What Are You Afraid of…The Love Below?: Black Female Sexual Agency and the Power/Penalty of Yes


I recently hosted a shindig with a group of 30-somethings at my home.  The group was composed of both men and women, and much of the conversation—albeit fueled by alcohol and barbecue—revolved around male/female relationships and of course sex.  One of the men present at the event put forth the premise that all women fall into four hierarchically based categories: marriageable date-able, fuck-able, and untouchable.

This statement immediately sent me to my special place.  My anger reached biblical proportions. That is a less judicious part of me wanted to smite him on sight—but instead I listened. I listened to him rationalize ad nauseam a limited, simple, and rather hurtful view of women and in particular Black women.  I may be biased, but to me a Black woman’s experience and the way she does “womanhood” is too unique and really too  divine to be reduced to arbitrary categories. Yet his premise gives us a point of departure to discuss Black female sexual agency: its power and its penalty.

The fictions around Black female sexuality are dangerous.  From the sexually repressed mammie to the wanton jezzebel, these convenient and simplistic archetypes make me nervous for several reasons.  First, they are symbolic of the greater cultural systems of patriarchy that normalize sexism and more pointedly sexual prohibition for women—and in particular Black women. Second, they subvert Black women’s sexual agency and support constructed myths of the “good girl” and the “bad girl” to the detriment of Black female sexual identity formation. Finally, they treat sex as a commodity within the relational transactions of Black women and men, thereby stripping it of its spiritual and natural origins.

For decades, Black women have had to negotiate a sexual identity against the historical backdrop of slavery that found them the victims of systematic rape and sexual abuse.  From these origins, a range of sexual stereotype regarding Black women have emerged in the larger culture.  We have been portrayed as either oversexed or sexually deficient.  Sadly, the Black female voice has largely been left on the margins of such discussions, particularly when it contradicts mainstream ideas.   Accordingly, to assert agency over one’s sexuality may even today be interpreted within the parameters of stereotypes like the Jezebel:

The portrayal of Black women as lascivious by nature is an enduring stereotype. The descriptive words associated with this stereotype are singular in their focus: seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. Historically, White women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty – even sexual purity, but Black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory. This depiction of Black women is signified by the name Jezebel.2

Jezebel Stereotype

In the song “She Lives in My Lap”, by Outkast, a breathy Rosario Dawson’s whispers the lyrics: What’s wrong?/What are you afraid of?/The Love Below. I thought this line was very telling about the power differential that sex can cause in modern male female relationships.  I believe that many men are equal parts attracted to and fearful of a sexually confident woman.

All too often, a women’s sexual ego is equated to her ability to please a man— rather than her ability to derive sexual pleasure for herself.  However, if a woman outwardly expresses her desire for sexual pleasure and moreover asserts agency over her sexuality, she is often reduced to the “jump-off, “the  provocateur”, or ” the heaux”.  Categories and stereotypes become a way of managing common fears men have around female sexuality: that they will fail to please their partner, that their partner might commit adultery, or that they will erase men from their sexual experience all together.

The good girl/bad girl construct is another fall out of patriarchal thinking.   Steve Harvey’s Act like a Woman, Think like a Man is an artifact of this construct.   What’s the difference between a lady and a woman?  Patriarchy.  Western society promotes so-called sexual purity in women as a desirable quality for a mate.  On its face sexual purity isn’t a bad thing; I would simply argue that its value is applied inequitably across the sexes.   Black women are well aware of the “boys will be boys” mentality that governs sexual power structures of our community and for that matter larger Western society, but I believe we have been downright complacent, if not content to uphold and even perpetuate this norm.  We see and define our own value within these constructs: be sexually desirable—yes, desire sex outside the norms of society—no.

Categorizing or stereotyping women along lines of their collective sexual behavior is not only damaging to the female psyche, but I would argue equally dangerous for the greater society.  Ironically, as I type this, I am watching the documentary Love Crimes of Kabul. It traces the story of Afghan women who face prison for adultery and premarital sex.  While worlds apart from my reality, I would argue that the sexist ideology that governs such practices is very real in Western culture  and in the African-American community.  Listening to women talk about their lack of power to define their sexual behavior is an apt metaphor for the power struggles Black women face in defining, owning, leveraging, and embracing their sexuality.  Pain and pleasure interplay in this long running narrative.

Ever since Eve and the apple came into our cultural consciousness, women’s power over their sexuality has been compromised.  Women and men need to collectively take the power struggle, and manipulation out of our sexual relationships, in order to get back to its purest state. Sex is natural, spiritual, and beautiful.  When Black women and Black men confront each other honestly about what they are both seeking, the categories become extinct, the myths are debunked, and the stereotypes are confronted.  Love becomes free again. 

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What Happened to Ciara?: R&B and the New Sex Entrepreneur


It seems like it was just yesterday when little Ciara was singing an ode to the benefits of keeping one’s cookies in the jar.  Six years later,  her now delicately cultivated sexual Lolita image has been either co-opted or manipulated into outright hedonistic vixen.  I for one am not happy about it.  With  her recently slumping album sales, this new level of sexuality reeked of desperation and was bad form for a clearly talented young woman.

I was extremely disappointed with the video for her gym friendly single “Gimme Dat”.  The single has her once again leveraging the southern fried hip-hop laced stylings that put her on the map, except this time around the audience is distracted from the intricate choreography and gravity defying dance moves that made her famous.  Instead, we find her in a full sexual spectacle popping it on a handstand, gyrating, and clad in her underwear dancing in the rain.  Her dancing is amazing, but the imagery makes her come off like a glorified pole dancer; she even performs much of the dancing in the ubiquitious stipper shoe—the glass heel.

Make no mistake that this exotic dancer/stripper imagery is by design. It is not an accident.   With the recent popularity of Amber Rose, Maliah—others, it makes sense that the largely patriarchal music industry sees an economic opportunity in co-opting the images of its female R&B starlets to  evoke a similar aesthetic.

I do not want to get all judgmental big sister on Ciara because sexuality has always had its place in R&B and soul, but there is a thin line between sexy and trashy.  Take for instance, Christina Milian.  She was carefully managing the naughty good girl image—up and until—her video for “Dip It Low” found her sliding across the floor and gyrating in pools of oil.  Her singing career tanked soon there after.  Even Janet Jackson—the master of the naughty good girl image—couldn’t survive the nipple slip seen round the world.  She blurred the line between trashy and classy for a good run, but one near fatal move finds her musical career barely gasping for life.

With Rihanna giving us a lot of manufactured S&M imagery and both Keri Hilson and Kelly Rowland  following much of the same path, it seems to succeed the modern R&B star must become a sex entrepreneur.  She must balance equal parts talent, sexuality and purity−so as not to appear “deflowered” to their male fans (see inside image of Rihanna’s Loud CD). This seemingly impossible challenge has been mastered by few.  Remarkably, Beyonce has managed to walk this tightrope for over a decade—balancing sex kitten, with empowered feminist, diva, and business woman.

I would hate to prematurely morn the loss of Ciara, as I believe she has the time and talent to rebrand and redeem her image.  I am not suggesting she take the sex out, but instead she remember the importance of artistic integrity to her fan base.  She is certainly not a strong vocalist like a Melanie Fiona or a Jennifer Hudson, but she was well positioned to inherit a Jacksoneque like role as a consummate entertainer.

So what do you think?  Are the sexualized images of R&B stars like Ciara, Rihanna, Rowland and Hilson simply the norm now for a music industry plagued by poor album sells?  Does legitimate talent allow artists to avoid the trappings of the over-sexualized image?  Does the male consumer drive this trend or are women—as consumers—equally responsible for our representations?

My Girlfriends….There Through Thick and Thin


I am a girl’s girl—through and through.  My relationships with the women in my life have been sources of inspiration, strength, and motivation.  I consider these relationships simply invaluable, from the loving counsel of my mother and grandmother to the laughs and tears shared among my girlfriends and Sorors.

