Archive by Author

America breeds terrorists. And they are white not brown.

20 Aug

My heart is hurting. I am grateful for this platform and disgusted as I try to help amplify voices that shouldn’t need to tell their sad stories.

America breeds terrorists. And they are white not brown.

Wade Michael Page, Sikh Temple Terrorist

Wade Michael Page, Sikh Temple Terrorist

My parents grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 60’s. They were 16 when four little girls were bombed in church. In a Christian church… on a Sunday.

Terror is being scared to go to your place of worship because someone might try to kill you there.

Terror is being “confused” with another more “deserving” target of violence.

Terror is watching the news say that a terrorist made a “mistake” and that you were the intended and implied fair target of deadly violence.

Terror is eight incidents of violence in eleven days that are willfully being ignored and not connected.

Terror is attacks on your communities not being called terrorist attacks.

Terror is knowing that the cops killed your son and having to rely on the (in)justice system for justice.

Terror is being shot dead by the cop who hit your 4 year old daughter with his motorcycle.

Terror is being incarcerated for defending yourself when you were attacked.

Terror is white people comparing you and your struggle to their right to have guns in a library.

Terror is being brown, black, immigrant, non white, non straight, non cis, in a culture that will kill you for it.

These recent tragedies are not random, nor senseless. They are the product of an ethnocentric culture that assumes white and might are right. I see opportunity for solidarity across communities of color and faith in the wake of this violence. I hope that these tragic points of connection can be the impetus for new alliances across differences.

Throwback Thursday: Living Single

26 Jul

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

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

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

__________________________________________________

Living Single TV Show Female Cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Living single

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

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

 

 

 

 

Man or Beast?: Revisiting the White Male Gaze

17 Jul

By Andreana Clay
Originally Posted on Queer Black Feminsist 

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

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

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

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

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

Or, really, the white male.

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

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

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

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 112 other followers

%d bloggers like this: