The Art Of Stealth, Part 4: Pierce The Fog Of Dogma
Up to now, we’ve been discussing external actions needed to get ahead in a competitive world. For the next few chapters in this series, we’ll discuss some of the internal qualities needed to successfully walk the Sojourner’s Path.
The first internal quality needed is the willingness to pierce the fog of dogma. To be open to seeing things as they actually are, and how current reality impacts one’s own fortunes. Most African-Americans weigh people, situations and ideas on the wrong scale. We look at things solely through the lens of ideology. We’re not paying attention to the practical effects of our ideologies. We’re not paying any attention at all to the losses and gains we accrue from our various political beliefs. This had led to our collective ruin.
Let me give some examples.
CURRENT DOGMA—REFUSAL TO CHEERLEAD OBESITY = BEING AN EXCLUSIONARY OPPRESSOR
The current dogma among large numbers of African-American women is what has been called “fat acceptance,” and the cheerleading of obesity. It’s taboo among African-American women to: (1) refuse to cheerlead obesity, and (2) openly speak of the very real negative consequences of obesity. God help any African-American woman (of any weight range) who openly warns against obesity and urges overweight African-American women to lose weight.
REALITY—AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN ARE DYING LEFT AND RIGHT DUE TO OBESITY-RELATED AILMENTS
While I was at work last week, I came to a shocking realization. It turns out that for at least the past 5 years, every time that an ambulance has been called to my work building to assist an employee, the stricken employee has been an African-American woman. Every . . . single . . . time. The ambulance has been called for four Black women. Some of them have had the ambulance called more than once. None of them are elderly. All of them are suffering from various chronic ailments such as high blood pressure, and so on. All of them are overweight or obese. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
During a recent conversation, a reader asked,
Khadija, I’m reflecting on your ideas about Gabby and Semenya and the thought that the attention cast on them negatively impacts black women and undermines our beauty/femininity rep in mainstream culture. There are many black women who are LGBT identified, and many whose weight ranges from more than the size 2-6 beauty ideal, all the way to fat, as with white women in both cases. Is there a space for these black women in the Sojourner’s movement Khadija?
With the weight issue, I’ve heard variations on this question before at the previous blog. During this most recent conversation, I replied as follows,
Whoever said that there wasn’t space for “these women in the Sojourners movement”? Where is that thought coming from? Where have I—or anybody else—said that there wasn’t space for these women? I’m also wondering where you got those dress size ranges from. I know that I have never spoken in terms of specific dress sizes. Where’s that coming from?
Which leads me to my next question—What does “support” look like, as you see it?
Does “support” mean ratifying everything and anything about what people are doing?
Does “support” mean remaining silent about aspects of certain situations that are problematic?
I’m curious: What would you have me say or do (that I’m not already doing) to demonstrate “support” for GLBT women and/or women who, as YOU described them, “whose weight ranges from more than the size 2-6 beauty ideal”?
If you read the post from the previous blog [that I had linked to in an earlier comment] (and some other posts from there), you’ll see that I’ve spoken out against bigotry against GLBT people. What else would you have me say to demonstrate my “support” (as you define “support”)?
I eagerly look forward to your reply.
. . . I’m happy I asked for some clarification; I think I now have a better understanding of your questions. Here’s my response:
I don’t have a separate policy position regarding overweight AA women. I also don’t have a separate policy position regarding AA lesbians.
I want the same thing (abundant life) for all AA women and girls.
The idea of separating AA lesbians or overweight AA women out of my work never occurred to me. When I’m talking to or about AA women and girls, I’m referring to ALL of us.
