WAP is a Negro Spiritual

One year ago today, the world was blessed with one of the most prolific songs of the ages. Legendary female rappers, Cardi B, hailing from the Bronx, New York and Megan Thee Stallion, a cornbread fed Southern girl, dropped the musical single “WAP (Wet Ass Pussy).” The song begins with the women reciting the refrain “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, you fucking with some wet-ass pussy bring a bucket and a mop for this wet-ass pussy, give me everything you got for this wet-ass pussy.” Throughout the entirety of the song, the lyrics are provocative yet direct and all the things I admire about women who openly embrace and express their sexuality. But, of course, as soon as the video was released and the song (with a radio edit version that exchanges “Wet Ass Pussy” for “Wet and Gushy”, which I find much more sexually graphic) hit the airways, WAP caused quite a stir. On the same day that the song was released, former California GOP congressional candidate, James P. Bradley tweeted “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion are what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure. Their new ‘song’ The #WAP (which i heard accidentally) made me want to pour holy water in my ears and I feel sorry for future girls if this is their role model!” 

Bradley’s comments served as just a few of the blatantly racist and homophobic comments that came spewing from the mouths of men everywhere. Bradley’s comments assumed the stereotype that Black children grow up without fathers in their lives. A gross stereotype that completely fails to assume any responsibility for the unjust overcriminalization of drug use and distribution following the conclusion of the 2nd Great Migration that snatched Black fathers (and mothers just not as often) from their homes and their children throughout the 70s and well into today. Bradley also obviously fails to know that Megan grew up with her father in her life and regards him as her best friend. Another political pundit quipped “My only real concern is that the women involved — who apparently require a ‘bucket and a mop’ — get the medical care they require,” conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, “My doctor wife’s differential diagnosis: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, or trichomonis” — all of which are infections of the vagina.” When I read this response last year, I was left feeling a tremendous amount of sadness for this man’s wife. And then came a criticism from Snoop Dogg, a rapper who in the early 90s produced an album entitled “Doggystyle;” the album cover included a cartoon dog illustration of Snoop standing near a doghouse with cartoon depictions of dog women, with their bare… doggy… voluptuous… buttcheeks exposed on the cover. In an interview with “Central Ave”, Snoop noted “Let’s have some, you know, privacy, some intimacy where he wants to find out as opposed to you telling him.” He went on to add “That’s your jewel of the Nile. That’s what you should hold on to. That should be a possession that no one gets to know about until they know about it.” A remarkably hypocritical statement for a rapper who once said “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks, lick on these nuts and suck the dick, gets the fuck on after you’re done, then I hops in my coupe to make a quick run.”

As the criticisms poured in, I couldn’t understand the reason behind all the kerfuffle. I fell in love with hip hop almost 20 years ago. As such, I’ve heard plenty of men rap about womens’ breasts, hips, thighs and butts for years. Which, quite frankly I have no problem with. The female body is beautiful and should absolutely be celebrated, not just objectified. I was surprised that in 2020, people were so offended by women rapping similarly to all the male rappers I grew up with and adored. Well, I adored them once I was afforded the freedom to listen to hip hop.

As a kid, my parents had some pretty strict rules around the type of music that my sister and I were allowed to listen to. We had the choice between gospel music and sweet bubblegum late 90s pop. However, like any rebellious middle and high schooler, once I was afforded the opportunity to choose my own musical stylings, I wanted the exact opposite of gospel and pop. I wanted pure unadulterated filthy crunk hip hop. Now, first, I want to acknowledge that there are a ton of problematic respectability politics that go into the idea that hip-hop is solely filthy, misogynistic, etc. That’s not where I’m going with this because I believe that hip-hop is the latest iteration of the Black American oral tradition and it should be regarded with respect not contempt.

As soon as I was introduced to hip-hop, I fell in love. From Kanye West’s “College Drop Out” album to Ludacris’s classic “Chicken n Beer”, I couldn’t get enough. But, I most especially fell in love with female rappers. Female rappers had a tendency to embody all the beautiful attributes of black womanhood while also possessing strength that tends to be most closely attributed to masculinity. Female rappers like Missy Elliot, Khia and the queen, Trina seemed to be saying “get you a girl that can do both” and I loved it. I still love it. As I’ve grown older and my tastes have evolved, my love for filthy feminist rap music has not. 

So, since they began their careers, I’ve fallen in love with Cardi B and Megan thee Stallion. First, I love almost everything about Cardi B. In the past, she has ruffled some feathers with some problematic statements when in conflict with other people. However, I love her music. I love her attitude. I love her style (especially her makeup). Cardi B, in all of her authenticity in presentation and speech, embodies Black joy. Cardi seems to demand an ousting of performative respectability based in white supremacy and calls for a time of showing up in our truest, most beautiful and blackest forms. Megan, whom I also love, demands the same. Meg is exactly what her name describes, a stallion. Standing at 5’10 inches tall and measuring 36-26-38, Megan is a statuesque Southern belle and one of the hottest lyricists out right now. Adding to her Southern charm, Meg has also attended two Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCUs), Prairie View A&M and presently, Texas Southern University. 

