On Being Black and Being Sat in the Back of Literary Events

Rosa Parks: an introvert who changed the world.

I wish I could find a phrase that instantly informs the sweet, perfectly nice, very liberal and progressive white organizers of literary events that if you’ve only got four black guests in a room of over two hundred, you don’t sit one of those black guests in the back of the room, especially if she’s been nominated for a prize.

Not near the back.

In the back.

In the back, by the doors, which open up on the left to the women’s bathroom and on the right to the man’s bathroom.

I wish I could remind the organizers that when one of the honored, invited guests is an older black lady from the Deep South, being sat in the back of the room by the doors which open up to bathrooms might trigger her racially and make her think of Mrs. Rosa Parks.

Being in the back might make an honored, invited, black guest feel ashamed. That might hurt her feelings.

That might make her wonder, did you really mean to honor her, or did you mean to remind her that she’s not as special as she’d like to think she is?

And why were you so nice to her and, in the past, why have you talked about racial politics–and yet, you can’t pick up on what sitting in the back of the room means for a black person from the South?

That might make your honored guest feel insane.

That might make her run a dozen, strange scenarios in her mind, when she needs to be getting sleep so she can get to Church the next morning. It might make her miss Church, where she was supposed to be praising the Lord, Who has assured her, there are no Negro seats in Heaven. Everybody gets to sit up front when they get to Glory.

I wish I could find something to say that would seem kind and polite, but in all these years, anything I think of seems ungrateful–after all, I’m an invited guest. Considering who my ancestors are, I should just be happy to be there. My unspoken objections have seemed angry and, well, BLACK.

Whenever I’ve practiced my objections in the mirror, they have made me feel like crying. And if I actually uttered those objections to someone and actually started crying, that would make me seem like a hysterical woman of any race. And I don’t want to be that person.

And I don’t want to hurt my literary career by making trouble. I want to be the “good” black person that white people love to be around. I want to be life of the party–but not in an Uncle Tom way. I want to be fun, but not too fun.

I want to make money from my writing. And if I make money, at some point, somebody will think to put me in the front of the room.

But at this age, I’ve started wondering, I’ve got maybe thirty-five or forty years of life left. And when will this mythic-sitting-in-the-front-of-the-room moment happen for me? Haven’t I been “good” for a really, really long time? How much money do I have to make to sit in the front? Is there a specific, monetary amount down to the cents?

Once, I was really excited not to be sat in the back. I was in an auditorium for the event. I was an invited guest at the event–although I hadn’t been invited to the luncheon, nor to the dinner, which really hurt my feelings, but looking back, this was probably a good thing, because sometimes, I get tired of eating by the bathroom.

Anyway.

I’d been escorted to the second row of the auditorium. I was thrilled. And then, right in the middle of the event, someone white approached me. She was an official with the organizers of the event.

Whispering, she told me, I had to move to the back. I whispered back, and I asked why, and she said, there wasn’t any room for me to sit on the second row. I glanced around. I was surrounded by empty seats. I gestured to those seats, and she said, those seats were being saved for someone else. Honored guests.

I really wanted to cry, but in a normal voice–not a whisper–I told her, I wasn’t moving.

Whispering, she told me, I had to move.

I told her–still in my normal voice, which was trembling a little bit– please stop talking, because I really didn’t want to cause a scene.

Then, I looked ahead into space, just like Mother Parks. I hoped my ancestor was looking down on me from Heaven where she sat in her front seat. I hoped she was pleased.

Crying Foul On The Faux: Hip Hop Feminism

When I started this blog, I noticed the number of Black people who call themselves “cultural critics” or “public intellectuals.” I thought that was great. The more of us who are looking at the Black community’s issues and looking for kind, human ways to solve them, the better.

But then, I noticed there were a few people who espoused so-called radical politics, but who seem to be reinforcing the “okey-doke”: the same-old status quos in the Black community, just with a fresher, younger vocabulary. Some of these people called themselves “Hip Hop Feminists.” And in order to get along as a new and struggling Black Public Intellectual (BPI), I bit my tongue sometimes about glaring disconnects between what these folks said their politics were and what actual agendas they supported.

Despite my troublemaking stance, I keep quiet for my own good. I did that because in the Creative Writing community, I’m already known for having a hard time keeping my mouth shut, which is (probably) why I’m not a famous poet and paid in full.

