AREA CODES

Tupac saw the same ones everywhere he went, Ludacris had them in every area code, and Snoop never loved them. Yes, people.  I’m talking about hoes – the word often used to describe women and girls from every walk of life. According to urban conversational and social norms, a woman can be a rotten, stank, dirty, useless, or crappy one. But take heart, because a woman can apparently also be a good, down ass, and loyal ho as well.  I mean, balance is important, right?

When I was a whole lot less informed and self-reflective, I subscribed to the existence of hoes. I didn’t see the word as a compliment and was of course careful to only apply it to the women who fit the description – women who gave up “the goods” to too many men, women who screwed too soon, women who were too liberal with blow jobs, women whose dresses and skirts were too tight and/or too short, women who wore too much makeup, women who couldn’t stay away from the club spotlight, etc… See, it was ok for me to think of those women as hoes because they weren’t anything like me – the well-behaved woman. I was close-legged, quiet in public, well-read, and had on clothes that showed just the right amount of skin. In retrospect, I am a little ashamed I bought into the man-dated tomfoolery of what a “real” woman versus a ho should do and be, but I’m glad I learned before it was too late.

The entire intention behind the word, “ho” and all its synonyms is to separate girls and women from one another, stifle their sexuality, and destroy their confidence in who they are and the power they hold. The older I get and the more in tune I become with myself as a multi-faceted woman, the easier it is for me to see the flaw in my young thinking and the 58999724disservice society, mostly at the hands of male and religious dominated thought processes, has done to folks as a result. I know now there are no hoes. Hoes and ho-dom are nothing more than constructs created to keep women in check and within the bounds set for them by men and reinforced by society as a whole. I know what some folks might be thinking while reading this – “What do you mean there are no hoes? Of course there are. I mean, what else are we supposed to call ‘those’ women?” My answer for that is they should simply be called women. Since I can remember, I was programmed to separate myself from other girls and women. I couldn’t hang with so and so because she was “fast,” I couldn’t go to certain places because that was where the “loose” girls hung, and I wasn’t allowed to wear certain clothes lest anyone mistake me for a tramp. The divide started early and I was convinced it must have been warranted. I didn’t want to be seen in a negative light and heaven forbid anyone should see me as any kind of ho. With introspection, information, and maturity, things changed.

One of the main problems with calling women hoes is the way it suggests a woman should downplay her sexuality and even apologize for it. A woman isn’t allowed to have sex when she wants with the partners she chooses without feeling guilty because it apparently gives her entirely too much control over her body and seemingly – a certain amount of control over her partners.  If that autonomy is stripped from her, she is left to define herself by someone else’s standards and must spend her time trying to reach for an unrealistic and unfair ideal to maintain her decent reputation. If a woman is completely true to herself and does as she sees fit, her full power is in her possession and no one else can convince her she is wrong.

When having this conversation with a friend, he asked how I categorize women who don’t have sex out of a sense of personal sexual liberation, but instead do it to somehow help/heal themselves because of low self-esteem. I told him those women aren’t hoes to me – they’re just hurt. Though most folks are likely having sex out of a sense of enjoyment, many are having sex trying to replace something they lost or compensate for what they may have never had. Those folks are simply damaged. They’ve been banged up by life and think their sexuality is the playing field where they can recoup. To me, women like this are victims who are hurting and misunderstood, not hoes. These are the women and girls who need someone to reach out instead of ridicule.

I realize it’s difficult for some women to look down from their good woman level and go against everything they’ve been taught about what it is to be respectable, but it’s necessary if they are to ever understand the position of women who seem to have broken all the “good girl” rules.  If more women subscribed to the belief that we aren’t all nearly as separated as we are think, the divide would start to close. This undertaking is probably even more difficult for men. They would have to throw out almost everything they’ve been indoctrinated with to make room for the idea that a woman who goes against the good girl grain is still a woman worthy of respect.

Ultimately, I think it simply comes down to girls and women defining themselves and being unapologetic about it. We are not hoes, tricks, and tramps. We are individuals who tank and triumph and who wear sexy dresses and business suits. Women sleep with whom they like, live a committed life of abstinence and everything in between and not a bit of it makes us hoes. Instead, we are human and for that, we should not have to ever feel ashamed.

