Archive | June, 2010

Dating While Feminist: Anatomy of an Intellectual Affair

30 Jun

Recently, I had a five-hour ice-cream date with an intelligent, ambitious, chocolate cutie, with friendly eyes and a great smile. Yep, I said five hours. He’s a great conversationalist, wonderful at asking questions, and pretty interesting himself. He showed genuine interest in my career, my research, and my recent career-related travels. He respects my intelligence, told me so in not so many words. Awesome, right? This is what feminists have been fighting for.

Yes. But these days me and my well-educated hetero feminist friends have two categories of male-female relationships, if we have them at all. There are those of us with intellectual affairs and those of us with just, um, affairs. Never the twain shall meet. I am in the first category, and let me tell you that the grass is looking much, much greener on the other side.

What, pray tell, is an intellectual affair? I’ve had so many of them, that I might as well have a Ph.D. in that, too. Intellectual affairs revolve around the episodic mind f*ck and they have all the potential to leave you feeling just as emotionally drained as an ill-thought sexual liaison. In an intellectual affair, your mind, rather than your body, is your biggest asset. That’s all the person wants you for—the amazing insight you have, the way you make them think differently, the advice you give. Ugh. Your body, however, get the short end of the stick.

Said affairs usually start like this:

You and a brother meet at an academic event. Perhaps you’re both guest panelists on some discussion about Black life, culture, or politics.  You hear what he has to say and think to yourself depending on your needs at the time,  “The brother is intelligent, articulate, and cute to boot.  I wanna get to know him better.” And if you’re honest, you probably also think, “Wow. He could get it.” The brother sees you and thinks (apparently, and I’m most certainly speculating), “Wow. She’s attractive and really, really smart. Probably couldn’t pull her though. I don’t have enough degrees [money, etc, etc].” There are basically three types of dude reactions in this scenario: dude A will ignore you entirely. Dude B the educated, but intimidated jerk will attempt to diminish you to make himself feel better. Dude C has hometraining and considers himself progressive. He respects strong, intelligent women. His mama probably is one. So he befriends you. For you, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship with tantalizing possibilities. For him, it is and will only ever be friendship, because he perceives that you are more intelligent and accomplished than he. And that makes you friendable, but not datable, and certainly not f*ckable. Why the two are mutually exclusive is absolutely beyond me.

So yes, just for today, I blame feminism for the particularly sucky state of my love life.  If you ride or die for feminism, you will inevitably find yourself in a kind of dating quicksand, knowing that you’re sinking, but absolutely unable to do anything about it.  I knew I was sunk after the first hour or so.  I had a strategy, which I had mapped out diligently with my homegirl the night before. She had said to me: “Now just let him see you. You don’t have to do all that feminist stuff right up front. I mean be you, but be the regular you. He’s already seen you be Dr. You. Show him the other stuff.”  However much my fellow feminist friends will find such talk problematic, I totally felt her, because these are the pragmatic issues of dating while feminist. So my alert went off when he kept asking me questions about my research. I really need to shift this conversation to something non-academic. And quick! Because otherwise, I’m going to be permanently in the homegirl—unwilling sage—big sister [by virtue of superior accomplishment] category before I can say the words P.H.D.

It didn’t work. Every attempt to express all the reasons why my love affair with the idea of a Ph.D. is over [numero uno being this whole terrible dating scenario, numero dos being the fact that I’m acutely aware in this moment of just how warm my diploma will not be keeping me tonight] led right back to discussing the Ph.D. Now that’s partially because the brother is about to embark on the journey himself. Commendable and attractive. But I’m not trying to be his advisor. If I was interested in a professional relationship, I would’ve invited him to office hours or lunch once the school year starts. But it’s the middle of the summer and at my invitation [because feminists aren’t afraid to ask for what we want] we’re having ice cream at 3p.m. in the middle of the week. Clearly, this is not a professional encounter.

So there we were talking about the plight of Black girls and boys [he used to be a teacher], the plight of Black men and women and what feminism has to say about it, the vicissitudes of the academy and how to last through it. But what I really wanted to talk about was anything but that. That’s what I get paid to talk about. Let’s discuss music, sports, dreams, sex, love, food.

