Taking Advantage of Teachable Moments, Or What I Learned From My Parents’ Marriage Re-commitment Ceremony

Yesterday, my parents celebrated 35 years of marriage with an intimate, beautiful re-commitment ceremony. And as amazing as that may sound in itself, and the concept of two people surviving 35 years of marriage may seem, it is even more so because of who my parents are.

My mother and father are two incredibly complex people. They are both black. They are both bright. They are both ambitious. They were both brought up with the same bootstrap mentality and unapologetic middle class aspirations.

They are both fully formed individuals. They are lovers and fighters. They are deeply emotional. Passionate. Strong. Creative.

They are two incredible forces that have clashed just as spectacularly over the years as they have come together to make a way for our family.

They are formidable, each on their own, and even more so as a married couple.

I was overjoyed to be able to pay tribute to them, and I can only hope to one day have with my husband something like what they have with each other.

It was an unqualified pleasure to be a part of their re-commitment ceremony, to have the opportunity to tell them how proud I am to be a product of their union, and watch them revel in the joy of their accomplishment.

Because staying together through all the myriad changes of an adult life – with all the complications of gender, convolutions of heteromance, and crises of blackness – is not something people do accidentally. It is something they can only do through the strenuous exercise of will, character, commitment, and then love.

Love is first, but it’s also last, when it comes to making marriage work.

And that’s just one of the reflections I had during last night’s festivities.

Here are a few more . . .

Joy is a practice.

One of my best friends, Melissa, is a master at it. Even though she just caught a rough, completely undeserved break in her personal life, she still came out to support my people and brought all the love in her heart and appreciation for friendship and family that she could muster. I’m sure she had her troubles lurking somewhere in the back of her head, but she got out on that dance floor once the DJ got his set going, and she danced anyway.

You have to fucking dance anyway.

Thankfulness is medicine.

I had my own relationship drama going on in the hours leading up to the ceremony. I was really upset and wondering whether my husband and I might make it to this morning, let alone through 35 years of marriage. Yet, once I got up to the front of the room to speak to my parents, and I started telling them how grateful I am for their marriage, their love, their support, their example, I couldn’t feel anything except that gratitude I was expressing. I couldn’t do anything except open up to the truth of how blessed I am.

I am so blessed.

Love is the best thing to have in abundance.

This has been a rough summer for me financially. I didn’t get any adjunct work, and I didn’t run into any more luck finding a full-time gig than I’ve had over the last three years since I lost my last one. I taught for Upward Bound through the whole month of June, and then I had nothing to do. No income coming in, as my mom always jokes. But my shit has been decidedly unfunny. And unpretty.

Still, last night, again, I wasn’t worried about it. I didn’t have that skinless feeling of lack that’s been dogging me since the start of July. I felt so loved, talking, laughing, dancing with, breathing in my family and friends. I felt so lucky.

What they reminded me is – if I didn’t have their love, all the steady paychecks in the world wouldn’t do shit.

Vulnerability is worth the risk.

I am the softie in my nuclear family. My mother is the general. My father is the jokester. My sister is the thug.

I spoke first during the ceremony and spilled out all of my emotions in my typical fashion. It wasn’t intimidating for me in the least. All my years of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD have taught me that acting on impulse can be immensely satisfying. If situationally costly. Still, this was an instance in which I had nothing to lose. I wanted to make sure my parents knew everything I felt for them, and so I told them. No one in the room was surprised by it. They weren’t surprised by it. That’s my 1-2, to quote my sister.

What did surprise us – what surprised me – was how open my father and sister were with their feelings. My father generally hides behind humor in his best moments and sarcasm in his worst. And my sister is just a tough, yet entirely lovable, nut to crack. Yet, she got open and spilled her guts for Mom and Dad on their anniversary. My father said all the romantic things you hear movie or TV fathers say about their wives – that make you wonder why your parents never talk to or about each other that way. And I was moved near to tears.

And my mother – who is as pragmatic as they come – was giddy as a girl, standing there, wrapped in the spell of my father’s words.

She didn’t roll her eyes or suck her teeth, as she almost certainly would’ve if he’d made one of his classic jokes.

She beamed all of the love he was giving her right back at him.

Watching, I wanted to tiptoe over, tap him, and ask if her reaction had reformed the smartass in him for good.

Maybe. We’ll see.

Either way, I was thrilled to be there for that glimpse at that big ol’ heart my father is always trying to hide.

I was fully in the present, and it was a glorious space to inhabit for the few hours I was able.

Then, the clock struck on the event. I had to become Michelle again (with my family, I am Mikki). I had to become Mom again.

I went around and kissed everyone and bid them good-bye.

I told them thank you for coming. For being here for my family and me.

And I meant it.

As I get older, I try to take advantage of all the teachable moments in my life. Especially the ones like this. That instruct my spirit.

