Archive by Author

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.

Agents of Violence: What the violations against sex workers in Latin America reveal about U.S. presence in the region

28 May

Guest post by Ashwini Hardikar
Original posted on her personal blog

Women Marching in Solidarity

In much of Latin America, collective memory of terror is often tied up with U.S. presence and intervention. For over a century, the U.S. government and military has occupied nations,trained soldiers on how to be better murderers and torturers, and helped to squash democratic popular movements in favor of genocidal fascist dictators in Latin America and the Caribbean. This may sound hyperbolic, but the facts show that if anything, the previous sentence is understated. So it’s with good reason that the presence of agents of the United States can signify at best deception, at worst widespread violence. The latest examples of these signifiers, involving United States armed forces and executive security detail, reveal a complex history that continues to impact the lives of ordinary Latin Americans, and should prompt all of those living in the United States to ask the question, “Why are we there?”

Over the past month, a “scandal” has erupted over the exposure of Secret Service agents who have used the services of sex workers. It is important to remember that scandals are created from popular imagination. So why has this news in particular captured people’s imagination? The story is often referred to as an “embarrassment” and a “public relations” problem for the Obama administration. Missing from these descriptions are the voices of the women who were victimized by agents of the United States. Let’s be very clear: sex work iswork. And refusing to pay a sex worker for his/her services is a form of violence and slavery, in the same way that refusing to pay any worker for his/her labor is violence and slavery. An even more appalling incident in Brazil came to light recently, where three U.S. Marines ran over a female sex worker with a car after she tried to open the car door to demand payment for her work. Although the Brazilian police wanted to press charges, the Marines were immediately deported (or smuggled out, let’s be real) back to the United States where they were supposedly “punished,” far out of the reach of the Brazilian justice system to which they should have been held accountable.

So where does this leave the women who were victimized by these agents of the United States? Calling these acts of violence, deception and manipulation a “sex scandal” diminishes the horrific nature of these acts, perpetrated by those who have immense power over the vulnerable woman-bodied people who survived these interactions. Similarly, as the media loves to use the phrase “sex scandal” for instances of rape and other types of sexual violence, the portrayals have again devolved into exotifying brown-skinned women, particularly sex workers, as simultaneously sexually deviant and unrapeable.

Sex workers face instances of violence at astonishing rates, largely because of the stigmatized nature of their work as well as misguided efforts to “rescue” sex workers which actually both drive trafficked individuals further underground and place sex workers in increasingly dangerous situations. For the women whose services were used by these American men in particular, the imbalance of power seems almost unimaginable. Clearly, the men who caused the harm to these women in Colombia and Brazil did so precisely because they knew they could, because brown-skinned women not of the so-called “First World” have always been assumed to be invisible, and because the gender-based violence that accompanied every U.S. war game in Latin America and the Caribbean has been buried, dismissed or even condoned. One should not assume that this history is not recent enough for average folks in Latin America to have collective memory of the role U.S. state agents played in these tactics that sought to crack down on dissent, self-determination and empowerment through terrorism.

The Obama administration has been criticized from the outset for its willing participation in maintaining and expanding military campaigns around the world, campaigns which go hand in hand with neoliberal economic policies that would never survive without the framework of violence at all levels of their implementation. Women throughout the world have rightfully decried the gender violence that inevitably follows occupation and militarism, no matter who is fighting whom. As Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of women’s human rights organization MADRE International states when describing gender violence during the Guatemala wars, “Through the years of the conflict, tens of thousands of Guatemalan women and girls were raped, tortured and murdered. These were not attacks carried out randomly; violence against women was deliberately calculated by U.S.-backed fighters to traumatize families and destroy the capacity of communities to resist and organize.” Women of color globally have also been at the forefront of elucidating the intertwined nature of U.S. political and economic interests, and how tools of neoliberalism actually make women more susceptible to violence at a community and structural level.

These latest incidents are a continuation of the legacy that U.S. presence in Latin America has established, a legacy that was articulated through U.S.-backed coups in Guatemala and Chile, the occupations of Grenada and Haiti, and the devastating impacts of NAFTA and CAFTA (as well as countless other exploits that are too numerous to name). The violence committed against these Latin American sex workers should not provoke embarrassment, it should provoke outrage. As long as the Global South is seen as a playground for the U.S. to extract what it wants and ensure that its corporate interests are protected, such incidents will continue. When it comes to U.S. intervention in Latin America, brown-skinned women’s bodies are always collateral damage.

