Wrapping Our Heads: Archiving Black Women’s Style Politics

IMG_8438I learned to wrap my hair with a scarf with age-cousins to protect my braids and beads as a little girl.  Today, each evening, on a night when I have to go to work/school the next day, I twist my hair and still tie my hair with a silk scarf.  Now spring is ending, summer vacation is here, work is over, and the incentive for my time-consuming semi-daily twist-outs and intense moisturizing are long gone (check out HIMAY10NENCE for the most exquisite description of how time-consuming and difficult this process is!)  Couple all that with the fact that now is the best time to purchase scarves and what you have is a new fashion/hair moment: the head scarf as fashion, not just sleepwear.  At this time of year, I can find $10 silk scarves and $3 faux silk scarves all because capitalist clothing machinery imagines women’s scarves as fall and winter apparel for white women’s necks rather than the superfly and protective cover for black women’s heads.

I have gone to youtube for headscarf tutorials as much as for natural hair care regiments.  It is not a coincidence that at precisely the moment when black women are exploiting social media to educate and communicate with one another about natural hair that headscarf fashions are also taking full bloom.  Yes, the headscarf is connected to natural haircare and protection, but there is also a whole other public discourse happening here, one that is re-tooling and re-vocabularizing black women’s beauty and heads away from a white media cartel that has quite purposefully desexualized, criminalized, and uglified black women in headwraps.

aunt-jemima3I think a lot about what possessed white media monopolies to craft historical images of blackwomen in headscarves as the epitome of unattraction, care of white children/families, desexualization, enslaved domesticity, self-hatred, and backwardness.  Here, of course, I am talking about Pancake-Making Aunt Jemima, the most obvious visual marker and stereotype (cartoons were also subsumed with such images). I won’t go into the history of Aunt Jemima and its ideological purpose in creating white nationhood (that will happen later this summer), but suffice it to say that derogatory and racist images of Aunt Jemima always depicted her in a headscarf, pretty much up until 1989 when she got a perm and pearls (of course, it was not JUST the headscarf that was mocked but the FULL body and skin). The question for me is: why did white women and white men need so desperately to take the cultural image of the black woman’s headwrap and negate it so fiercely?

The images in the slideshow below are taken from black women’s online sites (click here for a sample website).  I think the slideshow makes it clear that it took an INORDINATE amount of calculation, time, and visual sorcery/dishonesty for media monopolies to make such women and their adornments ugly. Was the distinctiveness of this beauty and style politics THAT threatening to the maintenance of white male dominance and white femininity?

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We know from the oral histories of former slaves collected by the Federal Writers Project that black women during slavery used headwraps for utilitarian, symbolic, and ornamental reasons. Even those interviewers, considered young “progressive” whites for their time, talked about their black female interviewees in headwraps as typical, old “mammies” in head rags so you have to read the descriptive details about the ways the scarves were wrapped very closely.  In the objective descriptions of intricate scarf wrappings and patterns, you can hear that these were not women who considered themselves ugly or their headwraps as marking an informal, mammy time.

In even this famed photo of some of the slaves who built the White House, you can witness the range of headwrap styles.

In even this famed photo of some of the slaves who built the White House, you can witness the range of headwrap styles.

Black women’s headwraps protected their hair and scalp from heat and sun as well as kept their hair clean. But these wraps were also symbols and adornment.  There are records of slaveowners, particularly white female slave mistresses, who commented in disgust at how bright black women’s headwraps were, seen a mile away.  When I try to imagine what that scene must have looked like in reality, I envision something quite splendid!  While other whites would have understood these white women’s responses as a commentary on black women’s subhuman status, I see it as proof that black women in slavery used headscarves as ornaments that marked their beauty and themselves in community with other black women.  We also know from the historical record that black women wore different kinds of headscarves for formal events (funerals and the like) and also tied them differently for different occasions. In photos before AND after emancipation, you can see groups of black women in headscarves where no two headscarves look the same: the patterns and the wrappings are endlessly varied, working as a kind of improvisational performance reminiscent of a Jazz Quartet…. an elaborate individuality alongside community rhythm at the same time.

