Archive | July, 2012

Olympics Oppression?: Gabby Douglas and Smile Politics

30 Jul

I tune in to  the Summer Olympics every four years primarily for one sport: Women’s Gymnastics. I like basketball, women’s tennis, track and field, and men’s diving, too. But Gymnastics is my bread and butter.

I had the privilege of falling in love with gymnastics in the early 1990s, the golden era of Team USA. All coached by the great Bela Karolyi, the 1992 and 1996 teams featured the likes of Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, and Dominique Moceanu, just a few of my faves from back in the day. And my all time favorite moment is when Kerri Strug perfectly stuck that vault landing with an injured ankle at the ’96 Olympics. I’ve never seen more heart. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

So I was mad excited to tune in to see this year’s team of five girls, the favorite Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, McKalya Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Gabby Douglas.

Gabby, Aly, Kyla, Jordyn, and McKayla

I’m cheering for all of them, but I have a soft spot for the girls of color on the team, including African American Gabby Douglas, and Kyla Ross, who is of African-American, Japanese, Puerto Rican, and Dominican  (Correction: Filipina) descent.

As with most sports coverage though, every time a Black girl participates in a sport traditionally dominated by white women, you can count on the commentators to show their asses. And they did not disappoint yesterday.

17 year old, reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify to compete for the individual all-around finals. As shocking as it was for all of us, it must be truly tough to have your life long dream dashed before a watching world. And I agree with Bela Karolyi that the top 24 girls regardless of country should compete in the all arounds, rather than the top 2 from each country. 

Be that as it may,  Jordyn’s best friend and teammate Aly Raisman will compete for gold along with Gabby Douglas. But Jordyn’s understandable disappointment in no way justifies the uneven and downright biased coverage that Gabby received for her performance.

First, during floor exercises, Gabby stepped out of bounds with both feet, resulting in several tenths of a point deduction in her score. That’s not an insignificant error for sure, but the rest of her routine was almost flawlessly executed.

You wouldn’t know it to listen to the sportscasters chomping at the bit, talking about how absolutely terrible it was, what a HUGE mistake she’d made, how low her score was going to be. And on. AND ON.

Never mind that Jordyn had a bad day. She gaffed on her balance beam routine and almost fell, but the commentators focused on how she recovered and pulled it off, by sheer strength of will. And a monster toe grip. I’m not tossing any shade to Jordyn. It was a beautiful routine.

But the sportscasters are far, FAR from impartial.

For instance, peep this coverage about Jordyn Wieber’s upsetting finish. Around the 1:22 mark, you’ll notice that they show an individual picture of every team member EXCEPT Gabby!

Aly and Gabby advanced to the all-arounds, coaches and teammates hugged and congratulated Aby. They comforted and consoled Jordyn. But they said not a word to Gabby. There were no hi-fives, congratulations (not on any coverage I saw), no celebration. Just total disappointment on Jordyn’s behalf, and the overwhelming sense at least among the sportscasters who talked about Jordyn’s dashed hopes and dreams that Gabby didn’t really deserve it, that she’d taken a spot that didn’t belong to her. 

Why celebrate Aly and not Gabby?

In the immediate interviews afterward, Aly got asked questions about how excited she was, how she felt about her friend, but ultimately what this meant for her dreams. Gabby on the other hand got three questions about her shortcomings — her mistakes during the floor exercise, the belief among the coaching staff that she couldn’t handle the pressure, and her feelings about coming in ahead of her teammate (who presumably) deserved it more. The fourth and final question asked her how she felt to be there, and like Black girls used to this kind of passive aggressive white hostility are so deft at doing, she responded with an affirmation of confidence in herself.

And then she gave that big beautiful smile that everyone keeps focusing on.

Her smile is beautiful to be sure. And a world in which Black girls smile, giddy from the joy of being able to pursue their dreams, is a world I want more of.

But after having read Toni Morrison’s analysis of Clarence Thomas’ nomination hearings for the Supreme Court, and the copious amount of times that Congressmen referred to his great smile and jovial personality (rather than his record of legal scholarship and groundbreaking rulings), I am suspicious of these kinds of smile politics.

Perhaps, focusing on her smile makes Gabby seem non-threatening. And make no mistake–she’s in it to win it.

It remains unclear to me why Kyla Ross is not subjected to similar kinds of coverage, but I think that she is exoticized a bit on the one hand, and on the other, while she is a strong part of the team, she hasn’t presented herself as a threat to any of the individual goals set by the white girls on the team. But Gabby’s ambitions and her ability to achieve them are clear.

I guess I should be used to this kind of shamtastery in the sports commentating after years of watching the Williams Sisters dominate women’s tennis. But it still irks me. Even so, I’m cheering on Team USA, and I’m #teamGabby all the way!

Feel free to weigh in:

Are y’all watching the Olympics?

What are your fave sports/athletes?

Have y’all noticed this differential coverage in the Olympics?

Throwback Thursday: Living Single

26 Jul

Today’s Throwback Thursday has me digging up a piece I didn’t claim as mine before. I don’t like to get personal on here because some of y’all don’t know how to act. Also, I’m still working out the importance of emotions and expressing them. This may be a lifelong process.

I wrote living single at a time when I was thinking about how I do relationships of all kinds and if its sustainable. Many concerns that I raised remain but there are also updates.

Mia and Stacey made it to the Bay and have been documenting the very real and hard work of seeing what is on the other side of dreaming. They are also doing work to spread communication skills to their community to help folks strengthen their relationships. I’m also energized by the amazing toolkit produced by Creative Interventions that provides practical resources and practices for dealing with interpersonal violence without the state. Both of these projects remind me that the communities we live in have an important role to play in how we do relationships. The stronger our communities, the better our relationships, romantic, platonic and in between.

__________________________________________________

Living Single TV Show Female Cast

I hate the term single. Despite the fact that most of us come in to this world by ourselves and leave that way there’s an expectation of partnering in the interim. And while you are granted a bit more of a reprieve from single shade* in queerdom, there’s still a palpable partner privilege that operates. Couples only hang outs, automatic invites to your partner’s friends’ functions, less unwanted amorous attention because you’re read as off limits, more respect for your time as it’s obviously being impacted by another person, etc. I’ve had the unfortunate but not uncommon experience of losing friends to relationships, only to be heard from again in the equally unfortunate but not uncommon instance of the break up. As a non-partnered person I also feel some pressure when hanging out with half of a coupled couple. I sometimes sense suspicion of my intentions. It seems non-partnered people are read as a roving threat to relationships. There’s always some pop culture plot point where a generally good person, usually man or masculine, is tempted by an evil single seductress who doesn’t give a damn about the existing relationship. Y’all saw Obsessed right?

As I age, I am curious about that moment when singlehood switches in peoples’ minds from the willfulness of youthful independence to tragic pathological existence. I think that timeline is too short maybe even non-existent for straight women and while there’s a bit more leeway in queer community, there comes a point when casual dating isn’t cute anymore or perhaps even possible because folks are booed up. It has me wondering if there’s room to maintain a single life as an older person, like still dating in your 50’s and 60’s? And how do you find folks to date if all your peers at that age are married or partnered? I mean the Golden Girls had it rough but they’d all been married before. I really struggle with this as someone who is ambivalent about romantic relationships, particularly as constructed in this society.

