Why Melissa Harris-Perry’s Voice Matters

melissa and me.jpeg

Melissa Harris-Perry walked off of her MSNBC show or rather, she chose to keep walking firmly into her destiny.  The rumor mill reports that MSNBC has severed ties with Melissa Harris-Perry. In her letter to her staff, Melissa shares why she left. She wants editorial control. She wants to be an intellectual and political scientist, and she refuses to be a pawn. She wants to reclaim the voice that MSNBC is trying to silence. She’s trying to live with integrity.

Let me tell you where Melissa is. She’s at an impasse. She knows the foolery she’s dealing with and how powerful those in charge are. She is also clear that though MSNBC may hold power, that they will not wield it over her, and that she too has tremendous power. I know that Melissa will come out on top and MSNBC is but one outlet for her voice, but let me share why we should stand with her, wherever she may land, and say to hell with MSNBC.

Melissa represents us – all of us, and that is difficult to accomplish. She is arguably the most intelligent, intersectionally-minded, humanitarian political scientist, academician, and television host there ever was. She deftly removes the “us vs. them” narrative and centers all of us on the “we” and why we matter. She helps us to see each other and ourselves more clearly. She champions the causes of the marginalized and highlights the greatness in us. She’s accessible and not in a fake, campy, “we’re BFF’s” sort of way, but in a “hey girl, let’s just get real for a moment” sort of way. If you have ever watched the MHP show, heard her lecture, been in her classroom, sat at her kitchen table or spoken with her in heated conversations, you know that Melissa genuinely cares and that she sincerely tries to understand the human condition and the politics around it. She embraces her struggles as well as her strengths. She embraces yours, too. She’s that new girl on the block that you want to hate on with her dooky braids and door-knockers, but she helps you earn an “A” in history and shares her Now-n-Laters with you. She’s that mama figure who loves you fiercely, shows you your best self and advocates for you relentlessly, but will lovingly check you when you’re in the wrong. She’s that sister friend who listens to you, keeps your secrets, understands that you’re human, cries with you, and fights with you. She’s that public intellectual who makes you wish that you read much, much more and who inspires you to step your game up. (She’s really not trying to be smarter or better than you – she just is, sometimes, but she’s too humble to say it.) She’s that B-Girl who knows the game, can get grimy when she needs to and ain’t afraid to pull out the proverbial Vaseline when it’s time to kick ass and take names.

Well, MSNBC, you’re next in line on the ass-kicking list. And all of us nerds are right beside her, battling with books, theorems, Giovanni poems, Kendrick Lamar CDs, and insurmountable blows of love. We ride with Melissa because she rides with us. She bravely gives us voice, shares her platform and reminds us that we, too, are important – that we, too, are America – despite the news cycle or election season or recent killing or water crisis or the power plays orchestrated in dark corners of MSNBC boardrooms. Melissa, like the titans before her, empowers us to transcend it all.

So, we will help Melissa Harris-Perry to fight this fight (as well as all of the other political front lines we’re needed on) by sending her love,  and by writing, praying, politickin’, baking pies, and anything else that heals the spirit.  We will stand together, possibly in Type “A” formation. And as a strong, proud unit, we will boldly sashay away in the spirit of Nina Simone because we know that love is no longer being served.  We know that fighting for the self sometimes means knowing when to walk away. We will find new outlets for our stories, our voices, and our humanity. We will share our gifts widely, knowing when a room has gotten too small because there are no bounds except the ones we place upon ourselves. And as we venture, hand-in-hand into our collective destiny, we will allow Kendrick to remind us, we gon’ be alright. Melissa, girl, you will be just fine, and we’ll be right here with you. We love you and we thank you. #IstandwithMelissa #WhyMelissasVoiceMatters #mysisterskeeper #nerdlandfam #byeMSNBC

Black History Beyond February

I wrote a recent piece for Jet Magazine on the importance of going beyond Black History Month when developing culturally competent curricula about the experiences, history and perspectives of Black people. Enjoy!

An Unanticipated Vagina Monologue

Last night I went out to see a friend’s band at a BBQ joint in Pilsen. I expected to chill with my homegirl and laugh the night away as we always do. I expected to sneak and eat some brisket though I swear I’m vegetarian. I expected to see and connect with a few work friends. It all happened. Kinda. There was laughing, brisket and colleagues, but there were a couple of other things, too. Insert: The obnoxious guy who couldn’t stop making comments about my looks. “She reminds me of the movie Purple Rain and I keep thinking of Lake Minnetonka” or “Look at Janet [Jackson] over there.” I ignored it. I’m used to those who don’t know me (and the history of this thing called fierce) feasting upon my artistic swag. It’s nothing.

