We Black Women: Seen, Heard, and Beautiful

This blog entry is partially written in response to someone who recently said to me, “See that’s what is wrong with you black women.” With a cowardly text, and out of nowhere, this man – a black man who has claimed to love me – spewed his contempt and hate toward me and toward black women by saying, “Something is wrong with you black women.” Needless to say, I was infuriated by his hateful rant, yet it was one that helped me to see him for who he really is: a misogynist – one who hates women; one who holds women in contempt. It was a painful realization that I did not want to face because he is a black man, born of a black woman and raised by his black sisters. His misogyny is something that I did not want to acknowledge or admit. I wanted to believe that he was better than the man that he kept proving himself to be (despite all of his best apologies) – after two years of knowing him, intimately.  But, finally, getting that text, a cowardly act from behind his telephone screen where he was hiding out thinking that he was unseen, jolted me out of my denial and caused me to recognize him for who he is, and for the awfully abusive man that he obviously wants to be, since he too knows and admits that he has “issues” with black women, yet he refuses to address those issues. Instead, he keeps getting involved with black women and, tragically, the contempt and hate he feels for black women comes out, sabotaging his relationships with black women, including the ones he has with the women in his family. He repeatedly hurts himself and others, and then he runs, hides, and blames all the “black b*tches” that he chooses to be with. Of course, later, he apologizes, he claims to take “full responsibility” for the undoing of his relationships, but because he is not getting help for his pain (nor do I believe at this point that he is willing or able to stop doing what he is doing on his own – because he has made it clear that he is who he wants to be, end of story, end of life) he cycles right back into a mound of abuse and disappointment with yet another black woman.

Yes, this is the very definition of insanity; it is also a description of a man who is emotionally incompetent and sick and he will make others (especially black women) eventually sick (of his bullsh*t) if they, in turn, choose to be with him. In addition, he is a ragefull man because, to make matters worse, he becomes angry (on top of the anger he already feels from childhood trauma) and dismissive with the women who walk and sometimes run out of his life. He resents them for leaving him. Go figure. Unfortunately, he hasn’t figured it out: no good woman wants (or needs) to be with a man – no matter what color he is – who is not in control of his emotions and who refuses to gain control. And, no woman, black, white, red, or yellow, has to, under any circumstances, put up with any abuse, and definitely not from such a troubled man who is choosing to stay in that condition. Indeed, as one of my friends so accurately said: he is a walking dead man. And the last time I checked, I am so very much alive.

Turning the corner. For those of you who might be wondering, writing is cathartic to me. I write, first and foremost, for myself. It helps me to process my feelings, and it is my way of being heard; my way of standing up for myself and for my feelings. My relationship to writing began when I was a child/adolescent and I would be sent to my room on punishment. In response to that punishment, I would tape notes to my bedroom door (which would be closed); with those notes I expressed my feelings, and most of all, it was my reaction to being silenced and unseen. Who knew that the practice of posting notes to my bedroom door would turn into a passion and an ability to write?

That said, I do not write to “get paid,” although getting paid for my writing is not something that I would turn away. I write because I can; it is something that I  am good at; and, the act of writing for me is what I do to heal myself from pain and from the hatefulness, dismissal, or the harmfulness of others who do not want  to see me or hear me because of their own issues. Writing helps me to express and free myself in a world that is compromised by pain, past and present. And, since I have been writing on public platforms, such as Facebook and WordPress, I have been contacted and told by many that I have helped them to do the same. You cannot imagine how it feels to me to know that my writing and thus my work has helped others to find their voices. That is what freedom is all about: for self and for others.

If you would like to republish my work in a larger platform or in a book, please contact me. I would be more than happy to discuss how that could be done and what it would cost. And now, today’s blog, inspired by the crap that I went through with the man I just told you about:

 

WE BLACK WOMEN

We black women are

Mamas, sisters, friends, lovers, teachers, warriors, and sometimes enemies of those who hate us and who want to exploit and use us, mostly for sex and company,

We black women have stood strong and proud in the face of hate and rejection by those who do not see us, who do not love us,

Because of their own pain and their own fears.

But we black women

 

We are like Maya Angelou

And Fannie Lou Hamer

And Nina Simone

And Angela Davis

And Elaine Brown

And Billie Holiday

And Alice Walker

And Abbey Lincoln

And Shirley Horn

And Bessie Smith

And June Jordan

And Marimba Ani

And Toni Morrison

And Anita Hill

And bell hooks

And many, many more black women – like my own mother and sister.

We are black, and we are women

We have changed our worlds and this world for the better and the world sees us and knows what we have done.

The world knows who we are.

 

Not all black women do good, not all black women are good

There are some black women have done irreparable harm to their children and to their families,

But most of all they have abandoned themselves.

There are black women who have given up on living their own lives

Maybe they did and do not know how to live for themselves

Maybe the fear of life and others has overcome and overpowered them

Maybe they have believed what others said about them, so therefore they lived the lies of others.

 

But there are many of us, black women, who have turned other peoples’ lies upside down

We black women have told and written our own stories

We black women are remembered as the authors and finishers of our own fates

And, we black women have survived the unthinkable, the unimaginable when we could have been dead and gone.

 

We black women.

 

We black.

We black.

We black.

And, we women.

We women.

We women.

We women.

We black women are proudly black and we will be seen, heard, for indeed, we are very, very beautiful.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

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He Should Do Something About That: Who Pays the Price for Love and Loving?

One day I decided to go to one of my favorite local clubs to hear some live music. While there I ran into a man that I know socially.  After we said our hellos and started a conversation he commented to me that he had seen my most recent ex-partner out at another social event. His comment was “He is such an a*shole.” It was not a comment that I was expecting to hear. Nevertheless, in response to it I said, “Yes, he is an a*shole, but underneath it all he is a very loving and lovable person.” Then, in reply to that, this acquaintance said to me, “Well, he should do something about that.”

It has probably been at least six months since I had that conversation but his comments, particularly the latter part, have really stuck with me. Yes, there was something very powerful about hearing from another man that the man I chose to be with was indeed “an a*shole,” but more than that it was his followup comment – “he should do something about that” – that left me with something to think about. Actually, truth be told, it was that part of the conversation that has helped to keep me accountable to myself and to the decision that I made to walk away and to stay away.

There is nothing more disappointing than finding out that the person you love has some very troubling and disturbing character flaws. When it comes to relationships and dating, we have heard people say that people present the person they want you to see, or, they present their “representative.” Of course, it is true that many people play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a lot. In my dating experiences, this is behavior that I see frequently from heterosexual men. To get your attention they are on their best behavior, but once a reasonable amount of time goes by, “the real them” comes out. Of course, you have your share of charlatans out there, but there are times when I don’t think it is an intentional presentation of a fake self; it is just that most people will go out of their way, at first, to present themselves in the best possible light. Eventually, however, who they are behind close doors and thus, in the dark, will also come to the light. Jill Scott says, “everything comes to light.” I don’t really think that everyone deliberately hides (although some do), it is just that after awhile the pleasantries wear off. Or, as they say, the honeymoon can’t last forever.

The most affirming thing that I took away from what my social acquaintance said was this: that I was not responsible for changing or helping my ex. His behavior (in public and private) is just that: his. In the course of our relationship, one that lasted about a year and a half, I put up with a lot of very bad behavior from him. In the beginning, there were times when he admitted his flaws and faults, and I admitted mine. So, initially, I forgave and I overlooked much of what he did even when what he did hurt me and our relationship (and I forgave the stuff that I did too!). I thought he wanted to change for himself, to his own benefit. And, I wanted to believe that he was willing and able to make the necessary changes for himself. Of course, I was very willing to change and do whatever I could to get to a much better us. But, in spite of his apologies and promises to “never do it again,” he always did it again, consequently, I grew less tolerant of the hurtful things that he did and I began to push back verbally on them, a lot.

It is when I pushed back, when it was clear that I would not tolerate his bad behavior in silence and complicity any longer, that we had the greatest trouble That is when he was the angriest and most hostile towards me; when I stood up  for myself. Looking back, I believe that he expected me to accept him without question, and without insisting that he change his abusive ways.

Finally, in response to me standing up for myself, he made it clear, point-blank, that he was not going to change, which led me to believe that in previous relationships other women may have asked or pleaded with him to change. It would probably surprise him, but I actually do believe that he is able and capable of changing, and doing just about anything that he puts his mind to, but, he has been articulating bad, abusive behavior towards black women for most of his life, mostly in response to the abusive things that happened to him as a child at home from his emotionally and physically abusive mother. I did not realize the depth of his resentments towards black women, especially to his mother who is now dead, until I was well into the relationship with him, when the going got very emotionally tough and exhausting. I suppose, with him, this is why his relationships have always seemed lovely in the beginning, but then disastrous in the long-run. Abuse has a cycle and he was (and currently I suppose he is) not willing to do his part to address the pain and trauma of his own past, therefore, in relationships, he “cycles through” or reenacts and relives his own abuse. This he did with me and he did this with other women before me. Our relationship ended the way it began: in abandonment. When we met he was seeing other women, but he abandoned them to be with me. Similarly, when our relationship came to a final stop, although there were many stops, he just stopped communicating. He never explained, he just ran away and hid behind his phone and his cars, and anything else that would keep him from seeing me or being seen by me. It was the most abusive relationship that I had ever encountered (as I have learned from bell hooks, that “all abuse is abandonment”).

Without conscious changes on his part, he will do this to the women in his future. And that is very sad. But, as the saying goes, “you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.” Some of the new women in his life will know better than to tolerate his abusiveness, and, hopefully, they will not choose to stay. But there are also many heterosexual women who participate in their own abuse, especially if abuse is all they have known (and accepted) in relationship to men. Likewise, if I remember correctly, all the serious relationships and even the marriages that my ex had in life burst open wide at the seams, and they will continue to do so as long as he refuses to do anything to change himself and his behavior, even as the opportunities for change continue to present themselves to him. Indeed, one day those opportunities will stop; most likely through violence if he does not stop the abusive cycle that sabotages his ability to stay and thrive in good, healthy relationships.

Recently, I chimed in on a Facebook conversation with younger black women about their relationships with men. My message was clear. Yes, it is good to stand with and for a man, but you cannot do for a man what he is not willing to do for himself. As other women added their comments to the thread, I emphasized how important it is to not take away a man’s agency by taking over or usurping the responsibility he has to care  for himself. If a man is not willing to do for himself, to take good care of himself and make life-affirming choices for his life alone, then one must see him for who he is and for who he wants to be (i.e., a dependent who wants others to take care of him). People wonder why there are so many single black females out there, and one of the primary reasons is that there are so many black men out there who are operating with the minds and actions of  a 15 year old, a/k/a arrested development. And, no matter what color she is, no woman has to accept bad, childish behavior from her partner. There is nothing wrong with going solo, in fact, even as marriage remains a popular goal for many people, including non-heterosexuals, the so-called “institution” of marriage is failing. It is not working in favor of women and I doubt that it can work in any patriarchal dominated environment or society. If a man does not treat a woman respectfully as an emotional equal, then it is best to lose him because even though they are few and far between, there are men who can and will be good and healthy partners to women. And, most importantly, no woman deserves to be with anyone who believes that he is superior to her. I believe that no woman should be with a man who openly practices male supremacy, and thus actively engages in daily acts of domination and control on the basis of gender.

N/B: And I must say, unfortunately, many men believe themselves to be superior to women due to religious beliefs and ideologies that assert that male supremacy and thus female inferiority is how their god intended it to be. It is an outdated, antiquated, inequitable, patriarchal, way of thinking and being, and it has informed our systemic and social reality. It is no accident that white male supremacy is as widespread as it is when male supremacy is promoted and enforced in most if not all social, educational and financial institutions, which are dominated by white men.

Today, I am grateful for the wise words of friends and acquaintances, and for those who have also learned the hard way of what it means to let go of that which causes them pain or harm. Every now and then I see my ex in passing, or along the routes and in the places where we both travel and visit. We still live within a few blocks of each other and there have been times when I was compelled to stop and speak to him (of course that didn’t work out too well). Then there was this: a couple of months ago he called and apologized even to the point of taking full responsibility for the break up of our relationship, which he did not need to do (and I told him that as well). However, it was an apology that lasted less than a month, because within one week of that apology he was back at it again being abusive and disrespectful with his language, ideas and his actions (especially in the form of hiding behind the phone and using it as a weapon against me). By the third week that we had been back in contact, a contact that he initiated, he was doing it again, cycling though his own abuse, and in full swing: being an a*shole and being abusive. I had to realize that in spite of what he was saying, he is not willing to be any different than he already is. I had to admit to myself, that the man that he is now is the man that he is prepared to be until the day that he dies.

So, yes, he “should” do something to help himself, but the fact of the matter is that he probably won’t. Ever. And what I had to accept, in the words of the song by E-40, is that “everybody’s got choices.” Therefore, everybody deserves to make a total mess of their own lives if that’s what they want to do. If you have followed my blogging, then you probably know that my life is already very complicated and writing has something to do with that. The last thing I need to do is to add other peoples’ unnecessary complications to my life when they are not willing to take responsibility for their lives and their choices. In addition, I have spent years learning how to undo co-dependent behavior that has kept me from being who I am. So, while on the one hand, I do hope that the man that I once loved and knew intimately will find the wherewithal to change –  and if he does that I will definitely be supportive of that decision even if emotionally I am long gone from him and what we used to have – on the other hand, and in the words of another song that I really love by smooth jazz artist Norman Brown, “It costs to love somebody,” and, as far as this last ex is concerned, I have already paid the price of loving him. Further, there is only so much that I can do for him. Changing his life and his actions so that they are more loving and lovable are things that he will ultimately have to do for himself, on his own.

Who pays the price for love and loving? We all do in one shape, form or fashion. But, how you pay it and why you pay it is totally and entirely up to you. As you think about the quality of your own life, and how to make it through tough and troubling relationships, I urge you to stay true to yourself and commit yourself to making good and sometimes hard choices, even when the people that you love lack the will and possibly the ability to do the same. Ironically, that is “the something” that you can do to help yourself to building and getting the life that you deserve.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

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 kneeling during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” 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 have always categorically identified 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. From men who were never really with us anyway? Well, to them I can unabashedly 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) from 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 really 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 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.

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.