On Alter Egos and Infinite Literacies, Part I

Fleshy Professional Avatar spent the weekend in Richmond, Virginia with colleagues and friends at the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History.  I tagged along for the ride, made a minor appearance in time to introduce myself to amazing and dynamic public intellectuals like @NewBlackMan and @DrJamesPeterson.  Then I dove right back in to life and work here in the DMV with the arrival of the Mobile Homecoming Project (@alexispauline and @juliawallace) for their week-long university residency.  This was another event Fleshy Professional Avatar was signed up to do but I hung out in the wings, dipping in when Alexis and Julia referenced their trip to AMC 2011 and the Shawty Got Skillz workshop, taking a breath of peace when I saw @Mdotwrites and as I was introduced to another professor-cum-insurgent.  And when I looked up, I turned around to find we’d formed a circle of womyn of color who do intense intellectual work and activism around saving our own lives in spaces that are almost universally hostile to everything we are and represent.  And yet…there we were.  Queering the space with our very own light energy, turning the room on its side and moving the group as a whole along a new wavelength of ultraviolet visibility.

For a moment, just long enough to breath in and out twice, I was able to be Kismet and Flesh at the same time.  The two bodies overlapped and co-existed in time and space together.

But it was only a moment.

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If You Need Help with ‘The Help’….

Like it or not, ‘The Help’ is the talk of the interwebs.  Some folks love it, many folks hate it, others just don’t know what the big deal is.

In case you have yet to read the Association of Black Women Historian’s beautiful, eloquent and concise statement on why ‘The Help’ is problematic, faux-Civil Rights history, you should check it out here (Zora Walker also posted it to Tumblr, for your reblogging ease and pleasure).  Reblog, repost, re-Facebook the statement EVERYWHERE. They are the experts.  They paid their dues.  They know what they are talking about.

But let’s say you still don’t see what the big deal is–or you loved the book/movie and you just want to be well informed on all perspectives.  Or you just need help understanding the whole history.  Never fear!  Zora Walker has your back.  Click away and get your mind right.  Then decide for yourself how you feel about Stockett’s work.

#MacheteBehavior after the jump:

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The WOC Survival Kit is Desperately Seeking GIFs!

Never submitted to the WOC Survival Kit?  Now is your chance.  The WOC Survival Kit needs more GIFs!!!!

What’s a GIF, you ask?  Well, since a GIF is worth a thousand words…..

Except if you’ve ever tried to search for the perfect, pro-womyn of color GIF, then you already know.  Not so easy.  Not easy at all.

Help us make the WOC Survival Kit one of the go-to places for poignant, political, ratchet, funny, sexy, silly and honest radical womyn of color GIFs on the web.  

Go forth!  Make those images of womyn of African, Asian, Latina & Native American descent move, shake, flash, beep, bling, snark, cuss, fart, and frakk.  Submit them to the ‘Kit here.  Or toss them up on your Tumblr, Twitter or blog and send us a message so we can reblog.  Or shoot them to us in an email (iwannaliv@gmail.com).  But send them our way!  Because the WOC Survival Kit is here for and accountable to YOU.

Happy searching,

The #AntiJemimas of the WOC Survival Kit

An iwannalive production

Rainbow Reclamations DC is THIS Sunday! RSVP Today!

The movement continues.   Jess Solomon of the ground-breaking and love-making Saartje Project & Emerson Zora Hamsa, of Planet Mixtape,  Shifting Vantage Point and a Come Correct #blackfeministsex rabble-rouser, are hosting Rainbow Reclamations DC, a series of discussions, workshops and rituals for queerky girls of color:

With infinite love, Emerson Zora Hamsa and Jessica T. Solomon will host a seven-month creative, collaborative effort called Rainbow Reclamations DC!

Using the template of the original Rainbow Reclamation series that was started by the brilliant black feminist scholar, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs in Durham, North Carolina, the Rainbow Reclamation District of Columbia Sunday Rituals will begin this June!

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Rebecca Lolosoli in A Land of Women

Rebecca Lolosoli. (Pieter Hugo for Newsweek)

Watching the Women in the World Daily Beast/Newsweek Summit on CSPAN this weekend introduced me to Daily Beast, Eliza Griswold and the remarkable Rebecca Lolosoli who founded a village where no men are allowed:

Our village has turned into a shelter,” Lolosoli says. Women and girls fleeing forced marriages, or ostracized for being raped, or trying to save themselves from female genital mutilation, come to Umoja in Kenya for safety. Sons are welcome—as long as they are willing to follow the village’s rules and do not try to dominate the women.

