Archive for January, 2008

Baby Girl, Where’s Your Line in the Sand?

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Warning: This is a rant.

A popular website that will not be named on this blog decided earlier in the week that the way to get back at Maya Angelou for endorsing Hillary Clinton is to post Angelou’s photo there on the website with the caption underneath “Ho, Sit Down.”

It’s taken me several days to catch my breath.

Okay, young womyn of the hip-hop generation, whoever you are, whatever you call yourselves, however you define yourselves, where’s the line? When is enuf enuf? When is it not funny anymore?

Ms. AngelouNot only is Maya Angelou at 79 years old an icon in our community. Not only is Maya Angelou an elder in the village who has made invaluable contributions as a poet and writer and footsoldier in the Civil Rights Movement. Maya Angelou is old enough to be your great grandmother. Baby girl, Maya Angelou is your great grandmother.

Aren’t mothers and grandmothers, and old women, off-limits when we’re fighting? 

I’ve been wondering lately, young womyn, where is your line in the sand?

Evidently I, and the women of my generation, can’t decide that for you. The late C. Delores Tucker learned that the hard way back in the early 1990s when she tried to launch a campaign against the filth in rap music and your beloved Eminem and Tupac deployed some pretty filthy language in their lyrics to shut her up. 

As someone reminded me the other day, I’ll be collecting Social Security in few years, if it’s still around by then. (Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise.) And as such, you and I are generations apart. What I say is smut, you say is art. What I consider obscene, you consider free expression. What I decry as profane, you embrace as edgy. What I label risky, you label sex positive. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

So, here’s what I have to want to know from you young womyn.

Forget what you want in a presidential candidate. Forget what you think about the black church. Forget what you think about feminism and second wave feminists. Forget what you think about your mother.

What do you want for yourselves? What do you consider to be sacred? What are your values?  What does it take to make you mad, baby girl? (Thanks Song in the Key of Life for showing that some of you get it.)

But why is there no outrage at calling Maya Angelou a “ho” to match the outrage that was launched against Don Imus? Or was it “nappy headed” that was the real insult back then?

You seem to be knowledgeable and articulate about racism, but can you recognize sexism when you see it? Does it make you mad?

Baby girl, do you know when you’ve been betrayed?

Baby girl, do you even know when you’ve been disrespected?

Baby girl, do you know when you’re hated?

Tears in the eyes. Face in the hands. Elbows in the lap. Chest heaving. And, yes, scarf around my head. I sit here asking myself, ”Lord. Lord. Lord. Somebody tell me, where did we go wrong?”

Lessons Around the Kitchen Table-1

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I’ve invited a couple of young women in their 20s to write a guest editorial here today at Something Within. I know these two young womyn personally. They are two of my toughest critics as well as two of my biggest supporters. We are from different generations. I am from the Moses’ generation, they are from the Joshua generation. Sometime I want to take a switch to their legs and banish them from buttin’ into the conversation of the grown women around the kitchen table.  Other times I’m grateful that they keep showing up and buttin’ in.  I guess I oughta listen.

It’s called the quarter-life crisis. Not to be confused with the mid-life crisis, the quarter-life crisis is not about re-inventing yourself. It’s about starting from scratch. Some refer to it as “finding voice,” “searching for self,” and “becoming a woman.” But what it’s called is not the point here. The point is that just about every young Black woman around the age of 25 knows what it’s like. It’s that period when you find yourself teetering on a fine line between promise and potential and a full-fledged mental breakdown. That period just between graduation and starting a career. That time in your life when you look around and realize that while the mid-twenties is about reveling in the glory of newfound independence, it’s also about milling around in uncertainty and confusion. All of a sudden, you find yourself trying to recall what your mothers and other-mothers once said to you. Or you find yourself reflecting on what you wish they had said to you. To prepare you. To get you ready.

As two young Black women in our mid-twenties, it is from this place—this “quarter-life crisis”—that we write. Seeking wisdom, insight and dialogue from older, wiser women, we’ve mustered up enough courage to venture from our spot at the “children’s table” to enter into the kitchen, the revered realm of grown women. And thankfully, instead of being shooed away, we’ve been invited by Dr. Weems to stick around, “sit a’spell,” and engage in a series of intergenerational discussions here on the blog about the pressing issues impacting young Black women, how older Black women in our lives have informed our experience with these issues, as well as what we need from older generations of Black women to help us navigate our journey.

In the midst of a nail-biting U.S. presidential campaign season, we’ll begin this series with the topic of politics and more specifically, the larger socio-political-economic landscape that impacts the lives of young Black women in the 21st century.

mother-daughterAs is the case with older generations, there are a number of current events that have impacted our sense of political consciousness, including the September 11 World Trade Center attacks (most of us recall stories of being interrupted in the middle of morning classes in college with the shocking news), the War in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Don Imus comments, the Jena 6 protest as well as the Dunbar Village gang rape and the Megan Williams case. And yet, for many of us, our political awareness started budding well before any of these events ever occurred. In fact, much of our early political formation and awareness is indelibly tied to the ways we saw our grandmothers, mothers, and other-mothers engage (and disengage) with politics and current events when we were small children.

