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Tu(r)ning to Black Love

20 Feb

Whitney Houston with her mother Cissy

This past week, I found myself swept in an emotional whirlwind witnessing Whitney’s homegoing while remembering that she was not even in the ground before the Fox-affiliated shock jocks called her a babbling idiot, bag lady, and a crack ho that should have died years ago. From AM talk radio to morning cable television, a Fox News anchor “jokingly” told Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to “step away from the crack pipe” to squash her criticism of a racist conservative right.  And right as I prepared myself for the first Valentine’s Day unhitched in years, I heard more misogynoir (i.e., hatred of Black women) news from the pimp-like-rapper Too Short who “advised” middle school boys to “turn girls out” in a video posted to the XXL hip hop website.

Where is the love?

This past week, I would have been a Black woman undone if I did not turn to other women of color to savor the soul-stirring, love-filled acts of solidarity in a month that has been so soured by hate.[1]

While folks are giving kudos to a masterful, out-of-character performance by actor Tyler “Madea” Perry, I want to remember Kim Burrell’s loving act to her sistah-friend. The Texas-born gospel singer transformed a song that could serve as the title track for the civil rights movement; she changed Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come to one that not only spoke about Whitney as a daughter, friend, and mother, but it spoke to the lived reality of countless Blackgirls who watched her metallic casket and mourned for the Black girl we know (inside) and for the Black woman she/we dared to be. I believe Burrell’s spirit-driven interpretation will stand as a counter-narrative against the lusty, flesh-bound and career-centric monologues offered by some menfolk. (Side eye to you Clive.)  Kim Burrell might have singlehandedly replaced my Denzel dreamscape and my cinematic memory of Malcolm X’s assassination with her lifting tribute to a fallen (but not forgotten) star.

This past week ended with the debut of a self-proclaimed Black feminist in her cable show simply called, Melissa Harris-Perry.  Let’s just say if Oprah is America’s honorary mother, then Prof. Harris-Perry is slated to be our teacher because she was schooling a national audience about intersections of race and gender, and she provided a much-needed Black feminist perspective, which is often offered by Black men (if included at all). When I tuned in to her show, she warned her audience that we’d enter “nerdland” or the place where political commentary is spliced by definitions, old videos, and graphs to add context to oversimplified, hot-button topics. After an emotional whirlwind, it feels lovely to say I will be (at) home on the weekends where folks can hate (yes, I’m looking at you Cornel West), but I can turn on and turn to Black women-centered love.

Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen book cover

Melissa Harris-Perry and Sister Citizen book cover copied from blacktieandflipflops

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[1] This past week I was able to trade trash talk and blackgirl giggles, remember-when stories, love-strong hugs, eye-to-eye recognition, and women of color wisdom with Stephanie Troutman, Bettina Love, Elaine Richardson, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, and Joan Morgan. I am enriched by your generosity and your creative, intellectual and politically-grounded work.

Confessions of a Swagga-holic

9 Feb

My name is Crunkista and I am a swagga-holic. I am under swag’s spell. It is my kryptonite. In fact, the only thing that saves me from this powerful vice is my feminism. I have found myself in some very sticky situations because of my addiction and have too many embarrassing stories to tell as a result of it. For instance, I once flew across state lines just to see a woman whose swag caught my eye at a club. Her swag was intoxicating and I needed more. The night we met, her unfortunate friend tried to kick it to me and it became a whole night of matrix maneuvers trying to get to her while letting her friend down gently. We exchanged numbers and I flew back home the next day.  A few weeks later I was flying back to her city, trying to get my next fix. It did not work out. Sadly, the only thing that was there – was my addiction and her supply. Had I not had that little feminist voice in my head screaming “get the hell out of there” with each and every red flag, I would have found myself in some serious trouble. She was so damn cute though.

Speaking of beautiful women, I recently came across one of the “Shit Black Lesbians Say” videos and was pleasantly surprised when the protagonists were women of color. It turns out that they were promoting a new web series called “Between Women.” I really don’t know much about the web series business and was only recently introduced to them by fellow Crunk Moyab’s admiration for Awkward Black Girl. I am now a fan of both.

