Moonlight Musings & Motherhood: On Paula, Teresa and the Complicated Role of (Bad) Black Mamas in Film


I attended a campus screening of the film Moonlight on Monday night at the University of Alabama (shout out to Lamar Wilson, Jennifer Jones and Steve Mobley, Jr. for hosting).  Moonlight is a coming of age film about black boyhood, masculinity, sexual identity, friendship, love, and chosen family.  The film was written and directed by Barry Jenkins and is based on the semi-autobiographical play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, by Tarell Alvin McCraney.  The film lives up to the overwhelming praise it has been getting from reviews (like this one, this one, and this one), and in the words of Hilton Als, it “undoes our expectations.”  The film features oxymoronic and unexpected storylines including a drug-dealing role model and bi-curious antagonist, but the ways in which black womanhood, or rather black motherhood, is displayed felt all too familiar.  I was entranced by the story, but as visually stunning, emotionally illuminating, and remarkably nuanced I found the film to be, I was ambivalent about the representation of black women.

As a black feminist who teaches courses on both black masculinity and representations of black women, I always inevitably view films with an investment in the portrayal of both, regardless of my viewing practices.  And while I don’t always have a particular expectation around what these representations should be (as was the case with Moonlight), I take note when I find them to be problematic.

As an autoethnographer, I am invested in the importance and significance of black folk telling our own stories and telling our own truths, and telling them even if and when they may be stereotypical or troubling.  But representation matters.  So, I find myself wrestling with what it means when filmic depictions of black men and women imply that progressive black masculinity, and positive black womanhood, cannot co-exist.  In many ways, these images suggest that in order for fluid black masculinity to be possible, black women and black women’s bodies must be somehow sacrificed.

In his review for Essence, Robert Jones, Jr., says,

“What Moonlight does, ultimately, to great effect, is re-envision manhood as a space where vulnerability and imagination are acceptable.  At the heart of the film is a tenderness that is rarely seen in films centering Black men.  This allows for intimacy, thereby magnifying the potential for humanity.”

The intentional centering of black maleness is important in the film, and inevitably and consciously pushes black women to the periphery.  There are only two black women characters predominantly featured in the film, Paula, Chiron’s mother, and Teresa, his mother-figure.  Teresa’s surrogacy protects Chiron from his biological mother’s drug-induced harshness.


I want to honor the story and the life that inspired the film, and the fact that Chiron’s mother was addicted to drugs and that her addiction precluded her from showing love, affection and care to her child.  I want to acknowledge that there are blackgirls and boys who for various reasons and circumstances, not limited to poverty, abandonment and un(der)education are stuck in cycles of abuse that oftentimes lead to institutionalization and isolation.  I want to reckon with the particular and unique challenges that black queer youth experience, both at home and everywhere else.  Moonlight gives us that.  And it gives us the gift of Teresa.  She is like air.  The antithesis of a stereotype, Teresa is not the around-the-way girl you expect to be the live-in girlfriend of a gold-grill wearing, child-saving drug dealer.  She is the reverse of Chiron’s mother.  But Chiron’s mother lacks the depth, until the end, to mark her as anything other than a bad mother.  She is only redeemable through Chiron’s forgiveness.

The film juxtaposes the two female figures so that they are inevitably seen in opposition to one another, seemingly balancing each other out, and neutralizing black womanness in the film.  We never see the two black women together or at the same place at the same time.  In many films where the black woman binary exists, black women are visually separate, so that the distinction is clear.  Teresa is good, Paula is bad.  teresaThey are diametrically oppositional characters.  One breaks Chiron, while the other one mends him.  Paula’s resentment and jealousy of Teresa’s role in her son’s life only further maligns her as selfish and territorial.  Teresa’s infinite support and kindness mandates that Paula fail as a mother, while Teresa excels, though she has no children of her own (another common characteristic of “good” mother figures in film).  Paula’s attempt at redemption, years later, feels as inadequate as Mary’s desperate plea to her daughter at the end of the film Precious.  Too much, too little, too late.  Once a bad black mother, always a bad black mother.  The damage cannot be undone.

“Bad” black mamas are common tropes in films where black women are scapegoated, in Moynihan fashion, as the precursor for pathology in the black family.  Black mothers are blamed or implicated though rarely praised or celebrated.  Working mothers are chastised for not being stay-at-home mothers; welfare mothers are demonized for not working; single mothers are blamed for not being sufficient “father-figures,”; married women are expected to want to be mothers; young mothers are vilified for unplanned babies; older mothers are harshly judged for waiting too long.  Criticisms of black mothers are ubiquitous, even if and when they do “everything right.”  These callous characters are commonly balanced by un-mother figures who compensate for the failures of biological mamas.

