I don’t keep any sort of tab about how many people read this blog. The numbers matter and they do not matter at all.
So: whoever you are, thank you for reading and coming through. There’s a lot of Internet out there and I am deeply and honestly honored you stopped over here.
I’m going to be taking a blogging break for a bit. I’m not sure for how long but something in my spirit/body/universal whispering is telling me to slow my roll a bit and really birth a new way of writing that isn’t as tied up into external validation. I talk a lot about this, but now it’s time for me to really walk my talk and listen.
As much as I want to override this voice and just continue to do, do, do; I have to stop and take stock. I know this pause will bring so much more for all.
So, as a see-ya-soon gift, I am leaving these 9 blog posts for you to re-read (or to read for the first time). May they digest in a way that brings some joy or understanding or peace in your life. I hope there’s something that works for you:
Says the black girl with the white boyfriend.
But, I am serious and I believe it even more now than I ever have: We need more black love.
The primary images under #blacklove are flamboyantly attractive men and women oftentimes intertwined in some erotic embrace. Sometimes they are wearing crowns. Sometimes the man is holding up the earth or a house as his woman and offspring look upwards in stupendous wonder. Sometimes there are two black bodies intertwined so closely that I recall the song Brown Skin by India Arie.
I believe the popularity of these images speaks volumes (On another post I may go into the crazy intense heteronormativity and their traditional gender role affirming nature of these images, but not today…)
Black people are generally subjected to images where they are hurting each other, hurting themselves, or away from each other, all pointing to the real instances of hurtful separation folded overtly and covertly within colonialism and white supremacy.
These days, we may see black people loving on screen but oftentimes these images are interracial in nature. And yes, even I am a little questioning of this.
Why is it so difficult to imagine black people loving each other?
When I saw the graffiti’d mattress leaning forlornly against a house in Pittsburgh, it both made me laugh and broke my heart cleanly down the middle. The way the mattress had been gutted to show its Styrofoam flesh. The word “bitch” lazily scrawled adjacent to it. Was this some sort of cleverly placed art installation? A call to do differently?
What I know is: black people do love each other. Even amidst the craziness of racism and homophobia and sexism and family dysfunction, black people have always been winning in the show some love department. But, sometimes I think we all need reminders.
I think the time has come for white people to take up the majority of the work of in eradicating white supremacy. It’s been that time for quite awhile honestly, but I think the call is even more salient today.
But what about us?
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine made a really vulnerable Facebook post where they talked about the nature of their mental health and the ways in which the anti-blackness of the world had factored into it. It intensified my thinking about the nature of self-help and emotional wellness today. How so much of it erases the real lived realties of different marginalized groups to settle on some vague promulgation of resilience.
It’s not just a personal “defect” to be unwell in this society. Many times our individual experience of stress, of anxiety and depression can be obviously tied to systems that tell us we do not matter.
Anti-blackness is not just a faraway political thought that we can sequester to history books and graduate studies discussions. It affects the real lives of black people in deep and pressing ways each day: the bombardment of black death, the anxieties inherent within a workplace that was never built to consider you, the constant barrage of images that suggest you are not enough at the deepest level of your body. Over and over and over and over and over again.
We need more black love.
I say this in a way that does not mean we add yet another checklist to Shit I Need To Do Today. I say this as a thought that hopefully can buoy us. And I do I see black love being practiced every day. I see it in with people checking in with their people. I see it in the loud ways black people claim admiration for body features often seen as less than. I see it in events like Black Girls Rock and social media campaigns like Very Black.
I hope that the next time I search for #blacklove I see these images too. Images of queer black people, fat black people, quirky black people, conservative black people, hood black people loving the fuck out of one another.
I endeavor to look for more black love, to showcase love in a myriad of ways towards blackness besides the romantic. And if I can’t find another real black person to love on in reality, I will look in the mirror at my own black face and love it fiercely for what it is.
I refuse to be sucked into the madness of these times and to start doubting the power of true, revolutionary love. I refuse to constrain my activism to what I see on my social media feeds.
Black love, real black love, in a way that speaks to my own soul, is part of my revolution.
Sometimes life just hurts. And the temptation is to close off, armor, numb, protect. We are encouraged by our modern society to do this in all kinds of ways:
don’t text the person back right away.
brag about how many fucks you don’t give.
filter away your imperfections and pretend that everything is okay.
