How Many Women Have Been Sexually Harassed? I Know I Have, Several Times.

size0This week, when I read the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, I wished I could say I was shocked, but I’m not. The accusations against him are so familiar to me. I recognize my experiences along the same spectrum, in different professional arenas, particularly as a writer, though in my case, I was the victim of sexual harassment.

Some of these experiences occurred with older, powerful men, and even on a couple of occasions, with older, powerful women. There were sexual flirtations or outright sexual overtures.

Sometimes, I spoke out. Other times, I simply refused to respond to the banter or invitations, hoping if I ignored it, everything would be all right. But it never was all right, no matter how I tried to handle it.

Instead, I experienced emotional abuse, public shaming, hostility/bullying by the harassers’ acolytes, gaslighting, loss of community, career sabotage, and the loss of close friends who didn’t want to be tainted by me, who suddenly saw me in a different light, once I criticized someone so revered. When I say, I get why some women don’t want to come forward, I mean it.

Out of my many experiences being sexually harassed, here are just a few.

This is what one writer said to me, while at the dinner table: “Your southern accent makes me want to mount you from behind.”

Other writers were there, all men, all very well-known, and they laughed. I kept cutting my lamb chop into pieces—this was a free, expensive dinner–and the harasser asked, “What do you think about what I just said.” I said, “I don’t think anything, but these lamb chops are delicious.”

And that was that, but my harasser took my name off the poster listing distinguished visitors to the college.

In another year, this is what another writer said to me, while standing on a porch in front of three other famous writers: “Your teeth are beautiful.”

I said, “Thank you so much.”

Then, he said, “We both have big bellies, so let’s rub our bellies together.”

I didn’t say anything back.

One of the writers on the porch was a woman; she laughed and told my harasser, “You’re too much.” One of the other writers–a man– said, “Hey [name withheld], that’s not cool. Stop that.”

But later, after I ignored this harasser’s other, repeated advances, he told me, “Your body is so big. You scare people.  So maybe, you shouldn’t talk in workshop. Be quiet from now on.”

Then, other women at the conference came to me, complaining that the harasser frequently debated the appearance of unshaved versus shaved genitals.

Over a ten-day period at that conference, things progressed, and not in a good way.  First, I talked to an older woman who was featured at the conference. She advised me to report.

I went to the director of the writing conference. I gave him the names of the writers who had been on the porch. I told the director that other women were complaining about sexually explicit comments. And I’d been silenced in the workshop and comments had been made about my body. I started crying and the director said, “I’ll look into it.”

Remembering the one man who’d stood up to the harasser, I was hopeful, but the next day, director came back to me and said, my harasser had denied the charges and so had the other writers who’d been on the porch. And that was that. The older woman who had given me advice was never invited back to that conference and neither was I.

And this is what a third writer said to me, after asking me to stop by their room at night, and after answering the door wearing only underwear: “I’d like to lie on top of you. I bet it’s so nice there. I bet you feel so soft.” I said nothing back to them, and they came and stood closer.

I smiled–always a smiler, that was me–and went back to my room. The next day, the person pretended nothing had happened and I did, too, but later, I heard this third harasser had called me “insane” in a meeting of other writers. And suddenly, other, similar, bad words about me were traveling around.

I told my writer-friends what had happened, and asked, had that moment in the person’s room led to this sudden trashing of my reputation? But my writer-friends told me, “Oh, that didn’t mean anything.  You know how you always take things wrong.” One even told me, “Honi, you need to get over being so arrogant.  You think everybody wants you.”

I have memories of trying to explain what had happened with my different experiences with sexual harassment, when I found my voice spiraling into tears. I couldn’t help it, no matter how calm I’d start out. I’d tremble, recalling the moment. How I’d been a victim, when I’ve always pretended to be so strong. How I had tried to be classy, to be a lady, to lean to the right when my harasser leaned left, but always, I lost the game.

I’d ask, if what happened didn’t mean anything, then why did my harassers’ friends stop speaking to me? Why wouldn’t they meet my eyes when I saw them at writing conferences? And why wasn’t I invited to this writing event or that one, when every other person in my cohort had been invited? Was I not talented anymore? Did people really think I was crazy?

On a couple of occasions, I’d hear back, “Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you’re the problem? That maybe you need to work on yourself?”

And of course, those questions bewildered me. Certainly, I needed to work on myself. I was a young person, and many young folks are messy and not very well-behaved. I mean, don’t all young folks need to work on themselves?  Isn’t that the point of old people yelling out their front doors, “Hey you crazy kids, get off my lawn”?

But still, I questioned my perceptions. I needed affirmation–to make sure I was telling the truth–so I told my stories repeatedly over the years, going over details with various people to try to prove to them, no, I wasn’t crazy.

And yes, they were right when they told me, everyone wasn’t attracted to me.  And I knew that. And yes, I think I’m cute, but that’s never been part of my PR package. As someone who’s battled weight issues all my life, I’ve relied on my brains for my beauty.

But harassment isn’t about attraction, though it took me decades to figure that out. I just didn’t want to believe that an older, powerful person I admired (or even, outright adored and worshipped), a person who could have easily found willing sexual partners would want to sexually flirt with and/or procure sex from a person who didn’t return their desires. And not only that, would go out of their way to hurt that young person, when they didn’t get the attention or physical activity they wanted.

Now that I’m fully grown and in the second half of my life, I realize that, pretty or not, fat or not, neurotic or not, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my perceptions. People said what they said and they did what they did.  They sexually harassed me. And truly—finally—that was that.

Even after all I’ve lost for being plainspoken, I’m glad that I said my piece in the few instances I did, behind my own name, instead of hiding. I won’t criticize other women who haven’t done that, though. We all must do what’s best for ourselves.

But as someone who has had to publicly go it alone many times, I can tell you, when you try to stand up for yourself, it’s still incredibly lonely out there.

 

Who Gets To Be A “Real” American? Not Anybody Black.

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My late sister used to love a song by Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the U.S.A.” Whenever we were driving someplace—she had the license; I was in the passenger seat—she’d turn up the radio and sing the chorus loudly: “And I’m proud to an American/where at least I know I’m free…”

I’d join in, but after the song ended, we’d laugh at ourselves. As the daughters of Black Nationalists, we’d been taught, a song like Mr. Greenwood’s wasn’t really for us.

