8 Jul 2014

3 Jun 2014

I’m a feminist who believes in God. Raised Christian, I still attend church.  But what I am not is a person who will willingly check her brain, political convictions, or academic training at the door in order to enter the house of God or to participate in a community of faith. Express homophobic views, tell me that God requires me to let a man rule my house because I have a vagina, or spout a prosperity theology premised on the idea that poor folks are poor because they lack faith, and you are likely to see me get up and walk out.

I love Jesus, and I remain a person of faith, because I know, to put it in the parlance of the Black Churches of my youth, how good God has been to me. And while that kind of God-talk doesn’t play well in secular academic contexts, it doesn’t have to. My Christianity isn’t about trying to save anyone else’s soul but my own. I know that’s not what a good evangelical is supposed to say, but if you haven’t figured it out yet, a good evangelical is not what I’m trying to be.

U.S. Black women are the most religious demographic in this country and most of that religious identification falls within the bounds of Christianity. But if Black feminism does not grapple with the fact that Black women still love the Black Church, still sustain that institution in startling numbers, it will miss a significant segment of the population. And that is untenable because conservative evangelical Black Churches are one of the central places that black women pick up harmful gender ideology.

A few weeks back Toni Braxton, the daughter of a preacher and product of a conservative Christian family, released a memoir in which she discusses her one-time belief that her son’s autism was a punishment from God for having an abortion. Luckily she has revised her thinking, no longer seeing autism as a form of God’s judgment.

Autism is not a punishment. It is a different way of learning and being and encodes different kinds of ability. Disability is not a punishment. Disability is a fact of life. And it is an opportunity if we are mindful to think about how to make our built and lived worlds more hospitable for each and every person that has to live in it.

As abortions go, we really need to think about whether a loving God wants women to have children that they don’t want to have or can’t afford to have.  We need to ask ourselves if God conscripts women’s wombs in service of His purposes (sorry for the gendered language but evangelical God is always male.) And if God does such things, as the story of Jesus’ mother kinda suggests, we need to ask ourselves if we have the right to disagree. (Like what if Mary had said no, when the angel came to her?) We need to think about whether God actually dictates that a fetus’ life is more important than its mother’s life. We need to ask ourselves if God values our reproductive capacity over valuing us.

Moreover, abortion ethics in the church are steeped in shame, shaming women for having sex outside of marriage,  while assuming married women don’t have or need abortions. But it is clear to me from the biblical story of the woman caught in adultery, a woman who Jesus saved from being stoned, that Jesus was not a slut-shamer. He didnt permit his community to cast stones at another woman because of her sexual practices, but he invited that community to consider their own practices. And in so doing, that story demonstrates among many other things, that our impulse to judge and harm others, is fundamentally about all the things we don’t want to confront in ourselves.

Conservative theology, of the evangelical sort, is rooted in a view of God as a great judge who metes out divine retribution for our sins. Because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we are allowed to have a personal relationship with this God, but we better toe the line. God loves us and forgives us, but we better be in a continual state of confession, repentance, and trying to live right. Otherwise, our sin will bring us terrible consequences, because even though God loves us, the divine Homie don’t play that.

Sin is a word that is used often in conservative evangelical churches. There’s a whole lot of talk about individual sin, the preponderance of which seems to be of a sexual nature. A whole lot of talk, a lot of fear, and a lot of guilt. Individual sin, in this theological reckoning, separates us from God and puts us outside the realm of God’s blessing, puts us beyond “the hedge of protection,” where all manner of evil will befall us. And it’s all our fault, because of our failure to deal with our pesky sin.

We don’t talk much though about the sins of capitalism, or racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or militarism or the evils of the prison industrial complex. We tell women to wear longer dresses and boys to pull up their pants. We seem to believe that if we merely conquer our individual sins, God will protect us from the effects of all the other isms. We in the Black Church have allowed church philanthropy to take the place of radical social critique. It’s incredibly short-sighted.

From this angle, punishment looks like God holding us from achieving the very societal ideals that these systems hold up as carrots – a fancy house and car, a beautiful partner, lots of money. Instead of questioning our investments in these systems, we think serving God will give us greater success within them.

