listen to the women

There is a school of thought that “feminism” was created by white women and introduced to black women in order to derail the struggle of black people in this country by disrupting the unity between black men and black women. Often, when I read or take part in discussions involving womanhood, this theory is trotted out as some form of “Gotcha – agent!” I suppose the theory is enticing because of the air of conspiracy about it, but the mental laziness that one has to engage in to believe this theory should embarrass whoever subscribes to this belief.

Absolutely nothing about believing that a woman is as fully human as a man  and should be treated accordingly should disrupt unity between black men and black women, point blank, period. Start there.

Black women do not, and never did need white women to point out to them that we get treated differently than men in this society because of the way our patriarchal society is set up. To assert such a thing is insulting to our intelligence and the intelligence of the mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors before us. We plainly and clearly see it for ourselves, and we always have.

Do not confuse our assertion of dignity, power, humanity, and rights for the feminism symbolized by burning bras and pink pussy hats. With all due respect to what white women are out there fighting for, the burden of femininity for black women in this society is another animal altogether. This is due in part to the intersection of racism and sexism working together against us. This is due in part to some black men thinking that black women who dare call attention to the issues we face as women is a threat to fighting the oppression that they face, like there’s a zero sum game being played and that our fight for fairness siphons power from their (our collective!) fight. This is also due in part to some white women feeling victimized when black women assert that while we have some issues in common, they still have privilege in this society that we don’t have and their perspective is limited in its scope to address our issues. We are not mimicking white women.

However, when black men rail against women’s issues, they are mimicking white men. When they manipulate the scriptures of religious texts to subjugate women, they aren’t doing anything white men haven’t already done with those texts. When they ignore certain issues because it doesn’t affect them and it “only” affects women, they aren’t ignoring anything that white men haven’t already decided to ignore. When they try to shame women for not adhering to a hurtful and oppressive status quo, they are maintaining the same status quo that puts white men at the top of a power hierarchy that endangers the lives and well being of black men and black women, black boys and black girls. By calling black feminists and womanists tools of the oppressor, they ironically and quite unwittingly act as tools of the oppressor.

To the extent that there is a divide between American black men and women on gender issues, it wasn’t the assertion of feminism or womanism by black women that caused it. It was caused by the absorption and maintenance of old European patriarchal values that hindered our ability to communicate effectively and empathize with each other any better than white men and women.

When we communicate fairly, without malice or fear, with empathy and understanding, misunderstandings get cleared up and people learn. Things get better. Culture shifts. I have been personally encouraged by seeing people listening with open minds to each other instead of hurling “agent” accusations at each other to derail dialogue. I already know that if you’re still reading at this point, I’m preaching to the choir. But I’m just out here sayin what I thought should be said.

the pedophilia carols doctrine

Keshia Knight Pulliam is my contemporary. I literally grew up watching The Cosby Show and don’t remember a world without it, really. I watched it every Thursday night and talked about it with my friends at school on Friday mornings. I also grew up watching The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and Good Times – all shows that featured all or predominantly black casts, and all shows that to some extent played into stereotypical trope about black people at some point in their runs. I didn’t know it until I got older, but The Cosby Show was in some way the bucking of racist expectations. For all of the criticism it received for not being realistic and trafficking in respectability politics, the show rejected the idea that black people had to talk or dress a certain way to authentically portray blackness for the screen. It opened the portrayal of blackness to include many facets. It featured people like Lena Horne, Miriam Makeba, Sandman Sims, and Dizzy Gillespie. It featured black arts in spades – jazz, dance, blues, spirituals, paintings, and fashion. It ran storylines of giving back to urban communities, preserving black traditions, support of civil rights, and even confronting white male patriarchal supremacy. The show was a gift to my generation. For these reasons, and because the show is the product of many minds and hands, not just the hands of convicted rapist Bill Cosby, it will always have a place in my heart and on my TV screen. In fact, it’s some of the only non-animated TV that I feel currently feel comfortable sharing with my young children, since what passes for family sitcoms these days is typically too mature in content, themes, and language for young minds.

Contrast this with how I change the radio station every time Bump and Grind, or another of R. Kelly’s songs is aired on the radio. I was at a young, impressionable age when his career took off, and even at that time, I knew that this was grown folks’ music, not meant for my ears. Aaliyah Houghton was also my contemporary, and when I found out about his marriage to her before either of us was even eligible to vote, I was disgusted. Her debut album, which he produced, was called “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number.” He was trolling the public, even then. When that sex tape with the minor went viral, I was shocked and dismayed to hear how people defended his actions. He didn’t get the reputation for being a child predator by accident. And what’s worse, so many of his songs are about sex. So I can’t help now but to think that the women he’s singing to about what he wants to do to their bodies aren’t really women, but girls. I don’t hear baby-making music. I only hear pedophilia carols. In his distinctive voice, I can only hear the grown men on the avenue who tried to get my attention when I was walking to the hair shop with my girlfriends in our teenage years. For decades now, R. Kelly has used his fame and the goodwill he purchases with his soulful music to draw young ladies to him so that he can lure them into his bed. Then he calls himself the Pied Piper – the legendary character who lured children away with his music. He’s out here trolling, and I can’t separate the music from the artist.

The difference between me watching The Cosby Show and listening to You Remind Me of My Jeep is that I find it much easier to separate Heathcliff Huxtable from Bill Cosby. I am disgusted by what those (as of this date) 62 women say he did. I want him to be held accountable for it in the same way that he wanted to hold his fictional pound cake thief accountable. I believe the women and his own deposition statement – not a conspiracy theory, and not his vicious defense attorney. And yet – when I watch the show, I can do so without associating it or his character in that show with those heinous acts. It’s a lot like how I don’t hear domestic violence in James Brown songs.

I’m in favor of preserving the legacy of that art, of Little Bill, of Fat Albert. I just wish they could rebrand the syndicated The Cosby Show as “The Huxtables,” or “10 Stickwood Avenue,” or something like that, to get his name off of it. That would be great. I can’t imagine how much those women are triggered every time they hear his name. We are not victims for having to examine how we want to deal with the conflict between Bill Cosby’s art and his actions. They are victims for having been at the receiving end of those actions. They are victims for having to wait for decades to even be able to push past everyone’s esteem for the false image of himself that he created, in part through his laudable art. It may feel complicated for us, but it never has been for them. I hope his conviction helps them. I actually hope it helps us all. And I hope that it won’t take as long for us to finally snag R. Kelly as it did to snag Bill Cosby.

nobody asked me but i’m here

I am a daughter, wife, mother, cousin, niece, granddaughter, and sisterfriend. I am a person of faith, and part of my faith includes, “live and let live.”  I am a black woman, and I am rooting for everybody black. I am an educated professional. I was raised in a low-income neighborhood. I live in suburbia now. I am liberal and conservative. I am wholly disenchanted with political parties, but I am a proud part of the 94%. I’m a recovering spoken word poet. I’m hetero, cisgender, gender conforming, and still learning about my privilege in those ways. None of these facts explains everything or enough about me.

I stan for the Oxford comma. I speak business English, I speak AAVE, and I write in both. I’m long winded. I try not to take myself too seriously, but when I am passionate about a point, I go in. I don’t know it all, I recognize that, and I like learning from others. I accept that I am a work in progress.

I got a big mouth. No one ever asks me, but I’m here anyway, out here sayin what I think ought to be said.