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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!

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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

Throwback Thursday: “You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned girl!”

19 Jul

Today, I am revisiting the first blog I wrote for the collective in 2010.  I can’t remember why I wrote about colorism, but it feels as fitting and relevant today as it did two years ago when I first found the words.  I wrote about how “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” is a backwards pseudo-compliment that leaves dark-skinned girls caught up in a conundrum and half-smile, wondering if the two things she is being called (the two things she is) are oxymoronic, canceling each other out—does being pretty make up for being dark-skinned, does being dark-skinned cancel out being pretty?  What the hell?

As I attempted to put a new take on it, my recent reflections remind me of how infrequent I hear a personal compliment or affirmation at all.  Sometimes, not hearing who we are, particularly from the people around us, makes us question it.  Pouring from my own needs I tend to shower people with compliments.  I call my students beauties, just in case no one has (ever) told them they are beautiful.  I want them to know that they are beautiful people—not out of manipulation, but sincerity; and not because of what they look like, but because of who they have the capacity to be.  When I notice something beautiful about a person I tell them, specifically and intentionally, that they have a sweet or calming spirit, a beautiful smile, remarkable eyes.  Beauty, for me, is more than skin deep…it’s not about what people see, it’s about what they can’t see.  This is how I survived my formative years, when people called me what they saw/thought (“ugly”) based on standards I could never meet (“light, bright, damn near white”), and I still had to figure out how to love myself.

When I was younger I thirsted for the words, even if they were empty.  Perhaps that is why I found myself in empty situations with hurt feelings, a battered heart, and a beauty so scarred I couldn’t see it for years!  When someone finally told me I was beautiful they were able to use it against me like a weapon because down deep I never thought I would hear it again.  Once I picked up the pieces and got perspective on the ways that colorism mimics so many other built-in discriminations and privileges (i.e., heterosexism, ageism, sexism, racism, ableism, etc.) I vowed to never be that thirsty for a compliment again… and to actively remind myself, and others, (especially beautifulbrownandblackgirls/women) that beauty ain’t never been stingy and there is enough to go around! This post reminds me that I need to call my damn self pretty…more.  I need to rely less on other people’s opinions, release myself from being bound by other people’s stubbornness (to give a compliment), or opinions, or lack of home training, or insecurity, or down right meanness and love myself… fiercely and unapologetically.  I will look long and deep til I see my own damn pretty, and say it out loud (because sometimes I need to hear it), and if needbe take a picture and keep it on my nightstand.

So this morning, after re-reading the post, I stood in the front of the mirror and stared at a early morning, wild-haired, glassy eyed, bloated bodied me… before I washed my face, brushed my teeth, got in the shower or could even see myself good I decided to love on myself for a moment.  I noticed the moles on my chin, the line that forms on my nose and forehead when I squint, how my teeth and lips hide my gums when I smile, and how dark and brown my eyes are.  I saw my mama’s nose, my daddy’s mouth, and my grandmother’s sass hidden behind too few hours of sleep and puffy eyes.  I saw the imperfections, birth marks, stretch marks, and chocolate dipped exterior and thought to myself, I am pretty…period!

Self-care includes self-love!  Be about it.

Original Post: April 1, 2010, see amended version below

“You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned Girl…”

I have heard this statement many times in my life from well-meaning black women, seemingly surprised peers, family members, and perfect strangers who usually make the statement in response or reply to not having seen me in a while or in genuine wonder and fascination. The words come as somewhat of a shock in the moment, somewhat of a criticism, somewhat of an offense. I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted… I mean we never say “you’re pretty for a white/light-skinned/skinny/athletic/young/able-bodied/heterosexual girl….” It is always the opposite that deserves comment.  In other words, “you’re pretty to not be normal/what I have come to expect.” (Yeah, folk can pretty much keep those pseudo-compliments to themselves).

The words, “you’re pretty for…” is no different than saying “you’re pretty, but…”  The old-school women in my church would often talk ish while smiling, sandwiching a compliment between critique like meat and bread.  “You putting on some weight?  You look good, but what you doing with your hair?”  Uh…yeah? Or, “She got strong features.  Favor her mama.  Look just like her daddy.”  Uh-huh.

The words would come at me softly, sometimes hard, but mostly behind smiling eyes and perfectly thick lips, insinuating that if it wasn’t for _____ I would be acceptable.  The other implication was that one is either pretty or dark-skinned (not both)…and the tendency to be both simultaneously, is possible, but not likely. So, at best, I am an anomaly.

