‘Stop Taming Us.’

 

Viola Davis, in December 2018, at Women in Entertainment Event hosted by Hollywood Reporter Event

I am 37. I am young, gifted and Black. I have also been told that I am descended from a family ‘too’s.’

I’m too smart.

I’m too loud.

I’m too driven.

I’m too ambitious.

Which is why when I heard Viola Davis say the phrase “Stop taming us?” I felt the same way I felt when saw Captain Marvel basically go hypersonic, and tear up that enemy spaceship to protect Earth!

I felt that I had been seen, understood and affirmed.

What I have learned in my almost 4 decades on planet Earth, is that people love classifications.

They love categories.

They like to be able to group, change and identify things (or people) they feel are interesting or strange. Ambitious women, especially ambitious minority women, are just that. Black women, especially, suffer from this systemic identification. There was a quote from the glory of the internet that says:

“Black women will always be too loud of a world never intent on listening to them.”

I agree.

For all my prowess and intelligence, I still have people that I know love me that wish I would ‘do a little less.’ That I shouldn’t want to own the platforms I post on. That I shouldn’t have the vision that I do. I ‘should just write and not worry about anything else right now.’ That I should pace myself.

Yeah, about that? Fuck that.

I work at the clip that I do because there was  time where the words wouldn’t come because I was shattered. There was a time where the words were alien, and bitter and were enigmas.

Once my heart was healed, the words overtook. My vision restored and by God, I was not going to be dictated to by people who were not and will not be doing half of what I’m doing!

So, no I’m not going to ease up!

No, I’m not going to listen to nay sayers, haters and the trolls, crows, cows or chickens that desire to stop me. Seeing since they cant’t out pace me.

I refuse to be tamed, because I have taken too long to burn! When I was 23, I got a tattoo on Black of the Japanese kanji for Phoenix. This was a nod to my sister, Ashley:  whom I admire more than she thinks I do; and whom I am not truly worthy to call a little sister. Octavia Estelle Butler, herself  ‘a rare bird’, says that in order for a Phoenix to live, it first must burn.

I have come too far, to have someone tell me to stop.

I write for the Oracles in West Africa whom I will never meet. For the Kings and Queens of whom I am daughter, benefactor and granddaughter:  whom forged courses with whit and faith. I create for the conjure women I am descended from whom could not read. For my enslaved foreparents whom had the stories beat out of them. Or were killed for daring to say what was a lie!

I breathe fire because my great-great-great grandparents and my beloved father and mother, walked through fire to get me here!

I know women like me and my ilk scare you. I know we’re loud. I know the drive frightens you. The fact we curse, say ‘No’, and make our own spaces and taketh no isht makes you clutch your pearls.

But saddle up buttercup. We ain’t going no where.

We are coming for everything they said we couldn’t get, with the mantra of:

If you don’t let me in the front door, I’ll do around back. If that’s locked, I’ll buss a window and jump in.

 

My Heartbeat Bill, Part 1

*NSFW:  This piece is autobiographic, and written in response to the passing of  what is  commonly known as the Heartbeat Bill in the state of Georgia. Unless you are a woman faced with this decision, do not be so quick to dismiss those of us–yes, us–whom have had to walk this decision out. Telling no one.  All names are used. No punches pulled.

-JBHarris

 

Image result for broken heart

 

I was 19 when I found out I was pregnant.

I was about 6 months from my 20th birthday. The young man I had been seeing knew before I did. So he said. I remember how tired I felt. I remember how hungry I was. Like all the time. I remember I got the reminder in the mail about my Well-Woman Exam. I scheduled it, praying that I would not be pregnant.

Dr. Ferris’s office in Clayton, Missouri was sterile. It was like the front room of my grandmother’s house. It was a place that you weren’t meant to be comfortable. I filled out the intake form and waited for my name to be called. When the cheery voice from the oak door, I put my hands in my grey sweatshirt and followed the White girl with blonde hair to the empty room.

