Archive | December, 2012

(Un)Clutching My Mother’s Pearls, or Ratchetness and the Residue of Respectability

31 Dec

shawty-lo-photos-extralarge_1209751862690

The recent news that ATL rapper Shawty Lo (of Laffy Taffy fame) may be the potential star of a new reality show featuring him, his 11 children, and his 10 baby mamas had this feminist searching for somebody’s pearls to clutch,  seeing as how even the First Lady’s love of pearls has not inspired me to cop a strand of my own.

I watched the trailer for this latest train wreck out of Atlanta in mild disgust and mega internal conflict. On the one hand, I felt compelled to embrace this potential portrayal of what one friend called an “alternate family.” I mean, my family, composed of my single mom, my only-child self, my cousins who were stand-ins for big brothers, and more recently my step-family is certainly “alternate.” At least I felt that way as a kid when I was asked to fill out those old-school ditto sheets with the members of my family, which curiously left absent slots for cousins and aunties and grandparents. 

And when I see the “rabid” nature of respectability politics that makes grown-ass women feel justified in referring to other sisters hustling trying to make it as “brood mares” I am reminded that I don’t ever wanna be down with the myopia and pathology of the respectability racket either! It is so absolutely clear that this respectability shit IS.NOT. working, no matter how much we remix it. The refusal to see that requires what I like to call indignant ignorance, and frankly ain’t nobody got time for that!

sweet-brown_o_GIFSoup.com

On the other hand: this Shawty-Lo biznass is utterly ratchet! And ratchetness gives me pause, every single time! It’s meant to. Ratchet acts are meant to be so over-the-top and outrageous that they catch your attention and exceed the bounds of acceptable saying.

This is the manner and mode of ratchetness that Bey seems to be invoking (successfully or not, you be the judge) in this pic which had the internets all ablaze over the weekend. 

Let's Get Ratchet! Let'sGetRatchet!

Let’s Get Ratchet! Let’sGetRatchet!

Bey’s ratchetness is about flamboyance, about doing the most, and “Bey-ing the most.”

Shawty-Lo’s brand is “ghetto” “hood” ish on steroids.

In this regard,his show is certainly poised to succeed. (And it ain’t even aired yet.)

 So my initial thought to my friend on FB was: “When there’s a show about a woman and her ten baby daddies then we can have a discussion about alternate families. Until then, this just sounds like women with few options capitulating to Black male patriarchy.”

By-and-large, I believe this is true. But it is also true that I find something fundamentally off-putting about a brother with 11 kids by 10 different women, even though it appears that he supports them all, claims them all, and works to have some level of relationship with their moms. I’m tired of brothers not having to be emotionally accountable for their relational choices. I’m tired of the way patriarchy’s love affair with capitalism sets men up to think that manhood and fatherhood are tied to one’s bank account.

 Patriarchy exempts men from having to emotionally grow the fuck up.

 I mean, it’s great that Shawty Lo knows and claims all his children.  But um, WHEN did that become the standard?!

Men don’t want superficial relationships, but they have little motivation to cultivate the habits of character—emotional generosity and maturity, selflessness, self-confidence (not EGO) – that are necessary for good relationships. Intuitively most men reject women who want them only for what they have, and rightfully so. But these same men are rarely challenged to cultivate the kind of emotional consideration that they seek in others.  They want these things from women, benefit from the time we spend cultivating these attributes in our friendships with other women, but are so ill-equipped to provide them themselves.

 Even still, in the crevices of my wrinkled forehead are the residues of my own respectability politics, my ambivalence about the limits of our alter(n)ations, and our excessive celebrations of alterity.  Even as our generation works hard to stop clutching the pearls and with it the respectability that we think is held in tact by the thin tie that binds, we are confronted with the challenges that led our foremothers to embrace respectability in the first place. We might not be striving for big R-type Respectability, but we are all over little-R respectability. 

Why?

Well, “ask me what I do and who I do it for.” For the future kids, for my mama, my grandmama, my aunties, all those people, for whom I am the embodiment of hope.

When I was growing up, watching way too many girls become mothers before they had the resources to make sustainable lives for themselves and watching my mother hustling to make ends meet, I caught the cautionary tale real quickly. Whatever you do, don’t do this. 

Not justifying. More like confessing. And inviting us–respectable, supereducated brown girls, the ones who “did it the right way,” whatever the hell that is– to tell the truth about our continued investments in respectability, and about all the ways that our love for all things ratchet is as much about getting free as it is about reminding ourselves of all the reasons why we made the choices we made. So we wouldn’t end up like that. Like them.

