A Blessed Evening

I just wanted to write a quick post before I head to bed to let you know that the Lucille Clifton birthday celebration this evening was so, so wonderful. Seriously. Now, I usually just let y’all decide which of my “You Gotta Read This” podcasts you want to listen to all on your own, because all of y’all are grown and I don’t like to be pushy.

But this Lucille Clifton podcast was a moment I haven’t ever experienced; it was a real blessed evening. Not only were we six Sisters gathered to honor Miss Lucille’s poetic legacy, but as Black women, we all had a unique connection to this her, and a unique vantage point.  One of us was her actual daughter, and the other five were her “poetry daughters.”

Where one woman’s revelations about Miss Lucille’s brilliance, loving nature, prophetic words, and artistic courage stopped, another woman took off–and none of this was rehearsed. I was really taken aback at how “in sync” we were.

And there was SO MUCH laughter, which I’d been scared we wouldn’t have, because for all of us, Miss Lucille’s loss has been so devastating. I love how we were able to “send her home” with humor and reverence at the same time.

Listen to tonight’s podcast and see for yourself. Click on this link. Or, you can just hit the BLUE button to the right to listen to it.  And finally, you can download the podcast on ITunes FOR FREE. Just search under “podcasts” using the search name “PhillisRemastered.”

I hope y’all enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed participating!

Won't You Celebrate With Us?

photo courtesy of Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Hey Y’all, I just wanted to remind you of the special Lucille Clifton birthday podcast on Sunday, June 27 at 7:30pm EASTERN on Talkshoe.com. I will be joined by five fabulous sisters: Sidney Clifton, Elizabeth Alexander, Kelly Norman Ellis, Nikky Finney, and Lyrae Van Clief Stefanon.

We will read poetry by Miss Lucille, give remembrances of her and celebrate her radiant light in this world, a light that still shines so brightly.

Here is the link to the podcast on Talkshoe.com.

And here is the link to the original post on Wednesday, which includes the bios of Lucille Clifton and the sisters who will join me on the podcast.

I hope you will join us!

Summer School Is STILL here, So Click On This

Y’all, this is the third week of summer school–three hours four days a week and it’s killing me.  Not the actual teaching, though. No, teaching itself is pretty breezy; I’ve been doing it for nearly fourteen years now, so I think I got it down.

What’s killing me is leaving my house and hitting that 100-degree heat index. It seems to wilt me, my make-up, and my clothes in five minutes. I’ve given up trying to wear cute shoes with my cute outfits, because in this heat, my ankles look like grapefruits when I balance on heels. (I tell me students, “Don’t look below my knees; that’s where the cute stops.”) I never thought I would say this, because I’m a Deep South girl, but heat is, well, demoralizing.

But you know what? I praise the Lord every single day for whoever invented air conditioning. (I’m serious.) What the heck would we do if we had to grim this summer heat thing on out? My mother tells me stories of when she was a little girl in Eatonton, Georgia, and in the middle of the day, it was so hot they had to come inside. And she always took a nap. My mama was smart, even then.

Just one more week of summer school, then I’m done, and then the REAL fun begins–I’m off to Vermont! So, here’s a bunch of random, yet sassy links to keep you nearly happy, if not satisfied, until I’m finished with battling the elements. Let’s start with the ridiculous and travel to the sublime.

I know y’all have heard about this General McChrystal who talked all strange and crazy about President Obama in Rolling Stone magazine. I gotta tell you, I love the “No-drama” Obama way Barack rolls, but frankly it’s time for him to utter these essential words to these wannabee macho hardrocks who constantly get out of pocket:

“Knuck if you buck.”

Because they act like they can just say anything, anywhere–I mean, one of these fools called the man a “lie” in front of God and everybody, in the middle of Obama’s speech. And that’s not just how you are supposed to roll on the Leader of the Free World. Or, like, a Brother.

So, now, everyone’s wondering if McChrystal is gone have a job by the end of the week. I say, send him to WalMart. They always hiring over there.

Mark Anthony Neal writes about Boondocks creator, Aaron McGruder taking on Tyler Perry. I love how Neal breaks things down in both an intellectual and readable way. And also, how he calms people down, because people are tripping like McGruder attacked President Obama or something. I mean, if Barack ain’t Black Jesus, Tyler Perry ain’t even Judas Iscariot. But you know, now that I’m thinking about some of these movies he makes, maybe he is. Click on this link to watch the Boondocks episode Neal refers to.

This article on Jezebel.com does the best break-down of the current–almost daily– attacks in the media on professional, single Black women. I’m so glad that we sisters are starting to fight back–and get critical about what these attacks mean, instead of constantly being on the defensive. It’s time that we start going on the offensive, instead of the defensive.

I mean, what’s wrong with being smart? You would think that a smart sister would be the ideal mate–instead, we get attacked for reading and wanting to make something of ourselves. What kind of you-know-what is that?

I suppose we learned that smart women aren’t sexy from Seventeen magazine, which, by the way, is not marketed for young Black girls. Here is an interview done with a young girl, Jamie Keiles, who decided to live according to the advice of Seventeen magazine for a month. I feel so bad for that little girl, because I tried once to follow the Seventeen Scripture. I’m still traumatized.

Speaking of fashion, I’ve started a new “Black Library Girl” series of T-shirts, Coffee Mugs, and Tote Bags, so the sexy intellectual sisters can rep their cute, sassy status. I’ve already gotten some great feedback from the Sisters, which is the most important thing for me.

No, y’all I don’t think I am ever going to get rich selling T-shirts–or bean pies, either. But you know, I was designing a t-shirt for myself, just because nobody ever has anything that I like–y’all know how particular and uppity I am–and I thought, I bet some other fabulous, intellectual, cute sisters would like this T-shirt, too.  So, check out my new swag!

And finally, this is nothing serious, but then again, completely serious: Prince and Larry Graham jamming TOGETHER! If you don’t know who Prince is, where have YOU been? And Larry Graham, well, he’s old-school in the best possible way. Here’s the link of the performance. The video is a little grainy, but if you’re grown, you won’t mind.:-) We grew up with vinyl LPs and cassette tapes, after all.

Special Podcast For Sunday, June 27: A Circle of Sisters for Lucille Clifton

The birthday of Lucille Clifton, world-renowned poet and human being, is almost upon us.  As most of you know, she passed on February 13 of this year, but she is still with me everyday, strong.

This upcoming Sunday she would have been 74-years-old. In honor of Miss Lucille’s birthday, I will conduct a special celebration podcast of Miss Lucille and her life on Sunday at 7:30 PM EASTERN on Talkshoe.com with a gathering of Black women who loved her.

There will be five of us on the podcast: Sidney Clifton (Miss Lucille’s first-born child), and Sister-poets Elizabeth Alexander, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Kelly Norman Ellis, and me.

Sidebar: Now, I hope you don’t think that by only having five women that I’m saying we are the only folks who knew how to love Miss Lucille! There were literally thousands of people whose lives she touched. It’s just, we’d be on that podcast for a whole month if we had everyone who loved her testifying.– I just want to say that, because I don’t want nobody’s feathers to be ruffled.

We five will read poems by Miss Lucille and/or poems that we have written for her, and we will give remembrances of her, and talk about what she meant to each of us individually.

More importantly we plan to have a really, really good time remembering this special lady, because Miss Lucille surely liked to have a good time herself. We want to show the human side of Miss Lucille, not just the side that everyone knew, which is the famous poet.

That’s why that picture of her by photographer extraordinaire Rachel Eliza Griffiths is included above.  (Click on this for Rachel’s website). Isn’t that such a pretty picture? Rachel captured the giggling girl in Miss Lucille, the one that is having a ball, even if only inside herself—the girl that lives in all women of all complexions. That’s the Miss Lucille I know and still love—and still talk to on a regular basis.

I want to say that this podcast is about Miss Lucille the person, and so I won’t give a long author bio. But if you would like to read one, here are links to her obituary in The New York Times, a bio of her on Wikipedia, another bio on the Poetry Foundation Website , and a bio on the Academy of American Poets , an organization for which Miss Lucille served as the very first African American Chancellor they ever had.

But HERE is the most superlative obituary that I have read, written by Elizabeth Alexander for the The New Yorker. If you really want to know about the works of Lucille Clifton and what she meant to other poets, this is the only article you really need to read.