The role of the black mother is central to coming of age films, and are particularly important for LGBT coming of age films, where black youth must struggle with coming to terms with an identity that may estrange them from their loved ones.

For example, in Dee Rees’ debut coming (of-age) out film, Pariah, black mothers refuse to accept their daughters’ sexual identity, punishing them by withholding affection and acceptance.  Li, the main character, is 17 and questioning her sexuality.  Her best friend Laura, an already out lesbian, has been disowned, and is continually rejected by her mother throughout the film.  Li’s mother, Audrey, cannot reconcile her religion with her daughter’s lesbian identity.  As a result, she verbally, emotionally and finally physically abuses her daughter, who turns to a surrogate mother for affirmation, understanding, and eventually escape.  In Rees’ film, the philandering father is the “good parent,” despite his patriarchal and toxic masculine tendencies.

Because of all of the ways Moonlight pushes and pulls at identity politics and filmic possibilities, I believe the film offers an opportunity and perhaps a responsibility to reckon with representations, and trouble not just black masculinity and queer identity, but black womanhood, specifically black motherhood in the face of progressive black masculinity.  With few exceptions, progressive black masculinity in film only exists if black women are absent, silent or maligned.  And vice versa.

Films with black woman protagonists have similar problematic representations of black men.  In films where black women are strong and/or powerful, they are often presented as a threat to black masculinity, causing black men to reject and/or compete with them.  In films where black men are vulnerable and/or progressive, black women are overbearing and shrewd, accused of emasculating black men and adopting black masculinity for themselves.  (Think Tyler Perry movies, any Tyler Perry movie).  In order for black women to be independent, powerful and/or lovable characters, they must survive and/or avoid the blatant misogyny of male characters, regardless of sexual identity and orientation.

The cultural conundrum around this phenomenon is something that can be considered moving forward.  I don’t see the portrayal of black womanhood in Moonlight as a failure, because I don’t see Moonlight as a film about black womanhood. I do, however, think that future films that engage the topic of queer identity and masculinity might expand, complicate and re-characterize representations of black mothers, so that even if and when they are not positive forces in their child’s life, their characterizations are attached to context and history (alongside or in lieu of a stereotype).

All black mothers are not emasculating or unloving.  I look forward to future depictions that include black mothers who love their children unconditionally and defend them fiercely.  All black women are not flawless.  I look forward to representations that allow black women to be redeemable without being self-sacrificing.  All black women don’t want to be, and/or should not be mothers.  I look forward to stories that humanize these women, allowing their children to be rescued before enduring irrevocable damage.  All black life is not pathological.  I look forward to more stories that chronicle the beauty of blackness, black love, queerness, masculinities, femininities, gender, fluid sexualities, inevitable redundancies, and motherhood.

As Lamar Wilson, one of the speakers at the film talk back summarized in his closing comments (I’m paraphrasing), the beauty of Moonlight is its refusal to bend to our expectations, its insistence that we question what we think we know, and its invitation that we challenge how we have been conditioned to feel (about the lives and bodies of black folk).

I’m going to relish in the light of this moon (the film is all the things) while I wait for the light of future suns, bringing more films, more characters, more characterizations, more representations, more (of) us.  Sunlight soon come.

P.S.  Go see this film!

P. P. S. And are you watching Queen Sugar? (another blog post, another day)

4 Reasons Why Black Women Should Reject Purity Culture



I spent my twenties in Atlanta working on and earning a Ph.D. Becoming a grown-ass woman in that city in the early to late aughts (2003-2009) was hard on my self-esteem and my love life. Atlanta is one of those fabled cities for Black middle class women and wannabes. With all the wonderful chocolatey Blackness of that city, heterosexual Black women buy into the idea that their beautiful man, beautiful house, dope career, and future children are waiting on them there. Atlanta was my dream city, and I love it to this day.

