Back Like Cooked Crack

I tried really hard to do the “right” thing. To put blogging on the back burner so I could devote myself more fully to searching for a full-time job.

I locked up this blog, started another anonymous one, and began combing the employment sites. I reworked then re-reworked my resume. I reached out to the few contacts I have. I applied to every job that sounded even halfway workable. I mean – I really did try to be good.

But I couldn’t stop missing this space. I couldn’t stop longing to write here again. I couldn’t stop feeling as if I had abandoned something that I shouldn’t have abandoned or stopped doing something I should be doing.

So, I’m back. The blog is public again, and I am re-committed to posting on a regular basis. And extremely excited about the prospect of writing more, reconnecting with “old” readers, and possibly gaining some new ones.

In the meantime, I am still pretty excited about the fact that I published my first book – a volume of poetry called Ariel in Black.

You can buy it here: https://blackgirlpoet.wixsite.com/michellesmith/publications.

All purchases go to my broke-ass pockets because I didn’t get any of those full-time jobs for which I applied, if that isn’t already apparent.

About that…

I think it might be a combination of my patchy work history, age, degree area, and/or advanced vocabulary, which probably runs the gamut from making it difficult for your standard HR officer to fully comprehend my cover letters to making him or her think I am an insufferable intellectual snob.

Whatever.

I like my words, and I like to use them.

It’s funny.

Over these last few months, in which I have been doing more agonizing than either job searching or writing, I found myself fixing on my book – on its introduction – on what I wrote about my inspiration, Sylvia Plath, and my process as an artist, which I am, even though I shrink from owning the title because I am still too strung up in wanting and seeking middle class “stability” to summarily fuck the rat race and try to write professionally.

In that intro, I wrote – and I still cannot believe these words came from me –

Blackness is a really complicated thing for a hetero woman in America.

It has enough rules to put the US Code to shame.

You are not allowed to sad because so many that came before you suffered so much more than you, and they were never sad; they were strong.

You are not allowed to be crazy because so many that came before you suffered so much more than you, and they never escaped into madness; they were strong.

You are not allowed to be ambivalent because there are only two acceptable things to do as a black woman – you can stand or you can fight.

You are not allowed to have any problems that weren’t doled out by your history or anatomy.

You cannot cry except at death, and it is the only sort of loss that you can linger on.

You cannot despair, no matter how desperate you are.

You cannot lament your blackness, no matter how it blinds you to your beauty or blocks the sun from you.

You have to love black men when they spurn you.

You have to love black women when they spurn you.

You have to love every black person you meet, whether their greeting is happy or hateful. Whether they want to join your parade or piss on it.

You have to keep secrets that claw at the insides of your guts and throat to be told.

You have to swallow complaints that going down can rip your insides like a rusty nail or screw.

You are not allowed to be honest at the cost of being dignified.

You can only tell your story as a myth or legend, fable or fairy tale.

There are not rules, for the record. They are The Rules. Spelled out for me by my respectable mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother that came before me.

I grew up with the demands for strength, goodness, decency, and solidity hanging over my crib like a mobile.

I understood by six that I had very few acceptable choices for my future beyond getting an education and forging a successful career.

I could marry if I wanted to, and have children if I wanted to, but being a certain type of woman wasn’t an option.

I was a talky, antsy, moody, sassy, nasty girl that was expected to grow into a stoic, stable, suitable woman.

I felt suffocated by that expectation, too. Like it would kill all the joy, wonder, curiosity, humor, and needful angst inside of me.

Until I found Sylvia.

She showed me what to do.

Write it out.

Write it all out.

And fuck what anybody has to say about it . . .

I write to free myself, I know. And when it doesn’t work . . . I write more. I write harder. I write bloodier.

I am too much of a black woman to surrender such a hard-fought thing as my life to something as common as pain.*

But then I am too much of a thin-skinned girl to pretend that pain doesn’t act like a slow poison on my heart and mind.*

It was painful for me to shut up this blog. It shut down my heart and mind, to an extent. I was following The Rules when I made the decision, and following The Rules doesn’t suit me any more now than it did when I was younger or back in 2015, when I wrote that intro.

So I’ve decided to stop, once and for all.

So I’ve opened this blog up again. I’ve opened myself up again.

Michelle is back, bluer, and i-er than ever – on a first name basis with the truth that I am a writer, that is all I’ve ever wanted to be, and that’s exactly what I should be.

I have to say, too.

It feels fucking good to be back.

* I substituted “sadness” in the original text with “pain” in this iteration.

 

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CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Out of the Mouths of Babes Series

submit-your-work

The Out of the Mouths of Babes series of posts is intended to serve as a place where real women of color can talk truth about female life with passion, wisdom, honesty, and insight.

Submissions of articles, think pieces, interviews, essays, poems, stories, and even videos to this series are more than welcome.

They just need to center on issues or themes that relate to women of color in the US or anywhere (everywhere) else.

Also, submissions should avoid the use of homophobic, transphobic, ableist, ageist, classist, xenophobic, ethnocentric, patriarchal, misogynistic, misandrist, and/or heterosexist language.

Contributors whose submissions are published will retain all copyrights to their material, and they will be compensated with free publicity on The Bluest i for any legitimate personal, political, or artistic projects or commercial products they wish to promote, as long as these projects are ethical, and these products are safe.

Readers that do not wish to contribute to the series, but have specific desires to see certain content (concerning WOC and intersectional feminism), should also feel free to send in suggestions.

Bloggers that wish to write a guest post or syndicate a post are also encouraged to contribute.

The more, the airier.

Please send submissions, suggestions, or any other communications meant for OTMB, along with your name, email address, website/blog URLs, and any social media IDs (Facebook, Twitter) you wish to share, to writermichellereneesmith@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Babe Alert: Deep Roots Jessica

Last year, I wrote a post in which I debated whether I should call myself a “feminist” or come up with a different name for the woman-centered views that I hold and work I aspire to do (to help to internally build up black women and other women of color).

