Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So--What Can We Do?

Many of the bloggers and blog posters have reached a consensus: we as conscious BW must confront the forces in the media that continue to marginalize and stereotype us, whoever they may be.

The question then becomes, as many posters have asked, how? I think knockoutchick and Evia have provided excellent answers that deserve highlighting:

knockoutchick says:

WE have the power as Gina over at (What About Our Daughters?) WAOD has shown. All of us can effect change in our own worlds. For instance we can suggest a black girl as local beauty queen in our towns. Choose a black girl to mentor. Tell little black girls they are beautiful. Question the news cycle sole focus on the perils of WW only. And most importantly, stop buying products and services from those that belittle us.

And Evia again points out the crucial role of bloggers in spreading the word:

I find that a lot of bw don't even know about the various events going on in the country that might or do impact us negatively because they don't know where to go to get the info. So, in terms of products and services, we need one or two people to set up a blog or site that provides info about these products and services that belittle us--kind of like a bw's 'defamation clearinghouse' where we could all go to get info about people, products, and services that defame us. When the info is scattered, sistas just don't have time to look for it.

Please don't discount the importance of opening up another line of communication as a means of empowerment. I can provide a recent example from my own field that shows how fast and effective spreading the word and expediting a response can be in making change:

Cleary Gottlieb has a bad hair day - Talk about a Glamour don't.
Vivia Chen/The American LawyerAugust 27, 2007

It seemed like a nice frothy summer treat for some hardworking gals at a hard-driving law firm . . . the women lawyers group at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton invited an editor from Glamour magazine. The topic: the dos and don'ts of corporate fashion.

First slide up: an African-American woman sporting an Afro. A real no-no, announced the Glamour editor to the 40 or so lawyers in the room. As for dreadlocks: How truly dreadful! The style maven said it was "shocking" that some people still think it "appropriate" to wear those hairstyles at the office. "No offense," she sniffed, but those "political" hairstyles really have to go.

By the time the lights flicked back on, some Cleary lawyers -- particularly the 10 or so African-American women in attendance -- were in a state of disbelief. "It was like she was saying you shouldn't go out with your natural hair, and if you do, you're making a political statement," says one African-American associate. "It showed a general cluelessness about black women and their hair."

The episode also produced a "mixed reaction" along racial lines, says this associate. "Some [whites] didn't understand what the big deal was ... but all the black associates saw the controversy."

Cleary Gottlieb's managing partner, Mark Walker, who heard about the incident from some of the attendees, also saw trouble. Soon after the event, Walker issued an e-mail that denounced the hair commentary as "racially insensitive, inappropriate, and wrong." Calling the beauty advice "appalling," Walker says, "You don't tell people that their physical appearance is unacceptable, when certain characteristics are associated with a racial group." He asks, "What's the alternative? Straighten or bleach your hair?"

As for the identity of the editor, neither Cleary Gottlieb nor Condé Nast Publications Inc. (publisher of Glamour) would say. Indeed, almost all of the half-dozen Glamour editors contacted for this story professed not to have ever set foot in a law firm. "Cleary what?" asked several.

And Walker says he has no idea whether the editor who sparked all this controversy is a well-known fashionista. Not that Walker would know, even if Anna Wintour herself crossed his path. "Who is she?" Walker asks. "I really don't know people in the fashion industry." (If you have to ask, she's the editor of Vogue.)

So did the Glamour editor realize how many feathers she ruffled? Walker says that the speaker was "spoken to by one of the women partners" and that she sent an e-mail apology. "I assume she was oblivious; I doubt she's racist," says Walker. "She wasn't thinking and said something hare-brained."
Or is that hair-brained?

Bloggers Fan the Fury Over Hairstyle Advice to Cleary's African-American Lawyers
Vivia ChenThe American LawyerAugust 27, 2007
Geeky Wall Street law firms don't usually make the style pages. But Cleary Gottlieb has become a fixture on at least a dozen hipster blogs -- including and -- in recent weeks.

As reported in the August issue of The American Lawyer, sparks flew after a Glamour magazine beauty editor spoke at the firm's women's luncheon this summer. The editor's edict that black lawyers avoid Afros and dreadlocks infuriated the firm's African-American lawyers.

