What to the liberated woman is the beginning of a new year?

On January 1, 2016 I visited Twin Oaks. The summer home of Frederick Douglass in Highland Park Beach in Annapolis, Maryland.

The house is beautiful. It was closed on the holiday, but I was able to walk around the space and stand “as a free woman and look across the bay to the land where I was born a slave”.

I felt ambivalent to the new year. I did not feel particularly excited. Nor did I feel any sense of transition. It felt like another day with things staying pretty much the same. However, once I saw the house. I was reminded of what Ayi Kwei Armah calles “the eloquence of the scribes”. Douglass was a gifted orator and prolific speech writer. Glancing at his notable quotes this morning was uplifting. Brother Douglass came with the good word on the regular basis.

Two things became especially meaningful on my walk around Highland Beach. I saw a facebook post that said that new years resolutions are not necessary for those in the process of becoming because everyday is a process of eliminating the old, toxic, unhelpful and unproductive life and nurturing the new, healthy better personhood. I identified with the sentiments (and I’m summarizing because in my newsfeed browsing, I don’t remember the post or what it said exactly).

Douglass’s famous Fourth of July speech landed on my heart on my walk. He opens the speech asking what relationship does he, a formerly enslaved African, have to do with the celebration of life and liberty that he is ardently and intentionally kept from pursuing. Douglass uses the platform to present a rhetorical debate on the existence of this celebration among the indignity of slavery with the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

What does this new year celebration mean for us, if we are not constantly and consistently in the pursuit of becoming new and better in terms of radical love and acceptance for ourselves and others? What does it mean to make new commitments at the beginning of the year when there is not time or mechanism for us to celebrate progress or to encourage accountability? What does it mean to claim Pan-Africanism using a Gregorian calendar? What does it mean to us that we are entering yet another year of the pursuit of liberation as we did the year before?

These are the questions that hang heavy on my spirit as the new year opens.

I am content in many ways. I am looking forward to this year (in the same way I’ve been looking forward to it since I started my PhD program) because I should hopefully finish my dissertation this year. This also means that I will be looking for jobs outside of my hometown. I’m looking forward to nurturing some of the really dope relationships I’ve come to appreciate over the last year. There are some people, places, things, and idea that I will consciously not engage in the new year. I knew that was coming.

My new years ambivalence reminded me that I’ve done a lot of work to be self-aware this year. To know who I am, what I want, and how I want to move about the world. More importantly, I’ve agreed to really love myself, who I am, how I am and why I am. It’s allowed a greater sense of security and in many ways a great sense of dignity.

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence. – Frederick Douglass

I enter the new year holiday thinking about what modes of accountability do I want to instill in my life this year. I want to think about what changes do I want to be talking about at the next holiday. I want to challenge the resolution process to be more frequent and more personal…deeply connected to our daily journeys with one another.

2016. Welcome.

Without a struggle, there can be no progress.-Frederick Douglass

 

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Please, don’t comment on my weight.

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I saw this meme a few weeks ago on a friends timeline and it shook me to the core.

I battle with insecurities about my weight everyday. I do not have a diagnosed eating disorder, but if I am honest, I have to acknowledge that I am more conscious of my body weight than I am of my gender or my race (yet, I know that these things are inseparable in terms of how I internalize and resist them).

Getting dressed each morning is either affirmation of my body operating within the idealized boundaries I have for it or confirmation that I unable to control my undesirable mound of flesh called my body. Either way, it’s a win or lose game. I go to sleep thinking about how my body is healing or hurting and I usually awake dreading presenting my inadequate body to others.

Despite this, randomly I have a ton of appreciation for my body and its marks, curves and disproportions and I have impromptu nude photo shoots alone in my bedroom. I send photos to my best friends, because in case you missed it, that’s what best friends are for.

What I do know, is that because this is such a struggle for me personally, I do not EVER like any comments from anyone about my body. For example, a friend the other day, assuming she was giving me a compliment (I think?) mentioned that I was “looking thick”. After a full week of working out and monitoring my diet and water in take, this comment hit me like a ton of bricks. Psychologically, I was checked out for the rest of the day.

I don’t like when any elders in my family mention anything about my weight. I see my body in all the mirrors in their homes (What is it with Black people and their mirrors anyway?) and I become disgusted with myself. At times, this disgust drives me to tears.

I wish I could pinpoint where these feelings come from. I don’t have pictures of Sarena Williams or Teyana Taylor plastered in my room. I don’t even have a perfect body that I dream of. All I know is that I am never quite satisfied with mine.

The cognitive dissonance comes into play when I have an internal battle in my mind about creating the self-discipline to work out and burn 1000 calories a day or to be “body-positive” and accepting of my body as it is and work out for a healthier me. I seriously, have yet to figure out, how to negotiate such a space.

It’s not that I want to be skinny. I have big boobies and fat thighs that I actually like. I sometimes look at pictures of thicker women and wish for their bountiful hips and full derriere.

And if you are wondering, all the guys that have shown sincere romantic interest in me have been nothing but loving, kind and appreciative of my body. So it ain’t about them, either.

As a Black woman, loving myself is a radical political act. My consicousness of this fact makes the work to engage my self-esteem on this issue not just important but critical to my leadership and activism.

Everyday I struggle, but I am working on it.

 

 

Remember Your Breath: A Woman’s Legacy in Dignity-Work

 

Inhale. Exhale.