As we walked to our cars, he told me that I had “given him some things to think about.” Famous last words. They mean, “you are the sister that I will call when I need some serious intellectual engagement without all the educated male posturing that happens among me and my boys. And after I call you, I’ll go call my cut buddy to handle everything else.” Sigh.

Take No Prisoners: The Policing of Black Girls

25 Jun

On June 16, two Black, female, Seattle teenagers were arrested and detained for jaywalking.

Marilyn Levias, the 19 year-old perpetrator, unwisely chose to resist arrest. When her friend, 17 year-old Andrea Rosenthal, intervened on her behalf, the arresting officer, Ian Walsh, punched Rosenthal in the face. She was charged with third degree assault; after apologizing later that day, she was still forced to endure a lecture from the officer about keeping her hands to herself.

Many folks in the blogosphere and news outlets have debated the rights and wrongs of this issue. Certain things are clear. It is never wise to resist arrest, even when being arrested for something ludicrous, like jaywalking. It is never okay to put hands on an officer who has taken an oath “to protect and serve,” even if he is more invested in protecting his power and serving his interest than taking care of your well-being.

No, Andrea and Marilyn did not make the wisest of choices. Prevailing wisdom says that lack of wisdom is a hallmark of late adolescence. And unlike Officer Walsh, these girls are not getting paid to protect the public trust. Their job is to be happy-go-lucky, carefree teenage girls. His job, I reiterate, is to protect and serve.

In our national conscience, however, Black girls are always servants, never served, always villains, never victims. Do you think two carefree, adolescent white women cruising the streets of Seattle would have been subject to this officer’s harassment? Could he have so easily sucker punched a blonde, blue-eyed, co-ed?

The ease with which this officer responded to these girls as enemies, instinctually punching Rosenthal as though she had surprised him in a sneak attack, can only be explained by the pervasive operation of a white supremacist discourse that sees Black bodies as threatening and dangerous, and therefore worthy of excessive force.

When I watch the video of this incident, the only person I see attempting to diffuse the situation is a young Black man, who grabs Rosenthal away from the officer and from her friend. He is the one who de-escalates the situation. It goes virtually unnoticed, since Black men are visible in cases like this only when they are being criminal.

We will continue to see unjust, unchecked, excessive forms of violence against Black and Brown folks in this country until we rethink our methods of policing. I am reminded of the summer after I graduated from college, when an officer threatened to club me in a Wal-Mart parking lot because my friend and I parked briefly in a no parking zone, with the permission of store security, to retrieve a package that she had inadvertently left behind.

For that officer and many others, these encounters cease quickly to be about rationality. They become a power-struggle, which the officer can win because he has a state-issued gun and billyclub. If you choose to ask questions or insist an explanation be provided, more often than not, you are met with a threat.

While I recognize police officers risk their lives, everyday, for little fanfare and even less pay, I think they, too, are victims of a policing ideology demanding they “kick butt first and take names later.” Force before thought equals needless carnage, pain and death. But that’s taking a rational approach.

So, while I do not excuse the behavior of these young women, I sympathize with them. They reacted to this officer as though he were an enemy, because for so many people of color, police officers are public enemy #1. And, if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then the enemy of my friend is my enemy. Andrea rolled hard for her girl. As do I.  I commend her sentiment even though I vigorously reject her approach, desiring she remain in the land of the living.

If this had been two young Black men we would have been outraged, and rightfully so. Police brutalize Black girls, too. RIP Aiyana Stanley-Jones.  Black girls, too, are worthy of our rage.

To see the original post and other good reads on race, visit Race-Talk.

Tex-Mex Feminism

24 Jun

There is a reason why the CFC is a people-of-color collective. Our sheroes come in all shades of brown: Barbara Smith and Gloria Anzaldua, Chandra Mohanty and Patricia Hill Collins, Cherrie Moraga and bell hooks. Many a feminist therapy session has been devoted to healing the divide between Black and White feminists. It remains a necessary conversation, but the future of feminism is all about us brown-hued girls. And I, for one, am much more interested in stitching a dream coat of many colors in a global community of sun-kissed sisters, than I am in rehashing tired debates about whether white women will ever get it. Many will. Most won’t. I’m so trying to be over it.

