Tales of Hip-Hop and A Love Letter to Shawn

I was born into hip-hop.

In the impossibly hot summer of 1980, there I was, entering the world as a new era in music was creeping into its rightful place as a global juggernaut, though no one saw it that way then. And as it gained more and more views, and spins, and finally videos, my parents were right in the thick of it, 21 and 23 years old, parents of me and my older sister, rapping along to the best party music they’d ever heard and commiserating with these teenagers and young adults about what it meant to grow up as they had, doing what they did. 

All my peers have an older cousin, or sister that played them their first record with a DJ scratching and an MC hyping up his dexterity and rhythmic finger skill. Not me. It was my mom and dad. My dad was the first person to play me Shalamar, and the first person to play me Rakim. I knew who the Treacherous Three were because my mother’s love for Kool Moe Dee knew no bounds. I was born into hip-hop.

And having received a gift as amazing as that, I somehow knew I’d better hold on to it. So I did. I held on so tight that it was a part of me, ingrained in everything I did. My sister and I listened to hip-hop while we did everything, while we did anything. And we were always searching for something new to love–just the way our parents had taught us to. And so in 1995, with my Favorite Rappers list steadily growing, when I kind of had a crush on Tupac, cleaned my room to Tribe and De La, blasted The Roots with all the Philly pride I could muster, and thought Wu-Tang was the best thing since sliced bread, my sister brought me this tape of a guy named Jay-Z. Now, she’d gotten it from her boyfriend at the time, a low level dope boy who did nothing but blast music from his hoopty and move from corner to corner to avoid the police. But that’s neither here nor there. He was our hookup for music we didn’t hear on the radio or see on Yo MTV Raps. So we put the tape in… and my life changed.

Now I don’t say that lightly. I mean, I was living in a rap landscape that had Biggie prominently leading the Best Rapper category for a lot of people. I was obsessed with Rakim and Kool G Rap. We still played our Illmatic CD everyday and had heated debates about whether Snoop would beat the murder case that they gave him. Shit, there was a lot of music in my head. But something about Hov made me want to hear more of him. So, of course the first question I ask is “where’s his CD? Can we get it?” My sister’s answer, “he doesn’t have one yet. But we’ll get it when he does.” 

Fast forward to 1996. Reasonable Doubt came out just in time for my sister’s birthday, but she didn’t get it as she promised; her initial infatuation had cooled and her love and loyalty for Biggie had firmly reasserted itself. So I had to wait for my own birthday. And I did. And I spun Reasonable Doubt as soon as I could make it home from the store with it. And my record scratch/ light bulb/ a-ha/ moment blossomed into love. Hov was everything I already loved in a different way. He gave me Rakim, and KGR, and Kane vibes– but he was firmly himself. I mean, this man had wordplay for days, he could rhyme fast or slow, he was in perfect control of his pacing–and he told stories. Reasonable Doubt was a masterpiece. You could tell how honest it was. How determined it was. How sure it was. Hov knew he had a place–and you could hear it.

So, a stan was born. “Can’t Knock the Hustle” spun an insane number of times–because by then my mother was more receptive to rap if you threw in some R&B she could bop to–“Feelin It” was my favorite and I rapped Foxy’s verse on “Ain’t No Nigga” like I was standing in front of Hov myself. I couldn’t wait to see what Shawn Corey was going to do next. Volume One dropped and I begged my mom to get it for me. I jumped up and down for joy seeing that “Friend or Foe” had a sequel and I grinned at hearing Lenny S on the intro like he was an old friend. Hov was back, and my life was complete. Volume One had a couple of songs that made me scrunch my head in confusion, but I was already well aware of how album sales worked: you needed a catchy tune that the radio could play. So I let it slide. And it still hit me in the same place; the same honesty, determination, the same grit. Volume Two was propelled by an Annie sample and a movie soundtrack record and Hov was the big time. By then I was in college and the debates about his prowess as an MC flew across the spades table as we played game after game. This Hov was flashier to me, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. His content didn’t exactly change, but the way he presented it did–if that makes sense. And you couldn’t bring up his name without people mentioning Biggie, which also annoyed me to no end. I felt close to Hov. I felt like I knew him, like his music let me in. Biggie, as good and as raw as he was, never made me feel like that.

By the time Volume 3 and The Dynasty rolled into my life, Hov gave me another reason to love him: Beanie Sigel, who lived around the corner from where I grew up, and who I’d spent many a night hearing freestyles from in the schoolyard up the street, joined The Roc. And my heart melted. My ears tingled. Beans the Bully was a great compliment to Hov’s smoother, calmer style, and I wanted to hear everything I could. We got to the Blueprint, and I was firm in my love. 9/11 happened and the whole world changed, but Shawn Corey stayed the same. He was hitting every milestone and peak and I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. He was going to the mountaintop, and to my delight, with the addition of State Property, he was taking Philly with him. By then I didn’t love anyone in hip-hop, I didn’t love anyone in music, the way I loved Shawn Corey Carter. He reminded me of my dad in a lot of ways: reformed dope boy who just wants to make good and live good. I know that’s not a unique story in hip-hop, but the way Hov told it was, and that’s what connected with me. His cadence, his rhythm, his storytelling ability. He was confident in his ability to outshine anyone around him, to stand taller, to rap better. Shawn Corey knew what he could do, and he knew he could do better than anyone else. That was what I loved.

