Ain’t I Still a Woman?

In 1981, bell hooks, renowned author, feminist, professor, and social activist, released her book, Ain’t I a Woman?, quoted above. The title is a nod to a speech given by Sojourner Truth at the Women’s Convention in 1851 in which Sojourner makes the case that enslaved Negro women are not regarded as women by men whether they are making the case for or against women’s equal rights.

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages,
and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody
ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best
place!”
–Sojourner Truth

130 years later, bell hooks took this idea and expanded on it in the wake of the modern Women’s Rights movement of the Sixties and Seventies in which she critically points out through personal accounts and deeper analysis that the white feminist movement did not regard race as relevant, often leaving Black women left out of the conversation in the fight for equality. It’s a phenomenal read, one that unfortunately, seems to still be relevant so many years later.

Shortly after the death of RBG and the rushed nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, there was buzz to revive the pink pussy hat demonstrations in protest of the nomination. In a Facebook group of which I am a part, a woman posted a caution to white women to be mindful of inclusivity as many women of color did not feel that the pink pussy hat was representative of their participation.

Now, there is some debate about what part of our anatomy we are referring to with the hat–vagina? vulva? I thought the hat was a symbol of protest to Trump’s ascension to the presidency because of his declaration that he, in fact, grabs women by the pussy. That being the case, I can assure you that on a Black or brown woman, nothing that he would be able to see and grab down there is pink.

One respondent to the post, while claiming she didn’t care what color the hats were, felt that we should not be distracted by “small battles” between us. I felt compelled to point out that Black women’s fight for inclusivity is no small battle. Sojourner Truth took up the mantle 170 years ago! Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging that it was a mistake to belittle such an important issue, the respondent stuck to the fragility playbook. First, she accused me of suggesting that we don’t protest at all which I did not do. Then, she said that snotty words were being used. No idea what that was about. Yet, there was zero acknowledgement that her calling the fight for inclusivity a “small battle” was problematic.

I just sighed and kept it moving.

*****

And that’s usually what we do, sigh and move on. Believe me when I say that most Black folks are trying to live life with some semblance of joy and satisfaction. We know racial bias is out there, but it would be debilitating to one’s sanity to expect it with every interaction. So when it shows up, sometimes all we can do to preserve our peace is to sigh, keep it moving, and search for the next moment of joy.

My own pivot was to turn my sights towards The Queen’s Gambit, a new Netflix show about which everyone was raving. I generally trust my peeps and their entertainment choices so I was all in. I nestled into my bed with my computer poised for the long haul and the cat snoozing at my feet. As the opening minutes rolled out on the screen, I was intrigued and even sympathetic to the little girl whose life had changed so tragically with the death of her mother. Vulnerable and alone, Beth, our protagonist, was swallowed up by the high walls, stern wooden staircases, and towering adults welcoming her into the orphanage.

“Meanwhile, Black women are out here saving the Republic, one vote at a time, and still forced to see ourselves in the same old tropes.”

Drawn into this tiny child’s plight, I was jarred to attention by the voice in the distance. We, the viewers, are assaulted by a stream of obscenities and screams from a character hidden among the rooms and corridors of the orphanage. To my ear, the voice was adult-like, spewing words like “cocksucker”. The shocked curiosity on Beth’s face was matched by the frustrated glance between the headmistress and the orderly as in unison, they utter the name of the culprit, Jolene.

In true storytelling form, the screenwriter and director had done their job. They signaled to us that eventually we would meet this mystery troublemaker, Jolene, and she would likely serve as a contrast to Beth, our innocent, strawberry-blond heroine whose face graces all of the series’ promotional materials. Another signal as to for whose gaze this content was made.

As the minutes ticked by, I had forgotten all about Jolene, distracted by Beth’s slow, detailed orientation into her new home. The headmistress’s subdued sense of control suggested a sinister nature that had yet to be unveiled. And then we meet Jolene, a sassy Black girl who is revealed as the resident expert on the good drugs. Everything in me sunk as I was face-to-face with the age-old archetype of a Black female character. Jolene had already made her debut off-screen. She was loud, aggressive, hypersexual. Perhaps I let my guard down, but I really did not expect that this offering in 2020 would present this lazy, unimaginative, and played-out characterization of a Black girl.

