Category Archives: Black Stuff

All things affecting the black community including pop culture, politics, social issues, economics, education, etc.

Silence Doesn’t Always Mean Complicity

Audre Lorde famously said “your silence will not protect you.” Desmond Tutu said “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Many others, including Paulo Freire, Elie Wiesel and, everyone’s favorite, Martin Luther King, Jr. have made similar statements discouraging people from being neutral to conflict. I’ve seen these memes on various social media since the violence in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. I know as an African American woman, I suppose I should be more vocal. But I’m not and here’s why. Perhaps some of these points will fit your situation.

  1. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because sometimes speaking out can be dangerous, especially if you belong to a marginalized group (like LGBT, differently abled, immigrant, etc.)
  2. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because to charge someone with being complicit, you would have to know the other person’s motivations. And how would you assess this accurately?
  3. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because speaking out is exhausting and self care is important. And sometimes self care takes priority over other things.
  4. Silence doesn’t always mean complicity because you may not identify with every idea of a certain group. For example, just because I’m a black woman doesn’t mean I agree and/or support every idea black people have, women have or black women have. Because I’m an individual, there is more to me than my race and gender.

So if you are silent about Charlottesville, or the president, or Civil War icons or refugees or whatever issue arises next, don’t feel bad. Some things hit you and some don’t. No one should feel obligated to speak out on something because they may belong to a certain group or identify themselves a certain way. The fight for equality (however it is defined and understood) is a long one and burnout is common so you want to join, do it for your own reasons, not because you feel obligated by whatever amorphous, undefined group you feel is evaluating you (your field of study, colleagues, the world, etc.).


10 Things We All Want to Know Now

In no particular order.

10. The sex of Beyonce’s twins. You know, so you can plan that baby shower accordingly.

9. How Sean Spicer still has a job.

8. If we are going to war. Again.

7. What Bill O’Reilly’s next job will be. Ya’ll know he’s not going away, right?

6. What was Russia’s involvement in the American election of 2016? Like, really?

5. If whatever good is happening in your life now is because you forwarded that chain letter or typed “Amen” on Facebook. And vice versa.

4. Will anyone ever fly United again?

3. When you’ll be able to plan Serena Williams’s baby shower.

2. Why is Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino such a big deal?

1. Someone died live on Facebook. Let’s pause to let that sink in.

Epic Eye Roll

Every time someone mentions Dr. King as an example of what the fight for civil rights is supposed to look like I roll my eyes. I hate that this has happened, that I’m reduced to looking like an entitled 14 year old brat every time one of the best leaders, orators and writers is mentioned. I teach Dr. King in my into to African American literature course because, despite his overgrown status, Dr. King is still one of the best writers and speakers, I think, the world has seen.

I roll my eyes because Dr. King is used as the only example, as a way to police and minimize others’ actions, because he is thrown in our faces as a weapon. Just like the child who always hears “why can’t you be more like your brother or sister,” begins to resent his or her brother or sister, I’m beginning to resent talk of civil rights and protests. Just like you can’t compare children to each other because it’s like comparing apples to clouds, you can’t compare civil rights leaders. We all have preferences, but one is not “better” than another. And speaking of all these civil rights leaders, I have yet to hear anyone compare King to any of them specifically by name. Not even the infamous King/Malcolm X comparison. It’s like King is being compared to, you know, everyone else. Everyone else who? Please name names because the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a broad based coalition. That’s one of the reasons it was so effective.

So let’s stop talking about Dr. King like he “won” the civil rights movement. It wasn’t a competition nor a game. BLM and other modern movements for civil rights need to be free to identify themselves and fight the way they want to. Just as you are not your parents, BLM is its own organization. Let’s critique it on its own merits, not on the ways it is unlike its predecessors.

Some Thoughts on President Obama

Since the Obamas are on their way out, let me say some final words.

The first time I saw Barack Obama on TV it was 2004. My family and I were in Washington, DC during the DNC. I remember seeing a bunch of young people scurrying off the metro in DNC shirts. I figured they were interns. There was some buzz that a well-spoken, poised junior senator was set to speak. And speak he did. And his beautiful wife and small daughters joined him on stage. What a nice family.

Fast forward to 2007. There’s all this talk that Barack Obama should run for president. The same way I remember people pushing Colin Powell to run. Except Colin Powell was much more emphatic in his response, whereas it seemed Obama was entertaining it. I was against it in the beginning. I thought he should finish his senate term and then run. Welp, he decided to run.

Obama stopped in Ames, IA early in the campaign, early 2007. It was a Sunday and he was to be at the Hilton Coliseum on the campus of Iowa State University. I was a graduate student there and my friend Ese and I made plans to see him. But we weren’t missing church.

