Valentine's Day came and went again this year, along with its usual...challenges
. You know I'm all about the self-love
when it comes to these kinds of holidays, because if nothing else, it can be a good time to remind ourselves that we're worth loving even if we don't have the types of relationships or lives deemed perfect by the mainstream media's standards. But one of the great things that came out of this year's Valentine's Day was more about coming together than being alone. It was One Billion Rising,
a global campaign to end violence against women. People all around the world united in the most wonderful way – by dancing. Anti-violence action and
dance? You know I love it! Taking a stand to say we all deserve to live without violence – in the end, that comes down to self-love, too, doesn't it? For me, one of the most inspiring results of the One Billion Rising campaign comes out of the San Francisco jails, with those who participated there. Maybe I love it so much because I'm connected to these folks through my life and work, but I think this action also spreads a moving message that's important for all of us to hear. Watch "Inmates Rising" below, to see why the inmates danced, and why it was such a special experience for them. This video reminds me of the work of the formerly incarcerated poet Reginald Dwayne Betts. If you're not familiar with his work, I'd recommend getting to know him. Here's a taste, one love-centric poem of his:
"For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers"by Reginald Dwayne Betts
For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers,
green roses, chrysanthemums, lilies: retrophilia,
philocaly, philomath, sarcophilous—all this love,
of the past, of beauty, of knowledge, of flesh; this is
counter: philalethist, negrophile, neophile.
A negro man walks down the street, taps Newport
out against a brick wall &
stares at you. Love
that: lygophilia, lithophilous. Be amongst stones,
amongst darkness. We are glass house. Philopornist,
philotechnical. Why not worship the demimonde?
Love that—a corner room, whatever is not there,
all the clutter you keep secret. Palaeophile,
ornithophilous: you, antiquarian, pollinated by birds.
All this a way to dream green rose petals on the bed you love;
petrophilous, stigmatophilia: live near rocks, tattoo hurt;
for you topophilia: what place do you love? All these words
for love (for you), all these ways to say believe
in symphily, to say let us live near each other.
Like so many others, I've spent the last few days trying to make sense of Friday's horrific school shooting
. But there is no easy way to make sense of it. Like so many deeply heartbreaking things, it's complicated.
Maybe it's self-centered, the way we try to find personal connections to tragedies that have nothing to do with us. But maybe it's just natural. Even necessary.
Here's my connection: I might've had a child. Instead I had a miscarriage
, but this is one of many moments that has me thinking, "What if...?" What if my baby had survived? I'd have a young child today, a kindergartner. Not quite the same age as the first graders who were killed, but close enough that I'd be imagining their parents' grief, disturbed by the thought of losing my own child. I'd be holding my child close, so close, afraid to let them out of my sight, even for school.
Is it okay to say that I'm glad I don't have to explain this tragedy to a kindergartner? Does that mean that I'm glad for my miscarriage? Glad I didn't bring a child into a world in which nightmarish violence takes place? Not exactly.
Here's my connection: Mental illness. In my communities, in my family, in myself. One of my closest family members has been struggling lately, has been what you might call "troubled," a word that comes up in the media profiles of the people involved in incidents like this one. I have a picture of the two of us sitting on my bookshelf, bleeding. I printed it out on ordinary paper and the sun has taken its toll, running the colors together so that someone else might be unsure of what they're seeing. But I know what's there. I'm not comparing him to the school shooter, no, because mental illness doesn't automatically equate to violent behavior. But the mental health connection is enough for me to think about the consequences of stigma and the limits of how we treat mental illness. I'm also thinking of how our conversation might be different if the shooter were of a different race, or from a different place. I'm thinking about many different sides of the issue. It's complicated.
Here's my connection: This was an act of horrendous violence, and I work at an anti-violence organization. It makes me feel like I should have the answers, like I should be the expert understanding and explaining the whys and the hows, offering instructions on how to prevent this from ever happening again. I should be adding my expert opinion to the chorus of conversations about gun control, mental health, and the influence of the media. But what do I know? What do any of us know, when it means finding words for such unfathomable pain? I know only what I find when I search for my own connection.
