Thursday, September 27, 2007


Many of the responses to my last blog expressing my disappointment in some of the anti-black commentary I've encountered from BW at IR blogs raised another concern that is shared by a number of sisters in this community: the use of language, and whether what we choose to talk about, and how we choose to talk about it, reflects our sense of empowerment and ability to achieve our goals of a happy and healthy life.

In particular, some sisters have argued vehemently against use of the term "Damaged Beyond Repair Black Man," claiming that it amounts to little more than derogatory labelling that reflects an unhealthy continuing obsession with the very men that the women who frequent the blogs claim to be disinterested in. Why not focus instead on the kind of men we want, rather than the kind we don't want?

Halima, Evia, and many others defend the use of DBRBM with equal vigor, asserting that the word is simply a tool that serves as a means of warning sisters of a potential danger to their safety and sanity so that can protect themselves against that danger, and actually find the kind of relationship they want and deserve: i.e., forewarned is forearmed.

I tend to agree more with the latter position; but what I find more interesting is why certain words seem to generate so much more concern than others. For instance, in Halima's latest post she provides a brief "something new lexicon," which includes, among other concepts, both "DBR" and "Mammy ideology," referring to the mentality which animates black female defenders of DBRBM. Strangely enough, I've noticed that people rarely if ever complain about the use of the term "mammy," though it certainly has connotations that are arguably more "derogatory" and historically freighted for BW than "damaged beyond repair" is for BM. Why then is the response to this term so much more muted?

Additionally, I find it puzzling that because a BW is interested in dating IR, the assumption is that she has no further reason to ever think about BM. First of all, many BW who want to date IR are simply attracted to a variety of men--INCLUDING BM. Secondly, no matter who a BW dates, she is still black, and likely has a black father, black brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, and acquaintances; she will likely live in a community with a large population of BM that she will have to relate and navigate, even if she preferred not to. She will still turn on her radio or TV, open a book or a magazine, and encounter images of BW created by BM--images whose repurcussions she will have to cope with. It's not as if BM simply disappear from the landscape of the universe of a BW when she dates IR.

Some may argue that even if a BW in an IRR may still have a perfectly legitimate interest in BM, an IR dating site is not the place for her to discuss that interest. In terms of my blog, I can only point out that while IRRs are a strong focus here, it is not the ONLY focus--I stated right from the outset that my purpose was to create a "black girl's haven," where BW and all those who love and support us could come to talk and exchange information and ideas relevant to all facets of our lives. In terms of the IR blogs generally, the reality is that the response of BM specifically, and the bc more generally, to BW in IRRs is a relevant experience for many women who date and marry IR. To tell such women to focus on finding the man they want, without focusing at all on the context in which that relationship will evolve, isn't entirely fair. It may not seem like it, but finding men is the easy part. Creating a healthy relationship that will work over the long haul, in an often hostile world, is the real challenge--and it is that challenge that I believe really motivates most of the women who seek out these blogs to seek them out.

In any case, I'm always uncomfortable with the idea of telling others what not to talk about. Even when people say things I hate, I prefer to confront and respond to them (or ignore them, as the case may be) rather than argue that certain discussions shouldn't happen at all. As much as I may not have liked to see someone claiming to be a BW at the BW's IR Circle arguing that BW love thugs, I don't kid myself that if I didn't see that statement being made there, it would mean that sort of mentality doesn't exist. Sometimes an issue is raised as much as it is BECAUSE it has been so powerfully suppressed--thus, it shouldn't surprise us that a group of BW who gather to support each other in getting free of one taboo can't help but struggle to get free of another as well--the taboo against criticizing BM within the community. If we stop saying it here, will it go away? Should it?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Where is the Love?

In keeping with my latest theme of "pet peeves with the IR community," I must mention an ongoing irritation with an almost knee-jerk, negative reaction expressed by many IR sisters to any and everything black. It's almost as if in embracing the freedom to experience life and love wherever it may be found in the global village, many sisters have had to cope with a tremendous, heretofore suppressed, rage against the bc, which they feel has made every effort to encourage them to sacrifice their own happiness and prevent them from achieving the greatest possible joy and satisfaction in their lives--a perception that is, unfortunately, often true.