WAP felt like a perfect combination of all the things that I love about hip hop and female rappers. But, it also seemed to go a step further. WAP’s coded yet detailed direction giving language felt quite comparable to the coded yet directive language used in American Negro spirituals of the past.

I was a History major at my HBCU, Delaware State University. In order to graduate in 2012, I had to complete a senior capstone thesis. As a longtime Black Liberationist, even before I had the language to describe myself, I chose to research how the creative arts functioned as a form of revolution and freedom for enslaved Africans in the Americas. An estimated 4 million enslaved Africans were brought to Brazil up until the mid-19th century. During this time, the enslaved utilized the martial art, capoeira, to respond to attacks and acts of injustice by the ruling Portuguese regime. Capoeira, is a martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music. In Brazil, capoeira was used by Africans and disguised as simple dancing until it was time to be used to resist, revolt and be freed.

Similarly, enslaved Africans in the U.S. utilized music and the creative arts as a disguise for liberatory action through the Negro spiritual. In the spiritual “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, the lyrics go as follows “Follow the drinkin’ gourd, For the old man is comin’ just to carry you to freedom, Follow the drinkin’ gourd, When the sun comes back, and the first quail calls, Follow the drinkin’ gourd, For the old man is waiting just to carry you to freedom, Follow the drinkin’ gourd, For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom, Follow the drinkin’ gourd, Well the river bank makes a mighty good road, Dead trees will show you the way, Left foot, peg foot, travelin’ on, Follow the drinkin’ gourd, For the old man is waiting to carry you to freedom, Follow the drinkin’ gourd, Well the river ends, between two hills”. Here, the star constellation, The Big Dipper, is represented by “The Drinking Gourd.” “The Old Man” was one of many Underground Railroad captains waiting to guide runaway slaves along the way. “The river’s bank” referenced the Tombigbee river, which empties into the Mobile Bay and extends into the northeastern portion of Mississippi. Many American Negro spirituals provided detailed directions to slaves to lead them along the Underground Railroad and into a life of freedom and liberation. Enslaved persons knew they could not overtly seek liberation and speak of it in song, so, they used the musical arts to spread the good news and directions to liberty.

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion provide the same type of clear direction in “WAP” to a group of people who oftentimes struggle to know exactly how to please the female body, cis-het men. If one listens clearly, one can hear “WAP” for what it truly is, a modern day coded yet directive spiritual. In the second verse, Megan provides some clear directions, stating “Your honor, I’m a freak bitch, handcuffs, leashes, switch my wig, make him feel like he cheating, put him on his knees, give him something to believe in, never lost a fight, but I’m looking for a beating (ah), in the food chain, I’m the one that eat ya, if he ate my ass, he’s a bottom feeder.” Similar to the directions provided in “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, Megan provides clear directions about helping her arrive at the point of the sweet liberation and pleasure. “I’m a freak bitch, handcuffs, leashes, switch my wig, make him feel like he cheating.” Here, Megan is clearly asking for some bedroom cosplay, BDSM and role-playing to turn her on. “never lost a fight, but I’m looking for a beating (ah), in the food chain, I’m the one that eat ya, if he ate my ass, he’s a bottom feeder.” Megan goes on to provide further direction. She is inviting her lover to engage her in some rough sex while also engaging in some… well, I think you get exactly what she means by “if he ate my ass, he’s a bottom feeder.” Just like the Negro spiritual, Cardi and Megan are forging a road to liberty and providing clear direction for their people. Meg and Cardi are directing us women and our partners, to a liberated place that most women only reach 61-70% of the time. A liberated place that I only reached for the first time at 29 years old. And, I was so shocked by the liberatory sensation that passed through my body, I pushed my partner away and gasped “What the FUCK was that?” I was overwhelmed and alarmed by the amount of pleasure I felt, it felt like it had to be illegal. I almost called the cops on him. I’m a prison abolitionist.

I think that people should be grateful for this modern adaptation of the Negro Spiritual. I think that people should jump on the freedom train that Meg and Cardi provide us with and ride (literally). I think that Harriet walked so Megan and Cardi B could run.

Well, perhaps that’s taking it a bit far.  But, nonetheless, long live WAP.

New Yorkers, I Love You…

There’s certain a rhythm to a shit talkin New Yorker

It’s a certain beat

A certain cadence 

Like a drum 

Their shit talk rings, I love a New Yorker

Yeah, there’s a certain rhythm to New Yorkers

Like, like… their confidence 

Maybe even over-confidence. 

But nah, not to them though

They’re everything… plus more

In a city that beats and drums and strums individuality 

A freedom arises 

Raised from the Hudson 

And kissed by Poseidon

Freedom and confidence arises

And a new choral song bellows over the boroughs

I love New Yorkers

You carry a song in your soul

You are gentle and fierce 

You are holy and hellish

You are high highs and low lows

You define duality 

You hold all the Boths and the ands, the world could hold

Unfeathered you persist, you talk shit, you grow old

Yet even in your tender years

As the nearness of your conclusion looms

You New Yorkers will lie in your senior bed

With the wisdom of many years etched into your face

And the ease of old age gathered as Grays

And say

“Yo. Son… look at this nigga’s shoes!”