It probably seemed random to the followers that had been reading my blog since it began in January and seen me refer to myself as a feminist dozens of times in my various posts, but the post—or rather the question at the heart of it—didn’t actually come out of nowhere.

It came out of a conversation I got into with Deep Roots Jessica on Facebook about what it “truly” means to be a feminist.

Our conversation started over another post I wrote back in March called “On Black Privilege.” In it, I wrote:

White people have so much. It’s not necessarily the fault of every white person in America that white people as a demographic fare so much better than every other demographic, but it’s undeniable that they do. They are the inarguable “haves” in [American] culture. And black people are largely “have-nots.” We are fewer in number, poorer, less visible, less free, less protected, and less respected. For many of us, the only things that we have that we feel proud of are our color, our lineage, our history, our belonging to a race and ethnicity that is known (if not credited) for its genius, resilience, and tenacity . . . We—Americans—talk about white privilege. But there is such a thing as black privilege, and it’s one of the only conciliations that we have for being so brutally oppressed. Black privilege is being able to talk about other black people in a tone that we don’t allow white people to use, the way that family members do. Black privilege is being able to use the word “nigger” when we want, how we want, because it’s a word that’s been used to designate us after all, and being able to use that word when white’s “can’t” is one of the only exclusive freedoms we have. Black privilege is having hair that white people don’t have. Color that white people don’t have. Lips and asses that white people don’t have. It’s talking in a way that doesn’t come organically to white people, having music that speaks to us in the way we speak, and customs that are a product of our history. These things may seem superficial, but they become extremely important when they are just about all that you have to bolster the way you feel about yourself—when you don’t have a lot of money or material comfort or social status or political power or acceptance or even just tolerance outside of your own community.

Jessica found my post through a link, read it, and then found me on Facebook. She very respectfully took issue with my use of the term “privilege,” we began to converse back and forth about that and then feminism and activism and FLOTUS Michelle Obama, and I could go on, but the point is these conversations got me thinking really intently, really deeply about my political views, what I consider to be my political work, and the most meaningful way for me to move forward as a black feminist.

I don’t know that I would be writing the posts I am writing now, about the BLM Movement and what the black community must really do to fight the proverbial power, if Deep Roots Jessica hadn’t gotten me to start thinking about things like imperialism, capitalism, and the true meaning of liberation.

Jessica really inspired me, and I thought she would be a perfect first profile for “Babe Alert.” Her conviction, commitment, knowledge, and vision make her a very powerful force and fascinating iteration of blackness, womanhood, and feminism.

The main thing I am aiming to do with Out of The Mouths of Babes and “Babe Alert” is inspire black women and other women of color to do the same thing Jessica inspired me to do: To think about who they really are, what they really want, and what they really want to do with their lives and gifts as women, people of color, citizens of this country, and feminists, if that’s what they consider themselves to be, or whatever other type of political person or entity they consider themselves to be.

I find that I come out of conversations with women that I like, love, and respect feeling so much more liked, loved, respected, supported, and—I’ll say it one more time—inspired than I do at just about any other time.

Conversations with other women give me life, and life is what I want to give to other women through my writing and especially the writing on this site.

I hope you enjoy getting to know her through this Q&A as much as I have enjoyed getting to know her through Facebook over the last few months.

Our connection is one of those things that make you grateful for the reach that social media gives you into other people’s lives and vice versa.

BABE ALERT Q&A WITH DEEP ROOTS JESSICA:

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Deep Roots Jessica.

WHAT ARE YOUR ORIGINS?

I was raised from infancy on up in a city in Iowa. My mother is white with English and German background and grew up in small town Iowa. My mom’s side of the family over the generations were poor farmers.

My father is black Guyanese. He immigrated here to the United States when he was 12-years-old. My parents divorced when I was two-years-old, and I have been raised primarily by my mother. I would visit my father during holidays and summers when I was growing up.

My family was very loving and supportive to me growing up. Things were not perfect (as they never are), but I wanted for nothing. I had support from my family in all the activities I was involved in. From choir, debate, to theater, they were at all of my events and performances.

HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF RACIALLY/ETHNICALLY/NATIONALLY? HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY YOURSELF IN TERMS OF GENDER AND SEXUALITY?

I am mixed, but I am black. Black for me is the word used to describe the racial caste system I was put into, but it is also a political identity. When I walk down the street, people do not see a half-black and never a half-white woman. That is how race in the United Snakkkes works.

I am a woman. If the average person were to ask my sexuality, I would say bisexual, but, in reality, pansexual is probably more of an appropriate description of my sexuality. I am attracted to a spectrum of people of various physical body types and gender expressions.

ARE YOU A FEMINIST? IF NO, THEN WHAT TERM DO YOU USE TO DESCRIBE YOUR COMMITMENT TO WOMEN’S ISSUES?

I have gone back and forth on this issue as I have developed politically, but, for now, I have resolved to call myself a feminist. To be specific about my politics in regards to women’s liberation, I would call myself an anarcha feminist. The simplest definition I can give for that is that I am for the abolition of capitalism and the apparatus of the state. I do not believe we can truly liberate ourselves as black women while these oppressive hierarchies exist.

The ambivalence I have had in the past about the word “feminism” is due to the fact that the word says only a little bit about one’s politics at this point in time. People who identify as feminists have a whole range of political views that also at times conflict with one another. There is now a backlash against what is called “white feminism” from many WOC, which has been a long time coming. Our contributions to the women’s liberation struggle have not only been overlooked, but, also, the issues that impact poor WOC and poor women in general were not centered in the work of white, liberal, middle class feminists. The issues most pertinent to poor WOC [have been historically] overlooked by middle class white women and still are today.