I mean it could be good ole fashioned “Chickenhead Envy” on my part.  Cuz damn. It definitely feels like “Hoes be winning.”

But are they really? Are any of us of winning in a scenario where respectable and ratchet are the only two options? 

Yes, the alternate family that Shawty Lo and the Baby Moms have built may be subversive, transgressive, and even admirable in its insistence on creating meaningful kinship bonds despite the dictates of respectability. Alternate families are incredibly difficult to create and structurally discouraged at every turn. And in some ways our affective lives (our emotional selves) have not caught up to the space, time, and resource demands of this neoliberal moment.

Ratchetness emerges under these conditions as a kind of habitus through which (some) working-class folks and folks with working class roots interact with every aspect of their lives from entertainment to family to government.

(Hurricane Chris performs “Halle Berry”–one of the first songs to popularize the term “ratchet” in front of the Louisiana Legislature, watch around the 6min mark.)

 More and more though, I am coming to understand that subversive and transgressive politics do not a revolution make.  I mean how exactly does the subversion and transgression represented here undercut patriarchy?

Just because it’s alternate and non-normative–and thus even potentially queer– should I as a feminist embrace it?

From what I see, this radical reimagining of family works primarily to balance the public portrayals of Black men as oversexed deadbeats against the reality that “as long as he takes care of his kids,” we can’t really have anything to say, because ultimately “he ain’t that bad.”

 What do we do with a man that sleeps around unprotected with all these women given the alarming rates of HIV infection in ATL? (And how many people will come to this post and remind me that the women also chose to have unprotected sex with him?!)

As I watch the mothers of Shawty Lo’s children form strategic alliances all in the name of parenting their children and getting what they need from this ONE man, I think about the continued imbalance of power that Black men have over Black women despite all the ways white capitalist supremacist patriarchy conspires to keep Black men locked into a form of subordinate masculinity.

 I know that should this show become a full fledged series, everyone will focus on the Mamas, on how stupid they all were to take up with dude, who has a reputation for foolishness. Their maturity and the wisdom of their choices will surely be discussed. 

His? Not so much.

As I’ve said before, reality (television) frequently makes Black women the victims of persistent acts of disrespectability.

So even as I unhand my (mother’s) pearls, I think this show among others can invite us to think about Black women’s deployment of ratchetness as part of a kind of disrespectability politics.

Or in Bey’s case, as a kind of joy and celebration, that the rush to respectability simply doesn’t allow.

Elsewhere I have written about ratchet feminism, primarily as a kind of female friendship forged in the midst of complicated relationships among men, their mothers, and their many women.  I think this show will place this concept on the table again, as it demands we think about all of the creative ways women negotiate patriarchy.

At the same time, we have to think about how the embrace of ratchetness is simultaneously a dismissal of respectability, a kind of intuitive understanding of all the ways that respectability as a political project has failed Black women and continues to disallow the access that we have been taught to think it will give. #AskSusanRice

We must ask what ratchetness itself makes possible, even as the gratuitous and exploitative display of it attempts to foreclose possibility. What does ratchetness do for the ratchet and non-ratchet (and sometimes ratchet) alike?

Are Black women not always already perceived as “ratchet” anyway? As over-the-top, excessive, doing the most and achieving the least, unable to be contained, except through wholly insufficient discourses, like ghetto, and hood, and ratchet. AND respectable. 

Are Black men “ratchet”? Can white women be ratchet? Is  this ratchet? 

Kanye and Baby Mom (to be) Kim Kardashian

Kanye and Baby Mom (to be) Kim Kardashian

I don’t have the answers. And I’m not knocking these moms. The best I can do here is own my contradictions and then let go of these damn pearls, because despite my desire to hold on, this ain’t our mothers’ feminism. 

Only Odd*: the Holiday Edition

27 Dec

“Only Odd” is borrowed from tumblr-speak, as in, “I can’t even… I can only odd.”  Bloggers are often expected to react to major events. And though we often comply, the energy expended for such argumentation could also be used to finish manuscripts, start novels, knit sweaters or make passionate love as if the world wasn’t crumbling under the weight of imperialism. Sometimes we can’t. And that’s ok. Here’s a list of things this holiday that made me say, “I can’t even… I can only odd.”

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

If your nose never helped another soul but yourself, you would still be alright with me.

