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.


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

8 Mar 2014

It’s Saturday Morning. It’s International Women’s Day. And I have a rant. A rant that I need to share in this community of like-minded folks. A rant so that I don’t lose my shit with some educated Black men, who need to be hemmed up by the cufflinks.

On Thursday, in my weekly column at Salon, I wrote about the President’s new My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, and what it means for Black and Brown women and girls, who have yet again been decentered from the national conversation on race and class disparities.

Now if you follow my work at Salon, you’ll know that I have spent an inordinate and disproportionate amount of time there writing about the violent racism that has largely been targeted to Black men like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Johnathan Ferrell. I don’t always share the pieces at CFC because for many months I have felt like I haven’t been pulling my feminist weight, because so much bad shit has been happening to our boys.

But this week, I talked about Black and Brown women and girls. Read the piece here.  Here is a pertinent excerpt:

I am ambivalent about My Brother’s Keeper. Yes, by almost every social measure, African-American men, and boys in particular, fall behind at alarming rates. They are suspended from school the most, incarcerated the most, have the highest rates of unemployment, commit disproportionate amounts of violent crime, and have some of the lowest high school and college graduation rates. Frequently their encounters with law enforcement and white male authority figures end with black men dead.

These are alarming times. Times that would make Ida B. Wells weep. Over these many months, as I have watched the failure to convict both Trayvon Martin’s and Jordan Davis’ killers, I have worried. Worried because I know that when African-American boys are being killed with impunity by white people this triggers every kind of deeply held race trauma that African-Americans have. We circle the wagons. We fight fiercely to protect our beloved boys. We demand their right to grow into men. And we should.

The thing is: This “we” is mostly African-American women – doing the fighting, the organizing, the praying, the rearing, the fussing, the protecting, the loving. And the losing.  Black women have been their brothers’ biggest and best keepers.

But when black men occupy space at the center of the discourse, black women lose critical ground. I wish these struggles did not feel like zero sum struggles. I wish that black men — Barack Obama included — had the kind of social analysis that saw our struggles as deeply intertwined.

According to the African American Policy Forum, black girls are suspended at a higher rate than all other girls and white and Latino boys. Sixty-seven percent of black girls reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness for more than two weeks straight compared to 31 percent of white girls and 40 percent of Latinas. Single black women have the lowest net wealth of any group, with research showing a median wealth of $100. Single black men by contrast have an average net wealth of $7,900 and single white women have an average net wealth of $41,500. Fifty-five percent of black women (and black men) have never been married, compared to 34 percent for white women.

This situation is dire at every level. But perhaps the most troubling thing of all: The report indicates that while over 100 million philanthropic dollars have been spent in the last decade creating mentoring and educational initiatives for black and brown boys, less than a million dollars has been given to the study of black and brown girls!

And then a colleague, a guy I know only through other people, wrote this rant against my piece, and tagged me into an asinine FB discussion about it.

I shared a few responses with Joshua on FB. And I’ll say them in short here:

1.) If you have a problem with my *tone*, you should check this piece on the fallacy of tone argument. Although given that the tone of this piece I’m writing right now is far more strident than what I wrote at Salon, I’m sure you’ll be even more aggrieved. Oh well.

2.) We know the “program isn’t designed for Black women. Period. Point Blank.” The problem is when it comes to us, the blank is always left Blank. And check it. We don’t want your program. Mychal Denzel Smith did a great job in this piece of outlining all that’s wrong with it anyway. But can we have  a real conversation about ameliorating the social plight of all Black and Brown people, Black and Brown women included? That’s all I’m asking.

3.) Advocating for the inclusion of Black women is not the same as advocating for the replacement of Black men. Learn how to read and understand arguments. One of these is not like the other.

But here is the thing I want to get to. The reason I’m so mad. As this conversation progressed on social media, the various Ph.D. having brothers who came to back up Joshua’s point, all felt the need to talk about the 100 to 1 funding disparity of programs aimed at Black men and boys versus Black women and girls.

