Archive | April, 2011

Dispatches from the Black Women’s Intellectual History Conference

29 Apr

Hi all:

I am blessed to be spending my weekend among a number of wonderful junior and senior scholars who engage in the work of Black women’s intellectual history. “Towards An Intellectual History of Black Women: An International Conference,” happening this weekend at Columbia, is one of the premier events highlighting the work of the Black Women’s Intellectual History working group that began back in 2006 to explore together the history of ideas produced by Black women both in the U.S. and abroad. The notion that a Black women’s intellectual history exists, while not new, is still as radical as it ever was. This seems especially so given Black men’s continued propensity to write texts about Black intellectuals that don’t include the work of Black women in any substantive way. It also seems that we still labor under hugely restrictive notions of  what counts as “theory”, what counts as “intellect”, and what kinds of bodies do theoretical and intellectual labor.

It goes without saying then, that in a field of history where it still seems that “all the women are white and all the Blacks are men,” we are making history by daring to assert that Black women have a long, rich history of producing unique ideas about race, economics, science, literature, and gender.

I am immensely proud to be numbered among the scholars who get the opportunity of finding and exposing these ideas to others.

We kicked off yesterday’s event with two panels. The first panel, composed of yours truly, Tommy Curry, and Kyla Schuller, with Mia Bay moderating, and Thadious Davis responding,  focused on those classic sisters, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, Frances Harper and Anna Julia Cooper; these foremothers are often the first place we look when attempting to locate a history of Black women and ideas. The presentations did not disappoint, and the impassioned discussion afterward reminds us that we have still not yet exhausted what can and should be said about the original crew of race women.

The next panel, featuring Melissa Stein and Asia Leeds, with Farah J. Griffin moderating and Maboula Soumahoro, responding, discussed Black women’s contributions to medical scientific discourses and Black women’s participation in the UNIA in Costa Rica, respectively. These panels expanding my thinking about the contours of transnational connections between Black women and about the methodological problems that we encounter in dealing with Black women’s bodies and the ways that they talk about their bodies in the purported culture of dissemblance.

It’s all heady stuff, and I’m sharing rather quickly, as I’ll be off in just a very few minutes to hear a full day of discussions on the intellectual lives of Black women.

Perhaps I could sum up the first day in the paraphrased words of my colleague and mentor (though perhaps she doesn’t know that yet) Stephanie Evans, “I’m excited to be here. Here. Here in community with people who care about the things and people I care about, are interested in the questions I’m interested in, and know why these topics of study are important in the first place.” I completely agree. In fact, this is what it means to be in good, accountable, rigorous, loving feminist community in the first place.

More updates to come….

Shayne Lee, Your Revolution Will Not Happen Between These Thighs: An Open Letter

19 Apr
Dear Shayne Lee,
In light of the recent publication of your book Erotic Revolutionaries and the venomous, malevolent, and vitriolic campaign that you have undertaken against our colleague and ally Tamura Lomax of The Feminist Wire in response to her forthcoming review of your work in the journal Palimpsest, we want to unequivocally affirm our support for her and our disappointment in you.

First, no man is a feminist who threatens a woman. Period. The fact that you found it reasonable to undermine and demean Tamura’s formidable mental prowess via text message, not only reflects an unhealthy sense of personal and professional boundaries on your part, but also a penchant for intellectual violence. And since you can’t model healthy communication practices in public, we don’t trust that you are prone to exercise them in private either. Do you always call women who disagree with you “idiots,” “mental midgets,” and “hacks”? Intellectual and discursive bullying is always egregious, but it is especially egregious for a Black man to do this to a Black woman, especially when that Black man claims to be advocating the cause of Black women.

The ability to engage in civil discourse, even when our opinions are diametrically opposed is one of the hallmarks of the academic enterprise. Because you are a tenured professor, we believe you know this. Rather than being merely a function of forgivable ignorance, your campaign of calumny against Dr. Lomax is calculated, intentional, troubling, and disgusting.  Moreover, the notion that you can in any way participate in laying out a sexually revolutionary agenda for young Black feminists when your private and professional choices employ attacks on women who want to engage in dialogue is beyond our comprehension.