I've been loathe to address this issue, primarily because I think that the increased willingness of BW to challenge and criticize DBRBM in the same way that they would any other group of people who have done us great harm, is a healthy, positive, and necessary development. Even if no BW was dating IR, ALL BW need to abandon the Cult of Black Manhood, with it's periodic ritual sacrifices of BW, that has gripped the black community for decades--and arguably done us as much harm as any other identifiable force in our society as a whole. This Cult has left too many sisters struggling to raise children alone in poverty: denigrated, unhealthy, vulnerable to exploitation and violence, bearing the burdens of an entire people on their shoulders without acknowledgement, but with plenty of blame to spare. Anytime it is exposed, I am happy.

However, that doesn't mean that a sister's willingness to criticize BM when the criticism is merited justifies a wholesale descent into stereotypical attacks on blackness itself, which is frankly what I have witnessed among many sisters all too often on IR blogs. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from honestly exposing their own painful experiences within our community, or from reaching whatever conclusions their own reason lead them to reach about those experiences. Clearly, sisters have and do put up with way too much, and frankly, a lot of us have simply had it. However, statements about how "all" or "most" black people are stupid, fat, impoverished, ignorant, criminal failures are simply false-- and the fact that black people are making these statements does not make them any less racist.

In the same way, pointing out the destructive havoc that DBRBM wreak in our community does not mean that we have to join the mainstream amen chorus that deems them white America's sole bogeyman. Do I think O.J. killed his wife? Despite having purposely avoided the media circus surrounding his trial (just I did with Robert Blake's, and am doing with Phil Spector's), I'm pretty sure he did. Do I seethe with outrage that he used money and celebrity to buy his way out of the prison term he deserved? Not really. People have been buying their way out of the prison terms they deserve since the inception of the American criminal justice system, and they will keep doing so. I don't believe for a minute that all of the white Americans so outraged by the injustice of O.J.'s acquittal (or Michael Vick's dogfighting, or Barry Bond's steroid abuse) are really so invested in the value of human or dog life, the faults of our criminal justice system, or cheating in sports--if they were, they would be just as outraged when the victims are black and the perpetrators are white. Pointing out this hypocrisy is not the same as "defending" DBR behavior. It is realizing that most DBR behavior--which is perpetrated against black women and children--is only enabled by focusing exclusively on such behavior when it touches white victims or offends white sensibilities.

As a black woman, I can't afford to prop up a system that is based in part on the idea that human life has relative value--and that deems mine, my mother's, and aunts, and cousins, and friends, and all of you sisters who read these blogs and deserve only the best--as less than worthy. Quite frankly, this is the clear and unmistakable message when 13 years after Nicole Brown's death, we are still supposed to be mad at O.J., and the police haven't even bothered to figure out where Stepha Henry is. For every O.J., there are 100 DBRBM abusing, exploiting and abandoning black women and children--where is the hourly CNN update for them? Too many of us seem comfortable with the explanation that those sisters deserve whatever they get--even as we weep for Natalee Holloway and Jesse Davis, women who hardly conducted themselves with perfect seemliness--but who still didn't deserve to have their lives stolen from them.

Sisters, all I'd like to see is a little consistency, combined with a lot of self-preservation. Wrong is wrong, whoever does it, and whoever they do it too. But our first consideration must be ourselves. If sisters are engaging in self-destructive, mulish behavior, I'm the first to say so. But I'm also the first to point out how simply spectacular most of us, and I always will be. Let's not forget the former even in the face of the latter.

Monday, September 17, 2007

One Drop, Today

As my egregious neglect of this blog reflects, I have leapt into the world of BigLaw with both feet--and it's as demanding as I was warned it would be, plus some. Luckily, (at least so far), I seem to have landed in a good group of talented people, so I expect to learn a lot as well as work a lot.