And then there’s life’s inevitable heartbreaks, many of which are out of our direct control. there are still black kids dying for no reason except a world that says their lives are without meaning. there are the never actualized desires of our friends and family.
how do we stay open when there is so much pain in our own hearts and in the world?
I’ve never been someone who was good at not feeling. I was the crybaby of homeroom 18 who hated being picked last for kickball and couldn’t hold back my tears if someone made fun of me.
when i got into a fight in fifth grade (i accidentally hit a boy in the head with a red bouncy ball during a game of keep-away and he called me a bitch), i was crying hot tears as I swung for his head.
I quickly learned that no one likes a crybaby. especially a dark-skinned black one. girls who looked like me are supposed to be neck-craning, eye-rolling, lips smacking tigresses who reduce people to dust with venomous tongue lashings.
black girls like me are not supposed to cry, to be hurt, to feel anything but rage.
One of the best things that has occurred on this journey to be whole is that I am releasing these old stories and locating my own path.
even if it means being kind of alone.
I used to never cry at movies, training myself to steel away tears when the violins hit by balling my hands into fists.
a couple of weeks ago i cried when I saw Moana. (that grandma part, man…)
I’ve cried on public benches, during graduate classes, in my office. I close the door and I let it all come out.
i am a contemporary Mary Magdalene.
I allow myself to feel and look at my tears with an air of compassion.
I have been thinking of Kuan Yin as I embark deeper on this path of integrating my full emotional landscape.
As someone very invested in studying the Divine Feminine in any way I can find Her, I am always on the lookout for a good goddess story. I cannot (and will not) “invoke” various goddesses like I am picking from a grab bag, but I can remain open to their stories for inspiration.
“She [Kuan-Yin] is not a goddess, for there are no such figures in Buddhism–although some may call her a folk goddess. Nor is she a buddah, one who has attained perfect enlightenment. Rather Kuan-Yin is a bodhisattva, someone who stands at the threshold of enlightenment; she is called a celestial bodhisattva, the highest rank of these semi-divine beings, for she stands as close as it is possible to heaven itself…she remains perpetually a bodhisvatta, rather than progressing into utter illumination, because she made a vow not to attain enlightenment while a single person on earth suffered.”
“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.”
“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
“Spiritual bypass” is a term often used in circles where people are seeking a higher truth. Be they New Age spiritualists, pagans, mystical Christians or an interesting amalgamation of all these spiritualities or none, the term describes a certain type of seeker who is utilizing spirituality to ignore the real-life issues of their existence.
We’ve all witnessed these people. They’re the chorus of “WE JUST NEED LOOOOVE!!!!” in the face of economic disparity and misogyny and Donald Trump. They are the “friend” who replies to your grief over a recent loss with pleas to “just be positive”.
Sometimes we are even “those people”, dishing out feel-good quotes and pat advice like we are human Hallmark cards.
It’s easy to see that this shit does not work in hindsight, but not always simple to catch spiritual bypass as it is occurring in real-time.
One of the stickiest places that we often wish to bypass are the stories that live inside our families of origin–the painful patterns, the hypocrisy, the let’s-just-take-the-Sears-portrait-and-ignore-our-growing-dysfunction-ness, the weirdness, and just the day-to-day realities of familial existence.
As a seeker eager to dive into all things Divine Feminine, I was all about reading about the “Great Mother” archetype and the goddess worshiping cultures of old but I was consistently passing a blind eye to what actually was occurring within my own matrilineal line.
Without even realizing it, I was jumping over my life and seeking external opinions about what the culture had taught me about being a woman.
But, where do we learn most about what it means to be woman than within the lives and stories of our mothers, aunts, sisters, and grandmothers?
It is these women who have taught me what is possible, what to believe about sex, my body, money, men, female friendships, relationships, self-care, food, parenting, femininity/masculinity, expression, success, God and all that I call Life.
They were my first teachers.
No matter what I profess to believe now, it is their opinions that are more often than not running the show. And until I sat down to examine what they taught me, no “Divine Mother” was going to redirect and “fix” my current life.
Of course, these women have taught me all kinds of life-affirming lessons, it is not just a barrage of negativity. And they teach not only with words and deep conversations–but within the tiniest details of how they live.
