Reflections of an Almost 30 Year Old

My birthday is in two days. On August 23, 2015 I will be 27 years old. I don’t know how I feel about that. I never thought I’d get here to be honest. Only nine years ago, making it to my high school graduation and an 18th birthday felt like a pipe dream. It wasn’t because I was failing classes or dodging bullets, I was mostly scared of myself. In order for this to make even a little bit of sense, I need to tell a story. It’s one I’ve told in bits and pieces before, but I guess it’s time to put the whole story together now. I will be discussing suicide and depression so keep that in mind before reading on.

I was 17 years old when I started my senior year of high school. I was an above average student, passing all of my classes, and even taking a few advanced courses. I was also the very last girl left in the engineering program at my school and extremely proud of that fact. My teachers, my family, and friends saw a lot of potential in me and pressured me to be the absolute best I could be. I know they all had the best of intentions, but that pressure had a terrible effect on me. I never felt that I was good enough, I always wanted to be better. If I got a B on a test, I wanted an A. If I got an A, it should have been a higher A. If I scored perfectly, I was angry at myself for missing the extra credit question. I wanted pure perfection. If I didn’t get perfection I would spend weeks agonizing over how I was the worst, the stupidest person to walk the earth and I would never make it into any college.

Eventually, the college crunch hits and it’s time for SATs, ACTs, scholarship deadlines, FAFSAs, and college applications. In addition to this, I have the regular senior stuff (homecoming, yearbooks, prom, and graduation) to worry about. I come from a poor family and every last one of those things costs money. A significant amount of money. It was just me and my mother and she had bills to pay so everything else came out of my pocket. I worked as many hours as I could at the shoe store I was employed at and tried my hardest to make sure my grades didn’t drop. When I wasn’t working on homework or at work, I was at college recruitment events or looking everywhere for scholarships. Every waking moment of my life revolved around getting into the best college. My mother and brother were sure to remind me whenever they could that I would be the first in the family to go to college and to not let them down. Once again, I was sure they had the best of intentions, but the added pressure just weighed me down even more.

The second half of my senior year is when everything becomes a blur. That was when I snapped. I remember being in my living room, but I don’t remember why I was there. I was crying uncontrollably and I couldn’t breathe properly. My mother was there trying to calm me down, but nothing she said could penetrate the massive cloud of terror that enveloped me. That’s one thing I remember to this day, absolute terror. It felt like I was at the bottom of a deep, dark pit that was slowly closing in on me and I couldn’t escape. My mother didn’t understand what was happening and I couldn’t articulate what I was going through at the time. Somehow I calmed down and I was left alone. From that point on, it was like watching a movie. I felt myself get up and move away from the couch. I found a bottle of pain pills, emptied it, and lined them all up. I began to take the pills, one by one. The next thing I remember is waking up in my bed and continuing as normal.

While I didn’t succeed in killing myself, I did succeed in scaring myself. I knew if I did it once, I could do it again and when I did it would be much easier. I stopped making long term plans because I no longer knew if I’d be alive. My milestones became daily, weekly at the most. I took my SAT, I got some scholarships, I applied to college, and I graduated high school. Once I found myself in college, I had no idea what to do. College is all about setting yourself up for a career, but I had no idea what I wanted to do because I couldn’t bring myself to think that far ahead.

For the next few years I found myself just doing enough to get by. I left school after two years for a plethora of reasons and moved back home and started working a shitty retail job. After that I got married, moved across the country, got pregnant, and dealt with deployments and more moving. Here I am, almost 10 years after that first (and only) suicide attempt still struggling to think long term.

I’ve seen and done so much in my life, but I’ve held back from even more because of my own insecurities, doubts, and fears. I’ve been so scared of falling back into that pit I was in ten years ago that I’ve tried to maintain a nice, safe middle ground. I’ve thought for so long that if I just got by, I could make it to that next day and stick around a bit longer. That’s just not enough anymore. It’s not enough. I know that if I want to live, truly live, I need to put myself out there and do some scary things. Most importantly though, I have got to stop holding myself back. I can be my own worst enemy and that has got to stop. All of this is so much easier said than done though. Let’s see if 27 is the year when I finally let go.

The Level of Bullshit is Too Damn High!

There’s been a fair amount of bullshittery going around lately, but today seems to be a special kind of day. It’s one of those days where everything seems to pile on at once.

You have white people all across the board getting mad at Saida Grundy, a Black woman professor at Boston University, for calling out toxic white masculinity and the legacy of white supremacy. Apparently she did it in a way that wasn’t nice enough for them and it hurt a lot of feelings.

The white supremacists have come out in full force decrying her tweets as “racist,” because we all know racism is when Black people point out how toxic white masculinity and the white male ego is.

