Living my Best Cardi B Life

Immediately after I read Joseph Cook’s Girls Like Cardi B, I texted my friend and told him to read and pay attention last line: “If you don’t like Cardi B, you ain’t living your best life probably.” The phrase “live your best life” is a staple in our conversations; specifically, that’s his millennial advice to me when my Generation X restraint has me questioning whether I should engage in an experience that I likely need to have. I love him for this. The article also was a must read as we both are fans of Cardi B. He shared with me his love for Cardi B after her summer banger “Bodak Yellow” caught his attention. I’ve been rocking with her since she was introduced as a “new boss” on Season 6 of Love & Hip Hop: New York.

The Regular Degular Shmegular artist added her unique flavor to two seasons of Mona Scott-Young’s (pseudo)realistic hip hop dramedy before announcing last December she was leaving the show to focus on her career. In those two seasons, Cardi B provided viewers with meme- and gif-worthy facial expressions, words and one liners – (1) If a girl has beef with me, she gone have beef with me forever. (2) Ever since I started using guys, I feel so much better about myself. I feel so gotdamn powerful. (3) What’s poppin? (4) Shmoney. – that solidified her reality TV stardom. But Cardi B was on a serious mission that has surpassed the 30 episodes of Seasons 6 and 7. She had a plan to go from stripping to rapping – on her own terms. And she did. Cardi B blew up and has been able to accomplish what many reality hip hop hopefuls have tried and failed: She nurtured her five minutes of reality recognition into a fanatic following, two mix tapes, a BET award nomination, and a deal with Atlantic Records. Reality TV was just one stop on what might be a long ride in hip hop. She don’t dance now; she make money moves.

After my friend read “Girls Like Cardi B”, he texted: “Girls like Cardi B transformed the pressures of their world into a swagger that everyone wanted, while hiding a pain that very few will ever understand. My sister was a girl like Cardi B. Maybe my momma, too.” I high-fived the hell out of his response in my head because: TRUTH. His words resonated and highlight the personas many Black girls and women adopt to navigate the world. Self included. Yet, my identification as a #TeamCardi player from Day 1 was more about the ways I embrace Cardi B’s freedom to be her most authentic self and make and learn from mistakes. I responded: “I WANTED to be a girl like Cardi B. But I couldn’t because: southern, small town, church, ultra good girl expectations, etc. That’s why she appeals to me so much. She’s the me that I had to hide so I wouldn’t embarrass my mama.” No lies detected.

When Cardi B hit the Love & Hip Hop scene, I instantly was drawn to her ratchet, honesty, feminism and her hustle for her dream. She had a few fight scenes on the show, but she was more complex than the throwing of her hands. Cardi B is not afraid to speak her mind, even if she apologizes for it later. For example, she called out Peter Gunz on his back and forth relationships and baby making with Amina Buddafly and Tara Wallace. She confronted DJ Self about focusing on creeping when she wanted him to focus more on her as an artist. Cardi B is not afraid to end a relationship that is no longer satisfying her. She broke up with her boyfriend Tommy; and while the end of the relationship may or may not have been influenced by her blossoming career, she expressed on the show that he was not always supportive. Cardi B is not afraid to go after what she wants. She chased her rapper dream in the ways I wished I’d chased my writer dream at her age. Cardi B is not afraid to be Cardi B. And coming from and – at the time – living in a space where there was so much emphasis on being polished and subdued, I lived for Cardi B’s rough around the edges persona and freedom.

I lived for her so much that I followed her on Instagram – one of the very few celebrities who I follow. I watched her interviews on YouTube. I read her 2016 Fader interview – “Cardi B’s So-Called Life” – multiple times. I made her the focus of a presentation at an academic professional conference. I even wore a Cardi-esque long, black wig with a bang during the presentation. I listened to her first mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1, when it was only available via SoundCloud. I often posted about her on Facebook and told everyone who would listen that Cardi B was one to watch. So when others took note of Cardi B after “Bodak Yellow” dropped, I was all – I told y’all. I told y’all so.

Some people are surprised at my enamor with all things Cardi B. And usually, that surprise is because I’m not a millennial. I missed the millennial cutoff by 5-7 years. But there is a simple explanation. I saw Cardi shortly before my 40th birthday, a time when many women become the I’m about to be free and live for myself and stop taking care of everyone else while ignoring my own needs poster women. This was me. As my birthday approached, I reflected on where I was in my life and realized I had spent many years living in boxes and taking care of others’ needs and dreams, while I paid little attention to what I wanted in life. I was exhausted, unhappy and unfulfilled and something had to change. In walks Cardi B – the new, popular girl at school who’s quick-witted, intelligent, and talented. Let’s be friends.

Cardi B and I possibly had different upbringings that influenced who we became. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in a small, southern community where everyone knew everyone. Everyone went to church. Children added ma’am and sir after yes and no. Fourth of July was lit. Neighborhood segregation was the norm. I wouldn’t trade my childhood, and I embrace and love all my southernness. However, I sometimes felt out of place. I don’t know if it was my imagination and daydreaming, my love of 80s and 90s hip hop, or my addiction to movies and television with northern – particularly New York – settings, but I felt like I was supposed to grow up in a neighborhood where I could sit on the stoop and get my hair braided, double-dutch, wear bamboo earrings, ride the subway, and use a cupped fire hydrant (instead of the garden hose like we did in the South) to cool off during the steaming summers.