As dating went, back in the day, the A didn’t love me. And like most deep South Black girls, I dealt with my dating problems in church, praying about what I needed to fix and change, and what the Lord was working in me to change to prepare me for this perfect man (that never came and who I am no longer looking for.) The other thing about Atlanta if you are straight and Black and Christian back then was the mega church culture. There are all kinds of fancy, sophisticated churches in Atlanta, and I was an active and tithing member of one. I did all the worshipping, serving in ministry, and Bible studying that I could. I didn’t do it to get a man. My spiritual life exists separate from any romantic partner; but a big part of my life in my 20s was trying to figure out when the magical dude was going to show up. And everyone from the preachers on down to my homegirls who I served in ministry with had a whole lot to say about this process.

But the core of their advice was: keep your legs closed. God will send you somebody once you fix your life. And if you ain’t got nobody you ain’t ready yet. And again, keep your legs closed. If you looked even remotely concerned with this advice, they would shut you up with four words: The Bible is clear. …

 Luckily (or blessedly), graduation and a new job took me away from Atlanta, from its demoralizing dating scene, and its even worse Christian megachurch bubble. But apparently after I left, purity culture became an official thing among grown-ass Black women. Apparently, there are really sisters out here telling grown-ass women not to kiss their dudes until the wedding. Seriously?

Let me tell y’all how blessed I feel that Jesus delivered me out of that madness before it took root. I am so glad that my testimony at 35 is not that I ain’t been on a date and been touched since I was 25. Because when I left Atlanta at age 28, I was definitely en route to that being my story.

There have been a few great articles over the last few weeks that attempt to challenge our investments in perpetual singleness, celibacy, and Christian abstinence.

So I’m just going to share with you four reasons why I have come after much prayer, careful consideration, Bible study, and other-than-the-Bible book reading, to reject purity culture for grown-ass Black women.

  1. Purity culture spiritualizes social problems. Marriage rates are in decline across all social strata and demographics. The Church claims this is a spiritual attack on marriages, when really marriage has always been an economic and social transaction—even in the Bible. Because women in particular don’t need to rely on marriages for economic sustenance anymore, they are infinitely more discriminating about what makes for a good mate or partner. And because our flailing economy keeps unemployment rates among Black men at astronomically higher rates than any other group, many of these men are not able to perform traditionally masculine roles in marriage. I reject the necessity of traditional gender roles out of hand, btw. But the larger point is that these are social problems – problems of the way that white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism make it hard for Black folks to build lives together. Purity culture makes Black women believe that God can protect them from all these terrible effects of white supremacy and capitalism simply by choosing not to have sex. Black women’s vaginas are magic, you understand. Systems bow to our pussies. (Except in the case of rape, domestic violence, slavery, etc, etc.) Such thinking makes us less apt to confront the systems themselves. Black folks know its rough in these streets; we know systems seem impossible to overcome. But God. That’s what we go to church to hear preachers tell us: “But God is bigger than all these systems.” I believe God is bigger than all these systems. But I also believe God equips us to fight back against systems.  Focusing on the impurity of people obscures the utter rottenness and impurity of these systems in which we are forced to navigate. And I think the point is not for us to ask solely for individual blessings while the system harms everyone else, but for us to think robustly about how to tear down the systems that make it so hard for us to see each other’s humanity, connect well, and love on each other properly. Spirit matters in combatting social problems, but spirituality should not be used to deny or reduce the importance of how systems of structural violence shape our lives.
  2. Purity culture disempowers us while claiming to empower us. It robs us of social agency in our dating lives and interpretive agency in our spiritual lives.

A. Social agency — I have heard countless Black church girls say: “I don’t approach men. The Word Says “he who findeth a wife findeth a good thing.” How long, beloveds, are y’all going to let this one verse be the basis of your terrible theology of marriage and dating? Look, we are all afraid of rejection, but the love life I have today has everything to do with my willingness to approach brothers I liked and ask them on a date. Stop using the Bible as a reason to do nothing but sit around and wait on a love life to show up at your door. That’s not how this works. And that’s not a good way to read Proverbs. Proverbs offered life principles. It’s not a rule book. That verse simply means that men should recognize the value in finding a great partnership. Extrapolating that men are the only ones who can do the finding is a total stretch. Ask Ruth whether Boaz found her or whether she found him and tricked him into thinking he found her. Stop letting this bad theology of purity rob you of the agency to follow your bliss and be intentional about building the kind of romantic life you want. I don’t care what anyone says – dude most prolly ain’t gone show up on your door step.

