For all the good guys who will never be like Nate Parker

***TW: graphic description of sexual assault.***

A little over a week ago, I went out on a first date. Both of us are black and we both do film-related work. Throughout the afternoon, we were both invested in discovering each other. We were even cool in our attempts to impress one another.

Then he wanted to talk about Nate Parker.

If you don’t know: Parker is a thirty-six year old actor and filmmaker. He screened his directorial debut The Birth of a Nation at Sundance in January and sold it for 17.5 million dollars. It’s a major feat for any filmmaker, especially a black one. The film is due to be released in October and recently it’s come out that in college he (and Jean Celestin, a co-writer of the film) raped a woman. Celestin was convicted. Parker was not.

My date didn’t say that he wanted to talk about the contemporary relevance of the film’s subject, Nat Turner’s rebellion. He didn’t express any curiosity around the excitement and commitment to the film from an industry so racist and white. I had to assume he wanted to know my opinion about Nate Parker having raped someone. I shook my head, “No, I really don’t want to talk about it.”


“I just don’t have high expectations for men when it comes to talking about sexual assault.”


At that point I knew what would happen: he would insist on the conversation somehow so that he could express a viewpoint that he considers to be progressive or pro-women in some way. This has happened to me before. But I decided he was interesting enough and that this may turn into an even more interesting conversation. So I asked him to share his opinion.

He told me that he’d never be caught up in a situation like Parker. He even began to detail the incidents from a night in college when he could have taken advantage of an intoxicated woman but he didn’t (presumably because he knew it would be wrong). Then he went back to my statement about not having high expectations.

“Because men tend to be defensive when it comes in these conversations. You telling me that you would never be in a situation like Nate is a defensive statement.”

There are no good guys in these situations. None.

Last weekend, Ebony Magazine released an interview that Britni Danielle conducted with Nate Parker. A lot of people expressed their disappointment about the interview on Twitter. There is very little room for celebrities to use media platforms for anything beyond brand maintenance and damage control. And so many media outlets have given Parker (as they’ve done with other men in this position) the space to be dismissive and unapologetic about the assault. We don’t expect authenticity but there is some discomforting honesty in this Ebony interview. I’m struck by these statement in particular:


Screenshot 2016-08-29 at 11.25.27 PM

The goal is to get the girl or to get as many girls. This is efficiently achieved through manipulation.

Screenshot 2016-08-29 at 11.25.47 PM

Relationship is not the goal. Remember the goal is to get sex from the girl. Her desires are not even a concern. Thus this internal conversation.

Parker emphasizes his age. That was who he was at nineteen. My ex is in his thirties and if you asked him today if he knows what consent is, he will say yes. I will disagree. I think he has those same internal conversations that Parker describes. I think the same of the men who’ve assaulted my friends:

The man who removed the condom during intercourse with my friend. His shame only set in when it was time for her to terminate the pregnancy. (I had to take the five hour bus ride to accompany her because he refused to show up.)

The man who took my friend off the street and raped her until she bled? He thinks he knows what consent is because he gave her his business card afterward. She held onto it until she was ready to release that trauma.

Not long ago, one of my closest male friends restated his defense of Kobe Bryant. He refused to believe the woman even though Kobe admitted to the rape (in his non-apology). There are men in my life who refuse to listen to women. I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with this. Hating them and cutting them off. I’ve worked through some of this with professional help. I’ve learned about creating boundaries in relationships that I can’t abandon. I still hate that the burden of this work is on me (always on the woman). I protect myself by not expecting much. Nate Parker won’t admit to the rape. I don’t expect him to. But never in my lifetime have I witnessed a male celebrity admit to still learning about healthy sexual relationships. I’m being sincere as fuck when I say I hope the Ebony interview provides an opportunity for self-reflection. I hope the men in my life and all the rest of the “good guys” interrogate their own actions with sexual partners.


So that the matter of trusting/believing/listening to women does not become an empty statement.