I can get on folks’ nerves. And I can be abrasive as well. But I’ve noticed that I tend to be abrasive when someone I thought was supposed to stand for one thing all of a sudden does a complete turn. And the turn happens usually in the process of “branding” him- or herself in some way that’s supposed to further an academic career, either one already existing or one just beginning.

Kind of like I pretended to be all bold and “keeping it real” but actually, I kept quiet because I wanted to be known as a BPI. Get it?

Now, nobody ever said I was Black Girl Jesus. (I have my flaws and faults; I’m sure you’ve noticed some of them already, if you’ve been reading this blog.) But I can say, my blog doesn’t count as a real “hustle” for me and it doesn’t further my “real” career, either. First, a blog doesn’t count as publication at my university; I have to produce a book-in-print to be promoted to full professor or get a merit raise. Also, since most of the well-regarded BPIs out there hold doctorates and I don’t, I’m also excluded from that cohort as well. I hold a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and I don’t teach cultural studies or literature, etcetera , I teach kids how to write poems and short stories.

I started this blog by myself. It is completely homegrown, and it costs only a few dollars a year to maintain. As you can see, it’s not fancy in the least. And to date, I’ve never been asked to offer my “expert” opinion on some part of Black culture in the mainstream media; nobody ever asks me to speak for “Black people,” only for “Honorée.” As I’m fond of saying, this blog is for me, my mama, and people who need me to keep it real.

Anyway, a few days ago, I was in the middle of my regular, twice-weekly, online rant on Jay Z, the rapper I admittedly love to hate. I said that I looked skeptically at any feminist who supported Jay-Z’s work, and that it just wasn’t possible to lift up a misogynist and be a feminist at the same time. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was by the irate response from several Twitter folks, not the least of whom was Dream Hampton, Jay-Z’s ghostwriter for his book, Decoded, and his actual friend. (I didn’t even know Ms. Hampton followed me on Twitter. I must say I was very flattered, even though she got me told in front of God and everybody.)

Then there were other women, several of whom identified as feminists, who used the sad and ridiculous excuse that in “99 Problems,” Jay-Z wasn’t referring to women as b-words, but rather, men.

Oh, okay. Then that makes all the rest of the b-word and h-word references in his music absolutely acceptable. I’m completely nose-deep in The Jay-Z Fabulous Koolaid now.

Here’s what precipitated my rant (other than, of course, the fact that I don’t understand how a marginally talented and very rude and mean-spirited guy like Jay-Z is now King of Hip Hop, when there are much more talented MCs out there who even seem to have some home training): Supposedly there was a poem a few days ago in which Jay-Z had agreed to stop using the b-word, because of his love for his brand-new baby girl. Then, there erupted many thousand Facebook and Twitter beefs between those people who wanted to hold Jay-Z accountable for his past behavior, and those who were saddened or, indeed, enraged by the accountability crew’s refusal to forgive.

But then, in the middle of all that uproar, Jay-Z’s “poem” was discovered to be a forgery. His representatives issued a public statement to that effect. Which basically meant that Jay-Z reserved the right to call women—and let’s admit it, Black women—the b-word. The h-word was never even part of the discussion, by the way.

As I pondered what had happened, I ran through my memories of other “feminist” BPIs who had supported Jay-Z’s music in the past, talked about his brilliance in Decoded—a book that wasn’t even technically penned by him, but by Dream Hampton, a Black woman—and who most recently, made excuses for his grave and years-long misogynistic speech-acts.

And I wondered something: how many of these Faux Black Feminists find themselves caught in the middle of issues that require them to demonstrate, like, actual feminist principles instead of, say, hustler principles? For example, if you brand yourself as a male or female “Hip Hop Feminist” and then, it occurs to you that a “Hip Hop Feminist” might be, like, an oxymoron, then what? You have to start your career all over again, and you have to reestablish your brand, too. And who wants to do that?

But guess what? If  you’re sitting up on the TV or radio, representing Black people or Black women, saying that you are an activist in the service of Black woman’s empowerment but you are not demanding Black public cultural behaviors that promote Black woman’s empowerment, that’s not cool. And that’s not honest, either. Your career is how you make money. Helping Black women is supposed to be about your heart and soul.

I know what I’m saying is provocative. And I know that this post is going to lose me many BPI connections that I have built over the past year and a half. And that thought both saddens and scares me. But you know, as my granny used to say, “It just bees like that.”