The women in my life hold me up, listen to me bitch, moan, cry and complain.  At their best these friendships are an education, they challenge me and push me to the next level. Therefore, it saddens me when I hear Black women talk about how they are immediately distrustful or suspicious of other Black women.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of the parody and misrepresentation of Black women and our relationships in popular culture has been internalized.  This creates an insecurity that extends to our relationships with each other in our everyday interactions.  It lessens our ability to love ourselves and our ability love the reflection of ourselves—our sisters (and brothers too). Mainstream society has taught Black women in many ways not value ourselves and this collective sense of inadequacy threatens one of the most valuable cosmic connections in the universe. If we think of friendships as living things, I would argue the relationships and friendships between Black women are created and bound by a unique DNA of shared experience.

As Black women, I believe our human experience throughout history has been and even today remains unique.  How we do and define womanhood is special and beautiful and we need to embrace the magic of it.  Our relationships need not be fraught with jealousy, pettiness, malicious competitiveness, and distrust.  When I see my sister, I see the God manifest within in her.  I see her capacity (but not necessity) to be strong, her Grandmother’s wisdom, her courage, and creativity.

I believe one of my purposes in life is to interpret and voice my experience,  and more importantly the collective experience of the Black women around me.   I see so many parallels in the lives of  my sister friends, from the well-worn narrative around the perils of singleness to the weight of negotiating identity in the workplace.   I rely on my girlfriends for advice, to help me frame an experience, heal through hurt, and to make me laugh until my belly aches.

Toni Morrison said, “The loneliest woman in the world is the woman without a close woman friend” and it is in this spirit that I encourage you to treat the women in your life with love and understanding.  Be a friend and to make a friend.  Love your sisters, encourage them, and treat them with the kindness, respect, and devotion we all deserve.

“Beloved, you are my sister, you are my daughter, you are my face; you are me”
Toni Morrison

Hoop Ho Diaries: In Defense of Evelyn


Ah Basketball wives…how do I love thee…..let me count the ways….

Basketball Wives is everything great about bad reality TV: conspicuous consumption, beautiful women, melodrama, sex, gossip, enough cats fight to rival your local all girls parochial school, and if that wasn’t enough; they even gave us a little Al Reynolds this season to boot.  The show chronicles the lives of women who are married to or in most cases divorced, separated, or otherwise presently/formerly copulating with NBA players.  We watch them argue, back bite, and generally go at it for an hour each week, with no clear path for redemption , growth, or other identified higher purpose.  The show more or less plays like a post-post-adolescent mean girls, but yet I really dig it.

The intellectual in me realizes that this show is fraught with problematic images for minority women, and for that matter women in  general.  The characters are petty, superficial, and oft-times morally debased.  Nevertheless, it provides a  perverse and painful adrenaline rush, somewhat akin to popping a pre-date zit.

I’ve said only half in jest that Basketball Wives is the only sports that I’ll willingly watch.The recently aired reunion specials had all the spectacle of a championship basketball game with better shoes. There was man-to-man defense with little Royce outmatched by the lengthy Boricua show-stopper Evelyn, with host John Salley playing the referee.

Since bedding Cincinnati Bengals Chad Ochocinco on their first date (***clears throat*** 5x) and admitting to sleeping with co-star Tami Roman’s  then husband Kenny Anderson, Evelyn has been catching a lot of shade for being a ho, trash box, alley-cat, or any other synonym one might come up with for a so-called loose woman.

Yet, I find something fascinating about Evelyn.  I kind of admire how she has strategically positioned herself as the show’s archetypal villain; the move shows a unique kind of genius.  All good reality shows need a “bad guy” and on Basketball Wives Evelyn has earned her place among the Natalie Nunns, Omarosas,  New Yorks,  and Jade Coles of reality TV’s past.  She has leveraged her sexuality, fire-sharp tongue, and power over the other women to create her brand.

Mark my words she will leverage this brand into her own reality series, which will more than likely co-star her newly-minted fiancée: none other than  Ochocinco, another reality TV star.    Apparently, ho-dum has its benefits because she is sporting one hell of a rock.  The extent to which the engagement is spectacle or a publicity stunt is anyones guess, but I can appreciate a woman who goes after what she wants.  As  she so rawly put it: who I f**ked and how I f**ked him is none of your motherf**king business.”

