Today is the day after Father’s Day, and this is the first year that I thought I would get past it without having an emotional meltdown.
I’m married to a nice guy, and I gave up meat, a diet change that opened my spirituality in ways I never thought possible, and I decided that this is the Year of the Book. Actually, the Year of Two Books, if God says the same: one poetry book and one novel.
And yes, I’m determined to finally clean all this crap that I’ve been accumulating for years out of my house, too. I’m not saying my house looks like an episode of Hoarders, but I am saying that when the service man came a few days ago to install a new thermostat, I was truly embarrassed.
I followed him around the house, kicking things out of the way with my foot, and making wistful excuses. He told me, he’d seen worse, and I felt sorry for him, because, like, I hadn’t seen worse, and I truly prayed I never would in this lifetime or the next.
Sidebar: Don’t hate. Y’all know somebody out there is giving me an “amen” and an “ashé.” You ever try to write everyday and keep a clean house without a full time housekeeper? If you have and you’ve succeeded, shut up because I resent you very much. I say that with all the love I can muster.
Recently, I realized that a really big breakthrough for me, artistically, emotionally, spiritually and every other way was beginning and fully entering the process of forgiving my father, who sexually abused me.
Let me explain that, for some people, they need to get a dictionary and look up what “forgive” means.
Forgiveness does not mean that you pretend that the transgression against you never happened. It does not mean cheesing in some lowdown person’s face and showing all your teeth. It doesn’t even mean that you still don’t experience pain. It means, you set aside bitterness and you don’t expect the person who hurt you to make amends.
For me, the “not expecting amends” thing was easy because my father has been dead over twenty-five years. But the hard part—the extremely tricky part—is that I still have “cloudbursts” of pain, all the time, while I’m go letting of the bitterness, piece by piece. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not bitter about my father, but I will never get to the point where I’m going to pretend he was a good guy. To do so would be to lie.
My father was not a good guy, by any stretch of the imagination. For some people, my saying that is not forgiveness and it’s not healthy. To those people, I will say this: I have finally gotten past hoping my father is rotting in Hell. That’s pretty healthy.
And I have finally gotten past needing to dismiss the good things he gave me. Yes, believe it or not, there were some good things he gave me, like a great smile, a brilliant brain, a love of books, an ability to eat healthy, organic food without gagging, and a fearlessness when it comes to discussing issues of race in mixed “race” company.
Considering that I grew up with a fear of the dark and the horrors that it brought, a distrust of men, and a sense of emotional isolation, I’d say my embracing the good things about my father and no longer wishing his torture at the hands of Beelzebub and Them constitute “healthy forgiveness.”
I had no intention of writing about my father today, as I did a while back on another Father’s Day. I wanted to let the “good African American fathers” have their day. The black community gets a lot of shade thrown its way, and especially around the subject of absent fathers, so I didn’t want to spoil yesterday. But when I sneaked on Twitter, I kept seeing hints about the not-so-good black fathers. In fact, the founder of For Harriet, the black feminist blog, tweeted yesterday that she “most certainly wasn’t turning down blog posts about good black fathers”; she just hadn’t received any yet.
Yesterday, I tried to keep it classy for African American community solidarity. No snarky comments about deadbeat dads in general, and no specific comments about my own father who, ironically, had great credit and paid bills in our household, and never once denied his paternity of his children. (Though God knows, sometimes I wish he had.) And honestly I had no intention of writing this particular blog post in this way.
Originally, this blog post was supposed to be about writing, what I needed to give up in order to Finally Write My Books. I even made a list:
#1 Get rid of bad eating habits, because eating badly leads to bad health and that leads to feeling badly and that leads to lost pages.
#2 Stop checking my email before my writing session, just in case someone sends me something upsetting.
#3 Stop answering my phone during writing time, because I know I like to talk on the phone.
#4 Stay off the Internet, except for a very short period every day. (I changed my personal Facebook page to a public page because I found that I was spending literally nine-ten hours a day on Facebook. I could not stop checking to see if someone had clicked “like.” Twitter I can control. Of course, this is also what I say about chocolate, so I might be in complete denial.)
#5 Avoid drama, because that leads to either my ending up in bed in the fetal position, depressed, or it leads to #1, “bad eating habits.”
