Today is my son’s 12th birthday. 12 years! Time flies and flies! Motherhood has, of course, changed me…for the better. Over the years since I’ve become a Mother, I have seen a lot of things that assault what it means, for me, an African woman who is consciously single, to be a Mother. Be clear, when I say consciously single, I mean that. I ended my marriage but not my interaction with his dad (my was-band). It was after our divorce that I got pregnant. His dad and I discussed remarrying and my answer was a resounding no!

Don’t get me wrong. I still have love for his dad. We went through a lot together…and apart…and there is no other man in the world, if it was possible to go back and re-choose, that I would have chosen to be my child’s father. I recognized, even at that stage when my child (aka fetus) wasn’t formed enough to move inside me, that two different things were at play. There was the relationship of a man and a woman. And there was the relationship between father and child. I believed then and still believe now that it’s wasn’t necessary for his dad and I to be together in order for his dad to have a relationship with our child.

Still, I was a womanist and when I found out I was carrying a boy, I sat in the ultrasound room and cried my heart out. Of course, now I look back and say “that was hormones”. But still, I had spent a lot of time and emotional energy deciding on a name for a girl. I was convinced, in my heart of hearts, that I was going to give birth to a girl. Still bound by a patriarchal understanding that women can’t raise boys to manhood, I wasn’t at all happy about the fact that my child was going to have a penis!  So I cried, something I do only when I am extremely upset!

But then the day came. When I felt the first contraction, I immediately gave up any idea of giving birth naturally and said “give me the epidural”. I look back now and say “you punk, you were so scared of the pain, you allowed the nurses to give you a shot in your spine” and said shot numbed me so much I was unable to feel my legs, let alone “push”. And the white female doctor, who was so unfamiliar with black women’s health issues, that she had to look up, in my presence, what it meant that I carried the sickle cell trait, decided, eventually, that she would have to bring my child into the world through a Caesarian. And she also gave me a scar I haven’t been able to eradicate to this day; presumably because black people heal unlike white people…

Still, I love that scar and I love the boy I gave birth to. I realized, pretty quickly, that my womanist bent meant I was more qualified, emotionally and culturally speaking, to be a mother of a boy than I was of a girl. In other words, I wasn’t a “girly girl”. I don’t wear makeup. Whenever I wear a dress or a skirt, people in my circle feel it necessary to exclaim and exalt me for doing so as if a dress or a skirt suddenly demonstrates to them that I possess a vagina; even though I do so whenever the weather is conducive. I don’t torture my feet by wearing what I call “hooker heels”.

I used to agonize about the above like it meant that I was, inherently, deficient in feminine qualities (aka “ain’t I a woman?”). And then I had a conversation with a now-former Sister-friend and said conversation resulted in me saying “I’m okay and have been for quite a while”. I realized that it wasn’t me that was deficient. The motherhood model was what was deficient.

Once I realized, and embraced that I was and continue to be, able to raise a boy to manhood. I realized that all the patriarchal/hotep folks who were very vocally against women raising boys weren’t against it because they doubted a woman’s ability. They were against it because they disagreed with the kind of man women such as I were raising. We weren’t (and are not) raising our boys (they don’t consider the girls) to be the Barack Obama version of Kaitlyn Jenner. (Ponder that for a moment)

As I routinely state on my private (friends only) Facebook page, I am raising a man, not a slave. And as my child (and I) celebrate his twelfth year of existence in a country where black children can’t play in a park without being murdered by those who are alleged to “protect and serve”, I give thanks to all I am that enables me to do so (raise a man, not a slave).

So…happy, happy bornday (he was born, I gave birth) to my very, very beloved yng blk star. May you continue to thrive and grow…and define for yourself what it means to be you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roaming the blogosphere as I am wont to do, I came across a challenge on calyx press’ blog. Of course, at 43, I do not qualify as a “young feminist” (if I ever did) but still it set me to thinking about my intentions to write a review of Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology.

To a young woman unanchored, on the verge of being culturally divorced from self, the anthology was one of a series of buoys clung to and devoured like I was a member of the Donner party – not the daughter of Salma. Comprising both poetry and prose, the book represents discussions black women were having with other black women – and society in general – about what it means to be a black woman. The scope of the conversation is wide-ranging. It includes the Combahee River Collective Statement which includes articulations such as

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of Black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.

I’m not entirely clear on the concept of identity politics. However, it does strike me as the essence of self-determination to push your own cause. In the case of black women, the cause should be black women. Home Girls is one of the spots along my literary reading history where I realized it was acceptable, revolutionary even, to come out from the background, open my mouth and express my full self.

Home Girls is also where I first encountered the work of poet Kate Rushin. Her poem, the Black Back-ups,

is dedicated to Merry Clayton, Cissy Houston, Vonetta Washington, Dawn, Carrietta McClellen, Rosie Farmer, Marsha Jenkins and Carolyn Williams. This is for all of the Black women who sang back-up for Elvis Presley, John Denver, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Etc, Etc, Etc.

This is for Hattie McDaniels, Butterfly McQueen, Ethel Waters
Saphire
Saphronia
Ruby Begonia
Aunt Jemima
Aunt Jemima on the Pancake Box
Aunt Jemima on the Pancake Box?
AuntJemimaonthepancakebox?
auntjemimaonthepancakebox?
Ainchamamaonthepancakebox?
Aint chure Mama on the pancake box?

