CFC’s Favorite Things: Crunk Holiday Gifts

21 Nov


So it’s that time of year again where conspicuous consumption, The United State’s favorite pastime, goes into overdrive. Here at the CFC, we’d like to counter the external pressure to buy the latest expensive gadget that will be obsolete by the next manufactured buying push, by suggesting you gift differently. Last year, CF Crunkista got this tradition off to an excellent start and we are building on that work this year. Basically, boo capitalism but if you are going to spend, here are some awesome products, people, and projects to support this holiday season.

  1. ProductsThe Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie
    • The soon to be released, The Summer We Got Free by Black Girl Dangerous Mia Mckenzie is some of the best fiction out there. If you are able to read this book, you should and so should everyone you know! The kind of seeds this will plant in minds will be the most delicious of strange fruit!
    • Danielle Henderson turned her Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr into a book! Buy it from the feminist bookstore Charis and you are doing two great things at once!
    • A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara and What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg are great children’s book for any little ones in your life.
    • If you just have to have an e-reader, get a Kobo and support independent bookstores in the process. They’re the only e-reader that promises not to share your secret copy of 50 Shades of Grey with the Feds.
    • A toy that encourages little girls to be engineers. :o) Goldieblocks…yes, I know “goldie” but its an awesome idea. For a less whitewashed toy try Roominate, created by three women (1.5 of color) engineers designed to help spark girls’ interests in STEM.
    • For beautiful, hand-made art, Chicana feminist scholar and folk artist: http://www.etsy.com/shop/calaverasYcorazones
    • For the Queer satorialist on your list, try Malakni, Marimacho, The Andy Moon Collection, and Distinguished Cravat. For fat fashionistas, support Fat Fancy Fashions.
    • Your favorite childhood book– the actual print version from your childhood that you find at a used bookstore or online.
    • A nineties-celebrity-turned-ordinary-citizen autograph. Last I heard, Devoe was selling real estate in Atlanta. Surely he would sign a shirt for Moya for $20 (please!!!). Also, I know some people who know some people who know the members of The Boys (Dial my Heart). And if you want to get CF Crunkonia a gift, please track down at least one of the girls from Visions (Ooh La La) and get them to sign something.
    • More Music ideas – For music to gift, buy music from some great indie (self-distributed artists):
  1. People
    • Support the people of Palestine! Buy some good Palestinian olive oil, donate money to important Pro-Palestinian organizations and efforts.
    • Support a local person who knows how to do something. Even if this person isn’t marketing their services, pay them to give you and your friends a workshop. For instance, get one of your best dancer friends to teach a session on twerkin. Do you have a spoken word artist in your kinship circle? Get them to teach the tools of spoken word that may just help you in your daily tasks. Do your own Shawty Got Skillz Share or invite the shawties to teach you something!
    • Are you trying to understand your life and the reason you keep encountering different versions of the same person over and over again? Raising a little one and want to adapt your parenting to fit their emotional needs? Give the gift of an astrological reading by the one and only Yolo Akili.
    • Do you know a desperate graduate student or organization that needs some editing post haste? Buy them some editing hours from Summer McDonald.
  1. Projects

We know you have ideas too, dear readers! What’s on your list to give and receive this year?

CFC Plans for 2013: We Need Your Support!

20 Nov

Dear Family:

As we near the end of a stellar year at the CFC, we want to thank you for your steadfast support. This year we achieved many milestones. Because of your support, we have received over 1.7 million views to our blog.  In early August we reached over 10,000 Facebook fans, and to date now have nearly 12,000 likes on our Facebook page!  Three of our CFs were featured in Essence Magazine’s profile of 35 Young, Black, and Amazing Women under age 35.

You can see two of them post-photo shoot here.

We also have a committed group of followers on Tumblr and Twitter. And we are excited about the future!

We are now in planning mode for our 2013 blog cycle, and we need your support. Each year we plan our content and initiatives during a 3 day retreat in the North Georgia Mountains. This is also normally the one time of year that the majority of us are in the same room together, so it is also a time of reconnection, rejuvenation, revival, and re-visioning. This year, we’d like to spend some dedicated time reflecting on our mission, particularly the way our own privileges may show up in cyberspace. We take seriously the critiques from some of our readership and would like to think through ways of growing our critical edges even amongst ourselves.

Usually, we pool together our own personal resources to rent the cabin, pay for food, transportation (including airfare) and materials. However, after 2.5 years and nearly 2000 hours spent blogging three times per week on average, doing speaking engagements, conference calls, conferences, leading online activist campaigns and doing community work, sustainability and self-care have become key words for us.

If our labor of love has blessed you, inspired you, or uplifted you, please consider financially supporting us as we fund our 2013 CFC Planning Retreat and upcoming initiatives.  We would like to raise $3000 to fund at least 10 CFC Members to attend our retreat. That money covers the rental of a modest cabin, food for us to cook our own meals, transportation (including airfare and ground travel), and planning supplies. 