 

Advertisements

Love Is a Battlefield: Why I Am Reflecting on the State of America Rather Than My Baby Girl on the Eve of Her 10th Birthday

What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? 
From the Book of Micah

Ten years ago today, I gave birth to a 6 lb. 15 oz. baby girl that her father and I rather casually named Micaiah. This is the whole name of the Jewish prophet Micah. Her father and I didn’t choose it for cultural or religious purposes; I wanted to name her “Kai,” but Dad said that was a nickname, not a first name, so we compromised.

Today, though, with Charlottesville and Trump’s pathetic response to it, the name has become uncannily coincidental.

Micah, in his time (737 — 696 BCE), predicted the downfall of Jerusalem because its leaders had used dishonest business practices to build up and beautify the city and impoverished its citizens in the process. Micah told the leaders of Jerusalem that if they didn’t abandon their corrupt ways, the city would be destroyed. It took 150 years, apparently, but his prophecy came true in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.

Trump got elected by pandering to poor whites that held a grudge against the political establishment for failing to rescue them from the hardships created by the 2008 Recession and the growth of globalization and the green economy; One Percenters that wanted to reapportion any wealth they lost during Obama’s administration back to their pockets; political conservatives that wanted to topple anyone whose social ascension during the Obama administration threatened their hegemony; and white supremacists that wanted to see Obama’s legacy desecrated and the infinitesimal social gains made by people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community during his time in office snatched back from us like we are thieves.

He lied about building a wall to block Mexican immigration. He lied about instituting a ban to block Muslim immigration. He lied about establishing a federal healthcare program that would work more effectively than Obamacare. He lied about providing “safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism” for all Americans.

Yes, these are actual words he uttered during his Republican Convention speech last summer.

He built a new, re-energized America over the one left by Obama, but he used lies as his figurative bricks and hatred (the conjoined twin of fear) as his figurative mortar. And now it looks as if America is about to be destroyed. From the inside out.

I say this because a mob of alt-right identifiers, white nationalists, and Neo-Nazis — and I am using this term correctly in this case, unlike racist reporters that use it when they want to vilify peaceful protestors of color — converged for a series of “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, VA on Friday (August 11) to be carried out in broad fucking daylight.

Ostensibly, the protests were aimed at the Democratic-voting city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee and change the name of the park where the statue is located from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. But, when you consider the amplifying effect Trump’s election has had on racist violence among American civilians, and the increasing number of news reports that the public is growing dissatisfied with Trump’s ineptitude, I think the protestors were really making an emboldened preemptive strike at Trump dissenters.

I think they were trying to quash the birth of a solidified movement against his re-election in 2020 before it can start.

The New York Times even reported that “[David] Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told reporters on Saturday that the protesters were ‘going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back.'”

Dr. Cornel West has said that the “crypto-fascists, the neo[-]fascists, the neo-Nazis . . . feel . . . empowered, not just by Trump but by the whole shift in the nation towards scapegoats,” which makes it even easier to read the “Unite the Right” gathering as more of a rally than a protest — rally as in “recover or cause to recover in health, spirits, or poise.”

Trump has been taking hits in the press for allegedly colluding with Putin to influence the outcome of last year’s election; continuing to play political “footsie” with Putin under the proverbial political table, even though the intelligence community has confirmed that Russia did interfere in the election, whether with or without Trump’s aiding and/or abetting; and making serious yet heedless threats at North Korea and Venezuela, of all fucking places.

His supporters may be myopic, but they’re not blind, and they can see that he’s losing ground in the so-called “battle” against the political establishment and the Democrats, liberals, progressives, and social justice activists they scornfully refer to as “snowflakes.”

That is why they went so hard in what is realistically a small battle on a relatively inconsequential ground. They used Charlottesville to make a splashy statement about their unwillingness to crawl back into the metaphoric hole that is American white supremacist subculture now that Trump has made it acceptable for them to be out and slithering about.

On Friday, a group of 100 of these white nationalists marched across the campus of the University of Virginia — over a mile from Lee Park — leveling tiki torches, giving the Nazi salute, and yelling “blood and soil,” “white lives matter,” and “you will not replace us” at students and activists gathered in opposition to “Unite the Right.”

Dara Lind of Vox writes that “a brawl broke out when [the nationalists] — nearly all white men — surrounded a small group of counter[-]protesters [that] were peacefully surrounding a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the center of campus.”

“Counter-protesters reported being hit with pepper spray by marchers,” she claims.

Local activist Emily Gorcenski told the Guardian that the nationalist marchers blocked the counter-protesters from leaving the site where the nationalists were harassing them, but the police did not intervene in the situation until “long after the [nationalists] had struck out” at the counter-protestors.

