Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Cognitively Promiscuous Week

There were several happenings last week that stuck.  Imma see if I can wrap ’em up neatly for y’all.

1.  According to a Study by an asshole, Black Women are “Rated Less Attractive” than Other Women 

I often say it’s amazing what people think they can say to you.  In an article for Psychology Today, Satoshi Kanazawa waxes scientific with tables and graphs and “mean physical attractiveness” indices, attempting to obscure the inherent bullshit in his study.  I thought we’d already done and summarily dismissed this kind of racism — using pseudo-science to support the absurd notion that Blacks are inferior in every way not just to whites anymore, but to everybody.  Black women, even the “best” of us, can’t land a man to save our lives.  And we’re perceived as uglier than everyone else to boot.  I won’t dignify the Psychology Today post with a superfluous defense of Black women’s beauty.  I will, however, note how insidious this kind of shit is.  Although Psychology Today hasn’t the reach or credibility of, say, the American Medical Association or the like, the deep-seated othering embedded in Kanazawa’s article was researched, edited, and published.  Folks will read this article, and some will believe it, and the cycle of “black is wack” will continue.

In a bitchass, but also wise move, psychologytoday.com has since removed the original post.  It was bad for business, I suppose.  That it was ever there in the first place though is telling.  This questioning of Black legitimacy is part of the fabric of our great Nation.  It is the part we tend to gloss over in our understanding of who Americans are, what America is, how the America we know came to be.  Initially, we questioned the very person-hood of Blacks.  And when we decided reluctantly that Blacks were in fact “persons,” and indeed deserving of all the rights and privileges the quality of being human accords, we then questioned their ability to intellectually conceive of, well, anything intellectual.  They weren’t smart enough to govern themselves, or anyone else for that matter.  And “science” supported those faulty claims too.

It’s easy for Psychology Today to remove the post from its site, perhaps as a way of punishing the author or as a self-correction for publishing inflammatory garbage in the first place.  What’s more difficult to remove, however, is the hubris –the entitlement– that affords this work the light of day in the 21st century.  What grand sense of enlightenment is bestowed upon the masses when we resolve to research the attractiveness of Black American women?  Who benefits when we learn that, scientifically, Black women are less desirable than all other women?  No one does.  The study is yet another advancement of the narrative we’ve heard and witnessed and attempted for centuries to abate:  that we are less than our worth.  There have been victories in this fight, but the work continues.  The President of the United States may be Black, but even he had to prove, in long form no less, that one could be Black and American and President of America at the same fucking time.

2.  Professor West vs. President Obama

The debate on Black leadership wages on, as does the face of Black leadership apparently.  Last week, Professor West said some pretty fool-hardy shit about President Obama.  In my view, his characterization of the President was incendiary and counter-productive to his cause.  All of this nonsense about Obama not returning West’s calls and failing to get him tickets to the inauguration was petty, and beneath the Professor’s dignified intellectual position.  You’ll get no argument from me there.  West’s point, on the other hand, was spot on.

One of the questions I asked my students on their final exam was: Do you think a minority agenda (racial/cultural/ethnic etc) is helped or hindered by capitalism (or capitalist ideology)? Their answers speak to the legitimacy of West’s policy and ideological criticism of Obama.  Personal affronts aside, I don’t think old school Black leaders (and I don’t mean that disparagingly) were necessarily wrong or myopic to expect a certain pointed focus from Barack Obama to minority communities. We assumed, perhaps immaturely and without regard to realpolitik, that because of his background and his own progressive positions and rhetoric, Obama would be a different type of politician. We assumed that he could in some meaningful way dismantle the power structure that keeps Blacks disproportionately poor and disadvantaged — because it’s about personal accountability and all, but it’s also systemic and institutional.

Obviously, West loses the credibility of his argument in calling the President “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.”  But President Obama is now part of the American Institution.  He can chip away as best he can at its unsavory aspects. But his job is to see that the Institution perseveres. And given that capitalism is sustained on the backs of most folks, Obama’s pragmatism — his seeming aloofness with regard to the issues of the poor — unfortunately is par for the course. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect that President Obama might be able to fix the deeply, deeply embedded problems Black Americans face in America. However, the President has the biggest bully pulpit we’ve ever seen, giving him the ability to address more directly the issues of the poor and the disenfranchised — of which Blacks make up a solid majority.  I can appreciate Obama’s professorial and diplomatic pragmatism, but West and these old school Black leaders are right in a sense — Obama ought to stiffen his spine.  But he can’t.  To do so is to take a big, black ass bite of the hand that feeds him.  I know our Black bourgeoisie is comprised of post-Civil Rights Movement Blacks, and we think our era is “different.”  But let’s not be so hasty in assailing our rightful disappointment with the powers that be, which now includes black faces.  In short, the system is the system, and Obama is President of the system.  For cats like West who’ve railed against overt and institutionalized racism for years when it wasn’t personally or socially expedient, seeing a Black man at the helm of this same system that still crushes poor, voiceless folks, hurts.  Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade — you don’t gotta call it dirty names.  But you gotta call it like you see it.

