The CFC

14 Apr 2014

but we don’t see her enough.

to know she’s not stronger than steel

that super-human shit is made for TV

but made for real life

blackgirls

break

we matter

but we don’t hear ourselves enough.

screams are muted by stereotypes and assumptions

that swallow and misunderstand our words

when they are not softly-spoken

or standardized

making us feel foreign

in our own damn land

we belong here

because we belong everywhere

we matter

but we are not present enough.

forced, always, to think ahead

and defend ourselves

to think back

and protect ourselves

blackgirls lives

are fleeting

taken away

at the hands of people we love

sometimes at our own hands

because being black when the world sees you as all wrong

is like a degenerative disease

with an expensive ass cure

we matter

our sadness is not a pathology

we are not pathological

please pay attention to our/my/their pain

please let me/us/them know they matter

I never thought I would live to be the age that I am.  It wasn’t just sadness and lack that convinced me, it was the utter disregard for who I was in the world.  I never thought that anyone would give a damn that I was gone or miss me.  I imagined relief at the news.  I imagined indifference.  Finally, that little black girl is not taking up any more space in the world.

Suicide happens because death feels preferable to living.  It doesn’t mean I’m crazy, it means I’m human, it means that I hurt, it means that I matter.  Blackgirls need reassurance, love, affirmation, understanding, quiet, noise, Jesus, Allah, themselves, to be, our mamas, our sister-girls, lovers, time, enough money to get by, for our biologicals to bother, to be chosen, to be recognized, to  be celebrated, to be held up on a pedestal barefoot and proud, to be told relentlessly and unapologetically that we are beautiful, to be listened to, to be heard, a space to fall apart, a space to be put back together again, help, justice, truth, to know they matter.

When you see a blackgirl, smile.  She is a gift to the world.

When you hear a blackgirl speak, listen.  She is a gift to the world.

When you are in the presence of a blackgirl, look.  She is a gift to the world.

Blackgirls matter.  Those of us who breathe and those of us no longer breathing.

In Loving Memory of Karyn Washington, and other blackgirls we have lost.  Please use the comments section to call the names of other blackgirls we have lost too soon.

28 Mar 2014

Some spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

scandal-abc

Watching Scandal is a weekly ritual for me. I love to sit back on my couch, phone in hand (cause I gotta get my tweet on), and revel in the ridiculousness of this frothy primetime soap. Shoot, sometimes I bust out red wine and popcorn too.

scandal meme

After my tweets and retweets, I go onto the Facebook and laugh and kiki with the Facebook folks about their thoughts. I even click “like” on the statuses of the Scandal haters who clown the rest of us. It’s all good fun. Then I love reading recaps by Awesomely Luuvie and seeing what the doll, Miss Funky Dineva, has to say on YouTube. It’s a whole community experience that I thoroughly enjoy, especially since my Thursdays usually involve three hours of commuting, responding to tons of emails, teaching, unproductive meetings, and the like. Scandal is not just a show, it’s an event and I thoroughly enjoy it.

hoc & scandal

Since Netflix has released House of Cards, there’s been a lot of comparison to Scandal. On the one hand that makes sense, since both series are wildly popular political dramas that feature sex, intrigue, and duplicitous backroom dealing. Now, while House of Cards is another political drama that I enjoy (I’m halfway through season one, so no spoilers, people!), there is, to be honest, not that much of a comparison. In my mind, House of Cards is filet mignon, while Scandal is a greasy burger. And sometimes a sista just wants a greasy burger.

Sometimes.

And sometimes a sista needs to pop some Tums cause it’s too much. It just depends.

So, I watched last night’s episode and, for the most part, got my entire life. Like many others, I had waited with baited breath for the show’s return after it’s winter hiatus. But I thought the season started off a bit slow. Well, series creator Shonda Rimes is known for giving viewers the okey doke and the last few episodes have been wild rides that have kept me on the edge of my seat.