“I am safe. I am not fine,” she tweeted after the confrontation. “What I just witnessed was the end of America.”

UVA student Ian Ware provided an even more harrowing narration of the events on Friday to MTV News:

Those were all of my friends that were gathered around the statue. I was filming them. It was supposed to be a secret protest; the information was leaked to organizers yesterday morning. There was a pretty quick scramble to try to do something, to counter-protest. What it ended up being was a group of UVA students, groups from around the community, and anti-fascist leaders just literally trying to blockade the Jefferson statue in front of the rotunda, which is of course the most iconic image of Charlottesville and UVA. We were all standing there, waiting, and we heard them, and they just started pouring over the steps of the rotunda, just hundreds of literal Nazis. They were doing the Nazi salute. They were calling everyone slurs. They were pushing people off the stairs of the rotunda. They came down and surrounded our crew of people who were all just trying to keep their faces down and stay safe. A fight broke out, and I could see what was happening, but not who started it; at one point, Nazis were waving their torches at our people and swinging them at us. They threw torches on the ground. There was fire everywhere. Someone had either tear gas or some mace [substance] that a bunch of people got on their faces. Afterwards, they finally started dispersing, but it was really, really terrifying, especially seeing Nazis come over the crest of the most important place at our university, the place you go when you first get into UVA, the place you see every day when you go to class. The pictures of them walking around the grounds were just stunning in the worst way.

The Washington Post reported that a counter-protester used some chemical agent on quite a few nationalist marchers as well.

Though it might seem impossible, things got worse in Charlottesville on Saturday. Protestors that supported the decision to remove the statue — mind, with the same right to assemble and free speech that the white nationalists have — faced off with the mob, and violence unfortunately — and maybe even inevitably — ensued.

According to The New York Times, there was “shoving and outright brawling,” though the reporter doesn’t specify whether it was instigated by the white nationalist or anti-Confederate protestors. Either way, the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in the city, he called in the National Guard, and, as the white nationalists were dispersing, and some anti-Confederate protestors were rejoicing, a 20-year-old white man (not boy) named James Alex Fields, Jr. from Maumee, (it fucking had to be) Ohio (didn’t it?) allegedly ran his car into a throng of anti-Confederate protestors gathered in a downtown mall area.

Fields — or the undiscovered assailant if Fields is proven to be innocent of the crime — killed one 32-year-old woman and injured 19 other people, according to reports by CNN, The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post.

To cap off this recount, I’ll just paraphrase Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones: Hate came to Virginia in a way most Americans had hoped we would never see again, but knew could be easily stirred up by granting someone like Trump presidential power.

If you haven’t already connected the dots, this Charlottesville tragedy reads to me like the second stage of the destruction of the American republic. The first stage was Trump’s election. I fear the next stage will be our entrance into a war with North Korea that will be a horrifying repeat of Vietnam.

It reads to me like the fulfillment of a prophecy made collectively by Trump’s dissenters in the days and weeks after he took office. They saw, like Micah saw with Jerusalem, that Trump had won the election by corrupt means, he would govern the country by corrupt means, and America would pay for allowing him to gain power that it was obvious he would misuse and abuse.

I have tied Micah in with Charlottesville here, or Charlottesville in with Micah, because, as I said at the opening of this post, ten years ago today, I gave birth to my first and only child, Micaiah. Today is her day. Her first “double digit” birthday. I should be all about her today.

And I was at first.

Her celebratory weekend actually started out very sweetly and sentimentally for me.

As I tucked her into bed on Friday, I kissed her and began crying when I saw how far her legs stretched out over her mattress beneath her butterfly comforter. I realized that she is nearly five-feet tall – just five inches shorter than me — she is not a baby anymore.

I rejoiced that she is still here with me. That she is healthy and seems to be happy.

I always wanted to be a mother, and I always wanted a daughter. I thought, when I got pregnant, that Micaiah would be a boy because her father has a lot of boys in his family, but there they were – those three tell-tale lines on the sonogram that told us the Eatman-Valentine family was ushering a sixth generation of women.

(My maternal great-grandmother had one girl; that girl (my grandmother) had three girls; the oldest of those girls (my mother) had two girls (her sisters had no children); and I have Micaiah, who will not have a sibling by me, but may get a cat or dog in the next couple of years if she proves to be responsible enough to handle it.)

I was ecstatic to be having a girl child. Yes, I wanted to dress her in the cute little dresses and tie bows in her hair, but I also wanted to teach her everything I know about being a black woman in America. I wanted to learn all of the things that motherhood, and she, would undoubtedly teach me, and I wanted to watch her manifest the dreams of my great-grandmother and grandmother even more splendidly than my mother, aunts, sister, and me.

