Tag Archives: race

Armed and… Ambivalent?

18 Oct

Let’s begin with a confession: I was born and raised in the great state of Texas and prior to two weeks ago, I had never fired a gun.  That will certainly be surprising to some folks as Texas often invokes images of shotguns, six shooters and gun-toting cowboys.  For me, however, Texas is about home, family, the State Fair and where my own brand of quirky country makes perfect sense.  While, like the rest of the country, I grew up in a pervasive gun culture, there was not one in my immediate family.  I didn’t grow up around hunting trips, shotguns, rifles and pistols.  My experience with guns was not linked to family or individual recreation, as it is for some, but to fear, intimidation and violence.  I remember having to run, duck and hide more than my fair share because somebody at a football game or an after party decided to flex and start shooting in a crowd.  I know the sting of losing friends and classmates to shootings and self-inflicted gun shot wounds.  I remember how I felt being pushed inside a vault as three men armed with guns robbed my partner and me.  So, while I had never shot a gun before, I knew all too well its power and effects.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself at a gun range on the outskirts of Atlanta.  It was supposed to be an outing with friends (somebody found a groupon, so you know how that goes). I thought it might be a chance to address some of my fear of guns so I agreed.  Slowly but surely, everybody got a little too busy to go and I was the last woman standing.  Far be it from me to waist money or a good coupon, so I went.  I didn’t fully realize how frightened I would be until I walked in the door of the range.  For a while I was the only woman and one of two people of color in the building.  It was strange to be standing in a room full of firearms and white men in camouflage hunting caps and biker boots.  That could have been a very different scene at a different time of day, in a different location. I was fully aware that I was out of place and that being out place as a woman and as a person of color is always potentially dangerous.  I remained out of place in the range that day as I jumped every time I heard a gun fire, including my own.   I shot fifty rounds and even though it turns out that I’m pretty good shot, I never felt fully comfortable loading the bullets, holding the gun or pulling the trigger. Yet, a mix of exhilaration, pride and fear left me shaking for at least thirty minutes after I left the range.   Though I wasn’t fully sure how to process it, and I’m still not, I was sure I would be back.

And back I was, this time at an outdoor range in Texas and anything but alone as I went with my mother, her partner and a good family friend who owns the guns we used, and who happens to be white. This trip felt decidedly different from my first experience.  I am sure it was the combination of sunlight, fresh air and not being by myself.  It wasn’t lost on me, however, that though I was not alone this time I was still very much out of place. Two Black women, a Black man and a White man are still an “odd” grouping to many.  It was certainly “odd” to most of the folks at the gun range that day as we got plenty of stares and double takes, some lasting longer than others.  It wasn’t long before I noticed two white men who had taken a particular interest in us.  Staring each time I stepped up to operate the manual launcher as we shot at clay targets and loudly commenting on my shooting and on our family friend’s efforts to assist me, they made their disgust and discomfort at our presence known.  It was a stark reminder of the history/reality of guns, race and place in the South or anywhere for that matter.

For me, both of these experiences at gun ranges in two different major Southern cities brought up issues of race, place and belonging.  There was certainly something powerful in my ability to walk into these ranges, spaces dominated by white masculinity, and be defiantly “out of place.”  Yet, I also felt “out of place” in my own skin as I tried to reconcile my enjoyment of recreational shooting with my own history and politics.  How can I understand my experiences with gun violence on a number of different levels with wielding a gun in the controlled environment of a gun range?  Can I be interested in guns, even recreationally, and still be vehemently anti-violence?  Where do guns figure in my Black feminist politic?  Is there room to think about women, safety and guns in a kind of feminist politics of self-defense?  While going to the gun range was not about self-defense for me, as I write this a local news story is airing about a young Black woman who shot one of two men attempting to break into her home at 11am in broad daylight.  Her father says he is proud of her for defending herself.  He said that he taught her to use the gun for just that purpose and now he will teach her to forgive herself for doing what she had to do.  I’m relieved that she was able to defend herself but I am afraid because she will still have to wait for the final word from a grand jury to decide whether there will be charges. And Black women don’t always have an easy time making claims of self-defense especially not when guns are involved, just ask Marissa Alexander

Clearly, I’m left with more questions than answers.  On some level, I wish I could say that going to these two ranges has given me a clear position either completely for or against guns but it hasn’t.  What I am sure of is that these two experiences refuse to let me take any position for granted.  They are, however, undoubtedly forcing me to think deeply about my politics, my fears and my history in order to move more fully into an understanding that refuses neat or logical conclusion but bravely tangles with the messiness and nuance that lies at the heart of the personal and the political.

