Tag Archives: Feminism

Existing Resistance

It’s a Saturday night, and I’m in the first floor bathroom of the Brooklyn Museum, waiting on a friend. The whole museum is packed with people for First Saturday, and the bathroom is no exception. I look at the reflections of black women fixing their hair, touching up their makeup, smiling at each other. Strangers compliment each other’s style. It feels nice in here. My friend comes out, and we exit into a wave of black bodies, with occasional allies.

I did not expect to be here, or in a situation like this, for a long time. Two weeks ago, I stayed home during the Women’s March. Crowds make me nervous. Marches give me flashbacks to marching around campus with The Former Editor of the Ankh, and the aftermath that came from sharing the post I’d written about him, mainly from the people who had organized and marched with us.

I feel like self care at this moment in history is a luxury. Every moment that I take to recharge or focus on my mental state is a moment I am not organizing or protesting or calling my five representatives, something the newly woke people on my Facebook timeline constantly point out to me. And yet, it is so hard for me to get my body out of my house on the weekend. It is so hard to leave my bed, or turn on the phone when I’m not at work. I’m afraid that if I try to push myself in my Off time, I’ll have nothing left for when I need to be On.

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At the end of chess club, two students are late being picked up. They hang out as I organize my classroom.

“Why was Martin Luther King Jr. shot?” they ask.

“Do you really want to know?” I ask them. The two black five-year-olds nod, and move to lie down on my carpet, heads propped up in their hands as they listen to me explain capitalism, slavery, Jim Crow and Civil Rights in as simple a way as possible. Their parents come in midway through, standing silently in the back of the classroom and listening as I speak.

“As long as black people believe themselves to be strong, and powerful, and worthy of good things and good treatment,” I start to wrap up, “And as long as they continue to fight for everything they deserve, they will be a threat to wealthy white people. People care about money more than anything else. So they need to take away our leaders so that we become unorganized, and they need to do it in a way that scares us so badly that we stop resisting. That’s why they shot him. But it hasn’t worked yet. The struggle continues, and we keep resisting, because we have to. You have to, too.” I’m not even sure I’m saying the correct things, but no one says otherwise.

When everyone is gone from chess club, another teacher finds me on the floor behind a table.

“I’m just exhausted,” I tell her.

“I know how you feel,” she says. “Sometimes while I’m talking to them, I just get so scared. When we talked about Civil Rights and what’s happening today, they were like, ‘Wait, this isn’t over yet?’ and then I think, ‘Maybe you don’t actually have a future!’”

The next day, after Guided Reading, I tell the kids about Huey P Newton and Shaka Zulu.

“Teaching IS activism!” a former professor writes to me in an email.

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 This time last week, I was sobbing on the balcony inside Turtle Bay, because the bouncer had insisted I give up my mace, and my friend had wanted to go inside anyway.

“It’s not safe here, though,” I’d said. “I’m not safe. I can’t defend myself. They aren’t even checking any guy’s pockets! How can a place put out a dress code that makes it nearly impossible for women to have pockets, that makes it so women need to carry purses, and then only check purses and not check into men’s pockets?”

The bouncer was inside now. I walked up to him.

“So you just that guy in here with his knife?” I asked. There was no knife, but he had no way of knowing that. “You didn’t check him! You haven’t checked any men! How do you know he doesn’t have roofies?”

“Listen, ma’am,” he told me. “Usually, we do. We’re usually supposed to check men, too.”

“That’s not helpful,” I told him, “Because you’re being negligent right now. You’re only going into purses here, not pockets. So when I walk home tonight, I’ll be defenseless. And if anyone can’t walk home tonight, if anyone gets date-raped in here because you allowed someone in here with drugs in their pocket, that’ll be on you.”

“Whoa, whoa,” he held up his hands. “That’s not my call!”

“It’s completely your call whether you check or not!” I yelled, before walking away.

Triggers, man. They really sneak up on you out of nowhere. I hadn’t realized how much my peace of mind hinged upon my ability to fight off attackers. I hadn’t realized the extent to which I’ve internalized that I cannot control what other people will do to my body. That at this point, leaving my house makes me feel like I’m Asking For It. When people had started to write off the Women’s March as a white feminist movement that prioritized pink pussies grabbing back over all else, I’d felt validated for not going. Now, I feel Sojourner Truth by my shoulders, sadly whispering in my ear that I’m a woman too, and those issues actually still do severely affect me. You can’t protest if you’re afraid of going outside.