I had a strict, hard-working mother who left little room for foolishness. As an adult, I see the benefit of my mother’s structure and rules and adopted much of her parenting style. I was in church most Sundays and had Easter and Christmas speeches well into my high school years. If my friends called me after school, they likely would get my mother’s, “Didn’t you just see her at school?” question because she believed that the only reason we wanted to talk on the phone after school was to be messy. She was right. Good grades were the expectation. Even a high A that fell to a lower A from one term to the next was subject to a stern stare. I also was the oldest of three girls. So I had to be responsible and set an example. Because I watched my mother do it all seamlessly, I felt that I had to do the same. I wanted to be just like her and, as a result, I created boxes and boundaries that limited some of my innate free spirit. And let me go ahead and put a disclaimer here for those who will say, “But I remember when you [insert here whatever treacherous behavior that would embarrass the hell out of my mother if she knew]”. I’m not at all claiming to have been a saint or the epitome of a good girl, but I tried to walk the line as closely as possible. Usually. Most of the time. Okay, sometimes but not always.

I understand that our lived realities shape who we are. And to me, Cardi B is a young woman who is deliberate and afraid of nothing. Girls like Cardi B are the alter egos for women who desperately want to escape society’s cages and descriptions of who we should be at whatever age. They are free-spirited young women who remind 40+ women of our free-spiritedness. Girls like Cardi B are the women who make us less ashamed of our mistakes. With lyrics that reflect experiences that many women endure – no matter our age – girls like Cardi B remind us that there is recovery and resilience after abusive relationships. (The “Her Perspective Skit” on Gangsta Bitch Music Volume 1 was difficult to hear.) Girls like Cardi B know that, no matter how feminist, sometimes confronting another woman about a lover just happens. They are the loud girls for those of us who have been conditioned to be quiet. They fuck up good girl expectations. Girls like Cardi B are unapologetically fearless but the first to own their shit and be accountable. They will not be shamed about their sexuality or sex work because their confidence and outlook on life are realistic and nonjudgmental. Girls like Cardi B are body positive and self-loving. They are supportive of their friends and families but create their own existences. Girls like Cardi B move about the world in ways that are powerful and empowering. More of us should be or be acquainted with girls like Cardi B.

In the almost two years since Cardi B hit my television, I’ve been on a journey to navigating 40+ me and figuring out who exactly who I am and what I want. And to be honest, I am and want to be a girl like Cardi B. So if you see me rapping along to “Bodak Yellow” or twerking at a Cardi B concert (which I hope to do sooner than later), just know that I’m living my best life and plan on being a girl like Cardi B forevaaaaa.

 

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I’ve never envied Beyonce’s and Jay Z’s relationship…until now.

Normally, I’m not one to look to anyone’s relationship as depicted though social and entertainment media and be consumed by #RelationshipGoals. I understand that when we view relationships through these lenses, we view depictions, images that the individuals in the relationship allow or want us to see. Rarely are those outside of any relationship privy to what goes on behind closed doors – the arguments, compromise, negotiation, infidelity, forgiveness, etc. Still, I’m no relationship skeptic and enjoy representations of beautiful relationships, even if I know that those representations are partial and flawed.

One relationship that fans, stans and critics have examined through media representations is that of the power couple, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter (or Knowles-Cater?) and Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. The public has watched their relationship blossom since the 2002 release of “03 Bonnie and Clyde” and, with the February 1, 2017 announcement that they are expecting twins, arrive at a place where many are claiming the Carters as the epitome of #RelationshipGoals. I’m going to count myself among the “many” but not in the ways that focus on the Carters as the model for all relationships or even my own. But there is something we can learn from their relationship, specifically the value of doing one’s own emotional labor. Let me explain.

In “03 Bonnie and Clyde”, Jay Z raps that all he needs in his life of sin is his girlfriend, Beyoncé. Prior to dating and marrying Mrs. Carter, Jay Z was linked to a number of women. One of those women, Karrine Steffans, has been very vocal about her 3-minute interaction with him on the set of a video shoot in 2000. She’s claimed to be one of his “Becky(s) with the good hair.”  Jay Z also dated R&B singer Blu Cantrell and is no stranger to being connected to many women in the entertainment industry. He’s rumored to have briefly dated or had sex with a number of other celebrities and models. However, what is most striking about the connection of the “03 Bonnie and Clyde” track to the Carters’ relationship approximately 14 years later is the fact that Jay Z seems to have done the work he promised he’d do in the initial collaboration between the two. He rapped:

“The problem is, you dudes treat the one that you lovin
with the same respect that you treat the one that you humpin
Now they ’bout nothin – if ever you mad about somethin
It won’t be that; oh no it won’t be that
I don’t be at, places where we comfy at
With no be-atch; oh no you won’t see that
And no, I ain’t perfect – nobody walkin this earth’s surface is
But girlfriend, work with the kid”

Relationships are complicated. Absolutely. Yet, Jay Z’s ownership of his imperfections and request that Beyoncé “work with the kid” are admirable since it seems that he’s actually done the work. In the last 14 or so years, the Carters have endured cheating rumors (or confirmations) and divorce speculation. The infamous elevator attack and the 2016 release of Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade” (and subsequent [coincidental] social media postings by Rachel Roy and Rita Ora) fanned the fires of the rumors and speculation; however, in 2017, all of that seems to be behind the Carters.

In the first 2.5 months of the year, the Carters have announced the expansion of their family and have been seen out at a number of events, including the Grammys, Oscars, NBA All-Star Weekend, and most recently, the premiere of “Beauty and the Beast”. I’ve noticed something different about the Carters, specifically Jay Z, with each picture I’ve seen from these events. But it was the picture of the Carter family at the premiere of “Beauty and the Beast” that helped me to see what was different: Jay Z looks like he’s the happiest that he’s ever been, and it’s no secret that his wife, daughter and twins are the reason for that happiness.