That time, I was speaking to a male reader and he said, you know I think she’s garnered so much attention because of her good looks. He was talking about Taiye Selasi, a renown writer who I’ve witnessed police her own tone when responding to people who criticize her thinking without seriously engaging her work. (Sometimes I want to scream on her behalf!)

That time in workshop, I had to ask the writer if the only female character in his story was in fact a child or if she was an adult woman being referred to as a girl

That other time, in another workshop where the only male participant glared at each of us as we gave our feedback on his work

That time when I was speaking to another male reader about a new book from a woman we both know and he thought he was being funny when he said, it’s not like that one book we read, all that romance and whatnot, is it? (then there was that time months later, when I caught myself seeking approval from this same person of some programming work I’d done)

That time when working within a creatives collective, I had to vociferously defend my ideas against dismissal by a man whose writing resume pales in comparison to my own and I can still see the other women in the room sitting quietly but wanting to speak

I have written about this recently. The dismissal of women’s work enrages me. And today is one of those days where it is so clear that the experience of doubt is so layered for women making art. Yesterday, I read a collection of testimonies – women revealing experiences of abuse by someone of prominence in the black poetry community. I don’t know the abuser but I have often seen his name and his photography. After reading the testimonies, I searched Facebook and Twitter for responses. I saw a few men making proclamations to “believe women” or “listen to women” or otherwise issuing statements of solidarity. I can never be sure if these are performances or if these men are looking to be held accountable. In any case, it generated some thoughts about how we don’t listen to women: not when we, as individuals, reveal someone as an abuser and not when we are sharing ideas or work, contributions to community.

I don’t think any of the men I’ve mentioned in my list would actively refute these women testifying to their experiences of abuse but I also don’t think any of them regard our encounters in the same way I do. So I’ll offer some acts of solidarity until the next incident of abuse is revealed: read women writers and thinkers (I offer my Twitter and Goodreads accounts as resources); make a serious effort to engage their work; when you find yourself on a panel or in a decision-making space where women are absent, don’t just speak up, make it so your participation is contingent upon the inclusion of women; pay attention to @VIDA_lit, @blkwmndirectors, @directedbywomen, and other women-focused  initiatives throughout the year; be supportive of our fight against whiteness in women-focused spaces; be creative and think of other acts of solidarity to add to this list; get uncomfortable and confront your bias…

Today is Wednesday, a writing day for me, and because this issue was nagging me, I am writing this instead of trying to get through some blocks in one of my works-in-progress. So yes, sexism is a real distraction from the work.

Bibliotherapy: Anger

It started with Jericho Brown’s reading at Northwestern a few weeks back. Someone asked about Brown’s relationship with the church. I don’t remember the question but I remember thinking she wanted him to reference a tension between sexuality and religion. Whatever the prompt, he responded:

If God is everywhere then why would I be the exception? If God is everywhere then I have to allow God through me and to see God in others… There is no separation between God and me… I am capable of creation in my own sphere.

I immediately thought of the chaos of my own spiritual life. As he spoke, I felt an urgent need for its order, for the sake of my creativity and my being.

Not long after Brown’s reading, I picked up Kiese Laymon’s book of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. It’s been on my to-read list since I read the eponymous essay. Laymon is an excellent thinker and writer. I want to be an excellent thinker and writer. It turns out I very much needed to read this at this time. I’ve been in too many spaces lately where people are unsure of my anger. People who live in black or female bodies who doubt when I say this is a thing that is both political and inherited.

In Laymon’s collection, he talks quite a bit about love, and anger and reckoning our worst selves with our best ones. It’s a confrontation from the very first page:

One cold night in New York, someone I loved told me that I was precisely the kind of human being I claimed to despise. I defended myself against responsibility, as American monsters and American murderers tend to do, and I tried to make this person feel absolutely worthless, confused, and malignant as I was. Later that night, I couldn’t sleep, and for the first time in my life, I wrote the sentence, “I’ve been slowly killing myself and others close to me.”

It’s the type of writing that lets you know you are seen but it’s not going to do the work for you.