Our parents had schooled us on the history of American black folks so we knew about Crispus Attucks, the first man to fall in the Boston Massacre of 1770.   We knew about the black men who had fought in the continental army during the American Revolution. Though George Washington did his best to try to stop black military participation, there were approximately five thousand African American soldiers in the Revolutionary War. That was just on the American side.

In my family, there was my paternal great-great-grandfather who had fought in the Civil War in a “colored” Union company. My father served in World War II as a first lieutenant, becoming one of the early black commissioned officers, and on mama’s side of the family, every one of her brothers were veterans.

But regardless of those histories of military service, my parents would stand, fists raised, Afros tall, at football games while the national anthem played. They never put their hands over their hearts.

At the time, I didn’t ask what they were doing and for some reason, they never explained. Years later when I saw a documentary about the 1968 Olympics, about when John Carlos and Tommy Smith protested the treatment of American black people by raising their fists on the medal podium, I understood, finally. My parents had been showing solidarity with two, young men whose entire lives had been ruined because of a protest that didn’t even last ten minutes.

In my family, we talked a lot about what “black” meant. My parents argued that anybody who had ancestors from Africa was a “black” person.  For example, there were Spanish-speaking folks who lived in the Caribbean, but to my parents, they were black folks. It didn’t matter if their skins weren’t as dark as Africans’ or if somebody could pull a fine-tooth comb through their hair. All those Puerto Ricans? They were black, my parents insisted.

The history of Puerto Rico does prominently include the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It was a Spanish colony (founded by the geographically inept Christopher Columbus). Enslaved Africans were brought to the island in the sixteenth century and worked crops that included sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco. Soon, Africans outnumbered everyone else. A recent study of inhabitants of the island found that the average Puerto Rican has 20% African DNA.

After the Spanish American war, Puerto Rico was transferred from Spain to the U.S. Of course, this happened without any real input from a majority of the island’s inhabitants. (That’s how things work with colonialism.)

Puerto Ricans gained citizenship in 1917 and the island was named a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952, and many Puerto Ricans have honorably served in the American military. Yet a surprising number of their fellow citizens on the mainland don’t know—or recognize—Puerto Ricans as “real” Americans. Not many of us mainland black folks understand the intersections of our African history with Puerto Ricans’, either.

Kids are embarrassed by their parents, and I was no different. As an adult, I looked back at those football games, at my parents’ raised fists. I muttered many “Lord Have Mercies” in remembrance. I laughed at my hardcore, fierce mama and daddy.–And yet now, there is new generation of African American men and women protesting while the National Anthem plays at sports events. They don’t raise their fists, though. Now, they take a knee.

Now, for an entire week, while people of color in Puerto Rico have suffered the after effects of two back-to-back hurricanes—going without food and medicine, walking through contaminated street water they can’t even drink, breathing the stench of dead bodies that have been unearthed from their graves—our president has ignored them. He’s ignored his own citizens.

President Trump’s voice has remained calm while he says, he’ll get around to helping Puerto Rico. In a week or two, maybe. He never explains why he was quickly on the case about Texas and Florida, when earlier hurricanes hit those places. He has never acknowledged them as Americans; instead he’s distanced himself by tweeting about the island’s “broken infrastructure” and “massive debt,” as if those issues don’t directly correlate to over a century of mainland exploitation of Puerto Rico.

And I think of my parents insisting, those people in the Caribbean are black. They are just like us, and I wonder, is their African heritage why Puerto Ricans are getting treated so badly?

Is this African heritage why Puerto Ricans are going without clean drinking water, while President Trump fights with Colin Kaepernick, some mainland black kid forty years younger than he is, about how Kap should act when an arguably racist song plays?

Like African Americans, Puerto Ricans are not treated as “real” Americans, and this week, I’ve wondered, just what exactly are the standards for that “realness”? What is the high bar that must be met?

Must one be born on American soil to be a “real” American? That doesn’t seem to cover it for people of color.

Must one’s birth parents—and previous ancestors going back three or four hundred years—be born on American soil? That doesn’t cover it, either.

Must one be a veteran of American military conflicts or be descended from veterans? Nope. I guess that doesn’t count.

Twelve years ago, African American survivors of Hurricane Katrina were called “refugees” in their own country.  Americans citizens were labeled with vocabulary one reserves for foreigners.

I remember pictures of the aftermath of Katrina. Dark people, standing on tiny plots of dry land, waving their arms and looking desperate and parched. Walking through flood water. Labeled criminals for foraging food. There were signs of huge letters that had been drawn on rooftops. The words begged someone—anyone—to come help, in the names of God and decency.

This past week, I saw the same images from Puerto Rico, only the signs were begging in Spanish.

And I think of those young black men and women who have been vilified by our president for protesting the treatment of people of African descent in this country, who keep asking, “How long until we are considered ‘real’ Americans?”

These young black folks are courageously risking their livelihoods while our leader—who is supposed to be the President of all of us—calls them names and urges their white bosses to fire these uppity, dark individuals. Let them love this country that consistently spits in their faces. Show some gratitude for dodging bullets fired by police officers.

Is it any wonder there is a new generation of quiet revolutionaries, that a new group of black kids are so eager to protest?

 

 

Teachable Racial Moment: A Black History Lesson Behind “Son of a Bitch”

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I’m sure by now many (if not most) of us have heard about the President of this country calling football player Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” at a political rally in Alabama. As I looked at the Twitter feeds of some of the President’s supporters, many of them said, “President Trump didn’t call out Kaepernick’s name. He only said, ‘someone who kneels during the National Anthem.’”

As the kids say, let’s keep it one hundred, shall we?

We all knew to whom the President was referring when he referenced a “son of a bitch” kneeling. Because Brother Kaepernick was the one who started the kneeling protests in the first place.

But let’s look at the term, “Son of a bitch.” As all of us know, it is a slur that has animalistic implications. A “bitch” is a female dog. Thus, a “son of a bitch” is the child of a female dog.

“Son of a bitch” has obvious, gendered implications as well. In fact, the insult is less about the son and more about the mother who established lineage. The mother must the original animal to create another animal.

Now, calling somebody the son of a female dog is always an insult to anyone of any racial or cultural background–I feel safe in making that blanket statement–but there is a peculiar, racialized, historical, and legal context to using this term to describe the mother of black person.