Here are just a few of the initiatives and goals we would like to accomplish next year:

  1. 2013 Crunk Feminist Collective Planning Retreat
  2. Launching a new CFC website with dedicated space for digital activism, digital pedagogies, and digital humanities projects
  3. Feminism 101 for Girls Saturday School
  4. Compiling and editing a CFC volume
  5. More Video Blogs
  6. A Speakers Tour to Cities, Universities, Feminist Bookstores and Community Spaces Near You

If every Facebook fan donates $1 we will be able to cover the expenses for all of our CFC initiatives! We know not everyone has even $1 to spare but if you can’t give, please signal boost, by spreading this post and asking friends to donate.

Thanks for your support!
 
The CFC

Chasing Time: A Reflection of Thanks(giving)

19 Nov

Time flies whether you are having fun or not.  My childhood seemed to linger like thick molasses while my twenties flew by like short school days.  Before I knew it I was post-30, highly educated, minimally motivated, hundreds of miles away from home but finally at home with myself.  When I turned thirty I had all kinds of epiphanies.  I woke up loving myself some myself, and intentionally purging negativity (thoughts, people, pain) out of my life.  For the first time in what seemed like forever I wasn’t afraid of what that might mean.  Affiliations be damned.  So-called friends be damned.  Popularity be damned.  I was going to speak my mind, tell my truths, and let the chips fall where they may.  They fell, but there was no destruction.  Coming into myself was a beautiful process that I am still walking in unapologetically.

On the brink of another year it seems like just yesterday that I was ringing in 2012 in my mother’s living room.  There was no wine, no fireworks, no benediction , no kiss on the lips at midnight, just me and my family staying up long enough to say we did, and greeting each other and the new year with hopeful anticipation of realized dreams…finally!  This would be THE YEAR (just like 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, you get the picture), which was the echoed mantra I internalized year after year at New Year’s Eve church services and sermons that promised me a renewal of my dreams if I just believed…and waited.  So I have believed and waited, but I am shifting my expectations because the process of waiting is exhausting.  And sometimes when you  have been waiting what has been years and feels like lifetimes you think that perhaps you have been doing it wrong.  Maybe I didn’t believe good enough.  Maybe my waiting was not good enough.  But in reality it was.  I have had several accomplishments this year, but they are not necessarily the ones that “count” in the eyes of others.

I have been struggling lately with not knowing what to hope for when throwing borrowed pennies in wishing wells and laying on bended knees begging for something I don’t know I really want or need.  The world tells me I am supposed to want what they say I should want as a woman (i.e., marriage, children, etc.).   Society prescribes the things we are supposed to hope for, pray for, wish for, and wait for.  But what happens when the hoping and the praying and the wishing and the waiting never yields results, or is different from people’s expectations?

Despite my successes, a lot of times people feel sorry for me when they realize I am single with no babies.  When I say I am happy, they don’t believe me.  They feel sorry for me.  They assume that my extended singleness must have me tripping ‘cause they don’t know of any blackgirls who aren’t checking for marriage or being somebody’s mama.  I guess I’m different.  I didn’t grow up fantasizing about weddings or picking out baby names.   But then again, I was a morbid child, and marriage and pregnancy was too ubiquitous to mean anything significant then.

I am at the age that when  I go home and see folk I haven’t seen in a while they ask if I am married.  No.  Engaged?  No.  Seeing somebody special?  Not really.  Well, what am I waiting for?  I’m not waiting for anything.  Don’t I want children?  Maybe, not necessarily.  Don’t I know time is running out?  All the time.  My biological clock ticks like a time bomb.  So, can I introduce you to somebody?  Hell no. I’m good. Folk don’t know what to do with me and my progressive ideas.  My answers don’t sound quite right, they say with expressions, not words.  Well, what does your Mama say?  Nothing, I’m grown.  I can’t help but look down at myself when I remind them that I am not a child, to make sure the grownasswoman body I walked in with was still the one that was visible. I love the way countryfolk think children, regardless of their age, can be admonished into submission and/or compliance by a parent.

As we near the end of another year, and I brace myself for the curious questions and inevitable disappointment in my responses, I am reminded that the things that make me feel most significant and/or uncomfortable are part of the process of growth.  I don’t have to feel like something is wrong (with me), or that my life doesn’t measure up because it is different.  This year, like last year and next year, I am going to be fully myself and see what happens.  A lot can change in a year’s time.  Love, marriage, and having babies doesn’t take a lifetime, but self-love, inner peace, and stability has taken me every year of my life until now.  I am going to focus on the latter.

the receipts: notes on voting abstention

12 Nov

one. 

I was defriended on Facebook this summer after a rather dramatic set of exchanges that took place publicly and I recently began to think about that defriending because I wanted to consider how mishearing and misreading were the grounds through which a purportedly critical analysis of my position was given and how that mishearing and misreading allowed the individual to feel good about himself once he finally clicked “unfriend.” Mishearings and misreadings are often foundational for argumentation, and though one’s argument may or may not, in fact, be correct, because of the straw man against which they contend, incongruity is often the result in such conversation. I reposted a status written by Mark Naison that argued, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of the person for whom people would vote into presidential office, that grassroots organizing must, of necessity, take precedence, given the economically unviable world in which we live:

‎”No matter who wins the next election, the US is likely to become a poorer, crueler country with leaders in every walk of life seeking to protect their own advantages while demanding sacrifice from those who work for them, or depend on the programs they offer. If there is going to be kindness, generosity and compassion, it is going to have to come from people ‘on the ground’ and be reflected in how they help one another when they are in trouble. [A]nd how they share dwindling resources.”