I believed the either/or myth long enough to be

surprised at lyrics that praised “boricua morenas”

and confused at Lauryn Hill’s sweet lyrics of

the sweetest thing she had ever known

being wrapped in “a precious dark skin tone”

and India Arie’s fascination with “brown skin.”

My skin

left me feeling like if it weren’t for the fact that I was dark-skinned (or simply just a calm shade of brown), perhaps I could be beautiful/loveable/wanted. The internal conflict came at a problematic time because I already often feel like the merge of two impossibilities (undeniably black and possibly beautiful). Those insecurities sometimes continue with me being a black woman academic… something right (smart and successful) coupled with something wrong (black). What does that make me?

The backwards compliments (“You are pretty…to be dark-skinned”) have often fed my colorism, color complex issues and low self esteem as a child and my curiosities as an adult about my attraction to men who pass the paper bag test…

My homegirl and I talked about how these color-issues translate to our lives, how we see ourselves (as beautiful or not) and how we are seen (desired or not). In movies, we (dark skinned black girls) are (usually) not the love interest. My friend sighed in surrender as she shared with me that “dark skinned women, unlike dark-skinned men, were never in style.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that people don’t notice that we are “pretty” (I mean chocolate is sweet)…but their temporary short term longings transition to long term sensibilities that tend to send them on quests to find the most exotic, racially ambiguous person to take home to mama or make babies with. Regardless of my qualities, I often(times) hear words merge with others telling me, I am pretty for a dark-skinned girl, but…

And those words remind me of how many nights I fell asleep on tear-soaked pillows praying to wake up a different me, a light-skinned, long-haired me, thinking and believing that that would somehow make me more…loveable. It was easy to believe that when everyone from my elders to my peers were constantly commenting on my lighter than ebony but darker than chestnut colored exterior and demeaning me (whether they meant to or not and whether they knew it or not) because I was not “white” enough…or “light” enough.

Women of color, black women especially, often struggle with seeing ourselves as beautiful when the epitome of beauty is something like white…

I am far from a Barbie doll—but loving the skin I’m in. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong process and endeavor and I am committed to it and fully aware that in a culture that privileges red bones over big bones I am not sure how beautiful I seem…but I am embracing the mocha in my skin and the mahogany behind my eyes. Even though I have often been told that I am beautiful in spite of, not because of, my “dark-skin” I am dreaming dark and deep.

The Joys of Stillness

9 Jul

Recently, Tim Kreider published a piece in the New York Times called “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” where he extolled the virtues of being both lazy and ambitious. Krieder is not really talking about genuine busyness brought on by meaningful obligations, but all the small stuff that can take up a lot of room in our lives. In fact, Kreider insists “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Whoa.

But when you think about it, constantly checking Facebook, or tweeting, or answering email, or staying late at work to complete a list of inane tasks that you can do tomorrow can really be desperate cry for validation—even if everyone else is doing it.

When I read Kreider’s piece, I thought of all the academics and activists I know. Folks who are, indeed, engaged in a whole range of cool projects and important things, but who were often crushed under the burdens of too many obligations, too many meetings, and just plain old too much stuff to do. Like Kreider, I believe there is virtue (and sometimes even productivity) in stillness. I know getting quiet and listening to what my spirit needs has helped me tremendously, both personally and professionally.

But what I want to call out today is the commiseration around busyness, as if that mess was cute. It goes a little something like this:

“Oh my God. I really want to do (xyz reasonable, soul-sustaining activity), but I’m super busy!”

“Oh my goodness. Me too! I have this, that, and the other self-imposed, toxic activity on my plate. Oh well. I’m super busy!”

And on, and on. Folks complain but it’s a badge of honor. What I’ve also noticed more and more frequently is the guilt-tripping that some “super busy” folk try to lay on those around them. Yes, the busyness police. Let me assure you that I will rebuke anyone trying to haze me with their to-do list. When I see those folks coming I try to ground and shield myself from the foolishness.

Lately, I’ve gotten back to reading for pleasure as one of the many ways I reject the narrative of busyness. (I know, an English prof who doesn’t have time to do the very thing she loved so much that she decided to do it for a living! It boggles the mind). My friend and colleague, Chantel, a talented novelist in her own right, has recommended and passed along several books that I’ve been holding hostage for months.  I’m reading those bad boys—without the nagging notion that I should be doing something “more important.” Come to think of it, I can’t think of anything more important than feeding my soul. Can you?

So, family, what are some of your methods for avoiding the busy trap and/or its guilt-seeking minions?