Besides, squabbling about who owns feminism is so 1980s. In the wise words of Jay-Z,  “We off that.”

Given our commitment here @ the CFC to Brown-skinned girls everywhere, I was absolutely appalled when my colleague shared a link this week to a clip of Prophetess Juanita Bynum remixing her famous “No More Sheets” sermon series for a group of Latina churchgoers. In the early 1990s, Bynum, a protégé of T.D. Jakes, burst on the scene calling women to let go of their unfulfilling, soul-wrenching, and sinful sexual relationships. There were to be “No More Sheets” she declared. And for any woman who’s ever lain down desperate and awoken disappointed and disillusioned, perhaps that message is encouraging.

I, for one, am ambivalent about the  (unhealthy) discourse of sexuality that goes on in Christian churches today—a discourse that often traffics in guilt, compels loneliness, and demands a woman’s disavowal of her sexual desire in service of being holy. But as a Christian, I’m inclined to give people of faith the benefit of the doubt, since the Church has done me much more good than harm.  SN: Dr. Susan Newman’s Oh God: A Black Woman’s Guide to Sex and Spirituality has been a wonderful resource in my journey to have a healthy integration of sexuality and spirituality.

But alas, this post really isn’t about that. It’s about the kinds of silences we participate in in the name of female empowerment. It’s about the need to be vulnerable, open, and honest about our shortcomings and our f*ckups, if we are ever gonna grow and be transformed in genuine community.

So when I listened to Pastor Bynum, I found myself a.) hoping that that Sister is seeing a counselor other than Jesus about her years as a victim and survivor of domestic violence b.) disappointed that she has not capitalized on a pivotal opportunity to have a real conversation about the connections between patriarchy, the Bible, antiquated gender roles, and dv; and c.) appalled that when she chose to bring her message of healing and empowerment to another group of women of color, she reduced them to the food they cooked. “No more enchiladas!” she screamed. “No more tacos.” Really! Anyone named Juanita should know better. But then I couldn’t be as judgmental as I was poised to be because I remembered:

In one of the very gatherings out of which the CFC was born, about six years ago, I, too, was the perpetrator of such ignorance. Dominican CFs Susana and Crunkista used to throw amazing dinner parties for the grad students of color. I remember distinctly attending one of my first parties, and seeing the great spread of food, and announcing with classic Sagittarian tactlessness, “I love Mexican food.” Then I noticed the look of chagrin on Susana’s face. Uh-Oh, I thought. That wasn’t too bright. These chicks aren’t Mexican. You fool. At the time, the extent of my exposure to Latino culture had been my brief sojourn to Cuba and my enduring love for Tex-Mex food.

Now Tex-Mex is as American as Hip Hop. It’s fast and flashy and it has flavor, but lacks character.  Authentic shit takes time. #Hip Hop Ain’t Dead, but It’s On Life Support. Having just returned from Germany where the food was awesome, I declare that time is out for Tex-Mex approaches to food, life, spirituality, AND feminism. So as an ex-offender, I call out Sister Bynum to do better. Her words were delivered in the spirit of connection and I can get with that. But like good sex, effective activism, and lasting community, connection takes time, intentionality, and accountability. And the process is oftentimes messy. Loving patience –like that shown to me by Susana and Crunkista when they chose not to get crunk even though I deserved it—is required.

And as for televangelism, commercial Hip Hop, and Tex-Mex Feminism, I tell you like my mama told me: everything that looks good to you ain’t good for you. Period.

Musing on Black Women Writing

23 Jun

My post Black Women x The Streets x Harassment has 114 comments on Racialicious.

I don’t think I have ever written something that has received such a massive response.

The comments are illuminating because they demonstrate the ways in which people may or may not see how racial sexism is at play when Black men harass Black women, White women, and other women of color in the streets.

As a writer, as a Black woman, and as a feminist I am incredibly grateful to have spaces to have my work read and responded to in real time. To that end, I appreciate the opportunity to write this post here as well.

I wrote it as a intervention on violence against Black women and street harassment.

I also really appreciate the ways in which article connects Black women’s ability to be in the street to our ability to participate in democracy.

Having blogged for almost 5 years, (where did the time go?), I know that writing is work.
Full stop.