The individual that eventually defriended me responded by saying it was sad that I was cynical, that I should have hope and belief in the “political process” and that I should simply join Team Obama. I resisted a lot of his language because Naison’s assertion was not about the limited category that we call politics, as such. It was about how we will need to build coalitions with folks from all walks of life, how the hoarding and greed of the economically privileged class squanders resources for the “least of these,” making of us all dependent on one another. I was reminded of this exchange because of the urgency of Naison’s words ringing ever more true today: his words were a call to sociality, to being together with others that is likewise the condition of emergence for imagining a new world, a world wherein we share together in resources, wherein we share together in life and love through generosity and compassion.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that the Chicago Teacher’s Union held a strike that lasted seven days in September this year, teachers fighting for better wages, better work hours, medical and mental health staff for students, better accommodations, books on the first day of class and a reduction in the weight given to standardized testing for teacher evaluations. Many folks on the left agreed with the CTU’s position. And when a candidate for president in 2007, President Obama promised not only to support unionized labor, but to put on his comfortable shoes to march with unions for better labor conditions. However, the striking in Wisconsin and the CTU illustrates the ways Obama wanted nothing more than the CTU strike to end quickly and quietly. In other words, whatever the teachers would receive would be gained through their own collective organizing with no support from the one that once promised to be with them.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that the Occupy Movement, under the guise Occupy Sandy, is one of the primary means by which folks in New York City are receiving resources after Hurricane Sandy. The Occupy Movement was certainly dismissed by both major political parties, with the Republicans thinking the lament of the 99% vacuous and tantrum, with the Democrats attempting to coopt the critique of the current political economy by attempting to “Occupy the Vote.” Funny, then, how it has been the support given by the Occupy Movement that gathered quickly and rose to the occasion of the current crisis, delivering meals, clothing and medical supplies.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that Wal-Mart workers are calling for a strike, organized action against the superpower because of its varied, storied, many abuses of the workers there – everything from ensuring workers do not have schedules long enough to receive healthcare benefits, though forcing workers to labor extra “overtime” hours, to the general belittling and lampooning of workers as “stupid” and “dumb” by management. Similar actions are likely to proliferate rather than come to an end because we live in a world of economic collapse, the refusal to take Climate Change seriously during presidential electoral debates, the privatization of public services and the general assault of organized labor.

Indeed, if we are to thrive in the world, we will achieve this through collective organizing, by another politics, a politics that contends with and against simple assertions of “political processes.”

two.

(Trigger Warning: Lynching Image) 

Various reminders to “get out the vote” last week invoked the category of “ancestors” as the reason for such urgent action. It is, indeed, true that the history of suffrage movements in the US document various marginalized groups contending for the ability to vote in local, state and national elections, attempts to participate in the representational political form that is our republic. I was uneasy by the invocation of ancestors, of family members who once could not vote, as the reason why we must participate today. It is true that suffrage was, and is, held from peoples throughout the history of the US with violence and perpetual violation. The underside of such assertion was the implied critique that to not vote, to intentionally abstain, is mode of dishonoring the same past. But there were other ancestors, other modes of collective – and thus political – organization that did not desire the thing, we might say, was withheld them.

“‘Slaves and maroons from various plantations met regularly in the cipriere,’ Gwendolyn Mildo Hall writes, ‘Huts were built, with secret paths leading to them.  A network of cabins of runaway slaves arose behind plantations all along the rivers and bayous.’ Much of the social life of the city’s slaves became concentrated in the swamps where they could talk, dance, drink, trade, hunt, fish, and garden without supervision.  The settlements were hidden away, but they were also integrated with the life of the city.  Unlike in some places in the United States, these maroon communes had many women and children” (Disturbing the Peace, 62).

The ciprieré communities secreted from local plantations, maintaining a relationship to spaces from which they escaped, but established new patterns of behavior and aesthetic interventions for protection and peace. Setting traps, navigating the swamps, having sex, singing, raising children, eating – all these were aesthetic practices that always and likewise had to be forms of preparation. Maroons needed be ready at a moment’s notice for encounter with the political world of the exterior that would bear down on them and produce violence against them. Each practice, therefore, was a likewise preparation for the possibility of the threat of violation; each practice, thus, highlights the ways in which interventions always likewise have an aesthetic quality and theoretical underpinning. We might say that the CTU’s ability to organize quickly, that Occupy Sandy’s ability to gather and disperse resources at a moment’s notice, was but another figuration of the extrapolitical aesthetic practices of marronage, a way to be in worlds but not of them, a way to respond to needs as a critique of the institutional structures that create such need in the first place.