However, I would argue some of the same problems I see with what is called “white feminism” can be pointed out in some of the politics of black feminists as well. Why would we cheer on [President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama] if we had a strong understanding of how capitalism and white supremacy are intertwined? How could we cheer on figureheads for US Empire that bomb black and brown people and shill for the capitalist class? How could the effect of ongoing US colonialism in Caribbean and African countries be absent from our politics?

The answer is we wouldn’t [cheer them on, if we understood that] representation within oppressive institutions is not a victory. [Representation] is only the system adapting to the pressure of our social movements by giving us the veneer of progress [in our fight] against white supremacy and patriarchy. This is done by choosing [members of] the middle and upper class within oppressed groups to represent the interests of the ruling class. So, the fundamental problem with many circles of feminism today, be they white or black, is liberalism and reformism. The fundamental problem is that our movements do not truly [address] the nature of power and how it operates. For black women to be free, it’s imperative that we understand [who is truly oppressing us and how they are oppressing us]. It is imperative that our feminism is rooted in class politics—that it is revolutionary, not reformist.

WHEN DID “BEING A WOMAN” BECOME POLITICAL FOR YOU? HOW WERE YOU POLITICIZED AS A FEMALE CITIZEN OF THE US?

In high school, I was active in work to address homophobia and interpersonal violence against LGBT people and the violence against women predominantly perpetrated by men. The desires to subordinate women and police people’s gender and sexuality through violence are ubiquitous in our culture, and I saw this, from movies and advertisements, the church, and the ever-lingering threat of violence when simply going about [my] day. My place in society was abundantly clear to me, and, from high school onward, I worked to deprogram feelings of subordination within myself through both political education and involvement in work to stop violence against women and LGBT people.

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THAT AFFECT WOMEN THAT ARE CLOSEST TO YOUR HEART?

The more I have grown politically, the more that I see how every social injustice is interconnected and how they are a result of and exacerbated by class society. [For example], I am employed as a victim advocate where I live, for women, most of the time, but really anyone experiencing inter-partner violence, domestic violence, stalking, harassment, and sexual assault. Part of my job is connecting women to safe housing and the resources [my organization] has available to help women transition out of abusive domestic situations. Resources such as women’s shelters were gains made by the women’s movement, along with the change in perception when it comes to domestic violence. With that said, [though], we never have enough resources. Shelters are always full.

There is no place within the United States where a person working [for] minimum wage can afford a one bedroom apartment by herself. Trying to do that while having to care for children without affordable healthcare is nearly impossible for many [women]. A study [conducted] in Massachusetts found that 92% of homeless women had experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives; 63% had been victims of violence by an intimate partner; and 32% had been assaulted by their current or most recent partner (National Alliance to End Homelessness). So, when a woman has [to choose] between living out in the streets and staying with an abusive partner, what kind of “choice’ is that? There are ten empty homes for every homeless person in this country, so [homelessness] is not a question of a lack of physical resources. The problem is capitalism. So, when I am of the clock, work that involves building up the support systems and movements necessary to get to the roots of the problems that oppress women interpersonally and systematically is my utmost priority.

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?

For my job, I assist women in getting emergency housing, safety planning, [and] group counseling sessions. [I answer] the crisis hotline, [write] restraining orders and orders of protection, and guide them the best I can through the options they have when in an abusive relationship and/or when making steps to leave. I consider this work important crises management work.

Under capitalism, these problems will continue to emerge. A violent system creates violent people. The divide-and-conquer of communities is necessary for [the system’s] functioning. [My work] on community self-defense and land defense [connects] to women’s oppression because safety in terms of clean food, air, and water, as well as community safety, [should] not [be] reliant on police that disproportionately kill black people and that have the function of protecting property relations for the rich. [The police] are not [who] we should be relying on long term to protect ourselves, families, and communities. So, building real solutions for women and the children they raise—solutions that rely on strong communities of resistance to Empire—is one of the issues I am most passionate about.

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?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of women who have influenced and inspired me, however, for this blog’s purposes, I will limit it to three women: my mother and the performers Lucille Ball and Josephine Baker.

My mother raised me most of the time, and she always instilled in me that I was worthy, talented, and intelligent. She came to all of my performances and was one of my biggest cheerleaders. I learned from her at a young age the importance of treating people with respect and kindness, and the right ways you should treat people are lessons I take with me and that influence how I interact with people and my political work. I also learned when I was older the importance of people that support and believe in you and provide a safe environment [for you]. People who grow up without [these things] have problems that last lifetimes. We humans are not so different than plants. The degree to which we access the essentials we need determines how much or little we will flourish. A plant deprived of sun and water will wither just like human deprived of love and security are impaired [and thwarted] from reaching their fullest potential. It is this understanding that influences my political work and organizing. We are in a system that makes accessing the safety and love we need at our most vulnerable impossible. And, left with no options, people in one way or another cannibalize each other and the most vulnerable [among us]. The conditions of our lives shape the people we become. And I owe the person I am in large part to my mother.

Lucille Ball: I fell in love with her as a kid. As a performer, she is a great inspiration, and I remember how I adored her so because she was a woman that was funny. I would watch all the reruns of “I Love Lucy” when [I was] at home from daycare or school. I remember bringing one of my favorite episodes to Show & Tell in first grade and laughing boisterously but being surprised to see none of my classmates getting the jokes. For me, I think it was that fact that she wasn’t just arm candy for her husband, and she didn’t just fall into all the stereotypical housewife tropes. She got into trouble and was rebellious (admittedly against the authority of her husband, which, yes, is pretty weird and patriarchal). Seven-year-old Jessica could relate a lot to her.