It's complicated. Here's my connection: I loved my child. I once held my child. It sounds crazy, I know, but I believe it's true. When I was pregnant, I had a dream in which I held my baby. I don't remember much else about the dream, but that part felt so real, so incredibly real
that after the baby was gone, I believed that dream had been my chance to hold my child. The end of my pregnancy brought loss, grief, sorrow. But before all that, there was love. I know this much is true. There will always be love.
I've just spent a few days in Richmond, Virginia for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
(NCAVP) Roundtable. It was quite a trip, and I'm just beginning to get my bearings back.
I've been on staff with Community United Against Violence (CUAV) for a little over six months now, and this job has taken me on many adventures so far. In my work, I'm an advocate for LGBTQ survivors of violence, a support group leader, an organizer for under-resourced communities - in other words, as I like to put it, I'm pretending to be a grown-up. And the rest of the time, I'm a real-life mess of a human being, just trying to keep my shit together. In other words, I'm a poet.
I really appreciate that in my work I can show up as my whole self. The NCAVP Roundtable is a meeting of folks from anti-violence programs working to prevent, respond to and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) communities around the country.
So we're all kinds of people - lawyers, therapists, educators and more. And on one hand, we showed up at the roundtable to get down to the business of our work. On the other hand, our work is made up of stuff that's hard, and messy, and not always easy to fit into business-model workplans and agendas. Many of us are involved in this work as survivors ourselves, or as folks whose friends and family have experienced violence, so there's a part of this work that's deeply troubling and emotional.
We also understand that this work is absolutely vital. The NCAVP compiles data about violence against LGBTQH people. Alone, each individual story matters - these are stories of real people suffering pain and loss, of hate and violence robbing our people of parts of their hope, their humanity, and in some cases, of their lives. Together, these stories show strength in numbers. Through the NCAVP reports, we can see trends, like the recent rise in reported anti-LGBT murders
, and the disproportionate rates at which transgender people and people of color
fall victim to these crimes. So we can understand that each individual incident is part of a bigger picture, one that shows a need to care for one another and create better conditions in which to survive.
You can visit the NCAVP website
for the data and other resources, on everything from supporting LGBT survivors to S&M vs abuse.
At the Roundtable, we talked business - numbers, data, workplans. But we also talked about the stories behind these numbers, and about how we feel about those stories, and about how we plan to make change for those who deserve better.
With hate crimes on my mind, I can't help but see a connection to the recent shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Seven people were killed, and more were injured. Rep. Joseph Crowley has been calling for the FBI to count hate crimes against Sikhs
, and I have to believe that he might be right. As much as we can pretend that this was the act of a lone, crazed gunman, the truth is that there is a horrible history of hate crimes against Sikhs
in the U.S. And letting this shooting stand alone, treating it as an anomaly, really doesn't do anything to help prevent the next hate crime.
Sometimes, data is more than just numbers. Sometimes, the numbers help us gather our stories, and speak up to resist hate.
After I wrote about the "agenda" problem
yesterday, I realized there are certain subjects I've avoided lately, partly because I would have an impossible time approaching them without my "agenda" coming through boldly and unapologetically. Now I wonder why I thought that was a bad thing. I've avoided the hot topic of Daniel Tosh's rape joke, for instance, partly because I know my own experiences would influence my response. But how's that for silencing myself? I guess I fall under Sarah Silverman's joke about the laziness of rape comedy -
"'Cause who’s going to complain about a rape joke? Rape victims? They don’t even report rape."But I've been watching closely as others respond, and what I really like about this whole conversation is that it's so complex. The best responses acknowledge that there are no absolutes -
it's not that rape jokes always work, or never work. But Tosh has sparked an important conversation about how to make a rape joke work without being, well, a "lazy asshole." In the spirit of not showing an agenda, the Women's Media Center has put together this video of rape comedy. You can watch and decide for yourself why some of these jokes seem to expose injustice in a hilarious way, while others, well...I'll just let you characterize them for yourself.