WOMEN – FTW

These days, it seems the best way to get through to a lot of women is to be a man who comes up with memes and mini-motivational messages that sound pretty but really don’t do anything but disparage women, blame them for failed relationships or lack of relationships, and remind them how they must bend themselves into pretzels physically, emotionally, and spiritually to “keep a man.” Though I realize I’m living a testosterone- free existence sans the alleged benefits of testicles and a penis, my hope is what I have to say will permeate the minds of the women who read this despite my lack of “maleness”. The ongoing attack on women and girls is real and its effectiveness is evident in face to shoeface conversations, books, film, articles, social networking, advertising, etc… From every direction, women and girls are bombarded with ill-conceived, sexist, and antiquated ideas about who they should be, how they should behave, what they should think, how they should dress, and what they can say without losing that ever important air of femininity all self-respecting girls and women should possess. If a child misbehaves, the first question folks ask is, “Where is his/her mother?” Because after all, a child engaging in humanistic behaviors such as tantrums is surely lacking in proper mothering, right?  If a woman is accosted by a man in public, be it verbally, physically, or both, the question is, “What did you do to provoke this?” Because after all, that woman knows how her “mouth” can be plus, she really shouldn’t have worn that outfit if she wasn’t looking for something to happen to her. If a once married woman is freshly divorced or separated, she is quickly labeled as yet another woman who, “just can’t keep a man.” Because after all, the positive and lasting status of a happy relationship solely falls on the shoulders of the woman and if that connection is somehow compromised, it must surely be because the woman didn’t cook enough, work out enough, listen enough, or blow her man enough. I mean, seriously, when are these women going to get it together? That seems to be the prevailing question when it really should be, “When is this society going to stop holding women responsible for all the tragedy while stripping them of their parts in all the triumphs?”

In this meme and social networking laden society, I see countless attacks on girls and women. Before there is even sufficient opportunity for a girl to develop into an independent minded, pragmatic, creative, self-assured individual, there are all these societal rules and standards applied to her that do nothing but stifle her personal growth. She must learn early on to suppress her intellect, her interests, her ambitions, and her sexuality lest she run off all the boys with her well-earned confidence. She can’t think too highly of herself and what she has to offer the world because what good is education and professional success if one has no man? I mean, all the personal achievements in the world won’t hold you at night and give you babies. So, before a woman can even effectively get started, she’s stunted by someone else’s boundaries for her life. If her clothes are too body conscious, she’s a ho. If she dresses too conservatively, she’s a stick in the mud. If she likes to have an unabashedly good time, she’s a party girl only good for one thing. If she prefers books and baking to bashes, she’s the ideal for a wife, who will likely be cheated on with the woman having the unabashedly good time. On the surface, all this makes it appear there is no winning. However, girls and women can walk away with the win – if they create their own definitions. When women opt to define womanhood for themselves, be it a homemaking, cookie baking, baby raising, homeschooling one or one of bachelor degrees, boardrooms, mixers, and contract negotiations (or even one in between), we WIN. When we understand “real” women are not just one way but are made up of every kind of woman conceivable from the video vixen to the nun, we WIN. When we stop defining ourselves based on the antiquated and damaging views of old wrapped up in a bow and made to look pretty, we WIN. I see memes regularly pitting one type of woman against the other. Recently, it was Amber Rose v. Michelle Obama waxing philosophical womenabout doing anything for attention versus demanding respect. It raised my dander without question. I don’t know Amber Rose or Michelle Obama, but I do look at them and see two women seemingly doing the work that makes them happy. One twerks and one touts the goodness of homegrown vegetables and regular exercise and to me, BOTH are women deserving of respect and patriarchy has no right to strip it from either of them.  When women become elitist and use what they see as their social status to down other women whose life choices are different, we LOSE. When we let the framework of patriarchy define womanhood for us causing division among us, we LOSE. I hate being a loser. It took a lot of introspection, reading, listening, inquiring, and rewiring for me to get past my upbringing and the affect societal ideals of what makes a woman worthwhile for me to understand the constructs of femininity and realize I get to define what it means to me without the influence of old adages, religious rhetoric, or sexist foolishness developed by men and sadly partly perpetuated by women.  Though it took me almost 40 years, the journey was worth it because – I WIN. Now I know without question, the prostitute on the corner is a woman just like I am in the corporate world. The 21 year old woman with two children by two different men trying to hold it down is a woman, just like the wife of the President of the United States. Different lives, different choices, but still women and deserving of better than a bunch of judgment and denigration.

Despite my lack of male parts, I know now what it is to be a woman. It is simply about being comfortable in one’s skin, being interested in constant self-improvement, and not feeling the need to make apologies for being witty, talented, flexible, sexual, or spiritual. It’s about standing firm in who one is and not letting it be a result of who someone else said one should be. That is how we WIN. When we teach these ideas to our daughters, nieces, and mentees, we allow them to visualize a world in which they create their own reality instead of one that picks the truth for them forcing them to acquiesce to an existence of mediocrity and glass ceilings. I need to see little girls WIN.

Memes and mini-motivations messages via cell phone videos have their place, I suppose. I generally think of these things as funny ways to pass time, but when they are used as tools to down women and convince them everything that ails humans is our fault, I have to take exception to them.  Changing the definitions is how women WIN.