Judging by the traffic on the blogs, that fury has spilled well beyond the halls of Cleary Gottlieb. One reason for the strong reaction is that the issue of hair style has long been a hot button topic for African-American professional women. "Whether you let your hair go natural or straighten is a very touchy subject," says one black female partner at a New York firm.
Though Cleary hosted the event, Glamour is getting most of the heat. "I'll never buy Glamour again," was a typical refrain in the blogs. Not surprisingly, Glamour is engaged in damage control. In an e-mail statement to The American Lawyer, the fashion magazine repudiated the beauty advice, and characterized the editor as a "junior staffer" who spoke "without her supervisor's knowledge or approval." Moreover, the statement said that Glamour has a "longstanding commitment to inclusion and diversity."

Many of the blog commentators, however, think that the fashion community could learn some style points from big law firms. Wrote one blogger: "I suspect that the Glamour editor had no freakin' idea that law firms are far more accepting places these days than the mainstream fashion world."

Law firms cooler than the fashion world? Imagine that

Just that fast the word got out--and just that fast, Glamour faced a backlash that they knew they would have to respond to. We still need to know who this "editor" was, and we need to continue to hold Glamour's feet to the fire (along with Vogue and Cosmopolitan and all the rest)for their persistence in maintaining a discrimnatory and exclusionary status quo that considers BW's natural hair, natural skin color, natural features, natural existence "political" and "inappropriate" for their pages--though they certainly welcome our dollars.

Whoever can start the "anti-defamation clearinghouse" will have plenty of support from all of us. But, of course, as knockoutchick noted, there are so many actions we can each take now. Write Glamour an email, making it clear that your natural hair is not a "political statement," and cc: three of their major advertisers. Call your local station and ask them if they're planning a story on Stepha Henry. Keep reading and posting to these blogs so that you're aware of what's going on, and can share your knowledge with us even if you can't start a blog of your own. It all starts with communication!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Who DO You Love?

At the Black Women's IR Circle, a number of posters have recently expressed discomfort with what they perceive as the "white male-centric" focus of many of the IR blogs. These women have noted their own interest in Asian and Hispanic men, and even their distate for WM. Does IR for BW have to = WM?

Of course not. My husband is white, but I have pointed out before that I am one of those lucky women who has always been attracted to a wide variety of men, and also realized at a relatively early age that I should take full advantage of that attraction to find exactly what I was looking for in a partner in terms of real compatibility, rather than race. I encourage all sistas to do the same, and I have never seen advice on any of the blogs that contradicts this position. My entire purpose is to encourage BW to always seek the best wherever it may be found, and any good man who adores you from your eyebrows to your toes is to be enjoyed for the treasure he is.

On the other hand, I speak from a specific place (the United States) which has a specific population. For women seeking eligible, compatible men, they are probably best served by seeking men in those groups that contain the largest number of potentially eligible, compatible men--and for women in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, that will be WM. Siginificantly as well, for American, Canadian and European women, they will generally have more in common with men who have been reared in these cultures, even if those men are white, then they will with men reared outside of those cultures, even if those men are not white. Very often, we our encouraged to consider ourselves part of some monolithic "people of color" united in interest against "the white man," which often isn't a very accurate depiction of our real world experience.

Additionally, I must also speak honestly from my own experience--and my experience dating Hispanic men specifically has not been particularly positive. I have found that many Hispanic cultures are freighted with the same sort of racism, colorism, and anti-BW discrimination that can be found in the black American community. I have found the same disdain for dark skin and blackness among Asians, especially for dark women--all you have to do is look at the most esteemed female beauty icons of China, India, Korea, Thailand, etc. to know exactly what I'm talking about: the women are often literally white-skinned, and have often had their eyes and noses surgically "enhanced" to look more "Western," i.e., white.