I stood firm by his side during the beef with Nas (even though I’d always loved Nas), and argued with my every breath that “Takeover” was better than “Ether” (it was).  The Blueprint 2 was supposed to be Hov’s Magnum Opus and I was worried from the first. That many tracks? But I couldn’t doubt my favorite artist so I got ready. And… it should have been one album. There were so many flashes of Hov being outstanding, but too many instances of sounding him nonchalant and unexcited. Nonetheless, my love was strong. And I forgave him. Because his brilliance was still there. His wordplay, his stories, his cadence, his confidence. Plus, he dropped the final bomb on the Nas beef on that album. We’re all still wondering if it’s Oochie Wally Wally or One Mic. 

Then, the world stops. Shawn Corey says he’s not going to rap anymore, and his next album will be his last.  And even though I’d known hip-hop before him, it didn’t feel like it, and I wondered what we would do, what I would do, without someone there who I thought was actively raising the bar. Now I don’t want you to think Hov was my only love. My love for the genre as a whole was all-encompassing and there were plenty of artists I spun besides him. But he was my North Star. He was who I focused myself with. Who brought me back to center. So I wondered where hip-hop would go without him, where my musical attraction would go next, and if there’d ever be anyone I loved as much as him (up until this point, the only one even coming close was Rakim). But Shawn seemed serious, and so I sucked it up and prepared to say goodbye. And The Black Album delivered. Every producer brought something unique. There were so many quotable bars, so much of Hov revealed. It was honest. It was determined. It was sure. Hov had a place–it was on top. And he knew it.

Hov’s “retirement” wasn’t easy for me by any means, but when he said he was coming back, I was nervous. Everything he’d done had been overwhelmingly good, and I was worried about his rush to come back, his need to be heard. And I was right to be. Kingdom Come wasn’t what anyone wanted or expected from my rap hero, and I found myself floundering, making excuses for Shawn, and trying to see the good. Years later, Kingdom Come doesn’t play nearly as terribly as it does upon first listen, and there are some things I LOVE about it, but as a comeback album, it was bad. Underwhelming, and unexciting, for the most part. And it probably has him and Bey’s worst collab. But, we move on. I tried to forgive Shawn, and eventually I did, but as much as I’d missed him while he was gone, I was still stung he’d come back like that. But just as easily, he found a way to make my heart sing again. And it was called American Gangster. This was Shawn Corey. A grown Shawn Corey. A versatile Shawn Corey. A linguistically savvy, arrogant as hell Shawn Corey who managed to step into himself and Frank Lucas simultaneously (Surviving droughts? I wish you well?) American Gangster was a masterpiece. And I was ready to follow wherever Hov led.  The Blueprint 3 wasn’t a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it, and I don’t give it the grief that most people do. But Hov was up and down at this point. Floundering a bit. I wasn’t used to it. 

Next thing I know, I’m watching the throne. And Kanye’s influence is heavy. Hov played the background and I guess I understood, but I hoped he’d never do it again. It just wasn’t… him. Not that the album didn’t have it’s moments. But I get it. Shawn was becoming a family man. And rap could wait. The fans could wait. And wait I did. When I heard about Magna Carta, Holy Grail I felt that familiar tingle, that nervous excitement. But would I get Kingdom Come Hov or American Gangster Hov? The answer was somewhere in the middle. MCHG plays much better now when you know what to avoid, but there are splashes of the reflective, open, honest Hov that I know and love. We’re all still waiting with bated breath to see if a full version of “Beach Is Better” appears and “Nickels and Dimes,” is a top ten Hov track and I don’t care what anyone says. I’m back in full swing though, and my love is still strong. It’s still you, Shawn Corey. It’s always been you.

4:44 was a tour de force for me, an exceptional album that was overshadowed by what Shawn and his wife revealed about their marriage, and life together. People really did my love a major disservice and made the entire narrative about infidelity when we got the most eloquent, expressive Hov we’d seen in years. The fucking disrespect. But not to worry. I heard it. I reveled in it. I play “Marcy Me” once a day STILL. I appreciated it. Shawn was so open on this album that people forgot how open he’d been on other ones. To them, his reveal was a level never before seen. But not to me. Because I remember “D’Evils,” “You Must Love Me,” “This Can’t Be Life,” “Soon You’ll Understand,” “Song Cry,” “Allure,” “Nickels and Dimes,” and all the rest. Shawn had been peeling back layers for YEARS–and he deserves credit for that. I am more than happy to give him that credit.

When all is said and done, that day in 1995 when my sister’s boyfriend walked into our house with that tape, changed my life. It changed my perspective. It changed my music. And I’m forever changed. Happily. I was born into hip-hop. It’s probably my greatest love. And Shawn Corey makes it better, brighter, sharper. So I’m still in love. I’m still in awe. Hov has a place–and it’s in my heart.