I tried to push through, to sigh and keep it moving but I couldn’t continue my viewing. I was hurt so I turned it off and took to Facebook to express my dismay. Most felt my frustration, others felt a bit of shame that they had been numb to what I had noticed. My fourth grade teacher–yes, my fourth-grade teacher found me on Facebook–said she understood my feelings, but wishes that I had watched it through to the end.

Hmm, the end. Spoiler alert. You mean when an adult Jolene magically reappears after being absent for all of the episodes since the beginning, declares she’s a paralegal having an affair with a white lawyer at her law firm and decides to give her life savings to Beth for her to play in a chess tournament? The end–where I get to see this lone Black female character portrayed as a Jezebel and a Mammy in one shot? I passed. My friend, Kate, offered the most interesting critique when she said that Jolene gave Beth her life savings and she did nothing to even deserve it. Mind. Blown.

This is how white feminism continues to fail Black women. We’re supposed to sit through our discomfort for the cause of elevating white women’s presence and power in the world. Now, there’s all this talk about girls having a renewed interest in chess. People far and wide are heaping praise on this miniseries for its “legacy.” Are you kidding me? In this day and age, white mothers would never let their daughters tolerate being portrayed as nothing less than empowered and strong. Your girls are superheroes now, saving themselves and each other. Meanwhile, Black women are out here saving the Republic, one vote at a time, and still forced to see ourselves in the same old tropes.

*****

Back in October, Trevor Noah interviewed Chris Rock about a few key issues, including the BLM movement. I highly recommend watching this interview. In it, Chris poses the question, “What is the ask?” He’s down with the movement, but he believes that Black folks need to have clarity and think big about what are we really asking for from White America.? Asking cops not to murder us does seem like a pretty low bar.

“The pats on the back to Black folks who use their voices and stand up simply are not enough because this is not our work to do. You are not the allies. You own the frontlines.”

In the wake of the pandemic, the glaring disparities in healthcare, economics, education, etc. have been laid bare before us, making a compelling case for reparations. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones details a comprehensive argument in The New York Times article, What Is Owed, articulating the vast array of opportunities and assets that have been systematically denied the very people who built this country. The facts are simple–the collective wealth and power of the United States is a direct result of four hundred years of free slave labor. While individual prosperity can be attributed to a long-standing system of advantages from policies intended to exclude and discriminate.

But, the repair that must be made does not just involve these larger issues, like obliterating police brutality or creating pathways to building generational wealth. The fight against the mindset and behaviors that come with the scourge of white supremacy is a daily discipline that usually requires white people to step into discomfort again and again. The pats on the back to Black folks who use their voices and stand up simply are not enough because this is not our work to do. You are not the allies. You own the frontlines.

I don’t begrudge anyone who watched The Queen’s Gambit beginning to end. Locked in, we’re all in search of really good storytelling. But, imagine how powerful it would be if those same women who are raving about this movie would flood the film’s social media platforms with words about the representation of this Black character in equal measure? If you accept whatever is given to you to validate your white gaze, then you are not making repairs, you are complicit in doing more damage.

We often hear the complaint that Black people make everything about race. Most things are about race, but not in the way people might think. When a society is constructed on the unjustified elevation of a race and establishes its institutions and power structures on this premise, to challenge that society is to fine tune one’s awareness to every facet of that premise–media, language, behavior, relationships–everything. So, if you are truly invested in righting the many wrongs resulting from this construct, you are committing to the nonstop work that it requires.

And that is the ask.

Top image courtesy of http://www.goodreads.com

To learn more about bell hooks, see this article penned in 2019 by Min Jin Lee about the impact of her legacy.

A Nation in Trauma

“Will we immerse ourselves in love, joy, and gratitude? Will we shift our focus from power and possessions to collective action and the creation and appreciation of beauty in the world?”

It has been nearly impossible to get words on the screen these days. The energy in the air is both stagnant and buzzing with stress and anticipation. Coronavirus fatigue is palpable as cases surge around the globe and the stakes of the US election have nerves frayed.

My current emotional state brought me back to the days of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Still considered one of the biggest environmental disasters in US history, it lasted from April 20 to September 19. I can still feel the stress from watching the “spill cam” with the knowledge that animal and plant life in the Gulf were being destroyed and would likely never be the same. Watching gallons of oil pour into that vital ecosystem was traumatic. I just wanted it to stop.

