Let's Talk About Black Male Privilege, Shall We?

Hey Y’all:

I asked the brilliant scholar and just all around good Brother-With-A-Big-B Mark Anthony Neal for a guest blog post on black male privilege. I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot, because it seems like within my community–that would be African American–there is still a lot of sexism, but also a lot of gender-based double standards for behavior.

So I went to my go-to, anti-sexist, black male scholar to ask him to speak on this black male privilege issue for my blog. That would be Mark.

I was thinking he was too busy to do this any time soon, being so famous and all–but  guess what? He wrote the piece immediately for me to post this week! That brother is so wonderful and generous.

The piece is below, and I know it is going to generate some controversy, but you know I like to keep it real at all times. This is an issue that I have talked about for YEARS with my girlfriends on the phone, and I know other sisters out there have as well, so don’t be shy about putting in your two cents. Be sure to leave comments below!

And if you like what you see from Mark–and I know you will–go ahead and check him out at  his regular blog: www.newblackman.blogspot.com.

He is not playing, ok?

The Myth of Black Male Privilege?
by Mark Anthony Neal

The question of Black Male Privilege has again resurfaced, seemingly as a counter narrative to annual celebrations of Women’s History Month. Though likely coincidental, the current debate about Black Male Privilege was inspired by a recent lecture by R. L’Heureux Lewis at the Founder’s Day Symposium at his alma mater, Morehouse College. Lewis offered a more streamlined version of his address to NPR’s Michael Martin describing Black Male Privilege as “built-in and often overlooked systematic advantages that center the experience and the concerns of black males while minimizing the power that black males hold.”

This is not a new conversation. In his book Whose Gonna Take the Weight? (2003), Kevin Powell’s critiques of black male sexism, misogyny and violence against black women are largely informed by his realizations of his own gender privilege as a black man. As I wrote in New Black Man (2005), “just because Black men are under siege, in White America, doesn’t mean they don’t exhibit behaviors that do real damage to others, particularly within black communities. What many [folk] want to do is excuse the behavior of black men because of the extenuating circumstances under which black manhood is lived in our society.” In his study of African-American literature, David Ikard highlights the ways that the fiction of Toni Morrison, for example, reveals “the extent to which black men exploit their gender privilege over black women,” often to their own detriment. Indeed, Lewis’s own formulation of Black Male Privilege is deeply indebted to Jewel Woods’s exhaustive and widely circulated “The Black Male Privileges Checklist.”

Nevertheless that idea that black men possess any privilege, is contested. As one commentator on Facebook argued, “the vast majority of African men in America do not exercise ANY privilege over Black women. Black women control THEIR households, and THEIR churches, and refuse to relinquish any of the control in either, clearly exercising their prerogative in both. If a man cannot exercise privilege in the larger society, or in his own home, where would he exercise real privilege and prerogative anywhere? This concept applies to such a very small coterie of Black men that its impact is not even worth discussing.”

In his response to Lewis, Lester Spence, half jokes, “How the hell can black men have privilege if there are more of them in jail than any other population, fewer in school than damn near any other population, and work as the poster child that drives black and non-black political attitudes rightward?” But Spence goes on to offer a recalibration of the debate acknowledging that “The very fact that the “black male crisis” is synonymous with the “black crisis” is a testimony to the way that black male privilege constructs what we think of as “black politics,” what we think of as important enough to convene symposiums, to have boycotts and marches, to urge legislation for.”

Push back against the idea of Black Male Privilege is not surprising, particularly in the current economic environment. High rates of unemployment and other economic indices depict the lives of working class and working poor black men as nothing short of dire; the realities of black male incarceration (often premised on hustling) only exacerbate the situation. Indeed charging black men with any kind of gender privilege seems dangerously close to blaming the victim for their conditions. But the height of gender privilege is the refusal or inability to recognize, despite your predicament, that there are others in the black community who are struggling and suffering just as much as you are–and in the context domestic and sexual violence, often at the very hands of the very black men who are decrying their lack of privilege.