CartersBBPremier2017.jpg

The Carter at the Beauty and the Beast premiere, March 5, 2017

His smile is as big and genuine as I’ve ever seen, and he has that same genuine, “I’m happy as fuck” smile in most of the other pictures I’ve seen of him this year.

JayandBlueGrammys2017.jpg

Jay Z and Blue Ivy at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, February 12, 2017

CartersOscar2017.jpeg

The Carters at the Grey Goose/Weinstein Co. Pre-Oscars Party, February 26, 2017

CartersAllstar2017

The Carters at the 2017 NBA All-Star game, February 19, 2017

In all of these pictures, Jay Z’s smile and adoring glances at Beyoncé and Blue suggest that he’s in a state of calm and peace in his life. Of course, I don’t personally know the Carters or have any first-hand knowledge of what has or has not taken place in their relationship.But I’m excited about the feeling I get from watching who Jay Z is, is becoming or has been (and is owning) for two main reasons: 1) Black men, masculinty, and emotional health/wellness and 2) the Black women who stand by/with/for Black men.

In a discussion with undergraduate Black students last week, a young Black man said something that resonated with me. He commented on how Black girls/women are socialized to explore their emotions and Black boys/men are not.  He then stated that sometimes he, as a young Black man, did not know how to or whether to express his emotions, particularly related to relationships with young Black women. He asked, How are we supposed to know what to do emotionally? We can’t be emotional with our boys and, although Black women say they want a man knows how to express his emotions, we can’t be emotional with Black women without the fear of being perceived as soft. Damn. I had no counter-argument, but I learned from him and the other young Black men in the room that they want safe, emotionally healthy, monogamous relationships. However, they are confused about the ways to initiate and sustain those relationships. And they are more confused about how to do the work of being emotionally healthy and responsive to their partners.

In that same discussion, the young Black women noted that they had relationships with young Black men who mirrored the “life of sin” where infidelity, disrespect and emotional immaturity were the norm. Some noted that they’d watched the women in their families stand by/with/for men who had not returned the same commitment. The men were described as emotionally immature and consumed only with their needs. I argue that these men were created by the scenarios mentioned by the young men in the room. It is possible that no one had taught the men how to be in a relationship; no one had taught them how to understand and explore their emotions.

I interpret Jay Z’s smile as confirming that he’s a grown ass man whose focus on his family and happiness supersedes his “life of sin”. Beyoncé “stuck with the kid” and he did the work. He’s done his emotional labor. Now they’re shining and he’s counting his blessings – all four of them.

One ain’t enough, I need two
That night I mix the Ace with the D’US’
Hit a triple-double in the Garden
Held up my left wrist like I’m Harden (swish)
Ran to the dealer, bought twin Mercedes
The European trucks for the twin babies
Don’t let me have a son, I’m a fool, haha (ooooh)
Send him to school in all my jewels, haha
I want a boy and girl to fight for truth
Whatever God give me, I’m cool
I’ve been winnin’ so long it’s like alchemy

-from “Shining” by DJ Khaled, feat. Beyonce and Jay Z

Am I making too much of pictures of Jay Z? Possibly. But if any of what I’ve written regarding him doing the emotional work needed for the betterment of himself and his family is true, the picture of the Carter’s at the premiere is definitely #RelationshipGoals. And hopefully, this is one goal to which we can all aspire, whether in a relationship or not.

As Trump takes Office: “I’m a black, lesbian female …… should I be scared? .. because I am ..”

Many people were stunned as we watched the results of the 2016 Presidential Election and heard Donald J. Trump announced as the 45th President-elect of the United States. Trump even appeared shocked in a picture of he tweeted of him, his family and his staff watching the results. Caption: “Watching the returns at 9:45pm. .”

donald-trump

I remember November 8, 2016 as deeply as I remember election night in 2008 when my best friend called me immediately after CNN projected Barack Obama had been elected the 44th President, the first black President. Somewhere between “Yo…” and “Are you watching this?”, I stood on the deck and cried, simultaneously excited about that historical moment and anxious about President Obama’s well-being. “Lord, don’t let them kill him,” I mumbled.

On November 8th, with each state Trump won, I sat still, not blinking, afraid to breathe. Silent. I wanted to scream but couldn’t find the words. The waking nightmare harnessed my ability to make a sound or move, and I was nowhere near Stage 1 sleep. But around 11:30pm, I exhaled deep, turned off the television and went to bed thinking, “I’m not surprised that this happened, but HOW did this happen? How?” And immediately felt like I was back in high school trying to understand the politics of girlhood while my mother bellowed to me in a protective and scalding tone, “Stop believing that everybody is your damn friend. Everybody ain’t your friend.” That night, America was not my friend.

I awoke on November 9th, released another deep sign and wondered why I had not designated the day after the election as a reading or lab day. I was not feeling it. But I got dressed, went to class and lectured from the moment I walked in the room until dismissal 50 minutes later. No space for questions or discussion. This is rarely how I conduct my classes, but I was not prepared for any questions that morning. I was not prepared emotionally or mentally for much of anything that day. I was empty. And to be clear, the emptiness was not because the Republican candidate won. I’ve watched Republicans be elected White House. And while I voted for her and would have been excited to see a woman be president, it was not because Hillary Clinton lost. I was empty because I felt that we Americans lost something that night, even those that voted for him. Yes, ALL of us. But that’s an entirely different post.