I had the whole “writing” blog post mapped out—then about two hours ago, I received an email from a family member, discussing my father. (Please refer to #2 concerning the checking of email before beginning a writing session.)
I sat down in front of the computer with the intention of writing for several hours, having completed all my rituals in preparation: a shower, the brushing of my teeth, completion of my morning prayers, and the brewing of tea. I put on my “Writing Anxiety” music playlist that I had carefully compiled, songs that soothe my spirit and remind me that I am a blessed child of God and I am living a purposeful life.
My family member meant well. I know she did. She didn’t mean to hurt me, and to take me back to a bad place, but all of a sudden, after her writing me about my father, I felt dirty, ashamed, and helpless. I started weeping. Clearly, I had not followed my “#5 writing advice” about avoiding drama.
I had entered full-blown drama. Avoiding drama isn’t just about not cussing people out in the middle of the street, though that’s a good beginning. It’s about understanding that, no matter how well-meaning people are, they’re working with what makes them happy first, not what makes me happy first. That’s just human nature. And since I’m working with what makes me happy first, too–which is admitting my father was a child molester and an abuser of people with less power than he had– there’s going to be conflict. Clearly.
My family member was being sweet in her own way, trying to include me in a “celebration” of my father, a man who was a very successful professional member of the black writing community. It never occurred to her that by “celebrating” my father, she was calling me a liar by implication, for how could I–of all people– logically “celebrate” a man who made me afraid of the dark and who damaged my sense of self-worth?
Just like many other Father’s Days, I felt ashamed to be the daughter of a man who had done these things to me. My shame, not his–because guess what? He’s dead and I’m still here, fighting to keep things together in the aftermath of his breaking fool in the dark.
I felt as if, once again, I had transgressed against my family and by extension, the black community, by refusing to lie and say that my father was a good man. Once again, I asked myself, why couldn’t I just lie about him? It would be so much easier. Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut?
Y’all know that recently, I got married. My husband is Senegalese, and he told me a proverb: “You can’t chase two hares at one time.” I’ve thought about this a lot in the past few months, repeating this proverb to myself. Just this morning, before I checking my email, I thought about it.
Could I really do all the things I wanted to do: have a good marriage, lose weight and improve my health, and arrive at a creative place I’ve been walking toward for the past nine years? And could I do all that and live in truth? That seemed like a lot of hares to be chasing, and since I broke my ankle a few years ago, I’ve got a steel plate in my ankle and I can’t even run no more. Not that I could even before I broke it, okay?
This morning, around the same time that I received my family member’s email, I received a notice of a blog post from one of my favorite new blogs (or, new to me). It was a post about “letting go of toxic relationships” and it was right on time. (If you’d like to read it, click here. I loved it.)
I’m not saying that my family member is toxic. That’s not the relationship I’m talking about. My relationship is actually with my guilt. I have to stop feeling guilty about claiming what I have to claim, in order to be a healthy person. I have to stop feeling guilty about telling the truth. I can’t lie about the pain of my past, but I have to find a way to acknowledge it without feeling dramatic, ashamed, and a freak of (family) nature.
Surely, it’s a struggle, but my husband is right about those two hares. I can’t chase my happiness—which involves a bunch of things—and chase drama at the same time. So I’m not going to and that’s that.
I guess this year was a good Father’s Day, after all. And I’m going to try not to have chocolate today. I’ll let y’all know how that works out.
Once, I was really pathetic. And I was single. And I thought the two were connected. I admit it.
I focused a lot on my pain back in the day, and I attracted not-very-nice men who were looking for a pathetic woman, because a pathetic woman is a weak woman who will put up with anything. These men weren’t very good-looking guys—except for a couple of fine exceptions—and somehow, they simultaneously lifted me up during my whiny “poor me” episodes, and then, just when I was starting to get out of that low space, they would push me back down, either literally—aka with their fists—or with words.
But there were some good, platonic friends that I made. All of them were aware of how pathetic I thought I was, but they told me all the time that I was great and I could do better, in life and in romance. I was smart, beautiful, talented, and better than I thought I was. I could do more than survive. I could thrive.
Things went along that way, through my adolescence, into my twenties, and then, I hit my thirties and something strange happened: I started praying and I started writing, simultaneously. And I started making it out of Pathetic Land. I was still single, but I didn’t care that much anymore.
