Cute AF

I am cute. I haven’t always believed it, but I’ve grown into that awareness. While I still say my cuteness peaked at two years old, when I was so adorable I should have been declared illegal, I am happy with the face I have now. (It is, actually, very much the same face, but it has shifted a bit with age.)

I’m not cute all the time, of course. Sometimes I’m grey and exhausted and look just as bad as that sounds. I don’t usually photograph well, and the left side of my face is most emphatically not my good side. Still, overall, I put myself solidly in the “cute” category.

When I say “cute,” I am not being coy because I don’t want to say “pretty” or won’t allow myself to say “beautiful.” There are days when I could cross-post myself under “pretty” – primarily on spectacular-hair-day days – but those are moments. Cute is my steady state. Beautiful is off the table. It was never on the table, not even back at my toddler-fabulous peak. Beautiful is out of the realm of the possible primarily because of my button of a nose, the cuteness of which used to be a cause of consternation, but with which I am now at peace.

I’m not hoping people will read this and respond with choruses of, “You’re so pretty!” or “I think you’re beautiful!” It’s entirely fine with me if people think these things, but I will not be persuaded. This is an I-know-my-lane situation, and I’ll be staying here.

I know what I look like, and I like what I see. That’s the first point. The second point is that my cuteness matters not in the slightest. I acknowledge that there is “pretty privilege” and that I occasionally benefit from it. In many cases in which I might expect to benefit from it, however, misogynoir and/or fatphobia erase the benefit. In things that matter to my life and happiness – am I capable at work, do I have a solid friend circle, can I walk pain-free, do I know all the lyrics to my favorite songs … – the cuteness or not of my face gives me nothing. The ROI on cuteness reveals itself most often in things I don’t much care about.

So, nothing particularly valuable gained from my looks. That’s the second point. And so we reach the third and ultimate point: being told that I am cute (or pretty or beautiful) does not mean I owe the teller a single damn thing. And this is hard for some people to fathom.

When I say “some people,” it will surprise no one to know I mean men, or to know that (some) men think the mere fact of them paying me what they assume is a compliment entitles them to my name, or my number, or my time, or anything at all. Maybe, possibly, it entitles them to a “Thanks,” but definitely nothing more. Those same men then get angry when their acknowledgment of my face yields nothing.

I need to say here that I’m obviously not talking about all men. If I know you, if you and I have been talking and you want to tell me how pretty I am in your eyes, I’m probably going to be just fine with that. If you and I are friends, and you decide to tell me you think I’m pretty, that’s okay, too. Because you’re my friend. Because you’re a man I’ve been spending time with. Because you aren’t expecting me to put out in exchange for a call-it-as-you-see-it compliment.

Not long ago, as I was headed home after a fun evening out, I heard a man on the train say, “Damn, you’re so pretty.” I was reading and didn’t look up. He moved from wherever he’d been sitting to sit beside me, poked my arm (poked. my. arm!) and said, “It’s you I’m talking to. I said you’re pretty.”

N.B. First: if you speak to someone, particularly a stranger, they aren’t required to respond. Second: if you speak to someone when they haven’t already engaged with you even as far as making eye contact, you have no reason to think they will know you’re speaking to them and respond. Third: while it might be acceptable to pat a stranger’s arm to get their attention so you can speak to them, it’s not okay to poke them really hard the way you’d poke a reluctant elevator button. Fourth: why the fuck are you talking to me at all?

I looked at that man. I was in a good mood. I was coming from a reading where I’d shared new work. I’d spent the evening with people I adore. So I gave him half a smile, said thank you and went back to reading.

He slapped my arm. (Slapped. My. Fucking. Arm.) and said, “That’s it? That’s all you can say?”

So much for my good mood. Please refer to the nota bene section above. If it’s not okay to poke strangers, you know it’s not okay to slap them. What in the all-encompassing, over-entitled fuck?

It was night. Not super late, but still nighttime. There were folks on the train, but no one was paying us any obvious attention. (Besides, I know full well not to expect anyone to step up for me if a situation gets ugly.) I didn’t want to set that fool man off. I was almost home. I just wanted to be home.

But I also couldn’t make myself give him my power, couldn’t smile sweetly in my fear of his anger and give him whatever he might want from me. Couldn’t do it. That’s not smart, but it’s real. It’s definitely not smart. There are too many stories of women beaten, women murdered because they didn’t give in to some man they didn’t know. I used to think my size might deter men from thinking they could take me, but I’ve learned that that isn’t true. So I know that to refuse to give in to this fool on the train wasn’t smart. I needed to balance my need to stay myself with my desire to get home.