My students and I spent many of the class meetings prior to the election discussing the issues. They conducted research, watched documentaries, participated in a panel discussion – and it was challenging to navigate that space from some semblance of neutrality. I wanted my students to be informed and often stated, “It’s not about for whom you vote but about knowing for whom you’re voting and understanding why you’re voting for that person.” I said that so much that I believed it. I really believed it because it was true. The course is a critical thinking course, and I had no intentions on teaching them what to think but how to think critically, how to make decisions by thinking critically, and to be confident in those decisions. Yet, I often was dismayed as I read papers when, after doing their own research, students were able to critique both candidates somewhat fairly but would end with a statement like, “But I’m still voting for him.” I wondered to what extent my “It’s not about for whom you vote…” had influenced my students’ willingness to write scathing critiques of then Republican Nominee Donald Trump but then agree that they trusted him with to lead this country more than they trusted Hillary Clinton, or any third party candidate. I have many theories about how and why this would happen, but again, that’s an entirely different post.

For the rest of the day, there was an eerie quiet on campus. It was a quiet that I had not expected. I assumed that some students, faculty and staff were lamenting the election results and others were celebrating – though both the lamentations and celebrations were done without drawing attention because: southern dignities.

Posts on my Facebook feed credited the election results to racism, sexism – both – a lack of attention to the working class, white supremacy, etc. There also was mention of “God’s plan” and the suggestion that we [read: black/brown people] “learn to work with the him” and “accept the results because the election was fair” – both arguable and laughable statements that, I assume, might have been posted by Trump supporters who had been social media quiet throughout the campaign because they “don’t talk politics online”. But isn’t it all political? I digress. Another post.

To process, I had planned to disconnect from social media for a week or so, but was sucked back into the Facebook abyss on November 10th when I received the following Facebook message:

“I’m a black, lesbian female …… should I be scared? .. because I am ..”

I felt her question was related to Trump being the President-elect but inquired, “Scared of…?” and she responded: “…what’s gonna happen while trump is president.” I read that post about five times and thought of a response that would ease her anxiety and assure her that Kendrick Lamar didn’t lie to us. We gon’ be ‘Alright’. Then, I responded:

“Well, to be honest, I can’t tell you not to be scared…because I’m feeling some kind of way as well. BUT I will say try not to be paralyzed by that fear. As someone with similar identities as you, I’m really concerned about reproductive healthcare/access, general healthcare, and marriage equality, among other areas. I’m paying close attention and definitely plan to remain abreast of what he’s doing once he takes oath. I encourage you to also focus on mid-term elections as well. That’s one way that we can try to combat changes that result in disenfranchisement for people of color, women, queer folks, etc.

It’s okay to be scared. Allow yourself to feel that. But don’t let keep you from  living fully.. ❤”

The Scared Black Lesbian (SBL) was satisfied with my comments and responded she felt better. But I didn’t  feel better. I felt like I’d failed her in my response, like I’d failed my students by lecturing that day without allowing them room to process, if needed. I failed all of them because I was too scared to say what I felt, too un-tenured to be real with them. Too much like the “keep your head down, do your work, and stay out of trouble” person that I’d  been throughout high school and undergrad.

My email interaction with the SBL has been on my mind each day since November, and on the day of the inauguration, I want to say to this young woman what I wanted to say that day, what I wish someone had said to me at her age:

speak

If she messaged me today with the same question, I’d be more satisfied with the following response:

Hey,

Being scared is not and should not be the paralysis of truth, dignity and respect – and fight. So be scared. But also: Be present. Be vocal. Be active. Be authentic. Be a fighter. Be free. Be an advocate. Be all of these things, even as your voice shakes, your palms sweat, and your tears form.

I know people will tell you that we’ll survive. And of course, there are considerable readings online about surviving a Trump presidency. Each of these readings offers a number of tips and strategies to make it through the next four years (only). Some of these include getting involved in the community through service or grassroots organizations, participating in midterm  and local elections, etc. I agree with many of these “get through” activities. Yet, I’d add a few others.

  1. Wake up every morning with a freedom mindset. If you wake up each morning thinking of what needs to be done to get free (from any oppression), you’ll resist those that urge you to “get over it” and those who state, “We’ve survived worse. We’ll survive this.” No, you don’t have to get over it. You have every right to be mad at racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic language and actions. You have every right to be mad when policies are proposed that limit or eliminate your access to quality healthcare, reproductive rights, an education, healthy foods, a healthy environment, equitable housing, and an overall quality of life. You don’t have to just “survive”.
  2. Understand that freedom from oppression based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, body size, physical ability, geographic location/region, and any other identity is the goal. Know that freedom isn’t a compartmentalized concept. If we ain’t all free, we ain’t free.
  3. Recognize and refute game. Pay attention to folks that claim to be allies but aren’t willing to stand for and with you. An ally speaks up for you when your voice shakes, when you’re silent, and before you’ve recognized there’s a reason for you to speak.
  4. Practice revolutionary love on a daily basis – starting with self-love. Yes, love is greater than hate. However, love is also mutual. Resist those who encourage you to love those that hate you to the extent that your well-being is impacted. You don’t have to adopt hatred when you realize your love is not bridging the gap. But you also don’t have to keep loving when someone has shown you who he or she is and what he or she believes. Reserve your love for those who understand that love is reciprocal. Embrace and give love where love is given.

Today is the beginning of the next four years, and yes, we likely will “survive”, but we must move beyond mere “survival” as proof of our ability be resilient through hatred. Don’t aim to just survive a Trump presidency; aim to thrive and live through and beyond a Trump presidency. LIVE. And resist hatred and oppression with everything in you.

