Black Women, Creativity and Death: Rethinking My Old Ideas

A few years ago I wrote a post about Ms. Kathleen Collins, and how Black women who run from their genius may make themselves sick.

I don’t think that I agree with that anymore.

In fact I have become more invested in thinking about and working my way through how Black women create in the face of sickness, illness and death.

Right now, three Black women I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE are catching health hell. Like in the hospital, chemotherapy, in the house recovering from surgery, invitro hell.

And I am terrified because I know we die early.

Kathleen Collins.

June Jordan.

Audre Lorde.

Toni Cade Bambara.

Stephanie Camp.

Karyn Washington.

Titi Branch.

Thea St. Omer.

And on, and on and fucking on.

So everyday I am thinking about the best way to be a sister friend to them, to check on them, to see where their head is at, to see how they are functioning, to offer what I have the bandwidth to offer that day and be cool with it.

You see, if you know me afk, you know that I will talk over you and interrupt you 20 times in a conversation. But, I am also a healer, and maybe one of the best listeners you will ever meet. I pay attention to myself, which gives me space to pay attention to others.

With that being said, I am not sure if running from our genius makes us sick. I think that being Black, and girl, in a culture that is premised on the hatred of both Black people and women may be what makes us sick.

Now, do I think that there is a consequence for running away from that creative spark?

Always.

But power maps onto the bodies of Black women in very clear ways. In ways that kill us, and folks will be asking “Oh what happened to so and so, she just up and died?” As if it weren’t a pattern.

I think I am coming to the conclusion that in life,  death is always just right there, and it is the work to figure out HOW to do the work despite that dark lurker.

Do you think about the conditions under which Black women create art?

Who is your current favorite Black woman artist and why?

 

On the Brilliance of Martha Southgate’s “The Taste of Salt”.

 

First of all. What is fabulous about the book is that it centers the life of a Black woman- scholarship kid-Stanford educated-Oceanographer from Cleveland. #blackgirlsarefromthefuture.

Then it moves on to her biological family which is her mom, her baby brother and her dad.

The themes that are present in the novel are forgiveness, Black women and marriage, alcoholism and letting go of family when you feel they will take you down with them.

In fact, given the extent of alcoholism within Black communities (notice the ies) it’s a wonder that MORE Black fiction doesn’t mention alcoholism. But perhaps that is akin to airing dirty laundry, and you and I both know that Black peoples respectability politics are as old as the US and as endurable as Capitalism.

Because I do research on Black women’s sexuality, lately I am drawn to the passages where Black women talk about being sexual. Where women talk about the politics of marriage because I am so tired of people speak for us or TO us about us.

There are two ways that this happens in The Taste of Salt (TTOS).

First, Josie, named after Josephine Baker, marries a man, a White man who she gets along with. Then another man comes along a few years later and she rethinks her marriage.

Second, Josie’s mom puts Josie’s dad out because she can’t take his alcoholism anymore. She Loves him, but she can’t do it. She decides to do what many of us do, go back to school, get our shit together and find a way to make a life that we feel is satisfactory. She is never really the same after.

Josie’s dad enters recovery and but for one slip up he manages to remain clean and sober. However, Josie can’t bring herself to forgive him. Now, I know in my heart, that until she forgave him she was not going to be able to Love anyone else in a vulnerable way because Love and Anger can’t live in the same heart. It just can’t.

I identified with this relationship in many ways because my father struggled with addiction for nearly 15 years. Trust that shit is not for the faint of heart. He is doing fine now, but rehab and all that, it changes you, even when you are watching a family member go through it. In fact I have spent many a Thanksgiving in 12 step meetings with him. Holiday’s are hard for most people, and even more difficult for folks recovering from addictions because there is so much pain around this time of the year.

Oh, and another thing. I love the fact that Josie feels free in the water. The one thing I can’t stand about Black women and how we are judged and invested in our hair is that it prevents us from exercise and even experiencing pleasure for fear that it will ruin our hair. Don’t get me wrong, I understand WHY we invest in it, long flowing hair is considered to be supreme in mainstream media. But that shit has an impact on us. </rant>.

I have given away enough of the book, so I won’t give away it’s ending, which is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Pick up The Taste of Salt. You will read it in a day, or two, MAX!

Jay-Z x Nzingha Stewart x For Colored Girls.

Last week I learned that in 2005 Jay-Z stopped the release of his autobiography, tentatively titled, The Black Book because he found it to be too personal. After reading this and realizing that Nzingha Stewart was originally signed to direct For Colored Girls, ? I concluded that a barometer of Black womens? freedom is our ability control, tell and disseminate our own images, our own stories.? John Jurgensen writes about Jay-Z’s decision in the? in the Wall Street Journal,

But he felt that the memoir, tentatively titled “The Black Book,” revealed too many personal details. “It was great, but I couldn’t do it…”

Sho’ll must be nice to control your own stories.

Nzinga Stewart was originally set to direct For Colored Girls.

Why Tyler Perry wound up directing it, I don’t know. It feels like he walked out with “all of our stuff.”

I know that Nzingha Stewart had been working on For Colored Girls for a hot minute.? An interview on the blog 21 Hustle speaks on the process by which Nzingha came to work on For Colored Girls,

Last week Lionsgate Films announced that it? had acquired these? rights? and signed? Stewart to direct from her? adaptation of? ?For Colored Girls,? the critically acclaimed play by Ntozake Shange, that was written as a series of 20 poems telling stories of love, abandonment, domestic abuse and other issues faced by black women.

