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This week, Erica and Kenrya talk to Dr. Lanice Avery about who's going to save Black women (spoiler: it's us); being our whole, expansive selves; the importance of nurturing friendships with other women; leaning into our unexpected strengths; the virtues of being a curious bitch; and getting off and getting free.
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Kenrya: Come here, get off.
Kenrya: Come here. Get off. Thank you so much for joining us yet again. Today we are talking to Dr. Lanice Avery, pronouns she and her. Lanice is an aAssistant professor of psychology and women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Virginia. She earned her PhD in a joint program in psychology and women's studies at the University of Michigan. Yes, Midwest.
Kenrya: Her research uses multiple methods to explore Black women's intersectional identities, sexual socialization, and how the negotiation of hegemonic gender ideologies in racial stereotypes are associated with adverse psychological and sexual health outcomes. The primary aim of her research is to promote healthy racial, gender, and sexual development among socially marginalized and stigmatized groups.
Kenrya: Thank you for coming on!
Lanice Avery: Thank you for having me.
Erica: That's just a really fancy way of saying, "She's a bad bitch."
Kenrya: Dope as hell. Right.
Erica: She's a bad bitch. She knows her shit. She is fighting to make all Black women bad bitches as well.
Erica: Family of bad bitches.
Kenrya: Exactly that. I interviewed Lanice for my next book and we didn't even get that far into the interview before I was like, "Oh, you got to come on the show." I didn't know what book it was going to be.
Lanice Avery: Let's do it right now. Let's do that.
Kenrya: I was like, "But, we going to make that happen." So, thank you.
Lanice Avery: I'm glad to be here, really glad to be here.
Lanice Avery: I feel like I do all of my psychology work to finally get invited to have the conversations that I want to have which is much more in this format.
Kenrya: We'll take it.
Erica: We about to jump on in. So what did little Dr. Lanice want to be when she grew up? I'm sorry. I'm going to call you Doctor all day because-
Kenrya: You earned it.
Erica: You earned it. So, yes. What did little Dr. Lanice want to be when she was growing up?
Lanice Avery: Little Dr. Lanice wanted to be in En Vogue.
Lanice Avery: "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" came out, and I was like, "I want that career." I didn't want to "give him something he could feel," but I wanted to be with that crew. Like I felt always very enthused about femininity. I felt like Black women were just magic and that their partners were wack, and I could be better partners for them. From early. Like I remember watching Phylicia Rashad, and I was like, "Your husband's Black. You're the baddest of them, fuck. He's corny as fuck." If all you got to do is be a doctor to get you a Clair Huxtable, I'll be that. I'll do that because I bet you I can turn it out in the way that she deserves because he's not cutting it. I know he isn't.
Lanice Avery: And so I feel very similarly I would always be kind of watching the baddest women like on all fronts and then squelching themselves, shrinking themselves, succumbing to this violence or succumbing to these like circumstances, and I'm like, "Girl, why?"
Lanice Avery: And also I know it's not like that. I can't even imagine the level of audacity that we have in the world to save all of us, the responsibility for racial uplift, be like the phenomenal baddie that we must be, to often be in these configurations that are not well suited for our magic. I just could not understand.
Lanice Avery: I feel like I was a baby dyke early, early, early in, and I was like, "Well, I don't really get the ghettorosexual commitment, but I will try to figure out which all of y'all are going to be over there how to improve the stories that you all are incurring of the hardships in your lives just via your gendered social expectations.
Lanice Avery: Black women are always going to save us. They're saving my people, saving themselves and each other over and over and over again. And I'm like, "Well, who's coming for us?" It's just us. And then what are we willing to risk and gamble in the event that we would get some love or for the deed? And I never really understood that, but I really wanted to think through that.
Lanice Avery: So first I wanted to be in En Vogue, first and foremost. Then I realized, "Well, that's a group, and that's not always forever. And then they're battling it out, and they won't actually be your lovers. They'll just be your colleagues, and they hate each other."
Lanice Avery: It's like a [inaudible 00:04:54], so I guess I'll try to be a doctor so that I can get a Claire Huxtable. And also to be kind of responsible to get folks in an office and say like, "Girl, there's a whole lot of things going on. And also, you got 99 problems, and your nigga's the main one. So let's talk about that."
Lanice Avery: And then so through working in the hospital I was mostly interested in what was possible in the nurse practitioner area and working in a women's health clinic and who was doing outreach. I felt like those people were smarter. I felt like the folks who came in had more information about what's happening in their worlds than anybody in the hospital ever did.
Lanice Avery: And so I think being a curious bitch, infinitely asking questions sort of led me to this community health venture where I work with whoever got the most dollars to make the most cents and that currently looks like being a professor at the University of Virginia that I don't feel that I ever was like, "I want to be a professor." I just want to pontificate. I just want to know why are we making these terrible fucking choices and who is coming for us.
Lanice Avery: And until then, I will save them. And you can lay in my bosom while you soothe your pains from what the world is doing to us and mastermind how we're going to, once again, save ourselves.
Erica: Okay. Well, that's it. And now you see why we brought Dr. Lanice on because... Yes. Just back up real quick. Did you say "heterosexual" or "ghettorosexual?"
Lanice Avery: I said "ghettorosexual."
Kenrya: That's what I... Okay, that's what I thought I heard.
Erica: Yes, such a term.
Lanice Avery: It's ghetto as hell. And I'm gold star. Been dyking since been dyking. That's all I know. But I have these homegirls and I'll be like, "Well, what are y'all doing? What are y'all talking about? What is courtship? What's the pop off?" I just don't understand the pacing and I understand it also looks wild because it's like, "We talked for three weeks and we're soulmates and now we live together." You know?