Resist.

Resist.

Resist.

 

American, We

My Dear American Family,

Since it is our national identity that you cite
when trying to convince me of the privileges
I have as a person born and living in the United States,
it is this identity to which I hope to appeal.

Since it is our national identity that you cite
when you explain to me that I should accept
your forefathers as my forefathers,
your language as my language,
your culture as my culture
it is this identity to which I hope to appeal.

Since it is our national identity that you cite
when you inform me of how my critique of holidays
for individuals who colonized, stole, raped, enslaved and oppressed
indigenous people, African people
makes me less of an American
it is this identity to which I hope to appeal.

Since it is our national identity that you cite
when you tell me that I should move elsewhere
if I cannot sing the praises of our country without hesitation,
if I cannot ignore that our lived experiences are so vastly different,
it is this identity to which I hope to appeal.

Since it is our national identity that you cite
when you tell me that we must come together
to pray and push legislation for victims and survivors of mass shootings
of White children at schools or White folks in movie theaters
or on campuses
it is this identity to which I hope to appeal.

Since it is our national identity that you cite
as the alleged tie that binds us together,
the commonality that makes my skin as valued as yours
it is this identity to which I hope to appeal.

I come to you as an American.

And coming to you in this manner, I will, for the time being,
package myself in your excuses.
I will be the
non-threatening, calm, intellectual,
pants-pulled-up, music turned down,
non-hoodie wearing, non-cigarette smoking or selling,
not asking for help, hands free of CDs or toy guns,
eyes empty of threat.
I will not even blink.
Though I know docile negro narratives
have never saved Black lives.

I come to you as an American,
heart full of numbness.

I come to you in this skin, as an American,
walking tempestuously, speaking softly
and ask:

Why are you so quiet? Where is your outrage?

Are you not outraged that we, your American family,
are being brutalized simply for trying to breathe the same air of freedom
that you do?

Are you not outraged that we, your American family,
are being murdered by a flawed system,
our bodies used for target practice?

I am raged.
And, as American family, you must be, too.
if you love me.

You must be as fearful and overcome
with grief as I am.

I know you must, because we’re family,
worry about me and pray for me and speak up for me
and protest for me and
call out state sanctioned violence
for me.

American me.

But can you speak louder, work harder?

Or have you not heard my pleas?
For I have told you this was happening to me.
For centuries, I’ve told you.

And now, they show you.

They show you video and pictures of me,
with blood, red like yours, oozing from my body.

And I know you are outraged
because we are all human,
all American, right?

In public lynchings I am posted and reposted and
left as a spectacle, a reminder to my children
of what is possible.

And you don’t even cover my body.

Maybe you haven’t heard me.

I screamed and cried and buried
my brother, sister, husband, wife
mother, father.
my child.
I remained calm,
I prayed, turned cheeks.
then I looked to you, American family,
to see if you were crying, too.
And you were quiet.

With white silence to comfort the triggers pulled
releasing a hail of bullets – four, five, six shots
when they kill me.

And I must laugh somewhere in frantic delirium.
Trying to find some escape
and become numb on the inside.
To keep from going crazy on the outside.

Because if I go crazy,
and act all angry.Black.person
They’ll still kill me.

And you won’t even cover my body.

But it is our national identity that you cite
when you tell me I should be proud
to be an American.

Yet, when they kill me
for being Black,
how American am I then?

And still, you won’t even cover my body.

 

Black Girls’ Lives Matter – In Writing, Too

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Gholnecsar “Gholdy” Muhammad

In the 19th century, African American girls used their pens to shape the world around them. Meeting together in literary societies, they wrote what mattered to them while unapologetically loving themselves and each other. These literary societies developed into spaces of academic excellence, self-confidence and love. As I have discussed in my research, literary societies were some of the earliest book clubs in the United States and were spaces to come together, read engaging literature, and write about significant issues during the time. This created a true community of writers.

Six years ago, I started developing writing spaces that reflected literary societies. These communities took the form of summer writing institutes for black adolescent girls. I sought to craft a space where girls could use writing to shape their lives—for the benefit of themselves and others. I also wanted space for girls…

View original post 1,198 more words

until we free

cries for peace and calm

abound

when black and brown faces rage.

reactions to a fruitful harvest of seeds

painful indignation

planted by privilege and supremacy

watered by death’s grasp and

nurtured,

agitated with

televised taunting of

not giving a fuck whether we breathe.

and among the masses of bodies strewn

together, relentlessly planted in our minds

and memorialized by hashtags

videos, pictures, and headlines of

Not charged. Not guilty. Not at fault.

in the midst of this pain

psychological torturing

physical death. EXECUTION.

There’s a call.

for peace.

 

Peace?

A call for peace.

 

Like picking the scalb from a sore

And asking it not to bleed?

Like enslaving our spirits

And asking us not to get free?

 

That. Ain’t. Peace.

 

Peace?

 

a synonym for compliance.

or domicile negroes

that know our place

 

is nowhere.

in a bountiful land made possible

by blistered, bruised limbs

and broken-backed posture

barren wombs

of children stripped from a mother’s love

when there was no consent.

 

And there is a call.

for peace.

an end to violence.

an end to the destruction of property.

 

because shattered windows

flipped cars

and burning buildings

are replaceable consequences of pain

but black lives matter

only wheNever.

 

There’s a call for peace.

when

still, there has been no liberty.

only death.

 

Peace.

is all that’s been requested.

for centuries.

 

a piece of property to call our own.

a piece of that sugary-sweet

American pie.

a piece of the Dream.

without deferral.

a piece of access

to education, absent of schooling.

to thriving communities.

side-walked streets

paved landscapes.

a piece of peace.

