Am I welcome in Wakanda?

I was a late comer to Wakanda. When I did arrive, my Pan-African senses were pleased with the drips of South African house music and the incorporation of every beautiful textile the continent possesses. I was relieved that there was no tinge of jealous “authenticity” politics afoot. And off-screen, Black people everywhere rejoiced in 2 hours and 15 minutes free of racist micro-aggressions. What a sacred space at a troubled time.

Yet, I exited the theater wondering if I would be welcomed in Wakanda. African-American women were conveniently absent even from this supposedly inclusive and utopian Black space.  As an African-American woman, as a mother to an African-American son, as a wife to an African man, as a traveler to non-fictional African countries, as a scholar of Africa and its Diaspora, this movie hurt me to my core. Why is the African-American woman (STILL) subaltern in a contemporary display of utopian Blackness? (whaddup Spivak!)

And, further still, what exactly was being said about African-Americans? (Not that part at the end where we are basically rescued from the ghettos by our enlightened African brothers and sisters – that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I can live with it.) What I mean is, why are we always portrayed as Erik Killmonger? Self-centered, egomaniacal, bloodthirsty, violent, self-destructive, vengeful… shall I go on?

Now, I am no stranger to seeing Michael B. Jordan play characters of questionable character, but Erik Killmonger was too much. He was well-trained, but quick tempered. He used the tools in Uncle Tom’s Cabin to build his own coffin. Painted as a righteous mutineer gone power crazy, Killmonger is simultaneously the colonized and the colonizer’s worst enemy. He was the walking stereotype of the angry African-American man – maybe justified in the beginning, but notoriously drunk with power and toxic wherever he goes.

This movie, for me, reinforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans to present mythical African glory. This zero sum game is just another example of a colonized mind and the continuation of White hegemony, even in supposedly sacred and autonomously crafted Black spaces. Like braid extensions at the natural hair expo, I feel that this film still misses the mark. It gives credence to superficial narratives and it omits crucial voices.

Did anyone ever think that taking Erik from California to Wakanda was not an option, because – oh, I don’t know – he had a mother!? And from the Black excellence he exuded in the military, my best guess is that she was African-American as F. Taking her son wasn’t an option for more important reasons than Wakandan shame. That same love and pride that Angela Bassett (depicting an African mother) showered on T’challa, that’s African-American women all day. And somehow, that cultivator, that influencer, that decision-maker, that elder, was absent. Better yet, omitted. Why, for, come?

Like so many narratives about the conversation between Africans and African-Americans, Black Panther regurgitates tropes and past transgressions dominate the dialogue. We should be talking about partnership among troubled equals. This exchange could have been different on screen and should be different in real life. That passionate longing for belonging in African-Americans is somehow always framed as futile. Like asking for reparations, we are paternalistically discouraged from looking back and preemptively halted for fear that we will get (rightfully) unbridled or bloodthirsty – like Killmonger. Yet, like movements for actual reparations (Georgetown slavery Archive), African-Americans are owed the opportunity to make peace with their pasts. And, rest assured, we know how to do it without destroying our futures.

To watch this movie and not see a commentary on how African-Americans are our own worst enemy is to be deaf, dumb, and blind. Those who don’t see it my way, haven’t been to Africa and haven’t known this conversation as intimately as I have. This movie is nowhere near accurate.  When I first went to Ghana in 2006, I remember discussions with Kofi Awoonor about the Transatlantic slave trade. There were side eyes at the White girls in the group, whose White guilt was so thick you could cut it with a knife. There were layers of Blackness confronted when a light skinned Black woman was called mulungo (White, foreigner) and wasn’t embraced on her expected “return to the motherland.” It brought up her own uncomfortable memories of being ostracized for being bi-racial. Needless to say, everybody was working through their own positionality. Above all else, what gripped me from the many conversations between Blacks and Africans during that trip is a comment from one of the junior academicians at the University of Ghana. He said, “We lost you – our most powerful resource. Do you know what it is to lose your strongest, your most-able bodied, your youth? Look how we suffer because we sent you away.”