“Between Women” follows the lives, trials and tribulations of a group of friends living in Atlanta, Georgia. So far, only five episodes have aired. It has been quite refreshing to see the characters develop and the story lines become progressively more complex. Episode three features a powerful domestic violence plotline, followed by a PSA that I really appreciated. We don’t talk about the domestic violence that often plagues LGBTQ communities and I commend them for taking on that story.

The show features some really interesting characters. I enjoy watching the quirky, awkward and lovable, Sunny Walker, the youngest member of the group “navigating her way out of the closet.” However, (due to my addiction) my absolute favorite character is Miller Harris, the ever so dapper “successful marketing director.” Miller is pretty much delectable and an unapologetic womanizer. She oozes swag and it just ain’t fair. I am under her spell and I like it. Will this be a reformed bad boi story? I sure hope so.

I really enjoy watching the show and thoroughly appreciate losing myself in the lives of these women. It is incredibly comforting to see women of color desiring and loving other women. As much as I enjoy watching the show, however, I will admit that it is not without its flaws. So far, I am not a fan of what sometimes seem like stifling butch/femme dichotomies being promoted where the women who present themselves on the more “masculine” side of the spectrum continually disrespect, cheat on and basically play those who present on the more “feminine” side. I fully understand that it is a drama, and that the writers need to portray stories that hook an audience. But I do expect more.

When I think of the work that remains to be done in our LBGTQ community, I always think of Good Asian Drivers’ performance of Queer Nation. Kit Yan puts it beautifully,“[…] but the truth is that we screw up too. See, we still haven’t found our groove on the outskirts of society. We’re still using old blue prints with bad foundations.”

Check it.

I have high hopes for this series especially because of the way they presented the domestic violence plot in episode three. Given that it is a web series, they depend on the donations of its viewers. I pledge to donate to them and will continue to tune in with the expectation that they depict a healthy romantic relationship and at least one butch/stud/boi who respects women and isn’t a womanizer. A girl can only dream.

“Between Women” is now on episode five but the third episode is incredibly entertaining. Please show your support.

 

Why I’m (Probably) Not Watching “The Game”

26 Jan

Last year I posted on the return of The Game (yes, it has been a year since it (re)debuted on BET) and offered a critique of the ways in which the characters morphed to fit BET programming, which compromised the integrity of the characters that fans had fought and petitioned for.  After The Game came back on I was disappointed in the ways in which originally nuanced characters had been re-written as the typical black tropes: women who are angry, ghetto, untrustworthy, money-hungry, vindictive, and promiscuous.  And men who are selfish, ghetto fabulous, wreckless, and drug-addicted.

I tuned in a few weeks ago for the new season and I watched again last week (not because I was particularly interested, but it was pre-set to record on the DVR.  I watched it over the weekend because there was nothing else on TV while I was waiting for playoff football games to start).  Every week I am hopeful that the writers will fix what is not working—but these characters have no character.  (SN: I was not impressed seeing Nene Leakes on BET—Bravo is plenty!)  You can tell that things have completely turned upside down when the “deepest” character on the show is Jason Pitts (not sure how I feel about his newly discovered blackness—but at least he is being reflexive and somewhat responsible.  Last season he quit his job in order to focus on fathering his daughter, and this season he seems to be having an epiphany about his racial identity, and the issues surrounding it—his conversations with his “new black wife” sound like therapy sessions).  Meanwhile, Melanie and Tasha are at each other’s throats, Derwin has gone from charming choir boy to selfish superstar, and Kelly is M.I.A.  Maalik’s mommy issues tend to always lead him into detrimental relationships that are doomed from the start.  His tryst with the bosses wife has landed him on the bench and nearly bankrupt, and his infatuation with the model (did we even know her name?) had the Robin Givens-esque vibe of unreciprocated interest. And then there’s Tasha, I didn’t think the sexy Sapphire could get much louder or overly-dramatic.  I was wrong.

