In Defense of Nene Leakes’ Femininity

Let me start by saying: Nene Leakes is incredibly problematic. She has said terrible things about LGBTQIA folks, she called a biracial woman a “half-breed”, and she may have distributed t-shirt designs that weren’t her own work. She isn’t perfect. But, this piece isn’t in defense of her actions. Some of those are indefensible. Instead, it’s in defense of her right – as a tall, dark-skinned, outspoken cisgendered, heterosexual woman – to be feminine. That’s something, to me, that shouldn’t be up for questioning. Ever.

I was parousing the internet last night and was reminded of how often Leakes’ gender takes center stage both on RHOA (which I still watch) and in general. Last year, when Leakes got into an argument with Marlo Hampton, someone who was once her dear friend, Hampton pulled the “you look like a man” line with ease. It wasn’t the first time Leakes’ gender and femininity were questioned.

Kim Zolciak and Sheree Whitfield – ex-cast mates on the show – also questioned Leakes’ gender and physical appearance with reference to her femininity. A simple google search yields hit after hit of questions on the web about Nene Leakes’ gender. Like Wendy Williams, another tall, Black, outspoken woman, there seems to be this perception that taller than average Black women with large personalities are “manly” or less feminine than other women. Unfortunately, this is an issue I can relate to.

I have been tall for as long as I can remember. I have been over six feet tall since middle school. In elementary school, I frequently saw the tops of the heads of my peers and teachers. I towered over all the girls and the boys. And, coupled with my outspoken nature, billowing voice, and forward demeanor, I was often called a “tomboy.”

I never really knew what that meant. I wasn’t a boy. I didn’t feel like a boy. But, then again, I didn’t know what being a boy felt like. I just felt like me.

For one reason or another, other children and society in general separated me. I had to play basketball with the boys while the girls played Four Square. I played tether ball (and whooped everyone) while the other girls jumped rope. By fourth grade, there was a clear distinction between me and the “cool girls.” Whenever one of them felt threatened by me, they’d say, “Jennifer, why don’t you just go do ‘boy’ stuff?” To which I’d answer, “Why don’t you shut up?” A reply that almost immediately landed me in the principal’s office at my very parochial Catholic school.

Read more at WCC.

ForHarriet: We Done Told Y’all What’s Up: Black Folks are Not Here for the White Gaze

There may be nothing more intimidating – and therefore offensive – to White folks than Black Americans who set boundaries for their personal space and public privacy.

Increasing numbers of Black celebrities, entertainers, and athletes have forcefully established themselves as people rather than objects for commodification and public consumption. From Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, to Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith, to Beyoncé Knowles Carter, Blacks in the public eye have demanded respect for their personal space in ways that disrupt White Supremacy and challenge the control of the White Gaze.

Within the past week, Lynch—a fellow alumnus of Oakland Technical High School—has gained national attention for his continuous assertions that he has no intention of giving mainstream media outlets more than what he owes: To perform well with his teammates on the field. At the NFL’s Super Bowl Media Day, his repeated statement of, “I’m only here so I won’t get fined,” let us all know that he is not checking for the (predominantly White) news media.

Read more For Harriet.

The Root: How ‘Selling a Home While Black’ Nearly Broke Me

Everyone tells you it’s hard to sell a home nowadays. No one tells you how hard it is to sell a home while black.

Last March we did all the things you are supposed to do when selling a half-million-dollar Orange County, Calif., home. We packed items we were no longer using. We downsized our furniture. We painted baseboards and repaired walls. We even bought new wall art to neutralize the feel. After seeing several comparable homes sell within weeks of listing, we were certain we would only be on the market for a month at most. We were wrong.

Our agents held open house after open house. One Saturday, a white couple was returning to the home for a second visit. They had come before without their children and wanted to show their oldest son. But he wouldn’t walk upstairs. According to our agents, he seemed anxious. He just wanted to leave. Sadly, the couple never returned.

Following that experience, we removed a few more of our personal items, thinking maybe the home wasn’t race-neutral enough. We put away books, removed every photo of our children—no matter how small they were—and even packed away Christmas cards from family and friends.