While we may have never felt the rush of adrenaline or righteous indignation during a Civil Rights march or sit-in, we did witness (and feel) the hard, cold scowl that came across our mothers’ faces whenever Ronald Reagan was on the television screen. We learned, through eavesdropping on conversations, that the “war on drugs” was a code phrase for the “annihilation of the Black community.” We had grandmothers who allowed us to look at the comics section of the newspaper while they casually told us the “goings on in the world.” We had aunts who read the newspaper from section to section, including every single obituary. There were days when, after a long day at school, we waited in even longer lines just to squeeze into a small voting booth with our mothers, who took less than a minute to vote.  We heard women in our families and in our communities rally around Clarence Thomas and shout with joy over of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal and somehow, we learned that Black men must be protected, even if it is at the expense of Black women.

Now, we know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why our generation, after witnessing such awareness and engagement among older generations, has not continued the legacy of political engagement, or as one older Black woman put it, “We were storming buildings and holding rallies. We knew what was happening in the world. But you all are too busy playing Wii and watching television to care.” O-kay. Enough already! Before the gnashing of teeth, wailing and lamenting commences, we need to debunk a myth: Though young black women (and men) are not out marching and holding sit-ins, it does not mean that we aren’t politically conscious nor does it mean that we aren’t doing political activism. It does, however, mean that our method of activism looks and sounds different.

For the most part, we use the internet to mobilize diverse groups of people to protest injustices. Internet websites like Facebook, Myspace, and Friendster allow people to “interface” with each other creating in cyberspace traditional social networks where mobilization efforts can occur. Just look at the online mobilization efforts and activisms surrounding Megan Williams, Jena 6,’s campaign to out President Bush to see that the internet is a new place where young activist are being political. In particular, Black women and we would venture to say younger black women between the ages of 18 to 35 are blogging about the political complexities of black female identity.

This is not to say that cyber space is the only place where young black women are acting politically because that’s not true. At younger ages, Black women are creating and sustaining non-profit organizations geared toward uplifting and empowering themselves and their peers politically such as Women’s Empowerment Street Team or HOTGIRLS.

Furthermore, while it’s true that most popular and mainstream black female music artists like Lil’ Kim and Trina rap about material things and their sexual abilities, not all black female MC’s do. There are some that rap and write about the political landscapes of their communities and its implication on black women such as Jean Grae, Lauryn Hil, Toni Blackman, and Bassey Ikpi. By and large, our activism takes on different shades of purple. Yes, we marched on Jena, but we also used cyberspace, lyrics, and non-profit organizations to voice our political agendas concerning Megan Williams and the Dunbar gang rapes.

And of course the reason why silvered hair black women cannot see these activisms is because of the mantra “I brought you into dis world and I will take yo behind out” which quails any type of youthful dissident or political voice. This mantras has other manifestations such as, “Y’all think you stand on your own two feet,” “You don’t know anything about struggle,” “You girls are too fast,” “Y’all don’t go to church no more.” All of these parental, aged, and experienced sayings minimize the ability of older black women to see the activisms and political opinions of young black women.

mother-daughter2In most cases, younger black women know the shoulders they stand upon whether they acknowledge the names of the shoulders is somewhat irrelevant if they are acting upon the sacrifices that were rendered. With some limits and constraints, younger black women are creating spaces for them to speak and not relying upon men to pave their way, just look at all the Myspace pages detailing who they are and what they want. Furthermore, they do not have to experience fire hoses, biting dogs, and lynching to know of struggle. They experience struggle everyday when confronted by men who grope them without condoms, by a growing rate of HIV infection among young black women, by a school system that cheats them out of a quality education because they are black children, and by older black people and white people who judge them by their clothes, their hair, their language, and their lack reverence to authority. Black girls know struggle.

And for older black women to understand this—our activisms, political thoughts, and struggles—they must listen to us. Not to tell us “we are in grown folks business” when we convey our concerns and skepticism about Barack Obama’s black male privileges. To listen to us as individuals with opinions and not to down play our voice when we do not share their opinions regarding Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, for seasoned black women to see our activisms, struggles, and concerns, they must get to know us which means dismantling the wall of “I am older and I know” mantra and replacing it with “I am older and know, but I am willing to hear and actively engage your ability to know.” Because at the end of the day this creates a space for mutual dialogue about how we “collectively” and “intergenerationally” can ensure that black women’s voices are heard in various political arenas.

cookingUltimately, the act of listening and actively engaging our voices helps us to trust older black women. When we trust older black women, we will allow them to assist us in constructing tight critiques of Don Imus and Hip Hop Artist Nelly. When we trust older black women, we will tell them that we want to see more Ella Baker black female leaders who unapologetically confront systems of racism sexism, homophobia, and capitalism. When we trust older black women, we will tell them that we’re supporting Obama because black men have it hard and also because he looks good without them casting The Eye upon us in judgment. When we trust older black women we will tell them that justice and sisterhood extend beyond black women to include other US women of color as well as Mexican US immigrant women and women who live in the Global South. When we trust older black women we will undoubtedly respect their frame of reference when it comes to traditional ways of mobilizing and acting politically. We are even willing to assist them with becoming techno savvy and learning how Hip Hop can be used as a vehicle of social change . . . when we trust older black women to listen and actively engage our voices.