Sending petty, threatening text messages to a colleague who critiques your work is not revolutionary. Making immature, obnoxious, ableist, and violent comments about colleagues on Facebook is not revolutionary. Being petulant and rude when folks check you on your foolishness is not revolutionary. Claiming to be a “revolutionary brotha” while threatening to violently silence a sister with a “smackdown” and a “well-deserved spanking” ain’t revolutionary.
There is a long and well-documented history of backlash against black feminist politics, including personal attacks against “second-wave” black feminists by Black men. The line-up includes Michele Wallace, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker (perhaps the most demonized), Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Anita Hill. As early as the 1830s, Maria Stewart, the first woman of any race to speak publicly about women’s rights, delivered a farewell speech to the black community, especially ministers, after a brief career on the lecture circuit. Deeply resentful, she argued, “let us no longer talk of prejudice, till prejudice becomes extinct at home. Let us no longer talk of opposition, til we cease to oppose our own. . . . Men of eminence have mostly risen from obscurity; nor will I, although a female of a darker hue, and far more obscure than they, bend my head or hang my harp upon willows.” The fact these words ring true today and in this situation speak to both the tenacity of a black feminist politic and its necessity.
There is also the equally predictable “trashing” of black women in favor of white women in your text, though we don’t recall such behavior from a self-defined “feminist” black male: “Where are the black counterparts to white scholars like Jane Gallop, Pepper Schwartz, Camille Paglia, and Katherine Frank who generate feminist theory as the driving force to advocate female pleasure and agency? Why are no African-American professors writing bold and sexy feminist texts like EROTIC Faculties by Joanne Frueh or PIN-UP GRRLS by Maria Elena Buszek?” This question has been answered by Evelynn Hammonds, Tricia Rose, and others. The privileging of white women’s sexual scholarship does not mean that black women have not done this work nor does it reflect the unique standpoints of black women in the academy who take more risks to do it. The work of Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Tricia Rose, Layli Phillips, Maria Stewart, Michele Wallace, Patricia Hill- Collins, Nikky Finney, bell hooks, Toni Cade Bambara and new scholarship by younger black feminists who navigate the personal and political in online spaces, all challenge this assertion. The Black feminist agenda has never been merely a white feminist agenda in Blackface. So you want to “restore the proverbial clit” to its rightful place in Black sexual politics?” Well, last we checked, and most of us check often, our clits are right where they belong–at the center of our being, being engaged on our terms, not yours.
We, therefore, resent your attempt to put us on the defensive when it comes to pro-sex discourse, namely so that if we invoke our history of sexual oppression and question the very real costs of embracing popular notions/representations of the erotic, then we are dismissed as parochial gatekeepers and perpetuators of respectability. Clearly you don’t understand, suffering as you do from unchecked(Black) male privilege, that Black women’s positionality in the academy is complicated. Our pro-sex stance is often instilled in the very classrooms where we learn to think about why the histories of racism and sexism have given Black women’s sexuality such a negative rap in the first place. We don’t need more attacks about our sexual “dysfunction.”  We need allies, fellow scholars who are especially sensitive to the ways that white supremacy and male supremacy make the pro-sex framework advanced by white women an always difficult space for Black women to enter and inhabit. Then it might become apparent that we have simply created other spaces, ones not visible to folks who are unsafe. If the spaces are invisible to you, perhaps a whole lot of sisters peeped game at your penchant for verbal violence and deemed you unsafe for access.
So check it. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive review, largely because we are exhausted by your tired antics. We’ll leave that to our colleague, Dr. Lomax and others, who are so inclined. Just consider this as us putting you on notice, that we see you, and we’re exposing your actions so that we are not silenced again.As black feminists, we believe transformation is always possible and should you be open to being accountable for your behavior, you could do so in the following ways:
  1. Acknowledge publicly that you messed up- It would be really valuable for you to acknowledge publicly that threats and tactics of intimidation are not parts of feminist praxis.
  2. Apologize- It’s clear that you owe Dr. Lomax an apology for both the private messages you sent to her and the public attacks on her scholarship on your Facebook page.
  3. Amend- this includes but isn’t limited to taking down the negative Facebook comments and educating yourself about why they were in fact ableist and inapropriate.
  4. Action- Part of being accountable is working towards a new mode of engaging in the future. How will you behave differently should another black woman disagree with your scholarship publicly? What will you do to ensure that when other black male scholars act in a similar way that your lessons learned from this experience will be accessible for the transformation of that instance?

