Books about Black Women to Add to Your Black History Reading List

Let our society tell it, Black women have never had an impact on history.  Black women have no stories to tell.  Black women’s roles are to support – but never overshadow –  their husbands, sons, brothers and white counterparts.  History tends to leave Black women’s stories untold or flatten their stories into a bite-sized, one-dimensional tales of piety, sacrifice, or perfection.

The truth is that Black women have always been innovators, strategist, radical thinkers, and pillars of every community. Yet, somehow, so many amazing stories of Black women have been lost to time.

Here’s a short list of compelling books about Black women for your Black History Month reading list that aren’t Michelle Obama’s Becoming (which I assume is on all our “to read” or “read” lists).

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore with Veronica Chambers

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Photo credit: Macmillian Publishers

This book tells the stories of four women who have been major players in American political systems.  These women met early in their careers and have helped each other navigate work dynamics, personal tragedies, career mistakes and more by creating a support system for themselves and the other black women around them. They, individually and collectively, have been driving forces in some of the major Democratic campaigns and political moments, including both Jesse Jackson’s and Hilary Clinton’s historic presidential campaigns and the Clinton Administration. In addition to recapping their biographies and careers, the women provide thoughts on the importance of building and nurturing your networks and finding mentors and allies who can push you forward and keep you sane.

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

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Photo credit: Beacon Press

Most are familiar with Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun”, the first Broadway play written and produced by a Black woman.  This book chronicles Hansberry’s short life before she died from cancer when she was 34 years old and proves that her famous play is just the tip of the iceberg.  Hansberry was dedicated to living a life true to her ideals.  Hansberry grew up the daughter of a prominent Black businessman in a middle-class Black family in Chicago.  She was an outspoken lesbian, feminist and Black rights activist who never shied from expressing her thoughts. Her crew included the who’s who of the day, including James Baldwin, Nina Simone, and Paul Robeson.   Hansberry was revolutionary.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

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Photo Credit: Macmillian Publishing

In the relatively few years since the Black Lives Matter movement started, it has forever changed our language around the systemic abuse and deaths of black people by police officers. The casual BLM fan may not realize that that the organization was started by women who wanted to make a change in their communities.  This book serves as the author’s biography and to the events that lead to the start of the BLM and how the movement changed the lives the author and her family.

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis

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Photo credit: Little, Brown and Company

This book is at the top of my personal list, so – full disclosure- I haven’t read it but am extremely excited for my copy to reach my doorstep.  The author tells the story of how her mother made ends meet, bought a house and paid for her college education by running the Numbers.  The Numbers was something like a lottery system that was prominent in black communities.  Though this is a story of one woman, the greater story displays examples of Black entrepreneurship and black people creating wealth and investing in their communities through underground economies.

This list is just a flake on the tip of the iceberg and there are so many black female experiences not represented in this extremely short list.  What books would you add to the list?

Developing a Healthy Sexual Ethic

It’s no secret in my friend circles that I was the last one to start having sex of any kind. I squandered my would be heaux years because of raggedy ass purity culture, never exploring myself as a sexual person, ashamed of any and all desire to know another person beyond a kiss or nipple play (which I was already going to hell for lol), developing performance anxiety about sex I wasn’t even having (*boxes self in the throat*), and foolishly thinking myself better than all of the other women (barely) getting their orgasms.

Luckily for me, my delay has not been my denial lol. I used my early 30’s to create a metric beyond “married=good/unmarried=bad” when it came to navigating how I functioned as a sexual person. I developed my sexual ethic through conversations with friends, prayer, intuitive knowing, and in consultation with life experiences because a truth I know for myself is that I need an ethic about my #poontivities regardless of if I’m practicing celibacy, #schoonchin here and there and everywhere, or if I’m in a relationship (thanks for the fun language Danyelle.#UnfitChristian).

For now, Ms. Kitty and I have settled on the follow ethic for #poontivities.

Keep it consensual. Consent is baseline, like basement/bottom floor. All parties must be in agreement that we agree to engage in some touching and other grown folks things *and* that that agreement (i.e., consent) can be withdrawn at any time for any reason. No one owes anyone their body or their touch.

Keep things as safe as desired or needed. Take whatever precautions all parties need or desire in order to be as close to safe as possible given the inherent vulnerability of #poontivities and protected against undesired pregnancy and diagnosis.

Body & sex positive. I’m a fat-bodied, Black woman with a hard fought and healthy sense of self. I had to learn to love myself and value myself as a fat-bodied Black woman in a society that values me for little to nothing at all. Affirmation is a practice that applies in all areas of my life, including this bawdy and the life and times of Ms. Kitty. That I would consider sharing my body and the pleasures thereof with someone is an honor for them. Therefore, this body is only shared with people who can honor, affirm, take joy in, and appreciate her. If you can’t appreciate this boom boom ka-pow, then you can’t have access to this boom boom ka-pow. Church, say amen.

