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!
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.