We will not be intellectually bullied into submission. We have officially given new meaning to the term “come correct,” and we suggest, brother, that you get it together. And here is one of our best examples of rescripting to date…

Shayne Lee, “your revolution will not happen between these thighs.

In Black Feminist Solidarity,

Brittney C. Cooper
Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Susana Morris
Moya Bailey
Ashon Crawley
Mark Anthony Neal
Aishah Shahidah Simmons
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Gwendolyn D. Pough
Rachel Raimist
Aida Hussen
Asha  French
Robin Boylorn
Sheri Davis-Faulkner
Whitney Peoples
Nuala Cabral
Chanel Craft
Salamishah Tillet
Yolo Akili
Kenyon Farrow
Robert J. Patterson
Eesha Pandit
Joan Morgan
David Ikard
Renina Jarmon
WAM! (Women, Action, and Media)

The Joy(s) of Being A (Black) Woman

18 Apr

I taught a class of Black Women’s Stories this semester and it culminated in a moment of clarity and a recognition of joy. When speaking with a black woman scholar whom I both admire and respect, I shared some of my concerns about the course and how while the stories are certainly powerful, many narratives of black womanhood concentrate on pain, including my own.  I shared that I was excited about the class because it allowed me to collect all of my favorite black girl/woman stories and teach them—teach myself—but that I did not want anyone to walk away feeling like black womanhood is an altogether negative experience/reality.

After acknowledging the importance that such a class exist, particularly in an institution that might otherwise render black womanhood invisible and insignificant, my mentor asked a poignant question: “What about the joy of being a black woman?”  She said, “With all the struggles attached I have never wanted to be anything other than a black woman.  I have never wanted to be a man.  And I have never wanted to be white.”

While I had escaped penis envy all my life, as a child I did wish for whiteness—though my memory does not distinguish if it was the skin or the privilege attached to it that I most longed for. 

My mentor challenged me to have my students read a story about the deliciousness of black womanhood and not just the struggle/s and oppression/s.  When I asked what book she was talking about she had no answer, but I realized that every book written by a black woman about being a black woman contains this bliss—even though it is sometimes hidden and tucked around survival and sacrifice.  I realized that the things and women we read, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Joan Morgan, Cheryl Clarke, Ntozake Shange, Rebecca Walker, Meri Danquah, Patricia Hill Collins, Marita Golden and others, were writing about being (fully feeling/loving/embracing/learning) black and female.  An acknowledgment of the discrimination is not a rejection of all that we are.

While there was a repetition of pain fostered in an inability to not break (resisting or embracing strongblackwomanhood) stereotypes, ambivalence about love/relationships/life, witnessing  loveless partnership, experiencing passionless sex, fearing forced celibacy and loneliness, the inner workings of incest, anger, secrets shared, abandonment, mama and daddy issues, and depression…we read a range of pieces from my life.  “Strongblackwomen” “in search of our mothers’ gardens” with “home girls” fighting “the myth of the superwoman” and declaring “a black feminist statement” while “using anger to respond to racism” and finding the need to face ourselves in our sisters, “eye to eye.”  Dreaming of “blue eyes” and “the days of good looks” when “lesbianism was an act of resistance.” “Lusting for freedom,” pouring balm on “wounds of passion” while the “willow wept for me,”…with me, I found myself in “Sula” because she wanted to make herself, not somebody else, just like me– and fought off “whitegirls” “shifting” through “bone black” ashes on my brown black skin and fighting with and for “endangeredblackmen,” realizing finally that this experience was “For Strong Women” and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.”

From Barbara Smith’s Introduction to Home Girls to Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought to Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider to Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost we analyzed black women’s experiences of discrimination but also her experiences of joy.  Pleasure.  Power. Love.

