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Let’s face it. When most of us read those words,
We ‘see’ a man in our mind’s eye.
The so-called smartest job on earth belongs solely to women men.
What if those dreams kids dreamed – of going anywhere in the world –
Also included smart women?
What if we grew up knowing that women were rocket scientists?
As much as we use the oft phrase “it’s not rocket science” to exclaim simplicity,
What if the smartest person nobody ever met was a woman?
Nobody anybody knows has ever met a rocket scientist or a nuclear physicist, but we’re all sure THESE guys represent humanity’s brightest.
What if the brightest people in the world were both women AND men?
The black women ‘behind’ America’s space race, yet, ‘one step for man…’ really did mean one giant step for man-kind.
Have we stolen little girls’ dreams?
By concealing the truth of the Black women rocket scientists behind America’s moon landing,
Haven’t we squashed those ambitions for black girls?
It’s not that Black girls are absent in Pop Culture, they’re just normally, regularly
Relegated to a few very banal stereotypes.
Haven’t we assured everyone on the planet that the last thing a black girl could do was grow up to become a rocket scientist?
Or president of America?
One giant step for white man-kind, indeed!
Now we have an unkind thug running thangs.
Mr. Backlash! Mr. Backlash!
It’s telling that the biggest modern feminist march happened because of his inauguration.
What if the most powerful leaders in history were women?
What if, instead of deifying generals and soldiers, and
Rather than holding the torch for sword-bearers,
What if we regarded HIS-story through women’s contributions to society?
How have women determined the fates of nations,
Irregardless of men’s war of conquest and colonization?
What if we studied those who avoided war, not just those who indulged?
Would so many world leaders be calling the Coronavirus an “enemy” that we must “defeat”?
What if we celebrated the survivors of millennia of mostly male belligerence – where
Women couldn’t even own property, let alone vote.
Let alone control their own bodies.
Who were those men and women who fought for equality even then, and
Who were the detractors?
Who were those masochists who believed God had a son, not a daughter, and
Therefore, men have divine right to rule?
What if women had written the Bible, or any holy book or writings from any world religion?
Would patriarchy so regularly be the order of the day?
My drink order?
Ah, give me a cup of control over every business, government, religious and labor institution for over a thousand years!
Don’t forget the lemon, this is a sour business!
Oh great, free refills!
Wasn’t Shirley Chisholm brave for being the first black woman to run for president?
Let’s face it, a woman running for any office right now is likely to get trolled online,
Likely to have folks write that they’re gonna rape her, so
You can imagine the hate Ms. Chisholm faced.
And oh, did I mention she was queer?
What gymnastics did Ms. Chisholm have to practice in earnest in those days?
“A woman cannot do the job of a man.”
This is a direct quote from a policeman’s wife when the NYPD integrated patrol teams back in the 70’s.
Aren’t the brave first female officers heroes?
A woman said the same thing at a 2016 Trump rally.
Aren’t women brave for running for political office and raising their voices in chambers?
There is no equal pay.
There are plenty o’ glass ceilings to shatter all around the world.
Yet, we take issue with this word feminist.
When some hear feminist, they think bra-burning,
Even though they never burned bras at the infamous feminist protest at the ‘68 Miss America pageant.
Media coverage dismissed this early feminist protest for equality as “bra-burning,” and thus the moniker stuck!
You side with anti-feminist masochists when you use that phrase.
You outta keep “bras” outta your mouth until you know first-hand what you’re talking ‘bout!
When some hear feminist, they don’t think ‘feminism’ oh, that means
‘My sister shouldn’t grow up beside me, scared of getting raped by a man in our family.’
When some hear feminist, they think ‘lesbians’.
So, feminists are lesbians, or lesbians are feminists?
It’s way too easy to say straight women can’t support equality in power, opportunity and access for all genders!
When some hear feminist, they think about men being oppressed.
They don’t think about the rights husbands have over wives’ bodies – marital rape is a fairly recent feminist protection.
When some hear feminist, they think feminists are ugly, jealous women.
They don’t think about the pressure to be beautiful,
Even in the age of social media where millennials show-up selfie-ready at breakfast, and
Spend half of breakfast posting about the breakfast rather than actually enjoying said breakfast.
But at least their lashes and brows are flawless!
Naw, when some people hear feminist,
You can best bet her face was beat up before she stepped a foot outside for her “burgers and sodas”.
Yes, there’s “A Meeting in the Ladies Room,” so you’d better bring your best compact, girl.
When some hear feminist, they think privileged white women.
They don’t think, ‘oh, my sister should have the same opportunities as me’.
