Unpacking With Lex

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Sistering. It doesn’t sound very revolutionary, but it is — in the way that women are revolutionary, in the way that Jesus the Carpenter was revolutionary. We’re talking about revolutionary love, here, people — and carpentry. Sistering, in carpentry, is the act of adding a joist to either and/or both sides of another joist, in order to support it when it is needy — when it is weary and overburdened. You’ll have to listen to Glennon Doyle describe it yourself (or read about it) as I did last week. One of the few shows I’ll listen to “late” at night, in that weird hour after Goose is in bed, and I’m doing the dishes, and I’m trying, cyclically, to get myself wound down and to the yoga mat, to the sink, and into bed, is On Being with Krista Tippett. There’s no yelling on that podcast, and all of the conversations are SO…inspiring. Anyway, last week Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach were in conversation with Krista Tippett, and there are a lot of ideas that stuck with me, but Sistering was one of the strongest.

I felt lucky, because the conversation reminded me of Shana, and working with her and how she leads and Sisters, in such a sisterly way. There’s a Sisterhood here, and I’m sure you feel it too.

And speaking of radio smooth enough for bedtime…Selected Shorts is another show that makes me all melty and gives ALL THE FEELS. It’s like having someone read you a bedtime story — except the stories are not always that sweet. This week, the second story of the episode “Growing Pains”, hosted by David Sedaris, just brought me to my knees, y’all: ‘Best friends re-examine their relationship in Amy Hempel’s “The Most Girl Part of You,” read by Kate Burton’. It brought up so much nostalgia of being young and in love (the good parts of being in love, that is). Makes me want to actually start dating again — maybe we’ll see some First Date Outfit Selfies in here in a few months? Haha. The story starts about 10-15 minutes into the episode. SO Good.

So Black History Month is Still A Thing?

SO, before we get all newsy today (I’ll be writing these posts once a month), I have to share that I’ve been irked a few times this week by what my gut is telling me is an old-fashioned, outdated idea — and I’d love to discuss. Goose came home the other day, and I opened her folder where the February calendar lied therein, and I saw the heading “Black History Month”; I’ll admit I was taken aback. I’m not going to look this one up, because I want to sit and explore these feelings, but I guess I thought we’d grown out of Black History Month — like in a good way?

I feel…as though…at some point we’d agreed, either as a teaching cohort or as a society that Black people or African-Americans or Americans of African Descent or however you want to say it (if you must label), should be celebrated and integrated into the curriculum throughout the whole year — and not just as part of the shortest month of the year, in which teachers teach about the same 28 people of color year after year, in a sterile and often prescriptive way. It’s just so odd to teach about heroes in a vacuum, without context…then we get to college, and we’re like “oh — that’s what happened?!” I got the same jolt of curiosity when I explored the school book fair today. I know this is more about book fair progenitors and less about the school (the company sends the signage and decor, after all) when I saw a table of books specifically dedicated to African-American characters.

I guess I get frustrated because even as a child I longed for the day when these colorist monikers wouldn’t exist.  Even if they mean to do good, they seem to continue to separate and perpetuate difference. I mean, they’re still useful in that they communicate an experience that we must not overlook (not calling for color blindness here)After all: we’re 99.9 percent similar. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. likes to say: “race is a social construct, mutations are real”. I don’t know… Then I see on social media, and I’m not on there much, that threads are filled with these beautiful pictures of teachers REALLY celebrating Black History Month — and I’m like wait, should I be embracing this? Maybe I just need to accept that this is WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW. I’m going to sit with this for awhile. I’ll look into it — how society’s been managing this idea, and let you know next month.

On a lighter and nicer note, we also received a list of names of all the kids in the class, which made me super-excited. So many things Goose’s teacher does shows me she is fully committed to inclusion of ALL of the children in her class. She had already emailed us and let us know exactly how many kids were in the class, and how to send in valentines for ALL the kids. Not every teacher does that. This is just one small example of how this teacher continually demonstrates her commitment to an all-inclusive vibe. LOVE.

Anyway…let’s take a quick look back at January, and see what it foreshadows for 2019.

The Hot Flash

Here Come The Women – Sooooo….in 2019 a slew of women went to Congress. Creating excruciating pain to Claire McCaskill, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is super-popular AND popularly known as AOC. Yup. She’s already Three-Initialed, AND — surprisingly already being compared to the other BIG GUYS known by their three initials — FDR and JFK (and even Winston Churchill). AOC’s been called out for her dancing and her tweeting, in addition to her calls for a Green New Deal and Modern Monetary Theory. Other freshman Congress-people shaking things up include the other women calling for Democratic Socialism and/or anti-capitalism — especially newbies (including AOC) like Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib (already famous for inspiring other women to sport their thobes and calling the president an expletive days later). These ladies are now on the House Financial Services committee — potentially causing some conflict with Auntie Maxine Waters (more moderate, accepts more Wall Street money).

