Home   •   About   •   Content Use Policy   •   Comment Policy   •   Donate   •   Ask   •   Archive
April 2014
20

Black Women and The Freedom To Church Shout

As I’ve written about before, I am an agnostic atheistAgnostic means “don’t know deities exist with certainty” versus “know deities exist with certainty” which is gnosticAtheist means “don’t believe in deities’ existence” versus “believe in deities’ existence” which is theist. I’m not interested in proving that deities do not exist though I have no such evidence that they do and I don’t believe in nor want to worship them, especially concerning Abrahamic monotheisms.

But I love Black culture though. I love us. And it took me a while (as it seems phases of evolution [no pun intended] come along the pathway of being Black and atheist) to be able to critique how religion as a tool of the State (just as secular powers amidst the State; for example White supremacy doesn’t only thrive via theism as I mentioned in Agnostic Atheist, But Not Interested In White Supremacist Atheism) can oppress, how The Black Church oppresses Black women and gay Black men, for example, intraracially, but also understand how the Church can (even if not always) be a source of freedom for some Black people, especially Black women.

I am not even speaking of the Church as an agent of oppression (via patriarchy, sexism, misogynoir, homophobia and at times classism via prosperity gospel’s plead to White supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s insistence on American exceptionalism, bootstrap theory and meritocracy, which fosters victim blaming) or anti-oppression (historically filling in some holes in social services and social justice for Black people, especially in terms of race, even if not always on all intersecting oppressions) in the traditionally political sense. I’m speaking of it as a place where though there are many restrictions placed on Black women’ bodies via the policing of appearance and sexuality, there is a sliver of space that seems to embrace freedom: church shouting; catching the holyghost. Though not every denomination of Christianity embraces such an aspect nor can it be seen in every Black church, it is a factor in some. It was in the one I grew up in, the Apostolic Faith, and is for many Pentacostals and some Baptists.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with one of my sisters who only identifies as agnostic—not knowing whether there is a god or not—but doesn’t always ID as atheist because of uncertainty about belief or not. We both mentioned how much we love those short video clips of Black women shouting and catching the holyghost in church; clips that are frequently shared on Tumblr. Often these get used in Tumblr posts to convey excitement and true joy as a response to something. Why is that? I’ve seen other Black skeptics, agnostics, agnostic atheists, secularists etc. enjoy these clips too. Many of us grew up theist (though we are all born without a belief system until taught) and remember seeing shouting in church and it’s immediately humorous and connects us regardless of beliefs in adulthood. It’s like “coming home” in a way, to a shared memory or experience. And this is something I cannot share with White atheists nor would want to anyway. My sister mentioned how free those Black women look and it got me thinking. Shouting in church—catching the hoylghost—might be one of the few times that a Black woman can move her body without judgment. Without hideous stares. Without worry about what other people think in that same church since they’re used to seeing it. At most, Black people laugh about it after the fact but the laughter isn’t meant to shame. It’s about joy. 

Black women who twerk have to deal with racism, misogyny, misogynoir, racist sexist classism, ageist sexism, the politics of respectability, patriarchal notions of theism, and White supremacist notions of “feminism” where a White woman should profit from White privilege and cultural appropriation and be deemed “feminist” yet a Black woman portraying and enjoying our own culture is deemed “unfeminist" and "degrading herself." I discussed this in detail in Black Women and Twerking: Why Its Creators Face Bigotry That Miley Cyrus Never Will. This disgusting bigotry over a dance with a beautiful history, diasporic relevance and meaning is such that without a strong womanist politic, Black women may reject the dance out of fear of judgment. While the world engages in misogynoir against Black women, the fear of judgment in the cishet Black male gaze may be the driving force for some Black women who reject twerking, beyond the theistic belief that it is “wrong” to dance to secular music, in general. 

Black women are stereotyped as fearing swimming over messing up our hairdos when it’s the fear of drowning (which kinda has a history; ahem…Transatlantic Slave Trade; being chased to water by armed White men with dogs to escape from enslavement through Jim Crow; lack of access to community pools etc.) is the number one fear for all Black people as to why fewer Black people swim than some other races. Black women are stereotyped as unwilling to exercise when no one wants to interrogate access/affordability to gyms, how street harassment may impact Black women’s access to outdoor exercise or how the cishet Black male gaze impacts some Black women’s perceptions about being “thick.” Not every Black woman wants to be thin, is thin or needs to be thin to exercise or to be healthy. Fatphobia and misinformation impacts this as well. And then when a Black woman attends a yoga class, she has to deal with an incredibly ignorant and self-centered non-Black woman who assumes this Black woman is jealous of her thin body? I still remember that hideous story in xoJane. Many Black women spoke up about dealing with the White Gaze when they dance or exercise after the aforementioned article came out. Simply moving our bodies as Black women is under an intense gaze. 

So…maybe some of these Black women shout and move their bodies in church because of the relative freedom to do so without Black men’s and Whites’ gazes on their bodies and not just because the “spirit” moves them to. Every time I’ve seen a Black woman shout in church—in person when I was younger and had to attend church with my mother or in adulthood in recent videos—they look so carefree. It’s a coordination and skill to their footwork. It’s a liberation in their arms and heads thrown back. The could not look more alive. I especially love when it’s older Black women who could’ve faced even more restrictions on their bodies and expressions than I have in 34 years of life. I recognize that for some Black women, they perceive that there really is no other time that they can move their bodies that way and shallow secular suggestions of “just dance somewhere else” and “go exercise” clearly aren’t intersectional ones.

While some atheists unfamiliar with Black culture would argue that catching the hoylghost means giving up control over your body to a force that doesn’t exist, I see those Black women embracing their beliefs and the joy that it brings them. I see freedom, even if those beliefs also come with oppression. I’m a Black woman who isn’t theist and erasure of theism would not change my status of dealing with intersecting oppressions. Why? Because White supremacy, patriarchy, racism, sexism, misogynoir, ableism, stigma against being asexual, generational poverty and other oppressions that I deal with will be right the hell here as if nothing happened. While it might shift some intraracial oppressions in some ways, it would also harm some Black women who have no other recourse besides religion to cope with these other oppressions. Imperialist White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy is what needs to be dismantled; a White version of religious eradication is not needed and solves nothing. Knowing how some White atheists think, this would only mean eradicating Islam with a focus on non-White muslims; they’re terrified to critique Judaism and less often critique Christianity.

There was a time I couldn’t really see this as I do now because I was so acutely acquainted with the abuse that I experienced in the Church that I could not understand why any Black women wanted to be there beyond community support for social issues and volunteerism. And my own late mother left altogether (left the Church, not theism) despite also having those freeing moments of church shouting and catching the hoyghost herself. I was tired of patriarchy. I was tired of sexism. I was tired of misogynoir. I was tired of the politics of respectability. I’m an introvert so I didn’t particularly crave that weekly excitement or connection and I have other ways that I connect with Black people so my sense of “community” is not lost at all. To be clear, leaving the church and leaving theism were two different situations that occurred at different times in my life; it wasn’t a knee jerk reaction to abuse in the Church that made me an agnostic atheist. And I haven’t stopped being Black because I stopped being theist. “I’m Black y’all, and I’m Black y’all. And I’m blackety Black and I’m Black y’all.” 

I realized that for some Black women, amidst the Church being an oppressive space, it is a freeing space as well. I mean…isn’t that just a microcosm of life in a kyriarchal society? Black women finding ways to feel and be free amidst oppression? And to be able to do so surrounded by other Black women, away from harsh gazes from Black men (as Black women clearly outnumber Black men in the Church and catching the hoylghost is one action where Black men are not harshly judging Black women’s bodies and movements) and from Whites. Some Black women want the freedom to shout. The freedom to move. The freedom to just…be. If even for one song during praise and worship service or after one offering collection or before one sermon. To be human and not just a body to fetish, insult or dehumanize. And though my beliefs differ in terms of theism and Christianity, what I share with these Black women is the same desire to move, to express joy and to just…be

Related Post: What My Mother Leaving The Black Church But Remaining Theist Taught Me About My Own Agnostic Atheism

April 2014
15

Read This Week

I’ve been on a blogging break for several weeks so it’s been a while since I’ve posted a Read This Week post. This is my 82nd one where each week I share the best articles, essays and/or journal articles/papers that I read in the previous week, which you may be interested in based on your interest in Gradient Lair.