This nameless girl in the pretty scrubs took my weight and asked me how I was. She asked what brought me in. “Well- woman exam.” I answered the harang of questions that followed.

“Are you sleeping okay?”

Yes.

“Any chronic pain?”

No.

“Are you sexually active?”

Yes.

“Are you pregnant?”

I paused, mouth dry. Blonde ponytail looked at me. I scrunched my face and made the could be/maybe/a little bit sign with my fingers. As if she were a magician, she Blonde ponytail produced this specimen cup with a white lid. “Okay, go ahead and pee in this for me. Leave it in the metal window in the restroom.” She walked me to the bathroom, I followed her in my white Tweety bird shirt, jeans and sneakers. Blonde ponytail said to return to the exam room when I was done.

I went into the maroon colored stall, deft at peeing in this cup and putting it in the designated area behind this small metal door. It was like a mystic pee microwave. It was life-changing, would be life-changing.

I walked back to my room, sat on the edge of the examination table. I remember looking of my denim clad thighs, wishing my was empty. Hoping it was empty. I closed my eyes, tried to imagine telling my mother that I was pregnant. Pregnant, unmarried, with no bank account or driver’s license. I was pregnant by a man that she didn’t even like, or want me with. I thought about having to tell this man, that I believed loved me, that I was carrying his child.

Dr. Ferris came into the room, her tone devoid of any warmth. I remember her being this petite, brunette White woman with a white lab coat longer than she was tall. She looked more like an angry math teacher than a OB/GYN. I remember she spoke to me. I think I spoke back to her in the same curt tone. She had her back to me, fiddling with and on the small white counter about the size of a microwave cart.  I was looking t my thighs again, swinging my feet as I did when I was a smaller girl. Kicking the air to try and find footing in a stressful situation.

“I have the result of your pregnancy test.” she didn’t turn around. “It’s positive.” My heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe. The way she said it? The tone was if I was about to be put in time out! The well-woman exam was a blur. I remember her doing my breast exam. I remember how tender my breasts where. I remember telling her that I didn’t know what I was going to do, or how to tell my mother.

I thought about the conversation I had with the father of my child. He had a son, and was barely taking care of him. We talked about keeping the baby. I wondered if I could really do that. Could I really be someone’s mother at 19? She left the room after the exam and told me to get dressed and follow her to her office. No warmth, all the charm of a prison guard.

With my protective hoodie on, I sat in her office. She sat in this Alice In Wonderland sized mahogany chair. She told me my due date would be sometime in January 2001. “I’m not going to tell you what your options are. You already know.” Dr. Ferris said. I didn’t want to cry in this office with this small version of the Red Queen. I willed the tears back, and my throat was hot and dry. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell my mom.” I told her. She wished me luck, and I left as quick as I had come.

The father of my child was the 20-year-old named Dominic. I called him from the phone in the waiting area. I told him I was at the doctor’s office and that I was pregnant. I remember him saying, “Okay. So what do you want to do?” I told him as clinically as I could, “We do what we planned.” I couldn’t mouth, or say, the word abortion. I couldn’t believe I had even considered it. The fact is, it was him that suggested it! I said to him that I wanted to keep the baby. My faith told me that abortion was murder; premartial sex was wrong. Due to my inability to not be unnaked around him, I got pregnant. He told me if we were to give the baby up for adoption this exact quote:  “We would just have to go back and find it anyway.”

That devastated me. I cried for days. Days. I was sick. My head hurt constantly. And there was no support from Dominic. None. The money to pay for this abortion came from birthday money an ex-boyfriend sent me. I had gotten home that afternoon on the bus, and relieved the house was quiet. At the time, there was a Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue here in St. Louis. I looked up the number in the phone book, and called. I got some information from the operator that was more cheery than Dr. Ferris would ever be.