It became something at the end of the night, however. The band, Groove Witness, was in full flow, jamming. We wanted to stay and listen more, but it was hours past my ten o’clock bedtime and my homie had church in the morning. So, we got up and said our goodbyes to the new and old friends. I doled out hugs, as I usually do, but when I got to the guy who’d been making asinine comments half of the night, he hugged me by placing his hand under my coat and grabbing my ass, whispering some drunken babble like, “If only you didn’t have a husband.” My instinct kicked in and I grabbed, well, pinched the shit out of his hand, smile still plastered on my face whispering “get yo hands off me.” He then slapped me on the back as if we were both drunken old chums and quickly walked off. I said the rest of my goodbyes, while others were none the wiser about the quick exchange.

I told my girl immediately and she and I rolled our eyes and cussed fervently about “brown girl fantasies” and the fetishizing of our bodies by others. We soon parted in separate cars and I went home, fuming. I am usually asleep by ten. I got home by midnight. I couldn’t sleep until two-ish, then woke up at 7:34 in the morning, still incensed. Did this motherfucker really touch me? Did this motherfucker violate my precious body? Did this motherfucker lose his mind? All the yeses. He did. No one has touched me since I beat down a punk in college for doing the same. Clearly, he doesn’t know that he got the wrong one and that he missed a thrashing because I had my work face on. I was taught by my mama long ago that my body is mine. I have all the rights to it and I relinquish that power to no one. The irony is that I had just had “the talk” with my thirteen year old daughter earlier that day about her right to her body and her right to say “no.” A further irony is that I direct The Vagina Monologues in five days and the whole show is about ending violence against women. Here I am trying to empower the women around me and create loud, safe, beautiful spaces for our voices and a fool steps up to try and disempower me. Welp. That’s not how it will go down. Ever.

Do not let my work smile fool you. I give zeros fucks about calling you out. I will not be silent. I will not be your victim. Never touch my ass or any other part of my body again. I am furious and there will be consequences. You do not have a right to subject me nor any other person to your harassment and it is indeed sexual harassment. As a professor (or former one) at such an esteemed institution, I would have thought you knew better, were better. Alcohol is no excuse for your depraved behavior. You are grown. You should know better and if you don’t, you will very soon.

Now let me go somewhere and process this shit some more and calm myself and my husband down.

Angry Vaginas Unite. One.

Plug Tunin'

weeping willow

I’ve been avoiding social media lately. I think it’s because I’m traumatized, tired and on the edge. Most of my friends and associates are activists, creatives, scholars, educators, writers, healers, lovers, and don’t-take-no-shitters. Overall, they are beautifully urbane people. Therefore, I am inundated with information – news highlights, the latest political, racial, gender-based or academic struggles, demoralizing data about how things haven’t changed for the better or have gotten worse, yet another senseless murder, and other mind-numbing topics. And it’s overwhelming me. For real. I am emotionally, psychically/spiritually, and intellectually drained. I’m at a precipice, a tipping point and I’m afraid of falling into an abyss of eternal rage, despair, hopelessness, ennui, and cynicism. That’s not my nature. Though clearly a therd (a thug nerd), I much prefer to reside in the goofy, gregarious, whimsical Pharrell-land of happy. I like to sit under weeping willows and blow dandelions while making excitable wishes. I enjoy digging my toes in the sand while the waves lap over my lower extremities as I hum Big Sean’s “Blessings.” I love hanging with friends and family and laughing my head off, and thinking that we should all get paid for our comedic genius. I prefer to be proud of the country I live in while claiming that there is no other place I’d rather be (except Bali).

However, that’s just not how the current state of America (and the world) makes me feel right now. I mourn for us. I really do. I’m ashamed about how we treat each other. I’m mortified by the ignorance of so many (which is why it persists). My spirit is low, y’all. Really low. I want to feel less stressed about the consistent intraracial and external attacks on black and brown and female and LGBTQ and poor and non-Christian bodies. I want it all to stop. Or at least, I want to be able to tune out long enough to preserve the self, myself. However, it’s hard because I see where mass ignorance and ignoring the issues have gotten us. Here. And it’s egregious. That’s why the me that I know is waning (though I hope it’s temporary).

