This Erotic Life

“As a Black lesbian feminist, I have a particular feeling, knowledge, and understanding for those sisters with whom I have danced hard, played, or even fought. This deep participation has often been the forerunner for joint concerted actions not possible before.”

Another historic eve.  Another election.

Go out, go vote.  I am.

But I’m also sitting in the lab, folded around my work, reminding myself and reminded that community is created through love making on the daily.

 

 

[Full Text: Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” in Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches By Audre Lorde (1984; repr., Berkley, CA: Crossing Press, 2007), 53-59.]

 

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Random Musings on Poetry

I just returned from hearing Rita Dove, poet and professor, read from the published Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry (which she edited).  She is full of fun and laughter and sarcastic good humor.  I would be her best friend if I could.  She signed my journal and left a blessing: “Fill these pages with your songs.”

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SHOTS FIRED: The Association of Black Women Historians has a few things to say about ‘The Help’

SHOTS FIRED:  The Association of Black Women Historians has a few things to say about ‘The Help.’

And they aren’t just talking to white people.  They are talking to all FANS.  And they are telling you to get your mind right (and giving you a reading list to help you).  Statement in full below–bold is my emphasis:

An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help:

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help.   The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.

During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women’s employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it.

Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smat, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family, in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.

Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of white employers. For example, a recently discovered letter written by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks indicates that she, like many black domestic workers, lived under the threat and sometimes reality of sexual assault. The film, on the other hand, makes light of black women’s fears and vulnerabilities turning them into moments of comic relief.

Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi. Granted, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi based field secretary of the NAACP, gets some attention. However, Evers’ assassination sends Jackson’s black community frantically scurrying into the streets in utter chaos and disorganized confusion—a far cry from the courage demonstrated by the black men and women who continued his fight. Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Ida E. Jones is National Director of ABWH and Assistant Curator at Howard University. Daina Ramey Berry, Tiffany M. Gill, and Kali Nicole Gross are Lifetime Members of ABWH and Associate Professors at the University of Texas at Austin. Janice Sumler-Edmond is a Lifetime Member of ABWH and is a Professor at Huston-Tillotson University.

Word Count: 766

Suggested Reading:

Fiction:
Like one of the Family: Conversations from A Domestic’s Life, Alice Childress
The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James
Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neeley
The Street by Ann Petry
A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight

Non-Fiction:
Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph
To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors by Tera Hunter
Labor of Love Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline Jones
Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Any questions, comments, or interview requests can be sent to: ABWHTheHelp@gmail.com

Read it again here.  And REBLOG THIS EVERYWHERE.  These are black women HISTORIANS.  They have lived the history or they are close to someone who has.  And they have paid their muthafrakkin DUES to WRITE the history.  THEY are the experts.  Not some…well, you know who.  THEY ARE BAWSE.

Reblog this hot 16 right here.  Because in the future……

In the Future, We Kill Our Attackers: Rihanna’s “Man Down” as Afrofuturist Text

YouTube-Rihanna-Man-Down-8

Rihanna’s video for “Man Down”  dropped last week and set the web on fire.  The way justice and rape, innocence and violence work in the video–and the non-sensical responses to it–have already been outlined by better writers than me.

I’m writing this post to take the video to its logical conclusion:

In the future, do we kill our attackers?

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Sunday Livin’: Matana Roberts’ Coin Coin

 

Writing so often (and in such crowded cafes), working alongside music aficionados, and teaching about New Orleans is forcing me to reconsider getting into jazz.

My knowledge of the form pretty much begins with Natalie Cole and ends somewhere in the blue with Miles Davis.  And it’s not that I’m uninterested.  But I’ve got a tendency to play what I like over and over until I’m sick of it.  And since that process may take years, I miss a lot of great stuff in between.  Like Cassandra Wilson…

…which popped up in my Pandora station one day (her ole fine self, singin like an angel…lawd).

Enter Matana (Mah-ten-ah) Roberts:

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This Sh*t Right Here? This Sh*t Right Here?

