finding our father’s hearts. coming to understand them. seeking to wrap forgiveness around them. and still hold them in an honest embrace is the deep workings of feminism. undoing the patriarchy is hard and landing in a place that is healthy for self despite whatever violent communication is heartbreaking at times. for some this may mean leaving them on the curbside. for others this may mean reaching for hands unfamiliar. its all work. hard work. another lesson im being taught returning home. beyond the promises of “i will be better than him” that i made to myself there is small hope. i hope we can work towards one another someday.
No one wants to live that way caught in the gears of labor and the spectre of whiteness. Mother is tired. Her hands are worn from the picking fields. Our labor has become more important than our humanity under the pretend gods standing over every used state.
We are here. Still divorced from ourselves turned against the sweeter thangs.
Some calm . . .
setting like sun done come upon me
as I find pieces of myself that were kept away for birthdays, family gatherings, and first dates.
They lie tucked under the bath house bed.
My palm, pressed to skin, feels like solace and I feel still
Laying transfixed, still. . .
My eyes find some man being fucked, violently
His head bent low.
and I saw you laying parallel.
Playing majorette with a couple of torn heart-strings.
Twirling about with some other man’s ruined symphony.
You blew smoke- thick like illusion – and sang of worlds where we weren’t prey for White men eager to waste salt on our endings.
Some part of me sat with you back when food was homemade and basons were bath tubs and we laughed at uncle Floyd’s missing teeth
and dirt roads that no one can drive on
and night’s out and even crack pipes
and we laughed.
And thought on how ghetto life seemed easy compared to this numb terror.
Still . . .
Barely understood thoughts: gold bands and dark skin
Hurston and Hughes.
a month of Sundays
pale skin and Betty Gene
insertion and pain
bleeding at the start
and minstrel shows
money shots, towels and still . . .
we all lay under some White man’s gaze.
In honor of it being National Poetry Month, I have decided to kick off the month with one of my favorite poems. “Dark Phases” by Ntozake Shange was brought back to life earlier this year with the movie “For Colored Girls” and is a rich, rich rich poem. This was my introduction to Shange’s work and I remember reading this with my mouth open. There is such beauty and truth in her words. Such power in her prose. Please enjoy:
dark phrases of womanhood
of never havin been a girl
without rhythm/ no tune
distraught laughter fallin
over a black girl’s shoulder
it’s funny/ it’s hysterical
the melody-less-ness of her dance
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
she’s dancin on beer cans & shingles
this must be the spook house
another song with no singers
& interrupted solos
are we ghouls?
children of horror?
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
are we animals? have we gone crazy?
i can’t hear anythin
but maddening screams
& the soft strains of death
& you promised me
you promised me…
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
sing her song of life
she’s been dead so long
closed in silence so long
she doesn’t know the sound
of her own voice
her infinite beauty
she’s half-notes scattered
without rhythm/no tune
sing her sighs
sing the song of her possibilities
sing a righteous gospel
the makin of a melody
let her be born
let her be born
& handled warmly.
My queer, class struggle, politics stem from my relationship with feminism and the radical challenging of power through confronting patriarchy. It is through a developing Black, Marxist, Feminist lens that I understand the material conditions of, not only my particular oppression, but the history of the various people who have existed in the world and confronted oppression and exploitation. Recently it has become very obvious to me that I am a bit of an oddity, in the sense that it is not common to hear of male feminist, even in the political Left. Often times my political position has been met with raised eyebrows, uneasiness, or dismissal of my opinions as being my own. Other men sometimes attribute my feminism to my relationships with womyn and while it is true that the source of my feminism comes from my upbringing/ close relationships with womyn, it is a bit inaccurate to speak of those connections as if I have been brainwashed by angry, butch, white womyn who refuse to shave.
Feminism came to me long before I was able to articulate, understand, or accept it. It was not something taught to me by a member of the intelligentsia, but instead by the womyn who surrounded me as I grew up. Looking back to my childhood, I can see feminist thought and action as something ever-present in my mother’s smile, her hands, her roar, her laugh, and her back. When she was a young womyn she ventured out into the world, and went to college in Michigan. This was forever and a day away from Washington DC, where she was born and raised. My grandfather, unhappy about one of his daughters venturing out so far attempted to raise all of hell to the surface. She lived, became a Black Nationalist, womanyst, dancer, poet, and finally a social worker upon graduation. I remember going through her old photos in my youth and seeing images of righteous afros, smiling men, homemade dashikis, glorious fists, forever cloths, and a life so wondrous and far away from mine. All of this joy and eccentricity made it harder for me to understand how and why I found myself poor and unhappy in the ghettos of DC with the same womyn who’s smile emanated from those pictures. I didn’t know then that the world is a cruel place for Black people and especially Black womyn. My mother, full of light, saw that for herself. Somewhere between the crack infested 80’s, Ronald Regan’s love letter to the Black ghetto, and ailing parents my mother found herself in a less sun filled position.
