This past week I had the privilege to see one of my heroes (or so I thought) speak at my alma mater. I was so excited. I couldn’t believe I was seeing the woman who authored one of my favorite books, who helped make a way for women in Hip-Hop, who spoke with some much conviction and who’s every word I hung on once upon a time. We were in the same damn room, breathing the same damn air! I was in that lecture like
“I love this woman,” I said to myself as she took stage and cracked a joke. The smile that I knew would take hours to leave my face quickly disappeared, and my “yaaaaasss,” “truth” “COME ONE, SIS!” slowly turned into “mmm,” “uuumm,” “okay, she got me messed up.” I left her speaking engagement feeling let down, hurt, shit, I was devastated. How could this happen?
The gag is, looking back, she has always held problematic ideologies: internalized misogyny, ill ideas of what it means to be a woman/ womanhood, with a tiny dash (just a little) of homophobia- those ideas don’t occur over night. Maybe I was too blinded by my heroes cape, the things she said that sat right with my soul and my own lack of understanding to see those things before. Or maybe, as much as I’d hate to admit it, I too subscribed to the same school of thought as she at some point. And sometimes, a person’s truest thoughts don’t transcend through their writing.
I now understand why people say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but as crushing as it may be, I learned a few things, one of which is to never stop learning. My mind was blown over and over again when I realized just how much my former hero really didn’t know. The irony of a scholar who no longer studies. Don’t get me wrong, the woman is brilliant in her own right, I wouldn’t have been so influenced by her had she not been an intelligent woman, but the world and movements are always changing, and I believe a true scholar has to keep up. Studying the likes of MLK, Malcolm X, and Huey Newton does not qualify you to be a scholar no more than it makes you an activist. The sister was asked about intersectionality and, in addition to throwing shade at the Alice Walker, couldn’t give an actual answer because she had no clue what it was (even Dr. Umar studied homosexuality before publicly stating he was against it). But that didn’t stop her from saying she didn’t agree with it. I don’t understand how one can disagree with something they don’t understand, or maybe that makes it all the more easier?
Another thing I realized was that women can also be hotepers. I gave a very short definition of what a hotep was in Silence of the Black Girls, but I don’t think that fully entails everything a hotep can be. Basically, a hotep (not its actual meaning which is an Egyptian word for “to be at peace”) is a person who claims to want to dismantle white supremacy, but in actuality just wants to replace the straight, white male with a straight, Black man. Hoteps think that Black women can and should join the fight against Black oppression, be vocal about the murdering of and brutality against Black men by the police (and we should), but fall deaf when Black women speak up about the oppression against and solely felt by Black women, especially if it is done by Black men. Hoteps do things like produce art where Black women are almost always hyper-sexualized, but are also angered when Black women pose nude or close to it. Get it?
So of course I had no choice to believe this sister was a fan of hotepism when she alluded that women who practice feminism just want to yell about how strong they are and not cook their man dinner. I had no choice but to believe this sister was a fan of hotepism when she said her kind of womanhood was “being sweet,” and that “MLK, Coretta Scott pushing out babies love.” Y’all, she real life reduced Coretta Scott King to Dr. King’s child bearer. This thought was solidified when she alluded to the way women dress as the reason they were on their 3rd baby daddy. Listen, I enjoy pampering my man. I love seeing him literally lick the plate clean after I cook dinner, I be feeling like But, it doesn’t affirm my existence as a woman, nor my womanhood (I just got lucky and found a bomb ass recipe). I can fight to end rape culture, I can speak out against misogynoir, tell men my pussy is not to be grabbed and still be sweet to my man and cook him dinner. The idea of a woman being “sweet” (whatever the hell that means), being for and about Black men, and a proponent of women’s rights are not mutually exclusive.
The last thing I took away from her lecture, and maybe the most important, is making sure I truly practice the love I claim to have for my people?” I think the biggest contradiction I heard during the lecture was her constant reference to Dr. King’s quote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” while also not understanding women’s rights and later questioning the humanity of someone simply because of the way they choose to identify. I see so many members of the Black community, especially those that call themselves leaders, blatantly and deliberately shun those who identify as anything non-heterosexual from Black movements, and it confuses me. How can one say they are about Black liberation, but only for those who meet a certain criteria? People love to quote James Baldwin, but ignore the crimes directed towards gay, Black, men and women. You know, your boy MLK wouldn’t have been who he is without Bayard Rustin (who was gay). If you identify as Black, African American, whatever, I will love you and protect you (unless you’re out here Don Lemon and Stacey Dash-ing) regardless of however else you choose to identify as. If you’re hesitant about who you march and protest for, you ain’t for Black liberation as much as you think you are.
I’m still a bit sadden about my losing of a hero, but I will never put another on a pedestal. I will continue to admire, be inspired and moved by the works of people, but now, I will remember that they are just people, and it is okay to evolve out of the thinking that I once had.