Below is a short bio of Miss Lucille, as well as the bios of the ladies who will be joining me for the podcast.

Lucille Clifton was born Thelma Lucille Sayles on June 27, 1936 to Thelma and Samuel Sayles. In 1958, she married the professor Fred James Clifton and they had six children: Sidney, Channing, Fredericka, Gillian, Graham, and Alexia. In 1966, Ishmael Reed took Miss Lucille’s poetry to Langston Hughes who included them in his anthology The Poetry Of The Negro. Her first poetry collection Good Times was published in 1969, beginning a long, distinguished career as the author of poetry books and children’s literature. She won many awards—too numerous to mention here—but in addition to her human, empathetic and supremely-crafted poetry celebrating the African American and woman’s experience– and her approachable personality, no matter how many accolades she won–what separates her from the rest of American poets that she is the only poet EVER to hold the distinction of  being nominated for two books in the same year for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, for her books Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir and Next. Miss Lucille passed into the realm of the ancestors on February 13, 2010, leaving behind four living children and ten grandchildren and countless fans of her poetry.

Sidney Clifton is an Emmy-nominated animation and multimedia writer-producer, mother of four, and Lucille Clifton’s firstborn child. Born in Buffalo, NY and raised in Baltimore, MD; Sidney currently resides in Woodland Hills, CA where she is developing and producing multiple television, film, book and online projects. She is honored to be part of this celebration.

Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher and current chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University. She has published five books of poems; her book American Sublime (2005) was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. She has won numerous other awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim fellowship. Most recently, she delivered her original poem “Praise Song for the Day” at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Kelly Norman Ellis is an associate professor of English and associate director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Chicago State University. Her work has appeared in Sisterfire: Black Womanist Fiction and Prose, Spirit and Flame; The Ringing Ear, and Essence Magazine, among others. Her first collection of poetry, Tougaloo Blues was published by Third World Press. She is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow and founding member of the Affrilachian Poets.

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon is assistant professor of English at Cornell University. She is the author of ]Open Interval[, finalist for the 2009 National Book Award, and Black Swan, winner of the 2001 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and coauthor, with Elizabeth Alexander, of the chapbook Poems in Conversation and a Conversation. Her poems have appeared in African American Review, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Rattapallax, Shenandoah, and in several anthologies, including Bum Rush the Page and Role Call.

Nikky Finney is the author of three books of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze, Rice, which won a PEN America Open Book Award, and The World is Round; she is the editor of The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. She also the author of Heartwood, a collection of short stories, and is working on a novel. She has been published in several anthologies and was the scriptwriter for the documentary “For Posterity’s Sake,” the story of Harlem photographers Morgan and Marvin Smith. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers–that’s me! And why take up space telling you all about me; this is my blog, so wouldn’t that would seem rather conceited?:-) If you don’t know about me, you can just click this link here to read my bio or click the “About” button above!

I hope you will tune in for this special celebration of Lucille Clifton on Sunday, June 27 at 7:30PM EASTERN STANDARD TIME!  Here is the link to the podcast on Talkshoe.com!

A Sister's Complicated Father's Day

Last week, I had a wonderful podcast with four phenomenal Brother-poets—Reginald Dwayne Betts, Randall Horton, Marcus Jackson, and John Murillo—on Talkshoe.com (Here’s the link to the podcast, in case you missed it.).

One of those brothers, Reginald Dwayne Betts, has written a fabulous piece on fatherhood for Abdul Ali, and how to reconcile pain with forgiveness. It moved me greatly and touched a nerve.

(You can read Betts’s piece over at Abdul’s blog by clicking this link.)

I think a lot about those two issues Betts brings up—pain and forgiveness—every single Father’s day, and how it relates to Black women. There’s so much talk, all the time, about the impact of physically and/or emotionally absent fathers on young Black boys in America, how this absence affects their growth into men.

But few Black people talk about this impact on Black girls, and how this affects Sisters’ growth.

I remember when I was in high school in Atlanta, and there were a few Black girls—just a few—at my school who had beautiful relationships with their daddies. They clearly worshiped and adored their fathers, and unless they were lying, I could tell by their confident bearing, the pride that crept into their voices, that their fathers felt the same for those girls.

