This past weekend, I hung out with the Harvard Black Law Students Association at their Annual Conference. Mega-brilliant, these young Black folk are poised to do great things, and I really enjoyed kicking it with them.
I was on a Black Media Matters panel with the Very Smart Brothas and Kimberly Foster of For Harriet, all fierce Black folk striving to making our lives matter in the realm of representation. It was a pleasure to panel with them.
So sitting in that room full of mega-intelligent, accomplished young Black folks, inevitably our panel turned to the question of “positive media representations.” When I indicated that I wasn’t particularly invested in seeing positive black folks on screen, so much as complex and interesting Black folk, one young sister asked me all exasperated, “why can’t we just have Black women in normal relationships on tv?!”
It made me think back to that moment, as a 20-something, in grad school, whole world right out ahead. I wanted those same things, too. A banging career, a good dude, a couple of kids.
And before I knew it, I found myself being far more transparent than I had intended on being with her. Because I know how much (cisgender, straight) professional Black women’s deep longings for certain kinds of partnership and female friendships drives our engagement with visual representation, I asked her, “what happens if you do everything quote unquote ‘right’ and it still doesn’t work out for you that way?”
These are the kinds of questions that being single in one’s 30s and spending too many long, cold winter nights alone will have you asking.
I’m so glad that in the same moment I wanted all those things that this sister wants, I was becoming a feminist. And because we are celebrating 5 years of doing this work together, I thought of 5 things CFC has taught me about life relationships, that I would share with that sister if time had permitted.
1.) Feminism will help you get free. Without feminism and the frameworks it has provided me, I don’t know that I would have had the good sense to see all the things I see now in the way that I do. I think I would have thought my perpetually single self a failure at life and the things that matter, if feminism hadn’t taught me to see all the awesome things I do have. I couldn’t have embraced my rage, or made it productively political. I wouldn’t believe we could change the world. I wouldn’t have known I could simply throw off all the old ways of thinking that were holding me back
2.) For feminists, female friendships are not optional. If you can’t point to at least one real, true, know-your-drawsize homegirl, you get the side-eye. Homegirls are necessary for survival. My homegirls both in the CFC and outside of it are heaven-sent. They are the answers to prayers I prayed a decade ago when my feelings had been hurt by one too many a sisterfriend that I had loved too hard only to have the effort, time, and care unreciprocated. Today, my homegirls show up and save my life regularly, whether that means keeping me from throwing my computer against the wall while I struggle to finish my book, reminding me why I’d lose all my cool points if I really did call and cuss out the last dude who did me wrong, or making me laugh raucously at least once a day.
I have cultivated deep friendships with women because I need them to survive. Because they are family. Because without them there is no me. I invest time in those relationships in similar ways that I would invest in partnerships, because my homegirls are family, even when we fight, even when they get the side eye, even when they get on my nerves.
3.) Singleness rocks. And self-love is the best love. My time is my own. My space is my own. My money is my own. I don’t have to share, and since I’m an only child, we aren’t much on sharing anyway. I have the freedom to craft the life I want without worrying about how it will impact someone else’s life.
My sex life is my own, too. I have the freedom to go after the sex I really want, to move on if I’m not getting it, to try new things and new people, to draw boundaries between my intimate life and self, my career, and my homelife. Those kinds of possibilities are far more limited with marriage.
The other day I told some of my homies that I was assuredly on my way to becoming a church girl, but it turned out that I liked sex a little too much, to achieve that single and celibate thing forever. But at the height of my church girl days, when the word sin and the practice of self-flagellation was always a priority, I remember thinking that the sin framework crowded out so much of the deliciousness of life. As a literary scholar, I knew that the very best African American books were wonderful because they were filled with complex Black folks living life. I knew the Church would call Sula walking sin. And Janie Mae Starks, too. And Shug Avery.
I reveled in those stories because they were messy and salacious and utterly human. And I realized that the striving for Christian perfection felt not only unattainable but pretty boring, too.
4.) There are other things to want besides cisgender, heteronormative marriage. Knowing what I know now, I’m not even sure if marriage is the thing I really, really want. And I can only ask that question of myself because my 24 year old dreams didn’t come true. Thank the Lorde. Now I know there are other things to want. Other things I can have. Other arrangements that may be more sustainable or more fulfilling or more enjoyable.
See for example Mary Jane’s cuddy buddy! Yas!
And I find myself wondering how the longing and waiting for a “normal” relationship has worked out for some of the women I knew back then. I know that I like my “new normal,” much better. The sex alone is worth it. And I know Crunkadelic, RBoylorn, and feminism freed me up to go after it. (Crunkadelic can tell you, I got both that wedge and that ramp now cuz I’m #boutthatlife.)
The lie of winter is that it will have you believing that all the barrenness you see is all there really is. But if you look closely you’ll see the signs of life all around. My girls are like those evergreen trees. They never go out of season. And my seasonal baes are like pops of color to give some pizzazz to the landscape.
5.) Exceptional Black Girls were never meant to live ordinary lives. Too often ordinary Black girls settle for ordinariness. But I’m a big dreamer and I hope that every Brown Girl Dreaming experiences the extraordinary.
And here’s one to grow on…
6.) What you build matters infinitely more than what you tear down. Our work is the work of building, of making Black and Brown girls see possibility. This work of crafting a feminism that works for real sisters living messy human lives has freed me to up make the life for myself that I really need. Crunk Feminism, and this community, reminds me on the daily that all the things I want are possible, but sometimes I have to change my angle of vision.
Tell us in the comments section and on Twitter. What have you learned from this work? Tag it #CrunkFeminismTaughtMe.