Bedtime for Becky

(This is something I wrote early in February and then decided not to post. I was okay with my decision not to post. The moment for this commentary had passed, I had moved on to other things. Then this afternoon I was on the 4 train headed downtown and overheard a group of older white women saying some problematic things, and I decided to pull this piece out of my “dead drafts” pile and go ahead and post it. Also, I say “older” white women, but I, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about. I guessed them to be 60s and up, but they could have been closer to my almost-60 age. I’m posting it as-is, as it was when I wrote it: unfinished and chock full of disgust.)

So Monday, or as I like to call it: Old White Women Show Their Whole Asses Day. Yeah. First Barbara Ehrenreich, followed in quick-step succession by Katha Pollitt and Elaine Showalter. All of them coming out from behind the screens of their feminist, social justice respectability, flinging off their filmy veils and revealing their bright, shiny racism in all its bare-assed fabulousness.

Thank you all.

I’ll start by saying that no one is required to love Marie Kondo, or even like her. You’re certainly not obligated to read her book or watch her Netflix show or tidy your home. If nothing about her or her work sparks joy for you, that’s perfectly alright. Your life will continue apace, and so will Ms. Kondo’s.

But here’s what you are required to do. You are required to resist sinking into the pillow-soft comfort of your deeply-seated racism and colonizing xenophobia. No one needs to see or hear that mess. Punto. You don’t like Marie Kondo. Fine. If you don’t have reasons to dislike her other than 1) her foreign-ness, 2) her audacity to speak her own language, or 3) her physical appearance matching some old stereotypes you have about Asian women … than keep your thoughts to yourself.

And if you choose to show us your racism, don’t try a) to delete your ugliness without comment and b) replace it with further ugliness and then c) not respond to any of the much-deserved criticism you receive but instead d) try to reposition your ugliness and claim it was meant to express something else entirely and then e) tell everyone who isn’t buying your dainty pile of bullshit that they clearly can’t take a joke.

Oh look, Barbara: you did every one of the “don’ts.” Score!

Pollitt and Showalter had nothing to add to the xenophobia, but they slid so easily into exoticizing Kondo, describing her in just about every infantilizing, diminishing stereotype of Asian women.

I’m not surprised that criticism of Kondo fell so quickly into racism. How could it not have, given the steaming dung heap that is our white supremacist society? I’m not surprised, and still Ehrenreich, Pollitt, and Showalter surprised me.

And that’s my fault. I was surprised because I’d let myself be lulled into a false sense of safety, let myself be fooled into thinking their feminism had any room for women of color.

Every time I think I’ve girded myself against the scourge of White Feminism, I find myself pulled back in … and disappointed as thoroughly and painfully as every time before.

Now, for everyone fixing their mouths to tell me that Marie Kondo is, in fact, pretty and little, and pixie-like, and what the hell is wrong with anyone saying what is quite obviously just a statement of truth? Your “words have meanings” argument doesn’t go far enough. You’re absolutely right that words have meanings … but they also have history and context and carry the weight of their use to perpetuate oppression and othering and dehumanization. And you don’t get to have the meaning without the history and context.

If you wanted to describe me — a tall, fat, Black woman — as a pretty little pixie, there would be no backstory of stereotyping you’d be tapping into. Even the tiniest and most fairy-like of Black women haven’t been typecast in this way, which is precisely why it would probably never occur to you to use those descriptors for me. Describing me as a pixie might even make you sound interesting, turning all the pixie images on their heads. (Yes, I think I will assume this descriptor from this point forward, brand my self as “PixieGriot” instead of GirlGriot. Absolutely.)

So you could mess with people’s heads by calling me a pretty little pixie. But to attach those words to Marie Kondo when the fairy-like, submissive, pocket-sized Asian woman has been a stereotype for as long as there have been white people aware of Asian people … well, that’s not edgy and interesting. It’s just problematic. And, just as we don’t believe any of these jackasses currently in the news saying they didn’t know blackface was racist (looking at you, too, Gucci … you and your blackface mugger clothing), we absolutely don’t believe you when you say you didn’t know there were stereotypes about Asian women that your tweets were mirroring perfectly.

