Initial thoughts re: Beyoncé’s Lemonade

A few years ago I was co-hosting a weekend retreat for a group of black womyn. At some point in the evening we were drinking wine, listening to music and chatting when someone brought up Beyoncé. I remember remarking that although I love dancing to her music when I’m out at a club or party, I wasn’t a fan of her music in particular, mainly because I prefer to listen to music that is consciously trying to say something about the state of the world. One of the participants disagreed with me, arguing that she didn’t see anything wrong with a musician who wants to sing about her personal experiences and that not everyone has to make music that is political. I agreed, but told her while musicians have every right to choose what type of music they make, I also have a right to listen to the music which speaks to me.

Fast forward a few years and I was sitting in front of the tv watching the 2016 superbowl with my sister-in-law and my partner, when Beyoncé debuted Formation. As soon as I saw the back-up dancers and Queen Bey in their black, militaristic outfits I got chills. My first thought was that the outfits reminded me of Michael Jackson’s epic superbowl performance in the 90s. I had already heard the song (which had debuted the night before) and my sister-in-law and I excitedly watched to see if they would censor some of the language (specifically the word “negroes”). When the performance was over we were both grinning and started talking excitedly. We realized that we had just witnessed what felt like a turning point in Beyoncé’s music career. After decades of singing about love and relationships, she had finally made a song which we recognized as completely pro-black and pro-feminine, and we were ecstatic.

Then yesterday I got four text messages from my sister-in-law in quick succession. “I don’t know if you have seen it yet…”, “since you liked Formation I think you’ll like this even more…”, and finally a link to watch Lemonade, Beyoncé’s newly released video album. I told my partner, and we agreed that we would watch it after the kids were asleep. And we did. All 65 minutes of glorious, pro-black, pro-womyn/feminine fabulousness. I was mesmerized from the first minute, taking note of every detail possible…what did the tattoo on that womyn’s shoulder say? what kind of trees are those interspersed throughout? the titles/words during the transitions (intuition, denial, anger, apathy, and so on…). Occasionally one of us would comment on something  such as the beat sampled from an old song, or the images of the many young black lives lost too soon. For the first few songs I thought the album was about her relationship with her husband, but soon began to see, hear and FEEL something more, something deeper. By the time we got to “forgiveness, reconciliation, resurrection” I knew that Beyoncé had captured so much more than her own experiences. I recognized something in the message that was meant for black womyn like myself. My partner on the other hand became perplexed, he told me at the end of the video that he felt like he “had been lead somewhere and then left to figure it out”. I realized that he was looking for a resolution, a nice clean ending that explained what it all meant. And after some reflection I realized that is why this video spoke to me.

Because my existence as a black womyn in a world where the black womyn is “the most disrespected person” can not be tied up in a nice clean story. Our stories are nuanced, complex, and intertwined. We can not be expressed in words, or through music. Our essence can not be captured by the media portrayals of black womyn which often depict us as one dimensional. By speaking and sharing her truth, without worrying about whether (white) people would get it, Beyoncé had managed to weave an intricate story, one of betrayal, hurt, anger, sadness, loneliness, strength, confidence, growth, feminine energy, birth, love, rebirth, reconciliation, forgiveness, family, intergenerational trauma, pain, and freedom. A story told by a black womyn, with the help of other black womyn, for black womyn.

I know that there will be a lot of dialogue about the album. I have already seen the media portray it as the story of an angry black womyn scorned. On CNN this morning they were discussing it in a two minute clip that included the scene where Beyoncé is smashing cars with a bat while a fireball explodes in the background. It did not surprise me that they chose to focus on the scenes from “Anger”. It did not surprise me that they gave airtime to some tweets by (one of) the side chicks that is thought to be referenced in the song. That they reduced this one hour album to the story of Beyoncé and Jay-Z and their marital strife demonstrates how womyn’s agency and experience is erased as we are reduced to being wives and mothers. That they failed to mention any of the pro-black feminine imagery (the video features black feminine folks, with almost no white people, and no men in the entire 65 minutes) demonstrates the way that black agency is ignored and our attempts to tell our own stories ignored and erased. As someone who is repeatedly called an angry black womyn I was not surprised to see mainstream media interpreting this album in such a manner. And it really doesn’t matter, because I know that there is so much that they are missing and because I know that the point is not what they think of it. I know what I see when I watch this one hour long tribute to the resiliency, power and truth of the black feminine experience. I look forward to watching it again and again to absorb the story and message which Beyoncé has created for black womyn like myself, without needing to explain it or share it. Because this is our story, and we are not here for anyone else’s viewing pleasure. After decades of following Beyoncé’s career develop I feel honoured to be occupying this space with her. This is one album and one artist that speaks to me, and I can’t wait to see where she takes us next.