 

 

 

A Smattering of Mattering

Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014
blacklivesmatterAfter far too many deaths of unarmed black men AND women at the hands of law enforcement, the motto of the movement to fight against this enduring injustice  is “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Folks have seen this phrase on protest signs, t-shirts, hats, Facebook cover photos, as twitter hashtags, etc… Usually, there is some brown person iterating the phrase and trying to convince this disjointed society the sentiment is indeed true, despite all the bloody evidence showing too many folks in positions of authority do not believe it. Though I am saddened by the thought there is even a need for black folks to advise the world of their worthiness to live, I support the campaign wholeheartedly and often repeat the phrase for my benefit and the benefit of those with whom I come in contact. Despite the absolute truthiness in this phrase, there is now an effort to minimize the poignancy of the phrase by simply saying, “ALL LIVES MATTER.”

Look, the value of life has been touted by the majority since the beginning of time. Respect for human, animal, and plant life is always discussed through popular media, activism, and other information avenues. There are sit ins, shut ins, and die ins all focused Riceon informing the public and protesting against “the establishment” in the interest of protecting what matters. People are assaulted, arrested, and vilified in their efforts to protect the sanctity of that which is relevant for the greater good. In all this protest and activism, there is finally a phrase that embodies the sentiments of black and brown folks everywhere – that our lives have meaning, that we are people, not animals, that we live, breathe, and bleed, and that we, like every person, every plant, and every animal- MATTER. Now, there is an effort to detract from that movement by simply reminding the world that ALL lives matter.

First of all, of course they do. One would be hard pressed to find someone within the BLACK LIVES MATTER camp sans respect for life in general, but that isn’t the issue here. The problem is those opting to gloss over the terrorist-like actions of certain law enforcement entities snuffing out the lives of black folks because they do not believe BLACK LIVES MATTER. Those who murder us when our hands are up, when we are on our knees, when we sit in our cars, or when we dare to simply be existing on the street do not believe our lives matter. They look at black folks and see problems instead of people and therefore, it is imperative we remind them the black lives they so cavalierly take MATTER.

Secondly, the world already knows white lives matter. Let’s face it, when folks change BLACK to ALL, it’s really a whitewashing of the belief BLACK LIVES MATTER. It is a reminder of what anyone in this country was raised knowing – white life matters unequivocally. From TV shows to school history books, we all know white is relevant. What isn’t apparent is the equally relevant value of black life. A hundreds of years old history ofhawkins being treated as less than has a way of convincing others black life really isn’t that valuable. BLACK LIVES MATTER exists to chip away at that flawed thinking. Just as we’ve all been told repeatedly how much white life matters, we must ingrain that same thinking in the world when it comes to black lives.

Lastly, black folks do not have to explain why their lives matter. The fact we are humans is reason enough to know we matter. The fact our lives are often disregarded is evident when we are questioned about why we insist on reminding the world we matter. The very fact we need a campaign to spread this very basic and innate fact is evidence our Crawfordexistence is devalued regularly. If going out into the world and launching a campaign to let all people know what they should have always known is required, so be it. I will continue to write, text, tweet, and status update my way through to promote the relevance of black lives and I will do so without apology.

The harassment, assault, and murder of unarmed black folks, the lack of indictments for those murders, and the ensuing claims that we are thugs, criminals, and intimidating figures and therefore deserve to be murdered, armed or not, is indicative of the need to spread the message that BLACK LIVES MATTER and folks should shout this fact until their voices are hoarse and fingertips bloody from typing. No apologies and no take backs.

Dads Who Lunch

While sitting in a restaurant for lunch yesterday, I saw the older man sitting at the table next to me stand up to greet his approaching daughter. His face lit up when she arrived and he squeezed her like she was the most important person he knew. I tried not to be obvious with my staring, but sometimes in all my efforts to exude strength and fierceness, I see something that reminds me of my vulnerabilities.

Over my life, I’ve often lamented my lack of an active and interested father. My father’s indifference served to provide me with an emotional void, random insecurities, and in my young adult life, a need to have men like and validate me, or at least pretend to. As hard as my mother worked to be a great parent, she was limited by human nature. No one parent can be a mother and father to a child. That simply isn’t the way it works.  Unfortunately, the school of thought meant to bolster the confidence of single parents by telling them they can be both mother and father is misleading and serves to negate the relevance of dadlunchthe other parent at the peril of the child.

Now, I would be lying if I said I am not a well-adjusted, fully functioning, self sufficient, contributing to society 40 year old. Fortunately, I have turned out pretty well, but  a few poor life choices in my younger life gave me the kind of life lessons I probably would have avoided if had an interested father. It isn’t any fun, but it seems to be the common reality of those of us who go without one parent.