Other aesthetic philosophies are also operating here.  European-descended women, of course, wore headscarves too, usually called kerchiefs, but they were styled in a different way.  Headwraps tied at the front of the crown rather than at the nape of the neck is an aesthetic invention of West African women solely.  For the West/subsaharan African-inspired headwrap, facial features are intentionally highlighted with a scarf that wraps upward to draw your eyes up rather than allowing you to look down on a woman.  Since black women under slavery were the ones who did ALL of the sewing and weaving, black women obviously had access to a range of fabric remnants to create headwraps (they even used sailcloths when necessary); they also carried memories of African patterns and design (you can clearly see this in slave women’s quilts), cloth dying techniques, and alternative philosophies of women’s ornamentation. So these headwraps carried heavy meanings that black women both understood and actively manipulated.  While whites used headwraps to mark black women as different from and inferior to white women (there are records of laws in Louisiana, for instance, that made women of African descent wear their headwraps in specific ways to better recognize them, especially significant for those who could pass for white as mulattoes), black women had their own meanings.  Headwraps were particular to black women and represented radical ideas about hair, face, and beauty: defiant, self-empowered, communal, individual, resistant.  Was the distinctiveness of this beauty and style politics THAT threatening to the maintenance of white male dominance and white femininity?  Yes, indeed.  Nothing else adequately explains how something so seemingly benign as a headscarf had to be so demonized and mocked.

I hope it makes sense how and why I use youtube to “archive,” if you will, black women’s headwrapping today.  Given the history I have discussed, it seems safe to say that the endless renditions of black women’s headwrapping and design materials that you can find on youtube tutorials (which include women from the Americas and Europe) represent deep, ancestral ties.

Page 28 of the June 2013 Issue of Essence Magazine

Page 28 of the June 2013 Issue of Essence Magazine

These are not just the scarves that all black women have come to know— those wraps either we ourselves or women around us wear to bed at night. No, these wraps by young women on youtube are used as the centerpiece of outfits or as THE accessory which sets off the rest, just like what their predecessors did.  My time in classrooms is also a good litmus test: I have seen more and more young black female college students wearing fabulous, intricate headwraps in the past five years than EVER before.

I hear a lot of people say that today’s black women are taking back the headwrap from the negative, racist stereotype of white media’s invention of Aunt Jemima.  But I don’t see us as taking anything back... I think we are holding on to what we have always had.  

AfroDigital Women and the Underground eRailroad

Underground_Railroad_MapIn the past few years, I have relied on black women’s youtube channels to move me away from the creamy crack (translation: perm/relaxer) and towards natural hair styles and protection.  Even CNN and Sesame Street have taken stock of the politics of black women’s natural hair.  I became fascinated with what black women do for and with one another on these hair, style, and beauty channels.  I won’t go deeper into these polemics about hair and black women for now (that’s a longer analysis).  I am just using my AfroDigital HairStory here as an introduction to the role of youtube viewing in my life. I am most interested in how black women are creating visual/print/audio/digital communities across multiple topics via youtube and the processes that I use to find these black women.

Most people have been using the personal channel function on youtube for years now, uploading a host of corny and tacky personal videos, crazed-looking rants about nothing, or shrines to themselves and their offspring.  Though I don’t do anything particularly interesting with my youtube channel, I have always been fascinated with the ways that black women use youtube.   Of course, my analyses of the social networking available via youtube isn’t anything new when you look at all of the analyses of the similar media cartels of Facebook and Twitter.   I, however, prefer a more audio-visualized experience and, personally speaking, can’t stand facebook’s appeal to far TOO many as a hook-up spot/strategy (worsened recently with its new dating functions).  As much trouble as fools get themselves into with Facebook thinking they can start real relationships, locate a quickie real quick, or keep the flames burning on old conquests, you would think folk would have learned something by now.  Lesson-learning is not forthcoming for a fool though so I go forth elsewhere.