On the Queerness of Self Love

14 May
Tattoo on inside of someone's fingers that says "self love"

Self Love by Artnoose

While conducting a seminar with college students about self-esteem, Yolo Akili heard a young person say something that remains an important touchstone for those of us trying to do liberatory work in our communities. When talking about loving oneself, a Black woman said, “Self love? That shit’s gay!”

I’ve turned this statement over in my head a million times as it so accurately and unintentionally reveals so much about the constructions of sexuality in our culture. “Gay” has become an all purpose insult that means something is not cool, wack, aberrant, and not worth your time. How deep is it that loving yourself is a weird and unworthy pursuit? If self love is gay, what is straight? Is straightness self hatred?

I want to be clear that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a cis gender man or woman engaged in loving consensual relationships with cis gender women or men. Like with race in our country, the problem isn’t necessarily white people, but how whiteness as a problematic social construct impacts everyone. Similarly, I would argue that straight people aren’t the issue but the way straightness and heteronormativity operate in our culture are serious impediments to self love and self actualization.

I choose to be queer. My choosing queerness has a lot to do with the scripts that exist for straight men and women’s relationships. Take the recent box office smash, Think Like a Man. So much of what is prescribed for straight couples is for women to change themselves into what they imagine men want from them.  You can see it if you want to but it’s essentially a feature film length infomercial for Steve Harvey’s similarly titled book. It had the requisite gay jokes (for both men and women) and many a strong black woman cut back down to size. By thinking like a man, you ensure that he gets what he wants, sex, and women get what they want, a man. This reductive view on what motivates straight relationships depends on strict gender roles.

Straightness/heteronormativity sets up roles for men and women that serve a capitalistic agenda more than the building of loving relationships. The script is simple; find a member of the “opposite sex”, date, get married, buy a house, have kids and do all of this as an individual family unit. Our culture will sell you the tools to properly achieve these ends, to properly conform to gender norms that will hopefully help you attract someone to walk down the aisle with you. Buy this men’s loofa and women will be all over you, buy this lady razor and your man will love to get close to you. Selling people the idea that they are somehow insufficiently performing their  gender, and therefore not attractive, reinforces a sense of self doubt and looking externally for validation, which is great for capitalism. You have to do something or buy something to be worthy of relationship. What a queer thing to say that my relationship with myself is important and I should invest in it over and above my ability to pull a partner.

And this is why I and other queer folks are giving Obama’s announcement regarding gay marriage the side eye. Leveraging privilege for certain types of households does nothing to address systemic inequality or combat discrimination that queer folks face. Why do romantic ties afford rights and access that would otherwise be denied? And I use the word “afford” deliberately because so much of what is obscured about marriage are its roots and continued relevance as a financial institution. Love takes a backseat to the structural realities of couple privilege in our culture. Society continues to give us messages that marriage is valuable, perhaps even at the expense of our own personal safety and freedom.

Self love is awesome. It should be celebrated and encouraged, not derided because it hinders an economy that’s dependent on folks feeling insecure. If loving yourself is gay, I don’t want to be straight.

Box Out: On Brittney Griner and Women Who Ball (Better Than You)

17 Apr

Guest Post by Summer McDonald Cross posted from Black Youth Project.


I have beef with Brittney Griner. It’s not because the Baylor University women’s basketball team she leads beat Notre Dame in the women’s NCAA Division 1 championship a couple of weeks ago, and I like an underdog–even if it is Notre Dame. It’s not because my beloved Tennessee Lady Volunteers were one of Baylor’s casualties on its road to a perfect, 40-0 season. It’s not because she’s tall. Although I would have appreciated a few more inches, I’ve never wanted to be 6’8; just a 5’10 or so shooting guard with an Olajuwon-esque baseline fadeaway.  I have beef with Brittney Griner  because she can dunk. And I’ve always wanted to dunk.

More than hitting a home run, more than throwing (or catching) a perfect spiral, dunking a basketball is, to me, the ultimate sports feat. Perhaps only rivaled by soccer’s beauty, the dunk is arguably the most spectacular play in all of sports. A select few–and even fewer women– have felt the satisfaction of catapulting themselves above the hardwood towards the rim, often contorting their bodies in the most artistic of ways before (powerfully) stuffing the basketball through the hoop. I’m sure the joy I felt after slamming one home on a 9-foot basket back when I was  a Y-ball referee would have multiplied exponentially had the rim actually been at the regulation height. Of course, I’ll never know, as my vertical has diminished in the years since I taught 6-year-olds what traveling, in the basketball sense, was. So even though her team’s victory ensured that UConn did not cut down nets (and all is right with the world) I cannot help but throw Brittney Griner a side-eye as she swings from the rim. I have dunk envy.

