Oct
2012

Kique’s Ghost – A Halloween (Self) Love Story

Note: I originally wrote and posted this story for Halloween 2007 as part of chica lit blog tour. I repost it with minimal changes. If you enjoy it, please comment and share. Thank you!   



KIQUE’S GHOST

By Sofía Quintero



Even through the veil of my hat, I see all eyes are on me as I sachet down the aisle toward Kique’s casket. Good. That’s the main reason why I squeezed my big ass into the red spandex dress. The same dress I wore on our first date when I was two sizes smaller.

Just as I reach the casket, a teary-eyed girl barely out of her teens carries away a toddler on her hip. Don’t ask, Lili. Just let it go. I take a deep breath and look into the casket. Damn it if Kique don’t look good! The bochinche was that the last woman he burned had shot him right between the eyes. Guess not. I glance at his crotch. Well, if she aimed there, the damage is not obvious.

‘Chacho, the undertaker really did an amazing job. Kique’s soul patch is sharply trimmed. Those perfect lips, rose and soft, are shaped into his signature smirk. Kique looks exactly the same way he did the day I realized I had fallen for him. That memory gives me the courage to do what I vowed I would to all my disbelieving girlfriends when this day came.

I look to my left then check to my right. Everyone is too busy mourning – or glaring at the llorona en la esquina who’s making a performance of it – to watch me. I lean over Kique’s body, lift my veil and spit on him.

“Burn in hell, ¡asqueroso!

Then I spin on the heels of my Via Spiga stilettos and march out of the funeral. Through the veil of my hat, I watch the others as they stare at me, their eyes so swollen and red. Look at them crying for Kique. Wearing black. Falling over themselves to praise him now that the son of a bitch is dead.

Di que Kique was so funny ‘Member the time he did eso y lo otro?

Or when he was working, Kique was so generous.

And my personal favorite. Kique loved his children. All five of them. If he knew about ’em, he loved the hell out of those kids of his.

¡Hipocritas! All of them, if they truly knew him. Where’s the bitch who shot him? That’s who I want to see. Shake her hand. Buy her a drink. Ask if his eyes were open when she did it. Why she did it? That I don’t need to ask.

Just as I push open the door that leads from the parlor into the lobby, I hear glass crash against the tiled floor. A black wave rushes by me as mourners run past me toward the commotion. When I reach the scene, Kique’s brother and best friend pull apart two women who still claw for each other. Water, glass, and carnations are all over the lobby floor.

“¡Saca a esa pendena, Junior!”yells the petite negrita with the box braids. “She didn’t give a shit about Kique, and everybody knows it!”

The voluptuous chinitascreams back, “You’ve always been jealous of me, bitch, ‘cause I’m the mother of his only son.”

Someone behinds me sucks her teeth. “That ain’t true,” she mumbles “Doesn’t Kique have a son in Santo Domingo?”

Another woman say, “And a daughter in Haina.” The revelation inspires several gasps. Don’t these people know by now that scuttlebutt regarding Kique’s “reproductivity” should be believed until proven otherwise?

I’m so over all this. As the catfight ensues, I ease my way through the crowd to the exit. By the door is an easel with a poster of Kique from his three-month stint as a real estate agent. It reads Enrique Kique Gilberto Mendoza, April 29, 1975 – October 29, 2012. As I walk by the easel, I snarl at Kique’s picture and point to the crowd. “Damn it, Kique . . . even in death!”

Once outside the funeral home, I hand the parking attendant my ticket. As I wait for him to bring my car, I break out a cigarette. Fuckin’ Kique Mendoza’s dead.

I had just turned twenty when we met. Before Kique I was too busy being the dutiful daughter to date. Going to college, working my way through school, practically becoming the matriarch of the family as my mother cared for my father. . . What little time I had for a social life, I didn’t want to waste on the boys around me because they were just that. Boys who just wanted one thing and yet were incapable or unwilling to offer much in return.

Then Kique came along and swept me off my feet, giving me all the romance I had been missing. Craving really. Then he ruined me for all men.

That’s not a compliment.

Suddenly, a chill dances up my spine, and I shiver. What gives? It was almost seventy degrees when I left my apartment! The temperature must have dropped drastically in the few minutes I had been inside the funeral home. That’s October in New York for you.

I wrap my arms myself while I wait for the valet to bring my car. He takes his time, stealing long glances at my dress. Or more like my ass busting out of it. That’s why you’re cold, Lili! I flick away my cigarette and drag the valet out of the driver seat so I can hop in. The car’s pretty damn cold, too, so I blast on the heat as I drive off.

Only when I pull onto the Bronx River Parkway do I remember I still have on this silly hat with the veil. I laugh at myself as I sit on the entrance ramp and check oncoming traffic. Just before I’m about to merge, I pull off the hat and fling it onto the passenger seat.

“Nice hat.”

I almost give myself whiplash in the direction of the voice. Kique? He wears his burial suit, my spit sliding down his tie. In fact, Kique, his suit, his body, all opaque like crepe paper. But my saliva glistens in the ray of sunlight beaming through the front car window, just as fresh as I cut it loose.

I scream so loud that only the blaring of the horns of the cars behind me snaps me out of it. And what does Kique do? He chuckles condescendingly the way he always did when faced with a woman he drove to hysteria. “Pull over, Lillian,” he says, pointing to the shoulder. He folds up the tail of his tie to blot at my spit. “We need to talk about this lingering rage of yours.”

My mind scampers, trying to remember how to handle a ghost. A wooden stake through the heart! No, that’s for vampires. Besides, who the hell keeps a wooden stake in the glove compartment? Then it hits me. I do have my shiny new Club under my seat. I hit my blinker and make my way to the shoulder of the parkway.

Kique continues to rub at his tie, but the spit remains as if untouched. “Spitting on me. . . “he says. “What were you thinking, Lili?”

Oh, now you want to know, asshole? The second I arrive at the shoulder, I reach down to grab the Club and swing it with all my might at Kique’s head. It slices right through him, banging against the passenger window and ripping a crack through it. “Fuck!”

Only the sound of cracking glass makes Kique realize what I had tried to do. “First, you spit at me and now this?” He squints at me. “What happened to the sweet nena tranquila who would look away whenever I told her she was beautiful?”

Anger finally erupts, taking me far past fear. “Damn it, Kique, what are you doing here?” Then I remember. When you encounter a ghost, you’re supposed to confront it. Ask him what he wants so you can give him what he needs to move on. They say sometimes a person just doesn’t know or hasn’t accepted that he’s dead until a living person breaks it to him and convinces him to let go of earth. God, I hope this is not Kique’s problem. The man was so full of hubris, it’ll take his ghost weeks of hopelessly chasing live women before he accepts that he doesn’t have “it” anymore and take his game to the netherworld. “You’re dead and no longer belong here,” I say. “¿Que en carajo is holding you back?”

“I need you to forgive me, Lili.” He blinks at me like a child, that infamous smirk gone. “Without your forgiveness, I can’t rest in peace.”

Shit. If that’s true, I’m fucked. As a child, I never even had an imaginary friend but now at the age of thirty-three, I’m stuck with the ghost of the only man I ever loved? That’d be bearable if he also wasn’t the worst ex-boyfriend I ever had. Like it wasn’t bad enough that he lied to me about how many his-and-her kids he had, chased away my few male friends with his possessiveness, and eventually cheated on me with the most psychotic of his baby mamas. After I left him, Kique would stalk me every time he was in between women – from the “Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop to say hi” drives by my apartment to the “IF YOU REALLY FUCKIN’ LOVED ME YOU NEVER WOULD’VE LEFT SO EASY, YOU HEARTLESS BITCH!!!” messages on my answering machine. I finally had to file a restraining order against him.

”Of all the women you’ve known and screwed in your forty years on this planet, why me, Kique?” I yell. “I mean, according to the chisme, I got off easy.”

Kique cocks his head to the side. “That’s true. What I did to you is nothing compared to what I did to Sherry. Or Flaca. Or La Bembe. . . “ I roll my eyes at him, and he halts the roll call of his victims. Kique looks at me with those sad eyes. Not those telenovela eyes reserved for performing deception and manipulation. The sincere eyes that I rarely saw in the short but intense six months we were together. The ones filled with tears at my father’s funeral. The eyes wide with fear when Kique Jr. was diagnosed with leukemia then tight with joy when the cancer went into remission. The eyes that slacked with resignation when it finally sunk in that when I said I was never going back to him, I meant it and not playing along with the usual script he enacted with his other women.

Kique says, “But it doesn’t matter that I was at my worst with them. You were the one I hurt the most. That’s because you were the only one who truly loved me.”

I did love the son of a bitch. It hadn’t matter to me that he was a twenty-eight year old father of three children already. I didn’t care that he had those children with two different women, neither of whom he married. I didn’t care that he only had a G.E.D. and changed his career every month.

“Look, Enrique, I really do want to forgive you. I mean, it’s been thirteen years.” I say. Can you lie to a ghost? Probably not. So I level with him. “But I just can’t. I’ve gone for months, even years not giving you a second thought, but when a certain song comes on the radio or I drive by a place you took me to, all the dirt you did comes rushing back right along with all the hurt and anger, and it feels like it just happened yesterday.” And here the feelings come again, and this time with an additional dose of despair. I start to cry. “I want to let go of all that shit. I’ve tried really hard to focus on all the good times we had. But I just can’t.” Now I start to sob. “The fact that you’re dead now isn’t enough to change it.”

Kique shakes his head, and that smirk of his reappears. Bastard. This is what he wanted all along. Rest in peace my ass, he came to haunt me. Like the realization that I will never be free of these ugly feelings toward him wasn’t horrible enough. I’d try again to crash in his skull if I knew it’d do any damage. Maybe I should do it anyway, it night make me feel better even if just for a moment. No, Lili, you can’t afford to break that window any worse.

