What’s Wrong with Black Women? What’s Wrong With Black Men?

I have been using my own platforms with my writing to challenge whiteness, patriarchy, sexism, white supremacy, at least, since 1992, which was the year that I enrolled as a student at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Hence, being open about my resistance to injustice has been a part of who I am for a very long time. I can identify with Colin Kaepernick being committed to standing up and telling the truth on police brutality, but he is not unique. Many others, black women and men alike, celebrities and non-celebrities, have used their platforms to speak truth to power. Of course, not every black woman and every black men has done it, but many have. And, because we have done it in response to whiteness, patriarchy, and expressions of white supremacy, we also know what it means to be alienated and rejected. Some of us know and we have known for decades what retaliation looks like, and we know what it feels like to stand alone and apart from everyone else and with no one else to come to our defense, but us.

That said, I want to share a personal story. About a week ago, I was verbally attacked by a man that I know for being a black woman and for being a feminist (although I identify as a womanist). We were communicating on text (which I don’t particularly like to do), and he took issue with a response that I sent to him when he asked me why I had not asked for his help in a personal matter. When I explained to him that 1) I had already taken care of the matter before he was even in the picture, and 2) that he and I talked about the matter briefly and he did not voluntarily offer his help to me, he went berserk and texted back, “See that’s your f*cking problem and the problem of many black women.” He continued to tear me and black women apart by asserting that black women are “f*cked up,” and that we, black women, better get it together because Donald Trump is in office and men “of every color” are leaving black women and feminists. Really? Like I should care about Trump and men who are leaving black women feminists. They were probably never really with us anyway, so to them I say good riddance!

Nevertheless, his response was both hateful and disrespectful, and it was a deliberate and cowardly verbal attack on my person and my identity. At first, I graciously returned a text and said, “Goodnight,” but soon my graciousness and niceness went by the wayside and I went in to total defense mode …until I kinda lost it (and saying some things that I did not mean to say); but, at the same time I could not sit there and let him hide behind the phone and figuratively slap me with his words. For the next three hours I texted him about every half an hour thinking of everything I could to reject the ignorance and hypocrisy of his words.

Many black women face this kind of daily abuse (and worse) so-called male friends and intimate partners. They are repeatedly verbally belittled for taking care of themselves by men who despise black women but who simultaneously want them to depend totally on them (when they are really not all that dependable). Black men like this want to control black women, and in attempting to do so they don’t mind characterizing black women as “f*cked up” when by their own admission they have “mama issues.” Truth be told, these same men often have “daddy issues” in that they did not have loving and nurturing fathers/men who were wiling and able to be present to them when they should have been. In an effort to replace their absent daddies, the black men that some of them learned to respect were pimps and players, i.e., men who aspired to control women’s minds and bodies for a living. Thus, they have reenacted the same kind of abusive and negligent kind of emotional behaviors in their own intimate and day-to-day relationships. Not to mention, if you look in to their inner circles and you will often find that many of their so-called “friends” and acquaintances exude and encourage male behavior that is audaciously dishonest, disloyal and dismissive of women because deep-down they don’t love or respect black women. They tolerate black women to gain something, usually to satisfy the need for company and sex. If they are cis-gendered black men, you might find that they desire for women to entertain them when they are bored or in need of sex, but other than that they often treat black women as disruptive and unwelcome in their daily routines, which are often reserved for the exclusive company of men (i.e., in a homosocial environment). To me, these type of men are not trustworthy people, they lack intregrity, depth, and the ability to cooperate with black women and perhaps all women in general, and they know it, so they do what most they do best: they strike out against black women to take the focus off their own f*cked up past and present situations.

What made me strike back against the man who verbally attacked me on text was a fury about the hypocrisy that this man demonstrated to me for several weeks. Prior to the lashing that he decided to give me on text, I had overlooked several instances where he couldn’t even remember what he said the day before due to being drunk out of his mind and in a blackout. I can tolerate a lot of things from a man, but when a man who is by his own admission, f*cked up, and who is doing absolutely nothing to change or help himself accuses me and all other black women of being f*cked up, then he better know that he is uttering fighting words, and fighting words might be what he gets in return.

Whether we ground ourselves in the philosophy of womanism or feminism, or nothing at all, there are black women who are both willing and able to stand up for themselves, for black culture and for the sustainable development of black communities. We do not need black men or any other men to stand up or speak for us. We are very capable of speaking up for ourselves and for others. There is plenty of documentation that speaks to the long history black women have had with regard to leading the charge for social justice. No matter how much black men may want to deny it or diminish it, black women have stood on behalf of themselves and others, including non-black peoples, in spite of the consequences, and even when it has cost them their lives and livelihoods. Furthermore, many times black women stood on the front lines when black men and the powers that be tried to silence them by controlling or maligning their minds and bodies as a group and as individuals. Notwithstanding this abuse and abandonment (which can be mental/emotional as well as physical), there are those of us who will stand (or strike if necessary) and fight in defense of ourselves and for those we love and often for the sole purpose of letting obnoxious and ignorant people and institutions know that we are worth standing up for. Of course, there are many who will not like it when we do this, and they will claim that there is something categorically wrong with black women. This very disappointing and unfortunate response is something that we should come to expect because of patriarchy. Some people (male, female, and those in between, if truth be told) really do believe that “this is a man’s world.” Many believe it is a man’s right to dominate and control women, and for some that means “by any means necessary.”

