Vacation Reading List

I am getting married on Thursday. Then, I’m resting on Friday. Then, Saturday is New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day is a day I typically use to contemplate my plans for the new year and clear my spiritual palate. So I won’t be blogging on any of these days. I’m done blogging for the week and the year.

But I don’t want to leave you all bereft. So I thought I’d give you a nice reading list, in case you get bored. Reading through it will also give you a way of looking back at this tumultuous year in American history.

At the end of the year, most publications put out Top Ten lists. The posts I’m going to list here, though, are the ten least read of the year from the blog.

I think they might deserve a second look from anyone that’s interested.

  1. In Defense (and Who Would’ve Thought That’d Be Necessary?) of Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill
  2. I’m Not Going
  3. Daily Prompt: Anticipation
  4. Clothes Don’t Make the Man
  5. Being the Change: Ryan Lochte, Bresha Meadows, and What Black Parents Need to Do for Their Own Kids
  6. Why Are We So Worried About What The Next Woman Is Doing?
  7. Do They or Don’t They?: On Black Lives, Fruitless Sacrifices, and What It Really Means to Be a Warrior
  8. #PrayerforOrlando
  9. Be Your Own Bae
  10. The Lesser of Two (D)Evils 










White Men Will Be Boys, Black Men Will Be Predators: Nate Parker, Casey Affleck, Intersectionality, and the Prevaricating Press

Buzzfeed–the “edgy” Internet periodical–has an article up about the fraternal Sundance cinematic wunderkinds Nate Parker and Casey Affleck. In it, the author–young, white, woman–explains why Parker’s history of sexual violence tanked his movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” and Affleck’s did not tank his (“Manchester by the Sea”).

She says Parker was accused of “rape” and put on trial while Affleck was only accused of “harassment” and never went to trial (“In today’s calculus of male dickishness… Affleck’s [assault allegation] reads as bad, but not as bad as a rape allegation”); and Parker was an unknown with no pre-existing image to offset the image given to him by the rape accusations while Affleck had an established image as the rare Hollywood “artiste.”

She says Affleck had enough name recognition and star power to lure a high-powered publicist to work on his behalf to quiet the conversation in the press about his misconduct, and publications were afraid to pursue the story and piss off his superstar brother, so they didn’t.  

On the other hand, Parker’s film was about slavery–a subject from which people are always eager to turn away; and Parker was the auteur of “Birth of a Nation,” which meant there was no one else people could support if they wanted to see the film but they didn’t want to support Parker at the same time (he wrote, directed, and starred in it).

Finally, Petersen says Parker adopted a wrongheaded PR strategy:

“On its face [she writes], [his] approach to his past seemed like a stroke of genius: He’d confront the allegations head-on in a series of all-cards-on-the-table interviews, thereby clearing the air (and path) to his Oscar campaign. 

“But those interviews quickly became a cascading clusterfuck, with Parker oscillating between attempts to distance himself from the ‘painful event’ and suggesting that paying attention to the allegations only deflects attention from the story of Nat Turner. To many, it seemed that Parker — who later admitted that he’d never truly thought about ‘consent’  — had blinded himself to his own culpability in the alleged assault, and was far more concerned about its potential effect on his film than the effect on the alleged victim.”

Affleck was just cannier, she says:

“‘People say whatever they want,’ Affleck told Variety. ‘Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you respond … I guess people think if you’re well-known, it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don’t know why that is. But it shouldn’t be, because everybody has families and lives.’ 

“The implication [Peterson writes]: The claims weren’t just libelous; they fucked up Affleck’s family . . . 

“Here, Affleck’s framing subtly positions him — not the women — as the actual victim . . . Affleck’s move here is key [Petersen writes]: He hasn’t refused to talk about the allegations, which would likely earn disdain, nor has he dismissed them outright. But he has ensured that they are decentered from the conservation of both his performance and the film. The vast majority of press and audiences have followed his lead.”

Peterson only mentions race in her analysis when she writes about the “privileges” afforded Affleck by his name recognition and close association to his brother, Ben.

“Parker had none of that privilege [says Petersen]. He quit acting in order to concentrate full-time on the arduous task of acquiring funding for the biopic of a black historical figure, with no white savior, starring a relatively unknown actor. Parker had no name recognition, no famous brother, no famous brother’s best friend, no famous wife, no famous brother-in-law.

“He lacked that privilege, in no small part, because he is black. He did not travel in the same Hollywood circles as the Hollywood elite — save Denzel Washington — because he was not cast in the same movies. The chances that a family member or best friend would also make it in Hollywood were slim because, as a black man, his own chances of making it in Hollywood were just above nonexistent.”

This is true, but it doesn’t delve into the whole of the racial component to this comparison Petersen has sketched out between Parker and Affleck. 

The other reason that Parker’s movie tanked, and his career has very probably been ended, by the exposure of past rape allegations is the entrenched racist belief in the black cis-hetero male as the super sexual predator. And the fact that his alleged victim was white.

Before I get into this, I want to make it explicitly clear: I refused to see “Birth of a Nation” because of what I learned about the allegations against Nate Parker. I also wrote a post about the situation, and I took a lot of heat from a lot of the black men I know for helping to make this “important” film about Nat Turner into an essential flop.

I agree with Petersen that Parker did not handle the situation strategically, and I would add that he didn’t handle it with any real decency, either. 

I am thinking specifically about the nasty way he snapped to Robin Roberts, during an appearance on “Good Morning America,” that he wasn’t going to apologize for what happened with the young lady that accused him of raping her, even though he had admitted on record that she was intoxicated during their encounter, and he invited his roommate, Jean Celestin, to have sex with her after him (Parker) while she was in that state.

I also agree with Petersen that privilege–or lack thereof–is the most significant factor in why Parker has been treated differently than Affleck by audiences, media, and the Hollywood establishment.

However, it still upsets me that Affleck is the frontrunner for the Oscar “Best Actor” race when he is clearly guilty of sexually harassing multiple women while Nate Parker may never work in Hollywood again, and he was acquitted of his rape charges.

As I said, it’s racist and makes me wonder when black people will ever be viewed as possessing the same level of humanity as everyone else.

Because white men get to be these eternal boys. Like Ryan Lochte this summer in Rio. Like Dylann Roof, whoss arresting cops were apparently so worried about him that they felt compelled to feed before taking him to jail. 

White men will be boys, or so it’s gone. Like Brock Turner. Like Donald Trump. Trust me – I can keep rattling off names.

When white men do something wrong, or even something heinous, they do not lose the right to compassion or the ability to elicit compassion from other white people. 

Somehow, white people can always collectively believe that a white male that has committed a crime either made a mistake or acted out of some “childish” misunderstanding of the severity or destructiveness of what he has done. 

White people will argue, adamantly, and ironically, that his maleness–which according to the supremacist ideal is supposed to make him a paragon of human perfection when paired with his whiteness–has somehow made it impossible for the white male assailant to truly understand the ramifications of his crime. 

White male assailants are more often than not characterized as having this preternatural lack of “maturity” that that somehow lessens their culpability and can derive from anything from their social class to the level of their education to the economic consequences of their upbringing.

No matter what, there is something immutably forgivable that white people see in white males that commit crimes, and that is especially true when the crime is using sexual violence against girls or women.

The same is absolutely untrue of black men. In fact, Dylann Roof’s reason for shooting up the Emanuel AME Church was that “[black] men rape [white] women, and [they] are taking over [the] country, and [they] have to go.”

Roof is but one example of millions of white people that are willing to believe that black men are intrinsically disposed to committing rape.

The myth of the black cis-hetero male as a super sexual predator dates back to the antebellum South, where white men could not stomach the idea of consensual sexual relationships between white women and black men, and it remains with us like so many other vestiges of slavery. 

Pre-Emancipation, the perpetuation of the cult of true womanhood and lie of white supremacy necessitated that any sexual interaction between a white woman and black man be characterized as rape, and so it was that black male sexuality was pathologized in the American white imagination.

In a book titled Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation, Stanford historian Estelle Freedman argues that the “rhetoric that African American men were disproportionately rapists became solidified in the late 19th century . . . perpetuated by court cases, news media, and racist popular culture.” 

According to Freedman, “… many of the white men who wrote rape laws, determined who would be arrested and charged with these crimes, and served as judges and jurors on sexual assault cases, not only perpetuated these stereotypes but used them to protect their own status as full citizens,” which “contributed to the immunities enjoyed by white men who seduced, harassed, or assaulted women of any race.”

These white men were able to root the myths that a) white men that commit sexual crimes are either just outsized adolescents or alpha males while b) black men are all latent or active rapists and the worst kinds of reprobates in the American unconscious.

Then, they formed a racist polemic out of the second idea by casting white women as the perennial victims of black male rapists, in order to validate anti-black hatred and justify anti-black violence.

This enrages me not just because it provides white women with a powerful weapon with which to manipulate black men (the false but deeply believable rape allegation) and white men with yet another way to discredit, disfranchise, and even incarcerate black men, whether or not they are criminals.

I am angry because the black man as super sexual predator myth also destigmatizes the rape of black women by black men, which is when and where I specifically enter this dialectic.

You pair the myth of the black man as super sexual predator with the Jezebel archetype, which white men have historically used to justify their own rape of black women, and what you get is the concept that black sexual relations are fundamentally and inevitably deviant.