I wanted to love her. I wanted to experience the sort of divine giving and sharing and communing that parents do. I wanted to grow in the way that parenting – and in particular mothering – grows you. I wanted to be a part of a miracle. I wanted those nine months to witness the wonder of my body doing what it was reproductively designed to do. I wanted to go through labor and finally understand — at perhaps the deepest level — the work my mother did to bring me into this world. I wanted to be able to connect with my mother as a fellow mother and have our friendship deepen. I wanted to connect with my then-boyfriend, now-husband as a co-parent and have our partnership deepen as well.

But, mostly, I wanted to meet my daughter. I wanted to know her. I had a feeling she would be someone whose existence would completely alter mine. And I was righter than I’ve ever been about anything. I am a different person because I had her, and she is in my life. I can barely remember who I was before, and I only miss her in rare instances when I feel especially challenged to do the right thing as Micaiah’s Mama (I’m Mama, not Mommy).

Micaiah is so many wonderful things. She is bright. She is goofy. She is funny. She is affectionate. She is compassionate. She is mischievous. She is moody. She has a very stable sense of identity. She is content with who she is. She is independent and single-minded. She can be vain, but she can also be generous in giving respect and admiration to others. She speaks and takes up for herself. She has a fiery temper and smart mouth, but she also has a tender heart and humble spirit.

Micaiah can admit she is wrong and say she is sorry — something I consider to be a major signifier of decent character. She says “thank you” to me for doing the most mundane things for her, like packing her lunch, and she asks for dozens of kisses from me everyday. She has her own taste, and she isn’t shaken when she realizes that what she is thinking, feeling, or doing is different than the status quo. She takes pleasure and pride in being her own person.

Micaiah follows me around the house all day, talking incessantly about Pokémon, boring me half to death, but, God, I miss her when she’s not there. She is everything to me, and even when I am furious with her, I can still find something in what she’s done to make me proud.

So tell me why — as we shopped for her new Nintendo Switch at Target, picked out a dress for her birthday dinner at Longhorn, had a cake decorated for her gift-opening after dinner — as we sat at dinner and talked about her entering fifth grade and teased her about being able to devour a 10-ounce ribeye all on her own — I should have had to have what was happening in Charlottesville hunkering in the back of my mind?

Toni Morrison — one of my favorite writers and creative role models — attempts to illustrate in her novels not just how institutional racism shapes and thwarts the lives of black people in America, but how its emotional and psychological effects can poison our most intimate experiences and dealings with each other.

In Beloved, she tells a fictionalized version of actual fugitive slave Margaret Garner’s life story.

In 1856, Garner, a probable product of the rape of her mother by her mother’s master, just twenty-one-years-old, pregnant, along with her husband and four children, escaped the Maplewood Plantation in Boone County, Kentucky, where Garner had been used as a “sexual stand-in” by her white owner during his wife’s pregnancies and borne three children — Samuel, Mary, and Priscilla — from his serial raping.

Garner and her family, with 11 others, crossed a frozen section of the Ohio River near Covington, Kentucky and fled to Mill Creek, near Cincinnati, Ohio, where Garner and her family joined with her uncle, Joe Kite.

Kite hid Garner and her family while he met with abolitionist Levi Coffin to discuss the best options for settlement for the Garners, and Coffin agreed to help the Garners travel to Canada, where they would not be subject to the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law.

Before Coffin could help Garner and her family escape further North, however, a group of slave catchers and US marshals found them barricaded in Kite’s home. These men surrounded then stormed the house, so, in order that they wouldn’t be returned to slavery, Garner stabbed her two-year-old daughter to death with a butcher knife and attempted to kill her other children.

Thankfully, she was subdued by members of the posse that had invaded her uncle’s home before she could do more than injure any of her other three children.

Garner was put in jail then she was put on trial, during which the presiding judge ruled that the Fugitive Slave Law had supervening authority over state murder laws, nullifying the prosecutors’ criminal charges against Garner. And rather than being convicted of murder, Garner was returned to enslavement in Kentucky. She toiled as a slave in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee for another two years before dying of typhoid fever in 1858.

Anti-black racists might say about this tragedy that Garner merely demonstrated the moral depravity and savagery that is intrinsic in black people’s nature when she killed her daughter, and I would never say that what she did was sane or “right,” but I will say that PTSD is a significant predictor of psychotic disorder, and it is not a stretch in the least to assume that after being repeatedly raped over months-long stretches, and giving birth to three children that were products of that rape, Garner was suffering from PTSD and very probably psychosis when she attacked her children.

She may even have been experiencing dissociation in the form of hallucinations, paranoia, flashbacks, extreme detachment, or thought disorder since researchers have not convincingly ruled out the possibility that chronic stress and repeated trauma may cause disorders that are not unlike schizophrenia in their sufferers.

The science of her situation, however, is not the point.