Okay, let me keep it real. I didn’t care about not being in a relationship, but I did care that I was celibate ninety percent of the time. I ain’t gone lie to you. I was about to pop for a lot of years. Trust.
But my spiritual life deepened and that fed my writing life. I started gaining self-confidence. It didn’t matter to me how pretty I was (or wasn’t), that I was overweight, that I had fibroids the size of Mount Everest, that I was a social hermit—I was smart and I was talented and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. I could see it for myself. No, I wasn’t the healthiest in body, but in spirit, I started healing.
And then, I traveled to Africa to do research on the current book of poetry I’m writing. While there, I met a really cute, sweet guy who spoke three languages—including French!—we fell deeply in love and six months later we got married. And I finally wasn’t celibate anymore.
Sidebar: Right after New Year’s, did y’all hear something that sounded like Loud Sanctified Holy Ghost Shouting all the way up to the Heavens? That was me, when I finally got me some. I ain’t shame to admit it, though that is the last time I will talk in specific terms about my marital business on this blog. Just so you know.
Anyway, about eighteen months ago, before I even met my guy, I had started working on my health, and I continued through our courtship and our first few weeks of marriage. (We haven’t been married long). As of this writing, I’ve been a vegan for forty-six days and I’ve lost fifteen pounds. I do miss cheese, but I just sort of white-knuckle through that.
I can hear y’all thinking right now, “Ok, Honorée, that’s a pretty fabulous ‘I been changed for the better’ story, but in the words of Ike Turner, what the problem is?”
I’ll tell you what the problem is. It has started settling down on me, bit by bit, that people have looked at my marriage as the culmination of all my hard work on myself. That’s right. I did all this, I made it out of Pathetic Land, just so I could get me a man.
Some folks have expressed that view by telling me that my engagement and then my marriage were “a healing.” As if I wasn’t healing all by myself with the help of a good and mighty God.
Other folks have thrown shade on my choice of a mate. There were nasty, hurtful comments about his dark skin color; “ugly” Africans; whether he wore deodorant; the fact that he was a Muslim and not a Christian; and whether he had sought me out to “get a green card.” There were admonitions about how “pushy” African men were, and how they didn’t “play that.”
Sidebar: What is exactly is the “that” that African men don’t “play”? Would it be the same “that” that regular Black, White, and Other American men on this side of the Atlantic don’t play? Because y’all do know that you ain’t got to travel overseas to meet a crazy, sexist man, or to get made a fool out of by one, right? You can walk right outside your house, around the corner to the 7-11, and meet one of them crazy men in, like, nine and three-quarters minutes. You don’t need no passport.
Oddly, I felt way more loved and nurtured by some folks when I was a hot buttered mess, when I wasn’t getting any sex or love (or both), when my uterus was sticking out to Idaho from that nineteen pound fibroid I had—yes, it really was that large; that is no exaggeration—and when I was a leather-wearing, red meat-eater who was making twice-weekly, binging drive-bys at the Sonics, much to the chagrin of my doctor, who had been trying to get my cholesterol down for a year.
Then, there are my personal favorites: the folks who are expecting me to morph into the commonly held view of a wife, now that I am married. The Woman Who Has Finally Gotten In Patriarchal Line Now That She Has Jumped The Broom And Gotten Some Good D-Word.
Sidebar: I’ve even had some folks say to me–days after my marriage– “Are you and your husband planning to adopt?” And when I say, “No, we aren’t,” they have responded, “But doesn’t he want children?” The implication is that I am selfish and that I should change my mind about wanting children and that would make me a real woman. That I should consider what my husband wants. That I should make that sacrifice for him.
But it is a reasonable expectation for me to think that my husband would take me exactly where I am physically and emotionally, since I took him exactly where he was. And I made a sacrifice for love when I married: I entered into what I always have considered a woman-hostile, patriarchal institution because of my husband’s religious convictions. It was never an option that we live together instead of marrying. That would have been a sin to my husband, and so, I compromised and got married because I knew that I wanted to be with this man for the rest of my life. And maybe—just maybe—he thought the same thing about the woman he fell in love with, whether or not she wanted to raise children?
I know. Crazy, right?
Back when I was pathetic, I used to encounter women in real life or online who expressed to me how hard it is to take time for themselves, to exercise, to eat right, to work on their artistic projects. I would hear phrases like, “Oh, if you were married, if you had kids, you would know how hard it is.”
