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On Azealia Banks and White Gay Cis Male Privilege

10 Jan

Guest Post by Edward Ndopu

Azealia Banks

Rapper Azealia Banks

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

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

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

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

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


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

Django Unchained and Why Context Matters

6 Jan

django_unchained

Some spoilers ahead, but mostly I’m  just feeling all my feelings…

Growing up, I had to deal with my mother’s love for Westerns. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Outlaw Josie Wales. One of the many joys of expanded basic cable (besides the Cooking Channel, of course) is that I get Encore Westerns. Between that and reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger, I know that when my mama comes to visit she will be thoroughly entertained.

I don’t get her love for the genre. I mean, I get it on one level. I know my mother appreciates a good revenge tale and she likes it when the bad guys grovel at the end. But Westerns? Really? Then again, I unapologetically look forward to watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta and all the iterations of Love and Hip Hop, so who am I to judge? We all hold contradictions, not to mention shamtastic and raggedy entertainment choices.

So, when I saw that Django was coming out during the holidays, I thought this would be something that we could watch together. I mean, I do “enjoy” an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger now and again but I’m not sure that that counts. Django would definitely give us both something to talk about.

I did have some apprehension about watching Django, though. For one, I am not a fan of Tarantino at all. At all. Generally, I find his work contrived, overly self-conscious, and, frankly, boring. Plus, to me he’s like the worst kind of hipster racist, a grown up version of Justin Timberlake desperately trying to affirm his black card at all times, while thoroughly proving himself to be white as hell. The living worst.

But, I was still intrigued by the movie.  As a scholar of African American literature, I’m always interested in how we understand and talk about slavery today.  Besides, I love Kerry Washington with a fiery burning passion and would watch her read the phonebook.  (Too bad she had like five lines in the movie. She did have that lip quiver though. Can’t forget about the lip quiver).

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm...

Sex appeal and slavery. Hmm…

I ended up watching the movie and it exceeded my admittedly low expectations. I won’t do a formal review here, largely because I think the film has been discussed elsewhere in brilliant ways and who needs to reinvent the wheel? (On that note, check out discussions of the film by Salamishah Tillet and The Feminist Wire if you haven’t already). What I do want to talk a bit about was my movie going experience.

I decided against seeing Django while I was spending the holidays at home in Fort Lauderdale. I anticipated that my little heart couldn’t take it. I imagined some irreverent scene involving slavery and being in a movie theatre filled the laughter of whites who, in their next breath, wouldn’t hesitate to remind me of how postracial we are and how Tarantino has every right to create art as he pleases and how brilliant he is and on and on and on. I figured I might have a slavery flashback and go Nat Turner up in there and that’s not how I’m trying to go out, folks.

Instead of that unfortunate scenario, Mama and I headed to the movies in Atlanta on a Friday afternoon. Since my mother is a stickler for time we got there early and I did a lot of people watching as the theatre filled to capacity. Our fellow viewers were Black—pretty much everyone as far as I could see—and largely grown. I’d say middle-aged and older. There were couples on dates. Clusters of homegirls and homeboys. Church sisters and ladies who lunch. Not the crowd that generally thinks Reservoir Dogs is awesome, interestingly enough.

I immediately felt at ease. I felt like I was at a family reunion where something dubious was about to happen but that, nevertheless, it was going to be ok because my auntie and my mama were there. Weird, perhaps, but true.

So we all sat there in companionable (semi) silence, watching Tarantino’s comedic spaghetti Western slavery action-comedy, cheering when racist slaveholders came to their timely and explosively bloody ends, sighing in satisfaction when Django finally got his girl, and laughing out loud at the absurdly funny scenes involving shit that is generally not funny at all.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

This movie will also extinguish whatever love you have left for Leo. Sorry.