“So you can’t forgive me,” says Kique. “Do you know what that means?”

I wipe my runny nose against my sleeve. “What?”

“You haven’t forgiven yourself yet.”

I suck my teeth at him. “Forgive myself for what?”

Kique sucks his teeth back at me. He knows I hate when he mimics me, pendejo. “For putting up with the shit I did and never giving me the hell I deserved for it.”

I think about that. I was so young. Back then I thought that if you were truly committed, you loved unconditionally and that meant relaxing my standards beyond recognition. All through high school and college, I told myself You’re pretty, intelligent. . . You come from a good family. You’re getting an education and planning a career. Why is it so hard for you to find a boyfriend? Then Kique came along and heaped on the romance, and grateful for attention, the validation, I did overtime to rationalize all the flags. So he didn’t go to college. Don’t be such an elitist, Lillian. And so what Kique has three kids but has never been married? Nena, if you prefer a Latino man and rule out single fathers, you drain an already shallow pool! OK, so he didn’t tell you about them until you were head over heels. He was falling for you and was afraid of losing you. How can you not forgive him for that?

For the first three months when things were idyllic, it was easy. Kique always has a job, sometimes two. Kique not only supports his kids, he actually makes time for them. He didn’t pressure you into sex, was gentle when you were ready, and is always attentive to your pleasure. I used all the good things about Kique as excuses for putting up with the mind games he played during the last three months. Only when he stood me up one night after going to his ex’s apartment to visit his son did I draw the line. He said that had just pulled a double shift but didn’t want to disappoint Kique, Jr. and ended up falling asleep on his ex’s couch.

While he was “sleeping on the ex’s couch,” I was crying my eyes out on mine. But the possibility that Kique had been cheating on me was the farthest notion from my mind. In my lovestruck naiveté, I truly thought that something terrible had happened to Kique. (He did allude to a thuggish youth.) I had called his job, his friends, and even his mother. She actually sighed and said, “Nena, there’s nothing wrong with that boy for you to be so worried about him. Nothing you can fix anyway, and you shouldn’t have to if you could because you’re a good girl, Lili. Por favor don’t give Kique another thought.”

I couldn’t understand how his own mother could say such a thing. Eventually, Kique arrived at my door with a half-dozen roses. I rushed into his arms, sobbing with relief that Kique was with me in one piece.

My genuine concern floored Kique to the point that he couldn’t tell me his story with a straight face. He expected me to be furious. To interrogate him while knowing all along what he had been up to, curse him out, maybe even hurl something at his head. Then Kique was supposed to seduce me, I was supposed to forgive him, and then we were supposed to have a fuckfest, all the while knowing that we were entering into an unspoken agreement that this scenario would repeat itself for as long as we were together.

The problem was I had really loved and trusted Kique with all my heart. Unlike his other women, I didn’t need to be with him. I wanted to be with him. Looking past all our differences, I chose Kique, and that made his betrayal all the more egregious. As young and inexperienced as I might have been, I wasn’t going to tolerate his constant betrayal of my love and trust. When Kique pulled me away from, looked me in the eye and insisted that nothing had happened between his ex and himself, the guilt in his eyes told me that I needed to stop lying to myself. He was not the man for me.

Damn it, Kique, er, his ghost or whoever, he’s right. It’s been thirteen years since I’ve been with the man, and I still haven’t forgiven him for what he had done to me. But that’s because I still blame myself for allowing him to do it.

I look at Kique who’s checking himself out in the rear view mirror. Some things never change. “Kique. . .” I say to get his attention. He taps his finger on his tongue then wipes it across his eyebrow before looking at me. I snicker at the paradox of his old vanity and his newfound depth. “When did you get so damn insightful?” I ask.

“When you run toward the light,” he smiles, “a lot of things get really clear.”

“You’re supposed avoid the light, Kique, not make a mad dash toward it.”

“Only if you want to live, Lili. Not when you’re ready to go.” He pauses then continues, his voice heavy with exhaustion. “‘Chacha, I ran toward that light, and I got, like, hosed with more wisdom then I could handle. That’s probably why I had to come back and unload some of it. You know, before I could rest.”

It never occurred to me that Kique was unhappy. When I would hear through the grapevine about his latest escapades with the woman of the hour, I would swear that he enjoyed it. That it was all sport for him. That he reveled in the drama that he created over and over again. How bad it must have been for Kique to be so ready to let go and leave his kids behind. Especially if in that rush toward the light and the accompanying torrent of wisdom, he finally got an accurate count of how many kids he actually fathered.

I try to find something nice to say. Despite all the bonding, it’s kind of hard. Finally, I settle on, “You made a really pretty corpse, Kique.”

Of course, he beams at that. “Thanks, Lillian. And thanks for coming to my wake in my favorite dress.” He hands me the veiled hat. “You know, you were the best thing that ever happened to me, but I always knew you deserved better.” Kique has said that to me before, but for the first time, I actually believe he’s sincere. “That’s why I did everything to mess it up. Then when I did mess it up, I tried so hard to win you back. Which is why when you wouldn’t take me back, I got ugly. But I never stopped loving you, Lili. I mean, as best as a guy like me could. I truly gave you my best and, I’m sorry it wasn’t worth much and that I broke your heart.”

I take a deep breath and give a long exhale. “I forgive you, Enrique.”

“No, you don’t.” Ever the drama king, he practically sings when he says it. “You’re just saying that to get rid of me.”

“Uh, if you were in my shoes, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, but ‘member what I said. You can’t forgive me until you forgive yourself. You didn’t realize that was why you were stuck until I told you three minutes ago so no way you’re gonna get over it. . .” Kique snaps his fingers. “Just like that.”

I think I’m going to cry again, this time out of frustration. The ghost is more trying than the man ever was, I swear. “OK, here’s the deal, Kique. In order for me to forgive myself so that I can forgive you, you gots to go, man. I mean, be reasonable here. If you haunt me, you’re gonna piss me off, and that kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?”

Kique gives it some thought. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“And have I ever lied to you.”

“No.”

“So please I’m asking you to trust me on this. If you leave and go wherever it is you belong – and stay there! – I promise you that I will work through this.” I start to cross my heart but quit when I remember that the last time I crossed myself, I heaved a wad a spit onto Kique’s cold body as it lay in a casket. “In fact, I guarantee you, Kique, your leaving is going to go a looong way in helping me make peace with what happened between us. It’s best for both of us if you go.”

There goes that impish smile again. I brace myself for the worst, but Kique say, “OK.” His apparition steps through the door and climbs out of my car. My car suddenly becomes so hot, I snap off the heat. Kique turns around to look at me through the cracked glass of my passenger window. “One more thing, Lili.”

Damn it. “What?”

“An incentive.”

“What, Kique, what?”

“That dude who keeps hanging around your cubicle? Stop punishing yourself by blowing him off. He’s the One.”

“Huh?”

Nena, don’t play dumb, you know you’re no good at it. I ain’t telling you nothing you haven’t already wondered. Get over yourself and go out with the man.”

Before I can say thanks and goodbye, Kique’s ghost blows me a kiss, pulls away from my car and just fades away.

© Sofia Quintero 2007

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Sep
2012

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: A Meditation on Mental Illness and the Hip-Hop Generation

In the aftermath of the shattering death of Chris Lighty, activist Rosa Clemente yesterday broke the silence of her own struggles with bipolar disorder, depression and thoughts of suicide. It takes tremendous courage in our cultures – U.S., hip-hop, African-diasporic – for her to place her mind, body and spirit on the line like that. Especially since not only is she a public figure known for her outspoken voice and uncompromising fire, Clemente was also a Vice Presidential candidate in 2008, half of the first ticket in U.S. history to consist of women of color. (But y’all should know this already.) 

Along with Clemente, Lighty’s suicide has compelled many leaders in the hip-hop community to call for a discussion of depression and other mental illness among communities of color. My hope is not that only will these conversations take place, but that they will include a vigorous examination of some behaviors in our cultures that may actually be dangerous forms of self-medication.

Relentless hustling at the cost of meaningful relationships and substantive rest.

Spending far more on trendy objects with fleeting value than we produce for wages, in culture, and/or with meaning.

Partying too many nights and sleeping away too many days.

Obsessing over the lives of people we will never meet and don’t even admire (this being my personal drug of choice.) 

And the alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana, oh my. My own awareness of the pervasive use of controlled substances by men of color in the hip-hop generation as a possible mask for widespread depression came when Joan Morgan called it in her 1999 seminal work When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down. Tens of thousands of us are committing suicide in slow motion through the daily act of ingesting toxins through our lips, and that impulse to not take seriously the proposition Morgan made twelve years ago is a surefire indicator that we have a pandemic on our hands. In our desire to not be judgmental – understandable given how ready and consistent others are in pathologizing our every action – we overextend to normalize and even celebrate almost ritually our penchants for self-destruction as if our ancestors were never lashed across the back while picking that shit.

And let us seriously consider that this penchant has been deeply implanted and cultivated by a system in which we were never meant to thrive. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer this past January, one of the first memoirs I read was Fred Ho’s Dairy of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level. The self-described Marxist matriarchal Luddite posits that there is no eliminating cancer without fighting capitalism. As a disease with no singular cause, an individual must take holistic measures to overcome cancer. According to Ho, this demands a collective strategy of activism as much as personal approaches to diet, exercise, emotional wellness and spiritual healing. Our economic system creates such powerful and varied toxicity in the physical environment and socio-political culture that we cannot fathom a world without cancer if we are unwilling to participate in global movements for justice for “capitalism creates more problems than it solves.”