Nothing is wrong with black women who stand in defense of themselves, and especially not when they are attacked by wanna-be pimps and players who don’t know the first thing about developing mutually loving relationships with black women. Perhaps the questions we must begin to ask are, “What is wrong with black men?” and “Why don’t they want black women to feel and be empowered about themselves and their communities?” What is wrong with black men like the one that I just told you about who is both terrified and drawn to black women at the same time? What is wrong with black men, who are over the age of 50 but who hide behind their YouTube channels, phones, their suits, their cars, their sunglasses, their educational degrees, their jobs, and all other kinds of material possessions and hurl painful and hateful accusations at black women when what they really need to be doing is whatever they can to stop sabotaging their own lives and happiness with bad personal choices due to the traumas of their youth? What is wrong with black men who abandon black women when black women don’t give them whatever they want whenever they want it? Many black men could be better partners to black women if they would become willing to confront and unlearn the patriarchal crap they learned as children (and as adults), which is no longer working for them as adults. If they really wanted to, there are some black men who could be better partners to black women. But honestly, many of them refuse to change, because they don’t have to, and many black men learn from other black men who spread toxic and twisted so-called theories about black women under the guise of pan-Africanism. It is sad to say, but it has become socially acceptable for black men to disrespect and hate black women in public and in private discourse, while also claiming to love them. And that is one primary reason that so many of us – black women – choose to be alone or with others besides black men. Black women are not the property of black men; nor do black men have a natural or so-called god-given right to our persons, our minds, and our bodies. Likewise, I do not claim that black men belong to black women exclusively. I don’t give a flying flip about what Dr. Umar Johnson, Tariq Nasheed, Brother Polight, or any other so-called “prince” or “ambassador of blackness” has to say about so-called “interracial relationships”: black women can choose to be with whomever they want, whenever they want, for the reasons that they want, and that should go for anybody. Furthermore, and essentially, what must be understood is that

…some of us – black women –  will refuse to be disrespected and hated by men who also claim to love us – no matter what color they are. Such men do not love us. They fear us and the power and prerogative that we as black women have as human beings to reject and abandon them if need be.

 

The men who respect me as a person are also capable of respecting my choice to identify as a womanist (and my choice to identify as an atheist, by the way). There are several men in my life who love me, and one of them is my father. Only those who fear womanism (or atheism), due to a lack of knowledge and uncertainty about their own personal and political identities, will try to tear me down and discredit who I am. And?

As a black woman, and as a womanist, and as an atheist, I will continue to speak truth to power. I will not let the attacks and threats of fearful, abusive black men, corporations, institutions, Donald Trump, or anyone else rejecting me for that matter keep me from standing up for myself and defending the goodness of black culture and of black women in particular. Whether we are being attacked in the open or behind closed doors, I will be standing up or sitting down and using all of my power and fierceness to resist and expose those who claim to love black women on the one hand, yet who act like they could care less or even hate us on the other. And, indeed, I am not alone. There are many black women who have been willing to fight for our dignity and honor for decades, and I stand on the shoulders of those who did it way before I was even a thought in this life as we know it. This is not to say that all black women are willing to defend black women or black culture. But, I am, and if standing up for myself, black women and black culture costs me a place on this great big plantation called the United States, or if because of standing up I lose a relationship with a black man that I once loved, respected and trusted, then so be it. I don’t need that kind of man or hatefulness in my life, and this is one black woman who will go down with her honor intact and her voice heard and hopefully remembered by those who need and want to hear it. And, I am not the first, nor will I be the last black woman who will use her power seriously and fiercely. We have been here for what seems like forever, and there are those of us who have always been and will always be brave enough to be who we are. Regardless. And, yes, in case you are wondering, it is that bravery that will inspire generations of black women to stand up for themselves and discredit patriarchy and patriarchal systems, whether white, black or any other color (I say that because I once had elder black colleagues who accused me of “influencing” students with womanism. Well duh!!!!!). That is the point. My life and my thinking will make a difference, not just for me and those in my immediate and personal circle, but to other generations as well, some of whom I will never meet or know. And, frankly, that is what is very, very right and good about many black women!

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

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Every Black Woman

I know a black man who was betrayed and abused by black women who once said they loved him, and who once should have loved him.

And so, subconsciously, when he is afraid of losing her, he abuses and abandons nearly every black woman who desires to love him.

This makes him feel worse, and even more abandoned and afraid. 

And, as most self-fulfilling prophecies work, he uses his own actions to falsely blame black women for the recurring pain that he inflicts upon himself. 

I used to think that he did not know how to love.