In terms of structural realities, Insight: The Center for Community Economic Development’s recent report, “Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future” offers concrete data on the ways that gender privilege manifest itself in the accumulation of wealth on a daily basis. While many think of wealth as in issue that only applies to elites, Insight describes wealth as fundamental to economic security and stability. There has been much attention to the study, written by researcher Mariko Chang, which suggest that single black women have a median wealth of $100, compared to single white women who have a median wealth of over $41,000. To be sure, single black men do not fair much better in comparison to their white male counterparts, but their median wealth of $7,900 is still dramatically greater than that of single black women. Indeed, a few thousand dollars in savings can help stave off the immediate crisis of joblessness, while $100 might get you a week’s worth of groceries.

Perhaps more telling is the comparison between single black women and men with children. According to the Insight report, the median wealth for single black male fathers is $26,000, while for single black women that amount is still only $100. More alarming is that when we take into account the parents of young children—those under the age of 18—the median wealth of single black mothers is $0. Even under those conditions black men fare significantly better than their black women peers, with median wealth just short of $11,000. It should be noted that across the board, single mothers are disadvantaged in comparison to men, regardless of race. These numbers, in particular, highlight one of the ways that gender privilege functions in our society. Whereas single fathers often have access to greater resources—financial, professional and even emotional—for performing what society views as exceptional parenting behavior, single mothers face a world in which the resources they need are often under siege by fiscal and social conservatives who often depict such women—particularly women of color—as lazy, over-sexed and slovenly.

Even the default argument, offered by some black men, that suggest that black women are more present in the professional workforce, doesn’t hold up in the Insight report. Though black women outnumber black men in professional and managerial positions (less than one-percent in the latter case), those numbers are undercut by an across the board income gap where black women make about 87% of what black men do. But as the Insight report cautions, “Earnings are no doubt important for building wealth, but they are converted into wealth at a much faster pace if they are linked with the wealth escalator—fringe benefits, favorable tax codes, and valuable government benefits—that are tied to employment, income and marital status” and women of color, “do not benefit from the wealth escalator to the same extent as men or white women.” As the report explains, “women of color experience a pay gap that is affected not just by the pay gap between men and women, but also between whites and minorities.”

Gender privilege is no myth and despite the structural crisis that black men face in American society, they often function with significantly more advantages than black women. The quicker black men come to terms with this reality and let go of their privileged victim status, the quicker black men and women can talk about strategies to increase the wealth and stability of all within our communities.

A New "YGRT" Podcast: Imani Perry on Hip Hop Politics and Poetics

Let’s end this Women’s History Month right, y’all!

This Tuesday–that’s TOMORROW–I will be talking with Imani Perry, author of the groundbreaking book, Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop, on Talkshoe.com at 7:30 EASTERN STANDARD TIME.

Here’s the link to the podcast page on Talkshoe.com.

And here’s Imani’s sassy bio below along with the cover of her fabulous book!

Imani Perry is a Professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University. Prior to that, she served as a Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law in Camden, NJ for 7 years. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in American Civilization and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. She received her B.A. from Yale College with a double major in Literature and American Studies. Her scholarship is in the fields African American Studies, Law and Culture, Popular Music, Law and Literature. She is the author of Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (Duke University Press, 2004), and introduced the latest edition of Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2005).

Praise for Prophets of the Hood: Politcs and Poetics in Hip Hop:

“Imani Perry has written the most subtle and nuanced treatment of hip hop that I know. Her complex view of hip hop as black democratic space subject to prophetic utterance and mainstream cooptation is powerful. Her call for the local engagement and global vision of the underground to revitalize hip hop is compelling. Her seminal work should silence all naive or ignorant trashers of this vital cultural form!” Cornel West

“Imani Perry’s Prophets of the Hood is an extraordinary and brilliant book. Eschewing a rigid division between the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ in hip-hop, she takes the discussion of rap to new depths and greater heights with a probing analysis of the poetic and political dimensions of the art form. With lucid explanations, crisp writing and sharp analysis, Perry has managed to actually say some very important things in a strikingly fresh manner. With the story-telling skills of Nas, the passion of 2Pac, the lyrical dexterity of Lauryn Hill, the verbal mastery of Talib Kweli and the conceptual acuity of KRS-One, Perry has produced a stunning, magnificent work of art.” Michael Eric Dyson

This sister is SUPER-bad in the black sense! You know you don’t want to miss this podcast! Here’s the link again:-).

I Heart Uppity (Part 2): The Price of the (Eight-Dollar Movie) Ticket

I was talking to my mother this morning about finally being a grown woman, and how long it has taken me to come to this moment. It all started from my talking about the new grown woman poems that I am writing and that led me to talking about a brother I was feeling, strong.