Soon, we saw an uptick in interest and traffic. Interested buyers were coming by every day. We had already lost thousands in potential proceeds and were a few weeks from our targeted move date. This process was not only becoming economically untenable; it was emotionally overwhelming.

One afternoon, while I was sitting at my dining table with my children, a man walked up and retrieved a flier while admiring the exterior of the home. Immediately, a neighbor approached. He was a renter in the process of moving because the homeowners were selling the property. We didn’t know him well but had always been cordial when we saw him in the neighborhood.

Read the full article at The Root.

Ebony: Hate in the Pulpit

“If folks would get themselves in line with God’s word, then Black lives would matter…we wouldn’t have all of these out-of-wedlock babies and we wouldn’t be talking about same sex marriage.”

That was the warning a Black male pastor issued his congregants and us new visitors at a service late last year. His logic subsumes that reading the Bible will make police stop killing unarmed Black Americans, men stop raping and degrading women, and anti-gay and anti-trans organizations stop erasing LGBTSTGNC folks. Except we’ve tried prayer already. And, I’m certain oppression doesn’t only happen to people who don’t have their lives “in line with God’s word.”

This Black male pastor, speaking specifically about the killing of Michael Brown, turned the narrative of oppression into one to chastise Black youth and perpetuate respectability politics. He later called a sex worker in the Bible, the “President of the Kitty Kat Club.” As expected, his use of the Bible to demean women’s sexuality was met with laughter from his congregants. His words confirmed two things for me: first, I wouldn’t be joining, and second, the Black Church still can’t productively address social justice issues which matter to many Black women.

Looking for a Black church – since we recently moved to the area – has resulted in Sunday after Sunday of oppressive, hateful, anti-queer, anti-gay, and misogynistic language from Black Pastors. What used to exist in public has become the “new normal” within God’s holy sanctuary.

Read more at EBONY

For Harriet: How the Media Exacerbates and Erases Black Women’s Suffering

“If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.” —Janay Rice

This was Janay Rice’s response to news media outlets following the viral video of her then fiancé, Ray Rice, brutally punching her, knocking her unconscious, and dragging her out of an Atlantic City hotel elevator. Her focus on the role the media played in her re-victimization preceded but is eerily similar to Camille Cosby’s response after the recent surge in mass media coverage of her husband, Bill Cosby, and his litany of sexual assault allegations. Her response that “there appears to be no vetting” of her husband’s accusers indicts the media rather than placing blame on Bill Cosby himself.

The similarities between the two women’s responses make it difficult for mass media to advocate for Black women who are abused by prominent Black men while respecting their rights to privacy. More importantly, though, these women’s statements show that the news media has work to do to gain trust from Black women.

Camille Cosby questioned the verifiability of her husband’s accusers rather than his propensity to abuse others. The tenor of her response – and her comparison of his accusers to Jackie, the woman at the center of the UVA story in Rolling Stone – set a tone which urges the public to believe Bill Cosby (the man we “thought we knew”) and disbelieve the women who have come forward (women we don’t know). Her focus on the media’s need for viral content led her to even ask, “Who is the victim?”

Read the full article at For Harriet.

BYP: I’m Not Here For #CrimingWhileWhite and You Shouldn’t Be Either

Last Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict 29-year-old Daniel Pantaleo, the White New York City cop who applied an illegal “chokehold maneuver” to Eric Garner’s chest and neck causing his death on July 17th. Immediately following the grand jury’s decision, well-meaning Whites took to Twitter to show an “act of solidarity” using the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite. A simple Google search of the term yields stories from New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and USA Today. But, doing the same for#BlackLivesMatter – a hashtag started by Black activists – yields strikingly different results. So, what does it say about solidarity when the rallying cry of this generation’s Selma gets less traction on social media and in the mainstream than White privilege confessions?