Michelle Wright writes about how “[m]ost of the Social Sciences and Humanities derive their standard notion of time from physics – specifically Sir Isaac Newton’s notion of time as a fixed constant, linear in its movement – physics itself abandoned Newton’s belief a century ago” (73). That which is considered space and time in Social Sciences and Humanities emerge from particular philosophical and theological movements. Such that interruption of an aesthetic practice offers a general critique of the normative political sphere, such that black power disturbs historical narratives and the ease with which ancestry is sometimes deified, such that blackqueer atemporality troubles binaries of rocking or mocking votes. The interruption that is black power, that is black feminism, that is the blackqueer aesthetic, also disassembles space as well. Such that it becomes increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to distinguish the Prison Industrial Complex and the general militarization of police power in cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Oakland in the elusive borders of something called the United States from the heightening of militaristic power that terrorizes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya. 

So while it is true that abstention from electoral politics does not, of necessity, protect, attending to another ancestry, the history of marronage, perhaps presents us with other ways to think abstention-as-protection, where protection was not about the participation in, nor the replication of, the spaces from which enslaved folks escaped, but was about the desire to be left alone, to organize and care for one another without the imposition of the state. In our world, in our interconnected cyberculture, the local becomes ever more important and Occupy Sandy, as a figuration of ciprieré marronage, is an illustration of the quick, intense and intentional emergence of sociality to current local conditions. And maybe the local is all we have. 

three.

I was defriended last week on Facebook, either the day before or of Election Day, for reasons similar to the opening story. I posted writing by Summer McDonald about her decision to not vote in this year’s election. I was confused not by those antagonistic to a decision to not vote, but that people were upset about the audacity to declare the decision of abstention in the midst of all the enunciations of support for the red, blue, green or independent parties. I hadn’t read too many things declaring abstention as a choice, so I’m still waiting for receipts about why this limited group produced such a seemingly loud response. 

I have attended a church locally in Durham for roughly two years (and I will return once I get out of job market / finishing dissertation … heaven. lol), though I am a self-proclaimed agnostic. Something about the sociality of being together with others was, and is, important to me, though I oftentimes disagreed in some pretty huge ways with things being said. There was something about struggling with others, while struggling within myself, to make a new world inhabitable by more folks than just ones generally deemed acceptable. But sometimes, struggle is too much and lines are drawn in the sand. The first time I walked into a church in Durham four years ago, as I took my seat in the very back of the church, the pastor quickly began bespeaking the horrors and sinfulness of being gay. And I don’t even think I wore my rainbow headband that day. But I picked up my keys and walked out as quickly as I walked in. And one of the ministers, presumably, ran out after me to ask who I was and why I was leaving. “I’m a gay dude…but I’m ok with it. And your pastor is just wrong,” is what I told him to which he replied, “give me your number so we can talk about it later.” Gotta love the contradictions. 

As a cisgender gay dude that grew up in Pentecostal churches as a musician, songwriter, singer and preacher, I am well acquainted with heteronormativity, sexism and homophobia that run in a lot of religious rhetoric, such that I understand when other folks choose to abstain from participating in religious communities. For them, religious ritual does not counterbalance the at times violent rhetoric used to dismiss large groups of folks. For them, religious ritual is something that they find otherwise and elsewhere than the church … and in many ways, they create gatherings in spaces that are just as sustaining and important. I think I’d be justified in never going to another church in my life, and I’m ok with that. But I also get why people continue to go back, with hope. We need not denigrate either position, as both emerge from a desire to be and be together with others. I do not dishonor my parents, my former churches nor my old way of life when I use the queer theoretical ideas I learned in elite, private universities just because I learned them in those elite, private places. You do not dishonor your ancestry if you choose to live in the world in ways that honor what you believe allows you to stand in your truth, to be transparent in a world that would have of us all to be fearful and afraid. Rather, we honor folks when we engage them, even when we disagree loudly. 

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.

Black Women Rock the Vote. Black Men Mock the Vote?: An Election Day Story

5 Nov

The first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote was the 2000 Gore-Bush contest. On Election Day, my mother called me and said simply, “I wanted to make sure you voted today. Your great-grandmother (born in rural North Louisiana in 1903) took great pride in voting. You do the same.”

  My great-grandmother Daisy, made sure that one of her granddaughters came during every Presidential election to take her to vote. Even though she didn’t walk well, because of a physical disability from her youth. Even though she signed her signature with an X.

 When I got to the polls adjacent to Howard U’s campus as I headed in to vote, I ran into an older man named Lawrence Guyot. He was gentle and called us eager young voters up to him one by one to explain that he was running for election to the City Council (I think) on the Green Party ticket. I obliged him politely, albeit probably a bit impatiently.

 And then I went in and cast my vote for Al Gore. I may even have voted for Mr. Guyot. I can’t remember now.

We all know how the story ended. The Supreme Court disregarded the will of the people in Florida and stole the presidency for George W. Bush.

And today, we find ourselves still reeling from the economic and geo-political results of that decision.

 

It would be years later, when I was in graduate school, before I came to know who Lawrence Guyot was. As director of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 and as chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, he had literally been beaten and arrested for my right to vote. We know the MFDP because it put Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer on a national stage, as the MFDP moved to unseat the state Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

 

When I walked in and cast my vote that day, there was literally someone there who had fought for me to be able to be there. And he brought along the presence of the ancestors, my great-grandmother, Fannie Lou Hamer, and so many others who understood the value of the vote.

