First, this blog post is not to curry favor with conservative, extremely right-wing white folks who don’t like African Americans, but who suddenly are pretending to take interest in “black community issues” so they can practice their Strange White Supremacist Hoodoo Rituals in public, instead of the privacy of their own homes.
I’m talking to you, Bill O’ Reilly.
Go sit your annoying, obnoxious self down somewhere and stop pretending you really cared about the ills of the African American community when you recently went on a tirade saying that we had serious problems, including the “drug situation,” the disintegration of the black family,” and “gangsta culture.”
You’re using your fake concern about “black on black crime” to attack black people—as you’ve attacked us in the past—and with friends like you, what black person really needs the White Citizens Council of Jackson, Mississippi or the Ku Klux Klan?
Thank you, Mr. O’ Reilly, take care, and be blessed.
Now that I have established the ground rules, let me begin to explain the mysterious ways of Brother Don Lemon.
Lemon is black and Lemon is gay. That would seem to be a recipe for the most liberal black man. Instead, he was on the TV recently, going off on black folks all in public, in a seemingly willy-nilly fashion, and aligning himself with the aforementioned Social Plague That Is Bill O’ Reilly.
Then, Lemon listed his top five issues with black people. We’ll come back to those in a second.
And then, black folks started getting upset online, in the blogs, on the comment threads of blogs, on Twitter and on Facebook, wondering whether Don Lemon was an Uncle Tom Race Traitor, whether he was off medication for a psychiatric disorder (possibly connected with his being an Uncle Tom) or whether he needed to be on medication for an as yet diagnosed psychiatric disorder (that had Uncle Tom tendencies), and so on or so forth.
Like a lot of middle- and upper-middle class black folks Don Lemon is just fed up with what is happening in this community, and so, he had one too many cups of coffee (probably), and snapped on TV. And I must say, I agree with much of his frustration. But how much on his list really contributes to crime in the black community? Let’s examine it.
1) Don Lemon thinks black men need to forgo sagging pants.
Many black folks know where that “sagging pants” fashion comes from: prison culture. (Brothers inside aren’t allowed belts.) We are constantly having discussions about how to keep our young black boys out of the prison industrial complex, but then, we think it’s perfectly okay to let our young black boys walk around in a style made fashionable by the prison industrial complex?
I’m confused, mightily.
But what I will say is, there is no demonstrable link between a boy who walks around looking like he’s got on a man-sized, full, dirty diaper beneath his pants and criminal behavior. The demonstrable link is between having a job and not having a job, when he shows up to the job interview looking “besides like a fool,” in the words of my Grandma Florence.
Surely, I know that we should look past the exterior to the inside. Surely, some black boys use their attire as a temporary disguise to express their personalities. Some of them have teachers in high school or professors in college who will look past their dress to the brilliant young men inside—but some of them won’t.
Many young black men don’t have role models to guide them and tell them how to dress for a job interview or a campus visit for college, because nowadays, a middle- or upper-middle class black elder is attacked for trying to teach a poor or working class black kid about the realities outside of his own mind.
Nowadays, we’re supposed to keep quiet, instead of training these kids for mainstream American society. So we do remain quiet, and we revert to an “I’ve got mine, you get yours mentality.” And then, we middle- and upper-middle class black folks get criticized for not reaching back. It’s a racial catch-22.
2) Don Lemon says black men need to finish school.
People who graduate high school have more access to jobs and make more money than people who don’t. Everyone knows that—but what Don Lemon should have done was exhibit some sensitivity and discussed the erosion of the public school system in America, and how, if one is poor and black one is more likely to attend a substandard school that is not getting the funds that a school in a majority white neighborhood will.
And why? Well, there are a number of factors, but one that many of us never hear discussed is the issue of property taxes. Live in a more affluent neighborhood? Property taxes provide more money per child for education, which means lower student to teacher ratio, better trained teachers, better facilities, and more after school enrichment programs. Live in an urban poor—read black—neighborhood? Then there’s lots less money per child for education. Is that fair? No it’s not, and studies have shown that poorer schools have a lower retention rate for students.
In addition, there is a demonstrable link between lack of high school education and criminal activity; if you can’t get a job, you’re going to have to make money some kind of way and crime is usually it.
3) Don Lemon says black folks need to stop using the n-word.
Let’s face it, black folks of all classes have and will continue to use the n-word in private. I use it in private, I admit it, and that’s that.
But for the life of me, I don’t understand why reasonably sane black folks of all educational levels are putting forth valuable energy which could be used to solve a host of other community ills just to defend the right of RayRay, Pookie and Them or Famous For A Day Fill-In-The-Blank Rappers to stand on a street corner or in a music video and publicly abuse each other with a term slaveholding white folks invented to debase us.