When I talk about white people needing to come get their people, this is one of the kinds of messes I mean. (Don’t think I don’t want you to come collect the assholes in blackface. You know better than that.) I expect white allies to come, gather these women and sit them the hell down. I expect allies to help these women a) shut the fuck up, b) understand and acknowledge why the things they posted were problematic, c) craft and post a real apology, one that doesn’t shift blame or pretend it was all a stupid misunderstanding.

This is easy allyship, but so important. The amount of time POC have to spend dealing with this kind of crap is ridiculous. Hearing or seeing these kinds of ass-out comments takes an emotional toll on us, too. If white folks stepped up and did the work with their fellow white folks, we could avoid all the stürm und drang these moments gin up.

We — people of color — are exhausted from this shit. Completely and utterly exhausted. Because it never stops coming at us. Ehrenreich, Pollitt, Showalter, and Neeson get attention because they’re high-profile, because they had audiences before their big racism reveals. For POC, it never stops. We don’t just get the scandal-mag headlines when a famous person steps into the spotlight. We get the daily slaps in the face from the myriad non-famous people around us.

I cannot help but think there’s no way any of this is news to white people. And yet, every time one of these signal posts of hate flashes on, there are white folks who are expressing shock, who throw up their hands and exclaim about what year we’re in and how can this be happening.

Yeah. Here we are. It’s 2019. And white folks — young, old, men, women — all out here showing their whole asses. And the hand-wringing and exclamations of shock only serve to tell me how much “good” white people don’t stay focused on this work because they don’t have to, how easy it has been for these good people to move on or not notice at all because none of these thousand cuts touches them. The shock and outrage tells me that folks have chosen not to pay attention.

So come on, good white people. Goodness isn’t good enough. And you know this. You need to gather your people. Embrace them. Lovingly take them in hand. Help them see their errors and learn a better way. White feminists … well, you have an even tougher job, I won’t lie. But that’s all the more reason for you to step up, to take on this messy and necessary work. (And remember, it isn’t the job of Black folks and folk of color to do this gathering. Racist yobs can’t hear us, can’t get past their defensive anger to understand anything we say. No. The intervention has to come from white people. There are POC who are willing to do this emotional labor — on exquisitely rare occasion, I am one of them — but that still doesn’t make it our job. No, it remains 100 percent the job of white people.)

Please note that I’m not only asking for white folks to call out problematic, racist fellow travelers. No. Because calling out isn’t the answer. It isn’t enough. Barbara Ehrenreich was swiftly and roundly called out. But she needed more than that. She needed someone to love on her, tell her with calm kindness all the ways what she tweeted was fucked up. Without that caring, out-of-the-spotlight attention and correction, we get Ehrenreich’s string of progressively worse tweets. We get her digging further into her mess.

We are only halfway through February, and this month is already awash in bullshit, already requires hip waders.

And then I decided not to post. There were so many excellent articles written about this mess, I set this piece aside. And then today, I sat in a subway car near six white women, friends who’d been into Manhattan for a nice lunch and a gallery show. One remarked on the fact that the rest of her afternoon would be spent on housework:

Woman 1: “Whoo! Don’t I wish I had that little Kondo bitch boxed up in my closet! Watcing her clean my house would definitely spark some joy!”

<laughter, from all but one woman>

Woman 2: “I seriously can’t stand her self-righteousness. If we needed some child-sized baby-woman to tell us what to do, we’d have asked for it long before now.”

Woman 1: “Yes, but a box in the closet would be great. I have an empty shoe box she could curl up in.”

<laughter, from all but the same one woman>

Woman 3: “She could fold something up tiny and use it for a pillow. All the comforts!”

<laughter, from all of the women>

Which was when I knew I’d have to come home and find this old essay and post it.


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.

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

“Smile! You look tired!”

My friend Lisa had a great opinion piece in the Times over the weekend that I just discovered this morning. How could I not try to find today’s poem in her words?