 

is all that’s been requested.

asked. pleaded. begged.

and not received.

 

But now.

cries for peace and calm

abound

when black and brown faces rage

standing obstinate

wavering not to exhaustion.

[not] appealing to reason.

[not] seeking humbly

nor supplicating entreaties.

because

black and brown folks been calm.

and peaceful.

before anger raged.

before suffering incited.

we were peaceful.

 

we, too, want.

and Demand.

Peace.

as a reflection of freedom.

 

 

 

Fantasies of Me

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” ~ Audre Lorde

Thinking about this quote today and wrote a quick poem…

fantasies of me

don’t come close to my reality.

in truth

perception is a mere

façade

of forced presentation

as i am the most fearful person

i know.

a contradiction of sorts

living boldly

and cowering under

the pressure to

conform.

 

as fantasies of me

don’t come close to my reality.

in truth

i want to streak

through crowds

but there’s

judgment…waiting

to eat me alive.

so i’m covered

layered

cloaked

hidden

in the fantasies

and they, too, eat me

dead.

killing spirit

inciting insanity

panic

and attacks.

 

and facing extinction,

i decide

fantasies of me

are no match

for my lived reality.

with its pained existence

hurdles, scrapes and burns

heartache and break

and tears from

disappointment and mistakes

those fantasies

of perfection

ain’t got shyt on my reality

my truth

the tree that

kicked through

the concrete.

damn those fantasies

i

define

me.

When Jean Wore Red… (Because I’m random and had 15 minutes to spare.)

“What do you think? Does it look okay?” Miss Brenda tugged on her dress and frowned at herself in the mirror.

“It looks fine, Miss Brenda. The color is quite becoming,” Shar commented.

Miss Brenda smiled, first at herself and then at Shar. “Well, thank you. I never really know what to wear sometimes. Seems like an old woman like me would not be so concerned about how my clothes fit. I thought I was long past that stage of life.”

“You’re not an old woman.”

“I am. I’m 60 years old; and by most accounts, that makes me an old woman.”

“Not by my account.”

“Humph,” Miss Brenda arched her back to stand taller and tilted her head to the right, upwards as if she were giving a look of pleasant disdain. Nose pointed in the air, hands on her hips, sitting back in a mature woman’s dip. “You don’t have sugar coat it for me. I’m having a little trouble picking out a dress. I’m not looking for my self-esteem. Ya’ll young folks always thinking that an old woman needs her ego stroked, needs to be boosted up. I don’t. I do enough of that on my own. Just ain’t had to pick out a dress like this in a long time. Well, not for an event like this.”

“So where’s Mr. Sam taking you?” Shar asked.

“And ya’ll nosey. I never had the gumption to ask a grown woman her business. But now, young folks don’t mind asking an old lady all of her private information. I know your mama taught you better.”

“Yes ma’am. She did. I’m sorry.”

“Well anyway, he’s taking me down to Charlene’s Vegan Soul Food. I don’t know why he chose that place. Me and soul food ain’t had too much to do with one another since my doctor told me that it was helping me get to my grave a little early. Besides, who is Charlene Vegan? I’ve never heard of her.”

Shar covered her mouth as she giggled so as not to appear disrespectful in her response. “That’s not a person’s name, Miss Brenda. Vegan is a way of eating that doesn’t include animal products. So Mr. Sam is probably being considerate of your diet.”

Miss Brenda turned from the mirror to give Shar a chastising stare before going back into the dressing room. Shar grabbed all the eight dresses that didn’t make the cut and handed them to the sales associate.

“We won’t be needing these.”

The sales associate took the dresses and returned them to their sections. Miss Brenda stepped out of the dressing room and handed the dress and her bag to Shar. She checked the mirror to make sure all her buttons were fastened correctly before dabbing on some lipstick.

“Red,” she laughed. “I remember when I couldn’t wear red anything. My mama always said red was for those women. When I was younger, I didn’t really know who those women were until I saw Daddy talking to Jean Somersby. It was Sunday after church. Mama had taken us to the store to get some ice cream. Me, Sophie and James ran in the store and Mama walked in behind us. Daddy stayed outside to talk to some of the deacons. Mama was in a good mood after church, so she let us grab all the candy we wanted.

When we came back outside, Jean was standing next to Daddy with one hand on his shoulder and the other clutching her barely covered breast. She let out the most flirtatious laugh when she saw Mama. Daddy, of course, was all flustered and told Jean to have a good day as he removed her hand. Mama told us to get in the car, and Daddy hopped in as fast as he could. As we sped off, I looked back at Jean with her red lipstick and dress cinched tightly at the waist. I don’t know what it was about her, but I thought she was beautiful. Mama was beautiful too, but in a different way. Jean had that beauty that made men desire her and women want to be her – or fight her.

All the way home, Daddy tried to make conversation with Mama. But she didn’t respond. She never said one word. And when we finally made it home, I asked Mama what Daddy said to Miss Jean to make her smile so hard. She turned to me quickly, ‘Brenda, her name is Jean. You call her that. You hear me?’ and she walked away. That was the first time Mama said I could call a grown woman by her first name. So Miss Jean became Jean, and that’s how I always addressed her. We were equals. And I liked it that way.

That was a long time ago. But I do loves me some red; makes me feel like Jean looked to me that day – all playful, flirtatious and in control.”

Shar looked confused at Miss Brenda’s suggestion that Jean had control.

