Now Reading: The Wretched of the Earth

The 2004 Grove Press version. I admit it–I’ve never read Wretched all the way through in a single sitting. 

I’m only in Homi Bhabha’s foreword and my brain is already shooting sparks:

“The landscape of opportunity and “choice” has certainly widened in scope, but the colonial shadow falls across the successes of globalization. Dual economies create divided worlds in which uneven and unequal conditions of develoment can often mask the ubiquitous, underlying factors of persistent poverty and malnutrition, caste and racial injustice, the hidden injuries of class, the exploitation of women’s labor, adn the victimization of minorities and refugees.”

Reading Essence

Had a nice, long conversation with one of my besties T this past weekend.  And somewhere in the usual hilarity, she mentioned, in passing, something she read in Essence Magazine.

Now I don’t have many friends who are avid magazine readers and even the ones that are in the industry and keep up as part of their own professional development. But T is one of the exceptions and I’ve always been struck by her commitment to Essence.  I didn’t grow up in a household with black magazines on the table; I didn’t know any Puerto Ricans who called themselves part of the Johnson Publishing family.  Which is sad to say–having them around may have given me and my sisters a stronger, more confident self-image.  And sad in general considering Latina was only founded in the late 90s and it damn near immediately went for the European-standard of Latina beauty, completely ignoring the fact that a significant percentage of the Latina/o community is of quite visible indigenous and African descent (how you think we got here, familia?).

Instead, I became interested in Essence after Time-Warner purchased it (on the heels of the purchase and sad to see another black-owned media fall to capitalist interests).  And concerned with the critique from across the blogosphere (including myself) about the portrayal of black women in the media and especially in places like Essence.  As you can imagine, my opinion is pretty skewed.

But T’s mention got me thinking so while I was on a random CVS run, I picked up the latest issue.  Janet is on the cover–okay, check.  Ciara has a spread and Queen Latifah smiles out from the glossy pages in all her fabulous-ness–cool.  And flipping through I was struck by how normal it seemed.  Average.  Unimpressive.  But the prospect of purchasing a subscription lingered in the back of my mind–why not?  If we don’t have Essence, what do we have?

Then I read Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ post today.  And everything she said, from the history of the mag to the white-black (or light-dark) ratio inside, to the back of the bus placement of poems, stories, news and essays was DEAD on–and put me in a foul mood with the magazine.

I can’t claim Jeffers long relationship with Essence.  All I have is the love I always feel for sisters and spaces where sisters congregate.  Essence, in my mind, is still one of those spaces.

But even to me Essence is like that one family member that is always slapping you down on the low, that is cordial because you are kin but feels no responsibility for you, that serves the best Sunday dinner but in subtle and not so subtle ways let’s you know that you aren’t good enough to really sit there because you really aren’t light enough, well dressed enough, hair straightened enough, accomplished enough, wealthy enough or black enough all at the same time.  Making you want to drop her off on the rowdiest block in the city and watch her talk that shit again…

Except she’s your sister.  And how do you do that to family?

I don’t know if I’ll subscribe.  It feels like signing up to be hurt again and again.  But I’ll add to my RSS reader.  Because sometimes you have to love family despite themselves.  And cultivate other loves in the meantime.

The Obligatory Menstrual Post (or “The Diva Cup, Race and Blood”)

I’m cranky.  I’m horny.  I’m bloated.  And I’m fatigued.

It’s period time.

Yeah I said it.  I’m on my period.  Let the blood flow.

There’s clearly nothing very cerebral here.  Really.  I just wanted to make that announcement.  But I guess my point is why NOT make that announcement?  One-half (this is unofficial, give or take to factor in kids) of the human population goes through a week of estrogen cartwheels every month.  Sometimes two weeks.  Sometimes to the point of becoming severly depressed or having debilitating physical symptoms like intense cramps.  And yet we’re expected to walk around like everything is okay.  Like today is just another work day.