Today I was told not to look judgmental. Told this by a complete stranger on the subway platform. This, of course, is part and parcel of the “Smile!” nonsense that gets thrown at women. Feh.

“Smile! You look tired!”
(An erasure of Lisa Ko’s Times piece about quitting smiling.)

Women are often expected to smile,
make others comfortable.
Unnecessarily cheerful bluster,
Americans smile –
larger, toothier, intense –
a universal sign of the 20th century.
Smiling about a desire
for appeasement and artifice.
Nonverbal communication
is unpredictable, uncertain, suspicious.
The appearance of happiness
takes away our right to our feelings.
Appear happy,
compensate,
smile.


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.

Image result for national poetry month
Washington International School

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.

The Violent Male Gaze

Tonight, I stepped away from the Times and over to Jezebel for my source material. Found an excellent piece by Clover Hope to use for my poem. Definitely worth reading the full essay. She has a lot to say and says it well. Thank you to everyone who suggested I switch up my news source. Of course that was a great idea. I’ll be doing more of that.

The Violent Male Gaze
(An erasure of the Jezebel article on the #MeToo movement and film)

This is a cycle.
It’s happened her whole life
sexual assault, rape, domestic violence –

Public attention has escalated
acknowledgment of violent sexual behavior,
reflection and reinforcement of prevailing views,
our pessimism about change remains.

Violence has worked for decades,
the link between real-world sexual violence
and depictions of violence
confirming violence as a sexual stimulant for men.
Violence exists within a continuum
of culturally sanctioned, ritualized aggression,
a continuum from the symbolic, cleansing, and cathartic
to the desensitizing, exploitative and profoundly hypocritical.

What’s been robbed of women
is the privilege of complexity.
Consideration
of how we respond to or reject violent imagery.
We are inundated with images
of women as victims,
images of murdered women’s bodies.
They are the narrative background,
acted upon rather than acting.

Men in power have stalled the course of evolution.
The issue of violence begins with how women are seen –
unconscious indoctrination.
Awareness of these images,
pointing out that women are sexualized,
made into sexual objects,
an overpowering message that you’re constantly seeing,
a consciousness created about what women are here to do.

Advancement of women is one obvious solution.
One of the clearest ways to combat sexual harassment:
Some enlightenment …
And a lot more women.


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.

Image result for national poetry month
Washington International School

Fat Talk: Fat-Shaming and My Secret Decoder Ring

So, with the fat shaming. I am over it. I’ve been over it. So over it that I’d think my over-it-ness would be glowing off me like a radioactive cloud. Trouble is, the assholes who have what to say about my body can’t actually see me. They just see FAT WOMAN. I am a faceless, ageless, blob, existing only to poison their fields of vision and offer myself up for their instruction, ridicule, scorn. Yes, sure. But really: I’m not the one.

Man behind me at the bagel place this morning sucks his teeth when I order a cinnamon raisin with cream cheese, says; “And you wonder why you don’t lose weight.”

I turn to give him some heavy side eye (pun entirely intended), say: “Actually, I’m wondering if I’d also like jelly. And of course I’m wondering how it is you think what I eat is any business of yours.”

He screws up his face, asks, “You ever look in the mirror?”

If he only knew! My vanity and I spend more than enough time gazing dreamily into looking glasses. But here is the thing. His answer — asking if I ever look in the mirror — is straight-up stupid. Because here’s the other thing. A fat body is only his business if it’s his body. Punto. And then here’s the last thing. I’ve been clear just how few fucks I give about his opinion, and yet he keeps it going. What could be his problem?

I smile at him — as if he could ever deserve one of my smiles — and tell him the mirror and I have been in a long-term, committed relationship for many years. Surprisingly, he isn’t amused.

“You big black women,” he says, “you always have too much attitude.”

“And it really hurts your feelings, doesn’t it?”

“Nothing about you is worth my time.”

I laugh. “And yet, you’re wasting all this time thinking and talking and worrying about what’s going on with me. Interesting.”

He pulls out his phone, suddenly very interested in the facebook. Right.