Of course, BigLaw means Manhattan--and I wasn't really looking forward to returning to work in NY. From the time I was child I've loved NY--it always seemed like some distant, fantastical planet full of unique and magical people and places. Now--it's full of Starbucks and people who work at BigLaw firms (and I-Banks). They all had so much fun at their Hamptons sharehouses over the summer, and they all got such great deals on their new places in the Financial District! (or Harlem! It's much safer now, you know!)

Okay, I'm not being entirely fair, since most of the people I've met have been perfectly pleasant. But this new experience has only made me think a little more about my occasional discomfort with other "communities" of which I am a part--including the "IR community," if there is such a thing.

This thought arose in particular in response to yet another article (this one in the latest Marie Claire) where Rebecca Walker (nee Leventhal) yet again disucsses how painful she found it to be considered black as a child and what a challenge it was for her to come to terms with her biracial identity. I don't say this to dismiss whatever Ms. Walker may or may not have had to contend with in her life, or to suggest that the distinct struggles that biracial people face generally are some less important are compelling than those faced by black people. Nor am I one of those black proponents of the modern one-drop rule, who insists that anyone with any black ancestry is required to identify exclusively as black or be labelled a "sell-out" or "self-hating." I'm sure her description of shame and self-loathing resonates with many people of African descent in a white supremacist world, not just biracials.

I guess my mild irritation arises from the consistency of this theme in Ms. Walker's work and public pronouncements, almost as if she has embraced the role of professional tragic mulatto. All too often, there's a thin line in such narratives between resentment of the racism that treats blackness as a taint that pollutes those otherwise humanized by straighter hair and lighter skin--and resentment of blackness itself, as an actual pollutant, an anchor that traps the Rebecca Walkers of the world in a dark abyss that they can't escape.

Equally irritating is that, all too often, this frustration and resentment seems to be aimed exclusively at black people. Certainly, you will rarely hear white people angrily complaining that Halle Berry is a black "sell out" for screwing Billy Bob Thornton on film or Gabriel Aubrey in real life. On the other hand, you will also rarely hear white people calling Halle Berry a white anything. While black people are generally active and explicit participants in the Contemporary Cult of One-Drop, it's continued existence is not solely or even primarily a product of black insistence.

While white parents, family members and friends may be more accepting than blacks of your identity as non-black, do they accept you as white? Do they view biracial identity as genuinely distinct from blackness, or simply another form of blackness? I am truly eager to learn, as I am sure many of the other visitors to this site are as well--who may themselves be biracial, or who may one day be parents of biracial children. Please share your perspective on this issue.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The 'Superbad' Syndrome

Let me start this blog by noting that I haven't seen Superbad, and this isn't a review of the movie, which I have heard is quite funny. The Superbad Syndrome I refer to isn't a critique of the film itself, but refers instead to the emblematic theme that is repeated in much of the the advertising I've seen for the movie: the longing of nerdy/skinny/fat/unpopular/poor guys for conventionally hot and desirable girls as a triumph of the spirit with which we should all identify. "Great," I thought as I watched the commercials. "The ugly guy gets the hot chick--again."

Whether its the King of Queens, Yes, Dear, According to Jim, Knocked Up, Beauty and the Geek, or anything starring Jack Black or Rob Schneider, the image of the Schlub and the Supermodel is iconic in our culture. Implicit in this image is the idea that it is natural and normal for all men to desire conventionally beautiful women, even when the men themselves are conventionally ugly. Vague, poorly articulated "theories" of evolutionary biology are utilized to support the assertion that every man has a biological imperative to seek a harem of 20-year old anorexic blonds with breast implants as a function of the need to reproduce their genetic heritage.

Strangely, such theories are rarely propounded to support the idea that women long for young, tall, muscular men for the same reasons. We rarely see movies or television shows in which wisecracking fat women or homely AV-club chicks get the hot captain of the football team--not unless their "homeliness" can be overcome by little more than removing their glasses and letting down their hair to reveal a beautiful swan.