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Airport security throws out 500 oz of breastmilk

A woman travelling through Heathrow airport was forced to throw 500 ounces of frozen breast milk in the garbage. This story is so infuriating, and as someone who has pumped breast milk for two children I can only imagine how much work went into collecting this supply and how upset this mom must be.

The fact that the milk was frozen is only one of the problems with this decision (apparently someone decided that the milk might “become liquid” at some point during the flight). The other problem is that this happened DESPITE a statement on the Heathrow website that states exceptions to rules regarding liquids on airplanes include baby food. Although the list does not explicitly include frozen breast milk it should be common sense that this falls within the category of baby food.

Breast feeding parents face many challenges and obstacles, and sheer ignorance by a person in a position of authority is just one more. Although it is too late for this mother to get her milk back, I hope that this will spur some changes to ensure that nursing parents everywhere are protected from future incidents like this.

#solidarity

Just another mommy blog

I have been a mother for just over two years now, and a mother of two for almost two months. When my eldest child was born I considered starting a parenting blog, but didn’t because a) I was too overwhelmed with keeping my baby alive! and b) I thought there were many other moms out there writing about the same things that I would. I was on maternity leave for the first 9 months of my child’s life and during this time I read, watched and talked about nothing other than parenting. I have always been an avid reader but I found myself gravitating towards parenting books and blogs and agonized over things such as breastfeeding, infant sleeping habits, birth and post-partum health and something called “attachment parenting”. I joined parenting forums, facebook groups, and support groups. I surrounded myself with other parents (mainly mothers) and spent almost every waking minute with my child.

Then, suddenly, my leave was over and I found myself back in the company of adults again. I was a full-time graduate student, juggling an infant with no full-time child care arrangement. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, I found myself settling quickly into a routine which included doing my academic readings while nursing my baby to sleep. I began to read journal articles and text books, and occasionally found time for pleasure reading as well. When I found out I was pregnant with my second I vowed not to get sucked back into the world of parenting blogs and online groups, and to stay connected with “the outside world”. Instead, a few hours after giving birth to my second child, I found myself turning to my parenting groups for advice and commiseration as we were forced to leave the baby in the NICU. Soon, I was sucked back into the endless conversations about diapers, nursing and parenting and I forgot all about my plans to keep up with my academic readings while on maternity leave. But something was different this time.

Whereas the first time around I had found the parenting forums to be full of knowledge and wisdom, this time I found myself applying the same critical lens that I had grown accustomed to in my academic work. In addition, as a second-time mother I found myself just as likely to be giving advice as to be asking for it. As a result, I soon began to notice that the parenting forums which I had considered to be safe spaces for all parents to ask questions and discuss the challenges of raising children…were not created for all. I began to notice racist, gendered, homophobic and ableist language being used. I started to name these things and to engage in dialogues with others about the problematic assumptions being made. And I soon found that this type of critical discussion was neither welcome nor wanted.

After a number of threads got out of hand with name-calling and personal attacks against myself and other racialized or queer parents I realized that these so-called parenting groups, were in truth meant for white, cis female mothers. I was welcome to participate as long as I stayed in my place, and my attempts to bring awareness to the oppression occuring within the groups resulted only in my being labelled an angry, black woman (literally, repeatedly). I began to have anxiety when I logged into facebook and saw notifications from certain parenting groups, and my inbox was filled with private messages from racialized and queer parents who themselves felt excluded and oppressed. For a while, I simply retreated. I erased my conversations and comments and decided to hide notifications from some groups. There was only one group where I felt safe (eventually two because I found a feminist parenting group). I decided to stay in  one of the local groups solely for the fact that it was a great resource for certain things, but I stopped engaging in conversations that had any potential to become problematic. I stopped naming oppressive language or posts. I began to search for blogs by parents whose experiences more closely resembled mine and I realized that parenting blogs are also more likely to be written by and for white mothers. And as this realization sunk in, I began to think about how much I had depended on these avenues for support with my first child and it saddened me to feel so alone and isolated this time around. It didn’t feel fair, and I wondered if other parents felt the same. So I decided that perhaps it was time to create this blog after all.

Perhaps somewhere out there is a mom (or dad) who is looking for a safe space to discuss their thoughts and challenges with parenting and although I don’t have all the answers, maybe I could help to create a space for them to do so. I hope that this blog will help someone out there, or will help me connect with other parents and feel less alone. And so I have begun this journey, and look forward to seeing where it takes me. Because all parents deserve to find a place to go to share, ask questions or simply complain about the stresses and challenges of raising children. I hope that this space will serve to be that place for some, but at the very least I have found a place to share my own struggles and victories.

On white feminism

I am a feminist. Social justice and equity are important to my work and my life. I believe that we need to critically examine our society to ensure that we are creating space for all individuals (and communities) to experience their optimal well-being. I also believe that it is imperative that we use an intersectional framework which recognizes that individuals experience the world based on ALL of their identities and that there are multiple systems of oppression which intersect differently for each of to create our reality. I have found that as a black feminist some of the most vocal opponents to my work are themselves feminists, and this has always astounded me. I came across a video today which speaks to this and thought I would share it as it is a good starting point for discussing how feminism can become more inclusive so that we can address gender, race, ability, sexuality and all other forms of oppression.

Why We Need To Talk About White Feminism – YouTube

Why I need to talk about racism

As a black woman who grew up in Canada I am all too familiar with the many kinds of racism that exist in this country. From systemic racism within the education system and the justice system to individual acts of racism, I have experienced it, witnessed it and heard about it from family and friends. Growing up in Toronto, considered to be the most multicultural city in the world, I was one of maybe 10 black students in a high school of over 2000 students. I remember noticing that the only two black male students in the grade ahead of me both left the school suddenly and I heard rumours that they had been expelled. Whether or not that was true I never confirmed, but I remember wondering whether it was a coincidence that they had both left.It was hard to point to systemic racism in a school where there were so few racialized students, easier to just assume that they had done something to deserve being expelled or perhaps that they had simply chosen to leave. I never discussed this with anyone, I didn’t know either of them very well, and yet something about the situation bothered me enough that I still remember it now, almost 20 years later. In a way, this is what racism in Canada has always been like for me. An incident occurs, something about it just doesn’t sit right, but there is not enough evidence to call it racism, so I (and everyone else) just let it go. I spent most of my teen and early adult years wondering why I was so sensitive, why these things bothered me so much when it was clear that I must be imagining it. Because if it really was racism, why would everyone else be so comfortable to simply ignore it?

Recently I have begun to understand that I am not alone. That many other racialized folk living and experiencing these same things, also feel that racism is alive in Canada. And I have also begun to understand why we are so hesitant to name it, and why it is so easy for these incidents to be ignored. As I have become more vocal about racism, I have begun to see that most Canadians are in denial that racism exists here in the 21st century. As a society we believe that racism is an American problem, or that it is something for the history books. Even worse, attempts to discuss racism are often treated as the problem. I have had many experiences of pointing out racist behaviour, language or systems only  to be told that I am being divisive, or being asked to prove that race is a factor.