The point is the effects of the abuse she suffered as a slave — while at the extreme of the continuum of racist violence — bled — literally and figuratively — all over her parenting dynamic.

Even at the time of Garner’s trial, white abolitionist Lucy Stone was able to recognize the horrific logic in what Garner had done.

“The faded faces of the Negro children tell too plainly to what degradation the female slaves submit,” she reportedly said when called to the stand during Garner’s trial.

“Rather than give her daughter to that life, she killed [her],” Stone argued.

“If in her deep maternal love she felt the impulse to send her child back to God, to save [her] from coming woe, who shall say she had no right not to do so.”

The point is that Garner was pushed to the brink of sanity by the realization that she couldn’t create a physical or ontological (metaphysical) safe space in which she could mother her children with emotional or psychological purity or clarity.

And Charlottesville happening on my baby’s tenth birthday has reminded me that neither can I.

Even in 2017, as a mother, I still have the threat of harm coming to my child, her father, or me just because we are black in America — lumped on to — mind you — the universal fear of every human being that something bad will happen to someone they love that runs courses through our brains as naturally as serotonin, dopamine, or GABA — dogging my every fucking second of interaction. Shit, my every fucking second of existence.

It’s a heavier load than white mothers have to bear — flat-out. And it feels even more oppressive because it is baseless — it is bottomless — it is edgeless — it is seemingly endless. It is so extremely unfair that thinking about it too intently for too long can make me cry from frustration and helplessness.

I did nothing to make my skin black or myself American. Yet, I have inherited a birthright that denies me not just an astounding array of basic human rights but the unencumbered experience of a gut-wrenching range of basic human emotions and experiences as well.

My love is a battlefield because I have to fight through the skein of my blackness — in my head and my heart — to give it.

My literal home may be the only place where I can peel back the coiled threads of racial consciousness that bind my being for even just a minute and mentally and emotionally breathe, but, even there, hatred creeps in — through the soundtrack of a news report playing on my television, reading of a post on social media, residual impact of some nasty interaction in the street, or lingering depression over occurrences like the one in Charlottesville.

My love is a battlefield, too, because I will never stop fighting to love — to be loving — to be loved — despite all of the hateful things that happen in America and to me because racism and bigotry are allowed to thrive, and liberty and justice are seemingly dying of something akin to sociopolitical cancer.

I fought to give my baby a happy birthday. I fight to make sure my baby has a happy childhood. I will keep fighting to do everything possible to help her grow up to have happy life.

The Right won’t stop me with all their egregious wrongs.

Micaiah doesn’t read my blog — even though she tells me all the time that she is proud that I am a writer — but I will put this message here anyway.

It’s for her, but it’s also for me. Proof that in the fight to retain all the dimensions of my humanity, I am still winning.

Happy Birthday, Micaiah, my Little Moo. I cannot think of any privilege greater than being able to aid in and witness your growth and development into a woman.

You are the sun to my moon. The source of so much of my pride and joy. One of the best reasons I get out of bed in the morning. My proof of God’s grace. 

I have a lot of words, Heaven knows, but none that can truly express how much I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Fathers, Fairy Tales, and Lies: Why We Can & Should Hold Black Male Celebrities Accountable for Their Crimes

I wrote this back in May of last year, but all the Bishop Eddie Long apologists I’m reading on Facebook brought it back to my mind and renewed its relevancy, at least to my thinking.

I will say the same thing here that I said on Facebook about some people’s refusal to be silent about the sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Long in the event of his death:

You recount the mistakes to distill the lesson.

The black community should’ve held Eddie Long accountable for the wrongs he committed while he was still alive if so many of its members find it distasteful to indict a dead man.

But what the black community shouldn’t do–through its parochial responses to Long’s accusers–is continue to make the black community unlivable for sexual abuse victims or make it a safe space for sexual predators.

That–if you ask me–is a sin.

MRS

Even though I grew up in a household that was an approximation of the black middle class ideal, I still wanted to be a Huxtable.

I wanted more siblings than my one baby sister, who, at eight years younger, could do nothing but annoy the hell out of me; I wanted to live in a brownstone in the biggest and busiest city in the world; I wanted to have all four of my grandparents within walking distance and visit with them regularly; I wanted a mother who allowed my friends to come and visit our home every day after school; and I wanted a father just like Heathcliff.

When I was young, my father was a workaholic with ambitions of becoming the next Johnny Cochrane; he was gone most of the time, and, when he was home, he was still busy with work. He had his own father’s heirloom sarcasm. He wanted his daughters to be ladies even though our mother was raising us to be women. His expectations could loom higher than a Detroit skyscraper at times, but his temper could be as ugly as the Detroit River. He never spanked me once in my life, but he did smack me up a time or two with doctrine—the proxy hand of God—when he thought I was getting too out-of-control with my damned independent thinking and insistence on eking out my own identity.