Pleasurable. Sexual intimacy can be a lot of things, and what it should be, for me (and all parties), is pleasurable. Said another way, all parties should experience pleasure, including me. I have zero incentive to share my body with anyone who does not provide me pleasure. Pleasure can include orgasms, joy, excitement, agreed upon pain, and whatever else brings my partner(s) and I consensual, safe(r) pleasure. Please, and thank you.

Do as little to no harm as possible. Off top, I am not my best self when I don’t understand what’s happening or if I feel (intuitively) that I’ve been wronged. Because of that knowledge, I strive to be emotionally intelligent and honest in my dealings with folks when it comes to sharing bodies and experiences and ask for reciprocity on that front. (e.g., If I know that someone is feeling me [connection] but all I want is a good time [carnality], then I have need to reconsider #poontivities with them). Miscommunication(s) happen, and in those instances, the goal is for harms to be acknowledged and reconciled, if possible. I appreciate a good time, but I appreciate a good ethic even more.

Honor relationship agreement(s). This one is connected to not causing harm, but needed its own artiuclation. Regardless of relationship type (poly, monogamous, open, etc.), engagements should respect the agreed upon boundaries and process my parter(s) and I have relating to intimacy (i.e., who and how we can engage people beyond our relationship; e.g., We monogamous? It’s just us. We poly? We us and some more). If I’m single and living my best life, this means that I shouldn’t knowingly engaging folks who have partners who believe that their partners are practicing monogamy. In trying to do no harm, I shouldn’t be complicit in another person’s potential heartache.

Reconcile it with faith/spiritual/religious belief and practice Align your practice with your beliefs and traditions. I’m a christian who rejects any inherent shame, guilt, or sinfulness of sexuality and sex because I sincerely believe that God is concerned with how we engage folks in our sexual practice(s). I wholeheartedly believe that God cares about if we are we honest, caring, and doing as little harm to no harm as possible in our sexual intimacies with folks.

As we all (continue to) work through our own ethics around #poontivities, remember that our journeys are our own and that (optimally) we have people who support us as we craft and refine our ethical commitments. I, like Sway, don’t have all the answers, but I share what I’ve grown to know for myself in an attempt to help folks think through how we’re engaging ourselves and other folks in #poontivities.

To fun, to play, to connection, to self love, to affirming touch, to touch that turns us on, to touch that turns us out, to being worn all the way out, to being re-energized, to moments that feel like magic, to learning more about our likes and loves, to tension released, to feeling like a brand new person, to knowing another and ourself more deeply, to moments of ecstasy, to doing it without the fear of danger or harm, to doing it how we like it… to a sexual ethic that causes little to no harm and yields affirmation and pleasure.

On #NappilyEverAfter and embracing #NaturalHair: A Review-ish & Personal Reflection

My hometown’s public school system committed to having 3rd and 4th-grade students learn how to swim. I’m an ‘80s baby and the ‘90s raised me, so “protective styling” options and swimwear accessories during the school year were very limited. I’ve never chemically treated my hair, so water and I had a unique relationship. So unique that I never let the shower water directly touch my face. I cupped the water with my hands and washed my face to avoid the fate of possible first- and second- degree burns induced by my mom using the hot comb.

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So, when swimming lessons came in 3rd grade, I was unprepared for a few reasons. I reported to the pool with a stocking cap and shower cap and thankfully, one of the Black teachers intervened, as she knew the tragedy that was about to happen. She then braided my hair in the pool locker room. I am grateful to her.

Growing up with natural hair has come with its shares of pride and struggle, so when I saw that “Nappily Ever After” (NEP) was premiering this past Friday, I had to see what it was all about. Because, you know – representation matters. And I’m also a fan of Sanaa Lathan. I enjoyed watching the movie so I wanted to share some quick thoughts with you all. If you have not seen the movie, stop here because *spoilers ahead*.

NEP tells the story of Violet Jones, a thirty-something who has a built a reputable marketing career advertising mainstream beauty standards. Violet has been dating Clint for two years and presumes that he will be proposing to her at her birthday party. To Violet’s dismay, her elegant engagement ring is presented as a cute Chihuahua, named Lola. When Violet confronts Clint, he shares that their two years has felt like “two years of first dates” and expresses that he doesn’t know much about her, nevermind marrying her. If Clint honestly felt that way, I’d like to know how he felt confident getting her such a large commitment, like a dog, for a birthday gift, but I digress.

I appreciated that that NEP scratched the surface of the complexity of beauty being tied to hair through the lens of a brown-skinned Black woman — and one with at least 4A hair at that. Society has conditioned us to believe that natural hair is beautiful if it is long, perfectly curly when wet, and styled effortlessly. And we typically see these women presented in the media, leaving a host of other beautiful queens out of the picture. Natural hair is also kinky and coily, can betray you with shrinkage when wet, and take multiple attempts to achieve a perfect style. This shouldn’t make these types of hair desirable or publicly represented. We are overdue for more women that show the full and beautiful spectrum of natural tresses on the big screen.