Lately, I have been sifting through these lessons and asking myself some deep questions:
What were the actual lessons passed down implicitly and explicitly in my mother-line?
What are the lessons I wish to live? What are the beliefs I need to let go of? And what are the beliefs I am actually living each day?
When does “living differently” from these lessons feel like I am abandoning my mother-line?
The work I am completing here is constant and requires a dedication to life-long learning and shedding–these early beliefs are oftentimes not easy to discard.
They are literally in our blood.
But, I’ve started to notice something in my search.
I used to think the sifting through these stories required me to make a particular family member wrong or to assign blame.
Now I see that this search is all about integrity and awareness. It’s about truly realizing what is mine and what is not. It’s about facing reality as it is and not utilizing spirituality as yet another fogged up mirror, a clever way to obscure truth.
I continue this search, this investigation. I see the patterns–both gracious and limiting. I keep asking questions and sticking around for the answers. In doing so, my Divine Feminine life has a more grounded texture to it, for it is now weaved into my actual life.
My eyes open more and more each day.
What do you think you would find in sifting through your mother’s garden? Is it scary to think that you may just locate who you really are?
In 2012, encouraged by a friend, I ordered the book Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. As if sent by the ghosts of Amazon sisters of years past, the book arrived within a day of purchasing without any addition of rush ordering by me.
I read that book in about five subway rides between Atlantic Terminal and the S79 bus stop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I felt like someone had finally put a language to the questions and longings I had been entertaining since I was a little girl about God, spirituality, and being a woman under the patriarchy.
Yes, the book is written by the same white woman who wrote the Secret Life of Bees. Yes, this book completely changed the trajectory of how I viewed the world and my place in it.
Yes, I love it.
I never felt like a good patriarchal daughter completely. I was forever uneasy about all the Hims and Hes in the Bible and I have had some sort of feminist bend since I was around nine years old. But, I did fall in line in many ways. I eschewed bell hooks for Cornel West in college and spent way too many hours agonizing over food choices and how my body appealed.
But, I think there comes a time in almost every woman’s life where she wonders who she truly is. When she peels back the layers of who she has been told to be and starts to ask her own questions and make her way along a path that she makes her self. She gathers “sisters” along for the ride and may even become a leader.
Sometimes this inquiry starts in the rebellious teenage years or within the illumination of the post-college era. Sometimes it happens after a major life change like when the kids leave the house (finally), or the partner wanders away, or she births a new life of her own.
My “goddess journey” started when I was 23 and fresh out of the US Merchant Marine Academy. Without the constant structure of the school around me and my peers and living in a new place, I found myself on a zig-zagging labyrinthine path toward true self-knowledge.
And not just self-knowledge and embodiment that would solely serve my own inner questions. I really honestly wanted to know how I could most be of help to others.
For awhile, I tried aping other women’s goddess journeys. I contemplated visiting distant lands and completing my own eat-pray-love jaunts. I wondered if I should seek out certain gurus or invest in a bounty of white robes.
It all felt sort of disingenuous and weird. Most of the women who were writing most prominently about goddess journeys were worlds away from my experience. They were white, older, usually departing a Christian faith, married, and subscribed primarily to the Greek/Roman pantheon of goddesses. Or sometimes they were of color but their definintions of “feminine” felt so stringent and a little retroactive.
And sometimes it all seemed way too surface to me. “Goddess” has become a sort of marquee word in the last couple of years and is reaching Instagram ubiquity but quickly being washed out and turned into yet another commodity.
While, I learned much from these women and am grateful for their truths, I really wanted to see my own experience reflected. The answer was simple and but difficult:
I had to be share my own experiences, own my truths, and be honest about what I have found. I had to start where I was with what I had. I had to blunder ahead and create my own goddess path.
My goddess journey has been made up with re-writing the story of my body, of questioning the ways in which I have been taught to see and relate to other women, learning what sensuality and sexuality mean to me, of embracing pleasure and bliss and other feminine principles of being, and of looking at the patriarchal wounds that have occurred within my own family system.
It has been that and so much more.
I have had weird fucking Jungian style dreams and cried while staring into a woman’s eyes and lit a candle to the Black Maria in Spain and have been blessed by Osun priestesses.
I am still on my journey and as such, don’t have some neat, coherent storyline to pass along. I just have my truths.
I will use this space to speak the multi-farious levels of what I have learned and am still learning.