These brothers all argued that $100 million is itself a paltry amount of funding. Conceded. The idea that only $10 million dollars on average per year has been spent on Black and Brown boys over the last 10 years is deeply appalling and disturbing. I said so during our exchange. But if we agree that it is a paltry sum, then should we not also be outraged at the mere $100,000 a year spent on Black girls? NOPE. No outrage. These brothers can manage to muster no outrage for us, because enough is not being done for them.

And that folks is why these debates are so disingenuous. These brothers when presented with hard evidence of disparity have no qualms about looking at the evidence and still making it about how they deserve more. I mean they won’t even concede that we deserve more of other people’s money. You can’t even be charitable with other people’s money?!!!

This is the thing: if we are all sick from the ills wrought by racism, patriarchy, capitalism, etc, then the fact that in some instances your illnesses are more severe (and only in some instances), does not mean our illnesses should be left untreated.
If this logic doesn’t give you a clue about how the masses of brothers, excepting a few feminist and egalitarian minded ones, would actually divide and share material resources if they were in control of them, I don’t know what other evidence you need.  I mean they are literally saying that they do not care AT ALL what happens to black women, not if they perceive that Black women’s needs might in some way demand a redistribution of their own resources. Black women are the poorest demographic in this country not just because of broad and severe systemic challenges, but also because we have no problem redistributing our meager resources to make sure our brothers are eating, riding, laying their heads somewhere and looking halfway decent while doing it.

This conversation reminds me in an odd way of Derrick Bell’s story Space Traders. In the race version, white folks are given everything they need to save themselves from failing Planet Earth as long as they are willing to leave Black people behind to the space traders. We all know how that scenario ends.

I think if we did a gendered version and told Black men that they could have all the wealth and power of white men to rule the world as long as they were willing to leave sisters behind, they’d jump at it. Would barely give it a second thought. Might broker a deal to save their mama, grandmama, and other female family members. But even if they couldn’t do that, they’d march off into that good night with empty promises to return for us. Black men may not be patriarchs, but an alarmingly large lot of them damn sure want to be.

Two weeks ago, I received death threats and  all manner of troll behavior on twitter, because I wrote a piece being outraged over the failure to convict Michael Dunn of Jordan Davis’ murder. Two weeks ago, a few terrible white folks communicated in every which way they could that Black folks lives don’t matter, that my life didn’t matter. This week, a few brothers with jacked up thinking have communicated the same–Black women’s lives do.not.fucking.matter.

So I’m so discouraged. Discouraged that these brothers (several of whom in the thread I was in have Ph.D.s, and so have high levels of training to evaluate sociological evidence) could be so disingenuous, so uncaring, so patriarchal-minded, all while claiming that the problem is not with their sexism but with my argumentation. As if. A lot of times folks say that the problems between Black men and women have to do with our failure to talk *to each other.* I actually hate stances like that.  We are not all *equally* to blame. Black men — brothers– owe us more than this.

However, much sisters might get mad and go on a Nicki Minaj style “Lookin Ass N…” rant, when push comes to shove, we’ll give y’all our last, fight in the streets for you, catch a case for you and lay down and die for you.

Meanwhile, it will never occur to you on something as basic as that when you are receiving 100% more resources than we are to even advocate that we get more attention, even as you advocate for yourselves. And even as we advocate for you.  And to flip the script on the old logic,  if this is how our men think (about us), then Black America got a hard damn row to hoe.

17 Feb 2014

Hey Crunk Family,

We are incredibly excited about the next installment in our annual love series. In this video, CF Crunktastic interviews author and professor Kiese Laymon.

pic of Kiese Laymon

Kiese Laymon

Kiese has written beautifully about the politics of love among Black men and women, not just romantically, but in rough political times like these.

Below, we are providing you links to two of his most recent essays, links to both of his books which are awesome and will give you your entire life.