B. Interpretive agency — Purity Culture perpetuates the ongoing lie that there is only way to read the Bible, and that the Bible is an excellent book for navigating dating and relationships. Here’s a clue: it is not. We are taught in evangelical Christian churches that God has a standard for how we ought to live and that standard is laid out for us in crystal clear terms in the Bible. That belief is seductive. If you’ve been out here struggling to make your life work, and someone says, “there’s a rule book. Follow it to a tee. Don’t deviate (Joshua 1:1-9 lol). And all your blessings will show up. God just had these blessings in hock, waiting on you to get on board with these rules,” who wouldn’t do it? We all want guaranteed success. Life is tough as shit. We all want to minimize the harm it can do. But listen y’all. We need to start looking at the Bible as an invitation into an ongoing conversation with God and with those who have come before us. We get to ask questions. We get to disagree. We get to call out injustice. We get to ask as Candice Benbow asked, “what if we saw Black women’s singleness as an affront to the Cross?”  We get to ask whether one group’s “promised land” was another group’s genocidal nightmare (especially since the genocide recipients looked more like our ancestors)? We get to ask how we fit into this story. We get to ask God whether or not the theology of family and sexuality that white people created really works for folks whose sexuality they used and abused and demonized. We get to ask whether a heterosexual, two-parent family is really the prized biblical model since it doesn’t seem like Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Timothy, Solomon and the like worked from or came from that model. Instead though, we are fed an ever more sophisticated diet of reasons why we are supposed to keep our sexuality on lock.

 If your church is anything like the one I went to in Atlanta, they tell you to take more and more classes so you can dig deeper and come further in line with God’s will. But really as you learn more and more about doctrine, you are becoming indoctrinated. You are told that your questions matter, when really the goal is to steer you deliberately toward a singular answer. That’s not education; that’s indoctrination. And in the process, Black women become more sophisticated in their theology of self-denial (the flesh is deceitful, you see) but far less wise and knowledgeable about how live out a liberatory spirituality. We become comfortable spiritualizing our suffering, acting as though perpetual lack of partners is just our “cross to bear.” But Black women are not Jesus, and we should really ask questions about how far to take that “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” business. Because if it means Black women are subjected to a life time of suffering, then I’m sorry but Jesus owes us something different. (I actually am saved, though I know some of you feel like I ain’t by this point. Lol.) This is a dangerous denial of interpretive agency, dressed up as the conferral of agency upon you to “know the word for yourself.” It’s insidious and frankly, kind of diabolical. You go to class after class, sermon after sermon and hear that all God has for you is for you to wait on the man, the touch, the intimacy, that never comes. People disempower you while telling you they are empowering you. Rebuke that shit. And then get into the conversation. Ask questions. Commune at the tent of Ruth and Boaz and reconsider how that all really went down. Read some new books. Ask other questions. The answers you get might surprise you.


  1. Purity culture perpetuates toxic femininity. It typically places the onus on women to submit, to keep their legs closed, and to practice modesty so that men aren’t tempted. Yet it also requires that women look traditionally beautiful and desirable so that they will be attractive to men. We know these ideas are rooted in a form of toxic masculinity that sees women’s value in terms of what they offer to men; but it’s a toxic form of Black femininity, too. It’s toxic because any of you familiar with any of this know the exact kind of nasty and unwelcome zeal with which Black church girls dig their heels in around sex and purity and then police and judge anyone who doesn’t think about it the way they do. But it is also toxic internally because it causes Black women untold amounts of pain and anxiety from years of not being touched, years of not having our bodies affirmed, years of not having an outlet to express desires that come naturally to people who are sexual (and not all people are.) And of course it is toxic femininity because it is rooted in limited ideas about proper Black womanhood that are heterosexist and cis-normative, which is to say if you aren’t perfectly coiffed, putatively straight, and non-transgender, then you definitely aren’t pure.


