Random Thoughts on Love’s Revolutionary Power

It’s been several weeks since my last post. Unlike some bloggers, I don’t post everyday or every week. I post when I am inspired; when I feel that I have something of value to say.

Lately, I have been thinking, which always trumps writing. My greatest thoughts these days are about the revolutionary and unpredictable power of love. Today, I had a conversation that reminded me of one of my most compelling experiences with love. If you have followed my writing for the last year, then you might know that I wrote a blog about that love. The name of the blog was “Ditch the Bible and Journey to Love.” It is not posted on my site at this time, because that particular blog is included in a manuscript, a book of my first year’s blogs, that will, hopefully, be packaged and submitted for publication soon. In the meantime, I just wanted to post and say that I am still here and I am still thinking that there is nothing more revolutionary than to love in a loveless world. Nothing. Today, I am convinced, more than ever before, that it is the powerful, erotic nature of love (as in Audre Lorde) that has given me the courage and the ability to be who I am to date. Of course, who I am in another twenty-five years may be different. I hope that is the case.

Several months ago, I was sitting in a cafe as I often do, for the most part, on a daily basis. Looking up I happened to observe a family reconnecting; it looked as if mom had come home from a trip. Dad was there with two beautiful children, the spitting image of the two of them. Their laughter and joy of being together guided the actions of that family in that moment. This was the poem that I wrote on that day. I hope that you enjoy it knowing, feeling the revolutionary power of love.

******

At my favorite cafe
I look up and see a family sharing a meal
Daughter climbs her mother like a mountain, lovingly touching the contours of her body, unafraid,
[And with no hesitation].
Reaching the top, she kisses her mother gently on the nose,
Then giggles.

Sublime.

What are the [most enduring] memories of love?

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Twenty-Five Years Later: On Being the First Miss Clark Atlanta and the Power of Change

N/B: I delivered this blog as a speech at a pep rally at Clark Atlanta University on Friday, March 21, 2014. Please note that I have made some modifications for clarification and corrections relative to syntax and content, and the last three paragraphs were not spoken at that event due to time constraints.

***

There’s nothing magical about being the first Miss Clark Atlanta University. From time to time, I receive calls from the Alumni Director at Clark Atlanta about attending an event or Miss Clark Atlanta University (Miss CAU) artifacts; most recently she called about my dress and my sash. Twenty-five years ago, my dress was made by an Atlanta clothing designer named Hollis who permitted me to model his clothes. I believe that I returned my dress to him after the coronation. And, if I recall correctly, my sash was quite homemade. The letters on the sash were enhanced if not made with glue and glitter; over the years the glitter fell away and the sash, unfortunately, lost its glitter and glam. What I experienced as the first Miss Clark Atlanta University was probably not the same as what today’s Miss Clark Atlanta and her court have experienced. My campaign for the homecoming queen was supported by many, including my sorority sisters, our official fraternity brothers, and many others who empowered me to be the first Miss CAU. In light of these calls, I remembered that my dress and the accessories that went along with it were not sponsored or maintained by the university. Back then, we had a lot of room to present ourselves as we really wanted to, which is not to say that the current Miss CAU or other Miss CAUs have not had such latitude, but, my sense is that being Miss CAU is much more structured today than it was back then.

Much of life and life’s accomplishments are about timing and being in the right place at the right time. Succeeding in life is not a mystery and it is not magic. There is no need to spiritualize or mystify our experiences here on earth. We are who we are because of human effort and action (and that includes our inaction or what we do not do on behalf of others and the environment). As far as African-American or black culture is concerned, there have been many “firsts,” but some of the firsts among us consciously gave their all and risked nearly everything in the process. There was Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Lorraine Hansberry, Thurgood Marshall, Patricia Roberts Harris, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, Shirley Chisholm, Alice Walker, bell hooks and many others who were first among us to blaze a trail in this nation. On other hand, being first, perhaps like being “the first” in your family to attend college, is not necessarily synonymous with progress, success or risk-taking. One can be “the first” in the family to go to college, but that does not mean that one will graduate or go on to do great, unimaginable things. And, being black, first and in a visible position does not necessarily mean that what one is doing will be of benefit to black people and to people in general, let’s take United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for example. Whose interests does he support from the bench? Which institutions make progress because of his being there? Is Justice Thomas really that conscious about what he is doing? I don’t think so. Every person who achieves something in life does not operate with a critical (and thus historical) consciousness.