You know it takes me a moment to get to the point of a story, so again—as always—allow me my circuitous route on this journey to the promised land.

I should come out and say, I am working on two books of poetry, not just one. This is a secret I’ve kept for a couple of years, but now, I guess I should come clean.  Yes, the first book—the book I talk about all the time—is about Phillis Wheatley, and these poems are so important to me, but they are based on research, which is slow going.

But the second book—the one I don’t ever talk about, until now—consists of poems that don’t fit in anywhere in that Phillis Wheatley book. A few weeks ago, I realized, these could be called my “grown woman” poems. In these poems, I say things that I’ve been hiding for a long time. Hiding from other people. And many times, hiding from myself.

I started talking to my mother about these new poems, and how I finally feel like a grown woman, and that, strangely, when I thought being a grown woman would give me some restraint, just the opposite has happened. I have found that I am tired of taking the high road and trying to be classy all the time.

Now, those people out there who know me from back in the day will ask, “Honorée, when did this classy moment occur? Because when I knew you, you used to go around cussing people out.”

Exactly. I got tired of being That Crazy Sister.

You know the one. That Crazy Sister that will cut your clothes off of you—clean—with her verbal switchblade. She is always ready to fight, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. She will cuss you out, starting from the beginning of your lineage down to the present. Well, that used to be me.

And then, in my early thirties, I got tired of people in my world—the black poetry world—always treating me like I was crazy. It had gotten to the point where when I walked into a room, people already knew the stories and many times, they threw me shade even before we were introduced.

Now, some of those stories about me were true, but some had been embellished. And most of the people who I had cussed out deserved it; I gotta say this. They had humiliated me—sometimes in front of those same people who were calling me crazy—but somehow, when I defended myself, I ended up being The Crazy One. The person hurting me never ended up being The Mean One.

Sidebar: Come to think of it, this is sort of like a metaphor for black folks and America, huh?

But that didn’t matter. I still had a bad rep. It got so bad that I was paranoid constantly, and so, I just would introduce myself to other young black poets with lines like, “I’m sure you’ve heard all about me. I’m the crazy one.” Which is pretty pathetic, I know.

So then, when I started making a reputation as a writer, I decided that I would let things slide because I didn’t want rumors—true or not—to get in the way of my career. I’d just be a good proverbial Christian and turn the other cheek, and that would help move my career forward so that people would see that just because my poems were sometimes angry, I was really a happy, happy, happy person.

It started bleeding into my personal life, too.

I started letting my friends talk any way to me—these are not my best friends who have stayed strong with me through the years, now; these are the come-and-go type of friends.  If I was in a relationship with a man, I just thought if I was classy and wore cute outfits and fried him chicken, he would see that I was a “good woman” and do right by me.

And that went on for almost ten years, while I gained more and more weight, let my stress levels hit the roof, and let my resentment about being nice in the face of cruelty and demeaning behavior bubble up and affect my health. But I was able to hold onto my moral superiority, I thought.

Then, something happened a year ago, a few months before I started this blog. Some sort of breakthrough. I decided, later for turning the other cheek.

You know what you get when you turn the other cheek? Somebody clocks you on the other cheek. And you get a bruise. Or you get a cut lip. And then, you gotta worry, is this cut going to turn into a scar?

So let’s fast forward to my conversation with my mother, who had been telling me for those ten years while I was trying so hard to be a long-suffering, classy lady, don’t make the mistakes of her generation. Don’t let people push you around and lie to yourself about you’re a lady when really, you’re just a damned coward and don’t want to tell people the truth.

Sidebar: Don’t you hate your mother’s always right? Even when she gives good advice and that good advice finally kicks in, sometimes, I’m still like, “Why my mama always got to be right?”

This morning I was talking to her—I mean I just hung up the phone before I started on this post—and in addition to those grown woman poems, I was talking about this brother I really liked, and that we had finally gone out.

I should say as well that now that I’ve been taking care of myself, a sister is looking pretty cute these days. No, I will never get back my young, dewy moments, no matter how much shea butter I grease myself down with. But still, the lost weight, the two and a half quarts of water a day, the fruits and veggies, the daily workouts, and most importantly, the missing fibroids (that were the size of a slave ship before I had them finally taken out six months ago) have really kicked in and I’m feeling super-fine and super-bad.

