Archive by Author

It Gets Messy in Here – A Review

12 Dec
If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde

The last couple of days have been a lesson in my own educational and societal privilege. In my day to day interactions with people on the planet, I’m generally privileged to interact with people who respect my gender and racial identity. Microaggressions happen but for the most part, I can choose to move through the world in ways that limit my contact with people who don’t support or respect my identities. That’s not the case for a lot of my queer and trans* kindred.

In the amazing documentary It Gets Messy In Here, Kai M. Green explores the day to day reality of just trying to use the bathroom for many trans* masculine people of color. In interviews with masculine of center women, non-binary folks, and trans* men, Green explores the gender policing that simply entering a bathroom can engender.

Interviewee Alice Y. Hom recounts using an airport bathroom in which she was approached by a white woman who assumed that Hom was a non-English speaking Asian man who’d ended up there by mistake. Hom makes sense of the incident by pointing out how racial and gender stereotypes colluded to create a misreading of her identity. It is not just her race, gender, or sexuality that evoke the reaction but the combination of those that produce a moment of gender distortion.

Green is adept at allowing the interviews to build echos and refrains. The different narratives speak to each other and commonalities emerge that help paint a picture of a systemic societal problem with genders that trouble a belief in a fixed biological binary. Through the stories of the folks on screen, the stories of the people they encountered become visible and tell a tale of social discomfort that is projected on the narrators. I was moved by the efforts of those targeted by this projection to ease the ill feelings of those who target them. Folks talked about seeking out private bathrooms where they wouldn’t be bothered and weighing the pros and cons of which gendered bathroom to negotiate. There was so much work involved in navigating a bodily process that a lot of people are able to take for granted. C. Riley Snorton even mentioned the desire to create a physical map for trans* and disabled folks that identified restrooms that were accessible and safe.

Participants discuss their own ever evolving understandings of their genders and how they often conflict with societal expectations. Green even turns the camera on themself, and discusses their complex and nuanced relationship to their gender and its shifts over time. The documentary explores the impact of time on perceptions of gender in another way by highlighting interviewees experiences with children. The open curiosity of kids around gender ambiguity is tempered by adult assumptions and beliefs.

It Gets Messy in Here invites viewers into the lived reality of people who have to navigate more than just a full bladder when heading to the restroom. It explores the often unspoken piss politics that create additional obstacles for folks to access a basic necessity. As Prentis Hemphill so eloquently states, “For the love of God, I just want to pee!”

To purchase a copy of the film, plan a screening or learn more about the filmmaker, contact Kai M. Green at kiana.green@gmail.com.

To Clarify Re: “An Open Letter to @awkwardblkgrl”

6 Dec
Hey World-

Moya here. I, along with some other folks who watched the last episode of the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, my favorite web show, were jarred with the use of a particular slur that’s generally directed at trans women. We wrote an open letter voicing our concerns and I posted it to the CFC tumblr. Since then some folks thought, my bad, that the CFC wrote this letter together. No, just me, forever letter writer, and instigator.

You’d think that previous experience would teach me that my critiques of pop culture are often misread and that I should expect a clap back. I honestly thought this would be different because the letter writers were coming from a place of love and appreciation. We were/are fans. Since the  first episode we’ve been saying “You get me!” And I think that’s why we were hopeful that a letter like ours, with a non-demonizing tone, might be a welcome invitation to consider how folks are taking in some of the comedic material.

I totally believe in free speech in folks saying whatever they feel. Folks have the right always to create what they want to and use whatever language works for them. But doesn’t that mean I/we have the right to respond? I’m not trying to create a world where people have to speak a certain way, where language is policed. But doesn’t creative license necessarily generate feedback and reception? In the Brilliant word of CF Crunktastic, “When did love ever mean the absence of critique?”

I signed my name because I want to be accountable for the impact of my words on others. I’m only asking that others be open to hearing when that impact happens.

So much love,

Moya
#teamCeCeforever

P.S. For more context and discussion please check the tumblr and the CFC facebook page.

The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice

16 Nov
The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice
Guest Post by Yolo Akili
“Emotional Justice” is a term widely recognized as coined by journalist and Radio Host Esther Armah.

 

Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed. The impact of oppressive trauma creates cultural and individual wounding. This wounding produces what many have called a  “pain body”, a psychic energy that is not tangible but can be sensed, that becomes an impediment to the individual and collective’s ability to transform and negotiate their conditions.