I have to admit now that I hated those girls. I mean, I really despised them. Jealousy would eat me up, every time I heard them talk about their fathers.

This was unfair of me to feel that way. It wasn’t their fault; truly, there was no fault to be had. Those girls should have felt good, having Daddies who loved them and cherished them.

Yet, as I sat there, in the lunchroom and listened to those girls, I felt as if somehow they had won a prize that I not only couldn’t win, I couldn’t even enter the contest for, because my relationship with my father was characterized by conflict and pain, and yes, emotional absence. It just felt so unfair.

Even then, as a young girl, I ran behind my father for love I never received.  Until the day he died, I waited for some sort of breakthrough between us, like you see in a movie. Of course, it never came, even in the days where he was dying of terminal heart disease, and I visited him, bringing books that I had carefully chosen from the public library with him in mind.

For years, I lied to myself that I hated him, that he wasn’t worth all the love that I lavished on him. Now I can admit that I loved him dearly and still do, to this day, even though sometimes I feel like a fool for keeping that love wrapped in cedar and mothballs. If I didn’t love him, I wouldn’t give him a thought, every year in June on Father’s Day, and every July: he died four days before I turned eighteen, and he was buried on my birthday.

If I didn’t love him, would I be spending this time writing a blog piece? I’d just put up something corny like, “Happy Father’s Day to all the good brothers I know!”

As a grown woman, I see so many Sisters are so invested in running after—or waiting in vain for—that elusive Black male mate. We scan magazine articles, we look at news shows such as the one ABC Nightline had on a few weeks back, and we buy books like Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, hoping that we will be allowed to enter that contest, competing for that sacrosanct Black male love.

And truly, so many of us cut our eyes at other Black women, the rare ones who have secured their Black men, who we other sisters believe are so lucky to have found their prizes, just like they did back in high school–though now the prize is the wedding ring. We suck our teeth in jealousy when the statistics clearly tell us that nearly half of us won’t be able to secure a Black male mate, not because something is wrong with us, but because the Black men just aren’t there–not for every straight black woman looking for one. Yet we ask ourselves about other Black women, “Why her and not me? Aren’t I pretty? Aren’t I smart? Don’t I have good loving? Can’t I fry a chicken seasoned all the way to the bone?”

But I believe we do this—wait and wait and wait for brothers who don’t or won’t show up as romantic mates—because we really are waiting for the daddy who never showed up.

Look, I’m not trying to get all quasi-shrink on you. Maybe you’re one of those sisters who can’t relate to what I’m saying. And if that’s so, alright, then.

But maybe, you’re one who’s waiting on somebody to say something you’ve always secretly felt inside–so I’m gone be that one who tells the truth to you. This is my truth: I’ve waited for that brother who would do all those things that I never had my father to do for me. I waited and I waited and I waited. I’ve been that Mary J. Blige song, “Father in you.” Until, that is, I gave up waiting for a brother to be my father.

I didn’t give up of hopelessness, but out of healthiness, because a man can’t be your daddy, and neither should you want him to be. Now, sometimes, understanding that fact can’t make up for a sad or bewildering childhood, but it can save you from a lot of useless pain and driving yourself Milledgeville-crazy.

(Those folks who are from Georgia will know what “Milledgeville-crazy” means. The rest of y’all got to look that up.)

My father and mother were married, and he lived with us, until finally, we left him. Before that time, he was in the house, and yes, paying many of the bills.  But like a lot of Black men, he wasn’t emotionally or physically present—locking himself in his office, typing his poems and ignoring his family—and when he was present, most times I wished he wasn’t.

He would get mad for no reason, but sensitive child that I was, I felt sorry for him even though who was feeling sorry for me?  (Other than my sweet mama, that is.) I wanted so badly to make him happy, not just for me, but for himself. Even then, I knew he had a birthright–and no, it wasn’t his “Black manhood.” It was his self-love.

He was a Black man born in the early part of the 20th century, but I don’t blame racism for who he was, because I’ve seen some Black men who are good people who didn’t have two degrees from Columbia like my father, and who didn’t come from a social worker mother, and three generations of physicians before her. Those other Black men I’d seen in the world had it way harder than he did, but they somehow worked it out. They did what they were supposed to do, and they didn’t complain about it.