The Monday After…

Monday, January 28th, 2008

now we wait

The moment I saw the above photo I knew I had to use it. It was a matter of time. The time is right today, the Monday after the South Carolina presidential primary. Thanks to African Americans in the state, Barack Obama won the South Carolina primary.  If you followed the news leading up to the primary you noticed that black women took front row stage in nearly all the coverage centering around South Carolina.  That’s because black women voters make up nearly one-third of the democratic voters in South Carolina and close to 60% of the state’s black democratic voters.   

Exactly when the photo above was taken is not clear. That folks are gathered outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is pretty obvious. The women’s fashions suggests a date sometime in the 1950s. Perhaps the folks in the photo have descended on the Lincoln Memorial to hear Thurgood Marshall and other dignitaries give speeches celebrating the Supreme Court’s historic Brown vs. the Board of Education decision and all that that decision signaled for the future of the country.

The faces and posture of the black women in the photo says it all for me here on the Monday after the South Carolina primary. While others look on giddy with excitement, some of us are content to sit on the steps and put our feet up. It’s not that we are not proud and hopeful. We’re just weary and watchful. And waiting.

Black women are loyal.  Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.  We are loyal to our men, even when our men are not always loyal to us. And we are loyal to our race even when it insists that we rend ourselves in two.  

But we are not stupid.

She Got Game

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

If I had time today I would blog about regretting forging a note from my mother back in high school excusing me from the remainder of P.E.   I’d bummed trying to do a somersault in gymnastics the day before. I should have returned to Coach Smith’s class  and tried again. But I didn’t.

My personality suffers from not getting back up on the trampoline when I was in high school. 

But I don’t have time to post much on my blog this week because I have to speak four times in five days for various MLK celebrations (one down, three more to go).  And while it’s true that I don’t usually know for sure what I’m going to talk about until a few hours before I have to speak, I’m usually in knots the hours and days leading up to the engagement just thinking about thinking about what I’m going to talk about. As you can imagine, I’m popping a lot of antacids right now. And, no, speaking publicly doesn’t get any easier after 25 years.

If I had time I would blog about becoming a fan of women’s sports in my old age and all that sports has taught me.  I would write about what I’ve learned about competition, perseverance, taking risks, being resilient, and pushing your body to go beyond its limits from being a fan of women’s sports. 

serenaIf I had time I would blog about how heartbroken the week started out for me watching my beloved UNC Lady Tarheels lose to UConn on Monday night by 11 points, and then staying up to watch Jelena Jankovic roll over defending champion Serena Williams 2008 Australian Open and discovering the next days about Venus’ loss to Ana Ivanovic.

If I had time I would blog about the fact that if I liked football I would have lots of friends to talk to, but since basketball is my sport of choice, and women’s basketball especially, there aren’t many black women to go back and forth with about which teams are likely to make it to the Final Four or what it means to watch Maryland Terps coach Brenda Frese, enormously pregnant with twins, coaching her team from the sideline perched on an office chair, and how much her team will remember their coach and this season years from now when they must figure out how to combine motherhood with work.

If I had time I would write about how important Title Nine was back in 1972 for girls and sports and what women of my generation missed out on from not having well funded sports programs around at the time to help us discover our selves, push our bodies, and test our limits.  I would blog about the research that shows that women who have the most difficult time sticking to an exercise regiment in middle-age tend to be women with little to no history of being physically active when they were in high school.

If I had time I would blog about how and why sex becomes something of a recreational sport for many girls when they’re young and otherwise physically inactive.

girls hoopsI would blog about why I refuse to let my daughter drop off the basketball team despite her complaints that she sucks at the sport and why I make all sorts of adjustments in my schedule to show up for her track competitions which seem always to be scheduled on the hottest days of summer when one would much rather be sipping Kool-Aid under the fan on a screen porch.

If I had time I would blog about what joining the women’s college basketball message board over at ESPN has taught me about knowing the game, understanding plays, predicting winners and losers, but above all about the trash talk and verbal joustling that go along with talking about sports.

If I had time I would write about what sports has taught me about men, marriage, ministry, religion, patriarchy, and especially the art of political campaigning. I would also talk about how much preaching and public speaking are like playing a sport.

But I don’t have the time to blog much this week. My next speech is in four hours. I still haven’t decided for sure what I’m going to talk about. And I can’t get away with forging excuses from my mother anymore.