Emotional justice is about working with this wounding. It is about inviting us into our feelings and our bodies, and finding ways to transform our collective and individual pains into power. Emotional justice requires that we find the feeling behind the theories. It calls on us to not just speak to why something is problematic, but to speak to the emotional texture of how it impact us; how it hurts, or how it brings us joy or nourishment. Emotional Justice is very difficult for many activists, because historically most activist spaces have privileged the intellect and logic over feeling and intuition. This is directly connected to sexism and misogyny, because feeling and intuition are culturally and psychologically linked to the construct of “woman”, a construct that we have all been taught to invalidate and silence. So by extension we invalidate and silence the parts that we link to “woman” in ourselves: our feelings, our intuition, and our irrationality.

This disdain leads to many things: a dismissal or minimization of our own and other’s feelings, a fear of revealing oneself as “emotional” (instead of as sternly logical) and a culture of “just suck up your feelings” or shrug them off. All of these responses to our emotions have consequences that contribute to a range of emotional and spiritual stressors which impact our lives.  In this article I am going to focus exclusively on the reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice and why the integration of our emotional selves into our activist work can’t wait.

Reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice

1. Activist Organizations Are Often Over-capacity
Many grass roots organizations and non-profits operate with a small staff that is expected to complete herculean tasks. This expectation leads to fatigue, stress and emotional imbalance. Asking to add emotional justice discourse(s) to the workplace/organizing is seen as a waste of time when organizations are trying to survive and fulfill grant/monetary obligations with limited resources. Yet it is an emotional discourse that could offer many movements opportunities for self-evaluation, especially as it relates to perpetuating models of capitalist productivity that they are often seeking to end.  Regular guided dialogues and retreats must become a priority and should be led by outside consult. They can help build connections, clarify the mission(s) and re-invigorate the collective.

2. Emotional Justice Has No Succinct Time Line
There simply is no timeline that can be put on someone else’s healing. Within an emotional justice framework, someone is able to bring up their pain as they feel the need. Our patriarchal emotional discourses will push back against this, however, and  will instead encourage us to deny, dismiss, and move on as quickly as possible from difficult emotions. Engaging emotional justice requires us to check this attitude within ourselves and develop ongoing strategies that allow us to express our concerns and feelings.

3. Emotions are Used as a Tool for those with Privilege to Avoid, Minimize or Escape Accountability
In an experience working with a group of queers on a racism project, a white identified cis gendered woman in the group would constantly break into tears whenever someone challenged her on the choices she was making that perpetuated racist themes. Her crying, which happened in several sessions, led to the entire group, especially the women of color, to comfort and assure her that she wasn’t a “bad person.”
Yet in the midst of attending to her emotional expressions, she continued to evade accountability and perpetuated the same dynamics. When she was challenged on her use of crying, she was able to come to an understanding that as a child crying had been a tactic she had used within her family to avoid being held responsible. This awareness led to her participate in the space in a much more accountable manner.
Stories like these happen all the time. Unfortunately in most spaces there are not always individuals with the skills to compassionately address these kind of emotional dynamics. This lack of skill prevents many from engaging emotional justice for fear they will get lost in these issues. This another reason seeking the support of healing justice/emotional justice educators is necessary.

4. Very Little Knowledge of the Emotional Body or Emotional Language
What is a feeling? What are the lessons they offer us? How can they invite us into ourselves? These are the questions that emotional justice guides us toward. Emotional justice can help many begin to work with their feelings in constructive ways that can help the movement as a whole.
An example: If someone asks many activists, what do you feel? The response may be something like,
“I feel like we just need to hurry up and make this thing happen because they keep on trying. yaddda yadda.”
But that was not a feeling. That was a thought. A feeling is one word. The feeling for this statement could be: “I am anxious, or I am frustrated”. Aiming directly for the feeling, as opposed to the thought around it, can help save time and address deeper issues.  If feelings are continually confused as thoughts, then the intellectual debate process kicks in, and before you know it, we are battling for philosophical dominance instead of saying that we are hurt.

5. Lack of Self-Awareness into how our own unique Psychological Frameworks, Trauma and Social locations inform our Interpretation of Reality
Journeying into our own narratives and seeing how they inform our current understandings of others around us can be  invaluable in times of challenge.  There are many tools for this;  one in which I find very effective is Psychological Astrology; as it invites us to explore, whether we believe in Astrology or not, what our motivations are, what we need to feel emotionally satisfied, the root of our personality conflicts with others, and how we express our aggression. This exploration can help us recognize an area of difference that is predicated on the ways in which we psychologically experience the world around us, a recognition that can help us understand and hear each other better in conflict situations.

6. Ideological Violence
“We were often poised and ready for attack, and not always in the most effective places.  When we disagreed with one another, we were far more vicious to each other than the common originators of our problem. ” -Audre Lorde

It is apparent from Audre Lorde’s words that ideological violence was a big problem for her generation. Many years later it continues to be, as unproductive ego wars rage amidst our movement spaces.
These ego wars (or as many of my friends say, “intellectual dick fights”) are for many apart of the academic environmental training that encourages us to battle for philosophical dominance. While debate in itself is healthy and can be empowering, the challenge here is that this “training” is colored with patriarchy and a “power over others” construct. Tactics such as Interrupting, yelling, belittling each other, and personal attacks, are dynamics of patriarchal communication and must be seen as the acts of emotional violence that they are.* As this is acknowledged, steps must be taken to train and understand assertive communication and the myriad of cultural communication styles that allow us to express our hurt, rage and frustration in ways that minimize harm.

Emotional Justice is not anything new to our movements. It is already being enacted in many spaces and in organizations all across the country.  My hope in writing this is that this work is expanded, illuminated and raised to a level of importance on par with our intellectual critiques.  It is my hope that we realize that just as we must construct new systems and institutions, we must also develop new ways of relating with each other and to our emotional selves. These models of relating will call on us to develope skills and  to work with our feelings, our trauma and our pain. It calls on us to recognize that emotional justice is an immediate need, not only for our movements, but for the world at large.

Yolo Akili is an Emotions Educator, Performance Artist, Practicing Astrologer, Yoga Teacher and long time activist. He can be reached at Yolo@yoloakili.com

From Margin to Center: Health for Brown Bois

29 Sep
Image cover of the Brown Boi Health Guide. Black Person in shadows looking into the camera.

As a graduate student, I elect to receive health care through my school (because they pay for it). Student Health Services has its pros and cons and my experiences have been, to put it nicely, mixed. My experiences with health care providers are what motivated me to think about the hierarchical relationship between doctors and patients in my dissertation. My providers have routinely presumed straightness, a feminine gender identity, and a certain class background. I was telling a friend about another less than awesome experience with a doctor and they joked, I could put my own experience in my dissertation. If only autoethnography was one of my research methods.

Health care providers have got to do better. Disparities in access to care are a major concern but once you are in the doctor’s office it doesn’t necessarily mean that service provision is equitable, particularly if you are are already marginalized in greater society. That’s why I was so happy to hear that the Brown Boi Project had created a resource guide for Masculine of Center (MOC) people of color and its available now.

The Brown Boi Project “is a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and our allies committed to transforming our privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving Racial and Gender Justice.” In that vain, they set out to create a health guide that would help brown bois advocate for better health outcomes for themselves when interacting with health care providers, friends and family.

The six chapters of the guide provide an introductory look at different components of health beginning with spiritual, mental, and emotional health, concepts that western medicine steers clear of all together or brackets as somehow separate from physical health. Additional chapters provide an overview of health concerns specific to MOC folks including “holistic care through gender transition” and issues of body taboo in relation to menstruation, pregnancy and sex.The narratives of real self identified brown bois provided regarding their own journeys and processes around health were the most compelling element of the book. It is in these personal accounts that you really see the intersectional nature of health, the ways in which structural forms of oppression like queer hatred, racism, and other forms of discrimination impact people’s health on all levels.

Images from open pages of  the health guide
The photography and illustrations in the book are amazing as well. Non-normative bodies of various races and shades help to provide a much needed shift in the way patient bodies are represented. The images do work that words can not.

The need for such a resource is undisputed and as a first edition, it far outshines its limitations. I was left however, wandering about the margins within the margins. What of disabled brown bois? How do we simultaneously hold a desire for wellness without pathologizing people as carriers of STI’s or victims of impairments? What of the guide’s high gloss veneer and PDF format for folks with little to no web/computer access? It’s definitely an overview and they remind readers that it’s not an exhaustive look at health but some general information to help stimulate better communication with health care providers and loved ones.

This is a guide and not a zine. It is not an updated more specific Our Bodies Ourselves so it has a different end goal. This guide offers a more generous read of trying to work with health care providers as opposed to abandon the system all together. Each have there uses. I think it would be a great teaching tool for doctors and medical students who get very little if any training regarding folks on the queer and genderqueer spectra. In addition to educating the medical community, we need to have more access to health care information ourselves and this guide is a move in that direction.

(More) Love for Awkward Black Girl

11 Aug

 

Image of Issa Rae of Awkward Black Girl looking awkward in an Awkward Black Girl tank top.

I was writing a pretty depressing piece for today about why I’m not voting for Obama in 2012 but I’m still a bit skittish about comments post Kreayshawn so I need another month or two to mentally prepare for what I anticipate will be some serious backlash. Plus, I’m tired of being sad and overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world so I thought I’d spotlight something that makes me smile!

I’m talking about The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, an amazing web series that we’ve mentioned several times on the blog, facebook and tumblr!  Writer/director/actress Issa Rae plays J, an awkward black girl with a penchant for writing violent rhymes to blow off steam, a deep and abiding hate for spoken word, and the ability to clock and interrogate racism with righteous precision and be hilarious while doing it!

The cast and crew were worried that they’d have to stop the show because they had run out of money so they started a Kickstarter and have raised over $50,000 with an initial $30,000 goal!

The success of the show and the fundraising effort comfort me and suggest that the announcement of a possible Tyler Perry TV channel doesn’t have to mean that the apocalypse is upon us. It is possible for independent awesomeness to survive and thrive if we are willing to support it and it looks like we are!

On Kreayshawn and the Utility of Black Women

6 Jun

Image of Kreayshawn in the passenger seat of a car next to a black man smoking weed.

“De nigger woman is de mule uh de world…”- Zora Neale Hurston

I grew up in a white suburban/rural community where I was one of a few black kids and the only one in my classes and social circle. In high school, we had this habit of waxing nostalgic for our not so distant youth in a way that made us feel older than we were so at a parties we’d often play songs from our childhood. Well once, Baby Got Back came on and I was rapping along as were a white boy and white girl. A crowd formed around them and folks were cheering them on for knowing most of the words while my flawless performance went unacknowledged. Looking back, I see clearly the messy contradictions of racism (and my own internalization of it) as white folks celebrated their proficiency in repeating a black man’s words of purported celebration of my curves that in general, made me invisible. My blackness rendered my rendition null and void as it was presumed I should be able to reproduce that lyrical dexterity on the spot. It was exceptional when they did it but par for the course for me.

And this is partly why Kreayshawn makes me mad. The White Girl Mob media darling blowing up the interwebs whose potential deal with Sony is making waves makes me angry in a way I haven’t been in a long time. Her appropriative swag is yet another reminder (not that we needed any more this month) of how little black women are valued in our society, even in genres we co-create. In a moment where cool is synonymous with swag, a particular manifestation of black masculinity, Kreayshawn’s dismissiveness and denigration of black women animate her success.

“It’s like tumblr made a video,” said one tumblrite, speaking of the white Cali hipster aesthetics of Kreyashawn’s Gucci Gucci. Replete with Indian medallion, black girl hair cut and color, black men flank her on all sides, lending their cool and legitimacy as she talks stealing bitches, smoking blunts, and realness. Catchy with no substance and ample “I’m so different from them other black girls,” Kreyashawn is the perfect accoutrement to the tortured misogyny of her friends and co-signers Odd Future. For her, calling women bitches and hoes is funny, a category she is somehow exempt from via her whiteness and sometimes queerness. She’s got swag because she fucks bitches too, though she’s quick to point out she’s “not a raging lesbian.”

I think “Hoes on My Dick” perhaps best captures my problems with Kreayshawn and those who dig her.  About a year ago, comedian Andy Milonakis (Who you might remember from his brief MTV fame) and Rapper Lil’ B decided to parody rap music and made the satirical “Hoes on My Dick” which features the choice language “Hoes on my dick cuz I look like Madonna” or “Hoes on my dick cuz I look like grandma.” Anyway, we were supposed to laugh. Ha ha! Isn’t funny/ironic when they say misogynist things when they know it’s wrong? Kreayshawn took their track and made it her own adding her own lyrics, “rapped” (if you could call it that) with all due seriousness and folks love it!

As Crunktastic has already pointed out on this blog, the derogatory slang words used for women imply race. “Hoes” are black and the proverbial punchline (pun intended) for the LA hispster/hip hop mash up sound that music critics are lauding. The supposed *wink wink nudge nudge* associated with their misogynoir is what makes them so edgy and so real. The objectification of black women as a lyrical trope is what makes Kreayshawn interesting. Look at this white girl who talks like a black man! Isn’t she awesome?