3. Beyonce and 21st Century Feminism

Bey’s new single, “Girls Run the World,” doesn’t inspire me to shake a tail feather as much as “Single Ladies” did.  I’m pretty sure I won’t rush the dance-floor for “Girls” like I did for “Upgrade U” and “Get Me Bodied.”  But I also have no problem dissociating myself from the hoes and the bitches and the groupies that most cats rap and sing about on contemporary radio.

Beyonce Knowles is no bell hooks.  Likewise, these little girls aren’t great scholars with any meaningful interest in Audre Lorde’s or Patricia Hill Collins’ powerful feminist musings.  Bey meets girls where they are, and provides them with the armor they need in the 21st century:  Femininity, power, self-respect, and self-determination.  In other words:  if you got a man, great!  Don’t sacrifice your dignity for that cat though.  And if you don’t have a man, great!  You are enough all by yourself.   So don’t sacrifice your dignity to get one.

Bey isn’t going around unshaven and shit to lend credence to her particular brand of girl power.  She asserts in her own way that little girls can be ladies and all that entails, and still be bawse, runnin shit too.

As academics, we see the world normatively — operating from “should be” and “ought to be” perspectives.  Sometimes it is what it is though.  We’d love it if 9 year olds girls would look to Patricia Hill Collins to explain feminist thought and sexuality, but they aint though.  I’m glad Beyonce speaks to them in a language they understand, and I suspect they are stronger with her than they are without her.

4.  The Rapture

A guy — the rapture guy —  in California thought it was laughable that folks were predicting the world would end in 2012.  On his biblical authority, the end of days was slated for May 21st, 2011.  Yes, last Saturday.  I’m assuming I didn’t get in cause I failed to RSVP.  I’m terrible with those things.  I, like you, was “left behind”.

I don’t do religion.  I understand why people do, and I respect those people.  I’ll just practice the golden rule and respond to the spirit that thrives within me, instead of the guy — the rapture guy or any other — who claims to know what the Creator has in store.  On Saturday night, I didn’t fret about the hereafter.  Instead, I toasted a dry martini to the only Rapture I respect — Ms. Anita’s.

And if Saturday night had turned out to be the end of days, I was ok with where me and the good lord stood.  I didn’t need the rapture guy — or any other — to scare me to my knees.

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My Mama and Me

This Mother’s Day was a bittersweet one for me, as my relationship with my mother can best be described as “complicated.” And at worst, we are estranged — indefinitely. Last year for father’s day, I left my dad a you’ll always be the best man I’ve ever known message on my parents’ answering machine. My mother replied jokingly, but more seriously than she meant to let on, that I “never say that kind of stuff” to her. I never thought much about why I didn’t. In my mind, the bottles of perfume, and the iPod, and the shoes I’d bought over the years, meant the same thing I’d said to my father. But it didn’t to her. And in all honesty, it never occurred to me that she was receptive to sincerity in that way. As a matter of fact, when it does occur to me to describe my mama’s character, sincere just doesn’t come to mind.

Lest I seem too critical of the gorgeous woman that gave me life, I do acknowledge the sacrifices my mother made early on so that I could be anything and everything I dreamed I could be. I appreciate that she pushed aside her personal ambitions to ensure that I had the chance at a better life than hers. My parents nudged me gently, but unmistakably in one direction — up. They encouraged aspiration as opposed to complacency, and brilliance when good enough would do. I knew with absolute certainty that I was my mama’s “pride and joy.” I was her greatest accomplishment and her biggest investment. And I’m pretty sure she cheated on something to get me into Head Start early. But such is life — early bird catches the worm, right? Even if said bird is shady than a mug…

When I was little, my favorite books were The Cat in the Hat and Ferdinand and the Bull. My mom read one or the other to me every night. And although by about time 20, she was over Dr. Seuss and all his carryin on, she kept up our nightly ritual. In part because I was her little girl, and you can’t deny your little girl. And I mean, have you seen my little girl eyes? They really were undeniable. But also, my mom got a kick out of me memorizing the words, and “reading” to her like I knew what I was doing. I think she really just got a kick out of me too. She used to tell me that I used words way too big for someone aged in single digits. So you see, I talk fancy in spite of myself. I’s bo’n this way; can’t help it one bit.