I wonder if the same is not true for mental illness in all its forms. There’s a reason we do all these self-destructive things and with such great pride and defensiveness. It’s the American way, yo, and who else is on never-ending mission to prove worthy of our imposed citizenry if not people of African descent? We forget that the American way was not conceived with our success in mind. It’s precisely that we forget we sure as hell act in ways that prove that very point.

It never fails to shock me how the history of our cultural production in this nation often replays the trope of the geeks gone cool only to be undone for attempting to keep a social contract they were forced to make by those who are far more powerful than they are.  We begin at the margins, a necessary but underappreciated strata of the socio-economic structure. The dominant class needs us for its own survival but doesn’t recognize our humanity never mind respect our greatness. Yet we manage decade after decade, generation after generation, era after era, to fashion that marginalization into something phenomenal. We don’t do it with a calculated desire or decision to win over the haters. We do it to remember and assert who we really are in the face of their domination. We do it simply because great is who we are.

Then the haters get wind of our genius and want to be down. They want to capitalize spiritually as well as economically because domination has its psychic limits. (Although most are too busy dominating to be conscious of this otherwise they might evolve to more organic and effective strategies toward abiding fulfillment.) The haters finally see us, and so powerful is their recognition, we develop amnesia. We forget that we did not come to this table of our own will and say, “I want to play!” And like the geeks who finally get invited to the cool kids’ party, we run hard to stay in place. We mimic their present of consumptive excess as if we had their past of unearned privilege. Some of us even take a page from their domination playbook and eat each other.

The irony is that it is only the most fortunate of us who survive long enough to experience that psychic cost of domination and privilege. The pain, however, is far more excruciating because our privilege was actually earned and yet resolves nothing. It was never meant to we learn only now that we are so far removed from our natural, effective methods of self-healing as individuals and in community. Because we have lost sight of the joy of creating for its own sake, because we have forgotten the power of caring only what we think of ourselves, because we have internalized forms of medication that don’t even cure its creators, we come to realize perhaps too late that this is the real reason why we can’t have nice things and then feel powerless to do anything about it.

But first things first. Let’s admit to ourselves then one another how deathly afraid we are of being still and sober. Before we attempt to hush, patronize or ignore people who are fighting for lives of meaning despite mental illness, each of us must take inventory of our own behavior and honestly ask ourselves just how healthy are our coping mechanisms of choice despite how commonplace they may be. We must allow each other to confess that the darkness reminds us that we have chosen to play games that we were never intended to win and the occasional prizes we gain along the way may not be worth the struggle. Where anyone of us stands on the issue of whether this game is capable of changing or worthy of playing is irrelevant really. Left, right, center, we all agree that things cannot remain as they are. We might as well agree that self-care is as necessary as breathing, and that the breaths we most desperately need to take must come with words that break the silence over mental illness and its culturally sanctioned masks.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence,” said Audre Lorde, “it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

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Aug
2012

Pinkin’ Ain’t Easy

Pinkin’ Ain’t Easy

Big pinkin’, you spendin’ Gs

Ya think you’re backin’ a cause

Meanwhile you spreadin’ disease

You wanna be sure

that your runnin’ for cures

And you’re not pinkwashed and pimped like a whore

Rethink pink and not get pimped

You gotta rethink pink don’t get pimped






Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2012, the pink ribbon inundation secretly irked me. I found the entire phenomenon suspicious and unsettling. But then out of guilt, I would buy the pen, USB drive or whatever trinket being shilled for the cause at the cash register. How could I as a woman not support breast cancer awareness and prevention and quite possibly contribute to research for a cure?



Looking back I realize how little the relentless commercialism did for my own awareness. On the contrary, it made me want to NOT think deeply about breast cancer.  The attempt to dress the illness in a traditional femininity and promote consumerism as the path to its eradication repelled me. 

After my diagnosis I did start to investigate, and being a long-time activist, my research eventually led to the unique politics of breast cancer philanthropy and what is referred to by its critics overall as pink ribbon culture. I am still reflecting where I land along the spectrum between pink ribbon culture and its feminist detractors, and that surely will be the topic of a future post or two. I am clear, however, that what I discovered about the way breast cancer is pimped by corporations in ways that run counter to the stated goal of ending the disease made me actively pursue a distance that I already felt from this juggernaut of which I was supposed to be a beneficiary.



And I certainly did benefit from Susan G. Komen’s successful fundraising efforts. At the time of my diagnosis, I was uninsured so I went to Planned Parenthood for my reproductive health care. If not for PPNYC and the funding it received from SGK, I might not have been able to get a mammogram, detect the invasive ductal carcinoma in my left breast or even secure insurance and therefore treatment through the the Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program. 

Then SKG lost is mind and temporarily defunded Planned Parenthood on the advice of its former senior VP for public policy who was intent on imbuing the organization with her pro-life politics. That Handel chick was slick, I’ll give her that. Nice tactic to suggest that the impetus to not fund organizations that provided abortions was to stay remain within federal funding policy. Close but no cigar even if it has a pink ribbon emblazoned on the wrapper.

Hence, my hot little letter to the SKG calling out the fact that their decision to defund PP effectively signaled that they only cared about finding a cure for women who were insured and told the rest of us we could just drop dead. Yeah, I went there. I even wrote, “Neither Planned Parenthood nor cancer asked me what my position on abortion was, and neither should you.”

This is also not to say that there aren’t things about so-called pink ribbon culture that don’t resonate with me. But this branding of the cause that raises so much money for anything BUT the cure? No, ma’am, don’t expect me to register for your race any time soon.

Here’s the ironic thing about the color pink; its choice was probably one of the few things SGK did right. As I learned from watching the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc.which is based on the book of the same name by Dr. Samantha King, the original breast cancer awareness ribbon was salmon. When the woman who created it refused to get into bed with the foundation, SKG actually asked women with breast cancer what color the ribbon should be. They chose pink – with all its cultural loading. That choice shouldn’t surprise us regardless of how we feel about the color, especially if the members of that focus group were the typical face of breast cancer – White, heterosexual, middle-class women of a certain age. Call me cynical, but when I envision that focus group taking place, I don’t see women of color, queer women or even Goth girls at that table. The cultural loading of the color pink is precisely why the breast cancer survivors in that focus group chose it, and we can’t fault SKG for that.

We can fault SKG, however, for not more actively asking its primary constituency what we want about more substantive things — like where the money goes. Then again, I’m presuming that women in the throes of a BC journey are the foundation’s primary constituency. With all the emphasis on early prevention as opposed to a cure, we may not be. One can have Carte Blanche Healthcare, and cancer treatment still strain finances so perhaps SKG believes that those who have or have had breast cancer don’t have the disposable income as those who have not. Hence, we’re not a lucrative market for handguns and chicken.

All this said, I do pink.  I pink within limits. Like my BC madrina Jenny L. Saldaña, I wear the pink ribbon – usually on some funky attire that’s true to my personality – to identify myself as part of a tribe. To give the illness a different face than what people might be accustomed to.  I find that within certain communities, residual stigma still remains around breast cancer so I wear the pink ribbon to combat that among my own people. Most importantly I realized early in my own cancer journey that my own return to wholeness required that I be visible with both my strength and vulnerability.




That said, I won’t be walking, running, kayaking, skydiving, none of that for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure any time soon. I never say never though. When I have a say in where the money I raise goes, I will eagerly sign up, solicit donations and walk my brown ass off for SGK.  Until then I’ll make my donations directly to the breast cancer organizations whose work are aligned with my own values, priorities and politics.

Resources:



  


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Aug
2012

Stepping Baldacious to Snagglepuss

As I descend my steps, I suspect that’s Snagglepuss entering the bodega, but I choose to head there now anyway. Before my diagnosis, not only would I have waited him out, I would have done so in the house, afraid that he might spot me the front porch and start his bullshit. Today I start something in the hopes of finishing it.

Snagglepuss is my primary harasser. I presume all who present female have at least one. His street name is Pooh. I don’t know what his mother named him, but in this neighborhood, his government name just might be Pooh, too.

His MO is to tell me I look good, that he loves me, and that he would marry (at least he knows damn well better than to propose.) Relentlessly. He insists that we went to school together. Chemo brain or not, I know homeboy didn’t go to school. Snags doesn’t even know my name. It’s, “Miss, miss… yo, I’d marry you.”  Eventually, he will yell, “You don’t have to say hi to me, but I’m never gonna stop trying to talk to you.”

And that’s a frightening thing to hear from a man who knows where you live.

As I sit on my porch typing this minutes after our encounter, Snagglepuss is walking out of the bodega back towards the Laundromat. In his red fisherman’s cap, red and white striped button-down shirt and red t-shirt, he’s like Radio Raheim had been styled by Garanimals.

Even though I walked into the bodega knowing that he was there, I find myself hoping he won’t notice me. I consider slipping out and coming back.

But then the kid that works there – a young guy in his early twenties who has a crush on me but engages me with politeness and respect – finally comments on my hair. Or more accurately my lack thereof.

“You look different.” Thinking that the baldness couldn’t be new to him since it’s been three weeks since the Big Buzz, I give him a quizzical look. After all, I am one of those chicks who runs to the store in chancl’as and sleepwear. Then Youngblood gestures towards his own cornrows, and I realize that he’s referring to my shaved head.

Before I can say a word, Snagglepuss turns. His eyes widen as he takes in my baldness and recognizes me. “You still look good!”

I ignore him and say to Youngblood, “Oh, it’s been like this for a few weeks now.” Instantaneously knowing and no longer caring that this will probably make me fodder for neighborhood gossip – especially among those who presumed that I lobbed off eight inches of thick curly hair to get my Amber Rose on – I add, “It was going to fall out anyway because I’m being treated for cancer right now so I decided to shave it off first.”

