When Will Y’all Say Her Name? The Near-Erasure of Black Women

This week, a Black teacher was under social media scrutiny.

Fourth grade paraprofessional Patrice Brown was reprimanded for wearing attire the Georgia school administration deemed questionable.  In the photos distributed throughout Facebook and Twitter, Brown smiled confidently while she donned outfits accentuating her hourglass figure.  This, of course, resulted in semi-epic debates involving the teaching assistant’s appropriateness (or lack thereof), accusations of body envy, and the unnecessary sexualization of a woman just doing her damn job.

While all that nonsense went down, though, I admit that my main concern wasn’t what she looked like (shit—as long she performed her duties correctly while treating those babies with respect, her wearing a tight dress and heels were the least of my worries).

I was actually worried about Brown’s overall safety.

Since gaining attention for her “sexy clothes,” #teacherbae’s Instagram following increased to 160,000.  She recently had to make the account private because of the recent jump in popularity.  After reading about her instant fame, I lowkey wondered about the hoard of basic ass fuckboys who flooded her inbox with unsolicited sexual advances.  How some of them recognized Brown on the street and yelled “Ay, Baby Girl.  Let me get that autograph” while trying to walk beside her, but spat “Oh you can’t speak?  Fuck you, Bitch—you ugly anyway” while she continued to ignore her admirer.

Those thoughts traveled through my brain—especially when, while attending a Brooklyn festival, a graduate student named Tiarah Poyau was shot in the face by Reginald Moise after she told him to not grind against her.  Or when 25-year-old Dee Whigham was stabbed 119 times by sailor trainee Dwanya Hickerson in a hotel room back in August.  And then there was Rae’Lynn Thomas, a 28-year-old transwoman who was shot by her mother’s ex-boyfriend while being called Satan.  And Renisha McBride. Aiyann Stanley-Jones. Lynaya Griffin.

The Black women and young girls I just named unfortunately fell victim to violence and death at the hands of abusive men or racist police officers. Black women are more likely than their White counterparts to succumb to this form of injustice.  Despite this fact, there is very little coverage about violence against Black female victims and the Black activist organizations are just as silent.

To be honest, I take issue with organizations such as Black Lives Matter and how they handle the attacks on Black women.  Though I don’t expect them to fight every single battle, I did notice they are disturbingly quiet about the recent murders of our innocent sisters.  When prominent BLM activist Daryl Seale was found shot to death in a car set ablaze, entire squads demanded answers through all kinds of media sources.  Black independent and national publications investigated Seale’s murder for more than a week.  Yet when 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen was found dead in a juvenile detention cell while awaiting trial, the outrage was non-existent even after it was discovered that an employee watched her die.

When women do get a sliver of media attention, we are often blamed for whatever consequence we face.  Remember when Korryn Gaines was gunned down by the Baltimore County police this past summer? Well, I hope y’all also recall the army of Black men saying she deserved to lose her life for “pointing a loaded gun at the S.W.A.T. team.”  But these Twitter judges were nowhere to be found when the Baltimore County Police Department later admitted that officers fabricated most of the information reported to the press.

Speaking of the media, this industrial complex often contributes to the semi-erasure of Black women.  We stay losing our lives and freedom out here for petty reasons, but Black journalists would rather squander their time reporting on Lena “ The Garbage Pail Kid” Dunham for two weeks for lying on a Black male athlete.  Mother Tanya McDowell faced jail time for “stealing education,” yet we’re reading the 100th story on Colin Kaepernick.  Cherelle Locklear committed suicide a year after William Paterson University failed to investigate her rape and her mother filed a lawsuit against the college.  Keep in mind that Locklear’s tragedy paralleled that of Nate Parker’s victim, who took her own life in 2012.  But because the majority of the Black media caped for this asshole, many folks in the community took his “I’m working on becoming a new man” nonsense as the truth.