But I suspect those men had loving parents, or someone who reached out to them very early on. By the time my father met my mother, that patient, sweet woman who loved him until the last bar of his blues song ended, it was way too late for him.

But as an adult, going through my own growth journey and understanding myself as a flawed individual who is trying to be better, I see now that this world is not arranged for people to be strong and courageous. It is arranged to keep people–of all complexions–in line.  In order to get better you have to fight your demons inside, and then fight folks outside your house, too. I guess my father just didn’t have that fight in him.

But he gave me gifts. My smile is my father’s and so are my dimples. My loud laugh.  My daddy loved to rear back and shout forth laughter.  He was completely unpretentious.

He was also a brilliant person who gave me my sense of intellectual entitlement—some would say arrogance. Even now, my shelf is crowded with his books. He introduced me to jazz, to blues, to opera, to classical music, to films with subtitles, and the plays of Lorraine Hansberry and Shakespeare.  And I remember one time he told me, “You are one of the smartest people I know.” I was only about nine or ten at the time.

My father’s been dead twenty-five years come this July 19th, so I haven’t given anyone a tacky tie in a long, long time. But this Father’s Day, I’d like to offer some love to other Black women who have faced every June the way I have, as a month to dread, as a month of absence and sadness over what we have missed out on for so many years. Even when we find that other love, still that Father’s love we’ll never have.

Father’s day is not just a day for other Black men to mourn and to reach out to each other, as a day of understanding and reconciliation.

This year, I want to say, Sisters, it’s our day, too. It’s alright to say this, even if only to yourself.

Tuesday, June 8 @7:30PM: "You Gotta Read This" Podcast w/Symphony

I know it’s been a minute since I had my last podcast. Things have been hectic with my writing schedule, and my constantly having to conjure up some creative mojo. I had two teeny-weeny weeks of vacation, and now it’s back to teaching summer school. But I can’t complain. I get paid pretty good money for teaching, as opposed to working for minimum wage. I always try to count my blessings whenever I’m feeling petulant about having to actually, like, work.

So, it’s time for a new podcast, and do I ever have something fabulous for you! (You know how I roll.)

Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 9 at 7:30pm EASTERN I will be talking with FOUR fabulous Black men poets on Talkshoe.com: Reginald Dwayne Betts, Randall Horton, Marcus Jackson, and John Murillo! Here’s the link to the podcast.

Together, these brothers make up the reading collective, “Symphony: The House that Etheridge Built.”  Symphony is both a literary panel discussing the life and poetry of the late, great poet Etheridge Knight, and a showcase for the poetic talents of these four brothers.

Here’s what they have to say about founding their collective:

“Etheridge Knight often said it is ‘a valid ambition to want the words you strung together to live on the lips of ordinary people.’ Today, four emerging African-American poets echo that sentiment with each line they write. Reginald Dwayne Betts, Randall Horton, Marcus Jackson and John Murillo have come together to form the Symphony. These four poets combine their voices into four movements that form one song: a multitudinous story of love, prison, fatherhood and the denizens of cities often absent from American verse. The House that Etheridge Built is part lecture, and part poetic suite. It is an introduction to the work of Etheridge Knight and an introduction to the voices of his literary descendants, all who aim to have their words live on the lips of ordinary people. The Symphony is dedicated to making themselves available to the community at large through community workshops that focus on both the youth and adults in terms of writing, reading, and literacy. In our opinion, community can be defined as: secondary schooling, community centers, after-school programs, prisons, detention centers, senior citizen homes, and academia. “

You know you don’t want to miss this podcast! Below are the individual bios of the men of Symphony.

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James, 2010) the winner of the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award in Poetry and the memoir, A Question of Freedom (The Penguin Group, 2009), which won the NAACP Image Award for Debut Literature. A fellow of Cave Canem Workshop Retreat for African American Poets, he holds the BA in English from University of Maryland and he is an MFA candidate of Warren Wilson College. He is Program Director of the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop.