Thinking of Happiness and Black Female Bodies

19 Jun

So over the past few weeks there has been much controversy over “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Flaming Lips video that was edited and released without the knowledge/approval of the featured artist, Erykah Badu.  Honestly, I have mixed emotions about the video, liking some parts and disturbed by others.  Full disclosure: I found the “Window Seat” video to be a very powerful statement.  I felt it viscerally, I was both anxious and fearful of the backlash and envious of what I perceived to be free-spiritedness and freedom of Badu’s actions. But for this recent one I’m still trying to figure it out, but it got me thinking about artists that have done body work in their lyrics.  The song that is always with me is “Images,” a haunting ballad sung by Nina Simone based on the 1920’s poem written by Waring Cuney.  The lyrics are as follows:

She does not know her beauty

She thinks her brown body

Has no glory

If she could dance naked

under palm trees

And see her image in the river

She would know

But there are no palm trees

In the streets

And dishwater gives back

No image

Whenever I hear this song I think of a series of songs that support Cuney’s basic body philosophy.  I think of this song/poem because we have lots of discussions about appropriate body narratives and body visuals through popular culture, but on a basic level it feels like television is the “dishwater” and shameful billboards take the place of palm trees. We could truly benefit from some time at the river, no mirrors, no media, just nature.  In these moments of uncontrollable swirling images I prescribe “nature care,” literature, and history for your happiness tool box.

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!

Get Crunk! Two Years and Counting!

10 Apr

Picture of Round Cake with Icing that says "Celebrating 1 year CFC"

 

http://www.ustream.tv/embed/recorded/21662874
Video streaming by Ustream

I’m in a reflective space after the Black Thought 2.0 Conference at Duke. I want to begin by thanking the conference organizers for inviting me to be on this panel. It felt good to be recognized as a junior scholar for my work and contribution to a growing network of black thinkers concerned with the digital. I’d also like to thank the often unnamed people of color who make campuses run, the people who maintain the buildings, who cleaned up after we left, who built this building, the indigenous and black people whose lives and land was taken for us to be at Duke last weekend. Even as we move through the settler colonial United States we can remember that’s what we are doing. Ashe.

Like the crunk music it references, the Crunk Feminist Collective has a multilayered herstory. From our archive:

In 2004 while Brittney Cooper and Susana Morris were students at Emory University, they were part of an informal group of women of color feminists who routinely convened with one another for fellowship, commiseration and strategizing about how to be successful in grad school. They began to refer to themselves affectionately as the Crunk Feminist Collective, in part influenced by the Southern musical ethos of Atlanta, but also by their absolute willingness to “get crunk” or to deploy crunkness as a form of resistance to the racist, sexist, and heterosexist assaults that they routinely experienced. Revived in 2010, the CFC aims to articulate a crunk feminist consciousness for people of color, who came of age in the Hip Hop Generation, by creating a community of scholar-activists from varied professions, who share intellectual work in online blog communities, at conferences, through activist organizations, print publications, and who share a commitment to nurturing and sustaining one another through progressive feminist visions. Crunk Feminism is the animating principle of our collective work together and derives from our commitment to feminist principles and politics, and also from our unapologetic embrace of those new cultural resources and tools, that offer the potential for resistance.

As the kids say, “we ratchet” particularly in the service of creating a more equitable world.

In just over two years, the Crunk Feminists Collective has produced more than 250 blog posts, gotten over a million hits on our webpage, and been used in classrooms across the country.  We’ve talked about many of the problems facing our communities and what tools can be used to address them. We’ve called folks out and also offered means of accountability. Like our name, we embody the both/and, the slash of people of color intersectionality.  We do all this in two blogs a week, tweets, tumbles and status updates. We are building digital networks of community with shared words and conversations. Get Crunk!

The Crunk Feminist Collective is a Labor of Love

We labor because we love. We put in extra hours because we care about who is able to read our work. We care about shifting conversations in mainstream media from what did Trayvon Martin do to why Trayvon needs to be an innocent victim for a crime to have been committed. Why do dead black men mobilize communities in ways that dead black cis and trans women do not?  And what sort of accountability do we have as a society for perpetuating the racism that ended Trayvon’s life?

We take risks. We put our sex lives on the table, lay our politics bare. And in doing so we remind ourselves, that part of the work is the self. We often do pieces on self care and though not always well received by our audience, they reflect our intention to document and share how we take care of ourselves and each other. Behind the scenes we have emergency dissertation phone calls, we prescribe rest and cake, we send each other care packages, we show up for each other. This work is the least visible but some of the most important because it’s what sustains us in the hard times.