I assumed they were right. That because these women had children and husbands (or partners), they had it harder than I did. I dismissed my own issues of taking my own time for my health and for my emotional well-being and I didn’t celebrate the hard work that I did for my own life, because as a single woman, I saw myself as a woman with no importance in her life. Or hardship in her life.
Certainly, I know that any time another person is added to a dynamic, the dynamic is changed. I am not arrogant enough to think that, a woman with children has just as much time as I do. But, neither am I lazing around my house, picking my toenails, either. I write a new book every two years. (Now whether that book is published is another story.) It is ironic that only now, when I am married, can I see how I privately dismissed the profundity of my own experience, and that privately, I dismissed my work as a writer as “easy”, as loudly as I proclaimed otherwise in public.
I still have some very good friends. Let me make that clear. But sadly, I have had to let some folks go, “sympathetic” folks from the time before who had an explanation of why I was pathetic, and much of it boiled down to my being single.
Indeed, before I met the man who would be my husband, I was lonely, a lot. I had whittled my life down to the bone socially. But what a lot of people didn’t understand, and what I didn’t understand myself, was that what I took away from my life socially, I put into my writing career, my spirituality, and myself. I needed that time. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a life. It was that I had a different life. I still have that different life. My husband likes to watch soccer; I like to write in a room with the door closed. And he’s good with that. If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t have married him. I just wasn’t that desperate, believe it or not.
Right now, I’m in a place of change and struggle. I’m not going to say that marriage is not a challenge. It is. But I am going to say that part of the struggle and challenge is to learn how to include someone else in my life full-time, without giving up my principles. I didn’t have these principles because I couldn’t get a man. I had them–and still have them–because they are right and they make me happy.
I look back and see that many of my problems stemmed from my being a mess. But many stemmed from my own inability to embrace my difference from other people. I was getting in my own way. Maybe I was so pathetic because I thought I was pathetic? Could it really have been that easy—change my thinking and thus, change my life?
I try not to get upset over those lost years, though, because the journey made me the woman I am today. And I like that woman very much. In fact, I love her, and whatever my marriage status, I’m always in a lifelong committed relationship with Honorée Jeffers. Till death do us part.
And no, I didn’t change my name, in case you were wondering.
I’m a radical Black feminist and proud of it, but I don’t call myself an activist. I write and once in a while I get paid for it, but that’s about it. You’re not going to see me marching in the streets or getting arrested, mainly because I was a victim of abuse in my childhood and young adulthood, and I’m not going to willingly put myself in harm’s way again. Call me a coward. Call me a Weak Negro Intellectual Punk.
The other reason I don’t call myself an activist is because I don’t like to be around people with no home training, trying (and failing) to get them to see things my way. I don’t have a winning personality that gets people to take my side. I figure, I’m right—and if they don’t want to get with this right here, then they can get with that over there.
You can see how that might not be the most persuasive line of argument.
But at least I’m honest about the fact that I’m not an activist. I don’t pretend that my sitting in front of my computer, typing on Twitter, is going to change someone’s life.
You know what bothers me? People who do pretend to be activists, but who never seem to wade into a real fray, only a safe one.
For example, if you’re Black, are a fan of Hip Hop, and you check-in from time to time on social media like Facebook or Twitter, you probably have heard about Rick Ross’s strange lyrics/sexually abominable musings/whatever you want to call them concerning date rape on his song entitled, “U.O.N.E. O .”
In the song, he raps about slipping a woman a “molly”—slang for a rape drug—and taking sexual advantage of her. It’s gross, and, when one considers Rick Ross’s Big Juicy Unkempt Negro appearance on a regular basis, frankly, pathetic as well.
This same thing that happened a while back when Too Short went on record for “schooling” young Black boys how to “get some” from little, sexually unwilling girls. His advice amounted to advocating sexual assault and led many to question whether Mr. Short was a closeted pedophile.
I mean, despite his diminutive stature, Too Short is, in fact, a grown, rusty-tail man who shouldn’t ever be wandering into the realm of teenage boy sexual fantasy. He should leave that far behind him, the way many in his hometown of Oakland left their Carefree Curls, albeit quite reluctantly. In the late 1980s. Okay, the mid-1990s. Whenever.