Griner’s slams are noticeably unlike the women who have dunked before her. Although Michelle Snow, Lisa Leslie, and Candace Parker have all done it, Griner dunks with such spectacular ease, that one almost minimizes the feats of her predecessors.  A Youtube phenom before she became the most imposing force in women’s basketball since Cheryl Miller, Griner’s dominance through all of last season was awe-inspiring. Her 7’4 wingspan helps her dominate the paint; she runs the floor effortlessly. Griner is so impressively athletic we forget she’s doing all of this–things most of us average-sized earthlings cannot–at a height (6’8) many associate with a laborious clumsiness.

Where I see Griner’s blessings, though, others have found an opportunity to question her gender. Perhaps the only thing more jaw-dropping than Griner’s game is the frequency with which Griner is called a man, told that she’s not a “real woman.” For some, Griner’s aforementioned height, size 17 sneakers, deep voice, and athletic dominance firmly plant her outside of the box inside which we check, shudder, female. Notre Dame coach, Muffet McGraw did not help matters when she said that Griner was like “a guy playing with women,” after the championship game. Although Griner took McGraw’s words as a compliment, comments like that do nothing but reiterate and further inflame the idea that Griner is too tall, too athletic, her voice too deep to be a woman. And if she is a woman, well, she must be a lesbian.

As admirable as one might find Griner’s own coach’s efforts to call out hecklers for the way that they disparage her star player, their actions seem to be mere surface level antics to a more deeply problematic and narrow notion of womanhood. Despite light skin and what many would regard as a rather feminine-looking face, Griner more than likely will not appear in ESPN: The Magazine’s famed Body Issue, that features women with physiques considered acceptably traditional and more likely to please the male gaze. A more probable option would be Griner’s opponent on championship night, Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins who, a foot shorter and hair straighter, turned many a head during last year’s tournament. Even Lil Wayne tweeted about Diggins; another rapper wrote an ode to her. Both juniors, Diggins and Griner will likely turn pro together. And Diggins’ seeming beauty will inevitably put Candace Parker’s baby hair to shame. Assuming she succeeds at the pro level, Diggins is a likely candidate to become a face of the WNBA; she could get the men to watch. And although Griner’s dominance in the WNBA almost seems inevitable, she may prove a much more complicated sell. She’s too tall, her voice too deep. And if heterosexual men don’t think they can beat you at a sport, they at least want to think they can sleep with you after the game.

The response to Griner highlights, yet again, a problem much older than Title IX. Which is to say that women (athletes), especially those who do not fall into traditional boxes of female beauty, have to contend with the way they make others, namely men, uncomfortable. My father refused to buy me black sneakers because he said they were for boys; though he signed me up and helped coach my AAU team, my stepdad required that I wear a skirt to school twice a week. As my aversion to stockings suggests, none of this was done for my comfort, but rather theirs. (And it didn’t quell my gay, anyway.) Just as athletics allow men to be affectionate with each other in ways they otherwise would not, women’s athletics and other, similar homosocial spaces, work differently and thus engender a pressure not to violate or offend male gazes.

At its most innocuous, this pressure results in what I call over-heteroing, wherein women who congregate in spaces where their femininity and/or sexuality may be questioned seem to overwork their appearance so that they appear to unequivocally desire the attention of men. I speculate that this is why some women play sports in makeup, or why women assistant coaches and graduate assistants occasionally look like they’re about the hit up the club after the game. At its worst, though, it goes beyond heckles and courtside stilettos. And women can’t just be like Brittney, brush their shoulders and wave to the haters. When such pressure is linked to power, what results are situations like what happened to Caster Semenya. And it goes beyond the unfortunate. Such acts are not simply disparaging, but go beyond the continued violation and marginalization of women to a level that endangers them.

And that’s how hecklers answer their own speculation about whether or not Brittney Griner is a woman. Of course she is. Otherwise, she would not have to withstand their continued verbal assaults. Word to Mike Tyson.

Summer McDonald is an explicitly queer Black Daria with better clothes.

Get Crunk! Two Years and Counting!