He was a lot more complicated than Heathcliff Huxtable–less fun and way more demanding–and, since I had that TV image with which to compare him, I often found myself wishing my dad was less himself and more like a sitcom character.

I would fantasize about him reacting to me in the warm, goofy way that Heathcliff reacted to his kids, and I would feel a bit cheated because it was work being his daughter, and no one applauded for me as I did it.

Now, at 39, I realize that work was some of the most valuable that I’ve ever don–that he–my father–and I were building me into a decent, hard-working, and responsible person (with a wicked sense of humor, enviable taste in music, an elegant sense of style, and a deeply-rooted notion of fairness).

I understand now that navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up, and I wouldn’t be anyone close to the thinker, writer, teacher, mother, sister, or friend I am if I hadn’t been my father’s daughter–and mother’s daughter–first.

I also see–in thinking through why Heathcliff Huxtable was such an appealing character to me–what a juvenile concept of the “father” most of black people retain throughout our lives.

This is important to point out because I think it has a lot to do with why so many us, who love(d) Heathcliff Huxtable, are having such a difficult time accepting that Bill Cosby is a rapist that deserves to be punished for his crimes.

Rather than an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, whispering to black people about what fathers are and are not, we have a fairy tale weighing on one shoulder and a pack of racist lies weighing on the other.

These two false images make it difficult for us to be realistic or real about our fathers and father figures.

The fairy tale is of the white father–a romanticized figure that is an amalgam of the Judeo-Christian God and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. This man–because of his social privilege and inherent moral superiority and intelligence–conferred by his whiteness–is the perfect father. He is always there for his kids; he always has to proper solution for their problems; he can provide for his children’s every need; and he never fails them. He is the polar opposite, conceptually, of the paradigmatic black father.

The lies on the other end of the binary are that black men are inherently bad fathers. That slavery stole the ability to parent permanently from them. That institutional racism bars them–across the board–financially, emotionally, and spiritually–from adequately supporting their children. That being the victims of oppression, suppression, deprivation, and violence makes them ineffective and even damaging.

Charles Blow of The New York Times does an excellent job of describing this manifold misconception: “[We believe],” he writes, ” . . . there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community ‘dysfunction.’”

Both of these mythoi–of the good white father and bad black father–conveniently–or inconveniently for black men–ignore the facts–which must be considered in order for black people to gain a more realistic–and serviceable–concept of the “father.”

The first is that, historically, many white men have failed spectacularly at parenting. See Joseph Kennedy, who had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized at age 23 without his wife’s knowledge or agreement, or Woody Allen, who had an affair with the adopted daughter—Soon-Yi Previn—of his long-time girlfriend Mia Farrow. They have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that white men in general are not automatically “better equipped” for parenting.

On the other hand, black men are more than just the “serial impregnators” portrayed in the racist mainstream media.

Though 72% of black women having babies are single mothers, this doesn’t mean that they don’t live with the fathers of their children. It actually means they aren’t married to them. Many still live with the fathers of their children. Only 55% of black children live in single mother households.

And even though a lot of black fathers don’t live with their children, about 2.5 million black fathers do live with at least one of their children.

Too, according to the CDC, black fathers–in and out of the home–provide more actual child care than white or Hispanic fathers. Yes–black men regularly feed their children their meals (78.2% black>73.9% white>63.9% Hispanic), dress their children (70.4% black>60% white>45% Hispanic), and read to their children every day (34.9% black>30.2% white>21.9% Hispanic). They are not all flailing or failing to fulfill their parental duties, despite what even a large segment of the black community maintains.

It is fair to acknowledge, too, that many of the black fathers that are missing from their children’s lives are missing because of factors related to institutionalization.

As reported in The Washington Post, “Incarceration [is an]  overwhelming [driver] of the gap [in the number of black women and men in the free population].

“Of the 1.5 million missing black men [out of 8 million] from 25 to 54 [the prime age span for fatherhood]–higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost one in 12 black men . . . is behind bars, compared with one in 60 nonblack men . . .”

These numbers prove that black men are not pathologically neglectful of their children.

Black fathers are still more absent from black homes than white fathers, but their patterns of abandonment can be linked to the historical legacy of slavery–how it has shaped today’s law enforcement and justice system, created genetic pitfalls for black people in terms of their health (which result in earlier deaths), and facilitated the demonization of black men in order to justify its reprehensibility.

Often, it is their internalized self-hatred–their own belief in their badness–that impels black men to leave their children alone–in the wrongheaded attempt to protect them.

Because black men struggle on a lot of levels to be present for their children at the same rates as nonblack men, and black people as a whole have a lot of misconceptions about how structural racism impedes parenting, the absences of black fathers lead many black people to cling to idealized father figures like Heathcliff Huxtable.

