Join me TODAY at 1:30pm EST on Left of Black!

A few weeks back, I taped an episode of Left of Black. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this show, this is the weekly webcast hosted by the fabulous and splendid Dr. Mark Anthony Neal (aka Dr. MAN) of Duke University and produced by the John Hope Franklin Center of International and Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke.

Guess what? Today, my episode of Left of Black is airing on Duke University’s UStream at 1:30PM EST!  I’m so excited!

I’ll be talking about my Phillis Wheatley poetry project, The Age of Phillis—that’s when I make nice—and then, I’ll be talking about some more controversial subjects, like Slutwalk and Touré’s controversial article on Michael Vick, which I sliced and diced a while back on this blog. Y’all know me. I like to cause plenty trouble. (And you know you like it.)

You can catch the episode STREAMING TODAY at 1:30pm EST on the Duke University Ustream. Here’s the link. 

In addition to me, Dr. MAN will be joined by E. Patrick Johnson, author of Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a minute, so this is my opportunity to get a bit of a preview. I know I won’t be disappointed, because I’ve heard wonderful things about this timely, important book. And I’m a southerner, so I’m definitely interested in reading Sweet Tea.

So, join Dr. MAN, E. Patrick Johnson, and me TODAY at 1:30pm EST on Left of Black!

If you miss the streaming episode, you can always see the recorded episode. Go to either Mark Anthony Neal’s Twitter page (click here)   OR you can go to Left of Black’s Twitter Page (click here).

And if you aren’t following me (Honorée Fanonne Jeffers) on Twitter, you know you want to! Here I am.

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Old School Black Home Training: Part 1, Signifying

First uploaded on realdeepblues.blogspot.com

For the past few months, I’ve been threatening (to my friends) to start a new feature about manners on my blog.   Sure, there’s Miss Manners and all her books, but let’s face it. Miss Manners ain’t Black.  Yes, I said it. It had to be said.

Listen, there are different ways of moving through the manners minefield in the Black community. Traditional Negroes have an extremely involved set of home training going way back to 1619. And there is a whole bunch of us Black people who remember.

For example, back in the 1970s when I was a little girl, bad manners could get your butt whipped—or in the country, switched—all up and down two or three blocks of your neighborhood by everybody’s mama–everybody’s Black mama, that is. And then, when you got home, the news would have gotten there first, and your own mama would not only whip or switch you again, she would call up the other folks who whipped or switched you and thank them for correcting you.

And why did all this happen? Because all those Black mothers–your own and someone else’s– were trying to keep your narrow, rude behind off the chain gang, which is where badly behaved Black kids—especially Black male kids—go when they get grown.

But these days, I’ve noticed that in the African American community, there’s a real rise in Negroes acting like they don’t have no [insert expletive adverb] home training.

Now, there are just admittedly some African American fools out there who weren’t raised right. And some of them Negroes, we just have to let go. Some people’s parents were raised by wolves or something, and then, they mated with other people who were raised by wolves, and then they made them some human wolf-babies. So, all those wolf-people need prayer and that’s all we can do for them because they cannot be helped.

Again, I said it. It had to be said.

But there are some Black folks with good parents who were raised right, but then those raised-right folks left home, got in with the wrong crowd of human wolf-people, forgot what their mamas taught them and started making up–or unmaking— home training rules as they went along, like this world is some Tyler Perry version of Lord of the Flies.

And here’s the deal: I don’t pay no attention to those human wolf-people.  But unfortunately, I’m starting to also bump into these Lord of the Flies folks all over the place, folks who can fake manners long enough to sneak through the cracks of polite society but still haven’t figured out, they can’t act in certain ways and get away with it forever. Sometimes, they even roll on me 1) trying to be my good friends, 2) trying to be my boyfriends (who will one day have sex with me if they are extremely, extremely lucky and go to the mall and buy something nice for me), or 3) trying to get me to help them get jobs—putting my (hopefully) good name on the line for them by writing letters of recommendation.

This lack of Old School Black Home Training among Negroes who should know better is a tap-dance on-my-nerves contest. And then, I am placed in the very uncomfortable position of either giving these people The Heisman Hand—meaning, totally ignoring them—or lecturing them on their bad behavior.

But here’s the problem with The Heisman Hand. As I get older, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility to my Black community. I think about all those old people—including my mama—who took time with me to have those conversations and pull my coat to correct me, even when I was a young knucklehead with none of the sense I had been born with.