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For Colored Fat Girls With Anxiety Because Depression Isn’t Enough

So… bedbugs.

Do you know after you treat for bedbugs and replace your furniture and throw away everything that ever meant something to you, that you still itch for awhile? Like, some sort of reflexive memory. Do you know that when you’re climbing an emotional mountain so big you don’t even have the strength to wash your hair that bedbugs will feel like someone is standing at the top of that mountain, throwing boulders down at you? Did you guys know that? I am exhausted and after today’s setback, I don’t know where I’m going to get the energy to pull myself up… again. I’m hot and sleepy and antsy and angsty and I wish I can wrap this part of my life up already and get to whatever’s coming next.

I am unsettled. And angry about it. I don’t know where I’m going; I only know I don’t want to be where I’ve been, nor do I want to be where I am now. Nearly three years in to this “new phase” that I walked into, eyes open, I am exhausted, lonely, sad and broke. Goddamn, I didn’t see this coming. I’m honestly almost too exhausted to keep going. I thought I saw a bedbug the other night and had a full blown panic attack, complete with tears and pacing and hand wringing, and shaking. I was an actual wreck for about three hours. This apartment has the worst circulation of any place I’ve ever lived and I think I’m going to sweat myself into a puddle. I don’t want to see anybody, and I don’t want to be seen. I force myself to show up to things every once in a while so people think I’m okay and they leave me alone the rest of the time. And before you ask, yes I’m in therapy… again.

It’s a crazy feeling, this rage I have simmering. This anger that bubbles. Because I’m the only one who ever feels it. My therapist told me to write down why I don’t feel like it’s okay to express it. Why I don’t think it’s okay to be angry. I think my anger scares me more than anything. I think I’m afraid of the fallout. I’m afraid of what the anger says about me, afraid that Angry Me… is me. Afraid that if I get angry I’ll stay that way. Afraid most of all, that my anger will make me mean. And as someone who’s had people be mean to them, that’s not who I want to be. But I am pretty mad. I’m mad that since I’ve been here, most of the people I interact with are people who only do so because of what I can do/ have done/ will do for them. I’m mad at being seen as a resource, as someone to be used. And I’m mad that some of these people think I’m too stupid to realize that that’s how they see me. That I don’t know why you keep me on your radar. I KNOW, YOU SONS OF BITCHES. I SEE YOU, AND I KNOW!!! And this fear of being mean is the only thing that keeps me from exploding on you.

Some days I feel like I’m cracking up. Like the pieces of me are falling away. I don’t wish this on anyone. And it’s hard sometimes to get the kind of support you need. I honestly don’t want scriptures quoted at me, and I don’t want to hear that “everyone has ups and downs.” That doesn’t help, and I wish you idiots would stop doing that shit. When I told Eric how I was doing, he asked me to come and stay with him. Clear my head. Ease my mind. When I told Ebony, she came to see me. Brought me a care package. Real, tangible, support. You know what I say to people when they tell me that they’re struggling? I say, “I’m sorry. Can I do anything?” Or, “here’s what I can do. Does this help?” Real, tangible, support. I don’t throw out platitudes about what everyone else is going through. Do you see the distinction? And if those platitudes are all you’ve got, then stop asking me how I’m doing. Because all your response shows me is that you don’t really want to know. Smh. Okay, so maybe I’m angry about this too.

I just… working through these things has been tiring. And the hits just keep on coming. Because all of this has made me question whether the Universe is telling me it was wrong to come home. Whether or not I should even be here. Which means more moving, more transition. And to where? Where am I going? What do I want to be doing? I haven’t been creative in months, I’m stumbling through and I don’t know what it means. Should I leave? I’m feeling more and more like I should. But once again, where do I go? I don’t want to go back to Maryland, but every other place I have friends is shaky. The friendships may not be developed enough to lean on them, like I lean on my Aunt Lil and my dad here, or like I leaned on Chinwe and Eb and Dana in Maryland. I don’t want to be a burden. I know how heavy burdens are. How heavy the feel. I mean, I could just branch out to somewhere completely new, but can I go it alone? I mean, do I want to go it alone? Which brings me to the next thing…

Alone. And lonely. No closer to meeting someone. That’s not even my main concern because right now I’m in shambles and truth be told as long as it’s been, I’m used to it. But I just… this is not who I thought I would be. And it’s not lost on me that my newest short story collection is all about heartbreak because I know it so fucking well. And every pure, lighthearted love story I try to write gets bogged down in dramatic minutiae because I don’t know love as well as I’d like to. As well as other people. Sigh. I guess we’re adding some jealousy to my anger. I guess I don’t know what to do. I guess I’m still working through it. I wish I knew where I belonged. Because it wasn’t Maryland. And it’s not here.

 

Thoughts on My Wakanda

Disclaimer: There might be some spoilers in this blog, so I apologize in advance. But this is not a movie review. I REPEAT: THIS IS NOT A MOVIE REVIEW.