Being overweight or morbidly obese like Ms. Sidibe is not healthy for any AA woman or girl. There are real life, real world negative consequences attached to overweight/obesity. I firmly believe that AA women need to stop tripping about this. I would suggest that folks who haven’t already done so, take the time to read Tracy’s excellent guest post over at Christelyn’s house. Here’s part of it:
“Since last Friday, three women that I know have passed on. No, I’m not use the nice words for this – three women – two good friends of my mother’s and one brilliant caring friend of mine – ARE DEAD. Way before their time. My friend – a nurse, a mother,and a comedian that could make a statue laugh – had a heart attack sitting in her car. She was on her way home from work. They found her the next morning. DEAD.
She was a big woman: she would always tell me that one day she was going to join me on my walks. Like me, she had diabetes and high blood pressure. Like me, she ignored the signs of trouble – failing eyesight, tiredness, aching limbs, headaches – put her cares in the “hands of Jesus”, and kept right on eating. Eating. She would get upset when you got on her about her food choices. Or about how her weight fluctuations were affecting her hormones – she was getting the rash on her neck and damn near growing a beard.. “Ain’t nobody’s business but mine”….. She was 43. She had two kids. She had a husband. Now her business is their business – they have to bury her, and go on without her.”
So, I doubt that I’ll ever give a “hip, hip, hooray” in support of anybody being morbidly obese. I have changed my views about several key things; and I expect to continue to have evolving views as long as I’m alive. However, I just don’t see my views about AA women and obesity changing. Certainly not in order to accommodate the current fat acceptance dogma.
Having an unfeminine or God forbid, butch, self-presentation is a disadvantage for any AA woman or girl—whatever her sexual orientation might be. There are real life, real world negative consequences attached to that. I firmly believe that AA women—all AA women—need to stop tripping about this. When a woman creates a butch self-presentation for herself, she cuts herself off from the benefits of being perceived as feminine. Defeminization by visually becoming un-women means that a woman won’t receive what has been described as the four main manifestations of male protection: courtesy, concern, consideration, and concessions.
Furthermore, a self-defeminizing, butch woman has also put a bullseye on her own back. I’m not talking about what’s right or fair. Life is not fair. I’m talking about how the real world actually operates, and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future. I hope this answers your questions. 🙂
Let me make something plain . . .
I’m not going to cheerlead the things that are killing African-American women.
Cheerleading obesity and fat acceptance is cheerleading suffering and early death.
I’m not going to bite my tongue about the negative consequences of being overweight or obese. I would rather that African-American women be annoyed and alive. As opposed to complacent and dead.
CURRENT DOGMA—CHEERLEADING NON-MAINSTREAM BEHAVIOR IS ALWAYS PROGRESSIVE AND SUPPORTS LIBERATION
There’s a similar dogma among progressive African-American women concerning femininity. Many of us assume that cheerleading non-mainstream behavior and self-presentation is to automatically be in support of justice and freedom. I disagree.
REALITY—CHEERLEADING BUTCH SELF-PRESENTATION CHOICES IS CHEERLEADING UNNECESSARY HARDSHIP AND SUFFERING FOR THE WOMEN WHO PRESENT THEMSELVES AS BUTCH
Here’s what I believe: I believe that people don’t choose their sexual orientations. I don’t recall ever “choosing” to be heterosexual. I never decided or made a choice to take up an interest in having sex with men. So no, I don’t believe that anybody chooses their sexual orientation. However, the clothes you wear, and how you present yourself is a choice. A choice that has consequences, as I mentioned in my reply to the reader.
Let me mention some more food for thought. Has it occurred to any of us “wannabe supportive” straight women that some lesbians might consider this butch self-presentation a lesbian equivalent of “Acting Black” mess? I’ll call it “Acting Queer.” [Since “queer” is the term that many politicized gays and lesbians use for themselves.] I’ll note that some of the African-American lesbians I’ve known have complained about being criticized—by other lesbians—for being what I’ve heard gay men refer to as “straight-acting and appearing.” Has it occurred to anybody that for some lesbian and bisexual women, this stereotypical butch stuff might be a suffocating, internal straitjacket similar to the stereotypical “acting Black” mess? It seems to me that cheerleading butch self-presentations is not automatically the same as supporting liberation for lesbian and bisexual women.