We don’t get paid to do this work. We write pieces that many of our departments, present and future, won’t count as publications. We write as we finish dissertations, book contracts, tenure files, work full time jobs and raise the next generation of crunk feminists. We are at once lauded for what we produce but reminded that it is not rigorous enough to be real scholarship. We get recognized and linked and shouted out by journalists who do get paid.

We’ve been told that people use our work in their classes, workshops, and events regularly. This is awesome. If you have used our work in your classes, think of inviting us to speak at your campus. If our tumblr or twitter feed has brought something to your attention that you didn’t know about, let people know where it came from. If you are connected to a journal, talk to us about developing pieces for publication. Let’s continue to grow what’s possible, through spreading the word and spreading the love!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feminist Care Packages: Healing Love for Hard Times

23 Feb
Image of a brown paper package tied up with string

CC Licensed from LethaCollen on Flickr

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” – Luciente

This month we’d hoped to talk about love and relationships but a lot of terrible things have been happening in the world. Whitney died. Too Short gave some terrible advice. So did Not So Very Smart brothas. and there’s a thread in these narratives about black women and girls bringing things on to themselves when really the deadly combination of heteronormative masculinity is to blame.

The binaristic gendered scripts we set up for people are killing usLiterally. The conversations that blame feminine people for the violence they experience but some how miss the role that masculine of center people have in that violence is beyond me. Yolo reminded us that most often, what survivors want is for the abuse to stop. They don’t want to get rid of the person who is hurting them; they just don’t want to fear for their lives.

Too often in this culture, safety means the survivor has to leave. We haven’t yet figured out how to create accountability that doesn’t look like recriminalizing the survivor by restricting their movements or demanding that the abuser be held accountable in a way that supports the survivor’s needs. We blame their choices and actions because honestly we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the massive collective fail that didn’t keep someone safe. We point fingers at the survivor and try to believe that perpetrators are uniquely bad people, not logical products of a culture that rewards aggression and violence directed at those who appear weaker. How does one ever make sense of what types of violence are and are not ok when the state enacts violence on communities and the planet all the time?

We can’t throw away people. Not into prison, where they come out years later more hardened than they were when they went in. Community service and anger management don’t come close to undoing a lifetime of social conditioning that supports masculine folks thinking that abusing feminine folks is only bad if you get caught or leave marks. Abusers live in our communities and our gender scripts recreate them everyday. There is no security in locking people away when we actively create these ideas about how to relate to each other in our society. If the culture is toxic, a quarantine is not an effective solution.

In trying to make real the transformative justice we desire for both survivors and perpetrators of gender based violence, The CFC, FAAN Mail, and Quirky Black Girls present Feminist Care Packages*. The CFC has been sending feminist care packages to each other in our times of need but the project of care goes beyond our collective. Feminist Care Packages are public offerings for healing and justice, invitations to survivors, perpetrators, and community to create a new narrative for the world we want. They include a letter to the person and a list of resources that may help them on the road to resilience. These are open outpourings of hope and possibility.

We are not naive enough to think that these suggested resources are enough to shift centuries’ old ideas about behavior but we hope that they begin conversations that have a greater capacity to hold the complex reality of human existence. By holding folks accountable and giving them tools to see their world differently, another world is possible.

There will be a series of Care Packages but in light  of recent events, the first Feminist Care Package is for Too $hort.

*Shout out to Mark Anthony Neal for giving this idea to Moya several years ago.

Queer Sisters Keep Saving Me: The Brilliantly Selfish Act of Being an Ally

17 Feb

 Guest Post by Black Artemis

Today is the first St. Valentine’s Day in three years in which I write a new blog about what this day means to me. In 2009 I wrote one wherein I recount why St. Valentine was a historical figure worthy of recognition especially in these times and reiterate my support for marriage equality. (These may seem like disparate themes, but trust me, they come together in the blog.) Rather than write a new post, I simply pulled The Spirit of Love and Resistance Behind St. Valentine’s Day from the archives and put it back into circulation every February 14th.

This year is different because St. Valentine’s Day has acquired deeper significance to me. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of this year, I learned that I have breast cancer.For many reasons, it has been challenging to reveal my condition to those I know who love and appreciate me never mind acquaintances, colleagues and virtual strangers who follow me on social media. While I got over the shock of the diagnosis fairly quickly – I had to – accepting this frightening contour to my identity enough to make it public has been more difficult.