Suicide Is Not Selfish by @FeministaJones on BlogHer is a very important read; obviously trigger warning for frank discussion of suicide. Here she discusses the burden on Black people, Black women in particular when suicide is written off as selfish and how experiences unique to Black women and the stereotypes that impact our identities impact our mental health. Karyn Washington is also mentioned, the lovely and talented young Black woman of For Brown Girls and Dark Skin Red Lips who recently passed away from suicide. She cites some of my past work on the topic and unfortunately there was an epic troll in the comments section, to whom I replied to with an extended comment.

Depression and the Black Superwoman Syndrome by @jonubian on Ebony is another good read that deals with Black women, mental health and suicide ideation through sharing her personal story. Very important. She mentions how important self-care, sharing the load and seeking professional help can be for Black women. She also mentions Karyn. This essay and the aforementioned are so so important. 

My Black Atheist FAQ by @RaiElise is so incredibly important to me as an agnostic atheist. Wow. This post. Honestly, feeling “wedged” between Black theists with whom I share so much culture with but not religion and White atheists with whom I usually share nothing with beyond atheism (and with whom I regularly deal with racism and misogynoir from, despite us both being atheists), this post gets to the heart of the matter for Black atheists committed to justice and through an intersectional lens. It’s just…everything. 

The #TwitterEthics Manifesto by @dorothyk98 and @clepsydras on Model View Culture is EVERYTHING. This is so important right now. These two women of colour discuss the vitriolic bullying of, media exploitation of and plagiarism of women of colour via social media and how through the same hegemonic models of knowledge production and control as well as standard oppression via racist misogyny are these actions regularly justified by Whites/mainstream. They then propose a powerful alternative. This is so important. I cannot stress it enough. They also cited one of my past essays where I discussed how this mainstream lack of ethics impacts me and my work personally.

What’s Missing from Journalists’ Tactic of Snagging Stories from Twitter? Respect. via @TheTinaVasquez on Bitch Media is another good read on ethics and social media via a woman of colour. Here she alludes to the terrible situation of White women at BuzzFeed/Poynter exploiting a conversation of women of colour, primarily Black ones, who are survivors and how individuals and institutions supported and defended that exploitation. Her critical insights here really brought me to tears. The dehumanization through co-opt and exploitation defended because these people can “see” our content so therefore it is “theirs” is disgusting and a facet of oppression.

Stay tuned for next week’s suggestions!

March 2014
19

Race, Gender And Online Skeptic or Asexual Communities

I have read some writing from other writers who are either tired of hypervisibility in social media while having an identity that’s marginalized or tired of debating within what they view as a particular community. I mentioned "what they view as a particular community" because at times I am not so sure if what people speak of as a “community” is in fact just an institution. While people can be a part of both spaces, I don’t think both spaces have complete overlap. When I think of institutions, I think of that which has the support of the status quo. When I think of communities in a social justice sense, I think of self-selected groups that identify similarity and exist in opposition to the status quo, though because of the nature of oppression and how the oppressed internalize it, that community can also oppress and partially represent the status quo.

For example, I view mainstream feminism as an institution but I view womanism as a community, besides them being ideological frameworks themselves. People can be a part of both an institution and a community. While marriage itself is an institution, someone fighting for marriage equality might be a part of a particular LGBTQIA community. Thus, in this case, the posts I read sound like people tired of hypervisibility amidst social media as an institution (i.e. where people’s content being stolen and exploited should be “expected” and the media “owns” whatever we say) but also tired of debating in particular communities that use social media (i.e. atheists, aces). 

I’ve written about my own exhaustion with hypervisibility (Hypervisibility and Marginalization: Existing Online As A Black Woman and Writer) and with institutions (The Price Of Rejecting An Institution), so this has been on my mind for a while actually. But upon reading people tiring of certain communities, I started thinking about my relationship to “community.” As a Black woman, I have always felt some sense of community with Black people and I don’t necessarily mean in the sense of fictive kinship because like Zora Neale Hurston let me know, skinfolk ain’t always kinfolk. This sense of community is not something to build from the ground up per se (though revolution from White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy would be rebuilding, in a way), because our culture has needed a sense of community for survival in a way that Whites have not needed in terms of race; power is ascribed upon Whiteness not Blackness.

To be clear, “community” does not erase the flawed humanity that everyone experiences. So when fellow Black people try to interchangeably use the words “community” and “unity” I kind of flinch, because this is what ends up being said: "why us Black folks can’t stick together" which really means "I’ve internalized an anti-Black frame of thought; I critique human behavior as ‘worse’ once Black people do it.” No one else is “sticking together” more or less than Black people are in terms of culture; the myth that other people are is based on anti-Blackness itself. This idea that other people of colour have more money and more opportunity seems to be based on the idea of the independent “flaws” of Black people versus how anti-Blackness works with capitalism in a White supremacist society. 

The sense of community that I speak of is shared history, some shared experiences, the possibility of similar outcomes. Not always a shared sense of individual identity as Black people have varying identity facets beyond Blackness, but the fact that the former does impact individual identity. Culture, in essence. For better or worse knowing that so many things can make me different from another Black woman yet we are regularly in compassionate conversation and I have a greater sense of connection to them versus Black men and most definitely versus Whites, makes me think about how can I navigate communities not specifically connected to Black women or Black people, but can involve us because of other facets of our identities, our intersections?

What I’m getting at is that I find that I have a very difficult time with online communities that do not include Blackness as a central facet. Because of how anti-Blackness and White supremacy work, I immediately feel suspicious of and unwelcome in other communities. I try to put that aside and give things a chance. Talk to people. Read their writing. Peek at forums. Yet in the case of agnostic atheism and asexuality, two facets of my identity and politics, I find those communities to be centered on Whiteness almost to the detriment of the identity type itself. I alluded to this in previous posts: Agnostic Atheist, But Not Interested In White Supremacist AtheismThe Large Space That White Supremacy Occupies In Conversations About Sexuality and How White Supremacy Creates Paternalism and Violence In “Sex Positivity” Discourse. As I mentioned above, because of the nature of oppression and how the oppressed internalize it, communities can also oppress and partially represent the status quo, not to even mention the large space that White privilege occupies in the identities of White people in those communities. Ultimately these spaces feel more like institutions than communities when they are mainstream. And they become mainstream despite representing marginalized identities because of how White supremacy works. White supremacy is why the face of almost every marginalized group is a White one.

Thus, I have found reaching out to other Black people who are agnostic atheist, skeptic, atheist, or secular/radical humanist has been helpful for me. The same with Black women and occasionally other people of colour who identify as asexual. This is difficult because these people tend to appear less online because of the stigma associated with both identities, especially for Black people. I get way more emails from Black people who identify as either or both than I see tweets from them. Clearly this reveals that we exist but a lot of us are afraid of retribution from other Black people that we’d normally easily connect with otherwise (because of shared community) or especially from the White Gaze which impacts the perception that we “must” be theist and “must” be heterosexual while at the same time enforcing stigma for those identities (while both are privileged) as well because of our Blackness. But even so, these private email conversations that I have from time to time are so helpful for me. I suspect this aspect of community isn’t included when people speak of “community’ but it most certainly is an aspect of a commitment to wholeness for me and is womanist praxis.

I find that I don’t crave community as much as other Black people that I know (part introvert, part habitual institution rejecter), but I respect that our sense of community still exists amidst a culture where the worship of individualism through the nuisance that is meritocracy which obscures structural inequality, the imperialistic lie that is American exceptionalism and the ahistorical cruelty that is bootstrap theory remain center stage. For me to be a part of any community of any type means Blackness cannot be ignored or stigmatized. It really doesn’t matter what identity facet or intersection or interest it is about. I’m not interested in community where I have to ignore my race to make others comfortable. So if small chats online and private emails and reading the writing of other Black women/Black people/people of colour on these identities that truly sit at the margins is what I have to put together to form a tapestry of emotional community for myself, it’s what I will do. And though I wish these things were more visible since without visibility comes denial of existence, at the same time, being able to express what I think about agnostic atheism and asexuality outside of the White Gaze and at times even outside of what is considered “traditional” Black experience is affirming and healing.