Everything is political. I lean into nihilism. I tell my students about Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Charles G. Woodson and Madame C. J. Walker. I read about Josephine Baker, already planning a school wide celebration for May 20.

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Tonight, Saturday night, I’m wearing jeans, a bodysuit, and an oversized cardigan. I have pockets, and new mace in my boot. As my friend and I walk out of the bathroom, our outfits blend into the crowd. Everyone falls uniquely into the same categories, either casually chic with splashes of ankara, or dressed fully to impress. Men are in dashikis. The DJ plays “Wobble” and everyone in the museum begins to fall into step. A little later, I walk past OSHUN, ever-sporting tribal marks, as they pose for pictures.

“This is a lot,” my friend says, and I agree with her. But in this case, “a lot” doesn’t mean “too much”, so we stay. We stay, and sit, and talk, and people watch. We catch the end of a performance.

“I was feeling so guilty about coming out tonight,” I say, “When I haven’t been going to any protests or being especially active. But this is sort of what we’re protesting for, isn’t it? These people all look like they’re enjoying themselves. They look happy. We need spaces like this to be human, to feel free. To just Be. And events like this are important to come to, because their popularity will increase their frequency, and because I love the way everyone looks. Afropunk used to be the only place black people could congregate en masse dressed like this. It’s like non-political existence is the greatest resistance. You don’t see this all the time, especially now, but it feels so normal and that’s beautiful.” Maybe we could make the world like the Brooklyn Museum, I think. Is that what Love Trumps Hate is all about?

When we leave to walk outside, I check to make sure my mace is still easily accessible. My friend asks me if I think I’ll pass my fears and anxieties onto my children. I think about the babies I saw at the museum tonight, the toddlers with their mothers and the happy families.

“No,” I decide. “They’ll know the world they live in, but all of my fears would be irrational to anyone to hasn’t had my experiences. I wouldn’t want to pollute their mental states. I’d shield them.”

“But you’d want to protect them,” she presses. “You’d say, ‘Here, take this pepper spray just in case,’ and then put it into your daughter’s head.”

“No, no, no, I wouldn’t.”

“Yes, yes, yes, you would! Because you’d be too afraid, otherwise, for her safety.”

And that’s when I remember: “You’re right! I would be too afraid, but that’s why I’m not having children anyway. I don’t want to pass anything on, and I don’t want to worry about anyone being raped or murdered. So this conversation is irrelevant!” I feel triumphant, but she’s laughing.

“You forgot that for a moment though, didn’t you?” she says. “You forgot that you decided that. The museum made you forget tonight.”

She’s right. For three hours, surrounded by generations of existing black people; smiling, confident women; and happy children, I forgot my learned fears. The fear came back when we left the museum, but differently. This time, it was accompanied by a tiny bit of hope. It was dulled enough to allow an asterisk next to my No Children decision.

Surreality

“How are you?” my white coworkers ask me at a meeting. I’m at a meeting.

This morning, I woke up and saw that Trump was elected president. And then I re-saw it, and re-saw it, because I couldn’t believe it was real. I don’t believe my reaction was uncommon. Apparently, though, it was uncommon enough to allow for the reality of the election results.

I really am a minority in this country.
That’s something you always know, but it rarely feels concrete to this extreme.

And now I’m at my real meeting, waiting for it to start, with real tears welling up in my eyes.

I am so. Scared.
And. Disillusioned.

“At least Trump is pro charter schools,” one teacher says. “So we’re safe! We still have our jobs.”

I don’t want to work here anymore. I don’t want to work here anymore.


“These charter schools weren’t even started by a black person, but they’re supposed to help black people?” he said angrily, at my old campus. He was a product of one of the first. “So much of it is bullshit. I used to get in trouble all the time, because if you cut corners in line you’d have to go to the end. They had colored lines on the floor to tell you where to walk! I was not about that shit, like are you serious? It was way too controlling, so I always cut corners just to show how stupid it was, and then I’d get sent to the end.”

