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October 2014

Read This Week

About every week (although lately more like 2x a month; sorry, life!) I share recently read articles, essays, journal articles and/or papers that I find important/interesting and think you may be interested in based on you reading Gradient Lair. 91st Read This Week! Good reads below:

Everyone Watches, Nobody Sees: How Black Women Disrupt Surveillance Theory by @Blackamazon on Model View Culture is incredible. Must read. She writes: "What we have decided to call surveillance is actually a constant interplay of various forms of monitoring that have existed and focused on black people, and specifically black women, long before cameras were around, let alone ubiquitous." 

My Mother Died Three Months Ago, And I’m Still Figuring Out How To Grieve For Her by @thewayoftheid on XOJane is so beautiful. It breaks my heart and inspires me at the same time. I too lost my mother 13 years ago, but it is very new for her. Over time on Twitter I’ve read the things she mentioned about it and each stage and I know the pain too well. One of the most beautiful sentences in this particular essay: "I no longer try to suffocate Grief with a pillow, or stab it with a fork; I hold on tight and ride the wave until the tide settles, until the calm returns." Like…even just retyping this now I’m emotional. Beautiful beautiful read.

Olympic Fencer Kamara James Dead At 29 on The Grio is the report of yet another young Black woman who has passed away (cause of death not listed yet and she lived her young life with mental health issues). Black women are human. And not “strong Black women” that can endure endless harm. 

Applauding Black Death in the Hour of Chaos… by @prisonculture on her blog is incredibly important. She discussed how people applauded a Black teen who stated he wasn’t afraid to be killed for justice, but she contrasts this with the desire to live and how his body is already deemed disposable, so his death doesn’t sit in juxtaposition to the violence. This is important, especially when people assign value to martyrs, and not those who survive, quite often. She writes "We have failed our young by not creating an expansive idea of justice."

Black Atheists Say Their Concerns Have Been Overlooked For Too Long by @kjwinston11 on Religion News Service speaks about that tenuous space of Black not theist, atheist not White supremacist, and Black skeptics/atheists working with Black theists to examine issues regarding social equality and justice. The author mentioned "organizers say social justice is a greater concern to atheists of color than the church-state separation issues the broader organized atheist community often focuses on. Why? Because social justice issues are more pressing in their communities."

Stay tuned for my next Read This Week.

September 2014

Sister. More Than A Word. Community. More Than A Place.

There’s this glorious scene (heh, as if the whole film isn’t good) in the film The Color Purple (based on original womanist theorist, activist, novelist and scholar Alice Walker's book The Color Purple) where “Shug” sings a song, “Miss Celie’s Blues,” that she dedicates to “Celie” who truly showed her how much she cared. Who loved her in a way that no men were able to because their “love” hadn’t yet been decolonized from their need to dominate and control, especially since they were Black men who were dominated and controlled by White supremacy, as well. Intersectionality, before the term itself surfaced via Kimberlé Crenshaw (kind of in the way that from [and before] Sojourner Truth to Combahee River Collective the epistemological origins pre-date the creation of/research for the term, as with womanism as well, actually).

This scene in the film always makes me cry. Their love—not only romantic, though that matters hugely here and homophobia and misogynoir shouldn’t erase this, especially considering the author—was about actually seeing who they are to each other beyond the world that deemed them nothing, and deemed “Celie” as even less than “Shug,” since latter at least had “beauty,” albeit via a violent patriarchal gaze. In this song, the word “sister” confers so much incredible power of love, affirmation, recognition, connection and humanity, all which was denied “Celie” from birth.

"Miss Celie’s Blues" (written by Quincy Jones & Rod Temperton)

Sister, you’ve been on my mind 
Sister, we’re two of a kind 
So, sister, I’m keepin’ my eye on you.

I betcha think I don’t know nothin’ 
But singin’ the blues, oh, sister, 
Have I got news for you, I’m something, 
I hope you think that you’re something too

Scufflin’, I been up that lonesome road 
And I seen alot of suns going down 
Oh, but trust me, 
No-o low life’s gonna run me around.

So let me tell you something Sister, 
Remember your name, No twister 
Gonna steal your stuff away, my sister, 
We sho’ ain’t got a whole lot of time, 
So-o-o shake your shimmy Sister, 
'Cause honey the 'shug' is feelin' fine.