Co-dependent love is constantly represented as the ideal.  “I can’t sleep/think/ live/function without you, romantic partner” leads to the inevitable crash of despair when things don’t work out because you’ve set up someone else to meet the impossible expectation of completing you. “Forsaking all others” doesn’t just imply sexual partners but in a nuclear model of family, seems to also speak to friendships and extended family. Why do mother-in-laws stay getting a bad rap?

And yet, there’s something really real about co-dependence in a culture that doesn’t value interdependence. A romantic partner is expected to be there, in “sickness and in health” in ways that we don’t demand of friendship. Subsequently, a spouse or partner has legal and social rights that a friend does not. For queer folks this is particularly important when unsupportive biological family can legally trump chosen family. Our legal system actively limits who we can call on which reflects and exacerbates social beliefs about relationships.

I have a more playful, flirtatious way of thinking about intimate relationships which usually rubs up against (and not in a good way) a social expectation for monogamy. I have romantic friendships that are not quite platonic, sexy time friends that aren’t quite lovers, close kindred spirits that should really be on my insurance before a romantic partner. And while pop culture flirts with poly possibilities, it never quite goes all the way. There are an endless number of songs that reference men cheating or women cheating on their boyfriends b/c of the supposed sexual prowess of whomever is singing/rapping the hit. So while there’s a tacit tolerance of cheating, intentional polyamory remains off the table. And even with an occasional “my girl’s got a girlfriend” and “ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none,” women are tools for male fantasies, heterofying homosocial sexual behavior.  Folks are more into the illicitness of affairs and the freakiness of multiple sex partners than building articulated intimacy with more than one person. I digress…

I want to live in a world where there isn’t a hierarchy of relationships, where romantic love isn’t assumed to be more important than other kinds, where folks can center any relationships they want whether it be their relationship to their spiritual practice, kids, lovers, friends, etc. and not have some notion that it’s more or less important because of who or what’s in focus. I want to feel like I can develop intimacy with people whether we are sleeping together or not that I will be cared for whether I am romantically involved with someone or not.  I want a community that takes interdependency seriously that doesn’t assume that it’s only a familial or romantic relationship responsibility to be there for each other.

I didn’t just dream this way of relating to each other up. Other cultures and communities throughout time have had more options in terms of how they construct connection. And we are doing it now. Folks are creating interdependent relationships and community that disrupt popular perceptions of appropriate partnering. I just wonder what it will take to get more of us to honestly evaluate the realities of our love and determine whether we are actually getting what we want. Love is abundant, not scarce. Why would we ever want to limit or narrow its flow?

Asking for a Lift …From the Bathroom TOSD from Mia Mingus on Vimeo.

Sincerely,

Living single

Hat tip to Zachari C. for bringing their brilliance to the piece.

*Single shade – the general social derision of single people and singleness

 

 

 

 

A (Not So) Guilty Pleasure: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta

23 Jul

By now, many of you have experienced the delightful ratchet theater that is Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.


One word: Ratchetstilksin

Love and Hip Hop Atlanta is the brain-child of producer, Mona Scott-Young, who also unleashed upon the world created the first Love and Hip Hop series. LAHHA follows, as you might have guessed, the high and lows of several (not particularly well-known) artists, producers, baby mamas, and the like who are enmeshed in the music scene in Hotlanta. After randomly stumbling upon the show a few weeks ago, I must confess that I am hooked. I swear I watch episodes without blinking!

How could you look away?

I find a couple of things fascinating about the show. One of the main plots of the show is the love triangle revolving around producer Stevie J, his long-suffering “main chick” Mimi Faust, and his protégé/side piece, Joseline Hernandez.

The shade of it all!

Shoot, I might could call it a love rhombus since Stevie J can’t seem to recall how many women he’s “smashed.” (Also, could we forever retire that term as it relates to sex? Between banging, smashing, hitting, cutting, beating it out the frame, and blowing people’s backs out, sex seems more like war than an exercise in pleasure. For real.)

In any event, I have been chatting with various friends who watch the show about the allure of Stevie J. I just can’t figure it out!

Yes, this fine specimen.

We debated whether he was really putting it down like that, if it was just some swag (that I couldn’t see), or is it that he preys upon the weak and the desperate.  I think it may be a heady combination of all those things. What has been interesting, though, is despite the foolishness of LAHHA, in many of these conversations, my friends and I are not simply talking about the antics of these “characters” that we may make fun of from a distance, but remembering the fact that some of the people we know and love—perhaps even ourselves—have been embroiled with the insecure, the unavailable, the emotionally-manipulative, the wack, and the ratchet. Or that we ourselves might have (and still might be) those very things.

The other thing that’s interesting to me about LAHHA is the whole discourse around femininity, especially as it relates to Joseline. A former sex worker with aspirations of producing mediocre rap/reggaeton, Joseline’s so-called masculine appearance has been ridiculed on the show and pretty thoroughly in the blogosphere.

Tell ‘em why you mad.

I’ve heard everything from the fact that she is “really a man” to the notion that her whole experience of getting an abortion was just a ploy to convince viewers that she is “really a woman.” Now, I expect very little from VH1, which has rebranded itself as a top channel on the backs of women-of-color acting a damn fool, but this unadulterated trans hatred has lowered my already piss poor expectations of the network.  And the discussions of Joseline on the ground emphasize what we already know: we desperately need the language to talk about sexuality and gender expression in ways that not only do not diminish others, but that also recognize complicated realities within ourselves.

The storyline with Lil’ Scrappy (bless him) and Erica is also fascinating to me. The whole notion that she’s unavailable emotionally and that he needs someone who’s more affectionate is type interesting. On the one hand, let me mess around and find out that the Prince of the South is a softee and just needs to be held at night. I appreciate seeing dudes with neck tattoos reveal vulnerability. Then again, the discussion about Scrappy’s emotional needs seem to come at the expense of Erica’s. So, she’s wrong for not staying by his bedside when he has an alcohol-infused asthma attack, yet Erica revealed that Scrappy was not there for her during a miscarriage. Now, relationships—even on reality TV—don’t survive on passive aggressive tit for tat type behaviors, but something just ain’t right there. And it seemed all too convenient that their breakup went down after Scrappy got into some extracurricular activity with his best friend, Buckey from Flavor of Love Shay. This is all too messy. I will say, the exchange made me think of some sistas I know who, on the one hand, are asked to always asked to be a STRONGBLACKWOMAN and who then get blasted for being too cold, frigid, and distant. It just seems like a setup.[i]

OK K K!

Some of you may be thinking, “Really, Crunkadelic? I come to the Crunk Feminist Collective to read about weighty issues and you talking all this noise about some silly show on Vh1. Really?!”

Yes, really.

I mean, it’s cool if you don’t like reality shows or if you prefer to save your brain cells by watching more intellectual fare or by reading a book. We not going fall out about it. Indeed, I totally cosign with my girl Black Artemis who recently wrote a great post about letting go of her guilty pleasure, Basketball Wives. (A show that brings my pressure right on up. I just can’t do it). Sometimes, shows (books, jobs, people, etc.) are just too toxic and, if we can, we have to let them go. That being said, I’m pretty unapologetic about my complicated viewing choices. I have already written about my appreciation for trashy TV. These days, when I do have time for TV I can watch anything from Melissa Harris Perry’s show on MSNBC to The Barefoot Contessa cooking show, Parks & Rec, Sherlock (I’m obsessed! Also, I want a puppy named Benedict Cumberbatch), in addition to more ratchet fare such as Keeping up with Kardashians (I know I’m not the only one), Love & Hip Hop, Single Ladies, and so on. And I’m interested to what these scripted reality TV shows say about our own lives and how we make sense of life and love where cameras are not rolling.