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Prior to Violet shaving her hair off, she believed that hair held her attractiveness. And thankfully, she learned that her confidence made her attractiveness despite whatever style she chose to wear on her head. Violet and her mom have forged a strong relationship over hair care. Violet depended on her mother to press her hair and in turn, her mother imposed her rigid standards of beauty, which Violet later projects onto Zoe. Violet followed “all of the rules,” but was disappointed that this formula didn’t equal a marriage proposal. I found it freeing that when Violet shaved her head, she also cut her mother’s expectations. I was happy that she was able to meet Will, a Black man who validated her appearance and was able to make natural hair products that benefitted her. I appreciated the exploration of a heterosexual Black man with an “unusual” profession, such as a hairdresser. I hope that this creates more conversations about gender roles in the Black community. Often, we talk about Black women assuming the roles of “a man,” but there is little analysis of Black men assuming the roles of “a woman.” There seems to be many assumptions about Will’s class and sexuality. But, we also see a single-parent business owner who wants to make a woman happy. However, I’m still processing that sensual head massage in the park…

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I liked that the film shed light on people making career changes later on in life. Richard Jones, played by Ernie Hudson, took a chance on a dream of and pursued being a male model. I found it hilarious that he was featured in a boxer brief advertisement which generated a lot of attention. Although Richard wasn’t initially supported by his wife, we’re reminded it’s never too late to go after you want. After all, you’ll never know until you try and someone may very well be impressed by your “junk.” ; ) *bah duhn tisk*

I like the diversity in the Black male characters presented in the movie, even though I didn’t agree with some of the perspectives presented. George Wallace played a small role as a rideshare driver and meets Violet after her bloody honey fiasco with the guy she meets in the club. Violet shares that Clint hurt her feelings and Wallace essentially shared with her that she shouldn’t have an issue if she wasn’t cheated on or (physically) abused. This scene irked me but showed an existing perspective. Women are seen as sacrificial beings. Society and sometimes family will tell us we have to get a man, “keep a man,” and raise our family while our dreams, mental health, and happiness be damned. We are supposed to always put our full selves out for everyone else and be satisfied with the empty glass left behind. A woman’s role on this earth is not merely to exist and be perfect while doing so. I appreciated that Clint was able to boomerang back to Violet with a ring, only for her to realize that it was a ring from a man she didn’t want.

I believe sometimes our shoes begin to hurt to help us realize that we’re walking in the wrong direction.

Overall, I enjoyed watching the movie. I found joy in its opening and closing with a pool scene. There is a lot of contention around Black people and swimming in general, beginning with slavery, stifled with segregation, and topped with Black swimming parties not actually being “swimming” parties. I liked that it didn’t end with a marriage proposal disrupting the idea that “Happily Ever After” has to begin with a wedding. It does start, however, when you realize you are living your life and controlling your temple on your terms and yours alone. I believe that there is more to Violet’s story before or if she chooses to walk down the aisle. I wish it was the first of a miniseries because I’d like to see her journey explored further.

I also wish her mama would have celebrated Juneteenth over the 4th of July, but that’s just me.

-Tia M. Howard


What are your thoughts on Nappily Ever After? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!

#DigitalSisterhood: A Dialogue with #BlackWomenPhDs

As ½ of a digital duo that centers Black women and Black women’s work, I appreciate other Black women doing work in digital and real life spaces. With that, #CiteASista will be exploring #DigitalSisterhood with other Black women who make space for or who center Black women in digital spaces.

I came to know about #BlackWomenPhDs via their self-titled instagram page. I was a fan on my first viewing of their page. I had just finished up my PhD at the University of Georgia, and as someone whose dissertation focused on sense of belonging for Black women in doctoral programs at a historically white institution, their project was right up my alley. I loved seeing all the sista-scholars’ stories and images as they made their way through school or celebrated the work they’re doing post degree completion.

Dominiqua Griffin (left) and Latoya Haynes-Thoby (right) made time in their busy schedules to talk with me about what they do with Black Women PhDs and indulged all my curiosities about how they understand their project as it relates to Black Feminism/Womanism. The following interview is a snapshot of a longer hour long conversation between teams #CiteASista and #BlackWomenPhDs. We hope you enjoy. 

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CAS: I LOVE what you all do with and through #BlackWomenPhDs. Like, love it! Y’all have talked about how you all came up with the project in another interview, but I want to know how you all see your work with BWPhDs as Black Feminists/Womanists?

