Who you won’t try is me…

There have been some things that have recently transpired in my person life that I have A LOT of feelings about, and I feel compelled to get them out. And since I’m not in therapy anymore … here we go

More recently, I have found myself in contentious situations that have resulted in curse words, elevated tones, neck rollin’, and the like. I am no stranger to confrontation, but as I’ve grown older I try to find myself in those situations less often.

There is this thing that people who specialize in manipulation, abuse, and lying do. They start mess, then play the victim when their mess is responded to. They cause disruption in your life and cry when you try to put it back in order. They do something wrong, and instead of owning their wrongdoing, they’ll attempt to create a situation that transfers the blame onto you (and in some twisted way, relieve their guilt of what they’ve done to you).

These are some of the matters I have found myself in recently. And after some reflection, I realize this is something that has been happening to me my entire life. I’m quite a target for it.

I am a Black, queer, undesirable person that is super emotional and often empathetic to the people around me. I move with a humanity and intergrity so it’s hard for me to purposely harm folk in my communities (this is generally speaking. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I do and say that wrong things – which we’ll get to).

That puts a wide target on me that welcomes unfavorable people and situations. And on top of all of that, I have a tendency to turn up. My “0 to 100” can take off at lighting speed if I’m not careful and chaos and destruction are sure to follow. So when I’m responding to unfavorable scheming behavior, it’s mad easy for the opposing party to aptly take the victim role. It’s equally as easy for onlookers to think the same thing – that I’m acting out or cause conflict.

My identity also plays a major role in this, too. It’s easy to paint a big dark-skinned Black person, who is read as male, as “aggressive” or an “abuser”. It fits neatly within racialized stereotypes of people who look like me and it is quickly weaponized against me – this has happened to me by other Black folks, too.

This has also been a theme in my life. As early as I can remember, I was routinely punished for responding to harm instead of the harm being addressed. As a result, I am deemed “crazy”, my person is promptly criminalized, and I am regulated to the shadows as someone unworthy of care or attention (wow, that sounds mad dramatic, but it’s also my experience).

And, on a very different scale, we have seen this happen in popular culture recently. People like Simone Biles, Lil Nas X, Naomi Osaka are being scrutinized and demonized for responding to harm done to them, as opposed to addressing the harm that resulted in them doing what’s best for them.

Additionally, this is the basis for the social construction of what is “crime” and who is deemed “criminals”. The responsibility falls on the individual(s) and not harmful, inequitable systems.

This is not to magnify my interpersonal problems or put them on the same scale as macro-level issues, but to draw the connections that the way to cultivate and maintain interpersonal relationships are directly related to systems of power and influence. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Anyway, back to me.

In the spirit and politic of accountability, every instance of disrespect or wrongdoing does not require an immediate cussing out. I fully acknowledge that my temper can use some work and everything I’m called to doesn’t need or deserve a response. I am actively working on protecting my peace and controlling the urge to choose violence posthaste. I have faith in a good therapist, the Lord, and I will get there soon. But in the meantime, who you won’t try is me. And if you do, be ready for the response.

I felt compelled to share this for two reasons. 1) Selfishly, to get this out of my head and onto the page in hopes of feeling better (I mean, I am a writer. That’s kinda what we do). 2) To speak to folk who might find themselves in similar situations.

You are not crazy. You’re not difficult to deal with. You’re not hard to love. You’re likely a sensitive soul that people take advantage of. People are drawn to you for the same reasons they feel like they can disrespect you without consequence. You are likely responding to the harm that is done to you in whichever way you deem necessary.

For people like us, it’s our responsibility to respond “appropriately” – I use that word very loosely because it easily falls within the bounds of respectability politics and American politeness culture that I detest. But it is our responsibility, and within our authority, to draw boundaries and protect ourselves from harm.

Sometimes the appropriate acknowledgment to disrespect is an altercation (part of protecting your peace is letting folk know how they won’t treat you). And, sometimes it’s knowing what’s not worth it and removing yourself. What’s always needed is being gracious with yourself and knowing that you deserve to be in community with folk who won’t cause you harm. And if they do, because we are all human, active accountability is centered in the wake.

This goal of this post was not a give a ‘woe-as-me’ realness or a poly to victimize myself. It is rather an attempt to speak truth to my experiences and make adjustments of how I handle myself with care moving foward.

The Reconciliation of Radical Black Ideology and Religion (Audio)

Part 1
Part 2

Over the past few weeks, probably months at this point, I’ve really been wrestling with what I believe spiritually/religiously (mainly Christian views, e.g. The Holy Trinity) and what I stand for politically (e.g. Black queer feminism & liberation). In the process, I’ve been digging into the work of James Cone, a Black liberation theologian, and some Deloris Williams, a womanist theologian, as their work kind of wrestles with the same questions.

Cone and Williams really rebel against what we’re taught in terms of questioning God and the Bible. Their work, in large part, is all about posing major questions and outright disagreeing with Biblical text and the way they’re taught. In my readings, I’ve been reminded of the common phrase disseminated by the church of not questioning God. Usually refers to the scripture that “God is not the author of confusion”. But if we’re keeping it a buck, life is hella confusing. Especially when you’re trying to apply classical texts to contemporary issues – such as white supremacist violence – it is very confusing and I have questions!

I think the “God is not the author of confusion” text has been weaponized. For me, I don’t think that scripture should be used to dissuade people from asking questions of God and the people that claim to represent Them. I think what is trying to be communicated, or what should be communicated, is that if we have questions, we should ask them to get clarity. It shouldn’t be “don’t question God”, it should be “ask the questions to get some clarity/perspective.”