So, fam, what are your thoughts on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta?


[i] Check out Joan Morgan’s When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost for more on this phenomenon.

Throwback Thursday: “You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned girl!”

19 Jul

Today, I am revisiting the first blog I wrote for the collective in 2010.  I can’t remember why I wrote about colorism, but it feels as fitting and relevant today as it did two years ago when I first found the words.  I wrote about how “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” is a backwards pseudo-compliment that leaves dark-skinned girls caught up in a conundrum and half-smile, wondering if the two things she is being called (the two things she is) are oxymoronic, canceling each other out—does being pretty make up for being dark-skinned, does being dark-skinned cancel out being pretty?  What the hell?

As I attempted to put a new take on it, my recent reflections remind me of how infrequent I hear a personal compliment or affirmation at all.  Sometimes, not hearing who we are, particularly from the people around us, makes us question it.  Pouring from my own needs I tend to shower people with compliments.  I call my students beauties, just in case no one has (ever) told them they are beautiful.  I want them to know that they are beautiful people—not out of manipulation, but sincerity; and not because of what they look like, but because of who they have the capacity to be.  When I notice something beautiful about a person I tell them, specifically and intentionally, that they have a sweet or calming spirit, a beautiful smile, remarkable eyes.  Beauty, for me, is more than skin deep…it’s not about what people see, it’s about what they can’t see.  This is how I survived my formative years, when people called me what they saw/thought (“ugly”) based on standards I could never meet (“light, bright, damn near white”), and I still had to figure out how to love myself.

When I was younger I thirsted for the words, even if they were empty.  Perhaps that is why I found myself in empty situations with hurt feelings, a battered heart, and a beauty so scarred I couldn’t see it for years!  When someone finally told me I was beautiful they were able to use it against me like a weapon because down deep I never thought I would hear it again.  Once I picked up the pieces and got perspective on the ways that colorism mimics so many other built-in discriminations and privileges (i.e., heterosexism, ageism, sexism, racism, ableism, etc.) I vowed to never be that thirsty for a compliment again… and to actively remind myself, and others, (especially beautifulbrownandblackgirls/women) that beauty ain’t never been stingy and there is enough to go around! This post reminds me that I need to call my damn self pretty…more.  I need to rely less on other people’s opinions, release myself from being bound by other people’s stubbornness (to give a compliment), or opinions, or lack of home training, or insecurity, or down right meanness and love myself… fiercely and unapologetically.  I will look long and deep til I see my own damn pretty, and say it out loud (because sometimes I need to hear it), and if needbe take a picture and keep it on my nightstand.

So this morning, after re-reading the post, I stood in the front of the mirror and stared at a early morning, wild-haired, glassy eyed, bloated bodied me… before I washed my face, brushed my teeth, got in the shower or could even see myself good I decided to love on myself for a moment.  I noticed the moles on my chin, the line that forms on my nose and forehead when I squint, how my teeth and lips hide my gums when I smile, and how dark and brown my eyes are.  I saw my mama’s nose, my daddy’s mouth, and my grandmother’s sass hidden behind too few hours of sleep and puffy eyes.  I saw the imperfections, birth marks, stretch marks, and chocolate dipped exterior and thought to myself, I am pretty…period!

Self-care includes self-love!  Be about it.

Original Post: April 1, 2010, see amended version below

“You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned Girl…”

I have heard this statement many times in my life from well-meaning black women, seemingly surprised peers, family members, and perfect strangers who usually make the statement in response or reply to not having seen me in a while or in genuine wonder and fascination. The words come as somewhat of a shock in the moment, somewhat of a criticism, somewhat of an offense. I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted… I mean we never say “you’re pretty for a white/light-skinned/skinny/athletic/young/able-bodied/heterosexual girl….” It is always the opposite that deserves comment.  In other words, “you’re pretty to not be normal/what I have come to expect.” (Yeah, folk can pretty much keep those pseudo-compliments to themselves).

The words, “you’re pretty for…” is no different than saying “you’re pretty, but…”  The old-school women in my church would often talk ish while smiling, sandwiching a compliment between critique like meat and bread.  “You putting on some weight?  You look good, but what you doing with your hair?”  Uh…yeah? Or, “She got strong features.  Favor her mama.  Look just like her daddy.”  Uh-huh.

The words would come at me softly, sometimes hard, but mostly behind smiling eyes and perfectly thick lips, insinuating that if it wasn’t for _____ I would be acceptable.  The other implication was that one is either pretty or dark-skinned (not both)…and the tendency to be both simultaneously, is possible, but not likely. So, at best, I am an anomaly.

I believed the either/or myth long enough to be

surprised at lyrics that praised “boricua morenas”

and confused at Lauryn Hill’s sweet lyrics of

the sweetest thing she had ever known

being wrapped in “a precious dark skin tone”

and India Arie’s fascination with “brown skin.”

My skin

left me feeling like if it weren’t for the fact that I was dark-skinned (or simply just a calm shade of brown), perhaps I could be beautiful/loveable/wanted. The internal conflict came at a problematic time because I already often feel like the merge of two impossibilities (undeniably black and possibly beautiful). Those insecurities sometimes continue with me being a black woman academic… something right (smart and successful) coupled with something wrong (black). What does that make me?

The backwards compliments (“You are pretty…to be dark-skinned”) have often fed my colorism, color complex issues and low self esteem as a child and my curiosities as an adult about my attraction to men who pass the paper bag test…

My homegirl and I talked about how these color-issues translate to our lives, how we see ourselves (as beautiful or not) and how we are seen (desired or not). In movies, we (dark skinned black girls) are (usually) not the love interest. My friend sighed in surrender as she shared with me that “dark skinned women, unlike dark-skinned men, were never in style.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that people don’t notice that we are “pretty” (I mean chocolate is sweet)…but their temporary short term longings transition to long term sensibilities that tend to send them on quests to find the most exotic, racially ambiguous person to take home to mama or make babies with. Regardless of my qualities, I often(times) hear words merge with others telling me, I am pretty for a dark-skinned girl, but…

And those words remind me of how many nights I fell asleep on tear-soaked pillows praying to wake up a different me, a light-skinned, long-haired me, thinking and believing that that would somehow make me more…loveable. It was easy to believe that when everyone from my elders to my peers were constantly commenting on my lighter than ebony but darker than chestnut colored exterior and demeaning me (whether they meant to or not and whether they knew it or not) because I was not “white” enough…or “light” enough.

Women of color, black women especially, often struggle with seeing ourselves as beautiful when the epitome of beauty is something like white…

I am far from a Barbie doll—but loving the skin I’m in. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong process and endeavor and I am committed to it and fully aware that in a culture that privileges red bones over big bones I am not sure how beautiful I seem…but I am embracing the mocha in my skin and the mahogany behind my eyes. Even though I have often been told that I am beautiful in spite of, not because of, my “dark-skin” I am dreaming dark and deep.

Man or Beast?: Revisiting the White Male Gaze

17 Jul

By Andreana Clay
Originally Posted on Queer Black Feminsist 

“I’m the man!” the little girl screamed at her father in a climatic scene from Beasts of the Southern Wild, a new film by Behn Zeitlin.  My dear friend Holly and I checked it out tonight in downtown SF. It’s a film I’ve been wanting to check out for a while. And, it did not entirely disappoint. In fact, it did something else.