Lanice Avery: And I'm not saying that queer relationships are inherently so different, too, because a lot of people do internalize this raggedy configuration that's about, "You got to be the king, even though he's not. Your role is to make him feel, in somewhere in the world that he has imminent domain, even though he doesn't, and then just make sure that he doesn't burn every fucking thing down in the moment that you're trying to bolster that.
Lanice Avery: And I'm like, "But if you don't know, why would you do that? If you don't trust him to do that and it's you in the end it's like why wouldn't yall just state that up front?" So I do think some of the logics of heterosexuality feel ghetto to me. You know that song “Earth Is Ghetto, I Wanna Leave”? I'm like, "Whoa. What?"
Lanice Avery: [inaudible 00:07:53] as a sexologist studying pleasure, orgasm, and desire and I'm like, "And you're not even getting off at the end of it. Why are we here?" [inaudible 00:08:03] know about it, but I will study the hell out of it and I will ask a million questions over a lifetime and still not get the answers because we continue to be here. And also, I'm saying that in joke because literally I am jokes like humor first.
Lanice Avery: But in sincerity, when thinking about what is a woman... What is health? What is women's health and wellness actually look like in a context that has always been designed to kill us? And where every single action has the reaction that causes casualty on us. What does it mean to be well in the system? What does it mean to be well in community and what does it mean to be well at home when even your community and the folks who live in your home who sometimes add to your detriments.
Lanice Avery: And I think being in women's health and trying to think through... I started in an HIV prevention and reproductive health ring in coming to these workshops with all of my participants. I worked in an emancipated youth program and I work with a lot of drop-in centers and I work in county jails and juvenile halls and everyone would say, "All of this is worth it for love. That's my [inaudible 00:09:20] if I feel accepted and he accepts me and he makes me feel full, I will ride.” It seems not that big of a deal to get HIV if you have the opportunity, in some way, to experience that like love. And I'm calling this transformative love, this radical acceptance, that gives you room to be outside of the body of shame, outside of the body of constraint. You actually just get to feel full and desired.
Lanice Avery: It was like, man, you will risk everything. Sanity, sense, coins, and actual freedom when we're thinking about a context of confinement like going to jail for the experience of love, well then, things like that's what my question is until I have always committed myself to the study and practice of love.
Kenrya: Word. So what is... You do a lot, like we just talked about. What's your favorite thing about it?
Lanice Avery: I have so many favorite things. One thing that is my favorite is how everyone will come to, no matter the domain that I'm sort of doing this work in, I'll get listed. White people come and they're like, "Let's see what Black failure looks like as a spectacle." Or people come and they're like, "She's attractive and she seems nice so I want to be there to support her, but never really understanding themselves in life as being primary stakeholders to Black women's freedom and joy and pleasure. They don't imagine that that has anything to do with them.
Lanice Avery: And by the end, watching them have to interrogate what have they done to kind of be complicit in the systemic harm that comes with [inaudible 00:11:08] Black women's bodies. And also they are so thirsty to be down. And I recognize that being down for white folks who are complicit in racism and systemic misogynoir, it means little to me. I'm like, "Did you give all your money and all your time to save us? Then what is really being down?"
Lanice Avery: But I do think watching what I have presumed to be the staunch and committed antagonists of Black womanhood change their attitude and figure like, "Oh, shit. That's where actually my freedom is, too. My freedom is in interrogating how am I complicit in the system and then taking a license, taking a step back to ask me like, "Homegirl, can you tell me what to do?" I'm like, "For a fee, I will boss you around forever. Yes, I will." So I do like that.
Lanice Avery: I like moving this radical enterprise that's literally about getting off all the way and being free and being able to get some of the highest vestiges of power to invest in that project. That's what feels thug to me, and I feel like that is true to my South Central origins.
Lanice Avery: But I also love watching Black women get the opportunity for one minute to imagine that there's more. Because I think we get really complicit comfortable holding the breadcrumbs, like the breadcrumbs at Thanksgiving, and being like, "Well, this is everything, right?" And it's like, "Actually, what if that was literally just crumbs in there, it was like an infinite capacity for you to have more. More desire, more pleasure, more fullness, more joy. And that you can make all of these decisions about that and be full of you and your sisters collectively. And that's why we can be literally all the things.
Lanice Avery: What happens if we make a decision forever based on pleasure and fullness, rather than gratitude and concerns and communalism and don't stir the pot shit. And what if instead of being afraid of every negative stereotype that will come at you, what if you said, "Okay, bitch. I'll be that." Just like dudes do. What if you did that and you actually tried it? And watching them try that in small ways and come back into the transformative experience that it is for them in these small and these big ways. I love to be a conduit of more possibility and more joy for Black women.
Lanice Avery: And I love that literally I only think about us. And I get a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of resources to also build squads that will only, and very explicitly and boundary-dly think about us and our joy and our possibility.
Erica: Okay. So you've given us all the joys of what you do and it sounds beautiful, but what's the most challenging part?
Lanice Avery: The most challenging part is the isolation that it comes with what it means to be in the academia and to do the kind of work that I do where I feel like all of my [inaudible 00:14:22] of people who move me the most... I'm very far from them. It's an endeavor I took because I'm like, "Where's the money? I want to get all of it and give it all back to us." But it means that I'm having a lot of conversations, generally, with white folks who don't mean as well, to buy them over.
Lanice Avery: And even though I do end up winning them over and I am successful and I get to train people how to do that is the furthest from the folks that I love. And gaining mastery over the language and the skills, the statistics, the computation, the announcing... All of those things that make me very good at being an academic feminist psychologist. They meant...