I asked my students to go back to every thing we had read and pull out the joy!  The joy of being a black woman.  And we assembled in a classroom circle calling out how the stories teach black girls to be unapologetically themselves and find joy in friendships and relationships with other black women, even unconventional black women.  How romantic relationships begin with hope and anticipation, anxious waiting and “good love” and good lovin even if it sometimes ends.  About sisterhood and friendship and moments of escape and dreams—finding love, inspiring love, writing love, loving yourself, being erotic in every endeavor and enjoying life. Finding power, yes power, and loving black men (and women) as friends (and lovers) and the good side of mothering—and art as an escape and poetry as a medium and being sexual and sexy “like a grown woman” before you are grown and how blackness defines blackness and there is pride and purpose in being a black woman feminist revolutionary. Being free and beautiful in your own self. Moving to music and making love through song, we found black women to be innovators, spiritual healers, inheriting creativity and security and using tears and each other to move forward and on.

I can borrow their words or use my own but we realized in that moment that all along we had been reading about joy, hidden beneath pain, in the everyday experiences of being a woman of color.  It was beautiful and telling. And above all JOYFUL!

Crunk Mic Check (Elle Vie)

15 Apr

We’ve been focusing on self-care a lot over here at the Crunk Feminst Collective and one of the ways I practice self-care is by listening to music that makes me feel good. One of my favorite new artists to bump is Elle Vie. She’s coming out of Canada and she is spitting hot fire! Her lyrical content, her style of delivery, and her flow reminds me of the amazing potential for hip-hop to make you FEEL. (I’m talking about that close-your-eyes-bow-your-head-and-sway-it-back-and-forth-while-saying-dayuuumn kind of feeling). So here’s to uplifting an artists that gets it right!

On Ashley Judd and the Politics of Citation

13 Apr

Ashley Judd holding a copy of her new book

A couple of folks were asking for a crunk response to Ashley Judd’s memoir passages and the resulting controversy. Judd is being called to task for singling out rap music as the “contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.” You can read her words here.

There are lots of responses that you can check out but I want to say something about the folks who defend Judd’s words with “Well, She has a point.”

Black women have been talking about (and back to) misogyny in hip-hop since it’s inception. Y’all remember Roxanne Shanté right?

It’s frustrating when all the work that black women have done to speak back to music that has particular, real world consequences in our lives is ommitted and unacknowledged. We’ve also done this talking back with an analysis of the systemic forces that make black men/rap music the scape goats for societal oppression of women. I know it’s a personal narrative, but can some hip-hop feminist foremothers get a shout out?

If we can all turn to the Ten Crunk Commandments for Re-Invigorating Hip Hop Feminist Studies, we’ll see that the first commandment reminds us to “know and cite” authors who have shaped the field of hip-hop feminism. This commandment doesn’t just apply to Judd but also to some of her defenders. If you are going to defend her position, can you cite the black women who have actually done work on the issue in scholarship, film, and action? The “she has a point” camp feels dismissive of decades of resistance and carefully crafted projects by hip-hop feminists and activists.

Rap music’s connection to rape culture and misogyny is real explicit. Its visible and repetitve invocations of gendered violence voiced by black and brown men make it an easy target. But by only focusing our attention there, we miss the larger picture of a white supremacist capitalist (hetero)patriarchal society that supports rap’s bad rap. It’s not a coincidence that we don’t know the names of the white men who sign the checks that rappers’ cash. Four major music labels account for almost 80% of the industry and not one CEO is a person of color (…and the white man get paid off of all of that).

The gendered violence that Judd experienced in her own life was not accompanied by thumping bass or autotune. To return to the commandments, if Judd had contextualized and situated her comments within her own lived reality, would rap music makes sense as the soundtrack to the misogyny she and the women closest to her have experienced or are experiencing?

CF Esha’s last three posts provide important context for how gendered violence is a social issue that goes so much deeper than music. She points to international military attacks by the U.S., national and state legislation, along with a moral cultural war that work in concert to oppress women, and women of color most specifically.

I am a big fan of holding rappers accountable for their misogyny. Trust. But I also want to push for white folks to hold each other accountable for the ways in which they perpetuate systems of oppression in culture writ large. I’m interested to read the whole book to see how she understands white culture’s impact on the way she experienced violence. She mentions the soundtrack but what about the movie itself?

*Update*

Ashley Judd Apologizes

I’d like to see YOU jump without a safety net: Why the Republicans’ Budget Proposal is Morally Bankrupt

8 Apr

Darling CF’s, Today, I bring you your regularly scheduled crunk policy analysis.