Even though I say this with a huge and genuine smile on my face, homeboy cringes. “I’m sorry.”

I got to give him credit for consistency. This news doesn’t faze Snagglepuss one bit. “So you do talk,” he says, boring his eyes into my profile. “I’d still marry you though.” 

Operation Ignore continues unabated. “My dad did, too,” I tell Youngblood, trying to chip away at that unnecessary look of pity on his face. “He took me to his barbershop.” Now dude is really cringing, and I want to snap at him to knock it off. Instead I grin on. “It was fun!” At this point, I probably don’t sound so convincing even though that experience was one of the most affirming I ever had in a male-dominated space.

“Why you don’t talk to me?” says Snags. “I be nice to you.”

So now the man has to pay for Youngblood’s well-intended but unwanted pity and his own imposition. “No, you’re not nice to me. Telling me good morning and keepin’ it moving is nice. Chasing after me down the block hollering that you love me and want to marry me when I’ve told you that I don’t like it is disrespectful.”

“OK,” he says with eyes like a remorseful child. Something in me yields ever so slightly. “I’m sorry. You forgive me?”

But I remember that we’ve been here before, and nothing changed.  “You and I have had this conversation before, but you don’t listen to me,” I remind him. “That’s why I don’t talk to you.” The bodegüero looks at me as if to say Give me your order, nena, so I can get you outta here.Un cafecito regular, por favor.”  He hustles behind the counter to the coffeemaker.

 “I’m sorry,” Snagglepuss repeats. “You forgive me?”

And I do want to forgive him. A major strategy in my journey back to wellness from breast cancer has been practicing forgiveness. One indicator of my healing has been the way men have responded to my baldness.  At Junco’s barbershop under my father’s protective and loving eye, my barber Richie and most of the other male employees and patrons held the space while I gave up one of society’s most cherished symbols of femininity. Now as I walk down the street, men compliment me with nothing but appreciation and respect. No sleazy undertone beneath their remarks, no dissecting the rest of my body with their tongues, no invasion of my personal space.  They say, “I like that look” for no other reason than to gift me that affirmation.

Oh, some men still harass me, proving the biggest lesson of this chapter of my life: cancer both changes everything and nothing. The power dynamics of the pavement remain the same. The men who articulate their awareness of me in a way that makes me feel safe make the choice to do so, and that is why to some degree I feel compelled to call it a gift. They decide to not harass me.

By the same token, I have found – no… recovered – and seized whatever agency I do possess on that unlevel playing field that is the street, and that more often than not has altered the potential scenario.  By choosing to walk these blocks literally stepping unapologetically into my proactive baldness, I say I’m more beautiful and stronger than ever. I dare you to talk sideways to me. I’m kicking cancer’s ass, and yours can be next.  Therefore, I’m radiating something that the men who compliment me merely choose to mirror back to me. To that extent, they aren’t giving me anything as much as they’re reflecting what I have given myself. 

Please know that I have not lost sight that there are people out there who make other choices at the sight of a bald woman. Hurtful even violent choices. I do not mean to say that those they violate are somehow responsible for those transgressions and crimes. I do mean to acknowledge that I am not the first, the most vulnerable or even the bravest in the risk to be this authentic.  Empowerment – especially of one’s self – always entails risk.  As long as we live in a world where domination is normalized be it personal or political, authenticity will always necessitate risk. If anything, stepping baldacious is a choice that I can make, in part, because others have blazed a trail for me so that I can follow a road that is less treacherous. The only credit I can take is the choice to take that road.

“You accept my apology?” presses Snagglespuss.

And because cancer changes everything and nothing, I lay down the rules of engagement. I may be bald and have only one natural breast, but I neither want nor need Snags’ validation. “You want me to forgive you? Don’t just tell me your sorry,” I say as I slide my change across the counter and take my coffee. “Show me by the way you talk to me. If you see me and tell me good morning, I’ll be nice back and say good morning, too. I’ve got no problem being neighborly witchu. But if you start with the BS about how much you love me and want to marry and are never going to stop harassing me, it’s gonna be a wrap.”

I punctuate that by slashing my hand across my throat. I don’t know what that means myself. I can’t stop Snagglepuss from saying things to me on the street, and now he knows that I’m being treated for breast cancer. That information in his hands can either shield or backfire on me. But in a way, how he handles my truth isn’t really my business.  I have a new truth now: I’m no longer going to be dipping behind cars and waiting on my gated porch to do me because he’s ambling down the avenue.

“OK. I’m sorry. Have a nice day.”

“You, too.”

In the past, I have willed myself to feel compassion towards Pooh with rare success. Now that I have set boundaries with him, it comes easy. It even feels a little like love. My more compassionate suspicions about him move from the back of my mind to the front of my heart. He’s probably struggling with some kind of mental illness. You don’t see him for stretches at a time because he’s in and out of institutions of some kind. Pooh really doesn’t mean any harm.   

Does this mean that I don’t expect him to completely forget or ignore our conversation and act the same way the next time we run into each other? Not at all. But I pray that the power I feel now is still with me whether I’m bald or not. Even more so, I hope that should I need to reinforce my boundary, I can do so with the newfound compassion I have now as well. It is so human to desire visibility without becoming a target.   






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Jul
2012

The Universe’s Response to My Resentment: A Meditation on the Realization Mosquita y Mari

Many believe that communities who are mis- and/or underrepresented across media should support financially any and all content by our kin even if they consist the same problematic depictions peddled by those outside of our communities.
Yeah, I’m not feeling that, but that’s not what this blog really is about.
I have spoken to this timeand again and probably will continue to reiterate why I don’t believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and that it’s actually harmful to not challenge stereotypical and other simplistic representations simply because they are made by one of “us” rather than one of “them.” At one point, I certainly would like to elaborate on how we should handle these conversations so that they’re constructive. That first entails, however, that I push myself further on how to critique with compassion.
And that’s what this blog is partly about.
It’s in part about the spiritual downside of having the necessary gift of a critical mind. Necessary meaning that every one can and should cultivate the ability to question reflexively and liberally use it. Gift ‘cause your girl here is a natural.
Today’s confession is about my resentment toward people in my industries who prosper, I believe, without accountability for the images they produce, their intentions for producing them or their unwillingness to use their success regardless of intentions to create opportunities for others. You know, expecting your people to show up for you when you’ve got something to sell but missing them when you have a chance to pay it forward. I grapple with this *Eddie Murphy-as-Dexter St. Jock’s voice* cohn-stahnt-lee.

On the one hand, I do harbor a sense of righteousness that shit‘s awry when so many people committed to both creating the transformative images our communities need to see en masseand radically altering the way they do it so that the creative process shifts away from the reinforcing hierarchy, scarcity, competition and other facets of oppressive individualism and toward a praxis recognizing abundance, community and other liberatory principles struggle to produce and distribute their content. You know, priding myself on being one of ‘em and all. I very much cling to this righteousness and, yes, entitlement because dammit, I know I’m on the side of justice here.  Full awareness that my ego is the culprit behind these thoughts and feelings and that attempting to reframe my perception might make them dissipate rarely eradicates them. Honestly, I don’t want to be completely free of them because they fuel me in very good ways even with the troubling side effects.
[Sidebar: this isn’t about knocking anyone else’s hustle. This is about unapologetically knocking someone’s privilege as well as the willful blindness to it. Let’s settle this now: hustle and privilege can co-exist so perfectly – especially in the worlds of media – that the latter often shadows the other in an alignment so precise it can remain undetected by even the most discerning.]
One the other hand, I don’t like this propensity to judge people I don’t know and content I have yet to see.  People are complex, and I damn well wouldn’t like assumptions about my intentions even if I do expect it and actually welcome gut-checks based on my track record, especially in those instances where I might have failed to walk my talk. I know that as I’m pointing one finger at someone else, there are four pointing right back at me, and that even if my suspicions and critiques are one hunnid, the fact that I need to make them says some things about me that are not so endearing that I could stand to spend more time examining and addressing.
The latest trigger occurred this past Friday when I discovered that a team of male filmmakers was launching a project to tell women’s stories yet did not feel any obligation to hire women to write or direct any of them. Yes, I’m being purposefully vague, and it’s not so much about not giving the project attention as much as tempering my very tendency to criticize since ironically that is partially what this post is about. It certainly was more that the mere concept that got me bent, but to delve into that would be more of the same that I’m trying to release and doesn’t contribute to my ultimate point.
After some offline commiseration with a few sisters who shared my thoughts and feelings, I knew that it did not matter if I believed I was right (and * Oprah-as-Sophia-voice * God knows I do.) Being right offered limited service. I scoured my email to a link to a video by Marie Forleo that I return to time and again when I find myself in this space.
Even though I know instinctually that resentment more accurately captures what I feel than jealousy, Marie’s advice was spot on (as it consistently is.) I took a moment to actually follow it before retiring Friday night, and that’s why I’m able to be so transparent and accepting of my vices this morning. 
But the real magic – the one that inspired me to right this blog – occurred this morning.
Next week is the New York City premiere of Mosquita y Mari, the feature debut of writer/director Aurora Guerrero.  Aurora is a friend so I know that she is at once gifted and a gift. I have and continue to bare witness to the ways in which she is devoted to not only creating transformative images of Latinas in film but also transforming the ways that film is made away from top-down to all-together. A prime example was her successful Kickstarer campaign where in multiple ways the MyM team took crowd-funding to the next level: community-building. 
Rather than attempt to elaborate on this, I urge all of you to read Aurora’s own words in interviews or, even better, experience her speaking in person. (If you’re in New York City on Thursday, August 2nd, she will talk about her campaign at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. (Don’t worry if you’re nowhere near the Big Apple. I will be live tweeting Aurora’s talk using the hashtag #MyM.) Then go see Mosquita y Mari that same weekend and spread the word rest assured that you’re not just supporting a Latina filmmaker only because she’s Latina. You would also be supporting a quality project that deserves the price of your movie ticket and Milk Duds and signaling to the gatekeepers, “Fuck a insert the name of the Latino film that makes you cringe most rah 
here, I wanna see more of this kind of visual storytelling.”
Then a divine thing happened as I set about to complete my day’s tasks, one of which was to spread the word about Mosquita y Mari. I inadvertently came across the New York Time’s preview of the film, and to the right saw that it was playing at my neighborhood theater. My heart filled with so much joy that I began to cry. One of my dreams is to see quality films both by and about people of color – the Mosquita y Maris, the Girlfights, the Raising Victor Vargases, the Love and Basketballs, the Saving Graces, etc. – play in independently owned theaters located in the communities that most need to see them instead of being confined to the expensive, downtown art houses for elite audiences.  I don’t know if this is a dream that I was destined to manifest (surely I would need to do it in collaboration with others), but to see it realized in this small way felt like the universe hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You take small, consistent steps towards your dreams like Aurora did, and I’ve got your back.” How odd to think now as I write this that even though my childlike anticipation of the release of Mosquita y Mari has put Aurora and her accomplishment at the front of my mind, neither occurred to me at all when I was fuming over this male-dominated “women’s” project. Hell, I was having such a hard time refocusing on my own game, I never glanced at her lane.