As I watched the BlackLivesMatterTO movement in the past few weeks, I began to recognize these same responses on a larger scale. I watched the media completely ignore the protesters gathered outside police headquarters until they found a story which vilified one of the founders of the movement. I heard colleagues and acquaintances dismiss the concerns of the protesters claiming that we have no proof that the incidents they wanted examined (such as the death of Andrew Loku at the hands of police) had anything to do with race. I read articles questioning Premier Kathleen Wynne’s statement that systemic racism exists in Ontario. And I participated in online conversations where those of us who attempted to describe the racism we had experienced be reprimanded for the way we were talking or being asked to provide evidence that race was a motivating factor.

I realize now that racism in Canada is so pervasive and systemic that it is easier to ignore it then to attempt to confront it or change it. But I also recognize that living with racism is detrimental to the health of racialized folk, and until we begin to have conversations about how racism and race impact our lives, we will continue to see higher rates of incarceration, death and illness among our communities. It is for this reason that I decided to start this blog and begin this discussion in whatever way I can. My hope is that if we can begin to have these difficult conversations now, if we can begin to work towards changing the racist systems within which we exist, perhaps my children will be able to experience a Canada which is truly free of racism. Or at the very least, they will know that it is okay to name their pain and their experiences so that they do not have to bear the burden silently as so many of us have done for too long.

Social Constructs

In my third year of undergrad a friend suggested that I take an intro to sociology course. I didn’t have a lot of experience with social science courses, and I remember part way through the course thinking that most of what we were learning was common sense. The concepts we were covering seemed very familiar, although the language being used was new to me. Since then I have come to realize that my social position and identities had introduced me to many of the core concepts of sociology and social justice, long before I took that course.

As the daughter of refugees I have always been aware of the way that our upbringing and culture impacts our view of the world. I soon learned that the term social constructs refers to this very concept. The words and ideas that we use to make sense of the world around us influences the way that we understand that world. My parents came from a country where snow did not exist, and their language had one word to mean both ice and snow. On the other hand, there are some Inuit cultures where there are many different words for snow because it is so central to their way of living. Thus, snow is conceptualized and understood differently depending which of these cultures one is from. As a child who grew up in Canada I associated snow with Christmas and tobogganing. This simple example of the ways in which we describe and experience snow can of course be applied to many other parts of our lives and as I continued to gain a better understanding of this I quickly began to realize how important social constructs are.

Nowadays I am interested in the ways we construct categories such as race, gender and sexuality. These constructs which we use to define ourselves and others impact how we interact with our communities and the world. Thus, I believe that a deeper understanding of these concepts is critical and I will explore them as we move forward.

Welcome

After many years of toying with the idea of starting a blog I have finally decided to just put myself out there and see how things go. As someone who tends to over think things I have found many reasons and excuses to delay this, but the time has finally come to start writing and sharing. I don’t know whether anyone will ever read this, but I know that I have something(s) to say. That is why I am starting this blog.

I struggled with naming the blog, mainly because I struggle to identify myself. Who am I? What do I want to say? I am still working on answering these questions, and will likely continue to do so as this blog moves forward. In the meantime here is an attempt to give you a brief overview of what those answers currently look like.

Who I am is something that constantly changes and evolves but where I stand in life now is at the intersection of motherhood and my other identities. I am, have always been and will always be, black. Similarly, I have always sought to change the wrongs around me and to leave the world a better place then it was when I entered. Thus, black and activist are identities which I believe have played a central role in my life. I am also a woman, and more recently, a mother. I navigate the world through these identities, and the world helps shape how I identify myself.

What I have to say is grounded in my everyday experiences as this black woman/mother, and the social spaces that I occupy. I live in city a which prides itself on being the most multicultural in the world. I see things happening around me daily which impact my heart, my being and my soul, and I wish to share my personal thoughts on these experiences. I hope that someone will find something I have to say helpful, or inspiring, or thought-provoking. But more importantly, I hope to chronicle my own thoughts in  an effort to create a space to work through some of the most challenging aspects of parenting, living and being which I encounter daily. I also strive to create an inclusive and safe space for others who like me, find themselves navigating a complex world which looks to place us in certain boxes and judge us accordingly.

I thank you for reading this and welcome you to blacktivist mommy. I look forward to seeing where this goes.