You make it so that no matter who rapes a black woman–black man or white man–it is easy for authorities and juries to disbelieve the accusation. A black woman is always operating at a deficit of believability whenever she accuses someone of rape.

Which brings me back to the other thing for which Nate Parker has been shunned besides his blackness and his sexually violent tendencies.

His victim was a white woman, and white women are still the ideal of American womanhood, whose sanctity is not to be violated by a black man, and a dark-skinned one at that.

I strongly suspect that if his victim had been a black woman, the media would’ve depicted her with less respect and compassion; writers would’ve been more incredulous of her story; they would’ve been more open to Parker’s side of the narrative; they would’ve been less negative in their judgment of Parker.

It would’ve been the inverse of the numerous black male and female writers that were deeply suspicious of his victim because of the long history in this country of white women covering for consensual sexual dealings with black men with false rape accusations.

As far as these black writers were concerned, Parker’s victim was a post-postmodern Mayella Ewell, while many other writers–white and black–depicted Parker as a post-postmodern Bigger Thomas.

The bottom-line isn’t whether they were right or wrong, though. Not for me, anyway. I read what I read about Parker, and I felt what I felt, and I did what I did in relation to his past and his film, and I stand by that.

What I don’t like is that Casey Affleck can be a sexual abuser, and, since he is a white man, he can still be a celebrated member of the Hollywood inside.

Because sexual abusers should not have their behavior normalized, much less in that extraordinary way. Because there should be no difference in the way white and black sexual abusers are treated in our society. And there should be no difference in the way white and black victims of sexual abuse are treated.

That said, the discrepant ways that Parker and Affleck have fared down their paths from Sundance last January are symbolic of the tenacity of intersectional oppression in American culture, and they signify the deep need–as far as I can tell–for intersectional feminism like mine.








Maybe We Do Need White History Month or Millennials Don’t Know Shit About Slavery or Picking Appropriate Essay Topics or Being a Black English Adjunct Sucks Sometimes–Merry Christmas

So, I have to go with the salutation that one of my favorite IG personalities, Jill Is Black, often uses in the opening of her videos–

Dear White People–

And then I have to say something touchy, that I almost regret, but not quite because it’s necessary–

Please get your kids.

If you are a Boomer with a Millennial kid or grandkid, or an Xer with a Millennial kid, I’m begging you. For his own good. Get him.

Explain to his little ass that while slavery did allow White America to amass tremendous wealth during the two-plus centuries of its operation, which, in turn, allowed America to become a global superpower, submitting an essay entitled “Slavery Changed America for the Better” that does not approach that idea from an economic standpoint solely is problematic as hell.

Could you–just–for me? Please?

I literally just read the following in a first year student’s paper:

“In conclusion, through slavery people have learned to stand up for what they believe in and show off who they are. Many people see slavery as a negative thing because of all the damage it had on people, physically and mentally. But in the end, slavery was actually a positive thing for the world because people learned to fight for who they are. It all started when slaves were brought to the colonies in the 1800’s. Men and women were forced to live in terrible conditions as farm hands and some as house servants. No slaves were given the privilege of reading or writing as that might cause [sic] to learn how to escape. They were encouraged to raise large families and the slave women would be taken by their masters for sex. However, slaves would use the underground railroad [sic] to escape and many did. This simple act of courage changed the world. This started the beginning of a long flight for equal rights because slavery started segregation . . . Racism really came about after slavery however, slavery was something that really opened up people’s eyes.”

And this passage really opened up my eyes. It made me rethink some things.

Because every February, on social media, I read a barrage of reposts from young white people arguing about the reverse racism of Black History Month. And the shit gets me tight (shout out, Cardi B.)

These white kids’ favorite point to make is White History Month would never be tolerated. So why, they ask, should Black History Month be allowed to exist?

And usually I respond to this argument by counter-arguing that Americans are compulsorily taught the history of White America in school, but very few are taught about black history beyond receiving concise briefings on slavery, Emancipation, and Jim Crow (“Africans were kidnapped and sold into slavery. They worked under harsh conditions. Lincoln freed them with the Emancipation Proclamation. The South retaliated to the loss of slavery and the Civil War by instituting segregation. MLK and LBJ ended Jim Crow”).

And, even if grade school students are taught anything about Reconstruction or the Civil Rights Movement or–brace yourselves-the Black Power Movement in school, they are not taught these things with very much historicity, nuance, or depth.

But you know what?

Maybe all these angry millennials are right. Maybe we do need a White History Month after all.

Because maybe if we taught the history of slavery and Emancipation and Reconstruction and Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement in terms of what white people were doing during these periods rather than what black people were experiencing-if we used the “great deeds done by great [white] men” paradigm with which Western history is generally taught–if we completely subverted the black narrative the way we do the indigenous narrative, say, in teaching about the geographical expansion of the nation–then white kids would actually know what the fuck happened.

Maybe if we provided them an encyclopedic number of facts about how white people captured Africans, transported them to the Caribbean, “made” them through torture and starvation, transported them to America, sold them, broke them, raped them, separated their illegal families, murdered them when they attempted to escape, maimed them when they stole food or read or wrote something, while the whole time justifying their actions with decontextualized and misrepresentative religious doctrine and pseudo-science, these young white people would know better than to write shit like “A privilege that slaves did have that owners and masters actually encouraged was reproducing.”

Because here’s the thing: White slave owners bred slaves. They didn’t set them up on dates and provide them with cushy rooms and beds so they could comfortably and happily make babies. They forced the most physically robust of their slaves to have sex, whether they had an intimate relationship or not, in the hopes they would make more physically robust slaves that the owners could exploit for free labor, or they could sell.

Slave owners didn’t afford slaves anything that could be accurately called a “privilege.” They “granted” slaves petty “freedoms” that weren’t theirs to grant (“inalienable rights,” remember?) and never should’ve been stolen from the slaves in the first place.

But, mostly, they treated them like animals of a slightly higher order than horses.

And all of this began happening, systematically, in the 1600s. Which means white people held generations of black people in bondage for–no–not 63 years–from 1800-1863–but from 1619-1865.

Maybe if we had a White History Month, and we taught our young people even more of what white people did to establish this country, in more explicit terms than we generally use in classrooms and textbooks, then students wanting to write about slavery, like mine, could at least get that–the timeline of the institution–correct.

They could write things like “A Dutch ship manned by a Capt. Jope and Mr. Marmaduke brought the first African slaves–20 kidnap victims–to Jamestown, VA, in 1619 to oversee tobacco crops,” and “On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read aloud, in Galveston, TX, the text of General Order No. 3, which signified the total emancipation of slavery in America.”

Now, of course I’m being petty and facetious. The student that wrote this “slavery changed America for the better” paper obviously needs to learn how anti-blackness served as the philosophical underpinning for American slavery.

His lack of factual knowledge about slavery is just part of a larger problem–his almost complete lack of understanding of the integral role of anti-blackness in the development of American culture and white identity politics. But this isn’t just his problem. Once he writes a paper and turns it in to me, I’m affected.

Which is where my frustration comes in. At the intersection of his privileged myopia and my beleaguered humanness.

Because I do not need to be accosted by micro-aggressive bullshit like this–which diminishes the horror of slavery and perilous nature of the black experience in America–so by extension the exigencies of my existence–no matter how inadvertent or “innocent” that micro-aggressive bullshit might be.

Yes, as a teacher, I understand this young man’s seeming desire to rewrite history–to expurgate the immense cruelty with which white slavers treated slaves–or absolve white people of that cruelty in whatever convoluted way he can manage–so he cannot be viewed as an accessory in their massive crime after the fact or a beneficiary of their proverbial stolen merchandise (i.e. white privilege).

However, I do not understand why he would recruit me of all people to help him in that effort in any way.

I have no interest in making anyone feel as if slavery was anything other than the holocaust that it was. Why should I? And it was a holocaust. Some 10 million died as a consequence of American slavery.

So I don’t particularly care or care to hear about whether the shit made America “better” or not.

And, of course, it galvanized black people to fight for their rights–that is a fact, not an arguable thesis–but, besides that, wouldn’t it have been “better” if black people didn’t need to fight for what they already had in their homes in Africa? I’m just saying.

So white people–please–

Give your children a book about slavery for Christmas. Yes–I’m going to make this a PSA. Tuck a book about slavery into your children’s stockings–something they can skim some time between their Pokémon-playing and YouTube-viewing–and help stop madness like this from persisting.

Direct them to a historically accurate Internet source where they can read about slavery, so they can understand how wrong it is to a) endeavor to do something like prove slavery was “good” for America (as if black people aren’t part of America), and b) present the fruits of that endeavor to a black American woman that is the descendant of slaves (my great-great-great grandfather, who my great-grandmother remembered to me as a kid–her grandfather).

Let me give you a gift. Links. There are wonderful book suggestions for very young to college-age kids here, here, here, and here. Have at them.

And tell your young people–from a logical standpoint–they cannot argue that slavery made America “better” because “better” is a comparative term, and we can only extrapolate–we can’t know–what America might’ve been if there hadn’t been slavery.

Although I wish to God that we could.

Daily Prompt: Maddening

via Daily Prompt: Maddening

In his elegy to Barack Obama’s beatific presidency, “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates talks deeply and broadly about the President’s “innate optimism and unwavering faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people.”