ALSO — outside of the House — the Dems chose Stacey Abrams to respond to Number 45’s State of the Union address next week– WHAT!!!??? I am not a Democrat, but I am pretty progressive, and even I’m surprised — not in a bad way. I believe it was at the 2017 Women’s March when someone (I should know who, because I wasn’t too far from the stage) said “follow women of color”…well, OK…here we go. Maybe the Dems are lookin’ for that Doug Jones effect? Whatevs, it makes for an intriguing start to 2019 (and a new election cycle; to drink a beer with Elizabeth Warren, click here). If you don’t remember Stacey Abrams, she’s a voting rights activist who ran for governor in Georgia, against the man who was Secretary of State AND OVERSEEING THE ELECTION while simultaneously closing polls where black people in the state were a majority of the population. Oy. — Oh, and she’s also going to appear in a Super Bowl ad on Sunday, too.

The Twitterverse – Like we feared when Twitter first arrived, allowing people to disclose their most immediate and intimate thoughts on the Intwerwebs and making them public, would be…ummmm….interesting at best. And the Tweet Storms so far have been both AMAZING and prophetic. As journalists, we’re kind of required to hone in on the Twitter feed a time or two a day to find out the news before it’s really news, and Twitter provides some, uh, insight into 2019. CBS announced their lineup of political reporters for the 2020 election, and it was so bad y’all….while it was diverse, in the strictest sense of the word — it was NOT REPRESENTATIVE of the American public. There are no (shhh….black people…shhhh) to cover the election for that station…seriously. The Twittersphere was a twitter, for real. Then this Man Who Lives In A Cave said “has anyone considered the obvious explanation that many black people have no interest in journalism?” (you really need to see the whole tweet) negating decades of progress by, oh…black journalists. SIGH. The replies were enthralling, to say the least. Not two days later did NBC tell its reporters not to refer to Steve King’s racist comments as “racist”. UM….NBC eventually backtracked, but the damage was done. And finally, you already know about the Gillette ad addressing Toxic Masculinity from Shana’s Weekend post, but the backlash by men was STRONG on Twitter. My fav response to the backlash featured the most ironic twist: 

The revolutionary love of Sistering, feminism, black history month, women in Congress & a book club for understanding. We're unpacking it ALL this month.

#ShutdownStories – There are just three quick points I want to make about the Shutdown. The outpouring of love and aid for those directly affected by the longest government shutdown in our history was nothing short of AMAZING. From awesome, humble chef José Andrés opening his cafe daily to big corporations like KRAFT, and even a group of Brooklyn moms who were collecting goods to help TSA workers. We were learning (for an unfortunate reason) that people will rise up when they are called. HOWEVER, we were also uncomfortably reminded of the growing wealth gap in the U.S., because the majority of Americans can’t afford to miss a paycheck. And finally, the shutdown exposed the fraught relationship many black Americans have with the Federal Government. Two extremes on that range include not trusting the government AT ALL — from the teachers to the social workers to the president — to trusting that the fed provides really good, stable jobs. And it turns out that people of color will be disproportionately affected by the shutdown: here’s why. Overall, it’s becoming clear that one of the biggest casualties of the shutdown is morale and the ability to recruit in the future.

How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together?

So, in our last chat, in this professional, creative Sistering we’re doing here at TME, I joked with Shana about how I need to read all the books I keep recommending to everyone else. SIGH — yes, it’s true. I usually just listen to all the interviews (if you listen to public radio as much as I do, and only supplement with the political comedy, you can get all the interviews, with whoever is doing the rounds that week, all within a week or two, and you feel like you already read the book — REALLY!). So, one thing I intend to do with my last recommendation is actually read it: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. I just ordered it. Speed reader that she is, I know S will finish it weeks (or months) before I do, but I’m not worried about that. I’m inspired, actually, by this conversation I heard between Krista Tippett and Claudia Rankine, in which Rankine, a celebrated poet, essayist and editor, speaks about how she (a black woman) and a friend (who’s white) read books together, and then they talk about them, and they have to say WHATEVER THEY’RE THINKING. And I love that idea — of navigating this territory together — this scary, polarized American territory together.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about, said Rankine, ‘how can I say this so that we can stay in this car together, and yet explore the things that I want to explore with you?'” (Tippett says that should be our national motto).