DG: We really work to center the stories of Black Women Scholars. Often times we are the only ones with a seat at the proverbial table in our given work spaces. By centering our stories and celebrating ourselves we are able to continue down this road. This space will hopefully allow future scholars to feel like they can successfully obtain the degree and navigate their field with the support and foundation of other women. The intersectionality of being Black and Woman can still fall victim to misogyny by Black Men and other non-People of Color. We then have to turn inward or reach out to other women to navigate those spaces and that’s a separate conversation but one that needs space as well. On our page, we don’t have to fight to freely exist: we just can. Essentially, we need more digital spaces to do so, to seek our highest selves and feel appreciated.      

CAS: I ask the question about Black Feminism and Womanism because, for me, one of the beauties of BF/W is the ethic that goes with the ideologies. It’s not just who we can cite, but how we develop practices around what we believe or know. The work you all do to celebrate, center, and affirm Black women scholars is a beautiful ethic I hope we can all get behind (even more than we currently do).

The responses and comments to the daily posts are one of my favorite parts of the BWPhD IG experience. The sisterhood in the comments is life giving. I’ve seen people in the comments cheering on the day’s featured sista-doc, offering up resources to help another sista-doc make it through her program, and sharing their inspiration for returning to school for a doctorate or completing the process they’re in. How has the feedback in the comments section on any or all platforms helped to (re)shape the work you all do with BWPhDs?

DG: We truly wanted to foster a community, and one that is informal and inviting. One that allows us to collaborate and feel comfortable reaching out to scholars and one that puts a face to the work. It’s funny that folks still ask if they’ll get to virtually “meet” us when we’ve been open and honest about who was behind the account from day one. Women wanted to know that we were a valid page and I remember sharing my full name and Linked In page. Seeing the degrees and a brief outline of the road these women took, from the most seasoned to the youngest scholars, just makes the PhD that much more tangible. Women have shared that they found inspiration on the page, which helped them finish their program, and mothers sharing their stories about the challenges they face, or the women that are working on their confidence in terms of presenting their work, all of these stories create the experience of Black Women with PhDs. Valid stories. Unique. Necessary narratives that need to be celebrated.

LHT: We always appreciate the daily celebration of each woman that we feature.  From sorors to sisters in shared fields, or women in different places on the journey, the cheering always motivates us.  When we receive feedback from Black women about the ways in which the support that they receive as a result of their feature, we aim to celebrate harder. Initially, we had ideas about how we wanted to be sure to center and celebrate the accomplishments of Black women along the journey toward or after the PhD, but as a result of the feedback that we received, the process by which we work to maintain this space seems to be organic. Hearing back from K-12 educators, community members, and families who describe the ways in which they have shared the features, and the impact that this has on Black girls who may have never imagined pursuing a terminal degree, encourages us to keep cheering.

CAS: “Organic” is a great descriptor of the space y’all create with BWPhDs. Nothing about it, to me, feels or comes across as pretentious or unattainable. I appreciate that about the space. I remember the love I received during my feature. I had just finished my degree and was starting my year as a visiting faculty member. My UGA sista-docs showed up on the post and other people sent congratulations. It was awesome. With that, what aspects of your own journeys have been influenced by your work with BWPhDs?

DG:  Black Women PhDs has impacted the level at which I want to infiltrate change. Across the university settings, there are a lot of first generation students of color that don’t even know we exist, nor their options post-graduation. My work in training school counselors is so crucial in making sure they understand the need for representation in their schools and partnerships they create for students and families. Even for themselves, navigating their path as counselors and being able to provide culturally responsive services, and acknowledging beauty in our differences and strengths within themselves. It’s always inspiring to see other Bronx Girls and women from NYC that have their terminal degrees. Seeing them, and Sorors, or folks that share one of my alma maters really warms my heart. It’ the same feeling when I see other educators and counselors. Seeing parts of my identity reflected in so many other women is truly a beautiful feeling. I don’t typically see that many faces, particularly Women of Color and especially Black Women getting the recognition they deserve. I wanted to make sure college students and even younger students were exposed to the options they have with earning a PhD. Growing up I only heard about medical doctors and lawyers but not the nuances of terminal degrees. We needed a light for the women that courageously contribute to their fields and add depth to research, and really center our narratives.

LHT: Similarly, Black Women PhDs has served as a reminder of the many ways that Black Women arrive at their PhDs or EdDs. The stories of women completing their degrees while parenting, while holding down full time jobs, after tremendous loss, or out of communities that society tells us won’t produce what we see every day on Black Women PhDs. I personally recall the day that we featured a Black Woman that I had been a fan of since childhood.  She was literally a neighbor down the street, and as the years had gone by, and we moved away, I had no idea that she had already completed the journey that I am now on. It was so exciting to see her continuing to inspire!

My writing and research examining trauma and resilience in the lives of Black Women is buoyed as we share the stories of Black Women who persisted in spite of, all the while laying the roadmap for others to follow.