I went to Wakanda. Twice. I’m going again as soon as possible. In case you missed it, although I don’t know how you could, Marvel’s Black Panther opened in theaters in all of it’s glory, and to rave reviews. If you’ve been living under a rock, it’s the story of T’Challa, Prince of a fictional African nation called Wakanda. The film centers on the death of his father, his ascension to the throne, and the discovery of a mistake in his father’s past that leads to a threat of his future. I’m not going to say anymore about the plot because… go see the damn movie, already. What are you waiting for? What’s wrong with you? Anyway… on to why we’re here. Let me tell you a little bit about Wakanda.

Wakanda, as stated, is a fictional nation. As written in the comic books, Wakanda is led and powered by it’s exclusive access to Vibranium, a metal that is the strongest metal on Earth. Vibranium is used to build Wakanda, to power Wakanda, to care for it’s citizens, and to defend it’s borders. Vibranium’s uses in modern technology have made Wakanda arguably the most advanced nation in the world. But part of it’s power lies in the secrecy.

Wakanda basically hides the vibranium, and all that it can do, from the rest of the world. They are seen as just another third-world country, just another poor African nation. They even use vibranium to shield themselves from the outside world. They don’t welcome outsiders, and they don’t offer aid–even though they have so much, and most around them have so little. They do not get involved in the affairs of the world, even though vibranium, and Wakandan technology, could solve a LOT of problems. And Wakanda’s lack of involvement in the world’s affairs–more specifically, issues of people of color, is a major plot point in the movie, and a major ideological battle between King T’Challa and others. And so of course, it’s being pulled apart and analyzed all over social media. Most people believe that Wakanda should do more, especially for people of color, that they should have been doing more, that the doors should have been open long ago, and that the vibranium should be used to solve as many problems as it can. Wakanda’s insulation doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. It presents as selfishness, and elitism. Most people were disappointed that Wakanda had basically watched the world suffer, and did nothing to help. In their defense, the Wakandans were afraid of being exploited, and that’s a valid fear, but vibranium makes for dangerous weapons, and a lot of people feel they can help and still protect themselves from the negative effects of letting the world in. And I found myself torn. So here we are.

I was born and raised in Philly. A little more than two years ago, after 12 years of living in suburban Maryland, I came home. And my life has gotten a lot more complicated. The reason I tell you this, is that when I watched the movie twice, and I read the tweets, and the reviews, and the blogs, I realized that I had created a Wakanda for myself. And that I had opened it to the world. And that I had been exploited. My life was T’Challa’s worst fear come true. Walk with me…

I have two older sisters and five younger brothers. But I am my mother’s middle child. I am also the most responsible of all my siblings. I am the most mature of them. I am the most compassionate of them. And in terms of traditional social assets, I am the most “successful” of them. I am the one who’s been to college. I am the one with a professional job, a defined career path, the one who has owned a house, and a car. In terms of relationships, they are all miles ahead of me. There are kids and partners galore while I’m contemplating a dog. But outside of that area, I am the most “successful.” And that has been a cross to bear. Being the “successful” child has a layer of pressure, a pressing weight on your heart and mind, and pockets. You’re never just asked to help. You’re EXPECTED to. There is a sheen of obligation in every request, a hint of guilt in every hand out. I have been home two years, and I am still wondering if it was a mistake. Because I came back here to be closer to my family. To connect more with them. And then the leaning started. And now I’m scared I’ll never stand straight again. I’m just so drained all the time. I wanted to be open. I wanted to give them the full benefit of everything I could do. Of everything I had. And I thought I was equipped enough to defend myself if it ever got to be too much. I didn’t want to be Wakanda. I wanted to help as much as I could, as often as I could. Paying the blessings forward was something I always believed in. And I had been blessed. So I felt like it was expected of me to give back. “To whom much is given, much is required,” right? I believed that. And they’re my family. So why not? Right? Yeah, well. The aftermath is… not what I expected.

I am tired. Drained. Almost empty. My creativity is forced, my weight gain is embarrassing, I’m isolating myself so I won’t be asked for anything. I’m starting over financially, and I’m rebuilding in so many ways. So when T’Challa is afraid of Wakanda being used up, I understood that. Because I am used up. And when they contemplated keeping the doors closed and letting the outside world sort out their own shit, I understood that too. Because I wish these people would sort out their own shit. When W’Kabi warned T’Challa that letting in refugees would bring their problems with them and then your environment would be as toxic as theirs, I understood that too. Because I’ve had them in my house, and supported them, and it changed my environment. That’s what I felt, what I feel, what I was afraid of. And no one sees the weight on you. They assume it’s light just because you’re carrying it. They don’t consider that it’s taking all the strength you have.

Boundaries are important. And they’re there for a reason. Letting other people cross them can be chaos. And I don’t want to speak like a victim blamer. I know what white supremacy does. What colonialism and terrorism and imperialism has done. But chaos is chaos. And at some point you have to ask yourself why it’s not okay to shield yourself from it. Even if the people involved have a connection with you. Is it ever okay to just save yourself? Because I’ve definitely gone into retreat mode to save myself. I have definitely had to close the door, after the fact. The outreach program is over. Not because I don’t care anymore, but because there’s literally nothing left for me to extend anymore.

