For My Mother

JAM and Mom 640

For my mother

That loves so hard

That gives too much

That fights when there is no fight left

But fights again

That pushes and pulls and tugs and stands and cries and soars for her children

That makes worlds from words and hides her poems

That heals with gifts, when she is the gift

That births spirit through unexpected cheer

That fashions through ancestral memory

That is eternal in her sincerity

That determined determination

For my mother

That deserves a new dawn yet is the dawn

That receives an unseen protection

That is the descendant of sharecroppers and the everlasting daughters of Tikar

That is not forgotten

That is etched in the memory of the remembered

That is a favorite of the favored

That is watched by God’s appointed gods yet is Goddess

That is the love of copious life

You are my dream, my waking breath, my galactic starlight

My plentiful everything

My source before sources

My love for you is a bottomless sweetgrass basket

filled with enchanted fruits to feed your hopes

guarded with primordial spears

covered in the warmth of Virginia’s kiss

Guided by the melody of Ernest’s song

And all for my mother

Love,

Jessie

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

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Breaking Down Privilege, Light Skin and Beyond

Precious-2
Precious wasn’t a 110-pound light skinned girl for a reason.

As NPR described, “the writer known simply as Sapphire, tells the story of a dark-skinned, heavy-set, illiterate African-American girl who has survived multiple pregnancies by her father.” In other words, the character Precious was created by Sapphire to depict one of the most rejected, unprotected, less privileged demographics.

In an interview, Sapphire explained,

I wanted to show that this girl is locked out through literacy. She’s locked out by her physical appearance. She’s locked out by her class, and she’s locked out by her color.

There were similar reasons behind the creation of  characters Pecola Breedlove in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Because of denied privileges to women fitting their characteristics, Black women writers felt a need to share these stories. Three things these legendary characters all had in common: poverty, dark skin and sexual abuse. This was not an accident.

It has been known for a very long time that people with dark skin have often been treated with the utmost disdain and abuse. This is not a new discovery. Yet still, a few of my readers had a digital meltdown when I discussed light skin privilege.

Dave-Chapelle-Rick-James

At first I was surprised but then I remembered how difficult recognizing privilege can be. After all, a huge component of privilege is not realizing it exists.

So I’m going to rewind and thoroughly explain what privilege is, how it works and who has it.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized I had privilege. Even as a little girl, when a white class mate (afraid of my Blackness) refused to come near me, I had privilege. Even in middle school when a group of Black girls compared me to a gorilla, I had privilege. Even in the 9th grade, when I was bullied to the point of crying in class by other Black kids because of my permed but still nappy hair, I had privilege.

It wasn’t until I was older, when I saw some of these same people and their lives, that I realized the privilege I had. I grew up in a two parent household. Both of my parents were college graduates. The concept of college was never a question. Never had I ever been asked, “Are you going to college?” It was a given. Not only was I going, I had already begun writing, playing instruments, learning modern dance, and performing in theater productions. When I wanted to do something, my mother wrote a check.

Black-ish-money

We were not rich, but she was able to pay for every school activity I wanted to do.

My mother was very busy, but still had time to go over my school work. During the summer, I would get mad at her for forcing me to complete workbooks before I could go out and play. I didn’t know that any of this was a privilege. It was always assumed that everybody was able to do all of these things. In my mind, everybody’s mom read them stories, gave them books, made home-cooked dinners every night, and helped them apply for financial aid to attend college.

I later learned that some of those same people that bullied me so badly, were living in abject poverty. Baldwin County, Ga has a poverty rate double the national average. Many of their mothers were working overtime in service and fast food industries trying to make ends meet. I realized that those playground wars, where I had been called such horrible names, were their own attempts to feel better about their status in the world. If they could succeed in making someone else feel the way they felt, then they could feel powerful (even if it only lasted for a few hours.)

If you had told me at the time I was being called a gorilla, that I had privilege, it would have been hard for me to believe you. I would have said, “But my feelings are hurt, what privilege?”

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, when so many Black kids failed to pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test, that I started to realize the disparities. It wasn’t until I saw members of my senior class receiving a certificate instead of a diploma that I realized what happened. Their lives were cheated, opportunities had been denied and it was systematic. I recalled how certain students were automatically put on the technical track while others were put on the college track. The state of Georgia had predetermined who was going to college and who wasn’t.

