Poise/Pose

On display at Politics & Prose in my hometown, Washington, DC.

If you haven’t bought a copy of my book, All Blue So Late, I’ll send you one for twenty dollars, and you will have it forever.

Another book I’m excited for: my friend Jared Paul’s Songs From the Bottom of a Mineshaft has been accepted for publication by Button Poetry! Jared has put so much goddamn heart and truth into this book; I had the honor of being Jared’s editor on this project, so believe it’s fire. It’s a book that stands for what’s real and good, in a time when those qualities can so easily get lost. Watch for the release this spring.

Annnd, if you have a manuscript and you need a guide, someone to read close, spare you the bullshit, and bring you forward, you can hire me for editing sessions via phone, Skype, or in person. Poetry or prose. I can do a single hour-long session, or an ongoing relationship, whatever you decide. You should know:

I’m a steal.

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Poise/Pose:

black kid/whitekid

Whiteboys admire and emulate black boys’ chill. What whiteboys fail to understand is that black boys’ chill is a matter of survival. Black boys must have poise, calm, quiet. The wrong move, the perception of aggression among the white majority, and suddenly they’re beasts. Quick as categorization, they’re ejected, expelled, executed. What whiteboys affect, the manner they try on for fun, black boys must embody constantly, carefully, in any white space.

Whitegirls admire black girls’ strength, our boldness in truth and style. Because most black girls aren’t offered the perks of white femininity, we must learn to spit back and assert our true worth (even when we secretly doubt it). Depending on how black we seem to white people, depending on which white people are guarding the gate, some of us can sometimes reap the delicate blossom treatment automatically afforded to most whitegirls. But not all of us, not always–and not if we choose to emphasize our visible blackness, display our cultural blackness. The lie of the unimpeachable, revered woman is not offered to us. We aren’t universally seen as beautiful the way white women are. We might be seen as sexy, exotic and animal, but we’re very rarely assumed to have that fragile loveliness.

That fetishization can be dangerous for whitegirls, though. Because if white women are always seen as prey… That’s terrifying, and certainly not a role I envy. In that aspect, the invisibility of black womanhood can be a boon. Black women may be fearedsome to men in ways some white women can never access, and because white women are seen as more desirable and valuable, they can be more compelling targets. I have been blown away by some of the stories white female friends have told me about the frank sexual violence they’ve encountered, seemingly more often, in more overt ways than I’ve experienced. I’m not downplaying the dirt women of color get; some of us stay disrespected in the very worst, most disgusting ways. And I’m not sure I’m correct in placing the difference on race here. I may have overall less horrendous or less frequent horrendous experiences than some women for other reasons. I suspect my body type is part of my shield, for example; my chest isn’t a certain degree of noticeable, I’m not especially tall (model/Amazon fetish) or short (unthreatening/little girl fetish), and I’m low femme to light butch, generally forgetting the sway that goes with the heels when I actually wear them, not often donning make-up with verve like most grown girls do, sans terrific shoe game, rarely sporting the mani/pedi… I blend more than some. My own rankings aside, though, I suspect that, overall, most straight cis men assume cis white women, overall, will be the lowest risk to menace, the least likely to challenge, to bite back. Or/and white women are, again, simply seen as being intrinsically, universally more desirable, hence more valuable. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be discounted. Invisibility can be a blessing.

If only white women, though, saw us more often, more clearly… Whitegirls think they honor us by calling us “strong,” but it’s a means of dehumanizing us. It’s the same as medical professionals assuming we don’t feel physical pain as strongly as whites do, leading them to ignore our descriptions of our own conditions, and leading them to under-prescribe pain meds when we seriously hurt. Our hearts, our bodies, are no more animal than theirs, but we are treated like dogs. Worse, even, than most white people’s dogs.

Although most black characters in pop culture only exist to support the white characters’ journeys, real black people can exist entirely without whites. Not just as happy-go-lucky coons, people who struggle with pain and mortality. A whitegirl who assumes I’m strong steals my ability to be fragile, and vulnerable. She erases half of me.

When a white person says she admires my strength in an awestruck voice, it lets me know she probably won’t be around when I’m in pain, because she assumes I don’t hurt. She’ll want me to be there for her, though, as the mammy, nanny, nursemaid to white children of all ages. I’ll be surrogate mother to her and hers, with no given right to keep, stay with, and raise my own family.

And it is economic. In the end, all capitalist culture comes down to the dollar. A white woman who plays by patriarchy’s rules, who cries on command, who fits the glass slipper, might not have to work in or outside the home (although keeping up appearances can be a full-time job). She might be able to hire women of color to take care of traditional domestic tasks. That’s rarely an option for women of color; we’re paid even less than other women. We don’t carry the same value, even when we try to conform to white patriarchal supremacy.

Are women of color actually stronger than white women, though? Probably overall, without comparing across class lines. Women of color, as a group, have a lot to deal with, constantly. We have to carry our families and communities when men of color are taken from us, or leave us. Our families have greater legacies of trauma, poverty, and carry the burdens of slavery, genocide, imperialism.

And unlike most whitegirls, we don’t expect anyone will tend our wounds; we are the ones who tend wounds. We know there might not be anyone to catch us when we fall. No one is likely to pity us, or give us a break. We laugh at the expectation, the assumption, the performance of white women’s tears, their absolute certainty their pain is central, and their suffering is disastrous to us all. Women of color don’t expect the same. We don’t expect other people to care. People don’t notice us most of the time. No one will see us when we cry.

Tell it like it is.

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