So why am I “coming out” today as a person with cancer? I do it to acknowledge all the queer women of color in my life who have stepped up for me since I was diagnosed. Rest assured, I have been showered with heartfelt messages of love and encouragement and genuine offers of support from people of all walks of life. Every one of them has been integral in activating and sustaining my new warrior mode, reminding me of how too blessed I am to not beat this disease. All of these people are soldiers in my quickly formed and ever-growing wellness army.

But there have been certain sister-friends who have played immediate and special roles through the early days of my devastation and terror. Not even weeks after my diagnosis, the woman I affectionately call my Minister of Defense and her husband helped me clean and reorganize my bedroom so that it can be a space much more conducive to my healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, she has been fielding the outpouring of concern from our mutual friends and has appointed herself the coordinator of my extended support system – rides, meals, escapes and other things I may need as I undergo treatment. My Minister of Defense and I were supposed to leave for Sundance a few days after I was diagnosed. Not only did she cancel her trip, she let the others we were going to stay with about my condition. Upon receiving the news, those women made time in their hectic festival schedule to pray and chant in community for my recovery.

It was critical for me to not wait until conventional treatment started to take action towards healing myself. I needed to build my sense of agency as well as my immune system, and before I could even take the first step, my Minister of Defense and another friend teamed up to split the cost of having a box of organic fruits and vegetables shipped to my house each week so I can juice every day. I could not afford to do this otherwise. They also take turns accompanying me to my appointments which is not only of comfort to me but to my elderly parents who insist on coming with me. When not taking the copious notes and posing the questions that I may be too overwhelmed or frightened to ask, they are engaging my parents in the language in which they feel most comfortable about anything and everything but the fact that their youngest adult child is facing a life-threatening illness. It helps them, and that in turn, supports me. Another lifelong friend – a doctor who is facing a challenging transition of her own at this time – not only sent me hundreds of dollars in health assessment and improvement kits including immunity-boosting supplements, she flew to New York City so we could have an ol’ fashion slumber party in her hotel room.

In the fight for my life, these women have been on the frontline. Each of them, at one point in her life, has been in a romantic partnership with another woman. Because I had not gone public with my diagnosis, one of the friends who went to Sundance actually sent me an email to ask permission to tell her partner because her wife had a very strong relationship to powerful ancestors who answered her prayers. I have no doubt that she organized the prayer circle for me in Park City even when her primary reason for being at Sundance was to premiere and promote her own film. All this slander against LGBT people, painting them as ungodly, immoral and such, when from where I sit, they are the most spiritual and even prayerful folks I know.

This is not the first time I have written about being an appreciative ally. I am the first to say that heterosexual people especially women owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy. Ironic as it may seem, the boundaries queer people bend and bust at the risk of their own lives in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement for every time they push the envelope, they set a new “normal,” and it’s not even they who benefit the most for their courage. Rather it is those of us whose sexual identity is already validated.

While I admit now that this is an oversimplistic analogy, I liken it to how the presence of Malcolm X made the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. more palatable in a society where his ideas were already deemed radical. Same visions, different philosophies, both to the left of what was considered acceptable and therefore also dangerous and vulnerable to the status quo. They needed each other to survive long enough to make the impact that the rest of us, regardless of what we may believe, continue to enjoy today.

Perhaps I am stretching for meaning behind my receiving the news on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, but one thing remains true. For the longest time I have felt that in many ways I can choose to do with my life and body – have (a certain kind of) sex or not, get married or not, have children or not – because the authentic living of openly queer women make it more permissible for me to make choices that buck the heteronormativity that attempts to govern even my life as a straight woman. What I do or not and why or not is on me, no doubt. But I have more sexual choices that carry less negative repercussions because of their sacrifices as much if not more than any other freedom movement.

And so it is on this St. Valentine’s Day, the lapsed Catholic with breast cancer is reminded yet again in the most visceral way why supporting full equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people is not some noble feat of reneging her privilege. It is a radical act of self-preservation. In more ways than I can count, queer sisters keep saving me. Again, I am humbled, appreciative and grateful to new depths of my being. 

The day after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California affirmed the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8, I sat in a waiting room at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Cancer Center with my parents and a lesbian “sister from another mister.” She reminded me of the previous day’s historic significance. We slapped a high five, and I joked, “If these MFers can’t support marriage equality because they can’t see past their religious dogma that it’s the right thing to do, at least do it because it’s strategic. It’s good fiscal policy!”

“You know how many people would flock to get married?” my friend said. “How much money that would put into the economy?”

 “It’s a recession, yo,” I reminded no one. I reminded myself, however, how lucky I am. Here I face the biggest challenge of my life, and choosing to be on the right side of justice is proving to be one of the most brilliantly selfish things I ever did.

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