These sentiments, he says, are undoubtedly what allowed Obama to go from the Illinois State Senate to the Oval Office in five meteoric years.

Coates writes, “By Obama’s lights, there was no liberal America, no conservative America, no black America, no white America, no Latino America, no Asian America, only ‘the United States of America.'”

By acknowledging America’s disgraceful history of slavery, Native genocide, and perennial waves of xenophobic anti-immigrant sentiment, yet treating all of these things as “errors” caused by “misunderstanding”–the work of a “small cabal” rather than the mass of the country’s white citizenry and leadership–Obama was able to “emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people,”–according to Coates–and this is what won him America’s confidence, inasmuch as he gained it, and the majority of the electorate in 2008 and 2012.

According to Coates, Obama viewed the hearts of white people as innocent of the sort of maliciousness that would eventually elect Trump. Or I should say he views the hearts of white people as innocent, since he is still speaking about White America, even after Trump’s election, as if Trump’s election was not a deliberate move to grab the country back from his black-ass clutches.

Coates credits Obama’s forgiving view of whites to his family life growing up in Hawaii–the love, loyalty, and protection he received from his white mother and maternal grandparents.

“Obama told me” Coates writes, “he rarely had ‘the working assumption of discrimination, the working assumption that white people would not treat [him] right or give [him] an opportunity or judge [him][other than] on the basis of merit.”

Coates says that Obama admitted “[t]he kind of working assumption [that white people would misuse or abuse, discount or dismiss him solely based on his blackness] is less embedded in [his] psyche than it is, say, with Michelle.”

And Coates doesn’t denigrate Obama for this. In fact, he writes, “Obama’s embrace of white innocence was demonstrably necessary as a matter of political survival.”

By offering white people a trust that most black people cannot or will not, Obama was able to calm white people’s fears, at least superficially, that he would use the presidency to exact some sort of vengeance on White America or elevate Black America above a certain threshold, in turn threatening White America’s hegemony.

“At some level what the people want to feel is that the person leading them sees the best in them,” Obama told Coates during one of their many meetings during his administration.

And he was wholly correct in using this principle to explain his appeal to the white community, but only partially correct in using this principle to explain his appeal to the black community.

Because, Coates concedes, Obama could be “off” in the ways he conceptualized Black America’s problems and possible solutions to those problems.

“For much of his presidency, a standard portion of Obama’s speeches about race riffed on black people’s need to turn off the television, stop eating junk food, and stop blaming white people for their problems,” Coates writes.

Aspects of Obama’s legacy–the Affordable Care Act, the reinvigoration of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division–have only significantly benefited black people because black people were disproportionately affected by the complications with acquiring health insurance in this country or police brutality and murder, according to Coates.

Programs that are aimed directly as the black community, such as My Brother’s Keeper, are “conservative in scope” and do not deal with problems like the dropout rate among black boys or gang involvement or lack of employment holistically, by, say, combatting the redlining that keeps so many black people trapped in the poverty-stricken ‘hoods of America’s urban agglomerations.

Obama opposed reparations throughout his presidency despite the income, student debt, and employment gaps that plague black people in the US, even if they have college degrees.

He consistently and adamantly approached the job of engineering federal legislation with the idea that fixing what was wrong with the system for “everyone” would automatically fix what was wrong with Black America.

“Just play this out as a thought experiment,” he told Coates.

“Imagine if you had genuine, high-quality early-childhood education for every child, and suddenly every black child in America—but also every poor white child or Latino [child], but just stick with every black child in America—is getting a really good education. And they’re graduating from high school at the same rates that whites are, and they are going to college at the same rates that whites are, and they are able to afford college at the same rates because the government has universal programs that say that you’re not going to be barred from school just because of how much money your parents have.

“So now they’re all graduating. And let’s also say that the Justice Department and the courts are making sure, as I’ve said in a speech before, that when Jamal sends his résumé in, he’s getting treated the same as when Johnny sends his résumé in. Now, are we going to have suddenly the same number of CEOs, billionaires, etc., as the white community? In 10 years? Probably not, maybe not even in 20 years.

“But I guarantee you that we would be thriving, we would be succeeding . . . And suddenly you’ve got a whole generation that’s in a position to start using the incredible creativity that we see in music, and sports, and frankly even on the streets, channeled into starting all kinds of businesses. I feel pretty good about our odds in that situation.”

Coates bristles at this, logically:

“The thought experiment doesn’t hold up [he writes]. The programs Obama favored would advance white America too—and without a specific commitment to equality, there is no guarantee that the programs would eschew discrimination. Obama’s solution relies on a goodwill that his own personal history tells him exists in the larger country. My own history tells me something different.”

And this is what’s so maddening about this whole debate about whether Obama did enough for the black community as the first black President:

Black people’s own ungrounded optimism about what, if anything, Obama would do.

The tales of the obstruction with which so many of Obama’s executive efforts throughout his eight years in office were met are unprecedented and borderline epic, but they elide that core issue touched on by Coates–

That so many of those efforts were not to specifically improve conditions for blacks in the US.

Coates writes that “[o]nly Obama, a black man who emerged from the best of white America, and thus could sincerely trust white America, could be so certain that he could achieve broad national appeal. And yet only a black man with that same biography could underestimate his opposition’s resolve to destroy him.”

But did Obama have a blind spot when it came to white people, or was he feigning shock and disappointment as a way to stay out of the racial fray?

Tressie McMillan Cottom touches on this idea in her own Atlantic article, written in response to Coates’s, “The Problem with Obama’s Faith in White America.”

Cottom says that she, as a southern black person, and the majority of black people in America “know our whites.”

“To know our whites [she writes] is to understand the psychology of white people and the elasticity of whiteness. It is to be intimate with some white persons but to critically withhold faith in white people categorically. It is to anticipate white people’s emotions and fears and grievances because their issues are singularly our problem. To know our whites is to survive without letting bitterness rot your soul.”

So knowing your whites, as she describes it, is maintaining a healthy suspicion of the white mass based on history and experience while allowing for individual dealings with whites that prevent you from hating whites. It’s holding a overall negative attitude toward whites as the agents of institutional racism–the converse of the impersonal, procedural “hatred” whites have for blacks as the enemies of their hegemony and privilege–but tempering that negativity with enough forbearance and amenability to keep you alive.

Cottom concedes Coates’s claim that Obama’s “mistake” is that he thought he knew his whites. “I suspect, given Obama’s own words over hours of conversations with Coates that [Obama] believes he really does have some special insight into white people’s better angels,” she writes.

However, she argues for herself, “Obama’s faith in white Americans is not better insight into their soul where, presumably the mythical “racist bones” can be found.”

Cottom agrees with Coates, and Obama, that white people voted for him because of how positively he viewed them:

Yet, she claims that was not Obama’s doing. “White voters allowed Barack Obama,” she writes, “because they allowed him to exist as a projection of themselves.”

According to Cottom, Obama’s careful calibration of black identity–his gift for signifying black with his handshakes, oratory tics, musical taste, cultural references, Southside Chicago brown-skinned wife, et cetera, et cetera–inclusive rhetoric, and colorblind policy building may have been impressive to whites, but it wasn’t what won them over.

Obama’s biracial identity is what really “did it,” Collum claims.

The fact that Obama was half-white, and he was raised by white people, in a somewhat racially ahistorical (at least when it comes to the black-white binary) space like Hawaii, allowed white people to vote for someone “black” that wasn’t really black to them.

It allowed them to seem like erudite or enlightened people–through the act of casting a seemingly nonracist vote–but remain assured that the power of their whiteness would not be threatened if Obama was elected.

Obama doesn’t know his whites, Cottom argues. Because if he did, she writes, he would know the essential truth that “whiteness defends itself. Against change, against progress, against hope, against black dignity, against black lives, against reason, against truth, against facts, against native claims, against its own laws and customs.”

He proved that he does not recognize this truth when he insisted months ago that Trump couldn’t win the White House. So, Cottom concludes, his biracial identity didn’t imbue him with special insight; it just granted him “special” status among whites.

It elevated him above “regular” black people in the assumptive racial hierarchy in the white imagination, and that is what allowed white people to vote for him to be President.

Cottom posits that his biracial identity sabotaged him, too, in another sense, because “[n]ot only does one trapped between two sets of social norms understand each better, but he is often blinded to the ways in which they are in conflict.”

“Duality can breed insight but it can also breed delusions,” she writes.

Consequently, Obama operated out of a delusional view of white identity politics, according to Cottom.

The birtherism movement, the rise of the Tea Party and alt-right directly underneath his nose, the “whitelash” that buoyed Trump’s political ascendancy and fomented widespread racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in the wake of Trump’s election–these are all things Obama might’ve been able to predict–whose import he might’ve been able to calculate–whose effects he might’ve been able to counter–if not for his “incredible faith” and “improbably trust” in white people; Coates and Cottom agree on this.

They are both angry about his failures, though they view them in slightly different ways. I can see what they are both saying, and I agree Obama didn’t do anything that spectacular for the black community especially.

However, I don’t find Obama’s supposed failures as a President as maddening as they do. The disappointment that they both express in their articles is what is maddening to me, actually.