 So many of us have a faith built on theologically thin terrain.

This brings me to Sherri Shepherd, one of the co-hosts of The View. Back in 2010-2011, I watched fascinated as she candidly discussed her courtship with Lamar Sally, and her choice to remain celibate until she married him. She routinely expressed shame over the multiple abortions she had in her youth. Her deeply conservative evangelical commitments made her and Elizabeth Saddleback unlikely bedfellows on the show.

According to conservative evangelical scripts, Sherri Shepherd “did it God’s way.” She courted Lamar properly, waited until after marriage for sex, and should now be on her way to happily ever after.

But she isn’t.

Recently Sally filed for separation papers, prompting Shepherd to file for divorce. In a bizarre addendum to their prenuptial agreement, leaked to TMZ, Sally made several troubling demands of Shepherd. The revised agreement included statements like:

“I, Sherry Sally, am a happy, godly, attractive, and sexy wife. I provide a peaceful and pleasant haven for my husband to come home to. I respect my husband’s opinions and recognize him as the leader of our home. I always speak well of my husband to others and look for specific ways to compliment his fine character and behavior. I enjoy having sex with my husband. I crave intimacy with him and want to be uninhibited and free in our lovemaking together. I care about my appeareance and take effort to look attractive and stay fit. I am a fun person who loves to laugh.”

It goes on to say:

“It is my joy to submit to my husband as a way to honor God. Even if my husband doesn’t respond the way I’d like, I will respect him and be loyal to him.”

Say what now?

So you need a prenup to tell your wife that she enjoys sex with you? You need a prenup to ensure she gives you compliments?  And you need a prenup to make her “joyfully submit” to you?

My head aches. And so does my ass.

All of this language is straight out of conservative Christian theological doctrine. In fact it reminds me of an unfortunate experience I had in a class I took at my former church several years ago called “Marriage without Regrets.” When the author of the study, famed Christian writer Kay Arthur started railing against wayward women who had stepped out of their rightful place causing the downfall of society, I knew that something had gone incredibly wrong.

But what was more striking was the fact that the Marriage Without Regrets class was overwhelming populated by single women, all hoping to prepare themselves and positions themselves for a “godly mate.” In order to do so, we were supposed to endure 16 weeks of study about “what the Bible says about marriage,” and how to style our lives to meet such goals. I dropped out at week 3, right around the time that the facilitator told us that as women, we were “biblically mandated” to manage a household.

My household management skills suck. And since I’m utterly uninterested in the domestic arts, I don’t anticipate that they will get any better.

Moreover to riff on one of my favorite womanist preachers Dr. Renita Weems, I already have a head. I’m not looking for a man to provide me one. Or as I’ve heard more than one popular Black minister put it, I’m not interested in letting him by the head while I be the neck. What the entire…? (Well, I’m talking about Jesus things today, so let me not show out with the profanity).

But I know a whole lot of women who think like Sherri Shepherd. I used to roll hard with chicks like Sherri Shepherd. They have this view that celibacy and proper courtship are “God’s way.” They have a view that following this plan to marriage will insure God’s blessings and a happily ever after.

It seems in this case that all this God-talk covered up the screwed up beliefs of a deeply controlling man that sees women as property, views sex as being primarily for his pleasure and thinks women serve an ornamental function of looking pretty and keeping him happy.

I wonder how much better our relationships and partnerships might be if churches spent less time regulating our intimate space and more time dealing with the lack of emotional and spiritual maturity that plagues so many unions.

Moreover, I long for the church as an institution, to stop touting this biblical literalism and biblical inerrancy madness. It encourages a shallow faith, grounded in false notions of security, propped up by people who have been discouraged from thinking for themselves.

When I see the way the Old Testament demands that women marry their rapists, I have a problem with that.

When I see the ways in which the Old Testament seems to sanction genocide so a chosen group can get to their “Promised Land,” I have a problem with that.

When I see the proscriptions Paul or the Pauline writers place on women in the New Testament, the calls for silence and submission, I take issue with that.

When I see discussion of queer people as an “abomination,” I disagree.