In both the cases of Rick Ross/Big Juicy and Too Short/Humbert Humbert, Black Social Media exploded. But guess what? I did not—because they protested a bit too much, in my opinion.
These are the same folks who have had no problem with Jay-Z’s, Kanye’s, Common’s, etc. “b-word” & “h-word” usage for several years now, and these guy’s contemptuous, sexually demeaning depiction of women in their records and videos. Who defended Kanye’s depiction of a lynched woman in one of his videos—a woman hung by chains around her neck—and his holding the decapitated head of another woman as “art.”
What’s the difference? Well, several millions of dollars, popularity, and/or sex appeal, that’s what.
Kanye and Common are handsome and cavort around with beautiful women. Jay-Z, although not handsome (at least to me), sparks many African Americans’ imagination as a Black “Great Gatsby,” and his wife is considered one of the most gorgeous women on the planet. He has the net worth of a couple of West African nations.
So, two Runts of the Hip Hop litter get attacked. Surely, Rick Ross and Too Short deserve it. But are they any more culpable than others? No, they aren’t.
They are just a lot less rich, cute, sexually desirable, and relevant to the burgeoning academic field of Hip Hop that relies on that musical genre to continue cultural production. And those people who write in those fields need access to the rich, cute, sexually desirable Hip Hop artists. Rick Ross and Too Short are easy pickings and ready roadkill, and since no one cares about them anyway, discussing their contribution to “rape culture” is like spitting in the wind.
No, in order for someone really to dismantle “rape culture” in the Black community and beyond, someone has to tell the truth: commercial Hip Hop—which has been the only face that most fans of Hip Hop have seen—is rape culture.
Rape culture is not just about some guy saying, “Hey, I’m a sociopath who hates women and so I take advantage of them sexually,” while one of those cheesy soundtracks from a Lifetime Television for Women movie plays in the background.
Rape is not about sexual pleasure. Rape is about grabbing power, and that starts with taking someone else’s power away by demeaning her. And what is more demeaning than calling someone out of her name, over and over and over, hundreds if not thousands of times, for the last twenty-five years?
That’s rape culture, y’all.
In order to dismantle rape culture, you don’t just go after recent—and homely and not very rich—targets. It is necessary to look at how the entire popular culture of Hip Hop has eroded the power position of women in American society–during the exact same time in history that women’s reproductive rights in America have been assaulted, and during the same exact time that violent pornographic imagery in America has gained a foothold in the cultural imagination as well. And let’s not forget that, during the last presidential campaign, the words “legitimate rape” entered the political lexicon.
No, Hip Hop did not invent misogyny and rape culture, but it has gleefully participated in both. It is a player, pun intended.
And it is essential to talk about how the process of desensitization to women’s very personhood doesn’t just stop at name-calling. Now that new young men have gotten bored, in order to keep their numbed attention, Hip Hop must keep going into new, frightening territory concerning women. That’s why, when chastised about their “rape-y” lyrics, Rick Ross and Too Short responded with non-apology (sort of, but not really) apologies.
I may not like or respect either of these dudes, but I’m pretty sure they were intelligent enough to ask what I did of current Black activists: Why start now with the outrage? You ain’t been caring.
I’m still working furiously on the novel and the current book of poetry–but if you’re missing me–and I hope you are!–visit my Tumblr Page! This is my “in-between” location: more than a Twitter or Facebook Account, less than a full-blown blog.
I started this page because I miss you as much as you miss me. I really mean it! I had to stop myself from writing a full-blown blog post just last week. That’s why I started the Tumblr page.
You can visit me at: Black Library Girl on Tumblr.
And I’ve added a brand-new “Writing Sample” for you, here, too! Wondering what my novel-in-progress possibly might look like? I’m not saying the “Writing Sample” is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress–but I’m not saying it isn’t, either! (Smile.)
As always, I appreciate you all. Take care, and in the words of that corny 1980s song from The Breakfast Club, “Don’t you/forget about me…”
Those people who have followed this blog know that any time I write about anything, I do it with passion. But passion takes a lot of energy.
This year has been emotionally taxing, with the death of one of my good friends and that death occurring only a year and a half after another one of my good friends died. I’ve tried to keep the blog going, but I’ve found it extremely difficult, if not impossible to post regularly–four to eight times a month– with the same effortless passion I’ve had in the past
I guess you’ve noticed that I haven’t been faithful in posting on my blog for the past few months, even before late May, when I took an unexpected–but seriously wonderful–trip to Dakar, Senegal. While there, I fell in love with the country and the people, but I did not change my opinion of Africa as my motherland (something I’ve written on before.) Rather, I expanded my worldview.