My favorite English word has been temperance. For me, that word is about restraint, striking a balance, and existing in moderation. It’s some Kipling shit about loving all men but none too much. It’s some ancient Buddhist wisdom about seeing yourself in all that is and not getting too attached to any of it. It’s understanding the delicate balance between the spirit of Shango and Yemaya, carrying both in my womb, not allowing one to cancel the other out.

These days, there’s more of the relentless warrior in me. On fire. Ablaze with fury and embattled. Unintentionally, I’ve imbibed the despondency that surrounds me, the taste rancid in my throat. All I see is destruction, malice and death. All I hear is sadness. The names. The many, many names – day in and out – who have been killed. The death is killing me. The inequality is killing me. The hate is killing me.

Instead, I want to write about happy things. I want to repost happy things. Jokes. Cute kittens. The successes of others. People dancing their butts off. Silly memes. But I’ve lost the balance. I’m so entrenched in the misery that I don’t want to look at my own blog or FB page. It reflects what I see and hear, what I feel and where I am – and I deplore how it looks and worse, how it feels to be so hyper aware of all of the drudgery and fuckery of life. I hate my role as documentarian, as speaker of truth, as witness. I want to be free to be frivolous. Instead, I feel like a nikki giovanni poem.

For Saundra i wanted to write/ a poem/ that rhymes/ but revolution doesn’t lend itself/ to be-bopping/ then my neighbor/ who thinks i hate/ asked – do you ever write/ tree poems – i like trees/ so i thought/ i’ll write a beautiful green tree poem/ peeked from my window/ to check the image/ noticed that the school yard was covered/ with asphalt/ no green – no trees grow/ in manhattan/ then, well, i thought the sky/ i’ll do a big blue sky poem/ but all the clouds have winged/ low since no-Dick was elected/ so i thought again/ and it occurred to me/ maybe i shouldn’t write/ at all/ but clean my gun/ and check my kerosene supply/ perhaps these are not poetic/ times/ at all

Sweet sage nikki, I don’t want this current reality. As Gangstarr asks, “Who’s going to handle the whole weight?” Not me. I can’t do it. I can’t take on the world. I can’t give my all to something that doesn’t give any goodness back. I’m a revolutionary of love, nikki. But I don’t know if that’s enough anymore. All I know is that the weight is heavy in my heart, heavier than it’s ever been. Like one of George C. Wolfe’s characters said in “Symbiosis,” “It’s much too much. I must be able to smile on cue. And watch the news with an impersonal eye. I have no stake in the madness. Being black is too emotionally taxing; I will be black only on weekends and holidays.” It’s sad that something meant to get a laugh rings so true – then and now. Being black is emotionally taxing. Or better yet, the response to blackness, to otherness, is emotionally taxing and I’m choosing to bow out. No, I’m not pulling a Rachel and leaving my race (or my gender), but I am choosing temperance while being unapologetically black and female.

I have to pull back, plug out or retune and realize that this is a new day, but it’s the same shit. None of it is new. Humans have been destroying other humans since the beginning of time. Different context, same malaise. Humans have also been helping and loving each other since the beginning. Different context, same hearts. I can’t get caught in this either-or fallacy. I have to find the AND. And as there is hate, there is love. And as there is death, there is life. And as there is ignorance, there is brilliance. I won’t be ignorant to the issues and the daily horrors and I will continue to fight various oppressions, but I will try harder not to allow them to control my emotions, my tongue, and my spirit because that is a very dangerous place to be. And it’s counter to everything I claim to be about and everything I want for this precious life and world. Yes, I’m angry, but I still have love, hope and joy through the pain. And God willing, I will live to see brighter, more enlightened days for humanity. Ashe.

Plugged, but only so much, Tina

#iamSandraBland

#findthebalance

Ramadan Days 8 & 9: Allah, Why Didn't You Protect Me?

Achingly sad, yet brilliant ponderings by Serena Lin during Ramadan.

Drunken Whispers

When somebody commits an act of violence

upon your person

enter yourself to find it gone

what has been taken

you may find it is your health

you may find it is your soul

but do not give up unto

some other person

what it is that gives you hope

*

Between 6:30-7pm, 6/24/15

I was walking with my girlfriend Penny in the very crowded Northwest corner of Union Square, near the farmer’s market. We were discussing two things: a recipe to fry catfish and the over a dozen men within three blocks that had been harassing her on the street. One had even grabbed her arm earlier.  “This is not a good day for men,” she said. I was fasting and hungry. A man came toward me, walking quickly. He made eye contact with me. He was enraged, filled with hate. “Faggot!” he yelled at me as he slammed into…

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