Coming Out Stories: On Frank Ocean

10 Jul

By Summer McDonald

Original Published at The Black Youth Project

I’ve spent the last week treading in the liquid of a queer-flavored ambivalence, trying to determine why the Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean coming out announcements mean less to me than other people. I have seen enough episodes of Coming Out Stories and foolishly subjected myself and my partner to the awkward anti-climax of telling my father about my sexuality to know that helping folks who somehow don’t know how to use context clues with declarations of same-gender-lovingness is supposed to make one feel liberated, free, authentic. I know that my role is to stuff this blog entry full of words, symbolic pats on the back of Anderson, of Frank. Each paragraph should serve as a swell of applause for their bravery, I suppose. But there are enough of those posts already. And I try not to be disingenuous. So, I have spent the last week avoiding being pummeled by all of the congratulatory remarks for several reasons: 1. I needed to put words to my own feelings of ambivalence with as little outside influence as possible, 2. I read two responses to Frank Ocean’s apparent coming out and knew that something was terribly awry, and 3. Although I had treated both “announcements” similarly–that is, I made snarky remarks via Twitter and Facebook–I was also told that Frank Ocean’s coming out was more important than Anderson Cooper’s.

Pause.

Now, shrugging off Anderson Cooper’s “The fact is, I’m gay,” remark seems perfectly understandable. After all, I haven’t checked for Anderson Cooper since his coverage of black suffering helped catapult him into media superstardom. Not that he’s the first, but still… He doesn’t need nor does he seek my words of support. Besides, as the phenomenal Phaedra Parks might say, “Everybody [already] knows Anderson Cooper is gay.” Moreover, I find no reason to believe that Cooper’s confirmation does much for social justice. I’ve spoken ad nauseam about privilege: white privilege, male privilege, class privilege. All of which Cooper has. A fact that, in my opinion, undermines most of the significance of one line in an email. Perhaps my imagination is too limited, but I cannot envision the most vulnerable of us choosing to stop being locked away in the proverbial closet because Anderson Cooper just spilled his tea. That said, good job, good effort, Anderson.

My dismissal of Cooper on the technicality of privilege, I imagine, might lead one to think that I find more significance in Frank Ocean’s Tumblr post wherein he discloses that his first love was a man. After all, Ocean is young, black, not BFFs with Kathy Griffin, entrenched in hip-hop, and might have been interviewed by Cooper back in 2005 had he not left his native New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. Still, I didn’t flinch. I almost treated Ocean’s “announcement” in the same way I reacted to Cooper’s. But since I kept getting hit with waves of reasons why my equation should read: Frank Ocean coming out > Anderson Cooper coming out, I realized that perhaps it might be more beneficial to explain why I cannot properly compute that mathematical sentence.

First, I’m no theorist, but coming out, at least the way it is currently constructed, seems to go beyond articulating a desire to be accepted by others. It’s not simply about wanting an unmediated and honest connection with people (we care about). I say this understanding coming out as a kind of rites of passage, as a story we’re all supposed to tell. “So, when’d you come out?” is such a common refrain among those of us who were allegedly in the closet; it’s seemingly inherent to a gay/queer identity. We discover that we are queer, we tell people or keep the secret, we live on–or not. I know this is an important act for folks. It was important to me, too. However, coming out also seems to work as a plea for the continued recognition of one’s humanity. The reaction to these public, quasi-confessions reveals to me that coming out  seems less about the person revealing the “secret” and more about the response from the people witnessing the emergence from the closet. Coming out seems to be a really dramatic way of humanizing a concept and asking, “Will you still love me…?” Which is to say that it is a tool that tests presumably straight people. By coming out the way that I did, I was essentially testing my father’s capacity to still see me as a human being worthy of love, as I was doing something I thought he didn’t necessarily think any human would naturally do.  And although he is my father, a man whose approval I still thirst for, I now understand my act as one that (temporarily) gave up my own authority to understand myself as a human being with no need for such reassurance. And that’s understandable, but it’s issue-laced. Love is a fundamental right of living beings, no matter their “behavior.” And those of us who operate in a capacity that does not seem normal should not serve as a testing and/or educating ground for those who do. In yet another problematic piece for Time.com, Toure put it this way:

Studies show that people are more likely to be at peace with homosexuality even if they only know homosexuals through parasocial relationships — the sort of one-sided relationships we have with celebrities. It becomes harder to hate gay people when you find them in your living room all the time via Modern Family or Will & Grace. So coming out remains important because the visibility and normality of prominent gay Americans makes life easier for less famous gay Americans, some of whom commit suicide because they fear the life ahead of them.

In other words, coming out is important because it helps straight people stop being judgmental bigots.