One of the coworkers I mentioned earlier who has had an ambulance called for her at work is a lesbian. She has complained about the friction she’s had over the years with a number of butch lesbians about her lack of interest in dating butch-looking women. [Sounds a lot like the “self-hating” insult that’s tossed at any African-American who refuses to engage in or support the nonsense that has been falsely equated with being Black.] I have heard similar complaints from some of the other lesbians I’ve known. Granted, the lesbian and bisexual women that I’ve known well enough to have these sorts of conversations with have all been so-called “straight-acting and appearing.”
Again, let me make it plain.
I’m not going to cheerlead choices that create unnecessary hardship for African-American women. A butch self-presentation falls into that category.
Also, I’m not going to cheerlead butch women being lifted up as representative examples of African-American or Black womanhood. This is what I’ve previously said about the controversial runner Caster Semenya,
I believe that BW are making a HUGE long-term, strategic mistake by rallying around this individual with indignant tones of “How dare anybody question her gender?”
We’re saying this as if this person is an accurate representation of Black womanhood. Is THIS individual somebody that we want to scream about and lift up as “ain’t she a woman, darn it?”
I believe that by taking this posture, we are yet again undermining the image of BW as being desirable and feminine.
A woman can be cut and muscular and still have a feminine shape, as we’ve seen with many other female athletes. That’s not what’s going on here.
I’ve looked at the pictures of this individual’s physique. There’s NOTHING womanly about her. Including her moustache. I DON’T want this individual lifted up as any sort of example of Black womanhood. I’m NOT claiming this aberrant individual as an example of Black womanhood. “She” doesn’t have anything to do with me and other actual, normal women.
Again, I think it’s a huge mistake for us to run around claiming this person is a “normal” BW. By doing so, we are cooperating with the idea that we aren’t women just like other women on the planet.
I believe that she’s intersexed or has some other abnormality (genetic abnormality, something causing high testosterone levels, etc.).
And no, it’s not “fair and square” for intersexed individuals or others with abnormally high testosterone levels or other male attributes to compete against normal women with normal levels of male hormones, etc. This is exactly the same unfair advantage that the East Germans and Soviets sought for their “female” athletes in previous eras. The East Germans and Soviets were cheating then by doing this. It’s still cheating now to use genetic non-women against women competitors.
Intersexed individuals need to compete against the other athletes***meaning MEN***who have comparable levels of male hormones, and other male attributes, etc. That is what would be fair as far as I’m concerned.
I stand by that sentiment. African-American women can’t afford to cooperate with being “othered.” Whether it’s by only showcasing obese Black women. Or by lifting up butch Black women. Golden Ah, blog host of Betty Chambers Has Spoken, has written an excellent post about the current campaign to “other” Black women. I strongly urge everyone to read the post in its entirety. She said,
I’ll repeat myself: I might be willing to accept the alternative “other” images of us, once they let Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC be as unattractive and masculine as their original, keeping-it-real selves used to be. But if you notice, the first thing they went through was a total and complete makeover. They were made to conform to an ideal; an existing feminine and attractive package.
Ladies. All of these people out there enjoy “othering” you. DO NOT EMBRACE IT. Let those bitches go first.
It’s a disgusting and deadly thing these people like to do to black women. When you accept “othering”, MEN wont and do not regard you as feminine. They will not come and protect you. You leave yourself vulnerable. That’s why people like throwing “strong black woman” at us. No one feels we are entitled to respect, protection, to be provided for, or cherished like other women.
Nearly everywhere one looks, there’s an overweight, or obese black woman (who’s often loud) receiving mainstream media attention and accolades. Even if her career is going to last 5 minutes. Or maybe she’s the face of an extremely harsh and pungent detergent, feminine yeast problems, or other unattractive ailments, and even if she’s pleasant, the product is nice – there’s something off about her.
She’s absolutely right.