Likewise, it was not until years later, after I had graduated from Clark Atlanta University and as I was well into my adult life that I gained a critical consciousness of what it meant for me to be the first Miss Clark Atlanta. Maybe it took me awhile because I was not the first person in my family to go to college. By the time I went away to college, both of my parents had college degrees and they were gainfully employed in a way that my family did not suffer for much of anything (up until a point). Not all black people lived or live in “the hood.” And, contrary to popular belief, there is a portion of the African-American population in the U.S. that has toiled and gained a comfortable middle-class existence since the early to mid-twentieth century. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, I honor and respect the sacrifices that my parents made so that I could have a different upbringing than they. That I have more options today than they did does not mean that I am better or better off than they were, but it does suggest or indicate that I perceive and know life from a different historical point of view or standpoint. Whatever the reason, twenty-five years ago I did not think that being the first Miss Clark Atlanta, and being chosen by my peers to be in that position would mean that much down the line. I did not realize that I was making history. On the one hand, I took the opportunity seriously, but I did not have a critical understanding (the kind of critical understanding that the Rev. Dr. Mark Tyler talked about in yesterday’s Convocation) of the meaning that my being Miss CAU would have to me and to others twenty-five years later, a quarter of a century later. Back then, I had much more learning and growing to do.

A quarter of a century from now I might be dead, but you, where will you be in a quarter of a century? Who will you be in a quarter of a century? These are the questions that you will be faced with in the very near future, and if you have not taken the time to wrestle with these questions now, then I guarantee you that you WILL be asking yourself these questions in the years to come. Soon, you will be asking yourself, Who am I? What is my mission? What passions will I live out on the stage that is life? And indeed, there will be some event, some idea, some circumstance, like perhaps being a homecoming queen, or the first in your family to earn a graduate degree, or a professional basketball player, or a well-respected scientist, or a world-renowned poet, or the president of your class, or a university president, or a conscious observer and participant of life…there will be some position in life that causes you or prompts you to wrestle with your identity and your purpose in life. Hopefully, you will settle these questions for yourself before you don’t have the opportunity to ask them any longer in the world that we know.

What I have learned or gleaned about being Miss CAU over the years is this:

First, most of the time we do not know when we are making history or charting new ground as it is happening or in progress. Being a trailblazer or a pioneer or a history-maker is often something that we come to realize after-the-fact. Twenty-five years ago, I did not think that being the first Miss CAU would mean much to anybody besides me and my classmates. Today, I know much more about myself and my identity as a black woman committed to freedom and I am committed to fighting for freedom and for standing up for myself and for others which I often do via my writing and public speaking. Being Miss CAU, where I was called up on to represent myself and others, and, speaking up for myself and others had something to do with shaping that understanding.

The second thing that I have learned is that often the people we are to become isn’t readily apparent until we have been through some things, including the difficult times in life. More times than not, it is not until we experience a major change like unemployment, or the birth of a baby, or the experience of a love (bad, good or ugly), or a mid-life crisis, a car repossession, a job promotion, or chronic illness, or something that happens to to us to give us a brand new start in life that we learn, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that “joy and pain” like “sunshine and rain” are normal parts of life.

My greatest, most memorable moments in life are grounded in this dialectic; in this back-and-forth movement between the good, the bad and the ugly. These are the ups and downs of life and I have learned, really learned, from them to love first myself and then others because of this dialectic. This grappling, better yet, my internal conversation with the realities in life is what brings me to an understanding of who I am at the end of each and every day. And because of these experiences, I have a better understanding of where I am going, where I want to go and most of all, I know how I want to get there. At some point in all of this movement, I came to the embrace of my own rhythm, and that is how I try to live my life: to the beat of my own drum.

And this is something that I hope that you will find: your own rhythm. You may not find it here at Clark Atlanta, but as you make your way through life, through the ebb-and-flow of life, I hope that you will take it upon yourself to discern the way that you must take and the tools that you will need to get there. Having a good set of tools, social skills and critical thinking will make your journey rich and deep and full of many options, possibilities, and new horizons that I may never see. What I am saying is that I hope that your options will be greater than mine. But, much of what you experience in terms of options will be determined by the work that my generation and your generation endeavor to do in the name of freedom, because where there are fewer freedoms, there are fewer options. And thus, to experience greater freedom and to perceive of greater options in life, I must and you must commit yourselves to fighting, yes, fighting for freedom because believe it or not, there are and there will be persons, institutions and philosophies that have the power to limit and perhaps take away your freedom.