And when Paul tells “slaves to be kind to your masters,” I wholeheartedly reject such thinking. And I’m so glad Harriet Tubman and Harriet Jacobs and Freddie Doug and all the rest rejected it, too.

The idea that we can’t struggle with the Biblical text, that we have to agree with and live by every thing it says is not only impossible, but unhealthy. For Black women to agree to live by it all is for us to sign up  for silence, submission, and slavery. Literally. And that would mean that the Bible and Christianity offer us no greater alternative than what white folks dreamt for us when they drug us to these shores.

We deserve more than that. And God wants more for us than that. And this means that we have to stop letting these preachers toss the Bible in our face as a rule book. We have to stop letting them manipulate us with fear of divine punishment for asking questions and coming to different conclusions.  Based on this conservatism the church exploits and appropriates Black women’s time, labor, and money, while giving back to us a theology that does not serve us well. I’m not denying Black Christian women’s agency, experiences of God, or accusing them of false consciousness. I’m saying that we have bought into some ways of thinking that don’t serve us well, that limit us spiritually and that often do us harm.

At my most conservative, I was incredibly resentful and angry with God because I felt I could never live up to the standard. I suffered perpetual guilt and anxiety and got little joy. I know better now.

Now I view the Bible as an invitation. An invitation to come to the table equipped with stories of other people’s faith journeys and to use their stories to grapple with my own journey with God. I come able to see and call out racism, sexism, patriarchy and homophobia in the text. While we will never live in a faith journey outside of these contexts, the text becomes instructive for thinking about who we are, what we’re capable of, what we want to be and what we don’t want to be. And we learn about ways in which God showed up for generations prior to us, and are perhaps encouraged that God will show up for us, too.

So many Black women have full-bodied commitments to church – we give our mind, heart, spirit, body, time, labor, and money to the church. We deserve for it to serve our needs. We deserve for the theologies we hear to be liberatory. We deserve for those theologies to help us to create healthy full,  loving lives, whether we have partners or not, whether we want marriage or not, children or not, sex or not.

Bad theology is harmful. It misrepresents who God is and who we are. But we must give ourselves permission to construct a new way to live if spiritual matters are going to retain their importance to us.  I am actively in the process of reconstructing an informed theology that works for my life by reading people like Delores Williams and Katie Cannon and Wil Gafney and Rachel Held Evans and Brian McLaren and Jay Bakker. And if you didn’t know it’s in our spiritual Black feminist legacy to do exactly that. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Anna Julia Cooper:

“And I do not mean by faith the holding of correct views and unimpeachable opinions on mooted questions, merely; nor do I understand it to be the ability to forge cast-iron formulas and dub them TRUTH. For while I do not deny that absolute and eternal truth is – still truth must be infinite, and as incapable as infinite space, of being encompassed and confined by one age or nation, sect or country – much less by one little creature’s finite brain. To me, faith means treating the truth as true.”

So I encourage y’all, to figure out what is true for you, and have enough faith in yourselves and your God to treat those truths as true.

9 May 2014


As a black feminist I am always here for the celebration of blackgirls, black women, and black wommanness in general (shout out to Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown arbiter of Solhot, a promise to young blackgirls and women—and others who are doing the work past visibility and towards self-esteem and community accountability).  And as a dark-skinned blackgirl who has struggled through self-esteem issues ranging from the “you ain’t the right kind of black” in the 80’s , to the “you gotta be light-skinnededet to be right” tan-black of the 90’s, to the “you ain’t the in style” brown-black of the 00’s.  I had the big butt and a smile but my skin though…

There was no adornment available to make me seen, beautiful, or desirable.  I was the homegirl, the chick that checked for you on the sidelines of a ball game, helped you write 25 long ass paragraphs in  handwriting that mimicked yours so you could go outside and play at recess with the boys, or pen love letters to the white girl or light as white girl you liked.  I waited for you to see in me something worth holding on to but the only time you saw me like a woman it was to practice on me what you would perfect somewhere else, leaving me feeling used but no less your “friend.”  I had your back, but did you ever have mine?