Not to sound arrogant, but even with my fibroid tummy, I always got my share of male attention, and the people who know me will tell you that’s the truth. I think it’s just that my mother always made me feel like I was Miss America even before Vanessa Williams won, and that continued even through the insecurity of my teens and twenties. I just projected cute even when my body wasn’t.

I’m not saying I had a perfect childhood; people who’ve read my books know that. But my mutual adoration society with my mother has remained a constant in my life, and I’ve always known that in her eyes, I was a super-star.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I went out with that brother I was talking about. We’ve been aquaintance-friends, but that’s it, because he’s very good-looking and I had not felt that way, what with my fibroid tummy and all. That’s not to say that I haven’t had relationships in these past few years, but this is a really good-looking brother. Y’all know what I mean.

We went to the movies. I tried to pay the eight dollars for my own ticket, radical feminist that I am, but he refused. We had a nice time at the movies, came back to my house, and started talking. Then we kissed a few times, but that was it. It was a first date, and truly, the only reason I let him into my house is because I had known him for a few years. I’m not a complete fool, here.

And as we sat there on my couch, sort of hugged up, he asked me in a nice, gentlemanly way, how we might move this thing—ahem—forward. Y’all know what he meant. He meant, how could he get some.

I thought that was a bit quick, considering this was our first date, but I had known him for a while. Maybe that why he felt we could skip a few steps. Or maybe, he figured, he was sitting on my couch and my bedroom door—which was closed, by the way—was only twenty steps away.

So I said, “First, I have to trust you. Second, I have to love you. Third, you’ve got to love me. And fourth, we have to be exclusively dating each other.”

Y’all know what I’m about to say: I haven’t heard from this brother in two weeks. Not a phone call. Not a text message. Not an email. Not a carrier pigeon. Nothing.

I kissed this Negro and I have not heard from him, which is seriously impolite in my book.

I called him a couple of times and left voice mails. You know how we women are. I thought, maybe he got in a car accident or something, until I was talking to a brother-friend of mine about the situation, and he said, “You scared him, Honorée. You should have played it cooler than that. Men don’t want to think that they have to have a relationship in order to get laid. You probably won’t hear from him again.”

Can I just say, “Dang”?

I mean, have times changed so much that I have to give a man the impression that he can lay down with me for the price of an eight-dollar movie ticket, with no responsibilities on his part?

And why would that scare a man to know that he can’t get any from a woman without putting in some work and making promises and keeping those promises? I would think that would mean that he is dealing with a woman who has some pride and self-esteem, and if she has some pride and self-esteem, that would mean she is a catch, indeed.

I mean, I am Honorée Fanonne Jeffers and an extraordinary human being.

Sidebar: I told you my mama raised me to think I was Miss America.

But the issue is not just my high self-esteem. The issue is that I am looking at the world through a grown woman’s eyes. These days, I don’t care who thinks I am too forward, or too desperate, or too arrogant, or too uppity.

I guess I thought that because I worked on myself and I had changed—and changed and changed and changed—that somehow, the world would have changed with me. It hasn’t. But that’s okay.

You know how when you were a kid and you got a new toy you want to play with? That’s how I feel about my new grown womanhood and my body. I ain’t saying a sister is looking like Halle or nothing, but I am in low-rise jeans. I just have a very short window of time to wear them, though, so I got to sport my jeans immediately. Because I do not want to be that middle-aged woman you see wearing seriously inappropriate gear. And I feel the same way about my life; I have no time for foolishness. I’ve lost too much time on that.

I don’t have to cuss people out now, to keep them from taking advantage of me. I don’t even have to raise my voice. I just have to say, this is what I require because I think well of myself. And guess what? If people don’t want to meet those standards—not just men, but all human beings—they can get to stepping.

It ain’t a high blood pressure moment, neither. It’s just a grown woman’s moment.

Dear Rush, Goodbye and Good Luck, Baby

Dear Rush Limbaugh:

The Healthcare Reform Bill has been passed. Remember when you said you’d leave the country if that went through?

Well, goodbye and good luck, baby.

I wish I could say that we will miss you, but most people with a brain and heart–not to mention a soul– will not.

However, I know there are lots of crazy, mean racists willing to take over your throne. This should be a great comfort to you down there Costa Rica. I heard it’s real pretty in that part of the world.