But not me. I was going to college. I was going to leave and study whatever I wanted to. In high school I worked at McDonald’s, Sonic and Papa John’s. Quitting these jobs was never a make or break situation for me.

half-baked-job-quit

I had no problem saying, “I quit,” because, I was college bound. Fast food or retail wasn’t going to be my future. Hence my confusion when I saw other students dropping out of high school once they finally got their highly coveted job at Walmart.

Later in college, I saw how girls that were darker than me in skin tone were treated by men. I saw first hand how their deep brown skin was used a prerequisite for excessive abuse or utter disregard. I’ve seen their love interests dodge them and pursue me or other girls. I’ve also seen how they were treated by faculty members and staff. They were under constant attack. My lighter skinned friends also faced hardships, being not considered Black enough or having to deal with people’s assumptions about them. But what our other friends were going through was undeniable.

We were also treated differently according to body type.

Coming-To-America

Dark skin plus thicker body equaled additional problems. It was during this time that I also realized thin privilege. And yes, that’s a real thing. I had never thought of this before either, but it existed and I benefited from it.

Later I learned about abelism and the privilege I have as a person with no physical or developmental disabilities.

So here I am a Black middle class, 2nd generation college graduate, with two educated parents, with no known disabilities, that wears a size medium. I have a lot of privilege that other people don’t have. That doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced racism or bullying.

So when I wrote about the documentary Light Girls, referencing its avoidance of privilege, the commentary was out of a real need to address historical facts that affect the Black community. Light skin privilege is real. It has been studied and documented throughout history. It is a subsidiary of White privilege, where people of hues closer to white on the racial hierarchy are afforded with certain advantages. Over the past 300 years, it has become a part of the fabric of Western society.

Here are the 6 most common responses when discussing Light Skin Privilege:

draya-bye-felicia

1. But I’ve experienced racism. I don’t have privilege.

2. But other Black people picked on me because I’m light skinned. I don’t have privilege.

1-2: Your concerns are valid. However, it needs to be remembered that this issue isn’t about individual situations or circumstances. Light skinned privilege isn’t about anybody’s assumptions or hurt feelings. Race is a social construct that was created to sustain a hierarchy. In the Western world “whiteness” has been used as a measuring stick for human value. People of lighter hues have been treated with less “disdain” than other Black people. This is a historical fact, not an idea or assumption. It doesn’t mean that light skinned people never face racism or colorism. 

3. But I went to prison or had some other horrible experience in life. I don’t have privilege.

Light skin privilege does not mean that people labeled as light skinned never experience hardships or adversity. However, it does mean that at times, certain hardships will have less of a blow if your skin tone is lighter. For instance, a recent study showed that among Black people in prison, those perceived as light skinned received shorter sentences than those perceived as dark skinned.

4. Stop making assumptions about my character. I don’t have privilege.

Privilege isn’t about making assumptions on someone’s character. People need to understand the concept of light skin privilege is not an indictment on light skinned people, but instead an indictment on how racial hierarchies operate. Challenging this issue, is necessary in order challenge the false concept of white supremacy.

5. I don’t believe it. Show me the receipts! Where is this privilege?

Whitney-Receipts-1

For all naysayers, part of “privilege” is having the ability to not “see” the problem, because it has become so normalized.

Here are the requested receipts:

http://www.theroot.com/articles/politics/2011/07/color_bias_do_lightskinned_blacks_get_shorter_sentences.html

http://www.multiculturaladvantage.com/recruit/diversity/bias/Skin-Tone-More-Important-Than-Educational-Background-African-Americans-Seeking-Jobs.asp

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/11/us/school-discipline-to-girls-differs-between-and-within-races.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/skin-tone-bias_n_4597924.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/01/study-people-associate-education-with-lighter-skin/283086/

http://thegrio.com/2014/01/16/study-light-skinned-black-men-perceived-as-better-educated/

http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/

http://jezebel.com/368746/study-men-are-more-attracted-to-women-with-lighter-skin

http://www.sentencingproject.org/detail/news.cfm?news_id=1136

6. Why are you talking about this? What good does it do? This is just divide and conquer.

Talking about Light Skinned Privilege does not promote “divide and conquer.” Ignoring it does.