Randall Horton is the author of The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag, 2006) and The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (Main Street Rag, 2009). He is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Summer Scholarship to Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown and a fellowship at Cave Canem. He holds the MFA in Creative Writing from Chicago State University and the Ph.D in English and Creative Writing from SUNY-Albany. He is Assistant Professor of English at University of New Haven.

Marcus Jackson is the author of Neighborhood Register, forthcoming from Cavankerry Books next year. He is the recipient of fellowships in poetry from New York University and Cave Canem, and he holds the BA in English (Magna Cum Laude) from University of Toledo and the MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. He teaches at Rutgers University.

John Murillo is the author of Up Jump the Boogie (Cypher Books, 2010).  He is the recipient of the Elma P. Stuckey Visiting Emerging Poet-in-Residence, Columbia College, the Creative Writing Fellowship, Fine Arts Work Center and a fellowship from Cave Canem.  Currently, he is finishing up his residency as the 2009-2010 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow, Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Department of English, University of Wisconsin.

Join me tomorrow at 7:30PM EASTERN on Talkshoe.com for my conversation with these fabulous brothers! Here’s the link to the podcast—AGAIN– and remember, if you miss it, you can download it for free on Itunes or simply go to the dark blue button on the right, to listen to a past episode.

Do We REALLY Want A New Kind of Black Man?

Tonight, I listened to an extraordinary podcast on Black Male Privilege featuring a round table with brother-scholars R. L’Heureux Lewis, Marc Lamont Hill, Byron Hurt, and Mark Anthony Neal.  The full title of the round table was “Esther Armah presents AFROLICIOUS Part 1: TROUBLE MAN: BLACK MALE PRIVILEGE. A Contradiction? An Illusion? A Reality?” Sister Armah has started a recurring forum on emotional justice, and this was the first fabulous forum in that series.

I am not playing when I say “extraordinary.” Frankly, I’ve been waiting for the last 25 years for a group of Black men to challenge other Black men on their privilege in the community—and really meant it. What was so wonderful about this forum is that none of the men expected a pat on the head for having a public conversation that Black women have been having for several decades, in public and private.

These brothers also shared their  difficulties about confronting Black Male Privilege in their own lives and in their families. For example, documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt talks about when he and his wife had their first baby, a little girl, they quickly moved into traditional male and female gender roles, much to his concern.

Hurt said that he became aware of how much more mobility he had than his wife, because she was breastfeeding their daughter. He could come and go if he wanted, while his wife could not. He said he had to really make sure that he was spending just as much time with their baby, and to keep track of whether his personal behavior was in sync with his public proclamations of gender equity.

Mark Anthony Neal talked about how the bar for Black male behavior is set so low and so any small thing that Black men do is greeted with congratulatory remarks.  Neal said that expectations for Black male patriarchal behavior—you know, the man as the head of the family—create impossible standards. First, in this economy, it’s not possible for most Black men to make all the money to keep a household going. And, further, he said that patriarchy just doesn’t work for the Black community. It’s like we’ve been trying to fit ourselves in a model that is destructive, but most folks in our community won’t believe it and keep trying to make this bad model work.

But Neal made sure to say, you know what? Just because things are bad for Black men on the outside of the Black community doesn’t mean that we don’t give them all sorts of passes for their behavior on the inside of the community.

He gave the example of Steve Harvey bursting into tears on a Christian talk show; Neal said old boy was starting to realize that all this Positive Black Male Patriarchal posturing was getting to him.

Sidebar: I can believe Steve cracking under the pressure, for real, because for one, this is Steve’s third marriage. And when a brother hasn’t confronted his own tendency to constantly chase after “strange”, sooner or later, those addictive negative behaviors are going to catch up with him. I don’t care how fine his latest wife is—the second wife was pretty cute, too and…you know the rest.

Still, we sisters take his advice for how to capture that ever-illusive legally committed monogamous relationship with a Black man. I admit it: I bought Steve’s book. I’m ashamed, but he got my $14.00 on Amazon.

But what really struck me—I mean hit me to my core—was when Byron Hurt talked about the fact that it takes so much courage to admit as a Black man that you want to confront your own privilege in your community. When you do so, he said, your sexuality is questioned.

