Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Birmingham, 1963 to Detroit, 2010- The Tragedy of Bombed and Brutalized Black Girls

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 10:24 pm

America is not the world and if America is going to become a nation, she must find a way – and this child must help her to find a way to use the tremendous potential and tremendous energy which this child represents.  If this country does not find a way to use that energy, it will be destroyed by that energy.  ~ James Baldwin

I’ve been sitting in front of this computer screen for the last few hours waiting for my muse to push through my fingertips something worthwhile, even something profound, to say about the death of Aiyana Jones.  All I keep seeing is red- senseless blood spilled red, the red of rage, all sorts of red- but no answers. It has been this way every day since I learned of Aiyana’s last moments on this earth. I continue to sit, collecting articles and tears, hoping that I will be blessed with one of those moments of epiphany that will allow me to make sense of it all.  I’m shaking my head as I type this. I tell you, I have nothing. Well, almost nothing.

In asking the Divine for words to speak, I found words already spoken- a speech given by James Baldwin to teachers concerning “the self image of the negro child”.  All that I could think of was Black babies in that moment, and I sort of naturally turn to Baldwin for prescriptions of where and how we fail as the nation we pretend we want to be.  I’m sure none of this makes sense to you, but it is how my curious mind works.  In this beautifully and eloquently written speech, Baldwin makes the following statement about the murder of Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14).  These four little girls were murdered  in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, after a bible school lesson entitled “The Love That Forgives”, a talk designed surely to help children, and adults alike,  somehow understand how to live and love through the brutal, and obviously fatal, racism and hate of the Jim Crow south.

It is inconceivable that a sovereign people should continue, as we do so abjectly, to say, “I can’t do anything about it.  It’s the government.”  The government is the creation of the people.  It is responsible to the people.  And the people are responsible for it.  No American has the right to allow the present government to say, when Negro children are being bombed and hosed and shot and beaten all over the Deep South, that there is nothing we can do about it.  There must have been a day in this country’s life when the bombing of the children in Sunday School would have created a public uproar and endangered the life of a Governor Wallace.  It happened here and there was no public uproar.

Forty-seven years have passed since that dreadful church bombing committed by members of the local Klu Klux Klan, and the criminally negligent investigation administered by local police officers, who simultaneously adorned badges and white sheets.  Forty-seven years seem like an eternity, unless maybe, you are Black and poor.  If one fast forwards to the day Aiyana was burned and shot to death in Detroit, he or she may consider that time, region, and so called advancements in Blackness have not catapulted our struggle much at all.  Black girls are still being brutalized.  Many of our police systems still neglect to serve or protect us.  No one appears to be as outraged as he or she should be.  It is a reality that just makes me feel sad and hopeless.  I’m sorry that I don’t have a more ardent way of expressing my feelings; sadness and hopelessness is all I can muster.

In Birmingham, not one public official thought that the senseless murders of those beautiful Black girls were worth investigating, or avenging.  As a matter of fact, only one Klansman of the many involved, Robert Chambliss, was arrested- and that was more than 10 years after the murders. No accomplices or the police who impeded the shoddy investigation were ever charged.  This act of terror was only whispered about before being almost completely silenced and then forgotten.  In all of this, I wonder where Aiyana’s life and death will sit in the following days, months, years and decades.  What will our memory of her be?

The media is already making a case for us to sympathize with the Detroit Police Department and the officer who allegedly “mistakenly” shot Aiyana while tussling with the child’s grandmother (although this version of the story appears to be an imaginative cover-up and there may be video footage to suggest that shots were fired into the house before any such “tussle”).  We are not supposed to remember that the murder warrant was being served at the incorrect address (it was a two family home, the suspect was found in an upstairs unit).  We are supposed to believe that it was necessary for DPD to throw a flash bomb through the window of a home where they knew children may be sleeping at that midnight hour (the bomb is believed to have landed on Aiyana, burning her before she was shot to death) .  We are not to consider what the accompanying reality television videoing may have done to distract those officers from that very dangerous and obviously deadly S.W.A.T detail.  We should not acknowledge that there was no murder suspect or mass of weaponry found in Mertilla Jones’ home, regardless of her family’s alleged association with Chauncey Owens, the suspect. More personally, I am not to think of my own daughter Nailah, who frequently stays the night with my mother in what many consider an “unsafe” neighborhood in South Houston, TX.  Such pondering may create anger, and possibly demands for more accountability and humanity in the way that we seek to be respected, protected and policed as full human beings- as Baldwin notes in the aforementioned speech: “that is the crisis.”