Twenty-five years ago I could not have imagined the woman than I have become. I could not have imagined how important my life and journey would be to me and to others, not simply as a college homecoming queen, but as a symbol of success and a freedom-fighter not just for women, but for all people. Twenty-five years ago, I thought I would end up as an attorney, but when I arrived at law school all of that changed. My life went in an entirely different direction, but as a result of listening to myself and living the life that I wanted to live, in spite of the plans that others had for me, including my parents. And, despite my naivete in achieving my new-found dreams and goals apart from law school, I went on from that point one day and one degree at a time towards being a greater, better me and on to blazing a trail that only I could blaze.

Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t have the confidence in myself to think as I think today, but I do today and that confidence is felt as power, a power that I never dreamed of having. And thus, I leave you with a quote from one my favorite trailblazers, a symbol of success for me who was one of the first black women to chip away at the exclusive hold that whites held over science fiction. Her name is Octavia Butler and she died suddenly in 2006 (which is why I say I may not be here in 25 years; we don’t know the day or the hour, right?). Something Ms. Butler wrote in her acclaimed books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of Talents, via the story of a woman character she named Lauren Olamina touched me deeply at a time when I needed it most, and because of reading Octavia Butler’s novels I realized that we should never underestimate the power of the pen. It is one of the most powerful weapons within our reach and one that many black people have used consistently all over this world to fight oppression in the name of freedom. Along with Butler’s insightful imagination, her character Lauren Olamina said this:

All that you touch you change
All that you change changes you
The only lasting truth is change
God is change.

Today, in closing, I want to say to you, keep on striving and struggling for your freedom. First you must struggle for your personal freedom, then for the freedom of others for as Nelson Mandela once said, “Together we are strong.” And more than anything, never, ever underestimate the power that is within you, which is the power to change and therefore the power to change reality, including the reality for yourself and others, because, in the words of the great Octavia Butler, one of the most prolific change-agents of the late twentieth century, who ushered me into the twenty-first, “Change is the only lasting truth.”

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

New Documentary: “A Path Less Taken: From Ministry to Non-Belief and Beyond”

Last year, I had the opportunity to be included in the development of a thought-provoking video documentary about ex-clergy who are now self-avowed atheists. This documentary, A Path Less Taken: From Ministry to Non-Belief and Beyond, is currently being sold on amazon.com, and it was produced and edited by Dr. Jim Lawrence. If you are interested in actually seeing me talk about my journey to disbelief, then this is a great way to do that. Three others were included in this documentary: Calvin King, Teresa MacBain, and Rich Lyons. Upon receipt of my copy, I personally enjoyed watching each of these ex-ministers elaborate on the thinking and events that brought them, like me, to the point of ending a career as an ordained minister and moving beyond to life that is not guided or dependent upon the belief in a god. Please support this effort. Believer or non-believer, I am confident that you will find the narratives in this video quite compelling and worth the time!

What’s Your Sign? Thoughts on Astrology, Sexual Compatibility and First Impressions

A couple of weeks ago, I went out for a dinner with some old friends (actually, they were my sorority sisters – or for those who really understand black Greek-letter organizations, I went out with about five of my nineteen line sisters). After dinner, I was not ready to call it a night, so I headed over to a familiar cigar bar for a smoke and for a drink. I had a seat at the bar, ordered a glass of wine, and within a few minutes a rather handsome man, handsome in my estimation that is, caught my eye. Eventually, we spoke and that led to more conversation with him and one of his friends who was visiting from out of town.

As I enjoyed their company, my glass of wine and later a cigar, in that order, the rather handsome man asked me, “What’s your sign?” On the one hand, I was not offended by it. I don’t take everything about astrology to be all bad, and to be quite frank, it was astrology that gave birth, so to speak, to astronomy. About a year ago I learned that many atheists have major problems with the mere mention of astrology. I learned that after writing a blog where I mentioned astrology and the backlash against anything positive or noteworthy about astrology was pretty harsh. I was a little troubled by the negative reaction that was displayed; it was what I would characterize as very dismissive and hateful toward astrology and anyone who spoke well of it. But in some respects it did not catch me totally off-guard.