The Cast of Afro City

The Cast of Afro City

When I type terms like black womanism, black women, and black feminism into a youtube search, I am appalled at what comes back at me: 1) black men explaining why black women are undesirable and unlovable in comparison to other races; 2) all kindsa folk across every ethnicity explaining why black women’s criticisms/anger/beef/feelings are unwarranted (it is all black women’s fault, no matter what the issue); 3) black men and women describing the damage that black women’s womanism and/or feminism are causing to children, families, and nation (with some still going as far as Shaharazad Ali who wrote a book way back when telling black men they should slap black women who she likened to rat and dogs). When I type in black girls, I get videos of young black women fighting with a comment system that ranks the fight like it’s off-track-betting. These images are mind-boggling but certainly not surprising given the history we inherit.   I had to do something different to search for places where black women were using youtube to talk to one another in ways that challenge racism, sexism, capitalism, homophobia, and every soul-negating issue that denies our life force.  80% of youtube suggestions of related videos at the right side are irrelevant to me, at best, or downright offensive so I know to only look at what the people who I subscribe to are uploading.  That’s how I found the show, Afro City, which I followed simply because I was drawn to the very look of the women whose aesthetic dimensions are completely different from the mainstream (and where Afrocentricity/femininity does NOT mean the likes of Shaharazad Ali).  Now I go to what my own subscribers have liked (I only have about a dozen right now so this doesn’t take much time) and what they have subscribed to and I can see a deeper, more relevant set of chosen audiovisual texts that are shaping black women’s lives. When I find a video that I like, I obviously go to that channel and see what else is there.  Most times, it’s a dead-end, but every now and then I can find some gems where I am introduced to new playlists and vloggers, youtube shows, see new channels to subscribe to, and see videos worth watching that the channeler has liked.  If you are interested in real intellectual and mental elevation (most people in the digital universe are not) rather than quickie and often banal socializing and the like, then what happens is that you start visiting all of the places that the black women you respect on youtube visit in order to find more black women.   While this kind of search that I describe is all self-evident, obvious, and common, I think it is still worthwhile to notice the process.

UGGRBattleCreek

This sculpture is the largest memorial to the Underground Railroad in the U.S. It features Harriet Tubman leading a group of escaped slaves, Erastus and Sarah Hussey and the Station Masters for the Southern Michigan Underground Railroad Operation ushering slaves into their basement

The process that I describe speaks to the ways in which black women must always search for alternative discourses for and about themselves using a kind of underground railroad system of connections and next stations. Black women talking to other black women as and about black women are not going to be readily publicized and easily locatable. When you want spaces to hear and SEE black women using visual, audio texts, you need exacting techniques and details to reach new e-railroad stations.

Impact of “Love is Blind”: “You Need to Elevate and Find”

Popular meme brilliantly critiqued by Deborah Cooper as a tactic used to control and entitlement to black women's bodies.

Popular meme brilliantly critiqued by Deborrah Cooper: even “good men” use this language when thinking they are entitled to black women’s bodies.

True to her promise, Deborrah Cooper promised to bring the rain even harder on her website after black men kept dismissing her comments about male sexist behavior.  For those who don’t know, Cooper’s videos, books, and blog are dedicated to black women and relationships with the kind of vibe where I feel like I am talking to that auntie, mother, cousin, grandmother, or godmother with the special knack to insert well-placed cusswords in an unrelenting reading of black men, misogyny, and relationships. If you know the kinds of women I am taking about, even when you don’t agree with Cooper, you will feel like you are on the frontporch on a hot summer day listening to womenfolk as they shake their heads at all of the foolishness they see. Recently, Cooper shared the story of one of her followers who was walking home from a grocery store in Brooklyn.  Cooper’s fan reports that she saw a black man arguing with a black woman and their two daughters with the daughters, little girls, fighting the dad off.  The man grew angrier and more violent so the sista watching called the police.  As she called the police, the black men on the block just stood there, watched, and laughed, with one pair of young men enjoying the show so much that they sat and ate a candy bar, fully engrossed.  Suddenly, about 15+ black girls, maybe in high shool, came along, saw what was happening, and poised themselves to give this man an old-fashioned beatdown.  If the police hadn’t come when they had, he would have gotten it even worse.  I find this image of black men looking on and laughing at a black woman being physically, publicly abused, along with her small daughters, deeply haunting and depressing.  A brother and comrade told me recently that he sees strong correlations between the rise of black male diatribes (i.e., all over youtube), the increase in violence against black women, and the onset of new numbers of white supremacist/KKK-offshoot groups since 2008 (before Obama became president, there were a little more than a 100 white hate groups and yet, after 2008, there were more than 1000.)  In an era of newfound white supremacy, violence against black women will inevitably steepen and increase, that’s the kind of history and world we live in.  And if bourgeois/capitalist culture incorporates black men, even if as coons (think Lil Wayne or Flava Flav’s television show), then it is inevitable that violence against black women will be the price of the ticket for that.  All women are objects under capitalism and black women will fare worst in those equations. This image of the 15 young black women ready for revolution is very striking and haunting, but perhaps, it was always a reality already in the making.

