Monthly Archives: November 2010

Armchair Therapist: Black women are voluntary victims

“So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. . . . He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” – Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937

When Zora Neale Hurston wrote those words, I think she meant to raise awareness of Black women’s plight in society, not to be prophetic.  Still, here we are almost 75 years later, still picking up the emotional parcels left for us by others.  The difference between 1937 and today is that now, perhaps, we’re volunteering to shoulder the burden.

I am (Black) Woman Hear Me Roar

I can’t imagine a better time to be a Black woman.  We have high earning potential, we can live and work wherever we want and change our hairstyle to suit our mood.  We can marry whomever we want (if only we could find them, but that’s another story.)  I’ve said before that my life is the polar opposite of that lived my by grandmother, and even my mother, and they’d both be proud of me.  Besides, we have a great public role model showing up for Black womanhood every day in the First Lady of the United States.  Michelle Obama is the bomb:  she’s smart, beautiful, a mother, a wife, a business person, an attorney, and she has killer arms.  Still we don’t like to look at her, and the millions of other Black women just like her (minus the husband who’s the leader of the free world and fine as hell…that’s completely unrealistic!) as inspiration for our art. We’d rather use media to wallow in freakish misery at the “mistakes” of our people.  Maybe Mrs. O makes us embarrassed for our shortcomings rather than proud because she looks like us.  How else would you explain our willingness to consume entertainment which continually represents the most negative parts of the Black female experience?

If you believe what you watch on TV, hear on the radio, see at the movies, you might actually believe that Black women ain’t shit.  Wait I got confused:  Black MEN ain’t shit (or at least the ones you’d want to date); Black WOMEN don’t DESERVE shit.  How else do you explain that we persistently consume entertainment that continually presents us a personal failures at the hands of our men?  What else but lack of self-worth would make Black women flock to see movies and read books that take away all our agency in the creation of our problems as well as our solutions?

Tyler Perry feels about Black women as George W. Bush feels about Black people

I swore I wasn’t gonna go in on Tyler Perry, but I’m mad at all of y’all where he’s concerned and my body is not big enough to contain my outrage.  I’ve already made a conscious decision not to see For Colored Girls. . ., not because I don’t support Black film, actors, or Ntozake Shange’s seminal work.  No, I won’t be seeing FCG because I’m not giving that woman-hating coward ONE RED CENT of my money.   I know, FCG isn’t Perry’s text, but he’s written so many other texts in which the story goes down pretty much like this:  a woman (or a series of women) are done wrong by their man (or The Man) or whomever;  said women wallow in their victimhood for the majority of the film while over-dramatic music plays in the background and copious tears are shed; a man, or Madea (a man in drag), or God comes in to “save” said women and they all live happily ever after.  Electric Slides for everybody!

In every movie/play Perry does, he takes away women’s agency in solving their own problems, makes them weak victims or, in the case of Madea (which I believe is his representation of the mother he wishes had defended herself and him in an abusive home), a gun-toting shrew.  Apparently Perry’s world does not allow for women to get support without a penis involved.  In Why Did I Get Married, all 4 women have crap relationships and when they get together for what should be “sister get yours” time, all they can do is complain then figure out how to crawl back to their cheating, angry, jealous husbands.  Then the fat girl finds a man to love her, everyone cries and all the couples get back together?  Nukka, please…The women I know would not have suggested any of the reconciliation that I saw in that film.  They would’ve said, “girl, if your man put his hands on your throat (which happened in the movie) and verbally abused you and his baby mama (which also happened), I’ll stand by you in the divorce proceedings…I got your back.”  Y’all remember the scene in Jungle Fever when Flipper’s wife gathers her sister-friends together for a good old hen party?  Or in Guess Who…? when the female lead gets support, laughter and cocktails when she finds out her fiancé is an unemployed liar?  You’ll never see that kind of group female solidarity in in a Tyler Perry film because I don’t think he actually believes we can do it on our own.   From what I understand, even with Ntozake’s text, Tyler Perry still manages to make another Madea movie out of For Colored Girls. . ., so I’ll wait for it to come on HBO and content myself with re-reading the original text.

The saddest part is, though, that Black women line up around the corner to get us a piece of that Tyler Perry nonsense because he’s a successful entrepreneur.  Apparently wealth gained through negative portrayals of Black women is still more important than holding him accountable for said images.  I think the brother needs to get some therapy and stop using mass media to take out his anger towards his mother.  But I can’t fault him as much as I can my sisters  – and, unfortunately, some of them are in my family  – who keep insisting I watch the bullshit, or read yet another poorly-written ghetto victim novel, because its “so real”  and “we have to support Black people”.  Um, OK, I’m supposed to “support” people who don’t think I’m worth much, who with their fame and influence could build battered women’s shelters instead of making movies portraying abused and/or unhappy women who get “saved”.  How can we do better with our lives if we can’t ever SEE better, even in our entertainment?