Josephine Baker also captured my imagination as a teenager after reading a book about major figures during the Harlem Renaissance. I then went to YouTube to check out who she was. She had a charisma and talent that were undeniable. You see this from her first videos to the ones in her older years. She was the world’s first black superstar. She, too, was funny. Josephine also spent much of her life fighting racism, renouncing her US citizenship, and becoming a French citizen. [She returned] to the US [after leaving for France] to fight segregation in nightclubs and concert venues and participated in the March on Washington [as one of the speakers]. As both an excellent black female performer and someone that didn’t take racism silently, she is an inspiration to me.

I don’t know what it is I love about a woman that can make people laugh. There’s a self-confidence and social intelligence that shines through in great performers. And, as someone that has performed, [I know] it’s a powerful feeling to capture with your performance and hold the audience in the palm of your hand. When performing, you learn self-confidence and assuredness—traits that shine through in the great performers like the ones [I] mentioned.

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?

You are worth more than your fuckability.

Boys are not nearly as interesting as you think they are now. That’s O.K. You will learn.

Reading books is awesome. Keep doing that.

You already accepted not being straight within yourself to some extent, but do it all the way. You should not have to hide who you are, and, one day, you will have the courage and support system of friends [so that you don’t have to].

Bulimia will not make you feel better about yourself—neither will losing weight—because you are tying your self esteem to how you look. It has nothing to do with how you look and everything to do with unlearning the messages that you are not enough that society has taught you.

Your inability to “behave right” is not an indication of your moral failing, but you know that already in some ways, deep down. You will learn to adapt to some of the rules to “succeed” because you know you don’t have a choice.

You don’t need to straighten your hair; it looks better natural. You will figure that out in a few years, playing around with and mixing different gels left around the house.

Your parents are not perfect—no parents are—but most things [that] they said and did came from a place of love. To have the parents and [general] family support you have is something countless people would consider themselves blessed or amazingly fortunate to receive.

Those white boys are not more intelligent than you. Not even close.

Once you stop caring, you will be surprised how easy it is to make friends.

Debate, theater, and choir are exactly the things you should be doing. They will help you develop skills and build confidence in ways that you will carry with you the rest of your life.

Don’t be afraid people will hate you. You are amazing and more powerful than you know!

NOTE FROM EDITOR:

Thank you so much, Jessica, for giving me such open, thoughtful and thorough answers to these questions and sharing your experiences and ideas with my readers.

Readers—if you want to contact Deep Roots Jessica and speak with her about her work, email her at deep-rootsjess@riseup.net. Also, check her out her blog: https://deeprootsjess.wordpress.com/.

 

Babe Alert: Michelle R. Smith

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.

 

 

Introducing: The Out of the Mouths of Babes Series

speech-bubbles

Last June, I launched a second blog – Out of the Mouths of Babes – that I devoted exclusively to women of color, to serve as a “place [they can] talk truth about female life with passion, wisdom, honesty, & insight.” I was really excited by the concept, and I really wanted to do amazing things with the site. Maintaining two sites proved to be a challenge that I couldn’t withstand, however, and Out of the Mouths of Babes, sadly, fell by the proverbial wayside.

Even with that, I couldn’t let go of the idea. I did this amazing interview for the site with a brilliant black anarcha feminist named Deep Roots Jessica (Garraway) that I met on Facebook; I got another one in the hopper with an amazing poet and educator named Eris Eady; and I didn’t want to toss either of these pieces away.

I called these interviews – and I had dreams of doing dozens of them – “Babe Alerts” – and, when I originally conceptualized the site, I thought they would be the centerpiece.

I also wanted to publish guest blogs and reader submissions – articles, think pieces, interviews, essays, poems, and stories – centered on issues and themes that relate to women of color in the US and anywhere (everywhere) else. I thought about having a couple of writers do monthly columns about special topics. I envisioned vibrant, affirming dialogue happening in the comments. I dreamt of creating a real, functional Internet community of women of color with OTMB, which would give its members easily accessible opportunities to connect, inform, inspire, and empower one another, as well as reaffirm and reify themselves.

As I said, that dream hasn’t faded, even in all the months since I stopped working on the site (it’s been almost six; the last post I published before I erased the site this morning was dated in September of last year).

So, to appease the thought in my mind that OTMB is too good of a thing to completely abandon – this thought that simply will not go away, even though it clashes pretty inharmoniously with the fact that I’m already incredibly busy – I am going to make Out of the Mouths of Babes into a series here on The Bluest i.

I am going to repost my Babe Alert and Jess’s, publish Eris’s for the first time, and put out a call for submissions today. Right now.

I hope that all you faithful readers of TBi will read and enjoy these posts, support this new series, give me some feedback, share links, comment, and, most of all, submit to OTMB.

OTMB – as I picture it – is entirely collaborative. Its success will depend almost entirely on enthusiastic and consistent engagement from contributors and readers.

I hope that we can work together to give it wings.

I want to see it fucking soar.

Don’t you?

MRS

 

 

I Almost Got Kicked Out of Macedonia Cinemark Taking Notes on This Movie, so, However Many Weeks Later, This is What I Thought About While Watching ‘Hidden Figures’

I live in a house located at the intersection of American Citizenship Avenue right before it turns into Black Woman Boulevard, where it crosses Motherhood Mount, right before it turns into Writers Way. It’s an exhausting place to live sometimes.

American is a ridiculously busy street where the traffic moves at an excruciatingly slow pace, and the drivers hop out of their cars frequently to argue out of frustration. Black Woman is less busy, but the cars move at lightning speed, so when they cross Motherhood and Writers, back onto American, they nudge the standing traffic, and everybody in those cars get all discombobulated. They start gesturing in their mirrors and talking shit out of their windows, and the occasional psychotic fool has been known to get out of his car with a gun in murderous overreaction. Motherhood is not as busy as Black Woman, but the drivers tend to get distracted by all the bright billboards with their didactic messages about how the road ought to be navigated. They make it so hard for the drivers to just trust themselves and fucking drive. Then, there’s Writers, which is lined on both sides by these massive lots where people can park for as long as they want to park; it’s hard to navigate because people are constantly pulling in and out of the lots and off and onto the street.