But now I realize that he is afraid, perhaps even terrified, of love, and the memory of being betrayed and abandoned.

And that’s why he will abuse nearly every black woman who desires to love him.

Until he decides to break the cycle of abuse.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

The Significance of Saying “Thank You,” Today!

There is nothing more powerful than being able to say thank you to the people who have inspired us in life and made our world richer and deeper. To do this while they are living – to say thank you in person – is most fulfilling.

Last night I had the opportunity to meet Dianne Reeves at the American Jazz Museum in person (and I took a picture, of course, that I will print and hang on my special “wall of fame” that I create at the next place I call “home”). If you don’t know who Dianne Reeves is, then let me invite you to know her as one of the greatest black women jazz vocalist, ever! Saying thank you to her, in person, is a moment that I will truly treasure. I was so very excited!

If you’d like to know where to start with Dianne Reeves, I recommend her live CD, In the Moment. But, that is just a starting point, and, it is absolutely, positively, not her first CD. I just like it because I believe it illustrates the power of her voice, live. Dianne Reeves is one of most talented and genuine jazz vocalists that I have ever known (and I have been lucky enough to meet a few jazz vocalists, such as Abbey Lincoln, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Rachelle Ferrell). And I say that as a former radio host who spent three years producing a local radio program dedicated to black women jazz vocalists at WXOJ-LP in Northampton, Massachusetts (as well as a few good men jazz greats).

The significance of saying thank you to those who we admire and appreciate, in the moment (pun intended), is so very, very, important. Don’t wait until someone you admire or love is gone to say thank you. Take the time to do it, today; it will help you to see that your life is really not your own! Our lives have been made and re-made by many women (and a few good men) who have had the desire and the will to lovingly and creatively share themselves with us, in the moment!  And we should never underestimate the power of living and being in the moment.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Women Have a Right to Love, Not Hate

Recently, I read an article published on Medium written by Anthony J. Williams. The title of his article, on the subject of women, was (smallcase intentional): women have a right to hate men. Indeed, there were many parts of this article that resonated with me. I thought that Williams did an awesome job of unpacking patriarchy and how harmful it is to us all, including men. And, I thought that Williams’s definitions of entitlement and male privilege were accurate and right on. However, in the end, I could not agree with Mr. Williams’s conclusion: that the hatred of men, also called misandry, is justifiable.

Yes, we, women, can walk around with hatred for the men who have hurt us, but where will that get us? What good is it to hold that hate in our minds and bodies? Feeling entitled to hate is a very patriarchal and primitive way of thinking. The idea that one has a right to hate anyone (as far as humans are concerned) has been articulated in the Bible through the concept or philosophy that most of us know as “an eye for an eye.” And, look around: hatred has been the dominant way of being as far as societies and governance are concerned. And yet, as dominant and even popular as this idea is today, the assertion that we are entitled to hate and thus revenge has rarely brought relief to those who have been wronged by others. Hatred is not a corrective measure; it is a feeling that often generates even more pain, suffering, destruction and even death. So, while it may not be all that popular to say this (because there are many people who think of the Bible as an authoritative source), it is nonetheless crystal clear to me that the idea that one is entitled to hate, which can be supported with early human and primitive knee-jerk philosophies, is maladaptive human behavior. Such a consciousness or mentality does not take us forward, rather, it takes up backwards (in time and in thought). No one who walks around with hate in her heart can heal. It is a heavy, heavy burden; and, as a way of thinking and being, it can and will have debilitating consequences for anyone who embraces it. 

My grandmother had every reason to harbor hate in her heart. She was rejected by society because of racism, and she was rejected by members of her husband’s family because she divorced him, my grandfather, who beat her. In the 1950s, it was very rare for a black woman to divorce a black man for domestic abuse, but she did it anyhow. And her relatives by marriage, her children’s own flesh and blood hated her for it. She could have easily returned their hate by claiming “an eye for an eye,” and she could have displayed a hateful disposition to those who despised her for standing up for herself. She could have also hated the many whites who despised and hated her simply for being a black woman. People hated her for escaping her abuser, and people hated her because of the color of her skin. 

This grandmother was my only living grandparent, and though we did not spend as much time together that I would have liked, the thing that I remember most about her was the love that she always displayed for herself and for her children, especially for her son, who is my father. In my mid-twenties, I became very aware that they loved each other very much. Now that I am in my late forties, I have come to realize that the love that she had for him laid the foundation for the love that he has for me and my siblings, and his love informs the how and the why I am able to love others, especially the men that I choose to love intimately.

I was a young adult before I really had an opportunity to spend time one-on-one with my grandmother. I remember driving out of town to spend the weekend with her; it was a lovely drive. My grandmother was a great cook and on that trip we sat down at the table together and talked alot, and then we finished our conversations in her living room, while she sat rocking in her favorite chair (which is something that my father does to this day). I also remember that she didn’t wear her dentures very often at home. That always amazed me, because it looked like she had them in nevertheless. But I digress. Not everything I learned from my grandmother was learned because of our personal visits. I learned a lot from my grandmother from my father, who despite our disagreements, has always given me his unconditional love. 

Because of my grandmother’s teachings, which came through my Dad, I learned that it wasn’t useful to hold on to pain and hate. I didn’t realize it then, when she was right there in front of me, but years later, I understood that pain and hate have their place. These emotions are a part of the human experience. Of course we all feel pain in life; it is normal. Likewise, I think it is normal that we acknowledge and express our emotions, wisely (and sometimes in a support group or with the help of someone who is trained in the management of human emotions). But, the good news is that bad emotions do not last forever, nor do they need to consume us, catapulting us into a downward, depressive spiral and perhaps into hatefulness or rage. Yes, it is important to be resolute and just in life, but, it is equally important to let go of the need to or the desire to dominate and hate those who have harmed or hated us. The longer we hold on to feelings of hate, the wounds deepen and the scars do not come because the hate keeps festering and in turn that hate prevents us from actually healing. And, in some cases, it is a sign that we have not truly let go of the person or persons who have harmed us (i.e., we still want or need something from them).

So the question for me is: how do women face their enemies? How do we women find the strength to trust and perhaps love men again when we have many or even every reason to hate them? Well, as I have just expressed here, I think black women, especially elder black women, have a lot to teach us when it comes to the subject of men (and hate). In fact, I’d say that they have much more to teach us than men have to teach us about how to respond to the harmfulness and the hatefulness of men via patriarchy. I don’t have time to hate men or even a few of the men who have done horrible things to me. I also do not have time to hate men for all the horrible things they have done to women, historically. It is too costly to hold misandry in my heart and mind. Of course when someone has done something to take away your power and autonomy in life, it is normal to feel hate and to want to make them suffer or to make them pay for what they have done. In response to pain or violence caused by a man, especially when it comes to verbal, physical or even sexual abuse, I would say that hate is a very natural human response. However, another thing that the elder women (and a few elder men) in my life, including my grandmother and elder cousins, have taught me is that going with my first response is not always the best or most expedient thing to do. Sometimes it is best to go with the second or third feeling or thought.

By no means am I saying that one shouldn’t feel angry or hateful emotions; it is always important to feel (and name) our emotions. On the other hand, I am saying that it is not productive to feel entitled to anger or hate, because the sense of entitlement or a right to harbor these emotions can and often does lead to destruction. This is what I learned from the elder women in my life who were despised, abused, mistreated, and hated in their lifetimes: even though they could have justified their hateful and rageful feelings, they did not let those feelings own or consume them. They managed the emotions that they felt; and, they redirected their emotions in a way that enabled and empowered them to live their lives on their own terms, as much as possible. Although they read the same Bible that I have read, they usually did not return an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. Had they listened to the Bible’s 2000+ year old (patriarchal) advice they may have acted on the hate they felt for men and for whites, yet they probably would not have been justified for doing so (as women and blacks are often not perceived as “justified” for acting on their emotions). It was the love and the wisdom of black women (and a few black men) who knew what hate could do to the human psyche that helped me to sort this out. Although I was raised to revere Christianity or the ideas promoting the presence of the supernatural, it was not religion, faith, the Bible, or even an alleged god that taught me how to manage my feelings. Rather, it was black women (and a few black men) who taught me how to get through pain and adversity. By their example, I learned the value of standing up for myself by living life on my terms, regardless of what others might have to say (negatively) about it.  

Without a doubt, we may succumb to hate, we may cower and feel like nothing because of the hatefulness of others. But, in the end, I also know that hate has never sustained anything good in the human being and not for any civilization. It is only love that has changed us (and the world) for the better. As a result, I cannot agree with Anthony J. Williams, who claims that women have a right to hate men. When it comes to men, and what women have endured at the hands of men, my position is that women must be much more concerned about feeling entitled to love than they are to hate. Hatefulness has permeated the patriarchal world that we live in. We see hate expressed every day, especially these days, through the rhetoric of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump and his staff. Every day they do something to remind us that they are  entitled to hate and hatefulness. On the contrary, I have no desire to behave like Donald Trump, his staff, and definitely I will not behave like his fans and followers, which includes the people who voted him into office. Even when wronged, I would rather not claim a right to hate because I know it will destroy me inside. I’d rather respond to the the hatefulness of men towards me and other women in the way that my grandmother responded to the hate she experienced in her life: with the resolve to stand up for myself and for women, and with the commitment to call attention to the destructiveness of patriarchy to the extent that it causes others to divorce themselves from patriarchal and hateful ways. My grandmother had six children to raise and when she divorced her husband, she did not have the luxury of feeling entitled to hate. She did what she had to do to distance herself from her haters, and she went on and she lived her life with as much joy and love as she could muster. She refused to let the hate and alienation she felt in life possess or consume her thoughts, her time, and her children, and thus, she taught them how to love themselves and their children. And love is one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give to her children.

Similarly, when it comes to men, and what they have done to me or to women, I do not feel that I have the right to hate them. I do not feel that I have the right to hate anybody because it is not worth it to hate anyone or anything that is just going to hate you back. If women are entitled to any emotion, I would say that women have a right to choose love, and we have a right to choose to be loved as we want and need to be loved. This is, of course, just my opinion, but I am totally convinced that one of the best ways of doing justice, according to Martin Luther King, Jr., is finding and embracing the strength to love yourself, regardless, when hate is all around you.

 © 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Have You Ever Written a Neighborhood Plan (Young Lady)? Sexism and City Planning

Today I talked to someone who asked me if I had ever worked for a city planning department. Here’s what I said in response: Well,

Number one: I teach students who go on to work for city planning departments.

Number two: I have worked for city planning departments, mostly in the role of a researcher/academic.

Number three: I am mostly engaged and committed to planning that is from the bottom up; my work in city and regional planning has been primarily with not-for-profits as well as local and state government agencies.

And then he said, “Yeah, but don’t you want to be a director of city planning?” Who came up with that?

I started to say: “What parts of numbers 1, 2, and 3 do you not understand?” But I didn’t.

And then he asked me: “Well, where did you go to school?” As if there was something deficient about my planning education.

When I named the schools for him, he said, “Yeah, I know about those schools; they are pretty good.” Like that had anything to do with anything.

And, all the while he was doing this, he was calling me “young lady.” Just for context: he was an older black man; probably about 25 years my senior.

This exchange reminded me of a more recent conversation that I had with a local white planner who was, I suppose, a little perturbed by my critique of his planning presentation. In response to my comments about his presentation, which were not hostile – I just didn’t agree on a method he was proposing (and I proposed another one instead), he asked me, “Well, have you ever written a neighborhood plan?” Just like that. Out of nowhere; who I am, what I said; none of that mattered. Like the man who asked, “had I ever worked for a city planning department.”

Why? Why should I be shocked when I encounter appeals to accomplishment and rank as a means to silence me and my critiques? I received similar receptions in my previous profession (I was a United Methodist clergywoman). When people learned that I was the pastor, the church administrator, the one with the authority to be in charge, they would ask me, “When were you ordained?” Or, “Where did you go to seminary.” By contrast, these were questions that my male counterparts rarely, if ever, had to answer. People just took their word for it that they were who they said they were, the “Reverend So-and-So.” Why should it matter to me that men who are black, white, brown, red, and yellow constantly question my credentials or my “fitness” for the work that I have been doing for years? Why should I be so offended since it happens so frequently? Even today.

Likewise, I have to ask myself, why do I think or want to think that urban planning academicians and professionals who call themselves committed to social justice, advocacy and equity are free from sexism, racism or any other “ism” for that matter? What makes me want to believe that women planning scholars should or could get equal treatment in the classroom, in the conference room, or even when it comes to discussing and implementing urban plans in “the real world of planning?” Where have I seen a good example of gender or racial equity in the urban planning profession, and in the U.S.?

In the classroom, planning scholars and urban historians often make reference to Jane Jacobs, a pioneering white woman who is known for her critique of city and neighborhood planning in the late 1950s. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was written in the in the context of the urban neighborhood in New York City and not long after WWII. As noted by one of my colleagues, this is a book that you can still find on bookstore shelves today (including virtual book shelves). Jacobs is well-known for her critique of one of NYC’s “finest” a/k/a “The Power Broker,” Robert Moses. Of course, there was a lot that Jane Jacobs did not say or do in her important book (i.e., as it concerns matters of race and class), but, one thing is for sure, she was willing to stand up for herself and for her community, and she did this in spite of the sexism exhibited by the city and regional planners and the contemporary thinkers of her time. How did she do it? Indeed, with the power of the pen! And, voila, there is the example!

Well, it is 2016, and half a century later, women planners are still being ignored and dismissed; we still face sexism among  our colleagues, students (yeah, I said it!), and from practitioners that we know like the one who interrogated me today. Conference sessions on diversity, women, race, and planning are pushed to “the back of the bus” and scheduled on final days when nearly everyone is out of steam or they have gone back home, which shows us all how very important matters of gender, equity and inclusion really are for academics in city and regional planning and in the planning of its  conferences. Emerging feminist ideas about planning methodologies and frameworks, such as “loving attachment,” (made visible and palatable by Leonie Sandercock, Karen Umemoto, and Libby Porter) are not unknown, but they are not put into practice and thus they are not taken seriously by planners “in the real world.” Like, when have I heard this concept explained in detail for students or communities by one of my male counterparts?  That would be never. To make matters worse, it is not unusual for feminist proposals to be  openly criticized as divisive and unnecessary by those who are much more comfortable with traditional, Euro-masculinist theories and practices of city and urban planning.

Time and time again, women planners and planning scholarship that is gender-specific is disregarded and deemed not “good enough” or important enough to be first in presentation or priority at gatherings of scholars and students of planning. In addition, name for me one city where you have heard of a development project that has been designed for women or girls or with womens’ issues or concerns as the primary and motivating force. Yes, in planning programs we have inspiring workshops and courses that encourage us to think in terms of gender and race, and as they pertain to the built environment; and, we have women who are visible and audible in the teaching and in the practice of planning. But, where can we see city and regional designs or plans that make women and girls the primary beneficiaries?  Where do we find women’s thoughts and ideas about space and place that occupy the center of local discussion about city and urban planning projects and designs (beyond a class session or two)? Where, beyond the work of Dolores Hayden, and the planners I have mentioned above, do we see women city and regional planners taking the lead, offering visions of urban development that are also predominantly women-identified and women-centered and “in the real world?” I am not saying that they are not there, but I would like to know what is really happening with women and planning in the 21st century when many of the women that I know in planning have ultimately been more than willing to act in the interests of self, tradition, tenure, whiteness and patriarchy. As bell hooks once said, “Where is the Love?

Now, about black women planners and scholarship. Of course, I want to believe that black womens’ planning scholarship is important to city and regional planners who are “in the real world,” but today, after the “motivating” conversation that I had with a local Kansas City resident who has been active in community and neighborhood development, and after thinking about my own experiences “in the real world,” I really don’t see where black women planning academicians who talk openly and powerfully about race and gender in city and regional planning are perceived of as significant or important to the development of planning theories and practices (and who are on full-time status at schools and colleges of planning in the U.S.). I see black women planning academicians and practitioners, but rarely do I see the ones who are openly feminist or womanist and openly anti-racist (just for starters).

That said, I am currently in the process of working through a hypothesis, along with a trusted colleague, which posits that black women planning academicians who operate from a gender-centered position and from a standpoint that privileges the experiences of black women and girls and black communities (e.g., the epistemological privilege of the poor) will be dismissed, disregarded and ultimately rejected in response to being openly critical of whiteness, maleness and the positivist roots of city and regional planning. For several months, we have been working to construct and test our theory which says that black women planning scholars who openly and unabashedly critique men, especially white men and white conceptual frameworks of  city and regional planning, will face negative consequences and negative responses from colleagues, students, administrators, and other institutional officials overall. And, we predict that this response will happen more times than not and in the form of some very specific consequences and negations. If our hypothesis is proven to be true, then we – as in city and regional planners – have not come all that far when it comes to women and planning. In other words, if a significant percentage or group of black women planning academicians are not free to theorize and to practice city and regional planning as they see fit, then we are not free (not individually and not as far as academic freedom goes)! Unfortunately, “in the real world,” if we have that finding, we believe that it will demonstrate that theories and practices of city and regional planning and the institutional terrain of planning schools, colleges, and thus municipal and regional planning departments are still as Barbara Hooper said in 1992: what white bourgeois men have said it is.”

And if our findings prove to be true, since I am a womanist scholar, I think that what we must then think in terms of is what womanist Katie G. Cannon, a theologian and womanist scholar whose work was critically beneficial to me in my 2010 dissertation, is whether we, as city and regional planners, have “structured academic amnesia.” And, if we do have this ‘structured academic amnesia,’ you can be sure that it will be played out “in the real world,” “as if this true [feminist and not this] womanist story] never happened.” Yet for some of us, like Jane Jacobs did half a century ago, who are willing and brave enough to utilize the power of the pen, nothing could be further from the truth!

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

For more on Katie Cannon, I recommend: Cannon, Katie Geneva.  2006.  Structured academic amnesia:  As if this true womanist story never appened.   In Deeper shades of purple:  Womanism in religion and society., 19-28.  New York:  New York University Press.

For more on Barbara Hooper, I recommend: Hooper, Barbara. 1992. “Split at the roots”: A critique of the philosophical and political sources of modern planning doctrine. Frontiers 13 (1): 45-80.

On the Spelling of My Name and the Seeds of Change

I have been spelling my name in lowercase letters for at least a decade; come to think about it, it has probably been closer to two decades than it is to one. All these years, embracing the spelling of my name has been my signature, my trademark. Looking back, I was first inspired to modify the spelling and thus the visualization of my name on papers and publications to lowercase letters because of bell hooks. Her critical thoughts and writings on feminism, love, men, power and many other issues had such a profound impact upon me that I decided to put my newly recognized consciousness out in public – and as a passive but powerful way of identifying with feminism as a way of thinking and being. At the time, I must admit, I really did not realize the power of what I was doing.

Recently, I was “advised” by someone associated with an academic organization that I needed to use the uppercase A and the uppercase F if I anticipated my name being publicized or in print. This directive, made by a white woman (who I knew formerly and casually) did not sit well with me. And that it came via email didn’t help matters either. Initially, I thought, was this advice or a threat? I wondered why she felt the need to tell me what to do with my own name. And, I wondered what was coming next. Maybe, I imagined, she would feel familiar or superior enough to me to tell me what to wear or where to sit. Since she knew of me from academic circles, it baffled me that she needed or wanted to tell me what to do with my own name; as if somehow she thought that I did not know. Of course, I responded to her just as boldly and confidently as she came to me, but I also thought that perhaps it is time for a blog on the spelling of my name, just in case others were having similar thoughts or urges.

First, the spelling of my name is mine, all mine. I don’t expect others to use lowercase letters to spell my name. But, every chance that I get to control the look (and feel) of my name, I use lowercase letters. One of the first public experiences that I had with this was in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had just given a lecture at what is now the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and a local newspaper reporter asked me how to spell my name. In addition to getting the spelling correct, I also asked if the “A” and the “F” could be written in lowercase. Much to my surprise, and at least for that particular local journalist, using lowercase letters was not a problem, and so he published it as I requested. Seeing my name published in the local newspaper the next day in lowercase letters was very important and very powerful. It was an affirmation of my own identity, and it was a declaration, one that let other people know – in a very public or political way – that the spelling of my name was and is ultimately up to me.

Aside from the”bell hooksian” influence on the spelling of my name, there are a few reasons that I have continued to spell my name in lowercase letters. The first is that spelling my name in lowercase letter is a visual reminder to me of all the seemingly insignificant things that I did in life to get to where I am today. By no means do I think that I have done all that I can do, but I have accomplished a lot. I have also had the awesome privilege of traveling alone in and out of this country and taking charge of my own future or destiny. Sometimes, when I look back at those little things, including the places where I lived or worked, I am blown away. I have been through many ups, downs, stops and starts, and, of course, I did not get there all alone, but seeing my name in smallcase letters always brings me to a deeper appreciation  of my life’s journey and of the power that I have because of that journey.

Another reason that I spell my name in lowercase letters is related to the connection between the personal and the political. The more that I spelled my name in lowercase letters in print, the more that I was asked about the spelling of my name. Who knew that such a small thing could have such an impact! Consequently, the (re)spelling of my name brought me to the realization that even the smallest change to the social order of things or the status quo is always noticed. Indeed, I know how to construct a grammatically correct sentence. I know that breaking the rules with the spelling my name in all lowercase letters will be seen by many as incorrect, improper, and perhaps, need I say, DISOBEDIENT! And that is it precisely. Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a type of stand or attitude; it is a personal manifesto that speaks to popular thinking about women and identity. Spelling my name the way that I want to spell it is simply a way of accepting and loving myself. But, it is also my way of letting people know that I am not a follower, although I am totally capable of collaborating with others on various projects and programs. I don’t always need to be out front and in charge, but I have always been a leader. I have always been womanish in attitude and expression, or, as Alice Walker says about womanism; a womanist is “serious and in charge!” Others may disagree with me or reject the spelling that I give my name, and they may make it “proper” for personal or institutional purposes, but at the end of the day, I am in charge of my life, my actions, my body, and, of course, I am in charge of saying or determining who I am. How I spell my name is up to me, alone. Yes, it may seem like such a small or unnecessary thing to say, but control over my name, the power to name myself and thus to know myself is a powerful freedom, and I take that freedom very seriously, just as other black women, like Audre Lorde, have done without shame and without apology.

Most people don’t break the rules. We live in a society where conformity is the name of the game. People keep the peace; on the job and beyond, they often engage in groupthink and peacemaking. Even with all that women and men have been through, especially black women, by and large, people don’t “rock the boat.” Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a passive yet strong way of saying that I am not afraid to break the rules. I am not afraid to walk down a new path if necessary. When I look at people who cling to the rules without a willingness to question them or perhaps change them, I see followers. This is both sad and disappointing situation because a great many of the rules, laws and practices that govern us actually need to be changed or broken. Many of the rules that dictate our living and our being, at the least, need to be challenged, or at least questioned. When people express a desire to control how I spell my name, it lets me know that they are probably not willing to make a change, not even in the small matters of their own lives. And, if they are not willing to start with changing self, I doubt very seriously if they will be willing to challenge the order of things when it comes to bigger matters, such as sexism, such as racism, such as heterosexism. When people do not model change or plant the seeds of change when it comes to their own affairs, it is doubtful that they will do it for others.

I should not have to say this, but one of the things that the world  desperately needs is people who really are willing to be the agents of change. The world needs bold, brave change agents, not the so-called change agents or change makers who merely appropriate the rhetoric or talk of change during election season in order to get votes. Today, many are appropriating the word “change-agent” or “change-maker,” but there is little doubt in my mind that many of those very same people would also be the first ones to tell me or others to “go along to get along” if they could. If they could get away with it, I believe they would tell me and others – the ones they may attempt to control –  to know and stay “in our “place.” Yet, the place they want others to stay in is often the place that makes them comfortable or secure in life. And, what they tell others to do is often a reflection of their own self-esteem or self-image: stuck.

By contrast, I don’t require others to spell my name in lowercase letters, but I don’t let others tell me what to do or how to spell my name so that they will feel better about themselves or what it says about their day to day choices. Fortunately, we live in a country that allegedly values “the freedom of speech.” And, that freedom applies to the spelling of one’s name. I feel free to model that freedom to name myself in my personal and in my public life, which are very interconnected. In the (re)spelling of my name I also model what it means to be in control and accountable for who I am.

