In mid-July, two weeks before my trip to Somalia, I was standing in a Toronto courtroom comforting my aunt as we listened to the detailed events of my cousin's murder for the very first time. In attempt of lightening the mood, a task so impossible considering the emotions we all felt that day, I discussed with her my excitement of seeing Hargeisa—both of our home city— for the first time. My attempt at a more lighthearted conversation to layer our collective depressed mood fell short when she looked me in the eyes and said: "I fled war for the safety of my children only to have them die here."
The fourth time a Poughkeepsie police officer told me that my Vassar College Faculty ID could make everything OK was three years ago. I was driving down Wilbur Avenue. When the white police officer, whose head was way too small for his neck, asked if my truck was stolen, I laughed, said no, and shamefully showed him my license and my ID, just like Lanre Akinsiku. The ID, which ensures that I can spend the rest of my life in a lush state park with fat fearless squirrels, surrounded by enlightened white folks who love talking about Jon Stewart, Obama, and civility, has been washed so many times it doesn’t lie flat.
Four years ago, a woman I love—a friend who felt sisterly and vibrant—died of breast cancer. She was 33. I feel like I must spell it out: thirty-three. I want to paint it on a brick wall in the middle of the night. I want to wear it like the scarlet letter A. I want every billboard to read two numbers: 3 and 3.
I'm a blackgirl, a blackgirl connoisseur of ratchetness, a blackgirl fascinated by media representations of other blackgirls, a blackgirl who cares deeply about the connection between ratchetness, representation, and lived experience. I probably care about how television curates ratchetness because I grew up witnessing different kinds of unconventional (and regularly dysfunctional) romantic relationships and have on occasion found myself unwillingly and unwittingly participating in such relationships. The 21st century Jezebel, the side chick is the quintessential scapegoat in popular culture at the moment. She is presented and understood as someone who is unethical, immoral and disrespectful of other women and their relationships. Blackgirls, all blackgirls, are worthy of more care and nuance. Let's start by complicating portraits and representations of the "other" woman, because the experience is always more complicated than the trope suggests.
Every young woman I know was violated when the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and other successful women were posted on the internet for public consumption against their will. Some of us reason that these young women deserve to be sexually and publicly violated because they created these images. We reason that we have a right to their naked bodies simply because the images exist somewhere in the ether. That is to say that the mere existence of a woman's body is justification for its violation.
My abuser was quiet, soft-spoken and charming. He was the kind of man who would knock you down a flight of stairs then run down to kiss every wound. Despite the signs, he didn't fit the description of a violent person in my mind. I ignored the storm that was brewing and convinced myself that since he hadn't hit me, I in fact was not in an abusive relationship.
There's a story involving my mother and a pink snowsuit that surfaces every time I'm on the precipice of dropping serious dough on an ostentatious piece of clothing. It goes like this: One day when I was seven, Mom and I were trawling Sears when I stumbled upon the perfect pink snowsuit. I don't remember what was so amazing about it except that its bright magenta was identical to the shade in the 64-colour box of Crayola crayons. I had to have it.
In undergrad, I drove a '92 Ford Taurus that just hulked, tank-like, up and down the streets of Berkeley. The thing was conspicuous, an ocean liner. I was pulled over all the time, once or twice a week at one point. Often I'd see a squad car following me and just pull to the curb to get it over with. An officer would walk up to the car, one hand on that little button that secures the strap over his gun. He'd ask for my license and registration. Some inner voice would remind me that this was the time to point out I'd done nothing wrong; I'd ask for a badge number, I'd take a stand. But black boys are supposed to know better.
The sight of the campground brings back memories of South African shantytowns—hundreds of multicolor tents crammed side by side like overlapping teeth, makeshift doormats made of cardboard and plastic, trash everywhere. Only we're in Saugerties in upstate New York and the majority of the people here are white. And middle class. This bourgeois shantytown isn't a way of life; it's a weekend getaway.
A few years ago, I stood outside of my ex-boyfriend Billy's house. I was there for the second time that day, this time to take him to an appointment he had with his psychiatrist. It was an unusually sunny day for a Seattle February and I hadn't thought to wear sunglasses because it's not often that you need them here in the winter. If we hadn't broken up just before we'd both moved all the way across the country from New Haven, it would have been our fifth anniversary, but we had ended things and so instead it was just Groundhog's Day. I raised the heavy brass knocker on the dark red door and snapped it down a few times. The sound was loud as gunshots and echoed down the street. I struck it again and again. Nothing.