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On Azealia Banks and White Gay Cis Male Privilege

10 Jan

Guest Post by Edward Ndopu

Azealia Banks

Rapper Azealia Banks

Recently, the media has exploded with news of a Twitter battle between rapper Azealia Banks and gossip blogger Perez Hilton. After Hilton inserted himself in an altercation between Banks and fellow female rapper Angel Haze, taking Haze’s side, Banks denounced him as a “messy faggot”. She then went on to say that she used the word to describe “any male who acts like a female”. Rumours have since abounded that Banks is being dropped from her record label as a result of her speaking out against Hilton. Rather than taking sides, I believe it is most important for us to examine the context within which this media escalation has happened. Instead of writing off Azealia Banks, herself a queer woman, as homophobic, we should instead be exploring the femmephobia and racialized sexism at play in the public’s response to this debacle.

The public spat between Azealia Banks and Perez Hiton must be understood within a larger context, beyond the binary logic of right and wrong. It is profoundly problematic that much of the cultural criticism framing this fiasco is couched in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument. This  narrative rests on the flawed assumption that wrongful conduct on both sides of a conflict functions on an equal playing field. The lens through which we view wrongful conduct on either side (Azealia Banks vs Perez Hilton) must take into account the overarching power imbalances that frame interpersonal experiences of epistemic violence. We cannot dislocate public figures from their sociopolitical locations. The Azealia Banks/Perez Hilton debacle has absolutely nothing to do with right and everything to do with white gay cis male privilege.

White gay cis men have cultural access to the bodies of black women and black femmes, cultural access that black women and black femmes do not have in relation to white gay cis male bodies. This cultural access allows white gay cis men to caricature black femininities, through mannerisms and voice intonations, as rambunctiously depraved and outlandish. It is a form of ontological mockery that reinforces dehumanizing narratives and racist tropes about black femininities. Perez Hilton, who personifies a homonormative politic, has systematically tapped into the cultural access to which I refer at various points in his career. Indeed, the sassy lexicon he, and so many other upper middle class non-disabled white gay cis men like him, employs rests on the commodification and appropriation of black femme identities. Hilton interjecting himself in a social media dispute between two black women, Azealia Banks and Angel Haze, precipitated the Hilton/Banks altercation, which is emblematic of his (problematic) cultural access.

Because our society subscribes to an insidiously misogynistic sociocultural paradigm, to insult someone, notwithstanding gender, is to invoke the feminine. So what better way for Banks to cut Hilton down to size than to call his masculinity into question? The Banks/Hilton feud had absolutely nothing to do with sexual identity (read: homophobia), but rather, gender power dynamics (read: femmephobia). Azealia calling Perez a “messy faggot” suggests an attempt to assert her status as a no-nonsense, hard ass femcee in a largely masculine of center dominated hip-hop industry. Masculine of center queer men, notwithstanding race, appropriate the word bitch. Very often, they use it pejoratively, and with impunity. They’re seldom called out on the ubiquity of their misguided misogyny. Yet, when it comes to Azealia’s use of the word faggot, she’s quickly characterized as homophobic, reinforcing the dominant narrative that people of color are somehow inherently homophobic, to echo Janet Mock’s recent sentiments. Although Azealia Banks is queer, she is not part of a population that would have this slur used against her. That being said, there are other words that are deeply entrenched manifestations of oppression that go unchecked each and every day. Ironically, many gay men who are up in arms over Azealia’s use of the word faggot are the same men who render femme-identified men invisible and undesirable.

Azealia Banks’ career allegedly hangs in the balance and Perez Hilton’s remains firmly intact. She’s now regarded as the ratchet, violently homophobic black woman. By virtue of his white gay cis male privilege, Hilton did not have to contend with the implications of calling will.i.am a faggot several months ago. This isn’t two wrongs make a right, but rather, one wrong is minimized, and the other, pathologized.


