indigo + cypress

An End to Indigo Cypress

Dear Kind and Generous Readers,

This post is to announce that Indigo Cypress will no longer exist as a collective. We very much appreciate your support and readership over the course of our short lived online existence. Thank you! We will continue to write, both Camille and Mary are working on novels and Naomi is writing essays and poetry. Friend us individually on Facebook if you would like to keep abreast of what we are up to as writers and people. Thanks again!

Indigo Cypress

Brown Girl Navigation: Between the Public and Private Selves

By Guest Contributor, Tafisha Edwards

My entire concept of my womanhood was rooted in the ability to conceal the true self, my true self, in something glamorous and composed and measured. And it was always up for public consumption. As a young girl, as many young girls are, I was taught appearances were to be kept (I am of Caribbean descent, so it was actually more like: “No. Slackness. Ever.”) It was never acceptable for me to be unkempt, loud, sexually forward, sexually aware, tired, upset, hungry or cranky in public as a young girl. Once my mother caught me masturbating and she simply told me “It’s not nice.” And I so dearly wanted to be a nice girl, it was all I was ever taught to be. There were obviously more appropriate things to say, such as “This is for when you are alone.” Fortunately for me I knew it felt good and didn’t take her words to heart, but the underlying shame of being caught with my hands on my own body lingered, and lingers to this day. How strange that another person is allowed to touch me, but I ought to feel ashamed of exploring what rightfully belongs to me.  I don’t mean to suggest my mother consciously meant to harm me, she was only teaching me as she herself had been taught—as many women are taught. But she and all of the various women in my life—grandmothers, aunts, friends of the family, teachers, strangers have all shaped my perception of what is acceptable in terms of my own body and the manner in which I carry myself. And some of those lessons are damaging and take a considerable effort to unravel.

I recognize as a black child, nevertheless a black woman, being anything other than ladylike is dangerous in a world where my body is sexualized without my consent. In a world where the male gaze often pins me to the “Whore” end of that wonderful “Madonna/Whore” archetype, where I must fight for my agency, for my personal space, for my right to simply BE without having to contextualize, strategize, or care what anyone besides myself wants. The appearance of what I want to be for the moment versus what I am is yawning given all of the spaces I must navigate safely.

This is not novel, this chasm between what it is and what it looks like, and its manifestations are all around us: alter-egos, public and private selves, double consciousness, personas, etc. Ever since I became aware that the world extended beyond my family and its shades of black and brown, I understood that we as a race were often obliged to adopt mannerisms to conform to the standard of whiteness that governs the world in which we live. I had seen my parents shift the rhythm of their steps in the workplace, their accents melted away if they went to the bank or made a business call. But it was only after I read Franz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” I could properly identify and articulate the ways in which language, bodies, and even psychoanalysis all involve and revolve around that standard of whiteness. And as a Caribbean woman I felt an affinity with Fanon’s words I had not experienced before. However, after reading the text I was disappointed that Fanon did not address the reality of black woman. Of the entire book, which delves into the despair, the confusion, and the anger that Fanon experienced as a man in the face of the unforgiving hand of colonialism and its disregard of his worth as a black man, black women did not receive the same amount of focus and it weighed heavily upon me, the lack of women’s voices to guide me through the many faces I must wear.

Eartha Kitt, whom I adore and identify so much with now as a woman in my early twenties, was the first black woman I had seen speak of navigating spaces with different personas. On the 1989 chat show “Wogan” Eartha Kitt, Terry Wogan asks Eartha: “…Is that why you think, perhaps, you’re an extravert? That you’re looking for attention and you’re looking for affection?” and she tells him of the disparity between the sensual and poised Eartha Kitt and the ‘urchin’ Eartha Mae. It ached to see her acknowledge one identity while she inhabited another. But I was strengthened by her awareness, by her honesty, by her acknowledgment of the self that needs to be hidden from the world, that private self where the truth lays heavy in what we were not given. A poet whom I greatly admire said I reminded her of Eartha after I performed a poem. Naturally, I assumed she meant the similarities in our accents. When I pried my way into interviews, quotes, biographies, I understood that she probably meant more than our rolling Rs. You understand what someone attempts to conceal by the manner in which they conceal it. I hide that tender self: horribly shy, needing affirmation and affection, beneath extraversion.

