Shange detailed our pain/fears/disappointments, but also our healing. In a society that is anti-black/woman/poor etc., Black women often find themselves navigating a myriad of oppressions (racism, sexism, classim, heterosexism, colorism). Shange’s for colored girls… captured all of these “isms” so eloquently, it’s not surprising it’s considered an iconic piece of work.
The homegoing of Shange (as well as Aretha Franklin), highlights the importance of always celebrating brilliant Black women, when the world quickly wants to forget them. Thank you so much Ms. Shange, and rest well.
“National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is an annual designation observed in October. For many, home is a place of love, warmth, and comfort. It’s somewhere that you know you will be surrounded by care and support, and a nice little break from the busyness of the real world. But for millions of others, home is anything but a sanctuary. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year.” https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-domestic-violence-awareness-month-october/
It is especially important to honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as the current administration has made it clear its disdain of women. The absurdity that surrounded Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings is an example of this hatred. The whole situation was alarming, because if a white upper-class highly educated woman could be treated with such venom, what hope is there for women who aren’t as privileged. Particularly, Black/women of color.
I thought about this when I recently attended an event focusing on domestic violence in communities of color. Black/women of color often face unique challengeswhen trying to deal with the issue of violence in their lives (interpersonal, sexual assault, etc.) They are forced to rely on institutions that have historically oppressed, ignored, or exploited them (healthcare services, law enforcement, etc.) The workshop I participated in, the speaker discussed the need to create resources for Black/women of color outside these dominant systems. This can look like building underground networks for these women.
As the speaker noted, “Since the days of slavery, we as a people have been resourceful in creating safety amongst ourselves because safety historically has not existed for us within dominant culture. As enslaved peoples our ancestors created and learned to use codes and underground avenues to create safety and community amongst themselves. This same concept applies for DV survivors of color today; safety and support is sought in unconventional ways.”
We also watched a video featuring Bernadine Waller. Waller talked about the stereotypes and assumptions about Black women that make it hard for them to be taken seriously as victims of violence. She urged professionals to see Black women, to REALLY see us…to see our humanity. Waller’s speech was moving, and highlighted how much work needs to be done in ensuring that Black women are living whole and healthy lives.
This past summer I hosted a workshop on women of color: creativity and self-care. I decided to reach out to good friend/fellow writer, Hannah Eko. Eko has done amazing work on the issues of self-love/body positivity/mental health. I knew she would have some fabulous advice for attendances. So, I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview. I thought I would share with y’all as well 🙂
Hi Hannah! Tell us about yourself/background…
I’m a Nigerian woman who was born in London and mainly grew up in Southern California. I’m the oldest of four. I’m also an Aries with a Gemini Moon and Ascendant in Aquarius. I served in the Coast Guard for 8 years and was Miss Tall International 2014. Currently, I’m a third year MFA in Fiction student at the University of Pittsburgh.
I first met you at a zine event. Why did zines resonate with you? In your debut zine, The Weather up Here is Great!you write about your experiences as a tall Black woman. Why was it important for you to tell this story?
I grew up reading TONS of magazines as a kid/teen. I went to this after-school center. The site leader, Cristina, would gift me all her magazines. I read Teen, CosmoGurl, YM (my fave back then), Teen People, and Seventeen. I had adolescent dreams of being some kind of model-writer person, but obviously wasn’t really seeing too many models that looked like me. Nor was I always interested in the banalities covered within the articles. So, when I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was really looking for something to express myself. I somehow luckily got wind of your Black Women Zine Group and immediately loved it. I loved how with zines, anyone could create what they want and share their unique vision with the world. I loved the creativity and the community. I had a lot of insecurity about being taller than the average woman. So, zines were the perfect place to write about this. I wanted other tall girls to know that they were gorgeous the way they were. Of course, I wanted to tell myself this as well. My experience being a tall woman is multi-layered and a lot less straightforward than I was seeing presented. I wanted to at least showcase my own point of view.
You’ve been published in various magazines (Bust, Bitch, etc.) Did you always want to be a writer? How do you stay passionate about writing? Are there any writing tips you can give to folks?