Jennifer L. Morgan, author of Laboring Women: Reproduction and New World Slavery, has written and lectured about the change of patriarchal laws in the (then-colony) of Virginia in 1662. Before that time, English common law had established that a child took on the status of his or her father.  That meant that biracial children of free, white fathers and enslaved, black mothers could, conceivably, be free born.

In 1655, a biracial woman in Virginia named Elizabeth Key Grinstead sued for her freedom based upon, among other things, English common law. Her father was a white man, and she wanted to make sure that her free lineage was established for her own children. She won that suit, but seven years later, the colony of Virginia passed a law called Partus Sequitur Ventrem, which made biracial children of enslaved black mothers permanently enslaved.

Here’s where it gets even worse.

The term Partus Sequitur Ventrum is a barnyard term, used for animals. It literally means, “Offspring Follows Belly.” Thus, black women were legally animalized during slavery. And maybe this animalistic status of black women is why, while writing on the difference between black and white in Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson accused black women of engaging in bestiality with great apes:

The first difference which strikes us is that of colour…And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?

The irony here, of course, is that Kaepernick’s mother is white. Thus, many of you reading this might say, how does this racialized history of animalizing black women connect with white women? In fact, it connects quite tidily.

Those familiar with the history of White Supremacy in this country know that white men were and have been obsessed with white women’s sexual purity, which depends upon those women keeping a very far distance from black men. (I’ll point you to the original, 1915 film version of Birth of a Nation.) Several American mass murders of black people were started because of the (still unproved) charges that black men had raped white women, including the Tulsa, Oklahoma race riot in 1921 which left at least three hundred African Americans dead and leveled the black neighborhoods in that city.

On the flip side of this White Supremacist female sexual purity rule, white women who engaged in voluntary sexual congress with black men—as Kaepernick’s mother has—were stripped of their white privilege and white racial status. Many times, white women were beaten or driven from towns for consorting with black men.

Most recently, we saw the murder by vehicle of Heather Heyer, a young white woman who was protesting a White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was doing so alongside black people (including black men) when a White Supremacist decided to drive into a crowd of protesters. The murderous actions of this young, white man were praised by his racist colleagues.

I know that many young women of all complexions revel in reclaiming terms such as “bitch” and “hoe”, and in calling themselves and their friends by these terms. I understand the youthful exuberance and thus, I’m not trying to shut anybody down. Do you, young sisters. Do you.

But when I see and hear the President of my country call somebody’s mama out her name at a rally, in front of television cameras, I’m put in mind of gatherings of white mobs whose goal is violence. (We saw that violence at Trump rallies during last year’s campaign.) Remember, the President was in Alabama, in the deep south, the location of many lynchings and mass murders of black folks.

And right next door to Alabama, there is Georgia, where one lynching that took place has continued to haunt me for years. It is the murder of an eight months’ pregnant black woman who, in May 1918 was killed alongside her husband in or around Valdosta, Georgia.

After she was hung, the woman’s body expelled her baby. Instead of stopping in horror at what they had done and trying to rescue the child, the white mob then took turns stomping the newborn infant, who was still connected by the umbilical cord to its mother’s body.  This woman’s name was Mary Turner.

I thought of this poor lady and her child, as I heard what I can only assume was an all-white crowd cheering as the President of this country of mine, essential calling the mother of a black man a “bitch.” An animal.

How long are we going to pretend that these gatherings of white racists are simply political rallies of those who just happen to differ in party and opinions from the rest of us who want peace between the races? How long are we going to pretend that this current President is harmless, when we have a long history pointing to similar activities, and that long history tells us this behavior is not harmless, not in the least?

These gatherings are where racist mob mentality is nurtured, and where, even those who call themselves “pro-life” have proven time and again that there are specific, racist rules for the sanctity of life and those who provide. That rule is whiteness. And any woman connected to black people–even a white woman– has no place in their world or is worthy of their love or respect.

 

The Girl Hiding Inside Me Wears Red, Black, and Green

Last week, as I read about the courage of Jemele Hill in addressing the disturbing messages coming from the White House, my own racial cowardice was thrown into relief.

Those people who know me would be shocked by my calling myself a coward. After all, I was a red, black, and green diaper baby, a child of Black Nationalists.

Matter of fact, I was just talking to a beloved friend and asked them, “Where did that scrappy girl go? I used to be so strong.”

I used to be fierce and courageous, and my nickname was “Big Country.”To paraphrase my beloved Lucille Clifton, that girl is still inside me.

No, I don’t like to cuss folks out anymore. Number one, I’m trying to meet Jesus one day and after I die, I don’t want Him telling me at the pearly gates, “I already done heard about you, girl.” Then, he’ll turn to St. Peter and say, “Bruh Pete-Pete, go ‘head and wrap a  plate for Honorée, ’cause she ain’t staying.”

Number two, I’m too scared of germs and too old to get arrested and spend the night in jail.

Number three, I always wanted to be one of those chill, serene people. You know the ones who speak in whispers and always make folks feel good about themselves? That’s who I’ve always wanted to be, I was tired of people I knew–other black folks–calling me “crazy.”

And I was tired of white folks calling me “angry” and “frightening.” They didn’t have to add a “black woman” to that. It’s just assumed. Any time you’re darker than a brown paper bag and somebody calls you angry, you know they mean “angry black woman.”

I’ve tried so hard to seem non-threatening that even now, when just reading about the rise in white supremacy can give me mild panic attacks, I’m trying to make other white folks feel better about their stances on race relations. I want to be that serene black woman, not the angry one.

In the past ten months, since the presidential election, there are white folks who never spoke to me –who would give me what I called the “eye-slide”–who now go out of their way to talk about the “state of the country.”

Y’all know what “state of the country” means. It means, right about now in America, the racists are unabashed.

It means that Bull Connor (of Birmingham, Alabama fame, for all you young’uns) has risen from his grave like a character on The Walking Dead and the Ku Kluxers are feeding him brains.

Recently, I ran into somebody who wasn’t “studin” about me in the past for ten years. Never wanted to talk, but now, they flagged me down to talk about “where the country was going.”

And you know what?

The Girl Formerly Known As Big Country would have asked that white lady  “What do you want from me?”

And in addition, T.G.F.K.A.B.C. would have told that white lady, “Oh, now you can speak to black people?”