I looked at him. “That’s all I can say.”

We looked at each other for a minute.

“I was wrong,” he said, sneering. “You’re ugly as fuck. And fat as anything. Should be glad anyone spoke to you.”

Because of course. We are supposed to set aside the fact that he is the one who proclaimed my beauty two minutes ago. Or, we are supposed to imagine that he did it so that a) ugly, fat me would feel a little better about myself and/or b) ugly, fat me would be so grateful for some male attention I’d be willing to give him the validation he wanted. Because, you know, fat women are desperate and easy to pull.

“Yes, exactly,” I said.

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“That I’m agreeing with you.”

We were close to my stop. I thought about riding further in the hope that he’d get off soon and I could circle back home. But what if he was headed to Coney Island? I didn’t want to take the chance that he’d be annoyed enough to ignore his own plans and follow me up to the platform, to the street. I also didn’t want to leave the train at an unfamiliar station. I thought about my long-ago decision to carry a smaller key chain, not the school custodian-style monstrosity I’d lugged around for years. My current chain has only two keys. So much easier to carry, but not an effective weapon. I thought about the fact that I hadn’t had any dinner and how that meant I couldn’t use the last-possible-scenario advice of a self defense instructor I’d worked with: vomiting on myself and him to gross him out and distract him.

He stood as we pulled into the next station. “Fucking nasty bitch,” he said as he moved to the door.

I am cute. I’m cute enough. I’ll go so far as to say I’m cute as a button. Even cute as fuck. And I don’t give a fuck. What I’d rather be is left alone. What I’d rather be is free from dealing with scumbag men. What I’d rather be is thinking about my own shit and not having to make safety plans on the fly. Acknowledgment of my face doesn’t entitle you to a damn thing.

The doors opened and my would-be suitor spat in my general direction as he exited the car. Not a single other passenger looked up, looked in my direction. I rode to my stop and walked myself home.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Fat Talk: The Diva and the Pea

I am a high-maintenance woman. I know that about myself. I tease myself about it, but I don’t make any effort to change it. Why should I? This is actually who I am. I’m fussy and frou-frou. I like comfort and luxury. I accept this about myself. Others struggle with it, with my embrace of this truth, with how fully I lean into it.

metal chair

I recently went to see an off-Broadway show, when I got into the theater, one glance told me the narrow, armed, metal chairs wouldn’t fit my ample butt and that I’d be so horribly uncomfortable that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the show. I checked in with the usher, asked if there were any wider or armless chairs that could be swapped in for mine. She said she’d find out and let me know.

As she took off to investigate alternative seating options, I went back to stand by my seat and wait. A couple came up the aisle and, as they passed, the woman said she could see that the seats would be really tight. She sat — in the seat directly behind mine — and confirmed for her partner that the seat was, in fact, too small for her. She shrugged it off and settled in.

When the usher returned with a handyman to figure out my situation — my chair needed to be unbolted from the risers — I stood off to the side. The couple seated behind me watched what was going on. The man asked his partner, “Do you want to do that?” She, giving me a nanosecond’s eye flick of a glance, said, “NO. I’m not that big.”

The stagehand guy finished his work and walked off with the uncomfortable chair. The usher carried over a totally suitable chair, and I took my seat.

I understand that woman, mostly. She was correct, for what it’s worth. She wasn’t as big as me. But that really wasn’t the point. She’d already called out the discomfort of her seat. Presented with a pretty easy way to fix the problem, however, she rejected it out of hand, chose to be uncomfortable all evening. Of course. Because God forbid anyone should equate her less-fat size with my much fatter one. God forbid anyone should see us as being anything alike. Better she should remain squeezed and in pain for a couple of hours than have anyone realize that she was fat.

I understand that woman because I spent many years being that woman, squeezing myself into seats that were never meant for asses of size. Or, even worse, turning down invitations because I knew I wouldn’t fit into the space that would be provided.

But I quit that nonsense. It was certainly not as simple as snapping my fingers and having it be so. It started after I damaged my knee and began to realize that venues could and would accommodate me as a disabled person. So why shouldn’t I ask for the accommodations I needed as a fat person?

I know who I am and how high-maintenance I can be and often am. I ask for my needs to be met and expect it to happen. As much as I was an entirely go-along-to-get-along child, I have grown into a very let’s-talk-about-me-and-my-needs woman. I’m Meg Ryan ordering food in When Harry Met Sally — because I know what I want and I can’t really imagine why I shouldn’t have it. I’ve visited theaters before buying tickets so I could try out the seats and ask about better options. I’ve called ahead to restaurants to find out how close together tables are placed so I’ll know if I can move easily to and from my seat. I know what will make me comfortable, and if it’s possible to have that, why wouldn’t I?

The fairytale, “The Princess and the Pea,” centers on proving or disproving the royal blood of a rain-soaked woman who claims to be a princess. She is given lodging, but a pea is placed beneath the mountain of mattresses and feather beds on which she is invited to sleep. She, of course, is so delicate a creature that she is kept awake all night by the painful discomfort of that pea. It’s a Hans Christian Anderson story, part of the fairytale canon and source material for Once Upon a Mattress, a hilarious romp starring Carol Burnett.

As a child, I thought the story pretty ridiculous. It seemed only to prove that anyone could be a princess. Wouldn’t everyone feel something annoying in their bed? Obviously, no one had a spare supply of mattresses and feather beds to pile up for a random guest to sleep on, so that was just storytelling foolishness. One woman, one mattress, one pea seemed more likely … and seemed likely to prove nothing.

I didn’t have any princess aspirations, but that story made clear to me that I’d be able to prove my royalty quite easily. I had no doubt but that I would feel that pea. And that I would turn that bed inside out until I found it so that I could get my tired self to sleep. Please.

People often mock me for my picky, I-want-what-I-want behavior. I’ve had folks chide me for being demanding and selfish. Yeah, I suppose I am demanding and selfish. And? I’m not rude about it. I’m not taking anything from anyone else. So what’s the problem?

I get it, of course. I’m supposed to go along, supposed to take what I’m offered and be happy with it. Or … let’s be more exact: because I’m not white, beautiful, young, and thin I am supposed to be grateful to be allowed to show myself in public at all, allowed to take up even the least amount of space. Because if I looked like Tay Tay, people might find me petulant and spoiled, but they would be far less likely to be annoyed by me. For me to call out displeasure or desire for something different is demanding, is presumptuous. How dare I imagine that I, in my fat, middle-aged, Blackness, draw attention to myself, have the nerve to give voice to my needs? Welp. There you go. Life’s like that sometimes.

Needs I have. And I will make them known. Put a pea under my mattress and feather bed, and I’ll be sure to complain loudly enough that you’ll fix that shit just to shut me up and preserve your own right to a full night’s sleep.

I’m not a jerk about getting my needs met. There’s no cause for that. and no reason to make scenes … as long as no one tries to deny me out of pettiness, fatphobia, or misogynoir. If something I want can’t be done, it can’t. Okay. But if someone just refuses to accommodate me, that’s a whole other story.

I don’t think of myself as a princess. No, I’m more a Prima Donna … but, contrary to the snarky dictionary definition, my sense of my value isn’t in any way inflated. I am temperamental and unpredictable. I am demanding. Because I know how I deserve to be treated. And I’m comfortable making sure you know, too.


Part of a series about my body, originally inspired by Roxane Gay’s Hunger.
If you haven’t read my ground rules, please take a look before commenting.
You can find all of the Fat Talk essays under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to do my best to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

Me, a name I call myself.

Monday is my surgery. In preparation, I spent half a day at the hospital this week cycling through a round of pre-surgical screenings. I’ve had enough of these surgeries that these appointments feel pretty routine. I have favorite chairs in the different waiting rooms. I know where the free coffee is. I know which of the restrooms are cleanest. The biggest unknown is really just whether or not the phlebotomist will find my vein on the first try (this week the answer was yes!).

But there’s been a change in the pattern. As I checked in before the final appointment, the questions started the same as at each previous check-in, but then took a fresh breath.

The man taking my information began to look … pained somehow. He leaned forward conspiratorially, which was a little odd, a little alarming.

“I have to ask you … questions … about your … sexuality … your identity, about your sexual identity.”

“Oh! Cool! No one’s ever asked me about this before.”

He nodded, still uncomfortable. “It’s new. I have to ask.”

“Great. Please continue.”

This really is great. I hope all hospitals — and all everywheres are learning to expand their questionnaires, learning to expand their understanding of the full diversity of who we are as people, learning to be more inclusive and welcoming to people who don’t fit neatly into the pink and blue, cisgendered, binary boxes we’ve been categorizing folks into all our lives. It seemed pretty clear, however, that some work was still needed in terms of helping staff feel at ease asking the questions, helping them see the questions as okay to ask, not just mandatory.

“What gender were you assigned at birth?” He was still leaned forward, still speaking only just above a whisper.

“Female.”

“And what … and how would you describe your gender now?”

“Female.”

“And … well, okay.” He sat back, plainly relieved and ready to move on to the part of the interview with which he felt more comfortable.

“Those are all the questions?”

He looked surprised. “Well, no, but –”

“Shouldn’t you ask what pronouns I use?”

So here I’ll say that I don’t really have any idea what I’m talking about. It would be easy for me to move through his questions with all the answers he might expect me to give. I wasn’t trying to give that man a hard time. But part of me was curious to know what other questions had been added. And part of me wanted him to exercise his nervousness on me and not on someone for whom that conversation might have been more fraught. If he’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable, let him get that out of his system interviewing a person who hasn’t been made to feel othered and uncomfortable again and again and again.

“But you said female.”

“But that doesnt have anything to do with my pronouns.”

And here I have to stress again that I really and truly have no idea what I’m talking about. But it seems to me that my identifying as female doesn’t have to mean my pronouns are a given. I need to do some homework here and figure that out. In the moment, though, I didn’t want him to skip questions because of his assumptions about me.

“Please go ahead and ask the rest of the questions.”

He leaned forward again, sighing. “Your orientation?”

“Oh, okay. I guess straight.”

“You guess straight,” he said, shaking his head.

Yeah, I don’t know why I did that. I swear that I was not in any way trying to mess with him. I’ve done this a few times recently. Not long ago, without any warning or forethought, I started a sentence with: “I am, for all intents and purposes, a heterosexual woman …” Why did I say that? And what does it even mean? So, I wasn’t trying to mess with that man at the hospital, but clearly some messing is going on with me.

“And your pronouns?”

“I use she and they.”

“She and — that’s not a choice.”

“Really? What are my choices?”

“You can pick she, he, or zi.”

I have no idea whether or not “zi” has become wildly popular. I don’t know anyone who has chosen that pronoun. But even if I knew scores of people who had, “they” should still be an option. “They” is still a go-to choice for many people. Why would you have “zi” and not “they”?

“Zi? Serioiusly? They isn’t on your list?”

He shook his head. “You want zi?”

“No. I definitely don’t use that. But you have she, so I’ll go with that.”

“But you said she and they.”

“Yes, and she is one of your options, so please use she.”

“Not zi.”

“Not zi.” I smiled. “You know, it’s so good that the hospital asks these questions, but I think you need more options for the answers people might give you. They is pretty standard.”

“I’ll pass along that feedback.”

In the end, I think I exhausted that poor man. He seemed surprised that I didn’t have an issue with his questions, which made me wonder about the conversations he’d had with the other patients in the waiting area. He was a Black man, maybe in his 40s, and every other patient in the room was an elderly white woman. I would guess that at least a few of his conversations had been … prickly at best. So maybe he was pleased by my enthusiasm, even if he was also a little over me by the end.

My #bravenewworldindeed hashtag seems fitting here. I created it to highlight our descent into greed- and hate-fueled violent, lawless chaos things that upset me in the work of Trump and his masters and minions. But the hashtag fits in this polar-opposite context, too. We are walking ourselves and one another into new territory, territory where — if we do our work right — everyone will be welcomed, everyone will be included and safe and valued. And asking me my pronouns is part of that. And if the straights have to feel awkward and uncomfortable as we learn how to welcome everyone in, so be it. And it’s about time. And let’s get over ourselves and keep it moving.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Magical Negresses, Robocalls, Ballot Boxes and American Greatness

A white supremacist group created a robocall for Georgia’s white voters. The call script is fascinating. Someone, doing what I’m sure they thought was an excellent and excellently funny impression of Oprah, talks about the plot to elect Stacey Abrams. Not-Oprah introduces herself as “the magical negress Oprah Winfrey” and talks about her own rise to fame being created by simple-minded white women and how that same constituency of simple-minded white women — “especially the fat ones” — will allow themselves to be duped into voting for Not-Oprah’s sister in struggle, the magical negress Stacey Abrams.

Well, this magical negress found herself full-on surprised by this ugly audio postcard … and surprised by her surprise. The campaign against Stacey Abrams as she runs for governor of Georgia has been nothing but bald-face lies, ugly snark, unscrupulous behavior, and disenfranchisement from the start. This call is nothing new and certainly shouldn’t be in any way surprising.

I don’t live in Georgia. I live in a racist northern state instead of a racist southern one. I don’t live in Georgia, but I’ve spent time and a tiny bit of money supporting Stacey Abrams. I would be thrilled to see her win today. She is one of what is — thrillingly — much more than a handful of Black, non-Black POC, and LGBTQIA Democratic candidates I’m pulling for this election. Their rise to the offices they seek wouldn’t be magical, wouldn’t mean the end of racism (see above, re: not magical). But their elections would each be important steps in a better direction than the one we’ve been headed the past 21 months.

I think my surprise with this robocall is in how comfortable the racists who created it feel. They are so comfortable, they don’t worry about alienating a large voting block of the Republican base. The call script is racist, sure, but that’s too basic a description. One that doesn’t do justice to the layers of hate and ignores the other ugliness on display.

First, the voice recording the call seems to be a man’s. Because of course. Because any Black woman who wields power and is proud and confident and talented is depicted as a man.

The script takes an old story and gives it an updated twist: as has ever been the white supremacist plot line, white women are held up as needing to be protected. The 2018 twist is that, in these modern times, rather than needing protection from the sexual rampaging of brutish Black men, white women need protecting from the cleverness of magical negresses (bearing gifts of free cars). Sweet.

The protection of white women in this call to action isn’t the protection of purity as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. This script calls out the need to protect white women from their own stupidity. White women, apparently, are so addlepated they can be seduced away from the fight for White Supremacy by Black women and their magical negritude.

White women are weak … and the fat ones are weakest of all. The excess adipose tissue must put too much pressure on their wee little brains. Because, even if it has nothing to do with the subject at hand, if there’s an opportunity to throw in a little fat hate, why on earth would you let it pass?

It was the insult to white women that surprised me. White women have shown themselves to be pretty solid supporters of White Supremacy, gender inequality, and misogyny. Did the writer of this call script not see the results of the 2016 election, or the white women supporting Roy Moore or Brett Kavanaugh or any number of other candidates and ballot issues that were entirely against their own best interest as women? Given that voting history, why come for white women?

But, of course, white women are a safe target, a safe tool to use against Black women … precisely because white women have been solid supporters of White Supremacy and violent patriarchy. White women have chosen to support white men over and over again. No matter how much evidence can be shown of a white man’s guilt, vileness, basic unfitness for a job, white women will stand up in support of him. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that the creator of this call felt entirely comfortable painting his womenfolk so insultingly.

 

I don’t know what Georgia (or Florida, or Minnesota, or Michigan, or New York …) voters will do today. I hope they will send a flood of Democrats to local, state and national offices. I hope everyone who cares about human rights, human decency, equity, and the values we like to think this country was founded on understands the threat we’re facing and has stepped into this fight with both feet, stepped in fully-armed and prepared for the long slog. Because despite the legendary magic of negresses, this fight needs more than our votes alone.

We are people for whom and to whom America has never been particularly great, but who choose to believe that it could be great if enough people stood with us to hold the line, to force back the noxious sludge flowing in the streets. We will show up, because we do. We will cast votes aimed at protecting our families and communities and keeping this country from tumbling further into hell.

Who’s with us?


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Comrades in Arms

I once had an only date with a small, anxious man. He was nervous and … ferret-y: fidgety like the way ferrets move. He was a few years older than me, an inch or two taller, very slender, white. We went to dinner at a Burmese place in the East Village. Then we walked around for a bit then said our goodbyes at the subway.

I knew in the first five minutes that we weren’t a match, that we wouldn’t see each other again. I imagine that he knew it, too.

At one point after dinner, as we walked up First Avenue, several young men ran past us. There were maybe six or seven of them, and they ran on either side of us. They were fast but seemed aimless, as if they were running just to be running.

I found them beautiful to watch, like gazelles, so effortless and full of energy. But they spooked my date. And it’s understandable that someone would be alarmed by having a group of people run up on them at night. Sure. It’s more surprising that I wasn’t alarmed. But my date stayed freaked out long after the young men had flown past us. His state of alert was so high, it began to make me nervous.

Finally, he stopped walking and, when I turned to look at him, said: “If there’s any trouble, I can’t protect you or fight for you. I’ll just run.”

I remember being surprised, amused, and pitying. There’s so much wrapped up in a pronouncement like that. Over time I’ve come to realize how wrong and unfair my reaction to him was. At the time, all I could think was – welp, if there had been even the thinnest chance of a second date, or even a curiosity kiss to end this date, it just shriveled up and died on the vine.

I certainly don’t ever expect my dates to step up with sword and shield or dive in front of blows or bullets if something awful goes down when we’re together. And mostly that is because I don’t think about things going that kind of sour. That isn’t a way my life has ever played out. But even with men I’ve been in relationships with, I have never assumed that they would physically protect me. I mean, if something happened I’d be right there, so I’d expect that I’d defend myself. I’d expect us to fight together against whatever.

That said, for you to tell me you’d run away, that you’d flee to save yourself and abandon me? Um, no. Just no.

Of course, my response to his honesty was based on stereotypes about what it means to “be a man,” to behave in a “manly” way. The shriveling up and dying of any hint of desire I might have felt for this man was caused entirely by the fact that I was trained to expect the man by my side to play the role of knight in shining armor.

I barely knew the man I was on that date with. He could have had any number of past traumatic experiences that made the idea of a street fight so petrifying that he couldn’t keep walking without letting me know that he wouldn’t be putting himself in such a situation.

I told this story to my sister not long ago, and she burst out laughing. I mean, yes. That’s my response, too. Even now, I’m sad to admit. Because our conditioning means that it’s a funny story. Even today. Even with everything we know. Because who says that? But still. Our laughter also tells me how much work I still have to do, how far I haven’t come.

How stunting is it that we don’t allow men to feel things it is entirely natural and human to feel? What do we do to men – and to the women and children around them – when we don’t allow them to be vulnerable, to be afraid, to not want to be fighters? I think we see the answer to that question over and over again – Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger, James Holmes. Sadly, that list is so very much longer.

I want, also, to be clear that I am not a fighter. I am not anything at all like a fighter. If someone had attacked my date and me on the street that night, I would surely have faced the attack with bewilderment. I would have said, “Hey!” because I’d have been surprised that something awful was happening to me, and “hey” is my go-to exclamation. And then I’d have said, “Hey!” again, I guess, as I saw my date take off. That date was years before the accident that messed up my knees, so it’s possible that I would have run, too. But it’s more likely that my surprise and shock would have stalled me long enough that my attacker would have gotten whatever they’d come for – my purse, my life, whatever.

I am not anything at all like a fighter. And I’m lucky because I’ve never had to be one – or, only just a couple of times – and, too, society doesn’t expect me to be one. Even with my height and size, I can “play the girl” and not have to know how to throw or block a punch.

I could learn how to fight, could learn how to defend myself. And society makes room for that. As a woman, I have the room for that. Men don’t get the same degree of space.

What do we think we’re gaining as a society by depriving men of the right to their feelings, of the ability to be comfortable with their fears? When will we see that whatever we gain is significantly outweighed by everything we lose?


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

______ while Black, Pt. 2

In a video he posted this morning, Kevin Fredericks (Kev on Stage) talked about the Starbucks “incident.”* He does a great job saying so many of the things I’ve been thinking. But his description of the calculus he has to do as a Black man isn’t only the way Black men have to be in the world. This is a necessary thought process for Black people — how do I make sure these random white folks around me don’t think I’m a threat? I have this conversation with myself all the time.

In 2015, the first year I did the 24 Hour Project, part of my worry about being out all night was that someone would see me walking around and think I was trouble. To fight against that, to make myself look more harmless, I actually dressed up — wore. a. dress. and tried to look more “girlie” — in the hope that looking cute would keep me from being perceived as a criminal. I made myself look more like a possible target for an actual criminal in an effort to protect myself from racial profiling.

People told me I was silly to do that, that I was spoiling my own good time. They don’t see the looks I see on people’s faces when they see me approaching, don’t see the way white women pull into themselves when I step into the elevator with them, don’t see the way store clerks watch me when I’m trying to shop, don’t see all the ways I am told over and over that I don’t belong in a space, that I look like danger, that I am feared for simply existing in my skin.

Do Black men have this worse that women? Yes, I believe that. I believe it because I see the constant encouragement provided in the news, the encouragement to see Black men and boys as beasts, as super-powered monsters driven by bloodlust. I believe it because I have seen that some of the people who respond to me with fear and suspicion adjust their racism once they see me and realize that I’m a woman — my height and size often confuse people, keep them from seeing the obvious ways in which I don’t present as a man.

Yes, Black men and boys have to find ways to navigate these situations just so, and have to do it on a many-times-a-day basis. But Black women — including those who are perceived as women from the first moment — are targeted and killed for being Black in numbers as horrifying as the numbers for our brothers, fathers, sons, uncles, etc.

Kevin talks about the things he does to help white people see that he is “safe” — meaning, not a danger to them. This is a inner monologue all people of color have to have in relationship to white people … and, sadly, one that Black folks need to have in relationship to anyone who isn’t Black.  Because our racist society has conditioned non-Black POC to align themselves with racism, to look at me and see someone who plans to shoplift or be loud and angry or make trouble for them in some way.

As I wrote last night and have written many times, I am tired. Not just tired of these incidents, of seeing police menacing Black folks who aren’t doing anything other than trying to live their lives. I’m tired of the ease with which white folks call the police when they know full well what calling the police can mean. The Starbucks statement said the store manager never wanted those men to be arrested. I call absolute bullshit. You don’t call the police in that situation because you are looking to de-escalate something, because you want to make sure everything stays calm and quiet. You call the police because you are afraid of Black people and you want the cops to come and take care of them for you. If that means an arrest, you’re fine with that. If that means a beating, you’re fine with that, too. If that means one or both of those Black men gets shot, gets killed, well, so be it.

I am so. damn. tired. Why can’t we just live? Why is it so hard to just let us live?

There is so much work to do in this country, so far we still have to go. But this right here — this comfort white folks feel unleashing law enforcement on Black and brown folks — this has to stop now. Today.

__________

* I put that in quotes because Starbucks released it’s lame apology, the horror show in their Rittenhouse Square store was referred to as an “incident.” I want to be crystal clear: there was no incident until Starbucks staff created one. Nothing at all was happening in that coffee shop. A racist employee made the decision to turn a nothing day into one that had the potential for violence and death.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Considered Chattel

Considered Chattel
(An erasure of a Times Magazine article on Black maternal and infant death.)

When black women were considered chattel
babies died so often
parents avoided naming children
before their first birthdays.
Black infants in America,
more than twice as likely to die
as white infants,
a racial disparity wider than
before the end of slavery,
when black women were considered chattel.
In one year, that adds up
to more than 4,000 lost black babies.
For Black women in America,
an inescapable atmosphere
of societal and systemic racism
can create toxic physiological stress.
And that societal racism
is further expressed in a pervasive,
longstanding
racial bias in health care,
dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms,
that explain poor outcomes
even in Black women with the most advantages.

A toxic stress
triggered the premature deterioration
of the bodies of African-American women,
as a consequence of repeated
discrimination and insults.
The black-white disparity in the deaths of babies
is related not to race
but the lived experience of race in this country.

For black women, considered chattel,
something about growing up in America,
the bone-deep accumulation
of traumatizing life experiences
and persistent insults
is not the sort of stress relieved by meditation
and “me time.”

Black people are treated differently
the moment they enter the health care system.

You can’t convince people
of something like discrimination.
You have to prove it.

Black women were considered chattel.

Disrespect and abuse in maternal care —
being ignored, scolded, demeaned,
bullied into having C-sections —
something structural
and much deeper in the health system
that expresses itself
in poor outcomes and deaths.

Chattel.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every year, I choose a specific form and try to write a poem a day in that form. This year, I am trying erasure poems and I want to use news articles as my source texts. I’ve practiced a few times, and it’s already feeling difficult! We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s an edited version of the Wiki definition of this form:
Erasure Poetry: a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. Erasure is a way to give an existing piece of writing a new set of meanings, questions, or suggestions. It lessens the trace of authorship but requires purposeful decision making. What does one want done to the original text? Does a gesture celebrate, denigrate, subvert, or efface the source completely? One can erase intuitively by focusing on musical and thematic elements or systematically by following a specific process regardless of the outcome.
Also, Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest has some good points to add about ethics and plagiarism:
Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.

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Washington International School