This doesn’t mean that I reject someone solely for being White while atheist (though many White atheists are in fact racist and incredibly abusive) or for not being asexual (though some sexual people are in fact incredibly abusive and behave as if they’re "punishing" me for not being actively sexual and coupled, while some asexual communities know nothing beyond Whiteness and never heard of intersectionality), but it does mean that there’s aspects of my identity that I protect and don’t want harmed in the same way that I am protective of my Blackness, my womanhood, and my Black womanhood, specifically. It’s really what womanism is, where not solely is gender elevated, but every facet is; every intersection matters. Every “community” of these types must be ones committed to complete justice, or it’s not for me.

March 2014
11

Missing My Late Mom: No Pedestal, All Reality

It recently was my late mother’s birthday and I am just missing her a lot lately. She passed away more than a decade ago but sometimes it feels very recent. I feel lonely sometimes without her. I never feel lonely either. I love being an introvert. I go harder than Brooklyn with my INTJ-ness. But I still feel the sense of loneliness that comes from loss itself, which is very different from how loneliness is regularly described, usually connected to lack of a romantic or romantic sexual relationship, for example, a kind of loneliness I am not experiencing.

Neither of my grandmothers are alive and when they were, I didn’t have deep relationships with them. One didn’t even live in the States. I am not overly close with any of my aunts either because of some complicated issues between them and my late mother or because I just didn’t see them often as a child. So while I have epic Black women as sisters (one of which I am very close to), Black women friends (and I have an amazing best friend) and peers offline and online, as well as younger Black women who look up to me, I don’t really have close older Black women in my life to look up to on an intimate level, and not as a “role model” as I’m 34 and grown and don’t need that, but as someone older and more experienced in life just to talk to. I don’t mean the older Black women geniuses like Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins and Sonia Sanchez etc. who have that sense of age and wisdom and depth that paves a way for me. I mean someone where if I lose connection to the internet, I can talk to from a perspective of experience greater than mine in my offline life. I have an older sister, but she’s only 5 years older than I am. I definitely feel like there’s a lack there by not having too many close older Black women in my life. It’s probably why I’ve run into random older Black women that I’ve talked to for hours on end, or had an older Black woman neighbor I used to drive to church or just have random conversations with older Black women when I used to work for a Medicare Advantage plan during my past corporate days.

I miss my mom’s laughter. I have VHS tapes with her voice and image on them that I need the files to be transferred from. I want that forever. (I was in media productions in high school and used to borrow a camcorder for the weekend and make home videos whenever I wasn’t using VHS tapes to record shows.) I miss her overly animated stories that I still remember and crack jokes about. Her little statements that I insert into conversations with two of my sisters. The way her hands looked. I’ve seen Jamaican women with similar hands to my mother’s and I just stop and look at them. I hope they don’t think I am weird for doing that. I miss her cooking. Her pride in my academic achievements. I miss her talents. She could sew anything and made everything from gorgeous curtains to my high school prom dress. I miss watching award shows with her; I thought of her as I gazed at the beautiful Oscar gowns this season because we used to watch together and talk about them.

I miss…her.

I wonder what my mom would’ve thought about me becoming a photographer? She was a visual artist herself. Or finishing my Master’s degree? She died only a month after I finished my bachelor’s degree and was thrilled about that. Would she be bothered by me not being a wife or mother? I think the answer is no since she wanted me to have choices and told me that before she passed away actually. (Plus my older sister had already given her grandchildren.) While I was in college we would spend hours on the phone, just hours. I worked for a wireless company and had unlimited minutes and my bills would easily crack 2,000-3,000 minutes used a month. How would she feel about the fact that I got to travel outside of the U.S.? Would she like my extreme haircuts over the years? I wonder if she would like Gradient Lair

Would she be proud of me even as much of our views would converge and diverge? I hope so.

I’m not a theist and I no longer share the beliefs that she had before she passed. However, sometimes I do like to think that the energy that made her body, that which cannot be destroyed, still exists and surrounds me sometimes. I don’t think about her in an extended church service in the sky praising a White male deity; nah. That’s the “heaven” that I was taught about as a child in churches. But I guess my afrofuturistic tendencies means that I do wonder about future lives, alternate lives and other lives but not necessarily at the hands of a deity. I wonder all types of things simply because knowing I’m here and she’s not is difficult to bear. Thus, I understand why some cling to the notion of a place and future where Black people are not oppressed and have a longer time in freedom there than in oppression while on Earth. Whether that future is theistic or sci-fi or intellectually existential or whatever, I get it. I understand. Because for me this need for an oppression-less future is separate from oppression such as White supremacy existing via institutions and the State, whether secular or theistic, as it easily exists via both.

She wasn’t perfect and many of her imperfections are ones that used to be hard to confront because of how parents—and mothers in particular—are placed on a pedestal. But that pedestal dehumanizes and Black mothers already face so much dehumanization through both deification and oppression. Learning to accept her for what she was while I had her is what makes me choose to remember both the difficult lessons she taught me and the love she gave me as one total experience. I remember her telling me in phone calls about depression from the stress of poverty, struggles with perceptions about her weight and sadness about the abuse within the Church that she experienced (and I experienced) though she remained theist (and I am not, though for me leaving Church versus leaving theism itself were different experiences). I easily remember times that I was angry with her and she with me throughout my teens especially and including for a few weeks before she died. I still have guilt about that. However, only 3 days before she died, we made up via phone and she even said she was going to write me a letter, though she never got to do so. I’m still glad that our last phone call ever ended in love.

So I choose the complexity over the pedestal. It makes me feel happy and true. It makes me feel okay. I still hurt. Always. But I am happy too, remembering her. 

Related Posts: Familial Healing In Times When I Shut Down"You Two Are Too Nice To Each Other To Be Sisters…"My Father’s Daughter, My Dad

February 2014
25

Familial Healing In Times When I Shut Down

I saw a police brutality video yesterday evening that I couldn’t even finish watching because I’ve seen too many videos, seen it happen live too many times, dealt with street harassment from cops myself, read about too many deaths, seen too many funerals and know the history of too much pain too acutely and critically. This would be the part where assholes interrupt my personal blog to claim "But you don’t care about ‘Black on Black’ crime/intraracial violence even though me stating this is solely so that you never speak of interracial violence and how the public, the media and the State itself are complicit in violence and extrajudicial killings of Black people. I want to obscure the fact that most crime is intraracial for every race, but how punishment is levied reveals abhorrent racism.” 

Fuck off.

Anyway, I felt like some sort of “off switch” inside of me clicked off and I immediately got off Twitter and fell asleep immediately. Like, I knew I was gonna log off Twitter for a while but I didn’t expect to fall asleep. Every morsel of energy was gone from my body. I woke up from a phone call from one of my sisters who lives further away, not the one that I usually hang out with, and we did what we always do. Listen. Laugh. Get serious for a few moments. Reflect. She always says interesting things and in this call, two things stood out to me. 

"No matter how great things are here, I am already done."

She meant this in terms of going through some illness and she found that she was feeling peace and not fear; restful and not anxious. It made me think about when I was in a car accident in 2005 (I’ve been in a few bad ones and have some permanent injuries and chronic pain) and time slowed down; I could see the airbag deploying and I felt happy not afraid. This wasn’t suicide ideation; I’ve dealt with that from anxiety and depression before so I know the difference. I know that pain too well. No, this wasn’t that. It was just relief, excitement and curiosity. Not from a theistic sense; I’m an agnostic atheist and even back then before I identified this way, it was not some thought of “heaven” but simply the thought of escape that nobody else could control seemed…exciting. I already had some good times and (really) bad times in my life so no matter how great things could get, I felt done already. And this was only at age 26.