This experience also reminded me that, no, there’s no unrepentantly mean-spirited hater lurking beneath my critical faculties for I’m reveling in and being inspired by not only what Aurora has achieved but also the way she stayed true to herself and her multiple tribes in achieving it.  Si, se puede. She did. I can do it, too, regardless of what anybody else is or is not doing that I might support or suspect.



Now here’s the kicker and where I fully put myself on blast. It turns out that what I saw was not what I thought I saw. When I rushed to inform Aurora that Mosquita y Mari was playing in my ‘hood, she had to break to me that it had to be some mistake because she only knew it was screening at Cinema Village. Sure enough, when I investigated it, I had made the mistake of assuming that “playing near you” was associated with the preview I found. In reality, no matter what film-associated article I’m viewing at newyorktimes.com, that window will display the titles, locations and showtimes of any and all movies playing near the zip code listed under my account.


Alas, I still have to travel downtown (happily) to see Mosquita y Mari next weekend, but the message and elation of that misperception persist. In fact, the sensation is so resounding, it may be incorrect to label it a misperception. I saw what I needed to see – the possibility of a dream come true – when I was having serious doubts that the universe supports people with visions like mine. Even if the industry is populated with people whose motivations and actions I question, the universe is a friendly place. All it takes to see it is to revert my attention from their actions back to my own mission.

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Jun
2012

The Projectionist: Why I Watched Basketball Wives and Why I Had to Stop

At the time that I learned I had breast cancer, I was taking little care of myself. For a few months I had let a few guilty pleasures devolve into unhealthy practices.  The occasional ice cream cone from el pillo (as my father calls Mr. Softee) became a nightly indulgence often followed by potato chips, cookies or some other junk food. Sometimes I would chase all this refined sugar with a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, a radical change for a woman who didn’t begin drinking socially until her early thirties and still could count on one hand how many alcoholic drinks she imbibed in any given month. I couldn’t find time to exercise, read or meditate, but there seemed to be endless hours available to watch some pretty horrific reality TV. 
I especially had the time and the mood for Bastketballl Wives. And watching episodes of the show wasn’t enough. I would seek to extend the experience across platforms, scouring the internet for opinions on all the show’s fuckery from running searches on the #BBW hashtag on Twitter to reading the comments posted under inarguably illegal excerpts of the show posted on YouTube.  
Yeah, I can be quite comfortable with my contradictions. Here I am cultural activist who emphasizes the importance of media literacy especially as it pertains to entertainment yet occasionally kicks back by engaging in some egregiously racist and sexist depictions of women of color that television has to offer. Nor do I always feign to do so in the name of conducting in-depth socio-political deconstruction. Of course I do that, but I’d be lying if I said that this was always my primary intention for tuning in. At my most conscientious, I often sought the kick of chopping up the drama with my tweethearts – equally if not more politically interested, astute and engaged sisters than me — as if we were just another high school clique (the honor students natch) side-eying the antics of  Evelyn, Jennifer and Shaunie’s mean girls across the cafeteria. We would tweet snark, psychoanalysis and, yes, sociopolitical commentary all hour long, using the trashy melodrama to inspire the fullest expression of our personalities one-hundred characters at a time. 
But when I was at what I can now accept was a period of mild depression, watching Basketball Wives and shows like it had morphed into a necessary and isolated activity. The compulsion became something far more insidious than an escape from life’s unfulfilled yearnings despite my constant striving according to rules that seemed only to apply to me. I was medicating myself… except that watching the show didn’t make me feel better. On the contrary, it gave me nightmares of getting into catfights with friends and strangers alike. Sometimes I even told myself that indulging Basketball Wives was a practice in gratitude albeit an admittedly high-minded one. At least I have real friends, I would judge from my recliner.  Thank God, I come from a good family.  I’d rather be single than be treated like that. 
Then I got the mother of all wakeup calls. “The smaller lump is nothing as we thought, but the one that you found is invasive ductal carcinoma… cancer.” And suddenly there was no more time for Basketball Wives and such bullshit. While the show went off the rails, I corrected course on a long neglected healing mission. I completed a liver detox and went on what I jokingly call a black supremacist diet (“If it’s white, it ain’t right.”) I quit telling myself that if I didn’t have at least an hour to spare, it wasn’t worth going to the gym and stayed consistent with an exercise regime of at least a half-hour of movement almost every day, and the thirty-plus pounds that had crept on me began to melt. Not only did I reinstitute my morning practice of inspirational reading, meditation and journaling, I finally achieved Reiki Level I, something that had been on my life list for almost a decade. And that is the just the beginning. 
And as I returned to steady self-care and enjoyed the results physically, emotionally and spiritually, I found that not only did I not have time for Basketball Wives, I didn’t miss those chicks not one bit. Since I wasn’t checking for them, it’s only now that I’m realizing how ugly the behavior on the show has become, and it was pretty bad when I was watching it. The tendency to go overboard was always there, no doubt, especially knowing what I do about how a reality TV show is no less concocted than a narrative series. The only difference is that the scripting takes place on the set and in the editing room. So why am I so disgusted now by the depths sunken to by a show I always knew was ratchet and no longer watch? Clearly, as the always problematic Basketball Wives “went left” (as cast member Tami Roman says ad nauseum) with its excessive violence and vulgarity, I had become and therefore came to the news a different person. 
And that begged the question just who was I when I was indulging the show so religiously? Or perhaps more accurately and fairly, which facet of my humanly contradictory being found the show so compelling? What was it feeding to that self?
Could it be possible that Basketball Waves spoke to a baser part of my nature that had not found a safe place for exploration or a healthier form of expression anywhere else? Looking back now on how watching the show made me feel before I embarked on my cancer journey, I can see how as much as I criticized them, I still wanted to be more like Ev and Tami. Not sleeping with ballers, being on TV or stacking weaves and implants (yes, I’ll eventually be undergoing reconstructive surgery, but trust that I would much rather breast cancer had missed me if that was the only way off the Itty Bitty Titty Committee.) Deep down I hungered to be that unapologetically self-centered. That ambitious. That entitled to and uninhibited in expressing my rage.  
The problem is that the things that make me want to behave outrageously are much bigger than she-said-Susie-said. Rape “humor” makes me want to throw wine bottles. I want to run barefoot across conference tables when colleagues make racist jokes.  I’d leave so many dead fish in the cars of men that harass me as I walk down the street, you’d think my name was Jesus. 

But as a socially conscious person, spiritual seeker and, you know, mature adult, that kind of behavior is not supposed to be available to me. I’m too painfully aware that if I were to indulge these impulses, the likely target of my fury would be someone who looks like me just as in Basketball Wives. Look to none other than Tami Roman who has revealed on the show and in follow up interviews the amount of abuse and violence she has survived. Being close in age to Evelyn Lozada and having grown up a stone’s throw away from her in the Bronx, I would bet that she has experienced similar traumas.  But if 14 year old Amber Cole can become the target of malicious vivisection when she most needed sympathy and consolation, how much compassion do you think these women have ever experienced in the aftermath of their woundings whatever they may be? And I don’t know if other women were ever the perpetrators of these transgressions, but I understand intimately that it’s very hard to resist the constant message that you courted and deserved your mistreatment and too easy to lash out the nearest approximation of yourself. The one who seems the most like you, the one whose eyes mirror your own pain and indignation, the one who could be your best healing agent like a blast of cool air in claustrophobic heat is the one you immediately label enemy and set out to vanquish.

If you are a woman of conscience, however,  you make efforts to restrain, reflect and resist, sometimes to our own detriment.  How many times have I checked myself while someone – most likely a sister — has wanted to jump bad with me on the subway over trivia.  I will politick and spiritualize myself out of throwing my hands up even as she comes for me. I don’t think there is a progressive woman of color who hasn’t been in the same situation and later said herself, “I’m reminding myself that somebody has probably hurt her when homegirl didn’t thinking twice about hurting me.” It’s a scary thought that douses our anger with fear. Where has our instinct for self-preservation gone and what will become of us if we do not recover it? 