  1. Purity culture demonizes Black women’s bodies. It reinforces white supremacy, antiblackness, patriarchy and capitalism in the process. You can’t love your body and hate its sexual desires. And it’s hard as hell to love yourself when no one ever hollers at you, touches you, etc. The goal of purity culture is for women in particular to secure a happy nuclear family. Many white evangelicals subscribe to it, because on its face, it seems to work out. And even if their first marriages don’t, they are more likely to get married a second time. Whiteness got a monopoly on second and third and fourth chances. The thing is though: white supremacy propagated the lie that Black women were impure, unrapeable, immoral, sexually insatiable, and fundamentally filthy and dirty. White supremacy said Black women were loud, unfeminine, out of control and ugly. White supremacy told that lie, long before brothers started believing it. They used Christian teachings about us being descendants of Ham and the cursed Canaanites to propagate such ideas. Black women for the first 250 years in the Americas didn’t have the luxury of deciding when and where to open and close our legs; we didn’t have full choice to determine whom to invite in; we didn’t get to choose how to build our intimate lives. We knew our bodies were sacred long before white folks did. They were the ones who violated our bodily sanctity over and over again. While white men circumscribed white women’s movement to the private sphere to protect their purity, they snuck out to the quarters each night to show depraved indifference to us. Thus Black women’s obsession with purity and respectability post-slavery had everything to do with reclaiming and reimagining some sense of dignity, vulnerability, choice, and desire after having been denied those things forever. Our understandings of Christian purity have never been separate from our embattled history on these shores. They are not separable now, either. White evangelicals pioneered the purity movement to control white women’s bodies and to continue to propagate white families that could easily procure and pass on material wealth, because of a never-ending stream of access to middle class resources. When I watch preachers, particularly those who pastor megachurches that pay lots of money for sophisticated theological curricula for their members, adopt the same workbooks and authors being taught in white churches, I’m amazed at how oblivious they are to the ways that white evangelicalism is wholly irrelevant for the lives of Black people. It’s fine (theoretically anyway) to tell straight white girls to stay pure, when its clear that they will most likely get married. It’s cruel to tell that to Black women in the face of severely declining marriage rates. The result of Black women’s singleness (particularly in the professional ranks) is often years or decades of never being touched and then an old age potentially spent in social isolation. Acting as though any theology curriculum matters regardless of social circumstance seems to go against the way in which Jesus taught. Theology is made for us; we are not made for theology. Moreover, as my good friend Dr. Tabitha Chester points out, purity culture and those authors who profit from single Black women’s misery is exploitative and reinforces capitalism. The church should not use Black women’s pain to make a profit.



Pure is not what I’m striving to be. I’m real. Complicated. Passionate. Sexual. Faithful. I’m also happily dating and crafting the kind of love life I want to have. Consequently, I’m 35, but I’m not miserable, desperate, or lonely, despite my singleness. The quality of my life has not ever risen or fallen based on how far apart or close together my knees are. But purists know that the only way grown women close their legs indefinitely is if they close their mouths and their minds, too. The fear is that if women open their minds to think and open their mouths to speak, naturally, they might conclude that in the right circumstances opening one’s legs would be just fine, too. And to those who have this fear, I say to them, church girl that I am, “God has not (in fact) given you a spirit of fear.” (2 Tim 1:7)



Connect The Dots: For Korryn Gaines, Skye Mockabee and Joyce Quaweay

Since Friday, there have been stories of three Black women killed by acts of state-sanctioned and intimate partner violence. Those are just the three we lost this weekend, that we know about, but I’m sure there are others.

On Friday in Philadelphia, Joyce Quaweay’s partner stripped her, handcuffed her, and beat her to death while his best friend watched and assisted. Her children watched, too. These two men, one a former Temple University police officer, the other a current TUPD officer, were still beating her dead body when the cops arrived. Her “crime?”: Failure to submit.

On Saturday morning, Cleveland police officers found Skye Mockabee’s body in a parking lot. She is the 17th trans person killed this year.

On Monday, Baltimore County police officers arrived at the home of Korryn Gaines to serve a warrant for failure to appear on a traffic citation. They claimed that Korryn pulled a gun on them; subsequently they shot her and her five year old son, whom she was holding, killing her and injuring her baby boy. They also suspiciously scrubbed her social media accounts during after the incident. Korryn is the 9th cisgender Black woman killed by police this year.

Can we talk for a moment about patriarchy? It’s not a word that gets used much these days. Somehow, we can see Black cis and trans women being slaughtered with every kind of violence and still not connect the dots. Why don’t we know how to talk about this?

These killings which happened basically over the course of a long weeked (Friday to Monday) represent with stunning clarity the structural precarity that shapes all Black women’s lives.

Joyce Queweay was fatally disciplined because according to her partner and his friend, she would not submit. Unless this is a BDSM scenario, it’s is not appropriate for a grown ass woman to submit to a grown ass man. I don’t care what your Bible says. The romanticization of dominance and submission kills.