You know why it takes so long?  Because sometimes this work is like touching an open wound.  You can do it.  You can even take pleasure in doing it.  But it will still bleed.  It may become infected if you aren’t careful.  And it will always hurt.

There is pleasure in pain.  And there is satisfication in knowing that you are alive enough to bleed, to hurt.   But still….

#thereisviolencehere

Love to those who are trying to make it (and those recently over): @ImaniCheers, @AndreaWatson, @divafeminist, @UriMcMillan, @DianaHill, @Puff, @MoyaZB, @MDotWrites

When All You Want is Someone to Rub Your Booty

Last night I headed into the warm-cold northeastern night to play.   The Friday before Halloween in the grown-up world is when all kinds of delicious and debaucherous (yup, I made up a word right there, #witness) things go down. It is also the night in girl world where…


via electricdaisies

…yes ma’am.

No reason why Pretty Magnolia shouldn’t come out to play right? (her full name, after all, is Pretty Magnolia the Sex-Positive Fairy)

But ahh, New England, you tricky, tricky foreign land.

Pretty Magnolia did make an appearance, a work of fish-netted, laced, gartered, and cinched violet wonderful. She was brown-skinned, round-bottomed, thick thighed, buxom and fabulous. She should have been sprinkling sex-positive fairy glitter on everyone and everywhere. And she did. But in a land of 98% whiteness, she should not have been surprised to find that her brand of clitoratti energy lacked its usual pizzazz. By the end of the night, perfectly pleased with herself but more than a little limp-winged, Pretty Magnolia turned into a purple pumpkin and rolled her way home. Alone.

And I woke up this morning ruminating on what exactly about the evening left me feeling so unfulfilled.

(get your minds out of the gutter) (okay, maybe you’re right) (but no, you’re not)

Because I may be new to the sex-positive game but if I’m not mistaken, it isn’t just about where you find your orgasm.  It’s about intimacy.  It’s about the ways that body, heart, mind and soul make the most effective, healthy and wholesome connection.  And there’s another element, beyond intimacy, that we don’t emphasize enough but it’s particularly relevant to women of color–women whose hair & bodies are so often manipulated by the media for its own purposes even by so-called allies, who historically have been dissected, used and abused by everyone from scientists to slaveowners, turned into experiments, objects, Others.

It’s the part where we affirm that we are women, women of color, black women that we/I am a

…romantic woman love needer man seeker dick eater sweat getter fuck needing love seeking woman…

with every right to be seen that way, to have that complexity acknowledged if only in a glance, a touch, a whisper in the ear, a swaying dance, a hand on a hip or, if by mutual consent, something more physical.

I wasn’t shopping for an orgasm last night (really, I wasn’t). What I was shopping for was sexiness. What I missed, truly, madly, deeply, was being in a space with others whose look did more than fetish the curve of a black breast.

I don’t want to be grabbed at a party in Delaware or Connecticut anymore than I want to be groped in D.C. or Chicago. If the gaze has a spectrum then the fear and nervous shock/surprise found on the faces of *some* white men I encounter is no more desirable than the hard, dehumanizing & possessive lust found on *some* black men’s faces in other venues. Neither is much fun to have to navigate and neither make me feel safe much less sexy.  (Pretty Magnolia slaps faces on the regular for such behavior: #shewildlikethat )

But to be teased, tickled and tantalized all at once with just the twitch of an eyebrow? To see a man (whatever race or ethnicity) bite his lip in my general direction? To be given, as my friend calls them, “fuck me eyes” and feel the air vibrate between us as I pass by? In short, to be seen as a body that is desirable? #therearenowordsforthatkindofyum

Which, as it turns out, is part of why I miss and love black, brown (and the occasional & smarter-than-his-brothers white) men. No one appreciates a brown booty they way they do. And sometimes all you want at a party, on a date, or even in the grocery store is someone to (at least try!) to rub your booty.

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