What I am suggesting here is that when I hear so many young black women in my classes still gravitate to and know the context, history, and lyrics of Eve’s 1999 “Love is Blind,” their discourse and memories are about more than just one song.  This is why I include “Love is Blind” in what I am calling the Political-Intellectual Canon of Young Black Women.  These lyrics feel like they are triggering a kind of lineage of blackwomenspeak and blackwomenthink about violence in our communities that students are building on:

This song, “Love is Blind,” is always voluntarily discussed by a black woman in my class whenever Hip Hop gets mentioned… without fail.  Every time. Interestingly though, I have not had students who particularly talk about Eve as a Femcee, only this song.  It’s all about the lyrics here:

Hey, yo I don’t even know you and I hate you
See all I know is that my girlfriend used to date you
How would you feel if she held you down and raped you?
Tried and tried, but she never could escape you
She was in love and I’d ask her how? I mean why?
What kind of love from a nigga would black your eye?
What kind of love from a nigga every night make you cry?
What kind of love from a nigga make you wish he would die?
I mean shit he bought you things and gave you diamond rings
But them things wasn’t worth none of the pain that he brings
And you stayed, what made you fall for him?
That nigga had the power to make you crawl for him
I thought you was a doctor be on call for him
Smacked you down cause he said you was too tall for him, huh?
That wasn’t love, babygirl you was dreamin’
I could have killed you when you said your seed was growin from his semen

Love is blind, and it will take over your mind
What you think is love, is truly not
You need to elevate and find…

I don’t even know you and I’d kill you myself
You played with her like a doll and put her back on the shelf
Wouldn’t let her go to school and better herself
She had a baby by your ass and you ain’t giving no help
Uh-huh big time hustler, snake motherfucker
One’s born everyday and everyday she was your sucker
How could you beat the mother of your kids?
How could you tell her that you love her?
Don’t give a fuck if she lives
She told me she would leave you, I admit it she did
But came back, made up a lie about you missing your kids
Sweet kisses, baby ain’t even know she was your mistress
Had to deal with fist fights and phone calls from your bitches
Floss like you possess her, tellin’ me to mind my business
Said that it was her life and stay the fuck out of it
I tried and said just for him I’ll keep a ready clip…

I don’t even know you and I want you dead
Don’t know the facts but I saw the blood pour from her head
See I laid down beside her in the hospital bed
And about two hours later, doctors said she was dead
Had the nerve to show up at her mother’s house the next day
To come and pay your respects and help the family pray
Even knelt down on one knee and let a tear drop
And before you had a chance to get up
You heard my gun cock
Prayin to me now, I ain’t God but I’ll pretend
I ain’t start your life but nigga I’mma bring it to an end
And I did, clear shots and no regrets, never
Cops comin’ lock me under the jail
Nigga whatever my bitch, fuck it my sister
You could never figure out even if I let you live
What our love was all about
I considered her my blood and it don’t come no thicker

1-soundwave-remix-finalI suspect the weight of this song rather than Eve’s person will become even more pronounced in the future since Eve has eclipsed any awareness of racism now that she is a celebrity …AND pregnant by her white millionaire British boyfriend— the race car driver, Maximillion Cooper.  See Denene Millner at My Brown Baby for a brilliant critique of Eve’s newfound colorblindness as the racial politics for raising her biracial child.  I am pretty confident that Eve’s song will continue to circulate in the annals of young black women’s memory and consciousness though Eve’s own politics and life story may not.

When I hear my students talk about “Love is Blind”– and when I think of the story from Cooper’s follower, the young women fighting back an abusive man on a Brooklyn street, and Cooper’s re-telling of violence against black women on her blog— I see a community of black women speaking into and against violence against them.  In a criminal (in)justice system where the men who rape and beat black women are treated SIGNIFICANTLY less harshly than when raping or abusing any and every other racial or ethnic group of women, it will be up to black women to (re)define justice and safety for their own bodies.  Certainly, no one else can or will do that for us.  When young black women know and discuss Eve’s song in my classes at no prodding of my own, this is the larger epistemological system that I know they are speaking into.

“Cut This Black Woman’s Chains”: Students Take the Cake!

