Discomfort is not divisive

Discomfort in many ways is similar to pain, the internal warning system that all is not right and that perhaps we need to check in or perhaps figure some things out. Ignoring our pain or discomfort often comes at a high price. Case in point, for the past several weeks, I have been physically wiped out. Despite waking up every day feeling as if a plastic bag were tied around my head, I brushed off my physical discomfort and chalked it up to allergies and stress from my day job. After all, trying to save a struggling non-profit agency is tiring.  This weekend my physical discomfort escalated to the point that I could no longer ignore it once my eyes and face started swelling up and I found myself at the local urgent care clinic on a beautiful Sunday morning. It turns out all the pesky things I had been ignoring for weeks were a low level sinus infection that has now become an acute case of sinusitis and despite my dislike of all things pharmaceutical, I am on a heavy dose of antibiotics to knock this thing out. Looking back, I am kicking myself for not noticing all the clear signs that all was not well, but I wasn’t paying attention or rather I chose not to pay attention.

In many ways my refusal to acknowledge and pay attention to my body is very similar to how many Americans view matters of race and difference.  It is uncomfortable, and no one likes to feel uncomfortable. Yet when we continue to ignore situations, they rarely go away.  Instead situations that we ignore have a pesky habit of growing into things that eventually spiral out of control.

I don’t think that America is spiraling out of control because of racial matters, but it seems clear to all that are paying attention that much of the progress that we thought we had made as a nation when it came to matters of race, was either in our heads or on paper. Laws have changed and we have our first Black president but the rate at which we hear about injustice and inequality is going in the wrong direction. The fact that so many of us do not have friends of different races speaks volumes about how we really feel. Yet whenever someone dares to bring up these issues, it is seen as divisive and it is uncomfortable, so we shut it down or block it out.

No place is this seen more clearly than in the feminist community, where mainstream, predominantly white feminists are often the official voice of all women/feminists yet often their agenda is not inclusive of all women, particularly women of color. Women of color often find themselves shut out of larger discussions and in recent days the situation came to a head with the offline and online breakdown of Hugo Schwyzer. Schwyzer is a gender studies professor, blogger and writer who had a hell of a run for quite a time but to blunt, he shat upon many of women of color in the process of making a name for himself. Without getting into the gritty details since there are players who know far more about the details than me, mainstream feminist and feminist publications often made a place at the table for Schwyzer despite knowing that his record among feminists of color was less than ideal. In the end, he was not who he claimed to be and to say that there is a seismic gulf between most mainstream feminists and feminists of color would be an understatement.

Today that disconnect played out on twitter with the hashtag that started trending globally #solidarityisforwhitewomen which was started by Mikki Kendall where many, including yours truly, posted insights about how dismissive the mainstream and predominantly white feminist community is towards people of color and how people of color are often missing from larger and relevant discussions that should involve all women. Without a doubt it was uncomfortable for many; a local Twitter user who I have met commented that “ #solidarityisforwhitewomen is making me feel like I should be ashamed to be white. Being a woman is hard enough. Why add race into it?”  Great question and really that question is the reason why I am writing tonight when I should be resting.

Too often when women of color talk openly about their experiences as women of color, white women often in an attempt to achieve solidarity are quick to mention that as women we all share a common hardship and that we should focus on what we share in common, not our differences. In theory this sounds great but the uncomfortable truth is that women of color and white women are not playing on an even playing field at this time. Even when we level the playing field and take into consideration the class factor, my reality as a college educated, middle class Black woman is still not the same reality as my white peers.   One need only look at the never-ending Mommy wars, which primarily focus on middle class and above white women. Even the Lean In discussions are primarily focused on high achieving, upper middle class mothers, most of whom are white. Sheryl Sandberg pretty much admits that the focus of “Leaning In” is not inclusive of all women.  So that means while the national discussions in the U.S. talk a great deal about motherhood and related topics, those conversations which seem to take up a lot of words actually leave out quite a few.

If our goal is to achieve solidarity as women, that will never be accomplished as long as only some women get to have a voice and others are stifled. To move forward means we have to hear all the players and allow them a place at the table.  It means the ability to move beyond our own egos and feelings and take a look at our own discomfort. As I noted before, discomfort serves a purpose and we have to be willing to examine it and not ignore it. I suspect that for many well-meaning and well-intentioned folks, matters of race and difference are uncomfortable because to truly examine that discomfort may bring us face to face with something that we would rather not deal with. However, the cost of ignoring that discomfort may eventually leave us with something larger, messier and nastier to deal with…the choice is ours.

Cooking is a radical act

I read a pretty diverse assortment of blogs on a fairly regular basis. I have my political blogs, black blogs, cooking blogs, you get the picture. Anyway recently I was reading one of my regular blogs and the blogger made an indirect slam towards women who cook and do crafty work, the implication being that women who devote their blog energies to such endeavors really don’t have a voice as far as more serious discussions.  For some reason that comment stuck with me, to the point that yesterday as I was cooking a batch of chicken soup for the girl child, that it hit me…cooking and doing crafty work is not only radical in today’s world its downright empowering.

I admit this is going to be disjointed since its late but stay with me. Two images of my mother who has been deceased now 5 years both are around cooking. When my mother was starting chemotherapy, I went home to visit, well the day I was to arrive she was having chemo so the night before she started chemo, she stayed up late to cook one of my favorite meals. See, my Mom showed her love through cooking and here I was coming and despite the emotional roller coaster she was on, it just would not do to not have her daughter’s favorite foods prepared.