Lanice Avery: So, prime example. As part of my community health practice that I had when I was an undergrad and working with activists here in the Bay area, we did a mediation group, so there were a lot of folks who would experience domestic violence and who wanted to be able to provide an alternative to calling the police, so you call the mediation team and we would go in and my and my crew sort of specialize in working with queer folks and maybe folks who might be [inaudible 00:15:33] or gender non-conforming because they fare worse sometimes in these interfaces with the police.
Lanice Avery: But in the way that we would sort of go and do promotion and do mediation work with those couples, it's so energizing and so enlightening that I went to grad school and I would come back and I would think about these elements and it would be the language that I now had exposure to and the frameworks that I was using, I became less and less approachable to the community. Less and less effective with those interpersonal mediation, right? The further I got into academia, the less I was in the practical.
Lanice Avery: And the moment that my colleagues had to say, "This isn't working anymore. We need to move you into a different space." You move into lecture quickly, you move into, like data would say, very quickly because that's convincing to you and also that's not generally how people move. They can easily feel judged, feel read, and also not feel compelled to have action items for change because you're so data-driven in your approach.
Lanice Avery: And that hurt. It was the right thing to do, to recognize that it can be that I'm growing beyond the ways that I had understood my mission and to grow to embody even a vaster mission, maybe. But not vaster comparatively saying that I dimmish that work, but every moment that buying into something else takes me sort of out and away from the people that I love and the lives that I care about the most. That is one of the largest challenges.
Lanice Avery: Not only did I have to move from the Bay, the "Yay" if you will, to move to Michigan, which I loved Michigan, but I was not... I'm not from the Detroit and Detroit would be like, "And you're from Ann Arbor. We ain't rocking with you. You're a colonist here. You're over here to take from us and go write about it or whatever, and did, and we have a boundary around that” and that was true.
Lanice Avery: And then I moved to... I thought I was going to come home, but then I got this remarkable opportunity to do transplanting scholarship with bank roll Thomas Jefferson on some like salvation for Sally Hemings moment. But I was over there in this really new and interesting context, I have a lot of opportunities, there was two Black women at the time that worked in my department.
Lanice Avery: And so being a good steward of those opportunities is important and it's hard when you just can't find a boo to grease your scalp and cook you some food and rub on your booty and help you touch... You know, "Let me run my shit. Let me know if I'm good at this topic. You hit me, you feeling it?" You're removed from those connections and it means that I sort of had all of these separate selves.
Lanice Avery: I'm always going to be my full self because... Well, it's a lot and it's too much to try to do anything else, but being in community with folks who are doing that, too, who are moving, who are energizing you is increasingly harder the further that I ascend.
Kenrya: Word. So, that's interesting. We always ask folks what was the prevailing attitude about sex in their houses growing up, but I want to expand that. I want to ask what were you getting in the house as little Dr. Lanice that helped you to be able to... What were the prevailing attitudes around identity and around sex and around race that helped to contribute to you being this person who you are right now, or didn't?
Lanice Avery: I was an only child and my mom had six siblings. Everybody had like five kids and I was the only me, and my mom, again, growing up in South Central in the '80s, it was the height of the crack epidemic, lots of men leaving all the time. Also, I'm Mexican and Black, so on the Mexican side, you got immigration issues and ICE and everyday there's this like, "You have to say goodbye to your men and you may never see them again," right? You don't know.
Lanice Avery: And in that way, it felt like men always had room. They didn't have to do anything, because they're chronically in danger. They're so great to finally find... Joan Morgan, in “When the Chickenheads Come Home To Roost,” has this framework or this chapter that talks about the endangered Black men and the strong Black woman because that was the domain. That was the dynamic.
Lanice Avery: Women are so assertive and you need to cull that to nourish and nurture and praise these teens who are under fire, who are targeted and hunted. But what that meant is that sometimes they didn't feel like they had any socialization to be connected to any kind of opportunities or any sort of responsibilities, because every day that I make it home, the miracle has happened. So like “drop to your knees, bust it down low, cook my food, and we all can just be grateful.”
Lanice Avery: And it's women's then responsibility for everything: kids, family, parents, community, housing, home. Every single element fell to the shoulders of women, but women were so tight in my world-making with the way that I saw that, the way that my mom's best friends, sister, cousin, baby cousins from over there would show up to do the work that none of... these assholes fathers were doing... The way that if the money was tight, they would come together to do a catering event, to do somebody something in order to get that money so that you got yourself so your baby got school clothes or they get to go to their thing.
Lanice Avery: We're the women that showed up and out for each other, Black women specifically. I was really moved by, energized by it. If I was going to partner with anybody, obviously it would be that because I will never be out here. My boo will go the hardest and I will consistently go the hardest for her, and there's a degree of reciprocity that we've always had in Black sisterhood that I don't ever see is actually matched.
Lanice Avery: But I do think that part of my family being a lot of the women are very fair-skinned, again, having this bicultural contingency. There was such a sexualization for thug ass niggas, like whoever that is, whoever just got out, whoever's buck... They're like, "I'm about to tear that up.” It will tear me up and down and it will probably last for about 10 to 12 months before they return to wherever they came from to get that buck in the first place, but what a ride and what a story to tell.
Lanice Avery: So I do think that as an ear-hustling ass curious kid, I was always trying to figure out whatever these grown bitches was talking about. The stay out of grown folks business was for me. Oh, so precocious. I could chill for a little bit.
Lanice Avery: But I just loved watching these women finally get into the space and let themselves talk about what this D is doing to them. “What he did? How'd that happen? Girl he had me....” I was like the joy of Black women having to be muted because we're so angry, because it's so fucked up. Everything that we're moving through everyday is so intense. There's so much pain that the moment that you get to either talk shit... Women love to do that, get together and talk shit, but talking shit specifically about how you got turned out and what you let yourself do, what you let yourself experience. That good kiki was my favorite.