This is the real conversation. It acknowledges agency and objectification. It recognizes history as a continuum and not a series of ruptures. It talks about socio-economic consequences for labor migration. It speaks to cultural interconnectivity, not in terms of fictional theory, but in realities of development. This conversation is about restorative justice… not revenge.

This movie sucks the air out of the room because it falls so far afoul of this useful conversation. I hope moviegoers remember that we do not have to do our (neo-) colonizers’ bidding by having Hollywood ticket sales rebuild our burned bridges. No matter how many beads and handshakes we have on screen, the story is built on old tropes that don’t serve us in real life. Black Panther excludes the lynchpin connecting Africa to America – the African-American women, mothers, and aunties – the guardians of our cultural continuities. If Wakandan value doesn’t come in the form of inclusion of all Blackness, let’s hope it has cleared the way for conversations like these that call out the exclusions.  As a mother, an African-American woman, and a member of the Pan-African diaspora, I have to believe that this movie is not us. It is not us any more than X-men is us, no more than Batman is us. We do not live in Wakanda any more than we reside in Gotham City. Killmonger is not my son and I am not absent.

 

 

 

…i think i remember

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Kidspot.com.au – http://bit.ly/2o4qFP0

I was a candy striper for all of 5 hours. And… i think i remember becoming a feminist, a naturalist, and a home birther that very day.

My mother got it into her head that it would be great for me to volunteer at a local hospital. She got many such ideas. I was in a girls’ summer science & tech camp. I spent many a weekend in a bowling league. She’s got quite the imagination. In any case, this candy striper business was all her idea. I didn’t even know what the term meant (I wore my regular clothes) or what they’d have me doing, but if you’ve ever met my mother you’ll know that I didn’t have a choice.

It’s the morning. This hospital is on the Portuguese and Puerto Rican side of town. I’m assigned to the maternity ward. There were just a few names on the white board. Next to them were times and the names of prescription drugs. For example, 4:15am Petocin. Let’s just say, it was 9:00am.

 

I sat at the desk with a quiet nurse for a while and I accompanied her on her next set of rounds. I only saw one patient. She was pregnant. I now know she was in labor. She was disoriented, in obvious pain and clearly drugged. She was alone in her room, save the nurse and me. She woke up to moan. The nurse did something for less than 30 seconds. And then we left her room. We left her alone. It was then that I remember thinking 1) this is my last day doing this candy striper crap. And then i think I remember thinking 2) I’m never delivering my baby in a hospital. Last, I recall knowing 3) no woman in her right mind would want this for herself.

I’m not sure if this was before or after the candy striper incident, but i think I remember watching my very first reality tv show, Brandy’s “Special Delivery.” I watched then with the save avid intensity as I currently watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop every city in America, so on and so forth. This is to say, I was addicted. I distinctly remember watching Brandy cry as she toured hospital maternity wards, saying how she too didn’t want to have her baby in a hospital. (Though, she ultimately did. And we later found out that she totally lied to all of us about being married! So, I blame her for the beginning of fake reality television…alas…) I remember being disappointed that even the most famous, wealthy, positive, female, Black icon of my generation (Don’t you dare contest me: see Moesha, Thea and ‘the Boy is Mine‘ music video as proof) didn’t find a way out of a hospital birth that she didn’t want. This was just the rich & famous version of the woman I left writhing in drugged up pain in a lonely labor room in New Jersey.

I think I remember shortly thereafter deciding that I would be unapologetic about NOT delivering my baby in a hospital. And I think that might have been my first declaration of feminism. It was the beginning of setting boundaries on my health and well-being that would mean that, in the future, my adult self simply couldn’t be trapped by modern medicine, conventional wisdom or popular belief to enter into a situation where I too would cry as I toured hospitals and imagined myself as that lonely woman trapped in pain purgatory.

