Thowback Jam: "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dating to an Uppity Black Woman"

Originally uploaded at Zazzle.com

Hey y’all,

Since I have some brand new readers, I just felt like spreading the some Black Woman’s Gospel again today. This is from Phillis Remastered archives. I hope you enjoy it!

Love,

Honorée

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“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dating to an Uppity Black Woman” (July 19, 2010)

………J

I have a dear friend who explained to me a while back why so many Black women have such a hard time dating out there. She says that because Black women are so devalued in the public eye—the media, etc., we become devalued personally, too. Thus, we don’t have as much romantic currency in North American society as, say, White women.

I don’t disagree with my friend, who is brilliant. Who can argue that Black women are constantly being low-rated in the media, and in rap songs played by trashy Negroes passing by in their 1965 beat-up Buicks that they put thousand-dollar rims on? The negative onslaught is obvious.

My solution to the current Black-on-Black dating situation facing Black women is to encourage Sisters to stop worrying about Black men, and to start tending to their own self-esteem. Instead of lowering standards and dating men who are clearly unworthy or worse, sharing a part of a supposed decent man with another Sister, we should start embracing our uppity. I mean, we’ve tried everything else, like throwing our pride to the side–at this point what do we have to lose by celebrating ourselves first?

I’ve already established that I am unabashedly uppity, and that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with smart, fabulous, and super-cute. But I am reclaiming the phrase “uppity”–and trying to make it positive– because I’d like more Black women to be asserting their uppity. Or rather, come out of the closet and admit that they are uppity already, and just hiding because they are afraid of people asking that age-old question all fabulous Sisters are asked: “Who does she think she is?”

Because for the past, like, forever, there has been a concerted effort to convince Black women that we don’t have a right to think well of ourselves, especially when it comes to dating. The attitude is, “How dare Black women have self-esteem when the Black community is having such a hard time?” (Like one can’t thrive if the other is doing well.)

As I told my friend, I know who my Master/Mistress is, and that is not the media, Steve Harvey, or some trifling Negro blasting misogynist curse words at me from his stereo speakers in the name of some other trifling Negro’s alleged musical/artistic license.

Above all, I am allergic to desperation when it comes to dating, and this not only includes dating Brothers, but all colors of the male persuasion. But my embracing my fabulousness does not take care of the lack of training that some Brothers have when it comes to approaching, much less “courting” Uppity Sisters.

So I decided to write an Idiot’s Guide for those men—of all complexions, because frankly, the numbers out there speak to  shortage of Black men to go around. However, even those Brothers who are there need this training, so for simplicity’s sake, I use Brothers as my first example.

Now, I don’t want anybody to get bent out of shape, so first, let me say, I am not calling anybody an “Idiot.” It’s just a way of writing a reader-friendly handbook.

And also, some men don’t dig women who think well of themselves, so if you don’t dig our kind, this post is not for you. I won’t try to convince you that if you thought well of yourself, you’d want a woman who thought well of herself, too. So don’t be leaving mean comments for me below, because it’s not going to change my Uppity Opinions, anyway. I say that with the deepest of  love and respect.

Ok, let’s break this down. These are just the most important rules, and, I hope, the most obvious.

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#1 Uppity Sisters are smart. Get used to it.

It is never a good sign when a Brother enters an Uppity Sister’s living room, sees her bursting bookcases, and exclaims “Dang! You READ all these books?!”

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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#2 Uppity Sisters don’t have a shelf life.

Because Uppity Sisters see life as a journey instead of a literal death sentence, they don’t believe that they peak at twenty-five years old and then go downhill after that. An Uppity Sister works on herself, physically, mentally and spiritually. So actually,  she’s better in her thirties and forties than she was in her teens and twenties; in fact, she’s grateful to be older and wiser. Yes, she acknowledges that some things are beyond her—like bad perms and spandex. And thank God.

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#3 Uppity Sisters are legends in their own minds.

An Uppity Sister does not pretend to play hard to get. She is hard to get. It doesn’t matter how cute you are or how much money you make. It doesn’t matter that the statistics barraging an Uppity Sister tell her that a Black woman has a greater chance of winning the Power Ball lottery while being bitten by a rabid dog on her journey climbing up Mount Everest than getting married to a Black man–an Uppity Sister is not pressed about all that, because she’s got a hustle, self-esteem, and she’s never had a problem attracting men. Ever.

So do not expect that her romantic desperation will work in your favor because she doesn’t have any romantic desperation.

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#4 If you don’t have any money, provide some services for an Uppity Sister.

Here’s the deal: nobody cares about whether you can pay your bills and it’s tacky to talk about that, anyway. If you want sympathy concerning your finances, call up your mama.

So, if you don’t have enough money to take an Uppity Sister out to dinner or the movies or the Chaka Khan concert, you need to try planting some flowers around an Uppity Sister’s house, doing three of those four loads of laundry she’s got backed up, or painting that red accent wall in her living room. Think Tea Cake from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Matter of fact, read the book, since it’s on her top ten all-time favorites list, and any man trying to get next to an Uppity Sister needs to be on intimate terms with Sister Zora, a pioneer of the Uppity Brand.

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#5 Good sex will not save The Race–great sex won’t, either.

Passing out sex willy-nilly is not one of the responsibilities of being a Race Woman. So stop with the fireside chats about “How to Save Our People”—or “African American Literature”, if you happen to be an English Professor–thinking this is going to pave the way to your getting some. Instead, try “Woman, you are so beautiful, it hurts my eyes,” or–my personal favorite–the old-school maxim, “Girl you are so fine, I will drink a quart of your bath water.”

Because an Uppity Sister has to be told how beautiful she is before moving forward with you.

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#6 Do not suggest a casual sex relationship to an Uppity Sister—let her suggest it to you.

Nothing turns off a woman with self-respect more than a man rolling up on her talking about he “doesn’t want a relationship”–even if she only wants a one-night stand.

I mean, lie to me, Pinocchio.

I’m not assuming that there aren’t any Sisters out there who don’t just get all mushy inside when a Brother rolls on her with, “Shorty, can I get some?” I’m just saying, none of the Uppity Sisters I know get turned on by that, unless there’s a little role play involved with someone they are already—ahem—well-acquainted with.