Perhaps ironically, I have found that WM are the least likely to be color-struck, and the most likely to find BW's dark skin, tightly curled hair, and full features beautiful and appealing. Since I also find my features beautiful and appealing (LOL!) and have no interest in altering them, I can only be with a man who appreciates me as I am, unbleached and unaltered. I have often heard the same thing from AW in explaining their own preference for WM, who they say appreciate their natural slanted eyes, broad noses, and golden skin in a way that many AM don't.

Again--this only reflects my experience. I know that plenty of BW have had bad experiences with WM, and good experiences with AM, HM, and BM for that matter, and I would never discount that--and I would never tell any woman to exclude an entire group of men from her dating consideration. I always say if he makes you laugh, he has a good character, and you get that little "flutter" in your stomach when you hear his voice, it can't hurt to let him take you to lunch. **shrug**

I just think that sometimes the congruent trap to "nothing but a black man" is "anything but a white man." I would never presume to tell anyone who to be attracted to or date; but abiding by these kinds of artificial restrictions is quite simply a trap. Always do what feels right, but don't exchange one straight-jacket for another.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


As you all know, I pulled my own "disappearing act" last week to get married and enjoy a little time off with my honey, family and friends. The honeymoon won't be for a few months though, since I will be transitioning to a new job in the next few weeks (because I never bite off more than I can chew--no, not I!!) and DH has some work travel of his own to attend to. In any case, thank you all so much for your warm wishes on our recent union. It feels great!

I wanted to open up discussion this week about a very complex issue that has been troubling me for some time now: the connection between popular images of black women, and our sexual and romantic desirability to men generally. It is an issue I've touched on before here in discussions about everything from mainstream advertisements to pornography, because I think that the power of imagery in contemporary society to shape male and female perceptions of appropriate partners would be hard to overemphasize.

Most modern societies have evolved from the point where parents and clans arrange marriages for offspring, to providing only slightly less formal community meeting places for choosing appropriate partners (church, socials, friends of family), to the current environment where our only guidelines are the broad-based and increasingly vague criteria of class, race, gender, sexuality, age, "chemistry"--and our own allegiance to these concepts.

Now that our choices are almost entirely our "own," the role of of socialization and social imagery in teaching us how to choose our mates has become increasingly important. For many Westerners, for better or worse, the mass media has replaced church, family, and virtually every other institution of significance in guiding our decision-making processes for choosing our careers, our homes, value systems, and our mates.

What this means for black women is that, even as we make incredible strides in the real world, the negative and false imagery that predominates popular representations of us has become arguably more dangerous than ever. The seductive, promiscuous light-skinned Jezebel, and the big, dark, dominant, emasculating, sharp-tongued Sapphire/Matriarch all share one trait in common--they are deviant. Regardless of how restrictive or degrading the mainstream feminine "ideal" may be for other women, black women are always defined in opposition to it--and thus men are taught that to desire us is to indulge a fetish, rather than to engage a normal urge. We are not only forbidden fruit (like black men), we are a marginalized and perverse taste. That is, when we are visible at all.

For too long, we have neglected to address this negative propaganda campaign against us, and its devastating impact that is now revealing its destructive consequences in the lives of so many young black women. As usual, the focus of the "community" has been on negative images of black men, and ameliorating the effect of those images on black men. Many of us assumed that once black people gained positions of authority in the media, that destructive images of black women would naturally improve; instead, we have seen that black men and women who hold such positions seem more eager than ever to cash in by throwing us under the bus or eliminating our images altogether. This is intolerable.

This is why we must insist on making our voices heard on this issue. Sisters touched on this question at the Black Women's IR Circle under the "Permission to Survive" post, where some questioned whether we should bother "boycotting" black male celebrities who insult and belittle black women, and consistently choose non-black mates. I agree with those who posited that such men have every right to choose to partner with whoever they wish, and that our greatest focus should be on finding our own healthy, happy relationships--but I also agree with those who insisted that when someone attacks and undermines us, we must make it clear that we will not accept such treatment. This is not merely an issue of "hurt feelings" or "freedom of speech": this is about the freedom and opportunities that will be available to young black women, their right to love, the acknowledgement of their beauty and femininity. No one must be permitted to attack our womanhood with impunity.