Once every 19 hours a Black woman is killed by a man, usually by an intimate partner, usually with a gun. Once every 21 hours, the man killing her is a Black man. Many of us are quick to quote that statistic from the 2012 report of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which says that every 28 hours a Black person is killed by police, security guards, or vigilantes. Yet, we are losing at least one Black woman per day to intimate partner violence in this country, and beyond sick outrage and fascination, we can’t quite figure out what to do about it.

Trans women of color have a reported life expectancy of 35 years. Skye Mockabee was only 26 years old.

Korryn Gaines has become yet another victim of a militarized police state that uses SWAT Teams to serve warrants. Why, you ask, do SWAT Teams serve warrants? They have not always done so, but my good friend, Dr. Melanye Price has explained to me, that after a decade of post-9/11 wars and the ramping up of police militarization, we have an over-abundance of highly weaponized police officers in a world where violent crime rates are falling. Add to that a context where you have declared Black urban neighborhoods war zones, and treat Black citizens who live in them like enemy combatants, you can then combat police officer boredrom by allowing them to play war games with ordinary citizens. This is why the recent, extensive new policy platform from the Movement for Black Lives calls for among other things an “End to the War on Black People.” Demilitarizing police forces and stopping fucking SWAT Teams from serving traffic warrants would be a pretty obvious beginning.

The murders of all these women on their own are appalling and incensing enough. But the problem is that we reserve most of the outrage for what happened to Korryn Gaines. Because it fits a narrative that we understand. That narrative centers around white supremacy and the enactment of state violence against Black people.

But somehow, we have a paltry analysis of patriarchy in this moment, and the ways in which both cis and trans Black women continue to be murdered on the daily by both cishetero men in intimate relationships and by police officers who are utterly unmoved by any claims to Black women’s femininity. Our womanhood does not protect us from state-based racism and misogynoir.

Misogynoir, Moya Bailey’s term for hatred of Black women, girls and femmes, is not just cultural. It’s structural.

Skye Mockabee

Skye Mockabee

Because Skye was a transwoman, her story does not galvanize marches, petitions, or broad demands from Black communities that her murderer be found and prosecuted.

Joyce Queweay

Joyce Quaweay

Because two brothers brutally beat Joyce Quaweay, we refuse to have a robust Movement conversation about the rampant nature of intimate partner violence, because we don’t want to further pathologize brothers who are already viewed as inherently criminal by the system. That these two police officers used the playbook of state violence to exacerbate their enactment of quotidian forms of male violence towards women is not a part of the conversation either.

Korryn Gaines

Korryn Gaines

Because Korryn Gaines (allegedly) had a gun and was also holding her baby, Black male mansplainers have been turnt all the way up victim blaming her for ending up dead. They did it to Sandra Bland, too. Apparently, the only armed Black folks we can be outraged for are men like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

But isn’t the logic the same though?

Submit or die.

Submit to the police or die. Submit to your intimate (cishet Black male) partner or die. The state kills Black women and all Black people who don’t submit. Think Sandra Bland. Think Eric Garner. Think Mike Brown. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile submitted and died anyway.

But then, at least once a day, brothers kill sisters who don’t submit .

Black men’s lack of solidarity in this moment, tells us something about how deeply invested many Black men are in narratives of dominance and submission. Even though Black men often accuse Black women of colluding with the state against them, which is often why we don’t call the cops when they are beating us to death, what is more true, is that Black men are the colluders. The one thing that state based agencies and many, many brothers agree on is the blame of Black mothers, for the terrible things that happen to Black children. Korryn Gaines was holding and protecting her son from state-based terrorists with guns. That they thought he was an acceptable casualty in order to apprehend her is a failure of their logic not hers. Too many brothers are deeply invested in a narrative of patriarchal submission, even as they balk at and die under the state’s violent mandate that they (and all Black people) do the same.

But when we pursue a social analysis that fails to robustly consider patriarchy alongside challenges to white supremacy and capitalism, we’ll miss the convergence of violent logics.

And I’m going to say this, too. One of the things I credit online feminist and queer activism, and the Movement for Black Lives for doing is, making clear to us the structural precarity of trans Black women’s lives. Every single year we see an epidemic of murders of trans folks, and our collective response is nothing short of anemic.

But let us not get it twisted that cis Black women are doing well in this system. We are not. Let me be clear – cis privilege is real. Cis Black women are frequently violent, vile, and transphobic towards trans Black women. Cis Black women are often dangerously invested in gender categories that we had to struggle for access to, and those categories don’t protect any of us at the end of the day.