The moment in last night’s episode that really had me hollering was when Mama Pope told Olivia that she was simply “the help.”

help1help2

#Dead

You is kind...you is smart...You is important? Maybe.

You is kind…you is smart…you is important? Maybe.

h/t Awesomely Luvvie. Made by http://ift.tt/11r6k5m

h/t Awesomely Luvvie. Made by http://ift.tt/11r6k5m

the help2

Y’all ain’t shit for this!

And then when Cyrus was basically like, “Yeah, girl, you the maid and I’m the butler.” Dead again.

To be honest, when Mama Pope read Olivia for filth those lines from that horrible, horrible, horrible movie The Help did come in mind. And the moment underscored one thing I am definitely not here for in Scandal—Olivia being everything to everybody and nobody to herself. I love how this character stomps through the White House, slaying everyone in a five mile radius with her flawless coats and Indian Remy, but the character’s isolation (where are her homegirls?) and undeserved allegiance to a corrupt government is both tired and played.

Now the series has toyed a bit with the issue of Olivia being akin to a modern Sally Hemmings. And I don’t think those comparisons are completely inappropriate, though what I’m not here for is any even remote inkling of slut shaming or respectability politics. Let’s just leave that mess at the door and feel free to take it with you on the way out. What I am interested in, however, is the ways in which the series has moved to overemphasizing an uninteresting romance instead of developing a character that has the potential to be so very fierce. C’mon, Shonda! Give Olivia some more depth and at least one homegirl. I know there has to be at least one Black or Brown sista in the DMV that doesn’t want to kill her or sleep with her dude(s)!

I mean, I love a guilty pleasure as much as the next person (revisit my first paragraph if you don’t believe me) but I’m a tired unto death of seeing the lip quivering, deer in headlights non-romance between Fitz and Olivia, their undeniable sexual chemistry notwithstanding. And then all this mess around “saving the republic.” Now I get that Scandal is just a delightfully trashy melodrama, but lots of people actually believe that mess and I think seeing this played out week after week reminds me of that foolishness. Can’t the show just go back to “fixing” juicy political scandals every week?

What are your thoughts on Scandal, fam?

24 Mar 2014

Beyonce

I was a little late to the game when Beyoncé’s self-titled album first dropped.  I am not an Apple user so I had to wait a week before I had access to the visual album “seen” around the world.   Except for Flawless, which has since become somewhat of a personal feminist “girl, get your life, you got this” anthem and the two songs released on YouTube in the interim (Drunk in Love and XO, and the controversies surrounding them), I was limited to the album summation of friends which varied from, “Girllllllllll….” to “I prefer the ‘Get Me Bodied’ Beyoncé and this album is more grown woman.  You will probably like it, though.”

It wasn’t until after Christmas that I finally copped the album to serve as a soundtrack on my drive back to Alabama from North Carolina, but even then it took me another few weeks before I sat down to watch the “visual” version.  It was a stunning visual experience—artful, decadent, thoughtful.  My fascination with it all, though, was definitely linked to the grown-woman aspect of the album.  This is a far cry from her “Bootylicious” days.  While Beyoncé talking about sex is nothing new, this album stands out because of how she talked about it.  This was not a sing-along (or love song).  This was serious business.

When I was in my twenties some of my older homegirls would say that sex is better post-30, because you are more confident, you know what you want/like/need, you are less self-conscious, less concerned about being called a freak, and comfortable in your body/skin.  Beyonce’s album spoke to me like those homegirls, offering a commentary on grown woman sex(uality).  She went there!  From the provocative adlibs on Blow and Rocket to the unrepentant Yoncé interlude, this album, not unlike others in her repertoire, is an exercise in cockiness.   However, this album ain’t about love or romance.   It’s about pleasure and how/why you should get yours.

