I want to say, “probably.” When I think about the word “bitch” and my relationship to it, I want to say I have probably used it for a long time, probably as a noun. I have probably called both women and men bitches and not understood why I should be more thoughtful about it.
When I went to visit her in DC and made it to her apartment, she had bookmarked, highlighted, and annotated the galley copy I’d mailed her. It wasn’t in a bookshelf or cubbyhole — it was right on her nightstand, along with the pen, some bottled water. And chocolate. Not many men come with a printed chronicle of life failures, and I realized too late that trying to impress your paramour with an early version of what is essentially a memoir of your life as an asshole and the sex you had on the way may not have been the move. Because if you give her a book that catalogs your girlfriends, your one-night stands, your marriages and every flaw you have, of course she’ll read it. I’ve claimed to be a big thinker, but never a broadly. No. She thinks big, yes. She’s a different type: uncommon. She is the broad thinker between the two of us, and she had some observations on that day, maybe the third visit and the fourth time we’d spend any time together. I’m fresh off a late flight and ready to hop in bed. She’s out of belly-dancing class, fresh off a BWI pick-up. It’s late. I’m ready for bed. But she’d read the book, and she had some thoughts. Since that first time, I didn’t ask her opinion of my work. I knew better. But why can’t I just get this pussy and go to bed?
“First thing, I’m sad,” she said, sitting on the edge her bed.
I stood in the doorway, taking it all in — a woman’s bedroom is usually overwhelming, but her’s was spartan but no less perplexing. Bed, a dresser, nightstand with a fan in the far corner. A TV that kinda worked. A red yoga ball on the brown and tan shag carpet, with signs of Africa, Chicago and hair-care products here and there. It wasn’t messy or neat. It was hers. I may not have known how many times the word “bitch” appears in my book (47), but I knew that you don’t sit in a woman’s bedroom — anywhere in her bedroom— until invited. So I stood in the frame as she sat on her bed, sweat clothes undone on a thick, juicy frame, her huge, sweet feet on the floor, eyes on me very stern, very serious. Those glasses were perfect. I could see her sweat stains. Everywhere. I looked her in the eyes because I’m not that stupid.
It’s Go Time.
“Sad?” I say. She put her finger up.
“Let me finish.” She leafs through as she talks. “I have read this, and I like it, James, but what you say makes me sad because —“
“Well, see it’s—“
“BE-CAUSE,” she says with her finger, “I feel as if I don’t know the people— the people you say here.” She points to a page. I nod. “These people here —who are they?” I shrug.
“Others though. YES … this book is tough. This is a tough read in places, what you’ve gone through and what you say, and in places, I know that you are right.” She closes the book.
“It makes me tired. Tired.”
“Bunny,” I begin, “the book is just my experiences, my choices. Those women should have never have chosen me. You have to be the thing you want, right? I took a while to figure that out. And when I figured that out —“
I point to her.
Under her cherry cordial sugar-brown, she blushes. A Smile. Ha!
I point to the book in her hand. “Everybody in that muthafucka chose badly.” She nods. “ the thesis, I’m saying, like, is get yourself together, make better choices, man, woman, dog, cat. You can’t be a Moms Mabley looking for Denzel.”
“Moms Mabley? She made more money than Denzel will EVER see.” She’s too smart for an argument like this. And I love her like this I am aroused when she is like this.
“Bunny, you take my point. Be the love you are looking for right? — I’m not saying anything Oprah and Michelle Obama don’t say.”
This. That sound, this moment in our conversations are most often the preamble to a rocket-fire retort.
“You’re right — that’s exactly right. But see, the language—-“
“Women talk about, they don’t know what men think…”
“But ‘bitch,’ James?”
“You don’t know any bitches?”
”No I DO NOT,” she says. “Uh-huh,” wagging the soft-cover at me. “Not like this, James. You have to put some sugar on it. I read this, and its like you don’t love us.”
“It’s about my failings —It’s not about y’all”
“But you want us to listen, right?” This is when I pull the Harvey Card.
“Yeah, but I’m not Steve Harvey— this is not a book of gentle lies to—.”
“LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING,” she says “about that book of ‘gentle lies’.”
She begins to undress, angrily, perhaps not the ‘welcome daddy’ I had in mind. But if she wants to make a point in the nude, I don’t see any reason to stop her.