“I know what you’re thinking. ‘How was Jean in control that day?’ Child, let me tell you… Anytime a woman gets a man that flustered and makes his wife so upset that she tells her 11-year-old daughter to address that woman by her first name, that woman is in control. Daddy might have come home with us, but both he and Mama in that moment with Jean for quite some time. Now hand me my purse and let’s get out of here. I’ve told you too much of my business as it is.”

“Yes ma’am.”

 

I’m the hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there.

What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can.
— Thomas More, Utopia, Bk. 1. (1516)

How in the world does a Belle from the Deep South have such conflicting sense of self and being? How is it that my life is an oxymoronic collaboration of existing as either/or, neither/or and both/and simultaneously? Like seriously. How can I be just as at home in the country sitting on the porch with a bee-bop to cool the summer’s humidity as I am navigating the streets of New York City or London with my Timbs on or umbrella in tow? How is it that the ritualistic nature of the Southern Belle is deeply ingrained in me; yet, I reject many aspects of how the Belle is personified in the media (See Phaedra Parks’ book.)? How can I love the spirituality of Southern Baptist but cringe at that thought of some of its ‘can’t sit with us’ teachings? Geesh. Just a big ball of peaceful contradictions.

I am, indeed, a hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there.

My Facebook feed keeps me abreast of all the goings on in the world, and the more I read the more I realize that we have issues. Collectively, we have issues. For example, last night I finally had the opportunity to watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta Reunion show and shook my head as the drama between Porsha Williams and Kenya Moore unfolded. While everyone talked about how Kenya deserved the hair pull, I viewed the exchange the example of what happens when life’s drama (divorce), a gifted antagonist, and media ratings intersect. That can be a dangerous collision. [Violence makes me uncomfortable] This morning, I read that Governor Nathan Deal will to sign a gun law that will allow licensed gun owners to have their weapons in more public places. So basically, we’re about to be Wild Wild West’n in public places?! Lawd, this Bama Peach is not ready. This shxt cannot be life. But it is. It IS life, and that is crazy as hell to me. And sometimes I just don’t get it.

In January, our home was invaded and my brand new 50+ inch HD-television was stolen. [Now how will I watch Alabama football in the fall? Ugh.] Luckily, no one was home but as a result of the invasion, we beefed up security. From one alarm system to two – complete with cameras – and our killer baby, Zeus. For a moment, it was quite unsettling for me. I don’t do alarms. I don’t do big ferocious dogs. I don’t do guns. But, it seems that the world we live in requires that we do all those things and we’ve come to understand that being on constant guard is peace. Now, how does that make sense? As contradictory as my experiences are as an Eclectic GRITS, even I understand that being in a constant state of fear does not equal peace? Or does it? For me, it does not.

I am, indeed, a hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there.

I’ve always been told that I was ‘different’. When I was younger, I felt a little different and I got older, I realized that the way I thought about and processed situations might be slightly different from some others. I’m not easily angered. I don’t have [or believe in] haters or people being out to get me. I love exponentially – and that usually includes those who others might say are my enemies. I don’t like fighting – either physical or verbal. [But I’m sure I’d get down if I needed to] I take my relationships seriously – that includes my lovers and friends. If I refer to someone as my ‘Sis’, I literally mean that. I don’t cut people off because you’ve wronged me. If you need my help and I’m able to help, I will. Past experiences don’t always matter. I believe in big love [define that however you choose]. I do. Hearts are meant to embrace all the nurturing love they can endure; so why not love deeply? I’m always aware of my surroundings – always. However, I don’t believe that everyone who approaches me needs to be watched like a criminal. I like money. I love for my bills to be paid, but I money doesn’t buy my happiness. I love nature. My thumbs aren’t green, but I’d love to garden and grow my own food. I love the beach. I love watching people be comfortable with their bodies. I love incense and candles and cooking with fresh herbs. Oh, and I love vegetables. Like, I really LOVE vegetables. I could seriously live in a communal area where folks could just be. I believe in the goodness of people. In my head, a person being genuine evil is an anomaly. Evil actions exist but they are usually situational and contextual. Evil people? Not so much.

I’ve been told that I live in Utopia. But what’s wrong with that? My Utopia is a social justice haven where we eat; we’re educated (not schooled); we’re loving/loved; we’re nurturing/nurtured; we’re partnered/married; we’re clothed but not preoccupied with designers or fabrics; we’re spiritual; we’re empowered; we have shelter; we’re communal…family. We’re free. And to me, that IS peace.

So basically…

I am, indeed, a hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there. Ya’ll should come visit me.

Black Women and Depression: Our Tears Don’t Compromise Our Strength

“I’m fighting with depression today. Ion even know why. I’m exhausted. But not like from work. Just exhausted from tryna figure out life.”

Yesterday, I sent the statement above via text to a friend. After spending much of the morning forcefully convincing myself to go to work instead of staying home in bed (although I was well-rested) and struggling to stop the tears from streaming down my face, I sent the message in order to engage in some type of truth-telling, to allow myself to feel and process. As the day passed, I won the fight with the symptoms of depression after doing some positive self-talk and reading.

