Musings & Memoirs
Keeping Grown-Up Girlfriends
As a mother, I often wonder about how other women keep their “grown up” relationships alive and healthy? Several weeks ago, I connected with a high school friend. We chatted on the phone for about an hour. At the end of the call, I was amazed by our connection even though so much time had passed since we last spoke to each other. I was even more surprised by what connecting to another woman who looks like me and shares some of my experiences did for my sense of self.
Because Kylie and I knew each other so well in high school, letting her into my life and sharing my experiences, the good and not so good, seemed easier and safer, than when meeting someone completely new. Is this normal? With Kylie, I found myself sharing more and connecting more deeply. I found myself more willing to become vulnerable, even after failed friendships of years past that continue to have an impact.
Her laugh was exactly like I remembered it and I often wonder what she sees and hears in me. Do I look the same? Do I act the same? Am I essentially the same person, despite being married with a child. Connecting with Kylie also reminded me of that mattered to me when I was younger. She reminds me of what my dreams were. Today, I look back on our time in high school with both nostalgia and relief. I am nostalgic for at time what seemed simpler. I am relieved because I would hate to have to relieve those years again.
Now that we are both mothers, I am trying to prioritize this relationship to be sure that we do not lose touch again. How is it that we let friendships go? Is it a lack of time? The inability to prioritize? I often ask myself how I managed to let such a solid friend go? When we chatted about this very questions, Kylie reminded me that there were times when she was unable to maintain our friendship, proving that as much as I would have liked to have kept our connection going, at different points in our lives, it simply was not possible.
Kylie and I do not speak each week; however, last week she called and told me that a month had gone by without hearing from me and wanted to reach out. At that point, I made a mental note that I need to give this relationship the time it deserves because it is important to me. Kylie makes me feel like myself and in a world where so many people seem to be bent on fabricating perfect lives, I get to show up as myself, as imperfect as I am. How do you maintain your grown-up friendships? What do you do to keep your friendship alive with busy schedules, families and work? What do you do when life gets in the way?
Sister to Sister: Black Women & Anger
by Anita Jack-Davies
This cruelty between us, this harshness, is a piece of legacy of hate with which we were inoculated from the time we were born by those who intended it to be an injection of death (Audre Lorde, from the Essay “Sister Outsider”).
Ms. Lorde, if you were sitting beside me right now, I would tell you that I do not know how make sense of the rollercoaster ride that my emotions have taken since reading your words. In truth, my tongue betrays me and I do not feel that I can accurately articulate those feelings that are surging deep within my purple veins. I can only describe them as bittersweet, like the taste of bitter gall followed by sweet nectar. How should I begin? Where should I begin? Like you, I have very early and distinct memories of Black women; Trinidadian women from the maternal side of my family. My grandmother has five sisters, my mother has seven, and my female first cousins number five. As a child, I remember these women (and girls) well, the good and the not so good part of their beings: strict, stylish, tender, gossipy, soft spoken, critical, feminine; women who laughed loudly, danced gaily, and who sang with voices so pure, that I think that they have missed their calling. What I most remember though, is how they kept a keenly watchful eye on me, making sure that I was being brought up in the “right” way.
It is clear to me now that so much of who these women are have become pureed into the woman that I have grown into. This I can no longer deny. Sometimes, just the thought of their accomplishments in light of their struggles in America’s racist society, creates a lump in my throat and because of my empathy for their hardships, I reserve a secret place in my heart for these Black women only, it seems. Sadly, this is not true for Other Black women, the ones that I notice at the grocery store who march straight ahead in determined haste; seemingly too busy to notice that I am there; other Black women that I glance at while at the mall, who seem to go out of their way to avoid my gaze; young Black women on the university campus who seem too shy or afraid to lock eyes with me.
This past summer on a trip that my husband and I took to Montreal, I noticed a young Black woman approaching us. She seemed to be about twenty five years old. I remember that she walked alone. What struck me was how intently she sated at me with razor sharp eyes of putrid disgust. Was it me, my husband or simply what we represented? I remember walking away from her thinking, “And what gives you the right to look at me so?” Truly, I could not make sense of what she meant to gain such an open display of hate, until reading your words. And yet, I have often been violated in the same way by white women, and have taken less offense. Is this because I expect their hate? Is it because I realize that their hate for me is all that they know? Is it not true that they deliberately inflict pain on me because they view me as a thief that has stolen that piece of exquisite jewelry that only they have a right to? He is, after all, white; the knight in shining armor ready to rescue them from their soap opera-d lives. This violation at the hands of another Black woman stops me dead in my tracks. For days it stews and festers in my mind, without an outlet.
Last year I met a Black woman at the hair salon. I remember how happy I was to meet her. Her skin was dark and beautiful. We had alot in common and hit it off instantly. We proceeded to exchange telephone numbers. However, when I went home later that day, I immediately threw her telephone number away, unwilling to open the scabbed-over wound of a failed friendship with a Black woman who was my best friend for sixteen years. Unfortunately, this innocent woman inherited the worse aspects of my failed friendship that was ravaged by mistrust, betrayal and competitiveness. How could I tell this stranger that she had done nothing wrong and that my reluctance to share my life’s journey with her was due to my own weakness? After all, is it not my responsibility to take care of myself? Now, when I see her at the gym, I sense some discomfort. I see the hesitation in her glance as I try to mask mine. I sometimes smile, but most times, I look straight ahead at the television screen, too engaged in my workout to notice her standing there. And this is why your words are still relevant today, as when your first wrote this piece.
I am able to wound another Black woman because she is like a sponge that will absorb the pain, whether this is cowardly of me or not. I know that unlike a white woman, she will not break down and cry, ushering the entire world to her rescue as they demonize me in the process for inflicting pain on her. I am able to wound another Black woman because only I truly understand those subtle nuances in eye contact and bodily gestures that carry meaning for us. I am armed with strategies securely in place, just in case. I am able to wound another Black woman because I cannot endure any more suffering for I am only human: my hair is not long enough, I am not ligh-skinned enough, my speech is too white, I am not shapely enough, why did I marry a white man, who do I think I am, why am I acting white, Lorde, stop it already! And yet, without the friendship of a Black woman I am as nothing more than a bird flying with a broken wing, fluttering about, searching for rescue.
Notes on a Scandal
Why the Shondra Rhimes Hit is Detrimental to Black Women's Self Esteem
“Just one minute” pleads Fits as he leads Olivia’s body onto a wall, looking deeply into her eyes, gently pressing his body onto hers as he breathes her essence for a stolen sixty seconds. The scene makes me weak in the knees for I can’t remember a time in television history when I witnessed a “romance” between two characters, yet alone a black woman and a white man, that was this steamy. Scandal is a hit! The show has enjoyed critical success since it first aired in 2012. It tells the story of Olivia Pope, a beautiful and savvy public relations “fixer” in Washington D.C. who is having an illicit affair with the married president of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant.
Now in its fourth season, the show has a dedicated fan following with the relationship between the two star-crossed lovers popularly known as Olitz. First things first. I am proud to see a black female actress working and doing her thing. Kerry Washington makes the Olivia Pope character her own and complements Tony Goldwyn well, despite he being the better performer. I am also proud of Shondra Rhymes. She is a working executive in Hollywood and has several hit TV shows such as How to Get Away with Murder, Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy to her credit. She is no doubt a “boss” and doing her thing.
Here is where the show becomes problematic for me. I don’t like the fact that Olivia is the President’s mistress. For the first three seasons of the show, the President is a married man, albeit unhappily. We seem him yearning for a time when he and Olivia can finally be together. We see how “complicated” it is for him to leave his marriage and the fact that his own marriage is farce, a convenient fairytale used to appease a voting base that he desperately needs in order to say in the White House. I have a problem with Olivia being his “mistress” because it feels to me that the Olivia character is yet another slap in the face for black women. Given the history of marginalization and dehumanization that black women in North America, the Caribbean and South America endured during slavery and given that many controlling images persist today that cast black women as whores, mammies, bad mothers and jezebels, I often wonder about the message that the show is sending to the masses, many of whom are white. “Oh, but it’s just entertainment”, is often the reply when the show is critiqued in this regard. My question is, if Scandal is simply entertainment, what impact does such “entertainment” have on black women’s self esteem? As a black woman, I do not often see many positive images of myself represented in popular media. I believe this is one of the reason why the Black Girls Rock campaign/movement has gotten so much traction over the past few years. Young black girls are growing up in a world where they are rarely celebrated and affirmed. If they were, there would be no reason for such an effort that is specifically designed to instill self-love, acceptance, visibility and a sense of community.
I am living at a time when I have to search out those positive images that make me feel that I am beautiful, worthy, intelligent and valuable. Given the dearth of positive imagery that exists depicting black women in popular media, I wonder whether a show that frames a successful black woman as the President’s mistress simply reinforces problematic beliefs about black women as jezebels, sexually loose and harlots.
I remember a scene in one of the seasons where Fitz pulls Olivia into a closet at the White House and makes passionate love to her (I am being polite here…this is a family friendly site). In all of my years of watching television, I never witnessed such an explicit display. When the shock of the scene wore off, I began to seriously consider the impact the show might have on audiences with very few first hand experiences with black women. The media is the most powerful teacher there is when first-hand experience is lacking about a particular community. Will people think that all black women are like Olivia, I asked myself? I also began to wonder whether the producers of the show would have ever cast a white woman in such an explicit way.
While I do not judge others who may watch Scandal, I am personally struggling with whether I should continue watching the show. And although I am told that Fitz eventually does leave his wife Millie for Olivia (sorry for this spoiler for those of you not that far ahead yet), I need to figure out whether I should support “entertainment”, in any form, that runs the risk of making me feel worse about myself than before I started. I would love to hear from you. Do you watch the show Scandal and do you think that it is detrimental to black women’s self esteem?