An Uppity Sister needs at least the bare minimum of courting before getting romantic, even if it’s just for her peace of mind and pride. So instead of shutting things down, shut up and be nice and you might get a little casual lagniappe, if you’re lucky.

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#7 An Uppity Sister does not share a man.

Enough said.

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#8 Try a Little Tenderness (Part One)

You don’t demand respect from an Uppity Sister. You love it out of her.

Strong women aren’t strong because they have to be; they are strong because Weak ain’t cute—even Weak-With-A-Man ain’t cute, though sometimes, those Sisters who have been broken down romantically try to convince you how lucky they are to have their piece of a man, even when their misery is screaming a Mahalia Jackson Greatest Hit at you.

A kind, dependable man who loves a strong woman is the man you want to fry chicken for, and by the way, wear very impractical, expensive lingerie at 3 o’clock in the morning for as well. He might even get a sandwich–with the big piece of chicken–and a glass of red Koolaid afterward, too, if he plays his cards right.

I think of that scene in The Color Purple (the movie), where Harpo asks the Brother who is now dating Sophia, his estranged wife, “How you gone let a woman with six kids come out to the juke joint?” (Or something to that effect.)

And the man says to Harpo, “My job ain’t to tell her what to do. My job’s to love her, and take her where she want to go.”

There it is.

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#9 Try a Little Tenderness (Part Two)

If you are kind to an Uppity Sister, expect kindness in return—not worship.

Here’s the final, and most important rule: an Uppity Sister doesn’t feel like slobbering all over you for being nice, just because there are a lot of not-nice Brothers out there. She just feels like being nice in return—that’s her responsibility, not overwhelming gratitude for finally finding this rare Canary Diamond of Black Man who actually knows how to act right.

Sidebar: And she shouldn’t slobber all over you to make you feel like a man. That’s the job of your therapist.

Definitely, if you want to get next to her, you need to be nice. That’s both simple and extraordinary, but it’s not because you are A Black Man. It’s because you are extraordinary in and of yourself, no matter what color you are.And here’s the thing: if she’s an Uppity Sister– a woman who thinks well of herself–it will be so easy for her to be kind back.

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What if Touré were White?

Originally uploaded at mediaite.com

I was on Facebook last night when a Black male friend of mine posted an article by Touré on the ESPN website, entitled “What if Michael Vick were white?”  Above the actual article was a disturbing sight: Michael Vick in “white face” with light hair and light eyes. (This article also appears in the latest ESPN magazine.)

I know next to nothing about sports, and I don’t find sports interesting, either, so I almost didn’t read the article.  (To read an analysis of Touré’s piece by someone who does know about sports, check out this brilliant post by David J. Leonard.) I knew that I would encounter certain “insider” terms about sports in a, well, sports magazine.  I only read on because of the provocative title. But luckily, I needed to know absolutely nothing about sports to understand Touré’s inflammatory and downright rude article, because it wasn’t about sports. It was about the pseudo-science of analyzing “race.”

Only in this article, Touré wasn’t analyzing the constructed concept of “race;” instead, he was making sweeping generalizations about Black culture, and reinforcing coded cultural and class stereotypes. Throughout my reading this article on Michael Vick, instead of asking myself the question I was supposed to—what if Vick were white—I found myself asking instead, what if Touré were white?

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I’m no fan of Michael Vick. I think what he did to those poor animals was horrible. And I’m also past tired of Black (and some White) folks trying to give Michael Vick a bleeding heart pass for inhumane treatment to God’s creatures and whining about he caught a bad break because he was African American. I don’t care what race he was; I think he should have done way more time than he already did.

Yes, I said it. Snatch my Black card, and I don’t care. I can always get me another one down at the Target.

But let me say that the sort of strange racial rhetoric on the other side of this debate, about the “nature” of Black men and Black culture is infuriating as well. And seriously tacky. In Touré’s defense, this rhetoric was going on long before he waded into this fray with his singular, accented moniker and “throwback jam” Enlightenment philosophy.

However, Touré’s article takes this rhetoric to the next, unsavory, near-skull measuring level. Again, this article is not about sports, though Touré begins with bloviated, quasi-lyrical language, using such terms like “in the pocket” and  (I guess) establishing his Black bonafides with the use of the Black vernacular, as when he writes:  “I’m not saying that a black QB who stands in the pocket ain’t playing black.” [Emphasis mine.]

Okay, stop.

What the heck does “playing black” mean? I’m not even a sports fan and I know that’s not one of those complicated technical terms. And if a White writer said some sort of essentialist crap like somebody “plays black” we’d be all over him. Why doesn’t Touré just start talking about antebellum slave breeding practices that produced better athletes while he’s at it? Like we haven’t already heard that one before.

Then, Touré goes on to imply that if Michael Vick were White and middle-class, he wouldn’t have been dogfighting in the first place.

One pertinent question: Would a white kid have been introduced to dogfighting at a young age and have it become normalized to the extent that he builds it into his life after he joins the NFL? It’s possible, but it’s far less likely because what made Vick stand out among dogfighters is less race than class.

Here, I want to focus less on Touré’s circular reasoning in this quote—such as, if what makes Vick stand out is his class, then why are we bringing up his race in the first place? Oh, that’s right, because we have to prove that Black folks are pathological—and more on his Clear Yankee Ignorance as well as his Clear Historical Ignorance.

As my readers may or may not know, I’m from the Deep South, where White men love them some dogfighting. White men of all classes. Matter of fact, the term “Alabama Dog Fight” definitely does not refer to an African American sporting event.

Further, according to ASPCA website, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the roots of dogfighting can be traced to “bear baiting” which began in England in mid-1800s. England, not Africa. Thus, dog fighting is not a Traditional Negro Pastime.

Then, Touré hits even lower: he focuses on Michael Vick’s absent father:

If Vick grew up with the paternal support that white kids are more likely to have (72 percent percent of black children are born to unwed mothers compared with 29 percent of white children), would he have been involved in dogfighting? I ask this not to look for an excuse but to explore the roots of his behavior. Vick’s stunningly stupid moral breakdown with respect to dogs is certainly related to the culture of the world he grew up in, which he says fully embraced dogfighting. But it’s also related to the household he grew up in.