Another time was on a cruise. I kept watching the way the Atlantic Ocean moved against the ship, almost like it was singing a song and dancing a dance that I could not resist. I…wanted to jump in. I cannot swim though. Even for people who can swim, very few can jump off a cruise ship and live. I wasn’t suicidal. I was having a great time, both times, as I went on cruises in 2004 and 2006. I was happy and there with my best friend. But…I still wanted to jump in. I wanted my body to sing that song and do that dance that the ocean sang and dance…like be the ocean. Seemed like an adventure I was missing out on. I’ve never used drugs of any type other than prescriptions (nor am I recommending drug use) but I began to understand why some people do. Altered consciousness. Not even escaping pain per se (though of course that’s a reason why people use drugs as well). But just…leaving. I rarely tell people about this thought (I told my best friend as it was happening) because I’ve rarely encountered people brave enough not to be willfully ignorant and chalk this up to suicide ideation or turn it sexual for the sheer fact that the ocean moves. *sigh*

"I keep finding things to do because I keep waking up."

We have a really morbid sense of humor at times so I busted out laughing when she said this. She gets bored easily with tasks (i.e. grad school; work) that she excels at rather quickly and is off to the next adventure quite often. She’s said before that all we are doing is occupying our time until we die and I find that so fucking hilarious at times. We laugh and laugh about this. For years now. The part that I don’t find hilarious is how during the short time of life here, so much is spent in oppression and bondage; in abuse and violence through human-made systems that don’t have a thing to do with a deity for me. So the conversation came full circle and I thought of the police brutality video again. I felt heavy again, but still better than before because I talked to someone who cares.

Then I logged back on Twitter. Of course I was greeted with unwanted sexual tweets, content use requests, and people “concerned” with my health because if I get sick, how will I produce the content that they consume as I am their favorite non-human fact portal? Anytime I voice distress, the replies I get beyond phony compliments are ones that basically overvalue my message and devalue my life, basically suggesting that I don’t have a right to care for myself or even leave social media since what will people consume without me? Very little concern was shown as to why I immediately shut down after I saw the police brutality video. I’m sure if I discussed it, there would be people favoriting and retweeting everything and replying with irritating shit like "Trudy is telling the truth now, you should be in her timeline right now!" But concern for why I couldn’t even discuss it and make those "sermon" tweets that they think is an intellectual exercise when its actually me working through very acute and chronic psychological pain that racism causes? Nah. Such concern would be too much like considering me to be a human being so why on earth would they do that? Dehumanization is the default interaction space for Black women. Anything I get that is more than this is deemed people "worshipping" me and me being "arrogant." Right.

Anyway, I felt better that for a while I talked to someone who is actually not trying to use me or harm me on a daily basis; my sister. Same experience with a few of my other sisters, my best friend, a few offline friends and a tiny almost microscopic number of people, mostly Black women, that I talk to online. Be sure to cherish people who genuinely give a fuck. They’re so few in number…in my experience. Let them know how remarkable they are any chance you get. 

Related Posts: "You Two Are Too Nice To Each Other To Be Sisters…"My Father’s Daughter

February 2014
23

The Price Of Rejecting An Institution

How to lose friends and gain hundreds of trolls over time? Reject any institution deemed both “necessary” and “normal.” Don’t even critique it. Simply voice disinterest in it, and not even its entire existence but its role in your own personal life. The sheer rejection—let alone actual critique—is viewed as a “challenge” to the status quo and maybe it is, especially when said rejection is not attached to purposely trying to be “unique.” Even the notion that you might not desire to be a part of or defend a particular institution is enough to turn your whole body into a flashing red alert that people have to quell with the nearest baseball bat made up of fibers of gaslighting, insults, dehumanization and even violence.

Reject an institution and watch people come for your soul, question your humanity and let you know that their goal is to dehumanize you while not caring. They may even enjoy it. They won’t lose a wink of sleep. It won’t move a hair out of place on their heads. It will be immediate—almost appearing instinctual in a way—since people are socialized to protect institutions even over individual lives let alone over the well-being of persons. The irony is while they’ll protect an institution theoretically, they will not interrogate how that institution can oppress. In that case, then individual perspectives matter if those perspectives also excuse or obscure the reality of oppression when that reality includes an institutional/systemic view. Even some of the most “radical” people who have even a modicum of investment in any institution (and certainly not every social institution can be avoided or should be; some need dismantling and rebuilding; some just reform; others complete revolution, some erasure) will forget about listening, caring, allowing the space for varying individualized choices and will lose concern for people’s humanity altogether.

It’s one thing when I discuss very public issues (that still impact me; I am not “removed” from any racism, sexism etc.) that people already run to co-opt, generalize, or turn into some sort of “abstraction” to debate. And admittedly, some people (usually Whites) will do this with any written word from a Black woman period. Every word is something to consume, analyze, generalize, or turn into a “debatable” “hypothetical issue” for them as if I am not living and breathing and writing about my life. But Whites alone are not the guilty parties when what I write about becomes intimately personal and involves me moving away from or rejecting an institution. Some Black people and non-Black people of colour heavily invested in protecting institutions will gladly respond to me as if my personal choices degrades them when my choices divert the status quo and theirs are protected by it. Certainly the perception of that protection still requires nuanced thinking since racism impacts how Black entry into institutions are protected or not. But that protection is still miles ahead of someone Black rejecting a particular institution altogether.

Some of the nastiest in-person conversations and online comments, messages, tweets and subtweets come when I critique and/or reject: Christianity, The Black Church (in a theistic sense, not always in a political sense) and theism as an agnostic atheist (but one who also rejects White supremacy shaping atheism); formal academia as someone disgusted with the way the academe operates quite often; marriage as someone simply disinterested in it; dating as someone who never really had a long dating track record nor any interest in it in many years; forced sexual conversation in social media/strong interest in sexual intercourse as an asexual Black woman; heteronormative coupling bias since single people are valuable too; the cishet Black male gaze as an authority on my experiences, which would refer to patriarchy as an intraracial institution, which it functions as, not only as oppression; corporate America as someone who thinks it is often a cesspool of utter abuse that starts even at the interview process. The way these institutions foster oppression and how they can be used as tools of oppression exhausts me deeply on a very personal level and I have acute personal experiences with them. Often I discuss them on a personal level and that discussion is then viewed as an “attack” on these institutions (which again, have status quo protection already, while many of my choices do not) for other people’s lives. Since the personal is political, when I discuss these in a more expansive sense, it is always about dismantling oppression, not “picking on” people for their choices.

When I don’t idolize Christianity, the academe, marriage, dating, certain aspects of sexuality/sexual politics and corporate America, people really really come for my wig more than when I write about various oppressions via the media, criminal justice system and the government, for example. See, the latter people can rationalize as “abstract” even though they clearly are not. The former? Well people act as if I am “attacking” their personal choices when those choices are protected by the status quo anyway. And literally anyone with any privilege or not can react to me as if I am denigrating their life by making choices for myself. In response, they gaslight me, are verbally abusive or straight up troll me. I’ve had experiences where actual violence was threatened and not a joke in response to my personal choices. And true, not every person has the ability to reject certain institutions. Agency and choice are tied into certain aspects of privilege. But…I find it interesting that people with some or significantly more access than I have are the ones angriest when I walk away. It is as if they’re saying "how dare you, lowly Black woman, have any choices?"

Nobody wants a critique of what impacts their day to day choices even if that critique in no way undermines their choices and exists in my own space and not theirs. I really have no way of undermining their choices on a political level because many (not all) of the people who react this way to me are privileged at intersections that I am not and their choices have the protection of mainstream culture, mainstream media and for some, even the State itself. Most of the time, facets of oppression impacting those institutions, not the sheer existence of institutions is what my critiques are about, especially in terms of how they impact my personal experiences. I mean, just the filthy and literally vomit-inducing response I have had to not wanting to deal with academics who are abusive, exploitative, plagiaristic and harassing has been interesting as hell. These people sit at the helm of a particular type of privilege and worship my work as they degrade me the person in the worst possible way. And wow, let’s not even discuss the dating/sexuality/marriage aspect I mentioned. That’s when the threats of violence come. 