Beasts made me sick, literally. This has happened to me once before, because of the way the film is shot and our proximity to the front of the crowded theater, I became nauseous and had to run to the bathroom. I’ll spare you the details because it wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice break from the dizziness. Not just from the camera work, but also the storyline and overall flow of the film. I don’t want to imply that it wasn’t good. There were great things about it. For instance, Quvenzhane Wallis, the young woman who plays Hushpuppy, is breathtaking. In a word. Her voice, stories, screams, and strength infect every inch of this film, which was the the intent, as narrators often do. But, Wallis goes beyond this. You feel everything–every word she utters, every adventure she embarks upon, and her extreme isolation, relaying that she can count the times she’s been held in her short life on two fingers.  If I could stomach it, I would watch this film over and over again just to see her. She is devastating. I don’t care if she never acts in another movie again, this was it. The same is true of Dwight Henry, who plays her father. He’s stunning.

So what was it, aside from the camera angles, that made me sick? Nothing, really. It just felt uneven, rushed, and, as its touted, fantastical. This film is loosely based on Lucy Alibar’s play, Juicy and Delicious, which I know little about, but it also–given it’s story location in the Southern Delta and Zeitlin’s love for New Orleans–is reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Because of the similarities, the fantasy/magical element of the end of the world feels off to me. I don’t know that Katrina is far enough “behind us” to make this kind of movie–one that touches upon, but doesn’t really delve into the “truth.” I won’t give away spoilers, but I think it’s difficult to make a fantasy movie about a natural (and social/cultural) disaster that most of us haven’t seen the full scale of. Many of us have put out of our mind the flood victims, mostly Black, who were forced to leave their home city and still haven’t returned, lost their homes to flood damage and “lost paperwork,” and lost their lives due to a slow moving federal response. Remember Kanye’s (he’s mentioned way too much on this blog) George Bush doesn’t care about Black people comment? That was true.

But, that’s not really the case here, or at least that’s not what troubles me about the movie. The Black folks, though ‘magical’ at times, are the most interesting characters. It’s the white people in the film that tweaked me a bit. They are effectively “poor white trash.” The lines the white characters are given and their overall buffoonery–one guy is so drunk/disheveled that he opens the door of his house, doesn’t realize there are no steps and walks right into the water. It’s supposed to be a kind of funny, sweet and sympathetic scene, I think. But then we get inside his “house,” and his large, female counterpart (wife?) is passed out under the table, wakes up, and says something about “trying to touch my titties.” Outside of Hushpuppy–can’t stand these kinds of nicknames for little Black girls and there is no context as to why this is her name, more of the fantasy–all of the characters feel one dimensional. I think her character may have been written one-dimensionally, but her acting transcends it. In any case, there’s something about her magical quality, her strength that feels half written and insincere against a backdrop of bumbling, incompetent, but kind of lovable, poor white people.The distancing that had to/has to happen in order to portray those characters in that way demonstrates a false alignment with our heroine. And it’s an alignment, a solidarity that’s necessary to make this movie believable.

Benh Zeitlin is a white male filmmaker–as are most that gain attention–and I don’t fault him for that. He (and Alibar) have created one of the most beautiful Black characters to come along in a while. However, the portrayal of white people in the film represents a distancing between his whiteness and theirs that allows his privilege, his gaze to remain invisible. He is not a part of them.  It’s not like the white people are racist in the film, which we collectively assume to be true when we view white + Southern, they’re just poor. And poverty, as a state, is something that it looks like he knows little about. Or he has constructed it in some way that he hopes filmgoers will go along with. But, it’s a representation that strips them of their humanity. And how is stripping the white people of their humanity when you’re trying demonstrate the super humanity of a Black girl whose mother deserted her and her father (which felt very Disney/Pixar, I must say and whose truncated body was sexualized in ways that didn’t go outside of the gaze whatsoever)? What does it say when the only other white people in the film are officials who force their way into people’s homes, try to break up families, and hold down the violent Black male body? Hushpuppy’s strength comes with much sacrifice, which is a story that gets told over and over again about Black women.  But, in the end, she’s ok, she’ll be ok. Like all the others. That’s troubling to me in this current moment of openly celebrating the white male gaze.

Or, really, the white male.

If you follow this blog, you know that I watch a good chunk of TV. And I’m currently gearing up for Sunday night’s premiere of Breaking Bad (unless my DirectTV scrambles AMC, which will make me go all Walter White on folks). I also watch and am a fan of Mad Men. Both of these shows are in total celebration of all things white, male, and heterosexual.

So, what’s the problem? 1) All of the people that are killed or evil onBreaking Bad are people of color, mostly Mexican with one or two other Latinos thrown in for good measure. Walter White gets away with murder (literally) every season. He’s ruthless and, as the story goes, will do whatever it takes and whatever white guys are supposed to do, to protect his family. 2) Don Draper on Mad Men doesn’t trust women whatsoever, makes angels out of some and “whores” out of others as do all of the male characters on the show. This was explicitly the case this season when Joan and Peggy played both roles literally and figuratively by “betraying” his idea of them. I’d say this was all nostalgia or more fantasy, if it wasn’t coupled with Daniel Tosh’s recent “rape jokes,” George Zimmerman’s second release from jail, and the “beast or man” comments made about Serena Williams and Brittney Griner this week. A celebration. An all out arrogance.

While Beasts doesn’t exactly celebrate, it doesn’t feel in solidarity either. It feels defeatist. That’s the uneasy feeling it left me with. But there are scenes from the movie that will stay with me for a long time. Unfortunately, some of the scenes are the disenfranchisement of the already disenfranchised.

The Wait of the Nation II: Parent Companies, the “Bain” of our Existence!

16 Jul

On May 24th I posted the blog “The Wait of the Nation” in response to the four-part HBO documentary “The Weight of the Nation,” and I specifically focused on part three “Children in Crisis.”  My major concern is both the blaming of individual parents as the primary problem and the marketing of obesity clinics as a primary solution.  For the record, I do not believe parents have no role in children’s health and that health care clinics are not important,  however, I am extremely bothered by the trend of conflating weight-loss, previously considered part of the beauty and cosmetics industry, with fast growing health care industry.  I am also wanting to discuss the parents that are rarely made available for scrutiny in the popular “obesity” narrative.  Ask yourself, what does the private equity firm, Bain Capital whose co-founder and previous owner is Mitt Romney, have to do with “the weight of our nation?”

I started paying closer attention to the money behind the obesity framing and solutions when Style Network aired Too Fat for 15 in the Fall of 2010.  This reality series chronicled the lives of teenagers attending Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas, a weight-loss boarding school.

Dr. Oz featured one of the stars and success stories of the reality series, Tanisha Mitchell, identified initially as “supermorbidly obese” by Wellspring staff.  His two-part series on childhood obesity was entitled “Win the Fight Against Obesity” followed by “Is it Child Abuse to Have a Fat Child.”  To introduce the series Oz (and I do recognize that black women seemingly swear by Dr. Oz) makes this opening statement before introducing Tanisha…

If it’s child abuse to have an obese kid, then your home is the scene of the crime.  And sometimes the only option is to take them out of the abusive environment.  One school says they have the answer when parents run out of options.