  1. Sandy Hook, Santa Clause, the NRA and the commodity of innocence. A man killed 28 people. Twenty eight. Himself. His mother. Six school employees. Twenty children. We created hierarchies of these deaths based on notions of innocence, notions exploited by various industries.  “Innocent” gets at our pockets. We buy toys in pastels to protect innocence; we lie to children about a classist, red-clad man who visits them but not their friends, a man who will prepare them to believe in a God who rewards the faithful (read rich) with material things. And when faced with a right-before-the-holidays massacre of innocents, we propose buying more guns to protect innocence. All our hands drip blood.
  2. Django. I can’t. I really can’t. Like, I can’t even post links from people who went to see the movie. Would you like to see a movie about slavery? See Sankofa.
  3. Guess who’s (not) coming to dinner? I can’t with the holiday blues. For those who must explain/ defend their singleness to (sometimes) well-wishing elders who grew up in different times. For those who weren’t able to spend holidays with their chosen (read queer) families because of the biases of their kin. For those who weren’t able to spend the holidays with their kin because of their disapproval of their chosen families (read homophobia). I’ve been in 2/3 of those boxes and I can’t. Even.
  4. Catfish marathons over the holiday. From the introduction to the last frame, American conceptions of beauty are unquestioned and reified. Those who manipulate these conceptions to connect with (shallow) others are portrayed as desperate, deviant and ultimately pitiful. Fat hatred, homophobia and ageism are just a few of the things that go unquestioned in this show  that joins the other MTV train wrecks that track on shame.
  5. Heretical holiday characters—like Rudolph. Rudolph stands for everything that our Lorde deplores. Rudolph was only accepted when his difference was valuable to the colonizer of his folks. If the catchy song seems benign, see The Help, Twilight, “Flipping Out” and every other movie, novel or show where the other helps others get they life their lives together.

The Summer We Got Free: A Book Talk with Mia McKenzie

20 Dec

The Summer We Got Free is Mia McKenzie‘s first novel and I was honored to be asked to write a blurb for the back. I wrote:

Mia McKenzie’s The Summer We Got Free answers Toni Cade Bambara’s question “do you want to be well?” with it’s own. Do you remember what I was like when I was? The novel won’t let you go as it surges forward with truth only fiction can tell. I was eager for answers as I followed a trail of not bread crumbs but whole pieces of toast slathered in butter that makes you moan or as I did, read passages aloud and neglect sleep for want of the next savory morsel. The Summer We Got Free is the product of a girl child grown up in the stories of June, Alice, Zora, Pearl, Gloria, and even Octavia, told in palimpsestic time where McKenzie’s own life doesn’t overlap with her characters but it doesn’t even matter. Ava is the black girl who reminds us that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, to the delight of some and the displeasure of others. McKenzie’s masterful weaving of narrative belies an inaugural effort yet it is clearly an afrofuturistic vision of healing transformation and an affirmation that we have what we need. The text is saturated with an effortless queerity and a brush of magical realism that show what’s possible when you focus off center. I’ll be thrusting this into the hands of everyone I know as I return to it myself to remember I can get free again.

The Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie

This interview with Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous is the first in a series of talks Crunk Feminists will have with people we think are creating the world we want to see. We do a lot of critique on the blog but in the new year we want to do more to highlight the folks who are doing the work of fostering activism and alternatives now! CF Crunktastic describes the project as a “Crunk Digital Salon.”

I mean salon both in the sense of the kind of intellectual gatherings that Madame CJ Walker and Georgia Douglas Johnson used to preside over in their homes during the Harlem Renaissance, but also in the sense of beauty/barber shop talk and politics, and the level of community, candor, everydayness and humor that one finds in those spaces.

CF Crunkonia characterizes it as a kitchen table.

I like the kitchen table for reasons involving my love for Paule Marshall. I also miss MHP’s old blog with the same name. And although the kitchen table may not mean to our generation what it did to Marshall’s foremothers, couldn’t we play with the whole digital age meets the kitchen thing because the kitchen table may double as an office desk for many of us? A play on women’s work?

CF Chanel reminded us that a cypher invokes our initial inspiration and connections to hip hop feminism.

I’m moved by the tumblr practice of Signal Boosting, of lifting up important messages that we want spread and that we want people to hear by reblogging them and asking others to do the same.

As we continue to work out what we call this thing, please enjoy our first offering. Get Crunk!!!

A Crunk Love Offering

19 Dec

In the spirit of what started as Crunksgiving, CFs Robin and Raeone come to you with the final installment of our 2012 Giving Campaign vlogs.

They discuss the influence of the blog in their lives and classrooms, and urge you to match the CF’s labor/s of love with an offering of love.

RandRGetCrunk from UA, Telecommunication and Film on Vimeo.

