Ntozake Shange

“Somebody almost walked off with all of my stuff…”

This line starts my favorite monologue from Ntozake Shange’s award-winning choreopoemfor colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf . Shange recently passed away at the age of 70. Her death has received little attention in mainstream media. It has been mostly Black women honoring her life/work, probably because Shange wrote about our lives in such an honest and frank way, it’s hard for many people to digest.

ntzoke

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

This month has been going by so fast, I almost forgot to pay homage to Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“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 challenges when 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.

 

The Rape of Recy Taylor

*Trigger warning-sexual violence/rape*

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.

My group, PDX Black Feminism, hosted a meetup to discuss the issue of Black women and sexual violence. To prepare for the gathering, I read a little more on Tarana Burke and her #metoo movement. I also watched a great panel discussion on sexual harassment featuring brilliant Black women activists: Beth RichieScheherazade Tillet, and Natalie Bennett. I also finally watched the documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor.”

by-september-1944-the-24-year-old-was-married-to-willie-guy-taylor-and-had-a-baby-daughter-joyce-lee.jpg
Ms. Taylor in 2011

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 investigator with 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.

“The Rape of Recy Taylor” is a hard film to watch, but necessary. The foundation of rape culture comes out of this country’s sanctioned abuse of Black women’s bodies.

 

 

 

 

Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. It’s a great opportunity to support women’s organizations/businesses. Here are some of my favorite Black women led groups:

Pay Your Teachers: How to Compensate Black Women and Femmes on Social Media for Their Emotional Labor

A Long Walk Home

Black Lives Matter

Black Women’s BluePrint

Bloom Beautifully

Divine Dark Skin

#metoo

Safety Pin Box

SisterSong

The Feminist Wire

PDX Black Feminism 😉

 

Community Response to Sexual Violence

Recently, I came across a Black millennial Youtuber who talked about being sick of Black folks obsession with the 90’s. She urged us to “let the 90’s go.” I had to laugh, because I’m guilty of this. As you grow older, it’s hard not to romanticize your childhood. Plus, the 90’s were an amazing time for Black folks. Particularly, in music and fashion. The fusion of r&b/hip-hop propelled Blackness into middle America, like never before. The influence of Black culture was undeniable…and hasn’t waned. That’s why you see white moms rapping in detergent commercials.

I think that’s why so many Gen-Xers, like myself, adore the 90’s. It was an explosion of Black style/dance/slang etc. Back in the 80’s, radio stations played a handful of Black singers that consisted of  Whitney, Michael, Prince, and Janet.  So, we do tend to carry on about the 90’s, but it’s because we remember how Black artistry was treated before then.

Besides music, Black television also grew in popularity. Shows like Martin, Living Single, and of course…A Different World. A Different World was the first mainstream program to represent Black college life. The first two seasons were terrible (sorry, Lisa Bonet), but it picked up steam after Debbie Allen took over as producer/director.

A couple of months ago, I started rewatching the show on Bounce TV.  Now, I can’t begin my mornings, until I sing along with Ms. Aretha. “I know my parents love me, stand behind me come what may…”

Continue reading “Community Response to Sexual Violence”

#metoo

The last few weeks the public has been inundated with shocking revelations of predatory behavior in Hollywood. So much so, I needed time to process before writing about it. Some folks have been skeptical of the allegations, as many of the women have waited 5-10 years (if not more) to share their stories. While I’m sure most folks figured there were shenanigans going on in Hollywood, I think it’s been hard for people to grasp that it’s on such a wide scale. Especially, with celebrities they admired. I think it speaks to the fact, that this country has not really addressed the pervasiveness of sexual violence against women.

Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics

Recently, I came across a post that pointed out that we need to make a distinction between sexual assault, sexual harassment, and just asshole behavior. I thought this was important, and probably what’s contributing to most of us feeling overwhelmed. The mixing of incidents, is creating confusion. Ellen Page shared that Brett Ratner “outted” her on set. While offensive, and the way he did it was vulgar, it’s not rape. Lupita Nyong’o wrote an article about her interactions with Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein lured Lupita into several uncomfortable situations, one that resulted in her having to give him a massage, for her own safety. She experienced harassment, but it wasn’t rape. Other women (and men) talked about incidents they’ve endured, while disturbing, many were asshole antics…but it wasn’t rape.

This is not about oppression olympics, all of these scenarios feed into the larger issue of rape culture.  However, it’s making me a little anxious folks are lumping a outting story (as Kevin Spacey also tried to do), or someone giving a perverted sneer, with rape.

Black Women and Sexual Violence

Continue reading “#metoo”

The Tale of Four

A few days ago, actress Gabourey Sidibe released her short film “The Tale of Four.” The film is part of Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology film.

The purpose of this series is to highlight films by women directors. This is Sidibe’s directorial debut.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from the film. “The Tale of Four” is a take on Nina Simone’s “Four Women.” Now, folks who know this song, know this is one of Simone’s most iconic gems. The song stays on rotation in Black women’s playlist for revolution. Folks still get chills from Kelly Price, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott,  Ledisi rendition of this song at 2010 Black Girls Rock. Ledisi appears as “Aunt Sarah” in the film.

Well, the joke was on me. By the end of the 20-minute short, I was near tears. Sidibe managed to bring a contemporary spin on the characters of  Simone’s song. She portrayed the women as complex people. No one is all good or bad.

Aunt Sarah-is taking care of her sister’s children after her sister goes to prison for shooting Sarah’s abusive partner.  Despite this sacrifice,  Aunt Sarah struggles with keeping the children or placing them in foster care. She feels obligated, but overwhelmed. She loves them, but wants her life back.

Safronia-is a light-skinned biracial woman. She’s harassed by Black peers for her skin color, but she gives as good as she gets. She refers to one of her tormentors as a “burnt bitch.” Safronia demands her dark-skinned mother tell her who her father is. The mother breaks down and tells her daughter how she was conceived. She was raped by a white man. Safronia goes to her mother and hugs her. It was a powerful moment. Black women sexual assault survivors rarely get unspoken love/support.  Also, it wasn’t the cliché story of the “confused” biracial, rather acknowledging the pain of the mother.

Sweet Thing– is a sex worker. She’s not ashamed of what she does.  She enjoys it, but would like respect from her client.  She’s a talented woman. She sings with a husky voice, plays the piano. When she picks up the phone and apologizes for an argument. Of course, it’s the client. The man she really wants to be with. Or so you think.. When she opens the door to a Black woman holding flowers, and they bashfully hold hands. You realize Sweet Thing wants a different kind of love to fill her heart.

Peaches-is the Black mother grieving her child killed by police. She represents Black Lives Matter, the protest of the flag/anthem, the resistance of white supremacy. Peaches is Lesley McSpadden, Sybrina Fulton, Samaria Rice, Geneva Reed-Veal, and more (sadly). More importantly, Peaches is the symbolic revenge of Black mothers. I recently read an article how the narrative of Black people abused by the police/white oppression is that of forgiveness. We are expected to forgive the transgressions against us. Peaches rejects that notion. She knows she will suffer when takes her revenge, but it helps her heal.

“The Tale of Four” was wonderful. It makes the Nina Simone film with Zoe Saldana in blackface, even more insulting.  This brilliant songstress deserves more than that. Sidibe redeems Simone’s honor with her film.

Dating Violence

A few days ago, I was shocked to read about the death of Dr. Jeannine Shante Skinner. Dr. Skinner was murdered by a man she was dating. I was further appalled by some of the comments I read on the Internet, regarding the killing of this beautiful woman. It was the typical rhetoric leveled at Black women who are victims of interpersonal violence. It wouldn’t happen to them if they didn’t love “thugs.” The pictures that I’ve seen of the couple together, is that of a polished/professional man. Most likely, he is a sociopath who knew how to camouflage who he really was, well.

11 Signs You May Be Dating a Sociopath

Initially, I was going to title this post “domestic violence (DV).” However, after reading more about the case, I learned that Dr. Skinner had only been with the guy a couple of months. The couple did not live together. She took him to church to meet friends and family. She seemed to be taking her time getting to know him. All the “right things” we tell women to do, when they begin seeing someone. This wasn’t a long-term relationship, were there were incidents of recorded frequent violence. That’s why it’s disturbing so many folks are chalking up Dr. Skinner’s death to a DV situation…of a woman who didn’t leave when she had the chance.

It can be argued, Dr. Skinner saw something that DID raise a red flag and she decided to end the relationship. It was probably what triggered the guy to kill her.

While we have gotten a bit better talking about domestic violence, we don’t talk enough about dating violence, particularly for older women. Usually, the focus of dating violence tends to be on teens/young people. Regardless of age, abusers will latch on right away during the dating stage, pushing for full-blown relationships.

Black Women and Dating Violence

Currently, there is debate if whether a fellow who has decided to win his ex back by playing the piano everyday in a park until she comes back, is romantic or abusive behavior. When I first saw the story trending, I thought it was odd, but figured he must really miss her. After reading why many women felt his behavior was abusive and controlling, I had to agree.

Continue reading “Dating Violence”

March For Black Women

On Saturday, September 30, 2017 the Black Women’s Blueprint is hosting a March for Black Women in Washington, DC.

The purpose of the event is to highlight issues affecting Black women across the country.

  • State violence against Black women
  • The criminalization of Black women
  • Rape culture/Sexualized violence
  • Murders of trans Black women
  • Addressing missing Black girls and women

and much more.

A few weeks ago, I sent in a form to their main website hoping to get more information about the event. The organizers are encouraging sister marches in other cities. I didn’t realize I was signing up on the spot to lead a march! 🙂

But it’s fine. I love planning events, especially something that seeks to empower Black girls/women. Also, I try to be a woman of my word and when the organizers contacted me via email, I decided to push forward.

Support the work of these amazing women in DC or if you know about a similar gathering in your city. If you are a Black woman in Portland, come on out to my event. I’ve decided to host a townhall, since it’s too last-minute for an actual march. We are in precarious times, and Black women have to make sure we don’t continue to be marginalized/silenced.

If you can, contribute to the main March For Black Women’s fundraiser and/or my event. I believe strongly in paying Black women for their time and labor.

march march

 

 

The Criminalization of Black Women

The shooting of Justine Diamond by a Black officer, has riled up white folks. Diamond’s death has caused white folks to bemoan the overuse of force on the most “innocent of victims.”  Besides the curiosity of this outrage, has been the amusing scolding of the Black community to come together as “humans” and fight against police brutality.  Huh? These are the same people who cursed Black Lives Matter activism. They tend to see Black victims as having “done something wrong” to warrant their killing. Even when the victim is a child. The lack of support from many Black folks has confused white folks, but what did they expect? You can’t treat a group of folks sh*t, then turn around and expect them to be a shoulder to cry on.

While it’s a terrible thing that happened to Diamond, in the end she will get justice. Already the police chief has resigned, and the black officer that shot her is getting vilified (no Blue Lives Matter love for him!) The same can not be said for Black victims. I’m not going to get too emotionally involved in this particular case.

What did pique my interest, this past week, were two articles I came across on the ‘net. Both deal with the criminalization of Black women, particularly poor Black women. In “A Warrant to Search Your Vagina” Andrea J. Ritchie discussed the abuse of Black women by police officers. Ritchie  has written extensively about the sanctioned violence by the criminal justice system against Black women. Ritchie detailed how Black women are often beaten, raped, and killed by police. It is the combination of race and gender, that makes Black women particularly vulnerable to police harassment.

Currently, there has been a call of compassion and health crisis by politicians for opioid/meth users (usually 90% white), this olive branch has not been extended to Black women. Black women are still being brutally attacked and exploited in “the war on drugs.” Black women bodies are routinely degraded.  It is reminiscent of the days of slavery, when Black women were made to strip naked and sexually assaulted.

“In 2015 Charneshia Corley was pulled out of her car at a gas station after a police officer claimed he smelled marijuana during a traffic stop. Two female officers then forced her legs apart and probed her vagina in full view of passers-by.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/opinion/sunday/black-women-police-brutality.html

Ritchie noted that police CAN issue a warrant to search one’s vagina. It may seem absurd, but it is true. This is alarming and sets the stage for abuse of power, as illustrated in the cases discussed in the article. Generally, the women did NOT have drugs on them, but will forever be humiliated by this invasive body search.

Continue reading “The Criminalization of Black Women”