Sunday, October 7, 2012

Democratic Womanism

Democratic Womanism

By Alice Walker
You ask me why I smile when you tell me
you intend in coming national elections
to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there, is one reason I smile
Another, is that our old buddy Nostradamus comes to mind
With his fearful 400 yr old prophecy that our world
And theirs too, our enemies, lots of kids included there
Will end by nuclear Nachbah?, by holocaust, in our life time
Which makes the idea of elections
and the billions of dollars wasted on them somewhat fatuous
A southerner of color, my people held the vote very dear
While others for centuries merely appeared to play with it
One thing I can assure you of, is this,
I will never betray such pure hearts by voting for evil,
even if it were microscopic,
which as you can see in any newscast, no matter the slant, it is not.
I want something else – a different system entirely
One not seen on this earth for thousands of years, if ever
Democratic Womanism
Notice how this word has “man” right in the middle of it
That’s one reason I like it.
He is right there front and center, but he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life that honors the feminine
A way that acknowledges the theft of the wisdom female and dark mother leadership may have provided our spaceship all along
I am not thinking of a talking-head kind of gal—
happy to be mixing it up with the badest bad boys on the planet
Her eyes a slit; her mouth a zipper
No, I am speaking of true regime change
Where women rise to take their place unmasked
At the helm of earth’s frail and failing ship
Where each thousand years of our silence is examined with regret
And the cruel manner in which our values of compassion and kindness
Have been ridiculed and suppressed, brought to bear on the disaster of the present time
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and perhaps socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply how to share but mothers and grandmothers,
big sisters and aunts, to love and adore both female and male,
not to mention those in between
To work at keeping the entire community educated, fed, and safe
Democratic Womanism, Democratic Socialist Womanism
Would have as its icons such fierce warriors for good as
Vandana Shiva, Aung San Suu Kyi,Wangari Maathai, Harriett Tubman, Yoko Ono, Frida Kahlo, Angela Davis and Barbara Lee
With new ones rising wherever you look
You are also on this list,
but it is so long, Isis would appear midway, that I must stop or be unable to finish the poem
So just know that I stood you in a circle
that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem, and Mary McCleod Bethune,
John Brown, Frederick Douglass, John Lennon, and Howard Zinn
are there, happy to be surrounded.
There is no system now in place that can change the disastrous course the Earth is on.
Who can doubt this
The male leaders of Earth appear to have abandoned their very senses
Though most appear to live now entirely in their heads
They murder humans and other animals, forests and rivers and mountains everyday they are in office and never seem to notice it.
They eat and drink devastation.
Women of the world, women of the world, is this devastation us?
Would we kill whole continents for oil or anything else rather than limit the number of consumer offspring we produce and learn how to make our own fire?
Democratic womanism, democratic socialist womanism
A system of governance we can dream and imagine and build together
One that recognizes at least six thousand years of brutally forced complicity
And the assassination of Mother Earth but foresees six thousand years
Ahead of us when we will not submit
What will we need? – a hundred years, at least, to plan
Five hundred will be handed us gladly, when the planet is scared enough
In which circles of women meet, organize ourselves, and elide with men brave enough to stand with women.
Nurture our planet to a degree of health, and without apology, impossible to make a bigger mess than has been made already,
Devote ourselves heedless of opposition to tirelessly serving and resuscitating our mother ship
And with gratitude for her care of us worshipfully commit to rehabilitating it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Black Women's Voices on Voting and Politics

“In the summer of 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated all literacy tests.  After that, people in Alabama did not have to answer twenty-four questions.  They could register to vote if they could sign their name in cursive.  It didn’t take us but twenty minutes in Selma, Alabama, to teach a woman to write her name.  The white students took her to the courthouse.  She wrote her name in cursive writing and came back with a number that meant she could register to vote. This is the way we did it.” ~ Septima Clark (1898-1987), educator and voting/civil rights activist (Ready from Within)

Of course, I don’t know very much
   About these politics,
But I think that some who run ‘em
   Do mighty ugly tricks.
When we want to school our children
   If the money isn’t there,
Whether black or white have took it,
   The loss we all must share,
And this buying up each other
   Is somthin worse than mean.
Though I think a heap of voting,
   I go for voting clean.”   ~  Francis Ellen Harper (1825-1911), Sketches of Southern Life (1896)