The #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag can best be understood as Whites noting and “confessing” their privilege, drawing on differences between themselves and murdered Black men like Eric Garner and Michael Brown, but not actually doing anything about it. It isn’t an understanding of the issues facing the Black community and police violence so much as it is a platform for concerned Whites to air their own grievances with White Privilege – the very privilege which many willingly benefit from rather than seek to dismantle. Sadly, the hysteria and self-aggrandizement of White people’s understanding of racism in the United States resulted in the hashtag being the highest trending topic in the United States outpacing those used and promoted by Black Americans seeking justice for the unanswered brutality against their communities. Media outlets equated the hashtag’s importance with those created within Black communities, once again undermining Black folks’ efforts to empower and amplify one another. It seems even within this “act of solidarity” White Privilege squelches the advancement of Black voices.

Read the full article at Black Youth Project.

Blogher: I Was the “Black Working Mom” Example

When it came time to tell my manager about my pregnancy, I worried. I knew my explanations that I wasn’t pregnant during interviews or I had found out after accepting their offer wouldn’t matter. She’d just think of me as a risk.

I knew it meant I would have to work harder in a “man’s profession.” I just didn’t understand how my status as a new mother would affect their expectations of me as a professional. I also didn’t realize how my race would play into other people’s perceptions of me on the job..

My department had been looking for an industrial engineer for some time. In me, they found a combination of technical expertise and talent with group work.

When they learned I’d be out for a while on maternity leave, they were understandably disappointed.They asked daily questions like, “How long do you think you’ll be out?” and “You don’t have a lot of time accrued, do you?”

The questions became so frequent that I made up canned responses. I’d say, “Oh, not long at all,” or “I’m not sure yet,” just to avoid these incredibly personal conversations.

As folks scrambled to cover me in my absence, I found my work being hijacked and disregarded as others deemed this a great opportunity to increase their status.

Read the full article at Blogher.

For Harriet: Why We Must Find Space for the Activism of Black Women Academics

“You think your piece of paper makes you better than me?” 
This is the question I can’t seem to escape, no matter the circumstance, interaction, or context. For others, my “piece of paper” often stands between me and activism. It labels me as an outsider and makes me an “other.” But why?
I am a Black woman academic. I am working toward a doctoral degree in Political Science while writing and building my community with other activists. I give talks, volunteer, and offer myself as a resource in my circles of influence, especially where it concerns uplifting young Black women and girls. 

Read the full article at For Harriet.

Blogher: Why Charlo Greene’s “F*ck it. I Quit.” Is a Revolutionary Act

I have never had the courage to just walk off of a job. I have wanted to, many times. But, I never had the economic ability (or guts) to do so. Beyond the monetary constraints, there was this lingering concern about being blackballed, blacklisted, and otherwise blackified for not conforming to the respectability politics of the workplace. I behaved as completely politically correct as possible to keep food on my table and a roof over my family’s head. I just didn’t end up having much to show for it.

Continue reading “Blogher: Why Charlo Greene’s “F*ck it. I Quit.” Is a Revolutionary Act”

Marie Claire: I Lost My Virginity to Rape and Didn’t Even Know It

Piously, I was saving myself until marriage. I was always into books instead of boys. I carried no less than a 3.5 GPA. Though I was too tall for most of the guys still dealing with their own issues of pseudo-masculinity, I was waiting until I found the person who would love me and all my quirks forever before sharing myself intimately. It just didn’t happen that way. Instead, a mentor at my school exploited my innocence and preyed on a broken young girl who—at some point—lost her way.

The circumstances which moved me from my mom’s house to my dad and stepmom’s apartment during my senior year left me bitter, angry, and hopeless. My mom had remarried and moved away while I was away at a summer college program at Syracuse University. I was no longer welcome in the home I had grown up in. My life, as I knew it, had ended. I would be living with my dad—whom I had only been visiting on weekends since junior high school.

Having lived away from my father since he and my mother divorced twelve years earlier, I was completely unaccustomed to him and he to me. As we struggled to reconnect with one another, I fell further into feelings of isolation and depression. Sometimes he’d lock me out of the apartment for coming home from school too late. Other times he’d simply come and go without speaking to me at all. When I was there, I spent time in my room, alone. I kept my grades up, but I just wanted to go back home to my mom. We struggled. I was afraid of him. Our disagreements turned into verbal abuse and physical violence.

Read the full post at