Quick review of the Too Fat for 15: Tanisha Mitchell was diagnosed with Blounts’ Disease, a disability that made it difficulty for her to walk, as a child so she had more than a dozen surgeries on her legs throughout her childhood.  She had to be home schooled, was a fantastic student, an avid reader, a loving sister, and aspired to be a justice on the Supreme Court.

Mitchell’s mother was continuously depicted as the problem/the obstacle on Too Fat for 15 Season 1 and in follow-up talk show appearances like Dr. Oz.  Mitchell’s father was rarely addressed, which points to the gendered pattern of criminalizing of mothers as the blamed parents even when fathers are in the home.  But here is the major point, Mitchell’s father took $26K from his 401K plan to cover the cost of one semester at the Wellspring school Dr. Oz promotes.  Mitchell was at Wellspring for nearly two years.  Again, this is the cost for a private boarding school, not Harvard University–there are no marble columns.  In the reality series and talk shows parents are the problem and removing children from their home, according to Dr. Oz, and sending them to an obesity boarding school is marketed as a reasonable solution.

I chose to focus on the parents who are rarely made present for scrutiny, parent companies.  So if we look at Wellspring Academy they are part of the larger Wellspring family, which is owned by CRC Healthgroup.  The founder and owner of Wellspring is Ryan Craig, formerly of global management consultant firm McKinsey & Co not Dr. “such and such” from any part of the health care profession.  Bain Capital “acquired” CRC Healthgroup in 2005 and is therefore the parent company of Wellspring Academy (the $26K per semester private boarding school for the obese).  No big deal right?  Wrong! barnesandnoble.comA quick look at Bain Capital’s portfolio shows that they also own Dunkin Brands and from my research they previously owned Burger King and Domino’s Pizza (still have Domino’s Pizza Japan).  Burger King, according to Susan Linn, author of Consuming Kids and founding member of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, has spent more than $80 million in one year on child marketing alone.  Marketing tactics have included the use of advergames, mobile phone ads, and celeb spokespeople like Sean “P-Diddy” Combs.  Surprisingly Mitt Romney is threatening that, if elected, he will advance policies that force PBS to include advertising on shows like Sesame Street.

No big deal -parents just need to police their kids phones, online usage, radio, television, schools, convenience store visits, birthday party experiences, afterschool program snacks, Scholastic magazine ads, textbooks that teach adding with M&Ms, food commercials with embedded action movie characters, and kids movies with embedded food marketing.  Also when they are done with that they should start a garden at their kids school, be on the nutrition committee, do a cooking program teaching them to cook healthy foods, start a Zumba club, and go jogging with them after work.  But that’s just it, Bain Capital has not only influenced the business and marketing practices of Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, and Dunkin Brands so that they are more profitable by targeting youth with food marketing but likely keeping food service jobs low-wage with poor benefits.

Domino’s delivered for Bain
January 26, 2012| By Beth Healy
The Boston Globe

They in conjunction with their big brother, Bain and Co., a global management consulting firm, take part in what Walter Keischel calls a “fiercening of capitalism” in The Lords of Strategy.  In this culture of fierce capitalism, Tanisha Mitchell’s mother is depicted as the villian, yet there were 21 Bain Capital parented fast food restaurants (BK, Dunkin Doughnuts, and Domino’s Pizzas) within a five miles radius of their hometown Suitland, Maryland in 2011.  Does anyone see anything wrong with Bain Capital making money in Suitland in the fast food industry and then gettin PAID in Brevard in the weight-loss/”health care industry?”  I do.   It may make good business sense, but it is poor “parenting” at best and morally unethical to say the least.

I’m waiting for the nation to start talking about corporate parents (especially private equity firms) and how their poor parenting is sustaining a state of crisis in America and globally in terms of unsustainable economies and incomprehensible health care.  In this neoliberal narrative individual households are being held accountable even though corporate parents are functioning like invisible vacuums sucking families at every angle from “cradle to grave.”  I am convinced the solutions will come from local communities, not money market investors, global consultant firms, Mitt Romney, or Wallstreet.

Here is a list of organizations doing good work with a broad health frame that I can certainly get behind.

The Praxis Project

Communities Creating Healthy Environments

Southwest Youth Collaborative

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan

Power U for Social Change

Mary Queen of Vietnam (Aquaponics Project)

Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative

Malcom X Grassroots Movement

La Union del Pueblo Entero

Inner-city Muslim Action Network

Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments- Fort Yukon, AK

Chinese Progressive Association-San Fransico

Center for Media Justice

Brooklyn Food Coalition

Asking for Sex: Revisited

12 Jul

Last week, I wrote a post called Asking for Sex: What to Do When the Guy Says No. My interest in writing the post was to explore the contingencies and challenges of asserting sexual desire as a straight Black woman. What I know now is that there is much truth to that saying about hell and good intentions.

Because I respect our community of readers, I want to both take some responsibility for the lack of clarity in the post and also actively (and perhaps aggressively) respond to many of the claims (and attacks) made on and about me in light of it.

Here is the section of the post that seem to give many of you pause:

#TrueStory: chalk it up to #VenusRetrograde but last month saw exes coming out the woodworks. I had a chance to have dinner and clear the air with one that I really liked.  After a lovely dinner and good conversation (not to mention an extended drought), I asked if he’d like to accompany me back to my room.

Surprise of surprises: he declined. Exasperated (and horny) I asked “Why?” Lo and behold, he flipped the gender script and told me some version of: “I’m happy to have you back in my life. I don’t want to move too prematurely because we are rebuilding our relationship.” Riiiiight. What I wanted to know is what our “relationship” had to do with the sex that I needed to have right then and there.

 The primary criticism of my story has been about the issue of consent. My choice to question my ex’s decision read to many of you as a failure to respect the classic feminist anti-rape mantra “no means no.” Thus, one blogger whom I respect referred to my story as “rapey and presumptuous.” Moreover, some of you felt that my suspicion about his intentions and my read of his responses as a kind of patriarchal power play amounted to a bad and un-rigorous invocation of feminism. Many of our male readers felt compelled to let me know that “men are human beings with feelings, and not mindless sex fiends.” Finally, many of you felt that the post wreaked of entitlement to sex and/or partnership.

I usually move through the world with an absolute refusal to defend myself against claims that I feel are  baseless, but my feminist inspired commitment to end sexual violence has been called into question by suggestions that my actions toward my ex participate in and perpetuate rape culture. An accusation of rape necessitates a response.

Let me unequivocally state that all people of all genders have the right to say no, to withhold consent, without fear or threat of coercion. Anything short of that is rape.

I also want to revisit the narrative I told, in hopes that folks will understand the emotion I attempted (rather clumsily) to communicate in the original post.

My ex’s refusal of sex was exasperating for many reasons—this is the same man who two years ago rejected out of hand my desire to explore a relationship, because we lived long distance.  He wanted to keep the friendship – the deep emotional connection, long conversations, and access to a person with whom he could talk politics, and commiserate—sans the sex. And while I value and have good platonic friendships with men, that’s not what I’m in the market for right now.  Particularly since as I’ve written elsewhere, many of these “friendships” turn into intellectual and emotional affairs, that are predicated on me doing girlfriend duties without getting girlfriend benefits. I want and deserve more, and I am no longer willing to do this kind of prolonged emotional labor unless it has some intimate returns. And the sex I wanted that night didn’t foreclose the possibility of a relationship. 