Take care of yourself, sweetheart.

Love,
Honorée

Rest In Peace: Ai (January 2, 1947-March 19, 2010)

I found out today (through my Facebook friend Laura Hartmark) that, yet again, a woman poet of African descent has passed on.

Ai identified as mulit-racial, a woman with Cheyenne, Choctaw, Chicasaw, Irish, Japansese, and African ancestors, but when I was a very young woman–a girl, really–I came upon her work and it was so important to me, as a budding black woman poet.

The anger, the rage, the craft, the beauty. I grabbed ahold to Ai’s poetry, and it kept me afloat emotionally and politically.

I remember meeting Ai one day, years ago at the AWP conference. It was back in the Spring of 2001. I had heard that she was supposed to be at the conference, and then, I heard that she wasn’t coming because of flight delays. I was walking down a path that crawled through the middle of the hotel (it was a strange place), when I recognized Ai.

I ran up to her, and said, “Oh, you are finally here! I’m so happy!” And she said to me, “Thanks a lot,” only not in a sweet way, but a sort of mean way.

I guess this is not the kind of story you should tell when somebody passes. You should try to find a really nice story to tell. But you know what? When I think about it, those few seconds that I interacted with Ai seemed familiar, considering her poetry. Her work was raw and relentless. It wasn’t nice kind of work, but it was necessary kind of work.

And in the moment when I discovered her, when I was just a girl back in the early 90s, raw and relentless was what I needed. I didn’t need nice, I needed angry. I needed to get my mind right because I was fighting to stay who I was. And if I had known how truly difficult things would be, even more difficult than I ever imagined, I don’t know that I would have kept going.

As the poet Sonia Sanchez told me, just a few weeks ago, you can’t always get what you need being quiet and polite. Ai wasn’t a woman who pandered to people in her poetry. Why should she pander in real life?

Now, in these days where many, many poets are pandering to the other poets, instead of trying to make friends with regular readers out there, through their own poetry–and criticizing readers as “dumb” instead of doing the hard work of staying smart but writing real, which is so hard to do–I wonder a lot about this world I’m in.

Money’s drying up, when there’s not much money to be had in the first place, and I am praying hard these quick, empty days, trying to figure out why God is taking all my pillars away, these black woman poets who didn’t even know I needed them, but who gave me so much anyway. These are the folks that stood around me, protecting me from the world.

I wonder what God is trying to tell us  black poets who remain here on this earth. Every time an elder in the black writing community passes–and we black poets claimed Ai, even if she didn’t claim us–some of us say, “We have to fill their shoes.”

Are we doing that? Do we even know what those shoes look like, much less how to stand in them?

Today, I want you to ask yourself, how are you walking in the world as writer? Are you the same person on the page as you are in real life?

If you are black, are you the same person in a room full of “brothers and sisters” as you are in a cocktail party filled with white folks, and you are the only Negro in the room? Are you swallowing your tongue over insufferable verbal assaults because you want to make your paper–as I have done, and only stopped doing just a few years ago?

This morning, I woke up mad. You know how you have a really bad dream, and the fingers of that dream are still clutching you when you wake up? That’s how I felt just a few hours ago. I woke up mad and confused and crying. I was ready to fight somebody. Now, I guess I know why.

What is the universe trying to tell us, with our elders falling down around us? This morning, why wouldn’t my dream let me go?

Guest Blog: Poet and Writer Gina Athena Ulysse

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn McCalla

From time to time, I’ll ask fabulous people to write guest blogs for me, since I know sometimes y’all will get tired of just me. (I gotta keep you guessing; I’ve found that out!)

This is my first guest blog, and I’m really excited about it, since Gina Athena Ulysse, the sister  that agreed to do it is, of course, Certified Stone-Cold. That is her very cute picture on the right.

Gina  is an Associate Professor of Anthropology, African-American Studies and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. She was born in Petion-Ville, Haiti. She earned her Ph.D. in anthropology the University of Michigan in 1999. She is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica (Chicago 2007). She has published several articles and essays on research methods, feminism, Haitian diasporic tensions and Vodou in referred journals and anthologies. For the last ten years, she has taught a seminar titled Haiti: Myths and Realities. A poet/performance/multi-media artist, Ulysse is also riveting performer, described as by a reviewer as “a fantastic whirlwind of word and emotion, transforming Haiti from an objective abstract to a subjective reality.” She has performed her one-woman show “Because When God is too Busy; Haiti, me and THE WORLD”—a monologue that weaves spokenword with Vodou chants—across the U.S. on the college circuit as well as at various stage theatres. She is the co-founder of the Haiti Illumination Project (HIP).  She has also done several interviews and opinion pieces since the earthquake on NPR, PRI, Huffington Post, Feminist Magazine and others.