My mom was always so proud of me. She cheered hard and loud at my basketball games, and boasted the way parents do when I excelled at the academic stuff, too. I know my mama loves and cherishes me. Because at 30 years old, I still have trouble saying goodbye at the airport without choking up. In fact, I usually lose my inner gangsta completely on the final embrace, just before we part ways at the security check-in. She may get on my nerves when I’m home, but that last look into her eyes before I leave gets me every. single. time.

But love and pride were never our problem, mine and my mama’s. Since I left for college, we’ve been stuck at acceptance. It’s been difficult for my mother to accept that I grew up, that I’m not the snaggle-toothed kindergardener on her wall anymore. And since I came out, we’ve really just been stuck. Now, I love women in a way that my mother doesn’t, and I’d be frontin with y’all if I pretended not to understand the massive weight of such a revelation. But my degree of gayness is merely part of our overarching issue, which can be defined quite simply. Fundamentally, my mama and I are completely different types of women. While I accepted that fact long ago, and although I suspect that my mother has always known it too, “coming out” as the polar opposite of who she is, has emblazoned our differences. And every day since August 17th 2010, she can’t understand them; she can’t overlook them; and she won’t accept them.

One of my very good friends often challenges my anger at my mother’s stubbornness. I may be oversimplifying his point, but it seems to me that he thinks it permissible to be “disappointed” and to lash out because the morals we cherry-pick are compromised in some way, or because of the romanticized aspects of our heritage. But I’m from the same place they’re from, and I managed to pull my head out of my ass. Is it really too much to expect that others could do so also?

But let me not pretend that “others” are who I really even care about. This is about my mama. And me. And why I didn’t call on Mother’s Day. I did send a card because, despite all that’s happened over the last year, I’m grateful that my mama still lives and breathes, and smiles a beautiful smile. However, I cannot escape the hurt and anger I feel that she can’t accept me as I am. And in my understanding of family, “home” is the one place where acceptance isn’t subject to if-then equations. If you are who I want you to be, then we cool. Home love is supposed to be unconditional, save some really exceptionally foul shit. And for me, being gay simply does not rise to that level.

It hurts that I haven’t spoken to my mama in nearly two months. I know she misses me because I miss her. The reality is, however, that she has dug in, and so have I. I can’t rationalize the things she’s said, the callousness she’s shown, and the choice she’s made to step out of my life. I am her only daughter — her only child. That alone should curry enough favor to get me a ‘I don’t understand, but let’s see where we can find common ground’ conversation. I mean, shouldn’t it? Life is short as fuck sometimes. It is a pity to waste time over issues so small. And we don’t get this time back. And we can’t take the words back.

This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had to stand up for me — in opposition to the folks who created me. I didn’t ask to be born into our family. And, as another very good friend would say, “but I got over it.” I didn’t shun my family fuck-ups. I don’t speak of my own disappointments with family folks who turned out to be, or to not be worth a damn. In my view, being in the world everyday offers enough criticism. My job is to provide support, to exist among the roots and branches of our family tree.

It took me a long time to understand why it was so difficult for my mama and me to connect. The compassion and reason that I give so freely has never really been reciprocated from my mother when I needed it most — when shit was hard, and when compassion was challenged by reality. When I totaled my first car; when her favorite photo from her first cruise flew out of my car window; and when I told her that I was gay. For this reason, I know for sure that my spirit is my father’s. He gives of his time and attention, and his talents because he believes doing so is the right thing to do spiritually, humanly, and universally. He is a good man — not just a great father, but a genuinely great guy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve recognized how difficult it is to be genuine and sincere and decent in a world that thrives on something else. I respect my father’s ability to remember to extend a little grace. He isn’t perfect, and he’s certainly had his share of asshole moments. But who hasn’t? I’m not still mad about when he snapped, “don’t nobody care about your bullshit phone calls!” when I asked him for a pager in 9th grade. Yes, I am. He aint hafta say that shit like that.

So yeah, Mother’s Day was bittersweet for me. I can’t not love and appreciate my mama. But I can’t sacrifice my dignity, or my self-respect, or my confidence in the woman she taught me to be either. I’m so comfortable in my own skin. I won’t give that up. I can’t be who she wants me to be because that’s not who I am. My hope going forward is that one day who I am is enough for her. My work going forward, however, is accepting the possibility that that day may never come.

So yeah, this Mother’s Day was a bittersweet one for me.