And the idea that women might seek wealthier, more successful men with a greater capacity to be breadwinners and support families on the basis of the same forces of "natural selection" is roundly rejected; it isn't "nature" that inspires such preferences in women, but materialism and greed. The message is clear: men have a right to have standards; women do not.

As usual, this reasoning is taken to a punitive extreme with black women, who are routinely excoriated by "brothas" and "sistas" like Sabrina Lamb, who argue that black career women are "just too picky," because of their unwillingness to smile warmly at broom-wielding strangers on the streets of NYC.

Lamb does not explicitly explain what being "too picky" means, other than being "hell-bent on marrying a corporate brother" or failing to forage the "safe havens" where "good brothers" have allegedly sequestered themselves: "the barbershop . . . financial workshops . . . night school, political campaigns, sporting events or out on the back porch."

While BW who want to meet men must stop spending their free time hanging out with girlfriends, BM don't have to change anything about how they spend their discretionary hours--indeed, they don't even have to leave their backporches.

Lamb insists that a "good" BM is not hard to find--but she doesn't provide much substance to her description of what makes a BM "good." On the other hand, what makes a BW "good" is not her education, professional achievement or financial independence, but her "softness," and her willingness to skulk around barbershops and backporches hunting for a man (which hardly comports with traditional notions of "softness" and femininity, by the way). Since BM neither have to rely on achievement OR effort to be "good," that doesn't leave much more than the Superbad Syndrome to tell us what makes such men worthwhile: we are told at the outset that they are the protagonists for whom we should be rooting (see, e.g., Unfortunately, real life is not a movie or a sitcom--in real life, knowing what you want and respecting yourself enough to insist on it is simply part of healthy maturity.

For example, I never cared much about a man's income, but I cared very much about his money-management skills, frugality, and demonstrated ability to live within his means. These are important values to me. A large income, educational attainment and a successful career may be important values to other women, for perfectly valid reasons. My point isn't that women should also hold out for 20-year old blonds with washboard abs, or reject janitors and pudgy shlubs. My point, as always, is that our choices must be reflections of our own values, our own interests, and our own assessments of what will make us happy in life.

This is why I've never had a problem with a BW who, after thoughtful reflection, decides that her mate must be black, and is at peace with whatever the consequences of that choice may be. My only critique has been of sistas who (1) decide that their mate must be black, and then insist that their chances of finding such a mate are the same as women with no such criteria, and (2) waste precious life energy gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair over random BM who feel no such "loyalty."

When, as I mentioned above, that I could never marry a man who could not live within his means, I knew that living in America, that would drastically reduce the pool of otherwise marriageable men that I had to choose from--conspicuous consumption and keeping up with the Joneses is a way of life for most Americans. While I believe in marriage and recognize it's important role not only to individual, but societal well-being, I was also comfortable with the possibility that my particular standards might mean that I would not find the right "one," at least not right away. I was confident the time would come, and made sure to stay attractive, social, and above all, relaxed. But I was happy with myself, my family, my friends, and my career; my life was full--now, it is simply fuller.

I know sistas who prefer BM who have the same perspective, and they have nothing but my respect. Whatever your choice, it is right if you're at peace with it. If you're angry, frustrated, fearful, and feel powerless in the face of your future, it is not right. This is how the Sabrina Lamb's of the world can prey on such BW's insecurities: they never articulate precisely what these women are supposedly doing "wrong." They never point out precisely what they should be seeking that is "right." They simply create apocryphal tales of snooty gold diggers who only want "corporate brothers" and refuse to smile at "regular" BM.

In Ms. Lamb's "Superbad" fantasy world of ill-defined "good brothas" and hard-headed career women, smiling more and being soft are all that's required to get what you need. You don't have to figure out what you need first, and you certainly don't have to expect the men you encounter to actually fulfill those needs. Just stop demanding Jaguars and five-star dinners, and your blue-collar "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" prince will drop into your lap like manna from heaven.

Remember ladies--life is not a movie. In real life, you write the script, and must what qualities are "heroic." Don't serve anybody else's agenda.