Having come back from Africa, I’ve experienced a clarity of self that I’ve never known, and I know that writing this blog helped me to start the journey toward that clarity. But keeping up a blog is a lot of work, and especially because I’ve been trying to finish two books.
One book I’ve talked about a lot: The Age of Phillis is a poetry book on the life and times of Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to publish a book. Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped into slavery as a child and it is assumed that she embarked on the horrific Middle Passage in what was then (1761) called the “Senegambia” region. The trip to Senegal was important to my finishing that book, but equally important to finishing a book is, like, actually writing the book.
The other book I’m writing is a novel that I’ve tried to make go away, and which won’t budge from my soul. I didn’t talk a lot about the novel, because I didn’t know whether I would ever hit a groove in writing it. But now that I have, I hope to finish it, God willing. In fact, this blog helped me find my prose voice, the strength and courage of it. The humor and the honesty of it. But unfortunately, trying to write two sets of prose each week–one for a novel and one for this blog–is working my nerves overtime. I had to make a choice, and the novel won.
I know that folks will be disappointed–and a few, even a little bit upset–that I’ve decided to take an indefinite hiatus from blogging, but I hope y’all will understand where I’m coming from. And also, I hope y’all will see that I’m not really leaving y’all, just going away and coming back in another form–hopefully with two books.
I am going to maintain this blog space and page, so that if you miss me, you can always read past, archived posts. And you can always follow me on twitter @blklibrarygirl or “like” my Facebook fan page to keep in touch. And soon, if God says the same, I will have some new books for you to read!
I mean it sincerely when I say, I can’t thank y’all enough for the support you have shown to this blog. That support was completely unexpected but so needed in a difficult time in my life. In writing this blog, I’ve become more courageous in expressing my views and more aware of my artistic voice. I’ve discovered a fearlessness I never thought I was capable of. And I learned what was important to me. I was able to grow in these ways because of you, my readers, and the kind appreciation you’ve shown me.
Thank y’all so much.
I posted this blog piece about a year and a half ago (in October 2010), but in light of President Obama’s historic decision to declare his support of Marriage Equality for American LGBT citizens, I thought this was a good time to rerun this post.
Blessing the Slave Ships: The Black Remix
…..by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
A while back, I was at a White girlfriend’s dinner party with some academic friends, and there were two White men there who were gay and who were life partners. During the appetizers, the two men started talked badly about Christianity and Christians, calling them stupid and close-minded and homophobic. I raised my hand and defended myself as a “progressive, pro-gay, feminist Christian.”
They sort of smirked at each other and it made me mad, but I was at a good friend’s home and there was food on the table. I was raised that you don’t break fool where you don’t pay the rent and you don’t break bread in anger, either. So I let it go.
But a few weeks later, I was spending time with the girlfriend who had thrown the dinner party and I brought up the men’s comments. I told her that when Black folks came over here on slave ships, they had been taken from everything they knew, and they had to lie in their own physical mess—their feces, urine, and vomit. (I used a harsher word than “feces.” Full disclosure.) This must have been horrible for them.
And so, for many African Americans who had been converted to Christianity, that faith became a gift and a soft place to rest. I knew the practice of that faith had some problems, I said, but as a Christian it hurt me for her to allow people talk nasty about my faith because it took away part of my heritage.
Finally, I shared with my friend that I was a child molestation survivor and a rape survivor, too, and I had been through some real heavy stuff emotionally. (Again, I used another word other than “stuff.”). And for me, faith in God was the only thing between me and leaving the world before my time. I loved the Lord and I loved His Son, and I wasn’t ashamed to testify about that and the importance my faith had in my life.
Then I changed the subject because I didn’t want to shame her or hurt her feelings or make her think I was looking down on her because she was an atheist; I just wanted to tell her what was on my mind, as a friend and someone who loved her.
Because she was White, I didn’t bring up the strange relationship Black folks have had with Christian theology, either, not the actual tenets of the faith, but what some White men and women have burdened with faith with. It’s how White Europeans justified their meanness—the slave trade and its accompanying displacement, rape/molestation, and murder of Black women, children, and men—based upon their interpretation of the Bible.