As a poet who does not have a Phd and most importantly, who’s never made a dime as a cultural critic, I have not only the opportunity, but the responsibility to challenge what I believe are some very damaging BPI practices going on right now, by both Sisters and Brothers.

I have the responsibility to say, there are principles for a cultural critic who purports to help the Black woman. It’s one thing to write about the brilliance and artistry in Hip Hop music. It’s another to tether one’s feminist politics, career, and popularity to Hip Hop’s MCs (and their cults of personality), the overwhelming majority of whom damaged both Black women’s public image in the White “mainstream” as well as her self-esteem in her own Black community.

And it is very hypocritical to pretend that Hip Hop culture has been positive, when it has not only supported misogyny against Sisters, but also, created an ugly dynamic that attempts to dismiss as “classist,” “racist” or “generationally out of touch” any critics who want to hold both the MCs and the culture responsible for the normalization of misogyny within the Black community.

I’m not saying real Black Feminists don’t like to dance to Hip Hop music or don’t like the beats. We do. I’m not saying there aren’t some great non-commercial MCs. There are, indeed. But I am saying that Hip Hop culture is not about to save any Black woman. Real Black feminists don’t keep shaking our booties on the deck of the sinking ship, SS Hip Hop, just because after everyone has drowned, we hope we might find a lifeboat and then, some dollar bills floating on the top of the water.

And we don’t tether our feminist politics to a cultural institution that has degraded Black women out loud, in public, and gleefully for over fifteen years now and counting. Sure, we can invest in intellectual production on Hip Hop Music—articles, books, speaking engagements—but we can’t push a personal political agenda of Hip Hop Feminism when female empowerment is not at the top of the Hip Hop agenda, but rather apologizing for Hip Hop culture is at the top of that agenda.

To wit, “Yeah, okay, MCs talk real, real bad about Sisters, but the music is brilliant. And you know, sooner or later, Yeezy’s going to get him some therapy.”

We must take an honest look at our Black Public Intellectual brands. And if those brands are not consistent with what—and who—we say we stand for politically, then we have to change accordingly. Or, we should stop pretending. Because despite what Hip Hop has told us, the hustle is not the ultimate goal. The mental and emotional health of the Black community is.

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Dr. King Died So You Could Call Me Names (And Other Truths)

I attended a Historically Black College, and King Day was a super big deal. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, so that meant that the Alphas on the campus of Talladega College, my alma mater, used to go crazy on the holiday, which was both a day of pride and sadness, considering the way that Dr. King died.

The question would be asked, what did Dr. King make his sacrifice for? In The Untelling by Tayari Jones, one of her characters is fond of saying, “Is this why Dr. King died?”

Back then, the responsibility hung heavy on my shoulders and those of my peers, and though that burden was ponderous on King Day, it rested there throughout the year.  If we failed, we failed the same community King shed his blood for. The question of why he died—the ultimate message of his sacrifice—was  broached by African American community as a way of reminding us of great responsibility.

King did not die so we could become criminals. King did not die so a Black man could beat his wife or rape a woman. King did not die so we could drop out of high school before graduation.  And so on and so forth, etcetera. And those were the big things.

But not calling another Black man or woman out of his or her name, well, that was the absolute minimum.

Okay, so now, you’re thinking I’m the millionth Negro who’s writing an essay to say, Dr. King did not die so we could call each other n—-r or  b—h or h-. But guess what? That’s not this blog post. This blog post is about difficulty.

See, dying is a hard thing. In fact, it’s the hardest thing there is. There’s no coming back from death, and despite my Christian faith, I’m not sure there’s anything beyond death. It could be nothing, a nothing that goes on forever and ever and ever.

And if dying’s the hardest thing there is, and Dr. King did that, why are we living, breathing Black intellectuals so afraid that we won’t be liked anymore by other Black people that we won’t tell Black people the truth?

So, in celebration of Dr. King’s birthday, I’ve decided to be that rare Black intellectual who’s not afraid of risking my Black Passport by telling other Black people things they don’t want to hear. I’m going to tell the truth.

First things first.

If you are African American and you call another Black man (or woman) the n-word even if it’s not in real life but on a record, you’re not creating art.

Art is hard. Art is difficult. Calling someone a mean name is easy. You are not smart if the n-word is the first word you reach for. What you are is lacking in imagination. And you’re embarrassing me, The Race, and your mama.

Yes, using the n-word falls under your freedom of speech. And it’s also my freedom of speech to tell you that growing up in the ghetto and then making a lot of money does not mean you’re a genius. It means, your setting such a low bar makes it easier for me to make a living as an academic because anybody with a vocabulary above fifty words who went to graduate school will really look like a genius compared to you.

I guess I should thank you profusely, but again, you’re embarrassing me. And since you might not know what “profusely” means, it wouldn’t matter anyway.

Want to call a Black woman a b—h or h-? Okay. Go on ahead. But again, that means you have a lack of creativity. It also means, while you might be telling the truth when you say you love your mother, wife or baby daughter, you might consider that it is truly possible to treat your family right while treating others badly so you can still be a bad person. Just ask CEOs of Fortune Five Hundred companies or read about slave masters in a history book. An actual book, not one on tape.

Here’s some more truth: I walk into a classroom and look in the faces of my White students and wonder, how many of them think it’s okay to consider my Black female skin and think I’m nothing but a receptacle for sex, if my brothers already have talked about me that way and nobody has ever made a real effort to stop it—even the people who are supposed to know better, like Black public intellectuals and Sisters who call themselves feminists.

Let me keep going with this whole truth thing.

It’s the truth that sometimes, I want to pack my belongings in a rag on a stick and take the next Underground Railroad Train out of this Black community and start A New Race.

And that’s just when I get embarrassed about the name-calling.

Don’t even get me started on the despair I feel about Black-on-Black crime, the Black men who rape or kill Black women or each other, the Black men who won’t stay and be fathers to their children, the drug dealers (sometimes who are Black women) in our community. All those things we can help, and those things we can’t really blame on White people—but there is liable to be some Black intellectual with a Phd who will find a loophole for us to act like fools, probably concerning something White folks did to us before the telephone was invented.

I know a lot of Black people are just like me. I suspect those intellectual Blacks who talk about “Post-Race” aren’t really trying to move this society forward. They’re just sick and tired of The Present Black Race they have to belong to, people embarrassing upstanding Black folks with their bad behavior, and then, in order to own A Black Passport, we upstanding African Americans have to get in line and pretend—or be called sellouts.

Some of those Post-Race folks feel the same way I do: As much as I want to help Black people, loving this community sometimes feels like I’m in love with somebody who beats me, and who will eventually be the death of me. And then, who will marry a younger version of me, only to beat her to death, too.

We’re getting to a place where those of us Black folks who are surviving and thriving are being faced with a terrible choice: should the small number of us forget “linked fate,” turn our backs on centuries of shared history to save ourselves, or should we sacrifice our lives for the community, as King did?

I’ll tell you the final truth—a truth I’ve never admitted in print: sometimes I just can’t stand the Black community. Sometimes, I shake in anger when I see how we will justify any crime, large or small. Sometimes while I love my own Black self, I hate certain kinds of Black folks. Certain kinds. The ones who embarrass me and fill me with despair, I mean.

I wonder if that’s how Dr. King felt, in the years before his death. Not all the time, maybe not even sometimes, but every once in a while. When he thought about the negative aspects of this community, was he embarrassed? Angry? Contemptuous? Or even, hateful?

After all, Dr. King wasn’t Jesus Christ. He was just a man. So maybe Dr. King did experience those feelings, but still, somehow he had enough love for all Black folk–even the tacky ones– to stay with us. Enough love to lay down his life for us. That’s really something.

And I think about his profound love, not just on his birthday, but many other days throughout the year, when I remain with my Black community, despite everything, and I try so hard to keep reaching for love myself.

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Old School Black Home Training: The I-Need-A-Recommendation Edition

A while back, I promised that I would start a series of blog posts that would “tutor” folks on old-fashioned African American manners. I thought no one would like that idea, but to my great surprise, I received a lot of encouragement to continue my series—and not just from Black people. Apparently, White, Native American, Latino, and Asian folks are fed up with folks of all complexions with no home training, too. So, I decided to keep this party going.

My latest home training lesson has to do with people who are in search of a professional favor, and how they should  act when asking for that favor. (Thus, the “hand out” in the picture.)  I’m writing this post now because this is letter of recommendation season, and a lot of folks are reaching out to older and/or more accomplished folks for letters of recommendation. For those of you who are doing that, I want to pull your coat before you make a fool of yourself. Even though the title says “Old Black School Home Training,” again, this is for all all races, complexions, backgrounds and genders.