I really hope you enjoy this first guest blog!

——

Sisters of the Cowries, Struggles and Haiti’s Future

December 14th, 2009, the day before my last trip to Haiti, I  met briefly with an old grad school chum. P is a sister who also made it through the struggle (of being one of very few) at the University of Michigan where she earned her JD and I a PhD in Anthropology.  We overlapped only by so many years as I neared the last stage of the doctorate. We held on to survive the process and now nearly two decades later are working on thriving as professionals.  P and I have more than an alma mater in common, we are also both Haitian born US Diaspora dwellers.  We were not close at UM but we connected. After her graduation, she helped hook me up with an internship in South Africa where we met up again and bonded. I will never forget upon arriving in Capetown, P gave me a quick breakdown of local dynamics that ended with her saying “pitit (child with serious emphasis) and then you’re going to find out you are colored” as she broke into sardonic bouts of laughter. Our conversations have always been peppered with kreyol words. Another point of connection was the sameness in awareness of our identities and the various social and symbolic politics of being black women.

I sat across from her that Tuesday after several years of intermittent contact. We both marveled at the obvious changes in our state of being and appearances that we recognized as coming from deep within.  We did high fives to mark the synchronic moments in our conversation where without question we got each other.  “Life is too short.” There were uhmms and huh-huh. “Girl, I am just tired of struggle.” “It’s all about being present.” “I want to live my life now” we each said. Which comments belonged to either us hardly mattered. We have been on separate journeys but seemed in many ways to be in the same spot of the crossroads we faced today.

Then I revealed the significance of this moment for me. I was on my way to Haiti and did not tell family members the details of my impending trip nor did I plan to have or make any contact with my folks in Haiti. I needed to be there as a researcher embarking on the preliminary phase of a new project not someone’s daughter, niece or cousin. My reasons were quite simple as I sought to learn whether I could have a relationship with Haiti on my own terms that are not overshadowed by family dynamics.

Then P made a most definitive statement that resonated everything I have been struggling with around this journey. I would come back to her words again and again while in Haiti and even now as I write this. She said: “our culture doesn’t have a space for women to mature and come into our own.”  That comment led us into a discussion on what it means to be grown (resurrecting bell hooks) as women when we do not possess the primary marker of adulthood (children).  How do we transition from girl to woman to wise one. She had been married and I remain single. Those of us who take non-traditional roads are continually reminded there is no point of reference for us. Yet we also know that who we seek to be stems from deeper desires to come to term with ourselves as fuller beings made in our own visions. We are not like our mothers or grandmothers.  We are engaged in conscious acts of self-making as we resist the urge to be crunched up into other people’s fantasies for us as Audre Lorde has written.

The next time I saw P it was several weeks later.  1/12/2010 is the day part of the earth had cracked open in the Western hemisphere and fractured our beloved country of birth only to reveal its most persistent inequities and vulnerabilities. We tried to squeeze every concern we had into the fifteen minutes she was available. I needed to reconnect with her before facing an audience of strangers. At times, we shook our heads in disbelief and shared continuous repetitions of the word pitit that needed no explanations. Then our attention turned to the planeload of the very young labeled “orphans” who were whisked off to foreign lands. “I called my mother and even said I would take a couple and bring them home,” P said. We scrambled for words to reflect our outrage and still make sense of this desperate act. What is the value of Haitian children? The worse was yet to come as we discussed the dead. The uncounted. The mass graves. Where are the Haitian voices on this issue?  Why so many artists. How can the President remain silent throughout this moment? The conversation turned to our commitment to helping in recovery somehow as it is our duty to do so. Then we realized we had not talked about my trip to Haiti.  I gave her a brief reply in minutes and told her I had been writing op-eds for sanity and to make sense out of this moment.