Since Inauguration Day, maybe even before, Americans far and wide, have been experiencing a daily trauma at the hands of a narcissistic sociopath, enabled by a group of power-hungry, soulless bastards who do not give a damn about the citizens of the country. I scroll through my Facebook feed, checking in on friends and family and I bear witness to the impact of daily trauma–fatigue, overeating, grief, drinking, rage.

“The slow ticking of days until January 20th is haunting and urgent.”

We watched as 2020 took Chadwick, Ruth, and Eddie, meanwhile the Monster-in-Chief, pumped up on steroids, is essentially blackmailing the American public, takes zero responsibility as a COVID-19 super-spreader and has callously poised himself to take health insurance away from millions of Americans with the hypocritical ramming through of a Supreme Court nominee. The abuse is unrelenting, blow after blow.

The imperative to rid ourselves of this disaster of a president is beyond the soul of the nation. Our mental and physical well-being are at stake. My 74 year-old mother’s sanity and my son’s future and hope in the world are at stake. The slow ticking of days until January 20th is haunting and urgent. We simply cannot endure another four years of Donald Trump. I just want it to stop.

*****

Living with the reality of Trump atop the largest platform in the world has been trying for all of us. We cannot deny this fact. For many the impact has been acute with the loss of a loved one, business or a home–the grief and repairs will be enduring. But for most of us, it’s unclear what healing will be required to recover from this national nightmare. I live at a distance from the United States and yet I still bear the weight of this national tragedy.

Recently, I was moved by a Demi Lovato song titled “Commander in Chief” that the Lincoln Project used in a powerful political ad. The images and lyrics were undeniable in their conviction, not just of the president, but of all of us. One line, in particular, should inspire us to examine deeply the state of our character.

If I did the things you do, I couldn’t sleep. Seriously.”

How do we emerge from this moment committed to being better every day? Trump will not become better. He’s emotionally incapable of it. But, what about the rest of us? Will we immerse ourselves in love, joy and gratitude? Will we shift our focus from power and possessions to collective action and the creation and appreciation of beauty in the world?

My son, Emmanuel, is a self-proclaimed and unapologetic introvert. Since he was little, he has lived contently in his internal world not inclined to demand too much attention. Unfortunately for him, he was born to two outrageously extroverted parents who can be hyper-obsessed with his well-being. We exhaust him with probative questions about his emotional state. Perhaps we’re projecting our own stress and mild depression onto him. But during these difficult times, it is really hard to tell if he’s okay because no one is okay.

During my latest bombardment about school, potential thoughts about college, and a 3-point plan of ways for him to stay active while virtual learning, Emmanuel interrupted me and said he took a picture the other day that he meant to send to me. I took a pause from my motherly lecture and opened the photo on my phone and just like that, Emmanuel disarmed me with this:

A bunny. In an instant, this teenage boy who had graciously listened to me go on for about 30 minutes about whether or not he was depressed and if he wanted to take a gap year and that he should start weightlifting brought me back to our days of our long hikes in the Bay when he was little and would spot the most obscure bug on a leaf in the brush.

Emmanuel came upon the bunny while walking in his neighborhood and he said the bunny didn’t run off afraid, but let him approach and then continue on his way. And for the couple of days that followed, I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about this bunny and how my 16-year old kid knew that seeing a picture of it would bring me a little peace and joy during these insane times.

*****

I know staring at a bunny picture will not motivate real change. I’ve been disappointed to hear all the news stories about how online holiday shopping should start earlier and could be on the rise. Really? Who gives a shit? Has the fact that our planet is completely falling apart because of our excessive consumption and waste not sunk in at all? How many fires will it take? How many storms and floods? No matter as long as Target, Amazon, and Walmart are making the big bucks. . .

“He never acted entitled to it, he merely observed it. And from it, he learned enduring lessons about life, in particular, how to seek and experience joy.”

In another attempt to escape the insanity, I watched a beautiful documentary the other evening. A well-timed recommendation from a friend. My Octopus Teacher is an extraordinary story about a man who meets an octopus and examines her world and the brilliance with which she navigates it. Both longing for connection, they manage to build a relationship, animal to man, as equals. The beauty of the film is that the man never imposed on her world. He never acted entitled to it, he merely observed it. And from it, he learned enduring lessons about life, in particular, how to seek and experience joy.

As a nation, we have been subjected to a joyless, empty shell of a man in Donald Trump. There is no joy in his presidency, nor in his presence and I realize now that this is the trauma. In the Obamas, we saw a family who smiled, loved, and laughed. They were playful and elegant and even if the policies of the administration did not match one’s political leanings, we still felt good seeing their light shine.