Yesterday, when I took to the world wide web searching for music to match my mood (namely, the blues
), I came across what looks to be a really important, informative documentary. "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues" tells the stories of the legendary women who pioneered the role the blues have played in the U.S. It includes the indelible lives and careers of the unforgettable Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, and one of my favorite performers, Bessie Smith. These women sang songs that held the emotional truth of what it meant to be a black woman early in the 20th century. So this film shows a part of the history that came before me and my angsty, emotional writing - black women who struggled, and who turned their struggles into art that would move people for many years to come. Here's part of the film. You can visit the California Newsreel website for more information about the documentary and to order a DVD.
This morning I tuned my radio to KPOO
, a local station I love because of the way it lifts up the power of the people, moving away from the usual misrepresentation in the mainstream media to address complex issues. My reasons for listening today were quite simple, though - KPOO was playing the blues. And I sure am grateful for music that moves with the hard times. I'm thinking about that old saying, when it rains, it pours, because that's kind of how my life feels at the moment. Only in San Francisco, the rain is different. Sometimes, like this morning, when it rains, it mists. The water doesn't fall to the ground, but lingers in tiny droplets around you. You're not sure if you can really call it rain, and sometimes you start to wonder if it's raining at all or if it's just in your head. That is, until you get inside, to someplace warm and dry, and you realize your clothes are all wet and your skin is slick with something that's not your sweat. That works a little better as an analogy for my life right now. It feels like things have been trickling in, little by little, and I didn't really notice how much it was all building up until I felt soaked in my skin.
And now, I believe I'm slipping into a bit of a funk. Last Monday was The Siwe Project's No Shame Day,
aimed to encourage folks to talk about mental illness and break through some of the stigma
that often holds black folks back from seeking mental health treatment. Poet and Siwe Project founder Bassey Ikpi said, “We’re encouraging people to tend to their mental health that day without shame."So that's one of the reasons I'm trying to keep writing, without being ashamed of how I feel. Usually, a funk affects my writing in one of two ways. I might feel paralyzed, unable to create, and then I hate myself for it, sinking deeper into that bluesy feeling. Or I use the funk as fuel, writing my way through it. I'm trying my best to do the latter this time, to tend to my wellness by honoring how I'm feeling.
My hope is that someone else can get some wellness out of it, too. It works that way for me as a reader, at least. Just like I sometimes need to hear the blues, at times I need to read about how others are struggling. I can find hope in happy resources like the Happy Black Woman blog
, but personally, I wouldn't feel honest if I wrote about my healing
without also acknowledging the hard things I'm struggling to heal from. So I hope I can add to those stories, like the ones from No Shame Day
, which help us to feel not so alone. Writing keeps me grounded. It weaves some invisible thread through me and back to the earth. I can write to get perspective on the bigger picture. I can write to feel like somebody else cares, even if it's only my notebook listening. Without writing, I don't know what I'd do. I might just tune into the blues and out of the world, taking flight like a bird and forgetting that there are reasons to come back down. Here's one of my all-time favorite blues singers, Bessie Smith, singing "Backwater Blues."
She was one fierce artist, known as "Empress of the Blues,"
who certainly had no shame in her struggles.
It's been a while since I've been excited about a new movie, but here's one I can hardly wait to see, and it's not even completed yet!Creators of the film "Dear White People" released a trailer as part of their Indiegogo campaign to raise enough money to complete their project. Since then, they've received media attention, exceeded their original fundraising goal, and sparked a lively conversation about the concept of
race identity in a so-called "post-racial" society. Clearly, I'm not the only one eagerly awaiting the release of this film. The film
is "a satire about being a black face in a white place." I want to see it because it looks so funny, and I'm also curious about how it addresses the issues it brings up. I've been thinking a lot about humor, identity, and speaking up against oppression, especially after participating in last week's National Queer Arts Festival Edition of That's What She Said! The show was hilarious, and it also went beyond simple entertainment to speak to issues of gender, sexuality, and what it means to have to struggle to claim your identity. In an article on the Huffington Post, Justin Simien, writer, director, and producer of "Dear White People," discusses his motivations for making the film. He says, "
The truth is, my film really isn't about 'white racism' or racism at all. As I see it racism is systemic and is inherently reflected in any honest story about life as a minority in this country. What my film is about however is identity. It's about the difference between how the mass culture responds to a person because of their race and who they understand themselves to truly be."Watch the trailer and see what you think. You can visit the Dear White People tumblr page, and follow Dear White People on Twitter, to keep up with the film's progress.