Divide and conquer can only exist in a state of confusion. Right now, confusion exists because we haven’t learned how to effectively pin point and deconstruct the inner workings of racial oppression. By rejecting the privilege of light skin or at least calling it out, we are also rejecting the concept of white supremacy. We are saying that all Black lives are just as valuable as the others. This same thing can be said we we reject homophobia and sexism in our communities. We’re saying all Black lives matter the same, despite our perceived differences.

Last but not least

Part of the normalization of privilege is not being aware it exists. Even as a former landlord happily called me her “new pitch black friend,” I had privilege at various levels. In other words, this isn’t about your or my hurt feelings. Transforming society hinges upon our ability to proactively breakdown privilege: white, light skinned, class, economic and beyond.

In the case of racism and colorism, recognizing light skin privilege is a step towards understanding how to dismantle white privilege and Black oppression. The recognition of light skin privilege is not an indictment against light skinned people, it’s an indictment on the currently normalized role of false white supremacy and how it plays out in our lives.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & Culture The Web. To bring JAM to your school or show, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci

Light Girls, When Documentaries Get It Wrong

darkorlight

Scene from Spike Lee’s School Daze

“If you love yourself, don’t watch Light Girls.”

This is what I told a dear friend of mine after watching the documentary. The film was a sequel to Dark Girls, a documentary about colorism in the African American community. Light Girls was supposed to show the other side of the coin and share the views of women that society labels as “light skinned.” Instead, it turned into a living rendition of  light skin vs. dark skin battles paralleling the epic scenes from, School Daze. Why the disdain? There isn’t enough time to cover everything but here are my top sources of contention with Light Girls.

1. The Denial of Light Skin Privilege

Light Girls perpetuated the stereotype that dark skinned girls are jealous, angry and violent. Rarely was there any nuanced or guided discourse behind light skin privilege. In fact, the topic was carefully avoided. If not for Soledad O’Brien’s brief acknowledgement that her color helped her career, one would think that light skin privilege is a figment of evil dark skinned imagination.

This is mostly because a discussion surrounding white privilege was painfully absent from most commentary. Light skin privilege exists as a subsidiary of white privilege. This is not a concept made up out of simple jealously. We cannot discuss one without the other. Light skin privilege is when people with skin color closer to what is associated with phenotypically “white features” are granted certain privileges relative to superiority over darker skinned people.

Consequently, light skinned women get lighter jail sentences, are more likely to get hired for a job, and are even disciplined differently as children. These are just a few examples backed up by data.

Understand that acknowledging light skin privilege is not about finger pointing. It’s about understanding racial hierarchies determined by structures of white superiority and the role that it plays in Black lives.

If we deny the existence of light skin privilege, we deny the existence of white privilege.

2. Black Men are not the gate keepers of Black women’s value

The documentary spent an agonizing amount of time featuring the scattered thoughts of random Black men, as if Black male scholars were unavailable. Dr. Steve Perry was very much alone in his contribution to the discussion. There were so many cringeworthy moments where men discussed their color “preferences” like a bunch of drooling 8th graders. I thought to myself, “Are we in middle school?” Along this line, the film completely ignored the possibility of Black women in same-sex relationships. The film placed the value of Black women on heterosexual, patriarchal male gaze. One commentator even exalted the faulty belief that dark skinned Black women are better than light skinned women because, they will do more for you. This type of unchallenged thinking reaffirms stereotypes of darker skinned Black women being built for work and lighter skinned women existing solely for the purpose of being a trophy.

3. The assertion that light skinned girls are molested or raped more than dark skinned girls is disturbing

Two commentators in the film recalled being molested and raped. One of them even boldly stated that light skinned girls are a prime choice for pedophiles. My mouth dropped open. “Is this really happening?” The film just continued onto the next topic.

To leave such an assertion unchallenged or glossed over is grossly irresponsible. Not to discredit her personal experiences, but that assertion deserved a very nuanced follow up discussion.  No way should this have been included without expert analysis. It was cruel and damaging to the film participants and audience.