The thing about P is that she too is at point in her life when she refuses to be silent.  Weeks later, I encountered another woman of Haitian descent, Lenelle Moise at Northwestern University. She was scheduled to perform Womb Words Thirsting— an interactive autobiographical one-woman show that mixes “a brew full of womanist Vodou jazz, queer theory hip-hop, spoken word, song and movement.” I was there to respond to the work and write a critique for the Performance Studies Department’s project Solo/Black/Woman.  On the ride from the airport, Haiti was the center of our discussion. Status of family… Friends. Where we were when we got the news. We also talked of our worries and the disconcertment of bearing witness from so far away. What of Haiti’s future since it seems that the players remain the same.

This was Moise’s first performance since 1/12.  When she took the stage a day later, it was evident that those who dare to break the structure of silence are needed now more than ever. Beyond her grace, there was rage though this work that had been written years before, it bellowed screams for a Haiti that desperately needs fierce and persistent advocates on the frontline at home and abroad. Moise took risks to stake claim to a self while determined to live a full life.

Some of our struggles here are so distant from those back there. This fullness, this idea of a sense of self as whole that we seek has historically eluded Haiti or people’s perceptions of and representations of Haiti. As we obsess over Haiti’s future and our potential roles in it, we do so knowing we are in a place of such privilege.

Since the quake in the tent cities that have sprouted all over the capital, women and girls are the most vulnerable. They are susceptible to sexual exploitation, harassment and rape. Discussions concerning reconstruction efforts tend to ignore the specific situation of women. Activists here and there are trying to put women’s issues on the table. Many of us are only too aware of how crucial it is that the needs of women not be ignored. Haitian women have been known as the potomitan-center pillars of their families and communities. Without their wellness, whole selves and protection, Haiti’s future will remain an abstraction lost in theory.

Let's Try This One More 'Gain: a Podcast w/ Michell L.H. Douglas

Photo courtesy of David Flores

I know y’all remember last month, when I supposed to do a “You Gotta Read This” podcast with poet Mitchell L. H. Douglas, and then, something happened with his computer–some roguish individual sent him a virus. I was so upset–and I know you were, too.

Well, let’s try this one more ‘gain. On Tuesday, March 16 (that’s tomorrow), I will be podcasting on Talkshoe at 7:30pm EASTERN with Mitchell, talking about his fabulous first book of poetry, Cooling Board: A Long Playing Poem, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in Poetry.

Now, I know Mitchell is a man. I can see that, and anybody with eyes can, too. And I know this is Women’s History Month so maybe, some of y’all are thinking “that don’t go” (as we used to say back in the day). But I figure, if anyone is up to the task for repping the brothers during this month, it’s Mitchell. He’s a sweet but strong, brilliant, understanding, and most importantly, a Womanist man.

Here’s Michell’s bio and the fabulous picture of the books front cover, and I hope you will join me tomorrow–Tuesday, March 16– at 7:30pm Eastern on Talkshoe! Here’s the link. And remember, you can always subscribe to the podcast on ITunes!:)

Mitchell L. H. Douglas is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). His poetry has appeared in Callaloo, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (University of Georgia Press), Crab Orchard Review, and Zoland Poetry Volume II (Zoland Books) among others. A founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, Cave Canem fellow, and Poetry Editor for PLUCK!:The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Cooling Board: A Long-Playing Poem, is his debut collection. Before it’s publication by Red Hen Press, Cooling Board was a runner-up for the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, a semifinalist for the 2007 Blue Lynx Prize, and a semifinalist for the 2006 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Cooling Board was a nominee for the 41st NAACP Image Awards in the Outstanding Literary Work-Poetry category.

Marriage Is a Basic Human Right, So Click on This

Remember a few days ago when I posted “Stone Cold Sister Links” and I talked about two sisters who had been together for years, who can now finally get married? Well, they did!

Here’s the link to their wedding video on Youtube. It’s so sweet and moving.

Now, I will warn you ahead of time, if you don’t want to get pissed off, then please don’t read the comments underneath the video because there are some inbred (insert expletive nouns) who, apparently, are on such familiar terms with God that He–of course, God would always be a man to these fools– has a nickname like “Skeeter.”  And apparently, “Skeeter” told these inbred (insert expletive nouns) that gay folk weren’t allowed to get married because of something they read in the Bible.

This would be the same Bible that some of these same folks used to justify slavery three hundred years ago, of course.