This summer I spent six weeks in Nigeria, courtesy of the Nationality Rooms Scholarship from the University of Pittsburgh.
It was life-affirming. It was crazy. It was surreal.
I’ll write more about it one day, but tonight I want to write about a phrase that has been percolating and shifting through ,my brainspace ever since I returned.
HONEY IS THE KNIFE.
(I think it’s so important that I even have to write in block letters.)
When I first discovered the feminine deities of the Yoruba, I was obsessed with Oya.
It made sense: Oya is usually pictured as tall, dark-skinned, a warrior woman, a goddess of turbulence and Amazonian proportions.
She is the archetype I find myself often leaning towards, the one who other people often associate with me because of my height, skin color, and the fact that I’ve been in “masculine” clubs for much much of my life (basketball, the military, the sign of Aries…)
I never really “got” Osun. Often pictured as a light skinned, flirtatious woman, she seemed to exhibit the kind of femininity that always seemed beyond my reach.
I told myself that she just wasn’t “my” goddess. But my life betrayed me at every turn with truth.
Dancing is my favorite way to find movement. Sensuality and soft femininity give me life where books cannot reach. Like this river goddess, I love to preen in front of mirrors (how do people not look at themselves when they walk by a shiny, reflective surface???) I am forever on the look-out for the next mass celebration.
In Nigeria, I couldn’t get away from Osun. My visit coincided with the Osun-Osogbo festival after all. I saw Her everywhere. Her devotees walked around the Sacred Grove with their white and yellow beads. I was often residing in the area of Yorubaland renamed after her. I walked alongside her river and later on, I drank from it.
A lot of my initial distance from Osun was due to the ways I used to believe I had to inhabit this body and this life as a black woman.
Black people fight. We had and have to in this world. Many of our images of inspiration are laden with raised fists and defiance.
I never felt I had room as a dark-skinned Amazon to be soft, to cry, to exhibit certain”feminine” traits. I was encouraged to be STRONG instead.
Who was going to take my black tears or hurts seriously?
I needed Oya for all these reasons.
But, I see now that I desperately need Osun too.
Charles Abramson, a late Black artist, built an ornate altar for Osun in Brooklyn and worshiped her there. He said that with Osun one realizes honey is the knife.* Stories abound revolving around Osun and her ability to solve paralyzing problems with the jangle of her bracelet, the upturn of her winking smile. Her power resides in never forgetting that sweetness is also a tool for survival. He was inspired by her way of combating the ills of this world with feminine grace.
So am I.
Osun reminds me that to be sweet, to be soft, to be feminine and/or a woman is not weakness. In Nigeria, she asked me to remember that her coquettish, sensual nature belongs to me just as much as Oya’s saber does.
Maybe even more so.
I remind myself of this fact when I see the headlines of yet another unarmed black person shot dead, when I feel the weight of having to squash my complexity to stand as a “strong black woman”, when I see yet another mass media dismissal of black beauty.
Honey is the knife.
Honey is the knife.
There is beauty and strength in learning to soften in a hard world.
*Excerpted from Osun across the Waters : A Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas, edited by Joseph M. Murphy and Mei-Mei Sanford
African and Black. I first learned of the difference most saliently when I went to high school. Jokes were being made and I joined in and offered my own take on things that all black people do. This dude I barely knew scoffed, “You’re not black. You’re African.”
We could go deep into the semantics and the divisions inherent in most American black communities with just this one statement. When that comment was said to me about fifteen years ago, I was left in s silent confused hurt. He was kinda right, but were the two mutually exclusive? (Nope.) He was kinda right, but did he have to ostracize me? (Nope.)
His words did not begin an identity crisis. But, they did make me see that black people weren’t some jolly we’re-all-in-this-together mass all the time. And I wondered where I actually fit in. It didn’t seem to be with the white kids or black kids at my high school. I felt most comfortable with my Mexican and Asian friends. Our gripes about our strict immigrant parents a connector.
When people ask me what I am (and yes, this does happen to dark-skinned phenotypically black as hell people) I’ve said Black. Then I say Nigerian. They nod thoughtfully with a I-knew-it expression. Lately, I’ve been switching it around and amusedly observing the questions which commence when I say Nigerian first.