Many atheists, at least the ones that regularly participate in online atheist forums, are white. Given the history of European peoples to discredit and dismiss the practices of non-white indigenous peoples, I was not that shocked with the knee-jerk responses to astrology which informed the development of astronomy as a scientific field. Grant it, I’m not at all supporting the efforts of tricksters and charlatans that co-opted legitimate and systematic practices of astrology or other forms of star-gazing for their personal gain (and that by exploiting many people), but, as a front-runner to astronomy, I am and always have been fascinated with the study of the stars and what we have learned about ourselves and our existence here on planet earth through that study. And, the fact that the earth itself originated from a former star leaves me with lots of questions about the energy or influence that stars have upon the earth and all its inhabitants, especially human beings.

On the other hand, if astrology is what someone uses to predict the success of a relationship with someone else, or if it is used to predict the success of one’s day-to-day feelings or of one’s life in general, then I am quite leery. In fact, such notions make me nervous. I trust that most people reading this blog have seen the failure of a relationship or two, and thus they know that it was not the stars or the position of the stars that ended those former relationships, rather it was the inability of two people to stay together, for one reason or another, that caused the dissolution of those relationships. Indeed, I am grateful for all of the relationships that I have encountered in my forty plus years of life. The good, the bad, and the ugly have all gone into making me who I am today.

Having said that, at the bar that night, I was hoping for much more than a conversation about “my sign,” or the position of the stars on the day that I was born. I was hoping for an interesting conversation in general, perhaps one about current events, or things happening in my life or his life. Frankly, I was hoping for an intriguing discussion about something of interest to this guy, something beside his thoughts on how astrologically and thus sexually compatible he thought we were on the basis of the twelve astrological constellations. We did touch on some other things, but he kept coming back to the matter of “our signs.” I took that to mean that he did not really have much else to say, so he expressed himself with what I suppose was most easy and familiar to him: “what’s your sign?” Boring.

I thought to myself, wow, is this all that he can say? In all that he had lived through, we had lived through, he could not find more to talk about, obsess about, than what the stars allegedly had to say about our sexual compatibility? Dayum. Another one. Unfortunately, there are many men like this, who will use just about anything, the stars included, as a means to barter for sex. Some use dinner, some use stars. I find it to be quite cheap, desperate, and a low blow to their own integrity and desires. In fact, I have much more respect for a man who comes right out and says, “I am so sexually attracted to you that eventually, maybe tonight, I would like to experience sex with you,” than I do with a man who goes down the block and around the corner with enticing but speculative narratives and stories. Such a statement doesn’t mean that I would oblige him, but I can at least respect the honesty because the latter, the elusive type of guy does not seem to display much confidence in himself. And, why on earth would I or should I want to have sex with a man who lacks confidence in himself? You tell me.

Years ago, my mother asked me, “How do you know so soon after meeting a man that you are not interested in him?” She wondered this because she marveled at how little time it took me to figure out if I wanted to be with a man or not. Even when I was in high school I was pretty scrutinizing when it came to male companionship. I found adolescent boys who engaged in hissing and cat-calls to get my attention to be quite childish and silly. Actually, I found that kind of communication offensive. Instead, I was always attracted to the guys who told me directly what they were thinking; usually, it was the older guys who did this (the ones who were old enough to be in college – though often they were not for various reasons – usually because they were more interested in working and making money). So, looking back, I guess I could say that I would not allow myself to get that deep, no pun intended, with a guy who did not really appeal to me (it was not until much later in life that I started acquiescing and taking bigger chances in this regard.)

The men who did not think and think well fell into that category (the “I don’t really have anything of value to say” category). And, it is sad to say, but percentage-wise this is a very BIG category today (based on what I know about dating men as a single woman). Every man is not equal when it comes to thinking. Every man is not operating with the same skill–set and cognitive abilities. Some are deficient, and then some are better, highly skilled at thinking and thus at being present to themselves and others. Put another way, some men (and women for that matter) are still thinking at a high-school level, even though they are in their forties, fifties, and beyond. So, though it may take me a minute to let go of the ones that I am really into, and the ones that I am sexually attracted to, I leave non-thinking and thinking-deficient men in the dust every time. And I make no apologies for that. Nor do I feel the need to explain something to someone who probably would not understand or agree with what I would be explaining anyway. There are certain situations when I don’t necessarily seek out understanding or agreement to make up my mind about whether to keep a man in my life (i.e., when a man is not thinking, being dishonest or misrepresenting himself or his situation).