As one of my very wise uncles pointed out to me when I was a child, in this country, we vote with our dollars. No choice you make with a ballot will ever mean as much in the first instance as who you give your money in America--or who you withhold it from. We as black women have gained much power in this arena, and it is time for us to leverage it. Think of the movies you see, the songs you download, the magazines you read, the television shows you watch, and all the commercial products whose advertisements support these endeavors. Do they employ black models and actresses? If so, are they portrayed as feminine and romantically attractive? Are they portrayed stereotypically? Are we included at all? As efforts like Gina McCauley's campaign against the hot mess that is BET's "Hot Ghetto Mess/We've Got to Do Better" make clear, we can make a difference--we do have power. Now let's exercise that power!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just Married!

Please forgive my neglect of the blog--Friday was our Big Day, and even a simple, modest wedding these days requires a lot more planning than I anticipated! It was a lovely ceremony, and I'm just relieved and content that we've formalized the bond that we've already shared for so long. Life is good, and we're very grateful for each other and our wonderful family and friends--including our friends in the blogosphere!

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Sisters" and Friends?

BW in interracial relationships can often cite a number of incidents during the course of their relationships where BM have responded to their choice of partner with puzzlement, contempt, hostility and even aggression. For the most part, we understand the racial/sexual politics of American society, and recognize that the effort of strangers to make our personal relationships part of their larger battlefield is simply one of the expected complexities of choosing a life unrestrained by the prejudices of others. However, we often have more difficulty coping with the judgments that we sometimes encounter from other BW, who often seem especially eager to establish their "pro-black" bona fides by making it clear to BM critics that they are just as angry about BW/WM IRRs as they are about BM/WW IRRs.

Why would our own sisters turn on us? They live in our communities. They see the women struggling to raise children alone--they often ARE those women. They go to the churches where the only men are the preacher and the deacons, i.e., the one's collecting all the money and making all the decisions. They feel the fear of walking down the street alone, of being harassed like dogs, of locks on windows and doors, of never feeling safe. They turn on the radios and the televsisions, where we are invisible except as objects of derision and ridicule. They know the drama and the pain of "hood romance," where not only marriage, but fidelity, mutual respect, trust, and honesty are all considered absurd "bougie" conceits--where relationships are open warfare in which the goal is to play them before they play you.

If they're lucky enough to have mothers, aunts and grandmothers who struggle and sacrifice to get them to college, they know that the "brothas" start opening up their options right there on those college campuses where they're outnumbered by sisters 2- and 3- to -1; today, those same "brothas" probably started opening up their options in junior high and high school. How often were they mocked and ignored for not having long, "good" hair like the "Spanish" girls? How early did they learn to accept their place: to be first in line to attack other BW for being too obese, having too many OOW babies, having too much fake hair, being too picky in our choices of men, being too lax in our choices of men, being too ________________?

And yet, these are the very "sistas" who now warn that the "black community" is in danger of disappearing due to the threat of IRRs. So this "community" will somehow thrive if the majority of its women continue doing what they're doing now--spending their lives sporadically alone? Forgoing love, companionship, security, stability--and not incidentally, depriving their children of these crucial elements of healthy development? Remaining silent in the face of their own obsolescence?

The answer that these sisters give when pressed is typically a variation on the theme that "Black Love is what continues the Black race" and IRRs = racial suicide. As one sister recently described it, "IRRs are a plot by the white man to eliminate Black love and eventually the Black race." I addressed the irrationality of this argument in Point 5 of my "Questions and Answers" blog from August 5; but the bigger issue to me is the extent to which black love continues to exist independently of IRRs. After all, if the continuation of the black race is dependent on BM and BW marrying one another, than IRRs are essentially irrelevant--even if we accept the logic of this rationale, IRRs don't equal racial suicide, the unwillingness of BM and BW to marry each other equals racial suicide. Why then do these sisters point to US as the "problem," instead of addressing all those complaining, unmarried "brothas" who have suddenly discovered the critical importance of "black love" to the health of the race? Isn't "black love" not only about marrying BM, but about our relationships with each other, and ourselves?