So when he came calling last month, after a year and a half, my interests were peaked. When I saw him several weeks later, I asked why he had called. His reply: “I missed our interaction. Our friendship.”  That sounds beautiful, but could easily have meant more of the same—he wanted my emotional and intellectual investment without any intimacy investment on his part. His actions became even more telling when he arrived home a while later, and then sexted a barrage of salacious messages about his future intentions towards me. #powerplay

I recognize that women who struggle to find partners often have competing challenges – some women meet men who objectify them and want to jump into bed with them without regard to knowing them as people. Women with this experience often take great issue with my story because what they see is a man who wants substance and not merely sex. But the flip side can be equally exploitative –dudes (and that is intentionally plural) who want to use me for intellectual masturbation and who benefit from my capacity to offer deep and consistent emotional support, which they happily and thoughtlessly exploit on their way to sexual and/or full romantic connections with other partners.  And mind fucks are not what I’m interested in.

So like I said in the original post…exasperation is the word.

Now that I’ve shared more of my business than I should ever have to, I want to share a list of reflections on my story and on the general reactions to the blog.

  • Dudes be on bullshit when it comes to acknowledging the operations of (Black) male privilege.
  • Consent was never an issue in this interaction. It became a straw man in this blog conversation, used in a reactionary way by men who didn’t want to acknowledge another manifestation of male privilege, namely the fact that men do play power games with sex.
  • Consent and desire are not competing goals; the former, freely expressed, is a prerequisite for the free, healthy and legal expression of the latter.
  • Black female desire is not (inherently) predatory. But casting our desire as predatory and threatening allows others to police us into silence. Then it becomes easy to blame Black women not only for having needs in the first place but also for the failure to have them met.
  • A Black man who claims to want a relationship is inherently a more sympathetic character than a Black woman who claims to want sex, even among feminists who claim to be pro-sex.
  • Black men still feel like their needs are primary and will take up all the space (and air) in the room to protect their primacy in racial dialogue.
  • They do this without regard to how their choices affect Black women.
  • Black men didn’t create the structures that disadvantage Black women in romance and sex, but the same education and career attainments that open doors for Black men around sex and partnership, frequently foreclose options for Black women
  • These are all examples of Black male privilege.
  • No one really believes Black women when we testify about our experiences.

To get theoretical and academic for a minute:

  • Agency is not freedom. Agency is the shit we talk about in a system of limited options and choices. That means that our uses of agency are inherently limited. Enslaved folk created rich and vibrant cultures in the unreasonable conditions of unfreedom, but they never mistaked their ability to do one (agency) for their right to have the other (freedom).   
  • For some of us, trying to find partners (of whatever type, for whatever purpose) is like trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.  Many of us go for it, actively donning our supershero costumes, with battle cries of “statistics be damned. I’ma find me a man.”  That’s agency, for sure. And for many of us it works; but for many it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t work, surely we can be honest about that, too? Surely those who make it happen or luck up, depending on your perspective, don’t have to get amnesia and start treating other sisters like we are all working with a full 100% on the dollar.   
  • Discursive constructions of freedom and material access to freedom are not the same thing, no matter what poststructuralism would have us believe. In other words, we can’t just imagine ourselves out of this shit.
  • That fact doesn’t mean we don’t get up everyday and try again to create the world anew.
  • We would rather call the desire for partnership and sex on one’s own terms entitlement, than a basic expression of human need and desire.
  • The question of whether partnership is a right and if so what kind of right is interesting theoretically. It is perhaps more telling that the people who get asked to justify their sexual and romantic desires are lacking in some sort of obvious privileges (race, gender, sex, age, ability). 

 Readers, over these years of blogging I have shared personal narratives about my dating life with this community, because intimate interactions are one of the key places that we work out our ideas about gender, sex, and power. But this shit is hard to do. It is frequently violent (the comments section is not for the faint of heart).  If we want a sustained archive of Black women talking and testifying about sex and relationships in a substantive way, we have to figure out how to make this a less violent process. I hope we can begin that work today by engaging the comments section in a thoughtful, loving, gracious, and emotionally just manner.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Crunktastic

Coming Out Stories: On Frank Ocean

10 Jul

By Summer McDonald

Original Published at The Black Youth Project

I’ve spent the last week treading in the liquid of a queer-flavored ambivalence, trying to determine why the Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean coming out announcements mean less to me than other people. I have seen enough episodes of Coming Out Stories and foolishly subjected myself and my partner to the awkward anti-climax of telling my father about my sexuality to know that helping folks who somehow don’t know how to use context clues with declarations of same-gender-lovingness is supposed to make one feel liberated, free, authentic. I know that my role is to stuff this blog entry full of words, symbolic pats on the back of Anderson, of Frank. Each paragraph should serve as a swell of applause for their bravery, I suppose. But there are enough of those posts already. And I try not to be disingenuous. So, I have spent the last week avoiding being pummeled by all of the congratulatory remarks for several reasons: 1. I needed to put words to my own feelings of ambivalence with as little outside influence as possible, 2. I read two responses to Frank Ocean’s apparent coming out and knew that something was terribly awry, and 3. Although I had treated both “announcements” similarly–that is, I made snarky remarks via Twitter and Facebook–I was also told that Frank Ocean’s coming out was more important than Anderson Cooper’s.

Pause.

Now, shrugging off Anderson Cooper’s “The fact is, I’m gay,” remark seems perfectly understandable. After all, I haven’t checked for Anderson Cooper since his coverage of black suffering helped catapult him into media superstardom. Not that he’s the first, but still… He doesn’t need nor does he seek my words of support. Besides, as the phenomenal Phaedra Parks might say, “Everybody [already] knows Anderson Cooper is gay.” Moreover, I find no reason to believe that Cooper’s confirmation does much for social justice. I’ve spoken ad nauseam about privilege: white privilege, male privilege, class privilege. All of which Cooper has. A fact that, in my opinion, undermines most of the significance of one line in an email. Perhaps my imagination is too limited, but I cannot envision the most vulnerable of us choosing to stop being locked away in the proverbial closet because Anderson Cooper just spilled his tea. That said, good job, good effort, Anderson.

My dismissal of Cooper on the technicality of privilege, I imagine, might lead one to think that I find more significance in Frank Ocean’s Tumblr post wherein he discloses that his first love was a man. After all, Ocean is young, black, not BFFs with Kathy Griffin, entrenched in hip-hop, and might have been interviewed by Cooper back in 2005 had he not left his native New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. Still, I didn’t flinch. I almost treated Ocean’s “announcement” in the same way I reacted to Cooper’s. But since I kept getting hit with waves of reasons why my equation should read: Frank Ocean coming out > Anderson Cooper coming out, I realized that perhaps it might be more beneficial to explain why I cannot properly compute that mathematical sentence.