10 Apr

Picture of Round Cake with Icing that says "Celebrating 1 year CFC"

 

http://www.ustream.tv/embed/recorded/21662874
Video streaming by Ustream

I’m in a reflective space after the Black Thought 2.0 Conference at Duke. I want to begin by thanking the conference organizers for inviting me to be on this panel. It felt good to be recognized as a junior scholar for my work and contribution to a growing network of black thinkers concerned with the digital. I’d also like to thank the often unnamed people of color who make campuses run, the people who maintain the buildings, who cleaned up after we left, who built this building, the indigenous and black people whose lives and land was taken for us to be at Duke last weekend. Even as we move through the settler colonial United States we can remember that’s what we are doing. Ashe.

Like the crunk music it references, the Crunk Feminist Collective has a multilayered herstory. From our archive:

In 2004 while Brittney Cooper and Susana Morris were students at Emory University, they were part of an informal group of women of color feminists who routinely convened with one another for fellowship, commiseration and strategizing about how to be successful in grad school. They began to refer to themselves affectionately as the Crunk Feminist Collective, in part influenced by the Southern musical ethos of Atlanta, but also by their absolute willingness to “get crunk” or to deploy crunkness as a form of resistance to the racist, sexist, and heterosexist assaults that they routinely experienced. Revived in 2010, the CFC aims to articulate a crunk feminist consciousness for people of color, who came of age in the Hip Hop Generation, by creating a community of scholar-activists from varied professions, who share intellectual work in online blog communities, at conferences, through activist organizations, print publications, and who share a commitment to nurturing and sustaining one another through progressive feminist visions. Crunk Feminism is the animating principle of our collective work together and derives from our commitment to feminist principles and politics, and also from our unapologetic embrace of those new cultural resources and tools, that offer the potential for resistance.

As the kids say, “we ratchet” particularly in the service of creating a more equitable world.

In just over two years, the Crunk Feminists Collective has produced more than 250 blog posts, gotten over a million hits on our webpage, and been used in classrooms across the country.  We’ve talked about many of the problems facing our communities and what tools can be used to address them. We’ve called folks out and also offered means of accountability. Like our name, we embody the both/and, the slash of people of color intersectionality.  We do all this in two blogs a week, tweets, tumbles and status updates. We are building digital networks of community with shared words and conversations. Get Crunk!

The Crunk Feminist Collective is a Labor of Love

We labor because we love. We put in extra hours because we care about who is able to read our work. We care about shifting conversations in mainstream media from what did Trayvon Martin do to why Trayvon needs to be an innocent victim for a crime to have been committed. Why do dead black men mobilize communities in ways that dead black cis and trans women do not?  And what sort of accountability do we have as a society for perpetuating the racism that ended Trayvon’s life?

We take risks. We put our sex lives on the table, lay our politics bare. And in doing so we remind ourselves, that part of the work is the self. We often do pieces on self care and though not always well received by our audience, they reflect our intention to document and share how we take care of ourselves and each other. Behind the scenes we have emergency dissertation phone calls, we prescribe rest and cake, we send each other care packages, we show up for each other. This work is the least visible but some of the most important because it’s what sustains us in the hard times.

We don’t get paid to do this work. We write pieces that many of our departments, present and future, won’t count as publications. We write as we finish dissertations, book contracts, tenure files, work full time jobs and raise the next generation of crunk feminists. We are at once lauded for what we produce but reminded that it is not rigorous enough to be real scholarship. We get recognized and linked and shouted out by journalists who do get paid.

We’ve been told that people use our work in their classes, workshops, and events regularly. This is awesome. If you have used our work in your classes, think of inviting us to speak at your campus. If our tumblr or twitter feed has brought something to your attention that you didn’t know about, let people know where it came from. If you are connected to a journal, talk to us about developing pieces for publication. Let’s continue to grow what’s possible, through spreading the word and spreading the love!

On Appropriate Victims: More on Trayvon Martin and Other Names You Need to Know

26 Mar

Image of Rekia Boyd

Part of the reason folks rallied in reaction to Trayvon Martin’s murder has to do with ideas about who is an appropriate or worthy victim. He was shot by a vigilante, he wasn’t armed, he was a good student, had some class privilege, he was doing something mundane, simply returning from buying Skittles and ice tea. He was “innocent” and killed in cold blood.

We have an idea of who is deserving of support en masse and who is not. And for similar reasons we thought, with 911 tapes, eyewitness testimony, national outrage that it would result in a prosecution in the very least. If anything, the murder of Trayvon Martin shows us once again that there is no such thing as an “appropriate” Black victim.