I was your best friend’s best friend, who learned from a young age that if I sat quiet enough and still enough you would let me sit at the “popular” lunch table with the “prettygirls.”  I graciously shared my lunch money or relinquished my rice krispy treat when you asked, even if I had planned to save it to eat on the bus on the way home.  I would have done anything to capture your friendship, bony arms wrapped around bony legs, I sat like a pretzel., still as hell as if my movement might remind you I didn’t belong.  In those moments when my elbow slipped out of my hand or my feet accidentally pushed the chair back, now aware again of my presence, I was prepared for the focused teasing about my appearance, my hair, my shoes, or the outright expectation that I get out of your sight.

I was the “other child,” the one who talked too much and whose blackness made her a black sheep.  When I asked why my skin was darker than everybody else’s you rolled your eyes and said, “that’s how God made you,” as if it were a curse for some anticipated wrongdoing.  When I speculated that I was punished for not being light skinned I am sent for the switch. Nothing about me was ever right, or so it seemed.

I hesitate to call the visibility of beautiful black women in mainstream media a comeback because they have always been there tiptoeing around trends that decide what kind of black will be acceptable this year.  What version of ourselves will we rush to emulate so that we can be “the one” (because there is usually only room for one mainstream cultural black beauty at a time).  I resist heralding this moment, spring 2014, as special for fear that it will be claimed post-racial and post sexist (because it’s not).  What I can and will say, avidly and proudly, is it’s about damn time.  It’s about time that people see what has been here since the beginning of time.  Black beauty is ancient.  And it’s time for blackgirls to recognize in themselves a beauty so deep it has been there all along, even when it was hiding in plain sight.  It was there when we were ashamed of it/ourselves.  It was there, when the only times we saw darker shades and hues of brown was in our own family albums or bathroom mirrors under artificial light.  It was there when family members called for us by telling us to “bring our black ass here,” and you sauntered your beautiful black ass to the space you were called to.  It was there when you wished you were lighter and brighter as if that was the only way your pretty could be seen.  It was there then and it’s still there, a beautiful amalgamation of black beauty possibility that comes along in all shades.  But today, I want to focus on the deeper shades, the ones so intentionally left out.

So I have been altogether thrilled that two deeply brown black women are filling the  interwebs with their beauty, brilliance and words.  They are inspiring blackgirls, like them, with words they needed when they were young… and I am all the way here for it.  Sidibe and Nyong’o have been sharing their stories, their vulnerabilities, their pain, associated with an outdated yet firmly in place aesthetic that makes black women, especially dark-skinned black women, especially dark skinned black women with natural hair, especially dark skinned black women with natural hair and big bodies, especially dark skinned black women with natural hair, big bodies, and confidence feel like they don’t belong, like they are an anomaly.  But it’s time to resist tropes and re-imagine our possibilities and our representations.

Watching 12 Years a Slave, by myself, in a theatre with a hand full of other patrons, all white, I felt vulnerable and exposed, folding my arms as a way of protecting myself from the eyes, assumptions and curiosity that might slide my way through a peripheral glance at my reactions to the film.  Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey was mesmerizing and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her, as painful as it often was, because I wanted to be a witness to/for her.  I didn’t blink.  Lupita  gave a beautiful performance to a gut-wrenching narrative.


I was excited to hear that Lupita was recently named People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman of 2014, but I am also suspicious.  In many ways Lupita’s  beauty is seen as unconventional (not-white) and different (not-American, she is of Mexican and Kenyan descent) therefore exotic and exciting.  The exoticization of an African woman’s aesthetic, if we look back to predict forward, is a short-lived moment and doesn’t transcend the individual or translate to other black women’s lives.  Lupita’s recognition will make room for her to be seen, across the board, as attractive and desirable but it won’t necessarily translate to everyday black women who favor (look like) her.

Lupita was honored with the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon.  In her acceptance speech she says,

“I prayed that God ‘make me beautiful,’ which to/for me automatically translated into being light skinned.  I, too, was willing to barter all I had to get what I wanted but soon learned that I could not bargain with God over the aesthetic of Her/His creation.  From the silence I received from my prayers, God seemed satisfied with what s/he made in me.”