I hope we are able to reclaim our joy when Trump loses this election. But, it’s not just about Trump. I believe we will all have to redefine and rediscover joy. It has to be more than something we wish for during a season. It has to permeate our daily lives in order for true healing to occur. Perhaps that will mean resetting our values and reimagining our institutions. Or turning to the most humble creatures among us to teach us the lessons that we need to learn.

She said, “Breathe into your Vagina.”

“I know that whatever short term gains these men think they have achieved will eventually wither in comparison to the rot and deterioration that is happening inside of them.”

So, just to clarify, this wasn’t some strange contortionist directive nor an experiment in self-pleasure, but I did get your attention, didn’t I? Actually, this imperative came from an energy healer, Gina Heatley, in a Reiki course, as I explained my anxiety over the looming uncertainty that was hanging over my life in the midst of the lockdown. She was calling my attention to the sacral chakra, our energy center for personal power and creativity. It is the energy center that encompasses our reproductive organs–powerful stuff.

As I let her guidance settle in, I contemplated the many blocks to accessing pure creative feminine power–self doubt, misogyny, trauma, inner child wounds, shame–it’s all there for many of us. Clearing away those issues with breath and attention was profoundly powerful and it awakened me to the undeniable strength and wisdom that reside in women. Of course, men have a sacral chakra and ironically, many are not shy about calling attention to their reproductive organs, often with distortion and aggression and to their own demise. But it is women who must begin to fully understand the power of that energy, especially during such turbulent times.

Internalizing this understanding, I curated my own conversations with women and was inspired every week by the insights, vulnerabilities, and perspectives offered from all over the world. Voices came in from California to the Czech Republic, from New Hampshire to Berlin on topics ranging from intention to synchronicities to love. I was honored to be in the presence of these women and at the same time, wishing for their voices to be heard farther and wider.

Some drops of wisdom were:

“Stop trying to fit into spaces that aren’t meant for me to hold.”

“Your champions will meet you where you make the choice to be.”

“Don’t take more space than you need.”

“Don’t be afraid to be in your own silence.”

“Who would you be if no one told you who you are?”

At a time when we are mourning the loss of a true heroine, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I hope all women remember the strength of their own power. Ruth battled against an unrelenting patriarchy and fought with such power and force against illness without excuses. She deserves to rest now, but what a shining legacy of the power of being a woman. Ruth was all sacral energy!

It’s hard not to be discouraged during these times. I find the blatant hypocrisy and lack of accountability of the white men in power traumatizing to the soul. I know that whatever short term gains these men think they have achieved will eventually wither in comparison to the rot and soul deterioration that is happening inside of them.

In the meantime, I will continue to celebrate all women and the power that lies within us. We have great work ahead so get to breathing into those vaginas, ladies!

Check out all ten conversations in the Mombbatical Mindset series here!

For more information about Gina’s healing services, go to https://www.healing-with-gina.com/

For a deeper exploration of the 7 Chakras or energy centers, check out Caroline Myss’s work at https://www.myss.com/chakras/

Image credit unknown.

Mombbatical Mindset: Love

“Real love. . .exists in the quiet spaces when we are alone, independent of the things and people we hold hostage to our happiness.”

The journey of my mombbatical brought unexpected reflections and experiences, but what was perhaps most surprising was that it was a renewed journey to self-love. I had spent years on the self-help train, reading everything from the Bible to Iyanla and all that fell in-between. I had been to therapy, forgiven those who brought me pain and drew strength and self-appreciation from the many hats that I had worn–mother, educator, leader, etc. Little add-ons like becoming a Crossfit addict at 47 or earning an executive masters degree helped shore up my self-esteem for sure.

But, my mombbatical time–time away from my greatest love, my son–revealed a new dimension to love that I had not fully understood before. During that time, I was stripped of all the identifiers that fortified my ego, including mom. Often, I was forced to sit in my solitude and get comfortable with just being in that moment. While at times I relished the freedom and lack of demands, I also felt purposeless and of no use to the world. I kept questioning the decision I had made because there was no external evidence of how to define my life. It was disorienting and downright frustrating.