Lanice Avery: So I learned that niggas ain't shit, but it is a very good time and it will list it like a remarkable amount of joy mostly with your homegirls when you get the opportunity to tell the stories about the beauty that you experience. Also the pain that you experience with your dude kind of bring you closer to your sisters anyway. They always came back to me as a sister which is why I was like, "Let's just drop it."
Erica: Let's just chop out the middle man.
Lanice Avery: Not even [inaudible 00:23:35].
Erica: I feel like if we all over here, let's just be over here then.
Erica: That, I mean, yeah. You just talking about coming back with your girls, the kiki among the sisters, that is... I feel like when I get together with my girls that is pretty much what it's about. Yeah, the joy and beauty of sisterhood and I think it's amazing that at a young age you were able to see it and hone in on it and really study it. Because I think, personally, as an adult, it took... I mean, I always had... I am not one of those "I don't have female friends," kind of chicks. [crosstalk 00:24:28].
Kenrya: That's such a red flag.
Lanice Avery: You boo, that's [inaudible 00:24:34]. So I'm going to be the first to die is basically what I'm saying. I'm saying... All right.
Erica: But as of late, not too late, but recently I started to really soak up and enjoy... I mean, I've always enjoyed my relationships with my girlfriends, but I now like seeing the beauty in it and the joy in that and it's very important for my girlfriends.
Erica: I mean, I have a son, but my son sees it. I want him to see the value in it. I want all my nieces to see the value in girlfriends. It was interesting. I was out of town last week and my girlfriend's daughter was with us and we were like... She was running errands and she dropped her daughter off and she got dressed and her daughter was like, "Where are you going?" She was like, "I'm going to see my girlfriends." "Why you getting dressed up?" She's like, "You always get dressed up to go see your girls."
Lanice Avery: That, that. Shout-out to all my hoes. Shout-out to all my girls who know. We show up, show out for each other.
Erica: Because, I mean, on a date you're going to get some comfy, some flats. But for my girls? Bitch, look at these heels.
Lanice Avery: Yes, and also because they're the ones who are going to say that. You might get a compliment or something, but sometimes folks who ain't in don't even know what they're looking at. They're like, "Something happened. I see the energy. I'm feeling that. But I don't know and I can't tell enough to really appreciate what did you do and how much time did all of that take? I see it now. I see it. I see it. I see it. See it. Eat it. And if you don't have a refined palette, then you're for what?
Erica: It looks good. No, this is a new shade of lipstick and only my girls knew that.
Lanice Avery: And it pops. Look at this texture, look at this color, look at this wear. I think there's so many domains, and we have the most robust analytical possibility for appreciation and love. And also, when you read Audre Lorde's essay, “Eye to Eye,” talking about hatred, the fact that we get so much hatred in the world, she says Black women eat hatred like daily bread in the world. It's easiest for us to do that to one another.
Lanice Avery: So you have all of these women who are like understanding Black women as their primary adversaries in life or their obstacles in their life far more than the harvest, the heaven, the richest place of love, ever, and I love for people to listen in to that. And I appreciate, one by one, helping many Black women land and realize the [inaudible 00:27:25]. This is the Disneyland where I can die on this is the mountain [inaudible 00:27:28].
Erica: Yeah. We're building promise land and ushering everyone to it. Okay, so we invited you on the show because last week we read this story called “Four Letter Word” and it centers around the theme of sexual identity. The main character really has trouble being her full lesbian self and we know that your research focuses on how people internalize those bullshit ass standards. Tell us a little bit about how this oppression can impact the way Black women move through the world.
Lanice Avery: That's a really, really, good question.
Erica: It was Kenrya's.
Kenrya: Throw me under the bus, that’s fine.
Erica: No, that's good ass question. I'm giving credit where it's due. I was just going to be like, "Where do you get that duster or whatever?" [inaudible 00:28:32].
Lanice Avery: [inaudible 00:28:36].
Erica: Oh, shit. Okay.
Lanice Avery: [inaudible 00:28:40] Yeah. No, I think I can answer that from so many places. I can, most recently just tell you two ways that I've studied and thought about that is we have this concept in social psychology called meta-stereotype awareness and what that means is, I think for some people, we think about stereotypes and whether or not you believe them is what will catch you up. So if you think about kids and you're like, "Somebody doesn't think about [inaudible 00:29:12]" and it's like it doesn't matter about them, though. You can until you will, and then the story is in many story books, then you do because you believed in yourself.
Lanice Avery: But meta-stereotype awareness, you don't even have to believe that girls perform worse. The notion that you are aware that other people think that girls perform worse means that you will inherently perform worse, right? It is a kind of combination of stereotype [inaudible 00:29:36] and I started wanting to know like, "How does that work for women who are negotiating around this assumption for Black women, always, that we're negotiating around this narrative that we're hypersexual. You got Missy Elliot saying "Pussy don't fail me now, I gotta turn this nigga out so he don't want nobody but me.”
Lanice Avery: But also, we know that if you're too eager or you look too wonton, if you look too skilled, then you's a hoe, right? And that you're only good for a good time and then you become suspect. If you have too much sexual agency or too much interest, you look suspect, right?
Lanice Avery: It challenges your domains of femininity or passivity or whatever the narratives are that we have for women, particularly in heterosexuality, but also in queerness around femininity, to look [inaudible 00:30:24] and interested and thirsty. You're not allowed to do that.