I mean even considering that she has exposed her life to the cameras of a national reality show, she still has a point.  It amazes me that a American’s still maintain highfalutin airs around this sort of artificial puritanical sexuality, which is ironically set against the back drop of a culture driven by an orgie of sex, commerce, and power. For all intensive purposes, Evelyn is operating within a culture that values and rewards beauty, and in which  sex can be more than marketed.

Sex has become entrepreneurial.

I’ll miss Basketball Wives until next season, but I’m waiting with bated breath for Evelyn and Ochocinco: Married to the Green.  It will be as artificial as Astroturf but it will be entertaining.   Sports, sex, and entertainment; it’s the American way.

So what do you think?  Anyone else out there willing to admit they are on #teamevelyn? Is Shani O’neal wrong for promoting these characterizations of black and minority women to enrich herself?  Does anyone view Evelyn’s moves as empowering rather than classless?

I’m a Black Girl and I am not Broken


I am many things.   Among them—I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a poet, a writer, and  a lover of love and admirer of creation. I am a person of deep faith, a survivor, and a brave bird.  But for all the things that I  am—both good and bad—there is one thing I am not:

I am in no way and by no measure broken.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been all up and through some hurt, but I am increasingly more intentional about emerging from those experiences stronger and more definite in my purpose.  I am grateful to the universe for every door that opens for me and even more gratified for the wisdom to know which one to walk through.

I guess this is why I am troubled by a representation I see in the larger culture: Black women as “inherently broken”.  These representations are adopted wholesale and perhaps more damaging internalized, when they should be interrogated, and even outrightly refuted.  Hence, this post emerged after a misguided attempt to garner my affections. The unrelenting pursuant diagnosed my disinterest, as follows:

“I’m saying bay [urban colloquialism for the term of endearment baby] I’m perceptive but even a simpleton could see you’re going though an internal struggle based on previous trauma…..[it continued] Bay don’t be scared to take assistance while moving on…Those chains aren’t  going to protect u nor make u whole…”

Delivery aside, the notion put forth in this ghetto soliloquy shook me to my core.  Nothing about our interactions up and until this point had communicated either directly or indirectly anything about my past or any pain that was a part of it.  I can say this with confidence because our conversations had been limited to text messaging—clearly not a communication medium optimal for real human connections.  I can also tell you as a matter of fact that this person was by no means perceptive or intuitive.  He was not even smart. We had spoken maybe three times in life.  What I see is that he had clearly ingested a narrative of what Black woman are as a collective, and projected this myth on to me—a practical stranger. For this he was unceremoniously dismissed.

Honestly, I did not need to be healed; dinner and a movie would have been enough.

The Broken Black Girl archetype—not unlike the lonely Black girl narrative— is ubiquitous throughout pop-culture.  Our struggle for identity, voice, and healing from the historical remnants of our storied collective experience is one the should emerge from the margins. Yet, I am convinced that the redemptive power of such stories is often lost.  In particular, this plays out in film:   The Color Purple, Waiting To Exhale, Precious, and  For Colored Girls are immediate examples. Each of the creative works tell the story of a Black woman or multiple Black woman in the throes of pain, hurt, anger and general brokenness.  In fact, Tyler Perry has made an empire on capitalizing from the well-worn tales of damaged Black women.  In his work, they are often redeemed by faith, however, the message of redemption is never the dominant narrative in the story arc.  It is the hurt experience of the “damaged” Black woman that is the focus.

It is time we started telling the stories of not only survival, but emergence and optimization.  I want to hear about Black women doing amazing things and living amazing lives on their own terms.  I want to wrap myself in the stories of yes strong black women, another archetype that is getting a bit stale, but more so fully developed women who are vulnerable, talented, smart, funny, and dynamic as the Black women I know.

I’ve lived a lot of life in these near thirty years, but more than bearing the scars of past hurts—I am embodying the power of resilience that manifest  from the downturns in life. I’ve emerged from each hurt experience more wise, and grateful to the universe for trusting me to be a teller of my story and our stories.