Perhaps I am in the minority in this, but this line of thinking is not at all okay. None of my identity serves to make people comfortable nor do I exist to make them better at being people. It’s just not my job. (It’s Google’s.) If coming out is important because of its utility to straight people, then I’d rather not come out. Such an act, in its current manifestation, does nothing to destabilize heterosexuality as a default category that everything else must orient itself around. Furthermore, it becomes the way others test themselves. Which is why, I suppose, I find so little space between those who took up keyboards to douse Frank Ocean with a deluge of words about his bravery and those who took the opportunity to vehemently bash him. Both sides are responding to the same stimulus. But we can only be awakened by such news if we continue to regard heterosexuality as the state of inertia. So when we applaud or express our disapproval in the way that we have, we reify straightness as normal. Social justice, then, should not necessarily lionize coming out, but mitigate the act by articulating an understanding that sexuality is fluid–not something that fetishizes otherness to the extent that it is championed.

Perhaps dream hampton’s letter to Frank Ocean (accompanied by a picture of hampton and Jay-Z, mind you**) best exemplifies my trouble with coming out as we know it:

It’s true, we are a lot alike… “spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to.” In your opening few lines, you simultaneously established your humanity, a burden far too often asked of same sex lovers, and acknowledged that in this age of hyper self- awareness, amplified in no small part by the social media medium in which you made your announcement, we are desperate to share. You shared one of the most intimate things that ever happened to you – falling in love with someone who wasn’t brave enough to love you back. Your relieving yourself of your “secret” is as much about wanting to honestly connect as it is about exhibition. We are all made better by your decision to share publicly.

The first and last lines of this opening paragraph particularly strike me. hampton immediately arrests Ocean’s letter in a kind of self-congratulatory gesture: the quickness with which she takes on Ocean’s language and inserts herself in his story prevents his letter from breathing on its own before she interrupts. Ocean’s declaration gets suffocated by the need to announce that “we” are and/or have been made better people by what Ocean has said. Yet the rest of hampton’s letter, like so many articles and blog posts that have come after it, drown the narrative to which they are responding. In fact, hampton rather presumptuously regards the “he” pronoun in the letter as moot, thoroughly and severely undermining Ocean’s point in a manner that attempts to create a palatable universality–we’ve all been in love–that consequently removes the weight we are to glean from the “confession.” This move not only silences Ocean, but wrests away his authority over his own story to the extent that hampton can now occupy that jurisdiction and thus make a claim about what is important and what is merely “incidental.” Yes, hampton is proud of Ocean for his bravery, but she seems even prouder of those, like herself, who either showed their support for Ocean instantaneously or have taken this as an opportunity to become better people by expanding the limits of their tolerance and/or love. To add, the post ends with an N.B., informing the reader that Jay-Z posted hampton’s letter to his site without hesitation. All of which compels me to ask: Who are we reallyapplauding here? To whom is the coming out act so crucial? And why are we lauding Ocean so?

It’s rather evident that the answer to the last question lies in hip-hop. We’re supposed to care more about Frank Ocean because he’s a young black man on the brink of superstardom who happens to be entrenched within a genre that is regarded as notoriously homophobic. Indeed, hip-hop is homophobic; I don’t argue against that. When an institution is composed of young black men whose sexuality and agency is already compromised, homophobia seems inevitable. I imagine similar kinds of poorly conceived articulations of reactionary masculinity are elicited in other homosocial spaces such as locker rooms and frat houses. What we are left with, then, is blackness. Which leads, yet again, to the idea that black people are somehow more homophobic than others. And I resist that argument. I will not valorize Frank Ocean because I believe that his counterparts are more homophobic than men of the same age with less melanin. And I think this impulse to add grandiosity to this alleged coming out moment is predicated on that opinion. So much so that we’ve assigned sexuality onto Frank Ocean when he didn’t even really come out. He told us that his first love was a man, and even that was more than likely a response to some lyrics which left many wondering. Yet we are so busy searching for a “just how homophobic is hip-hop?” test case and so consumed with fixing an identity marker on something that is so unstable and fluid that we forget that small point. Ocean’s post could have less eloquently been written as, “The fact is, I fell in love with a dude once.” Nonetheless we, those of us who do not identify as heterosexual especially, are so thirsty for these moments in which we can prove our humanity to the world; we are so distracted by congratulating Jay-Z, et. al. for such public open-mindedness that we’ve forgotten who we’re talking about in the first place.