T.G.F.K.A.B.C.  would have told that white lady, “Don’t be trying to be nice because you feel guilty, now that the Nazis and the Ku Kluxers and all them is back riding and you all horrified and what not, after you was ‘Feeling the ‘Bern’ and sat out the election. You should have voted for Hilary and I’m fresh out of chocolate breast milk. I can’t do a thing for you now.”

Instead, I smiled and said, “Yes, things sure are horrible.” And I kept smiling as she kept talking and made my nerves bad.

But then, even though I’ve lost 38 pounds and I work out and try not to go shazam! when I eat anymore, I came home and scarfed down a bunch of homemade roasted chicken wings. I was so upset at my cowardice, I took it out on myself. And I did that because I had people-pleased. And not even regular people-pleased.

I had soothed somebody’s white guilt:  I had white-people-pleased.

Even though those homemade, mostly-healthy wings were off the chain–or whatever the kids are saying these days–I was still mad at myself. Because why am I trying to be nice when I’m the one who’s scared to leave my house in this Red State?

When I’m the one who always makes sure I have both my driver’s license and my faculty I.D when I go walking–always in broad daylight–in case I get stopped by the campus police and my word that I’m a tenured, full professor will not be enough?

And when I’m the one who’s terrified to talk about race in my classroom because if a black woman talks in a reasonable, calm voice about the actual history of this country–a country where at least three generations of my family were held as slaves– she might be seen as “frightening” or “aggressive”–and then, she might lose her job?

I can understand feeling scared about what could happen to my body. I can understand about being afraid to lose my job.

But when did I become such a coward that in my own free damned time–when I’m off the clock and should be drinking a green smoothie– I still feel the need to soothe the racial guilt of somebody who hasn’t spoken to me in ten years, and somehow, I’m the one who ends up with garlic chicken-breath?

There is a girl inside me, but she’s hiding. She’s a girl wearing red, black, and green and she is unafraid.

She is tall and big and sweet, even though she talks loudly because that’s the volume of most southern black folks, and there have been people who loved her–and who still do. They don’t care that folks called her crazy. They liked her the way she was. They liked the woman she became.

Can’t I be both that girl and this woman? Can’t I be calm and courageous, too?

Can’t I be serene and turn my back to previously rude white folks who need to feel better now–because I’m the one who’s truly at risk as a result of last year’s election?

I’m determined to find that lost girl, because I miss you so much, Big Country. Come on out, baby. Say “hey” to me.

Past-Grown Black Woman Epiphany #1

Hey Y’all:

It’s been a long time! Too much has been going on for me to tell you about, and yes, I’m still on official blog hiatus. But it’s my blog, so that means, I can come back any time I want! And this month is my birthday month! And yes, I’m a Leo.

Okay, stop with the attitude. I hear some of y’all saying, did you really think we didn’t know you were a Leo, with all that mouth?  Quelle surprise, sweetie. Quelle. Surprise.

I was really sensitive about the fact that I’m going to be officially old–fifty!–but then, a few weeks ago, I got this burst of wisdom, and I think this turning fifty thing might be fantastic.

Also, I gotta represent for all those sisters out there who get shifted to the “Auntie” lane, like Aunties can’t be sexy. Full disclosure: yes, I’m an Auntie. And yes, I am sexy.

I am the sexiest sister shopping for organic produce at my natural foods store. You think that’s not saying anything, but there are a lot of soccer moms out here, so the competition is fierce. Like, brutal.

Sidebar: It’s not like I can hide my age anymore, since somebody–probably an enemy–posted my birth year with Google. Can you believe that [insert expletive excretive noun]?!

So there I am, looking seriously cute in the picture beside  the year, “1967.” At first I was real mad. But then, I thought, maybe this is okay. After all, my neck is holding up pretty well. And I’m back in my skinny jeans, too. I never had much of a booty, but what’s there has not fallen. Let’s give God a standing ovation for little, bitty favors.

Anyway, as I move into this milestone birthday of 50, I have learned many things. Let’s call them Past-Grown Black Woman Epiphanies. I had one just recently, and of course, I thought about two important women in my life, my mother, Dr. Trellie James Jeffers, and my second mother, Professor Lucille Clifton.

I got a lot of wisdom from these women, things that I didn’t pay much attention to in my youth, but now that I’ve got a few gray hairs, the wisdom kicked in.

Sidebar: I decided to henna, so if you ever see me, don’t be pulling out no magnifying glass, checking for gray hairs. They’re permanently cover, but they are there. But I’m still cute. Trust. Like, seriously cute, knocking up against fine territory.

So, my two Mothers are completely different. My birth mother is very tough, like me on steroids. She’s the Queen of Aphorisms. Here are two examples:

“You better get some steel in your spine if you want to walk tall.”

And,

“He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool.”

And,

“That makes perfect sense. Nonsense.”

You might recognize that last one. She gave permission to use it, so I do, all the time, okay?

Professor Clifton, also affectionately know to me as “Miss Lucille,” didn’t have aphorisms, but she had many, many poems. Here’s a page with some of her poems. Put some extra bobby pins in your wig first, though, because it will be blowing back when your read those poems. Believe that.

So, as my pre-menopausal fuzziness has subsided because of all the kefir I drink, some of the wisdom from Dr. Jeffers and Professor Clifton has come back.

Sidebar: A discussion of kefir magic is another, future post, but I promise, I will not disappoint. Some of my ladylike coyness has disappeared over the years, so get ready for a bit more directness.

Here’s a preview: “The Tale of the Disappearing Hot Flashes”.

You know you want to read that one! In the meantime, here is a summary of my first almost-fifty epiphany:

 

Past Grown Black Woman Epiphany #1

I have noticed that a healthy sense of self-regard, self-esteem, and self-love in a woman is seen as arrogance, at best, and insanity at worst, especially in women who are either nearing menopause or who are post-menopausal. And with a woman of color, you can multiply that assessment (by others) by one hundred.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have had somebody say to me, “You really think well of yourself, don’t you?”

Um, yes. Yes, actually I do think well of myself. Is that supposed a crime?

Here’s another: “You must think you’re a white woman.”

Yes, more than a couple of people have said that to me, and, ok, wow. I didn’t even have a response to that one, except, “Negro, please.”