HAVING AN EMOTIONALLY CHARGED RELATIONSHIP WITH ASPECTS OF ONE’S IDENTITY IS UNHEALTHY AND USUALLY UNATTRACTIVE
Healthy people don’t have emotionally charged relationships with the various facets of their identity. They simply appreciate and when relevant, celebrate, their identities and go on with their lives. I want all of us to be relaxed and self-confident enough to enjoy all this world has to offer. Without unnecessary hindrances. Right now, most African-Americans can’t do this because we have emotionally charged relationships with various aspects of our identity.
Not only are these emotionally charged relationships with various aspects of our identity unhealthy, but they’re also typically unattractive and off-putting (for various reasons). Let me give some examples with various personal attributes.
Emotionally Healthy Person With This Attribute: Is making efforts (however small) to get to a healthy weight, is interested in hearing and sharing health tips.
Person With An Issue About This Attribute: Fat-acceptance proselytizing, (often angry) denial of consequences attached to overweight/obesity.
ATTRIBUTE— Black Woman With Natural Hairstyle
Emotionally Healthy Person With This Attribute: Is happy with her natural hairstyle, does not try to shove her hairstyle choice down other people’s throats.
Person With An Issue About This Attribute: Is a natural hair crusader, finds her identity in her hair, is defined by her natural hair, constantly berates other Black women for not wearing natural hairstyles.
ATTRIBUTE— Black Person With One Non-Black Parent
Emotionally Healthy Person With This Attribute: Content to self-identify as “Black,” is not frantic for other people to know that they’re half-non-Black; other people naturally find out about the non-Black parent (when they happen to meet them or see photos of them).
Person With An Issue About This Attribute: Desperate to make sure that everybody knows that they’re not Black like “regular” Blacks, frequently mentions their “biracial” status—even when it’s totally irrelevant to the conversation, typically holds many anti-Black racist views.
ATTRIBUTE— Lesbian Or Bisexual Woman
Emotionally Healthy Person With This Attribute: Is more or less indistinguishable from straight women, falls within the same basic range of feminine through feminine-tomboy mannerisms and personal styles as most straight women, her sexual orientation is one of many important aspects of her personal identity.
Person With An Issue About This Attribute: Is entirely defined by her sexual orientation, is acting out a stereotypical “Acting Queer” parallel to “Acting Black” stereotypes.
ATTRIBUTE— Western Muslim Man Wearing A Beard
Emotionally Healthy Person With This Attribute: Has a neatly clipped, short beard, is wearing typical Western clothes at work.
Person With An Issue About This Attribute: Has a ZZ Top-length beard, feels obligated to always wear Arab or South Asian clothes and headgear, his beard and his “eastern” clothes are his faith.
ATTRIBUTE— Western Muslim Woman Wearing Hijab
Emotionally Healthy Person With This Attribute: Wears a head scarf, is otherwise dressed in typical Western clothes.
Person With An Issue About This Attribute: Wearing a full veil with only her eyes showing, feels obligated to only wear Arab or South Asian clothes, her veil and her “eastern” clothes are her faith, wants special accommodations for her choice to wear this gear (does not want to remove veil/mask for driver’s license photo, and so on).
The “issue” versions of most attributes are unhealthy and almost always unappealing. They also don’t help people as they navigate the outer world. I want you to win as you go through life. Whether you choose to compete or not, you live in a competitive world. If you’re behind, other people are not going to slow down to give you a chance to catch up. They’re going to continue to seek every advantage they can get. To win, you have to be willing to pierce the fog of dogma and consider the practical effects of various choices.
If you want to win in life, you need to lay the dogma aside for a moment and ask yourself:
- What is the practical effect of X?
- If X is a liability, is X worth the price?
**Audience Note** In terms of publishing new posts, I’m going to pause here for a moment. I want everyone to let the four chapters published so far in this series marinate for a while.
Tagged as: the art of stealth