Black people (and not necessarily only Black Americans i.e. my family, mostly Jamaican but also some Black American theists, use sister/brother, as terms with a cultural weight greater than solely blood relationships) have used “sister” and “brother” as terms of connection, alluding to fictive kinship, with all of its goodness (shared cultural values, norms, histories, experiences) and pain (dealing with monolithic internal and external gazes on Blackness meant to minimize its nuance, breadth and value). Though I am not a Christian/theist now, I grew up in the Church where everyone was “sister” or “brother” unless they had another title like “pastor,” “deacon,” “evangelist” etc. And though I grew up Apostolic, all of my Black friends—whether Baptist or Pentecostal or another sect of Christianity—had a similar mixture of the history of Black fictive kinship and the umbrella of being “God’s children” (hence “siblings”) that alludes to this familial labeling. 

Though I never grew up calling Black men “brothas” and Black women “sistas” in the same way mostly older Black people that I know still do, I still call my actual sisters (as in children from my parents) “sis” and Black women who are close to me “sis.” I mean, when people who wanted to violently derail the work of #YouOkSis (to silence Black women speaking out on street harassment, something I’ve written about for years and experienced for 23 years now), one argument was that we “copied” White women. But, I mean, "you ok sis" is AAVE through and through. From sentence structure to the allusion to sisterhood to what it means in terms of the history of Black women caring for each other, even having to protect each other, from everyone, including from Black men. You ok sis? 

This word, this short word “sis” carries a great deal of history and weight in my mind. It is not a casual connection that people can force on to me to infer community and connection that does not exist. And when I think of this word and what it means for my life, especially in terms of womanism, it is not something anyone can have and use ‘at will’ to pretend they care for me. I do not like when women who are not Black and have no relationship with me, either through shared history and experience or individually/interpersonally, call me “sis.” It is triggering and appropriative. When non-Black women of colour and when especially White women (the latter have got to be joking) call me “sis” as they stand by and consume the violence I experience on the hour online, but dare put that word in a tweet to me? Why? In what capacity is there sisterhood? Even in the past when I have theorized solidarity between non-Black women of colour and Black women, and I experience it, albeit in a small quantifiable way, I still didn’t infer automatic “sisterhood” as if our histories and experiences are automatically interchangeable. Specificity is intellectual honesty, not “oppression Olympics.”

Non-Black women using the word “sis” at me, and appropriating the context by which I use this word with Black women is much worse to me than them even claiming to be “intersectional feminists” (if without acknowledging the origins of intersectionality or what it really means for one’s praxis to be intersectional) or claiming “solidarity/allyship” between Black women and non-Black women of colour/White women. It feels like a personal intrusion; a violation of consent; someone telling me what our relationship is without providing any proof to substantiate their acknowledgement—of how though they may face many oppressions, for which I totally respect their struggle, they still benefit from misogynoir and anti-Blackness, violence that places Black womanhood in a precarious position by which they can claim their "real" womanhood by not being a Black woman—of what such a relationship would require. It’s like an “I love you” from a stranger who sees me as a buffet of ideas and not a person. White women treating Blackness as a consumable good is not sisterhood. Non-Black women of colour treating Blackness as a field of expertise to build platforms on and center themselves is not sisterhood.

Certainly, this is very personal. I don’t suggest that Black women who want to be called “sis” by literally any woman whatsoever—without shared history, context, culture or interpersonal connection—cannot have that happen. That’s how consent and relationships work. Other Black women are able to decide this for themselves in this particular context, though the history I speak of is not “negotiable” and “individual;” it is what it is. What is negotiable is how Black women individually choose to respond to it. But yes, there are Black women who do not want “sis” used in a performative context. On Twitter, Black trans woman, incredible thinker and theorist @tgirlinterruptd pointed this very thing out before: 

Folks be trying to use the word Sister to evoke fake solidarity, community and safeness you haven’t earned. Please don’t call me that shit. Like if you not on the phone with me every week or you not in a constant state of awareness of what transmisogynoir means for my life? I’m not your sister and you don’t get to call me that…even the women closest to me in my life don’t call me that. It’s understood.