I have nothing but love for my mother who gave me everything she knew to give and loved me in a way that helped me feel relevant. Familiar with the issues I’d encounter, she tried her best to prepare me and keep me feeling whole and for that, I am grateful. However, despite excelling in her job as a super mom, there were still a few glitches in my deadbeat dad life matrix. I certainly acknowledged and overcame them with time, but the road was pretty bumpy. Sitting in that restaurant and looking at the man and his daughter made me wonder if some of my pitfalls could have been avoided with a few lunches.

Dying To Say NO

whistling

Woman Shot, Killed After Saying No To A Man’s Advances, Detroit Police Say

I wish it wasn’t the case, but I think it’s happened to most girls and women: while walking along minding one’s own business, one or more men scream out their approval of a woman or girl’s looks and a desire to possibly have sex with her by way of obscenities, crass gestures, and sometimes actually touching her without her permission. If she doesn’t seem interested or pleased with the attention, she is told to “smile” or to “lighten up”,  physically assaulted, or advised she probably just needs some dick, because really, isn’t this what all women need? Of course, every man who thinks this way has the power to cure all a woman’s ills with his penis.

Street harassment and cat calling are the most popular names for this behavior and it seems steeped in misogyny, chauvinism, and the lack of accountability this society applies to men regarding how they view, approach, and treat women. Recently, Mary Spears, a Detroit mother of three, was murdered because she dared to be disinterested in a man who approached her. He became agitated and started shooting, killing her and wounding five others. And though this man is somewhat of an outlier, he is an example of what it’s like for women who turn down the advances of a man who thinks like the ones on the street who cat call, bully, harass, disrespect, and insult the women in their paths.

I Was Just Saying Hello

I tire of this excuse. Most people know communication is not just verbal. Tone and non-verbal cues are methods of communicating as well. The way I say hello to my mother is definitely not the same way I say it to a man in whom I am interested. This consistent feigning of innocent gestures based in common courtesy needs to stop. A greeting accompanied by hungry stares and sexual innuendo is not a simple, “hello.” It is a sexual advance and in most cases, it is one that isn’t welcomed. Just stop it.

You Need To Smilenosmiling

STOP telling women they need to smile. They don’t need to do anything but mind their business as they travel from one place to another. Smiles are not required. There is no city, state, or countrywide ordinance requiring women to perform all their life tasks while grinning maniacally to appease strange men who might be interested in seeing what their smiles look like before attempting to have sex with them or for them to smile so men can feel better about cat calling and street harassing them. Just cut it out. If you want to see a woman smile, work on being a decent guy who treats his woman well. I guarantee you won’t be able to get a woman to stop smiling. In the meantime, leave us and our dispositions alone on the street.

That B*tch Is Rude

Listen, no woman has to greet a man back if he greets her first. This is not a life requirement. Frankly, in many street harassment scenarios, the scene feels so unsafe, trying to be polite to a street bully by speaking politely does nothing more than exacerbate an already dangerous situation. Really, even if a woman doesn’t speak because she just doesn’t want to, that’s ok too and the men who cat call need to know that. No woman owes a man any of her time, conversation, smiles, or words of gratitude.

Telling a woman you like her pants while staring at her ass is NOT a compliment. That is creepy behavior and a woman is not a bitch for ignoring that or for checking the man who says it. Letting a woman know you’d “hit that” is NOT a compliment to her level of attractiveness and a woman who ignores that is not a rude bitch. Ultimately, even if the greeting really is a simple hello sans sexual innuendo and a woman still doesn’t respond, that is her right too. No woman has to speak to men on the street. It’s all choice and should be respected as such. Besides, if a man is truly polite with his greeting and doesn’t receive one back, he should just chalk it up to avoiding interaction with a woman who doesn’t want him. Lucky you, sir.

harassmentHow Else Am I Supposed To Meet Women?

How men meet women is never a woman’s problem. Not ever. And men who think the way to “meet” women is by harassing her on the street while she tries to reach her destination safely and peacefully, don’t EVER need to meet women anyway.  Now, there are all sorts of social settings people attend to meet others – bars, restaurants, clubs, art galleries, museums, mixers, meet up groups, etc… There are a long list of places where women likely feel safe and amenable to a man respectfully approaching her. Perhaps the men bothering women on the street should mull this over instead of blaming women for not wanting to be harassed on the street.

As a woman who sometimes walks from A to B, I don’t ever want my safety to be at risk because some clown feels entitled to my time and attention and demands it by verbally or physically assaulting me. I am not anybody’s ho, baby, shorty, girl, or bitch and I don’t answer to those because none of them are my name. Men who know my name wouldn’t talk to me this way and those who don’t need another approach.