We are indeed in danger now. But that danger arises from us marching like lemmings to our own demise by trying to police each other's behavior--for whose benefit? Our own? Our children? The "community"? Sisters are dying of AIDS, diseases arising out of sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and stress, domestic violence and violent crime--we are dying from lack of care. Has the "community" stepped up to provide that care? The "sistas" who choose to put their energy into mourning the "black prince who got away" and chiding BW who won't stay in their place will unfortunately end up on the dust heap of history. It is WE who choose loving partners and who choose to care for ourselves, who set a positive example for other sisters. It is in providing that care and leadership that WE will survive and ultimately insure our survival as people.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

“Why Talk About Black Men At All?”

Since Dionne Walker’s AP article “More Black Women Consider ‘Dating Out’” appeared earlier this week, it has quickly spread as a topic of discussion across the Web, after being broadly reprinted everywhere from the Guardianto CNN. Featuring our “own” Rosyln Holcomb and Evia Moore, the article focused generally on the increasing numbers of BW dating and marrying interracially, and contained some discussion of the reasons for this growing phenomena.

In the wake of this increased focus has been an increased scrutiny of the blogs and message boards where sisters gather to meet and discuss their interest in, and experiences with, interracial relationships. One consistent criticism that both pre-dates Ms. Walker’s article, and has been amplified in it’s wake, has been the claim that BW in interracial relationships focus inordinately and unnecessarily on BM. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this assertion is based on the assumption that BW in interracial relationships need an “excuse” to date out, and therefore engage in “BM-bashing” as a justification for their desire for non-BM. Why mention BM at all, we are asked?

I would never presume to speak for any other bloggers or for sisters in interracial relationships more generally on this issue. However, the subjects that I choose to discuss here are based on my interests, and what I see and hear around me from other sisters in terms of their challenges and concerns. My own decision to date interracially was not strictly happenstance—I have always been attracted to a wide variety of men, but as I began to think about marriage, I began to realize I could easily go months without meeting a compatible BM, while I was encountering compatible non-BM on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. This inspired me to do what those of us from academic families typically do: a little research.

That research made it clear to me that my individual experience was one that educated, middle and upper middle class BW who were interested in marriage were experiencing in increasing numbers. While I had been raised and socialized with the expectation that I would eventually meet and marry a compatible BM, I didn’t experience the absence of such a man as a “crisis” or a “shortage.” For me, it was pretty straightforward: my priority was ultimately to build a great life with a great guy. Since there were still plenty of great guys out there, nothing crucial about my plans had changed, anymore than meeting more guys who were 5’10 than 6’2 would change my plans.

Nevertheless, I did recognize that for BW for whom race isa crucial factor in a choice of mate, there isa shortage, and I would feel dishonest if I didn’t point out that I think these women are probably selling their opportunities short as a result of their perspective; this was one of the reasons I chose to discuss the role of narrative earlier, because the story so many BW tell themselves of “I must only be with a BM/there is a BM ‘shortage’” is an important force that prevents too many sisters from having the life that they want and deserve.

It would also be dishonest of me not to address the social pressures that BW who date and marry interracially often face, and to confront the source of those pressures and point out some of the key reasons they are illegitimate. There are lots of wonderful men out there; if you want to maximize the number of great men available to choose from, race is criteria that it would be wise to discard. This is not a statement of judgment or a statement of blame: it is a statement of fact.

Will there be people who see such a statement as “BM-bashing”? Sure. Will there be people who will decide that women who articulate such considerations must be “desperate”? Probably. But to my mind, desperation is a fear response, and nothing is more desperate than someone who refrains from speaking what she knows is true because she is afraid that people will call her false names and think false things of her. I know who I am. I know what my motivations are. I know that I am not an angry or embittered person, and that I have no interest in bashing anyone.

Therefore, I sometimes discuss BM here: because BW who date and marry interracially are constantly confronted with the question of whythey are not with a BM (see my prior post, “Questions and Answers.”) To simply answer honestly “because I met this non-BM and fell in love with him” is rarely satisfactory to questioners, who will take any inclination to ignore them as a sign that you have been intimidated into silence by “shame” over your “desperate” choice. As a haven for sisters who are attracted to all kinds of men—and who refuse to be controlled by the fear of rejection, or the fear of being called a “sell-out,” or on the basis of any other fear—I am more than happy to provide a forum for us all to express our own reasons for our choices: because ultimately, it is all about us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Questions and Answers

Halima and Evia have recently blogged on the importance of sisters "spreading the word" to each other about the world of options available to us, and the crucial importance of empowering ourselves to go after those options as the birthright they are.