Say again???

In Swahili, Umoja [the name of the town] means unity. Many of the 64 women who live there are rape survivors. The perpetrators were often British soldiers who were stationed and trained nearby for more than 50 years.

“Wearing green uniforms they blended with the trees and when women collected firewood, the soldiers would jump out and rape them, laughing like it was a game,” Lolosoli says. She herself narrowly escaped attack by British soldiers several decades ago. (She doesn’t know her exact age, but guesses she’s around 48.)….

Finally, more than two decades ago, Lolosoli decided it was time to speak up on their behalf, no matter the consequences. She started attending community meetings to address this taboo.

When the response from community leaders was less than enthusiastic, she founded Umoja as a deliberate refuge for women and girls.   As if that wasn’t amazing enough:

Now, in addition to being a safe haven and a matriarchal utopia, Umoja is the center of a thriving artisans’ community, which centers around beadwork. Their wide, bright necklaces and elaborate headpieces are now de rigueur among folk-art fashionistas. Diane Von Furstenberg met Lolosoli in 2009. Last year, Von Furstenberg introduced the Samburu women’s intricate, sophisticated beadwork into her spring collection.

I’ve been knocking the “tribal” spring fashion theme as another Africa-Is-SO-Exotic meme.  But if it emerges from partnerships like this, I may need to be down.

And can you imagine?  A world of women of women and children?  My gut reaction was fear for the vulnerability of a female village–attack, confiscation of land, kidnapping, etc.  But this village has been at work for 21 years!  Which means a generation of sons were raised in a female-friendly, woman-loving and affirming space! Wut!

I’m giddy.  I’m tingly with happiness.  And I’m so down it isn’t even funny.  Can I move there?  Today?

This is just one of the inspiring and humbling stories I saw and read via CSPAN/interwebs.  The summit actually happened two weekends ago, but go to the Daily Beast Women in the World Summit page and read the recaps, biographies, video, and more.  They will put a fire under your ass.  If these women can do big things, you’ve got no excuse.

The Third Lives of Black Girls Everywhere

There was something corrupted about her.  Some days she’d joke and laugh, rubbing shoulders with others in the crowd, batting social cues left and right.  But at any point she might turn and stare into space, a smile stretching her lips into a thin corkscrew, a dark humor flushing her cheeks.  

The moment would pass. She would become human again.

But when she drank it returned and the predatory gleam of violence re-infused her face, some malevolence that soiled her eyes, marked her every movement with a curious, rancid energy.  

I would step back from her then, unnerved.  She’d be fine in the morning but at night I watched as pretense drained away, as she became a being who walked a language-restrained, whose voice, to everyone so smooth and sweet, was the voice of a woman in bondage, whose painful, silent, unconscious battle re-emerged in charmless, hollowed out encounters against the very people she loved and needed most. It made the tiny hairs on my neck recoil in alarm.

That the world existed to destroy her–well, there was no question. But that a swollen cheek or tear-stained chin became orgasmic was the other part of the story–and not the most interesting part besides.

~Kismet Nuñez, Untitled/Unfinished Book Project, September 2010

Some of the hardest battles we fight are the battles over own souls. Our sanity. It is real work to keep our love unsoiled by the pressures of a world that wants to deny our existence–that, at times, is mobilized in a concerted effort to exterminate us. A world that does not acknowledge that we are human, that we are women, that our blackness & brownness has meaning in our lives and therefore is relevant and real and beautiful, that our right to passion and to the fullness of our being is a right we deserve to fight for and kill for unto the end of our days.

It is a battle that isn’t won once. It is labor we do over and over, from the moment we wake up in the morning. Our inability to love ourselves fully is insidious and sneaky and before we know it, the damage is done. We open our eyes and the sun is shining but our love is a twisted, dark and dangerous thing, a weapon we deploy against others–often women as brown and black as we are–to keep them in line. A whip against those who are struggling and deserve our support, our help, but whose road to brilliance is a light that illuminates the self hatred in our lives.

Before we know it, we are on the way to making ourselves better by manifesting the breadth and depth of a toxic inhumanity and justifying the same with the long arm of Church, State & Politics.

It is what happens when black girls are forced into closets.