However, there is no demonstrable link between using the n-word and criminal activity.
4) Don Lemon says black folks need to respect where they live and don’t litter.
Littering is bad. Black folks shouldn’t do it. Everyone should respect the neighborhood in which s/he resides–but have you been to a poor white neighborhood lately? I have. They litter, too. And I teach at a majority white university and every class period I have to remind the kids to pick up their trash before they leave because their mothers don’t work there.
And is Lemon saying that if you recycle your soda cans in your neighborhood, you won’t pick up a gun and kill somebody? Because there is no demonstrable link between littering and criminal activity, to my knowledge.
5) Don Lemon says black women need to stop having children out of wedlock and black people should marry before having children.
I’m not sure what I feel about this one.
Statistics show that unmarried mothers are more likely to be poor, which means that unmarried mothers must work more hours and they don’t have as much time to spend with their children. That would be an argument against out of wedlock parenthood and for married parenthood. But Don Lemon didn’t mention poverty. He discussed marriage from a “values” point of view, as if there is something shameful about unmarried mothers. What are we, on the second verse of Diana Ross and The Supremes’ “Love Child?”
One can have a family without marriage, and one should not be ashamed if one’s parents never married. We’ve all seen many examples of happy, unwed families. (And this is coming from a happily married woman.)
I also think that the term “fatherless sons” is very insulting to apply to children born out of wedlock. Simply because a father and mother don’t marry doesn’t negate them as parents and doesn’t mean a child is “fatherless.” What I believe is more important than the legal bond of marriage is a strong bond between parent and child and that parents are committed to the work of child rearing and nurturing. That should be the starting point, because while marriage should be a choice, abandoning your child and never looking back should not be.
And yes, there is a demonstrable link between broken families and criminal behavior, but it is dangerous to reduce that link to simply “no father in the home” without mentioning the issues of poverty, which we know is a contributing factor to crime. And what would have helped Lemon’s case is if he mentioned how there could be ways to help single mothers facing poverty, instead of shaming them by implying that every out-of-wedlock child was on a fast track to the penitentiary.
Lemon’s list constitutes individual problems in the black community—very real problems—but taken together, they don’t constitute any sort of unified solution to black-on-black crime. And I must say that the biggest problems that I see are his issues of logic, timing, and class insensitivity.
Only a few days ago, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the killing of Trayvon Martin. It was insensitive and didn’t make much sense for Don Lemon to pretend that, coming so close after the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, his remarks would not have been taken in the context of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and as a characterization of this dead black teenage boy. And do I need to tell y’all that Lemon made himself look absolutely ridiculous by even mentioning the name of Bill O’Reilly?
In addition, Lemon clearly is of a higher socio-economic status, and if middle- and upper-middle class black folks want to be critical of pathological behavior in the black community—which is our right as African Americans—we need to be very clear on what behavior simply embarrasses us because of class sensitivity (and makes us want to invent a whole new racial category for Bourgie Negroes) and what behavior is actually criminal. In these times, it does not help to make silly, stupid, or even trashy behavior a crime when talking about the very real issue of, say, the black-on-black murder rate in Chicago.
I do believe that Lemon really does care about other black people and he really is concerned and thus, his diatribe. Many black people are concerned. Unfortunately, Lemon is a symptom of what has been happening for far too long: a failure to connect between poor black folks and middle- and upper-middle class African Americans, and an unwillingness to hear and tell the truth. And it is time for the truth—the entire truth. Lemon’s List wasn’t it, but perhaps now he has lead the charge for more black folks of his socio-economic class to be honest and say what they think that truth might be, without fear.
Dear Mr. Cohen:
I’m writing you to discuss your latest column, “Racism vs. Reality” dated July 15, 2013 and to parse a point of logic with you—your considerably flawed logic concerning racial profiling. The gist of your column is that it’s unfair not to expect white people to be afraid of black men because they commit a lot of crime.
In your column, you wrote:
….There’s no doubt in my mind that [George] Zimmerman profiled [Trayvon] Martin and, braced by a gun, set off in quest of heroism. The result was a quintessentially American tragedy — the death of a young man understandably suspected because he was black and tragically dead for the same reason. [Emphasis mine.]
Mr. Cohen, I don’t even know you, and I’m sure you mean well, but I’d like to address the issue that you raise of “understandably suspected” black men. And I’d like use your own logic to explore what might be the aftermath of racial profiling of white people by black people. Let’s call it the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” logic of racial profiling.