How long have you been in this country? What was it like to grow up in Nigeria? Is your entire family there? What do you think of the stuff going on? (“Stuff” is supposed to encapsulate all manner of civic disturbances I guess…)
And then I have to explain that well, I’ve never been to Nigeria but my entire ancestry is Nigerian. It’s a funny conversation in a sense. I’ve had strangers shame me for not visiting as if they had previously offered to pay for my ticket and I declined. Sometimes I am ashamed of what I don’t know, considering the fact that unlike my black diasporic community, I do know exactly where I come from.
But, shame is tedious and repetitive. And in my 30th year on this planet, I am finally going to Nigeria on behalf of Pitt’s African Heritage Nationality Room Scholarship. To say I am excited is an understatement. I am also scared and curious. The greatest mix ever.
I highly doubt I will be asked what I am, which will be nice. But who knows. I am an Americanah after all.
What I am most excited about is seeing my family. My paternal grandparents have been deceased for some time (that’s a picture of the grandmother I am named after above), but I have still have a large family presence in Nigeria. My research will detail the feminine/female aspects of Yoruba culture/religion. I will be studying the female deities of the Ifa: Osun, Oya, and Yemoja.
And while this project is academic/creative in nature, I have no doubts that it will be a personal sojourn as well. I want to know more about who my people were and the ways they interact with the world, before and after colonialism. One short trip to Nigeria will not solve every question I have, but it is enough to get me started.
If you’ve been perusing the likes of Facebook and Instagram this holiday season, I’m sure you’ve witnessed the ubiquitous engagement photo.
And while it may sound sarcastic, I sincerely do wish all who are on their way to betrothal a hearty congratulations. Seeing all these engagement pictures got me thinking about self-marriage again. I guess it’s a “phenomenon” in Japan. But, the first time I ever heard of it was through Aya De Leon’s account in the book Quirkyalone.
This summer I and a friend had the spectacular opportunity to visit La Moreneta, the Black Madonna of Montserrat, Spain. The trip from Barcelona took three modes of transportation: subway, train, and lift and 2.5 hours one way so it kinda felt like a modern day pilgrimage.
Immediately I was intrigued by this figure. There are supposedly hundreds of sites dedicated to Her image. But, how had I never heard of Her before?
I have had an interesting spiritual life. Nigerian churches, a megachurch named Melody Land adjacent to Disneyland attended right before an aunt became a bit of a fanatic. Church in the military. Trying to find my own way in a haze of patchouli and Oprah-blessed gurus. Yikers.
As I am now, I don’t have a specific spiritual assignation. I can no longer disregard the anti-feminine aspect of the majority of world religions. Therefore I now find myself living in the scoffed at spiritual-but-not-religious group.
It’s not bad here. I meditate. I pick up pretty crystals. But sometimes, I want the safe boundaries of a group to belong to. A name.
The Black Madonna makes my spiritual loner status okay. First off, here was a divine figure who was not only female but black-skinned too. While many of those who visit her sacred sites are Catholic, this is not the case for all. She has inspired people of all stripes who take inspiration in both her feminine energy and “outsider” looks.
There are many speculations as to why she is black. Some scholars say its because the wood used to make the Mary and Jesus figurines darkened over time.
Some say she is a call-back to the ‘dark goddess’ of ancient times.
“The Black Madonna is black not just because of her relation to the Egyptian goddess Isis but also because “she has literally or figuratively been through the fire and has emerged with an immense capacity for love and understanding.”” (inside quote from Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst)
When it was my turn to have my minute (read: half a second) with the Black Madonna of Monsterrat, I hastily said a prayer for myself and my family while holding her hand. She is seated, holding the baby Jesus in one hand and a globe (which according to the Montserrat web page, symbolizes the universe) in the other.
I now ponder on that imagery: an all-powerful feminine spirit cradling the entire world.
One of the things I wish to see more in this world, is more respect, love, and admiration for qualities associated with the Feminine. I know I don’t live in that world now but the figure of the Black Madonna gives me hope that it may exist.
I’ve heard it said that all of spirituality is a crutch.
I think I’m okay with that really.
I have many questions about God and I suspect I always will. But these days, I accept these questions (okay okay…most days).
I don’t have a name for what I am. I don’t worship the figurines on my altar. What I do know is that seeing the subtle smiling face of the Black Madonna on my makeshift altar always makes me smile myself