It’s no wonder that she got some flak for that, right?  Black women who are undeniably and unapologetically sexual beings get punished, right?  I mean she’s what, a grown-ass 32 y.o. self-made millionaire (who happens to have a husband and a baby).  She couldn’t possibly have a commentary on pleasure politics… FOH. 

Speaking of pleasure principles, this album, for me, is reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s Damita Jo album that dropped 10 years ago.  Damita Jo (Jackson’s middle name and seeming alter ego that represented her sexually uninhibited self, not unlike Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce who is intentionally absent and no longer necessary for grownwoman Beyoncé to talk sex and mean it) is an album full of raunchy sexcapades and orgasmic declarations.  It was an album in which Jackson owned her sexuality and named it.  It was empowering and shocking.  In the song ”Moist” she says, “I’m insatiable and its all your fault, so much lust involved to get me off, my water falls, your sexuality breeds a storm inside me, a touch is all I need to make me scream obscenities”… sound familiar?  And in “Warmth,” an ode to oral sex, she brags that “nothing compares to the warmth of her mouth,” reminding her lover in the end that it is, “her turn” and he I expected to return the favor.  I see parallels between Yoncé’s self-titled album and Jackson’s earlier efforts (particularly BK-C’s ”Partition” & JJ’s “Warmth,” and between ”Rocket” and “Moist”), though I can appreciate Beyoncé’s album in a way I didn’t appreciate Jackson’s.  I wasn’t ready to 10 years ago.  I wasn’t old enough yet.  Cheers to grownwomanhood. (And copping that Damita Jo).

And what of the respectability politic/s?  Does a (black) woman have to be married to talk openly about her sexual needs and desires?  In our backward and patriarchal culture it would seem so.  Ms. Jackson wasn’t married when she dropped Damita Jo (though she was involved in an intense and long-term relationship with Jermaine Dupri at the time), and her album, while decent, didn’t do well and got lukewarm reviews.  Beyoncé’s grownwoman sex album broke records.  As one friend pointed out, she prefaces some of the sex talk with a call and response of her married name instructing the audience at a concert to say, “Hay Mrs. Carter” as if in an effort to remind folk that “she married now” and can have (and talk about) all the good sex she pleases.  But a UK newspaper didn’t give a damn about her marital status when they called her a whore after she performed Drunk in Love at the Grammy awards–with her husband.  I guess only men are allowed to talk about sex in their lyrics and in public without being called out their name.  I wonder what would happen if Ms. Jackson (now married) did an update of Damita Jo.  Is she old enough to say those things?  Has she been married long enough?  Or is she discounted for not having birthed a child?

Anyway, one way of pushing back against the attempt to silence (black) women’s sexuality is to embrace it out loud!  I pulled five pleasure principles from the Beyoncé album that I think are useful for feminist sex practices.  And while I’m not making an argument one way or another about Beyonce’s potential feminism, because a fellow CF has done that already, I am advocating for the sex positive theme throughout her album.

5 Things I Learned About Sex From Beyoncé

1)      Sex doesn’t have to be romantic to be mind-BLOWing.  In Blow, Yoncé  prefaces an anthem with, “This is for all my grown women out there” and goes on to talk about getting that cherry turned out.   I ain’t mad.

2)      Be spontaneous. In Partition she talks about getting dressed up to go out but having a quickie on the way to the spot, “Took 45 minutes to get all dressed up, but we ain’t even gon’ make it to this club.”  Why not?

3)      Be confident.  Being sexy = being confident.  In ***Flawless she talks about letting folk know, “I woke up like this…” (flaws and all).  Confidence is embracing all that we are and serving it.  That’s right.

4)      Talk ish.  While she has discussed verbal/sexual wordplay in previous songs (i.e., Ego) it comes through strong on this album.  From the back and forth banter on Drunk in Love to the cocky confidence of ***Flawless, she urges women to speak their mind and make it known that we recognize our beauty, brilliance and sexual talents.  Flawless.  Damn right.

5)      Give instructions.  Rocket is my favorite.  A follow up to mid-90s D’Angelo How Does It Feel she offers a credo that blends desire and possibility.  The specificity of her words and the details of the encounter help paint a picture without the corresponding video. Rocket (rock it) to waterfalls, indeed. 

18 Mar 2014

janet-mock-photo

Anyone who knows me knows that I stan for Janet Mock. So, I couldn’t wait to get my hot little hands on her book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More. What took a minute was finding the time to read it—and I’m so glad I finally did!

janet-mock-book-cover

Talk about keeping it real. Redefining Realness is a memoir where Mock lays bare the intimate details about her childhood and journey to being true to herself. She talks about it all—sharing stories of growing up in Hawaii and on the mainland, her parents’ battles with drug addiction and violence, her experience of childhood abuse, her time as a sex worker, her friendships and relationships, and her decision to transition. Considering how invasive cis folks can be into the lives of trans folks (remember that cringeworthy interview between Katie Couric, Laverne Cox, and Carmen Carrera a few months back?), I think Mock’s decision to share as much as she does is pretty astounding. Her choice to share so much of her life is brave and bold and I respect her deeply for inviting readers into her life.

Mock signifies on Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God a few times throughout the text and with good reason. Redefining Realness is a rare autobiography in that it reads less like a memoir and more like a conversation with a homegirl.  As I was reading I kept on thinking about the relationship between Pheobe and Janie in Their Eyes. I think Janet’s conversational tone and accessibility that made me feel like I was on my couch with a friend sharing secrets rather than reading a carefully constructed narrative. That, I think, is a gift and one that makes this book imminently readable.

 Janet Mock / Via janetmock.com


Janet Mock / Via janetmock.com

As the title suggests, one of the book’s aims is to trouble the notion of what is “real.” Janet Mock certainly challenges the notion that hegemonic cissexist standards of beauty, particularly the notion that trans women should be able to “pass,” is a goal to aspire to. Over time, for Janet being “real” means living in her truth, participating in loving relationships, being accountable to others, and following her passions.

Although Redefining Realness definitely has some feel good takeaways within its pages, it does not sugarcoat a damn thing. As we all know, life is often dangerous for queer women of color. Look at Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, a lesbian couple that was recently murdered, allegedly by Cosby’s own father. Or Islan Nettles, who was beaten to death by a man in a transphobic rage. Or Cece McDonald, who spent months in prison after defending herself against transphobic attackers. This list could go on and on.

So, another thing I appreciated about Redefining Realness was the way in which Janet made it clear that her experience as trans woman was both singular and representative. That is, she is in no way a representation of all trans women’s experiences, but at the same time, some of her life experiences mirror the experiences of so many women, trans and cis, living, loving, and trying to make a way in a world where we were never meant to survive. To that end, Mock writes:

“We need stores of hope and possibility, stories that reflect the reality of our lived experiences. When such stories exist, as writer and publisher Barbara Smith writes, ‘then each of us will not only know better how to live, but how to dream.’ We must also deconstruct these stories and contextualize them and shed a light on the many barriers that face trans women, specifically those of color and those from low-income communities, who aim to reach the not-so-extraordinary things I have grasped: living freely and without threat or notice as I am, making a safe, healthy living, and finding love. These things should not be out of reach.”

I see Redefining Realness illuminating one of many stories of trans experiences, stories that are far too often ignored or relegated to the sidelines or sensationalized, even in supposedly inclusive queer spaces. I hope that the book, and the recent public interest in trans folk such as Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera, will not only shine a light on these famous individuals, but also spark interest in the lives of everyday trans people and support the grassroots organizations advocating in trans communities.

Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on Redefining Realness?

2013 OUT100 Gala

14 Mar 2014

Every day I walk or drive through historic Black neighborhoods in Atlanta, Georgia where upwards of 50% of residential properties are vacant, abandoned and sometimes burned down (but not demolished).  I see empty buildings that used to be schools, recreation centers, community centers, and businesses.  I see extraordinary flooding each time it rains; rushing water nearly covers the street.  Sidewalks are non-existent or so torn-up you cannot walk on them so folks move through the middle of the street–parents with strollers and people in wheelchairs.