So were centuries of ancestors and former kings right in insulating Wakanda? I don’t know. But I’ve been their worst fear come true, so I can’t really say that they’re wrong either.

Wakanda Forever! And Shameka… for right now. Sigh.

Eye Openers and Skirt Lifters

TW: Sexual Assault

If anyone had ever asked me if I’d ever been sexually assaulted, I would have said no. I know my mom has. My nieces have. I know they’ve been victimized by men, as women are every day, and I always breathed a small sigh of relief that I hadn’t experienced what they have. You see, I was reading sexual assault as rape and molestation. I was reading sexual assault as forced intercourse, and violence, roughness and crying for help. And all of those qualify. But I wasn’t reading the full story.

I didn’t see it as an unwanted attack on my person. As an ass slap when I’m walking by, or a grope when I’m dancing with you, or a kiss before I push you away. I didn’t see it as being touched when I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t see it as those things. There were levels. And I always thought that as long as I cussed you out after, and put you in your place, and told you I don’t roll like that, that I had protected myself sufficiently. I always thought that if you stopped when I said “no,” that I had prevented an actual sexual assault. But something happened that showed me that I was wrong.

I went to a party. I met a man. I danced with him. I was drunk. He was drunk. We ended up against a wall. Next thing I knew I was being kissed. And it was fine. But then I was being groped. And my skirt was being lifted. And that wasn’t fine. I pushed him away. I told him to stop, and he did. And then I took my drunk ass out of there before more happened. And I didn’t think about it. I mean, I pushed it completely away. I shrugged it off, and I went about my life. I didn’t see it as anything other than a guy getting too excited and acting out. I excused it. Because it was me. I honestly don’t know if I would have excused it so quickly had it been someone else. But it was me, and I thought I knew myself. And I let it go. In short, I made it okay.

But it wasn’t okay. It occurs to me lately (after some retrospection you don’t need to know about), that sexual assault covers a lot more than what I thought it did. That it was more than the blatant, sexual coercion. That it had happened to me. Of course, it’s not something I’m reconciling very well, hence me writing this. It’s making me anxious, edgy, fearful. I want to shrink and withdraw; I spent a whole day sick to my stomach. It skewed my perspective, and left me reeling. You don’t think of it as being taken advantage of. You just don’t. You write it off and think you’ve escaped unscathed because they listened to your “no.” But you’re not unscathed. And the fact that they listened to “no” doesn’t mean a fucking thing because they still felt entitled to touch you in the first place. And that’s wrong. It’s dead ass wrong. It crazy wrong. It’s made me sad, and angry with myself.

It just made me sad that I’ve babied men for so long. Like, I don’t even hold them to the same standard that I do my fucking self. EYE don’t touch anyone, in any way, without their consent. I have that as a rule. For MYSELF. And for this man I just wrote it off for him as “at least he stopped when I said no.” Like that bar was so low, I’m embarrassed. And then I thought of all the other things I do to prevent being touched. How I shrink in a crowd when a man is about to brush up against me. How I excuse myself far too often so they don’t share my space, so they don’t violate my space. How I meet the most ignorant, disgusting ones in the street but I still smile and speak when they speak to me because I’m afraid of what they’ll do if I’m not polite. If I reject them. How I hate being approached when I’m alone. How I stand with my back to the wall in certain places. How I shrink myself, protect myself; how I COWER on a day-to-day basis because you never know what men will do. How I’ve taken it for granted that they will take advantage of me at the first opportunity, and I’ve modified MY behavior because asking them to modify theirs will bring their anger. How I’ve been doing it for years, and how I did it that night. It’s… heavy to say the least. And I’m not okay with it.

I think about my nieces (I have nine of them now), my beautiful girls and I think of them shrinking. Not being who they really are. Cowering. And I’m angry. With myself. With men. With the world. I always have rose-colored glasses; I have a vacation home in Optimism. But it’s been dwindling, and it’s all I can do to hold on. Keep your hands to yourself. Teach your sons to keep their hands to themselves. Stop thinking you’re entitled to something because you like it. Or because it’s there. In the meantime, I’m learning to shoot. And I’m buying a stun gun. I hope none of you niggas have to learn the hard way. But I will teach you if necessary.

Fat Black Girls on TV, and Art Imitating My Life: An Introspective

I am a fat black girl. A wide, full-bellied, thick-thighed, heavy-set, brown skinned, woman. I said that as an announcement of self. I don’t feel bad about it. Even though every form of commercial advertisement, and (not so) well-meaning family members have certainly tried to make me feel like I should. I’ve been bullied into weight loss challenges, coaxed into high impact aerobics, guilted into dieting. I’ve even been persuaded to food journal, shamed by own words. All in the name of “health.” And though it’s been tough, I’ve managed to remain me. My one of a kind self. Then I started seeing fat girls on TV.

Now let me start by saying representation matters. It matters a lot. And I would never pretend that seeing someone who resembles your basic category of self in the art you enjoy doesn’t have impact. It most certainly does. And almost every marginalized group out there is clamoring for representation. In print. On screen. They’re tired of the whitewashing. They want to see themselves. Fat black girls are no different, and as one, I can’t help but be excited when I see it happening. And then I see the characters. How they’re written, how they’re performed, how they’re drawn or dressed. I see them, and I don’t see myself. But is that because I’m covering my eyes? Is the fat black woman TV trope the me that I don’t want to see?