Her words and prayer resonated with me, and I imagine with other dark-skinned blackgirls who have grown up in a culture that is determined to make them feel inadequate and unattractive.  And while Nyong’o’s story has a happy ending, I can’t help but think about the ones that don’t, and the ones that won’t change because of one representation.  Lupita is all that.  But we need more!

In comparison, last week the illustrious and fabulous Gabourey Sidibe (I like to call her Gabby since in my mind we’re homegirls) gave a speech at the Ms. Foundation gala that has garnered a lot of praise for her brilliant blending of wit, charm, humor, calling out bullish, vulnerablility and honesty.  (If you have not checked out this speech, read it here!)  In the speech, Gabby comes for her haters and their attempts at making her feel bad about herself.  In true warrior woman fashion Gabby gives it to them like this,

“ I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time. And my mother and my father love me. They wanted the best life for me, and they didn’t know how to verbalize it. And I get it. I really do. They were better parents to me than they had themselves. I’m grateful to them, and to my fifth grade class, because if they hadn’t made me cry, I wouldn’t be able to cry on cue now.[Dabs tears] If I hadn’t been told I was garbage, I wouldn’t have learned how to show people I’m talented. And if everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn’t have figured out how to be so funny. If they hadn’t told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn’t tried to break me down, I wouldn’t know that I’m unbreakable.”


She goes on, in her speech, urging those who are so curious about her confidence to “ask Rihanna asshole,” in a brilliant critique of size discrimination and the assumption that because she is not a size 6 she couldn’t possible have a positive body image.  And yaaaaaaas, I’m here all day for Gabby, but I’m also here for my friends and loved ones who, like Gabby, experience size discrimination every day, but who don’t have the platform to call folk out or the agency to do so without consequences.

Both Nyong’o and Sidibe’s speeches are responses to hurt and shame, but they are also a commentary on the unjust ways that blackgirls and black women are expected and made to feel inadequate in every way possible.  Their speeches offer us a commentary of racism, colorism, sizeism, and sexism in our community that even well known or affluent black women are not immune to.  We have some work to do but it is encouraging to know we seem to be moving (slowly but surely) in the right direction.

13 Dec 2013

Last night while we were all still trying to get our lives after the Scandal Season Finale Part I, Beyonce’ stealth dropped a new self-titled totally unpromoted album.

The fact that she managed to pull that ish off undetected means we can conclude only one thing: #BitchBad!

Yes, I said, “Bitch bad.” Didn’t even do the watered down version “Bish.”Sometimes to make a statement you have to use all your vowels and consonants!

Since I usually be feeling kinda spent after the weekly rendezvous with Scandal, I fell asleep. But woke up to news reports and a newsfeed filled with Bey’s latest feat. That means I have not yet listened to this entire album, and this is not an album review.

But the thing that immediately drew my attention was the fact that Chimamanda Adichie, the new Nigerian superstar writer on the block was featured on one of the tracks.

So I skipped ahead and watched the video here. (Oh yeah did I mention that there are 17 videos on the album. I repeat: #Bitchbad.)

Lo and behold, what do I find – a remixed version of Beyonce’s song from earlier this spring. On the album it’s titled “Flawless” but you might know it is as “Bow Down, I Been On.”  Some feminists I know had their panties all in a wad when the first version came out, because Bey instructed some generally nameless bitches to bow down. (Here at CFC we reposted this great piece from Red Clay Scholar about Bey’s sonic ratchetness, which you should check out.)

Look, I don’t generally get into debates about whether women can or should say “bitch” or Black people can say “nigga.” Because why? The bottom line is we do it anyway, and marginalized groups have the right to self-define. What I will say is that it took feminism to introduce me to real bitches (good and bad.)

Anyway, folks said that Beyonce’s choice to do something so demeaning killed her feminist street cred. But then folks been pulling Bey’s feminist card from the beginning. Let us not forget how much folk acted a fool after the Superbowl.

So the reason I fucks wit Bey so deeply is that she had something for that ass.

The remix. The remix with Chimamanda Adichie spitting a very clear and succinct definition of feminism for the masses. “A person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” Yup. For starters anyway.  And that interlude came right after Bey said, “bow down bitches.”

Talk about Crunk Feminism – percussive, a refusal to fit into particular boxes, a willingness to “fuck with the grays.”

So here’s a few reasons that I’m here for Beyonce, the Feminist.

1.)  She’s a work in progress, as are we all. In 2010, she gave an interview saying she was a “feminist in a way,” because she valued her female friendships deeply. Earlier this year, she claimed she was a “modern-day feminist.” Now she is straight up embracing the term in her music and claiming her right to tell women to both bowdown and encouraging them to be self-confident from the moment they step out of bed… in the same damn song! I rock with that because her feminism is complicated, and ours is too. Tell the truth. If your bed and the folks you shared it with were an indicator of your politics, your card might get pulled, too. Moving on.

2.)  Sometimes bitches do need to bowdown.  Call that a hip hop generation feminist sensibility, but it’s true. It’s just like when Papa Pope gave Fitz the read of the century last night in Scandal – “Boy, I’m literally above your paygrade.” It’s like the swag I don when academic goons try to step to me even though they are clearly less qualified. Sometimes I’ve been known to tell folk “You haven’t read enough to step to me. Go back and come again.” The world would be better if women would learn that we don’t have to take everybody’s shit. Not the white man’s, not the Black man’s, not the state’s, not the hating ass next-door neighbor, not your frenemy’s. Nobody’s.

3.)  Academic feminism ain’t the only kid on the block. Confession: the first time I identified as a feminist, I was in grad school. I was able to come to an informed conclusion after reading Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s Words of Fire and Patricia Hill Collins Black Feminist Thought. But we need to stop acting like a radical feminist is the only kind of feminist to be. I mean look, I’m radical and committed to a robust structural critique. But I appreciate the good few liberal feminists in Congress who show up and actually fight for reproductive rights that can be on the books! As Meek Mill says, there’s levels to the shit. But newsflash – everybody didn’t go to college. So when women of color start waxing eloquent about how our grandmothers and mothers were the first feminists we knew and many of them would “never” use the term, I wonder then why we don’t understand Beyonce’s homegrown brand of feminism – one that honors female friendships, one that recognizes and calls out sexism and domination in her industry, one that celebrates the power of women. No, it ain’t well-articulated radical social justice feminism, but if you need a Ph.D. to be a feminist, then we’ve got bigger problems, folks. AND I’ll take a feminist that knows how to treat her homegirls before one who can spit the finer points of a bell hooks to me all day erry-day.

4.)  I’m here for anybody that is checking for the f-word, since so many folk aren’t. (Except Republicans. Ain’t nobody here for that.) What we look like embracing Queen Latifah and Erykah Badu even though they patently reject the term, but shading and policing Bey who embraces it? If Bey is embracing this term, that is laudable. If she’s figuring out her relationship to it, I embrace that. I will never let my politics be limited by folks’ identification with a label, but it is nice when folks are willing to take the risk that comes with the word. Especially when said folks are backing it up by living out feminism in the ways available to them – performing with an all girl band, with visibly queer members, for instance.

5.)  King Bey always brings her A-game and manages to have fun while doing it. I wish feminism could take some clues here. We don’t always bring our A-game, since we spend a whole lot of time trying to figure who’s in and who’s out as if that is going to get us anywhere. Time’s out for the WOC feminist meangirls shit. Sometimes folks just be hating. Real talk. Cuz if you ain’t critiquing Katy Perry and Pink and alla dem for being pro-capitalist and in league with the establishment, then back up off Bey. Posthaste.    (And yes, we can and should have a robust critique, and that in itself ain’t hating.  But again, sometimes, folk are just being mean or contrary, and we need to be about building some shit, not tearing shit down. And sometimes folks need to go to therapy and heal from the shit the meangirls in your past did to you. Stop taking it out on Bey. She don’t know you. Seriously.)

More to the point, sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. If laughing and dancing aint a part of this revolution we’re building, then you can keep it.

In Beyonce’s words “Haters hate and I get better.”