Because with all their talk about Obama knowing his whites (and all the effort they expend juxtaposing his racial concept and theirs), they’re acting like they don’t know their blacks.

Or I should say more aptly–Coates and Cottom are acting like they don’t know aspirant blacks, who often have very complicated relationships to the larger black community.

Aspirant blacks are those stunningly high achievers with those incredulous biographies. Those role models we hold up to black kids and say “See, s/he did it; s/he started from the bottom, now s/he’s here. If s/he can do it, you can do it.”

Oprah Winfrey is an aspirant black.

Jay-Z is an aspirant black.

Tyler Perry is an aspirant black.

Colin Powell is an aspirant black.

Shit, Ben Carson is an aspirant black.

The thing about aspirant blacks is–and we know this–they customarily cherry-pick when they are black, for whom they are black, and how black their performance of blackness is.

Coates touches on this when he highlights the part in Obama’s memoir when Obama writes, “I decided to become part of [the black] world.” When he recognizes that Obama made a choice to black identify.

“This is one of the most incredible sentences ever written in the long, decorated history of black memoir,’ Coates writes, “if only because very few black people have ever enjoyed enough power to write it.”

Black people are so accustomed to blackness being reviled that we admired Obama for choosing blackness when he didn’t necessarily “have to” since he is biracial, and he was given impressive enough credentials to live relatively inclusively in the white world.

We mistakenly thought his adoption of a black aesthetic and dialect–a black politic–meant he would also adopt certain values of black righteousness, collectiveness, and resistance.

Because we have a liminal identity, too–we “regular” blacks–that are not biracial. We are black and American (black biracial people are not not black; they have a triplicative identity–black, white, and American–minimally), so we have this illogical thirst for belonging, created by the loveless relationship we have with this country.

Because we have spent the majority of our history in this country beautifying our struggle, we have developed a talent for and habit of romanticizing it.

We think of ourselves as superior, in a sense, to whites because we have survived such horrendous experiences as slavery and Jim Crow without completely losing our compassion or empathy. We congratulate ourselves and draw a very unique sense of pride from the fact that we have never launched a full-scale violent revolt against White America. We tell ourselves it is our innate decency that has ultimately kept us from doing that.

And because we have a somewhat mythological view of ourselves as such skillful survivors, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine or believe that Obama wanted to be one of us “fully.”

Then, because we have been gifted with such magnanimous leaders throughout our history here, we believed that a black man would only become President of the United States so he could help us, if not exclusively, then principally.

In that, we ignored the fundamental truth about aspirant blacks: Their ambition is to save themselves from poverty, pathology, and dysfunction, first and foremost.

They want greatness, but that is because they are conditioned, as Americans, to conflate greatness with wealth, and wealth with safety. Not that they are wrong about the purchasable nature of safety in our culture.

Check out their biographies. So many of the aspirant blacks that we pedestalize came from abject poverty, hard conditions, and harrowing abuse. They become achievers because our society rewards achievers, and those rewards often come in the forms of opportunity and money.

Aspirant blacks do what they do to change their personal paradigm. They care about “the people” inasmuch as they need an audience or clientele to applaud what they are doing or buy what they are selling.

And I’m not condemning them for that. I’m just saying. We need to be realistic about how careful, strategic and/or incidental any help they give to the black community is.

Oprah and Tyler and all the rest of them do amazing and wonderful things for the black community, but what they are persistently careful not to do is identify too definitively or publicly with black rage or resentment.

We think of this as a strategy that helps them to secure and maintain a certain level of success, and it is, but we ignore that self-preservation, however it is necessitated, is still primarily for self.

I read every politically correct thing Coates quoted that Obama said about his white family and “reception” into the black community in their interviews, and, while I cannot say the man is lying, I know enough about America to know that he is expurgating.

I think Obama wanted to be President because he wanted to be President, but I also think he wanted to prove something. I think he wanted to be important and/or powerful, and that is generally the desire of someone that’s been made to feel unimportant and/or powerless.

I think black people could’ve come to that–they could’ve realized this man was not a savior or saint–way before 2012, when a lot of us began voicing our dissatisfaction or disappointment with Obama.

That is, if we were more honest about ourselves and the fact that we as black people can be just as opportunistic as anybody else can be.

We also could’ve come to that if we would be honest about our own impulses to assimilate to whiteness and gain white approval if not white “love.”

Just look at our own “ordinary” lives. Many of us, if we have gainful employment or are able to live relatively comfortable lives, modulate or mute our anger and/or resistance toward White America. We go along to get along.

Too, a lot of the black biracial people we know exploit the fact that they are half-white to gain improved or increased access to opportunity. We see this. We know this.

We know our blacks. We know that we are very often placated by even the most minimal increase in our level of material gain or improvement in our social status.

So why did we expect Obama to be some raging race warrior when he won the fucking presidency for God’s sake?

Why did we think that he would risk losing re-election or maybe even his life for our absolute loyalty and love?

And we made the fatal mistake that we always make–we were affectionate and supportive and accepting when we should have been exacting. We let him slide when we really couldn’t afford to, and he didn’t really need us to. Let’s be real here.

Black people regularly heard Obama say stuff like “I’m in a position to understand those essential parts of me not as separate and apart from any particular community but connected to every community,” and we ignored how it negated his racial specificity. How it subtly undermined the concept that he had any special allegiance to us.

We listened to him praise his white mother and maternal grandparents–as he had a right to–but ignored the fact that “[f]or most African Americans, white people exist either as a direct or an indirect force for bad in their lives.”

We expected him to be one of us, but he is an aspirant black. Perhaps the most exceptional aspirant black in the history of aspirant blacks.

And one of the main things that they generally aspire for is to be “more” or “better” and not one of us.

When we elected Obama, and we expected him to “look out” for us on the other end, we conveniently forgot that a “black president would always be a contradiction.”

That’s exactly what Obama was, too. He was black, but he was “both.” He was ours, but he was theirs. He helped us, but not in the most urgent ways that we needed help.

Obama was maddening because he represented a very deep-seated hope black people have always carried to reach the governmental pinnacle.

He gave us spectacular optics and inspiration–but so much of what he did was, ultimately, cosmetic.

Daily Prompt: Flee

via Daily Prompt: Flee

Sometimes, I really do seriously think about leaving this place. America, that is. I look around at the mess that we have all collectively made of it, and I wonder if it can ever be improved upon in any real and permanent way. Sometimes, I think that it can’t.

But where would I go? I ask myself. In typical American fashion, I never became fluent in a foreign language when I was younger. I can barely remember anything from the seven years of French I took, from middle school to my sophomore year in college. I know a little about a few other countries and their cultures–France, Australia, Brazil, Cuba, South Africa–but not enough to navigate anyplace other than here effectively.

And, anyway, I don’t want to live in France. After the terrorist attack last year, “President François Hollande imposed [a] raft of supposedly temporary security measures within hours of the attacks, while the country was reeling from the bloodbath.”

According to Time Magazine, these new rules “allowed police to raid houses across the country for the first time during nighttime hours, and with little judicial oversight; place suspects under house arrest for months; ban street demonstrations; and monitor millions of people’s communications.”

I don’t need to move across an ocean to witness a government let its Islamophobia get the better of it when Trump will be in office in a month.

I don’t want to live in Australia, either. Apparently, anti-black bigotry is as common a problem there as it is here in America, and there is not even a  public conversation in which blacks can articulate their issues and experiences to a wide audience, not that a large percentage of white Australians seem interested in listening anyhow.

Racism is a problem in Brazil, too. Afro-Brazilians make up 53% of the population, but they are still subject to the same sort of unjustified police brutality that blacks experience in the US. Among other things.

Castro made the topic of racism taboo on political stage in Cuba by declaring that the Revolution had ended it with desegregation and socialized medicine and education; however, political leadership in Cuba, which is two-thirds black and black biracial, is 70% white. There is a racial economic divide in Cuba as tourism has led to the whitewashing of hotel and restaurant staffs, and the government has granted more economic support to white small business owners, who are more likely than blacks to have connections to the government or business connections outside of Cuba.

And, despite Trevor Noah’s rhapsodizing about the improved race relations in South Africa post-apartheid, Geoffrey York reported, in The Globe and The Mail, in 2015:

Twenty years after the death of apartheid, there are signs that racism is mounting a comeback – if it ever went away. In Cape Town, there are widespread reports that some restaurants and landlords discriminate against blacks, refusing to let them book tables or rent houses. The prejudice has become so blatant that one resident has gone onto Facebook to post a list of non-discriminatory restaurants, so that blacks know where to take their business.

In several notorious cases in comfortable middle-class suburbs, blacks were violently attacked by white residents who falsely accused them of being prostitutes or criminals. At least 16 such cases of racial violence have occurred recently in the Western Cape alone, according to one local court.

For their part, some whites see themselves as the victims of racial discrimination, because of South Africa’s policies of affirmative action and black economic empowerment. Some claim they are victims of a “white genocide” because of the large number of murders of white farmers – although studies have found that the murders are mostly motivated by robbery, rather than racial hatred.

Some whites have even tried to rewrite history. One of the country’s most famous Afrikaner singers, Steve Hofmeyr, triggered a storm of outrage recently when he tweeted that “blacks were the architects of apartheid.”