And I hope, friends, TME readers, that we all can figure out how to say things so that we can stay in this car together, and still explore the things we want to explore together. Because we want to do that with you. This January, this past month as fraught as it was, feels like an opening to me. It feels like we’re having conversations, it feels like those shining a light are shining it brighter and brighter, and people are really getting a grip with their values. In that vein, I’d like to share with you my book list. Since our country has become more polarized, I’ve heard a number of interviews with authors or about books that I want to read. I want to read them, because I hope if we do this, if we all lean into learning about each other and the true history of this country, we’ll come out of this abyss transformed and renewed. The only way out is through.

Books To Read So We Can Stay In This Car Together

The revolutionary love of Sistering, feminism, black history month, women in Congress & a book club for understanding. We're unpacking it ALL this month.

1. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism | 2. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger | 3. Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America | 4. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right | 5. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis | 6. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower | 7. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America | 8. Citizen: An American Lyric | 9. White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America | 10. Thick: And Other Essays | 11. Heads of the Colored People: Stories | 12. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide

And because learning about other people really isn’t about other people, here are two to get us through: We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter | The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

Go For the Apple & Let It Burn

I’ve never categorized myself as a feminist. I try not to categorize myself as anything, really, when it can be avoided. My last two posts had been me wondering about this, as they seemed rather “feministy”. BUT that isn’t my intent, which just may be the difference. I feel like I’m more like a Nancy Pelosi — if I’d had a choice, I may have stayed home and raised my kids first, maybe working ONLY as a creative, but my husband would have still done the cooking. Ha. If you listen to Hillary Frank, author of Weird Parenting Wins and creator of the parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time, describe it to Terry Gross, sometimes you just do what you have to do — and maybe that ends up being feminism. I don’t know. But in order to be able to talk about her birth experience and parenting, Frank had to bust down some walls — including one which allowed journalists to say testosterone or Viagra on air, but details about childbirth or sex were not allowed. Uh-huh. She wrote about it recently in a Times Op-Ed, “The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers, shortly before her Fresh Air interview. If you’re new to Hillary Frank and want to get listening, start here (says her).

I caught a few tidbits of WHYY’s interview with Feminista Jones the other morning, so I had to go back AND READ THE ACTUAL INTERVIEW (the horror of finding time to read, SIGH, I did it while I ate lunch) — and it’s super-interesting. When she spoke about black feminism (“black feminism is [also]like the ways your grandmother managed her house and her relationship and her motherhood and her position in the community”), it brought to mind the idea of women DOING WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE while also navigating racism and sexism. It’s a must-listen (or must-read) for all of us trying to understand where we are as human beings and want to stay in this car together. And comedy is a great way to stay in this car together. Michel Martin interviewed comedian Amanda Seales, about her new stand-up special “I Be Knowin'”. I cannot wait to watch the HBO special (once I figure out how to do that). Seales asserts that the focus of this special is black women, who are often ignored as an audience, and Martin confirms that the crowd responds accordingly  — often on their feet at the connections Seales delivers. One of my favorite parts of the clip (SO many) was when Seales points out how black women have compliments down to a science — not even a full sentence necessary – OK, POLKA DOTS!!!!. If you can’t hear that in that your mind, you’ll have to listen. And this is one you definitely have to LISTEN to (about 8 minutes) because the transcript doesn’t do it justice.

All this feminism takes us to back to that lovely, soft-spoken conversation from On Being. Glennon Doyle brought us back to the metaphors of the Bible at the end of the conversation. If you’re a Joseph Campbell or mythology fan, you’re already familiar with analyzing and parsing The Events Of The Garden Of Eden, in which women are born from man, secondary citizens, devious creatures in cahoots with a snake, punished for nibbling a bit of fruit…Glennon breaks that down for us beautifully, painting a picture of what a world would look like if women actually went for what they wanted — created the peace and justice and joy our world so badly needs — but can’t because these men and their structures keep getting in the way, and they’d have to be DESTROYED to make way for the NEW. So we don’t because we’re full of the FEAR and the GUILT inherent in our Biblical creation…and she tells us, she commands us — to go for the apple and LET IT BURN!

Oh, and hey — if you’re celebrating the Lunar New Year Tuesday, as Goose and I are, Chúc Mừng Năm Mới, or Gung Hay Fat Choy! We’re having crockpot crispy caramelized pork ramen noodle soup w/curry roasted acorn squash — it’s super-delish. It’s the Year of the Earth Pig. Wishing you peace, prosperity and joy.

xo,
Lex

PS: You’ll notice I didn’t embed the podcasts like I normally do. A and Linz mentioned that they would like to be able to play all the podcasts from one queue or playlist. I LOVE that idea. I’m looking into it, so if you have ideas, let us know. It’d be great to set up a single playlist for you every month. This month’s are below.

On Being with Krista Tippett | Glennon Doyle & Abby Wambach: Un-becoming
Selected Shorts | Growing Pains
On Being with Krista Tippett: Claudia Rankine: How can I say this so that we can stay in this car together?
Feminista Jones’ new book ‘Reclaiming Our Space’ examines how hashtags build community for black women

 

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About Author

Alexis is our resident nerd and watchful editor. In addition to styling our syntax and fact-checking brand capitalization (ahem, rag & bone, and [BLANKNYC]), she’s also whipping up editorial guidelines, strategizing social media and conjuring up new projects. With her own personal style (boots, dresses, scarves), she doesn’t consider herself a fashionista, but she is keeping us #well #woke #sustainable #empathetic #inclusive #current, #down-to-earth and #open-minded; her wisdom ranges from yoga home practice and Feng Shui-ing an apartment, to living overseas and momming while black. As the single mother of an extrovert, she, like Julieta, often ‘forgets’ to come out of the bathroom.

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10 Comments

  1. I took a couple Bible as Literature classes during undergrad, and one super-interesting point of note came up one day when our professor (who was also a Southern Baptist minister, if I recall correctly) mentioned that in the original translation of the old testament, the noun indicating “Adam” was actually gender neutral until AFTER Eve was created from the rib. From that point on “Adam” was noted as male.

    This post is so jam-packed with interesting info and resources, I really appreciate it and look forward to more!

    • Alexis L. Richardson on

      I love studying the Bible (and all religious texts) as literature. I used to teach World Lit (and a bunch of other classes), and it was fascinating all the places we could go when parsing all the metaphors, mistranslations and complexity of a text. Thanks for sharing! xx, Lex

  2. Yup. There are plenty of Christians who don’t think Woman was made out of Man. Instead, the myth describes a moment of sexual differentiation and self-consciousness. And there are plenty of ways of reading that fascinating ancient myth that don’t reinforce patriarchy.

    • Alexis L. Richardson on

      Absolutely. I’ll have to go back and listen to that part of interview again…I hope I didn’t wrongly paraphrase Doyle and mix up her meaning. xx, Lex

  3. I love, love, LOVE your posts, Alexis. I always discover something new that really makes me think, and that’s so rare (especially for a style blog, but that’s why I like TME — it’s style and substance and, as you said, sistering). I’ve been thinking about Black History Month so much this year, especially as a white mom and after unpacking my sh*t through reading a number of the books you referenced this year, as well as Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy Workbook. I think you’re so right in that BlPOC history is American history and should be treated as such all year round (same with gender studies, obvs). But I know there are definitely school systems that use materials that barely reference non-white-male contributions to history and culture, and perhaps meeting them where they are is necessary, and Black History Month is better than no exposure at all? But then, how can we pressure these systems to grow and change, when they may see less of a need to do so when Black History Month exists? (In the same vein, some academic institutions may wonder why it’s necessary to include more works by women on their syllabi, when Gender Studies or Women’s Studies departments exist…but then that just upholds the status quo, doesn’t it?) So many questions, and I’m so happy to hear your thoughts, and will definitely keep moving through your reading/podcast list….

    • Alexis L. Richardson on

      I LOVE everything about this comment, Elisabeth! These discussions are so necessary for all the reasons you just stated.I haven’t heard of that workbook before; I’ll have to check it out. xx, Lex

  4. Also, not to add more to the endless reading list we all have, but I’d also highly recommend Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to TME readers….

    • Alexis L. Richardson on

      I thought about both of those for this list…however, since I limited myself to 12 books and the others were a tiny bit more recent, I stuck with them. But I second these!

  5. As a full time working mom who cannot wear jeans/casual to work (and thus cannot participate in most the fashion on here) I am really enjoying your posts. I wish I had time to read some of these books but just had baby number 2 so putting off reading for enjoyment for a year or two (sigh).

    • Alexis L. Richardson on

      I feel you, Alyson! I felt the same way before I came on board; we are trying to expand our workwear coverage 🙂 Thank you for sharing. I totally feel you on the reading too — and I don’t even have an infant anymore. But I figure we’ll all eventually get there — one page at a time :-). Congrats, by the way! xx, Lex

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