What do we do now?

By now, you’ve certainly heard about the sexual misconduct allegations against the author and VONA co-founder, Junot Diaz. I don’t think my opinion is important enough to put on blast, so I’m actually going to leave out how I feel about him and his work. But my thought after I first read the tweets was, “What do we do with this?”

I appreciate Zinzi Clemmons for coming forward with her story. I know it must have been one of the most difficult things in the world to do. It’s not often these days that women of color are believed when we report things like this, so I’m glad that we’ve evolved enough as a society to have immediately listened to what she had to say and to believe her.

But I think part of the reason why we believed her without question was that Junot is well known in the literary industry for being his own type of jerk. I didn’t have him as a workshop instructor at VONA, but I went to a session he led, and he was very straightforward, commanding of our attention, and carried a sense that he knew all. Sitting in that session, I told myself that if I applied to work with him at a future VONA, I’d have to stock up on thick skin and probably call my therapist for a session while I was at VONA instead of waiting til I got home the following week.

In short, his attitudes and behaviors were not a secret, they just hadn’t been brought to the attention of the American public.

Knowing all of this, I was stuck when I read Zinzi’s tweet. I couldn’t say, “OMG, no way, that’s such a shock!” because it wasn’t. I couldn’t say, “Well, everyone knows he’s a bit of dick, so you should have, too,” because that is both callous and complicitous. All I could say was, “Well, now what?”

Duende District, a pop-up bookshop here in DC, removed his books from the shelves. VONA replaced him as a leader for the workshop coming up next month. I agree that actions need to have been taken to punish him and to show that we are not condoning his wrongdoing. But what comes next?

Junot Diaz does not have Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein money—if those cats never worked again, they’d be perfectly fine. I’m pretty sure if Junot couldn’t find work, eventually, he’d end up on welfare and be at risk of homelessness. Perhaps that’s the best way to pay him back for all of his wrongs.

But is it, though?

If the point is to stop this behavior the world (or at least industry) over, I don’t think bringing individual misogynists to the end of themselves one by one is going to bring about the change we need. Do not get me wrong here—I am not saying that people shouldn’t speak up and that these dudes should not be punished, they *absolutely* should. But how do we take it a step further to actually uprooting the icky things under the ground that are causing the plant to grow instead of just snipping off the top of the weed when it gets too tall?

I hate that I’ve made you read this whole thing just for me to say: I have no idea.

Roxane Gay read my mind when she tweeted, “Now, I don’t know how fans of this work proceed from here. I do know we need to have a more vigorous conversation that simply saying, ‘Junot Diaz is cancelled,’ because that does not cancel misogyny or how the literary community protects powerful men at the expense of women. …It’s all a damn shame.”

And that’s why I decide to write this post, to second her call for more vigorous conversation and to start by saying, “I don’t know how to solve this problem,” which is, ironically, usually the first step to finding a solution.

The only thing I know to do is start with the youth, the kids, the babies. Help them to understand their value and the value of others, and when they act in a way that violates that value, correct the crap out of it, because, as we see, it grows and grows and chokes and chokes until the whole lawn is dead.


Love Lessons taught by Black Panther

SPOILER ALERT!!! Don’t read any further if you don’t want a good spoiler!



Like virtually every other Black person in America, this weekend, I went to see Black Panther. I’d been excited about it for a full nine months – I highly respect Disney and Marvel’s marketing prowess to have kept me in eager anticipation (and active prayer that the world wouldn’t end before) seeing this movie.

Since I don’t want to make commentary that’s already been made so well (like this!!!), I’ll say that my favorite part was during the big battle scene, when W’Kabi, astride his rhino, considers attacking his own love, Okoye. When she turns her spear on him, he asks, “Would you really consider killing me?” She says, “For Wakanda, absolutely.” (I’ve only seen the movie once, so I’m paraphrasing, work with me.) He looks around, sees all of these beautiful Black men fighting these beautiful Black women. And he surrenders to her.

My body temperature skyrocketed, so I had to unzip my hoodie before I exploded in a hotflash. I also fought back tears.