I’m not going to say that I haven’t had to work on myself throughout the years. A lot. Because I have. I’m not going to say I’m not deeply flawed. Because I am. Seriously cute with great shoes, yes. Flawless like Beyoncé when she woke up like this? No.

But my flaws, and my needing to continually work on myself, does not mean that I don’t love, respect, and embrace myself. And what that means is that I will require people to treat me to the level that I have decided is acceptable. And I will treat people the same.

Most essentially,  whenever I encounter black women these days, I make sure that I treat them with the utmost respect. I tried to do this even before everybody decided they were “woke.”

Y’all, I been woke. I’m a political insomniac. I’m so woke, I sleep with my eyelids propped open with toothpicks.

You know why?

‘Cause I’m black in America, y’all. Plus, I’m southern. Then, I listen to old folks. And finally, I have a library card, so I read.

For all you Johnnies-Come-Woke-lies out there, please stop lecturing me on what I need to do to get woke, ’cause you are embarrassing yourself yelling at every damn body, including the teenaged baristas at your favorite coffee house because you are so insecure about the fact that you just got woke that you want chocolate milk in your triple latte.

It’s okay, baby.  Ain’t nobody keeping score on you. Wokeness is a journey. And remind me to tell you about how my Black Nationalist Father didn’t allow us to eat vanilla ice cream back in the 1970s. Also–no lie!–he had his own FBI file that is online now. Oh, I’m so proud!

Did I not tell y’all that I. Been. Woke?

So I give respect to younger black women, even when they are younger than I am, but have achieved more. It doesn’t matter that they are cuter with no wrinkles, no cellulite and perky breasts.

It doesn’t even matter whether I don’t personally like them, because as a black feminist, that’s not something I’m supposed to care about. I’m supposed to care about the fact that I don’t have the market cornered on high self-esteem and high self-regard. So, if I require respect, I know that other sisters require it, too.

Notice, I did not say, “demand respect” That is an aggressive term, and I am not aggressive these days, no matter how woke I am. I don’t shout. I don’t cuss folks out. I don’t do none of that.

Yes, sometimes shouting and cussing is important, and I’m for the young folks doing that. I’m past middle-age, so instead of shouting and cussing, I’m supposed to be the one looking for money in my bank account to pay for bail. That’s what you do when you get older. You have the young folks’ back, because you don’t want to get too woke that you accidentally fall and break something, even if you drink kefir every day. Which I do, and y’all, it is a miracle elixir, okay?

Notice, I said, “require respect.” And what that means is, I have decided that I am just not desperate enough for friends, publication, or money, to let folks treat me in ways that I would not treat myself.

But I do still get sensitive about young folks calling me by my first name. Again, that is another blog post.

Here’s the teaser for that: “Youngun, Put A Handle On My Name! Or, Who Raised You?! Wolves?”

Love,

Phillis Remastered (aka “Honorée,” but only if you Past-Grown)

PS Stay tuned here for the news! I’m writing and writing and writing!

 

Afropalooza Day 4: Did Y'all Know Ruby Dee Was a Poet?!

Y’all I was just doing a random search and came upon this YouTube video from “With Ossie and Ruby.” It said, “Ruby Dee” performs her poem–and I thought, now, Miss Ruby was one of my favorites actresses, but I didn’t know she was a poet!

I clicked on it, and Miss Odetta starts singing. (Don’t know Odetta? Here’s her bio.) Then, Miss Ruby starts reciting her poem. And then, I was completely transported.

I promise y’all, this video is so luminous, and life-changing.

 

 

Early Morning Reflection: Day Two of “Afropalooza”

rising-sun-1For some reason, I woke up at 3:15 this morning, checking things off my Daily To-Do List.

Usually, I don’t awake until about 8am or even later, and when I do, I always chastise myself for laziness. I am the daughter of a woman who grew up on a farm, who rose in darkness to order the day.

I remember my mother quietly waking me in my childhood, and it never occurred to me that she actually slept like a real human being, that she didn’t keep the planet safe like a super hero or a goddess. I took my breakfast for granted.

And sometimes, even when I don’t actually play the song, I sing in my head Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version of “In the Morning When I Rise.”  It reminds me of the few, tender moments of my childhood and my mother’s voice.

This morning, I still feel pretty high about the beginning of Black History Month. Yesterday, my students chuckled as I raised my arms in a little victory dance: “Happy first day of Afropalooza, Y’all!” (They know their professor is a nerd, so they are indulgent with me, and I am grateful.)

But this morning, as I puttered around my house in the darkness, rinsing off last night’s dishes and putting dirty laundry in the washer–I am not a fan of housework–I asked myself, “Honorée, what IS it about this month that makes you feel so good?”

After all, for most of my adulthood, I spent Valentine’s Day alone. (It’s still not a favorite holiday for me.) And for the past six years, there has been sadness in this month, too, because I lost a great person in my life during this month–the poet Lucille Clifton. And James W. Richardson, my dear, departed friend, has a birthday this month, so I will probably shed a few tears during these twenty-nine days.

Yes, I call this time “Afropalooza,” and I like to think about it as a party, but there is tragedy to the African American experience, to lives of my people in this country. I, of all people, am no stranger to tragedy, though mine doesn’t begin to compare to what others have endured.

But as I thought about why I love this time, it came to me: since I was a little girl, February has been the month where I felt all my African/American ancestors gather around me, in a ring shout. They have been there, my entire life, watching over me.

I feel my strongest during this time. It’s like a church revival, where I become renewed and the Spirit runs through me. That’s such a good feeling, such a reassurance that no matter how hard things are or might be, I have this month to gather myself again, and to try to be the woman I know I was meant to be.

I hope you feel the same reassurance, if not in this month, then at another time. And I wish you strength today, and blessings this morning.

Love,

Honorée

 

It’s Black History Month, Y’all! You Know What Time It Is.

 

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Image found at Library of Congress

It’s Afropalooza Time!!!–And I had to come back for this. I had to. You know this is my favorite time of the year.

And no, I am not going to give excuses for being gone so long. I’m just going to act like your favorite auntie: Swish in wearing my cutest outfit, pretend I’ve never been gone, and ask you to fix me a plate. (“Give me an extra pork chop, baby, and don’t tell my doctor.”)

But first, before we shake our proverbial groove thangs in celebration of Black History Month, our loving ancestors and all the glory they have given to us black folks and to the United States in general, I must needs have a word about Stacey Dash.