  CAS: Brittany and I, and so many others, appreciate the work that you all do through the BWPhD platform. It is our hope that folks who might not know about your work might check it out and support it and the Black women PhDs in their network. Now, we wouldn’t be #CiteASista if we didn’t ask you to cite a sista (or two) who shape your life and work (professionally, personally, academically, etc.).

LHT: Immediately, I am extremely grateful for the work of bell hooks, June Jordan, Gloria Naylor, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker.  These women taught me to dare to dream of something bigger than my experiences might have predicted. In the classrooms, in my daily life, and in my writing, I am encouraged by their courageousness.  These are the women that I find myself needing to continue to dive deeper into as I work to fulfill my role in the universe, and as continue to cheer for my fellow sisters along the way.

DG: Personally, Dr. Julia Bryan, my advisor. I know she advocated for me in spaces that I was not even aware of and she’s a true gem in school counseling. As it relates to my understanding of self and my work in a broader sense, definitely Dr. Gloria Ladsing Billings. Latoya already mentioned the greats!! I’d like to echo bell hooks and Audre Lorde. Self care as a Black Woman is critical, especially in navigating political and personal spaces, and as we know, often the two are intertwined.

CAS: Where would we be without the sista-scholars who pave(d) the way for us. I’d be remiss not to cite sista Ananda Leeke (@anandaleeke) whose book, Digital Sisterhood: A Memoir of Fierce Living Online, follows her experiences online beginning in the 1980’s.

Y’all are so dope. Thank you all for your time, honesty, and transparency. Truly, talking with you both and learning more about yours work  has been a pleasure. I continue to be excited about the work that you all do, the centering of Black women in your work, and your commitment to creating space for Black women to cheer each other on as we press our way toward our goals. To learn more about their work, follow them on IG @BlackWomenPhDs, Black Women PhDs on Facebook, and @BlackWomenPhDs on Twitter.

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Thanks for joining Team #CiteASista for the first of our #DigitalSisterhood posts. Be sure to join us the next #CiteASista chat with our digital sista-scholars at #BlackWomenPhDs. Be sure to follow @CiteASista on Twitter and IG for more content.

 

3* Reasons I Decreased My Social Media Usage

I love social media. 

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Okay, maybe not love; but, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and even Facebook have been, for as long as I can remember, ways for me to keep in touch with people from various stages of my life. Or, so I thought. Yet this summer when I completed an internship with a mentor and began to think about the things I wanted to accomplish before graduate school ends in May, something changed. My friend Qua’Aisa often colloquially refers to pre-graduation accomplishments as a “graduate school bucket list” and it has stuck with me ever since. I began to realize that I was spending a lot more time sharing and scrolling through my life and the lives of others than I was living intentionally amongst people with whom I wanted to create memories.

I often joke that I go to bed so late and wake up so early that I nearly pass myself in the hallway.

And while that’s true and I’ve been very productive for the last few years, I realize that productivity came at the expense of sleep and taking care of myself because I was using bedtime for aimless scrolling. Since summer began, I’ve been sleeping more, eating better, and working out exponentially more consistently. So what does that have to do with social media? My uptick in self-care is directly tied to my downtrend in social media scrollage (I’m a Ph.D. student, I can make up words if I want). I used to wake up at 5 or 6am to theoretically be productive and center myself only to realize an hour had passed and all I’d accomplished was failing to sleep and mindless scrolling. But the change in social media algorithms has gone on to make this increasingly visible because when I was mindlessly scrolling things started to look familiar. And then I realized: I was seeing the same. five-ish. posts. all. the. time.

So I said no more. 

No more aimless scrolling.

No more spending time in spaces that drained me emotionally.

No more being entangled on websites that would often lead to drama (ask any graduate student about groupme drama and they’ll tell you stories for days).

So what did I do? And how did I do it? I took the liberty of deciding to–

  • Remove myself from every GroupMe I was a part of and deleting* my GroupMe account.
  • Remove Facebook from my phone (I only posted there sparingly, anyway, after the Russia scandal).
  • Deleted the twitter app (but scheduled posts that align with my research agenda and identities).
  • Deleted the Instagram app.
  • Deleted the Snapchat app.

Typing that out somehow feels harder than actually doing it or having done it.

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My plan isn’t to completely run away from or stop using social media altogether. But it is to be more intentional about how much time I spend aimlessly scrolling and the messages I’m digesting and internalizing as a result of my social media usage. It’s also to allow myself a bit more room to enjoy sifting through my dissertation data and write up–no matter how messy and to finally complete some manuscripts I’ve been working on for over two yearsOkay, so maybe this isn’t simply three reasons I decreased my social media usage in a neat little bow. But I share my story to say it’s okay to decompress. And when people go on social media sabbaticals or decide to engage these platforms at arms lengths, we need not continuously question them about what’s wrong or what happened. In my case? I realized I spent much more time LIVING and enjoying my internship when I wasn’t worried about documenting every piece of it or seeing what everyone else was doing.