Take a moment to focus on your breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

How did it did it feel to take a moment to focus on your breath? How come we don’t take the time to do that regularly in our busy day-to-day lives? For some reason, we know the benefits of doing “breath-work” but we don’t take the time to notice or appreciate our breath. Our breath only gets our attention when it is threatened or interrupted. We pay attention when we run, when we have asthma attacks and when we do not have the air that we need. Through the last year and a half of research I realized that our dignity-work is a lot like our breath-work: necessary and beneficial, but rarely done unless we feel threatened. Dignity is our sense of self-worth in the midst of the worthiness of others. It is a vital sense-of-self that we often take for granted unless it is threatened; just like our breath.

As a Black woman engaging intellectual warfare on behalf of Black students, particularly Black males, I hold a special sense of responsibility. I stand on the shoulders of ancestors who have fought to maintain the dignity of Black people in all areas of social and political life, such as Kwame Ture, Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton. I also stand on the shoulders of women who have deepened the struggle for Black lives by addressing the intersectional nature of racial oppression. Being gender conscious is not a detriment to the movement; it is a vital asset.

Black women historically have been critical to movements addressing the livelihood of Black men. From Auset’s craftsmanship of her husband Ausar in ancient Kemet to the campaign against lynching waged by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Black women have led the charge for avenging on behalf of their male counterparts. Our contemporary issues are no different. As #BlackLivesMatter becomes a rallying call across the globe, Black women remain at the forefront for addressing the social, economic and political oppression of Black men. I research developing evaluation capacity for organizations working to promote racial equity. My focus on Black males is not accidental. It is not a timely coincidence of interest convergence. I stand on the shoulders of giants who have constantly reminded our people of their breath-work. I am a part of a legacy. I am responsible for reminding all of my brothers and sisters how important it is to focus on our dignity.

 

Writers’ Block

Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I stare blankly at the computer screen. For some reason, writing for public consumption in this format is difficult for me. Now, let it be a Facebook post and I will IN for the READ of a lifetime in 60 seconds or less. Terrible. I am working to be better at writing though.

I am reminded of W.E.B. DuBois. I do not know who told me this information, but I “know” that he was a prolific writer because he sat down to write every single day.

I am working on it.

Instead of waiting for the new year to jump start the practice, I am taking the approach that “what better time than now” to start doing what you always said you were going to do. I know people want me to write, expect me to write, think that I do write, but all I really have is a bunch of jumbled thoughts from hours of internet-gazing on social media. I am lucky. My social media feed is full of conscious, engaged and socially relevant posts that keep me abreast of local, national and global news with little droplets of entertainment such as this gem.

I am going to make an effort to post regularly. Build a web presence. Engage and record.

Peace.

#bookaweek2015 God and Blackness: Race, Gender, and Identity in a Middle Class Afrocentric Church

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I picked this book up from the NYU Press booth at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference this year. I was excited to read about the exploration of an Afrocentric church in Atlanta. More importantly, I believe that this text is a dissertation turned book. With my graduate school eye, I wanted to explore this text for style and message as I begin my own academic writing journey.

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#bookaweek2015 Yo’ Mama’s DisFUNKtional! fighting the culture wars in urban america

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As I begin to flesh out my dissertation proposal, I am exposing myself to some recent (last decade) texts that engage ideas of Black male identity in America. I was referred to this book by my advisor, and as an admirer of Robin D. G. Kelley, I was intrigued to engage in a book of his. Unfortunately, this book is somewhat dated. Many of the thoughts and ideas he shared were familiar to me. However, the final chapter / epilogue was creative and eloquent in ways that many other books to not take a chance on doing. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the end, I can sum up the points in the book by one sentence for each chapter.

Chapter 1: Social science constructed a monolithic view of authentic blackness rooted in males.

Chapter 2: As an alternative to the unproductive Black man metanarrative, Kelley proposes that the quest for fame and fortune by playing sports or turning to leisure to make money is a product of limited economic and work opportunities for Black men.

Chapter 3: limits of self-help (self explanatory)

Chapter 4: Engaging the political scientists and philosophers that are admirers of the enlightenment.

Chapter 5: support for labor union organizing

#bookaweek2015 When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost : My Life as A Hip Hop Feminist

So… this fell out this morning (raw & unedited)…

I just reread Joan Morgan’s feminist manifesto, “When Chickenheads Come to Roost”. I read this book for the first time when I was 18, a freshman at Howard University, who only picked it up because she could not believe that a book containing the word “Chickenhead” in the title could be on sale in the University bookstore. I will admit, that I did not understand what I was reading then. So much so, that I probably did not finish the book and ultimately lost track of that original copy. Years later, as a graduate student, I would meet Ms. Morgan face to face as she was a panelist at my school with some other notable Black journalists and scholars. I adored her and her perspective then. I followed her (and became exposed to those who have been nurtured through her work) on social media from then on. Years after that, at the National Women’s Studies Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I managed to find a panel discussion in which Joan Morgan was given true honorary tribute for her contributions to feminist scholarship through the publication of her classic text.
After taking a picture with this beautiful woman, I returned home and told myself… it is time. It is time for you to put some energy and investment in reading this book (and many others… I find that I am in one of my cycles… and during this period, I read a lot…). Without question, this book is definitely an important read. And despite my graduate education, this book is one of those mighty gamechangers that all of Morgan’s followers allude to.

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