They set these father figures, usually found in entertainment, on pedestals because these men seem to have overcome whatever obstacles they needed to overcome in order to “get it right” for their children and co-parents (which are more often than not their wives).

Those that actually are or that just feel fatherless worship these figures in a sense, and this may be because one of the predominant figures in this improvised pantheon of imaginary surrogates is, in fact, the Judeo-Christian God.

Just listen to the way that many black religious leaders speak about God. They very liberally and munificently humanize Him. They do this because they know that so many black people suffer from an acute psychological sense of fatherlessness. They want to fix it, so they offer their congregants a God that is an eternal, omnipotent father.

They take that Biblical address, that ancient, enduring metaphor—“Our Father”—and literalize it–to effect some sort of spiritual healing from parental abandonment. They create a model of fatherhood that–while it may not shape the way that real black fathers do their jobs–shapes the way that the fatherless envision the role of the father. Then, celebrities, cultural icons, and imaginary characters like Heathcliff Huxtable do the same thing, but on a lesser level.

These famous “fathers” provide the fatherless with an unrealistic ideal that they attach to as “theirs” to fill the absence of an actual father. These “fathers” give the fatherless ridiculously high standards for what a father is, but, since they appear to meet these standards, they also inspire immense amounts of love and loyalty. It is this love and loyalty–and the painful prospect of losing yet another “parent”–that make it so difficult for people to accept it when father (or maybe it’s more apt to say “fatherly”) figures like Bill Cosby commit terrible acts.

Since so many black people do suffer from fatherlessness–or even from the idea that their “regular” black fathers are inferior–they do not want to give up their adoptive fatherly figures.

They do not want to face the fact that a character like Heathcliff Huxtable is a personage and not a person.

They want their fatherly figure to be innocent, or, if he cannot be innocent, they want him to be exempt.

So when their fatherly figure is put on public trial, these “children” argue that his positive contributions to society or culture or the black community must outweigh his crimes. They vilify his victims in order to lessen his culpability and depravity. They deny that his behavior is actually harmful, or, worse, they say that his victims are the ones doing the harm, by ruining the fatherly figure’s so-called legacy.

They make that same tired argument every time–that if Guilty Black Fatherly Figure were white, he wouldn’t be held nearly as accountable for his transgressions, as if that somehow justifies his transgressions. But the truth remains.

Despite how prevalent fatherlessness is in the black community, or how painful it is, we—the collective—cannot use it as an excuse to dismiss the crimes of our famous black men. Our imaginary “fathers” are no less responsible for their actions than our actual fathers. Fame, wealth, and talent–while they are rare–impressive–enchanting–still do not cancel out brutality, cruelty, perversity, or decidedly unchecked psychopathy.

The ugly truth is, then, that Bill Cosby is somnophiliac that–because he prefers to secretly drug women rather than gain their consent to have unconscious sex–has allowed the pursuit of his paraphilia to make him a rapist.

He has admitted on the record to drugging women and raping them. He has paid these women–by order of the court and on his own—as his atonement for raping them.

He has exploited his image as a fatherly figure, his power, and sexist stereotypes like that of the female groupie or gold digger to ruthlessly cover for his crimes.

He has been allowed and–yes–encouraged–by his wife, entourage, the Hollywood establishment, the legal system, the patriarchy, and, yes, the black community–that deifies him–to violate a group of 50 women–that we know of–between 1965 and 2008–without suffering any losses to his fame, wealth, reputation, or freedom.

And before any of you reading can make the reflexive argument that erroneously links the veracity of their accusations to how long it took certain of his victims to come forward on the record, let me let you know–

American culture and the nation’s justice system are criminally inhospitable to female rape victims, and this has a profound effect on their willingness to report their attacks.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police.

This is because when women are assaulted by a friend or acquaintance (neighbor, classmate, coworker, boss), they fear they will not be believed.

They fear retaliation from the accused, other people finding out they’ve been assaulted, being branded as a rape victim, and/or being disrespected and/or mistreated during the trial process.

They believe that the police will not do anything to help them.

They believe that they have a lack of adequate proof or evidence.

They have their own misconceptions about what actually constitutes rape and do not actually know or believe that they have been raped.

Men may not be able to relate to these reasons–or they might refute them in order to abstain from inverting and being implicated by them–but women–if we’re being honest–know that they are very real.

Too many of us have either been raped or molested and experienced these paralyzing fears or doubts firsthand, or we have imagined being raped or molested and projected these fears and doubts onto our imaginary selves and into our possible futures.

Another reason not listed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that women don’t report sexual assaults is the terrible lack of credibility attributed to them by certain principles of rape culture.

Patriarchal notions that men hold–about how desperately women want to please them, how deserving “promiscuous” women are of punishment, and how important maintaining a “good girl” image is to women–make it easy for men to believe that women are lying when women say they’ve been raped.