First, I’m no theorist, but coming out, at least the way it is currently constructed, seems to go beyond articulating a desire to be accepted by others. It’s not simply about wanting an unmediated and honest connection with people (we care about). I say this understanding coming out as a kind of rites of passage, as a story we’re all supposed to tell. “So, when’d you come out?” is such a common refrain among those of us who were allegedly in the closet; it’s seemingly inherent to a gay/queer identity. We discover that we are queer, we tell people or keep the secret, we live on–or not. I know this is an important act for folks. It was important to me, too. However, coming out also seems to work as a plea for the continued recognition of one’s humanity. The reaction to these public, quasi-confessions reveals to me that coming out  seems less about the person revealing the “secret” and more about the response from the people witnessing the emergence from the closet. Coming out seems to be a really dramatic way of humanizing a concept and asking, “Will you still love me…?” Which is to say that it is a tool that tests presumably straight people. By coming out the way that I did, I was essentially testing my father’s capacity to still see me as a human being worthy of love, as I was doing something I thought he didn’t necessarily think any human would naturally do.  And although he is my father, a man whose approval I still thirst for, I now understand my act as one that (temporarily) gave up my own authority to understand myself as a human being with no need for such reassurance. And that’s understandable, but it’s issue-laced. Love is a fundamental right of living beings, no matter their “behavior.” And those of us who operate in a capacity that does not seem normal should not serve as a testing and/or educating ground for those who do. In yet another problematic piece for Time.com, Toure put it this way:

Studies show that people are more likely to be at peace with homosexuality even if they only know homosexuals through parasocial relationships — the sort of one-sided relationships we have with celebrities. It becomes harder to hate gay people when you find them in your living room all the time via Modern Family or Will & Grace. So coming out remains important because the visibility and normality of prominent gay Americans makes life easier for less famous gay Americans, some of whom commit suicide because they fear the life ahead of them.

In other words, coming out is important because it helps straight people stop being judgmental bigots.

Perhaps I am in the minority in this, but this line of thinking is not at all okay. None of my identity serves to make people comfortable nor do I exist to make them better at being people. It’s just not my job. (It’s Google’s.) If coming out is important because of its utility to straight people, then I’d rather not come out. Such an act, in its current manifestation, does nothing to destabilize heterosexuality as a default category that everything else must orient itself around. Furthermore, it becomes the way others test themselves. Which is why, I suppose, I find so little space between those who took up keyboards to douse Frank Ocean with a deluge of words about his bravery and those who took the opportunity to vehemently bash him. Both sides are responding to the same stimulus. But we can only be awakened by such news if we continue to regard heterosexuality as the state of inertia. So when we applaud or express our disapproval in the way that we have, we reify straightness as normal. Social justice, then, should not necessarily lionize coming out, but mitigate the act by articulating an understanding that sexuality is fluid–not something that fetishizes otherness to the extent that it is championed.

Perhaps dream hampton’s letter to Frank Ocean (accompanied by a picture of hampton and Jay-Z, mind you**) best exemplifies my trouble with coming out as we know it:

It’s true, we are a lot alike… “spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to.” In your opening few lines, you simultaneously established your humanity, a burden far too often asked of same sex lovers, and acknowledged that in this age of hyper self- awareness, amplified in no small part by the social media medium in which you made your announcement, we are desperate to share. You shared one of the most intimate things that ever happened to you – falling in love with someone who wasn’t brave enough to love you back. Your relieving yourself of your “secret” is as much about wanting to honestly connect as it is about exhibition. We are all made better by your decision to share publicly.

The first and last lines of this opening paragraph particularly strike me. hampton immediately arrests Ocean’s letter in a kind of self-congratulatory gesture: the quickness with which she takes on Ocean’s language and inserts herself in his story prevents his letter from breathing on its own before she interrupts. Ocean’s declaration gets suffocated by the need to announce that “we” are and/or have been made better people by what Ocean has said. Yet the rest of hampton’s letter, like so many articles and blog posts that have come after it, drown the narrative to which they are responding. In fact, hampton rather presumptuously regards the “he” pronoun in the letter as moot, thoroughly and severely undermining Ocean’s point in a manner that attempts to create a palatable universality–we’ve all been in love–that consequently removes the weight we are to glean from the “confession.” This move not only silences Ocean, but wrests away his authority over his own story to the extent that hampton can now occupy that jurisdiction and thus make a claim about what is important and what is merely “incidental.” Yes, hampton is proud of Ocean for his bravery, but she seems even prouder of those, like herself, who either showed their support for Ocean instantaneously or have taken this as an opportunity to become better people by expanding the limits of their tolerance and/or love. To add, the post ends with an N.B., informing the reader that Jay-Z posted hampton’s letter to his site without hesitation. All of which compels me to ask: Who are we reallyapplauding here? To whom is the coming out act so crucial? And why are we lauding Ocean so?

It’s rather evident that the answer to the last question lies in hip-hop. We’re supposed to care more about Frank Ocean because he’s a young black man on the brink of superstardom who happens to be entrenched within a genre that is regarded as notoriously homophobic. Indeed, hip-hop is homophobic; I don’t argue against that. When an institution is composed of young black men whose sexuality and agency is already compromised, homophobia seems inevitable. I imagine similar kinds of poorly conceived articulations of reactionary masculinity are elicited in other homosocial spaces such as locker rooms and frat houses. What we are left with, then, is blackness. Which leads, yet again, to the idea that black people are somehow more homophobic than others. And I resist that argument. I will not valorize Frank Ocean because I believe that his counterparts are more homophobic than men of the same age with less melanin. And I think this impulse to add grandiosity to this alleged coming out moment is predicated on that opinion. So much so that we’ve assigned sexuality onto Frank Ocean when he didn’t even really come out. He told us that his first love was a man, and even that was more than likely a response to some lyrics which left many wondering. Yet we are so busy searching for a “just how homophobic is hip-hop?” test case and so consumed with fixing an identity marker on something that is so unstable and fluid that we forget that small point. Ocean’s post could have less eloquently been written as, “The fact is, I fell in love with a dude once.” Nonetheless we, those of us who do not identify as heterosexual especially, are so thirsty for these moments in which we can prove our humanity to the world; we are so distracted by congratulating Jay-Z, et. al. for such public open-mindedness that we’ve forgotten who we’re talking about in the first place.

And so, my decision to shrug can be whittled down to my choice not to congratulate the masses for their apparent liberalness through their decision to still listen to Frank Ocean, nor scapegoat hip-hop as peculiarly homophobic. Those arguments are not enough for me to add value to Ocean’s letter. What I can say, however, is that if we are to regard Ocean’s Tumblr post as a significant moment, it isn’t because of his sexuality. It’s not because we’ve found a new mascot. It’s because a young, black man, presumably raised upon a diet that included Biggie, ‘Pac, and yes, Jay-Z, publicly and eloquently emoted about his love for another. In a milieu where “we don’t love these hoes” is a thoroughly banal assertion, where black men must comport themselves as emotionless and hypermasculine as product of racism and a method of survival, Ocean’s bravest admission was that he was vulnerable, that he loved someone. When the mantra of your adolescence is big pimpin’, fuckin’ bitches and getting money, the most revolutionary thing you can do is love another and say so. Frank Ocean loved. And he told us. That is what we should we applaud. That is where we should find value. For that is the true revelation.

**dream hampton’s original post, which originally appeared on Jay-Z’ site, features a picture of Frank Ocean. However, sites, like GlobalGrind, that chose to re-post the letter exchanged that picture for one of hampton and Jay-Z. GlobalGrind was where I read the letter, so I chose to cite it in my piece.

The Joys of Stillness

9 Jul

Recently, Tim Kreider published a piece in the New York Times called “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” where he extolled the virtues of being both lazy and ambitious. Krieder is not really talking about genuine busyness brought on by meaningful obligations, but all the small stuff that can take up a lot of room in our lives. In fact, Kreider insists “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Whoa.

But when you think about it, constantly checking Facebook, or tweeting, or answering email, or staying late at work to complete a list of inane tasks that you can do tomorrow can really be desperate cry for validation—even if everyone else is doing it.