The newly emergent female characters are flat, at best, and those that are rounded out with a background and personality only serve the purpose of furthering problematic black woman representations.  One of the newest Sunbeams from last season, for example, is a former stripper groupie turned football wife who’s largest contribution to the group has been teaching the women how to shake their asses for their men (not to mention suggesting threesomes–because of course sex is what gets and keeps a man–side eye).  Then, we discover in this week’s episode, thanks to Tasha’s nonchalant and retaliatory comment to her, that she doesn’t have custody of her children (can you say Jezebel stereotype?).  Brandy, (or should I say Chardonnay) the newbie this season, seems to fit the sassy Sapphire stereotype (with the ghetto, named after alcohol name) who’s anger and attitude make her a younger version of Tasha Mack.  Her purpose seems to be to help Jason get over his fondness of white women and get in touch with his “black side.”  Smdh. 

I am clearly not the only one disillusioned and ambivalent about The Game.  In the article, “The Game Doubles Down on Melodrama, Eliminates What Fans Loved,” Tyler Lewis states: 

“If Mara Brock Akil and BET want to make a black nighttime telenovela where the cast never interacts with one another, where the relationships established in the first three seasons are thrown out in favor of separate, unconnected, over-the-top storylines for each of the five leads, then it should decide on what kind of show that is and settle on a consistent tone.  Because I do think the ship has sailed on any hope that The Game will be the show that folks wanted to be brought back. I think the audience has accepted it (and, likely, moved on). The producers should commit to it.”

Their ratings have dropped significantly, from 7.7 million viewers when they re-launched last January, to 5.3 million for the season 5 premiere on January 10, 2012.  This week’s show only garnered 2.88 million viewers.  I suspect that the downward trend will continue… how many episodes and chances will fans give before they find something else to watch on Tuesday nights? (I for one will be tuning in to White Collar, I have a hella crush on Neil Caffery). 

None of the characters have the same innocence and likeability they used to.  Perhaps if they weren’t already rich in previous seasons I could believe that money changed them… or perhaps the writers are trying to depict the extremes of newfound celebrity and the ways in which it can go to your head and dismantle your relationships (clearly possible and realistic, look at T.O. )—but would this be true of everyone?  I understood Jason’s arrogance–and Maalik’s personality was already eccentric and extreme, but it seems like no one gives a damn about anybody else anymore, and given the previous relationships they had with each other, that is not only unbelievable, it is unfortunate.  Watching The Game has become like watching Basketball Wives (Miami or L.A.), or some other petty reality show that glamorizes selfishness, opulence, and fame for fame’s sake.  

Is it BET?  Do the writers need a re-up?  Does Kelly Pitts need to make a return (I’m not really feeling Brandy)?  Am I naive for thinking we could go back to the way things were?  I’m not sure what the remedy is, but there is definitely a problem.  I guess time will tell if the season and show is salvagable.

I am not going to say that I will never watch The Game again (there is a reason reruns and marathons show at insomniac hours), or that I am not hoping it somehow survives (the actors aren’t writing the scripts, and they have to eat), but I damn sure erased it from my DVR recording schedule.

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!

2011: A Year in Crunkness

31 Dec

It’s that time of year again. Another year has come to a close, so it must be time for our second annual Crunk List! CFs offer up the books, blogs, films, etc. that get us crunk and keep us crunk!

CF Crunkadelic

It’s hard to narrow it down, but these books were really significant for me this year.

Hanne Blanks’ Big Big Love. (Revised, updated, and re-released this year)

 “Big Big Love is the only one-stop-shopping handbook on relationships, sexuality, and big sexy confidence for people of all genders, sizes, and sexual orientations who know that a fantastic love life doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the number on the bathroom scale. Covering everything from dating to sex toys to getting on top, this guide also features tips on navigating tricky topics like making peace with your belly, coping with weight-related prejudice, and creating a happy, satisfying sex life in a culture where no body is ever perfect enough.”

This book is funny, affirming, and overall plain awesome. Check it out.

 Barbara Neely’s Blanche White series.

This book series is not new, but it was new to me this year. Mystery lovers, check this series out. Blanche is an African American domestic, amateur sleuth, and all around crunk feminist who solves crimes in four entertaining and captivating novels.  (She could kick everyone’s ass in The Help). Get into this, people!

 Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

 At first I was not sold on this book and it languished on my nightstand for many months. When I finally picked it up I was pleasantly surprised. Some of my favorite tidbits from the book are “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” and “Be [insert your name here]” (i.e., be you, and no one else). Trite platitudes, perhaps, but stuff that’s good to be reminded of sometimes.

CF Crunkista

 1. I absolutely LOVED the film Miss Representation.

“The film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.”

I thought it was very educational and incredibly powerful. Great for full-fledged feminists, feminists in the making, and all those that still question the value of feminism. :o)

2. Sculpture – Paige Bradley’s Expansion. I just found this sculpture to be one of the most inspiring works of art I have ever seen. It’s an amazing reminder of a woman’s strength, inner peace, and balance with the universe.

3. “Miley on Marketing” – “Why does all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?!”

This YouTube video couldn’t come at a better time and it gives me hope that there are tiny CFs everywhere and that we can teach our children to be critical about the toys they play with.

 4. NBC’s Parks and Recreation super unhidden pro-feminist agenda. In the “Smallest Park” episode of Parks and Recreation, Andy, April, and Ron visit an Intro to Women’s Studies class. They make Feminism seem like exactly what it is – AWESOME!

5. The film Pariah.

“A rousing success at its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, this deeply felt human drama is the feature debut of writer/director Dee Rees. Adepero Oduye portrays Alike (pronounced “ah-lee-kay”), a 17-year-old African-American woman who lives with her parents (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell) and younger sister (Sahra Mellesse) in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. A gifted student, Alike is quietly but firmly embracing her identity as a lesbian. With the support of her best friend Laura (Pernell Walker), she is especially eager to find a girlfriend. Wondering how much she can confide in her family, Alike strives to get through adolescence with grace, humor, and tenacity.”

 AMAZING film! Beautifully written and beautifully shot!

6. I have read hundreds of articles on positive body image but there is something extra special about how this woman talks about loving and accepting our bodies.

7. The film Gun Hill Road.

This movie was one of the best films I have ever seen. It was so beautifully written and so authentic to urban transgender youth experience.

“Gun Hill Road is the story of a family in transition. It is the story of a young man exploring his sexuality in an intolerant and judgmental world and his exploration’s impact on his relationship with his parents and himself.”

8. B. Steady :o) Talented young singer songwriter…and oh sooooo cute!

9. More Princess Boy – “Five-year-old Dyson Kilodavis is a little boy who loves sparkly things: princess gowns, hot pink socks, glittery jewelry. Deal with it.”

Dyson inspired his mom to write a book about accepting difference and inspire all of us to think about what we teach our children.

CF Crunkonia

 Black women’s responses to The Help: Although the Oscar’s and The Golden Globes may not have taken heed, black women responded to this year’s white-woman-centered portrayal of southern race relations in a major way. Even though we were often speaking to ourselves, we spoke nonetheless.

Nikky Finney’s National Book Award Speech: John Lithgow called this speech “the best speech for anything [he's] ever heard.” In it, Finney names the spirits of her ancestors who stand at the podium with her, ancestors for whom literacy was once illegal. Head Off and Split is Nikky Finney’s fourth book of poetry and her long career is evidence of her brave engagement with the key historical events that center on black women’s bodies.

CF Crunktastic

 Websites:

thefeministwire.com — Launched earlier this year, this online feminist magazine offers some of the most diverse and well-written rigorous, yet accessible, articles with perspectives on everything from politics, to pop culture, to academia.

Videos:

The new “I’m Feminist Enough…” series features women of color offering fresh perspectives on what feminism frees them up to do!

Check Vol.2 here:

Amy Poehler’s “Smart Girls Have More Fun” Series. 

The future of feminism is extremely bright if Poehler’s interview with 7 and 3/4 yr-old self-proclaimed feminist Ruby is any indication. See the video here—> Smart-Girls-At-The-Party-The-Feminist-88764816

Books:

Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life

This fresh feminist perspective on dating and relationships, written by the executive editor of Feministing.com, is a breath of fresh air, amidst the shamtastic dating and mating manuals that continue to crop up like weeds. 