Look. So many y’all Black folks offered him a chance at redemption—even though he used the media to manipulate y’all into thinking he’s trying to right his wrongs.  Meanwhile, his fans won’t even acknowledge the fact that he penned a rape fantasy involving Turner’s wife into “Birth of a Nation.” Knowing that, please don’t be shocked when I read his apologists for filth. Especially after I found out about Locklear.

So much shit happens to Black women.  For centuries, we underwent trials and tribulations on behalf of others, risking our entire souls for our community while receiving next to nothing in return.  The dead ones might be the center of a candlelight vigil or a political demonstration.  The lives ones tend to gain recognition for either committing a crime or becoming a victim of one.  Whichever the case may be, most of the stories reported on/shared about us are rarely positive.

And it’s easy for me and other frustrated women to suggest having more discussions about toxic masculinity, to hold fuckboys and Noteps accountable for their anti-Black woman rhetoric.  We can even put the Black media on blast for neglecting us women and our experiences (both positive or negative).  But what good would any of those suggestions be if the community as a whole is unwilling to acknowledge the power that Black women possess?  Until the entire collective wakes up, the hatred towards Black women is never going to dissipate.  And in turn, our erasure will only continue.

 

 

Center of Attention

 

“Center of Attention” is a piece I submitted to the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology.  However, I don’t believe it was chosen and maybe that’s a good thing.  So I submitted it to the local B.L.A.C.K. (Building Leadership and Community Knowledge) newsletter Uhuru.  So will be published in the upcoming edition.  But I also wanted to publish it here for all the bigger people (regardless of gender) who are struggling with body image.  This piece is for y’all.

 

As a child, I loved summer.

No—I craved it.  For me, that meant homework, teachers, and early morning risings to board the pencil yellow bus were a distant memory for three months.  Until August, freedom was a luxury I savored for the most part—especially when I was permitted open space in the field behind my grandmother’s back yard.

The field was my go-to spot in the 1980s back home in Springfield, Illinois, where I was born, raised, and allowed to play as long as I was monitored by the older children.  When them, I played baseball, Tag, Track and Field in this area, my feet feeling the soft blades of grass between my toes.  It was one of the few places where my body wasn’t usually the focal point of negative attention.

You see, I was a fat Black girl—the only one in my immediate family—and I was often reminded of this.  Whenever I’d stuff food in my little mouth, family members stared at me with unspoken disgust.  My plump limbs were the punchlines for a variety of fat jokes made by cousins who displayed ill intent towards me.  When school was in session, I was called everything from “Hippo” to “The Ugliest Girl in School” both on the playground and the bus.  I also earned the reputation of eating more than my fair share of food during the lunch period.

It didn’t help matters that I was sexually abused by my aunt, who was a few years older than me.  Though she herself possessed a rotund frame, she made it a ritual to criticize me and my body because it didn’t resemble that of a cousin known for her physical attractiveness.  There were times when I studied my body while standing in front of the mirror, tilting my head to the side slightly and struggling to discover whatever flaw I had so I can rid myself of it.  I did this every day for as long as I remember, the little version of me not understanding what the problem was.  Why my body was such a flaw to everyone else.

As I grew older, I began covering my body with pairs of jeans and t-shirts—regardless of how much sweat dampened my forehead and everywhere else.  Never again did I wear a tank top or swimsuit outside of my grandmother’s backyard.  I wouldn’t dare to—especially with my cousins in town.  At this time, I was fat and enduring middle school, so my body was not only ridiculed but physically assaulted by peers on a regular basis.  On top of that, it produced a foul older because it harbored a bacterial infection I didn’t realize I even had.  I thought it was the result of taking cold showers instead of the hot ones my family couldn’t afford to pay for.  It took a gynecology visit to discover the truth, but until then I fantasized about having a body similar to the popular and much thinner girls.  I no longer wanted the extra layers clinging onto my bones.  I wanted it gone.