When do peers, “anti-racism activists,” feminists, fellow womanists and everyday people who “care” about other writers, artists, activists etc. stop caring and draw blood? When do they join the everyday trolls, abuse apologists and assortment of people who harm for pleasure? When an institution is rejected. Even when my rejection does not impact them. Even if rejecting it is saving my life. 

January 2014
22

Black Womanhood and Agnostic Atheism

Below are some of my posts regarding being a Black woman who identifies as an agnostic atheistAgnostic - “don’t know deities exist with certainty” vs. “know deities exist with certainty;” latter is gnostic. Atheist - “don’t believe in deities’ existence” vs. “believe in deities’ existence;” latter is theist.

I don’t present this particular essay list as an authority on the topic but only an authority on my own experiences; it’s not something where I kinda have more expertise as I do in other areas I write about and compile in essay lists, though those are still partially shaped by my own lived experiences which as a womanist I value as an epistemological source. This is just some of my thoughts and experiences on the topic, which continues to change and evolve over time, so I present the most recent stuff first and as the list descends, the other topics are older, which means in more recent writing, how I feel about certain things may have changed. Some posts are very specifically on atheism and in others, I discuss various topics but I mention agnostic atheist perspectives.

Essays:

Quotes + commentary:

  • Sikivu Hutchinson on atheists and bigotry [X]
  • Ariska Razak on womanism (and I discuss womanism and agnosticism) [X]
  • Sikivu Hutchinson on Black women, sexuality and theism/atheism [X]
  • Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III on marriage, theism and patriarchy [X]
  • Layli Phillips on womanism not being rule based (and I discuss theistic conflicts) [X]
  • Sikivu Hutchinson on important criticism of theism by people of colour [X]

Video/audio/tweets/other media + commentary:

Read This Week features that mention writings on atheism by other Black writers: #70, #63#54#47, #40, #31#29#21#14, #13#2

A few points…

My perspective on atheism is not shaped by the mainstream, Richard Dawkins or any other cishet White men, period. There is literally nothing that they can do for me. Either their content is offensive, isn’t intersectional or I get bored. (And a lot of them are abusive. Just 2 days ago I finished deleting rape threats from a White male atheist…and you’ve seen them on Twitter…) This doesn’t mean that I don’t talk to any White male atheists, but I find it fascinating that the ones I do talk to feel the aforementioned way as well. 

I still have deep and meaningful relationships with some Black theists and discuss theism as a tool of the State that can facilitate White supremacy and other oppression, not always about what people should or shouldn’t do in their own homes. I also talk about when theism, particularly Christianity, has been used to harm me in very personal essays.

Finally, my concern is with oppression and the deconstruction of White supremacy and Whiteness (and every other form of oppression) wherever it may appear, in theist or atheist politics and space.

I am not particularly interested in comments being added upon reblog that either reinforces White supremacy in atheist politics and space or are dogmatic and from theist people who might insult my particular thoughts on the matter. Hopefully disinterest in both undesirable responses can be respected and if anything, people use their own blog space to dissent…and link mine if need be, but I do not need derailment or abuse here in my space. Thanks.

January 2014
15

What My Mother Leaving The Black Church But Remaining Theist Taught Me About My Own Agnostic Atheism

Being a Black woman who’s an agnostic (“don’t know deities exist with certainty” vs. “know deities exist with certainty;” latter is gnostic) atheist (“don’t believe in deities’ existence” vs. “believe in deities’ existence;” latter is theist), there’s a binary that I regularly confront. It is between dealing with the role of The Black Church as a cultural and social institution beyond theism or deities themselves—so it can be both a place of uplift in a racist society but also contribute to my oppression as a Black woman via colourism, sexism, misogynoir, patriarchy and the politics of respectability—and dealing with the plague of White supremacy, racism, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir and more that rips through mainstream atheism like a flesh eating virus, which I discussed before: Agnostic Atheist, But Not Interested In White Supremacist Atheism. It’s a binary that I’ve found difficult to contemplate or explain until I started reading Sikivu Hutchinson’s (Black woman; atheist) writing on this binary (like here, here and here). 

One thing that I think about regularly is my own late mother’s theism. She identified as Christian and as kids, my siblings and I had to attend Apostolic churches. Most (not all though, of course) of the Black people that I know who are theist identify as Christian, but Baptist. So as I alluded to before (Atheist Reflections On Sexism, Poverty and Religion In Childhood), as kids, they’d laugh at how I dressed and looked compared to them—a minimalism that reflected both poverty and forced gender norms. I never found church to be a complete refuge but often an extension of the abuse—via street harassment—that I stared to experience around age 12. As I alluded to before (When The Target Of Street Harassment Is Age 12-17), I never really discussed street harassment with my parents. Dealing with sexual harassment from boys in the church (who were never reprimanded; ever) made me think that I was supposed to suffer through this abuse as some sort of Black girl right of passage. This is why it was important for me to encounter songs such as “U.N.I.T.Y." by Queen Latifah and "Keep Ya Head Up" by Tupac in my adolescent years in my early exploration of womanism. Child of the 90s here; coming of age years (middle school through undergrad) in the 90s. It honestly was the first time someone suggested the idea that abuse from Black boys and adult Black men is not acceptable. While my parents never implied that it was, at the same time, it was never explicitly discussed. That lack of discussion plus experiencing abuse walking home from school and in church (luckily in school itself, I did not experience as much abuse as some of my peers, so middle and high school were more pleasant compared to my neighborhood or church) made it seem like a painful norm. I am glad that I learned that it is not okay.

My mother saved me from an adulthood of abuse in theist spaces because she left the Church when I was in high school. I had full high school years of not attending church. We still had family prayer and singing sometimes at home. Sometimes I liked the singing—and even as an agnostic atheist now, I still listen to some gospel music which of course White supremacist paternalists who identify as atheist tend to have a problem with; they’re so adorable (and by “adorable” I mean “repulsive”) when they think I give a fuck about their White Opinions—but I didn’t like the prayer times and found that aspect very stressful.

Leaving the Church was a large price to pay for my late mother. Leaving any socially ingrained institution—centered on Blackness and in a White supremacist society—means paying a large price and this price is always heavier for women since the expectation is that women maintain and uphold culture while men create institutions, because of patriarchy, of course. Thus, she faced losing friends, connections, socializing with other adult women and more. In her later years of life, we spent a lot of time on the phone—like 2,000 minutes a months and more; I worked for a wireless company in tech support in my latter years of college so I used to see my bills ahead of time; we talked a lot—and she often spoke of social isolation. Unlike my father and I, my mother was an extrovert and did crave connection and the energy of others. 

She left the Church because of consistent abuse. She could not navigate that space and still feel connected to the god she believed in and tried to raise us to believe in. From being lied on, manipulated, stolen from, even physically harmed once (a woman purposely drove her 4” heel into my mother’s foot once), the abuse continued for decades. After changing church after church (I can recall at least 10 from age 5-14) hoping for something better, she finally left for good to pray and sing at home.

Leaving the Church and leaving theism are two different activities. I’ve spoken to several Black atheists who account for this. Both my late mother and I left the Church. Only I left theism itself. I truly wish that the Church could have been the place of healing and community that she wanted it to be. It simply was not for her. For me, I first questioned theism at age 12 and began to embrace atheism in my late 20s. If I add up all of the visits to churches in adulthood, it wouldn’t fill out years. But leaving the institution and leaving the thought process and ideology itself were different activities for me that spanned years apart. It was never solely a reaction to abuse.

She saved me a lifetime of pain in this regard. It’s like she took the pain for me. She let me know that the option to leave was available. And though if she were alive today, she would not approve of me being an agnostic atheist, she would at least not pressure me into the norms associated with the Church such as following male orders, hunting a husband and enduring endless abuse for the sake of the institution to prove my “loyalty” to Black men who are never under any obligation to return it. 