I did tour a hospital. And I tried to do it Brandy’s way, but I refused to see the likes of Pitocin and I kept feeling that I’d be pressured to accept in the moment. Ultimately, my inner compass guided me swiftly away from the hospitals and doctors, who I feared would do to me just as I had done many years before – leave a scared, helpless woman to fend for herself against nature and her own body, with not so much as half a care to holding her hand, reassuring her, or letting her know that she was not, in fact, alone.

 

People now ask me how it is that I managed to have a home birth. And for a while I really didn’t know where the conviction came from. But looking back now, I think it’s because… i think i remember knowing from a very young age that women deserved better care and that children deserved to enter the world in a better way. So, really, I didn’t have a choice.

 

revelations

I have officially been pregnant 7 months now and this experience has taught me a lot. I learned that while pregnancy is not an illness, it is certainly a condition. It has required monthly and now bi-weekly doctor’s visits. I have been on antibiotics three times and am now on them daily. I have gained 30 lbs over the course of this 7 months. My employer does not offer maternity leave, so I will have to use sick leave and even then I will only be able to do so up to 6 weeks for a natural birth or 8 weeks for a C-section. Any more time I’d like to spend with my new homie after that will be what you all know as vacation time. Fathom that I will not have sick leave left to take him/her to the required infant doctor appointments for many months after birth. And through all of this I have learned that women in the U.S. have little to no control over their reproductive rights and birthing.

This is not about the politics of the day, which has our president offering private companies the option to deny women the option to time their family planning. And this isn’t even about the politicians who ask their mistresses to have abortions, while pretending that pro-life is even a real thing (…because, it is not a real thing! To say you are pro-life, but not pro-social services to help that life throughout its life is bullsh*t. So, yea, it’s not a real thing). This is about the daily micro-aggressions of being a person who is exhausted, heavy, with limited mobility who has tried to navigate self-care and the healthcare system in our nation’s capital.

As everyone who will listen knows by now, since I arrived in DC in June I have seen three different medical practices. They all (somewhat) sucked. I say this because the idea that a patient should see 7-15 doctors in a practice, just so that the random who is on call the day you deliver has the benefit of having seen your face before, is also bullsh*t. This system is geared to the benefit of the doctors, not to you as a parent or a patient. There’s also no continuity of care in that process. How many times have I had to say, “the last time I was here…”? And, frankly, it’s insulting to think that one of the most important moments in a person’s life will be a crap shoot of audience members, treatments, and services.

Oh and the audience is large. No one is comprehensive in their care, by the way. You are expected to have a doula, have taken childbirth classes, done some form of birth breathing or massage class, and attended prenatal yoga or pilates – at the least. God, forbid your doctor/midwife actually discuss labor with you. The discussion isn’t their job, I guess, just the labor itself (which really isn’t about you at all). And there is the expectation that you will be ok with medical students, nurses, and doctors you’ve just met that day seeing you at your most vulnerable. This feels like a sporting event where you are unsure if you will be the referee, an audience member or a contender. It’s simply not up to you. And not even about you.

I have given up on riding the metro at this point, because no one gives up their seats for pregnant ladies. My fingers are too swollen to wear my wedding ring and even one of my doctors gave me the condescending look when asking (despite this having been on my chart) if I was having anyone with me throughout this process. It’s not polite for a pregnant lady to say, “Yes, yabish, the man who fathered this child and married me!” But, I’ve come to accept these looks and judgments of an expectant Black mother. The city is gentrified and I have only come to see brown people at Latinx & Black events. Finding ways to navigate self-care, without a co-pay and ignorant assumptions has been quite a feat in this town. I was the only Black woman in my pilates class, except the instructor, and the Indian girl who was my soul sistah (I don’t think she knew it though) dropped after the 3rd class (obviously she didn’t know if she left me behind). No one else spoke to me throughout the course and perhaps it was for the best.