Born to a South African freedom fighter mother who fled from the Apartheid regime to Namibia under self-imposed exile, Edward (Eddie) Ndopu is a politically conscious (dis) abled queer femme Afro-politan living in Ottawa, Ontario. Named by the Mail and Guardian Newspaper as one of their Top 200 Young South Africans, he is a social critic, anti-oppression practitioner, consultant, writer and scholar.

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!!!

CFC Feminist Care Package for Dr. Robin Turner

30 Nov

Dear Dr.  Robin Turner,

Thank you for being! We at the CFC would like to send you love and support as you are being attacked for doing the work that we believe is necessary for changing our world. When we ask our students to understand that everyone is not white, male, heterosexual, we have then begun to challenge not only systems of power but also the deeply ingrained identity constructs through which folks understand themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes we are caught in the crossfire of students’ reactions to being challenged. It is easier to react than to respond.

We hope you elevate your practice of self-care in this moment, that you reject the implicit demand evident in this student’s temper tantrum that you do the emotional labor around his privilege(s) that he is unwilling to do. Our hope is that you are enveloped in a community of supportive colleagues, administrators, friends, and family members, and that you know that your extended network has your back. We love you!

With Crunk Support,

The CFC

P.S. As you take time to care for your self in this moment, we offer the links below to bring a smile to your face or comfort to your heart!

CFC’s Favorite Things: Crunk Holiday Gifts

21 Nov


So it’s that time of year again where conspicuous consumption, The United State’s favorite pastime, goes into overdrive. Here at the CFC, we’d like to counter the external pressure to buy the latest expensive gadget that will be obsolete by the next manufactured buying push, by suggesting you gift differently. Last year, CF Crunkista got this tradition off to an excellent start and we are building on that work this year. Basically, boo capitalism but if you are going to spend, here are some awesome products, people, and projects to support this holiday season.

  1. ProductsThe Summer We Got Free Book Cover— Mia McKenzie
    • The soon to be released, The Summer We Got Free by Black Girl Dangerous Mia Mckenzie is some of the best fiction out there. If you are able to read this book, you should and so should everyone you know! The kind of seeds this will plant in minds will be the most delicious of strange fruit!
    • Danielle Henderson turned her Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr into a book! Buy it from the feminist bookstore Charis and you are doing two great things at once!
    • A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara and What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg are great children’s book for any little ones in your life.
    • If you just have to have an e-reader, get a Kobo and support independent bookstores in the process. They’re the only e-reader that promises not to share your secret copy of 50 Shades of Grey with the Feds.
    • A toy that encourages little girls to be engineers. :o) Goldieblocks…yes, I know “goldie” but its an awesome idea. For a less whitewashed toy try Roominate, created by three women (1.5 of color) engineers designed to help spark girls’ interests in STEM.
    • For beautiful, hand-made art, Chicana feminist scholar and folk artist: http://www.etsy.com/shop/calaverasYcorazones
    • For the Queer satorialist on your list, try Malakni, Marimacho, The Andy Moon Collection, and Distinguished Cravat. For fat fashionistas, support Fat Fancy Fashions.
    • Your favorite childhood book– the actual print version from your childhood that you find at a used bookstore or online.
    • A nineties-celebrity-turned-ordinary-citizen autograph. Last I heard, Devoe was selling real estate in Atlanta. Surely he would sign a shirt for Moya for $20 (please!!!). Also, I know some people who know some people who know the members of The Boys (Dial my Heart). And if you want to get CF Crunkonia a gift, please track down at least one of the girls from Visions (Ooh La La) and get them to sign something.
    • More Music ideas – For music to gift, buy music from some great indie (self-distributed artists):
  1. People
    • Support the people of Palestine! Buy some good Palestinian olive oil, donate money to important Pro-Palestinian organizations and efforts.
    • Support a local person who knows how to do something. Even if this person isn’t marketing their services, pay them to give you and your friends a workshop. For instance, get one of your best dancer friends to teach a session on twerkin. Do you have a spoken word artist in your kinship circle? Get them to teach the tools of spoken word that may just help you in your daily tasks. Do your own Shawty Got Skillz Share or invite the shawties to teach you something!
    • Are you trying to understand your life and the reason you keep encountering different versions of the same person over and over again? Raising a little one and want to adapt your parenting to fit their emotional needs? Give the gift of an astrological reading by the one and only Yolo Akili.
    • Do you know a desperate graduate student or organization that needs some editing post haste? Buy them some editing hours from Summer McDonald.
  1. Projects

We know you have ideas too, dear readers! What’s on your list to give and receive this year?