Yes, pedophiles have varying preferences. They often take advantage of the more vulnerable segments of society. Yes, light skinned girls get raped, molested and sexually trafficked. However, because dark skinned girls are often less championed for, dark skin is often a determinate in sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

Society’s refusal to protect dark skinned girls is what lead to Toni Morrision’s decision to create the character Pecola Breedlove. Pecola who was both sexually abused and ignored, continually prayed for blue eyes believing it would be a type of salvation from the societal ills associated with her dark skinned Black identity. This is not a contest on who is sexually abused more.

This is more about understanding the power dynamics of sexual abuse and how it intersects within racial hierarchies. It deserved a fuller conversation.

4. Who are these people?

Raven

Raven-Symoné

Apparently, every person with an agent made it into this film except the leading scholar on the one-drop rule, Yaba Blay. It was as if they carefully avoided her input. And it showed. She was featured on Soledad O’Brien’s Who Is Black In America. You can learn more about Yaba Blay’s work here.

Light Girls turned out to be a mess of a documentary because it was filled with commentary from a slew of third-tier comedians and entertainers. Additionally, the film included remarks from pseudo doctor Farrah Gray. Of course there were also a few notable scholars and commentators. Michaela Angela Davis, Goldie Taylor, Jamilah Lemieux, and Soledad O’Brien were among the slim pickings of truthful and knowledgeable commentary. Yet, by the end of the film, many of them were also tweeting disgust concerning what the film had become. I’m still baffled by Raven Symone’s appearance as well, considering her ideas on “colorless” as a identity.

5. It’s not about jealousy

I shutter at the thought of having to say this but dark skin girls are not all lurking in the bushes waiting to ponce on the nearest light skinned person. This notion is ridiculous but was highly purported throughout the documentary. We’re not all crying in a corner somewhere filled with rage and jealousy. It reasserted the false narrative that all dark skinned girls are unwanted, hateful, mean and violent. The film made it look like we were all derivatives of the boogeyman.

Rarely did the documentary truthfully discuss playground wars and issues of Black children in general calling each other “too Black,” “ugly Africans,” or “high yellow” and using these learned internalized sentiments in hopes of feeling more superior to each other in the face of constant societal dehumanization.

It’s all a part of white supremacy and learned internalized racial hierarchies,  not simplistic hatred or jealousy.

6. Sisterhood Does Exist

for-colored-girls

There are issues of colorism throughout our society. However, this belief that Black women in predetermined skin-tone categories are genetically predisposed to hate each other is down right preposterous. As I’ve written before, it’s important to remember that there is sisterhood among Black women that has historically been a source of safety and empowerment. It has thrived, even in the midst of racism and colorism. This sisterhood bond continues to be the salvation for many Black women in need of support and love.

7. Colorism cannot be changed through positive thinking 

Pharrell-Happy

At one point “Dr.” Farrah Gray asserted that light skinned and dark skinned girls simply need to learn to get along and stop “blaming the white man.” Here goes the condescending, “You girls stop fighting,” speech. Other commentators docilely asserted we simply needed to think positive, look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful.” Then all will be healed. It reduced the entire subject to Black women being just silly or petty, which is not the case.

No pep talk in the world is going to cure colorism. The film put the onus of colorism on the literal and preverbal backs of dark skinned girls. As if to say colorism is a personal problem, not a real systematic lived experience. This teeters along the line of saying racism is simply an imagined Black problem that will go away if we just think happy thoughts and be New Black like Pharrell.

8. In conclusion

To be fair, the film had a few positives. For instance, at one point they tried to present a global perspective of colorism. This is helpful in highlighting the fact that colorism is not just a Black issue. The affects of slavery and colonization have been felt worldwide. Also, a film about how colorism affects light skinned girls is necessary and efforts of the film are appreciated. Still, the film did what most things in mainstream society do. Light Girls continued the devaluation of Black life by oversimplifying key issues and not providing a thorough analysis for deconstructing the core problems…structural racism and patriarchy.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

33 Brilliant Quotes From Legendary Black Women Writers

 

Ntozake-Shange-Black-Women-Writers

Ntozake Shange

Growing up as a Black girl writer, various books and writers sustained me. One such writer was Zora Neale Hurston. I lived by her. Her robust unveiling of Black human experiences were the literary nourishment to my young mind. I read over and over again her short story, The Gilded Six Bits.  It was like I was there. I could feel the spirited home of Missie May and Joe. I could taste the molasses kisses Joe bought for their new born baby boy. I was literally wrapped up in the entire story.

Yet what intrigued me the most about Zora as a writer was her free spirit. As a folklorist and anthropologist, she saw the world and soaked up its wonders. This captivated me.  As I grew older, the list of Black women writers that ruled my universe expanded. In college I was enamored with Ntozake Shange, then in graduate school mesmerized by June Jordan. They all knew a part of my soul, they all held pieces of me in their words. It was a long running connectedness. With each page turned, I saw myself.

When it seemed like the world had turned against me or had become lopsided, they turned it right side up again. Through their writings they let me know, that the things I’m seeing and experiencing are real. Most of all I learned that I had the right to tell my truth, no matter how often its existence may be denied and its fullness unsuccessfully subdued.

This edging out is a tradition of oppression, while the ability to rise even in its midst is a signature testament to the dynamic tradition of literary inspired liberation through Black women writers.

Here are some quotes from legendary Black women writers that can be used as continual tools for learning, growth, confidence and fearlessness.

 

1. “It’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say.” -Zora Neale Hurston

 

2. “No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much.” Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’…No woman has ever written enough.” – bell hooks

 

3. “I’m a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act, and how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives.” -Ntozake Shange

 

4. “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde

 

5. “We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings.” – Maya Angelou

 

6. “I think writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person. That is, if you write what you need to write, as opposed to what will make money, or what will make fame.” -Alice Walker

 

7. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” -Toni Morrison

 

8.  “The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” -Toni Morrison

 

9. “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

10.  “Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it.” – Toni Morrison

 

11.  “Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.” – Patricia Hill Collins

 

12. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

13. “Writing can be a lifeline, especially when your existence has been denied, especially when you have been left on the margins, especially when your life and process of growth have been subjected to attempts at strangulation.” ― Micere Githae Mugo

 

14. “Sure you can do anything when talking or writing, it’s not like living when you can only do what you doing.” ― Sapphire

 

15. “A writer should get as much education as possible, but just going to school is not enough; if it were, all owners of doctorates would be inspired writers.” – Gwendolyn Brooks

 

16. “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” ― Octavia E. Butler

 

17. “I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think.” -Ntozake Shange

 

18. “Let woman’s claim be as broad in the concrete as the abstract. We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritism, whether of sex, race, country, or condition. If one link of the chain is broken, the chain is broken.” – Anna Julia Cooper

 

19. “I don’t want to be limited or ghettoized in any way.” -Sista Soulja

 

20. “Discomfort is always a necessary part of enlightenment.” ― Pearl Cleage

 

21. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” -Maya Angelou

 

22. “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ― Octavia E. Butler

 

23. “Many times, what people call ‘writer’s block’ is the confusion that happens when a writer has a great idea, but their writing skill is not up to the task of putting that idea down on paper. I think that learning the craft of writing is critical.” -Pearl Cleage

 

24. “Shakespeare wrote about love. I write about love. Shakespeare wrote about gang warfare, family feuds and revenge. I write about all the same things.” -Sister Souljah

 

25. “Putting words on paper regularly is part of the necessary discipline of writing.” -Pearl Cleage

 

26. “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” -Alice Walker

 

27. “You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts because if you write with someone looking over you shoulder, you’ll never write.” ― Nikki Giovanni

 

28. “Writers don’t write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. …If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.” ― Nikki Giovanni

 

29. “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.” -Lorraine Hansberry

 

30. “People who want to write either do it or they don’t. At last I began to say that my most important talent – or habit – was persistence. Without it, I would have given up writing long before I finished my first novel. It’s amazing what we can do if we simply refuse to give up.” ― Octavia E. Butler

 

31. “People wish to be poets more than they wish to write poetry, and that’s a mistake. One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated.” –Lucille Clifton

 

32. “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” ― June Jordan

 

33. “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” -Angela Davis

 

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IMG_0054-ZF-7906-35913-1-001-006Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.

Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/JAMAiwuyor.

All My Life I Had To Fight

About four years ago I was having a discussion with a friend about his new web show. He wanted to focus on topics concerning the Black community. I told him we should discuss domestic violence. To which he responded, “That’s not an issue. A sista would never let somebody beat her!” I stood there in disbelief, that a grown man with a family could actually believe such a thing. But there we were, standing outside with me trying my best to convince him that many Black women were getting physically abused everyday and it had nothing to do with us “letting” something happen.

Fast forward to earlier this year when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was seen on video dragging his then girlfriend’s body on the floor of an elevator. Excuses ensued. What happened that night? The theories went as followed:

She was drunk and he was taking her back to their room.

They were both fighting.

Maybe he beat her up.

We don’t know what happened, so “let’s not judge.”

While watching him kick and drag her limp body, there were many presumptions about what happened. The main one always circled around “her involvement.” Not long after, Janay Palmer and Ray Rice married. Then, came the press conference. The couple sat along side each other with Ray trying to undo the PR disaster, while Janay was forced to apologize for “her role.”

Months later, with the football season starting, the full video of the assault has been released. It showed that he spat on her, punched her in the face multiple times, kicked her and dragged her. Now that the public has a wider view of the assault, the excuses are:

They were both fighting.

Maybe he beat her up.

We don’t know all of what happened, so “let’s not judge.”

She provoked him.

She started it.

She still married him.

She doesn’t care, why should we?

She must be a gold digger.

The excuses are almost the same even though we’ve seen the footage. We saw what happened to her. We saw how it happened. Yet, there is still somehow this belief that it “didn’t really happen like that.”

The same thing happened in 2007, when preacher Juanita Bynum was choked and stomped in an Atlanta parking lot. The excuse then was, “She didn’t let him be the man.” This was a woman that had advocated for women to have sex with their husbands, even if they didn’t feel like it. If anyone was a trumpet of patriarchy, she was. Still, the very community she preached within ignored the violence and conjured up ways to blame her for being physically abused.

This leads me back to the discussion I had with my friend. Perhaps, he didn’t see domestic violence in our community because he didn’t want to. Perhaps he didn’t believe it for the same reasons the people defending Ray Rice don’t. They don’t want to believe it because it would mean that Black women can no longer be the blame for “violence” against us. That’s scary because then people would have to be held accountable, Black men included. That’s something our community continues to grapple with. How do we end violence against Black women without further criminalizing Black men in an atmosphere that is hostile to Blackness?

That’s why at this moment there are some people worried about Rice’s career. Where will he work? How will he live? Will he ever be able to get a job again?

Yet, we should be worried about Janay Rice. Will she be okay? Will he take his anger out on her…again? Is she safe? Where will she go? Does she have family members that will support her instead of tell her to “stand by his side?”

There is a difference between criminalizing and protecting. Criminalizing is when a person or group of people are unjustly deemed as inherently criminal. Protecting is when there are consequences for harming a person or group of people unjustly. Protection is a mechanism of prevention. When a man kicks a woman and punches her in the face and he loses his job or goes to jail for it, that’s called Protection. We’re letting members of society know that for the safety of everyone, this will not be tolerated.

For many battered women, there is no where else to go. They often endure mental abuse that prevents further access to care and freedom. This belief that she somehow “provoked him” or “he just snapped” is why so many women are battered and die under those circumstances. It’s just an excuse, another trope of denial in order to circumvent accountability.

This did happen. This is happening.

Still, it is no surprise that Janay Rice partially blames herself. This often happens to battered women. As a well meaning survival mechanism, at times they defend the abuser, taking on the blame for themselves as a way to avoid facing the reality of what’s really happening.

Often times when there are debates about sexism in the Black community, male counterparts often ask, “What privileges do Black men have?” In case you’re still wondering, this is what Black male privilege looks like. It’s the privilege to withhold accountability in cases of sexual and physical abuse against Black women, and still have members of the community vehemently defend their right to do so. Abusers will have people rally on their behalf, including their own victims.

The same thing happens to sexual abuse victims. People go through oratory gymnastics to blame molestation, rape and sexual abuse on the women and girls that were abused. We’ll hear things like:

She was a fast girl.

Why was she over there if she didn’t want it?

She knew what she was doing.

Why didn’t she say anything, if she didn’t like it?

This shower of condemnation of the survivor and excuses for the perpetrator happen time and time again in the case of sexual abuse against Black women.

However, it would be dangerous to believe that sexism, patriarchy, and abuse exist as vacuums in Black communities. They are an overall societal problem, prompted up my mainstream culture. The key issue with the Black community is, because mainstream culture already demonizes Blackness, the Black community fears that by outing abusers, they are adding to the demonization of their community. This has become a dangerously error-prone survival mechanism. Instead there should be an understanding that outing abusers (no matter who they are) is a way of strengthening the overall health of communities.

In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, many Black women related to the now famous words:

 All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. I loves Harpo. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.

Country wide protests were launched against the movie by Black men and women stating that it would make our community look bad and that it demonized Black men. When on the contrary, it shed light on key issues like incest, child molestation, sexual abuse, patriarchy and domestic violence. These are the issues, we often refuse to seriously address as a community. There was nothing unreal about it. It was just the ugly painful truth for many generations of women. It for this reason that The Color Purple has since become a classic, with many scenes viewers can recite word-for-word.

Indeed, all our lives we’ve had to fight and it will only end when our community rejects its abusers. I’ve had close friends and family members that faced the world with broken souls after being sexually/physically abused and blamed for it. We have to make the decision. Will we protect abusers or not? Will we take a stand against violence or not?

In the case of Janay Rice, the three minute visual of Ray Rice beating her has created more public awareness. Though this is a sad situation, the good thing about public cases like this is that more and more people are publicly condemning this behavior. These condemnations are added boosts needed to sway public discourse around this topic. This issue isn’t solely about one couple or one woman. It’s about the strengthening of our community as a whole. Otherwise, it will crumble within.

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IMG_0054-ZF-7906-35913-1-001-006Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.

Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

Did Anybody Care?

 

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Josefina Rivera, Agnes Adams, Sandra Lindsay, Jacqueline Askins, Deborah Dudley, Lisa Thomas

 

There were six of them, chained in the basement of a Philadelphia house. The police almost couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The horrors of what the women experienced were almost unbearable to hear. Their kidnapper, Gary Heidnik, chained them, enslaved them, raped them, starved them, murdered two of them and forced them to eat another human being (feeding the rest of the body to the dogs).

What did all of these young women have in common? They were young, black and brown girls from the lower echelon of society. They grew up poor, some of them were prostitutes, all of them perceived to be “unwanted.” Our America, hosted by Lisa Ling on the Oprah Winfrey Network, featured the stories of missing Black women and the now infamous Heidnik kidnapping case. A quick google search of his name will render headlines like “Heidnik’s House of Horrors.”

Indeed the women survived an unimaginable, terrifying ordeal. One of the survivors, named Jackie shared her experiences. She now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. Sometimes, she blacks out and unconsciously re-enacts being chained to the basement floor and eating dog food.

For months Jackie and 5 other women languished in a seemingly timeless agony, wondering if they would ever get their freedom.

When hearing about these types of stories, the blame is usually placed solely on the perpetrator. Yet, we need to realize that society plays a complacent role in allowing these types of crimes to occur. All too often perceived “respectability” trumps humanity. Lives are somehow worth less, or are less important if the victims did not lead “perfect” lives as dictated by societal norms. This is especially the case for young Black women, people living in poverty and for sex workers.

Jackie, being a symbol of this marginalized trifecta, was as they noted in the documentary, “lost before she was kidnapped.” As she lived on the margins of society, Heidnik presumed that no one would miss her. And for the most part he was right.

Jackie asked, “Did anybody care that we were out there? Just to call 911 and say, ‘she’s gone?’ Who cared about a Black prostitute, on drugs?”

So as four of the six women, survived until they were finally freed, time moved on without them. And as they finally regained their freedom, society gasped at the horrors they’d experienced, media focused on the perpetrator and in-depth discussions concerning why or how this truly could have happened in the first place, were passed over in the name of sensationalism.

Moreover, Jackie returned to a community that blamed her for being kidnapped and called her “the slave” and “the people-eater.” This severe lack of community support only exacerbated her fragile mental condition.