New Yorkers… I love you.

The Earth Honors the Black Woman

We’re a year into the global Covid-19 crisis and I must admit that I have acquired quite a list of hobbies during this time of isolation. It began with an obsession with fitness that soon morphed into a disordered eating crisis as disclosed in my essay “Covid, Control and My Mental Health.” That, of course, soon fizzled and I began teaching myself to make delicious summer cocktails while also “grilling out” every Sunday evening. As the weather cooled and summer returned to the hell from whence it came, I began to teach myself to play guitar. I practiced Dolly Parton and church tunes nightly. I also began making delicious fall inspired baked goods such as peach cobbler and sweet potato pie. Most of those hobbies have come and gone yet, one hobby has remained… consistent and steady, gardening. 

In all actuality, gardening is not necessarily a new pandemic hobby for me. I’ve always loved gardening. Some of my earliest and sweetest memories took place in my dear grandfather’s garden, hidden in the jewel that is Western Pennsylvania. My sister and I were city girls, born and raised in North Philadelphia. Yet, my mother and father ensured that we were familiar with our country roots by orchestrating an annual summer trek to my mother’s hometown, Connellsville, PA. Every year, my parents would wear us out all day, perhaps with a visit to the playground or with a day strolling through one of Philadelphia’s many museums. When we returned, they would coax us into remaining awake until it was time to leave, usually around midnight. They would then load us into the car and we would awake six hours later surrounded by beautiful Pennsylvania mountains. We had arrived at our grandparents home, filled with a huge family inside ready to love on us. My parents were clever and mastered avoiding the annoyance of traveling with young questioning children (“Are we there yet?”). Our Summer 1997 journey included a tender trip to my grandfather’s garden. When we got there, we looked at what felt like a giant field full of various veggies and herbs. There were cucumbers, peppers, zucchinis and even rutabaga, a vegetable that at the time, I had never heard of before. My mother helped him till the ground as he watched and glowed with pride.

(From left) My grandfather, my cousin, Ashley, me, my cousin, Danielle (in pink in the back) and my sister, Francesca.

Five years later, when my family moved to Delaware, my mother took great pleasure in designing our front garden and included my sister and I in her decision making. She allowed us to choose a flower to be included in her layout. I can no longer remember which flower my older sister selected but I remember the flower that I chose. It was a cleome, peculiar and quirky yet cute… like me. I loved caring for that cleome flower throughout the summer and I longed for the beauty that the next summer would bring. When I became an adult and rented my own apartments, I always grew herbs on my window sills or deck. Caring for plants felt like an ancestral and familial gift that I wanted to keep alive. So, when I purchased my home in 2019, which included a quite sizable city backyard, I had big dreams for a garden.

Then the pandemic hit. The newness that the pandemic brought to my already established gardening hobby, however, was a virtual community of Black women who also chose to honor our ancestral gardening gift. I began connecting with Black women gardeners by following accounts on Instagram and joining groups on Facebook. In these spaces, Black women offered tips, ideas and invaluable insight. Throughout the pandemic, these communities have served as cyber embodiments of black joy for me. Black women joked with one another and complimented each other’s plants in ways that only Black women can. And one sister even provided weekly garden twerks for all of us every Friday without fail. As a deeply spiritual woman, these spaces felt almost holy to me. I recently heard Imani Perry note that the scripture “where two or more are gathered” applies to more than just the church. Rather, it is a general call to respect the “essential spiritual requirement of community.” So, of course these communities of Black women gardeners were holy.

And this holy ground centered around gardening, plants and the earth. I wondered, what is it about plants that so appealed to Black women? Why did we feel so connected to plants and the earth? As I took on the practice of meditation enveloped in the peace that my yard and my plants bring, a truth was revealed. The Black woman and the earth are inherently connected. In fact, the earth, rich, textured and life-bringing honors the Black woman’s form by taking on her attributes. The earth, the dirt, quickly adapts and takes on different forms, as needed, to nourish its particular community’s needs. Sometimes she is a rich, deep brown with a tint that reflects my own. Sometimes she is moist, ready to gather anyone who gets out of line together with a reddish hue, as is the clay dirt in some parts of the South. Sometimes she is dry and dusty having brought forth many generations of delicious goodness to sustain the world… she is tired from this labor and turns back to dust. And yet, no matter the form she takes on, the earth is a reflection of her, the Black woman.

Those of us caring for plants have uncovered the depth of our connection to the earth. We have unveiled an intrinsic truth that we too, can be rooted in the earth, in the toiled soil and grow. And yet, in order to secure our survival, we have been raised with an awareness of another more sinister truth. That truth was once noted by Malcolm X, he remarked that “The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” We are neglected, discarded and living in a world that completely disregards our very humanity. Early on, Black women learn how to navigate living within the many intersections of systemic oppressions. We know that we are three to four times more likely than our white counterparts to die during childbirth. We know that we are paid less than our white counterparts but are often expected to labor more. As girls, we are disproportionately suspended and expelled from schools when compared to our white contemporaries. 

My basil plant

And yet, just like the soil, Black women find ways to persist and thrive. Our plants, rooted in the soil, function as living embodiments of our ability to persist and thrive. The plant, to the Black woman, when nurtured and cared for, lives out the full liberation we so desire yet are so often denied. And this denial is unable to stop and contain us. The earth, just like the Black woman, cannot be contained. It persists, it lives, it seeks freedom, demands it and even takes it. She returns like a perennial to take up space. She breaks through barriers and cracks in the ground to taste the sweetness of the sun. She is a vine that spreads her legacy. The earth and the Black woman thrive! The earth takes reverence of the Black woman by taking on her form and we return that reverence. The Black woman honors the earth and the earth honors her, Black woman.

Radical Rest (Not Service) on MLK Day

Did MLK Paint Murals or Something Too?

I distinctly remember the first time that I heard of Martin Luther King’s Day of Service. Somehow, I had made it to the ripe age of 22 years old before hearing of MLK Day positioned as a day of community service. However, at this time, I was an Americorps Corps member in Philadelphia and MLK Day was a huge deal for the organization. I felt both surprised and perplexed. I immediately asked “What did Martin Luther King, Jr. have to do with community service?” Nobody had an answer, I stared blankly then we all moved on. Nevertheless, I was left feeling unsettled by this holiday and what it had become. For years afterwards, I came back to that question and added other questions as well. “What does community service have to do with MLK?” “When did MLK’s legacy get conflated with community service?” “What would he think about this?” Eventually, I became tired of asking these questions every year as I woke up at 6am to organize or participate in an MLK Day service event. Last year, I intentionally decided that I will never participate in community service on MLK Day again and here’s why.

Non-Profit Industrial Complex and the Exploitation of Black Labor:

Now, let me start by saying that there are a lot of non-profits that do or intend to do good work. There’s even more fantastic non-profits that certainly do wonderful work yet, they are not well funded nor do they have access to large funding opportunities. I understand that and empathize with the fact that MLK Day helps them get some good work done. However, a tremendous amount of non-profits function as some of the most pervasive contributors to Black trauma exploitation. It disturbs me deeply. Recently, I had a friend compare the non-profit industrial complex to a slave plantation. He declared that instead of Black people picking cotton, the cotton or rather, the product, were their stories of trauma. The re-telling and in turn, re-traumatizing of black folks’ and their stories gets non-profits big dollars! First, it is important to remember that non-profits are dependent on these stories in order to survive, thrive and gain access to wealth. Without black trauma, there are no non-profits. In fact, I would even argue that some non-profits perpetuate the harm of oppressive systems against Black bodies. But, I don’t want to go down that road in this essay. So, again, let’s be clear that non-profit organizations depend on Black trauma but refuse to appropriately compensate participants for their labor. And what do the Black traumatized story-tellers and securers of large grant funding get for their labor? Maybe an Amazon gift card and a hoagie for lunch. That’s it. Further, non-profits tend to employ Black and Brown staff at the direct service level but never promote or fairly compensate these employees for their work. Non-profits function exactly like for-profit capitalist entities, they just think they’re better. They are not. Don’t let them fool you.

Okay Beth, you throwing a lot of shade (and don’t you work for a non-profit girl?) but what does this have to do with MLK Day?

Towards the end of his life, MLK became quite focused on ensuring the rights of poor people, ALL poor people. He connected with socialist ideas regarding fair employment, labor, compensation and how these basic human rights contributed to the best quality of life for all people. With that awareness of MLK’s beliefs in mind, I couldn’t reconcile his legacy with a day that insisted upon my free labor to uphold a capitalist structure that lines the pockets of big non-profit executives. I still can’t, so I won’t. It feels quite preposterous really. “Martin Luther King, Jr. wouldn’t want you to rest on one of a few days that you get relief from the stress of daily labor. He’d totally want you to wake up at 6am and paint this mural!” I beg to differ.

It is important to call out that white supremacy, which is dependent upon a capitalist and production centered society to survive, tells us that we are only worth what we can produce. I would assert that in some ways, MLK Day’s recent focus on work is a result of our white supremacist culture.  Lastly, in my opinion, MLK Day of Community Service also aligns itself with the present tendency to “Santa Claus”, as one of my dear colleagues describes it, MLK’s legacy. MLK’s legacy has been manipulated and altered to fit within the comfort of white consciousness.

Thus, I’m left to wonder, if MLK had been blessed to make it to old age, after many years of fighting for liberation, would he understand and connect with the important radicality of Black rest.

Rest As Resistance:

I recently began following “The Nap Ministry” on Instagram. It is a page dedicated to the truly radical nature of rest especially for Black people. The page emphasizes the need for intentional rest, ways to practice rest as a discipline and quick (and humorous) responses to anyone who dares to challenge our human need for rest. That page is a gift and I highly suggest you follow it.