Much of what I have written about my whole life has been about relationships, as I’ve spent almost my whole life wondering why so many turn out so badly. I wanted to know what made them work, and what exactly it was that made things so sour. The answer to all of these questions is, “People.”

People come into relationships with their own baggage, emotional scars passed from previous generations that have never been resolved. And they don’t figure out how to resolve them, either because they don’t want to or because they don’t think that they can be.

As preachy and 90s-self-help-Oprah as it sounds, I found that insecurity is the cause of almost all relationship problems and that self-love helps to resolve lots of them. When I studied healthy relationships, I saw two people who stood tall on their own and taller with the other person. Neither needed validation from the other. Each was secure within him or herself and the other person was just an added bonus to a good life already been lived.

I tried to model my own relationships after this model. In one short-lived affair, it didn’t work out so well because the other person was ragingly insecure. But in the next, it seemed to go well, and it’s been going well for almost 9 years.

That scene in Black Panther showed a man surrendering his insecurities for the woman and the country he loved. He seemed to realize that his ego or pride—the most common costumes for insecurity—wouldn’t actually solve the problem, which was that a despot (even if he did have some good ideas) had taken over their country. If more men could be so bold and focused on the common goal, the world would be a very different and so much better place.

Of course, the same goes for women. I think a lot of our issues are like a hall of mirrors, one bouncing off the other, bouncing off the other, bouncing off the other. If one image stopped, maybe the whole mirror would shatter, and all we would have is reality, with no choice but to love what we saw in front of us, not our expectations.

Be Grateful, You Are Enough

When I watched the events unfold in Charlottesville on Saturday, first, I rolled my eyes. I felt no element of surprise because, well, I’m Black and a woman, so I’m well acquainted with discrimination (I left a job because of it!). But, for some reason, a tiny sliver of me wanted to understand what the hell drives people to that level of hatred, in which they feel that their progress is threatened by the progress of others. I normally attribute it to “sin,” which is really anything that drives us to feel more important than new really are, but I’d never really taken the time to really think about it in almost 32 years, so I figured I’d take the moment to reflect.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a park for a family fun day with my in-laws. My BIL had set up cornhole in case the family wanted play, and he left the beanbags next to the wooden hole box things. A few little white boys whose family was also picnicking came by, picked up the beanbags, and started playing. They were no older than 5, so I figured their mother would tell them to put the beanbags down because they didn’t belong to them. Instead she laughed and said, “Did you ask to play with that?” The kids didn’t answer her, and she didn’t bother to ask again. My BIL smiled politely and told her it was fine for them to continue playing.

But it wasn’t fine. The beanbags weren’t theirs and they didn’t ask to play with them. There was no acknowledgement that they were infringing on someone else’s property and that they were not supposed to do that. Instead, they were allowed to do it by both their mother and my BIL, who understandably didn’t want to be a jerk to some little kids over something as trivial as beanbags. On the surface, it wasn’t a big deal, but it annoyed me so badly that I had to walk away and get myself another beer.

That moment showed me how clear the path is from playing with beanbags without asking as a 5-year-old, to marching in the streets to declare your unhappiness with your race’s seeming digression later in life.

It starts with entitlement. And when that entitlement comes into question, it automatically leads to feelings of inadequacy. When you’re used to getting your way and you suddenly can’t, of course you’d wonder what’s wrong with you. As we saw this weekend (and over the course of U.S. history), when entitlement and inadequacy collide, the result is a massive cloud of shit.

I know what it’s like to feel like I’m not enough. I constantly battle thoughts that I’m not a good enough writer and that’s why I haven’t published more; I wasn’t good enough at investment analysis and that’s why my bosses shat on my performance; I’m not a good enough family member and that’s why my loved ones don’t bother trying to understand me. I can understand how badly it feels when one feels like they’re not enough.

But I’ve never felt low enough to need to take to the streets to inform the world of how badly I feel about myself. That is a low that I pray I never reach (and, thanks to racial double standards, I would not be successfully able to do).

I assumed everyone gets told at some point that they have to find those feelings of adequacy within themselves, that they can’t look to external validation, including the words and actions of others, to make them feel like they are enough. And then I realized that no, not everyone gets told this. They get laughingly asked, “Did you ask if you could play with that?” with zero consequences.

If the world is going to change, we have to start with our kids. Tell them that they are enough no matter what happens, and that someone else’s success does not equal their failure. Tell them that they don’t deserve a damn thing but that which they work for. Tell them to be grateful for every breath they take.

In his NY Times column, David Brooks called for “modesty” as a way to tamp down white people’s anxiety. But modesty isn’t the right word; gratitude is. There is no room for inadequacy when gratitude is firmly in residence. Instead of expecting to receive what others have, be thankful for what you have, even if it’s nominally less than that of others.

Frankly, I feel that this is an impossible ask. The irony that America celebrates an autumn holiday called “Thanksgiving” is not lost on me. It highlights that our sense of gratitude has always been warped, that from our founding we thanked God for providing us food while subjugating the people who grew it.

I pray that a glimmer of hope will remain lit, that those of us who want peace won’t give up altogether. I’ll do what I can, by telling my kids to be grateful and by reaching out to my neighbor, giving no room for hate.

Whatever happened to the truth?

“Pearls are layers and layers of soothing ‘nacre’ intended to insulate the delicate mollusk from the irritant that abraded it. At root, a pearl is a ‘disturbance,’ a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there, about which something needs to be done. It is the interruption of equilibrium that creates beauty. Beauty is a response to provocation, to intrusion. …The pearl’s beauty is made as a result of insult just as art is made as a response to something in our environment that fires us up, sparks us, causes us to think differently.” –Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper

This weekend was tough for me (see here and here why that was the case). I watched the inauguration, CIA speech, press conference coverage, and Sunday morning political talk shows only because I want to be an informed citizen. I walked away from all of those television events asking, “Since when is it acceptable to blatantly lie to your own people?”

Luckily, the TV hosts were thinking along the same lines as I was. As both George Stephanopoulos and Chuck Todd asked the president’s “senior advisor” that very same question, I hoped that I would get some insight into the point of telling wanton untruths. Instead, I witnessed with my own eyes and ears the way she danced around the question, refused to answer it, and defended fraud in her use of the phrase “alternative facts.”

During his press briefing yesterday, the White House press secretary said, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” thereby showing his lack of familiarity with the definition of the word “fact” or his confusion of the word “fact” with the word “opinion.”

I’m not writing about this as a partisan object. This isn’t a matter of liberal versus conservative or Republican versus Democrat; this is an assault on the truth.

Whatever happened to the truth?

I was aware of the talk of “fake news” during the election campaigns, but when did we lose respect altogether for the truth, the most sacred of values?

I read in the Wall Street Journal that the White House press secretary said that Friday’s inauguration crowd “was the largest ever, although available evidence disputes that claim.” The size of crowd is not the focus of this sentence, and no one should allow themselves to get distracted by it. The sticking point is the “available evidence disputes that claim.” I have been a juror in a serious court case before, so I have firsthand experience with the importance of evidence. Evidence can help find someone guilty or prove their innocence. In other words, depending on the case, evidence has the power to determine if someone will continue living or if they will die because they committed an unspeakable crime. Evidence is the closest representation to truth there is, and it is the backbone of our justice system. We cannot let the truth be cast aside as optional. If we can throw out the truth, I shudder to think what could be disregarded next.

The Declaration of Independence states that the founding fathers held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Lies, falsehoods, and “alternative facts” impinge upon freedom and equality, and they have since this country was founded. I am baffled at the current administration’s audacity to so boldly counter American values as it touts a [Nazi-inspired, according to history books] “American first” agenda.

I do not understand how this has happened, or why it has happened, but I do know that I will continue to stand for the truth, and I want you to do the same. Call out the lies that chip away at our democracy. Do not apologize if you are well-educated and intellectual, but be proud of who you are and what you know, and despite the ugly wishes of those who want otherwise, the result will be beauty.