As the originator and editor of this site, I felt it would only be right if I put myself through my own paces and disclosed some of the things about me that I am going to ask my future interviewees to expose about themselves.
I also think it’s important to let you–the readers–know who I am and why I’m doing this, so you can trust and open up to me as an editor and writer.
I will ask everyone that I interview for the site these same nine questions:
1. What is your name?
2. What are your origins? (Where were you born? Where were you raised? What type of family did you have as a child?)
3. How do you identify yourself racially/ethnically/nationally? How do you identify yourself in terms of gender and sexuality?
4. Are you a feminist? If no, then what term do you use to describe for your commitment to women’s issues?
5. When did “being a woman” become political for you? How were you politicized as a female citizen of the US?
6. What are the issues that affect women that are closest to your heart?
7. What are some of the things you do to make your life and the lives of other women in this country better? Do you have a “passion project” that relates to your being a woman? What is it?
8. Who are some of the women that have been most influential to you? What is the most valuable lesson ever taught to you by a woman?
9. What would you tell your 13-year-old self about surviving the process of becoming a woman, if you could go back and talk to her?
In this post, I will answer these questions as honestly and fully as I can, as an example of the sort of transparency I am hoping to get from the Babes I will interview once the blog is fully underway.
I hope that I can be a source of interest, inspiration, empathy, and amity for you, readers.
I hope that my voice–and the voices of the other women I hope to bring to the conversation through this blog–help you to speak out and then act out in ways that affirm your womanhood and all other parts of your identity.
BABE ALERT Q&A WITH MICHELLE R. SMITH
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?
My name is Michelle Renee Smith.
WHAT ARE YOUR ORIGINS?
I was born in Cleveland, OH, in Mount Sinai Hospital, September 27, 1976. I think there’s significance to my being born during the country’s bicentennial year, but I haven’t become influential or famous enough yet to say exactly what that significance is. I haven’t done the thing I think I was put here to do, outside of giving birth to my daughter.
I was raised mainly in Warrensville Heights, OH–an all-black, lower middle and working class suburb of Cleveland, and that has had a profound influence on how I feel about race, gender, and class as well as my self-concept, for good and for bad.
I was raised by two college-educated parents–an English professor (Mom) and attorney (Dad). They valued education, hard work, literacy, respectability, and family. I value education, hard work, literacy, creativity, self-sufficiency, family, and autonomy.
HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF RACIALLY/ETHNICALLY/NATIONALLY? HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF IN TERMS OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY?
I am black. I don’t use the term “African American” because I think it connotes a regret about being the descendant of slaves that I don’t feel. I am very proud to be a part of a people with a history of survival as incredible as black people in America.
I am a cishet woman that aspires to be a worthy ally of the LGBTQIA+ community.
ARE YOU A FEMINIST? IF NO, THEN WHAT TERM DO YOU USE TO DESCRIBE FOR YOUR COMMITMENT TO WOMEN’S ISSUES?
I call myself a black feminist because I think it’s extremely important to signify that my feminism is interconnected with my racial experience of personhood, gender, and citizenship.
WHEN DID “BEING A WOMAN” BECOME POLITICAL FOR YOU? HOW WERE YOU POLITICIZED AS A FEMALE CITIZEN OF THE US?
I was bullied in school–from fourth to twelfth grade–for being overweight, bookish, sensitive, awkward, and aspiring to be a creative. I felt helpless to do anything about it because the culture in my community and school–which valorized athleticism, toughness, slickness, and the European beauty standard–was deeply invested in maintaining itself. I knew, though, that certain reasons I was suffering came out of being female and measured in all of these superficial ways that were legitimized and regulated by men, like by the length of my hair or size of my breasts. So, when I heard the term “feminist” and learned what it meant, I was elated. Finally, I thought, a group of women that refuted this bullshit Olympic competition to be the prettiest or sexiest. I was 1000% with that. I think I might have been 14 or 15.
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THAT AFFECT WOMEN THAT ARE CLOSEST TO YOUR HEART?
I think there is an intimacy crisis in cishet black community in which women are routinely abused–emotionally, physically, spiritually, and even financially–by the men with which they are involved either without realizing it or without feeling they can or should do anything about it. I hate that shit.
I think that rape culture has a really pernicious effect on black women in that we are taught this matriarchal ethic of “taking care” of black men, and so we will not report them to the police or press charges against them when they assault or attack or molest us or assault or attack or molest our children. I hate that.
I think that toxic masculinity is at the bottom of both of the previous issues and pumps air into a lot of other issues that affect black women, like colorism, for example, and I hate that.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DO TO MAKE YOUR LIFE AND THE LIVES OF OTHER WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY BETTER? DO YOU HAVE A “PASSION PROJECT” THAT RELATES TO YOUR BEING A WOMAN? WHAT IS IT?
Right now, I do my feminist work by writing–by blogging. But I have been talking with some more active, radical women online lately, and they have got me thinking about what organized action I can undertake to help make things better for women and girls in this country.
If I have a “passion project,” then it is making myself into a writer that can produce meaningful work and survive off the profits. I have this blog. I have my book of poetry (purchase information here). I have a chapbook that I just finished. I’m working on a novel; I have the manuscript for a third poetry collection on deck; I have ideas for a short story collection, a series of kids’ books, and a theatrical adaption of Octavia Butler’s “Parable” novels. Writing is what gives me life, so my plan is to keep working until it is my life.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE WOMEN THAT HAVE BEEN MOST INFLUENTIAL TO YOU? WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON EVER TAUGHT TO YOU BY A WOMAN?
By far, the most influential woman in my life is my mother. She has taught me, by positive and negative example, to trust my own thinking above and beyond that of any other person. Especially about myself.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF ABOUT SURVIVING THE PROCESS OF BECOMING A WOMAN, IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND TALK TO HER?
Do what the fuck you want to do. If they’re going to hate you for it, at least you can have the gratification of loving yourself underneath all that other shit.