But what Joyce, Skye, and Korryn teach us together, in the space of a violent long weekend, is that all Black women’s lives are shaped in the context of multiple kinds of state-based and intimate jeopardies, and in the end, neither the state, nor (unevolved) cishetero Black men are a respecter of persons when it comes to whom they’ll slaughter. These sisters, taken together, teach us Black women are more often victims of lethal state and intimate violence, than perpetrators. In this moment, we need better analysis of how patriarchy shapes the life conditions of Black womenfolk, trans and cis, included, because we dying in these streets. (We are sophisticated enough to come up with an analysis that does not let Black ciswomen off the hook for transphobia, but that also does not gloss over the intensity and pervasiveness of state and communal forms of violence against all sisters. Black feminism been teaching us for 100 years that the femaleness that constitutes most forms of Black womanhood is a site of extreme violence, domination and cruelty. We can, should, and will ride for the right of our trans and gnc sibs to live and thrive, without succumbing to an inadequate analysis of structural violence against all Black femme-identified folk.)

So even as we march, wail, organize, and bring the revolution we so desperately need, let’s keep our Black feminist weight up. Let’s keep our theorizations of patriarchy tight. Let’s keep connecting the dots. Let’s think more robustly about jeopardy, intersectionality, and simultaneous oppressions, than we have been. We owe it to Black women and Black people to do so.


Feel free to call the names of Black women victims of state and intimate partner violence in the comments section. And feel free to share your thoughts as well.

The Forgotten Ones (For Those Who Survive Black Death)


The past three days have felt like the end times.  The sting and stench of death hanging heavily in the humidity of the third summer in a row that will be remembered for murder.  Like others, I have been restless, sleepless, and hopeless—speechless.  First, because of the unnecessary death of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, caught on tape from multiple angles, reminiscent of Eric Garner’s body being wrestled to the ground, held down until breathless.  The gun shots startled me, coming from nowhere and for no reason, even after I watched the video three times in disbelief.  Hours later the wails of his son, Cameron, crying for his father, haunted me.  The pain of his loss was visceral and I felt it, carried it, pushed it into the center of my being, alongside the losses of dozens of other black women and men murdered by police in the last few years.  I don’t feel like I can carry any more.  Then, less than 24 hours later, I unwillingly witness the death of Philando Castile.  His bullet ridden body collapsed on itself, blood soaked shirt, shocked eyes, seat belt fastened.  He didn’t do anything wrong.  As he lay there dying his girlfriend, Diamond, begins a Facebook Live stream so that the public can bear witness to what she and her 4 year old daughter are witnessing.  A police officer’s gun still drawn on her beloved’s broken body, his arm hanging like a broken tree limb, his eyes fixed on the roof of the car, subtle if any movement in his chest.  She says, “stay with me,” to him, before recounting the events that preceded the shooting into her phone to us, before being called from the car and handcuffed, before being isolated and interrogated.  She didn’t do anything wrong.  The blank screen and pleading prayer broke my heart as she cried out, “we are an innocent people,” and her four year daughter, practicing the solemnity of strength black women are forced to learn sooner or later, saying soothingly, “It’s okay, mama…It’s okay, I’m right here with you.”  My heart broke.  Then, last night, a peaceful protest protesting the deaths of Alton and Phil end in the murder of 5 white police officers, social media feeds playing back the sound of gunshots, not unlike the firecrackers heard throughout my neighborhood four nights ago.  All of this death is devastating and unnecessary.  No loss of life is the remedy for the loss of life.

I am troubled, however, that the names of all of the victims are not being equally weighted.  In the public sphere, respectability politics rendered Alton less of a victim than Philando because of an imperfect history and criminal record.  Philando’s name is being disappeared in media, despite the fact that he was a blameless victim, allegedly guilty of driving a car with a broken taillight.  The focus has shifted to the deaths of the police officers, who while worthy of remembrance and mourning, shouldn’t discard the grief attached to Alton and Philando.  They are no less gone from us because of a rogue vigilante seeking renegade justice.


Alton and Philando are added to the names of dead black men whose name I will memorize, memorialize, hashtag and grieve for, hoping that this time there will be justice.  The names of the slain police officers (the only yet released name is Brent Thompson) who lost their life during an anti-violence protest , are also important to know.  Their families deserving of empathy.  There are, however, forgotten victims in these circumstances that are rarely acknowledged.  Loved ones of black victims are left to pick up the pieces of their lives, left incomplete, by premature death.  Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Alton Sterling’s oldest son.  Cameron Sterling, Alton’s oldest son.  His other four children.  Sandra Sterling, Alton’s aunt.  Anjelica Sterling, Alton’s sister.  Diamond Reynolds, Philando’s girlfriend. Her daughter.  Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother.  Allysza Castile, Philando’s sister.  Their extended families and community.  The rest of us who feel implicated because we have Alton’s and Phil’s in our life and we know it could have been ours, it could have been us.

