill fear.

●●●

The numbers can tell us most of what we need to know. But not all. What is lost in the statistical knowables, is the lived reality of women, LGBTQ people and others of us whose stories don’t make it to the headlines. Women’s lives bear out patterns, and patterns tell a story. If we ask intentional questions about trends – we can learn something about our social orchestration. Looking to recent stories, we might learn something about this functionality.

Kasandra Perkins was killed by her partner, a professional athlete, who had threatened to shoot her weeks before he did. No one was able to protect her despite the fact of his threat.

CeCe McDonald, a trans woman, faced violence in the form of a hate crime and for her retaliation was sentenced to serve her time in a men’s prison, denied the right to name a very basic fact of her existence.

Victoria Soto was a school teacher with her students in the classroom one day when she was killed in a massacre by a lone gunman with easy access to assault weapons.

Savita Halappanavar sought refuge from the horror of a wanted pregnancy gone awry at an Irish hospital which (legally) refused to save her life.

And then a few weeks ago a young woman in New Delhi took the bus home one night after watching a movie with a friend and was brutally raped and died, 12 days later, from her wounds.

When something horrific happens, near or far from home, we tend to ask the same questions: Why? How? So, what, then, are the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ in these cases and in inumerable others? There are few actual similarities in these cases, but there are many potential points of convergence: laws that do not protect, credibility that is denied, legislation that is missing, stories that are made invisible. If we are to change things, our belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices must come under the spotlight. And that is because these stories complicate the statistical knowables.

Interpersonal violence usually belies a whole host of social conditions that are hard to qualify and quantify (i.e. privilege, race, poverty, gender, oppression, resistance, wealth, cultural norms, etc.). In this, as in most things, historical context is key. The US has a long history of state sanctioned violence. Consider the genocide of Native and First Nations people, the ever-present legacy of slavery, the internment, without due-process, of those considered a threat, be they Japanese immigrants or detained in Guantanamo via the War on Terror.  These factors complicate our understanding of who perpetrates violence and against whom and why. Knowing the statistics is important. Knowing the stories, unearthing the legacies, speaking aloud the names of the victims and the survivors is just as important.

●●●

Women’s bodies serve as battlegrounds: metaphorically and practically. “Western” feminists look toward the “East” and see beleaguered women facing oppression at the hands of savage (read:black and brown) men. Never mind that staggering and horrific violence happens in the “West.”  Never mind that the US has never taken a stand to ratify the global Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Never mind international conventions, the US is not able to muster the political will to pass the Violence Against Women Act, or gun control legislation. Never mind that we all have remained  unable to effectively address the phenomenon of rape as a tool of war, so as to prevent women’s bodies from serving as the actual sites of war and conflict.

Despite all these facts, in the wake of this story, outrage began seeping out from the US, the UK and Europe (which I am loosely defining as the “West” – the demarcations of and within these places could be a topic of a separate blog post) at the problem of patriarchal “Eastern” cultures. The narrative looks something like this: Those poor women suffering at the hands of those horrible men. We must loudly proclaim our empathy for those people, who either know no better or are unable to live by our enlightened social standards.

This narrative is racist, homophobic, sexist, heteronormative and imperialist.

And to step away from all that politicalese: it is quite simply just wrong.

Violence is global. It pervades all cultures and communities. Yesterday, in a brilliant conversation, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and one of the main organizers of protests against sexual violence in India and Elora Chowdhary, associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, joined Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now to talk about the case and the way it’s being discussed here in the US as well as in India. Chaowdhary says,

So, on the one hand, we see in the Western media some reporters taking this moral high ground and pointing fingers and demonizing Indian culture, as though sexual violence against women is pervasive in only certain parts of the world and that it’s somehow reflective of deeply inherent cultural traditions of that part of the world. Of course, what that obscures is that both rape and domestic violence are pervasive in the United States, and domestic violence being one of the leading causes of injury to women, and exceedingly high numbers of rapes that, in fact, mostly go unreported in the United States. So, I think embedded in these kinds of reporting is a certain colonial mindset, of course, there’s a long history of that. And this kind of mindset that women are the measure of the progress of a society emerges from colonial practices, that these ideas were used to legitimize both colonization and also imperialism.

I don’t say all this to discourage global dialogue. Very much the opposite, in fact. We have much to learn from each other, by sharing our struggles and our victories. Such exchange is key to our success. What we cannot abide however is the reductive and disempowering narrative that allows some folks to offer no local, national or global context. What will not help is an essentialist narrative that paints all (or even most) Indian women as victims and all (or even most) Indian men as perpetrators, by virtue of their culture. We must banish these spectres of our colonial legacy if we aim to build an intersectional, transnational and transformative movement to end violence in our communities.

As I’ve said, violence, here in the US and abroad, is functional. Violence against women, is rooted in colonialism and patriarchy, in their varied and sundry iterations.  We’d do well to keep our eyes on that, and work like hell to dismantle the belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices that support it.

After the Love Has Gone: Some Thoughts on Radical Community After the Election

8 Nov

If you’re like me you’re probably geeked that the election is finally over.  I mean, now I can turn all of my attention back to Parks and Recreation, Scandal, and the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Finally!

Welcome back to the Wig Crypt, Crunkadelic!

But, seriously. I’m glad the election and the election coverage is over. Sure, I love a giddy Rachel Maddow gushing on MSNBC. Sure, I like the idea of chastened, sullen, defensive conservatives whining and licking their wounds, embarrassing themselves by saying increasingly stupid, pitiful, and asinine things, while all the while revealing to anyone with good sense that their ideology and policies are out of touch, retrograde, wack, and shamtastic. Their tears are delicious. So, yes, I’m not above putting the shade back in schadenfreude.

Mostly though, I’m really ready to be done with the in-fighting among the Radical Left. If you feel that Barack Obama is the antichrist because he has initiated moderate health care reform but are cool with his policies on Guantanamo and drones, I am yet lifting you up in prayer and inviting you to take a stadium of seats. Just sit this one out, boo.

Some folks voted for President Obama, albeit in a range from enthusiastic to reluctant support. Some voted for progressive third party candidates like Jill Stein, choosing to give the side eye to the binary of the prevailing two party system. Others abstained altogether, rejecting the notion that voting for the lesser of two evils is any choice at all.  The Radical Left is not a monolithic entity, but rather a diverse set of communities that approach the realization of justice in a variety of ways. I’m not suggesting that we become more alike, but I am concerned that the way we talk about our differences is not only unproductive but oftentimes a violent distraction from our shared goals.

While some folks are still popping bottles and dropping it like it’s hot to Jeezy’s My President is Black, others are shaking their heads at the complicity of supposedly progressive folks with the imperialism of the State, and, because of Sandy and now Athena, still more are just trying to get electricity and heat on in their homes permanently and aren’t exactly studying this ongoing family drama at the moment.

The past two years have been like a family reunion gone terribly wrong. Folks get drunk and start arguing, secrets get exposed, proverbial dirty laundry gets aired, people choose sides, and nothing gets solved. Then we do it all again in a couple of years. It’s not that we don’t love each other—we just got some major ish to work through. So let’s work through it. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but a few ideas to the get the conversation started.

  1. Let’s reject binaries: good/bad, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, revolutionary/uncle Tom. I think we experience and engage politics on a spectrum and trying to take a snapshot of someone’s beliefs from one action (e.g., voting and not voting) and then running around being like, “Aha! You’re not quite right because you believe in xyz!” is neither cute nor productive.
  2. Along those lines, let’s rebuke authenticity wars. I think the most recent fissures in the Radical Left should invite us to consider the ways in which the organizing and ideology coming out of the Liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s challenge/inform/undermine our current work. I see some folks wanting to eschew the call to honor the legacy of the civil rights movement, finding such calls often mean shutting up about their concerns in order to appear legitimate. Other folks warn that if you completely abandon the ideology and action of what came before us we are doing a disservice to history and not wanting to authentically connect to the struggle. I don’t think these conversations are completely at odds, but reducing the convo down to one about legitimacy just doesn’t serve us well.
  3. Let’s reject elitism and navel gazing. We are a part of complex communities and we don’t deserve to be leaders simple because we have degrees or work at certain organizations. Yet some of us treat our family, friends, and neighbors with condescension and disdain, acting like we are radical evangelists among ignorant heathens (h/t crunkonia). That’s why sometimes the folks we work with and serve don’t like and, more importantly, don’t trust many of us.
  4. Let’s be nuanced in our discussion of respectability politics. I’m all about calling out investments in dominant notions of what is normal and acceptable as a way to harness power, especially in communities of color and among queer folk. (I’ve spent the last few years writing a book about this very thing). But, sometimes the zeal in calling out respectability politics fails to recognize the complicated, ambivalent ways in which folks adhere to and/or reject what it means to be respectable. Also, see #3.
  5. Let’s recognize that pretty much all of us have some type of privilege and we should make pains to interrogate our ish and really listen to one another. Also, being an expert on racism, for example, doesn’t mean you always get the nuances of, say, ableism. But, thankfully, you—we—can learn. Our brains are awesome like that.
  6. Let’s passionately disagree with one another without eviscerating each other’s humanity. For real.