If white American women, with all their natural and acquired advantages, need the ballot, that right protective of all other rights; if Anglo Saxons have been helped by it—and they have—how much more do Black Americans, male and female need the strong defense of a vote to help secure them their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  And neither do the colored citizens of the Republic lag behind in the fundamental duties of tax-paying and using the elective franchise.  The price of their freedom as far as that freedom has progressed, was too dear a price to be treated lightly.” ~ Adelle Hunt Logan (1863-1915), educator and activist

“And gentlemen, I warn you no longer to stand out in refusing the right to which we contend; in trying to withhold from these noble ladies here and their darker sisters the franchise they now demand.  Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton, with their high moral and intellectual power, have shaken the states of New England, and the shock is felt here today… Woman has a power within herself, and the God that reigns above, who commanded Moses to lead the children of Israel from out of the land Egypt, from out of the house of bondage, who walled the waters of the Red Sea, who endowed Samson with power to slay his enemies with the jawbone of an ass, who furnished Abraham Lincoln with knowledge to write the emancipation proclamation, whereby four million Blacks were free—that God, our God, is with and for us, and will hear the call of woman, and her rights will be granted, and she shall be permitted to vote.” ~ Naomi Talbert (Anderson) [1814-1894], writer and lecturer, pioneer in black women’s suffrage movement

“By a miracle the 19th Amendment has been ratified.  We women have now a weapon of defense, which we have never possessed before. It will be a shame and a reproach to us if we do not use it”   ~ Mary Church Terrell, 1920 [1863-1954], educator, activist, professional lecturer

“It is important that I never made the rights of women or of blacks a primary theme of my campaign but insisted on making my role that of a potential voice for all the out-groups, those included.  As best I could, I tried to keep stressing the principle that our government cannot keep on being primarily responsive to the privileged white upper classes but must serve the human needs of every citizen.  Long unmet needs for housing, health care, pensions on which the aged can live decently, effective schools everywhere, including the poorest neighborhoods—all people in need must be helped, not written off as malcontent, demanding, lazy, ignorant bums and cheats.” ~ former and first serious female Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the US, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Unqualified Rape, Life & Choice

Yes, rape is rape, and I believe in a woman’s divine and civil right to choose what she will do when she is raped or when her life is threatened.  Representative Todd Adkin’s recent remarks about women who experience “legitimate rape” and the utter nonsense about the rarity of pregnancy in those cases [tell it to the 33,000+ women who have been impregnated by rape] have sparked an old debate and spotlighted perennial attempts to control women’s bodies.  It is no secret now that the Republican Party’s platform includes on its political agenda a prohibition against all abortions regardless of how the woman was impregnated (e.g., rape, incest…); against a woman’s right to choose. 
Recently Rev. Eva Melton Billingsley asked for a response on a Facebook post that read: “If we use Todd Akin's logic then the thought of Bathsheba being raped is impossible because she got pregnant. What's funny is some won't even entertain the thought that David raped her. Biblical scholars what say ye?”
My response was/is: Bathsheba was raped by a man that exponentially outweighed her in power and authority, by a man who felt he deserved any woman he desired and had the power and authority to take what he wanted and cover it up. Many men who don't have David's power think this way. David even went the step further of murdering her husband and because of his power went unpunished by any civil or judicial system. And maybe we need to question that author's labeling of him and our reinscribing of him as a "man after God's own heart," which somewhat implies the crime was not so bad; that a man should serve no time for raping a woman and killing her husband, if he has enough power and authority and is God's anointed. He faced no time in jail for his crime but was allowed to live out his life. Yes, he lived with other consequences, but none that might not happen to others by just living and having children that make choices of their own or by being a bad example to their children.”
Rape is rape, whether the victim is female or male, child, run-away-teen, or a grown-up in or out of a relationship, drugged or sober, naked or fully garbed ­– rape is rape and it should not be tolerated in a civil society or among God-fearing people of any religion. I am “pro-choice” and I am for life.  I am for the life of an unborn child; I am for the life of the child born and living on the streets of America, or any country, homeless and dying; I am for the life of children who have easier access to drugs and guns than to a quality education, decent housing, and three meals a day; I am for the life of a child or adult whose spirit for living is murdered by other people who practice racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, hatred and/or with words meant to diminish and tear down.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don’t want to Talk about Gabby’s Hair but about Priorities

It is nothing new for women to be convinced and try to convince other women and girls that physical embellishments should be one of our biggest priorities. An older woman once told a friend of mine that she was not a lady because she did not wear make-up.  I was once told during an interview at an employment agency in the DC area that I should polish my look with makeup (wasn’t wearing makeup at the time as a Seventh-day Adventist; still don’t wear much). Didn’t think twice about taking the recruiter’s advice, and I got the job I wanted. Fast-paced law firms preferred competency and efficiency to superficial embellishments.
 Don’t get me wrong, I take pride in my appearance and have received plenty of compliments about my personal appearance and dress. But I’ve seldom spent a lot of money on my hair; when I have, I’ve experienced more horror and disappointment than not.  Oprah is my model when it comes to my nails; I prefer them cut short and unpolished (though I could use a manicure now and then).
Since I’m not in the cosmetology, modeling, or some similar business, I don’t count personal embellishments as a priority.  When I was a student at Harvard, I was somewhat troubled, when a sister studying for ministry said she had to make a choice between getting her hair done (i.e. weave) and buying food.  Her sister friend advised her to get her hair done, and she would bring her some food—told her she had to look good at all cost! 
That said I love that at 16 years old Gabby Douglas (and her family) has her priorities straight. Gabby’s mother sacrificed financially and emotionally to help her daughter pursue her gifts and dreams.   Natalie Hawkins was probably neck high in taking care of her children and the struggles that accompany being a single mom, which can distract from focusing on the dreams of one’s children as one would like. After prodding from another sibling, Hawkins entered Gabby in gymnastics classes when she was 8 yrs old.  When Gabby achieved all she could with the coach she had, her mother sacrificed to send Gabby to live with a host family in Iowa (the first one didn’t work out) so that Gabby could have the training she would need to fulfill her Olympic dreams.  A girl does not become an Olympic champion by spending a lot of time in a hair salon chair, or a nail parlor. (If they were wealthy that might be a different story, of course; they could have the chair come to them). She and her mother set their priories based upon their dreams and the resources and energy needed to fulfill Gabby’s dreams.  Gabby did not become the first African American all around Olympian champion in gymnastics by chance but by giving priority to the necessary time and effort in training and constructing her dreams. Our priorities should be set based on the dreams we are pursuing.  If your biggest dreams are to be told how wonderful your hair looks or how beautiful our nails are, then let those things control your priorities. But if you have allowed peer pressure and your environment to sucker you into giving up on your dreams by giving priority to superficial stuff, it’s not too late to re-evaluate and make a u-turn.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Modern-day Sex Slavery & High Profile Predators

When a link is created between social status and ideas of familiarity, persons who attain to levels of social status based on positions of authority held in a society are considered as safer and less dangerous than persons of lower social status.  The elite and persons of authority in any society or community are as capable of violence against women and girls as are any other members of a society.  In the story of the brutal rape of the Levite's concubine in chapter 17 of the biblical book of Judges, the dissonance between the concubine and the Levite’s social status are clear.  Although both the Levite and his concubine are anonymous, their social class is foregrounded.  God consecrated the Levites to serve as priests (Num 1:48-54), but concubines are sex slaves used in the service of men and women (Gen 16; 25:6; 35:22; Ex 21:7-11). The foregrounding of the Levite’s social position within Israel in the story is similarly achieved in the preceding story of the unnamed Levite (Judges 17-18) and the unnamed Levite in the “Good Samaritan” story at Luke 10:32.  Perhaps, like the Levite in the story of the “Good Samaritan,” the Levite in our story is unnamed because he might represent anyone within established religious circles and leadership.  The fact that this unnamed man is identified as a Levite might prejudice some readers in favor of the Levite so that they are willing to overlook or mitigate any questionable behavior attributed to him.  Or the Levite’s status may motivate some readers to view the concubine as the guilty party in the marriage because she is of lower class status. The narrative and textual ambiguity as to precisely why she left her husband might contribute to such a reading.

Familiarity based on social position fosters the notion that persons holding authoritative and respected positions in a community (neighborhood, church or parish) can be trusted more so than persons of lower social position or class.  According to David Batstone, “we do not expect to find [modern-day slavery] in ‘respectable’ settings.  To learn that slave holders press children into forced labor in the cacao plantations of the Ivory Coast may not surprise us.  But we regard it as unthinkable that an otherwise upstanding citizen might be a slaveholder.”[i] (We believe we are far removed from the time when a country such as the U.S. or South Africa deemed it legally and morally acceptable for “respectable” citizens to own slaves.)  A prime example is Kim Meston who, wishes that she had not been so invisible to her New England community.  In a rural town near Worcester, Massachusetts, the minister of the local church used her as his domestic sex slave for five years without raising the slightest suspicion in the community.  At the age of sixteen, Kim began a double life in America.  Everything would have appeared normal to the casual observer—she attended the local high school, ran on the track team, and attended church on Sundays.  The minister even had a wife and a stepdaughter living in his home.  But behind closed doors, she became the household servant, doing nearly all the cooking, housecleaning, ironing, and even tending the church grounds.  Moreover, the minister sexually abused Kim frequently over a five-year period.[ii]