I want to address a related topic, for those sisters who have already stepped out to exercise their options, only to find themselves faced with the stern disapproval of not only strangers, but sometimes their nearest and dearest.

I come from a family that has always had tremendous racial pride, but has also put the well-being and happiness of the family above all else--so while they were somewhat surprised by my interracial relationship, their ultimate concern was whether I was being treated as I deserved. Once they were reassured on that score, they were were as happy for me as my fiance and I are happy together.

I know some sisters don't have it that easy, and must cope with family, friends, and acquaintaces who are challenging, unsupportive, and even hostile to their relationships. Any relationship requires nurturing, and healthy communities invest in healthy relationships, which are the foundation of a thriving and ascendant people. It's a shame that instead of being supported in their positive choices, from which all around them will also reap the positive benefits, too many sisters instead face isolation, scorn, and stereotypical questions like these:

1. I thought you were "pro-black"?

While the people who raise such questions rarely define what they mean by being "pro-black"--other than either being with a black men or being alone--for me, the response to such a query would be fairly straightforward: I was born black, I will die black, and I will live every day in between black. I love my blackness and I love black people--indeed, I love humanity, with all it's flaws and foibles. There is no contridiction between loving my black self and loving a smart, funny, confident, sexy, honest, strong and compassionate white man. It is because I love myself that I recognized that the quality of this man and the love we share are a crucial component of building the life that I want and deserve.

2. Don't you feel like you're betraying your ancestors?

To me, this question has never made anymore sense than asking "aren't you betraying all the women who've been raped and beaten by men when you date men?" I am a heterosexual woman and I am attracted to men--I don't somehow "honor" women who have been victimized by rapists, abusers and murderers by shunning good men who treat me well. In the same way, I do not somehow "honor" my black ancestors who suffered through slavery and discrimination by shunning good white people--and yes, they exist.

Additionally, this question is rooted in a mentality that views racism as an evil that is simply inflicted on blacks by whites. It does not acknowledge the role that black people can play in inflicting racist discrimination on each other--in particular, the way in which DBRBM openly denigrate, abuse, and discriminate against BW based on their race and sex. Would it be reasonable for me to judge all black men based on the discriminatory acts of DBRBM?

3. Can he really understand you?

Better than anyone ever has. Just as in any couple, we have differences as well as sharing commonalities. I personally could not be with a man who was not empathetic. I know that it is certainly possible for a white person to be in a relationship with a black person--perhaps even to "love" a black individual--while still being racist. I couldn't be with such a person, anymore than I could be with a BM who hated my skin, my hair, my features. I've never been with a man who has been through exactly what I have been through--that would be impossible. Luckily, a person doesn't have to have had your experiences to be able to relate to them, and to understand your struggles and triumphs.

4. Couldn't you find a black man?

Probably--but I didn't. I found this man, and instead of rejecting him in the hope that I might find a black Mr. Right someday, I decided to live my life for today. It has not been my experience that incredible people with whom you experience intense chemistry pass through your life on such a regular basis that walking away from makes sense. Life is short.

5. What if all of us started dating white? Wouldn't black people disappear?

Considering that black people in Africa and throughout the diaspora, significantly outnumber white people, it seems unlikely that interracial mating between blacks and whites could result in the disappearance of black people; if it could, we would have disappeared a long time ago, since miscegenation has been going on since the concept of "races" first evolved. It seems that the greater danger to the our community here is the growing numbers of BW who are living their lives entirely alone.

