“for colored girls”? Nope.

I really had/have no intentions of critiquing “for colored girls” by hurling the usual at Tyler Perry. How he hates black women, has mother issues, is a closeted homosexual, etc. Other folks can and have done so. I also really don’t intend to write a review of the movie, which I saw this afternoon. What I do want to do is reflect.

When I first read “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” I was 16 years old. I wasn’t a lady in blue or red or green or purple or orange but a precocious black girl who

usedta live in the world / now i live in harlem & my universe is six blocks / a tunnel with a train / i can ride anywhere / remaining a stranger

except my harlem was philadelphia and my train was the broad street subway. I’d never left my city, except for a girl scout trip to Savannah, and my knowledge of the world outside were through books like “for colored girls.”

When I read “for colored girls” the first time I cried. At 16, I’d established myself as a singer with a voice. I’d performed in assemblies, choirs, solos. But when, at 16, I had my first major depressive episode, “for colored girls” voiced my

black girl’s song / bring her out / to know herself / to know you / but sing her rhythms/ carin/ struggle/ hard times / sing her song of life / she’s been dead so long / closed in silence so long / she doesn’t know the sound / of her own voice / her infinite beauty

In high school, I was passionate about women’s sexual health issues. I chaired our peer health group, which provided peer counseling and peer sexual education. I remember meeting at a Planned Parenthood downtown for a workshop on sexual violence; all of us teenage girls learning about sexual violence and sharing our stories of sexual violence. At the time, we all learned that

a friend is hard to press charges against / if you know him / you must have wanted it / a misunderstanding / you know / these things happen / are you sure / you didnt suggest / had you been drinkin / a rapist is always to be a stranger / to be legitimate / someone you never saw / a man wit obvious problems

yet that date rape is real and we must protect ourselves and almost all of us in that room in the mid-1990s had been a victim of some form of sexual coercion by someone we knew. I remember that session vividly, for the tears and support, the hugs and the empowerment.

I even remember thinking I was one of a few virgins left in my group of friends, and feeling this pressure to not be a virgin anymore. Sexual tension is so high in high school, it threatens to overwhelm. And it’s not just social pressure – I had a boyfriend for which my body exerted physical pressure. So the summer after high school graduation I was

doin nasty ol tricks i’d been thinkin since may / cuz graduation nite had to be hot /& i waz the only virgin/ so i hadda make like my hips waz inta some business / that way everybody thot whoever was gettin it/ was a older man cdnt run the streets wit youngsters /martin slipped his leg round my thigh / the dells bumped “stay” / up & down—up & down the new carver homes/ WE WAZ GROWN WE WAZ FINALLY GROWN

At 16 I learned about abortions when a friend called in the early morning hours about how she couldn’t go through with the procedure because of the

tubes tables white washed windows / grime from age wiped over once / legs spread / anxious / eyes crawling up on me / eyes rollin in my thighs /metal horses gnawin my womb /…./get them steel rods outta me/this hurts/this hurts me

and while I sat in Planned Parenthood waiting rooms trying to get birth control so the same didn’t happen to me.

While I can’t go through what all the poems taught me and left a lasting imprint on my life, what I can say is this: Ntozake Shange’s original poem was truly “for colored colored girls.” The ladies in their various colors were meant to symbolize the many colors of the diaspora; the namelessness of the characters (with notable exceptions) to symbolize the universality of the experience. The title suggests that the concepts are aimed at colored girls – aimed at telling colored girls stories, from their point to view. For colored girls can be described as a healing safe space to share their pain, without any shame, without any further infliction of pain. For colored girls was for us, by us, in a language that only our souls could understand.

Yet this movie destroys this concept of being a safe, healing space for colored girls to share their pain without having to consider other people’s pain, to be a mother, sister, friend, without having to take care of others without having to consider others without having to take responsibility without having to be the superwomen that others think is a compliment but that is really killing us with the weight of the burden.

Without “giving away” the movie, in typical Tyler Perry style, he wants colored girls to “take responsibility” for their condition, understand the men in their lives and why they do the things they do, to explain some of the complexity of black relationships. And that’s al well and good. But that’s not what “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow was enuf” was about. Because understanding the complexity of colored girls and their pain is enuf. Its enuf to say that I’m in pain because

i stood by beau in the window/ with naomi reachin
for me/ & kwame screamin mommy mommy from the fifth
story/ but i cd only whisper/ & he dropped em

without having to also “consider” beau’s pain and why as an abused partner and mother she didn’t leave him before. Its enuf to be in pain because I was date raped in my home without also visually suggesting that my clothing was actually suggestive. Its enuf to be in pain because my husband sleeps with men without having to also understand the “plight” of black men on the DL.