We have all heard of or know of high profile predators. We must stop making excuses for and relaxing the boundaries that would protect our children
from people (of high and/or low social standing) who might physically or verbally abuse them. We should not make assumptions about their safety based on social status. We have to be proactive in setting up boundaries, asking for background checks, and taking primary responsibility for their safety and well-being. And we must be vigilant keeping our eyes open for all God's children.

[i] Batstone, Not for Sale,7.

[ii] Batstone, Not for Sale, 7-8.  Kim was brought to the U.S. by a church minister visiting southern India from the U.S..  Her parents were Tibetan exiles living in a refugee camp when the minister offered to bring Kim to America  and provide a better life and education for her, promising to treat her like his own daughter.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Feminist and Feminism are not double four letter words!

Not all feminists think or act the same.  But very simply understood, a feminist is a woman or man (yes, male feminists exist) who believes that women are human beings too. And as human beings, women or females deserve to be treat with the same consideration, freedoms, privileges, and benefits as their male human counterparts.  Feminism is a political and human rights movement that seeks to raise the consciousness of men and women about systems of domination that oppress people because of their gender, race or class (and other categories of oppression). The system of domination that oppresses persons based on their female gender is generally called patriarchy.  Feminism is a movement to end sexism and sexist exploitation. It is a movement to end violence against women and all forms of violence.  
It was the feminist movement that fought for and won the right for women to vote.  It is because of the feminist movement that women can work outside of their homes and earn a wage. (Of course, black women have had to work outside of the “home” as slaves long before the women’s suffrage movement of the nineteenth century.)  Many two parent homes benefit from two incomes and are able to provide for their families in ways that one income might not permit.  A man does not have to bear total responsibility for the welfare of his family, particularly in a bad economy or in a system in which some men are underemployed, underpaid, last hired, and first fired.  I remember visiting a church with my then husband in Chattanooga. This particular denomination of the church we visited that day generally has a strong patriarchal theo/ideologies about women and men’s roles in church and society. This was the denomination my now ex husband grew up in. That Sunday the pastor preached that men as heads of the household should bear sole responsibility for the household; that if his wife works, she should be able to do whatever she wants with her money (shop it away, regardless of bills that need paying). As quick as we sat down, my now ex said, “let’s go.” 
Anyone raised in a single-parent, female-headed household should be grateful that his or her parent could work and earn a decent wage.  It is because of the feminist movement that families have legal access to birth control of many forms and can therefore generally plan when and how many children they will conceive. It is because of the feminist movement and the courage of individual women that women can enroll in colleges and universities and pursue dreams and degrees that tradition, fueled by patriarchal ideology and not divine ordination, had reserved for men.  As bell hooks writes “Feminist politics aims to end domination to free us to be who we are. . . . Feminism is for everybody.”
God did not create two unequal human beings: Male and female created God them. God gave them the responsibility of taking care of the earth that God entrusted to them.  To point primarily to the story of God taking a rib from the Adam (the human being) as a sign of women’s subordination or submissiveness to men or to the story of the curse after the “fall” in the garden of Eden is to dismiss the rest of the story.  God did not consider God’s self a suitable partner for Adam.  It was about being of the same species or kind; it was not a matter of subordination or an inferior flesh. Why not take a rib? Why “reinvent the wheel” when all God had to do was put the “wheel” to sleep? God created them in the image of God! And the feminist or womanist [see Alice Walker's In Our Mother's Gardens where she defines womanist/womanish] movement is about existentially, socially (and soul-cially) and politically reaffirming that image in women and minorities despite operative patriarchal ideologies and constructed theologies to the contrary. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.  Feminists/womanists are not about emasculating men (which I might add is only possible if a man’s masculinity resides outside of himself in the form of traditional roles constructed on women’s backs). We are about empowering women to live and freely express their full God-given humanity.  We are about engendering the wholeness and health of the entire community.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Human language does not limit God: A note on Agape.