As someone who is not famous in the least, but who nevertheless holds a tenured university appointment, I do have plenty folks who come to me for professional favors. These favors fall under what is called “service,” which is the equivalent in the academic world of community service. In other words, I don’t get paid for professional favors; all I get is a “thank you”—hopefully; we’ll get to that in a minute—an “I’m nice” feeling inside, and some credit from The Man/Woman Above.

Professional favors include things like letters of recommendation. These can be for students for graduate school or jobs, for professional peers’ tenure file, or for mentees’ fellowship applications. Also, writing a blurb for the back of someone’s book is a professional favor. All of these things—a job, a spot in graduate school, tenure, a fellowship—help to move someone’s career forward. So, I ask you, why is it lately that when someone asks me for a favor, all but a very few of these people don’t act like it’s a favor?

For example, a few years back, a young Black woman who had asked me to be her mentor and who had used me for a refernce asked me for a letter of recommendation. Correction. She wrote me and said: “I need you to send a letter of recommendation to this particular place.” No “please.” No “thank you.” No “I really appreciate your time.” Unh-uh. None of that.

So, I wrote the young woman back an email and told her that I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but even when someone was a friend and little “play-sister” to me, her approach was not an appropriate way to ask someone for a letter of recommendation. I was thinking of my younger self—the self who didn’t have a lot of sense– when I took the time to write that email and I took pains to include lots of kindness because I didn’t want to be cruel. Though I didn’t say so, I know I didn’t always act the best in the past and I wanted to give her an opportunity to get herself together.

But you what? She didn’t get herself together. This child wrote me back a four page email letting me know I was very condescending. I didn’t even bother respond—or pray for her rude self, either. I just gave her The Heisman Hand and went on about my business, which would be working on my own writing hustle.

But now, I see kids/young folks/even very grown folks who are perfectly nice but who have no idea how to approach folks for favors and I feel badly about deleting their emails—even as I’m scared to personally correct. So, I’ve included below some things to consider when asking someone for a professional favor.

#1

If you were a student of someone and you know you dogged that person out on the teaching evaluations, don’t ask for a letter of recommendation. Similarly, if you have thrown shade on somebody in a public forum and you know this might have gotten back to him or her, do not have the colossal nerve to ask him or her to recommend you for a job, fellowship or tenure.

Why would you want someone you don’t respect to recommend you for something? What kind of sense does that make? Nonsense, is what kind.

#2

If you haven’t talked to this person in a long time, you should consider putting off asking him or her for a professional favor until you can get reacquainted. If you don’t know him or her at all, don’t even think of asking for a favor. Facebook friends does not count, okay?

I have had students from eight years ago show up at my office or write me looking for a letter of recommendation, and not only don’t I not remember the student’s name, I don’t even remember his or her face. If you live close by, consider visiting the person in the office, or offering to take the person out to coffee or lunch. He or she may not take you up on the offer, but the gesture will be appreciated. Or, start up an email correspondence before you launch into what you need.

#3

If you are asking a much older person for a professional favor and you have never been on first name basis with that person, don’t assume familiarity by call him or her by first name.

Put a handle on that name, like “Professor” or “Ms,” even if this person taught you twenty years ago and you now have gray hair. Some people don’t like familiarity. Don’t be lecturing them about that, talking about times have changed. Just don’t be familiar. Don’t you need a favor?

#4

Do not begin your professional request email or phone call with “I need such and such.”

Look, even if you are close friends with someone, who wants someone to who has what my mama calls “a handful of gimme and a mouthful of much-obliged”? Ease into your favor. Ask how the person is doing. Make some polite small talk before you start talking about what you need.

#5

Let the person know that you know how valuable his or her time is and that you understand if the answer to your request is “no.”

I’m busy as all get out. I’m always working on a book. I start working on the next book while I’m finishing the present book, because I don’t like Postpartum Book Depression. So when someone asks me for a favor, I have to set my work aside for a few days to get that favor done. And let me tell you, no writer ever wants to do that, but I will for a polite, kind person.

#6

Even if you have known someone for a while or this person has written you a letter of recommendation before, do not assume recommendation is a gift that will keep on giving. Approach each favor with a lack of presumption.