O Stacey, upon whom the incomparable Gabrielle Union threw the world’s best Sister Girl Shade.:

“Who… is… Stacey Dash?”

Usually, I don’t like Shade or, even, shade. But when somebody starts kicking dirt on the entire house that black people built, going back four hundred years, I live for this kind of Shade With a Big “S.”  I cannot lie.

So let the Shade against Embarrassing The Race Negroes begin.

I used to love me some Stacey Dash. Who didn’t love Deon in Clueless?

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She was cute, she had spunk, and she kept her man in check. But now, I don’t know what has happened to Stacey. I hesitate to speculate. (Forgive my iambic tretrameter.)

However, though it’s been a while, y’all do remember me, don’t you? Thus, I will speculate, indeed.

Has Stacey always been someone who hated black people, even as she starred in various iterations of R&B slash Hip Hop music videos?

Is Stacey getting paid a really huge secret stipend—aside from her regular salary—to dog out black folks (at seeming random intervals though we know there is a Master Charlie plan) on Fox News?

Is Stacey mad that she got fired from that Single Ladies show on Vh-1, after the alleged “did not happen” physical altercation with her co-star, LisaRaye? Did Stacey perhaps forget to take her earrings off before said alleged “did not happen” altercation and have to get her earlobes reattached to her head via plastic surgery and is now suffering post-traumatic stress?

It’s a mystery.

But I’m still really irritated that this woman would even fix her mouth to say we don’t need Black History Month. What is wrong with her?

I’m even more irritated that, somewhere, the many white microagressors who are constantly mentioning their one “black friend” to justify their daily racist acts have a champion in Stacey Dash.

So let me explain to those who do not know why we need Black History Month. Or as one of my dear friends from Philly says, “Let me break this down so it will forever stay broke.”

So first, let’s just pour out some very expensive adult beverage for Brother Carter G Woodson, the founder of Black History Week, which later became Black History Month. Thank you, Brother. We appreciate you so much.

Second, Black History Month begins in February, and February 1 is the birthday of Langston Hughes, and if you don’t like him, I just don’t know what to say about you.

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Langston Hughes (Image found at Poetry Foundation)

Except, I will try to change your mind. Here’s my favorite poem by him.

Don’t make me break into a recitation of said favorite poem, record that, and then post it to my blog. Get your mind right and get with Brother Hughes’s poetry, before it’s too late.

And then, there are a bunch of other fabulous black people born in February: Rosa Parks, Alice Walker, Melvin Tolson,Toni Morrison, Sidney Poitier, Marian Anderson, and Leontyne Price. Some of them are still alive, so we really need to celebrate them to the utmost, while they are still here on this earthly plane.

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Leontyne Price  (image found at “On and Off the Record”)

Sidebar: Did I ever tell y’all about the time I was nine and saw Leontyne Price sing luminous opera music at Duke University in Durham, NC? And I got an autograph from her (that I lost somewhere)? I remember she was beautiful, she had a presence, and her false eyelashes were epic.

Anyway, just so you know, we do not need Black History Month to boost African American self-esteem, though that is a nice side effect.

We do not need Black History Month to prove why we need reparations for slavery. There is no proof needed for that. (Just Google African Americans and 1619, and that’s all you need to know.) I know I will never get my check, though, just like I will never get back that five dollars I let my cousin “hold” in 2009.

We do not even need Black History Month to promote African American unity. We already have that. It’s called “Black Twitter.”

However, we do need Black History Month because only stupid people think that the history of race relations in the United States of America began at 4:30 this morning, like some sort of bizarre, colored version of the movie “groundhog day.”

Sidebar: Those people who think race relations are great now are also those folks who claim to be “colorblind” but simultaneously can see color just good enough to constantly bring up their one “black friend.”

And we do need Black History Month because there is a lie floating around that only white folks have participated in the building of this country, from its beginning. I have met grown, white people who did not know that black men fought in the American Revolutionary War.

Now that I done said that, when it comes to Black History Month/Afropalooza, y’all know that I will most definitely extend a party.

Like, you know how some (black) folks will announce a week before their birthdays that it’s their birthdays—and then, party for an entire seven days with no shame, eating various forms of pigmeat and drinking brown liquor like it’s mother’s milk?

That’s me (without the brown liquor. I can’t handle it.) I have no shame.

So in February, there’s Black History Month and I celebrate black folks.

In March, there’s Women’s History Month, so I celebrate black women–who I already have celebrated in February because I’m, like, a woman and I’m black.

In April, there is National Poetry Month, and I’m a poet (and many of my friends are poets), so I celebrate black poets.

It’s a 90-day Afropalooza party, y’all!

So if you are tired of black people, you need to check in now, say, “Hey Honorée! It’s good to see you again, girl, FINALLY!” (That would be your own brand of shade, but I don’t mind.) And then, you can come back and visit me in May.

I’m just warning you ahead of time, because I love you.

Race + Class = What “Police Brutality” Means for Some (But Definitely, Not All) Black Folks

I  just don’t write super quickly about emotionally charged events anymore, because when I do, usually I say something stupid and hurt somebody’s feelings without meaning to. And it took me having a really deep, teary conversation with a dear friend last night (over something that didn’t even start out being about police brutality) to collect my thoughts.

So here goes.

I don’t want to dismiss anyone’s grief over the killing of the child Mike Brown—yes, child; when you get to be my age, you understand just how young eighteen is. And yes, I’m sad, too. Just because I don’t talk about my grief in a way that makes people feel comfortable doesn’t mean I don’t have it.

But I also have had some anger. And that anger is over class.

And when I say “class,” I’m not talking about those silly, obvious, and rather useless “class” markers, such as whether somebody has walked around with his pants hanging down, or whether somebody has previously been arrested, or whether somebody was “asking for it.”

And when I say anger, I’m not just talking about anger over racism—which is sticky thing to catch ahold of. I’m talking about how no one really wants to address that the lived experiences of contemporary, college-educated, middle-class, black people and the lived experiences of contemporary, formally-uneducated, poor, black people are vastly different when it comes to racialized violence at the hands of the police.

I’m not the first person who has talked about race and class, and I won’t be the last person. And I’m not the first person who has talked about violence at the hands of the police is class-based, either. But I have been searching for someone who really understands that race plus class is a very real, existing intersectionality that some black folks–even so-called “correct” black folks–don’t “get” or experience in the least.

