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Tonight! Join a conversation on the State of the Union!

24 Jan

CF Eesha here, y’all.

 Tonight is the President’s State of the Union address to Congress. If the election season so far is any indication, we know that amidst the politicians and the pundits there’s very little time for real talk.

This is one of the most important elections in recent history : there is a war on poor people; we need a deep investigation of the way corporations reign with impugnity; and  we need to call out the racism and sexism that permeate our society. So…

TONIGHT,  live at 7:30 p.m. ET,  Jan. 24th at www.baracktalk.com.

 

You can submit questions to panelists from twitter, for people who tweet @TheLeague99 or use the hashtag #BarackTalk. Join the conversation, we want to ensure some real crunk representation!

The esteemed panelists include (you’ll get to ask them questions during the live tweet!):

  • Goldie Taylor, MSNBC, CNN, The Grio
  • Rhymefest, hip-hop artist & former political candidate
  • Andreas Hale, founder of TheWellVersed
  • Shaheem Reid, MTV News, XXL Mag
  • Michael Skolnik, GlobalGrind
  • Chuck Creekmur, CEO, AllHipHop.com
  •  Sabrina Hunter, author of *Skeletons in the Closet*
  •  Jamira Burley, anti-violence activist from Philadelphia
  •  Davey D, influential blogger/ activist
  •  Dee-1, hip-hop artist
  •  Phil Ade, hip-hop artist
  •  Janee Bolden, Bossip.com writer
  •  Jasiri X, hip-hop artist, co-founder of 1HoodMedia
  •  Paradise Gray, hip-hop artist, co-founder of 1HoodMedia

Join the convo. Represent crunk feminism. Speak up. Speak out. We need your voices!

Some Reflections on the Limits of Sainthood

16 Jan

 How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?

 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

Martin Luther King day is here again. For many, it’s simply part of a three-day weekend and, thus, a time to sleep in.  For others, MLK day has become yet another day to shop till you drop. It’s also a day where we are privy to various snippets from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, played on loop and quoted by the most conservative pundits to the most liberal, although, quiet at it’s kept, he said many, many brilliant things.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching a literature of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) course. Although I live in Alabama, a state filled to the brim with vital civil rights history, many of my students knew very little about the CRM, and even less about King, even though they all claimed that he was very important or even a personal hero.  It was during that time that I really fully recognized how limiting political sainthood is. All my students knew who MLK was (or thought they knew), but the information they had received about him was so sanitized and incomplete that his words and philosophy were simply platitudes trotted out once a year to underscore that we had achieved his Dream. Imagine their surprise when they read about King’s anti-war stance, his thoughts on capitalism, and his emerging radicalism towards the end of his life. Take, for instance, King’s words just months before his death:

 And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

“A Christmas Sermon” (1967)

 King’s sermon is not a series of platitudes but an admonition for our own time. Indeed, it’s high time that we take our icons, our saints, off the pedestal and really heed their advice. Keeping MLK and others as distant, perfect leaders is really a cop out, a way to assuage our guilt at being “inadequate” heirs to the Movement, or to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve achieved some “post-racial”  paradise, or to convince ourselves that the task of liberation is just too daunting. On this MLK day, I think that we owe it not only to MLK’s memory, but to the many forgotten foot soldiers of the CRM and Black Power Movement, to do more than recite sound bites or raise our fists in mock salute.  We need to remember the richness, the complexity, the contradictions, and the power of black political struggles in the U.S. and across the Diaspora, and continue not only believing that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, but we must continue doing something about it–at home and in the streets. 

From Time.com: “King said in an interview that this photograph was taken as he tried to explain to his daughter Yolanda why she could not go to Funtown, a whites-only amusement park in Atlanta.King claims to have been tongue-tied when speaking to her. ‘One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky.'” 

Go See Pariah!!!

6 Jan

Title Character "Alike", dark skinned beauty, smiling with head cocked to the side

I’ve been trying to write a review for the movie Pariah for a while now but I can’t write anything that conveys what this film accomplishes. For those who need to know about the film before you see it, read Summer M.’s take and the review by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan at the Feminist Wire. Brilliant commentary (and Spoilers, FYI).