Why can’t I have a movie where being and feeling and living as a colored girl in this society is enuf, where I don’t have to consider everyone else’s feelings and being and lifestyle when nobody else is considering my feelings and being and lifestyle?

are we ghouls? / children of horror? /the joke?
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul / are we animals? have we gone crazy?

It’s a good thing that

i found god in myself / & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely

before I saw this movie. Because I feel sad for the multitudes of colored girls who will think this is what “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” is about. For unfortunately, this movie is not “for colored girls.” Its just another way for TP to tell us how fucked up our lives are and how we need to take responsibility for it.

But I’m here to tell you that being a colored girl is enuf.  You don’t need to always consider others. Other people are sometimes screwing with you, and its NOT YOUR FAULT. If you’ve been date raped, ITS NOT YOUR FAULT. If your partner is beating you ITS NOT YOUR FAULT. If your partner is cheating on you, ITS NOT YOUR FAULT.

& this is for colored girls who have considered / suicide/ but are movin to the ends of their own / rainbows

All quotes from Ntozake Shange, (1977). “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf”

What About Your Friends?

I’ve been feeling a little friend-less lately.

My sister-friend and I compared our cellphone’s recent history the other day and realized the only calls we get are from each other.

I have 556 “friends” on Facebook, but when I announced my baby girl’s birthday on my profile page a couple of weeks ago, only six “friends” liked my announcement (3 of them were family) and four different people left a little message.

I participate in twitter, follow 95 people and have 91 followers. But I just tweeted “crying over folks who ain’t crying over me. *deep breath and klonopin*” and got crickets back. I often feel ignored on my timeline. It’s the least satisfying social networking tool ever.

I have friends from friends from high school and college on the East Coast. I go out of my way to keep in touch, to attend special events, to let them know that I care. When they call, and ask, “Are you busy?” Even if I am, I drop it, and attend to what they need. Only one of those friends has come here to visit me in the last three years that I’ve been here in California.

Here, in Palo Alto, I know a lot of people. One group of friends are about 12-20 years older than me, with children slightly older than mine, well-off mothers. Good people, we get together for mass playdates, ladies game nights, movie nights, dinners out and the like. But I don’t know anything about their relationships with their husbands, or what’s going on in their lives that has nothing to do with their kids. They regularly give me advice about my marriage and my childrearing, but not the other way around. It’s like I’m not an equal to them.

I’m having a get together on Saturday, of graduate student women. I’ve invited 31 women that I like, new grad students in the law school, women that I know look up to me. I don’t know what the turn out will be. So far 4 yes, 2 maybe, 1 no.

What about your friends / Will they stand their ground / Will they  let you down again?

What about your friends / Are they gonna be low down / Will they ever be around?

Or will they turn their backs on you?

As a black woman, who suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, I’m currently suffering from a lack of connection. I feel like I’m looking at a bunch of backs. I’m currently having a panic attack because on the one hand, I don’t want people to start calling me off he hook. People don’t want to talk to me about my panic attacks and my anxiety because they don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to say about my physical issues for why I need to go to the urologist. They don’t know how to listen, not solve; how to hear my tears without trying to stop them.

But on the other hand, for my sanity, I need more than pills. I need friends. I need to know that my friends love me, care for me, would care if I wasn’t here anymore, enjoy my company, want to hear what I have to say, think I’m interesting. As black women and mothers, we need each other to be for each other. But right now, my lack of connection with any of those I used to call friends has me questioning whether I even know what a friend is anymore. What about you, dear reader? What about your friends?

*I edited this on Sunday, September 19 because I did not want to potentially hurt someone that could be called a friend.

Beef

Ok. The straw has broken the proverbial camel’s back.

I’ve sat in on one to many conversations with mothers going on and on about their child’s over the top behavior. As has been the case lately, I’m the lone Black mother in the room, conscious that  my words, tone, and facial expressions will probably be misconstrued… Yes, I am all too aware of the Sapphiric machinations that non-Black folk tend to expect from Black women.  One example that comes to mind- I expressed my frustration about another teacher, telling two White colleagues that I needed to go and have a talk with the woman. My male colleague says “Uh-oh, it’s about to be on up in here!”, with what HE intended to be Black girl affectations…

My liberated self (ego) won’t allow me to code switch when in mixed social company. Soooo, when I found myself a part of a recent discussion about parenting with a small group of White women, I couldn’t do anything but be who I am. When asked “what do you think?” about an idea, I gave an answer contrary to what was expected, and dare I say appropriate. Silence followed my response. One woman then offered a “compliment”, “I love that you keep it real. That’s so great!”