“I think the benefit people see in these schools is that they recognize some of the world we live in,” I said. “We live in a white-dominated society. So if a white person wants to create schools that teach black kids how to successfully conduct themselves in white society, some people are for that. Some people think it can help. And we hope that along the way, the kids will gain confidence and connections. Maybe they’ll turn out like you, and see it all as a system of bullshit and wrongness, but at least you ended up at an elite university, with better tools to attack your problems.”

“Who would want to function well in white society though?” was all he had to say.


I always bought into the idea of teaching the whole person. I thought that learning chess would help with decision making, and round out the soul. I believed that it would help to learn how to conduct oneself in the master’s house.

What do they say? You can’t dismantle the master’s house with his own tools?


I need to go away. I’m still at my meeting, being antisocial as anything. I’m the only woman in the room, and I’m already pretty quiet to start with. I’m the only black adult in the room. White men, white men, white men!


“We’re not being sad today,” they say. “It’s bad, but we still have hope.”

“My friend got called a nigger in Times Square last night after the results came out,” I didn’t tell them.

“I’m just going to put positivity into the world today,” one guy says. “I’m going to smile at everyone I see.”

“Dude, you can’t do that!” The leader of the meeting says. “You’re a white man with a bald head! Someone called me a racist today when I ordered my coffee, and I voted for Clinton!”

“Clinton is racist too,” I actually do say.

I need to get out of here. I need to go to sleep.

No. I can’t sleep anymore. I need to be active. I need to do something. I need to quit my job. I need to take my money out of the bank. I need to join a gym, and get in shape. No longer for a rape revenge fantasy, but for actual survival. I need to cut down my eating, and cut out bad things. Carbs, sugar, anything that’s processed. I need to change my lifestyle.

I need to watch the news and read the papers. I need to stop hiding from everything. I need to be fully present in the world, because not enough people are, and then something like this happens. And in order to be fully present, I need to fully process every bad thing that has happened to me. I need to cry for a week, understand how things have happened and why. I need to get the flashbacks out of my head, or at least get to the point where my lions are only kittens. I need to, I need to, because my president has advised grabbing women by their pussies, and I have never taken the time to fully think about those implications.

I need to make art, and join festivals. I need to learn how to sew my own clothes, so I can stop being dependent upon companies, because if I lose my job, I lose my ability to go out and be frivolous.


“Political consultants have been predicting this for months,” one guy says. “It’s not about reality to them. It’s about opinions. And if people think that there are more pink Skittles in a bag of Skittles, then that’s what it’s going to be.”

Am I a Skittle? Are people like me Skittles?

I need the white men in the room to stop asking how I am without really caring about the answer, or I will scream.

The Second Part of the Last Night

“I was getting ready for bed,” I told him. It was partly true, but not especially helpful.
“With him in the room?” my cousin wanted to know.
“I guess so,” I said. It was lame, and we both knew it. I can’t outright lie in important situations. Call it a character flaw.
“Go to bed,” he said disgustedly, and went out onto the terrace.

By this point, we all know I’m a spiteful person. I knew it would look immature for me to point out that he wasn’t my father, and couldn’t tell me when to go to bed, but I sure as hell was not about to go to sleep right then. For one thing, no one was tired. Without everything else going on, I had to finish packing. More importantly, MC (we’re going to refer to my cousin as MC) was really upset, and I wanted him to say why. Not that I couldn’t guess. He’s an extremely possessive person, and had been rather protective of me the entire week. With the exception of times he’d been off drinking or smoking, I had not been left alone with his friends, and he’d even turned down fun activities like parties and swimming with friends whom I could tell he thought were into me. The only reason This Guy had gotten past MC’s protective fence was that it was his apartment in which we were staying. I was sleeping in his sister’s room (we hooked up in his sister’s room. I guess that was okay with him).

I followed him outside, figuring that if I could get my cousin to confess to his overprotective instincts, we could have a healthy conversation about his internalized misogyny, and how he needs to recognize that I’m a Person. That I can make my own decisions regarding the people in whom I’m interested, and that I’m not going to be charmed by every friend who finds himself interested in Me. I’m not stupid, or overly acquiescing, and I’ve had increasing experience in getting guys to leave me alone. People need to stop acting as though male interest equates male entitlement, and automatically results in male satisfaction. That’s what I would’ve told him, if he hadn’t immediately told me to go back to bed, and denied that he was feeling any type of way about the situation.