And so, my decision to shrug can be whittled down to my choice not to congratulate the masses for their apparent liberalness through their decision to still listen to Frank Ocean, nor scapegoat hip-hop as peculiarly homophobic. Those arguments are not enough for me to add value to Ocean’s letter. What I can say, however, is that if we are to regard Ocean’s Tumblr post as a significant moment, it isn’t because of his sexuality. It’s not because we’ve found a new mascot. It’s because a young, black man, presumably raised upon a diet that included Biggie, ‘Pac, and yes, Jay-Z, publicly and eloquently emoted about his love for another. In a milieu where “we don’t love these hoes” is a thoroughly banal assertion, where black men must comport themselves as emotionless and hypermasculine as product of racism and a method of survival, Ocean’s bravest admission was that he was vulnerable, that he loved someone. When the mantra of your adolescence is big pimpin’, fuckin’ bitches and getting money, the most revolutionary thing you can do is love another and say so. Frank Ocean loved. And he told us. That is what we should we applaud. That is where we should find value. For that is the true revelation.

**dream hampton’s original post, which originally appeared on Jay-Z’ site, features a picture of Frank Ocean. However, sites, like GlobalGrind, that chose to re-post the letter exchanged that picture for one of hampton and Jay-Z. GlobalGrind was where I read the letter, so I chose to cite it in my piece.

Box Out: On Brittney Griner and Women Who Ball (Better Than You)

17 Apr

Guest Post by Summer McDonald Cross posted from Black Youth Project.


I have beef with Brittney Griner. It’s not because the Baylor University women’s basketball team she leads beat Notre Dame in the women’s NCAA Division 1 championship a couple of weeks ago, and I like an underdog–even if it is Notre Dame. It’s not because my beloved Tennessee Lady Volunteers were one of Baylor’s casualties on its road to a perfect, 40-0 season. It’s not because she’s tall. Although I would have appreciated a few more inches, I’ve never wanted to be 6’8; just a 5’10 or so shooting guard with an Olajuwon-esque baseline fadeaway.  I have beef with Brittney Griner  because she can dunk. And I’ve always wanted to dunk.

More than hitting a home run, more than throwing (or catching) a perfect spiral, dunking a basketball is, to me, the ultimate sports feat. Perhaps only rivaled by soccer’s beauty, the dunk is arguably the most spectacular play in all of sports. A select few–and even fewer women– have felt the satisfaction of catapulting themselves above the hardwood towards the rim, often contorting their bodies in the most artistic of ways before (powerfully) stuffing the basketball through the hoop. I’m sure the joy I felt after slamming one home on a 9-foot basket back when I was  a Y-ball referee would have multiplied exponentially had the rim actually been at the regulation height. Of course, I’ll never know, as my vertical has diminished in the years since I taught 6-year-olds what traveling, in the basketball sense, was. So even though her team’s victory ensured that UConn did not cut down nets (and all is right with the world) I cannot help but throw Brittney Griner a side-eye as she swings from the rim. I have dunk envy.

Griner’s slams are noticeably unlike the women who have dunked before her. Although Michelle Snow, Lisa Leslie, and Candace Parker have all done it, Griner dunks with such spectacular ease, that one almost minimizes the feats of her predecessors.  A Youtube phenom before she became the most imposing force in women’s basketball since Cheryl Miller, Griner’s dominance through all of last season was awe-inspiring. Her 7’4 wingspan helps her dominate the paint; she runs the floor effortlessly. Griner is so impressively athletic we forget she’s doing all of this–things most of us average-sized earthlings cannot–at a height (6’8) many associate with a laborious clumsiness.

Where I see Griner’s blessings, though, others have found an opportunity to question her gender. Perhaps the only thing more jaw-dropping than Griner’s game is the frequency with which Griner is called a man, told that she’s not a “real woman.” For some, Griner’s aforementioned height, size 17 sneakers, deep voice, and athletic dominance firmly plant her outside of the box inside which we check, shudder, female. Notre Dame coach, Muffet McGraw did not help matters when she said that Griner was like “a guy playing with women,” after the championship game. Although Griner took McGraw’s words as a compliment, comments like that do nothing but reiterate and further inflame the idea that Griner is too tall, too athletic, her voice too deep to be a woman. And if she is a woman, well, she must be a lesbian.

As admirable as one might find Griner’s own coach’s efforts to call out hecklers for the way that they disparage her star player, their actions seem to be mere surface level antics to a more deeply problematic and narrow notion of womanhood. Despite light skin and what many would regard as a rather feminine-looking face, Griner more than likely will not appear in ESPN: The Magazine’s famed Body Issue, that features women with physiques considered acceptably traditional and more likely to please the male gaze. A more probable option would be Griner’s opponent on championship night, Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins who, a foot shorter and hair straighter, turned many a head during last year’s tournament. Even Lil Wayne tweeted about Diggins; another rapper wrote an ode to her. Both juniors, Diggins and Griner will likely turn pro together. And Diggins’ seeming beauty will inevitably put Candace Parker’s baby hair to shame. Assuming she succeeds at the pro level, Diggins is a likely candidate to become a face of the WNBA; she could get the men to watch. And although Griner’s dominance in the WNBA almost seems inevitable, she may prove a much more complicated sell. She’s too tall, her voice too deep. And if heterosexual men don’t think they can beat you at a sport, they at least want to think they can sleep with you after the game.