The thing that staggers my mind today is how easily history had moved to forget Mr. Guyot. I think about how I didn’t even know his name until I was privileged enough to go to grad school, something most Americans will not do.

 I think about how easily the battles and struggles to get here are forgotten.

 We have re-learned this lesson this year as the GOP has waged a veritable war on Women’s Rights. And voting rights, too.

 

Despite these lessons, this history, I have seen a profusion of young radical brothers and old school radical cats declaring brazenly that they will not vote.

Over and over again, I saw in my FB feed, them reposting an excerpt from a 1956 W.E.B. Du Bois speech in which Dr. Du Bois declared:

 

“The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. Stevenson promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. … It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.” — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1956 

 

He could just as easily have been talking about 2012 as 1956. And yet, it was after he said this that Martin Luther King marched, that Fannie Lou Hamer got beaten, that Malcolm X demanded “the ballot or the bullet.”

 How do we reconcile our history of Civil Rights, our deep belief and investment as a people in the franchise with today’s legitmate disillusionments?

I know that many of us who tend toward the radical left in our politics cannot help but see the problems with the kind of imperialist, capitalist, deeply racist and patriarchal politics that continue to structure American society. We do not want to keep co-signing the madness for the sake of “tradition.”

And certainly, it goes without saying that President Obama governs just slightly to the left of center on his best days. On his worse days, he could be an actual Republican.

And yet, statistics show that in 2008, Black women were the single largest voter demographic of any group. Is it that Black women are politically naïve, that Black men are more politically visionary? Does Black women’s support for President Obama suggest a reckless disregard for life of people of color everywhere else?

Of course not.

It was Black women like Jessie Fauset and Anna H. Jones, who organized the Pan African Conferences that Du Bois is so famous for. It was Black women who started the International Council of Women of the Darker Races in 1922. It was Black women who started the Third World Women’s Alliance in the early 1970s. We have always had a global perspective.

 And unlike, Du Bois, (and James Baldwin and Richard Wright), we didn’t quit the country.  Sisters as wide-ranging as Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Pauli Murray, and Angela Davis, have journeyed abroad, found racial conditions much more livable there, and still chosen to come back home and fight for the lives of Black folks in the U.S.

Black women have never had the luxury of disillusionment. While brothers have gathered in elite organizations and institutions to hash out Black people’s political future, to engage in a lot of intellectual dick politicking and pissing contests, sisters have done the community organizing and voting that has held the racial body politic together. We have voted for the candidates that would make sure we could have a job, put our kids in safe schools, and put food on the table.  

We have clawed and struggled for every meager gain we have gotten in this democracy. And sisters have the broken nails and bloodied knees to prove it.

Far from being short-sighted, we have what Stanlie James and Abena Busia call visionary pragmatism.

 

I know it is not only Black men who have problems with President Obama. I know plenty of radical left sisters who are fed up with the utter ineffectiveness of a two-party system.  Black women, in fact, have a long history of defying the two-party system. Charlotta Bass ran for Vice President on the Progressive Party Ticket in 1952. In 2008, Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente ran on the Green Party ticket. And in this election a young sister named Peta Lindsay is running on the Socialist Party ticket.

And while I will be voting for President Obama, despite my varied disappointments, I can understand voting for a 3rd party candidate. But not voting is unconscionable.

Brothers can tell themselves that not voting is fine, because they by-and-large don’t have to worry about the cost of birth control. Good condoms cost what? $7 a pack. Birth control pills? $25 a pack with good insurance! Brothers by-and-large don’t do the care work in our communities. The care of the elderly is deeply gendered work.  So they can tell themselves that withholding their votes serves a greater good even though the choice to do so might make life a hell of a lot harder for the elderly folks they hold so dear, not to mention continuing to place an undue economic burden on women.

 

In many cases, I do believe in drawing lines in the sand. I do think we have to take a stand for what’s right, that sometimes doing what is convenient in the short run will short-circuit our ability to change things for the better in the long run. But as a Black feminist, a Hip Hop Generation feminist, I also fancy myself a both/and kinda girl.

 Can I hold in tension the fact that my vote simultaneously eases tax burdens and healthcare costs on the poor and the middleclass in the U.S. while also going to fund wars I don’t believe in and capitalist trade practices I don’t support? Can I hold in tension the fact that President Obama has arrested and deported more Brown folks than the Bush Administration, greatly expanding the operation and reach of the Prison Industrial Complex, while also being reminded that his is the first administration to reduce the crack vs. cocaine sentencing disparity that had disproportionate effects on communities of color?

 Can I hold in tension the fact that every single brother I know who says he’s withholding his vote in pursuit of a revolutionary future is an academic at a fairly elite institution?

Consider this recent editorial in the NYT as one such example of Black male academic disillusionment.

Though Professor Frederick C. Harris does go so far as to reject voting, he writes among other things: “Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality. The tragedy is that black elites — from intellectuals and civil rights leaders to politicians and clergy members — have acquiesced to this decline, seeing it as the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House.”