If the CFC has impacted you in any way over the last 2 and 3/4 years, please show your support. Every “dolla” helps/counts and will be used towards our outreach and in-reach initiatives in the new year.

Shouts out to everyone who has already generously donated to our campaign. Thank you! We appreciate you.

#rolltide
#getcrunk!

2012: It’s the End of the World & Our Hearts Are Broken

17 Dec

The Mayans had it right

A world came to an end

Ask any parent of six or seven year old children

But there is however a conflict

About the date of this major event

This world ended December 14th in Newtown Connecticut

Our hearts are broken

Our hearts are broken

In what world does this happen?

Our hearts are so tragically broken

For the loss of 27 women and children

Our hearts are irreparably broken

This kind of a world has got to end

2012 marks a record for the worst year of U.S. mass shootings

Georgia

Ohio

Pittsburgh

California

Oklahoma

Washington

Colorado

Wisconsin

Texas

Minnesota

Missouri

Oregon

Connecticut

From a Newtown a renewed world will begin

In this our new world love shall prevail

Violence and terrorism are of worlds past

Our hearts are so deeply broken

Sandy Hook Elementary must be the last

Image

Charlotte

Daniel

Olivia

Josephine

Ana

Dylan

Madeleine

Catherine

Chase

Jesse

James

Grace

Emilie

Jack

Noah

Caroline

Jessica

Avielle

Benjamin

Allison

Rachel

Dawn

Anne Marie

Mary

Victoria

Lauren

Nancy

I’m mourning for the dead

I’m calling out to the living

Let love guide our actions for renewal

And peace be our everlasting world tradition

You Made it Happen! An Update on our Giving Campaign

14 Dec

balloons

Hey, family! We just wanted to thank you for all of your support of our giving campaign. With your generous donations we will be able to have a fabulous, energizing retreat that will enable us to continue to do the work we love and to dream up new and innovative ways to get crunk! Your contributions have made the following possible:

  • Two nights lodging in a cabin for several CFs
  • Childcare for several crunk kids (the future!)
  • Transportation for an East Coast CF to join the rest of the folks down south

And more! Special shouts out go to the Media Equity Collaborative who recently awarded the CFC with a grant. We so appreciate the work that you do and your support of our work.

Basically, it’s a love fest up in here.

Now, if y’all are still feeling generous and you have a dollar or two to share (or some Frequent Flyer, SkyMiles, or reward points) feel free to click the “donate” button at the top of the screen. Every little bit goes toward the tangible workings of our collective. Thank you!

Love,

The CFC

How Do You Get Crunk?

10 Dec

Somehow I doubt this is what she had in mind.

 

For us, Crunk Feminism has always been about showcasing the possibilities of existing productively with our contradictions, about embracing our tensions,  about avoiding easy answers, about not preaching to the choir, about struggling and making-meaning in community, and about having side-spliting fun, whenever possible. In short, we believe in getting CRUNK, in all the expansive ways we can imagine that term,  whether that has meant telling it like it is to whomever needs to hear it, rolling hard for the crew, giving the forceful side eye (and a few well-chosen words) to rappers who’ve gotten out of pocket, or conversely  shaking our asses with a little drank in hand on occasion…

But mostly it has meant reveling in the joy that is a part of a life lived in the most intentionally feminist of ways.

And you, Dear Readers, are a part of that joy. This work  has not been possible without you, who keep challenging us to grow, to stay true, to not compromise, to keep it CRUNK.

I’m not much on Apocalypse talk — too much ish to do (and as Crunkadelic would say, too few f*cks left to give) — but there is the sense as we come to the close of 2012 that we are fast approaching the end of the world as we know it. Heck, we may already be there.  And the best way to respond to rupture is with connection. Dance. Laughter. Creativity.

So come hangout with us!!!! 

The Google Hangout that we are hosting TOMORROW, December 11th is in honor of you! Join us live on our own YouTube channel, where we will be talking about all the ways we have been getting, are getting, and will be getting CRUNK (past, present, and future).  You don’t need a Google Account to participate.

So in the words of this song just “bring yourself.”

The Hangout starts at 8pm and will run about 20mins, so take a study break, all y’all hard working academics and activists, and come join us.

And if there’s anything you’ve been dying to ask a CF, here’s your chance; there is still time to submit questions to us in the comments section, via Facebook, or on twitter @crunkfeminists. 

So come let us know how YOU get CRUNK!

 

 

What: Google Hangout

When: Tuesday, December 11th, 8pm EST

Where: Crunk Feminist YouTube Channel

Topic: How Do You Get Crunk?

 

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