She alluded to “sis” being used performatively because she doesn’t like it "as fictive kinship that precedes or follows abusive behavior." She told me that if someone is “cisnormative and not performing healthy community with trans women, using ‘sis’ comes off as performative.” And she is right. Because under what circumstances can bourgeoisie cis Black people (whom she alluded to that day) automatically think they have a right to call a Black trans woman “sister” without the connection, the labor and the proof of what “sisterhood” means in terms of the reality of her facing transmisogynoir? And then, it becomes even more ludicrous for non-Black women of colour and White women to think they can automatically refer to her as “sis.” I see/hear someone call me this that I don’t think should and I feel violated. And the more non-Black women see this shared connection between myself and other Black women, the more they think they have a right to appropriate and perform this connection. @tgirlinterruptd mentioned to me that “sis” can work as inclusion for trans Black women and cis Black women; connection. But this idea that it should be automatically inferred by non-Black women of colour/White women or taken for granted by cis Black women isn’t okay. She told me that this is triggering for her; “sis” as performance. It is for me too, so with cis privilege, I cannot even imagine the level it impacts her when it feels like a phony force of community without the proof of support. Where is the proof of support for Black trans women?

And even between Black women, some may not be okay with fictive kinship being enough to declare sisterhood. And that’s okay! Because clearly we know that words are not “just” words where they’re just an assemblage of letters without meanings, contexts, histories. The same word that infers connection can be used in an appropriative way to claim experiences and connections for which there is no existence. And this isn’t to suggest that Black women always “automatically” connect. I don’t with every Black woman (and I will certainly defend myself from other Black women if they harm me). Alice Walker herself has had a difficult relationship with her own daughter. Relationships take navigation through context. Not fabrication through appropriation. I don’t have the luxury to pretend that words are “just words” when even through words epistemic violence, erasure, and cultural appropriation harms Black people regularly. 

Now, the same people who feel that Black women deserve no space to even speak to each other/share company, to even have a conversation, and will pretend this domination of space only exists online (yeah right), will once again be angry about my perspective on language, power and boundaries. It’s difficult for them to process boundaries for people they don’t even consider human. People’s stance of "well, you must be arrogant if you ever want to speak to another Black woman, it’s not like you are human or anything, and what an ego you have to not want people who aren’t Black women to dominate Black women’s conversations, relationships, spaces, ideas, content, bodies and cultures!" is certainly the boring, trite, expected interpretation. So naturally, most responses to this will be "We can say what we want! We will tell you what our relationships are to you! It is just a word! Why are you dividing people!" Why can’t you accept our violence via erasure of context if we decide this erasure is ‘compassion?’" Of course. Blah.

I am not talking about the status quo perception of Black womanhood where the aforementioned nonsensical statements are deemed reasonable responses to the context and history relevant to Black womanhood and boundaries. I am not telling the average White supremacist White male message board member, the average mainstream feminist White woman, the average misogynoiristic Black man, the average anti-Black non-Black person of colour not to call me “sis.” They call me much worse, so this would be moot. I am talking about some people who profess to be interested in allyship (Whites), unity (Black men, because some Black men—even though they’re also Black and share this “sister/brother” history that I spoke of—do degrade Black women, yet always infer community connection without any actual receipts to show that they consider Black women a part of the Black community and as more than individuals who exist solely for the service of Black men) and solidarity (non-Black people of colour) with Black women, yet think they can fabricate community, step past the already questionable allyship/unity/solidarity to then infer a very personal connection? This is as ludicrous to me as random older White people calling me “daughter” with the history, community, connection, weight it carries when an older Black woman (who wasn’t my mother) I used to drive to church used to called me “daughter.” 

The work of allyship/solidarity doesn’t begin at the place where White women and non-Black women of colour appropriate everything from Black cultural contexts that shape relationships to womanist scholarship (and the latter is inappropriate for White women; White women are not womanists or ‘my sisters,’ and are in fact oppressors in addition to White men; that doesn’t mean they have to be my enemies now, as life isn’t a binary, and there’s a few cool White women online that I interact with interpersonally [though my friends are Black women], but we are not ‘sisters’ in an interpersonal or structural sense) and infer relationships that their connection and labor doesn’t confer. ”Sister” is more than a word to me. It is a connection. “Community” is more than an idea or a place to me. It is an action. Appropriation and erasure are violence. History is lived, not merely read and consumed. Connection is built. Community is earned. 

September 2014
Via   •   Source

If there is one thing that an atheist movement should stand against (or at least be reflexively suspicious of), it is the erection of cults of personality around individual voices. Most movement atheists will be able to, without breaking stride, list a number of specific examples of religious movements that have gone terribly awry when a single person is placed at their zenith. Atheistic communities are no exception, or at least should not be. If Richard Dawkins is ‘a liability’, it is because we atheists have failed to resist the urge toward celebrity worship. In a perfect world, Dr. Dawkins‘ opinions on evolution would be evaluated and lauded when accurate, and his opinions on other matters would be seen as irrelevant when they are false. The fact that he regularly repeats fairly common bromides about rape culture and xenophobia would be seen, in this better world, as reflective of an incurious mind that speaks more than it thinks. To the extent that this is not the case (many atheists I know have no interest in Dr. Dawkins‘ opinions), it should be seen as a failing of the community to live up to its principles. When people continue to write articles as though it was still 2007 and The God Delusion was still one of the only popular sources for atheist advocacy, it cements the perception that Richard Dawkins is reflective of the atheist movement rather than being simply one voice among many.