Despite all evidence, Geraldo, Gingrich and others have found a way to make Trayvon the guilty party in his own fatal shooting. When brown and black men wear hoodies, they are asking for it. In a moment when it seems undeniable that race is a factor, people are still denying it! They even use victim blaming language.

Last week was International Anti-Street Harassment Week and I was struck with the similarities between the harassment that Black and Latino men experience by the police and the experiences of trans and cis women and gender non-conforming folks on the street. The language used by men of color to describe police harassment, is very similar to the language that those of us marginalized by our genders use to name our realities. Our clothing choices, our right to be where we are, when we want are all called into question.

Stopped, Frisked and Speaking Out from NYT The Local – Ft. Greene on Vimeo.

It seems that this time we can begin to talk across these incidents of violence and see the ways in which societal oppression is killing people. When you wear your hoodie for Trayvon, also think of:

Shaima Alawadi
Rekia Boyd
Deoni Jones
CeCe McDonald

Because these victims were women, Iraqi, trans, they didn’t pass the appropriate victim test. News media and popular opinion hasn’t prompted folks to take to the streets in the same numbers for them. But people are making the connections. We can be more coordinated with our outrage. We can demand a justice that doesn’t rely on the very system that didn’t help Trayvon in the first place (will we really be satisfied with the prosecution of Zimmerman? Can’t we ask for something else?). We can build solidarity to deal with the xenophobia, transmisogyny, and racism that target our communities in similar ways. In the wake of this tragedy we can start new collaborative initiatives that support survivors and families that are recovering after loss and move our collective response from reaction to revolution!

Feminist Care Packages: Healing Love for Hard Times

23 Feb
Image of a brown paper package tied up with string

CC Licensed from LethaCollen on Flickr

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” - Luciente

This month we’d hoped to talk about love and relationships but a lot of terrible things have been happening in the world. Whitney died. Too Short gave some terrible advice. So did Not So Very Smart brothas. and there’s a thread in these narratives about black women and girls bringing things on to themselves when really the deadly combination of heteronormative masculinity is to blame.

The binaristic gendered scripts we set up for people are killing usLiterally. The conversations that blame feminine people for the violence they experience but some how miss the role that masculine of center people have in that violence is beyond me. Yolo reminded us that most often, what survivors want is for the abuse to stop. They don’t want to get rid of the person who is hurting them; they just don’t want to fear for their lives.

Too often in this culture, safety means the survivor has to leave. We haven’t yet figured out how to create accountability that doesn’t look like recriminalizing the survivor by restricting their movements or demanding that the abuser be held accountable in a way that supports the survivor’s needs. We blame their choices and actions because honestly we can’t seem to wrap our minds around the massive collective fail that didn’t keep someone safe. We point fingers at the survivor and try to believe that perpetrators are uniquely bad people, not logical products of a culture that rewards aggression and violence directed at those who appear weaker. How does one ever make sense of what types of violence are and are not ok when the state enacts violence on communities and the planet all the time?

We can’t throw away people. Not into prison, where they come out years later more hardened than they were when they went in. Community service and anger management don’t come close to undoing a lifetime of social conditioning that supports masculine folks thinking that abusing feminine folks is only bad if you get caught or leave marks. Abusers live in our communities and our gender scripts recreate them everyday. There is no security in locking people away when we actively create these ideas about how to relate to each other in our society. If the culture is toxic, a quarantine is not an effective solution.

In trying to make real the transformative justice we desire for both survivors and perpetrators of gender based violence, The CFC, FAAN Mail, and Quirky Black Girls present Feminist Care Packages*. The CFC has been sending feminist care packages to each other in our times of need but the project of care goes beyond our collective. Feminist Care Packages are public offerings for healing and justice, invitations to survivors, perpetrators, and community to create a new narrative for the world we want. They include a letter to the person and a list of resources that may help them on the road to resilience. These are open outpourings of hope and possibility.

We are not naive enough to think that these suggested resources are enough to shift centuries’ old ideas about behavior but we hope that they begin conversations that have a greater capacity to hold the complex reality of human existence. By holding folks accountable and giving them tools to see their world differently, another world is possible.

There will be a series of Care Packages but in light  of recent events, the first Feminist Care Package is for Too $hort.

*Shout out to Mark Anthony Neal for giving this idea to Moya several years ago.