Then, I came to understand that that was the point. Real love does not reside in our accomplishments or labels or the number of people who know our name or come to depend on us. It exists in the quiet spaces when we are alone, independent of the things or people we hold hostage to our happiness. It is in the touch of a cool breeze on our skin and the blazing reds and oranges embedded in the clouds as the sun sets.

I was just saddened by what seemed like their mutual insatiable appetites for love and recognition and the destruction it had wrought on their union.

One day, I sat and listened to a friend air grievances about their partner and the looming end of their relationship. I was struck by the tit-for-tat dissatisfaction they shared with each other for simply not acknowledging or supporting the accomplishments of the other. Over time, resentments had piled up as they both expected the other to provide the external validation that would make them feel whole, feel loved. I had no judgment on either side. I was just saddened by what seemed like their insatiable appetites for love and recognition and the destruction it had wrought on their union.

It’s an exhausting endeavor, seeking the external to fortify the internal. We are conditioned to believe that this is our quest. Our entire society is built on this idea. Yet, that has never been the charge of the Divine. Alice Walker says it best in The Color Purple, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” Of all of the sadness, brutality, and triumph in this timeless classic, it is this simple notion that is the lesson for us.

In this week’s final Mombbatical Mindset conversation, we will discuss love and where it resides in our lives and how we can live more fully in love even in the midst of the storm. Some questions we will cover are:

  1. What did love feel and look like for you growing up?
  2. In what ways do you conditionally love others?
  3. In what ways do you conditionally love yourself?
  4. Take a moment and reflect on a time when you could feel and embrace the love that was in your present experience? Was it something you saw? Heard? Tasted?

For details on how to join this week’s conversation on Sunday, September 13th at 11 am PST/2 pm EST/8 pm CET, click here.

Mombbatical Mindset: Urgency (of Motherhood)

“As I allowed myself to go deep into my own spiritual and emotional spaces, the conversations that I wanted to have with my own son became richer in their content.”

When I decided to start blogging, I didn’t have any real sense of what the experience was supposed to be like given my circumstances. I remember seeking out other “Mom” blogs for some guidance, especially the ones that had become relatively popular.  Much to my dismay, I found them to be a bit shallow, floating between self-deprecating rants about how terrible of a mother the author was and unrealistic DIY projects that most women I knew had neither the time nor patience for and only fostered a toxic competitiveness.

When I shine a light on modern motherhood, I’m surprised by how much the narrative really hasn’t changed in decades.  The conversation typically centers on all that mothers have to juggle or all that we have given up in order to be mothers. We seldom dive into the complexity of motherhood and womanhood, allowing everyday women to give voice to the layers of their existence–their sexuality, dreams, fears, questions. Creating a space to address these contours emerged as my vision for this platform.

The emptiness and callousness of our capitalist systems forced me to set new boundaries with Emmanuel about consumption and ownership. We reset our values around experiences instead of possessions.”

Yet, as I continued to observe so much of our world splitting at the seams, I realized that there was an urgency to my parenting that went beyond ensuring good grades or manners. As I allowed myself to go deep into my own spiritual and emotional spaces, the conversations that I wanted to have with my own son became richer in their content.

#Metoo inspired conversations beyond consent into discussions about sex–when? why?  The emptiness and callousness of our capitalist systems forced me to set new boundaries with Emmanuel about consumption and ownership. We reset our values around experiences instead of possessions. Black Lives Matter, school shootings, the climate crisis have all been catalysts for me to examine Emmanuel’s own activism, while also intentionally having the conversations that affirm his identity as a kid, i.e, Do bugs have souls?

In this week’s conversation, we will discuss the urgency of motherhood at this moment in time and the power of the mother’s voice beyond the caricature of a persistent nag or worrier.  We will examine the spiritual lessons we have learned and how we use them to strengthen our relationships and interactions with our own children. And we will discuss how we can forgive ourselves for our perceived “failings” as mothers and put that damn narrative to rest.

Some questions we will consider:

  1. What prepared you for motherhood? What were the conversations that you had before that moment?
  2. Tell us about one of the most enriching and meaningful conversations you’ve had with your child(ren)?
  3. Where does your self-doubt still reside when it comes to mothering?
  4. In light of the state of our world, what are the urgent conversations you are having or are longing to have?
  5. What nurturing do you need to give yourself on behalf of your children?

This week’s conversation is Sunday, August 30th, 11 am PST/2 pm EST/8 pm CET. For details on how to join the conversation, click here.

 

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