“I’m fine, everything’s good,” was all he would say.
“You’re clearly Not fine,” I told him. You’re just being a stupid man, unwilling to admit to any of your feelings, and creating more drama right before I have to get on an airplane! I thought. To add to the complication, The Guy chose this moment to join us outside.

“This isn’t just some skank you can use!” My cousin told him. “This is my cousin! You respect her! Fuck with my family, and I’ll kill you. How’s that for serious?” He stared at The Guy for a minute, then left.

I was so shocked, and pissed. I was aware that by telling The Guy that I wasn’t a skank, MC was completely putting me into the position of Being A Skank. Clearly, if I hadn’t been related to him, he would have viewed me with less respect. My value as a person should not be tied to the identities of my family members. It also shouldn’t be tied to my sexual expression, but I guess female sex positivity and the problems of slut-shaming have yet to be accepted in that apartment. Furthermore, I was annoyed that MC seemed to have put me into the Victim’s Position. I was someone who had been “fucked with”? This Guy was getting warnings and threats (which were ridiculous, given that TG is about twice the size of my cousin, the majority of him being muscle) for going near me, and I was just an innocent flower whose chastity needed protection from someone who wasn’t even myself. There’s never a good way to explain Not Flirting and Experimentation without making yourself seem like an asshole and minor sociopath, but I had serious problems with the huge power flip that had just taken place. All of a sudden, I was a girl who had been tricked by some player, who also had to beg for her male guardian’s forgiveness, and finish packing, and eventually sleep before leaving for at least a year. I was thinking about all this when TG came to sit next to me.

“Did you tell him?” he asked.
“He kind of already knew,” I replied.
“How?”
“He came into the room, right after you left, and I wasn’t wearing any pants.”
“Oh.”
“What happened??” This was another cousin, who lived downstairs. He’d just come outside. Why was he in the apartment? This situation was so ridiculous, and I didn’t feel like explaining it, so I started to laugh, instead.

“You’re here? I didn’t know you were here!” I told him.
“I’m here!” he said. “What happened? I just heard MC say ‘I’ll kill you’? What happened?”
“Nothing,” I told him. “Go to sleep.”

He went back inside, and what followed was maybe thirty minutes of silence, with intervals of conversation. I was doing a lot of reflection. TG was confused, ever-dramatic, and somehow still in the mood.
“I just have one question. I just want to know one thing,” he kept saying, before asking his question. The questions went all over the place.

“Did you ever kiss MC?” he wanted to know. Did I ever WHAT? I thought.
“You mean, like peck him on the cheek the way everyone kisses each other in greeting, or like the way I kissed you?” I asked to clarify.
“Like, kiss him.”
“Well, he’s my cousin,” I emphasized, “So, no.”
“I just think you two are really close. Like he’s oddly close to you. Sometimes I really thought you had. And I think that’s why he’s so mad.”
“You think he’s jealous? Of you? For kissing me?” This was too much to handle. He really couldn’t be going in this direction right now. I shut down that conversation, and we went back to silence.

“I’m not blaming you At All, but why did you do it?” I wanted to know. “Why did you kiss me? I could’ve just left. The flight is in a few hours.”
“Because I’m attracted to you,” he said. “I couldn’t just let you leave. I’ve wanted to do it since I saw you, but I wasn’t sure how you’d react. You’re quite scary, you know.”
“I know,” I said, glad that he remembered.
“I even would have done it this morning, on the balcony,” he told me. I thought back to the morning, when MC and I had been outside. I’d been in my oversize sleeping shirt, and TG had come up behind me and kissed my cheek. At first, MC had started at seeing “some shirtless guy kiss [his] cousin”, but had relaxed when he recognized who it was. Funny how quickly things change.
“Would you have kissed me if I hadn’t done it?” he asked.
“No,” I told him quite honestly. It clearly hadn’t been as necessary for me as it had been for him.
“Then I’m glad I did it,” he said.

“You know what the worst part about this is?” TG said.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m still attracted to you,” he told me. It had been less than an hour. I would hope that I didn’t become unattractive within an hour’s time.
“That makes sense,” I told him.
“But now it’ll be hard for me to come back later,” he lamented.
“You still want to come back later?” I was incredulous.
“Yeah, don’t you want me to?”
“No,” I told him. For some reason I felt like laughing, but didn’t. It wouldn’t have been happy laughter, anyway. “I don’t want to do anything right now.”

