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!

Author Martha Southgate on Why the Film “The Help” is a Symptom of a Larger Issue: My Thoughts.

In entertainment weekly, one of my favorite authors, Martha Southgate (@mesouthgate) discusses the film “The Help” stating that,

There have been thousands of words written about Stockett’s skills, her portrayal of the black women versus the white women, her right to tell this story at all. I won’t rehash those arguments, except to say that I found the novel fast-paced but highly problematic. Even more troubling, though, is how the structure of narratives like The Help underscores the failure of pop culture to acknowledge a central truth: Within the civil rights movement, white people were the help.

I would say that she certainly has a point there. And, given the fact that I am swimming in readings about women in the civil rights movement, at this VERY moment, I am particularly sensitive to claims about women during the civil rights movement.

White people did play a substantial role in the civil rights movement.  However there were incredible tensions in the civil rights movement because “women” were seen as the help. Looking at how gender played out in the civil rights movement in fact may poke more holes in Sockett’s narrative. For example,

  • Many White feminist wanted to organize under the auspices of women united for solidarity but did not want to acknowledge the differences between women. See Benita Roth’s “Separate Roads to Feminism.”
  • Stokley Carmicheal, of the Black Panther Party alleged that the best position for a woman in the BPP was “prone.”
  • There were some White feminist lesbians who felt that engaging with men was apart of the problem so becoming separatists and living amongst and supporting women was the solution. See Radical Sisters: Second Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in DC.
  • Here is a link to Assata, Angela Davis and Elaine Brown discussing how sexism impacted their work with the Black Panther Party.
  • Black women played a prominent role in organizing the March on Washington but they were not allowed to SPEAK at it.

I by no means intend to conflate the Black Power movement with the Civil Rights movement. They are overlapping yet distinct in tone and intent.

However, I wanted to bring the issue of “Women” to bear on Southgate’s article on the film and book, The Help.

Here is her excellent closing paragraph, which actually upended me from my reading ABOUT women in the second wave and compelled me to write this blog post. She writes,

This isn’t the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. Most Hollywood civil rights movies feature white characters in central, sometimes nearly solo, roles. My favorite (not!) is Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning, which gives us two white FBI agents as heroes of the movement. FBI agents! Given that J. Edgar Hoover did everything short of shoot Martin Luther King Jr. himself in order to damage or discredit the movement, that goes from troubling to appalling.

Why is it ever thus? Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That’s a shame. The continued impulse to reduce the black women and men of the civil rights movement to bit players in the most extraordinary step toward justice that this nation has ever known is infuriating, to say the least. Minny and Aibileen are heroines, but they didn’t need Skeeter to guide them to the light. They fought their way out of the darkness on their own — and they brought the nation with them.

·Southgate’s fourth novel, The Taste of Salt, will be published in September.

By centering White women as actors in the civil rights movement, we mask, hide and erase the work of Black men and women, and we negate the ways in which WOMEN were treated in many instances like “The Help” in Black and white organizing circles. #Ummhmm.

Appreciation for Martha Southgate

This one is for Jonzey and all the Black girls in the world who live to tell stories.

I reread Martha Southgate’s Third Girl From the Left this week and I was moved by the fact that I read this book in 2005 when it came out, but I think that the fact that I am five years older, have lost and gained loves, lost and gained apartments, broken hearts and got my heart broken, lost and gained careers. I just look at the book, the importance of the narrative differently now.

The book is about a Black woman from Oklahoma who moves to LA in the 70’s with dreams of making it big in Hollywood. What follows is a story about Black women’s dreams, Black women desiring and loving Black women, constructions of family outside of the nuclear, and what happens to your dreams when they don’t turn out the ways you expect them to.

Real Talk.

Here? are of couple of excerpts that jumped off? of the page:

Tamara Muses on the Politics of Getting her Film Made and her Film School Boyfriend

They made up. They didn’t have time to keep fighting anyway. That as the other thing between them; the money and the time. They never talked about it. He was able to get enough money from his parents to hire a professional cinematographer. And she couldn’t. She didn’t have anyone to shoot for her. She had grabbed every grant possible, begged for every loan imaginable. Nothing had come through.? She could not afford a crew. They were talking about it again on this night. Colin knew she was upset, even though her eyes were resolutely dry…..

Tamara Meets her Grandmother at Nearly 28 Years Old

“Well, I never. A black girl making movies. I never thought I’d see such a thing. I love the pictures. Your mama ever tell you that? We used to go every Saturday, rain or shine, no matter wht. We saw everything. You ask her.”? She stopped again briefly. “Whenever we wasn’t fightng, we was at the pictures. We saw everything. Ask her about Carmen Jones.” ….”I don’t know why you’d want to make a movie about an old woman like me. But you sure can….”

Honestly, we need to pool the money together to make this book into movie.

Cast who we want or who Martha Southgate wants, and screen it in our living rooms, lounges, screening rooms.

Ms.? Southgate has given us a gift in this book. Rather than gripe and moan about new ways in which Nina Simone is being disrespected or Tyler Perry’s latest iteration of normalizing violence against us, only when we control how our stories are told will we be allowed to be human in our art.

Speaking of Black peoples stories, my homie James just cut a trailer for his new film, The Bicycle. Check it out here.

Have you read Martha Southgate’s work?

What are you reading now?

Crowdsourcing Black Women’s Stories?

#ummp. #ummhmm.