Some interpreters claim that the Greek noun agape or the Greek verb agapao, translated as love in English, is the ultimate or sole designation of divine love or God’s love.  Simply, not true, at least not in the biblical book the Gospel of John.  In fact, humans, as well as God, are the subjects of the Greek verb agapao in John’s Gospel. And sometimes the verb agapao is used in a positive sense and sometimes in a negative way.  Sometimes the Greek verb phileo (also translated love) is used to describe God’s love and is not limited to human love.  For example, “ for God so loved (agapao) the world” (3:6); “the people loved (agapao) darkness rather than light” (3:19); “the Father loves (phileo) the son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (5:20); “those who love (phileo) their lives lose it” (12:25); or  “as the Father has loved (agapao) me, so I have loved (agapao) you” (15:9). The writer may have preferred one word over the other at times or used one word more often, but that does not make one word significantly different in meaning than the other word.  And if by chance it did, such significance need not be God’s, but ours.
God is not and will not be limited by human language, whether that language is Greek, Hebrew or English. The author of John’s Gospel seemed to know the limitations of language when it comes to describing God’s love, even if we try to interpret his Gospel to make it “preach” a certain way.  Language is for our benefit to communicate with one another. God does not need language the same way we do.  God created the world with speech and is not to be equated with whatever “speech” God may have used.  The Word that was with God and was God at John 1:1 is not to be equated with human language.
God can speak to us and manifest God’s self in any language God chooses, whether it is English, Spanish, Arabic, Swahili or Coptic.  No language is theologically superior to another any more than any ethnic group is superior to another.  And God can choose not to “speak” but to act.  In fact a reading of John’s Gospel shows that John’s Jesus prioritizes action above speech. How we treat each other is more important than the particular language and words we use. No language can contain or perfectly express the love of God, only imperfectly.  So it behooves us once again to be more humble about our speech and our interpretations and to be more concerned with how we embody or practically express God’s love as we interact with each other.   It was the Apostle Paul who wrote at 1 Corinthians 13:1, If I speak with languages of humans and angels and have not love, I am nothing but noise.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Personal Note on The problem of Decontextualized Public Readings

 I was recently asked to read a scripture at a public event.  I chose my scripture, as requested, and submitted it. A day later, I was sent a “recommended” NIV scripture reading. I looked at the text and knew/felt instantaneously that I could not read it. I asked the sender of the email if it was really “recommended” so that I could stick with the text I originally submitted at their request.  Her boss replied that he “preferred” that I read the “recommended” scripture.  I replied that they should choose another person to perform the public reading; I could not. And I did not think the venue the proper place to engage in an un(sus)expected critique of the guest’s text.

Having just completed my lectures for a new prep course “Postcolonial Biblical Criticism” in which I challenged students not to simply reinscribe oppressive, imperialistic and/or unjust relations, descriptions, characterizations, and representations found in the sacred scriptures without contextualizing, unraveling and critiquing them, I could not do it. I barely blinked between the time my heart said no and my fingers keyed the words with my final reply; I could not read the text. Please choose another person to read it. 

Over the years, I’ve challenged my students to do the same critical and contextualized reading in different courses.  I could not with enthusiasm, spiritual fervor, or oratorical sophistication recite a sacred text in which God is likened to an exacting slave master, even if the translation reads servant instead of slave (both translations of the Greek word doulos).

In my past life as an uncritical, doctrinally circumscribed, and passive bible reader whose consciousness about oppressions in the text, beyond the issue of women called to preach, had not been raised, I would have read the text without blinking.  And no doubt many of my students will read such texts without critique and without a second thought (just as many seminarians revert to using nonexclusive language in their sermons and writing). But some will be uncomfortable, at the least.  And they should be uncomfortable with such “texts of terror” (a phrase derived from Phyllis Trible), for slavery often allowed for the social and bodily dismemberment of people as well as the brutal rape and murder of human beings considered as property to be bought, sold, used, and abused at will.  And ancient Roman slavery was no less brutal and inhumane than slavery in any other slave society. Slavery in any context is an ideologically justified systemic and institutionalized commodification of human beings who are seized, dehumanized, brutalized, and sexually abused; it involves the exacting of under- or unpaid-labor from one human being by another.  Slavery is no less terrorizing than the rape and dismemberment of a Levite’s concubine wife or a sister of Judah. Just because it is in the Bible, does not make it okay. Just because some biblical writers had no problem likening God/Jesus to a slave master, does not mean we should not be bothered. If I have contributed to a student’s discomfort with “texts of terror,” then my learning and teaching is not in vain.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Tragedy and the Cooptation of Fear

I started writing this blog entry, this memorial, a month or so ago. Trayvon Martin is still on my mind. In 2005 Florida became the first state to pass a “Stand Your Ground” law under Republican governor Jeb Bush and under the Presidency of George W. Bush. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” permitted a gun toting George Zimmerman to hunt down and murder a black teenager whom he felt was a threat to him. The one aggressively carrying the gun is the one entrusted with the determination of threat. This situation is reminiscent of the permissive lynching of black men or teenagers like Emit Till whose death at the hands of some white men was justified on the basis of a perceived or contrived threat to white men’s wives and sisters. White men who felt that black men and other men of color were a threat to them or their sisters, wives, daughters, mothers, aunts, and nieces could murder said black males in cold blood on their own word that a black male delivered a threat via a glance or whistle.  Such constructed and contrived feelings of some among the majority and of those who identify with the majority based on similarity of skin color or other physical features continue to be in some places the sole basis for assaulting and murdering people who are ostensibly other.  These others have the misfortune of transgressing the imagined and constructed boundaries of space and place reserved for whites only. An out of place other who transgresses spaces reserved for the majority must be put back in his or her place or eliminated as an example to others who think the world is their playground.  For people like Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin had transgressed space allotted for white people like him and needed to be put back in his place. So Zimmerman pursued the young teenager that carried ice tea in one hand and skittles in his pocket.    
I reject the feelings of fear usurped by Zimmerman as one who identifies with the majority and takes a stand against a young teenager who is ostensibly black and therefore out of place. I reject the usurpation of fear by the majority or those who identify with them as a basis for determining whether one is a threat.  I reject this usurpation of fear because despite the history of violence in this country perpetrated by the white majority against the Native Indians and black slaves and free(d) blacks, representatives of the majority culture (and those who aligned themselves with it) have co-opted and usurped the fear that should logically and experientially belong to racialized, deracinated, colonized, and racialized minorities.  Despite White America’s history of being the aggressor and agent of violence against Native Indians and Africans shipped to America’s shores as slave, many white peoples’ fears of racialized minorities (backed historically by gun- and Bible-toting colonists and more lately by powerful lobbyist such as the NRA and wealth without conscious) have been given voice and legitimization. This same usurpation of fear phenomenon played out in South Africa and other places around the globe. I remember when Apartheid ended in South Africa, the greatest fear was the fear of retaliation by blacks against whites and/or Afrikaners.  Never mind the perpetual fear that terrorized “blacks” and “colored” people during Apartheid’s bloody reign. The people who should be fearful are not permitted to express their fearfulness in any rhetorical and/or public way. But those who have been the perpetrators of violence are licensed to continue committing acts of violence against those they have historically victimized.
I reject this usurpation of fear because my feelings of fear as a black female are seldom acknowledged or too of ten considered to be without foundation despite the majority people’s not so distant history of violence against black people and against women in general.   There is stark contrast between Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander’s cases. Both live in Florida. One is a “white” Hispanic male and the other is obviously an African American female. Zimmerman killed a young teenager whom he felt was a threat to his life.  Marissa fired a warning shot at her ex-husband who had a history and record of abusing her. Florida’s “stand your ground law” allowed Zimmerman to avoid initial arrest. The same law provided no shelter or defense for Marissa who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on May 14, 2012.  Fear for her life, despite past abuse and threats, was not an adequate defense for Marissa to fire a warning shot at her abuser. But fear of an unarmed “black” teenager by a male who identifies with the majority in a racialized society is enough to keep him out of jail until the human public pressed for a proper investigation and arrest.

If anybody should be entitled to feelings of fear in this society it should be racialized minorities and women. Yet, they are not the ones who vociferously lobby for the right to carry guns. I reject the cooptation of the fears that racialized minorities should more legitimately be entitled to express given the history of violence perpetrated against us in this country. Native Indians were victimized violently when their lives, land, culture, dignity, and human rights were (and continue to be) snatched from under their feet like a worn out mat.  Africans and African Americans were enslaved, murdered, raped, disenfranchised, lynched, discriminated against, and continue to experience racism and de facto separate and unequal treatment in education, housing, health care, and jurisprudence.  Women have been the inordinate victims of sexual and domestic violence globally and continue to disproportionately, experience sexual and domestic violence.
Our right to (but decision not to) live in constant fear is co-opted when a white majority and/or those who aligned themselves with them pass laws allowing them to kill another human being because they feel threatened or fear for their lives. Their fear is justified and ours is paranoia.  Not surprisingly an organization like the NRA, a majority white male group, is the primary financial supporter of and lobbyist for the law that made Zimmerman believe he could hunt down and shoot Trayvon Martin with impunity.  When the murder of a black teen like Trayvon Martin by someone hiding behind the shoot-and-ask-questions later law receives the media attention it deserves, the NRA accuses the media of “sensationalizing” the event.  Executive VP of the NRA Wayne LaPierre called the media coverage of this case “a national disgrace.”  At an NRA rally, Ted Nugent called our duly elected President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama, “vile and evil” and said that he would be dead – sowing fear and violence. But Nugent and other card-carrying (and non) members of the NRA promote the idea that they need to defend themselves from the rest of us. This trivializing of the victim’s tragedy by the perpetrator’s perceived legal and racial privilege is another way of co-opting the legitimate fears of many minorities and women who associate more with the victim, and rightfully so. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Old Ode Old to You who Want to Know

