“When you’ve got friends to wish you well, you’ll find a point when you will exhale”
– Whitney Houston, Shoop
I’m usually not one to be upset by celebrity deaths but I was really shaken up Whitney Houston’s death. Being a black female icon must be a feat within itself and though Whitney had many marital and drug issues, she was still someone I looked up to when I was younger.
I remember always being afraid of black woman.
I suppose this has much to do with the fact that I was always afraid of my overbearing, controlling, bipolar mother who I of course, love dearly (I say that because it’s true and because I am still kinda of afraid of her) but I have a feeling that all black girls are taught to fear and revere their mothers. It’s part of the culture – black woman too often become the sole providers of their children and elders as a result of absent fathers which can be traced back to the dismantlement of the black family structure during slavery times (but that’s a whole other post entirely).
My fear of my mother carried over to be fear of black woman in general. I was always a weird one, the odd girl out – go figure – so I was often ridiculed by black girls at school. I got made fun of for talking, dressing and acting like a white girl. I was always writing furiously, always belting out the country music I was raised on and at times, considered myself to be tame goth kid, sporting mostly black and purple. I was too outlandish to categorize so I always felt alone in my identity as a black girl.
For comfort, I retreated to my room and stockpiled R&B CD’s – maybe in an attempt to “blacken” myself up a bit but mostly because music has always been my comfort. Since I was raised on country, listening to Rap, Hip-Hop and R&B was my own personal rebellion and when I was alone, I could sing as loud as I wanted. No R&B CD collection is complete without Whitney Houston. I remember the first time I watched “Waiting to Exhale” (I was eight when it released in 1995) – a variety of black female archetypes/stereotypes that at the time were my only example of black female friendships. I was so attracted to the sisterhood, especially being an only child, and I got lost in the scenes of Whitney, Angela Bassett and Loretta Divine drinking wine, talking about lovers and strengthening each other through encouragement.
I imagined having black female friends like that one day – relationships where we could see past our fundamental differences and embrace our common experiences as black woman.
“Waiting to Exhale” might have been my first indication of lesbianism and the first time I realized that my attraction for black women went way beyond friendship (my second indication was creaming my panties over Queen Latifah’s performance in “Set it Off” – damn, I love butches who know how vehicles work). I had years of Whitney to help me overcome my fear – singing “Heart Break Hotel” when I got cheated on, dancing out frustrations like a maniac to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and calling on ancestral roots singing “Believe”. I turned to Whitney, an icon, a singer, a woman I knew I would never meet, to help me find some solid ground to stand on alongside other black woman.
It wasn’t until college that I realized my fear of black woman stemmed from my fear of self. Being a black woman (let’s not forget being queer, poly, leather and kinky) is a huge responsibility, burden and gift. The world expects everything from us. We are expected to be lovers, mothers, caretakers, workers and leaders of households, neighborhoods and entire communities. If we can survive this social terrain with only a few battle scars and have a little bit of love and energy left over for ourselves, we consider it a blessing.
I am a black woman and I had to learn to accept that. I had to stop being so afraid all the time and start loving myself for all of my flaws and imperfections. Once I started learning to love myself, I started learning to let myself love other black woman. I’m learning to love and except my mother who she is and who she is not – even if I have to maintain a distance from her sometimes. I have the love of my life in my Lady Sara Vibes – she is the woman I always dreamed of gabbing with about lovers and the like and I have found other black women who accept me and love me for who I am.
After years of feeling lost and alone, I was finally able to exhale and I thank Whitney for that.
Sure Whitney had her problems – in the words of dear friend Nina Hartley, “All God’s children got issues” – but even so she was still apart of the brown girl tribe of music to live by and I am sad to see her gone.
Rest in Peace Whitney