My first lasting memory of a fat black woman on TV was Nell Carter. I loved Gimme A Break, and loved her. She was a singing, dancing, laughing, darker-skinned woman. Nell Carter was everything to a little girl like me. I watched the later seasons of the show faithfully; I don’t remember when it first began. Anyway, Nell Carter was special. I saw myself in her, even though I was a kid. As I got older, it wasn’t hard to realize they’d casted her in sort of a minstrel/ mammy type role, an aspiring singer, playing nanny to this white man and his kids, as a last wish to their dying matriarch. And it wasn’t hard to see that Nell was the loudest person on the show, in both looks and personality. It took me a long time to figure out that was on purpose, that that was how the fat black woman was seen: Funny, sassy, noisy–with a good dose of humor and honesty and common sense to snatch you from the pits of wrong and set your life straight. With love, of course.

Moving on into the now, I can see that not much has changed, at least not as much as some would have us believe. The fat black friend is still the mother of the group, still the loudest, still the comedian to the skinny girl’s straight man. She still offers the most honest advice, says what no one wants to say, and says it with as much noise and drama as she can. The only difference is with the onset of cable and less restrictions, we’ve added a sexual element to the trope. The fat black friend is the most overtly sexual in nature of the group, but almost never paired–so she almost always has an air of desperation about her. When she does “meet” someone, it’s almost always someone completely unsuitable for an adult relationship, or so fine that EVERYONE (even her) questions how she managed to get him to pay attention to her. And if she has a continuous plot line at all, there’s a good chance it may involve her losing weight at some point. Shirley Hemphill (Shirley from What’s Happening–RIP), Yvette Wilson (Andell from Moesha–RIP), and Natalie Desselle-Reid (Janie from Eve), have all had pieces, if not the whole of this trope. Queen Latifah (Khadijah from Living Single) was written a little better–probably because she was closely written to match Queen’s actual personality–but she still had the least active love life of the four women on that show. Amber Riley (Mercedes from Glee) was also written slightly better, but fell into the trope by having her plot lines in the first season centered around her need to lose weight, and having a crush on a guy who turned out to be gay. The worst of these is probably Jennifer, played by Cocoa Brown from the Tyler Perry show For Better Or Worse, even though writing a trope is no less than what I expect of Tyler Perry (but moving on because my discomfort with TP’s writing is another story for another day). But even a show as cool as Insecure has Kelly, the “fat friend,” who is the loud, funny, blunt one who you’ve yet to see with a man and who is–wait for it–noticeably smaller than she was last season. How much do you want to bet they bring up that weight loss at some point?

But even with all of my–frustration? Disappointment, maybe? I am a firm believer that art imitates life. So is this me? Am I this fat girl? I didn’t think so at first, mainly because of one stark difference: the fat friend usually feels like a write-in to a skinny girl show, and so there’s normally only one per group. This gave me a hearty laugh. I don’t know ONE fat girl that has all skinny friends. I have a whole Justice League of fat girls in my life, all beautiful and talented, all with different powers. But maybe that’s just me. Nevertheless, that’s the reason I initially dismissed it as an unrealistic exaggeration. But then there’s the rest. I’m very sexual, and I talk about sex a lot. I mean, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know. But I’m perpetually single. I’m sure I’m the loudest of my friends and a lot of times the most animated. My babies often quote my “hilarious one-liners.” I’m asked for advice a lot, and can be counted on to give it to you straight–kind, but straight. I’m definitely the mother hen of all my homies. So is this me? And if I look at this art, and see this woman–this fat, black, woman–and am disappointed in how she’s portrayed, what does that mean? What am I saying? Am I saying my personality is something that seems exhausting and fake? Am I too loud? Too sexual? Too “sassy?” Am I all of these things and ashamed of it, and thus projecting that onto fat black girls I see on TV?

I suppose my real problem is that all of these traits seem like they are used to make the character look less worthy of being taken seriously. She may be offering the truth and the best advice, but her loud, sassy, no-nonsense tone assures that you’ll laugh it off and keep drinking your wine. Her blatant sexual openness might make her worthy of dick (sometimes), but you may not ever see her fall in love. And if she does get (and keep) a man, there’s a good chance he’s a man-child who feeds off her “motherly” nature in some way. She’s happy and confident and laughing and joking about her size–but not really complete unless she’s trying to get “fit” or lose weight. Everything her friends love about her seems to be hindering her, as a character, as a person–unless she’s trying to change it. And even though she’s obviously hard to miss, it’s almost as though she HAS to be louder to be seen. To be heard. Or maybe that’s just a projection too.

 

The Dating Superiority Complex (previously Titled, Your Dating Advice Sucks and So Do You)

Hey Guys!