“You know, I’ll probably never see you again,” I said.
“What, why would you say that?” he wanted to know.
“Well, do you really think MC will let me be around you when I come back to South Africa?”
“He’d have to,” he said. “It would suck if I couldn’t see you again.” There was a pause. “Would it suck for you, if you couldn’t see me again?” I had to think about it.
“Yeah,” I said quietly, although I wasn’t sure. At this point, I’m becoming more used to people fading out of my life, and I’d only known him a week. I’d already made peace with the fact that I wouldn’t see anyone from Cameroon again, and I’d been there for four months. Still, he’d been good company, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Funny, that even though I was supposedly the victim in this situation, I was still looking out for the victor’s feelings. That’s some mess of bullshit. I would miss him, though, so it ended up being the truth.

When MC finally came back, he’d obviously been crying. TG left the balcony, and I set about trying to pry my cousin’s feelings out of him. Difficult does not begin to describe it, for multiple reasons.
I don’t have much tolerance for people who say they are fine when they are clearly not. I know that this is something of which I am guilty of doing, but only because I have a system by which I abide when it comes to this.
If I’m upset with someone, I will lie to them twice about my feelings. If I’m still not okay the third time they ask, I will either exit the situation so as not to have to lie again, or put up a finger to show that I am too overcome with my emotions to speak at the moment, but will attempt to organize my words to bring them up to date on the problem. Making a point of showing someone how upset with them you are, but refusing in words to admit to the existence of a problem is one of the stupidest wastes of time and energy of which I can think. It honestly does no one any good. Not the person who wants to try to fix things, and definitely not yourself. Why do people sit on their emotions? It only makes them feel worse in the end. When people refuse to tell me their problems, I’ll eventually change the subject, or leave them alone about it. You can stew in your unpleasantness by yourself.

This was just harder to do with MC, the leaving him alone part, because of the intense time pressure. I was leaving soon, and I didn’t want to leave with my cousin hating me for some nonsense. No one needs that. I kept wheedling him.

“If everything’s really okay,” I finally said, exasperated, “Then you won’t care if I go kiss TG again. What would you do? Should we find out?” I was so close to doing it, too. Part of it was for spite. The other part was also curiosity. I’d had increasingly more time to reflect on the first kiss, and I was trying to figure out if it had been sweet, or nefariously calculated. I wanted to kiss him again, to see how it would feel, but my wiser side told me to stay where I was and not be a brat.

“It’s all fine,” he said. “It’s all fine for you. You can just go back to America. I have to stay here with him, and when he brags about you to everyone, I’m the one who’s going to have to hear about it.” I realized right then that although I loved him, my cousin was a bit of an asshole.
“You’re not upset about me at all,” I exclaimed. “You’re upset about yourself! You’re mad because you think of me as some conquest TG made, and not as a person who thinks and feels and does things and has a will of her own. Did you even ask me if I’d wanted to kiss him? Did you think at all about my own power as a person?” I considered explaining The Experiment to him, again, but decided that would probably lead down a long conversation about asexuality and more of his misogyny that I didn’t have the energy to address. It was late.

“You know, you don’t actually talk to me,” was what I ended up saying. “Or, you tell me your problems, but you don’t actually know anything about myself, or my life. You think that when I don’t want to watch movies where Idris Elba is about to abuse women, it’s because of some annoying feminism on my part. You don’t understand what my triggers are, because we’ve never had a deep enough conversation for me to express my scariest thoughts to you. And even now, you’re too caught up in your own hurt, irrelevant feelings of betrayal to actually hear me as a valid person arguing for myself.”

“Well, whatever,” he told me. “You can do what you want. That’s what you do. I don’t care.”

