Guest column by Irene Monroe: Not only “For Colored Girls”

Not only “For Colored Girls


By Rev. Irene Monroe

If you’re looking for Madea (Tyler Perry in front of the camera in drag), or Black-faced versions of Sex in the City or He’s Just Not That Into You, then Mr. Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 womanist choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” will gravely disappoint you.

And if you are also looking for Perry’s high-profile ensemble of African American actresses — Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Tessa Thompson, Kerry Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, and Macy Gray — to perform as “Big Mammas,” “Hoochie Mommas,” and “Welfare Mommas” mouthing off “Madea-isms,” these sister-girls will disappoint you too; they have more depth, dignity and dimensionality to their character development than that.

While the movie, in my opinion, is a must see, it won’t be blockbuster hit. You won’t have to worry about waiting in long lines. I went to view the film at prime time with an audience of six of us — all women — in the theater.

With some critics having already bad-mouthed For Colored Girls as an anti-male melodrama, emasculating black males, who would sit for 134 minutes of that?

But those critics are wrong, and let me give you some reasons why.

For Colored Girls illustrates the universal sisterhood of struggle, strife, and survival that women find themselves in certain types relationships with men.

These characters in the film are you, me, and us all at certain junctures in our life’s journey. And For Colored Girls reminds us about the ongoing “dark phrases” of womanhood that women of all colors of the rainbow, even in our supposedly “post-feminist” era of 2010, continue to confront, like spousal abuse, incest, rape, infanticide, and infidelity, to name just a few.

However, with the film set primarily in Harlem, many will see the film as solely the typical “black faces” of African American women.

But that was neither the intent of Shange’s play, nor is it the intent of Perry’s film.

“Driving along Highway 101 one morning, she found herself passing beneath the arc of a double rainbow. Seeing the entire rainbow take shape above her, Shange realized that she wanted to live, that she had to live; she had something to say, not only about the fragility of her own existence, but about the lives of the other colored girls she knew and loved and imagined,” Hilton Als wrote in “Color Vision: Ntozake Shange’s Outspoken Art” in a recent New Yorker.

Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” was written during the height of the second wave feminist movement, giving voice and visibility to an era deluged with white women’s scholarship and sensibilities, and an era discriminated with not only their racial and ethnic biases but also with their class and sexual orientation biases.

Shange was part of the burgeoning black women writers’, poets’, and artists’ era of the 1970s where Toni Morrison published her first novel, and still my favorite, The Bluest Eye. Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and Toni Cade Bambara, to name a few, are some of the early foresisters of the era.

With her signature style of writing — the choreopoem — blending music, dance, poetry, and an amalgamation of what she heard on the street, Shange’s play has influenced this generation of spoken-word and performance artists.

“I like the idea that letters dance. …I need some visual stimulation, so that reading becomes not just a passive act…but demands rigorous participation. The spelling result from the way I talk or the way the character talks, or the way I heard something said,” Shange wrote in Claudia Tate’s Black Women Writers at Work.

Perry directorial style in For Colored Girls captures Shange’s poetic style in each of his characters, with of course a few of his own cinematic flourishes. But none where there was room for Madea to surprisingly appear.

While many may view For Colored Girls as a melodramatic mess of black women’s misery, the play is about women’s empowerment.

The film is about teaching and illustrating to women how to have decision-making power of their own, access to information and resources for making proper decisions, having a range of options from which they can make good choices, having the ability to exercise their assertiveness, and having positive thinking of one’s ability to make changes in their lives as empowered women.

For Colored Girls is not only for colored girls because it offers a pathway to self-growth, finding our authentic power, and discovering the divine in one’s self.

In the closing scene of the film one of the women says, “i found god in myself & i loved her/i loved her fiercely.”

Aren’t we all looking for that woman?


Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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Rev. Irene Monroe: Re-introducing lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women of African descent

Re-introducing lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women of African descent

By Rev. Irene Monroe

With October being Coming Out Month, I thought I would re-introduce a subgroup in our LGBTQ community that is too often forgotten and/or ignored — lesbians, bisexual, and transgender women of African descent.

I want to re-introduce this group because a groundbreaking study in July came out titled “Black Lesbians Matter” examining the unique experiences, perspectives, and priorities of the Black LBT community, and sadly little is known about it.

This report reveals that LBT women of African descent are among the most vulnerable in our society and need advocacy in the areas of financial security, health care, access to education, and marriage equality.

The study is akin to a census conducted over several months in 2009 – 2010 where 1,596 LBT women from regional, statewide, and local organizations in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver, and also through an on-line survey participated. The study focused on five key areas: health, family/parenting, identity, aging, and invisibility.

More below the fold.

Key findings of the survey revealed the following:

? Health – There is a pattern of higher suicide rates among us. Scholars have primarily associated these higher suicide rates with one’s ability to deal with “coming out.”

? Family/Parenting – 45% of Black female same-sex households include a biological child of one of the partners in their household. Anti-gay parenting policies in the United States will disproportionately affect Black LBT parents, or would-be parents.

? Identity – In the 18-24 age group 69% are least likely to identify as lesbian. Mostly identify as queer.

? Aging – 25% over the age of 50 live alone and fear poverty and homelessness.

? Invisibility – 48% have been rejected and discriminated against, disclosing one’s identity in the workplace leading to exclusion from company events, and even termination.

It’s clear the survey brings to the forefront information from a traditionally marginalized group, highlighting the needs and concerns defined by the community. But Zuna is the first to gather the data on us.

Although Zuna Institute has been around since 1999, people still ask who they are.

In the inimitable way that black women’s kitchens function as “think tanks” on social justice and civil rights issues, birthing numerous organizations, is also how Zuna Institute was founded. Zuna is the first of its kind in becoming a national organization providing services to the Black LBT community. Believing that the development of a healthy Black LBT identity can only come about by advocating specifically for LBT of African descent on a national level, and it would effectively eliminate the stigma and the barriers of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination we face daily, Zuna aims at bettering our quality of life by holding national conferences providing relational/social and educational resources to use for health care, political, and economic advocacy.

Since the 1970s there has been nearly a twenty-year hiatus since the country has seen collective black LBT activism on a national level.

However, back in the 1970s LBT women of African descent had a more prominent and visible role in queer and feminist politics. Two of the hot spots were New York and Boston.

In New York the “Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc Collective” was the first “out” women of color organization and oldest black lesbian organization in the country. Today the group is known as “African Ancestral Lesbians United for Social Change.”

And in Boston the “Combahee River Collective,” referring to Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad, who freed 750 slaves near the Combahee River in South Carolina in 1863, was an active black feminist lesbian organization from 1974 – 1980. The group is most known for “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” a key document in the history and shaping of black feminist thought. The document presented a new paradigm to look at oppressions by not ranking them, like race, class, gender and sexual orientation, on a hierarchy of oppression, but rather to look at them all from a multidimensional analysis, recognizing them as interlocking oppressions.

Today here in Greater Boston the ethos of the “Combahee River Collective” is continued with “Queer Women of Color and Friends” (QWOC+ Boston), a grassroots organization dedicated to creating a diverse social space for LGBTQ women of color.

Deceased African-American poet and activist Pat Parker, in her book “Movement in Black,” wrote about how society did not embrace her multiple identities. “If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere, and not have to say to one of them, ‘No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome, because I’m going to an all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black.’ Or I’m going to a Black poetry reading, and half of the poets are anti homosexual, or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.”

After nearly two decades of LBT women of African descent’s invisibility on a national level Zuna is causing a revolution by taking the bold step in this era of single-issue queer politics to remind us all we, too, matter.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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God smites Jesus

Statue that burned to the ground
Statue that burned to the ground

Apparently God meant it when she said, “No graven images.” (It’s a Top 10 when it comes to commandments. Numero 4, a big one. You can check out this and the other commandments in that source for all things holy and everything else, Wikipedia.)

A 62-foot tall statue of Jesus was struck by lightning and burned to the ground last night in Monroe, Ohio, a city 30 miles north of Cincinnati.

The statue was erected in 2004 by the evangelical Solid Rock Church. It cost $250,000. Apparently God smote their website as well, because it has been down today, according to an AP story in the Houston Chronicle.

The statue was dubbed “Touchdown Jesus” because the position of the arms resembles a football referee signaling a touchdown.

Made of foam over a steel frame, only the steel frame remains.

God has proven that she has a great sense of humor when it comes to people thinking they speak for her.

When Pat Robertson predicted hurricanes would strike Orlando if Disney continued to host Gay Days, the first hurricane that year came on shore near Virginia Beach, home of Robertson’s ministry.

And I’m just waiting for the first person to comment about my use of the feminine pronoun. I hope you have a good working knowledge of Hebrew, though, before you do.

UPDATE: The Solid Rock Church announced this afternoon that they’ll rebuild Jesus, according to the Dayton Business Journal. An additional $400-500,000 in damage was done to the church’s amphitheater from flames that started in the flammable statue. Work on rebuilding the sculpture will probably take three months or more, they estimated.

Hustler Video at 1038 Lebanon St. is 1.2 miles from the church, according to Google maps. Their sign that stands on a tall pole remained untouched in the lightning storm.

—  David Taffet