On weekdays I see elementary, middle, and high school age youth sitting on porches at 11 in the morning. I see groups of black men walking away from the county jail on my way to work or standing around at all times of the day and night.  I see elders waiting at bus stops with no benches or shelters.  I see stray dogs. I see people struggling with disabilities, addictions and other ailments.   I see people waiting in line at food distribution sites. AND I see residents choosing to stay, choosing to see each other, and fighting to amplify the culture of these historic communities.  I also see neighborhood  people working to serve the needs of those in their community.  I see Angels.

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I also see poverty with a backdrop of downtown wealth and power and I constantly have to remind myself that “smart people” designed predatory lending, mortgage fraud programs, and strategies to suppress wages and downsize entire industries.  The “college-educated” working for corporate law firms, elite colleges and universities, and top consulting firms developed models to privatize the public sector and underfund public schools, public transit, public hospitals, public services, public safety, prisons and more.  “Our best and brightest” dreamed up revitalization programs promising better, safer housing and then leveled affordable housing, displaced entire communities of color and triggered the rash of school closings we are still dealing with currently.  But these brilliant people are absent in poor communities and so rarely held to account.  They are simply Ghosts.

So I’m new to Beyonce, in that I’m nearly forty and this is the first time I’ve purchased one of her albums.  Just like she is starting to look into feminism I’m starting to look into her lyrics, visual presence, and platform.  I think her new visual album is groundbreaking and two videos in particular stick with me as I think about how poverty, power, and action are represented in media.  As an academic my platform does not compare to Beyonce’s so I think it’s significant that she seems to be inviting her followers to focus their attention on her process.  She is asking that her fans process with her.

In the “No Angel” video…

1) She is…putting her body in places that matter to make them more visible (like First Lady Obama did during President Obama’s first term).  “No Angel” opens with the sun rising on the Houston skyline.  It quickly cuts to a black community where the built structures are in the background such that the substandard housing, deserted lots and vacant properties inform but don’t define the people in the video.

2) She is…making the familiar strange- telling the world that she sees what’s happening in her hometown Houston. “No Angel” is significant because it defies typical representations of black working class and underemployed communities by foregrounding real people as subjects.  Not just dancing, partying, pouring out liquor subjects, but daytime subjects with kids, families, and interests.  It’s not about a glorification or a judgment project.

3) She is…situating the people at the center of the narrative with a gender-conscious analysis.  She is calling upon us to name the unnamed.  You see glimpses of the backstage space of women’s nighttime work and the remnants of violence in the scars and wounds on young black males’ bodies.  The many representations of memorials invoke a heavy feeling forcing me to recognize that parents who bury their children have no name.  They are not widows or orphans.  Nameless and uncategorized because naming suggests normalcy.  She spotlights these subjects, she makes them visible to us, and invites us to process with her.

In the second video, “Ghosts,” Beyonce simply asks how come?

4)  She is…signaling a move towards using her global platform to make global connections and to ask critical questions.  Questioning record labels.  Questioning why people are working “9 to 5 just to stay alive, 9-5 just to stay alive, 9-to-5 just to stay alive, how come?”

5)  She is…raising resistance and action as an option by resisting traditional channels for releasing an unanticipated album or simply contributing an essay, “Gender Equality is a Myth,” in The Shriver Report.

Beyonce is asking “how come,” and so am I.  When the images of poverty are present, but the responsible parties are absent from the frame I want to know how come?  Admittedly, I am in a nascent stage and she seems to be as well, but I appreciate that she is creating points of entry for her fans to question issues that matter to me.  That she is representing on a much larger platform what I’m seeing everywhere everyday…Angels and Ghosts