The response to Griner highlights, yet again, a problem much older than Title IX. Which is to say that women (athletes), especially those who do not fall into traditional boxes of female beauty, have to contend with the way they make others, namely men, uncomfortable. My father refused to buy me black sneakers because he said they were for boys; though he signed me up and helped coach my AAU team, my stepdad required that I wear a skirt to school twice a week. As my aversion to stockings suggests, none of this was done for my comfort, but rather theirs. (And it didn’t quell my gay, anyway.) Just as athletics allow men to be affectionate with each other in ways they otherwise would not, women’s athletics and other, similar homosocial spaces, work differently and thus engender a pressure not to violate or offend male gazes.

At its most innocuous, this pressure results in what I call over-heteroing, wherein women who congregate in spaces where their femininity and/or sexuality may be questioned seem to overwork their appearance so that they appear to unequivocally desire the attention of men. I speculate that this is why some women play sports in makeup, or why women assistant coaches and graduate assistants occasionally look like they’re about the hit up the club after the game. At its worst, though, it goes beyond heckles and courtside stilettos. And women can’t just be like Brittney, brush their shoulders and wave to the haters. When such pressure is linked to power, what results are situations like what happened to Caster Semenya. And it goes beyond the unfortunate. Such acts are not simply disparaging, but go beyond the continued violation and marginalization of women to a level that endangers them.

And that’s how hecklers answer their own speculation about whether or not Brittney Griner is a woman. Of course she is. Otherwise, she would not have to withstand their continued verbal assaults. Word to Mike Tyson.

Summer McDonald is an explicitly queer Black Daria with better clothes.

On Kreayshawn and the Utility of Black Women

6 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Ashley Judd and the Politics of Citation

13 Apr

Ashley Judd holding a copy of her new book

A couple of folks were asking for a crunk response to Ashley Judd’s memoir passages and the resulting controversy. Judd is being called to task for singling out rap music as the “contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.” You can read her words here.

There are lots of responses that you can check out but I want to say something about the folks who defend Judd’s words with “Well, She has a point.”

Black women have been talking about (and back to) misogyny in hip-hop since it’s inception. Y’all remember Roxanne Shanté right?

It’s frustrating when all the work that black women have done to speak back to music that has particular, real world consequences in our lives is ommitted and unacknowledged. We’ve also done this talking back with an analysis of the systemic forces that make black men/rap music the scape goats for societal oppression of women. I know it’s a personal narrative, but can some hip-hop feminist foremothers get a shout out?

If we can all turn to the Ten Crunk Commandments for Re-Invigorating Hip Hop Feminist Studies, we’ll see that the first commandment reminds us to “know and cite” authors who have shaped the field of hip-hop feminism. This commandment doesn’t just apply to Judd but also to some of her defenders. If you are going to defend her position, can you cite the black women who have actually done work on the issue in scholarship, film, and action? The “she has a point” camp feels dismissive of decades of resistance and carefully crafted projects by hip-hop feminists and activists.

Rap music’s connection to rape culture and misogyny is real explicit. Its visible and repetitve invocations of gendered violence voiced by black and brown men make it an easy target. But by only focusing our attention there, we miss the larger picture of a white supremacist capitalist (hetero)patriarchal society that supports rap’s bad rap. It’s not a coincidence that we don’t know the names of the white men who sign the checks that rappers’ cash. Four major music labels account for almost 80% of the industry and not one CEO is a person of color (…and the white man get paid off of all of that).

The gendered violence that Judd experienced in her own life was not accompanied by thumping bass or autotune. To return to the commandments, if Judd had contextualized and situated her comments within her own lived reality, would rap music makes sense as the soundtrack to the misogyny she and the women closest to her have experienced or are experiencing?

CF Esha’s last three posts provide important context for how gendered violence is a social issue that goes so much deeper than music. She points to international military attacks by the U.S., national and state legislation, along with a moral cultural war that work in concert to oppress women, and women of color most specifically.

I am a big fan of holding rappers accountable for their misogyny. Trust. But I also want to push for white folks to hold each other accountable for the ways in which they perpetuate systems of oppression in culture writ large. I’m interested to read the whole book to see how she understands white culture’s impact on the way she experienced violence. She mentions the soundtrack but what about the movie itself?

