Exploring the stories of women who live by a ride-or-die philosophy

[FEATURE] Lessons on Self-Determination from June Jordan and Marlo Stanfield

By Amanda Parris | @amanda_parris

[Note from the Editor: An earlier version of this post was initially published on Amanda Parris’ blog “Other Kinds of Dreams” which no longer is in existence]

I was told by one of my mentors that one of the most important tasks one has to do when creating a business is guard their reputation.  I didn’t make the connection at the time, but I recently realized that I already knew that.  For better or worse, guarding my reputation has actually been of paramount importance to my own personal sense of self.  Growing up as a young Black woman in Malvern and later on the south-side Jane strip, I saw so many examples of the way that reputation could make life easier or harder.  Long before I had ever had sex, rumours circulated around the high-rises of Martha Eaton Way and York Square about my apparent looseness as insecure boys (and men) made up tall tales of adventures they had taken me on between the sheets. It was my word against there’s and the word of teenage Black girls back then and today is rarely given any weight.

As much as those experiences hurt, the most significant learning lesson came in 2005: I was in university and was beginning to develop a politicized sense of self that was excited and eager to make a difference in the world.  I was connecting to and learning from numerous artists and activists whose knowledge, passion and eloquence both inspired and intimidated me.  One of those individuals (who shall remain nameless), I foolishly put on a pedestal.  He was one of the first people I met who used their art as a political tool.   He was connected to everything that was progressive and revolutionary in the city and introduced me to numerous spaces.  He also believed in me and told me he thought I could do great things…I was floored.  Little, old, me?  Not recognizing my own value, I naively allowed him to define it for me.  In spite of his best efforts, my eyes began to open and I started to see the distinction between leadership and ego, confidence and arrogance.  I saw how his words on the stage did not match his actions in life. I saw his lack of respect for many of the young people he purported to support and I began to recognize his deep-seated aggression toward women.  I made the decision to distance myself from him – a move that simultaneously hurt him and threatened him; a combination I would soon learn creates a dangerous formula. He made the decision to ruin my reputation.

One day, he held court in front of a number of people who were artists and activists in Toronto and proceeded to tell a story he had concocted of my supposed sexual exploits with a number of men in the community.  Never mind that none of this was true, the individual, chose to tell it. And he did not describe these fictional tales of sexual exploits as a site of empowerment or informed assertion of my sexuality. No.  He called me a groupie.  He called me a ho.  He belittled the work  that I was starting to do in community as opportunism to get in the pants of men.  He expressed his disgust for me.  This alone was devastating but so was the result. Not one of the over 30 people – made up of artists and activists, supposedly progressive thinkers and doers – who were present in this moment spoke up in my defence.  No one challenged his words.  No one contested the inherent infringement he was making on my right to tell my own story. No one rode for me. Not the self-identified feminists in the group.  Not the so-called homegirls who told me about it later.  No one.

junejordan_lyndakoolish1Whew! Even thinking back on it now, it gets me heated.  This was an attack on my reputation.  And of course he targeted my sexuality and vilified it as a space without integrity, depth or beauty because that is the strategy patriarchy has informed the world to take when attacking women. June Jordan illustrates this so beautifully in her piece “Poem About My Rights.”  It remains one of my favourite poems.  Here is an excerpt:

 
I have been the meaning of rape  
I have been the problem everyone seeks to  
eliminate by forced  
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/  
but let this be unmistakable this poem  
is not consent I do not consent  
to my mother to my father to the teachers to  
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy  
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon  
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in  
cars  
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

The legitimate rage I felt at that time has mostly dissipated, but the more important legacy of this experience was what happened subconsciously: I became obsessed with protecting and strengthening my reputation.  From that point on, I began working at making sure that if anyone in this city tried to fabricate stories around my character again, there would be ample evidence to challenge their tales.

The desire to protect my reputation was/is largely subconscious. However, I am beginning to recognize that it informed (in part) the mass emails I send out, the facebook statuses I put up, the reason for my personal blog, the reason for Twitter – these are all platforms I can ‘control’ to tell my story so that someone else cannot tell it for me.  It is problematic to allow external perception to hold so much weight…but when the right to be self-determined has been taken from you, it becomes a space of crucial importance.  It is part of the way that I ride for myself.  Self-determination is partly personal: at the start of my journey as an artist and activist in this city – before I had done anything and was just on the verge of emerging with so much excitement, hope and idealism – someone purposefully tried to define who I was to everyone else and received no contestation on the tale he chose to spin.  Self-determination is also partly historical and communal: this experience is a microcosmic example of what oppressed people consistently experience when they are robbed of the right to name themselves and tell their own stories: until the lion learns to speak, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

It was while rewatching one of (if not the) greatest television shows of all time: The Wire that I realized the ways that I have been invested in the building of a reputation that cannot be easily fucked with.  It was a classic scene featuring one of the most ruthless characters ever created for the small screen when he realizes that his reputation has been challenged without his knowledge.  It is one of the few moments where I felt connected to the character of Marlo Stanfield (played by Jamie Hector).  It may be odd to connect this ruthless character who was unforgivably violent to my experience but Marlo is all about self-determination. “My name is my name!” He states.  He affirms that subconscious desire/need/urgency to not only name oneself but also to protect that name.  He embodies the rage that is felt when that right of self-definition is taken away without consent.  I get it.

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

So I continue…like Marlo and like June Jordan…to ride for myself and guard my reputation.


 Amanda Parris | The Ride or Die Project Co-Founder and Blog Editor

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