So apparently, violent behavior toward animals is connected to your being Black and your daddy being gone. I’m just going to let that appalling statement marinate with y’all for a second.

Now, let’s come back.

If a White man had implied something illogical like being Black, fatherless, and working class predestines somebody to treat animals badly, we’d call him all kinds of racists. Or, like, call up Fox news to get him fired, because that’s probably where he’d be working.

In a recent review of Touré’s latest book,  Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to be Black Now, Randall Kennedy talks about Touré’s logical fallacies on the subject on which Touré has appointed himself as expert. It’s clear that Touré wants to distance himself from “regular” Black folks by positioning himself as “raceless” or “post-race.”

But the problem is that if Touré weren’t Black, he wouldn’t be looked to as an expert on Black culture—and the supposed intrinsic pathologies located therein—in the first place. Indeed, Touré’s stunning statements are not “post-racial” or even new. Not only is he the latest in a long line of Black folks (mostly men) who have decided to go in hard on the Black community, he’s also writing in a tradition that has its roots going all the way back to the Enlightenment period, where Immanuel Kant, David Hume and Thomas Jefferson asserted “facts” about Black people’s inferiority.

Kant and Hume “ordered” the races—and of course, Black folks were down at the bottom of all that–and Jefferson asserted that Black women and orangutans were getting it on. (I’m not lying. Look it up in Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 14.)

All three of these men—and countless other European/American philosophers, intellectuals, and scientists—asserted “facts” about Black folks with absolutely no proof of the existence of these assertions. They just made stuff up as they went along, saying whatever rude things they wanted to say about Black folks and it was taken as cultural gospel. And many people don’t even know that much of the racism that we now hear being spouted as “fact”—by both White and Black folks– were simply philosophical ramblings that solidified throughout two and a half centuries.

That was back in the day, but now White folks aren’t allowed to spout certain things in polite company—certainly not in print—and get away with it anymore. So enter Touré with his Patrick Moynihan-esque faux-truths for why Michael Vick turned out to be mean to animals.

Oh, y’all didn’t know? It’s about the breakdown of the Black family. That’s why Vick fought and/or killed dogs. It’s about about how poor Black people just are naturally not as nice as middle-class and upper-middle class folks. That’s why Vick fought and/or killed dogs. And by the way, Touré implies, poor Black people also are poor because they lack some intrinsic moral gift, not because of, like, the centuries-long economic policies in place all around the globe to keep folks of all complexions and cultural backgrounds poor.

And thus, in Touré’s logic, being poor and Black and coming from a single parent home makes one brutal. In the last line of Touré’s article, he asserts that it is only when Michael Vick has ceased to be brutal that the issue of race in his life is deemed null and void—I assume this means when Vick becomes an honorary White man, since “race” here is the code used for “not-White.”

But aside from the glaring, offensive assertions in Touré’s article, he misses the basic point. It’s so obvious I kept waiting for him to say it. See, brutality has never known race or class or color or gender. White folks aren’t naturally brutal. Black folks aren’t naturally brutal. Poor people aren’t naturally brutal. Men aren’t naturally brutal.

Nobody is naturally brutal.

All brutality needs to come to the surface is unchecked power over someone or something weaker than yourself.  That’s all. And what Touré—the ultimate “post-racial” cultural critic—missed in his article is that, in terms of wielding that unchecked power, Michael Vick wasn’t inhabiting the natural role of a fatherless, Black man from poor origins—he was just a regular, old human being who didn’t check himself. And so, when he exercised his power over the weak, Vick established himself as quintessentially “post-racial.”

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Speak Up Sister: Black Women, Hair and Exercise–A Much-Needed Survey

Just a little while back, I posted a blog post “Are you too fly to be fit?” (Click the link here to read it.) In that blog post, I included a link to a short post on Facebook by a Sister-Physician, and do you know, she actually contacted me?! It was pretty exciting, I must confess.

The sister’s name is Dr. Rebecca Alleyne who is conducting a research project on Black women, hair, and exercise. (Once you scroll down, you will see her extremely cute picture.)

Dr. Rebecca is a bad (meaning good) Sister. And she needs Black women’s help for her research. Read on (below) to see how sassy she is and everything she’s done and will do. And click here for the link to the survey.

Now, before you Sisters say to yourselves, “I do not have time for this. I have lots of stuff to do, and that does not include filling out a survey,” think about what I said in my blog post, “Sister, Love Thyself” about taking time to take care of yourself.

When have you ever known a doctor to only be interested in Black women—to do something that would help only Black women? Let me tell y’all, this is a very rare occurrence and an extraordinary one, and frankly, I feel pretty special that Dr. Rebecca contacted me. And I feel grateful to her for wanting to do something to help out Black women.

So read on and find out all about Dr. Rebecca Alleyne and her incredible work. You know you want to!

And please don’t forget to pass the word on to other Sisters. And if you are not Black or a woman, please pass the word on to a Black woman you do know, and you will be appreciated. In fact, I appreciate you already–seriously and with so much love.

If you are a Black woman, not only should we Sisters be loving ourselves individually, we should be loving each other collectively. And sometimes, sending along good information is the best way to love somebody. Believe that.

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Dr. Rebecca Alleyne

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“Survey on Black Women, Hair, and Fitness”

…………..by Dr. Rebecca Alleyne

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My name is Rebecca Alleyne and I’m a board certified physician.   I’m a breast cancer surgeon by training, but I’ve developed a strong interest in preventive health over the last few years. You may wonder why a breast cancer specialist is interested in exercise.  Recently several studies were published linking exercise habits and risk of breast cancer.  There are also studies linking body fat content and breast cancer risk, particularly after menopause.

This year I am conducting a research project on Black women, hair and exercise.   The study is a survey of Black women, their hair care habits and their exercise habits.  It’s 13 questions altogether and should take about 7 minutes to complete.  My goal is to get at least 1000 responses to the survey.  More would be even better as larger numbers mean more powerful evidence of trends.

I’m interested in “the hair thing” because of my own behavior.  When my hair is in a higher maintenance style, whether straightened, kinky, or using extensions, I don’t work out as much.  Many Black women I know report the same thing. I was curious about this.