My youth is filled with memories of violent men, drugs, dignity destroying welfare, tear-stained food stamps and thunder screams. These were the realities that I observed my mother navigate. I saw firsthand the incredible power that lies in Black womyn and the strength that is necessary to re-enter, everyday, a world that chips away at your very life force. I also witnessed the power of community and the laying of hands that is womyn holding each other warmly and creating informal networks of support and trust. All of my mother’s friends were womyn that I looked at as aunts. They watched me, played with me, applauded me, and scolded me. Most importantly, they all imbued me with the strength, courage, and wisdom of a generation of Black womyn who had come of age in the post 60’s nightmare of America and lived to tell the tales of rape, joy, power, and loss.
They relied on one another so fiercely and loved one another fiercely, even in times of disagreement or betrayal. Many of the patriarchal, Black Nationalists, I’ve met, take issue with the fact that the racist capitalist system has exploited male/female difference, combined it with institutional racism and made it near impossible for the mythical “Black nuclear family” to exist. I have a serious problem with a generation of Black men falling by the waist-side due to White Supremacist, Patriarchal Capitalism and state sponsored terror.
However, I see Black womyn’s role as mothers to Black men as essential and I am not an advocate for the lessening of that by some reactionary “return of the Black male to his rightful place”. Often times that slogan has been code for female and child subordination through patriarchal oppression.
I see Black womyn’s oppression as my primary teacher and shaper. I see it as the roots of my radicalization and worldview. Queer or not, men are socialized through the patriarchal society and are people who have lived with those values as central parts of their lives. However, I found that that was something derailed by my upbringing in this community of Black womyn and seeing something powerful in radical womyn raising men. In addition to my developing queer identity, I began to analyze the society from the position of someone who was oppressed based my gender expression.
It is important to state, however, that my upbringing didn’t make me a feminist. It made me more understanding and receptive of and to feminism.
It wasn’t until college, when I entered a larger more radical community of my peers that I embraced the “f-word”. Being in struggle and solidarity with female comrades contributed to my understanding of patriarchy, under capitalism, and how the two beast feed off of one another’s destructive energy. As a queer person, my oppression is based in patriarchal thought. It is the thought that socializes men to see their needs as the most important, that breeds their violent culture, that reprimands their tears, that tells them everything that is masculine is so out of a negation of the feminine characteristics within all of us. So when we talk about battling patriarchy, we are talking, in part, about breaking down the socialization that contributes to the development of men and womyn semi-self realized human beings. We are talking about abolishing gender as such and that is essential not only to womyn and queers, but to the whole of the world. We are talking about ending a world that creates such a power dissonance between humans. We are not merely talking about getting people who wear dresses to join picket lines and call it feminist realization in class struggle.
As I am writing this, I think of the male organizers I know. I recently decided to celebrate my birthday with a drag party. I originally thought that the men would react very negatively to this, that they would outright protest. And indeed some of them did. Some had a problem with my minimum requirement of lipstick. It is incredible to think of the reasons and thought behind the aversion to men wearing dresses. What does it say about the culture when men who claim to be about revolution cannot bring themselves to wear a dress for one night? Many of my male comrades did come in dresses and that small act, while not a feminist revolution, made me smile a bit.
I hear the radio on in the distance and the discussion is of whether or not men should be able to have “man bags”. People are outraged and disgusted that the DJ would even propose something so horrific, that he would propose men degrade themselves by performing some act attributed to the opposite gender. It is heart breaking to think of the generation of men who cannot be themselves without the violent reinforcement of our culture’s hatred of womyn. I think I’m going to call in.
I used to dream militant dreams
of taking over america to show
these white folks
how it should be done
I used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away
with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
I even used to think I’d be the one
to stop the riot and
negotiate the peace
then I awoke and dug
that if I dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she’s natural
I would have a revolution.