I looked at the cousin I loved, the cousin who’d seemed like a magical rescue angel last year, and looked over the balcony, thinking about how I’d been using South Africa and my time with him as an escape from thinking about my actual problems. But the problem with escaping from your problems is that you attempt to hide any traces of them in order to avoid dealing with them, and our great relationship was based on a foundation of shallowness, which was probably being ruined over this shallow hiccup. I wondered if I was about to lose my cousin and my place of refuge, and realized that it was Christmas. I started to cry. I was about to go home to what was now the worst time of year from me, when the real loss of my other cousin, the one person I’d been able to share my scary thoughts with, is inescapable. In a few hours, I would be going home to nothingness. I would sit in my room and be surrounded by Edward’s absence. I would come downstairs to my mother trying too hard to keep holiday cheer going, guilting me through the activities I would not have been doing with her anyway, were he still alive. I would leave, and try to imagine him behind me on the stairs, eventually giving up in recognition of my need to stay sane.
I didn’t want to deal with any of that. I wanted to stay here, and pretend that I wasn’t replacing him with the people around me. But if the people around me hated me, or just didn’t see or respect me as a person, then I would have a double emptiness with which I’d have to contend. I was so tired, of everything.

“Edward,” I said into the hands now covering my face, “Why would you even let me come out here, if it was going to end like this? I thought I was progressing. Is this what it’s going to be like forever? Why, Edward?”

I did not care how confusing all this would be to the ignorant MC, who had a three-second understanding of my family history. If this seemed dramatic to him, then it was just my turn to be the dramatic one. At least my issue was real, and pertaining to myself, and not a simple problem of lust or stupidly misplaced masculine pride. I continued to cry.

“Hey,” said my cousin. “You know I love you, right? And I’d do anything for you.”

That was nice.

“Then talk to me,” I told him.

Talking to White Girl

“I don’t want a video of me giving a lap dance to be on some white girl’s phone,” I said. Honestly, we weren’t even friends. We would go back to our different schools on the same campus, and she would have that. Would other white students, strangers, see it? That’s just what I needed: to be sexualized by more white people. People had finally stopped expecting me to twerk on command. Enough time had passed since The White Boy Who Tried To Colonize My Vagina had demanded I send him sexual pictures of myself (and looking back, Why did he feel so justified in doing that? Had he seen a different video? Had he just assumed?). I didn’t need anything new popping up now.
“Some white girl?” the white girl repeated, clearly offended I’d mentioned her race. It’s funny. Black people know that they’re black. Hispanic people know that they’re Hispanic. Casually tell a white person that they’re white, and nine times out of ten they’re dumbfounded that you can tell races apart. “I’m a person, you know,” she said defensively, white tears already forming in her eyes. I sighed.
“Oh, I know that,” I told her. Believe me, I thought, Doesn’t no one doubt that white people are people. In fact, when speaking politically correctly, white people are the only people. You have African Americans (qualified Americans), Latinas, Asian Americans (qualified Americans)…no one else has ‘people’ next to it other than White People.
I don’t dance for white people. It’s a principle. I’m not here to entertain. If I dance for my friends, that’s one thing, but if we aren’t friends, you have no right to possess what I’ve done. Enjoy yourself in the moment, then let it go. It’s Not For You.
“Listen,” I said, trying a different approach. “There is a history of women of color being sexualized. I don’t want to add into that.”
“There’s also a history of simply women  being sexualized,” she said, and this was so exasperatingly White Feminist, I didn’t know whether to groan or laugh. I decided to do neither.
“That’s true,” I told her, “But it’s a little worse when it comes to women of color. That’s their role.” I hurried on, before we could get into a ‘black women are beautiful v. ALL women are beautiful’ situation. I also needed to ignore the fact that despite attempting solidarity with the ‘all women being sexualized’ bit, her filming me without permission and feeling entitled to keep it wasn’t exactly feminist. To point that out would derail the conversation. “Why do you think people were so upset with Miley Cyrus?” I asked, inwardly groaning that I had to bring this girl up again. “It’s not because they thought she was a slut, despite what some people were saying. (Some white feminists, I thought, but didn’t say to her. No one wanted the white tears to fall.) It’s because of the wall of women of color she had behind her, the oversexualized women of color who were only used to validate her sexuality as a white woman. This is a problem.”
“Yeah well, I deleted the video, so I don’t get what the problem is,” the white girl said. It was funny. Her head bobbed from side to side, she barely looked at me, her teeth were slightly bared, and her voice was mean. I was talking slowly, quietly, looking straight at her, my hands at my sides. Watch me do everything you’re doing right now, I thought. You’re already telling me that I’m being aggressive as I am. Is that a default? Are all black men thugs, and all black women aggressive?
“You and I just don’t get along, and I don’t see why we need to interact.”
“I agree,” I said, “But for different reasons. I still need you to try to understand why you weren’t in the right.”
“Oh, so you just understand everything, Khalilah? You just have all the answers to the situation, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t know everything.” But I understand more about the situation than you do, white girl.
“Well, if you’d just asked politely, I would have deleted it the first time. You need to be nice when you want people to do things for you.”

