Saving Ourselves

The following piece is guided by the unbothered and eternally shady spirit of Rep. Maxine Waters.

The following piece is guided by the unbothered and eternally shady spirit of Rep. Maxine Waters.

My feminist ministry has never really been focused on white people. Interrogating whiteness and eradicating white supremacy, sure. But addressing the needs, goals, or desires of individual white people? No. Not really. Not my work.

In the wake of last November’s election, where white folk by and large adjudicated President Obama’s two terms by electing an inarticulate, uninformed, inexperienced tyrant who peddles in sexism, racism, and xenophobia as president, I wrote a piece directly addressing white people, and white women in particular. I invited them to “get their people” and hold them accountable to the decisions they made in the voting booth, decisions that will likely make collateral damage of the most vulnerable among us.

This was a mistake.

I was correct in believing that whites should be accountable to their communities, but I wasted my own precious breath in making the call.

It’s not that people didn’t listen—the post was clicked, read, and shared thousands of times. I’m just not sure that folks, the ones who really need the message, heard me.

Now, to be clear, I certainly had white folk—friends, colleagues, and people I don’t know—across my social media reading, commenting, and sharing the post, and others like it, in thoughtful and sincere ways. Many of these are the white folk who get it, who do the hard, thankless work, and who aren’t looking for constant validation and cookies. These folks are more than allies—they are co-conspirators and accomplices. White supremacy won’t end without them.

But I also saw many more incredulous and defensive responses. Folks saying things like:

“You have no idea how hard it is to talk to those people!”

“But what can I do? I have no power.”

And my personal favorite, “Those are not my people. All the white people I know are progressive (radical, Socialist, Communist), they would never vote for Trump!”

White people asserting 1) how hard it is to talk to other white people, 2) their lack of power, 3) and their disavowal of their peers is both laughable and infuriating.

It is the height of white privilege.

Also, a hit dog will holler.

Quiet as it’s kept, people of color totally get how hard it is to talk to white people. We spend our whole lives trying to not become the collateral damage in the social Chernobyl that is American society. While the mileage may vary on that Sisyphean project, we try all the same. Some of us even spend time trying to convince whites of our harmlessness, our grace, our niceness, even our very humanity.

But fuck all that. I’m focusing my message to my fellow people of color who are struggling, not because life was so easy before 11/9 and not because electing Hillary Clinton would’ve solved all of our problems, but because there are levels to white supremacy and Donald Trump’s presidency will undoubtedly help to usher in a reign of terror that we haven’t seen in decades.

I’m inviting you to put the kibosh on white tears you encounter at work. To hold up your hand and say “no!” or even “hell no!” when a white person wants you to do some emotional heavy lifting with them about their feelings about the election, the inauguration, or the way that the Cheeto Führer plans on governing. Unless they are your bestie or your bae, let that go. And, chile, even then. Even then.

And you know I’m saying fuck no to any sympathetic engagement of Trump supporters. No, not today, Satan. That is not my cross to bear.

In a discussion with Oprah Winfrey and Van Jones, our sister Ava Duvernay spoke out against wasting our time constantly engaging individual racists. Her words speak right to my heart:

Jones said he wants to connect with Trump voters who find the president-elect distasteful but supported him because they felt overlooked by other candidates.

DuVernay said she has no time for that. Racism and sexism are distractions, she said, “to my humanity and what I’m doing.”

“Distraction is if I stop and try to talk to folks who have clearly demonstrated that they’re not open to hearing that,” she said. “What they will hear is what I do: How I move forward, the art that I make, the energy that I put out into the world.”

Today, on the Beast’s coronation-inauguration, focus on yourself, your strength, your wellbeing, your art, your organizing, and your community. And let’s continue to do our work. We all we got.

How to Survive the Next Four Years

Crunkista’s working survival guide…for the next four years

StatueOfLibertyApocalypse-1

I have never prayed so much in my life. After the election results came in, I walked around in black disbelief. I mean that literally, I now wear black anytime I am outside the house. At first it was because I was mourning the loss of a country that was (slowly) moving in the right direction, but now its because I am trying to tap into some type of old school Black Panther and Black Power mojo. I am desperately seeking ways to survive this.