I always wanted to be a writer, though I had absolutely no idea how one “became” a writer. I honestly thought you were just kind of discovered (a nod to my modeling dreams, I’m sure.) First I was into drawing, probably around age 4 or 5. And then writing soon followed. I love writing because it helps me make sense of the world. It’s a way I talk with myself, it’s a way that my thoughts become crystallized and I can sit back and be like, wow, so that’s what I think. Writing allows me the room to create whatever I want to see. Though I have many interests and extra-curriculars, writing is the one thing that has been a constant. I sometimes get frustrated with my own progress and fearful of the fast pace of the market and all these new, sparkling writers. However, I will forever love writing. I don’t really have to push myself to be passionate about it. I’m a constant journal writer, so I am always writing. I think my only suggestion is the piece of advice I am doing my best to live out, which is: write from your deepest self. Let go of ego and awards and fame and being clever and cute. Write fucked up things. Write things that make you cringe and propel you to go deeper. Write the thing you most want to see.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Franchesca Ramsey’s “Sh*t White Girls Say.” I watched it over and over again. I couldn’t stop cracking up. I thought it was an accurate portrayal of some of the ridiculous things white girls say to Black girls. I actually used the video as an example of the microagressions Black women experience, for a paper I was writing at the time. I was working on the paper to submit to an essay contest at my university. I won the $500 award (thanks, Franchesca).
It’s hard to believe that video debuted six years ago. It’s been amazing to see Ramsey go from a YouTube talent, to a well-known persona on shows like MTV’s Decoded. So, when she announced she was coming out with a book, I waited with anticipation. I was curious to learn more about the funny young woman with the lovely locs.
Because I’m a busy single mama, I cheated and got the audiobook. I’m actually glad I did. There were some parts in the book that made me burst out laughing. I startled a couple of folks, while out and about, with my hee hawing. Ramsey has a great speaking voice, and reading her own story with her voice inflections will tickle you.
The one thing I took away from her book, is that she is hopelessly optimistic. I don’t mean this in a snarky way at all. As a natural cynic, and a member of Generation-X…the original “side eye” folks, I found this to be interesting. Ramsey recaps her journey from an unknown content creator, to what she calls “an accidental activist.” She shares how she learned to deal with racism (and other isms), as she came into social justice work.
However, I wondered at times, if she’s too forgiving. In the book, she talks about call in/call out. Call in is basically talking to someone privately if they do something racist/sexist/etc. in public. It’s considered a better strategy than calling out or as the young folks say, “dragging” someone.
I have mixed emotions about this approach. I think it’s because the call in method requires you to educate/explain to the offender what they did wrong. I don’t know, I guess I’m sick of educating folks. Personally, I think most people know what they are doing when they engage in oppressive behavior. Not everyone is naive or ignorant. Some folks just don’t care. Sometimes a good clowning or calling out will do.
For example, Ramsey speaks about having dinner with Lena Dunham. After meeting Dunham, she felt guilty that she used to bash her show and speak negatively of her. She decided to give Dunham benefit of the doubt, and try to have an amiable relationship with her. Dunham has been hella problematic and is symbolic of white feminism/white hipster racism. Also, I’m still trying to figure out how she got away with practically bragging about sexuality exploiting her sister when they were children.
Someone likes Dunham deserves to be called out. I would never waste my time talking to her about anything. This is not to say Ramsey agreed with everything Dunham has done, but this is where that hopeless optimism comes into play. The idea that we need to leave space for racists/sexists to become “better people.” Yes, that works for some folks. But most people just aren’t going to change. No matter how many bell hooks books you recommend. I feel Dunham is one of those people.
I did enjoy listening to Ramsey speak about the power of social media, and the impact it’s having on people’s lives. The good and the bad. Especially, for folks her age. As someone in her 40’s, I’m still trying to get a handle on all these damn apps. It’s fascinating to know there’s this whole generation where things like Facebook, twitter, etc., have always been apart of their lives. Ramsey talked about making videos, blogging, and graphic designing as a teen. These are skills I’m just now learning.
A couple of months ago, I took a class on training materials. The instructor talked about the do’s/don’ts of PowerPoint. One student talked about the horrible ways his teacher in high school made PowerPoint presentations. I almost fell out. When I was growing up, we were lucky to have a chalkboard in the room. I still remember teachers writing on overhead projectors.
“Well, That Escalated Quickly” was a good read…uh, listen. Ramsey brought humor as she covered everything from activism to her interracial marriage to “trolls” online. She does not disappoint. My grade: A-
Have you read Ramsey’s book? What are your thoughts?
Recently, the article The Strained Relationship Between Black Mothers and Their Daughterswas trending on my newsfeed. I didn’t pay much attention to it, at first. Then it popped up again in an online group I’m in. Initially, I felt an immediate need to reject it. I always get anxious when I see articles like this. I feel that Black mothers tend to already be overly criticized, so why add fuel to the fire. However, I decided I needed to be open-minded and read the article.
While I have mixed feelings about the article, I had to acknowledge that it was the author’s truth and the story for many Black daughters. There are some Black mothers who lack affection for their daughters. They have never dealt with their own unresolved issues. There are some who are simply narcissistic and even see their daughters as competition.