Since the beginning of our presence on this evil land, Black people have been told that we are products to be consumed or to produce only. As such, our full humanity has always been denied. I reject that existence. I am a person. I am whole. I am precious. And, in order to preserve my wholeness and preciousness, I need to take intentional rest. Rest subverts the filthy messages of American capitalism that assert that I am only valued based on what I can produce and do. I reject that. I am more than a laborer.

As such, I’ll be rolling over in my bed with some foam rollers in my hair around 6am on MLK Day this year and for the foreseeable MLK Day future. I will rest. I will resist the confines that this society places upon my body. I will rest and so should you.

Here’s to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day of Radical Rest!

The Names of My Mother

My mother’s the first woman I’ve ever known. And not in that Adam knows Eve way. ‘Cause that thing only happens in Virginia. She’s the first woman to gift me with the prospect, the promise of WHO I could be.

And she gave me a lot to hope for.

My mother is a warrior. And not in the authoritarian American military way. But in the way of a guardian charged to watch over her legacy.

My mother, my mother is a fighter. And not in a Mike Tyson sorta way. But in the strength, in the wisdom and prophetic confidence from the Father, Abba

My mother is… a…. survivor! In all its persisting glory. Conquering all the depths of the worry and the Evil One

And God, my father, loves my mother deeper than I could ever fathom or know.

My mother is the first woman I’ve ever known.

Who Are You?

This blog post is adapted from an inspirational talk that I gave at work this week.

From the moment that I turned 29 in July of 2019, I started feeling anxious about turning 30 in 2020. It’s important to note here, that I have a tendency to incessantly yet casually discuss things that I am feeling anxious about. As such, every couple of months, I would ceremoniously post some sort of countdown to 30 via a Facebook post. Something as direct as “Dang, just realized it’s only 10 months until I turn 30” or less direct like “Wow, Backstreet Boys are on Dancing with the Stars, guess I’m getting old, I do turn 30 in 6 months” etc and so on. However, once 30 arrived, I realized that the thing I was most afraid of were the expectations that I presumed would be placed on me as a 30 year old person. It seems, to me, like others have really high expectations of 30 year olds. I assumed that others expected me to arrive at 30 fully prepared, fully knowledgeable, capable and ready for some 30 year old action. Now, we all know this isn’t true but this thought really scared me because I was quite aware that I was (and am) still figuring myself out. I am still getting to know and adjust to me. In fact, the scariest part of turning 30 has shown up in uncovering the unknown parts of me that I’ve accumulated over my 30 years. The parts of me too painful to face and too weird to acknowledge. The parts of me that are really cool but embarrass me to talk about for fear of appearing braggadocious or conceited. 30 felt like a moment of reckoning with myself and I was scared as hell.

But, once I recognized that fear, I was able to start doing some real work. This work started with me asking the simple question “who are you REALLY, Beth?” This question is simple but empowering because it opened the door for many moments of self enlightenment. So, I’ve been asking myself that question a lot, in different settings, at different moments with different people around. Who am I, truly, fully and uninterrupted? I’m funny, I’m really smart (and as a black woman I often feel the need to hide that so that I don’t intimidate others but that’s an interruption, right?), I’m kind and gentle to name a few things. What’s most interesting about these realizations about myself, these proclamations of self-identification, is that they’re often adverse to the identities placed on me. We all have identities that are placed on us like unwanted Christmas gifts (I’m still mad that I got that remote controlled Volkswagen Beetle that my barbies couldn’t even fit in instead of the Barbie Volkswagen Beetle for Christmas 2000, Mom and Dad). There’s a lot of identities that have been placed on me without my consent. Some of those identities are placed on me by systemic structures. For example, as a black woman, I’m often regarded as too aggressive, too loud, etc. Essentially, society often asks me to shrink myself. And some of these misidentifications come from those closest to me, like my family and friends. Sometimes their identities for us are laden with their trauma, their conceptions formed from their life experience, their prejudices, their… STUFF! So, with that, we have to ask the question “do these identities fit me well?” “Do they mesh with my idea of myself?” If it does not fit you well, it’s okay to let that identity go but do a lot of deep self reflection before discarding it. Sometimes these identities do fit and we’re simply uncomfortable with it.

Self work, determining who you are for yourself, naming oneself, not only benefits us as individuals but it enriches our communities. Showing up as our whole and full selves benefits everyone around us because we are glorious! To feel confident and empowered enough to show up wholly in spaces truly helps everyone around us. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share by showing up fully. And, showing up in this way encourages those around us to show up as their full selves as well. It opens this path of freedom and authenticity for everyone to partake in. But, it takes a lot of courage and practice to do that. So, start by building small communities with people that you trust to help reflect you back to you. We all need ourselves reflected back to us! It is that type of collaborative naming that is so helpful because someone may identify something in you that you didn’t realize was there. And now, you can name that for yourself and walk in it too.

And lastly, begin asking yourself if these identities serve you. Some of our identities come from places of deep hurt and we are still operating within that identity but we don’t need to anymore. We may not need to protect ourselves from certain harms by being the toughest in the room anymore. We may not need to respond to our abandonment by being the most independent anymore. To take it even a step further than that, we may even need to ask WHAT these identities are serving us? Are some of these identities serving us pain, hurt relationships that end really quickly, shallowness and emptiness? Ask yourself how these identities served you in the past, what was their purpose, honor that purpose then make room to let it go. Some identities don’t need to last a lifetime. We are moving and evolving always, make space for that empowered evolution and keep showing up!

There Is No Justice for Recy, Breonna or… Me:

I am deeply aware of my blackness and my womanhood everyday. One of my earliest memories of my awareness of the difference in my womanhood due to my blackness came when I was about 12 years old. My mother, my sister and I were returning from a walk from somewhere that I no longer remember. As we began to enter our home, a white man (whom I presume was a salesman) began calling out to us with “Yo! Yo!” When he got close to us, my mother dramatically turned around and quipped “We are ladies, sir! And you don’t address ladies with “yo!” I still remember that man’s face, he was shocked and embarrassed but immediately changed his tone. 

As such, I am deeply aware of the manners in which I allow myself to take up space and the ways in which white people and white spaces consume me. Since America’s introduction to the black woman, we have been assumed a product awaiting consumption at any moment. Thus, I brace myself for this assumed consumption and the many sinister ways that it shows up in my everyday life. It shows up in presuming my body and mentality as tougher and stronger. It shows up in presuming my tones and mannerisms as angry and aggressive. It shows up as a perpetual compromising of my basic humanity and individuality. It lurks waiting to consume me daily. It is maddening. However, this compromising of the black woman’s humanity is an age-old concept that refuses death but simply mutates in form. It is in fact because of this consumption that there is no justice in this country for the black woman. There never has been. She is consumed without hesitation and without remorse.

The black woman’s existence in a constant state of anticipated consumption brings to mind the case of Recy Taylor. Recy Taylor was born on December 31, 1919 in Abbeville, Alabama to a share-cropping family. Like her parents, Recy also worked as a share-cropper and cared for her six younger siblings after the death of her mother. She married at 24, became a mother soon after and loved attending church. Church, according to her siblings, was a huge part of her life. Recy was a precious and beloved church going and hard-working woman in the Jim Crow South; a time and place that held no regard for the aforementioned attributes when cloaked by black skin. On September 3, 1944 while walking home from a church service with a dear friend and that friend’s son, Recy was stopped by a group of seven armed white men. The men accused Recy of assaulting another man earlier that day and demanded that she get in the car with them. Although Recy tried to run, there was no escaping and she was forced to acquiesce to their demands. The men then drove to a secluded area, demanded that Recy remove her clothes and proceeded to gang rape her. Recy was consumed. 

Although the assault was immediately reported to the police by Recy’s friend, investigated by the NAACP’s best investigator at the time, Rosa Parks, and many black people around the country rallied around the call for Equal Justice for Recy Taylor, she received none. An all white, all male grand jury dismissed her case within five minutes of deliberation. A grand jury deemed Recy unworthy of justice just like a grand jury recently deemed Breonna Taylor unworthy too. The circumstances of Recy Taylor’s case differ from Breonna Taylor’s greatly, however, I cannot help but to see the parallels. 

Breonna Taylor was a black woman from Louisville, KY that worked as an emergency room technician. On the night of March 13, 2020 some time after midnight, local police used a battering ram to break down her apartment door. Stirred awake by the commotion, both Taylor and her boyfriend (who armed himself) got up to protect themselves from whom they presumed to be intruders. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a warning shot to which the police responded with a barrage of bullets. After which, Taylor lay riddled with bullets, dead, as her boyfriend frantically dialed 911 for help, unaware that the “help” had already consumed his beloved. Louisville police stated that they were conducting an investigation on Taylor’s ex-boyfriend who happened to have mail sent to her address. However, the ex under investigation was already in police custody at the time of her murder. With the same energy that Black people across the country rose in support of Recy then, Black Americans across the country were ignited in support of Breonna now. Cries for #justiceforbreonnataylor rang out across the country. There have been social media campaigns, protests and riots demanding that her murderers, guised as those who “serve and protect”, be brought to justice. Yet, just like Recy, the grand jury deemed Breonna unworthy of justice too.

These injustices convey one message loud and clear. There is no justice for black women in America. The “justice” system was not created to protect a product, the system was created to reinforce its consumption. In essence, the system simply confirms that I am a product and not a person. Interactions in my day to day life confirm that as well. When I experience microaggressions and ask that my humanity be respected, or simply acknowledged, I am told to ask nicer. “Ask nicer” truly means “don’t ask at all.” When I elect to take up space and belong, I am told to shrink myself for the comfort of others, white people. The more I resist consumption, the more I am consumed. The more I am consumed, the more I am reminded that there is no justice for us. We’ve all been Recy, we’ve all been Breonna, we’ve all been Rosa, Mamie or Coretta. We’ve all experienced this consumption just in differing ways. 

I’m left wondering who protects the product when it can no longer bear consumption? Who asserts that the product is not a product but a woman? Where can the consumed seek refuge?

I know not the answer to these questions. But, I do know that I am not a product, I won’t be consumed. I am a woman! I know that I am a woman… do you? 

Covid, Control and My Mental Health

I like control. I like both order and control. As such, I live my life with as much order and control as possible. I keep an agenda, two of them. I store all appointments, deadlines and to-dos in both my iPhone’s Google calendar as well as my agenda book decorated in eyelashes with a proclamation to “Make Today Fab-U-Lash” on the front. When I lead meetings, I create an agenda detailing every fine point that must be discussed along with a time constraint for discussing each fine point. In fact, after years of observing my behavior (which I thought was subtle), one of my dear friends recently quipped “If you ever want to make Beth mad, have her create an agenda… then deviate from it.” Very few things offend me as much as this opprobrious act. 

And yet, no matter how much I have planned, budgeted and created an agenda, nothing could have ever equipped me for the insidious covid-19 pandemic of 2020. I remember first hearing about it in December of 2019 as the virus began to ravage China. Like any good American, I thought, “Oh that’s terrible that that’s happening over there.” “Over there”, a distancing ideological framework that permeates the thinking of most Americans. Dictators happen… over there (like in Iraq). Civil unrest happens… over there (like in Egypt). Deadly viruses happen… over there (like Ebola in poor ol’ Africa). Every fiber of my controlling being knew that this virus, that at the time had no name, could never happen right here at home. And yet, it happened. It arrived like a fog in the night spreading across a dark unlit well-traveled back-country road. An unexceptional daily happening in the sunlight or in normal conditions but a treacherous obstacle in the onset of a sinister midnight fog. Just like this fog, covid-19 crept in the night, making my life virtually unrecognizable in an instant.

In its arrival, I quickly found myself obsessed with the news, another symptom of my need for control. On a subconscious level, I thought, if I know enough, I can control enough. Yet, as the number of infections increased along with deaths, symptoms, list of covid-19 complications and an irreversible economic downturn, I soon realized that I could not possibly know enough about this harrowing virus to truly protect myself. Further, I certainly could not maintain any control. Everyday information is espoused and everyday we find out that what we previously depended upon as a protective truth is not actually equipped to protect us at all. I have never felt such a lack of control in the world around me. I have asked God on many occasions, what could humanity have ever done to deserve this virus (not to mention murder hornets but that’s a time for another post)? Every bit of my neurotic need to control my environment, my relationships and other external objects has been completely compromised. I have yielded to that unfortunate truth and state of our world. However, I have felt that need for control turn inwardly towards myself in the form of my pesky mental health “issue”… anorexia and body dysmorphia.

When I was about 12 years old, I participated in a month-long fasting regiment along with my parents and extended church body. I cannot remember the exact parameters of the fasting ritual but there were maybe one or two days in the week in which we would not eat for an entire day. This fasting discipline became the first time that I was exposed to the joy of ignoring my body’s call for satiation. I felt an immense victory and power in being able to move past the pain of hunger. I felt control. I loved it. And there was no better way to hide the beginning of a 18 year battle with an eating disorder than under the guise of spiritual ritual.

Anorexia and body dysmorphia have functioned as a looming rain cloud following me for most of my life. Sometimes, they simply follow me around innocently for years, simply threatening to rain, other times they appear as a torrential downpour upending my life and mental health.

Last year, I finally scheduled a doctor’s appointment to help me address weight gain fueled by unkempt mental health and a long-term mentally abusive relationship. At the appointment, the nurse practitioner asked me to detail my diet and weight history over the years. I began to explain to her that I’ve always struggled with my weight. I then went on to tell her my exact weight, down to the ounce, over different periods in my adult life. “Fall semester of my senior year of college I got down to…” “And then in 2014 I went up to…” I went on detailing my weight over the years like this for several minutes until she interrupted me with a “Wow.” I paused. She went on “I can tell your weight has really been a very big deal for you for a long time… I don’t want you to value yourself based on a number.” I immediately burst into tears, the tears were one part embarrassment and another part gratefulness for finally being seen. She carefully helped me craft a new weight-loss journey. I also enlisted the help of my therapist with losing weight this time around. This time, I better recognize that my weight is as much about my mental health as it is my diet and exercise habits. This journey began last July and losing weight felt different this time. I wasn’t losing weight for the entertainment of the crowds of people that I cheered before. I wasn’t losing weight for the pleasure of men who frequented the same parties as I. My body, its health and appearance finally felt fully owned by me alone. And then covid hit and I lost most of my sense of outside control. As each semblance of my life pre-covid (that’s what I and I think everyone should call it) has quickly been altered, I’ve found myself desperately grasping for control. I often feel like a drowning person flailing in a downstream river reaching for a life-saving branch. I feel very little control other than my ability to control my body. 