However, what is interesting about this piece is that it has allowed me to take relatively sophisticated legal, racial and gender theory and apply it to our every day lives. When I do this, I feel successful. Making theory relate to our everyday lives is an important skill and my blog is a place where I work hard on it.

What do you think about online spaces for Black women?

What would happen if we tried to make some of the theory that we learn accessible
to wider audiences?

Why is it so hard for folks to acknowledge that racial sexism is REAL on the streets?

Renina is a thinker and blogger at New Model Minority.com.

12th Annual Allied Media Conference Report Back

22 Jun

12th Annual Allied Media Conference flyer Yellow sun burst stripes on teal sky with white lettering

This weekend I attended my favorite conference, The Allied Media Conference in Detroit. This year was way more subdued than the last two years I’ve attended. There were less people of color present, I didn’t go to very many sessions, I was on my period, feeling real low energy and  it was still amazing, transformative, and once again reminded me of what I’m here to do in this world. Even with its challenges, the AMC is the kind of conference that has me checking the calendar to make sure I’ve got it on deck for next year.

The most powerful part of the conference for me was being connected to the Creating Collective Access folks, organized in less than a month by some of the fiercest people I know. I was reminded how conferences themselves create a non-sustainable way of folks relating to each other, to themselves and their own needs. On some days the conference schedule was filled from 8am- 2am. Being connected to the collective access folks allowed me to give myself permission to chill, to not push through exhaustion and inattentiveness to be at every session, to not sacrifice a really good slow conversation to make it to a panel presentation on listening. I felt more in my body, more aware of my needs.

Creating Collective Access also had me questioning what collective space looks like and what to do when access may be so different for different people. I went to one of the sessions that was part of the Indigenous Media and Technology track and the presenters were using smoke as a tool in the workshop. I was thinking about folks with disabilities that need scent free spaces and how you hold those things together or if you can’t, what do you do? Are we willing to do what it takes to create or use tools to share across real boundaries?

I was amazed by Adrienne Marie Brown’s Octavia Butler Symposium, people’s overwhelming interest as well as her awesome awesome facilitation skills. Adrienne is so fierce she had the notes up later that day! Check them out here! I was once again struck by folks reluctance and perhaps inability to talk about trauma in our movement and how we heal or don’t from all these –isms that impact our lives.

I feel softer now and sharper at the same time. Refined and focused, recommitted to kindness with direction and more prepared to speak up as an ally for the disability justice movement and the rights of indigenous peoples. I’m full and content and feel myself coming into a new era of myself.  I’m hopeful and it feels really good.

On Slim Thug

14 Jun

From news media pundits, comedians-turned-relationship experts, to a soulful singer speaking about his self-proclaimed white supremacist penis in Playboy, it would seem that everybody has something to say about the un/desirability of Black women. When I read the Vibe interview excerpt by Slim Thug and the response gone viral by Marc Lamont Hill, I opened my laptop to see my cursor just jumping on the electronic page amped for me to slam Slim and the keys, to throw my two cents into the blogosphere to make sense out of his deplorable depictions about Black womanhood.

And, then I heard the interview. He does recall harmful stereotypes about race and gender. No doubt. One of them includes the idea that white women possess and perfect femininity. He does recuperate dangerous discourses about the extinct black man and the emasculating black woman. No question. Trust, I could have written an entry without even reading the interview. But, I heard the interview. I heard the pauses. And, I had to pause and wiggle off the knee-jerk reaction to “read” him. I just heard him. I heard him searching for the word—the right words—to frame his analysis (however unconvincing). On a national stage, I heard Slim Thug trying to work through powerful race and gender scripts so ingrained in our culture that they appear commonsense to him and other folks in our community.