I felt the article was missing something. I think it’s important to examine the complexities of Black motherhood. Of course, this is not to condone emotional/physical/mental abusive behavior. There are some parents who are just rotten people. But there are certain stresses that Black mothers contend with that may affect their relationships with their children.
Black motherhood has never been valued in this society, and is always under attack. Since being brought here as slave labor/breeders, Black women had to quickly redefine what was being a mother/motherhood. This has contributed to a long, shaky journey of trying to figure out what is the “right” way to mother. Mothering outside of white ideology.
A few day ago, I came across a social media platform, where the male host highlights stories of domestic violence/and other traumas in the Black community. I thought this was admirable, especially since we need more Black men thoughtfully discussing these issues.
So, it was not without irony, I found myself watching the film the other night. I flipped the channels desperately trying to avoid the movie. However, nothing else interesting was on. It has been years since I’ve seen the film, and thought perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. I was wrong. It wasn’t long before I changed the channel. I just couldn’t take Halle Berry twitching as a “crackhead” and speaking poor “Black dialect.” While, on the flipside, Jessica Lange played a loving and articulate middle class woman.
A synopsis of the film, Berry’s child is adopted by Lange’s character, after she leaves him in a trash can while high on crack. Later, Berry goes to rehab and gets clean. After a dramatic custody battle and not being able to bond with her child, she decides Lange should be in her son’s life. A Black mama needs a white woman to show her the way. The film was, and will always be offensive.
A couple of days later, I was scrolling through old posts, and came across articles I’d shared on the Hart children. I felt again, an overwhelming sense of sadness, as I stared at pictures of the children. It was disturbing to know that their smiles were covering the pain of emotional/mental/physical abuse.
Back in April, four adopted children (Markis, 19, Jeremiah, 14, Abigail, 14, and Sierra 12) were murdered by their “mothers,” Jennifer and Sarah Hart. Two other children, Devonte, 15, and Hannah, 16 bodies have not been found. It’s assumed they were also killed in a car crash, orchestrated by the women. It wasn’t long before reports came out that the women had a history of abusing the children. They moved from state to state, whenever social services got too close. It seems the most recent investigation on the family, was going to finally reveal the evilness of these women. So, they decided to kill the children, instead of facing the consequences of their actions.
It’s May, which means Mother’s Day celebrations. However, for incarcerated mothers, it’s a reminder they will not be with their children/loved ones. Particularly, Black mothers who are the most vulnerable of becoming victims of the criminal justice system. One of the most pressing concerns for advocates of prison abolition, has been the alarming rate of Black women being held in jail…due to not being able to make bail. This highlights the economic inequality of Black women.
“This country’s pay gap problem — the yawning gap between the wages of Black women and white men — can have especially onerous implications in the criminal justice system. Economically disadvantaged Black women have fewer resources to make bail, causing them to wind up behind bars for far too long, even for crimes they’ve only been charged with and often are not found guilty of. This extra time in jail can lead to a seemingly never-ending downward financial spiral. Defendants can lose their jobs, along with access to benefits and even their housing. In short, incarcerating a woman who is poor will only make her poorer.”https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/women-and-criminal-justice/heres-how-prison-and-jail-systems-brutalize-women
A couple of years ago, Black Lives Matters/other grassroots organizations, made it their mission to bail out Black women on Mother’s Day. Besides, getting them out of jail, these groups provided the women with resources/opportunities to help them get back on their feet/thrive in their communities. Please consider making a donation to this important cause, as well as sharing on social media.
For the month of May, I will be dedicating the blog to Black motherhood. The National Bail Out/Black Mama’s Bail Out is one of varied ways people can empower Black mothers.
As April comes to a close, it means the final days of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Of course, resisting sexual violence is a year-long concern for women’s organizations. However, it is important there is one month dedicated to examining the pervasiveness of rape culture in this country.
I’d been avoiding it because the subject matter was too much to bear. The Rape of Recy Taylor was released in fall of last year. The film details the horrific rape of Taylor, at the time, a 24-year-old married mother/sharecropper. Taylor was walking home from church one evening, when she was forced by gun point into a car with seven white men. She was brutally raped for over five hours.
The story of Ms. Taylor is unique, in that, she was willing to name her assailants. It was rare for Black women to do this in the Jim Crow South. The assault on Taylor, caught the attention of Rose Parks. Parks, was a sexual investigatorwith the NAACP, before she became known as ROSA PARKS.
In the film, Recy’s siblings shared when Parks came to the house to speak with Taylor. The news quickly spread around town about an “outside agitator.” The sheriff drove by the house to intimidate Parks. At one point, he barged into the family’s home and physically tossed Parks off the porch. Parks went away for a few weeks, then came back. She would not be dissuaded.