Not that Hurt was criticizing gay men, because he wasn’t. But those of you out there who are reading this and who are Black know what he means. This is the way that progressive Black men—and women—often are silenced by conservatives who believe in patriarchy. It’s the old “bait and switch.” It is a slick trick, I must say.

When Hurt talked, there was real pain in his voice. And it got me to thinking about how sometimes, we sisters would rather talk about how we want better, more feminist/womanist, more emotionally honest and progressive Black men than actually to have those men.

Because in order to have these men, we women would have to change our own expectations of what gender roles are and change our actions as they relate to those gender roles. And sometimes—just sometimes—we don’t want to change those expectations, much less our actions.

Sometimes, I think in the back of our minds, we Black women are really hoping that the perfect macho Black male patriarch is going to show up, a man who will work all day and bring home a large paycheck, who will kill the bugs (or mice), who will get the oil changed in both cars, and who will grab us—playfully and not violently, of course—when we want him to be in charge “romantically.”

However, we also want this macho Black man to be tender and cuddly, respectful, loving, open with his feelings, good at housework—and cheerful while doing that housework—and really, really enjoy having sex with the woman on top.

Many of us sisters say that we want a Black man who’s a feminist or womanist, who is progressive when it comes to gender roles, but really, we only want to pick and choose which parts of feminism or womanism we like.

For example, a few weeks ago, I told y’all there was a tornado in my town. Well, I’m from the semi-country Deep South, and so I know that whenever there is bad weather, creepy crawly things get disturbed, but I only know that in theory, not in reality. Until, that is, the day after the tornado, when I walked into my bathroom and there–right in front of the toilet–was a multi-colored foot-long snake with a head about two inches in diameter. Ooh, Lord have mercy.

Sidebar:  My mama, who is from the actual country—no semi about it—calmly told me on the phone, “Oh, that was just a king snake. He wasn’t going to bite you. You probably scared him.” Now, how the heck was I supposed to know that? Then Mama commenced to tell me about this rattlesnake that she killed in her garden by chopping his head off with her hoe.

Have you ever noticed that country people have always seen something worse whenever you tell them about your current traumatic experience involving nature?

Anyway, back to the snake. I was terrified. I screamed. And then—I swear—I looked around for a man. This is not an exaggeration in order to make my story better. I’m serious. I actually thought I could conjure a man up from thin air. A few seconds passed, while this snake lay there, licking his tongue in and out. And I realized, ain’t no man coming and I’m looking stupid here.

So, I ran into my closet, got a chunky high heel (out of fashion from a few seasons ago but I can’t bear to part with those shoes, not just yet), and I ran back into the bathroom and commenced to hitting the snake on the head until I killed it. (There was snake blood everywhere.) Then I flushed it down the toilet.

Then, a few days later–it took a while for me to stop being frightened–I thought, this is what a feminist is supposed to do. And why not? I’m pretty sure that snake would have creeped a man out, too. The difference is, if I had been standing there beside him, a man would have been embarrassed to scream in a high-pitched voice like I had. He would have thought that screaming would make him less than a man in my eyes.

I’m just saying that if we Black women want men who are different, at some point, we’ve got to be willing to 1) either kill the snakes ourselves, or 2) take turns with the brothers hitting those snakes on the head. And we can’t complain about how if they were real men, we wouldn’t have to go near any snakes in the first place.

Sidebar: I realize that my snake story could be taken as a metaphor for a particular part of a man in his nether regions. I really don’t mean it to be. I’m not that deep.

But we also have to hold a Black man to higher (than current) standards for his behavior and stick to those standards if we want different, more tender men who acknowledge and understand their privilege in the Black community–and I’m not talking about those Steve Harvey standards about withholding sex to get a ring.

What I’m talking about is allowing a man to be scared or to cry or to have emotional wounds like we women do, and not making him feel like “less of a man” when he communicates his feelings in a way that is not rage-filled or connected to sex.  Because I don’t want somebody listening to me cry and then, taking advantage of my vulnerability or “weakness.” And I’m pretty sure, no other sister does either.

I think that those of us who call ourselves feminists or womanists need to start challenging ourselves in our own personal relationships to do what we claim to do in public. And if we keep expecting the men to kill the snakes at home while we lie to the world that we did it ourselves, nothing is ever going to change.