Professor Harris also decries the decline not only of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality, but also a decline in the Black prophetic tradition, particularly that, which grew out of the Black Church. While I agree with his critique of the ways that Black religious cultures have become depoliticized in the wake of the rise of the prosperity gospel, I continue to be totally disappointed by all these Black male academics who construct their notions of the best of Black political visions around a procession of Great Race Men.

 Of the paltry number of Black women mentioned, only Ida B. Wells is celebrated. Like many of his contemporary Blackademic male colleagues, Harris dismisses Melissa Harris-Perry as “all but an apologist for President Obama.” 

 Moreover, since it is Black women by-and-large who voted for President Obama, he reduces our political decision making to a desire solely to see a Black family in the White House. This assumes that we don’t see beautiful, functional Black families in our lives every day. Moreover, it shows a real myopic understanding of the political pressure put on Black women to maintain the Black family as a viable political and cultural institution, particularly while academic elites like Harris proclaim the decline of Black political leadership a la Harold Cruse. Even if it were true that Black women voted for President Obama solely out of a sense of loyalty to Black male race leaders –and there’s no denying that this is a part of our thinking, but not the whole of it—to dismiss that as a kind of fantastical naivete is to engage in a kind of willful ignorance about the ways in which racial patriarchy compels Black women’s loyalty to Black men, particularly when they are as impressive as President Obama.

 What I’m really trying to get at is this sort of Black male political and intellectual arrogance, this smugness with which Black men levy these political critiques and the ways in which Black women either disappear from the histories that undergird their perspectives or become  dismissed as unthoughtful apologists for a broken system.

But if your prophetic and political tradition starts with Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth, moves through Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary Church Terrell, takes a gander through Claudia Jones and Flo Kennedy, stops by the house of  Fannie Lou Hamer,  Shirley Chisolm, Barbara Jordan and Fran Beale and doesn’t forget Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, bell hooks, Patricia Williams, Donna Brazile and all the nameless faces of sisters that can’t be named because they were never doing it for the spotlight, then it would be harder to see Black prophetic traditions as being in decline. It would be easier to see that what’s really in decline is a Great charismatic Race Man model of leadership. (You should check out Erica Edwards fabulous new book Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership for more on this point.)  And even though Black men know all the limitations of that model, in many ways the world of Black politics feels safer with Strong Men running it. We are in a world deeply in need not only of new political models but also new leadership models. And based on Black women’s long history of staying connected to the pulse of Black communities, I’d say that the places where Black women put their political energies are a good bet for all of us.

As for tomorrow, I’m sticking with the President. I hope you will, too.

 

 

Below feel free to share your thoughts on voting or not voting, how you do or don’t reconcile a radical politic with a choice to participate in tomorrow’s elections, or your general thoughts on Black leadership.

 

 

Mourning and Name Calling!

1 Nov

For some reason this week I have been visited by and/or reminded of people who passed away over my lifetime.  Their passing was sense-less so it hurt without boundaries or the protection provided by reason.

  1. Sharon was my stepmother and she was shot at my father’s work league basketball game while cheering for him in the stands.  She was 33 years old, a huge sports fanatic, she had big cheeks and my final memory is my 8-year-old self kissing her cheek good-bye at the funeral.
  2. Johnny was my friend from high school who committed suicide when he was a senior.  He was struggling with being successful at a predominantly white high school as a black male and being relevant in a predominantly black neighborhood.  He got caught stealing sneakers at a local retailer and hung himself with his Judo rope; he felt that he had dishonored his family.  A Judo champion on the yearbook staff and student government, a cutie pie, and smart.  He could not have been older than 17.
  3. Brandon was another friend from high school in the same senior class as Johnny.  He was shot breaking up a fight at a football game between two celebrated black schools (neither of which he attended).  He was an athlete, popular, cute, smart, great personality, and just plain nice.
  4. Cassandra, my distant cousin died suddenly alone in her home in her fifties.
  5. Stacy, an elementary school friend died last December.  She was missing for months before they discovered her body in the woods.  Her cause of death was ruled “hypothermia.”  I had reconnected with her and had dinner six months prior to her death.  She was quiet in school and a quiet adult.  She had a beautiful smile.

While I feel I’m in mourning that came over me like a soft blanket, I also feel surrounded by many of my people surrounding me at once.  Daisy and Jack Davis were my older grandparents, both died in their nineties and celebrated a 70 year wedding anniversary.  Dot and Pappy were my younger “sharp-tongued” grandparents both died early of cancer but they sure knew how to Get Crunk! when the occasion required it.  Some I only knew through their words, lyrics, and offerings, but I feel them here with me.  Giving me guidance.  Holding me accountable.  Showing me my path.

ImageNina Simone (Waring Cuney)

“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.”

ImageLangston Hughes

I’ve know rivers.  I’ve know rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.  My soul has grown deep like the rivers….  I’ve known rivers, ancient dusky rivers, my soul has grown deep like the rivers.

 

ImageOctavia Butler

All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.  The only lasting truth is change, God Is Change.

 

ImageAudre Lorde

Change means growth, and growth can be painful.  But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals.

 

ImageJune Jordan

Freedom is indivisible or it is nothing at all besides sloganeering and temporary shortsighted, and short-lived advancement for a few.  Freedom is indivisible, and either you are working freedom or you are working for the sake of your self-interests and I am working for mine.