A lot of my commenters over the last few days have wanted to know why I am so critical of black leaders when so many of them were so incredibly courageous and accomplished so many amazing things for us–their offspring.

My answer is that I am not necessarily critical of them; I am really just trying my hardest to think up a method or collection of methods to improve the condition of black people in America.

I am reflecting backward on what has worked (or has not) so I can extrapolate what might work for us next or now.

Because I don’t really want to leave this country. Obviously. This country is my home. My ancestors earned my right to exist here just like the bellicose, bewigged forefathers of my fellow white citizens earned theirs.

Plus, there is nowhere I can go where my black skin and/or American origins will not have a negative or complicating effect on how I am treated.

Even in Africa, ethnic diversity and tribalism make it extremely difficult for blacks to get along with each other, and imperialism has made many Africans every bit as westernized as American blacks are, as demonstrated by their willingness to be corrupt, violent, and oppressive in leadership.

So I cannot flee the burdens of my blackness there. Or anywhere.

I cannot flee my blackness itself. That is the bottom-line here. I cannot flee my blackness, and I don’t want to flee my blackness or, again, my country, despite how consistently and catastrophically it fails my people.

And, if I stay here, I cannot flee my fear for my future; I cannot flee the flaws and failures of our government; and I cannot flee the tragic knowledge that for all our heroes did for us, there is still so much left for us to do.

And I am so angry. I feel trapped by my allegiance not to Trump’s America, but my America.

Morrison wrote, “I am Beloved, and she is mine.” Well, I am America, and it is mine, just as much as anyone else’s. I want it on terms that are not just survivable or livable, but in which I can be whole, safe, and happy.

So I will not flee from working through my own thoughts and ideas of how to obtain those terms. I feel that is my duty as a black person and writer and feminist and teacher. I will not flee from sharing any thoughts or ideas I think might be helpful or allow me to connect with other people searching, like me, for something meaningful to do in response to our history and White America’s hatred.

I will not flee from venturing into miry philosophical or intellectual territory or unpopular territory or contentious territory, if it can get me to a more useful set of thoughts and ideas.

I will not flee from dialogue, no matter how heated, with other inspired, passionate, and thinking black people about how we can get to better psychical, communal, and economic spaces.

Hopefully, I will get to participate, in a massive group of us, in a movement that makes all those iconized black men and women of prior movements tip their hats to us from Heaven.

Hopefully. One of these days.



It’s Not Them; It’s Us: On Martin, Malcolm, Then, and Now

The last post I wrote for the blog, on Van Jones, got more traffic than any post I’ve ever written previously.

In two days, over 30,000 people viewed it, and a few dozen people even commented, which has also never happened before.

I read every single comment. I felt honored that people had taken the time to engage with my words; I appreciated the seriousness of that engagement; and I felt beholden to them because I could only imagine how busy they are in their lives. I wanted to show respect for their time, and I wanted to learn something from their responses, if I could.

Aside from one really rather unimaginative troll, every other person that commented was good-intentioned and gracious, and some were extremely generous in sharing their own information and ideas with me, which I found wonderfully helpful.

One was a little disgruntled about the idea that black people are still “arguing” over whether Martin or Malcolm established the “right” philosophical approach for our freedom fight; he said my post was just another in a long line of anticlimactic meditations on that question; but even that didn’t upset me. It did the opposite. It planted a seed.

I won’t put words into this commenter’s mouth. I won’t say he was angry or disappointed because he didn’t say he was angry or disappointed. But I’m not angry or disappointed that black people keep agonizing over Martin and Malcolm. That I will say.

I think we understand that determining why and how they–indisputably two of our most accomplished leaders–matter to us may be one of the most instructive things we can do as we continue to eke out existence in this insane nation of ours.

When I wrote about Martin in my last post, I wasn’t necessarily restaging the old debate about whether he made more sense than Malcolm or vice versa.

I was trying to say that because he is one of our sole models of impactful leadership with an international scale of influence, it is difficult for us to consider that perhaps his method of framing the problem cannot be our method of framing the problem.

Martin and the other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement knew the weak spots that they could exploit in their fight; they knew they could do their most meaningful work in the gap between how White America acted and how it wanted to be perceived in its various social and political quarters. They battered at White America’s façade of morality, progressivism, exceptionalism, and brilliance with rhetoric, protests, boycotts, and litigation, and they helped galvanize the Fed into passing landmark legislation, among other things they so courageously accomplished.

I posit, though, that we can’t do now what they did then. We can’t effectively galvanize enough ambitious or sympathetic or moralistic or punctilious white people in power to, say, stop Trump’s onslaught. Because Trump changed the paradigm with his campaign. He hobbled the Democratic party on one hand, and he revealed its deep ambivalence about us and correspondent inability to effectively address our needs on the other.

Post-civil rights, bald-faced bigotry lost a significant modicum of its currency in the culture. But Trump–and he was enabled by the Republican Congress, corporate media, and embittered mass of white people in America–he didn’t do it on his own–has managed to restore legitimacy to the sort of pathological blind whiteness exhibited by the most prominent old-school segregationists (think George Wallace).

And that might also be why black people–while brainstorming how we will survive in his America–have harkened back in our minds to Martin and Malcolm and how they handled their respective mantles of leadership.

They were fighting in the age of a much more open brand of institutional racism than we have ever faced, and I think we are hoping they can provide lessons on how to handle this cluster the white electorate has instigated for us.

That said, I do not think that one of those lessons is that we should extend some sort of olive branch to Trump supporters. I stand by that assertion.

Talk of love and peace from the most visible and vocal among us can lead others of us–particularly those inclined to complacency–to prematurely and confidently retreat from the fight we need to put up against the coming tide of oppressive and exclusionary change (back).

Another of yesterday’s commenters asked me what my approach is, then, to this fight. I don’t have a comprehensive plan, but my starting place is the acronym I spelled out in my last post.

I think we need to level with people about their bigotry; opt into confrontational political action aimed at definitive positive change; vote in every election, and especially the midterm elections; and educate ourselves using authentically journalistic and academic sources of information.

I also think we need to divest ourselves of the notion that we cannot effect change unless and until we have white help to do it.

If we’re going to love up on anybody, I say it needs to be the 1.2% of American Indians or 17.6% of Latinxes in the population, who share so many of our same grievances and may actually be willing to unite with us.

I do not love anyone or anything that does not love me. Black people in America are conditioned to love white people, and we do, as I said before. Our abundant agape love for them is what keeps our rage against them in check. They get enough of our love. And enough of our compliance. It’s enough already.

Fucking sheesh.

I guess I haven’t given much discussion to Malcolm in all of this. Maybe that will be another post at another time. Even I’m interested to see what that post will bring up.

I was really just bridging off my post about Van Jones here and the comments it got. I wanted to make some clarifications and addendums. I wanted to be responsible and reflective. I feel like I owe that to all the amazing people that took the time to come to the site and take what I had to say seriously.

Still, I will quote Malcolm now because he had a gift for incisive speech, and deep wisdom about America and the black community, and why reinvent the wheel when you can just roll out an existent one, am I right?

Malcolm said:

The newly awakened people all over the world pose a problem for what’s known as Western interests, which is imperialism, colonialism, racism, and all these other negative isms or vulturistic isms . . . [those in power] can now see that the internal forces pose [a] threat. But the internal forces pose [a] threat only when they have properly analyzed the situation and know what the stakes really are.

I’m not saying Van Jones doesn’t know the stakes or understand the situation. He understands enough. He knows what’s weighing on people’s minds. That’s why he’s talking about it.

It may just be he isn’t in a position to address the situation as realistically as it should be addressed since his platform is provided by a white-owned corporation, one, that is beholden to Trump for its last months of survival.

I don’t think I’d remain on that platform, if it were me. I think about Dave Chapelle and how he walked away from his show when he suspected the white network brass was laughing at him and not with him, and he was slipping into minstrel territory. I like to think I would’ve done the same thing, even with millions of dollars hanging in the balance, out of a sense of accountability and concern for legacy. But I digress.

Whether Van Jones was sincere or strategic, or he was right or wrong, the debate over whether blacks should seek what we need peacefully or with violence is an old one, but it’s still a valid one; it just needs to be more nuanced, as do our evaluations of Martin and Malcolm.

They were both great men, who did great things, and they are wonderful teachers and models, but they cannot be the architects of whatever movement we erect in this age to attempt to end our oppression because they are not of this age, and this isn’t their fight anymore.

It’s ours.

Love Deez Nutz, or Why Van Jones Is Wrong and Maybe Even a Bit of a Bullshitting Magical Negro, or Happy Friday from My Corner of Trump’s America–Whatever You Like–I’m Tired

One of the reasons that I dislike the way that black people deify Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that it makes a lot of us adopt a passive way of dealing with racism and racist white people that is really fucking unproductive.

MLK was a Christian minister. He advocated for nonviolent protest and civil disobedience because these principles aligned with Biblical doctrine. He strategically combined a political message and mission with ministry. But this isn’t a mandate. This is not the only or the “right” or at this point a proven way to effect change around issues of race in our society

As courageous, wise, and principled as MLK was, we can look at the racial climate in this country today and say–in all fairness–he might not have been as effective as we needed him to be.

Because he sought to change people’s minds. He sought to make the Masters of the Universe and their racist minion perceive black people as “good” and so deserving of equal rights and fair and decent treatment.

And I’m sorry, but his aim was off. There, I said it. Throw holy water at your screen if you feel impelled. Or smear it with anointed oil. It may sound like sacrilege, but appealing to white people’s spirits just wasn’t the way.

It makes sense that MLK would’ve opted for a nonviolent approach, though; he was a religious man; he was raised in the Jim Crow South where blacks were regularly terrorized; his protests were just one prong in the operation of the entire Civil Rights Movement; and King had no precedent to demonstrate to him that the changes he helped to make–without the threat of violent recourse for any reneging by the white establishment–wouldn’t last.

I am a 40-year-old black woman that has been educated academically and through experience in institutional and interactional racism. I’ve been treated like shit by the system and by individual bigoted people. America has given me a lot, but it’s taxed me a whole hell of a lot for that shit, and so I don’t feel like black people have overcome enough in the past 50 years to call the Civil Rights Movement anything more than an extremely valiant effort.

It achieved fractional victory, at best, and that is not a castigation of the men and women involved in it; it’s an indictment of America and whiteness and a recognition of just how entrenched bigotry–and particularly anti-blackness–is in both things.

I once sat in a class during my MA in which I was the only black person and the only student excluded from the class’s study group. Everyone included in the group was white, and that was everyone else in the class.

They never issued me an invitation, and they arranged meetings right in front of my face, across the discussion table where I was sitting, regularly. They wouldn’t even turn away or speak quietly or try to be discreet.

It wasn’t until I got an A+ on a paper, and the professor raved about me to them, that they finally even acknowledged my presence. Before that, whenever I would contribute to class discussions, they would fall silent and then pass right over what I said, onto another of their comments. Habitually, someone would repeat a point that I made earlier in class, and he or she would be praised for it as if he or she thought of it first.

After I got the A+, though, my classmates issued that invitation to the study group. They started listening when I spoke in class and asking me questions like I was a mini professor.

This led me to assume the only reason they hadn’t done these things before was they thought I was stupid, and I couldn’t think of any other reason for them to think that except that I am black.

I was enrolled in the same graduate program as them, which meant I had to have the same minimum GPA, same GRE score, and same number of bachelor level credits to gain admission. They’d heard me speak eloquent English in class and make really smart observations, so, in order to dismiss these things, they had to call on something other than logic. That would’ve been either belief or emotion.

I learned from this dumbass ordeal that bigotry is based in belief. It’s emotional, not factual or scientific. That is the reason that you can’t reason it out of people. But you can’t love it out of their asses, either. Sorry Van Jones.

And anyway black people shouldn’t be treated fairly by this society out of love or even respect. We should be treated fairly by this society because this society placed a mandate on itself to fucking treat us fairly.

How white people or anyone else feels about us is too capricious a determiner for whether we should, say, not get shot by police when we are unarmed and innocent of a capital crime, for which police can’t legally execute us anyway because that is not their fucking job.

White people don’t get the protections afforded them by the government or law enforcement because of how legislators or cops or judges feel about them. They get them because they are legally entitled to them, and it is easier for white legislators, cops, and judges to give them these protections because of cross-race effect.

But who cares? They can circumvent that shit if they need to, and they need to. They don’t need to be bribed; they need to be put on notice.

In the same way that so many millions of black people can harbor generational resentment of white people but still deal with them nonviolently, civilly, and productively, white people should be forced to deal with us the same way, even if they believe every single bullshit stereotype about us. It shouldn’t matter whether they “like” us or “love” us or not.

I can work with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can teach white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can share public space, transact business, cooperate with, and socialize with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worse among them all over the rest of them.

And so can millions of other black people. So do we all. Because if we ever did explode–whenever we do explode–we get eviscerated or incarcerated or fucking eradicated.

And since we do it, and white people rank themselves as better than us–they make all these adamant claims to superior intellect, morality, discipline, and wisdom–they should be able to do it, too. They should be able to interact with us without exploding their supremacist bullshit all over any of us, even if they fantasize about doing it the entire time.

So fuck using love as a weapon for fighting racism. Unless you’re going to make love into an acronym. Unless you’re talking about

Leveling with people about their bigotry;

Opting into confrontational political action aimed at definitive positive change;

Voting in every election, not just the Presidential election, so the political process can benefit the oppressed inasmuch as it can in America; and

Educating yourself about what the-hell the government is doing by reading real news and doing independent, academic research if necessary–yes–you should–knowing the shit that’s happening is that important–look at what just happened back in November. It was only a minute ago.

If you ask me, this is the only type of L.O.V.E. that’s going to get us–black people, Latinx people, Muslim people, Arab people, indigenous people, LGBTQIA+ people, undocumented immigrants–everyone Trump and his pack of dogs will be systematically attacking over the next four years–anywhere or anything.

The ruling class in America only cares about two things: preservation of power and access to money. So anything that doesn’t threaten these two things isn’t going to compel or impel them to do a damn thing.

You can come together and support these racist-ass politicians or “love on” your garden variety moneyless Trump supporter all you want; if you don’t inconvenience or obstruct them, they’re not going to change anything about the way they deal with you.

This ain’t Disney. This is the dog-eat-dog world of American imperialism. This ain’t Obama’s America anymore. It’s Trump’s.

Getting back to MLK–I often think that so many of these black men that pop up in the political arena echoing and aping him are really just looking for fame or glory–they are looking to be valorized or canonized like he was–not continue his work–not lead black people to viable solutions to our problems or help us make progress toward a more equitable America.

I think that they lack integrity–because they know that “love” is not a political strategy–it’s the way to heal personal relationships–they know race politics aren’t personal–they’re subconsciously vying for the affection of white people and using the fight against racism as a vehicle to gain legitimacy from white culture–they’re too cowardly to do something drastic and die (even just from the public eye) like real soldiers but for a worthy cause–that’s why they preach nonviolence and tell us to fight an actual enemy with what amounts to submission–but they’re still vain enough to want to be heroes.

They’re playing the role of the magical negro when they know better and could do better, if they wanted to.

In other words, they exploit the fight for civil rights to become media and/or Internet famous the way Tomi Lahren exploits the fight against civil rights to be Internet famous.

They’re all sound bytes and catchphrases and hashtags. They love the spotlight and hoopla and maybe even the drama, they love their paychecks and high profiles, but they don’t really love us. They can’t.

Because if they did, they wouldn’t tell us to bend over in a queue and take the establishment’s unlubricated dick with smiles on our faces.

They wouldn’t encourage us to funnel our light into their seemingly bottomless pit of narcissism and nihilism like it’s nothing or like we have an inexhaustible surplus.

MLK was the product of a specific moment in history. He was right for his era, and he earned his venerated appearance in the American narrative. I do not argue with that.

I admire him, and I appreciate him. I even forgive him his indiscretions, if that’s even my place. I think he is a tremendous model of leadership, even if he wasn’t our political messiah.

I am not writing to bash MLK, or Van Jones, or other supposedly woke, professional Uncles (or cousins in the case of Trevor Noah) because I guess selling hope or false wisdom is better than selling cigarettes or alcohol or crack or lottery tickets to poor, struggling black people.

I’m just saying–black people are already a love army. The fact that we haven’t attempted, at any time, on a wide scale, to burn this country to the ground for what it did and continues to do to us, despite how we have fought, labored, and died for it–and in it–and because of it–shows that we are filled with love for our fellow Americans.

Racist people’s selective blindness to that is an indication that they will only ever see what they want to see when they look at us, no matter what we do.

So we should stop putting on all these performances of “respectability” and “morality” for them and do something that will actually improve our condition.

We should love ourselves enough to fight for what we want, not roll over and beg like good little pets.

Daily Prompt: Treasure

via Daily Prompt: Treasure

I like words like “treasure.” Words that are nouns and verbs. That allow me to talk about what I have and what I do.

I am getting married in 21 days. I never thought I’d ever get married. I was raised by married parents, at whose wedding I was the flower girl, so I always wanted marriage, but I never thought I’d get married.

There are a lot of reasons I thought I’d never get married. They arise from my conditioning, of course. I’m brown-skinned. I’m fat. I’m opinionated. I’m brainy. I’m loud. I’m awkward. I’m a little macho. I’m hyper-sensitive. I have a vindictive temper. I can be nitpicky as hell. I’m a little too fond of being right. I want a lot of attention from whoever I am dating.

I only do monogamous relationships. I talk a lot. I talk a lot of shit. I talk a lot of slick shit.

I’m self-conscious of my body. I’m stubborn. I will write about your ass and then go to a venue and read that shit out loud to other people. I can shut down when I feel neglected or as if I am being condescended to. I can be cripplingly insecure at times. I make up stories in my head about how unreal people’s feelings are toward me.

I am a mess.

I never thought a man I would want for a husband would want me for a wife.

Yes, I bought into the stereotype of what “wife material” is. Very early on. I vacillated between trying to embody those characteristics I saw in so many real and fictional wives around me–self-abasing adoration, stupid loyalty,  prescribed sexuality, suicidal generosity–and trying to refute them.

I made up my mind at nine that I wanted to be a writer and at thirteen that I was a feminist, and I honestly didn’t think I’d find a man that would truly respect and help me with either of those ambitions.

I could only imagine a man regarding my personality, politics, and avocation as terrible inconveniences.