Ian Cromwell (@Crommunist(via feminace)

Quote is from Is Richard Dawkins An Asset Or A Liability To Atheism? No. Must…read. Love how he questions the question itself (problem with liability/asset binary), questions the idea that there is “one” atheist movement (nope) and illustrates how similar personality cult in secular space is to it some theist ones. Oh and I’m one of the atheists that has "no interest in Dr. Dawkins‘ opinions." Must read full essay!

July 2014

generie asked/commented:

Hi Trudy. Since I became involved with social justice I have rejected the mainstream atheist community because I knew of it's western supremacist/racist/sexist attitudes, a lot of the community is problematic. But I felt needed a space when I lost nearly half of my friends and my family since I left my religion. These days I don't know how to cope with the bullying I get as a black woman for not being theist. Even within the social justice community I feel shunned sometimes, ever feel like this?

Part one? Yes. Discussed that here: Agnostic Atheist, But Not Interested In White Supremacist Atheism and Race, Gender And Online Skeptic or Asexual Communities

Part two? Yes. LOL. Discussed that here: Fellow Black People Who Are Theist And/Or Heterosexual, Please Give Me A Break. Please.

It is difficult. We are already catching hell because of anti-Blackness, racism, White supremacy, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir and other oppressions applicable based on our individual identities and then within Blackness we occupy a tiny space, (and not just as skeptics/agnostic/atheists but often times as Black women *specifically* we are expected and even demanded to be theist in ways Black men are not). Margins in the margins and such… 

I’ve always felt like an outcast even before disavowing theism. I feel way more okay with this now at my age approaching 35 and what I’ve been through in life versus when I was a bit younger. I understand how difficult it can be sometimes when that outcast status then feels like you’re being actively punished for it. 

I am so sorry that you lost loved ones. (((hugs if wanted))) So did I! Not just lost love ones either but they actively hate me know. Actively. At the same time some loved ones still love me, even more, and relationships have grown. I truly hope that happens for you with even a few people.

Sikivu Hutchinson writes a lot about the dichotomy you describe; her writing has helped me A LOT. A Black female atheist invested in Blackness not theism and atheism not White supremacy. (And for me, ultimately my community is with Blackness and Black womanhood above anything else, so I’m interested in if/how Black theists recognize the tiny space Black skeptics, agnostics, atheists etc. occupy and work with that moreso than expecting White mainstream atheism to divest of White supremacy enough to consider us human, because that’s not happening with White theists in mass either. Feel me?)

Also talking to other PoC atheists (on Twitter) has been helpful for me. Even some White women atheists who’ve experienced terrible misogyny within mainstream atheism community have reached out to me and we’ve talked about this. (And a teeny tiny handful of White men atheists—who reject the dogmatic, dawkmatic, White supremacist, anti-Black, Islamaphobic, paternalistic way the mainstream operates—I’ve spoken to, and they’ve been supportive.)

I don’t think we’ll necessarily have the “community” around this that we’ve come to know when we have community around Blackness or Black womanhood, but there are Black people working to create such spaces and maybe with time there will be more. If you haven’t already, check out: atheists of colour (list), African Americans For Humanism, Sikivu Hutchinson blog, Blog Talk Radio - Black FreeThinkers, @PoCBeyondFaith, @BlkFreeThinkers.

Hope this helps. Take care. 

July 2014

And though some mainstream atheist organizations have jumped on the “diversity” bandwagon, they haven’t seriously grappled with the issue. Simply trotting out atheists of color to speak about ‘diversity’ at overwhelmingly white conferences doesn’t cut it. As Kim Veal of the Black Freethinkers network notes, this kind of tokenism exhibits a superficial interest in ‘minorities, but not in minority issues.’

So, in a nation where African Americans and whites are still separate and decidedly unequal, black atheists are forced to form their own organizations, often getting pushback from some whites about creating ‘separatist’ groups. Ultimately, if people of color don’t see atheists and humanists stepping up on issues that directly affect their communities, atheists proselytizing about the evils of organized religion will be dismissed as empty paternalism.