I will always remember recognizing my own private battle in another black woman and the relief I felt that there was someone else who understood what I did. Seeing Eartha Kitt’s eyes dampen on that couch reminded me I didn’t have to buy into the myth that black woman possess a preternatural strength that cleaves us from our emotional selves. I’ve been told so often that my emotional battles aren’t as bad as [insert ethnicity race/here] man’s or [insert ethnicity/race here] woman’s. It is a constant fight to honor that tender side, and not to smother it with an approximation of the woman I was told I should be. It is heartening to know that this was a struggle older than I am, that perhaps my mother struggles as I do even though I wouldn’t know how to begin to ask her. That I am allowed to be on record saying ‘I am so so broken and so actualized because of it, knowing myself and how I work.’ Awareness is a form of power. Awareness is the beginning of power.

7 Republican Lies

By Camille Wanliss Ortiz

If there’s one thing Republicans have no problem doing, it’s lying through their teeth. Facts are like an appendix to them – no one really needs them. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan lied so much at the Republican National Convention in Tampa it’s amazing his pants didn’t burst into flames. Republicans should be commended though. In these tough economic times, they have single-handedly created the need for additional fact-checkers at news organizations nationwide.

There will be no shortage of deceit this campaign cycle. Here are just a few lies to get you to Election Day.

1. Non-living things are people too

Last year while campaigning in Iowa, Mitt Romney uttered these famous words, Corporations are people, my friend, which is ironic considering Mittens himself can barely be considered human. But if this were true, if corporations were living, breathing beings, then Romney should be considered a serial killer since many businesses saw their demise during his tenure at Bain Capital.

Republicans have also fought hard to consider women’s eggs as people too. Under the “Womens Health and Safety Act,” which was signed into law earlier this year in Arizona, the assumption is that life begins two weeks prior to conception. Yes, you read that correctly. Ovulation = pregnancy. Laws on “personhood,” as it has come to be known, are also being considered in states such as Iowa, Florida, Georgia, North Dakota and Mississippi among others. But if eggs are people, shouldn’t sperm be considered people too? If so, then shouldn’t masturbation be outlawed? And what about fellatio? Isn’t that cannibalism? Hmm.

2.Voter fraud is widespread

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there were at least 180 restrictive bills introduced in 41 states in 2011 to combat voter fraud. This included legislation requiring voters to show identification and proof of citizenship, and laws ending same-day voter registration and reducing early voting periods. But after a nationwide analysis of voter fraud found that there were only 10 credible cases since the year 2000, why are the Republicans passing these laws?

The answer is simple. After the electoral butt-whooping the Republicans faced in 2008, they devised a plan to ensure that the same record number of voters (mainly blacks, Latinos and young people) would not turn out this election cycle for President Obama. In Florida the suppression of votes seems to be paying off for the Republicans. This year, Republican registration was at 128,039 voters, up from 95,525 in 2008. Democrat registration on the other hand has dropped sharply. There were 11,365 voters registered this year, down from 259,894 in 2008.

3. They believe in fiscal responsibility

When Clint Eastwood was busy talking to a chair at the RNC, there was another invisible president in the room – George W. Bush. Remember him? It seems none of the fiscal conservatives do. During his eight years in office, Bush increased federal spending more than each of the six presidents that preceded him. By starting two wars, passing the Medicare Part D drug plan, and giving the wealthy several tax cuts while deregulating Wall Street, not only was Bush responsible for the nation’s great debt and huge deficit, but he was also the author of one of the greatest economic recessions in history. During his tenure, the federal budget increased 104% and discretionary spending increasedby 48.6%. Where was the Tea Party then?

4. Raising taxes on the wealthy will stifle the economy and prevent job creation

It is scientific fact that just the thought of a tax increase will cause Republicans to break out into hives. Ok, that’s a lie but so is the assertion that raising taxes on the wealthy will stifle the economy and kill job growth. Over the past two years Republicans have tried their best to make “rich” synonymous with “job creators” but the wealthy do not create jobs. Consumer demand does. During the middle of the last century, the tax rate for the richest Americans was over 90% and the economy and middle class thrived. But once Reagan came into office in 1980, the tax rates for the wealthy decreased while their income tripled. And since Bush’s election in 2000 the tax rate for the wealthy has been at 35% while the economy and middle class have seen the slowest growth.

5. The definition of marriage is between a woman and a man

This is true unless you’re Newt Gingrich or Donald Trump, then apparently marriage is between one man and three women. If you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger it’s between a married man and his maid. And if you’re Michelle Bachmann it’s between a woman and an allegedly closeted gay man.

6. They are pro-life

I think Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun interviewed on Bill Moyers Journal, said it best on the topic of pro-life:

“‎I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

7. They believe in the Constitution and want limited government

Hey, remember that one time when George W. Bush created the Patriot Act, which essentially pissed on the Constitution, increased the government’s power to spy on everyone and dismantled the right to be free citizens? And remember all those time(s) Republicans started screaming about their constitutional right to bear arms and kill things and then created laws that infringed on the rights of gays to marry whoever they want and a woman’s right to choose what was best for her own body? Yeah good times.

Republicans are certainly an imaginative bunch. How else would they be able to deny global warming and coin a new term like “legitimate rape”?

What lies have you heard Republican tell?

Put It Down: Outrage Over Miscasting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone

By Guest Contributor, Bea Sullivan

Hollywood is making a biopic of Nina Simone. What could go wrong?

As angry as I was about the recent casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, I had to put it down. When I heard the news, I was stunned and confused, but that quickly became an internalized rage likened to the mechanics of an incinerator. Why, I wondered, had this upset me so deeply? What could be the reasoning behind such an erroneous decision? I was certain there were ulterior motives —like whitewashing. Fans of Nina, including her daughter, have denounced the project for the casting decision.

As I’ve reflected on the issue, I am more deeply disturbed by Hollywood’s hold on our individual and collective psyche being as intrinsic as air. Women like Nina Simone don’t come around very often; how could Hollywood be trusted to portray her adequately given that its business is in creating a fantasy for the masses?

And there you have it. The line between fantasy and reality. Zoe Saldana doesn’t resonate with me as a convincing enough actress to do Nina Simone any justice.

There are a number of Black Latinas in the world who many not be recognized by Hollywood as Black in the first place, or even who have the salt perform this kind of role. Is Hollywood giving them a chance? Or is it copping out to cast someone who not only conforms to more acceptable standards of beauty, but who has a recognizable name for the sake of ticket sales.

Even asking Mary J Blige to play Nina is tricky to me, while she identifies as a black woman. Her life and experience as an entertainer seem lacking. She has been reported as saying that upon accepting the role (before dropping it this summer to pursue another film and because of funding) that she had yet to fully research Nina’s life. Nina’s impact on the civil rights movement; the ways dark-skinned, southern black women were and are perceived in the media; Nina’s undeniable talent as a pianist and vocalist, which was turned away by institutions like Curtis; her renunciation of the United States’ political, economic and military investment in the Vietnam War and her expatriation to Europe; her battle with mental illness and how it affected her image with stakeholders in the entertainment industry in Europe and the Americas. Mary still had some reading to do.

The fact that Nina is being portrayed posthumously is an oversight by the entertainment industry in my view. Worse an oversight is Hollywood’s systemic undercurrent erasure of black women’s images and stories. In particular, the erasure of dark-skinned black women and their struggle implies that this particular experience is irrelevant. That if we band together as women or as people of color, then the problem of race will somehow solve itself.

This debate calls out the failure of people of color to converse about color in a thoughtful way that includes our differences and similarities while celebrating them. Hollywood’s glorification of light-skinned people and white people is important because we watch it, internalize it, and enact it ourselves via colorism. Nina’s legacy holds too much weight to bastardize her origins, her struggle, her embodiment of beauty through it all as a mahogany woman. The preservation of her legacy has everything to do with her experience in the body she inhabited as what she produced in the world.

While her music and accomplishments touched and moved me as it did many others, her life does not belong to me, it belonged to no one, which is what made her time on earth so special. Further, David Nathan, a close friend of Nina’s, has said, “The choices are completely beyond my comprehension. Having known Nina from my own teen years to close to her passing in 2003, I can say that aside from her obvious genius as an artist, she was a complex woman whose personality made her often misunderstood, erratic, volatile and subject to the gamut of emotions from rage to tenderness.”

I’m more concerned now with how we understand our reality through (sometimes problematic) representations of life and how that affects our behavior. Her impact was that of excavating a feeling unseen and unsaid.

I’m finding solace and peace in the essence of Nina’s individuality—that no one  is or could be quite like her. And shouldn’t that in itself be inspiration? Alternative avenues for funding, casting, direction, screenwriting, for instance, could be a starting point; in short we have to take control of stories that matter to us, to step in and just make something real. Outrage over absence of reality portrayed through imagined reproductions is how great pieces get made. While my anger doesn’t necessarily move the argument further, it has incited inspiration to participate in making richer representations of reality that speak to the urgency of my dreams.

Semi-Nude Michelle Obama on Spanish Magazine Cover

Repost of the Week

By Naomi Extra

Article Reposted: “Spanish Magazine Courts Controversy with Michelle Obama Cover” in Yahoo News

http://shine.yahoo.com/work-money/spanish-magazine-courts-controversy-michelle-obama-cover-191700427.html

The Scoop:

First Lady, Michelle Obama, is topless on the cover of a Spanish magazine. Yes, you read correctly. Topless. In the Yahoo News article, Sarah Weir writes: “Michelle Obama has graced magazine covers from Time to People to Vogue looking powerful, beautiful, and downright regal, but now a Spanish magazine is picturing her bare breasted, and as a slave.”  The article provides some context for what the artist might have been thinking along with some valuable insight. But for those of us who are privy to black women’s racial and sexual history in the United States, the image may be perceived as offensive.

In the groundbreaking book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire, one of the chapters is entitled “A Black Woman’s Body Was Never Hers Alone.” The name of this chapter was taken from a painful lesson that Fannie Lou Hamer was taught by her mother and grandmother when she was a child in the Mississippi Delta. I was reminded of these haunting words when I saw this image of the first lady. Both McGuire and Weir bring to light the the lack of ownership that black women have and still encounter when it comes to their bodies. By attaching the first lady’s face to an anonymous semi-nude slave body, the artist creates a power dynamic through both the gaze and the what the slave body itself signifies. We could ask ourselves any number of questions related to this controversial work. Like, when’s the last time we saw one of our white first ladies depicted in this way? Did the artist get consent from the first lady before she attached  her face to a semi-nude body? How is Michelle Obama perceived globally? And perhaps, most importantly, what does she think of the magazine cover?

Check out the article link reposted above and let us know what you think.

Akin to Stay in the Race

Repost of the Week

By Camille Wanliss Ortiz

Repost of the week: “Just Think No” in The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/22/opinion/dowd-just-think-no.html

Despite criticism from both sides of the aisle, Rep. Todd Akin has no plans o step away from the Missouri Senate race against Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill on the heels of his scandalous remarks on rape and abortion rights. The deadline to remove his name from the ballot passed Tuesday evening. Republicans know that as long as he stays in the race, the controversy will be sure to dog him and the presidential election until November.

Maureen Dowd’s Op-Ed in The New York Times brings up a valid point about Akin not having to leave the race for what he believes in. What he said was not a gaffe. It is the Republican Party platform. Just ask Iowa Rep. Steve King or Mike Huckabee, who have no problem with Akin’s stance.

In several interviews since his remarks, it is interesting that no one has taken Akin to task on what exactly it is that he meant. Akin has only offered veiled apologies in the guise of misspeaking on the topic. But the nation needs the following questions answered:

  1. What is “legitimate rape”? Last year Akin, along with Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, sponsored legislation that would redefine rape in order to limit federal funding to these victims. Maybe this is a synonym for the “forcible rape” term he coined.
  2. What doctors has he been speaking to? What sources can he cite that back up his claims that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare? A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that over 32,000 pregnancies result from rape each year. But I guess to Mr. Akin that’s not so much. The irony is that Akin is on the House Science Committee but can’t seem to grasp the concept of basic biology.
  3. How does a woman’s body have a way to “shut the whole thing down?” Do vaginas come equipped with escape hatches? Are there panic rooms specifically for fallopian tubes? I don’t even.

If Akin were just a lone wolf, it would be easy to write him off. But he is part of the Republican Party pack. It’s indicative of our failure as a nation to have allowed ideology to supersede reality. We have given these intellectually inept extremists, who are so myopic in their views on gender and morality, a platform to spew pseudo-science to the masses, to redefine rape to fit their agenda, to champion less government except in the case of women’s rights.

So what can you do about it? You can start by signing this petition to have Akin removed from the House Science Committee. And if you live in Missouri, send this dude a clear message come November 6th.

Red Hook Summer: On Post-Soul Culture & Spike Lee Talkin’ Smack

By Naomi Extra

(Cross-posted in Racialicious on 08.28.12 with edits from the author)

Spike Lee’s newest film, Red Hook Summer, takes place in the projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn where Flik (Jules Brown), a teenage boy from Atlanta, goes to stay with his grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters) for the summer. Flik is a teenage Afro-Punk type: vegan, middle-class, afro-hawk, suburban speak. In contrast, Bishop Enoch is a Bible-thumping preacher and active member of his community. Amidst heavier themes of class, politics, religion, and generational difference, a budding romance between Flik and Chazz (Toni Lysaith) is also threaded through the film.

What shocked me most while watching Red Hook Summer was its striking similarity to the films of Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes whose work Lee has openly criticized. In fact, many reviewers have put the film right in line with Perry’s films by describing it as a church movie.  Red Hook Summer has been said to be preachy, messy in narrative structure and development, and sensationalist. All are valid critiques. They also seem ironic in light of the ongoing beef between Perry and Lee, which was ignited when Lee referred to the films of Perry and the like as “coonery and buffoonery.” And of course, the media loves this sort of melodrama.

The question is, could Red Hook Summer be Spike talking more smack, mocking the immensely popular church films of Tyler Perry and the like? I wouldn’t put it past him. When recently asked about the ongoing feud, Lee responded with a request: “No more Tyler Perry questions please” and later “peace and love, leave it at that.” With Red Hook Summer, Lee seems to have found a way to squash the beef and have the last word.

Lee takes Perry to task by following his formula of clean-cut messages of healing and redemption through religious faith. Then suddenly, about a third of the way through the film when its formulaic structure and less than stellar acting have bred boredom, Lee not only disrupts but mocks this message. When Enoch’s proverbial demons come out the closet the viewer is forced to rethink the preceding sixty or so minutes of flatness. If we think of Red Hook Summer as a parody of any one of Tyler Perry’s or T.D. Jake’s films then suddenly, the sensationalism, heavy-handed messages, simplistic character portrayals, low-budget look of the film, and mediocre acting begin to work in an interesting way.

Layered upon Lee’s satirical rendering of Perry’s filmic themes and aesthetic is a strong engagement with the post-soul aesthetic which we see throughout the body of his work. By post-soul, I mean Lee’s creation of a distinct tradition within the tradition that addresses the intersections of class, religious, and racial identification in post-Civil Rights black America. In Red Hook Summer, Lee maintains his post-soul agenda while taking a dig at some of the most popular aesthetic values of the moment. While Perry places similar concerns on the agenda, Lee’s beef seems to be with his reaching back into the shaming and muddied waters of minstrelsy, reviving the black mammy, jezebel, and preacher types in various ways.

Red Hook Summer’s insistence on the tradition and how it is used in the black community could be interpreted as direct commentary on what Lee and others have found offensive about Perry’s films. As a symbol of post-soul culture, the star of Red Hook Summer, Flik, is openly atheist and disconnected from the tradition of the black church. He sees the world not through religion but through the lens of technology, his iPad serves as his means to record and interact with his environment. Enoch, however, uses the tradition of the black church as a veil to hide behind. What Flik and Enoch do have in common is a desired sense of freedom. In order to achieve this, both characters must learn to navigate the circumstances of their past and present. By the end of the film, Lee makes it abundantly clear that for those seeking redemption, the church is not the answer.

For better or worse, both directors have managed to make a name for themselves in an industry largely invested in what sells. With so few black filmmakers out there, combined with the politics of respectability within the African American community, and a media that thrives on conflict in the black community, it’s not hard to imagine how this rivalry not only manifested but also thrived.

In the end, with Red Hook Summer, Lee achieves more than just trash talking. He leaves us with food for thought on the ways tradition and faith are employed within the African American community. The film begs the question of where black folks turn when traditional spaces for achieving personal and spiritual freedom fail or cease to exist. Writer, Gayle Jones, perhaps put the message best. In her post-soul novel, The Healing, she writes: “Some people think that freedom is to manage everybody but theyself. Learn to manage yourself. That is the key to freedom.” An excellent bit of wisdom, not only for those watching films but also those making them.

Lifting the Veil of Minstrelsy: The Carolina Chocolate Drops

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

One of my favorite music groups of today, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, is anything but contemporary. Instead, they are an old-time string band with roots in rural North Carolina. The four members—natives of Brooklyn, Arizona, and North Carolina—are talented on the cello, fiddle, kazoo, harmonica, bones, jug, and many different types of banjo.  Some people call it folk. Some people call it country. Some people call it the blues.

The Chocolate Drops gracefully blend old-time instruments with beatboxing and modern song. They have a masterful adaptation of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit Em Up Style.” In addition to traditional American songs, they perform music from Haiti, South Africa,and Scotland as well as their own original compositions.

But it’s also the sound of minstrelsy.

The Chocolate Drops are reclaiming the shuck and the jive. Music that black people in America have been shamed out of enjoying or even claiming. It’s good music. It makes you want to slap your knee and stomp your feet. But beneath that pretty surface, there lies an ugly history full of blackened faces, mockery, Birth of a Nation, and, of course, slavery. So as enjoyable as it is, it is painful for Black Americans. It’s hard to get images like this or this or this out of your mind.

Minstrel shows were one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country for more than 80 years. The Carolina Chocolate Drops not only acknowledge this history, they confront it head-on. In an April 2012 interview, The Drops’ Reynadine said, “You can pussyfoot around it for a little bit, but it’s really important to acknowledge that the stuff was horrible, but that’s not a reason to confine a whole 80-year stretch of music to the dustbin. That’s part of our history.”

They delve even further into the history to uncover traces of shared histories between blacks and whites in the South. They talk about the collision of string instruments–the origins of the banjo (in Africa) and the fiddle (in Ireland). You heard that right: They travel through the painful spectacle of minstrelsy to find a trend of racial harmony. Mind=blown.

In an interview with NPR in March 2012, they said, “That’s kind of one of the first bump-ups of black and white cultures, musically speaking. And so it’s a really important part of history, and it is in the underpinnings of our current entertainment.”

The Drops make it a point to discuss this history at their shows—no matter who is in the audience. At their New York City summerstage premiere this past Saturday, they performed a song from 1855, but quickly added, “We’re only interested in going back to 1855 musically. Not in any other way.” The mostly white audience laughed nervously, but Reynadine, one of the founding members, looked seriously out into the crowd. “It needs to be said.”

Uterine Fibroids: Knowing and Trusting the Signs

By Camille Wanliss Ortiz
(Originally published on
The Feminist Wire on April 12, 2012. Posted here with edits from the author.)

The pain shooting through my lower abdomen felt like it would never end. By the second day, it had gotten so unbearable there was no choice but to go to the hospital. What I initially assumed were menstrual cramps turned out to be something else – uterine fibroids.

Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow inside the uterus or on the uterine wall. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 80% of black women will develop fibroids. Black women are also more likely to develop them at a younger age. I was 25 when diagnosed.

As it turned out, I had had fibroids for at least five years. In hindsight I realize there were warning signs that I failed to recognize. When I was 20, I fainted in a New York City subway station. Thank God my sister was with me. She called the ambulance that rushed me to the hospital. After running tests, I was told that I was anemic. I simply attributed the iron deficiency to my heavy periods, not knowing both were warning signs for fibroids. One is also more susceptible to fibroids if there is family history. Several women on my father’s side had them and my mother had to have a hysterectomy due to the condition.

There are other signs a woman should pay attention to such as bleeding between periods, severe cramping, bloating of the abdomen or pelvic area, and pain during sex.

In total I had thirteen fibroid tumors, ranging from 2 to 6 cm (or the size of a small rock to the size of a baseball). At the time I wondered if it was because of something I had done. My gynecologist mentioned that red meat, a staple in my diet at the time, had been linked to developing fibroids. And earlier this year, researchers at Boston University published a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology linking hair relaxers to the development of uterine fibroids. This may have also increased my risk.

And what about having children? Was it possible? My gynecologist told me that due to the quantity and size of my fibroids, it would be difficult to conceive a child and if by chance I were able to, the tumors could cause complications in the pregnancy.

After much thought, I decided that the best course of treatment would be surgery. In January 2009 I had a myomectomy, a procedure in which the fibroids are removed and the uterus is spared. Two years later I gave birth to a healthy baby boy through cesarean section, which was recommended in my case because my womb was no longer strong enough to withstand natural birth.

Every woman is different and the same is true for every woman with fibroids. Depending on your age and the amount and size of the tumor(s), your gynecologist may recommend hormonal therapies, embolization (a non-surgical procedure that stops blood flow to the fibroids), or surgical treatment in the form of a myomectomy, a hysterectomy (the removal of the entire uterus), or an endometrial ablation (the removal of the uterine lining).

If you discover that you have fibroids, speak with your doctor about which treatment is right for you. And trust the signs. Your body never lies.

The Michelle Obama Factor: The Media, Myths, and Black Women

By Mary Annaise Heglar

(Originally Published in Clutch Magazine; posted below with edits from the author)

In the past four years, you’ve probably learned a lot about black women. We are eternally single but we refuse to marry outside of our race. We are fat and proud, but we’re also considered the least attractive. And, even though our wild curly hair is not attractive, we are still obsessed with it—and boy, do we spend a lot on it!

As a black woman, I learned a lot about myself that I didn’t know. And I didn’t know it because it wasn’t true. I did know, however, that not a single one of these publications, websites, blogs, or think tanks had been at all concerned about black women four years ago. But suddenly they were about as fascinated with us as a puppy with a slab of bacon.

What changed though? Well, the answer is simple. While we have been here for centuries, we’d never been in the White House before. And the 2008 election gave us our first black president and first lady.

Michelle Obama’s presence in the White House is very different from Barack’s. His multiracial identity, while complicated, does not involve a history of kidnapping, rape, and forced servitude. Rather, it involves consensual intermarriage. Michelle, on the other hand, is the descendant of slaves. Her family history is one that America knows all too well and wants so desperately to forget. In his famous speech on race, “A More Perfect Union,” Barack tellingly drew on Michelle’s background—not his own.

As French  writer, Bernard-Henri Lévy, said during the 2008 election, “Obama is, certainly, black. “But not black like Jesse Jackson; not black like Al Sharpton; not black like the blacks born in Alabama or in Tennessee and who, when they appear, bring out in Americans the memories of slavery, lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan — no; a black from Africa; a black descending not from a slave but from a Kenyan; a black who, consequently, has the incomparable merit of not reminding middle America of the shameful pages of its history.”

Michelle has no such merit. Yet, two generations ago, she would have been “The Help,” but now she is Jackie Kennedy. Her very being challenges every myth about black women—we are fat, ugly, angry, stupid, and (now) single. Michelle is slender, a health nut, poised, smart, and happily married.

The Washington Post was perhaps the least subtle of all the news outlets that were hot on black women’s trails. In the midst of their “Black Women in America” series, they released a statement on why they chose this topic. They mentioned Dick Cheney’s 2004 statement regarding AIDS and black women and the sheer mass of data mined from their own survey of black women. Really? Cheney’s well-echoed and anything-but-original statement didn’t spark interest until six years later? Also, their survey was conducted in 2011—when black women were already a hot media commodity.

In between those two factors, the Post stated the election of Barack Obama and the attention paid to Michelle Obama. They could have began and ended the list right there.

Michelle has undone centuries of terrible PR and outright lies. She single-handedly brought successful, well-rounded black women out of the shadows. No longer the invisible women, they now meet with the Queen of England and hula hoop on the White House lawn. She is the First Lady, the face of American womanhood to the rest of the world.

And this is different from Condoleezza Rice, who also broke glass ceilings within full view of the nation and the globe. Black people embrace Michelle, but they saw Condi as a race traitor. Further while Condi had authority, she was at least perceived to have been used as a token and a mask for the Republican Party and the Bush Administration. Michelle is the partner to the leader of the free world, much in the vein of 1990’s Hillary Clinton.

Unlike Hillary, though, Michelle’s  time in the White House has been marked by an unprecedented show of disrespect—unparalleled by any other First Lady’s tenure. A Congressman mocked her “large posterior” to a constituent and a Washington, D.C. cop has threatened to shoot her on sight. Toy makers have even made replicas of her daughters that show anything but a resemblance. And she is still haunted by the shadow of the angry black woman every time she shows a spine or an opinion. The nation’s hostility toward black women is determined to die a slow death.

Michelle is a walking contradiction. And, since they cannot look away, the media launched a full-on investigation into black women’s lives. How could it be that they’d had this demographic wrong all along? Were black women more like Michelle, or more like Tami Roman?

At the end of their probe, what did they find? Well, in January the Washington Post conceded that black women are just… complicated. All they had to do was ask us.

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