So after church, we bolted. Even though there was snow on the ground, I was in my best black heels, jeans and a white shirt. I stepped gingerly in the snow and ice until we made it inside. The place was packed. There were tables set up giving out buttons and pamphlets with “change” written on them. We finally were able to get a view of the stage from the nosebleed section. I could see Obama as a small figure, casually walking and demonstrating some concept with his hands. You know the way he does. By the time we got situated, Obama thanked the crowd and wished them well.

We had missed it!

But it wasn’t a total loss. We picked up some merch on the way out.

Fast forward to 2008. Presidential debates. I am now back in Memphis, living at home and trying to find a job. My previous employer had laid me off in the “economic slowdown” (I believe Bush still called it this in early 2008, not wanting to acknowledge the recession). I seriously considered volunteering to work Obama’s campaign. My job prospects were bleak. I watched the news everyday. Remember those bleak job numbers?

I started 2008 being pro-Hillary. Well, really pro-Bill, but she was the next best thing. She was what I knew. I don’t remember an exact phrase that Obama said, but after a while, the “change” message started to resonate with me. Perhaps I was being too cynical about politics. Looking back 8 years, I don’t agree with everything Obama did.  He turned out to be much more of a moderate than the liberal he ran as. I know the left thought he was a poor negotiator, that he gave away too much with little in return or that he didn’t go far enough in some areas. The right thought he went too far. The balancing act Obama tried to juggle, trying to give each side something it wanted, although admirable, I believe, was his downfall. He seemed to waffle in the middle a lot and maybe what he didn’t realize was not choosing is a choice as well.

I try to think of other ways he could have handled things. There are a million. Imagine if he wasn’t so accommodating. Imagine if he wasn’t such a thorough thinker that he didn’t suffer from analysis paralysis. (I recall some of his earlier speeches seem to have this quality. Seems later he became much bolder in his opinions. Especially when it came to matters of race, BLM, police brutality he started to speak up towards the end.) There were times early on when I thought “why doesn’t he just piss someone off?” Just take a stand. Any stand. Yet, would he be so popular, especially among Democrats, had he taken this approach?

I know some people were disenchanted with him in 2012. Frankly, I didn’t think he had lived up to all his hype either. But what politician does? I know Obama ran in 2008 as the non-politician, the “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig” (which is a political statement that many politicians used in the past which effectively made him a politician) candidate, but he was a politician. And after Romney’s “47%” debacle who was left but Obama. So I gave him another shot.

Talk about someone who considers every side of the issue! I know news commentators called him “too professorial” (which I found ironic after they dragged Bush through the mud for being “the decider”), too elite, too out of touch with everyday Americans, that he talked over everyone’s heads. Frankly, I appreciated his in-depth coverage. From his accomplishments to his failures, from his singing “Let’s Stay Together” to his dance moves, for what it’s worth, Mr. President, you made a believer out of me.

Some thoughts on feminism

A recent Facebook conversation has got me on this kick. Let me speak to the ladies right now. There are three groups I’d like to speak to: those who want to be stay-at-home mothers or homemakers, those who want careers and those who want to work. I know you are thinking the second and third group sound like the same thing, but I’ll explain the division later.

First group: those who want to be stay-at-home mothers or homemakers. I want to let you know that there is nothing wrong with you or this choice. I know the feminist movement will make you think or feel that you are not performing at your optimal level, or that you are somehow betraying the cause, but you can’t live your life for them. You must live for you. And your future family. You are not any less of a woman just because you want to stay at home and raise a family. This is a worthy goal and a lot of hard work, but very rewarding. Don’t let others make you feel bad for this choice.

Feminism is about choice (or at least I thought it was) so you can choose to be a homemaker. Now, I know some will say women are so indoctrinated with patriarchy that they cannot make this choice. That “choosing” to be a homemaker isn’t really a choice. That you really don’t know what you are doing. Is it just me or does that sound insulting (and could we say anti-feminist)? If you are a woman of sound mind and faculties, then you can certainly decide the pattern of your life. After all, by that logic could we also say that feminists are so indoctrinated with feminism that they go against their own biological drive to reproduce??? On some level, we are all cogs in the wheel and we make choices based on our own vantage points. Without going into a large, philosophical argument on the nature of “choice,” I’ll move on.

Now for the second group: those who want careers. I want to let you know also that there is nothing wrong with you or this choice. Here is where I want to make the distinction between career and work. Career in the modern sense usually means a job or profession one takes up for a significant portion of one’s life. Careers require some type of training and usually involve a serious of jobs taken in a certain industry or sector. So for instance, one can have a career in engineering, business, the arts, medicine, machinery, plumbing, etc. It means one went through some sort of training and has had various jobs in that area in order to gain experience to move to the next level. There is a hierarchy.