Thinking does it for me. In life, work, love and even in the act of sex, I am most fulfilled with those who share common values and a thirst for knowledge. Men who have not taken the time to increase their knowledge about many subjects; such as politics, philosophy, history, social phenomena (racism, sexism, heterosexism), jazz and thus leisure activities, etc., and those who seem to have no real thinking behind the things they do or believe in on a daily basis don’t do it for me. Sometimes I give men who don’t seem to think the benefit of the doubt, but I eventually rule them out (better yet, they eventually rule themselves out of my life). The same is true for my relationships with women and work. My inner circle of friends and confidantes consists of people who think freely for themselves and who make decisions in life based on solid, rational grounds that are supported by evidence for what we know to be true and for what may reasonably have been true. Referencing astrological configurations as if they are reasonable bases for sexual compatibility, love, or intimacy, as if the stars and the atmosphere are like giant crystal balls at our daily disposal are not frameworks that I use or need to determine success, especially when it comes to my physical or emotional well-being.

Whether at work, play, in love or as a part of sex, a conversation about one’s personal sign is a mere conversation piece to me; it is not an invitation to something serious (and for those who know me, they know that I am, very much so, a very serious person when it comes to love and justice). And, while I like science, as fascinated as I am with the possibility of potential relationships between the stars, this planet and all its inhabitants, the men who catch my attention, the ones who make the best and most lasting impressions, are those who have the ability to talk about much more than the position and the power of the stars. They are the ones who are able to show me who they really are without shame and on the first impression.

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Enough Already! When Being Mary Jane is Not Necessarily Being Human

Yes, the television character Mary Jane is human, but when will the humanity of black women that is on public display be something other than…

the sapphire
the hot mamma
the whore
the addict (drug or emotional)
the side–chick
the baby mamma
the hot mess
the gladiator
the foxy mamma
the mistress
the mammy
the castrating diva
the welfare queen
the sex object
the sex slave
the quintessential social eff-up

Do you get my drift?

We have ALWAYS been human, but we, black women, have been disproportionately imagined and characterized as deviant and incapable. Maybe this is the only story that many know to tell, that being black, woman and human is synonymous with being consistently in error and in problematic relationships and situations that do not serve our best interests?

Perhaps some can only imagine the humanity of the black woman as inherently unable to be competent in her affairs? Yet this is not necessarily what it means to be human. So why must black women covet or wear this mantle? To be human is not to be in constant or perpetual error or turmoil, though we all err as human beings. To err is not the essential or exclusive characteristic that makes us human.

Enough already.

We are black,
woman,
good,
capable,
loving,
conscientious,
balanced,
aware,
prepared
and not repeatedly fooled by foolishness.

Some of us have learned, and we are yet learning that to be true to self, first, is to be free, evolving and human, hence, casting away behaviors and mistakes of the past. And, in learning we realize that we cannot afford to go back to where we used to be with adult others who did not love us, nor are we returning to so-called partners, lovers or institutions who do not know how to adequately express and love themselves. We are moving forward, not backward, which means that there are times when we must leave loved ones and ones we once loved to themselves. We deserve to be with trustworthy and mutual partners.

Enough already, especially when we are in control of the narratives. Some of us are not mesmerized by this corporate-sponsored celebrity double–speak that reinforces the systemic attack on the character and contributions of black women, reducing us primarily to the realm of so-called black erotic fantasy, when in actuality we are seen and being seen (even in blackface) from the pervasiveness of a capitalistic, white, patriarchal pornographic gaze (as defined by Audre Lorde). Some of us can see past the game that is being played, at our expense. But, obviously, some of us cannot. Some of us will not, because, perhaps, they want to believe that Hollywood has been liberated of racism, heterosexism and sexism. When did this happen? When was the black woman not portrayed on television or on the silver screen from these perspectives to any significant extent (barring independent media)?

Enough already.

