currently diggin

November 30, 2008 § 1 Comment

blogs and websites i am currently diggin.  check them out.

quirky black girls: i am one of the contributers for this blog.  and i am proud of it.  it is part of the quirky black girl movement taking over the internet.

birthing project usa: the underground railroad for new life: a friend just hipped me to this organization/movement and i am amazed that i had never heard of it before.  its been around since 1988 and is focused on improving birth outcomes in african american communities by pairing an expecting mother with a sister who is the mother’s friend and advocate until at least the child’s one year birthday.  they also have a parallel program for expecting fathers.  incredible.

muslimnista: blogging on islamic feminism.  superb analysis.  if for a second you think that being muslim and being feminist cannot occur in the same body, on the same blog, think again.  what i love about this blog, honestly, is that it reminds me of the muslim women i have hung out with around the world.

radical doula: radical doula just sent me some real love in terms of a recent post of hers and i have got to send it back.  frankly, when i began this blog a year and a half ago she was the only other doula blogging about issues like race, sexuality, class, etc. and especially about reproductive justice.  the ways that the pro-life movements rhetoric disempowers women who choose to give birth as well as those who dont.  super-inspiring.

black girl get free: iresha also blogs for quirky black girls and i love her writing.  in her latest post she says:

Not only should Black Women be enlighten, but in order for the survival of their existence, they must embrace all things that the dominant culture sees as inferior and reject societies imposed racial and gender formation of them. The Blackness of Black Women’s beauty, and the culture that is seen as deviant by others, can also be seen as resistance from Black Women….Black is always seem as something “bad”, BUT White is not complex enough to use for Black Women, because Black Women’s beings are too complicated. Darkness is where things cannot be seen and creation has been bought forth. Also, bringing forth a creation is not an independent action but one that is created communally, by Black Women coming together. Its always good to create new things and embrace what our ancestors have left for us to discover their creations. So whomever said that darkness is dull and murky must have never seen the light that Blackness creates.

plus she is also from the va (what! what!) so represent.

mamita mala: mamita is real.  a real poet.  which you know the moment you read her work.  and a real person who blogs about her life as if she has no other choice but to be concrete, passionate, detailed, and self-aware.

revolutionary motherhood: i wrote for this blog as well.  (i did not list every blog i write for…so there…) and i love the women who post here.  the work is diverse, surprising, mama supportive, self-contradictory and authentic.

kameelah writes: she is a photographer.  she loves lists.  she is a public school teacher.  and a hijabi.

so as i was finishing up this post, i realized, hey, there are four sites that are authored by black women, two by latinas, one that is racially diverse, and two that focus on muslim women (which is not a race or ethnicity but is treated as both in the states), and thought…you know what this is what new media is about.

walking through fire

November 29, 2008 § 3 Comments


i first read nawal el-saadawi’s writing in hebron, palestine.  the book: the woman at point zero, is about a woman who is on death row for killing her pimp.  the writing is sparse, eerie, precise, breathless, moving, and quick.

and with that book alone she became one of my favorite authors.

i just finished one of her memoir, named: walking through fire.  it follows her through her young adult life and three marriages, her career as a medical doctor and writer, the development of her political engagement.  and her two children.

i am stunned by her life.  it reminds me that so much is possible in this world.  that there are incredible barriers to what we can do and yet, and yet, and yet, there is also a way.  here is a woman living in egypt in the 1950s and 60s (the time in which most of the memoir takes place) who had two divorces in her 20s, had a young daughter and worked as a doctor and writer on the frontlines of various wars in egypt and jordan.  her family was recently middle class and part of her salary went to supporting her parents and her brothers and sisters.

and we think of middle eastern women as being some how other, so much further behind that the west in terms of freedom or possibility.  how many women today in the west feel comfortable being twice divorced by their thirtieth birthday?  how many women would have felt confident doing so in the west in the 1960s?

how did she do all this with a child?

alot of her choices were enabled by the presence of om ibrahim.  when she firsts moves from cairo to a rural village to run the village medical facilities om ibrahim comes to her door and asks to be taken into her home as a servant.

I bestowed the name Dada Om Ibrahim on her and she took over everything, the keys of the house. The care of my baby daughter, the cleaning, washing, and cooking.  I even left my secret diary with her.  I taught her how to read and write, gave her a big wrist-watch and a small notebook in which she used to note down my appointments, and all the running expenses.

