What began as a joke at a party, “Bitch—be realistic,” became the prompt Kamilah Rashied uses to examine her life as a woman with intersecting identities, none of which were adequately represented in the media she encountered growing up. Below, Rashied describes the origins of her search for answers to who we are and how we decide to get there, questions that inform her performance art series Bitch—be realistic., in which Rashied asks men to reflect on the women in their lives.
on the author’s reality
I am a human being. I am a woman. I am a human woman of African descent. By this I mean I am a human woman who is Black. I am a woman, who is Black, who is queer. I am a human woman, who is Black, who is queer, who is of Muslim heritage.
When people use the word intersectional, this is the kind of predicament they are referring to.
I grew up in a home where women ran things. All the things.
They were the keepers of order throughout the realm. Just rulers who hugged and spanked. Who held down the house and defended it. Women who fed you candied yams or sour criticism depending on how you played your hand. Women who could leave you for dead, with a look. And bring you back to life when their hips swayed, naturally.
No boundary could contain them. This was their magic. And they loved and ruled and existed without end. And I learned to be no different.
on the photo
This is me and my three older siblings. I’m the one in blue. The little confused one. I was 3 years old there.
Even then, I had an understanding that I had some kind of magic. That I could imagine things and make them appear. With very little resources, I was provided an abundance, somehow, of everything that mattered.
about the conversation series
Even now, when I feel the absence of something important in my life, I conjure those women and their sorcery. What would my mother tell me to do if she were here right now? My creative process is just an extension of that exercise. When I am realizing an idea, I am making a way out of no way, just like she did.
No matter how an idea begins, I find that my work ends up being an extension of what’s on my mind. If this is an important question I keep returning to, maybe I’m not the only one thinking about this. No matter how far I think I’ve gone away from myself, practice remains a mirror that I am turning on myself in front of you. So we can both be seen. So the truth between us is more apparent.
Bitch—be realistic. came about as a joke at a party. Over time I began to ruminate more seriously on the idea and on what questions the premise invited. When we conform, we obey. But for whom and for what purpose? Where do we learn who we “get to be” in the world? Where do these notions come from? And if they are not our own, who is our master? Who gets to be and do X because of Y? Who gets to talk about that? What’s good about it? What’s problematic about it? Who gets to be seen and heard and when? In the most monumental or mundane settings of our lives, do we own who we are? Or do we just obey norms?
And then I remembered this:
on idealized tropes in media
These idealized realities did not reflect my existence. Whole worlds transmitted through the portal of a screen, that we all stared at daily . . . in which I did not exist. And not just there, but also on billboards. And in magazines. And well, everywhere.
These tropes, delivered through these modes, are how many people arrive at their ideals. So, now, this fiction is informing our notion of what is real.
on tropes cont’d
This world where I do not appear. Where no one that I can recognize appears.
on its purpose
So I am tinkering with these ideas about what is “real,” what is manufactured, and what are we “allowed” to do in dialogue with that question. At the same time, I am considering the design of a reality in which I can appear if I am not seen in the world I am in. Bitch—be realistic. is just one in a series of interrogations around this idea that I am in the middle of.