I’ll be back online for things that matter to me like #CiteASista chats, sharing my travels, amplifying important writings and research by Black women, and even acknowledging some of my dissertation milestones. But I won’t be online to engage spaces that drain me. I won’t be online to debate or argue points with people who are not interested in the actual exchange of information. And no, I won’t be online to see what else is going on in this government of mine and discussing it in an echo chamber.

Instead, I’ll be spending that time hosting Sunday brunches with friends and making Sunday dinner with my parents and sister. I’ll be writing up the stories of women who’ve entrusted me to shed light on the sometimes volatile field I seem to have committed myself to. I’ll be watching TV shows and movies that bring me joy like Mamma Mia, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Legends of Tomorrow.  I’ll be hiking the Seven Wonders of Georgia. I’ll be moving through multiple European countries to enjoy people, sites, sights, and foods I thought I’d never experience when I was younger (I’m not that old).

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I’ll be living my life on my own terms without the pressures I’d previously placed on myself to do social media. And I’ll do so without feeling like I am traipsing through life on an auto scroll. I write this because I find it amusing that the very things that have saved me and propelled me thus far (#CiteASista, #SisterPhD, #FirstGenDocs, etc.) are the very things I’m still engaging but have also led me to move back and take rests from for my own health and sanity. This is not a plea for people to self-reflect, a critique of others who share nearly every piece of their day online, nor is it a call to action… It’s simply a post by a woman who has helped create online communities explaining in those same places a why I decided to step back from the performativity social media requires. It’s my way of doing something not because something is wrong, but because I needed to care for me before something became wrong.

Cheers to personal growth and self-reflection after unplugging.

Why I (Literally) Cite A Sista

Brittany Williams (hey boo!) and I came up with #CiteASista as a project for a course in the summer of 2016. Our professor tasked the class to create a project that challenged whiteness and white supremacy. We threw patriarchy right on under the bus for fun and crafted up a twitter chat about centering Black women’s voices in the academy and all areas of our lives. We had an affirming response from sista-scholars in the twitterverse and at our home institution. Since that first chat, #CiteASista has evolved into a Black Feminist/Womanist digital project that aspires to encourage a citational praxis that centers Black women’s knowledge, builds community across communities of Black women within and beyond the academy, and supports Black women who are developing a Black Feminist/Womanist identity, ethic, and praxis.

createherstock-big-bun-2On a more the personal is political level, I cite a sista because it is part of my ethic as a Black Feminist/Womanist because our society is shaped by both patriarchy and white supremacy.  Choosing to cite a sista is a purposeful and empowering practice that challenges us all to know more, to know more deeply, to know more complexly, and to know more intimately. Choosing to cite a sista is inherently oppositional to people and systems that do not recognize or are challenged by the wealth and richness of Black women’s individual and collective knowledge. I sincerely believe, and know for myself, that Black women have knowledge that comes from lived experiences at various intersections of identities, power, privilege, and oppression. When I was unsure of what I knew, it was Black women scholars (hooks, Crenshaw, Hill Collins, and Dillard) who (re)minded me that I know things beyond my book learning  because of who I am as a Black woman.

In the academy, C.R.E.A.M. means citations rule everything around me. Citations are the capital and currency of the academy. If I want sista-scholars to get their due, then I do my part to cite them when and where I can (manuscripts, syllabus, references to other scholars, etc.). I cite a sista because I want sista-scholars to get the reward for their labor.

london-scout-41030Before and beyond academic credentialing, research protocols, or IRB approval, Black women knew/know things *and* our knowledge is valuable, particularly when the knowledge of our position is structurally marginal (as women within patriarchy and Black within white supremacy). More plainly, my non-degree holding Black women family and friends all have knowledge that inform how I navigate and negotiate relationships, counter systems of oppression, manage the responsibilities of adulthood, and understand the ways of the world. While the citational practice might not carry as much weight in non-academic areas of my life, giving them credit for their knowledge is a culturally honest practice. Here’s what and how I cite often Black women beyond the academy.

  • “I don’t do ouuu’s and ahhh’s. Singing background is a trap.” Effie White (Dreamgirls) | I cite Effie White’s knowledge of the world in my own understanding that people will use your talents and gifts to highlight their own with little to no reciprocity.
  • “I don’t care how pretty other people are. You be beautiful because you are beautiful. Don’t ever let me hear you diminishing your beauty or light again. I won’t have it.” Pamela Anthony | I cite Pamela as a fellow #SistaBigBones whose knowledge of the world informed my own confidence, assurance of self, and the early stages of my re-evaluation and critique of “thinness as beauty” concept.
  • “Live your life the way you want to live it because folks will have something to say about it anyway and you’ll be the one living it.” Mama | I cite Mama for her knowledge that I will reap what I sow. So, make sure that I’m sowing what I want to produce, regardless of what others want harvested in my life.