Maybe because I’m physically less able or maybe because I’m just too tired to play coy, I’ve learned to observe and not react to the assumptions made about me, the family I am creating, and my choices as a woman. I can truly attest to the fact that there is a business to birthing and it hasn’t even pretended to care about my agency as a person. Whether it’s waiting a week to get medical results for an obvious infection, because the web portal wasn’t working (My insurance pays you $400 per visit, you mean to tell me you can’t pick up the phone to call me? #reallysandy?) Politeness does not at all indicate advocacy. And everybody is worried about an impending lawsuit that has absolutely nothing to do with you. And this isn’t just the docs, this includes the otherwise very nice childbirth instructor who said none of her doulas were allowed to do a home birth because of the insurance liability she wasn’t prepared to shoulder as a business owner. Well, thanks, that wasn’t what I was asking, but I guess your business liability is my concern now too… good to know.

All in all, I lament this moment publicly, because I have found myself feeling isolated in this space. I’ve become accustomed to seeing women and partners in waiting rooms, abuzz with other waiting couples, so excited or scared about giving life that they really do not see how they are being treated more like chattel than people. It seems that people have become resigned to this level of care and have accepted that this is what they deserve. I venture some of this is because in this area, women are having children later in life. Believing their pregnancies some miracle of modern medicine, rather than their own bodies, they assume that they should rely on, defer to, and accept any medical treatment that gets their kids birthed in tact –  regardless of what this means for their own maternal health. But I guess the same could be said for any woman made to feel as disempowered as this entire process intends. We are made to believe that the doc is our biggest asset – not our own bodies and certainly not our mental & emotional well being. Until very recently, I felt alone in the realization that this doesn’t work for me. But, I can’t possibly be the only one.

People seem so excited to have children that the “how” of the matter doesn’t seem to matter much at all. If your employer screws you, it’s ok. If your doctor can’t pronounce your name, that’s normal. If the nurses haven’t read your charts, it’s understandable. And, this is, after all, my observation coming from the privileged position of having a job and excellent health insurance. I can only imagine what it would be like to be even more financially and physically vulnerable. Multiple DC area hospitals closed their maternity wards in the last year and one can only wonder if that was a good thing, considering reported conditions.

I call this piece revelations, because these are experiences I could never have understood before this moment. Being made to feel like an anomaly, demanding crunchy granola, for asking to be seen – truly been seen – as a human giving life has been stressful and draining. I can’t say that I’ve allowed it to be degrading or that I’ve permitted it to be dehumanizing. If that ever happens, trust me, it will be against my will and I will be telling a very different kind of story here. Yet, I have fought with all my might to not have the sour business of birth diminish my own relationship to pregnancy and my body. It has been a journey. I’m sure that I am not alone in this trial and after 7 months, I know this is bigger than me. I am not asking too much.  I am not being rebellious. I am simply stepping into parenthood in the present, rather than in the “after the baby is born” future.

If anyone else out there feels similarly, I simply want you to know that you are not alone, I see you, and you are not asking too much.

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (77)

Welcome to the 77th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

This morning we’ll start slowly with the jazzy musings of Ohio, USA native Nancy Wilson. The Grammy winner had her own variety series in the ’60s and has been known for classy little ditties that are grounded in the less romantic parts of real life…  but her silky voice makes it all go down so swell. Alas, I love this song because it just feels like a 1960s version of “Man Down” & badass women, calling the shots and taking no shit get me fired up for a week of greatness ahead…

Shots fired!

American culture shock.

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Photo: PINS Daddy

It has officially been 1 week since I’ve been back in the U.S., so it’s only right that I get back to writing my confusions, my exploits and my experiences. Thanks for loving me through the hiatus. It’s only right that – 8 days fresh off the wings of a United flight – I come back  to writing with a few questions for you’se guys who call this place home. Help me understand how this place works. There are so many things I just don’t get anymore.

 

1 – Why do I have to fill out the Customs forms if I have global entry? I feel like DHS & CBP just have a lot of paper lying around and they want to get rid of it by dumping it on those of us who don’t need it, but don’t yet know we don’t need it. Keep yo’ paper, bruh! I have enough luggage to worry about.