This morning I awoke to find my Facebook timeline filled with the sad news of the death of Karyn Washington, reportedly from suicide. Washington was the 22-year-old founder of For Brown Girls (FBG), a blog dedicated to uplifting and supporting young Black women and combatting attacks on their self-esteem. Of particular focus for the site were issues related to colorism. Specifically, one of the purposes of FBG was, “to encourage those struggling with accepting having a darker skin complexion to love and embrace the skin they are in”. [See Dr. Yaba Blay’s work on Pretty.Period. as well.] In addition to her work for FBG, Washington prompted women and girls with darker skin complexions to be proud to wear red lipstick and similar hues with her #DarkSkinRed Lip Project. The Project, a response to rapper A$AP Rocky’s suggestion that women with darker skin shouldn’t wear red lipstick, was well-received and garnered support from women representative of all complexions. Washington’s work was empowering and seemingly demonstrated that she had healthy self-esteem and was happy. She described herself as “strong, empowered, and classy” in a 2013 interview with Jane Thang Productions, LLC. Washington’s words to Jane also suggested that she was positive, com/passionate, humble, and confident. Nevertheless, The Root reported that Washington experienced depression after the death of her mother. Most of us that followed FBG considered Washington a representation of strength; however, we did not know her pain. And whatever pain Washington was experiencing in her life was debilitating and resulted in her taking her own life.

My text to my friend indicated that I was “fighting depression”, and I was. Like Ali [Laila, of course] against her fiercest opponent, I came out swinging because I know depression. I’ve experienced it. It takes on different forms for all of us, but I know what depression looks and feels like for me. My depression sleeps and cries. I sleep when I am not tired and cry when I can’t fathom a reason for the tears. For other women, depression might overcompensate. It’s masked by endless smiles and being the life of the party. For others, depression is hungry and then resentful. These women might binge eat and purge frequently. No matter how depression is conceptualized, it is important that we encourage our sisters to recognize it and seek help for it. Seeking help from a qualified mental health professional is strongly encouraged! It is also important to note that there is a difference between experiencing depressive symptoms and being diagnosed clinically diagnosed with depression. Yesterday’s bout with depression was actually a bout with depressive symptoms. Clinical depression takes many forms and is determined by the duration and severity of the symptoms. The National Institutes of Mental Health (2011) notes that depression can be diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Minor Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Finding accurate statistics to demonstrate how depression impacts Black women is extremely difficult. Hunn and Craig (2009) suggested that rates of depression in Black women are underestimated and under-reported. These authors also suggested that an attributing factor here is African Americans’ John Henryism, which is “a coping mechanism used by African Americans: overcoming obstacles with hard work and determination at the expense of mental and physical well-being” (p. 85). Other contributing factors are cultural socialization and nondisclosure.

Black women are culturally socialized to personify the Strong Black Woman (SBW). In many ways a myth and reality, the danger of the SBW socialization is that being strong is often equated to absorbing repeated devaluation of our minds, bodies, and spirits – and doing so without demonstrating any physical, mental, or emotional pain. We are not allowed to cry because crying is a symptom of vulnerability. We are not allowed to be upset or mad because those characteristics confirm the dominant culture’s construction of Black women as the Angry Black Bitch. We are not allowed to express or demonstrate any emotion or symptom that could be perceived as antithetical to our strength. We must wear the masks.

Nondisclosure is also part of our cultural socialization. We don’t tell everybody our business. And in many instances, we don’t even tell those that are closest to us. This silence can have dire consequences for us. In her book Silencing the  Self: Women and Depression (1991), psychologist Dana Jack maintained that self-silencing can be positive when women make a choice to maintain our silence regarding various issues. However, self-silencing challenges women and often facilitates depression when we are silent due to oppression or the perception that we don’t have a choice. When social, political or cultural oppression stifles our voices and prevents us from “talking back” (hooks, 1989) or truth-telling, our mental health suffers.  

Recently, I’ve been talking to Black women at different stages in their lives. Our conversations center on various topics, but each one has mentioned that being perceived as vulnerable is a site of anxiety. For example, after discussing a loss, one woman said to me, “I cried about this. Is it okay that I cried? Does that make me weak?” In addition, each of them has identified ways that her silence is imposed because of oppression or perceived lack of choice. Another woman discussed her experiences with sexual abuse and explained, “I couldn’t tell anyone. They would have judged me. Women in my family are strong.” Both women indicated that their tears and truth-telling would be contradictory to the alleged strength that Black women are supposed to embody. These statements suggest that many of us are in need of healing.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Centers for Disease Control (2010) reported that suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and was committed mostly by White males. Thus, stories of suicide by Black women are rare. However, we are dying in other ways and are in need what bell hooks (2005) describes as “self-recovery”. Specifically, she wrote:

Many black women in the United States are brokenhearted. They walk around in daily life carrying so much hurt, feeling wasted, yet pretending in every area of their life that everything is under control. It hurts to pretend. It hurts to live with lies. The time has come for black women to attend to that hurt. (p. 19)

Of course, it is not at all my intention to suggest that the Black woman experience is riddled with victimization, powerlessness, and essentialist notions of the SBW that render us all depressed and downtrodden. Instead, it is the my intention to confirm that we are strong, resilient and resistant to the many ways that others attempt to pathologize Black womanhood. However, being on point all the time without caring for ourselves depletes our energies and robs our spirits. Therefore, it is time for us to attend to ourselves and to one another. We must engage in dialogue with our sisters that inspire us “To give voice to silenced spaces as an act of resistance” (Dilliard, 2006, p. 19). We must fight depression and its symptoms whenever we can. We must speak. We must write. We must support. We must feel. We must process. And we must understand that all of these efforts, in no way, compromise our strength.

References

Dilliard, C. B. (2006). On spiritual strivings: Transforming an African American Woman’s academic life. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

hooks, b. (2005). Sisters of the yam: Black women and self-recovery. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

hooks, b. (1989). Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking black. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.  

Hunn, V. L., & Craig, C. D. (2009). Depression, social cultural factors, and African American women. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 37, 83-93.

Jack, D. C. (1991). Silencing the self: Women and depression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.