The day after the election (because I have bills to pay) I was forced to go to work. At least three of my co-workers are middle-aged white women. They didn’t tell me they voted for Trump, but they didn’t really have to. Their collective silence every time they stepped into my office (loudly decorated with Wonder Woman/feminist symbols, a bold sign that says “Black Lives Matter”, and “Hillary For President” magnets and bumper stickers) spoke volumes. Their stupid smirks the day after the election also gave them away. One of these women is my boss. I am a hard worker and a dedicated employee. Consequently, since she became my boss, she has done nothing but praise me and regularly tells me that she loves me. On November 9th I came to the sad realization that this woman uses the same voice she used to vote for Trump to tell me that she loves me. I am working on addressing this irreconcilable behavior but am struggling with how to do it without 1) breaking her spirit 2) punching her in the face 3) losing my job. There are enough resources in this country for all of us and yet this white woman (along with almost half of the country) decided that she would vote for the white man that promised to revoke the rights of others only to ensure that she maintained her white power and continued to feed the historic legacy of white supremacy she, her family and her children benefit from on the daily.

Two days after the election she asked me, “How are you doing?” Against my better judgment, I tried to explain that I was honestly afraid for the safety of my black wife (who is actively serving in the military), my family, my friends and myself. She responded by callously laughing and saying, “Don’t be so dramatic.” I didn’t hit her (though I fantasized about it) and against my better judgment tried to explain the reality to her: many people I know and love are no longer safe in this country. The majority of the people that I love are black, brown, immigrant, queer, and /or female. They are now all unsafe. I shared with her multiple accounts of white people across the country and of all ages now unapologetically parading their racism. The day after the election there are reports of: middle school kids chanting “build the wall” in the cafeteria; women and young girls’ vagina’s being grabbed by grown white men and boys alike; black people being called the n-word for the first time in their lives because they dared to be outside; various hate crimes against members of the LBGTQ community; American Sign Language users being told that their “retarded self” could go somewhere else; black children being taunted and told to go back to Africa; ‘whites only’ and ‘colored only’ signs being placed on top of water fountains and women’s sacred hijabs being pulled off of their heads. I told her that these stories are not only happening around the country but that they keep pouring in. This is not a drill. This shit is real. I repeated – ‘people who are black, brown, LBGTQ, immigrants, disabled, Muslim and/or women are no longer safe in this country.’ She had no response. She said nothing. She just looked at me blankly.

At that very moment, I decided I am tired of explaining racism to white folks. I am actually done. I will no longer continue to educate them on the ways they oppress everyone who is not white. It is not helpful. It is no longer healthy for me nor is it a good use of my time. I understand that I am not saying anything revolutionary here. Our Black Feminist foremothers have said this for decades. So many of us are grappling with the reality of that quiet, lurking, sneaky-ass Trump supporter in our lives. Like so many others, I am struggling with the plan of action to move forward. Although, plausible, I probably should not move back to my country. Furthermore, I can’t hide in my house forever. So, now what do I do? How do I continue to live in this country? How do I continue to LIVE my life BOLDLY and DEFIANTLY as a Latina, as a lesbian, as a woman and as a feminist? I don’t have all of the answers. I can only share a working list of some of the things I propose do in the meantime. Feel free to use any of the following as a part of your own working survival guide:

  • Wear black. I honestly believe that the white people I work with do not deserve to see any fucking color but black. I want them to ask me, “why do you always wear black?” So, that I can always respond, “because, black lives matter.”
  • Find a way to hold white people accountable for their shit – without losing your sanity in the process. DO NOT let them tell you that Trump in office is not a big deal or that he’s really not going to do all of those things he said he would, just to get elected. I’m not saying that you need to educate them on their oppression (like I said, I am done) but do remind them of the racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic shit their people are now doing under the name of Trump.
  • I don’t know that deleting all of the friends you think voted for Trump (side-eye to the black and brown ones) off of your social media groups is the right thing to do or not, but I would strongly consider it. The way I see it, if you voted for Trump, you voted against not only my safety, but also the safety of all the people I love. If you voted for Trump in 2016, there really isn’t anything you can positively contribute to my life. Bye.
  • Show love to ALL black, brown, disabled, LBGTQ, Muslim and immigrant people. Even the ones that voted for Trump (still with a healthy dose of side-eye).
  • For the next four years, love the people in your circle fiercely. Tell them you love them with your words and your actions regularly. Hold them close. Hug them tight. Feed them. Support them. LOVE. THEM. FIERCELY.
  • I read somewhere that the white majority will only be gone by 2043. If this election taught us anything, it’s that that year is way too far away. We need to build an army, time now. I propose that black, brown, LBGTQ, and immigrants have or adopt as many black and brown children as they can possibly afford to. Raise them in the undeniable belief that they are beautiful, intelligent and worthy of nothing but the best this country can offer. Love these children fiercely. Protect them savagely.
  • If you do not want children please consider helping those that do in any way you can. Help with baby-sitting, serve as mentors, or help out with the costs of food, diapers, school supplies, clothes etc.
  • Then read some more. Start dusting off, re-reading, collecting, and sharing the radical revolutionary writings of leaders and activists such as Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Arundhati Roy, Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, Grace Lee Boggs, and Malcolm X. Use these as bedtime stories.
  • Only support television shows and movies that portray the complexity of people of color and better yet those that do so in a positive light. Do not support any depictions of our people that only refuel harmful stereotypes.
  • Exercise your right to vote. Every single time there is an election, even if it is for the PTA. Go out and V.O.T.E.
  • Run for office, any office. Encourage your friends to run for office too.
  • Find other credible sources to get your information. As far as I am concerned CNN and all news sources alike are dead to me. Unless one of the CFC women is on, I will not be giving you any more ratings.
  • Blast DMX and the Dixie Chicks in your office. Make your white co-workers wonder what state of mind you are in before they walk into your space.
  • Resist. Protest. Rest. Repeat.
  • Pray like you have never prayed before.

 

Black Girl Running

Russell Lee - "Little Negro girls playing," Lafayette, Louisiana, 1938

Russell Lee – “Little Negro girls playing,” Lafayette, Louisiana, 1938

When I was a little Black girl with barrettes in my hair, I loved running, skipping, and jumping. I loved waking up and being able to move. I wasn’t very fast, a shame for a girl in a Jamaican family for sure, but I loved running around all the same. There was so much joy in moving my body. Skipping down the block to my own private song, I felt like a dancer. Swinging on the swings in my neighborhood park, I’d pump my legs to go higher and higher so that I could kiss the sky. Riding to the corner store and back on my bike with the training wheels, pedaling faster and faster, I’d let go so I could zoom down the hills, the wind whipping my braids behind me. When the weather was too hot or too cold, I was content with running around our small apartment, getting on my mother’s one last good nerve, until I fell into a giggling, gasping heap. All those things were so much fun. And all those things made me feel free.

Carefree Black girls have always been a thing, although the hashtag might be more recent. I know I’m not the only one who has those memories. And I know I’m not the only one who had their Black girl body watched, mocked, and surveilled damn near to death.

The thing is, despite all this running around, I was a chubby kid. I was almost 5 feet tall and damn near 100 pounds in the third grade. I remember being weighed by the school nurse, who clucked over my measurements. I remember, the constant comments by my family and family friends who told me to eat less.

For the record, that made me eat more.

Year after year, I got bigger and bigger. My fatness became an albatross that I wore around my neck, the way the older girls in my neighborhood wore gold nameplates.

Over time, my body became a thing separate from me. I think I learned to hate it because I viewed myself through contemptuous eyes of others. I didn’t know then that they were hating the little Black girl and boy inside of them that I had the nerve to be. They wanted to hurt that vulnerable young thing, so they hurt me. I was an easy target. I was slow, fat, and bad at sports, at least the ones I tried. I learned to accept being the last chosen for the team, being ridiculed for the clothes I wore, and being scorned when I tried to do new things. I stuck to the things that didn’t get me bullied (as much) by adults and children alike. That pretty much left me with reading and watching cartoons.

Eventually, it became impossible to reconcile appreciating my body for all the amazing things it could with the fact that it was too big and too brown and definitely too poor.

By the time I got to the sixth grade, I was so glad for recess to be over, although I missed double Dutch immensely. I was ready to be a big girl and sit with my friends at lunch and talk about classes and boys. I didn’t want my body to be a spectacle anymore. But, if anything, puberty brought a whole new set of problems.

I rediscovered that black girl running when I got to college and started going to parties. I went to a women’s college for undergrad, but men showed up when we had parties at the Betty Shabazz cultural center. I always wanted to dance with dudes at the Betty, but, they weren’t really checking for me back then. Still, that didn’t stop me from getting in the middle of the dance floor and breaking it down every chance I got. I would forget to check to see if I was the biggest girl in the room, a thing I did constantly back then. For some reason dancing was the link to the Black girl I was once was. I never felt self-conscious or stupid or that people were watching, judging me. And people were watching and probably judging too. But when I put my hands in the air and waved them like I just didn’t care, I really didn’t care. I was in my body, gloriously present, sweating, grooving, gyrating, and at one with the rhythm of Lauryn Hill, DMX, Jay-Z, Outkast, Juvenile, and whatever else was popping in the 99 and the 2000.