The only important thing to consider in this case, as in the case of the bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church, is if one changed the race of those who were murdered and the location of the murders, would the events and the outcomes be different? I believe they would.  If those four little girls were not Black and if they and their families had not chosen to worship at that Black church in that Black area of Birmingham- they very well may still be alive.  If Aiyana was not Black, and if her grandmother was not a resident of what the police considered a “bad area” where criminals go to “escape justice,” if the Joneses were not thought to be guilty first- she may be alive also.

Not one life is more valuable than another. One’s income, or complete lack thereof, place of dwelling, or absence of dwelling, victimizer of the oppressed or victim of oppression, should determine whether he or she lives or dies.  At some point in this nation’s history, as Jimmy pointed out, such questions would not have been considered. I’m well aware that such a moment of outrage may never have happened for Black Americans, as our story here begins with brutality.  Still, and this is what I believe Baldwin alludes to, it should have.  A human life, and above all the life of an innocent child, is a thing to be made safe .  As much as those who govern this nation, we are also somehow responsible that such a day no longer exists.  Rest in power Aiyana and all victims of brutal, fatal injustice.  May it not take another forty-seven years before we see the change that we deserve.

The Full Text of Baldwin’s “A Talk to Teachers” can be found here

Aiyana’s family speaks here

A brief but insightful discussion of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing can be found here


Self Definition and the Slaying of Superwoman

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2010 at 6:42 pm

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

T and I have been the best of friends since sixth grade.  She used to sneak her mother’s fashion fair makeup to school and give me fushia lips and golden shimmery eyes.  I love her.  I got to rub her belly a few days ago. It’s big and full; she’s seven months into a pregnancy that she’s waited a long time for.  T will be an excellent mother. My own mother commented that she has “raised enough of other folks babies” to make that a reality.  She’s beautiful, and strong, and depressed.  We talked about the difficult relationship that she has had with her yet born son’s father.  She feels like a failure because she has given him so many chances, and he continues to disappoint her, but she can’t seem to let him go.  T is afraid, as she should be, of raising a child alone.  She also feels less than excited about the baby’s arrival, and feels guilt about that too.  I’ve been at that point, where the construct of Black womanhood comes crashing down, and one sits in the rubble of a lifetime of teachings wondering if any of those teachings hold truth.

My day came after the premature birth of my daughter and her lengthy hospital stay.  I wanted to be this perfect mother and wife, and so I somehow managed to do everything with little help and little regard for myself.  I had finally begun my graduate studies, bought a home, cooked, cleaned, diapered, worked full time, and performed my “wifely duties”.  I had become my mother, the super woman, and I wanted to die.  Since dying wasn’t an option, I settled for therapy.  I chose a therapist that was an older Black woman, because I needed to speak freely to a woman who had probably been where I was, and who wouldn’t tell me how what I was experiencing was life- so I shouldn’t complain (as this is what I was constantly being fed by my mother, aunties, cousins, and some friends).  I wrote a list of things I wanted to discuss with her.  I was prepared for it all, except when during my first session I relented that I felt like a slave.  The tears came, a heap of them, and I couldn’t look my therapist in the face.  I was ashamed.  Ashamed that I had come from such a wonderful stock of women, who had survived slavery and share cropping and all the atrocities that existed within those systems, and I could barely pull myself out of bed. They were midwives, church mothers, community organizers, womanists before womanism was defined…superwomen, and here I was complaining because I had no time to read and write.

I spoke of my grandmother, who bore eleven children, hauled meals to the fields, tended her personal gardens and livestock, made beds and cakes for church bake sales- probably all while pregnant.  I once asked my mother, who was somewhere in the middle of all those babies, how she knew when my grandmother was pregnant.  She told me, well sometimes she would lay across her bed with a cold towel on her forehead.  I don’t think I spoke for two whole days after that conversation.  I just didn’t have the words to explain my feelings as a woman in that moment, and I felt sad for her and for me.  My mother had traveled in my grandmothers footsteps, somewhat.  She only had three children, but scraped and struggled nonetheless.  I assumed it was my turn to be superwoman, but I didn’t want to be, and it made me want to hide.  My therapist told me that she was proud of me as she handed me more tissue.  She said that what we often don’t realize about our matriarchs as we construct these superhero stereotypes is that many of them were depressed, even suicidal.  They felt those same feelings of hopelessness that I was feeling.  She said that I felt like a slave, because, well, I was allowing myself to be treated as one, and that I deserved and needed to 1) define my own womanhood, 2) make time in my life to do the things that bring me joy and peace, and 3) thrive.  Those words connected me with my ancestral mothers and gave me power.  Peace to that woman and all women who allow a sacred space for full humanity- absent of the myth and lore that destroys us.