And not that black women haven’t tried to appropriate  a type of black masculine cool through a similar practice of denigrating other black women and expressing their allegiance to black men but they have not been as successful. Syd Tha Kid, DJ and beat maker for Odd Future is currently following this path and her queer black masculinity doesn’t seem all that queer when she speaks of women in the same derogatory fashion as her band mates.

Kreayshawn claims Nicole Wray, Missy and Aaliyah as women who inspired and influenced her sound but black women are rarely seen in her circle or videos. I’ve clocked two black women in Kreayshawn’s videos, one a silent love interest, and the other a silent hair stylist. In so far as black women are useful, they exist, though they never get to voice their own reality. It’s incredibly frustrating that the more things change the more things stay the same, that Zora Neal Hurston’s words still ring true today.

Special thanks to Alexsarah and CF’s Sheri & Whitney for talking through this with me!

Apparently Kreayshawn was on the brain today. Check out Clutch Magazine’s take.

Musings on (the day after) Mother’s Day

9 May

Black baby nurse Gina, holds baby Bryn as Mother Bethenny strokes Bryn's hair.

Happy Mother’s Day to CF’s Asha, Sheri, Rachel, Whitney & Chanel! Happy Mother’s Day to all Mamas!

As a graduate student, with a penchant for procrastination, I watch a lot of reality TV.  In particular, I watch a lot of shows on Bravo that point out the hardships of being rich, white, and woman in a world made for their husbands rich white men. Some of these women are mothers and in light of yesterday’s really awesome holiday turned commercialized grossness, I thought I’d muse on motherhood as represented in these shows.

I’m particularly fond of Bethenny Getting Married now Bethenny Ever After, a show featuring Bethenny Hoppy, a new mother of one.  In one episode she and her recently wed husband discussed childrearing over dinner and her eight month pregnant stomach. They admitted that neither of them had baby sat before nor ever really been around an infant for any length of time. They laughed it off and continued to enjoy their Honeymoon in St. Bart’s.

Fast forward to the baby’s impending arrival; they have a friend introduce them to a baby nurse, a black woman from a different island frequented by American tourists. Gina (who doesn’t even have a cast bio on the show’s website btw) teaches them everything, from how to put in a car seat to changing dirty diapers.  And even with all the help Gina provides, she’s portrayed as trying to get over on them by slacking on the job. Yes, their live-in black nanny who taught them to parent, isn’t a morning person and likes to sleep in. In Bethany’s tongue and cheek words, “[they] work for her.”  A similar joke appeared on NBC’s 30 Rock in which character Jack Donaghy felt he had been out negotiated by his nanny (also a black Caribbean woman)and duped into allowing her to keep her salary. I watch way too much TV.

On the new Bravo show Pregnant in Heels, rich, pregnant, mostly white women consult with self proclaimed baby expert Rosie Pope about all their pregnancy and post partum questions. Many of the women have little to no parenting experience. One mother with a baby due in weeks had never held an infant. Without hired help (and something tells me Rosie is pulling in more than immigrant women of color nannies), these mothers would be unable to complete basic parenting tasks. Yet there’s no stigma attached to their lack of knowledge. The Department of Family and Child Services is not knocking on their doors demanding their children be removed from the home. Young, poor, women of color get their children taking away and are demonized for parenting which is negotiated with far fewer resources. These shows expose the reality of parenting with privilege.

There’s an irony here that has afflicted black and brown women since this country’s illegal founding. Black and brown women are continually disparaged for not being good mothers yet are constantly roped in to taking care of white women’s children, often as a means to try and financially support their own families. Even as they are paid chump change in relation to their employer’s incomes, they are still regarded as con artists scamming altruistic white folks.

These shows illustrate the need for support networks beyond a nuclear family. Even in two parent households, the amount of labor childrearing requires often exceeds what  a mom and dad can hold. That support should be standard and not only accessible to those with financial means and traditional family structures. Take note #NWNWWouldn’t it make sense to have more people trained and prepared to take on these care taking tasks before there’s an actual pregnancy? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we actually supported parents in child rearing as opposed to expecting them to do it all themselves? With news of the amazing sociological project by high school student Gaby Rodriguez and the lovely video circulating giving love to young mamas, the conventional script of women of color mothering is being interrupted but we still have so far to go.

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