These days, I’m a 30-something year old Black woman trying to get back some of the freedom that that little Black girl had. I’m not sure I can get back to being that carefree but I’m going to keep trying.

 

New Year, Same Dope Me

black-woman-smiling

I’m one of those folks who like, and generally keep, resolutions.

I’m also an annoyingly chipper morning person. Like, I wake up singing “Good Morning!” and don’t need to drink coffee. But, I digress.

For me, the new year starts in mid-December, around my birthday. I start taking stock in what was the year like, what worked, what didn’t work. It feels organic. And my anticipation for this year was particularly electric.

I know there was a lot of talk of how terrible 2016 was. Shoot, I participated in some of that myself. (I still find it hard to breathe when I hear the phrase “President-Elect Trump” and I can’t believe that we lost so many of my childhood faves like Prince and George Michael). But, the truth is, 2016 was a pretty good year for me.

My 2015 was a banner year for being particularly terrible. Like, super terrible. Like, go down in history with the Titanic terrible. 2016, on the other hand, although a global dumpster fire in many ways, was kind of dope for me. It was a year that answered. I learned a lot about myself and, even when bad shit happened, I often felt incredibly grateful for the life I’ve built, the people that love me, and the person I am and am always becoming.

In 2016 I had a goal to read 52 books and I read 53. I co-edited two books that are coming out this year. I saw my girls bunches of time and got to love them and get loved on. I participated in the VONA essay writing workshop and got to meet a bunch of amazing writers. I declared myself a writer. I learned and relearned to trust my gut and reset my boundaries. I laughed a lot.

I aim to carry that spirit of self-love, resilience, and general badassery into 2017. I have a bunch of hopes, dreams, and actions fueling this yearly quest. I wonder, how can I love myself even more? How can I show up for myself even more? How can I continue to be a good teacher, sister, friend, and citizen of the world? How can I be even better?

For the first time in probably 20 years I have not made a resolution to lose weight. I’ve been really thinking about how I can recast wellness and health. Rather than thinking of my walks in the park or Zumba as a way to burn off calories, I have been thinking about the joys of moving my body and having fun. Rather than thinking of food as “good” or “bad,” I’m mostly interested in it being delicious. This may not seem particularly profound, but after decades of dieting moving away from that mindset is so freeing.

Shit is real out there in these streets. In many of our communities, 2017 (and beyond) will be about our continued resistance to tyranny, fascism, white supremacy, patriarchy and all the other social ills and systemic inequities that shape our lives. That’s got me to thinking about how we have fun. No, seriously. These things aim to kill us and that’s no hyperbole. Part of how we survive this is how we take care of ourselves.

What’s my plan for fun? More reading—at least 52 books again. Laughter more often than not. Music. Time with friends. Snuggles with my cat.

I declared myself a writer in 2016 and I ain’t trying to backslide in the new year. I decided to take my commitment to the next level and participate in a weekly writing challenge: 52 essays in 52 weeks. I’ll post some here and some on my personal site. I’m taking a screenwriting class. I plan on grinding on other projects and working on my craft.

And on a real adulting tip, I’m trying to get a handle on my finances. I know this will be a multi-year process because capitalism. But I’m trying to get real about my debt and my relationship to money.

Overall, my 2017 resolutions are about recognizing and honoring my dopeness and finding ways to amplify it in a world hell bent on grinding me into the dust. But like our foremother Zora, I’m here with my sharpened oyster knife, ready and willing to take on the challenge.

On Safety Pins, Pant Suits, and (Faux) Markers of Safety

safety-pin

When I first heard about the safety pin initiative, I was at a conference breaking bread with my favorite white woman in the world, telling her about my overall ambivalence and disillusionment with unknown white folk post-Trump election.  Still in my feelings (and let’s be clear, I am and will be all up in my feelings for a long damn time), I felt duped by the façade of white progressivism and antiracism in a moment when my safety and the safety of all black and brown, undocumented and unchristian, non-gender conforming and non-heterosexual, intergenerational, poor, and working class activist, and intersectional, identity fluid, differently abled bodies of all colors and on all ends of the “spectrum” are vulnerable and at risk.