But first watch the interview. It’s a great way to kick off your week. You’ll be so glad you did.


“Kiese Laymon on Trayvon, Black Manhood, and Love”

“Rachel Jeantel’s Short Blue Dream”

Long Division: A Novel

“How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America — Essays”

11 Feb 2014

After a long while she spoke very softly.  “Is it true that I can have a baby now?”

“Sure,” said Frieda drowsily.  “Sure you can.”

“But … how?” Her voice was hollow with wonder.

“Oh,” said Frieda, “somebody has to love you.”


There was a long pause in which Pecola and I thought this over.  It would involve, I supposed, “my man,” who before leaving me, would love me.  But there weren’t any babies in the songs my mother sang.  Maybe that’s why the women were sad: the men left before they could make a baby.

Then Pecola asked a question that had never entered my mind.  “How do you do that?  I mean, how do you get somebody to love you?”   But Frieda was asleep.  And I didn’t know.

-(excerpt from) Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye


Just in time for Valentine’s Day there is an app on Facebook that predicts your perfect marriage date based on the median age your Facebook friends have gotten married.  Based on the test my target date for marriage was 4 years, 9 months and 8 days ago.  I guess I have failed in the romantic love/marriage department.

The test reminded me of the looks of concern and scorn I get from some family members at holidays when  I arrive home, again, without a boo-thang on my arm, and when a fish dream doesn’t reveal that I been “f*cking on the low” (Drake).  No one says anything but I can sense their bewilderment, concern, disbelief and disappointment that cute and smart as I am I can’t get/keep a man to save my life.  If they asked I would tell them that I have tried, unsuccessfully, to forge a relationship over the years, though I can’t say that marriage has been my goal.  Before I can think long-term or permanent I need to get past the “does he really want me” stage of a relationship, if you can call long-distance flirting, every-other-day texting, and quarterly “surfboard” sessions wanting me.  I have routinely and regrettably been attracted to men who are beautiful but dishonest, sexy but selfish, caring and callous.  (Ever thought you were in a relationship or heading towards one with someone and then realize, when you’re multiple months in, that the person you thought you were getting in a relationship with is already in a relationship? Yeah…that…and who knew that shit happened past high school?)

My grandmother has told me many times over that I can do bad by my damn self, so I don’t desire a relationship because that is what I am “supposed” to do.  Most days I am unsure if I desire a relationship at all, especially marriage.  After struggling with self-esteem issues (not altogether separate from my singleness, sometimes),  and witnessing love relationships that leave much to be desired, I am ambivalent about romantic love.  I suspect it is part defense-mechanism and part fear of rejection or disappointment but I don’t go around fantasizing about falling/being in love like I did when I was a teenager.  I don’t peruse baby books or bridal magazines or doodle my name in cursive adding the last name of the boy I like.  My grown woman version of that is cautious.  I cry when my friends get engaged and celebrate when they get married, but I don’t have expectations of role-reversal.    

Once I realized that socially what was seen as positive, self-assured independence in my twenties has somehow shifted to being desperate and pitiful in my thirties (because I am a woman, and therefore less desirable as I get older)… I had to regroup.  I had to resist.  I had to rebel.  One way of doing that has been embracing my singleness now as much as I did ten years ago.  It doesn’t always go over well.


My post-thirty singleness and my lack of concern therewith led my father to recently question my sexual orientation.  Our face-to-face dialogue quickly moved from pleasantries to accusations. 

“Are you dating anyone?”


“You’re getting on up there, you know.”

“I know.”

“Don’t you want to get married?”

“I’m not invested in marriage.”

“Don’t you want to have children?”

“Not necessarily.”

Our conversation felt robotic because we have had several versions of it in the past.

“Are you a lesbian?”

Except for that part.

I thought about his question and how problematic is was that in his mind a successful, single black woman post-30 is either too-hard on a brothah (and/or “too picky” to use his words) or not checking for men altogether.  I found it interesting that not once did he concede the possibility that I had been and would be willing to be in a relationship with a man who was trying to do right.

“No, I am not attracted to women.”

I could tell by the way he looked at me that he didn’t believe me.  And I didn’t care.  If it made him feel better to think that his heterosexual-identified daughter was secretly dating women (rather than just being contently single), sobeit.  He, like society, wants my singleness (as in lack of a husband) to be my fault.  He, like society, assumes that since I did everything “right” (went to school, got degreed, did not get pregnant, etc.), I should be the poster child for good love.  Not so much.  He is assuming that my mind, my independence, my intelligence, my quirkiness and my feminism is too much or not enough.  If I was in my twenties I would have internalized that bullshit.

I don’t find my so-called “love” dilemma to be explicitly heterosexual.  I have nonheterosexual friends who are also single (without a partner).  I don’t find my so called “love” dilemma to be confined to those of us who are unmarried.  I have married friends who wish they were single.  The truth of the matter is loving someone outside yourself is a hard thing.  But the harder negotiation is loving yourself when it seems you are unlovable to anyone else.

One of the benefits of being post-30 and single is that I recognize the power of self-love.  I have learned to love myself deep over the years.  I love myself so much that when the wrong person walks out of my life, I celebrate!  I love myself so much that I find ways to affirm my(damn)self or surround myself with folk who I know love me.  I love myself enough to know that platonic relationships are just as significant as sexual ones.  I love myself enough to wait for what’s right instead of settling for what’s wrong.  And I love myself enough to know that being single is not a failure.  And, being single in some ways, is as much a choice as being in a relationship.  And I love myself enough not to let anyone shame me into feeling like a failure or loser because I don’t have a partner on February 14.

What the Facebook predictor failed to ask is “do you want to get married?…is marriage your goal?”  My answer to those questions is simple but not uncomplicated.  Most days the answer is no.  But there are cultural cues that try to brainwash me into believing that traditional heterosexual marriage and biological children is synonymous with grown womanhood. Grown women get married and make babies.  But you know the other thing grown women do?  Live their lives fully and without regret. 365 days a year. 

Like Claudia and Pecola (the characters in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye) from the opening quote, I don’t know how to make someone love me.  But I do know how to love myself.   Fiercely.  #selfloveisthebestlove

4 Feb 2014

Each year the CFC spends the month of February doing some love talk and this year I want to set it off by sharing a few of my thoughts on love praxis.

A little background: I have been in a committed relationship for nearly 14 years, married for 9 years.  I am still close to besties from preschool and 5th grade.  I have a beautiful child, come from a big family, and I am part of large community of loving folks.

I think about love in three ways: in-love, love, and loving (not mutually exclusive).  I believe that being in-love is an irrational state of being, that love is an ideology, and loving is a deliberate action.

Being in-love is like brownie a la mode or July watermelon slurping. It’s yummy and risky; a time when we ignore the annoying fact of having to wash a gooey chocolate plate or having sticky fingers and stained clothes.

Being in-love is like waves or frequencies, sometimes you are in and other times you are trying to be in or avoiding it all together. It can be addictive, it can be good, but it can also be toxic and all-consuming.

Love is like temperature; there are degrees.

Sometimes you are warm with others and cold with yourself.

Sometimes you are 80 degree radiating sunshine touching people you will never know.  This is when justice is possible.

Sometimes people are so hot with self love no one dares touch them. They are not for touching, just staring.  These people burn just about everything they get close to.  This is greed.

Many take their warmth and light on tour; they share their warmth with those in the shadows so that others may see their humanity. This is solidarity.  This is loving.

As we kick off our month of love talk and black history month here at the CFC we hope you will share with us your stories of being in-love, love ideologies, and loving practices.  Right now I’m in-love with Nina Simone’s Tribute to Langston Hughes “Backlash Blues so I’m gonna share it with you.

Be loving, radiate love, and enjoy the sticky fingers if you dare.