Be My Girl

"Take a load off, Annie/ take a load for free/ take a load off, Annie, and you put the load right on me" -- "The Weight," Robbie Robertson My bedroom is the center of my life. Because of what g

"Take a load off, Annie/ take a load for free/ take a load off, Annie, and you put the load right on me"

— "The Weight," Robbie Robertson

My bedroom is the center of my life. Because of what goes on in here.

In here, I worship women. Nikki Giovanni is repeated four different times, each a prominent place.

Framed photographs of my mother, sister, aunts, female cousins and girlfriend are clustered in the landscape of abandoned books dog-eared with promises, dusty totems and half-spent candles.

Twice I'm in pictures with my daddy in, as they say, happier times — Christmas and a funeral; a birth and a death. I love those pictures because they betray how much we resemble one another.

There are celebrities. Coretta Scott King is rubber-cemented to my desktop; so are Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah and Angela Leisure.

Toni Morrison and Anne Sexton are tacked to a bulletin board.

A framed poster of Zora Neale Hurston looms above my desk. Her hands clasped casually in front of her, she's smiling widely but with a clinched jaw. Her hat's cocked. It's my favorite image of my favorite writer.

Beside it there's a pyramid-shaped collage of black female poets, athletes, writers, models and singers arranged during a nocturnal fit of mania. In the center of this juvenile decorative scheme, Productive, Peaceful, Focus and Rest inch up the wall.

Keep going, Write clearly, Think hard are written on note cards pasted to an open desk door. I stare blankly at them whenever I'm snagged mid-sentence. I blink wildly as if the words will plop from my eyeballs like runaway contacts.

While producing this year's Women's Issue (see page 27), I was talking with photographer Una-Kariim Cross about some minor snag. We started talking about creative processes.

"I don't know what you have to do behind the scenes to make your shit work," I said. "I know what I have to go through, and my fuck ups don't affect other people."

That's a lie. Every thread of the creative process touches someone else but makes loners of the artists who mine the human condition for grist.

It's like the writer Debra Dickerson says: "We're bastards."

We behave toward others in ways we wouldn't tolerate in return. But women make for resilient friends.

Women have been my surest nurturers, my clearest examples and my most ardent supporters. We sustain relationships because we abandon ego in the name of progress and tend to others before ourselves.

Remove the heterosexual tensions of male/female platonics and add the intimacy of female/female platonics, and it's no wonder women don't get hung up over exposing vulnerabilities. But we do get tripped up.

We still judge and reject one another based on the temporary fixes of hair and body image, on the vulgarities of income and schools and based too much sometimes on the influences of our fathers, husbands, boyfriends and presidents.

Every time I speak to young people, I keep telling them how women, especially of color, are under attack, how important it is we arm ourselves with fearlessness, education and personal freedom. We always givin' somethin' up, sings Amel Larrieux.

I tell them not to get caught in society's net of hard choices. That's when status quo dictates identity either with the lure of membership and assimilation or with the threat of dismissal and excommunication.

Fearlessness and personal freedom especially are hard to come by because some women are coming to them first generation. Either they weren't paying attention to the women in their lives or those women weren't paying attention to them.

Thankfully, I know striving firsthand. Strife sometimes comes, too, and it comes to trick us into killing ourselves softly with disease-breeding stress, a reconnaissance officer for death.

But striving is most powerful when it's the kind that cuts across the field of land mines, dividing defenders, outlasting evil.

When my divorced mother got knocked up by a younger man, people did drive-bys on my bundled baby sister to gawk at the bastard by the sex-crazed old woman. And the congregants of the black Baptist church where my mother played piano scorned her with self-righteous judgment they strangely reserved for her and neglected to apply to philandering deacons and boozy choir members.

I thought my sister's name was Out-of-Wedlock and not Devin, the name I gave her. My mother finagled some dignity and emerged a sage Christian.

My sister is a stunner — educated, beautiful and classy. She's successful, excelling in broadcast journalism.

It's not all Lifetime Television for Women all the time; we don't always rebound. I know I've disappointed my girls, those handful of women comprising my inner sanctum of "advisors." I know I've made bad choices, that I don't move when they need me to or return calls as often, if at all.

They wish me traditionalism and envy my freedom. I mock their suburbia but covet its dependability.

Our politics don't jibe, our opinions diverge and our advice isn't heeded. But we love us.

We know who we are. We girls.

Kathy's collection of columns, Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White, is available in bookstores now.

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