There you have it. #AllHailKingBey

25 Oct 2013

Two nights ago I showed up to the Brecht Forum in Brooklyn ready to have a conversation about what we mean when we say “ally, privilege, and comrade.”

I showed up to have that discussion after months of battle testing around these issues in my own crew. Over these months I’ve learned that it is far easier to be just to the people we don’t know than the people we do know.

So there I sat on a panel with a white woman and a Black man. As a Black feminist, I never quite know how political discussions will go down with either of these groups. Still I’m a fierce lover of Black people and a fierce defender of women.

The brother shared his thoughts about the need to “liberate all Black people.” It sounded good. But since we were there to talk about allyship, I needed to know more about his gender analysis, even as I kept it real about how I’ve been feeling lately about how much brothers don’t show up for Black women, without us asking, and prodding, and vigilantly managing the entire process.

In a word, I was tired.

I shared that. Because surely, a conversation about how to be better allies to each other, is a safe space.

This brother was not having it. He did not plan to be challenged, did not plan to have to go deep, to interrogate his own shit. Freedom-talk should’ve been enough for me.

But I’m grown. And I know better. So I asked for more.

I got cut off, yelled at, screamed on. The moderator tried gently to intervene, to ask the brother to let me speak, to wait his turn. To model allyship. To listen.  But to no avail. The brother kept on screaming about his commitment to women, about all he had “done for us,” about how I wasn’t going to erase his contributions.

Then he raised his over 6 foot tall, large brown body out of the chair, and deliberately slung a cup of water across my lap, leaving it to splash in my face, on the table, on my clothes, and on the gadgets I brought with me.

Damn. You knocked the hell out of that cup of water. Did you wish it were me? Or were you merely trying to let me know what you were capable of doing to a sister who didn’t shut her mouth and listen?

Left to sit there, splashes of water, mingling with the tears that I was embarrassed to let run, because you know sisters don’t cry in public, imploring him to “back up,”   to “stop yelling,” to stop using his body to intimidate me, while he continued to approach my chair menacingly,  wondering what he was going to do next, anticipating my next move, anticipating his, being transported back to past sites of my own trauma, traumas that have been especially fresh and difficult this Domestic Violence Awareness Month…

I waited for anyone to stand up, to sense that I felt afraid, to stop him, to let him know his actions were unacceptable. Our co-panelist moved her chair closer to me. It was oddly comforting.

I learned a lesson: everybody wants to have an ally, but no one wants to stand up for anybody.

Eventually three men held him back, restrained him, but not with ease. He left. I breathed. I let those tears that had been threatening fall.

Then an older Black gentleman did stand up. “I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS MALIGNING OF THE BLACK MAN…” his rant began. While waiting for him to finish, I zoned out and

Wondered what had happened here. Did this really happen here? In movement space?

Tiredness descended. And humiliation. And loneliness. And weariness. And anger at being disrespected. And embarrassment for you. And concern for you and what you must be going through – to show your ass like that. And questioning myself about what I did to cause your outburst. And checking myself for victim-blaming myself. And anger at myself for caring about you and what you must be going through. Especially since you couldn’t find space to care about me and what I must be going through.

Later, with my permission, you came in and apologized. Asked us to make future space for forgiveness. I didn’t feel forgiving that day. I don’t feel forgiving today. I know I will forgive you though. It’s necessary.

After being approached at the end by a Gary Dourdan-looking macktivist, who couldn’t be bothered to stand up to the brother screaming on me, but who was ready to “help” me “heal the traumas through my body,”  –as he put it (yes you can laugh)—I grabbed my coat and schlepped back to Jersey.

On the long train ride home, and in these days since, I have been reminded that this is not the first time that I have been subject to a man in a movement space using his size and masculinity as a threat, as a way to silence my dissent. I remembered that then as now, the brothers in the room let it happen without a word on my behalf.


Is it so incredibly difficult to show up for me – for us—when we need you? Is it so hard to believe that we need you? Is solidarity only for Black men? As for the silence of the sisters in the room, I still don’t know what to make of that. Maybe they were waiting on the brothers, just like me.

I do know I am tired. And sad. And not sure how much more I want to struggle with Black men for something so basic as counting on you to show up.