She asked if I was pregnant. I told her I was. She asked me how far along I was. “I don’t know.” I told her that I had just found out. “If you want a proceedure, from 6-12 weeks is $320.” I closed my eyes, still listening. “From 12-20 weeks, its $520.” I told her I didn’t think I was 12 weeks. “I think I’m 6 weeks.” I said softly. She told me she could schedule something within the next 2-3 weeks. I remember it was a Tuesday that we settled on. “Come early before the protestors get here.” Protestors? The thought hadn’t entered my mind that there would be anti-abortion activists there! It didn’t dawn on me that I could be hurt, the facility bombed or any other dangerous thing to cause harm to me if/when I went! “Okay.” She repeated my appointment time. And I hung up the phone, feeling nothing–and everything.

 

[image from bbc.co.uk]

It’s Not Just Danai: The Casual Erasure Of Black Women

 

The utter uproar comforted me.

The original Avengers Endgame poster, though our beloved General Okoye was pictured, the dynamic Danai Gurira was not credited. I was comforted by the reaction that Twitter and all of social media had in regards to this. With that outrage and pushback, the poster was corrected. Marvel Studios clearly thought this was an oversight.

Aight. I’ll allow it.

A Black woman was erased, in front or our faces, and the world damn noticed.

I wish the world would keep this same energy when it comes to the presence of Black women. I wish that we were noticed, and when we vanish–even before the eyes of millions, that we are missed.

It has become so easy to miss Black girls. It becomes too commonplace to notice (or not notice) our broken bodies. Too often seen as victims. As the steady suffering. As the mules of the entire world.

This past week, I was in a debate with a dingy Becky that thought the new Iggy Azalea (I cannot stand Clifford Harris (T.I.) for making this damn dame relevant!) video was the best thing ever. I watched it when the sound off because adding sound to that travesty would have caused me to cry. Not only is this dame in a funeral setting, she seems to be rejoicing because a Black woman has died (!!!) and is doing a Second Line!

The whole damn video is an appropriation. The whole damn thing.

It is bad enough that our shine as Black women is stolen, swapped and swagger-jacked on a daily/minute-by-minute basis! The killer part to all this–no one seems to notice this isht but Black women! The capitalist-consuming world wants everything Black, except from Black people.

The natural endowments I have as both Black and woman can be seen as obscene until on someone else (vanishing). My skin tone is what some White girls aspire as a tanning option (erasure). My style and fashion sense can be used as a window display or on a blog and not even given proper credit (paying attention yet?).

It’s not just Danai. It won’t just be Danai.

We know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes? The best thing you can do is give honor, credit and merit where it is due.

And I mean this with all my St. Louis, Missouri accent–“You see me, mane. Don’t act like you don’t.”

 

 

When A Black Girl Says She Loves You

When a Black girl says she loves you,

That means the world is now in your hands.

With eyes and body,

She has given all of herself

To you in ways which can only

Be felt to be understood.

When a Black girl says she loves you,

She lays the world at your feet.

The treat of her, the sweetness of her

Is laid bare.

When a Black girl says she loves you, believe her.

She is already acquainted with the improbable,

Moves Heaven and Earth as marbles,

By firewalking daily,

Because there are giants to slay.

Impossible is her everyday.

She has crosses deserts of loneliness

Where love was, once was

And frequently died.

She has swum from depths of oceans

To be in the sight of love over

An ever dark horizon.

She has tarried in the sight

Of the divine,

Being both girl and woman,

Broken bridesmaid and ‘trippin’ baby mama,

Believing that love, too, was hers

To be found while rejoicing for others.

When a Black girl says she loves you,

She turns her back on the bitter women

Of her line that whisper to her wounds,

Or tell her to face what men are

And will never be.

She trusts what she sees and feels,

Not what she is bound to know.

When a Black girl says she loves you,

She wipes slates clean.

Her heart tells her head

That you, this, and now are different.

As different as any other before.