What I really want to talk about is the power of showing out up for art that creates new narratives and provides another lens on worlds that we don’t often get to see centered on the big screen. As much as I despise Tyler Perry’s films, I appreciate people’s willingness to pay for what they want to see and go out en masse premiere weekend. His audiences’ loyalty is what allows him to continue to create and branch out into other mediums like television. I want that opportunity for longevity and growth for folks who are trying to offer a different perspective. Dee Rees’ Pariah was years in the making and it took a village to raise it. I’m certainly proud to be a part of the community from whence it came and I’ve been rooting for its success for some time.

Three years ago I got an email from Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the indomitable director of the Spelman Women’s Research & Resource Center (and the professor that started me down the path of my feminist future), about a young filmmaker who was working to turn a short into a feature length film. I hadn’t even seen the short but I emailed everyone I knew based solely on the premise and the title. Pariah was a queer coming of age story with a Black girl protagonist. Nuff said.

Krys Freeman and I mobilized our respective networks and helped the film win a coveted Sundance prize that allowed it to be developed into a feature. We told folks to vote, asked people to donate money and we did! We weren’t alone. So many people were excited for this movie to exist. The opportunity to support a film for us by us was something a lot of folks could get behind.

On the CFC we offer critiques of culture but we also like to provide people with information about the things that inspire us and provide proof that another world is possible. Pariah is one of those things! Show up and show OUT for this movie! We are planning a “Let’s go OUT to the Movies” meet up in Atlanta to see the film when it premieres January 13. I encourage folks in other cities to do the same! Leave details in the comments if you’d like to attend or organize such an OUTing in your city!

Teaching Moments: On Accountability, Love & Patience

8 Dec

I teach and do research on issues centering on identity and diversity.  As the fall semester is coming to a close, I had the benefit of watching my students, many who started the semester ambivalent about difference and the need for diversity and acceptance, come full circle.  Through presentations and last words, they expressed how life changing the opportunity and challenge to think about difference differently has been.  Their embrace of diversity and each other (across race, class, gender, sexuality, religious and ability difference) has been transformative. 

At the start of the semester I warn my students that learning about diversity and various methods and strategies for communicating about and across difference can be challenging.  I tell them that when your concrete ideologies are compared with other concrete ideologies, it is not easy.  I remind them that unlearning discrimination and prejudice will be difficult and uncomfortable.  I encourage them to be open and open-minded and to trust the process.  I tell them I am not their homegirl and therefore not invested in them “liking” me (so I will not be moved or persuaded against pushing them to fully engage the material, whether they like it/or me/or not) .  Likewise, my mother was never interested in being my friend while I was growing up because she was busy raising me, teaching me right from wrong, and tempering my bad ass attitude because I thought I knew everything I needed to know to get along in the world (SN:  Now that I am grown, my mother is my very best friend, and I am grateful that she was a parent when I was growing up, which is what I needed, not a friend).  I ask them to question what they think they know and to be honest about their prejudices.  I tell them we will have good days and bad days and that we will experience a range of feelings from ambivalence to fear  to anger to confusion to excitement to curiosity to embarrassment to rage to sadness (and back to ambivalence again).   I ask them to take what they learn and utilize it in their lives and relationships.  I challenge them to hold others accountable in the way that I (will) hold them accountable.  I beg them to not be silent in the face of discrimination of any kind (anymore). 

In the classroom, I expect silence, discontent, frustration, rolled eyes, elevated voices, misunderstandings, anger, sarcasm, disrespect, and distance as we discuss taboo topics of class(ism), racism, sexism, homophobia, sexuality, ability and the various intersections between them.

I struggle through moments of the wrong things being said (and deciphering what the right response is), defensiveness, divisiveness, strife, self-imposed segregation, and blind allegiances.  It is a practice of patience…and stamina.  But teaching is repetitious (and frustrating/exhilarating/terrifying  at times), and I am accountable to every potential representation in the room.  There are particular rules in my classroom space.  Students must filter their words.  When someone says something offensive or problematic, I interrupt them immediately to correct them and explain how and why their word choice, regardless of intent, may be harmful or hurtful.  I love on them, require their acknowledgment and accountability, and encourage them to be mindful of the impact of their words.  I require them to listen to each other and not just respond reactively, or echo like minded individuals without being thoughtful and reflective.  I put them in uncomfortable situations.  I give them readings to make them uncomfortable.  I share personal experiences to make them uncomfortable.  The discomfort pushes them to think about what they are feeling and why.  These are all teaching moments.

The first few weeks we juggle extremes and trade silences while they decide if what I am saying is bullshit or brilliant, because it challenges everything they (think they) know.  And I worry that they will be offended rather than changed and/or walk away from the experience with the same stereotypic mindsets they started from.  But then it happens.  Unexpectedly and unannounced, they get it!  I can see it in their eyes, read it in their posture, and experience it in the roundabout way that they become easy with one another and less judgmental.  Our conversations become longer.  We tell transparent tales and connect in the ways that we are alike, astonished sometimes that we are not nearly as different as we look/seem.  We look at each other instead of avoiding glances.  We listen to each other’s stories instead of passively hearing each other’s words.  And while I can never pin point when it happens, there are miraculous moments when brave students share their truths, when public stories give us the opportunity to have private conversations out in the open, and when misjudgments, stereotypes, and mischaracterizations are corrected through conversations that prove missing each other on purpose misses the point and wastes opportunities for connection.

If ignorance is bliss, it is also dangerous and we are accountable for what we know.  We are also responsible for having difficult conversations.  Because of this, we will occasionally be misunderstood or attacked for standing up and defending our passions.  And that is okay.   I feel that we are called to love people past (in)difference.  And like I said, I am not their homegirl :)

And while teaching (classes and the larger public) is not always easy, seeing the benefits of the effort (which takes time, sometimes a lifetime), reminds me that it is always worth it!

Some Thoughts on Jay-Z and Those “Occupy All Streets” T-Shirts

28 Nov

Sometimes, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why we expect rappers to be invested in social justice. Rapping is a job.

This is not to say that they can’t be. I only ask why we expect them to be.

When Kanye showed up at OWS NYC, I thought this is interesting.

The US has an interesting history of Black celebrities using their voice to advance causes on the behalf of those who have less social power than they do.

Think Muhammed Ali.

Think Sidney Poitier y Harry Belafonte.

Think Lena Horne.

There are countless others.

There were also several other folks as well who are not necessarily Black. John Lennon and Yoko Ono come to mind.

The process by which a person becomes politicized, and by that I mean becomes willing to read, think and take action to change some janky shit (on an individual or a systemic level) varies from person to person.

It may come from participating in an event at your school and realizing that if you become organized you can change things.

It may come from registering folks to vote in your neighborhood and realizing that if you become organized you can change things.

It may come from working with a youth advocacy organization and learning that if you work together you can prevent the city from implementing a 17 and under 10pm weekday curfew and building a half a million dollar youth detainment center for those who were caught outside past curfew. That would be mine. We did this in ‘Frisco.

I do understand that given the history of rap music that there has always been a variety of voices, some progressive (PE, early mid career Ice Cube), some partying and misogyny (Too Short) some fun (LONS, Digital Underground) some darkness (Geto Boys). The point is that not only was their variety in content, but because it was largely marginalized music, remember MTV had to be convinced to play Rap videos, it existed on some pop stations and largely on college radio and mom and pop outlets.

My point is that I don’t romanticize rap music as some glorious do-right genre.

However, I do think that there is something particularly important about the fact that these t-shirts even exist (or existed).

When I saw the shirts, I thought of the contradiction.

With Jay-Z, here is a man, who embodies a rags to riches story, in possibly the most American sense possible. One of the richest Black men in this country. Low income kid from the hood who did good. We are similar in that way. Why is one of the richest Black men in the country making money off of a movement based on people taking action because many of them are not eating. The hood is not eating. Apparently neither are the suburbs.

For examples of people missing meals see:

This.

This.

or

This.

In some ways those Occupy All Street T-Shirts reminds me of how capitalism, in its very DNA, will try and squeeze profit out of everything it comes into contact with, even if it is blood from a rock.

You know how Ross has Maybach Music? When I saw those t-shirts, I thought of Watch the Throne (Jay Z’s and Kanye’s new album) as 1% music. How could it not be?

All of these thoughts leave me with a few questions.

What do we stand to gain if we stop looking at rappers as “activists”?

Why do we even do that in the first place?

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

Somewhere Between Black Power and White Rage

25 Oct

There have been several public “events” privileging race, gender, and class during the past weeks in New York City that featured prominent Black feminists.  After the film screening of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, the conference about Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth, and the Occupy Wall Street  movement based in Zucotti Park/Liberty Square, I  wanted to mark how Black womanhood and Black feminist thought are positioned.

The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975

The Swedish film is an incredible compilation or mixtape that chronicles the US Black freedom movement by arranging interviews, speeches, and snapshots of activists and urban Black life. The most compelling moments include Black women. There is one scene, for example, when Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) sits on an apartment floor boyishly looking up at his mother Mable.  In a “play” interview, he presses her to describe the intersections between race and class. It is a humorous, affectionate exchange that complements the defiant image of Carmichael championing Black power. Carmichael’s fiery rhetoric at the beginning is matched by Angela Davis’ cool midway through the film when she responds to a question about armed resistance. Davis recalls the 1963 Birmingham church bombings when

Picture of  four Black girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair who were killed by the Klan during the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama

1963 Birmingham Klan bombing that killed four Black girls

neighborhood girls Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Denise were brutally murdered by white supremacists.  She places her personal recollection within a context of ongoing racial terrorism experienced by African descended people. In one story Davis reveals American hypocrisy. In one story she creates an emotional bridge to connect with the film so the audience could better understand the complexities of Black America then and now.  (The CFs in the audience echoed, “that’s Black feminism for you.”)

The Davis and Carmichael interviews are followed by a third moment, which is the most unsettling part of the film because I am left hanging, wondering what to do with a local teary-eyed young Black woman who describes how she has had to wrestle with her drug addiction after a family member sexually assaults her as a child. In the midst of the Black power movement, we are invited to read her story as part of “the ghetto” and hear the PSA-like radio voice-over about premature babies from drug-addicted mothers as hers. The film explains drug abuse by Black male Vietnam veterans who return home disillusioned, homeless and unemployed, and it illustrates gender-specific forms of (sexual) violence experienced by Black men who are tortured during the Attica uprising, but there is no commentary, no gender framework to really see her or other dazed Black women shooting up in an abandoned New York apartment. In fact, if we are to gather any meaning at all from the voice-over, street footage, and her interview, we might believe that she has failed her family and by extension the Black community—ideas echoed by the news media a decade later when audiences are re-introduced to the bad Black woman as the crack-welfare-mother.  That the director-editor, Goran Hugo Olsson, opted to let saturated images of the ghetto “speak for itself” while admittedly letting go of the archived footage of the landmark 1972 Presidential Candidate, Shirley Chisolm, suggests specific discussions about gender added an unwanted complexity to the Black power he envisioned.

Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth

The daylong conference began with sessions about Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings of then US Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. The Sex and Justice film excerpt and morning sessions were followed by lunch discussions about sexual harassment in the military, on the streets, and in schools, and a keynote about home with Hill herself.  Hill asked (and I paraphrase), “Is there a way to Race-ing Justice Engendering Powertalk about race that isn’t so male dominated?” Hours before Hill posed this question I asked myself, is it possible to talk about gender on a national scale that isn’t so white identified? I had come to the conference to learn more about Hill specifically and about Black feminist thought in general (as the tag was “an all day conference about race and gender identity”).  I got it even though it felt sandwiched between a kind of deracialized gender, which eclipsed the intersectionality so many women of color emphasized.  Long before Kimberlé Crenshaw reminded us about intraracial resistance to Hill and other Black women who dared to air dirty laundry, and before Melissa Harris Perry offered us her exacting critique about respectability and the reception of The Help, a New York college instructor leaned over to school the Black-girl-too-young-to-remember about the Thomas-Hill hearings. Pulling out her Black feminist good book, Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power, my informal Black feminist instructor suggested Hill had been embraced by white feminists because Thomas seemed less threatening to their social standing than the white men who systematically harassed Black women in the workplace.  From my back-seat instructor to the panelists on stage, it would appear the symbolic body of Hill was still very much in the making. At the daylong conference, Hill stood (in) as a testament to interracial feminist solidarity, “front line” Black feminist mobilization, and white feminist cooptation (for at least one sistah in the audience).

 

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street has been characterized as white middle class rage against the capitalist machine. Prior to the Harlem march where folks from Liberty Park joined activists of color to protest the stop-and-frisk policies that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino persons, communities of color insisted the “occupiers” reconsider language (e.g., replace occupy to decolonize) and reconsider tactics, such as voluntarily camping in spaces that displaced homeless persons.   The first time I went to Liberty Park, Black folks peppered the space. We were mainly on the margins, taking up space on the steps and the stone parameters of the blue tarp makeshift community.

The physical make up of the protestors at the Park and on the street during the Manhattan marches appeared to be the same, yet the meetings and talks I attended attempted to be inclusive and intentionally anti-racist even in the absence of a lot of colored folk. (See Greg Tate’s Top 10 Reasons Why So Few Black Folks Appear Down to Occupy Wall Street.) And just like I stayed at the Hill conference, I came back to Liberty Park because I wanted to hear an amazing Black intellectual, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, explain capitalism’s connection to group exclusion, criminalization, and racialized labor. When Gilmore evoked CLR James,  she reminded me of another Trinidadian thinker, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), that I had seen weeks earlier in the Black Power Mixtape. Immediately after Gilmore’s talk, I walked upstairs to see a remarkable scene for which I still have no meaning.  To my left, Rev. Jesse Jackson was surrounded by a small group of men with studio cameras and a spotlight.  To my right, the actor Rev. Billy began his popular street performance as the crowd circled. Onlookers held up camera phones to record the spectacle of the Black-led choir and the Reverend, who dramatically preached about the evils of consumerism. Each had a platform at Liberty Square to talk about economic justice, however, their messages were digested and distributed differently. Jesse was on my left, Billy was on the right, and Ruth (or Ruthie if you know her) was somewhere in between…

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.

Author Martha Southgate on Why the Film “The Help” is a Symptom of a Larger Issue: My Thoughts.

17 Aug

Author note: Post written last week.

In Entertainment Weekly, one of my favorite authors, Martha Southgate (@mesouthgate) discusses the film “The Help” stating that,

There have been thousands of words written about Stockett’s skills, her portrayal of the black women versus the white women, her right to tell this story at all. I won’t rehash those arguments, except to say that I found the novel fast-paced but highly problematic. Even more troubling, though, is how the structure of narratives like The Help underscores the failure of pop culture to acknowledge a central truth: Within the civil rights movement, white people were the help.

I would say that she certainly has a point there. And, given the fact that I am swimming in readings about women in the civil rights movement, at this VERY moment, I am particularly sensitive to claims about women during the civil rights movement.

White people did play a substantial role in the civil rights movement.  However there were incredible tensions in the civil rights movement because “women” were seen as “the help.” Looking at how gender played out in the civil rights movement in fact may poke more holes in Sockett’s narrative. For example,

  • Many White feminist wanted to organize under the auspices of women united for solidarity but did not want to acknowledge the differences between women. See Benita Roth’s “Separate Roads to Feminism.”
  • Stokley Carmicheal, of the Black Panther Party alleged that the best position for a woman in the BPP was “prone.”
  • There were some White feminist lesbians who felt that engaging with men was apart of the problem so becoming separatists and living amongst and supporting women was the solution. See Radical Sisters: Second Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in DC by Anne Valk.
  • Here is a link to Courtney Desiree Morris analyzing Assata, Angela Davis and Elaine Brown  and how sexism impacted their work with the Black Panther Party.
  • Black women played a prominent role in organizing the March on Washington but they were not allowed to SPEAK at it.

I by no means intend to conflate the Black Power movement with the Civil Rights movement. They are overlapping yet distinct in tone and intent.

However, I wanted to bring the issue of “Women” to bear on Southgate’s article on the film and book, The Help.

Here is her excellent closing paragraph, which actually upended me from my reading ABOUT women in the second wave and compelled me to write this blog post. She writes,

This isn’t the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. Most Hollywood civil rights movies feature white characters in central, sometimes nearly solo, roles. My favorite (not!) is Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning, which gives us two white FBI agents as heroes of the movement. FBI agents! Given that J. Edgar Hoover did everything short of shoot Martin Luther King Jr. himself in order to damage or discredit the movement, that goes from troubling to appalling.

Why is it ever thus? Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That’s a shame. The continued impulse to reduce the black women and men of the civil rights movement to bit players in the most extraordinary step toward justice that this nation has ever known is infuriating, to say the least. Minny and Aibileen are heroines, but they didn’t need Skeeter to guide them to the light. They fought their way out of the darkness on their own — and they brought the nation with them.

Southgate’s fourth novel, The Taste of Salt, will be published in September.

By centering White women as actors in the civil rights movement, we mask, hide and erase the work of Black men and women, and we negate the ways in which WOMEN were treated in many instances like “The Help” in Black and White organizing circles. 

*The terms Black and White are capitalized because I see them as racial classifications AND political identities. #ummhmm.

Putting My House in Order: Some Thoughts on Self-Care

4 Aug

Toni Cade Bambara’s “On the Issue of Roles” is one of my all-time favorite essays and a particular passage has been on my mind a lot lately. Bambara writes:

Running off to mimeograph a fuck-whitey leaflet, leaving your mate to brood, is not revolutionary. Hopping on a plane to rap to someone else’s “community” while your son struggles alone with the Junior Scholastic  assignment on “The Dark Continent”  is not revolutionary. Sitting around murder-mouthing incorrect niggers while your father goes upside your mother’s head is not revolutionary. Mapping out a building  takeover when     your term paper is overdue and your scholarship is under review is not revolutionary. Talking about   moving against the Mafia while your nephew takes off old ladies at the subway stop is not revolutionary. If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. (The Black Woman, 134-135; emphasis mine)

Talk about crunk. Bambara gives the side eye to the notion that you can attack capitalism, racism, or other systems of dominance out in the world without challenging those same systems (especially hetero-patriarchy) within one’s own relationships. That, in fact, leaving your own house “out of order” not only jeopardizes but it, in fact, undermines both your potential for good work and your potential for intimacy and happiness. Indeed, for me, Bambara’s call for us to essentially get our ish together charges us to recognize how important—how revolutionary—it is for us to love (and love on) each other and ourselves fiercely and fearlessly.

Family, I’ve been trying to get my own house in order.  The past few years have had a lot of joy, but they’ve had a lot of pain too.  Betrayals, disappointments, setbacks, and outright bad luck have played an all too prominent part of my life. At times it seemed like everything in my personal and professional life were conspiring together to get my pressure up.  I’ve been sick, tired, frustrated—you name it. Of course, I kept chugging along, smiling, showing up, doing my thing, but I was so over it. Where was my joy? I wondered.

One day I was in my office, checking Facebook between classes and an intriguing quote showed up in my newsfeed:

“‎If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete” ~Jack Kornfield

I remember sitting in my chair and becoming quite still. How was I trying to be this feminist teacher/scholar/activist/ mentor/daughter/sister/lover/homegirl when I didn’t (really) treat myself with the same loving kindness I was trying to put out into the world? Why wasn’t I extending the grace I tried to extend to others to myself?

The answer to that question is complicated, but, suffice it to say, the quote helped to catalyze some thoughts that had been swirling around in my mind for some time. Sitting at my desk that day, I typed up the phrase “Are you taking care of yourself?” and printed it out. I put the question all over my house. When I get up in the morning and go the bathroom “Are you taking care of yourself?” is pasted on the mirror so I can consider it as I brush my teeth or wash my face. The phrase is also pasted under the Ochun altar  I have in my bedroom so that when I light candles and meditate I don’t forget to think about how I am caring for myself.  The question is pasted on my front door so that as I am rushing out (invariably late for something or other) I can take a moment to check in with myself.

Asking myself this question, being compassionate to my own self, checking in with myself, my needs and my feelings, has not made me superhuman or super-selfish. I’m just more present to myself and to others because I am less drained by the consequences of ignoring my own happiness. Maybe I’m getting all New-Agey and touchy-feely. Ha. Maybe so.  But, I do know that being more intentional about my self-care has brought me a greater sense of joy, peace, and purpose. And that right there is revolutionary.

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