I looked all over the National Library of Medicine and I couldn’t find a single published study on the topic.  Since I could not find a good study, I figured I’d just do one myself.  The study is a small epidemiology study that I am funding completely on my own.  There are no pharmaceutical or hair care companies involved. This is truly a grassroots effort.

Besides being a physician, I am enrolled in a Masters in Health Administration program at the University of Southern California that begins August 2011.  I plan to use the university’s resources to do the final statistical analysis and get the results published in a peer-reviewed journal.

This may not pan out, there may be no link between hair maintenance and exercise.  But I have a hunch it will.  And the only way to find out is to ask a lot of Black women some questions.

What good will that do? My hope is it will encourage women to be aware of how our beauty habits affect our exercise routines, and consequently our health.

I want every woman to find a fitness routine she loves and a hairstyle of any type that allows her to engage in that routine with no restrictions.

If you have Black female friends or family members who may be interested in completing the survey I would greatly appreciate it if you would forward this survey to them.  The more Black women answer the questions the more accurate the trend numbers are, so feel free to send to as many people as you can.

Thank you again for participating, and if you have questions or concerns about the survey feel free to contact me at rsalleyne@gmail.com.

Link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/speakupsisterexercise

Sincerely,

Rebecca Alleyne, M.D.

I’m On The Radio (Tomorrow): A Women’s Panel Discusses The Help

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Tomorrow, August 16th at 7:30am EASTERN, I’ll be on an all-women’s panel hosted by the fabulous radio host Esther Armah on WBAI 99.5FM. The focus will be The Help.

The panel consists of Martha Southgate, whose latest novel (her fourth) is The Taste of Salt. Southgate wrote about The Help in Entertainment Weekly as well as appeared on CNN regarding the film’s inaccurate portrayal of Civil Rights history; Karen Hunter, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and New York times best-selling author who argues that the film offers a possibility to measure black women’s progress from mammy to first lady; and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers—me!:-) And if you want to know who I am, click this link or the “About” button above. Also, you can read my review on The Help, too.

So join us tomorrow, August 16th at 7:30am EASTERN.  I know it’s early in the morning, but get on up on hear us–you know you want to!

Here’s the “streaming live” link! And if you miss the show live, I’ll post a link in a day or two where you can listen to the recording.

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Throwback Jam: "Sister, Love Thyself"

Photo by United Press International, 1956

Dear Y’all:

I first wrote this blog post (see below) almost two years ago, when my blog was just getting started and I had just a few readers. One of my dearest friends in the world had kept asking me when was I going to write something just for Black women, and “Sister, Love Thyself”  is what was placed on my spirit. (I’ve added a dedication for my friend, but other than that and the correction of typos and mistakes, it’s the exact same post.) For a couple of months, I’ve been thinking about running this post for my newest readers; this week seems to be the perfect time for it.

Love,

Honorée

PS

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November 16, 2009

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“Sister, Love Thyself”

………….for Crystal Wilkinson

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It’s the Rosa Parks syndrome. We Black women are taught to be martyrs, to lay our bodies on the altar of our community, in the well-worn tradition of our mothers, and their mothers, and so on and so on and so forth, so that our children—preferably, our male children—can go forth.

Before Mother Parks sat down that day on the bus, she had done all sorts of work for the community as a civil rights worker, but she wasn’t given time to speak at the historic March on Washington–neither were any other Black women, except for one lone female speaker: Josephine Baker (who had lived out of the USA for quite some time by then.)

But I can bet you all that fried chicken the male speakers invariably ate—after the March—was cooked by Black women.

Every woman of every complexion is taught—outright or by observation—to ignore her own needs for the good of others; I think that’s a universal woman thing. But I don’t know any White women who are taught that White guys just have the right to listen to songs calling them “b*tches and h*es” because it’s part of White male rage, the need for them to blow off historical steam. Unless it’s Rush Limbaugh, nobody tells White women that White guys have had it so hard in this country, so let them play their mean-spirited, woman-hating music.

And though a lot of White people, men and women, don’t believe a White woman’s testimony when she accuses a White man of rape, a White woman doesn’t have the entire White community on her back, telling her to recant.

Even Black women’s magazines differ from “mainstream” (i.e. White) women’s magazines. You never get articles in mainstream magazines advising White women to marry men who have less education than they do and/or who make less money than they do or even, to marry men who have been to prison. You don’t have articles chiding White women for being uppity, reminding them that they can’t really be too choosy about their romantic partners.

Tangent: I’ll never forget years ago, in the aftermath of that “other” March—the Million Man March—Essence magazine had this whole spread on the March. But Black women weren’t even invited by Minister Louis Farrakhan to attend the March, which was billed as a “Day of Atonement.” I kept asking myself, if this is a March for men, why is it in a women’s magazine?

And then there were my other questions: if a brother wanted to “atone” for what he had done to his wife and/or the mother of his kids, how come he spent hundreds of dollars to travel hundreds of miles away from her to say so? I mean, he couldn’t get a babysitter and take a sister out to the Red Lobster within a twenty-mile radius or something?

The notion that Black women should never occupy an uppity space means that she must feel responsible for saving the community in which she was raised; she must never get above that community, even if she hurts herself in the process. I’m all for doing the essential work to help Black folks, but it’s time for us to find a way to keep this community going without destroying Black women in the process, and one of the ways I’ve decided is just to tell other sisters, “You matter, to me and to yourself.”

In my own life, I try to give my sister-friends affirmation, what I call the “woo-woo,” a term I stole from Sinclair on “Living Single.” Remember that show? It was the precursor to “Sex in the City,” only instead of living in Manhattan, those four Black women lived in Brooklyn before it was all edgy-like.

Sinclair was my favorite character, a quirky, strange-dresser woman who looked at the world the way she saw it: through nice, sweet, loving eyes. She was the quintessential, idealized Black woman, only without the crack-addict relatives sleeping on her couch, always asking her, “Can I hold five dollars?” And whenever one of her friends was feeling down, she would pat her and say, “Woo-woo. Woo-woo.”

Whenever one of my close friends has been depressed, he or she will call me. Most have to call instead of visit, because all but two live in other states, far away. On the phone, if I hear sadness, I will ask, “Do you need the woo-woo?” And then I’ll begin my litany: “You’re fabulous. You’re so cute. The world doesn’t know your power. You are touched by the hand of God.”