Last month I watched the politicians and pundits claim to be the agents or makers of change. Yet, I don’t see how they are much different from who or what has gone before them. To be an agent of change you’ve got to be willing to change yourself. If you are not willing to change, if you don’t know the power of changing things on your own, how in the world can you expect or require change from anybody else? And, if you are quick to tell others where to go, what to do and what to do when they get there, then I doubt that you will allow yourself to get out of place for a worthy cause (and perhaps not even for an unworthy cause). These days, there’s a whole lot of talk about change, but that talk is often just what it is: talk.

Oh how I wish that more people would be willing to break the rules and get out of the places that people and society have constructed for them to be. I long to see people who lead and from a place inside of them that is authentic and thus political (or socially responsible). Donald Trump, for example, is the antithesis of authenticity and accountability. He uses the rhetoric of change yet promotes the ideas and nostalgia of a troubled American past. What former greatness does he want to revive or replicate? Yes, there were times in my past that I was pretty good, but the person that I have become today is much better, stronger and confident. There is actually no part of my past to which I would like to return. Indeed, I look back and I learn, but life is moving forward, not backward. My being who I am today is based on my ability to grow and  learn from my past mistakes and successes; yearning for something that I once did, for the person I once was, or for the life I once experienced would indicate to me that there is some preoccupation or unfinished business that I have with regard to my past. Perhaps, in some weird, twisted kind-of-way those who want to go back and revive the past, like Trump and his followers, really are preoccupied by something that is back there. Clearly, for better or for worse, they have some preoccupation or attachment to the persons, places or things of the past that they remember. Maybe they want to fix something that was broken in the past; or, perhaps they want to repair some damage that was done in the past, or maybe they have regrets. As far as I am concerned, I cannot fix the past; no one can. But, what I do with the present and what happens in the future depends on my ability to interpret the past accurately and then to plant the seeds of change that will bring forth powerful and better futures.

To the would-be and rising change agents out there, I must say that you cannot bring forth better futures if you keep looking back, longing for what was once there. To feel the power of change, to be a powerful agent of change, you have to be willing to break  the rules, to cross lines and usually that means you will be in the minority and perhaps alone. Don’t be fooled by those who merely talk about change, because to be a  true change-agent or a change-maker you’ve got to be willing to be in a new place, not the old. Indeed, it is not easy being in a new place, or being in the minority. But please know that today, more than ever, if we are going to create powerful and better futures, we desperately need those who are bold enough and brave enough to spell their own names.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

A Brief Word on Harriet Tubman, American Hypocrisy and Tokenism

Harriet Tubman on the tool that greedy humans use to manufacture their wealth while murdering and impoverishing millions on this land and on lands around the globe? What is there to applaud? Why should I rejoice?

I want those who made this decision and the United States government to use money to do justice, not to divide nations, destroy the Earth, and re-enslave people and their communities. This thing called “money” is used daily to rank and classify the quality of our lives. It is a small piece of paper that has become a very destructive yet powerful global mechanism of social and economic control. Try to exist without it. Try to matter without it.

How can I be happy or moved about the decision to put the face of Harriet Tubman, a courageous African and American woman who liberated herself and others from those greedy for profits and power on a $20 “bill” while a bounty was placed on her head, as if putting her image on money is an adequate way of honoring her life that was repeatedly threatened and endangered by white hate and contempt? And, does this mean that the American people and the U.S. government respect and honor black womens’ lives, especially poor black womens’ lives, just as they honor famous white men who are memorialized on U.S. currency? Of course, black women are noticed and appreciated by the powers that be if and when they are making money to the ultimate profit of a small white minority, and often to a single white man or family who is hidden behind a sheet, or in today’s terms, he is hidden behind a screen (which sounds a lot like a plantation economy to me). On the contrary, in many U.S. cities and towns, black women make less money than their black male counterparts, thus, though we may be very visible, economically and socially, we are not valued equally as black men, and certainly we are not as valued and thus not as compensated as white women. And, if recent events have demonstrated anything, we know today that in the eyes of the law black women (like Marissa Alexander and Sandra Bland), black mothers, black men, black lesbians, black gay men, black-trans, black children, and black lives in general DO NOT MATTER. If in fifty to one-hundred years from now the Department of the Treasury or the Federal Reserve puts their faces on paper money it will not make them matter. It will not erase or undo the past and the harm that has been done in the name of American economic and so-called globalized progress.

Harriet Tubman, one of the greatest Emancipators this nation has ever known, does not deserve to be made a monetary token to support the American economy that was built on the backs of African peoples and others this nation’s colonizers chose to exploit. To honor her is to dare to set the captives free and thus to live an emancipatory life! To respect the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman, whose first name was Araminta Ross, we must live by her motto, “go free or die.” Because in the end, when we take our last breaths, it will not be money, the Department of the Treasury, or the Federal Reserve that made our lives what they were: it will be our humanity and the courage we had, in spite of our oppressors and oppressions, to face life and death, free.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.