As someone who is the survivor of violence, I understand post-traumatic stress. It’s a horrible thing to look at someone who resembles the person who committed violence against you or someone you love; you tremble, overcome with fear.
My mother, an African American woman, was born in the segregated South—in Georgia—in the 1930s and remembers when a group of white men lynched four black people in a town not far away from her. There is a book written about this lynching called Fire in the Canebrake: the Last Mass Lynching in America. Those white men never went to jail for their crime.
My mother’s great-grandmother Mandy was an enslaved woman whose first memory is of her father’s being sold down south. She never saw him again. It was a source of great pain for her. Later, however, she entered into a relationship with a white man and had a child by him; the man financially supported her biracial child and gave the child his last name, an unusual occurrence in the last 1800s.
My mother grew up in a racially terrorized South—and yet, she belongs to a predominantly white church and has several good, white friends, but according to your logic, because of Mama’s background, she is supposed to be terrified of every white person she sees, to seethe with anger or fear or some sort of traumatic emotion, remembering these painful moments from her childhood, to cook up some sort of retaliation in her Big, Black, Racial Trauma Pot. Certainly, my great-great-grandmother never would have made the romantic choice that she did.
Let’s explore the other side of my heritage: not only am I black, I’m of Native American heritage; my direct ancestors weren’t removed on the Trail of Tears, but surely relatives of mine were. In case you aren’t familiar with the Trail of Tears, it’s the journey where thousands of Native Americans were forced to relocate in the nineteenth century, after their land was stolen by the United States government.
Much of the Southeastern land that belonged to Natives was used for the cultivation of short-staple cotton; Eli Whitney made possible the separation of the seed from the boll with the invention of the cotton gin in 1794, and thus, Native folks were pushed off their own property, and more black folks were enslaved to pick that cotton.
As a person of Native descent, should I suspect that every white man appearing on my porch—say, to check my gas meter, spray my house for ants, or even just inform me about the teachings of Jesus Christ (even if it is too early in the morning for me to be awake and ready to receive piety)—is there to yank me through my front door, take me clear across the country to land that’s even flatter and more unattractive than where I live now and make me stay there, and on the journey, knowingly hand me a smallpox infested blanket to wrap myself in?
According to your logic, I should.
There are all kinds of ways I could isolate myself even further: I’m a woman who is a rape survivor and men commit over 90% of the rapes in this country. What if every woman who was raped decided she never wanted to be touched or approached by a man again, let alone, want him for her lover or husband or the father of her children?
When I met the man with whom I fell in love and married, should I have screamed at him in his face that he was a potential rapist, or pulled out a dull nail file and tried to stab him—just in case he might have been a rapist?
According to your logic, I should.
Mr. Cohen, if someone like me—the descendant of and relative to people who were lynched, raped, sold, branded, spat on, physically displaced, called names, terrified again and again for over three hundred years—can learn to take every white person (or every man of any race) I meet on a case-by-case basis, to think the best of someone until he or she shows me differently then Mr. Cohen, how dare you—a person who looks a lot like the people who lynched, raped, sold, branded, spat on, physically displaced, verbally abused, and terrified my people for over three hundred years—tell me that it’s common sense to feel that a black man is “understandably” a criminal because of crime statistics that don’t even reach back forty years?
In the words of my mother, what kind of sense did you make in your column? Nonsense, that’s what kind.
According to your flawed sense of logic, what would your whiteness mean to me– if I couldn’t believe in a better time, if I didn’t have faith in humanity’s ability to positively grow, if I didn’t possess a need to love my fellow man and woman, regardless of what he or she looks like, in the brightest day or the darkest of night?
At some point, you, I, and all the people who make up a “we” must take the risk of not blaming people because of past unpleasant, traumatic, or even violent experiences suffered at the hands of someone else. It may sound naïve, but if we Americans don’t decide to accumulate courage to say “enough” we will continue to live in disharmony, distrust, and yes, hatred surrounding race in this country.
Is that how you want to live the rest of your life? I know I don’t.
We all have a bone to pick, in the ancient or recent past. Every single one of us, regardless of race or gender, can locate a grievance of some kind against someone else. My pain is no greater than anyone else’s, and yours is no greater than mine.
We can honor the past transgressions against us personally or against our blood ancestors, but it is not fair to blame or hurt a person who has done us no immediate wrong in the here and now, just for inhabiting the skin color or gender or religion (or so on) of person who did the original crime.
Mr. Cohen, I’m not here to argue the Zimmerman trial verdict; that trial is over, and however I may feel, I have to continue to live by my principles. What I am here to do is to remind you of what it means to be a more loving and hopeful human being, in the long run. I hope this letter has helped you on that journey.
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
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.