Where are the recurring prime-time series and Hollywood images of the black woman as…

the teacher
the poet
the righteous warrior
the loving wife
the conscientious and capable lover
the unforgettable professor
the community leader
the world-changer (no relation to the preacher–hustler)
the artist
the scientist
the astronaut
the Olympian
the nurturing mother
the body-builder
the truth–teller
the community developer
the justified trouble-maker
the writer
the mind-changer
the movement-maker…

Do you get my drift? Aren’t you tired of the reinvention of this so-called “human” story of the black woman?

Haven’t we heard it enough, already?

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Random Thoughts: On Power, Privilege and Living Life at the Margins

If I am a heterosexual and I live in a world that privileges heterosexuality and all the ideas, narratives and practices that go along with being attracted to the opposite sex, what does that mean for me? Similarly, if I am white and I live in a world that privileges whiteness and all the ideas, narratives and practices that go along with being white, how am I compelled to think and act in the world? If I am male and I live in a world that privileges maleness and all the ideas, narratives and practices that go along with being masculine as defined by the powers that be, what position might I hold in the world by virtue of that maleness? And, if I am a believer and I live in a world that privileges belief and all the ideas, narratives and practices that go along with being a believer, how might I perceive the world, its origins and the many phenomena that we, as humans, may or may not be able to explain – at the moment?

There was a time when I did not want to believe that I was heterosexist. I wanted to believe that I was not influenced or privileged by the prescribed centrality and power of heterosexuality. I didn’t want to believe it because 1) I did not have to question myself or my privileges as a heterosexual woman, and 2) as an African-American woman I didn’t understand myself as privileged or oppressive in any way. I understood myself from the standpoint of the victim, victimized by generations and centuries of white hate and fear of the black body and mind.

As I learned to love others, encounter others, who were not like me, I realized that I too had assumed and accepted a position of self-prescribed power and privilege, and thus, I had to dismantle or demystify what it meant for me to be heterosexual according to society, or I would be a hypocrite. Dismantling my privilege as a heterosexual woman took me to the margins, away from the center of so-called reality, and to a space where I was and I am constantly questioned (about my sexuality) by those who remain at the center, those who defend it, and by those who desire to occupy it to gain the material benefits that are afforded to those in the center (something that DuBois, for example, called “the psychological wage of whiteness”). Nevertheless, divesting myself of the power and privileges assigned to heterosexuals is something that I am willing to do for the rest of my life or for as long as I identify as a heterosexual woman in a world that places being heterosexual at the center of sexual expression.

Of course, it will be assumed that I am therefore NOT a heterosexual. Those at the center of sexual expression, which is held together by other narratives of dominance and social control, i.e., white supremacy, and those who will do anything to be included in this center, often employ faulty assumptions and overgeneralizations to elevate their identities and self-interests. But, if I desire and endeavor to change in this world – starting with the one that I live in – then this is the work that I must do as I also stand with those who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, inquiring, etc., and consequently in opposition to those who secure their places at the center and at the expense of those who differ or who challenge overt and covert expressions of power and privilege that give shape and meaning to the center. This does not mean that I agree or condone everything articulated by those marginalized by those at the center, but I stand for the humanitarian principle of freedom – for the freedom to be. And I stand at the risk of being misunderstood and mischaracterized by those who occupy the center often without any question whatsoever as to the logic or rationality of their values and identities (because the center is not a place where questions are really allowed or entertained). I cannot in good conscience ask white people or men to divest themselves of whiteness and masculinity, and the power and privileges that go along with these socially constructed identities, and not be willing to do the same with heterosexuality. I am honored to be at the margins, and accepting the risks that go along with being in solidarity with others is a part of the process (though the risks are not something that I wish to exploit – for accolades – in and of themselves).

I offer this to those who claim to want justice and freedom. I say this, in particular, following the trial of Michael Dunn, who shot and killed Jordan Davis over an argument about loud music and thus the idea of expression and who controls how and where we express ourselves. If you want to do justice, if you want to know freedom and if you want others to know freedom, first free yourself from the system of ideas, narratives and practices that keeps you, whether intentional or not, at the center of social reality, which of course is totally constructed by those with the means to do so. Then, once you’ve done a little work on yourself, when you no longer know or situate yourself at the center of “the universe” so to speak, then come to the margins, where justice is and always has been unfolding.