Or if I’m depressed, I’ll call up one of them and say, “I need the woo-woo bad.” In this way, I can cut through the preamble, and get right to what I need, which is reassurance that I am loved and accepted, just as I am. Sort of like an emotional quickie, without the need for condoms and such.

There’s one friend I have, Kim, who doesn’t even wait for me to tell her I need woo-woo. She just knows. Kimberly is the can’t-live-without sister I’ve been friends with for thirty years. She’s the one I’ve shared every cycle of my life with. And I do mean every, if you get my drift.

Kim was the one who insisted that I start this blog. Really, she pushed me to start it because she knows that I needed to say certain things out loud, in public, even if it makes other people uncomfortable to hear them. She’s not in this crazy, writing world of mine, where the publication of a poem in a journal that only a thousand people read—out of the three hundred million people in the country—can define a person’s self-worth, and can determine whether your peers will speak to you at the annual Associated Writing Programs conference.

And because Kim and I go back so far, have grown up together, we know that when you’re a young girl, you say you are never going to ignore yourself for others; you promise yourself you’ll never be your mother. Kim and I talked about that–laughed about it– just a couple of weeks ago. It has been on my mind ever since.

If you’re a Black woman, in your secret heart, you insist you’ll never sing your Black mother’s blues song–but then suddenly, you are your mother, for better and worse.  Sure, you’ve inherited the good things, like her great skin, her cute and (mostly) firm breasts, her love of God and her recipes for cream biscuits and peach cobbler. But you’re carrying her emotional loads, too.

You’re taking care of others who can’t or won’t take care of themselves. You’re waiting in vain for somebody to say, “I appreciate you” for the work you do at home or the office. You have an inability to stand up for yourself because “ladies” just learn to suffer with grace. You’re depending on God to change the hearts of others because Jesus can work miracles on even the worst person. (We ask a lot of Jesus in this community, don’t we?)

Everyday, you’re driving yourself crazy while repeating that same “keeping it together” mantra that your mother did– and you’ve probably also inherited at least one of her health problems, too. The same extra thirty pounds.  Her grapefruit-size uterine fibroids. Her high blood pressure. Or her diabetes.

Usually, I blog about something that strikes me that I’ve read about in the news, but this issue with Black women and self-love is something I don’t need to read about, because it’s going on with me every day—in my body, in my life, in my family, or on my job. It’s also going on with all my Black female friends, whether they are married or single, child-free or mothers, and I see it with sisters I meet when I travel or who email me because they read a poem I wrote somewhere.

As a Black woman, I have to give the woo-woo to myself, if I want to do more than just survive–if I want to thrive.  And I am determined to do that. No disrespect to the mothers of our past, because they’ve given us some real gifts. But I decided this year that the Black Woman Martyr Look ain’t cute for me. I want my reward now, not in heaven, and I don’t care who thinks I’m selfish or unloving or  “un-Christian” or too loud or too pushy.

When I say “reward,” I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about peace of mind. I’m talking about health of spirit and body. I’m talking about self-love.

I understand now that sometimes, you have to fight for self-love. It just doesn’t get handed to you–not when you’re a Black woman. I strongly suspect it doesn’t get handed to anybody.  And people can stand in the way of your self-love. If you can’t be ladylike and just calmly walk around them, then sometimes, you got to learn judo in order to kick people’s you-know-whats. Then you carefully roll them to the side of the road, so you can walk peacefully on your way.

The lesson about claiming self-love and leaving some people or causes to the side is a difficult one, because we sisters want to help and maintain our community and also, honor our mothers who kept this whole thing going for so long. And also, let’s face it: co-dependence has been going on a long time in the Black community under the guise of “No brother or sister left behind.”

The girl-children–even the grandchildren– of those Black women from Mother Parks’s self-sacrificing generation are grown now, and some of us are even mothers. For those of us who still need to learn self-love–and that’s a whole bunch of us–we can’t say that we’ll start valuing ourselves only once we’re fully valued by others, love ourselves only when we’re fully loved by others, because that time may never come.

We can’t wait for God to give us our reward in heaven or for someone nice to hand us glory now. Remember what even the most self-sacrificing of Black grandmothers used to tell us, back in the day?

“God helps those who help themselves.”

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Some Post-Mammy Questions For Today

Originally uploaded at cafepress.com

Dear Y’all:

I have really appreciated the many hits on my review of The Help, and the new readers who have found my blog. I thank y’all so much for the love.

And so, for those of y’all who don’t regularly read this blog, I’d thought I’d introduce you to the real me. And if you still like the real me, come on back and read again. And if you don’t, well, I’m not going to change, and it’s been a long time since I thought about doing so. I’m not going to lie to you.

Anyway, I want to complicate this issue of public representations of Black women and ask some very difficult questions that occurred to me this morning.

Do the images of the Black Mammy and the historical inaccuracies of the Civil Rights era–the past–depicted in The Help movie do any more damage to the public image or private self-esteem of Black women than, say, the following (below) rappers calling Black women (at least one of) the following (below) various demeaning, cruel epithets in public–on their Cds–in the present?

Demeaning And/Or Cruel Epithets

H*

B*tch

Trick

Jump-off

Hooker

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Hip Hop Artists Who’ve Used At Least One Of The Above Epithets Frequently

Too Short

Ice-Cube

Dr. Dre

Snoop Dog

Biggie Smalls

Tupac

Lil Kim

Jay-Z

Kanye West

Lil Wayne

Common

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Why will we Black people rally the academic and artistic troops and write all kinds of reviews and responses to The Help, when Watch the Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West came out two days before that movie, and I counted at least 20 uses of the word “b**ch” on that Cd, and in one song, Kanye raps about throwing his personal body fluids on a woman’s face? How come that doesn’t work Black academics and artists into a blog-writing fury?

If Jay-Z’s and Kanye’s hearts are still considered to be in the “right place” when they demean (presumably Black) women, why can’t we assume that the heart of White southerner Kathryn Stockett (the author of The Help) is in the same “right place” when she produces a demeaning representation of Sisters?

I’ve heard the following excuse for Black male/female Hip Hop artists calling Sisters out of their name: “Well, if you know you’re not a [fill-in-the-blank demeaning epithet], it shouldn’t bother you.” Taking the same simple line of logic: If you’re an African American woman and you know you’re not a Black Mammy—or if you love  an African America woman and you know she’s not a Mammy–then why should The Help  bother you so much?