I despise presumptuousness in folks. I remember all that correction from my mother, from my granny, from Black teachers, from ladies in church, from my mentors, and even Black female strangers I would encounter at the Walgreens. I didn’t put up with all that correction and do all this work on myself for some little poo-butt who barely knows how to pee straight coming at me assuming that my professional time is his time. Frankly, I appreciate reticence when someone asks me for a favor because I’ve always been reticent when I asked someone for my own favor.

#7

Even if you believe you are the professional equal of someone, remember that your asking someone for a favor puts you below that person professionally—if only for a moment. Act accordingly. That means act with some danged humility.

For about two years now, I’ve been having Black poets I know roll on me for favors like blurbs, manuscript reading, and letters of recommendation, yet they always roll on me with a “hey what’s up” attitude, like we are equals. I had a stranger ask me for a blurb and say, “You should be familiar with my work from such and such journal.” Uh, no, I’m not. Not only hadn’t I heard of her, I hadn’t heard of that journal, either.

Unless you have accomplished what I’ve accomplished, you are not my equal, and I don’t care how much “dap” and how many free t-shirts you get at the Associated Writing Programs bookfair. And further, if you were on my level in the first place, you wouldn’t need a letter of recommendation from me; I’d need one from you. So act like you know.

#8

Do not try to micro-manage your recommender’s letter of recommendation. Meaning, do not tell your potential recommender what he or she needs to include in the letter. This is very rude and might get you The Heisman Hand.

When someone gets the recommendation form or logs into the online recommendation site, it will tell the recommender what needs to be included. Plus, most of us have done this at least fifty times. We don’t need your input, unless there is no form and no site. And even then, just say, “Professor Doe, it is suggested that you address such and such in your letter, although that is completely up to you,” and we’ll get the hint, okay?

#9

Finally, follow up with gratitude after the professional favor has been received.

A “thank you” email is the very least you owe someone who has done you a professional favor. But what is more appropriate is a thank you card. It’s unethical for someone to suggest that you give gifts in exchange for his or her doing you a professional favor, and so, that will never come up. But if you choose to send a “thank-you” gift all on your own, no one is going to turn down your gift, either.

And if you receive that job, admission into graduate school, fellowship, or tenure, you need to let that person know that you are aware that the letter of recommendation helped you reach that goal. Remember, consistent gratitude is key to asking and receiving professional favors—because you never know when you might need another one.

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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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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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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Are You Too Fly To Be Fit?

Originally uploaded at www.swaymag.ca

Some of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while (or who are friends with me on Facebook) might know that I’ve been working on my health on a continual basis for the past year.

Since November 2009, I have had (much-needed) uterine fibroid surgery; I gave up sugar (and I thought I would stab myself through the eye, I was so miserable, but now I’m completely okay); and I gave up eating meat and fish, though I don’t call myself a vegetarian because I must admit that in the past year, I’ve cheated four times.

Sidebar: I know cheating with the meat or fish makes me a very bad person, but I don’t feel bad about being a very bad person. I eat far fewer dead things than the average American, I recycle, and I drive a really small car that doesn’t use much gas, so maybe God will forgive my occasional carnivorous lapses. And if I ever get solar panels on my house, I’m hoping to get my express ticket into Them Pearly Gates.

Other than changing my diet, the biggest hurdle for me was exercise, which I began in real earnest this May. I went public on Facebook with my thirty-day exercise commitment, which meant I would work out for at least thirty minutes each day for a month. I kept that commitment and after the month was over, I kept going, though I now rest one or two days a week.  It was plenty hard at first, but now, it’s part of my daily schedule, even when I don’t want to be bothered. And sometimes, no, I don’t want to be bothered. But I do it anyway.

But since I’ve started on this journey, I’ve encountered many Sisters who won’t begin this same healthy journey, and not because they don’t have time or they have too many responsibilities. No, they won’t start because they insist on being cute twenty-four, seven.

The estimates are that 67 percent of Americans are overweight and obese. That’s really bad. But according to the website GirlTrek: A Challenge to Black Women and Girls, 80 percent of Black women are overweight.

So what’s up with that?

Well, some of it is about how we eat, sure enough. Byron Hurt’s film-in-progress SoulFood Junkies touches on some of these issues. (You can see a teaser for the film by clicking this link.)