Thus, eating is a battle for me some days. It would be easy not to eat for an entire day or two and revel in the pounds lost the next day. I’m working from home, I barely leave my house and nobody sees me to notice a sudden weight-loss. In fact, even if someone did notice a sudden weight-loss, they would torture me with congratulatory recognition. “Beth, you look great!” I’d respond with thank you and some fake weight loss insight while thinking “You have no idea what I did to get here.”  If I’m being completely honest, some days, I don’t eat. As a leader in my church, I could again hide my eating disorder under the guise of the Lenten spiritual discipline throughout March. Yet inside, I knew my “fasting” was equal parts spiritual and scale movement. Since the quarantines have begun and I’ve been in isolation, I have never been more acutely aware of how closely related my anorexia is to my need for control. This covid world is out of control and feels like it is slowly crashing, burning. And as the world crashes, burns and we continue to find out how little control we humans have, I find myself battling my contentment with the burn of my empty stomach… my remaining sense of control. 

Still I’m fighting, most days, I do eat. Every Saturday, my therapist checks in with me and I’m honest about my eating habits (both healthy and unhealthy). But, it’s nonetheless a battle for me because I want to feel in control in this out of control post-covid society.

I Don’t Need Your Pity, I Need Your Action: Simple Ways to be a Better Ally

I recently wrote an essay about my feelings as a woman, a black woman and person of faith in the current American political climate. Essentially, I came to the conclusion that I live in a constant state of being pissed. In my little community of friends and family, the essay gained a bit of steam and was viewed almost 200 times. Interestingly, the strangest part about having that many people view your thoughts is the nagging feeling that you may be misunderstood anyways. I’ve especially caught myself  thinking about my white friends who read the post. I find myself wondering if they got it? I mean, did they really get it?

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Most notably, I’ve noticed that quite often, the non-marginalized (in this case, white people) have a tendency to exhibit a certain condescending pity towards marginalized people (in this case, my black ass). I usually begin to feel pitied when I hear “I’m sorry”, “that must be so upsetting” and worse of all, “awwwww.” Now, I’m sure that this is oftentimes true empathy. The emotional burden of racism is taxing (especially taxing on black women) so just hearing about certain experiences can also become emotionally taxing on others. However, empathy without action is pity and pity, quite frankly, effects no change. White people, have the privilege of stopping at the point of “empathy”, they can briefly feel the burden and then allow themselves to carry on with their day. Black people, unfortunately, do not have this same pleasure. We are taxed with both bearing the emotional labor and doing the moral and sturctural groundwork. This kind of pity from well meaning white folks is demeaning and demoralizing to black and brown folks fighting against systems of oppression. Language as mentioned in the examples above illustrates an effort to distance oneself from the issues that plague that community. Don’t distance yourself from the issues in the community, fight with us. However, this is not to discourage white people from empathizing with black folks, it is rather a call to allow your empathy to act as a catalyst for action. Here are some ways that you can be a better ally that empathizes and acts.

Ask instead of Assume

Instead of assuming that you know how your black and brown comrades feel in the midst of systemic racism, ask them how they are feeling. Instead of assigning emotions to your Black and brown colleagues, be open to hearing from them about exactly how they feel then ask where you can provide further support.

Call Out Racism EVERYWHERE, even from your problematic ass granny:

Call out racism everywhere and every time you hear it even if there are no people of color around. I understand that it may feel easier to let “minor” aggressions go but challenging racism on the smallest level is the only way to work towards changing larger systems. Change is never comfortable but it is necessary.

Invest in Change

One of the biggest and lasting effects of systemic racial oppression is the economic deficits between the black and white community. Historically, white families earn more annually than their black counterparts. So guess what, you should invest those extra earnings into the work being done in your city. Invest in your local participatory defense hub,  Black Lives Matter chapter, local bail fund, go to a black owned coffee shop, buy a book from a black author, shit pay a sista’s student loan for a month, Sallie Mae be calling me! Sharing money is a radical way to effect change.

Be Ready to Put Your Body on the line

This is one of the most dangerous yet most important ways to be a better ally. Think of the cookout in Oakland last month. Last month, a white woman (we’ll call her Karen) called the police on a black family cooking out in a park in Oakland because they were using a charcoal grill in a non-charcoal grill area. How would this narrative been told if it wasn’t for the cinematography of another indignant white woman? How deadly would this story have ended if one of the black BBQers confronted Karen in the same way that the white woman behind the camera did as the police showed up? White allies, use your  privilege to Black people’s advantage by using your body to disrupt racism. Break out your camera phone, confront the bigot, call out the police, do whatever you have to do to physically disrupt racism. If you’re afraid for your physical safety, at least begin recording on your camera phone.

Listen… you don’t always have to relate

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Lastly, be okay with just listening to people of color and not feeling the need to tell a comparable story. Yes, we understand, a black person may have called you Becky on your way to pick up your pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks last week. And yes, it was probably hurtful. However, it is not comparable to the experience of black and brown folks that are subjected to racism daily. There are not systems (prison industrial complex, redlining, pay gaps, etc) set in place to support individualized prejudice against white people. I understand that relating is a common conversational tool but when it comes to racism, just listen, don’t try to prove that you get it by relating. That has the opposite effect. Just sit back, listen and refer to suggestions 1-4.