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Please white men (and women), spare me your tears. The only reason her tweets elicited such a visceral reaction from you is because of your investment in white supremacy. You have a vested interest in keeping the system of white supremacy going and protecting toxic white masculinity at all costs. Saida Grundy’s tweets go directly against your goal, so you felt the need to attack. This kind of thing happens whenever a Person of Color (specifically Black Women) directly confront white supremacy. What she wrote wasn’t anything too new or surprising. For a good number of us, it was a common sense kind of thing. But please, do stay mad white people. Continue to prove Saida Grundy’s point for her.

While that was predictably horrible, what really drove me off a cliff today was an essay by Dr Sallee McLaren, an actual clinical psychologist. The title of said essay? “The part women play in domestic violence.”

“Hold on a second,” I hear you saying to your computer screen. “This could possibly be about how women can be abusers and how that needs to be addressed.”

“Oh you poor, sweet, naive little baby.” I say, shaking my head slightly while trying not to cry. “You’re about to get a horrible surprise.”

Red flag number one (if it didn’t come from the title alone) comes from the second little headline.

Women can only command real power once we socialise girls to take themselves seriously and develop mental grit.

I know what you’re thinking and yeah. That definitely means what you’re thinking it means. Our dear doctor thinks women just need to toughen up a bit if they wanna stop domestic violence. Don’t believe me? Here, have some more quotes.

To explain what I mean, I want to tell you about a scenario I frequently see played out in various forms in my work in relation to domestic violence. Let’s say we have a male and female couple who are living together and he is becoming increasingly violent towards her. In my work, I have to retrain her exactly as much as I have to retrain him to correct this situation.

I’m sorry Dr McLaren, but you have to “retrain her”? It sounds like you’re talking about a dog and not a traumatized woman who has been, or currently is being, abused by her partner.

It happens like this. Early on in the relationship he becomes aggravated for some reason and raises his voice at her. She tolerates it, lets it go by, thinks to herself “he’s not too angry – no need to rock the boat”. At that stage he is at 4/10 in his level of anger. By not objecting she has just trained him that 4/10 is acceptable. So he continues to regularly reach that level.

Then a few weeks or months later something more aggravating happens and he yells at her and swears “you bitch”. He is now at 6/10 in his level of anger. She tolerates it, lets it go by, thinks to herself “that’s not much worse than before – no point in just aggravating him more”. By not objecting, she has just taught him that 6/10 is doable and calling her a “bitch” is OK.

Eventually he escalates further and she fails to object, teaching him at each stage that his level of anger is tolerable and has no consequences. Before you know it, he has reached 9/10 and he is smacking her head into the wall and calling her a “fucking c—“.

Did you just? She “taught” him???

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I– I don’t even know what to say. Dr McLaren is seemingly dead set on this “training” analogy. Thing. Mess. It’s a mess. She’s speaking like the abusive man is a misbehaving dog and the abused woman is an irresponsible owner giving positive reinforcement for bad behavior. She’s speaking like she views herself as an obedience trainer who has to teach the owner how to properly train her dog while also correcting the dog’s bad behavior. Unfortunately for her, abusive relationships don’t work that way.

It’s been shown in studies that attempting to leave an abuse relationship is the most dangerous time for the victim. How do you think he’d act if she attempted to show resistance to his abuse? Do you honestly believe he’s just gonna apologize for the emotional and/or physical abuse if she just gives a very firm no? Or do you think he’s gonna view her resistance as a challenge to his authority and lash out at her? Option one may be what happens in Fantasy Land, but over here in reality, option two is much more likely.

You would think someone would have clued her into this at some point while she was going for her degree. Even if they didn’t, all of this information is available for free across all of the Internets and the libraries everywhere. Hell, she probably could have just asked a colleague and they would have gently corrected her. Instead of doing the tiniest bit of research though, she simply took her amazingly toxic views to the public forum.

Her view that women simply need to be more assertive if they want domestic violence to end is extremely dangerous and part of the problem. What she is essentially saying is, the women who are in abusive relationships deserve the abuse and it’s their fault they’re in them. This truly toxic belief is why so many people incorrectly assume they will never be in an abusive relationship. This belief is why so many people think abuse victims are simply weak and didn’t try hard enough to get it to stop. This is the kind of (for lack of a better term) bullshit Dr McLaren is spreading to her patients. That terrifies me. This woman actually sees patients. People, women, are going to her for help and they are being met with “you should be more assertive.” How much damage has this woman done?

The Myth of Neutrality

I woke up this morning with a headache and a thought. While I waited for the aspirin to kick in, I decided to share that thought with the world.

Yes, there are technically “two sides to every story”. That doesn’t mean that both sides are equally important. This faux-neutrality, “let’s listen to both sides and weigh them against each other” mess has got to go.