Our steady diets of beloved traditional African American cuisine don’t help us any. For example, out here on the prairie where I live, when I go to a “Grown and Sexy Set” at a club (i.e. a gathering of adults who are over-35), there is liable to be a vendor selling some form of grilled pig meat at that club.  Hot links, ribs, etc. The “healthy” alternative is fish fried in (probably) some form of trans-fat.  And then, folks be drinking brown liquor to wash all that mess down. I mean, dang.

Sidebar: I can’t tell you the number of Black folks out here who have looked at me with disbelief when I say I don’t eat meat on a regular basis. The shock I receive after I mention my dietary changes is about the same as if I said I receive nightly visitations from Martians and we do the Dougie together all night long.

Some Sisters noticed that I had dropped a few pounds—and added much needed (and let’s face it, cuter) muscle tone—and asked me how I did it. And I was shocked to discover that many of them refused to exercise because of their hair. I’m not talking one or two Black women, either. I’m talking a lot. (That doesn’t even include the fly-but-obese Sister who said she couldn’t do push-ups because she was afraid she would break her nails.)

So then, I started talking to my other Black women friends who don’t live where I live, and they told me their anecdotes about Black women who won’t work out because of their hair.  And I gotta tell y’all, I don’t think this is just a phenomenon of only a few Sisters.  I think this is rampant.

When I googled, “Black women, hair and exercise,” all sorts of links popped up, including an article about a study done on the subject. (Click here to read the article.) And a “viral” Facebook note, “Black women, hair, and exercise: Let’s get moving!”

Despite having what some (ignorant) people might call “good hair,” I do have my own hair issues when it comes to working out. Years ago when I was in graduate school, my mama used to press and curl my hair; I would drive an hour and a half every two weeks to go see her. In between, I had one of those old-fashioned rain bonnets I had purchased at the drugstore—I don’t even know if you can find those things anymore—and any time the sky became cloudy, I would whip that thing out hysterically and wrap it over my head.

And anytime I sweat, my hair would go back. And then, that would require an elaborate ordeal of combing my hair out, oiling it profusely—you could fry a chicken in all that grease I put in my head—and rolling it back up to restore it to a semblance of the Hair Beauty that my mother bestowed on me. So finally, I just gave up working out altogether.  And got even fatter and unhealthier than what I already was.

And I know other Black women with so-called “good hair” who still maneuver their workouts around their blow-dry and flat-ironing schedule. So what’s underneath this “fly before fit” issue, and why are so few people are talking about it?

I haven’t found an article stating why we are obsessed with our hair to the point where we will let our health suffer. Surely, we still have issues with White beauty standards in our community. The discussion of that is nothing new.

But I believe that “fly before fit” also stems from the fact that Black women’s self-esteem is constantly assailed.

For example, just in the past year, there have been an ABC Special explaining why we can’t find husbands in our community(ies)—with no mention at all of the epidemic incarceration of Black men, by the way—and an article yanked off the Psychology Today website that talked in “scientific” terms on why Black women are not as attractive officially as other women, especially White women.

The Psychology Today article was particularly hurtful because it didn’t take into account any cultural issues. It stated that we Black women weren’t attractive and that there was empirical proof for that; after an overwhelming public outcry, the article was taken down. (And do you really want to read about what some racist [insert expletive maternal noun] has to say about Sisters? No, you don’t.)

Besides the overt media beat-down, what Sister hasn’t encountered the good old-fashioned “talking to” at the hairdresser’s, the family reunion, or even at the bus stop about what is wrong with Black women, and in particular, her?

She’s “too loud, too sassy, too bossy, too unfeminine, too-messed-up-in-some-kinda-way”, and that’s why Black women are alone and lonely. It ain’t nobody’s fault but her’s. We are deserving of the abuse that gets heaped on us. But if Black women could just be more like White women—that’s the implication, sometimes real or spoken out loud—we could be happy.

We’ve been getting that message for three and a half centuries now. Yay, slavery and colonialism.

So, we Sisters can’t control much in the world or how it looks at us. But we can be pretty. We can spend money on our clothes, our nails, and our hair to provide armor against what other people–sometimes other Black folks–say about us. And when we are hurting, we can turn to the food that is killing us to provide that temporary chemical rush of pleasure and then, sit in front of the TV and watch images that never reflect us. And put on more weight.