I’ve never been very good with closure.  Classtime runs out, we can be in the middle of a discussion, folk need to go to their next class, and I’ll just blurt out, all uncouth, well, yall, it’s time to go.  And that will be the end of it.  No synthesis, no last words of encouragement, no group hug.  I can’t synthesize when I am still processing; and I’m not Jerry Springer with a final public service announcement. After 20 years of teaching, you’d think I would have found some solutions but I have not been able to succeed at any attempt.  Maybe I just don’t think serious issues are easily resolved with dialogue alone or I am resisting the simple, Western rush to solutions and conclusions to complex issues.  I no longer look for closure at the end of a class.  I do put a lot of thought into the first days and weeks of my classes, but I’m not good at going out with a bang on the last day.

IMG176When I was teaching at a small college in Brooklyn, I learned the importance of the last day though.  Students in an African American children’s literature class inspired me.  My plan was simple: let’s eat together on the last day and share what we have done for final projects.  That’s it.  Nice and simple. Well, they turnt it up and out.  They brought in trays, and I mean TRAYYYYS of food.  Their kids came too and told us what they liked about the literature (this was a Friday evening class of 39 women and 2 men, all of whom were thirty years old and above.)  And my favorite part, of course, was the special corner, far away from the kids, that was for grown-ups only: a maxi-bar that featured a bottle of rum from what seemed like every country in the Caribbean.  I made many trips to that special corner.  That’s a class that I remember fondly, I can still see each face in my mind’s eyes.  It’s the same for the students who did the assembly/performance with their families attending or the students with their curriculum showcases when I was a teacher educator.  You can’t really predict this though. Sometimes students are as dull and dry as wheat thins; other times, they are PURE FIRE. My point is that the last class should do something, you should feel the weight of the time that you spent together, you should feel like you have been somewhere together.  I no longer assume I can achieve that; students have to do that for and with one another.

Caroline CropToday, however, I thought I would be compelling and close the semester with my favorite thank you speech.  I would use black women’s audacity when even saying thank you to thank my class, as if it were me talking to them.  I am talking about En Vogue. Instead of walking up to the stage at the 1990 Billboard Awards, all fake-surprised and theatrically-shocked that they won for their single, “Hold On,” these sistas knew they had this award and so they performed an acceptance speech that blew away the crowd– in the very style of the song that was being awarded.  I don’t mean to suggest that I deserve the award En Vogue received, but I do feel like the semester was my own sort of award. I must admit that I was little impressed with myself.  I had finally found a good-bye lesson plan… but then my little stuff got showed up real fast.

IMG172Today, anthologies were due.  Anthologies are, well, just that.  Students create mini-curricula for their colleagues using black women’s primary texts that exemplify some rhetorical practice or process.  Instead of writing the traditional Western essay for this, they create an artifact that does the analysis. Last year, Fedaling made photocopies of texts written by black women, dipped them in tea, burned the edges, and then put them all in a well-worn, beat up piece of luggage.  This luggage was supposed to represent the way the family kept its identity papers, papers that had been passed down to her from generations of black grandmothers about their history and lives.  An opening letter explained the significance of each text and asked the viewer to add their own writing. Aysha used the same technique and put all of these papers in a decorated shoebox, to look like something she found under her mother’s bed. Celeste created a graphic novel of black supersheroes, “TEAM ABLE” [who consist of (A) Angela Davis, (B) Bessie Smith, (L) Lucy Wilmot Smith, and (E) Ella Baker]. These women do not fight traditional, individual villains.  Instead, they fight silence, inaction, and unconsciousness!  You get the picture here.  I am what we call a visual learner so I have always leaned on multi-media projects in class. Sometimes you just have to mix up the writing assignments because that gets boring real fast for me.  Plus, I can deduce my students’ understanding of black women’s history, black women’s rhetoric, and the connections they are making just as easily, if not more easily, with such 3D/multimedia artifacts as with any written exam or essay.  This year was a first though— it was a project I had never seen.

IMG174Today, Caroline gave us a process.  First, there was a collection of black women’s poems where black women discuss sexuality, their bodies; their right to love, live, and own themselves (the first image on this page).   It is called “For Colored Girls!”  There was an accompanying poster, now gifted to me, soon to be framed in my office (the second image on this page).  The process continued with a red velvet cake with chocolate on the outside (the third image on this page).  The cake was in the shape of a black woman’s torso, fully naked, demonized dark nipples in full tow, wrapped in chains (signifying too on the Swedish cake performance). Caroline cut the chains from the cake in front of all of us so that we could break this black woman free.   She then offered us the inside and outside of this new black woman, ourselves.