Black women often carry the brunt and burden of going on when black men are murdered.  Mothers, grandmothers, wives, lovers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends are left to make sense of their lives and hold themselves together so that they can hold everyone else up.  Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Alton Sterling’s eldest son, has to comfort her child and worry about a world that would render his fate no different from his father’s.  Diamond (Lavish) Reynolds will be haunted with the memory of watching her boyfriend die with her four year old daughter in the backseat watching.

While the public memory of victims is quickly replaced, the families continue to grieve.  Grief is an out of body and then full body experience.  The necessary numbness with which these women are able to function will eventually fade and the pain and reality of loss will set in.  The stoicism you may marvel at will become inconsolable pain.  The fortitude to speak for themselves and their loved ones, both living and dead, will transform to tears.


Black women are no more superhuman than black men.  We feel pain and we fall apart, just like black men bleed and die.  Even though we have watched black women remarkably hold it together, don’t mistake their bravery for strength.  The unbreakability of black women is a myth, and instead of being impressed with our strength and fortitude, be mindful of what you can’t see, be present when the cameras go dim.  We have to remember the forgotten victims and know that family and friends of the deceased don’t have the luxury of just moving on once their loved ones are buried.  I don’t think you ever get over death like this.  Lives gone too soon because another person took it in their hands.  Sybrina Fulton is still mourning.  Lezley McSpadden is still mourning.  Gwen Carr is still mourning.  The mothers of dead sons never stop grieving.  Their grief likely reawakened every time another black boy is killed.

Philando Castile should have lived to be 90 years old.  Alton Sterling should have been able to watch his children grow up.  The women who loved them should not have to make sense of their sudden absence.

We cannot change what has happened, but we can recognize that the pain we feel in solidarity is only a measure of their loss.

Issa Rae began a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a scholarship fund for Alton Sterling’s children.  Another campaign, started by Xavier L. Burgin, former student of CF Rachel, started a similar campaign to raise funds for Philando Castile’s  family.  Collectively, those efforts have raised over $500,000.  These campaigns recognize that these families don’t have the luxury of just moving on once their loved ones are buried (and that the financial burden of unexpected death is an additional toll).

In the coming days and weeks, when there will be less coverage and less attention to what was lost when Alton and Philando died, please remember those who survived (in prayer, donation, activist efforts, and/or empathy) but must carry the loss with them.

Are You Family?


I don’t write much. In fact, I only write when I feel things deeply. These past two days, I have been in my feelings. The pain cuts so deep that I think my tears are now crying. I cried in shock when I saw the news about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I sat in disbelief and cried again when I saw the news about the AME Church shooting. Now, I just can’t stop crying after hearing about the recent shooting in Orlando.

As a gay Latina, this news cuts even deeper than all of the previous tragedies. None of these individuals are related to me by blood but they are my family. You see, often times coming out in communities of color means that your blood family disowns you. When they can’t make sense of the news, they tell you that you are no longer welcome and often exile you from the very family that nurtured and watched you grow. Once we lose our family, the loneliness forces us to seek comfort among other lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer folk. You feel a safe comradery with them. They are the only ones that can really understand your struggle. They survive in spite of the sadness. They recognize your lonely.

In our incredibly homophobic world it isn’t safe to be out and proud in every space. When we find ourselves outside of the safety of friends’ homes, gay clubs and pride parades and think we have met a member of the community but are unsure, we timidly ask “are you family?” These three words are incredibly powerful to us. They help us determine whether or not it is safe to be our full selves in the presence of newfound friends.

This past weekend, we lost members of our family. Our beautiful brothers and sisters were slaughtered while trying to celebrate life in a safe space where they could love freely, dance freely, and live freely. If you really are about supporting the LBGTQ community, we need you to prove it. This is a cruel world and it has taken so much for us to get to a place where we are finally able to love ourselves. If you want to help, please, just love us enough to recognize our humanity. Love us enough to mourn with us, cry with us, pray with us, feel with us, march with us, and fight with us. But, most of all please just love us.