It’s funny how some people can go to the Good Book to find excuses for hate all the time, when Jesus said, “I leave you peace.” Do these folks think “peace” is a relative term?

Do you see why it’s so hard for me to champion believing in God? These kind of folks make my job as a faithful person trying to spread a little justice in my corner of world so difficult. Sigh. I’m gone keep on with it, though.

And yesterday, I did Pilates as well and my you-know-what is so sore, y’all. I know that’s another issue, but it’s furthermost in my mind right now. Or, you know, furthermost someplace on my body.

But I’d like to say, my god has a nickname, too. It’s “Fair and Loving.” And He OR She–I’m equal opportunity in the God department– told me the other day, gay folks have a right to get married because it is a basic human right.

So thanks, “Fair and Loving” for that information. I really appreciate You, “Fair and Loving.” (And by the way, I’m gone keep up with the Pilates, because You told me that even though parts of my body now feel as if somebody jumped out behind a bush and beat me like I stole something, I won’t regret it after thirty sessions.)

Anyway, enjoy the video y’all!

"You Gotta Read This" w/ Julie Buckner Armstrong

The Women’s History “You Gotta Read This” Podcast Extravaganza continues, y’all. Yes, when April 1 comes, I’ll probably collapse, but for now, I’m gone party like it’s 1999! I live way out in the middle of the country, and I don’t get to have these kind of conversations regularly. Last week, after Kelly’s podcast, I was high for three days (and I cried a little, too, I will admit, ’cause I’m cheesy like that, ok?)

Anyway,  I can’t come down now. So join me in two days on Tuesday, March 9, @ 7:30PM EASTERN for a podcast with Julie Bucker Armstrong! Here’s the Talkshoe link. And remember–yes I am gone say this every time, so get used to it–that if you miss the podcast, you can always download it for free on Itunes.

And also, no matter what the blue button to the right says on Tuesday, it’s 7:30PM EASTERN. I live in central time so it may list my time; I hope that doesn’t confuse you. (Hey, don’t feel bad, that blue button confuses me sometimes, and it’s my podcast.)

Julie Buckner Armstrong is the editor of The Civil Rights Reader: American Literature from Jim Crow to Reconciliation. The book contains fiction, drama, essays and poetry and collects selections by contemporary and historical writers, such as James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s just so fabulous, y’all.

Plus, Julie is super-nice, and super down-to-earth even though she is completely brilliant with a Ph.D from New York University, and a professor teaching in the English department at University of South Florida, Petersburg, AND she has another book as well, Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement: Freedom’s Bittersweet Song (Routledge, 2002).

When I first talked to Julie on the phone, we just had a ball gabbing it up. I knew that any woman who loves justice like Julie does and loves the poetry of Lucille Clifton has got to be a sister to my soul. (If you look closely at Julie’s picture, you’ll see she’s reading a copy of Good Woman by Miss Lucille). I had been a bit apprehensive the first time Julie and I talked because of her credentials—but she and I will talk about that on the podcast, so that’s just a little teaser for now. You gotta tune in to find out the rest.

Below is the artsy, deep cover of the book—I love this cover—along with some sassy reviews so you can understand, Julie’s bad like that.

“A superb anthology that insightfully captures the link between art and society. An important contribution to both the cultural and the literary history of the enduring African American freedom struggle, this volume showcases an impressive range of literary works that freshly illuminates this powerful struggle.”
—Waldo E. Martin, Jr., author of No Coward Soldiers: Black Cultural Politics in Postwar America

“The first collection of its kind, one that is much needed and long overdue.”
—Christopher Metress, editor of The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary History

“This extraordinary collection employs fiction, drama, poetry, and autobiographical writings to expand our understanding of the black freedom struggle in America. Both enlightening and inspirational, The Civil Rights Reader is a comprehensive overview that will be an invaluable resource for students and scholars alike.”
—John Dittmer, author of Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi

“In ways that historical documents cannot, these collected writings demonstrate how Americans negotiated the process of defining national values such as freedom, justice, and equality. Armstrong and Schmidt have gathered the works of some of the most influential writers to engage issues of race and social justice in America. The first of its kind, The Civil Rights Reader is an important contribution to both the cultural and the literary history of the African-American freedom struggle.”
—Linda T. Wynn, The Courier

See y’all on Tuesday, March 9 @ 7:30pm EASTERN!