Sidebar: You do know I was put on this planet to cause trouble, right? I can’t help it. My great-granny was a root worker.

By the way, my regular readers know that I am not someone who uses profanity in my blog, and I do not like to publish comments that contain profanity, either. (Yes, I am a Southern Lady.) I didn’t want to water down the impact of the epithets by using asterisks, but I did, since 99% of us who are grown will know the word.

Ok, that’s all for now.

I’m hoping to have something you can feel–to quote from Sparkle for all you old heads–on Monday. Until then,  have a wonderful weekend and whether or not you come back to the blog, I hope I’ve done something good for you, even if only for a little while.

Love,

Honorée


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Chocolate Breast Milk: A Review of The Help

Warning: this review contains LOTS of spoilers.:-)

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In 1923, the Virginia chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy enlisted the help of Senator John Williams of Mississippi to put forth a resolution to build a national monument dedicated to the Black Mammy. Several prominent leaders of the African American community, including Mary Church Terrell, rallied against the monument and it was never built.

But by that time it was too late: the Black Mammy had been immortalized already in 1912 in another monument at Arlington National Cemetery, the Confederate Memorial. It depicts a “frieze” containing “six vignettes…includ[ing] a black slave following his young master; an officer kissing his infant child in the arms of her mammy…”

This is the public image of the Black Mammy, but for many of us, Black and White, we have intensely personal experiences with her.

For me, it was summer, circa 1976, and my family and I were visiting my mother’s mother, Grandma Florence. My sister Sidonie, several cousins and neighbors, and I decide we would integrate the White pool in Eatonton, Georgia. Bolstered by my mother’s donation of 50 cents for each child, we begin to walk across the railroad tracks.

We arrived at the pool, which we discovered was nearly three times the size of the pool we’d been swimming in. As soon as we placed our small Black bodies in the pool, the White children got out, but after a few minutes, one decided to get back in. The little girl spoke to me; she was about 3 or 4 years older.

“You’re related to Florence, aren’t you?” she asks. “You look just like her.”

I had never heard my grandmother’s name without a handle on it. “I am Mrs. Florence James’ granddaughter,” I said.

“Oh, I just love Florence so much! She used to clean house for us. When you go home, tell her ‘Miss Sally’ says ‘hey’.”

I talked to the little girl for a while, not really because I wanted to, but because I wanted her to notice that I kept stressing that my grandma should have a “Mrs.” in front of her first name. I used my most proper tones, but the little girl never took the hint.

This was my first experience with the figure of the Black Mammy, someone who belonged to her employers, whose love is assumed, even required. She doesn’t work for a paycheck. The money is incidental; the real compensation is her pure joy in laboring for her White employers. But she can never be an equal, even to a child. And she was my blood.

I’ve thought on that sunny afternoon many times. I was a child who’d been raised with a sense of my own middle-class entitlement, but in a few seconds, that girl stripped me of that, and reminded me of what my place was supposed to be–beneath her.  She didn’t mean the slightest bit of harm, but she harmed me anyway.

*

Yesterday, I went to see the film, The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same title, about the friendship in 1960s Mississippi between a privileged White woman and a group of black domestics. There have been several well-known Black entertainers who have endorsed the film, not the least of which is Viola Davis, the actress who plays Aibileen, the main Black character. Filmmaker Tyler Perry loves the film as well.

And there have been individual Black women online who have tried to counter the “bad press” generated by other Black women who have reviewed the movie negatively; both Martha Southgate and Valerie Boyd have been disappointed in the movie in different ways. But other Sisters praise the movie and say that we Black folks need to understand that all stories should be told. We should not be classist, especially about the past.

Yet, I write about working class Black folks and domestics in my own fiction constantly, so in this case, it’s not the story of Black domestics that I resent–or that the story the movie is based on was written by a White woman. And I don’t resent seeing Black women looking unglamorous in frumpy uniforms onscreen. I’m not embarrassed by them. Why should I be, when I’m related to women just like them?

What I resent are the tone-deaf depictions like the ones I saw onscreen yesterday. For example, there are no Black husbands in this film onscreen; there are three Black men in the film, but presumably, all of them are single. Aibileen overhears Minnie’s husband beating her when the two women are on a phone call, but we never see the man. (He’s the only physically abusive domestic partner in the movie, by the way.)

And we never find out who impregnated Aibileen years before and gave her a son. Was Aibileen’s an immaculate conception? Was she once married but now a widow or divorced? Was she abandoned by her son’s father? He’s never mentioned, to my recollection.

There are many historical issues with the film as well. The White husbands of these women are benevolent, fuzzy creatures, yet at this time in Jackson, Mississippi, the White Citizens council (mentioned only once in the film) was in full force, and they were public face of the domestic terrorist group, the KKK. We hear of civil rights activist Medgar Evers’s death, but we don’t see the killing, and there’s a vague “they” who seem to be responsible for Evers’s assassination; but again, there are no fingers pointed at any of the White men we see onscreen.

The meanest person in the film and the person with the most power is a White woman. A woman without a job. And she is cartoonish in her villainy, making it very simple to pretend she’s not real.

This film focuses on giving power to Black women, but none of them can claim that power without White assistance. Martha Southgate already has written eloquently about the fact that Civil Rights was not the purview of White Southerners, but rather Black southerners.  You would never know that by looking at this movie.

Even when Minnie, the other main Black character (played by Octavia Spencer), decides to act alone on her rage, she does so in a way that is (to me) morally transgressive; when her employer fires her, she bakes a pie using her own feces as an ingredient and feeds it to the woman in retaliation. As I sat there in the audience and listened to the guffaws of the White moviegoers at the “feces pie” scene, I could only think, what has become of a woman who gathers her body waste in her actual hands and cooks with it, in her own kitchen? Where were her children while she was stirring up feces? How can she or her home ever be clean again?

For me, it was not the humorous, empowering moment it was intended to be, but rather tragic and pathetic. It made me want to weep for Minnie. And equally as important, if Minnie had ever informed her Mississippi employer of her actions in real life, she would have been strung up and lynched, or at the very least beaten violently.