I am intentional.  I am courageous.  I am beautiful. I am smart. I am multi-dimensional. I am witty.  I am connected to nature and one with creation.  I am strong and weak.  I am prone to mistakes, but eternally evolving. I am at once grounded, but flying high in the skies.

I am a Black Girl and I am Not Broken.

Let’s Have A Toast to the Assholes: Leave Kanye Alone….No Really


Google the search terms Kanye West + Asshole, and as you might imagine; you will get a surplus of returns.  Kanye’s manic form of genius combined with a decidedly lax brain to mouth filter has resulted in his name becoming almost synonymous with the insult in certain circles—amongst Taylor Swift fans for instance.

With the recent brouhaha over the Matt Lauer interview and Bush’s claim that West’s infamous black people gaff was the worst moment of  his presidency (apparently worst than Katrina itself, the domestic economic meltdown, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Valerie Plame, Harriet Miers….I’ll stop in the interest of time), Kanye is back in the headlines again.  And the coverage ain’t good.

Lauer’s interview with West was at best poor journalism and at worst an intentional attempt to create another Kanye moment.  You know Kanye moments: insulting the Commander and Chief by implying he was a racist, interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV movie awards, as well a series of rants, interruptions, politically incorrect pop-offs, tantrums and most recently rogue tweets.  Yet it’s these moments combined with leveraging the most creative musical brain in hip-hop to make hit after consecutive hit that makes Kanye both genius and walking spectacle.

He  has been called the villain,the asshole, the jerk, the douche bag but he is more accurately described as a man in progress.  He occasionally back slides but this understandable for someone burden by an ego the size of the twitterverse. He is admittedly self-conscience and evidently a driven perfectionist—who really does love his art.  Over the years, Kanye has had a series of personal dramas play-out within the pages tabloids and on gossip blogs.  Despite a life threatening car accident, the untimely and tragic loss of his mother, and a series of public break-ups, he has continued to be a prolific and evolving artist.  I believe this is because he is driven first by a desire to create and is more conflicted and quite frankly limited in his ability to manage the fame.

Kanye is  the modern Andy Warhol.  Both aesthetically driven workaholics bound by an excess of personality, they have in common a vision to achieve wealth through their art  and an unfettered desire to see their dreams manifest. In another time, Kanye might be considered colorful or brash.  However, with a 24-hour news cycle largely padded by entertainment news, he provides the  perfect patsy for a world dominated by far less ingenious and productive assholes.  So I’m saying: leave Kanye alone.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Kanye.  Okay its more than a soft spot.  I date him in my mind and we are in love, but in the interest of a neutral analysis I have put that aside.  Instead I have tried to speak to the madness at the heart of his genius or the genius at the heart of his madness—depending on where you stand.  Suffice it to say whether you love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion of Kanye.

If  Kanye is anything, he is unapologetic.  He is unapologetically Black, unapologetically brilliant, unapologetically flawed, and unapologetically wealthy. “Wake Up Mr. West”, said the late great Bernie Mac in the opening of the Kanye’s classic Late Registration album and I do mean; recall Touch the Sky, Gold Digger, Diamonds From Sierra Leone. Wake up indeed and recently Kanye has woken up.  Sure he is still brash, cocky, fashionable, and manic; yet he has managed to temper his special brand of swagga-dopeness with a swig of humble juice.  He kind of apologized to the president, though he did refuse to perform on the Today show plaza in a return visit.  With an album on the way perhaps this wasn’t the most expedient choice from marketing stand point, but it was aligned to his convictions and you cannot be mad at that.

Wherever you stand, you have to respect Kanye for his what he is doing with music.  I appreciate and salute him for his authenticity even in his most ungraceful moments. My only hope is that the tedium of fame that he both craves and despises does not stifle his creativity or leave him jaded .  I want Kanye to be his irrepressible self.  Hollywood is so celluloid that it is nice to see someone so completely themselves.  Suffice it to say: Kanye I love you—flaws and all.

Darling Nicki: Okay I Admit it….You Had Me At Hello


I am about to admit a very painful truth.  I am now a Nicki Minaj fan and I have probably always been ***hangs head low in knowing embarrassment***.  My girl crush on Nicki started with her feature on Yo Gotti’s 5 Star Bitch, but for a long time I was stuck in this moment of cognitive dissonance trying to figure out who this girl was and why was she everywhere like parsley.