I am a bit of a policy nerd, admittedly. Not because I enjoy inaccessible wonkery, but because I think it informs my activism to know as much as I can about the intricacies of policy proposals and political agendas.

That said, I must confess that I find budgets to be completely tedious and almost incomprehensible pieces of policy. BUT, they are arguably the most important pieces of policy there are. Nothing happens unless it is funded: almost no policy can implemented without a funding stream, without a designation of where the money will come from. Public programs, the military, the post office – all exist only so long as we fund them. In the USA, if we believe in something we have to put our money where our mouth is, and in the case of public programs like food access for the poor, it’s rather literal.

So, the current goings on in Washington are not a specific-issue based fight. This is not about how much money goes for a particular program, or not. Though, it may seem so at first glance. It is a fight over the very structure and function of our government.

Last night, mere hours from a government shutdown meetings between President Obama, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) were still ongoing. The government budget is the major point of contention. The Republican leadership reportedly wants anywhere from 40-33 billion dollars in spending cuts to domestic programs, and the Administration and Democratic leadership are trying to keep the country running without having to concede such drastic cuts.

Soon, this issue will be resolved. The government won’t shut down for long, if it shuts down at all. What’s more important here are the pivot points in this debate.

What do conservative consider to be “wasteful spending?” Republican Senator Paul Ryan’s budget would slash the safety net programs for people living in poverty and those fast-approaching poverty. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Yep, this would save money, in a manner of speaking, and likely only in the short term. It would increase the burden on the most vulnerable among us – those of us that are low income, women, people of color, people with disabilities, people who need health care… the list goes on, and these identities intersect.

But you know what would REALLY save some big bucks? Eliminating or reducing funding for one or two of the wars we’re in. Or perhaps cutting the federally funded health care that’s afforded to all Congresspeople. Or maybe ending some (or all) of the tax subsidies we give to corporations. Those things would save some money, for real.  Or we could just tax the rich. This attempt at targeting safety net services, isn’t about saving money, it’s about cementing the socio-economic strata in our society. The rich will get richer and the poor won’t have a chance in hell. Never mind your bootstraps, this is the final blow from which the American Dream (mythical as it is) will never recover.

Without consistent support from the government in the form of public programs, the middle class can’t grow. People fall into poverty and have no recourse for getting out of it without robust health care, education and community engagement programs. I realize this might sound a little alarmist, but if we carry the conservative ideal of limited government to it’s logical conclusion, specifically if the limits are placed on public and social programs, then this is the path we’re on.

Our challenge is to redefine this debate to be about human flourishing, not about the government’s role as an abstract entity. Because I believe that the right to be free from poverty is a right that we have to fight for. And to put our money where our mouth is.

We Are One: Remembering King by Getting Active!

3 Apr

Today is April 4th, forty-three years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.  In 2000, National Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association began the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) Day of Action to recognize Dr. King’s important work supporting the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike in 1968.

Black Men Holding "I AM A MAN" placardsMen and women throughout the Memphis community supported the effort of the workers to join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees for collective bargaining rights, i.e. job security and protection from dangerous work environments.  For a more detailed look at this struggle watch the film At the River I Stand.


We are living in a time where working, unemployed, and underemployed people are under attack from multinational corporations, who want all the rights and privileges of personhood with none of the responsibilities of being humane and just.   Walmart, SodexhoMarriot, and the Red Cross are just a few anti-union companies that are destroying our communities with low wages and minimal, if any, benefits.  Unionized public sector employees and teachers are also being targeted by corporate funded state and local governments supposedly to address budget deficits.  These groups represent the few remaining organized workers with the political power to challenge the conservative Right-To-Work for less agendas.  To be clear, without public sector workers there is no black middle class or organized working class, so many black folk in my generation would not have had access to any college education.

The struggle to protect public sector employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, and many other states are all of our fights.  It is the same legislation dressed up in different language.  Today you can Get Active by visiting the AFL-CIO We Are One website, click on your state, find out what is going on in your area, and make your voice heard.  My family spent Saturday morning at the most amazing Atlanta Jobs with Justice community teach-in.  Take an hour to do something to commemorate Dr. King’s true dream, I promise you will not regret it.

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