When I read Kreider’s piece, I thought of all the academics and activists I know. Folks who are, indeed, engaged in a whole range of cool projects and important things, but who were often crushed under the burdens of too many obligations, too many meetings, and just plain old too much stuff to do. Like Kreider, I believe there is virtue (and sometimes even productivity) in stillness. I know getting quiet and listening to what my spirit needs has helped me tremendously, both personally and professionally.

But what I want to call out today is the commiseration around busyness, as if that mess was cute. It goes a little something like this:

“Oh my God. I really want to do (xyz reasonable, soul-sustaining activity), but I’m super busy!”

“Oh my goodness. Me too! I have this, that, and the other self-imposed, toxic activity on my plate. Oh well. I’m super busy!”

And on, and on. Folks complain but it’s a badge of honor. What I’ve also noticed more and more frequently is the guilt-tripping that some “super busy” folk try to lay on those around them. Yes, the busyness police. Let me assure you that I will rebuke anyone trying to haze me with their to-do list. When I see those folks coming I try to ground and shield myself from the foolishness.

Lately, I’ve gotten back to reading for pleasure as one of the many ways I reject the narrative of busyness. (I know, an English prof who doesn’t have time to do the very thing she loved so much that she decided to do it for a living! It boggles the mind). My friend and colleague, Chantel, a talented novelist in her own right, has recommended and passed along several books that I’ve been holding hostage for months.  I’m reading those bad boys—without the nagging notion that I should be doing something “more important.” Come to think of it, I can’t think of anything more important than feeding my soul. Can you?

So, family, what are some of your methods for avoiding the busy trap and/or its guilt-seeking minions?

Asking for Sex: What Do You Do When the Guy Says No?

2 Jul

Frequently, I tell my friends that my life is a bad romantic comedy. There’s plenty of comedy, little romance, and never a happy ending.

This has become all the more apparent as I have attempted to make sex a regular rather than sporadic occurrence in my post-30 life.

I swear that I have managed to meet the only 200 men on the planet who actually say “No” when you ask for sex. (Of course I’m exaggerating. I don’t think I personally know 200 men that I find sexually attractive.)

Feminism and becoming a grown-ass woman with a strong-ass 30+ year old monster libido has made me decidedly  less embarrassed about asking for what I want, particularly as it relates to my intimate life.

In fact, asking for what I want and need has become my mantra for 2012. One of my good friends gave me exactly this advice on January 1st of this year. And recently, I heard Joan Morgan, my feminist big sister shero say exactly this same thing at a series of wonderful discussions on Emotional Justice that I’ve been attending. “Ask for what you need,” she implored the audience, because  to paraphrase the ending, “you just might get it.”

And getting it—good and on the regular—is what I’m interested in.

But my asking hasn’t helped.

#TrueStory: chalk it up to #VenusRetrograde but last month saw exes coming out the woodworks. I had a chance to have dinner and clear the air with one that I really liked.  After a lovely dinner and good conversation (not to mention an extended drought), I asked if he’d like to accompany me back to my room.

Surprise of surprises: he declined. Exasperated (and horny) I asked “Why?” Lo and behold, he flipped the gender script and told me some version of: “I’m happy to have you back in my life. I don’t want to move too prematurely because we are rebuilding our relationship.” Riiiiight. What I wanted to know is what our “relationship” had to do with the sex that I needed to have right then and there.

For that there were no answers.

Perhaps it’s the sexual frustration talking but I have been especially annoyed by all this pop culture talk of celibacy brought on by Megan Good’s choice to abstain until her recent marriage to Devon Franklin, a Hollywood exec and devout Christian.

During last night’s BET Awards, she stayed on message, happily celebrating the fact that now that she’s married she can have all the sweaty, R&B induced sex she’d like.

Her public abstinence campaign led to several conversations about what role sex should play in relationships.

Now one could argue that men being more thoughtful about sex, rather than being the selfish entitled asses that they have traditionally been is a feather in feminism’s cap.

And I know lots of Christian sisters take Meagan Good’s story as evidence that there are good brothers who will wait.

Three things though:

A.)  We aren’t all Meagan Good.

B.)  For this one brother she found that was willing to do the quote-unquote right thing, there are 50 that won’t. I’ma PK (preacher’s kid). Trust me.

Maybe I’m just being cynical.  But there is also this.

C.)  Every woman isn’t trying to get married.

For the perpetually single sister, whether by choice or circumstance, Christianity’s general view of sexuality leaves little to hope for.

Even so, if all this celibacy talk didn’t smack of “user-friendly patriarchy” (shout out to Diva Feminist), I might be convinced.

But what I can tell you is this: Getting my courage up to ask a partner that I trust for the sex that I wanted only to be turned down left me feeling hella disempowered.

As feminists one of the major tenets of hetero-sex positivity discourse is making women feel empowered to ask for what we want, to know that our needs and desires matter. Back in the day, some of the original pro-sex Hip Hop Feminists, TLC said, “yo, if I need it in the morning or the middle of the night, I ain’t too proud to beg”

#realtalk: I’m a little too proud to beg. But not to ask. 

What should we do when men flip the script and tell us no? 

For instance in this recent piece at Essence.com, the male author had the nerve to be “concerned” that a woman might reject the possibility of a relationship with an otherwise compatible mate if his sex game was found lacking.

Now that women are prioritizing sexual pleasure, men are changing the rules. They are recognizing that sexual performance can decline with age just like beauty.

But frankly, strictly speaking from my own experience, I think that men say no as a way to regain power.

 I have a strong personality, I’m outspoken, and smart. Whatever the fuck Steve Harvey says, I know some brothers have found it intimidating. Denying sex becomes an easy way for men to let you know who’s boss.

Of late, I’ve had more than a few homegirls tell me about the negative reactions that they have gotten from men they were casually involved with, when they tried to prioritize sex in the interaction. Apparently, even when these brothers weren’t all that interested in a relationship, they took it as a serious blow to the ego, to find out that sisters just wanted to engage them for their bodies and sexual talents.

And in the classic fashion of those with privilege, they played the victim, changed the rules, and refused to give the thing they had the power to give. In this case, sex.

I wish I had some pithy insights about how to negotiate this madness. For instance, I know these kinds of stories make pro-sex feminists (of which I am one, very uncomfortable).  In a system that highly constrains choice, agency is a precious commodity, and no one likes to feel like they have no agency. And that is how this shit feels on many days.

I’ll say this one thing: I’m not indiscriminate in my sexual choices. Given the AIDS crisis among Black women, and the high rates of HPV, an STI which condoms do not offer 100% protection from and which disproportionately leads to the cervical cancer deaths of Black women at a rate 200% of that of our white counterparts, I cannot afford to be indiscriminate.

Moreover, I refuse to apologize for having standards, even for my sex life.

Truth be told, it sucks to feel like on the one hand, good long-term relationships are hard to come by (and 70% of Black women with advanced degrees are single, mind you) and on the other hand, your sexual empowerment strategy is literally a life and death situation, every single time.

This is the kind of ish that professional women of color confront on our journey to trying to find the balance, the all, that highly educated professional white women rarely have to think twice about. {Good reply here though.} I mean, fuck ALL. Can I just get some?!

But I know my desires are healthy. Human. Holy, even. I also know that #AClosedMouthDon’tGetFed. So I have no choice but to keep asking, hoping that in “asking, it shall be given, that in seeking I will find.”  And along the way, I will remember Joan’s most important words from Emotional Justice:  “I try to be as fearless as possible in my love practice.” Word. May courage be my angel.

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