The last words of Seamus Heaney, the Nobel laureate and Irish poet who died last week, came in a text message to his wife: “Noli timere,”
I am no real threat to white women’s desirability. Thus, white women have no problem cheering their husbands and boyfriends as they touch me on the dance floor. I am never seriously a contender for acceptable partner and mate for the white men who ask if their buddy can put his face in my cleavage. I am the thrill of a roller coaster with safety bars: all adrenaline but never any risk of falling to the ground. I am not surprised that so many overlooked this particular performance of brown bodies as white amusement parks in Cyrus’ performance. The whole point is that those round black female bodies are hyper-visible en masse but individually invisible to white men who were, I suspect, Cyrus’ intended audience. No, it’s not Syria but it is still worth commenting upon when in the pop culture circus the white woman is the ringleader and the women who look like you are the dancing elephants.
The worst thing about that When Harry Met Sally quote isn’t that it stereotypes all men as horny teenagers or that it reduces the myriad issues of cross-gender friendship to sexual urges. It’s that it encourages us all to give up before we even begin to get to know each other — when ultimately, leaning into this discomfort is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. And for gender relations more broadly. Not every male-female relationship features awkward sexual tension and culminates in a dramatic New Year’s Eve confession of love. Some of us are content to settle for a lifetime of fulfilling friendship.
But we have always known that love is not made by respectable people but by the freaks who come out at night. May you soon strive to rank among them.
the American mind strives to figure out the world by taking it apart and examining its pieces. Show a Japanese and an American the same cartoon of an aquarium, and the American will remember details mostly about the moving fish while the Japanese observer will likely later be able to describe the seaweed, the bubbles, and other objects in the background. Shown another way, in a different test analytic Americans will do better on something called the “rod and frame” task, where one has to judge whether a line is vertical even though the frame around it is skewed. Americans see the line as apart from the frame, just as they see themselves as apart from the group.
It’s an epic place that’s hatched many outsized ambitions, and where it’s equally easy to feel reined in by isolation.
On a human tip I’m trying to tell the truth. One of the things that writers who happen to be male do is not tell the truth [about women characters]. I’m not saying I’m 100 percent successful at it but I do it fairly well. Female characters are often portrayed as super pitiful, super sexual, or super strong. I wanted to make a space for the women in my work to be all of those things and to be regretful. The women in my family taught me how to be empathetic, but also they also taught me how to fight. They’re incredibly committed to their understanding of God, but they’re also regretful, and not just about mistakes that involve men. One thing I haven’t been able to do as a writer is to express the character of black women my age. I have a hard time writing those characters [honestly]. Those characters hardly ever have any flaws or they’re too flawed. But I’ll write myself out of it, just like any sort of problem. I’m working on it.