Well before the slave trade started, racist theologians believed that Black people were cursed. They pointed to the story of Ham in the Bible; Ham’s the son of Noah, and he laughed at his father one night when Noah had gotten drunk and lay asleep in his tent, butt-naked. As a result of that laughter, Noah cursed his son. Throughout the ages, racist theologians have said that the “curse” Noah laid on Ham was blackness and his station as “servant of servants.” (This story occurs in Genesis 9: 20-27 if you want to read it).
And so, for several centuries, Noah’s cursing his son was used to justify slavery.
But read that passage. You don’t see the word “black” anywhere in that Noah-Ham chapter in the Bible. You don’t even see “dark.” But that doesn’t matter, because anytime some racist White “Christians” want to explain why Black folks are less than other (White) people, they point to the story of Noah and Ham.
And in the same way, homophobic “Christians” point to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or Paul’s letters to lowrate and persecute homosexual people and explain why God doesn’t like LGBT people.
Bishop Eddie Long has done this theological remix in the name of his homophobia, but he is not alone. T.D. Jakes has preached of the sins of homophobia, even as he is celebrated on the pages of Black publications such as Essence Magazine, smiling and flashing his seemingly kind, gap-toothed smile.
On a personal note, I have broken off friendships with Black Christian friends because of their homophobia. I’ve stopped coming to my family reunions, too, because of this religious hatred. I’ve had people tell me, “Family is family.” But tell me, would you pay hundreds of dollars to show up to a reunion where your White relatives used the “N-word” or your male relatives called women “b—-es” and “h–s”?
You know, I just don’t need good barbecue that bad to suffer through somebody praying about “the evils of men wearing dresses.”
Over the past few days since the Bishop Eddie Long scandal has broken, I’ve been reading many articles about homophobia and the Black church, but what I’ve found so curious and tragic is the twisting of theology. My guest blogger L. Lamar Wilson put his finger right on it, how theology is altered for the purposes of the one who’s really doing the wrong.
Ever since the Eddie Long scandal broke, I’ve been thinking about the notion of slavery, and what I told my friend about those young folks kidnapped and place on slave ships. When we had our talk I didn’t mention that in the past, White folks picked on African Americans because of a biblical interpretation, and now, given the chance Black folks will pick on our own because of biblical interpretations. I was too embarrassed and thought that maybe it would undercut my whole “testimony.”
We Black folks always go back to slavery and talk about how we’ve been “’buked and scorned” over the centuries; we bring up those slave ships that our ancestors rode in, laying in their filth and carrying their heart-hurt. Yet we are now guilty of the spiritual abominations of slave catchers and masters when we nurture homophobia in our community and our churches and say nothing. A few of us blogging and a few more of us reading and quietly saying, “Amen” in front of our computer screens is not going to lift our sins, either.
White slave ship captains would get preachers to cloak those slave ships in the word of God. They used theology to justify murder and rape and child molestation because Africans needed to be brought to Jesus–and now Black Christian homophobia does exactly the same thing and blesses a new kind of slave ship. They use the Bible to tell LGBT black folks–their kin– that they are headed to hell and that Jesus hates them because of the way they were born to love.
If we Black folks are going to talk about the moral responsibility that America owes our Black community, we should think about the type of community we need to be to deserve that ongoing help, because it doesn’t come for free. And a community that justifies hatred or looks away when they see it is not a community deserving of help in the name of morality and in the name of past–or even present– sins committed against us.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I was raised that being African American in this country was supposed to mean something great and worthy, something that we could be proud of.
I was taught by my mother, who is a godly progressive Christian woman, that when we Black folks stand on that testimony rock to talk about the pain of four hundred years, we are lifted up by something greater than ourselves: The struggles of our ancestors. The merciful God of our weary years. The blood of our mighty good Jesus.
Call me self-righteous, but call me a true Christian, too. And to that charge, I hope and pray I am able to answer, “Guilty.”
Before I introduce my new guest blogger, I’d like to give a roundabout introduction to her, if I may. So please be patient.
I was talking to my good friend Crystal Wilkinson this morning about one of our favorite writers, Toni Morrison, and her novel, Sula. I used to think Sula was an annoying, incomprehensible novel, but just a few days ago, I finally got it.