Men like this think women are so universally “afraid” of being typed as sluts that any and all of them would lie about having consensual sex–call it rape–to avoid retribution or requital for exercising their sexual freedom.

And these men hold to the unfortunate truth that some women have lied about being assaulted—they have falsely accused men to avoid shame, exact revenge, or hide infidelity.

In the case of Cosby’s accusers, we must also concede they were up against the unlikelihood that a woman that is a “nobody” would be believed over a cultural icon.

Look baldly at how his accusers have been treated, and it’s easy to see why so many of Cosby’s victims felt for so long that reporting him to the authorities would be pointless.

People conflate Cosby with Heathcliff Huxtable. They think Bill Cosby is Heathcliff Huxtable. And, as devotees of the character, it is impossible for them to imagine Heathcliff raping a woman. So they struggle with believing that Cosby is a rapist. Still, the numbers of victims—as well as Cosby’s own accounts of his encounters with them and court settlements to which he has agreed—make it impossible to ignore that Cosby is guilty of a pattern of illegal behavior for which he deserves to be punished.

It looks as if the same thing, unfortunately, can be said about legendary hip hop culturalist Afrika Bambaataa, who has been accused in the last couple of months by four men of sexually abusing them during the 1980s.

Allegedly, he showed them—as boys—pornographic materials then performed oral sex on them.

Along with assaulting them, he gave them shelter, food, and money when they needed it, and he maintained a “father-son” relationship with at least one of them into adulthood. That is—in fact—what the boys called him: “Poppy.”

It’s reasonable to assume that fatherlessness, shame, machismo, and a distorted sense of loyalty are what kept them from reporting their abuse until now.

Again, before those of you that are inclined start doing that victim-blaming “thing” we so often do when we hear that victims of sexual assault have waited to name their accusers, I want to go back to one really significant concept I brought up previously, and that’s loyalty.

I honestly believe that malformed and misdirected loyalty are what keep a lot of black people silent about the terrible things that other black people do to them or in their presence.

We have such a profound mistrust of law enforcement and the courts that we do not want to turn a supposed “brother” or “sister” over to them if we can help it.

So many of we black people refuse to report crimes committed against us by other black people—and we uphold our own abusers in a lot of instances—in order to show our racial awareness and solidarity.

We romanticize our victimization as a sacrifice of sorts, and we shame those that don’t adhere to this dysfunctional “code” of honor and silence. But this behavior is a throwback to the plantation and the inhumane treatment our ancestors often suffered when they didn’t cover and/or lie for each other.

As a people, we have to start moving past our past, in this sense. We either have to abandon this anti-“snitching” ethic and turn the offenders in our community over to the law, or we have to figure out our own ways to hold them accountable for their choices to damage others and refuse to seek help for their sicknesses.

I said it before—navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up. James Baldwin even said that loving someone—that act in itself—is a growing up.

It’s a process of shedding the pretty, pretend ideas we get from fairy tales, and the hyperbolic or fantastical ideas we get from lies, and embracing new ideas about ourselves—bolder concepts of ourselves—that protect and empower us, female and male.

And here are a few—

We can love Heathcliff Huxtable—what he represents—the will to father black children lovingly and joyfully—without reifying him.

We can admire Bill Cosby as an entertainer, philanthropist, actor, and producer without deifying him.

We can condemn Bill Cosby for raping those women without killing the image of Healthcliff Huxtable.

We can support a conviction of Bill Cosby’s guilt and maintain a sense of our highest and not our basest form of integrity.

We can condemn Afrika Bambaataa without indicting hip hop culture or erasing his contributions to the culture from its history.

We can support a conviction of his guilt.

We must.

Nothing can justifiably counterbalance wrongs like the ones Cosby or Eddie Long committed except confession, contrition, reparation, and rehabilitation.

So we cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood—this concept that black men cannot answer for their actions—if we want black men that ultimately inspire more than pity, mistrust, resentment, or fear in us. Or that can only truly be great when they are standing framed in our blind spots.

We cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood if we want to evolve into a culture that is characterized by more than its pathologies.

In order to grow out of the desperation of fatherlessness and demand what is actually attainable from our famous men–decency–we have to leave the childish notion that fathers are faultless behind us, once and for all.

We have to process the ugly truths about our fatherly figures. Topple them from their pedestals. Let them shatter and clean up the messes they’ve made.

This will help us to not only heal from their abuses, but it will help us to better appreciate our real fathers.

It will open us up to accepting that many of them are bending over backward, being their best for us.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leveling with people about their bigotry;

Opting into confrontational political action aimed at definitive positive change;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Prompt: Treasure

via Daily Prompt: Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

I am a mess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is my treasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the 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.