Despair builds upon acrimony, and no amount of socio-political understanding of internalized oppression diffuses it. Something must be done with these feelings. Something acceptable. And lots of self-destructive shit is acceptable.  I chose to suppress my ugly feelings with unhealthy food or project them onto someone on TV. Usually I did both at the same time. 
Yet I would watch Basketball Wives, telling myself that I was so much better than Ev or Tami because I know how to act, perhaps all along wishing I could bring wreck with no consequences except maybe a legion of fans who will respect how real I keeps it, a pseudo-celebrity boyfriend, and maybe even my own TV show. But that doesn’t happen in the real world (no pun intended) to sisters who play by the rules never mind those who elect to live down to the stereotypes. No wonder the more heinous the cast of Basketball Wives behaved, the more cathartic it became to my wounded and furious psyche. As with all addictive substances, however, the medicinal effect is short-lived yet the toxicity lingers. Just like an undetected cancer, it feeds on its host and others around her.  
As I discover and practice healthier ways to explore, accept and express my darker emotions, it becomes easier to walk my talk not only as a cultural activist practicing and promoting media literacy but also an evolving spiritual being committed to limiting my ingestion of toxins. That said, I know that I am still far from impervious to the highly addictive drug that is reality TV.  After all, the original toxins — oppression in all its forms — endure unmitigated. But just as the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, the very reasons why Basketball Wives appeals to me are the same reasons it is imperative that I tune it out. 

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Mar
2012

Arguing with Audre: On My Impending Mastectomy and Reconstruction


As a strident feminist of color, of course, I would read Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals now that I myself was diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition to reading practical books with strategies for beating the illness, I also wanted food for the soul that would enable me as a spiritual being and political animal to draw meaning from the experience. What better to read than the memoirs of radical cultural activists such as Fred Ho and Audre Lorde?

I had long been an admirer of Mother Lorde’s work, but I had never had the courage to read the work she produced during her battle with first breast and then later liver cancer. That’s how much fear the mere word instilled in me. I was oblivious to just how prevalent this illness is even when my best friend was diagnosed with and survived ovarian cancer in 2003 and my own grandmother succumbed to colon cancer in 2005.

Fear is hereditary it seems. My own mother is a 12-year breast cancer survivor and did not even know she had it. Neither did my father. I remember back in 1993 when they found a lump in her right breast. My only image is of my mother crying quietly as they wheeled her into surgery. Having never been in the hospital her entire life except to birth her three children, Ma was frightened. I remember several hours later the doctor telling us, “It was nothing.”

Once the shock of my own diagnosis had passed and I entered warrior mode, my mother and I shared scars. I showed her the fine needle marks of the two spots where my left breast had been biopsied, and she showed me where she received radiation. “Radiation?” My reaction surprised her. She reminded me of the time that I accompanied her and my father to the hospital for her daily radiation treatment. But they don’t give radiation to people who don’t have cancer, do they? After all, radiation can cause cancer.

She told me she still had her records, and I asked her to find them. Sure enough, in 2000 my mother had been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, underwent a lumpectomy and had twenty rounds of radiation. It never registered to either of my parents that she was being treated for breast cancer. They just did as the doctors told them and then moved on with their lives.

This discovery left me with a variety of thoughts and emotions. First was the angry thought. What the fuck kind of medical care do we have in this country that a 69-year old woman can be treated for breast cancer and never know it? Then I imagined all the times I sat in waiting rooms over the years, completing family histories across a wooden clipboard with a chained pen and checking No in the box next to cancer. Had I known that my mother had breast cancer, I certainly would have been more vigilant in minding the health of my breasts. I finally settled on the positive. Given her personality, it’s probably best that Ma did not know she had breast cancer, and all that matters now is that she blazed the survivor trail, and I could follow in her footsteps.


Of course, being my own woman, I have to pack different tools for my journey to survivorship. My mother, for example, would rather I not read so much. I had been reading Straight from the Hope: Letters of Hope and Inspiration from Survivors of Breast Cancer and that, coupled with the counseling I had been undergoing (which I began several months before I was diagnosed), helped spurred a healing crisis. As much as the letters delivered on the promise of hope and inspiration, they also triggered long-denied and deeply suppressed loneliness over my challenge in finding a life partner. So many of the women wrote about the men who loved them and stood by them as they faced breast cancer despite all the prices it exacts, from the lost of breasts to the threat of death. I call this a healing crisis because this despair needed to be excavated, felt and cleared if I was going to not only defeat cancer but truly become holistically well. Perhaps it’s because it is difficult for them to watch me sob over things that seem unrelated to my immediate circumstances, but my parents wish I would just focus on getting well. My father in particular understands why a cancer diagnosis would compel me to evaluate my life, but if he had his way, I’d cut it all this painful introspection. I have to remind my parents that my tears are a sign that I am getting well because I am going to the root of my dis-ease.


And I do moderate my cancer-related reading. I read enough to satisfy whatever desire I have in the moment for information or inspiration, and just when I brush against the edge of overwhelm, I stop. This is not typical for me who loves to read and can research incessantly once I become taken with a subject. I recognize that each person who embarks on the cancer journey must do whatever she feels is right for her, and I respect my own choices. Some people like my mother want to entrust themselves to their doctors and, to the best of their ability, focus on other aspects of their lives. Others choose to make confronting the illness their full-time job.

Knowing myself fairly well, I knew from the start that the best thing for me fell somewhere between the two extremes. The kind of person that I am, I cannot beat cancer by becoming a full-time patient. For someone like me, that’s giving the disease too much power. (That is the same reason why, when I begin chemotherapy, I will cut and donate my hair, shave my head and use it as an excuse to stock up on the hats, scarves and earrings I love so much.) By the same token, I cannot wait for my doctors to treat me but rather proactively take actions – change my diet, return to my meditation practice, become a client of You Can Thrive where I receive complementary treatments such as Reiki and acupuncture etc. – to heal myself. (It also means excising things from life – habits, beliefs and people – that do not serve me.) I continue to finish working toward my MFA in writing and producing for television, pursue my interest in burlesque with Pink Light Burlesque, and otherwise live my life – the life I find worth fighting for – on my terms.

Perhaps this is why I find myself becoming angry with Mother Lorde when I read the following passage in her cancer journals:


I would lie if I did not also speak of loss. Any amputation is a physical and psychic reality that must be integrated in a new sense of self. The absence of my breast is a recurrent sadness, but certainly not one that dominates my life. I miss it, sometimes piercingly. When other one-breasted women hide behind the mask of prosthesis or the dangerous fantasy of reconstruction, I find little support in the broader female environment for my rejection of what I feel is cosmetic sham. But I believe that socially sanctioned prosthesis is merely another way of keeping women with breast cancer silent and separate from each other. For instance, what would happen if an army of one-breasted women descended on Congress and demanded that the use of carcinogenic fat-stored hormones in beef-feed be outlawed?

I don’t know if this is a quirk all my own, but it’s not easy for me to fight with an ideological titan such as Audre Lorde even in my head, but fight with her I did. It’s not lost on me that she lost her breast at a time when breast cancer treatment was far more limited and reconstruction was only available to the economically privileged. (It is now federal law that for women whose health insurance covers mastectomies, the company must also cover reconstruction. This right includes women covered by Medicaid. In fact, I am insured under a special Medicaid program created specifically for people diagnosed with certain cancers.) I recognize that there is much greater awareness and less stigma of breast cancer in the twenty-two years since she first wrote that passage. I have no doubt that if Mother Lorde were alive today she would have radical critique of pink ribbon culture as well as a thorough analysis of the discrepancies in the prevention and treatment of women of color, queer women and poor and working-class women, and that she would experience and acknowledge a wider acceptance of her desire not to hide her mastectomy if she stuck with that decision.

Still I was angry at Audre. I stewed over that passage and wrote furiously in my journal. I understood and respected her point on an intellectual level. She meant that being able to undergo reconstruction can allow someone to become politically complacent about the institutionalized oppression that perpetuates breast cancer. When Audre wrote about what might happen if an army of single-breasted women descended on the capitol demanding change, I saw it. The image compelled me as an activist and an artist. If I did not have the option of reconstruction, I would step without hesitation into that vision and be part of it.

But as a socially conscious woman, I would be a part of such an action whether or not I underwent reconstruction, and I would like to think that I and my saline implants would not have my integrity questioned. I haven’t finished The Cancer Journals, and so perhaps she undergoes a shift of which I’m not yet aware, but thus far Audre talks about reconstruction without considering the blessings she had that made it easier to forgo one. She had a partner. She had children. She had recognition for the work she did. For what of someone like me who is young, single and hopeful that such love and appreciation is still possible for me, especially if I can transform myself through my journey back to wellness?

The ironic thing about my anger at Mother Lorde is that my own mother wants me to conserve my breast. She would rather I have chemotherapy before surgery in an effort to shrink the tumor with the hope that a lumpectomy will suffice. My breast surgeon would comply with my wishes if this was something I chose to do, but I am following my instinct which is to heed his recommendation: give up my breast. While I don’t fool myself that I will sail through this without great emotional pain, I am at peace with my choice. Truth be told, reconstruction makes it much easier even though the method I have chosen means that I will not wake up from surgery with an already reconstructed breast to ease the pain of the natural one I lost.

The fantasy Mother Lorde dismisses is about having a certain quality of life and making a decision to not acquiesce everything the disease attempts to demand. I wrote in my journal:


Must I take on every battle? Is this one not enough? Can I sit out the body image struggle, too? The truth is I can’t. Not for a minute. No amount of reconstruction – no matter how aesthetically pleasing to the Western standard of beauty it may be to the immediate eye – is going to make me forget that my God-given breast is gone, a casualty to this disease.

