Black women have been the unmelting chocolate centerpiece in the media for the some time now. We have been picked at, bitten off, suckled up and pass around for the world to snack on. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a book called Bitch is the New Black.
There has been a hype around writer Helena Andrews since the controversial Washington Post article “Successful but lonely black women.” Published December 2009, the piece introduced us to a 29-year-old single D.C. Black woman on the rise, who like many of us are playing by a new set of dating rules in our very own metropolis. An author of a new book apparently so fly and juicy, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ plans to adapt it into a feature film. In between Andrews’ Root articles and standing up to Steve Harvey, we couldn’t wait to see just how real the hype was.
Well, after reading Andrews’ memoir Bitch is the New Black, I can say with a straight face, believe the hype. Helena is the kind of bossy chick never afraid to speak her mind, any given time of the day, and unlike most, she can back it up. The highly anticipated memoir or as Andrews describes a ‘start to middle’ story is a honest and witty tale about a young Black woman in America navigating a lesbian mother, abortion, Capitol Hill men and a racist media industry. While many of us were unprepared for the title, thinking it appropriated a nasty term that degrades rather than lifts Black women, I assure you–Bitch is the New Black is our kind of tasty centerpiece that we can have and eat too.
CLUTCH caught up with the new author to talk the politics of being honest, ‘Single Black Woman’ overload, and why Bitch Is The New Black is her life, so far.
Clutch: So I loved the book. Read it over night. I paused a lot thinking, wow, it’s fascinating she wrote a memoir at 29. Most people ‘tell their story’ at 80 or something. But then I thought, so many of us have some much to tell right now. What made telling your story at this moment in your life right for you?
Helena: I always say that this is my story from start to middle. I think it’s sad that folks assume you “shouldn’t” write your memoirs until you’re like on your deathbed or something. Boo to that. The definition of memoir is a narrative about personal experience. So in a time when everyone seems so obsessed with the personal experiences of black women with a certain tax filing status (namely single, head of household) why wouldn’t one such black woman step up and tell her story in her own words? My story is hardly universal and it’s hardly unique (well some of it is anyway). It’s simply my journey so far. The ending has yet to be written.
Clutch: The book is so honest. Were you nervous about being this transparent or is this you on a regular day?
Helena: Shockingly, this is really me on a regular old day. I’ve always been more than comfortable with putting it all out of the table, which I’m sure has something to do with the way my mother raised me. She always tells the story of how as a child I used to rip my clothes off (diapers and all) and run around the beach naked. My grandmother was always scandalized by it—“Put some clothes on that child!”—but my mother figured, “Hey, if she likes it, then fine.” In Bitch is the New Black, I’m pretty much pants-ing myself, revealing the holy Hanes of my life for the world to see. That can be dangerous, of course, because once you put yourself out there, who the heck knows what you might get back. But that’s just me. I’m confident in my own skin—as long as I got lotion on.
Clutch: Did you get any angry calls from folk mentioned in the book?
Helena: I’ve gotten one or two random “Oh, I don’t think I said it like that” calls from folks who don’t even play supporting roles in the book, they’re more like unpaid extras. I don’t get into arguments over syntax. Those whose opinions actually mean something to me—my mother, my family, my sorority sisters and besties—all loved the book and understood that it was my story, my memory. But “angry calls” definitely come with the territory. If you’re writing about real people then most of those real people will most likely not like something you’ve written about them. The trick is to stick to the truth.
Clutch: For those who haven’t read your book yet, what does Bitch is the New Black have to do with your story? Why this title?
Helena: The title isn’t necessarily a celebration of bitchiness. It’s more of a question really (but obviously without the proper punctuation—my bad). I was interested in poking at the stereotype that being a “successful” woman and bitchy are not mutually exclusive. Can you be one without the other? Or does one inherently negate the other. Being a bitch is sometimes the best way to be—of course, when it’s so not.
Clutch: We were introduced to you in the Washington Post article where you were described as “black, single, successful and lonely.” How do you feel about the article now? Do you feel in some way the piece help usher in the ‘Single Black Woman’ controversy?