In other words, intersectionality is a fucking ass-kicker, and this is especially true, for me at least, with Trump in office, worrying the fuck out of me on every vector of my identity.

I feel obligated to write about him on this blog because I am an American and a mother – because I am black and a writer – but I also want – badly – to have times when I’m not thinking about what he is doing to this country.

I’ve figured out over the last couple of days that I have to make those times if I want them, then, because Trump’s governance is nothing but an abuser’s assault on America’s consciousness.

It’s deliberately relentless – designed to make it impossible for us to keep track of everything he is doing but at the same time caught in a reactionary cycle that keeps us too busy to plan a viable way to wrest his power back from him.

A few weeks ago, I did that. I made some time to enjoy my black mother writer self. I went to see “Hidden Figures” with my father, mother, and younger sister. I was moved, of course, by the story and the acting – they were excellent – and I saw in the themes of the film some things I thought that I would much rather put into a post than the next crazy thing Trump is doing.

I wasn’t lying in the title of the post; I did get so carried away with taking notes on the movie that I forgot about the rule against using cell phones in the theatre, and an usher came to my seat and told me that I would have to leave if I didn’t put my phone away.

I didn’t put it away, though; I turned down the backlight on the screen and finished doing what I needed to do. So here they are – my ruminations on “Hidden Figures” – minus this one I’m going to put right here at the head of the list, which is –

If white people would be the benevolent leaders of all these institutions they fight so hard to dominate, rather than acting from fear of losing their often undeserved or unearned leadership roles – fear of having their mediocrity exposed and/or their positions ascribed by it and not their privilege – they wouldn’t have to create fictional characters like “Al Harrison” or fictionalize the parts white people played in iconic situations like the one depicted in the film.

Moving on . . .

The movie is about tolerance and progress – the not-so-inexorable march of history – its actual capriciousness – its dependency on us to make it happen – but mostly it’s about sisterhood, and that was my first observation. This reflection here –

The absolute vitality of sisterhood among women cannot be overstated or exaggerated, especially if we are serious about overcoming gender oppression, which we fucking should be. Women are the only ones that truly understand how hard women have it in our society, so they are the only ones that know what aid to give women that are trying to be and do their best despite the entrenched sexism and misogyny in our culture.

Women have to commit to being sisters to other women, between and across secondary demographic lines, and they have to open up to the love and support that other women are able to offer them. This is mandatory, especially with that fucking pussy-grabbing . . . no . . . no . . . I said I wouldn’t write about him anymore in this post. I meant that.

Women – we can’t mistake “compassion” for projection. Remember the scene in which Janelle Monae’s character, Mary, is talking about becoming an engineer, and her husband is telling her not to pursue that goal because it’s impossible? It may have sounded like he was concerned and trying to steer her away from being hurt, but he was projecting his own limitedness onto her. Sad to say.

Our loved ones do this sometimes. They give advice that is based on their fears and aversion to struggle or disappointment. Or they pretend to be afraid for us when they are really afraid of us and what will happen if we grow or change while they remain the same.

No is your choice, not theirs. When Taraji P. Henson’s character, Katherine, needs, in order to do her assigned calculations, to see the redacted information that her white colleague keeps officiously blacking out in order to assert his “superiority,” she lifts the blacked-out (with Sharpie) sheets of paper up to the lights in her office ceiling so she can see the information he is trying to hide from her. She refuses to be blocked.

She could’ve taken his refusal to share the information as final, but she didn’t. He said no, but she said yes, and she figured out a way to get done what she needed to get done. She chose yes. We all either choose yes, or we choose no, in so many changeable life situations.

Numbers don’t lie in real life, either. Katherine says this time and again when her white male colleagues question her theories and calculations, and I’m saying that black people need to talk in terms of numbers with white people that seek to oppress or discriminate against us in the real world as well.

Black people in America have $1.1 trillion in collective buying power. We are 13% of the registered voting pool. That means that Big Business needs us. Politicians in danger of losing certain elections by narrow margins need us. We only receive 26% of the food stamps doled out in the US (whites receive 40%), and 62% of Obamacare enrollees are white while just 17% are black. That means that altering or ending these programs will hurt them more than it will hurt us. We are a force – a vital, productive part of this country and not some horrible drain. 

Complaining ain’t fighting. There’s a scene in the movie during which the three main characters, played by Janelle, Taraji, and Octavia Spencer, are hanging out, playing cards, and Janelle – Mary – is complaining that she can’t attend the engineering courses she needs to move up at NASA because they’re offered at a segregated white school. After a few minutes, Octavia – Dorothy – tells her to do something about the situation – sue the state for the right to attend the classes – anything – just stop complaining because she wasn’t accomplishing anything by complaining.

Complaining can feel revolutionary to people that have been historically silenced, or have silenced themselves, and I believe it is the first important step in personal politicization. But it’s only the first step – articulating your grievances. If you want to fix or change anything, you have to brainstorm, plan, mobilize, and do some strategic thing to fight the fucking power.

You have to either sacrifice or settle. Each of the secondary storylines illustrates this for us viewers. Katherine leaves the comfort of the segregated black female computer pool to work in a more highly powered, but hostile, white male pool so she is able to reach her full professional potential. Dorothy steals a book from the Whites Only section of the public library so she can teach herself computer programming and remain relevant after NASA transitions from using human computers to an IBM. Mary risks alienating her husband to take those engineering classes to which she finally gains entrance and become the first black woman engineer to work for NASA, and her decision connects directly with the next idea on this “list,” which is –

Take whatever chance you are able to get, especially if it will ultimately lead to the accomplishment of your goal. Don’t be so nitpicky that you select yourself out of an opportunity.