So now I’m reading Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions by Thích Nhất Hạnh. A therapist recommended this as one way to address my anger. I’ve been taking notes as I read the meditations. I’m doubtful. How can I take care of my anger as I would a baby if I’m so wary of motherhood, or rather of giving so much time to anything outside of my indulgences?

bell hooks provides some encouragement to keep trying. In her interview with George Yancy she talks about the necessity of a spiritual practice:

Feminism does not ground me. It is the discipline that comes from spiritual practice that is the foundation of my life. If we talk about what a disciplined writer I have been and hope to continue to be, that discipline starts with a spiritual practice. It’s just every day, every day, every day.

In other words: I’m woke so any sense of stability has long been disrupted. If I practice it with discipline, spirituality can be a grounding experience.




Link Sharing: Women’s Work

I’m taking a break from Twitter and Facebook. It’s not my first break but this is the first time I’m feeling antsy about not being able to shoot links out into the ether.

So, check it:

Elizabeth Newton has this excellent essay in the latest issue of The New Inquiry on the erasure of women’s work, specifically within Jazz and other music communities. “Can She Dig It” is a fairly quick read with some nice prose, thoughtful articulation, and disturbing facts. For instance, “Sun Ra had excluded Carla Bley, a pianist and composer in his circle, from his Jazz Composer’s Guild—a society Bley helped found. Citing sailor lore, Sun Ra claimed it was bad luck to bring a woman aboard the ship.”

These days I’m always raging about the small (and large) ways I see women’s work being dismissed and completely erased. My mother keeps warning me that it’s not good for my heart so I’m always looking for nods that let me know I’m not alone in my rage. Enter my favorite part of Newton’s essay:

Just last month I fleetingly considered smashing my computer, mining my hard drive for its mineral contents, scraping the tantalum and coltan into vials with which to poison every man who has ever made me compromise.

But to get back to the center (if there is such a thing)
This conversation between Darian Harvin and Danyel Smith is so good. There’s some good stuff in there about dating and about career. Danyel Smith is in that Black female hip hop writer canon (with the likes of dream hampton, Joan Morgan, …). I’m not super familiar with her writing (though this on Bobbi Kristina is excellent) but this conversation makes me want to have a mentor like her (and to be a mentor like her). I’ve also TBR’d her forthcoming book on black women in pop music.

Sometimes I daydream about “making it” as a writer and whenever an interviewer asks me what made me want to be a writer, I say “ZZ Packer’s author photo.” Yeah, that one. The side ponytail. The eyebrows. This is seriously my favorite author photo. Also Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is one of my favorites. I tend to say I don’t have favorite books but DCE is one I revisit for enjoyment and as guidance with my own writing. In any case I’m always looking for news about Packer. Somehow I missed this from earlier this year. The profile is a bit generic (Packer’s path to writing, her current project, just enough personal information to make her success seem attainable, and some advice to writers) but it’s still nice to read.

Speaking of writing advice, this is a good reminder from NK Jemisin:

And if it helps, remember: this is what makes you a writer. Yes, this. The sick feeling in your stomach, the weariness you feel, the utter conviction that you are the Worst and your novel is the Worst and everything is awful. This is how writers feel sometimes.

Alright, that’s it for now.

Best Decisions of the Week (art finds for Jan 12 – Jan 17)

A spin-off of my web finds.


On Thursday, I went to see ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’. Given who’s been hyping the film, I was pretty ambivalent about seeing it. (I wish I could remember at what point VICE put a bad taste in my mouth).

It turned out to be a good decision, maybe even the best decision of 2015 so far. I’m looking forward to the release of the soundtrack and to seeing the film again. I also kinda want to be a vampire superhero.

Equally important to my desire for vampirehood is that the film pushes me to be a better writer, to be more imaginative, to commit to producing fantastic work that is uniquely me.

A thing that caught my eye before I made the decision to watch the film, the director Ana Lily Amirpour talking about the usefulness of film school:

 I think film school is a tool, and a tool by itself is useless. A tool needs many other things in order for it to have a purpose, it’s there to create something else. There are so many tools. You can watch movies, you can read scripts from your favorite movies, watch bonus features of your favorite directors and see how they do things, get a camera and try filming things, you can travel the world, read books, listen to music. Use everything and anything to put yourself in the place where you feel creative and fascinated by what you’re doing and by life. Films really are about living life, and that part doesn’t happen inside a film school.


An essay by Troy L. Wiggins on being a black expat in Korea. Something about the “bitter expat” was triggering. I’ve been thinking a lot about my most recent trip to Ghana. It was the first time I ventured into the expat community. It can be pretty horrifying. At some point my thoughts should become an essay or a blog.


A major reason for my most recent trip to Ghana was for family but a small part was for a relationship that dissolved months before. Here is something I don’t feel that I can properly articulate: my last relationship was, in part, a search for home/belonging to Ghana. In an interview with BOMB magazine, Maryse Condé said this of her marriages:

The first time I was married to an African, a man from Guinea, and there was a confusion for me between the man and the country behind him. Because Guinea was the first African country to say No! to General DeGaulle, the first African country to take independence in the French-speaking arena. So I confused a man, love, and marriage with making the revolution. Of course, the marriage did not work at all. It was a failure, and we divorced a few years after. So I was already conscious that marriage is an individual matter—only two persons are concerned, and there is no question of putting on the shoulders of the man you are going to marry all your idealistic views about your country, about your cause. I became very wary of that kind of confusion. So when I met Richard, I was already informed of the mistake I could make. But it was difficult for a politically minded person to pay attention to a white man. For me, he belonged to the enemy, and moreover, I had four children from my first marriage. For them, it was completely impossible to have a white man for a stepdaddy; that is why we refused to marry. We lived together. After having lived together for 12 years we had to accept that we were in love, seriously, and we had to follow the consequences.

While that was personally triggering, the entire interview is worth the read. Maryse Condé is fascinating. Disappointingly, I haven’t given her work any time at all. In a few months, I’ll be reading Condé’s novel ‘Segu’ with my book club.


I really love The Brother Moves On. I ripped this live performance from Youtube and it’s one of maybe 10 tracks that I’ve got on my phone. This week, I gave some time to a few TBMO tracks that I hadn’t before, including these:


I’m still trying to wrap my head around this TNI interview with The Jeane Dixon Effect but I really like the sound of the line bolded below:

Sometimes it’s not the other person bothering you; it’s the relationship with the other person itself. I’m thinking here about when you happen to be totally in love with some so-called straight dude as long as it’s just y’all two in the one on one, fucking and playing basketball. But then maybe you’re not so excited about relating to this third thing, which is to say the relationship you make beyond your closed engagement, and you don’t like the social means or ends of what you produce together. Sometimes relating back to that thing can be a deal breaker for people.

I chuckled the first time I read it then went back a few times like how did those words come together? why do they sound so good to me? (probably: hooked with “y’all” –> the sound of “in the” makes “one on one” so much more intimate –> “fucking and playing basketball”: two things I have little to no interest in but I like their seeming randomness).

that’s all i got.

Finding homes in art // ‘juke’ by Nate Marshall

Last month, Akosua Adoma Owusu screened a collection of her short films at Black Cinema House. Following the screening, she and Professor Terri Francis, spoke a bit about her work. At a point, Owusu mentioned that the initial motivation for her film work was a search for home and belonging. She’s Ghanaian but was born and raised in the United States.

Professor Olasupo Laosebikan, who was in the audience, replied that he believes Owusu had found a home in the art she creates. Francis added that she’d felt like she found a home of her own within Owusu’s work. There was something illuminating about this idea of finding/creating home in your own work or others. It explains why I revisit certain works, why I keep them close even when I’m not reading them. It adds purpose to my own work.

This past Saturday night I was reading the latest issue of the Indiana Review. I’ve been reading it for the past week or so and and it’s filled with some good-weird fiction. It’s been entertaining and a series of craft lessons. But Saturday night I was reading it because I wanted to avoid the fact that the NYPD had just officially declared war against civilians. When I came to this poem by Nate Marshall ‘juke’, I immediately thought of what Laosebikan said. I kept going back to it, wanting to stay inside of it: