My Daddy Ain’t No Feminist

Saturday I was talking to my daddy and was catching him up on my week. I told him I was reading this awesome book on Billie Holiday, If You Can’t Be Free Be a Mystery by Farah Griffin,  and that I was having a public conversation with another writer, a Black man, about the importance of having a working understanding of gender analysis if one is going to examine race in a meaningful way.

My father responded, well, Renina,  racism, sexism and homophobia are connected.  I sat there speechless. Quiet.

I didn’t expect him to say that.

That the man who raised me says things like this is telling. My dad the retired truck/bus driver.

You see, he went back to take some college courses at Merritt College (a community college in Oakland) in 2005 in his late fifties. At Merritt he took a class on Black studies with Dr. Love and they read Paula Giddings “When and Where I Enter.” In fact, HE read the book before I did.  We are both readers.

The fact that my father said this to me illustrated something that I haven’t been able to put my finger on in terms of my conversation with Ta-Nehisi.

I am not asking Ta-Nehisi to become a feminist, I am merely asking him to show me the same respect that I showed him and his work and read something that I have suggested. Furthermore, looking back, the reason why I picked up Nixonland (which then led me to finally start the book club here) because Ta-Nehisi recommended that I read it when I asked him for a book that would help me to understand the electoral politics of the 60’s and 70’s that would lead us to the dope game fresh era of the 80’s.

Framing the conversation as me asking him to become a feminist is lightweight absurd.

It reminds of some kinda Black feminist one drop rule. If you read one work, your shit might turn like that press and curled hair in the rain. <<<#turrible aren’t I?

My daddy ain’t no feminist. But having read Paula Giddings book he can say matter of factually that racism, sexism and homophobia are related, and I would imagine if probed we could discuss why.

Side bar. My daddy also read Malcolm’s Autobiography when I was 14, after I read it. It had a pretty profound effect on me, as it tends to, so my dad wanted to know what was going on. He read it too, and it impacted him as well. In fact, as I write this I realize how our journey’s as readers was connected. Because my dad is a working class Black man, I have had the working assumption that working class Black men read. I am learning, that this is false. I am finding that this isn’t the case, especially, as I date.

Friday I ran into a friend of mine, Mr. Fantastic, who is a historian as well and he chatted with me about this conversation I have been having with Ta-Nehisi.  He said something pretty daggumit profound which was, “Who is responsible for telling both sides of the story and why?”  and “Is there more than one side.”  I don’t have an answer, but I am thinking about it. These are the kinds of things that historians say. #Theybekillingme.

Why is the fact that I am suggesting that a text be read  being framed as asking someone to become a feminist or even a gender analysis expert?

Maybe my daddy is a feminist or perhaps an ally? Luls.

Thoughts?

How old were you when you read Malcolm’s Autobiography?

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Comments

  1. Tasasha says

    1. If You Can’t be Free be a Mystery is awesome! I bought the book in high school when I was light-weight obsessed with Billie Holiday.

    2. Unfortunately, I didn’t read The Autobiography of Malcom X until college, which is very surprising when I think about it because I’ve been a big reader, especially of black-authored and black history books since i was a kid and Malcom X’s autobiography just kinda slipped by me. I don’t know if it was a life-changer for me, but it definitely impacted my view of things.

  2. says

    I first read Malcolm on a road trip down to Los Angeles with my dad. I finished it in the car on the ride back and softly cried to myself in the backseat while staring out the window, wondering about the sort of world that had produced and stolen a man as great as Malcolm.

    My father was also a big reader; it is perhaps the only thing we really had in common. His packed bookshelves in his tiny rundown apartment whispered thoughts that he would not or could not share.

    He always gave me books for my birthday, books that taught me much about Black history and politics–often highlighting Black women specifically—and yet in ‘real life’ he placed me in the middle of his love affairs filled with lies, cheating, and abuse in various forms. He even involved me with his cheating on my own mama.

    These are simply the days of our lives I suppose–but damn if these balls of race/gender/class that we’re expected to keep in the air don’t have some sharp ass edges! I carry cuts on my palms like stigmata…in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Sprit. #Amen

  3. jonzey says

    To me the primary difference between you and your friend is that you ASKED for reference reading. He didn’t.

    It would be nice if he was interested in understanding your/any perspective besides his own enough to follow up on reading recommendations but I’m not sure you can demand that of him (or anybody else for that matter).

  4. Renina says

    @jonzey
    Ha!
    Yes and no.
    He asked me to read his book and blog about it and I did.
    I asked him about Nixonland.

    You and I both know that I am big on letting people choose their lane, which is largely WHY I never said anything
    until Malcolm/For Colored girls came up. (Peep the For Colored Bloggers post for context.)

  5. ashon says

    RENINA!!! this was so crazy wonderful … like, seriously!

    1 – the assumption that working class folks read (and many do; and even if they don’t…they *know* things and can share things; that is, they have knowledge that can be expressed and dispersed. the idea that working class folks don’t have anything is, as you’d say, absurd)

    2 – i love the class critique implicit in your writing. like, your father went to a community college and took a few classes. but how many times are community colleges thought to be something other than educational? or, what some people do who couldn’t “get in” to “normal” schools?

    i just really, really love this piece.

  6. says

    I love this. Before I read Malcolm’s biography as a preteen I read “Malcolm X for beginners” as a tiny tot. Thanks to my dad.

    When I was in middle school my dad started writing poetry. To be more like me, he said.

    When I got to grad school my dad even read Derrida’s “Discipline and Punish” to keep up the conversation. And when I asked him to read Audre Lorde’s “Need” he read it right there while I waited in a diner.

    And this month I’m editing his manuscript.

    Aligned with you in deep gratitude for fathers who relate to their daughters as opportunities to learn and grow.