Ultimately, my thoughts are that we need to have difficult dialogues without cannibalizing each other. Let’s embrace our diversity in the movement and not call for a unity that steamrolls over dissension. We see how the Far Right is imploding, but the difference between us and them is that they have boatloads of cash and no scruples whatsoever and we have an abundance of ethical concerns, passion, and student loans we cannot ask our parents to pay for. They will rise again, but if we become too fractured it might be a different story for us. This is a call to keep our eyes on the prize—it’s not just about being right, it’s about working together for justice.

What are your thoughts on radical communities in the wake of the election? Please share in the comments.

Please Feel Free to Keep Your Bullshit Apology

11 Oct

So, I was on Facebook (granted, I know that was my very first mistake) and I came across a homophobic comment posted by my youngest brother.

Back story: my little brother and I have the same dad but different moms. I don’t use the word “half-brother” because to me if feels like it somehow delegitimatizes our bond. Even though we grew up in different homes, we have a very strong history and have created many loving memories. Needless to say, I love my little brother very much. I am often saddened by the fact that we didn’t grow up in the same home. I think that maybe if we had, he wouldn’t put such dumb shit on a public forum like Facebook. Maybe, just maybe, he would think twice.

I wasn’t born in this country. English is not my first language. I wear a size twelve. I’m also a queer woman of color.  Clearly, I have had to develop thick skin. I’m used to seeing manifestations of intolerance everywhere – in public policy, society, at work, in the media … you get the picture. I am also very private and because of that keep my Facebook circle really small. The folks on my friends list are progressive and agree with me on the importance of silly things like social justice and equal rights. This is why this post hurt so terribly. I was being attacked on Facebook, but, most surprisingly, by my own brother. He knows that his sister is gay. It is no secret. He knows this. He also knows that his sister is smart, strong, opinionated, giving, caring,  and, most of all, human.

So why, why, why would my little brother post a homophobic comment? Why would he of ALL people promote hate and intolerance? I don’t have the answers. None of the ones I came up with seem to make much sense or make the situation any less painful.

After pulling it together, I sent my little brother a private text message asking him why he said those things and whether or not he thought those things applied to me, his gay sister.

We went back and forth for a bit. His responses were even more disheartening and basically along the lines of ‘but you’re different.” My all-time favorite response was, “If I offended you, my bad,” followed by a Facebook post of the music video “Sorry I Can’t Be Perfect.”

Really, homie?

Due to the fact that I am an educator (and I love him), I‘ve decided to use this as a teachable moment. In the future, I want him to have the proper tools when he messes up and needs to offer an apology. Feel free to use this in your own circles.

  • I want to apologize for what I said/did. I didn’t think about the power of language or how my words/actions can truly affect and sometimes hurt others. I love you and would never want to (unknowingly or purposefully) hurt you. I understand that it may take some time for you to forgive me, but I hope that you can find it in your heart to do so, because I care about you and the future of this relationship. I’m sorry.

So, little bro, this is what an actual apology looks like. You are now in your 20s and, by all accounts, a grown man. It’s about time you started acting like one.

If this offends you, then, my bad.

To everyone else, Happy National Coming Out Day!

Memories, survival and safety

27 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following are some facts about child abuse:

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

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

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

4)   Most child abuse cases go unreported.

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

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

7)   It is never okay to blame the victim.

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

~Crunkista

Throwback Thursday: The Twilight of Good Sense

9 Aug

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throwback Thursday: Dear Patriarchy…

2 Aug

 

 

On this “Throwback Thursday,”  I wanted to revisit one of Crunkista’s earlier posts–a kick-ass kiss-off letter to patriarchy. I think it’s eternal in relevance and general crunkness. Enjoy!

*****************************************************************************************************************************

Dear Patriarchy,

This isn’t working. We both know that it hasn’t been working for a very long time.

It’s not you…no actually, it is you. This is an unhealthy, dysfunctional, abusive relationship because of you. You are stifling, controlling, oppressive and you have never had my best interest at heart. You have tricked me into believing that things are the way they are because they have to be, that they have always been that way, that there are no alternatives and that they will never change. Anytime I questioned you or your ways, you found another way to silence me and coerce me back into submission. I can’t do this anymore. I’ve changed and in spite of your shackles, I’ve grown. I have realized that this whole restrictive system is your own fabrication and that the only one that is gaining anything from it is you. You selfish dick.

I will not continue to live like this. I will not continue to settle. I know now that there is a better way.

Before you hear about it from one of your boys, you should know that I have met someone. Her name is Feminism. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She validates and respects my opinions. She ALWAYS has my best interest at heart. She thinks that I am beautiful and loves me just the way I am. She has helped me find my voice and she makes me happier than I have ever been. We have made each other stronger. Best of all, we encourage and challenge each other to grow. And the sex…the sex is so much hotter.

I’m leaving you. You’re an asshole. We can never be friends. Don’t call me. Ever.

Never yours,
Crunkista

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