Oh, lately, there’s so much talk about “racism in America” and what it means. So much talk about whether white folks without black friends are racist, when, let’s face it, I’m pretty choosy about my black friends. I’m pretty choosy about my white friends. I’m just choosy like that. But should I now run out and get me some more to prove something to somebody?

But let’s also face that there is a difference between the issues confronted by middle-class black people who want to be liked, accepted, and assimilated into mainstream (i.e. white) culture and who feel diminished by that culture versus the issues of life or death confronted by the bodies and psyches of poor black people in overwhelmingly segregated neighborhoods that are policed by white police officers.

Because, look, don’t no white cop shoot an unarmed black child to death because said white cop don’t think Lupita is cute and/or he ain’t got nobody black to go to the Applebee’s with Sunday after church. This goes deeper than just “race”, and this goes deeper than some ephemeral talk about “this is what slavery was like.”

Sidebar: And as a student of history, I really wish that folks who are not real students of history–or who have never been slaves– would stop thinking they know about slavery simply because they retweet something on Twitter. Try reading an actual history book or three hundred. Okay? I just needed to say that.

Let us return.

When we think about the direct line of descent from the plantation overseer—a working class white man—and the slave patrollers—made up of “Yeoman” farmers or other working class white men—down to most southern, white police forces now, we need to consider that contemporary police forces in the south are overwhelmingly populated with working class white men.

And what do the overseer, the slave patrollers, and contemporary southern police forces have in common? They traditionally have been used for the past three hundred years or so years to keep poor black folks “in line.”

By the way, I’ve read a history book or three hundred. Just so you know.

These southern, overwhelmingly white police forces impact young black people from poor neighborhoods on a daily basis. We are talking about the terrifying onslaught on poor, black neighborhoods in which the police are used to keep poor black people “in line”—and in their own “quarters.”

Yes, middle class black people have experienced racism, but we might call the first level of this racism “racial insult.” (And these are just my own categories.)

Racial insults might entail being followed in a store or being talked to in a disrespectful, cruel manner by white coworkers or student colleagues. Maybe you stood in line at the Piggly Wiggly and the clerk pretended you weren’t next. That kind of racism takes a toll on your psyche—trust, I know—but it does not propel six bullets through your body and brain.

Then, there’s the next level of racism: we might call those instances “racial harassment.”

Racial harassment entails the time or two that one middle-class young black man was stopped and harassed by the police. He might have even been arrested, pushed onto the hood of the car, roughed up and made to fear for his life. But at the end of it all, he was able to call his parents, a mentor, or reach into his wallet and pull out the business card upon which his attorney’s name has been embossed.–I am not dismissing the experience of that black man, but what I am saying is, there is a difference between a kid whose parents can bail him out of jail and a kid whose parents have to call a bail bondsman.

And then, we have the third, highest level of racism: “racial violence.” This is where a black person is injured and/or killed by someone in a hate-based crime.

And you might say now, “But, Honorée, we know your background. So who are you to bring this up? And are you seriously trying to say that you know the difference, with your bourgie, middle-class, professor self?”

But yet, I do know the difference, very distinctly. Because yes, I’ve been poor, and yes, I’ve been middle-class and yes, I’ve seen–though not experienced– all three levels of racism first hand. Surprise.

When my parents separated, we suddenly became poor.  My mother, sister, and I lived in what was then called “Section-8 housing” in Southwest DeKalb County, Georgia, and then, in a “poor” black neighborhood in Atlanta. When we visited older relatives in the country (Eatonton) who were living on fixed incomes, they would give us their commodity foods: that huge loaf of so-called “cheese”—which, somehow made the most delicious grilled cheese sandwiches—and the other, processed food products upon which the names were brandished in bold letters: “Milk”, “Peanut Butter,” and so forth.

We ate meat only on the weekends, a lot of pinto beans and cornbread, and sweetened iced tea which took away our appetite, though I don’t think my mama was considering that at the time. And we lived with whole congregations of roaches and rats, sometimes at the same moments, sometimes, at different intervals. And coming from my privileged, middle-class background of Durham, North Carolina, I was extremely demoralized by my poverty—but I soon understood, so were other black kids who did not come from where I came from.

Example: we had the “free” or reduced” stamped on our lunch tickets, and the sticker was very prominent; the kids who didn’t eat those lunches were aware of our financial state and sometimes made not-so-nice comments. And let me tell you, I was terrified that whoever had given my tasteful, carefully chosen outfits to the Goodwill might come upon me wearing them and call me out. My mother worked two jobs in addition to teaching and attending graduate school to keep my sister and me in pocket money so we could perpetrate like we weren’t poor–sometimes leading to bills not being paid–but we never brought our “friends” from school over to visit.

This lasted only four years, but the memory of poverty is as fresh as it was over thirty years ago. The only thing that saved us was that my father died. My Columbia-educated, stingy, college professor-father who, bewilderingly, had taken out a prominent life insurance policy and named my mother as the sole beneficiary. After I left my poverty behind, I knew how lucky I was. The other kids that had that stamp on their lunch card did not have the same background as I, a background which I moved into the foreground with stunningly relieved and brisk grace.

Yes, this is my “class confession.” There are many, many things you do not know about me.

I think about those kids sometimes. About those funky neighborhoods I lived in, where the white police were constantly patrolling, and where the black kids would say to me, “When they come up on you, don’t run. If you run, they gone shoot.”

At least once a month—thirty years later, as I sit in my cute, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in my white neighborhood—I think about my “cut-buddy” friends, Black and Junior and Scut. I think about whether they made it out of their twenties alive. And when I made it to graduate school, I promised myself, I would do anything to never be poor again. Anything.

And I did do anything. I sucked up to white folks to get ahead in my career, I put away my “race rage,” I learned how, when I moved my speech into the black vernacular to laughingly remind people that I was “code switching”–lest, as a (former) white friend told me once, I came off sounding ignorant– and here I am, middle-class again. I can admit the self-effacing, sometimes humiliating actions that kept my thing intact.

We talk about race of our “white allies” and “white privilege” when we talk about the fight against racism. But at some point, I would like us to think of the class of middle class “black allies” who do not have the same experiences that poor black people go through every day.