Sikivu Hutchinson

Quote is from her article Atheism Has A Big Race Problem That No One’s Talking About in The Washington Post. Really good read, especially on how (similar to feminism) some White atheists deride Black atheists for wanting our own spaces (yet exclude issues pertaining to our lives in mainstream spaces) and how without a commitment to justice, a lot of atheism in the mainstream is not just paternalistic but in fact White supremacist and racist quite often. It is important to interrogate White supremacy anywhere it influences, theist and secular. 

July 2014

Read This Week

I’ve been on a lot of self-care blogging breaks between April and June, so I have not created many Read This Week posts within that time span. Since I’ve been back for a couple of days this week and have read some GREAT articles in between that time, I thought that I would share a few in this 86th post (though Gradient Lair has existed for a little over 2 years). 

Good reads to check out:

“Raving Amazons”: Antiblackness and Misogynoir in Social Media on Model View Culture by @so_treu is filled with brilliance. Here she comments on the long history of anti-Blackness and misogynoir and their impact on social movement and the humanity of Black women. She draws historical parallels over a century as well as contemporary horizontal parallels between extreme racist groups targeting Black women online and mainstream media/mainstream feminism who are in inherent collusion via anti-Blackness with rhetoric and tactics that mirror each other. Exquisite analysis written beautifully.

More Than The Message: Media, Safety and Attribution in Online Activism on Model View Culture by @Blackamazon examines journalism in the age of social media, responsibility, social movements and unequal outcomes. She notes: "But all too often, these “stories” comes from a blatant disrespect and almost targeted critique of the very people they claim to represent… all while insisting that those people are too naive to critique them." Beautifully written important read, that had me thinking a lot about the culture of exploitation of people of colour, especially of Black women online in the name of “journalism.”

“Internet Famous”: Visibility As Violence On Social Media on Model View Culture by @Shanley (who owns Model View Media and Model View Culture; I love this publication) is really important and speaks my life a great deal. She’s a White woman who challenges tech culture, and not just for the inclusion of cishet White women while excluding everyone else. Here she discusses how visibility is used as a weapon against those who aren’t White men where for White men its a resume builder. For me, hypervisibility online has been an extreme burden, even to the point of dealing with everything from rape/death threats to libel. Here she describes with a vivid honesty her experiences of assault, harassment and threats because of the nature and importance of her work.

Atheism Has A Big Race Problem That No One’s Talking About in The Washington Post by Sikivu Hutchinson (@sikivuhutch) is so important. This Black woman and feminist atheist always brings a critical intersectional lens to atheism that is easily eclipsed by how White supremacy and patriarchy are centered in atheism as political space, in the same way that they are in many theisms, unironically. Here she discusses strategic ways that atheists about justice can work towards that justice or otherwise are little more than empty paternalism and theistic disdain, if not racism and White supremacy.

Sexiest Black Female Scientists by Kyla McMullen, Ph.D. (@Dr_Kyla) is a list of 73 brilliant Black women in STEM (and lists their schools, Ph.D. subjects and areas of work/research) with gorgeous photos of them as well. Now, the anti-intersectional view would be to wonder why can’t we focus on their brains alone. That comes from the idea that beauty should be rejected but that idea is hoisted by White women who have the luxury to say so since “beauty” is Eurocentric and their images dominate the media. Thus, I like this post a whole hell of a lot. I can imagine how amazing it must be for a young Black girl interested in STEM to see Black female face after face with those credentials next to them. (Also author mentions the post is in response to “The Sexiest Scientists Alive” article that did not include any Black women.)

“Enjoy Your Houseful of Cats”: On Being an Asexual Woman on The Toast by Julie Decker is really really good. One of the best essays that I have ever read on asexuality. She interrogates the sexism and misogyny that shapes the objectification and harassment that asexual women receive from acephobes and also mentions how acephobia impacts men and other people (with some gender, sexual orientation and cultural mentions as well). The difference is because of the misogynistic notion that women exist for the sexual service of men and that sex is the only means of “liberation,” women who are aces face some objectification that differs from men. Just a great essay. Bookmarked forever.

Meet The Keepers of Black Women’s History on The Root lists 20 brilliant history scholars that are Black women who center Black history inclusive of Black women in their research and work, including Blair Kelley who is AMAZING and I follow her on Twitter. Bookmark this list!

Enjoy! Stay tuned for the next Read This Week!