I hear these voices talking me through my mourning.  When you are mourning, but can not identify the cause try name-calling and see if doesn’t help just a little.  Name-calling is recognition.  Recognize mourning and be at peace. 

Who are you mourning? Whose name will you call?

so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way

30 Oct

Listen, this isn’t what I expected: adult-onset acne, speech and eating disorders. I would have been struck dumb had you asked me to forecast these grown-up times in my ponytailed private school days. I daydreamed a lot but my imagined life was clipped: a timid choose your own adventure whose stalled plot was as foreseeable as it is now disappointing. And in running from that neuroses-made valley I am daily acquainted with pain, fired in it and conscripted to lay poultices on the skin of my kiln mates.

Girl on fire is a punchline in the ‘buked wail of Alicia Keys’ failed instrument, a dirge when we get stuck, when we forget Smokey’s advice. Just last week it was a black woman’s willful hell, an extreme, yes, and emblem of other private purgatories. But let’s call it our ignition and start: “sail through this to that” by Lucille Clifton’s consecration, by recognition of our own peerlessness. I heard a soprano lift Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats” in a New England parlor last week and I teared up despite my liquid eyeliner. My teacup tottered on a saucer at my boots and for those few minutes I threw it all away. It can all be better with a song. This is what I know, why I push the fader. Well, I also like to dance.

When Dilla refigured Junie’s “Tight Rope,” I’d like to think he was broadcasting more than his genius. “You have come so far, you’ve got so far to go” respects the process, the jerky choreography of our time. These songs wobble something similar. Try and catch the beat.

so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way 

“Ghost” Alecia Chakour & The Osrah
“Popular/ Count’s Coda” Van Hunt
“That Girl” Esthero
“So Far” Georgia Anne Muldrow
“Find A Place To Live” Newban
“Find Your Way” Dionne Farris
“Love Me Instead” Melinda Camille
“Lost Where I Belong” Andreya Triana
“The Song of Loving/Kindness” Gary Bartz
“Long As You’re Living” Elizabeth Shepherd
“It’s Our World” Gil Scott-Heron
“I Know Myself” The Sylvers
“Faith” Faith Evans
“Devotion” Ledisi
“Beautiful” Joy Jones

[STREAM/DOWNLOAD]

The Silliest Girl in Vagina Class, or Why Women’s Studies is Needed Now More Than Ever

29 Oct

In the past four years, I’ve developed a favorite pastime: taking advantage of all services covered by my tuition. To my delight, I discovered that my university offers free sexuality counseling. So after spending an hour with the local version of Dr. Sue, I was invited by my new sex therapist to join a three-week class called “I Heart My Vagina.” I signed up enthusiastically, imagining the types of yoni workshops I’d read about in books like Female Ejaculation and the G-Spot: Not Your Mother’s Orgasm Book.

Imagine my shock when I walked into a classroom full of undergrads with crossed ankles and nervous grins. I’d taken the DeLorean straight into my worst memory: middle school family planning class. In all fairness, I did gain some valuable information, my own speculum, free lubricant and the newest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. But since I was one of the oldest women in the class, I also spent a lot of time biting my lip and doing kegels as the freshmen reminded me that youth is wasted on the young. I’d now like to celebrate* the SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS by sharing some of the things she said that were too ridiculous not to write down:

On Being Woman
Dr. Sue: Let’s name one or two things we love about being women. We’ll go around the circle.
Gender Essentialist: Being emotional and loving.
Loud Religious Moralist: Using my body to bring life into the world and producing food with my own breasts.
Me (I am trying to avoid social constructs and stick to the body, but I end up looking like a pervert): I love having a clitoris, a body part designed exclusively for pleasure.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I like that you can wear jeans and skirts and not be gay.
Two women in 'I heart my vagina shirts"

On Gendered Intelligence
Dr. Sue: What you have in your hands is one of the most influential texts about women’s health. Our Bodies, Ourselves was the first American, comprehensive scientific text written by women, for women.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I’ve got a, like, question.
Dr. Sue: Yes?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Being that it’s written and published by women, is all the stuff in this book, like, accurate?

On Ovulation
(Dr. Sue has spent thirty minutes explaining the menstrual cycle…)
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Umm… question?
Dr. Sue: Go ahead.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Right after your, like, menstruation ends and you stop bleeding and stuff, is that when you can get pregnant?
Dr. Sue: There’s actually a likelihood of conception at every point in the menstrual cycle. There are, however, some days that you’re more fertile than others.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Well when is the day that you can most not likely get pregnant?

On Literacy
Dr. Sue: I’d like to do a study someday to see how students find out information about sexuality. Are you guys reading books or browsing the internet?
Me: I prefer books. I like to build subject libraries.
Modernist: I look things up on the internet. The information is just a click away and it’s free.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: I, like, have noticed that I haven’t read much since starting high school. Like, after eight grade when you’re tired of reading your textbook for, like, homework and stuff and you just start to hate it. Do you guys ever feel like that?
Dr. Sue: Sometimes I have less time for reading than I’d like, but I’ve never had an aversion to reading.
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: It’s not an aversion; it’s just something I don’t do. Like, if I have some extra time on my hands, I’d rather sleep.
Dr. Sue: Right.