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race & birth

November 28, 2008 § 2 Comments

i wrote this for the revolutionary motherhood zine anthology a few months ago and have just got around to posting it…

1. When a woman has invited me to be with her during birth, whe is offering a great gift. Many people say: birth is sacred. It is. It is also bloody, messy, wet, smelly, shitty, pissy, angry, sweaty, intimate, scary, funny, foul and sweet. And painful. And joyful. And then even more pain.

When I was pregnant, I tried to imagine what pain would be like. I promised myself that I was going to remember the specific quality and texture of the labor pain. So I could tell expecting mamas exactly what it was like. It was searing like being scraped by rusty nails from inside out. It was like the belly was inside a fire so hot causing forth degree burns. I would look at my skin stretching over my uterus and baby and there were no embers. No nails. Just movement. Just strong life.

I have also learned in my daughter’s birth and the births I assisted that it takes more than strength to have an empowered birth. It takes self-trust. And it takes time.

2. In comparison to white women, black women are 3.7 times more likely to die in pregnancy, four times more likely to die in childbirth and twice as likely to give birth prematurely, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the United Nations. Even though black women have babies with significantly lower birth weights than white women, African-born black immigrants have nearly identical baby weights to white women and Caribbean-born immigrant women also have significantly heavier babies than US-born black women.

In the American Journal of Public Health, Richard David writes: For black women, something about growing up in America seems to be bad for your baby’s birth weight.

In this piece I focus on black women’s health. Similarly disheartening statistics exist for other racial minorities in the US.

3. Sunday afternoon, in late winter in Duluth, the last night’s snowstorm had piled on the windows of the coffeehouse basement. I was in the third day of my birth assistant training. Eight months pregnant, exhausted from lack of sleep and surrounded by a dozen giggling blond young women, most of whom were nursing students. I felt like I had stumbled into a sorority. I was trying to focus on what the trainer was saying, but the hours of lectures, videos, questions and repetitive answers wore on me. I had asked a few questions over the past couple of days : How do you support a woman’s birth when you don’t share a common language? How do you deal with the conflict between a woman’s traditional childbirth culture and hospital protocol? What is the role of Protective Child Services (PCS) in childbirth and how do we support women who are in conflict with PCS?

I guess my questions were annoying the sorority girls, because before the trainer could respond to my latest question, a sorority girl piped up: Not everything is about race and class. Sometimes women just need to be educated.

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racism and doctors

November 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

in a recent article entitled: doctors in study prefer whites to blacks, the journalist, vanessa ho says:

Racial disparities have long been documented in health care, but a University of Washington study on doctors’ possible biases is validating the feelings of many African-American patients.

Released Tuesday, the study found that most doctors unconsciously prefer white people to black people. The exception was black doctors, who exhibited no preference for either race.

on this blog for the past year or so i have been documenting studies, articles, and first person accounts of the pervasive nature of racial bias within hospitals and medical establishment.  what i found interesting is the last line of this quote that black doctors exhibited no racial bias between white and black folks.  why dont black doctors have a detectable racial bias?  i am surprised.  i thought that through medical training, black doctors would likely also have a bias toward white patients.  maybe even medical training doesnt have to erase common sense about human beings and bodies.

considering the ways that birth culture require that women and children spend much more time with doctors than men, these studies do not bode well for the health care that women of color, and specifically black women receive.  unfortunately in my experience these same biases are represented among alternative health practitioners.  as i have stated before my home birth midwife insisted that i had gestational diabetes with little evidence to back up her claim other than ‘intuition’.  yes there is a history of diabetes in my family, but no history of gestational diabetes that i knew of.  and there is a major difference between the two.  but since, you know, black folks have some genetic disposition (sic) towards diabetes, she felt i needed to be extra careful about my diet.

the other thing that i found interesting is that the article is clear that:

“It’s important to not leave the impression that this necessarily affects behavior, because we really don’t know,” said Sabin, an assistant UW professor in medical education and training.

More research is needed, she said, to know whether bias affects care.

how could such a persistent bias not affect the care that black people receive?  if you believe that black people, by function of them being black, are less trustworthy, less intelligent, less responsible, etc.  how can that not affect how you, as a doctor, treat the person?  especially if you are not aware of these biases? especially when we look at the statistics of the limited choices that black folks are given in comparison to whites.  for instance:

A 2002 landmark report from the Institute of Medicine found that minorities receive poorer care than whites in many areas, from transplants to cancer to cardiovascular disease.

A Dartmouth study found that blacks in Seattle receive crucial blood tests at lower rates than whites, and undergo leg amputations — often caused by diabetes and vascular disease — more often than whites.

Studies that control for differences in income and education levels also have found racial disparities in care, Fleming said.

currently reading

November 26, 2008 § Leave a comment

books that i am into right now:

the poetry home repair manual–ted kooser

one of the best books i have read on poetry in a long time.  i dont agree with all of his prejudices in poetry but he states in a way that allows for me to see those prejudices clearly.

mind of my mind–octavia butler

second book in the patternmaster series.  after reading wild seed i knew that i had to read the whole thing.

stones of war

beautiful meditations on power, war, violence, trauma, childhood.  lyrical language.  a book that explores the limnal of the personal and the political.

the culture of make believe–derrick jensen

after being struck by a language older than words in my last trimester of pregnancy, i am returning to derrick jensen’s work.  a language older than words is the sort of book that i have searched for a long time.  so far the culture of make believe looks very promising.

the gold cell–sharon olds

incredible intricate poems/narratives about how painful life can be.  having heard her name bandied about for so many years i thought that her poems would be boring and inaccessible, how wrong i was.

in search of our mothers’ gardens–alice walker

read this when i was a teenager.  am now returning to it 15 years later.  still am amazed at some of the insights that alice gives the reader and herself.  i had forgotten how much of this work served as the basis for my understanding what it meant to be a ‘black woman’.  the sort of insights that i think of as ‘obvious’ obviously came from a young girl reading this book.

wild seed, immigration, and the institution of motherhood

November 23, 2008 § 2 Comments

recently i read for the first time octavia butler’s wild seed. it is a brilliant novel. i have not been a huge fan of science fiction, but i decided to rectify my lack of sci fi experience by joining a book club (uhuru 2266) dedicated to reading sci fi and speculative fiction. recently i also read gretchen hunt’s article: immigration is a mother’s issue and i started to see how wild seed is exploring the same issues as immigrant mothers are.

Motherhood and immigration are intertwined. Some mothers leave their countries and their families for a better life for their children. Some come here seeking a better life, have children, and face all the challenges of being split-status families. Some stay behind, and only dream visions of what their children may experience so far from home. Yet the story of immigration, and the policy debates now circling around the topic are strikingly gendered, and ignore the reality of mothers and their children. So too do the writings and public conversations on motherhood often exclude the stories of immigrant mothers.

There is a word — peña — in Spanish that was once explained to me as summing up the feeling of pain, heartbreak and physical heaviness. Dictionaries define it as grief, but it has a more textured feeling, one that surfaces in more day-to-day speech. That’s the closest I can get to my feeling when I think of the three snapshots I have recounted above. Why do I share these? Because I believe these moments representing such sacrifice, ambivalence and hope of a world that welcomes the stranger as if s/he is our own child are moments that are missing from our current dialogues about motherhood.

both butler and hunt illuminate the intersections of motherhood and national boundaries. both the current immigration issue and wild see are narratives about freedom (or the lack thereof) to move. anywanyu, who is considered a ‘wild seed’, is a constant immigrant. her powers, to heal herself and others and to transform herself, allow her to survive by escaping and crossing boundaries. and the boundaries that are the most powerful in their ability to contain and enslave her are psychological and emotional, not physical ones.

and in both narratives women are seen by the ‘powers that be’ as ‘breeders’ whose bodies and sexuality must be controlled for the sake of nationhood. their bodies are seen as subservient to the cause of creating, maintaining and empowering the nation, especially the nation’s purity. these boundaries are enforced by violence.

but using physical violence against the bodies because of their ability to create life becomes an impossible task and so the more effective use of violence is emotional violence. these women, the imaginary and the immigrant, suffer immensely for the sake of the few privileges they can garner for their children.

the final scene from the film Maria Full of Grace. Seventeen year old Maria, while pregnant, smuggled in cocaine from Colombia as a mule, escaped the smugglers and certain violence, evaded Customs Enforcement, and she is standing in the airport with her friend, contemplating the trip back home. In a heavy moment, she turns, leaving her friend to walk into the sea of people and an uncertain life as a single mother, undocumented, in the United States. She will become another invisible face in the sea of undocumented persons in the US.

these women’s power to escape is through the bodies. anywanwu’s escape is through her ability to transform her body, to shift and hide, and become an immigrant once again.

at the end of the novel, anywanwu, the wild seed, gains a measure of freedom because doro realizes that he has to create a relationship with her that shifts the boundaries and that the boundaries cannot be maintained by violence.

and i believe that in the end the united states will have to learn at least what doro has learned-that controlling life through violence is isolating and the states will have to shift its own sense of nation, of power, of boundaries, and of the place and worth of the bodies that labor for its survival.

making art in real life

November 23, 2008 § 3 Comments

lately i have been thinking alot about making art and being a mother.  before i became pregnant i was excited to be a mama artist.  art about the female body, the bodily and emotional and spiritual connection between mother and child.  i have always loved art that illuminated aspects of life and the world that are rarely seen. 

but its not easy.


one, it is hard to find the time to fuck around.  i never realized before i had children how much i relied upon the pacing, fucking around, doing nothing time in order to feed my acts of creation.  my brain becomes paralyzed when i just sit down and decide to create.  it requires all this warm up time.  warm up time that can easily be sucked into playing ‘ball’, reading board books, supplying new paper to color, and basically hanging out with my kid. 

two, it is hard to find the emotional energy.  i have to care alot about what i am creating.  it has to become ‘my baby’.  i have to worry about it and wonder how she is doing in the middle of the night.  i have to care enough to read the same passage a hundred times, listen to that same song 12 times in a row, and stare at a drawing for an hour to figure out where is one more line needed.  guess, what? my kid takes alot of emotional energy too.

three, i have to care about what other people are creating, have created, where they have succeeded in their work and yes, where they have failed.  i have to pick up a magazine and see what kind of art is being made.  who is it being made for.  how do i respond to it.  this is what inspires me…other people’s creativity.  and part of my time and energy, has to go into constantly finding new people to love simply because they reached my life and opened it up a bit wider. 

four, i have to have an audience.  i cannot create if i do not know who i am creating for.  this art is a dialogue, a conversation, an orgy.  i have to be communicating something to someone.  even if that audience is imaginary.  or imaginary for now.  this art is a gift to someone.  not just a general gift to amorphous beings. 

and i have not mentioned the guilt i feel as i sit in my little office typing and mi companero is playing primary caretaker.  or the fact that if i still up late working on a piece (or just dealing with insomnia…and working on a piece) that means that i wont get up with her in the morning.  and i know she needs me.  to show her the value of art.  some of my sweetest memories of her lately are sitting together, me on the couch typing, her on the floor with pen and paper drawing out her year-and-a-half life.  and every 30 seconds she pushes the paper into the air and screeches showing me her latest 3 marks.  

and i am so proud of myself when i am able to create something worthy of existing while i am watching her do a million things…but it aint easy…and i am mostly proud of myself for remaining sane during the process…cuz what i want to do is give up on my brain or give up on her as i watch my creative brain being sucked into finding creative ways to keep her entertained so that i can go back to actually creating something but by the time i have found that creative way to entertain her i have completely forgotten what i was doing in the first place and what i really need to do is pace for the next 20 minutes to find that golden nugget again but i know that she is not going to be entertained for more than 10 minutes before she needs something again and…


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doulahood and DONA

November 21, 2008 § 4 Comments

this is from the ICTC (international center for traditional childbirthing) conference. unfortunately in birthing professional circles, seeing anything close to this many women of color is highly unusual.  the only reason that it is different here is because ICTC is the black midwives organization.  the only one of its kind that i know of.


i began studying to be a doula while i was pregnant.  it was a perfect time to study to become a doula…the subject matter was very relevant to my life at the moment.  a doula named angela first inspired me to the vocation.  she was so cool and seemed to get ‘it’, the issues around race, gender, body issues, alternative identities, activism, ambition, etc.  i guess i just thought that all doulas were like her.  boy was i wrong.  they are relatively rare.  and i am do grateful for the mama luna doulas crew.

two months after i had aza, i started working as a doula with working class african american women in minneapolis.  i loved the work.   working on getting my certification with DONA.


when i went to mexico, i was ‘chatting’ with a southern california assistant midwife who suggested that since i had been traumatized by my birth i probably was not a good doula.  she worked with a clinic in san cristobal (that only had white midwives) that i hoped to volunteer as a doula for, but her entire attitude was condescending.  at one point she started in on a fake-ass chicana accent to prove that she was really down with women of color during birth.  she then told me that i should have been stronger in my birth.  she had never given birth.

a couple of weeks later the head midwife came over to our house to deliver a housemate’s child.  we sat around beside the fire for hours as my housemate was in the bathroom breathing through her contractions.  and the midwife started asking me to about my work as a doula and a mother.  at one point she stood up, flailed her arms to her side and yelled: no epidural! in response to my description of being a doula as similar to being an accompaniment worker.  i just shook my head.  that isnt accompaniment work and that isnt being a doula.  it was just a caracture.  and not a funny one at that.

later i found out that the head midwife at that san cris clinic was very apolitical toward birth.

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unassisted childbirth

November 21, 2008 § 1 Comment

today i am going to hip you to the unassisted birth culture.  frankly, for all the strangenesses and weird alliances (can you say witches and fundamentalist christians sharing notes on childbirth?) i love this movement…and this blog has in large part been an exploration on the empowerment of women during pregnancy, birth, and mamahood and i believe that unassisted birth is a large part of that.

unassisted birth (a birth without birth professionals) is not everyone’s or most people’s imagined ideal birth scenario.  actually i was talking to my teacher from palestine a week ago and when i mentioned home births he said: people still do that?  ha ha ha.  but i do believe that in the core of our culture we need to know that birth happens.  it does not do so because of any professional or any machine, it simply happens because that is how the human race brings forth the next generation.  and that each of us has the right to decide what we are going to do with our bodies. we must decide for ourselves whether and how we are going to conceive, carry, deliver and  care for our young.  we must learn the ways that our body and our minds communicate to our person.  that the bodies intuition must guide us.  and if that intuition says scheduled c-section, then do it.  and if it says give birth in the woods next to a lake on a bed of mushrooms, do it.

we do not live in a culture that honors this knowing.  and for those of us who seek this knowing without the vestiges and garb of patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia, and other oppressions, it is harder for us, because we are going against the grain of ‘motherhood’.  our culture does not have models for anti-oppressive revolutionary pregnancy and birth.  and so we have added burdens (as if we do not have enough already) of creating these models, living these models, and sometimes, dying by these models.  these models which are so life-affirming and yet because they are so heretical to the ‘powers that be’ give our culture’s leaders permission to jeopardize our life and our children’s life in order to discredit these life-giving paradigms.  and yet we must continue to fight.  not simply for ourselves, or our children, but for the women who are looking for models…they must learn that they have the power to create their own.

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quirky black girls and class and mamahood

November 20, 2008 § 2 Comments

i wrote this initially as a response to a discussion on quirky black girls about quirky black girls and class.

class to me feels like one of those issues that no one wants to talk about. it is impolite. it is unseemly to ask how much money someone makes or how did they afford to do what they do…funny, how most people i know will tell you the intimacies of their sex life before they will tell you how much they have their bank account (unless they are certain that they have just as much as you). so lex thanks for bringing it up.

after a year at college i decided to drop-out. mainly because the only thing i felt like i was getting from paying that tuition was a piece of paper, a degree. and being in college i was actually reading less than i had been when i was teaching myself. i wanted to read, write, travel, be a part of the revolution and instead i was reading and writing about what i had not experienced first hand. in sarah lawrence they say: learning is a conversation, well, then learning is largely dependent on whom is in the conversation.
i also could not reconcile the incredible racial and class differences between our little private school and our neighbours in the bronx and yonkers. part of the sarah lawrence experience was that nudge of superiority toward our neighbours. i guess that is the college/townie norm, but after a year i was learning more from the folks who i would hang with outside of college than i was from being in my classes…

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