Mama Mama
Get offa that damn box
And come home to me

And my Mama leaps offa that box
She swoops down in her nurse’s cape
Which she wears on Sunday
And on Wednesday night prayer meeting
And she wipes my forehead
And she fans my face for me
And she makes me a cup o’ tea
And it don’t do a thing for my real pain
Except she is my Mama
Mama Mommy Mommy Mammy Mammy
Mam-mee Mam-mee
I’d Walk a mill-yon miles
For one o’ your smiles

This is for the Black Back-ups
This is for my mama and your mama
My grandma and your grandma
This is for the thousand thousand Black Back-ups

And the colored girls say*

After reading this poem, I couldn’t hear Lou Reed’s Walk on the Side as just a song. Instead, it now expressed a relationship where the talent and artistic skill of black women is used to enrich other artists – musically as well as economically. It’s Big Mama Thornton and Elvis played out all over the cultural landscape. Or would be – except that Big Mama’s daughter wants her mother and wrote a poem about it; a poem which changes the dynamic landscape of understanding.

 

 

* © 1983 Donna Kate Rushin

Reading is Evolutionary

March 18, 2010

Two years ago a blogger for Circle of Seven Productions posted a blog/rant on my space in favor of reading and literacy. As part of it, she issued a challenge: “I challenge anyone reading this blog to write one blog…just one…encouraging people to read. Encourage them to encourage others to read. READ ANYTHING!”

As I find myself getting almost orgasmically excited by my latest read (The Book of Night Women by Marlon James), my mind traveled to my response to the challenge.

 

Reading is Evolutionary

It was the diary of a young girl living in an era I could never go back because time moves forward.

Just like time, my eyes moved forward through each page growing more and more enamored of the first book that touched me in my black girlness. It was beyond affirming.

That book, The Color Purple by Alice Walker set me on the path to being a writer because it enabled me to see how our life stories can contribute to literature.

It also helped me to redefine the definition of fiction. I have heard a lot of people (black men in particular) say that they don’t read fiction because they’re tired of “lies” or some statement to that effect. I believe however that those statements miss the point of black “fiction”.

It is (or should be) indisputable that prior to the mid to late 20th century our voices were censored. What better way for a people to get in where they fit in that to position their works under the banner of fiction. Is Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man total fiction? Or does it resonate with the experience of black men, regardless of their generation? Toni Morrison’s Beloved was based on the life of Margaret Garner. Margaret Garner’s story isn’t fiction. Is Sethe’s? My favorite James Baldwin novel is If Beale Street Could Talk. I recognized the main character, Tish, in the faces, lives and pride of my sisters. Black fiction is not automatically fictional.

Read.

Even though I am an advocate and a believer in well-written, reality-based “fiction”, that is not the only thing I read. As someone who intimately understands the saying “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”, I also read history. In high school, a teacher slipped me the Autobiography of Malcolm X on the sly. It was a thick paperback that I had to rubber band together in order not to lose any of the pages. Reading that book led me on the path to researching the Black Revolution of the Sixties. My research deepened my awareness of black resistance. At no point were we passive.

Regardless of the danger, we struggled to learn to read when it was dangerous to the point of death. Frederick Douglass described in his autobiography of the poor white boy who showed him how to read. The Free African School movement is an indication of our desire to reclaim what was stolen from us and learn.

Read.

Reading is Evolutionary.

For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria:

I’ve started reading this already but have been interrupted by other reading interludes: A Thousand Splendid Suns; Something Torn and New; I, Alex Cross; The Epic of Askia Mohammed; Our Sister Killjoy.  I’ll be discussing some of them in later posts as they do fit the meme.

After reading the above paragraph, I realized someone reading this might think that my detours on the reading path are the result of a disinterest in Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (FRK). Nothing further could be the truth.

The other day after a reading bout with Something Torn and New  by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, I had the thought that he just might transplant Malcolm X as my ideological father. However, I quickly realized it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. As a writer, Ngugi helps me to be centered and connected to what is ultimately most righteous about writing. As an African, Malcolm helped me to be proud. Both help me to be a better human being. But there’s no denying they are both men. As historian Edna Gay said in her introduction to Wives of the Leopard (another book on my list),

“Dahomey seemed a place where women prior to the colonial period had enjoyed extraordinary liberties and powers – an ideal subject for a young woman, like so many others at the time, looking for patterns of female autonomy different from the experience of the West”.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for “patterns of female automony different from…the West” until I started reading about FRK.  All the contradictions black women, in general and conscious black women, in particular, face were experienced by Funmilayo. She responded to these pressures and contradictions by drawing closer to Africa (and African culture) rather than divorcing herself.

I believe that part of her ability to do so was fostered by her parents’ belief in educating girl children. In fact they believed in it so much, they sent her to England to continue her education…even though she was deeply in love with her future husband. While in England, she chose to drop her Christian first name of Frances and be known only by the African Funmilayo. This, at age 19 in 1919. Also at some point in her activist life, she also chose to forgo wearing european clothing.  All this while still remaining a Christian. How was she able to manage what seems to be incompatible identities? What was it about her husband that made him supportive of her goals? Basically what lessons can we glean from her life and doings that would enable us to be healthier and whole instead of fractured and ill.

As I stated at the beginning I haven’t finished the book yet. Therefore I don’t feel qualified to post this like it’s an actual review. These are simply my first impressions. When I finish it, you know I’ll have more Mad Reader thoughts.

Women Unbound Meme

November 19, 2009

I was making one of my semi-regular trips through the blogosphere when I came across the Women Unbound challenge at Black-Eyed Susan’s blog. As a womanist, the idea of women unbound is, of course, intriguing. So I visited the source website

: Women Unbound and once I read about it, I decided to participate at the suffragette level. Here are my answers to the posted questions:

What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

Feminism means, to me, the white woman’s struggle to have all the legal rights and prerogatives of white men in society.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

To quote Alice Walker: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” I like lavender but I love purple.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

Society isn’t structured as if there is just one monolith called woman (or women). What’s the biggest obstacle for some women might not be biggest obstacle for other. So I can’t answer this particular question.