Sorry, Not Sorry

PaulaIt often starts at an early age – two children are out on a playground insulting one another for some reason. The words get harsher and turn into flying baby fists. After prying the two apart, the authority figure calms the children, hears their stories, then demands the two apologize to one another. Usually, the apologies are lackluster. With clear vitriol and perhaps even future plans to pound on each other some more out of the eyesight of prying adults, the angry children mumble insincere apologies to one another, are sometimes forced to find kinder and more sincere-sounding ways to give those apologies (“Say it like you mean it!”), then go to their separate life corners. I know I have been this child a few times and it leaves me wondering if the apology is really necessary. DL

Granted, exchange of cruel words and physical blows is not a good way for anyone, child or adult, to spend time. If I had my way, life would only be about discovering pleasures, loving each other, existing in harmony, and randomly breaking out into choreographed dances everyone inexplicably knows how to do without having practiced as a group.  But alas, life isn’t like that at all. Conflict is very real and it is constant. One’s idea of honesty can lead to greater understanding or incense others, which can lead to some sort of bash fest. Sometimes, just feelings get bashed and other times, faces do.

But whether or not the conflict is true, false, mean, or somewhat mild, what is it about human nature that requires an apology to be made whole? What makes folks so willing to accept an unfelt apology for being willfully wronged? When fighting over Legos and getting hit in the face, a mumbled, “Sorry,” has never done anything for me but make me more irritated.
TayYe
Then there’s the gracious acceptance one is expected to give after receiving a half-hearted forced apology. One is wronged on purpose, the perpetrator is “caught”, and suddenly, one has to become some sort of Mother Theresa/Ghandi type of figure and be willing to turn all the cheeks to accommodate an insincere apology so as not to look like a douche. What if we all just stopped that? What if the next time someone comes with the fake apology, we all just tell them it isn’t real and therefore isn’t accepted? What if nobody was forced to make the fake apology in the first place? Wouldn’t that make things better?

I suppose my real issue with forced remorse is the fact  authority figures are helping lay the foundation for the way so many of us lie about the way we feel and the things we do as adults. Some folks plot and scheme, enact their evil plans, then apologize to beg off on responsibility. Other times, the aggrieved accepts the apology with a quick, “It’s ok,” when it is far from “ok,” because it’s easier to avoid discussing feelings than it is to confront matters. Stephen

Though I believe heartfelt remorse and apologies are definitely called for in relationships centered around love, mutual respect, and professionalism, there are some times when one just isn’t sorry.  Why do we insist on forcing her to pretend to be otherwise? I can say I have never appreciated a reluctant apology and certainly not the kind that drips with some sort of tone that let’s me know the words are being uttered under duress. These days, politicians and other public figures, parents, lovers, and friends have found a way to give the half assed apology. You know, it’s the kind during which a person apologizes for the way the aggrieved party feels. “I’m sorry you felt that way about me punching you in the stomach,” OR “I’m sorry if you thought me calling you a fat, jobless, hopeless bump on a log meant I do not think you’re smart.” These sorts of apologies are the worst to me. Somehow, folks find a way to utter the words, “I’m sorry,” and blame the person they wronged at the same time. It is cowardly and insulting and I prefer silence over that. I can accept a person feeling his behavior was justified and needs no apology before I can accept one that means nothing to the person who uttered it.

SterlingAt this point, I prefer the “Sorry, not sorry,” method. It is honest, it is real, and it is sums up everything. It says, “Though I respect the fact you feel uncomfortable, wronged, or hurt in some way by what I said or did, I have to be honest in telling you I am completely okay with my choice and respectfully decline to make any apologies for it.” The idea of it all seems so freeing! No more faux apologies and forced feelings. No more resentment for being made to accept an apology that wasn’t heartfelt and no more masking of ill-will. Everyone gets to be his or herself. Of course, the downside is the fact there are always consequences for one’s actions, so one has to understand there may be some hell to pay for being unapologetic. I, however, am willing to accept that possibility for the opportunity to change the mamby pamby way we are socialized from an early age to lie to ourselves and others for the sake of appearances. And you know what? I’m not sorry.

 

Word Up

words1

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yes indeed, that is often one of the first little mantras one learns in life and generally chants on a playground in response to other children being mean. From the time we are small, our parents tell us what other folks say about and to us really doesn’t matter and it is really all about who we believe we are. As we grow older and get into the dating and professional games, elders and friends tell us not to listen to what folks say, but to instead focus on what they do. “Talk is cheap.” So, we go out into the world with this very definite idea about words being irrelevant, but is talk really as low budget as we like to imply it is? Are we really the “rubber” we learn about as children that makes us impervious to cruel words or are we at times forever affected by the glue of what we hear?

words3I’ve always been a thinker. I am constantly mulling over what happened during the course of my day and sometimes, the course of my life. I often think about who I spoke to, what we discussed, what I read, what I would have said to the person who got on my nerves during the course of the day had I been given the opportunity, what I should write on this blog, etc… I still remember words people said to me in childhood, good and bad. Both play in my head and can alter my mood in that moment and every now and then, the way I feel about who I am. Because of this, I have a really hard time imagining myself as that rubber repelling the glue of other folks’ ugly words. I’m just not buying into it.