She makes space to make pristine

All you hold and house the you,

Now her, now she and you inside

All the us.

She makes you first, last and the always.

An epitaph to every failure is erected,

Believing you are the next time this time,

When she gets it right.

When A Black girl says she loves you,

Frailty makes her strong

Knowing she is caught and protected

In all you are

And the her which is now this us.

When a Black girl says she loves you,

That means the world is now in your hands.

But what world will you give back to her?

-JBHarris 3.1.2019

[image from awanbusu.blogspot.com]

Every Girl Got A ‘Guerro’

Image result for guero and teresa

I came up on Queen of The South on a Netflix venture. And I am utterly hooked! I watched Season 1 over the course of 2-3 nights. And Veronica Falcon who plays Camilla Vargas?! She is so much of everything! She is the type of b!tch I need become! #Queenpin

But with that being said, and with me watching the end of Season 2 (spoiler alert!), I have one observation:  Guero is never going to be the man that Teresa needs him to be or become who she needs him to be. Why? These three reasons.

 

Timing. In my almost 40 years of living, what I have learned is that sometimes the deepest love comes at the worst possible time. He met Teresa while she was a money changer in Mexico. She was a moll, after she became his girl. He took care of her, and made her feel special. When he died, her life was in a tailspin. But, because of the woman she is, Teresa rebuilt herself, and worked for Camilla. The crazier part? Not only was he not dead, he was a federal informant.

This is why this is problematic.

Once Teresa had to deal with him dying; then coming back in her life, after being labeled a snitch?! I felt for her. I also felt for her when Camilla told her that he was ‘a mosquito that was draining life from you.” Yet, she loved him—but had to move on without him. Camilla told her she was better off without him. But this the rub. You know you have changed! Yet, in the tucks of your heart, this person is there. And a part of you may always want and miss them–to your detriment or betterment. The crapshoot is they may never see you as who you are going to become.

 

Support. Every time Guero showed up Teresa lost her focus. Her heart overruled her head. She wanted this life with him, but he wasn’t in the position to give her anything that would include! If I’m honest, I have been there more than once. It is frustrating to see a future with someone and then have it snatched away because they don’t seem to know what is they want–but don’t want you to change. It is the most infuriating thing on the planet! Don’t ask me to wait and then you can’t catch up.

 

Continuing. The most ignorant thing about this situation because time is still passing. Time is still a thing; it is blessed and unforgiving. At some end you have to realize that the what you want and the who you want with it may never be. I call this the ‘waking heartbreak’. You clearly are in pain, you know why it hurts, and the only way to make it go away is to keep going. You have to live, in love with this person, and living without them. Time heals all wounds is a myth. You begin to heal when you realize that time is irrespective of time. You can dwell on it (the lost, the time, the support), and nothing will change. Yet, time will go on. The moment you decide life is precious and wide and waiting for you, it will begin to change. That loss will not continue to be a loss–it’s a reminder your heart is still beating.

Your heartbeat is the homing signal that love will find you again.

 

 

Please Stop Sayin’ ‘I Was Just Playin.’

 

Malcolm X said that the most disrespected person in America is a Black woman. I have never disagreed with this. There are things that have been told to me as a Black woman that I am sure would never have been said had I been anything but a Black woman. Or a Black little girl for that matter. I have been told that I was ugly over stuff that I couldn’t control (hair, clothes, skin tone or shoe size). However, something came across my desk (i.e.:  my Twitter timeline) that I couldn’t ignore.

There was this young man @CraigsVCR that put this video up on his timeline. And I so happen to have seen it.

 

 

 

Now, in the interest of being fair, I was told that this video was taken from another source and this dude added his ‘take’ to it. Moreover, I said this:

“Now if she’d have broken up with you and slapped the shit outta you…”

Then, this happened:

 

 And the Dusty Negro Collective thought they would weigh in:

 Remember Malcolm said about Black women and being disrespected.