But the most disturbingly unrealistic aspect of this movie is that we never see the personal lives of the Black women who work as “The Help.” Almost every time they appear on screen, they are either tending to White others, or they are talking about White others’ goings on. To see this movie, one would think that these Black women had no other concerns than the Whites they work for. However, the White women—even the villains—all have personal lives separate from the Blacks’.

For me, the lack of Black female interior life was what angered me the most—that and the lack of any real affection toward Black children in the movie. No Black children were embraced or kissed in this film, while White children were hugged and kissed all the time, the implication being that yes, Black children were emotionally neglected, but this neglect was for the greater good: so that the children of White women could receive it all.

*

There already is Oscar buzz surrounding Viola Davis for her depiction of Aibileen. But I can’t help feeling extremely disappointed in Davis and the other Black women who agreed to act in this film. These are Black women who are plenty old enough to know the history of their foremothers but who either didn’t notice what was wrong in the script, or didn’t speak up—if they had, this would have been a different movie, despite the issues with the book.

And how many Black women who are defending this movie don’t see the serious flaws, either, the glaring historical and emotional anachronisms throughout? Instead, they are bending over backwards to try to understand a continuing legacy of White southern paternalism.

At the very beginning of The Help, Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) poses the question to Aibileen, “How did you feel, leaving your own child while you took care of other people’s children?”

That question is never answered.

Aibileen’s son’s life isn’t explored, even in flashback; she only talks briefly about the horrible way in which he died.  We only see his picture. It is as if his only contribution to the movie is to provide motivation for Aibileen’s later actions, after he’s dead. Her mother’s love, her mother’s grief, is condensed into 2 or 3 minutes. And in reality, she doesn’t claim her own voice—as a mother, as a woman, or someone who has her own inner mystery. She has no voice unless someone White is in the room.

Much has been made of Viola Davis’s acting skills, that in this one early scene the weighted absence of her silence somehow says it all. And it does, but not to answer the question posed to her; rather, it says something about the novelist who wrote this book and Tate Taylor, the writer who wrote the screenplay.

They just didn’t get it.

Nobody’s calling them racists—at least I’m not—or mean-spirited, or out to bring down The Black Community With A Big C. They just didn’t get it. They didn’t get anything about the real Black women who lived in Mississippi in 1963, those women who endured and resisted without “help” and worked in White folks’ kitchens and raised and loved Black children and hoped those children could avoid the lynch mobs to push the next generation to something better.

That story would have been a tougher one to tell–and a tougher one to swallow for a moviegoer who craved the Jim Crow Cliffs Notes; it probably wouldn’t have been funny, but neither was Mississippi in 1963.  But not only did Stockett and Taylor not get those Mississippi Sisters, they didn’t even get the universal human condition. And that’s just a colorblind shame.

Watch the Throne: A Twitter Salon

Originally uploaded at eurweb.com

Okay, so I actually downloaded Jay-Z’s and Kanye’s new CD Watch the Throne off ITunes.

Yes, ME.

I, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, in reasonably sound mind and body bought and paid for a Hip Hop CD. And it’s not my first one, either. Or my second one. I actually listen to Hip Hop. I contain multitudes like Whitman, y’all. Don’t sleep on me.

I’m also going to see the movie The Help, too. But that’s another blog post. So stay tuned.

Anyway, why did I buy Watch the Throne? Because on Wednesday (today), August 11, at 9pm EASTERN, I’m joining the critic and Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal for a Twitter Salon to discuss Watch the Throne. Along with us will be two equally fabulous and sassy individuals,  the Hip Hop scholar and Lehigh University professor James Braxton Peterson and the scholar and University of Pennsylvania professor Salamishah Tillet. (And if you already don’t know where I get my paychecks, you can discover that by clicking the “About” button above.)

You know you want to hear what we four intelligent, complex and opinionated Black folks all have to say about this CD, Jay-Z and Kanye West—and I think we might even surprise you.  But you need to be following at least one of us on Twitter to catch the discussion. Our Twitter handles are below:

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (that’s me) is @BlkLibraryGirl

Mark Anthony Neal is @NewBlackMan

James Braxton Peterson is @jbp2

Salamishah Tillet is @salamishah

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And join us today, Wednesday, August 11, at 9pm EASTERN on Twitter and see what the fuss.:-)

Coming Out of the Black Nerd Closet: A Meditation

Originally uploaded at http://awkwardblackgirl.com/

This week, The Black Nerd has been all over the web. A couple of days ago, the actress/writer Issa Rae premiered her seventh episode of The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl. This web series about a nerdy Black girl and her many humorous situations as a result of her nerdiness has become an instant classic.

By popular demand, Rae decided to extend the series by another five episodes. In order to do that, she had to raise $30,000. She started the campaign a while back, and August 11, 2011 was the deadline. She’s got six days to go, and she’s already raised $35,000—and people just keep giving money. That’s how much we Black nerds love us some Awkward Black Girl. (Click here to see all 7 hilarious yet poignant episodes) 

A couple of days ago, Rae published a piece on Huffington Post about the notion of being Black.  And she mentioned another web series that I’m now immediately hooked on as well, Black Folk Don’t, which explores the notion of stereotypes about Black folks both without and within the African American community. Here’s the first episode, and I’m pretty sure it will blow your mind just like it did mine. 

Then today, I received in my email inbox an article by Salamishah Tillet about the 25th anniversary of She’s Gotta Have It, the quintessential (in my opinion) Black nerd movie. I was a student at Clark College in Atlanta when this movie premiered, and I remember driving way out to Buckhead with my then-boyfriend to see it–and feeling as if I had arrived at the most familiar place there was. Nola was me.

No, I wasn’t that open with my sexual freakiness, and I didn’t have three lovers at the same time (something I’ve often regretted, by the way), but her quirkiness, her creativity, and her lack of shame about who she really was—that’s who I wanted to be but didn’t yet have the courage. Tillet’s article focuses on Black women’s sexuality as portrayed by Nola. But to me, the most important part of the film—and for me, what fuels Nola’s sexual liberation—is Nola’s nerdiness.

At the end of the article, Tillet asks the question, “What happened to black bohemia all grown up?”

The answer is, it went into the closet.

