I was four mimosas in when Malik decided to give us his take on black women being “hoes.” He stood up from his chair and slammed one of Savannah’s stemless wine glasses down on her dining room table. Loud enough to quiet the drunken dissent around us; commandeering enough to capture everyone’s attention; obnoxious enough to make my shimmery eyes roll.
“All I’m saying is!” he shouted, as if he were Moses delivering commandments from Mount Sinai, “we need to hold our black women to higher standards! I know I ain’t marrying nobody who been bustin’ it open out here!”
A few of the women threw their hands up and collapsed hopelessly into each other. Some of the guys burst into trios of head shakes and laughter. Malik basked in the glory of all the attention.
“Well what if a woman just wants to explore her sexuality?” one of Savannah’s other friend’s asked, sweetly and innocently taking the bait. A precious little lamb being led to the slaughter. The whole room seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of his response as I took another sip of my pear mimosa — studying the sense of hope all over this poor girl’s face.
I, too, had been hopeful once about the possibility of converting a non-believer to the light. Of showing a card-carrying member of the Black Patriarchy that my views on black women’s sexuality were based simply on freedom, love and personal autonomy, then watching hearts and minds transform before my eyes. “Who knows,” I used to think. “Maybe one day the two of us will get a kick out of how hopelessly misogynistic he once was.” I wanted so badly for this little lamb to snooze safely inside her dream.
“I don’t give a fuck if she’s Marco Polo,” he said. “Ain’t no exploring bi-, women, welcome over here! ”
The room burst into a fit of commotion, and I totally understood why. I mean, come on, were they not entertained? This coon ass nigga would provide fodder for the group text for days. It’s not like there was some vast historical precedent of literally everyone trying to control black women without any repercussions, right? They’d probably think about it on the drive home from work the next day, and have a good hearty laugh to themselves about it. Ha. Ha. Ha ha ha. Oh, Malik, what a ham.
But for me? Myself? When it came to black women, I personally was not with the shits. Even less so when the shit was coming from a black man. And don’t let your girl be gone off the fruit juice and Andre.
I gathered my phone and my clutch and my pear mimosa, giving polite “excuse me’s” as I stepped over legs wrapped in chic textured tights; smiled and waved at no one in particular; suddenly dying to catch up with folks on the other side of the room. Almost as if, in that moment, there were nice feelings inside me. As if there were anything but flames dancing under my skin.
My eyes landed on Sav’s as I moved through the maze of furniture, guests and fuck boys that lined her and Devin’s living room. She was busy Phylicia Rashad-ing in the breakfast room of their brand new house — bantering in French with a guest someone brought from Côte d’Ivoire and setting out a new charcuterie board — while keeping an ear to what was going on in the living room. You wouldn’t be able to tell from watching her, but I could tell that she wanted to fight that nigga too.
Savannah and I had become something of a tag team wrestling duo over the years. Sav was already a turn up queen in her own right — especially when it came to poor service from wait staff and nurses who tried to flirt with Devin — but don’t let somebody strike that special Black Girl chord deep inside her. The one that was forged in the crucible of being The Only One in her Iowa Public School classrooms; from seeing how so many of the women in her life lived and died by the male ego; from being born at the bottom of a global racial and gender caste system, and of feeling like you constantly have to make up for it by living your life the way your oppressors (which, for black women, could literally be any and everybody) tell you to.
Sometimes it felt like the two of us had been sent from some far off planet to walk the earth fighting misogyny noir together. To challenge people on the things they said to and about black women. To not just show them that their belief systems were wrong, but that they were suffocating us, and that lack of oxygen to the brain was paralyzing whole communities and generations of girls. And where Savannah was passionate about protecting and defending black women’s self-determination, I was a self-professed zealot.
I spent years running my every decision past an invisible panel of black men in my head, made up from a composite of family members, peers, rappers and TV characters — men whose approval or disapproval would determine whether I was respected when I walked into the school cafeteria or not, or how peaceful my bus ride home would be that day. Men who seemed to be the last word on whether I was worthy of love and marital tax breaks or not.
I was tired of it. And, finally, I found a voice to talk about it. And once I did, I saw that there were a lot of folks out there who were ready to back me up.
You may have been able to run that shit on like, 2005 Jonah, or 1998 Savannah, but now? You really didn’t want to get caught talking above your reading level when it came to black women. And don’t let the two of us catch you slippin’ together.
Devin, however, may have had a point. He knew how heated Savannah and I could get — and supported that passion — but maybe things were getting out of hand as of late. It was one thing to disagree and debate with folks over mimosas, it was another to leave them bloodied and beaten on the dining room floor, offering up their carcasses to The Shrine of the Black Woman. It was a whole other when those carcasses were Devin’s classmates from medical school.
Things had really come to a head the last time they had a brunch at their house. This super patriarchal Jamaican gentleman from Devin’s class said something about black Americans and bootstraps and black women and weave. Savannah and I joined hands and powered up together; frying him in a heated exchange that ended with me basically telling him to go suck yuh muddah and Savannah literally throwing his coat out the door behind him. It became this whole thing and Savannah and I ended up getting in fake trouble and having to send him “I’m sorry I offended you” texts the next day.
At first Savannah and I were like psssh, ain’t nobody sorry nigga, but after we stopped cackling, we realized that perhaps we were doing a lot. And that we weren’t going to get people on our side by making them cry. And that these were Devin’s future colleagues. A little diplomacy might be good for the long run.
“Promise me y’all are going to chill this time,” he said before the latest brunch.
“We promise, Devin,” we’d replied in unison.
Memory of that blood pact passed between us as I walked toward Savannah and away from Malik. My eyes said “this niggaaaaa….” and her’s said, “I knoooooowwwwwww.”
“But we promised,” both of our eyes said together.
“Who wants another mimosa?!” she shouted, a bit aggressively, as I broke left and headed upstairs to the bathroom. I took slow and measured steps, examining every hair in their carpet and admiring each brush stroke in the paint on the walls. Trying very hard to tune out the conversation behind me.
“Oh look at that,” I said, pointing to something, but who knows what. All my eyes could see was red.
Once in the restroom, I hunkered down on the ledge of the bathtub and focused on changing the subject in my mind. I examined the label on the back of their lotion and ran a coat of Savannah’s clear polish over my nails. Read a City Paper article about parking meters and drafted a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. It sounded like things had quieted down downstairs and it felt like my blood pressure was back down to normal. I was proud of myself for successfully riding the wave and slaying my demons.
As soon as I got my grip around the doorknob, I heard a commotion break out all over again. I cracked the door and stuck my head out to listen, and all I heard was “y’all don’t have no problems wifing these white girls that was suckin’ dick in the hallway in high school!” so I stuck my head right back in and shook my head, nope nope nope. Back to Twitter I go. Seconds later Savannah burst in the door, looking like a young Whitney and popping off like the Quad Cities hood rat I knew her to be.
“Devin better stop bringing these fuck boys in my house,” she started.
I didn’t say a word as she told me what Malik said this time. That black women were somehow spoiled and needed to stop making excuses for why they’re being picked over by black men. I took a series of gasps that would have looked fake if they weren’t super real; filled my cheeks with air and punched my palm with a fist. I slipped a pair of boxing gloves over the orange nail polish that a guy once told me was a “hoe color” and the two of us smeared Vaseline on our faces. Savannah skeeted some saliva into a spittoon by the door, and after that, not another word was said. The door flew open and we marched out the restroom and back down the stairs. Both of our blowouts flowing in the breeze.
We were like a swarm of bees in the distance, and Devin was the first one to hear the dreadful buzz. He turned to see us flying down the stairs toward Malik and jumped up from his chair to try to act as a shield. But it was too late as Savannah climbed over her cute lil coffee table and squatted down low until she got right into Malik’s face, me standing behind her as if I had the yopper already cocked back.
Malik made the fatal mistake of not shutting the fuck up when it was black girl time, and tried to tell Savannah to check her “attitude”, which made Devin groan like his wide receiver just fumbled the ball in the last few seconds of the 4th. Like we could start heading to our cars now because the game was over.
I swear that at that moment, some sort of dormant gene came alive inside me, and quickly spread throughout my nervous system, turning my skin different colors and giving my eyes a strange glow, making my hair fry out and turn a silvery white. The fires of Angela and the furries of Assata, powering me up like Popeye on spinach. It must have been obvious because all eyes were suddenly fixated on me, and all the lightweights who’d been handling him cleared out a space for the young OG to come through. Poor Devin just looked down, probably wondering what he had ever done to deserve this. I threw my loose curls over my shoulder, calmly sat my stemless glass on the table, and asked Malik who the fuck he thought he was?
I wanted to know why he felt black women needed to earn the love he so freely gave to others, and why he couldn’t get the wax out his ears when one of us tried to talk to him about it. He made me even more mad when he made that “yeah yeah” face, put his pinky up and took another sip of his mimosa. “You must’ve been hoe’n at Howard huh,” he said, which made a hush fall over the whole room. Just then I gave a look to both Savannah and Devin, who gave me a look back that said, “yep, go ahead.”
“Just like your mom,” I said right in his face. “And your sister too, if she would have got in.”
It was rude. It was crude. It was fighting Jonah at her best. Kicking him in the dick and making him go get his own ice. Making sure he would think twice before opening his mouth to discuss black women’s sexual politics again. I sat back down on the couch and let the RBG bracelet that my man got me for Kwanzaa dangle from my wrist like it was a diamond bezel, then inquired about more pear juice for the mimosas. Had folks fanning me with palm fronds like an Egyptian Pharaoh; girls rescinding the phone numbers they had given him that night.
At least that’s how I imagined it as I was roused from my daze on the ledge of Savannah and Devin’s bathtub. I chuckled and shook my head and took a few deep breaths. Saw how cute I looked in the mirror and remembered how little time I had to waste on guys like Malik. I looked at the Kwanzaa bracelet and smiled, thinking about the nigga who was so beyond that “hoe” shit.
I went on back downstairs and spotted Savannah, who was talking to someone about something that seemed to make her happy, not even engaging with Malik and his bile like she would have a year ago. We caught each other’s eye and smiled, the new growth in me saluting the new growth in her. I looked over at Devin, who was sitting on the couch with Malik, telling him something that I recognized as the kicker from an argument me and Savannah had with him back in his own problematic days. I honestly didn’t think it was possible, but that felt even better than giving a good quick kick in the dick ever could.