On Anger…

1 Oct

This post does not contain images because I don’t want to animate the stereotype, but in Google image searches for “Sapphire” and “Angry Black Woman,” Michelle Obama was prominently featured.

In a brilliantly provocative paper at ASALH this year, Dr. Gwendolyn Pough invited us to rethink the black woman stereotype of Sapphire, the emasculating black bitch who’s always ready to fight. Pough notes that the “angry black woman” is the least investigated of the stereotypes of black women and the one people are most likely to assume is true. Pough’s paper was a jumping off point for a lively discussion about the political utility of black women’s anger and the questions it raised reverberate in my mind. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, also had the uses of anger on her mind and wrote a piece for Womenetics, imploring black women to get angry and use their intellectual gifts to create the world we want.

Anger has been a really tough emotion for me to grasp. When I was little, my anger wasn’t valid because I was a child. As I got older, the sapphire script was something I actively avoided. It seemed that as a dark skinned black girl, I was always already being told that I was angry. I smiled a lot. I learned to self silence to the point that I don’t even always tell friends when little things hurt my feelings. I didn’t express anger, opting for sadness with no tears, as opposed to righteous indignation.

On a recent flight from Ithaca to Atlanta, I was subjected to additional searching. This included the TSA officer taking my lunch, a burrito, out of the paper bag it was in and swiping the chemical detection cloth over the paper bag and foil covered burrito, putting the burrito into the small tray for wallets and pocket change and running it through the conveyered x-ray machine two times. Needless to say none of the other passengers I saw who had food were subjected to the same. I was livid. Ithaca has a small airport and all the other passengers on my flight witnessed this extra search of my things. I was so flustered, I dropped my hat and it was the other black passenger who pointed to where it was. I was hot with anger and embarrassment but I didn’t say anything. I called a friend and we discussed the incident briefly, coming up with non-confrontational things I could have said like, “Wow, so people are trying to hide things in food now?”  I couldn’t think of anything in the moment. I swallowed the incident down and boarded the plane.

I worry about this now default reaction of mine when confronted with moments like this. While the incident itself wasn’t physically violent, I felt it in my body. I got hot; my stomach churned. I had some kind of internal reaction the incident that left me feeling unwell. This doesn’t happen every time of course but microaggressions are sometimes so frequent, it’s hard to gauge their impact. There are black women and other women of color in my life who have had bouts with or sucumbs to cancer that I link to this swallowing down of the daily assaults on our personhood. It adds up and that ish is toxic.

Sheri Randolph, a panelist with Pough, also mentioned colorism as it related to anger as the people mentioned in the talk, Melissa Harris Perry, June Jordan, Audre Lorde were all lighter skinned Black women whose anger erupted in the public sphere. Was/is there more room for their anger than mine? I try to think of dark skinned black women’s anger in public and how it is read and what seems to be different is the assumption of anger initially. Michelle Obama has perhaps never lost her cool but is always already assumed to be angry. But as an audience member in the room said, “Anger darkens,” meaning any expression of anger moves you further to the dark side of the color line. Both Jordan and Lorde died of cancer though, so whatever room they had was not enough.

One audience member during the session reminded us that because even speaking directly or pointedly as a Black woman is read as anger, many of us hold back and suppress feelings in general. This silence won’t protect us but it seems like it is harming us as well. This blog is a safe space for my anger but I need more than this corner of the internet to unfurl my tongue and release my truths.