It is? important to understand that Stewart, who is mostly known for directing music videos,? wasn?t just ?signed?? by Lionsgate to write and direct;? This is a project that evolved by Stewart putting the motion pictures of her mind into real life motion,? thus creating a dream job for herself.

When talking about the process of trying to secure the opportunity to direct the film, Nzingha said,

It?s been a roller coaster ride. The hardest thing to learn is just how much this town is a business. More than anything, its who you know, how to talk to people , and what impression you give in the room. Decisions are made based on that more than even the work itself. So I have to go in prepared not to just pitch the work but to almost to pitch myself. And to make this person feel comfortable being around me. Like if we make this movie together it wont be annoying to be around me for a full year. Hollywood is business, and you have to master that aspect of yourself. I used to be that kind of artist who felt like the work is good enough. Its like it doesn?t matter about the work sweetheart. You gotta sell your project.

God Bless her.

When will Black men stop telling our stories and start telling their own?

Tyler Perry.

Chris Rock.

Lee Daniels.

Steve Harvey.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

When will we stop complaining and start supporting the independent Black women film directors who are committed to telling our stories?

Shout out to @MyaBee, @Hotcombpics, @tchaiko, @superhussy.

Or maybe we can complain and support?? 🙂

The Connection Between Protecting and Dominating Women


Within the comments section of my post “Black Women x The Streets x Harassment” , which Latoya has up on Racialicious, Gregory Butler explained the connection between being protected and being dominated in a straight forward and profound way. He writes,

It took me years to reach the point where I could defy the social pressure to ?Be a Real Man? ? and it was not an easy process to learn how to treat women like human beings rather than objects.

That?s a sad commentary on how masculinity and manhood are defined in our society ? but yet and still that is very very real.

And for the men of our race, devalued as we are in all other areas of life, it?s easy to cling to being a ?Real Man? and all the abusive sexist bullshit that goes along with that.

Incidentally, that whole ?protecting? women by walking on the outside when you walk down the street, holding doors ect is part of that same sexist idea about ?being a Real Man? ? so I wouldn?t be so quick to embrace that form of patriarchal masculinity either.

Just read the discussion thread on this article http://bit.ly/9g2Y00 and you?ll see men defending that man walks on the outside custom basically because that position makes it easier for them to fight other men

Of course, when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man

Again, I apologize for misunderstanding your post ? but I stand by my opposition to chivalry, which is NOT the opposite of sexism, but merely a more polite form.

This hit home.

I once had an ex who said that if a dude said something to me on the street that he wouldn’t fight him.

I thought this was absurd.

I also come from a place where people get socked or even shot at for stepping on the wrong persons sneakers or giving the wrong person a mean mug or looking at the wrong persons lady friend.

Violence was always ready to pop off in East Oakland, California.

Lets hear this again,

when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man her at all”

This issue of ownership is what my ex was talking about at the time.

The basic assumption that he was challenging was that I was not a piece of property to be defended or fought over. This seemed like it made sense on one level, but on another level it was absurd, because it went against much of which I was socialized to accept.

However knowing what I know now, in 2010 about the legal history of women White women and Black women as property in this US society? (I just completed a class on Race and Conquest in Colonial America), I KNOW that there is connection between ideologically women being seen as property and women being legally treated as property,? which is rooted in English Common Law doctrine La Feme Covurt.

According to Wikipedia the? La Feme Covurt doctrine says that,

…husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband. A married woman could not own property, sign legal documents or enter into a contract, obtain an education against her husband’s wishes, or keep a salary for herself. If a wife was permitted to work, under the laws of coverture she was required to relinquish her wages to her husband. In certain cases, a woman did not have individual legal liability for her misdeeds, since it was legally assumed that she was acting under the orders of her husband, and generally a husband and wife were not allowed to testify either for or against each other.

Keeping the legal history in mind I am going to back to the streets and patriarchy.

Over Memorial day weekend, I was reminded of this notion of protection
and domination isn’t clear cut.

My intuition is cold, and so I try and follow it as often as a can.

On Memorial day, I was walking up 8th ave to 14th street to
get my favorite taco’s from the taco truck with my gentleman
friend.

I was scantily dressed. Tank top, poom poom shorts, flip flops.

It was about 90 degrees that day.

I saw a man walking towards us, kinda bent, at the spine at a 40 degree angle.? He was off his meds and on something else. Disheveled. Thin. But lightweight diesel. Kind of like a zombie with a moderate “pimp” walk.

He reminded me of that reoccurring junkie character in the Spike Lee movies.

I knew that if he was close enough to me, he would try to touch? or grab me.

I also knew that if he did that somebody was going to go to jail that day.

Within a split second, I told Pepe, “Blood move to my left side” and we switched places.

With the quickness (and I was glad b/c sometimes he can’t hear me and I would have hated to have had to repeat myself.)

I was closer the street. Pepe was between us. Pepe ain’t a little dude.

As the addict man walk by us he yelled out “Man you suppose walk on the outside her near the street.”

I was relieved.

I followed my intuition.

My rationale is that if he was willing to talk to a grown man like that then he would also be willing to try me.

I had a few questions in my head after this happened.

How was patriarchy working in this situation? Did I have to choose between the possibility of one person dominating me and being protected by another?? In some ways yes.

Do I feel like I did the right thing?? Yes. Under the circumstances.

I also think about how these issues are not clear cut.

When was the last time, maneuvering on the street that you followed or failed to follow your intuition? What happened?

What do you think of Gregory’s idea that “when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man”?

Any other thoughts?