Take for instance a scene involving some night riders (aka the forefathers of the KKK). The group arrives to kill Django and his white companion but before they can get to the lynching, there’s a whole discussion about how their outfits (namely the poorly shaped eyeholes on their white hoods) are getting in the way of their appointed task. It goes without saying that lynching is not funny. I mean, really. But laughter reverberated throughout the theater. Not uncomfortable, tinny laughter that rings hollow and dies quickly in your throat. But genuine “people can be so damn foolish,” “you got to laugh to keep from crying” and “ain’t this some shit?” laughter thundered, yes, thundered throughout the theater. I don’t know that I could have laughed during this moment in another theater, but I laughed heartily on that day.

When the movie was over I asked my mom what she thought about it. She said she loved it. She loved that Django went about avenging people for his wife and that all the bad people got killed, especially Samuel L. Jackson’s old Uncle Ben looking ass. For her, it was the best kind of Western. When we went out to dinner that evening she expressed several times how satisfying it was to watch racists get cut down. I could only agree.

F@#% you, Stephen!

F@#% you, Stephen!

So, what’s my verdict on Django? It’s interesting, frustrating, (at times) funny, violent, limiting, problematic, thought provoking…it’s doing a whole lot. I don’t regret seeing it, but it’s not in my top 10 list either. I think it is inciting interesting discussion, but I’m not naïve enough to think that this will necessarily translate to a bunch of nuanced portrayals of Black folk in slavery. What I do know is that my viewing experience was connected to where I saw the movie as much as it was connected to the film’s content and that, among other things, underscores my general ambivalence about the movie.

Have you seen Django? What are your thoughts on the film?

django vengance

we: a cfc thanksgiving mix

21 Nov

Gordon Parks, 1942

Thursday we feast. We who have it good enough to put a turkey on the table and lament the tryptophan-induced ‘itis with loved ones over card tables. And that we won’t include me. I won’t be home for the holidays but here in Harlem and I haven’t done turkey for more than a decade. I’ve done vegan field roasts, the palate-spoiler that is Tofurky (rebuke it family), the delightful but not vegan Quorn Turk’y Roast, tofu cutlets, Sophie’s Kitchen extraordinary vegan calamari, the list of faux meats goes on and on.

But my outsider status is a privilege–I could partake of the slain bird (yes, I’m judging) and cough up the small fortune to fly home to Seattle–and that we is a lie. It doesn’t cover my behind much less the choppy waterfront. That presumptive we excludes folks whose holidays evince neither Hollywood’s disarming dysfunction nor the heartwarming diabetes of the black cinematic tradition. Not to mention the rent remains too damn high and just getting by too damn prevalent. But there is a we that works. A we that will order our steps nowhere near Wal-Mart this Thursday or any other day of the week (consider sponsoring a striker). A we that raises ruckus about public housing conditions in the immediate wake of Superstorm Sandy and long after. A we that can keep someone from falling. Better yet, a we that with work finds us all on our feet. A we like my family, bound not exclusively by blood but intentional, inclusive and beloved community. Thursday I’ll miss the comforting grip of their hands during the marathon that is Thanksgiving grace but if anything they taught me there are always hands that need holding and it is all of our charges to find them. When I think about that we. I give thanks. I also get all up in my digital crates.

we: a cfc thanksgiving mix

“Ain’t It A Lonely Feeling” Camille Yarbrough
“Big Brother” Vijay Iyer Trio
“You’ll Never Rock Alone” Tata Vega
“Love Is Plentiful” The Staple Singers
“Brothers & Sisters (Get Together)” Kim Weston
“Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” Willie Hutch
“Sister Matilda” Stu Gardner
“Painted on Canvas” Gregory Porter
“Word Called Love” Brian and Brenda Russell
“People Make The World Go Round” Marc Dorsey
“You Are The World” Donald Byrd
“Don’t You Forget It” Glenn Lewis
“Home” Stephanie Mills
“You’ve Got A Friend” [LIVE] Donny Hathaway
“Keep On Movin’ On” Martha Reeves & The Sweet Things

[STREAM/DOWNLOAD]

so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way

30 Oct

Listen, this isn’t what I expected: adult-onset acne, speech and eating disorders. I would have been struck dumb had you asked me to forecast these grown-up times in my ponytailed private school days. I daydreamed a lot but my imagined life was clipped: a timid choose your own adventure whose stalled plot was as foreseeable as it is now disappointing. And in running from that neuroses-made valley I am daily acquainted with pain, fired in it and conscripted to lay poultices on the skin of my kiln mates.

Girl on fire is a punchline in the ‘buked wail of Alicia Keys’ failed instrument, a dirge when we get stuck, when we forget Smokey’s advice. Just last week it was a black woman’s willful hell, an extreme, yes, and emblem of other private purgatories. But let’s call it our ignition and start: “sail through this to that” by Lucille Clifton’s consecration, by recognition of our own peerlessness. I heard a soprano lift Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats” in a New England parlor last week and I teared up despite my liquid eyeliner. My teacup tottered on a saucer at my boots and for those few minutes I threw it all away. It can all be better with a song. This is what I know, why I push the fader. Well, I also like to dance.

When Dilla refigured Junie’s “Tight Rope,” I’d like to think he was broadcasting more than his genius. “You have come so far, you’ve got so far to go” respects the process, the jerky choreography of our time. These songs wobble something similar. Try and catch the beat.

so far to go: a cfc mix on finding your way 

“Ghost” Alecia Chakour & The Osrah
“Popular/ Count’s Coda” Van Hunt
“That Girl” Esthero
“So Far” Georgia Anne Muldrow
“Find A Place To Live” Newban
“Find Your Way” Dionne Farris
“Love Me Instead” Melinda Camille
“Lost Where I Belong” Andreya Triana
“The Song of Loving/Kindness” Gary Bartz
“Long As You’re Living” Elizabeth Shepherd
“It’s Our World” Gil Scott-Heron
“I Know Myself” The Sylvers
“Faith” Faith Evans
“Devotion” Ledisi
“Beautiful” Joy Jones

[STREAM/DOWNLOAD]

Please Feel Free to Keep Your Bullshit Apology

11 Oct

So, I was on Facebook (granted, I know that was my very first mistake) and I came across a homophobic comment posted by my youngest brother.

Back story: my little brother and I have the same dad but different moms. I don’t use the word “half-brother” because to me if feels like it somehow delegitimatizes our bond. Even though we grew up in different homes, we have a very strong history and have created many loving memories. Needless to say, I love my little brother very much. I am often saddened by the fact that we didn’t grow up in the same home. I think that maybe if we had, he wouldn’t put such dumb shit on a public forum like Facebook. Maybe, just maybe, he would think twice.

I wasn’t born in this country. English is not my first language. I wear a size twelve. I’m also a queer woman of color.  Clearly, I have had to develop thick skin. I’m used to seeing manifestations of intolerance everywhere – in public policy, society, at work, in the media … you get the picture. I am also very private and because of that keep my Facebook circle really small. The folks on my friends list are progressive and agree with me on the importance of silly things like social justice and equal rights. This is why this post hurt so terribly. I was being attacked on Facebook, but, most surprisingly, by my own brother. He knows that his sister is gay. It is no secret. He knows this. He also knows that his sister is smart, strong, opinionated, giving, caring,  and, most of all, human.

So why, why, why would my little brother post a homophobic comment? Why would he of ALL people promote hate and intolerance? I don’t have the answers. None of the ones I came up with seem to make much sense or make the situation any less painful.

After pulling it together, I sent my little brother a private text message asking him why he said those things and whether or not he thought those things applied to me, his gay sister.

We went back and forth for a bit. His responses were even more disheartening and basically along the lines of ‘but you’re different.” My all-time favorite response was, “If I offended you, my bad,” followed by a Facebook post of the music video “Sorry I Can’t Be Perfect.”

Really, homie?

Due to the fact that I am an educator (and I love him), I‘ve decided to use this as a teachable moment. In the future, I want him to have the proper tools when he messes up and needs to offer an apology. Feel free to use this in your own circles.

  • I want to apologize for what I said/did. I didn’t think about the power of language or how my words/actions can truly affect and sometimes hurt others. I love you and would never want to (unknowingly or purposefully) hurt you. I understand that it may take some time for you to forgive me, but I hope that you can find it in your heart to do so, because I care about you and the future of this relationship. I’m sorry.

