I spent the weekend in my now sparsely furnished living room drinking whiskey and chuckling. It was a really remarkable way to kick off Black history month because it was an ode to what’s really important about this month. When I studied for the Black History Brain Bowl competition in middle school I was really clear that the month had everything to do with memorizing facts about Garret A. Morgan, Guinion S. Bluford and Ida B. Wells. Black history month was literally a practice in memorizing how many things my people have invented, improved, and perfected. It’s an honorable history. and a dangerous one.
Dangerous because there was so much about Black history that is living and breathing and reflects many aspects of who I am as a woman, scholar, and critical thinker.The writer and Floridian in me needed Zora…. while the sexually shy and unsure woman in me needed… well, Trina.
The conversations I was having in my apartment this weekend and a road trip filled with Trick Daddy radio on Pandora was enough to convince me that Trina was as important to my formative years as Anna Julia Cooper. And then- there was a lot of concern over the “First Black man to borrow 5 dollars till the first” memes that had everyone up in arms…. and I was a little nervous about sharing that Trina would be my first Black history month reflection. I certainly am concerned that people might take my perspective as disrespect, but I take the insistence on Black history being in vacuum as mis-respect. Mis-respect is like a road paved with good intentions. I thought, that God forbid we use Black history month to celebrate all the things and people that make us feel good, that celebrates us as fully round, dynamic human beings.
Trina and Anna Julia Cooper were important in that way. We are so revolutionary in this way. That is, in the way of talking about womanhood and really unpacking what it means to be a Black woman in America… or anywhere for that matter. She was the original articulator of this thought that you can be Black and a woman and those things are inextricable- indeed when and where I enter, a whole lot of things come through the door. It was AJC who said, “It is not the intelligent woman v. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman v. the black, the brown, and the red, it is not even the cause of woman v. man. Nay, tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice.” THAT is at the heart of this Black history moment and at the heart of dismantling respectability politics. If only certain kinds of Black people are worthy of being heard, then aren’t you simply doing the oppressor’s work?
My reality is, the discussions I was having in my living room with girlfriends about the legacy of our mothers was revolutionary- and it wasn’t always ‘respectable.’ What I can say, is that it was vulnerable and it was honest, and fundamentally worthy of being heard. Most of our mothers didn’t have the luxury of exploring their sexuality– whether that meant same sex partners, multiple partners, kama sutra, orgasm, or “making him eat it while her period was on.” So while Madam CJ Walker was important and remarkable— I turned to Trina to articulate much of my voice as a sexual being.
It was I who sat at the feet of weeping friends who were sexually assaulted or sexually curious and dealing with complex feelings of unworthiness and filthiness because they had lost their “flower” or hadn’t given their “cookie” to the right person. It was I who tried to understand what it meant for my self worth and value as a human being when I had sex with an all around shitty guy. It was Trina who proclaimed, “If I had the chance to be a virgin again, I’d be fucking by the time I’m 10.” Because, it is only women who are taught that our value is encapsulated in our virginity, and once it is sold to the highest bidder– it is theirs to enjoy for eternity. It was Trina who said, “Smell it like a flower, my pussy is a rose– come a little closer- I wanna fuck your nose,” deconstructing the vagina euphemism game we adopted for so long. We constantly hear these messages about flowers and grow into the type of respectable women who praise Beyonce with the same mouths we shame Trina with. Beyonce’s sexuality is ok, it’s safe, it is worthy of being heard because her sexuality went to the highest and most worthy bidder– her husband. This is not at all a crtiticism of Bey, BUT it is to say ‘allowing’ a woman the freedom to discuss her sexuality solely in the context of marriage is to do a disservice to all women.
It is the reason we end up in bad marriages. The reason we end up with shitty sex lives. Because we are expected to go from nuns to Jada Fire once you say “I do.” It’s because we’re not allowed to enjoy sex, or see it as a priority. We are to be ashamed for letting a ‘good man’ go if we’re unattracted or unphased. Trina taught me long ago not to be ashamed to have or not to have had sex. It was Trina who said, “if you off the chain, stay ahead of the game- save up buy a condo.” She was speaking to the women who society had determined weren’t worth hearing. The ones who had given their flower up long before they said their vows. These same women who weren’t given the courtesy of speaking authentically about sex and sexuality. Imagine the guilt we could have shed long ago if we had taken Trina’s advice.
When Trina said, “I ain’t ashamed of nothing I do” before even starting her verse in Nann Nigga, there was liberation. To be sexual, to take ownership over your body as a woman was to be a jezebel for so long that many of us associated these moments with shame. This is especially sad because shame does not discriminate. While some were ashamed to be happy– others were ashamed to be, and suffered in silence because our abuse became our fault.
If I had known what I know now– that Trina made me ahead of my time, not behind it… I would have enjoyed college a lot more- ignoring the respectability politics that told me as a black woman I had to exist in a vacuum to be worthy of being heard or loved. This year, in honor of Black History month, I salute a woman who formed much of my consciousness and thank her for helping me come to the point of my understanding.
“I care not for the theoretical symmetry and impregnable logic of your moral code, I care not for the hoary respectability and traditional mysticisms of your theological institutions, I care not for the beauty and solemnity of your rituals and religious ceremonies, I care not even for the reasonableness and unimpeachable fairness of your social ethics,–if it does not turn out better, nobler, truer, men and women,–if it does not add to the world’s stock of valuable souls,–if it does not give us a sounder, healthier, more reliable product from this great factory of men–I will have none of it.” -Anna Julia Cooper.