By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
You only allow women in your apartment! I have some male friends. But they can only visit during off-hours.
What are off-hours? It depends. I see my live-and-work space as a sanctuary for women and girls. I'm making my downstairs into a headquarters for my not-for-profit blackgrrrlrevolution organization. I just did a riot grrrl meeting a few weeks ago. I definitely think it's about time there was a feminist space here in Bedford-Stuyvesant. It's going to have a library named after my grandmother, Bernadine L.M. Cunningham-the only library in the world with books only by women of color and all woman-built.
I see a Talk magazine made its way into your library. The Alexandrian library, founded by Ptolemy I in the third century B.C., had, in the time of Callimachus, 490,000 rolls of papyrus. I have about 500 books so far. I've lived in this house since November. Just before, I was living with my ex-girlfriend. I've been in every possible roommate situation since 1992, when I moved out of my mother's house in Sheepshead Bay. My grandparents were one of the first black families to move to Sheepshead. My grandfather worked for the Transit Authority, a conductor. Anyway, I've been in every neighborhood-Lower East Side, Harlem, Stuyvesant Town. All the while, my heart was in Brooklyn. I've never lived outside of New York-well, except for one year in Ohio in college.
Now your mom is your landlord. It's so ironic I'm here. I had always wanted to have a space centered on concerns of women of artistry and color. I called my mom, who now owns this building. She's a software engineer. My father was a Vietnam vet. They're divorced. I said I need a space to house me and my work. Fortunately, just the week before, a tenant moved out. My mom inherited the building last year from my great-grandfather, who bought the house 45 years ago. He built planes in the Navy Yard and invested in real estate. He provided seed money to a lot of local businesses around here. He was a really great card player. He never lost. He gave to the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund. He always gave money to the kids in the neighborhood-well, to the boys. My mom said, If he were alive today and knew this house was now a women's center... you can imagine.
You've renovated extensively. You chose to live on the smaller of the two floors. This says a lot about my priorities. The women's center and my Web business are like my two children.
I read that Bedford-Stuyvesant houses about 400,000 people. It is one of the city's two major black enclaves, Harlem being the other.A lot of affluent black people live around here. It is not exactly a feminist neighborhood-it's rooted in black nationalist politics. The focus is on standing up against police brutality and the white supremacist subjugation of black males. But with black nationalism, the rights of black women are secondary. The neighborhood is patriarchal and homophobic. The street harassment from the black men in the neighborhood is horrendous. They say, Hey Shorty, hey Chocolate. When I don't respond, they say, Don't talk to her, she doesn't like men. I think it's because they have a lack of feminist understanding.
Are you going to educate your neighbors? Oh yeah.
The way your great-grandfather was a force in the neighborhood? There are so many parallels with me and my great-grandfather. He always said, Live modestly and don't talk.
I don't know about the "don't talk" part.