When Mary does go to court to gain entrance into those engineering classes, the judge only grants her entrance into the night classes, but Mary rejoices like she got full run of the entire school. She has fought as hard as she can and gotten her case the highest level of adjudication she can obtain, and she has been given a judgment that – while not earth-shattering – will allow her to become an engineer in the end. So she accepts the judgment. She doesn’t bitch or brood because it doesn’t provide the ideal circumstance.

At the start of the next scene, she’s right there, in the corridor of that segregated school, at the doorway to that unblocked classroom, ready to get it in.

Dorothy’s decision – to learn to program the IBM so she can stay on at NASA once human computers are phased out – teaches another cluster of lessons, too. Learn some shit if you want to come up on some shit. Know your shit if you want to be allowed to do some shit. And if you’re useful, you’re welcome.

Nothing beats being ambitious, knowledgeable, skillful, and effective when it comes to securing employment. Even the most discriminatory bastard – if he or she gives the slightest fuck about productivity or profit – will concede to someone that is black or a woman but excellent at getting shit done.

Because to hold someone back, you have to stay back with them. Next point. Really important one.

It sounds basic, but people forget this. They somehow think they can work full-time on sabotaging other people and still get their own shit done with adequate attention and effort.

But fear is a bitch and generally makes a bitch of those that practice it as an ethic. The movie illustrates this wonderfully, with the working relationships between the main characters and the white men with which they work.

The white man that supervises Mary encourages her to become an engineer so she can better help their team perfect the capsule in which John Glenn will eventually return to Earth after the first orbital launch, and that’s exactly what she does. The team figures out how to keep it bolted together despite the extreme temperatures to which it will be subjected upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Together.

In contrast, the white scientist that works with Katherine is so insulted that he is being forced to work with a black woman, and her job is to double-check his math, that he blacks out classified information on the printouts that he gives her. He argues with her every time she puts forth a suggestion about how they can successfully calculate the coordinates to launch and land the orbital ship, and he tries his hardest to bar her from informational briefings that would keep her equally as informed as the rest of the team working on the coordinates.

Now, never mind that Katherine knows analytic geometry – is the only person on the NASA complex that knows analytic geometry – and he doesn’t know analytic geometry, but the team desperately needs someone that knows analytic geometry. This fool, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), blocks Katherine at every available turn from being as efficient at her job as she could be if he would just leave her the-fuck alone. He is so afraid that she will formulate the coordinates before he can formulate them that he not only loses sight of the bigger picture, but he loses his own mathematical mojo. And the whole project takes longer than it needs to take, which undermines the credibility of the entire team in the eyes of the White House and military and puts the project in danger of being shut down.

Stafford plays so many stupid games that Kevin Costner – whose character Al Harrison is both their supervisor and the film’s requisite white savior – in order to save the project and get those coordinates – has to step in and singlehandedly desegregate the bathrooms, bump up Katherine’s security clearance, get her into the informational briefings with the military brass, and put Stafford in his place – behind the person with the chops to do the fucking math – and rightfully so.

Stafford’s behavior illustrates another truth, too. Greed very often trumps (Trumps) honor. Once Harrison stops Stafford from blacking out information on the calculation printouts, and Katherine is able to start checking the math and coming up with math of her own, she has to type up her math and put it into reports for Stafford to present in the informational briefings (this is before she can attend them). Each time she types up a report, she puts his name on and then hers since she is the one that has done the math. Each time he sees her name, Stafford insists that she take it off because “computers don’t write reports; engineers write reports.” This is a blatant theft of her knowledge. It’s an act of despicable fraud. But that doesn’t stop him. As I said – greed very often trumps honor.

Stafford wants the shine that he gets from entering into those briefings, seeming to have come up with “the answers.” He doesn’t care how debased the desire is or how indecent the method is by which he fulfills it. And, sadly, his character is not atypical.

And that brings me to my last little reflection. Dreamers need lovers. We need people that believe in and support us but also want us even after we have failed, which we will, over and over again.

Mary’s husband finally comes around after she gets into those night classes; he comes to her and tells her that he is proud and certain that she will make an amazing engineer. It is only then, in that moment, that we get to see how badly Mary wanted and perhaps even needed that sort of assurance from him. It is only then that she voices her own doubts about her ability, which is something that even the most ardent dreamer needs to be able to do sometimes, but in a safe space.

Dreamers need lovers, and I venture to say that lovers need dreamers, too. To inspire them to keep on opening and pouring out themselves, which is just as hard to do as building some imaginary thing out of thin air. Or harder.

I liked “Hidden Figures.” It was formulaic, sure, but it was well-done, wise, and wonderfully acted. I saw it twice, and I enjoyed it twice.

I took my Girlie, and she loved it. She left with stars in her eyes and hope for her future self beating in her chest. She told me that she really believes now that she can become a video game designer. So there you go.

Mission accomplished.

You Not ‘Bout No Life: The Logical Fallacy of the Anti-Abortion Conservative & The Reason Trump and His Cronies Can Go Choke on a Communion Wafer

Anyone that has been following me for longer than one post knows I am a stickler when it comes to using words. Or maybe you don’t. So let me tell you. It can take me five or six hours to write a post sometimes because I keep trying to capture my ideas perfectly.

I never write unless I can compose on a computer, so I can open up Edge if I’m using Word, or a second tab in Edge if I’m blogging, and have up the Merriam-Webster website in case I need to look up a word.

I even have a whole collection of axioms I use when I’m teaching to stress the importance of being exacting when it comes to using words. I tell my students there is an entire lexicon of words to capture their ideas, so stop using the same 20 or 30. Do not rely on context clues to define a new word – I tell them – look it up. Do not use a word whose meaning you do not know, no matter how “sophisticated” you think it sounds.

