Go See "Pariah." Like Right Now.

We went to see "Pariah" recently, and I was reminded that my mother (black, female and gay) is a triple threat when it comes to oppression.

Jan 13, 2012 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

As a black woman, I've always considered myself a double minority. As my Americaness is divided by a hyphen, it is also mulitplied by my otherness.

My favorite part of Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is when Janie's grandmother says something like, "The nigger woman is the mule of the world." It reminds me of the time my grandmother told me "Life is no plaything" in an email.

In the most intangible of senses, I know my grandmother had a rough life, married a rough man and roughly handled the concept of loving from then on. So her sending me an email, via WebTV (remember that?), about how hard life can be, was surreal. Like she was whispering advice across generations through the matrix. 

Anyway, back to the double minority thing. 

So I've experienced racism via misogyny and microaggression almost identical to what Franchesca Ramsey pokes fun of in "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls." What I haven't experienced, or more accurately, what I've been shielded from, is blatant barking dogs type racial oppression.

No one stopped me from going to a certain school (at least not that I know of) or drained a public swimming pool after I dipped my pinkie toe in. In that way I am priveleged, when you consider the twisted morality that racist societies project. I am better off but not better. 

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On my mom's last visit, I asked her if she went to a segregated elementary school and she was like, Ah DUH!

Obviously I'm an over-educated woman who's more than familiar with civil rights, but when it's your mom and you're sipping mimosas all of 10 minutes down the street from where Michelle Obama is dusting a picture of Martha Washington then racial imagery takes on a falsely tinted rosiness.

Not in a "post racial" way, mind you. I do NOT believe we currently live in a post race society, or that we ever will in my lifetime. That is, of course, excluding an invasion by the Borg. But even then I'm sure there'll be an abitrary system of hierarchy and institutionally backed privelege.

What I'm saying is that my mother's existence is so closely tied to my own that it's hard for me to imagine her going through anything as horrific and soul crushing as in-your-face, water hose, snarling German shepherd, burning-cross racism that's been sanctioned in the public square. 

With my ivy league degree, fancy lawyer friends, and artsy career outside the corporate good ole boy network, I've been lulled into a false sense of "fine-ness" when it comes to fighting in the streets for the right to be considered human. My mother and I are two black women doing just fine. Or so I thought. 

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We went to see "Pariah" recently and I was reminded that my mother (black, female and gay) is a triple threat when it comes to oppression. That statement is not meant to be cute. It's a fucking fact. And it scares the shit out of me.

Written and directed by Dee Rees, Pariah is the quietly loud tale of a young black girl from Brooklyn struggling with all the normal identity crises of adolescence. But with the added bonus of being a brown girl who likes other brown girls.

Sixteen-year-old Alike (Ah-LEE-kay) is played with the perfect blend of confusion and confidence by 33-year old Adepero Oduye. Kim Wayans (yes THAT Kim Wayans) plays Alike's selectively blind mother, Audrey, who makes it her mission to equal parts ignore her daughter's sexuality and highlight it for fixing. 

The movie is beyond good and it sky rockets beyond LGBTQ issues or black issues or female issues. It's a story about finding yourself. It's about filterring out all the cloudy muck of expectation to a clear glass of water that reflects you, just you. But once all that painfully important work is done there are some who'd still have you swallow poison. The poison of being someone you are not. 

In the most triumphant scene Alike, determined and finally dressed in an identity that fits, tells her father, "I'm not running, I'm choosing." I felt a shock of recognition go up through my arms to my cheeks.

My mom sat next to me with tears in her eyes. And all I could think was, AH DUH! She went through that, too!

There was a time when my mother had to tell the people who knew her as one thing that she was another thing entirely. How do you tell all the other moths that there's something extraordinary on the other side? 

When Pariah's credits started rolling, my mom and I sat in our seats stunned. I clapped just to have something to do with myself. Then I couldn't stop. She joined in and so did all the people behind us. The sound wasn't deafening it was an awakening.

Too often I lull myself into this sort of hypnosis. I block out the fact that although I can get married whenever, wherever, in most states my mother cannot. That isn't a talking point or a debate question, that's real fucking life. And not just HER life. It's mine, too.

So that standing ovation I gave "Pariah" in the theater? Needs to turn into standing up for something.