How does the fantasy of reconstruction favor me, if I am lucky enough to meet a man with whom I want to be intimate with in all ways, when I have to reveal and explain to him all the complexities – physical, emotional, spiritual — of being a breast cancer survivor? There is nothing about replacing my natural breast with an implant that is going to permit me to lie to myself ever about what I am going through right now. On the contrary, it will be a constant reminder. While my feelings, thoughts and beliefs towards the experience may change and even improve over time, I will never be done with it. I can never forget.

How is that a fantasy when there’s no escape but only reminders?

And as I process my anger at Mother Lorde, I find myself wishing that she was alive so I can argue with her. The existence of my anger reminds me that I am very much alive and well, and had she herself survived cancer, Audre probably would have welcomed a loving yet vigorous debate with a younger feminist of color and fellow cancer warrioress. She remains an inspiration to me, and I embrace her challenge to remain politically vigilant in the ongoing war against cancer. I first must win the personal battle, however, and that means making the unapologetic choices that enable me to keep faith that more joy awaits me no matter what challenges oppression might dish.

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Feb
2012

Queer Sisters Keep Saving Me: The Brilliantly Selfish Act of Being an Ally

Today is the first St. Valentine’s Day in three years in which I write a new blog about what this day means to me. In 2009 I wrote one wherein I recount why St. Valentine was a historical figure worthy of recognition especially in these times and reiterate my support for marriage equality. (These may seem like disparate themes, but trust me, they come together in the blog.) Rather than write a new post, I simply pulled The Spirit of Love and Resistance Behind St. Valentine’s Day from the archives and put it back into circulation every February 14th.

This year is different because St. Valentine’s Day has acquired deeper significance to me. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of this year, I learned that I have breast cancer. For many reasons, it has been challenging to reveal my condition to those I know who love and appreciate me never mind acquaintances, colleagues and virtual strangers who follow me on social media. While I got over the shock of the diagnosis fairly quickly – I had to – accepting this frightening contour to my identity enough to make it public has been more difficult.

So why am I “coming out” today as a person with cancer? I do it to acknowledge all the queer women of color in my life who have stepped up for me since I was diagnosed. Rest assured, I have been showered with heartfelt messages of love and encouragement and genuine offers of support from people of all walks of life. Every one of them has been integral in activating and sustaining my new warrior mode, reminding me of how too blessed I am to not beat this disease. All of these people are soldiers in my quickly formed and ever-growing wellness army.

But there have been certain sister-friends who have played immediate and special roles through the early days of my devastation and terror. Not even weeks after my diagnosis, the woman I affectionately call my Minister of Defense and her husband helped me clean and reorganize my bedroom so that it can be a space much more conducive to my healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, she has been fielding the outpouring of concern from our mutual friends and has appointed herself the coordinator of my extended support system – rides, meals, escapes and other things I may need as I undergo treatment. My Minister of Defense and I were supposed to leave for Sundance a few days after I was diagnosed. Not only did she cancel her trip, she let the others we were going to stay with about my condition. Upon receiving the news, those women made time in their hectic festival schedule to pray and chant in community for my recovery.


It was critical for me to not wait until conventional treatment started to take action towards healing myself. I needed to build my sense of agency as well as my immune system, and before I could even take the first step, my Minister of Defense and another friend teamed up to split the cost of having a box of organic fruits and vegetables shipped to my house each week so I can juice every day. I could not afford to do this otherwise. They also take turns accompanying me to my appointments which is not only of comfort to me but to my elderly parents who insist on coming with me. When not taking the copious notes and posing the questions that I may be too overwhelmed or frightened to ask, they are engaging my parents in the language in which they feel most comfortable about anything and everything but the fact that their youngest adult child is facing a life-threatening illness. It helps them, and that in turn, supports me. Another lifelong friend – a doctor who is facing a challenging transition of her own at this time – not only sent me hundreds of dollars in health assessment and improvement kits including immunity-boosting supplements, she flew to New York City so we could have an ol’ fashion slumber party in her hotel room.

In the fight for my life, these women have been on the frontline. Each of them, at one point in her life, has been in a romantic partnership with another woman. Because I had not gone public with my diagnosis, one of the friends who went to Sundance actually sent me an email to ask permission to tell her partner because her wife had a very strong relationship to powerful ancestors who answered her prayers. I have no doubt that she organized the prayer circle for me in Park City even when her primary reason for being at Sundance was to premiere and promote her own film. All this slander against LGBT people, painting them as ungodly, immoral and such, when from where I sit, they are the most spiritual and even prayerful folks I know.

This is not the first time I have written about being an appreciative ally. I am the first to say that heterosexual people especially women owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy. Ironic as it may seem, the boundaries queer people bend and bust at the risk of their own lives in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement for every time they push the envelope, they set a new “normal,” and it’s not even they who benefit the most for their courage. Rather it is those of us whose sexual identity is already validated.

While I admit now that this is an oversimplistic analogy, I liken it to how the presence of Malcolm X made the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. more palatable in a society where his ideas were already deemed radical. Same visions, different philosophies, both to the left of what was considered acceptable and therefore also dangerous and vulnerable to the status quo. They needed each other to survive long enough to make the impact that the rest of us, regardless of what we may believe, continue to enjoy today.

Perhaps I am stretching for meaning behind my receiving the news on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, but one thing remains true. For the longest time I have felt that in many ways I can choose to do with my life and body – have (a certain kind of) sex or not, get married or not, have children or not – because the authentic living of openly queer women make it more permissible for me to make choices that buck the heteronormativity that attempts to govern even my life as a straight woman. What I do or not and why or not is on me, no doubt. But I have more sexual choices that carry less negative repercussions because of their sacrifices as much if not more than any other freedom movement.

And so it is on this St. Valentine’s Day, the lapsed Catholic with breast cancer is reminded yet again in the most visceral way why supporting full equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people is not some noble feat of reneging her privilege. It is a radical act of self-preservation. In more ways than I can count, queer sisters keep saving me. Again, I am humbled, appreciative and grateful to new depths of my being.

The day after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California affirmed the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8, I sat in a waiting room at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Cancer Center with my parents and a lesbian “sister from another mister.” She reminded me of the previous day’s historic significance. We slapped a high five, and I joked, “If these MFers can’t support marriage equality because they can’t see past their religious dogma that it’s the right thing to do, at least do it because it’s strategic. It’s good fiscal policy!”

“You know how many people would flock to get married?” my friend said. “How much money that would put into the economy?”

“It’s a recession, yo,” I reminded no one. I reminded myself, however, how lucky I am. Here I face the biggest challenge of my life, and choosing to be on the right side of justice is proving to be one of the most brilliantly selfish things I ever did.

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Jan
2012

My 2012 Curriculum for the School of Life



At the start of every New Year, I develop my curriculum for the School of Life. After I have reflecting on my previous year and setting goals for the upcoming one, I make a list of books, films, software, workshops and other media that might help me toward achieving them. Finally, I prioritize about ten to twelve and aim to complete them at a pace of one per month. Although I’m particularly fond of self-help/workbooks – those that assign tasks, contain questionnaires, etc. – I sometimes include novels, sacred texts and other kinds of literature that might be inspirational. Some books might be holdovers from the previous year, and some books I occasionally reread. Here are some additions to my SOL curriculum for 2012.


Improvisation For The Spirit: Live A More Creative, Spontaneous, And Courageous Life Using The Tools Of Improv Comedy by Katie Goodman

Once upon a time, I use to perform standup comedy. I often miss it and hope one day to give it another whirl. While that’s not a priority for me in 2012, becoming better at staying the present and saying, “Yes,” more frequently are. I can’t imagine a more fun way to do that than through the practice of improvisation. Plus, I get to build my comedic chops and lay the groundwork for my return to standup.

What You Really, Really Want by Jaclyn Friedman

One of the books on my 2011 curriculum was a guided journal called Exploring Your Sexual Self by Joan Mazza. I made some discoveries that lead to more questions. Which of my desires were authentic? What can I do to fulfill them in ways that feel safe? And why the hell is this so hard anyway? In the nick of time, Jaclyn Friedman has written an affirming and interactive book that will motivate me to answer these questions and take (not to mention get) action on my terms whatever they may be.


The Spark Kit by Danielle La Porte

This is a holdover from last year’s curriculum. Formerly known as The Fire Starter Sessions, this is more than a book. It’s a multimedia course for creative entrepreneurs who want the work that feeds the soul to also pay the rent. I recruited two friends to complete The Spark Kit with me. Every week we complete a worksheet and share our discoveries with each other. Because of its holistic approach, my friends and I have also grown closer from doing this together.

The Right-Brain Business Plan: A Creative, Visual Map for Success by Jennifer Lee

As a person who is most comfortable with words, I have been pushing myself to explore other means of creative expression. Wanting to expand my visual sense and satisfy my craving for more physical and tactile activities, I have rediscovered paper crafting and taken up mixed-media art journaling. Enter The Right-Brain Business Plan, a guide to creatively process and document the insights and plans that come to light after I finish The Spark Kit.

Spirit Junkie: A Radical Love to Self-Love and Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein

Last year I tried to read A Course in Miracles, attempting to do one lesson each day. I didn’t make through January, and whatever I had done, I didn’t grasp at all. But for some reason, the Course keeps calling me. Perhaps an introduction to its principles from an author described as a mix between Carrie Bradshaw and Marianne Williamson is just what the Ivy League homegirl needs. Whether or not A Course in Miracles suits me, after almost a year of not attending to my spiritual development, I hope reading about Bernstein’s journey will inspire me to get back on track.

Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide by Deepak Chopra

Several years ago Suparna Bhasin, creator of She Creates Change, introduced me to a simple practice that improved my life immediately and tremendously: rise at 6AM and bed by 10PM. (I have advocated so much for following circadian rhythms, my MFA classmates sometimes refer to them as Sofia cycles.) Suparna also recommended Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health, an accessible and practical introduction to Ayurvedic medicine. I learned in 2011 not to take my health granted; 2012 is the time to apply the lessons and develop new, healthy habits.


The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure and Talent to Shape the World by Kathy LeMay

There was a very long time when I believed that striving to be a social change agent necessitated eschewing material wealth. In recent years I have discarded that thinking, and while I never wanted to be affluent for its own sake, I do keep a mental list of progressive organizations and causes that I fantasize about supporting as a philanthropist.

After hearing her speak at the New York Women’s Foundation luncheon in 2010, Kathy LeMay has become my role model of socially conscious giving and reminded me that no matter what net worth, I always have “time, treasure and talent” to offer. Rather than just donate some dollars here, volunteer a few hours there, this book is a guide toward creating a strategic plan in leveraging my giving so that it truly makes a difference and is aligned with my deepest values.

These are just a few of the resources on my curriculum for this year. These rank high in priority because they are most aligned with the things I have decided to pursue in 2012 at this time. Like any good curriculum, however, it is subject to change according to my needs. Life hands out challenges and opportunities, and as a result, some of my priorities are sure to change. As such I’ll surely discover and add more books, films, classes, coaches, etc. as well as change my mind and remove others as I grow into sharper clarity about what I want and need to be happy.

What’s on your SOL curriculum in 2012?

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Oct
2011

They’re Going to Laugh at You: White Women, Betrayal and the N-Word




Who spiked the Evian? Lately, there’s been a rash of White women using the n-word – including self-professed liberals and progressives. As if that were not bad enough, they act shocked, defensive and even downright nasty when told by women of all races that they should cut that shit out.

First example: a few White women made and carried signs that stated Woman Is the N***** of the World for Slut Walk in New York City on October 1st.


While some White women including those among Slut Walk NYC’s organizers and participants have stepped up to condemn these actions, there are too many who have come to their defense, ranging from the naively privileged to the unapologetically hostile. I’m talking Facebook posts such as, “It is NOT racist, and anybody who thinks so is a fucking idiot” to a White woman telling an African American woman to go fuck herself. (I’d post links, but in no surprise to me, the posts have conveniently disappeared.)

A few days later, Barbara Walters used the word and then played victim when told by her The View co-host Sherri Shepherd that she was hurt by it. Acting as if her journalistic integrity was called into question instead of hearing the pain of her so-called friend, Walters exploited Shepherd’s struggle to concretize her discomfort with Walters’s use of the word and attempted to make Shepherd feel unreasonable for taking offense. (I’ll save my musings on why Walters will never have a woman of color – least of all a woman of African descent – who is capable and willing to hand her ass to her on The View for another time.)

Then last night I learned that at Occupy Philadelphia, two Black women were called n****** by volunteers. Now the actual details of the incident remain sketchy, but from what I understand, the fact that these women were slurred is not in dispute. Apparently, charges of racism against the organizing group predated the incident.

Many women of all races such as Stephanie Gilmore, Sydette Clark and the Crunk Feminist Collective have issued thorough, incisive and poignant analyses as to why it is never appropriate for a self-proclaimed White feminist ally to use this racial slur. There is little more I can add to the substance of these and other responses already made. Still I have a compelling desire (which I will hereinto unapologetically indulge) to contribute to the discussion by making an attempt to make White women perpetrators and their apologists viscerally understand what exactly is the impact of their use of the n-word.

Warning: it ain’t going to be diplomatic or pretty because we’re already far past that.

So to all the White women who think it’s cool to use the n-word, y’all seen the movie Carrie, right? Recall the pivotal scene where Carrie White’s nemesis Chris and her boyfriend Billy dump a bucket of pig’s blood on her. Before Carrie telekinetically wrecks shop, she stands there drenched in blood and humiliation as people laugh at her.

That’s how that shit feels when you use the n-word.

We’re Carrie White and you’re Chris Hargensen except Chris never fronted like she was Carrie’s friend.

A few of your apologists are Sue Snell, perhaps well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual and forever haunted by the damaged to feminist solidarity that you have caused.

But your most virulent apologists are bunch of Billy Nolans who pick up the havoc where you left.

Your use of the n-word is a huge bucket of pig’s blood. When you use it and defend yourself, you’re Chris licking her lips as she pulls the cord. It’s a betrayal, plain and simple.

Stop with the defensiveness and rationalizations for just a minute and sit with that. If you’re really ’bout it, just accept that already. Recognize that the mere ability to dig your heels in – telling us we don’t get it, defending your honor like some damsel in distress (by the way, how are you OK with pulling the most anti-feminist of anti-feminist shticks), etc. – wouldn’t exist without the racial privilege you think is somehow neatly tucked away in the folds of your gender identity. You really can’t get whiter than that.

And guess what? Recasting Black women who call you out as the threat to whatever image you have constructed of yourself got you looking really patriarchal right about now. You’re doing to Black women what men of all races to do to us all the time.

It’s a betrayal when you act as if you have no clue in 2011 about what feminists of color endure within our own community when we make the decision to trust in and build with White feminists. Patriarchal men and women of color are like Piper Laurie, doing everything to derail us whenever we align ourselves with you. When we throw on our jackets to head out to the meeting, they stand at the top of the stairs yelling, “They’re going to laugh at you.”

We have faith and show up anyway only for you to pull the cord on prom night.

(Side note to those anti-feminist people of color: now isn’t the time for you to say, “I told you so.” That’s when you go from acting like Carrie’s mother to making like her gym teacher. Instead of joining the laughter, you should be standing with us as we call out the racism rather than using it as an opportunity to gut check us on our feminism. Don’t bother if for no other reason than it’s just not going to work for you. All you do when you attempt to discredit feminism by throwing an instance of racist arrogance of certain White women in our face is play yourself. We’re just not that fickle. With few exception, we’re not going to come “home” like the prodigal Carrie White because, as you’ll recall, her mother pretended to comfort her only to literally stabbed her in the back. Yeah, we’re not playin’ that.)

Now back to you n-word loving White women. You want to show how hip you are? Stop listening to Yoko Ono and Kreayshawn and read a book, read a book, read a MF book. Preferably one by a Black feminist such as Audre Lorde or bell hooks. One course in an entire women’s studies program doesn’t cut it.

What to show how down you are? Quit with the silly references to hip hop culture as some kind of permission. As mad as we may be at you, even we don’t believe you’re that dumb. You especially denigrate yourself with that one so stop it.

To all you Sue Snells, when women associated with your movements (’cause that’s what it’s looking like right about now – YOUR movements — now matter how many invitations you extend) tell women of color to go fuck themselves, call us idiots for taking offense, say they’re sorry if we’re offended as if our feelings are the problem and not the actions that triggered them and other such nonsense, how ’bout You. Just. Check. Them. Despite all the historic and ongoing treatment of men of color as menaces to White womanhood, feminists of color usually have no problem pulling a brother’s coattails when he comes for you, but y’all kinda drag your feet when a White woman does the same to us or our men. And that high school tactic of pleading, “It wasn’t me” doesn’t suffice. I don’t mean to get all vanguardist on y’all, but how about you bench these chicks when they come out of pocket? Seriously, where is the discipline in this movement? I’m not saying to immediately show her the door (although that just might be appropriate on occasion.) Struggle with her if you must, but there has to be serious and immediate consequences for racist behavior even if it’s sending homegirl to an intersectionality boot camp.

Stop confusing the fact that the n-word is still used by some black folks as license for you to use it. Many women including White feminists still use the word bitch, but I don’t see you abiding for one second any man thinking he can do the same. In fact, if a man who identified as a feminist and/or ally still had the audacity to roll up to Slut Walk with a sign that read Rape is for Pussies, all his professions to solidarity, insistence that we focus on the “real” issue and the like wouldn’t have zilch currency for you so don’t act brand new.

And while we’re on the subject of Black folks who embrace the n-word, I don’t give a damn how many Black friends you have who don’t blink an eye or even think it’s cute when that word comes out of your mouth. You still don’t and never will have license to use that word. Accept that. If you can’t stop insisting that you be allowed to use the n-word on philosophical grounds, how ’bout you just let it go on the simple fact that you will never win this one. Trust me on that. If any woman of color – friend, comrade, stranger — tells you it is offensive to her, the only right answer of a true ally is to knock it off. This mounting any never mind excessive defense of the use of the n-word by you or any other White person then turning around and complaining that our expressing our hurt and anger is a distraction from the “real” issue at hand… how’s that working for you? It isn’t, and you know it.

And you know why despite your Cool White Chick status you weren’t at the meeting when your Black BFF was elected representative-at-large for the United Black Diaspora? It’s because the election never took place and that organization doesn’t exist. They never did and even if they ever were to, despite your CWC bona fides, you still wouldn’t be invited. Trust me on that one, too. Until we make some meaningful progress in defeating racism, White anti-racists have their own lane. You truly want to be an ally? Stay in it.

Yes, this is harsh, but in addition to being furious at the recent number of White women who think they can use this word and still front like they are our friends, I’ve been spoiled. I have meaningful relationships with White feminists who get it, and they have set the bar high. Are they perfect? No. But unlike you, they listen. Perhaps that’s why you avoid them like the plague. If you were genuinely interested in dismantling racism and forgoing the white privilege that would require, you would spend less time on Facebook defending the indefensible and more live time with them.

And for God’s sake, stop watching propaganda like The Help.

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