I tell them there are no two less descriptive adjectives in the English language than “good” and “bad” – these words can mean anything to anyone. Adverbs are often just crutches for writers that don’t know a wide enough variety of action verbs. Very few words are truly interchangeable, and that is particularly true of the two words I’m going to break down in this post.

One of the defining characteristics of American political conservatives – who are mostly Republicans – is that they are “pro-life.” This term, as it is customarily used, refers to people purported to believe abortion is immoral and should be illegal.

John Hawkins, in an article differentiating conservatives and liberals, writes, “Conservatives believe that abortion ends the life of an innocent child and since we believe that infanticide is wrong, we oppose abortion.” To me – a liberal black Democrat feminist – this explanation captures perfectly the inaccuracy of the term “pro-life.” Conservatives are not really pro-life; they’re just anti-abortion.

They propagate the idea that human life begins at conception, and supposedly root their beliefs about abortion in that idea, but, when it comes to their other political beliefs, they expose an undeniable callousness about the preciousness of human life that ultimately undermines them.

Their “pro-life” language and optics can be pretty compelling, but I still say they are not convincing, and the majority of conservatives that oppose abortion politically and publically are not actually concerned with the immorality of the act of killing but rather the ramifications of a paradigm shift in America’s racial demography.

They don’t care about the poor lost babies; they care about the fact that white women obtained 39% of abortions in America in 2014 while black women obtained 28%, Latinx women obtained 25%, and other races and ethnicities only obtained 9%.

They care about the fact that 75% of women that obtained abortions in America in 2014 were low income or poor, and these abortions placed them in better positions to attend school, work, build, and retain some wealth.

According to Gallup, the majority of Republicans in America are white (89%),  and we know the majority of political conservatives are Republican.

The majority of conservatives in government are also Republican, white, and supposedly “pro-life,” and this now includes Trump – He Who I Shall Not Call President.

I think Trump’s pro-life views are just another guise for his all-consuming opportunism. I won’t say the thing I want to say about how likely it is that as a philandering billionaire, Trump has paid for more than a few hasty secret abortions in his time, but I will say that up until his Presidential campaign last year, he appeared to be – and he was quoted in 1999 referring to himself as – “very pro-choice.”

I think he flip-flopped to help win over the conservative electorate, and that would be fine with me if it didn’t translate into him making efforts at the federal level to strip American women of their abortion rights.

In regards to staunch “pro-lifers” like Vice President Michael Pence, I won’t say that they are lying about being Christians or believing abortion is wrong because there’s no way I can know that.

But I can and do conjecture that their religious beliefs are not the true basis of their official stance against abortion. They oppose abortion for political reasons and lie about it so they don’t seem like ruthless monsters or machines.

I say this because the prevailing sentiment throughout the New Testament is that disciples of Jesus should go out and try to win and save souls, but disciples are characterized as trained teachers and preachers in the Bible, and not laymen, and no Christian’s salvation is hinged by the Word on his or her ability to keep another Christian or another person from committing sins.

In other words, Christianity doesn’t mandate that believers actively block the sinful decisions and actions of others. It doesn’t encourage believers to interfere with other people’s lives that aggressively. The Bible says tell people about the Trinity, pray for people, model Christian behavior for them, but do not judge or seek to punish them because that is God’s job alone.

And anyway, even if these highly vocal conservatives in government do care about the souls of their constituents, their myopic focus on abortion as the main political conduit for conveying morality to the American people – if such a thing can even be done – says that isn’t the only thing they are trying to accomplish with their anti-abortion antics.

Because drug use, alcohol consumption, pornography, and prostitution are all still booming in America today, but you don’t see conservatives pushing for any legislation to more efficiently block Americans’ access to any of them.

And rape, divorce, defrauding people, gambling, persecuting others, and acting against the poor are all sins, according to the Bible, but American laws actually enable all of these things, and conservatives do very little, if anything, to change, improve, or strengthen these laws.

Unborn babies aren’t the only ones dying because of the wide berth our current laws give Americans to exercise their free will. Conservatives could take political umbrage with the way a dozen different issues are legislated at the moment, or make a dozen different strategic moves in this session of Congress, if saving lives is really what they wanted to do, but, as we should all see from the endless fucking stream of government articles on the Internet, they don’t.

Conservatives don’t want increased gun control in a country where there were 372 mass shootings that killed 475 people in 2015; there were 13,286 people killed by firearms (excluding suicides); and 60% of murders were committed with guns.

Conservatives want to repeal Obamacare before creating and implementing a workable replacement when research shows that 45,000 Americans died each year due to lack of health insurance before Obamacare.

Conservatives want to end government programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program a/k/a food stamps), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance, yet, again, research shows that 162,000 Americans die annually due to low social support; 133,000 die due to individual-level poverty; and 119,000 die due to income inequality.

Conservatives give blanket support to law enforcement though American police killed an estimated 928 people every year for the last eight years, and there is no way of knowing – because of inefficient tracking procedures – which of these killings were justified and which were avoidable.

And while we’re at it – conservatives believe in a strong military, yet “approximately 165,000 [Iraqi] civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the [US] invasion through April 2015 . . . through aerial bombing, shelling, gunshots, suicide attacks, and fires started by bombing.”

According to their propaganda, human life begins at the moment of conception, but it also seems to end at the instant of birth – the point at which they stop trying to pantomime concern and exploit their preciousness for the sake of political expediency.

Conservatives want to outlaw the 1.2 million abortions that American women have each year, regardless of their reasons, but seem to have no problem with directly or indirectly facilitating the deaths of roughly half that number of full people through the exercise of a malignant passel their other political beliefs.

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Where does their supposed Christian concern for life and will to save innocent souls go when they are tussling back-and-forth with Democrats that want to save Obamacare or toughen up gun control or stop the use of military torture on our so-called enemies? I mean, hey, Christians are supposed to love their enemies.