Demetria Lucas’ A Belle in Brooklyn  

This Black-girl-feminist dating memoir is laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, and reminds us that when it comes to love and romance for Black women, there is still hope

Gwyneth Bolton’s Ready for Love

If you still like romance novels but wonder how they comport with your feminist politics, check out the novels of Gwyneth Bolton, which always have feminist characters and/or themes. 

Songs

Marsha Ambrosius’ “Far Away” –This song and video offered a powerful message in the fight against homophobia, particularly in communities that listen to R&B and neo-soul.

Films:

The African American Film Festival Releasing Movement

Director Ava DuVernay began this groundbreaking indie film initiative to open more avenues of distribution for quality African American films. She released two films this year to critical acclaim: I Will Follow and Kinyarwanda. Check ‘em out.

 CF Moya

Ditto on Pariah. Here’s a great post with deets!!

http://gingerfeminist.tumblr.com/post/15009672309/reblog-i-saw-pariah 

CF RaeOne

Last year an online article asked “Are Cameras the New Guns?” because Facebook and YouTube are continually flooded with citizen-shot videos of police abuse that rarely makes it to the news (and when it does, it is edited or re-presented in a way that many have argued, unjustly re-constructs the events). My vote for video of the year, answers this question with a big, crunk YES, and creates a rally cry for citizens to arm with iPhones to film the police!

“Film the Police,” a video from rapper/activist B. Dolan of Rhode Island, was released after much of the #occupy movement evictions, where reporters cried unfair media blackouts. This remake of NWA’s famous anthem “F*ck the Police” is a digital collaboration across the states: Minneapolis/Rhode Island-based rapper Sage Francis kicks off the track as NWA’s Dr. Dre. He passes the digital mic to rapper/activists Toki Wright of Minneapolis as MC Ren, and then to Jasiri X of Pittsburgh as Eazy E, over a re-made track produced Buddy Peace, also of Rhode Island. 

The video was posted on YouTube in early December, and in three days the video reached over 70,000 views. The video brings the crunk energy of rap and hip-hop activist rally cries, packaged in a remixed music video. Original content was filmed of the rappers in home cities, keyed on to television screens, and are intercut with user-activist generated content – YouTube footage of the occupy protests across the world. In my opinion, this represents the best, most crunk use of user-generated media and social media distribution of a message, packaged in a creative (see copyright criminals) hip-hop kind of way. Just watch yo’self when you aim at the police! The constitution protects your right to film for now but it won’t protect you or your gear from the pepper spray, pellets, or rubber bullets they shoot when you film!

Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyT1buoyTnY

 CF ReninaJ

GEMS just published a book on sex trafficking of Brown girls in the US. Check it out: http://www.gems-girls.org/get-involved/girlslikeus 

CF SheriDF

I nominate the Grassroot Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) for the 2011 crunk list in the category of movements-climate justice.  It is an alliance of grassroots organizations building a global social movement to “cool the planet.”  The alliance helped organize and coordinate the international “peoples” presence at the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November 2011 in Durban, RSA.  This alliance brings together indigenous peoples, displaced peoples, people of color, and progressive climate justice organizations and networks from around the world to fight against greedy multinational corporate agendas–colonial projects–chopping up the world’s resources for profit.

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Please share your own crunk list in the comments, on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!

Thank you all for your support and love this year! Wishing you all the joy you can stand this new year and always!

Yours for the revolution,

The CFC

 

–Compiled by Crunkadelic

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…

Watch out for the Big Girls: Some Thoughts on TLC’s Big Sexy

15 Sep

One of TLC’s latest unscripted shows, Big Sexy, has been hailed by some critics as a “plus-sized Sex and the City.” The show follows five fluffy friends who live in New York City and work in the beauty industry. Viewers get to tag along as the ladies traverse the ups-and-downs of careers, romantic life, and sisterhood in the Big Apple.

 Despite a premise that didn’t seem to completely insult my intelligence, I was pretty ambivalent about watching the show. Now, let’s not get it twisted. Like some of my fellow CFs, I’m not above watching a little reality TV to pass the time. Catch me at the gym and I might just be keeping up with the Kardashians or some similarly inane E! show.  (Most of my favorite shows are on Food Network or the Cooking Channel and the last thing you want to do while you’re sweating to the oldies is watch Ina Garten make some truffle mac and cheese). Plus, I’ll admit it: one day I got sucked into watching a marathon of Ice Loves Coco. While those are hours that I’ll never get back, I have to say that I was mightily amused. That should count for something, right?