Also, any time we’re talking about the Christian faith and the interpretation of the text, there must be an interrogation of white supremacist ideology & teaching. The Bible has been used to justify white supremacist violence for centuries. So when you tell people not to question God, it sounds a lot like a justification for oppression, marginalization, and violence. And for the people experiencing it not be question or fight against it.

The reconciliation between religion, Black [radical] thought, and white supremacy is tough and layered. Fellow Cleveland creative and friend Robin Blake (@hyperiusblake), who is also a Buddhist, thought we would benefit from having this conversation publicly. We originally recorded the videos on August 2, 2020. Because of high demand, the videos have been converted to audio and posted to this site to be shared widely.

Our Facebook live “public chats” take place every Monday at 6:00 p.m. Hope you pop in sometimes!

Modern Love is a love story to heteronormativity

I have a confession – I’m a sucker for a good love story. 

When I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and share my writing with the world, I had an idea of writing a long-form piece on love. I had the idea of interviewing different couples and partnerships ranging in race, age, gender, religion. I wanted old folks who have been together for a long time. I wanted monogamous and non-monogamous couples. I wanted partnerships wit more than two partners. I wanted to experience, and report, the different ways love, romantic love specifically, could exist.

That was a few years ago and that piece has not been written. I don’t know if it ever will be. But what I do know is that the piece I dreamed of writing is what Amazon Prime’s original series Modern Love could have been – an exploration of the vastness of love and partnership. Instead, what we got is regurgitated tropes of romance imbued with cis-white-heteronormative narratives.

I don’t completely understand my fascination with love and partnership. I’ve never been the type to daydream my wedding or write the initials of my crush in my notebook. Maybe it’s because I know I’ll probably never experience the love my grandparents have. Or, maybe it’s because love, in all its forms, is the “purest, most concerned thing” as one of the narrators exclaimed in episode 2 of the series. I guess, what interesting to me, chiefly, is the different routes we take to end up at one goal – to give love and be able to receive in a way that is healthy and honest.

I watched the eight-episode series twice through. The first time was simply to enjoy the series. There was quite a buzz surrounding the series, portraying itself to be a “new kind of love story.” And as we know by now, I loves me a love story. But as I made my way to the episodes a second time, my eyebrows raised in confusion and my eyes rolled in annoyance at the sheer white heteronormativity of it all. 

The concept of modernity is to do away with old things and bring about something new that augments uniqueness, inclusion, and equality. Modern Love is neither unique nor inclusive, but offers recycled age-old tropes of the romantic genre and sets it to pretty music. A few things stood out to me:

  1. Aside from one couple, every couple in Modern Love is cisgender and heterosexual (note: just because a cis man and a cis women are a couple doesn’t mean that they’re heterosexual, queerness presents in many forms, but the series gave us no reason to believe that the characters were anything but cisgender and heterosexual so that’s what I’m going with). 
  2. There were no women of color as a love interest in the entire series. They are only in supporting roles (with very little lines) to their white women counterparts. (note: There needs to be a conversation about how the romance/rom-com genres have perpetuated the colonial notion of the gentle innocence of white womanhood)
  3. There were men of color included, but outside of Dev Patel’s character, they all lack agency. Their only significance is tied to the development of their white partners.

Modern-Love-Amazon

There is one episode that solidified Modern Love’s commitment to a white-centric, heteronormative narrative. “Hers Was A World Of One” follows a gay couple Tobin (Andrew Scott) and Andy (Brandon Kyle Goodman) who plan to adopt Karla’s (Olivia Cooke) unborn baby. As all of the episodes are, this episode was adapted from an essay that was written about a true journey that of the writer and activist Dan Savage experienced. However, the series makes some drastic challenges to the narrative that cheapen the story and highlights its commitment to more conventional narratives. While Savage’s piece was chronicling a very difficult journey of adoption and wanting his son to have a relationship with his wayward mother, Modern Love’s spin on the tale seems to be nothing more than a white man’s redemption story by focusing on Tobin’s relationship to 1) having children in general 2) the tumultuous relationship with the child’s mother. NPR writes that it is a “reductive” take on the narrative.

The episode is further complicated given the racial dynamic of the couple. Tobin and Andy are in an interracial couple – Tobin, the main character, being white and Andy being Black (Dan Savage and his partner [Terry Miller] are both white). Andy has no real agency outside of his connection to Tobin in the episode. He is present but rarely says anything of substance. The audience is even left questioning what Andy does for a living. Tobin is by Karla’s side as she gives birth while Andy is in the waiting room. In the final scene of the episode, the child is now a toddler and Tobin is by her bedside telling her a story while Andy is in the corner reading one of the child’s books. All these moments may seem innocuous, but further, speak to an underdeveloped Black character who has no agency without the partnership he shares with his white counterpart. This is also reflected in episode 3, “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am” with Gary Carr, starring opposite of Anne Hathaway, a Black male lead in the episode who the audience knows nothing about except that he’s handsome and like peaches.

Furthermore, while I understand that this is adapted from a true tale, when the only queer narrative is one that perpetuates the idea of assimilation into heteronormative, dominate culture by gays feeling “incomplete” without raising children, Modern Love’s commitment to heteronormative storytelling feels pretty deliberate. 

Modern Love has many feel-good moments. I found myself smiling and tearing up at certain moments. But in this current political climate, it is impossible to depoliticize art. Especially when said art is purporting itself to operate under the guise of modernity. Activist and author bell hooks understood the importance of images and how representation dictated social and cultural currency. In her book Race and Representation, she challenges us to “rethink” the ways to write and talk about representation in order to challenge systems of oppression – for there is a direct correlation between the media and images we consume and the maintenance of dominant culture. Under a president and administration where so many people have been othered, it would have been nice to follow narratives that challenged the status quo instead of reinforcing it.

 

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