I’ve written about foolish, fat-phobic people like this before, people who think they have the right to comment on my body simply because I have the audacity to have my body. In public. Where anyone can see it.

Sigh.

I sound cocky and comfortable in that exchange, but that’s not entirely the case. Yes, I am good with comebacks. I have so many years of practice, I’d better be good. But the bagel place is crammed with people, some of whom I see on a regular basis. It’s never my idea of a good time to be fat-shamed, and certainly not in front of a crowd. I receive no support or warm smiles or acknowledgment of any kind from the people around me — because of course — so I step up and shut this fool down all by myself. Because I am grown and I know how to do that shit. Because there’s no authority I am bound to obey that says I have to take anyone’s crap any day of the week. Still, the whole business leaves me pissed off and uncomfortable. Leaves me playing the moments over and over in my head. The ugliness has been silenced, but its sting and stench linger.

*

I’ve also said in the past that, whenever someone comments on my body, I know they are really talking about themselves. It’s really just always true. Always and always and always. It’s hard to see sometimes, so you have to look carefully. It helps if you have a Fat Shame Decoder Ring. I’ve got one. It’s lovely, forged in the fires of Mount Doom and everything. One ring to read them all.

the-one-ring-3d-model-max

And so, I’ll decode this man’s comments. His snarky, “And you wonder why you don’t lose weight,” is clearly directed at himself, wondering why he hasn’t been able to achieve some goal he thinks he’s supposed to want. And when he looks in the mirror, he’s reminded of that perceived failure, of just how much he hasn’t achieved. It would be sad if he weren’t so annoying, so ready to scrape some of his self-hate off and try smearing it on my beautiful brown skin.

His next comment is definitely for me. I do have far too much attitude. Far too much. Much more than I am supposed to have given how society sees me. I should be humble, should be trying to hide myself, should be well and truly ashamed that other people are forced to see the grotesquerie that is me. Instead, I walk around like a person who deserves life, who deserves a bagel and a schmear. My audacity really gets on his nerves. After all, if he knows how deeply he has failed at whatever task he’s set himself, how can I — so clearly failing to meet society’s standard of female beauty — have the nerve to mind my own damn business standing in the bagel shop? How can I dare to order breakfast in the sight of hardworking assholes like him, people who are really out here trying?

His last comment is a toss-up. It’s meant for both of us. He wants me to know he’s not actually focused on me — because of course — but he’s also breaking my heart just a little bit by telling me that nothing about himself is worth his time.

That’s a sad declaration to make about one’s self, so yes, breaking my heart … but only the tiniest of bits. Because, as unfortunate as it may be that this man doesn’t find himself worth his own time, his insecurity and self-loathing don’t make his behavior toward me any more acceptable. It’s always true that the things people say to me reveal the things they fear or despise in themselves. I’m still left with the public shaming, with that effluvium drying on my skin and stuck in my hair.

The decoder ring only works after the fact, long after the ugliness has passed. Because it’s for me, not for whoever’s words I’m decoding. No matter how well or poorly I handle the unpleasant moment, I need to handle it on my own. Telling whichever awful person is in my face that they’re really talking about themselves will serve no helpful purpose. So I say whatever I say, hold whatever silence I choose, keep my head up. But then I carry that bitterness around with me, even after I think I’ve moved on. It keeps creeping back in.

That’s when I need to slip on the decoder ring and remind myself what was really going on so I can remember that I am exactly the same as I was before encountering that stranger and their mess — just as tall, just as black, just as fat, just as fine, and that nothing they’ve had to say changes any of that.

I’m glad to have the ring in my jewelry box, though I think sometimes it would be preferable to move through the world in a sound-proof booth.


One in a series of essays inspired by reading Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger.
If you haven’t read my ground rules, please take a look before commenting. Thank you.


For 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I fell months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it seemed highly unlikely that I’d write 52 essays by year’s end. But then I dedicated my NaNoWriMo to writing essays, and did a pretty good job of catching up! I’ve got to move house before the end of December, so I’m unlikely to reach 52 essays. Still, I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!