On Abortion:
Loud Religious Moralist: Are there legal limits on the time that a woman has to decide if she will have an abortion?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: No. Not anymore.
Dr. Sue: Access to abortions past the first trimester varies by state.

On Surgery
Gender Essentialist: Why do women have C-sections instead of having babies the natural way?
Loud Religious Moralist: Yeah, like we’ve been doing it for five thousand years…
Dr. Sue: Or a couple million…
Loud Religious Moralist: Some say millions, God says thousands… But we’ve been having babies that way for a long time. Why surgery now?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: Some people do it for beauty… no, wait…

On Sexual Ethics
Dr. Sue: This has been a fascinating class with a wonderful group! I’m so glad that you all signed up. Before we leave, are there any final comments or questions?
SILLIEST GIRL IN VAGINA CLASS: My mother never talked to me about sex, so I thought that babies magically came out when you were married until I was in the eight grade. And, like, I’m a Christian and I’m just learning about sex so, like, my question is: wouldn’t the church say it’s bad to masturbate if you do it a lot?

* When I first wrote this post, I was making fun of the girl. But reducing the young girl to an object of ridicule only distances me from an earlier version of myself, a girl with less boldness than this character but equal misinformation. In twenty years, I may look at earlier writings and feel the impulse to make fun of myself. I hope I will be wise enough to celebrate this moment for what it is- a spot on a long journey. And I celebrate this girl because she was as bold as she was silly and she was courageous enough to show up each night.

Overcoming A-stigma-tism: (An Affirmation) For Blackgirls Who Have Considered Suicide When Closed Eyes Are Enuf

25 Oct

astigmatism: the inability to see clearly

stigma: a mark of disgrace or infamy

-ism: a suffix added to terms to reflect a symptom or ideology

“Sometimes you can’t see yourself clearly until you see yourself through the eyes of others.”

I see you.

You are beautiful and you don’t even know it.

I mean it.

You are!

If no one has told you yet today, consider me the first.

Sometimes just hearing the words can make all the difference in the world.  I know what it feels like when no one tells you that you are beautiful.  I know how powerful those words can become when someone uses them against you… wielding them like a weapon used to keep you in line, threatening to destroy you with the silence that you feel so deep when the words stop being spoken.  “…with your fine self,” …”with your pretty self,” “with your ___________…”

The world stops telling blackgirls they are beautiful after while,

if it ever tells us at all

Mama doesn’t say it

either because she thinks you already know it

or because she is preoccupied with getting by

Daddy might not say it

because he is too busy calling out somebody else’s pretty

After elementary school, when you need to hear it the most

friends won’t say it

out of fear that your pretty might be prettier than theirs

In high school the words are hidden beneath innuendos that imply your pretty is conditional

But it’s not

By the time you are in your twenties you are so used to being presumed ugly that it is internalized

Looking back at myself, I had no idea I was a pretty blackgirl

I was too busy trying to be invisible

apologizing to myself &

overcompensating for what I thought was wrong (with me)

Don’t make that mistake, don’t accept the hype, don’t believe the bullish

Don’t let the absence of words cloud your vision or keep you from seeing (yourself) straight.

Don’t wait for a man, or a friend, or a father, or a stranger, or a woman you like to tell you

Tell yourself

And mean it

Pay attention to who you are, what you have overcome, what you have survived.

You are a remarkable, beautiful, precious genius!  Everything about you is wonderful.

You are just the way you are supposed to be

You are not a distortion or a mistake

You are loved.

And worthy of love.

And forgiveness.

Sometimes the stigma of so much pain and disappointment and worry and sickness and stereotypes and struggles and self-hate and sacrifice and lack and discrimination and blackness and femaleness and being different pass down

legacies of loss or shame

that weigh you down

but I have a remedy

for astigmatism (not seeing yourself clearly)

for the stigma (of past choices or limitations)

of feeling misunderstood

for the –ism that feels attached to everything you do

and everything you are

It’s a perception problem

You need a new lens

so you can see yourself

fully

differently

abundantly

beautifully

Stop in front of a mirror today

Open your eyes all the way

Don’t stop looking until you see it

Your capacity and possibility

Your mahogany-skinned beauty

Your charcoal eyes

Your frizzy/wavy/kinky/curly/straight hair

Your wide nose

Your luscious lips

The pot in your belly, the junk in your trunk

The marks that stretch from here to there

And the moles and marks that are uniquely your own

You are beautiful

And being beautiful-black doesn’t mean you have to be strong

But be awake

Be present

Be open

And be forgiving

Open your eyes

See yourself

& love yourself

in all your magnificence and fury

And when you do, and tears rush into an open smile

Show another blackgirl

How badass beautiful she is

Tell her ‘til she rolls her eyes at the ridiculousness of it all

When she doesn’t hear you, because she’s not used to the words,

Tell her again

Tell her ‘til she throws up her hands, shakes her head, and smiles in sweet surrender

to the fact that being all of who she is

is (and always has been) enuf

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