Black women need to do better with ourselves, for ourselves, to ourselves.

If Black women continue to support garbage, watch garbage, read garbage and listen to garbage that paints us with such passivity, we’re stuck in the “mules of the world” cycle, being put UPON instead of being active participants in our own lives.  Dammit, it’s 2010 and all we can think of to write a song about is some cheating man?  And then millions of us roll down the window, sing it at the top of our lungs, and say “that’s my SONG!” when it comes on the radio.  I can think back to a time when R&B was littered with relatively romantic songs about adultery.  If you recall, “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Star was about the separation between a couple when they couldn’t be together.  At least both people in the relationship were cheating, and both were honest about it, which put them on equal footing.  Then there were the “woman stepping out” songs of the 8o’s:  “Somebody Else’s Guy” by Jocelyn Brown, and the adultery song of the decade, Shirley Murdoch’s “As We Lay”…at least the music was good, and the women singing were the subjects of the cheating and not the objects.  Which brings me to today and Sunshine Anderson’s new song, “Lie to Kick It”?  Check out these ridiculous lyrics:

I coulda sworn you said you live by yourself
But ya live-in girl exposed your world
(I bet you wonder) how the hell she got my number
(You called from the home phone) and forgot to block my number
Why do you lie when you expect me to trust in you?

To quote Sunshine herself in another one of her oh-so-positive R&B hits, I’ve heard it all before.  My man’s a liar, woe is me.  His side-piece (or his main dish) told me the truth, that heifer!  Men cheat, I got that.  Women cheat too, are active participants in the breaking of fidelity which, in my opinion, means you actually DID something for yourself instead of waiting to react to someone else’s behavior.  On the surface, these baby-daddy cheater songs seem like anti-man anthems, and in some ways they are.  But supporting this kind of music is detrimental to our mental health, and death to our art.  For real, if all you can rhyme with “number” is “number”, you shouldn’t be getting paid to write anybody’s lyrics.  We need to bust out with the modern day version of “I’m Every Woman” because, quite frankly, it is ALL in me, and I does it naturally. *snaps*  What happened to songs like that?  Where’s Queen Latifah singing about “Ladies First”, and “you gotta let ‘em know/you ain’t a bitch or a ho”?  Oh right, I forgot, she’s a lesbian (or everyone thinks she is) so we’re not supposed to listen to her, and only heterosexuals need apply to our collective uplift.  My mistake.

When we’re not putting our ownselves down, we’re getting the smackdown from mainstream art.  Hey, it’s cool to hate on Black women, haven’t you heard?  Last night on Glee, Mercedes (the token black girl) was ridiculed for her weight and her color, all for laughs.  I’m angry that they made Precious references, especially since the Mercedes character is happy, and wealthy, and talented and kinda full of herself.  But because she’s black and fat, she gets compared to a character full of dysfunction and self-hate.  Hey, they look a little bit alike, they must be the same and feel the same way about themselves.  Um, no.  Don’t even get me started on how folks call Gabourey Sidibe “Precious” even though she bears little resemblance to the girl she played in the movie…it would be like calling Charlize Theron “Monster” because she played an ugly, horrible person in a movie of the same name…but I’m supposed to be talking about black women, not fat issues, so I’ll reel it in.

“But if I get off my knees, I might recall, I’m 20 feet tall” – Erykah Badu

I don’t really know if what we see in Black culture – and American culture in general – is a backlash against the advances Black women have made in society.  It might be that sociological and emotional dysfunction is bubbling to the surface because in the modern political climate, we’re not plotting a lunch-counter sit-in so we have time to complain.  What I DO know is this:  psychologically speaking, people imitate the behavior and attitudes they see around them, and changing usually requires the introduction of a new, positive model and some repetition.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, neurolinguistic programming, and other therapeutic tools have been proven to reinforce positive behavior in adults, and the converse is also true – that continual negative stimuli reinforce our negative patterns.  Black women especially need to get out from under the negative reinforcement presented in our entertainment, stop thinking that victimization is normal because it really isn’t for so many of us.

What do you think — why are Black women so willing to believe we’re victims?

My Open Letter to Self-Esteem

Dear Self-Esteem,

Thank you so much for being my friend, and for generally sticking around through rough times.  We’ve been together since I got teased in grade school for talking like a white girl, or for being mostly chubby and geeky through junior high school, and even still through college when I flunked out after freshman year but then came back to graduate.  Since we’ve been together for a while, I think I can tell you that you’re missing some great opportunities with today’s women, and you need to do better with that.  I feel like since we have such a close, intimate relationship, I can point out your shortcomings.