I think at one point or another, everyone has been injured by words. Unlike a bruise or Words5blackened eye that will heal and disappear over time, words stick. I hear them in the moment they are said and hear them resound loudly over time. I have been called stupid, ugly, fat, stuck up, and a know-it-all, among other things. Despite knowing those adjectives don’t truly define me, how realistic is it for folks to think I can forget those words and pretend they are meaningless?

Granted, I do not condone wallowing in words and allowing them to cripple me. However, to accomplish that, I have to make a conscious effort to see past insults and look inward for the ways in which I believe myself to be awesome. That isn’t always easy when outside forces are focused on the negative, but it is imperative for my self-preservation. Once a hurtful person utters cruel words, it takes a while for me to process it, refuse to lend any validity to it, and move on from it. Regardless of the length of time, I have to take every step to assure I end up in a good place unaffected, or at least minimally affected, by other folks’ foolery.

The main way to remedy the long term hurts words can cause is to be mindful of what one says. I make it a point to think about what I say before I say it. I don’t want to be one of the voices someone carries around in his/her head becuse I said something mean I can’t take back and the other person can’t forget. I don’t want to cause the kind of pain that resonates for years. Words4

So, yeah, sticks and stones break bones, but doctors re-break and set them. Words are something else entirely. They echo and they stay. A cast, sling, or a few band aids won’t fix what words can do so building an emotional armour that reinforces everything good about oneself is paramount in this life fight. In the meantime, I continue to make sure I don’t spew glue all over anyone else’s self-image.  Words can hurt worse than any stick or stone.

 

If you would like to learn more about the weight of words, like the Words Hurt Campaign page on Facebook.

I’s Forty Now.

I can always conjure it up in my mind: Shug Avery running through the field next to her Shugfather’s horse and carriage calling out, “I’s married now!” thinking it would set things right with him and erase years of abondoned children, carousing, and the kind of sexual experimentation that went against her upbringing. Shug tried it, but it didn’t quite work in the moment. I’m no Shug Avery (yet), but I did just celebrate a milestone birthday and it may not erase everything that happened from 0-39, but it is a sign I may need to stop doing some things, do a few things differently, and start doing others. I’s forty now.

I was walking and thinking today. I thought about some behaviors I should definitely end and wondered about some experiences I haven’t had that I should definitely add to my bucket list. I compiled a short list in my head and will likely add to it over time.:

1. I need to buy better panties. Not that I was wearing someone’s great-grandmother’s bloomers with the ruffled elastic arond the knees, but at forty, I definitely need to make sure I stay in the pretty panty section and ignore the all-too-familiar call and draw of the four pack of cottony soft Jockeys hanging on the wall. I mean, I’m forty now, I need the special panties displayed in the bins that are 5 for $20. I think I’ve earned it. I’m moving on from the pack of four for $10 to the upscale draws that cost $4 per pair. Shoot, I’m feeling fancier just making this declaration. How can I really expect to enjoy forty if I’m wearing the panties of a thirty-nine year old?

2. I need to buy a bigger TV. For years, I said my 27″ TV was more than sufficient. I’m not one obsessed with the newest electronics, though I dig convenience and technology in general. I could see the picture, it was paid for, and just because it had the old school tubing and humongous back making it impossible to place it flush with the wall, I kept rockin’ with it anyway. A year and a half ago, I invested in a flat screen, thinking I was moving up the TV hierarchy. It is 32″ inches, which is better than a 27″, but it turns out it  is the same size TV most folks I know buy for their small children’s bedrooms. That makes me just a little ashamed of myself, so I’m thinking at forty, it’s time for a grown up sized TV on which to watch my grown up programs. Now, if I could just convince myself a one-time TV cost will not interfere with my shoe shopping hobby…

Forty3. I should invest in a few high end garments for my closet. Though I will never be too old for a fantastic deal or a quick outfit that probably won’t hold up past the night its needed, a good white button up shirt, a black skirt, some black slacks, and a black blazer all made from quality material are items any self-respecting forty year old should have in the closet. It is time for me to go into the grown up store and make things happen.