Let me just tell y’all how I have been on a whirlwind of thoughts and dreams and life and creativity. Family is family, I’m still experiencing a downshift in funds and lifestyle and I am often worried about money and bills and staying afloat. None of that’s changed. I’m still creatively strong, writing whatever suits me, gearing up for this website launch, applying to a super dope retreat, and entering contests. None of that’s changed either. The only other aspect to my life right now is dating. And that… that’s why we’re here today.

Dating is nice. It’s cool for what it is, but I’m about to switch things up. And the changes I want to make in my dating life led me to some thoughts about how people treat dating, how they view it, and how we project onto those who may view it differently. I know, the title is a heavy one, and some of you feel insulted already, when I haven’t even said anything. But give me a chance on this one. Trust me. Oh you’re still hesitant? Take my hand…

So. I’ve written before about my romantic life, my dating life. How my lack of confidence put a shadow over it, how my romantic nature has been unfulfilled most of my life by a lack of true, real love. How I’ve never been loved in return. How like and lust have been my calling cards, the only thing I’ve given that was reciprocated. I did. I wrote all of that. You can go back and read it if you want… later. Let’s not rehash it. My point is, as much as a dumpster fire as my love life has largely been, dating advice hasn’t made it any better. And the people who’ve given it to me, although well-meaning, haven’t had the impact that either they or I have hoped they’d have. And it has a lot to do with how they see me, and how their experience with dating has shaped them.

What do I mean by that? It’s the Dating Superiority Complex. I know what you’re thinking. “Shameka, that’s not a thing. What is this shit you’ve made up?” I know that’s what you’re thinking. But it IS a thing, I promise. Let me explain further. When you’ve had success in some/ all aspects of dating, there is a tendency to look down (for lack of a better phrase) on those who haven’t, to subscribe it to them, to assume that THEIR the problem all the time, every time. There’s an air of condescension and pity that comes with your advice, even when you don’t hear it. There’s a sense that there’s some action not being taken; it’s an assumption of laziness and lack of drive; it’s an act of blame.

I am surrounded by people who don’t have any of the underlying physical and emotional issues that I have/had, so their advice seems to always be tinged with a hint of blame, like ultimately this all comes down to something I’ve failed to do or say. It’s always folks who have never had a problem getting the person they want that act like this is so easy. Folks that can get a date just pumping gas or waiting in line at the ATM. People who hardly ever get rejected on physical appearance. The people who never have to take dating seriously because when they’re ready to be with someone, there’s always someone there. Or, the people who didn’t have to date extensively because they met the right one early. It’s always you guys. Let me give you a couple of examples:

“Shameka, you’re too hard on them– you’ve got to give them a chance” – Okay, let me tell you what’s wrong with that. Everyone has preferences. EVERYONE. So why when it comes to ME is it okay to ask me to ignore those preferences? I’m too hard on people? Spend five minutes with me and you’ll know that’s not true. But if there is a glaring something that they have that I don’t want, how does moving on become not giving them “a chance?” And why am I required to, anyway? Asking for what I want is being “too hard” on people? What kind of advice is this? It has the implication that my standard is something arbitrary that should be lowered every time someone claims they like me. And that’s really, really awful. The idea that I should be open to whoever deigns to approach me, whether I’m attracted or not reeks of disrespect and I thought you had a better opinion of me than that. But that’s what your suggesting, so obviously not. Your dating advice sucks.

“You’ve got to put yourself out there more”/ “Wait. The right man will come along.” – Now I’ve put these two together because 1) people tend to use them in tandem although they are in DIRECT CONTRADICTION to one another, and 2) they’re both equally stupid and wrong. Let me tell you something. “Put yourself out there” is neither specific nor well-meaning. Should I stand on the corner with a sandwich board, asking for a relationship? Should I venture to places where I have to pretend to be comfortable, on the off chance I might see someone who wants to talk to me? What does this mean? Put myself out where??? No one’s been able to tell me. Then there’s the “wait for the right guy” brigade. Does waiting mean I don’t do anything? Does it mean I pray? Do I stand somewhere? I’m not trying to be a smart ass. I’m asking. What do you mean when you say that? Or do you not even know? It sounds like they’re handing out men somewhere and you’re trying to direct me to the line. Yeah, your dating advice sucks.

“Shameka, you’d find someone if you’d only________/ if you were more ______” – Oh, these are my favorites. So, the key to finding a life partner is changing. If only I did something I’m not comfortable with, or adopted a personality trait that’s not me–then all my problems would be solved!!! Oh joy! You found the solution! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??? Like, what? Do you know me at all? Who are you, even? Okay, maybe I’m overreacting. I know it’s all just a way to get me to try something new, maybe have a new experience. But it’s all framed to make me feel like there’s something lacking, in me. There’s that air of blame again. Your dating advice sucks.

“Shameka, you have all the power. You just need to believe it/ use it/ control it/ etc.” – Okay, this last one is an affirmation so I feel a little shitty saying it’s bad. But… it is. Look, I believe in manifesting the things you want with your thoughts. I do. I promise. I just don’t think a man and his baby batter is one of those things. And I especially love (read: can’t stand) you folks that talk about belief as though my singleness is all a product of my lack of faith in whatever God you believe in. Or the ones that think I’m harboring some secret magic I haven’t tapped into, and that’s why my love life is a dumpster fire. I’m grateful for the compliments/ affirmations, but this all gets to be too much. And once again, it’s not specific. Is the magic in my pussy? My armpit? Is it in my mind? Where? Hiding behind the insecurity??? YOUR. DATING. ADVICE. SUCKS.