In the final part of the interview, Slim Thug describes a black femininity and masculinity tied to the performance of class, or to a wealthy lifestyle (a lifestyle that is, contrary to what Vibe writers summarize, is not exclusive to the hood). For him, a black man blowing dough on dro and syrup (i.e., cocktail mix that includes cough syrup) at home or at the club to attract women is as problematic as the black woman who incurs incredible credit card debt to buy luxury brands to attract men. Both are performing gender scripts from a hip hop dreamworld. While Slim Thug criticizes Black women for our “crazy way of thinking,” his examples speak to the craziness of consumer capital that seduces all of us to live out champagne fantasies. (We need only watch any television program to be reminded of the worldview we are invited to subscribe.) The hip-hop get-rich raps that Slim Thug profits from hinge on the very consumerism he deplores in other folk. He is right on when he suggests these cyclic performances adversely impact black relationships because they are rooted in artifice. He is dead wrong to levy his attack toward already vulnerable black women. Ultimately, the “50/50, fair exchange” that Slim Thug said he wants for successful black relationships and the black community can only materialize when he divests in his own narrow definitions of success—that is, capitalist economic power and patriarchal power over women (i.e., masculinity par excellence).

In peace & solidarity,
Aisha

Things that make Crunkista angry

10 Jun

1) White privilege.
2) Heteronormativity.
3) Racism.
4) Hearing Latinos referred to as “spicy.” ~ Bite me.
5) Fox News. ~ Refer to #1 and #3.
6) Stupid people. ~ They are everywhere. They procreate. They choose their “own” truths. Refer to #3, #4 and #5.
7) When American women call women of other cultures second-class citizens, as if we’re exempt. ~ Women in this country do not have that much to celebrate, especially women of color. Refer to #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5.
8] Patriarchy. ~ It’s still over. Stop calling me. Refer to the “Dear Patriarchy” post.
9) Glamour, Cosmopolitan and all other magazines like them. ~ I don’t need to learn another way to lose my belly fat or thrill my man in bed. YOU suck it.
10) Republicans.
11) Democrats.
12) The state of Arizona and all of the Xenophobia running rampant in this country. ~ This nation was established on the principles of greed, injustice, land theft, genocide and immigration. In fact, this country still thrives on those principles; the labor of undocumented immigrants; and the working class. How dare you? Refer to #1, #3, #4, #5, #6, #10 and #11.
13) Hate crimes and hate speech. ~ Refer to #3, #5 and #6.
14) The State thinking it can decide what laws apply to my body. ~ MY body. Refer to #8.
15) Organized religion and those who vehemently refuse to question it. ~ Refer to #5, #7 and #8.
16) Music videos on MTV, VH1, CMT and BET. ~ Women are demoralized and objectified across musical genres and television networks. Refer to #3 and #8.
17) Apathy.
18) Americans who do not exercise their right to vote. ~ Refer to #17.
19) WE, Oxygen and the growing number of Wedding Networks. ~ Million dollar weddings don’t guarantee a happily ever after, neither will that Vera Wang dress.
20) The fact that the American public school system is poorly funded; teachers are overwhelmingly unsupported and underpaid. ~ Refer to anything ever written by Jonathan Kozol.
21) When parents/guardians leave childrearing solely to teachers. ~ It takes a community, people. Refer to #20.
22) The so-called “separation” of church and state.
23) Ignorance.
24) Claims that the “re-appropriation” of hateful words that target, demoralize, oppress, and condone violence against specific groups of people is okay. ~ It’s not. It never will be. You are just doing their dirty work for them. Willingly and for free. Refer to #13, #15 and #23.
25) Dirty politicians. See #10 and #11.
26) BP and the politicians who have helped them become the company they are today. ~ Refer to #25.
27) Those who claim that feminists hate men. ~ We don’t hate men. It’s that simple…we don’t.
28) Women who think feminism is a bad word. ~ That’s what they want you to think. We actually encourage you to think for yourself! Refer to #8.
29) Ethnocentrism. ~ My culture is not better than yours. In fact, we can sit down and debate over whose is more oppressive.
30) When people start sentences with, “God said…” ~ Don’t you ever wonder what your God would say to mine? [Wait for it…] Did you ever think that perhaps your God was not the only God? [Wait for it…] What if my God was your God’s God? [Yeah I said it.] Refer to #6 and #15.
31) Pedophilia and the sexualization of children. ~ We aren’t doing enough to protect them. Refer to #17, #18 and #25.
32) The blatant racism, sexism, and violence against women occurring within the 14 billion dollar porn industry. ~ The porn industry is completely out of control and no one is doing anything about it. Refer to #1, #2, #3, #4, #13, #17, #25 and #31.
33) Sexism and violence against women. ~ It has to stop. Refer to #1 thru #32.

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