I truly feel lucky that other than a few visits to churches between age 18 and 29 (34 now), I never felt compelled to be there. I fully accept the sociopolitical and socioeconomic roles that some Black churches play. I try not to downplay their work in that aspect because as many White mainstream atheists never even have to understand the true meaning of both community and institutional/systems views of oppression—moving beyond external individualism—I know that those churches have done things that are recourse against the oppression of Black people in a White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society. However, I don’t need the social connection of that particular space—the Church. While I understand that it is a helpful place for some Black people, it harmed my mother in ways that she never deserved. She deserved better than a lot of what she experienced in 48 short years of life. One of the nicest gifts that she gave me is letting me know that I deserve better as well. For this I will be eternally grateful; for this I can never repay. 

January 2014
05

I Will Not Tolerate Whites REGULARLY Making FALSE Claims About Me Being Bigoted

As intuitive as Black people are—we have to be to survive—and as honest as most of the Black people that I follow who are gay, lesbian, queer, trans, disabled, sex workers and/or Jewish are, I wonder why the claims of homophobia, transphobia, ableism, anti-sex work and anti-Semitism regularly come from non-Black people, with over 90% of them White? Black people aren’t gonna lie to me. They will rightfully come for my edges if I make a mistake. I will gladly apologize and correct myself. I am a poor Black woman of immigrant parents, asexual, atheist, degreed, thin, U.S. citizen, Jamaican, physically mobile but with lifetime injuries from 2 near death car accidents and someone who has dealt with PTSD, anxiety and depression. Depending on the context, I may or may not have beauty privilege. Thus, you can see a mixture of privilege and oppression in that description. 

Black folks don’t let me slide if I make a bigoted mistake. Yet, I don’t get weekly emails from Black trans women telling me that I am transphobic, for example. So again, I think about why these claims are made against me on a weekly basis by White people. If they understand the correct definitions of “racism” and “sexism,” they know that they cannot call me those. Thus, they move on to other forms of bigotry for their game. (I previously alluded to this in Anti-Blackness And Accusations Of Bigotry, The Large Space That White Supremacy Occupies In Conversations About Sexuality, and here and here.)

I had a conversation with a Twitter mutual follow (a Black woman) who I adore and she mentioned that she is accused of these forms of bigotry every week as well. And it is not that we are perfect and incapable of mistakes. But what’s happened with us is that even discussing the topics themselves—sharing links and what not—is deemed as being “bigoted” because these Whites do not think we should have any role in discourse outside of race and gender. And once they think me speaking is automatically bigoted, then then approach me as "how dare you nigger, you’re too low to even oppress me." It’s not a coincidence that EVERY form of oppression is compared to racism against Black people since to non-Black people, we are the bottom and no one but us should be oppressed in such a way. That’s why the "not ‘even’ Black people experience ___" type of statements prevail (which I discussed before in The Impact Of White Privilege On Womanism).

If I am accused of such a thing, the person does NOT have to defend why they are hurt. They do not owe me that. They do owe me at least mentioning the statement where this occurred. Yet magically Whites cannot provide that, can’t point out the tweet or post. They state that they “felt” that way, I say, “oh, what did I say?” No proof. Gaslighting. Backtracking. Apology. Rinse and repeat with a new White person.

Worse, they read something and purposely apply their anti-intersectional lens and reveal that they know NOTHING about Black women’s lives and experiences and that their limiting lens means that something very relevant to our lives is deemed “bigotry” by them. An example would be how many womanists/Black feminists support sex work but also deal with being called a sex worker (sheerly for existing while a Black woman) as a pejorative (which connects to the Jezebel controlling image) and then are abused based on this, because of how the history of misogynoir shapes sexual politics for Black women. (For example, I cannot stand on a street corner even to cross the street. If I am there for longer than one minute, I am propositioned for sex. I usually cross streets in the middle of the street, which of course is dangerous, yet still safer.) A White person skips their happy ass into the conversation and claims that Black women who feel harmed by how debilitating racism is on Black sexual politics are anti-sex work. Meanwhile that White person knows absolutely nothing about sex workers who are not blonde, thin, middle class and high earning with elite clientele. This is what I mean. Anti-intersectional lens. Ignoring context. Desperate to make a Black woman their “oppressor.”

Look, I already had my words with White “allies” this year when I wrote 10 Ways That White Feminist and White Anti-Racism Allies Are Abusive To Me In Social Media and a lot of them have since unfollowed and stop communicating with me, which has been a real joy and pleasure. My stress level is much lower and I’ve enjoyed the last few days greatly. I ain’t got time for that. When I error, I should be called out. When you error, you should be called out. But the White Gaze on my politics, body and life is absolutely not the source of where that callout starts. And contrary to popular belief, Whites oppressed for other facets of their identities still have White privilege

Now, I definitely agree that cis Black women like me have to do better at supporting queer, non-binary and/or Black trans women. A mutual follow on Tumblr strugglingtobeheard mentioned this and I agree. And I will work on this for sure and I am so sorry if I am not doing enough. In fact, I know that I am not doing enough because I never really can. That’s the problem with privilege. I can keep trying though.

But if White people think that they are going to continue to play this White supremacist abusive gaslighting game with me, they are mistaken. 2014 is the year of “you truly can completely fuck off if intersectionality is something that you think you are going to weaponize against Black women.” 

January 2014
01

Read This Week

This is my 72nd Read This Week feature! If you’re new to Gradient Lair, (just about) each week I post essays, articles and/or journal articles and papers of interest to me that I think will be of interest to you, based on your interest in my blog. 

Check these out:

The Politics of Black Superwomanly Otherness by @Pundit_AcadEMIC is good. She writes: “Black superwomanly otherness is a performance of strength, and a costly one for that matter.  We bottle everything up as we struggle silently like we are told and eventually the pain, hurt, frustration, and anger that is bottled up is consumed by us and leading to more pain.” 

great piece by @redlightvoices summarizes how some White feminists are trying to destroy the word intersectionality because they refuse to learn the concept and want to devalue Black epistemology, as it does not center Whiteness. Through this devaluation, they harm Black women/women of colour and proliferate White supremacy. And she has the receipts in this post! Their tweets, quotes and all.  

Eve Didn’t Exist. Can We Move On? by @FeministaJones is an older essay from 2012 and an incredible read. I’m not a Christian or even a theist but I didn’t read this as a bible bashing piece. It’s not. It’s simply brilliant, highly critical literary analysis of many of the metaphors in “the garden of eden” story that are taken for granted and on a superficial level and used to proliferate misogyny today. It’s impeccably written. 

Recent Plantation History and the Modern Plantation Economy by @PhuzzieSlippers of Still Furious and Still Brave is really good. He wrote about his own family history of sharecropping and how its connection to enslavement is not some ancient thing. In fact, he’s of the first generation of his family not to sharecrop in Mississippi and he’s only in his 20s. This analysis matters greatly in light of Ani DiFranco’s plantation stunt. He also wrote about how profit is still made off of the remnants of slavery.

Stay tuned for next week’s suggestions! 

December 2013
02

Read This Week

70th Read This Week feature! Just about every week (I’ve missed some) I post articles, essays, and/or journal articles/papers that I’ve read and think you will benefit from reading based on your interest in Gradient Lair.

The MHP Black Feminism Syllabus is by Melissa Harris-Perry and includes a nice book list of resources on Black feminism. This was sparked by the disgusting anti-intersectional post in Politico that targeted Michelle Obama. The video for this though…heh. There’s a “Miss Ann” line that is EPIC. I love MHP! 

The Nine Types of People You Meet When You Come Out As Asexual by Anagnori on Tumblr is so good. It’s even better than the Asexual Bingo chart. The categories included are the unbeliever, the unwanted sympathizer, the intrusive questioner, the asshole questioner, the unnecessary therapist, the angry uninformed progressive, the angry uninformed conservative, the creep and the decent person. Very informative post!