Love Overflow: A Red Reflection (and a Trigger Warning… SMH)

14 Feb

It’s early on Valentine’s Day, an invented holiday by U.S. greeting card companies (for real, look it up!). I just learned about Too Short’s “Fatherly Advice” to young boys about how to “turn girls out” in a video for XXL. While this is not shocking for Too Short, it also speaks to the culture we live in, where encouraging boys to rape girls is not something that automatically trips the “do not post/publish” kill switch. This is not a question of individuals’ values, as the hastily drafted XXL apology suggests, but indicative of a culture so steeped in misogynoir (Black women hatred) that our humanity is not assumed. As satisfying as it might be to see the editor fired on whose watch this occurred, it’s so much bigger than her. In this country, girls are objects, things to be manipulated for boys’ pleasure. And boys are getting fatherly advice that sets them up to see girls as agentless tools for their own desires.

On a day, where love=consumerism, we wanted to offer a counter narrative, one of self- love, intimate love, intergenerational love between mothers and children, a recentering of the type of love that can be celebrated. This takes on a profound new significance in the harsh light of  yet another reminder from a culture that doesn’t value Black girls (or Black boys) enough to say that they deserve to be safe.

And so yet again, we will do it ourselves. We will create the world we want to see. A world where kids of all genders (there are more than two) don’t feel forced to fit into two boxes that are predestined to join in some heteronornative, f*ucked up abuser/victim celebration on this day (that is made up!). The CFC wants to support children of all genders dealing with the “late middle school, early high school” years in an awesomely sex and body positive way. We want young people (and Lorde, help these adults!) to come correct, to make decisions about their sexuality with all the information and agency they need.

We encourage readers to support this project and others that remind us that we can create new narratives that challenge the old. We can reclaim this day as a celebration for the greatest love of all.

with love overflowing,

Moya

Love Overflow: A Red Reflection

by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

“When you first realize your blood has come, smile; an honest smile, for you are about to have an intense union with your magic.”

“from Marvelous Menstruating Moments in Ntozake Shange’s book Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (As told by Indigo to Her Dolls as She Made Each and Every One of Them a Personal Menstruation Pad of Velvet)”

From Awkward to Abundant: A Community Supported Miracle

Next month my mother and I are launching the newest groundbreaking workshop in ourThicker Than Whatever: Unstoppable Mother/Daughter Relationshipsseries:  LoveOverflow: Marvelous Menstruating Moments!  This process has caused my mother and I to look deeply at what a black feminist personal political economy of menstruation might look like in our ideal communities. This workshop is our inspired practice towards transforming intergenerational silence and shame into action and power.  We love each other too much to make the awkwardness of talking about bodies, sexuality, gender identity and blood a barrier to our fully expressed support and love!  In order to make sure this beautiful day is accessible for free to the amazing visionary black mamas and daughters in our organizing community we are reaching out to our whole worldwide community to support the costs of this program.  If you love this idea and find it healing that this type of space can exist we’d love your support!  You can chip in here:

http://alexispauline.chipin.com/love-overflow-marvelous-menstruating-moments-mamadaughter-workshop

Beyond Books: Tangible Practices for Embodied Love

So when mamas across my organizing community in North Carolina started talking about their complex and juicy emotions about their daughters beginning their periods, often earlier than they had began theres and  one of the Indigo Afterschoolers started her period afterschool at my house (how lucky we were to have Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo on hand to create a ritual right away!) what they spoke to was a need wider and deeper than a booklist.

Our Saturday program LoveOverflow comes from a core desire to create spaces to work through the questions, challenges and insecurities of all ages that the bright and deeply felt physical event of menstruation brings up in our communities.  We need rituals of ongoing affirmation.   So first Saturday in March my mom will be facilitating my mama comrades in working through the residual energy of their own early period experiences, their fears around their kids growing and changing and to create a mantra for everyday use that reminds them of their true love, passionate belief and inspired clarity about their daughters to refer to in hard times.   And I will be facilitating the younger folks, using art practices to draw through their questions, excitements and fears and helping them to individually create their own embodied and spiritual definitions of their menstruation experiences and rituals for how they want to honor themselves and create safe space monthly from here on out.   And THEN we will be bringing everyone back together for a ritual of affirmation, there will be circles and witnessing, lavender hand baths (our favorite), whispered poems and listening and love.   I know that this experience will be memorable for the participants and profoundly healing for my mother and I.