It is what happens when brown girls are told by mothers and fathers and priests that the God they love is judging them by criteria ranging from the color of their hair to the color of their hymen.

It is what happens when academic institutions construct esoteric parameters for tenure that, in their very structure, deny the legitimacy of research & writing specific to bodies of color.

It is what happens when we drink the water and let settle, deep inside us, the silt and muddy wetness of a hatred that knows no bounds, that is deadly serious, that would see us destroyed to justify itself, so that instead of waiting for the dark to come we do the work of execution all on our own.

“I’m talking to you, Brownfield,” said Grange, “and most of what I’m saying is you got to hold tight a place in you where they can’t come.” ~Alice Walker, Third Life of Grange Copeland, 1970

This morning I finished The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker (courtesy of @booksfree). And I spent last night fielding a series of crisis calls from friends in need, sistren grappling with the reality of their lives, yearning to love themselves against institutions with paradigms that deny them even a language to understand their world.

After each conversation, I forced myself to focus, because in their words I also heard myself; fighting for life, fighting not to drown under the weight of rules and regulations that do not fit the actuality of our lives. My struggle was their struggle, is my sister’s struggle, my mother’s struggle, my abuela’s….

…and it is more than just breathing. It is a daily battle to breathe and stay human, to avoid becoming as twisted and gnarled and wrong as they’d like us to, as they imagine we are, because that is what they see when they look at their own reflection.

But how the hell do you give birth to yourself–and keep that self alive?

That is part of the excitement over Willow Smith’s video. And the general hub-bub over the Sesame Street “I Love My Hair” video (and the mash-up). And the importance of wearing purple on Oct. 20th and advocating against homophobia on a daily basis.

Because this is a little girl not only breathing but manifesting every innocent and fabulous part of herself, sharing it with the world, demanding that we be “warriorettes” and “warriors” right along with her.

Because little girls are here and around the world are going to watch Willow, are going to watch the “I Love My Hair” muppet (who Puff is right–needs a name) and dance, unconsciously or consciously mapping new terrain in the way they are allowed/able/affirmed/admonished to understand themselves. And growing up in a world of social media, they may even be able to start making their own language to understand themselves, troubling the edges of what we all believe to be true or untrue, appropriate or inappropriate, manifesting a love that isn’t wrong or right but at least free–and therefore all their own.

Because if we do not find ways to fight against the terrain of hatred that we’ve sown, willingly or unwillingly, in our lives and in our society, what we can expect is many more little girls, little boys, and children who fall somewhere in between, hurting themselves, killing themselves, or killing others because they are doing with their bodies and their hands what society is doing to them.

Be a Warrioriette/Warrior

#NWNW & the Easy, Sexy Silence of Privilege

Cosby Koolaid Anyone? (H/T @divafeminist for this reference)

In case you decided to forego the interwebs today (or you’re still recovering from the #EddieLong Twitter bonanza that was last Sunday’s social media brunch special–see Jelani Cobb or Dr. Goddess for the recap), last Wednesday saw the internet launch of the No Weddings, No Womb Movement.  The site can feel a bit confusing in part because the founder, Christelyn Denise Karazin is doing a commendable and blog award worthy job of posting both criticism and support–the woman is braver than most Twitterati and I applaud her for it.  But if you want a quick rundown, you can find the FAQs here, the initial announcement here, and follow the citizen-bloggers listed on the site here.

Plenty of critique has been levied at the No Weddings, No Womb “movement.”  Two of my favorites were written by Bené and Sister Toldja but just throw the #NWNW hashtag into a Twitter search and you’ll get slammed with responses.  Nothing gets the blogosphere buzzing like the action going on in a black woman’s womb.

There are also a number of supporters–like Sophia Angeli Nelson who wrote a lovely, non-judgemental post for the Grio.  Some aren’t even turning a pro-marriage stance into an excuse to re-hash old Moynihan-esque arguments full of single mother stigma.  Or offering chastity belts & promise rings to fourteen year old girls to be returned upon completion of their wedding ceremony.

Unfortunately, over the course of the last week, the conversation grew increasingly vicious.  Twitfam were getting blocked and swarmed, misconstrued and misunderstood.  The vitriol came from both sides (Note to Self: Is “Google it if you want to” the new “Meet me outside”?) and none of it is fostered productive and healthy debate.  So I’m going to suggest something unusual and unnatural in this brave new world of 24 hours news and 21st century cyborgs.