I had been teased enough for my dark gums, big thighs, protruding stomach, wrinkly hands, hairy arms–I can go on and on–to think your typical hetero black man would pass on me and pick a more conventionally attractive woman to be his wife if and when he made that choice to partner up romantically.

I had had enough boyfriends lie to me, cheat on me, manipulate me,  criticize me, misuse me, and gaslight me to think that there was something about me that would never really allow a man to treat me right.

That didn’t stop me from trying to become a powerful woman. It didn’t stop me from trying to become as wise as I could. It didn’t stop me from talking shit or doing most of the things that I wanted to do. It didn’t stop me from seeking love and relationships, either, though it did tinge all of my efforts with a bit of hopelessness–I won’t lie.

When I met my fiance, I was only a few months out of a broken engagement. I had just completed a stretch of intensive therapy. I wasn’t sure who I was or if I had any business getting into another relationship. I thought I might be rebounding or setting myself up for another romantic failure. I was terrified of getting hurt again and sure that he was too pretty, too cool, too whole, and too young for me.

But I got close to him anyway. We became friends, and then we became a couple, and here we are–fifteen years later–living and raising our daughter together, embarking on a partnership that I truly hope will last the rest of our lives.

And in this moment I treasure that hope. I am so happy that I still have the ability to hope after everything I’ve gone through in my romantic life. I am so happy that I still have my belief in love and my respect for marriage.

I treasure my belief in love because it is what has allowed me to remain open and continue seeking new connections and experiences throughout my life despite all of the hurt, disappointment, and frustration I have endured.

I started dating at 13. Throughout my adolescence and twenties, I had a series of ill-advised, overly serious, largely codependent (at least on my end) monogamous relationships that really could’ve fucked me up for the duration if I had let them.

But I treasure all of the experiences I had in all of those relationships right now–because they have helped make me the exceptionally strong and wise woman and constructive partner that I am.

I really do appreciate all of my “big” exes. I think of the things that happened between us during our relationships–the things they did to me that were hurtful or made me angry–as mistakes. I acknowledge my role in every dynamic–what I allowed, what I did, and what I didn’t do.

I thank B for teaching me that men can respect your wishes to pace yourself and swim in your proper depth if they want to.

I thank S for teaching me the need to and importance of setting boundaries and saying no.

I thank C for teaching me that when you keep allowing someone to hurt you, you are cuing them to hurt you. That the only effective way to make a person see that they are hurting you is to stop them from hurting you. To leave them and leave them alone. That you make it impossible for a person to see the harm that he’s doing when you treat his bad behavior like it’s decent or his unhealthy love like it’s lifeblood.

I thank G for teaching me to follow my gut. From our first meeting, I sensed that what he wanted from me was more than I had to give to him. But I ignored that instinct because I was curious and flattered; I wanted to be liked as much as he liked me. I learned, though, that you have to process everything that is happening in your relationship; you have to walk away from some stuff that you like or you want sometimes because you can’t handle or don’t want some other stuff.

I thank R–who I did not date, but who I do love–who is my dearest male friend and one of my most treasured friends–for telling me not to shrink myself anymore for any more men and calling me on my bullshit (that is: my distrust, pessimism, pretentiousness, cowardice, and self-absorption) without belittling or stigmatizing me.

I treasure these lessons that I’ve learned, even if I had to learn them in some really hard ways. I treasure every ugly realization I’ve had to make about my faults in order to own my mistakes and learn how not to repeat them.

I treasure my relationship with J, in which I am the truest, fullest, most complicated Michelle I have ever been with any man.

I treasure J for being such an amazing man that he can love me.

I treasure our history, which is long and twisty and hard for some people to understand and of which some parts are hard to own, but has been so necessary and constructive for us–as individuals and as a couple–that I wouldn’t change one thing about it.

I treasure the opportunity I am getting on the 29th–our 15th anniversary–to marry J. I am so thankful to be alive and functioning and willing to enter a new stage of my life and have a new adventure. Do a new, scary thing.

I even treasure my fear because it means that getting married is important to me. I am not just doing it for the sake of tradition or convention. I have a sincere wish to be in a marriage and experience all that means for me.

Treasure is a noun and a verb, as I said, and, as I write, I realize that I have all these wonderful treasures that I never thought I would have in my life. I realize that I am one of those treasures.

I am a mess, yes, but I am a beautiful mess, and I–with my dark gums, my fat stomach, my opinions, my feminism, my neurotic love life, all my shit–am my own best thing.

Love is my treasure.

More time here–on this Earth, in this body, as this self–to love and learn is my treasure.

Being Insecure: The Complication of Wanting Romantic Love as a Cis Hetero Black Femme Feminist

So I watched the final three episodes of “Insecure”–

If you don’t know “Insecure,” then you should get to know it. It’s entertaining as hell.

Even though it trades on some of the most tired paradigms of black entertainment–my least personal favorite being the funny fat friend (since she is who I battle with myself on a daily basis not to be–another blog post for another time), it also delves into some new and poignant territory with its portrayal of the darker-skinned protagonist, her even darker-skinned best friend, and their shared plethora of confidence issues.

It gets a lot of things right about twenty-something, thirty-something educated black women trying to navigate adulthood with the kind of exquisite baggage that only America can gift.

SPOILER ALERT: The protagonist is Issa. She is characterized by her deep ambivalence. She hates her job at a non-profit that runs after-school programming for inner city kids, but she doesn’t have the balls to pursue music, which is her love (she raps). She loves her boyfriend, Lawrence, but she resents him for having sat, unemployed, idle, on their sofa for the past two years. She admires her best friend, Molly, for having achieved a high level of career success and financial stability, but she questions whether her approach to dating is strategic or self-destructive.

Lawrence lost his job and invented a computer app at some point previous to where the timeline for the season starts, but, unfortunately, the app failed to take off, and he was left with dashed hopes and minimal income. His own confidence took an understandable nosedive, and, correlatively, Issa’s did, too.

At the point in the character timeline at which the season starts, Issa is the breadwinner in the relationship, and she is resentful and I think embarrassed because she has opted to stay with a man that can’t seem to get it together and doesn’t fit the textbook definition of “successful.”

Rather than break up with him, she starts texting her ex to boost her confidence, though she doesn’t see that. She doesn’t recognize that classic pattern of romanticizing an old relationship when the one you’re in isn’t satisfying you. 

Daniel is someone with which she’s always had chemistry, but never a healthy dynamic, yet she pushes that aside when they begin communicating again.

She remains with Lawrence in the meantime. They go back-and-forth for a few episodes, but then he realizes how unattractive his situation has become to her, and he goes out and gets a retail job to tide him over until he can get more gainful employment. He and Issa pledge to work at their relationship; he starts interviewing for better jobs; and things get better.

That is until a video of Issa at an open mic, rapping, goes viral. She is afraid it will affect her job, and she goes to the ex–Daniel–for help to track down the person that posted it (he had been at the club the night of the open mic) and get it removed.

Daniel agrees to help her, but, when they have no luck finding the person that posted the video, he proposes a detour, and she goes to the studio with him to sit in on a recording session (he’s a producer) and clear her mind.

There, Daniel gasses Issa’s ego; he tells her she is an amazing writer and emcee, and they make a track that is passably decent. 

She lets the excitement of the experience–exercising her creative muscles and having her art be accepted and appreciated–totally overtake her.

Issa has sex with Daniel, but then realizes it was a mistake and sneaks out of the studio. She spends the next few weeks scrupulously avoiding him and focusing on Lawrence and the planning of a work fundraiser instead.

The fundraiser is, of course, the place where the shit hits the fan. 

Daniel comes to confront her about cutting him off, and Lawrence sees them arguing through a window. He waits for Issa to get back to their apartment after the event, and he confronts her as well. She confesses, and he stalks out on her.

Fast-forward: Lawrence has a really grim moment in the champagne room at a strip club and thinks maybe he better take Issa back. He calls her, on vacation with her girls, and says he is going back to their apartment, and he is willing to talk to her when she returns. She jumps the gun and leaves her vacation right away to meet him there.

Apparently, though, returning to the apartment triggers him because when Issa arrives, he is gone with all of his things, and the only thing she finds is Lawrence’s Best Buy polo, hanging in the closet.

The epilogue is the dramatic portrayal of the cliché that men do not know how to process romantic pain except with sex. Lawrence is going harder sexually than he ever did with Issa with the flirtatious bank teller that used to cash his unemployment checks and give him cute little pep talks in-between reckless eyeballs. 

Cut to Issa, and she is curled up in Molly’s lap, sobbing.

The whole time I was watching Issa go back-and-forth with the ex, previous to the sex, I kept warning her aloud to be smart, be strong, stop playing, and stay away from him. 

It was only partially because he had told her in the first episode he wasn’t looking for a relationship, though. The other reason was I thought she would ruin a solid relationship–with Lawrence–if she messed around and fucked Daniel.

Now, I didn’t think Lawrence was this amazing catch because I am at least feminist enough not to think of men as catches–because I am adverse to the idea that women should chase men for love, sex, or validation.

However, I did find myself thinking Lawrence was a “nice” guy, and Issa should be careful with his emotions not just because he was her man, but because it might not be easy to find an equally “nice” man if she and Lawrence broke up.