May 2014

africanblackstar asked/commented:

This is not a question. Just to say, much love and support. Your work is awesome and you essays on agnostic atheism really resonate with my experience in discussing atheism and agnosticism (I am agnostic Buddhist) in a very theist Black family and community. Its really really hard when you are trying to be respectful and deliberate and honest about this subject which desperately needs to be peeled apart and turned over carefully in the beautiful way in which you do it.

Thank you. 

May 2014

Fellow Black People Who Are Theist And/Or Heterosexual, Please Give Me A Break. Please.

I am really disheartened and exhausted by the fact that whenever I write/post about agnostic atheism or asexuality as a Black woman, I have to deal with fellow Black people who are theists (usually Christian) and heterosexual chiming their intraracially preferred (because yes, Christianity and heterosexuality are preferred identifications among us Black people in America, and largely because of how theism and heterosexuality function in society in general) two cents in as if they are trying to “restore order” by opposing my opinions or existence. And then of course once that is done, others must chime in to confer the “rightness” of those preferred identifications and the opinions of the people who have them.

When I speak about these two topics, I am still critically deconstructing how White supremacy, patriarchy and more impact them, as I am pretty sure my online presence would confer with ease. It is not like I post anything even remotely White dudebro/dawkbro atheist when I write on agnostic atheism and I interrogate mainstream atheism/new atheism. It is not like I post racist stereotypes of heterosexuality (unless to deconstruct and reject them) as to why I identify as ace, so for the life of me, other than insecurity with my existence or the need to dominate from a position of privilege, I cannot figure out why some fellow Black people are doing this whenever I post (or tweet; this happens on Twitter too) on these topics. 

I most definitely do not seek out Black theists and Black heteros to argue with though I do talk about structural power in regards to theism and heterosexuality. And I do not want to have the conversation where me theoretically being condescending (I have not approached any Black people online solely for the sake of being condescending; I know other atheists do but I do not) is deemed “equal” to how theism and heterosexuality are preferred and privileged among Black people and how some theisms and heterosexuality itself are privileged in society itself. (I’m fully aware of how anti-Blackness impacts the perception of theism and heterosexuality for Black people, and that Black theists and Black heterosexuals do not occupy the same political space that Whites with the same identifications would, even as such statuses do still speak to privilege, in an interracial sense; here I am speaking of an intraracial sense.)

Like…please realize you have Black acceptance itself on your side more than I do and I exist in a teeny tiny spot within Blackness, as we all face so much because of our Blackness itself, collectively. Can I live? Can I have this tiny free space on Tumblr/Twitter to talk about these two things without having to deal with your sense of "let me bring balance to this situation by infusing my preferred and intraracially most supported view" hanging over me like a cloud? This is annoying on a good day and has been violent on a bad day. I do not really have “communities" for these two identities because most Black people I know online who identify these ways only do so in private through their emails to me. I see why they do not want this known openly. Clearly.

It is just that for me, being open—first of all with myself, and then in public space—about who I am and coming to some of these realizations only very recently with the last several years of my life, is a part of my process for getting free; seriously. And while Christianity and heterosexuality are seen as the most “authentic” expression of Blackness quite often, intraracially and interracially because of complex histories and politics I will not delve into right now, that is not the experience of many Black people in America. A few who tell it. And many who are hiding it. Either way, our identities need to be respected and our experiences—especially ones that cannot really dominate other Black experiences because of the small, less powerful space they occupy—need to be ones that do not have to be controlled or dominated by other Black people.

I promise my posts existing are not going to wash away the power assigned to being Christian and Black and/or being heterosexual and Black among Black people. In the same way we as Black people do not want to “debate” our existences and humanity with White people every single time we speak about our lives is the same way I do not want to have to do this with fellow Black people who are Christian and heterosexual every time I share something on agnostic atheism or asexuality. 

Please chill. I say this with love, actually, and from a place of pain. I do not want to have a “conversation” about this to be honest; I am just sharing my thoughts on this because I am experiencing a bit of anxiety right now.

And this is about my experience as a Black woman with my own people. Thus, I am not interested in generalizations and co-opt meant to erase my experiences, via non-Black people of colour or Whites seeking to speak over me. Just let one of the over 900 essays on my blog go without the need to dominate or even reply. Please.

May 2014

Black feminist, atheist author and scholar Sikivu Hutchinson with other Black atheists/humanists at her book signing for Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels. I’ve read a lot of her writing and listened to some her talks; I look forward to checking out this book. I love how her work exists in the radical space where her Black womanhood doesn’t have to be shaped by theism but her atheism is not shaped by White supremacy and patriarchy. 

April 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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.