This is an old ode old to YOU who want to know or who imply
That I am gay because YOU see on my Facebook page
A post in favor of my gay brothers and sisters

Because YOU can’t bring yourself to believe that a heterosexual black Christian preacher girl
Would take such a stand unless she was something you could despise
Or unless YOU in your mind could make her Other than YOU
I would not have YOU to be ignorant, my brothers and sisters
But I do not have to be gay to stand with
Other human beings who want the same rights that
We heterosexuals have

YOU want to know, fellow Christian, who despised me and decided I was/am
Less human than YOU because I have darker skin
YOU want to know brother/sister Christian, YOU who slight me because I say I am
Called to preach but I am the wrong gender for YOU to
Respect me and ask me to preach except on Women’s Day, No matter how well I preach
And how the Spirit uses me.

YOU want to know who am I to claim to be a Christian and to stand with my fellow human beings who believe God loves them as they are and made them as they are
YOU who lied about me, talked about me, tried to pull me down
Just yesterday

YOU want to make me what YOU despise
Because I stand with other human beings who want the rights YOU and I have
YOU want to know because you forgot or you conveniently dismissed
How many heterosexual men and women have abused women and children
Because they are perverse heterosexual men and women, many of who are
Like YOU Christians who hate and oppose gay men and women having rights
Rights they opposed and some still oppose for blacks and mixed couples

YOU who preach hard and long against gays as an abomination before God
And then YOU, self-proclaimed heterosexual preacher, have secretly sodomized, raped, fondled, cuddled with and loved others of your same sex
I remember the youth pastor, a married man with children, in Maryland who was found
Out… YOU know what I’m talking about

YOU know, YOU remember….Let me refresh your memory
About the pastor’s daughter in California who not so long ago raped and murdered
The little girl who attended her Sunday school class
YOU know the not so LONG ago priests/preachers who have abused the children
While YOU in the pews look the other way, support them
Or explain it away by claiming they must have been gay
As if gays are the only people capable of committing such sexual crimes

YOU know the church has its own “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy….
Always whispering about this one and that one
Yet the church roles and rolls on

Don’t YOU know that my grandfather was a heterosexual male, married four times
Don’t YOU know he was a deacon in the Baptist church
Don’t YOU know he was the one who molested me and raped one of his own estranged daughters

YOU in the church, YOU who lied about me to my face without blinking an eye
YOU who continually stretch the truth but never admit to lying
YOU in the church, who dismiss the hungry and homeless by claiming they don’t exist
YOU who gossip, spread rumors, create confusion and dissension
If YOU say gays are an abomination before God because the Bible says so,
Then YOU have more in common than YOU care to admit
But you stand your ground as if your ground is holier….
And YOU want to know what?  What is it YOU want to know?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

You Are Not Your Breasts, Butt, Hair or Face

What do you EMBODY? Yesterday at the Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon at the Westin in Southfield, MI, I met beautiful, bubbly Mrs. Joiner (her and her husband started the Joiner Foundation in Illinois). Mrs. Joiner, an African American woman, had had a masectomy, and she is a survivor! She opened her jacket & flashed her chest which clearly showed she now had one breast under her beautiful bright pink shell. Wow! I was stunned for a second; felt a quick jolt of fear, and then realized the power of the moment. Wow! She has taken control of her life and is EMBODYING herself as a beautiful subject and not the object of degrading sexism. A powerful moment of embodiment and testimony! Wow! It is okay to choose reconstructive surgery, but she chose not to. And she is not ashamed of her body! She embodies her body well, with peace and confidence. Many of us may never have to make such choices about our body in the face of cancer or something else, but yet we can't embody our bodies with such peace and confidence.