Lanice Avery: So I think I like to understand that concept of how are we negotiating around those things, whether or not we actually internalize them, which some people do and they're like, "I can't have more than five sexual partners in my whole life span, so I can't afford this conversation," right? Going in and dating...
Lanice Avery: I learned that in college or when I went to grad school because where I'm from we're all thotty and I thought that was the norm and then I went to Michigan and there was all these undergrads and they were like, "I've had two partners." I'm like, "Lies." Because these white students are like... I bust down five just today like they [inaudible 00:31:04] so much responsibility.
Lanice Avery: Literally, face down, ass up in the streets every Saturday morning for a game. And I was like, "Why is it so different?" But I think respectability really kicked into those folks and there was a narrative like, "You can't have mileage. You can't have bodies. You can't be somebody understood because that takes you out of the eligibility for these partnerships that you really are interested in. Now, whether or not... There's no [inaudible 00:31:31], there's no wear and tear on time. It doesn't actually work like that, but cognitively it does, and so therefore socially there's stigma and therefore it carries traction.
Lanice Avery: So I think about... Again, I can answer that question from a million angles, but I'm really interested in what is the harm in us holding an awareness, that there is an imagining that our proximity to these golden rings of baddie-ness, whether that be about how we actually physiologically look, whether that be about what our level of sexual experience is, whether that be about our class or whether or not we're mothers or whether or not we were married when we became mothers, whether or not we are able or if we have some ability, challenges... Any of those things that we're holding that might take us away from the ideal our tran-situated selves would diminish our sense of sexual self-esteem. That sense of self efficacy as human beings, and sometimes even our relationship to racial identity.
Lanice Avery: There's a proper kind of Black. We imagine there's a Black monolith and if you're going to be an attractive Black woman, we have a script for that. If you're going to be just a bad ass Black woman, we have a script for that because Fannie Lou Hamer was not, in any kind of way, Josephine Baker. We must never get those two mixed.
Lanice Avery: But yes, we are a multitude and we have all of those things. So the more expansive that we can be around the narratives of exceptionalism or idealism that we internalize, the more free we are. And by free, I mean... And the way that I've been measuring that is some folks are not having sex and that's a problem or not a problem for folks, but if you are having sex and you negotiate that sexual assertiveness, is how I think about that which is your capacity to initiate the sex that you want, the expectation that you deserve pleasure, the room to negotiate that event in a way that is optimizing your pleasure, and also, the skill and the capacity to refuse unwanted or unsafe sex.
Lanice Avery: And so if you made it through all that with so many ladies in my surveys don't always make it through, then how do you have this experience of sex without emerging from the even without so much guilt and shame? How many people go into a tailspin after that? So many people don't feel good enough to show up and that, right? Like, "Yes, body. Eat it. Here it is." They're like, "Turn the lights off. Nothing jiggled. Don't move. Be dead." If someone can actually show up fully to a sexual event then feel good enough to feel entitled to pleasure and negotiate that, then end and not be like, "I'm a hoe. I'm terrible."
Lanice Avery: If you can do all of that, you're more likely to get through that experience in a way that is pleasurable and where only pleasure stays on the tongue in spirit if you are not internalizing these narratives about what it should be or internally idealizing these proximities, right? Like, "Oh I would fuck better if I were lighter skinned or if I were thin." Or "I would get a better quality of D if I looked a particular way because as Andre 3000 says, there's a presumption that “top notch hoes get the most, not the lesser” like UGK "I Choose You."
Lanice Avery: And that's like, "But do you?"
Erica: Girl. It's wild. You are over here preaching to me. Damn, you preaching. Okay, I'm just going to... Yeah. We're going... Once this is off because I want to. Bitch, you preaching. You legit brought tears to my eyes. Yeah.
Kenrya: Yeah. So I know in some parts of your research you kind of look at the ways that media kind of influences that development of that gendered racial identity. Can we talk about how media has us fucked up and how it contributes to us not being able to fall into that pleasure in that way?
Lanice Avery: We can. I always want to stan a little bit for... Not to classify that by nature of how I studied things it's like primed to study the worst. Psychology studies the worst or the absence of worst and presumes that that's best. And that is not best. We're not studying best. You're not expecting to find best. You will not yield best. So I have to say that.
Lanice Avery: I do try to do different kind of things methodologically to optimize the possibility for best including having measures of literally best. And also I find worst a lot. I find, in my own personal life, misogyny sounds good as fuck. And there is a way that even when you don't hear the lyrics, a repetition of the ethos, the mission, still catches itself in [inaudible 00:36:33].
Lanice Avery: So we find a lot of times where you will have like "Hip hip is the worst." Right? When you look at the lyrics, some of the things [inaudible 00:36:43] one of my first studies in grad school was looking at I wanted to take whatever we're talking about in terms of gendered scripts and what is positive about femininity, what's negative about masculinity, and I wanted to see how much are we actually talking about that in Black music.
Lanice Avery: So I looked at 25 years of the top charting hip-hop R&B songs or songs performed Black artists, and I wanted to see to what degree, how salient is the message that bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks? How is it... If it comes out 95% of the time like it does when we talk about hip-hop then great but it didn't. It didn't.
Lanice Avery: Men had such an expansive capacity. It did, some of these narratives did change, but also men in music got room to be lovers. They got room to be depicted as feminine, to be depicted as saviors, to be depicted as in need of romanticism and interested in that just as much as they got depicted as like shoot ’em up, dangerous, risk-taking, "I'm everything, I got all the money." All of those narratives. Also I got researchers from the University of Michigan to read Rick Ross and we didn't have to [inaudible 00:37:54].
Lanice Avery: I didn't say that was my favorite, but I have to say in my whole research career, that was probably my favorite. But even my advisor would say, "Bitch ass niggas" many times because empirical research. [inaudible 00:38:07].