At first, I was relieved at the idea of a gesture of support and connection that would signal a white person was safe—especially once I returned to one of the two red states I call “home.”  For the days since the election, I had been sharing space with white folk who were communicating their support, fears, rage and disappointment through swollen eyes, tear stained faces,  participation in protests, generous hugs, and presence in rooms with marginalized folk of color listening and learning, deliberate about not taking up space and providing support in whatever ways were invited.  I was insulated by like-minded white folk who are well-intentioned if not reflective, and critical if not conscious of the role of whiteness and white supremacy on the lives of marginalized people of color.  I was in an echo chamber of like-minded individuals who fully recognize the implication of Trump(ism). I was initially comforted at the possibility that I would recognize them outside of our ad hoc space.

Later that night, I recalled a conversation during a social justice Teach-In I organized that took place on Wednesday, in the immediate aftermath and realization of our worst fears.  A dear friend, a white woman social justice activist who commits both her work and her body to empowering young people to make and mark justice and change, challenged us to not see spaces like the one we were creating in a mid-sized room in a downtown hotel as “safe spaces” but “brave spaces.”  This concept, borrowed from Brian Ama and Kristi Clemens’ chapter “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces:  A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice” in the 2013 book, The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators encourages a transition from discussing “safe space” to “brave space.”  This concept, which has been critiqued for requiring “marginalized peoples to perform the labor of education,” helped those of us in the teach-in reckon with our fear even within a space that was relatively safe, and the bravery that would be required to continue social justice work in the hostile spaces outside.  It also caused me to think about the difference between safety and bravery.

Truth is, white folk (especially white men) and straight folk, and upper class folk, and cisgendered folk are relatively “safe,” and not only from the rigorous and continuous public assaults and attacks from emboldened bigotry, but from the policies and laws and potential retrograde restrictions that could be put in place to put us (people of color, non-normative folk, and women) in our “respective” places.  But folk of color and those who identify as LGBTQAI+, and those who are not middle or upper class, who don’t have job security, those who are trans or gender nonconforming, or otherwise labeled as “other” will never be safe— but they are inherently BRAVE.  And the marking of their bravery is not a removable or symbolic object, it is their embodied identities, their resilience, their insistence on being, loving, embracing and defending themselves, with or without a safety pin, that makes them brave—but never safe.

So, I felt conflicted.  My initial feelings of relief around safety pins marking white folk as safe was replaced with the reality that symbols have meaning, but they can also be intentional disguises or guises to hide one’s real intentions, thoughts or deep seated beliefs.

Because…pantsuits.

I am convinced, given the poll numbers and reports, that a large number of white women wore pantsuits to the polls to vote for Trump.  Many of them too embarrassed to admit their “known all along” intention of supporting patriarchy and white supremacy closeted their private investment with public symbols that marked them as “safe.”  They joined the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group, were publicly outraged at the President-Elect’s bigotry and misogyny, and then voted for him and against us, because it was not possible to vote against themselves.

Because… patriarchy and white privilege are powerful drugs, and white women are often protected from their complicit participation in both.

I was suddenly suspicious of safety pins.

taken from Christopher Keelty's Twitter. Follow him @keeltyc

taken from Christopher Keelty’s Twitter. Follow him @keeltyc

 

I understand and appreciate the intention of expressing allyship.  Symbolism (and words, despite seeming evidence to the contrary based on this year’s campaigns) matters, but in this moment it is insufficient.  I think of the Safe Zone sticker on my office door at the University of Alabama and how it means nothing if LGBTQAI+ students don’t feel “safe” in my classroom.  Fuck my office space, can they count on me to make the classroom safe for them?  If white folk are passing out gestures of support and willingness to protect me, I want it to be communicated verbally, explicitly, because anybody can put on a safety pin while wearing a pantsuit to cover up their problematic politics.  Instead of a safety pin, or hell alongside a safety pin, I’m going to need allies to speak up and speak out, and do some of the work that I am so often expected to do as a person of color and scholar-activist.  CF Crunkadelic challenged white allies to “get your people” and I want to double down on that.  Safety pins may make you feel better in this moment, but as a person of color I would prefer an act of solidarity that I can discern even if you forget to put on your pin in the morning.