Helena: I think black women were under a microscope long before that “profile,” but it definitely didn’t do the “debate” any favors. I would never describe myself as “desperately seeking love” or “lonely” as a result of being without a husband. What’s funny (or really sad when it comes to reading comprehension stats) is that people will refer to that story as “Bitch is the New Black” or as “that story Helena Andrews wrote for the Washington Post.” Ummm no. I was being written about and the reporter hadn’t read my book, which is what contributed to misinformation about BITNB being “about successful but lonely young black women.” Who the hell wants to read that? Not me. The reason I wrote BITNB was to get out from under the written about rock and to do the writing my damn self—something like the “FUBU of summer reads.”
Clutch: You were like the only woman in public ‘SBW’ commentary that we could identify with– a 29-year-old educated Black woman. You held us down well, so thank you. A lot of reports were unbalanced, almost exclusively chronicling the ‘tragic’ successful and lonely 40-something woman with older married men like Steve Harvey and seemingly relationship-phobic men like Hill Harper talking at her. Many of us are now exhausted with the mere thought of the topic. Where do you see the conversation going in the next few years?
Helena: I’ve spoken to a lot of happy women about the “single sad black woman” debate and we’re all sooooo bored of it now. It’s like an annoying arc on a Saturday morning teen soap opera. Alright, alright we get! These two crazy kids are never going to make it! Next story line please. Personally, I applaud the fact that black women are getting together and talking to one another. But if all we’re talking about at Sunday brunch is who hasn’t decided to marry us this week then our lives must really suck. Fortunately, I don’t see that in my own circle of single ladies. And I’ve got a lot of married friends. Folks always assume that single women can only hang out with other single women, like we’re in some cult or something. Don’t drink that Kool-Aid. The conversation should be about womanhood in general. What does it mean to be a successful woman for you personally? For me, I’m not positive that my success as a woman or even a human being is wrapped up in a wedding or in my womb. Let’s sit down and start talking about ourselves, not what’s happening outside of ourselves.
Clutch: I get the No Disrespect by Sister Souljah feeling when reading Bitch is the New Black. You know N.O was like the coming of age must-read in undergrad and 15 years later it still is. Like N.O, BITNB largely chronicles your experience in college, your relationship with your mother, men and it’s a general criticism of how the world imagines young Black women. How do you want young Black females to receive the book?
Helena: I want people to just let go and take the book as it is. It isn’t a manifesto or dissertation. It isn’t the Single Black Woman’s Bible, the Secret Life of Bitches, an instruction manual or the next great American novel. It’s the story of this black woman’s life—so far. And if someone (anyone) can learn from my triumphs and my trials then I’ve done what I set out to do three years ago when a space cowgirl named Lisa Nowak rocked my world. I figured a woman who worked for NASA would know better than to try to “talk” to her lover’s lover with a mallet and gloves. But maybe folks figured a woman like me with an Ivy League degree and a decent career would know better than to curse out some dude in the middle of the club.
Clutch: You know how some authors publish a book, and they receive the first copy in the mail, and they get this warm and fuzzy feeling inside? This is your first book, how did you feel when you first saw the copy? How do you feel about all the wonderful things that are happening for you now?
Helena: I’m an over achiever with under achiever expectations and a private celebrator. So when I saw the real book for the first time at my agent’s office I was like, “Oh, that’s cool” in front of everyone else and then I ran to the bathroom to do my happy dance. As a kid I was always super superstitious like, “If I hold my breath for 22 seconds, Justin Ramirez will pick me first for kick ball,” so even now I figure good things happen to those who play it cool. But I was excited as hell! I mean I wrote a friggin’ book! It still weirds me out to have a physical thing that I made that I can I hold in my hands. If that sounds like a play on words that’s because it’s supposed to. The book is exactly like my baby and thankfully most people don’t think it’s ugly.
Clutch: Bitch is the New Black will be adapted into a film by Shonda Rhimes, the creator of ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ That’s super dope! Can you tell us any juicy details? Possible cast members? Projected release date? Will you appear in the film?
Helena: The movie is still in the pre-pre-pre development stages, so no juicy details yet. Our biggest concern is lifting my voice from the book to the big screen. Someone recently told me that adapting your own book into a screenplay is like circumcising your own child. Here’s hoping it won’t be that bloody.
Clutch: What’s next for you? Anymore books in the works?
Helena: Ha! I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve, but for now my entire life is Bitch is the New Black. Let’s get this baby walking and talking on its own before I give it a little sister.
Order your copy of Bitch Is The New Black on Amazon.com. Follow Andrews on Twitter @helena_andrews