Or, ‘gee, my sister shouldn’t have to worry about some creep making moves on her at work while she’s trying to feed her kids.’
They couldn’t even begin to know about the Hidden Figures.
When some hear feminist, they think men-haters.
They don’t think about all the hateful things we’ve heard our whole lives
About the dangers of women’s bodies:
Females menstruate -problem 1.
Menstruation makes females moody – problem 2.
Females can get pregnant- problem 3.
Female bodies are problematic… dangerous.
We teach this to everyone.
We teach girls to be mindful of men; we don’t teach boys not to prey on women.
We teach girls to dress appropriately; we don’t teach boys to respect girls’ bodies.
We teach girls to take a pill, almost a rite of passage, but
We don’t teach boys to grow up and research, develop and market a pill for men.
We teach girls: her power is in her sex; we don’t teach boys ‘conquering her sexually is sexist’.
You can take these lessons to the Supreme Court and still win!
So, what if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists?
What if boys and girls grew up knowing this… taking for granted that girls were smart, too?
If this AND may such stories hadn’t been so conveniently “forgotten”
Would women have to prove themselves so much at work?
Would we be asking women how they balance a career and motherhood?
Or would we be asking dads that question just as often and effortlessly?
So, what if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists, that
Women were excellent and disciplined at the height of logic?
What if we grew up knowing women were rocket scientists?
Would insults like “bitch” or “like a girl” carry any weight?
Notice by adding “like a girl” to any phrase, it becomes an insult!
If women were known to excel at rational thinking like rocket science, then
Wouldn’t we then assume males are emotional beings, too?
Did you know that by age 7,
Girls know significantly more words to talk about their feelings than boys?
If women were rocket scientists, too,
Would we still refuse to teach boys Emotional Intelligence?
Bury your feelings, boys, take it out with your fists.
Would we still refuse to teach girls that they can excel at math?
What world would we craft, if little boys and girls grew up knowing that muscle and brawn didn’t matter in the world of equality and respect we were told we’d built?
Michele Obama as Sapphire
One of the first casualties of Corona was travel. Nations immediately began controlling the flow of people in and out of ever-broader borders. First neighborhoods, then cities, regions, and countries all closed. As fear of the virus spreading spread, different parts of the world became associated with Corona, though bullheaded public figures even continued to call it “Chinese”
A few years ago, I got a 10 -year visa to China through work and had planned to travel there much more than time has allowed. Now, I am fearful of ever traveling there before my visa expires. I am unable to accept the many invitations to connect with my previous students who’ve returned to China and know of my interest in the region’s cultures. I have been to southern China on several study trips with students. We finally ventured to Beijing and its wonders on a later trip. Naturally, I did my happy dance when I reached a peak on the Great Wall just a few years ago. I am now on sabbatical in Hanoi, just released from lockdown.
It was a lifelong dream to visit China, I was raised on my godmother’s stories about growing up in Hong Kong, savoring the flavors of her homeland in her kitchen in Kentucky. I knew I had to see for myself. As a kid, she and I would go on shopping day-trips to Chicago’s Chinatown, a 7-hour drive each way. For those few hours in Chi-town, we’d be transported to a world where finally she was the insider. She spoke for hours in several dialects with all the people around that I didn’t understand, and we even browsed restaurants that resembled what she’d told me home was like. We’d go in and eat not from the tourist but from the Chinese menus – foods that were not nearly available in Kentucky.
Kentucky is pretty black and white, but there, in the heart of Chinatown, in the heartland of America, smack in the middle of the 80’s, I got to experience my godmother being in the majority. Growing up close to my godmother confirmed I could experience more freedom through travel. This was a key insight into the world for a gay kid growing up in the Bible Belt; I could just go away. Travel has always exposed me to new ways of being in the world.
“You’ve got to go to the city/They’re going to find you there…” -Flawless, George Michael
Travel is essential for the development of a healthy self-identity as a queer person. ‘Travel’ is, in fact, inseparable from the notion of a gay community. This is exemplified by having to leave our homes and communities to commune with others queers, and certainly the richness of gay tourism. One might also consider how gay identity uniquely depends on the very idea of gayness traveling far and wide to enter the minds of gays isolated everywhere.
Knowing gay people is a primal impetus for me to travel. Rather than just seeking to know ‘different’ people, places and cultures, I crave knowing how people like me thrive in those places. We’re everywhere.