But, I digress. Despite my questionable reality TV show choices, I was not planning on catching Big Sexy. Although the advertisements were fairly innocuous in a world hell-bent on fat shaming (they featured confident plus-sized women sashaying arm-in-arm down glittery NYC streets, proclaiming that the world better “watch out!”), I feared a fetishization of fatness, at worst, or a 60-minute PSA on how “fat people are just like us!” at best. So, while we’re myth busting, let me make some other startling revelations: black people read books, men cry, and gay folks are not out to “convert” straight people. Likewise, Bigfoot (also known as “Sasquatch”) is not real…although there was a brotha I dated for a while in ATL that sort of fits the description…but, that’s a story for another day.

 In other words, I couldn’t forget TLC’s generally shamtastic and rather dubious, exploitative, and ableist lineup of “educational” shows that display a fascination with multiples, little people, and “medical anomalies.” Suffice it to say, I was ready to dismiss the show and avoid it the way I avoid the Basketball Wives franchise.

 But, one night I was flipping through the channels, lamenting that the new season of Parks and Rec was not on yet and I stumbled into watching Big Sexy. And, after all my shit talking, the show was actually kind of decent. The women were smart, funny, and genuinely seem to like and respect one another. (In fact, they are so nice to each other that I fear this show will not last more than one season for lack of “drama”).

 I appreciated that the show’s narrative talked about their careers in fashion in a way that was not dismissive but instead emphasized the women’s creativity and ambition. One woman, who works as a plus-sized model, frankly discussed her frustrations with body image and her agent’s push for her to lose more weight in order to be more marketable. Another woman launched a bikini fashion line that catered to busty women (D cup or higher) who often struggle finding bathing suit tops that don’t look either matronly or super risqué. I especially appreciated the episode when one of the women experienced a breakup; her girls rallied around her, buoyed her spirits, and then they painted the town—as your girls should do. When one woman suggested that they all go to a Big Beautiful Woman (BBW) party, they mostly balked. One complained that only “snaggletoothed” dudes attended such events. Another woman affirmed that mostly men with “fat fetishes” frequented these parties. Remembering a fateful BBW party that Crunktastic and I attended in 2006 or so, I laughed heartily and had to concur.

 Now, I might seem to be gushing about the show, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s perfect. I mean, it’s a show on TLC, so there’s that. It’s not a show that can/will be all things to all people. Still, I did give the side eye to a few things. It’s super-heteronormative, for one. Big girls are on all parts of the sexual continuum and it would be cool to reflect that. Also, I do find it interesting that there are no African American women on the show. (The show features three white women and two Latinas). Considering all the public chatter about black women and our weight, I think it’s an interesting choice that the producers of the show have made. It would also be interesting to see some Asian and indigenous sisters too. You know, big girls do come in all shades and ethnicities.

And, speaking of race, the dating episode did have an interesting tidbit about black folk—black men, in particular. All of the women remarked that mostly black men approached them and that white men very rarely did so. Then the ladies hosted a BBW party that screened out the busted and digusted and they came up with about 20 or so generally attractive black and Latino brothas. By the end of the party, most of the women had multiple phone numbers and were calling the night a success. Now, I wasn’t sipping haterade as I watched the show (it was  margarita), but I did think, “See, all these women are beautiful, but they are all lighter than a paper bag and, despite what we might have said in the 90s, light-skin has never been out of style.” Now, I certainly don’t expect TLC to discuss issues of skin-color privilege on this light-hearted show, especially considering how volatile the issue is (let’s not forget last year’s conversation on colorism on the blog was like a feminist death match), but I did think that fact complexion is often a significant factor in dating is worth remembering.

 So far, I think Big Sexy is fun and I’ll probably add it to my arsenal of procrastination programming. I look forward to seeing a variety of shows that more accurately reflect diverse body types without simply relegating full-figured folks to shaming or punchlines. I mean, can a big girl get some love?

 

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