4. I need to schedule a mammogram. Forty became super real for me when my health care provider’s automated system called me early in the morning the day after my birthday to remind me it was time for me to schedule an appointment to have my boobs smashed between two cold hard plates while a stranger watches and takes pictures of my inner tit. Apparently, the proper name is mammogram. I know it will not be an amazing experience, but it’s necessary, boob health is imperative, and this x-ray is going to help me make stay close to my fitness plans. I just wish there was some sort of box I could stick my boob in instead, but alas, I’m on my way to get them squeezed, and not in the way I like.

5. I need a home bar stocked with high end liquor. When I was a kid, I watched many shows with characters who would come home, loosen a tie or take off some heels, then make a b-line to the home bar to pour a good drink from a fancy decanter. I always thought it strange because I grew up in a house with a mother who didn’t drink, but now, I dream of having such a well-stocked bar in the comfort of my living room. Top shelf alcohol, a cute rolling bar, and some pretty decantors to make me feel fancy are now on my Things To Buy at Forty list. I want to walk in the door and unwind like George and Weezy these days instead of coming home to a Capri Sun mixed with some $5 vodka. I have to do better.

6. I need to buy a grown up bed. When I bought my first bed, I was so proud of myself. I got it at a legitimate furniture store, it wasn’t crafted from wood slats and cinder block, and I even had to work a little overtime to pay for it. What I didn’t consider while I was congratulating myself on my new bed was the fact I needed a mattress and box spring to accompany it. Now strapped for cash after buying the actual bed, I had to find myself a cheap mattress and box spring. I asked around and called a few folks and was referred to a local furniture store that sold what I needed for  little money. It was in my price range, so I went for it. That was about twelve years ago. So, for the longest time, I was sleeping on a bed probably made to last no longer than two  years. At least I can say I got my money, and probably someone else’s money, out of it. When I moved from my last place, a friend and I threw the mattress and box spring down the stairs and giggled at the destruction. This time, I will buy a grown up bed that costs a grown up SALE price, and I will sleep well and bask in my forty year old woman-ness while experiencing the comfort of my purchase. It is the least I can do for my reputation as a respectable adult and for my 40 year old back.

Forty feels good so far. The past 18 days have been filled with some interesting ups and downs (mostly ups), but I know the privilege of this age is coupled with a responsibility to be better and live better and I plan to do just that.

Over-Activism

For three or four days, I was heavily engaged in conversations about the ridiculous Donald Donald SterlingSterling debacle. I engaged in verbal conversations and argued, advocated, and admonished via Facebook about various aspects of racism, racial discrimination, being recorded unwittingly, “chick on the side” status, lawsuits, bans, and fines. I was pretty tuckered out after a few days, so I had to bow out of any further discussions to assure my head wouldn’t explode prematurely (yes, it will probably happen one day anyway).

While the exchange of ideas about Sterling was going on, I was tapped on the shoulder by other tweets and Facebook status updates and reminded that I should stop talking about the racist NBA franchise owner and instead turn my attention to the over 250 girls who were the victims of a mass kidnapping in Nigeria. So, I took a break from racism in America and took time to talk about these babies, the danger they are facing, the cruelty of selling bringbackthem for about $12 apiece to a bunch of creepy grown men, the lack of respect for girls and women, and the seeming inaction of various entities in facilitating the search and rescue necessary to bring them home. I was at the height of my tirade when I was reminded that I’m still supposed to be indignant over the disappearance of a whole plane full of whole people, irate over the lack of equal pay for women for equal work, furious with the Supreme Court for the way it seems to be chipping away at Affirmative Action, sad over the loss of life from the South Korean ferry that sunk, vigilant about conserving water for the drought here in Northern California though a lot of that would be solved if we weren’t still routing so much of our water to Southern planeCalifornia, worried about the plight of black youth in America while daily crying over Trayvon Martin, and a whole bunch of other tomfoolery that plagues my life and the lives of those around me. All I am really trying to do is figure out when I’m supposed to sleep, eat, or work if I’m expected to spend my every waking moment fighting causes, signing petitions, weeping openly, and going into verbal tirades based in righteous indignation. The truth is – I’m tired.

Most of the time, I feel like I’m being pursued, arrested, charged, tried, and imprisoned by the Care Police; those folks in social media, in one’s family, and sometimes, right in one’s home, who are constantly telling everyone where there concerns should lie. If too much focus is in one area, members of the Care Police force will swoop right in to tell others they shouldn’t be talking about reality show stars’ adult film forays but should instead be worried about global warming and all the hungry children in some third world county. They will remind folks they aren’t really as black or as conscious or as down as they could or should be because they are wondering if the missing white girl of the day has been found instead of worrying and wringing their hands over the missing girls in Nigeria. It doesn’t matter that one is capable of being concerned about ALL the girls, the new social networking requirement indicates one must comply and show verbally and/or written forms of their concern for the cause du jour, according to the Care Police official agenda. With all these spoken and unspoken expectations, it’s is amazing if one can complete any task from start to finish when her care rations are so thinly spread.