*Update*

Ashley Judd Apologizes

More Musings on Melanin (or lack there of)

26 Aug

Artistic rendering of three black women's faces light and dark

“Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.” -Patricia Hill Collins

“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.” -Audre Lorde

*Mic check*  Is this thing on?  *Dodges balled up brown paper bags*

Hello, all.  First, we’re really grateful for the lively discussion our little polemic has engendered.  We’ve been monitoring the discussion both in the comments section and in Twittropolis, but wanted to let things marinate before we posted again.  (Besides, Moya B. felt ill and Summer had a not so awesome Monday, so we’re just now getting our act together.  Dissertations, after all, cannot write themselves.)  Now that a good few days or so have passed, we’d like to take some time to address some of the more salient points we’ve noticed in the comments section, and also perhaps clarify some things we said in the original post.  We hope this conversation is understood to be just that: a conversation. We are not shutting down light skinned folks for speaking on or about race as it relates to their color; we are asking, however, that these discussions become more nuanced, which, in our estimation, includes pot calling kettle a lighter shade of black.

1.  @Carolyn asked: Light Skin Privilege Checklist? Are you serious?  Yep.  We’re serious.  Admitting privilege is hard but it’s absolutely necessary for liberation. Part of what constitutes race is skin color and phenotype; racism cannot function if you cannot recognize this difference, and subjugate accordingly.  It’s what racial hierarchy is based on.  So, let’s be honest about the color spectrum that exists in between the stark polarities of black and white: one’s proximity to one or the other can play an incredible role in how hard knock one’s life is.  As many have noted in the comments section, we didn’t invent colorism three days ago, and dark skinned black folks are not the only ones who acknowledge this reality.  To argue that light skinned privilege does not exist, that all black people are treated similarly regardless of hue, vehemently denies the validity (and the existence) of all that inspires this age-old skin tone conversation.  Denouncing the existence of light skinned privilege requires one to believe that skin color does not affect how one interprets the racialized world and vice versa.  And that’s just not true.  It’s not.  If you don’t believe us, google it.  Or pay attention to Soledad O’Brien’s entire career.

Plenty of (black) people don’t want to acknowledge the ways that we are privileged above others, and we understand that.  Part of the difficulty of living in a society that constantly espouses punditry that articulates clearly demarcated dichotomous stances is that it leaves no room for gray area, and to occupy such a space is dangerous.  In such circumstances, admitting that one has a certain set of privileges causes others to question whether or not one is at all oppressed.  Admitting that one has privilege, then, often results in having to constantly prove that one is oppressed in other ways.

Furthermore, one of the most humbling experiences is learning to accept the piece of the oppressor within ourselves.  For instance, by virtue of having a non-disabled body in an ableist world, intentionally or not, we are granted certain privileges in our movement through it. We may not have actively done anything to to be granted that privilege, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist–or that we don’t benefit from it through no real “merit” of our own.  Yet acknowledging and understanding our privilege is only part of the work.  Are we willing to leverage our privilege for the sake of each other? Huey answered yes.  So did Angela…and Audre. Will you?

2. In her initial comment to our post, wheelchairdancer wrote that her blog was an “attempt to speak to the whiteness of the disability rights world while maintaining [her] ground as a mixed race woman.” Word. The non-disabled black woman feeling like she could step to wheelchairdancer and that she owed her an answer to  a question is a clear example of ableism at work. But part of what wheelchairdancer seems to be claiming is that disability whitens all the time which, if we may go down the troubled road of personal experience to prove this point, is not always true. Moya’s great-grandmother was a chair user, but her disability did not whiten her because she was dark skinned.  In other words, the fact that wheelchairdancer’s racial identity was questioned seems to have less to do with the wheel chair and more to do with her skin tone.  Disability can only “whiten” if one’s skin allows one to be interpreted as such.  It should be noted, that in her comment, wheelchairdancer identifies as mixed-race.  This identity marker alone requires the benefit of light skin.  Mixed-race folks who don’t look mixed-race don’t necessarily benefit by calling themselves that.  What allows one to identify–or even be mistaken–as mixed-race (and therefore not black) is light skin tone.

3. Thanks to both excerpted authors for trying to engage a dialog rather than shut it down, but a brief word on context and why we chose these blogs.  Our quick and dirty understanding of taking something out of context is when the reader, in this case, infers something from the text that was not intended.  So, in a sense, we did take both redclayscholar’s and wheelchairdancer’s words out of context.  All sarcasm aside, neither one of us thought that either one of these personal ruminations on what it means to be light skinned was attempting to forward deliberately a kind of “Woe is light skinned me,” rhetoric.  But that was never our real point.  Our purpose in deconstructing what was conveyed in these narratives was not to hate on a kind of light skinned melancholia.  Rather, we were interested in the kind of blowback, the implications of constructing these narratives in such a way that privilege is obscured.  What does it mean and what are the stakes of telling a story about the trouble one receives from blacks about being light skinned, without disclaimers or acknowledgment that in general being light skinned is a privilege?