I call bullshit.  I’m not amused by the jumping jacks going on inside my body right now.  I’d like it to go back to being cool, calm and familiar.  And all I really want to do is take care of myself this week:  run, sleep, do yoga, dance, meditate, whatever.  Believe me, if you gave me a week off to do that, imagine how much more productive, happy, healthy and whole I would be once I got back to work?

In any case, the second part of my announcement is more fun.  I am not only my period…


…I am also using the Diva Cup!

Yeah.  I’m a feminist.  But I have been slacking on my commitment to women’s health.  By slacking I mean that I know that abortion is a right, abstinence is a perfectly legitimate choice but not good public policy, AIDS is an epidemic and we have yet to respect or understand the psychological and sociological impact of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault on our society seeing as 1 in 3 women around us have experience it (yeah.  look around you.  count it up.  one-third of the women in the room are survivors).  Given all of the above, I thought I was pretty well-informed.

Until my housemate schooled me on a few dirty little facts about the sketchy safety of long-term use of birth control pills, how you actually GET toxic shock syndrome (friction from the cotton in tampons causes tiny cuts in the vaginal walls and the TSS comes from the infection caused when that cotton gets stuck there–wtf???), how even if you don’t get TSS the bleach used in the cotton is going right into your bloodstream…

In the meantime, I’d also heard about the Diva Cup before but I wasn’t quite primed to take the plunge [Note:  This is a link to a post on Feministe in case you are currently boycotting them for their unremitting race/class/sexuality issues.  The post is on menstrual blood but there’s a very instructive discussion in the comments on the Diva Cup and other alternatives to industrial tampons and pads].

But my housemate was taking her sister to the “crunchy store” to get her a Diva Cup so I tagged along.  It looked so tame!  It also cost 40 bucks but the cup will hold for 12 hours (compare to the 8 max of a super tampon) and the cup itself lasts several years (the saleslady let us know that you are supposed to chuck them every couple of years but they only say that so they don’t go out of business).  You just boil it for five minutes after your period and tuck it in the little sack until the next month.  You aren’t supposed to use it if you’ve delivered a child through the vaginal canal (as opposed to C-section) but they also suggested you consult your physician and there is plenty of information to sift through in the FAQs on the site

Well today is Day One on the Diva Cup so here is the real deal so far.  It was a bitch to put in and I chalk that up to my own ignorance about how my girly parts work.  Even though the instructions said to fold the cup and insert it horizontally, I kept trying insert it vertically.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the geography down there.  Which just made me feel salty because I am supposed to know how to walk around my own block!  Talk about socially constructed hang-ups.  I also expected it to be as easy as a tampon, in the sense that you just slip it in and it does what it is supposed to do.  But you also need to turn it to get the cup to unfold and “seal” around the canal.  Let me tell you, chile, just doing that–unfolding and pushing aside this, inserting a finger here, turning that, twisting my body around to figure out what was happening where, freaking out when I thought I’d “lost it” in there then realizing that this is patently impossible since it is so soft all you do is insert a finger alongside it and coax it out which made me laugh out loud at my minor panic–taught me more about my own body than I ever learned in 6th grade sex-ed.

Which was probably the best part of the damn experience.  It was a sweaty, fun, frustrating and triumphant time.

I finally got it to seal only after I gave up on th idea that I ever had any idea where things were down there and followed the damn directions.  And it felt great.  Better than a tampon because I didn’t feel that scratchy string and I don’t have to worry about counting hours before pulling it out.  I might have forgotten that it was there except that I’m writing this post. It is that comfortable.

Of course…removing it will be a new adventure.  But if I measure how much I like the Diva Cup by how much more comfortable I am (and empoweredI feel) I’d call it a win.

So why didn’t I know about it before?  Which brings me back to the beginning of this post–why NOT discuss these things?  Why isn’t this kind of information widely disseminated?  I was stunned to read on the box that the Diva Cup has been around for some 70 years.  I could have learned about this in 6th grade sex-ed or at least in high school at some point.  Of course, if I had, would I have been as comfortable with the idea of something so tactile?  Touch the cup, touch myself, touch blood–all things we are taught as little girls not to do.  We are dirty, smelly, sweaty.  Blood is dirty, smelly sweaty.  None of this makes even the idea of a Diva Cup very attractive; I mean I turned off myself when I first read about it.