So if a woman desires to have a career in the way I just defined it, then that is a good choice. There’s nothing wrong with it as with the homemaker choice. If a woman has the talent and ability to perform well in her given career field, she should share that. The world needs it. She could save someone’s life.

Onto the third group now. In contrast to a career, these women want to work. They want a job. A job I’m sure they will like, maybe even find fulfilling. Working in a cube farm with no advancement opportunities and making entry-level salary is what I define as work. If this is what you’ve been doing for the last ten years, then you don’t have a career, woman, you have a job. And there’s nothing wrong with a job. It pays the bills. Don’t confuse pushing paperwork with commanding a boardroom full of investors.

If you are eyeing the corner office, please know that it will take a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get there. I know you are thinking you can just pay or bribe your way into that CEO office, that millionaires are corrupt people, or that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but the research in that area doesn’t support that assumption. The book Millionaire Next Door shows that most millionaires are just ordinary people. By the way, the definition of a millionaire isn’t someone who makes a million dollars a year; it’s someone who’s net worth (assets minus liabilities) is a million dollars.

Bottom line, women have choices. Choices are good if managed well. Ever heard of analysis paralysis? All of the choices I outlined above: homemaking, careering, and working are all on the same level or same plane. One isn’t any better or worse than the other. And of course, one can combine these roles over the course of one’s life. Making one choice doesn’t necessarily preclude the others, but it can make them much harder to choose.

Drawing to a close, let me clarify some points because I know some folks don’t read good.

1. In no way are these three options a woman’s only choice. These are simply the three covered here.

2. I’m not saying being a mother or homemaker is the pinnacle of possibility for a woman. I’m not arguing that biology is destiny or any kind of biological determinism. Saying something is A worthy cause is not the same thing as saying it is THE worthy cause. Please don’t argue extremes.

3. I used dictionary definitions of career. Dictionary definitions are what most people, your average person, agree is the definition of a word. Words have meaning. Meaning is determined by usage. This is very basic linguistics. English, as well as other languages, have evolved over time based on how people use words. Common usage is called the connotation of a word; the dictionary definition is called the denotation of a word. A word’s meaning is somewhat set, set enough so that if one were to use a word in daily life the person one is communicating with would be able to understand what is being conveyed. However, meanings do change over time. In other words, you can’t just make up definitions on the fly. Unless you enjoy being misunderstood. Words can’t just mean what you want them to mean when you want them to mean them. A common argumentative method is to change meanings of words so that the argument shifts from the topic at hand to the meaning of words. Classic deflection. Moving the goalposts.

4. Women have a bad habit of saying one thing while meaning something else. I define terms so that I am clear on what I am saying and my intentions are made manifest.

5. I harp on women because I am one. I want us to do better. But first things first, we gotta be honest with ourselves. Then we can be honest with others. Say what you mean and mean what you say. No backtracking, no “that’s not what I meant.” Grow some thick skin.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers. The ones who physically birthed children. And those who have not. Even those who had c-sections. I read the Internet. I know some folks don’t think you are real mothers. And those folks I like to call wrong. Happy Mother’s Day to you.

There is a branch of anthropology that studies what is known as mothering. It describes the work done to raise and nurture children. As we know in the black community it takes a village to raise a child and everyone contributes whether they are parents or not. This is called mothering. Happy Mother’s Day to the village of neighbors, aunts, cousins, sisters, church ushers, big Mamas, Madears, Nanas, Sunday school teachers, choir directors.

These women taught us how to live and get along with people. How to chew with our mouths closed. How to sit with our legs closed in a dress. How to wash ourselves. How to make friends. Over many a meal, while you were holding down your ear so you can get your hair pressed for Sunday, while you are shelling peas,eating watermelon our mothers taught us life lessons. Stuff you can’t learn in school. Alice Walker’s poem “The Women” sums up my sentiments exactly.
They were women then
My mama’s generation
Husky of voice–stout of
With fists as well as
How they battered down
And ironed
Starched white
How they led
Headragged generals
Across mined
To discover books
A place for us
How they knew what we
Must know
Without knowing a page
Of it

Sipping Lemonade

So I’ve listened to Lemonade and now can offer a few thoughts.