Starting With A Guide: New models of collaborative scholarship

10 Sep

Back in July, I attended nerd camp, THATCamp CHNM. I learned about the visualization tool Viewshare, created by the Library of Congress. I’m happy to announce the launch of Dr. Stephanie Evans’ “SWAG Diplomacy,” a project I helped her build in Viewshare.

SWAG Diplomacy, as described by Dr. Evans, “maps locations of 200 African American autobiographers who wrote international travel memoirs.” You can click on any country and see all the famous African Americans who wrote about traveling to that place. You can click on a person and discover the places they traveled. You get a sense of the amazing places that Black folks have been and the cross-pollination of cultures throughout the Diaspora. Students can “Start with a guide” and learn more about these prominent historical figures and hopefully be inspired in the process.

Dr. Evans specifically designed a project that would be free and open to the public with the expressed intent of having it used in K-12 classrooms as part of a multi-pronged curriculum. She even made sure that it met the Georgia public school curriculum requirements and consulted other teachers along the way. This is the kind of academic work I want to produce. As we think about how to address the crisis in U.S. public schools, I wonder how projects like this can be a model. How can we create more collaborative spaces across the various levels of educational institutions? I am very proud to have been a part of a project that integrates theory and practice so well.

After completing the project, the fine folks at the Library of Congress were interested in how we created our map. Dr. Evans and I were interviewed about the project and you can read the interview in full at The Signal, The Library of Congress’s blog. It’s work like this that gets me excited about the possibilities of the academy. I got to collaborate with Dr. Evans, fellow Crunk Feminist and Women’s Studies colleague Whitney Peoples, and create a map that has application beyond colleges and universities. This is scholarship!

What projects are you excited about and what’s on your radar as a cool innovative tool for the work you are doing in the world?

Claressa Explains It All

24 Aug

Claressa Shields wins Gold as the ref holds up her hand in victory!

I’ve always been ambivalent and maybe even a little skittish about sports. They seem violent and remind me of The Hunger Games, particularly with the amount of POC presence and the injuries athletes incur. I wasn’t invested in the Olympics until my tumblr friends started pointing out the racism, sexism and nationalism in NBC’s coverage and Cruntastic’s two pieces about the ill treatment of Gabby Douglas.

Now the games are over and Gabby’s on a cereal box, a mural in VA beach and has appearances on fancy shows. I’m super excited for her but as I got caught up in the Olympic fever, there were other athletes who I want to see on TV. In particular, I wonder why there hasn’t been the same level of love and adoration for Claressa Shields.

Her story is ultra compelling, a hard knock life, a survivor, just 17 and she’d only been defeated once in her entire boxing career before the Olympics! She won gold, defeating someone much older than her! She even got in trouble for repeatedly sticking her tongue out at her opponents (na na, na na na). In her own words, “she’s bad!” But how come Claressa can’t be in the spotlight with or like Gabby?

First, Gabby and Claressa’s sports are different. Gymnastics is elite and elegant. It’s appropriately feminine too. People have a different idea about boxing, and women’s boxing at that. Claressa is already de-feminized by the sport she plays. The way that the sports are classed also maps on to the way both Gabby and Claressa speak. Claressa’s Flint inflects her every word.

For all the talk of Gabby’s hair, Claressa’s showed the wear of the work she put into getting her gold. Gabby can be a black girl hero, someone to aspire to, someone whose hair matters in sub plots of black respectability and heteronormative desirability. Claressa gets a pat on the head and a good job. She’s not a credit to the race or gender, not someone we want our daughters to look up to and emulate.

No shade to Gabby, but damn it, Claressa is my hero. She don’t take no stuff and chose boxing because she was tired of people seeing black girls as an easy target. Everyone knows a good defense starts with a good offense and she’s got a killer left-handed jab (I know, I’m mixing sports metaphors). Claressa’s prowess can not be understated. Her physical, mental and emotional commitment to her sport have inspired me and have me looking for boxing gyms in my area. Who’s with me?

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