Dating White vs. Dating Light by guest writer Danielle Small on Racialicious is a good read on being a dark skinned Black woman who dated a White man, then a Black man with light skinned privilege, and experiencing similar responses from people. There’s many factors involved; racism, sexism, misogynoir, colourism, White supremacy and rigid notions of masculinity/femininity as based on dark/light. Interesting piece. 

Secularism and Social Justice is an interview of Black feminist, atheist and secular humanist activist Sikivu Hutchinson by David Niose on Psychology Today. It is so illuminating, providing a nuanced portrait of secular humanism where intersectionality and social justice are relevant. Not the restrictions of theism, not the White supremacy of mainstream atheism. Further, she provides great context for The Black Church in political terms; something that evades most White atheists’ thinking since they rarely explore Black history beyond blaming Black people for being theists as if White supremacy is nowhere involved there. Very nuanced interview. Good stuff.

The Privilege of Expecting Community by Robert Reese of Still Furious and Still Brave is a good read about how White privilege produces community in spaces where Black people are alienated; major example used is graduate schools where White women leave for lack of professorial support and affirmation of their research yet most Black students can never expect that in the first place. Good read on a facet of education/employment often overlooked.

"But I Don’t Benefit From Racism! And Who Does In The Modern Age?" by skyliting on Tumblr is an amazing post that touches on the tip of the iceberg on how Whites benefit from racism TODAY; RIGHT NOW. Multiple areas are discussed including names, employment, shopping, social situations, education and more. MUST READ.

This short post (in response to an Ask Box question) by racismschool on Tumblr is great. It is about how non-Black people, which would be Whites AND non-Black people of colour CANNOT use the N word. Being a person of colour who isn’t Black is not a doorway into that term. 

Stay tuned for next week’s suggestions!

November 2013
23

rootworkn asked/commented:

I am currently writing a Wordpress blog that addresses issues PoC face, but for those who follow different spiritual paths such as Hoodoo, Vodun, Santeria, Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, ect. These communities are usually rife with cultural appropriation and racism, as well as the idea that being a minority religion somehow cancels out white privilege and cultural appropriation. Sometimes I police my tone, feeling like I don't want white readers to get offended- how can I manage to get over this?

Wow. Yeah you’re in a very challenging situation, I think. I have met some of the most obstinate and clueless Whites when they practice a religion that isn’t Eurocentric in origin or is lesser known.

I find this topic difficult to navigate as an agnostic atheist since while I respect people’s rights to practice the religion of their choice (though I resent the role of theism in the State, when articulated via White supremacy and patriarchy, same critique I make for atheism), I find that Whites inserting themselves into religions outside of the primary monotheisms (which also deal with the weight of White supremacy) creates a lot of issues. Many of these other theisms tie into specific cultures of people of colour that have had to face the weight of White supremacy, imperialism and colonialism making these theisms be perceived as “deviant” or “evil” so for Whites to skip their happy asses into those spaces and being appropriative or racist while skipping into them is very disheartening and oppressive.

Now I do think it’s possible for a White person to practice one of these theisms without being appropriative in the most oppressive way, though I suspect by definition they will occupy a lot of political space in said theisms if they take their practice beyond their own personal lives. People will gladly listen to White academics on these theisms over academics of colour or even the people of colour who actually practice them. And as far as them actually being racist in these spaces, I can barely address this as it makes me physically ill to think they are doing this. I mean…we know how racism and Christianity worked out in the U.S. and the role of racism in Islamophobia, though Islam is a theism and not a race. It actually disheartens me to know that Whites may be doing this in the smaller and already oppressed theist spaces where people practice these other theisms.

As far as appropriation goes, I don’t make the call in terms of these theisms; I feel like people of colour who practice them have more perspective on this than I do. As far as racism anywhere, always unacceptable.

Oh and hell to the no on suppressing your tone in regards to this. White people who are “offended" by your tone are actually offended by you challenging the status quo. They’ll go to bed the same night after complaining about your tone not giving it a second thought as their blanket of White privilege keeps them warm while you are up worried if you were mean or not. Don’t waste your energy on that worry. The reason why you do worry about them being offended is because in a White supremacist society, White privilege makes them feel that they can occupy any space (even people’s personal ones online) that they want (digital micro-imperialists) and that their opinions are valid and important solely because those words are coming from a White person. People of colour are indoctrinated to think this as well, and it’s something we have to unlearn to free our own voices, and our own selves by challenging oppression.

Focus your energy on the great topics that you seem to be blogging about. So speak however you speak. Not extra mean or extra nice or whatever. Speak your truth however you normally speak. Realize your goal and who you want to connect with when you write > White Opinions. Good luck. :)

Take care. 

November 2013
03

Joel Osteen’s Nicely Wrapped Abuse-Apologism Tweet

Years ago several people gifted me Joel Osteen CDs (they didn’t know about me considering atheism at the time; I’m an agnostic atheist now) with his dreamy voice to match his bright eyes on TV and he spouted the disconnected from reality positivity police rhetoric that sounds fine when you aren’t critically thinking and the person is attractive and charismatic. Thus, it was no different from embracing any other kind of artist where people pretend the message is great because they are willfully choosing not to think. This was several years ago.

Yesterday On Twitter, I saw him tweet something rather awful:

When you allow what someonsays or does to upset you, you allow them to control you.

Let the record show that this is bullshit. It is the CORE of victim blaming. It fuels abusers. It is their spinach if they are Popeye. It obscures the fact that abusive people often are already trying to dominate those that they abuse regardless of the abused person’s response or lack thereof. They blame the victim for being a human being and having a response. They buy into the myth that logic and emotion are diametrical. It begs for sociopathy that almost no one can perform. It forces people to deny humanity. It fuels power. It is no more theist than it is human-made imperialist White supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Well…those two go together at times (as does atheism at times, to be quite honest). Victim blaming rears its head absolutely anywhere; doesn’t seem to give a damn if a deity is involved or not. Victim blaming is social and human-made.

This is how I replied to him:

Jesus got upset; Matthew 21:12-13. Your comment is victim blaming. It empowers abusers, not those who are abused. Humans respond emotionally. Natural thing.

In the verses I mentioned, Jesus responded to those using the church for consumption and consumerism by tossing them out of there in a fit of anger. He had an emotional response to what he thought was disgusting. Throughout the four gospels, he regularly supported the abused and responded to their emotions with his own compassion. Did Jesus “allow” himself to be “controlled” because he was simply human when in a human form? When he cried out from the cross, "my god, my god, why hath thou forsaken me?” I’m so sure that was an emotional response to what was said and done to him. I’m so sure it was not about pretending to be an unemotional sociopath just to prove that Pilate (who washed his hands of the whole thing; oh look, no accountability) and those who held him to what they thought was justice (though they knew it wasn’t) could think that they didn’t “control” him. 

Now, I don’t really care about these stories—though they have interesting metaphors that are completely and utterly ignored by some of these prosperity gospel theists—because they aren’t ones I believe in terms of a supernatural sense. I was not going to robotically retweet Osteen’s abuse apologism or even pretend that isn’t what it is, even if I were theist. I recognized this rhetoric even when I was one.

Here’s the rest of what I tweeted, in general, no longer to him specifically:

Love how these clowns don’t even use their own book. Your own book and idol is contrary to what you say. I don’t believe it but I READ it. Notice how many abusers will like his tweet. ‘If I abuse you daily and you respond, that means I control you! I win.’ Where’s accountability? Meritocracy, American exceptionalism, respectability politics AND prosperity gospel are all rooted in victim blaming. External individualism. None of these involve accountability, introspection or institutional/systems perspective. All external individualism. Farces.

What he tweeted is abuse apologism that is the foundation of every major American theory and institution—as I alluded to above—let alone the country itself. What he did is not something that can support any type of compassion and kindness. Even though his belief system is not mine, steam comes out of my ears when someone like him sits in every single privileged category that exists—literally ALL of them—and tweets something so benevolently reprehensible. 