Obviously, there are usually no "right" answers to such questions for the people asking them because they oppose interracial relationships for BW, and perceive a danger in them that they don't perceive, say, in BW suffering in bad relationships with BM or no relationships at all. I don't think for a second that a sister owes an explanation to such people; but part of the purpose of questions like these, whether the person asking is conscious of such purpose or not, is to intimidate. Whether we choose to answer them or not, all that matters is that our responses reflect our own confidence in, and happiness with, our choices. Nothing will help "break more sisters out of jail" than seeing the joy and serenity that love and freedom brings to a well-lived life!

As a sidenote, everybody check out "More Black Women Consider 'Dating Out'" Evia, Roslyn Holcomb, and the role of blogs in encouraging sisters to expand their options are all prominently featured!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Role of Narrative

Self-narratives--the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives that connect personally significant events in the past with our present and future experiences--are a crucial factor in our ability to shape our direction in life, and enable us to achive the goals that we have identified as important and valuable for ourselves. Such narratives--ranging from the story of how our parents met to our first day of school to the senior prom--shape our perception of the world in which we live, and shape our responses to the people that we encounter, as well as shaping our sense of identity.

Perhaps most importantly, the stories we tell ourselves about our lives shape our perceived self-efficacy: our belief about our capacity to achieve, perform, and exercise influence over the events that affect our lives and the lives of others.

Self-efficacy is not only experienced on an individual level--it is also experienced collectively. Entire groups often share a perceived self-efficacy--or, as in the case of many black Americans, a lack thereof. Black Americans have been encouraged to view themselves as a monolith: a collective beset by crime, poverty, immorality, and failure. Any black individual or group of individuals who reject this mentality are subject to mockery for refusing to face "reality," which we are informed repeatedly consists of little more than a whole cloth of pathology--exceptions to the rule purportedly only serve to further prove it.

For black women, the narrative that we are fed combines heavy doses of self-flagellation and unending obligation, and always circles back to the same sad conclusion: we are always somehow "lagging behind." We used to be lazy and welfare dependant; now we are overworked spinsters, robbing black men of the jobs and opportunities that rightly belong to them. Our dark skin, full lips and and curvaceous figures used to be revolting; now that other women openly covet these features, we are simply all obese. We are both failing in our responsibility to unstintingly support the "brothas" in their (of course) infinitely more important and more difficult struggles, and simultaneously enabling those same "brothas" in dysfunction, by embracing thuggery and irresponsible babydaddyhood. As Alice Walker noted in her book of essays, In Search of Our Mother's Gardens:

During the sixties my own work was often dismissed by black reviewers "becuase of my life style," a euphemism for my interracial marriage. At black literature conferences it would be examined fleetingly if at all, in light of this "traitorous" union, by critics who were themselves interracially married, and who, moreover, hung on every word from Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, John A. Williams, and LeRoi Jones (to name a few) all of whom were at some time in their lives interracially connected, either legally or in more casual ways. Clearly it was not interracialism itself that bothered the critics, but that I, a black woman, had dared to exercise the same prerogative as they. While it is fine for black men to embrace other black men, black women, white women and white men in intimate relationships, the black woman, to be accepted as a black woman must prefer being alone to the risk of enjoying "the wrong choice." This means, I think, what the first dismissal meant: that I am a black woman. Something is always wrong with us.

Many visitors to other blogs, who see the terms "mammy" or "mule" used to describe the self-negating black women who have wholeheartedly embraced the "something is always wrong with us" narrative, find such usages offensive--but what is a mammy but someone who places her master's needs above her own? What is a mule but a beast of burden, who staggers to support others as her own spirit flags? These are not pejoratives, they are descriptors. And as with any form of oppression, BW are restricted to mammy/mulehood not through explicit force, but through the perpetuation of self-destructive narratives, repeating loops of negative reinforcement in which BW tell themselves that they have no choice but to accept less than the best in life, that they are cursed to "lag behind," that to see otherwise is to be "unrealistic."

Because the mammy/mule/DBR/"crisis" narrative is not merely a matter of optimism vs. pessimism, of seeing the glass half full or half empty. It is a matter of what you will dare to do with your life. It is matter of what you believe is possible. It is a matter of whether you can even conceive of change--because if you cannot first see within yourself the capacity to be better and have better, you stay stuck. "Failure" and "pathology" become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Sound familiar?