So, little bro, this is what an actual apology looks like. You are now in your 20s and, by all accounts, a grown man. It’s about time you started acting like one.

If this offends you, then, my bad.

To everyone else, Happy National Coming Out Day!

Lady Gaga, Beauty, Ugliness and the Call for a Real Body Revolution

27 Sep

Earlier this week, Lady Gaga launched a campaign, via her website, called Body Revolution 2013. An attempt to reclaim the conversation from the folks in the media who were writing about Gaga’s body as seen in a few recent photos, wherein she looks a little larger than she usually does. (I’m not linking to those photos and articles, Google if you must.) Essentially, these (assuredly svelte) members of the media were calling Lady Gaga fat. Gaga, in a missive in which she’s both vulnerable and angry, spoke out about the fact that she’s been dealing with anorexia and bulimia since the age of 15. And as only a global susperstar can, she’s re-energized a conversation about the challenges that young people, young women and girls in particular, are facing as they struggle to accept their bodies in a world that is hateful and cruel. These struggles are both external (how do others perceive me?) and internal (what do I see when I look in the mirror?) and they are nothing new. But a dose of celebrity adds another dimension to this already pressing issue.

Several have written about the potential impacts of a celebrity naming their struggles with eating disorders – some think it’s helpful, others don’t and others find it complicated. There’s something both valuable and limiting about a celebrity like Lady Gaga coming forth. On the one hand she embodies a relatively conventional ideal of beauty, being young, thin and white. On the other hand, it’s notable that these extremely narrow conventions of beauty are insufferable by almost ALL people, Lady Gaga included. I won’t (re)litigate the conversation about the value of her admission here. Generally, I find that anything that breaks into the mythology of celebrity is at least minimally useful, because it allows us to disrupt the damaging messages that come from and through our obsession with fame and fortune as measures of worth. (Here, I mean “worth” the existential sense, as well in the context of capitalism. Lady Gaga is very well compensated for her art, which is entangled with her “image.”) So, yes, a “body revolution” in which we flaunt and expose our “perceived flaws” and  “make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous” in order reclaim our sense of self from the media machine is a good thing.  But there’s something else going on here.

In this charged context, what does it mean to be beautiful? And what does it mean to be ugly? And another question, to complicate the binary between beauty and ugliness, because binaries never serve us well: what does it mean to be invisible entirely? Or hyper-visible?

We, as the social creatures we are, long to see and be seen. And to be seen as valuable, worthy of love, and affection, and deserving of care, personal, interpersonal, social and political. There are many measures of value, and they all depend upon being “seen.”  So, this question, of what it means to see and be seen, is rooted in understanding the pain and agony of people around the world who struggle to see themselves and to be seen by others as valuable. This is about those little girls, who look at themselves in horror and anguish, feeling worthless if nobody calls them beautiful. And in the cases of young girls and women of color, seeing themselves as inherently less valuable. In this context, answering the question “what kind of body revolution do we need?” is urgent. A lot is at stake.

Jessica Valenti’s argument in favor of embracing “ugly” comes from the notion that we must confound traditional notions of beauty and the social value that comes with them. In light of the emergent trend in which young girls get plastic surgery so as to avoid bullying and shame, Valenti argues that there are virtues cultivated from resisting these notions, and embracing the anger and dispossession they engender. We fashion the world in our own image, then, and refused to succumb. I find this argument compelling, to be sure. I am routinely pissed off about the way beauty is defined and described so as to exclude me, and so, so many others. And I certainly derive strength from that rage.