I’ve read quite a few other responses to Issa fucking Daniel–from black women–some of them feminists–and many of them cheered her on for scratching her sexual “itch” and leaving Lawrence stuck in his career rut with his failed app and pretentious refusal to take an entry level IT job.

They thought Lawrence was a masquerading “nice” or “good” guy, and the fact that he’d fallen into that rut disqualified him from deserving a certain level of respect and affection.

They made sure to say that Issa was messy for ending their relationship by fucking Daniel, but they also insisted she was right to end their relationship and should’ve ended it months earlier, before Daniel re-entered the picture.

I’m not going to lie. Reading these responses led me to question my own: I wondered whether it was heteropatriarchy that had me thinking about the situation the way that I did.

First, I thought it was compassionate of Issa to stay with Lawrence while he struggled, not weak, and that was a healthy reaction in the context of a long-term relationship.

I have this concept that people have their own developmental paths, and one of the mistakes we make in relationships is trying to pull people off of these paths or insisting they take shortcuts so the relationship can follow some fairy tale or rom-com narrative.

In order to insist, as a cis hetero black femme woman, that my man allow me to make decisions about my life that further my growth even if they stretch the relationship out of conventional shape, I feel like I have to extend him that same space to explore his individuality.

And, when those decisions lead me to fail, in order to request or expect compassion and comfort from him, I have to be willing to give it. That’s equality.

In that same vein, I thought it was unevolved of Issa to consider breaking up with Lawrence over money and not an issue in their dynamic.

Again, as a feminist, I don’t expect a man to support me financially; I expect us to sit down and map out a sensible and fair plan for how we will navigate money matters as a team.

The only thing I need a man to do, if we are paying bills together, is to cover what he says he will cover and take care of his own needs with his own money.

If he isn’t able to do that, I am willing to stay with him, but I will move out or make other living arrangements so that I am not supporting him financially because I am not his parent or caretaker.

That, to me, is making sure the relationship is reciprocal and as balanced as it can be.

Too, I thought it was unfair for Issa to expect Lawrence to take a job he didn’t want just because she had a job that she didn’t want.

That was her decision to make, as was her decision to continue living and paying bills with Lawrence after he lost his job.

Like I said before, I want the space, in a relationship, to make choices for myself that are empowering and affirming, and I don’t want my partner putting pressure on me to subvert my dreams or desires and “take one” for the proverbial the team. That shit can be soul-crushing.

So I have to be willing to give my partner that same space and not invoke the whole “breadwinner male” ethic, which is just as much a product of heteropatriarchy as the ethic of the “dutiful wife.”

Finally, I thought it was codependent and unrealistic for Issa to think Lawrence “should have” gotten off the couch and out of his funk to save her from her own decisions to stay with him and take on paying the lion’s share of the bills.

Issa is a grown woman, and it is her job to be honest with herself and the people around her about what she wants and needs.

If she told Lawrence that she had his back, but, then, she changed her mind, it was her job to say that. 

It was her job to extricate herself from their situation; it wasn’t his job to solve himself for her; he is his own problem.

In playing the “dutiful wife”–when she wasn’t even his wife and her heart wasn’t in it anymore–Issa played herself and put Lawrence in the position to play her–the exact reason you never play the “dutiful wife” or any role that subverts your real identity or desires.

Yes, Lawrence was wallowing in his disappointment, but people wallow–depression is real and alienating–and we all have to be our own protectors and advocates against unhealthy influences, even in romantic relationships.

If we are going to insist on being treated as strong, intelligent, evolved women, then we can’t play the damsel and wait for men to save us, on any level, and especially not from themselves. That is when we become the unrealistic ones.

(To me, a feminism that expects men to voluntarily come out of their conditioning to care about our struggles is like a black consciousness that expects white people to voluntarily give up their white privilege.)

When I originally thought about writing this post, I played with the title “‘Insecure’ & Conundrums of Cis Hetero Black Femme Feminism.”

Because I think that we feminists that are cis, hetero, black, and femme have to navigate very carefully in order to ensure that we are not operating out of our heteropatriarchal conditioning when we deal with men.

It is easy when you love men romantically and sexually, and they are black men, to prioritize their needs and wants over yours because that is how most of us are taught: We are taught that we need a man, should want a man, are lucky to get a man, and should do what is necessary to keep a man because of the supposed scarcity of livable hetero black men.

Many of us are taught that a man that doesn’t beat you or cheat on you–or a man that discreetly cheats on you–is a “good” man. A man that makes more money than you and/or has more education than you is a “catch.” The endgame for romantic relationships is “catching” a man–getting him to marry us.

We are taught to pursue “successful” men; to put price tags on our time and attention and sex; and to dismiss men that cannot afford to pay these price tags. We are taught to objectify ourselves in anticipation of being objectified by men and break our necks to look a certain way and fit into whatever mold of respectability or sexuality in order to please men and “keep” men.

One of the first things you do–or at least that I did–when I became a feminist was to dissect all of these teachings in order to identify which of my ingrained behaviors were oppressing me. Then, I brainstormed ways to change them.

However, I’m not going to lie and say that I am a feminist warrior in my romantic relationship every single hour or every single day. 

There are those conundrums of feminism that come up when you want to be true to yourself, but you’re dealing with a black man and all his patriarchal baggage, and you want things to go smoothly.

One of the most frequent ones, for me, is wanting very badly for your relationship to work. That in itself can feel anti-feminist because it can very easily slip into codependency and unhealthy attachment.

You are always walking a fine line between being invested and committed and allowing yourself to be misused and possibly even abused in the name of “love.”

When I was watching “Insecure,” I was compelled to ask myself over and over whether Issa was settling for staying with Lawrence, which, to me, is a benign (when the man is not violent or abusive) form of self-abnegation or self-denial.

I thought she was being a committed partner, but, then, after I read what some other smart women had to say, I wondered whether I was wrong. Then, I wondered whether attempting to partner with a male period is a form of self-abnegation that cis hetero feminists just have to accept and navigate as carefully as they can.

Any cis hetero black woman or femme black woman knows how delicate black men’s egos can be. You know how lightly you can feel impelled to tread in their emotional landscape, which can feel like it is nothing but a maze of booby traps.

When being strong, independent, and self-determined is a mandate, dealing romantically with men can very easily lead to endless power struggles and really ugly splits because they can’t handle you. 

Mind you, they can have a hard time handling you because they refuse to do more, or you are doing too much, but I digress.

Being a feminist and hetero is complicated, yet, as a human being, you crave companionship, sex, love, and maybe even commitment. Take me. I’m big on monogamy. I want marriage. Yet, I feel guilty for wanting these things, and afraid of them, because they seem almost intrinsically not just anti-feminist, but anti-female, with all the double standards, antiquated thinking, and stringent politics that govern both.

It occurs to me that I am insecure at times. Not about my cis hetero black femme femininity or womanhood, but about my feminism. I can be really shaky sometimes when it comes to enacting all these concepts I have about how to conduct myself in my romantic relationships.

Because on one end, I am afraid of playing into patriarchy, and, on the other, I am afraid of enacting a feminism that doesn’t allow me to be who I am.

I am a romantic. I am a monogamist. I have a fiancé. I think women are sexy as hell, but I only want to sleep with men.

I want to wear make-up and earrings and still be taken seriously. I want to be fat and still be considered sexy. I want to be loud and opinionated and still be romantically and sexually attractive (though I do not just want to be attractive).

I want to be educated and make money and not be subject to male hostility or inconsideration. I want to be sexually open and expressive and not be subject to attack or disrespect. I want to be vulnerable, compassionate, and affectionate and not be mistaken for weak or treated like shit or an idiot by inadequate, insecure, or manipulative men.

But I also do not want to be mistaken for weak or treated like shit or an idiot by women when I am vulnerable, compassionate, or affectionate toward men. I don’t want other feminists dog-walking me because I refuse to vilify men or refute tenderness.

I want to be free (imagine that) to exist along the full spectrum of emotions and behaviors. That, to me, is the aim of feminism.

Yes–all of this from a sitcom.

 I thank Issa Rae and her writers for coming up with a plotline that was so provocative. I love when black entertainment isn’t the typical slick, manicured minstrel show.

And I guess what I am saying is–the way we view “Insecure” or the lives of the real women we know can provide some really interesting and useful clues about what we feel about our relationships and ourselves.

With “Insecure” and my own engagement weighing on my mind, I forced myself to spell out–for myself–what I think about issues surrounding support and money in relationships–very important ideas to parse when embarking on a lifetime partnership.

And I don’t fault Issa for staying with Lawrence or wanting him back in the end. I don’t think he’s a “good” guy or a “bad” guy. I reject that binary. I don’t think it helps to think of people in types because it impels us to act off of scripts and not our true feelings, desires, and needs.

I also don’t think that cis hetero black femme feminists like me are betraying ourselves when we try to work it out with men that don’t fit neatly into boxes–that aren’t knights or panty-droppers or alphas, but just regular, decent men interested in healthy, constructive love with a woman that is in control of herself.

I think we need to embrace this ethic expressed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.”

Because if we are letting any rule tell us who to love or how or what to do in general, we are not free or independent.

If we are not living out our own individual ideas of what it means to be female, or we are suppressing our femininity, whatever that is for us, we are not feminists.