As we said in the original piece, we don’t deny the realities of oppression light skinned black people are experiencing. In other words, light skinned black people are oppressed.  But, as the two epigraphs suggest, oppression does not forgo privilege.  Axises of privilege are not independent of each other; they inflect each other–and, if we are all being honest, we know this. This is why we talk about race, class, and gender.  If class didn’t affect blackness, for example, James Evans would have been the 70s version of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable.  We are asking that we examine race more deeply to see the ways that white supremacy works through each other, intraracially. We must be willing to articulate those differences, that privilege.  If we, as black people, are unwilling to talk about and own the little bit of privilege some of us have amongst each other, how do we expect white heterosexual men to do it?

Besides, light skinned black people aren’t the only black people who are tested about their allegiance to blackness.   Queer people, quirky black girls, black people who play rock music even though we invented it, etc. are perpetually having their blackness questioned.  Our work, if we are committed to blackness, is to proclaim that we, too, are black.  But we need not do that by being appalled by another black person with the audacity to question us.  We also needn’t minimize the aforementioned inflections of blackness–class, gender, sexuality, skin tone–to stake our claims in the muck of monolithic blackness.  We should do the opposite; we should talk about those inflections and nuances of blackness not only as privileges, but rather as that which comprises a richer notion of blackness that has always existed.

4. Yolo made some really fantastic points in his comment, and no one responded to him.  Y’all should read it–again.  (Shout out to Effie and Tasha Fierce for hearing us and to Jah and Crunktastic for holdin’ it down while we got ourselves together)

5.  As many others have said here and in the world (but it feels so good when you rinse and repeat), privilege and oppression are not mutually exclusive. Black people’s reconstructionist visions of 40 acres and a mule silenced the rights of indigenous peoples in their land, just as the Cherokee refusal to recognize their slave descendants silenced another sector of the black community.  If we accept that white supremacy works differently among different racial ethnic groups of color, why do we then imagine that it does not work intraracially? To repeat, part of the way “race” plays out in our community is based on skin color.  SB1070 is about targeting people who look like illegal immigrants, usually of Latino (we know, totally an American construction) origins. As The Daily Show points out, no one is getting riled up about Canadian anchor babies. Irish, Italian and Jewish people have had access to whiteness in large part because of skin tone. Similarly, the hierarchies within other people of color communities speak to these realities as well. As black people who are in relationship with other people of color, we have witnessed the ways in which light is right operates in racial groups other than our own.  It is imperative that we examine this reality amongst ourselves.

6.  Finally, although we’ve spent all of our time here discussing the role oppression has in the construction of black identity, to be clear, we are not arguing that black subjectivity is solely comprised of being denied certain privileges.  That would be a really foolish thing to do, and they would kick us out of grad school if we believed such hogwash about Negroes.

*Drops the mic*

Sincerely,
Two jigaboos (tryna find something to do)

P.S. We didn’t invent the privilege checklist. Check out the OG White Privilege Checklist and another one that has engendered a similar amount of venom as folks dispute the co-constitutive nature of privilege and oppression, the Black Male Privilege Checklist. We’d also like to remind everyone that pretty privilege is a long documented phenomenon. For more on it and more great TV time enjoy The Bubble episode of 30 Rock (h/t to @superfree)

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Huey Newton Complexes

23 Aug

A Different World character Freddie Brooks sits in the Lap of her boyfriend Shazza Zulu in Afrocentric attire. They are both biracial and light skinned.

Whatever does one mean by the phrase, “Huey Newton Complex(es)”?  So glad you asked.  A Huey Newton Complex is a rather snarky, yet awesomely witty way of describing a light skinned person crunk about (their) blackness in ways that, perhaps, obscure other realities that may indeed inflect (their) blackness–like gender identification, sexuality, economic class, or skin color. The one drop rule notwithstanding, Huey Newton Complexes goad light skinned Negroes into stringently proving and deploying their blackness just in case one raises an eyebrow around the melanin content of their skin; hence, The Black Panther Party and Shazza Zulu (aka Freddie Brooks’ boyfriend), for example. Just in case you haven’t perused the colored section of the blogosphere lately, know Huey lives–and not just through a cartoon character: light skinned girls are not having the best week ever. Apparently their blackness is perpetually being questioned, and they’re fed up.  A few blog entries posted last week by light skinned black women struck us as particularly emblematic of light skinned women being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

It has always been fun for me to experience the myriad ways disability “whitens” me as I go about life in the mainstream (i.e., white, non-disabled) world. Essentially, the way this works is that the cultural perception that disabled peeps are childlike, always in need of charity and/or help usually overcomes the threat posed by my race. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of “fuck you — your racism deserves to be subverted by my disability.” I’ve never had the experience where disability whitens me in/before an African-American eye.