Lanice Avery: Anyway, she would say like, "I'm going to say BAN or PAN for punk ass nigga," but she wouldn't say it. I'm like, "Just say it. [inaudible 00:38:14]. No you can say it. If you can't say it then you shouldn't be listening.” She's like, "I don't listen. I only like Pharrell's ‘Happy.’" That's what she was listening to a lot at the time. I think she is such a happy person so I appreciated that, but I was like...
Erica: I was listening to “young nigga move that dope,” also…
Lanice Avery: It sounds good. Misogyny sounds good. To that end, though, when you study exposure or consumption of that rhetoric, you don't buy one to one correlated. It's not like the more you listen in the future, the more of a hoe ass bitch you are. Period. That's it. The more you listen to Nikki or the more you listen to any of these things, the more of a hoe you are. It's never that.
Lanice Avery: So I appreciate that my work finds that there's not that unidirectional relationship between consumption of these messages that suggest that Black women are fucking bottom rung. And then they go and understand themselves as bottom rung. But again, meta-stereotype awareness is also... It does hamper negotiation processes. Knowing that somebody thinks that you're the worst, even when you don't believe that about yourself, it still hampers, in some kind of way, how you end up acting. It takes additional energy to not again reify that stereotype, to not do any of that, and that cognitive energy is not always spent focusing on pleasure, focusing on fullness, and just being like, "How do I feel? Do I want this?" You go into a different sort of place.
Lanice Avery: So, interestingly, even though we read such... As a world, we consume magazines less than we ever did. The magazines and the imagery on those magazines are still one of the most harmful things for a woman to consume, in terms of their ability to sort of come out of that, thinking expansively about their bodies, about their partners [inaudible 00:40:16] ideals is about femininity. That is still one of the most harmful places.
Lanice Avery: But I don't find consistently that listening to R&B hip hop is terrible. I also don't find that it's terribly empowering. It's mixed. And I don't find that watching reality TV shows... That's never born out. Everybody's like [inaudible 00:40:35] that the only way you're going to be terrible. It's literally not. I've never found this in intimate relationship empirically between reality television or even some of these scripted series and terrible ideas and constraining ideas about beauty, femininity, and all that [inaudible 00:40:49].
Lanice Avery: So empirically I love that because I'm a bitch who loves raggedy media. And I feel very quick to tell somebody what you ain't doing and what I ain't is one of these things because I'm literally the baddest. You couldn't even understand it because you're not ready and you haven't ever come as many times as I've come. You don't even know what it was like to sort of live in that place, but I would like to teach you if you are [inaudible 00:41:15] we can start our training sessions.
Kenrya: So in the book that we read last week, the main character who we already talked about as having some trouble being her full self. She's also having a hard time setting boundaries and that's with platonic relationships, romantic relationships, all relationships she don't know. I'm wondering what tools do you wish that all Black women had in that area?
Lanice Avery: So I'm writing a paper right now with my graduate student and we deal a lot with these stereotypes about Black women, Jezebel, nanny, strong Black women, and how those relate to mental health and sexual health, and one that we hadn't ever looked up ended up being a superhero as a Sapphire stereotype, so the angry Black woman stereotype.
Lanice Avery: I have always imagined that that's again, something that Black women are just so averse to holding and I want reify that. But in that study we found that folks who, whatever degree internalized higher levels of Sapphire stereotypes, so I'll be that, I would call that. Endorse I'll be that and who also feel that being a Black woman is of central importance to themselves, including the welfare of Black women in general. I'm committed to that and their well-being is of central importance to my identity.
Lanice Avery: Them hoes have better sex than everybody. Better boundary setting, better capacity to initiate the sex that they want, better sexual desire, better reports of wellness, sexual well-being, Sapphire is coming through. So we started thinking in my lab, me and my doctoral student were so excited about that and I'm like, "Well, what is it?" Because Sapphire actually isn't that, it's that patriarchy is that. And patriarchy says anything that is an obstacle to me being an absolute domain, I will corrupt the image of and create a system that dissuades anybody from taking that up.
Lanice Avery: We think about feminists like bra-burning, man-hating people and literally feminists are just like, "Girl, you're working. You should get paid. Girl, you deserve to eat and go to sleep just like everyone else,” right?
Erica: And afford childcare. That's all.
Lanice Avery: That's it. You deserve... If you got this level of education, too you deserve to be able to go to school just like everybody else or at least be able to benefit off the degrees that you have in the same way because you had to put in the same levels of work.
Lanice Avery: And in the case of Black women, we've never been exempt from work. We've been working overtime because we're working to produce the labor body and also [inaudible 00:44:07] the bodies that we're producing picking cotton just with you, too. But I'm pregnant and nursing and I'm out here with you, too, so I think I would... Again, if I could distill it, I would want all Black women to recognize it's not the worst to just be that. Because that is likely just a maligned representation that has come out of what it means to reconcile with powerful individuals who are resilient beyond.
Lanice Avery: And if you fueled, if we just said Stacy Abrams is literally all the things, and focus on the background of Michelle Obama, whatever it is, but killed it at Harvard Law and maybe was even a badder lawyer than her own husband. If we socialize everybody to internalize that, then we would be in trouble as a society that really rests and functions on its subjugation of Black women.
Lanice Avery: So I would challenge everyone to recognize that baddie does get you into a place where you have to... Because masculinity is so harmful, toxic, and often dangerous, and because Black women's stoicism often is about presenting to be invulnerable or superhuman. It doesn't mark you for danger. But in the day-to-day, you might actually have more agency and in the day-to-day you actually might get off harder if you went in being that, rather than if you were so focused on how to not be any of the things that take you out of the running for the most.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). All right. So you were just talking about being superhuman and this is not that, but I do want to know what's your superpower?