Many women are ashamed of their bodies and have not had to struggle with life-threatening illness that force them to choose between keeping body parts and life. Yesterday, Entertainment Tonight aired a story about a woman who paid $10,000 for butt surgery because she wanted a butt like Pippa Middleton's!?!  Butt surgery has become the number one surgery sought by women replacing breast augmentation.  And most cosmetic surgeries are done solely for cosmetic reasons, to look like someBODY else or because we have been convinced that our BODIES are not sexually appealing; that the body parts we have or the clothes we wear do not objectify our sexuality enough. 

Does your self-worth lie in your body parts and how attractive they are or are not to the opposite sex or a significant other?  Does your self-worth lie in how close you can come to looking like the thrice painted over and airbrushed models in the magazine covers and in the movies? Then maybe what we have is not self-worth but a deficiency of worth in self -- a worth that is based on how others' value or devalue our bodies. What others demand and require of our bodies will change and will never be enough. We are chasing ever-changing and elusive fantasies that are driving us away from self-worth!

We are not our breasts, butts, hair or face!  We are the character we develop and share with the world to make it a better place for ourselves, our children, and our fellow human beings! We should want to live in a world that loves and respects difference, variety, the natural beauty we all have, character, and loving human interaction-- not to mention the ethical questions that arise about spending thousands of dollars on cosmetic augmentation when people who are suffering from debilitating and life-threatening illnesses struggle to pay for or cannot afford good health care treatment or prevention! And I wish our magazines would not make fashion and cosmetic enhancements their primary focus. Let's examine ourselves for health and not to make unhealthy comparisons with other women. I'm saying...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Re-membering Hypatia. Egyptian Mathmetician/Astronomer/Philosopher

Recently Netflix sent me a movie that I swear I did not add to my que.  But I was pleasantly surprised. The Agora turned out to be the story Hypatia of Alexandria, a fourth to fifth century CE (ca. 370/390 - 415) female philosopher, astronomer, and mathmetician. Hypatia's father Theon raised her.  Her mother made no appearance in the film and, historically, little is known of her.  Hypatia was considered a woman way ahead of her time.  She taught young men mathematics, philosophy and astrology. She followed in her father's intellectual footsteps.  Theon was a mathmetician, philosopher, astronomer, astrologer, and he was the last director of the Museum at Alexandria. He himself educated his daughter.  And the student surpassed the genius of her teacher (what all good teachers hope for).
Hypatia lived in one of the intellectual capitals of the ancient world, Alexandria. According to the movie, Hypatia never married. But in Damascius's Life of Isidore, she was the wife of the philosopher Isidorus. 

Hypatia suffered a vicious and premeditated death motivated by decontextualized interpretations of Pauline texts employed prescriptively and proscriptively. After Constantine made Christianity the dominant religion (later, it became the state religion, ca 391), the state and many Christians put pressure on others to conform to Christianity. Hypatia, as a teacher of young men, came under scrutiny. Thus, some Christians invoked the Pauline prohibition about women teaching men against her, according to the movie. Hypatia refused to become a Christian and to stop teaching. Consequently, a Christian mob seized her, stripped her, and stoned her to death.  Socrates Scholasticus re-members in his Ecclesiastical History: 
On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more. Yet even she fell victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them, therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with [brick] tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril's episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius.

Hypatia suffered an early and butal death. Letters written by her most famous student, Synesius of Cyrene, who was to become the wealthy and powerful Bishop of Ptolemais, are extant. In a letter to an old schoolmate he wrote of Hypatia, "You and I, we ourselves both saw and heard the true and real teacher of the mysteries of philosophy." Damascius wrote the following about her:
The woman used to put on her philosopher's cloak and walk through the middle of town and publicly interpret Plato, Aristotle, or the works of any other philosopher to those who wished to hear her. In addition to her expertise in teaching she rose to the pinnacle of civic virtue. She was both just and chaste and remained always a virgin [not sure how this accords with the claim that she was Isidorus' wife]. She was so beautiful and shapely that one of her students fell in love with her and was unable to control himself and openly showed her a sign of his infatuation. Uninformed reports had Hypatia curing him of his affliction with the help of music. The truth is that the story about music is corrupt. Actually, she gathered rags that had been stained during her period and showed them to him as a sign of her unclean descent and said, "This is what you love, young man, and it isn't beautiful!" He was so affected by shame and amazement at the ugly sight that he experienced a change of heart and went away a better man.
Hypatia was, to use contemporary slang "all that and a bag of chips." She was a sharp sister. Hypatia authored two books and edited one. I'll leave it to the reader to draw her own lessons from this re-membering.