Sula and Nell, the two main characters in that book, are really two halves of the same woman. Sula is the bad girl. She’s erotic and doesn’t care about her community’s standards. Nell is the good girl, who always does what she’s supposed to. I’m strongly suspecting that those two halves—Sula and Nell—exist in a lot of women. I know they exist in me.
There are two sides to me. One side is my public side. Reasonably well-behaved (at least these days), spiritual, scholarly, and successful. That person is the writer, “Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.” The other side of me is foul-mouthed, erotic, passionate, and impulsive. That person is “Big Country,” the nickname my writer friends used to call me back in the day, when I didn’t have one publication on my curriculum vita.
A long time ago, I used to be myself. My whole self. My messy, contradictory self. I was a young, neurotic girl and I would follow my usually horrible impulses from one extreme to the other. That got me into a lot of trouble, not to mention a bad credit rating.
So I changed. I started thinking things through, never living by my impulses, and things improved. And thinking was a good thing. I got a really good job, improved my credit, bought a little house (that’s not fancy, but I love it.) I became a published writer and earned respect in my field.
But what happened is, I cut off one part of myself completely, because I didn’t want to be punished. Yes, punished.
It’s one thing to be “a good girl” in one’s professional life, although I’ve taken some risks. I started this blog, for one, and it’s not a “how to be a writer” blog, but a place where I became a cultural critic. But I follow the rules in my career. But at the age of forty-four going on forty-five, I’ve discovered that, as successful as I am in my professional life, I still felt as if I didn’t have a lot of power in my personal life—unless I wanted to be alone.
I was punished for being myself in my heterosexual relationships with men, and as I looked around at the lives of the heterosexual women I knew and as I read these so-called Black dating books and saw the way Black women were framed in this American society, I saw that Black women were being told to act a particular way in order to be loved romantically, or sometimes just sexually. But though we played the game, the game didn’t work for us.
These were very strange, counterintuitive messages. I started feeling powerless, which honestly, is one of the reasons I started blogging. I just felt I was keeping a lot corked and I wanted—needed—to let it out.
Then, this past weekend as I was cowering in my walk-in closet during a series of tornado warnings. Five people died a few towns over from me. It was very scary. And suddenly, I was like, “[Insert expletive carnal verb] this! I could die tomorrow. I’m tired of playing these damned games to get something I never get in the first place. I want to run with scissors. I want to be who I am.”
I realized that I didn’t want to be a good girl all the time, and I wanted to write about this process. But just as I’m two different women inside, I’m also two different writers—perhaps several different writers. I might seem to be a “straight no chaser” blogger, but if you look back, you don’t see a lot of discussion on sex and dating.
That’s because every time I tried to write those posts, I was afraid someone would know too much about me. That I might be a bad girl. And bad girls are always punished, at least in the Black community. There’s very little room for a respectable Black woman to be erotic and talk openly about it. But I’d like to do that.
And what does all this have to do with my new guest blogger? Well, y’all, my new guest blogger is me.
I decided to do this because Crystal has been urging me to get more “raw” on this blog, to talk about the things Black women need to hear but rarely do. To talk about the things I need to say. But I’m hoping that my non-female, non-Black readers can find something interesting and necessary in these “guest” blogs, too.
I’ve chosen a pseudonym, B. C. Flippin. The first two initials stand for “Big Country,” and the last name is that of my great-great-grandfather, George Flippin, a doctor who went against social convention in the early 20th century and married a White woman. He wasn’t a very nice man. He cheated on his Black wife, my great-great grandmother with this White woman, and his Black wife left him. He wasn’t a nice man, but he was certainly fascinating.
These guests blogs may be rare occurrences, because, frankly, I might have to get my courage up to keep it really real. (I’m talking below the waist, y’all, and super naughty things.)
And from time to time, Honorée might show herself in B.C.’s blog posts. For example, though I absolutely love to curse around the people I love and trust, I’ve seen a discussion between relative strangers go downhill toward cruelty, or just plain stupidity, once profanity enters the room. So, I’m still going to use “inserts” for curse words. But I am going to talk very directly about how race and gender have intersected my romantic and sexual life.
And just like her ancestor, B.C. Flippin might not always nice. She’s not a good girl and she’s proud of that, but I hope you’ll find her compelling. Because—finally—I find her very compelling. And very lovable, too.