But then, when I move into The Lecture—trying to be a Race Woman–all I get is either a promise to do better–a promise which is quickly broken–or backtalk from people trying to tell me they haven’t done anything wrong in the first place. Both of those reactions make me mad and want to cuss folks out. But because I do have me some manners, I can’t cuss folks out. (No more.) So now, instead of cussing folks out, I am faced with the possibility of personal conflict—meaning, engaging in calm discussion with my transgressor. And that is going to involve a back and forth. Which I hate. I cannot stand some back and forth.

Y’all, despite the bold way I roll in public, I really don’t like to have personal conflict/calm discussion, because I’m afraid of going back to the Angry Black Woman Who Will Cuss You Out—an ABWWWCYO—who I was long, long ago in my twenties.  I really, really enjoyed being that person, I can’t lie. My Id and I were on first name basis. But then, I had to get me a job and work on my credit. Since most good jobs in America involve working around White folks, I had to learn to behave. Because White folks cannot stand an ABWWWCYO.

And for the third time, Yes, I said it. It had to be said. Stop being surprised when I say what we all know to be true but are just too embarrassed to admit in print. I’m not embarrassed in the least, which is why you read this blog.

So now that I have evolved into a bit of graciousness and maturity, I avoid personal conflict/calm discussion like the plague. Now, on my job, I can’t always run away, so I have learned a series of polite, labyrinthine strategies for conflict resolution. But in my personal life, whenever I imagine the back and forth that will ensue, I just seize all up–unless it’s my mama. You can’t seize up with your mama.

What does “seizing up” mean? That means, I delete all the contact information of that person and pretend he or she doesn’t exist anymore.  When the phone rings and I recognize the number, I just switch off the ringer and also, switch off that place in my mind that liked or loved that particular person. Emails are easy. I can avoid emails indefinitely. (Unless, of course, they involve my job or my writing hustle.)

But if I bump into the person I “seized up” with somewhere, and that person wants to have a personal conflict/calm discussion, I’m not having it. Because I’m thinking, why did you act like that in the first place if you really wanted to be 1) a good friend, 2) a boyfriend (who would eventually have sex with me if you were extremely, extremely lucky and went to the mall and bought something nice for me) or 3) somebody I wrote letters of recommendation for?

So I just move into Southern Belle Pretend-Warmth and Charm, smile brightly, and say, “You know what?”—my voice getting breathy and sweet—“I’ve got an appointment right now. But it’s so good to see you. And let’s talk about this later. Just give me a call. Or email me.”

And you know the rest.

For those of y’all who have been getting to know me through this blog, you know that I’m all about growth. And frankly, I do realize that it’s just not emotionally healthy to run away from personal conflict/calm discussion.  I really, really know that. And I’m working on it. I started thinking about all the Lord of the Flies people I have encountered in the past who needed The Lecture but who I was just too cowardly to confront head on and instead, gave The Heisman Hand to. I know that was kind of, like, passive aggressive. So then I thought, maybe I should just write a series of Old Black Home Training lessons for this blog, and that way, I can feel a little more powerful in the future and not so cowardly.

But also, there’s an added bonus to this new feature on manners, because although I am working on dealing head on with conflict, you know what I haven’t started working on quite yet?

Signifying.

Y’all, I’m just not in that completely healthy emotional place yet, and if I can’t avoid personal conflict/calm discussion, I can still signify on a [insert expletive maternal noun] like nobody’s business on my own blog. And if he or she happens to be reading this blog and recognizes him- or herself in a particular post, that’s definitely not my intention in the least and a complete and total coincidence.

I promise. And let’s talk about this later. Send me an email. Or call me.

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An Elegy for Good Black Men

Honorée Fanonne JeffersThose of you who have followed my blog know that I am very hard on Black men—affectionately called “The Brothers.” I will call them out on their wrongdoings and I will advise them how to be better, as if my own opinion is The Last Word.

It’s true, I get really scared about what is happening in our Black communities, and I keep hoping that one day, (most of these) present Brothers walking around will be hit with the Spirit of Old School Brothers, who admittedly weren’t perfect, but at least held up their part of the bargain.