To maintain my sanity and to feel like my level of concern is relevant and my resulting actions effective, I’ve learned to break away from the self-righteous grasp of the Care Police and develop my own ideas about how to deal with the craziness of the day. Social helpactivism starts in the home. One doesn’t need petitions, picket signs, and scathing emails to get that started. Take up the cause of being aware before obsessing over everything else. Ask the question, “Am I meaningfully connected to those close to me? Do I help my friends and family?” Starting there and THEN working one’s way outward to the more far reaching issues of the world is the most reasonable plan of action. It makes no sense to first worry about what happened abroad or in the next state over if one’s best friend is suffering. Though ALL these issues matter, starting where one can do the most to help is the best way to influence people and circumstances.

My toddler niece was scheduled for a surgical procedure today and another young relative of mine is in a hospital now getting a picc line that will hopefully be the cure for what ails him. My friends and family are concerned, anxious, and worried. How can I overlook that and spend the majority of my time with my mind on Nigeria, South Korea, racist rhetoric, and everything else crazy happening right now when the people I love the most are close enough for me to help RIGHT NOW?

Make no mistakes about it; I absolutely care about kidnapped girls, disappearing planes, ferries sinking, and wealthy racists with influence over the well-being and progress of black and brown people. I will always rage against the tomfoolery of the day, be it local or international. However, I realize what I do to counteract those things means absolutely nothing if I step over my sister laying in the street to get to my flight to go fight trouble outside my home. Who am I if not the keeper of those I proclaim to love?

It is no easy feat to get past the pressure of those ever-diligent Care Police officers, but once one is aware of her purpose and the place where her care can be placed most effectively, it is simpler to drown out the self-righteous rantings and get in where one fits in. My best fit is right in my own home first.

 

Lupita For the Win…Or Something.

PeopleSo, I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and saw actress, Lupita Nyong’o, made the cover of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People edition. I glanced at the picture, smiled because I think it definitely bodes well for her, and kept scrolling. The next day, a Facebook acquaintance posted People’s article about Nyong’o with a caption that said, “Black Women FTW (For The Win).” Though I certainly think pulling the cover of People’s famous issue is a wonderful move for her career, I am unable to concede Lupita’s present popularity trickles down to the average black woman like me and I don’t believe I need it.

When Halle Berry “won” the Academy Award for best actress, I sat in my living room clapping confusedly and wondering how and why it happened. She graciously accepted the award, spoke of how honored she was, and called the names of the black women who paved the acting road before her. It was a really historical moment, but the next day at work, nobody cared about Halle’s win. My boss didn’t treat me differently, my coworkers didn’t throw down any rose petals to cover my path, and I still had to do the same work I’d been doing for years. What it boiled down to was  that award was really only a benefit to Halle. It didn’t really work for me despite my black woman status. The same thing applies to Lupita.

A wonderful reminder and living example of black women’s beauty, Lupita’s presence has been a welcome change from the status quo of celebrity black beauty. With her dark skin, short natural hair, and slight frame, she is showing mainstream America a display of beauty black folks have always known existed. I see Lupita every day. In the grocery store, at the hair salon, in my workplace – everywhere there are beautiful black women who live outside the small parameters of the definition of beauty we never created and by which we  should not have to adhere. All heights, body types, skin tones, hair textures and colors,  clothing styles, etc…are represented whenever I leave the house and every last one of these women possesses that same type of unfettered beauty Nyong’o exudes on each red carpet she graces.

So, since I’ve touted the goodness of Lupita and her People Magazine cover, it probably sounds like I think she is helping to expose the mainstream world to the beauty of black women thereby making all our little black lives better, but I don’t think that’s the case and even if it were, I wouldn’t care. Though I believe her presence has sparked some previously uncommon conversations among some, I do not believe her success is a win for black women overall. For me, to concede that would mean black women have just been sitting around for  years waiting for mainstream America (white folks) to think we’re pretty, to value our beauty, and to recognize it in the media and on the runway and I just don’t think that’s true.

Beauty among black women is not new or rare. It is a staple of our makeup. We were beautiful as rulers of nations, as slaves oppressed by the indecent and hateful, as maids and nannies caring for white children while sending our own to babysitters, as teachers, attorneys, lawmakers, cooks, and any other profession. That beauty did not need, and still doesn’t need to be validated by white folks. It is real and always will be. So, to me, Lupita’s popularity and visibility on the red carpet and runway isn’t a win for black women, though I love seeing here there. It is a win for everyone else who refused to see our beauty and is now faced with its reality. Now they know what we always did.  You’re welcome.