1a. Why doesn’t every American with a passport have global entry tho’?

1b. Who has life minutes to waste in long lines in airports tho’?

2 – Why is everything in the super market in a box or a plastic bag? Forgive my amnesia on this subject, but I’m going to repeat Chimamanda Adichie, who only recently joined our sacred Barnard sistahood (we’ll keep her tho’) and is also eloquent with a writer’s pen, “EAT REAL FOOD.” I was so sad walking through Trader Joe’s this week and Whole Foods last week when I felt like I walked out with more packaging than actual food. 5adayCSA here I come!

 

3 – Why are White people moving into every neighborhood in the country at this very moment in time? I mean, literally, I could trace the eastern seaboard with a litany of Brown people tears over gentrification. I’ve been in 3 states in the last 8 days and in each town I visited I’ve heard lamentations of the erasure of people of color, the displacement of low and middle-income families, and reverse White flight. I just can’t figure out why now? I could get into the race issues here, but I’ll just settle on simply asking “why are all the White folks moving?”

4 – What are cops for anymore? People (of color, predominantly) are more afraid than ever to cross paths with police officers, so I’m kinda wondering how exactly can they be useful. In theory, yea, public safety, blah, blah I get it (ish), but really I can’t be the only one wondering… 4a. when is it safe to call them exactly? 4b. Could I live with myself if something bad happened either way? or 4c. Would I be alive after they left?

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5- Last, but not least, how many housewife shows are actually on the air right now? There are Real Housewives of like 12 towns & 49 states; 1st and 2nd wives clubs in satellite cities; Celebrity, Jail and Sister wives. I mean, we get it, shows about nuclear, dysfunctional families will keep women with disposable income glued to the TV looking at commercials and buying stuff we don’t need to mimic people we don’t like. But, c’mon, let’s do better. I’d trade you 20 of these wife shows full of fiancees & divorcees for just 10 HGTV channels, preferably in metropolitan cities where one can purchase a 3 bedroom house for less than $400,000 USD. A real wife can dream…

Riddle me that.

Being your Black friend…

Being your Black friend sometimes feels good, but many times it’s awkward. I could go into the depths of awkwardness, but there are so many other more coherent blog options for you to wiki  or google (as a verb). So, today is my day to talk about all the things I simply don’t get about you, my non-Black friends. Today, you are the diversity in the room (how liberating it is for me to give up that seat once in awhile) and you get to educate me on things that make me awkward chuckle in dinner parties. Ok, here are a few things I’d like to be educated on… hit it…

 

1 – What is a keratin treatment? – It sounds like a high priced, less abrasive perm, but (who am I kidding?) I have no idea what that is, who uses it and why. Don’t get me started on split ends. P.S. I have dreadlocks.

2 – Why do darker skinned people call themselves Black? – Maybe I don’t get it, because I don’t call myself “Black” to describe skin color. I do it to describe ethnic origin. So, when I hear my Indian friends call themselves and each other Black, I’m like… “let’s unpack that” (before I get offended).

3 – What is so funny about SNL pre-Trump? I could barely manage a gentle chuckle, but this show is supposed to be iconic and hilarious. I just don’t see it. Only “he lookalike a man” and “Mary Katherine Gallagher” can get a mediocre rise out of me. And I can recognize the first one was pretty racist.

4 – Does it hurt to be skinny (not just thin, I mean skinny)? Since very rare is the occasion that I see women of my hue who I’d define as “Skinny,” maybe I’m biased to think that this kind of thin isn’t really our domain. Even boney Black girls have a curve or two. Meat and muscle are cushions in life. Looks painful to sit… just wondering…

5 – Do you actually like milk? Word has it that many people of color don’t tolerate cow’s milk very well. And since I’m one of those people, I’ve always wondered what it must be like to really eat Oreos with milk without regretting it for the next 5 hours. Since my body gives me cause to be averse, I’ll never know if I actually don’t like it… really. So, I’m curious.