It was the perfect closure with a group of students I will not likely forget!  Like I said, the students themselves will do the work.  I’m glad that I was able to listen to that first group of 39 women and 2 men who taught me this lesson many years ago.

Anti-Princess Campaign Continued

In January, I started thinking/blogging about what I then called my anti-princess campaign for young black women.  I did indeed use children’s books this semester in my class for one lesson, books that specifically and deliberately rewrite the oppressive roles of women, race, blackness, and the lives of black girls in fairy tales.  I thought for sure that my students would think me insane, but they caught on and ran with the importance of these gender/race critiques throughout the semester.  Unlike some popular young white youtube feminists, they did not easily dismiss Disney’s psychoses of light-as-right and dark-as-bad or treat these color issues as neutral, a privilege that only white women and near-white women still seem to enjoy.  I will continue these lessons/discussions in my classes in the future.  Strangely enough, the sitcom/corporate conglomeration of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” prompts my newest sense of urgency against princess indoctrination for young black women.

At the suggestion of a student, I recently watched Sheree Whitfield on the “Iyanla Fix My Life” show on OWN.  Despite the people who swoon under the influence of the Entertainment Industrial Complex (and so didn’t find Sheree tantalizing enough on the show) or the non-reflective folk who thought Iyanla went too far, I felt like I got to see some social issues worth discussing for once.  Though I have certainly appreciated Iyanla Vanzant’s no-nonsense relationship counsel in her books, I have always been disappointed that she doesn’t make her analyses of black women’s lives more politically/historically based.  That coupled with the fact that I think her spending/money /celebrity status and habits actually match the kind of consumerism represented by something like Bravo, I am always a bit distrustful of swapping out self-help/self-indulgence for social and political analyses.  Nonetheless, I thought Iyanla was provocative in some of her interviewing and nudging.

I am fascinated by the first half of this segment when Sheree  tells Iyanla that she got married because she was looking for a man to love her, a deep admission if you ask me and a seemingly honest one. When Iyanla asks Sheree what it looks like for a man to love her, Sheree answers that it is the same fairy tale that all girls have.  Iyanla asks for more of what Sheree means.  I am fascinated here that Sheree never really answers Iyanla.  We don’t even get complete sentences from Sheree, something about THE man, THE life, some pickets and some fences.  There is nothing substantive here, no real image of two people trying to come together in sustaining ways; there are only materialistic images that  COMPLETELY lack coherence or logic.  Sheree doesn’t actually become coherent for me and able to form sentences until she begins to describe how painful it was for her to have to pretend that she was living this LIFE, to pretend that she was being loved, to pretend that a loving partnership was ever there or forthcoming, and to always pretend that she was happy and had it together.  Iyanla asks her “to go there and really look at that” and take on some very real pain.  I think Iyanla can be brilliant at getting women to look at their individual lives and pain this way, to really see when, where, and how we are pretending to be happy and/or are willing to put up with too much for fleeting moments of happiness.  But I also think that really going there requires that we look at how these are socially conditioned experiences, wanna-be fairy tales that never come true, so empty that they could never have real substance, a kind of nothingness that occupies such a consuming part of our emotional and mental being.  Have I pretended to be happy to keep the peace with my family, with a partner, or with a lie I have wanted to maintain that existed nowhere in reality?  Sure, I have.  Why are so many pretending we don’t know what Sheree is talking about but acting like, instead, the foolishness on RHOA is relatable?  The kind of pretending that many of us do/have done is part of our own individual baggage, yes, but it’s also part of some serious social programming related to consumerism, sexuality, and genders and women need to examine all that politically, not merely individually.

Iyanla manages to humanize Sheree’s ex-husband in ways that we were obviously unable to see in the various seasons of the Real Housewives sitcom, but I was deeply disturbed by the depiction of Sheree as the sole reason her ex-husband was stereotyped the way that he was.  A corporate machine like Bravo exists to profit off of black people’s pain, not help them overcome it.  Surely, Sheree is not innocent but it’s too convenient to simply blame a black woman for the negative depictions of a black man who chooses NOT to pay child support and be part of his children’s lives.  I am not suggesting that Sheree is a victim since she obviously chose all on her own to be part of something as ridiculous as RHOA (and all of the crazy blogs that promote its gossip); but I also will NOT feel sorry for the man either— if you are that embarrassed about your personal business (broadcast on cable television), then you do not choose a woman who would go that route because you would know to make sure that what you actually value in your life/woman matches your own values.  Iyanla does confront Sheree’s ex-husband something beautiful by making him admit that he hurt this woman to her core by pretending to offer a love he never had, a love that Sheree needed. We also get to hear the ex-husband’s dream of what an ideal fatherhood would look like and he certainly convinces you that he can and will be exactly that kind of father to his children.