The fact isn’t that homeboy said what he said. I come across stupid men of variant colors all the time. I’m a writer, these things go with the territory:  the pen can be a sword. However, what struck me was his caption.

Why is it okay to ‘roast’ your girl and then come back and tell her that you were ‘just playin’. And then call her beautiful? Let me tell you why this is problematic.

 

The world tells Black women EVERYDAY that something is wrong with them. From height. Weight. Skin tone:  too light, you’re white; too dark:  you’re way too ugly to be chose. If you don’t talk to every man you see, or not play into their advances, then you’re a bitch. And my favorite:  “You wasn’t that cute anyway!” Aight, let that be what it is. Which is nonsense.

Among the Dusty Negro Collective that called themselves rallying to their Dusty Negro Collective Chairman President’s defense, I told I was being ‘too sensitive.’ This is something else to add to what Black women are told on a day to day basis:  what I am and what I am not. I am ‘too sensitive’ because I am vocal about the things that hurt me, or could hurt other people. The fact that I was able to say how abusive it is to do something that hurts someone, and then come back and say ‘you were just playing’.

This logic of hurtful social relating, can be paralleled with other problematic behavior. The behavior that says a little boy hits a girl he likes to tell her that he likes her. When you roast, someone you basically point out all their flaws (real or imagined) and read them cover to cover. I am fully prepared to admit in the oncoming of my 40 years of being on the planet, that it’s stuff about this new aged dating I may never understand. However, the one thing that I do know is people treat you how you want to be treated. And the adage my Nana gave me:  “A man will only do what you let them do.”

If you are in a relationship with someone, it stands to reason and logic this person knows enough about you to know what you are insecure about. They knew what things to point out to hurt you. I personally, don’t have the patience for this type of behavior in a relationship. The fact that in pointing out how this is problematic, is itself problematic. It does not make a woman, a Black woman, sensitive for making sure she is treated well. A fellow writer told me this and each day that is demonstrated in the lives of the people I care for. She said, “Black women protect Black women.” When she said this on social media, a different delegation of the DNC came for her.

Which leads me to believe two things are true:

Black women are praised for our strength.

 

Black women aren’t allowed to be anything but strong and tolerant.

 

We aren’t allowed to say what bothers us, and what we desire to do about it. We aren’t allowed to say that the men that look like our fathers have the hardest time protecting us. Understanding us. And sometimes have the hardest time, not making us prove how strong we are by putting us through things no other woman would be expected to do and endure. We’re expected to be okay with disrespect, because strong women deal with it. They soldier on. They aren’t expected to complain or vocalize that pain.

Of course there are some that will say this whole piece is me being sensitive. Yeah, I’m sensitive. I’m sensitive about being disrespected. About being hurt. About the women that look like me that get pieces of them snipped and nipped away by the world. On a day to day basis.

I’m sensitive because I am raising daughters. I have a sister, and a brother. I’m a mother and a godmother. Being sensitive means I’m paying attention to the world, and I have something so say about it. That I am not about to have my voice taken out of my throat with me watching, and saying nothing. Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you remain silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

One one the DNC said that ‘no man wants to walk on eggshells’. A girlfriend of mine said that she has these conversations with Black men all the time. The answers that she gets normally revolve around Black men thinking we as Black women don’t treat them fair. Or that asking for accountability from our partners is wrong. Let me put a wider paint swatch on this. It’s not just Black men that do this. It is problematic no matter the race or ethnicity of your partner.

If you have a relationship that y’all are cool enough to do this with? Fine. I don’t have the patience for it. The world is hard enough. But don’t ever tell a woman, a Black woman, she is being too sensitive because she tells you what hurts her. Don’t tell a woman that she shouldn’t take something that hurt her seriously.  Or something that makes her cry, you didn’t mean–even though you caused it.

 

It’s problematic. It’s trash. And me demanding to be treated well, doesn’t make me sensitive.

 

 

 

[images from author’s personal social media account]