What are the roles of the middle-class black people who, once the dust has cleared from the protests of Ferguson, Missouri and a child’s funeral is over, can once again fly back home on tickets purchased with their credit cards, and then, walk through their much “nicer,” safe neighborhoods, and drive their late-model vehicles into the two-car garage attached to a home bought with credit based upon jobs at places of business (or education) where they are surrounded by white people they must get along with—and all without the daily fear of the assault on their actual bodies, but only, an assault to their feelings or senses of self-esteem?

I think a lot about the issues I’ve mentioned in this post. I’m asking you to do the same. And after you think, even if you decide you don’t agree with me, just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean I’m not sad a black child is dead.

I’ma Throw Shade If I Can’t Get Paid: Once Again, Writers Need Money, Too.

MoneyPiggyBankLately, when I rant about things on Facebook or Twitter, my friends tell me, “Honorée, you should blog about this!” A lot of times, it has to do with the way writers are treated in terms of money.

I’ve gotten in trouble (a lot) by speaking my mind since I was, like, five, so that makes me a little afraid to, believe it or not. There’s always a danger that speaking my mind will translate into arrogance and I don’t want folks to think that about me.

Also many southern ladies—what we call women below the Mason-Dixon Line—are reared that talking about money is downright rude. Actually, talking about anything owed us southern ladies is considered rude, whether it’s money, cakes for our birthdays, or wedding rings after we’ve had four babies and been living together since President Clinton took office. Southern ladies have been reared to just wait politely and maybe throw hints.

But you gotta be up front when talking about money, unfortunately. So let me put things in my characteristically blunt manner: over the past few years, I’ve encountered a problem talking about money when negotiating for reading fees, meaning money paid to me to come present my work before an audience. I know this is not a new subject, but I think it bears revisiting, especially since the economy crashed, recessed, whatever you want to call it.

To wit: I have noticed that organizations started offering less money for readings by authors. I still get good fees from people—sometimes, as in the case of my recent Witter Bynner Fellowship, phenomenal reading fees. (To God be the glory, as always.)

But there’re always these organizations that will roll on me, asking me to come read for say, $500—what I used to charge when my first book came out fourteen years ago—and invariably, this fee also is supposed to cover my travel, an honorarium, and incidentals. When this happens I always say no, but I always feel, well, defensive when I do.

I shouldn’t feel defensive, but here’s why I do: in the Creative Writing world people will say things like, “I don’t do it for the money, I do it for the love,” or “ I don’t even need to get paid, I just want to see my work published.” These are the folks I would call The Spiritualist Writers.

I’m not throwing shade on The Spiritualist Writers, but with those above comments they are throwing shade on writers who expect to get paid. Writers like me. And this shade implies that there is something lacking in the souls of folks who practice art but also expect to earn money through that art.

Then, there are The Proletariat Writers who say things like, “Literature is for the people.” Okay, I agree. But are the people going to pay my light bill (plus reconnection charges) when my electricity gets cut off?

Then, there are those people who fall into the Mean Girl/Guy Writer category, people who say things like, “Well, Such and Such Writer is worth that much money,” when I look at the list of writers for a reading series and spot a name of someone who I know makes at least $5000 a reading. Not anyone who has won four times the awards that I have or has three times the number of books. Just another, regular writer (clearly with better negotiation skills than I have). But I’m not getting near that amount, though I’m reading on the same series.

What Mean Girl/Guy Writers are saying is that Such and Such Writer is just better than I am, for no apparent reason. They don’t say why, other than, “Oh, s/he gives a heck of a reading.” You know what? I give a heck of a reading. (Ask about me, okay?) And I’m wearing a cute outfit, Spanx underneath while doing it, plus gold, dangly earrings.

So what you got to say about that, Mean Girl/Guy Writer?

Then, there are The Grim Reaper Writers who remind you that “Zora Neale Hurston died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave, so what do you have to complain about?”

I’m convinced these are zombie hybrids of the Mean Girl/Guy Writers Category, only worse: they’re trying to get me so deep into depression about my finances (and whether I will have enough money to pay for a nice funeral) that I stop writing and that will clear the field for them. Also: addicted to Xanax or something.

Then, there are The Keep Cool and Copacetic About It Writers who say, “Look, there are many fine writers out there, so let’s spread the wealth around.”

I completely agree with this sentiment.—But how is paying someone $500 spreading the wealth? Because if someone offers me $500, which is supposed to cover my honorarium and travel as well, they’re actually asking me, “Can you read for free?” But yet, the organization is misrepresenting the offer as if I’m actually getting paid real money, instead of in moral currency or whatnot.

Explanation: first, the IRS is going to take a third of my $500 honorarium. So that’s now $335 after taxes.

Then, I have to pay for my own travel. But in order for me to fly to a reading series from where I live in Oklahoma that’s $400-$600, so now I’m $65 to $265 out of my pocket–unless the reading is the next county over and I can make it there in my thirteen-year- old hoopty.

Then, I have to park at the airport, so that’s another $10 out of my pocket.

Then, I have to buy me a sandwich—or the gluten free equivalent—at the airport on the way there and on the way back. That’s another $14 of my money.

Four bottles of the expensive airport water are $21. Also, my own money.

Finally, I have to give my emotional and spiritual energy to do a reading, because even if the series has asked me to pay my own money to read my work, the audience doesn’t know that and I’m going to give the best I can because that’s my duty. I have to wait until I return home to get swole.

I understand that institutional budgets are low these days for readings series. Things are tough all over financially. But the deal is that’s why I expect to get paid—because things are tough all over. I know there are a lot of writers out there who are not even getting published in the first place. I know they are working hard. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not working hard, too. And, I’m not independently wealthy. I do not have a trust fund. I must work for a living. (My husband works, too.) And part of my work includes my writing.

And when one looks at the number of writers for a yearly series and sees fifteen writers—who are being paid $500 apiece—it is difficult not to wonder how much fairer it would have been to cut the number of readers to five and pay them all $1000 plus travel expenses. This would send the message that writers count in the world, and render a necessary and important service in society. And there would be actual money in someone’s pocket–and equally important, a feeling of good will all around.

Let’s also remember that many of us writers have student loan debt because we borrowed money (with interest) to pay for our training as writers. Are we now supposed to pay to deliver our work to audiences, too? Last I heard, writers did not go into training to be Literary Sharecroppers, always in the hole.