Black folk don't blog. No, we keep our business to ourselves. If we share it with anyone, it's family. Black folk don't write. Just look at the widely accepted U.S. literary canon
and you know a young black woman like me has no business trying to be a writer. Also, black folk don't talk about things like violence
, survival or healing
. We survive, wordlessly, and go on with our lives. Okay, so clearly it's not that simple. I do all of the above. But it's amazing what it can to do to a person, the amount of hesitation or fear or self-doubt that can sneak in when I feel compelled to do something after hearing that "black folk don't."The idea behind the documentary web series "Black Folk Don't" is to
have conversations about those activities that often complete the statement "black folk don't..." Series creator Angela Tucker talks to folks who show that there are exceptions to every rule, and also some history, some pain, some shame and some humor behind each one. It makes for a very insightful show. In an interview just published on The Root
, Tucker chats about season one of "Black Folk Don't," as well as the upcoming second season.Let's see, what else don't black people do? Black folk don't identify as queer. If we do lean that way, we certainly keep it to ourselves. Oh, and black folk don't get tattoos. Black folk don't listen to white folks' music.
And black folk don't love animals. We certainly don't occasionally refer to our cats as "soulmates." And if we did, we certainly wouldn't admit to it on a public blog.Let's talk about
what we do and don't, and why. It seems like a good step toward understanding one another, beyond the limits that sometimes hold us back.
The 8th annual Queer Women of Color Film Festival begins tonight! This totally FREE festival features short films, screening tonight, Saturday, and Sunday. It's taking place at a new location, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. This year's festival focus is I Do AND I Don't: LGBTQ People of Color & Same-Sex Marriage. When the media is so often misguided in its coverage of these issues, here's a chance to witness through film the true, authentic stories of queer people of color. The films speak to experiences of folks from all across the globe, and the festival also includes panel discussions with the filmmakers and after parties to celebrate this amazing weekend of voice and visibility. Visit the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project
website for more details about each day's events.
As I've written before, around Christmas time
and Valentine's Day
, holidays can be complicated. And today, Mother's Day, is no different. Today I'm celebrating my mom, the strong woman whose love and support helped me become the woman I am today. I'm also reserving part of the day for thoughts and prayers for those who might be struggling. Those who have lost mothers, and children.
And mothers separated from their kids - like those whose children are imprisoned
, or who are imprisoned themselves
.I'm thinking, of course, about my own reasons for having complicated feelings about this day. On Mother's Day a few years ago, I sat in a park with my mom and told her that she would soon be a grandmother. That day never came. I had a miscarriage, instead, a couple of months later. Today I'm thinking about
all the moms who've lost their children before they were born.In a way, I feel guilty for spending time on such thoughts today. I see all of the celebratory hearts and flowers and I think, today's supposed to be a joyful day. There's nothing wrong with leaving it at that. But I have a feeling that, historically speaking, M
other's Day is actually meant to hold all of these complications. Did you know about the radical roots of Mother's Day?
I've been reading up on it. First there was Julia Ward Howe, a poet and anti-war activist who began promoting Mother's Day for Peace
in 1872. Then came Anna Jarvis, a childless woman who persuaded Congress to recognize the holiday in 1914, and who grew to resent the commercialism
of the day. So, this day isn't only for Hallmark. Mother's Day is for everyone, including those who may be unable to get through it without shedding a few tears.
Today I'm holding it all, sending my mom one of these fierce Mama's Day cards
from Strong Families, and also recognizing those working for a better world
for all mothers. Thank you for reading, and for your solidarity in holding the complexity of this day.