My time with T and my reflections on my own life somehow made me think of Lauryn Hill.  I remember when her MTV Unplugged album and video were released. It seemed that everyone hated it.  There sat Lauryn, acoustic guitar, baseball cap, raspy voice, broken heart.  She was so transparent and full of truth and beauty, as she literally sang her heart out.  I cried with her, I understood.  Many people didn’t understand, they refused to. How could a woman who had been the pinnacle of young Black womanhood sit there so broken, so confused, so different than the image that had been constructed for her?  I saw Lauryn in that moment, and even today, as brave and Nzinga warrior-like.  It takes courage to be bare. More courage to sit naked and  challenge the system that erroneously creates a standard that you will never measure up to.  People’s discomfort with her was not at all about Lauryn, but more about what they themselves were hiding from- what they refused to admit about themselves and their fellow hu(e)mans.  Hill’s I Get Out became my anthem.  On most days it says everything I want to but am not audacious enough to say.

I won’t support your lie no more
I won’t even try no more
If I have to die, oh Lord
That’s how I choose to live
I won’t be compromised no more
I can’t be victimised no more
I just don’t sympathize no more
Cuz now I understand

Black women are taught and expected to be strong, regardless.  There is no space for T’s heartbreak and doubt. There is no space for me to be a mother and a wife who wants her life to be more than those things.  There is no space for Lauryn to leave a successful music career to raise her babies and define her own ideas of success.  There are no spaces for regular Black women without an attached guilt- just spaces for superwomen- whomever they are.  I told T to take her time, that she could love her man for as long as her heart told her to- without judgment from me, much in the same way that my therapist told me that I could write this post instead of folding this waiting laundry- guilt free.  I also told her that it was okay to be afraid, and to even feel unsure and sad about her baby’s birth.  The best advice we can give each other as human beings on this earth is to say that we can be whatever and whomever we need to be in our weakest and strongest moments.  Black women in particular need to carve out spaces where simply being is enough, for our selves and for our sisters.  Somehow these musings are my contribution to Mental Health Awareness Month.  Our lack of the ability to define ourselves leads to the shadowy places where mental illnesses like depression sit, waiting.  Also, this Alice Walker quote , I have certainly been reading a lot of her lately, seems to fit, “Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.”  Let us actively choose who we are and who we will become with freedom and acceptance.  It may not end world wars, but it may end some internal ones. Ase.

Common, Latifah and Thick Snack Shrugs

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 2:14 am

Swagtastic, but at a price…

I have a mean swagger (fine I couldn’t think of a better descriptor)… A vain statement, possibly, but I’ve earned the right to say it.  I have lived outside the traditional standard of beauty since I was knee high to a grasshopper and have never failed to be reminded of this fact, whether it be from school mates, well meaning family members, or abusive boyfriends.  The first time I recall being called fat was in 5th grade, by one of the popular boys, I suppose if one can be popular in elementary school. Actually, I remember bringing those comments up to that boy once he became a man and decided that he loved women with curves like mine, upon him asking me out on a date.  He apologized by the way, however I still chose not to go out with him.  Actually, I have been called fat, chubby, big boned, thick, chunky, voluptuous, big fine, buxom, and more recently a thick snack ( a term brought to my attention by the lovely Huny Young whom I adore) to name a few terms. I wear all of them like beautiful scarves, or scars, I’m not certain which one exactly, but I wear them nonetheless. I would be remiss in not acknowledging that being assaulted with such adjectives has led to quite a few tears, some depression, and certainly many insecurities.  They have also led to an exceptional pursuit of knowledge (I suppose in response to being “unpretty”), a Cum Laude degree, a burgeoning writing career, and a mean-head held high-arched back walk.  I have had absolutely no choice but to accept myself and love myself, despite what society says I’m supposed to look like.  It was either self acceptance or misery, and “I love myself when I am laughing” (thank you Zora Neale), so I choose the former.

It all started on twitter…

For the reasons mentioned above, and for the mental illnesses that have sat beside them- you know the thoughts of suicide, bulimia, red pepper diets, promiscuity, et. al.- I am extremely sensitive about how unrealistic beauty standards affect women, and how we sometimes unconsciously perpetuate them. So, I admittedly have a few ruffled feathers after reading replies to this twitter post from Harry Allen today.  Harry and his tweeps were discussing Common and Queen Latifah’s new film “Just Wright” , where Latifah’s character and her best friend (played by Paula Patton) pursue the same man, who is played by Common of course.  Harry’s issue with the film appears to be that the pairing and the casting in general was ill chosen because 1) Comm is unconvincing as a professional athlete and 2) Latifah is unconvincing as a woman pursuing a heterosexual relationship.  However, my timeline offered a different reasoning as to why the film is “unbelievable”.  I immediately asked if the twitterverse was implying that Latifah wasn’t plausible as Common’s love interest because she was deemed as not being attractive enough to “win” his heart. After a few responses it appeared that most men, and a few women, agreed that Common (Scott) choosing Latifah (Leslie) over Paula Patton (Morgan) was unrealistic, which puzzled me for a moment because I find both women to be stunning.