Not (Always) So Marvelous

My mama and I are so excited to bring our love and commitment (and the generative genius of Ntozake Shange’s words) to the community of black mothers and daughters here in Durham who have been bringing up the drama of the period…period of puberty and asking for support!  However when we started thinking about our own experiences blossoming into red, we realized that our first experiences and many subsequent experiences were not so marvelous, and for similar reasons.

I can’t quite remember my first period experience.  I know that I was about 14 and just starting high school.  Long ago in elementary school I had, along with my peers been giving a pretty illustrated book called “Period: A Girl’s Guide to Menstruation” and I remembered the affirming, reassuring and calming images from that book.   My first period experience was pretty painless, but after that I began to have intense-wake-you-up-out-your-sleep cramps.  I realize now that for years I ignored my own experiences of PMS, secretly wondering if I

a. needed a new life free from all of the people I knew

b. was experiencing the onset of one of the many mental illnesses in my mother’s psychology textbooks

Ultimately I assimilated my period as an intellectual experience without ceremony.  Like many other experiences since, my period was okay, and almost understandable because I had read about it somewhere.

It’s only this past weekend that I realized that my mother’s experience was similar to mine.  Growing up in Jamaica with an elderly grand-aunt who treated my mother’s period as something dirty to be ashamed of, my mother’s lifeline was a book that her mother sent.   My grandmother was a domestic worker in England paid to mother privileged white folks, and my mother remembers being upset and disappointed that all she had to help her through her transition and the complicated belts and napkins that accompanied it was this book.   She wanted her mother to be there herself to help her through.

And while I remember my mother being very sympathetic to the pain I endured (and continue to endure) on the first day of my period, we didn’t have many rituals or mechanisms to deal with the teenage angst and how impatient we could be with each other during period time at our house.   Luckily, we’ve learned a lot from our volatile journey through my teen years, and my mom now has stories full of advice to share with her therapy clients, all ending with something like..see and after all that my daughter still turned out great and we have a wonderful relationship today!

The bottom line is what our composite intergenerational period story shows is that ceremonyand presence are key elements of the growing time of menstruation that we both longed for and are excited to make more possible and accessible in the lives of young people and their parents today.

A Gender Diverse Approach

Even though the participants in our upcoming workshop identify as black mothers and daughters, in this workshop it is important for us to honor the fact that gender is in transformation and that while some people see their period as a symbolic opportunity to reflect on “becoming women,” becoming ourselves is a more complicated and gender diverse experience.   Gender is unpredictable and people of many different genders can experience menstruation.   We want the participants in this workshop, especially the youth, to have access to the knowledge that menstruating can be part of a process of becoming an intentionally creative person who releases negative energy and creates time and rituals for love of self, period.  It does not have to be a feminine or feminizing experience unless that is what they want it to be.    Towards this end we are in the midst of a wisdom drive collecting insights that people of many genders have learned from their experiences menstruating.   If you are interested in sharing an insight for our LoveOverflow depth of wisdom pool please email us at lexandpauline@gmail.com with the subject “LoveOverflow.”

Again…if you love this idea, spread the word to folks you know to donate their wisdom and/or dollars to the project!

http://alexispauline.chipin.com/love-overflow-marvelous-menstruating-moments-mamadaughter-workshop

Love,

Lex

The World Can Wait

30 Jan
Members of the CFC smiling for a picture.
Cis and trans* women of color do a lot of work that they don’t get paid for. Work at home, work at work, work in our communities, everywhere really. And a lot of it is done out of love. Love for our communities, love for our lovers, and things/people we believe in.There’s a saying, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and it has always missed the mark for me because it assumes that we would and do treat ourselves well. Women of color don’t always do that. We have a well documented history of doing for others before we do for ourselves. This self-sacrificing martyrdom has its consequences but I’m really interested in the impact it has on each of us.

It seems like we expend so much energy helping and saving others, we have nothing left for ourselves. I see too many of us feed everyone else and forget to eat. In the case of this blog, I’ve seen us use a lot of energy dealing with negative comments and backlash, finding and becoming resources for those who ask, then end up with little time or reserves left to support each other.

I take inventory from time to time of what posts get the most attention on the blog. Pop culture posts and even more specifically, moments in pop culture when white women do racist things or black men do sexist things get folks all atwitter. To me, this speaks to the gendered racism and racialized sexism that impact many of the cis women of color bloggers here. These posts that rise from our particular stand point are often the ones where we have to do the most work, reminding folks that no, this is not a post racial world and gender, race, and sex are always at work in complex ways. And we want so badly for folks to get it, that we neglect each other and ourselves in the process.