Lanice Avery: Oh. I think I'm a lover, like in all ways, truly. And I think I have a pretty robust capacity to bring, to make love happen and community happen among folks who could have never imagined that community could happen in such a way. I get to do that, but I just always envisioned a possibility that wasn't there, and I'm good at manifesting possibility. And that possibility often looks like... Sometimes it's like Rihanna's work performance on that stage where it was like the party that you always wanted to be at. Sometimes it's like Little Simz's video, “Woman,” where it's like, "Oh, if I die I won't happen to look like that."
Lanice Avery: But really just saying there's a vision for more and I have... I think it's a superpower that I'm unwilling to accept the lesser life in any kind of way. I have an insatiable need for everything that I need and just being able to work to go get it. I don't acquiesce well, but I do feel like I'm able to create community and create collaboration across difference in a way that is pretty skilled, I think. And I've been doing that since I was younger.
Lanice Avery: I also think one of the things that I have that is a superpower is a little... People don't know what to expect from me. They're like, "You're a cherub. You keep saying you want to fuck me and I don't really know what happened." Or like [inaudible 00:47:49] and you're talking about Beyoncé, but somehow I really want to run data with you, I think there's this... Maybe to bring in... I don't know. It was that terrible show where they had the vampires glamor you.
Kenrya: Oh, “True Blood.”
Lanice Avery: “True Blood.”
Kenrya: Yeah, I watched that shit. I was hating watching it at the end, but yeah.
Lanice Avery: It's so bad [inaudible 00:48:10]. I don't know that I'm glamouring for manipulation's sake, but I'm glamouring the white supremacist patriarchy sometimes to be able to get our feet in the door. And they are never then able to look at us 100% the same afterward and I appreciate that. I feel like I'm trying to do that with my literature. I'm trying to do that with my field and I'm trying to do that on an individual and meta level. You will put respect on Black women's names because we are literally everything.
Lanice Avery: And, if you try to check me on it, I got all the receipts that you don't have because I studied everything harder than you ever will, so you lost.
Kenrya: Before you even fucking started.
Lanice Avery: No, you lost. Trust that.
Kenrya: Yeah. What are you reading right now?
Lanice Avery: So I'm reading many things. That's the story of my world. I'm re-reading Jennifer Nash had this book called “Black Feminism Re-imagined.” It's about intersectionality and kind of a rethinking in how we might be able to utilize intersectionality. And there's this author Christina Sharpe, who has this book called “In the Wake” and I just think her prose is remarkable and comes...
Lanice Avery: As a psychologist who knows that nothing good for Black folks come out of psychology, I really find so many energizing theories about what wellness actually is. I think all of us can tell you what we fucking hate. But when you say, "What do you love? What makes you full?" The answers are thin, often. It's hard for Black women to live there.
Lanice Avery: So, I think always re-reading adrienne maree brown's “Pleasure Activism” and thinking through what's a testable question here? Thinking about what is actually being intersectional when you're not being just thinking about these dimensions. How do we be richer in how we're thinking about that in science, not necessarily in theory, but how we take that up in quantitative psychology or psychological science.
Lanice Avery: And then what does it mean to be post-Antebellum enslavement? What does it mean to be well in this context? I think Christina Sharpe talks so beautifully and richly about that. I've never met her. I hope to meet her one day, and also not be gay when I meet her because [inaudible 00:50:48] but how she talks about that possibility. But I think so hard about what is wellness. I'm reading the fuck out of psychology about their pathological models of knowing, but also recognizing it is very hard to think about wellness and it's only like a Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou that can really get me to be imagining that I have to in order to be able to measure something, and then offer that back to us as a strategy for how to be socialized.
Lanice Avery: I talked to these content creators who are making media imagery about us to put those storylines in so that we can begin from an early age. A collective thinking about more and not less.
Kenrya: What's turning you on today?
Lanice Avery: I have a new girlfriend and she is so sexy and so smart and so brilliant and she's an English professor who studies Black lit and she's such a boss. It's very hard to out boss me, but when ladies can, then I'm like, "Oh, what are you doing for Friday? Are you [inaudible 00:51:55] that or not?"
Lanice Avery: But I am a sapiosexual so I'm very intellectually inclined, but also I'm studying and looking at your titties while it's happening, the two of those things. That's why Black feminism is perfect for me as a field and as a physiological place. So she is really the fuck [inaudible 00:52:15] and I'm here for it. I'm like, "Yes."
Lanice Avery: People generally who are giving themselves over, not only to the labor of love, but also to the practice of love and then to the benefit of love like so many activists are working hard, but they're not working hard in the experience part and working hard in the delight part. If anything, sometimes we work so hard that we become unable to be in pleasure. We only understand that to be a disarming moment and in danger, but she is able to think very deeply and bask endlessly in the depths of pleasure. I'm like, "That's me there." Because that's what it's all about.
Kenrya: Yeah. Okay, so we always do a lightning round, rapid kind of a situation. It’s fun. And this is Erica's question and it is a very good one. And it is please rank these couples from most trash toxic to healthy, knowing of course that this is very subjective. So I'm going to give you the couples and you rank them.
Kenrya: So Whitley and Dwayne. Gina and Martin. Oh, you're writing them down?
Lanice Avery: Yeah.
Kenrya: Okay. Gina and Martin. Melanie and Derwin. Sinclair and Overton. And Rainbow and Dre.
Lanice Avery: Heterosexual, all of them. All of them got their passes to that gold star.
Kenrya: Damn, they all are heterosexual. But that also shows the fucking dearth of where's everybody else on TV?