You aren’t better than someone else if you’re willing to sit down and listen to a rapist defend himself. You aren’t smarter than someone else because you let a racist explain why they did a racist thing and tell you why it wasn’t racist. You aren’t more intelligent than anyone else because you let a misogynist explain why their misogyny is ok and “part of nature”. You aren’t neutral if you let a transmisogynist explain why their transmisogyny is totally ok. What you are is an asshole. Not only an asshole, but an oppressive asshole. An oppressive asshole that’s trying so hard to look good. You’ve swallowed the lie that in order to draw “proper” conclusions you have to listen to and give equal weight to “both sides”.

Here’s the thing, you can never give both of those sides “equal” weight or value. It’s just not possible. Our society is set up to give the “benefit of the doubt”. People are automatically gonna place more weight on the abuser/oppressor’s side. People are trained to believe that maybe the rapist didn’t do it. People are trained to believe that maybe he didn’t “mean it”. People are trained to believe that maybe PoC are “overreacting” and maybe she did deserve it. If you give oppressors/abusers a platform to “explain themselves”, you’re saying you don’t believe the victim & no one else should either.

No, that may not be your “intent” but that’s exactly what you’re doing. Intent is not magical. Intent does not wash away hurt, pain, inequality, and oppression. This is a lesson that every individual needs to learn and it’s a lesson that (most importantly) journalists and writers need to learn.

This whole “both sides”, faux-neutrality bullshit is deeply ingrained in our media. We think it’s a good thing when in reality it’s not. At least with Fox News, they loudly pick a side. You know where they stand on any given issue. Most other news media has gotten damn good at giving oppressors/abusers a platform through the mask of “neutrality”. The sad part is, most people eat that bullshit up because the network itself claims to be “progressive” or “liberal”.

The same goes for most of your liberal/progressive faves on twitter/tumblr/any other blog or website. These folks aren’t good people just because they claim to be liberal. Some of these so called “liberals” on twitter are some of the worst damn people to walk the Earth. LOOK at their tweets. Actually sit down and examine the the things they say. These people are telling you who they are, they’re telling you what side they’re on. You just have to listen.

A lot of y’all so-called faves are defending people like Woody Allen by talking about we need “both sides”. NO! There is no “neutrality” in a situation like that. Fuck what you heard and what you think, there is no “neutrality”. You’re either with the victim or the abuser. If you’re claiming to be “neutral”, that’s just a “nice” way to say you’re with the abuser. Like I said before, society is set up to automatically believe an abuser. We’ll give an abuser the “benefit of the doubt” before we even listen to a victim. That is an issue and until that shit right there is solved, there is no such thing as “neutrality”. There is only the victim’s side, the oppressor’s side, and the people too damn scared to openly say they’re with the oppressor.

You don’t like what I’ve just said? Sit down and examine why. Really look at your reasons for why you don’t like what I’ve said. Examine why you automatically jump to “neutrality” in cases of racism, sexism, ableism, or transphobia. Really look at why you want to be “neutral” when stories of rape and abuse come to light. You shouldn’t like the answers you come up with. If you do, that’s a problem.

Booty Babe Art and the Fetishization of Black Women

The more time I spend on twitter, the more I realize that it’s really hard to talk about some issues with only 140 characters per post. It’s a really good platform for broad statements and over-arcing themes, but when the topic gets really nuanced and specific it’s easy to miss context. It’s also really easy for your distaste at a situation to get misconstrued. That happened to me today when I stumbled upon the kickstarter for Booty Babe Art.

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At first, I wasn’t too bothered by the dolls themselves. Bigger Black women looking like sexy pin-ups? I’m so here for that. I absolutely love the idea of more diverse body types being seen in art and media. However, when I got a look at exactly who was making these dolls I had to pause for a second.

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Everybody, meet Spencer Davis. He’s the artist behind Booty Babe Art. He’s been making these dolls since 1998 and came to kickstarter so he could get funding to make a line of five new dolls. According to the bio on his website, one of his influences is Black Tail Magazine. He uses the dolls to express “his passion for toy collecting, foreign culture, female beauty, fantasy and low brow art.” After taking in the context, I couldn’t help but feel quite a bit differently about the dolls. Suddenly images like these didn’t look so innocent or empowering anymore.

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Now, let’s get one thing straight before we continue. I don’t have an issue with sex or sexual imagery on it’s own. If you just browse my twitter timeline from last night you’d instantly know that. What I’m bothered by here is the words of the creator, the creator himself, and the image that he is producing.