“James, I am the only woman in DC and maybe the world, that does not own that book, and I know white women, James. Lots and Lots of White women. They got it too.” She picks up The Denzel Principle, flips the pages and slaps it in my hand. “They ain’t buying this.”
“This is how men talk when women aren’t around.”
“Not my father.”
“Every man you know. Yes. My editor asked me to write it barbershop style, and so —”
“James, your editor is a fool.”
“She’s a woman who —”
“BLACK woman, who edits a lot of hood shit.”
“Hood shit!? So that’s what you write — ‘hood shit?'”
“Um. No. But—“
“NO, James. This is a good book, but you should have put some sugar on it.”
She is naked. Yes.
Conversation for Adults (#conversationforadults) is about conversations— hosted at my home or their home mostly — with complete or near strangers. Some famous. Some not. We sit, the mike comes on and what comes up comes out — I never know what we’ll talk about. I hope that the conversation you hear will lead to a conversation in your real life because, in the age of wireless, we simply do not talk to each other. There are no inviting strangers on your porch for a glass of lemonade. Neighbors don’t offer you cookies or pie. No one has dinner parties, house parties or belly-rubs. If it’s not a flashmob or a nightclub, you meet people in the frigid social-media sphere, and emoticons are no way to talk. You wake up, and the America you thought you knew was just a stock photo — OMG.
CFA has gestated a while, mainly because I wanted some distance from The Barbershop, the NPR segment I co-hosted every Friday with Michel Martin on her show, Tell Me More. I wanted out of That Box, the one people put you in when you do things for a long period of time. Also, early in to the process, I’m trying to feel my way through the rubble of a tragedy. I thought I could work my through it by working my way through it, but I was wrong. I suppose I am back, perhaps clearer than if I’d come back to life sooner. I’m the same James (call me jimi) but different in important ways.
I decided early in when hashing out an editorial rubric for CFA, that I wanted to restrain and bleep my use of “bitch” as a noun. That is to say, I didn’t want to be calling women “bitches” willy-nilly. My use of this kind of vernacular gets to my working-class upbringing, my street life, my life raised in barbershops, my life with my men-folk. Also, My Black American Negritude.
All things considered, Blackness is unforgivable regardless of amplitude, so has never made any sense to for me hold back my — albeit kinda scholarly, published, storied and educated — bald niggerosity. I still don’t. I have concluded that my authenticity doesn’t need to tear at others — I lose nothing by striving to give people — whether they are my exes, ex-lovers or other Unfortunates —- something less than deference, but something closer to respect. Or pity. Or at least not calling them out of their name. ha. Kate Tuttle, one of my first/best editor, taught me the magic is in the editor. Or the self-edit.
I’m not reconsidering “bitch” for any politically correct reason. The word does not belong to me — women have claimed that shit as their own. It used to be a weapon but is theirs, and though some will give me a pass, in these streets, I have to stay in my lane. I love “bitch”, and my wife loved “bitch” late in the night, early in the a.m. But honestly, outside of an intimate setting, I do not need it. So, I evolve — like every free Black Man should be allowed to — and you’ll get to listen while I do.
The fact is I use “bitch” in my everyday, but less than I use to, and not with women who don’t already know and trust our relationship. And when it appears in CFA sometimes, you probably won’t hear it, as it is mostly bleeped. This was not for the SJWs or feminists or any of that. It’s about my growth and the growth I want to the men I’m raising. Also, I want the #conversationforadults to be about the content, not about a number of times I say “bitch.” Censoring people language just because it offends you is immature. Censoring yourself in the cause of mutual respect and accurate communication is #grownmanshit. Maybe its just six in one hand — I dunno. Discuss among yourself. Or, if you are in Cleveland, or at least in Ohio, come on #conversationfroadults and discuss it with me.
Not for nothing, I want to honor the women in my life. And the bitches too. ha. j/k/n/k But mainly my wife, The Baddest Bitch. Of course, I write this and she puts her hands over her eyes, turns, and blushes. Grabs my arm, puts her lips near my ear and says through her teeth “Nigga, I hate you so much right now” with that nasty, nasty bitch smile you gave to me and me alone. She did not want you to know how passionate a person she could be, or where that passion lay or the world we made together or the secrets. The Secrets. The promises.
From our world, we had grand plans for yours.
But she’s gone now, and this world is mine and mine alone.
(#conversationforadults is dedicated to my wife because I always do what she says.)