So when Spring drifted into summer, I didn’t enjoy it anymore.  I found myself hiding in my room, not wanting nothing to do with the outside world.  When I did engage in a summer activity, it was in shorts and t-shirt and even that was short-lived.  Eventually, the shorts were replaced by jeans that screened my growing thighs. There were periods where I was thin enough for people to notice—men especially.  But the weight eventually crept back on, despite the many times I stuck tooth brushes and writing utensils down my throat, the number of meals I forfeited, and the amounts of empty carbs I eliminated.

I carried decades’ worth of taunts within me well into my twenties and early-thirties, covering up my massive arms beneath thin cardigans, my legs with blue jeans or leggings.  The toxicity of the self-hatred I felt clung onto every muscle and layer of fat stored in my body.  There were periods when I wished I were a different person in another life.  With another body.

Fast forward to 27 years old and living in Rochester, New York.

I am over 200 pounds (though you wouldn’t think so just by setting your eyes on me). As I said before, I carried years of body-shaming messages within me, on my shoulders, and back.  In my mind.  I was still wearing autumn wardrobe throughout the summer, uncomfortable due the humidity, yet safe from taunts pertaining to my body.

One day, I was in the Downtown Rochester area, heading towards the Family Dollar to purchase something I needed.  I was wearing a cardigan over my black tank top as my tongue licked away the beads of sweat moistening my upper lip. The humidity was oppressive to say very least—so much so that even the shade failed to emit relief.  The only thought occupying my mind was getting to the store so I can enjoy the breeze of an air conditioner.

I was actually a few steps away from the Family Dollar’s entrance when I heard someone ask “Aren’t you hot?”

I slowed my pace until I came to a complete stop, looking for the owner of the voice I believed was addressing me. My attention settled on an older woman with sepia shaded skin standing at the convenient store next to my destination.  She stared back at me, confusion wrinkling her face as if she had never seen anyone like me.  Here we go, I assumed.

“A little,” I said, downplaying my discomfort with a shy smile. “I don’t like the way my arms look, though.”

The stranger’s expression on her face softened slightly as she sucked on her teeth.  “Girl, it’s eighty degrees!  It’s too hot to care about what your arms look like.”  She then walked away, leaving me to look on with a quiet shock at her level of bluntness.

Yet she was right.  According to the weather report, the highest temperature was going to be about eighty degrees—possibly much more so with the humidity.  Plus, the dryness of my lips indicated that I was becoming dehydrated and needed something to drink soon.  And my sweating wasn’t helping matters.  Reluctantly, I peeled off my cardigan and gave permission the sun to touch my arms. I swept my gaze around the open streets and sidewalks to catch any condescending stares from on-lookers, all the while clinging onto my cotton armor in case I had to hide again.  But the strangers only walked past me, solely focused on their own destinations and not paying me any mind.  If anything, I was an afterthought they avoided not out of disgust but because I stood in the middle of the sidewalk like a fool.

After my visit to Family Dollar, I started towards the St. Paul Street bus booth to board the next city bus heading home, water in hand, when I caught my reflection in a shop window.  I stopped and examined my frame—truly studied curvaceous hips, my thighs, my circular belly as I rested my hand on its center.  And then my eyes shifted to my arms—my untoned limbs constructed to cradle weeping children, embrace friends announcing the greatest achievement or most debilitating disappointment, arms associated with hands often prepared to either comfort or defend. I immediately noticed how the warmth brightened my skin, bringing out hints of orche and sun-kissed orange as a golden shimmer enhanced the beauty that is my melanin.

It’s too hot to care about what your arms look like.

The woman’s message seeped into my mind, into my spirit as my reflection and I admired one another, drinking in the attention we both craved and now received. This is my body, I thought as the toxicity of childhood derision bled from my pores and into an invisible pool at my sneakered feet before disappearing into the concreate. My body belonged to me and not the ones who critiqued it, mocked it, or used it for their own selfish gratification. These curves, these breasts, feet, hands, neck, stomach, and the inner workings orchestrated to preserve my existence and despite its imperfections and build, are mine.

And they are beautiful.