I think because we are so used to an embattled position with folks who wield power over us, we cut corners and are sometimes less patient/more careless with each other. As of late the CFC has taken some hits from other women of color, some deserved, some not, about what and how we write here. I’ve seen moments of real opportunity for engagement squelched by reactionary stances. I look for models of fierce and loving critique between women of color and I’m saddened by how rare it seems to be.

As I check my own willingness to hear the hard truths about myself, I see another connection to  my thoughts about women of color’s labor in the world. Why is it that my self-care to do list is the shortest and the last one I get to? Why do I expend more energy trying to make people understand rather than giving that time to the people who show up for me? Why do I lay claim to allyship when I’m too busy to be present in the ways people ask me to? Honestly, I think I find it easier to deal with someone else’s stuff than my own.

Racism, sexism, queer hate? I know how to handle those. I’ve got my arsenal of feminists theory and lived experience to take them down. By dealing with the world, I can avoid my own places of privilege or the stickiness of issues that don’t have such clear power differentials in my life. In an age where internet courage can allow you to rail at any deemed threat through a screen, we still have trouble saying the hard things to the people who are closest to us.

But I want to do better. For me that means not using the continued assaults on marginalized people writ large to shirk my own accountability to myself and fellow marginalized folks who I claim to love. It also means not expending inordinate amounts of energy on people who have no interest in my well-being because it impacts my ability to be there for the folks who love me.So, I’m adopting a new (for me) and modified mantra:

Me and mine first.

The self-care list gets checked first. The work I need to do for myself is next. Then comes the family/friends/loved ones.

The world can wait.

When the Shit Hits the Fan: On the “Shit [People] Say” meme and why it matters

17 Jan
Screen shot from Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls video

In case you missed it, there’s a new meme on the block and its kind of my favorite thing ever! The video that got things started, Shit (white) Girls Say, makes up for its own lacklusterness with the brilliance that it inspired. I have to admit, it’s been a while since I’ve been around groups of straight white women to know if those characterizations are true or not, but it smacked of sexism that made me think it’s more projection than accurate performance. It was followed by  Shit Black Girls Say which failed to capture the things I say as a Black girl. These weren’t simply reflections of “shit girls say” but a demographic of straight white and black women with a particular class background. The infantilizing title aside, “Shit Girls Say” poke fun at women through the use of the male gaze.

I realized what didn’t make these funny to me was exactly what made the ones that came after them work so well: Privilege, or rather the lack there of. The power differential in “Shit Girls Say” is skewed. Men dragging women and parodying what they believe to be their words as marginalized people in society has significant limits. In contrast, the videos that have marginalized folks speaking for themselves and back to the power structure by simply repeating the privilege denying questions and statements they field, are solid gold!

None has more fully made its way around the Interwebs than Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls. I have heard every one of those statements. And according to facebook, so have many many of my friends. Comedian Franchesca Ramsey brilliantly pulls the meme out of patriarchal hands and creates the opportunity for folks to see and hear privilege in action. Her appearance on Anderson discussing her viral video actually underscored many of her points. Anderson was shocked an awed that she had experienced what she described in the video and the sad truth that many white people still don’t know what racism means came to the fore.

Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls begat so many gems:

the list goes on. A friend on facebook quipped, “I’m almost starting to feel sorry for white girls. almost.” And that got me to thinking about the limits of this meme.Laughing at the ridiculously offensive things that white women say to women of color is one thing but it’s much harder to laugh at the threats of violence that are often embedded in the things white men say to women of color. Watching Shit White Guys Say to Asian Girls didn’t make me laugh it made me sad and it made me pause and think seriously again about power differentials across axes of color and gender.

Watching Shit People say to Native Americans left my heart feeling heavy. Shit Black Guys Say  did make me chuckle but again, my laughs were stifled by the dishonesty directed at female partners laid bare (I was super excited to see a comedian favorite of mine from my favorite web video ever). Shit gets real and not very funny when the power differential is wide.

And  as much as I love the witty way that people are speaking back to oppression through this meme, I realized that some conversations are just too fraught to be distilled in this way. I started to think about conversations amongst different “girls” of color, what a Shit Black Girls say to Arab Girls (or vice versa) might look like. I don’t think that this format could hold the complexity of such a conversation and it definitely couldn’t be the one sided, question/statement only nature that these videos suggest. But now as the meme starts to peter (maybe?), we might be open to thinking about conversations and exchanges amongst the margins and how that might shift the camera lens.

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