Anyway, I’ve long since stopped treating singleness like a disease I’m trying to cure. I do want companionship, but the kind that’s going to be comfortable and safe–for ME. I’m not looking to have what anyone else has. That’s not what this is about. This is about venturing into opening up your heart and hearing a chorus of “You’re doing it wrong!” from people who are supposed to love you. I know you guys think you’re helping. You’re not. I wish you were. This would be easier. Because the truth of all this is that there is no magic formula. There isn’t for me, and there wasn’t for any of you. But some of you are just so reluctant to admit that you just got lucky, that you just won a lottery, that you just showed up in the right place at the right time with the right assets–that you pretend there is a magic formula. But we both know better. Just like we both know your dating advice sucks.

But I still love you. And I hope you still love me.

My Year In Creativity

Hi Guys!

Okay, so on a personal level, 2016 has been fraught with troubles and trials, downs and even lowers, headaches and pains in the ass. It’s been challenging for me, disappointing, full of shit. But let’s not get into that. Because I said all that to say, that the one place that hasn’t been a flaming ball of shit is… writing. My creativity has been through the roof. I have written and published and introduced myself all over the place. I have grown my fan base in a way that I never thought. It’s been humbling and wonderful and surprising. And in the interest of self-promotion and a pat on the back, I am using this post to highlight everything I’ve written and introduced to the public this year. Some of this you guys might have seen, or read, but if you haven’t feel free to click on a link. Try me out. Read my stuff. Share with your friends. All that jazz. You ready? Here we go:

I wrote/ published a fair amount that dealt with parent/ child relationships. It’s a hot topic for me, probably because I think so much about my parental relationships.

Daughter to the Rescue– Mallory battles her father and herself as she combs the streets trying to catch a glimpse of her drug addicted mother. Read here: https://medium.com/@shamekae34/daughter-to-the-rescue-377ea4ae3ce5#.3s36z8nqb

My Father’s Arms: Jaylen goes to California in search of comfort from a father whose emotions have always been unavailable. Read here: https://medium.com/@shamekae34/my-fathers-arms-5f10f32321d3#.pasmav616

The Art of Forgetfulness: Esme is the daughter of a famous author who doesn’t remember any of the neglect her only child has faced at her hands. Can she care for her mother in spite of her resentment? Read here: https://medium.com/@shamekae34/the-art-of-forgetfulness-3597db2a5357#.lha9rp2ck

Torn: Savannah is risking her marriage to save an addict bent on destruction. She must choose between saving Justin, or losing her marriage forever. Read here: http://www.blackcitytv.com/black-city-stories/torn

I also wrote something autobiographical, about my “blended” family, my multiple parents, and how my life resembled a certain celebrity baby. Read Thinking of Baby Future, And Myself, here:  https://abernathymagazine.com/thinking-of-baby-future-and-myself/

As usual, I am always writing about falling in love, losing love, and sometimes even reuniting. My relationship trials have been nothing compared to the characters I’ve created, lol.

Magic Words: Danny and Cree are forbidden lovers, on opposite sides of the law and life, obsessed and in love, with no chance of being together. Read and see if their love conquers all, here: http://opusmagonline.com/features/?author=57e94fa759cc68c81d9d8964

Heartbreak Alley: Cass Masterson tells the story of her love for a musician, and the roller coaster that was their relationship. This is honestly some of my best work and I would be honored if you would read it, here: heartbreakalley

Love In June: Leah is in love with Nate, but jealous of his first love: music. She doesn’t want to acknowledge it, but could lose Nate forever if she doesn’t. Read what she does, here: https://medium.com/@shamekae34/love-in-june-374bf4dab1d8#.iaj1oxu9n

The Price of Freedom: Anya runs into her former lover on the street and rehashes their relationship. Both of them needed the other to feel free, but realized they could still be trapped. Read here: http://www.blackcitytv.com/black-city-stories/daughter-to-the-rescue

Love By The Numbers: Ree has been counting the weeks until her love returns home, inspired by her memories, and his letters. Now that he’s home, they both need more than words on paper. Read their story here: http://opusmagonline.com/features/?author=57e94fa759cc68c81d9d8964

Finally, I had the honor of getting my first PAID writing gig! I was contracted to write a Halloween-themed short story for a company with their own daily Youtube show. Hear a version of my story, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7x8YLWMdKiA

As you all can see, I’ve been pretty busy. Writing has been my saving grace and I am so thankful to everyone who’s ever read me. Shoutout to OPUS mag and Abernathy, for publishing my words. Look out for my website early next year. It will be full of exclusive content and links to all my published work. Plus, I’ll be finishing a novella and starting a collaboration, and lots more. So though other versions of me might have taken a bit of a beating, Shameka the Writer is still here. And more creative than ever.

Love you!