I emerged from the whatever it is in Philadelphia — metro? subway? SEPTA? — and pushed past the bus stop. An older African-American woman reached out to me: “You white?” I was so shocked that I stopped and told her how rude that was. In so doing, I was, of course, rude myself. She got irate, because she thought she was giving me a compliment. [breathes.] This pissed me off. So, I stopped to tell her what I thought of that perspective. Bad idea, yes.

And another:

I tried my damndest not to join Alpha Kappa Alpha because of the stigmas attached to it. But, you can’t run from who you are. I feel like a neo defending my honor when I say this but I joined because of the women who lifted me up – and they were light and dark complected…and about their business.

For one of our townhall meeting conversations, I helped organize a panel to talk about the role of intra-racial relations and identity. We opened with the notorious “paper bag test.”  I took it.  I failed. And the room was wide-eyed with amazement.   Even some of my chapter sorors gasped.  I don’t know why. I got some melanin. Chuch.

As brown skinned ladies invested in our blackness, we’re happy that our lighter sistren are not only identifying as black, but finding blackness in themselves and loving it fiercely. Light skinned black women are saying it loud and proud, “I’m Black damn it!” Still, there’s something especially perturbing about the way in which these versions of a commitment to blackness are delineated.  In other words, what we’ve tracked in these posts and other sources is a kind of “Woe is (light skinned) me,” rhetoric that implicitly negates the privilege embedded in commencing and participating in such discourse.  Such personal narratives, though valuable, seem unwilling to divulge fully the way that being light skinned traditionally works both intra- and interracially.

Being black, or simply being non-white in a world built on white supremacy, is rough. But when we ignore the ways that difference inflects our own relationship to marginal status, we miss nuances that are important in shaping our individual realities. It’s a similar rhetorical move we implicitly employ when we use the term “people of color” without acknowledging the realities of involuntary immigration, language, model minority status, alienation from land and traditional practices, ability, sexuality, class, and yes of course, skin color. The vagueness of a term such as “people of color,” although ostensibly an effort to semantically unite those who must endure white supremacy in various forms, simultaneously jettisons the inherent differences upon which white supremacy is based, namely racial/ethnic/skin hierarchies, under the guise of “unity.”  The term “people of color,” then, is covertly dishonest, and inevitably forecloses the space wherein we might discuss the hierarchy within the hierarchy.  Woe is hypodescent!

To be sure, amplifying the differences in discussions of the ways that folks are oppressed does not play into the master’s hands, but rather compels us to be diligent and rigorous in our critique of (intra)racial strata and how they affect our lives.  Similarly, light skinned black women discussing their very real experiences of oppression without examining the way that (skin) privilege informs the type of marginal status they endure within and beyond the black community prevents a power analysis that is necessary for liberation. Furthermore, attempting to silence that privilege by not footnoting it at the very least is a rather indirect refusal of the agency one is granted by embodying the fact of light skinned blackness.  What further exacerbates this narrative decision is the anger projected upon the dark(er) skinned interlocutors in each of the aforementioned blog posts; the response by the storytellers suggests that questioning a light skinned person’s connection (to blackness) is somehow irrational, thereby treating the most blatant aspect of the colorism/interracial narrative–intraracial division predicated on skin tone–as a kind of imagined source of division, to say the least.

In order to further facilitate a nuanced discussion of blackness, namely as it pertains to skin privilege, we’ve started a light skin privilege list that we invite light skinned sisters to make on their own.  We all know that the real number one is admitting you have a problem–or are one. Word to DuBois, O.G. light skinned cat.

Light Skin Privilege Checklist

  1. In most situations where I am with other people of color, white people will try to communicate with me first.
  2. I am more likely to appear in the media, especially if my skin affords me the designation “omniracial.”  (Hello, Beyonce.)
  3. People will think I am pretty. full stop.
  4. I am more likely to get a promotion than my darker skinned counter parts.
  5. I can write blog pieces about my skin color and not reflect on the privileges that are associated with it.  (Wallace Thurman notwithstanding, literature, films, blogs are littered with primary and secondary textual analysis of the meanings of light skinnededness.)

… And the list goes on.

We invite all readers of (all shades) color to check out Moya and Lex’s effort last year to get skin privilege/POC diversity conversation started at the Love Harder Blog.

*”We” are Moya B. and Summer M.

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