Lanice Avery: Strangely, I would say Obie and Sinclair. I think they have it best. I think they probably experience more pleasure than anybody because they're less mired down in these notions of what should be. And then less mired down by comparing themselves to what is being approximated there and what isn't. They're in their own vision. They got their own language, they got their own land and in that way I think their love story is remarkable.
Lanice Avery: I mean I'm not interested... I don't personally find quirky or too much whimsy is not... It doesn't hit.
Kenrya: It ain't for you.
Lanice Avery: Well I got no fine ass hoes to come through, but all the swag. I'm like, "What's that?" So I feel like I'm utterly inundated in quirk and I am from South Central and again, I just want like [inaudible 00:55:18]. Do that. There's lot of ways to be daddy, but we also know it when we feel it and when we see it [inaudible 00:55:25].
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lanice Avery: But I love... I think that couple always makes me a little... We don't think enough about their complete disregard of what should be permitted their capacity to be infinitely capacious in how they experience [inaudible 00:55:49]. Never heard Sinclair being like, "Overton don't know how to talk like this. Overton and I... He ain't doing this." It was never and he was never like, "Sinclair, how come you're not running everything over there, or how come you don't lose weight, or how come da da da." Nothing. They never had those conversations with one another and I think in that way they got to be the most free of all of these couples.
Lanice Avery: What are your rankings, how would you rank them?
Kenrya: Oh, I'm with you. I actually think that they have the healthiest relationship of them all. I just think that they're so incredibly sweet and loving and like you said, they really weren't worried about what everybody else was doing. They knew that they were for each other and they made that shit happen and it was always all love, no matter what else was going on around them.
Lanice Avery: [inaudible 00:56:42].
Kenrya: Yeah, for sure. Erica is also saying, "Me too." Yes. Okay, so what's next for you? What are you working on?
Lanice Avery: Well, I am working on a million things. I am working on querying Black body image so I've thought a lot about how these approximations of white beauty norms happen for Black women and how femininity can fuck you up in the game, even when you aren't close to it, close to the ideal. Again, back to that question of like if you're the closest to attend, do you win? And survey says... My surveys say no, not necessarily if you have [inaudible 00:57:25]. What is your attitude and what are your beliefs and those sometimes have more bearing on what your outcomes are.
Lanice Avery: But I didn't get to think about that among gender expanses and I didn't think about that among Black women who aren't necessarily trying to bag a cis-het dude. [inaudible 00:57:41] well, how does body image actually work there? And how does a strong Black woman work for folks who are nonbinary or maybe masc-presenting and don't buy into femininity in the same way? I just want to know does body image serve as a precursor to not only mental health, but also sexual health, in the same way that we find for heterosexual body image. That's one project that I'm working on.
Lanice Avery: I'm working on another project that is thinking through how, in the field, do we measure whether or not your media was impactful. And then while I'm learning that, to be able to see what is the opportunity to utilize media, digital media and television media as an intervention on Black femininity and socialization. If we can socialize, I don't know if it's going to be the same Sinclair James phenomena, but certainly more Sinclair James than it would be Regine, in terms of how to be [inaudible 00:58:39]. If I was happy, hella happy. People talked about that as just a personality characteristic, but it also, I think was about how she negotiated her world.
Lanice Avery: Like if you could write that in, is that an intervention? I know that you're not going to get conversations on wellness from school. You might not get them from your parents or at home or even in the kiki sessions with our homegirls. You might not get that.
Lanice Avery: But we do need to learn that Sapphire can be a superhero strength of ours if we just stop fighting it. We can learn any of the topics of any of my papers recently, and it might be that we have to talk about it in a larger landscape where people are [inaudible 00:59:19]. They had a moment where you got your Issa, you got your Ava, you got OWN. You got everybody who's on these Netflix shows are so hungry for content that's culturally targeted, but if you're not saying the right message, then you're just going to reify the same domination that we've got here.
Lanice Avery: So I'm doing work that might be more impactful. I'm asking questions that I think might be useful to content creators so that rather than studying an intervention funded by the National Institute of Health, Oprah will just take me up, fund me, and then we can just work together just to figure out how to give Black women another idea of how to be. I get off in all the ways, but certainly in how to have more and aspire to more.
Kenrya: That's all very exciting. I want to know, for folks who want to follow you, know more about your work, keep up with what you're doing... Where can they find you online?
Lanice Avery: You can find me on Twitter. I do not post very much. But dr_neecie, N-E-E-C-I-E, you will find me. Dr_Neecie. And then you can always email me. You can find me at Psych at University of Virginia. My email address is L-A-4-G-D@virginia.edu if you want to know any of these exciting findings and learn more about what you might be able to do to get off more fully. Let me know. I'd love to find you in these streets and make more friends and make more collaboratives who are trying to make interventions on public health, who are trying to do theoretical interventions in the field, folks who are writing books... Anybody who's doing work on Black women's freedom and trying to figure out a different kind of place for them, more reproductive justice. I want to be intimate with you, in conversation with you. So please, I invite you to find me so that we can have some pretty live discussion.
Kenrya: Yay. Okay, y'all do that. And for real, thank you so much for coming on, Lanice.
Lanice Avery: Thank you so much for having me.
Kenrya: This was lovely. Yay. And that is it for this week's episode of the show. Thank y'all for listening and we'll see you next week. Bye.
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme music is from Brazy. Hit subscribe right now in your favorite podcast app and at YouTube.com/TheTurnOnPodcast, so you'll never miss an episode.
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Kenrya: And don't forget to email us at TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com with your book recommendations and your pressing sex-and related questions.
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Kenrya: Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon. Holla.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.