“She was a slut. She was a whore. She was high. She was drunk. She was in the streets. That’s what she gets. She shouldn’t have been [insert any excuse]. ” Whenever you hear someone say these things, whenever these words leave your mouth, know that these beliefs nurture the ambitions of abusers and murderers.

What she was, who she was, doesn’t negate her personhood. It didn’t negate her human right to live and be free.

There is a dispute over whether or not Gary Heidnik was sane while he was committing these unthinkable acts. His past medical records indicate that he may have been schizophrenic. But one thing is clear, Heidnik knew for certain where to find the perfect victims, the people that were would less likely to be protected or fought for. He chose the people that had already been used, abused and thrown away by society….poor, young, Black women.

That’s what really enabled this crime…a mass societal lack of care and he knew it.

I guess he wasn’t insane after all.

 

Learn more about this case:

http://www.oprah.com/own-our-america-lisa-ling/Jackie-Returns-to-the-House-Where-She-Was-Held-Captive

http://www.phillymag.com/articles/inside-the-house-of-heidnik/

Learn how to prevent events like this from happening:

http://blackandmissing.org/what-to-do-if-someone-goes-missing/

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/01/getting-more-to-care-about-missing-black-women/

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IMG_0054-ZF-7906-35913-1-001-006Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.

Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

 

 

The Power Of Sister Circles And Safe Spaces

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In graduate school, I was invited to join a sister circle. At the time, I had no idea what that was. What resulted was a life long bond with a group of Black women from across the diaspora (Guyana, Dominican Republic, & across the US). We shared our stories and spent hours revealing our inner insecurities. We trusted each other with our deepest regrets, struggles and fears. It was through our sister circle that I learned about sisterhood. There were many tears, hugs and affirmations.

To share your story…To be real with a circle of people you can trust, is one of the best feelings in the world. And I deeply believe that it is through these types of bonds that Black women have been able to survive so many atrocities and still come out with our sanity. Safe spaces in the presence of our sisters, is the place to heal because we know so much of the world seems against us, rushes to judge us, and disregards our truth. It was in these moments that I felt a wholeness that can only be achieved in knowing that these sisters had my back. We could go to each other for anything.

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Outside of the sister circle in grad school, I have another circle of friends including sisters I’ve known since I was 12 years old and others I met during freshman year of college.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made or received early morning or late night phone calls during which we’ve vented, came to each other’s rescue, and just served as a much needed listener. Sometimes, just having somebody listen makes all the difference.

Black women’s sisterhood is so strong that the army has actually started studying it. As the army deals with high suicide rates among soldiers, one thing has remained true…Black women still have the lowest rates of suicide in the military even though we all know they face higher rates of discrimination. Yet, we live on. The army wonders what Black women have that other groups don’t.

While the government does not break down military suicides according to race, among the general population African-American women have the lowest suicide rate of any group. Surprisingly, white men die most often by their own hand. “By comparison, the rate for black women was less than three suicides per 100,000.” “The sense of community among themselves, and the … built-in support that they get from each other is something we’re paying a lot of attention to, and trying to find ways to emulate,” Kemp told Government Executive. “I think often that veterans and men don’t have that same sort of personal support, and we have to build that for them.”  – The Grio

The Washington Post covered the power of Sister Circles in their article about a new program called Prime Time Sister Circles.

… Prime Time Sister Circles, a 12-week program focused on helping African American women in midlife improve their nutrition and fitness, and deal with stress. And just as important, participants say, the Sister Circles provides them with emotional and spiritual support akin to a long, tight hug. The circles are kept relatively small: no more than 25 women. Participants include those who make six-figure incomes and others with more modest means. They meet for two hours, once a week over three months and often learn that more things connect than separate them. – Washington Post

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Just having the experience of being a part of a sister circle, makes me think about the survival of the generations of women that came before us. The bond between sister friends is a deep aspect of our history. And that is why I believe Black women have become so resilient. Not out of anger but out of emotional bonds that hold us up.

So today, I just want to say thank you to all of my sister friends and our sister circle. Marie, Zakiya, Griselda, Halycon, Anita, Alexandria, Keena, Rodniqua, Patrice, Shari, Rachel, Janine, Candice, Valeria, Nikki, Margo and more.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.