Let’s.  Slow.  Down.

Yes, I know:  Your timeline is full of words like #wedding, #marriage, #womb, #singlemother, #blackfatherlessness, or #wedlock.  And I know that when those words appear alongside #black, #African-American #woman or #woc it causes some of you to break out into hives, scream invectives at your computer screen and run to your local library for a copy of Gutman’s, The Black Family in Slavery & Freedom, or perhaps E. Franklin Frazier’s The Black Family in the United States.

And yes, I know:  You are the daughter of a married couple who have remained so despite X number of obstacles –or– you are the daughter of a single mother who made it do what it do despite X number of obstacles.   This issue is personal for you–I hear you.  And yes, I do recognize the extent to which the black/African-American community’s post-civil rights movement-traumatic stress and betrayed expectations of same are feeding into the intense, emotional and physical reaction we are having.

But there have got to be some things we can agree on without jumping down each other’s throats, making personal attacks or using our considerable, 140 characters worth of wit and sarcasm to discredit each other.

For example, and just for argument’s sake, let’s all agree that the “movement” in this case is the health, welfare and well-being of all children born under God’s yellow sun.  Equal access to a safe, quality education.  Equal access to opportunities and resources that will lead them down the professional path of their choice.  Equal access to housing, to communities free of violence, to safe bodies and minds (no rape, no incest, no street harassment) and while we’re at it, we can throw in full bellies in those bodies, literacy to fuel those minds, confident images of themselves and their future in the world, a support network of kin (elders, parents, siblings and all other kin, fictive and real) who are completely committed to their just and whole development.

Is that a decent enough baseline to start with?

If so, the question becomes what did #NWNW leave out that may be causing such a ruckus?  And is there a way for the #NWNW movement (or something similar) to assimilate the things that are missing–or is it just what the detractors are saying it is?  (#Solutions)


1.  Where are the men? This one is easiest.  The #NWNW FAQs clearly state:

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Day 7: Please Allow Me to Get a Little Taíno On You….

One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.

Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): Post a picture about your culture and explain its significance

As soon as I saw this prompt, I knew exactly which image I would choose:

Above is a petroglyph of the cemí representing Atabey, Taíno deity of fertility, motherhood and sexuality.

According to José R. Oliver:

“…the Taíno-language term cemí refers not to an artifact or object but to an immaterial, numinous, and vital force.  Under particular conditions, beings, things, and other phenomena in in nature can be imbued with cemí.  Cemí is, therefore, a condition of being, not a thing.  It is a numinous power, a driving or vital force that compels action; it is the power to cause, to effect, and also denotes a condition or state of being.”  (Oliver, Caciques and Cemí Idols:  The Web Spun by  Taíno Rulers Between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, 2009, 59)

For the Taínos, the original inhabitants of the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the supernatural occurred on a daily basis.  Oliver gives the example of a tree moving its roots.  But a better explanation might be how my friend once described the literary genre magical realism:  “It’s like, say you’re cooking in the kitchen and a rooster walks in through the back door and starts talking to you.  And you talk back.”

According to Oliver, any individual could have an occult experience–dreams, visions, or trees moving their roots before your eyes–but only trained practitioners could interpret the meaning of those experiences.  Through ceremony and ritual, these practitioners gave shape to the moment, giving it a name, voice, personage all embodied (with artisan help) in an actual, physical manifestation.  The result was the cemí, an interpretation, a hypothesis, a reading which represented that experience risen to the level of extraordinary human perception by the sorcerer/shaman/priest/scientist who then took it further and lifted it to the level of ordinary human understanding as a carving in wood or stone, a petroglyph.

The petroglyph (or other “iconic object”) was therefore a bridge between the specialized knowledge of the shaman and the individual’s personal experience, triangulating by its very existence into something that could be shared by or within the community and society as a whole (placed on a personal or communal altar, prayed to, left offerings for, etc) (Oliver, 61).

Atabey is one of the oldest, most revered and iconic of the petroglyphs that have passed down to us today.  She is understood to represent the female side of their supreme deity, is associated with water and childbirth, and is seen as a founding or “universal mother” of the Taíno tribes today.  You can also find her inspiration, whether intentional or not (although I think Yasmín Hernandez is too fabulous not to have done this on purpose) in Puerto Rican women’s art, poetry and activism:

Todas Mujeres, 2005 by Yasmín Hernandez

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