In my humble opinion, this feels a lot like fetishization and objectification. From his words both on his website and in the kickstarter video, it feels like he’s doing this simply to fulfill a fetish for himself and not because he wants to see big Black women represented in art and media. That makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

If a Black woman had made these dolls because she wanted to see women who looked her represented and looking sexy, I wouldn’t have an issue. I’d probably pull out my wallet and donate what I could to the kickstarter and signal boost the hell out of it. Positive representation for Black women, especially fat/curvy Black women, is distinctly lacking and we do need more of it.

This campaign doesn’t feel like to me. It feels like a white man using Black women as both a fetish and a source of income. That’s not ok to me. I won’t be supporting this campaign and honestly it makes me feel really uncomfortable.

If you don’t see a problem with it, that’s fine and dandy. Feel free to give him all the money in your wallet. I’m going to stay far away from it though because it does’t feel right to me.

“Comparison leads to violence.”

I was listening to the last hour of the last Hip Hop is for Lovers podcast of the year when one of the hosts (@Beautybyuche on twitter) said that phrase. She talked about how much it touched her when she first heard it and I couldn’t help but have the same reaction. It touched a part of me that I honestly thought I had dealt with and put behind me long ago. Turns out, I was very wrong.

I have spent my whole life comparing myself to other people. My brother, my classmates, my friends, the people on television, everyone. If I wasn’t the “best” it wasn’t good enough. If I’m being completely honest, it’s something that I find myself still doing. Here I am, married, financially stable(ish), and mom to a beautiful 3yr old but it’s still not “good enough”. I compare myself to other people my age and I view myself as a failure. Since I’m not in school, I don’t have a degree, and I’m definitely not going for a Ph.D., I think my life is a failure.

Comparing myself to others is drastically unhealthy and I know I shouldn’t do it but I do it anyway. That constant comparison has brought me nothing but depression, mental anguish, and more fear than one person should deal with on a daily basis. There are things that I want to do, that I love to do, but I’m too scared to do them because I’m afraid I won’t be the “best” at it.

The one question I’m currently asking myself is “why”. Why do I think I need that degree to be successful? Why do I think I have to be the “best” in order to do something? Why can’t I just be myself and be ok with that? Why do I feel the need to emulate the lives of others?

I don’t have a degree and I’ll probably never get one and that’s ok. I’m not the best writer in the world and that’s just fine. I didn’t have the best or easiest life, but you know what? That life lead me to where I am now. That life gave me one hell of a unique perspective on life in general. I shouldn’t take that for granted. So you know what? I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to stop the violence against myself and refrain from comparing myself to others. It won’t be easy and I may slip up from time to time, but I will stop. I want  2014 to be a fresh start for me. Hopefully this small step can help me do just that.

Humbleness, Humility, and Their Racial Connotations

I have issues with people’s obsession with humbleness and humility. Nine times out of ten people only talk about those traits when discussing PoC & even then what they really mean is something different. What people really mean is they want you to be submissive and self deprecating to the point of developing self esteem issues.

I also know damn well I’m not the only one who’s noticed that those terms only seem to come out as insults when talking about confident PoC.

When Beyoncé made Bow Down, how many people came out the woodwork to say they though she was “arrogant”?

How many people say the same thing of Nicki Minaj? Folks say she’s “full of herself” and they want to “take her down a notch” all the time.

How many discussions center around the fact that people hate rappers bragging about what they have while ignoring context for why they are?

How many people straight up hate Kanye without even taking the time to really look at his actions or look at his backstory?

People talk shit about Rihanna day in and day out about how they hate her cockiness.

On the flip side of that, how many people (some of the same people) praise white celebrities for their confidence? It’s been talked about before, but look at how obsessed people are with Robert Downey Jr. There’s a whole meme on tumblr about how people can’t tell the difference between Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark and people fucking love it. I’m being dead ass serious when I say I’ve never seen anyone, especially anyone in the media, say that Robert Downey Jr.  needs to be more “humble.”

Why is cockiness acceptable from Robert Downey Jr. but not from Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye, Rihanna, or any rapper ever? That question is largely rhetorical because I’m sure we all know the answer to that.

I’m not gonna make any friends saying this, but I really feel like it’s a subconscious form of racism. It’s so subtle that I see that type of speech/thought coming from PoC (Black people in particular) just as much as white folks.

This is one of those times where I’m kinda left questioning myself. I’ve seen it so many times though that I’ve detected a definite pattern and I’m pretty damn sure I’m right.

UPDATE: 9/28/2013

Based on the reaction I got for making this simple observation, I’m now 100% positive I’m right. I had Black men in my mentions telling me I should be more concerned about Black men choosing to date white women or claiming that I was “defending Jay-Z’s white gaze.” Along with that kind of nonsense though, I got a flood of people telling me that they’ve noticed the same thing. The very strong reactions from people on both sides of this issue tells me that there is definitely something here. If we’re gonna make any process on the anti-racist front, this is definitely a topic worth exploring in depth.