A few months later after we learned that despite chemo, radiation and lung surgery, we received the heartbreaking news that the cancer had spread to her brain…it was not a good time, and my folks decided on brain surgery. I went back home and at this point my Mom was not in good shape, yet the night before her surgery..brain surgery, out of nowhere she got a surge of energy and made me my absolute favorite meal, chicken and noodle stew. It was the last meal that my Mom would ever cook for me as she would only live 7 more weeks and would never return home.

It was funny because the night she made the stew, I watched her (she had never shared the recipe before and in her condition she wasn’t writing the recipe down) yet she cooked it as perfectly as she always had despite having horrible headaches and a fast growing tumor in her head.

Prior to my Mom’s death, I was a proficient cook but I was not passionate about it, yet through her last days I realized that cooking is about nutrition but its also about love. After my Mom’s death, my cooking has grown to the point that even my family and that includes my picky Dad have all said its as if I started channeling my Mom when I cook. I enjoy cooking, when I prepare meals for my family I see it as showing love. Last week I was rushing two hours before elder boy left to go back to the Midwest to prepare his favorite breakfast, he told me not to worry about it but I know how much he loves fried potatoes and onions, so I cooked them.

I look at the blogs of women who share their handicraft and culinary talents and think that for so many of us who are so busy that we have no idea what the stove actually does, that perhaps we should step back and learn something. Once upon a time family meals were the norm, yet how many families no longer break bread together?

In the Black community, broken families are the norm, in many cases headed by a single Mama, sometimes there are issues with kids running amok, would things be better if families ate together? I know I sound hokey but I do believe there is something special about family time. In my house even when its pizza night we sit and eat it together at the table where the table has been set. My son jokes I am one of the only folks he knows who does this; for us setting the table and sitting together is a norm. The type of norm that if we saw more of it maybe there would be less violence in our communities.

So to all the ladies who cook, knit and sew…you are changing the world, maybe not on a large macro level but on a level that indeed makes a difference. Cooking and taking care of one’s family is a radical act in this time.

The Return of the housewife, the 2008 model

The past 4 years I have spent a lot of time online, in part getting pregnant with mini-me and having no Mom to lean on and being out of practice with the baby thing, I immediately took to researching all I could about having a baby. (you’d have thought I had never done it before, granted having a baby in your 30’s is a whole lot different than having one at 19)

During the course of my pregnancy I researched the merits of vaccines and whether or not we should get them, diapers, cloth versus disposable and a whole array of things. Now I will say that this second go around on the mommy ride I did make some different changes, used a midwife rather than OB, actually used cloth diapers though I will admit it was only because I found an environmentally friendly diaper service (sorry but cleaning shit nearly made me stop eating when I tried). Turned out having a baby these days is definitely different this second time around.

However one of the more interesting things I have stumbled on both online and in my day to day life was what looks like the return of homemaking, new millennium style. The past couple of years I have met more and more women, primarily white women but some of the sistas are there too, who take the task of being home with the kids seriously. I’m not just talking cleaning and cooking. I am talking making everything from scratch, I have met and know women personally who don’t just clean but they even make the cleaning materials, soap and shit from scratch. Then there are the hardcore Mamas who plan on homeschooling or are already homeschooling… now I will be honest I find the idea of homeschooling attractive yet I suspect that my introverted aka give me space personality coupled with mini-me’s very extroverted personality might not make us candidates for homeschooling. Though right now I am doing some initial learning about it since my real basis for seriously considering homeschooling is that I am concerned how mini me will do in a predominantly white school. However school is a couple years off for now.

No, today’s housewife looks nothing like the Mama I grew up with, my Mom cooked, even cooked from scratch but it wasn’t her passion or bliss. She even sewed like many of today’s Mama’s but it was a hobby, she didn’t make all our clothes from scratch. Me, I can’t sew to save my life, lets just say I didn’t get the handiwork gene at all, sadly a sista barely can sew a button on a shirt. I tried to learn to knit a few years ago but gave up after spending gobs of money on materials.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing these women, shit, part of me is in awe since while anyone who knows me will tell you I am a good cook, as my Pops would say I cam throw down in the kitchen and the spousal unit’s slowly expanding waist line could be a testament to my cooking. However I don’t love to cook, its just that living in Maine especially in a small town, its often easier to cook than go out to eat since there are whole categories of food I love but you won’t find in any local restaurants around these parts (hello, Mexican food).

Seriously though while I would never call myself a feminist, though my leanings are more womanist, I do wonder about the long term feasibility of being a housewife. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband and I trust him but having been divorced and knowing that spouses can check out of life early, I have a strong desire to keep a foot in the work world. There is also the fact that I like working to some degree, not enough to show up every day at 8 am, but enough for the work I do. Plus the pesky fact that I owe a tad over a hundred grand for that pair of degrees I earned and I need to keep Sallie Mae at bay with some monthly cash and my payments are just high enough that expecting the spousal unit to cover them plus our house/family expenses might border on being a tad unfair.

Seems the 1950’s housewife was not really happy and I do wonder if this new millennium model is also happy. I also wonder about the inherent unfairness that keeps many Black women from embracing this model, then I wonder do we as Black women even want to embrace this model of womanhood?

Personally while I find some segments of modern homemaking exciting, I am not sure it feels like a step in the right direction for me, what about you? Do you want to tend the kids all day and being completely in charge of the house but doing everything yourself? If so what is the role of your partner in this? Is he/she reduced to being a paycheck or do they play an active part in this lifestyle as well. I ask because I also know women who are living like this but pissed that their partners are not respecting them.

Ok, Monday morning ramble over, time to drink more coffee and get to work.