    <3
    Lex

  7. says

    I read X’s autobio when I was a tween–at the height of the X ball cap, “It’s a black thang, you wouldn’t understand,” cross colours fashion era. I wanted an X cap badly. Real badly. But my Mama did not have a whole lot of expendable income. I was feeling badly about my lack of fashion sense (because at that point, I didn’t know who X was at all), and then I saw something on tv that was like, “don’t get a hat, go read the book!” Obedient as I was, I did and it changed my life. I started reading all sorts of stuff about black people, stuff I was not getting in school. I would not be dr. susiemaye if it wasn’t for that book! I’m sure some of my students curse the day it was written! (Insert maniacal feminist laugh here)

  8. says

    Renina,
    I could not agree more. There was so much derailing going on in both of those conversations with TNC and the “why am I being asked to be a feminist” whine being one of the primary tactics.

    (I loved the moment when a commenter asked TNC, “wait, does that mean you’re not a feminist?” *silence*)

    I love that your dad said what he said. It really is so hopeful. And I expected more from TNC, I really did.

    I was also furious at the fact that you extended an enormous olive branch–no, an olive tree–in your second post, and that didn’t seem to make one damn bit of difference. Somehow, you were still the bad guy.

    (For the record, I posted to both conversations as “Davenport1234” and was the one who got accused by TNC of being “weaselly” so I’m not even pretending to be objective here. I’m pissed about that and pissed about the entire conversation.-thanks for letting me vent. 🙂 )

  9. Renina says

    Obedient as I was, I did and it changed my life. I started reading all sorts of stuff about black people, stuff I was not getting in school. I would not be dr. susiemaye if it wasn’t for that book! I’m sure some of my students curse the day it was written! (Insert maniacal feminist laugh here)
    ======
    Malcolm Changed so many of us.

    I mean I know the mans birthday by heart. Feel me?

    Perhaps we can do a Black Feminist ode to Malcolm on his birthday Next year. May 17th, I believe. 🙂

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  10. Renina says

    Ashon!

    Thank you and welcome to my little corner of the Blogosphere.

    but how many times are community colleges thought to be something other than educational? or, what some people do who couldn’t “get in” to “normal” schools?
    ====
    My dad has a had a long struggle with addiction, and apart of of his recovery is being of service. He was taking classes @ Merritt towards a certificate program for folks who do recovery work within institutions.

    I am glad you like it. I think I am going to write about my daddy more. He is really happy that I am learning to become a teacher. In fact, I take part in events just so that I can share it with him. I think there is some vicarious living happening there. Lols.

  11. Very54 says

    My thoughts are that your work, your words are essential. You tackle gender issues hard core but always with love. I may not always understand everything or even agree with everything but I do like how you challenge my thinking, how you make me look at things from another perspective, and how you formalize some of my deepest thoughts. But most of all, what I enjoy the most is that you ALWAYS have references (books, articles etc.) that we can go back to (by the way I am googling Farrah Griffin and Paula Giddings) so the fact that you are suggesting a text be read is not necessarily feminist, I just see it as an intellectually constructive way to deepen a conversation. But to have dialogue you have to be 2…

    I love your dad’s comment and your reading relationship. I started reading -really- when I moved here about 3 years ago. And when I called my dad to let him know About the books I liked he was laughing hard, he couldn’t believe it. They tried everything to have me read and could never do it. And now, I can’t stop reading. Go figure! So I usually discuss my readings with my sisters.

    I read MalcolmX autobio at 28 when I moved to New York. I had heard of him of course, but I now realize that I didn’t know anything about the man or his thoughts, I only knew the  ontroversial aspects. The book had a huge impact of me and is one of my favorite. I cried so much reading it. Our shining black prince! I am impressed to see that so many of you have read it during their teens.  

  12. Renina says

    @Very54.

    Your comment made me cry.

    Thank you. They are always so thoughtful and profound. You will Love “If You Can’t Be Free…” I am rereading it to write a blog post about it!

    But most of all, what I enjoy the most is that you ALWAYS have references (books, articles etc.) that we can go back to (by the way I am googling Farrah Griffin and Paula Giddings) so the fact that you are suggesting a text be read is not necessarily feminist, I just see it as an intellectually constructive way to deepen a conversation. But to have dialogue you have to be 2…
    =====
    YES. And Thank you.
    ~Renina

  13. says

    Your Daddy is clearly more feminist than some “feminists” out there if he can say that off the bat. I ain’t mad.

    “Why are you asking me to be a feminist?”
    “Why not?”

    pow. conversation over.

    Own that you have knowledge to offer and that if you do recommend a book then it is with good reason. and you ought to just go read that ish and stop complaining about having a friend/colleague/sister who is trying to prevent the ignorance within you.

    that is a very unsympathetic response to a very silly debate on his side. arent we all supposed to be well read, invoking a range of ideas and battling all sorts of isms? How do you do that without knowing what is what?

    And why is that it’s the subject of black feminism that gets the side-eye? if you suggested a book on the Wall Street meltdown, I imagine this would be a different conversation.

    black male privilege be something else.

    much love. keep on keep on

  14. says

    “Because my dad is a working class Black man, I have had the working assumption that working class Black men read. I am learning, that this is false. I am finding that this isn’t the case, especially, as I date.”

    Yes. It is mind-blowing how many daters (men and women) out there don’t read. My only advice is: Don’t date them. In the long-run, one’s occupation and material wealth, diplomas, occupation… all are types of fleeting security. A partner who is on a journey to learn and grow–whether a “bantering-or-sparring-partner Online” or a lover–is worth a bit of filtering out of those who won’t challenge you. Keep it movin. Forget anyone who won’t read or explore something new. YAWN.

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