Later in the conversation,  another parent described a situation with her daughter, a precocious toddler who I’d say has some serious behavior issues. The mother went on laughing, describing how her “sweetie” doesn’t like her preschool teacher, and made a public announcement. Her “sweetie” doesn’t like to eat vegetables. Her “sweetie” doesn’t take naps because she doesn’t want to. And the piece de resistance: one day her little angel was very angry because she didn’t want to put something away and so when mommy took it, mommy got pimp slapped. Ok, maybe not pimp slapped, but you get the picture: the little girl hit the mommy multiple times, yelling and screaming.   Now up until this point, I held my tongue, and kept my facial composure.  But I couldn’t contain myself, I interjected- something akin to the “need to physically exorcise a demon out of your spawn”.    Dead. Silence.  The women were absolutely MORTIFIED that I would suggest such a thing. They each went on to explain why any sort of physical aggression toward a child was unacceptable.

I couldn’t help but feel alien…I suddenly wished for the community of my Sister friends.  They would understand. None of us are big on spanking our children…I didn’t mean it literally, but I didn’t want to have to explain to these women. They just didn’t get it, the unspoken understanding that certain things are unacceptable. Of course I don’t mean brutalize your child –  but I KNOW that in a circle of my Sisters, there would have been the chorus of “girrrrl” and talk about “breaking them off something” and “oh no! it ain’t goin’ down like that!” – and then laughter, and the…solidarity and understanding…

i know i’m not supposed to talk about this but . . .

it used to be a really hot topic. even without picking up glamour magazines with “sex secrets” and “statistics” women, and in particular i mean my girl’s and I, used to talk about “it.” i’m afraid that because i’m married now (and have been for the last three years) and because i am 30 and because i’m a scholar (and because that means i’m only supposed to write about “Serious” topics), and because i have three kids and the majority of my friends are still single (even though that use to mean that we could talk about it), i may never get this out again . . .

i miss sex. it’s not that i don’t have it anymore but i really do think it’s true what they say about marriage and kids, once you do both, you just don’t do “it” that much anymore. i hate to sound like one of my kids but boooo whoooooo. this is so unlike me.

this won’t be a long one ladies, because somewhere in the rational part of my mind I am well aware that Internet publishing about my personal sex life is probably academic career suicide. However, I really wish I had some answers for how married CocoaMamas get “it” done?

Homegirls Just Aren’t Hand Grenades

I’m a tick . . . tick . . . tick. Boom!!!! kind of person. After a series of repetitive injustices committed against me, I respond in the loudest, most unruly manner imaginable. Often times the person who executed the offense is caught off-guard. I am convinced it is not because they are incapable of evaluating their behavior as malignant, but because they thought they were “getting away with it,” with me.

I often say that I wish I was more like my sister, who assertively checks anyone right at the door when they do something offensive. From the deliberately inattentive “customer service” representative to the occasionally biased Mom-Mom, everyone catches her quiet, controlled critique at the appropriate time, every time!!!

Last year I faced clear (and documented) gender discrimination at my former workplace. A few years before that, I was subjected to it at school. My husband and I “argue like cats and dogs” and the only negative relationship with a woman that I have had in the last eight or nine years is with . . .  you guessed it . . . my mother-in-law. I find myself now, more than ever, grateful that homegirls are not hand grenades.

It took me until college to fully value and integrate, irreplaceably, sisterhood in my life. I have also been blessed with longer female friendships that have grown over the years to be awesome, mutually beneficial, supporting, nonjudgemental relationships. Sometimes I wonder why it is that these unions are run with such ease.

This week I went to lunch with one of  a few “grown and sexy” (50+) sistagals I am fortunate to have. I call her Mommy Nett. I “dated” her son in the seventh grade 🙂 He and I weren’t meant to last but I am so grateful she and I were. Yesterday I had my first spa massage, a belated birthday present courtesy of my BFF who I can thankfully go to to relieve stress, fully assured not to have any undue stress returned on to me.

Are black women the models for sisterhood among other races? Are these “sisterhoods” the model minority or majority?

Tanji is a wife and mother of three. She has two boys and one girl. She lives in Philadelphia, her favorite chocolate city. She is an educator and her first “baby” is now a Howard University graduate and a Cocoa Mama.