First off, I’m not part of the Beyhive. I think Beyonce is talented; she has good business sense; she’s successful. I don’t hang on her every word. There are songs of hers that I enjoy. I liked “Formation.” I appreciated her unapologetic blackness. I liked that she has made it mainstream, but therein lies the rub. Capitalism makes products of us all and then sells them to us. I know she recently came out as a feminist although she said for some time she wasn’t. Feminism is one of my areas of research and the more I learn about it the less appealing it is to me as a life philosophy. My question after “Formation” was once we are there, then what do we do? What is the goal? Mobilization is usually for a cause. I believe Lemonade is one of Beyonce’s answers.

Beyonce’s feminism has always been problematic. I won’t rehash all the arguments here, but the main problem with Beyonce’s feminism is the seeming contradictory stance of being pro-woman and also a sex symbol. Can one stand for equal rights for women (although that phrase has its problems), for women to be valued as human beings and not for any service or good they provide society (like childbearing and rearing, nurturing and caring for others) and still twerk? Even if one can maintain some control over one’s image, does the fact that that image which is still produced for the male gaze and consumption undermine the control one has? It’s the female naked selfie debate: if a woman posts a naked selfie is she in control or is she still playing into the sexual consumption script (which is mostly male)?

Moreover, Beyonce is an entertainer so one cannot assign a certain value system to her. After all, we only see her when she wants to be seen. And the way she would like to be seen. We only know what she chooses to reveal. It’s all image. My personal issue with Bey’s feminism is the “you go girl” message. I agree with Joy James that “you go girl” feminism is very insidious. It’s all about how fabulous one is with no self-reflection. Do men do you wrong? Of course. So do women. If this is happening over and over again, did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s you? Does black feminism depend on black women having a catalog of men that done them wrong? So my issues with feminism and Beyonce’s feminism are the logic that leaks like a sieve.

My initial reaction to Lemonade was one of shock. But this was only based on people’s reactions on social media. With every post on my newsfeed about Rachel Roy, I was thinking why is Beyonce outing her husband as a cheater? Just selling records I guess. All in a day’s work. Hey, it’s your marriage. And I brushed off Lemonade.

And here is where I sensed another site of conflict with Lemonade. Not only is it Beyonce’s feminism, but personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is like the furniture I always stub my toe on in my research. When you study and teach structural racism and discrimination, the question of personal responsibility is always in the back of my mind. Every time I say the word “privilege,” I swallow hard. If one has experienced structural racism (I mean racism that is built into the fabric of social institutions, not individual prejudices), then how much responsibility can one take for one’s life? For example, predatory lending prevents many blacks and Latinos from owning their own homes in addition to the fact that many black and Latino families don’t leave financial legacies for future generations so saving for a down payment for a home can take a lot longer. This is also the wage gap debate. Can one work hard and build wealth despite these setbacks? Is talking about structural racism giving “victims” of racism a free pass? Or should you just work harder?

I saw comments on social media that said Beyonce got what she asked for. Jay Z is no stranger to women and cheating rumors have circulated about them since they have been together. She married him so it should come as no surprise that he cheated, the thinking goes. These commenters equated Beyonce’s expressions of pain and loss as crying over spilled milk. Or making her bed and refusing to lie in it. If one doesn’t want to be cheated on (and who does?), then don’t marry someone who is known for cheating unless you see some genuine change of heart. Who knows whether Beyonce did.  She can’t be responsible for his cheating, but she didn’t have to be with him.

Yet this dismissal doesn’t set well with me. Dismissing someone’s pain or hurt, even if it is the result of their own choices, seems cruel to me. Accepting responsibility doesn’t diminish the hurt. Dismissing Beyonce’s pain is yet another attempt to silence black women. Black women are allowed to weep in public, to grieve, but not to be enraged from fear of being labelled an “angry black woman.” Human beings emote. Everyone, regardless of race or class or gender or any other identity marker, should be able to do this without fear of retribution.

Also, Lemonade is about so much more than a no good man, or a man who acts like he’s no good. Folks will be folks, but Lemonade shows how black women process and heal from their pain. From the denial, to anger to sadness to acceptance to hope and back over again.

Perhaps folks didn’t like the public emoting. Ok, so you wanna call your husband out. Do you boo. But why make an album about it and sell it? Why make that public knowledge? The obvious reason is to make money. Controversy sells. My jadedness aside, there are also more altruistic reasons such as letting other women know they are not alone. Black feminism was started by black women who got together, shared their stories and encouraged one another.

Lemonade got me all up in my feelings. Feelings that get suppressed as we go about our daily lives. Feelings that aren’t logical, that are fascinating, unsettling, glorious, intimidating, rough, funny, depressing, immature, selfish, mysterious, rude, confusing, delightful. All the feelings that make us happy, sad, that inspire us, that make us tired, irritable, restless, proud, scared.

The cool points are out the window and I’m all twisted up in the game.