But what most of you don’t know is that I feel I can talk so strongly about the lacks in Brothers nowadays because I have had the example of a truly good Black man in my life for fifteen years, so I know how a brother is supposed to be. More than that, I have had the example of a superlative Black man.  That man was James W. Richardson, Jr., one of my best friends in the world.

Last week, I was supposed to be celebrating the two-year anniversary of this blog. I started it on October 10 with a post about my fascination with Phillis Wheatley and writing. But right before I was preparing to write something about my blogging experience, James died. (I wish I had a better picture of James than the one on the right, but I don’t. But what I hope you can gather from that picture is that James had the prettiest teeth and smile God ever gave a human being.)

Those of us who knew James knew how smart he was—I mean, James was scary smart. I used to tell him he was so brilliant, he was near-abouts crazy. He was both knowledgeable of Hip Hop and opera, as well-versed in the novels of Iceberg Slim as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He played a mean violin, too.

And man, was James a fabulous poet! He could throw down on the page. But also, he was an insightful critic, too. Half the poems in my first book, all of the poems in my second and third books, and all of the short stories I ever wrote, I read to James on the phone. He would listen patiently for an hour or more, then say, “Now, go back to that line you read about the [whatever it was]. Read it to me again.” Then he would proceed to tell me how to make the poem better.

Only a few people in my life know that, along with my mother, James was my creative muse. Everything I wrote, I wanted to make sure James would say, “Well done.” That includes this blog.

James and I weren’t romantically involved. We weren’t physical lovers, but we were passionately-loving, platonic friends. He is the only person in my life who was as mushy as I was.  At the end of nearly every phone conversation we ever had, I would say, “I love you” and James would say back, “And I, you.” Sometimes, I would call him “Big Poppa” and he would call me “Big Country.” (Very few people know me well enough to use that pet name.)

I could say that I loved James because he was kind. He was. I could say he was brilliant. He was that, too. And I could say he was loyal, and James was the most loyal man I ever met. He would—and almost did several times—beat somebody in the middle of the street who insulted me. James did not play when it came to me, any of his other friends, or his family.

But the real reason I loved James so completely is that he knew how much I loved him, but he never tried to take advantage of that love.

When I met James, I was in my late twenties, a survivor of rape, and I just beginning to recover memories of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of my father. Let me tell y’all, I was a walking, throbbing emotional wound. I was a grown woman but I might as well have been ten years old, for all the sense and wisdom I had. I don’t even know how I survived that time.

I needed a lot of emotional care and I needed a Black man to trust, someone who would not try to exploit my emotional naïvete for his own purposes. James was that man. He was a true brother to me. I always felt safe with James, and I stayed many times in his apartment–he would give me his bed while he slept on the living room floor–just him and me, cooking for him, and helping him fold his laundry while watching The Jerry Springer Show, which as brilliant and cultured as James was, remained his guilty pleasure.

And yes, James was a straight man. He had several romantic relationships with women during the time I knew him. But he didn’t need to be having sex with every non-relative woman in his life to feel good and powerful—he already was that.

James used to tell me that once someone had been loved by me, that person never forgot the depth of my love,that I loved so well and so strongly. I wished I had been able to tell him that same thing. I think about something that James used to say, which is that most Black men who behave badly—or even, abusively—are responding out of need to be loved. But they don’t know that; instead, they turn against the people who could give them the love they need–their Sisters.

James used to say, “I’m glad I know the power of a Black woman’s love.” Well, I know the power of a Black man’s love, because I’ve had the best kind there ever was. I had it from James. No, what James and I shared wasn’t romantic love, but that’s all right. I finally know that now. I’m just sorry it took me all these years to realize, any kind of love is its own excuse, protection and gift. How many of us have realized that?

How many of us have known the power of having another human being to look us in the eyes and say, “I accept, love, cherish, and respect you, just the way you are, with all your flaws and all your profundities and I will never harm you”? I’m blessed to have known that power, and not a moment too soon.

When I think about James, and the unconditional, strong—and clean—brother-love he gave me, I think of the last line in one of my favorite movies, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. (A movie about flawed but good, honorable Black men.)

“Rich men could never have that kind of power. And precious few lovers could be that satisfied.”

I miss you and I love you, Big Poppa, you do-right, stand-up, Black man. If I play my cards right down here, I’ll see you one day up in heaven, and I promise, Big Country will make you all the biscuits and fried chicken you want.