That concludes this edition of $h!t I don’t get.

Thanks in advance for the cultural education & ignorance eradication.

 

 

Resistance is Restless

I am one of the many women who went to work on March 8th. I could say that I was in turmoil over it, but that would be a lie. That’s what I do… work. Every day. No days off (Wale voice).

I knew what I signed up for in this career and I knew this day would come. There’d be a moment when I’d be toiling over minutiae while everyone else was out fighting a good fight that I felt should be mine. This happened last year for any number of Black Lives Matter protests. It happened years before many times over. But, alas, life is not made of newspaper headlines or twitter rants. It is not the meta-narratives of history books that one lives while history books are being written. Instead, it is the particular histories of daily life that all seem mundane individually, but are collectively more than the sum of their individual parts.

In light of this, I’m sharing my mundane Women’s History Month resistance routine. The month started off with making a donation to WNYC studios so that podcasts like 2 Dope Queens and Sooo Many White Guys could continue to give me spurts of joyous laughter between monotonous policy drafts and email responses (#trypod). Luckily for me, there was an option to get Phoebe Robinson‘s (1 dope queen) new book “You can’t touch my hair..” I thoroughly enjoyed it and, as a result, snorted a few times. With that in my memory bank, I’ll be symbolically burning a bra all month long. Here’s how:

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The lady on left is looking how I’m feeling! (Today Show)

1 – Making my husband visit his mom!  – This trip is the gift that keeps on giving. My mother-in-law is the salt of the earth. She’s also very sane. Her physical presence in the life of her eldest son is very sobering for all who witness it. He, of all people, could use her grounding right now. I, on the other hand, could use some alone time, followed by girl time, followed by work like a dog time, followed by more girl time. Snowball effect accomplished.

2 – Reading Sonia Sotomayor’s biography – I’m going to read more about Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s life, because I hear she’s got a great journey to share. I also feel it will balance out Phoebe’s book in both heft and severity. I can’t just laugh and cuss all month long. I need to be inspired to do something positive with the platforms I have. I’m hoping the judge will remind me of  a time when public servants and leaders were actually admirable and inspiring; I wanted to be in that number. It wasn’t that long ago. It’s good to know that some of them are still around – kicking and screaming beneath very powerful robes (keep the cape). And, like me, she’s not an immigrant, so at least we have that in common.

3- Self care – Ask me why I have a physical, dental exam (w/ x-rays) and spa day booked before the end of the month ? My response is a direct quote from Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — A Burst of Light: Essays – I won’t be undone, disarmed, minimized or placated, so long as I am well fed, well rested, well loved and able bodied. My job is to stay that way!

4- Starting a business – My amateur meanderings have led me to two very stimulating entrepreneurial endeavors. And rather than pussyfoot around any longer, I’m finalizing the LLC for one of them this month and reserving the business name for the other. Not regularizing my business investments leaves me personally vulnerable and that’s not sustainable or growth minded. See, ya’ll, I’m speaking that business-lady talk. Bossy pants all month long! #queenboss

5 – Writing an article on women of the Diaspora – In the works, as I type, is a piece I’m co-authoring with my PhD advisor on 2013 research data I collected in India. It has taken a combination of guts, cajoling, and stagnation to get me to the point where I can finally write this long overdue academic article. Hallelujah! The day (or month) has finally come. My March 24th deadline for a draft is well timed, because I’m sure that my academic sisters, mothers, and friends will help me finally execute. “We can do it!”

Even if you don’t take on one of my 5 pillars of the month, you too can create your own mundane resistance routine. I’m sure you’re wondering how to make a difference within the parameters of your daily routine. My advice? Choose daily wins and small victories with big impacts. Deliberately support businesses and development efforts of women. Affirm their femininity and their excellence. Hug a woman you love, or a man who loves a woman you love. Stop, smell some roses, and then… get back to work! There is soooo much to be done.

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