Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Twitter made me wince.

I recently discovered #BlackPowerisforBlackMen, a hashtag that's been trending, a kind of home for a conversation about the privilege black men live with (and benefit from) at the expense of black women. It was borne out of #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen, which is equally powerful, but is also another story.

(Sidebar: I think it's really cool that what's rocking my world is a collection of letters and symbols, as opposed to a physical experience I had, something I ate or read or saw. I'm stunned that Twitter has been the home for this kind of dialogue. The Internet is changing our world, y'all; and I'm old, I don't even understand how fast things are moving.)

So tweets that feature this hashtag can and should be found if you do a Twitter search, but some I've read include:

"Because somehow I am expected to smile for u, on command, on the street, when we've never met." (@Shannonboogie)
"#BlackPowerisforBlackMen because the only real issues and people that matter in the black community is black men." (@B_Jenelle)
"#BlackPowerisforBlackMen when BM subtlely blame BW for fatherlessness and then blame them for homosexual black boys by extension." (@Minniemette-- this one is SO complicated, to me, I don't know where to begin)
"BlackPowerisforBlackMen when black men want us to protest police brutality and racial profiling but forgive Chris Brown, Kobe etc." (@ZerlinaMaxwell This hit me like a brick in the face, because I've experienced this very feeling."

It's powerful stuff. Mikka Kendall and Jamilah Lemieux are the women who started this conversation, and to whom I'm grateful for doing so. I've been thinking about it since it popped into my feed Monday morning, and I'm a week behind, late to the party as usual. Clutch Magazine collected some tweets and put them here, and if you haven't read yet, do it. This is a conversation that I'm not having with many people.
Holy God, this woman. She knocks my socks off. Jill Scott, will you be my mentor?

Months ago, I posted a stunning photo of Jill Scott on FB, and a friend of mine commented that she couldn't get behind JS because she has problems with interracial couples. In the article I linked to, she describes something called "the wince."

(So come with me down this rabbit hole.)

I totally know where my friend is coming from, at least cognitively. She's biracial, a daughter of a black man and white women, who love her deeply and taught her some lessons that have made her a pretty awesome human being and a thoughtful, compelling artist and educator. She's married to an equally awesome Latino man, and they have two beautiful children together. She is interracial couple; she lives interracial couple; she comes from interracial couple. To hear someone denounce interracial love, even as thoughtfully as Jill Scott does, strikes at a deep, elemental part of who she is.

But here's the thing: she's not a black woman. She's biracial, and they're not one in the same, much as we in the black community want to pretend and assert that biracial equals black. The one drop rule is dead, and anyone who would have you believe otherwise is walking through life with a small mind. I know, plenty of biracial people read as black and when they get stopped by Officer Bubba, it doesn't much matter who was white in his family tree. I'm also not saying that biracial is better, or worse, than black. I'm saying that being biracial provides her with a different experience, and it makes Jill Scott's experience further from hers. My friend's experience as a woman who comes from and shares two cultures make it difficult for her to experience the wince. Of course she can't get on board with this feeling; I don't know if she's ever known the wince.

Here's another thing: I write this as a black woman in an interracial marriage. I come from some remarkable black men, and I love black men, I've even dated black men, but I didn't marry one. I married the man I fell in love with. I didn't fall in love with him because he wasn't black. For the record, he's not white either (as if black and white are opposites when it comes to people, or love, as it if it were as simple as that.) He's American-Born Chinese, the first generation of his family born here, and when I described the kind of oppression and depression and dispossession I felt as a woman of color, he understood it perfectly as a man of color. But more importantly, I fell in love with him because he saw me and knew me, because my "angry black ass" didn't scare him away, and because he fell in love with me. I'm not ashamed of that anymore. People say the same thing of Christ, right, that they love him because he loved them? And Christ doesn't forget to fill up the electric kettle or chew too loudly over breakfast.

So, madly in love as I am with my husband, I understand at my center the wince that Jill Scott is talking about. I don't want another man, I got my man, and I love the idea of cross-cultural relationships and families. I love interracial love. But I know, and I see, how society heralds the beauty of white women at the expense of black women. I acknowledge the fractured nature of feminism in American history. I think about that section of Their Eyes Were Watching God, when Janie's grandmother is trying to warn her about what it means to be a black woman, about the rejection, dismissal, judgment and oppression you will endure from the world. I work to transcend the trappings of physical life and my expectations of it, of how the world treats me because I am a black woman--and this is what I have yoga for--but when I'm behind the counter getting shitty service, or when I'm being condescended to by someone my grandmother's age, or when someone is saying something patently racist and I'm expected to laugh it off, it's hard.

So when this happens, I want to believe that even though almost all of the world is uninterested in caring for black women, when everyone else has their own to deal with and black women better do for themselves, I hope, hope hope, that black men will show up for us.

And they don't. They don't show up. They blame us. They ignore us. They call us angry, bitter, and they choose women who have been heralded as the paragon of beauty for being the opposite of what we are. The sons, brothers, fathers and cousins make a choice that, whether they mean to or not, hurts us just a little.

How can we not wince?

Chalk it up to insecurity if you want, and maybe you're right. But I'd argue it's not an insecurity that comes individually, but that it's an insecurity that has been a part of the fabric of what it means to be a black woman in America, for centuries. It is one of many generations-old, deeply felt curses resulting from the original sin of American slavery. If black women are insecure, if we wince, it is because the men we need to champion us to a world that barely sees us in our own right, are actively moving away from us.

Perhaps this is why the hashtag weighed on me the way it did. It crystallized and verbalized a divide between black men and black women that is damaging my community. It woke a lot of people up, and got a lot of us thinking and talking, hopefully in that order. The question (as always) is how to take this energy, and education for some, and make something happen with it, as opposed to letting it just burn off like so much steam.

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