I’m going to keep it Sherrod right here and just admit it:  I put the Diva Cup in the category of feminist-shit-that-only-white-women-do.

But, um, I don’t know about you, but I’m not dirty or smelly or sweaty.  Sweat isn’t even dirty or smelly.  Blood isn’t dirty or smelly or sweaty either.  Not even menstural blood.  It is just blood.  And considering the industrial strength soap we buy at CVS, believe me, it washes off the hands.

bell hooks has a great piece (I can’t find the citation, please bless me with if you know what I’m talking about) about African American women, how comfortable we are with our bodies AND our bodily fluids and systemic racism which conspiraces to make us feel dirty, sweaty and smelly regardless of how many showers a day we take.  The point being that from slavery, one of the undercurrents in our culture have been how disgusting we are even as that same sweat and dirt (the result of hours upon hours of field labor, mind you) left us vulnerable to the hyper-sexualizing gaze of white society, white men in particular.

Our own comfort with our bodies, like everything else, is political.  It is part of how we survive in this world.  Just trying the Diva Cup and seeing it as an adventure, for me, was a win on the side of righting wrongs a few centuries old.  Discussing it with you here was another.

Poem: Things to Remember

Things to Remember

the smell of hot rain…
the buzz of old love songs
bumpy CTA rides and
Temptation wanna bes
singing for change at the train

my youth; no matter how
my brown skin against white
hotel towels,
and sweating windows, looking
out to other dimensions i dream…
then write…

writing impersonal and myriad
to the core, brilliant Second Sight to
guide me, like my
sisters silent steps in the hall on the way
to the bathroom;
like coming home dual-colored child-
dream of my mother’s
mother’s child.

I know only three generations,
but I wait; ready for more, just call
me, dream me waking, landscape me,
close to your heart,
sculpted tight like your hills,
ridges, rivers, crests;
the india blood, diluted by disease
in my heart where u cannot see;
like the negra/africana blood,
i cannot help but to show…
pondering briefly–
is it fair to be proud I
my mother
mi abuela
escaped rape just that many  times?


Phoenix Savage

“I was in New Orleans before the storm and I had this body of work based
on Aunt Jemima but it was castings that I had down of women in my
community when I lived in Nashville and the work ended up in New Orleans
with me and I had to leave the work behind and I moved but the work was
made out of plaster so it got destroyed in the storm and that’s what
lead me to the casting because I felt so vulnerable from that
destruction and I felt like I wanted to work in a way where my work was
indestructible.”  Savage’s desire for preservation lead to her new
practice of cast iron sculpture however the implication of preservation
extends beyond the physical. ” Casting is very difficult, it’s very time
consuming and casting iron is more difficult, more time consuming than
casting bronze or other metals and most people don’t like it because
it’s iron so you don’t get that same glory feeling from it but the iron
is who I am as a black person.”

via Zora & Alice.  Read the rest

Root-Work: Ta-Nehisi Coates

There is a deeper dislogic haunting this country on race. It can’t be beaten with facts, stats and arguments. The notion that black people are a problem is superreligious. It is bone-deep. It haunts everything and we can’t, in this time, get loose. There needs to some fundamental root-work done here. I feel like I’ve spent the past few years playing with a hedge-trimmer, when what I need is a chainsaw. A diamond-grit chainsaw.

Read the rest at The Atlantic via Racialicious

Other Excerpts (from 2005)

From matriarchy—motherglow—Goddess

we’ll go to bedeviled witch—glass eyed hussy

And from militant Amazon queen

we’ll cut the clit and secure the tit
bind the feet because
the blood this time of the month is unclean
runs red with fires lit under
Beltane priestesses
and vestal virgins
Cleopatra delight served on Anthony’s dick while books
of history
of climax
of supple, feline, girl limbs touching
of a woman-named city: Alexandria

I had my heart broken this way.