Tag Archives: racism

On Azealia Banks and White Gay Cis Male Privilege

10 Jan

Guest Post by Edward Ndopu

Azealia Banks

Rapper Azealia Banks

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

9 Jun

My melanin proficiency has often led to color complex(ion) issues brought on by my country (rural) upbringing in a community (and country) fascinated (via the hegemonic influences of beauty) with my yellow-skinned sister with looooooooooooooooooooong hair and generally ambivalent with me (and my dark skin and short/er hair).  They (the adults and other children in my life) always knew my sister was beautiful but for me it took time, years, deep long looks and depth of consideration to finally determine that I was cute, ish, beautiful even for a dark-skinned girl.  I have often pondered the implications of those terms of my beauty, put on me by society, community, and sometimes my self  (I told you I had color complex, read complexion, issues that resulted from what I was taught to find attractive and desirable).

It is hard to love your black (beauty) when you know Black men who exclusively date nonblack women or who refuse to date dark-skinned Black women because they are not “beautiful.”  The Psychology Today article that accused black women of being ugly hit close to home and pushed me back to so many moments of insecurity that I thought I would explode in rage.  I had thought (read hoped) that we had made strides past the paper bag test and expanded, culturally, what constitutes beauty despite the unspoken preference for red bones.

But this is not a critique of societal hate of black girls (though it could and perhaps should be) but rather a prelude to a preview.  The documentary Dark Girls is directed by Bill Duke and will premiere in October at the International Black Film Festival (check out the trailer below).

When I saw the preview (I wish the title was different, by the way, Dark-Skinned Girls perhaps, but Dark Girls implies something sinister that makes me sad) I sat with my tears and remembered my own sadness and memories of growing up a dark (skinned) girl in a space that prefers something/anything else.  The stories were so resonant with my own memories that I was reminded about how important it is to tell and hear your story in a chorus of others.  I felt validated by the confessions and emotions brought forth by the women included in the showing, many of them unable to recall their feelings of inadequacy and shame without tears.  As I watched and listened I realized that my struggle(s) are not over and that despite my best intentions and awareness, there is still the little dark skinned black girl in me who wishes to be different.  Acceptable. Lovable. Beautiful (as quoted in the introduction to the film).  For so much of my life no one seemed to notice that/if I was beautiful at all.

I have the kind of beauty that moves slowly and sneaks up on you—in those few seconds when you are still trying to decide what you think of my face you realize that the thing that made you unsure was not my features, but my skin.  I know it, I see it, I recognize it in the eyes of women and men 30 seconds before they speak (or don’t speak, depending on the situation).  But I have grown into my beautiful.  After years of looking past my own pretty, I finally found it was there all along.  It is a subtle, disarming, vulnerable, newly-confident beautiful that I inherited from my mama’s cinnamon skin (which she got from my grandmother’s Native American/light as White legacies) and my father’s sepia-shade sprung forth from his light skinned, heavy-tongued mother and pecan skinned and dark eyed father (all of their children were the color of Hennessy).  I used to find solace in knowing that I coulda been light-skinned, and that perhaps I really was on the inside, under the curious layers of dark brown skin that showed on the outside.  As a dark (skinned) girl I spent hours in the mirror imagining how different I would look with light skin (I wonder if light skinned sisters have that same wondering).

This documentary is important because it seems to speak to the silenced (and hurtful) experiences of a group of women who fail to consistently hear their worth (Psychology Today anyone?)  It is time that someone starts telling dark (skinned) girls they are beautiful, because of, not in spite of their skin color.  It has taken me years to combat the colorism in my own life but I think it is time for a shift in the narrative so that little dark (skinned) girls don’t have to wait ‘til they are grown to get self esteem– and so that as they are growing up and dealing with the prejudices of being dark-skinned they do not suffer in silence or isolation.  I wish someone would have been there to tell me it would be all right.  To remind me/show me/tell me I was beautiful.

I am not sure how the documentary ends but I look forward to seeing it.  I imagine (read hope) that it finds a way to affirm and re-imagine beauty for dark (skinned) Black women so they (we) can see themselves (ourselves) as beautiful.

But just in case the documentary fails to affirm dark-skinned girls (it is not clear if it is merely a collection of narratives or a larger commentary on how to re-frame our gaze), I wrote a short poem to celebrate dark skin.  I call it,

Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

she waited

patiently

and in silence

never admitting

out loud

that she secretly wanted to be

light

skinned

brown but in a lighter shade

she would say it out loud

but in whispered tones

“make me white-like

damn near transparent

so that these people can see through me

instead of just past me…

make me

beautiful!”

like the color of the earth  I already was

but

this skin,

this house to my soul

is only almost pretty

they say

and if I weren’t so dark

I might be worth

lovingwantingfuckingstayingbeing

but instead I am just

tolerated

in the dark or in secret

or worn on your shoulder

like

an unnecessary accessory

creating your celebrity

because

i

am

dark

er

than

you

teach me how to love

myself

brilliantlyBrownBlackMahoganyEbonyqueen-like

BronzedCocoaButterDreamChild

the color of fire

in the middle of its escape

skin and eyes round

and regal at once

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

the color of coffee with no cream

dark like the bittersweet chocolate of my dreams

caramel-coated coquette

honey dipped and full of vigor

full lipped and full bodied

full

dark-skinned and exquisite

majestic even

with your brown-black self!

Black is beautiful

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

We are beautiful

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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Extinction Level Event

12 Aug

Image of a modern city in ruins as the sun rises

*The following is a polemic rant. You’ve been warned*

So I am totally blown by the amount of ridiculousness in the world right now. I’m so overwhelmed by it all that I’m seriously on my Octavia game, pondering the necessity or need for humanity at all. A close friend said it’s gonna take an extinction level event for people to care and I agree, although I wonder why the threat doesn’t feel imminent to people right now.

BP Oil Spill cleanup won’t be done til 2014 and that’s a conservative estimate.

Wyclef has the nerve to run for president of Haiti (haven’t the Haitian People suffered enough?! Yo, even Jeff Spicoli is saying fall back!). Seriously?!

Landslides and fires are wiping places off the map!

Google, whose public mantra was “Don’t be evil” has recently reincarnated into the Devil himself and is teaming up with Verison to make the internet even more inaccessible and costly for folks.

I don’t really even f*ck with the Obamas like that but Michelle’s trip to Spain being touted as really insensitive makes no sense as people tune in to television that stays supporting extravagant lifestyles. I want to compare prices between her trip to Spain and the cast of Real Housewives of New Jersey’s trip to Italy.

And speaking of Bravo TV, Top Chef killed Kenny! (You Bastards!!!) I don’t want to go into all the ways that this was racist and I’m sure there will be those who want me to prove it but I have to say I’m done with that. I’m done with proving and explaining why racism is ever present despite a Black man in the oval office (post racial world my ass!).

Shirley Sherrod, Antoine D, The Tea Party, bigoted churches, are all evidence in a case we are continually trying to prove, though the judge, jury, and prosecutor are all one in the same.

I’m done. I am moving away from the (in)justice system and embracing my new love, Nihilism. At least she makes sense to me and I don’t have to finish my dissertation…

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