It has always struck me that as queer people of color, we too often must venture outside our ethno-cultural communities to meet gay people. I came out at 16 and by then only knew gays within my age-group. Fortunately, in that era of grand community building, a local charity had organized a gay youth group. There, in addition to comradery, the adult facilitation and guest speakers provided mentorship and what we now understand as inter-generational knowledge. They also alerted me to queer writers: Through Sister Outsider, I’d traveled around the world with Audre Lorde long before I stepped foot outside of north-America. This is a powerful glue that can sustain solidarity within any community.
By attempting to transport certain functions of the gay club scene into the virtual world, we have certainly lost a core opportunity for inter-generational bonding. The ominous gay club also functions as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and experience. This phenomenon is sustained by travel, particularly tourism, migration, immigration. Or, how long did it take for nations to consider asylum for queers fleeing in deadly homophobic regimes? Flawless:
Don’t you know, you’ve got to go to the city
You’ve got to reach the other side of the glass
I think you’ll make it in the city baby
I think you know that you are more than just
Some F-ed up piece of ass
Pride – both metaphorically and literally – has circulated the globe, first and foremost through travel and tourism, then through globalizing the fight against AIDS. By the mid-90’s, the attention of gay rights advocates had widened to confronting homophobia. If health was a human right, then surely freedom from stigma is, too. Mind you, this same argument fueled the successful campaign in India to decriminalize same-sex sex, which was based on colonial legislation. Rights advocates in India had successfully used case law to articulate access to healthcare as a civil right, showing how stigma impeded this for queers.
Sadly, the exact same Victoria-era law has been strengthened and extended in many African nations, legitimizing jungle justice! For many, travel is a lifeline, including asylum. For queers in the African Diaspora, this is yet another form of exile – banishment from the motherland.
Under the bridge downtown…
If there were ever a community consumed with travel, it would be LGBTQ+ folk. Our folk knowledge is transmitted in myth and music, for example, lyrics urging gays to head to the shelter of the city. Whether chants about finding a YMCA, or told to Go West to be “together” in the sanctuary, mythical San Francisco, for gays to achieve self-realization, we needed to ‘know’ urban life to counter traditional values in the homestead. “I think you’ll make it in the city, baby.” There -away- we’re promised a new beginning with freedom. I’m very proud to have seen this through.
Gay civil rights have advanced globally far faster than those of any other recognized minority group, and certainly, one factor is… (drumroll) …we’re everywhere, even where there’s no Pride! Like ether, our pride travels through the stratosphere.
A song for Terry.
Terry was just six when he died.
Not a long time spent on this Earth,
But enough to make himself known to the universe.
There were many obstacles in life waiting for boys like Terry.
If life is a vast ocean, then he only sailed a meager ferry.
Terry was born in a place, in a time and
In a body that didn’t count much –
A poor, southern Black boy and such.
He was loved, for sure,
I’d see his grandmother kiss him every morning,
As she sent Terry off to school.
Terry’s household didn’t look like those on TV.
None of ours did.
There weren’t any of those Cosby kids.
But Terry was like my brother, my dear friend.
I looked forward to walking to school with Terry each day.
He always had something interesting to say.
Terry and I were in the same class.
He lived across the street,
And our school was just a few blocks away.
There and back,
I wanted to be by his side.
Sometimes I would walk to my grandparents’ after school,
And momma would pick me up after work.
No sooner did we get home and settled did I ask to go outside and play,
Our story was short-lived.
Two kids on the block,
On the poor side of town,
We lived cocooned in a world of luxury:
We were cared for and we were safe.
Everyone on the block looked out for all the kids;
There were no strangers around home base.
But, we also lived
In a time and place of misery,
Where things like poverty,
Would determine your destiny,
And all the dreams we would dream,
Would have to fight the sun to live.
A handsome little brown boy,
And a finely picked mini ‘Fro.
An easy smile,
And an easy-going way about him.
Terry was a nice guy.
And did I mention he was loved?
He was not the most popular kid in class –
Naw, everybody feared that guy!
Terry was the one everyone liked.
For Valentine’s day,
The whole class exchanged heart-shaped candies and notes with one another-
All in pink, my favorite color.
My one time of year to shine!
I was so excited to choose one especially for Terry, my brother:
Will you be my Valentine?
Even the teacher got along with him.
Terry never got in trouble.
He got sad-eyed when any of us got marched off to get paddled.
At lunch, I’d always sit with Terry.
Terry got free lunch, and
Peanut butter and jelly is what I got when momma packed mine!
We’d hurry to the front of the line,
And finish our food quickly,
So we could go to the play area the rest of the time.
I didn’t like milk, but Terry did.
And he didn’t care for apple sauce, but I did.
Sometimes we’d split:
Half a piece of pizza for half my sandwich.
We didn’t keep score, but
We were always even.