By the end of the episode, the world which has scripted these lives still goes unquestioned though.  Sheree won’t confront why she wants to still build and live in a mansion (that has been under construction for years now), a mansion that eerily looks like a princess castle or the Barbie Dream House.  It also seems eerily appropriate that the mansion just sits there, unoccupied, in unfinished ruins.  Iyanla certainly lets the ex-husband know that his choices are his own, not the fault of Sheree.  Nonetheless, there is no real questioning as to how and why a man can avoid his child because the child’s mother isn’t nice to him.  There’s no real beef with what BlogMother at WhatAbourOurDaughters.com describes as a form of “Black Unity” that means we have “uniformly accepted the fact that Black fathers are ‘optional’ – like  AppleCare, or cruise control, or marble counter tops.” It seems socially acceptable for men to blame their decisions to be absent in their children’s lives solely on women’s behavior though those women’s behaviors were not scrutinized when men’s sexual appetites were being fulfilled during unprotected intercourse.  It’s all pretty much a blueprint for my basic definition of misogyny— an entrenched hatred of women where a woman receives more attention for her looks, sexual appeal, sexual favors vs. who she really is; an entrenched hatred of women where women are expected to be controlled/led by men (in the home and in the state) who are not to be questioned or challenged; an entrenched hatred of women where women’s bodies are constantly for sale (i.e., used to sell everything) and racially/ethnically ranked and valued according to a near-to-whiteness scale.

Quvenzhane Wallis at the 18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards in January 2013.

Quvenzhane Wallis at the 18th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards in January 2013.

If this all seems too harsh, I want to just remind people that we are not talking about 16, 18, or even 25 year olds here who got caught up in their first serious encounter with erotic passion, got pregnant when too-young-to-parent, were still too innocent to know that love is never a singular/one-time experience. Nope.  These are grownass folk doin grownass things who then want to go and act like children when they reproduce children.  It is simply unfathomable to me that black folk would rationalize, in high-falutin vocabulary, on television, their refusal to play deep, present, sustaining roles in black children’s lives.  Here’s a recent reminder that we should all remember: since the 2013 Oscar nominations, Quvenzhane Wallis was constantly ridiculed, her talent was questioned, and when that wasn’t enough, she was called IN A PUBLIC forum a CUNT in tweets representing a well-read blog/newspaper.  She was NINE. YEARS. OLD. How are we running around here, for even a minute, ignoring black children when this is the routine treatment for a little nine-year old black girl?  Kristen Savali laid it out for us and Tressie McMillan beautifully followed through: not even white feminists rallying against misogyny gave a damn about these violent acts against a little black girl. How could any black man use Sheree or any woman to justify not being present in his black daughter’s life when THIS is what that little girl is facing?  Women like Sheree are the problem?  This is how we talk about black women? This is who we think endanger black children when we have white newsreporters publicly calling little black girls cunts?  At the risk of stating the obvious here: no mansion or Chateau-Sheree (which Quvenzhane could buy for HERSELF at just 9 years old) protected Quvenzhane from racial assault.  Only a community can protect her from that, one that is NOT distracted, hypnotized, and miseducated  by the material accumulation of capitalism/hyper-consumerism or the sexual gratification under misogyny or the reverence of/infatuation with whiteness via white supremacy.  If I sound disgusted, good, because I certainly am.  Black folk got no time for these kinds of conversations about black children. No time whatsoever.

I think this OWN episode is just an exaggerated version of the kind of misogyny and hyper-consumerism that is shaping many black people’s relationships with one another (Sheree is not the only one dreaming/building Ice Castles in the sand) and impeding any kind of real response to or even noticing of white supremacy.  Like I said when I first started  my anti-princess campaign, these are political conversations that we must have, the kind of political conversations that must replace white-washed fairy tales and the emptiness and pain such social fantasies inevitably create for black women. Fairy tale lies can never be the surrogate for sustaining black love, children, and communities. We need liberated relationships to sustain ourselves in a violent world.