People often invoke your name when they see, as I did, a woman walking down the street at 4:30 PM wearing hot pants and over-the-knee boots.  A bunch of folks will think that the outfit is an expression of high self-esteem.  After all, Ms. Hot Pants had a great body and she was just showing it off in the balmy late-fall weather.  Or they’ll say that she’s comfortable in her skin, and in her clothes, no matter what anyone thinks.  Maybe.  But I contend that someone who’s really happy with themselves, and that thinks highly of themselves, doesn’t need to dress like a streetwalker on Sunday afternoon.  Someone who knows you very well might say, “I don’t need to stick out in order to be remarkable” then put down the pootie-cutters in favor of a nice pair of pants. Indeed, Self-Esteem, you’ve taught me that everyone has the capacity to be special, to feel special in the absence of attracting attention.  So, please pay a visit to Ms. Hot Pants.  Tell her she kinda looks like an idiot, and that she should introduce you to some other women I’ve seen around.

Mostly, you could stand to pal around with women who think even negative attention is good because at least SOMEONE is looking.  There are men who think this way too, but they usually don’t parade around half-naked so they’re hard to see.  You should also look for people from both genders who stay in bad relationships because they’d rather have someone than be single.  They probably always look for the distraction of relationships (or work, or other people’s drama) so they don’t have to think about how much they hate themselves.

You also need to look for people who say things like “I have high self-esteem”, because, like sex, I think that people who talk about it a lot don’t have a lot of it.  If you actually HAVE high self-esteem, you don’t need to say it because it just is.  People will know by the way you act, the way you speak, the way you look.  If you have to point it out, it probably means that you’ve done or said something that generally connotes low self-esteem.  Then again, I don’t have to tell you who your friends are.

Anyway, you’ve done a pretty good job with me, since the world like to put upon Black women, people with bipolar, and any other of the labels that could be used to describe me.  Still, I’m thinking that we’re in it for the long haul.  I love you, Self-Esteem, and I love me too!  See you tomorrow.

Peace.

Suicide is NOT Entertainment

UPDATED: November 14, 2010:

Just realized that I didn’t include the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in this post.   If you’re thinking about doing harm to or killing yourself, please call 1-800-273-TALK to speak with one of their counselors.  You are not alone.

Good #MHSM (Mental Health Social Media) – like all good social media – is about uniting people around common goals and building connections through the internets in the same ways that we build them in “real” life.  The Mental Health Social Media community is about giving people help and support that they may be afraid or unable to ask for in person.  Watching someone’s cry for help, then watching them not get it, is the antithesis of good social media and being a good human being.  Don’t blame the medium for creating the problem, blame yourselves.  Now get to reading and get to helping. – Deltra

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By now, you may have already heard about the Japanese man who broadcast his own suicide via UStream. If not, here’s some coverage of the story from Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/11/japanese-man-broadcasts-h_n_782140.html

Can someone please tell me what is going on in the world that we’re watching people off themselves online like it’s a music video?

Here’s a little bit of education, for people who have no experience with depression, despair, suicide, or suicidal people.  If someone comes out of their mouth talking about killing themselves, wanting to die, or mentions having attempted suicide in the past, THEY’RE NOT KIDDING. Don’t wait around, watching to see if they change their minds. GET HELP. I don’t know what drove that Japanese man to end his life, or to stream it live on the internet. But, according to reports, he tried to do it a few times during the broadcast before he succeeded in hanging himself.  If nothing more, his confession to wanting to die, and his previous attempt are actually enough to get him admitted to a mental hospital for observation.  Watching his limp body hang from the rafters is not the kind of “observation” a mental health professional would’ve envisioned for this man.  I’m not trying to be funny, but I’m trying to impress upon you that plenty of people are well trained to recognize the signs of suicide.  If you see them yourself, I’d feel better if you ignored the person than egged them on, or just watched the imminent demise.

Let me let you in on a little secret:  I have been, pun intended, at the end of my rope a few times in my life.  But even at my worst I’ve never even though about, let alone threatened out loud about, killing myself. Know why? Not because I’m better than anyone, but because I didn’t want to die.  The DESIRE to end your life, to shuffle off this mortal coil, and the belief that killing yourself is the solution to all your problems, is what separates the depressed and suicidal from the merely depressed yet hopeful.  Think, for a moment, about all the secrets and lies you tell yourself.  Now think about what it would take for you to confess them aloud.  Wanting to kill yourself is like the biggest, scariest secret in the world, one that lots of people hold onto for a long time before it sees the light of day because nothing is real until you say it out loud.  So you best believe that if someone says out loud, even once, “I want to kill myself”, don’t take it lightly.

My regular readers know that my best friend from high school killed herself by jumping onto the subway tracks.  Apparently she lived a short time before she succumbed to her injuries, but she still picked a pretty public and fairly fool-proof way to exit the world.  She didn’t announce to her fellow MTA passengers, “hey, I’m ’bout to jump off this platform, so you can watch or try to stop me”.  Still, I hope that if she did make that grand a gesture, someone would have snatched her back and called the police, or at least her mama.  I’m thinking that the friends and family of this Japanese man wish someone had actually listened to his repeated announcements.