And if anti-abortion laws are really only about getting women to have their babies, then why don’t conservatives focus on getting women to have their babies willingly?

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “The reasons patients gave for having an abortion underscored their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life [emphasis added]. The three most common reasons—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents. Half said they did not want to be a single parent or were having problems with their husband or partner.”

So where are the conservatives pushing for the laws that increase and equalize women’s wages, mandate paid maternity leave and maternal job retention, subsidize childcare costs, or grant free family health insurance or childcare to enrolled college students?

You don’t see or hear from these conservatives because conservatives’ issue with abortion isn’t really moral, and their campaign against it isn’t borne out of compassion; it’s borne out of their bottomless cunning.

I think when conservatives insist that infant lives matter, they are prevaricating. They are couching shrewd political strategy in seeming ethicality. They’re not talking about saving souls. They’re trying to shore up political and economic power to comfortably sustain them into the country’s uncertain future.

Conservatives are, again, mostly Republican, and Republicans are mostly white. Whites have hegemonic power over America as a result of being the framers of the republic and authors and economic beneficiaries of slavery and the Industrial Revolution in North America.

A primary factor in their hegemony is their numbers; they are the majority, so, when they vote together, as witnessed in the last Presidential race, they can dictate the leadership of the country and choose such that the leadership acts primarily in their favor.

When conservatives fight to take away women’s right to abortion, they are not fighting the wages of sin. They are fighting to stave off the arrival of the mythological majority-minority tipping point date, on which they will no longer be the majority and so easily able to secure their hegemony. They are fighting, behind that, to saddle poor minorities with children they can’t afford, so they have a harder time educating themselves, working, and building wealth or rather encroaching on the money white people want to horde for themselves, and, behind that, they are fighting to keep a perennial underclass in American society that is made of mostly of minorities – a segment of the population that is persistently poor and mired in pathologies of poverty that keep its members from rising to the working or middle classes, where they could become competition for less affluent whites.

Conservatives understand that unplanned, unaffordable pregnancies are often “part of the vicious cycle of poverty,” in which “kids born into poverty are likely to remain there for their whole lives, despite the promise of the American Dream.”

They also know that “compared with having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with greater risk of initially experiencing adverse psychological outcomes,” and “[p]sychological well-being improved over time so that both groups of women eventually converged.” Women that are denied abortions do not end up “happier” than women that are allowed to have them.

I think this is important for women to realize because we are – across communities – conditioned to care deeply about how we appear under the male gaze – to be “good” girls (see – that projective-ass word)  and – when the men with the loudest voices and weightiest opinions censure our options for our lives – it is difficult for many of us to bear up under that and fight for the resources and choices we need to be autonomous.

Conservatives make a lot of moralistic and misogynistic arguments against abortion (not the least is the sub-textual argument that women’s overall wellbeing in politically expendable), but the truth is the majority of women don’t use abortions as a means of birth control, and they don’t relish having to make the decision or go through with having an abortion. They do it because it’s what they feel they have to do.

The majority of women have abortions out of financial, psychological, and/or physical necessity, and they do not choose adoption because to do so they would still have to take on the financial, psychological, and physical of pregnancy, and those are not incidental in the least – no matter what conservative white male members of Congress that know everything they know about pregnancy and childbirth from watching their affluent wives and side chicks go through it might say.

And, despite the misleading way conservatives talk about cutting funding for institutions like Planned Parenthood, federal money does not pay for abortions in any institutional setting, even if abortions are given in that setting.

Sadly, anti-abortion laws don’t ensure either – in conjunction with blocking abortions – that every American child that is allowed to be born is adequately fed, clothed, housed, educated, or loved.

According to Children’s Rights, there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the US right now. Nearly six percent of children in foster care stay in for five or more years. More than half of the children entering foster care are racial minorities. Fourteen percent of children in foster care are not in family settings; they are in institutions or group homes.

In 2015, over 62,000 American children whose parents’ parental rights had been terminated were waiting to be adopted, and more than 20,000 young adults aged out of foster care without permanent families.

Research has shown that those who leave care without being linked to forever families have a higher likelihood than youth in the general population to experience homelessness, unemployment and incarceration as adults.”

Too, 686,000 US children in foster care in 2012 were victims of abuse – 78.3% of these babies were neglected, 18.3% were battered, 9.3% were physically abused, 8.5% were “psychologically maltreated,” and 1,640 died from abuse and neglect.

If conservative Republicans were really ’bout that life – as they say in the streets – where so many unwanted American children end up after everything is said and done on Capitol Hill – they’d be brainstorming ways to keep these young ones out of foster care, not shove more of them in.

If they were about life at all, and not just money and power, they’d focus on making America livable for everyone and stop using poor women’s wombs as metaphoric or spiritual suicide bombs.

 

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, though, Affleck’s reads as bad, but not as bad as a rape allegation”); 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; 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: 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.”

She only mentions race 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.

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, and he invited his roommate, Jean Celestin, to have sex with her, after him, 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 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 it’s misogynistic, 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, who the arresting cops felt compelled to feed before taking him to jail. Like Brock Turner. Like Donald Trump. I can go on and on with the names.

When they 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 of what he has done. White people will argue, adamantly, and ironically, that his maleness–which is supposed to make him a paragon of human perfection when paired with his whiteness–according to the supremacist ideal–has somehow made it impossible for the white male assailant to truly understand the ramifications of his crime. White male assailants are more often then not characterized as having this preternatural lack of “maturity” that can come from anything from their social class to the level of their education to the consequences of their upbringing.

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. 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, many African American men and immigrant men were unfairly criminalized in these trials and effectively shut out of the rights and benefits of full citizenship.

“By contrast 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 diametric concepts 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 they are criminals, or they are not criminals.

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

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 credibility 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 paragon 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 they 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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 post at which the season starts, she 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 the 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 than he ever did with Issa onscreen 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.