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I say all of this to say that there is power in who we choose (not to) reference as a source of knowledge. Who we choose to include/exclude matters. Dr. Kishonna L. Gray established #CiteHerWork (2015) to encourage people to cite work that women do. Citing a sista is what we encourage at #CiteASista. Including Black women in your citational practice is not hard, but it is an intentional practice, not because Black women are quiet and keep our wisdom to ourselves, but because our knowledge is overlooked, erased, or silenced by systems of power that manifest in the delegitimization of Black women and Black women’s knowledge. The practice has transformed my work and my life in empowering, endarkening, and culturally honest and authentic ways. When you are figuring out whose knowledge to draw from or be inspired by in the future, don’t think long or hard: just #CiteASista.

Is “No” a Dirty Word: On our Culture of “Ghosting”

This morning on Facebook, I’d written a status asking about ghosting and the word no. The status said–

I have a question for Gen X/ Millennials… why is it so hard for people to say “no” in lieu of ghosting? Saying no is responsible. It shows you considered something but for whatever reason, it won’t work out at this moment. How is it that people will allow your email, questions, etc. about something they can tell is significant to you (and significant more broadly) to go unanswered and unreplied to on a consistent basis? Now, I’m emphasizing the consistent piece because I found an unanswered text last night, I simply did not see, to which I apologized for, answered, and moved on with yesterday’s business. But why have we as a culture normalized ignoring people when saying “no” is a simple answer? Has no become a dirty word?

I was prompted to write the status after sending several emails and texts to people about employment, educational support, fitness support groups, and even in hopes of getting together a team of people to visit the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.

I could not understand why the people I’d reached out to had failed to reply either saying no or acknowledging receipt of my message and suggesting they’d been away or needed more time.

As an overachiever and sometimes people pleaser, I know first hand the desire to do everything. I overextended myself so much the last few years and this past spring semester to the point that my body had finally had enough and I had to rest for 2.5 weeks due to illness and general exhaustion over the summer. I learned from that mistake. I said no to writing opportunities shared with me;  I said no to taking a course on data sets that, while not required, would be great for developing my skill set; I said no to additional conferences on top of the few that I have committed to at an earlier date. I. Said. No. 

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I realize that saying no is hard, but I genuinely believe it to be better than ghosting. What is ghosting you ask? When people agree or have the option to (dis) agree to something and rather than getting it done or saying no because they can’t  (or don’t want to) they fail to reply or acknowledge it at all. Ghosting is at an all-time high in both the dating and working worlds and I can’t believe I’m saying this– but it’s downright unprofessional to do to your colleagues and peers.

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I know professionalism is laced with specific connotations. I know that there are gender and racial disparities in who gets asked for what and how often. I know that some people feel like they HAVE to say yes because of their positionality. But hear me when I say this: ghosting might remove the temporary burden of having to say no or do something else, but it changes the way people view you.

Perhaps some of us don’t care. Perhaps a few people considering us unreliable is a cost we’re willing to pay. But for me? I refuse to do it to others and I refuse to accept its continuation to me. I’m at the point where ghosting is considered an answer and where I’m keeping track of how often people are unreliable to protect my peace of mind.

I am convinced that saying no is an alternative to non-response or ghosting… Are you? 

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Save Your Pearls: “Nice” is a Trap

From time to time, I make a trip to a Godiva store and buy myself some $15 chocolate covered cashews. They’re delicious. I appreciate their goodness. I shared my Godiva with a few people. One of them got slick at the mouth about the quality of my chocolate. Okay. Cool. The next time I bought myself some chocolate and shared them, I the person who complained about my good chocolate a Hershey’s bar since that was about their speed/what they could appreciate, and that my friends, was an act of grace, as I owed that person nothing. That person wanted to know why I wasn’t being “nice” to them (read: sharing my good chocolate). I told them that they chose to disrespect my offering and had lost access to it.You tried it

Lessons learned: no casting pearls before swine and “nice” is a trap.

I’ve embraced those ideas and have been more intentional about not casting my pearls before swine in many areas of my life. If I’m honest, I struggle a bit with this in dating and partnership, in part, or maybe mostly, because of patriarchy’s need for me (and other women) to be “nice” to them and everyone else to prove our worth. I know that niceness is a hustle. “Nice” women give of themselves to support the men who they care about or desire to partner with. “Nice” demands that women cast our pearls before men who may be wholly unable or unwilling to value our offerings. I know that nice is a lazy, thoughtless, placeholder word that is weaponized against women to demand a cordial response to indifference, disinterest, disrespect, or lack of care from people who do not have the capacity or willingness to value who we are.

image1Structurally, we don’t always have the luxury of legitimate choice. Systems are real and don’t always make it possible or easy for folks to have full say over their pearls. Systems of oppression are gonna oppress (capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, ableism, etc.). That said, in our everyday interpersonal lives, I’d like to think that depending on our social location, we have some degree of autonomy, no matter how small. It’s at that location that I encourage us to take up the practice of not casting pearls before swine/letting go of “nice”.

praise handIn my world, not casting pearls before swine/letting go of “nice” is not about being ugly or rude to people. Choosing not to cast my pearls before swine is about honoring my worth (when I’m able to, because, like I said, I’m not always able to do that). I identify as christian and have the fruit of the Spirit as my metric for action toward others. Luckily for me, “nice” isn’t a fruit of the Spirit lol. If I’m being loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled, then I’m doing well. I’ll even throw in some grace, an extra measure of kindness or goodness to misunderstandings and unmet expectations but not for repeated or egregious harms toward me.

Celebrate- So dot dot dot conclusionI don’t know everything, but this I know for myself: Grown people who don’t have the capacity or desire to appreciate what we have to offer (emotional labor, kindness, grace, patience, service, creativity, time, etc.) are not entitled to the fullness of who I am/we are. I know that we do ourselves well to recognize other people’s inability and/or unwillingness to find value in who and what we are. Be it Godiva, love, labor, or time, when folks aren’t able or willing to value it, you don’t owe them “nice”. Whatever your metrics/measures for how you want to engage people, remember that swine will clamor for whatever you’re “nice” enough to offer, including the pearls that they don’t have the capacity or willingness to desire.

 

 

 

For colored girls who live for snap filters and a little bit of cleavage

So let’s talk about this feature image…

I participated in this personal project called Scars of our OWN by Sarah, owner and photographer of OWN Boudoir.  It is a project where participants are exploring there external and internal scars. These photos were done in March and I had been going back and forth about whether I should share them or not. But I returned to the poem below (which I wrote back in January) and knew this was the perfect piece to share with this image. So first shoutout to Sarah for making this experience so amazing. What are my Scars? A part of them is dealing with my body image. I have many assumptions about what my body says about me and how I operate in the world. Some of them are valid and others are things I need to work through. More about my experience with Sarah will be shared on her website so stay tuned there, but in the meantime, enjoy this piece.

For colored girls who live for snap filters and a little bit of cleavage

This poem is for you.

For you women whose thighs rub together and have jeans that are proof of the friction.

This poem is for you who have love handles that need to be appreciated daily.

For you still learning to appreciate those handles.

This poem is for all the BS you put up with

The frustrations , the questions, the triumphs

This poem is here to lay it all out.

This poem doesn’t have answers

But it has truth, and to be honest, I like to sit in the truth.

I like to sit in the uneasiness and vulnerability and boldness of it.

So this is for colored girls trying to lose weight to reach their full bad bitch potential

Who have reached the point where their motivation is to stunt on these niggas

Just to prove a point

For colored girls who wear sizes 16 and up and still want to be sexy in what they wear.

Thank Black Jesus that Lane Bryant and Target have answered our prayers

And that there are online boutiques like Monif C and Elloquii, but some days how our bank accounts are setup, we stay in our prayer closets for better deals and stretch pants

For colored girls who are good enough for late night rendezvous, but not good enough to take home

Cuz in reality our big bodies don’t get real love

They get half assed intimacy in our inboxes after midnight

In reality our big bodies don’t get fawned over, they get overlooked

And it’s a daily battle to tell ourselves you are beautiful

You are worthy so fuck these niggas and their superficial standards

For colored girls who manipulate the shapes of our bodies with Spanx and tights to smooth out rolls and have scars where the material rolled up or stayed on too long

But this dress has to have the Spanx so we deal

For colored girls who aren’t considered “thick” because we don’t have an ass

We have stomachs and thighs with stretch marks

So we are looking for the word that describes our shape and it’s a word or words that we are proud of

For colored girls whose breast cups extend into threes and into the alphabet past Ds into Fs Gs and Hs

And even then we still want to buck the system and not wear a bra

And trust me, these triple D’s don’t always have a bra holding them hostage

They need to be free

To be free colored girl… I sometimes get there

Like that one summer I put on a two piece bathing suit without a wrap to cover up my thighs and let my stomach out.

I snapped photos of myself in the sand and in the water

And felt free

Cuz there is something about cleansing and freedom in water

I felt invincible and beautiful and loved all by myself

I shash shayed past thinner women with bigger confidence

I sent photos to friends and potential baes

To be free colored girl, I sometimes get there

When I take nudes of myself once I get out the shower

There may or may not be a collection in a private app on my phone

There may or may not be folks who receive them in their inboxes

On those days, Instead of shaming my body and trying to hide it

I spend time admiring it

And yet sometimes I am uncomfortable in my nudity

I suck in and twist to paint a better picture, a better image

To be free colored girl it can be uncomfortable

But this is for colored girls who, despite being uncomfortable,

Smile anyway

Rock that dress with the right fit for our curves

Shoot those shots in DMs

And take those selfies with good filters

with of course a little bit of cleavage

BCB 1/16/18