And sure, people focused on him as a celebrity personality and/or those ideologically committed to victim blaming (through purposely ignoring institutional and structural issues and their complexities and via the false notion that anyone who cannot consume and dominate at the level that someone else can must have “invited” abuse into their lives) will scour the bible looking for verses that justify abuse (and yes, there are many) or attack me personally or claim that I am just “mad” about church (no; for me, almost a decade sits between leaving church and leaving theism) because these are the lazy, quick and simple answers. Even citing any social justice work Osteen does is irrelevant here; it doesn’t make what he said any less oppressive. I had someone reply "really girls?" to me and another Black woman (@FeministaJones; I don’t know her overall religious/non-religious stance; I just know she recognized the problem with his tweet) who challenged Osteen’s tweet. Wow, thank you for that compelling argument!

I am not interested in what people believe or not when it is not framed any differently from the oppressive status quo. Osteen’s rhetoric supports abuse. I KNOW abusers who have said the same thing he tweeted and meant it. People who regularly abuse me online say it, assuming they aren’t busy mocking me for other abuse that I experience. In the past, I worked with teenagers who were abused by family members and heard similar. I studied psychology and criminal justice and encountered case upon case of domestic violence and even rape apologism framed as such. There is nothing revolutionary about taking a stance like Osteen’s and it doesn’t even match Jesus’ words and work. The abused are regularly more accountable than abusers. Regularly. They take on blame that is not even theirs to take on, even as people try to ration who deserves respect and who deserves abuse, as if the latter should ever be a reasonable stance.

I wonder how much time will continue to be spent framing victim blaming and status quo power protection as a belief system from the divine. It’s not. It’s simply oppression. Human-made, at that.

November 2013
01

Mentioning “Self-Care” In Certain Ways Can Inadvertently Silence People

Yes self-care is important, especially in the aftermath of any form of trauma, let alone day to day as a person marginalized in this society. But sometimes I feel like people yell out “self-care” in a way that silences and inadvertently is victim blaming. If I describe something horrible and chronic, let’s say financial stress from generational poverty or that I am trolled and attacked online everyday (so I am not speaking of acute trauma) and someone says "well self-care is important" how did they help me? To me it sounds like “if you did engage in self-care, then you wouldn’t have these problems or they wouldn’t affect you.” 

I wonder about this, especially when I speak of problems that exist for me specifically because I am a Black woman and ones that speak to structural inequality or misogynoir. It’s interesting. Because I promise a day at the spa, or taking an Internet break for a week, or practicing deep breath exercises to engage in over time, or adding an hour of sleep to my schedule, or spending time with people who unapologetically love and support me and most importantly not these external actions but the internal action of radically loving myself despite the racist and patriarchal evidence that I should not as a Black woman feels great, but like, I’m still going to have trouble finding jobs, or deal with online trolls on my blog/social media, or deal with virulent street harassment or anything else that impacts me because of the social position that I occupy. Racism and sexism are still going to happen. And, mentioning those problems doesn’t mean that I don’t engage in self-care.  

People need to be careful about how they articulate self-care needs to someone else. For Black women, this makes me think of two things. One is that it automatically implies that we aren’t taking care of ourselves because of the Strong Black Woman stereotype and the like. For many Black women this is true, but yelling out “self-care” abruptly in conversations where Black women are finally able to express their challenges or pain can silence and remind them of the burden of not being in the place to actually care for themselves. The other thing is that having Whites—especially White women—tell me about self-care when Black women have a long legacy of practically raising adult White women and their children stings me sometimes. It’s like, "why aren’t you making time for care with time that you historically never had and may still not have!"

And this is not about intentions. Very little is. Certainly some people who mention self-care in this way think that they are being helpful. My thing is, I want to be listened to and understood, not given an immediate “remedy,” per se. Yelling out "self-care is important" in progressive space reminds me of "just pray about it" in theist space. The "just pray about it" version of this is definitely silencing. It implies that anything terrible that happens to a Black woman is her fault because her “faith” was low, yet when good things happen, it’s not her own work but a deity’s work? I’ve had many Black people say “just pray about it” to me when honestly, they meant "shut up." I knew it and they knew it. I know how utterly dismissive "just pray about it" can become especially since I identify as agnostic atheist and am not interested in such. Conversely I have dealt with some White atheists who obviously don’t know shit about experiencing racism trying to “rationalize” why I should “ignore” oppression. *sigh*).

Sometimes people want to be listened to and understood. They want "damn, that really sucks; anything I can do to be of help" sometimes versus "self care!" But really though, how often are Black women offered help? And we’re most likely literally helping everyone else. Maybe other people should focus on their own self-care needs instead of dumping on Black women, and then when we might need a little more, no one is to be found. Everyone has to be tender with themselves, especially Black women since many of us aren’t treated with any tenderness by anyone.

Think about what’s the best response when someone is speaking of their pain. For me, sometimes I want no response, just listening. Sometimes it is letting Black women talk to other Black women without trying to dominate the conversations, derail the conversations or using their conversation as some sort of voyeuristic SOC 101 course. Sometimes it’s being of help. Sometimes it’s not knee-jerk reminding them about the self-care that they already do or cannot do because the world expects care from them.

October 2013
30

alxkhrtn asked/commented:

What are some of the biggest questions surrounding your identity as a Black women that you have yet to answer for yourself? What are some that you have wrestled with in the past?

I am not sure if there’s a perfect delineation between questions of the past and ones of the present and future. While we think of time linearly, I think actual experience—especially in terms of forming identity and unlearning the oppressive ideologies that seek to derail and alter that formation of identity as a Black woman—is more like a circle at times and a tree with branches at other times, versus a line. This doesn’t mean that actual noticeable progression doesn’t also occur. But even so, sometimes I have to re-learn lessons and unlearn other ones that I thought were good but weren’t.

Most of it as Black and female is stuff I’ve had to start thinking about at age 12, dealing with intersectional oppression via race, gender, and class, the shared triad for most women of colour. I say age 12 because street harassment started and made it very stark that something was happening to me that didn’t happen to my Black male classmates nor the handful of White ones. Only Black girls knew what it was though we did not name it at the time. That and having to attend Black churches where sexism and misogynoir were deemed “god’s will.” It made it really clear that something was specific to my experience as a Black girl—not a Black boy, not someone White.

What I find in older age (34 now) is that it’s those tiny intersections that sometimes are overshadowed by those larger three, but really aren’t that tiny; they’re huge too. They always are. Being an agnostic atheist and questioning my theism since age 12. How does this distance me from Black theists when we share so much culture versus many very oppressive White atheists where we share almost nothing except atheism itself? Being a person who finally openly identifies as asexual (gray area, heteroromantic) and not as just a heterosexual person who is “disinterested.” The latter is something I questioned for a decade. Being a person with literacy/educational privilege but generational poverty and no socio-class privilege. Being a person told I still have heterosexual privilege, though even cishet Black women face sexual marginalization with a long long history…and present. Having thin privilege yet having my body hypersexualized by Black men (i.e. street harassment) despite not really having “curves” for a Black woman. Being an introvert in a culture that values extroversion, where some jobs won’t even hire introverts, where introverts are abused in the workplace and where as a Black woman I am demanded to be an extrovert and perform for Whites, let alone be an object to consume or a 24/7 “educator” for Whites. It’s these spaces that move beyond solely race/gender/class that a lot of questions exist for me as I navigate space with a combination of privilege and oppression, of nuances that many don’t articulate.

All of this is happening while I still of course deal with large race/gender/class issues. 

I think the largest question for me is how do I get to the life that I really want; one with minimalism, much lower stress, the solitude that I crave yet I am supposed to do this in a hostile workforce that has obliterated my health and without pursuing a doctorate after all, as I recently mentioned on the blog. How does dealing with all of this inequality and discrimination help keep my sense of identity in tact if I know I have to critique capitalism and reject the forces (i.e. myths of exceptionalism, meritocracy etc.) meant to make it exclusive, but still be able to live and have the life I know I need and deserve? And identity should be separate from this, theoretically. But it’s not. More than self-esteem is impacted by all of this. It’s a challenge to not start questioning my actual existence and possibility of survival when these issues thrash back and forth in my very cells it feels like, let alone my life.

This probably makes no fucking sense. Well, I gave it a shot. LOL. 

Take care.