*

I’ve been a nerd, a bohemian, an outsider, a whatever-strange-something-you-want-to-call-it since I was born, probably even in-utero. My father held a BA and MA from Columbia University, and in the early 1950s, he hung out with James Baldwin and Grace Paley in Greenwich Village. And he dated (and presumably had sex with) many, many White women; let’s face it, dating Outside Of The Race at some time or other is one of the (expected) modern requirements for being a Black nerd.

My mother holds a degree in French from Spelman College. I’ve told this story before, that when I was born, my mother said she looked in my face and saw who I would be; she decided to name me after the French literary master Honoré de Balzac and the political writer Franz Fanon.

I was the youngest child of three, and my sisters didn’t like to babysit so my parents took me everywhere they went. To political meetings. To fancy restaurants (where my daddy watered down red wine and let me drink it). To my father’s poetry readings. And to French films with subtitles.

“I can’t understand what they’re saying, Mama,” I would complain.

“It’s all right, Baby. Just read the bottom of the screen and practice your big words,” she said.

Until I was 14, I lived in Durham, NC, a bastion of Black middle- and upper- middle-class success; at the time, it was rumored that there were 25 Black millionaires in that small city. I attended all-Black schools in Durham until sixth grade, and I was ridiculed for the way that I talked—“like a White girl”—for the food I brought for lunch—sandwiches on homemade (by my mother) organic brown bread—and for wanting to talk about the books I read at home.  Books without pictures and longer than 50 pages.

Then, I transferred to a predominantly White Catholic elementary school in Chapel Hill, the next town over, where I thought I would be so at home, but not only didn’t the White kids read any of the books I did or engage in any of my nerdy activities, but also, that’s the first place someone called my hair “nappy.”

The next year, I went to a public junior high school in Chapel Hill, again predominantly White– and that’s the first time I was ever called a “nigger.” And there was a special class set aside for the Black girls in 7th grade, and soon enough, I found out this special class was for “sexually promiscuous” girls.  The White lady who taught the class told us that Black girls were “faster” than White girls–even though the first time I ever heard about fellatio was from a White girl in gym class– but as far as I knew, all the Black girls in that class were virgins; I know I was. And after I told my mama about the class, she called up the school and gave them a few choice words. I went back to school in Durham that next fall.

*

Junior High and High School disabused me of the notion that White People Land was a place where happiness resided for Black nerds, and by the time I entered graduate school, I learned to take each White person I met on an individual basis. But sometimes, no matter how sweet my White friends were, I just got so tired of the surprise on their faces when I mentioned that I had read—not just heard—about Tolstoy. Or that both of my parents had graduate degrees. Or that I grew up in an actual house with flowers in the yard and not in the projects. I got tired of being told I was “exceptional,” because I knew Black folks just like me.

My experience of surprising White folks has continued my whole life. When I strike up a conversation at the grocery store or the mall, and I tell them I’m a tenured college professor I always get “the look.” A couple of times, I’ve even had White ladies–strangers– say to me, “Oh, I’m so proud of you!”

The White surprise is one thing, but the near-hostility from non-nerdy Black folks has been the most painful. I can take the “you think you’re so cute” accusations, because I know I look sort of different, and in a politically incorrect context, the word might be “exotic.” I’m brown with the African-Mestizo features of both my maternal and paternal lines, and I have so-called “good hair,” inherited from my mother’s mother.

But the accusations that I think I’m better than other Black people, those really hurt, and they have followed me throughout my interactions with my folk. So, I have tried to be Black in stereotypically recognizable ways. I let my accent move into the southern drawl of my mother’s folks, and I learned how to be fluent in Black vernacular. I finally got some rhythm and learned how to dance; thanks to yoga, I can still drop it like it’s hot, as inappropriate for a tenured college professor as that may be.

Sidebar: Even in the writer’s community, there are “official” ways of writing “Black,” ways that alert the reader that he or she is about to enter Black People Land. Thomas Sayers Ellis has a beautiful yet ironic poem about this in his extraordinary first book, The Maverick Room.

And I’ve seen some of these writers’ “ways to be Black.” You write poems about history. (I do that.) You write poems about jazz or blues (I do that.) You write poems in the vernacular. (I do that.) But Black people most certainly do not write poems about nature (I do that, too.) Nature writing is a Negro No-No, which is why Camille T. Dungy’s groundbreaking anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Writing is so extraordinary as well.

And I tried to make myself smaller in various ways to appease non-nerd Black folk. I cut my “good hair” down to the scalp. I stopped talking about the books I read. I dated brothers from the ’hood who always seemed to turn on me and blame me for the material lacks of their childhood; if one of those brothers broke fool in a physical way, I never would call the police on them because I didn’t want to be one of “those” uppity Sisters who didn’t understand a Black man’s pain.

It didn’t matter what I did; the charges of “uppity” and “classist” have followed me for over thirty years. But I know now that American people of all races have a hard time acknowledging the complicated ways that blackness exists. And they don’t recognize that nerdy Black people don’t always want to be White, either. We all don’t yearn to jump inside Marsha or Greg Brady’s skin.

Some of us don’t put whiteness up on a pedestal, even if we choose to marry or date or love White folks. Some of us work in predominantly White environments not because we worship White people but because we need to pay bills. Some of us love both “high” and “low” Black culture–even the stankest, most embarrassing parts of that culture. We love our history, even the painful parts. And we don’t believe that in order to be intellectually profound that we can’t eat fried fish on Fridays.

With the hush puppies, ok?

*

As a writer, I spend most of my time alone, and for the most part, I like it that way. But until this week, I didn’t want to admit that I’ve hungered for a nerdy community made up of folks from the African Diaspora; I love my non-Black friends, but there’s nothing like the cultural shorthand of people who “get” you, who might (or might not) have relatives named Pookie or RayRay, and who recognize the notion of Double Consciousness, and not just by reading about it in The Souls of Black Folk.

But I never thought I would discover a Black nerd community. I knew there were individuals who felt like I did, but I didn’t know we all were lonely and isolated, faking the funk, as it were. This week, I saw that we’ve been pretending. I found my community, and not a moment too soon. It was getting crowded up in that closet, with all my argyle sweaters and whatnot.

Now, I’m out in the open and unabashed. And me and my Black nerdy crew are rolling deep.