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Love, American Style: Valentine’s Day and the Commercialization of Happy

Every two or three months there is a “holiday.” These are special days that are nationalized or christened by the government whereby the public is encouraged to go out and spend money, en masse. Whether it be Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, Americans and those living in these 50 states and I suppose those in American territories, are encouraged to do something that almost always necessitates the spending of money (hence the “political economy” of U.S. holidays).

Of course, every now and then, there is nothing wrong with spending money or offering a kind gesture to acknowledge someone you know and care about. However, Americans tend to take these special days to the extreme. Valentine’s Day, for example, is packaged and marketed for lovers and the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” roll freely from the lips of perfect strangers. Notions of being “happy,” “loving,” “in love,” or headed “towards love” are promoted quite indiscriminately. Nevermind the fact that we live in one of the most violent if not THE most violent nation on the PLANET, especially when it comes to gun violence. What nerve we have to promote the idea of love with a special day called Valentine’s Day, which is named for a Greco-Roman festival that made sport of violence against women!

Those who know me personally and via social media know how I feel about love. The experience and the feeling of love are topics that I often feature and discuss. To love (whether social or individual) is one of the most revolutionary things one can do in a violent or loveless society. And, it is something that we ALL can do. Love, however, is not limited to the expression of positive acceptance or approval, sometimes we love self and others by setting clear boundaries, detaching, or by resisting the abuse of power or position. I have learned from life and from black feminist bell hooks that to love is to do justice; it is to be and act in a manner that is equitable and fair. And I assume that most mature adults know from experience that achieving or articulating fairness, equity, or even justice is not always comfortable or pleasant, especially in personal relationships – because it is there that we learn about ourselves most acutely. There is a cost and sometimes a sacrifice associated with love, and, there is a responsibility that goes along with love and loving, which I suppose is why so many suck at maintaining healthy, loving relationships.

Truth be told, many are not very good at being honest and thus taking responsibility for one’s actions in a relationship is minimal; dishonest people avoid love because it requires a certain degree of accountability to self and to others. Love, American style encourages those who consume more than they give and those who live beyond their means along with many veneers. Love, American style appeals to those who are afraid to be vulnerable and present because, most likely, they are afraid of getting hurt, which is inevitable. Ironically, such people who don’t want the responsibility of love, or the ones who are very afraid of getting hurt tend to be the biggest consumers of special days like Valentine’s Day even when they know that most American marriages end in divorce; and these same folks seek after “the institution of marriage” as if it were not failing exponentially. Love makes the world go ’round, not marriage. And, if you don’t genuinely love yourself before you come to the idea or the question of marriage (by being true to yourself and your feelings), if you are not emotionally able or willing to be loving, vulnerable, equitable, and if you have never truly committed or invested yourself emotionally in another person in or out of marriage, then call it what it is, but don’t call it love. If you are not successful in pre-marital relationships, don’t look to be successful in marriage. It is hypocritical of men (or women) who say they want marriage – that they are “looking” for a wife (or a husband) – when they are not remotely interested or active in establishing committed relationships (i.e., when from day one they say, via words or actions, that they are not looking for anything serious…that they are just “going with the flow”).

In addition, don’t call it love if all you’ve really got to give are “happy” days and quick commercialized, capitalistic arrangements of time and events where, for instance, “happy” is bartered, bought and sold with dinner to the highest bidder, or with the one or ones who cause you, the buyer or financier of all that stuff to feel good, for the time being. In my book, love, American style is where happiness is tied primarily to personal, material and economic success and thus commodified. As far as I’m concerned, you can have all the money in the world; you can own the tallest building, or the biggest mansion, or the most luxurious car; you can be as good looking as Denzel Washington and have everything to achieve the “good life,” and still that would not mean to me that you are good at loving yourself and others. Love, American style, thrives on material-oriented and vapid social interactions that exploit the desire for the accumulation of things, possessions or attention/approval from others; and, the powers that be will market any and everything that is important to us as human beings for profit, because they know that many people will do almost anything to feel loved or happy. In contrast, the practice and the art of loving do not work like that, and the expression of love needs no special day to be apparent or tangible. Love is a feeling and an action, and if you feel love then acknowledge it, act upon it, today and everyday. The hyper-commercialization of love or a day for love will not bring us any closer to the ones we consider special or the ones that we care about. Rather, articulating love and being loving are things that we courageously do on a day-to-day basis to affirm and sustain our humanity and that of those around us, even if it costs us nearly everything to do so.

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.