I know that it is standard operating procedure for the dayum near thirty and over set to hate on Nicki for among other things her purported lack of lyrical prowess (I disagree), her uncanny ability to produce strong features while simultaneously offering lackluster solo efforts, her affiliation with the Young Money Crew, her penchant for pink, her surgically enhance derrière, her fake love affair with Drake, her faux British accent, and cartoonish sputtering flow.

Yet what I’ve come to realize is what we hate Nicki most for is not being Lauryn Hill Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Da Brat, Remy Ma, or Trina. Nicki represents a  shift for hip-hop fans of my generation; and the sting is particularly potent because she has come on the scene like an all consuming flood, after a long drought of successful female MCs.

I can imagine a similar tension was felt by fans of Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and Mc Lyte, when Kim and Foxy hit the scene.  Their anti-cconscious hip-hop aesthetic was certainly frowned upon from a certain kind of feminist hip-hop head. Kim and Foxy created a brand that  eschewed traditional feminist values—apart from a hyper sexual aggression that could be viewed as a form of sexual liberation.  They created an archetype for the female MCs of today whose material largely focuses on sex, materialism, the criminal life and excess.

As far as the Lauryn Hill nostalgia goes, I can certainly sympathize with a desire for her educational, heartfelt, and emotive—if not sometimes preachy—brand of hip-hop.  However, Lauryn is highbrow; comparing her with Nicki is like comparing Tyler Perry to Spike Lee.  They both have their unique brand of genius, but one is driven by popular appeal and the other by artistic merit.

Nicki Minaj has appropriated aspects of this brand of female rapper, but has created her own infectious rap style  and persona that makes allows her not only bankable but primed for superstardom.  Her verse on Kanye West’s Monster marked my conversion moment from secret fan to outright Minaj advocate: “So let me get this straight/wait I’m the rookie/But my features and my shows ten times your pay/50k for a verse no album out…”

Fire.  This lil’ broad is going in!

Nicki’s theatrics have also been subject to critique.  A lot of folks have a problem with her strange voices and singy-songy animated delivery; but like her visuals and the dramatics are part of her brand.   A former performing arts student, Nicki understands the importance of being over the top and its has been invaluable to helping her stand-out.  It’s like hip-hop Glee and I love it.

Set aside the animated facial expressions, cartoonish voices, and references to Barbie and listen to her verses.   Her flow is multi-faceted and dynamic, mixing Jamerican inflections, brash storytelling, and yes pretty decent use of metaphor. Check her verse from the 2009 Hip-Hop Award Bet Cypher and tell me it’s not fire:

Nikki has the bravado, confidence, and killer instinct of some of the hottest male MCs and she does it in bad ass Giuseppe stilettos.  The girl’s shoe game cannot be slept on. This signals another thing I’ve come to appreciate about young Nicki.  She does not apologize for being a girl’s girl succeeding in a testosterone laden industry. Right Though Me and Your Love are written from a uniquely female point of view and are void of typical sexual innuendo. These songs are about relationships and I can dig ’em.  However, Let it not go unsaid that Nicki does manipulate and leverage her sexuality. She  even plays with her sexual preferences in the same way drunk girlfriends dance with each other to beg male attention in the club, see her verse on Usher’s Lil Freak:

Excuse me little mama but u can say im on duty
Im lookin for a cutie a real big ole’ ghetto booty
I really like ur kitty kat n if you let me touch her
I kno u not a bluffer.. i’ll take you to go see usher
I keep a couple hoes like santa I keep a vixen
Got that dasher dancer prancer vixen
Comet cupid donner blitzen….

I cannot wait until Pink Friday.  On November 22nd, along with much of the 106 and Park contingent, I will be purchasing the album and Kanye’s effort due for release the same day. With her mentor Lil’ Wayne released from prison just today, it will be interesting to see where Minaj’s career goes next. I’m excited to see.  So Nicki critics, here is my message to you:  put down the haterade and let this young girl do her thing.

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