Pretty Little Minefields

by maggiestone

Rose Blossoms

“You wonder and you wonder until you wander out into Infinity, where – if it is to be found anywhere – Truth really exists.”
Marita Bonner

Reading Tricia Rose’s Longing to Tell, leaves me with more questions than answers. The above insight by Marita Bonner warns me of the temptation to impose myself on the text rather than to find myself in it. Bonner, who wrote On Being a Young Woman and Colored pioneered this type of text. Although different in her application, Bonner, like Rose also focused primarily on racism and sexism. The “Truth” in Rose’s work would be the account of sexuality by real black women. However, we are pressed to constantly challenge the Truth because it’s hard to find the line where Tricia Rose ends and the black women’s real voices begin.

A Mine Field in a Pretty Package

Repeatedly, I found myself perplexed at the cover choice and title of Longing to Tell. First of all, I would argue that the title would more accurately be Longing to Hear or Longing to Publish. Women who endure racism, incest, rape, and domestic abuse are not just waiting to talk to someone else about these ongoing problems. Often, it’s painful to relive and recount these experiences. To me, the real audience for this book, would be the other black women who suffer in silence or don’t report the bad people who harm them. Those women may be longing to hear that they are not alone.

Similarly, it’s hard not to be cynical and say the book ought to be called Longing to Publish as well. I am certain that, rape victims for example, are not sitting around wishing they had someone to talk about the most painful parts of their life to, and then memorialize it anonymously in a book. To be aware of Rose’s intentions diminishes the “truth quality” of the book for me. One must be aware that the reader may not be getting the real black woman’s narrative. I remained vigilant of the fact that the purpose is to make a book. We get many suggestions from individual stories, that experiences for the women are not often reported or talked about even within the family unit. So what was the incentive for these women to suddenly tell Tricia Rose with complete candor? And how does the intention to publish a book interfere with this process? If this were a science experiment, how would Tricia Ross set up a control group and who would that group be? Could it be the experiences of white women or black men?

Finally, the visual image for me is of all kinds of black women, happy and sad, young and old, but one commonality I envision would be each woman having to name her experiences outlaid for Rose. For this reason, I have to wonder why Tricia Rose chose a light skinned black woman smiling, with lipgloss on for the cover of the book. Should this be perceived as irony or just misleading? Whichever the case, the image doesn’t match the tone of the book. If there are a range of women who all address problems with the color gradient of their skin, a light-skinned black woman does not seem to represent them well. Additionally, the smiling image, along with the title and subtitle “Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy” misrepresent the book as happy, and warm, as if these were touching, happy stories about sexuality and intimacy.

To go through this book, readers need to be honest, willing and open-minded. The book is an emotional minefield in a pretty package. We have to be honest enough to admit when we are wrong about preconceived notions. We also have to be honest about Tricia Rose’s interference. We have to be willing to trudge through the narratives that are painful, and willing to acknowledge the truth that these experiences are real experiences, and the women, real women and not just characters. Finally, a reader can only be open-minded to swim inside this book. I think a good, analytical, spiritual and immersive read in this book, will leave no reader unscathed. In short, if it’s uncomfortable, you’re doing it right.

Oh Family, Where Art Thou?

My expectations, going into this book, were to read about racism from the white community and disenfranchisement and disparities that stem from black/white polarized racism. I was surprised to find such a depth of a lack of support for the black women within their own black communities and within their own families. Before they even leave their community or even their front door, many of these women were facing demons in their own home.

Fathers seemed to be ghosts in the life of a black women. You are especially privileged if your mother is your father’s only woman, and he stays married to her for your whole life. These are life details many people take for granted. The fathers typically had many children with many different wives, and the women speaking the narrative seemed to be but a footnote in her father’s life. The fathers who did stick around betrayed their daughters trust by condoning incest, not giving love, or doling out abuse to the woman’s mother. How can the black woman form a healthy relationship with a man, when her father or lack of father is all she knows? The moral in this example would be that monogamous men are a scarce resource, so there should be special emphasis on securing one. The other leasing this “Father figure” teaches the black woman will be that you can’t trust a man, because he will only set you up for failure.

Mothers take on the sole responsibility for child rearing. Often the narratives talked about having multiple siblings which must have been stressful for the mother, especially if she also had to be the sole bread winner. The mothers seemed to be afflicted with all kinds of problems, such as loving abusive men or being alcoholic or deeply religious. These problems affect the daughters the worst. With a mother occupied most of the time, she doesn’t have time to watch out for incest, molestation, bullying etc. When the daughters hit puberty, many of the mother’s felt uncomfortable talking to them about sex or menstruation. Probably one of the quintessential betrayals of the book comes from one mother who refuses to believe that her daughter was raped, sides with the rapist, and continues to let him live in her home. How can black women develop healthy friendships with other women with mothers like that? What kind of trust issues does this cause? How can black women learn to parent other children with open-ness when they are raised in silence?

“Black men are born of black women and influenced by the black women in their lives. I have to love black women in order for me to love myself.” D’Angelo

Although D’Angelo’s ideologies don’t match his actual lifestyle, the words nonetheless are meaningful. The black men in the book that women have relationships with seem to incessantly disappoint them. They are the brothers who molest, the creepy neighbor who molests, they are the man who gave you AIDS, the disappointing de-flowering, the abusive boyfriend, the rich gangster who beats you black and blue, the rapist, and the man who dumped you for a white woman.

While not all black men fit this mold, the fact is that black men are causing a lot of the problems that women in the book face. If so, then the solution lies within black men to change. A beginning, as D’Angelo points out would be the black women raising their sons. If they are destined to be the primary caregiver, one can only hope that they will raise sons to become the men they never found.

Lack of love and support is also a common family dilemma. Perhaps if they also shower their daughters with love and support, are open and honest, the daughters will grow up with higher self-esteem.

I’m going to kill my [white] boyfriend.

Issues with skin color, white-washed beauty, and dating white men sprouted like weeds all over the text. Many of the women felt that the lighter your skin, the more beautiful you are. They briefly touch on trying to emulate or live by white standards of beauty. I feel this manifests in the women’s attitudes about white men. The women who date white men or who feel them to be more compassionate, fear black men, and fear that rejection. They are aware of exoticism and disregard it. Then there are other women that fear white men, that talk about friends who were raped because of exoticism. These women won’t even date black men who date white women. Even though, it’s a little hard for me to understand this, as a white woman, when you immerse yourself, you can see the full picture. The women with the latter view all seem to have higher self-esteem. They want to be loved for who they are, and want to challenge the black men to love them.

This video, to me, shows a lot of imagery of this concept. Natalia Kills, born of an Afro-Jamaican father and Guatemalan mother, depicts herself in a white-washed image. Almost all of the women in the book with several nationalities still defined themselves as black, but I ask, who is Natalia Kills attempting to appeal to? It’s strange to me that all her boyfriends in the video are white, and that in her white-washing, she uses milk as an instrument of violence.