Eventually, Taylor’s rapists were arrested (it wasn’t too hard to find them, they lounged around town confident in their whiteness). Despite the determination of Taylor and Parks (co-founders of The Committee for Equal Justice), two grand juries failed to charge the men. Unfortunately, gang rapes of Black women were not uncommon in the south, so it wasn’t long before Parks moved on to other cases. This left Taylor and her family to deal with the aftermath of her speaking up.
Life was never the same for Taylor after her rape. I am haunted by the black and white photo that tends to pop up, when researching her case. She is standing stoic. Clothes slightly disheveled. The sadness spread across her face. There are other photos which include her husband and child. She seems distant from them, wrapped up in her own pain. The rape tore apart her family.
Taylor and her husband separated. Amazingly, Taylor stayed in her town, despite all that happened to her. She moved in with her father and went on to live a quiet life. Years later, her daughter was killed in a car accident. Taylor was never able to have more children. As her sister stated in the film, the rapists had “played up in her body.” I can only imagine the violence perpetuated against Taylor’s body for over five hours.
The most startling revelation that came out of the documentary, is when relatives of the rapists, were interviewed. All the men are deceased. I believe one of the men was already in the military, when the rape took place. Later, some of the other men also joined the military. I was alarmed as the camera panned the burial sites of the men. The words “hero,” “courageous,” and “brave” were etched on the headstones. The American flag was displayed proudly on the graves.
I was disturbed by the family members boasting about the rapists military accomplishments. I couldn’t help but think about the controversy of NFL players refusing to stand for the flag. A protest started by Colin Kaepernick in 2016. The argument made by those pro-flag, is that it’s honoring veterans/those in the military. The story of Taylor, made me realize that the uplifting of this flag, means we are praising white men who terrorized Black women. It has cemented for me why Black people should not stand for the flag. The American flag represents the history of sexual violence perpetuated against Black women. It was condoned and awarded with medals.
Taylor went on to live until age 97. Long past, her rapists. She never received justice for the suffering she endured from her sexual assault, so I’m sure those years lived were with some unease. In 2011, the Alabama Legislature issued her an apology. Of course, way too little and much too late, but at least Ms. Taylor was alive to receive it.
“My hometown has been in a water crisis since April, 24th 2014. Yes, for 4 years. Thousands of kids and adults were exposed to lead and other toxic chemicals in our water. When word of the crisis first broke we had media from all around the world shining a spotlight on Flint. But now, the cameras are gone and this crisis is far from being over with. To mark the 4 year mark of the Flint Water Crisis I am hoping to sell as many of these shirts for people to wear on April 24th to bring attention back onto Flint. Four Years Forgotten.” https://www.bonfire.com/4-years-forgotten/
When I think about the 2017 Women’s March, I don’t reflect on white women wearing pink pussy hats. I think about a picture I saw of three Black women standing by themselves. They were holding signs that read “DON’T FORGET FLINT.”
I was happy to support this fundraiser. It looks like Copeny and company have restarted it, so don’t miss your opportunity to get a shirt!
A month or so ago, there was a huge debate regarding singer Bruno Mars. Mars, who has had a succesful run making r&b music, was called out as a cultural appropriator. This shocked a lot of his fans. Usually, it’s white artists who are accused of cultural appropriation. Folks wondered how Mars, a man of color, could be considered a cultural appropriator. His fans pointed out Mars was of Puerto Ricandescent, thus had enough Negro in him to sing Black music/use Black cultural images.
It was a YouTuber, Seren, who sparked the national conversation. I’ve been a follower of Seren on YouTube. While I don’t always agree with her, I find her to be a well-informed young woman. She’s passionate about her views, particularly the importance of maintaining Black culture/Black legacy/Black history…as it seems to be up for grabs to any/everybody these days. I really didn’t find anything wrong with her argument, so it was surprising when people reacted to her with hostility, even threats of violence. Some folks thought it was tacky she said she didn’t care if Mars ate a cake and died, or something to that effect. Umm.. I’m sure most of us have celebrities we don’t care for, that if they fell off the face of the earth, we would say “oh.” To me, her dis didn’t warrant the vitriol she received. So, what else could it be?
I was on a messageboard, when someone pointed out what I had been thinking, the hatred toward Seren seemed to be because she was a Black woman. I read several posts were people felt she was loud/stupid/had an attitude, stereotypical words used to describe Black women. Or basically, Ms. Seren didn’t know her place. It was fascinating to see the abusive language coming not just from white folks, but people of color (they failed like hell on their allyship to a Black woman) and even some Black people. Black women are never allowed to be angry. Even when that anger, was really in protection of what this young woman saw as an erasing of her culture/her people’s contributions to this racist country. She wasn’t saying some off the wall shit, she was stating facts. Folks just couldn’t handle it.