Pretty for a big girl…

In chatting with a friend about this twitter conversation,  I was confronted with a statement that made me pause.  She said, “But Latifah is just as beautiful as Paula Patton.  She’s really pretty for a plus-sized girl.” Full. Stop. Heart. Drop. I may have gone a little left on my sister-friend.  See, this is where those insecurities surface along with my common response to them, a flippant mouth.  Commenting that someone is attractive “for” “fill in the blank with dark, big, and otherwise not Beyonce”, is akin to saying that one is not really attractive at all.  That being said, one is either desirable or she is not, adding clauses is reductive and therefore not really complimentary at all.  This, of course, from the woman who has often been described as “pretty for a big girl”. I can speak on it. It is still hurtful, whether one acknowledges it or not.

The bite and the antidote…

Like a Black cop who racially profiles while on patrol and objects to being racially profiled while driving in plain clothes, I am also guilty of a bit of hypocrisy in mildly dissing Latifah.  After reading those tweets I thought, “as if a man isn’t capable of judging a woman on more than looks.”  Wait…what?  Me implying that Scott chose to date Leslie instead of Morgan, still maintains, somehow, that Latifah is less attractive than Paula, which is not the case.  The two women are certainly a different lovely, but lovely nonetheless.  I shared this observance with my girl Genine (@moreandagain on twitter), in response to this tweet from her.  Umph. I’m nobody’s consolation prize.  As a matter of fact,  I can recall telling a lover once, “Listen, if I’m not what you want, I’m what someone goes to bed and wakes up dreaming about. Let me find him. Don’t waste my time.” Extra, possibly, but I get it in exactly like that.  I’m not sure I even believed that statement when I spoke it, but by speaking it then, and many times since, it has become my affirmation, manifesto, and reality.

Get it how you live…

I wondered after those twitter conversations, how many of the men claiming that the pairing was implausible really wish they were strong enough to choose a Latifah over a Paula?  How many of these men are closeted thick snack lovers, dreaming of amply breast, hips, thighs and bottoms to get lost in?  I bet a lot.  As a matter of fact, trust me when I say more than they, or the model types they run around with pretending to desire, would like to admit to.  C’mon fellas, get it how you live.  In New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the world, the locals use that phrase.  It is a term that translates to mean one should live guilt free, by their own devices, and in the moment.  I was waiting for one of my male followers to reply to me saying, in honesty, that he would have made the same choice as Scott. I haven’t received that reply, but I haven’t checked my direct messages either, as there may be a few replies hiding there *smirk*.  Yes, I used the word hiding because many men hide their true feelings and desires for women who are not the “dime prototype” as they can not fathom living outside the societal standard.  We love the comfort of boxes even if we pretend to abhor them.  It is unfair to expect a person you desire, care for, or love to live in a shadowy space because you lack the courage and strength to express that desire, care, or love openly and freely.  I’ve been hidden, it was so harmful that to this day if I have an inkling of a feeling that someone does not freely and openly desire or love me, I remove myself from the situation, even if it hurts me to do so.

*Thick snack shrug*…

In the end, I believe that the acceptance of the curves that make this sultry size fourteen has made me audacious.  I don’t love my body every day, but I do love it most days.  I also love it enough to spark conversations about body acceptance, and well, acceptance over all.  I don’t take issue with personal preferences on any level, but I have a problem with people being inauthentic.  I don’t agree that it is unbelievable for a man to love a woman who looks like Queen Latifah over a woman who looks like Paula Patton.  I also don’t believe that many people realize making such statements serves as justification for some woman somewhere to vomit up her dinner in an effort to look more like Paula.  As thoughts and words become things, we need to realize that it is rarely ever just harmless talk that we engage in, *thick snack shrug*.  I’ll keep on sashaying, converting the non-believers, and asking questions.  Here are a few as a matter of fact:

What are your thoughts on the idea that a Latifah could never end up with a Common?

What are you insecure about?

Have you been told that you are pretty for a __________?

How can we promote body acceptance, and acceptance over all?

(My friend Neens always asks questions at the end of her wonderful blogposts, which can be found here .  I Thought I’d give it a shot too.  After all, Zora says research is only formalized curiosity.)