Black Women Who Run from Their Genius (May) Make Themselves Sick. ~Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins on the set of her film Losing Ground

I have been obsessed and fascinated with Kathleen Collins for the last year. She is a Black woman filmmaker, a film professor, a momma, she attended Skidmore and the Sorbonne. She died in 1988 of cancer at 46.

First I learned about her from Jaqueline Bobo’s Black Women Film and Video Directors, and then I saw her film Losing Ground (1982) and lastly I just read an article about her by Black film scholar, L.H. Stallings.

Collins says several things in her Black Film Review Interview that you can read here, but I just want to summarize the parts that have been meaningful to me.

BLACK WOMEN WHO RUN FROM THEIR GENIUS MAY MAKE THEMSELVES SICK

My basic premise is ithat all illness is a psychic connection of some kind.. And I had a preiod of time when I was ill. I still have to struggle with it. The nature of illness and female succcess and the capacity of the female to acknowlege its own intelligence is a subject that interests me a lot . because I think that women– if there’s anyway that I am a feminist, because I don’t really think of myself as a feminist, because I don’t really think of myself as a feminist– but if there is any way in which women tend to be self destructive it is in that area of creaticity where they actually feel their own power and can’t aknowlege it or go into it with as much…

They can’t go to the end of it and they retreat into ilness or into having too many babies or into destructive love affairs with men who run them ragged. Somewhere or other, they detour out of a respect for their own creativity.

Let me say first off that I do not agree that all illness that Black women experience is a result of a psychic disconnection. However, I do think there is something to be said about what happens to our bodies when we ignore the genius in our hearts and our minds when it pertains to making art.

I read this a year ago. However it was reading it last month that I was floored by not only this idea but the following statement, which has to do with the fact that she felt like her own illness was connected to a fear of her own genius.

WHEN DID COLLINS BECOME ILL?

I think that it is very curious, curiously at a point and time when I had just finished a first movie, and knew that I had it, knew that I had the talent. Knew that my own creative power was finally surfacing, that all the years of working quietly , and quite alone, were beginning to pay off. It was basically  a long four year cycle.

Collins died in 1988 at 46 years old of cancer. It is interesting that she felt like she became ill right when she felt the power of her own creativity.

ON BEING AFRAID OF BEING ALONE AS AN ARTIST

I think I have been afraid of being alone too much,  I think that’s what was connected  to the illness. That fear that I was going to be considered nuts kind of frightened me.

This really resonated with me, not because of the fear of being seen as being eccentric; it is the fear that in order to take it to the next level I am going to have to be separated from the people that I Love. I now realize that in order to grow the voltron, I have to branch out into new spaces. I also have to have faith that my Love bears will be there when I return; that they will understand. I have also come to the conclusion this weekend, that I need to be able to be out, but I also need consistent environments so that I can hear my own ideas. Too much noise drowns out the thoughts.

ON THE INTERIOR LIVES OF BLACK WOMEN AND BLACK PEOPLE

There are real conflicts, but they are not necessarily conflicts with a capital C. All internal conflict is the only thing that is really real. Where you’re right is in saying that American culture tends to like conflict with a capital c.

This spoke to me for three reasons. One I have known that taking care of my interior life would be key to my survival for a few years now, and this crystallized for me, after re-reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. Two, Junot Diaz has been speaking in his interviews about writing the interior lives of women while on tour promoting his new book. Third, one of the reasons why I chose qualitative interviews as my method is because I am interested in the interior lives of Black women.

In Kathleen Collins I see myself and I am trying not to run. My homie Jonzey said, you need to start a binder, because you are probably going to end up writing a biography of her. She is probably right :)

What do you think of this idea of Black women running from their genius making them sick?

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Black Girl Voltron and My Fear of Black Girl Cyborgs

 

Yesterday on Tumblr, I was having a conversation with @latinegrasexologist around some of my ideas about and my resistance to Black Girls as Cyborgs. This conversation came about as I was discussing some of the tension that I have been feeling around blogging around digital Black feminisms. On one hand I feel uniquely suited to do so, on the other hand I am hesitant to mix up something that is work and interesting, with something that is work, but also an escape and joy.

Ultimately, @latinegrasexologist encouraged me to think about how Black girls can claim cyborg status, and what it means about how I have used my blog as space that I have claimed as my own, as a space where I feel free, as a space that belongs to me, as a space where I have explored elements of my interior life publicly.

Then holy shit this morning it all came together. Walking to my newly discovered writing place, I realize that the thing that I am most interested in is the conversation that occurs when Black women cultural workers and Black women web developers and computer scientists get in a room together, and get this shit gina, I have already started such a group; Black Girl Voltron.

Black Girl Voltron is: me, @afrolicious, @Marqueez, @salinabrown_nyc, @LatoyaPeterson.

Our first meeting which was via Skype the day after Thanksgiving 2010, Black Friday. We talked about many things from, the rise of mobile technologies, why Youtube and Itunes will not scale for independent artists, the opportunities that mobile may offer for Black women artists, the intersection of social justice and technology, the future importance of Big Data.

I took notes that day, but what was so amazing to me about this conversation is that I knew that we had something special, but I just didn’t know what it was.

Not until this morning.

Walking on the way to the train, I thought to myself, what I really want to do is have a focus group, where a group of Black women who possess an oppositional lens on racial, gender and sexual politics can get together and talk about the intersection of technology and Black girl cultural projects that are online.

Crossing the street, I was like shit…I have already been doing that, but I just never thought about it that way.

So now that I know that I have identified what we have been doing as being theoretically significant, I now need to realize how we can have other conversations that can be documented.

Which brings me back to Black Girl Cyborgs. I have championed when other Black women have claimed cyborg status. The first two people that come to mind are Erykah Badu (Robot Girl), Janell Monae. But for me to do so, shit feels weird. Don’t get me wrong, I ride for #blackgirlsarefromthefuture, but the cyborg makes me uncomfortable.

I think this occurs for two reasons. First, it is a challenge for Black women to be seen as human beings by many people in the US, so claiming machine + human cyborg status is real to me. Second, technology within captialism in the US is framed as means for a more efficient systems.  Efficiency, when brought to bear historically on Black women’s bodies has historically meant that our ass is grass. See, US Chattel Slavery, See, Henrietta Lacks, See forced sterilization of Black women in South Carolina. For me, there is an acute tension between efficiency and human becoming more human in 2012 and beyond. I take this idea of becoming a more human, human being from Grace Boggs.

All of this being said, I felt the need to write this because pieces seem to be coming together. I also heard someone use voltroning as a verb, and didn’t acknowledge #allcity. #keepiteven.

To be clear, voltroning…is a term that I have used to describe when I get together with folks, and my favorite voltrons are spontaneous joints. It’s Libra season, so there should be a lot of voltrons happening ;p.

I also see this post as an opportunity to reflect on why the idea of the Black girl as a cyborg troubles me.

Black girl cyborgs?

Do you read sci-fi? Does anyone do Black women as cyborgs other than Ms. Butler?

 

Is it Me Or…………….

In August, I ran into a friend from the Bay who I knew when I was in high school. We chatted it up and exchanged numbers, and I assumed we may connect for an after work function, at the max.

He has sent me a text message once, after we exchanged numbers,  again a couple weeks later and yesterday when his birthday passed.

Is it me or is this inappropriate?

I am not a part of his inner circle and we were close once, but that was more than 10 years ago.

Which brings me to my question, is it acceptable for people who are in (presumptively) monogamous relationships be allowed to have passive contact with someone from their past?

Is this something that some heterosexual Black men do in 2012?

Am I putting 10 on 2 here?

Do you get random text messages from people?

What do you do? Ignore them?

 

Bodies or Taxes: Ideas on Gender and Technology

I am beginning to think that part of my calling is at the intersection of technology and social justice. I just had a really long conversation with a man of color who is a cybersecurity expert and it became clear to me that there is a difference between #ConservativeBlackpeopleiwithaGoodGovermentJob who care about social justice and those who don’t. The guy was nice and I learned a lot from him in our conversation about the history of the internet, but it became very clear that he was a boot-strapper, and that I felt that all of our boats would rise or fall together.

Now, in a  conversation with a White man who was also a developer, about a month ago,  we concluded that we are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift where we can either pay with bodies or taxes, made a huge impression on me. Because it showed me that there is immense thinking power that occurs when a person sits at the intersection of being a futurist, of understanding technology and has a sense of social justice.

I think it is very interesting when people bristle at the idea of bringing a gender lens to the underrepresentation of Women in STEM. How can we not when STEM careers are the careers positioned to grow in the next thirty years. When women are disproportional clustered in low wage service sector jobs, low wage care work jobs, I think that is important that we start asking where is the money, who has it and why?

I know that it can be difficult to casually talk with me, because in terms of gender I can see a persons assumptions 50 miles out, a good teacher and writer has to.

Why people be bristling?

Is it because the absence of women in STEM points to fundamental racial and gender inequalities?

Kathleen Collins and the Redemptive Softness of Black Women

Still from the film “Losing Ground” directed by Kathleen Collins.

This post has been a long time coming.

I Love Black women filmmakers, because I believe that Black women filmmakers see us. Not just the uplifting “We shall overcome” versions of us, but they see us in all of our beauty, contradictions, nuanced, strength and fragility.

Last fall, while reading Jacqueline Bobo’s Black Women Film and Video Directors, I kept coming across the name Kathleen Collins.

Come to find out the reels for Collins’ film “Losing Ground” were at the library so I took an afternoon and I watched it. The film blew my mind.

The main protagonist in the film is a Black woman philosophy professor who is searching for the ecstatic experience. Yes, honey, she is searching for ecstasy.

In an interview in Black Film Review Collins stated that,

Actually, the only hope for any sort of feminine salvation in this country– and the sad thing is that Black women are giving it up  in favor of a quietly growing, kind of strident white feminism. But the only residual softness that is possible in this culture as far as I am concerned is in the hands of Black women.

When I read this I thought. Wait a minute, the people who have been historically represented as lewd, lascivious, unrapeable, gold diggers, rich and lonely,  hoochie mammas, are the ones who have the redemptive softness?????

Film scholar L.H. Stalling takes this idea of the residual softness of Black women and runs with it. She writes,

Kathleen Collins’s solution to the violence done to black women and their image insists that such redemption come from those who have been positioned as the most abnormal and dysfunctional in society, black women.

This idea of Black women being the site of redemption because they are some of the most maligned is interesting, and I believe that I have heard it before in Audre Lorde’s work.

For me it takes on a greater significance when I watch reality television shows featuring the narratives of Black women. Love and Hip Hop Atlanta in particular is what comes to mind.

Stallings goes on to underscore why I enjoy movies directed by Black women filmmakers when she states,

Collins produces a film that imagines a viewer or audience who can get turned on by seeing a black woman think, be conscious, and create consciousness on screen. Black independent filmmaking (be it documentary, cinematic fiction, or pornography) continues to be the only space in which black filmmakers can explore and represent various sexualities and subjectivities.

So, what do you think of this idea of the redemptive softness of Black women?