There, right in the middle of the cafeteria,
Smack in the middle of the school,
Was a large, carpeted recreational area.
There, we’d play and everything was cool.
After lunch, but also before and after school,
We could climb and crawl,
Spin and jump,
Run and hide,
Seek and find,
And holler as loud as we’d want.
Teachers would monitor from nearby, but
They left us alone and took their break-time.
Our teachers would even rotate who had this monitoring job to do.
We weren’t a rowdy bunch,
So, there were no fights to break-up.
There were neither hoops nor balls to tussle over.
No nets, no bats –
No competition and all that.
Just a space…
Where us kids could be free.
We were free.
Terry died in the middle of first grade.
We had found out from our teacher that Terry was sick,
We’d all heard of sickle cell, many in our own families, like mine.
But none of us knew what it means.
We knew Terry was not always sturdy.
One time he’d had a bad bout with asthma.
Our teacher helped him take his inhaler,
That she’d showed us where it was kept in her desk drawer.
Now, she was telling us that Terry was just spending a few days in the hospital.
The whole class avidly awaited Terry’s return.
She didn’t know more than that,
I needed to know when Terry’d be back.
I knocked on his door, one day
On the way home from school,
To tell his grandmother I hoped Terry’d be ok.
I knew my grandmother would be heartbroken if anything like that happened to one of us.
Kids that little aren’t supposed to die.
Not here, and not of diseases we can’t even see.
Even at that age, I knew this just shouldn’t be.
And yet turn on the TV,
Every day we see signs and symptoms of little Black boys’ morbidity.
Whether from war or starvation in distant lands, or
Dilapidation and disease on these burning sands.
Just like what was happening to Terry:
A casualty of a neglectful society.
I didn’t get to mourn Terry,
Didn’t have some cathartic corral with our classmates about
The fun times we had or how much we missed him.
There was no school counselor coming to our class –
No one explaining the cycle of life, nor
Asking us about our feelings.
I knew how I felt.
I loved Terry, and knew the way I loved him was seen as peculiar;
I couldn’t let anyone know about this one-sided affair.
I was sad, and all this was unfair.
What would I say?
We were only 6 years old, and
Terry was the first boy I ever loved.
In memory of Muhammed Ali, another Black boy who survived those same streets and corridors.
I’ve been thinking a lot about equality recently. It is a concept bandied around all the time and after all who wouldn’t want equal life opportunities, equal status, equal justice? Whether we’re talking about gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status. religion, sex or maternity (all protected characteristics under the Equality Act, 2010) the focus is apparently on achieving equality. But equal to what? If we’re looking for equivalence, how as a society do we decide a baseline upon which we can measure equality? Furthermore, do we all really want equality, whatever that might turn out to be?
Arguably, the creation of the ‘Welfare State’ post-WWII is one of the most concerted attempts (in the UK, at least) to lay foundations for equality. The ambition of Beveridge’s (1942) Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services was radical and expansive. Here is a clear attempt to address, what Beveridge (1942) defined as the five “Giant Evils” in society; ‘squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease’. These grand plans offer the prospect of levelling the playing field, if these aims could be achieved, there would be a clear step toward ensuring equality for all. Given Beveridge’s (1942) background in economics, the focus is on numerical calculations as to the value of a pension, the cost of NHS treatment and of course, how much members of society need to contribute to maintain this. Whilst this was (and remains, even by twenty-first century standards) a radical move, Beveridge (1942) never confronts the issue of equality explicitly. Instead, he identifies a baseline, the minimum required for a human to have a reasonable quality of life. Of course, arguments continue as to what that minimum might look like in the twenty-first century. Nonetheless, this ground-breaking work means that to some degree, we have what Beveridge (1942) perceived as care ‘from cradle to grave’.
Unfortunately, this discussion does not help with my original question; equal to what? In some instances, this appears easier to answer; for example, adults over the age of 18 have suffrage, the age of sexual consent for adults in the UK is 16. But what about women’s fight for equality, how do we measure this? Equal pay legislation has not resolved the issue, government policy indicates that women disproportionately bear the negative impact of austerity. Likewise, with race equality, whether you look at education, employment or the CJS there is a continuing disproportionate negative impact on minorities. When you consider intersectionality, many of these inequalities are heaped one on top of the other. Would equality be represented by everyone’s life chances being impacted in the same way, regardless of how detrimental we know these conditions are? Would equality mean that others have to lose their privilege, or would they give it up freely?
Unfortunately, despite extensive study, I am no closer to answering these questions. If you have any ideas, let me know.
Beveridge, William, (1942), Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, (HMSO: London)
The Equality Act, 2010, (London: TSO)