I know. I’ve been there. I am not going to lie to y’all. I have battled serious food issues (and the resulting self-hatred) for years and that battle has been slow-going and sometimes humiliating and also, frightening. So I know what I’m talking about.

Y’all, I am one of those 80 percent of overweight Black women, which is one of the reasons I had to make some hardcore health changes.  I am overweight tending to obese—despite other people calling me a “big, fine woman” or saying I have “big bones.”

But another reason I have made the change and stuck to that change is that I keep running into other Black women with preventable health issues and it scares me.

They are taking blood pressure medicine. They have high cholesterol (but still eat lots of meat). And an alarming number of them have diabetes.  And then there are the issues that might be helped by a better, healthier diet and exercise—like migraines, very heavy periods, or fibromyalgia. Yet even those women who already have health issues will put up barriers to lifestyle change. But their hair looks really, really good.

I know that it’s a lot easier to say to someone, “I can’t work out because I don’t want my perm to look like a hot buttered mess with nacho cheese on it,” instead of, “If my hair goes back, then I won’t look conventionally pretty, and then what do I have? What can I lean on besides looking fabulous, in this world that tells me I’m literally nothing?”

In past blog post, I talked about how I ignored the pain I was in from uterine fibroids while I spent hundreds of dollars on clothes to feel good. And now, I can’t believe I ever did that.

It’s the same with my hair. I wear my hair natural all the time these days, and so, I look back on my rain-bonnet era and laugh at myself. Now, when I work out, I sweat like one of my Uncle Alvester’s prize pigs. So, I just put my hair in a ponytail. I do grease it daily with coconut oil to keep it from becoming dry, because I wash it more often now.

And no, my hair’s not adorable on a regular basis, and sometimes, that really upsets me.  But I have more than my hair. I have me. I have my health. I have the love of a good God who has kept me through all those trials I went through to get to this better—but still not perfect—place. And I have self-love, finally, so I know it’s possible to capture.

And further, to be completely shallow here, I can still wear a fabulous outfit and foundation and lipstick and gold earrings. My hair might be in a ponytail, but I can still look very fine and sassy. And so can you, my Sister.

Just think about it. That’s all I ask.

Small Protest for the Day

I have decided that, after thirty-seven
years of writing (since I was six years old)
and fourteen years of being
.
a professional writer, I would finally
say something that’s been
on my mind for a really,
.
really long time:
I don’t write about “race.”
I don’t consider myself–nor should you–
.
a “race” poet
or fiction writer
or non-fiction writer.
.
Over the years, I’ve lied
and said I wrote about “race”
because if you are Black

and more than two Black people
(with names) gather together
–as in the slave riot rule–

in your work, (most)
White writers or critics will decide
for themselves that you
.
are writing about “race.”
And if you say, “No, I’m not doing that,”
you will be called “unrealistic”
.
or a “troublemaker” or both.
And now let me say that “you”
is “me” and I’ve got to make a living,
.
especially during Black History Month.
So I just don’t object to being
a “race writer.”

.
“Race” is a concept going back 300 years.
I am not a concept.
I am obviously (I hope) a human being.
.
I ate breakfast this morning:
one piece of buttered toast,
a half cup of blueberries,
.
and a large half-decaf soy latte.
When White folks write
about their families and their communities
.
and their minds and their bodies,
they also write about their lives,
which for some reason are far more

.

compelling to White writers and critics
than other (Non-White) people’s lives.
(Why is that?)
.
Nobody ever says that is “race” writing.
Nor should they.
White folks are obviously (I hope)
.
human beings, too.
I’m not asking
that we now call White folks
.
writing about other White folks
“race” writing.
I’m simply asking–okay, sort of demanding
.
that it be acknowledged that I am not
writing about  “race,” either.
What I occupy is the state of being a person
.
in my own unique body
which is a fine caramel brown
in the wintertime
.
and a fine mahogany brown
in the summer.
And what I do is write
.
about my family
and my community
and my mind
.
and my woman’s body.
And there just happen–well, they didn’t
just happen–to have been some
.
jacked up political policies and/or
violent physical actions
perpetrated against
.
my family,
my community,
my mind,
.
and my woman’s body.
That’s not about “race” to me.
That’s about my [insert expletive adjective]
.
life.
Now that I finally said all that,
I feel so relieved,
.
even though I probably
won’t be getting
paid anymore
.
during February.
Thanks for listening.

.

.