But then, I also have to pause. I notice my discomfort begin in earnest whenever we have conversations about beauty and body image that do not include in intentional analysis of beauty as something that lives right at the intersection of race, age, ability, gender and sex. It’s not an expendable luxury here, to name these things. For women of color, the notion of embracing and seeking the upside of ugliness is a complicated task in the fight against invisibility on one hand and hyper-visibility on the other. Think of how transgender bodies are erased by the various industrial complexes in which we are mired. CeCe McDonald’s very identity is rendered irrelevant when she, a trans woman, is incarcerated and placed in a men’s detention facility. Think about the double-sided scourge of Islamophobia and misogyny that Middle-Eastern and South Asian women face daily. Think about the legacy of slavery in which black women’s bodies were treated as commodities with categorically dehumanized desirability, worth and beauty. Think about the research telling us that women with disabilities are more likely to suffer domestic violence and sexual assault than women without disabilities. Think about the incessant slut-shaming and victim-blaming that characterizes our national conversations about violence against women.

In these contexts, what is the upside of ugly? Or as Lady Gaga beseeches us to, how do we “redefine heinous?” When “ugliness” carries the threat of violence and disenfranchisement, what does it mean to embrace  “ugly?” For a person whose body is dehumanized and positioned as the very definition of undesirable, is it possible to “redefine heinous?” Perhaps, but its not neat. To do so we have a lot to dismantle. To do so we have to dwell in the intersections. Beauty and ugliness are not two sides of a coin, they are the same side of the same coin.

To dismantle them involves thinking through what the other side of that coin is. What does is mean for us to see each other as fully human? And as singularly and collectively valuable?

This project is different than the project of asserting that we are all beautiful in our own way (like those Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” campaigns implore of us). It is different than embracing the character building elements of being seen as “ugly.” It involves conversation about what makes us human and valuable. And it must also include a re-definition of both “beauty” and “ugliness” alike.

Maybe THAT is the body revolution we need.

Pic via.

Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake!: Let’s Take 2Chainz to School

13 Sep

At the Crunk Feminist Collective, there are educators among us who teach in unsafe classrooms, around uncomfortable kitchen tables, in crumbling youth centers, and between warring crowds on police-barricaded streets. We teach because we believe that offering a lens and the language to critically engage the world are fundamental to changing the world.  It seems to be a lofty charge, but we are anchored by it especially when we spend thankless, countless hours preparing the “perfect” lesson plan and notes to incite and inspire young folks.

Today, I am bringing the classroom to the blog. From a horsefly’s golden bum named Beyoncé to poisonous Tupperware-like butt pumping parties, the CFC has covered how the booty continues to frame desirability and identity. We have described how the commodified, sexual display of Black buttocks dates back to the iconic backside of South African Sarah Baartman, dubiously dubbed the Hottentot Venus.

Let’s talk about eating the Other as theorized by bell hooks. Here are two recent objects/images of dismembered Black female bodies molded as cakes and offered up for public consumption.

The first object/image circulated this Spring when the Swedish Minister of Culture kicked off World Art Day with a ceremonial cut to the genitals of the black-coated, blood-colored cake. The blackface performance artist screamed amid gawking onlookers who laughed, snapped photos, and later gobbled the cake, bottom upward. The viral video sparked outrage across the globe.  In a refined statement the Black male artist, Makode Linde, said his intention was to make viewers uncomfortable and to call attention to “genital mutilation” or more specifically clitoridectomy (i.e., the removal of the clitoris).  The second object/image is also of a cake—a cake in the shape of a thong-wearing booty that is presented to the Black male artist 2Chainz in a music video. In the chart topping record, “Birthday Song,” the rapper repeats: “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe.”Cake from "Birthday Song" by 2Chainz

If you can stomach watching both of the videos, tell us:  Is there any difference between the two cakes?

(Warning: Videos links contain explicit material.)

Swedish cake art termed racist Cake art stirs heated debate over racism in Sweden. CNN’s Nima Elbagir reports

Birthday Song by 2Chainz featuring Kanye West

Further Reading:  Willis, D. (2010). Black Venus, 2010: They called her “Hottentot”. Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press.

Next Class:

The Crunk Feminist Collective will talk to three authors about hip hop feminism featured in their new books, Wish to Live: The Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy Reader edited by Ruth Nicole Brown and Chamara Jewel Kwakye, and Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Identities and Politics in the New South by Bettina Love.

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