So here we were. This white girl was teaching me how to properly behave myself in White World, where you have to politely beg people to consider respecting your rights. Where telling someone that they have to delete something that doesn’t belong to them is the height of rudeness. Where speaking seriously is aggressive, but yelling, “Jesus Christ…you need to chill out!” is not. Where you aren’t allowed to do anything to better yourself, improve your situation, or have any sense of pride, because it either leaves white people out or makes them uncomfortable. Shutting a program down because it’s ‘reverse racist’, and refusing to listen to someone because they’re ‘aggressive’ are the new forms of oppression.
And honestly, who are we even kidding? How can we be surprised when people who have been silenced and oppressed for centuries are even slightly hostile? Do you know one of the reasons the Rwandan genocide happened? The Hutus were tired of being forced into subservience. All of the coups, all of the uprisings, they’re violent. You don’t go up to your oppressors and say, “Excuse me, but would you please give up the majority of your privileges and respect my opinions and see me as a valid person so that we may actually be equals?” It won’t work.
They say, “The Revolution will not be televised.” Some say, “The Revolution will not be on World Star.” I think it should be added on that “The Revolution will not be polite,” because it seems that people do not understand this yet. Particularly those with power.

She’d had enough, I could tell. She was about to leave, and she wouldn’t know anything.
“They tell us to respect SHOFCO youth and the people of Kenya, because we’re coming from different situations, and we don’t understand how we can be offending them,” I said. “And we do that. But we don’t practice it with each other. You and I, we come from different situations, and you won’t understand that. We go to different schools.”
“You’ve said that already,” White Girl said. Offended again, because I guess she thought I was unnecessarily emphasizing our racial differences. I put on my Educate White People Cap, and slipped into my softest, most possibly docile voice.
“When I got accepted to Wesleyan, behind my letter was a page that said, ‘We have great programs for students of color – LIKE YOU.’ That was my first label. Then, they sent us to our separate WesFest – “
“Wait, they were separated?” She was interested now. “Like, at different times?”
“No,” I said. “Well, yes. SOC WesFest was two days before, last year. Otherwise, it’s just separate events.”
“That’s fucked up,” she said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “So then, you come to campus only knowing a small amount of people, And now, I don’t know if you know this (you probably don’t) but the administration pushed SOC into five majors only: English, Psych, Soc, Economics, and AfAm. But as you may know, we only have one and a half professors left in African American Studies. It’s a failing department. That’s why we had all the protests and the march, because what they’re doing to us isn’t fair. And,” I gave a sad laugh, “It was pretty much only students of color who showed up, except for maybe three white people. No one is there for us, and in our majors we’re stuck learning about institutionalized racism, and recognizing micro-aggressions, and smaller-scale racism, but no one else knows and we’re left to deal with it. And then everyone else wants to know why ‘they only sit with each other’ and why there’s ‘self-seggregation’ as if we weren’t behaving the way the administration set us up to! Wesleyan doesn’t care about its students of color.
That’s where I’m coming from, and now here, it’s worse, because there’s no one on this trip to understand me, except maybe Roshanna. And every indication is that we aren’t supposed to be here. People only say ‘howareyou’ to us half the time on the streets.”
“But isn’t that what they call white people?”
“Yes, but we didn’t know that.”
“Ture,” she concurred.
“And besides, that doesn’t always lessen the feeling that we aren’t welcome. People who smile at you, won’t make eye contact. They put their hands out for you and withdraw them when they see us. We aren’t counted…even by SHOFCO! They only praise ‘the great work the mzungus are doing,’ and it’s as if we don’t even exist. We aren’t important.” I was almost talking angrily at this point, so I had to pause and calm down.

“So when I dance on my friend, my friend, and someone else records it, and refuses to listen to me when I tell her she needs to delete it; refuses to see me as a valid enough person to respect – “
“Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand,” the girl said.
“I know that you didn’t,” I told her. “I’m not trying to be condescending.”
“I didn’t know it was like that,” she said. “I wish you’d have said that before.”
“White people don’t like being told about the racial undertones of situations,” I explained. “It makes them uncomfortable.”
“Well, not me!” She said. “I want to know when I’m being racist. I don’t want to be racist at all!”
“Alright,” I told her.

I chose not to point out to her how messed up the situation was. That in order for her to listen to me, I’d had to be as nonthreatening as possible. That despite the fact that she’d wronged me, I’d had to stop and apologize multiple times throughout the story to appease her, and allow her to keep listening. That I’d had to stand below her and make sure she was comfortable before she could take me seriously, despite the fact that this was a part of my life I was talking about, and so had always been serious to me. And most annoying of all was the fact that I’d had to play educator in the first place, and that the amount of contrition she felt was directly related to how personally I wanted to let her know about my life. The situation was racially fucked. I decided to let it go, for the moment.
“I think we’ll be able to get along better, now,” said Martha.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “So do I.”

Embracing Patriarchy to Escape Patriarchy, and Yourself-Sacrificing Coordinators

It’s Friday, and I’m walking back from KSG to the spot from which the bus will pick us up. I’m working out a budget in my head. Who I still need to buy gifts for, where we’ll be going over the weekend, what I owe people, the ride to the airport. Will I extend my stay? That’s money. Is it worth it? Will it affect my job? Being worried about money sucks (thinks the American walking out of the slum).

My thoughts are interrupted by one of my coordinators, who suddenly jumps up beside me and clenches my shoulders.
“No, stop, stop, he’s really scaring me!” she cries, which would be startling enough if she wasn’t also suddenly pushing me into the path of an oncoming man.
“I love you!” He is slurring his words and yelling, arms reaching. “Why are you leaving me all alone?”
I try to get out of his way, only to realize that my coordinator is wrenching me in place. She’s using me to hide, pushing my body toward his to block hers. Or as a trade? Is she trying to give me up to save herself?
“BABY! Dn’t leave me, ALOOOONE!”
The man is getting closer, still yelling. My coordinator is still pushing me toward him. Residents are watching us and laughing. Having got me into this slightly dangerous situation, she clearly isn’t going to save me. So I have to save her? Fine. I shove her along the path, trying to move away as quickly as possible. I can’t decide if it’s safer to ignore him and keep moving, or to tell him to go away. Looking around for help, I see Jake behind us.
“Will you please do your job as a man and make him go away?” I ask, but he doesn’t understand. As a trainer for the teachers, he’s only been with us a few days, and it’s clear that no one has let him know about the level of patriarchy here. He doesn’t get that right now, what will be safest for me is for the man to think that Jake is in charge of me, my coordinator, and the rest of the female volunteers.
“Hey, man, why don’t you leave them alone?” Jake says, weakly. Yeah, that’s a real stay away from my property warning. The man ignores him and keeps coming, shouting his ‘love’.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. Esther, the angel, our saviour from SHOFCO Youth has showed up. She says a few words to the man in Kiswahili, then turns him around and pushes him back down the path. Thank you. We’re okay.

I’m feeling weird about having embraced the messed up gender structures, if only for a second, in an attempt to save myself. Especially when it didn’t even work out. It seems I’ve been conforming a lot to things that are against my beliefs, just to get by here. I keep biting down on things that I’d otherwise proudly be saying. It’s part of the reason I wouldn’t be able to stay. My feminism is too radical here, even at KSG. I feel like shit for thinking this, and for being able to leave, as I currently walk out of the slum for the day. There it is, though. I like to think that I’ll find a way back to Kibera for a bit, but it still wouldn’t be permanent. I’m lucky enough not to have to stay here, yet.

And my coordinator, what is she doing? She’s finally let go of me. We are no longer struggling with each other. She’s gone.
I look behind me, at the line of white volunteers. She’d come from the back, running around all of them. Why did she choose me? Was it my race? Was it random? Why did it happen at all? She’s supposed to be in charge, protecting us. It is not supposed to be the other way ’round.

What the fuck was that?
She pushed me into his way.
She pushed me into his way.
Why?